Operation: Sweet Tea – Dispatches from Dagobah

The Inner Voice is never quiet.  It creates characters, it writes dialog.  When it can’t think of anything better to do, it writes letters.  It fills a legal pad here, a Post-it note there, or the glossy back of a drink special menu swiped from behind the bar of some REDACTED roadside attraction, the glossy surface of which is valued for its ability to work well with Sharpies.

EARLY SEPTEMBER 2010, LOCATION UNKNOWN

Nyx,

How goes?  Things here are ramping down.  Word on the street is that I’ll take over for REDACTED and then transfer to REDACTED or hopefully REDACTED.  I’d like to spend a week in REDACTED before I REDACTED, however.  (Ha!  I bet you thought I was gonna say REDACTED.)  Things to do on my off-time: visit Cafe REDACTED, get photos of buskers, drink absinthe, and browse the dusty knot of voodoo stores orbiting REDACTED Park.  I need something suitably ugly and unspeakably disturbing for my work desk.  A shrunken head, a fertility doll perhaps, something along those lines.

I can’t imagine what the REDACTED was like during the apex of the thing.  They should have called it OPERATION: MONKEY FUCKS A/N REDACTED COCONUT. I’ll just say that and change the channel.

But heavens, people do a lot of “turning around” down here!  The following are examples of their quaint speech patterns:

“Well, this fella turns aroun’ and sez…”
 “Now, mah daddy turns around and sez…”
 “Well now you turn around and just drive down to the Piggly-Wiggly…”

Oh, and this one! “…‘Well mebbe if’n yoo gotcher head outta yer asshole yoo woodn’t smell shee-it.’”

Time: slows to a crawl. Think ‘Matrix’.

I swear to fuck, that last line was delivered with so much weight and solemnity, and infused with Southern wherewithal: It’s as Bubba had personally re-invented fire and was awaiting my unbridled praise, or at least a retort.

In the mind’s eye, I could see him leaning back, crossing his mighty arms over his barrel chest and slowly nodding his head, further treasuring the weight of his corn-fed decree… Seconds passed.

You know what I’m like: My brain — furiously struggling to diagram, dissect, connect, detect, analyze and reduce the hundredfold layers of subtle communication in this simple moment to a Lego-simple observation (or better still, a haiku!) designed to knock his fucking socks off and demonstrate my mental prowess — takes just a cunt-hair too long to export viable verbal content, and the moment passes.  This strategic error is misinterpreted as dumbstruck idiocy and Bubba walked away, the victor by default, mumbling and slowly shaking his head. “That feller ain’t got no sense no how.  Must be a Yankee.”

Side note: I’ve passed along my thoughts on the iPad to you.  It looks like a wicked good travel tool, but the governing principle of my life is LESS NOT MORE.  I can’t justify owning an iMac, an iPhone AND a laptop, etc. (And planning to reward myself with the iPhone 4 upon my return!)  And yes, should I decide to ditch my iMac/television set, I’ll certainly let you know.  We’ll talk money, or trade.  I’ll need to wipe it dumb and sort out shipping, unless you get the urge to visit your brother in REDACTED.

Ultimately, I’d like to own only what I could carry around in an old Army half ton: Move all of my books into the clouds.., reduce my bags down to two or three.., move to a warmer climate and ditch my winter gear.., keep a loaded .45 under the seat and make my coffee over a different fire each morning.  You get the idea.  I feel we amass far too many things in our lifetime, and that we expend our limited and valuable energy trying to move, store, protect, purchase, dispose of, maintain and figure out how to upgrade to MORE THINGS.

Right.  I’m off the soap box, I’m sure someone else needs the firewood.  Bravo tango whiskey, it looks like I’ve got a few more weeks ahead of me.  You know how our Uncle works: “Hey! How far would you be if we hadn’t called you back?” And yes, per our texts from REDACTED: Look into Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (the first book I ever stole!), and seek ye also the clever, clever writings of Grant Morrison.  And Warren Ellis.  The foul-mouthed comic book genius, not the wild-bearded manticore who plays git-fiddle for Nick Cave.  A different Warren Ellis. Although Grinderman will blow your shitting mind just as well. (Click it. Trust me.)

Many thanks for the BBT infusions, BTW! A little nerd in the Savage Land goes a long way.

Go, see, do.

