Friday, June 25, 2004

SATMATC 13: Pennsylvania

I'm getting old, kids. I'm forgetting people's names, names I didn't think I'd ever forget. I'm forgetting parts of the trip, too, which is even more worrisome.

I remember seeing telephone or electric lines pulled down by snow and ice, and thinking that maybe we were right to get out early.

I remember half glimpsing some sort of weird rotating mall in Syracuse, NY (I think).

I remember a lot of really bad roads.

I remember it starting to snow, and the roads getting rather slick.

That was our first eight hours of travel, with me at the wheel. Just after dark, we stopped to fill up with gas. I was still uncomfortable with Shea driving, so I bought myself a quart of beer to calm me down (ie make me sleep). Surely, I thought, this guy can drive on snow. He's from freakin' Alaska! So I settled into the passenger seat with my quart of beer, tried (as usual, unsuccessfully) to make a hammock for my head out of the seatbelt, and fell asleep before I got the cap off the beer.

Only to be awakened 45 seconds later by Shea screaming "fuck!" (our vocabularies were not too varied at that point, being that we'd been raised by landscapers and mule packers--you must forgive me if this seems repetitive), and my stomach attempting to lurch sideways out of my body. This was doubly worrisome because it was obviously lurching towards the right shoulder of the road, and since I'd been on relatively good terms with my stomach, I could only conclude that this was no spontaneous break-for-the-fence maneuver, but rather a move born out of submission to physics--that is, my gut was in the same place, and the rest of the car had lurched seriously towards the median of the highway.

All this occurred in the time it took me to open my eyes and see a trail of brake lights ahead of us, two lanes wide and extending to the horizon. Shea had been driving way too fast (he was later to say "you can drive that fast on snow in Alaska"), and breasted a hill to see what might have been the biggest traffic jam he was ever going to be involved with. He had jerked the wheel, causing us to fishtail violently, but somehow managed to keep us out of ditches and out from under the semi-trailers ahead of us.

I took over the driver's seat, and stuck the unopened quart of beer in the back seat. I might as well have climbed in the trunk and locked myself in, because I didn't drive more than a hundred feet in the next four hours.

After about an hour of sitting in the driver's seat, listening to Shea make his case for how he really hadn't almost gotten us killed (an ineffective argument, I might add), I decided to get out and take a look around. NOTHING had happened--no traffic had moved, no police had come by to hassle us, and the radio stations sucked. It was a cold motherfucker, and the snow and ice were terrible, but eventually I was driven from the cabin by sheer boredom. I grabbed my quart of beer, and stuck it into the snow beside the car. I walked up, as far as I dared, and talked to a trucker who was taking a leak on the side of the road. He was friendly enough, but didn't have anything to tell me--nothing had been out on his radio yet, and he wasn't really that inclined to stand outside in the cold and talk to some kid from Oklahoma. I walked back to the car.

Five minutes later, Shea fell asleep and began snoring. I checked the gas tank-half a tank. I got out, grabbed my beer, and set a course for the horizon.

Now, I know it doesn't take me long to finish a quart of beer, especially if once it's finished I can put both hands in my pockets, but I was not anywhere close to the top of the hill when I finally put that sucker on the yellow line, so's I'd see it on my way back to the car. I kept on truckin'.

I met a family from Ohio who were just plain freaking out about the whole thing. I mean, it had been two hours or more, and Mom and Dad were getting asked all sorts of astute and impossible to answer questions by the kids. Questions we were all asking: "why are we here?" and "how long have we got?" I think the parents were equally as glad to talk to someone they could look straight in the eye, and not in the rearview mirror, as they would have been to someone who could have told them what was going on.

The feeling was not mutual. I wanted a fucking explanation for this. I trudged onward, on the left shoulder of whatever godforsaken interstate crossed PA (70? 80?), in the snow. I was cold as fuck, but bored to death, and wanting an answer.

Was this normal, I thought, between unwelcome flashbacks to certain Hunter Safety Course films about alcohol facilitation hypothermia, or have we once again stumbled into the middle of a weird set of circumstances? I had no frame of reference; as had been the case with this entire misadventure, we were in a different world, just familiar enough to be irritating.

After what had to be a third hour, I stopped and thought it out. Worry was creeping up on boredom, specifically worry about running out of gas there on the fucking interstate. Fantasies of hot food were also leading the pack.

My decision was made for me by a ruckus up ahead. Well, not much of a ruckus, but when you spend as much time staring at taillights as I had done over the course of the trip, you begin to get this almost kinesthetic feeling when those taillights start moving or behaving erratically. I turned on my heel, and began trucking back to the car.

We had less than a half a tank of gas when I returned, just ahead of a state trooper who was driving down the middle of the road, yelling at people to move off to the sides. He was followed shortly by, of all things, a salt truck, which peppered (sorry) all of us with rock salt. We started moving, five hours later, with a quarter of a tank of gas and two growling bellies.

I knew better than to stop at any gas station within the next 20 miles--those parents with the screaming kids would be there, or some simulacrum of that parents/kids unit, and probably a hundred people who were in the same gas bind as we were. We pulled over somewhere around Harrisburg, I think. Or maybe it was Pittsburgh. See how I forget shit?

We ate a very, very late dinner at a really awful seafood buffet place with a gas pump out front and a bunch of greenish people dressed as pirates. We filled up with gas, and I slept, finally, in the back seat.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

SATMATC 12: The Trip

The visit itself was kind of a letdown, at least for you. It was definitely good to see Sean again, and we did a lot of late night talking with Shea. I suspect Sean was feeling his age, or at least his actual age (which is measured in terms of responsibilities, not days)--we spent the night of our LSD trip in deep philosophy mode.

The kids were put to bed, and his wife retired soon after. The three of us sat up, late into the night, tripping our asses off and arguing about our lives.

Sean did some heavy talking to Shea. He used the everpopular burning candle analogy.

Their older brother had (apparently) burned out at an early age. He was still wandering around, taking up space, but he refused to get a steady job or do much beyond smoke pot and play guitar. Which is all well and good, if you're not responsible for anyone else...but then you get all bound up in definitions of words like "success" and "potential" and "happiness," which drive me up the wall.

Here's the deal: a long time ago, I made the teen-existentialist decision that I didn't want to be rich, I wanted to be happy. Rich was just an easily quantifiable way to define happy, I felt, and if one were able to redefine happiness into, say, something that gave you a more abstract sense of satisfaction, then you could cut against the grain of modern society at the same time you put one over on the IRS. Both of those reasons appealed to me, the first to my punk rock sensibilities, the second to my populist/libertarian upbringing.

And I still sort of feel that way, to tell you the truth, but it's not as easy as it seemed when I was 17.

Anyway, Sean was the second oldest brother, and (he said), he'd not exactly burned out, but settled into a slow, steady burn. This is known as stability, or domesticity. From hearing him talk, it wasn't much fun, but you can go to bed at night knowing you'd discharged your responsibilities as best you could. You were Keeping Your Promises, which in a world where promises are necessary, is more important than anything else.

[I wonder if maybe that world's not passing, but that's for another post]

Sean's admonition, at 3am on whatever night (Thursday night, I think) we were up tripping, was for Shea to not do what either of his brothers had done; to find some third way of living life, one that didn't widen further the well trod paths of sloth or drudgery, I guess.

The only reason I know what he was on about was because Shea was dense, and Sean had to explain it again. I had been engaged in a sort of peripheral game of hide and seek with a window that kept appearing in the back apartment wall, beyond which was a seacoast whose breakers were glowing silver in a moon that didn't really exist. We were probably 200 miles from the seacoast, and the window was never there when I looked directly at it, but it sure was a compelling hallucination.

