Tonight I’m listening to Harry Partch’s composition “Barstow: Eight Hitch-hiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing,” from the album The World of Harry Partch. The album is out of print, but Sony has been generous enough to make it available on Youtube.
I listened to it often in 1993, while writing the second half of The Book of Man. Part of it inspired this passage:
We passed a bridge in the middle of nowhere. There didn’t seem to be a town for miles around, just the sea on the right of the train and miles of green on the left, with a river running through it and this road bridge over the river. I couldn’t imagine what anybody would be doing this far out, but there was some grafitti chalked or painted in white on the side of the bridge. Huge capitals proclaimed:
JESUS WAS GOD IN THE FLESH
and, in smaller letters under it:
MAY ALL WHO READ THIS GET A LIFT RIGHT AWAY
I tried to figure it out. Maybe a hitch-hiker’d had a quarrel with the guy behind the wheel and been dumped in this remote spot. I imagined it, a guy standing at the bridge in the afternoon and no cars coming, him getting more and more uneasy as the light began to fade. Maybe he was still there when there was no light left and all he was aware of was the cold and maybe the rain and the occasional train passing and all the noises you hear at night in the back of beyond. I imagined him writing that scripture and then later, when he’d been waiting for a long time, adding the blessing under it, words of comfort for anybody else who found themselves in the same unlucky place and position, words to tell them they weren’t alone. I thought of the guy who could write that — what kind of acrobat must he have been to be able to get such large and legible letters on the side of a bridge? And why would he be carrying paint (I was sure it was paint) around with him anyway? I imagined a guy who thought fondly of other people while freezing and wet and alone. As the train left that miserable spot to itself, I thought of the guy and wished him good things.