Yours in Christ,

TWM

//

11SEP2010

Dear Cass,

Fuck, yes.

Hello from a Chili’s somewhere in REDACTED after a two-day sick fit full of fevered dreams and fearful images; I’m drinking cold beer and sweet tea like they’re going out of style, but I’ve always got time for coffee.  The sharp laughter of sassy black girls rolls out of the kitchen in a tumbled wave, shrill gossip and delighted decadence bursting through the double doors dressed in the metallic jangle of empty pans and the steamy clink of hot flatware.  I’m reading, writing. I’ve ordered as healthy an option as can be expected.

September 11th.  Nine years ago to the day, when certain buckets of excrement were striking the blades of certain exhaust systems, and certain planes were hate-tackling certain buildings in the East Coast concrete convention I temporarily call home, my life was at a perfect stand still. I remember launching pine cones from a leaf blower in the parking lot of a tiny rescue station on an Indian reservation somewhere in the REDACTED REDACTED thinking that my life as I knew it was over; that I was free to fail, and that I would probably go nowhere else in life because I simply wasn’t in a position to assume differently. I hated my life, hated my decisions, and despised my surroundings.  I had way too many regrets and not enough good stories to tell.  I was no longer relevant.  I was removed from the equation.  My, how things cha– Oh, hey.  My food is here, we’ll talk later.

19SEP2010

Dear Cass,

Hello again from REDACTED.  I’m writing this from the weathered grey deck of a beach house.  The surf roars and the gulls scream and the wind is warm and sweet.

Ten minutes ago: The door was open, so I walked in holding the key in one hand.

“Hello?  Don’t shoot, they said I could live here…”  I walked from room to room in search of what I felt would be angry (or at the very least confused) homeowners and listened carefully for the click of a rifle bolt, but the place was empty.  Nobody here but us aliens.

Five minutes ago: The front of my rental car was encrusted with dead protein, so I hosed it off while I considered my options.  I decided that my options included relaxing, so I hauled my gear onto the porch, kicked off my shoes and put my tired feet on the rail.  Took a beer from the fridge, left a dollar. Goddamn, it’s good to smell the ocean again.  (It’s like having your face buried between the thighs of Mother Nature. It’s a briny, primal smell. Makes me feel like a centaur, or some such…)

Two hours ago: My drive from REDACTED was uneventful, unless you count knocking off the passenger side mirror and putting a tiny gouge in the door of the rental.  Oops. It was purely accidental.  I’d parked the car at the side of the road to photograph a mural in REDACTED and when I was backing up to turn around, I was only watching the oncoming traffic side – not the side where that no-good, goddamn egg-sucking sumbitch Murphy up and decided to install a speed limit sign. Glad I had insurance.

Yesterday: I woke up at 0630.  Showered, shaved, brushed my teeth.  Filled my pockets with small black rectangles: my wallet, my iPhone, and the pretty-much useless REDACTED cellphone.  See also: Keys, gum, a scrap of paper to write on, and a pen.  Out the door by 0700.  I was told the helicopter would be taking off at 0800, so I felt I had plenty of time to get where I was going.

Except I didn’t.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rings.  It’s the REDACTED producer I’m supposed to meet at the airfield.  He wants to know where I am.

“On my way.  Why, what time are we taking off?”

“Uh, probably in the next few minutes?”

“Uh, I’ll call you back?” I stomped hard on the gas.

The drive from to the REDACTED airport was only twenty minutes, and the map showed a straight line.  Unfortunately, my GPS put me in someone’s driveway and then took me through the only underground tunnel in the whole fucking state of REDACTED.  More wrong turns took me more wrong places before I whipped around the corner onto Main Street where the airport lives, all four tires squealing like fucked pigs.   Things were getting tight, but I was in the home stretch.  Almost.  There were no cars on the road at this hour, which explains why I was traveling at speeds of 75 and 80 and running red lights like it was election year in a brothel.

The producer called back.  I was screeching around a corner at the time, so yeah, maybe I shouted into the phone a little.

“HELLO?”

“Uh.., where are you?  We’re ready to fly.”

“Sorry, on my way, I just came out of the tunnel.”

“There’s a tunnel in REDACTED?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell you all about it when I get there.”

