ISSN 1989-4163




Coos Palmboom

as sung by Iggy Pop back in 1970


In the midst of the covid craze, the subterranean traveller could no longer go underground, as there was nowhere to go anymore besides the metro, which was forbidden territory for him as he wasn't going to wear a fucking facemask. No cattle yet. So he cruised the streets and the parks of his city, the latter pleasant and cool hideouts for the ticket police. He saw people everywhere wearing the mask, some he knew and some he thought he knew. It got difficult to recognise people because so many adapted their behaviour to the new rules. No contact? Fine, then it's just us and the internet and the neighbours we quietly pass by. Poor subterranean! In his measured existence, there was no room for obedience. He had always roamed the lower circles of society to come up with stories of resistance. He was a mood reporter and it was all he knew. He wasn't a real human being and he was aware of that, so how should he make the change-over normal people so easily seemed to make? The traveller was who he was made and he certainly wasn't ready yet. Remember, you can't change attitudes all the time as a character. It's like a Hollywood make-over, they don't usually go back. Besides, it wasn'teven September, so enjoy the summer a bit more.

There were some beautiful girls in his neighbourhood. They were still walking up and down the high street, showing their amazing legs and laughing together. Their boyfriends were often busy with their telephones, causing the subterranean in passing to search their eyes for a moment and mutter a few words withmarcello innocence. Now that they were wearing their mouth masks, his interest was changing. He couldn't talk to them or even come near – which was a good thing in itself – so what he was left seeing were their bodies. Long, tall bones and cutie eyes, but no expression. To be sure, even as a character the subterranean traveller considered himself a bit old for these gazelles, he just loved having small talk with all women he happened upon, an impossible ideal which nevertheless deserved being pursued. Or so he felt.

The subterranean meets his equally unreal friends when they appear in a story together and he hasn't seen any of them for a while, his entertainer busy understanding reality. He feels he has no other choice than to go out and meet real people. But those masks! And the fear behind them, or the sullenness, the bored acceptance, the miraculous hope that this will soon be over, a message many parents feel pressed to tell their suffering children. Six-year-olds tortured at school while there are hardly people dying anymore!All these emotions are related to the mask. It has so far proven devilishly difficult to see people with masks as people without masks, a necessity if we ever want to recognise each other again. Fortunately, there is the internet. Depending on your connection, you get to see slightly weird images of your contacts with telephone quality voices. It's similarly not real, but it doesn't seem to affect people's thinking so much. In the end, the traveller needs his neighbours, plain and simple. He can still go to bars, but if he is the only one sitting there's nobody to listen in on. So there's the street and the masks to get round to. The subterranean traveller suddenly feels a strong urge to grab the first person and hold them tight to his aging breast. Might get him in all kinds of trouble though.

There's people in cars who all are wearing breath masks, even the little ones, and the windows well-shut. They usually drive very unsafely. These people don't believe the government. They check the internet for the harshest measures anywhere in the world and they apply them on themselves. Ain't no virus gonna catch us, they think. At the grocery store everybody is wearing masks, as has been customary in shops since day one, but at least distancing is impossible, so some smells are exchanged in passing, even if we don’t fully notice. There's a mother of two outside waiting little ones whom the traveller fancies. He pretends to be looking for a peach opposite her apples and gives her his curious look, once again marcello style. She smiles under her mask, he can clearly see. His return smile tells her to liberate herself from the signal cloth for a moment, but she can't. Mothers can't make mistakes. That's okay, the subterranean acquiesces, take care of your babies. It could have sounded condescending and it would have in previous circumstances, but her guilt stigma made her embrace the traveller's outreach with unrestrained desire. Not to be outed, of course, this desire, as desires were dangerous, but heartfelt nevertheless. Don't worry, she smiled again and this time the subterranean traveller saw she had a really nice face.

People who can't breathe behind the damn thing often free their nose and sometimes even their mouth, having it hanging below their chin as if they were back in school again. Others wear it on their wrist, elbow or even ankle during off limit activities. These are exercise, eating and smoking. People love off limit activities. They can be free again as long as they have the occasional beer and snack. Bars without terrace meanwhile are quietly closing. The measures favour some businesses and kill off other ones, it's easy to imagine many owners nervously awaiting the next rule jumping out of the hat. Will it crush me or do I get to live another day? It's all becoming a lottery. On a long ago written novel the traveller's entertainer had glued the title Tombola!, an in those days perhaps not fully understood description of fate which was now coming apparent in rather perverted fashion. Then again, the novel did not pretend to go beyond cynicism as a solution for human suffering.

The subterranean traveller is ready to get hot over those mouth-masked girls. There's the mother whose life he is not going to upset, not unless she pertinently so wishes, that is. And then there's the girls, the only other ones who seem to be aware of his presence. He sees them one night at a sidewalk terrace, showing each other their smiles, and manages to share their table. Boyfriends are out of sight. Tonight they are their normal selves, as they engage in two of the off limit activities. The idea of some exercise suddenly nestles in the traveller's brain. He gets over it by giving them a funny old geezer story and elicits some laughs. Paqui, the one with the beautiful face and not so beautiful legs, hits back with a story of her own while Elsa, the pretty one with the amazing legs, is throwing him all kinds of assurances, using her whole face and personality to lure him into her world. The subterranean feels totally intimidated. Not so fast, girls, I don't think my entertainer had such developments in mind. Then again, they could be equally unreal, put here to give his report a needed edge. So he is bungling between two possible outcomes, as is his preferred stance. He asks Elsa if she has an adventure to share and she has. She tells it straight to his face and it's about sex with two men at the same time. The subterranean traveller smiles and tries to hide his growing interest. All ears. And something else too, laughs Paqui. The traveller is now wondering whether he will soon be introduced to the other man or that Paqui turns out to be the number three. It's a whole new bungle position and a good lot further down the road. 

Nothing happened in the end. The subterranean had an entertaining evening with two early tweens who told him a lot about young people's thinking and after he had paid for their drinks, he said Elsa and Paqui goodnight. I'll be waiting for the next time, Elsa said with a hot kiss and a shameless hand in his crotch. Smelling her sweat, he promised somewhat stupidly to keep the dream alive. Paqui then did exactly the same, she was the better kisser in fact, leaving him aroused and assured Elsa's story was about them and those girls had a clever way of operating together. Need to plea with my maker, he thought. After a deeply satisfying sleep the subterranean traveller once again hit the streets of his sterilized neighbourhood. All wearing their fig leaf, forbidden to breathe and speak, forbidden to make contact, forbidden to work, forbidden to make money and live. Our new safe world is as empty as a stock photo, laced with fear and disinfectant. Angst essenSeele auf (fear eats your soul), as the ever more popular and accurate Fassbinder quip explains. Meanwhile people are being expelled from consumer paradise in growing numbers.





image by BrittPM




@ 2020