Fuck the pain away.

Music – Cam’ron – Hey Ma

Half the houseboats at Antlers were dry-docked, dragged up to the dusty lot behind the rental office.  The few floating at the marina were filled not with the usual rowdy youth but with toothless Redding locals teaching their fat children to chainsmoke and siphon diesel with a garden hose.  Forty-year-old grandmothers sat on broken patio furniture on the dock drinking High Life and complaining about the flies.

Mo and I were the first to arrive.  My dangerously overloaded Tacoma had begun shuddering badly coming over the pass, and I feared for our lives for a few moments. Juanita got her done, though, and we’d made it to the dock with our quarter-ton of beer intact if somewhat shaken.

“What’s all this?” Mo asked as we drove through the drydock.
“No idea…”
“Last year we had to reserve in December to get a boat for Memorial Day, now half of them are up on blocks?”
“The Economic Apocalypse in action.”

The rest of the crew arrived over the next hour as we loaded up the boat, sweating and cursing the heat.  Some folks I knew, some were first-timers.  Houseboats has a high attrition rate, for obvious reasons, and few of us are brave or stupid enough to come back a second (or third) tour of duty.  A trip like this is as much a test of one’s mettle as it is a vacation, and those who come foolishly seeking rest or relaxation are soon disillusioned.

Last May, sick and shaking with alcohol poisoning, I distinctly remember swearing I’d never come back.  Fuck this godforsaken lake and these vicious, evil people.

But here we were again, in defiance of all common sense and self-respect.

Justin, Tom and I dragged the last few sleeping bags and handles of vodka aboard and opened the first beers while the others squabbled over sleeping arrangements.

The boat felt familiar. Like home, almost.  A terrifying feeling.

“Houseboats 09!” somebody shouted.

I raised my beer, shaking my head.

“We’re so fucked.”

——-

We got to Slaughterhouse around sundown, slamming gracelessly into the rocky strand.  A hundred boats or so were already beached, their passengers partying with reckless abandon.  Veteran heads prevailed and we parked at the edge of the island rather than dead-center in the heart of the chaos.  Thank god.  I’ve spent more than enough time in the eye of that particular hurricane.

Mo, of course, hit the beach like she was storming fucking Normandy, toting a case of Bud Light instead of a carbine.  We hadn’t even finished pounding the stakes in before I spotted her up on a neighboring boat wearing a stolen sombrero and doing Jaeger shots with strangers.  Mo is a people person.

“We’re gonna do some reconaissance.” Justin said, grabbing me by the shoulder.  “Who’s in?”  We loaded our pockets with cans (road beers) and headed ashore with Maneesh, a Slaughterhouse virgin.  I thought about sitting Maneesh down and giving him a pep talk before we hit the beach, a sort of orientation / disclaimer just to take the edge off, but the brutal realities of Slaughterhouse are something one needs to experience first-hand to truly grasp. Instead I suggested that he wear shoes, and hoped he had all his shots.

The red shore was a familiar scene.  Shrieking girls, drunk and unstable, stumbled around in packs from boat to boat looking for alcohol and attention.  Some had long scrapes and gashes on their legs from stumbling on the steep, unforgiving slope of the island.  Many had numbers written on their arms in Sharpie.

“What are those for?” Maneesh asked.
“That’s their boat number. They hope some kindly soul will drag them back to their friends when they pass out in the woods before they die of exposure.”
“Does that work?”
“No, they usually just get raped.”

He wasn’t sure if I was serious or not.

We wandered around amongst all the usual suspects.  There was the dance-club boat, an engineering feat with ten huge club speakers and large laser lights.  There were the frat boats, the sorority boats, the rich kid boats (massive, three-story yachts with hot tubs and plasma TVs), the poor kid boats (basically a 10×20 piece of styrofoam equipped with a Port-o-Potty and an outboard) and all the rest.  There was a dude in a monstrous Borat-style mankini.  There was a dude dressed up very convincingly like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.  I saw him get about twenty yards from the safety of his boat before somebody called him a fag and threw an empty bottle at him.

“God help that guy if he doesn’t go home and wash his mascara off.” Justin said.  Slaughterhouse is no place for theatrics.