That's always been the fascination with me, and it's hard to explain. The best trips don't feel like optical illusions, or magician's tricks. The best trips are when you see things that aren't there but COULD be there, I guess. For a minute or an hour, where you are has an ethereal, otherworldly beauty about it, and you feel like you could live in it forever. Bad trips, conversely, show you an awful, dirty, beaten up world that you may have to live in forever. It's not for everyone, Gentle Reader, but for those who can handle it...the world is a much richer place.

So I came back as Sean was finishing up with how he'd fucked his life up, just before he turned a baleful eye on me, extended his finger in my direction, and intoned:

"there's another way of living your life--not burning out, not settling down, but living free...and this man will figure it out. Shea, this man is a prophet, and he has knowledge of people beyond his years. He will succeed in something that we aren't even aware of on a daily basis, and by succeeding will make us all better people."

Or something like that. It sure seemed a lot more majestic and weighty when he was saying it--perhaps it had something to do with the imaginary waves breaking in the distance. But it's a pretty heavy thing to lay on someone who's in the middle of an acid trip, as you can imagine. Thankfully, we were nearing the end of said trip, and a half hour later, Sean was upstairs, sleeping in his older daughter's bunkbed for reasons still unknown to any of us.

Shea was asleep before then, I think, and I finally dozed off after it occurred to me that there was no seashore outside the apartment building. Hallucinations like this are made of the same stuff as Douglas Adams' method of flying--once you realize you're doing it, you realize it can't possibly be, and you fall to your death. Luckily, I was still sitting on the couch, so all I felt was that sickening click of perspective as all the room's angles went back to 90 degrees.

The next morning, there was snow on the ground, and more on the way. We had been planning on leaving that afternoon, but our hosts urged us to leave, so we left. I never figured out if they were really concerned about roads being closed, or if they just wanted to get us weirdoes out of their house, away from their little girls. I gave Sean the acid, and told him to mail me the money if he sold any. It's hard to get too concerned about base ideas like money, when six hours before you were being extolled as a prophet.

[NOTE: part of the reason I haven't written this bit is because I feel insufferably arrogant writing about being called a "prophet." Those that know me know that I can't keep my house clean, can't get laid, and definitely can't keep my CD's organized. Those that know Sean, on the other hand, know that he loves nothing better than making grandiose statements that have some basis in reality, or at least aren't provably false. Ultimately, then, I came to the conclusion that just because he said it, doesn't necessarily make it fuckin' so. I mean, you beat a man on the head with a wife and kids long enough, he'll begin to think being frisked by US Customs is downright glamorous, right?]

SATMATC 11: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

We drove to Watertown in record time, and didn't even have trouble finding Sean's place. It looked like typical military housing apartment buildings, only it wasn't on base (thank god). Sean and the kids met us at the door. The girls were very happy to see Uncle Shea, and while they were engaging him, Sean took me aside and asked about the trip.

The trip was a nightmare, obviously, but I was still having a good time. I was well past hating Shea, and into "despise" territory. He had driven about six hours of the whole trip thus far, attempted to sabotage a budding relationship with a hot chick, and had nearly gotten us busted not once, but twice while crossing borders. He also farted a lot.

This, of course, is everyone's opinion of their road trip partners by the end of the second day. Grown men turn into whining blobs of needs. Grown women cry for no immediately apparent reason--and I'm not talkin' sexy crying, either. Kids turn into monkeys. I grok Chevy Chase in all those "Vacation" movies. Those were right on.

So the trip was a nightmare. Sean was pretty damn relaxed about the whole situation; I expect he anticipated personality conflicts, or maybe he really didn't care. In any event, as soon as we were alone, he told me that Alethea had called.

Alethea, if you recall, was my recent sort-of-mostly-ex-girlfriend. I'd given her Sean's number with instructions to call only if the house was burning down. However, knowing that she called didn't necessarily mean the house had burned down--one of the irritating habits she had that led to our ending of the relationship. In fact, she had called from MY phone, which, if the house was on fire, would have melted, right? So I ignored the call.

This is important later in the story.

See, Alethea had been living with my friend John and his merry crew of idjits over on the other side of town. One of those idjits was a guy named Matt, who had decided he wanted to be called "Matteus," which didn't work out for him. You can't ASK for your nickname, especially if you're a dipshit like Matt. So everyone called him Dink. Dink was one of those guys who constantly talks about how big his penis is. No, really--this is a guy who once told us his girlfriend's doctor wrote him a note asking him to "avoid full penetration," because he was too big. Unfortunately for Dink, we had from various sources that his penis was actually quite small, which was cause for all sorts of sniggers and soup-out-the-nose whenever he began his bragging.

Dink had been, from the beginning of this "trial separation," out to get Alethea in the sack. This was no surprise--I suspect she was highly sought after over there, given the quality of the rest of the party girls in the house. It wasn't even a surprise, given Dink's general morality, that he spent a lot of time lying to her about my doings, under the mistaken theory that making me look bad would somehow increase his attractiveness. He was also lying to me about what she was doing, but I didn't believe anything the guy said anyway. Anyone who'll go out of his way to brag about his penis size has some serious issues with the truth to begin with.

Anyway, this obnoxious prick was even lower than I suspected. The day after I left, he rode with her to my house (she was feeding my cat and her dog, an obnoxious blue heeler whelp named "Ophelia"), and planted a used condom wrapper on the floor of my bedroom.

Now bubba, you know me. You know that when I tell you I'm not going to do something, I'm either not going to do it, or make damn sure you never find out that I did. In this case, I wasn't responsible for that condom wrapper, but if I had been, I sure as hell would have been more careful about how I disposed of it.

But the evidence of my infidelity was there--right beside the bed, too close to provide me any wiggle room. I was framed, yer honor. Alethea's phone call had been about this incident. If I had called her back, I might have avoided some of the...inconvenience...that I had to deal with when I got back.

Anyway, I didn't find any of this out until my return. Back to the story.

Monday, June 21, 2004

I'm Still Alive

I just don't want to talk to you.

The weekend was rather short, and I'll post some of the events over on Seeing in the Dark, but I haven't had much head space to work around some of the next events in SATMATC. I was going to do it tonight, since I'm off work relatively early, but it looks like I'm going to be busy after all.

If you just can't deal, zip over to Zora's blog, which you should be doing frequently anyway, but if you're not, here's your chance.

I promise, something tomorrow. About half of it's written, actually, I just need to...uh...flesh it out some.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Cosmo is a Burning Man friend of mine. He only went the first two years, but we've remained friends despite living in different states. With Cosmo, that's easy. You just have to call him periodically. He's always glad to hear from you, even though he's usually busy at something, and you'll always hang up the phone thinking "man, I love that guy."

The Coz spent several years working on a short film, which has been out now for a couple. The website is here. I guess I should put that fucker on my sidebar, neh? Anyway, it's a wonderful flick that makes me feel good every time I see it. Go there, and if you can, purchase that sucker. I think each purchase qualifies you to call him in a drunken fugue, once a month or so.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SATMATC 10: Customs

I couldn't let y'all stew overnight. I'm tired, though, so I'll just get you over the hump, then I'm off to watch the rest of "White Zombie."

There wasn't anything we could do about Shea's vomit. I just got him to wipe off his face, and then dragged him out the side door, across a sidewalk, and into a cold, brightly lit "reception area." In the middle of this were several dozen padded benches. At one end was a tall countertop, behind which stood the largest man I have ever seen in uniform.

