All this writing in Pissing in the Gene Pool and Art to Choke Hearts
came from one frame of mind. The two books were eventually put together
and released as a single volume. A great deal of the material was
written in Venice, California, in 1986. I was living across the street
from a very active crack house. Business was conducted day and night. At
one point, there was a drive-by shooting and apparently some girls died.
The crack house folded soon after.
I saw it on TV. An L-1011. Full-color footage. It looked like a ruptured
toy. The men were out with their garbage bags, picking up limbs. There
was luggage, clothes, bodies, and big hunks of metal all over the place.
I'll never forget the sight of that enormous plane ripped apart and
gutted like a big foot had kicked it around. I wonder what that must
have been like. Picking up heads, arms, fingers, and assorted guts and
loading them into plastic bags. I wonder if those guys go through the
pockets of the dead, maybe get a little beer money. Why not? What the
fuck is a stiff going to do with money? There must have been flies all
over the place, being summer and all. Ask any fly and he'll tell you,
there's nothing better than fresh guts on a summer day! The telecast
turned to the chief coroner. He said that identification of the corpses
would take a long time. He said that most of the bodies were covered
with jet fuel, a lot were burned beyond recognition. He asked that the
relatives bring any photographs, dental records, and doctor's info
(operation scars) that they had to help speed up the process. In a few
days Time and Newsweek will have good color pictures of the twisted
metal and destroyed bodies. I dig those pictures; a few months ago they
had some great color shots of dead bodies stacked high at the Belsen
concentration camp. But anyway, when those mags come out with those
airplane pictures, I'm gonna buy 'em, yes sir. And I'm gonna say: "Boy!
Am I glad I wasn't on that plane! Look at all those people. They're
dead, naked, and burned up!"
To me, she's not even human, she's some kind of a germ. A concoction.
She is neurotic, nasty, and abusive. Pathetic is a word that springs to
mind. When she is loud and drunk, it's torture being around her. She
treats marijuana like some life-preserving drug. She is most lively when
she has a chance to get "fucked up." Whenever she's spazzing out and
drooling over pot, I think to myself, "coke whore," but I change the
word coke to pot. She doesn't bathe much, and sometimes the stench can
be quite noxious. I don't like being associated with her because I see
how nasty she is with people that I work with. When she comes into a
room, I either leave or try to get out of earshot of her. I hope she
goes on her painful little way and leaves my sight. Not a bone in me
hates that girl. She has managed to turn off everyone around her. She
sure did it to me. I never set out to feel like that, no way. Now it's
at the point where it's totally irreversible. I avoid her whenever
I overheard some people talking. This girl was complaining about having
to shell out money every time her period came around. She said that
Midol and tampons should be given away in welfare boxes. I had never
thought of that before. She had a point there. What if a guy had to put
out a dime every time he took a piss. It would be nothing at first, but
after a while those dimes would start to pile up and you might try and
hold out to make that dime go a bit farther. Imagine saying, "Fuck, I
spent a buck on urine today!" What if you were into beer? What if you
are out of $$$? What if you had to write a check? A credit card? What if
you had to say, "Brother, can you spare a dime? I gotta piss." You would
be in bladder hell pal. Think about that!
It's cold here, cold and raining. It's August but it feels like October.
Even the air smells like autumn. Autumn time makes me think of working
at the ice cream store in Washington, DC. I lived in this really dingy
apartment in the fall of 1980, and I used to avoid it as much as
possible. I would do this by hanging out on the street and working extra
shifts at the ice cream store. I would spend a lot of time alone. While
my car still worked, I would go for drives at night with all the windows
open, just to have the cold air wash over me. I would drive through
different neighborhoods in NW just to clear my head. I later stopped
driving as much because I started to enjoy walking more.
