“I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray.” Prince, 1999
Mona was nothing special. If you saw her on the streets, you’d think she was just another Goth girl from the badlands, as unremarkable as Norma Jean before she conjured Marilyn. When she wasn’t on campus, you could usually find her at home reading over some metaphysical tome or napping lazily on the ragged black futon with a copy of Memoir of a Beatnik curled up beside her and Queequeg, the Japanese wood block print of a cat. A well-worn copy of Wallace Stephens’ collected works lay open to The Blue Guitar and Cosmic Trigger topped the pile of books that surrounded her. Most nights she was here, sitting in her brown metal folding chair, behind a battered secondhand card table covered with the handmade jewelry she fashioned during the day and sold each night here, at her regular spot, in front of the pulsing red neon and jaundiced florescent lights of the tattoo shop. Here is where, weather permitting, she came to sell her jewelry. While the beautiful people drifted by insentient smoke without ever giving her a second thought. She preferred it that way. She had been practicing for a lifetime the art of making oneself small. Shrinking herself within herself, until she seemed to be…or rather seemed not to be. It was no easy feat to disappear in the midst of prey, but she’d had years to practice her craft and now it worked effortlessly. It was an illusion, like Marilyn’s persona, only a simple glamour after all.
Since so many of the Deep Ellum business owners had hitched around when they were young, they possessed a benevolent empathy for the little runaways that drifted through the derelict strewn edges of downtown, new to their freedom searching this strangest of landscapes for whatever redemption the urban streets had to offer. If you were cool, some of the owners of the myriad of clubs, coffee houses and swag shops would let you crash on the roof of their buildings in the summer, insisting you sleep inside those winter nights when it was too cold to think about camping out. Most of the proprietors, being from that generation of searchers that had come of age in the sixties and seventies, had a soft spot for the street kids with vagabond hearts, since they retained a little of the wild spirit in their anemic blood.
These aging outsiders, having read too much into Kerouac, spent the following decades in a cultural time warp where the wilted flower children listened almost exclusively to the poetry set to music of Dylan, the Beatles and the Doors. They suffered from a kind of collective nostalgia that bordered on full blown dementia. These things conspired within their drug addled minds to romanticize life on the streets. They, having smoked so much marijuana for so long, never quite understood that the summer of love was long over. But, so long as you didn’t rip them off, trash their shit or kick their asses, they, with Bedouin graciousness, cheerfully offered the fallen sanctuary within the modest confines of their small shops where they treated these discarded children tenderly as a surrogate parent with their genuine southern hippy hospitality.
Psychic anarchy ruled the three block wide half mile long strip of dilapidated office buildings, where third wave white suburban punks squatted on the decaying roofs of abandoned nearly century old Art Deco and Art Nouveau two-story brick buildings over storefront shooting galleries in whose black painted, ultraviolet lighted back rooms the heroin chic chased the dragon or mainlined black tar Elysium. Where vanity is punctured as the needle plunges through a few layers of epidermis until it finds ore rich vein where it delivers the mother lode, the illusionary escape, beyond the willful self-delusion of unanswered prayers, praying for what? When there is no answer from heaven this is high enough. Freedom from the treachery of their own flesh, prepubescent orifices prematurely penetrated, adolescent hymens destroyed.
The streets of Deep Ellum offered its wards asylum while they, still intact, clung to the jagged remnants of their fractured sanity. The new breed descended like a chimera, as we traveled in each other’s godless shadow without our dreams to eat, to prey upon the pretty ones with blackened talons, pouty mouths filled with broken bones and ultra-virulent blood, who ricocheted through the labyrinth of back allies, side streets, passing invincible the strobing fluorescent and neon lit glass walls. We traveled this way for some time, sniffing one another’s asses, each the other’s dog. We awakened at the dusk of the millennium in this city that rests like a gaudy jewel on the buckle of the bible belt. Before the inevitable change, before the place was infected with suburban Christians emboldened by greed as the usual suspects assumed the missionary position over their cash registers and the city’s coven smelled the money in the pockets of perpetual tourists. This was back in the best of the bad old days and nights when people were still afraid to even drive through Deep Ellum in their Mercedes, Porsches, and luxury SUVs after dark. Before the arrival of Starbucks, before the Southland Corporation invaded their sacred space with Seven Elevens and the place died of respectability. It all went down in the last days of the millennium, before the city’s cloaked council killed the strips vagabond magic, it was over, even before they put up that retched sign and drove a corporate spike into their chest with that gigantic, illuminated sign that read DEEP ELLUM and the scene died a vampire’s death with a neon stake through its heart.