Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

30 November, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories: The Story of R (Retread)

[I first published this story on my old American Re:visionary Blog. But, as I grow and expand my Rubber Tramp Stories, I thought it was appropriate to include them all under one tag on one blog.]

The train station in Carlinville, Illinois is nothing more than a ventilated brick box. Cement floor, a single bench, no heat for the winter and not even a fan for warmer weather. I got there around 11:30 in the morning. The train to Chicago wasn't going to arrive until 3:30 that afternoon. The sky was cloudy, the temperature cold, and it was spitting a particularly unforgiving rain that made me grateful for I didn't have to walk the miles from Litchfield.

Nothing about Carlinville impressed me enough to get wet wandering around to explore it. I noticed one clearly No-Tell-Motel on the way into town. (The sign listed a price differential between single and double beds, and the ambiance suggested that there should have also been a price differential for hourly and nightly rates.) I also took note of several bars, none of which looked trustworthy enough to carry my pack into. Other than the rail, which rolled by a deserted grain elevator, there was very little left to describe. Like every other town that grew up along Route 66, it was impacted by completion of the I-55 corridor. And it was clearly impacted again by changes in the railroad industry.

I was alone in the brick box for about 20 minutes before he hurried in and asked if I had a cigarette. And if I was slightly inclined to dig deeper into Carlinville -- named, according to an optimistically written Wikipedia page, after a former Governor -- talking to R would have changed my mind.
He assured me that if I was looking to get laid, that all I had to do was walk down the street.

"Ah," I said. "So they're trying to fish outside of the gene pool?"

"Gene pool. Yeah, man You got that right!"

A man on the run from something has a distinct body language. Jerky movements. Disheveled look. Given the mostly pale demographic of the town and -- except for the Indians who worked in the hotels and the Mexicans who did the service industry grunt work -- R stuck out simply because he was black.

After I was unable to give him a cigarette, he asked where I was going and where I'd come from. So I gave him the quick and dirty version. Hearing that I walked from Staunton to Litchfield elicited a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."

"You didn't have a car?"

"If I had a car, I wouldn't need to catch a train."

That seemed to satisfy him for the most part. It also gave him a door to prove the current events of his life more interesting than mine.

R was not from Carlinville. He was from Springfield, Illinois, but came there via St. Louis. And he did it for a girl. The part that seemed to surprise him, even though he was standing in a brick box train depot waiting for the train that would take him back to Springfield with his few possessions in a 33 gallon garbage bag, was that it didn't work out.

"She's a white girl," he said. "And she's... you know... not thick." He repeated this several times throughout the story, as if he was trying to convince himself that it should have, and for those very reasons.

The story unfolded something like this: he met the woman he was trying to escape the day after he got out of jail. R explained that yes, "It was drug related stuff," but that he had cleaned up his act since and was no longer doing whatever it was that got him locked up. But, he admitted that, upon his release, he was on the hunt for the one thing he couldn't get while he was incarcerated. And it just so happened that he got call from a former cellie who had a girlfriend who had a friend.

"I was looking for a one night stand," R maintained. "But it didn't turn into that."

Upon his release, R had been sent to a half-way house to ensure that his rehabilitation would take. After one night with this girl -- whose name, I have to admit, I don't remember -- she took it upon herself to harass his Parole Officer and the Missouri State Department of Corrections to secure his release from the half-way house so that he could move in with her. When calling St. Louis didn't help, R, said, she drove from Carlinville to St. Louis five days a week in order to visit him and track down the dodgy P.O. Naturally, the development seemed to work to his advantage, so he didn't argue. And while he never uttered the word, the confluence of events must have seemed to him, at the time, serendipitous. And when his parole officer secured his release from the half-way house... making it clear that his only reason was to get the woman off his back... R thought he'd stumbled onto the love of his life.

His first indication that something was amiss was when he showed up in Carlinville and discovered that not only did his true love have two kids -- from two different fathers -- and that both of them were medicated for educational and developmental issues, but that she also lived with her sister, her sister's flavor of the week, and HER two kids.

