“The best part of waking up…is being someone else.”
EPISODE VI: hurricane glasses (or, “Some Awkward Epilogue…At Last.”)
The air is thick with apprehension…it’s a sickly air that reeks of White Castles, beer, and doom. Abandon all hope, ye who enter. And bring a can of Lysol, if you can. Today I feasted on the flesh of Mongols. I am 1500 miles from home, or anyone who’d miss my corpse. I’m throwing up, I’m falling down…I’m breathing bourbon, and still rank with the odor of this town. I’m in the zone, but zoned out, and zoned commercial through the week. I’m three sheets to the wind, that cursed wind—and even it won’t blow me, not tonight. There’s a tropical depression all around.
I’m still stranded in the Midwest, at the behest and by the middling jest of fate. It’s like a bumfight from beyond, or better yet, the Book of Job. Remember Job? He was among God’s faithful, whose life became the subject of a great trans-cosmic bet.
Satan—hanging out in Heaven, loitering amongst angels unaware—is chatting it up with the might Hebrew God. God says, “Look at that one—my elect! Ain’t he a gem?” The Devil snorts, “He’ll curse you for a nickel.” The Good Lord says, “You’re on!”
Yahweh lets the Devil kill Job’s family, bankrupt his business, and ravage his body with sores. Each calamity grows greater than the last. Each time, Job sits stone-faced, sour but devout. The Great I AM is smug about it; the Devil ups the bet. “Let me do this…” “Let me do that…” “I’ll bet he’ll curse You if You put a squirming nest of eels in his rectum for a month!’’ Each time, the Rock of Ages says, “Let’s go.”
The moral of this story is (allegedly) that faith is often tested, and that God rewards the faithful in the end. I never got that from this tale. To me, the lesson learnt was this: That our lives are subject to the amusements of Powers beyond our skies, who can (and often might) unfurl entire lives at the whim of a cosmic wager; and also this: that if God allows such evils to befall his loving faithful, imagine what He’d do to a damned scum-hearted slacker such as I. The mind recoils in terror, even still.
And even still, indeed…even still, I say: I’ll take the low road, and you take the high road; for I know where the booby traps are placed.
So where am I at? I’m here. You should always be where you are. But never stay. Reality is an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to stay there; if you’re there more than the moment, then it turns into the past. Trust me, that’s an awful place to live…almost as bad as Arkansas, but the jury is still out on that, I think.
I eat when I have to. I sleep when I can. I survive off Diet Coke. It’s a cool black sludge that curdles my blood and cuddles my intestines, heaving greasy cola stains across my very soul. I subsist on it alone, as well as coffee, chocolate, and cigars. I’m contented for the moment, but the moment passes past me by the time I’ve typed it out. Moments are tricky like that, you know.
“Happy” is a relative concept. It’s a state more difficult to achieve some times than others, for instance, when one is laying on the bed alone, while roommates are screwing vigorously not fifteen feet from you. Those aren’t terribly “happy” nights. But you deal; you deal like Richard Simmons deals a meal.
I’m staying with a friend—at least for now. I have some entertaining stories, that I’ll share another time. I’ll throw one out, though, so you all don’t feel ripped off.
I was trying to transcribe a post one night, when I became acutely aware of an odor in the air—much in the same way that one might become acutely aware of a small mollusk clamped around one’s scrotum; Lord knows how long it might have been there, but it certainly nipped me in the membranes when I noticed it.
I dug through all my filthy, filthy linens. I took the basket down to wash. And still, the smell remained. I changed the sheets, and took the trash out. I disposed of any beer bottles—empty or “recycled”—that might have escaped detection early on. And still…nothing; nothing could coax this odor to depart. I even Frebrezed the seat in which I sat.
Now, my roommate has no sense of smell; in this sense, I’m largely blessed (being the hairy sack of meat I am). But it also means that there truly was no telling how long something might ferment in his room. Still clearing the counter, I kicked open the tiny metal trash can by the desk. In a haze, I was assaulted with The Source. It was the Domus Mundi of purest stench. It was concentrated Suck, sweat off Satan’s taint after a centuries-long shit.
It was teeming with both the rancid broth of life and certain death…catchcloths, catch-22’s, used condoms, moldy beer bottles, and much that dwelled beyond the grace of God.
Within the trash of horrors, I pictured rank darkness—the nameless, ancient evil of Those Who Came Before—held deep within. It reeked of vile, postmortem gas from the ruptured bowels of Tiamat beyond time. Wait…(sniff, sniff)…yeah, that’s it; I’d know that anywhere, for sure. This Can Of Man, it writhed and swarmed with That Which Should Not Be…
These husks of Musk and Men That Might Have Been, they will evolve within this goo one day, and rise against us all—little tear-shaped jellyfish of pain. Their black, lidless eyes see only death and wounded love—abandonment by the hand(s) of their cruel master, father, lord. They have gum-like rims for lips, and tiny, spikey teeth to nibble through the walls—uterine or otherwise. The air around them stirs a vaguely oceanic smell, strangely just like hobo feet, the crusts of filmy tissues, rancid Amber Bock, and broken dreams. They curdle in the cradle of the can. They simmer in the pot of our neglect, and await sweet, sweet revenge, and purest doom.
Sometimes, late at night, I think I hear them speak. They cry out, “Blood for blood!” in mongrel tongues. I hear them whisper in the wind, that cursed wind…cursed, fetid wind. It bustled like a mugger in the hedgerow. It’s voice rides on the air like so much sickness, plague, and blessed death. It gathers in the air like vultures, demons—the dust of our demise like flecks of viral poo from Satan’s hellbound puckered ring.
I pictured countless corpse stuffed within this Can of Woe…the half-eaten, decomposing Grouch-corpses—beheaded, strewn about in plastic bags.
Alas, poor Oscar; I knew him well.
I tried dumping the can outside, but it was all to no avail. It smelled too bad, and wilted half the yard. I’ve been around “dead things” before, and this was worse—far worse—that mere decay. This was the rancid, rotten snot of a thousand parties. So I picked up that metal knee-high can, like an R2D2 of purest shame, and pitched it the backyard can.
About that time, a friend came home. He caught the reek immediately. It was just too close for comfort where it was; so we carried it to the curb, and hosed out any spot the thing had touched. We then spent the remainder of the evening thinking of ways to tell our roomate what occurred, or deciding whether to mention it at all. Some things are best not spoken of; some things are far too evil for a name.
I suppose you want a resolution, or a revelation—something of import that I’ve learned through all this mess. I promise to relay one when it hits. But all in all, there’s this:
Home is where the heart is; I think mine’s in an awful neighborhood. And there’s no use mortgaging the thing; it’s worth different things to different folk, and to some, it’s not worth anything at all. It’s just well… Property is property; it’s really all the same—whether Marvin Gardens or Baltic Avenue: either way, it’s just another tiny piece, in a game that everyone plays, that the dog will swallow, or your children will lose…and everybody cheats. It’s less engaging living for tomorrow, or today, or really anything at all—or anywhere. Truly, it’s more compelling just to live.
The meaning of life is largely unimportant; a better query concerns the meaning of meaning itself. And really, I suspect the answer lay squarely in the question.
I spent a good part of the night trying to find a deeper take. What have I learned? Where was I “at,” for real? I don't know; I just write stuff down now and again.
“Meatcork,” I feverishly typed. “I’ve always liked that one…but how about—oh yes, I know!—how about ‘spermherder’? Yes indeed…I think that one will work, that sounds pretty sick...”
