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Liquid Censorship

Humans are all too happy to keep company until the company turns out to be less appealing than solitude.

Story by Thor Benson - thorbenson@gmail.com Drawings by Alexsey Kashtelyan
Photo © Alexsey Kashtelyan

Illustration © Alexsey Kashtelyan

I got on the public transit bus on the corner adjacent to my apartment. It was about 8:30 at night, and I had to get to work for the night shift as always. I entered past the swinging door, and gave off the slightest of acknowledgments to our conductor as I flung my coins into the metallic collector. Clink-clink-clink.
It was always a battle for me, deciding where to place myself on the bus. If I sat too far up front, I had to deal with a stew of handicaps and elderly, and if I sat too far in the back, I risked being harassed by rebellious teens and uncomfortably forward hoodlums.
I rested smack in the middle of the cruising test tube next to an elderly African-American gentleman dressed in a worn grey suit and hat with a feather in it. He looked halfway up to me, with a smirk and a nod of confidence.

“Don’t be scared, I don’t bite, usually!” he jested.
“That’s alright; I don’t have any meat on me,” I replied.
“My name’s Ernest, whadda they call you?”
“My name’s Rider, just gettin’ a lift to work.”
“Oh yeah? Alright, alright, where you workin’ at?”
“I do power washing, keeping the town clean.”
“Ah, that ain’t bad. I used to work for the city, keeping things tidy, I get you.”

“Keeping things tidy,” as he put it. That was my lot in life for the moment. The city was so damn concerned with keeping its image up, any graffiti would be washed and painted over within twenty-four hours. It was an artificial place; fake Spanish tiles, new storefronts built to look old, and everything had to be as bright as the day it was put in place. They thrived off the bloated cash cows that limped through town with pockets full of crumpled presidents.

“Whaddya do for fun besides power washing?” Ernest asked me.
“I read, write, paint, go see live music, sit on the beach, you know, the usual.”
“Ok. A music lover, huh? I play a little music myself!”
“What’s your genre, Ernest?”
“Well, the blues of course, can’t you tell?” Ernest slapped his knee.
“Of course, very nice.”
“Yeah, I suppose I’ve been playing for forty-something years. You ever hear of Junior Kimbrough?”
“No, I can’t say I have. What’s he known for?”
“Well, a few things, but he was a blues player his whole life and never got known ‘til a few years before he died. I guess I’m hopin’ that happens to me too, but I’m happy just playing.”

Photo © Alexsey Kashtelyan

Illustration © Alexsey Kashtelyan

As Ernest explained to me the life of Junior Kimbrough, the bus halted quickly and two young girls dressed for a night out walked in. One of them was significantly more made-up than the other; she had straightened dark brown hair, a fancy tweed jacket, and heels. Her face was rather normal, a button nose and narrow eyes, but she acted like she was the hottest thing since Marilyn Monroe.

“Shit, now that’s a fine woman,” Ernest remarked.

The two girls sat in front of Ernest and I, the “pretty” one was on her cell phone, and her friend did her best to pretend like she was entertained otherwise. As the girl got off her cell phone she went on to tell her friend about how the girl on the phone and her looked very much alike, and how often they get confused for each other. I knew that it meant the other girl was more attractive, because you never go out of your way to explain how much you look like an old rag.
The friend just sat there nodding along, pretending to be interested. She was more down to earth in appearance than the talkative girl. She had a look of regret in her eyes, and I could tell she was reconsidering her plans for the evening. Humans are all too happy to keep company until the company turns out to be less appealing than solitude.
It was about time for me to get off, so I bid farewell to Ernest. “It’s been great talking to you,” I said. Although, when you’re talking to the elderly it usually seems like you do a lot more listening than exchanging. Ernest tipped his cap to me, and told me to enjoy my shift.
Apparently I was late to work, because when I got to the lot my co-workers were getting into our truck to leave for a job. My fellow washers were all Mexican for some reason, and they always gave me shit for being the “gringo”. But I knew it was all in good fun, so I occasionally indulged their stereotypes.

“We’re rubbing off on you, man, this is the second time you’ve been late this week!” one of them said.
“Nah, your girlfriends are rubbing off on me, man…” I replied.
“Ah, no! You got a mouth on you! Let’s go Rider!” another said.

