dreaming of zillow

when i wake it’s just me and gus.  a moving van is parked in the driveway.  i begin taking stuff out of the house.  dismantle the shelves made years ago; packing up mounds of ladders and scaffolding; tools to make a living.  and books, guitar cases, my beautiful italian racebike.  studio stuff, racquetball stuff.  the days go steadily by.   there’s no rush about this finality.  carefully pry ed’s sections of stained glass from the front door.  the furniture i made for the bathroom.  heavy slab of walnut for a dining table.  i go from room to room.  in about a week it’s all loaded up.  a pad is laid for gus inside the cabin of the truck.  we pull out of the driveway heading east; do not look back at afton place.  the country passes by with vague familiarity.  i must have been everywhere at some point or another in this long and dreamy life.  something pulses strong behind the curtain but the world remains as it is; shimmery surface full of mostly nothing, like space, with tiny dense pieces held somehow in the matrix, the weight of planets packed inside a thimble.  my life wanders on; past people i have known.  could say i was traveling back in time, but i know how that turns out.  now every day is borne along on creaking floes of blythe celestial indifference.  after a cheeky life i am fresh out of jokes.  but human being feels anything but serious; nonsensical, brimming with misunderstanding; irony, ennui – all those pretty words.  the kind of longing for which an artist always hopes and never receives.  like all of us.  we never get quite what we’re looking for and keep on looking.  as i keep driving.  through the west, the empty deserts, burning lunar plains.  in gas stations and restaurants the people are poorer, more suspicious, cars tinged with rust.  there’s a brief thunder storm in the distance over a vast field.  gus runs in an evening river lit by swarms of pale fireflies somewhere in missouri.  napping beside the road.  and always the truck carrying us along.  i seem to know where we are going.   there’ll be a set of keys inside a mailbox on a long gravel lane leading into the woods.  peace and quiet, everything is left behind.   and now i turn down one road and then another; yes, it seems i know where i am going.   in the woods is a clearing and a little house.  a place for me and gus to live out our last season together, gypsy stewards of the wild.  he leaps, liberated from the truck, and bounds toward the porch.  the key fits; there’s the smell of cleansers.  a spotless white rug that will be white for approximately one more day.  i eye the creek, bright colored leaves, the miracle of water everywhere.  night is falling, full of strange new sounds, the sheltering trees, dark sky of jumbled stars.  i have made a terrible mistake, i know.  but i am always changing, leaving, losing.  looking for a clean, well-lighted place; a touch of grace that wasn’t, isn’t and never will be mine.

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a rube in rome

sometime around noon there’s a knock on the door, in answer to an ad in craigslist.  i bought at last a proper case for the ’64 martin i uncovered in a junkstore in the mountains and was selling off the old gig bag: 25 samolians.  as always, a very good deal.

i reach out to shake hands with a short man, stocky and strong, head shaved.  he could be a wrestler, a construction worker.  he’s dressed like a nobody; he could pulverize my knuckles with the power in his hands.

we check out the bag for a moment, and on a hunch i ask him, would you look at a particular guitar for just a moment?  i’d like to get an opinion on this piece.

of course, he says.  he’s entirely gracious; time slows down when he speaks in perfectly modulated full sentences.  he sits on the couch with the posture of a musician.  i bring out the guitar.

i open the case and he leans forward.  i pull out the instrument and place it in his hands.

he does not speak, but sets the tiny guitar against his body and lets it sit there for a moment.

he begins at first so simple.  just a touch, a ringing.  soft, then building, light, and then a sudden hard strike across the stings.  he begins to smile.  he begins to play.

i sat across, two couches in a living room, and felt the room fall away.  he took a chord and bent it slightly, added something that made it now exotic, perhaps eastern, blending into another so precisely, gently.   his big hands moved across that slender fretboard with such ease and power, slow, then a sudden burst of melody.

i have heard many guitarists wrack the notes with speed and energy, but i have never heard such longing, such humanity expressed in music.  he took the chords of one song and folded them into another, and then another, on and on like a river that bore forth images, the feel of familiar places never seen.  he pumped his hand across the soundhole and produced a gently fluttering vibrato in the notes, an effect i had never heard before.  and then he paused a moment and looked down.

this guitar… he said.   is beautiful.

you play… i said, and stopped.

