Belize

          I’m not a travel writer, but I’m a writer who just traveled so I should probably let logic take the tiller and write about my travels… I just swam with fucking sharks in Belize. For real. Our boat stopped out in the reef and we moored to a cemented anchor. I’d like to say that the ocean smelled fresh just to paint the perfect picture, but it didn’t. It never does; it depends on which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes the breeze is a clean thing, telling your nose about new life and a refreshing swim. Sometimes the breeze is dirty and pungent, and it talks about the death and decay down below. The ocean is half life, half death. Our reef was huge—the world’s second largest—and we were surrounded by the sea; two fathoms of water that stretched on and on. Greens and blues you only see in the tropics. Life swam beneath our boat. Sharks and rays and barracudas and all kinds of creepy shit that bites and stings. The man said to jump in, so I jumped in. I landed somewhere in the middle of the food chain.

          I’m a decent snorkeler, but irrational fear controlled my lungs. In out in out, quick and quicker. The man noticed and suggested a lifejacket when I got back to the boat. I could just lie on it if I needed and relax. It’d put Styrofoam between me and the teeth. Hell yes. I swam back out floating on top of my orange security blanket. I calmed down. There was a small nursery shark that just moments before was doing an awesome impression of Jaws. There was a peaceful ray flapping her wings in the sand (I assume she did it to look majestic). There were two barracudas lurking in my peripheral, holding still and playing the cat in cat-and-mouse; I showed them my lifejacket. The man swam down before my eyes and coaxed an eel out of his den; he breathed with his huge gills and proffered translucent teeth. Holy shit it was wonderful; it was like snorkeling in the movies. The man was our docent through house-sized outcroppings of coral. Explorers in an underwater canyon, we swam left and right through schools of curious fish and other tourists, pale on bottom and burnt red on top. My fish of a daughter would swim under me and then away, a fearless eight-years-old beast on a mission, and then she’d swim back all the while trying to tell me something through her snorkel. I’d just nod, smile, wave.

          Our reef was a barrier reef, one that protects all of Belize from the predatory ocean, but the barrier had a channel in it: a submerged portcullis in the reef wall. We swam across it and I felt the tug of the ocean pulling me out like the ensnaring song of a deadly mermaid, but we made it across easily. Life and wonderment lived everywhere and we swam through it for close to an hour. We got back to the boat and the man said it was time to go to “shark ray alley.” That’s where they all are he said: the big ones. It was a short boat ride and as soon as we moored off, they came slithering in. Dark shadows, wraiths of the seas, swam everywhere. The white noise of the engine pulled them close. Guides who don’t follow the rules bait the sharks with handfuls of fish food and the beasts know that one way or another, when they hear an engine’s purr, food is getting in the water.

          Look. I know that my fear of sharks is ridiculous, but I don’t care. They grow teeth like I grow hair, they’re cold and stoic like serial killers, they’re hungry and carnivorous, and they do that creepy sideways swimming thing. Sharks are bullshit. Saying you’ll face your fear is a shit-ton easier than actually doing it, so I’d been trying to get out of our snorkeling trip for days: “Terra, you’re allergic to shrimp, so maybe you’re allergic to the ocean. Terra, I promise that I’ll freak out and ruin everybody’s day. Terra, this is dumb, so let’s just stay in our rented condo and lock the doors.” Granted, these were nursery sharks, but a ten-foot nursery shark doesn’t look anything like an animal that belongs in a nursery. And the man said that he’d seen the occasional reef shark. Um, that’s the type of shark that attacked James Bond in Thunderball. Fuck that. But when the man said jump in, I jumped in… There was a big asshole right underneath our boat, growing teeth and swimming side to side right at me. I tried to show him my lifejacket but then I realized I jumped in without it. Shit. On he came. Luckily, he turned away when he was about ten inches* away from my face (yards*). I was scared shitless, but that youngest daughter of mine wasn’t. She kept complaining about how the man had told her not to let go of the life ring that was tethered to the boat. Who the hell complains about that? Who the hell thinks that holding onto a “life” ring while floating above a murderous school of monsters is a bad thing? My daughter. She wanted to swim off on her own so she could name and tame the sharks; she’d cuddle them into submission.

          I was nervous. Everyone was nervous. Even the man didn’t like this part of the trip. He stood safely out of the water and kept yelling “stay by the boat, stay by the boat!” But about halfway through the experience, my fear vanished. I don’t know if something broke in my brain or if confronting my fear diluted it down into extinction, but either way, I simply wasn’t afraid of the sharks around me. We eventually got back in, all extremities accounted for, and I started making small talk with the man. So, has anyone ever been bitten? He laughed, and then he told me the “after the tourists get back in the boat story.” He pointed down to his leg to show off his puckered foot-long scar. He’d taken out a group of Polish tourists a few months prior. They brought with them a translator. They were snorkeling along shark ray alley when the nursery sharks rose from the depths en-masse and formed a feeding frenzy, stoked by the man’s outboard motor and its diner chime. The translator, ever the center of attention, dove down below the frenzy and then swam back up right in the middle of it. That Pollock would’ve made my daughter proud. Can you imagine what it’d look like to do such a thing? I can. I see this roiling bait ball of death centered perfectly in the salty openness. When you dive down, you see the ocean darkening beneath you in gradients of blue. The sandy white floor shimmers below like a mirage. As you swim back up, you watch the swirling ball of beasts get bigger and bigger as you pick up speed, pulled towards death by your buoyancy. Then you come up in the middle, surrounded by rasping grey skin and bloodied teeth. Terrifying.

          In a feeding frenzy, sharks lid their eyes to protect their vision—they just bite blind and randomly in the churned confusion. The translator in the middle was taking hits, bleeding in the water. And that’s when the man jumped in (and incidentally, that’s why I call him “the man”). He grabbed the translator and pulled him out of the melee. He kicked the sharks away (in my mind, I picture Chuck Norris kicks just destroying shark faces), but one shark was a bit to wily. He bit the man right in the calf. The man knew that if he tried to pull his leg free, the shark would thrash and he’d lose a chunk of muscle, so he just waited patiently for the shark to let go. That’s the part that blows my mind: the man was swimming away from a shark feeding frenzy, he was pulling with him a bleeding Pollock, and when a shark tried to eat his leg, he just waited patiently until the ancient predator decided to let go. He got the translator back to the boat and then took everyone to shore. He got some stitches and then he healed and then he went right back into the water. There’s an aphorism in there somewhere.

