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A tall man rapidly descends the steps of Meridian Hill Park, pulling up just short of the huge bronze-green statue of Dante. He pauses before the icon of Renaissance literature, as two friends scamper down behind him on the steps, along the encrusted marble waterfall that cleaves the park in half. All three carry fat felt-tip markers, the concealed weapon of urban guerrillas. For the next few hours, the group plans to mark the city up to its own ends, altering street signs, billboards, and walls to render them less prosaic and more provocative.
“Change your surroundings, and you can change your life,” preaches 37-year-old Lenny Bracken from behind sunglasses set off by an Australian outback hat. He’s also armed with a roll of anarcho-communist bumper stickers, but most of the sloganeering will be spontaneously scribbled. He prefers Sanford King Size, “permanent” markers that leave lasting impressions.
As they spill out onto the 16th Street side of the park, a steel tablet, donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution, informs them that they are standing on the meridian line of the original District. Bracken suggests that the DAR lacks revolutionary spirit and whips out a “Work Is the Curse of the Drinking Class” bumper sticker to slap on the marker.
In the realm of “psychogeography”, that’s what Bracken and his buddies call their shenanigans, he’s made his first “alteration” of the day. He suggests that editing reality with the pens and stickers transforms the bleak poetry that constitutes the background of everyday life. (Common delinquents might say the same, if they had the benefit of years of postgraduate study.) Bracken, an educated graffitist, says the defacement is actually constructive, a reclaiming of one small street sign among the hundred zillion signs that dot the city. “The written word has a tendency to take on authority once it is written,” he says authoritatively, “so we’ve liberated this sign.”
It’s vandalism, of course, but it’s vandalism emboldened by purpose. The newly decorated tablet may now look like hell, but it’s actually a form of “re-enchantment” to the psychogeographers.
Bracken is the instigator-in-chief for the Washington Psychogeography Association (WPA), a loose band of very public intellectuals who go on “drifts” to alter the space the rest of us move through. It can get very profound or profoundly silly, depending on your willingness to suspend disbelief. But Bracken’s aphoristic pronouncements fall like gospel on the ears of this merry bunch of travelers.
“This is the line,” he tells his small flock out on 16th Street, aiming his arm down one of the great spokes of Washington. His cohorts’ eyes trace the arc of his hand as it sweeps grandly across the horizon. “It’ll run you straight down to the White House. You know how people are always talking about the ‘moral compass’ of the White House?”
Bracken suggests that they have found it.
He has a psychogeographic metaphor for everything. No matter that you’ve never heard of his antic philosophy: On a drift, it’s Bracken’s world and we’re all just living in it. When he isn’t walking around the city, Bracken supplements his income as a writer by standing in line all night long for $18 an hour, saving spaces, ironically, for corporate lobbyists intending to stuff themselves into densely packed congressional hearing rooms. Recently, he landed a job at Black Planet, a bookstore in Baltimore’s Fells Point that specializes in anarcho-communist literature. In between these disparate gigs, he drifts.
Drifting has substantial intellectual and historical roots, it figures that it was the French who cooked up all the fancy nomenclature for what is basically a walk in the park, but regardless of origins, it seems to go down pretty well with a shared bottle of Colt 45, the nectar of the proletariat. Thomas Jefferson Howell, a multimedia artist who wears a pith helmet and a safari vest, takes a hefty pull while we wait for the drift to pull us in the next direction.
Decked out in safari chic, Howell maintains a lofty indifference to actually explaining psychogeography. “Talking about psychogeography,” he says, “would not be drifting. That would be course-setting,” a predetermined walk as opposed to coasting quietly through unknown territory.
Ted Murphree, another middle-aged drifter, carries a violin case in one hand and a football in the other. He is a large man with hazelnut eyes and streaks of gray running through his black hair and beard. Murphree says that drifting is a playful endeavor, the fiddle and the football serve as tools of social engagement.
“Think of them as psychogeographical aids,” he says. “You find people in your path and, just by looking into their faces, you can tell whether they want you to throw them the football, play some music, or just get lost. You can catch a glimpse of your inner spirit through other people, because your soul is dependent on others.”
The beer seems to help, as well.
The psychogeography riff isn’t new or unique to Washington. Turns out there are a New York City Psychogeographical Association and a London Psychogeographical Society. But la derive, as the French call drifting, first took root in Paris in the ’50s, led by the French writer Guy Debord and his comrades in what became known as the Situationist International.