I only have to make that qualification because I worked for a couple of summers with the right tackle for the University of Tulsa, who was six foot six and about three hundred and fifty pounds. This guy was every bit as tall, but was even more impressive because he had on a big ass pistol belt. One look at this guy and I could see he was NOT fucking around. He was in the business of catching fuckups like me and Shea, and I could tell he was looking forward to grilling us over the next few hours. As is usually the case when the cops know they got you, he was excessively polite:

"Gentlemen, please read and sign these documents." He spun a couple of identical clipboards around in our direction. "Identification, please." I pulled out my wallet, reluctantly, and after a second I heard Shea: "uh, sir, my wallet's in the car." I looked over--he was even more green than he'd been out in the parking lot.

I read the papers, and the papers made me want to puke. They said that I was willingly giving up all my rights as a US citizen until Hoss was good and done with me, and that if I wasn't willing to sign the sheet, that I could just go right the fuck back to Canada and think it over. Or at least, I could go deal with the Canadian customs people--and I had the feeling these guys were in cahoots out here, staring at each other across that bridge all day and night.

(actually, I don't think you can see the other bunch of guys from the border, but never mind that)

In essence, we were caught in a rundown. I signed my papers, leaning heavily on my elbows because I wasn't very confident in my knees at this point. I'd heard something from one of the girls in Michigan about the Canucks considering each hit of LSD a count of involuntary manslaughter, or attempted murder, or some shit like that--and here I was, sitting on a hundred lot. Fucking moron. And then it struck me: this is technically international drug trafficking! I'd been trying not to think about it like that, but faced with an actual US Border Patrol/Marshal/Customs Officer (I couldn't bear to look too closely at him, lest he take offense and pull my head off my neck), it was a hard thought to avoid.

"What I'm going to do, gentlemen, is take your car keys, have a look around your car, and then come back. You should sit down on one of those benches over there to wait. This might take a while."

I was sweating like you wouldn't believe, and so was Shea. The cop turned and left, with my car keys in one huge hand. At the corner he turned his head and, pleasantly, said "is there anything you wanted to tell me?"

I thought we were dead, kids, because my head involuntarily jerked over to see what Shea was doing--of the two of us, I had the most to lose, which means I had a whole lot more incentive to keep my cool. Shea, on the other hand...

Shea was in the process of picking out a seat already, and I guess the cop thought I was shaking my head, because he was gone by the time I turned back to him. Maybe he was just being funny.

Thus began one of the strangest periods of my life.

I sat. I thought furiously, and I always came round to the fact that everything in the world that pertained to me was on hold. The only people who knew where we were, right then, were cops. Even my fucking parents had no idea where I was. We'd last talked to Sean 10 or 12 hours before, and given our nature, he'd wait another two or three days before launching a search--unless he saw us on the news, which up in that part of the world, I can imagine it would.

I sat, and I thought. I wondered if I could run, and if so, how far I would get. I was in pretty good shape, and it wasn't TOO cold, but my car was something I couldn't just walk away from. And then there was Shea. The only thing worse than being on the run with him would be being on the run knowing he was still within the grippers of authority. No, I thought, I should just be cool. And start thinking about how I could afford a lawyer.

Time stopped. We sweated. Kids, I can't tell you how long we sat there, even though I stared at a clock the entire time, ticking above the door the cop would re-enter. It could have been an hour. It could have been three hours. Maybe it was half an hour. But it felt like 8 hours of sweating, knee jiggling, and studiously avoiding looking at anyone. No one was in the room with us, but I could see other police type figures in the next room, who glanced at us curiously from time to time. Shea whispered something to me, staring straight ahead and trying not to move his lips. Like it mattered. "What was that?" I said, purposely too loud. He flinched.

"do you know Sean's phone number? I've lost it."

Fuck. Double fuck. So much for our only connection in state, presuming he'd even, uh, recognize us given his current situation.

A lifetime later, my clock watching paid off: the cop reentered. He stood inside the door and stared at us, from fifty or sixty feet away. His arms were at his sides, and I couldn't see his hands, but he appeared to be agitated.

"Gentlemen, please step over here."

We approached, as he stepped behind another counter. Behind him, I could see another, far less comfortable room. It was brilliantly lit, with plain tables, tape recorders, and folding chairs. I recognized it as an interrogation room, and my heart sank. Further, someone came out of a door at the back of that room, and I saw a sort of bathroom/privacy area. This is where they strip search you, children--I'd already been in areas like that a couple of times (well, once before, at that time), and I know one when I see one. The humiliation sort of oozes out under the door, even when there's no one in there.

Petrified, is the word you're looking for. I certainly was.

The cop had been quiet til now, allowing me (us, I guess) to take in what was behind him. He spoke, and I looked back at him. His two clenched fists were hovering about six inches above the counter top. They were massive.

"Gentlemen," he rumbled.

I thought to myself, this is it. It's either a bunch of drugs or my fuckin' car keys. We're going to know in about 2 seconds.

The cop looked at me, and then looked at Shea. Shea was standing at attention, completely giving us away (or so I thought--hell, I knew we were guilty), biting the inside of one cheek. The cop looked at me, and opened his hands.

"Have a nice stay in New York." Out dropped my car keys, and our ID's.

I'm breathing deeply just remembering it, ladies and gents.

But almost as soon as I registered what he'd said, my club wielding brain section started whippin' on my chihuahua brain section, because the worst thing you can possibly do when the cops didn't find your stash is caper about and shout "yahoo!" No, you must spend every single microgram of thought energy making sure Shea doesn't caper about and shout "yahoo!"

So I croaked out a heartfelt "thank you, sir," and hustled Shea out to the car.

On the passenger seat of the car were three ID's. One was Shea's fake ID, showing him to be 23 years old. One was his brother's old ID, again, showing him to be older than he was. The third was an Oklahoma ID card, showing him to be his proper age. I was aghast, and understood why he was so worried about his ID's--his actual OK driver's license was in his hand, and you're not supposed to have more than one kind of state issued ID here.

On my seat was a hand grenade.

I'd completely forgotten I had it. It was a dummy grenade, something I'd purchased as a knickknack when I was in middle school and making the rounds of gun/knife shows with my dad. I'd carried it around for years, in the center console of my car, and never given it a second thought. I wanted to throw it into the woods, but I was afraid the guy in the glass booth would freak out and call the bomb squad.

Shaken, we both got into the car. I started it up, and began counting the stripes that my hood ate up. Once we were out of sight of the bridge, I pulled over and began to hyperventilate. "Oh fuck," I repeated. I said it again, and again, and then again, until Shea put his hand on my shoulder and said "dude, we did it. Here, light this shit up."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. My hands were shaking so badly that he had to light it, and hold it for me. "Oh, fuck," I said. "That's the best shit I ever smoked in my life."

SATMATC 9: Canada

It only counts as a foreign country if you actually get out of your car. The street signs were a little funny, but we had a good map and it was mostly highway driving. The weather reminded me of blustery Oklahoma winter rain, which was OK, I guess. I'd already been culture shocked once, and I couldn't help but feel like I was fleeing Detroit.

It was a fairly dull trip, what with the weather, Shea's endless yammering about girls and something called "Canadian Valley Thunderfuck," a variety of high-THC pot that he had been craving since moving back into the 48.

There's really no comparing this guy to anything. The closest I could come to would be some of the gearheads I've had the privilege of working with--the guys who could talk all day about high performance four barrel carbs are better than fuel injection systems on big motors...then get in their primered Toyota Supra and go home. Or go somewhere--I never asked too many questions with those guys. If you've ever known one of those guys, think back to how completely eye glazing a conversation with them was, then substitute every mention of the word "Hemi" with the word "Thunderfuck." Or maybe "weed, man."

Now that I think about it, see also your brother in law the legal expert, or your aunt the almost-nurse. Got 'em? Now imagine being trapped in a car with them, in a foreign country.