          The man finished his story just as my once-dead fear of sharks started to breathe again. He took us back to shore and I tipped him with the colorful money that seems to be everywhere else in the world except our country, and we went back to our condo. The rest of our trip followed suit. We drank bottomless mimosas by a saltwater crocodile lagoon; we gorged ourselves on soursop ice cream and conch ceviche; we parasailed over a flock of manta rays. I’m sure the proper group noun for manta rays is something like “school” or “pod” or some other nautical nonsense, but it shouldn’t be; things that fly do so in flocks, and we could see those creatures flapping their wings underwater even though we were soaring high above with a parachute. And when we landed, a sting ray, the manta ray’s nimbler kin, jumped out of the water and flapped his wet, leathery wings until he splashed back down. Our guide that day was a bona fide Rastafarian and he looked exactly like he looks in your mind right now. He yelled out “Ay man! You saw that ray mon? Ya mon!” His dreads bounced around his head like pasta as he did his Rasta dance. As he was unhooking my harness, he leaned in close and made a joke about why the sting rays jump out of the water: “because they be getting excited mon.” “The be getting BJs from the other fish mon.” “Ya mon!”

          We finished the parasailing day by eating at a truck-stop that’d be hard to stop at with a truck. It was out of town a bit: twenty minutes in our sputtering golf cart along a muddy single-track. The food was fresh and local. Five converted shipping containers encircled a few park benches and tables. We ordered spicy noodles and chicken wings and then sat below an umbrella until the rain pushed us to the bar. It was a sign. We drank beers and plotted our retirement. Now, before I continue, I’d like to type out a little disclaimer: I don’t eavesdrop intentionally, but I do it nonetheless and I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I was born without the brain part that lets most humans filter out background noise. It’s a handicap. Chewing noises, too-loud laughs, obnoxious conversations happening anywhere around me: I hear them all. I’m forced to listen to every conversation I hear like some unwilling voyeur. My mind categorizes all the conversations and then files them away for moments like this one: There were two other couples sitting at the bar. Couple number one said “we just moved here” and then couple number two said “why?” and then couple number one said “Trump.” Holy shit! Here they were. Here were two Americans who’d said that they’d move if he won—he won, they moved. Two disenfranchised Americans, two patriots without a nation. My wife cheered. And she cheered rightfully because couple number one had the collective balls to move out of middle ‘merica and into Central America just to honor their convictions. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. Objectively speaking, couple number one won. They stayed true to their word and they got paradise while the rest of us liberals are stuck here at home with nothing more than the “I-told-you-sos” that we’re about to dish out.

          Our last day came and we flew back to Texas to sleep for a night before making the connection to Durango. I had mosquito bites and a new cold. I won’t lie: I thought about malaria and the Zika virus more than once. I imagined being “patient zero” and about how horrible it would be in Durango once my exotic disease decimated the town’s population. But that hasn’t happened yet and I promise to keep covering my mouth when I cough. Our lives have gone back to normal, but the first three days back in my home felt special. True, they were hard—we were stressed after so much time so close to one another, and we came back to a Colorado winter—but those days reminded me how ridiculously good we have it here in the States. The conch ceviche in Colorado is outrageously expensive, but we have doctors and teachers and infrastructure (all three have debatable efficacy, but that’s irrelevant). We have freedom (sort of), we have rights (most of us), and we have opportunity (if we’re lucky). It’s not perfect here at home but it’s a lot better than it is in Belize. So, even though I too have an urge to pack it all up and head for foreign latitudes, maybe I (and all of us) should just suck it up. And that’s good advice no matter which side you’re on because the present day winners will be someday losers and it’ll just go back and forth forever. We Americans are fond of fighting back and forth on a constrained field, a ceaseless game of inches (just think about our favorite sports). So maybe we should just jump into our nightmarish political cesspool, into our regressing culture, and face it straight on like a sideways-swimming shark. Or maybe moderation is where it’s at: leave sometimes, travel, get prospective. But come back. Come back to fix what’s broken instead of moving someplace like Belize where there’s lots of sand to stick your head in. Running away to paradise is still running away. And that’s where I’m at right now. I want to fly away on a special airplane equipped with windows you can roll down just so I can stick out my hand and flip off everything behind me, all the uncertainty, but I’m just going to write instead. I’m just going to be a travel writer when I travel and a writer-writer when I’m stuck here in this small office and I’m going to face life and fear with my craft, because unlike my lifejacket, writing isn’t something I can leave behind when I jump in.

belize

Respite

There’s a place in Key West that uses ice cubes made out of coffee in their iced coffee; my caffeine has never been so undiluted. A couple cups will give you that chemical aftertaste that lets you know you’re awake. It’s like unalloyed crack. Down the street, there’s this slightly obese guy who dresses up like Darth Vader and plays the banjo after the sun sets. He’s throwing distance from a skinny man who dresses up like Spider-Man and plays the sitar, but I don’t think that they’re friends. They’d be mortal enemies if their two fictional worlds existed together in some other dimension, and tourists only have so many dollars to dole out for a picture, so competition would dictate that they’re advisories at best here in this dimension. By day, the streets ruled nightly by busking superheroes are given over to wild chickens. I know that they’re wild because they shun my attempts to pet them and they speak some odd form of chicken dialect that differs from that of the domesticated hens that I have cooped up in Colorado.

The Gays and Russians also deserve mention. Each group seems to rule Key West alongside the strutting roosters. Rainbow flags outnumber those with stars and stripes. There are drag queens everywhere, and they’re just as delightful as you’d expect. One even called me “sweetie” as I walked past her haunt with my wife. It felt natural and unforced (I’m obviously a sweetie) so I said hello and kept walking. The local paper told me that Russian mafia owns most of the local T-shirt shops which is strange because Hollywood paints them a bit more nefariously. The Russians are a bit cold though, cold and ubiquitous. There’s so many of them that the “all sales are final” sign in the Salvation Army thrift store is translated into Russian. I walked by plenty of Russians and not a single one of them called me sweetie, but in their defense, I was a bit reticent to offer up my own terms of endearment. But I nodded my head to a guy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face. There was something written in Russian underneath the picture, but I couldn’t read it (the only thing I can read in Russian is “all sales are final”). Who knows, maybe those odd backwards letters said something satirical and maybe I missed out on having my first Russian friend. I’d like to think that his name would’ve been Vladimir.

I’m a bit sad as I type this. My iPad is glowing lambently beneath my fingers and I’m on the plane headed home. It’s a home lying dormant under a pall of snow and my foray into the tropics was too short lived. The wife and I went to celebrate belatedly our thirteenth wedding anniversary. We went to escape the cold and tedium of home. We needed a break. If not for the children we miss and the fiduciary responsibilities to which we’re enslaved, we wouldn’t be on this plane. Key West is perfect and I don’t doubt that we’ll live there sooner rather than later. We rode our rented bikes all the way around that island as we fell in love with the idea of calling it home. We walked with the butterflies and greeted the sunset with tourists who spoke in countless tongues. We ate out, we dined in. I prepared exotic fish and couscous in our vacation rental which we ate after appetizers of charcuterie; aged cheeses and expensive smoked meats paired with dry crackers and capers. But the meals prepared for us bested mine.  We ate shaved filet, served raw with aged Parmesan. We ate soba noodles with pickled vegetables, Philly cheesesteaks, fish tacos, and tart Key Lime Pie. We checked every box on the quintessential tourist check list. We went to the southernmost point in our country, cooked our bodies on the sand until we looked like parboiled crustaceans, and we went to Earnest Hemingway’s house by way of pilgrimage. There’s a fountain outside his front door and I dipped into it the tips of my ten fingers knowing that he had probably done the same at some point. There’s a Catholic Church just down the street boasting a font of holy water, but I know that I wetted my soul with the real stuff.

