Travis Fleeting is Dead

Canto 1 September 8, 2007 10am PDT

In which Travis is lying awake late at night or early in the morning and has a vision (of sorts).

Damage. They call it experience. There you go. But listen cautiously to the meaning of the simple syllables in a word like damage. The way the ‘m’ rolls under the crest of the ‘d’, the way ‘age’ takes a part in the inevitability of it all. Damage: an even number of letters. The middle is the space where there is nothing. It is cruelly symmetric to the shape of being human—being only between moments—and being a matted, emaciated, old, dirty alley cat—one of those things that’s there just because it is, because no one wants it (and strangely, because no one has the heart to put it out of its misery). And yet if you do not handle that radioactive substance of regret and guilt with care, it leaves behind a dirty residue. “Oh, I am better,” says Life. “Oh, I have done worse.” But then there is Damage playing tricks in the back of Life’s mind. “I have done worse, haven’t I? Right?”

Canto 2 January 21, 2007 2am PDT

In which Travis falls asleep and the Bug Man wakes him up and invites him to lunch.

Hefting his lavender, polyester pants one side at a time, the bug man then lifts his spray canister with his right hand, and pulls his purple baseball cap, with smashed bug logo, down tight to his brow with his left. “I do love a good Spanish melody,” the bug man says, crossing into the other room.

“Mm-hmm,” says Travis, still rubbing his eyes. He sits on the old couch and closes his eyes, listening to the sounds of the bug man’s voice destroying the melody, the warmth of the thin sunbeams caressing him, and the hypnotic movements of the small dust particles in the light making him drift off again.

“Puede salir cuando quiere, Pero nunca yo partir!” the bug man sings.

Canto 2 October 10, 2007 10am PDT

In which Travis plays a guitar solo.

His sound comes at first to him like a cough in a quiet room, awkward but unwilling to be suppressed. At first he thinks about the song, he thinks about the notes, until they begin coming faster to him than he can perceive, until they cluster like insects that form strains and threads, but gather at the hilt of his consciousness, no longer willing to wait, they amass until there are so many of them and their reverberations and echoes, that the insect hoard turns into waves. They wash over him, here and there, revealed finite spots that he can recognize, but even these tiny moments of recognition, he backs away from. Like a sleeper counting backwards until he is counting no more, he is sliding out of his brain. He turns the function of his muscles over to his muscles and he, harmonic zen monk, steps back out of himself to get out of his own way. Where does he go, wandering his sonic soundscape where visions, mostly loose and washed out, come to him?

Canto 3 January 22, 2007 11am PDT

In which Travis leaves with the Bug Man for lunch and forgets his shoes.

Travis stares, concerned.

“Let’s go to lunch!” the bug man announces, loudly disturbing the quiet and dusty reverie of the room.

Standing, Travis stretches hard, reaching out, elbows cracking and ending in a “nnngMwaah.” He scratches his stomach beneath his t-shirt which says: In Case of Emergency: Panic! “Okay.”

Canto 3 September 29, 2007 11am PDT

In which Travis is exhausted after playing a show.

After the applause, his mind returns from vanishing, and this is the picture hours later:

He is Travis Fleeting in his lonesome, dreaming state, right there in front of you, cuddled up in front of the television in his dingy living room, roommates fast asleep. He does not exist because he is really his glorious friends. He is his listeners. He is love found along the way. He is a strange reminder, constant only for himself in his lonesome dreaming state, his dream now static on the television screen flickering dizzyingly with the word “MUTE” spelled out in green, blocky, digital letters in the lower left corner of the screen.

Canto 4 October 1, 2007 10am PDT

In which Travis receives signals from outer space.