It's saying something when the traffic jam we hit in Toronto was the most interesting thing about the drive. Shea was taking what was essentially his first turn driving, and he was very nervous, which made ME nervous. Consequently, I missed seeing the Great Lakes completely (like a moron, I took the freakin' tunnel to get outta Detroit) because I was so busy "navigating" for Shea. "Navigating" meant consulting the map every thirty seconds and telling him that we were still going the right way.

Truth be told, I was a little worried myself. We were running low on gas, and Toronto was turning out to be one of the biggest cities I'd ever been in. The highway plows straight through the city, and the city went on as far as I could see in both directions. And even accounting for the traffic (it was rush hour at this point), we HAD to have driven forty miles. This was alarming, because I felt like maybe we were looping back, or had missed a turn, or something like that. I fret a lot when I'm in the passenger seat, by the way.

The rain, and the traffic, and my worries all ended simultaneously. We exited the city, the sun came out behind us (or at least it quit raining), and I looked more closely at the map. Toronto is basically symmetrical along the highway, which obviously runs parallel to the lake. We'd driven the length of the beast, which after some dicking with map programs equates to about 42 miles. The width of the city at its widest point is 20 miles.

I'm sorry. I found this fascinating at the time.

I was hoping to avoid stopping in Canada at all, because gas prices were so high. However, just after dark it became apparent that we weren't going to get anywhere near the crossing point, and Shea had to pee, so we pulled into a rustic Quebecois gas station/grocery store to do our bidness.

The clerks were a middle aged couple, who asked us questions about our trip, where we were from, and what we were planning on doing. Since Shea was hopping from foot to foot, I wound up fielding most of these questions as I loaded up on snack foods. I was pleased to be out of the car, and pleased to have some food in me (Canadian Sun Chips are just like American Sun Chips, it turns out), so I was feeling pretty good, until I turned a corner and nearly ran into a withered old man.

The man was the father (or grandfather) of one of the two store owners, and he followed me around the store til I got creeped out and left. He was muttering in French, which at times would raise itself to a raspy shriek when he talked to the people behind the counter. They were doing their best to hush him up, nervously glancing at me all the time to see if I could understand what he was saying. I couldn't...but I knew the tone. I knew, without turning around, that he had a withered, knotted finger with a rather spectacular fingernail pointing either at me, or at them. I knew he was either carping about arrogant American tourists, or about the loose morality of todays young people. Come to think about it, given his agitation at my mere presence, it was probably both. We beat a hasty retreat, and as I drove away I swear I could see him shaking his fist at us through the window.

I was disappointed. I'd been forewarned by Sean that a lot of Canadians didn't particularly care for Americans, especially in the more rural areas. But we were approaching Kingston, which according to Sean was a den of iniquity and vice, or at least fun, beyond our ken. It was close enough to Ft Drum that the soldiers could make the drive in short order, and fraternize with the soldiers at the Canadian base in Kingston. It didn't matter who you were, in Kingston, as long as you didn't bitch about the exchange rate, and (from what I was told) wore a condom at all times. It sounded like a French speaking Rock Candy Mountain, frankly, and I was disappointed that we didn't really have any good reason to stop there.

I mean, I was dumb, but I figured that the odds were stacked against us enough, what with the drugs in the car and all, without adding to them by drinking a bunch of Molson then trying to talk my way through the border checkpoints. Sean assured me that they were never a problem, so overrun were they by returning GI's with lipstick on their necks--but after our near problem in Detroit, I was taking no chances. We crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge sometime around 10pm on Monday night, tired but pleased to be near the end of our journey.

There were no gaggles of Americans going through the checkpoints. There really wasn't ANYBODY, as far as I know, except for one rather unhealthy looking border guard. When we pulled up, I rolled down my window and smiled. The guard looked at me, looked in the back seat (why I'd left that guitar back there I'll never know--it sure seems to be something they don't like up there), and shook his head, pointing to a concrete structure a few yards away. He glared at me, and barked "pull in there and go visit the man behind the counter, please."

We were going to be searched. Oh shit. I could hear Shea beside me blow out a big breath of air, which I could have killed him for. I'm sure my pupils involuntarily contracted, which I was helpless to do anything about. I swallowed, and said "yes sir."

Part of my brain was yammering like an Applehead with a firecracker in its ass. The other part of my brain was clubbing the other part with some kind of hard wooden object, demanding that it calm down lest the situation spin totally out of control.

Because my friends, just because they search you doesn't mean they find anything. If you keep cool, I told my chihuahua self, you won't necessarily be sent to Rikers for the rest of your life. If you blow this now, you're fucked. Just keep cool. There's nothing you can do now, anyway...

Once inside the concrete barn (which was exposed to the border crossing guard, so we didn't have any chance to check our stash), I took three or four deep breaths, and thought about things. Shit, I thought. This is bad, but it's not impossible. I just need to keep calm. They don't KNOW anything. If I don't TELL them anything, then odds are good we'll skate on through.

I had almost convinced myself of this, and then I heard Shea's door open. He was vomiting on the ground outside (well, mostly outside) the car. Christ, I thought. We're dead.

Monday, June 14, 2004

SATMATC 8: Detroit

I won't tell you what Melissa and I talked about that night. It was one of those intimate conversations that we've all had, the kind that seem banal or silly when exposed to the light of day. She was a psychology major, and a deadhead, and took great care to tell me she was a lot more fun and relaxed during the summer. She gave me her phone number, and asked me to call when I got home--there was easy chatter about plans to maybe meet up somewhere, or see each other again, and I felt like that could happen. Anything could happen, with her. She was magical, kids, and I never saw her again.

I don't even remember how we fell out of touch. I think I lost her phone number--I know we talked once or twice on the phone, but I felt awkward. Subsequent events had sort of put me off my feed vis a vis a move to Michigan, and she didn't seem interested in coming to see me. God knows what Melanie had told her about me once I left. Or maybe the shoulder rubbing in the theater had all been my imagination.

She was gone when I got up the next morning. All I had was a pissy fat bitch who couldn't wait to get us out of her hair. I never talked to her again.

Unfulfilling, yes. I promise that the next story I tell, I'll actually get laid.

Over breakfast the next morning, I got out the map and noticed we'd lose a lot of time by backtracking around Erie and taking the turnpike. It made a lot more sense to enter Canada in Detroit, drive through Toronto, and cut back into the US at Thousand Islands Bridge. The only problem, obviously, was the drugs. I stashed the acid behind my car stereo, and forced Shea to find another spot for his weed. That way, I felt, drug dogs would bust us for the weed, but the more serious crime of trafficking in LSD wouldn't necessarily be noticed.

We arrived in Detroit during rush hour (of course), and instantly got lost. The bridge and tunnel into Canada is inconveniently located in the heart of downtown Detroit...which was surrounded by a wasteland of empty warehouses and large piles of crushed cars. It looked like fires were burning inside some of the buildings, and there were some extremely sketchy people wandering around, some of them with shopping carts.

If you're my age, you might remember a television show called "Buck Rogers." It ran in the late 70's, I think, but more than that I couldn't tell you. If I remember correctly, Buck is an astronaut from contemporary times who's somehow been sent forward in time to the 25th Century, where the world is trying to recover from a devastating nuclear war. Everyone who was ANYONE lived inside these self-contained sort of habitats, not unlike The Jetsons. Outside of these habitats lurked the unfortunate mutants.

That's what this part of Detroit looked like: outside the fence on "Buck Rogers."

While we were lost, we passed by the same homeless guy a few times. At first, he was standing on the corner, minding his own business. Upon our next pass, we saw him sitting on the curb, engaging a fire hydrant in conversation. The third time we passed him, he was standing off from the fire hydrant, holding his hands over his head and wiggling his fingers. I was confused, until Shea figured out the guy was apparently trying to hypnotize the fire hydrant.