There were girls in “I’m Feelin Loose” shirts, shouting I’M ON A BOAT over and over.  There were mohawked Chico retards bragging about their dirtbikes and police records.  There were girls in shell bikinis with whistles and bottles of watered-down tequila, pouring shots down the throats of all comers.

“Stay away from them.” I said to Maneesh, pointing to the shell girls.  “They dilute their booze with lake water.  Lilley took a shot from one of them three years ago and caught a drug-resistant strain of giardia.”

“What’s giardia?”

“A six month case of explosive diarrhea.  You get dehydrated real quick and can literally shit yourself to death.”

“Sweet.”

People were starting up bonfires, dousing huge logs of driftwood with kerosene and firestarter.  One guy was firing signal flares from the sun deck of his boat at a monster pile of wood and brush his buddies had gathered.  “Safety first, you bitches!” I shouted as the first flare went wide, careening wildly off into the trees and almost hitting some chick in the face.  She was thankfully too drunk to realize how close she’d come to scorching death and disfigurement.  The flare guys shouted WOOOOOOOO back at me and waved their red solo cups.

“Don’t encourage them.” said Justin.

We turned around at that point, not wanting to get anywhere near their line of fire.

Up ahead of us, somebody crashed a jetski into the back of a houseboat.  Fiberglass splintered, people cheered.  I heard the sound of firecrackers, or possibly small arms fire.

Two police boats trolled nervously off-shore, ineffectual and afraid.  People launched waterballoons filled with piss or kerosene at them whenever they got too close.

“What a shitshow.”

—–

“We have to help him.”
“Fuck that.  Do you see those dudes? They look like the bad guys from Road House.”
“You’d leave him there?  The only fuckin Indian guy in Shasta county, you know what they’ll do to him?”

I thought about it for a second. I looked at the two sasquatch-sized maniac white dudes who were towering over Maneesh, fingers in his face.  The older one had the deep reddish skin one can only achieve with a lifetime of cheap liquor and not enough sunscreen.  The younger was much fatter and had a crooked mohawk.

Maneesh stood trapped between them.

Fuck.
FUCK.

“Ok.  I’ll throw rocks, you go in for the close range assault.”

“What the fuck?”

“I’m far more dangerous at range. Trust me.”
I picked up a rock, testing its heft with false confidence.

“Don’t hit me with those fucking rocks, dude.”

“Don’t worry, just stay low and I’ll aim for

“HEY GUYS COME OVER HERE.”  Maneesh called, waving us over.

“Well we’re right fucked now.”

The two beastly meth-heads glowered as we approached.

“YOU TWO KNOW DIS GUY?” asked Drunken Manbeast the Elder.

I said nothing.

“…Yes.” said Justin.

“ALL OF YOU AH COMIN ON OUAH BOAT RIGHT NOW.” said Drunken Manbeast the Younger.

I tensed to run.  I’m not gonna fucking die on this pisspit island murdered by these cranked out freaks. No way.  Discretion is the better part of valor.

“DIS GUY,” shouted Drunkass Manbeast the Elder as he shook Maneesh by the neck like a ragdoll, “DIS GUY IS FROM DA SAME FACKIN TOWN WE AH. DA SAME FACKIN TOWN. WE WENT TO DA SAME HIGH SCHOOL.”

“You guys went to high school?”

“DAT’S RIGHT. SAME TOWN. SMALL FACKIN WORLD AINNIT? SMALL FACKIN WORLD.”

I pulled Maneesh aside as we were lead towards their boat, grabbing him by his expensive pink polo shirt.

“What’s this fucking craziness? You know these nutjobs?”

“No, I just started talk…”

“Started talking to them? Have you seen them?  You don’t talk to these people, Maneesh.  They’re fucking animals. What the hell kind of town are you from?  Did you grow up in a prison?”

“Anyway, it turns out they’re from the same suburb of Boston I am.  What a coincidence, heh?”

“Coincidence, motherf

“WELCOME TO OUAH BOAT. ANYBODY GIVES YOU ANY SHIT ABOUT BEIN HEAH, YOU TELLEM COME TALK TO CAPTAIN CHRIS.”

“YEAH YOU TELLEM COME TALK TO TIM AND CAPTAIN CHRIS. YOU AH OUAH FACKIN GUESTS.”

I followed Justin and Maneesh up the ramp.

Fuck.

