Thursday, September 30, 2010
Something that should terrify me more than any mystery in the world, any stranger on the MegaBus and all of the pending atrocities on full moon nights- is the lapse of time I am faced with the morning after a blackout drunk. On this particular morning, I woke beneath a canopy of scarce branches on a bed of dewy grass. Without possessing anything of remote commercial value, the only assets I really have to keep intact are my legs, my face, and my lungs. My legs were cold and wet, but fine. My face felt blemished, but I could still see and smell and smile. My lungs were working, however they did feel slightly beaten up from an overdose of smoking.
We were in a barren park. The sun was struggling to peak towards the world from behind a few relentless clouds. They were white and sweet looking, but malevolent things. The rays squeaked between the billowed edges, but were constantly rebuffed. I wanted some warmth but there was none to be found. I leaned against the trunk of the tall maple tree and looked out into the empty park. There was a swing set a few hundred yards away. Trees were sporadically planted on beds of wood chips and sod.
The grass had crisp linear patterns in it from careful mowing. I could smell the remnants of the last mow and it made me think of childhood. That creeping feeling of being tiny and dirty, playing outside and taking full breaths of spring air dawned on me, as memories do. I could almost see the mirage of my father in the distance, stooped over and driving our dinky lawnmower forward, sweat dripping down his face and a cigarette hanging from his lips.
I could have died last night, and I really wouldn't have noticed, I thought. Dying seems to be the part of life when every cognitive realization, every part of the brain, every corner of the soul is elevated to a conceptual understanding. Of all the moments and of all the epiphanies, the sensory overloads, dying, I imagine, is the apex. I would have missed the whole hoopla. I would have surpassed the grandiose production and just keeled over, drunk. "I suppose I should thank you, for keeping me around to find out what it all feels like," I said. I was looking up, towards God, or those malevolent clouds, or that poor sun on the offense.
The last thing I do remember is being kicked out of Hobo Sam's. After we concocted the most organic reception of love that I have ever been apart of, we sabotaged it just as fast. The engagement had made Wheeler, that bumbling idiot, palpably irresistible to all of the local ladies. It's disgusting really, the way our humanity pushes us to desire the things we cannot, or should not attain. Moments after our eloquent loop and over dramatic kiss, Wheeler was getting eye fucked from every corner of the bar. It was happening to me too, but the guys weren't as openly disrespectful to each other as the girls happened to be.
The sequence of sabotage began like this...
Tan man walked back over to us and struck up a conversation with me. It was all garbage. More reiterations about how amazing Wheeler and I were. More talk about promotion. More bullshit bullshit recollections of our love. Meanwhile, Wheeler had begun talking to the brunette who had asked us "Why Hobo Sam's?" earlier. At least a half an hour went on like this. I continued to sip drink after drink. As tan man talked, I studied the skin on his face. The dark organ was stretched out in astounding proportions, defying my imagination. I started to look at him like a talking briefcase. I'd laugh where no laugh was due.
After many moments of crap, I left for the bathroom to maybe puke or poop. There were blood stains on the tile, and a great crack down the center of the mirror divided my face into two jagged halves.
I puked a little in the toilet, and assured myself afterwards by saying, "It had to be done." The strange girl who I directed the comment towards offered me a mint from her purse. It was peppermint.
I left the bathroom and walked back towards the bar stools we'd claimed. Tan man was gone, but standing next to my empty stool was Wheeler, making out with the brunette. It was all spit and tongues were everywhere. The only way it could have been more graphic, would have been if he'd ripped off his shirt or lifted her up on top of the bar. The people around them, those who were still remotely coherent, were struck with awe. Some stared intently. Others appeared to have been scanning the room for me, his supposed fiance.
Soon he noticed me standing there, and he gently removed the brunette from his mouth. We had successfully condensed all the melodrama of a long term commitment into the span of two gloriously public hours.
"How could you!" I announced, with calculated gusto that sent a wave of silence through the bar. The words churned in my stomach and I wanted deeply to laugh and laugh and laugh.
"It's okay! It's okay everyone. It's okay. We're not really engaged. We've only known each other a week. It was just a joke! That ring? I bought that ring for a quarter in that machine over there. It's all good everybody! No need to get upset," Wheeler reached for the brunette's arm. She slapped him and the party resumed.
