Slave of sensation

I can’t recall the last time all four of us were together in the same city. It’s been a long time. We’ve been divided by life and time, jobs and women and all the little blocks which together make up the fortress of adulthood.

Portland for New Years. Who even suggested it? Nate, I think. Probably in an offhanded, half-joking way. That’s a dangerous tone to take with folks like us; you never know when we’re going to hold you to your word.

They all arrived a day before me and when I hopped off the light rail I’d ridden from the airport, I could see they’d already gotten in to some heavy shit. Bleary eyed and exhausted on day one. Hallelujah!

“It’s cold as fuck here.”
“Welcome to Oregon man. Where did you get those clothes, fuck, you look like a stockbroker.”
“Next year we’re going to Mexico. I don’t know how you people live like this. I’m wearing 30 pounds of clothing and my contacts are still freezing to my eyeballs.”

Nate’s truck had been ripped off again by meth-heads, which happens about three times a year, so we were mobbing around in some rented Dodge Heap of Shit. God damn tweakers; the pierced, tattooed, wild-eyed motherfuckers have a taste for late 80’s Toyotas apparently. They roam the streets in any weather, never sleeping, breaking into people’s basements and fucking in their bushes. You can see them a mile off; they’re the only people sweating despite the 20 degree weather.

“It’s damned good to see you gentlemen. It’s been far, far too long.” I said.
“Seriously.” High-fives and man hugs all around.
“All four horsemen in the same place. It’s gonna be a rough couple of days for the Portland metropolitan area.”
“Biblical. Henry and Paulo are here too. The more, the merrier.”
“Nate’s got some stuff for us back at the house. Eleven bottles of scotch, some snow shoes, and a box of fireworks the size of a mini-fridge.”
Indeed. I love you guys.”

We picked up the rest of the kids and headed downtown to meet Henry and his ladyfriend at some bar. Portland’s bigger than I expected; a respectable city, almost. Like Oakland with trees and way less murder.

The sun set, and after messing around and exploring in the city center for a while, we headed to one of the larger buildings.

“Where are we going? Are we going to work?

We took an elevator up to the 30th floor. Nate spoke in hushed tones to the fanged hag guarding the unmarked door, and we were ushered in to the crowded bar. Quite a view, you could see a good chunk of the city and dark, blue Mount Hood in the distance.

We found H-bomb and his girl Cass sitting at the bar drinking gin, but unable to secure a table for ourselves, we headed for a humbler establishment. I threatened to start waving my California ID around to intimidate the locals, scaring them off of our tables, but it was collectively decided that it was too early to get into that mess. Plenty of time for that later.

———

Shooting pool and drinking pitcher after pitcher of cheap microbrew. Portland’s definitely the city for a discerning alcoholic. They’ve got breweries like New Zealand’s got sheep. Sara, Nate’s girl, was getting antsy. Too many dudes telling too many terrible and masochistic stories. Nobody wants to hear about the time their boyfriend stabbed Ben in the hamstring with a dart just because it was his birthday. You can’t blame her. We’re a hard group to handle even on our better days, and these were not our better days.

We ended up at some karaoke bar / Chinese restaurant, somehow… All a blur… To meet up with Sara’s teacher friends or something. Shak left at some point, disappearing into the woods to take a dump and going MIA for approximately three fucking hours…
I found the brothers Avila chatting with the only halfway good looking girl in the bar, who was there with her snaggletoothed fifty year old aunt.

“I think Shak is dead.” I shouted while the five foot tall Malaysian man behind me sang Bringing Sexy Back. Pedro came over, leaving his brother to deal with the girl and her snarling, mustached aunt.
“What do you mean? Didn’t he go to the bathroom?”
“Yeah, at like eight the fuck thirty. It’s almost midnight.”
“Jesus.”
“He doesn’t know this place man. He could be out there getting gang-raped by sasquatches or locked up in some godawful ice-prison. The authorities here have no love for out of staters.”
“You’re right, Jesus. He’s probably in that arctic cave thing from Superman, trapped. Let’s go take some Jager bombs and get a search party together.”
“A plan.”

