Pippilotta was 17 years old when she first moved to Metro City. She lived in a condemned warehouse in what was generally considered to be the worst part of town, of the state actually, and sometimes, of the whole country too.
I think that was the year that we won the 'Murder City U.S.A.' contest. We beat out Detroit, for once, and Flint, Michigan, and yeah, ever Washington D.C.. Winning that particular contest never failed to make New Years Eve all the more, um, festive. I mean, most of the people in Metro City had never won a thing before in their lives. Of course, terms like 'winning' and 'festive' are really kind of relative in situations like this. 'Festive', for instance, pretty much means more gunshots, more random fires, more vandalized cop cars, and running wild in the streets.
One of Pippi's roomates that year had some old friends in town that showed up just in time for the holiday. Some nice college kids from Vermont, or some such place, who got their brand new little green Subaru stripped and left up on cinderblocks in the street out in front of the warehouse. It's still hard to say whether it was more fun to watch them cringe and squeal and dive for the floorboards at every gunshot and pipebomb, or to watch all of the urban fireworks from the rooftops.
Technically, you weren't even supposed to go outside on nights like these in places like Metro City, especially out onto the rooftops. Every holiday, New Years, the Fourth of July, Halloween (especially Halloween), even Christmas, and sometimes on Easter, too, there would be a big list of injuries and fatalities in the local paper, mostly from bullets being shot into the air, and then coming back down, at the same velocity, miles away, only to find some poor kid, tending to his dads new barbecue grill, or maybe playing catch with Fido, and plug him in the head. For a while, they were trying to pass a city-wide ordinance requiring that everyone fire into the ground instead.
Still, in spite of all this, and sometimes even, she suspected, because of it, Pippi loved Metro City. It was the closest family she had here.
She'd been shot at three times in three years in Metro City, and was, in a strange sort of way, almost proud of this fact. She'd really come a long way from when she first got here. She was just figuring out how to use things like V.C.R.s and microwaves then, and sheıd never seen a light switch before in her life. She had spent the entire preceding sixteen years of her life living in tee-pees made of royal palm fronds in beach parks, on communes and in treehouses, in brightly painted vans traversing the U.S. and Canada, old fishing boats off the shores of Jamaica (where she had been born, in a cave), on sugar cane and banana plantations, and in the mountains of Hawaii in a solar powered spray concrete dome that would have done Buckminster Fuller proud, next to a river, surrounded by bamboo, palms, and macadamia nut trees. If it wasn't for having to attend public schools all the while, it would have been a utopian childhood.
I guess would probably make sense to let you know that my name isn't really Pippi. Pippilotta. Pippilotta LaRamie. It's a name that I found in a book once, well, not in a book really, like a character in the story. It was the name of the girl who used to own it. It was probably the best name I'd ever heard in my life, so I started using it. Besides, it was a really good book, and there were others, also really good, and a pair of white go-go boots, a Pac-Man backpack, a polyester shirt with dominos printed all over it, and a pile of beautiful old mohair sweaters, pink, blue, mint green, and one sort of sherbert orange colored, and they were all in a stall at the charity flea market, so I figured that the real Pippi must've joined the convent, renounced all of her worldly possessions, or moved to Prague or the mountains of Tibet. So I bought it all. For sixteen dollars. And I figured she probably wouldn't mind if I used her name once in a while too.
And, yeah, I'm trying to write the Great American Novel. I've got a lot of the middle pieces, and some of the end, not the very end, cause I don't know what happens there yet. Mostly for now I write lists; lists in line at the welfare office, lists over chicken bone soup in Tijuana, lists on a shaky bus filled with screaming children and psychopaths, on the way across the country to move in with someone I have never met. And one day, I figure, I'll just string them all together and I'll have my book - the book of lists.
Sometimes she thought she should be writing a list of the classic first sentences of the Great American Novel. She had just been reminded that Judy Blume, of all people, had started one of her books with "Sybil Davidson has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.", so she had to beat that one, for starters.
Lately, itıs been all about hot chocolate, apple pie, and codeine, about glow-in-the-dark stars, and the Ohio River, and the piece of her silver 1974 Dusterıs engine that she was going to throw into it once she got there, so she would almost have to stay awhile.
Pippi had this natural tendency to remain in motion, and she was pretty sure that it ran in her family, their surname meant something about wanderlust in German, so it would definitely take something that drastic to slow the momentum of her ancestors for awhile.