To me, our trip, and the piece you’re reading now, represents a necessary respite. Time spent in warmer weather away from where you were is nothing less than a panacea. I finished a semester of higher education not long before we left, and I start another one the day after this plane lands; I’m in a liminal state of peace that’s about to end. And it’s far too soon because I swear the classes I’m taking are guilty of language abuse. They force me to use all of these flowery words as tools of analysis. I write and write and dedicate my words to political science or anthropology or argumentation and the papers I turn in cause to shrivel up and die any creativity that might be put to prose. It’s almost like if one were to look closely enough at my college papers, numbers could be found hidden amongst the letters, numerals betwixt the consonants. I’m drawing lines with my diction when I should be painting pictures. But I’m not doing that now. I’m writing just for the joy of writing, and during this brief period, I’m doing things just for the joy of doing.

In these last few weeks of nothingness, this wonderful winter break which foisted itself up like an island in my life, I’ve done all sorts of odd and rebellious things. For one, I grew a beard. And I mean a real beard. As all that coarse hair took root in my face, atavistic, primal urges took over. I felt the need to fell trees and wear plaid shirts. My wife said that I looked a bit Amish though. Whatever. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t also feel the need to churn some butter or drive before me a team of horses pulling a carriage. Before I finally shaved it, a liquor store attendant even tried to give me a high five after yelling out “hell yeah Chuck Norris!” And when I finally did trim it back, I took my time and used my clippers to make myself look as ridiculous as possible. I cut here and there to create an old west look, and then there and here to look like Hulk Hogan. I had a Magnum P.I. mustache long enough for a laugh and then shaved it off before anyone was the wiser. It was by far one of my better bathroom experiences.

The pilot just turned on the fasten seatbelt sign for our final decent. I can see that sea of compressed sodium, of burning argon, in the countless bulbs below which remind me of our species’ industrious nature. There’s no end to it in sight. I know this’ll be my last chance to write something non-scholastic before summer dawns, so I’m going to end this piece with utter disregard for a cogent conclusion. I’m going to write about kombucha:

Kombucha, if you don’t know, is a nonalcoholic fermented tea that can be found in any organic grocery store. It has that perfect blend of pretension and deliciousness; snobby asses such as myself can’t get enough of it. I even went so far as to start making it myself for a few months. I’d brew a huge batch of exotic tea on the stove like some hippy witch over her cauldron. I’d mix in the sugar and let it cool. It has to be cool because the next step is to add the “scooby.” If the tea is too hot, the scooby will die; it’s this slimy, snot-like jellyfish thingie which floats on top of the sugared tea. It’s comprised of a bazillion bacteria cells which I’m sure share some sort of collective conscious (my auto correct just tried to change “bazillion” into “bagel lion”). You just let it sit there and do its thing for a few weeks. It metabolizes the sugar and carbonates the tea, filling it with billions of probiotic little creatures which you then drink like some death crazed giant with no regard for the life forms you’re quenching just to quench your thirst. You can then remove the scooby and put it in another batch. It’ll grow and grow until it’s a gelatinous beast that’s capable of carbonating any amount of tea. At the height of my production, I had four BPA free containers of the stuff fermenting in my pantry. My scoobies were like little malodorous pets with which I shared a symbiotic, albeit high maintenance, relationship. But I eventually gave it up because my scoobies died while I was away in Alaska. They ran out of sugar. I let fall my end of the symbiosis. It’s better to buy the stuff one bottle at a time anyway. It lets you flaunt your esoteric tastes in front of all the strangers at your local organic grocery store.

As a side note, I just realized that my iPad isn’t in airplane mode. I’m just going to leave it as is because I’m straight up gangster. Anyway, how odd is it that we humans use cultures and bacteria in our food? We do it with yogurt and cheese although I have no idea how it works with either (I’m pretty sure sorcery is involved), and I’ve done it myself with kombucha. I bottled up another life form, fed it, let it fill my tea with gas, and then consumed the end product. That’d be like aliens scooping us up, caging us, feeding us, and then eating our farts. Shit… We’re landing. Tomorrow, I’m going to start my classes and catch up on work. You won’t hear from me for a while, but I’m glad you took the time to hear from me today. We’ll talk again the next time I take a breath after swimming down deep in the things from which respites are needed.

Key West

State Line Yin-Yang

I yell “base” as I cross the state line back into Colorado from New Mexico. It feels as if I’m playing a game of tag with all the idiocy down south, and once I make it into the mountains, I’m safe. I’ve made it to my base.

I’m not sure how it is that two cities that are such polar opposites cropped up so geographically close to each other. It makes sense if we stick with the magnetic metaphor because polar opposites always attract, but it usually doesn’t work that way with cities. San Francisco is a lot like San Diego, New York is a lot like New Jersey. But Durango Colorado is a blue mountain town full of culture and education; thirty miles south across the state line, Farmington New Mexico is a red town full of strip malls and natural gas. Durango is verdant and crisp, Farmington is a brown desert. The former is populated by outdoorsy liberals with affable smiles, the latter is plagued with quasi cowboys who spout platitudes like “love it or leave it.” And for the record, I left it.

The family and I moved down here to the Four Corners from Alaska six years ago to escape the dark winters that aren’t advertised in the tourism commercials. Farmington looked good enough, so we bought a house. We settled in, and that “new car smell” that comes with a new home masked the bullshit that’d eventually spur me north. To be fair, Farmington has a few redeeming qualities. There’s an authentic Thai restaurant downtown. The parks are nice, and the parking is free. But maybe the parking is free because time spent in Farmington is something which has to be given away. And Farmington is close to plenty of cool places to be; you can get to Phoenix or Denver or Santa Fe in a few hours. I clung to those pros and lived in Farmington for six years, but the truth eventually bitch slapped me: if the best thing about a place is the fact that it’s close to someplace else, maybe one should just go to that “someplace else.”

I was dumbfounded the first time we drove north out of New Mexico. There’s a brief no-man’s-land in between the “you’re leaving New Mexico” and “welcome to Colorado” signs, and as soon as you make it through, the land changes. The air cools. Nature intensifies and you can tell that you’ve made it to greener pastures. It’s as if some natural boundary holds in all of Colorado’s awesomeness. It feels like you’re popping out of a bubble, or maybe driving into one.

