Out of State

Column
 Rodney Graham Halcion Sleep (1994)

When I was a teenager, probably right after my mom died, the man who took my virginity came over to my house and sat at the foot of my bed while I fell asleep, playing Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” on his guitar. I don’t remember a lot from that time period, but I remember a time when I was riding in a car with a bunch of these guys and Billy Idol’s “Sweet Sixteen” came on and they laughed and said it was for him, the guy I was with, because he was in his twenties and I was sixteen. The song wasn’t for me, I remember, but for the guy who was carting a teenager along for the ride, sticking me in the backseat with strangers without introducing us. I tried to not talk to anyone and to not let the cherry of my cigarette get too close to the window on the highway, but I would always fuck something up and everyone would laugh incredulously, like, who is this person, and, is this just how stupid someone her age is?

“Passenger,” when he played it, wasn’t for me, either, it was for himself. He was never the leader of that group, or any group probably, and he was always in the passenger side front seat or playing bass next to the lead singer or sleeping on the couch or dating a girl who went to a conservative suburban high school without a clue, her hair an awful accidental bleached orange. Maybe I wouldn’t even remember this much if it weren’t for the virginity thing. I was trying to drive, then, though: I stole my mom’s car when she was out or asleep sometimes, before I had my license. I was a bad driver. I totaled that car, and drove the next into the ground, after breaking off the side rearview and a tail light (my sister and I dated roommates who lived in an apartment above a record store, the parking lot to which was always dusted with broken glass that flattened all of our tires). I hate to drive, still, and the longer it’s been since I’ve parallel parked or merged across four lanes, the more impossible it seems that I would ever be able to.

You might know that my favorite place to be is on the back of a motorcycle. I am terrified of the way it limits communication, the way weight affects speed and balance but in ways too subtle to bother describing before getting on, the way every little bump is felt and every little spasm is read as discomfort but it usually ends up being ignored by the driver, who is shifting around without realizing how much of his body is being used to control this big thing cutting through air on mountain highways that wind and incline and dip around edges of cliffs with no fences, just chicken wire as warning.

I love the thrill of this ride like I love roller coasters, but I also love the aspect of the unknown, for example the not knowing if I will die. I can’t tell how experienced a driver is with these strange roads in Mallorca, but I have to put all my trust into him and tilt my body towards the road slightly when he hugs turns, even though it’s instinctive to tilt my body up, righting a thing that feels it could topple. I don’t hug him or tap his shoulder but sometimes I yell directions into his ear, my phone’s GPS in my hand. My other hand is holding a purse strap or my thigh.

Sometimes phrases repeat in my head to the sound of the wind whipping around my helmet, accidentally turning into a mantra: I want to die, I want to die, I want to die. I don’t actually want to die, and nothing about the ride offends me, but I start to picture every way of dying here on this cliff or this busy highway and it seems easier to want to die like this than to be afraid of it. If we get hit or fall, I don’t want to live. I’m wearing a bikini and sandals and a helmet. We end up behind a group of bikers that is maybe one hundred strong, all of them wearing brightly colored protective gear. Their bikes are faster than our rented scooter, and the one hundred or so vintage Vespas we see riding together the next day, their drivers dressed as casually as us, but a fall on asphalt is a fall on asphalt, and people die every year taking selfies on these cliffs, our host tells us.

I never plan trips, only take them. This summer, as a recap in my last entry here, I’ve been taken to Lima as an assistant, stayed in Provincetown at a friend’s AirBnB after being driven up in another friend’s rental, ridden in the back of yet another rental upstate, been flown to Paris and put up at a hotel there for work, stayed in a friend’s house-sit in Cala Deía, Mallorca, and slept in same friend’s friend’s guest room in Valldemossa, Mallorca, riding on the back of his rented scooter everywhere. Yesterday, our host drove us in her car to a part of the island she’d never been, where we snorkeled on mushrooms and had to hitchhike back to the parking lot because we missed the last bus.

I’d always rather let someone else decide what I’m doing when it comes to stuff like that, seeing as the planning of something puts a stress on the whole thing that seems counter to what a vacation should be. But if no one planned it and no one could drive I wouldn’t go anywhere. “I am a passenger. I ride and I ride.” It’s terrifying. I could die at any time and it would be stupid, the way I’d let it happen. From the backseat of the stick shift car I watched the sunset, a soft pink line separating the turquoise water and the turquoise sky, disappear behind rocky peaks and silhouetted pines, and then the port below us was lit up, a tiny city of apartments and boats. Music swelled and passing headlights glared on my greasy window, reflections and flares sparkling like stars below a sky slowly populating with stars. I like that in Iggy Pop’s version, it starts out singular (“I am a passenger, I stay under glass, I look through my window so bright, I see the stars come out tonight”) but it ends up plural, meaning it’s not lonely, being out of control: “Get into the car, we’ll be the passenger, we’ll ride through the city tonight, see the city’s ripped backsides, we’ll see the bright and hollow sky, we’ll see the stars that shine so bright, the sky was made for us tonight.”

I love Mallorca with all my heart and hope to return to it, but after all of this natural beauty and letting life happen to me from the passenger seat, the bigness of nature and all of that, I’m ready to go back to New York and ride the Subway, experience again the bigness of train delays and the closeness of my real life, the one I’ve had a hand in creating, whether I set out to or not. I’ll ride the back of the Scooter to Palma tomorrow morning, where the airport is, and spend many hours relying on strangers to move out of my way and leave me alone with my thoughts that swarm back over me as the city approaches. I want to die, I want to die, I want to die. 

 

In 1980 the French newspaper Libération asked Marguerite Duras to write a chronicle for them over one year. The pieces could be as long or short as she liked, so long as she wrote every day. Duras said a year was far too long and proposed three months instead. "Why three months?” her editor asked. "Three months is one summer long,” she replied.
 "Agreed, three months, but every day!" the editor insisted. Duras didn't have anything planned for the summer and almost gave in. But then she suddenly became terrified that she couldn't plan her days as she wished. So she said: "No, once a week, about whatever I want." The editor agreed.

Last year Spike invited Natasha Stagg to do the same: one text a week, of any length, on whatever she liked. One summer long. For 2018 we wanted to it again, this is her last report.

NATASHA STAGG is a writer based in New York. Her first novel Surveys was published with Semiotext(e) in 2016 and is coming out in German from Edition Nautilus later this year. A new installment of Out of State will be published online every Thursday for ten weeks. Last week she wrote about deliberating the demands and kindnesses of strangers.