We piled into the car like Mexicans on their way to a farm, and drove a few miles to a building with some graffiti laid on it. For some reason, everyone in town refused to paint over their graffiti until the walls were power washed, so we reaped the benefits. Sometimes the spray paint came off from the washing, but we had to get there early.
As I approached the glossy scribbling, a strange feeling came over me. When I focused on the words, they seemed all too familiar. I almost knew them by heart, and it was the third time it had happened that month. What was written on the walls were quotes from famous authors and poets, and the person charged with erasing them was me, their biggest fan.

Photo © Alexsey Kashtelyan

Illustration © Alexsey Kashtelyan

“Beware
The Average Man
The Average Woman
BEWARE Their Love
Their Love Is Average, Seeks
Average
But There Is Genius In Their Hatred”
Bukowski said, splattered on the wall.

It hurt me, physically, to remove these arts, to erase those words. Art and the written word are already so impermanent, so fragile; it felt wrong to hasten the process. Every artist dreams of immortality, not for themselves, but for their work. Artists are far too mentally unstable to stand living forever, or often even for a full life span, but to have their creations live on eternally is their most passionate desire.
After a brief wake for the lost expressions, I assisted my comrades in spraying down the walls with our liquid censorship. I watched as the stained fragments and droplets exploded off the wall, catching the reflection of the street lamps in mid-air. I had to do my job, even if it meant destroying something I loved. I closed my eyes as I washed the paint away, and my fellow hate sprayers didn’t understand.
Once our job was finished at our first location, it was time to move to the next. By morning the town would be just like new, with no change in scenery to jar the masses. I wanted to be the pencil, not the eraser, but it wasn’t easy to find a paying gig as a pencil in that town.
At our next stop we found another bland white visage with unfortunate creative imprints. I refused to look at the wall at first. It could have been anything, a name, a portrait of a girl, but no, as I finally looked up I saw more of the same. The artist was haunting me, like a guilt trip, and he wanted us to know he wouldn’t stop.

“Suffering is what was born
Ignorance made me forlorn
Tearful truths I cannot scorn”
Ginsberg said, splattered on the wall.

I looked away and washed the large white bricks. The paint dripped down like psychedelic teardrops. I couldn’t take it, because someone was risking detainment, and we were cleaning up the evidence. I cursed the night, wishing I was anywhere else other than half asleep washing my heroes away. I couldn’t tolerate another poet. When the job was done, as it always is, we continued to the next stop.

Photo © Alexsey Kashtelyan

Illustration © Alexsey Kashtelyan

“Are you okay, bro?” the driver asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just been an uninspiring night,” I replied.

Our third stop was considerably further away than I expected, rather proximal to where I lived actually. I decided then and there that I was done with that shit job, and I wanted to pursue my art, even if it meant starvation. I planned to ride the night out, and be done with that exhausting franchise by dawn. It was one thing to pay the bills, but another thing entirely to pay them in despair.
As we pulled into a gravel parking lot with the rocks crackling under our truck I saw the biggest sign of all. It was the words of Voltaire spread across a factory wall the size of a mountainside, splattered on that wall, and I took a moment to view it from the passenger seat of the car. The others got out and I simply sat there in awe. If there was a god, he was telling me to take a fucking hint.
Eventually I exited the vehicle, and I walked towards the exit of the parking lot. It was only a couple miles from my house, and I knew of a fine drinking well on the way where I could grab myself a whiskey, which I so strongly desired.

“Where you going, bro!?” they exclaimed.
“I’m not feeling well; I’m going home for the night!”

I walked away from the scene with my sense of fear raping my sense of pride. I knew it would be dire straits soon. It had taken me three months to find the job I had, and after a month there I walked away from it. There is no financial reward for good character, and it is often more of a debt.
It was late, but not too late, so I entered Lulu’s Bar and sat down by the bartender. The bartender knew me, and gave me the usual one-sided smile while he polished a glass tumbler. He could tell by my demeanor exactly what I was looking for, and he poured me a shot of middle-grade whiskey. He poured until the glass filled to the brim with the toxic tranquilizer.

“I thought you worked on Friday nights, did you quit or what?” the bartender asked.

One Response to “Liquid Censorship”

  1. Russ Cahn says:

    I really liked this, great job! The artist’s message was received it seems. I was reminded of the Zen Monks sand art as I read this and thought art is in the doing, what happens after it is done is inconsequential.