“Cockboogers? Nah, wait—that one is silly. I got it—‘muttonthumper!’ ‘Bunghammer?’ ‘Womb bazooka!’ Yeah…now we’re rockin’. How about…’creaseteaser’ or ‘Assflange’? Nah...still not naughty enough. Hmm… ’Ballcobbler’…or ‘ballgobbler’? Or maybe…”
“Oysterditch! Porkbunker! Meatsocket!”
And so on, ever on, into the lonely night…
MOCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE
"Actually, sir, we're LESS than meets the eye..."
Episode V: mock you like a hurricane (or, “I Stole FEMA’s Inkpen.”)
Sure…she took me in—you knew she would, at least for a little while. After which, I understand, I am to be loosed upon the earth for 1000 years, until the end of days or some such—I’ll be honest, I wasn’t terribly paying attention. I probably missed an anouncement here and there. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, to be honest. But I don’t want to talk about that now; we’ll get back to all that later. Let’s move the picture forward scant days later, after days of food and rest had temporarily numbed me to the unsurety of my unsettling predicament...
Hope springs eternal; and like all hot springs, it’s pretty to watch from a distance, but you’ll be hideously burned should you ever try to reach for it. And as with other things which burn eternally (Hell, syphilis, etc.), it is an inescapable outcome of common life—either arriving with said life’s end, or virulently flung toward you like a jack-knifed eighteen-wheeler down the violent spiral highway of destiny itself; in either given instance, it’s a sensation not unlike having an itchy nose during the pain of childbirth, or receiving a scented love-note with a booger smeared beneath. This is to say, you count your blessings, and pray you are mistaken; or you count the blessings of others, and plot a hostile takeover.
Homeless, displaced, and alone, I resigned myself to fate; and once again, my resignation was refused. And as with many instances in which a sore truth is related, I am asked at some odd point if I can “dig it.” So…can I dig it? Well, if by “dig it,” you mean “tunnel like an Irishman,” then yes, I suppose I can, for now… The nipples of mother hope are spurtin’ powder, dust of death, like musky clumps of Gold Bond all around. Weathering all I’d rather not, the odds seem in my favor when against me.
I needed to find work, and by “work,” I mean toward something other than my inevitable self-destruction. But let’s cut to the chase: specifically, I needed cash. What’s a strapped and hastled, addled bastard left to do? Ah yes…I know this one:
I slap it to The Man. I’ve paid my taxes, and tossed my rusty pennies into my nation’s massive well. And certainly, it has been well and long asserted that I am of unique disposition, and colorful; surely, this asserts that I am, in fact, a minority. Uncle Sam owes me a dollar, a hotel room, and a buzz. So I contact the Red Cross.
Let us begin basic and simple, like a trilobite in heat: After the cold, indifferent mockery by their phone droids, I finally received a call-back from a human—one finally not aimed at changing my long distance. The man was rude, and short with me like Willow. Rita? Oh, whatever—they’ve still got Katrina folks to fool around with at the moment. These hurricanes are awesome for government types: at long last, a lifetime of playing The Sims finally pays off.
The droll voice on the end of the phone, and possibly the end of a rope, begrudgingly gave me a smidgeon of information, much of which would later prove incorrect. Most unforgivable was that he gave the wrong directions to the office. He said it was on Olive, but what he really meant was “Old Olive,” much further out. He said to take a certain way to find it; but what he really meant was “get lost,” “please don’t bother me,” and “die.” I found the place sheerly by accident. We took a wrong turn, toward a broken husk that once had been an IHOP—an International House Of Failure, it would seem; but truly, how often had I eaten that for breakfast in the morn?
We pulled into the parking lot, and headed toward the offices ‘round back, wherein the number he had given me was posted on the bricks. This looked about as promising as an episode of The View with Kid Rock, Sirhan Sirhan, and a giant squid; which is to say that I smelled failure and madness, but suspected at very least something to write about in the end. I roved past each glass office door—many, if not all, had been abandoned, or looked as if they’d never been set up. I reached the office with the title I was given on the door. It was furnished, but deserted. A print-out note read, “Call (some number), and come back at a later time." Fortunately, a friendly loitering gentleman directed me to go around the front of other building, and try my luck within. Tried I did, and still it tasted funny; but I was further on the path.
I asked the world-weary receptionist where refugees might seek assistance; she pointed toward a room distant down the hall. I paused, and remembered another burden needing dismount; I asked her where the Men’s Room was. She sweetly smiled her sweetest smile, and wished me diabetic with each wrinkle of her crinkly cheeks. My cheeks continued holding, as she pointed to the same place she had pointed to before. Apparently, this office only offered one sort of relief.
After defiling their facilities with a gulf wind of my own, I waited in line behind some displaced Houston Goth kids at a desk. “This is the place you get your assistance,” the more spikey-haired among them said. Given the line, I was tempted to ask if I also received a complimentary earring, as if Gulf Coast Relief was being handled in this area by Hot Topic and Claire’s.
The lady at the desk fumbled with my ID for minutes I will never know again. She made a copy…or tried. She then delegated the task…to someone who themselves delegated the task. Somewhere in this office sprawl, a small card bore my face—but Lord or Lemmy only knew if I would ever see it with my own two eyes again. Meanwhile, a brisk-walking gentleman with a Prozac-colored FEMA jacket stepped up to say hello, sig heil, and “May I see your papers?” I explained that my ID card was in transit. He groaned as one who knew. He kept pushing for me to step out of line, and speak to him in his office. I asked if he was offering assistance. The answer? Not per se—only a “talk;” Red Cross handled “relief.” I informed him I would chat with him when my ID card was returned, and the “relief” part was complete. He nodded, smiled a happy Hitler smile, and heiled on down the hall.
Ten minutes later, I was still waiting for my card. The secretary filed her vulture nails. The FEMAniac returned, and asked again if I was ready for their talk—imploring me to leave with him, even if I was not. He did this at least two other times, at shorter and shorter intervals. I stood my ground; I would not go see his etchings. I was simply going to spite him now, you see. And I wasn’t leaving without my damn ID. The chaired vulture cushion queen mounted her office chair contently once again, as if to lay her eggs. She handed my ID back to me, and said to see a lady three desks over. As I sought to take a step toward her, Count FEMA swooped upon me like a Jehovah’s Witness bat with an interest in multi-level marketing. Trying to sound friendly, in that forced flare TGIFriday’s sort of way, he beamed, “OK buddy, got your stuff? Alright! Let’s go!”
“But I need to see that lady over there now, for my relief.” (I realized too late how wrong that sounded…)
“Oh, let us take care of that. We’ll show you where to go!” (And how, I thought.)
We got to the office, wherein a small cabal of equally green-and-yellow jacketed FEMAniacs gathered like a lodge of Masons set to kill the king. I explained what I was there for, and what steps I’d undertaken up to that point. One proudly asserted, “OK—I’ll take this!” He immediately proceded to guide me out of the office, and back into the line I’d left moments-precious-moments just before. No sooner than he left, the secretary broodmare eyed me curiously, crossly, and said, “We’re done with you, hon—go over to that desk I showed you earlier.” Indeed, the lady three desks over seemed rather impatient now. I walked toward her once again, as if toward the light of death and sweet release.
This is when I was stopped once more by the earlier FEMAniac—the buoyant goose-stepper—who again yanked me from the hope of rest eternal. “I heard her say you’re done…can we do anything else for you? Would like to speak with us some more?”
