Statistics

Mott the Hoople (the book)…Mott the Hoople (the band)…Traffic (not the band)…Bric-a-brac…(the usual kind)…

I was driving along the expressway through the middle of downtown Atlanta the other day. It is a daunting strip of concrete in which two huge freeways merge into one maniacal sixteen-lane serpent of cruelty and congestion. It is called ‘The Connector.’ Considering how jammed it always is, the only thing it really “connects” is people to homicidal thoughts. Proto-man, or Australopithecus, or Troglodyte, or Caveman did not have the correct evolutionary genes to handle traffic. They did not have them and so could not pass them along. We were doomed from the start. No amount of leather upholstery and dashboard technology can save us from the savagery within ourselves when it comes to traffic jams. And if the air conditioning gives out? You might as well stick a bomb in the driver’s seat.

I was on my way to some musty consignment shop downtown to pick up a copy of Mott The Hoople, by Willard Manus. It is the book, currently out of print, that the band Mott The Hoople took its name from. The book reminds me of another picaresque adventure,The Ginger Man, by J.P. Donleavy, except that the ginger man spends his time avoiding his wife while Mott avoids the Vietnam War. It is interesting that the methods employed by each character are eerily similar.

I cursed myself for giving the book away last summer. I do this from time to time. I get drunk and start giving books away. Weeks later when I’m sober and looking for the book I drive myself crazy wondering where I put it. In a sense I stick myself in my own mental traffic jam, and I suffer from the rage it creates. I ended up locating the friend I had given it to, but he said he had lost it, or smoked it, or traded it for sex, (the things people traffic in these days) or whatever… point being it was gone. After much hassle I located another copy in a seedy part of town. The seller told me to arrive alone, and be ready to commit, and to bring lawyers, guns and money, although I wasn’t sure whether she wanted all those things separately or she just wanted a copy of the song by Warren Zevon. I brought what supplies I considered necessary, and drove off for the exchange.
It was a Saturday afternoon and the traffic was everywhere. Stop and go. There was a digital sign overhead. It started rattling off some statistics.

“Texting while driving makes you twenty-three times more likely to get into an accident,” it read.

“Good to know,” I said to myself.

“Drinking and driving makes you thirty times more likely to get in an accident.”

“Fair enough,” I nodded.

“Texting and drinking and driving makes it almost sixty times more likely to get into an accident,” the sign continued.

“I get the point,” I said.

“Texting an old girlfriend while drinking and driving makes it like four hundred times more likely you will do something so fucking irreversibly stupid that you won’t even be able to look in your rear-view mirror at your shameful eyes ever again.”

(Kind of a long digital billboard, I thought…)

“You know what, while I’m at it,” continued the inexorable billboard, “texting in all this goddamn shorthand increases the chances you will forget a certain portion of the english language by up to seventy-five percent by the time you are ready to retire.”

“Now it’s just bitter,” I said.

“There is a zero percent chance the person behind you knows what you’re doing if you don’t use your fucking blinker,” said the sign. “But you don’t care, you drunk, silly, girlfriend-texting, non-blinker-using, “o.m.g’ing” “l.o.l’ing” illiterate waste of space.”

Slightly offended, I merged off the freeway.

“Be prepared to stop,” the sign concluded before going dark.

I pulled down a side street and found the store. It was one of those neighborhoods where everyone just sits around with phone in hand, dialing 9 and 1, waiting for the inevitable screams and gunshots to ring out before they hit the last 1. The shop owner watched me approach the store. She undid the metal grate in front of the door and let me in.

“Feel free to look around,” she said. “I still have to go find it.”

I was somewhat nettled by the fact that she hadn’t located it yet. It seemed reasonable that she could’ve been looking for it while I was on my way. She might not’ve believed I was serious. A lot of flakes out there. There was an old movie playing on a beat-up television atop the counter. A Thousand Clowns. On tape. No digital coding. Just magnets and spools. Jason Robards wandering around lower Manhattan like a tramp. It was the right movie for this place. The woman was still rummaging somewhere in the back. The metal grate in front of the door was locked. I was trapped in this big storeroom with all the discarded objects of the last century. This was history’s inventory, all the technology and media that had gone obsolete, never caught on, or just ran out of juice. Unknown bands in the music section, unwatched B-movies in the video section, primitive board games and puzzles, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers as big as Oldsmobiles. Each thing a gamble, a bet, a statistical chance for success or failure. Some writer in a room with a vision, earning nothing for his time in the hope of a later payoff. Some musician on borrowed money in a ramshackle studio trying to find the right chords. Some inventor seeking control over filth and chaos, paying attention to form and function, leveraged to the hilt. Would they have kept it up if they had known they would wind up in here? I was getting a little jumpy. This place had too much lost potential. Things that just didn’t add up. Things that missed the window. Things not powerful enough to make it out of the clutches of the gravitational pull. Things forgotten. Things.

“Found it,” she said, returning to her little desk. She held up an old copy of Brain Capers on wax. I told her I specifically asked for a book called Mott the Hoople. Not an album by Mott the Hoople. I didn’t want an album. I wanted a book. Not even the right medium. All wrong. She didn’t seem to care. She told me she had shown a lot of promise as a ballet dancer when she was younger. A pair of her old dancing shoes were on sale in the window.

Back in the car I edged through the downtown traffic but somehow I felt I was back in that old shop, or better yet, all the items in that shop had just gotten into automobiles and followed me out onto the highway.

“Be Prepared To Stop,” said the sign.

“Bosh! Be Prepared To Keep Going,” I said.

More Alembics to come.

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