Everything after that is somewhat of a blur. It was definitely not okay, by the standards of everyone who'd spent a buck or shed a tear on our behalf. We were usurped from Hobo Sam royalty, and literally kicked out of the bar. I couldn't tell that morning, but I had a giant bruise on my butt from the kick. After that, we'd evidently wandered intoa park to sleep.
Wheeler appeared from behind the maple. His hair looked electrocuted, and his face had strands of creases in it from a bed of grass. He looked genuinely homeless, and I was not entirely convinced that he wasn't.
"How's your ass?"
"See what happens when the moon is full?" He sat down next to me.
"Or when you are just a giant fucking idiot, rather."
"Come on...That was incredible! We single handily created love and then crushed it! I feel like my parents."
He pulled out the map from his backpack.
"Honestly I don't have a fucking clue where we are now. We walked for at least an hour after the bar last night, so we're definitely going to have to take a cab or get a ride to Hackett house number one," he said.
"I hope it's our Cait Hackett," I said.
"I kind of hope it's not. I'm not ready to be done with this. I've got nothin' to go home to."
"I just want to find her."
"Well, get your bruised butt up and let's go then." He dusted dirt off his pants and helped me to my feet.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
I transcended between dream and reality as the bus jolted and rumbled and dimmed. Wheeler's bony butt was practically on my lap for a moment or two, and I plastered my side to the window, perpetually shoving him over with my knee. I kept dreaming nonsense, about some dragon bathing in what looked like canned ravioli. I'd wake and then find myself mentally searching for the exact spot in the orange and red valley that I left off. I was just sort of perusing around a warm valley, and this dragon was dipping it's mouth in the goo and then spitting the marinara looking sauce all over itself. It never saw me. I was completely alone, I thought to myself in the dream that it might have been hell. If Cait had been with me when I woke up, I'm sure she'd relay some highly inaccurate interpretation of what it all meant. I personally found no significance from any of it, but the vividness was undeniably haunting, as usual.
The outside world began to brighten and it seemed we'd arrived in something urban. It was just after 11 p.m. I'd slept for much longer than I'd thought, which I realized with utter relief. The trip was ending, and we'd arrived in Minneapolis, just a tad behind schedule. After the various stops, less than half the passengers remained on the bus. Hot Cheetos was gone, and the Amish trifecta had also departed. The skinny tough guy and his babe still sat ahead of us, and they yawned and then giggled then kissed in the dark. "I think we're here, babe," he said.
We turned down South 3rd Street and stopped on the corner of 3rd and Chicago. The lights came on and the bus beeped and lowered. "Well folks, almost 8 hours later and it looks like we're back to Chicago," joked the driver over the intercom. Silence ensued, and it seemed that the fat nut in the back had exited the bus while we slept. We retrieved our backpack and left into a sea of parking lots. There were parking lots on every side of us, and low yellow street lights made continuous shadows down the cement blocks.
Few cars passed, and the other riders faded into cabs or cars or shadows. Wheeler and I made no plans for lodging, and we sat on a brick ledge in one of the many parking lots to contemplate our next move. The air was idyllic, and faints of summer warmth moved in a steady breeze calmly moving west. It smelled like flowers and dirt in the lot, and I took notice to the likelihood of the moon actually being full. It appeared to be, but truly full or not, it was certainly brilliant above us regardless.
"Hey, you know where the term 'lunatic' comes from?" said Wheeler, leaning back against his wrists and turning his wide eyes towards the sky.
"No I don't."
"The prefix 'luna' means moon. People are supposedly more crazy when there's a full moon. More murderers, more accidents. Even Aristotle thought so."
"You know the most useless shit."
"Depends on what you consider useless I guess!"
"So what are we supposed to do now?"
"Find a watering hole and stumble around until morning. Then we'll go to this Hackett house first in the morning," he pulled out a scribbley map with a triangle drawn over outspread Minneapolis streets. He pointed to one of the corners.
"Alright," I said.
There was a star on the map about 8 blocks southeast of where the first Hackett house was. "We're here," said Wheeler.
"I feel sort of like a pirate with this map, looking for treasure."
Wheeler concluded that we should head towards the first house, and stop at whatever bars we collided with on the journey.