Madness, I say…madness! I love it! “I think I need to be speaking to that lady over there,” I sheepishly responded, with confusion my sole guide. “I was supposed to do that last time, and…” I did not finish. Again, he persistantly escorted me back down the hall to his waving, smiling lodge brothers. I tried explaining once again…I just wanted my frickin’ meal card. Another one among them bumped his scalp across the beaming bulb of gnosis above his brow. “Oh, I know where you need to go for that. I’ll take you there!” (Like a prayer, I thought.)
He led me back into the previous area again…straight to the spectacles and paper piles of that bemused lady of the mythical Three Desks Down…the one I had tried twice to abscond to, before I was abducted every time. She chuckled to herself. The FEMAniac threatened imminent return, and marched off to plot some other Third World military coup, or whatever it is they really do when on the clock.
This lady interupted my paperwork every five or six minutes to tell someone goodbye. I myself waved off in the distance to my hope. It was later determined that she gave me the wrong PIN for my food card. But I’ll save that for another time. It is my opinion that FEMA should transfer their offices to the red-curtained corridors of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks. It’s a compatable corporate culture, and hey—there’s dancing midgets. I’d easily go through all of this again for just one dancing backwards-talking midget…but then, I’m easily amused. As promised, they returned, promptly as a comet bearing mankind’s doom. This is to say that they arrived perfectly on time, but were anticipated earlier by my ever-blooming cynicism.
I followed them, content I had my goods—I also received a list of mafioso Papist charities and a bag of bathroom items that the clerk sensed I was lacking. Into the Den of FEMA I went, and sat. They thanked themselves again for their invaluable assistance; I suppose it was just as well—I hadn’t planned on it. They then went over everything that the other lady covered. I was given a few Xeroxed sheets with such previous revelations typed out again, in case I lost the other lady’s sheets I suppose. Finally, they presented me a sheet with useful information, and discussed it briefly. This sheet, of course, was their last copy, which they couldn’t part with. I was handed a workbook of some sort, as if expected to take a test. The Femites explained that they were “pretty sure” that information would be in there. “Go to the website,” one FEMAlien helpfully intoned.
I’ll give them this: they were certainly a cheerful, enthusiastic lot. They happily explained that many Katrina and Rita victims fail to receive their aid money because they do not have a permanent address. “They move out of those hotels before the check gets to them,” one Femite said, “so the checks bounce back, and we have to wait for the people to contact us to receive another, which means the process starts all over again…because if the first check bounces back, the money goes back into the pile, so to speak, and they have to apply for it all over again from scratch.”
Curiously, I inquired, “How long does it take to process a request?”
The elder FEMAlien replied, “It depends…but six weeks seems like a safe bet.”
So how many weeks of hotel stay do these people get? The Red Cross lady said, “Four weeks.”
Hmmm…am I the only one still paying attention? Let’s move on. As I got up to leave, I made casual small talk with the FEMAsters. It was unavoidable, really. I joked that I had come out of a hurricane right in time for the New Madrid Earthquake, which the Midwest is overdue for by 100 years. They nervously chuckled amongst each other, while one said, “Oh, we’re definitely waiting for that. Have you seen the map projection with the new coastline. It’ll be something." He smiled wistfully, as if for his long-lost sweetheart back in Dixie, before that incident with the angry, leprous armadillos, the brightly-flashing vibrator, and a poor, poor decision call. The elder FEMAniac shook his head, and said, gruffly-yet-aglow, “Well, actually, the one I’m waiting for…hey, have you been to Yellowstone Park? The ground around that thing has been swelling up for years; I remember when I was…” One of his fellow FEMAtes nodded at the watch. They collectively shook my hands, and walked me out.
Determined to obtain something useful out of all of their surrealist bedlam bureaucracy, I continued doodling with the pseudo-fancy pen they lent me to take notes, and stuffed it in my pocket as I left. My notes consisted of a drawing with FEMA MIB’s harassing an alien gray in a storm-ravaged stilt-house, while an Illuminati pyramid basked in the glow of frightening incompetence.
Remember when we thought FEMA would take over the government, and eventually the world, by martial law and military coup via powers allegedly granted them by Bush Sr. and Clinton? They were a conspiracy nut’s dream. And let me tell you—we paranoiacs know our way around a nightmare. Today, I am pleased to report that our fears were greatly, grossly misattributed—FEMA, I suspect, could not police a nursing home, much less police a state; they couldn't knock over a convenience store.
The Red Cross? Understaffed and perhaps disorganized, but essentially they were functional, and well-meaning. On the other hand, Bush Sr.'s Federal Emergency Goon Squad were oily sausage-fingered bureaucrats, its higher-ups held captive by the gripping pinches of the assprints in their chairs—desks slicked like the shoreline with vaseline and coffee rings, bourbon sweat and hooker smell from their three-martini lunches... Their grips are firm by sheer virtue of Masonic handshakes and late-night disaster-picture beat-offs. Worry not; the revolution will not be televised, but rather, telemarketed.
I got my bleeding-heart moneycard, and my friggin’ ID back. I got an info-pack from madmen. And I stole FEMA’s blue inkpen... It’s a sick, slick thrill, and I’m a sicker bastard still. But I shall be the last one standing on this hill.TO BE CONTINUED, AND—SURPRISE!—CONCLUDED SOON…
SLOW TRAIN TO NOWHERE
"Snidely Whiplash strikes again."
Episode IV: slow train to nowhere.
My train of thought’s gone off the tracks; I’ve made the Conductor mad. Car 13 is derailed again. The caboose is loaded with sin. Yet, the passengers won’t turn back: for that caboose has been their home, from the moment I let them in. There is a damsel in distress, bound and gagged upon the tracks. I cannot cool the engine, for the sight of her smoothe skin. Those ropes go so well with her dress. I cannot save her, or us, so I retreat within.
I am derailed. But let’s move on.
There are some who will say this next bit is a bit of fabrication; but it is only so much in that the metaphors involved are crudely stitched. Otherwise, it was grotesquely difficult to write about insomuch that it is true. I couldn’t make a stranger story up; although, I’m certain that this will be argued as well.
So here I am on a train…and you know what? I still wouldn’t eat green eggs and ham. I feel as if I’m running on empty, far past running low and running scared, and running out of luck. Luck was not having my bags searched for contraband when they yanked that Arab guy off the train. Did I mention the Arab guy yet? One of Mohammed's Finest was trying to smuggle something into Washington DC. He sat three seats in front of me, but only for awhile. I shall explain.
I shall call him Ahab, out of convenience, and contrivance; and because racism = laughs on blogs like this. This fellow was Middle Eastern, insomuch as he was Left of Center. He was jittery and butter-limbed. His speech was stilted like a circus act, and indeed, he did do tricks.
For instance, he played musical chairs with greatest skill and ease; I felt compelled that somehow, a sitar ought to have played “Pop Goes The Weasel” while he did his little dance from seat to seat. You see, when seated on a train, you glue your heaving manbag or curvaceous ladyrump in the place where you have settled once the conductor marks your seat. You don’t go hopping madly like a starstruck harlot from lap to sweaty lap. Even Paris Hilton would find one lap to grind upon, and stick with such, for the remainder of the ride, in all the meanings “ride” might come to note. This Fellow of the Sands, however, did not obey this Great Rule of the Tracks. He was a naughty Tuscan Raider who knew not a single Bantha as his own, but rather hopped from hide to hide, with much to hide, most wise men would suspect.
