Expeditionary Intent
by Harrison White

 

            The idea first began incubation before I knew the beats. I found “Sunflower Sutra” on the interne and became enthralled with the elegy for the lost America, more poignant then than ever. This is during the political era of continually broadcast fears continually playing to a mass populous. The early days of Operation Iraqi Liberation later renamed Operation Iraqi Freedom, where people still believed a tired and threatening mythology of imminent destruction.

            But the whole thing, the greatness and grandness of the purpose, didn’t come to its own until a few years later. I broke up with a girlfriend I loved and controlled to extents than anyone should (well, she broke with me in a splitting that parallels the beginning line of JK’s book),and blew through an uneasy and unstable relationship with a bisexual girl crushing on Bettie Page. It all came down to reflection and honest talking with my friend Byron James “BJ” Bartlett, a new Neal Cassady, by any estimation and all esteem.

            I first met Byron back in middle school, through my best friend, the son of a Sudanese prince in self-imposed exile in avoidance of the custom of marrying a custom, Jeff Oliver. We stuck together, our little clique, with a few hangers on, but always this triumvirate at the very core. Byron proved a trouble maker, even once lighting bees on fire. The school caught him at it and tried to expel him as “the bee could, in its last moments of life, fly into the school building and burn it all down.” We always liked that story as the school was made of solid brick. Well, he pulled stunts like that through High School, even after stopping drugs.

(A large step forward due to his watching of Requiem For A Dream during a terrible hallucinatory experience brought on by an overdose of Vicodin. The tv “warped towards me,” he once told me, forgetting that he told the story a scant six minutes before. The drugs left his mind riddled with holes, but always trying to mend them.)

He stopped his substance abuse out of hig school and signed up to help with something or other in Cambodia, and study in China. He brought back stories of hookers and cheap living. He also brought back an idea, one of his few greats—there are many ideas within his head, some good, some bad; but only a very few are great.

During his travels, he said, he inevitably needed to tell people where he cam from. United States won’t work, its too large, after all, so we must go with the regional divisions. But only a few cities and states are recognizable: New York, Nework, and maybe some cities in California. Possibly Boston, too. But what if you came from—or at least live in—a small city in nowhere?

He ran into that trouble: no one knows Oregon, really. Even American’s don’t know Oregon much other than countless hours spent bored in classrooms discussing the pioneers and mythologizing them into something other than robbers of land not theirs.

Byron, Jeff, and I still live in our hometown (though I am moved from New York originally, and did spend a few years with my family in Catalunya) of Corvallis, Oregon. A terrible heritage. The town flew the confederate flag all through the civil war, in a state where it was illegal to be black, our way of solving the slave question, and let us not forget the Knights of the Golden Circle and how well the operate through the territory. This is also the town which brought into the world such things as Bozo the Clown, Linus Pauling, and Maraschino Cherries. And let us not forget the Chihuahua which drove across two busy lanes of traffic from McDonald’s to Taco Bell as its owner stepped out of the car to gather her meal.

The town that killed Brooke Wilberger (with all of us holding our own personal conspiracies about it: I hold the Mormons responsible, while Jeff and BJ believe a rope they wore out on the horse shit polluted Mary’s River broke and dropped her to her eventual death).

This town, one of the first in the state, a former capitol, is nothing now.

The name holds a promise: Corvallis, from the French, the valley’s heart. And yet it is dead and dying now. Tons of old houses, yet none worth looking into. (Excepting a near downtown shanty formerly called a “Doll Hospital. Meaning—unknown.”)A pioneer cemetery on top of Witham Hill (named after an old quarry near the site and a still living family). Perhaps a witch or a cultist buried there, but not enough real interest to keep the place in better than meager repair. And the only interesting news from years ago, when a truck full of 10,000 tons of tuna tipper over. Best information on that, they simply picked up the seafood after it spoiled, packed it up, and changed its destination to dog food.

Oh, we had a few famous pioneers, female activists, etc. and Ted Bundy used the University steam tunnels back in his heyday. But that survey covers all the truly interesting parts of the cities history, and what it is like today. For all purposes, the city is dead.

As a writer, though, I am interested in dead things. Each piece is a corpse hacked away until it becomes a new spirit, living beyond the death it dies coming from pen to page. And that is where Byron’s suggestion captured my interest.

A dual purpose, really: his purpose, to allow the people of the world to get aquainted with a state not spoken of much outside of those history classrooms and that old Apple II game by MECC; and mine, to search for the corpses and expose them like a Symbolist, showing you the beauty of the maggots eating at the eye sockets, as I search for what I think is the fundamental spirit. I look at the task as a microcosm, a way for me to really inspect the corpse—but I should at last reveal the idea with which I plan to accomplish both purposes, Gods willing.

Byron proposed a travelogue of Oregon, about the people, the places. A road movie. But then it hit me, between reading yet another Steinbeck and starting to read On the Road, why not a writing as well? (Or a typing if you are to believe certain writers whose opinion matters very little, and is of course, wrong.) So now the plan begins to form, to make this survey of the microcosm, as I enter into my twenty-first year.

When spring comes again, after researching and discussing the idea of the trip with Jeff and Byron, laying out the plans, the route, the total arching idea of the piece, the whole mess will begin. And just like Ginsberg and his searching for America Lost, putting his “queer shoulder to the wheel,” we will travel across the state, this little microcosm, with two things on mind: to illustrate the land, its perfections and its flaw, and to find out whether America is really dead.