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The Bungalow

There are a few select moments that best define life with my parents this summer.:

After work, my Father would come into the kitchen and ask, “How was work?”

“Really?” I asked.

“No,” he said, dropping paper on the kitchen table, “You have mail.” Then he walked away.

***

My oldest, arthritic pit bull (Maggie May) always looks a bit sad because she has these wavering eyebrows. She moves them around, up and down, back and forth, to emote. She also knows how to manipulate. I know, I have been feeding the dog for five years. But my parents were convinced Maggie was genuinely distressed whenever her eyebrows collided in the center of her forehead.


My Father was outside, cutting trees down in the front yard, and Maggie was looking out from the front door. “Don’t worry, Maggie, nothing bad is happening, don’t worry!” my Mother said.

“She isn’t capable of worrying. She is a dog,” I said. She ignored me and I wondered, are they really losing their minds?

*

“Don’t have kids,” my Father said once while driving, “what are you going to do when you go out dancing?” He said “dancing” with total disdain, like it was too tart to swallow.

“ . . . Hire a babysitter?” I suggested.

“Don’t have kids, Maggie has enough to worry about,” he said.


*

Another time,  my Mother was on the couch and Maggie sitting in front of her, staring.

“Oh Christ, do I have to get up to give you your spot on the couch?” she would ask.

“I don’t think that is why she is looking at you,” I said.

“No, it is. I know her,” she said, getting up and moving to the chair across the room. There Maggie stayed, still at the foot of the couch, staring at my mother, now across the room in the chair.

***

Finally, there was the morning in the kitchen. To enter the kitchen or reach the back door from my side of the house, you have to cross on one side of the kitchen table or the other. Maggie was lounging on the cool floor on the wider side of the table, so I was squeezing between the other side of the table and the kitchen wall to refill my cup of coffee.

The first time I crossed, my sweater got caught in a loose nail and pulled the threading out.

“Damn it!” I said.

“WHAT!?” my mother screeched in a hysterical voice that always had me jump a little.

“There is a loose nail in the wall here, it caught on my sweater,” I explained.

She was silent. I filled my cup of coffee and then crossed on the side of the table again only for the nail to catch my sweater again and pull out more threading.

“God damn it!” I said to myself.

“STOP CROSSING ON THAT SIDE OF THE TABLE THEN!” she howled.

“Well, why is there a loose nail hanging out of the wall? Can’t we remove it?” I asked.

Silence again. I walked into my room and sat down at the computer. My Father dashed in and closed the door behind him. “We have to talk. You have to move out. This isn’t working out. Your mother and I can’t stand it when you get upset,” he said directly, in his strained voice.

“Upset about what? The loose nail?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, flapping his hand out like he was swatting a fly. “You know, we are sensitive to it and it upsets us,” he said.

“Well, being a human, I am going to react to things with … like emotions,” I said, slowly.

“Anyway, you are going to have to be out by September 19th, ok? Your mother and I are hoping to go down to Arizona by then, so we will close up this place anyway, turn off the water and power. You can’t stay here. You should look at getting a place nearby like in Stevenson or even Bonneville Dam,” he said. Obviously, he thought about it.

“Well, I don’t want to invest in a place here, lose all my hours at the Hotel after the tourist season and then get stuck here. Do you understand that?” I asked slowly. I feel like we had this conversation already.

“Well,” he said, slightly fanning his hand again, “Maybe you can go to Vancouver. I don’t know. But you can’t stay here.”

“I hate Vancouver,” I said.

He stood up, “Do we understand each other?”

I nodded, “I am going back to LA anyway.”

He slumped a little, disappointed, “And do what?”

“I am moving in with a friend.” My friend Frank and I discussed moving in together. He was on his own journey, putting his things in storage and going back to his “home” in New York to get back in touch with who he was and what he needs. He discovered New York wasn’t who he was anymore, just as I discovered Washington isn’t who I am anymore.

“What are you going to do in LA?” he asked.

“What am I going to do in Vancouver?” I asked.

“Whatever, just be out by September 19th,” he said. That gave me a little more than a month to save enough money and get back home, back to LA.

My Parents actually believed that I needed further motivation to move out, as if walking around on eggshells in a constant static expression wasn’t enough. It was fine, I thought I would be out of Washington by then anyway.

Now that I had my car, I didn’t have to read at the house which was difficult anyway between the constant interruptions and the television set. Unfortunately, there are no real coffee houses in Skamania County. My parents live in Carson, and I work in Stevenson. The two towns (they aren’t quite cities) are a 10 minute drive away from each other, anything else is a significantly longer distance. There was a place called the Old School Grill in Carson that made me this terrific (and I am using that word especially for this) soy latte called the Kahlua Kicker. The Old School was mostly a family restaurant with video games and a pool table. It wasn’t jiving with my inner being. Occasionally, I would go there to do school work when my parents’ internet failed, which usually happened once a day, more often during the heatwave.


There was a place called Robbie’s in Stevenson, but it was full of bustling people and women’s chatter, antiques tagged for sale, bright colors and hard chairs. Also, not a great place to concentrate. Vibe, around the corner, was the other coffee shop in Stevenson. They were encased in glass windows but didn’t have a/c. I couldn’t get comfortable sweating over my pages, often swatting flies away from my face and food.

The one bar in Carson was a little place called The Bungalow. I avoided it for over a month because Lilith, the sarcastic, surly painter at work, told me a story where she and her husband were looking to go out on her birthday, walked into the Bungalow and saw a man with a crew cut standing in the doorway with a buzz clipper in his hands, the cord plugged into an outlet overhead in the ceiling.

“Anyone who comes in tonight has to get their head shaved,” he said.

“Needless to say, we didn’t go in,” Lilith said.

My Father told me that the locals who hang out at the Bungalow take women up into the hills, have sex with them, discard their condoms and cut off the heads to animals. (I am not lying, that is what he said.)

“They cut off the heads of animals? How do you know?” I asked.

He shook his head, “We have gone near there and found heads and parts of dead animals. Just don’t go there, ok?” he said.