He kept accusing other passengers of “trying to read his mind.” Myself? I had no interest: I’ve already seen Aladdin; anything else I might encounter there would undoubtedly involve a camel, and two humps—one hump upon the beast, and one within. Regardless, the little bearded weirdo refused to let anyone sit beside him, in front of him, or behind him. I appreciated his courtesy—but then, I hadn’t showered in awhile, either.
He refused to sit next to his bag. Suspicious? Nah… For all I knew, his deformed twin was hitching a ride, and he didn’t want to pay for two fares. But when the conductor placed his bag beside him, the fellow got up, and moved to a different seat—a seat uncontaminated by his mysterious lumpy sack. One wiley Texan, with balls of truest steel, kept following dear Ahab ‘round the train, placing his shunned bag next to him whereever he would sit. Invariably, of course, he’d have to move. The guy probably chased him with his own bag up half the car. It was an unsettling predicament, but not without its humor value, for sure.
At some point, someone asked the Man of the Sands where he was headed. Ahab replied, “Washington, DC. I have a message for the President.” I’m not making that up. Sweet Pickled Jesus...why can't he just flip him the bird like the rest of us? Anyway, this is why we’re going to win the War On Terror—Allah is hiring idiots. All he needs is a few elderly greeters at Mecca, and the process is complete.
Later, the aforementioned wiley Texan mistook me for Steven Seagal, and asked if I was willing to help him pin the bastard to the ground—peace be upon him—while they threw his fucking bag out of the window. "I have a better idea,” I replied, “How about you keep irritating the guy, and I go tell the conductor that we’re all about to die?”
Fortunately for all but Ahab, the conductor was well aware of the situation. The train quietly stopped in some desolate, musky North Texas armpit on the way. “The Man” was waiting. Thus, poor Ahab was discarded like a used squishy tampon in some shithole desert rapehouse, bag-cursed-bag in tow. A couple of local-looking troopers did a disturbingly brief and cavalier bomb search, and sent us on our way. For the first time in my life, I was happy as a harlot to be out of dope. We carried on our merry madcap way.
[The studio audience sighs.]
Hours crawled like a quadraplegic junkie, inching along on calloused nubs for smack. Train rides—once the domain of wealthy jetsetters, international jewel thieves, dashing spies with eyepatches, and murder suspects—are a special sort of ghetto all their own. It’s just not like it used to be, if it ever was before. The traincars smell like Goodwill stores—that curious combination of sour milk and old people, lost hope and broken dreams. It’s far from a smooth ride, and rickets like soft bones. The car rocks and swishes from side to side like the Listerine in your mouth after the evening’s paid companionship is gone.
There were long hours ahead; the excitement was largely over, but waiting is the hardest part of anything at all. In a terrific fling of spittle from the dripping lips of irony, I had an entire spindle of 100+ CD’s—thousands of mp3’s—and yet no disc player in which to play them. Only the cruel hum of fortune’s infinite jest, amid the chortles of Heaven’s angelic host, would serenade my weary, wary ears this dreary night.
I began to wonder how my girlfriend and our furry little children might be doing. No sooner than I thought it, fate seemed to grimly answer on its own, via an old man with a cellphone, two rows back: “Wow…it’s a Category 5—wait, no…it’s down to a Category 4 now. Jesus…The Gulf Coast’s getting totally throttled! That whole coastline will be gone by morning… Holy shit, they’re evacuating Houston!”
Oh…lovely. My loved ones may be dead, or so displaced in the shuffle that I might never see or hear from them again. My home was likely gone, a lifetime of possessions out to sea. And I might not even be alive, were I not an utter bastard and a scoundrel. My life was in upheavil. I had twenty-three cents or less left in my pocket, and still no ride or place to go when I arrived. I should have been beside myself with grief and catastrophic loss. Instead, all I could feel was…nothing; I was utterly and completely numb. It was like I’d just escaped some killer’s basement, after months of rape and torment. I was entirely and totally beyond the veil. I was simply…numb.
At some point, it dawned on me that I hadn’t slept or eaten in nearly three long days. At least one of these was fixable…this was really what I brought the tequila for. Fortunately, no one seemed to care about the bottle of Mexican tequila that I had smuggled in my bag. I finished it off by the time we hit Missouri. I needed it by that point. My finest moment came when I semi-drunkenly hit on one of the Amish girls whom we'd picked up in Patosi. I annoyed her unto the hour of the Lord, all the while with images of her Plain Jane frame churning butter, or whatever else, until her simple God of Olde turned on the lights for a new day. For today was the day the Lord had made, and made me miserable in; and truly, no amount of loss could fully tame my inner rogue; in a strange way, it was all that I had left.
As I sobered with the morning light, it dawned on me that I needed to find someone to greet me at the station. Borrowing a cell phone from a fellow passenger, I left a message with an old friend’s mother—the only number I remembered—and hoped for the best of the worst to come. As we neared Missouri’s boot, the train slowed to a crawl. It was explained over the intercom that the tracks in this rural banjo-land were bad, and we had to gently push across the bridge like a lubed-up pinkie trembling at the unexpectant, wrinkled no-spot of the damned.
Fate, like a feisty cat, was momentarily through batting me around life’s kitchen floor; my friend Kris received the message, and arrived on time to pick me up, “Where to now?” he asked. “Shit," I said, defeated, “I hadn’t really thought of that.”
I paged through the run-soaked rolodex of my mind, and settled on whatever friend I figured would be home. We approached the home of my old friend, Rick; he still lived with his mother, who—by reputation—was notoriously accomodating to strays. It was the best shot at the moment that did not involve my head and a revolver.
I knocked weakly on the door; his mother answered, and stared queerly at the dissheveled heap I had become. I smelled like booze and days of sweat and squalor. I was dressed like a Columbian on the run. Grizzled and miserable, frizzled out, fried, and sticking to the pan…within, my innards pickled bit by bit…I appeared as the consummate crazy homeless guy, irresistable to organ thieves and flies, indeterminate by census, and invisible to Republicans far and wide.
I looked her pitifully in the eyes, and asked, “Are you taking in refugees?” I smiled while I could stand. Her face contorted oddly; she stepped back, and shook her head...
TO BE CONTINUED...
THE HELL OUT OF DODGE
:::"Proof that Noah's flood was but a courtesy flush..."Sorry about the delay, folks; I had actual assignments due this week. Hopefully, I will make a double-post today, time permitting...EPISODE III: the hell out of dodge. (or, "Are We There, Yet?")
So there we were—not really anywhere at all. It was gridlock everywhere the eye could see, vehicles so limp and lifeless, that many set up tent. But still we rattled on. After an unlikely break in all this deadness, the tumbleweeds blew away, and we accelerated up to five, and sometimes even ten (!), slothful, hard-earned miles per hour(s). Then I heard the last thing that I wished to, but not the worst I would: the bus driver slammed his hands against the wheel, and picking up his phone, called back to base: “Fuck this. We’re dead in the water. We’ll never make it to Longview. The train leaves in an hour anyway, and even if this picks up, we’re four damn hours from being even close. I’m dumping all these people off in Houston.”
Great…our own driver had given up. Houston? Houston had traffic like this on a daily basis, hurricane or no. This was simply worse going to worst, and working on new adjectives to take us even further down below. If this sucked any harder, I’d be getting off, or losing tissue through the wound.
Houston was a greasy netherworld of crusts and scabs, overrun with wino piss and too much rap. While I’m not a racist, I am a music nazi—and (Public Enemy aside) I’ve always hated hip-hop, especially in its neutered Nelly hip-Pop form. It was a strangely motivating reason for my departure from St. Louis to begin: It might be my birthplace, and the Gateway To The West…but I’m not Catholic, and I hate rap; honestly, I had to leave—there was really nothing left. Houston was like St. Louis, only bigger and more congested. The drivers were even worse, if that were possible. It was certainly no place to be stranded.
