A few days later I found myself just off the interstate at the Phillips 66 station watching the last of the giant moths dance in the erie haze of the vapor lights. It was October, the fume-dreamers were already wrapped in surplus Army blankets, their eyes were blank, rolled back in their heads, their tanks already filled. In the backside of their brains they were racing the moon across freshly harvested cornfields, dancing the dust out of splintered floorboards, or laced in the trails of vapor-locked winged insects being picked off one by one by tiny bats, while field mice, fearing nothing from these motionless beings snuggled in the pockets of their flannel shirts, making a meal of the Snickers Bar they’d bought with their last dollar to quench the morning sweet-tooth of a huffer’s high.
I wasn’t impatient as the slow bell chimed off the gallons, it felt good to be out here in the chill with the windows rolled down and the heater on. Sometimes I considered laying my head on the edge of the door as I drove, to feel the wind blow through my hair, to feel the wind blow through me ... then from somewhere far off I realized the pump’s chime had stopped a long time ago. I shook myself out of my dream, realizing how quickly, how inadvertently one could slip into the world of octane dreams, paid my bill, grabbed a Coke, and followed the headlights for the next hour listening to Ken Nordine’s word-jazz on the radio as he talked about time in the outer reaches of other galaxies. I dipped my hand into the pocket of my denim jacket and pulled out Gram’s cigarette case, flipped the lighter which was instantly extinguished by the wind, pulled onto a fire-trail below an abandoned smoke-tower and lit the last of her pre-rolleds. I sat there in silence, inhaling deeply while listening to the sounds the engine made as it cooled in the night air of the pine forest, watched the dew cloud the window ‘til it clouded my mind as well, and I was racing the moon across freshly harvested cornfields wondering if I could’ve saved my life for a mere ten dollars ... but that was all so long ago.
There was a knock on my window that rustled me back to reality, the voice on the other side of a flashlight didn’t ask if everything was alright, he instinctively knew it was, he just wanted me to turn off my headlights, keep the ol’ battery charged so I’d be able to make my way home. It took forever for my hand to find its way to the ignition, and even longer to turn the key. Instantly the console sprang to life, on the radio a lone voice was singing about Tugboat Captains, I thanked my friend, and headed back to town, climbed the stairs to my unlocked room and fell into bed wondering about Tugboats ... then realized the joke just as the mattress was wrapping itself around me, letting me know that all was right with my world, assuring me that my life didn’t need saving, with the words “I just wanna be your tugboat Captain ...” echoing across my lips.
Occasionally, in early fall, a fog of such quality creeps across town that everything comes to a sticky resiny halt. Everything for everyone, save for the Wake & Bakers, who delight in the climatic anomaly as if it were some hazy low hanging clouded school’s closed snow-day, their bantered voices pontificating about a never-to-happen rumored Steely Dan tour with giggles deep into the wee hours, tickled by the clicking of tumbling Backgammon dice, and punctuated by the expletive of “doubles!” Most folks here about, or anywhere for that matter, don’t take the Stoners with any degree of seriousness, tending to ignore them, writing them off as lazy. But let me assure you, like any tribal sub-culture, spending even the shortest amount of time among them will reveal endless wonders and a degree of sophistication that will leave you breathless at their conceptual understanding for the true nature of existence and being.
It was here, in a dimly lighted deeply carpeted living-room, around a cable-spool coffee table, bridged, while playing Backgammon, that I discovered there were but three types of people walking the planet … those who lie, even in the smallest ways, and have become comfortable with their deceptions. Then there are those who would tell not a single untruth, yet do so not out of honesty, but for some misguided moral calling, and are easily recognized, as they’re basically unhappy, with heavy hearts. And then there are those who could not bestow an untruth because they’ve no need to … and this was the world of the true tribal Burner. There’s a simple purity to their being, without spending time in the fog the lines of their almost naïve paintings and dialog can never be understood. And with that I rolled a six and a four and was off the bridge, with my profound thought evaporating as quickly as it came … though once making my move, my eyes roamed the thick air just above my head, as if there were something hanging in the exhaled blue smoke that I should be remembering.
It was easy to feel comfortable here, my whole being felt like a flannel shirt just taken from the dryer on a cool night. Their substances had exotic names, delightful textures, and smells that one’s olfactory senses could feed on. My demons rested in starch white bags, or plastic bottles with explicit instructions, which were often ignored, but nevertheless, served as some sort of warning beacon, while the Burners kept their weed in small plastic bags or glass bottles, where their marijuana, hash, keef, and opium could be viewed, discussed, mixed, sorted, fussed over, and above all, with the saving of seeds, rejuvenated. Rejuvenation was not something my demons participated in, they were of pure blood, they needed sterile environments, prescription pads, FDA numbers, sideway glances … and a great deal of money, ‘less one had a prescription plan. I laughed to myself, at least I thought I had, as I remembered the old adage, “Dope will get you through times of no money, but money won’t get you through times of no dope.” Someone from across the room laughed aloud while holding up a well thumbed Zap comic saying, “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers! You said it backwards, but the meaning’s all the same. Wait, let me look, maybe I read it wrong.”