Back home in Farmington, I was used to the antiquated architecture that comes from the quick and cheap expansion associated with natural gas booms. I was used to the desolate and decrepit parts of town that came from periods of economic collapse when the tycoons would take their money elsewhere. I was used to shittiness. Adversely, Durango is a vacation town. Durango is a college town. Durango is a town fueled by thought and art and play. It was a night and day difference, and I fell in love. My trips north became ever more frequent. And at times, as I walked amongst the streets, where one must pay handsomely for parking, I’d forget that I was homesick, because I felt at home. I fit in. Hell, I already looked like one of the locals (affectionately referred to as “Durangatang”).

Eventually, the trips north didn’t cut it. We’d come up for Easter Egg hunts and good sushi, but the hour drive each way was taxing. And inevitably, the locals would ask where we were from as we rubbed elbows. I’d say “Alaska” at about the same time my wife would say “Farmington.” She and I would laugh and explain the lapse, but it’d always be too late. As soon as the local heard that we lived in Farmington, they’d get this “aw, that’s too bad” look on their face and desperately look for something nice to say like “well… you have a Sam’s Club, so I guess that’s something.” Then they’d politely excuse themselves and leave us to our exclusion.

We had to move. So we did; we decided to live in a vacation town, which felt like an euphony. To live where one is supposed to vacation? It was genius. We rented out our home in Farmington and found a bucolic little paradise up here. I got a Colorado driver’s license as soon as I could so I could prove that I was a local, and I’ve never been happier. Seriously; I am in fact happier now than I have ever been. I used to wake up in the middle of the night back in Farmington with no clue where I was. I’d have to search the walls for familiarities or reach over for my wife just to anchor my thoughts in reality. Here, that hasn’t happened once. The air up here is a nepenthe for my thoughts, and I’m at peace. I’ve decided to go back to school and take this writing thing seriously, because if I could live here in Durango, while feeding my children by doing what I love, I’d finally have that consonance between profession and life that leads to true happiness.

But to be fair, Durango has its downfalls too. It gets a bit crowded at times, probably because everybody is a fan of awesomeness, and it’s a bit cooler (which is something I love, but my wife, not so much). There are a few asses on the streets with their jacked up brodozers (large trucks with smoke stacks meant to compensate for something else) but that’s alright, no place is perfect. In a yin-yang, there’s always that little dot of black in the white, representing that little bit of bad in the good. The free parking in Farmington is their little dot of white in the black. That little bit of good in the bad wasn’t good enough for us, so here we are, and here I write. I’m proud to be a Durangatang, and now when people ask where we’re from, we answer in unison: here.

Hasta la Vista

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

The Durango Diner

My daughter will marry any man who brings her bacon. It’s disappointing. I was hoping that she’d require something more, something deeper. Maybe she’d fall for a brilliant romantic or the quintessential baller who’d keep me comfortable in imported cars just to please my daughter. But it didn’t happen that way. And what makes it worse is the fact that my daughter is five, and her fiancé is well into his fifties. But to be fair, I guess I should mention that he didn’t mean to propose; he simply slid a piece of bacon across the counter after he heard my daughter complain about the wait. She took one bite of that cured pork and said “Daddy, is that man married? Because I want to marry him.” His name was Gary, and he owns The Durango Diner.

 

It was one of those odd weekend mornings where everything slows down and colors change under a lazy sun. The wife and I took our five year old monster out to breakfast. And I call it “breakfast” because that’s what we ate. A punctual man would’ve called it lunch. We parked on Main amongst the motorcycles and tourists and walked into the Durango Diner. It’s one of those no frills places with a few tables in the back and a counter that faces a dully reflective grill. Everything is covered with a deep patina of time and tradition. The people are rooted in reality and the food is simple and cheap; simple and cheap, but ridiculously good. There’s even a white storm trooper helmet hidden amongst the décor, and if you’re a fan of “I spy with my little eye,” it makes the perfect target.

 

They make a green chili sauce, and I can’t prove it, but I think the main ingredient is heroin. The stuff is addictive, plain and simple, and I buy it by the jar just so I can take it home and slather it on everything like a true junkie. And I mean everything. I once considered freezing it in popsicle molds. Who knows; maybe it’d work as a desert? Whatever. The wife ordered bacon and eggs with hash browns. I had huevos rancheros with an extra-large side of green chili sauce. Our monster wanted bacon covered with bacon and a side of bacon. We sat and waited for our breakfast as the restaurant breathed around us. Flatware and thick white porcelain plates made their noises in the background as the staff bussed here and there. The air smelled like food and steam and humanity.

 

Our monster became impatient because her bacon didn’t spontaneously generate in front of her as soon as she ordered. She demanded food, with a miniature fist upon the counter, and Gary heard her before we could pacify her with a game of “I-spy.” He took a single strip of bacon, steaming and crispy, from the cooling rack and handed it to her with a smile. Her frown turned upside-down and she gave him one of those little girl smiles that can melt hearts. He smiled back and I knew at that moment that he was a father too; you simply can’t fake a smile like that. My daughter shook his hand and they exchanged pleasantries. He turned back to the grill and that’s when she asked me if he was married. Gary heard her and laughed. He looked over his shoulder, told her he was taken, and that he already had full grown daughters of his own. My monster was genuinely disappointed but it didn’t last; Gary gave her another piece of bacon and distraction took over. His service was quick and the rest of our food came within a few minutes.

 

We gorged, paid, and left as Gary and his staff sang out a chorus of farewells. We ambled along the streets of Durango slowly as a carbohydrate high dulled our senses. We were stuffed and sweating. That Saturday morning was perfect. The Durango Diner is the type of place that pops the bubble of personal space to which you cling anywhere else. You sit at the counter and laugh with strangers you’d avoid on the sidewalk. Waitresses brush up against you with an “excuse me hun” but you don’t mind because this is where you want to be; comfortable with the rest of your species breaking your fast as the weekend winds down outside. I remember smiling as these thoughts came and went. We got into my truck and headed home.

 

Durango is an odd little island of culinary awesomeness nestled in the mountains. If you wanted, you could walk across the street from The Durango Diner and pay fifty bucks for oak roasted lamb with a white truffle sauce. There are plenty of restaurants on main that’d hold their own anywhere in New York and they’ve got all the reviews to prove it. And to be honest, when I took the Durango Diner at face value with its simple fare and limited space, I wasn’t quite sure how the place was able to stay afloat given the neighbors’ reputations. But after eating there, after truly experiencing the place and meeting Gary, I know for a fact that it’ll be there forever (or at least I hope it will because I’m not looking forward to the withdrawal symptoms that’re sure to pop up if I’m ever denied their green chili sauce).

 

The wife and I have vowed to become regulars at The Durango Diner and I can’t strongly enough recommend that you make the trip down to 957 Main Avenue in Durango Colorado to experience the place for yourself.  I’m sure my new son-in-law would appreciate the support.