No one spoke to us when we arrived; no one approached us. The impression was that we might be on our own, although this was really never specified. Of the four others on the bus, one poor girl spoke very little English, if she spoke a word at all. I felt sorrier for her than all the rest. Two other passengers, both stout and stocky black girls, surmised the situation, and hit the payphones. One girl apparently had relatives nearby, and the other caught a cab. I was shocked to see the taxis even running, to be honest…but that was the strangest thing about this town—nothing was different than it was on any other given day. Houston, to its credit, was intent to be defiant to the end. I wondered around a bit, while the others were in line at the customer service desk, seeking help. I noticed another bus about to leave. An older gent walked out, and I asked where it was headed. “Oh, we’re running late. This bus is headed to Longview—I have to catch a train to California. We should be leaving any second now; I think the driver is in the bathroom…”
This seemed like a mere writer’s convention, but I assure you that it wasn’t. This was fortune with its pants down, prepare to leave a whizz. I sized it up again—that bus was absolutely packed. My neurons began to fire once again. This wasn’t our bus, and was clearly very full. It was only still here by sheer dumb luck…mine, to be specific. Rather than haggle with the desk for permission or another ticket, I grabbed my goods and hopped aboard while the driver was illdisposed. I motioned for the immigrant girl to follow; I’m not sure that she understood quite why, but she nabbed a seat far in the back. I hope she was going to Longview…I should have checked, in retrospect. Sorry babe; no abla Espanol.
I found a seat that seemed utterly perfect, beneath the air vent and behind one of the many TV screens descending from the roof. Could it get any more perfect? (Wait for it… no, really…wait for it.)
I kept a low profile, in the event that I might be unwelcome, or need another ticket. Logically, it would seem they would almost have to put us on here…it was really common sense; but I just didn’t take that for granted anymore. Strange days, these were.
The trip to Longview lasted through the night. My seat turned out to be less a blessing than I thought: being underneath the vent meant that it never stopped blowing in my face, and that I would perpetually be too cold to fall asleep. Being so close to the TV meant that every grinning idiot on the bus huddled around my seat to watch it, robbing me of any privacy, or a chance to sneak that flask of Mexican tequila out of my bag. It was going to be a long, LONG night. And then…the TV begin to flicker. What sort of evil would this spew toward my eyes? Oh…oh dear…they were playing Sister Act. And I was its taunted hostage.
“At least you didn’t have to sit through Sister Act 2,” you say, amidst your chortles.
Well...what do you think they played after Sister Act?
I was trapped…I was, and would be, Whoopi’s shivering prisoner of pain.
(Sort of like Ted Danson, I suppose…and am I the only one to notice that this demon has no eyebrows?)
Shipped out like so much FedEx, we finally arrived in Longview. Longview was on the ass end of Texas, like an aged and crackling dingleberry off the assflaps of a Bush. It was the first cold that I’d felt in well over a year. It was nearing midnight, and alive in all its death. It was blackness, bleakness all around, with acres crawling into miles, filled from ground to empty starry sky will nothing all around. I looked out over the horizon…where was this place? Oh…nowhere…right.
My worst fears soon seemed realized—well, second-to-worst: I wasn’t trapped in an Oklahoma jail next to Celine Dion, a neocon, and a Samoan Scientologist with a penchant for buggery, emo-rock, and forced-intercourse four-ways—but I still seemed pretty screwed: the ticket booth was closed. Anyone who didn’t have a ticket was certainly not getting one at this time.
So here I was...stranded 400 miles from home, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. I had no idea if my girlfriend even made it out, or if my house was still standing. Had all my rotten karma finally come bearing my name? Was this it—me spending the frigid night, sleeping with the hobos in a derailed car, swapping crude stories and trading lude favors for cigarettes and stale donuts, until the ticket booth reopened, and a train became available again?
Finally, after a few moments spent pondering whether or not I could sneak aboard that train—which was set to leave at any minute—I happened upon that immigrant girl again. She was about to become a useful commodity—and not in the way one might think; I’m sure you all have proper concepts of what I’d normally, on any other day, consider using a poor, cute immigrant for. Sure, it was on my mind; but I had bigger fish to penetrate, er, fry.
She looked a bit confused, as if she had no concept of where she was supposed to go. She seemed to understand the word “ticket” when I asked her. She shook her head emphatically “no.” So I marched the poor, cute, visibly-distraught-but-thoroughly cherubic immigrant girl right up to the conductor. Who could resist a face like that? I certainly couldn’t—if this frail gambit failed, I would have loved to use her as a blanket for the night. She sadly and pitifully sobbed something in Spanish—I crossed my fingers and hoped against all other hope it wasn’t “Help! This man’s a rapist!”
The conductor seemed concerned enough; he turned to me, and asked, “Brother, do you know any Spanish? What’s she saying?” I smiled, and said, “She's saying that you really need to open up the ticket booth, because she needs to board this train. If you don’t, she has nowhere to go, and is afraid of being raped by hobos in the cold.”
Okay…so that’s not probably what she said. But like most times when a woman spoke, I didn’t really care what she was saying; I was only there to use her pretty face.
(Wait…I’m sorry—was that out loud?)
The conductor nodded sympathetically, and opened up the ticket booth for her. I hoped that’s what she wanted—to board the train. In retrospect, I suppose I should have checked…
But now I had another problem: I had no idea how much this thing would cost. My funds were rather limited, you know—I had exactly $113, and not a quarter more. I asked how much a ticket to St. Louis would cost. The conductor replied, to my amazement, “$113.” Again, I’m not making that up… The man had no idea how much cash I would have on me; he couldn’t know. This was another synchronicity—a synchro-nicety, really.
Once on board and settled in, there’d be another strange adventure still to come. The weirdness wasn’t over, and the Death Angel had still not fully passed. Thankfully, for me, it seemed he was on break, and tonight was only doing catch-and-release. I supposed he had a larger harvest on the way. Heading south? You bet. He'd been working on the railroad...all the live-long day.
TO BE CONTINUED...
SUSPENSION OF MISBELIEF
"They live...you watch."
Episode II: suspension of misbelief.
Journal Entry 17: We’re going on Day Three. The lights, the power…all of our utilities are gone. We drank too many jugs of our water reserves in panic early on. It’s tempting—oh so tempting!—just to push a funnel under where the glass is giving out beneath the boarded kitchen window. Soon, we’ll have our chance, I do expect: the window in the bathroom has been compromised, and the wind-driven violent rain is gushing in, beating the door against the wall.
The ceiling drips, and—trembling with each howl of nature’s fury—threatens to give way and sail afar, exposing us to most certain doom. The floors are damp where there is carpet, and are slick where there is tile. The insects are all dead, and floating past our puzzled cats, spooked with every thunderclap and lightning flash above. They aren’t alone. I can feel the water rising all around outside. The levels must be rising past the door, as the air pressure has changed with this last rush of racket rumbling like a tremor past the bedroom wall—my ear forever glued to it in morbid fascination, like an ear kept to the ground, awaiting horsemen far away. The winds batter our shaken, creaking home like a cat swatting a mouse around the basement floor. When the storm surges lash out, it’s like the Pimp Hand of the Universe Itself. Each time the waves come crashing in outside, we feel this great and terrible weightlessness as if the house is rising from the ground. We know, and we wish we didn’t, that it's worse—far worse, and far closer—than we ever could imagine from inside.
