Posted in Writings

A Street Sign & A Bumper Sticker – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (8/8)

Hello Commons, here is the appendix of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Appendix
A Street Sign & A Bumper Sticker

Akasha

Yesterday, My Mother brought My grandMother to an animal shelter to adopt a new cat because her old one was recently put down. The poor thing had severe diabetes, she lost the majority of the function in her kidneys, and had zero control over her bladder. The old animal was weak, emaciated, and she lived a life of suffering. Rest in peace Akasha; I did not know you well, but I know you’ll be well missed. The new cat’s name is Mango, she’s a beautiful orange sweetheart about nine years into the first of her nine lives. My grandMother didn’t get to take Mango home that day because of Red Tape in some form or another, but as I’m writing this, they’re back at the shelter, cat carrier in hand. Hats off to Mango.

En route to the animal shelter yesterday, Mother and grandMother were driving behind a line of cars ending in a box truck that was about three hundred or so feet in front of a convertible jalopy being driven by a ninety-year-old lady with blue hair and a Kennedy ‘64 bumper sticker. The speed limit was thirty miles-per-hour but they were hardly pushing twenty, plus, it was about seventy-seven degrees outside and sticky humid, and the woman didn’t have the top down! Like, what the hell? grandMother was about to pull out a crossbow and get a little saucy, but fortunately Beatrice turned off the road and Mother was able to close the gap.

As a car somewhere higher up in the line was turning onto a road, traffic slowed and the mother-daughter duo came to a stop at a street called Hillary Court, right behind the box truck. grandMother looks at the bumper of the truck and notices a Trump 2020 sticker and laughs, pointing out the Trump-Hillary coincidence. Mother snorts and on they went to the shelter.

Politics

I was hanging out at grandMother’s house for a few hours earlier today for a visit, and she asked Me what she described as a sensitive question: how do I feel about the Trump Presidency?

I said, “Everything that happens happens because it’s s’posed’ta happen, so obviously he’s the home-grown weed that this prescription-popping Population needs right now. Plus, I don’t follow the Laws anyway, so I don’t really pay attention to Politics.”

Later on that day I went for a solo hike, sat in a tree, and participated in Nature for a few minutes, just enjoying the vibrations. With the residual Political theme in my mind, I got to thinking: that’s exactly why Trump won and Hillary lost the presidential election of 2016.

Like the street sign, Hillary is part of the Political scenery. She rolls with the Status Quo, keeping the Public aware of what was already built in the past. It’s not that She Herself wouldn’t make any of the Necessary Changes, She’s just incapable of it because Her life experiences leading up to this point gave Her the mindstate and beliefs that She has. Trump, on the other hand, is like the box truck: using the roads to deliver the goods to the customers, or in other words, using the Systems that have already been built to bring the Necessary Changes to the Grand Populous, who He ironically sees as customers for the most part anyway. He’s capable of seeing what needs to be changed because of His life experience up to this point, just like Hillary isn’t.

While I’m at it, let’s get symbolic; just look at how Trump and Hillary are identified by the General Population. Hillary uses Her first name, Her own individual identity; She is entirely fueled by Her own ego, looking out for Herself and Those Who Will Do What She Says. Trump is identified by His last name, His family’s identity; He may be fueled by an ego, but it’s a family ego, an ego that’s been used to take care of many Trumps over the course of History. If I had said Donald and Clinton after the semi-colon, it would have seemed odd, just a little bit off, like it would have taken You a second to actually realize about whom I was talking. Or maybe not because of context clues, but I digress.

Hillary is out for Hillary and all the Hillaries out there, blood-related or not, and Trump is out for all the Trumps out there, blood-related or not. And look, there are more Trumps out there than there are Hillaries; you really think a Universe as brilliantly put together as ours would let the Hillaries win?

But Hillary’s out of Politics now, if She was using it to finger Her ego then She would still be in the game. She’s a Writer now, haven’t I heard? She spends Her time Writing down Her Thoughts that She comes up with in Her head to share with Her Followers. Her story is actually very empowering, just look at how She came back after Her being cheated on became national news! Clearly no ego there, or reason to feed one, either; now that I’ve fleshed it out and read it back to myself, I really don’t know where I got the idea. Oh well, all part of The Process.

And Trump, well Trump is pushing and passing preposterous policies that literally leave a lingering smell of the eleven-hundreds, plainly plagued with His Individual Biases and Beliefs. Clearly He’s just jacking His ego ‘till He hits the moon with a new coat of paint. Sure, successful souls are saved but what about The Rest of Us who want to waste our world wallowing in the water at the bottom of the old weathered well?

The Washington Monument

Listen, if You don’t like living how the Politicians tell You to live, then stop paying attention to what the Dickheads say. Dick is ego and, whether it’s an Individual ego or a familial ego, all Politicians are focused on one thing: the growth and sustainment of their ego. The Washington Monument, the timeless reminder of the First President of the United States, is a giant erect cock with the head replaced by a point; literally America’s ego, the reminder that no matter what you say, America was fought for and won by one of the greatest humans who ever lived.

And that He was; Washington literally scrapped the plans for his monument when He was President, the man didn’t want to waste the Taxpayer’s Money. Washington didn’t commission or endorse His own monument, just like He didn’t endorse or suggest America’s dividing into two Political Parties. But here We are, the latchkey children of his actions living in the long shadow of the Washington Monument, the twisted dystopian fantasy novel written by the Aldous Huxley or the George Orwell living in the universe where the Humans of America didn’t fuck up.

Don’t rebel, don’t burn shops down, don’t riot or make a fuss. Just live in Your own way.

“But then there would be no System of Checks and Balances, you dumbass! Humans would go Crazy and kill each other!”

Keep calling other humans dumbasses, see how long You last before You get properly checked and balanced on a sheet and lowered into a hole by your crying loved ones. Everybody believes in something, and when enough humans believe in that something, then there’s a good chance that something is fuckin’ dogma.

A Simple Joke

At the end of the day, You don’t have to act on My Words; I never asked You to, after all. I just want You to laugh at My Words, if you happen to read them. I’m just a self-diagnosed shaman who likes to Write, after all, nothing more and nothing less. Wow, isn’t it incredible that I got this far from a simple joke My grandMother made? Don’t You love My Words, My Dear Followers And Hypothetical Readers? Don’t You love this stain of intellectual shit smeared on the seat of my underwear? grandMother loved it, so what choice did i have but to put it here?

What other choice did i have?!

¡Gramango!


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Afterward – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (7/8)

Hello Commons, happy Independence Day. Here is the afterward of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Afterward

Uncle Will

G-Mah nods her head slowly, eyes closed, fingertips together, allowing the words she was just read to digest in her mind.

“So that was Roadtrip, then?”

“Yep,” I announce, closing my laptop. “That was Roadtrip. What did you think?”

“Honestly dear?” as she picks up the partial glass of alcohol that was next to me and sips it, “I think it was kind of boring.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. You said that you’re going to include the part where you read it to me though, right? Our visit is going to be in the book?”

“Yeah Gram, today’s visit is going to be in the book. It’s the whole reason I’m republishing it, to be honest. You’re giving my work a whole new life.”

“Well that’s wonderful,” she says, taking herself another sip of the maroon alcohol she poured for me. “And I’m going to be a character?”

“Yep,” I beam. It’s wildly cool that grandMother is so interested in my work like this, I’ve never had somebody care this much before.

“Good. I’ll probably make your little book so much more interesting than it was already. So uh, are you going to drink or not?”

‘God damnit,’ I think to myself. “Ummm…” I say, stalling. “I don’t know, I mean, I have to drive like a half hour home, and I’m probably going to work on slapping this together all night so I can submit it for publishing tomorrow.”

“So uh,” she says, placing the eighth-full glass on top of my laptop. “Are you going to drink or not?”

I look at the glass. It’s very little. Smaller than the mason jar full of spiked tequila that Uncle Skylar was drinking the night I tried to step on a sharp piece of shale and the shale disagreed with my life choices. The liquid inside is thick like the blood that spewed from the laceration in my right foot, leaves a coating on whatever part of the glass it touches – I know this because I’m holding it in my hand, swishing the liquid around, painting the inside of the glass just to watch it clean itself so I can paint it again. Am I going to drink?

“Nah,” I say, placing the glass back on the table. “Just give it to Uncle Bill, he’ll drink it.”

“Uncle Will, you mean?” G-Mah asks, genuinely sounding concerned. “He won’t be here for a few days, only comes to visit his mother once every two weeks. He’s a scoundrel, hun, never listen to him. Always the victim, I swear to God.”

“What?” I ask, bewildered. “He got here a couple minutes after I started reading, what are you talking about?”

G-Mah says nothing.

“He’s in the bathroom right now. I mean, he went in there a while ago, but he probably just fell in or something.”

“Hun… honey, your Uncle Will didn’t come here today. It’s just been me and you. And Mango, but she’s a cat.”

“What?” I ask, falling into my head for a moment. That’s impossible, I saw him walk up the road. He was reading a newspaper, he was… oh shit, he was half naked the whole time, wasn’t he? Ohhhh boy.

“Um…” I say, trying to find the words. “Was uh, was… was Mango, like… floating?”

Grandma looks at me like I just said the dumbest shit I possibly could have said. “Yes hun, obviously. You were staying here the night she ate all those magnets off the fridge, you know she can float. She kept hiding your crutches on the roof, remember?”

“Oh yeeeaaahh, because consuming magnets in this Universe makes you float for whatever reason. I wouldn’t have been able to get my crutches back otherwise.” *wink*

“Yeah… did you forget that or something?”

“No. I don– I mean, I just felt like saying it aloud like that.” *wink*

“Why do you keep winking?” grandMother asks me, nervous.

*wink* “I don’t know,” I say, my eyelid twitching uncontrollably. *wink* “I can’t stop,” *wink* *wink* “though,” *wink* *wink* *wink*

*wink*

I slap myself in the face, hard. Not hard enough to leave a swollen handprint across my cheek and eye, but plenty hard enough to scare grandMother into a temporary state of incontinence. Despite the collateral damage, the slap seems to have cured my involuntary muscle spasms.

*wink*

God damnit. Moving on now, “So uh… Uncle Bill really wasn’t here today?”

“Will. And no, he was not,” G-Mah says, looking at my glass. “But you are, so… are you going to drink?”

Am I going to drink?

“C’mon hun, you were seeing things again, don’t you think you should? Maybe it’ll help you, all those other medications clearly don’t.”

“But I don’t take any medications, Gram,” I say, weighing the alcohol against my morality. “Besides, isn’t alcohol a gateway drug or something? Like we–”

“Okay, listen. Gateway drugs? That’s all bullshit, dear, and here’s why: I’ve done more drugs than you even know about, honey I’ve put shit up my nose that you don’t even know exists, and you know what I tried first? Dihydrogen monoxide.”

I grimace, as that sounds nasty. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s water, dear,” G-Mah says, remembering the time I told her I got a forty-something on my final exam in high school chemistry. “I drank water before I drank alcohol, or smoked marijuana, or dropped acid, or rolled ecstasy, or–”

“OKAY! Sorry, okay Gram I get it. Maybe I will take a sip… I don’t know. I have to get going, I–”

“Honey. Drink the fucking alcohol.”

I drink a little, tiny bit of the alcohol.

EUGH!!!” I enunciate with my burning throat. It’s terrible, disgusting, the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, the berry flavor is nice but the rest… what the fuck is this shit?! It hurts, it makes my tongue want to shrivel up, it… oh, my throat’s all warm now, that’s kind of nice. And I feel… like… I don’t know, words man. I don’t even care right now.

This is alcohol?” I ask grandMother, the woman looking prouder than I’ve ever seen her.

“That’s alcohol, son. You’re welcome.”

“Thank you, Gram,” I say, overcome with a lack of sobriety. I don’t even know what to say, I– oh wait, yes I do.

“If this is alcohol, what’s the rest of the stuff like? Like, what’s pot like?”

“Oohhhhhh no!” G-Mah warns, clipping my waxy wings. “Oh no, you don’t gotta be worrying about all that quite yet. You have a long way to go before you’ve mastered the alcohol, young man.”

“All right all right, fine,” I say, but inside my head, my brain begins to rapidly spin over the possibilities of alter– of enhancing my consciousness with drugs.

grandMother pours a little more liquor into her bottle and she and I finish our drinks together as the sun sets. Eventually, when my head stops spinning and I feel capable of walking again, I pack up all my things and prepare to head out. Mango runs in (I guess she finished up the catnip) and hovers off the floor to give me a proper hug. Then I hug Gram, and then we all walk to my car. Well, G-Mah wheels, but you know what I mean.

As I’m about to man the driver’s seat, G-Mah grabs the tattered collar of my shirt and whips me back outside, as if I forgot to give her a hug goodbye.

“Hey hun, before you go, remember that other thing you wrote about me?”

“The other thing?” I ask, entirely uncertain about what she speaks of.

“Yeah, it was about Trump. You read it to me a couple days before Uncle Skylar crazy glued your foot back together.”

“Oh, uh… OH! Yeah! Yeah, A Street Sign And A Bumper Sticker, right?”

“Sure, why not? Well, the reason I was asking, since your new book is going to be about me anyway, can you put in that little thing? I think its safe to say I was your inspiration for writing it. Technically, I wrote it for you, if you really think about it.”

My grandMother, the one and only G-Mah, looks at me with more hope in her eyes than she’s held all day, not quite pouting and not quite pleading. There’s little-to-nothing I can do.

“Sure Gram, I gotchu. I added an appendix to the running book, might as well add one to this one too.”


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Postface – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (6/8)

Hello Commons, here is the postface of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Postface

That Was Roadtrip

Well, there you have it. That was Roadtrip.

“That was Roadtrip?” grandMother asks, her lips struggling to keep up with the rest of her mouth.

“That was Roadtrip,” I say victoriously.

“So what’s this next shit you’re going to read to me, then?” she asks.

Thank you for reading! Since getting home I’ve done a bit of thinking as the experience has soaked in, and I feel ready to reflect on the trip.

“Oh boy.”

Now that I’ve done a little bit of it on my own, I’m starting to see the importance of traveling, of leaving the place where you spend the majority of your time to spend some of that time somewhere else on this vast, magnificent planet. There’s only so much one can learn by standing still and keeping in line with the status quo of the land one calls home. Expanding one’s horizons isn’t essential, necessarily, but it can do a lot to heighten one’s perspective, to raise one’s level of consciousness, so to speak, and as far as I see it, the higher you can get, the better!!

I have an uncle, or rather a granduncle named Stephen, who can accurately be described as a very worldly gentleman. An antiquey kind of guy, he’s spent most of his life buying, refinishing/repairing, and reselling antique furniture; at one point in his life, he even had the opportunity to work on a desk that was owned by Theodore Roosevelt. The man is very big on traveling and especially on taking road trips; he can, and has many times before, hop in a car and drive for more than twelve hours in a single day without breaking a sweat, and it shows when you talk to him. No matter what the context or the situation, he’ll have a story for you so chock-full of humor and insight, so bubbling with his own individual wisdom that you’ll feel like you’ve been traveling with him for years, while at the same time he remains as down to Earth as the dirt of the Habitat for Humanity construction sites where he works in his spare time. It’s exactly that kind of fullness of being and human genuinity that traveling nourishes. Before I took this road trip, I never really considered traveling, but now I’m counting down the days until I can hit the road again.

Metaphorically speaking, that is. I can’t see myself driving for more than two hours in one sitting for quite some time after all this hullabaloo.

Another theme I found myself contemplating over the course of this trip was friendship. What exactly makes somebody a friend? Is it time spent together, experiences had, a history made and shared between two beings? Or is it merely compatibility, a function of chance that two beings of a similar shade happen to meet up and enjoy one another’s company? Is it the sharing of a passion, a collaboration between two for the mutual enjoyment of one of life’s many niches? Maybe; all three of those things may certainly play a role, but as far as I understand it, friendship is much, much simpler.

Recently whilst trespassing on Fakebook, I read a quote about love that said something along the lines of, “Love is not a feeling, it is a commitment.” That really resonated with me; compatibility aside, history aside, everything that one normally attributes to love aside, what remains are two things: that warm, fuzzy feeling you get in the pit of your chest when you’re around your significant other, and the commitment, the mutual promise you’ve made to each other to always be there. The feelings are as powerful as they are fleeting and are more the result of love than the cause itself; the commitment, on the other hand, is the dry cedar log that provides fuel to the fire that is the feeling of love. I see friendship in a very similar light, the only difference being the intensity of the glow. To be a friend, all one must do is be there for somebody when they need it. The opposite, in turn, must also be true; if somebody is your friend, they will be there for you when you need them. Take Mike and the Fishers, for example; neither parties were given more than two days’ notice that I would be coming and staying with them. In hindsight, I realize this was probably pretty fucking intrusive and inconveniencing on my part, but what can I say? I don’t take vacations much. Plan in advance, lesson learned.

Anyway, the Fishers and I had talked about a potential road trip a couple times in months prior, but the actual plans for this trip were made literally two or three days before I left. And Mike, he didn’t find out that I was coming until I was practically on my way to his apartment. These are not stagnant beings either – Mike and his girlfriend are both in the US Navy, they leave for work before 0600 hours every day; Ronnie Fisher is a teacher at his local high school and Margaret Fisher works at a hospital as the head of the ICU. Yet, with hardly any notice at all, they all made time in their busy lives to accommodate me without the slightest bit of fuss.

A sad fact of today’s world is that many humans are more than willing to pretend to be your friend if they think they can get something out of you. Whether that something be money, work, food, whatever, humans are just plain willing to use other humans as if they were an object, a soulless automaton incapable of feeling. It’s often difficult to tell who your real friends are, but when you know, you know. Real friends are treasures meant to be cherished; that’s why I’ve dedicated this book to them.

Lastly, I want to muse about life. In Running I asked the question, “What is life?” and the only answer I could come up with was, “It’s weird,” and I’m not even the first one to realize that. In this book, the one you just read, I made a few jokes about simulation theory, which is basically the belief that what we call reality is not real at all, but an extremely advanced simulation of reality (likely a computer simulation) that is controlled by some advanced civilization in real reality. Even if that is true, does that make our reality any less real?

When you go for a hike, doesn’t the wind hit your face? Don’t you feel that slight chill run up your back as you’re engulfed by a gust of air, just for it to be melted away when the sun graces you with a beam of its light? Don’t you see the vast landscape before you as you taste that crisp hunk of apple flesh you just bit into your mouth? Aren’t you experiencing everything around you, don’t you perceive it all? Even if it isn’t real to some theoretical being who may or may not be out there, isn’t it real to you?

I say all that to say this: life is for the living. Alan Watts once said, “Reality is but a Rorschach inkblot.” What this means, as far as I understand, is that reality is up for interpretation, with each perspective that looks at it having a slightly unique view of things. By extension, this also means that reality can be whatever one wants it to be, so long as one tries hard enough. It may take effort, but whatever one wants to achieve can be achieved within one’s lifetime. For those of us that are willing to put in the work and exert ourselves for what we want, the endgame awaits. For those of us who don’t, those of us who no longer dream and want nothing more for their life than to turn food into waste, well, you’re probably long dead on the inside already. Just wait around, time will take care of the rest.

Thank you once again for reading this book. If you’re thinking about going traveling, do it. If you’re thinking about taking a risk that could benefit your life in untold capacities, do it. If you’re thinking about living this life instead of just existing here, please, for the love of life, do it. And above all else, be well~


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

The Road Part II (feat. Virginia) – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (5/8)

Hello Commons, here is the third chapter of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Chapter 3
The Road Part II (feat. Virginia)

Mango

A couple days ago when the Fisher family and I were exploring consignment barns and warehouses and the like, I mentioned that I saw all sorts of neat random stuff. Among this myriad I saw quite a collection of gas station signs, including one with a dinosaur on it that said Sinclair. Dinosaurs are a favorite of my college friend Mike, a Navy man who lives in Virginia that you may remember if you read Running: How to Torture Yourself and Enjoy It |The Unvictimized Edition|. I haven’t talked to the man in a phat minute but when I saw the sign, I thought he would get a kick out of it, so I sent him a picture of the thing and we got to texting. I mentioned I would soon be passing through Virginia and that it would be awesome if I could stop for an overnight visit. With zero hesitation he said yes, and that’s where I’m currently headed: a coastal city-town called Norfolk, Virginia.

It’s more than a few hours out of my way, and all things considered this detour will probably pile two or three more hours onto my drive, but to see my old friend? It’s unquestionably worth it. Besides, this means I only have to drive seven hours today instead of a full twelve; I’m all for it.

