Livin' In America (Bainbridge Avenue 2:00am) [Hellblazer]
Bless me, Father, for I have never seen It's a Wonderful Life.
I hear it's a bit of a thing around this season -- all the family gathers around the box and watches little men in black and white wander around figuring out how awful the world would be if they'd never been born. Or maybe it's just one. Like I said, I've never seen the thing. But I figure knowing that it ends with everyone happy and reassured that, yeah, sure, it's one blimey wunnerful life, spoils about as much for me as knowing that Roseblud is the bleedin' sled. Or Darth Vader is the ultimate deadbeat dad. Or that, somewhere, along these frosty American streets, I'm going to find today a fat plastic Santa Claus I've have the urge to smash up like Detroit pumpkins on Hallowe'en. It may ruin the surprise, but I gather I can live with the disappointment.
Christmas in America is a bit like livin' one's own Wonderful Life, if by 'Wonderful Life' you mean the part where what's-his-movie-star-face has to cope with his nonexistence, and by 'one' you mean this sorry sack of shit, dragging his ass out along in the cold, looking for a place worth spending the night. Not that I'm picky, mind you; I just have a thing for the finer things in life. Like indoor plumbing.
'Course, people with things to offer like indoor plumbing usually fancy the finer things themselves, like someone able to pay for said indoor plumbing. The last fellow in particular, the one with a tattoo-to-skin ratio that would make circus freaks envious, made that sort of arrangement pretty clear. I thought about rotting his bollocks off, just for spite, but changed my mind. After all, 'tis the season not to burden perfect strangers with nasty curses just because their grasp of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand is a bit sturdier than one's own. 'Tis the season to save those sorts of things for one's own family. If one had a family around that could overlook one's recent problem of being declared deceased.
Is this what the world is like without me in it? Probably. Not a whole lot different from a world with me in it, s'truth. Maybe a little bit colder and a little bit darker than normal, but that's Christmas Eve for you. Or, you know, past midnight, so we’re on into Christmas Day now. Everybody's taken their little lights inside around their little Chritmas trees, and me out here in the cold. Happy Birthday Jesus.
I could’ve made him think I gave him the money, yeah. But that would’ve denied me the pleasure of freezing my soft parts off out here in the snow. If I’m going to be depressed, I like the atmosphere to match. Like emotional interior design, or some such – or maybe just freezing one’s nose off to spite one’s ugly face.
The wind chill’s about twenty below or so, just right for huddling in a doorway in – somewhere. I may know where I’m headed – west – but between the trailer cabs and bus rides as far as what I’ve got in-pocket will take me, I seem to have lost where I am. Perhaps if I make my way out of this, I can earn my millions by writing a travel guide called America: Don’t Bother, It All Looks the Same Anyway. Save poor lost limeys like me billions annually. Maybe there’ll be a chapter with the title What To Do When A Dog Blows You On Camera. Now that’s the kind of useful travel guide I might actually get around to purchasing.
They make those Worst Case Scenario books, don’t they? The ones that tell you how to fend off a crocodile and how to get the power started again after zombies eat Manhattan, and the like. Well, they could add another one to their collection: Worst Case Scenario: John Constantine in America. With a chapter about what you’re supposed to do when you think you’re in Nebraska but aren’t quite sure and you’re strapped for cash because nobody in the Bible belt gambles in church this close to Christmas and there are only so many truckers who’ll trade miles for head that you’d want to trade head for miles with anyway and everybody thinks you’re dead and you’re in a funk because nobody but nobody in this entire godforsaken span of useless topsoil stocks the kind of fags you smoke and fags over here are something else and the one of those you’re looking for is still all the way in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, L bloody A.
It’s a specific kind of chapter, but I’m a specific kind of guy.
There’s a girl under the streetlamp over there, been standing there for nearly half an hour now, trying equal parts to show off her assets to passers-by and keep them from being frostbitten. I don’t think she notices me, and don’t know how much I’d be able to help her if she did. Sorry, love, not in the mood for a shag, with your assets or anyone else’s. You should be inside and warm. After all, you’re still alive. Probably.