To hear him tell it, his one true love did nothing except sleep all day, eat ice cream and want to fuck. She didn't want to deal with her kids. She didn't want to deal with her sister's kids. Apparently the sugar she ingested while watching Maury Povich was only to be used in the pursuit of more ice cream and sex.

To hear him tell it, she screwed him raw. And in every way possible. And when he was too exhausted to get it up "I'm not as young as I used be, you know" she would insist that he do something else to fill her appetites. And then she expected him to take care of the kids, who wouldn't listen to him. And then she expected him to make her a sandwich. And then clean up the house. And then go buy her some ice cream.

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.
Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

Apparently, there was a day when his own true love actually left the house -- for reasons he didn't explain -- and he took it upon himself to change out the sheets on the bed. She had told him he could find clean sheets in a Santa Claus bag in the hall closet. He found the bag and starting digging through pillow cases and sundry unmatched soft goods until he stumbled upon something that wasn't so -- soft.

Actually there were several.

"I'm telling you," he said, "she could open a dildo flea market!"

He found out later, however, that not all the dildos were for her. Apparently she was hoping that R's time in prison made him a more amenable catcher to a stiff pitch.

He reiterated several times that he might have loved her "a little," but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" And while he never said so, I'm sure the Santa sack of toys didn't help,

Even love has it's limits.


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28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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25 June, 2018

A baboon in La La Land



I wonder if the fundamental nature of LA changed when the common vernacular switched from Los Angeles to the monosyllabic "LA."

Granted, numerology HAS fallen out of favor... but then again, this is LA, where you can be everything from a sun worshipper to a vampire, a vapid consumerist to a dirty hippy, and everyone somehow manages to share the same sushi bar. This town is the first place I've ever been that doesn't have a general uniform... something that most people wear that identify them as either part of the living and working community or, well, not. In Lexington in the late 90's, the standard masculine uniform was khaki pants and some shade of green shirt. Keep in mind this isn't something that was at all agreed upon; it simply happened of its own accord, as if men working downtown all went and bought up all the tan pleated pants they could. In larger cities like New York and Chicago, people's status is defined by the winter coat they wear. Lots of gray and black wool and classic lines. Some years long coats are fashionable, but the actual color and fabric changes very little.  Even New Orleans, the most intentionally libertine place I've ever lived, had something like a dress code, though I'm unsure of that is the case now.  It's the same in suburban and rural areas, too. And regionally, clothes are just SLIGHTLY different from region to region... little things like the cut of a collar or the weight of the fabric.

Except for LA -- which I want to distinguish ontologically and existentially from the rest of California.

Some places are more bound by geography than others. Louisville, for example, is always defined by the river. It grew out of the river, organic and disparate like the river itself. Denver has the mountains. Other places are not limited by geography in quite the same way. Indianapolis, for example, can plan, build, and erase with only the limitations of budget and imagination to limit them. Indianapolis, for example, has some of the best urban bike lanes I've ever seen... primarily because they can just remake the sidewalk and the road without having to contend with narrow streets winding between historic architecture. They can just demolish and rebuild. Louisville has deep eddies of history to contend with... some of which it deals with very badly, especially if it has anything to do with the history of anything west of 9th Street.  But I digress.

LA is, in some ways, very much like Indianapolis in that it simply has to erase and rebuild. While there are a few shadows of something like history, the fact is that LA has so much culture, so much that has happened here, that the sheer amount of it has erased a common feel of what this town is like. LA can be anything for anybody at anytime. At any given moment, an endless multiverse of LAs exist simultaneously and within the same geographic boundaries. LA is a painting left out in the rain. All the colors melt and go muddy until there is hardly any of one distinct anything left.

This can make it difficult to contend with, especially if you're a history and story junkie like me. Unfair as it is, the LA that exists in my mind is one painted by John Fante, Bukowski, Nathanael West, and Van Halen.  This wasn't the LA I found, exactly. But then again, it was difficult to have what someone might reasonably call the  "LA Experience" when I was either enveloped in MFA Residency work or cloistered in my Culver City (still LA) motel room working on client work. It's not that there weren't social opportunities. There were. But between work needing to be done and the fact that, at 7 months sober, I still don't feel like I can walk into a bar just to say howdy and not ask for a beer and a shot, I found it easier to be a little anti-social.  Or at least, not walk into a bar while in a place -- geographically, ontologically, and existentially -- where all of my anxieties and fears that I used as excuses to drink would be in play and nipping at the back of my brain like a cattle dog.