One day, out of defiance and general curiosity, I stopped by to read in peace and enjoy a beer without being bothered about it. I walked in and felt the cool breeze of a/c swim through me. Then there was the smell of spilled beer and ice- that odor from behind a bar that isn’t kept clean all the time. It reminded me of my Grandmother’s basement in Milwaukee, where she hosted little cocktail parties for the family.


There was a food menu, a few neon signs over the bar, a television set in the far corner but the sound was turned down so it wasn’t a bother. The bartender sat at the end of the bar. She was older with thin hair, the bottom of which was tied back in a low pony-tail while the crown of her head was sprayed up to give it some life. In a voice worn down by cigarettes and bar chatter, she approached me, “What will you have, honey?”

“How much is a PBR?” I asked.

“2.50. But we don’t have it in a bottle, only on tap,” she said.

“That’s fine, thank you,” I said. She handed me a tall cool pint and I found a small table no more than two feet from the bar to settle down with a book.

The bartender slowly strolled back to pick up my cash, and my $1 tip. “Thank ya, honey,” she said, before moseying back over to the end of the bar to sit across from a few local men in dirty, labor clothes, spinning their almost empty glasses with dark fingernails.

“So who else is down there in the jail?” one of them asked.

“Robert. And Willy is down there too for domestic assault and breaking the nose of a 3-year-old,” the Bartender answered, loud, throaty and outraged.

There was a silence, “The kid had it coming,” one beer drinker said. We all chuckled. The beer was light and the buzz mild. I leisurely flipped through pages of my book, “Take Off Your Shirt and Cry”, a memoir about trying to make it as an actress. The jukebox was periodic, but once in awhile nudged me with Marvin Gaye, Muddy Waters or Al Green.

When I resumed my pages, one would look over at me, “This ain’t no book club, girly,” someone said in a light, friendly voice. I smiled, looking up only briefly.


After a pint, I went to work at the Hotel, carting food chaffers, table linens and glasses out for parties on the back lawn. It was a bit of a fiasco setting up dinners back there, you had to take everything through the kitchen, down a floor, past the laundry room and out the back door, over a small wooded area, down a non-paved path to a sloped lawn with a spectacular view.  Especially in the heat, it wasn’t long before the alcohol was sweating out of me and the black coffee taking me over.

If I had a morning shift, I stopped off at the Bungalow after work for a couple beers and a couple more pages of my book. The same people are there every day; an old man in a cowboy hat who bought me a drink and gave me money for the jukebox, a middle-aged guy who is handsome but too eager was to get me home with him, an older couple with a daughter a little younger than me who also worked at the Hotel, all three of them ate fried appetizers like a family dinner.

When I first made the walk down the bar to the jukebox, everyone fell silent, wondering where I fell in the order of things. “Whatcha gonna play?” one regular asked.

“I don’t know, some Johnny Cash, this seems like a Johnny Cash crowd. Maybe some Janis, some Doors, some Roy and Patsy,” I said. This was welcomed with a few nods. “It’s not like I am going to clutter the place with Adele or anything,” I continued.

“You can play all the Adele you want, even I love that girl,” a Middle-Aged Lumberjack said.

“Ok, you got it,” I said, popping in “Rolling in the Deep”. The bar grew quiet as rough hands and worn boots tapped to the beat.

At first, I always kept at one of the tables against the front windows and rarely made the cross to sit with them at the bar. I laughed at their dirty jokes. I listened to their town gossip. I learned what beers they ordered and which strangers had someone waiting at home. I made a routine out of stopping by an hour or two before work, reading in peace with a beer or two, and then driving into work.

In the bathroom, I was washing my hands, when a woman with teased hair and heavy eyeliner came in, “You better get out of the bathroom, about a hundred bikers are about to come in,” she said.

“That’s alright, I have to go to work,” I said.

“Bummer, but the party is just starting?” she said.

When I left the bathroom, roughly twenty-five bikers were either outside, propping up their motorcycles, or inside taking over the place with jangle of metal on leather and cheer to be someplace empty enough to take them all.

*

On most slow afternoons, the regulars would jump up during long bouts of silence and play a game with each other, unfortunately, they asked me not to take pictures. One person would walk five feet to a shot glass holding a quarter between their ass cheeks. When they finally make it to the shot glass, they release their cheeks and hope the quarter drops inside the shot glass. It seemed difficult, but after three or four tries, they were able to pull it off. The sound of alloy spinning around glass was cut short by cheers and clapping. Even I was mesmerized and had to put down my book anytime someone made the walk.

When I finished my first book, slapping my hand on the pages and sighing in exacerbation as I grew more and more disappointed with the ending, someone asked, “What are you huffing and puffing about over there?”

I swung my heavy head towards the bar and held up my hand like a sock puppet, “Wah wah wah wah- same old bullshit. Woman ends up with a man. Congratulations, what does that have to do with your story? Like . . . why is she wasting my time?” They laughed.

It wasn’t long before I finally did join them at the bar, I got to know the different bartenders, all women. One was the mother to the moody bartender at the Hotel, her hair was blonde too, her wrinkles severe, the tobacco roughing up her voice like rubber on cement. Another one was serious with me, very thin, heavy eye makeup to cover her sad eyes. They all took frequent cigarette breaks just outside the open front door and they all asked about me, where did I come from, who were my parents (no one ever recognized the names or descriptions), how did I like working at the Hotel and was I single. I was candid, they laughed at my sarcasm, seemed genuinely curious but equally suspicious, warm but distant . . . they knew I wasn’t one of them.

They did know that I tipped $1 per drink, and always made sure I had a cool beer in hand and a clean napkin. The more I drank, the more I laid my grievances out on the bar about my parents, how they were too controlling and how they weren’t around very often when I was growing up. The beer turned to shots of whiskey, and they gladly fed me as I opened up more and more.