many people can play guitar, he said.  but to be an accompanist, to be a session player, you almost have to sing along in order to learn to blend the two, not to overpower the voice but to work with it, inside it.

and he began to sing.

out of this barrelman now fell a voice so soft and clear, with such range and platform and, like his playing, pure and powerful, and also with so much arching sweetness, a human voice mixed with the cry of falling angels.  i felt the ceiling lift and pull away.

he sang a touch of led zeppelin, i think, traced a phrase of haunting celtic minors which flowed into wistful beatles, then something else – all changed and all familiar.  in truth i cannot remember.  i was lost as a man trying to follow a bird in flight.  he took the chords and lyrics of and i love her which somehow transposed into the trembling fevered harmonies of a kiss from a rose.  then without pause he poured out beast of burden, transformed into the gentlest ballad of faith and tenderness.

all i want, he sang, so soft and clear, is for you to make love to me; words of my mother, lost in the old folks home, her mind entirely slipped away.  how she would dissolve in silent sobbing whenever someone stroked the old piano in the music room.

and i was screwing up my features to look my best to match the twinkle in her eye whenever she beheld a handsome man.   so richard gere has come to see me, she murmured, then squeezed my hand and smiled.   richard gere, she sighed softly, with brains.

the guitarist now began his own composition, ellis island.  and as the first lines struck, so simple and so high up, above the ceiling, luminescent as cosmic lightwaves taking centuries to strike the telescopes.  i staggered to the kitchen racked with tears, warm and flowing, unstoppable and unashamed.

ellis island.  moldering gates of freedom.  this noble dream that came to life, captured in sound.

we walked back into donna’s studio and in that arching space he began to speak about the sound of music.  the hills are alive, he said, his big hands forming out in air the piano chords.  you know how it goes, he said.  there’s the E and the F and it never resolves.

there’s a tension in the chords that runs through the composition.  while they’re dancing in hills covered with wildflowers in the sunshine.  the whole song carries this tension.  what does it mean? he asked.  this tension.  what is the song saying?  he paused a moment.

the nazis are coming, he said.

i have been in LA now almost all my life, a country boy who came to live among them.  our electrician, it turned out, was married to zina bethune.  zina bethune, i used to speak her name, stumping through the snows of ottawa.  zina bethune, i love zina bethune.  she was on a tv show called the nurses in 1964, the year that my guitar was made.  i love zina bethune, i used to say.  when i was just a boy, in black and white.

and every chance i get i share a racquetball court with tim, an actor of such astonishing grace and power i often imagine i am dancing with some winged, nubian god.  and also bax, drywit rockstar with a backhand that needs a lot of work.  and sara who came to dance and beloved bernard who may, at will, weave stories of the histories, the mysteries of making art.  and john the muralist, and ed who constructed a man who swam in rivers of light made out of sorrow and stained glass.

you can look them up, they’re all online, and some of them are rightly famous.  and in that place you will find no trace of me.

enough, more than enough to spend my years among them.  to stand inside their company, proximity; to share this city, this mighty rome of our cleft and gaping empire.  to live in such a place, among such music, such people, such grace; such worlds inside the sunburned heads of men, played out on the strings of my little mountain guitar.

as a boy, shivering, in love with zina bethune, how could i dream for such a grace to ever touch me, sitting right across from me, upon my dogworn couch?  how could i dare to imagine such a place, a majesty, a life?

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suicide friend

‘i don’t know,’ she says, staring out into the empty desert. ‘something’s crossed over in me,’ turning now to stare into the other’s frightened, defiant eyes, ‘and i can’t go back.’

and then, in sophie’s choice, the sight of the two lovers, wrapped inside each other, quietly drifting away now, holding hands, on into the infinite, to meld with the cosmic dust of planets, far from this bed, this flying car, this spinning world, this wondrous life – back where it all came from.

leaving the party’s echoing music behind, together against the falling dark, unquenchable tug of the eternal, dancing home.

