'Poet, Fool or Bum' by Beth Sometimes



Poet, Fool or Bum?
Miss Sometimes | 2:21pm, Sun 29 Jan 2006 | El Paso, Texas

An endless day. Crampy greyhound sleep interlaced with heavy Texan accents and five am McDonalds breakfast stops that seemed unfair to count as beginnings or endings. El Paso bus station at around midnight seemed to be the maddest, baddest, saddest place we could lay our America-fresh eyes upon. A thick ‘n’ rich jungle of stereotype. A woman with terrible skin covered in skin-coloured paste, wearing teddy bear pyjama pants and clutching a blankie, huddled on a seat nearby. A woman wearing a leather stars’n’stripes ‘Support Our Troops’ jacket, crouched strange, cat-like in an unused corner. Several obese young men staring deadly at anything but their own souls, fat cheeks pushing fat lips into a sad pout. An ultra-trash young couple came in bitchin’ loudly, making a beeline for the row of personal coin operated TV-chairs. I heard another lady confessing she didn’t know where she was going, but she was going somewhere.

Gun-clad comedy duo security guards stood tough talkin’ in the midst of it all, comparing notes on small-time security breaches. They got excited when a scar-faced black man walked in carrying an unidentifiable bottle of liquid. “What’s in the bottle sir?”, and that’s just the question he was lookin’ for as he launched his explanation: “Well you see, sir, I’m a salesman and this here is a most fantastic cleaning product…”. His friend giggled behind him. Directly opposite us were two guys we named Ernie and Jimbob, the lanky mullet-toting, cap wearin’, bad moustache sporting classic Texan fashion disasters, muttering to each other minor details of obligatory importance.

Well we saw ourselves for a second in the eyes of the one person in this station who seemed to be aware of his surroundings. He nodded at us, the hobo, the wanderer. I nodded and smiled and later, when we were relishing the first time ordering food in our native tongue in months at the pink neon food corner, he approached us. Wild silver hair, red and blue piercing eyes and a large body hung low under multiple layers of clothing. He was interested in us, spotting our difference and our freshness, asking questions with this slow intensity and sharp attention. He was going to Mexico.
“What for?” we asked, and to be honest, he replied:
“I’m looking for a nice place to die.”

He said when you witness for too long the things people do to each other, and the things that are forced on us, you get tired. He was tired, and he knew it was time to just bow out, he said. And some strange calm came over the room after he said that. I couldn’t hear much else and yet it put me at ease. Ok, we said. I asked if he thought it was possible that some random event could change his mind, or if leaving the USA could somehow let the sunshine back into a mind where it was not shining. He doubted it, he said. I said the mind is at least a chemical thing, but I never quite believe it whenthat escapes from my cynical science tongue.

I realised in an instant how much we all fear death, and are filled with this driving instinct to survive, and for the fellow members of our species to keep on walkin’ their little tired circles on the earth, loved hopefully by somebody, despite how unlovable we may decide them to be. Yet my mind took no time to overcome instinct and see that there was no actual conflict in the notion of this man’s life terminating. One less consumer. Good. He knew it too, an intelligent man. The rationality of strangers, unclouded by love. And yet now, as I think of him, I feel a kind of love. A messy kind though, a little confused with pity and perhaps fuelled by a realisation of my love for living, as seen
appreciated by his eyes.

I asked him what he thought happened after death and he said, as I thought he would, nothing. I think everything just ends for you and you fertilise the earth if lucky enough not to be wrapped up in a box. He gave us prayer beads and bells from Nepal, from a magic-looking wooden box acquired in his younger travelling days. My voice felt croaky and uncomfortable saying thank you, but experience has taught me to accept gifts without question. I gave him my leftover pesos so he gave me a crisp twenty dollar note. We bought cups of tea which were as gigantic as everything else in this country. We talked about Spain and a restaurant we all visited in Madrid; he talked about his more recent days hitchhiking around the States, eating blueberries on the side of the road and begging money from university professors. We had a lot in common in some ways. We said goodbye eventually and he said thank you.

I wondered later on the bus if really it had been a cry for help, like when sixteen year old girls take ten panadols or semi-accidentally drag razors across their wrists. I fantasised about solutions or dramatic acts of intervention. But I think my initial reaction was the only true one.

Death is truly a part of life, and always an option.


reprinted from Undergrowth #7: Nomadology