Winter 02


Zeno's City





     I yawn because we are here. Boy let me tell you.

     I’ve been busy.
     I tried making this one city but some strange things started happening. Everyone walked around with headphones on; 110,000 people wearing those heavy studio earpieces (crisp midrange and excellent bass), all of them bobbing their heads up and down to their own silent groove, and it actually worked mostly like a real city, was the strange thing; everything kept working & people went to work and school and all that. Everyone actually found their way around having to talk to each other. They learned to communicate with some kind of universalized system of hand-gestures that evolved slowly over the months: a hand held up and palm out to indicate desire for a hot dog from a street vendor; fist closed means light on the slaw.

     Oh well hide it all away where no one will look,

     A different city I make becomes intently concerned with hem lines; I watch pairs of jeans move in all the compass directions at once; fabric advancing north from the south and south from the north and inwards from outwards and outwards from in at different parts; I try to destroy this city but it won’t burn down for some reason—perhaps sex is flame retardant!—and so I put it under a blanket in the corner of the garage. It makes noises, especially at night, but I usually just pretend these noises come from the house settling and I roll over and go back to sleep.


     Another city builds itself in layers, blocks piled vertically on top of blocks like one huge parking structure; freeways connect across the tops of buildings. This one is interesting just for its sheer monstrous behavior but gradually it seals itself up in concrete until the outside is just this concrete box and there is no way I could see inside w/o cracking the whole thing open, and I’m not really willing to do that and besides I would have to rent a jackhammer or something. I do wonder what is happening inside, though; I imagine people crawling through whatever tiny spaces are left between the concrete, inching their way to their jobs & etc. Or I wonder if they can even move, maybe. I had to enlist the help of a small army of strong neighborhood children to move this one, and it now sits out in the backyard up on cement blocks next to an ’84 Camaro I have not yet got around to fixing. The city is gradually sinking into the ground under its own weight. I am going to let it do this.

     There are others,

     Cities built like Venice with canals and boats crawling through wide blue avenues towards glittering towers of glass & crystal; a city with a single massive skyscraper covering a perimeter of 80 blocks and stretching to almost 300 stories and there are no other buildings in the city to speak of, just suburbs gathered around that building’s root system like colonies of lichen or something; cities with downtowns fueled entirely by coffee-shop economies which move like the tides against miles and miles of slumtowns—a constant back-and-forth as one force crashes against the other, the unlimited force meets the immovable object; little shanty towns built from oil drums and terrycloth tents creeping almost imperceptibly through whatever passes for chic coffee atmosphere these days; and then there is city after city built in concentric circles with maddening amounts of steel and gothic marble, with trillions of wires stretching from the center out to the edges . . . these spiral cities are often the strangest, almost invariably evolving super-dense city centers which as they sink into their own foundations draw the entire cities down around them by the sheer force of their own gravity, like a whirlpool or a riptide . . . ; even once there is a city with no buildings, just tents and totems and basil gardens & wood-plank bridges spanning the vast distances between houses carved into the trees and rocks, and this city burns down seven or eight times in one week once, from people leaving their gas stoves on when they go to sleep.

     These are all interesting but I know their ends—their outcomes—and so I get lazy and leave them places where I can forget about them; in corners under newspapers and stacked neatly next to dressers; buried underneath dirty clothes or else turned on their sides and tucked between washing machine and dryer, or between dryer and wall.


     It gets weird,

     Some cities evolve as pure industry; they stink up my sitting rooms with a consistent outpouring of toxic filth and even some things that are much much worse, like infectious plagues of man-made nanotech bugs you breathe in through your mouth and they go down your throat and change your DNA when you aren’t looking, horrible shit like that; these cities have to be turned over to NASA and ejected into space and guided into a slow-burn decaying orbit, and they gradually become fireballs over Madrid, Bangkok, the Pacific—islanders of Bora Bora can watch the incineration of my handiwork from their tropical beaches; . . . there is only a very slim chance of infection, of the cities not burning up completely and leaking their mess back into our atmosphere, this kind of thing happens a lot these days, I don’t know, why don’t we just launch these things into the sun?, let’s fill the sun up if we can, I don’t know, maybe that is too easy or maybe people just like the colors the cities make as they streak across the ionosphere: everything has a melting point and concrete and steel and fiber-optics flare up all across the spectrum, greens and blues and pinks, something like the Aurora Borealis, we stand on our roofs in order to watch it; a cigarette, a martini, a lawn chair: boy isn’t that great.