*

One night, I was out on the back patio, next to the wood alligator sculpture (someone stuffed a real boot in its mouth), smoking alone with the trees, listening to a creek whispering under the nearby highway, sitting under the flapping of the tarp overhead occasionally lifting with breath of its own. A young man in his twenties approached me, wearing a red baseball cap, his golden locks spilling out from underneath. He was in a self-made tank-top with the sleeves ripped off the seams, exposing meaty arms. He looked like a kid who ate a lot of hot dogs and microwave taquitos but also lifted weights in his garage.

“So, they told me to come back here and introduce myself. I am Matt,” he said.

“Hi, Matt,” I said, “Who sent you back here?”

“The folks at the bar. The guys said there was a beautiful girl here and I should go talk to you.”

“That’s nice,” I said, blowing smoke into the sky. We spoke for awhile, he also had a seasonal job, working with a chemical that helped maintain the lawn and foliage around the city during tourist season. The money was decent but the hours would fade come fall. He lived with his father but wanted to move to Hood River and do something else with his life. Matt was genuine and attractive, he listened to what I had to say and tried to process what the most intelligent response would be. Nothing about him was especially unique, he was just nice to me. There was a dopey innocence about him like he was still on summer vacation out of high school, waiting to leave, saving up to leave, planning to leave this small town that kept its people in a content, slow, safe balloon, creeping along the sidewalk with the light tapping footfalls of nothing that bad, nothing as bad as what is out there for the rest of us.

He asked if I wanted to “hang out” which I took to mean fool around. I said I did, but we both lived with our parents and I needed to pick up canned dog food. Originally, that is what I told my parents I was doing, but took a detour to the Bungalow for a few hours. I had been in the house all day and took five hours or so to read and socialize. We agreed that he would pick up the dog food for me on his motorcycle and meet me at the school, a half a mile around the bend.

I was on my bicycle at the time, knowing the cops were so bored they had managed to get almost everyone with a DUI. So in the night, I biked to the Middle School, now closed for the summer. Buzzed with cheap beer and a new flirtation, I enjoyed jumping from smooth sidewalks to patches of grass, forcing my wheels to navigate through the empty soccer field, then carelessly tossing it to the ground to collapse on my back under the stars. Panting, the night air cleared my lungs of tar and carbon monoxide as I felt the tickle of sweat along my hairline. It really was beautiful in Skamania.


In the distance, one headlight roared down the road with the sound of a buzz saw. Through the parking lot it weaved, until it parked nearby. Matt walked towards me with a brown bag, in it dog food and a pack of cigarettes.

“You got me more cigarettes?” I said.

“I knew you were out,” he said.

“Oh, I was going to quit. Oh well, next time,” I said. Each pack took its toll on me, but granted me the permission to be free of the house, free of the job, and completely on my own for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

We climbed on the swing set and dipped up and down, talking about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do. Anytime I told him about Los Angeles or my writing, he would say, “That’s cool,” and stare at the ground, taking note to memory.

Someone stumbled through the empty schoolyard. “Matt?” a voice called out. We both squinted and made out the silhouette of a young man.

“Zack?” Matt said, “How are you, man?”

“Good, good. I was just cutting through here, got some weed and was gonna smoke up back at my place. I haven’t seen you in a while, where have you been?” Zack asked.

“Working . . . was working in Vancouver for a while, but I came back,” Matt said.

“Cool man, well, I still live in the same place,” he said.

“Cool, well, how about I catch you later?” Matt said.

“Yeah .  . “ Zack looked at me, I politely waved. That kid was too faded for me to even waste an introduction on. “Ok, cool man. See ya later.”

Zack stumbled off to the distance and Matt came closer to me. He smelled like Old Spice. We kissed and sat down on the grass to enjoy a couple more beers. As the kisses quickly, gracefully became more passionate, he rolled on top of me.

“I don’t want to do this here anymore, I mean . . . that dude just passed through here?” I said.

“He is on his way home, he won’t be back,” Matt said. His breath was hot in the night air.

“Let’s go to the baseball diamond, just in case someone else comes along,” I said.

Matt grabbed the bag and followed me through the chainlink fence into the diamond. We laid down and he rolled over me with his dirty jeans, summer sweat and sweet shampoo. He was young but not clumsy. He was gentle, deliberate but uncertain and careful. We made love in the fine dirt and fluffy grass, and I came soon after we found our rhythm together. Almost immediately after I came, so did he, and he rolled over on his back and put his arm around me.

“Sexy . . . sexy, sexy boy,” I whispered.

“How many times did you come?” he asked.

“Just once, just before you did. But really thats all I needed,” I said.

He kissed my cheek, “That really turned me on.”

We looked up at the sky, every few seconds there was a shooting star. “Lots of shooting stars tonight,” I said.

“Yeah, there was a meteor shower last night, these are the stars that are left over, I guess,” he said.

“This is better than a bedroom,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah, it really is.”

A star streaked across the sky and I made a wish. I wished for my own home, somewhere, sometime soon. Please. My own home.


“I made a wish,” I said, “Do you want to know what it was?”

“Don’t tell me, or it won’t come true,” he said. “Haven’t you heard that before?” His arm around my shoulder pulled my head in close to his, and we softly knocked skulls.

“Ok, I won’t tell you,” I said.

While putting our clothes back on, he said, “You will call me, right? You aren’t just going to blow me off after this?”

“Of course not,” I said. “I just work a lot and don’t have reception.”

“Ok, call me. Text me. Whatever. Promise?” he asked.

“Yeah, I promise.”

I biked back home and stumbled through the front door. In all my drinking, my parents hadn’t seen me intoxicated yet. This would be the first time they caught sight of me stumbling, knocking into the DVD rack a little and slurring just a touch before disappearing into the bathroom.

My mother looked at me like I just stole money out of her wallet. Her eyes pierced through the dark living room. “I got the dog food,” I said.

“Did you go out somewhere?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Where?” she asked.

“A bar.”

“The dogs were waiting for you,” she said.

“I spent all day with them. I was only gone for five hours. I think they can do without me for five hours out of twenty-four,” I grumbled, then I forced a cheery “Goodnight!” before closing the door.

She turned her head in disgust, and she was disgusted with me. That night there was a war declared, one between my parents and the Bungalow.