And it's not that I think LA is devoid of stories. It's just hard to crack the surface without the usual social lubricant. And as much as I enjoyed being in the company of other word junkies, the fact is I don't much trust writers when it comes to embracing an authentic experience of anything. Writers, like alcoholics, are experts at gaming themselves and wrapping themselves in a reality to suit their needs... even if that reality is largely an antagonistic one.  And because LA is truly its own multiverse, created, revised, and deleted with impunity, I have a difficult time feeling anything close to comfortable here. I lumber too large and occupy the space in a bizarre way. I feel permanently awkward here in a way that I don't feel anywhere else.

And yes, I know its in my head. And yes, to a degree perception is reality. But I'm too much the stoic Ohio Valley Boy to ever really accept that all I have to do is blink and shake my head and somehow magically the sensation changes.  Some things just ARE because they are, whether we like them or not.

And geographic cures are bullshit.

I do wonder, though, if numerology isn't at least partially to blame. I wonder if LA would be a different place if it wasn't reduced in the common imagination to LA... and all the odd, shiny stuff that single syllable holds. I wonder if we thought of angels instead of movie stars if somehow, the multiverse would shift and the stories would come into focus.

I'm going to have to come back to find out, though.






06 November, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 6: The Pilgrim's Process

Stop fighting it, Pilgrim George, Himself. He pushed his keys into my hand. We got to be at The Place three days hence and we cannot linger long here at the foot of the tree.
I asked him what this place was and why we had to get there, and why, on top of that, did Rex and Tex the Younger have to meet us there instead of just going with us. He slapped on the back then reached up and tousled my hair.  Then he told me not to worry and that all my questions would be answered by and by.

 Now you be sure and take extra special care of this Caddy while you're drivin' it. I like you, Pilgrim George, and think you got it in you to become something spectacular. He stopped to finished lighting the cigarette he just rolled and stuck between his clenched teeth. But that don't mean I won't skin you alive. A man don't need skin to drive.
How a man could drive without skin I didn't know, but I had no intention of finding out. But it was all I could do to keep the Caddy on road. The steering wheel pulled against me and the car bucked and swerved... 'cept it didn't buck and swerve like some broken down jalopy. No, sir. That El Dorado bucked and swerved like a horse that couldn't wait to jump the fence and run. All 12 cylinders were working their best to tear me off that wheel. That didn't seem to bother Himself none, though. He just sat in the passenger seatI tried telling him I didn't know where to go. He grunted and pointed towards the horizon. We're goin' that way, Georgie. Don't go losin' you head.
It didn't take long for the Treetop Bar to disappear in the rear view mirror. I still didn't know exactly why I'd agreed to this or what I'd done to deserve being dragged off my chair, away from my beer. Sure, I said I thought I another Rockabilly Billy show would be an amazing thing. And it's entirely possible that I was talking big to impress the company present -- Dolly and Sue, Rex and Tex the Younger, and Julia Dream.

Julia Dream, my dream boat queen. It hard not to think about that kiss and about the three things she told me -- which, I will recount as present, for posterity, if for no other reason, even if it incurs a little of her wrath. I don't think it will, though. Any reason there was for secrecy has long since passed.

So there I was driving the Caddy and Bill Hisself was sitting in the passenger seat, staring out at the road ahead from under his rhinestone stetson. He never said stop nor go. He never told me to turn or that I ought to expect to turn. The road south just unspooled in front of us like an old cassette tape.

Finally, I asked him how in the hell I was supposed to know where someplace with a generic and uninspired name like The Place, was supposed to be. He chuckled a little and told me to keep driving. 

Are you even going to tell me when we're gonna get there?

Bill clicked his teeth. You got to relax some, Pilgrim George. That there is half your problem. 

My problem?

Even though I kept my eyes on the road and the quickly fading daylight, I felt him turn and stare me down. Yessir, Pilgrim George. You got to relax. 