Bracken stumbled on Situationist tactics as a precocious high-schooler. A military brat, he traversed the Earth with his family, following the arc of his father’s career as a U.S. naval attache. He spent his formative years, in the ’70s, in Athens, San Diego, Rhode Island, Switzerland, Paris, and Moscow before moving to the District to attend George Washington University.
In Moscow in 1976, he fell under the thrall of Debord, who, by the accounts of many, did more than anyone else to inspire the Paris student riots of 1968 and helped found the philosophical school of psychogeography. Debord’s ideas about moving through the city as the city surrealistically moved through him appealed to the teenage Bracken.
In 1991, during a break in his career ghost-writing term papers for well-to-do university students, Bracken traveled to Paris and had a raucous, drunken encounter with Debord in a cafe. He wrote about it in a piece, called “In Search of Guy Debord,” for his self-published rant ‘zine Extraphiles. It was a timely meeting, Debord shot himself in the heart three years later. Since then, Bracken seems to have patterned his life on Debord’s. The radical situationist’s most famous quip, “I’ve read a lot, but I’ve drunk a lot more”, seems to be a fundamental tenet of Bracken’s.
Like Debord, Bracken eventually became a writer. He has just published his third book, a nicely turned biography of, you guessed it, Guy Debord. A quote
from Debord sets off the cover: “Revolution is not showing life to people, but making them live.” The book recounts how Debord embraced the “geography of real life” in earnest during the winter of 1951, drifting around the snow-covered streets of Paris, drinking, reading, and thoroughly enjoying the rough-and-tumble of sidewalk philosophy.
Debord soon started calling his aimless but meaning-filled drifting “psychogeography,” the term he conjured for the psychic climates of Paris, a string of “happy” and “sad” districts that did not necessarily have anything to do with “rich” and “poor” sectors of the city. His first known stab at graffiti took place on a drift through Paris, when he made his celebrated “Never work” inscription on a wall of the Rue de Seine.
If Debord was the original slacker, then Bracken seems willing to carry the anti-work banner into the next millennium. “Prepare for the coming inaction,” he says. “Be lazy!”
The Washington psychogeographers aren’t content to make a squib and run away. Their MO on drifts is one of engagement with the human elements of the landscape. Murphree, in particular, is given to the odd humor of saluting everyone who passes. On 16th Street, he spots a handsome, middle-aged tourist couple ambling down the sidewalk like cultural throwbacks in tie-dyed shirts and Army-issue backpacks. “Hello,” says the fiddler. “You from out of town?”
“OK, well, I’ll give a little local history if you want. See that building over there?” he asks, pointing to the Dorchester Apartments across the street.
“Well, that’s where our mayor used to score crack whores.”
The out-of-towners erupt into gales of laughter. They’re smitten by Murphree’s preposterousness and watch with interest as Bracken suddenly tells the others to watch for the cops while he gets to work on one of those yellow signs bearing the likeness of a pedestrian. Howell secures the perimeter. Bracken is given the thumbs-up. The coast clear, he surreptitiously scribbles “I am my path” on the sign. He has made another mark. A piece of the city’s landscape, of its psychogeography, if you are drinking Bracken’s Kool-Aid, has been altered indefinitely. No cops. Safe as pie. A grin loops over his boyish face.
“I am my path,” Bracken says, explaining his riff to the couple. “It’s a variation on the idea that every place is your mind. At the same time, your mind is everywhere. These are two seemingly diametrically opposed notions, but they are not.”
The Midwesterners continue to stare at him noncommittally, simultaneously cocking their heads sideways like the RCA Victor dog.
“You see,” he says, gaining momentum, if not clarity, “in a very small way our perceptions of the microenvironment of the District are altered, sometimes even enchanted, by our markings. Given the degraded state of everyday life in the capital of the United States, this re-enchantment is no small feat. As we drift, we bear witness to the shabby lives of human worker bees in their hives. After work, their paths cross on the street, but they remain disconnected, imprisoned by the deleterious homogeneity of the city.”
In the midst of his jabbering, they try in vain to speak up. “But…but…why do you get to decide which signs go where?” Yet Bracken is nothing if not voluble. Sticking a word in edgewise while he’s running his mouth is harder than getting a drink out of a fire hose.
“From cradle to the grave,”
he preaches, “most Washingtonians wander about, lost in the labyrinth of this city built on a murky Southern swamp. Iron has entered our souls, but our astonishing response to this forsaken desert of life is blank amazement.” Which is exactly what the couple is reflecting as Bracken prattles on. They begin to realize they aren’t in Kansas anymore, and just in case they don’t see the ground shifting underneath them, Bracken segues into a discourse on the urban insurrectionists of the Paris Commune and how that movement begat the provocative nature of psychogeography.
