West of the Jordan, East of the Rock of Gibraltar

Music – The Toadies – Possum Kingdom

We watched the Lakers barely beat the Celtics, at a bar downtown.  I don’t know thing one about basketball, but even to my untrained eye, the players looked amateurish, sloppy.  It was unpleasant to watch, especially when you despise both Los Angeles and Boston.

Knowing that the game was fixed only makes it more unbearable.  It’s a complete farce.  The NBA is one step up from pro wrestling at this point.

We were there with a bunch of Alex and Ken’s friends I didn’t know.  Introductions were made, of course, but I can’t remember names for shit.  The Castanos twins left early, but when the game was over Alcorn said ‘Let’s go out’.

So what if it’s a Thursday.

Fuck it.

You’re only young once.

Right?

———

People kept dropping, and by 10:30 there were four of us left, at Swig. A great bar, if you like overpriced, shitty drinks and a strong odor of piss and regret.

It was me, Ken, Alcorn, and some girl who had taken eight shots of vodka during the game.  She could barely stay on her stool.

“You want another whiskey?”
“Yeah why not.”
“We should go to that other party, it’s a block away.”
I looked around, unimpressed.  Swig sucked even for a weeknight.  The stool girl was trying to wink at a bald guy in a business suit across the room, but was too hammered to coordinate the muscles on her face properly. She looked like she was having a stroke.

Sigh.

“Yeah. This place is a graveyard.  Who’s party is it?”

“Maneesh is there; he can get us in for free. It’s at Ruby Sky.” Cue the chorus of groans.  “…and it’s the Obama victory celebration.”

I almost dropped my glass.

“… are you fucking serious?”  I slumped lower in my chair, banging my head against the bar in despair.

Alcorn nodded.

“An Obama afterparty at Ruby Sky.  That sounds like a whole new level of nightmare.  Previously uncharted territories of suck.  I can’t believe Ruby Sky may have found a way to attract an even more awful crowd than their usual scum.  What kind of fucking dbags go to an Obama party?  Fuck, man.  Worst Idea Ever.”  I said, shaking my head, watching the ice melt in my Jameson.

We sat in silence for a minute.

“I seriously hate Ruby Sky.” I said.
“So you wanna go?”
“Fuck it yeah let’s go.”

We left.  Ken carried the drunk chick.

———

The place was sickeningly bright.  Clubs are dark for a reason.  It helps you forget how dingy and foul the floor and the people and your lives are.

The walls were covered with those freaky Soviet-propaganda motif Obama posters, monochrome portraits that make him look like a half-black Nosferatu.

Shitty techno blared.

Some giddy, grinning UC Davis Poly Sci grad bounced up to me, trying to stab a pin into my shirt and take my email address for their mailing list.  God help you if you ever get on a Democrat’s spam list, friends. It’s an e-death sentence.

“Get to fuck, lady.” I hissed, waving my hands dangerously, “I’m not one of you people. BEGONE.”

“I’m gonna shit a cinderblock if I see anyone I know here.  Yahweh, if you’re real and you give a particular shit about us lowly sinners you will NOT let me run into someone I know tonight. Or be photographed here.”

Ken laughed. “I thought you voted for Obama?”

“I did.”

“So?”

“So these people are fucks, Ken. Look around you.”

“They just look like people.”

“No man, no.  Not people.  Fucks.  When you say ‘space’, what do they think? They think ‘gallery’.  We think ‘place full of stars and aliens’.  When you say ‘piece’, they think ‘work of poetry’, we think ‘handgun’.

It’s not just a matter of fucking vocabulary though.  It’s about world perspective.

Do you get what the fuck I’m trying to communicate to you here Ken? About why these people suck?”

“Not really.”

“Well shit. You’ll have to take it on faith.”

The drunk chick stumbled away into a crowd, and Ken followed her, protecting and fussing like a mother hen, apologizing to the people she bumped into.

———-

We hung around for about an hour, drinking.  Maneesh brought over a round.  I was in the middle of explaining things to Ken, at length.

