Desert Solitaire/The Future is Old

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 7 Aug 2022

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view."  Edward Abbey

"There's a cross on the side of the road with my name on it."  Pablo Smog


Desert Solitaire

I found myself snarling at Border Patrol guards all week, not outwardly of course, smiling pleasantly, your average All-American recovering alcoholic with a 6-day beard, electric gringo acid-burnout haircut, and out of state plates sangin' howdy-do Officer, why yes, I AM chained to your authority, thank you!  Nah, these guys are alright, speaking of them strictly as people, but I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me that invariably they pick ME out of the line to pull over and interrogate.  I don't even have anything to hide, I'm not stoned, I'm not carrying any drugs, there are no bodies in my trunk, dead alive or otherwise, but they look at me and, apparently, I fit the profile.

Forget the cops though, we had a great show on Saturday playing out in the desert at this old roadhouse.  You're driving on a 2-lane road in the middle of nowhere with only moonlight around you, and this place appears out of nowhere with cars and motorcycles and vans all around it.  You walk in and it's packed with cowboy hats and bikers, Marines, mellow old people, California ranch girls, hippies, and 4 hipsters from New York.  We played the best show ever, then went to freak out for a while in the desert, eventually sitting on the rocks watching the sun come up, walking around amongst the horses and Joshua Trees on a mild sleep-deprivation high, crazy rays of light pulsing everywhere and your throat feeling 8 miles long, numb and dripping, and some guy a hundred feet away sitting on his front porch yells HELLO at you, and you acknowledge him back and walk up the dusty trail to the cabin where you feel like an extra in a cowboy movie, dusty boots and jeans, an old gas lamp, and a feather bed to cuddle in.

I stayed out there a few more days, camping in Joshua Tree with my sleeping bags and blankets piled on the concrete picnic table, and my firewood from Stater Bros., some coyotes having a party in the distance, whooping it up rather drunkenly, for coyotes I mean.  The moon was full which was nice cuz it gave the CHEMTRAILS from all the jetplanes a nice blue glow they wouldn't have had in L.A.  Showering with a 2.5-gallon bottle of water in the middle of nowhere, a couple miles down some dirt road, then walking a half mile or so off the road into the desert.  Last time I was out there I saw a rattlesnake, and this time wondering if I would see one, but it's too cold for them this time of year, I think.

It was very nice to get away from civilization for a couple days.

It's not like you can spend your life camping alone though, so in no rush to return to L.A. I went south past the Salton Sea, which smells like Epsom Salt, kinda disgusting, but beautiful, the water very glam & glittery, and the glowing yellow light.  Some railroad tracks running parallel to the highway, and freight trains with colorful graffiti on the side, strange urban hieroglyphs advertising the superiority of one tribe of wayward gun-toting lunatics over another.  Blasting Mozart's "Requiem" and passing through little towns with dust blowing through them like a blizzard, like a snowstorm except with dust, this one town called Mecca with the gas station full of dusty Mexicans, and the brown dusty blizzard blowing in your face, crazy rows of lemon trees, RV dumps, boarded-up motels, taco joints, and you can feel Mexico coming.  Though, to my great disappointment, the first thing you see upon entering Calexico, California from the north is a Wal-Mart and Carl's Jr., no transition zone between the U.S. and Mexico, just Wal-Marts and fast food joints right away.  And so immediately leaving, heading up Hwy. 98 westbound through beautiful Yuha desert, 2 miles north of Mexico, dust blowing across the highway obscuring the dotted yellow lines, like ice skating on a cloud.  4WD border patrol trucks driving parallel to the highway on the dusty service road, your hair matted with dust, feeling like you accidentally used peanut butter on your head this morning, instead of Aquanet.  The filth will set you free.

Los Angeles




The Future is Old

I really like LA.  Being here is like being in a constant state of morbid fascination.  Like if you could live inside a car accident 24 hours a day and never get a break, which is both appealing and addictive and which will also kill you, eventually.  Like a drug.  Which is why all the people here are crazy, cuz they're "naturally" high, or their souls have been reduced to the point that their happiness can actually be measured on an applause-response meter.  20 million ego-junkies doing their hair on the 405 with guns under their seat, always some kid stealing a bus and taking it for a joyride down the freeway followed by an army of television helicopters.  LA is a toilet that refuses to flush, a swirling smog-pyre of filth burning the nostrils of heaven with its absurd unbelievableness.

Driving up the 15 yesterday from San Diego County (I never go thru San Diego.  For some reason I have no interest in it whatsoever.  I like the little 2-lane roads between Descanso and Temecula, winding around little towns and grassy hills and scenery), the brown bowl of shit-smelling smoke made itself apparent from a polite distance, allowing you the opportunity to turn away if you found yourself unwilling to commit.  Los Angeles is still 80 miles away, but you can see it, laughing at you from a distance like an absurd mythological Siren who's kinda fun but also a hag.  You can see her presence, even if you can't see her.  Which is the narcotic allure.  And if you're the curious type, you pop out your mellow country-driving music, pop in some Ramones, and gun it headfirst like a fiend into the smoking crackerworks, changed forever/nevertobeseen again.

Arizona was fun and clean and beautiful, neon pink sun and purple sand and mountains and green cactuses like headless junky mannequins hanging out on the freeway with their hands in the air and their arms full of needles waiting for the pusherman to turn off the HAIR DRYER, which is how the breeze in Arizona feels when you're driving into Phoenix with your window rolled down and the heat blowing on your face and your skin totally dry except the crease at your elbow, which is dripping with sweat.  You get an electric shock from your chewing gum, blame it on God.  A dust devil forms above you, steals your hat.  Remove your tumor before sitting down at a table full of ladies.  I'm sorry sweetheart, you're supposed to say, before you knit your brains into a bloody doily and place them carefully on your girlfriend's lap, seated with horror beside you, you preferably slumping yourself politely over your own folding chair, a winter coat of extraordinary morbidity and weight, instead of on the lap Mayor Twinkletoes, who never liked you in the first place.

