The Arrival

21APR92 – Machrihanish, Kintyre Peninsula, Scotland

The single prop plane slid in on a 45-degree tilt, advancing patiently through the rain, wind and breaking fog. Nothing but rocks, valleys and green slopes were visible through the window; no cities or large buildings to speak of.

Touchdown. I grabbed my bag and stepped off the plane wearing a leather coat, black jeans, a bashed up pair of steel-toed boots, and a plain black t-shirt. I felt very Walter Mitty, except I was better prepared in the event of an apocalypse. In my bag: a notebook, several pens, a bottle of water, two dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks, half a sandwich, a small hand towel, my Walkman, an unopened pack of AA’s and a hefty stack of compilation tapes.

There was more gear in the large, gunmetal case at my feet. Airport security had asked me a lot of strange and bitter questions as to the type of person who’d go so far as to actually put clothing in that battered piece of shit. I’m sure they meant to say was ‘Welcome to Scotland, enjoy your stay.’ Unfortunately, it came out: “Welcome to bomb country. Don’t fuck with us.”

My guide approached. A hangdog hell-kite of a man with skeletal hands of death tattooed around his neck, he wore stiff jeans, cowboy boots, a Harley t-shirt and a down vest. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of Gargoyle’s and he thrust out a hand, giving mine a solid shake. “This all your gear?” Short, sharp, direct. Like a prison shiv. That’s fine, I disdain small talk. Besides, I hadn’t eaten in awhile, and I felt like canned shit.

We climbed into a large Dodge Ram truck, and went haul-assing down the road. The sky seemed to go on forever, and deep was the green of the valley around us. I’d never seen anyplace so fucking huge. It looked, and I imagine still looks, like the opening sequence of M*A*S*H*. The road was empty except for us. It was broad daylight, and cold. We got to the outpost, and I dropped my gear in my room.

In comparison to the outside, this was a phone booth with furniture; the whole room seized up like a traffic jam if so much as a window was left ajar. A door-length poster of a beautiful brunette in thigh-high boots hung over the bed, a house warming present from the previous occupant. The walls were cracked and peeling. We headed out for a drink. A cab took us across the Kintyre to Campbeltown, a mix of Rod Serling’s ultimate vision and small-town Mayberry with a healthy twist of ‘old’ thrown in. I found a spot at the end of the bar, and I busied myself with the ethology of the patrons. An hour passed, then three. Pretty soon I was good and goddamn convivial.

We shot a little pool, and the drinks kept coming. “So-and-so bought you a drink, they’re good people,” said the man who’d picked me up.  I nodded in understanding. I was being sniffed, but welcomed. Eventually I found myself weaving a path to the restroom, where I stood at the sink for some time, gaping at my reflection in stunned admiration. I’d seen that face grow up, saw it look back at me from a lot of different rooms, and now here I was, getting shit-faced in another country, no doubt a tremendous hangover in the mail.

Back inside the pub, I surveyed the scene; a jukebox bursting with Wet Wet Wet, Rod Stewart and Queen. I couldn’t understand what half these people were saying, and the money in my pocket didn’t look right. I declined another round and made my way toward fresh air while I was still ambulatory. Gravitational time dilation settled in; the room was viewed through quantum foam. I felt cracks forming in my consciousness and I was slightly out of phase with my own body.

Once inside again, I passed a lovely girl shooting pool; good English, firm grip. She knocked the eight-ball in with an exceedingly crisp shot. I stopped to chat, but her withering look told me to keep walking. I was addressed by a stranger at a nearby table, and we struck up a conversation.

Precisely one half hour later, I’d wrung drunken, screaming tears from the stone of his religious beliefs as I called into question the Immaculate Conception, the persistent absence of God, and the lack of a miracle anywhere in the Bible that couldn’t be faked by today’s special effects artists. Some prefer sports, others are music fans. I’m into heresy. The man had to be restrained by his friends from physically attacking me. I apologized, ducked a well-intended ashtray, and made good my escape.

Moving to the pier at the end of the street, I looked out over the water; a dark and heaving thing that blended seamlessly into the night sky, folding in on itself, convex matter occupying a concave space, repeating. The cold wind whipped at me, and I was suddenly grateful for my coat.

In the coming four years, I’d be completely oblivious to the L.A. riots, the Rodney King trial, and a now-infamous car chase involving a white Bronco and an ill-fitting glove. As far as I was concerned, I was officially removed from reality. I looked down at my watch. It had stopped.

I looked up at the sky and saw nothing but stars; the sky was so clear I could pick out the few constellations I knew by heart. A satellite carved a thin silver trail through the night, and I watched it for some time. The night was unbelievably quiet, and very beautiful.

I don’t remember ever getting home, and I’m grateful to whomever poured me into bed that night. I had been in Scotland a total of six hours.

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