Fri, Jan 14
YET ANOTHER METH LAB EXPLOSION: 6 DAYS IN CHARLESTON, W.VA@ 12:00 AM
Okay, that was unfair, using that goofy country-ass accent, but you've got to remember I fled from fuckin' VIRGINIA. I figured West Virginia would be the blood-and-cancer fart to Virginia's broccoli fart. I was pleasantly surprised.
Not at first. I know it's a grey and grim time to be back in the Southeast. This time of year reminds you of every film made in the early 70's—grainy stock, ambiguous characters and, ultimately, no hope. The view of the town from my hotel made it look like some Eastern European industrial hellhole. You know, where Bruno Ganz is an angel but I'm not listening before I step off the ledge. Jesus, look at that second picture. Now look at it while thinking of a pet that died. See?
Yes, I know, Red State Christian values and I'm being snobby and blah blah blah but Jesus "I Don't Really Exist" Christ, are L.A. and New York any less soulless and dead than half of the towns you see in the Midwest? Can't we all agree that, on a basic level, we've all kind of fucked up the landscape in our own unique ways, and move on? Why do we perpetuate the myth that only in small towns are people neighborly and folksy? I walked around during the day in downtown Charleston, and I felt like The Omega Man. The few people I saw scowled at me from their window tables at Chili's, and it wasn't like there were chatty locals in the Starbucks. The streets of Brooklyn at 2am are more folksy and safe than Anytown, USA.
And a lot less dangerous. For the first four nights I was there, the 11pm local news led off with stories about meth lab explosions. Every night. The fifth night threw me a curve by kicking off with a story about a crazed kid shooting at cops on the "...crime-plagued west side". More about the "west side" later.
Despite the distant rumble of ka-booming methedrine stills in the tangled hills, there was lots to make me smile. Big on the list was something I've missed after moving to San Francisco in 1992—a genuine East Coast Chinese menu. The ones where there's hamburgers, chicken wings, and deli sandwiches. They even had a foot long sandwich page called "The Sub Fleet". The Chinese food was a tiny, embattled section in the lower right hand corner. I got the kung pao hot dog and some Emperor Tso's chili.
Holy shit, the MALL! Wow. Packed with teenagers at 2pm on a weekday. Packed. Facial skin like Pop Rocks. All talking about meth. I'm not kidding. I got so depressed I hung out near this loud-ass fountain that was like a liquid version of those Bose headphones. It drowned out all sound. I watched a chunky footballer scream at his skinny girlfriend until she cried. I have no idea what he said. Probably that he was out of meth.
The local coffee shop also featured frosted bagel bites. Which, basically, were deep-fried hunks of bagel dough, then frosted. "They'll make your butt-hole go on a poo-strike!" said the cartoon of Chuck Yeagar™ on the package.
ON THE NEON, NEON SIDE OF TOWN
Friday afternoon I had lunch at the Blossom Diner. After my ninth straight meal featuring Something Fried (they punched my ticket—if I ever go back, I get a miner's hat full of batter) I begged someone to tell me where I could buy an apple. My nice waitress directed me towards a Farmer's Market in an abandoned train depot under a distant freeway overpass.
It was really cool. There was a book stand called Frog Creek Books that had a massive display of anti-Bush books, including FORTUNATE SON. A small photo gallery showed faux-murder pics by a local photographer. I had a lot of fun listening to a loud old woman bitch to anyone she spotted enjoying the pictures about how she thought they were just awful. I'll bet she went home later and masturbated with a post-digger thinking about them. In fact, I know she did. I had the whole day free, is what I'm saying. I'm hard to spot when I'm lurking.
There was a cool wine shop where the staff was going to see UNDERTOW and MOTORCYCLE DIARIES that night, and did I want to go when they smuggled a bottle of wine from Dave Matthew's winery? I thought they were fucking with me until, indeed, it turned out the dude really owned a winery. I hope he really concentrates on making good wine in 2005. Maybe, I dunno, devoting all his time and energy to it.