Then, what was illusively hanging just above me in the exhaled blue smoke settled like fine dry dust from a bookshelf too seldom used. There were actually four types of people walking the planet … the fourth being those with a penchant for the telling of a story. These beguiled individuals lived for the muse, they relished in the fabrication and the adventure of the absurd. Why? Because they’d tapped into an essential primal need that crossed all boundaries, the deep seeded lust for folks, if only for a moment, to step outside of themselves and be part of something not greater, but something they could never allow themselves to be associated with. Yet they instinctually craved the inspired tall-tale verbal adventure, an aspect of life that was beyond them and their time honored sensibilities. And while true or not, they wanted to believe it so.
The yarns, the half truths, these bendings of the fabric of reality created half lives that created whole lives, and the story-tellers had to be so skilled that their lives and lies instantly became part of the fabric they were weaving, as they wove it. While the rest of us can usually instantly judge truth from fiction, or the honest from the liar, these people danced a line where truth was fiction, and fiction was truth, a melding of so much speculative information that it was impossible to tell where one began and the other left off … leaving these self-beguiled beings inventing, reinventing, and manipulating cause and effect until they’d no choice but to keep walking down a hall and through a mirror that would never reflect their image. And the best part [?], the joke within the joke, they’d been this way their entire lives, standing there watching words floating out of their mouths with such lustrous splendor that even they could only stand by and watch in awe.
Now I felt a justification, or perhaps just the effects of the weed, nevertheless, I wanted to tell my new found friends about riding into the Innerzone with Danny Utah in a car with fins that scraped the sky, causing Roman candle sparks to rain down on the highway behind us, and my telepathic cat. I wanted to tell it all, tell it all with the slow drawn enunciation of Sam Elliott. I’m sure they’d have sat there wide-eyed … and hours later, in the cool light of the morning and half reason, my stories would have taken on epic proportions, a life of their own, with effects and rumors I barely dare to imagine.
I’m not sure I could live here, but it’s certainly a place I could spend a great deal of time; though the not so secret Patchouli Oil hand shake got rather old, rather quickly.
My room’s gotten rather comfortable, even without air-conditioning, which I’ve just noticed, bringing back memories of half lost teen years, sweating through the night on damp sheets, fumbling across a single bed with an impassioned lover, beads of salted water running down our breasts, glistening in the light of the moon, allowing us to feel as one, not just with each other, but with the entire wetness of a planet turned inside out. Memories stored in the Innerzone don’t unfold like a flower to behold, it’s more like they slowly come into view, until a presence is recognized, leaving folks to deal with them; though most people tend to simply ignore. Here, our lives are stored in the spiderwebs that occupy the farthest corners of the room, hidden in shadows along peeling crown-molding. We seldom look too closely at these dust gatherers, passing under and around them with a duck and wave of our hands, as if these webbed memories might somehow stick to us ... forcing us to remove the strands of our lives one by one and consider them; if we’re lucky. But most people aren’t lucky, they wipe them away with instinctive grand gestures, or better yet, hire others to come in and straighten their rooms, their lives, entrusting people they don’t even know to wipe down and rid all surfaces of anything that may remind them of something uncomfortable or not.
I’ve given into allowing the spiders of my life to create their cathedrals strand by strand. On more than one occasion I’ve walked in and found the housekeeper sitting at the end of my bed, feather duster in hand, lost, anxious to remove these matted nestings, yet transfixed that I could live like this. So she makes my bed, pours fresh water, adjusts the blinds, vacuums the carpet, and then almost sneaks out, closing the door with the gentleness of holding a child, as if the essence of my being could somehow descend on her, and affect her day. Of course this all couldn’t happen, it’s pure nonsense, my memories can affect no one else other than me, the best she could do would be to disturb them, but that happens all the time, who’s to say who, what, how, or even when our lives will be disturbed.