On the drive down I was just a bumbling bundle of energy; I managed to fill up nearly three full pages on my phone’s notes app with random thoughts and observations, I was singing along to the music coming out of my CD player like I wrote the lyrics myself, at first I even attempted (albeit for about ten minutes) to keep track of what roads I took so I could accurately depict the journey in the upcoming book adaptation… today though, I have significantly less energy.

I suppose it’s because I know what to expect; nothing I can do will make this drive go by in an instant, each passing hour will be more grueling than the next. What I’m really thinking about now is how to ration this food out so I’m not fighting hunger pangs the entire car trip. I have it all planned out: every forty-five minutes that pass, I will eat something. A half a sandwich here, a granola bar there. Some celery after a while. A bottle of water, sure, I can eat the plastic, that counts as food. I have this rationing thing down pat!

Or so I thought; an hour and a half in (after I’ve burned through literally all my food), I realize my confidence may have been more seated in the mental realm than in the physical. Oh well; the important thing is that my body has fuel, it’s not like I’m going to starve to death during the next five hours. It’s a quarter after twelve at this point, at around one or two I’ll stop and get some food at a Taco Bell if I can find one, probably fill up Bessy’s gas tank. Everything is going to be just fine, just have to look on the bright side.

Like I said, on the drive down I recorded a ton of notes to add to the first chapter, but in putting the words to processor, I chose to omit quite a bit, mostly for the sake of avoiding the true depiction of my mid-drive lunacy. One such note was an observation of the massive amount of garbage sprawled along the sides of the highway. Driving down here, the grassy highway dividers were littered with significantly more garbage than the pavement dividers were, but coming back up, the trend seems to be the opposite; the natural grassy dividers, as rare as they are, are fairly absent of garbage while the artificial dividers are like landfills waiting to happen. I mention this because I just passed a couple humans in jumpsuits cleaning up the litter. I’m sure they’re prisoners of some sort, and they’re likely being forced to do it, but it’s still a good thing they’re doing. I certainly appreciate them and their efforts.

Back home I’ll sometimes go out and fill a plastic bag or two with plastic garbage I pick up off the plastic road, although I’m vastly more likely to clean up the woods simply because I’m out hiking far more often than I’m out walking on the roads. It’s kind of fun, in a way, to clean up garbage; it’s assuredly a good deed, as in something you will feel good about yourself for doing, and even though you aren’t likely to directly receive any thanks, you know you’re brightening somebody’s day. When I’m out driving and I see mounds upon mounds of garbage towering over not only the guard rail but also my Bessy, my energy depresses just a little bit. I don’t know why intelligent human beings chuck their garbage out the window; maybe they aren’t aware that the garbage will continue to exist after it disappears from their field of view. Maybe they’re aware of it and they just choose not to think about it, or maybe they just plain don’t care. Regardless of why the garbage is chucked though, if I drive by that same spot a week later and the garbage isn’t there anymore, I take notice. It gives me a little boost, a little hit of faith in humanity, if you will. It makes me feel good to see other humans taking care of the planet; we are the managers here, after all. Hu(man)agers.

That was reference to Running, the hu(man)agers bit. So sayith the author, “You should totally read Running: How to Torture Yourself and Enjoy It |The Unvictimized Edition|, even if you’re not into the whole running thing. At face value, yes, it’s a running book, but what it’s really about is how to upgrade yourself, how to evolve so you can overcome any hurdle blocking the flow of your life, even those hurdles that seem impossibly tall, even those that drive fear into your heart at the very thought of putting them into words.”

Fear is a funny thing though; a very powerful motivator on one hand, and on the other, a wall marked impenetrable.

I was terrified to release Running, to be honest. The first chapter, called Running From My Problems, is the story of my life up to the point of my publishing [of the first edition of] the book and how running has helped me to overcome certain challenges in life that I wouldn’t have overcame otherwise. I know that doesn’t sound bad at face, but my life up to said point has involved a lot of, shall we say, less than stellar situations. In other words, in telling my story, I wrote about things that make hypothetical readers feel very uncomfortable, such as mental illness, depression, lite psychosis, a neurodegenerative disease here, a severe head injury there, and to wrap it all up, a healthy dose of shamanic mumbo jumbo.

After that first chapter though it’s all uphill; I wrote about why running is good for the mind, body and soul, I give the reader a training regimen to get them started, I give them tips and tricks for training and competing, some examples of workout ideas. I even interviewed a couple handfuls of runners to get their perspective on the sport, it’s all great. That first chapter is dark though; so dark that I feared, upon reading it, one would throw my book down and not give the rest of it a chance. So dark that I feared, upon reading it, one will decidedly never read anything I’ve written again. It almost stopped me from publishing it.

But of course the wall incarnation of fear is marked impenetrable, that’s exactly what the fear wants you to think! There’s nothing to fear but fear itself, take it from me – I’ve danced with the devil under the pale moonlight more than once and at the end of the day, it’s not even death that humans are afraid of. It’s the feeling of fear. The best way to eliminate that feeling is to dive into it, to face it with your teeth showing and either drive it off or strike it down altogether. So, I published the book, and not a lot of humans read it, but here I am writing another book that not many humans will read. And I’m happy doing it; some may say that I’m wasting my time, but to them I say, “Time is an illusion, bucko.”

Besides, it’s not like I’m really wasting my time. I could be, I don’t know, a prisoner sitting in one of the two inmate transfer buses I just drove past. Now that would be a waste of time!

At this point I believe I’m about three hours in, maybe I’m still in North Carolina, maybe I’ve crossed into Virginia. Who even knows anymore; everything is just atoms anyway, I’m essentially a hamster running on a treadmill with a repeating background scrolling past me. Well, technically the background isn’t really repeating, but… oh, you know what I mean. My back is aching to shreds, I’m bored, and the rappity-rap music isn’t even helping me anymore. I’m about to pass an undercover police officer who’s parked on the center divider now, he’s facing the other side of the highway.

Knowing there’s no way he can possibly hear me, I cockily say aloud, “Come on motherfucker. Cross over the grass, come get me. I know you want to give my long-haired ass a ticket. Let’s get some.” Hah, what a punk.

Then, the funniest thing happens. He does exactly that. The guy pulls right onto the road, my side of the road, throws his lights on, and starts to pick up speed. I shrink down to the size of a grain of rice-shaped pasta and my heart skips a couple beats. Although my hands are shaking and I have that weird, staticy anxiety attack feeling coursing through my nervous system, I try to keep calm and maintain a respectable speed. I’m going like twenty over the speed limit, but like, so is everybody else. I’m just keeping up with the flow of traffic, that’s all.

I try to chill but my mind is racing at one thousand miles-per-minute imagining up different scenarios of me getting pulled over and what the outcome would be. Maybe the cop’ll be in a good mood and I’ll just get a warning. Maybe she’ll pretend he smells drugs and force me out of the car. Maybe he’s not even a cop, just a serial killer and she’ll force me to take a ride in his cruiser with her. Maybe he knows Mother and she’ll tell Her about the incident before I can!!!!  I’m literally sweating as I speak this into my phone’s Notes app. I feel slightly light-headed.

Little do I know, I’m not even on the officer’s radar. He pulls over an SUV that’s driving three-to-five cars behind me. All that worrying for nothing. I think I’m just a little overtired.

After another hour of driving, I pull into a Papa John’s that happens to be in the same plaza as a gas station. At first, I think that the gas pumps are going to eject tomato sauce instead of gas, but I quickly return to reality and realize how silly that would be. I fill the tank, pay with my card, and waddle inside the Papa’s to ask the lady at the counter if they have a bathroom. Unfortunately, the sheer bulbousness of my bladder makes my voice come out at a very high pitch and she gives me a weird look, but nonetheless points me in the right direction.

For every tank filled one must too be emptied, and now all things rest in equilibrium. I still haven’t had my Taco Bell but I’m not worried, I’m sure I’ll get my chance. I go to order a slice for the road but the lady’s spirit seems to have disintegrated from this reality, she’s nowhere to be found. I take that as a sign from the Universe to pass on the highway fast food pizza and get back into the car.

Then, the pizza joint explodes, bursting into a gigantic ball of black smoke and red fire, incinerating employees, patrons, seagulls, and everything else in a thirty-foot radius.

Just kidding, the next two hours of driving are extremely uneventful. I’m on one road that goes up and down a hill over and over for easily a hundred miles, and with a speed limit of only forty-five miles per hour, it drags on like the opossum in the novel Ravens that I read a month or two ago. Good book.

Anyway, two hours of unchanging scenery pass and I finally pull into the wrap-around parking lot of Mike’s apartment complex. I find a parking spot that only slightly blocks a driveway and call up Mike on my phone. The unit number he gave me is three digits and all the numbers around me are four digits. For all I know, I’m on the entirely wrong side of Virginia. Fortunately, I don’t know shiitake from a mushroom, and moments later, Mike comes walking around the corner. He greets me with three words: “What’s up Jesus!”

Other humans occasionally tell me I look like Jesus. It does wonders for my budding god complex.

A cackling laughter grabs my attention away from my laptop screen. I assume it came from G-Mah but she’s still dead asleep, face pressed flat against her tiled kitchen table, the grouted grooves imprinting a raised grid on her face. Mango, on the other paw, is sitting on Gram’s head now, claws dug in, ready for more.

We walk back to Mike’s place and even though years have passed, it’s like I just saw dude yesterday. He takes me inside, introduces me to his girlfriend Brenna and his two cats, Cali & Kiki, and shows me around the apartment. It isn’t massive, as he told me before we got inside, but it’s a nice spot, leagues larger than the front room of that multi-store boutique in Hendersonville.

“This place is great, man!” I tell him as we all pop down on the couch, “You guys have your own space, it’s way better than my dusty attic in Mother’s house. This is an absolute win.”

After a few minutes of instigating the cats with a laser pointer, the three of us make a run to Walmart to grab some essentials: potatoes (both sweet and bland), moving boxes (because they’ll soon be moving into a much bigger apartment), some alcohol for Mike & Bree and, of course, the new Spiderman movie on BluRay that just happened to have released today. I’ve been dying to see that new Spiderman movie too; the timing is impeccable.

I’m not sure how I notice, but Mango rolls her eyes at me as I’m reading. I look up just in time to watch her hover back into the air, pulling with her the hearty amount of grandMother’s hair she has tangled in her claws. She turns towards the cabinets, the ones over the SodaStream, and opens them up, grabbing a bag of green stuff with her teeth before shutting the cabinet with her tail.

“Mango?” I ask with hesitation because I am speaking out loud to a floating cat. “What uh, whatcha got there?”

Mango floats over and drops her bag in front of me; thankfully she thought to seal it up so the contents don’t confetti about. I open the bag and take a sniff – definitely doesn’t smell like the stuff the dude was selling in Hendersonville. But I feel like I know this smell… I sniff again… oh shit, it’s a bag of catnip! I used to give this stuff to Milkshake, he adored it.

“Word!” I exclaim literally a half second before I find a pad of rolling papers buried among the leaves, the same ones my Uncle Skylar uses to roll his left-handed cigarettes with. Before I can comment on the rolling papers, Mango grabs the whole bag in her teeth and vanishes; her body and the bag o‘nip literally fade into the air and she’s gone, like she was never there.

“Huh,” I say to myself.

The Walmart we go to is a Walmart on steroids. One could fit two or three Jersey Walmarts into this one, I don’t even mean that hyperbollically, and they sell alcohol here! I feel like a stranger in a foreign land.

The place is packed too; maybe it’s because I’m exhausted from the drive, but I keep finding myself standing in the way of other humans who are trying to get their groceries for the week. At one point, as Mike and Brenna are water boarding an employee because he refused to disclose the location of the Spiderman BluRay, a guy dressed in a black business suit with a purple tie who smelled like a particularly happy skunk grabbed me by the shoulders, lifted me straight into the air (no bullshit) and displaced me on the other side of him. As he was taking something off the shelf I was once blocking, he said to me, “Christ, kid, you probably get in your own way.”

I was almost offended, to be honest, but then I saw that he was wearing a fedora that matched his suit and I chose to focus on that rather than the fact he was able to lift me three feet in the air without showing any signs of strain. Mike and Brenna come back a minute later, Spidey in hand, and Mike asks me why I look so disheveled. I tell him some suited man that was just standing here a second ago told me I get in my own way. This garners a crooked look and not much else.

Eventually we fight our way out of Walmart and load up the car. I’m just about to suggest we get some Taco Bell, but before I even get the chance, Mike announces that he’ll be cooking a full steak dinner tonight. All cravings for locos tacos promptly vanish from my system. I didn’t even know Mike could cook, this should be interesting.

I hear a coughing coming from the porch. I look up, assuming grandMother went out for a smoke, but she’s still here at the table with me, knocked out and hardly breathing at all. I get up to stretch the back & legs and once I’m feeling limber, I tiptoe over to the bathroom and knock on the door. Through the crack under the door I can see that the lights are off, and I don’t immediately smell anything that would burn the hairs out of my nose, but I decide not to disturb Uncle Bill while he’s in there. Dude’s fighting a war most will never know anything about.

Stepping on the air above the floor so I don’t wake the grandMother, I peek out into the porch and see Mango, sitting like a human in grandMother’s spare wheelchair that she keeps outside, with a hand-rolled catnip cigarette impaled on her singular extended claw. She knows I’m there, I see her ears twitch when I say her name five times in a row, but the cat refuses to turn around and acknowledge my presence in her porch.

As I sit back down at the kitchen table, the glass of liquor stares at me so hard that a picture frame hung next to the bathroom door falls off the wall.

Mike and Brenna start on dinner right when we get back. I offer to help, but there’s not really much I can do, so I find that laser pointer and play with the cats while my hosts work their kitchen magic. Sounds of steak sizzling and bacon popping dominate the atmosphere, I’m satiated by the aroma alone. As Mike smothers our steaks with pink sea salt and pepper, I ask Brenna how she and Mike met. She tells me an adorable story of how they became friends early on in their Navy careers, then best friends, then suddenly they were living together, and it’s been very wonderful ever since. I’m very happy for them, they make a very cute couple. Oh, and by the way, very.

Before I know it, we’re all sitting on what might be the comfiest couch in the world and I have a plate topped with steak, a fried egg, strips on strips of bacon, a buttery, flakey biscuit, and another steak sitting in front of me. Mike throws on Spiderman and we get to work inhaling our food. Now I’m not normally an egg guy, as you know, but I’ll be damned if the steak, egg and bacon sandwich I throw together on that biscuit isn’t the greatest tasting thing I’ve ever eaten. No offense to the Fisher family, to Mother, to myself, to anybody who’s food I’ve eaten lately; this is the best tasting meal I’ve had in months. My boy can cook!

The Spiderman movie is fantastic and afterwards, Mike & I stay up way too late shooting the shit and watching graphic animated shorts about robots that love and die on Netflix, just like old times. Around eleven o’clock, Mike mentions that he has to wake up at 0500 hours for work, and that we should probably be getting to bed, because when he leaves, I have to leave too. Very well; it was a short visit but a good one, I’ll definitely have to come back again soon. I spend both the remaining hour of night and the choice few hours of pre-sun morning on the couch, drifting in and out of unconsciousness while the cats take turns walking across my body. I guess this is revenge for the laser pointer, so be it. Do your worst, felines, I raised a Milkshake.

The next morning is a groggy one, but I push on regardless. We say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. I’m actually amazed at how functional these two are at this most ungodly of morning hours; I can hardly muster the strength to fully open my left eye! My friends have about a forty-five-minute ride to work and I have about seven hours until I’m home. Best to get moving, droopy eyelid or not.

Oh, and lastly, “Thank you both for your service.”

The first leg of my drive home is shrouded in early morning darkness. I drive alone over the expansive Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the flickering street lights the only barrier between myself and the shroud of inky abyss, and then I meet up with Bessy and we drive through the accompanying tunnels; for the most part, I don’t see any other vehicles until daybreak. I bet the view of the ocean from the bridge would have been spectacular too, if only I could have seen it. Oh well, I care about nothing except not being in this car right now.

The next five hours of my drive are truly grueling. I don’t eat anything, I don’t drink anything, I don’t even record anything on my phone. I just do my best to zone out for as much of the drive as possible, and to my own surprise, I’m successful. I only come out of it when my gas light turns on, and as I begin to look around for a gas station, lo and behold, I find a Citgo. And what’s right across the street from that Citgo? A Rite Aid. And what, pray tell, is a single parking lot over from that Rite Aid?!? A Taco Bell. My time has come!!

I excitedly pull into the Citgo and pump my own gas with an exhausted smile on my face. I can almost feel the crunch of the taco shells, taste the cheese powder of the locos tacos. I’m right there, I’m staring at the door, reading the instructions on how to open it. All I have to do is push.

I damn near leap across the street in my car and park in the Rite Aid parking lot to use the bathroom before I venture into Taco Bell. I love their food, but I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that Taco Bell bathrooms are a happy, lovely place. Hard pass on that.

After walking out of the Rite Aid feeling a couple pounds lighter, I come to a startling realization: there’s a chain link fence between the parking lot that I’m currently in and the parking lot the Taco Bell reigns supreme over.

‘That’s all right!’  I neurotically scream inside my head. ‘I can just hop the fence! No biggie!’

So I do just that, I waltz myself over and vault the fence in broad daylight before circumnavigating the drive-through side of the Taco Bell until I find the front door. It is at this point that death herself stares me in the face and snickers, the dust off her rotting teeth polluting the very air I breathe: the Taco Bell doesn’t open for another hour and a half.

I am overcome with despair, tossed into a dead world of dashed hopes & dreams and crushed into nightmare powder to be snorted by Mephisto and his demonic little cohorts.

Hauling myself back over the fence and sulking to my car, I take one last look at the glorious Taco Bell before starting Bessy up and getting back on the road. Only three-ish hours left until I’m home, there won’t be any more rest stops. No more detours. My next stop is Mother’s house, my home. It looks like I won’t be getting my Taco Bell after all…

The back and neck pain rear their grotesque, snaggle-toofed grins almost immediately. A couple miles later, my stomach begins to sing the song of its ancestors. My CD player keeps skipping on my favorite song off Wrekonize’s The War Within. I’m about ready to pull my Galil out and make Bessy feel it, bonus points if you caught that reference. (It’s a song on the album, my favorite song to be exact. (The one I mentioned just now, the one that kept skipping. (Without this background info the reference kind of sounds like sexual innuendo, so I felt the need to put this here. (This is more of a reflection of my mental state when I was driving, I don’t actually think those who read this are going to assume I’m having sex with my car, that would be inane. (This is a reality book, not reality TV. (How many monkeys does it take to close a parenthesis?))))))

On top of all this nonsense, I’m about to cross over the Delaware Bridge, which of course means I’m going to have to pay a toll. It really drives me insane to be forced to pay the government to drive on certain specific roads and bridges, roads and bridges one must drive on to get to where one’s going. It’s quite obvious to me that the government is a corporate ass-licker only out to pay its members, its in-crowd if you will, and not a benevolent ruling body who loves its subjects. I mean really, any and all interaction with the government, with any governing body, should be one’s choice! It should be voluntary. You think the government’s doing a good job? Great, pay them some taxes, make the choice to donate some of your money to them. You think the government is doing a terrible job? Great, don’t give them a dime, let everyone else pay their salaries. You’ll probably have to do whatever they’re trying to do by yourself, but chances are, you’ll do a better job than they will. Especially when it comes to fixing roads – in New Jersey, the public roads are utter trash. Littered with potholes big enough to swallow up a station wagon, if you’re not careful, you will literally break your car trying to pick your kids up from school. The workers the government hire to fix the roads usually aren’t even affected by them, they just give the job to the lo–

~WE INTERRUPT THIS RANT TO BRING~
~YOU A BOOST TO YOUR FAITH IN~
~HUMANITY~

“Huuuuh??” G-Mah rumbles as she picks her sleepy head up from the table. The right side of her face is slicked in drooly grout lines and her seltzer bottle, empty, is knocked over in front of her. Mango, still busy smoking some catnip out on the porch, hears her mommy wake up and comes right in, not even closing the door behind her.

“Well good afternoon, madame!” I trumpet, trying to be funny or polite or something, I don’t even know.

“What?” Gram says, looking at me as if she didn’t know who I was. “Oh, honey, right, you’re visiting me today. And you were reading… RIGHT! Is the book done? Was that Roadtrip?”

