arrived at Houston airport following a stuporous flight from London at nine in the am, UTC. The travelling experience, the usual anting hither and heck to secure spinal caries on benches and thrombosis in long-moaning lines of wait, was ameliorated by the first-class treatment afforded me by my publisher, Strident Arena, who were banking on the success of this travelogue to lift them into debt. I had taken an experimental sooper-soother (sic) medicament recommended me by Dr. Bill Waxter (no relation to my poet friend Mr. Will Baxter, whose raucous verse has never nestled within the warm clam of two paperboards), a practitioner from Austin who co-concocted a new form of chill pill—a sedative retro-sprinkled with lisdexamfetamine to create a tantalising mellow with surprising palatal pips. I was on a two-week trial, having read with interest the doctor’s astute piece on the use of remdesivir in halting athlete’s foot while bathing in untreated water. This state was perfect for taxiing past the demerara knolls and prominent pylons of Westfield, the cool waft of a spring Texas breeze pleasing the parallel strips of red oak and redbuds, as I hurtled towards the Mountain Goats Motel in Pasadena for a nine-hour recline.
In addition to rescuing the perilous finances of my publisher, I had come to Texas to immerse myself in “the basket case of America” (as opposed to the Midwest, i.e. the breadbasketcase of America) to understand how the average American citizen managed to drag themselves out of bed when around 45% of the population walk around packing heat with no access to mental health professionals and politicians who tell folks to lock and load their cares away. I had no intention to write a winsome frolic on the strange manners of these kook-laced New Worlders, to compose homilies to hominy, paeans to popsicles, or big-ups to barbecue ribs, nor was I interested in rocking up to Trump rallies raising a quizzical brow to the riotous thickness of the masses, or spending Therouvian weird weekends with quirk merchants with tragic futures. I had arranged to speak to several so-called disrupters, the leaders of various resistance movements bubbling under the surface in Texas. Awaking in my protocynical motel—the American equivalent of a Travelodge, with 40% more murk—I speedily showered and powered to meet Kay Alabaster, the extraordinary woman whose efforts in foetal smuggling I would experience firsthand in the following text-blocks.
I met Kay, a fiercer incarnation of Holly Hunter in stature and visage, in a verge ten versts from the headquarters of The Society of Liberated Almost-Persons (SLAP), a terrifying dystopian compound located strategically on the Texas-Louisiana border. Disguised as an Amazon “fulfilment” centre—an artless rectangular slab of commerce minus the fusillade of lorries pouring from becalmed loading bays—the compound had been actioned by Texan senator Broomley Hawkwhip, a furious protector of the unborn. Inside was an army-style makeshift hospital, where pregnant women caught trying to leave the state for abortions were held hostage by ex-military Christian wingnuts with guns trained on their temples as they passed the time watching TV on a series of shonky beds. Ever since abortion was made illegal in Texas, neighbouring states had set up “abortion Ubers”, expensive hire cars taking women to clinics for their procedures and returning them home. Many of the drivers were nurses earning extra crust after shifts, popular for the aftercare they were able to provide to the stressed or traumatised patients. Identifying the common routes to the out-of-state clinics, Hawkwhip had deployed border patrol to catch the offending Ubers, arrest the drivers, and reroute (kidnap) the women to their “holding centre”, where they were held until the babies were born. Once they’d had their children, the women were removed from the site and prodded onto the roads with their babies swaddled in a complimentary shawl, where they had to walk home, hitch a ride, or call a cab if they had the cash.
“They’re literally hostaged into having babies they can’t or don’t want to raise, and no police force in the state will acknowledge their plights, all predictably in hock to the whiphand of that shitbird Hawkwhip,” Kay explained.
“Today we’re freeing several women,” she added as we crept half-bent across bone-dry mud towards the least-observed portion of the compound, where a mole in the security detail had been lavishly bribed into helping escort women toward the undergrowth where they could scarper unseen. Crouching by a flimsy bush below a hole in the mesh fence, we kept hush under the friction of cicadas and rumble of the highway, waiting for the bribed mole to observe the torch signal beaming from our torch to his head. Once observed, he returned two flickers to indicate the release was imminent and to ready our legs for scarpering. The situation exploded. Suddenly, three pregnant women were waddle-zooming our way, hurling themselves through the fence and barely stopping for breath as we crouch-sprinted to the escape car and powered off along a series of B-roads and non-roads, avoiding a potential highway ambush in the event of CCTV detection.
