We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
The second installment of a three-part saga. Martin is hitchhiking from Kansas City, Missouri, to New York City in order to catch the last day of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Read Part 1 here.
“The thing is we gots to get my dog. I understand you got a bus to catch. But I can’t get my dog alone. You come this far, you gots to help me get my dog.”
My mouth is dry, we’ve gone through all the gum, and in gazing up the long reach of the highway as it ascends into the blue, late-morning sky I have achieved an atmospheric clarity with regard to the meaning of clocks. Marclay’s idea is to be at the center of things—that is the categorical imperative of the timing device, that is why the hands spin round. Being and time. Must check if Marclay is British neo-Nazi.
“But where was the center? I moved around a lot/ and thus from an early age,” I remember the line from John Ash, and quote it to Duze, who looks at me like “what the fuck” and wipes his hands on his jeans.
“We need some beers right about now, man, is what we need.”
“I am thirsty,” I admit. Suddenly I understand that we are out of luck, I have to get out of this semi as soon as possible. I’m Ratso from Midnight Cowboy and for three days now I’ve been sitting next to Jon Voigt. I’m sweatier than Ratso. I look to see if Duze has blood on his jacket.
I can count every sharp hair of his red-and-brown goatee. Duze is handsome but balding young.
“Pull over,” I say. My hourglass is filling with sand. I lick my lips. “I have to get out of this truck.”
Duze unsubtly accelerates. He swings into the left-hand lane.
“We’re up on Columbus now. But I’m telling ya’ we gots to head north. I need your help with my dog, man. My girlfrined ain’t gonna let me have that dog back lessun I have a buddy with me, someone she can trust. Not to mention if there’s another man there. That’s just like her. It doesn’t take her twenty-four hours before her legs are back up in the air. That bitch. That cold-hearted whore. She never appreciated my music neither.”
Duze wears a knife on his braided belt and my options are clear: stab him in the larynx and leap through the window as the truck careens off the highway or be chopped into kibbles and bits for his dog. He hasn’t told me the breed but I have intuited astrally that it is a pitbull, rottweiler, or Jack Russell terrier. I associate Chihuahuas with Columbus, Ohio. There must be a large Mexican community here, I think. Or perhaps I smuggled cocaine into this town back in my crazy twenties. But we never went this far east.
“Shit! Sunuvabitch! Get rid of the pipe! We got a smokey!”
A smokey? Then I see the red and blue lights in Duze’s mirrors, which have multiplied into many bright rectangular suns. They need dimmer switches or curtains in these trucks, I think. I am able to gather up Duze’s drugs and paraphernalia with extraordinary efficiency and hide it all in the secret compartment beneath his folded sleeping bench.
“They never look there. They never look there,” he repeats. I think, How am I going to explain to my wife that I am in jail in Columbus, Ohio? Maybe my editor will bail me out. Without looking at the time, I confirm that I have his numbers on my contacts list and begin memorizing them. But I have arranged them in a circle in my head like the numbers on a luminescent alarm clock. I hope I can keep the order straight. The cop sails past us, waving angrily because Duze hasn’t pulled over to open the lane.
“Fuck, man, that was close. You almost got us busted, man! You’ve got to learn to keep your shit together. I need a beer.”
When Duze takes an exit ramp I understand God has loaned me grace I will have to repay, and before he is fifty yards into the Pilot Travel Center, probably just at ten miles an hour, I swing open the door and leap out with my backpack, running. The door swings back and tries to trap me but misses. My legs are working better than they ever have before and I stride lightly and easily in enormous leaps across the tarmac until I begin to tumble in a ball and as I am rolling I ask myself, watching the roll with patience and very little pain, How many times will I fall from a truck during this pilgrimage? Is there a connection between Christian Marclay and pitching from an 18-wheeler? If they had twelve wheels, maybe. Of course there are watches with eighteen jewels, it occurs to me, and there again we have rotation and the center. I come to rest, my head bleeding and my left forearm road-rashed, in an itchy rectangle of dried yellow grass. I stand and see Duze running toward me so I sprint for the other side of the truck station, and though I’ve always been a terrible runner, I outpace him easily.