 

The Durango Diner

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Sihpromatum

Savannah’s book is still carrying a five star average after forty-two reviews and I’m pretty sure that’s a record. Even if it isn’t, this is still a pretty impressive book. I know I’ve blogged about her work before, and to a lot of you, what comes next will seem familiar; I’m reposting my first blog about Savannah (or at least a portion of it) because her book is now only 99 cents. It’s seriously worth it. If you buy it now, one of these days you’ll be able to say you read it before she was famous. Get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

SW

I’ve typically been annoyed by the fact that people think that an incredible event automatically translates into an incredible book. Kanye West’s mother went through the incredible journey of raising a superstar so of course she should write a book about it, right? I picked up her book, tritely entitled “Raising Kanye”, while I was in Hastings a while back, thumbed through it, and then dropped it back on the shelf as quickly as possible lest it steal some of my intelligence. I’ve read that 90% of all Americans believe they have a story to tell that’s worthy of a book deal (I guess I lied when I said there’d be no more statistics). Here it is: it doesn’t mean that you’re fated to be an author just because you’ve been through something extraordinary.

However, sometimes the yen and yang fit together perfectly and someone with such a story really does create a noteworthy book, and that’s what happened in “Sihpromatum” by Savannah Grace. The sub-text for her title is “I Grew my Boobs in China” and the word “boobs” may or may not have been why I originally gave this title a chance but I’m glad I did. Everything about this book just feels professional. It’s a nonfiction story that I suppose should be classified as a memoir, but it reads like a novel which is absolutely awesome. Sevannah’s style is polished and well beyond her years and she has some serious talent. I kept hunting through website for a publisher’s accreditation because it was hard to believe that such a work was self published. Sihpromatum is the type of book you’d expect Oprah to be throwing at her guests in one of her “favorite things” episodes (which I’ve never seen because I’m a manly man); it’s seriously that good (I mean, you know… if you’re in to that sort of thing). All joking aside, I don’t want to do Savannah’s work a disservice by pigeon-holing into the “chick-lit” category because to get something meaningful out of this book, the only prerequisite is to be human.

Sihpromatum

“SIHPROMATUM (Sip-row-may-tum): A blessing that initially appears to be a curse.

Sihpromatum is a memoir series of one family’s four-year backpacking adventure around the world. The first installment, “I Grew My Boobs in China” is the beginning of an intensely fascinating, sobering, and emotional memoir of Savannah’s introspective and innovative family adventure.

In 2005, 14-year-old Savannah Grace’s world is shattered when her mother unexpectedly announces that she and her family (mother 45, brother 25 and sister 17) would soon embark on an incredible, open-ended journey. When everything from her pets to the house she lived in either sold, given away or put in storage, this naïve teenage girl runs headlong into the reality and hardships of a life on the road.

Built around a startling backdrop of over eighty countries (I Grew my Boobs in China relates the family’s adventures in China and Mongolia), this is a tale of feminine maturation – of Savannah’s metamorphosis from ingénue to woman-of-the-world. Nibbling roasted duck tongues in China and being stranded in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert are just two experiences that contribute to Savannah’s exploration of new cultures and to the process of adapting to the world around her.”

I have two young daughters and while I can see immense strength in both of them, I can also feel that innate fragility in their youth that I’m so desperately trying to protect. That’s why Savannah’s story is so captivating. Even as a grown man I’m not sure I could handle the hand that was dealt to Savannah. Her story is incredible, and when you pair that with a natural prose and a love for storytelling, you get an absolutely viable book that belongs in the company of anything pumped out by the large publishing houses. I’m sure this book would’ve made it to the proverbial shelves even if self publishing wasn’t possible, but maybe not. Maybe the suits I mentioned in my first segment would’ve passed Sihpromatum by and chosen instead to publish the memoirs of a combat Marine thanks to gender. Who knows; all that matters now is that this book exists and it deserves attention, as does Savannah Grace.

On a personal level, Savannah comes across as fearless and genuine. It’s as if all her doubts have been melted away thanks to her struggle; I’d compare it to the way an athlete looses fat during their training.

Her story is a startling one about a young girl that looses everything before regaining something better by experiencing the world first hand with a brother, a sister, and a mother. Savannah writes a tale that stresses the importance of following a dream and staying positive despite the mirage in front of us. It’s a tale of that “trial by fire” that we all look for in our literature and I hope you’ll give it a chance. In any case, I’ve just written close to four thousand words in three segments about female authors and I need to get back to my own work before I too grow boobs.

Sihpromatum can be purchased through Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

You can find further reviews, blogs, and information on how to purchase this book through Smashwords or Kobo via

Savannah’s site here: http://www.sihpromatum.com/

If you’d like to email the author directly you can do so here: sihpromatum@gmail.com

And everyone’s a fan of Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Sihpromatum-I-Grew-my-Boobs-in-China/367565703312088

Monsters in Vegas

I felt pretty good about the fact that I was in better shape than anybody else in the gym right up until the sixty year old transvestite walked in and put us all to shame. The dude was ripped. He had twice the muscle definition as I did and his boobs were bigger than my wife’s; I have a solid six-pack and my wife is a girl so it was pretty impressive on both fronts. And I knew he was a he as opposed to a masculine she thanks to the skintight grey leotard he was wearing. I suppose he could’ve been smuggling a water bottle or something but I doubt it. He walked in with his argyle socks and ballerina shoes and looked around the gym trying to figure out where to start. He had permanent make up and a grey topknot and no fear whatsoever. He stretched and then started throwing a fifty pound dumbbell around as if it were a paperweight. I shrugged my shoulders and thought “Well, this is Vegas. What did you expect?” I went back to my pull-ups and didn’t think about it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with being the second buffest guy in the gym even if number one is twice as old and wearing a sports bra.

 

I finished my workout and headed back up to the room to meet my wife and children to plan the day. As a side note, if you would’ve walked up to me five years ago and told me that I’d go to bed early in Las Vegas so I could fit in a six a.m. workout, I would’ve accused you of being retarded. Things change. My wife and monsters were awake so I told Terra about the tranny just to make early morning small talk but then I heard my oldest daughter laughing at the story, and that’s when it hit me; I voluntarily brought both of my daughters to Vegas. All of the women in my family were on spring break; one from Montessori, one from middle school, and one from college, so we’d decided to load up the car and drive the eight hours to sin city just for the hell of it. But now what? Questions would arise, and thanks to my anti sheltering policy, I’d have to answer them. I just wish it didn’t have to start with a conversation about what I meant by “smuggling a water bottle.”

The Strip

We headed out, and about ten minutes into our trek, one of those shady but silent men on the street tried to hand me a small brochure advertising the best “escorts” in Nevada. Seriously? I’m not sure exactly what we were looking for that morning but it definitely wasn’t prostitution. Maybe the dude missed his orientation at whore-business-card-handing-out-school but I’m pretty sure a thirty-something year old man walking with his wife and two daughters isn’t in the target demographic. I kept walking and for once, my oldest and most ridiculously observant daughter didn’t see anything so I got to avoid our first conversation about “really bad choices.” But it came about a mile later.

