Drawing by Judith Wolfe

David Eggleton /

El Dorado

                 A red Cadillac was rocking at the carwash. Boys paraded in crew-cuts and basketball boots. They flashed blackjacks, gripped rock-steady crowbars. One whose T- shirt slogan read USA-ABUSER, chanted rhythmically: "Get out of my face, get out of my face."

                 Across the road at the No Comprendo Cafe, a bunch of hair-dresser types wearing expired sell-by-date expressions and lately emerged from a chop-top Veedub Beetle - yo, motorway wildlife! - lazed elegantly at their outdoor table. They were comparing the merits of hair gel with silk protein and hair gel without. The froth of their decaffeinated cappuccinos seemed to flutter aerobically in the light breeze. On plates, chocolate croissants lay glazed and fulsome; cream cakes waxed creamy. Water glistened in glass tumblers. Waiters glided, as if on invisible roller skates. The fountain nearby spurted water spasmodically while spent matches surfed the sluggish ripples.

                 Cafe patrons were the usual motley crew. A couple of snuffling Internet-nerds were planning to hack their way into a data-bank. At other tables, several pasty-faced types in puffed-out shirts lazily gorged themselves on cruisers' cuisine.

                 The pavement on the Cafe side of the street was gradually being swamped by adolescent tourists: invading, walk-on zombie Hordes. The zombified, they came directly from live-in wardrobes. Snot-gobbling brat-packs of beastly boys, teased-up hairdos sprayed down with lo-gloss, they were part of the creepshow. They were creepozoids who had managed to push back the boundaries of camp. With them mingled stalk and slash metal balladeers, acting like they were from the back of beyond. Sauntering along in their wake came young women wearing dry sinister smiles, like the smiles of elderly schoolground perverts slithering on tip-toe over discarded orange peel outside the school gates at morning interval.

                 Hot trash drifted in eddies down alley-ways. At first insignificant, the blown waste was gradually growing into a planet storm of cosmic proportions. Used tickets, newspapers, food-wrappers, fruit peel and tinfoil whirled round together. A smokescreen of used tyres on fire hid a noisy and congested park. At erratic intervals, the dried husks of takeaway corn-on-the-cob would hurtle like missiles out of the barrier of smoke and land on the pavement, in the gutter, or on the road. Sopping-wet balls of cottonwool lay in red sticky puddles, as if trying to staunch wounds which had opened up in the ground. At the medical complex nearby, clinical shots - immunity boosters mainly - were being administered.

                 Standing in line at the clinic waiting for his script, Joe Hundred was a screamer making nice-nice. Politely smiling. Coiled and tense, though not yet strung out. If, for any reason, his prescription didn't come through, he was likely turn into a bop-jabbering adrenalin mainliner, out-of-order, in search of his kick; his skinny fingers desperately scrabbling over the fretboard of an invisible guitar, his voice rising to an hysterical pitch: "Like, is this a put-on or is this a put-on?", as the doctor hurriedly revised his diagnosis and renewed the prescription.

                 Sometimes to prove how recalcitrant he could really be, he would go out into the busy street. Falling over in the middle of the pavement, his dyed hair making him look like he had been dipped headfirst into a vat of fluorescent orange ink, his eyes blearily focused on a forest of nylons, on a jungle of lightweight trousers he would yell: "Somebody help me, I need a raw energy oxygen boost," until the police arrived to sort it out and he was given what he wanted. When he had that, he would snap on briefly, and then snap off into blank waiting, like a VDU operator when the main computer is down, while he went through the necessary mechanical motions: visiting the chemist, going back to his flat, mixing, tasting.

                 But part way through his cycle, he got to the stage where he felt there was no way out. Life had low value. He would be better off dead. He was on a killer's level. Yet, while he couldn't quite bring himself to switch off, neither could he click into it. He couldn't crack it, but he couldn't vanquish the slack of his stubbed-out existence, either. No longer leading a full life, he could feel very unwanted. He had come to a place where the pavements were paved not with gold but with urine, and the wet tarseal shone as if it concealed a whole world of regurgitated seafood. Graduate of a City Council graffiti-spelling workshop for street kids, he knew how to decode the slogans of the day, how to phase them and how to remix them; he knew how to have everything go down nice and easy. But it had all gotten out of control. He wasn't going down nice and easy any more. His barbiturate-bombed brain had begun gagging on the explosive imagery of a civilisation of hustlers.

                 A fly-speckled Signs of the Zodiac chart, curling at the edges, hung askew on his bedroom wall. On the floor sat a melted digital clock, rescued from a rubbish dump, yet still managing a respectable approximation of the correct time. From his window, he could see the abortion counselling clinic, the sauna parlour, the funeral directors, the municipal abattoir and, further off, piled cumulus clouds towering over the shopping mall complex.