——-

Captain Chris’s boat was a floating ruin.  The septic tank had overflowed the day before and someone had set their bilge pump on fire after mistaking it for a bong.  The boat tilted crazily to one side.  A half-inch of piss, spilled beer and mud covered the floor and most of the counters.  There were huge scorch marks on the walls and the curtains.  A guy who looked like Bull from Night Court was passed out on one of the bunks, his face and torso covered with obsceneties and swastikas, all written in mustard and other unidentifiable food products.  He lay in a dark puddle of vomit.  Two haggard girls in ripped bikinis were fighting wordlessly over the remains of a hotdog bun on one of the couches.  One flickering overhead bulb lit the room.  Angry eyes peered at us out of the dark, kept at bay only by the bellowing protection of our “hosts”.

The boat was a shit-smelling nightmare and I fully expected to die there.

Captain Chris and his fucked up kid, Tim, took us aft to the kegs and booze.  Tim kicked a sleeping guy in the stomach to knock him off the cooler.

“MOVE CHAHLIE. WE NEED DRINKS FOAH DESE GUYS.  MANEESH HEAH IS FROM MY SAME TOWN BACK AT HOME.”

Yes he is.  Congratulations, Maneesh.

Tim, whose Celtics jersey hung off his corpulent body like a filthy green toga, pulled a plastic bottle of Gordon’s out of the cooler.  He took a long pull and passed it to Cpt. Chris, who drank deeper.  I watched the bubbles go up in that cheap shit vodka bottle like they do in an Alhambra dispenser.  He must have pounded a quarter of the thing.  Lord deliver us from these freaks.

“HEAH MANEESH YOU DRINK TOO. AND DON’T YOU DAYAH WIPE OFF THAT BOTTLE.”

Maneesh took a timid swig, smiling through the pain.  I hoped the caustic charcoal-filtered liquor was strong enough to kill the menagerie of germs and viruses left on the lip by these monsters.  God knows where those foul Boston mouths have been.  The look on Justin’s face told me he could taste the herpes as he threw back the vodka.

“I’ll just have a beer.” I said when the bottle got to me.  Tim shrugged and motioned for me to follow him back inside.  He looked around for a couple seconds before lifting up the bulk of the passed-out guy and prying a crushed red Solo cup from underneath him. He folded the cup back into something resembling its former shape and shook it upside down.  You know, to clean it out.

Never let it be said that Bostonians aren’t courteous.

“THEYAH YOU GO BUDDY.” He said, passing me the cup.

“…Thanks.”

I followed him out back, trying subtly to wipe it out with my shirt before filling it from a keg.

Fucking filthy.  I drank, preferring to offend my immune system rather than our volatile hosts.

A girl leaned out of a pitch-dark bunk as I passed the last door and grabbed my arm.  There was no life in her bloodshot eyes.

“Any room on your boat, sweetheart?” she asked.

A hairy arm reached out and yanked her back into the dark, slamming the door in my face.

I need to get the fuck out of here.

——–

Captain Chris and Tim were father and son.  This somehow made the entire horrid scene even more disturbing.  Even a more “normal” houseboat should never be a family affair, and the fact that these guys were bonding onboard this wretched disaster was utterly and terribly wrong.  The spirit recoils in horror.

We talked a while, and by talked I mean they shouted at us.  Chris was a firefighter and a multiple felon.  Tim was the victim of ten generations of fetal alcohol syndrome and a reluctant student at SOU.  They talked to Maneesh about their favorite bars to get in fights at Back Home.  They talked about their most hated teachers at their common high school.

“Yeah I had mostly AP classes.”
Shut the fuck up Maneesh, why did you say that.

“LOOK AT THIS FACKIN BOOKWOAHM HEAH!” Chris shouted, punching Maneesh in the chest.  “YEAH I GOT SUSPENDED 18 TIMES MY SENIAH YEAH.”

Maneesh started telling a story about the one detention he got.  For tardiness.  Justin and I exchanged our fifty-seventh terrified look of the evening and I moved out onto the deck, ready to dive in and swim to safety.

“ONE DETENTION HAH DAT’S GREAT.” Tim said, punching Maneesh again.

Stop talking like a nerd Maneesh.  These mutants don’t respect intelligence, they respect firearms and headbutts.  Talk about headbutts.

Captain Chris jammed the Gordon’s into Maneesh’s wavering hand again, expectant.