The three escapees were harried and sickly-looking women at the upper limit of their termination windows. Kay provided them with water, sandwiches, and warm words of solidarity, spitting venom at the psycho kidnappers while speeding them to their pre-booked appointments at the Sulphur City Abortion Centre, only several hours east. Later I spoke to Kim Schwartz, who had been unable to talk in the back of the land cruiser. She shed light on the stranger things that went on inside the compound. “Our bellies were attached to an ultrasound for an hour every evening. A flock of craven religious nuts would crowd round our beds and fall to their knees before the foetus on the screen before them and say a prayer. They appeared struck with reverent awe for this unformed agglomeration of cells twitchily forming in our bellies.”
“These ceremonial hour-long sessions took place across the entirety of each prisoner’s pregnancy,” she continued, “as part of a Pro-Life package tour arranged by the Fifth Reformist Evangelical Church of the Sacred Jesuits of the Holy Womb of Christ of South Texas, whipping themselves into frenzies of pious fervour at sight of these foetuses twitching vaguely inside our amniotic sacs, as local pastors performed 2x-speed sermons in babel like glitching auctioneers. When our foetuses shed their cellular state to become born babies, the tours would applaud the empty ultrasounds, thank their hosts, and leave without so much as peeping at the newborn babies crying in their mothers’ arms. In fact, several people requested that the noisy, crying brats were removed so they could soundlessly reflect on the miracle of the foetus on the screen vanishing into life. We were permitted several hours to rest then strongarmed in a state of exhaustion by our armed captors to the highway outside the compound to commence our motherly duties, assuming we managed to stagger home or hitch a ride. Several mothers, having spiralled into psychosis in their stay, left their babies on the side of the road and wandered into the desert to perish in the hellish Texas heat. The babies, too, were usually left to perish on the roadside, unless a kindly driver came to the rescue. These warped people are more interested in the antenatal and the afterlife than actual life itself. They spend their stupid lives in a state of fury at anyone who wishes to spend their brief time on this planet pursuing anything approximating happiness.”
Kay accompanied the women inside the clinic, providing life-saving support as they moved from one trauma to the next. Her rescue package included staying with them at a motel for several days. “It’s better they lie low,” she said to me, leading the women to their rooms at the Easy Sleep Motel. “News of their escape will be all over social media. People become bored if there is no sighting of the escapees within two days, allowing our women to return home to their normal lives unmolested. We recommend they check regularly for any signs the local militia may be creeping around their homes. Several properties have been firebombed by extremists in the past.”
Most women are relieved after their procedures. “Any reluctance we may have felt at having our abortions vanished the minute we were abducted,” Kim told me. “Killing a foetus causes these sickos more agony than a mass shooting involving their own kids. To cause these mindless religious thugs acute trauma by taking control of our own bodies is the only crumb of comfort we can take from the whole fucking nightmare.” One of the three women I met who wishes to remain anonymous explained that some victims, having birthed their babies under duress, made a point of tracking down the local pastors and placing their unwanted children on their doorsteps. Unfortunately, as a form of revenge, this is useless, as the kids only end up in the local orphanage, a place run by religious zealots. The perfect breeding ground for hard-right nutcases who kidnap women.