“The whole occupation strategy, which they used in France, could work in the District, as it has to a certain extent recently in Jakarta,” he insists, piling it on without mercy. “It’s our only option. There’s too many cops and courts here, so the best we can hope for is the whole dada idea of transformation to accelerate the rate of change among all the bureaucrats and technocrats.”
By this point, the tourists sense that Bracken’s filibuster has some patronizing dimensions, as if they are a less intellectually developed species in need of enlightenment. But they can’t break away. They are polite Midwesterners, after all.
I feel their pain. By larding every scrap of the landscape with meaning, psychogeography can spoil a good walk more surely than golf. Why not just shut up and go for a stroll? If you happen to find yourself in conversation with a stranger, what’s wrong with talking about France’s surprising victory in the World Cup, say, instead of mining the Francophile roots of ambulatory social commentary?
The tourists decline a proffered beer, but accept the latest issue of Extraphiles, a collage of sleaze clips in support of anarchy and pornography, thoroughly shocking in every regard.
“Know any poets?” he asks, taking them a bit off guard as they stare wide-eyed at Bracken’s nasty little pamphlet.
“Come to think of it, we don’t,” says the woman, answering for herself and her husband.
“Well, you never know when you might meet one,” Bracken says. “Feel free to pass on our literature.”
When they finally get back to the safety of their hotel room, the couple will no doubt spend time trying to figure out what or whom exactly they have encountered. Bracken and his band of underground freaks are one local attraction the tourists probably didn’t anticipate visiting.
Murphree enthuses about the serendipity of meeting two visitors, as if it were some sort of civic-harmonic convergence. “You see how it works?” he asks in all seriousness. “People who would not meet in an ordered universe bump into each on drifts and start new and different unordered universes.”
“Drifters feel the need to engage [others], become affected by them, and vice versa. It takes the dilettantism out of human relationships, so you find you like people you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen to spend three minutes with,” Murphree effuses.
Murphree has a genuine appetite, and a gift, for reaching out to strangers and rocking their world. He proves that you can meet people you otherwise would not know by drifting through the psychogeography of the cityscape. Or, of course, you can accomplish the very same thing by joining the Knights of Columbus or answering a personal ad.
Unencumbered by tourists, the pith-helmeted Howell now suggests that we either take the chute south down to 16th Street or traverse from the park west toward Adams Morgan. It’s a tossup. “Keep moving,” Bracken commands. We forgo the plunge down 16th Street, corkscrewing our way up a sharp corner on Belmont Street instead, and pause outside the Meridian International Center.
And therein lies the deeper meaning, at least if you’re Bracken or one of his acolytes. In his world, drifts take on themes, and today the theme is the meridian, the center of things. The Meridian International Center, a short drift from the park, was the stately home where the Washington Post’s Katharine Graham was raised. “That’s right,” says Howell wryly. “We’re here in the middle of the city’s omphalo, the mythical navel of Greek mythology,” he says, bursting Bracken’s bubble, if just for a moment.
Howell says he joined the WPA a couple of years back while researching material for a CD-ROM he was producing called The Psychic Investigator, a multimedia program that traces the history of psychic phenomena from the ancient Greek Oracle at Delphi to modern UFO sightings. He likes the theater of drifting and finds pleasure in the randomness of never taking the same route twice. Still, he remains skeptical about the whole business of psychogeography, especially some of the gobbledygook that trails behind the drifters.
The only reason he’s along for ride, he says, is because he finds therapeutic value in the nonlinear nature of the drift. It clears the head, he says, pumps the blood, and does the mind some moral good. “I spend a lot of time in purposeful activity that’s very self-directed,” he says. “So I need to do a little drifting. I call it nondirective research.”
Outside the art museum at the Meridian, we meet the curator, who tells us about the Vietnamese art show inside. “It’s called ‘The River Flows,’” she explains. We drift through the foyer. A doughty, maternal docent acts guarded upon the appearance of four strange men until Murphree pulls out his bow to play his first fiddle note. The tune is the soundtrack to Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary; the docent is immediately delighted.
We chat about Vietnamese art, then art in general, and we learn that there’s no entry fee. This is taken as very good news. Apparently, there isn’t a lot of money to be spent drifting.