When Travis has the dream he dies, only to awaken in his own bed, shocked not to have four feet and hooves. Television and a sleepless night in that soft, familiar armchair usually follow, the warmth of the corrugated velvet cradling him. The high-pitched chattering of channel ninety-nine is muted but its scrambled signal still graces him with enough randomness to meditate on nothing. Planet Earth? Planet Earth? Are you receiving our signal? Travis smiles lazily. “I am receiving you, Commander Gibson.” Fifteen minutes before, the channel had been clear enough to make out naked, heaving bodies through the static. Now the picture isn’t clear enough to make out anything. Travis, despite accusations from roommates, actually turns the scrambled channel on for the sake of the vegetating color bar—just something to ponder. Waves and tides of odd bands of resonance fight their way across the screen, and Travis enjoys lapsing into a hypnotized state in a vane attempt to comprehend the dream and the hole it leaves somewhere in the middle of his heart.

Canto 4 January 24, 2007 10am PDT

In which the Bug Man tells Travis a joke that is not at all funny.

Walking around the front and hopping in the other side, Travis turns to the bug man, “So, you got a name?”

“Yep, yep,” the bug says. Leaning over, the little man turns the radio nob, and the sounds of the mariachi band trickle through the speakers. “Now you don’t know nothin’ bout Hemi’s ’til you seen one in action.” With that, the bug man stomps on the accelerator and peels out like a Montego Hera. Travis watches ahead as the truck swerves through the parking lot, the accelerator and brakes being applied frequently and randomly, jolting him back and forth, back and forth, like a punching bag before a kangaroo.

Canto 4 June 26, 2013 7pm PDT

In which an old machine makes an objection to discussions of euthanasia.

It’s summer and it’s morning and it’s hot and it’s Georgia. Nick and Travis, wearing jackets, looking cool, walk around the corner from their breakfast joint to one of the city parking lots on Washington. Entering the lot, they make their way over to a twenty-year-old, faded lime-green Ford Montego. With a loving thump on the roof, Nick gets in first and leans across the long, plush, velvet front seat to unlock the door for Travis. Even though he is six-foot-five, Nick still has to stretch to reach the passenger door. Travis gets in as Nick starts the car. The engine comes to life like taking away a ribeye from a lion and Nick pats the dashboard sweetly, unlit cigarette hanging from his lip. “That’s it, baby,” he says and revs the V8 engine a couple more times for good measure. The Montego, still in neutral, shivers with excitement if not, perhaps, a touch of dementia.

Many years ago, Nick’s parents bestowed upon him ownership of the majestic Montego, a massive and powerful machine: a relic and an ark, a rambling tank, a “lime-o-sine”, a gashog behemoth. Words come so easily to describe such machines, for they are one-of-its-kind, and uniqueness assists the vocabulary.1 Now and then comes a machine unlike the others–the mere copies–and the length of life of those special machines lies on the far positive end of the bell curve of average lifespan. There are those machines that are held together with soul for some reason. Each is an improvement on the copy and strangely, alongside this quality, comes personality. The Montego was not just a car, she was a car with proclivities.

For a long time, the car was a burden on Nick. It was old and crotchety and sometimes gave trouble when unwanted, especially, for some reason, prior to dates. Her color was pale in comparison to some of the newer, prettier cars that Nick’s schoolmates drove; machine-precisioned, chrome-covered, shining BMWs and Audis. Those short-lived status symbols never needed a coat hanger to adjust the carburetor’s intake. Young Nick drove the Montego reluctantly, cursing every click, every jolt, dealing with the innards only when forced. And for the Montego, this was nothing new. At twenty-years of age, ancient by any standard of the automobile industry, she had seen enough and been driven enough that driving down that last tunnel to the great country road in the sky didn’t seem too terrible a fate.

Then, something happened. As strange as opposites attract, as peculiar as romance blooming from derision, Nick found himself driving the Montego with delight. As he changed and grew away from the kids in the fancy cars, it settled on him, in him, and him in it. As he became more independent, more aware of his freedom, more willing to be an odd duck, he discovered the beauty of the faded color and rust spots. He discovered practicality in the size of the backseat with a girlfriend, and knew there was power inherent in watching the gas gauge drop when the accelerator pedal hit the floor, and the V8 roared. More than anything, he saw that the other cars were copies of copies and that the people in them were copies of copies. He was becoming a Nick like himself, but one more brazen—and a copy of no one. At some point, he realized that the Montego wasn’t just physically older than him. It was wiser. It was one of the last of its kind and it understood better than Nick did, the freedom in being unique.