Everyone learns that smoking in bed isn’t a good thing to do, I’ve come to discover that reading in bed can have consequences just as dramatic. It was while reading late the other night that I began to realize the purpose of the Innerzone. With this, my book was instantly tossed into the dresser drawer, and even though it was well past midnight, a call to housekeeping was made. Moments later a rather sleepy-eyed maid rapped at my already opened door, I’d opened the window just as wide, and was instructing her with sweeping gestures, arms raised to the ceiling, saying that I wanted all of this cleaned out immediately, every single strand. “Are you sure,” she asked, “you’ve spent so much time letting all this happen, though I’ve no idea the reason?” “All of it please, and now,” I said. “I’ll be in the bath, I’m feeling rather ... well I don’t know what I’m feeling. All I know is I need a shower, and want all of this gone by the time I get out.” I could hear the canister vacuum click on as I was adjusting the hot water, and later as I stepped from the shower into the steam filled room I heard the door to the hall closing. Wiping the steamed mirror clean I began to wonder if I’d just made some huge mistake, then rummaged through the medicine cabinet for just the right bottle. So many of them were “just the right bottle,” though I settled with a smile on a still sealed container of Quaaludes, took one, then sat on the edge of the tub toweling dry, though I was really waiting for those lovely 714’s to begin strolling through my head, giving me the courage to see the results of what I probably shouldn’t have done.
I opened the door as if it were a singular event in my life, the small room seemed much more expansive, everything was in it’s place, the door to the hall was closed, the window opened just a crack, the curtains rippling ever so slightly, and no longer were the memory laden webbed stalactites hanging over my head. But that didn’t mean that I’d forgotten anything either. And as I laid on the bed wrapped in my bathrobe feeling as comfortable as if I were part of the bed itself, I figured I’d sort this all out in the morning. But it was the morning already, and I laughed at the drug induced profundity of the thought as the long orange fingers of the sun were making their way between the slits of the blinds, caressing my eyes. I was breathing in time to something outside of myself, and I just knew that if I turned on my side and drifted off that I’d wake up with a face intaglioed by the pattern of the spread, but I was too wasted to care ... everything was delightfully making no sense as I turned on my side, slipping away, remembering the words, “Sleep now, tomorrow’s waiting, you don’t want to be late.”
There was a smile etching its way across my face, I could feel it as I lay there with my eyes still closed, wondering what time it was. I’d been dreaming, I hadn’t even realized that over time I’d stopped dreaming and tried to remember when my last one was. Dreams are elusive enough, yet with one’s life hanging right in front of them, or in the balance, I imagine dreams tend to retreat into the nether regions of the mind to protect themselves from overexposure. Grams was in this one, Grams dreams are always the best. It was early morning, I couldn’t have been more that 5 or 6, the hallway from the bedroom seemed endlessly long, my footed pajamas sliding on the polished wood floors, my hands running down each side of the wall to steady myself, tiny eyes barely half awake, a mouth full of sleep, peering around the corner into the kitchen, pulling out a white painted chair with a homemade barkcloth cushion at an enameled table, Grams’ back to me, perpetually cooking something that always smelled wonderful. It was worth waking up just to see her smile, pull a paregoric cigarette from her apron pocket and spark it up, mixing the smell of the tobacco with the smell of the eggs, allowing me to feel I was in some sort of exotic haze. She looked right at me, then her eyes shifted to the yard, which could mean only one thing; and my heart began to race. There it was, a trail across the morning dew, a box-turtle on a journey to somewhere that I was about to interrupt. I was up and out the backdoor before words could be spoken, racing for the fence, hoping for all the world that the turtle hadn’t made it past the picket border, the feet of my PJ’s soaking wet, but I scooped him with not three feet to spare, where if he’d managed to edged through, I’d spend the rest of the morning with my face pressed between the slats determined to have him turn and come crawling back. Grams followed me out, a plate of eggs and ham in one hand, and in the other, lettuce and raw hamburger. Grams was so gracious, she sat right down in the wet grass with me as I ate, played with the turtle, and tried to get him to eat as well. Later, as I held up my prize for the Egg-man, the turtle’s tiny legs motoring in midair, Gram said, “She ran it down and caught it all by herself,” making me feel proud. “Well now, that’s a catch for sure. You do know that a box-turtle needs a proper box?” he said grinning. “A proper box Grams, have we a proper box?” I repeated the phrase with so much emphasis on the word ‘proper’ that both were exchanging a glance I came to understand only adults shared, but I didn’t care, Mr. Egg-man had gone to his truck, and in his hand was a proper box, and I was delighted to the point of breathlessness. Grams asked for two dozen eggs, but their voices were trailing off into nothingness, my world was no bigger than the box my turtle was now roaming.