The air is getting thin; these boards, this tape, that glass…none of it will hold. The cats are so afraid, unable to find shelter where the surface isn’t damp and the tiles don't give. I hope they find their spot; I’d rather we be sucked out through the roof, next surge, than have to suffocate and slowly watch them die, like all the others. Not again--even if it meant we ate another day...
In truth, the weather was beyond serene—the best we’d had in ages. It seemed unlikely we were even due for rain, much less Apocalypse of End-Tymes Might. Hurricane Rita was coming through, and I planned to sit it out. I’d blog as long as we had power, and scribble until we had it once again. I’d make it all dramatic, I though. Afterall—I had aptly gaged the gullibility of my readership with a fantastic New Orleans tale not long ago; I could probably really ham it up for this. Hell, I might finally have some readers for a change.
I remember living in Baton Rouge when Hurricane Andrew passed through. We remained inside our boarded-up apartment for awhile, before we holed up in the inpenetrable stone fortress that was the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College dorms—God bless its cultic fortitude!. When the Apocalypse finally, truly nears, and the nukes light up the sky…I’m telling you, that place will still be standing, with the roaches as its sentinels for all of time. But to the point: sure, it was raining shingles, and several cars were overturned. I saw a tree fly past one time, but really that was it: Three days of darkness, then we waited for the water and the power to return. This took maybe a week. All in all, it really wasn’t bad. That was at least a Category 3—how much worse could this possibly get? Why should this be any different?
Besides, I was flat broke—I couldn’t afford to leave if I desired to. I had been planning to take a trip to see some friends up north this week—I had reserved a train ticket—but I knew that, once again, I would reserve my seat but only sit it out. I’d been laid off from my job for the dry fall/winter season, and I simply had no money. For my sake, I figured, this better be bullshit. Like Santa, the Great Pumpkin, Allah, and the Bunny Christ of Easter to a child, there was most certainly a will to believe—or disbelieve—working in overdrive on my part.
It’d been days since the anouncement, and I hadn’t done a thing. “Bah,” I said beneath my breath, “I know what they’re all doing. The mayor’s cleaning house…”
Since Hurrican Katrina, our island had been swamped like the mighty bayou with refugees, evacuees, and fleeing Bourbon He-She’s, each and many vast with fleas, disease, and backwashed feces, all receiving increasingly unceasing varieties and degrees of freebies, keys, and courtesies from the displeased and uneasy locals. Hotels were pressured to take them free of charge; restaurants had been browbeat into giving them free food, or at least being less rude than was the custom in this town. On top of all of this, these imported persons of Sudden Import, were now competing for the few jobs that could be had there—the Mexicans were so pissed off at the competition, that many of them left. On an island that, quite frankly, had become dependent on illegal labor for more than tasty tacos and clean dishes, this came as a bigger blow than anything Linda Lovelace had delivered. Our economy was slipping in a slick of shit. So when the mayor called for evacuation—and specified that refugees from Katrina need leave first—it seemed all too obvious what this was really all about.
No hurricane had seriously threatened us in nearly twenty years; and nothing had done true damage since the Big One long ago, in 1900. We were perfectly safe, I reasoned—cruel and crappy as it was, our local government simply wanted all the poor folk gone. I had every reason to be cynical—the natives were. They were all angry about the refugee situation, murmuring in sullen choirs; some were even mumbling that we had acquired “bonus negroes.” Bonus or not, the final round was upon us all, and in our coldness, we didn’t even know.
All those jokes we told about Florida—our Nation’s windbreaker, and buffer for all storms—were coming back with “friends.” But hey, with “ravaged” being the official state adjective, and the vulture soon to be it’s new state bird—not to mention Jeb Bush out jibbering on about unleashing mystical Oriental warriors like he has Hal Jordan’s ring, and could transform into the Green Lantern at any hour should the Liberals give him any fuss…while his daughter, Noel, dreams of all the crack she’ll smoke one day in Lincoln’s bedroom…Florida needs every friend that it can muster. And really? So would I.
Some time had passed; it was two days or so before the storm arrived. The locals had surprised me—even the diehards (who swore this was a sham...that they’d never leave), were leaving in vast droves, like lemmings off a cliff. Rita was now a Category 4. “How bad is that,” I asked a fleeing neighbor, “really—just how bad?”
She shook her head… ”A Category 3 would flood up past your roof,” she told us, compounding our grief with every added detail. She went on: “You’re too close to the water—if it doesn’t tear the roof off, your house would still completely be submerged. That’s a Category 3.” She shoved another box into her truck, like an oily dwarf into her belching rectum. “But this supposed to be a ‘4,’” I somewhat whimpered, “What will that be like, then?” She looked a little cross, as if her friend’s retarded nephew asked about the penis on her dog.
“A ‘4’ is like the storm of 1900. It would completely submerge the island--and with the 20 ft. storm surges, and 120mph winds, there really won’t be too much left of the ground itself. These houses will be gone,” she said solemnly, as she took time to light a cigarette, “and really, my money is that it turns into a ‘5’ before tonight. That’s what MSNBC was saying. They say it’s going to be a ‘5.’ That will actually destroy the entire area. There won’t be anything left of anything. The island as a land mass will be ripped apart, and swept into the gulf.”
“I see. Thank you.” I hurriedly ascended the stairs inside, and went staight to a Google search. I felt lucky only once, and then I never would again. The old hag was right—we were fucking doomed. I felt like I had Magic Cancer, damned by HMO with only two days left to live. Every news network was on it, and they all sang the same song: “Doom doom doomy doom doom, doomy doom doom doom.”
CNN said that it would be a Category 5 for sure, and FoxNews said the same—albeit, they somehow blamed it on the Democrats. Still, Truthout had five articles by nightfall which linked Rita and Katrina to the Bush Administration. It was then I was enlightened: All of them were idiots, left and right alike—politicizng death from safe suburban homes and mountain towns, where they themselves will never die...placing blame for pain, from places far away, where hurt will never reach them. I swore to myself right there I would survive…if just to deliver that hurt and death to them one day in person or in writing, like a pizza from Charles Bronson, in a box marked “Bill O’Reilly—extra sausage,” and “Al Franken—pepperoni.”
So how would we get out? My girlfriend had a plan to catch a ride to Houston with her folks; but really, I’d rather surf the waves of my demise than spend 25 minutes with her dad. Were it left to my devices, I would leave him in his attic with a gun and one bullet, and a rusty can of beets. He would not get a can opener. And he'd only get one bullet, because his hands are getting shaky now, and swollen. He would aim at his own head, and miss. And as he slumped down on the floor to slowly starve, in bitter resignation to fate, those beets would still be there, unopened…mocking him. That’s how I would like to see him go: Broken, starving, out of bullets…and mocked in his final moments by a goddamned can of beets.
OK…so I’m not traveling with him. Besides, they plan to go to Houston, and if it really is a ‘5,’ then Houston’s going to suck like so many Black Hole singularities in space. Houston would not be spared. Now, my girlfriend is resourceful, and I’d trust her to survive no matter what—even if it meant slitting her mother open down the middle, and crawling inside for warmth like a Ton-Ton on a cold Hoth night. So…
Wait…I had a train seat reserved. I checked my reservation…it left less than a day from Certain Doom. I’d need to be at the bus station in sixteen hours, to be taken to a town that had a train. Money aside, there was an issue; FEMA wanted those buses ready to move the whole town out at six, to Huntsville, AL—which, really, might be worse than death…if they even left at all (Note: After the fact, I would be vindicated here, as it was my understanding that they didn’t move an inch…) It dawned on me that they might not recognize my reservation in this emergency. I needed to make a phone call...