Now I was tired from the drive and from fighting that Caddy to keep it on the road. And I was thirsty and I hadn't eat since that morning. He dragged me away from my beer, from the comfortable confines of the Treetop Bar, and he dragged me away from Julia Dream. It was with the fading taste of her kiss on my lips that  I lifted my foot off the gas and stomped the break pedal. It like to take all of my weight to make that beast dig in and stop in a giant cloud of dust and rock and road debris.

Goddammit Bill! Now I know you're Himself and all that but I really think you made a mistake in dragging me out like this. I know I talked big, and I'm really sorry, but...

I heard him click his teeth again. He pulled his tobacco pouch out of vest pocket and started to roll another cigarette with his long, strong fingers. Then he shook his head and spoke like he was quoting scripture:

"I have it in commission, to comfort the feeble-minded, and to support the weak. You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you, we will lend you our help, we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake; we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you, we will be made all things to you, rather than you shall be left behind."


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27 June, 2017

Excerpt from current project: Have You Seen the Tattooed Pig?/The Dust Storm



The bus trip from Cincinnati to Phoenix took almost three days and I almost missed my job interview because of a delay in Chattanooga.  The thing most people don’t realize is that bus routes are more circuitous than direct. There are depots that operate like hubs. Sort of like airports. So even though you can look on a map see a direct route from, say Louisville to Denver, the fact is you never go the most direct route. You may transfer buses two or three times, which is pretty typical for cross country trips.
          
 So anyway, the route I was on took me through Laredo. It was night and the city was all lit up with neon, which stood in contrast to the darkness that sat like a wall across the bridge in Mexico. We rolled into the city and I at least three drug deals and one pimp hustling a john who refused to pay for services rendered. A lot of people were out. It was a maybe a Friday or a Saturday. As we got closer to the station, the bus driver told us that unless Laredo was our destination, we should not leave the station because we would not be let back in, even if we had a ticket. The station was buried under the bridge that goes across to Nuevo Laredo – this was before the travel advisory they released a few years back about Americans disappearing once they cross the border. I won’t like. I thought about checking it out; I’d never been to Mexico. But, I also didn’t have a passport, and the days of being able to your driver’s license to border hop were long gone. And, you know… the job interview.  So, when I got off the bus – I was waiting on a transfer bus west – I walked inside past a policeman wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK. The station was empty except for one guy who was stretched out across a few chairs that he pulled together to avoid sleeping on the floor.
            
 My layover was a little over an hour. The bus station was old. After a certain point, most Greyhound stations look alike. Some have more bells and whistles than others, but there’s a lot of consistency in the colors and font styles… you know, that McDonald's kind of thing? At some point someone in their marketing department decided that stations built or renovated after a certain year needed to have a more consistent look. Maybe they were able to get that industrial gray and blue paint in bulk. The walls were a dingy brown that looked like it had been left standing after the Spanish-American War. The ticket window was closed and locked. There was a space against the far wall where pay lockers probably used to be. There was one payphone that probably worked because there was a sign over it advertising a special rate to call Mexico. All the windows had heavy metal grating over them, making it next to impossible to look outside. Not that there was much to see. The station was beneath the bridge that stretches over the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo and what few lights there were right outside the station did nothing to cut the darkness.
             
The ticket counter was closed, but the bathrooms weren’t. I went and splashed some water on my face. When I came back the man sleeping on the chairs had begun to snore. They were these deep, snorkeling, passed out drunk kind of snores. I sat down in another seat that wasn’t too close to him. I’d had longer layovers. I waited something like seven hours in Chicago for a transfer. Late night layovers are a little worse, though. You don’t really want to go to sleep in case you miss the call for your bus. And I wasn’t sure this was the place I wanted to miss my bus, anyway. Seeing it in the daylight was no incentive either.
             
And I know what you’re thinking. Why think about being stuck in Laredo when I have a job interview in Phoenix? It’s hard to explain. I always have this inclination to shoot myself in foot, I guess. To run contrary to what I probably ought to do for no other reason than it’s contrary. I’m working on it.
             
Anyway, so I’m sitting there, nodding off but trying not fall asleep. Then someone says Have you seen the tattooed pig?
           