I chuckle. “Almost, Gram. You fell asleep for a little while, but you didn’t miss much. We’re almost to the end of the last chap–”

“Woo-hoo!” G-Mah bellows, clapping her hands together and doing a little jig in her chair. She goes to turn herself around, then spots the bottle of liquor on the table and stops herself. Then, “I’ll drink to that! Great job hun, I loved it, it was very good. Are you ready to drink with Grandma yet?”

“You didn’t let me finish, Gram!” I say as I turn the laptop around.

I show her how much is left of this chapter, then I show her the Postface. The smile fades from her eyes as she pours straight liquor into her seltzer bottle, filling the plastic thing up to the lip and capping it shut. She even removes the label before uncapping the vessel and drinking more, which I think is kind of neat.

“Are you ready to keep goin’, Gram?” I attempt.

grandMother, instead of answering, takes another drink. Mango moseys back out to the porch to roll up another left-clawed niparette.

The guy ahead of me payed my toll. And the toll for the next four cars behind me. He just… he gave the toll booth worker a large bill, said, “Pay the rest of these peasants’ tolls,” and went on with his life. I’m so absolutely overcome with joy, with love for my fellow human, that I don’t even remember what I was writing about before. Happy day! I don’t know who that guy was, but whoever you are, if you happen to read this book… thank you. Sincerely. God bless you. I’m not going to pay it forward in any recognizable way, but god bless you.

I can feel an energy shift as soon as I enter Jersey. Down South, everything moves an octave slower; the air is more mellow, the denizens aren’t so quick to judge, everything is just more peaceful. But up here, everything moves fast; you can literally feel it when you cross over state lines. Or, at least I can feel it as I cross the state line. Maybe I’m just anxious to be home. Maybe I’m just stir crazy from sitting in this car all day. Maybe I’m just regular crazy and my mind is playing tricks on me… or maybe I’m just tapped into some metaphysical plane and I can sense things that others cannot. Who’s to say for sure?

I hit Jersey’s southernmost toll booth, get my toll ticket, and cruise the turnpike up the body of the state without making a single stop. My toll is nearly fourteen dollars by the time I get off the blasted highway, but I’m so ready to be out of the car that money isn’t even real to me.

Slowly, the roads regain familiarity. Route 23, 287, take the next exit for Oakland, then… wait, Oakland? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s taking me through Oakland!

Oakland is one town over from Ringwood, on the Bergen County side. Along the New Yorkian border of New Jersey are three counties: Sussex, Passaic and Bergen. Sussex is rural; lots of farms, they have a county fair every summer, it’s very homey. Bergen is where the wealthier of the Jersians live; McMansions, privilege, exotic foreign sports cars as far as the eye can see. Passaic county, where my home lies, is caught somewhere in the middle; we’re not all farmers, some of the Passaiians have money and big houses, but there’s a good chance that those very same Passaiians hunt and eat squirrels. Do with that what you will.

Anyway, the reason Oakland sticks out to me right now is because nestled in the heart of the town is the very place I’ve been trying to go ever since I departed on this road trip. Right off the side of the main street, standing proudly at the end of a small shopping center, is a KFC/Taco Bell. Both of the restaurants, if you’d be kind enough to call them that, combined into one store front. Home is only twenty minutes away and my fuckit bucket has been empty for quite some time now.

You know what that means, hypothetical reader?

I’m getting my god forsaken Taco Bell.

The line is long, but I don’t care. The wait is tenuous, but I don’t mind. All the tables inside are full, but that’s all right. I’ve been in the car for more than twenty-four hours over the past week, I can eat one more meal in here without keeling over.

And eat I do – usually when one eats Taco Bell, the innards of the taco spill out of the shell, but not today. I eviscerate that delicious mystery meat, I destroy the Baja sugar solution, I fill my stomach so quickly that I feel it expand further than the Grinch’s heart after he discovered the true meaning of the spirit of Christmas. I can happily say that I accomplished all my missions for this road trip. Hallelujah.

The next twenty minutes go by in the blink of an eye. I cruise over Skyline Drive, take County Road 511 (aka Greenwood Lake Turnpike for the motley fools who don’t know) to the Monksville Dam, soak up the view of the reservoir where everyone fishes but nobody catches, and finally I’m home. I unload my luggage and plop it all in my room, change into a different pair of jeans dotted with more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, and set off for the woods.

After a fatiguing drive I’m finally home. The road trip is complete. Sure, I need to write the book yet, but I’ll climb that mountain another day. As for right now, the trees are calling out to me – I have a much more physical mountain to climb.


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

North Carolina – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (4/8)

Hello Commons, here is the second chapter of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.

Also, fair warning: in the book, this chapter is 52 pages long.


Chapter 2
North Carolina

Sunflower

Thursday, March 14th
“Today is Wednesday though,” G-Mah says to the sink.

“Hm?” I ask, looking at Uncle Bill, getting nothing in return. Must be a pretty pressing news story.

“You said Thursday, March fourteenth, dearie. It’s August twenty-first today, and it’s a Wednesday. If it was a Thursday it would be garbage day,” as she turns herself around, glass in hand.

Slowly G-Mah wheels herself back to the table. When she’s all locked in, she gently places the glass next to my laptop and folds her hands together. I look over at Uncle Bill to see that he’s put his entire face through the newspaper, so his head looks like a shitty rendition of a sunflower. His hands are also folded, waiting.

The eagle has landed. After maneuvering my car up the winding cliffside roads of the Carriage Park housing development through the darkness of night, I pull into the driveway and Mister Fisher comes right outside to greet me. I give him a hug and he tells me he and his wife already picked Zak up and told him he was staying at their place for the weekend, but they didn’t tell him why. My coming here is a complete surprise for the boy; from his perspective I’ll have just appeared here, like a magician minus the cloud of smoke.

Now if there’s one thing you need to know about Zak, it’s that he loves to talk. His motor mouth could easily outpace a V8 engine, good day or not, but when he first sees me, he’s utterly speechless. The look of surprise on his face literally can’t be described with words, it’s that great. He couldn’t believe that I would drive twelve hours just to come and see him! And honestly, I couldn’t believe I just drove twelve hours either! But I’m here, at his parents’ house in North Carolina, and there’s no time to waste.

Zak introduces me to their dog Henry (like Henry Ford) and gives me a tour of the abode, a lovely bi-level townhouse that’s less townhouse and more house that you would find in a town; the basement has two full bedrooms (one for me and one for Zak), a bathroom, the Train Room (a room full of cool stuff like model trains and other unique collectibles), a living room with a few couches and a big-screen TV, an office, a storage room and, finally, a sizable bi-level deck that hangs over the hillside and allegedly offers a beautiful view of the sun as it rises over the valley.

From there we go upstairs and the tour continues full steam ahead. Zak shows me the wide-open great room, the kitchen, a secondary living room that can accurately be described as a sitting room, his parents’ bedroom and their closet (the closet almost as big as my entire bedroom back home), the master bathroom (complete with a jacuzzi tub), a secondary bathroom that can accurately be described as a powder room, and the upstairs balcony.

Following the tour, Zak helps me take my luggage inside and Ronnie (Zak’s father) puts together some dinner for me, a delicious turkey, lettuce and cheese sandwich with a sliced-up apple and potato chips. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten after such a long day of tasting basically nothing but my own saliva, and I thank him profusely through a stuffed mouth.

As I inhale, Zak, Ronnie and Margaret (Zak’s mother) join me at the table and we talk about the plans for my North Carolinian holiday; the weather tomorrow is supposed to be on the dreary side, but other than that we should have clear skies and sunny days. There are restaurants to eat at, a main street for shopping, a forest with dozens of towering waterfalls to hike through, a comedy bus tour through the neighboring city of Asheville; it’s going to be a packed weekend, and I can’t wait to get it started.

Smile

Well, I’m here. I survived the twelve-plus-hour drive all by myself, accompanied by the voices in my head of course, and now I’m chilling with Zak for the next four days. Oh, and all that back/neck/everything pain I was ranting/raving/complaining about earlier? That immediately disappeared as soon as I stepped out of the car. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m exhausted and about to knock out. After considering my whole journey down here, there’s only three words I can come up with to wrap up today: I made it.

“Congratulations! Was that Roadtrip??” G-Mah asks me through a mouthful of “seltzer”.

I tell her she can swallow her drink before she speaks because I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, and that there’s quite a bit left to read. I thought saying this would make her smile, but instead she rolls her eyes and takes another swig of her liquor-ish seltzer.

The Museum

Friday, March 15th
I awaken to a gentle gray light peeking through the curtains draped between myself and the window.

“Where else would they be draped, over your balls?” asks my Uncle Bill in a gruff voice. He’s just mad because his mother is speaking to me instead of him.

It had rained, or according to Zak and his family, it had stormed and thundered with the force of a Norse god last night, but I heard nothing. I guess that drive really did take a lot out of me.

The deck is damp when I walk outside to catch the vista, but I hardly notice. The view of the valley and the neighboring mountain, even though it’s slightly obstructed by a few trees, is nothing short of beautiful, breathtaking even; to be able to wake up here in the morning is a dream. Below the deck is a grove of laurel trees growing so close together their leaves interlock and, under the right circumstances, I could imagine it looking like a pond with a ripple cast across the surface. The morning fog is just drifting back into the sky and a gentle gust blows across my face; I take in a deep breath, filling my lungs with that glorious North Carolinian mountain air. It smells like the forest down here, I’m infatuated already.

Zak is just waking up when I walk back inside. He’s about as groggy as I am, as our mutual grunts of acknowledgment show. Both of his parents had left for work hours before we woke up and we have the house to ourselves, more or less. He makes a dash for the bathroom to take a shower and whatnot and I walk upstairs to be hounded by a happy to see me Henry. I dish out a generous helping of pets and scratches before returning down to the dungeon to do a quick workout so my brain wakes up.

Twenty push-ups, twenty sit-ups, twenty squats; repeat three times and we’re done. Zak finishes his shower and gets dressed just in time for me to finish up and get in the shower before the water has a chance to cool down – the scald gives a welcome burn.

After the ol’ lather, rinse & repeat, I dress myself and head upstairs to find Zak eating some breakfast. He tells me they have cereal, bread for toast, eggs and some drinks in the fridge, and that I can help myself to whatever I want. I toast up some white bread and smother it with a butter spread, accompanying it with a few stalks of celery and a cup of fruit juice. I hoarf the food down rather quickly, and as I’m washing the plate I used, I notice a note on the counter. Not only had the elder Fishers left us forty dollars to get lunch today, but they also managed to procure tickets for that comedy bus tour on Saturday. Such kindness, I’m so grateful to be here.

“And I’m grateful that you’re here with me today hun,” G-Mah says with only a slight slur linking her words.

I look up to see that G-Mah is no longer facing me. She’s out in the middle of the kitchen doing donuts in her wheelchair whilst Mango tries to catch her, almost like a dog chasing its tail. I look to Uncle Bill for some grounding. He’s shirtless, still with the newspaper on his face. I’m not sure if he took the newspaper mane off to take his shirt off and then put the mane back on, or if he was never wearing the shirt in the first place, but it doesn’t really matter. Uncle Bill is as Uncle Bill does, and Billy do.

On the agenda for today, other than lunch, is a tour around Hendersonville; there’s a nice park Zak wants to show me, and of course we’re going to hang out around Main Street for a while. Before we head out, though, there are some chores that must be done, specifically the emptying of the dishwasher and the doing of Zak’s laundry. I get busy working on the dishwasher, drying what needs an extra drying and Zak putting the dishes in their rightful places, and then we tackle the laundry.

While we wait for the washing machine to finish up with the clothes, Zak shows me a whole slew of pictures of various fancy cars he’s seen around town. He’s spotted everything from Corvettes to Porsches, Lamborghinies, Ferraries to Maseraties, he even has a picture of the Batmobile and, of course, Herby from Herby Fully Loaded.

Zak’s entire family is very automobile-friendly, and Zak is certainly no exception. His favorite maker is Volkswagen and his favorite model of car is, without a doubt, the Beetle. Before he moved down here, he drove a red Beetle named Jasper that his parents got him as a surprise Christmas gift in December of 2012, our senior year of high school.

After the photo gallery, Zak seems a little anxious; he’s pacing a bit, messing with the furniture, revving his motor mouth, classic anxiety stuff. I suggest we have a quick meditation sesh to quell the inner beast and, reluctantly, Zak agrees to humor my hippie ways. I set a timer for ten minutes, sit down with my legs crossed on the floor while he mans the couch, and we drift away into the astral plane. When we come to, Zak is significantly calmer; he even tells me it put his mind at ease. I feel much calmer too, the entire energy of the household seems to have slipped into a certain state of zen.

By now the laundry is basically done, so without further ado I snatch the forty-dollar bill off the counter and we head out the door. Bessy follows the winding road down the mountain and leaves the development, merging onto the main road that leads to downtown Hendersonville. The Fisher folk told me last night that their development, or rather, collection of nineteen individual developments all enclosed in a mountain-side community with a gate, is called Carriage Park. Their specific housing development is called Carriage Commons, or just The Commons, which I find ironic because I operate a publishing company called The Hillside Commons which, of course, I refer to as The Commons. As they say, great minds think alike; that, or we’re all idiots.

They also mentioned Carriage Park is more of a retirement co–

“A retirement home?!” G-Mah shouts, knocking her empty seltzer bottle off the table with a grabber tool she wields like a medieval sword. Then, with the grabby end gripping tightly upon my Adam’s apple, “You better not be trying to tell me your Mother’s planning on putting me in a home, young man, I swear to God if you are…!”

My eyes dart from grandMother to Mango, then to my Uncle Bill, then the single hair sprouting from my Uncle Bill’s left nipple, and then back to G-Mah, who looks none too thrilled.

“Well?!” she demands.

“Uh, uh, uhhh, um…” I stutter, not sure of what to say. “I’m not… why would you think that, Gram?”

The tension suddenly deflates and grandMother looks significantly more thrilled than she came off as a moment ago. She also releases my throat.

“I’m sorry hun, sometimes I hear certain words and it triggers me. Sometimes it happens when other humans talk, like, your Uncle Will?”

I look over to Uncle Bill, who’s now down to his tightie-whities, and watch as his whole face boils from a tannish pale to a reddish pink.

“When he talks it makes me want to get back into my crack habit. I mean really, I can’t make this up, he comes here and drones on and on to me about the latest cornhole competition he watched on tee-vee, like, really? Nobody gives a shit about what you’re stuffing up your corn hole Will, nobody cares!”

Uncle Bill, tears streaming down his face and dirty black newspaper ink dripping like hot asphalt from the soggy streaks in his mane, stands up from the table with such intensity that the wooden chair he was stationed at flies into the wall behind him. He slaps the table with one hand, then slams both hands down, then he starts punching the table like my cousin Chad does a sheet rock wall after he drank three too many Monster energy drinks. Despite the commotion, G-Mah remains cool and collected, steadier than steel.

The Fishers also mentioned that Carriage Park is more of a retirement community than anything else, and that they’re among the youngest residents that live here. Even though I’ve only been in the area for a few hours now, I can see why it’s a desirable retirement destination. It’s very calm down here; the sun is warm, the air is balmy, the forests are everywhere; it’s just a very peacefu–

“Can you stop, please?!” I spontaneously ask, the words bursting out of me in a voice coarse enough to smooth cement.

Uncle Bill freezes mid-punch and just looks at me, terrified. Then a blood vessel breaks below his right iris, causing him to grab his face and dash into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him so hard that it doesn’t even make a sound. At least, not a sound I can hear with my lowly human ears; Mango, both her eyes and ears wide and alert, trots off into the hallway.

G-Mah, on the other hand, considers me, the look on her face both impressed and a little frightened.

“Sweetie… are you sure you don’t want any liquor? You might uh… maybe you could use it?”

I look at the glass for a moment and consider it. Then I continue reading.

…it’s just a very peaceful town, like an old-worldy village set back in the forest, close enough to the coast to share in the warm weather but inland enough to avoid the storms. Rolling towards main street, I notice many other retirement villages lining the sides of the road, although none are as grandiose as Carriage.

Zak begins the tour as soon as we hit the heart of Hendersonville. He points out a bunch of places that he frequents – places he used to work at, the road that leads to the supermarket he works at now, all that good stuff. He then directs me to Illustrious Park, the actual name of which escapes me. We drive a loop around a couple different fields until we find a parking space near a patch of woods where we can take a quick walk. In this moment I realize why everyone calls these places parks; it’s a place to park your car and enjoy nature. Thank you, the very complex English language and its intelligent, creative progenitors.

The patch of woods isn’t sizable in any way, shape, or form, but there’s a nice little trail that runs through it and Zak leads the way. I quickly learn that the path is part of a disc golf course, one that Zak helped build, no less, and he shows me one of the elevated metal baskets. It’s a convoluted contraption comprised of metal plates, poles, and chains, standing roughly four feet high with a two-foot diameter on a good day, and it kind of looks like a birdcage if you squint your eyes until they’re completely shut. The trail then takes us to a small and deserted playground where Zak and I swing on the swings for a few minutes before heading back to my car and hitting the town.

I find a three-hour parking spot in front of an empty brick building that once housed a business called Dad’s Collectibles. Part of me wishes it was still open, the very notion of its existence makes my resale senses tingle even more than the Train Room; some collectibles, specifically old toys and action figures, are worth major cash if you can find the right dude to pay out his ass for them. But anyway, at this point our light breakfast has worn off considerably; we’re hankering for something to fill the void. I ask Zak where he wants to eat and he mulls it over for a few minutes, listing some of the places we could go. His parents weren’t kidding when they said there’s a ton of great places to eat down here; there are more restaurants along main street than I can count on two hands. Eventually Zak decides on his favorite pizza place, the unmatchable East First Woodfired Pizza.

It’s his favorite eatery because he has a friend who works there who’s name I will casually omit because I don’t know her. I forget exactly how they met, maybe through work at the supermarket or something like that, but she’s always very kind to Zak, she goes out of her way to make sure everything is perfect for him whenever he eats at her restaurant. She’s also allegedly very beautiful, to paraphrase Zak; he’s a ladies’ man if nothing else.

The building is set a block off main street and feels bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. There’s a very artsy, almost rustic feel to this joint; massive paintings hanging on the walls, a giant brick pizza oven decorated with multicolored mosaic tiles behind the counter, a spiral staircase leading to who knows where, light music playing in the background, a man with a dark cape and a top hat standing on the catwalk high above the eating space… no, wait, that’s just a smudge on the wall, probably a grease stain or pizza oven exhaust or something. Regardless, the lofty atmosphere is definitely on point.

Soon after we walk in, we’re approached by who I assume is Zak’s friend and seated at one of the few open tables. Before I can blink we’re served drinks, myself a water and Zak a cola, and then we’re ordering – I’m not sure if the service is just that good or if Zak gets special treatment, but honestly? I’m not sure I care, either. Zak orders a one-man pepperoni pizza and I order a one-man meat lovers. Zak gulps down all but a single sip of his soda by the time our pizza is served.

The Carolinian pizza is scalding hot but absolutely phenomenal, leagues better than that place I hit back in Virginia. Not too greasy, the dough is cooked to perfection and the crust is loaded with herbs, and it has a nice crunch to it to boot. We don’t just eat our pizza today, we inhale it. Zak’s friend hooks us up with the check and a receipt and as we’re leaving, she asks if we want a drink to go. Apparently this is the norm down here, whenever you’re at a restaurant you’re usually offered a drink to take with you as you leave. I quite like the idea of this, the hospitality is real.

The next thing Zak wants to do is hit the Pinball Museum, a haven of vintage pinball machines and arcade games. You pay one flat price of admission and you can stay however long you want and play as much as you want. The only thing is, it doesn’t open for another hour, so we have no choice but to wander around aimlessly for the time being, just two specs of dust drifting through deep space as we wait until we’re sucked into the black hole of arcade-era pre-video games.

To kill time, Zak shows me a few of the stores he likes, the most notable of which is the Mats General Store. It’s literally a modern day old-timey general store, they sell everything from clothes to souvenirs to toys to appliances, they even have candy-filled wooden barrels polka-dotted throughout the store. The one thing they didn’t sell was doormats though, which I found to be pretty shocking.

After Mats I spot a new-agey hippie shop and drag Zak through it; he doesn’t seem as into the crystals and whatnot as I am, but he humors me nonetheless. The front is kind of barren, as if they just recently moved in, and in the center of the floor they have a display loaded with gemstones and crystals of various shapes, sizes and mystical persuasions. The guy at the front counter is friendly enough, I guess, but he’s very preoccupied by a text he apparently needs to answer right this second, so I peruse around unguided.