On her twenty-first birthday, Travis and Nick poured a beer on her hood, and the Montego had found new love. As the kiss of the hops washed over her metallic nose, she felt the liquid soak her soul with new life and vigor. And as love sometimes does, Nick’s adoration for the vehicle seemed to reverse time’s effects. The Montego grew younger. She pepped up, thinned up, became more solid than she had ever been. Though rusted in spots, her steel hunkered down. She went from car to the revered status of treasure; from junk to antique. She found she had meaning, not just function; that she had shed her object nature and could take part in the conversation. The Montego found that what had once been a generic model title was now a namesake, and that the word it no longer suited her. And she roared for it.

“Twenty-one years and the transmission’s never been touched. How ’bout that!” Nick would declare to new riders, leaning proudly on the hood.

Even those who could not understand the transcendence of Thing to Soul came to know that Nick’s love for the Montego was a source of envy. It was a feeling not meant for the hundreds of thousands of mass-produced vehicles infecting the road, void of individualism. It was a feeling for the particular, for the singular, the only. So, Nick brought the Montego with him to college without question. He embraced her fully and made her one of the first relics of his new life. She was to be with him everywhere he chose to ramble. She became the chariot of her little Gods of the Ridiculous.

One day, just before June, and an oncoming summer college vacation, Nick had been considering the possibility of acquiring a new car–not a mistake in itself. The Montego was old–even she knew –her days were numbered. That much could be granted. But one does not discuss coffin sizes in front of one’s mother. The mistake Nick made was to discuss the matter with Travis while driving the Montego. There wasn’t much discussion. After the breakfast and the heat and coming in to their apartment complex, Nick turns to Travis and says, “I think I might take my Dad’s truck off his hands.”

“Yeah? And give up her majesty?”

“Well… the gas is a problem… and… oh what am I doing talking about this!?”

Travis understands the sensitivity of the matter. “Right.” He waves it off. “We’ll talk about it later, dude.”

Nick parks the Montego on arriving home and he and Travis go inside. There they find John and Ian watching television and begin discussing the details of the night’s plans–only Nick can’t pay much attention. A buzzing is ringing in his ear that leaves him feeling disoriented. Finally, the nagging tone forces him to check reality and ask, “Does anyone else hear that?”

The group listens and agrees that an irritant, like a fire alarm or a siren, is emanating from outside the apartment, and when Nick opens the front door again, they all realize it is the sound of a jammed car horn. Nick steps outside to the causeway to see what kind of wreck is producing the voluminous whine. Looking out across the rows of cars, gradually his hearing hones in on the sound, centered on the Montego. He sighs, knowing something in his gut. “I’ll be right back,” he says to the boys, his eyes on her.

As he approaches, and the dismal sound grows louder, a wave of pity washes over him. He knows. The horn, blasting out into the parking lot, resounding off apartment building walls, resembles more that of a lone howling wolf. It was not the tone of a scream, an irritated bark in a traffic jam after being cut-off. It was sad. She was crying.

The boys come to the door of their apartment to see what the matter is. Neighbors stand by their windows to seek out what is disturbing the quiet afternoon. All eyes are on Nick as he places his hand upon the door handle, and the howling instantly leaves a hole of silence in the humid summer air.

It was then that Nick knew his mistake. As he sat in the plush, velvet interior, he hugged the steering wheel with sincere apology, knowing age is a simple matter of unavoidable consequence. No one asks to grow old and fall apart. No one, human or machine, wants to be useless or discarded. Travis, back at the apartment, turns to John and Ian and smiles. “Let’s give them some privacy,” he says, walking in and shutting the door.

She lingered, she waited, she drove, and she loved them, her little owners. And if she couldn’t sit with them in their midnight reveries in bars, prattle with them philosophically in coffeehouses, or joke mischievously in their bong-addled hazes, she could take them wherever they wanted to go and make sure they got home. And she did it with grace.