The clock next to my bed read 4:20, I was feeling heavy from sleep, then remembered the Quaalude, glanced at the window, gathered together the open back of my hospital gown and decided to get out of this box for a spell. There was a message floating down over the intercom, I was certain it was for me, but it hung in the air like a ribbon tied to an oscillating floor fan, never quite reaching my ears. So I pressed the button next to the pink door stepping barefoot onto the green and white checkered linoleum floor with a thought that caused me to turn and reconsider my room, “At the time of your demise, there will be a moment of understanding,” but it must have been a clerical error, a message like that would never be for me. It hadn’t actually dawned on me that I was in a hospital, not until I rubbed my face with my hand, only to discover it was completely draped with a gauze bandage up to my elbow. There Innerzone was definitely not someplace one wanted to have anything done that required precision or concerned skill, everyone here was just like me, vacationing from the world, and in starched whited hospital uniforms or not, they were filling their heads and lungs with anything that would keep their feet two or more inches off the floor. And that truth was too soon self-evident as I passed the nurse’s station, where both were sharing a mask, holding their breath while deeply inhaling a substance that was beyond my knowledge, but was certainly lifting their spirits. One of the nurses began trying to communicate with me, laughing and failing. The other held up a clipboard pointing at the top page, yet refusing to remove her mask, and even when she did, her words made no sense. So she said them louder, and pointed to the page thumping her finger against the board while holding it against the glass partition, as if shouting and grand slow-motion gestures would make her undecipherable words more clear. But I played along, and in good spirits I smiled holding up my bandaged arm, pointing and mouthing in exaggeration, “It’s feeling much better, thank you,” and wandered further down the hall, leaving them to fall back into their swivel chairs, shrugging their shoulders in total exhaustion.
A policeman rose when he saw me coming, asking if I’d a few minutes to talk. “Do I need a lawyer?” I asked with a sleepy smile. “Not unless you’ve something to hide,” he replied shoving one hand into his pocket, and fooling with a deck of playing cards with the other. I glanced around the empty waiting-room and said, “This is the Innerzone, there are no secrets here, everyone’s life if an open book. Have you been sitting here all night?” “You’re right,” he said placing his cards on the table, “there’re no secrets, ‘less of course you’re dead, and yes, I’ve been here most of the night. Mind telling me what you remember?” I sat down and sorted through his playing cards, “You know you’re missing the Jack and one Ace? Last thing I remember is crawling into the back seat of a car, cut my knee on some broken glass, I was so far from sober, all I wanted was to get some rest, get my head in order.” “The car belonged to Danny Utah,” he said flipping though a spiral notebook. “You know him?” I looked around hoping to be interrupted by a Doctor, a visitor, even a gassed nurse, though no one came to my rescue, so I shifted on my feet, anxious to be honest, and fumbling miserably, “Yes. No. Maybe. Perhaps. Sort of. Hard to say,” I said stacking the cards together. “Yeah that’s what I figured,” and the officer took a seat re-stacking the cards yet again. “You know,” I said, “one of us is going to have to lay those cards on the table and leave them be.” He laughed extending his hand, “Dan Pullman. Sgt. Dan Pullman.” “I’d shake, but I seem to have a tethered wing. Did this have anything to do with Danny?” “Yes, no, maybe, perhaps, sort of, hard to say,” he shot back with a grin. “Tell me, where were you and Danny headed?” I stood there thinking that I’d nothing to win and nothing to lose, so I answered, “I was trying to outrun some demons. What Danny was doing is anyone’s guess. Maybe he was trying to help me, or maybe I was just an excuse for he and that car of his to slit the sky and rain down stars. What happened?” Sgt. Pullman looked me right in the eyes without blinking, “Danny got himself caught in a meteor shower’s all, I doubt he’ll be going home. You know, it’s one thing to dance here for awhile, it’s another to get lost, and even harder to imagine plotting a six by six residence for all time, if you follow my drift. We pulled these from the backseat and the trunk, they’re all legal prescriptions, so I’m giving them back to you with a piece of advice ... careful who you’re riding shotgun with, illusions are tentative at best, don’t go losing yourself on a tollroad in the middle of the night. And no I’m not missing the Jack or an Ace, they’re right here in my pocket, cards I’ve yet to play. A looker like you might want to consider stashing a couple away.” And with that he turned and walked off. I called after him feeling somehow betrayed, though probably only by myself, “Well at least I keep my shoelaces tied,” but he wasn’t listening, and he should have, ‘cause when the elevator doors closed, sure enough, the end of his shoelace was plainly visible.