 

 

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very beige

baby’s on the table

how do you gild the lilly?

two little squares arrived in a small manila envelope from austin, texas;  pickup rings, made especially for my guitar, swapping black for cream.

out come the lollars.   low-wind imperials, hand-spinning copper strands in the deepwood rainforest of the channel islands while the money rolls in.

those silent hippy studios…  maybe they found freedom up there, with all those sweaters and hair – where we used to be, among the giant wet cedars, bored so much more than shitless…

these pickups weigh about a ton.

pulling them off gets a chance for a peek inside; at the neck joint, a puff of fresh-sawn lumber, the boutique serial stamp that makes it worth a small fortune.


 

 

and another opportunity, to massage my special super-secret keyboard sauce (purchased at guitar center) into the dark grain of her lovely neck…

 


several tries to get the pole height just so…

 

 

 

 

was it worth it? was it all too much?  or does it look, instead.  just.  perfect…

 

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four moments

we’re up walking the dogs along my favorite ridge above lake hollywood when we encounter another hiker on the trail. she’s thirtyish, hip, with shades and many colors and wispy hair. she says hi as she walks around with the dogs thundering by. she’s about ten feet behind us when i hear her stop and call back to donna. hey, babe. i hope you know: you are rocking the shit out of that hair!

after their evening feeding the hijinks in the back bedroom begin, with a crashing of walls and heavy thumps of giant dogs along with jungle growls and great gnashings of fangs and untrimmed nails. but with the young girl here, gus has been getting a little aggressive with the aging carmela, still a throughbred in grace and speed, but frailer now.  she wants a quieter boytoy.  we hear a bleat as one gigantic body gets flung into the wall. donna mutters:  ‘if i have to get up to deal with gus i just might go all charley rose on his ass.’  i sunk a little deeper into the couch.

walking into the change room at the Y when the door is swung open by an old guy, white locks falling down around purple tea shades limning bloodhound eyeballs, a toothy, familiar look.  ‘ah,’ i said as he held the door for me.  ‘a human being!’  he chuckles, ‘a human being,’ walking away.  just then a guy comes bounding in, says, hey howie to the old guy.  sees me looking after him.  ‘you know that’s howard hesseman, right? dr johnny fever on WKRP? still the coolest guy on the planet…’ a face from when we all were young, walking away.

attending the 50th anniversary showing of bullitt at the arclight. they’ve got the famous cars out front, and jackie bissett waltzing around; beautiful, but ditzy as hell.  i go downstairs to the bathroom and as i’m heading into one of the stalls the door is slowly pulled aside to reveal in toto the actor robert vaughn.  he is remarkably short and wide and steady, pausing now like a heavy boulder, to stare up at me.   my eyes settle first on the actor’s remarkable prognathous chin, then are drawn upwards by a magnetic force of his presence to settle on a pair of gigantic, brimming glistening orbs. wells and pools, shimmering darkly. ‘well, what now?’  says the actor, with a twinkle fifty fathoms deep.  ‘i… i love your work,’ i stammered, flashing heavily on the night fifty years ago when on purple haze a boy in indiana felt this face burned into his brain after surrendering to the movie four times in a row… this face, this face.

this life.

 

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collings

there’s a scene in Monster, as i find myself caught in the grip of a particular yellow ducati:  I was standing on a precipice in a high wind, preparing to leap, when a quiet voice cut through the vertigo: ‘In three months you will be 50,’ my wife said, appearing like an angel, leaning lightly on my left shoulder. ‘Why don’t you just… buy it?’
 
 

why?  self-loathing, plain and simple.  a loathing of self which bubbles just beneath the surface, preparing to sabotage every relationship, piece of good luck, accidental act of kindness, self-indulgence; loathing is what it is, no more no less.

which is why i learned years ago it’s dangerous to take donna guitar hunting, or bike hunting or probably especially actual hunting.

rocking, swaying, swooning, sweating: i have never stood over the writhing carcass of any prospective purchase, flapping in a gale of self-loathing, bubbling cauldron of lack-of-deserving, a great seething vat of hatred, remorse, without donna quietly suggesting that i ‘just buy it.’  and always accompanied by some insight i know she knows better than me. ‘it’s beautiful,’ she said of the ducati and, of course, i knew it was true.
 
this morning, at westwood music just off wilshire boulevard, it was tone.  she was behind me, during a lull in the quiet of my strumming softly, plugged through a mellow tube amp of limpid orange tweed-tolex, an actual, living collings I35 in my lap. i had previously plugged in my beloved 335.
 