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Daytripping with Joshua

There were problems with Trent and Kent. I will rue the day I unknowingly assigned them rhyming names for this blog.

They have had a bumpy year, but were in love and living together in Kent’s new 1-bedroom in Highland Park, a more economic, more Hispanic, busier neighborhood than his last place in Silver Lake.

Kent told me that Trent drinks too much, says mean things and sometimes he is a completely different person.

I said, “That’s called Alcoholism.”

On Kent’s B-Day, Trent didn’t wish Kent a Happy Birthday or hug him or wake him up with a Birthday Blowjob. He instead got drunk and told him he didn’t want to spend his birthday, 3 days later, with Kent. He preferred to be alone.

During this time, they were both texting me. Trent stating he wanted to be a slut and was tiring of the relationship.

Kent struggling to understand where Trent was coming from, acknowledging it was Trent’s first adult relationship and battling with love and trust.

We were all supposed to go to Joshua Tree together, but now Kent was going to San Diego to visit his family and asked me to nudge Trent into camping alone with me for that weekend. He thought Trent needed space.

When the day arrived, Trent resisted. He sent me texts that he “wants to be alone” and “doesn’t feel like celebrating my birthday.” I knew he was in that dark apartment, draining a bottle of wine wondering when he could find himself in a dark corner with a stranger.

He reminded me so much of The Prophet. So wonderful, generous, witty and kind when sober, and cruel when intoxicated. I asked my therapist today, “Why do the best people I know have to be alcoholics? Is it because they need to balance their own evil somehow? The rest of us carry it around everyday. Maybe they save it all for when they are drunk.”

I was rushing around, I had a call back for a commercial, Baye from work was loaning me some camping gear including a hatchet, I left my damn phone charger at work and then I zoomed (and I rarely use that word, but I zoomed) to Kent’s to sweep up Trent before he was too drunk to deal with.

I arrived and called and called. No answer.

When a minivan left the parking garage, I nonchalantly walked through the garage and let myself in.

I knocked on the door and saw a flicker of movement.

Waited.

Kent opened the door.

He said, “He is in the shower.”

I said, “Oh. I thought you were in San Diego.”

Kent, “Not yet, I have a terrible headache. I can’t do anything.”

He wandered back to his bed and laid down in migraine position.

The water stopped and I shouted, “Hey Trent, do I get to see that legendary donger of yours, or do I have to wait for the weekend?”

I heard his laugh sparkle through the wall.

I sat on the edge of the bed and smoked a bowl with Kent.

Me, “Abe said that a lot of people are abducted in national parks.”

Kent, “Why would he tell you that?”

Me, “Because he is always functioning on a high level of paranoia. Don’t worry, I have a hatchet. But the last thing I want to do is be high on hallucinagenics when someone cuts off my head and fucks it.”

Trent came out of the bathroom looking androgynously beautiful.

Trent, “Oh my God, I don’t want that either.”

Me, “Don’t worry I have a hatchet.”

Trent, “I don’t want to chop someone with a hatchet when I am tripping either.”

Me, “I think it might be easier.”

Trent shuddered, “I don’t. I would just need to go in a corner somewhere.”

Me, “Don’t worry. Abe is always talking about women being abducted and men walking around with slip ties. I mean, I am not a 12 year-old Mexican girl, I think I am gonna be ok.”

Kent laughed, endlessly. “Did you hear what she just said?”

Trent, “Yes, that’s why I love her.”

After some negotiating about what Trent should pack, how much wine he’s consumed and whether or not Kent should join us anyway, they hugged and kissed. Trent was all mine.

We stopped at Target and got beer, food, a blanket and sleeping bag, kindling and a big, black sun hat for Trent.

Then we were officially off.

My car was a disaster again- I apologized but Trent didn’t care.

The windows were down and Janis was on the radio. He said, “This is good. New energy. I need that.”

I said, “Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

He said, “I am just bored. We haven’t had sex in 2 months.”

Me, “Because of him or because of you?”

Trent, “Because of me. I don’t know, I’m just not interested. I miss going out and just meeting guys. It’s not emotional, I try explaining that to him. When I am done with them, I am done with them. Like, I don’t even care what your name is, Bye. (silence) Just that feeling of being used, I like that. But, I don’t know, we tried the threesome thing and that didn’t work. We don’t know what to do.”

Me, “Well, Dr. Phil says a successful relationship is falling in and out of love. You have a good thing, something I would kill for.”

Trent, “I know, he is so good to me. I am just so restless.”

Me, “What’s the best sex you have ever had?”

Trent, “It was with the Married Israeli.”

Me, “Married to a woman?”

Trent, “Yeah, he had kids. We would meet in these hotels and it was so wrong. We would just have the best sex because it was so wrong. He was so hot. Sneaking around in hotels and just . . . it was really hot. But even that diminished after awhile.”

I listened and thought about how different everything seems from the driver’s seat. Would I be so desperate for love and sex if I had it every day, in my home? Or do I cherish it because I fall for men who live far away, and can only make love on scheduled days?

I said, “And the drinking, do you . . . think you have control over that?”

Trent said, quite matter of factly, “Oh, no. I know I have a drinking problem.”

I gave a half nod. I didn’t know where to go from there.

The night set in when we turned off the 10 freeway and I said, “I think I have come up with a biological reason for rape.”

Trent said, “Oh?”

I said, “Yes, the only way to insure that the man is passing off the most dominant genes available is to insure that he is at least stronger than a female, so to dominate her and rape her would pass strong genes, or at least strong enough genes to be suitable for conception. A weaker man, who couldn’t fight off a female, wouldn’t have the opportunity.”

Trent took pause then said, “That seems like a very logical explanation for rape.”

I said, “Really?”

We laughed.

Me, “Well, I have thought about it.”

Trent, “No, really. It seems quite logical.”

We stopped first for firewood and a flashlight. The first gas station didn’t have a flashlight.

We decided, if we were going to go camping, we really needed a flashlight. So we stopped at the 711 and bought one.