I would go for long walks by myself. That made me feel old, getting
enjoyment from going for walks by myself. I'll never forget how the
autumn air smelled that year. I spent a lot of time out and around
because I only used the apartment as a last resort. At the time it
seemed that everything frustrated me. I would work behind the counter at
the ice cream store, and the customers would just wear me down. I would
take orders all day long. I felt like an old shirt going through the
laundry over and over. By the end of the shift I was burned out on
people, their talk and their bullshit. The walks did me good. It was so
great to be outside when the air was clear and cool. Everything looked
Sometimes I would get invited to a party or to go out to dinner by one
of them and I would decline. Part of me wanted to go, but those kind of
outings always made me feel even more alienated than usual. Hearing them
talk made me feel lonely and hateful at the same time. Lonely because I
didn't fit in, never did. When I was reminded, it hurt. And hateful
because it reaffirmed what I already knew, that I was alone and on the
I spent a lot of time feeling alienated and lonely. But with all of that
also came a real solid feeling of independence. I came to enjoy eating
alone and spending my off time for the most part alone. I was walking
down the streets here today, cloudy sky, on-and-off drizzle, and it all
came back to me in waves, perfectly structured memories. That was the
autumn I remember most clearly. I was no longer in school, and it was a
strange feeling for it to be autumn and for me not to be sitting behind
a desk. I was more aware of each day and each night and all the time in
between. Sometimes I miss that way of life. I enjoyed the nights at the
ice cream store. A place to be doing something that wasn't the
apartment. I would walk home slowly, enjoying the street lamps, smelling
the cold air. The apartment was like a prison cell. I felt like kicking
myself every time I slept late. It was a long walk to Georgetown, but I
knew the sooner I got out of that apartment, the better. Damn, I was
lonely that autumn. I wished for a girl I could hang out with. I never
really did anything to meet girls, too shy, too fucked up. Autumn makes
me think of women.
At the ice cream store I would get one or two days off a week. But as I
took on more responsibility at the store, the days off decreased to
almost none. That autumn I almost always got Friday nights off. Friday
is my favorite day of the week. Friday night was either spent walking
around until I got tired or spent at Mike's or Chris's house. We would
sit around, drink Cokes, and play a lot of records. That became one of
my favorite memories.
I'll never forget how the depression and loneliness felt good and bad at
the same time. Still does. The sidewalks, the trees, the storefronts,
they became my friends. Every time I would pass a house that had a
wood-burning fire, I would try to imagine what the people inside were
doing. Sometimes I felt so outside of everything that I wanted to die. I
felt terrible, but then out of nowhere would come an overwhelming wave
of relief and calm. It was my life! My depression! Good for me! The air
and the leaves and the streetlights would smile at me and I would feel
okay. I realized that autumn that yes, I was alone in this world,
totally alone. Alone and on the outside, but at the same time I wasn't
alone, I had myself. I was always alone as a child growing up, but this
was the first time that I ever clicked on what it meant to be alone. I
felt invincible. I felt as if I could withstand the longest winter ever.
I feel uneasy when my mind gets crowded with memories that I can't
shake. I write them out of my system and hope it works. I run
breathlessly from one word to the next. Sometimes I think I'm dissecting
my brain into little pieces. When I'm forced into a frame of mind and
time by outside elements such as season or geographical location, it
drives me nuts. I feel I have to write a telephone directory-size book
to get it out of me.
Nothing gets me like autumn, though, nothing. I can see myself walking
down P Street right now, I can feel it. I can smell the fireplaces on O
Street right now. I can see the street lamps glow on R Street. But at
the same time, I can feel the consuming emptiness that paralyzed me and
made me sullen and cold. I can remember sitting in that dark apartment
that reeked of paint and insecticide wanting out so bad but not having
the slightest fucking idea where to go. Every time the air turns cold, I
am transported back to all those places. I have visions of the
fluorescent glow of the ice cream store when it's observed from the
People's Drug Store across the street. The place looks busy and
cheerful. A lit glass cube in a dark, cold wall. It makes me feel like
I'm watching the world from the outside. Walking the streets on the
outskirts of earth. Alone and on the outside.
How are you today? Are you climbing that ladder? They told you all about
that ladder. Climb that ladder and find that salvation. Sure is a hard
climb I bet. Arms getting tired? Sure is a long ladder. Faith, is that
the word they used? Hope? I've been watching you from a long ways off.
You're not climbing on any ladder. You're running on a treadmill.