 Well I open my eyes. The guy who was asleep is sitting up and looking at me.
            
 What?
             
Have you seen it yet?
            
 Seen what?
             
He was getting a little impatient. The tattooed pig. Have you seen the tattooed pig?
             
No. Can’t say I have.
             
The man sighed like he was annoyed or disappointed. His lips flapped when he sighed, like a drunk in a 1950’s sit com.
             
You will, he said. You will see the tattooed pig. It will all make sense then.
            
 Ok, then. Thanks.
            
 Did you know there are carnivorous pigs in southern Arizona?
            
 No. I didn’t.
            
 He shook his head a bit too vigorously. Yep. Be on the lookout.
           
 Sure thing. I’ll be on the lookout for a tattooed pig.
            
 The man frowned. No. That’s different. The tattooed pig doesn’t run with other pigs.
             
Ok, then. I was a little confused, a little jealous because I really wished I had some of what this guy was on.
           
 When you see it, it will make sense.
           
 I was about to inquire further about where one might find a tattooed pig…or for that matter, why anyone would tattoo pig. I was also a little curious about what it was that I didn’t understand that seeing an ink stuck pig would clear up for me. I was about to ask when the door opened the armed cop looked at me.
             
You waiting on a bus to Las Vegas?
            
 Yep.
           
 Well, it’s here. Get a move on.
           
 So I grabbed my stuff and headed towards the door. The cop acted like I was interrupting his busy schedule of standing there looking bored and heavily armed. It was obvious the bus had pretty much stopped just to pick me up. I’ve noticed that bus drivers hate the one person pickups. They’re normally at out of the way or under used stations, and they almost always cut into the regular schedule. I boarded and found an empty couple of seats… meaning I would be able to stretch out and relax a little for the next leg. Before we pulled away from the station two cops came on board. The one in front had a drug sniffing dog. The other checked everyone’s ID against their bus ticket. After each of the 20 or so passengers were checked, they exited the bus and we started moving.
            
 The bus didn’t move more than maybe a thousand feet before it stopped again. We were still underneath web of concrete created by the interstate and the bridge. This time two different cops and a different drug sniffing dog got on and checked everyone’s ID against their tickets. Again. This time, the one checking tickets asked me where I was headed.
             
Vegas.
           
Is that your final destination?
             
Depends on how do at the blackjack tables.
             
Silence.
             
I’m on my way to Phoenix for a job interview.
             
He looked at my driver’s license again. Then he looked at my ticket, which he held in the same hand so he could keep his other hand free to sit on the butt of his gun.
            
 The cops left the bus, but then they opened the bottom of the bus and set the dog to sniffing all the checked luggage. After a minute or so, they pulled one of the bags out. The cop who didn’t have the dog boarded the bus and asked one of the other passengers, a dark complected man who was probably in his mid 30’s (around my age) to please disembark the bus and speak with him. The man obliged.
             
People are, for most part, looky-loos.  Generally, if there’s a wreck on the interstate it’s not the accident or accident clean up that’s causing the delay. It’s the damn rubberneckers slowing down to see there’s a dead body they can gossip to their friends and families about. We’re basically obsessed with what’s happening with other people, you know? I mean, we can’t help ourselves. Maybe it’s some latent ESP linked kind of empathy from when people were more connected. Maybe it’s schadenfreude. Maybe it’s a way to prove to ourselves that we’re still alive, like trying to catch a corpse breathing during a funeral.
            
 But this time, NOBODY looked. Nobody on the opposite side of the bus got out of their seats to look out the window. Most of the people who were sitting on the side of the bus that had a view weren’t looking, either. As it happened, I was sitting on that side of the bus, which was not the driver side. And, I didn’t have really turn my head and look like I was obviously gawking, so I was able to watch as the man spoke with officers. They directed him to his bag and most likely asked him to open it. The bag was a large duffel bag with a single zipper. The man shrugged and unzipped it. One of cops reached in and pulled out a bag of what looked like coffee beans. They talked some more and walked away from bus. In a few minutes the cop who was holding the coffee bag gave it back to the man. Neither cop had their hand on their gun. They laughed and the man even pet the drug sniffing dog. He put the bag of coffee back in the bag and zipped it up. The driver came back from around the front of the bus, where he was probably smoking a cigarette, and put the duffel bag back under the bus and closed up the compartment. The man re-boarded the bus and sat back in his seat, and the driver boarded right behind him. In a couple of minutes we were moving again.
             