Shortly after that, we located the queue to cross the river/lake. Unfortunately, we didn't see that you had to PAY to use the bridge/tunnel until we were hopelessly stuck in traffic. We were roundly cursed as Okies when, in order to extricate us from the line, the entire queue was held up as we executed a 10 point turn under the baleful eye of a traffic cop, so we could go find an ATM.

It took us nearly an hour to get back there, through a series of misadventures while we were trying to scrape up six American quarters to feed into the tollbooth. At one point we were nearly back in line when I realized we had six quarters, but that one of them was Canadian. Goddamn canucks.

We pulled up beside a kind of toll booth, manned by a rather impatient looking woman in what looked like a security guard uniform. This woman was plainly not interested in complicating her life by dealing with the likes of us, so her questions were short and direct:

"Where are you from?" "Oklahoma."
"What are you doing in Canada?" "Traveling to NY."
"Are you carrying any plant or animal that might be banned in Canada?" "No," we replied.

She looked at my guitar in the back seat, and said "are you SURE you aren't carrying any sort of plant...material?" Things were starting to slip.

"Yes," I said. She asked for our ID's. I handed her my driver's license. Shea handed her his license, which was, of all places, an Alaskan driver's license. This confused and angered her.

"I thought you said you were from Oklahoma?" "I am from Oklahoma, but I just moved there from Alaska." "We're coming from Oklahoma, at any rate."

She squinted at Shea, and inhaled deeply. At this point, I was ready to go throw myself off of the nearest bridge. This had gone sideways for absolutely no discernible reason, and just as I was beginning to wonder what Canadian jails were like, she tossed both of our ID's in my lap and barked "you can go NOW." We were in Canada.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Crazy New Weirdness

There's a party in NYC. You saw the flyer above this. If you're in the area, please stop in and give them (and by extension, me) your love. Remember, we're just a wandering bunch of harmless minstrels, looking for the psychoactive equivalent of stone soup.

I'm drunk on HTML and a middling hefeweizen from the local brewpub. Thanks to Chris for making the flyer, and Todd for helping me with the code.

You'll be stuck with the above image until you give me $8.00. Or until the 20th, whichever comes first.

SATMATC 7: Worlds Collide

The girls got up, introduced themselves, and went back to sleep. Shea crashed out (I've never met a human being who slept more, except for maybe my ex girlfriend, or Dan), and I dragged out the old acoustic guitar I'd been trying to pick up for the last year. I'm left handed, and adamantly refused to restring it, but could never really find the time or the teacher to do anything useful. It wasn't a prop, exactly, but it was close enough to be academic. I rooted around in their fridge/liquor cabinet until I found something approaching whiskey (a bottle of tequila, if I remember right), and sat dicking with the guitar til someone finally woke up.

Those were lonely hours. I didn't want to sleep--like most other exciting times in my life, I didn't want to miss a second. I knew enough to appreciate alcohol's sopoforic properties, so I was trying to sleep, but in reality, I was staying up because I was petrified of my car being towed. The car had all the fucking drugs, as well as nearly everything I actually owned. Now that I get to counting, I had everything but six or eight work shirts, my stereo, my record collection, and that old XT computer. The car was by far the most important possession (except for a couple of limited edition Ozzy Osborn and "Return of the Living Dead" picture albums), for a number of reasons.

So I stayed up, and watched the car, and played with my beard (which I had to cut a few days after I got back--a gay man named Brandon kept cooing I looked like Brad Pitt, and wanting to touch it), and tried not to make unattractive gagging noises while slugging back that tequila. And I succeeded in that last one, brothers and sisters, by sheer force of will and general exhaustion.

Melissa was the first one up (a sign? I held my breath, but there was no way to tell), and we had a few minutes to talk before Shea heard a female voice and began stretching "in his sleep." He was a fine physical specimen, but I felt he was no match for me in the race we were about to run. He was certainly better looking than me, but he'd been cutting up elk carcasses on the North Slope for the past six or seven years. In other words, I had a charm advantage.

The morning's rather blotchy...I remember going to eat pizza at some typical college pizzeria, where my dislike of Melanie was cemented in place.

You see, here are some of my less attractive qualities:

I have an instinctive dislike of people who were born into privilege, and don't attempt to better themselves in the real world.
I have a downright dislike for people who are conspicious consumers.
I really, really dislike folks who agonize over the social ramifications of anything, but most especially who to be seen with.

Melanie was very much guilty of all three of these sins. She was also guilty of not maintaining the perfect body I'd wanted to kiss all over, two or three years ago. I'm not gonna lie to you, kids: I've dated ugly girls because I wanted to feel Not Shallow, and I dropped them because I just plain wasn't attracted to them. I tried, yo.

[For what it's worth, I eventually figured out that "attractive" isn't the sum of its parts. Bear with me--this is yet another tale of my misspent youth, after all.]

In this case, most of lunch was taken up by Melanie smoking menthol cigarettes, which were the latest thing, and talking to one of her other roommates about what frat boys she should have hooked up with. There was a lot of surreptitious glancing here, on everyone's part:

Melissa kept wincing at some particularly crude remark Melanie had made, and looking to gauge my reaction.

I would hear the same remark, and look over to see if Melissa was nodding in assent. I'd never quite catch her looking at me.

Melanie would often glance at me, in order to gauge my reaction to what she was saying. I don't know what she hoped to find: jocular agreement, jealousy, or lust. I don't know. She was too far gone into the realm of appearances for me to care, really. But I didn't want my Melissa to be poisoned by the same habit.

I was zonked. A half a bottle of tequila, a lot of hot pizza, and zero sleep was not a good combination. I crashed on the sofa, before dark. I did NOT make a fool of myself, though--and we got the car parked in a safe spot, before I fell over.

The next day was a bit of a blur as well. Melanie and Shea and I spent a lot of time smoking pot, but Melissa was working. I was hoping against hope that Shea and Melissa would imprint on each other and leave me alone, but there was some sort of wire crossing going on, most simply explained by the fact that Shea had imprinted on Melissa just as I had (although, since I saw her first...). Melanie seemed the type to like a shaved barrel chest...which I plainly do not possess.

But it was not to be. They spent the majority of the day in deep stoner talk, which was kind of funny because she wasn't much of a stoner, and he wasn't much of a talker. They did fine. When Melissa got home, we began preparations for a movie.

Now, the cynic in me says that these two young women were so uncomfortable that they wanted nothing more than to kill a couple of the limited hours we had together in darkness and quiet, thus avoiding our staring eyes and lewd banter.

The cynic in you probably says the same thing. Hell, it's probably true. But this isn't the story of me being shut down. This is the story of me being charming, and wooing the girl, and ultimately being swept away by fate before we could do what we so obviously wanted to do.

A kiss. That's all I wanted, a simple kiss. That, and maybe a warm bed, away from Shea's snoring.

The movie was called "Jennifer 8," and it was as terrible an early 90's thriller as you can imagine. "Jennifer 8" is the story of a murder detective who's on the case of a serial killer who kills blind girls. It's craftily done, because about 45 minutes into the movie I figured out it's the detective who's the killer, and started paying attention to every line in the script.

I've seen the first hour and a half of "Jennifer 8" four times. The second time was with Wayne and Janiece (bless her black little heart), third and fourth were either at parties or with girls. Heaven knows I've tried to watch the whole thing, but I've still never actually seen the outcome. Maybe, when I'm sixty (or 33, or in any event at the end of my lifespan), I'll see the last few minutes, and it WON'T be the cop, and I'll realize I've spent my whole life being a smartass and living a GODDAMN LIE. But until then, I'll poke fun at the flick.