Moving on from Kay and the brave women kind enough to share their stories with me, I returned to Texas for a far more terrifying encounter. This involved terrorist troll faction The Libtrigger Boys, whose antics had taken root in Texas two years into Trump’s presidency. Taking their lead from their tangerine führer, their MO was to perform illiberal stunts to cause terminal conniptions in the souls of the woke left. They had recently live-streamed a mass school shooting on Facebook in response to recent attempts by Democratic congressman Coky Warden to restrict the sale of Kalashnikovs to the under fives. A banner on their stream read THE 2ND AMENDMENT IS A SACRED RIGHT as the shooters went from class to class executing teachers and children with the perfunctory steeliness of movie assassins. Upon completion of their patriotic massacre, the organiser said to camera: “What you’re seeing here is maybe your own kid lying in a pool of blood. Maybe this is your brother or sister. Your response is probably one of horror and repulsion. But you must ask yourself, patriots, what’s more important, your right to bear arms and protect our inviolate second amendment, or your child’s temporary existence? You can always have more kids, my friends. If we lose our right to bear arms in the United States, that’s a precious right we’ll never have back. These brave patriots died here today to show you the importance in which we hold the second amendment and that we must sacrifice our lives or other people’s lives to protect our freedoms. Whether you’re defending your home from intruders, hunting caribou in the wild, or conducting a mass school shooting because mean bitches on TikTok made you feel like a pussy, you should always have the right to feel a cool piece of metal in your hand as a true patriotic American. God bless you, kind folks, and God bless this country.”
America’s motto is e pluribus unum (translated: yesterday’s mass school shooting is yesterday’s news). The non-stop 24-hour newsgasm of our post-2016 world moves at breakneck speed, from a politician smuggling heroin in his mistress’s anus, to a KKK militia furious at liberals who refuse to have a sensible conversation about race in this country, to a multi-state sequence of simultaneous school shootings live-streamed in 4K HD on Facebook. Garnering huge support from Texas lawmakers, The Libtrigger Boys were never prosecuted for their massacres. Even worse, schools started writing to The Boys to request their “gun-ho” appearance at their schools to help with crowd-funding social media campaigns (funds raised sent straight to the NRA), promising kids they too may have the lucky opportunity to spill their blood and innards to protect the 2nd amendment. These live-streamed shootings became commonplace for patriotic headteachers eager to show their allegiance to the stars and stripes. The image of a schoolchild’s blasted head with his brain splatted across an American flag became an enduring source of pride for all God-fearing Texan patriots.
I met Sam Trader in a Waco diner. A world-weary, mustachioed park ranger in his late fifties, Sam led a band of well-armed liberals who used the Boys’ own philosophy to reduce their spread and influence.
“There are thousands of people in this state who think our children’s brains shouldn’t be used as propaganda for Trumpian wingnuts,” he said, sipping a water. He took long pauses, savouring the relative calm of the moment. He described The Boys’ latest wheeze, to force orthodox Muslim women into clearings and have them strip naked. Streaming their tearful undressings on Facebook, the Boys would make “encouraging” comments on their bodies. “American women are proud to show off their legs, their asses, their titties. They don’t hide themselves under black robes. The bikini is the official uniform of every woman in this here US of A.” They would then proceed to masturbate on the women while praying then release them in their underwear.
“They think it’s clever to cause libtard meltdowns, and claim they want to bring about a mass exodus of Democrats,” Sam said. “They have a separate mob on the Mexico border, where they set up large trebuchets, placing immigrant families inside and launching them across the country, where they meet their sticky end against rocks. I formed our resistance organisation Men from the Boys in opposition to these psychobozos. They’ve become a lawless militia in the state backed up by our corrupt cops and politicians, free to execute anyone they feel is against their moronic lib-baiting agenda.” Similar second amendment-loving folks who resented their kids being murdered, Men from the Boys took up arms and began hunting down members of the Boys, live-streaming their executions on Facebook.
“The right to bear arms includes the right to seek justice for those who murder our children,” Sam said. His implacable logic cemented the group’s popularity among grieving parents who had quietly craved revenge for their losses, or those too terrified to speak out against this SSesque militia.
It was tacitly accepted by the monumentally thick Texas law enforcement that if folks were allowed to conduct mass shootings of school children in the name of protecting the second amendment, then it stood to reason that folks could in turn shoot the shooters in the name of the second amendment. I asked Sam if he was worried this logic might result in a stream of revenge killings for revenge killings ad nauseam, but he wasn’t worried. “Most folk approve of our executions. We received two hundred superchats on YouTube when we executed the killer of twenty kids at Hubbard Elementary School last week,” he said. His dolorous delivery, his yard-long stare, his teary eyes, made me very depressed. I thanked him for his time and headed west of Waco.