                 Caught in supermarket trolley gridlock on Saturday morning, a penned-in queue of casual shoppers, their shopping trundlers packed to the gunwales and beyond with the treasures scavenged from designer islands of cans and packets, waited patiently, boxed up in a bargain basement paradise. There was a show of activity from every queue. One impulse shopper wore a pair of bright orange socks below an otherwise drab, grey outfit; someone else was doled up in no-flies-on-me, sawn-off khaki strides; a third flaunted a ripped singlet and vandalised sandals; a fourth had an emphatic NO SWEAT emblazoned on a tracksuit top. A fifth, quite taken with her own running triathalon-style jump-suit was gabbing away to a friend about the merits of Sonic Zap - the sizzling new liquid Brain Food. Apparently, it was pure quality control, once poured down your throat. She prattled on, the satisfied consumer.

                 Gradually, beneath her garbled advertising pitch a new tone emerged: a kind of confession that had all ears pricked up as a microphone concealed in the freezer cabinet relayed it all over the Public Address system. She began mumbling words to fact that she was a weight-conscious baby food muncher. She had only wanted a meal ticket with her new guy, but suddenly she had found herself in deep, over her head. Now, she was sick to the stomach. A funky Sixties dolly bird grown suddenly old. For her, the era of mucky-pup flunkies and funky ladies was over. Embarrassed, furtive shoppers abandoned their bulging carts and hurried to the express counter to make a single purchase and leave. Eventually, only the voyeuristic and the self-destructive hung around, as the various sonics of the anonymous woman's litany went on nagging away on the supermarket's public address system. She hadn't realised you couldn't stop to relive the past that way.

                 Back at the carwash, the red Eldorado Cadillac continued to be thumped and batted by the bri-nylon brushes. The crewcut posse of street kids continued to march up and down chanting: "Lick the car seats, lick the tyres, lick the end of this pair of pliers."

                 These kids were mallies - cruising the shopping mall and hanging out in snooker rooms with flagrantly undone zippers and full-blown death wishes. These snub-nosed kids would move on, emotionally numb and alienated, to become dancehall dementoes done out in Saturday night grease, moving through the night-markets at medium speed, a comfortable pace. Tasty youngbloods, New Age teddy-boys searching for delicious foods, for damning excitements, their T-shirts baring all the information they wanted known about themselves. Like toys with broken remote controls, they enjoyed a permanent mobility, that only ended with exhaustion. This lateral freedom was expressed in their quivering quiffs and shaking cockatoo crests, in their torn T-shirts with illegible slogans, in their rippling, pock-marked torsos. Educated in video grammar, they knew how to walk the walk. Sometimes, under the influence of chemical stimulants, two of them would get trapped in a dancing bear-hug. Like comic book heroes discovering evil alter egos, each became the other's genetic make-over, his electron twin, emerging as if in a molecular switch, in a flash of white light. Entwined, each struggled to shrug off the other's tight grip.

                 For these were test-tube babies, products of the bio-tech age growing up unsure of the algebra of their parentage. All that they knew for certain was that they had to escape the vision of their Nineties lab-culture origins. In their own personal post-combat zones they didn't just re-live their foetal-tissue tours of duty, they stalked them. They had learned how to take a bite from the hand of the society that fed them without incurring damage. They realised they had to learn how to contain their nerves, how to train their nerves on the chosen objective. At least this was the way things looked for Joe Hundred in his room under the roof. From solvent abuse he had moved on to start mainlining at the age of 15 in the late Nineties.

                 No wrinkles then, just a junk-food compactor on legs. One year back then he had been one of a honeymooning trio in Thailand, jacking it in, Hiroshima mushroom clouds boiling up under his eyelids, invisible threads of radiation connecting him to other forms of the organic. His night vision bloomed with lunar spectres stroking the cute curves of baby iguanas, feeding raw meat to fish-tanks of pet piranhas.

                 In order not to let himself be caught by anyone on the back foot, he was now engaged in a permanent fugitive hip-hop, both hands plunged into sweaty hip pockets. But he was still capable of organising a head-to-head stand-off, still capable of a bare-faced, cold cash take-down. During the early hours he went joy-riding on his home computer through the Net in search of freedom, feeling like a disc jockey of the sub-conscious.

                 Yet with his clients he could be as smooth as live yoghurt, as clean-cut as block of ice, when it suited. His friends were less restrained. They got hold of a hit and they shot it up. They lived in the undergrowth of the concrete jungle, straddling the ordinary daytime world of business transactions and the rock and roll underbelly of the pub circuit. Their rambling villa once a model of gracious elegance was now a paradise of dry rot and borer, with its skeletal verandah, rickety walls and warped weatherboards. At dusk, the city slabs crowding overhead - skyscrapers in the gold-plated sunset - gradually turned into blackened tombstones, shrouded by red clouds.

                 These friends lived with the constant hum of the city. Louder noises overlaid that hum because they lived directly under the airport flight-path. They could see staccato, flame- yellow blips flashing at night like a blinking eyelash of neon: a slow blink, blink, blink, zipping up the dark. Endless replays of bursts of white noise and snip-snapping, zig-zagging interference snagged their TV reception. The constant, high-pitched growling of jet engines provoked the constant feeling that a swarm of razor-tooth, man-eating piranhas was prowling in a sewer nearby, and about to surface in a drain or toilet bowl.