I huddle in a doorway of some little shop and light a cigarette, the nasty American kind with the freckled filter and fine smoky taste of one of the southern colonies, with the last match of a book. I inhale so fast that it burns going down – though ‘burn’ is always a such a subjective term for someone who’s been to Hell more times than he’d like. At least it’s warm.
There’s got to be a soup kitchen around here, or somesuch, a place where I can at least thaw out a bit without compromising my misery. Doesn’t these peoples’ Christian duty compel them to feed me? Or does it get to take a holidy on Christmas, like every bloody thing else?
No. The cold is good. It makes me think. Doesn’t let me slow down. Have to keep swimming, like a shark, or I’m dead. More so than I already am.
I think this is supposed to be the part in the movie where an angel shows up and tells me how lucky I am. You know, I’ve always meant to write Hollywood and tell them that they’ve got the wrong angle on the angels, that the fuckers are actually quite vicious, that every single one I’ve known has been perpetually ill-tempered and vindictive. Not that they’d listen to me. Probably come hunt me down as a nutcase, then make a movie out of my life just to spite me. Probably make me an American, just like they did Jesus. Christ, what a horrifying thought.
But I’m fresh out of angles and angels alike, and fresh out of miracles to boot. Maybe I will go pick up the girl, just for the hell of it, and we’ll go somewhere to get coffee. Nothing’s open now, not while everyone’s supposed to be tucked into bed, waiting for Santa, but sometimes that’s the best time to go somewhere and get coffee. Maybe leave a note with the little parable about a couple in the cold finding a place in the stable ‘cause there was no room in the inn, or something – just sentimental enough to keep them from calling the cops on her tomorrow afternoon, after all the presents are opened and the turkey’s been eaten and everyone’s starting to get bored again. That’s the Christmas spirit for you – which, ironically, is the most angelic thing I’ve encountered in this country.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, huh? They don’t tell you that removing them takes a chainsaw. But the lighted plastic nativity scenes on the lawns of churches on all the corners don’t smell like animal shit, and the artifical reindeer that get the job of perpetually ferrying their artificial Santa to his imagined destination never have razor-sharp teeth, so I suppose you have to sacrifice some of the reality to maintain the happy illusion.
The wind blows my smoke out, and I make a face; the backup matchbook I was sure was hiding in one of my trenchcoat pockets has decided to pull a Houdini, to boot. About par for the course, but bloody unkind of the universe, nonetheless. As I’m patting myself down, hoping the cold’s just gotten to my brain, there’s a flicker in front of me, and a little beam of light.
“You looked like you needed one.”
It’s the girl from the corner, holding a lighter that, despite the wind, manages to keep its flame. I stick the end into the fire, lighting again, and inhale gratefully. Bloody nice of her.
“You doing anything tonight?”
“Don’t you have a home to be in?”
“If I did, you think I’d be here?”
A better question I’ve scarce heard. “Coffee?” She frowns at me.
“Aren’t British people supposed to drink tea?”
I’ve been contemplating drinking molten lead as a lifestyle choice for the last bitterly cold hour or so, but I don’t tell her this.
“Want to try me?”
She frowns again, screwing up little brown lips. Maybe she thinks I’ve a serial killer. There’s no shortage of those in the American imagination.
She takes my arm, and we walk out into the cold, she leading and me tracking on behind her, bending my head over to keep the wind from stealing my fag again before I’m done with it this time. There’s a clock tower chiming the time somewhere off in the distance, a cute little melody followed by two sharp strikes, one for each hour. In my mind’s eye, I imagine one of those bloody angels doubling over, cringing in pain as two huge wings rip out of his back, with blood and bone and feathers and the like, transforming by virtue of some randomly enthusiastic church bell into a giant winged ponce. It makes me laugh a little, and I feel better. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. I just smile at her and keep walking.
On the way we pass a fearsome plastic Santa Claus, one hand perched on his cumbersome belly, the other lifted in greeting, great plastic smile plastered across his jolly pink face, nearly life size and just as terrifying, proclaiming himself with his chipper grin the Capitalist Monstrosity That Ate Christmas. I pause by it, and she frowns at me, tugging at my arm a little. But I shake my head, and pull her to a shop.
“Nah, wait a minute. Want to see a trick?”
Not a jury in the world would convict me.
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