I finally found the airfield and slid into a parking spot, tires skidding to a ragged halt on the dusty gravel.  Popped the trunk, grabbed my camera bag and started for the gate when a older woman in a shabby security guard uniform and a slow Southern accent appeared out of thin air.  She spoke so soft and slurred that I almost ran past her.

“Now, sugah, I’m ahfraid you cain’t park yo car heah, because you’s taking spots away frum t’others who work heah.  You just pahk it two blocks over thatch way, ah’m sho yo’ little friends’ll wait…” (What did reality look like from inside this woman’s head??)  I tried Reason, I tried Manners, I tried Jedi, and I tried to explain the tight schedule and complicated mechanics of the fantastic flying machine that was, even now, spinning up for take-off.  But she would have none of it.

Fuck.  Sometimes you gotta let the little old lady win.  (And sometimes you gotta jump back in the rental cars and stuff it three spots to the left when the little old lady isn’t looking.)

I ran for the terminal, slapping the open thigh pockets of my pants.   Something felt wrong.  Nothing says ‘sloppy’ like Velcro that refuses to close and — shit did I just lose a REDACTED cellphone?  No time for that now.  As long as I have my iPhone, my wallet, the car keys, my camera gear and my GPS, the whole Western world could bake itself into an apple fucking pie.

Seven minutes later: I’m stuffed into a black and yellow Sikorsky 76-C that resembled a giant carpenter bee sitting on the tarmac.  There would be no window seat for this trip.  “The needs of the many,” as Spock said.  No, I was informed that this was a media escort, first and foremost.  Whatever I snapped or captured on video was strictly for documentation.  The co-pilot seated me in between the REDACTED camera operator and a REDACTED photographer.  On-screen talent rode in back on the right opposite the sound guy, and the producer squeezed in front left, with the REDACTED liaison opposite him.  The passengers were separated from the pilot and co-pilot by a thin curtain but thanks to the headsets we all wore, we could carry on a conversation.

A moment aside: I’m really not comfortable with video and I’ve had less than zero experience in using one.  Framing is different, the controls are awkward, there’s the constant jarring, you can’t turn it over for vertical shots like you can with a still camera, and you always have to worry about the sound.  Yet they insisted I bring one, so last night I opted to drive all the way to REDACTED to pick one up from REDACTED.  The understanding was that I’d meet some of the REDACTED staff for dinner, and I based my decision on this.  I arrived at the city limits with no problems, but I got turned around in all the construction and the traffic surrounding the REDACTED.  I ended up turning off the GPS and hanging half out the window of the rental, driving it like I stole it.  By then, it was getting late and my calls inquiring about dinner plans had gone unreturned.  Found the address, got the camera bag, tossed it into the trunk and, pretty much disgusted by this point, hauled ass back to my hotel in REDACTED before I turned inside out from hunger.

Back on the helicopter: It was a long flight out to the platform and I nodded off more than once, swaddled up safe like a crash test Jesus in my kapok life jacket that felt like something out of WWII; I was further snugged by the radio headset pinching my skull, the five-point safety harness collapsing my lungs, the D700 snug around my neck and the Sony HD video camera on my lap.

Once we arrived at the platform, I listened as the pilots recited the necessary spells and incantations to get the bird on the ground, or in this case, a tiny green hexagon balanced on the edge of the platform which stood like a steel tarantula in the middle of the REDACTED REDACTED.  The pilot powered down the engines, and we shrugged out of our many restraints.

At this point, I was only vaguely aware of my directions.  Had we come from this way, or that?  The water stretched out in all directions.  It was a surreal experience to say the least, and I half expected a bald man in a wheelchair with a white cat on his lap to meet me on the deck.  “We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Bond.”

We filed inside and I dropped my bag, making a beeline for the coffee to clear the fog of sleep.  Safety brief: No rings, no jewelry, no weird piercings.  Hardhats, gloves and hearing protection were issued; tiny bullets of yellow foam that fill my ear canals like the larva of some strange insect, growing slowly, devouring all sound.  Suddenly, I could hear myself think and breathe, and my voice was clear in my head. I was well into my Darth Vader impression when I looked up, noticing the puzzled expressions of the rest of the group staring back at me. Way to be.

