The buildings are literally running amok and a public bus is a harrowed citizenry’s only refuge in Scott Tienken’s futurist-jigsaw-gothic Mass Transportation. Join the citizens of Broken City as they flee from ambulatory buildings, urban ghosts, and each other; all too distracted to realize their only hope may be a mysterious woman known as The Queen.
Mass Transportation is now available in Portland bookstores, including Broadway Books, Oregon City Friends of the Library Bookstore, Reading Frenzy, St. Johns Booksellers, and Wallace Books. Or click below to order on-line.
Here is Broken City taking a break from hostilities to go out and play.
Buildings on the lam from other buildings. Buildings kneeling behind other buildings. Big buildings pulling down the edificial trousers of smaller buildings. Buildings throwing rooms at one another. Gamboling about, brandishing lampposts, kicking mailboxes, jumping up and down.
We try to run with the former élan, as if it this too were the most natural thing in the world. But we are too trippingly inward and self-conscious. Our reflexes are shot. We haven’t been sleeping. Haven’t been getting along with our new families. Been unjust. We fall to the ground weeping. The sky fills with massive shuttlecocks, boomerangs, and medicine balls. We beg our new families for forgiveness.
When playtime is over the battles, reversals, demolitions, and removals are resumed. Massive shadows shoot into the spot-lit clouds all through the night. Distant explosions kick up drafts in our sealed chambers. We turn off the lights and pull the covers over our new loved ones. The lights are turned back on. We blindfold each other. Turn the white noise machines up. Sleep even less. Are constantly on edge.
The buildings learn to move silently. We station guards with megaphones outside. They listen and feel for the slightest vibration. A pebble falls. “She’s on the move! She’s on the move! She’s on the move!” The guard presses the warning siren on the megaphone. “Get ready! Get ready! Get ready!” Initiates a series of shotgun blasts to boot. But it’s too late. The ground floor is flashing the office manager’s desk lamp to signal and slips in alongside the other building traffic easing down Northeast ______ Avenue. We roll over in bed and try to go back to sleep. Where else would we go anyway?
We wake in a different part of town…no. We only dreamt we did. The ghost of the threat has shaped our dreams. Still, our bodies have that rocking feeling of having recently swam in the ocean. We vomit out the window.
We try to shake it off. Stretch our cramped muscles. Put the coffee on. Sing a popular inspirational song in the shower. Try not to lay out too much of the day in our imagination since to do so is folly. Try to go no further than anticipating the consolation of a crisply fwumping, standard-issue, industrial-grade plastic umbrella snapping tautly into place. Fwump! There: Another apparatus. We consider taking voice or dance lessons. We are so grateful for having made it through the night that, despite all logic to the contrary, we feel optimistic. Picture ourselves vehemently differing with someone who would deign to speak ill of our still fair city. Sing another inspirational.
rearin’ for a comeback-Ohhhhhh.
We temporarily fall in love with this sweet relief, this gifted respite from the bully’s ire. We relax a little and anticipate holding a good hot paper cup of coffee in our cold wet hands. Weapons come in many forms.
Reportedly, the above is the telltale behavior of someone about to make a run for it. A spouse will say ‘He seemed fine this morning. Happy even.’ Then the last place he or his vehicle will be seen is somewhere close to the tip of the peninsula or maybe skulking around the southwest marina. A vessel will be missing. We will never know if he has made it or not. The only evidence is a logjam of empty boats, paddles, boxes of provisions, weapons, ordinance, lifejackets, and assorted keepsakes at the confluence. No one has the heart to make much of a search beyond that.
The rest of us remain. Either out of fear, habit, no better alternative, or the amalgam of these known as ‘our choice.’ We hold out hope for a future ‘return to normalcy.’ Compare ourselves to others. ‘This must be similar to what it is like for those living in…say…the arctic regions. What with the confinement. The threat on the other side of the door. We’re not so strange. Well, alright, we are. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit here and take it.’ And Broken City, in a now familiar, ominous hands-off manner, allows us to once again begin building. We have groundbreaking ceremonies, ribbon cuttings, grand openings. We tiptoe into shining lobbies. Mentally note the points of egress. Take the stairs. ‘No, no. I’ll meet you up there. I need the exercise.’
The buildings even cease hostilities with each another. We wonder how long the new détente will last. Wonder what we did to deserve this. Drop any self-consciousness about believing in the power of our superstitions. Think maybe we are getting through to Broken City. Carry two shotguns. Create more involved tap routines. Buy cordless microphones for our chanting. Serenade Broken City. Perform increasingly obscure mantras using terms we hope Broken City might understand. Turn them into still more obscure serenades. A few samples:
Here I am!- out on __th
(Three quick claps)
Here I am!- up on Parapet
Let me cross o’er to the wheel-house
Here’s my engine for your noise
(Mimic of revved engine, man steering himself down the street with invisible wheel)
Down with ________ , Down with ________
She was vacant any-WAY.
Down on ____, Down on _________
Surely he was in-SURED.