When we got back from the bar four drinks a piece later, ready to mobilize, Shak was sitting quietly at the table like nothing happened.

“Where the hell did you go dude, we thought you were dead!”
“Trevor said you were drinking sasquatches with rape cops.” Pedro slurred. Fucking lightweight.
“Nah man I’m all good. You better go jump on that grenade your brother’s sitting next to, Pete.”

Oh god, The Aunt. I spun Pedro around and shoved him off toward their table.

“Be careful! She might be a werewolf!”

This was too much for poor Sara. Such blatant cruelty, sexism, and tactlessness was beyond tasteless, it was unforgivable. She lunged across the table with a fork in one hand and a chopstick in the other, going for Shak’s jugular. Faster and more agile than any of us, even when we’re sober, Sara was going to fillet him for sure.

In terror, I ran for the street, grabbing my coat on the way. Henry was outside dancing with Cass on top of a newspaper vending machine, flipping the bird to passersby.

“Who the fuck are you people!” I screamed, and jumped in a cab.

Fucking Oregon.

——————–

Three thirty AM at a weird, weird restaurant under a freeway. A giant, Eastern Orthodox-style mural of the Last Supper on the wall was creeping me out bigtime; those piercing, iconic oval eyes staring down at you in all your sin and disgrace. In our drunken haze, I mistook the place for an establishment far above our caste. White tablecloths, wine glasses, carafes of water, this was not your average 3 am burrito joint. But it was all illusion and gimmick. Stumbling, wasted parties of twenty-somethings were pouring in behind us. Our waiter had the word Hate embroidered on his starched shirt where a nametag should go.

I don’t know what happened with Shak and Sara, but I guess they resolved their dispute amicably, as he was sitting across from me in one piece. The really terrifying thing about the whole incident was that Shak is the most fucking lovable teddybear bastard out of all of us. I remember thinking: If she’s going after the Nice One with a fucking fork on the first night, there’s no way my evil ass is surviving the trip.

Shak and Paul were bargaining with “Hate” over the price of frog legs and cocktails made with MD 20/20, I shit you not. Fucking Oregon.

“Man did you see that hosebeast I had to talk to..”
“SHUTTHEFUCKUP.” I said, kicking Pedro hard under the table, right in the kneecap. “Speak Portuguese for Christ’s sake, or she’ll kill us all.”
Thank jesus for Portuguese.
“Who?”
“Nate’s girlfriend.”
“Why?”
“She tried to fucking… to pierce… Oh god dammit what’s the word for ‘Stab’?”
“Stab.”
“She tried to stab Shak with a fork for being sexist.”
“Shak? But he’s the nicest one…”
“THAT’S WHAT I SAID! We’re dead men. She’s going to kill us in our sleep.”
“Well she’s bound to hate you more than the rest of us, maybe she’ll have mercy on us.”
“Very comforting, thank you.”

Nate was passed out, face down in a plate of chocolate cake at the end of the table. Shak and Paul were eating alligator and frog legs. Pedro, Henry, Cass and I were roundhousing a bottle of red wine and talking about the Grand House back in SLO.

That’s the last thing I remember.

——————

We decided to try for some hot springs up in the mountains that Nate knew about. He gave our piece of shit two wheel drive rental Dodge Caliber about a one in twenty shot of making it up the roads, but we would not be deterred.

If there’s anything that can be said about us, it is that we do not shrink from poor odds.

The girls had gone off on their own, and Henry had taken Cass’s Volvo station wagon in to town to look for a fan belt, so it was just us five and our rattling, squealing American conveyance. About an hour out of town and up the mountain, we hit the snow line. Miraculously, the sun was out and the woods were breathtaking. The sun was melting the snow off the trees, creating bulbous clouds of mist and a generally gorgeous view.

“This,” I said, “is the only reason I can see to live up in this godforsaken primeval fucking forest. Days like this.”