We walked up to A Hill, which is the hill in Tempe above Sun Devil Stadium with the big "A" on it, past the old mills they're turning into condominimums (yuppie slum), and sitting at the halfway point watching airplanes fly over our heads and become absorbed in the 3-inch strip of glitter like a hatband around the horizon with downtown Phoenix 7 miles off like a mini-LA.  Watching the giant red electric fire flashing on South Mountain, huge antennae towers strung with flashing red warning lights, like a huge electronic bonfire on the hill with 20-story flames, fragile bright and twinkling.  Sky Harbor airport right in the middle of town, unlike other cities where the airport is tied to some ugly tree in the backyard like a sad dog no one loves, but right in the middle of town, like a big-screen plasma TV in your great-grandmother's tiny apartment, taking up all the room.

Flying down desert highways past the death-jerky, dried carcasses of little animals on the shoulder, and you wonder if they're edible, bacteria aside, but they're sitting here under a slow broil all day, every day.  Maybe this is why the vultures prefer this climate.  Their food gets prepared for them.  Flying past makeshift altars of people killed on the highway, white crosses planted in the sharp, pointy desert sand, adorned with flowers and Christmas ornaments, candles melting in the heat without having to be lit, sometimes photographs of the deceased.  Of course 2-lane roads, not freeways, highway 86 to be exact, west out of Tucson through sizzling towns that look like meth labs.  Towns like Sells, AZ, with Camaros cracked and fried, no people in sight but if you saw any you know they would look like scrambled eggs.  Engine blocks hatching baby lizards, and the hoods and doors scrawled with white gang-pissings. 


I realize my new when-I'm-rich fantasy of finding a car that will never drive again and converting it into a piece of cooking furniture, you pop the hood and it's a grill and stove and oven, and in the trunk a working freezer, and the interior of the car just a really cool-looking bad ass place to hang out and listen to songs about Texas and drink only bottled sodas in, or beer if you like monkeys.  My someday-retreat in the Mojave, great Dr. Seuss house made only of unfinished driftwood from Dorothy houses in Kansas, and rooms of questionable safety and no apparent purpose.  Whole rooms hanging over the void like giant anti-dimensional paintings; what's the purpose of this rocking chair?  Explain, you fiend, the "chandelier of madness."  What underpants-shunning politics have blinded and corrupted you?  Are you drooling, dumb and hungry?  BEGONE FROM ME YE DEVILS!  Who among you have the guts to be reduced to waving crazy praises at the sky with a burning stick in their boxer shorts at midnight, on the run from hungry boxelder-bears?  Who among you question passing insects?  Are you a moth, good sir, a cactus wren?  Or another visitation of the Holy Risen God?  My pickup truck believes me, take your party hats and go.  The clouds are ripe for milking, all divisive swine must die!  And then a cup of tea under the mountains, perhaps a teddy bear, someday a wife.

Past the towns of Why (so this is Why, you tell yourself)(many complicated questions answered simply by crossing the city limits) and Ajo (ah-ho), mobile homes concealing difficult truths from main street.  RV Parks with names like "Belly Acres," towns composed of humor babies, billboards proclaiming hot dogs.  Where is the shelter, when the storm is in yourself?  Should I buy a rifle or a postcard?  The church is domed & bleached, seated amidst the town like a giant white whale with a cross stuck in the top of its head, glowing in the sun like a white tinfoil dollhouse stuffed with fish, burning in the microwave.  The young and omniblivious, awkward children smiling, following mothers into thrift stores, future movie stars and garbagemen.  Jobs of high visibility vs. jobs of great importance.  Thank God I'm just a singer.  If I'm lucky I get to drive around and perform for empty tables full of ketchup bottles and salt shakers across America, for maybe a plate of food or a 20-dollar bill.

Reduced to tears of bliss under the fighter jets, who at first you believe are hawks swooping with unbelievable focus on some poor sucker-ass desert rat, then the scream and howl of burning superman and a tiny triangle of fire shoots up from the mountain and your car drifts to the shoulder as you're looking up at the tiny metallic kite shooting across the sky then floating for a second, meeting another ravenous glint of floating yellow light, both jets swooping down in calm formation, swinging on invisible strings suddenly very small and distant, 10 miles away or more in a matter of a few seconds.  The sunlight flashing off the reflectors stuck into the pavement between the dotted lines on the highway, making the whole thing look like a giant belt studded with fluorescent rhinestones, extending off to the horizon.  The horizon containing nothing, heat waves blowing like invisible grass on some invisible ghost prairie, shimmering up from the hot pavement and sand, leaning slightly to the right from the mad 100-degree winds blowing at you from the west, the whole mirage shifting like a house on unstable foundations, your eyes incapable of focusing.  A layer of water on the horizon, shimmering between the mountains and the sand, and the sky a giant bowl of blue meringue floating on top of the whole mad scene while you sweat like a bug and hope your tires don't explode from the heat, happy, if not fiscally aggressive, like an idiot. 

No moat on earth has ever been loaded with enough alligators to scare me from jumping over the wall to meet the love of my life while it's still called today.  The future has been around for thousands of years.  What do I know, I only lurk here.  Cabeza caliente!


June 2006




Edited for improvement's sake.  Full, immature versions of both stories available in Dancing on the Ceiling of My Existential Kitchen ©2012 Nathan Payne

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


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