I looked at my watch, and even though it didn’t say so, it was time to leave. Packing didn’t take long, and as I peered into the top drawer with more caution than trepidation, I was keenly aware that my demons had multiplied during our stay. Not only that, as I watched, they lined themselves up, slipped into their assigned bags, and were somehow not only aware, but ready to go.
A formal checkout was something I didn’t want to be bothered with, the rent’s been paid a month in advance, so I figured I’d just slide the useless room key across the counter and step into the street. My car, Danny’s car, sat baking in the morning sun with a rather large crack running vertically up the middle of the windshield, a crack that hadn’t been there when Danny’d parked it ... whenever that was. As I started the engine I picked at the crack with my fingernail, though I’ve no idea why, it just seemed the thing to do. Just then Mr. Brodsky tapped on the side-view mirror with his flashlight saying, “Your window’s cracked, it’s gonna affect your view. I’ll take a look, but there really nothing that I can do about it.” At that same moment, the hotel clerk came running from across the street saying he’d have been pleased to carry my luggage, that my bags were the finest they’d had the opportunity to attend to, that they and I would be missed, then questioned where I was going, when I’d be back, what was the point of packing everything if I’d be returning, and if I wasn’t, that it wasn’t policy to issue refunds. He was panting and out of breath, both his shirt tail and hand were out, as if I were supposed to tip him for his concern. Rolling my eyes I reached into the glovebox and handed him a small amber vial filled with a blueish green liquid. He eyed it with wonder, and spirited it into his breast pocket saying, “This afternoon will be the most memorable cocktail hour ever,” and thanked me again, turned and headed back, but not before calling over his shoulder, “No refunds mind you. No refunds.” Then he tapped his shirt pocket with his right hand, as if relaying some secret salute, and disappeared into the lobby. I could see that Mr. Brodsky was feeling rather left out in all of this, so I handed him a key from my keyring and smiled. He held it between his thumb and forefinger pondering out loud, “And what does it unlock?” “I don’t know,” I replied, “You’re gonna have to figure that one out on your own.” He looked at me, and then directly at the key with concern, “I will you know, I’ll figure this out, I’ll let you know when I do.”
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I hadn’t made it past the first traffic light when colours, varied as a giant 64 pack of Crayola’s, began oozing through the crack in the windshield. They oozed in like a tube of glue that’d been slit with a razor, cascading, dripping, folding, filled with bubbles, building up on the air conditioning vents, and slowly dropping to the floor. This couldn’t be good, I’d no intention of getting stuck in the Innerzone, even if I had off-handedly wished that ... no, I needed to put some space between me and this town, if anything was gonna get stuck it was the accelerator. I flipped through one light after another, the more speed I built up the more intriguing and intoxicating the colours became. Sheba had moved to the rear window by now, I knew it wouldn’t be long ‘til I was knee deep in the ooze, so I did the only thing that Danny Utah would have done, I flicked my Zippo and set the colours afire, driving blind into the swirling flames, and out of the Innerzone.
With the sun setting behind me, an outer territorial tollbooth came into view. I’d been barreling down the the highway like a comet just hitting the earth’s atmosphere, plumes of flames trailing after me. Fishing through my pockets, I was hoping to come up with the exact change, lacking that, perhaps a Customs receipt, anything to give me an edge, anything to draw attention away from these flames. Rolling up to the booth I rolled down my window, I could see the orange flames reflected on the chrome walls, and just as I’d given up the ghost, fearing the loss all of all hope, I found a Customs receipt. Smiling, trying to look calm, sure he’d notice these flames dancing around the interior of my car, handed him the receipt along with the necessary paperwork. “Been out here long?” he asked while stamping my Passport. “Long enough,” I replied, watching the flames dance across the lenses of his glasses. Removing his glasses he ran his fingers over the split in my windshield, which was funny, not ha-ha, because as he did the colours stopped oozing in, causing the flames to sputtered and die out. “You’re gonna need to get that attended to promptly,” he said taking out a brown binder, “In the meantime I’m gonna have to give you a ticket.” “But I’ve got a ticket right here,” I said, showing him the pink citation that this morning had been attached to Sheba’s collar. “Indeed, it seems you do,” he replied, taking it from my fingers. “And a very impressive citation at that. I haven’t see one of these in a very long time. Listen ... you best be on your way, wouldn’t want you getting in trouble out here, stuck in the mud, or mired in consequences.” With that, he tipped his hat and I was gone. I turned up the radio while watching the tollbooth melt into the orange ball of the setting sun in my rearview mirror, then caught myself breathing a sigh of relief that was so profound I gave it due consideration. I reached over, about to pick at the crack, but decided better to leave well enough alone just as Sheba stretched out against my leg, and for a moment felt a distant memory of sparks raining down from the night sky, with Danny Utah at the wheel, headed in the opposite direction.