When we got to the gates of Joshua Tree, the ranger said all the campsites were full and gave me the following directions to over-flow camping:

Turn north on Sunfair Road and travel two miles to Broadway. Turn right (east) on Broadway. The pavement will end about 100 yards after this turn. Travel one mile to a line of telephone poles running perpendicular (north and south). This one lane, unmarked dirt road is Cascade. Turn left (north) and travel ½ mile until a single lane, unmarked dirt road is passed. This road is Sunflower. Camping is allowed for the next ½ mile on the east side of Cascade.

I read the directions at least six times as we were driving until we found two other tents.

We found a spot close enough to the other tents, so that we could run to them in the night if one of us was killed by a serial killer, but were still far enough that we wouldn’t die immediately from their illegal campfires.

I said, “How is this spot, right here?”

Trent, “Is that a buck shot?”

Me, “Looks like it. That’s what we will call our first campsite. Buck shot.”

We pitched a tent in the dark and crawled into our sleeping bags with chips, salsa and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Me, “This is like, what’s it called crop?”

Trent, “Crop circles?”

Me, “No, where they pluck the crop?” I am used to my thesaurus.

Trent, “Harvest.”

Me, “Yes, this is where they send us so the aliens can harvest us.”

We laughed, but fell asleep to the sounds of little robotic tweeting. And I am not kidding.

We heard footsteps. Then we heard radio equipment.

Trent, “Did you hear that?”

Me, “Yes.”

Trent, “They are coming for us.”

Me, “Oh well, what can we do now?”

We waited. And I worried about my nightmares.

But I fell asleep, and slept the best I had in weeks. Occasionally, I would wake up to footsteps and weird computer sounds, and listen. Then I would fall asleep and wake up rested and pleasant again.

We woke up at 6:30am.

I googled campsites.

Me, “If we are going to grab a campsite, we have to do it early.”

Trent, “I am ready.”

We broke down our site.

Later we talked about it.

Me, “I slept better than I have in weeks.”

Trent, “I think they just came to observe us.”

Me, “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

We decided to camp in Jumbo Rock. A) Because Trent told me he heard there is a big rock where the aliens landed once a long time ago and B) It had the most camping sites, so mathematically, our likelihood of finding a spot was higher there than anywhere else in the park.

We slowly drove by the early risers, and Trent said, “He gave us a nod.”

I stopped my car and waited. A boy of about 20 approached. He was in between being a boy and being a man. Tall, with baby soft skin and ruffled bed head. When he looked tired, you saw the eyes of a child waking up Christmas morning, not the man, red, cracked and desperate for more time.

Boy, “22 is going to leave at noon. You can take that spot and we will take 21.”

We followed them to the payment post and both put in our money for the sites.

I saw the plates. Me, “They are from Massachusetts. Fucking adorable.”

We stopped at the head of the campground.

Me, “How much is it?”

Boy, “$5”

Me, “Oh wait . . . it says Senior Citizens are $5. We are $10.”

The boy turned to his blonde male companion, fair and sunburned of about the same age “Dang it! We haven’t been paying enough. I think our manual guide was wrong.”

I smiled.

Trent said, “Seal the envelope so your money doesn’t’ fall out.”

Boy, “Oh, I just close it.”

Trent licked the sticky glue on the inside of the flap and delicately pressed so that my $10 would be safe and we parted ways.

To kill time, first we went looking for Skull Rock.

We followed the path and ran into an older man, hiking alone. His skin was getting leathery.

Man, “Hey, do you guys know Skull Rock? Have you seen it?”

Trent, “No, we haven’t seen it yet.”

Man, “Huh. I have been up and down and can’t see it. Sometimes the light at certain points of the day makes a big difference.”

We politely exchanged backgrounds.

Man, “I live on the road. I have been living out of my truck for 10 years now.”

Me, “How do you support yourself, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Man, “I retired.”

Me, “You look too young to be retired.”

Man, “Thanks. I am 55.”

Me, “That is still young to be retired.”

Man, “Yeah, well, I took my severance package and hit the road. I have never been happier. Life is backwards. You work while you are young, and then get to travel when you are older, when your body is falling apart. It makes it more difficult than if you were young and still can really enjoy everything.”

Me, “That’s why I have been trying to enjoy things as much as possible these last two years I have been unemployed.”

Without looking at me, he said, “Well, enjoy it now. You will be back in the rat race before you know it.”

I stared at the back of his head, as he heavily found footing. I wanted to say, “No I won’t.” But I really don’t know.

♫ ♪ Got a good reason . . . for taking the easy way out. ♫ ♪

We all stopped on the path so he could zoom in on a small lizard with his camera, then lose where the lizard was because he zoomed in too far, then found it again and took a picture. Then we got closer and he wanted a better angle.

When we got to Skull Rock, there was no denying it was Skull Rock.

Man, “That’s Skull Rock . . . maybe . . . maybe its the way the light hits it.”

Trent pointed out the eyes and nose.

Man, “I guess you have to use your imagination.”

Not really.

We drove down to more attractions off the main road, before the sun got too hot.

The men, readers . . . the men were gorgeous. Young men, unpacking their gear, tall, athletic, too young to know what life is like making car payments.

I drove by a tall, white boy who couldn’t be more than 22.

I said, slowly, “Happy Birthday.”

We stopped and I watched a lean Asian man take off his shirt and his friend rub him down with suntan lotion.

We were sitting by my car, drinking water in the parking lot, and I said in a low voice to Trent, “Oh . . . my . . . God. Hot. And I never like Asian men.”

Trent turned to look under the large cosmic radius of his Sunday best.

Trent, “He’s cute.”

Me, “God, my sexual drive is ridiculous. Just driving my car turns me on now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can feel hot sweat crawling up my neck just looking at that.”

The Asian man stopped to smile at me before putting on his shirt.

Me, “Oh shit, can you hear me from over there?”

Trent, “He is only two cars away. Who cares? Its the desert.”

Me, “Mmmm hmmm.” He turned and smiled back at me.

We hiked to Wall Street Mill and Barker Dam, killing time, eating oreos and talking about ourselves, the men we loved, and where we might end up.