My West Texas was a paradise/hell of blood-orange skies over austere curves and peaks, sprawling desert flats bereft of bison or any wildlife, and lonesome highways custom made for Willie Nelson karaoke atrocities. My primary fear was that a mercenary Corvette of hoodlums would rear-end me off-road and perform inventive acts of torture on my eyes in a conveniently adjacent barn. My secondary fear was that a police car stopped me speeding and hauled me over the bumper of my car, blackening my skin with face paint so they could shoot me in the head with impunity. My tertiary fear was that the sun burned a whole in my bumper, setting my engine ablaze, forcing me to stagger through the desert pursued by scorpions and vultures until I accidentally stumbled into a Native-American reservation and was made to apologise for my ancestors introducing Europeans to the Americas in the first place. None of these fears were realised.
I arrived in the desert city of Marfa, an arty haven named after two erotic dramas by Larry Clark, to meet Dr. Bill Waxter. Late for our meeting at the funky Frama coffeehouse, I parlayed with a lawyer for the firm Venn & Penhurst who represented local politicians and broadcasters. He informed me of the trend in American politics to call anyone with whom you disagreed politically a paedophile. This phenomenon started when batty congresswoman Carly Brown Bilge called her competitor in the senate race a “foetus-killing gun-hating paedophile socialist”. The technique, in the pre-Trump era, was to accuse your left-wing opponent of loving abortions, of writhing around in pools of aborted foetuses, and to show videos of defenceless (white) suburbanites unable to protect their property from hordes of (black) burglars and rapists. Times had changed, to paraphrase America’s bard.
Brown Bilge popularised the tactic of labelling all nemeses paedophiles. An eruption of lawsuits sprung up in the wake of this surge of paedophile accusations from prominent politicians. Newscasters on Fox reported the news in a manner like: “Paedophile Democrat Andrew Yang spoke to a mob of paedophile Democrat supporters in Houston today. This is the second visit by paedophile Presidential Candidate Yang, and the sixth visit from a paedophile Democrat in the last two weeks. It’s important for these paedophile senators to appeal to their paedophile base, while the rest of us hardworking Americans carry on being patriots and not paedophiles and voting Republican.”
“These lawsuits are manna for us,” this lawyer said. “If we’re clever, we can Jarndyce these mothers for years and years, as our opponents tend to produce doctored photos or pay for testimonials attesting to the paedophilic nature of the people they are calling paedophiles. Their technique, I suppose, is to have the word ‘paedophile’ associated with their enemy for as long as possible regardless of the truth, and more broadly to redefine ‘paedophile’ as a synonym for liberal or Democrat. The electoral damage is already done, and the accusers are usually elected politicians by the time the lawsuits end and can easily use taxpayers’ money to pay their settlements.”
“What a country,” I said.
“You’re very welcome here,” he said, skipping to his car.
Dr. Waxler arrived an hour late, a sudden sexual encounter with his secretary Barbara Brockhaus his stated reason. He asked me to refrain from describing his appearance, preferring to remain anon for the nonce.
“She’s a cosmo ho,” he said, shaking my British mitt.
“How’d you find my chill pill?”
“I mellowed pretty sharpish upon popping,” I said. “My shanks reclined to an optimum level of cool and I had no paranoid visions of souljacking as the plane taxied to rest in the Houston dusk.”
“Yes’m. I’ve had feederback from folks who said their souls never arose from their bodies into nimbuses of strait.”
“You may be on to something.”
“Yessir. I want to talk to you today about my new’un. You may’ve read my astute piece on the use of remdesivir in halting athlete’s foot while bathing in untreated water. Well, in the lab last week I magicked aloft twelve particles of that sweet medicine to a new compound, TYP0. No, that ain’t no spelling mistake! Preliminary testing of my new comp revealed that upon taking two puffs an hour, Democrats shed more and moreso of their liberalism and very speedily turned Republican. If I can refine this form-you-lie, you’re lookin’ at the hottest poh-little-cull proper-tee on the planet here’m,” he said, becoming more Texan in syntax as his enthusiasm upped.