☎︎☎︎☎︎ ☎︎☎︎☎︎☎︎☎︎ ☎︎☎︎☎︎
While coming in is pretty much the matter of decoding, and then a straight ride ... coming out of the Innerzone is a drifting spiral affair of unwinding and circumnavigation. Seriously, at the next two tollbooths they hadn’t even bothered to check my passport, they just waved me on through, seems I posed no danger, even if I did look a bit worse for wear and tear. So I parked my car, Danny’s car, left the keys dangling in the ignition, and set off walking ... moving like a memory, but whose, while hoping not to be recognized. I caught my reflection looking back at me from a store window, seems I’d been recognized after all. There I stood, tan as a new penny, and after a few lost moments, found it necessary for certainty, to reach out and touch the glass. Finally I smiled, laughingly pointing at my twin with relief saying, “The reflected words are backwards,” and felt safe thinking I knew who was real after all. But half a block later in a moment of imagined enlightenment, realized that reflected words would’ve been backwards no matter which side of the glass I was on. Running back, placing my hands and face to the glass, I found my reflection no longer staring back at me, but deep inside the shoppe, engaged in conversation with a man in a weathered trench coat, a man who was handing me a small white paper bag. The street around me was littered with yellow receipts, and the afternoon crowd parted around me like I was out’a step, like there was a secret I didn’t know, and then felt myself tumble through the looking glass, so to speak, as the gentleman in the weathered trench coat put his hand on my shoulder asking, “You all right?” “Yeah, sure, I think so,” I replied, feeling a bit lost. “It’s just that I had this feeling,” and turned around, sure that I’d catch myself, “that I was standing there watching myself from the other side of the window. Crazy, isn’t it?” The bag never exchanged hands, he just held onto it asking, “Are you just coming out of the IZ?” “Been on the road for a couple of days now,” I shot back eyeing the bag hanging at the end of his arm. “I don’t know who you are,” he said, straightening himself up. “That’s alright, I do,” I whispered, “I’m lots of things. I’m the culmination of all my father feared, the denial of his success and the order of his universe. To my mother I was an angel, and to the folks down the street ... well to them I don’t exist, ‘cause they’ve never met me.” “Now,” I said, dusting myself off, “who’d you like me to be for you?” His next question floated in like A4’s version of ‘Losing Touch With My Mind’ ... “And how long were you out there?” “Not sure,” I said looking around for a clue, “years, months, days. What’s it matter?” “It doesn’t,” he said, finally placing the bag in my hands. “It’s just that this world out here will never be what you want it to be. Better that you turn around, go back in. People out here, they’ll be afraid of you ... well, more of what you know. You’re about as close to being out as anyone I’ve ever seen, you shouldn’t give up. Living here in the outer rings of the IZ is about living with regret. I bet you’re one of those people who was born just left of center, fancy stepper, head in the clouds, more aware of everything than you’d like to be. Probably torn that no one’s got a line on you like you’ve on them.” “Listen,” he went on, pausing for emphasis, “stay here, leave, or go back and live happily ever-after. I know it sounds cliché, but you won’t find your answers in that bag. Even the demons ain’t what they used to be anymore, and besides, they just make living out here more tolerable is all. Everything has its price.” Taking a step toward the door he handed me a blank business card saying, “Don’t call, I’ve no answers, don’t want to be involved. And as they say, you can’t talk to those who don’t know, and you don’t need to with those who do.”
I sat down considering his words, but more, I was considering what I already knew, and turned his card over and over between my fingers thinking of all the people I’d left behind in one way or another, wishing for all the world that a magic cab would pull up to the curb and take me exactly where I wanted to go. But where I wanted to go wasn’t a place, it was a feeling. Grams was long gone, she was about as close to comfort as I’ve ever been, and then I realized that it wasn’t about the things that Grams and I had done, or even the places we’d been, Grams was the comfort. Someone was cleaning up the broken glass as I stepped through the revolving door and onto the street, I didn’t want to make eye contact, but I did, I couldn’t help myself. I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to admit it, admitting it might mean I had to respond, and I didn’t want to respond, yet alone confront myself with a truth I already knew. But I couldn’t help it. I heard the words tumble out of my mouth, words that in some abstract convoluted manner suggested that the comfort I was lookin’ for was to be found in being Grams. Well, not actually being Grams, but me being a Grams, and passing these things on. But that was silly to say the least, and certainly bestowed a sense of maturity I was currently unwilling to shoulder. But I’d made eye contact, and sometimes that’s all it takes.