Or not. The important thing to remember is that if you squinted hard enough, you could maybe imagine I was going on a double date of sorts...while if you didn't squint just right, but did indeed squint, it would look like two guys vying for the attentions of a lovely young girl, while her friend stood around none too politely and waited to beat the ass of the guy who lost out, and then tried to cozy up to her.

Of course, if you didn't squint, and instead looked at this foursome under the mercury vapor lamps in the mall parking lot, you might have seen two girls uncomfortable with their situation, and two guys vying to be gentlemanly while stepping off paces like Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood in "For a Few Dollars More."

But again, the story's much more pleasant if you think about it in terms of a missed connection, instead of an unwanted and clumsy advance.

So we jostled, and I think I managed to buy both girls' popcorn and soda (because at the last second I felt sorry for Melanie, thus dooming us to NOT taking the tollroad the next day), and then it was down the darkened aisle to our seats.

Never, to my mind, has a more subtle and vicious race been run. Imagine the Kentucky Derby crossed with an episode of "I, Claudius," and you've got something approaching the Machiavellian antics Shea and I got up to, just to sit next to Melissa.

As you know, there are 24 possible permutations of four people sitting together. If I were Neal Stephenson, I'd graph that shit for you, but I'm not...and most of the patterns didn't interest me. My preferred seating arrangement (from aisle seat inward) was: Melissa, me, Shea, Melanie. This would a) keep Melissa away from Shea, close to me, and b) Melanie out of visual range in case some hand holding started happening.

What we wound up with was a happy medium for me (and I hope for Melissa): Shea, me, Melissa, and Melanie. I know, it's like oil and water, boy/girlwise, but the important two people to me were in contact...but I never dared touch her hand. She made it available, but I'm shy, and I'm not sure it was really made available, or she just liked to be within striking distance of the popcorn.

So we watched the movie. It sucked, and I was tired, and both Shea and Melanie were grumbling and being subtly unpleasant...and suddenly, halfway through the movie, our shoulders touched. We were SLUMPING the same way--towards each other!

I can't remember much of the movie from that point on, except for a lot of creeping NW coast lighting and blind gimmicks, because I was engaged in shoulder sex with Melissa. It might have lasted forever. But at the climax of the movie, just as I was about to steel myself and take her hand....just as I was preparing to actually reach for her hand [and don't any of you fuckers try and tell me you haven't agonized like this]...

The movie was winding up: the detective had gotten a mysterious tip, and had gone off to find the blind girl, and left a message for his partner, who later got shot (in the snow, no less) by the killer. The detective finds his partner, lots of flashbacks ensue, and just as things were coming to a resolution (both onscreen and w/r/t our respective ulnas), the lights came on.

A chorus of awwwws and booos filled the house, as a guy in a red usher uniform (which matched the carpet, I felt, but I was in no mood to be kind at this point) stepped to the front of the theater. He said the words that have followed me to this day, in some form or another. The reason I've never seen the end of that oh-so-forgettable movie:

Ladies and gentlemen, there's been a bomb threat. The movie theater must be evacuated. We'll be issuing tickets for tomorrow night's showing at the door.

By the time the next showing went on, we were on the verge of being strip searched by US Customs agents.

We walked, dejected, back to the car. Melissa and I walked together, shoulders touching, or nearly touching. We drove, in near silence, back to the house--the only sound was Shea rolling a joint in the back seat (in the dark-he was good).

Once we arrived, I crawled onto my futon and stretched out. The girls crowded on a loveseat, and Shea piled onto his couch (since he was big and tall, he commandeered the only piece of furniture big enough for his frame, which was fine with me--I liked him, even after all this). Another big spliff was rolled, and I considered doling out some of the acid, but didn't feel we had time. Shea began to snore....

Shea wasn't really a rival for Melissa's affections. Melanie's presence, and social graces, were obstacles to her affections. And after a bit of ignoring her, coupled with maybe a couple of dirty glances on my part, Melanie departed for bed.

I felt bad, kids. I mean, I have a soul, and I genuinely like the people that I want to sleep with, even if I no longer want to sleep with them. Melanie had poured her heart out to me over the last few years (in a couple of letters, granted, but they were important letters), and I felt bad about running her off. But I'd been patient, hoping she'd see the writing on the wall, and hoping she'd care enough to do the right thing. Ultimately she did, and left the two of us talking in the radiance of a single lamp.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

SATMAC 6: Arrival

After eating some breakfast and another phone call, we headed out, fortified with coffee and eggs and toast (how you run out of bacon in a restaurant is a mystery to me), but little in the way of directions.

I knew the girl wasn't in school on an astronaut scholarship, but I was nonplussed when (once I reminded her who I was) she couldn't tell me how to get to her place from where we were. After all was said and done, the apartment and the restaurant were about four miles apart.

Ann Arbor is NOT a big town, or at least it wasn't 12 years ago. It did have the one major problem of big university cities I've run into elsewhere: a fascist parking system. Once we finally found the place, I noticed that there were signs posted everywhere, detailing where various vehicles could and could not park. If you were a visitor, we soon found, you were fucked. You were fucked, specifically, because even visitors had to have a sticker or a card or a mirror dangly thing that clearly identified you as a visitor. Unregistered people simply Were Not Allowed in Ann Arbor. Well, OK, they were allowed, but they weren't allowed to STOP anywhere outside of a commercial area that was designed to feed you, gas you up, and get yer ass on the road to Detroit.

After the sun had been up for a couple of hours, I said screw it and parked illegally, in an area I hoped wasn't frequented by people in golf carts with radios connected to tow trucks. The signs promised all sorts of grimness to whosoever was foolish enough to flout the laws of the parking czar. I was scared, but I was also ready to kill Shea, who'd been about as helpful as a bleeding ulcer since chasing his coffee with a spliff out in the parking lot. I also felt that showing up on Sean's doorstep sans brother would probably negate any advantage I might have gained from importing a hundred lot of LSD.

I parked. We got out, and found the apartment. I knocked on the door, and was greeted by my pen blonde, innocent, violet eyed beauty...who was now in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, red headed, and of a mean disposition.

That's not to say she was mean to ME, necessarily. She was just unhappy, and had been unhappy for some time. She wore too much makeup (to bed), and her mouth was only able to produce the falsest of smiles. Her hair was badly dyed, her nails were chewed, and her voice, which I remember being so nice, was raucous and unpleasant.

Of course, I didn't get all this immediately. What I remember was the shock of seeing her at nearly twice her previous size, and a general dismay at what her life had become. At twenty, or maybe even nineteen, she was cynical and bitter. All the component bits of her radical new personality were not brought into sharp relief, until I laid eyes on her roommate.

In a few short minutes, I realized that my situation was a sticky one. Melanie (the violet eyed sorority harpy) had turned into everything I hated about people and society, yet she was sharing a bedroom with Melissa (the dazzling flash of moonlight off of lake water, that leaves you forever wondering if anything could really be so bright and so pure), who appeared to represent everything humanity could be.

See how radically life changes for me? When I haven't slept in a day or so, and am worn to a nub in all ways, most especially emotionally?

Over the next two days, I grew to feel both pity and impatience for Melanie. She was smart enough to see that her way of talking and dealing with the world (or the world as she'd seen it since arriving at college) wasn't in the least appealing to me...yet at the same time, neither was mine to her. That said, I was still "her boy," at least as far as the other members of the household were concerned, so I was most likely going to be off limits to Melissa unless something weird worked its way loose.

These days, I would have seen the situation and resigned myself to a cold, lonely futon. Back then, I was saddened, but convinced I could win my way through to at least one furtive but earth shattering kiss from Melissa.

This conviction was transformed into an overwhelming imperative when I saw Shea ogling her.