After wandering by a weird Russian statue near the water and meeting up with a bunch of folks from the film, we got back out of the rain by going to Soho, this cool Italian restaurant at the end of the market. Good food! WIne! A jazz trio wearing actual black turtlenecks! It was like I'd gone forward in time to 1951!
We asked the waitress where to go. She said, "Any of the bars on Capital Street. Don't go to the west side."
What the fuck? "What's so bad about the west side?"
She said, "For one thing, there's a...GAY bar."
We immediately drove to the west side.
The bar—Trax—wasn't hard to spot. Just beyond the railroad tracks, with forbidding gargoyles leering over its tin roof, it was a warning to any confused young Republicans to head home and deal with their issues by watching YOUNGBLOOD and RED DAWN on DVD.
We entered, wondering what horrors we'd face. OZ-style bull queers? Trucker lesbians who could crimp titanium with their clits?
We pushed on the door with this stern warning sign: "WE SERVE STRAIGHT and GAY PATRONS. IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS, GO HOME!" We walked in.
We were the only ones there.
Well, not totally. There was a gruff lesbian at the bar who said we'd each have to pay $3 to get in. We ponied up, then I ordered a round of drinks. Everyone wanted a beer. I ordered a scotch neat, with an ice water back.
The bartender's gruff demeanor wilted like a daisy under a blow-dryer. "Uh, this is my first night," she said, sounding sincere and a little lost. "How do I do that?"
I showed her how a neat scotch gets poured (I schooled a lesbo!) and then she was our bestest buddy all night. She turned out to be really cool. In fact, for the first three hours, she was the only gay in the place. A few more people drifted in, but they looked like the kind of trying-not-to-care hipsters you see in L.A. at the Beauty Bar or in New York at any bar in the East Village. In fact, I think West Virginia's version of "gay" means "not a Limp Bizkit fan".
Eventually, Charleston's gay scene came flouncing in. Drag queens, trannies, dykes, and good old fashioned faggots like Pepperidge Farm used to make. A lip-sync contest started. A tranny midget sang Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This". A giant black cross-dresser sang something by Prince, I think. I was too stunned. One of the girls on the movie pointed out, "A gay, cross-dressing black giant waking up every day and living in West Virginia is more of a hero than Spider-Man, Lenny Bruce and Ghandi combined." I was truly humbled.
BUDDING YOUNG TEENY-BOPPERS WERE THE BLUEBEARD'S PREY!
Saturday afternoon we had off, so I screened Ben Parker's immortal 1968 film TEEN-AGE STRANGLER, the only film shot ENTIRELY on location in Charleston, West Virginia. It's a 61-minute film with at least four time-filling scenes (including the song "Yipe Stripes!" and an ambulance that takes four minutes to sloooowly drive out of frame) and most of the action—the actual murders, a car crash—taking place off-screen. The badness of the film put our hangovers in perspective.
That night, after another dinner at Soho, and too hungover for another night at Trax, a bunch of us piled in a car and drove as far west into the "West Side" as we could.
For once, the local news was right. Of course I didn't trust it at face value. The local L.A. news is so shitty that you'd only think out-of-towners would believe it. L.A. on FOX or KCAL comes off as a combination of COME AND SEE and DEATHRACE 2000. I figured, "These cracker news-douches are making it seem ten times worse than it is."
They're toning it down. Street after street of boarded-up, abandoned storefronts, with shifty, shadowy phantoms leaning in doorways, beckoning or threatening. Police sirens everywhere. A girl chasing another girl with a knife. Someone made a joke about the "Crazies" from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but no one laughed. Not a single unbroken streetlight. We reached a Wendy's with bars on the inner and outer windows, turned around, and raced back to our cozy, boring hotel.
I don't get it. The parts of the country that get directly pissed on by the current adminisration are its biggest supporters. Gay marriage? They keep the gays corralled in one bar on the dangerous side of town. Now that I think of it, it seemed like the gays were keeping the rest of Charleston corralled outSIDE of Trax. Terrorist attacks? The whole area looks like it already GOT attacked. It's weird—I feel like me and my friends have been mockingly lip-synching to Kelly Clarkson, showing each other how hip and above it we are, while outside the whole country turned into one giant meth lab, run by people who believe in angels.