We stopped and took pictures regularly, giving hung over, green Pedro time to puke his steaming guts out into the gleaming snow every couple of miles. Frozen ponds, waterfalls, trees creaking and swaying under the weight of their loads… At one point, a huge buck even ran across the road in front of us. Nature herself, it seemed, had lost her taste for subtlety that day. BEHOLD, she shrieked, I AM BEAUTIFUL. And she was. Best looking broad in Portland, for my money.

Fifteen miles out from the hot springs, the plowed road ended and we branched off into some serious snow, riding in the two ruts carved by much larger cars than ours.

“There’s no way we can turn around in this. It’s all or nothing from here on out.”

Nobody said a thing. We kept on.

Shortly, we ran into a traffic jam. A group of Russians, one adult and about thirty six young boys, were shoveling out a turnout for their Vanagon. They’d come face to face with a Civic in snow-chains facing the other way, and were forced to dig their own shoulder.

We watched patiently.

“Good thing they brought shovels, I guess.”
“Should we help?”
“Did you bring a shovel?”
“No.”
“Well I guess that answers that.”

I hopped out to talk to the guys in the Civic. If they could make it, so could we, right?

“Hey gentlemen.” I said, waving. The driver had dyed black hair with blond roots, cut like his drunken mom had gone a little crazy with the Flowbee. Meth-heads for sure. Stay cool.
“Hey.”
“You guys make it all the way to the hot-springs?”
“Nah man, nah. Nah.”
The passenger, a despicable Keith Richards-looking motherfucker, didn’t say a word. He sat smoking, staring at me.
“How far did you get?”
“About two miles out from Bagby, some maniac in a Silverado with snow tires blew past us. Soon as he got around the bend from us, he flew off the road and totaled it.”
I had a hard time imagining anything going fast enough in two feet of fresh powder to be totaled, but I didn’t argue.
“The ranger’s already up there. Big bloody mess. She helped us get turned around. Forget those springs, friend.”
“Well then. Thanks fellas.”
He nodded and headed off. The Russian kids had dug their Vanagon out far enough for the Civic to pass, and we followed suit.

Back at the car, Paulo was throwing snowballs at the Russian van and dancing around wildly.

“What’d they say?” Nate asked.
“It’s fucked. There’s a wreck, and even if there wasn’t, the snow’s too deep.”
I looked at Nate. He shrugged.
“Well we can’t turn around here anyway, we might as well keep going. I’m not backing out that whole way.”

Deeper into the wilds.

An hour and several exhaustive sessions of pushing the Dodge through rough spots later, we saw another car. A hideous, thrashed Previa pulled off to the side. Five or six white dudes leaped from the van, waving frantically and yelling.

“Oh lord, what is this…”
“Why are they so angry?”

I rolled down my window and climbed halfway out of the car.

Much yelling and waving…

“WHAT?!” I yelled.

The one in front started making the universal drinking motion with his mittened hand.

“YOU HAF DREENK?” He yelled in a thick Russian accent.

“Hahahaha, no man, sorry!” I shouted, pulling myself back down into the front seat.

“Who the hell are they?”
“More Russians. Must be the fathers of the kids in the other van. Some kind of Iron Curtain Boy Scouts or some shit. They’re looking for booze, and they’re already pretty wasted.”
“Good men!”

Shak gave them a big grin and two thumbs up as we trundled by, the Dodge’s undercarriage scraping on the ice.

We made it as far as a bridge before we got seriously stuck. We slid down into a two foot embankment and decided to go explore for a bit before we dug it out. More Rangers and tow-trucks plowed past us while we wandered around the forest.

It was, if I may say so, pretty damn pristine up there. Everything seems so clean after a serious snow. It was cold and sunny, and it took our jeans and sneakers about four seconds to soak completely through.

We basked in the glory for quite a while before digging our car out and getting turned around. Places like that, out in the middle of nowhere… they can do a man a world of good, even in small doses.

It was pitch dark by the time we made it back to town. It was New Year’s Eve.

TBC

-T.

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