 

The bums came out around ten a.m. and started plying their trade. Some were busking with harmonicas or guitars, others proclaimed to be veterans with camouflage coats as evidence, and some relied on creative signs: “Too ugly to prostitute; too stupid to steal.” I almost gave the last guy five bucks just for his proper usage of homonyms and semicolons but we just walked on by. My oldest, Catelynn, wanted to give a rather jovial bum with a guitar and a bandana something so I gave her a couple bucks. Why not? She ran over and put the money in his hat with a smile and he said “Thank you pretty lady! Stay in school or you’ll end up like me!” then he looked over at me and said “You’re welcome!” I thanked him and we continued on. I started chuckling because somehow, I had just thanked a bum for letting me give him money. The next day, we walked by the same guy a little after ten thirty a.m. and he had already drained most of the forty ounce beer in his hand. It was cheap and wrapped in a brown paper bag because I guess he’d felt the need to reinforce a stereotype. I turned to Catelynn and said “See? You bought that man a beer.” I could see the wheels turning behind her frown.

 

It wasn’t fifty feet later that we passed by a bum in a leather vest that had track marks and needle sores all over both of his arms. It looked as if he moonlighted as a cactus wrangler. My daughter stared at him and his bedraggled sign that simply said “please help” as we walked by and then asked why I didn’t give him anything. “Would he just buy beer too?” I asked her if she noticed the sores, and I knew she had because her observation skills are almost creepy. She said yes, and guessed that maybe he’d walked through a swarm of mosquitoes (she frickin’ hates mosquitoes). I told her exactly where they came from, and that every dollar that went into his coffee-can would end up in his veins. She didn’t ask to hand out any more money for the rest of the trip.

 

I was still thinking about heroin so I didn’t notice the bikini-clad flamingo girl that was running toward us. She bent over to look into my stroller and in a dulcet voice, she asked my youngest, Kinley, for a high five. She was spangled in sequins and almost falling out of her top so I’m sure it’s a mammary Kinley isn’t going to forget. Kinley gave her a tentative high five and the flamingo girl bounced along her way giggling “welcome to Las Vegas” over her shoulder. Great; now what? Should I sit my children down on the curb and explain the pitfalls behind daddy issues? Should I take Kinley to the clinic and get her disinfected just in case?

 

The entire trip was like that; good, but awkward. We took the kids swimming every day after our forages and if I didn’t watch out, I’d find myself swimming with both of my monsters in a manmade lake of twitterpated douche bags. We’d be wading and splashing and minding our own business, and then be inundated with a wave of pheromones smelling slightly of coconuts and Bud Light. There’d be a group of men to one side doing a line dance in the pool (I shit you not) and a group of women to the other giggling way too loud and doing their best to still pull off bellybutton rings. The DJ would shout “to the left to the left to the left” as the bass pumped and I’d do my best to get my daughters to the tiled shore before they’d be swept under by the riptide flowing out from the mating rituals.

 

Our children started suffering from sensory overload pretty early in the trip. We’d take them to see sharks and jumping dolphins and albino tigers; we went to carnivals, we ate and shopped constantly, we rode roller coasters and watched light shows. But as soon as we’d get back to the room, the kids would start pacing and staring at the confining walls like inmates on death row. “Dad I’m bored. I don’t think I can sit here anymore.” Jesus. But I guess that’s what Vegas is designed to do: continuously funnel the guests through a turnstile of constant consumption. And that’s what we did. Terra and I aren’t big gamblers, we only blew two hundred bucks (half of which wasn’t ours), but the three day trip still put me back about two grand. So be it. The lesson Catelynn learned via someone else’s track marks was worth every penny.

***

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Monster

 

The Parasite

I remember looking down at the gelatinous little parasite and hating it instantly. It was putrid grey and about the size of a quarter; it had the consistency of cold snot. It was long dead, the saw that had quartered the cow I was butchering had taken care of that, but I was still repulsed by the thing’s existence. The little bastard was curled up cozy as can be in a slab of steak I was trimming and as soon as I realized what it was, I hacked it out with one of those white-handled butcher knives and threw it in the trash with the rest of the offal. But could it still infect me some how? Was it now, at this very moment, soughing off eggs or disease that couldn’t be contained by the trash can? Had I accidently touched it? Should I run to the bathroom and scrub my hands until they turned pink? Should I set fire to everything in sight to save the rest of humanity and scream like a girl while running for my life? There’s just something insidious about a parasite that irks me on a visceral level. I hate the little bastards.

 

I’m really only afraid of three things; parasites, sharks, and AIDS. The latter two are pretty easy to avoid so if I had to choose one of the three that bothers me the most, it’d be parasites for sure. As a side note, can you imagine how scary it’d be if there was such a thing as a shark with AIDS? Holy crap! I’d never swim in the ocean again. Actually, last Halloween, I wanted to dress up like one. I was going to get a shark costume and pin one of those AIDS awareness ribbons on my dorsal fin. Boom. I’d be the scariest thing ever. Anyway, back on track. I think my fear of parasites dates back to elementary school. Our teacher passed around a large capped beaker containing a huge tape worm and some cloudy formaldehyde. I froze up when it made it to my desk. The thing was long and flat and troglodyte-white with hooks for feet and an evil maw that it used to hang on inside your gut. The teacher told me that it couldn’t hurt me because it was dead and pickled, but I sure as hell didn’t trust him. How could anybody that kept monsters in jars be trusted?

 

Parasites personify every trait that we’re taught to hate; “parasitic” is an adjective always associated with villainy. They shun symbiotic relationships, they take but never give, they enter through deception, and they only leave through death. And if anything, my fear of them has been growing over the years just like a… well, like a parasite. So when I came across that evil little monster while cutting up a cow, I nearly stripped out of my white apron and left. But I couldn’t; I was doing it all for the edification of my young.

 

The wife and I had decided that we needed to show our oldest daughter where our food came from, so when we got a somewhat serendipitous invitation to help butcher a cow, we agreed. Our daughter knew that her burgers came from cows, her bacon from pigs, but it was a superficial type of knowledge. I imagine such knowledge could even be deemed inadmissible as hearsay. So we drove over to a friend’s house to help butcher a cow. Actually, all the unsavory tasks had already been accomplished. Someone else had shot the cow, skinned it and drained the blood; it had already been quartered and aged in a meet locker. My child would be getting the Cliff’s Notes version of death and butchery.

 

As soon as the work started, I could tell that our daughter wasn’t going to learn much. To her, she was just handling a bunch of steak that came from something roughly shaped like the back of a cow. In fact, she loved every bit of it. She got to use knifes like a grown up, and steak is probably her favorite thing to eat. She inherited the appetite for red meat from her mother, and standing next to the two of them as we cut steak after steak, I fully expected them to give in to the blood lust at any moment and start devouring the meat like a couple Velociraptors. It never happened.