I’m dodging between the pumps, staying low, watching for Duze’s long arms and fingers.
“Hey, fella! Hey there, you!”
A man with an unmistakable Tennessee accent calls out to me but when I pinpoint him I’m mistaken: there’s a six-and-a half-foot-tall Asian man gesturing at me and speaking words that cannot be coming from his mouth. He raises his gold-mirrored sunglasses.
“You in some kind of trouble. Get on over here. Come on, I ain’t a snake, I ain’t gonna bite ya. Come on now, boy, what’s the problem?”
“It’s complicated,” I explain with difficulty. “I don’t suppose you’re headed towards New York.”
“Well, now, maybe I am and maybe I ain’t. You looking for a lift? You on the run from the law?”
Abruptly the cogs of my brain become sprockets and gears again, and the lie comes out effortlessly: “Woman trouble.”
“I figured as much. Here, just hop on in.” I was standing beside his truck the whole time.
“I’m going to Albany for a race, but if you’ll chip in some gas money and handle a bit of the driving I can take a bit of a side trip and leave you in Newark. Would that get you close enough to do it?”
I have no idea how far Newark is from New York but I seem to remember being trapped by heavy winds in an airport there once, and I know Duze is right behind me, so with my legs bent low, I sneak around the front of the truck to the passenger side of the black Chevy Tahoe and pull on the door. It’s locked.
“You ain’t some kind of a weirdo, are you? Cause I don’t need no crap. I race Vipers and I’m on my way to a track. I don’t have anytime for fucking around. Excuse my language. You’re not on drugs, are you?”
Suddenly I remember how Matt Dillon is moving his jaw while Kelly Lynch tries to seduce him just before the cops break down his door in Drugstore Cowboy. This is my big chance and I’m blowing it. I stand up straight and think of my Ben Hogans. Do I look like I’m using?
“No sir,” I say. “I’m a college professor,” I explain, as though that excuses everything.
“Well you got yourself all jangled up on something, doctor,” he says. “But if you can drive we’ll turn this nine hours into six and a half. I’m in a hurry.”
He unlocks the door and I climb in and it’s the cleanest car I’ve ever entered. The seats are slippery it’s so clean. It smells like Murphy’s Oil Soap.
“I’ll take the first shift. You close your eyes for a bit if you like.”
“I’m not very sleepy,” I explain. “I don’t suppose you have anything to drink?”
“I’m not a drinking man myself. But there’s some bottled water in a box in the back. I ain’t saying it’ll be cold.”
He’s already on the highway and I climb across the seats to get us both a bottle of water. I start to open his, out of politeness, but realize I shouldn’t so that he won’t think I’m trying to slip him a mickey.
“So you from the Big Apple?” He takes a sip of the lukewarm water and places it carefully in the black cup holder.
“No,” I explain. “I’m traveling to see a clock.”
“You like watches?” He shakes his watch down his wrist. “Look at that one there.”
It’s a stainless steel Rolex Daytona Cosmograph, one of the most collectible consumer watches in the world. I have the uncanny feeling that I’m making up the world as I’m going along, and I’m working with a very limited box of tools. Come on, I tell myself, you can do better than this. Like Wallace Stevens says, With a wishing lamp and a bucket of sand I could make a better world than this one.
“For your racing,” I say. I’m not ready for explanations.
“Something like that,” he says, and laughs as long as the howl of a wolf.
I take another sip of my water, and try not to think of David Bowie.
Eventually this shit will wear off. I’m not that skinny. I’ll be in Newark in seven hours. The Korean—Sam is his name—gives me a box of Kleenex and I clean up the blood from my head and my arm. I still haven’t checked the time.
Clancy Martin is the author of How to Sell and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. Next: “Time’s a Goon.”
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