The following morning I was considering a bit of graffiti on the bus-shed wall:
I fell through the door
Facedown on the floor
slipping into laughter
I blew in the door
Flew across the floor
into happily ever-after
I stood feet in the sand
Pockets in my hands
I was sinking
I drove all night
Was a dancing delight
to your drug song ...
when an ol’ timer spread out a bandana on the bench and sat down next to me saying, “This place you’re lookin’ for, it’s a good ways off the map, it’ll take you a half a tank of Red Indian just gettin’ there and back. I used to go down there in a silver Airstream camper, but I was just a boy back then. ‘Course they’ve torn up the highway now, most of it washed out in the rain more than 30 years ago, why hell, the whole place could be gone for all I know. Tell me girl, why you chasin’ my dreams?” But he didn’t give me a chance to answer, he just went on, “Even when it was there, there was nothing but the wind whistling through the pines.” So I just nodded as he took a flask out of his sock, a shot glass from his pocket, poured himself two fingers and settled back against the wall as the morning sun warmed his face. “Go ahead,” he said, “It won’t kill ya’, it’s just the water of my past.” “Thanks,” I said, “but I don’t drink.” “No one does ‘til they do,” he said still holding out the glass with the sun filtering though the amber like it was some sort of fortune teller’s crystal ball. “Well, if you ain’t gonna drink it, you might hold it for me while I tie my shoelace,” he asked. But I wasn’t really listening, I was lost somewhere in the bottom of the glass. I took the shot, then wiped the corners of my mouth with the bandana while trying to read the rippled yellow bus schedule. This was a lonely place to be sure. By noon no bus had showed, so I figured it was time to head back to town, climb the stairs to my room, open the unlocked door, and fall facedown on the bed. Which is pretty much how I remembered it when I woke, and is pretty much the reason I don’t drink. Drinking doesn’t separate me from reality, it just mushes things up like a rubber-band ball that refuses to bounce. So I laid there on the bed thinking that I’d like to turn the radio on, but that my arms weren’t long enough to reach the knob ... another shortcoming of alcohol. If I’d been high, my arms would’ve definitely been long enough ... either that, or I could’ve enlisted one of my demons to flick the switch.
I rolled to the side of the bed searching for my shoes with my toes, only to find myself in stockinged feet, standing at the open window, a repose if you will, a moment of observation before I venture into the uncertainty of the world below. But there’s no uncertainty really. For the most part, it’s exactly the same as it has been, day in and day out. Yet I still find myself hoping to glimmer some small fact, a detail that will swing the advantage of the day in my favor.
There’s this shaded spot in the middle of the block, I press my forehead against the glass watching a man who’s hoping to cross the street. He steps off the curb as he has a thousand times before, or so I imagine, and finesses his way between two cars parked much too close together ... his left hand on the hood of one, his right hand on the trunk of another. He waits, poised between the sun and the road, separated from that world across the street by the endless comings and goings of others on their wayward journeys. These fellow travelers, their faces never turning his way, ‘less of course they think he holds the key to an all elusive parking space. But no, his body relays the fact that he’s just waiting, and they move on as if he’s caused them some great personal disappointment. I see him check his watch without registering the time, as if this’ll somehow help slow the traffic, and perhaps give him the pocket he needs to skirt his way to the other side.
I check my watch without registering the time and pull my face from the glass, a signal to myself that it’s time for me to move on as well. Just as I’m about to turn from my window a cargo truck double parks right in front of ‘trying to get across the street guy.’ He takes a step back, then another, I imagine he can smell the heat coming off the tires. His fingers are dancing on the hood and trunk of the cars to his left and right. Finally he turns, edging his way back onto the sidewalk, he takes two steps and looks over his shoulder. Certain the truck’s there for the long haul, he strolls to the corner. As I close the window I lose sight of him in the crowd waiting to cross at the light.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, slipping into my jacket, off the curb, and between two cars parked much too close, my left hand on the hood of one, my right dancing on the the trunk of another ... and then I turned, wondering how I’d missed it. But there it was, a podium surrounded by askew chairs and folded leaflets blowing gently across the ground. So I turned and stepped up to that podium, ran my palms around the smooth worn edges and lit a Salem from a pack that was lying there while staring off into space. By the time I got back, people were sittin’ in those chairs, propped up against trees, and they were waiting on me. So I smiled, tapped on the microphone as I’ve seen people do, and said, “It doesn’t seem to be working,” and they all applauded. “I wish I could say I’m some sort of Americanized alien of goodwill, but I’m not. I’m just a curling haze of blue smoke that rolled in here after pineappling a tollbooth, and turning it into an orange ball of flames. I had a cat back then, but I lost it, I had a thought as well, but that seems to have vanished also, and so’s Danny Utah.” They didn’t say a word, they were just looking straight ahead, like there was somewhere better that I was going to be taking them. And I began wondering how long it’d be ‘til I was sitting in one of those chairs, hopes pinned on someone I didn’t know who’d found themselves in front of a microphone simply because it was there, and so were they. I told them about playing clarinet in high school, I told ‘em that I couldn’t read a note of music, that I memorized all of my lessons, that my grip on reality was tentative at best, that I daydreamed too much in third grade, and that my head was just so full of things I couldn’t remember that I often felt like I was gonna’ explode. Then I stopped talking, stared straight ahead like I had somewhere else to be, and their staring met my staring, and I realized I didn’t have all the answers I thought I did, I began feeling uncomfortable in my clothes, I wanted to be anywhere else except here, giving these balloon-heads hope ... and I told them that, and a lot of other things as well, and when they applauded I showered them with a pocket-full of stamped receipts as proof of my endeavors. And in that moment as the receipts rained down like so much confetti, I realized I had given them something to pin their hopes on. So, not being one to lose the advantage, I asked them all for a dollar ... and they gave me lots of them, not because I had any answers, but because I was standing at a podium, and that evidently was enough.