In the back of the shop lurks a grizzled old dude with thick, tangled gray hair tied up in a ponytail that falls past his knees. His eyes are a bit red, almost the same shade as the many tinted glass paperweights in his display case, and he’s just kind of standing there behind his counter, lazily gazing out into space. Curious, I ask Zak what’s up with the dude, but he doesn’t have an answer; Zak is far from the target consumer base of this store and he’s in here about as often as I’m in North Carolina. Letting my wonder wander me back to the back counter, I strike up a conversation with the spacey man and learn that he’s a gardener of sorts, been growing his plants for years and they only get greener. My parents are both into the horticulture thing too, so I ask him what he grows.

It’s at this point I realize what all those colorful little glass sculptures in his display case are – pipes. This man grows freaking weed, like, what?! Not that I have a problem with it; I’m a pretty straightedge dude so I don’t do any drugs, but I think others can if they want. Who am I to judge?

I ask the guy about the pipes and stuff and he tells me they’re all hand-blown by local artists. Then I notice the vacuum-sealed baggies filled with what I have to imagine is weed – he tells me it’s actually hemp flower, not marijuana (whatever the difference is), and that it’s totally legal. Then he grabs a bag, opens it and shoves the opening into my face. It smells… like a plant, I guess. It almost has a skunky smell to it but it’s more sweet, closer to black licorice than anything else. This is the first time I’ve ever been in close proximity to anything that even remotely looks like weed. Part of me wants to get the hell out of this store before I get arrested, but the other part of me is almost curious.

Almost.

Zak, about the farthest thing from a smoker one can possibly imagine, tells the gardening man we’re not interested and grabs me by the sleeve of my shirt, dragging me back outside. As we meander down the street from the hippie shop, I spot a sign advertising a mineral and fossil museum with free admission. It’s been ages since I’ve been at a museum and we’ve still time to kill before the pinball museum opens anyway, so we venture in and take a peek.

“Wait, so you didn’t buy any of the guy’s weed?” G-Mah asks, paying more attention now than she has been all day.

“No, Gram!” I say, partly embarrassed and partly shell shocked. “Of course I didn’t. I don’t do drugs, remember?”

G-Mah, her gaze transfixed on the empty glass of alcohol next to me, says, “Yeah, I’ve heard. Can I be honest with you, sweetie?”

“Sure Gram,” I say, “what’s up?”

“You should try doing some drugs.”

It’s not a huge room, maybe four hundred square feet, but the place is absolutely packed with interesting artifacts from lots of different ages. We see everything from immaculate chiseled crystal sculptures to Native American arrowheads, dinosaur bones to fluorescent rocks set aglow under an ultraviolet light. They even have a fully completed skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex, which I especially enjoy. Zak and I embark on a nice conversation with the curator and just as we’re about to dip out, she claps her hands and the lights suddenly go dim.

With everyone’s attention on her, the curator of the museum humbly thanks her crowd for coming down and checking out her rock collection. She says that she, “Has shit to do today,” and that, “Because the museum is free of admission, it will be closing in about fifteen minutes.” Until then, though, she has something of a little presentation for us.

Fog machines kick on and a couple inches of haze spill out above the floor. The lights go from dim to off, and then to strobe! The fluorescent rocks shine bright as stars, the crystal sculptures glow like they were composed of luciferin, a soft power ballad plays over the loudspeaker. Then, I hear it; it’s quiet at first, a very low rumble, I’m not even sure if it’s real. But then Zak shoots me a look and I know – something is coming. The roaring is growing louder, the footsteps heavier, but it’s so dark, I can’t see anything with the strobe light. What could possib– oh fuck!!

Grabbing Zak by the wrist, I turn and we sprint towards the exit. The door is shut, locked by two different mechanisms; we don’t have time! It’s coming for us!!

As the footsteps approach, I flip the deadbolt and find the little switch on the door handle. The creature somehow roars as we blast through the door and race up the three flights of stairs that take us to the street. There’s no way it could have fit through that door, it couldn’t have followed us. We’re safe now… the guys and gals who were inside that museum aren’t safe, but Zak and I are. And that’s all that matters.

Zak grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me so hard that the glasses fall off my face and clack to the ground. He shouts at me a few times, asking me if I’m okay and whatnot, and I tell him I’m fine, if not a little bit confused. I ask him if he’s okay and he just looks at me. Feeling like there’s an elephant on the sidewalk that’s being allowed to play the cello without being tipped, I ask Zak why he wasn’t as startled as I was by the gigantic skeletal tyrannosaurus rex that came to life and chased us out of the little museum. With a truly indescribable expression, Zak shousplains that it was a three-dimensional movie and that we could only see the thing because of the plastic glasses they gave us when we walked in.

After studying the lenses between Zak’s eyes and myself for a bit, I look at the sidewalk and study the cracked plastic 3D glasses that Zak shook off my face a moment ago. Huh, I must have forgotten they gave us those. Oh well – now that we’re back outside, we find a bench and chill out in the cool pre-spring air until the pinball museum opens up.

The Pinball Museum

Being us, we’re the first ones in. A walk through a dark foyer of sorts leads us to a room that’s filled to the gills with pinball machines – early ones with paper dials for point counters, modern ones with computer screens and brilliant LED lights, and everything in between; management even has an old model opened up so all their patrons can see the exposed innards of a dusty old pinball machine before it gets restored. As we walk past the fossil, Zak eyes a Transformers game and comments that they must have added that one recently because he’s never played it before. I comment that they must have added all these machines last night because I’ve never played them before, either. Zak sniffs the air and says little else.

Past the first pinball room is the main counter where we pay and get our wristbands. The guy behind the counter recognizes Zak immediately and greets us with a friendly smile. He tells me that Zak’s a regular here and that he can show me which games are the best. Zak’s back in the game room before I can even enunciate the word word.

As if guided by a force of nature, Zak gravitates directly towards the Transformers machine. There’s a huge rendition of both of Bumblebee’s forms on the scoreboard; Bumblebee is hands-down Zak’s favorite Transformer, he reminds me, because he turns into a Volkswagen Beetle. I start in on an Avengers machine and quickly learn that my pinball skills leave much to be desired – by the time I burn through all three of my lives, Zak is still playing his first. I hop between machines with haste while Zak works each one to the bone, running up the high scores and garnering looks of awe from a rapidly funneling in customer base. When we got here seconds after opening and it was empty I thought we’d have the place to ourselves all day, but my goodness was I mistaken – it’s a zoo in here, the cacophonous sounds of humans excitedly playing pinball is almost matched in volume by the orchestra of vintage blips, booms and dings. All the intersecting vintage sound waves make for one hell of an arcade-powered, human-derived symphony of wild vibrations in the air.

After what feels like only twenty minutes passes, I chance a peek at my cell phone and notice that I have about two half minutes left of my three-hour parking. Whoops! I find Zak and describe to him the situation. He asks if we should leave, but what would be the fun in that?

I tell him that I’ll be right back and I run towards the entrance to make my way down the street towards my car, checking both ways for any skeletal dinosaurs before I exit the building. After walking past the last storefront, which looks despicably unfamiliar, I realize that I’ve walked the wrong way entirely and that my car is all the way across town, and on the other side of the street. Awesome.

Eventually I find Bessy and just as I’m pulling out of the expired parking spot, I see an open spot right next to me that doesn’t have a three-hour time limit. Fuckin’ heck yeah.

When I finally get back to the pinball museum, I look for Zak but he’s nowhere to be found. I almost resort to asking someone if they’ve seen him but then I realize something: that first game room was only the beginning. There’s an entire second room full of not only pinball machines, but also vintage shooters and a raised platform with vintage arcade video games. At first I was underwhelmed by this place, but now I fully understand why Zak loves it so much. I find my dude teaching a pinball a lesson, so I hop on a carnival shooter right next to him. As it turns out, I’m about as talented with old point-and-shooters as I am with the pinball machines. Oh well, I still have fun playing and as I move on to a Vietnam War game, I notice Zak following in my footsteps. As I hop off a game, he hops right on and turns my high score to dust. Every. Single. Time. Who is this kid?

After I spend a solid cubic meter of minutes killing aliens on an old Galaga game, Zak finds me and tells me he’s about finished. I blast one more unidentified pixelated object before we take our leave and brace ourselves for the sunlight to burn our eyes to a crisp. The pinball museum was lit up like a vintage arcade, meaning there was hardly any illumination at all, save for the lights coming off the games. It added a nice touch to the experience, but that touch just evolved into a backhand.

“So…” grandMother says whilst spiking another innocent bottle of seltzer. “You two got chased by a… dinosaur?”

“Yep,” I say, proud of myself for being able to outrun it. “It was technically a skeleton of a dinosaur, but yeah. Crazy shit. I don’t know why nobody else freaked out when they saw it but, whatever.”

G-Mah, her bubbly red drink cut right down the middle, corks her frosty bottle of bumble berry liquor. She places it on the table and slowly slides it next to the empty glass standing beside my computer. I stare at the opaque bottle for a moment, G-Mah staring at me intently all the while, her eyes whispering what her mouth dares not to, before continuing.

At this point we’re getting a bit peckish so we head back to base camp to sniff around for some rations. As we’re coming up the hill past the gate, we pass a waving Ronnie zooming down the hill in his Porsche. A few ticks later, as we’re pulling into the driveway, I hear the sound of an engine tearing down a street in the distance.

In the kitchen we find a note that Ronnie must have written not even five minutes ago; he’s, “Going out to get a haircut…” and if we get back before him, could we “…please take Henry for a walk.” One half of the prophecy is complete, now the rest is in our hands.

Zak fiddles with Henry’s leash as I run downstairs to grab an extra sweatshirt. When I was packing for this trip, I didn’t bother to check the weather; I just assumed that since I would be down South it would be warm. But uh, to put it simply, March is March and I’ll have to make a choice between either being the winter variant of a New Jersey white guy or not wearing more than half the clothes I brought. Plus, I’m just realizing now, I forgot a belt, which pretty much eliminates the other half of the clothing I brought because my jeans don’t fit me right. But oh well!

I come back upstairs to a still, empty house. I walk outside and see Zak halfway up the road already – he left without me! I run to catch up with him and we take Henry for a very pleasant walk around the hilly block. During the walk, Zak talks to me about his oldest brother’s passing.

Seven years ago, during the summer before our senior year of high school, Zak’s eldest brother Mike got into a very tragic accident at work. He worked at a park that just happened to be a venue for our cross country races, and while he was closing up shop on an especially stormy evening, something inexplicable happened and Mike got struck by lightning twice in a row in the same spot, forcing him to suffer some very severe internal injuries. He passed away in the hospital later that very day; Mike was Zak’s best friend, he understood him in a way that not many other humans do. To support Zak’s family that summer, the whole cross country team attended the memorial service. We also dedicated our season to him that year by having a Mike patch sewn onto the back of our racing singlets. Obviously the accident was very hard on the entire family, but it was especially so on Zak; he’s still struggling to move on more than seven years later.

I tell Zak about my cat Milkshake who recently passed away in a very sudden and tragic manner. Milkshake was my best friend like Mike was to Zak; even though he was a cat and I am a human, I felt that he understood me in a way that nobody else really did. We would hang out all the time, listen to music together, go for walks, I even took the cat hiking with me a few times. He was kind of crazy, just like I am; very different than any other cat I’ve met. In a way, he taught me how to be myself. But like the very best of things, Milkshake came to an end; one day while I was working at the auction hall, my brother came home and found Milkshake dragging himself across the floor – for some reason, my boy’s back legs stopped working.

I don’t want to get too into the details because I’m starting to tear up just writing about it, but I had to put my son down later that night.

“Rest in peace, Milkshake,” G-Mah says. “He was a good boy.”

“The best,” I concur.

I tell Zak that as humans, there’s a lot that goes on in life that we don’t really understand. Our lives, our planet, even our entire galaxy is so small compared to everything else out there; sometimes tragic things happen for what seems to be no reason at all; I think we only see it that way because we can only see one side of the situation, that side being the side that affects us.

I explain to him how, when someone dies, their spirit – the light and energy which gives them life and makes them who they are – leaves their body like a snake sheds its skin and goes somewhere else entirely. Whether that somewhere else is a different country in a different time, on a different planet, in a different universe or a different plane of reality altogether, well, that’s not for us mortals to know. When we come here we come for a reason, we come to Earth for a purpose, and when we leave the planet, we leave for a purpose too. Sometimes it’s because our Earthly purpose has been fulfilled, sometimes it’s because there’s a greater purpose for us elsewhere.

Zak tells me about a dream he had not too long ago. I forget the exact context now as I’m writing this, but essentially what happened was that Mike appeared to him. Mike told him that he’s okay, that everything’s okay and that it’s time for Zak to move on. Zak asks me what that means, and I tell him that dreams are, among other things, a way for passed spirits to come back and spend time with us, a way for them to talk to us after they’re gone. Zak seems to find some comfort in this, but I can tell he’s still distraught. I ask him if he wants to talk anymore but he has some thoughts to mull over.

On the return trip to home base I spot something glimmering amongst the red woodchips at the base of the neighbor’s mailbox pillar. Upon closer inspection, I realize it’s a smoky quartz crystal; when nobody’s watching, I discretely pinch it into my pocket.

Once we return home, I smuggle my rock into the bathroom and wash off the little bit of dirt clinging to it to bring out the luster. Zak’s back in his bedroom at this point, so I walk in and sit on his bed with him, presenting him with the shiny crystal. I put it on his windowsill and explain how crystals, especially so with quartz, have a way of capturing light and energy; whenever he wants to feel close to his brother, he can hold that crystal to feel Mike’s light radiating through it and into him.

Zak really loved the idea of the crystal.

Zak’s parents get home about a half hour later and announce that they’re taking us out for dinner to a local joint called the Blue Grass Cafe. We pull up and the outside seating is packed, but there are plenty of booths inside. The waitress is an older belle; two tons of character, a pink apron, she’s the textbook image of a stereotypical North Carolinian waitress. She and the Fishers convince me to ditch my water and try the sweet tea which, according to Ronnie, will give me diabetes. I’m sure it will be worth it though.

I take one sip and correct him; the tea could give an elephant diabetes, but it’s delicious so I have no choice but to gulp it down. I order a chicken tenders basket and Zak gets a burger; I’m not sure exactly what the parents get but it sure looks delicious.

I find that a good way to measure the overall edibility of an eatery’s food is to order their chicken tenders. They’re relatively simple to make yet easy to screw up; if the humans working at a food stop can’t do chicken tenders well, they probably can’t do real food very well, either. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for tonight because my tendie basket, and everyone else’s food, is top notch. We talk to the waitress for a few minutes before we leave, I tell her about the road trip and whatnot, and she has nothing but kind things to say. We leave her a nice tip and head back home, but not before being offered a drink for the road. That Southern hospitality, through and through.

The rest of the night is quiet. Zak and I hang out for a while, he shows me more pictures and videos on his phone. Footage from a Weird Al concert he went to, more pictures of cars and monster trucks, some pictures from Tate’s wedding, during which he served as the best man. Apparently, hiding somewhere in the untapped data mines of his phone, there’s a video of the speech Zak gave at the wedding. He searches through the archives but can’t find it, unfortunately. I tell him not to worry about it, there are still almost one hundred hours left of my being here. There’ll be plenty of time.

That’s pretty much the night though. Zak has, for lack of a better phrase, a very strict bedtime routine. When he’s ready for bed, he’s ready for bed, and he knocks out as soon as he hits the sheets. I’m the exact opposite; sleep eludes me on a nightly basis like the words do my mind whilst trying to formulate a good comparison to how sleep eludes me on a nightly basis. I lay in bed fully awake for at least three more hours before I finally drift off.

[It is 2:34 in the morning as I edit this. Why am I editing at 2:34 in the morning? Because sleep eludes me on a nightly basis.]

The Bus Tour

Saturday, March 16th
“So all that was one day, huh?” G-Mah asks, head in her hands.

I look up from my laptop screen and catch her dosing off. Mango had come back from the hallway, apparently, and now she’s sprawled across the kitchen table, laying all over the newspaper that Uncle Bill was reading before he disappeared into the bathroom.

“Yeah, that was the first day. It’s the longest by far, we’re almost halfway through the second chapter now. It was the busiest day, so I think that’s why it was the longest, but I also just do that sometimes when I write. The beginning is always a lot more fleshed out than the end.”

“Oh honey, that’s very nice but I didn’t ask,” as she checks the watch on her wrist.

I’m about to start reading again but grandMother verbally jumps in with, “Hey how is your foot feeling by the way, hun?” before I can formulate the words.

“My foot?” I ask, not sure from where she pulled that card. “You mean from the Uncle Skylar thing? That was like a month and a half ago Gram, I’ve been walking again for a couple weeks now.”

“Ahhh hah hah shit, I told you two to be careful with the tequila!”

“I didn’t even drink any tequila though Gram, that was allllll Skylar.”

This throws grandMother off for a moment, but she caches right back on. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Wait, so… so you ran around on that rocky riverbed without shoes… on purpose?”

I roll my eyes and smile at grandMother. I’m glad I could come for this visit today.

Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. If that’s true than so too must be the opposite, so I offer this: late to bed, late to rise makes a man lazy and hazy in the eyes.

During the drive down, both of my ears stopped allowing me to pop them and I’m still having trouble popping them now. I think I was mildly traumatized by the car ride, ironically enough. I can wake up fine after my skull caving in, but twelve hours in a car? Forget about it. A minute or so ago Zak knocked on my door asking if I was up yet; I told him I’m getting there. I suppose I should stop getting there and just go.

After devouring the delicious and aromatic home-cooked breakfast of bacon, fruit and chocolate chip pancakes that Margaret prepared for us, Zak and I take a quick walk around the block which, again, I am dreadfully underdressed for. I go outside in shorts, a t-shirt & no shoes and promptly have my ass frozen off – or at least I would have, if I didn’t have that Jersey blood. Regardless, talk about a wakeup call!

“You walk barefoot a lot, huh?” G-Mah asks.

I tell her yes, I do, because I like to feel close to the Earth. I then go into a fifteen-minute spew about grounding and allowing the Earth to swap its electrons for your own because, as humans, we are magnetic beings; we’re all kind of like batteries and getting a recharge is important. I revert to reading when G-Mah rolls towards the brink of falling asleep.

When we get back home, everyone piles into the car and we drive Zak to work. In waking up so late I almost made Zak late, for which I humbly apologized. He usually likes to get to work at least fifteen minutes early, but today it’s only going to be two minutes early. Sorry about that, buddy! I tell his parents that I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night and they remind me of the cup of sugar with a few choice droplets of water in it called sweet tea that I drank at dinner, and then the gears click. I was buzzing because of a sugar high, I didn’t even realize it! No more sweet tea for me.

From the supermarket we go to Zak’s apartment complex to check out the single he’ll be moving into in April. It’s a nice spot, needs a little bit of work, a new paint job maybe, but it’ll fit him quite nicely. He has a roommate living with him currently but he’s not really a roommate kind of guy, I don’t blame him. I’m not one to share a room, either. I’ve always preferred having my own space; privacy is very important to me. How can one be a recluse without a place to reclude to?

From there we drive up a different mountain to a spot called Jump Off Rock. At an elevation of about three thousand feet, the peak offers a sprawling vista of miles upon miles of forests and mountains littered with human houses and whatnot. One could see into a different state from here, I reckon; oh god, where did that come from? I’ve never unironically said I reckon once in my life… the South must be getting to me. My only regret is not bringing my camera up here to capture the moment; anyway, since I don’t have my camera this visit is rather short-lived, and we return to the Fisher abode posthaste.

When we get back, Margaret has some work she needs to do around the house so Ronnie takes me out for a spin in his Porsche. He tells me he’s going to give me a tour of downtown Hendersonville, just like Zak did yesterday, but this tour will likely be very different. And different it is – where Zak showed me his favorite pizza place, some shops, and the pinball museum, Ronnie plans to cater more to my interests.

The first thing Ronnie points out to me is the bears; dotted all around town are these four-foot-tall fiberglass bear statues decorated with custom paint jobs. Each year the town of Hendersonville molds and sells blank bears to local artists to be painted and auctioned off, and all the proceeds get donated to charity organizations. Some artists match the bears to the theme of their chosen charity, some use the bears as attention-grabbers to bring consumers into their stores; it’s a very cool idea, I wish Ringwood would do something like this. Maybe we could paint mountains.