  1. Consider someone you know. Now think of words to describe them. So many words! There are so many dimensions and facets and qualities. Now think about the toaster in your kitchen. Not so many words. Unless that toaster is cantankerous and fussy and sometimes burns the toast even when it’s on the same setting you always use! It is indeed rare that a manufactured good, whose very nature is to be a precise copy, not only fails to be a copy, but does so in a way that makes it better rather than destroy it. The rule of mutation is the lemon: that which is not a good copy and also fails. 

Canto 5 January 25, 2007 3pm PDT

In which Travis (Chief) and the Bug Man go to meet Wayne (the Supplier).

“Tell ya what, ameego, we’re gonna stop off and see Wayne quick-like ‘fore lunch.”

“Okay.” In for a dime, in for a dollar.

With that, the bug man pulls the steering wheel right and bumps the truck up on to the sidewalk full speed then jerk stops, half in traffic, half out, in front of a run down gas station. He hops down out of the truck as a car races by, horn blaring.

“Oh,” Travis says without surprise, “We’re here.”

Travis gets out of the truck and follows the bug man stepping carefully, looking out for broken glass.

“Now Wayne here—he jes’ might be the best karyoke round these parts… cain’t sing worth a darn though.”

“Well, naturally.”

Canto 5 September 27, 2007 2am PDT

In which Travis makes a sexual innuendo and pisses John off, who was already pissed off anyway.

“You still up?” asks a tired voice from the kitchen door.

Travis rolls over onto his back, kicking his legs up over the arm rests. “Yeah.”

“Eh. I can’t sleep either.” The figure steps from out of the shadows of the darkened kitchen into the flickering bands of the satori machine, sitting himself on the couch wearily. It is John, and he wipes sleep from his eyes, and then wipes the optic goo off his hand on the arm of the couch. Smiling, he looks at Travis, his teeth a wonderland purple in the television’s light.

“I’m pissed off.”

Travis smiles knowingly, his grin half-buried beneath the seat cushion. “Sorry, lover, I just couldn’t get it up tonight—it wasn’t you—“

“Fuck you.”

Canto 6 October 3, 2007 10am PDT

In which John argues with Travis for the sake of it.

The early morning air is wet and cool, but still evidence, even at night, that it is June. There is no escaping the feeling of a Georgia summer night. The air drops in temperature from a ludicrous heat of hours passed, lingering absentmindedly around seventy-eight or so because the heat has nothing better to do—the boredom of humidity. At night the air isn’t sticky like it is during the day, just a soft and wet, damp blanket; protection from the fire too late. Travis stands watching all the silent parked cars in front of the apartments and thinks about all the people sleeping—tries to imagine his neighbors’ faces as they lay comfortably in their beds. They will be getting up to begin their days only as he goes to bed, too exhausted to dream anymore. The front door opens behind him and John steps out, turning to lock the bolt.

Canto 6 January 26, 2007 4pm PDT

In which Travis and the Bug Man retrieve some important weapons in the battle against tiny denizens.

“Found ’em!” hollers a voice from the garage. Wayne comes back out from the shadows carrying a light colored leather belt with two round holsters—in them, nestled carefully, are two shining silver cannisters. As Wayne gets to them he holds them up to the sun which glints off the majestic chrome as somewhere in the distance a hawk calls. Travis looks around at the sky.

“These’ll keep ma pants up real good,” says M.

“You know this place you got,” Travis says to Wayne, “I’m thinkin’, well ya know, I know some people and—you know the old gas pumps, the cars—Night club.” Travis spreads his hands out in front of them to show them the bright lights. “That’s the way I would rock it, Wayne.”

“Ya think?”

“Oh yeah. Hot commodity. Hot. I know people.”

“Well shit.” Wayne says and scratches his head. “Ya think it’d have karyoke?”

“Wayne—baby. I’m talking kayroke, lip synching, mouthing words to songs without knowing the lyrics, the works. Air guitar. Crazy shit.”

Canto 7 January 27, 2007 3pm PDT

In which our heroes encounter el Diablo.