As I was walking away counting my money, Detective Dan Pullman took me aside and asked if I’d a permit for the speaking engagement I’d just delivered. “Of course not,” I said. “Then under what pretenses are you collecting money?” he continued. “O come on, it’s only ten bucks. I was hoping to get myself saved, see the light, find an answer.” Detective Pullman relieved me of the ones, wrote out a receipt for the money, and handed it to me. I stood there with my arms slightly raised at my side, considered calling after him, but he beat me to the punch and turned half way down the block, “I should be giving you a warning for all those receipts you tossed away, but you’ll realize how foolish that was sooner or later.” “Listen,” I said cupping one hand to the side of my mouth, “Save yourself, use that money for new shoelaces. Sooner or later you’re gonna realize how silly you look down on all fours.” But I don’t think he heard me, he was in his car with its windshield wipers flapping on a beautiful sunny day. I looked around as I walked away, wondering if he actually knew something I didn’t ... feeling a bit breathless, as if the elevator was about to go down.
Mind you, rain isn’t just a matter of getting wet, some of those drops are filled with new souls. If you look with just the right eyes, at just the right angle, you’re gonna see the faces of those about to set foot on earth. And if one of those drops happens to land on you, you’re going to be forever connected in some manner to that soul. Or at least that’s what Grams always said, so you can see, stepping out in the rain is serious business, one fraught with cosmic connections one may not wish to be associated with. That’s why when I saw those wipers flapping, a deep concern ebbed through me, causing me to wonder if I could live up to some unknown expectations, or worse, what would I do if the soul I was connected to turned out to be a misadventure, with them feeling that I owed something simply because a drop of water had splashed across my up-turned face. I tried to calm myself with the knowledge that there were billions of people walking the planet while stepping up my pace, that the odds of any new born soul ever finding me, cosmic or not, were slim to nothing. And just like that, a big ol’ raindrop caught my attention, I tried to duck, but it hit the back of my neck, ran down my spine. I shivered, thinking about thousands of years of umbrella refinement and I hadn’t the foresight to anticipate the need.
“And ya know,” I mumbled to myself, grabbing a seat at the bar to wait out the rain, “this is the kind of thinking that drives people to psychology.” “No,” replied a man behind me, “talking to yourself does.” I laughed saying, “I hope you’re not a shrink or anything like that.” “No, that mumbo-jumbo’s got no place in reality. It might be good for self-exploration, but not as a practical application in life. Seriously, every shrink I’ve ever known, and mind you, I’ve only known them socially, never as a patient, were the kind of folks who’d been totally unsuccessful in life, went to school to figure themselves out, which most of ‘em never did, and found themselves with a degree that was basically useful to no one. So what do they do? They live vicariously though their patient’s perceived problems and try and figure out what they would do were they in the patient’s shoes. But they never actually understand anything, and that’s because they’ve never actually done anything. Really! Living with sick people must make them feel mighty strong. And the crazy part is that they never cure anyone either, people just get tired of being bogged down, realizing that the black and white life and death scary monsters under the bed aren’t that dangerous, or better yet, realize they’re tired of paying a hundred and fifty dollars an hour to a detached paid listener who’s never gonna give advice, ‘cause that’s not part of the program, the program’s about the patient discovering and connecting the dots for themselves. And even if they do that,” he said with a grandiose gesture to the ceiling, “even when the patient does figure it out, they’re still not off the hook, it’s gonna take at least another year and a half just to explain why they’ve come to that juncture. It’s a never ending indulgent loop, when what’s needed is for someone to grab the patient by the scruff of the neck, pull them out of the road, explain the dangers, and let them go on their way. Of course I’m not talking about the seriously demented or anything like that, those people are never gonna be right as rain, not even with medications. Speaking of which,” as he raised his glass to mine, “let the day wash down easy. And by the way, you’re sitting on my cap.” I retrieved his cap, I’m sure looking quite sheepish as he slapped it against his leg as if to shake loose any dust, and wandered off into the hotel lounge. The bartender poured me anther drink saying, “Tourists, they never really get what they want, and no one seems capable of asking for it straight out either.” “What was that?” I asked. “Oh nothing,” he said, “just something I saw on a sign in a window on the way in today. I’m thinking about purchasing it tomorrow, tacking it up on the ceiling for the lost in space gazers.” “Good idea,” I smiled, leaning back as if typing in the air, “the ceiling really is under utilized and an under appreciated space. Good for you.”