                 The villa, the only remaining old building in the area, had been left standing as a result of a lone pensioner's battle with a faceless corporation which had seized the imagination of the public. The trauma of resisting developers had seen him end up in a geriatric hospital and Joe Hundred's friends had quickly moved in to squat the house, which had been left as a kind of memorial on a motorway island. Vehicles flowing in and out of the conurbation shook the foundations day and night. From the villa, they could see fire engines dealing with spills of highly toxic chemical, or catch corrosive whiffs from the gully's rank underground creek, contaminated by a sluggish crud. Post-cyclonic palm trees on either side of the motorway were bent like hunchbacks. In the front room, a smack freak jacked a load into her vein, just as her eyes locked on the loaded gun of a narcotics officer on a heroin swing. The cop bore a resemblance to someone she used to know.

                 The next time she looked up, she blinked, dazzled, stunned by the camera sungun of a media photographer.

                 "The other punter blew, we lost him," someone was saying, savagely. "Okey-dokey kiddiwinks, this is where we get down to it - but we must respect a suspect's right to remain silent, musn't we?", the same voice sneered as a finger prodded her in the chest.

                 The front room began filling up with officious people: detectives, fingerprint experts, reporters. Druggies held a baleful attraction for the straight world. A copy of the South China Morning Post, carrying coup rumours from all over the Pacific, lay on top of the table. It was duly photographed. A 'Fishing Junks at Sunset' red velvet painting was noticed hanging on a wall. It too was photographed. The red had faded to pink. That was noted. On the skyline, the shallow parabola of a satellite dish confronted the gigantic golden arches of a bright yellow McDonald's logo.

                 The early evening breeze carried a pernicious and degrading smell. It issued from the chimneys of the giant municipal abattoir across the motorway from the pensioner's abandoned home. Ground-down bones were being milled into dust by a pulverising machine. The abattoir adjoined the local hospital. The two complexes were separated by a strip of wasteland on which stood a depot used as a storage place for a bovine ossuary, a catacomb of bleaching animal bones, ready to be ground down into blood and bone fertiliser. In the basement of the old villa the cops discovered scavenged bags of hospital rubbish - sacks marked ISOLATION WASTE and INFECTIOUS . Amongst the decaying umbilical cords, and stained gauze pads, dozens of hypodermic needles bristled from clumps of syringes connected to discarded intravenous tubes. Photographers jostled one another to record the evidence for their newspaper readers. A bulletproof squad car of angry cops burned rubber, its siren howling ferociously as it carried a single sick junkie towards Central.

                 And now fantastically-dressed bodgies came choppering in to land on a stage which reared up like a sea-going oil rig platform. They stepped from the helicopter and began to climb up hills of rubber gloves, slipping, and sliding on jelly-like slicks of biohazardous oily mucus, hearing screamed invitations to come and get their stomachs stapled. These invitations emanated from the pustule-encrusted close-shaved heads of trainee managers on secondment from the Central Corporation, exuding the sickly sweet stench of daytime soap opera products as they screeched, sucked the blood from their own wrists and pointed shaky fingers.

                 But already the frenzied bodgies had their goal in sight. They began to climb a wide marble stairway to Bodgie Heaven, an automotive constellation which waited on black fat tyres as if in suspended animation, with chrome-plated grill, wide tail fins and leopard skin seats. It glowed, a real passion wagon, a flame-red Cadillac on fire in a Dali-esque conflagration. Once inside the hellish glow, the triumphant bodgies began raking their chests and tattooed arms with fragments of melted chromium trim, while freebasing smoke from the burning plastic.

                 Far, far below them, the drooping dregs of disco dancers clustered round a spraycan-splattered nightclub entrance, watching the grey sunrise come up, their crater faces turned to the paling moon. Hitler's Last Days in the Bunker played on the grubby nightclub's video monitors. A caved-in nicked-bone junky's meandering dirge about King Ink's stinkboots ground out of the sound system and mingled with the dawn noises of the rubbish trucks.

                 The sky began to lighten. Not willing to wait any longer in the doorway of the Ears Pierced, Eyes Lashed Beauty Parlour for the off-chance of a brief encounter, a horse opera beauty in cowboy chaps, with a ruined choirboy expression, rubberoid face and rubberoid lips strode along, silicon tits bouncing. A transsexual the shape of blow-up doll, in her own mind she was a proud, tragic drama queen, existentially engaged with danger, her costume jewellery fizzing and sparking with cosmic electricity .

                 The gathering thunderstorm finally broke as office workers began to arrive in the downtown area. A pink-cheeked businessman, snug under his umbrella, wafted along, smelling of expensive aftershave. He passed a a pissed-off premature post-futurist clad in leather and vinyl trudging home to re-do her sums, her leashed and barbered poodle trotting dutifully alongside in a candy-polka-dot body sock. Coconut kids in crisis began crossing over to the carwash as warm rain twinkled down, turning the years to rust, rust which began to slowly corrode the machinery, eating through the beautiful melted chrome of the burnt-out red Eldorado.


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