With the streets empty, the long fingers of buildings were reaching for the last rays of the sun, the buses weren’t running, or perhaps they were just late, lord knows I’ve been running late most of my life, and there I stood at the bus stop wondering if I’d the correct change. The engine of a car was rumbling to my left, it sat low in the shadows, filled with power, it’s door open, the driver busily removing a poster that’d been tacked to the wall. “I know that band,” I said, barely out loud, almost to no one, but I had said it, and he was the only no one around. “Yeah, they’re great,” he shot back holding the poster with great care. “You know,” I rambled on, “You can never really meet your heroes.” “I know,” he said, “that’s why I use pharmaceuticals ...” I interrupted with a spark of recognition saying, “Because you know just what you’re getting every time, you know just where they’ll take you, they’ve been developed and compounded with care and great expense to give exacting long lasting and repeated effects.” “Do I know you?” he questioned, laughing. “I don’t think so,” I said, “Are you headed in or out?” “Me?” he responded in a hushed voice, looking over his shoulder, “I’m headed back in. Unfinished business of sorts, if you get my drift.” I stood there knowing that it was at this juncture that I should be saying “Goodnight,” and walking off in the other direction, but I didn’t. I shoved my hands deep into my pockets and looked him straight in the eyes, “You want company? I know the way, the backroads, the tollbooths, and the diners with the good food, the ones that’ll pack you a sandwich for the road out’a complete kindness. Matter of fact, I’ve got a citation here that should be good for something along the way, and a ticket that’s just dying to be paid.”
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The city slipped into night as we crossed the bridge, and the bridged slipped into darkness as we stepped onto the inner-state, throttled down and headed west, like that orange ball hanging low on the horizon was an attainable destination, a spot marked on the map, a place where we might stop and look up in wonder as that sun hovered there as some sort of natural wonder, and around us would be restaurants, vista view telescopes that operated for quarters, a miniature themed golf course, and of course a gift shoppe burdened with cards and solar oriented chotskies. But first we had to throw twenty dollars into pump number five, watch the kid behind the counter hold that bill up to the ceiling light, look at us, look back at that twenty dollar bill, and then swipe it with a counterfeit marker as dozens of others had done along the way, making that piece of paper less readable, but securing its value. “You know,” said that kid behind the counter as we were walking out, “If I’d a dollar I’d make it rain.” Just the thought of that made me smile, so I spun on my heels, fished a dollar out of my jeans, tossed it down on the counter saying, “Give us ten minutes before you open the heavens please.” I was headed back in alright, a full blown whizz-kid, seeing both sides of everything, remembering that the gate swings both ways, and working out life’s stumbles in mid-stride. I slapped two Quaaludes on the dash as Danny turned over the engine. “Where’d you get those?” he smiled. “And how long were you gonna pretend you didn’t know me?” I shot back. Though what I was really considering was that I’d called those white tabs Quaaludes and not demons. “They just turned up,” I said. “And so did I,” said Danny grinning, “Glad to have you riding shotgun.”
There were no streetlights out where we were, the four lanes had turned into two lanes an hour ago, it was like flying, wrapped in darkness, with only the headlights bouncing out in front of us. The radio was delivering sublime obscure classics, one brilliant song after another, and somewhere in the middle of “Lemonade Kid” I reached over, turned down the volume and asked Danny about the drugs. He laughed again, I could tell the Ludes were working their way through him, they certainly were me, his voice was thick but clear, and his eyes never left the road as he began. “You know those commercials where the person says ‘No one pictures themselves as a junkie when they’re twelve?’ Well I did. No, not really a junkie, but yes a junkie, but not because I actually knew what a junkie was, I just knew what the junkie standing in front of me was getting. It was 6th grade, late 1950’s, a police officer with a display board filled with every pill you could imagine affixed to it, and there’s this guy, and he’s like trying to be cool, maybe he was, I don’t know, what does anyone know at that age, but the point is that he’s telling us how he used to be a junkie, that he still was, just that he wasn’t using any longer, and how the drugs had ruined his life, separated him from his family, got him arrested, and on and on. And then he got clean, and how much better that was, how he got back the love from his family, and was living a great sober life, and that he’d made a promise to help other kids stay off drugs, which struck me as pretty funny, ‘cause I hadn’t even used any yet, didn’t even know what they did or really were. Not like you and your Grams, man, you grew up in the middle of the wanderlust and didn’t even know it. So I began making these illogical connections in my head, except that they weren’t illogical then, and all the while this guy seems to be getting farther and farther away, and I can’t really hear him, ‘cause my own thoughts are just getting louder and louder. Back then, in 6th grade I was making the connection that if I became a junkie and got clean, then I’d get the love from my parents I’d never gotten, hell, they might even know I actually existed on a physical level, and that people would like and respect me for who I’d become, and not who I was, that I’d be having lunch at the big table in the middle of the cafeteria with all the other teachers, talking to them, but more, having them listen to me, ‘cause I knew something they didn’t, and what I knew was important, which in effect meant that I was important, and worth consideration. But that was all a million years ago, I’d a pretty fucked up childhood, low self-esteem and all that goes with it. You know I used to set fires? I did, but not just randomly, I had this cardboard box filled with old programs from our church that were left on the pews after the service, and I’d stash them with a lighter I’d lifted from my aunt, a box of strike anywhere wooden matches, and a half can of lighter fluid. I was always overfilling that lighter, had a permanent chemical burn on my thigh from that Zippo leaking in my pocket. Not that it’s important and all, but in the scope of things, they say that kids who start fires have some serious, or noteworthy familiar and social issues.”