Up a flight of stairs, a few lefts and rights and suddenly we came to the drilling deck where a giant robot arm called an “iron roughneck” was unscrewing hundred-foot sections of pipe fresh from the seafloor, as another arm high overhead stacked the pipe snug into a vertical rack.  It was an awesome sight.  It was also screaming loud, and everything was covered in the mud of a ten thousand hunting dogs.

Time for work.  Out come the cameras.  Right off the bat, I’m frustrated by the safety gloves; a size too small, depriving my hands of complex motor function. Plus, every time I lined up a shot, the sound guy would step in front of my lens, or drop the boom into my frame. (I would mention this to him a few times, but receive only blank looks in return.)

Next stop, the control booth where two men are seated in front of what looks like the most expensive flight simulator I’ve ever seen.  They sip coffee from white paper cups and make small adjustments to the iron roughneck via joysticks in their hands.  A row of computer screens above their heads tells them everything they need to know about return rates, fluid viscosity, and bottom pressure.  The room was crowded. Got a few good shots, though.

More tours, more wonders, and more “holy shit” moments from me.  Helicopter rides!  Robots!  The REDACTED!  Later, I ate freshly grilled steak  from a barbecue deck on the back of the platform and drank wicked good sweet tea.  I gathered more footage, and took a few more shots.  Then we got back in the helicopter and returned to REDACTED. Conversations clicked in and out in my headphones, but I was silent during the trip, thinking about this, that and the other thing.

I drove back to my room, stopping only for more coffee and quarters for the laundry machine.  I had just five hours to write my cutlines, process, edit and upload my video before I’d need to wash my clothes, pack my bags and make prepartatins for the morning drive to REDACTED.

Right away, technical difficulties were experienced.  My camera wouldn’t show up on my laptop.  Tried different things, tried downloading drivers. Nothing worked. Grabbed the camera body and my 8GB flash drive and headed for the hotel business center to coax their tired-ass PC into moving my files. Thirty agonizing minutes later, I had the images transferred.  “The faster technology gets, the more impatient we are for it.  (Note to self: Stop shooting in RAW until you get your photo editor sorted out, and never leave home without a card reader!)

I spent an hour making sense of my notes and handouts from the platform until I had something decent, before turning my attention to the video.  And then, horror of horrors: I discover there was no audio on my footage.

A thousand foul litanies.  I shouted and punched the air in frustration, but I knew there were no options and fewer excuses.  I’d just have to transport the video with me to REDACTED, dodge the embarrassing phone calls asking for product, and figure a way to salvage this horrid fucking mess.

20SEP2010

Dear Cass,

Experienced a moment akin to “Apocalypse Now” today; a long ride upriver in a barebones metal workboat toward a place called REDACTED.

I’d neglected to acclimate my camera to the humidity, and as I opened the door of the air conditioned trailer and headed for the pier I watched the lens fog over like San Francisco, my glasses included.  Nothing says sexy like being blind as a fucking bat.  Once aboard, I used an old rag from under the seat to wipe my camera down.

Then I spent the next few hours on the receiving end of a shouted, albeit fascinating education on pirates, illiteracy in southern REDACTED and the mating habits of bald eagles from the animated old skeleton at the wheel, shouting to be heard over the roar of the twin outboard engines.  He had the strangest, most expressive hands I’ve ever seen, the sort of thing you can’t ignore once you’re aware of it.

His earlobes flapped in the wind.  I’m not making that up.

It was a long and droning experience, even at safest speed.  Occasionally we’d catch air on the wake of another fast-moving vessel and come down hard enough to rattle the teeth in my head.  It sounded as though something very large and very angry was trying to tunnel in through the bow of the boat.

The trip was part of an area familiarization tour, the idea being that I’d photograph REDACTED as he handed out awards to two men who’d worked hard, done their part, and were ready to go home.  The ceremony was rushed, mumbled and everyone squinted in the sun.

Frustrations were mounting; first I’d failed to bring what I felt were the right lenses for the job, and I only brought one camera body.  Second, the boom microphone on the video unit failed to work, and then the media encoder on my copy of Premiere had failed to load, meaning I couldn’t export product, and now, decent subject matter was getting harder and harder to come by!  The REDACTED in REDACTED were screaming for imagery, but seemed to change their minds about what they wanted day by day.  I’m not one to use sports terminology to express myself, but this trip was filled with strikes and foul balls. I desperately needed a base hit or, dare I hope, a home run.