Monday, June 07, 2004

SATMATC 5: Ann Arbor in the Morning

Once we crossed the Michigan border, I began to check the map too frequently to feel like we were making any progress. It was that part of the morning where time seems to stop, and headway seems to stop, and I start to get really sleepy. Shea was still in a stoned coma, so I watched the last few towns before Ann Arbor blip by alone.

I punched Shea in the shoulder (actually it was his neck, because he had poor sleeping posture, and I was a bit whacked from driving staring at the taillights of semis 10 feet off our hood all night) when I saw the first exit for Ann Arbor.

Let me backtrack a bit:

I'd been introduced to something called "drafting" by Shea when we first hit the interstate. It's the extremely dangerous practice of riding in the wakes of tractor trailer rigs, which means you have to be really close to their rear ends, which makes them nervous and really keeps you focused on what your life's worth. I spent hours focused on the brake lights of various trucks, because a) you can't see anything but the back of the truck, and b) you've got about half a second to hit YOUR brakes when he finally gets tired of you acting like an idiot behind him and punches his.

But there's something FUN about it that kept me interested. There's a...socket...that you can kind of plug in to. You can feel when you hit it, and with a little bit of heel toe work you can get practically sucked along in the truck's wake. This saves you lots of money on gas, and, if you don't get the shit kicked out of you by a bunch of truckers on speed, makes the drive go by more quickly.

But I can't stress enough how dangerous (and more importantly, rude) the practice is. I've never done it since that trip, mainly because I began to think about what those guys up in front of me were having to deal with, but also because I got a look at a few of them in various truckstops. It just wasn't worth it.

So by the time I eased over into a completely random offramp into Ann Arbor, I was a zombie. And as a zombie, I was about to grapple with the intricacies of the U of Michigan, at 5am.

I had an address. I had infinite confidence in my navigatin' ability, so I'd just sort of blown off the actual directions, and consequently found myself with a useless copilot, a map that was suddenly no good (not having a local map really kicked our ass)...and a rapidly diminishing sense of purpose.

The thing I noticed first was the distinct lack of businesses that were currently accepting customers. Once again, I found myself driving dark streets and a little creeped out by the lack of movement. But hell, all I wanted was a cup of coffee (nothing else would do, which was a bad sign) and a pay phone. I was gonna call my girl, then go collapse in her arms.

Never mind that I hadn't seen this girl in two years, and never mind that we never had any physical contact the last time (let's face it, the ONLY time) I'd actually met her. It was going to happen, because that's the way these things were supposed to work. I was to spend a couple of days salving my libido and my broken heart (remember, please, I was fleeing a fucked up relationship) between the sheets of a beautiful violet eyed girl, then I was gonna take my debonair, drug smuggling ass on out of there, leaving in my wake a train of star struck beauties. Oh, and Shea could smoke them out, if they were into that.

The sun was coming up by the time I finally found a place that was open. It was a sort of Michigan rip-off of Denny's, and there were a few guys who I took to be hunters (at least, they were dressed in lots of flannel) in there drinking coffee and hassling the waitresses. Shea and I ordered breakfast (which I was so amped up on coffee I couldn't eat), and I borrowed their phone (nice folks) to make the phone call.

Now, I wasn't expecting a crowd of nubile hotties to get all party line on my ass right there in Denny's (or Boudreau's, or whatever it was), but I was still shocked by the answer:


Friday, June 04, 2004

The Other Sketchy Bill

Whup Daddy Wayne has enabled me to post a banner at the bottom of this blog. Fewer people see it down there, but it just looks better, I think. Check it out. He's a good man.


This was my first ever road trip, and I soon discovered I was doing it by myself. Shea couldn't drive a standard very well, and didn't do a very good job of map reading. To round things out he was more or less nightblind. Oh, and he was stoned the whole time.

So it was really no surprise that we missed our turn in Indianapolis. If I remember correctly, there was some construction, or they were in the process of changing the name of the highway/interstate, or I was just too zoned out to notice, but we were out of the city to the east, instead of to the north, when I stopped for directions. The map didn't make any sense, and my eyes were pretty well fucked from the pot smoke and driving all damn day. To his credit, the gas station attendant gave good directions, although he didn't like how we smelled. We did buy a lot of oatmeal pies and sun chips, though. And a big bottle of coke.

I can't drink coffee. I mean, I try, mostly to be polite to Zora (who makes a fine cuppa joe, BTW)...but my body's not made for stimulants. Tea is OK, but coffee is just too much, too quick. Since it's hard to find tea with any sort of caffeine content, I stick with coke and suffer the effects on my bowels in silence. It keeps me going, barely, without turning me into a raving madman (quiet in the peanut gallery).

Thus begins the surreal part of our narrative.

We drove east for a while on the interstate, then turned off on a state highway and headed north. What began as a four lane divided highway shrunk to four lanes with no medians, then two lanes. The houses in the towns we passed were all dark, and they all seemed narrow, and too tall, with steeply pitched roofs. They crowded the road, like some sort of Dr Seuss drawing, and I didn't see any more cars on the road. Time passed--or didn't pass. When we weren't being crowded by houses, we were being crowded by cornfields (or some sort of crop--it was dark). The whole thing was very Wes Craven; 10 years later, when watching "In the Mouth of Madness," I was struck by how similar the driving was. The radio quit working, for chrissake.

We were both awed into silence for most of the trip. This was Middle America, after all. I think we were both under the impression that everything east of the Mississippi was one big metroplex. WE came from the states of wide open places, after all. The hush that was on this place at midnight on Saturday night was eerie, almost alien. I felt far away from home for the first time, and not nearly close enough to our destination.

We drove for hours, almost all night. I worried, as I always do, that we'd misunderstood directions, or had missed another turn, or were on some sort of funhouse loop of dark, abandoned towns and ghostly cornfields. I worried about our sanity. I worried, most of all, about whether the girls would let us stay there, after missing our own party. Of course, I hadn't called them before we left, for some reason I can't really dredge up now (probably something pertaining to my selfish, disrespectful nature, if you'd asked Alethea). I wasn't sure what sort of reception we were going to get. Frankly, I wasn't sure if we were ever going to get off that fucking state highway.

But we did. Sometime around 3am, I think, we hit the interstate, and I nearly cried when I started seeing cars and big rigs again. Lights, any kind of lights, made me giddy. I spent a lot of the time driving to Michigan admiring the patterns of lights at rest stops, as we sped by them in the darkness. I quit trying the radio. I quit fucking with Shea, who fell asleep the instant we merged onto the highway. I drove, thinking about what it would be like in Michigan. I knew, after my encounter with the highway, that it would be a lot different there.

[I'm resisting, with great effort, the urge to write something like "we weren't in Kansas anymore." See, Gentle Reader, I respect you!]

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

SATMATC 3: The Plan

There would be two legs to the trip out: first, from Oklahoma to Ann Arbor Michigan, where I knew a girl from a high school outing. It was called something like a "Congressional Youth Leadership Council," or similar--you got accepted, you paid your airfare, they stuck you in a concrete dormitory and gave you civics lessons. Anyway, the girl (Angie was her name, I think) was beautiful back in 1989, and in our correspondence back and forth she had sent me a photo, which showed her in front of the family manor house, somewhere in Michigan. Big house, beautiful girl, who had been flirting with me long distance for three years...I'm sort of in the neighborhood...need a place to crash...

"Oh, that would be so great! I haven't seen you in forever, and I'm sure we could make room for you here at the apartment!"

Turns out she was going to the University of Michigan, and had shacked up in a 2 bedroom place with 3 other girls, apparently all of the same breeding and background. This, as you could imagine, was pure gold to us. They even began planning a party on Saturday night, just to greet us. We intended to leave on Monday morning, which would give us plenty of time to have fun, but not interfere with school for them (too much).