This summer has left me on an island all by myself. My mind goes its own
way, usually to the streets of my hometown. Walking alone on MacArthur
Boulevard at night. Muggy, unmoving air. Watching the moths play around
the street lamps. I walk through the night, ill at ease and alone. The
sun will never rise on this street. MacArthur Boulevard is always dark
and quiet. The street lamps are small yellow planets that keep me from
falling into the distance. I feel the isolation. I sink inside myself so
deep that I turn into the most pathetic, lonely, ugly animal there ever
was. Summer becomes a jail, a ship run aground, a ladder to nowhere.
Summer brings back the thoughts of the girl and her house. I would feel
so small that I would sink into the cracks in the brick sidewalk. The
summer animal, I can never outrun or hide from it. The journey in my
mind continues along, and I find myself standing in front of a house
with a roofed front porch on Beecher Street. I see myself and others I
recognize sitting on the porch, they are unmoving. They are statues.
Suddenly I grow heavy, as if filled with water or sand. I grow tired,
lazy, and thoughtless. Stagnant and breathless. I know what I am, but I
don't know what I'm supposed to do. When in doubt, I move. So I leave
and walk somewhere else, trying to walk out of the mouth or asshole of
the summer beast that has consumed me. The sunsets are the worst. They
sink slowly and mournfully, burning and waving good-bye. I want to reach
out and grab the sun and throw it back up high in the sky so I can have
more time to figure out this dilemma. I know that it's too late to turn
to other shores. I wouldn't even if I could. The summer bores me out,
turns me into a hollow carcass. Fueled by insomnia and a thirst for
everything. I turn into boneless limbo man caught in the middle.
My skin turns to leather, I turn inside in. I seal off. Every pore, every
orifice. Underneath this leather exterior I scream, twist, convulse, and
burn silently. I wonder to myself wouldn't I be better off far from
everything that bears the least resemblance to this? You can change the
scenery that surrounds you. You can run from the fists that pound you,
but you cannot escape your feelings. I've crawled every sewer from here
to there and I've never done it. And I burn silently.
I had a dream the other night. I lay on the floor and closed my eyes and
the creatures came to life: A snake is crawling along a desert trail
that parallels a straight, black paved road. The sun is going down but
it's still quite bright outside. Over the horizon walking down the road
in the opposite direction is a woman. The two get closer and almost pass
each other, but each stops just in time. They both step into the area
that runs between the trail and the road. The wind gusts suddenly, and
the snake is instantly transformed into a man. He has dark hair. He is
marked with scars and symbols, patterns of his tribe. The two walk
toward each other and embrace. Another gust of wind comes and blows all
vestiges of clothing off them both. The sun holds still for a moment and
starts to slowly rise, and as it rises it turns a deep crimson and gives
off a low, metallic whine. The couple are fully embraced and perfectly
still. Their bodies fit together like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle.
Another gust of wind comes and blows the flesh and organs off the man
and woman so all that's left are two skeletons locked in embrace. Their
jaws open and they start to grind into each other, bone on bone, tooth
on tooth. The sun is emitting a pitch that is making the ground rumble.
The skeletal bodies grind together as if trying to destroy each other.
Another gust of wind comes and forces the two to totally intertwine with
each other until only one is visible; this lasts for the blink of an eye
before the image implodes and turns to a pile of sand. The pile of sand
conflagrates with white-blue flame, and nothing is left. The sun has now
changed shape, transformed itself into a double helix, bright red and
twisting. It sinks into the distance, and the rumbling quiets as the
I like my headaches, they're pure. The ones I've been getting lately are
the ones I like best. The pain jumps all over my head. Sometimes they
come out of nowhere. The pain rushes through my head like splinters of
lightning. The pain is sharp and pure. I see cold blue shards in my
brain. They make my head expand, contract, and distort into vile shapes.
The pain sometimes makes me squint. Like a bullet entering my brain and
then altering its normal path and wriggling about like a snake plugged
into a light socket. Sometimes I think that something wants in, and
sometimes I think that something is trying to rip its way out of my
head. Like a rising sun. Ulcerating. Burning. Destroying my brain cells.