22SEP2010

Dear Cass,

Drinks tonight at Artie’s, a rundown road house about four miles down the road, listening to Pantera. That’s the secret purpose of loud bars.  “Shut up and drink up.”

23SEP2010

Dear Cass,

I've always wanted to pull over and take a picture.

Hello from an alternate universe, where Hiroshima never happened and Glenn Danzig found his true calling as a summer camp counselor.  My nails are in rough shape.  Chewed up, dry.  Everything down here is covered in dust and pollen.  Had to rinse off the car again this morning just to see out the windows.  Sent you a picture of the sunrise, hope it made you smile.

This morning: took a drive to locate the airfield in anticipation of an event scheduled for tomorrow.  I amused myself by doing funny voices as I steered the car along the rugged asphalt and long-neglected potholes as I made my share of wrong turns.  Still, I’d rather fuck up today on no timetable, than screw the pooch tomorrow when it really matters.  I read the names of the streets aloud in a high-pitched voice and tried to use each of them in a sentence.  I began a monologue about a poor little backwoods girl with an abnormally strong Southern accent who lived alone in a cardboard shack with her determined, albeit slightly psychopathic father:

“Mah daddy’ll gut you quicker’n sheeit… Ah seen ‘em skin a rev-uh-new-er man and burry th’ body out near Hog Lake, quick as you puhlease.  Made me a pair uh shoes from his hide, too.  That was the first pair o’ shoes I ever owned, and I liked ‘em real well.  My daddy looked at me when he wuz guttin’ that man and said ‘Ah got to fend for me an’ mine’. Yessir, he said that.”

Then I found different ways to pronounce “hog jowls” for the next twenty minutes.  Made me laugh, anyway.

Half the streets on REDACTED Isle are named for trees, and the other half are named for berries or other random words.  At the end of REDACTED is a large dusty compound presently occupied by a number of trailers.  Prior to the month of REDACTED, it was an empty lot.  Now it’s populated by ATVs and massive pickup trucks, and a large white tent in the center, where the food comes from.  I’m pretty sure the swamp wants the land back though, because the plywood threshold of the tent sinks a good inch into the gurgling ground when you step on it.

My office is in a small utility trailer along the left side of the compound, just past the porta-potties.  Step out the door and everything goes white hot in an instant, the heat punching you square in the face.  I can be at the pier in 15 seconds, my car in 30 seconds, taking a piss in 10 seconds, or back at the beach house in about three minutes.

Most of the people here work on the REDACTED response teams.  Their job consists of accompanying the boat crews out to document REDACTED, and ensuring that REDACTED in the field are equipped with water, safety equipment, and other supplies.  REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED.

24SEP2010

Dear Cass,

We picked up some REDACTED from REDACTED today; met their helicopter at the airfield, then took them on a boat ride out to REDACTED, an island a few miles distant from here, where a lot of people are working very hard to clean up the REDACTED.  White tents dot the horizon, and Day-Glo orange is a fashion accessory.  Forklifts cart pallets of supplies from place to place and everyone travels around in all-terrain beach buggies. There is nothing ecological about a REDACTED. You’ve never seen so many water bottles in your entire life; plastic bags of disposable gloves and disposable tyvek suits. The whole thing is like some weird deleted scene from Dune.

I carried two cameras this time; a D700 with a monster 80-200mm lens, and a D200 with a 28mm wide.  Vast improvement to my mood! (Note to self: arm yourself with two bodies from here on out, plus the SB-900 flash.  Uninstall ALL your CS2/3 software, and replace it with CS5.  And learn the shit out of Premiere.  Do it now!) I rode along in a separate ATV, calling out instructions to my driver, bracing myself against the rollbars, my dusty boots wedged hard against the dash.  It felt like a fashion shoot on the Kalahari Desert: “Closer, okay now get me to the left side– hey, what’s their driver’s name?  Ask him to point over there, yeah, by those gulls. Great, thanks!  Now swing in behind them, slow, good, hold that!  Awesome!”  I probably seemed like an asshole, but I got the shots I needed.

(Don’t try to go all fucking Aslan on me/ I’ve been outside the War Drobe a time or three…)

Later, now, night: The moon is lightly clouded, and the small part of the sky still visible peeks down at me, her eyes full of little stars.  I’m upstairs at Arties, pretty much the only bar in town.