Don’t let them see you wince, bro.  No signs of weakness around these animals or we’re all dead.

As the ‘conversation’ continued, I was paranoid Maneesh would offend the Captain and the Retard with his obvious affluence and harmless and boring high school anecdotes.  My presence as well as Justin’s was suffered purely out of respect for Maneesh.  A tenuous fucking thread to hang by, and if they turned on him they’d be after us in a second.  Already, bitter drunken guys looked out at us from the interior of the boat, furious that anyone without boobs was drinking their precious bottom-shelf alcohol.

“THIS ONE TOIM WHEN WE WEH”

I heard a crash from the second deck.

“WHAT THE FACK WAZZAT?”

A guy fell overboard into the shallow water, cursing and swinging at unseen assailants.  Two girls came hustling down the back stairs, screaming but careful not to drop their cigarettes.

“There’s a fight up there!”

“NOT ON MY FACKIN BOAT NO WAY.  CMON MANEESH LET’S GO.” Chris and Tim grabbed an empty bottle in each hand and charged up swinging.

Justin shoved Maneesh back inside.

“We are getting the fuck out of here.”

I ran through the dark wreck of a boat, kicking and punching at anything that got in my way.  Hands clutched at my board shorts in the dark.  I remember yellow teeth, and blood, and screams.

“I WON’T DIE HERE YOU COCKFACE REDSOX-LOVING PSYCHOPATHS.  NO FUCKING WAY!”

Shouting and free we ran off into the safety and anonymity of the party on shore.

——

We made it back to our boat muddy but relatively intact.

“Where the hell have you guys been?”  Melissa asked.  She was wearing two pairs of stunner shades and a Senor Frog’s nylon jumpsuit, obviously having a better time than us.  She had a bottle of Crown Royal in one hand and a two-liter margarita in the other.

“Fucking Maneesh.” I said, gasping.  “Fucking Maneesh went and made friends with the most fucked up people I’ve ever met. Justin and I went on to save him.”  Justin looked at me.  “Ok Justin went on to save him and I followed but now we’re back. And alive.”

“You guys want a drink?”

“Desperately.”

I’ve seen some ugly shit on houseboats but Captain Chris and his unholy crew of rapists and vigilantes take the cake.  I was badly shaken and set myself to drinking the Fear away lest it ruin my weekend.

It didn’t take long.

——

Time does strange things on Houseboats.  The perceived lines that separate day and night, the boundaries of chronology and ordered recall by which we construct our memories seem altgether unreliable, unstable.  I can remember things, and events.  I can remember people I met.  What relation do they have to one another?  What context or order they occur in?  That’s the mystery.  When not just you but the three thousand people around you are braindead wasted, a night can dilate into a week, a day can contract into just a few moments.

Houseboats does to one’s memory what a shotgun blast does to a porcelain vase.  What few pieces are left are no longer parts of a reconstructible whole, just shattered, fractured remnants without context or discernible value.  You can pick up these pieces, look at them.  But good fucking luck trying to make them back into something whole.

Such is the toll houseboats takes on the mind and spirit of its victims.  Here are a few things I remember, then.  I make no claims about their order or accuracy.

——–

I sat in the hot tub for four hours, waiting for sundown with Melissa and Mike Vu and Wendy.  We talked about funk music and the death of liberty.  I drank ten MGDs and explained to them at length the mysteries of The Snake That Eats Itself.

Wendy told me with tears in her eyes that I’d changed her life.  I gave her a hug and told her to treasure the knowledge I’d given to her, and to share it freely.  It was a beautiful moment.  Somebody should have taken a photo.

Shortly, Curtis ran past us hand over mouth, little chunks of puke dripping on his Hawaiian shirt. Mike asked him if he was cool as he barfed a half-gallon of nachos and brandy over the railing and into the mud.  Curtis said yes, thank you, and told us he felt much better now.

He lit a cigarette and joined us in the tub.  Nobody seemed to mind the puke on his shirt.

———

Justin and I got up at 5:30 AM to push the boat off the shore before the cops arrived.  Every morning they round up the stragglers and force them at gunpoint to clean Slaughterhouse, one giant, hungover chain-gang of college kids in muddy swimsuits.  Fuck that noise, so we got up early and pushed the boat out of the freezing, rocky mud into the safety of the channel.  We watched the sun rise, pink and orange and glorious, and drank some Jim Beam out of coffee mugs.