Travis and the bug man approach the counter, where a Dairy Queen associate stands fussing with her beehive hair-do. “I’ll have a single, vanilla ice cream cone, and whatever me ameego here wants.”

“Just a cup of coffee,” Travis says sleepily.

“Jes a cup a coffee? I’m buyin, Chief. You can have whatever you desire,” M says, waving his hands in a long arc beneath the brightly colored menu, his wandering eye revealing the sparkle of a genie, his secret kept safely tucked away somewhere in his spray canisters.

“Yeah. I just want a cup of coffee.”

The bug man turns to the waitress. “He’ll have one cup of coffee.”

“I guess I heard him,” the waitress replies to the bug man who, completely ignoring the waitress, just whistles along with the mariachi band, rapping his fingers on the counter.

Turning to Travis, he smiles, “We have a lot of fun when we hang out, don’t we?”

Canto 7 October 4, 2007 6pm PDT

In which we meet the Thunderchicken.

If you’ve ever sat in a Thunderbird, you know what it is to sit in a vehicle that swallows you whole. There is an infinite distance between the beginning and the end of the road; a sense that you are not meant to arrive, just go. Driving it isn’t just fun, it’s a matter of confrontation with the road, a challenge to the asphalt with the wheels so widely spread. Go where you please, because God will protect you—he drives a thunderbird, too. And only he, that master of the elements and the universe, creates chariots of such sport. There can be little doubt that the GM plans for the car came from a burning bush high on a mountaintop. Like the first sip of a cool, amber beer on a Friday night, Travis always sinks into the passenger seat of the Thunderchicken, settling into foam stained with the smell of ash, knowing that this ride will not be like the last. John’s car was no nine-to-five car—no machine for commutes. There was never really anywhere to go, anyway—the ride was home. Darkness in the huge window to the right of Travis reveals in his mind a distant panorama of fields where animals run free, somewhere beneath pinpoints of early morning June stars. “Bring your dreams,” the Thunderchicken requests as the engine purs to life, “I will carry you along, on my sturdy shock absorbers, and twin cams, smoothly over waves of discontent.” Drive her like she deserved to be driven and she would protect you.

Canto 8 October 6, 2007 9pm PDT

In which John makes a very rude accusation.

John starts looking around the dash, and then gropes under the driver’s seat, searching for his tape player. The dash stereo is broken with a bad habit of eating tapes, but John has a tape player adapter for his portable CD player (which is also broken) plugged in to a walkman. They call it his ghetto stereo. He finds the walkman, hits play, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” washes like liquid valium through the car’s speakers. The music calms the beast of John’s driving, and the car hums with floating motion; the road grows a little longer.

David Gilmour asks, “So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain?”

“It’s not that bad, is it?” Travis says as he hopes it’s not.

But concentrating on the road, John’s light demeanor grows a tad heavier, with minor chords. He is key changing. He thinks about the difference between blue skies and pain in the dark of the morning. “It’s Rache,” he says, his teeth chopping her name off short.

“You’re not gonna’ break up or anything?”

John shrugs and keeps his eyes on the road, Rachel could be either a green field or a cold steel rail. She could be a smile or a veil and he couldn’t tell.

Canto 8 January 28, 2007 12pm PDT

In which a showdown ends badly for both participants.

Staring at the roach, its little legs squirming between the Diablo’s thick, dirty thumb and forefinger, the Bug Man’s eyes widen. The thin, hairy roach legs wave aimlessly and reach out for his face, as the exterminator’s good eye quivers, shaking with a paralyzing mixture of fear and anger. The ice cream cone drops from the bug mans hand as his arms go slack, and it falls, turning over and over, slowly until the thick white ball smashes into the floor, dispersing like an asteroid. Looking down, the bug man examines the wreckage of his tasty, frozen treat. He licks his thick lips once and frowns. Still staring at it, he speaks slowly, the tension mounting in his voice, “You made me drop my. Ice. Cream. Cone”

"Carousel Cowboy" is a novel by R. E. Warner.