It’s a well-hung show. Of about 80 works, most focus on people. What excites the drifters most is a landscape painting called Springtime in Hanoi, which transports us through images of shadowy figures gliding past bicycles, which stand as shadows themselves to still more bicycles, all brushed in bright lapis blue, drifting into the darkening landscape. “Hey, do you know any poets?” Bracken asks the docent on the way out.
“They’re everywhere,” she says, smiling and throwing her hands up into the air. No kidding.
By way of thanks, Howell makes his first mark of the day, scribbling “Inspect the spectacle” in small letters by the entrance of the museum. As they boogie down the back side of Belmont, Bracken explains his friend’s alteration. “The whole idea of the drift,” says Bracken, “is to make poetry happen in the streets. We need to liberate art from the museums.”
Ah yes, some more liberation seems to go well with the ever-present libations. I take a swig of the beer and contemplate the members of this Semiotic Liberation Army. Do the rest of us need to have someone frame reality for us? There is no shortage of geniuses who try to shape public opinion, but I am gently pulled by the charms of the psychogeographers’ schtick. Street signs and advertisements are recombined to produce new statements, bold solicitations to throw off the humdrum drones, just about everybody else on foot, in the psychogeographers’ scheme of things. Bracken boasts that he’s put his mark all over town. Thanks to him, a Georgetown stop sign has been transformed into this advisory: “Stop. Desperation is the route of all progress.”
There’s more, lots. Maybe you have seen some seemingly nonsensical scribbling out of the corner of your eye on the way through the city and wondered what it was about, it’s usually about Bracken or one of his fellow travelers. A yield sign on Capitol Hill exhorts us to both yield and “Be happy. You don’t know where you’re from. Drink wine. You don’t know where you will go.” A church marquee on 15th Street laments: “I waited on the Lord, and he took his own sweet time.” Perhaps most poetically, a Beltway overpass below the Oz-like spires of the gigantic white Mormon Temple suggests it’s time to “Surrender Dorothy.” More prosaic, or common, is the bathroom graffiti at Madam’s Organ, which says, “I drink, therefore I scam.”
And scam they do. Aside from scribbling, a drifter may attempt to incite situations, to shock ordinary folks by, say, whipping out his cock in a nightclub crowd to a woman who agrees to see it, a favorite “situation” of Bracken’s. By way of tit-for-tat, he tries to get women to flash their boobs in his direction. It’s just his way of tearing down social taboos. Or so he says.
The intellectual gutter punks claim that their psychogeographic antics and public scribblings are javelins of despair hurled on behalf of an over- homogenized America, but the fact that some of it fits neatly on a bathroom wall makes it seem a little less high-concept. Psychogeography certainly proceeds from a healthy impulse, the idea that we all need to go out for more walks to escape the prison of condos, cars, and computers that has confined us for so long. But Bracken’s continual conversational drifts into the realm of obscure German philosophers inspire consistent dread, I consider casting my lot with the nice Midwestern couple who are by now forgetting their brush with street-born dada.
On 18th Street in the heart of Adams Morgan, Murphree sidles toward an “End Road Work” sign. He slashes out the word “Road” with his marker, so that the sign now exhorts passers-by to “End Work.” “See?” Bracken says, proud of his fellow psychogeographer’s achievement. “When you catch the revolutionary spirit, the whole world becomes a source of amusement.”
The next tag is an easy and obvious one, a bus kiosk wrapped in a Nike ad featuring a profile of basketball god Michael Jordan. On it, Murphree’s marker forms a circular speech bubble out of the gaping mouth of His Airness. In the bubble he writes: “Whitey will pay.”
Maybe I lack imagination, but even when I get the joke, I’m not laughing. Where they see themselves as postmodern Joseph Conrads untangling the mysteries of an imagined serpentine Congo, all I see is a clutch of knuckleheads splashed by car tires sluicing through puddles and lots of tired people humping down the sidewalk.
Another day. Another drift. It’s a sunny Monday afternoon, perfect weather to get out there and fuck with the rubes. The sky is clear blue overhead, the pavement is solid beneath the drifters’ feet, and three or four hours stretch before them. A larger group of psychogeographers gathers at Haydee’s Restaurant in Mount Pleasant to launch today’s drift. It’s one of the psychogeographers’ regular haunts; for some reason, they believe the place has good juju. Maybe it’s because the name of the place is a homonym for the nether regions of Dante’s hell. Or it may be the maps of the world, or the flags of Latin nations, or even the Mexican Christmas tree summering in the corner by the jukebox.