It was still raining as I stepped into the night air to clear my head. Pullman was passing by and stopped before I had a chance to get soaking wet, not that I wanted to, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. So when the car door opened I jumped right in. We’d been sitting at a light for quite awhile before he switched off the wipers, the windshield turning into a sheet of water, like we were in a cave behind the falls, and said, “This is a beautiful place. So much to offer.” “Yeah, it is,” I said almost questioning. Dan still had both hands on the wheel, “The trouble is, too many people don’t understand their true nature, they go off exploring, and at their most vulnerable moment, when the drugs are coursing at their apex, they take that exact moment to say, I wish I could stay like this forever. And some of ‘em do.”
I wasn’t sure if this was some unconscious stream of thought, I wasn’t sure if I should say anything or not, so I did, “I’ve never had that delusion, I’ve always looked forward to the coming back. It’s not special if it’s always that way,” I replied with an animated gesture of wiggling fingers slowly rising to the ceiling. But I was lying, those words had slipped between my lips more than once as my demons had made themselves known. “See,” said Dan looking straight out the window, “even though that’s a lie, and that’s what makes you different. Saying you’d like to stay in that state forever is just an expletive for you. This place used to be filled with your kind, then something shifted, mind you, it ain’t gone sideways yet, but it needs me, and that’s a sure sign that the clock’s not keeping perfect time.” “So you’re a watch-smith,” I asked turning in my seat, “and all this time I though you were a cop?” “No not a cop, an ex-Customs Officer,” replied Dan taking his hands off the wheel and fishing though his jacket pockets. “I happened on a bag of Window-Pane acid once, not sure whether I surprised them or they surprised me, but in that instant every door in the universe opened. I knew I couldn’t go back, I had too much time in to quit, so I requested a roving assignment deep in the Innerzone. It’s not a bad gig, I don’t have to report to anyone, send in the stubs for the receipts I hand out, and everyone’s happy.” His right hand came up with an orange plastic bottle. He popped the cap and offered me one. “And these are ... ” I questioned peering over the lip and into the the abyss of the tiny bottle. “The answer to all your questions, the key to all your locks, dreams come true, just what you’ve been looking for, and just what the doctor ordered ... go on take one,” said Dan, pressing the bottle toward me. And so I did, and in that moment, in the glow of the dashboard lights, with the radio playing low, Dan and I melted into our seats. The stoplight in front of us shifted through a spectrum of colours, filtered through the torrential rain from red to yellow to green to blue to purple to orange to turquoise to pink, and all in time to the shimmering condensation that danced across the windows as the car’s heater warmed the glass. I leaned my head back even further, sliced a line in the air in front of me with my finger and watched the vapor trail open like a tear in the fabric of the night dripping liquid silver that hung just out of reach. Helplessly I dropped my hand back onto my lap and heard the words, “I could stay just like this forever,” slip between my lips.
An illusionary dream steps in between me and the rain soaked windshield so completely that I was no longer lost, sinking deeper into the leather seat. I was making a hard right turn ... the last two lefts I’d taken were still lodged in the back of my shoulder, causing me to arch my back, and I wondered how long I’d been driving. Reaching over I kneaded those spots with the tips of my fingers, but that just limited my ability to negotiate the next turn. Still feeling the lump, I rubbed my shoulder-blade into the seat, it gives a sense of relief, but it doesn’t really do any good. There are so many turns coming so quickly that I can’t take them all, with those I’ve missed piling up on the floor. As I hit straight patch of blacktop, one that lasts for more than a couple of minutes, I try to reach down, gather them up and slip them into my pocket, thinking that maybe later tonight, in some Skyline Motel, I’ll spread them out across the top of the bureau and separate them from my pocket change, look them over, attempt to figure out where I’d been, and why I hadn’t been able to negotiate those particular avenues. Though standing there, fumbling with them as I was, attempting to discern rights from lefts, I quit trying and laid across the bed listening to the shower drip. In the morning it’s all I can do to remember to put my change in one pocket and those turns in the other.