‘can you hear that tone?’ she said helpfully. ’cause I can.’
 
well yes, i could, and i also knew the ducati was beautiful.  and i knew the ducati cost ten thousand clams and probably a few shattered tibs and collarbones and i knew this collings was worth a small fortune and yes, much as my loathing tried to deny it to myself, i could definitely hear that tone.
 
what donna couldn’t feel was the featherweight balance of the thing, tiny compared to the hulking 335.  she couldn’t see how the scale placed all the working parts in a precise and natural position, couldn’t feel the arch of the carving, curving back hanging in the hollow of my gut, the frets just so, the slightest pressure on the amber tone knobs dialing in the whorling contours of my fingerprints, the soft directness of the tuners. everything felt wide and instantaneous and open, a sudden breathing expansiveness, like a solid hit of really great pot in the middle of the afternoon. 
 
the salesman was breathless over the 335. ‘you take good care of your guitars,’ he noted, though it was true and it was also true that he was paid to say such things.  i wanted to play them side by side before tuesday, before THE AXE arrived by camel train and steamship around the horn to fall with a thunk and a chorus of barking dogs upon my doorstep. 
 
and my collings would be better.  mine was a one-off, made to the specifications of ny-based CR guitars that works extensively with collings.  nothing fancy, just a few tasty flourishes to gild the lilly: neck binding and reshaping, a warmer burst, repositioned strap button.  of such details are the crucial distinctions of aging guyland made whole.
 
but, jeez, donna.  don’t get this poor dude’s hopes up. i mean the salesman, dutifully calculating up a price on the 335 as a trade-in. i knew he could never beat my deal. i knew i’d done the right thing.
   
the collings was everything they said it was: stunning. while the 335 was a workhorse, this was a thoroughbred. 

the gibson was a tasty salad and a sandwich, a professional’s instrument with which a man may make his livelihood.  but the collings was like this restaurant just opened up the street where I took donna for her birthday dinner.

gwen.

inside the cloistered depths of gwen, everything was hushed and still.  you could feel the money being siphoned off.  so this is how some people live.  eight waiters hovered over every table. fifteen tiny courses of arcane delectables: cheeze from far-off rangoon, salt from the caucuses, strange flowering broccolini drizzled in pirate’s grog and ox blood.
 
when the main course finally arrived we were presented with a rack of glinting meat knives, from which i selected a harrowing switchblade with a great scything sword flinging out at the touch of a brass button in the bone handle. 
 
‘excellent choice,’ whispered one of the hovering waiters.
 
when the bill came – $525 – i initialled the glowing device with the sweep of a finger. 
 
loathing.  i could feel it closing in. ‘don’t be a churl,’ i told myself.  though we worked and sweated side by side, it was in truth her money i was spending, and tonight she looked so happy.  forsooth, it had been a memorable repast.
 
here’s hoping this will be so.
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disadvantage

 

 

 

 

in all honesty i don’t know what it was;

maybe a little weekend binging of HBO’s polygamy cockbuster series big love – a weeping, sweeping, star-crossed saga of epic henpeckery, of herculean pusswhippery in deepest mormon utah.

maybe it was a faint memory from rabbit is rich.  observing two gay men, updike wrote:  how free they looked, avoiding as they do the dark swamp ‘where life grows…’

or maybe it was a further recall – the mind does this, one memory teasing out another, pursuing a faint and musical theme – this time a line from north by northwest.

‘you have me at a disadvantage,’ says cary grant to an oozing eva marie saint.  ‘because the moment i meet an attractive woman i have to start pretending i have no desire to make love to her.’

or maybe it was lunch with two gay guys the other day in which i realized with a start: i was at a disadvantage, a moral disadvantage that tinted everything.

they were free, these young men.  free of a disease which has basically defined the sport and art of the practiced male gender since eons before the quaint jurassic age:

they had given up lying to women.

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Carnival

Look!  A Carnival Cruise liner has floated down Vine Street and dropped anchor at the end of our street.

As proposed, the Onni project ‘1360 Vine Street’ stands a block wide, with half a million square feet of upscale floorspace.  Five liquor licenses, a podium-level pool deck and umpteen variance and waiver requests, the project towers more than 260 feet above Afton Square – our quiet, backwater neighborhood of historic 1920s single-family bungalows in the flatland of Hollywood.