Bracken claims workdays are good days to drift. “More chance for subversion,” he says. “Especially in the District for some reason, there’s more people around in general, more worker bees buzzing out of their hives, more chance for us to stir up trouble as we deploy our street sentries through the city.”
I had a philosophy prof who talked like Bracken, a sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the melody of his own vowel sounds. I think I dropped the class.
No matter. Bracken is off to the races again, spouting more at-large gospel. “We’re only kidding ourselves into thinking that the mystery of making history can be found in the meager means at our disposal, fake press releases, fake signs, and other modes of action that spark the imagination of the world,” he preaches. “At certain moments, a megaphone is all it takes to create a little chaos. Little gestures are all it takes to break through the separation that reigns over us and inside us.”
As pompous as he sometimes sounds, it’s difficult to not be charmed by Bracken, at least in short spurts. He is a rake and a rogue, both physically and intellectually, from the curly red chest hairs sprouting up from his half-buttoned sharkskin shirt to his well-worn boots. Life on the margins suits him just fine, because he thinks the margins are growing. He and his buddies pass the time at Haydee’s grandly predicting a kudzulike growth of drifters. Business is good today, joining Bracken, Murphree, and Mr. Howell are several new faces. Nearly every one of them has a tale to tell about drifting. Ben Bacon, a school teacher in his late 20s, is a recent convert who was raised in London. “Living overseas was not really drifting,” he tells us. “I was in a house.”
To Bacon’s left is another guy, a 6-foot-4-inch fat man wearing a long ponytail who insists that his real name is Gabriel Thy. Thy looks every bit the mean biker. And he admits straightaway that he is a belligerent bully with no discernible reason for existence except general harassment. Sucking down three quick Corona longnecks, he boasts about working as a topographical surveyor in the District as a young man, long before Bracken started drifting. “Lenny [Bracken] comes along with this drifting shit like it’s a religion,” Thy says resentfully. “But I’ve always been a psychogeographer. I said to him, ‘Welcome aboard, Lenny. You’ve finally arrived.’”
Thy claims he is now an agoraphobic, a slave to his computer because it allows him to earn a living writing and designing Web sites at home, where he feels safe from the so-called normals. He swears he leaves home only to drift and shake things up with his fellow psychogeographers. It’s been a while, he says, too long, and today all he wants to do is splash subversive text all over town, displaying his true colors as a complete asshole.
Lizzy Croyden, a comedian and writer, has been drifting with Bracken for four or five years now. She tells a story about when she was on her first drift with Bracken, a tour of the museums down on the Mall. Bracken was armed with a bottle of merlot, and Croyden was mostly nude, wearing nothing but a pair of boots and an open overcoat.
“A few cars stopped,” she recalls, “but we just acted as if we were on a nice leisurely stroll. And
we drifted and took pictures of sunsets. It’s like
a Greco-Roman plantation down there. You
don’t know whether you’re Scarlett O’Hara
Across from her is a 44-year-old, blond-haired drifter named Fred Cox. Asked if he minds being quoted as a psychogeographer, Cox glances down: “It doesn’t matter, man. I’ve been called worse.” Cox says he was inspired to quit his job as a security guard six months after reading a little pamphlet Bracken had printed up, of his collection of screeds against work. “It was everything I believed in,” he says. “I loved quitting work. My knees used to hurt, my neck used to hurt, even the anguish in my brain that my job used to bring upon me. Now they’ve all disappeared.”
Bracken pats his disciple on the back. “The best thing,” he tells Cox, “is to go into the rich neighborhoods, to Kalorama and Decatur Streets or Georgetown, peering into homes and observing the ecology of the inhabitants of the city through their windows. You know, they’re trapped in their living rooms with the blue flickering lights of the TVs and all. Or you just go scope out some of these embassy parties and see all these spoiled rich children drinking and having such a good time.”
But enough with the idle chatter. It’s time for some idle drifting. Before we reach the first corner, Bracken transforms a “One Way” sign to suggest, “No One Way to Spend the Day.”
The drifters roll past the Scottish Rite Temple, next to the street the Moonies’ Unification Church. Bracken sees no substantial differences between the two points on the religious compass. “They’re all slave Masons,” he growls. Then he alights upon a real estate sign outside an apartment building that says, “Century Apartments.” A quick edit later, it reads, “Escape the 20th Century.”
We drift past a statue of Joan of Arc on horseback. Her sword is missing. Croyden borrows from Mae West and scribbles, “The curve is mightier than the sword” at the base of Joan of Arc. “This a very strong psychogeographical moment for me,” she sighs.
