We drive out to the factory in Clarke’s car. His radio’s busted and the needle is jammed between stations. So the four of us—Clarke, Jones, Wayker and I—just listen the fuzzy tones criss-crossing over the radio waves. Every now and then a voice comes through the garbled static. With different throats the voice calls out, Dow Jones and I-76 and Chlorox and here and there bits of unrecognizable speech. These artifacts become words in my visual cortex—whole arrays of words. I don’t hear them but I see them reflected in a dim light across the inner wall of my head. Where is that I’m seeing this, I wonder quietly and remind myself that it is my brain which sees everything and these words have nothing to do with the gatherings of my eyes. I’m not even hearing these terms and phrases. I’m hearing white noise and my mind is writing some code out of it.
“It’s meaningless code,” Wayker claims. “Your stream of conscious has no endgame. The words and sentences become a path that trickles off to no end. Over and over again we’re jumping from one context or conversation to the next. It’s amazing humans have even gotten this far. Essentially war is the end-all be-all of communication breakdown.”
Did I say that out loud? Can Wayker read thoughts? I found out later that no, Wakyer cannot read thoughts. He’s just a normal human guy but he’s so in tune he’d have a good chance of finishing your sentence without being given much more than a word or two. Clarke said something to this communication business. I don’t remember. But as always it began with, “Well don’t you think…”
That’s always been Clarke’s thing. I can remember him saying, “Well don’t you think” for as long as I can remember him saying anything. He’s the first person I’d bring on a mission to Mars because I know we’d never run out of anything to talk about. When I go completely off the edge into la la land he’ll grab for the rudder and bring us back into reasonable waters. And just the same when I feel stuck in dichotomous thought he’ll unfold the box and let me climb out into a new perspective. We always share genuinely good conversation. We have a contentment in continuing to ask and entertain questions and challenges.
When we pulled up to the place I got a chill down my body that shook my boots untied. As I laced them back up everyone was piling out of the car and the anxiety of being left behind tying my damn shoes was flooding in like an indomitable surge of ocean water. I could still smell the salt as the vision came and went with the wavering crackle of dead leaves on the other side of where I was in the car. I peered out of it as I tightened the knot.
The whole parking lot was flush in the passionate colors of a petrified autumn. It was a dreary winter and the ground was frozen. But the fossils of the previous summer were emblazoned in Technicolor. As the breeze came in and out the fallen flags of life rustled against the gravel and shimmered under the encroaching daylight.
As I pulled myself up off the back seat and onto my feet the entire scene came into frame. We had made it to the factory in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere as the sunlight was beginning to rip its way past the contours of the woodline. I took a deep breath with the approaching wind. The leaves seemed to pick up off the ground as I cleared my mind. The trees all around swayed as they also breathed. I thought about the oxygen I took in return for carbon dioxide. “Very cool,” I said.
“Wait until you see the inside,” Jones sang. He was pulling on his mittens, his breath crystalizing in the air in front of his face. I shut the car door, Clarke opened the trunk, and we all threw on our supply packs (which were each filled to the brim with nutritional supplements, H20, and fresh pads of acid-free drawing paper). For Clarke there was also his camera and his shades. The glasses were a deadly reflective black and blue. You could look into them all you wanted but there was no chance in hell of getting out of them when Clarke had his sights set on you.
My essentials also included a camera and to be honest I don’t recall having much else. Of course I had the kit of human needs strapped to my back. What more did I really need? I had my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I also had ten fingers at the time but in retrospect nothing in that forsaken place should ever be touched. Who knows what kinds of effects primitive industrial grade chemicals can have on living tissue?
To balance the likeliness of breathing in toxic fumes present throughout the factory, Wayker pocketed a fresh package of cigarettes. With his hood pulled up over his head to keep the rising sun out of his eyes he puffed on every single one of those thirty cigarettes that day. He said at one point, “I’m making it a goal to only be captured in photographs while having a cigarette.”
Wayker failed that goal. I snapped a shot of him carrying around some hook anchors he’d found in a big pile of scrap. He cradled them for all of about five minutes before abandoning them somewhere else and producing another cigarette. I’m not sure if I remember any other essential tools on his person. The cigarettes were enough.
Last but not least Jones had a backpack full of paint. Cans, pens, markers. He had multiple ways of leaving marks and the walls of the factory would be the canvas for his art. He brought enough cans for the four of us to have our own color. He explained that the cans were a little old and might explode or something as Wayker struck up another cigarette. And then he cracked one open, let it rip, and the nozzle busted, soaking both his mittens. He took them off and accidentally streaked his bare knuckles in a slime green that glowed in the warming shadows of the stockroom.