After 5 blocks towards the first Hackett house, we came to a slightly busy slew of low buildings with cheap looking fluorescent signs and stirs of amplified music inside. The gutters surrounding reeked of sewage and mud, and there wasn't anything or anyone remotely pretty in sight. There was life though, and booze, and we settled with that.
The first bar on the left was called "Hobo Sam's". The crowd was surprisingly young. I knew nothing about the demographics of the area, but I did know how confoundedly ugly it was outside. Usually young people congregate in pretty little places, but there must have been a college nearby, I thought.
Wheeler hung around me like a belt, and it was only by extremely aggressive shoves that I got him to remove his arm or arms from my waist. He went to the bar and squeezed between a very dull looking group. I sat at a tall wooden table on the left side of the room and surveyed the variance, feeling quite tired and greasy. He looked back towards me periodically, with a happy drunk grin on his face, as though we repeatedly shared a discreet moment that words could not necessarily convey. There was no moment though. No connection, and I actually quivered in disgust at the sight of his elongated gazes.
He was wearing a snug navy t-shirt with a picture of Mufasa on it from The Lion King. It read, "Mi Mufasa es Su Mufasa," in white cursive font. Mufasa was the father in the movie. Did the shirt mean, my father is your father? Crazy fucking Wheeler, I thought, as I watched him stand there, all lanky and British looking. Those big buck teeth and high cheek bones were nothing short of laughable. The expression on his face was one that indicated he desired and deserved attention, attention from me no less. However, I could never reciprocate that look he was giving me. No matter what we'd done together or what we were going to do, I would never even remotely care about him on any romantic level. Any sexual encounters we had were merely consequences of apathy, not attraction. What was most palpable to me in that moment, was that I lacked even the smallest amount of remorse for the entire debacle. His feelings were his own problem.
He came back to the table with a pitcher of beer and two quality plastic cups. The beer tasted like apricots, and the plastic was thick, nothing that I could bite through.
"Nice," I said.
"The bartender only had fucking quarters for change. You mind if I go blow them on those machines over there?" he pointed to a little area by the foyer where there was an abundance of kiddie looking machine games. "I think there's a jukebox too."
He reached over and squeezed my hand before he got up, just before I had a sufficient chance to remove it from his range.
The other tables around me were quickly occupied, and I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming feeling of familiarity. I could be in any college bar in any city in the country and find nothing remotely different, aside perhaps from a variation in the nightly specials. The three guys behind me were wearing blue and black and tan, and their names were probably Chad, Chris, and Tom. There were four girls behind them. They were probably talking about relationships or the trivial details of their daily affairs. All of the noise around me struck me in such an exasperatingly daunting way, that I could do nothing more than chug the pitcher to suppress my anxiety. I drank and drank until the apricot beer deflected in burps from my full stomach, back into the noisy air.Wheeler popped back over to me just as I finished the last drink of the apricot beer.
"I won this in a machine," he said, pulling out a small black box from his pocket. Inside was a fake gaudy diamond ring with a thin faux-silver band.
"I also won an alligator stuffed animal, but some dude bought it from me for $1.25."
"I'm gonna do something now, and you have to go with it. No matter what, just go with it. Okay? Trust me."
"What are you gonna do?"
"Just trust me."
He walked over towards the bar and disappeared in the accumulating crowd.
Some big girl in a table perpendicular from me was leaning too far forward and her shirt was far too short. The blatant sight of the crack of her ass made me almost want to throw up the apricot beer. Also, I'd been extremely malnourished in the past few days, and the impetuous pitcher chug left me feeling unsteady in my chair. Thanks to the beer, time was sort of easier to endure though, which was a feeling I could not deny liking. I wished for a minute I had a napkin to crumble, or a paper straw wrapper to toss over into her crack. I had nothing though, and just cringed flagrantly in her general ass crack direction.
The lights became a tad brighter, and the music stopped playing mid song. It was hours before closing time. Several fat and thirsty college beasts looked towards the bar, bewildered. Others were too drunk or distracted to notice. However, all mouths and eyes halted when suddenly the bartender hopped on the bar. He sharply whistled with two fingers in his mouth, a skill that awed me and commanded the room nearly silent.
"Hey! Everybody. Listen up for a minute!"