Next we hit an art store that rents out small studios to local artists. The studios offer both a workspace and a display area; all the art created in-house can be sold on consignment directly out of the store. Patrons can sign up to take lessons with the artists, rent their own studio and/or sell their own creations from a display space in the front of the store, it’s wonderful.

From there we venture to an antique store with two floors, they’re selling everything from vintage junk to immaculate antiques to a suit of armor with glowing red eyes that follow me each of the eight times I walk by it. One piece that really sticks out to me, though, is a Chinese throne-style armchair with intricate dragons carved into it. If I were to buy the chair I don’t know that I’d even sit in it, but with a price tag of $3,300, I won’t have to be making that decision.

“You fucking bought a thirty-three-hundred-dollar chair??!?” G-Mah screams, channeling the spirits of our ancestors.

The spirits, who were paying attention, heard me say I didn’t buy the chair, so they don’t do much.

On the way to the next store, we spot a pub that’s boasting free samples of their craft hard ciders. I’m nothing of a drinking man when it comes to traditional beers and IPAs and all that nonsense, or ever to be honest, but Ronnie loves a good hard cider; I humor him and we go inside.

The place is empty, barring us, and we strike up a conversation with the bartender, a young guy who seems very proud to be working where he does. Ronnie coyly brings up the free samples and the barkeep gives us a whole list of varieties; they craft a blueberry cider, a strawberry, a peach, just to name a few. Ronnie opts for the peach and the ‘tender gives him half a shot glass full. The man downs it in one gulp, says it’s sweet with just a hint of tang, with a slight carbonation that really brings the whole thing home. Before we leave, the barkeep gives him another sample, this time of the blueberry cider because it’s his favorite one. I even take a sip, we’re both quite blown away; hidden betwixt the folds of fermented fruit juice is a perfect combination of sweet and sourness. Ronnie said he would have ordered a pint if it weren’t the middle of the day, but it is so he doesn’t and we’re out on the street once more.

“Ah-ha!” G-Mah touts, pointing at me from across the table.

Mango doesn’t move a single unit of measurement and I hear a low groaning coming from the bathroom. Dude’s been in there for a while, poor Uncle Bill.

“What?” I say, my expression matching that of a deer in headlights. Okay, so I’ve tried alcohol once, it didn’t even taste that… alcohol-y, I guess one would say. It was brewed on site and room-temperature and, and I didn’t even feel anything, I don’t think, and… whatever.

“Fine, yes, I’ve tried booze once.”

“And?” Gram asks with a serene smile.

“And…” I begin. “I don’t know. It wasn’t fantastic. Probably wasn’t nearly as strong as that syrup you keep drinkin’.”

As I say this, grandMother reaches across the table and grabs the phial, draws it close to her. Then she grabs my glass and summons that to her side as well. While making direct eye contact with me, G-Mah uncorks the liquor and slowly fills my glass a quarter of the way to the top. The alcohol is thick and pours like it was oozing – slow, rich, yeah pretty much like syrup. My quip was on point for sure.

We have about forty minutes until Zak gets off work at this point, and Ronnie tells me there’s one more place he wants me to see. I forget the exact name, Something Boutique, but we walk inside and I immediately feel a hint of claustrophobia; the front room seems tiny for a store, probably about the size of the closet in the Fisher’s master bedroom. I say hello to the cashier, an older guy draped in a dapper suit, and ask him how he is.

He tells me, “Well I’m here, aren’t I?”

There are some clothes on racks, some costume jewelry, some knickknacks lining the shelves – I ask Ronnie what’s so special about this store. Without a word he points to a hallway in the back that I swear wasn’t there when we walked in. Down this hallway are no less than fourteen other shops; they’re small, no larger than the room in the front, but they’re all absolutely packed with wares. Each store is different, too; some sell clothing, some sell jewelry, some sell shrunken heads, some sell crystals and incense; it’s like an entire other main street all stuffed into one store. If I was a shopper, I would lose my mind in there, and my wallet.

After spending more than a few minutes in the antique booth in the back of the boutique, Ronnie and I make our way back to the Porsche and hit the road. On the way to Zak’s supermarket we make a pit stop at the local PetsMart to grab some treats for Henry. Shame how a big corporate company like this is so much more successful than the mom and pop shops back in town; one could fit at least five or six of those fantastic little storefronts into the warehouse PetsMart has here. I suppose that’s just the way of the world these days, the local small business has been traded for the country-wide, even global corporation where everything is the same no matter where you go. I happen to prefer a unique regional flavor over a ubiquitously bland vanilla but, as I step down off my proverbial soapbox, I digress.

We pull up to the supermarket a couple minutes early, so we walk inside to meet up with Zak. He introduces me to his manager and a few of the humans that he gets to work with, and before we make it out of the store we’re stopped by a random shopper that hasn’t seen Zak since February and wanted to wish him a happy birthday. It’s just like in Ringwood, everyone knows Zak down here. He’s the mayor of the town.

It’s a beautiful day so we put the top down on the drive back. We’re only home long enough for Zak to change into street clothes, and then we’re right back into the car. ElZoom, the comedy bus tour, starts in about an hour and it takes some time to get into Asheville, and we’ve still yet to eat dinner. I opt for Taco Bell, but nobody else shares my love for the locos tacos so we stop at a Five Guys Burgers & Fries instead. This was hands-down Zak’s favorite place to get grub back in high school; the team would often come here for dinner after meets and the food is even better than I remember.

We end up getting to the ElZoom Room about fifteen minutes early so after we check in, we take a stroll up the street to get a taste of the Ashville flavor. It’s just like downtown Hendersonville, but bigger; the buildings are taller, the storefronts more open. It’s like New York City and Hendersonville had a love child – a small town with big attitude and cityish flair. We see a couple homeless folks too, and street performers, and homeless street performers. One was a child, he couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven, playing the violin; his instrument case had the most money in it by far. Some humans do have a heart, after all… says the guy who didn’t give any money to anyone.

As we get back to the ElZoom Room, which is a full-service bar by the way, the bus is just pulling up. At one time it was a real school bus, but it’s since been gutted, refurnished, given a funky purple paint job mixed with some plastic surgery and had the windows removed in favor of a plastic sheet that’s insecurely draped over the sides. This is done so the passersby on the street can hear the comedy and participate in the tour as the bus drives on by – that, or be made uncomfortable by it. To each their own.

Our host’s name is Kelly, she does a great job of riling the crowd up for the main act with more than a handful of devastating roasts about the drunk college guys sitting in the front of the bus. Before long we meet our tour guide, a man by the name of Oliver. Both his mother & father were tour guides, allegedly, so he was born into the business. He’s a little creepy, stares at you for a couple seconds too long, touches you on the thigh when he walks down the aisle – the very picture of a weird North Carolinian cityboi hick, with an accent to match. If he’s playing a character the man deserves an Oscar, and if not, more power to him. Elastic-strap overalls and everything, good god.

The bus tour takes us through the urban cityscape and dips into the more suburban areas that fester outside the city. This city has a mansion for every one of its breweries, and there are a lot of breweries down here. You know how some cities have a Starbucks on every street corner? It’s kind of like that, except instead of coffee they brew beer and hard cider. As for the mansions, well, according to y’boy Oliver, back in the early colonial days of America, doctors would purportedly write their patients legit prescriptions for Asheville mountain air as a cure for tuberculosis. One would literally come out to Asheville, stay in one of these grandiose wooden mansions and sit out on the top floor’s balcony, or as it was called back then, the breathing porch, where one would breathe in the pure mountain air to cure oneself. It was a simpler time, I suppose, although today’s aromatherapy treatments are more or less the same thing, inhaling a calming atmosphere in the hopes that your ailments will be cured. If it works it works!

Halfway through the tour we stop at a pub for ten minute’s reprieve and Ronnie gets a can of local hard cider. He says it’s not quite as flavorful as, say, an Angry Orchard or a Strongbow, or the cider samples we got in Hendersonville, but that certainly doesn’t stop him from enjoying the hell out of it. Zak’s not a big fan of alcohol, he doesn’t get why humans drink that nasty stuff. I tell him that I don’t get it either as his dad downs another sip and slightly winces when the solution bites his tongue. The fresh cider wasn’t awful, but most alcohol tastes like trash from what I hear, and it’s vehemently bad for the body, but hey, you know what they say! We’re here for a good time, not a long one.

Well, some are, at least.

On the second half of the tour we get stuck in some traffic and Oliver holds a little Asheville trivia competition; whoever answers his questions correctly wins a prize from the Magical Silver Box O’Comedy. The first winner, a man without any facial hair, gets a fake mustache! The second winner, a clean-shaven woman, receives a fake mustache! The third winner, a man with facial hair to rival the love child of Fu Manchu and Chuck Norris, wins a fake mustache! The fourth winner, because usually there’s only two questions and this traffic is really holding us up, gets a choice: either a fake mustache or a can of cat food ! She chooses the fake mustache; when Zak had the opportunity, he chose the cat food. My man.

After the tour ends, we’re all offered a free drink as compensation for being held up in traffic. It was my first tour so obviously I have nothing to compare it to, but I hardly noticed the traffic, it didn’t seem to hold up the tour at all. Oh well, not going to say no to free drinks. Ronnie gets another can of hard cider, as does Margaret, and Zak and I get sodas. Ronnie only drinks half of his and gives the rest to Zak to finish, but he doesn’t want any. Ronnie tries to pawn the can off on me too but I deflect it, dooming the poor dude to finish his own free hard apple cider. Awh 😦

I think Ronnie has a fairly sufficient buzz going at this point, but that doesn’t stop us from taking a walk back into Asheville to enjoy the evening air. We check out a few storefronts, stop in a candy shop to pick up some chocolate-covered pretzels and then head back home. I’m not much of a city dude – the constant construction, the undulating masses of humans, the tall buildings that make canyons out of the narrow streets, it’s just not for me.

We have beef barley soup and some of Margaret’s homemade banana bread for dinner. The bread is to die for; she baked a healthy dose of chocolate chips into the mix, they serve as a welcome surprise when the morsel graces my tongue. Shortly after the feast everyone hits the hay, myself included.

“So you really didn’t like the hard cider, huh?” G-Mah asks. She’s almost halfway through her current bottle and Mango’s taken notice she keeps pawing at the mouth of the bottle, trying to knock it down so she can get herself some sip.

“Nope, don’t like alcohol in general. You better drink up this glass you just poured me, because I’m definitely not touching it.”

Carefully, grandMother eyes me with one eye. A challenging smile, then, “Oh-kaaayyy.”

DuPoint State Forest

Sunday, March 17th
I actually woke up on time today! Huzzah! To my surprise I fell asleep fairly immediately last night, and not only that, but I also had some very vivid, lifelike and semi-apocalyptic dreams. I even realized that I was dreaming while I was dreaming, a feat I have never before accomplished. Lucid dreaming has always interested me; the ability to be fully conscious and aware when you’re dreaming seems like it would be the most incredible experience to undergo, if you could manage to remember it. The way I figure it, I’m reasonably close to consistent lucidity; I often have vibrantly vivid dreams, and sometimes when I wake up in the morning, it takes a few minutes for me to realize that I was dreaming and that I’m back in “real” reality and not the dream’s reality

 This isn’t the case today, though I will admit, stepping out onto the deck and breathing in that cool mountain air, feeling that early morning chill hit my skin, looking out over the woody valley and seeing the mountain ranges rise up and scrape the sky in the background as the sun rises over them; it feels like I might still be dreaming.

This books’ not going to end with me waking up from a dream, don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that to you. It just feels like I’m dreaming.

I go upstairs and wish everyone a good morning. We all slept well last night, there’s nothing like a night out on the town to get your head back into the right space. Then I go back downstairs because the parents are groggy and not very talkative.

While I’m waiting for Zak to finish showering, I happen upon an orange ball sitting on the floor in the basement. I pick it up and squeak it; the pitter-patter and scritchy-scratching of dog paws scurrying across the floor above my head follows. Thus appears Henry at the bottom of the stairs, wide-eyed and alert, ready for action. We play fetch for a solid fifteen minutes before Zak relinquishes the bathroom over to me.

On the agenda for today is a family breakfast at a local café, then Zak and I will depart on a hike through DuPoint State Forest to check out some waterfalls. Then we’ll regroup with the ‘rents and hit a few repurpose shops together before embarking on one final adventure, the circumstances surrounding which Ronnie and Margaret won’t reveal. I’m good with it, I like surprises.

“I hate surprises,” G-Mah reminds me.

During the car ride to the local hotspot, I’m told Hendersonville has a flower shop and the owner has a pet pot-bellied pig that serves as a mascot for the business. I think that’s pretty fantastic. I also learn that Zak wants to write a car joke book; I think that’s even more fantastic. Everyone should write, you included, hypothetical reader.

When we pull up at the café, Mean Mr. Mustard’s Café to be exact, I’m a little bit taken aback. It looks more like a bi-level house than a cafe. The place was probably a house at one point, just converted into the business. Whatever works, right? And let me tell you, this place works. Themed around this little rock group called The Beatles – I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, they made a bit of noise in the sixties, I think – the walls are adorned with Beatles memorabilia of all kinds: album art, newspaper articles, caricatures of the band members’ faces, psychedelic color schemes abound. Beatles music plays in the background and joining the instrument-shaped salt & pepper shakers at every table is a deck of Beatles Trivial Pursuit cards.

I look over their menu. All the dishes have some sort of Beatles influence in the name. Paul’s This and Ringo’s That, it’s all wonderful but nothing really jumps out at me. The waitress returns and tells us the specials for the day, and that’s when I’m grabbed – today they’re serving a fresh lobster and steak quiche topped with crab meat. I’m not a quiche guy, not a big egg eater, not even a world-renowned connoisseur of seafood, but something about this dish speaks to me. I order the special, pair it with a biscuit and a mean helping of grits (whatever grits are) and patiently wait out the meantime with some trivia.

Fun fact: I am awful at Beatles trivia.

“Well what’s so fun about that?” G-Mah asks, draining her seltzer bottle.

“What’s so fun about what?” I ask, looking at my glass out of the corner of my eye. Not going to try drinking today, not at grandMother’s house.

“You said it was a fun fact, what’s the fun part?”

The quiche has arrived. I’m a bit hesitant at first, not being a fan of eggs, seafood or quiche in general, but as soon as that first bite tingles my taste buds, I’m a goner. I inhale the entire slice in all of two minutes, savoring every bite while simultaneously stuffing my face like I’ve never seen food before in my life. The biscuit, which I smeared with some locally sourced cinnamon apple butter, is cinnamon-a-riffic and the grits, whatever the hell they actually are, are to die for. Needless to say, we all make short work of breakfast and then it’s back home to prep for hiking.

I change into a tie dye shirt and jeans with holes in the knees, fill my backpack with a few waters and then Zak & I set off towards the state forest, bumping Magical Mystery Tour the whole way down. The Beatles mood is infectious, to say the least; I’ve been singing I Am the Walrus in my head since that first bite of grits. Zak’s favorite song off the album is All You Need Is Love –the man’s got good taste.

The parking lot at the state forest is as dusty as it is packed, but after a few laps we find a parking spot and set out along the High Falls trail. The woods itself looks similar to the woods in Jersey, except the trails are about three or four times as wide down here. It almost looks like a dried-out riverbed the way they’re cut into the ground; maybe at some point in the past rivers did flow here, who’s to say?

I talk to Zak about how much I enjoy being in the forest, how it brings my mind into a peaceful state of tranquility, and he tells me he feels the same way, although I can sense he’s mullin’ over something up there in his noggin. He walks like a man deep in thought, hands clasped behind his back and eyes on the trail; I can sense his brain whizzing away behind the scenes.

I ask him what’s on his mind. We talk about his brother a little bit before coming to the first waterfall, the sight of which befalls us both into total silence.

Pictures don’t do nature justice, and neither does the word awesome. I don’t even mean that like yeah, totally awesome dude, I mean it like awe-some, awe-inspiring. The waterfall towers over the landscape, the sound of the water cascading down into the river below results in a beautiful natural cacophony. It flows into a real river too, at least eight or ten feet wide, massive compared to the creeks and streams back home I can effortlessly cross in a single stride. I can’t really put into words how incredible this sight is – if you’re there, hypothetical reader, life truly is about the simple things. One must strive to find the immaculate, incomparable beauty that hides in plain sight out in nature, there really is nothing like it.

“But hun, I can’t walk. How am I supposed to see nature in a wheelchair, hun?”

From the High Falls Loop, we take a wrong turn or two and wind up walking the entire Tri-Falls Trail and then some before doubling back the way we came and following High Falls to the visitor center. What was originally going to be a two-miler turned into four and a half or five miles, but I’m not complaining. Hiking was one of the things I was looking forward to the most when I got down here, and I undoubtedly got my fill today. On the way back home we listen to Analog Man by Joe Walsh, another favorite artist of Zak’s. His favorite Walsh banger is Life’s Been Good, probably because of the one line that says Maserati. Good ol’ Zak.

We’re only home for a few minutes before we hit the road for the repurpose shops, which are more warehouses than they are shops, as far as I’m told. I keep my eye out for a Taco Bell but there doesn’t seem to be one anywhere down here. ¿No quiero? No; I will have my Taco Bell before the end of this trip, mark my words.

But anyway, the repurpose warehouses are insane. Set up in a similar fashion to the art store with the booths & studios rented by the artists, each warehouse is divvied up amongst the sellers. There’s always a little bit of everything in these places – literally anything you could possibly imagine finding down here, you will find. Antiques. Depression glass. Custom metal work. Art. Pallet furniture. Knickknacks and paddywhacks. Amusement park rides. Gas station signs. Antique hand tools. Clothing. Golden doubloons. Working and broken electronics. Construction grade lumber. Tables. There’s so much more, I can’t even name it all because, quite frankly, I don’t know what half the stuff is. I take a few pictures of pieces which I think I can reproduce from scratch back home, especially the pallet furniture, and after wandering for a while, we move into the sunlight and on to the next warehouse and/or barn.

We must hit three or four barns before the sun starts setting. Having gotten our fill of random stuff looking for the day, we pile back into the car and proceed towards the surprise, which turns out to be a giant arcade with a go-kart track. Zak perks right up when he realizes where we are, and he blazes his way to the track, the rest of us struggling to keep up with him.

The line is short and before I know it, I’m strapped into a gas-operated metal contraption that excites me as much as it terrifies me. To put it bluntly, the thing looks one crash away from spontaneous combustion, and there are a whole lot of other karters on the track with me today. Oh well, red-yellow-green and we’re off.

After the first lap Ronnie passes us both, and Zak pulls a lead on me for the majority of the race, but I manage to pass him up before the last lap. He crushes me on the last lap, of course, but I was beating him for that fraction of a moment, which is enough for me. At one point, I even watched Zak pass a kid so hard that the kid’s go-kart flipped off of the track. The race was exhilarating, I haven’t done that since I was a boy. It really is the simple things.

Back inside we play some arcade games. I get rekt, pwned and other vidyaspeak words for beaten by Zak and after a couple free replays, we mosey on outta there. I thought the parking lot was going to be a disaster because of the crashed go-kart and the likely mangled corpse of the driver, but apparently the crew here is the most efficient crew in the world, because the lot is clearer than my head after breathing in all them exhaust fumes.

On the way home we hit another pizza place, this one called Pi-Squared because, you know, they serve square pizza, and it’s pretty great. Back home, like, my home, we call this style Sicilian pizza, but hey, words are just mouth noises, merely symbols that we use to describe certain props we come across on this vast drama called life. If, back in the day, the human who called pizza pizza decided to call it, I don’t know, asphalt, for example, then I’d be eating quite a few squares of asphalt right now.

Just like I did on the go-kart track.

Oh wait, that was cement.

Getting home just in time to settle into a staggering pizza coma, Zak and I play video games for a couple hours before we can’t manage to keep conscious any longer. I wish him a good night before closing the door to his bedroom and stepping out on the deck for a few minutes to breathe in the tuberculosis-curing mountain air. I can only enjoy it for one more day, gotta soak it in while I still can.

Not that New Jersey’s mountain air is really any different, just at a slightly lower altitude. While these mountains cure ailments, my mountains attract UFOs and produce crystals like humans produce earwax. Both are mystical, just in different ways. Regardless, that hike really kicked the crud out of me; usually I hike every day, but with the trip and all, this was the first time in almost a week that I’ve hit the trails, and I’m feeling pretty sore. I think I’ll be sleeping very well tonight.