I argued with a man on the phone, squealing like a man inside my head. “We can’t justify that bus, sir—there’s only maybe four folks even confirmed to ride it. We’re not sure if we should take a bus from the evacuation for such a small handful…I’m sure you understand…maybe you could hop the bus to Huntsville later on…”
Deep inside my rotten, wormy heart, I knew FEMA would fail us. Those buses wouldn’t make it out; and if they did, so what? Who wants to be in Huntsville, live or dead? It was time for some creative haggling. In retrospect, what followed now seems utterly impossible. I suspect it was the conviction of the telling, rather than the veracity of lie, that saved my ass. I’m really still amazed. All I can say is, thank God for people who aren’t paid enough to care…
I began explaining that I was with the news media (wink wink, nudge), and could easily produce a press pass if need be… (smile…it was an old Ozzfest badge) Our van with all the cameras could be seen on the TV... (Of course—yes, right! If you had sattelite..) The van had to stay there, for constant coverage; so I had to get to Houston, for supplies… (The smug grin widens…) There might be grave consequences otherwise—a news journalist left behind by inefficient public transportation? A citywide embarassment, I would say! The mayor should just love this sort of press… It could very well result in his job, if he defied me … (Dear God, how can I hold the laughter back?) I put on quite a show, really.
And then the coup de grace, which I myself could not believe I got away with (and still cannot to this day): I convinced him that the hurricane was no big deal, really; it was just a ploy by “the Man” to push the underpriveleged out—in fact, that was what I was covering! (Yeah—that’s the ticket!)
That last one was totally gratuitous—I probably had what I needed already—but to my surprise, he took the bait! He actually fell for it. “You know, you’re probably right, sir,” he replied, “and dang it, I’m sure there will be other reservations by tomorrow morning… You’re right—I’m definitely not going anywhere now…” (Oh Jesus, I’m going to hell…)
“Oh well,” my sinister side confided deep within, “not only do you get out safely, but there just might be an opening at the station when you return…” Double-score!
My house was about to be demolished, like the intergrity of the Bond franchise without Pierce Brosnan. We had dismantled the wooden fence, and used the planks to board the windows…but really, would it matter? We were screwed, and about to be throttled harder than an overweight ten-year-old who accidentally stumbled into a dwarf-tossing competition. I never wished so hard for a moving van in my life, pregnancy scares aside.
My train reservation said that I could only take what I could carry; basically, that meant a spindle of CD’s, two paperbacks, a porno, and my balls. Oh wait…I still needed clothes. Damn. Okay…clothes, then CD’s, then balls… This wasn’t going to be easy by any means. I had thousands of irreplacable books and CD’s…plus a vintage 80’s horror film collection—literally 1500 videos and posters, with full cheesy, offensive box art included. How do you choose what gets to go? I had spent a lifetime collecting these things…and poof!…they would be gone, floating out to sea to pervert God’s noble dolphins.
My ladyfriend took the cats—the children, you know—and whatever else I swore in obtuse rage that I would never forgive her for were she to leave behind….basically everything. I had a heavy bag indeed when I was finished…it was one bag…but it was hardly anything I could carry. There was something I was supposed to learn here, I suppose. Something deep, I imagine. Yup…it’d probably be really Zen or some such… Yeah…any day now, I am certain. It’ll come to me, I know.
In all this madness, I never once stopped to think about how I might pay for this glorious trainwreck of a trainride once I got there. You see, I was being bussed from the island to a place way out in Northern Texas called Longview—a six hour bus ride to catch a train. Without a credit card, I would have to pay for my ticket at the station (hopefully not the old fashioned way...), a hundred miles from anywhere. If the ticketbooth was closed (or all the tickets sold), by the time we finally got there, I might be fucked and stranded, raped and freexin’ in the desert wind, whether I had the cash or not. To this end, I was uncertain. We scraped up every dollar that we had; the phone company had foiled us with their timing, and after all pennies were rolled, I had exactly $113. I seemed to remember the ticket being something like that…um…uh, roughly... I guess I would find out, eh?
We made it through nightmarish traffic to the depot just in time. Our voices choked to silence, my girlfriend tearfully dropped me off at the closest curb. We both knew what we had to do to make it. There is a look that lovers give when they are about to part, perhaps for good. It’s like a parent gazing at their starving child—wishing they could feed them, though they can’t…and unsure of just whose suffering is greater in the end.
It was a long kiss, like goodnight, except forever. We didn’t really know. Neither of us had been alone in many years; and we would live because it might seem strange to die apart, even though we didn’t always get along. The cats—our children—mewed in sorrow, in distress. Cars honked impatiently behind us; but we were the only two individuals who existed at that time. Some punk started bumping us to move. If we weren’t afraid of being stranded on the island, we contemplated backing into him. But he wasn’t worth it, not today. She closed the door, and hightailed it into Houston before she lost her chance to traffic on the bridge. I dragged my baggage like a boulder to the gate, and shuffled in.
An aging black man hoisted my heaving travel bag into the baggage compartment of the bus. He grimaced at its weight and heft. “Wow, I hope there’s room…Some guy’s supposed to be here with the news or something. I reckon he’ll have lots of cameras and stuff to pack down here…” I smiled, and nodded. I got on board, and promptly ducked, in hiding...seeking in vain to dodge the angry lightning from Above.
The bus idled for hours. It stalled like every hope and dream I’ve had. What in the hell of any faith that had one were we waiting for? I was nervous, sweating bullets—sweat is only pee before its pissed; and I knew I’d never need to piss for days. Finally, the driver shook his head, and closed the door. “Well, we can’t wait here any longer. Traffic’s gonna kill us as it is…” He started his routine, as the four—count ‘em, FOUR—passengers settled slowly in their seats. People were scrambling to escape across the island, and here I was on a bus with just four people. Yeah…I’m going to hell.
“I just don’t get it,” I overheard the driver say. “It shows we’re all accounted for, but I was positive that some big newscaster was supposed to be here, too. I wonder where he is? Oh well, we waited…” I couldn’t tell if they were messing with me…but I was keeping my head down, just the same. And it was the smartest move I made during this trip.
The traffic off the island was obscene, but I figured it would move. I was unsure of my destination, but it seemed the worst was over. Uneasy and exausted, I drifted off to sleep. I awoke six hours later.
We were less than ten miles from where we started.
I looked out the window to a grievous shock…it was a blinding, smokey encampment all around us…sunlight glistening off a thousand windshields to mock the driver next to catch its light. We were drowning in an ocean of our fellow man, and his machines. Bumper to bumper, anger to sorrow, faint hope to desperation all around…we were trapped in what would be a legendary traffic incident, the Evacuation Gridlock. Cars moved at one and two miles an hour, maybe less. They honked, and vast throngs swore. It was like a scene out of the Road Warrior. It was disheartening, yet amazing, all at once. Vehicles of all sorts for as far as the eye could see, and not a single one blessed with movement, but for an inch or two when fortune had its way. It was like trying to get served at Denny's.
People got out of their cars, to frolic and to fight, to eat, to drink, to fuck. It wasn’t like a cop could pull you over. People traded gasoling for cigarettes and food; though often, it would be the opposite way around. It was an Ocean of Steel. And it would remain that way for hours yet to come. It was the irony of escaping into nothing. We were on the road to nowhere…and we had reached it long before we had arrived.