Spinning and aborting constantly. Maybe I harbor a colony of fugitive
rats in my head, turning my brain into a ghetto and a rancid nest for
dreams and hallucinations. They eat away at the center of my brain
consuming white and gray matter. Fortifying themselves, strengthening
themselves so they can employ and embody plague and infestation. The
pain strengthens and educates me. Forces me to understand, acknowledge,
assimilate, and enjoy pain and pain's by-products: vision and brutal,
absolute forward movement. I like my headaches.
I'm a multicolored man scar tissue. I'm a self-inflicted kind of guy,
and I'm self-inflicting down the road. DRAW THE LINE! I'll fall short. I
guess I forgot to mention the overflowing cowardice, stupidity, and
sheer unadulterated pettiness. But I'm a stranger in your face and my
mood swings like a guillotine and my hands aren't connected to my head
bone and I got crazy muscles and wavy eyes and I got an urge with no
name I don't know what to do with it muscles, cock, brain,
knife--whatever. I just want to do it.
Me and Ian went for a drive in his car. We went over Key Bridge where I
used to walk home from work. We drove down M Street. We drove down R
Street, past the place where that black dude slammed my head against the
wall of the alley and took my tape player, past the place where that dog
looked me in the eye a split second before he got hit by a car, covering
my shoes with blood. Past the block where a hippie girl put flowers in
my hair while her male companions turned over cars. Past Montrose Park.
Past Jackson School, where I went for first, second, and third grade and
got beat and harassed because I was white in 1969. Got held responsible
for the death of Martin Luther King. I could still remember hearing them
chant: "Fight, fight nigger and a white, beat him nigger, beat him 'cuz
the white can't fight." I could still remember how my stomach would
twist and my head would grow light. Down Thirtieth Street, over to Q
Street, past my old bus stop, past that apartment where that young white
boy was raped and made to play games with that black dude. Back on
Wisconsin Avenue, past 7-Eleven, past the library, past the Safeway.
We keep driving, we stop at Ian's parents' house. We park the car, we
walk to Wisconsin Avenue. Ian goes into the bank; I take a short walk
over to the building that once held the pet shop I worked at for years.
The building is a restaurant now. I walk behind the building to see the
back steps, the steps that I walked up and down for years hauling out
garbage. The steps that I sat on and ate my lunch. The steps that I
stood on and destroyed litters of sick animals. Cats, rabbits, you name
it. People would come in with their sick animals to have them put to
sleep. Of course, we had no facilities for such things. Didn't matter to
my boss. He took the money and I took the animals on the back stairs and
killed them. Some, I broke their necks with a sharp twist. Others I took
and bashed their heads against the wooden rail. The move was smooth and
swift. I used to go home with my shoes covered with blood. The back
steps. One time I went out to dump the trash, and I saw a guy getting
head from a stripper from the bar next door. I walk back up the alley
and reemerge on the street. I look around me, almost every building in
the area has been torn down. I walk past the restaurant and look inside.
A family of well-dressed people sit at a table, they look up and see me,
their eyes swell up. I pull away from the glass and walk back to
Wisconsin Avenue toward the bank. I'm thinking about that family eating
their food, their feet tapping on the floor. The floor that acted as a
roof for more rats than you will ever know. We had rats all over that
place, ratshit everywhere. Piles of it stacked high and rotting into
every two-by-four in the joint. A miniature ghetto of sorts. Upstairs
from where the family eats is a room where my boss used to fuck his
boyfriends. One day he told me how hard it was to get the Vaseline out
of the sheets.
Keep eating, lady, the rats squirm, crawl, and shit below you. Neurotic
fags fuck and moan above you. You're surrounded, entrenched in shit,
sweat, and Vaseline, eat up, sleep tight. It gets so twisted, so
distorted, that I lock myself out of my own house. I look at myself
looking at myself, inverse to inverse, turning inside out and the other
I'm going to wait until the ghosts come out again. I'll see my boss walk
through the rear wall, naked, heaving, smelling of shit, complaining of
the sheets and how bad he hates "the niggers in this city." That was one
of his obsessions. He had a huge dog that he trained to hate blacks too.
He would say, "Tannis, don't you want to eat a nigger?"
There's ozone in the air now. I'm sitting in a room with an open window.