     Meanwhile I am spending all the money I can, I am taking my friends everywhere I can think to, all over the world. I keep withdrawing money from Swiss bank accounts which I am pretty much guessing the numbers for at random, this strange and seemingly bottomless supply of ancient Nazi currency fattening my coffers. No one seems to suspect a thing.
     We go all over, Tokyo & London & Paris & Cape Town & Zurich & Amsterdam & Miami & Las Vegas & Mexico City & Beijing & Rio & Tokyo again (too much stimulus there for one breath) & Maputo & Moscow & Seoul & Warsaw & etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. Really I am just biding my time. The city that builds itself must do so quietly. From the corners. Without anyone knowing it is there. Half a brick at a time. Buildings climbing imperceptibly from out of sewers quietly choked with the suicides of city council members. Concrete fiber optic railways appearing out of thin air, threading little pieces of municipality together where you least expect it. Suddenly you have a teeming metropolis of 40 million & you are exhaling into a cityscape atmosphere which is being scorched away by the heat of the factories; “my but that happened quickly,” you remark at a coffee shop. One day.
     But still buildings collapse into ash & flame; still people die in firestorms and under concrete. Still subways crumble onto those moving through them; arms and legs are collected by dogs trained for that kind of thing and then lined up on tarps in empty airplane hangers. People are caught on camera brushing their hair back from their ash streaked foreheads with their hands, primping themselves in the broken glass of skyscrapers, a moment of captured vanity in the post-coital sight the creeps through the streets after a building has been dropped to its ankles.


[Bring me a city with 10,000 miles between buildings, with strange tunnels going at odd angles through the earth leading from one city office to another. Build me a city for nomads and make its buildings out of scrap each time a building somewhere collapses under its own clumsy density. Coffee shops that serve blood in earthenware mugs. Roadways built across oceans—would you like that 16 lanes or 20?—fiber optic cables strung between stars and bridging black holes, blah blah blah, everything you need is scattered broken at your feet, anyway. Here we go. Boys and girls, fill your pockets. I will buy the glue.]


[. . . and in the border towns, the flat stretches, the disurban; the hills of Tennessee & the strange hidden places of California, Nevada, Oregon, the Carolinas: breeding. Strange orgies arranged and conducted like symphonies, montages of flesh that swell and explode, more and more and: Babies made and ejected into the world to grow gradually sullen and rebellious. An army. Machinery that inspires the incestuous collapse of a town into its own muddle of a middle—the fringes pumping out angry blind soldiers with teeth that can shred concrete, and the centers themselves sculpting the (unspeakable) horrors which drive every gear in every city, . . . slowly we build outwards and create something superdense, a cluster of would-be stars, supernovas waiting billions of years for just the right moment, holding their breath . . . ]


[. . . glue covering your fingers and scraps arranged around the house, nothing is sacred and everything keeps getting pulled down and churned into walls and windows, the raw elements of buildings, your fingers stick to each other and everything else trying to assemble this; masturbation is no longer an option, you can’t touch yourself, you can’t touch food, you can’t touch anything. The smell of epoxy gets you higher than shit and you start having lucid visions of saints with 10,000 arms putting the pieces back together but their bodies hide the results and you are permanently on hold with the company that manufactured these things because you think you are missing pieces, a few little plastic nubs here and there maybe, something seems off, the edges off by a fraction of a fraction of an inch maybe, and the phone is glued to your ear with an eternity of smooth jazz and recorded messages explaining, explaining, okay . . .]


[ . . . outside the El train rumbles by at alternating intervals of 8, 16, and 32 seconds; three separate tracks and three distinct railway rhythms that make counting sheep next to impossible because the rhythms keep getting all fucked up. You in the bathroom, your knees fallen out from under you, a headache ripping you apart from the rectum straight up the spine through your brain towards your crown; a pulsing like lava against the ocean shore—beaches built of obsidian, etched with the gentle curving lines of the tide. The toilet throwing up into your face as the plumbing crumbles and you are vomiting back at it, a kind of weak & distant echo; vomit and then vomit again. Call and response. There, take that. Over the days you eat a box of tic-tacs which were on the bathroom sink and for 2 and a half weeks this is your only sustenance. The toilet keeps vomiting at fairly regular intervals and brick by brick you are building a city of shit on the tile floor behind you; buildings molded from the sewage runoff of other buildings. You smell horror and still kneeling at the toilet you reach over into the shower and run a bath and let the hot water overflow and drown the apartment, not washing away the shit but diluting it to soup, and inviting mildew into the corners of other people’s apartments as moisture leaks through everything. People tap their ceiling (which is your floor) with broom handles and complain to the building supervisor, stains spread along walls as the roof sags, but no one does a thing.]


[here, look. we need to get your through this space, this pinprick puncture point which divides these two things. how to do this. well. hold your breath. hacksaws please.]


David Beavers lives in San Francisco where he is getting his MA in Creative Writing at SFSU. David has lived in Davis and Santa Rosa and traveled to all sorts of other cities, and little pieces of these cities can be found all over the place in his writing, usually unintentionally.