Not ole ____, Not ole ____
I’ve got the rite-a-way. (Clap)
I’ve got the rite-a-way. (Clap)
I’ve got the HIIIIIIDE-away. (Clap-clap-clap)
(Man making a turtle shell around him with the domes of two totable umbrellas)
(Sung threateningly, defiantly by a young woman wearing hiking boots with tap-inserts while standing in the middle of a ruin)
Crack-back (one hard tap)
gonna be a BACK lash (mimic of cracking a whip)
We live in the age of earthquakes!
(furiously, wildly jumping up and down, arhythmically cup-clapping, kuh-BRRRMMM!-ing with her mouth – all presumably to embody an earthquake)
Crack-back (two taps)
gonna be a BACK-lash (two cracks of whip)
We live in the age of hurri-CANES!
(blowing as hard as she can, arms at sides, spinning and swaying like a top)
Crack-back (three taps)
gonna be a BACK-lash (three cracks of whip)
We live in the age of (screaming as high and loud as she can) FLOOOOOOOD! (and passing water for an impressively long period of time)
The fool-lucky, open-air tour guides pull the bus alongside and push the button on their megaphone. “Listen to what these songs say, ladies and gentlemen. Are they not truly bizarre? But please (finger wagging): Don’t judge them too harshly, my friends. Remember: This could be your city some day. Your _______ ! Or your _____ _____ ! Any one of our cities could be a Broken City in waiting!”
▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫
The streets become so strangely crowded during The New Confidence many of us choose to become nocturnal so we have more breathing room.
Then most of us go nocturnal. (Our attitudes shift this quickly.) You see us running our errands at night. Peeking around the corner of our hedge. Running to the curb with our cans of waste, running back to the garage, jumping in a vehicle, pressing a button to raise the door, and peeling out of the driveway to speed to the supermarket. Sprinting from the parking lot to the obliging doors and jogging through the blaring aisles of halogen realizing we are still in our bathrobe. Seeing others also in their bathrobes and still others in nothing but underwear and flip flops. Approximately thinking ‘This is the attenuated world I have chosen. At least it isn’t crowded here.’ Wondering if we will forget where we have parked…what our vehicle looks like.
We white-knuckle the wheel and wade through the mist-curtained streets. We part the shear fabrics of halogen hung night. We think we see ghosts inside a cloud-sunken intersection. We think better of it but are followed home by the possibility.
We make it back without any serious complication. We are grateful. We touch the faces of our loved ones. This is our magnanimous interval. We are at our most considerate. We take an inventory of our opt-outs small and large. Consider the personal style in which we have been glossing this latest transitional period. ‘Is my adaptation helping? Am I hurting anyone in the process? Am I still patient and kind to my loved ones? Am I cruel to my fellow citizens? Unfair? How deep a pit might I throw myself down in order to be over-generous to my fellow man? It’s not as dramatic as all that is it? I must simply try harder. Do better. I truly want to do better. We’re not all bad after all. Only…I feel so…uneasy. Things are calm now but Broken City could turn on us at any moment. I have no…leverage.’
This may not be exactly what we’re thinking but I damn well bet its in the ballpark.
These silent efforts mean nothing to Broken City, though. They see the same bunch of loon-ritualists, sprinters and skulkers, and would-be citizens of an increasingly unvaried stripe. Our attitudes toward them change not at all. We are unspeakably dull. The blandly insane, nocturnal company we provide is answered with animal howls and metallic groans. Perhaps they mourn their losses. Blame the fighting on such a petty thing as man. Ventilation systems join in with a chorus of sighs. Fire hydrants and dormant fountains rocket tears into the air.
Are they capable of forgiving us? Do they want to? Or will they aggressively forget us. Either way, terrible consequences seem imminent. An odor like burning fills the city air. And that slight smokiness (in odor and aspect) that moved in when we first began breaking for good? It is now sulfur-yellow. Broken City resembles old, water-stained newsprint. The typeface is jumbled and smeared. The citizenry are mannequins posing in the penny ads.
They decide to keep every street light illuminated throughout the night. Every glaring iota of city-space now blares with funhouse threat. The shadows are livid with menace. Every halogen-blasted corner seems the source of their roaring hurt. They terrify us without moving. And so we chant like mad, blast away through the spy hole in the plywood ‘window,’ overstep the prescribed sleeping pill dosage; anything to ride out the night of sirens and shadows…and the ghost-sounds of the threats of these things.
We are issued black eye-masks, black light bulbs, even more powerful sleeping agents.
We cling to our loved ones one last time before running to our transit machines. We drive like lunatics and think every pedestrian insane. When we return home from the day’s accumulations, evasions, short-cuts, and insufficient consolations we must work very hard not to project this complex accumulation of upset (which we crudely refer to as ‘anxiety’) onto those we share shelter with. It is a testament to our devotions, our vouchsafed kernels of love, perhaps even our capacity for justice, that we remain kind to those who matter most and don’t pursue a self-destructive catharsis. We sublimate our violence by ultra-chanting, ultra-shouting, and taking sledgehammers to little sacrificial hills of debris in the building’s basement. We dispose of the pebble and dust as discreetly as possible.
But, inevitably, unavoidably, we are forced out of doors again. The days pound away at us like this. No amount of quickening, machinery, or love can remotely inure us from the assault of a public realm out to scare the wits out of us. We continue moving, parcel by smile-cracked parcel, despite ourselves. Blanching, muttering, shaking.