Downstairs is for the roughnecks, the last of the hippies and the surviving tribe of classic rock fans.  Pimps and animals take the stairs in the back and party on the open deck where autotuned dance and gangsta jumps and throbs, and four barely-legal cherubs dressed in their sluttiest denim skirts try their damnedest to play the part of jaded, worldly sirens while serving modestly priced drinks to the thirsty citizens of an REDACTED-impacted, shrimp-fishing community. Everyone has a role to play.

Artie’s is where REDACTED parties when it’s not spending all day, every day on the water, in the marshes or slaving to clean up REDACTED beneath the glaring REDACTED sun, REDACTED REDACTED of the biggest REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED in U.S. history.  Which is an odd statement to make, because I can’t think of a bigger REDACTED anywhere else in the world.

Now: I lean against the hexagonal wooden bar and sip my devil gin while observing the bright lights of the shrimp boats anchored out at sea, and the mothership glow of a REDACTED about a mile down the beach to my left.

Artie’s, and REDACTED on the whole I suspect, has a decidedly poor male-to-female ratio.  Great for the girls, hard luck for the guys.  I’ve got a strong drink, a good vantage point, a freshly unfolded drinks menu, and a new Sharpie.  I take a sip, uncap my weapon, and wait for the words to arrive.

Looking around the bar: “These are the people who make things happen.  They live fast and bright and blind to their own terrible beauty.  They turn the wrenches that file the forms that bus the tables that serve the burgers that tend the lines that fish the waters that Jack built, and they keep the Great Machine running full tilt boogie, despite the inevitable fact that said Machine is headed straight for a real Fall of the Roman Empire kinda showdown when all this lovely REDACTED REDACTED is extracted from the ground.  Nothing lasts forever except nothing and forever, but there’s no talk of that tonight.  Here and now, these folks plain ass don’t care; so long as the music is loud, the drinks are moderately priced, and hopefully, maybe they can find someone to love them back…”

(Three Bombay gin and tonics with squeezed lime later… necessary cohesion fades, switching to inner dialog…)

At some point: the music fades quietly away and the old familiar curtain lowers and your drink loses appeal, and once again you find yourself staring at your surroundings in mild confusion, not entirely certain of how you arrived on a scarred wooden stool at the edge of the Gulf of REDACTED.

You observe the measurements of timeless impossibility etched in the faces of strangers as illuminated by cheap cigarette lighters; you gaze at each of them in turn, and wonder who they were as children.  You’re searching, as always, for meaning, seeking the Ancient, the Hidden, the spark that will at last make sense of it all.  It’s damn sure not gonna be found in a bar, but it seems to be the only time you look for it anymore.  Drink is no decent way to take your brain off the hook, but for the moment it’s the only option you have.

You watch and you record and you commit to present tense the various acts of the macro-theater playing out before you in this tiny REDACTED bar, trying in vain to make sense of the patterns, until you remember once again that random is just shorthand for a pattern too big for our monkey brains to comprehend.  It is what it is, and what will be will be again.  Sometimes it’s the same time all over the world:  All the Friday night smiles and scowls, the closing time rejections, the tiny victories and desperate lonely movies have happened before: here, there, and there.  This moment is happening at every bar at the same time; wherever there is darkness, wherever Friday night draws a breath, there is celebration and hope and drinks and music and wisdom and magic.  Yet, without fresh external stimulation, you feel the human race is destined for stagnation, eternity spent beneath the muddied boot of the Overlords who drive the Great Machine.  We’re like dolphins in captivity, each sequestered in a separate tank, bouncing our forehead-emitted radar off the circular walls of our prison and slowly but surely pinging ourselves to insanity.  There’s got to be something more out there, buried in space, asleep in the sheets of forever.  If we can see it, why can’t we touch it?

I wanna walk way out to the Hut at the Edge, where the Old Man tends the Flame, and I’ll show my soul and he’ll cut my writing hand with the edge of a sharp tooth and smear in the Ashes; so empowered, I promise not to die until I can write something so almighty powerful that it makes wood melt and the stones burst into flame, and every hunting dog from here to Glasgow will sing your favorite song…

You slid gracefully from your stool around 1230, popped in your headphones, and did a high-speed drunk march three-plus miles back to the beach house, pausing only to dart across a partially-lit lawn, scale the grassy dunes at the edge of private property and carve the following the polite request in giant letters in wet sand with the heel of your Chucks:

ALIENS PLEASE LAND HERE.