When we got back to the site at 12:30, the previous campers were gone and we erected a tent. I put large rocks inside the corners to anchor the tent and accidentally ripped a small tear in the corner.

Trent, “BE CAREFUL!”

Me, “Shit, sorry. I break everything.”

A woman came up as we were setting up, “Excuse me. We really need a campsite. My dog is very sick and we are putting him down on Monday. This is his favorite campsite and we just want to give that to him before he goes.”

Trent, “Sorry. I know its hard. We got up at the crack of dawn to get this site.”

Woman, “We have been to two other campsites. God . . . I don’t know what to do.”

My first compulsion was to say, “Come join us on our site. I think there are 3 tents allowed per site.”

Then I thought, “This bitch is manipulating me.”

How does she know I am a dog person? The bumper stickers on my car parked right next to our camping spot number.

I smiled, coldly, “Sorry.”

We saw the dog later, it looked like a healthy 3-yr old with lots of energy.

Then we sat down, made some soup, opened a can of beer and split a pill. He put his half in his beer and I put mine in my soup.

There was a bathroom near the campsite. Women would take several minutes in there, and, I assume, not all of them could have had a gratuitous bowel movement.

I would wait, and wait and wait.

Me, “What is taking them so long? (to the bathroom) There is no flusher. Stop looking!”

Trent, “They are looking for the vanity.”

A plain girl with glasses came out and shot us a cold look.

Then we walked behind the site, through rocks that looked like faces and bookshelves. He in his black Sunday hat, and me, in my heart-shaped glasses.

We saw a hare the size of a small dog. His ears alone were at least 2 and a half feet long.

Trent sang out, “Oh Mr. Rabbit . . .”

The hare stopped and stared.

Me, “You are so handsome. I want to grab you and love you. Will you let me do that?”

Trent, “So handsome. You are beautiful, aren’t you?”

He flickered his tail but ran off before we could get a picture.

I walked by a plant and it left one perfect puncture on my forearm.

Me, “OW!”

One bead of blood formed.

Me, “The desert wants my blood.”

Trent touched it and said, “ouch.” His fingertip sent a wave of warmth through my body. Was the drug here, yet?

It took about an hour for our stomachs to break down the fine powder and flood our brains with color.

The first symptom is mad fits of laughter. At about 50 minutes or so, we had ourselves in fits of giggling.

I accidentally swept my foot through a cactus, and the cactus fell apart into green goo. I fell down laughing, “Oh no. Oh no. (quieting down) I am sorry, cactus.”

Trent, “Are you ok?”

There were spikes from the cactus sticking out of my shoe.

Me, “Yes, but look what I did to the cactus. He is dying.”

I tried to fold the pieces of his body back together.

Trent, “Oooh. Feel how gooey it is inside. Its . . . gelatinous.”

I felt it, it was fleshy and warm.

We sat and gave the cactus a moment of silence. Then Trent said, “He understands.”

Over the rocks, the afternoon sun got weaker. A cool breeze found us up high, and a cool, rocky heat kept us warm below.

Trent, “Ughhh, I just want a man. I just want to fuck!”

I texted Abe that morning knowing that sex would enhance my trip. I started thinking about when he would come so he could touch me. Then I thought if I would ever make love to Trent, and figured I would given the opportunity.

Trent said, “I have made love to men and women. Both are nice, I just prefer men. I will have sex with a girl, if a guy is present. I have done all of that already.”

I said, “I saw your tattoo when you were drying off in the shower. I didn’t know you had Billie Holiday on your shoulder.”

Trent, “Oh . . . yeah. I got that tattoo when I was 18, before I knew portraits weren’t the best tattoos to get.”

I said, “It’s good for a portrait.”

Trent, “Yeah, its hard to do tattoo portraits. Oh well.”

Me, “I like it.”

Two men passed us with white socks stretched to their mid calf in khaki long shorts.

I lifted my nose up to catch the salt of their sweat.

Me, “I smell them. I can smell them.”

I lifted my torso up to the sky so I could fly into a cloud of pheromones.

Trent, “You know there is something on the tip of your nose to attract you to mates. A sensitive part of your nose picks up pheromones.”

Me, “MMMM, white man.”

Trent, “I just want one right now, to come along and fuck me right here.”

Me, “I don’t know about men in these parts, I would get raped and you would killed. And I am the winner in that scenario.”

He broke down laughing.

His phone was always out, he was trying to catch a signal to tell Kent he was ok. Nothing came.

We crossed the highway and discovered designs of animals and people outlined with a collection of rocks. A turtle. An endless spiral to Pi. A man with the words, “Feed Me” spelled out in rocks around his head.

Trent bent down and put his hands on the rocks that outlined a human head.

Trent, “Put your hands on him. Feed him.”

We put both our hands on him and I pushed energy into the mouth.

The sun was fading and we were back at Skull Rock.

Me, “Hey, Trent. Have you seen Skull Rock?”

Trent, “No. Maybe it’s the way the light hits.”

Me, “No, just use your imagination.”

Trent, “Let’s take lots of photos of lizards.”

Me, “Wow, my hands are really big right now.”

I held them up, they looked to each be about the size of my head.

Me, “That’s why its so easy to climb. My hands are huge. Look!”

Trent looked and laughed.

Me, “Use your imagination.”

Trent, “Maybe its the way the light hits.”

I sang, “♫ ♪ Dayyyy tripper ♫ ♪

Trent continued the tune, “♫ ♪ It took me so long to find out . . . I found out. ♫ ♪

As the sun set, we made our way back to our campsite.

Trent said, “Oh look! There she is . . .”

I said, “Who?” Then saw the girl from the bathroom.

Me, “Oh, Miss Hygiene.”

She saw us and immediately collected her things and her friends and ran down the hill. I don’t know if it was the drug, but it certainly seemed like she was running away from us.

Trent, “Look, she is running away.”

Me, “She wants to be as far from us as possible. Geez, what’s her problem?”

We scampered down the hill, Trent in his Sunday hat and me, in my heart shaped sunglasses, laughing wildly at everything.