The project’s ‘open-air’ design, hung with a rigging of cantilevered skybox balconies, constitutes an ‘interpretive tribute to the California bungalow experience,’ crowed the architect.  The polished facade of his fancy suit afforded not the faintest wrinkle of irony.

Our street, our neighborhood, our history, now even our ‘experience’ has been acquired by a consortium of Canadian developers fronting Chinese money.  The ‘1360 Vine Street’ project is just the latest port excursion for moneyed cruisers prospecting for profits aboard the hot-pants Hollywood party circuit.

Slighted, blighted and benighted, we saw the lucre coming.  When we moved here almost forty years ago, the smart money was in asphalt.  Back then, from his bachelor penthouse high atop the Roosevelt Hotel, self-proclaimed ‘Mayor of Hollywood’ Johnny Grant presided over an empire of parking lots.

But soon Hollywood – once low and open as a dusty western town – began steadily glinting with veins of gold.  Grant had seen the future and delivered it up in crisp little parcels, empty and cleared for development.  The subway bored in and the buildings went up.

Don’t get me wrong.  As one who has stared into the abyss of Hollywood and Western on a hot summer night in 1979, I welcome a shot at a proper post-Buchowski city.  After all, following a life of literate debauchery, even Hollywood’s most famous citizen abandoned his gritty neighborhood to find paradise in the rural charms of San Pedro.

But now that intersection is an abyss of a different kind, more harrowing and more unnerving.

I drove two thousand miles to escape the soggy skies and hicktown expectations of the Midwest, and now here they are, on my doorstep: America the earth-tone strip mall, indistinguishable from Anywhere, USA.

Hit the Interstate and witness the literal end of location: Same gas, same food, same pink liquid soap that smells like high-test and perfume, an ocean of franchise and beige spreading from coast to coast while the cloistered black sites of capitalism – the hills of Beverly and Hollywood – never looked so green and bohemian, and private.

Down in the flatland we watched in horror as the billboard monolith of the W Hotel rose up out of a giant hole on Hollywood Boulevard.   What, exactly, is that cladding material: stone or plaster?  It looks like a checkerboard of gingerbread and chewing gum, ready to be served up with milk or burst into flame.  What it does to sunlight is an assault upon the optic nerve.  The chandeliered lobby is a drunk’s delirium, equal parts cackle and retching.

But now the rooftop palm garden, with its pool and private cabanas, sway fifteen stories over an equally fevered expansion of homeless encampments lining the streets below.

The peeling pawn shop and dusty liquor store that occupy Vine Street at Afton today are not my idea of glamor. But in the absence of that, I’ll take some local Bukowski character and color.

Hollywood renaissance? Smack in the middle of the most famous city in the world for the arts, where is our own signature building?  Downtown is graced with Disney Hall, while we get… what?  The ghastly Highland Complex faux-Egyptian shopping mall, that gibbering, mind-wrenching monument to the gnashing, nattering nonsense of modern life.

Who’s running this goddamn show?

We have been through this before, on another street, in another part of Hollywood. And so we are familiar with what I call The Developer’s Tautology.

Of course the project is out of scale for the historic neighborhood of Afton Square. But when another proposed project levels the block across the street and the glass and concrete canyon slips further down Vine, this skybox ‘bungalow experience’ will fit right in, an ‘interpretive tribute’ to the lives we live today.

Perhaps I am confused: Is this a negotiation?  Is this the developer’s version of shock and awe, the most outrageous, max-profit presentation, in full-color renderings?  The architect could not contain his enthusiasm.  “Notice,” he pointed out, “how the building falls away at such an angle that our tenants cannot see the top?”

A comforting detail.

But standing on my front porch looking West, a wall of concrete will blot out the sky – a mountain of bungalow balconies, filled with happy cruisers, looking down.

There is talk of reducing the height, and fighting for a few low-income units in the back. Either way, the message is clear enough: It is we who are out of scale, out of money, almost out of time.

A friend of ours has been researching her retirement. She visited condos in Seattle and communes in New England.  She travelled through small towns and forgotten cities, hot and cold, East and West, driving through rainforests near the Canadian border, driving through the steamy tropics of the South.

And when she came back she decided what she really wanted was to stay here, in Los Angeles, right in the very center of things, where the world is still young and teeming – the only place she has ever felt at home, among the seekers and the dispossessed.