 

The day was pretty uneventful until I came across the parasite, and even that didn’t really bother my daughter. “Uh yeah dad, just cut it out and cook the steak. Totes no problem.” Totes no problem my ass! Whatever. We took our share and left after a ranch style lunch of simple dishes that dated back to a more simple time. Cooked steak with salt. Red beats on a white plate. Cut lettuce with dressing and cheese. But as I was eating and as I was driving home, I couldn’t shake the chilling feeling that came from the dead parasite. In a way, it had infected me; part of it was living in my mind and I couldn’t dig it out. Its purpose had been fulfilled.

 

All of this was inspired by a friend’s blog. Her name is Savannah Grace and I’ve written about her work before because frankly, it kicks ass. She’s a globe trekking author with more talent than most, and she recently came across a cow that was tied up in the back of a taxi cab somewhere in Africa. How awesome is that? In a way, I’ve always been secretly jealous of Savannah’s life because she’s constantly surrounded by fodder for writing. And she uses it well; her style is relaxed and easy to read, almost like a conversation, and every bit of her life’s experience is interesting. The picture below is one of her next to the cow, but for the full experience, you’ll need to go read her blog here: http://www.watkinstravel.blogspot.com/2013/03/steak-for-breakfast.html. There’s also a video on her page, but I should warn you now, it’s a bit graphic. But the story is poignant, and if you’re a fan of travel blogs, Savannah’s is one of the best out there. So please check it out.

 

And please support Savannah buy downloading her book “Sihpromatum” here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

Cow in a Taxi

Back of the Bus

I love the white noise that bleeds from the beastly jet engines near the back of the plane. I always request a seat as close as possible to the back of the bus when I fly and they’re usually available. You can sit unperturbed and read or daydream without having to listen to that most atrocious of things: small talk. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m just as gregarious as the next guy, just so long as the next guy is a troglodyte. I loathe all of that trite “so where are you from, my name is blah blah, I hope there aren’t any babies on this flight” bullshit and I’ve found that the droning roar near the back of the plane suffocates such niceties like a pillow to the face. There are other pros: you’re usually the first to board, you’re closer to the bathrooms, and the people watching couldn’t be better.

 

However, there is one con… one horrible, horrible con. After all, the first to board is the last to deplane. After hours and hours of immobility, you get to stand and watch the milling hoards in front of you slowly awaken and poke about for their belongings like the travel drunk zombies they are. The bottleneck that is the center aisle reduces the average traveler’s mind activity to that of a cow and it takes for fucking ever. It’s like that odd little accordion affect you experience at stop lights. Most of us stare at the car in front of us instead of at the light. When red morphs into green, the first car moves, cueing the second and so on. If we all watched the light and started to move as one, congestion would evaporate but thanks to our latent herd mentality, it’ll never happen. Anyway, the same thing happens on an airplane, but it’s ten times worse due to exhaustion and over priced cocktails.

 

I usually try to take the sluggish progress in stride, and I usually fail, but there’s really nothing to be done about it. Or at least I thought not, but I learned differently after one particular four hour flight back to New Mexico from California. I was traveling with my wife and our two children, and at the time, my youngest monster had just turned two. She had slept through most of the flight but when we landed, she awoke, and as soon as her little blue eyes popped open, I could tell that she had been possessed by a seriously righteous demon while she slept. The whining and the whimpering cries of impatience started almost immediately, and as the stewardess took her sweet-ass time opening the door, I started getting the “shush your infernal child” looks.

 

But nobody deigned to move any faster. Just like the stewardess with her updo and permanent makeup who took forever to open the door, all the people in front of us took their time as they stretched or looked for their bags. Meanwhile, in the back of the plane, the tension mounted and mounted in the mind of one seriously pissed off two year old girl. She wanted off this plane. She wanted to go home. She wanted food and TV and blankets and she wanted them now. She had no tolerance for slowpokes; she had no understanding of human nature and the tide of selfishness in front of her. She started to cry in earnest.

 

“Why daddy? Why can’t we get off this plane right now?!” The looks shooting my way started to become less guarded. These people wanted absolute quiet while they ignored the fact that their doomed quest to find a missing set of headphones was retarding the lives of everybody behind them. My first instinct was to shush my child, to tell her that she needed to be quiet and wait patiently for the cattle ahead of her to deplane first, but then it hit me. Doing so would be asinine. I’d be no better than the people I complain about, the people that I write about. I lifted her up so we’d be eye to eye and I said “we can’t get off this plane until everyone else is off, and they’re moving too slow.”

 

I watched in awe as comprehension bloomed in her little bloodshot eyes. She started to get angry, I could see it in her boiling tears, and she started to scream “MOVE OUT OF MY WAYYYYYYYY!!” over and over. I lifted her above my head and turned her so she was facing everyone in front of us. I’d like to think I looked like John Cusack in the end of “Say Anything” when he holds that boom box over his head to profess his love for what’s-her-name but I probably didn’t. I just stood there and let her scream; it was cathartic. I imagined tendrils of my own frustration flowing from my fingertips into her little possessed body. I imagined my own pissed off will mingling with hers and filling the cabin of that 747 with a sonorous declaration of our intolerance.

 

Everyone looked back at once in a shocked moment of indignation, and once they realized I was doing nothing to stop a terrible twos tirade, they started moving as if they meant it. They found speed and purpose and snapped out of their head-up-ass reverie. They dug deep for a bit of altruism and got out of my monster’s way. On the way out, a rather rotund gentleman wasn’t moving fast enough for my daughter and she actually punched him with a little balled up fist. He looked at me as if seeking an apology, and I pursed my lips as if to say “ehh, what ‘cha gunna do?” That plane emptied as quickly as I’ve always wanted and after it was all over, as I was carrying my exhausted child to baggage claim, I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “good job honey, daddy loves you.”

 

***

 

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Move Bitches

Norway

The cat pawed at the dead mouse, tearing open its little stomach, then started pulling out the wet pearls of intestine. I stood there quietly; I knew that cats ate mice, but only via hearsay, and it was a bit shocking to be this close to the morbid truth. My mom said that I should look away if it bothered me, but I simply couldn’t. I was six, and my family was staying on an old farm in Norway for a few weeks.

 

I looked up from the mouse to the cat and we made eye contact. The housecat mentality had long since been lost thanks to the encroaching wilderness, and I felt as if the animal was deciding whether or not I was edible. I lost the staring contest and we went our separate ways as I followed my parents along an old forest trail that led to a church. The main building was surrounded by aboveground tombs that had enormous slabs on top carved with effigies that had been washed to oblivion by centuries of rain. A few were askew thanks to looters who had also long since died.