The ozone air comes flowing in gently. So gently, I might just drift off
with it. I get lonely when the ozone comes out. The smell of it makes me
remember lonely times, always. Gray, cool, and empty, leading to a
cave-in. I've been to that window ledge before. I never jump, I never
have the guts. I just sit in a chair and contemplate my body falling
through the ozone. Thinking of girls, thinking of how it never works.
Never. And then you die or just go to sleep . . .
I go out on the street. I hear the cars and the people, but that's not
what I want. I want to hear jungle music. It's all lies out there. I
think I understand the difference between dirt and filth. The dirt is
clean and the filth is filthy and it's everywhere. It rips at my eyes. I
can keep a better grip than a lot of people I know. And when I make an
effort, I can maintain out there. But sometimes I get pushed and my
brain goes into automatic pilot and I feel like kicking and walking a
straight line right into their diamond minds. But you know you can't do
that. You will never touch their minds. That would be like punching at
thin air. If you're going to get all the way into it, you might as well
take that straight line right into their flesh. You know what I'm
talking about. With a smile on your face speak the international
language: dirt and filth.
The noise comes in, crowds me out of my brain. At first, the sound of
children laughing mixes with the sound of rain. The sound of the
children fades out and is replaced by the sound of gunfire. The gunfire
remains at a steady pitch as the rain fades. Now I hear the sound of
people talking, laughing, screaming, crying. Reminds me of when I was in
the hospital. All night long they would scream for their medicine, they
wanted to get better. The old woman in the room next to mine sounded
like she was being cooked alive in her bed. The whole place was
screaming. Made me think that I might lose my mind in there. In there,
out there, I don't know the difference anymore. The sound, I can't shut
off the sounds of their voices. When I'm all alone in my room I can
still hear their voices screaming in my ears. I know that I am to blame
for letting them in. I want to get better myself. I'm not running from
anything, I'm just trying to free myself from their sounds. If I don't,
I'll become accustomed to them and that will be the end of me. The sound
of rain, pelting down on boxes holding the dead. The rain mixing with
dead children. What I see, what I hear. The whole place is an insane
asylum. A screaming shit house. Gunfire off in the distance. The bodies
are falling, crying, trying to get better, doing anything to get well.'
And you know how bad the emptiness feels when you're full of it. They
fill you with emptiness, and then they come to get their pay. They want
their pay, but they don't want what's coming to them.
It never fails. My weaknesses are always strong enough to knock me to
the ground. My weaknesses are the greatest weapons I have when I turn on
myself. It won't always be like this. I'm getting better every day.
Maybe someday I won't want, I won't be such a sucker. It's all one big
insane asylum, a screaming shit house.
The sound of children splattering, sounding like gunfire. For every
voice, a bullet. For every scream, every prayer, every day, annihilation
inside my room.
S&D Vacation Package Pt. 1: Organize leisure air tours during wartime.
Vacationers who could afford it would be flown over battle sites and
would have the opportunity to drop napalm and bombs on the villagers
below. I can see them now. Wagner's The Valkyrie blasting through the
quad system. Fat white tourists dressed in polyester pantsuits and those
silly Hawaiian shirts sit in their seats, each with his own personal
trigger. "Can we do it now?" they ask.
A smiling stewardess gives them a knowing wink and says, "Soon, very
"But I want to drop fire now! I want to kill now! I want to incinerate
now! Now!" says a fat balding man.
"Calm down honey," his wife says. "You heard the stewardess. We'll be in
bombing range soon. See honey, the music's starting and everything."
Soon they are dropping fire on the cities below. The conversation in the
plane resembles one that can be heard in a boxing arena on a good night.
The vacationers come home with pictures and souvenirs. Some pose with
charred dismembered bodies. They smile and give the thumbs-up to the
camera. Some are wearing strings of ears around their necks. The women
all want their pictures taken with the captain. People will come back
with their own stories about the number of gooks they killed, each will
exaggerate like crazy. Each will have a story about the one that got
away. "One of those little bastards was hiding in a rice paddy. I was so
plastered on those goddamn huge drinks they were serving that I missed
him. Madge blew the little son of a bitch right out of the water. What a
I used to think that red, blue, green, and yellow were my friends. For a
while there I thought that lines could go in circles if I wanted them
to. I know better now. Black and white and the straight line are my
friends. Inside my room I am free. Colors burst forth anytime they want
to. The lines go wherever they please. Outside of my room I am not free,
and that's where the black and white are by my side, and that straight
line is my chosen direction. I know what it does to you. I know how it
makes you feel. There is another side to this blade and I know that one
too, and I am tired of playing games with you. Thank you for all the
gifts. I'll return them one of these days.