“Hmm, I observe flaws in this drug,” I said. “If everyone turns Republican, the entire country will be infected with the madness of Texas. Electing untalented carpetbaggers with paltry oratory skills to positions of high office will only lead to the complete unravelling of every institution in the land and a breakdown of order and a swift plunge into a state of lawless chaos where the populace compete to bag the most human kills while nibbling on untasty muskrats.”
“Isn’t that where we’re heading anyway? My drug you could say is an accelerant of the inevitable.”
“I wouldn’t use that in the advertising.”
“Yes. There’s also the threat that an imbalance in my compound’s fizzies may cause people to politically haemorrhage and vote for the Swan Uppers or the Stalinists. This will require more consideration.”
“Thanks for my pills, Doc.”
“You’re welcome. By the way, watch out for visions of Mary Steenburgen on a plinth. Some users of my chill pill have reported that issue.”
As I waved howdy-bye to the pretty parchlands of the rural and the sweaty honk of the urban, I reflected upon my experiences with the abortion Ubers, the executors of mass shooters, and the peculiar lawyers and doctors making their plays in the land of plays. It was apparent that America had become intellectually clotted in the faulty vesicle of its own mythology. The spirit of eccentricity that had seen the country bloat phenomenally from the brutality of slavery to the jackhammer pep of modernism, from the illusory convection of creativity and commerce in the booming 1960s to the carefully coordinated creation of a class of superrich autocrats who buy and sell democracy, had long departed. Cutthroat capitalism has turned America into a feudal hellhole, where mindless parasites rally round ultra-rich amoral psychopaths making secret plans to retreat to Mars once the planet they have comprehensively fucked burns to a crispy, cinder-black mass, hoping to osmotically save themselves from violent death by the sheer force of their hero-worship.
The kooky Golden Age eccentricities of the flappers, the rockers, the hippies et al have rotted in time and turned poisonous. American eccentricity is now inseparable from political extremism. The kooky is now the KKKooky. As ordinary Americans waved their pompoms for unregulated capitalism, they have seen the triumph of their wonderful country slowly ebbed raw by ruthless, cash-hoovering media moguls, pitting ordinary people against each other every night on national TV by paid hatemongers using their phoney patriotism as an electoral cattleprod. Make America Great is the Five Minutes Hate.
America, a country in freefall.
Americans in America hollering at other Americans in America that they are unamerican traitors to America for making the slightest criticism of anything remotely American. A country utterly unable and unwilling to examine itself. Utterly unable to reconcile itself with its violent and racist past. Utterly unable to temper the philosophy of spectacular greed and lust for power, a nightmare cunningly concealed as a dream. Utterly unwilling to recognise reality. Utterly enmeshed in the decrees of an ancient constitution. Sunk by the veneration of ignorance and idiocy, a country where the thickest loons are rewarded for their thickness, with a public too thick to realise how thick they are for electing thick loons to rule over them. A place of promise, hope, and possibility, reduced to a bleeding haemorrhoid of lying news anchors, lying politicians, lying multimillionaires, with no vision beyond heaping manna upon manna in pursuit of immortality.
A country lorded over by narcissistic billionaires, emotionally bankrupt men who use their vast fortunes not to reshape the planet into a habitable place for the poorest and the neediest, but to construct spaceships to enhance their coolness rating one above Bruce Willis. A country so raped and ruined by greed and self-interest no one can pause for a second without the ravenous hogs of debt, despair, desolation, and dementia chewing them to pieces. A country raving madly in the asylum attic, spooking away the bats. A babbling, incoherent wreck with bloody swastikas carved in its face, squatting on the White House lawn in piss-stained cords hurling turds at the moon.
These were my thoughts as Mary Steenburgen sat unblinking on a plinth several lightyears away, her creepy Botoxed face making my skin crawl. So howdy-bye, America. I hope y’all can afford the therapy.
M.J. Nicholls is the author of the novels A Postmodern Belch (2012), The House of Writers (2016), The Quiddity of Delusion (2017), The 1002nd Book to Read Before You Die (2018), Scotland Before the Bomb (2019), Trimming England (2021), and Condemned to Cymru (2022). He lives in Glasgow.