Methinks Ken Kesey Saw Metropolis

From One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

The floor reaches some kind of solid bottom far down in the ground and stops with a soft jar. It’s dead black, and I can feel the sheet around me choking off my wind. Just as I get the sheet untied, the floor starts sliding forward with a little jolt. Some kind of castors under it I can’t hear. I can’t even hear the guys around me breathing, and I realize all of a sudden it’s because the drumming’s gradually got so loud I can’t hear anything else. We must be square in the middle of it. I go to clawing at that damned sheet tied across me and just about have it loose when a whole wall slides up, reveals a huge room of endless machines stretching clear out of sight, swarming with sweating, shirtless men running up and down catwalks, faces blank and dreamy in firelight thrown from a hundred blast furnaces.

It – everything I see – looks like it sounded, like the inside of a tremendous dam. Huge brass tubes disappear upward in the dark. Wires run to transformers out of sight. Grease and cinders catch on everything, staining the couplings and motors and dynamos red and coal black.

The workers all move at the same smooth spring, an easy, fluid stride. No one’s in a hurry. One will hold up a second, spin a dial, push a button, throw a switch, and one side of his face flashes white like lightning from the spark of the connecting switch, and run on, up steel steps and along a corrugated iron catwalk – pass each other so smooth and close I hear the slap of wet sides like the slap of a salmon’s tail on water – stop again, throw lightning from another switch, and run on again. They twinkle in all directions clean on out of sight, these flash pictures of the dreamy doll faces of the workmen.

A workman’s eyes snap shut while he’s going at full run, and he drops in his tracks; two of his buddies running by grab him up and lateral him into furnace as they pass. The furnace whoops a ball of fire and I hear the popping of a million tubes like walking through a field of seed pots. This sound mixes with the whirr and clang of the rest of the machines.

There’s a rhythm to it, like a thundering pulse.

The dorm floor slides on out of the shaft and into the machine room. Right away I see what’s straight above us – one of those trestle affairs like you find in meat houses, rollers on tracks to move carcasses from the cooler to the butcher without much lifting. Two guys in slacks, white shirts with the sleeves turned back, and thin black ties are leaning on the catwalk above our beds, gesturing to each other as they talk, cigarettes in long holders tracing lines of red light. They’re talking but you can’t make out the words above the measured roar rising all around them. One of the guys snaps his fingers, and the nearest workman veers in a sharp turn and sprints to his side. The guy points down at one of the beds with his cigarette holder, and the worker trots off to the steel stepladder and runs down to our level, where he goes out of sight between two transformers huge as potato cellars.

When that worker appears again he’s pulling a hook along the trestle overhead and taking giant strides as he swings along it. He passes my bed and a furnace whooping somewhere suddenly lights his face up right over mine, a face handsome and brutal and waxy like a mask, wanting nothing. I’ve seen a million faces like it.

He goes to the bed and with one hand grabs the old Vegetable Blastic by the heel and lifts him straight up like Blastic don’t weigh more’n a few pounds; with the other hand the worker drives the hook through the tendon back of the heel, and the old guy’s hanging there upside down, his moldy face blown up big, scared, the eyes scummed with mute fear. He keeps flapping both arms and the free leg till his pajama top falls around his head. The worker grabs the top and bunches and twists it like a burlap sack and pulls the trolley clicking back over the trestle to the catwalk and looks up to where those two guys in white shirts are standing. One of the guys takes a scalpel from a holster at his belt. There’s a chain welded to the scalpel. The guy lowers it to the worker, loops the other end of the chain around the railing so the worker can’t run off with a weapon.

The worker takes the scalpel and slices up the front of old Blastic with a clean swing and the old man stops thrashing around. I expect to be sick, but there’s no blood or innards falling out like I was looking to see – just a shower of rust and ashes, and now and again a piece of wire or glass. Worker’s standing there to his knees in what looks like clinkers.

A furnace got its mouth open somewhere, licks up somebody.

See what I mean?

This entry was posted in Books, Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.