We convoy out of the park and east onto Florida in a crooked line behind Bracken, the group looking crazier than a bunch of waltzing mice. As we pass a pair of Latino Christian proselytizers, Bracken shouts back at them in Spanish: “Bark if you believe in Jesus.”
At the corner of 14th and T, the drifters clump together for a confab. We feel ourselves drawn in a northeasterly direction, up Sherman Avenue, which invites all sorts of comments about Sherman’s penchant for torching the Southern landscapes he drifted through on his march to the sea.
By Howard University, we’re ready for more beer but see no cafes in sight. “Now we’re stranded,” says Bracken. They want to take the drift southwest to the terra firma of U Street. Howell confides that, as a white man, he feels safer drifting west.
Rambling down 7th Street, someone notices a familiar alteration, instantly recognizable as the handiwork of the District’s most famous graffiti artist, Cool Disco Dan. “He’s put his tag up everywhere,” Bracken sneers, somewhat envious. “The Metro Police have been looking for him for years. He’s not a psychogeographer, but we like him anyway. We support him. He helps radicalize the culture.”
We continue on down past the ruins of the old art deco Dunbar Hotel and stop for a breather by a red-brick, kitschy-looking church where twin plastic lions of Judah grace the front entrance like yard-sale sentinels. Murphree takes the opportunity to relieve himself inside the Community of Eritreans Center across the street. Howell observes, “When one drifter whizzes, we all pile up like traffic.”
Murphree emerges minutes later, zipping his fly, and the scrum moves on to the Lafayette Hotel on the same block, where Bracken scrawls, “Property is theft. Theft is proper.” A few doors down he considers a building that is home to the nonprofit group Bread for the City. He draws his marker, but this time the building is spared. Not that Bracken has any conscience about defacing a good cause. “Alienation,” he says, “is good for business.”
Farther on down the road, outside a barren playground, of all places, Howell fires up a joint. “You in?” he asks Bracken. The drifters smoke and walk. Instead of hitting U Street, they keep south, tossing themselves into the borrowed Oriental mosh pit of Chinatown. Under Chinatown’s huge ornate archway, dripping in genuine gold inlay, a gift from Washington’s sister city, Beijing, Bracken waves upward and observes how psychogeography is about drifting through “spatial and temporal gateways. These can be imaginary gateways, or they can be very real and palpable.” (Whew. That must have been some pretty good shit.)
Just when you think he’s about to go off on a rant, Bracken goes off on a passing Metrobus instead, clambering athletically onto the rear bumper because he simply cannot resist an advertisement for homogenized milk. A smiling young boy with a milky white mustache is beseeching pedestrians: “Show Me the Milk.” By the time Bracken is done with him, the boy is commanding us to “Show Me the Revolution.” “We have to disabuse people of the skim-milk precepts of our time,” he says.
Bracken continues to walk and talk as if he owned the city, but there are limits. On Massachusetts Avenue, the busiest thoroughfare of the day, he scrawls “Freedom Begs” on a rail that spans an I-395 overpass. It’s a bungled job. Just as he’s scribbling, a Metropolitan Police Department cruiser pulls up curbside. As the surprised drifters scatter, the officer pursues Bracken onto the sidewalk.
The plainclothesman, in a Chicago White Sox cap and jeans, directs Bracken to get the offending graffito removed, under threat of arrest. “You gonna be further up shit creek than you ever dreamed,” the cop says. Bracken promises he’ll erase his statement by midnight and walks away silently cursing the cop. (A few days later I drive past the sign to see it if has been removed. It has. In its place is a new one: “Freedom isn’t free.”)
Three miles and as many hours later, it’s time for more beer. For walks with no destinations, the drifters’ field trips all seem to have tendentiously liquid ends. We head inside the Dubliner.
One drifter paraphrases Irish literary great James Joyce’s riddle about drifting through Dublin: “The only way to pass through Dublin without passing a pub,” he says, “is to go into each and every one of ’em.”
Joyce, I understand. Bracken leaves me a little, well, underconvinced. Over a Guinness Stout, he and the rest indulge me in the luxury of my skepticism, almost welcoming it. They tell me that only each individual drifter knows the truth of his psychogeographic intuitions, and that that drifter is “you.” “Go on your own drifts,” Bracken urges. “But keep in mind that history is the mystery.”
That will be my last epigram of the day.
I stumble out of the door of the Dubliner, bone-tired and dreading the long trek home. I decide to hail a cab. I just don’t have the energy left for a nice long walk.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: James Watts.