I look up and G-Mah is fast asleep, hunched over her kitchen table, her face flat on the tile. I’m not sure how long she’s been asleep, but it must have been a little while; Mango has since repositioned herself to be laying on top of G-Mah’s back, her tail flitting between G-Mah’s neck and her ear like a feather duster in the hand of Loki, God of Mischief. I look over at the glass of alcohol next to my computer, only a quarter of the way full.

“It’s only a quarter of the way full,” I say aloud to myself in a whisper. “It’s not like I would be drinking the whole thing.”

My hand reaches out and the swirly pads of my greedy little fingertips almost grace the smooth, cool surface of the glass, but then I stop myself. I can’t do it, I won’t. I don’t do drugs, and even if I wanted to start, I’m not going to start at grandMother’s house. Mother would kill me where I stand; even if I didn’t tell Her, grandMother would. That’s just how it works around here, the grapevine is paper thin and little birdies speak many tongues. Might as well just keep reading, maybe the sound of my voice will wake G-Mah up.

Fresh On-Site

Monday, March 18th
And sleep well I did. Just like on Friday, Zak and I wake to an empty house, save for Henry. We have some breakfast, Zak eating cocoa puffs and me eating buttered toast made out of banana bread. Zak seems to have a lot on his mind this morning, I can tell something isn’t quite right. We get to talking and he shows me a couple pictures around his house, the last of which is a photo depicting him, his parents and both of his brothers. They’re all dressed up in suits, about to go to Zak’s grandfather’s funeral; it was the last picture to feature all five of the Fishers, Zak tells me, taken about two weeks before Mike’s untimely passing.

I ask him how the picture makes him feel. He tells me it makes him feel very sad, that he feels like he needs to cry. I tell him it’s okay to cry, that it’s always better to let your emotions out and to experience them rather than bottling them in and hiding from them. When you bottle stuff up, you never really get over it; having feelings is nothing to be ashamed of. I cried for days after my cat passed, hell I still cry about it, and he was just a cat; I can’t even imagine losing a brother. Shout to Jarome, don’t go anywhere homie.

Zak nods his head and walks into his room, lays down on the bed. The tears begin to flow; it’s a soft cry, no loud sobbing, no fits of rage, no bawling his eyes out, just… just a series of whimpers, as if he’s so familiar with the sadness, so full of it that he’s relieved to finally be letting some of it out. I sit with him on his bed for a while, patting his back and keeping him supplied with tissues to blow his nose and wipe the tears off his cheeks. I’m happy I could be here for him for this, this is what a shaman is supposed to do. Help others heal.

After a short while longer Zak asks if he can be alone, so I show myself out and close the door behind me. I can hear him continue to cry for a few minutes, but he eventually falls asleep. I hate to see my friend in pain, but I’m glad that he’s allowing himself to let the hurt out. Maybe this will help him move on a little bit.

About an hour later Zak wakes up and tells me he feels much better. Hooray! Almost like clockwork, Ronnie comes downstairs and tells us he’s going to run to the supermarket to pick up some steaks for dinner, and that he left Zak twenty dollars for snacks at the movies. I’m not sure that I mentioned it, in fact I’m sure that I didn’t, but Zak and I are going to see Captain Marvel today at a theater in the Biltmore plaza; Zak tells me the seats all recline and the movie screen is massive, but I’m just excited to see the movie itself!

We play video games in Zak’s room for a little while before heading out to mingle around the larger Biltmore Shopping Plaza until the movie begins. Our first stop is a toy store that Zak mentioned to me a few times over the weekend – the front door is guarded by two towering drummer-boy statues posted up on top of their drums. They don’t move an inch as we walk between them because they are statues and that would be silly.

We peruse through the selection of toy cars and whatnot before heading back outside. Our next stop is a little herbal tea store boasting a gigantic collection of different teas, both in raw form and pre-bagged. I get an ounce of licorice root tea, my favorite herbal tea by a long shot; when you drink it, it leaves a pleasantly sweet aftertaste in your mouth, the taste dances across your tongue, I say!

From there we get some cupcakes at a little bakery. There’s a huge, very muscular and just slightly intimidating black guy behind the counter wearing a hot pink apron that reads something along the lines of kiss the chef. Literally the polar opposite of who I expected to be working at a cupcake bakery; in fact, I’m pretty sure this dude could bench press the entire bakery if he really wanted to. He explains that all his cupcakes, and ice cream, are made fresh on-site; Zak chooses a peanut butter cup cupcake, myself opting for a red velvet, and… fuckin’, the taste of these confections transcend that of any baked good I’ve ever eaten prior. The luscious cake, the smooth, sweet icing – I damn near float out of my chair by the time I’m done.

After getting our sugar fix, we make our way over to the movie theater. The building is gigantic; a huge open front room shows off posters of upcoming films juxtaposed next to arcade games that you already know Zak’s going to play before the movie, and along the back wall is a monumental concession stand. The food is overpriced as all hell but it’s a movie theater, what else can one expect?

Turkey

Big surprise, Marvel’s latest superhero movie was phenomenal! I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to, and my bar was already set pretty high. Zak felt the same way, although going into it he didn’t expect much. He’s not as big a fan of comic book movies as I am, to each their own. I’m just glad we both enjoyed it.

After Zak let some of his sadness out this morning, he seems to be in a much better mood overall. We talk about the movie the whole way home, he doesn’t bring up his brother once. Sometimes, a good cry is all you need.

Zak’s parents cook us a wonderful steak dinner when we get back, paired with steamed veggies and pasta that looks like rice. They even pack me a bagged turkey sandwich lunch for the road! They’re too much, really, I can’t even express the gratitude that I feel towards these wonderful humans right now.

Mango steps between me and my laptop’s screen, her paws tapping every single one of the keys on my keyboard. I look at her and she looks at me; neither of us blink, I don’t even breathe, we just sit there, staring hard at each other for a never-ending moment. Then, suddenly, she squints at me and begins to hover again, her legs lazily hanging down like strings from a bundle of balloons. I watch as Mango hovers over to the sink, pees in midair, and then hovers back to the table where she finally lands, back on grandMother’s back.

Afterwards I finally get to see the video of Zak giving his best man’s speech at Tate’s wedding. His speech was very well written; Ronnie told me Zak’s uncle helped him with the grammar and whatnot, but Zak wrote the body of the text himself. I can’t lie, I’m pretty impressed; I even felt myself choking up a bit while I was watching it.

I think I figured out why Mango came up to me a second ago – I said the word turkey.

Now the only thing left to do is bring Zak back to his apartment. His parents thought it would be better to bring him back tonight so he can have some time to set himself up for the rest of the week, I totally feel that. Before we leave though, we go digging in their storage to find a prayer card from Mike’s funeral to give to Zak. His parents also give me one, along with a framed work of photography that Mike shot when he was still with us. I’m really quite moved by this gesture; after this weekend I really feel like I’m part of the Fisher family. I never knew Mike well, but I’m told he was a very artsy, very outdoorsy human. He loved photography & mountain biking and he was born during a thunderstorm; the man’s middle name was even Storm, he was a special creature. It is a terrible tragedy that Mike had to pass so early in his Earthly career; that said, and please, pardon my saying, but I can’t fathom a more appropriate way to go than bodying a double lightning strike. Ride in peace Michael Storm Fisher, I’m sure we would have been great friends.

Hunter Was Here

The drive is quiet. I feel myself getting emotional as we pull up to Zak’s apartment. It’s sad to leave him here, I’m gonna miss the guy. We walk up the stairs and he introduces me to his roommate whose name escapes me before showing me his current apartment. His shelves are decked out with model cars (mostly of the Volkswagen variety), the walls covered in posters of various monster truck drivers, there’s a cardboard cutout of Danica Patrick standing in the corner; it’s a very Zak living space. I wish I could stay longer but homie’s got some chores he has to catch up on and he needs to get ready for the week ahead, so I give him a farewell hug and take my leave. I have nothing but love for you Zak. I can’t wait to see you again.

The rest of the night is pretty quiet. I watch Big Bang Theory with Zak’s parents until my eyelids are heavier than a black hole and then I head down to my room to retire for the night.

Before I hit the sack, though, I leave a note saying Hunter was here in Zak’s bedroom for him to find the next time he stays at his parents’ house. As I’m writing it, I can feel myself starting to get emotional again; I really miss having Zak as part of my everyday life, I wish he didn’t live so far away.

All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic extended weekend down in the NC. The Fishers are some of the kindest, most welcoming and genuine beings I have ever had the pleasure of staying with. They’ve truly set the bar for the phrase southern hospitality in my book, I really can’t thank them enough for letting me stay here this weekend, for making this road trip possible. Ronnie, Margaret, Zak, if any of you are reading this: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

“We’re almost done Gram, are you still with me?” I ask, my voice animated and full of life.

grandMother, still passed out across the table from me, snores and doesn’t say much else. All’s quiet on the bathroom front and Mango is just hangin’ out, doing that thing that cats do where they squint and un-squint their eyes as they look at you. The glass of alcohol is looking at me too, staring at me, making unflinching eye contact. I think I can hear it speaking, whispering sweet nothings in my ear, maybe if I… no. Can’t drink, not today. Not here. Not ever. Must stay sober. Mother says drugs are bad for me, and I believe Her.

Jump Off Rock

Tuesday, March 19th
I finally wake up early enough to see the sunrise for the first time this trip. Figures that it’s on the last day, que sera sera. It really is breathtaking though; seeing that glowing orb of light rising up over the mountains, bathing the horizon in a gentle sheen from millions of miles away – what a way to start the morning. Fishers, you certainly have it made down here.

I have an hour or two before I need to leave, so I take my time, make myself a little breakfast, tidy up the guest room, the whole nine yarns. When all the loose ends are burnt off I pack up my car and, as I’m snagging my lunch out of the refrigerator, I notice that Ronnie and Margaret left me a kindhearted note on the counter thanking me for coming down for the weekend. Please guys, the pleasure was all mine. I write them a note back and then I head out for the last time, locking the door behind me.

The last thing I do in North Carolina is return to Jump Off Rock. I can’t help but take in that view one more time, while I still have the opportunity. I even brought my digital camera this time, but honestly, the pictures don’t do it justice.

Technology

I have some blank space left here, so please allow me to muse: it’s funny, so many members of today’s brave new world venture out on hikes to grand vistas just to take a picture of the view rather than taking the sight in for themselves. It’s the same thing as teenagers recording concerts and entire music festivals on their phones; why do you bother trying to capture the moment on that tiny little screen? Part of the fun, part of the beauty of art lies in the fact that it’s temporary, that it will not last forever. The band will get tired and the music will stop. You will get hungry and you will leave the mountain’s top. The book I’ve written that you’re reading will bring you to the last page. No piece of technology will be able to adequately capture the feeling of being there in the moment, so why bother?


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

The Road – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (3/8)

Hello Commons, here is the first chapter of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Chapter 1
The Road

Flavored Seltzer

The dawn is swathed in an eerie state of twilight as I walk out the front door of my parents’ house. The cold is abrasive, bristling, it feels like a brush is being dragged across my skin, but not a brush with metal bristles; no, more like a brush with plastic bristles. My skin is certainly getting scratched, but not aggressively enough to draw blood. Just enough to remind me that, yes, Jack Frost is still drawing a brush against the skin of my arm, and no, the ambient air temperature is not going to make me feel like existing is even remotely okay this morning.

G-Mah, bored because I turned off the television, rolls her wheelchair over to the freezer and removes a frosty bottle with a cork in its mouth instead of a cap. Captured within the glass is a thick maroon potion – at least that’s what I assume. I’m not sure whether or not grandMother is into alchemy these days.

“It’s time to take the pills,” she sings as the glass clanks against the tile surface of the kitchen table.

While grandMother realigns herself in her spot, my Uncle Bill gets up to fetch her a bottle of flavored seltzer. Then he sits right back down when he sees his mother pull one out from within the box of tissues between her and my laptop.

The cold follows me into my car as I sit down, shrieking with horror when I push the start button and Bessy roars to life. I crank up the heat and get blasted with rushing frigid air – the shriek was clearly just a distraction tactic, a ruse to lull me into a false sense of security. The cold never gives in so easily. As I sit in my car shivering, doing absolutely nothing to block the flow of the acerbic air conditioner, I do a quick spot check to make sure everything on my mental checklist is in the car with me.

“Keys, check,” I say aloud to nobody in particular. “Luggage, check; box of no less than thirty see-dees, check; signed Running for Zak, check; cabinet, check; wallet, che– wait… shit, where’s my wallet?”

‘I swear I left it in here last night,’ I think to myself, madly searching the remaining open space in the front of my car like a D&D player who hit a few potholes on her way to the weekly game and can’t find her game pieces, but alas, no dice. Now I’m forced to do the unthinkable: go back inside after I’ve announced to the whole house that I’m leaving.

‘Oh well,’ I think as I walk back up the steps to the front door, ‘it won’t take that long.’

Forty-five minutes later, I finally locate the wallet. It was hiding underneath the box of CDs, the one sitting on the front seat of the car. Whatever.

So now it’s finally time to go. I’m about an hour behind my schedule but that’s all right, I suppose. This is my vacation, after all; there’s not really a time limit, no predetermined schedule I have to stick to. I have twelve hours and change of vehicular travel ahead of me regardless of when I start, so I might as well take my time. On the other side of that coin though, the sooner I begin, the sooner I will be done. So I should probably just put my phone down and get going.

 G-Mah reveals to me that her potion is liquor by asking me if I want to taste some. I tell her, “No thank you,” and I ask if she should be taking her medications with alcohol. She answers me in the form of asking for a small drinking glass.

Twelve seconds of driving later, I decide that I need breakfast.

I pull up at the Montane Deli, a quaint little staple in town that’s been around since my father was but a wee lad. The owners know me as a regular and they prep me a THC – that’s a Taylor Ham and Cheese sandwich, the ultimate in breakfast in New Jersey. If you’ve never eaten one… yikes, you’re missin’ out, homeboy. You should do something about that.

I tell the local breakfast deities, a married couple with the last name of Montane, hence the deli’s name, all about my upcoming trip and they wish me well, a safe drive and all that. They’re kindhearted humans, when I go in around lunch time they always know exactly what I want: one of their timeless frikadellen sandwiches, a delicious amalgam of German beef, onions, and secret spices, with a light hint of mustard, all slapped together between two untoasted halves of a freshly baked Kaiser roll. Untouchable. Anyway, enough screen tapping; the second song off Ces Cru’s Constant Energy Struggles album is already over and I’m still sitting in the parking lot. Time to hit the road.

Now that I’m on the road, allow me to outline my goals for this trip. I have three missions to complete: 1) Hand-deliver the twenty-dollar cabinet; 2) Present to Zak the autographed first printed copy of Running: How To Torture Yourself And Enjoy It, and; 3) Eat me some Taco Bell. Tough terms, I know, but by the will of the Universe I shall complete all of them, and preferably not in that order. Yo quiero, if you smell what I’m sure to be leaking in the near future.

grandMother uncorks the frosty phial and fills a quarter of her seltzer bottle with liquor. A split second after she puts the booze down, my Uncle Bill grabs it and moves towards my side of the table. I go on the defensive and flip my glass upside down.

In retaliation, he flips the kitchen table upside down and the glass lands right side up at my feet.

Uncle Bill says a quick incantation and wills the liquid out of the mouth of the bottle in a stream like a snake charmer does a snake, sans flute. As I’m about to start wildly throwing hand signs to focus my chakra, Mango rushes in and grabs the glass in her teeth, taking off for the litter box. The metaphysics pause and Uncle Bill and I share a look, a knowing look, a look I’ve only seen on his face once but a look he’s expressed many, many times at his Mother’s house.

My first destination is Gringo Hill Wine & Beer, a liquor store in Charlottesville, Virginia, to drop off the twenty-dollar cabinet. I “own” an illegitimate resale company that I operate out of my bedroom, meaning I buy old stuff and try to resell it on Fakebook so I can afford to write books and eat at the same time. A few days before embarking on this trip, some random lady living out near Chicoteague, Virginia contacted me on Fakebook inquiring about the cabinet. I told her I would just happen to be passing through Virginia within a week and that I could drop off the cabinet if she was really trying to buy. A few days later, she made arrangements with a friend who works at Gringo Hill Wine & Beer to intercept the cabinet and take it the rest of the way. Seems like a lot of effort just for her to exchange her money for my material possession, but the way I figure it, nobody really knows the meaning of life, and efficiency might not be all that it’s cracked up to be, spiritually speaking. So why not?

The sound of liquid filling a glass rumbles through the air. Unc flips the table right side up before making for the litter box. grandMother cracks up laughing and asks me if this is Roadtrip yet.

I cruise through Ringwood, taking Skyline Drive to I-287 South and inhaling my breakfast as I go. I love these sandwiches but fuck are they salty, saltier than an emotionally stunted man-child any time he’s mildly inconvenienced. One literally has to chug two and a half gallons of water just to get back to baseline after eating one of these things, but on my cat’s pyramid is it worth it.

As I’m taking my last breath of greasy melted cheese, I notice myself passing the archaic wooden Welcome to Ringwood sign standing tall atop Skyline Mountain. Awh, see ya later Ringwood. I’ll miss you, specifically the trees on the mountain where I hike every day, but I’ll only be gone for a week; by the time I get back, they probably won’t even have realized I’ve left.

Because they’re trees.

As I transition from highway to highway, I quickly lose track of which road I’m on, as if I was paying any real attention in the first place. Eventually I find myself on the NJ Turnpike and the first of many toll booths approaches from the distance, looming over the road like the shadow of a dragon over a medieval village. I squint my eyes to read the price, but all the sign says is take ticket. ‘Take ticket?,’  I think to myself, ‘What kind of sorcery is this? I’ve never had a toll ticket before.’  I slow to a halt and lean half my body out my window to take the ticket; it’s a list of exits off the turnpike and how much it’ll cost me to take the one I need. Great, can’t even drive on a road without paying the damned United States Corporation Government their share of the nonexistent take. Oh well, I digress.

By the time I exit the Turnpike I get buck-deer’d with an eight-dollar toll, which in hi-

“Eight dollars?!” G-Mah roars, nearly flipping the kitchen table but stopping herself, as to not waste her alcohol.

“Yeah,” I calmly say, adjusting the cushion of my seat. “That wasn’t even the most expensive toll I had to pay.”

“You know hun, back in my slaughterhouse days,” G-Mah begins, grabbing some thread so she can spin me a yarn, “I only got paid two dollars and thirteen cents an hour.”

“It’s true,” Uncle Bill says with a mighty flap of his newspaper. “She brought us there – me, your Mother, your other two uncles – to beg her boss for a raise.”

“Once, I even brought all my kids into the office to beg my boss for a raise!” G-Mah repeats, drumming on the table and completely ignoring my uncle. “He decided to lower my pay!”

I look from a nodding Uncle Bill back to G-Mah. “Wow, that’s really fucked up Gee-Mah. What’d you do?”

“Well, he told me he would give me a raise if I gave him a blowjob.”

I fall out of my chair upon hearing grandMother drop the word blowjob so casually in conversation. The floor is carpeted, at least, so I don’t bruise myself, and Mango comes over to start licking my right foot within seconds of the impact. I look up to see Uncle Bill is unphased; his concentration is evenly split, one half on his newspaper and one half on the bottle.

“Oh get up hunny bun, be a man,” G-Mah growls whilst sipping her homemade hard seltzer through the plastic straw she grips in her arthritic hands, the bends and curves in her bony, Caucasian fingers resembling terrific white claws. “Everybody knows what a blowjob is. Look, I said no, but I do regret it. If I had said yes, I could have bit the asshole’s little friend right off!”

“I’m… uh…” I say, struggling to formulate a real response. “Is it cool if I just keep reading my book?”

grandMother, ditching the limp straw, downs the rest of her hard seltzer in a single gulp, then slams the container down on the table. Another!

By the time I exit the Turnpike I get buck-deer’d with an eight-dollar toll, which in hindsight isn’t all that expensive. But I’m a few hours into this grueling drive at this point; my back is aching, I’ve eaten through all my food, my ears are ringing, and every little thing, every tiny extra variable that gets introduced into this malfunctioning equation is driving me functionally mad. And I haven’t even left New Jersey yet, hah!

I see on my GPS that the end of the state is coming up and Bessy’s gas tank is down to a couple gallons, so I make the decision to fuel up a little early. Shortly after I make this decision, the Universe offers me an opportunity: I see signs for a rest stop with a gas station coming up in less than a mile. I pull into the driveway, bobbing and weaving between semi-trucks and cars that were obviously parked by blind humans who lost their hands & feet fighting whoever’s currently topping the United States Government’s bad guy list, and get my gas tank filled for me for the last time until I get home.