A congregated group by the bar parted for an emerging person. It was Wheeler. Goddamn Wheeler. He walked out from the group and moved towards me. He had a look on his face like a man who'd just born a child. He seemed completely meek and utterly amazed. 'What the fuck is he about to do?' I thought. Thankfully I was feeling a bit loaded, and the bright lights in the room were fuzzy enough to keep me calm. I remembered what he said, "No matter what, just go with it." Go with it I would, for the sake of sparring a likely brawl, but I was nervous as hell as he approached me.
The people in the room formed sort of a half-moon crescent around us as he cleared his throat.
"Paigebrook," he said, so loudly that I could almost feel the vibrations of his voice.
"I have loved you since the first time I saw you." Pause. Oh God. Oh God. What the fuck is he doing? I put my hand over my heart, and the other over my mouth, worried I may puke or laugh, and the hand could stop both.
"Every day that I've heard your voice and seen you smile, has made me happier than the day before... You've stood by me through these past 8 years. Through my drug problems, through the cancer... You've given me strength that I never knew I had in me. Sometimes, I just look at you and my whole life just makes sense. You are my best friend, and the most beautiful girl I have ever. ever. seen." The long lustrous pauses were filled with perceptible intensity, and I could see that around the room girls and boys alike were beaming with receptive happiness. A blond girl sitting on a stool wiped a tear from her cheek.
Wheeler took a deep heartfelt breath and got down on one knee. 'Oh God,' I thought. The crowd around us jeered with more enthusiasm than I remember seeing at any baseball game, any track meet or 5k road race... Tough boys with deep voices cheered from the depths of their lungs. Tiny girls 'wooed' with high pitched yelps, and the fire in the room pulsed with genuine intensity and support. Even I felt like crying.
"Paigebrook, Esmerelda.. McGillicuddy. Make me the happiest fucking guy in the world," He pulled out the black box with the ring that he'd won from the quarter machine. "Will you, marry me?" He opened the box. The room sort of held it's breath for just a moment, and I found myself nodding uncontrollably, 'yes', I moved my hand away from my nearly laughing mouth and said, "Yes, Yes, Yes!" Every one went bizerk; clapping and jumping and cheering wildly. I got up from my chair and Wheeler picked me up in one brisk motion, spinning me around in an eloquent loop.
I heard joyful crying from the table of boring broads I'd noted earlier. There was the sound of champagne popping, and before I knew it, I kissed him, in the heat of the brilliantly contrived moment. We had parted The Red Sea. We had turned water into wine, and everyone in the room wanted a piece of our miraculous asses. True love had been witnessed, at least in the perception of these dopey Minnesotans.
I couldn't believe how badly every one wanted to be apart of it, to believe it, and to support it with every type of alcoholic salutation I'd ever consumed. It was like my goddamn twenty-first birthday, on steroids. Never had I been treated better in my life. Before we knew it, we were Hobo Sam royalty. Bottles of champagne were opened in our honor. We took shot after shot after shot. We were holding hands and Eskimo kissing our way into being given the bar itself.
We were becoming quite good at being engaged. Our story became bigger and more concrete as the night went on.
"So, why'd you pick Hobo Sam's?" asked a relatively cute brunette, who didn't buy us a drink but came over to our celebrity stools at the bar. It was a reasonable question.
"This has been our place for the past five years," said Wheeler.
"Yeah that's right, we come here all the time," I said.
The bar was a dark dusty square with old looking pool tables and bathrooms that reeked of shit and murder.
A tall gump in a backwards grey hat, with borderline cross-eyes overheard our response and chimed in. "You know, I've seen you guys in here so many times. You always look so happy and so in love. Makes me want to get a girlfriend, man," he patted Wheeler on the back.
"Nothing beats love," said Wheeler.
"Wow. That's just great. I'm so happy for you guys!" said the brunette. She then ordered us two shots.
"Five years? How fucking old do I look?" I whispered in Wheeler's ear. He laughed and kissed me on the cheek. "Love you too, honey!" he said.
A short guy with dark hair walked over to us. He looked and smelled like he'd just popped out of the tanning bed, and he held out his hand towards me with enthusiasm. "Congrats guys. Really. That was incredible. I work for Minneapolisbars.com, and I actually caught the entire thing on my iPhone. I'm gonna put it up on the website tomorrow if it's cool with you both."