[OK, all you adults out there, cut me some slack. I was 20 years old, for chrissakes. This is, in part, the story of me learning it's never as good as you think it will be. A lesson I had to unlearn after BM 2000, incidentally.]

Monday we had plans to leave for Watertown NY, and I wasn't paying any attention to the route (back then I didn't bother with maps too much). We were presented with two routes: around the pudenda of Lake Erie, south and then a straight shot east along a ridiculously expensive toll road, or straight through Detroit and Toronto (yes, that's Canada), then a jog south over the Thousand Islands Bridge, approaching Watertown from the north. I chose the latter, without much regard for our drug situation.

The plan was to spend whatever time we could in NY, then drive back south on Saturday morning, which should have allowed us plenty of time to get home and sleep some before being back to work on Monday morning. THIS end of the plan worked flawlessly.

Our zero hour for leaving (originally planned for Thursday afternoon) passed with me at work and Shea still staggering about town running errands. Friday night didn't happen because I'd made the mistake of telling Jim what we were doing, and he spent most of Friday night getting me drunk and attempting to talk me out of it. Shea was dumb and chattered constantly, he said. Shea couldn't drive worth a shit, he said. He said a couple of other things that are unprintable here, but turned out to be true as well. However, thoughts of blonde girls with violet eyes filled my head, and I would have none of it.

Saturday morning, Shea and I finally set out for Ann Arbor. I had 100 hits of acid, he had an ounce of weed (for personal consumption, of course).

The first day was great. I felt my cares peeling away the further I got from what passed for home. I began feeling more confident as I spent time in the car listening to Shea's drivel, which wasn't too bad as long as I tuned him out ever 10 or 15 minutes. Hell, I figured, if this moron can survive in the Alaskan bush for the last four years, I can at least get us to Michigan. We saw the St Louis Arch, smoked out a tollbooth operator, and ate lots of beef jerky and junk food. Then it got dark, sometime before we hit Indianapolis.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

SATMATC 2: Sean and Shea

During my time of Alethea-related madness, I made a lot of long distance phone calls to my friend Sean, who at the time was stationed at Ft Drum, NY. This is in upstate NY, fairly close to the Canadian border.

Sean had lived next to Jim and I when we first moved in together. We spent several months nodding to each other in that lone male sort of way, when we passed each other on the stairs at night and in the morning. He thought I was a vampire, leaving my house to go dig myself into the dirt under the foundation somewhere. I thought he was a shift worker at, oh, the tire plant or something. Which, in retrospect, means he should be the one writing a blog.

One afternoon I came home to find what could be loosely termed our "couch" pulled out onto the front porch, blocking the door, with the strange neighbor on it. I naturally assumed this had something to do with Jim's current probation situation, which meant he only came home every fourth or fifth weekend, usually when I was trying to make out with some girl.

Short and sweet, Sean and I became good friends, dropping a lot of acid and drinking a lot of beer together. He turned out to be an ex Army Ranger, and had fallen on hard times after getting out several months before I met him. He'd been trying to make a living stealing cars, but it was sketchy work, and as he put it "hell, if those two idiots from next door could figure out what I was doing, I had no chance against the cops." Ultimately he reenlisted, with the stipulation that they send him back to Alaska, where he was from. They promised. Then they shipped his ass to Ft Drum.

The night before his departure, he brought over his younger brother Shea. Like many older brothers, Sean felt a great deal of protective instinct for Shea, and I made the obligatory promise to look after Shea in Sean's absence.

Unfortunately for everyone (except maybe for me), I didn't do too good of a job keeping Shea out of trouble. He started hanging around the wrong crowd (Jim) about the time I moved over to the place on 36th, and by the time my relationship with Alethea was pulling a Hindenburg, everyone in town was ready to see this annoying goober get gone.

Shea was a nice guy, but not much good for doing anything other than heavy lifting. He had spent most of his life in the Alaskan wilderness, literally packing mule, and thus didn't have much in the way of conversational skills. Or social skills. Come to think of it, he wasn't terribly coordinated, either. Imagine Dudley Dooright. That's Shea.

I love the guy, I still do. He once saved my ass from a pissed off boyfriend, which is another story that you probably will never hear, but spontaneous bodyguards always have a place close to my heart.

Oh yeah, the syntax on that last one was weird. It wasn't my boyfriend. It was the boyfriend of the girl I was...engaged with. Jesus. I used to get laid a lot, didn't I?

I'd been talking to Sean and Shea about a road trip, driving my car with Shea's (supposed) help from Oklahoma to upstate NY to visit him for three or four days. As this plan became finalized, Sean suggested that I could make quite a bit of money if I procured a bunch of LSD, since no one he knew up there could find any, and apparently his whole crew were veteran psychonauts. I duly located a hundred lot of acid, and began making preparations for the journey.

SATMATC 1: Alethea

When I was 20 years old, I ended my first live-in relationship, with a girl named Alethea. This isn't precisely her story, but I have to give you a bit of background to make everything fall into place.

Jeebus. This is a story I really want to tell, as evinced by the fact that I just deleted two paragraphs of superfluous background material that was pretty damn good. Just too far back. Let's try this again:

In August of 1992, Alethea and I moved from our apartment on the far west side of town to a more...centrally located area. We got a cheap house ($225/month), and she spent the better part of the summer decoratin' it all up and playing married. I can't even remember what caused the relationship to deteriorate, now. She was crazy, but not irredeemably crazy, and she didn't like how much I worked, but there's no point in the relationship that I could point to and say "this is what went wrong." It just went wrong. During an ill-fated "trial separation," in which we basically tried to go out and fuck other people without the other one knowing, she left most of her stuff there at my house. And since it was ALL her stuff, that made life easier on me. Her one request, and the one I abided by, was "don't sleep with other girls on our bed," which seemed to me a little melodromatic, but then again maybe that's why I'm still living alone, 12 years later.

Anyway. I did hook up with a very attractive young woman named Mary (this is Mary #2, if you've somehow gotten ahold of an earlier version of something I wrote entitled "Girls"), but was able to do the business with her in a variety of other places. I promise, this comes into play later on (much later on). This is not a sex blog. Yet.

Things began to get hairy in September or October, for a lot of reasons. I was dealing with being alone for the first time in my life, and I didn't really have any friends to speak of. My work people were great guys, but let's face it: they cut grass for a living. Not much interesting there. Jim had actually been fooling around with Alethea, so I was in kind of a weird place with him (in retrospect, it's funny, but at the time I felt betrayed). I turned to writing bad poetry on an old IBM XT clone (sucker would get up to 8Mhz if you punched the turbo button), and drinking lots and lots of beer. It's prose now, and Todd has got me drinking more vodka, but other than that, not much has changed.

It all finally came to a head in late October; I was miserably alone, I hated my job, and I was in a terrible financial spot facing the winter in a freezing old house in a strange part of town (the house on 36th Street). I decided that the thing to do was go on vacation. That's what vacations are for, right? Recharging, getting away from all our mundane problems, getting some perspective. Yes, that's what I needed.

Now, it's interesting. I was an adult, living by myself, working and supporting myself, but I planned my excursion in such a way that it would not be evident to my mother that I was not in the state. I have a rather opinionated mother, who would no doubt offer all sorts of pointed reasons why I shouldn't do this, and since I was only 2 years out of her house, I'm sure she'd want me to check in with her every night. So, instead of deal with the arguments that would ensue, I just sneaked out of town. In some ways, I guess I wasn't as old as I thought.

Oh, and there was also this sheet of LSD I was going to sell. There was a financial aspect involved, too.