The campers kept away from us. They cooked their barbeque, and drank out of their water bottles, put on their State College Sweatshirts and kept far, far from us.

Trent and I negotiated on how to build a fire. We had a starter log and one of those push button lighters, and eventually it got started. I went back to my car and smoked a cigarette, then realized I lit a small fire in my car.

I don’t know how exactly, but the empty cigarette box turned into one big flame. I held it up, and blew on it, but flares of plastic and paper blew into my car. So I threw it outside and stomped on it.

Trent came around the large bush supporting our tent.

Trent, “There you are.”

Me, “I stopped a fire . . . in my car.”

Trent, “You have got to stop smoking.”

There is a dry bush, found in the parts of the desert, with long arms and fingernails waiting to scratch out your eyes and make you bleed. There is no life on her, no leaves, no flower, just the bitter daggers of a naked brush we named “Bertha.”

We only bought 6 logs for the fire at a nearby gas station. As we started our fire, and the night came upon us, the winds picked up and we realized we needed more wood.

I grabbed pieces of Bertha, who was reluctant to give any part of herself to us. The woman is just a bitch.

I broke off a couple branches and dropped them in the pile with the rest of the wood. When it was time to throw in more wood, I picked up her arms, and she grabbed a hold of my new purple, fleece blanket and whipped it around like it was a flag on the mountain of Iwo Jima.

I saw her arms, and those fists of rage reach around both sides of my blanket, and I fought. Trent sat there laughing as I broke free of her violent embrace.

I threw down the blanket and broke her arms with my foot.

Me, “Bertha. What a bitch.”

I used other kindling, and decided Bertha wanted more respect before being thrown into a fire of sacrifice.

So I sat across from her and ate some soup.

Trent came back from the bathroom and pointed at the fire.

Trent, “Is that Bertha in there?”

I said, “Oh no. That’s Bertha, right there.” I motioned to the standing brush across from me, over the fire.

Me, “Its the only damn plant I have ever had to take to dinner before using in a campfire.”

I spoke to her.

Me, “What more can I do for you? Would you like some of my soup?”

She stared at me. Stubborn. Dry.

I turned away from her and saw our tent flapping in the wind.

I fought. I fought hard. But I got that nasty woman in the fire and broken down for the flames. I even heard a bitter cackle from her, as her arm disintegrated in ash.

Trent, “We need more wood. I am really worried now.”

I went over to the campers two sites over and asked if I could use their wood. What I saw was at least two trees they cut down and stacked next to the fire, and a case of vodka bottles.

The two men looked Mongolian in nature and didn’t speak English. I kept repeating the one word I thought they would understand, “Money?” “Money. “Money!” They said, “No money. Take”

So I took a piece of a tree back and it kept us warm for awhile.

We sat there.

I pointed to the lone tree next to us.

Me, “Look at him. I think he wants to be called Freddy.”

Trent, “Pete.”

Me, “Petey. He just wants a little warmth from the fire. Just wants a little hello.”

His head was bobbing in the wind, like a shy, tall kid at the school dance.

Trent, “He is so polite. He doesn’t want to intrude. Please, Pete. Join us.”

Me, “Yes, you are more than welcome.”

He bobbed his head, his bark looking like a skinny tie between hunched shoulders and just the hint of a smile.

There was no time to enjoy this. We needed to think about the future. We needed more wood.

I grabbed the hatchet Baye gave me.

I said, “Let’s do this. We have to go out there and kill a tree.”

Trent obediently followed. Giggling. Shivering. On his own trip.

I touched the edge, “Hard to believe they used to scalp people with this. I guess the Native Americans weren’t perfectionists.”

We ran up the hill and I raised the hatchet to a tree, then shouted, “Psyche!”

The tree was not amused.

I said, “You look too healthy to kill. Just kidding.”

We ran further up and I started frantically bludgeoning a piece of a tree. We had no flashlight, only the flashlight app on Trent’s phone.

Then we heard the hiss of a zipper. A tent was 20 ft away, and they were getting out!

We ran, higher up the hill.

I said, “Here, let’s do this one.”

Trent, “Aww. He looks healthy.”

I said, “But he has 6 heads, and we only have one.”

He held it steady while I decapitated one of its bobbing faces.

I looked back, panting, holding the hatchet like an animal, like a beast. Something in me changed. I was an asshole. A self-serving, tree mutilating, hatchet wielding asshole.

In the dark, under the wind, I whispered a, “Sorry, but you will grow back.”

We went back to our fire. Bertha was almost gone, but let’s face it, she is everywhere all the time. The wind really picked up and the fire whipped my blanket over flying embers.

Trent was getting frustrated, “Be careful! You might catch fire.”

I said, “The desert will keep us safe.”

After 15 minutes I said:

“We have to go inside the tent.”

Trent said, “I know, the wind is just too much.”

We crawled inside and split another half of a pill. We poured each half into the synthetic, vegan creme of our oreos, and chased it with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Then we fell to silence. The tent whipped. Our neighbors showed up and chatted. We shivered in our sleeping bags and I felt odd to be with a man I liked and have no sexual tension.

Car lights.

First white.

Then Red.

I looked out the open flap of our tent. Trent was asleep.

Abe was in a hoodie walking towards the small group of college kids chain-smoking over their fire.

I sent him a text earlier, before entering the park.

“Camping at Jumbo Rocks. Get map before coming.”

I didn’t think he would come.

What time was it?

I screamed a whisper, “ABE! ABE!! Over here.”

He turned and saw me, then walked around.

Abe’s big head thrust into our delicate little tent. The wind was still violent. It wanted Bertha back.

Abe, “Hey, how’s it going?”

Trent said, “Who is that?”

I said, “Abe.”

Trent said, “He actually came?”

I said, “I am staring at him.”

Abe said something to me, I don’t remember.

The stars in the sky were green, red and white. They weren’t shooting, but they were definitely moving. The whole universe was out there and alive in a rainbow of colors. I couldn’t focus on one thing, everything was in constant motion, varying in degrees of color and focus.

I said, “Oh my God, the sky is . . . moving. There are red stars.”