 

They let me use the enormous iron key to unlock the door. I felt that surely such a key could only open a pirate’s treasure chest, but the lock clicked and we went in. Living in Alaska, I had never really been exposed to antiquity, so the church came as a shock. It smelled of earth and years and the lead glass windows were actually thicker at the bottom then they were at the top because the glass, being an amorphous solid, had slowly succumbed to gravity. How crazy is that? My dad told me that even the newest part of the church was older than anything back in the United States. It felt sacred.

 

On the way back to the farm house where we were staying, we got word that a bull was loose. My parents went running towards the noise all the while yelling at me to stay back, but I simply couldn’t. We got there in time to see the bull, covered in mud and greenish manure, run into a small building along the trail. Tom, the farm’s caretaker, went in after it but came back out shortly after spitting blood and holding his jaw. The bull burst from the little building and started running away. My dad chased it, which I thought was awesome, but then the bull turned on him. It wasn’t a really big bull, but anything big enough to be called a bull is big enough to take seriously. But then again, so was my dad.

 

He grabbed the bull by the horns, literally, twisted and heaved, and then slammed a few hundred pounds of hamburger into the mud. Tom came running and tied the thing up and left it there writhing in the mud until they could figure out what to do next. I was awestruck. First the mouse, then the church and its mystical key, and then I got to watch my dad beat up a cow. Are you frickin’ kidding me? It was shaping up to be one hell of a day.

 

We went back into the farmhouse and cleaned up before dinner. Oddly enough, I have no remembrance of what we ate, but afterwards, Tom’s two toe head twins, Christopher and Cecilia, took me by the hand and drug me out to the barn and up a latter into the hayloft. Neither of the two spoke any English and I only spoke enough Norwegian to say “a thousand thanks” which doesn’t get you very far. We had long since reverted to that odd unspoken, giggling type of communication kids eventually grow out of, and through it, I figured out that they wanted me to jump off of the hayloft into a pile of hay that was a good twenty feet below us. My eyes said “no way,” Cecilia’s said “you’re a chicken,” mine said “oh yeah?” and then I jumped. Like the rest of the day, it was simply awesome. My little legs couldn’t carry me up the latter fast enough to do it a second time, or a third or a fourth. I clearly remember the musky smell of the yellow hay and the way it covered me as I lay in it. I envied the animals that lived in the barn. I recalled all sorts of nonsensical stories from bedtimes past and wondered what it’d be like to spin the straws around me into gold. We ended the night by throwing handfuls of hay at each other; to the twins it was commonplace, to me it was a novelty. I slept, and the rest of the trip has long since faded in my memory except for odd little flashes that I can’t place.

 

If you’ve ever eaten a Lay’s potato chip, then you’ve eaten a potato grown by a Navajo consortium that operates an enormous swath of land referred to simply as the Napi. I’m pretty sure it’s an acronym, but I don’t know what it stands for and I don’t care enough to Google it and find out. Anyway, all of Lay’s potatoes are grown right here in Northern New Mexico, and I often drive through the endless fields on my way to natural gas wells. The wells spot the expansive fields of rolling earth like odd little mechanized islands floating in an artificial ocean of vegetation. It’s easy to get lost, and I almost did last week, but I pulled over to the side of the road to get out and stretch and make a phone call. That’s when I saw the hay.

 

There, close to where I parked, was the most hay I had ever seen. I guess that’s not really saying much and I suppose it’s also a rather ridiculous statement, but whatever. There had to be at least one hundred thousand bails, each of which was bigger than my truck, stacked two stories high and lined up in long rows. The smell hit me and snapped me back to that farm in Norway like some sort of olfactory flashback and I stood there, stuck in my reverie and staring at the hay, until a truck full of passing Navajos honked at me. I can’t really blame them; I doubt they often see slack jawed white guys wearing hard hats and FRC coveralls staring up at their hay. I got back in my truck, pulled on to the road, back into the here and now, and then drove away.

Hay

***

 

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

A-log-ator

The bayous of Louisiana more closely resemble the Degobah System than a terrestrial landscape. I spent a few days in the swamps and lakes of Lafayette last week and I expected to see Luke knee deep in his ninja training doing flips and shit over logs with Yoda strapped to his back but I never did. I saw plenty of alligators, however, and I was profoundly affected. There’s something about man-eating dinosaurs that rub you in a visceral way and I simply couldn’t get enough. I booked a swamp tour for twenty bucks.

 

Our captain, who’s about to be featured in a History Chanel special on the invisible parts of Louisiana, would stop our flat bottomed boat amongst the vegetation and kill the outboard so we could hear him speak about this or that. There were three Americans (myself and two rather trashy gentlemen with Budweiser tallboys and homemade tattoos), three men from London, and a married couple from France. The French spoke French and our captain spoke bastardized Cajun as well as broken English. The blokes from London spoke impeccably. The two other Americans spoke ebonics at best and I was somewhere in the middle of it all laughing to myself.

 

It was easy to forget where I was while the boat was stopped and our captain droned on with his hypnotic slang. The water’s surface was a solid living mass of vegetation, and when our wake would finally die, it’d look like a smooth forest floor. I’d reach my hand out over the surface and slap it occasionally which would send out waves and make it look like solid ground was undulating; the forest floor was a water bed.  And that’s when the boat went silent. The captain casually pointed to eleven o’clock and said “gator”. The little bastard was looking right at me. I slowly raised my camera and snapped two quick pictures; the gator had seen enough and sank back down to the depths like a prehistoric submarine.

 

I have no idea why I did it but I forced myself to push my hand through the water’s living surface until my elbow was wet. The swamp was warm as soup. I imagined the scene from the gators perspective; a dark wet sky parting to let a wriggling snack through. I was exulted. The captain laughed and said something about “crazy Alaskans” before starting the motor and taking us back to shore. Everything in the lake from that point on, drift wood included, looked like something deadly but the captain would laugh and say that I had just spotted an “a-log-ator”. The Brits dubbed him a “cheeky fellow” thanks to his outback humor.

 

I had always assumed that swamps were fetid places that reeked of death and decay but these lush habitats smelled pure and verdant and I fell in love with the landscape instantly. The cypress trees grew straight from the water weeping moss and beauty back into their reflections.  Alien sounds bled from everywhere to compose a reptilian symphony. Monstrous birds that at first glance looked like pterodactyls, would slowly sweep their wings through the humid air as they flew in fright from my tour boat’s motor. It was a Cajun paradise.

I grew up in bear filled mountains and I now live in a desert wherein just about everything is poisonous but I’ve never before felt as if I was living at nature’s whim. The sun was setting and we were only a few miles from shore but what if I didn’t have the security of that skiff? Would I be able to make it back to land when I was surrounded by fifteen foot gators that were three quarters of a ton? That’s a lot of lizard. I was out of my element and I loved it. I’m positive those twenty bucks were well spent and when both of my daughters are old enough I’ll fly them to the deep south so they can breathe in the clean air of the bayou and taste that tinge of fear when a red-eyed monster looks at you like the morsel you really are. It’s a perspective we all need.