“… basically been drunk since March, man.  B2B, Houseboats, Carnaval…  Hell this weekend, guess how many parties are lined up?”

Ken yawned.  “I dunno, three?”

“SEVEN.  In two days! That’s fucking unheard of.  Completely unprecedented.  I’m not talking about little bullshit parties either, not some assbag third-degree friend’s sister’s birthday at Chevy’s or anything.  The Cal Train Pub Crawl?  The White Party?  Samba at La Pena?  Even Claire and them are having a party.  The fucking list goes on.”

I took a drink, and spread my arms wide.

“Gentlemen, we’re right in the fucking heart of it.  The epicenter.”

“What’s he going on about?” Maneesh whispered to Ken.  I ignored the rude interruption.  Ken shrugged.

“FUCKING LISTEN.  I’m talking about a full on Renaissance of Immaturity.  Can’t you feel the momentum?  We’ve collectively managed to turn the tide.  Instead of getting older and suckier and more boring, we’re fucking…. it’s like once every ten million years, the Earth’s fucking magnetic field reverses, and South becomes North and all the fucking birds die because they can’t navigate…. It’s fucking science man…”

I turned mid-speech to look at Alcorn, and gasped in horror.  The taste of bile filled my mouth.  He was making out with the drunk stool chick.

“Jesus god, that is not right .” said Maneesh.
“I… I mean come on man, W T F.”
“I’m supposed to watch out for her tonight, too.” said Ken, shaking his head.  “I’m not supposed to let her do anything bad.”
“Does that count?”
He wasn’t sure.

——

Alcorn stumbled up to the table a moment later, leaving the girl slumped against a pillar.

“I think I need to get wasted if this is going to work.” he said.

I looked at the girl.  “You’ve got a LOT of drinking to do, dude.  Overlooking how drunk she is, haven’t you noticed she looks like a cross between Nancy Reagan and a rotting stump?”

“She does kinda have this… Clydesdale thing going on…” Maneesh said, peering at her across the dance floor.

“You know there are actual cute girls here.  Political groupies and whatnot?”

He shook his head.  “But why not go for the Sure Thing?”

“Cuz the fucking Sure Thing looks like Steve Buscemi’s gap-toothed older sister.”

“Hahaha oh jesus christ dude, she’s not even white, she’s Asian.”

“How the hell can you tell?”

We all laughed, soulless, judgmental motherfuckers that we are.

Then Ken said “She’s also engaged.”

We all went silent, wide-eyed.

We all looked at each other.  None of us knew how to react.  A minute passed.

“Yeah ok man go for it!”  I shouted.
“I’ll go buy you some drinks!”  Maneesh hollered, running off towards the bar.

Ken just stood there, shaking his head.  Unbelievable.  Stern posters of Barack Obama looked on, unblinking, judging, condemning.

Soulless motherfuckers indeed.

———–

We lost track of them around three, in a brick alleyway somewhere in Cow Hollow.  She had ripped Alcorn’s polo in half in the car ride over, throwing the pieces out the window.  She thought it was funny.

Ken and I caught a cab back up the hill.

I sat in my living room drinking one last beer.  Gotta get up for work tomorrow.  I waited for the sun to come up.

————

Now I don’t want you guys to get the idea that this chick was victimized.  Far from it.  I found out through a friend’s girlfriend the next day that this had been her plot all along. Can you imagine that shit? She had thought the whole scenario up during the fucking Laker game. They talked about it in the bathroom.  Planned it out like a fucking covert operation.

The deviousness of women never, ever ceases to amaze me.  They’re like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, but with boobs.

The only real victim here is whatever fool guy greased up a ring and squeezed it on to her pudgy, squirming sausage-finger, thinking he could make an honest woman out of her.

That poor bastard fails at life.

———–

I woke early Friday and knew I had to get out.

The phone was ringing.  People demanding attention and attendance. Friends, strangers, and people in between.