Justin then sawed the bottom off of one of our cheap wineglasses with a kitchen knife to make a tumbler for Dunk the Duchess, and I passed out on the sun deck.

——–

We docked at a marina to get some fresh ice and beer.  Maneesh, who hails from the ‘Apoplectic Bull in a China Shop’ school of docking philosophy, crashed the boat into the dock and broke a good five-foot chunk of it off.  Though I was incapacitated at the time, I’m told he blamed the wreck on a vicious cross-wind, and that with a bottle of Stoli in hand he told the marina attendants “…don’t trip you bitches I got the extra rental insurance.”

——–

Meredith, half-crazed with starvation due to her strict vegetarian diet, climbed up on the bimmini and said that she loved us all and wanted to legally declare us all her life partner for life.  We all clapped for her and, with some coaxing, got her down safely before any slight breeze managed to blast her off the top of the boat.

She’s got a good heart, that girl.  For a vegetarian.

——-

Tensions were high one night after we ran out of Costco margarita mix. Justin and Blake’s heated discussion about their favorite romantic comedies escalated into a brief but vicious fistfight.

“HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE ‘RACHEL GETTING MARRIED’ YOU MOTHERFUCKER. ARE YOU A RETARD? THAT SHIT WAS A TRIUMPH.”

“ANNE HATHAWAY IS A CHEAP WHORE. SHE’S LIKE AN UGLIER DREW BARRYMORE.”

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY? DON’T YOU DARE TALK SHIT ABOUT ANNE HATHAWAY. YOU TURD.”

Words were had, there was a lot of yelling and bad noise… Then somebody mentioned He’s Just Not That In To You and it turned into a all-out bar brawl.

Justin was squeezing the life out of Blake with a chokehold when Tom, peaceful warrior that he is, charged in and asked if they had forgotten everything they’d learned from I Love You, Man.  The hold became an embrace and, their anger forgotten, they held each other tenderly for several minutes.  There wasn’t a dry eye on the boat as they hugged it out like little bitches.

“Let’s never fight again!”, they sobbed.

We did some jaeger shots to celebrate their renewed brolationship.  Eric put on that M.I.A. song with the gunfire and the sound effects to kickstart the dance party.

——-

Keith and Justin and I climbed up to the bonfire on top of Slaughterhouse’s plateau to check out the scene, scaling a fifteen-foot cliff in flip-flops at one point.  The shortest of the three, it took me several attempts and fifteen minutes of scrambling to get up.  Keith offered me a hand at one point, which I swatted away.

“Fucker I am a highly trained martial artist, I don’t need god damn help.” I said, spread-eagled face first against the abuttment, clinging desperately to tufts of tree roots.

Covered head to toe in red dust and gasping like Kirstie Alley on a treadmill, I eventually made it to the top.  I sauntered over to the fire.  A couple of guys were playing flip-cup on an over-turned crate.  Some people were asleep, curled up at the edge of fire pit.  Justin and Keith stood watching the flames.

“Sup guys.” I said. They nodded.

I opened my spare MGD, which of course exploded like a frog with a firecracker taped to its ass.

“It’s kind of a cockfest up here.” Keith said.
“Seriously.” said Justin.
“Let’s go back.”

FML.

I finished my half-can of warm foam and followed them back down to the boats.

———-

Floating on innertubes out on the lake, Regina told me that at four AM the night before I had climbed on to a neighbor’s boat and started ranting crazily and messing with their CD player.

“You told them they sucked, and that their taste in music sucked, and that you were going to write a manifesto on the side of their boat about how Autotune was the death of hiphop.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“You went around one by one and made them pinky-swear to look up Yo! MTV Raps on Youtube when they got home.  They gave you a half-empty bottle of vanilla vodka, probably to shut you up, and you told them that their gift had single-handedly renewed your faith in the youth of America.”

“Doesn’t sound like me.”

“You told them to call you The Freshmaker and that you were a co-founder of the Hella Fat Beats political party.  You said you were running for governor in 2010 and expected them all to vote for you.”

“No way.”

She shrugged.

She paddled off towards the island, leaving me alone with my hellish hangover.

A few minutes later two kids in a purple kayak came by with CALIFORNIA NEEDS FAT BEATS written clumsily on their shirts.