"Oh yeah, absolutely. I can't wait to see it!"
"I've never seen anything like that. It was seriously, really amazing. I've seen you guys in here before, and I gotta tell you, I've noticed how happy you are together."
"Hear that dear? How nice," I said. I smiled drunkenly at Wheeler. I felt like an aspiring actress with my first big break.
"Hey and if you guys need anything, like a promo for your wedding, promo for your bachelor parties, seriously let me know. I also video tape, too," he said. He handed us his card. It had his face on the front of it.
"Also I'm gonna give you guys this V.I.P promo book. There are drink tickets in there, coupons for restaurants and hotels, party discounts, limo discounts.. lots of good stuff," he handed it to Wheeler.
"Excellent man. We really appreciate it," said Wheeler. He kissed my forehead.
The plastic ring was entirely too big for my ring finger, and it slid around in circles and dropped down onto the ground from time to time. A boy glanced skeptically while Wheeler retrieved it. Wheeler picked up the ring and leaned into the boy, "It's my mom's engagement ring man. I love the woman, but she's bigger than a house," he said. The boy smiled and moved in towards the bar.
"Bartender! Two shots!" he said.
I rested my head on the thick warm glass as the bus wielded through traffic intermittently. As we accelerated and switched lanes, there seemed to be a slight delay of movement from the bottom half to the top half of the bus, and the sensation made me somewhat woozy. It was such a heavy thing, with all of the people and bags and wheels, and I thought about how common it would be for us to just topple over into the medium, or drift into collision with some unassuming truck or tree. For as statistically dangerous driving is, becoming a bus driver should be a difficult process, and obtaining an operator's licence should really be regarded as a prestigious achievement.
I could hear Pancho Villa telling a man sitting behind him about the various public places in Chicago that used to permit inconspicuous drug use.
"It was before all the goddamn socialists took over. Remember that? I remember when the frats in Lincoln Park used to sell speed at the door instead of plastic cups. Me? No I never went. I ran around with a group that went to the frat houses though," he said. "All the goddamn democrats got up and took over though. Now we can't even smoke a goddamn cigarette fifty feet from a building. You don't think ther'll be another prohibition? There sure as hell will be, if Obama has anything to do with it. Goddamn socialist. They're taxing soda that isn't diet, you know that? Vice laws. I used to be able to smoke weed right out in the open. Right in the middle of the goddamn park. Now I can't even smoke a cigarette outside." He coughed from the depth of his lungs and glanced periodically in the rear view mirror at the babe sitting behind the man he spoke with. The man wore a khaki brimmed hat and leaned towards the driver with his right arm perched up against the back of his seat. "I hear ya," he said, "Tell me about it. No shit. I hear ya."
In my ideal Utopian society, becoming a bus driver or a cabbie would be one of the most prestigious endeavors. I'm sure if Sir Thomas More was alive and created a modern revision of his book, Utopia, he'd likely agree with this priority. The bus driver would be the economical equivalent of the doctor or the politician. Even private citizens would undergo grueling tests to obtain a driver's license, which would have to be renewed every five years or so. Car accidents would then be as socially shocking as plane crashes.
More's Utopia valued agriculture and simplicity, which mine would also uphold, but I would add that the public transporter is one of the most socially undermined positions. Also, More's world implemented slavery, which is pretty fucked up. My Utopia would not have slavery, or name tags, or romantic comedies starring Matthew McConaughey, or the "Twilight" series, or acrylic nails, or Twitter, or Miley Cyrus, or Nicholas Sparks, or Oprah. Most importantly, my Utopia would not allow small talk of any kind.
Art would be valued, college would be free, there would be no vice laws, and dogs would be strictly prohibited from wearing clothing. There would be tax incentives for those who didn't obstruct justice, who promoted goodness, who befriended their neighbors, and for those who displayed general perspective and humility. Of course the reality of the world is not close to my ideal, and if the babe's chicken leg was remotely visible to the boisterous driver, the MegaBus and all of the ugly people inside would probably crash into opposing traffic.
Wheeler was listening to the driver and laughed under his breath after certain comments. He turned towards me.