At the end of our quiet street in Afton Square, one of the few remaining registered historic districts in Los Angeles, a Carnival cruise liner has dropped anchor.

Trapped, now, somewhere between Disneyland and Vegas, in a place where even money looks fake, how are we to stay?

Where are we to go?

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homeland

here’s how it is.

you’re sitting in your house on a quiet evening when there’s a knock at the door.   you open it a crack and a man pushes his way inside.
he’s a big man, tall and blustery, in a shiny new suit.  at first you take him for a buffoon, but what he says becomes more rambling, more sinister.
he walks around your house. ‘it’s a dump,’ he says.  he begins to stare at your wife.
when you tell him to leave he turns to open the door and in walk his goons, each more scary than the last.  they have come into your home from that other side of life, the one that doors protect you from.
you could make a break for the back, but you realize: all the exits have been locked.
the big man is circling now, talking crazy.  he loves to hear himself.  his gang are looking at you with hatred.
you could bargain, you could fight.
but what you do is look him straight in the eye.
who is this man?  why is he here?  what does he want?
in the space beside you, in the hollow of your arm, your wife begins to cry.

 

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gas drunk

been taking the van these days because it’s friggin HOT and because this spiffy almost new econoline is so tight and rolly it makes me feel safe with a future of well over 100K trouble-free miles which is about all anyone can reasonably expect these days.

before getting this thing i would usually slip a leg over the aprilia: having a lock on traffic and parking usually trumps haring around in a fullsize boxvan, but nowadays air conditioning makes everything right and increases my IQ by at least one point per degree.

then there’s the shade factor to consider and, oh yes, think i’ll call and reschedule that skin slough cause i’m barely healed from the last one and just about to begin the regime of dabbing some kind of special acid on all the rest of the cancers on my leg for the next month or so.

i once told myself i would haul out a motorcycle on errands instead of the car for my own ridiculous idea of still being ‘in the game,’ that being the game of life which involves youth and belief and hope and still cutting a rakish figure. of course i can only dimly imagine the purple bag of shattered gaping bone shards that would result from even a minor bailoff these days. and still…

where is that damned aprilia?

on some particularly delusional days i would even tell myself i was riding for the sake of the poor planet and its dwindling resources, but that particularly does not fly with the V4.

it’s really why I love it so damned much. just a moment ago i heard a little car start up next door; sounded like a nasal hair trimmer. everything from the starter motor to the tinny little pistons to the click of the key in the ignition had been reduced to auditory and also basically every other kind of nothing. when it whispered away it was like a cat slipped off the porch. if there was any gas involved in this exchange it was less than sipping, it was like driving on the molecular weight of energy consumption that computers and capitalism and donald trump had decided would be meted out to what remains of the fading middle class.

not the aprilia. computer averages fuel consumption along with rider anal pucker and planetary tilt and comes up with a figure on my last tank: 15.3 mpg. actually, that’s a little worse than the van.

that V4. that fucking V4. the starter tears at its gear, engine explodes like about fourteen ounces of fuel collected in the pipe and blasted a few baffles right across the street. i have to wait for pedestrians to move along before i set fire to this bomb.

stopped at the bank and when i got ready to go a homeless guy was parked on the sidewalk right behind.

you might want to think about moving, i said, as the exhaust was pointed basically in his face, before i start this thing. but he didn’t appear to notice.

i hit the button, heard the blast and didn’t look back.

as i was dropping into gear i did take a peek and the guy had a big filthy smile on.

man, he said, it IS loud!

so, while everything else is learning to eek every calorie out of the pie, the aprilia guzzles its meal in great hairy bears of combustion, soaking in it, throwing it out the window just for fun, setting fire to it in the most childish and irresponsible kinds of ways, more way more than you could ever use, or dare to fully explore, ready to tear the legs off fifteen good men without a bobble…

pull out, clutch it in a bit just to blip the throttle, feel the gas run through it like a flaming river, drinking, gorging. the throttle is connected directly to the space time continuum, reeling up road exactly how far and fast you twist the grip.

under acceleration, everything becomes weightless.  all motor, circuits open, drinking in the life of jurassic centuries – endless, intoxicating, riding that thick and gorging wave of sound.

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