That there’s a “special” thing about New Jersey – gas stations here hire real-life humans to pump your gasoline for you. At some stations, management will literally get angry and raise their voice at you if you get out of your car and even try to operate the pump yourself, if you even make the attempt. You’ll also get the slimy sole of your foot tickled with a governmental fine because, Surprise! it’s actually against the law to complete this mundane task for yourself in the Jerz’. I don’t know if Jersey is weird or if all the other states are weird, but regardless there are pros and cons to this, like anything else. On the bright side, you get your gas pumped for you by one of three flavors of human: a high school or college student or dropout who doesn’t dress up for the weather; a middle-aged human who’s exercising their last capitalistic resort by working at a gas station, or; a dude with a turban. On the duller side, they’re pumping your gas as a job, simply going through the motions of being told, “Fill it with <fuel tier>,” and duly replying, “Cash or charge?” before going dead-eyed like a cowboy and haphazardly ramming the drippy gas pump into your car. When your tank is full, they’ll overfill it to the next dollar (sometimes gasp! without asking if it’s okay first) and carelessly remove the nozzle, more often than not spilling gasoline on your car’s paint. I usually tip the attendants a couple bucks anyway, regardless of gas splatter; it sucks to stand outside pumping gas all day, especially in the winter and especially at a rest stop on one of the innumerable and indifferent New Jersian highways.

“Ah-hem,” G-Mah ah-hems, her arms folded tight. I look up from my softback and catch her leering back and forth between me and her seltzer bottle, which is now so empty there aren’t even droplets of notseltzer sticking to the sides. I look at Uncle Bill (he avoids all eye contact) then back at G-Mah. She still hasn’t blinked.

“What’s up, Gram?”

“The amount of air in my bottle, tell you what. How about you top me off, sweetie?”

Mango hops up on the chair next to G-Mah, but all I can see is her ears & eyes poking over the table. Her stare is loaded with great expectations.

“Gram, please, never ask me to top you off,” I say innocently. “Besides, I’m reading you a book I wrote! Don’t you wan–”

“I know!” she says in a voice that’s only vaguely similar to my own, almost as if she was mocking me. “That’s why I fuckin’ need it!”

After the fill-up, I decide to park and stretch the ol’ legs. My back pain dissipates faster than I can even comprehend after I remove myself from Bessy. Once outside, I immediately lock eyes with a mighty Red Bull vending machine. It’s just standing there on the curb, unwavering, gut full of cans and in desperate need of a dollary laxative. After about ten rejected attempts to feed the thing a five-dollar bill though, I decide that the Universe doesn’t want me to have a Red Bull right now. Defeated, I climb back into Bessy and hit the road once more.

“Hah.”

I cross through Delaware, then Maryland, I think; they were both basically just cityscapes and all the gray blended together in my mind. Eventually I find myself in Virginia and, I have to say, it looks exactly the same as my New Jersey – East Coast Suburbia genetically spliced with Strip Mall O’Rama. Charlottesville is still roughly one hundred miles away though; so close, and yet so far.

The road is endless, growing longer with each tire-circumference forward my car rolls. I look around at all the vehicles accompanying me on this journey, all the cars and the trucks and the semis and the semi-trucks carrying a load of cars, all piloted by humans that I share this road with but will never meet. They all have lives that are just as complex, intricate and vivid as mine, they all have a history and a future and their own individual identities and anxieties. For a moment I imagine there are no walls between us, no cars either, just humans floating down the road at high speeds whilst holding an awkward and uncomfortable sitting position. The distance between myself and any other given human on this stretch of long road could reliably be measured in feet; if we weren’t moving so fast, I could easily walk over and pick that unsightly little green spot out of the woman who’s driving next to me’s teeth without breaking a sweat. Yet, it’s as if they aren’t even there, and to them, I’m not even here.

My mind wanders and I begin to contemplate simulation theory; what if I’m the only quote-unquote “conscious” one, and the beings that surround me on this road are all harboring an artificial intelligence? What if this is all an illusion meant to deceive me, to isolate me further from the “real” world while a cabal of advanced beings and/or twisted supra-corporate humanoids harvest my life force for monetary gain? What if the simulators are doing it for benevolent reasons, what if we actually live in the “future” and a planet-wide contest of Who’s Got the Biggest Phallus Nuclear Warhead? went apocalyptic, and the last flicker of humanity’s dwindling candlelight remaining on the planet voted to put everybody into a simulation machine that cares for our spirits while our real bodies wither away to dust? Worst of all: what if this is true reality, and the only simulation is the global economic society we’re all entrenched in, and all these rules we follow and cultural norms we casually abide by are just an attempt by a very small group of humans to control the rest of the humans because of some unresolved psychological issues the aforementioned small group of controllers picked up during their childhood?

I chuckle and decide that if any of that is true, if reality is indeed some sort of simulation in disguise, it is a cold piece of work, and it’s not likely that I’ll be getting out anytime soon. With about fifty miles left in my gas tank and the soft amber glow of the get gas light illuminating my dashboard, I arrive in the Gringo Hill Shopping Plaza.

I locate the alcohol shop pretty easily and park out front. Stepping out of the car, I immediately notice how much warmer it is down here than it was in Jersey when I left, and even when I got my tank filled. I’m wearing a very fuzzy hoodie over a slightly less fuzzy sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up and I can feel them both sticking to the skin of my arms, the fibers of the garments literally fusing with the strands of hair poking out of my dermis. No matter, I’m from New Jersey, and north Jersey at that; I’ll be damned if I change my outfit in the middle of the damned day just because of some weather. What am I, a south Jersian? Please.

Where I grew up there are the primary seasons, summer and winter, and then the transitional seasons, spring and autumn. During the primary seasons, the temperature more or less stays the same throughout the day; it’s frigid (or sweltering) when you wake up, stays frigid (or sweltering) all day, and gets frigid (or sweltering) at night. During the transitional seasons though, any given day represents an entire year; it’s cold when you wake up, cool during the morning, hot in the afternoon, warm in the evening, and cold again when you go to sleep. See, Jersians are rugged and we do what we want, often choosing not to dress for the weather; in the winter you will doubtlessly see a white guy in basketball shorts and a tee, and in the summer you will doubtlessly see a white guy in a full sweat suit. Today, I am the summer variant of that white guy.

I walk in and the store is totally empty, save for the bountiful bottles of booze and the owner, a man who clearly takes good care of his facial hair, standing at the register, patiently flipping through a magazine or catalog of some sort. I tell him who I am and he nods, asking how big the cabinet is. I mime it with my hands, assuring him that it’s very lightweight and it won’t be a problem to move. He goes to find a place to keep it for the time being and I head back outside to fetch the piece. When I return, he’s cleared a space between two aisles and I fill said space with the cabinet like a hand fills a glove. We shake hands and I wander back to the car – one mission complete. About a week later, after I’ll have almost completely forgotten about the entire ordeal, I’ll be paid through Paypal.

“A week later?” G-Mah asks, sipping her spiked seltzair through a new straw.

“Yep,” I say, almost proud of myself.

Uncle Bill farts. The sheer flatulent force of his assy gas cloud doesn’t phase Mango in the slightest. I pinch my nostrils shut but Uncle Bill just smiles and turns the page. I look over at grandMother and she’s looking right back at me, waiting for an answer.

“What?” I ask, inadvertently tasting the soiled air. At least it doesn’t stink.

grandMother abruptly cocks her head to the side. “You’re lucky I’m not your manager, boy, because I do not like repeating myself. I asked you why you waited a week before you got paid.”

“Oh, uh,” I stammer, checking my memory files. “I was on vacation so I wasn’t really worried about it. Plus, it was only ten dollars.”

“ONLY TEN DOL–”followed by a fat swig of seltzer and the realization that the bottle is still empty. “Only ten dollars? Hun, money is money no matter what. Now, why don’t you fill my bottle for me before you start reading again?”

Before I get the chance to answer, Uncle Bill slaps his newspaper down and rises both from the table and to the occasion. He shoots me a stink eye when I beat him to the bottle and pour grandMother’s liquor for her.

I look around the plaza for two things: a place to eat (preferably a Taco Bell) and a gas station. There’s no Taco Bell, but there is a pizza joint called The Brick Oven Pizza Restaurant. I could go for a slice, why not?

I walk in and the air conditioner whispers into my ear, letting me know the place is empty. The guy at the front counter smiles and tells me I can sit wherever I want, so I take a booth that’s near the door, just in case they make a habit of turning the lone customers that wander in here into extra pizza toppings. Guy hands me a menu and goes to get me some water. As I look the menu over, I realize that this is an actual restaurant and not just a pizza place, so just getting a quick slice won’t exactly be possible. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to eat a whole pizza myself. The horror.

Much to my surprise, the pizza isn’t terrible.

“Bullshit.”

“Nope,” I say.

The two or three humans I told about this trip warned me about eating pizza outside of the Sicilian safe zone that is the New York/New Jersey area, that it just wouldn’t be the same. Originally I thought, ‘It’s dough splashed with tomato sauce and dandruffed with cheese, how could a conscious human possibly mess that up?’  That said, it’s definitely different down here, and Jersey pizza is undeniably better, mind you, but Virginia pizza doesn’t fail the edibility test by any stretch of the remaining tastebuds on my tongue.

I tip the place a couple bucks on top of my bill and head back to my car, body fed and ready to fuel up. When I pull up to the pump, I’m hit with my first major plot twist that I saw coming hours ago but momentarily forgot about because of the mild driving-induced pseudo-delusional state I’m in: I’ll have to pump my own gas. Evidently, three hundred miles of road has a way of boggling the mind to the point that one forgets that only in Jersey are humans paid to pump your gas for you, even when I wrote a whole damn page about it. The task at hand really isn’t hard though, I quickly pick up on the ways of the rest of the country and before I even know it, Bessy’s had her sip and I’m back on the road.

“Wait, you call your car Bessy?” G-Mah asks, a weathered smile on her face.

“Sure do,” I say, “with two esses.”

“Well how else do you spell it?” Uncle Bill asks his newspaper in a mumbly voice.

I place my hands on my temples and close my eyes. Honing my focus, I pyrokintetically burn the letters B, E, S, S, S, and Y into Uncle Bill’s newspaper, showing him exactly how else one may spell Besssy.

Proud of my work, I look over to grandMother with vibrant eyes and she just kind of stares back, as if she’s used to all these metaphysical antics. Then, “I named my first car Bessy too,” she says with a grin. “A long, loooooooooong time ago.” A moment of silence spent reminiscing about her past, then, “Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting, you can continue.”

“Continue on eye-eighty South for tw-”

“What?”

“Hm? Oh, that’s how it continues, it’s like my gee-pee-ess said the words.”

“Ohhhh. Oh-kaaayyy.”

“Continue on eye-eighty South for two hundred and forty miles.” Ouch. Ironically enough, for a guy embarking on a seven-hundred-plus-mile road trip, I vehemently hate long car rides. A firm believer of my own phrase, “If you’re driving more than thirty-ish minutes to get to work you’re doing it wrong,” I’ve never had a commute that was longer than ten, fifteen minutes max. Even saying fifteen minutes is a stretch; if I had to be at work at seven o’clock, I could leave my house at six fifty-five and get there with time to spare. The one and only instance in which I would have to drive a full fifteen minutes was if my particular stretch of Greenwood Lake Turnpike was closed for some unforeseeable reason.

When I was a younger lad I would constantly get carsick during long drives, regardless of my sitting in the back seat, front seat, trunk, whatever. Being in the driver’s seat alleviates the carsickness, but I just don’t like being in the car, and this drive is only reminding me of the reasons. It’s boring, utterly monotonous, and the constant rumbling of the road being drowned out by loud and obnoxious (albeit essential) rap music is giving ringing in my ears a whole new synesthetic color. I’m at the point where my eyes refuse to stop autonomously darting back and forth between the road, the clock, the GPS map on my phone in the cupholder, and the speedometer (with an occasional pit stop at the gas gauge) and I still have more than five and a half hours left until I hit the Fishers’. I’m in desperate need of a distraction.

I turn my head to look out the window and, on a shining silver platter, I am served my distraction. The mountains, the glorious mountains! Back in Jersey I live in a low valley between two mountains, one called Board and the other unnamed because it is small and there are houses and a road running over it. Board is one of three mountains in the Windbeam mountain range, one of quite a few mountain ranges that inhabit Ringwood.

When I said Ringwood is a mountain town earlier, I meant it quite literally; there are more mountains than there are individual and unique last names in my town. But the mountains down here in the VA… these are different. They’re massive, mountstrous, towering over the landscape and rolling like rogue waves over an ocean. Ringwood’s mountains aren’t nearly as tall as the ones down here though… hah, I hope Zak’ll be in the mood for some hiking!

Even if he isn’t, I’m sure he’ll go with me at least once during this weekend. The last time I saw him was… I don’t even know how long ago it was, a year or so maybe, but it was when his family came up North for his brother Tate’s wedding. I picked Zak up with another guy we used to run cross country with and we went on a nice hike together, then got some food at a local diner Zak frequented when he lived up here. I think I took a picture that day, I’ll have to see if I can find it.

Anyway, that was the last time I saw Zak, when he and his family drove up this endless road just to step foot on New Jersian soil. Now I’m returning the favor in a kind of but not really sorta way. Cycles, cycles I tell you!

“Did ya find it?” grandMother asks whilst stroking a purring Mango.

“Did I find what?” Uncle Bill and I ask in unison, both of us all too eager to answer G-Mah’s beckoning call.

“The picture,” she says, ignoring my Uncle Bill’s attempt at communication. He buries his head deeper into the news printed on his paper.

“Oh, yeah. So I’m doing two versions of this book, one that’s publicly available and one that’s just for the friend I stayed with during the trip.”

“Oh-kaayyyy…?”

“The public one isn’t going to have any pictures or anything but the Zak one is going to be kind of like a scrapbook in that, in addition to the text, it’ll have pictures printed in it too. Kinda neat, huh?”

“Well that’s nice! Do I get a copy of the Zak one?” G-Mah asks with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh, uh, I was just going to print the Zak copy for Zak so he can share it with his family and friends and stuff.”

grandMother doesn’t say another word, although Mango continues to purr like a diesel engine. Uncle Bill, from the inky depths of his printed mainstream media, smiles a triumphant smile.

And my word is this road endless, I’ve been on it for thirty-some odd miles and it just keeps going with no semblance of an end in sight. There are still over two hundred miles for me to drive on this stretch alone, and I know I’m not tackling the entire thing right now. How many humans did it take to build this bad boy? How many years, how many dollars? How many lives were lost so this road could be built for me to drive on it and later complain about it in a book, how many children’s birthdays were missed? How many human births were missed? The real question: if one could take all the asphalt used to make roads on this planet and smush it into a ball, would that ball be bigger than the moon? No matter, it’s just another obstacle for me to overcome, another barrier for me to jump.

As I hurdle further down this endless road, I’m embraced by the unshakable feeling that I’m officially in the South. Virginia is technically the South, right? Well, even if it isn’t, in the wide span of the past two minutes I passed not only a car with a Texas license plate, not only a grassy knoll sporting a Confederate flag hoisted up on a flag pole, but also a barn with Vote Trump 2020 painted on its rusty metal roof in big white letters. Plus, there are more farms and crop fields around me than there are cars on the road with me. Major Southern vibes. If this isn’t the South, it gets honorable mention for highest, tremendous, and utterly supreme Southitude.

It’s about 4:00 now as I speak these words into my cell phone’s Notes app. The road seems to be more never-ending than it previously was, but I think I’m getting there. I guess. I don’t really know, my GPS could be leading me to the wrong place for all I know. I’m pretty sure I put the right address in there, but what if Zak’s dad mistyped it when he sent it to me? What if my phone miscopied it before I pasted it into the Maps app? What if the overlords of the simulation are trying to mess with me and at some point, this road will just lead into a lake?

Yikes, this drive is really getting to me.

With seventy miles down, I still have a meaty one hundred seventy to go… I’ve never fallen asleep while driving but it’s almost happened quite a few times thus far today. You’d think it would be easy to stay awake, what with all the uproarious noise and the bright lights and everything, but then there’s the sleepy feeling, that warm, fuzzy sensation of soft weight right behind the eyes, the sudden heaviness of my arms so desperately wanting (and trying) to fall off the steering wheel. Even my phone is tired at this point, I’ve drained the poor thing to fifteen percent battery. Now I don’t know that you’ve ever wrestled a phone charger out of a bag that’s inside a zipped suitcase, plugged it in to the USB port inside your vehicle’s console and finagled the charging end into your cell phone while maintaining ninety miles-per-hour on a major highway that is as overpopulated with cars as New Jersey is with humans, but it’s no simple task, and if there were any cops at all on this road with me, I’m sure I’d have been pulled over by now.

I almost wish that was the case to be honest… I won’t let myself have a break unless my car’s gas tank is about to bottom out because I want to be off this road. I’m in critical need of a break but I’m stubbornly delaying that gratification in return for what I hope will be a bigger payout… but if a police officer pulled me over, I could stop driving. I might even be able to get out of the hot car for a couple minutes after he/she is finished scolding me. All I have to do is hit the floor with the gas pedal, shatter the speed limit, cross the one hundred miles-per-hour threshold and weave through everyone else until I’m caught and forced to stop.

This drive is def–

Tinkle Road

I’ve just entered Tennessee.

“What the fuck?” Uncle Bill demands. “When did you get to Tennessee?”

“Well I just got there!” I say with a passive giggle before I feel the presence of an orange cat on my feet. grandMother looks at me like I have seventeen heads, so I say, “Let me just keep reading, it’ll make sense.”

“Oh-kaaaaaay,” more sung than said.

I’ve just entered Tennessee. With about sixty or so trillion miles left on I-80 South, my cell phone unexpectedly died. Apparently, while being used as a GPS and as an outlet for the voices in my head, my phone was using more power than Bessy’s charger was capable of supplying. That such could even happen would have been good to know before I left but hey, we live and we learn, right?

A rapper I listen to, Joey Cool, he once said in a song that, “The biggest lesson in life is life is simply a lesson.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that; messing up and making mistakes are vital parts of life, and the only way you’ll learn something and better yourself is by making a mistake. Take my habit of selling old stuff, for example: at one point, I would pay out my ass for my stuff. The more you pay for something the more you can sell it for, right? Well one day, I got a call to clean out a foreclosed house – they claimed to have a bunch of antiques, “Really nice pieces,” yadda yadda yadda. Well, my father, his pickup truck, and I went to the dead house and picked out what I wanted to sell.  We moved it all outside. All the stuff had water damage, rust, grime; it was really nasty stuff, as I would come to find out later when I properly examined it. The relatives of the once-owner of the house charged me five hundred dollars for my bunk loot, and like the optimistic little bugger I am, I paid it. Now, just a few months later, I’m out about four hundred on the buy. Oh well, lesson learned.

 Anyway, I’m currently pulled over on the side of the road typing the Fisher’s address into my car’s GPS so I can get a move on. My next challenge is going to be finding a ripe opportunity to pull back onto the highway that won’t result in Bessy & I getting utterly decimated into a trillion pieces by the flow of traffic.

It’s funny, as soon as I spoke that into my phone, a large trough opened up between the crests of two vehicular waves and now I’m back on the pavement. I only have a couple more hours of driving ahead of me, the sun is setting and thick dark & gloomy clouds are brewing over the horizon. If this was a video game and the developers of said video game knew what they were doing, I would have just hit a checkpoint.

Like a fool, I didn’t get up out the car when I was pulled over earlier and a dull, throbbing painulet is beginning to erupt inside of my neck, my lower back, my hips and my legs. Driving in a car for more than twelve hours in a day is just… this is just asinine. Truly absurd. To be locked in this sitting position, the constant rumbling of the road, the blaringly necessary music, the stiff angle I have to keep my neck perched at, the uncomfortable and constant switching between heated air and cool air conditioning because my car’s temperature control gauge goes from one extreme to another instead of drifting in the middle… this is too much. I know in my head that today wasn’t wasted, but it feels like it was. I’m a failure.

That’s the worst feeling, isn’t it? When you’re watching the sun set with the overwhelming feeling that your day could have gone quite differently. That it could have gone better. Maybe that’s just a me thing though, I always find something to complain about.

“That’s just an us thing, dear. If you could turn complaints into books, everybody in this family would be an author.”

“Really?” I say, thinking back to all those times that Mother’s asked me, “Why you complain like lil’ bitch, Nesbeau?” back home. Then, “You don’t say. Even Uncle Bill?”