It hurts to let go. Sometimes it seems the harder you try to hold on to
something or someone the more it wants to get away. You feel like some
kind of criminal for having felt, for having wanted. For having wanted
to be wanted. It confuses you, because you think that your feelings were
wrong and it makes you feel so small because it's so hard to keep it
inside when you let it out and it doesn't come back. You're left so
alone that you can't explain. Damn, there's nothing like that, is there?
I've been there and you have too. You're nodding your head.
Cold outside, cold inside, the smell of grease and disinfectant. The
guys behind the counter look like they hate everybody who comes in. It's
one of those jobs that you get, and all the while you're telling
yourself that it's just temporary until the right thing comes along.
It's one of those jobs that when you look up, you would swear that the
clock hasn't moved a second since you looked at it an hour ago. The kind
of job that you realize you've been at for over a year now. Sure, you
hate it, but it doesn't feel as bad as it used to. The brain numbs
itself to everything except hate and the ability to take orders. But
then again, who the fuck am I to say anything at all? For all I know,
these guys might think that waiting on a bunch of meth dealers and
whores is quite a great thing to be doing. Nobody understands anybody's
Labels on records. Why not labels on booze? For example, a label that
ran like so: Warning: Use of this product can cause vomiting, blurred
vision, loss of control, loss of memory, severe headaches, dry mouth.
Prolonged use of this product can lead to a dependency on this product.
Prolonged use of this product can lead to the destruction of
self-confidence. Prolonged use of this product can lead to the total
destruction of self-respect. Prolonged use of this product can lead to
the destruction of the soul.
I found out what there is for me. Nothing. Nothing I can see. There are
only things to learn from and forces to make myself aware of. My brain
is on a different wavelength now. Names, faces, I don't remember them.
They don't matter. More and more, day by day, I break from them. There
are no answers, just a lot of questions. No, scratch that. I don't have
any questions anymore. No questions, nothing to explain. I can't talk to
them. They have proven that to me over and over. I used to think that I
could talk to her, but sometimes I don't know. Sometimes when I talk to
her I think that I'm being quietly laughed at. That's how I felt today.
I held the phone in my hand and stared at it. Finally I just hung it up
and walked away. Those phone booths are almost like coffins. I wonder if
anyone ever gets buried in them.
Sometimes I think of myself as this guy holding on to a propeller that
is going full speed. My body twists and turns as I hold on for dear
life. Pulled along. In motion but not really in control.
If I close my eyes, I can see myself and this propeller go ripping by,
the propeller cutting a path through dense underbrush and tree limbs.
The propeller does fine. My body gets mangled as it slams into tree
trunks, branches, and bushes.
I need to make friends with the machine. I need to understand the power,
to harness it and direct it, not be dragged along by it. I need to
become one with the machine. I've got to stop holding on to the monkey's
tail. I must get on the monkey's back.
I can see it in your eyes. They're wet like a dog's. You're looking for
a leg to climb to keep you from drowning. Your hands reach out,
clutching for something solid to hold on to. You're weak and in need.
You want something to hold so you can have something to blame. Don't
reach out to me. I'm drowning too.
Take my no man's body and point it toward the sun. Going home. You got
me feeling like a hole dug in the ground. I got to fill up the hole. I
fill it up with dirt. You got me feeling like a hole dug in the ground.
I open up my window and I take a look around. I see killers looking back
at me. Killers walking in the sunshine. Dirt hole man. Dig it. Dirt hole
man. Pass me by. I got nothing to give you. Pass me by. I'm digging
myself. I dig myself. I dig my hole alone. Don't want nobody in my hole
Excerpted from The Portable Henry Rollins by Henry Rollins. Copyright © 1997 by Henry Rollins. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.