“SACRAMENTO OR BUST, FRESHMAKER!”, they cheered.

I gave them a thumbs up and a weak smile.

“Thanks for the support, gentlemen. I’ll see you at the polls.”

Ah, Houseboats.

——

One afternoon, wasted out of his mind, Tom told me a story about crapping his pants at his cousin’s house. He fell asleep for a second, nodding off sitting upright, and when he woke up a few minutes later he told it to me again.

It was a good story, and made me laugh both times.

Mike Vu then came by and asked Tom to Pull The Trigger on Eric, who was asleep in a raft behind the boat.

He didn’t manage it, but it was a glorious sight to behold watching Tom jam his hand wrist deep into his throat trying to gag himself enough to yak on the sleeping Eric.

Apparently Tom is the go-to guy when you need a Trigger Pulled, but he was having an off day.

It happens.  We all laughed like bastards anyway.

——-

Blake shook me awake.  I was floating in the sun on a Little Mermaid children’s raft.

“Dude.” he said.
“Hmm.”
“Did we eat today?”
“…I can’t remember. Probably.”
“Ok.  That’s good enough for me.”

I fell back asleep.

——

I found myself alone on the island before sunrise, sitting next to the remains of a fire.

Exhaustion and inebriation had claimed the last of the partiers and for a time the island was quiet, pristine.  I looked out across the slope.  Bottles and Solo cups littered the shore. There were OSU and Davis sweatshirts, torn and discarded.  The occasional lost flipflop.  Here and there a body, some kid who’d been too far gone to find his boat in the chaos of the night before and just laid down in the mud.

I watched the boats bob lazily against each other, everything silent in that first timid light of dawn.  I wished I’d brought a beer, or a camera, something.

A young deer walked out from the tree line and approached me.

“Sup fawn.”  It looked at me, and cautiously surveyed the waste and ruin of Slaughterhouse.  It sniffed at a pile of crushed cans and watched me warily.  “Hey buddy, don’t judge.  The affairs of higher mammals are none of your concern.”  I clapped a few times, to spook him.

The deer wandered off slowly, non-plussed.

Slaughterhouse is no place for judgements.  Expectations, social norms have no place here amidst the bodies and broken glass.  By any account, it’s a sordid and horrible scene.  None deny this.  Puking and drinking and screwing in the dirt… these people are scum.  But they’re a genuine, lovable kind of scum.  Scum without pretense, or self-awareness, or malice of any kind.

Not a fucking soul on this island is concerned with the greater issues that trouble our world, or with the Larger Questions of life and morality.  For a few days the rest of the universe does not exist for them.  They’re just kids, kids bound for lives of unfathomable regularity and inconsequence.  This is their last hurrah, in a way, though none of them know it.  Their youth is all they have; starting tomorrow they’ll just get uglier and less interesting, maybe have some kids, die and be forgotten.  That’s a heavy burden to bear.  Somehow it makes their folly, the folly of this whole disastrous shitshow, more forgivable.

The sun rises and I feel protective of them, the tards.  Almost paternal.  Forgiveth these douchebags, world.  They know not what they do.

——

On our last night, we crammed all sixteen of us into the hot tub.  Maneesh produced a $1200 bottle of champagne from somewhere and we passed it around.

Some people gave drunken speeches, professing their love for the boat and its crew, swearing to come back though they know they won’t.  Blake, having faked his own death to attend this fiasco, outlined his strategy for the future.  He plans a fresh start somewhere in the Pacific Northwest and though he withheld the details for obvious reasons, we all wait with bated breath for a Shawshank Redemption-style postcard from him, some clue we can use to track him down in his new life.

We docked far away from the island that night, deciding to party on our own at a safe remove from the wild Last Night of Houseboats scene.

We decided to take it easy, to enjoy our last night together.

That lasted about ten minutes, and then Mo started the dance party and brought out the last handle of Smirnoff.  I remember doing a handstand while somebody poured a shot of Jim Beam into my mouth, most of which spilled into my eyes and burned like hell.  There was a lot of shouting and Eric, who had lost the last round of Asshole that afternoon, was ordered by President Meredith to swim to Slaughterhouse and steal us a keg.  Curtis got his guitar out and started rocking his way through the entire Pearl Jam catalog including B-Sides and unreleased bootlegs.  I looked over the side into the water and saw Keith floating in an innertube down below, wearing an oversize leather Indiana Jones hat and holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.  I remember being utterly amazed that he had gotten into the tube with a beer a cigarette and a hat without spilling one or all.  Swap the innertube for a recliner and he’s the spitting image of somebody’s dad.