We were not stopped again on our way out of the city. Rolling west, Laredo shone like neon pyrite against the cloud covered darkness. Across the Rio Grande, the absence of any lights at all stood out more than the lights of Laredo, spreading like giant black wings over the landscape.
             
I went to sleep thinking about tattooed pigs.

***

I was lying on the bed, trying to take a nap. It seemed odd to me that I was laying on our old bed in that white box condo in Tempe, since we hadn’t lived there in years and since Gayle and I hadn’t been together in a while, either. In the dream I was exhausted. I felt like I’d worked three days straight and I could barely keep my eyes open. I knew she was around somewhere. I could hear Gayle in background, talking on the phone. I thought that was weird too, since I wasn’t entirely sure what her voice sounded like anymore.

Part of me – the part of me that was awake, maybe – tried to tell the rest of me that it was only a dream. That Gayle and I weren’t together anymore. That we weren’t living in Tempe anymore. But in the dream it was like anything that happened outside the dream was actually the dream. We hadn’t left Arizona. She didn’t leave me for the neighbor woman. Like it was all some weird nightmare, or worse, some alternate reality I was switching back and for into and out of. Each switch meant I had to take time to remember… each reality had its own memories and its own time lines and I had to reboot… sort of.

I looked over and the screen doors to the patio were closed but the blinds were open. The balcony was gone, blown away by the dust. Then I realized the bed was in the living room and not the bedroom. Was that a detail from another timeline, another reality? I told myself to lay there and reboot. What was real (at the moment) would return to me shortly and the confusion would pass. So I turned my head to look out the window. The dust was blocking out the sun. It was then I started hearing the wind and the sound of rocks and palm tree parts hitting the building. There was a low level shaking to everything. Like an earthquake that wasn’t an earthquake.

Then I heard Gayle and could make out her words. She was in the backroom, talking on the phone. He won’t leave, she was saying. He won’t leave and we’re going to die here.

I started to get up, trying to call out that we could leave, that there was still a way. I tried calling out that I was sorry but that I had a plan. I knew how we could get out. I knew I didn’t have a plan, but I knew if I thought about it hard enough that I could pull an idea from the reality where we left and were safe from the relentless dust storm that was wiping everything around us off the face of the planet.

Is this what it was like in Ephesus? I wasn’t sure where that thought came from. Another me. Another timeline in another reality. Maybe the me that had been at Ephesus. Didn’t Ephesus sink into the river? I couldn’t remember. I wanted to ask a different me that had actually gone to seminary.

THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SINKING IN WATER AND SINKING IN SAND. IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME FROM PENTHOUSE OF HYATT IN DUBAI.

I didn’t know whose voice that was. For a second I thought it was my dad’s voice. But I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like either and the memories of other time lines were starting to fade, blow away like the dust was taking them away, too.

I tried calling out again. Gayle was crying the way she cried whenever I was too drunk. I tried calling out, asking her who she was talking to. She wasn’t answering me.

It’s ok, I said. I’m back now. We can survive this. I tried sitting up again but something bit from bit my arm. It hurt all the way up into my shoulder. I looked over on Gayle’s side of the bed… the one nearest the sliding doors… a pig with giant tusks had bitten my wrist and was trying to drag me to the other side of the bed and onto the floor, out into the storm. It was an angry looking pig with tattoos all over its face. The skin was wrinkled and grayish black. I managed to shake my wrist loose, which caused it to throb and caused blood to get everywhere. I tried calling out for help. If she would get off the damn phone with her dad and get that fucking pig away from me, we could escape. I knew there had to be a way.

But the pig latched on again and I could not shake it loose. As it pulled me over onto the floor on the other side of the bed, the glass sliding doors shattered and everything was obliterated in fury of dust and stone and uprooted everything.

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