Says Red Molly, to James, “Well that’s a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like.”
Says James, to Red Molly, “My hat’s off to you.
It’s a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I’ve seen you on the corners and cafes, it seems.
Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.”
And he pulled her on behind,
And down to Boxhill,
—-Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece
“Once upon a time, there was a king who ruled a great and glorious nation. Favourite amongst his subjects was the court painter of whom he was very proud. Everybody agreed this wizzened old man pianted the greatest pictures in the whole kingdom and the king would spend hours each day gazing at them in wonder. However, one day a dirty and dishevelled stranger presented himself at the court claiming that in fact he was the greatest painter in the land. The indignant king decreed a competition would be held between the two artists, confident it would teach the vagabond an embarrassing lesson. Within a month they were both to produce a masterpiece that would out do the other. After thirty days of working feverishly day and night, both artists were ready. They placed their paintings, each hidden by a cloth, on easels in the great hall of the castle. As a large crowd gathered, the king ordered the cloth be pulled first from the court artist’s easel. Everyone gasped as before them was revealed a wonderful oil painting of a table set with a feast. At its centre was an ornate bowl full of exotic fruits glistening moistly in the dawn light. As the crowd gazed admiringly, a sparrow perched high up on the rafters of the hall swooped down and hungrily tried to snatch one of the grapes from the painted bowl only to hit the canvas and fall down dead with shock at the feet of the king. ’Aha!’ exclaimed the king. ’My artist has produced a painting so wonderful it has fooled nature herself, surely you must agree that he is the greatest painter who ever lived!’ But the vagabond said nothing and stared solemnly at his feet. ’Now, pull the blanket from your painting and let us see what you have for us,’ cried the king. But the tramp remained motionless and said nothing. Growing impatient, the king stepped forward and reached out to grab the blanket only to freeze in horror at the last moment. ’You see,’ said the tramp quietly, ’there is no blanket covering the painting. This is actually just a painting of a cloth covering a painting. And whereas your famous artist is content to fool nature, I’ve made the king of the whole country look like a clueless little twat.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece
Says James, to Red Molly, “Here’s a ring for your right hand.
But I’ll tell you in earnest I’m a dangerous man;
For I’ve fought with the law since I was seventeen.
I’ve robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
And now I’m twenty-one years, I might make twenty-two.
And I don’t mind dyin’ but for the love of you.
—- Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited last year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.
I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about them.
They all had one incredible thing in common, they were all, all four, born on the same day. The twins, Molly and Tandy Vermilion, Michelle McQuade, and, of course, James, James Aidee. All three girls loved James, loved him as long as they could remember. When they were little kids it didn’t matter that there were three of them, it was just something that they shared.
But then, as they reached their twenties, it began to change. Each one wanted James to himself. They set aside their differences on their twenty-first birthday and had a four-person party down in the bars by the waterfront. They crowded into a photo booth to remember the day. They smiled at the lens, not realizing how few happy days were in front of them.
It was time to start their lives. To the shock of the other three, Michelle joined the police force. She was always a big girl, and a bit shy, but she found a hard discipline inside herself that worked well with her on the front lines of the toughest parts of the city.
All three, women now, thought of James all the time, but he loved Molly. He loved Molly with a burning fire.
But James wasn’t worthy of all their attention, he was lazy and shifty and would do anything to avoid having to work for his money.
Somehow, when Michelle became a cop, that cut the ropes that were keeping all of them in check and things quickly began to spin out of control. James worked a deal with Molly’s sister, Tandy, borrowing all her savings (and she, unlike her sister Molly and James was a hardworking, honest woman) with some harebrained scheme to buy some brown heroin from the next town down the interstate and turn it into a big profit. Tandy never would have done the deal if she wasn’t blinded by her passion for James… there were some vague promises made – never intended to be kept.
He lost his nerve and blew Tandy’s money on a classic motorcycle, a 1952 Vincent, and a custom leather jacket for Molly, who dyed her hair bright red for the occasion. Tandy was furious, though she never showed it outwardly. Molly and James were the talk of the town… A red haired woman in a leather jacket on the back of a vintage motorcycle… quite the scene.
But the Gomez brothers were upset the deal never went down. They had made some upfront deal that left them holding the bag and they weren’t who you wanted to piss off. Officer Michelle McQuade heard rumors through her network of informers and tried to warn her old friend James, but he wasn’t hearing any of it.
Finally, one evening Tandy had enough and sent word to the Gomez brothers of a place that James would head out at night. She said she was sick and made sure her sister Molly stayed with her while James rode away, saying she didn’t always need to go, it would be all right, “Just this time.”
They blasted James with a shotgun and Molly barely got to him at the hospital before he died. His last act was to give her the keys to the undamaged motorcycle.
Now the two sisters, Molly and Tandy ride the bike together with Molly in front still wearing her leather jacket. They are the talk of the town. Sometimes they go too fast but Officer McQuade makes sure the tickets get squashed.
“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance
I belong to a Facebook group on the history of the city I live in, Richardson, Texas. Today, the library posted this photo and another from a slightly different angle with a request that someone identify where it was taken. It was labeled, “Arapaho, 1958.” It didn’t take long for the readers to identify the exact location of the top of the US 75 overpass, facing east, along Arapaho road. Everyone was fairly sure that the highway was under construction at the time (probably using concrete from that batch plant), so somebody simply climbed up on the deserted, half-built bridge and took some shots that ended up in the library archive.
Out of curiosity, I went to Google Maps Streetview and captured a contemporary image of the same place.
It definitely the same place. In the original, you can see the railroad crossing in the distance – that is now the overhead DART commuter train line you see in the modern photo. The angle is different – the overhead Highway 75 is too busy to take photos from and all the Google Maps Streetview shows in the high concrete guardwall.
Things have certainly changed… in not all that much time, really. I was one year old in 1958.
What is interesting to me is not what has changed… but what is still the same. Of course, 75 and Arapaho has changed a lot – but that is because the city has grown to overtake that quiet little country corner. Dallas has grown at an incredible rate – faster than most cities – an the sprawl has vomited out across the cotton fields, especially to the north, for decades and decades now.
But, you see, the central part of the country, from Texas to North Dakota, flyover country, the part of the country I have lived in a lot – still looks largely like that first photography. A rough, rural intersection, a small concrete batch plant, tumbledown wooden shacks, a lonely armless and warningless railroad crossing, pickup trucks, sedans, a concrete truck leaving the batch plant, scraggly trees with a crude advertisement nailed to it struggling against the wind, summer heat, winter snows, lines of telephone poles marching regularly over the curve of the earth, fertile land flat as a pancake.
There are still millions of places like that all up and down the heartland. A lot have been gobbled up by the city… but there are plenty more out there.
“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that, knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”
– The Stranger, The Big Lebowski
“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece
“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
For the first time in over a month I was able to lay down for fifteen minutes a-and still breathe through my nose. So, well… there’s that.