We were all standing in the frontmost building of the factory. The stockroom. It was a forty-foot long barn of concrete and glass. And where on one side sunlight started to tilt in through the skylights on the other trees overhung and let down shade or an occasional piece of bark or leaf through a few of the shattered window panes. We were in a circle, our bags at our feet, going through our things, and Jones became The Green Grip and we knew we could count on him the rest of the day to keep a verdant grasp on the situation.
There was evidence of previous egos all over the place. Some of the writings were in other languages, from other times, times before the factory may have even have been there. There were carvings in all the trees and rocks. Even the surrounding wildlife had been altered with overturned earth and piles of rotten, processed wood. Everything was covered in a film of dust that appeared to me as a broken television signal. At some point on this surface was a program running day-in and day-out. Almost a century ago men and women were walking around this campus with real business on their hands. They were also dealing with sick parents and love affairs and leukemia and the Red Scare. And here they all came…
“To mix paint,” Wayker said.
“Yeah,” Jones added and clarified, “this was a paint factory.”
So it was and so we truly discovered it to be after the correct signs began to appear. At first I couldn’t really tell what was happening. All Clarke had said to me the day before was that he and the guys had something to show me out in the woods. So I said, “Let’s go.” And as we arrived I thought one thing, as we entered that stockroom I thought another, and as we stepped out into the center of the factory’s grounds I decided to stop thinking all together and just start soaking in the raw experience.
I fumbled with my camera and took photos of the piled bags of quickcrete, the covered speedboats and all-terrain vehicles, the nineteenth century motor we found fallen straight out of the sky up against the side of the mixing facility. This place, The Factory, was beginning to take on a mystical nature I couldn’t shut my eyes to. As we dug on deeper into the facility the magic grew darker and more powerful and what happened that day I will never understand nor be able to undo. Not that I’d want to. Every change in life that’s overcome me has been for the best and I have no regrets. The Factory was huge.
The factory was compound of creative energy, fueled by a foundation of industrial process. Our ancestors labored in those walls creating dyes for our arbitrary use. The buildings were highly functional, with pipes and wiring snaking all about, alwasy accessible and leading to new areas of energized opportunity. There were tools lying all about. Could you imagine how many tool have been in and out of that place? And what we found there that day, surely left behind by secretive state and local scumbags, were exhibits function. There was no junk in this place. Each man had his pile of useful materials. And all these headhunters and psychopath millionaires had chosen the factory as a resource cache.
“This is a direction I don’t like to go,” I said at one point while we were descending a set of stairs. There were brand new cans of sealant in a pile in the corner, and a tool kit, ready to go. The miniature yachts and sports equipment scattered across the property and covered in tarps was already enough to get my nerves rattled about the quick chance a group of raiders would ascend to plunder the grounds and discover us unarmed and vulnerable.
“There seems to be an unspoken respect,” Wayker said.
“Yeah there’s so much shit here that seems to belong to so many different people,” Clarke went on, “like what’s this paint? What’s this person thinking of painting this basement? Why are they down here?”
“It’s not like the concrete and county construction equipment and the boats and ATVs belong to the same people,” Wayker thought out loud.
“But it could be so,” I muttered.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Clarke added, “I don’t think we’d get in trouble for trespassing because it seems like this place is just a local closet for companies and handy men.”
“And acid freaks,” Jones warned us. He said if we ever came in contact with a weirdo that there’d be no reasoning with them and our only chance in hell of surviving would be to resort to absolute and total violence. Of course we didn’t run into any acid freaks that day. And we didn’t run into any cops or crooked county controllers. At the end of the day we walked out of the factory having seen nobody but ourselves and it was a relief—until the calvary pulled in to that red-orange-dappled parking lot.
“They’re just filling up on water,” Jones said of the bright red fire engine that had pulled into the factory’s parking lot to maneuver a reverse into the township’s reservoir. I waved like a nervous five year old kid unsure of his place in the word. All I got back from the seven or eight firefighters riding the truck were grimaces of sorrow and disgust. Their faces melted, each one of them, into that of an old, rubbery man who’s got nothing left but to let a frown pull his face apart. This was divine agony. These men—and women, I don’t even know if there were any women, but there could have been—these people all looked the same. They looked like wet socks in yellow gloves. They were soaked in lethargy.
“Why are they so sad?” Clarke asked as we all stood around the exterior of his car watching the hook and ladder take a drink across the street.
“Monotony,” Wayker said and we all piled back into the car. I had worked up a sweat, walking in the freezing weather, with a sack of snacks on my back and a heavy camera in my hands, through dusty and grimy halls of bitter nostalgia. I felt happy and depressed all at once. Deep down inside of me I knew the magic of the factory could not last. All of everything is fleeting. This I understand.