“Bill? It’s Will, dear. But yes, especially him!”

I look over at Uncle Will. He’s wearing a name tag that says Bill on it, probably didn’t get a chance to take it off after work. He works the graveyard shift at the Shoppin’Correct up the road from grandMother’s house; today he finished work at around eleven in the morning. That sounds great, but he started at two.

“Ohhh you should hear him complain about his childhood and how the other kids used to hang him from the doorknobs by his underwear. Ahhhhh, shit!”

With Mango still on my feet I’m immobilized, but I wasn’t going to get up anyway. I look over at Uncle Bill. He’s chomping on his bottom lip and although he’s still holding the newspaper like he’s reading it, his eyes are closed; he seems to be fighting a torrent of tears.

“Really? Uncle Bill was bullied in school?”

“School?” G-Mah spits, reaching for her bottle at the mere mention of the word. “No, by your mom and your Uncle Skylar! Never your Uncle Brob though.”

My good ol’ Uncle Brob, a Bob’s Rob if ever there were one.

I finally make it off the two hundred forty mile stretch of road, and what’s the very first thing I hear? Continue for seventy miles in a computerized voice that, after this maddening journey that isn’t even close to over yet, sounds almost feminine. No rest for the wicked, I suppose.

Side note: I just forgot that I was in Tennessee, that I was even in the United States in general. It’s not like I thought I was driving a different part of the planet or anything, but all semblance of awareness of the larger world around me and the overall state of things kind of disappeared for me, like a melodic fugue state without the hysteria. Well, I’m definitely slightly hysterical right now, but that’s only because I’ve been trapped inside a capsule all day with creative clever humans shouting in rhythm at me over music. What snapped me back to reality, you ask? Just my gas tank telling me that I have twenty-five miles until empty.

Wait… twenty-five miles until empty… and more than an hour until I arrive at the Fisher residence… something here doesn’t add up.

Luckily, I just passed a sign that read Tinkle Road, 1 Mile, and shortly after that I passed a sign that read Rest stop, 1.5 miles. The last rest stop I hit was in Jersey and it had a gas station, so obviously that means that every single rest stop that was ever built in the other forty-nine states will also have a gas station. Whoop!

As Bessy pulls into the rest stop, all hope and color drain from my face and I come to the realization that there’s no gas station here. I park, turn off the car. My head is spinning. My ears are ringing so loud I can’t hear myself think straight. A pale-faced man with elongated canine teeth is tapping at my window with fingernails that haven’t been clipped in years. The Universe Herself is trembling at a molecular level and I can feel it in every fiber of my being. After a deep breath, I do a quick internet search on my moribund not-iPhone and it tells me the nearest gas station is only eight miles away. Suddenly, my thoughts are clear and pristine again – I start Bessy up, backtrack about ten minutes and (finally) get out of my car to fill the tank.

After Bess’ gets her drink I wander into the mini-mart, which is more of a mega-mini-maximum mart now that I recollect it proper, and attempt to use the restroom. I’m stopped, however, by a lady armed with a bucket, a mop, and a wet floor sign. She doesn’t say that she’s cleaning the bathroom, she just grips the mop like a bo staff and tells me, “It’s occupied…” and that I, “…need to come back later.”

My bladder audibly pulsates as I walk away and start perusing around for something to eat. Nothing in this store has a price tag on it, which I don’t love, but Southern is as Southern does, I guess. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Eventually a packet of beef jerky springs off the shelf and hits me in the face, knocking me to the very clean floor. Once I’ve dusted myself off, I approach the register to pay. I mention to the cashier that I recently wrote a book and that I’m traveling from NJ to NC to give my friend a signed copy and she says, “God bless your heart.”

God bless your heart. That’s something I rarely hear said in New Jersey, probably because I don’t go out too much. I’m not a religious man but I’m very spiritual, and the existence of god (not God but god), of the intelligence and conscious energy interwoven into Existence itself, is something that I think about quite often. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, I suppose it’s just nice to hear somebody say God bless your heart to me, even if I don’t subscribe to the specific deity’s dogma. It’s a whole lot better than the standard slightly sarcastic and snooty Wow, good for you. Anyway, as I’m walking towards the exit, the bathroom lady calls out to me and says that I can use the lady’s room, she’ll stand guard to make sure nobody walks in on me. If either of those women ever, by chance, read this book, I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my now-empty bladder. God bless both of your hearts.

At this point the dusk has entered an eerie state of twilight, because cycles, and I still have about forty-five minutes left of this journey. I’m currently driving over a hill and I can see mountain ranges upon mountain ranges in the distance, complete with a hazy dressing of fog reaching up towards the peaks. It’s almost spooky, looks like it’s straight out of a horror movie. Maybe the simulation is about to take a dark turn, maybe I’m a main character on my way to meet some friends at a cabin in the woods. Little do I know, there’s a sadistic tribe of bigfoots (bigfeet?) just waiting to turn us all into sacrifices to the Foot Gods.

My word is this drive getting to me. If there were any bigfi in these woods, I doubt they would have evolved to the point of having conceptualized a god for themselves, let alone gods. Or hey, maybe that’s devolved, who really knows?

The first photon of light beaming in through the end of the tunnel has officially breached my pupil – I just saw the first sign marked Hendersonville. I should be there in approximately twenty-three minutes, I’m so close that I actually can’t believe I’m here. I didn’t even notice myself crossing into North Carolina to be totally honest, but that’s just fine.

Unless the next time I go to blink I open my eyes to find myself back home, that would kind of suck.

The sky is covered by a plume of blackish-gray clouds, there’s a slight drizzle pattering against my windshield, more cars are suddenly populating the roads, and yet, none of that matters to me. I’m almost through with this treacherous escapade. I can almost rest my aching back. Most of all, I’m only twenty minutes away from finally reuniting with my good friend Zak.

The feeling of my journey officially coming to an end absorbs me when I pull up to the gate my GPS has led me to. I was told the gatekeeper would be a grizzled old dude who doesn’t like conversation, but much to my surprise there’s a happy, smiling young lady sitting at the post. She asks me who I’m visiting and I tell her the Fisher family, quipping a quick, “You know, twelve hours ago I was in New Jersey. It’s kinda weird.”

She laughs and buzzes me in.

“Was that Roadtrip?” G-Mah asks earnestly.

I close my laptop and slide it aside, reaching for my throat with my free hand. “Well that was the first chapter, yeah. I still have the entire time I spent in North Carolina and the drive back home to read you about.”

“Oh…” grandMother mumbles, searching around for something.

I look at Uncle Bill, he’s holding the newspaper upside-down but reading it nonetheless; I notice on the back page, all the sudoku puzzles are filled out. He must be a genius.

“If you guys want to take a break we can,” I offer, “my throat is kind of sore anyway, I could use a couple minutes.”

grandMother and Mango share a look and I can’t tell who’s expressing more excitement. Finally, they look back at me and G-Mah accepts the break with tremendous supremity.

She then wheels herself around and gazes at the empty wine glass sitting in the sink, all sparkly and clean and free of civet-smelling cat urine. Reading her mind as she rewashes the glass, I can sense that she wants me to try the alcohol, but I don’t want to – I’ve been sober as a gopher, word to Krizz Kaliko, since I was born. I didn’t even try any beer when I was seven and my dad let Jarome have some, why would I try it now?

G-Mah shouts over her shoulder, “Because you’re at your Grandma’s house and I want to drink with you!” so I can hear her over the running water.

I guess I said that last bit out loud, whoops. Oh well.

¡Gramango!


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Preface – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (2/8)

Hello Commons, here is the preface of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Preface

Uncle Bill

Today is March 9th, 2019. My name is Hunter (aka Rattlesnake Wallace to literally one other human) and I’m a reclusive dude who likes to run and write. I live in my parent’s house in a small mountainy lake town situated in the forests of northern New Jersey called Ringwood. Just a couple days ago I self-published my first book, titled Running: How To Torture Yourself And Enjoy It, on an internet platform that allows me to do so. It’s a short self-help/philosophy-ish diddy about running, how the sport has vastly improved my life, and how it can improve your life, too.

I gaze through the window and watch as Uncle Bill walks back up the road, garbage cans in hand. G-Mah has yet to acknowledge the fact that her cat is airborne so I ask her about it; she looks at Mango, winks at her, and then looks back to me, verbally wondering what I could possibly mean.

In Running, in order to properly show the reader how running has helped me, I told the story of my life up to the point of the book being published. During this roller coaster of a tale I mentioned I had a friend named Zak with whom I ran cross country in high school. After hearing the news about the book, Zak’s father texted me inquiring about getting a printed copy of Running for Zak, adding that it would mean a lot to him if he could get one. I replied, “It’s funny you asked, I was planning on getting him one anyway.”

The thing is, Zak lives in North Carolina, roughly a twelve-hour drive from my spot in Jersey. I could just ship the book to him; a month or so ago I sent him a 1964 foreign auto repair manual through the mail (he loves Volkswagens and there was a bug on the cover) and it got to him just fine. He even texted me saying that he appreciated it.

But that was just some random book. Reclusively mailing Zak a copy of a book starring him that I wrote myself? That would be kinda lame.

So, the thing about Ringwood is that it’s weird; we have a healthy population of mountains here that are all very high in quartz and magnetite concentration, which is slightly abnormal as far as I understand. In the woods by my house I constantly find balloons stuck in trees that seemingly appear out of nowhere, leading me to believe the area is a naturally occurring wind vortex. Back in the BC times, the local Lenape population revered the area as a paranormal and mystical hotspot; considering this local lore and the strange things that happen around town (haunted buildings, UFO sightings, spiritual happenings, etc.), Ringwood is likely an energy vortex as well. I say that to say this: when one lives in this town, one tends to get anchored in this town, one’s very being weighed down to the earth by a powerful metaphysical force that most are blissfully unaware of, unless they’re just not willing to admit they’ve noticed it, too.

What I’m really trying to say is, although I do love Ringwood, I find myself stuck here like a fly trapped on one of those nasty strips of flypaper dangling over the kitchen table at your great-great-gruncle’s house on a sweltery summer’s eve when the air conditioner’s suddenly stopped working.

As my Uncle Bill walks in through the front door, Mango drops back to the floor. The pads of her paws strike the carpet with the force of a thousand suns and she vanishes in a shower of orange sparks and feline hair, locked in a sprint towards the other side of the house. Uncle Bill sits down and nonverbally offers me a handshake before he starts intently flipping through a newspaper that he wasn’t carrying when he walked in. He doesn’t acknowledge G-Mah; in turn, she doesn’t acknowledge him right back. I’m left alone in the cold darkness, forced to acknowledge their mutual lacks of acknowledgement towards each other.

My dad grew up in Ringwood and Mother grew up in Monksville before it was flooded. Together they moved to Highland Lakes, another northern New Jersey town, and four years after I was born we moved into the first Ringwood house (that my dad built from scratch, in case you were curious) and proceeded to live there through my graduation from Unspecific Regional High School. During my freshman year of community college, with gleaming silver bells on our toes, my family & I packed up and moved to the other side of town. We may or may not have been forced to sell the first Ringwood house because we may or may not have been ensnared in a legal boobytrap that was set up before I was born by a certain someone who is no longer with us, but regardless we still had to move… so why leave the stomping grounds, right?

The only schools I’ve ever attended that weren’t in Ringwood were preschool (because we didn’t live here yet) and high school (because Ringwood doesn’t have a high school in town). I’ve had three jobs in my life: one as a warehouse worker, one as an extra hand at an auction hall, and one as a cross country coach at my old high school; both of the formers were located in Ringwood and the latter was based one town over because, again, Ringwood doesn’t have a high school in town.

I usually only leave town once a week, if that, and I’ve left New Jersey only a handful of times in my life. The last vacation I took was literally three years ago and I didn’t leave the state for that either, shout out to Atlantic City. The days all melt together, the scenery only changes with the seasons and although I hike a lot, it is currently March. There’s snow on the ground and the leaves are still buds; the forest looks more like the sticks than the woods, and it’s so cold that when I do go out to hike, I can feel my bone marrow freezing and expanding, splintering my skeleton like the first layer of ice over a frozen lake.

I   n e e d   a   b r e a k.

Superego

Zak doesn’t know this yet but I’m going to drive down to his parents’ house in North Carolina to hand-deliver the first printed copy of my first book to him, which I also autographed because ego. I’m also going to spend a few days down in the NC catching up and hanging out with him and his family because superego. Then I’m going to drive back and write a book about it, because what is a vacation if you’re not neurotically trying to accomplish something the entire time you’re supposed to not be accomplishing anything? id.

This Is Roadtrip

I got back yesterday, March 20th. What a trip; laughs were had, tears were shed, friends were reunited. It was the first state-crossing road trip I’ve ever taken by myself and it certainly won’t be the last; next time, I’m going even bigger. But that’s then and this is now, and now, all that’s left is my writing of the book. But uh… boom, look at that. You’re already reading it.

This is Roadtrip.

“Is it?” G-Mah asks, chin in her hand. Mango, back in the kitchen, is shedding as much of her own fur onto my legs as possible

“Yeah, this is the book,” I say, assuming G-Mah got lost in my reading because she is old and I am young.

“Well duh,” G-Mah laughs, summoning Mango to her side with her free hand. “But this is the second introduction you’ve read to me now, when is the story going to start?”

I’m embarrassed so I say nothing. After a moment of my relatives looking at me, I squeak out that I need to edit the Preface a bunch and that I’ll need a few minutes before we continue. I hear G-Mah turn and bring her now empty coffee mug to the kitchen sink, and then comes a muffled clack. I look up and see that G-Mah has accidentally knocked a magnet (and the grocery bill it once pinned to the refrigerator door) off the refrigerator door, presumably with the armrest of her wheelchair.

As G-Mah spins herself in a rush to grab the fallen magnet, Mango plays the power move and consumes the magnet whole. Then, she decides to cancel her subscription to the laws of gravity and apathetically floats inches above my grandMother’s head. With a hearty sigh, grandMother grabs the bill off the floor and takes it to the sink, using it as a sponge to wash her coffee mug.

I’m still not done editing when she comes back – how could anybody work with all this wild excitement going on? – so grandmother turns on the television. Uncle Bill flaps his newspaper in protest but continues reading without a word. Following his example, I get back to work.


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Forward – Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition (1/8)

Hello Commons, here is the forward of Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition, a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. Please enjoy. See the bottom of this post for more info.


Forward

Eyelash

Although I wake, my eyes do not open. I don’t tell them not to open, they’re just not feeling it yet; most mornings are like this. I can hear my family bustling around downstairs, feel the sunlight bursting through the open window I forgot to curtain last night, taste the fermented puffs of hot morning breath rising from my mouth to my nostrils. I want to get up, hell I need to get up, but my body just isn’t feeling it. My limbs are heavy and immobile, my torso is a slab of concrete and my hair isn’t bound in a ponytail, meaning it’s everywhere, and I’ll have to pull a few strands of it out of my mouth, and probably one or two out of my eyes, when I find them.

I don’t know that you’ve ever pulled a hair out of your eye, but let me tell you: it is the most unsettling feeling a human is capable of experiencing, especially if it’s a long hair you’re extracting. You see the tip sticking out and think, ‘Oh, it’s just an eyelash, lemme grab that quick.’  Then you grab it and, as you pull it free, you feel the remaining eight inches of the shit squirm its way out of the miniscule gap between your eye and your bottom eyelid that you didn’t even know existed, and then you take a shower because you feel thirty-one different flavors of violated by this strand of simple proteins, one that grew from your own head, no less.

Maybe this is why my eyes don’t want to open – although I can’t feel the spindly bastards yet, I know they’re there waiting for me, patiently, just dying to prematurely take the good out of my morning. Or maybe my bed is just toasty and I’m subconsciously recognizing that I’m almost half of the way through my twenties and the part of my life in which I can wake up on a Wednesday and stay in bed as long as I want to is probably coming to an end, and I need to enjoy this while I still can.

Regardless, here I lay, under the covers and outside of time, blanketed in warmth and holding down the snooze button on the rest of life not because I want to, not because I need to, but because I can.

Guess What

I’m up and Adom. Normally my first thing in the morning routine includes opening all of my windows, reading a chapter or two of a book, meditating for twenty minutes and having a smoothie before I start working, but not on this day. My mind is flayed today because I haven’t started the re-write of this book yet. I just want the project to be done and over with already and, for better or for worse, there’s only one way to make that happen: I need to start working on it right this second; after all, stranger things than me skipping breakfast have gone down in this town before.

Looking out my one open window instead of at my computer screen, I notice today’s sky is that kind of overcast in which one can see chunky folds in the water vapor, yet the sun shines through anyway. That’s a good way to be, isn’t it? You don’t look like much – in fact, you look about as mediocre and unassuming as you possibly can – yet your light shines on through anyway.

That’s right hypothetical reader, I’m trying to tell you something with these obscure tribulations that, for all you know, I just made up off the top of my head. This book will go one of two ways: either it will be a hassle that you don’t really understand and are kind of afraid of until you read it, or it will be that muddy rock you find in the woods that turns out to be a gemstone after you wash it off. Maybe those two ways lead to the same place, who knows? Maybe I’ll get to the point eventually, maybe I won’t. Maybe a meteor will strike and the world will go kaput. Maybe I’ll smoke some marijuana and eat pizza all day instead of doing this, hah!

Just kidding, I don’t do drugs and I’m not going to hold my breath for any meteors. In an effort to not prematurely repeat myself, I’m an author with the initials of HOW and a handful of months ago, I wrote and published two books: one about running, and this one, Roadtrip. I then unpublished them both and wallowed in self-loathing & psychosis until one day I suddenly found myself cured of Lyme disease. The sudden lack of corkscrew bacteria eating my brain into insanity lead me to establish a publishing company (shout to The Hillside Commons), which motivated me to re-write and re-publish the running book. And now I’m re-writing this book so I can re-publish it too, because cycles.

But, see, the running book? I re-wrote that for a reason. The first edition was shit and reeked of self-victimization; so, I made it less shitty and called it |The Unvictimized Edition|. But this book… I don’t think the first edition was that bad, there’s not really an outright reason to do a rewrite. Plus, I have this other tiny little project I’ve been working on for three years that’s dying to get released, so I’m asking myself the following in the form of the text you’re currently reading: “WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME REDOING THE ROADTRIP BOOK?!”

Because, Hunter who wrote the last paragraph, your existence on this planet is not happening solely for your own benefit. This book is both dedicated to and about your friends, and yet they never got to read it, just like grandMother didn’t get to read it because when you originally published the book you were Lyme-shit crazy and you didn’t tell anybody outside of your house, nor did you make any semblance of an announcement about it whatsoever.

sO gUeSs WhAt?

Today, August 21st, 2019, you’re going to drive to grandMother’s house and read the original Roadtrip to her. Then, you’re going to interweave the story of you reading Roadtrip to G-Mah with the story of the original Roadtrip book and republish it, calling it The ¡Gramango! Edition, because grandMother has a cat named Mango. And Mango is fantastic.

grandMother’s House

Well hi there, it’s about two hours later now and I’m at grandMother’s house. Sorry for abruptly cutting out there, the whole writing to myself thing was getting unsettling and I needed to get away from it. Mango is currently perusing my ankles, the TV is off and we’re ready to read. I don’t know what to say now, so… here we go. The ¡Gramango! Edition.

“Hahahahah!” grandMother laughs, grabbing for her coffee. She knows this will be a long visit. “Mango was walking through my ankles before and I looked down and it was just orange, her fur was everywhere, all over my pants. Ahhhhh, shit!”

As grandMother reminisces fondly, I look out the window and see my Uncle Bill walking down the street towards the lower driveway. What a nice surprise, I didn’t know he was visiting grandMother today, too.

I revert my attention to grandMother and attempt to begin, but I find myself at a lack of words. I would say the cat’s got my tongue, but I don’t think that’s exactly possible; Mango seems to be hovering, literally floating in the air above the table, her legs dangling in such a fashion so her paws are lightly brushing against the top of my laptop’s screen. The plot thickens… okay I should really start this.

¡Gramango!


As I said above, Roadtrip: The ¡Gramango! Edition is a satirical travel novella about an author reading the actual travel novella to his grandmother. It is also the second book of the First Spiral, a longer story called The Highest One Writing.

The Highest One Writing is a story about an author told through the books he wrote. It starts with a self-help book and ends with the destruction of Existence. Also, it may or may not take you to the depths of insanity and back.

Roadtrip is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

If you like Roadtrip and would like to help support my work, buy a copy of the book here.

Be well Commons~