I slid the key into the checkout box just as the night manager appears and reaches for the motel’s receipt book. His eyes caught mine and he stopped. He’s seen the look before, we don’t break contact, and that leaves me wondering how many turns he’s taken to end up here. Looking down the row of identical rooms I fidget to find that comfortable spot as the engine jumps to life. A maid has just gone into my room, she’s very young, she’ll pick up the change I’ve left on the dresser and slide it into her pocket. She’ll probably find a couple of turns I’ve left behind as well ... there’s no way I can keep ‘em all. I wonder if she’ll recognize them for what they are, or just drop them into the trash. I smiled, thinking out loud as I ease onto the two lane highway, “Trash, I hope, she’s way too young for any of that.”
I reach over, lock my seatbelt in place, and turn up the song on the radio just as the sun’s creeping across the road, then a left turn and it’s gone. I begin to wonder if I’ve just woken myself up, or slipped deeper into my dreams. The rain’s stopped, the dashboard lights have dimmed, Detective Dan’s lost somewhere, still holding that tiny orange bottle. As I open the car door, stepping into the chill of the damp morning, I feel a stiffness in my shoulder and massaged it with the tips of my fingers, my footing a bit unsteady. Unsteady or not, my feet lead me back to my room. Sitting there on the edge of my chair I jotted down a quick note on the complimentary stationery, placed it on top of the dresser with a hundred other bits of 4 by 4 reminders, thinking I should have dated, or at least numbered these pieces of paper, that there was no way I’d ever sort them out, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to, maybe I was just supposed to be leaving a trail.
I was wishing I smoked, I wanted a black & white movie calm to wash over me as I lit a cigarette, pulled back the curtain, and exhaled longingly, focusing on nothing but the moment. Disorientation can be a good thing, it’s served me well in the past. If nothing else it reminds me to leave the orienting to other people, people with imaginations, people who understand the nature of being, what Jung’s personality tests actually reveal, that Camus was actually just pissed at his wife for not letting him smoke in their beach house, and why things were forever floating in Milton’s head ... the artist, not the writer. There was a room above me, one below me, one to the right, and another to the left, I imagined that each room occupied a person relatively like me, that we were all feeding on the same fluids, but like batteries plugged in upside-down, we never connected the circuit, never channeled the singular collective energy, too mired in our own adventures of self worth, always waiting on the opportune moment to inject our own thoughts into the conversation rather than listening. And then I laughed, letting the curtain fall back into place, realizing that I was crashing, the drugs were wearing off, the loathing, self questioning and doubt were setting in. At times like this, it was best to order up a couple frosty glasses of fresh orange juice, drink one while in the shower, save the other to wash down 10 milligrams of Valium, fluff the pillow, pull the covers up, and maybe masturbate ... or not.
There are a lot of things I can refuse to do, but refusing to be awake isn’t one of them. Effort only peels back the night with more determination, like water parting as you return to the surface after a perfect dive, with the wobbled sound of the diving board still in the background as it settles in place, a taste of fresh air that’s so short lived it lingers as an olfactory memory even as it’s happening. And then there’s the short swim to the side of the pool where climbing from the ripples would be like climbing from the womb, if it weren’t for embarrassment and expected social graces of checking to see that one’s suit is correctly adjusted and in place, an act that completely washes away the freedom of the upward soar and the downward plunge.
My eyes opened, the room came into view, disturbingly dimmed, and then refocused as I realized that I wasn’t feeling free. What I hadn’t foreseen was that once I’d escaped, the place I was was where I was, that being in the moment of escape is short lived, that freedom only exists within a dream, that I’d neglected to incorporate anything greater than I had at this exact moment in time. But perhaps I was being too hard on myself, I was at a point in time that no other generation in all of history had been, I was off the map, there were no points of reference, no arrows saying, “You Are Here.” The words, “I could stay like this forever,” floated before me as I entertained the notion of living a reality within the hallucination, functioning as the floor swirled each time my foot touched down, functioning as the walls breathed on their own, functioning as colours poured in from all directions, and sound had actual weight. I was awake and exhausted from this seemingly pointless internal dialog I’d been having with myself, I wanted to roll over and sort it all out, then realized that Sheba was curled up and asleep at the end of the bed. This was comforting, yet something that hadn’t happened in a very long time, and as I laid there considering the fact, I noticed a slip of paper attached to her collar. She rolled over and stretched as I unraveled it, it was a parking ticket. Leaving me to wonder, “Who tags a cat with a parking ticket?”