It was supposed to be like On the Road, for real, we were going to take over ghost towns and make spagetti westerns on our dimestore super-8 cameras, find an old victorian house with peeling paint and a crumbling porch on a river somewhere, make our own moonshine, and sit up all night writing old style country songs on the harmonica. We were supposed to go as far and as fast as my new stolen car would take us, but really, in the end, we never even left Metro City. We'd just sit in the abandoned playground on the corner, and drink, and plan. We'd drink Night Train, sometimes Mad Dog 20/20, the blue flavor, and we'd plan. Under the stars, when they were out. Once, on Emmy's birthday, we bought nine bottles of Mad Dog, one of each color, and spent about three days straight in that park, drunk and unruly, laughing and crying, and yeah, planning our escapes.
Emmy was going to buy her uncle's old turqouise Chevy farm truck, start a jug band, and drive around the country playing in pre-schools and old folks homes. As soon as she could find a job. Emmy owned every record ever made by Hank Williams Sr., and every record ever made by Crime. She had red hair, wore green boots, and was a walking encyclopedia of esoteric knowledge. She knew all about lycanthropy, trepanation, the Flat Earth Society, and quantum physics, too.
Lilly, Chris, and Jane were all going to build their own cabins down on the landfill, a barren stretch of land between the waterfront and the railroad tracks, that could've been a beach, if the city really cared. Already, people were starting to move down there, like the writer they met wandering through one day, who lived in a thicket of shrubs with just his typewriter and a percolator coffee-pot.
Me, I just had a stolen car, the first of five that I'd go through in as many years, that my neighbor Levi would give me for real cheap, once even a Chevy Nova for free, for letting his ten year old daughter stay at our house while he was in jail for.. well, for stealing cars. And I had a full tank of gas, and one day I'd get in and just keep driving.
Pippi's first neighborhood in Metro City was either a post-industrial urban nightmare, a children's fairyland, or both, depending on how you looked at it. It was all trainyards and giant structures collapsing into themselves, crumbling freeway exits, closed to all through traffic, stopping dead thirty feet above giant stone pillars, and dropping off into nothing. It was all secret military bases and vacant lots, propeller factories, and huge dredging cranes that looked like the AT-ATs in Star Wars. Pippi lived in a row of warehouses on west 11th street. The one she lived in used to be a cathouse in the forties. Upstairs there were about thirty cubicles. The rent was $50 a month. Her roomates were all artists, drug addicts, future rock stars, lost punk kids, and freaks. The downstairs pretty much belonged to the rats. It was also right next to the train tracks. Well, the commuter train, anyway, the real trains were half a block away. And when I say right next to the tracks, I mean right next to the tracks, you could look out your window and right into the eyes of someone on the train. for a while, Pippi would hang a sheet in her window with a different incendiary slogan painted on it every day; 'fuck work', 'bad day at the office? try revolution, it works!', 'consume, it works for america!', and just plain 'you suck'. As far as she cold tell, only one person had ever noticed - Nancy, a crazy girl from the other side of the river who worked in a comic book store, had pink and black hair, and was a member of MENSA. Nancy wasn't really her target audience though, she liked Nancy. It was the commuters. The commuters with their briefcases and their sensible shoes, suited up and blow-dried, with their eyes glued to the windows as the train passed through West Metro City on itıs way to the tunnel. It was a mixture of fear and awe, wonder maybe, at the ruins of the city below, the once thriving theatres, jazz clubs, hotels, dive bars, gambling dens, and houses of ill-repute, all forsaken by the freeways that passed right over West Metro City on their way to somewhere else, now barely standing with saran wrap windows and steel plated doors, to keep out the bullets, the police, and sometimes, the neighbors. Nobody knew they were filled with families filled with love, kids filled with soul, and old folks filled with stories that they'd gladly share over a Faygo orange soda outside the liquor store, or over a $1.99 bacon and egg breakfast down at Al's on Sunday morning, where the whole town came together simply by virtue of the fact that it was the only restaurant left standing. No one knew and no one cared. When the train doors opened, they'd all wrinkle up their noses at the yeast smell from the bread factory, the one you'd get used to in half an hour if you lived here, that turned the sky above the city a strange shade of greenish gray, day and night. Sometimes, when the sun tried to fight it's way through, shards of neon lime and yellow would flood the streets. And they'd cover their sensitive ears to the scraping and crunching and screeching, the deafening clamor of the scrapyards and the sheet metal refineries, and the whistles and clatters of the train switching yard. What they didn't know was that these were the cornerstones of life in West Metro City.
( back to the main page )