I had three voicemails from a guy named Claude who seemed to know me, though I certainly didn’t know him.  Ten messages in my inbox from somebody named Hovell throwing a party at the Gentrification Station. BYO Electric Guitar, it said.

What?

Who the fuck is Hovell?

You spend too much time in this city and it starts to become the world.  A self-contained 7×7 universe you inhabit, with nothing beyond the borders but empty black nothingness. Everyone you know lives here, every circle you run in.  It’s like a terrarium.  Spruce it up with expensive plants and heated rocks and little plastic treasure chests, but in the end it’s still just a fancy cage.

I returned some calls, read the news briefly.  R Kelly acquitted! That’s hilarious.  Our generation gets its OJ.  I sent Claire an email apologizing for flaking out on her R. Kelly Acquittal Celebration, ccing all of her other party invitees, most of whom are gradeschool teachers, sociology grad students, and people from Back East.  People with, you know, sensibilities.

From: MyNameIsTADOW
Subject: FUCK DEM HATERZ

TOTALLY brokehearted I can’t make yo spizecial cizelebration this evening.  Thank Jesus and Johnny Cochrane our man R. is in the free and clear once again.  “Acquittal” is my new favorite word.  It used to be “Bulldoggin.”

I seen them evidence tapes, and couldn’t a jury on this earth convict R. of nothing more than poor taste.  Minor or not, that girl was a whole lotta woman, you know what I’m saying?

Throw back a Seven and Seven for me, homegirl.

I got business in the mountains.

-T.

Never got a response, somehow…

Fuck it. Never look back.

“Forget all these fuckin people.”
“What?” Ellie asked.

“Let’s get out of town. I’m inviting myself on your backpacking trip.”

“Good. You can carry the tent.  You know my mom’s coming, right?”

“Sweet.”

“Shut up.” she said, amiably.

——-

Pinecrest itself is crowded, more a suburb than a mountain sanctuary.  Still, there are trees, and a lake, and no sirens or murders or junkies.  Ellie’s family has a cabin there, a place they’ve owned since the twenties.

Saturday morning we picked up wilderness permits and hiked six miles out from a place called Crabtree.  We had to cross several creeks and one serious river, portaging our packs across the roaring falls.  There were small bogs in the low spots, miniature swamps formed by the melting snow, filled with bugs and birds.

Once over the ridge, around 8500 feet, we stopped next to a frigid lake and set up camp on one of the flatter granite slabs.

——-

It was an idyllic couple of days, you know? Other than the swarms of mosquitoes.  It was sunny, and warm despite lingering patches of snow.  Doused in Jungle Juice and sunscreen, life was easy.

The water was freezing cold.  I got in for a minute or two, and came out blue and shaking even at high noon.  So cold it made your bones hurt, but it was a good, clean kind of pain.

Ellie wouldn’t go any deeper than her knees.

We hadn’t brought nearly enough food, and no alcohol.  We built a fire and listened to Ellie’s mom talk about birds.  I told as many mom-friendly jokes as I could muster.

It was good to be out of the city.

You can always count on nature to help you get your head straight.

——–

I headed out alone around 5pm, heading west on 108 through a whole string of impoverished mountain villages.  Jamestown.  Strawberry.  Soulesbyville.

Anybody who’s spent any time there will agree that the lower Sierras are the Appalachia of the West. They fairly teem with degenerates and savages, the inbred hillbilly offspring of miners and whores and Civil War deserters who moved here during the gold rush.  People whose great-grandparents lacked the gold or good sense to move the fuck away when the mines stopped producing.

Normally, nothing short of a military roadblock could get me to stop in one of these shit towns, but the cold mountain air and three days of near-starvation had made me bold, and foolhardy.  I stopped for pizza and a beer at place called Merv’s Shack, in Twain Harte.

I swung the door open cautiously, peering into the late afternoon gloom.  Red-eyed, wild faces stared back at me over their warm beers.  Ugly, angry men, all locals from the hills.  Unshowered, unshaven, dusty and sunscorched as I was, I still looked a hell of a lot healthier and saner than the creepy fucks I saw lurking in the dark of that dingy ass place.