"You know," he said, "every time I've ridden on a coach bus in the last couple of years I think about that Canadian wack who decapitated the dude sitting next to him."
"I didn't hear about that."
"Oh yeah. It was on a Greyhound. This normal looking guy just started stabbing the passenger next to him in the middle of the trip. Like 50 or 60 times or something. Then he decapitated him, and ran up and down the aisle eating the dude's flesh. It was one of the most fucked up things I'd ever heard about."
"Isn't it? How can people be that fucked up? And people are supposedly made in God's image. What about that guy, huh?"
He looked up and down the aisle. "It makes you wonder, right? Like everybody looks so normal, but you never know what's really going on inside. Hot Cheetos over there might be a real psycho and we'd never know by looking at her. Or the Amish dude. Maybe he's leaving the city because he was just on some serial killing spree!"
"I doubt that," I said.
"There are so many mysteries in the world, in the universe. You know? Aliens, the Bermuda Triangle, God... I think we're the biggest mystery of all though. Fucking people. Who knows why people do what they do.We'll never know either."
"I don't think it's that mysterious. I think people are just selfish. That guy on the Greyhound just wanted to do that."
"Yeah you also said you pride yourself with not knowing things." He smiled and the western sun hit his face, making his teeth look bigger and more bucked than usual.
"I still have an opinion. It's probably wrong, but I still have one."
We stopped at a McDonald's about 40 minutes north of Janesville, Wisconsin.
The driver got on the intercom, "Okay folks, we'll be here for 20 minutes. 20 minutes. If you're not on here in 20 minutes, we're leavin' without you. And if anyone wants to buy me a big mac, no mustard please."
The guy in the back with the deep laugh lost control, and every body's heads turned towards him.
"With that laugh and a few more stops at McDonald's, he's gonna have a heart attack," said Wheeler.
I stayed on the bus while Wheeler went inside to get us food. I buried my head in my lap while the chicks walked past. After the bus refilled, Wheeler was the last to return. He didn't have a McDonald's bag, but instead he carried two cucumbers and a plastic knife.
"I went across the street to the dairy store," he said, "This is better than nasty burgers and greasy fries."
Everyone around us made loud noises with their red and white paper bags, and the smell of fried meat and pickles doused in mustard lingered between the royal blue rows. Wheeler struggled to peel the cucumbers with the bending knife. He took the peeled scraps and rubbed them all over his face.
"It's good for you," he said, handing me a piece of green skin. I rubbed it on my face then held the used scrap in my hand.
"That does feel nice," I said.
When he was finished he ate the pieces he'd used on his greasy face.
"Are you gonna eat that?" he pointed to the one I'd rubbed on mine.
"That's really gross." He took it out of my hand and ate it.
"You're so much like Cait, and you don't even know it."
"Cait Hackett? Or Cait Finn? We don't even know what she's like," he said.
It was getting dark outside and the babe was now sitting on the skinny tough guy's lap. The bus smelled like burger fart, and Wheeler revealed yet another pint of whiskey from his other sock. Pancho Villa watched the babe deviously in the rear view mirror, and I kept imagining the MegaBus veering off into a perilous catastrophe because of it.
A vision of scarce trees blended into a green line as we moved forward, and I couldn't help but notice how plain it all was. Every mile looked the same as the last. I tried to percieve the dusty gravel road and the patchy green fields beside it as beautiful or interesting, but I could not lie to my own instincts. It was all ugly, every single mile. The sunset was brilliant though, as it arguably always is. No matter the place or weather, the setting sun is always beautiful. As long as there is a sun, there will always be two distinctly beautiful moments in every single day; the sunrise and the sunset. The light began to hide beneath the ugly green fields, and I closed the window shade to block the intensity.
"Is it okay if I put my head on your lap?" said Wheeler.
"No, no, it's not at all okay actually."
Instead, he curled himself into a ball with his back toward me. I tried to sleep but couldn't distract my brain from the monotony of M*A*S*H, and the reoccurring vision in my head of toppling over into a ditch. My Utopian bus driver wouldn't resemble Pancho Villa at all, I thought, but would be someone cool and distinguished looking, like Anderson Cooper or Gregory Peck. Yes. Gregory Peck, in fact. Gregory Peck would be the absolute ideal representation of my Utopian bus driver, I thought...