Abe, “You took those pills huh?”

Me, “Yes, we have been tripping since noon.”

Abe, “Cool.”

I retreated back into the tent, “It’s freezing out there.”

Abe smoked a cigarette.

I moved my sleeping bag so my body was inside the tent, while my head hung outside.

I saw Abe over the fire, he had a great fire going. The end of his lit cigarette smeared across the night sky, with what looked like a torch.

Trent, “What is he doing out there?”

Me, “He lit a torch.”

Trent, “A TORCH!?”

Me, “YEAH. He is waving it around.”

Abe leaned into me, with menacing eyes, “Bertha smells good!!”

Me, “He has Bertha in the fire and on his torch. He just comes in and dominates her, then gets what he wants. That’s the secret, isn’t it? Take what you want. Nature doesn’t want apologies. It wants domination.”

Trent, “He beat Bertha?”

Me, “YES!”

The orange from the flame on the end of the stick he was tapping left orbiting circles around my red and white stars. It was around this time, the ground started breathing white light. It lifted off the ground like fog, but it was thick, heavy like his headlights.

The manic fits of laughing ensued. Trent and I were a chorus of hysterics. Abe heard us from outside and chuckled.

It was around this time, the woman, probably around my age, who was in the tent next to ours with her 3-yr old child and husband, stomped over and said, “Its too late for this. I mean . . . enough is enough now. We have a child in our tent and its very late. You are ruining our trip.”

Abe apologized on our behalf, then stuck his big head back in the tent and said, “Ok, we have to quiet down now.”

Trent and I laughed hysterically, with our hands over our mouths and our abdominal muscles crunching with fits of gasping laughter. Tears were pouring down my face.

Me, “Ruining her trip? SHE is ruining OUR trip.”

Trent, “That’s right.”

Me, “Tomorrow morning, I want you to go see that little girl and say, “Sorry for ruining your trip, but you ruined my birthday.”

My voice lowered, almost into a bad Nixon impression, and I said, “If I want to go to the desert and use hallucinogenics, that’s my God damn right as an American citizen.”

Abe tried to reign us in.

We were laughing. The wind was blowing. The kids behind us were still chattering.

I knew we were being assholes.

But . . . come on. Its MY trip too, man.

Me, “And why didn’t her husband come out to talk to us? I’ll tell you why. CAUSE HE’S SLEEPING!”

Abe said quietly, hoping we would follow, “She won’t bother us again, ok?”

I turned to Trent, “It’s your birthday.”

Trent mumbled an intoxicated, “It is?”

Me, “Yes.”

Trent, “Time for a birthday drink.”

He opened a can of PBR.

Every 20 minutes, Trent and I were stumbling through the two campsites between us and the restroom, or, more suitably called, the big fucking hole in the ground.

Abe whispered, “You and Trent are going to the bathroom to pee a lot.”

I said, “I am not peeing. I just need to go somewhere and sit down for awhile.”

Abe, “Oh no.”

I said, “I think I have dysentery.”

Abe, “If you had dysentery on your diet, I would be amazed.”

Trent came in and collapsed on the ground. “Have you looked at the sky out there?”

Me, “I know.”

Trent, “It is so beautiful. I have never seen that many stars in my life.”

Me, “And they are all moving.”

We were lying in a pool of spilled beer.

We didn’t have the light or the energy to really do anything about it but complain, laugh, and open more.

The wind tore at the top of our tent.

Trent to the sky, “OKKKK, we get it.”

Me, “Jesus, is this about Bertha?”

Silence.

I turned to Trent, “It’s your birthday.”

Trent mumbled an intoxicated, “It is? Time for a birthday drink.”

The wind slapped on us more sporadically as the night stood still. Trent got quiet and his breathing became rhythmic.

Abe reached over and manually gave me an orgasm. When I came, I felt like white water was bursting through a door. The moment was so intense, my mind went blank in the spilling salty foam of adrenaline and serotonin. I lost my voice. My throat tickled and my body twitched in one epic convulsion. I didn’t care that Trent was right next to me. I didn’t care about the bitchy woman whining about our laughter in the middle of the night.

The floor was breathing white light, almost like a strobe but slow.

Long heartbeats of white, glowing light rising off the ground.

I said, “Do you see the white light?”

Abe said, “No.”

I said, “There is white light all around us. Its coming off the ground.”

Abe said, “Well, we are on sacred land, so that makes sense.”

His breathing slowed, and his responses stopped.

Both of them were asleep on either side of me now.

I laid there.

I couldn’t sleep.

I closed my eyes. Even the college kids were asleep now.

Voices came in my head. Male voices.

Men I never met before.

They were writers.

I could throw out names that came to mind, but I won’t claim I was speaking to them. I was high, let’s not forget.

Trent and I were discussing the beatniks earlier in the day, so Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg felt familiar.

It’s not as though I heard words ring through in their voices, it was more like a feeling being psychically communicated.

“Welcome” and “Enjoy”

Then I saw the corner of a mouth.

I knew it was Hunter. He was on my mind since my date with Buddy, and blogging about the duel suicide attempts. I never really noted that coincidence before. Of course, it connects my ego to greatness, but more importantly, he gives me permission to live the way I am called to live.

Recently, I have been writing publications in search of work and noting in my cover letters that I practice “Gonzo Journalism.” I have gotten no response.

From Hunter, this night, the message was more personal, again not in words, more in some kind of psychic greeting card I heard, “You gotta live like an asshole . . . at least some of the time.”

I thought to him, “But I mutilated a tree out there.”

He said, “Sometimes the freedom to live looks like an asshole carrying a hatchet.”

I thought about how Abe came in and made this beautiful fire in what felt like seconds, no apologies. He just took what he wanted and it made everything simpler. I have been apologizing for so long, I don’t even know what that feels like.

Now, if you read my blog, you might conclude that I am full of shit. An apologetic life is hardly prancing around Los Angeles with pit bulls and drugs, avoiding anything resembling a normal life. I have been doing what I want, but I have also been apologizing for it.

To be continued . . .

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