I squared my shoulders and marched in.  Fuck it, I’m an American. I’ve got as much right to a piece of pizza as these backwoods beardos.

What’s the worst that could happen?

——-

Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in a booth surrounded by three of the ugliest and burliest of the ugly, burly dudes hanging around the bar.  They didn’t get much ‘new blood’ in the place, and wanted to ‘see what folks outside these parts was up to’.

I told them I lived in the City, and the fuckers thought I meant Sonora.

Hah.

“No, no, I mean San Francisco.”
“Wow.  The big city.  You know, we don’t typically take kindly to city-folk around here.”  said Wilbur, the fat one.

“Well Wilbur, I’ll tell you what, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say ‘take kindly to’ out loud.”
His buddies thought that was hilarious.  They guffawed, spilling beer on their stained, foul overalls and pointing at Wilbur.

That’s good, Trevor, keep them laughing.  People who think you’re funny are much less likely to drag you to death behind a pickup truck and set your corpse on fire.

“It sure is hot up here.” I said.  It really was.  Even at five in the afternoon, the temperature in Oakdale and Escalon was approximately eighty billion degrees.  It was an awful, soulsucking heat, a heat that drains the moisture out of everything on the hillsides except the stubborn oak trees.

“Oh you wait till July, son, if you think it’s hot now.”

“Living in San Francisco, I forget summer even exists.  It seems like a myth, like fucking unicorns, or leprechauns.  It was 46 fuckin degrees on Wednesday.  In JUNE.  No joke.”

“Last August, old Silas here had two horses go crazy from the heat.  They ran theyselves straight into some barbwire and flailed around till they was strangled.”

“That’s awful.” I said, aghast.

They paused for a moment, then started laughing uproariously.

“THEM STUPID HORSES HAW HAW!”
“THEIR BRAINS COOKED AND THEY KILLED THEYSELVES HAW”

“You guys are fucking crazy!” I said, adding a smile to hide the panic in my voice. That made them laugh even harder.

I’m going to fucking die in this place, I thought to myself.

Going
to
die.

I drank some more of my warm beer.

———

“Silas, Wilbur, Everett… Let me ask you gentlemen something, if I may.”

I had told them every dead baby joke I knew.  They loved them, and by now we were the Best of Friends.  I wanted to leave, to flee the dim and grimey bar, but I pressed my luck.  What can I say, the freaks fascinated me.  How often do you get to spend time with honest-to-goodness inbred sociopaths in the mountains?

“Ask away, city boy.”

“What the fuck do you guys do?”

“Whadya mean?”

“Like for jobs. Or money, or whatever.”

“Haw I gotcha.  Well Silas here is a ranch-hand for sheepherders, when he’s sober.”
“Sure am.”

and Everett there was in Gulf War One long enough to shoot hisself in the ankle, so he gets government checks every month…”
“Sure do.”

“…and me?” The beardo leaned in conspiratorially, whispering.

“Me, well every six months or so my sons Harley and Winchester,” he pointed to two other, non-descript freaks sitting at the bar, who waved back, “and me, we hijack us a bus of Oriental tourists going in to Yosemite out near Groveland.”

“You what?”

“We take two old trucks and blockade the road there at the turnoff, and when the bus has to stop we charge the bastards with our huntin’ rifles.  We sell all their fancy Oriental electronics to some folks down in Modesto, and ransom the tourists back to China or wherever the hell.”

“No way.  I’d have heard about it on the news by now if buses were getting hijacked in Yosemite.”

“I ain’t lying, boy.  The rangers keep it hushed up cuz all their money comes from them tourists.  We’s always real careful, too.  Only had to kill five or six total in the last twelve years.”

I sat dumbfounded.  They were waiting for me to say something.  Say the wrong thing, Trevor, they’ll feed your ass to the turkey vultures.