TO BE CONTINUED…
"I can see paradise by the bug-zap light..."
Oh, finally... Here begins our epic adventure, my grandiose tale of surviving the hurricane, and everything that conspired against life...and the menace of the Nothing that so filled it. We'll begin with a little background, to put the irony of all to come in context. Prefaces are boring; but it makes the wild ride wilder in the end. Enjoy.
Episode I: (r)ex-nihilo (or, "a tropical depression")
“Ass-casket,” I scribble. “Yeah—that’s it,” I mumble madly in mid-tweak, “Definitely write that down. Hmm….lessee, what else…” I pace into the night, heart racing with the rot you’re reading now. “Squishmitten…wigglepit. Meatsleeve…yeah, that’s good. I’ll put those down…”
“Babymaker…splattering ram…no, wait—Babymaking Splattering Ram. Yeah…that one’s a hit.”
My head is filled with words, and many of them vile. It might also be caffeine; but then, that pot of coffee was fairly vile, as well. At least it was three days ago, when I first brewed it. Now it’s just the bile that jolts my neurons when I retain presence of mind enough to pour a sludgy cup.
I’d been struggling with writer’s block all day, if not for weeks; but it seemed the fog had lifted, be it briefly. Sadly, I had other things to do. It was less than seven hours before work, and I also had an interview to transcribe. Don’t get me wrong—I love being a Rock Hack. Were I paid more regularly for it, I’d be stoked and pleased as pussylice at a flea-infested Furry con; but I’m paid about as much and as often as a talent scout for bath attendents, and require some sort of “real” job in the day. My girlfriend, whom I moved here for, has a job…insomuch as actively waiting for her father to die is work; thus I must be the breadwinner for now. I am counting down the minutes with each word—a deadline, even self-imposed, will make or break one’s craft. One day I’m going to make it; but tonight, I’m merely broke.
If frustration were teeth, I’d play with the Electric Mayhem. If angst were soul, I’d be James Brown.
I hate my fucking job. I was supposed to be bartending; it seems pedestrian, but the money is total pimp-cash, without the funny hat. But a little while ago, my workplace instituted a (disturbingly commonplace) no-male-bartenders rule. But I can cook, right? The cooks there make decent pay… Unfortunately, the arrogent, Clint Black- and Toby Keith-loving, bigotted backwoods blowhard Republican-for-no-good-goddamned-reason meatshit pisswhisker gristlewad of a Head Cook hated me immediately upon catching site of me. He kept asking if I was “hippie or something,” and if I "smoked the crack cocaine" or “worshipped Satan.”
Did he get the “hippie” idea from discussing environmental politics or disarmament with me? No; he simply didn’t understand why a man would have long hair, unless he was a dope-smoking peacenik. He didn’t understand how a guy could wear an earring unless he were “a fruit or something.” And the Satanism? Did he get that from discussing Nietchian “man and superman” polemic or Libertarian Agnosticism and Church-State politics with me? Guess again; he assumed this because I wore black, and said I didn’t like country or gospel when asked what radio stations I would tolerate. Afterall, any long haired counterculture type who doesn’t like “American” (ie country) music and the worship of his ancient undead Hebrew Lord must be some kind of Commie Pagan, right?
The long, short and curly of it all is that he refused to even train me, and whined about me to management. Management, who actually sort of liked me, refused to fire me simply because he was a dick. So they offered me a different (and supposedly temporary) job as a mere Prep Cook, until the head cook became more comfortable with me being there. This, of course, would never happen.
I was the only non-Mexican prep, and thus unable to be paid in warm tortillas and a sixpack of Corona…which, in a southern Gulf Coast town, means six bucks (or less) an hour. Six dollars an hour doesn’t even pay for our electric, much less my ego. And because Texas is a Right-To-Work state, and my lovely island abode is technically Texas, I get to work 12-18 hour shifts—mandatory overtime—without overtime pay, much less a “thank you.” I also don’t get lunch or smoke breaks. Hey, jobs are scarce on the island—what am I going to do, complain? That would be like an imprisoned effeminate latino hairdresser, with bedroom eyes and girl hips, complaining to the warden that a strange man eyed him up.
Oh, wait...I'm supposed to be funny here; terribly sorry--I'll get back to that eventually...honest.
So here I am…a stranger in a strange land; I am culturally alien, and surrounded by immigrants. I am the only English-speaking prep cook. My immediate superior, the Head Cook, is a total cockwipe who smells of navel-paste, cheap beer. and ham--and now intentionally plays country and gospel just to annoy me and break my battered, sinking spirit. I dismember crustaceans and chop stale vegetables, standing for twelve hours at a whack on a bad knee, for six fucking dollars a goddamned hour. I have no hope of promotion, and no time to find anything better on the mainland. Mother would be so proud.
At the true heart of my misery is that booger-eating redneck meatwad bully, the Head Cook. If flopsweat had a face, it would be his. If skidmarks and the bacon strips of filthy shorts could have a voice, they would sing his favorite song. His extremeties are swollen, dangling sausages. His every heaving, greasy flap of fat is ripe of sweat and smegma rolls, like some fetid rotund mummy wrapped at burial in the foreskins of a thousand Jews. Hotdog-shaped lumps and rolls scale down his hammy, clammy neck like fleshy, rounded stairs. He shaves his head in heat, that the numbing psychic imprint of his cluelessness and ignorance might radiate that much clearer from the sweeping blah-blah-blah of his HeeHaw-and-Tim McGraw-loving mind, like a banjo-playing telepath searching for a rape-cave in the woods. His eyes relate a smug, simpering indifference to anyone-or-thing that might not be like him. He can’t and won’t communicate intent, except to bellow in blind idiot frustration, or tell unfunny jokes. He lumbers like a jigsaw heap of random clumps and shifting slabs of sloppy meat, shuffling madly into darkness with a toothpick in his mouth. I don’t really like the guy.
My friends and folks are far away, scattered to the wind in the Midwest. My girl and I are like an old married couple, couped up for far too long, and expressing our resentments through the thermostat. And because women are from Venus, she must approximate the surface temperature of her homeworld. Our tiny shoebox of a stilt-house is like a looming, wooden lollipop of shame. And if there were anything less to do in this town, I could ontologically disprove my own existence.
OK…boo-hoo…you get it: I’m not happy... But, you see, I don’t really want to go anywhere, either. My writing career isn’t going anywhere—why should I? And if opportunity should ever knock—and not giggle, leave a flaming bag of poop, and run this time—I’d like to be where it can find me. I’m in the book. Unfortunately, it’s the Thrifty Nickel.
One night, I drunkenly roll home (everything is downhill for me, you know). The breeze is warm and violent; the Gulf is blocks away, and I can smell it’s salty, crashing waves. I stare up into the empty sky for hours, counting all the stars—so vast and visible in the desert—and imagine the sheer and tremble-worthy joy of seeing one…just one…come crashing toward the earth. I stumble inside, and read my e-mail. An article is due—the one I really didn’t want to do. It’s so windy out, I think; I wonder if a storm is on the way. Bah…they always miss us.
I continue to read my mail. Inside, I ponder, “How could things get any fucking worse?”
“Gabriel,” my girlfriend calls out, as if on cue, and seemingly in panic, “quick—turn on the news…”
Oh...oh my. ..
Oh God. Oh dear. Dear lord.
Sweet Pickled Jesus.
TO BE CONTINUED…