Danny went quiet for a bit, wiped his hands on his jeans and turned the radio up. “I don’t think I could become a junkie,” I said breaking the silence, “I like getting stoned too much, I couldn’t imagine not being able to get high. It’s like goin’ to the circus, a fun place to visit, but not somewhere I wanna live.” “You and me darlin’,” said Danny looking rather exhausted, “Both of us on the upper end of social use, never stepping over the line, doors open that we’ll never close, watching everything that we adore being taken off the market because of misuse ‘til there’s nothing but those tiny cellophane bags left, an I’m not sure I wanna be traveling there at my age.” Danny pulled off the road, and behind an abandoned gas station he shut the engine down. It was quiet, I climbed into the backseat, and as I lay there I tried to focus on the ceiling, but was failing miserably. Music was filtering low from the stereo, the blue lights of the dash were wavy and barely visible between the armrests of the front seat. I knew Danny was already asleep, I was watching my dreams being dealt out in the air in front of me, like some strange came of cards with deuces wild. I picked my hand, tossed back the Jack of Hearts, and let things play out. I ‘woke with the vague feeling of having witnessed, or missed a materialization. The front and rear windows were covered with cat footprints, as was the hood of the car and the trunk, while the gas station that was so deserted and abandoned last night was more than alive this morning, proving the adage, that looks can be deceiving.
I stood there taking it all in, as if reality had invaded my sleepy space, floating back memories of childhood fever-dreams, closet doors that opened in the night, closed windows with curtains that danced in the half light of the moon, a bed that rode on an ocean of misunderstood monsters, sure of Oriental truths, and the magic of carpets. Then from behind me a voice trilled, “So you couldn’t kick the Innerzone after all?” “Hardly,” I said, without turning around. But I did, and took a step back in disbelief, ‘cause there was Tonto & The Lone Ranger wrestling in the dust, while Elvis was taking aim, shooting at fifteen TV’s he’d lined up, Howdy Doody had his strings all tangled trying to fish down a wishing well, Warhol was stenciling polkadots on Dylan’s shirt, and right next to me, making individually wrapped peanut-butter crackers, stood the cafeteria lady from high school saying, “I’ve kicked it many times, it’s just that for all it is and isn’t, it’s still better than what’s on the other side.” Sheba rubbed the back of my leg, and then walked across the toes of my boots. A man in a paisley shirt and white lab coat went spinning by on a bicycle and whispered in my ear, “The IZ Police still have your photo over the Precinct door, and the Customs people, who knows what they’ve got planned.” I laughed, “Perhaps. Not much I can do about that, and not much they can do about it either. After all, they’re Innerzone Officers for a reason.” I was remembering a line from a book I’d read about Gram Parsons that went, “Never start an adventure that required new clothes.” I looked down at what I was wearing, thinking that I like these clothes just fine, I don’t want to wear anything else, so until then, it seems this is where I’m destined to stay.
☕︎☕︎☕︎ ☕︎☕︎☕︎☕︎☕︎ ☕︎☕︎☕︎
I’ve managed to find a couple of outdated stamps, this card’s just a greeting from the other side, pass it on, real estate values are low, and it’s a good place to live. Oh, and if you stumble on a garage sale, and find any of those house-aprons, the kind Grams used to wear, please grab me a couple.
Truth, Hallucinations, Mosquito Netting, Demons, Service, Home, Receipts, Further, Altitude, Towels, and Rules, along with the numbers 36, 18 and 24 ...
22 Sheba Place, Los Lunas, New Mexico 87031-7021
Grams always suggested that a girl traveling under the influence, legal or otherwise, should consider the details of hallucinations, telepathic cats, expansive hotel rooms, and the virtue of talking to strangers. Now, riding on a current of chemical dreams, a series of surrealistic postcards from deep within the Innerzone unveils the shimmering adventures of a hallucinatory life lived under the influence ... without regret.