I took a deep breath.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you Wilbur,” I said, “that’s fucking awesome.”  He grinned his rotten, snaggletoothed, hillbilly smile.  “I know for a fact that banditry as a profession has a long and proud history in these hills, and it warms my heart to hear you fellas are keeping the dream alive.”

“HAW HAW THAT’S GOD’S HONEST TRUTH RIGHT THERE HAW.”

They patted me on the back, and declared me a True American.

Jesus fucking christ, I really am gonna die here.

——-

“So you guys don’t have internet access?  No phones?  Nothing?”  I kept checking my cellphone, praying for a connection, for any kind of errant signal from the outside world I could use to call for help.

“No sir.  Some fella from Sonora came up one time in a telephone company truck, but Silas’ neighbor Humphrey shot’im right off the pole. Haw haw.”

“Thought he were a Russian Communist sent to put spy cameras on our power lines.  Old Humphrey sure is crazy sometimes HAW.” Silas snickered.  He pointed up into the gloom above the bar, and mounted between two stuffed deer heads was a Verizon hardhat with a gaping bullethole in the back.

“Let me ask you something.”  Wilbur said.  “Is you… Saved?”

Primitive though they were, I knew these Sierra folks had little use for organized religion.  Inherently distrustful of authority, books, and each other, their deeply rooted paranoia kept them away from churches.  Cults, on the other hand…  I had no idea what kind of freaky human sacrifice shit they had going on.  There was no right answer here.

Cannibalism, ritual mutilation, who knows.  They might even be Baptists.

I decided to go with the truth. Fuck it. When in doubt, be honest, I suppose.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but I’m an atheist.”

They went silent.

Every mouth in the bar gaped.  I heard a fly buzz lazily through the evening heat. Now I really am fucked, I thought.

“A… a atheist?” Wilbur stammered.

“Yes.”

“Like… from that movie?” I had no idea what movie he was talking about.

“I suppose so.”

Their eyes just got wider.  The bartender slipped silently out the backdoor, a look of abject terror on his face.

“Can… Can you move things? With your brain?”
What the fuck?

“Uhhh…”

“Can you turn invisible? Do you have claws, and a admantangerine skeleton?”  Silas managed.

“No…”

“What about flying? Can you fly?”

I thought for a minute.

“Yes. Yes I can.  I can also burn things, with my mind.”

“WITH YOUR MIND?!”

“Yes.”

They stood, slowly creeping away from me, nearly paralyzed with fear and awe.

“Great Jesus God In Heaven, a real atheist!”
I leapt up on to the bench, then the table.

“I WAS SENT HERE BY THE ORIENTA… err… by the ASIAN COMMUNITY TO ENSURE YOU NEVER INTERFERE WITH THEIR VACATIONS AGAIN.”

“JESUS CHRIST!” Wilbur shouted, cowering.  Everett dove under a nearby table, while Silas wet himself, silent, mouth agape.

I roared, and did an au sem mau from the top of the table, the only remotely impressive capoeira flip I can do with any kind of consistency.

That really scared the hell out of them.  They shrieked in fear, and scrambled for the back door.

“LEAVE THE ASIANS ALONE, OR I WILL SET YOU ALL ON FIRE. WITH MY MIND.”

The screen door slammed behind them.  I finished my beer, and took an extra slice of stale pizza, baked during the Carter administration no doubt, for the road.

——

“I have no idea how they mixed up ‘atheist’ with ‘mutant’, or with the X-Men in particular.” I told Ellie later, recounting my near-death experience over the phone.  She and her mom were staying in Pinecrest for the rest of the week, enjoying the weather and the clean air.

“You are so full of shit Trevor.”

“NO I’M SERIOUS! It all happened. Seriously.  Fucking Twain Harte man. It’s a crazy, crazy town.”

“Whatever.  I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Fine, don’t believe me.  It happened.”

Ellie hung up.

It totally happened, though.

Seriously.

Would I lie to you?

-T.

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One Response to “West of the Jordan, East of the Rock of Gibraltar”

  1. thanks for looking out for my people!!!!

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