“SUP KEITH.” I waved.
“Sup.”

Mo came by and handed me a cup of something dangerous, and after that, everything’s black.

——-

Meredith came up on deck to tell us the boat was on fire.

“Hey guys?”
“Yep?”
“There’s a fire.  On the boat.”
“Ok.  Wait, what?”

We grabbed fire extinguishers and charged downstairs.  The boat was dead in the water and smoke was pouring out of the engine compartment.

We popped the hatch and started blasting away with the extinguishers, coughing and gasping through the black burnt-rubber smoke.  We doused the flames and Mike Vu and Regina spent a few minutes calming Alcorn down. He was curled up under the table, moaning ‘we’re all gonna die’ and sobbing uncontrollably.  Little snot bubbles came from his nose and they had to coax him out with a chocolate Costco muffin.

“Well now we’re fucked.”
Ten cellphones later, we found one with a signal and called Antlers.

“What did they say?”
“They say they’re sending somebody.”
“To fix it? Tell them to bring more beer. And cigarettes.”
“I’m not going to tell them to bring more beer.”
“How did they sound? Did they sound upset?”
“Upset that we caught their boat on fire?”
“Not really.  They didn’t seem concerned; I guess it’s not uncommon.”
“How common can fucking boat fires be?”
“Apparently fairly common.”
“Fucking floating deathtraps.”
“We should sue.”
“Seriously ask them to bring more beer.”

They sent somebody to pick us up.  The guy (Dave?) took a look at the engine and told us it appeared there had been a fire.  Well yes Dave, we know, we put the god damn thing out.  At great personal risk I might add.  He told us he couldn’t fix it and would have to tow us in.  He lashed on to the side with his tinyass little boat and we started off.  Very slowly.

Mike Vu traded our last beer and two boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios to Dave for a half a pack of cigarettes.  I went upstairs to find a shady spot and pass out.

——-

It’s hard to estimate the true cost of an ordeal like Houseboats.  One cannot simply take inventory of one’s mental faculties before and after, then compare the two. I cannot, for example, say something like ‘I got so drunk this weekend I can no longer remember my childhood friends’ birthdays, or do math’.  The human mind is not divided so discretely as to allow such an assessment.  Nevertheless we know on some level that the price is high, very high.  Four days of malnutrition, sleep deprivation, harsh sun and non-stop alcohol abuse take a heavy toll on both body and spirit.  Especially at our age.  Your body first protests, then revolts, and then surrenders.  Nobody really pukes after the first day; they don’t have the energy for it.  By day two you find yourself asking questions like “Why are there black circles around my eyes?” and “Can citrus vodka prevent scurvy?” Days three and four are an edgeless, soupy blur, the upper regions of your brain having shut down and your consciousness replaced by some kind of instinctual party-mode autopilot.  Your system becomes confused when you take in 20,000 calories a day and 19,400 of it is Coors Light.  This type of sustained trauma can lead to serious, long-term biological and neurological effects.  I met a guy one year who told me that after three straight nights of playing flipcup with E&J instead of beer, he woke up left-handed.  True story.  I heard about a girl who, after being deposited on shore by her friends at the end of the weekend, could no longer remember which car was hers.  To this day Tom Alcorn swears he spoke perfect Spanish until his first houseboats trip.  Now he barely speaks English.

It’s grisly, and part of me is terrified to consider all that I’ve left on that goddamn island over the years, my dignity and self-respect being the least of it.  Houseboats is the kind of wanton, reckless self-destruction we are supposed to have grown out of by now.  We are supposed to have Moved On from all that, gotten it out of our system and graduated to more mundane and socially acceptable pursuits, like marriage or jazz.

But fuck all that.

We don’t need it.  We are beyond it.  And if the cost of that is some memory loss and a little hepatitis, so be it.

I’M ON A BOAT.

-T.

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One Response to “Fuck the pain away.”

  1. Alcorn’s name is Tom? I always thought it was Alcorn…

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