25SEP2020

Dear Cass,

Got the day off.  Literally nothing happened.  Starting drinking Southern Comfort around noon, and spent much of the day typing up my notes.  Then I went for a walk and thought about the epic feel of the right words in the right order. Must have listened to this song about 25 times on this trip:

Harshly awakened by the sound of six rounds of light-caliber rifle fire, followed minutes later by the booming of nine rounds from a heavier rifle (but you can’t close off the wilderness).  He heard the snick of a rifle bolt and found himself peering down the muzzle of a weapon held by a drunken liquor store owner.

“There’s a conflict,” he said.  “There’s a conflict between land and people.  The people have to go.  They’ve come all the way out here to make mining claims.., to do automobile body work to gamble.., take pictures, to not have to do laundry, to own a mini-bike.., have their own CB radios and air conditioning.., good plumbing, for sure, and to sell Time/Life books and to work in a deli.  To have a little chili every morning, and maybe… maybe own their own gas stations again.  And take drugs, have some crazy sex, but above all, above all, to have a fair shake.  To get a piece of the rock, and a slice of the pie and spit out of the window of your car and not have the wind blow it back in your face…”

–Wall of Voodoo “Call of The West”

TWM

26SEP2010

Dear Cass,

An hour ago: I did it.  I finally launched my book.  The initial thrill was a rush but after a few minutes, it was all over.  I had a glass of wine and listened to a few specific songs to celebrate the closing of ten years worth of work, and then I turned and walked away from it.  Now I can worry about the next one.  I doubt it will sell, but now I can say “I’ve written a book.”

It rained last night and it looks as though it might do so again.  I took a walk on the beach today; the water was warm and the sand looked almost artificial, raked smooth by big machines that sat silent about a mile down the beach. Hungry, more later.

01OCT2010

Dear Cass,

Now in REDACTED. (Hint: It’s French-sounding.)  Notes from this period are hard to come by.  I remember it as bits and pieces of shiny crazy, bright seconds of screaming laughter, uncomfortable wooden stools, the drunken stumble of cobblestone streets, the clatter of beads skidding across ruined asphalt, candle-lit basements, one million tasteless t-shirts, endless excellent jukeboxes, and the omnipotent stench stench of the REDACTED.

Mommy drinks because you cry.

If REDACTED were a real person, it’d be best embodied by an unemployed uncle who; drives an LTD, is missing the majority of his teeth, sleeps on a thrift store couch above an auto repair shop, and has predictably vomited into his own lap nearly every night since May 7, 1718.

These moments dwell in contrast to the cold black blocks of solid concrete and the geometric shapes of authority, acts of soul-sucking drudgery committed while toiling away on the 14th floor of an anonymous office building somewhere in downtown REDACTED, and the real reason I was in town…

My creativity lives in a small village somewhere on the fall side of the world, and it is only when I sleep that I am able to have any communication with it. A hatch on the top of my head yawns open in the night with the quiet whine of hydraulics, and a long, golden tendril of monofilament line yawns forth, uncoiling itself from a tiny spool; winding this way and that, it crosses the ocean, drifts over fields, mystifies cows, and is largely invisible to all but buskers, fools and unemployed uncles living in the streets below.

Said filament knocks on the door of my creativity and forms an outstretched palm, as though begging for alms. Sometimes my creativity has something to offer, and sometimes the tendril comes home empty-handed. My first impulse, upon waking, is to check my mailbox and see what treasures await. Nothing makes my day like a good breakfast, a solid cup of coffee, the right song playing in my headphones, and a tiny parcel in the inbox of my dreams.

Unfortunately, society has seen fit to schedule me to show up at a job during my peak creativity period. This must be kept a closely guarded secret from REDACTED, lest a ham-handed conversation threatens to begin with, “Well, why not use that creativity to [fulfill dull task X]?” as I’m being hipped to death by Cool Hand Douche and his twin fingered six-guns.

I get it, REDACTED.  You win at parties. I can’t swing a cat within your city walls without hitting a place to drink, eat, or lose track of the time.  You’ve got absinthe and hand grenades and Scotch and all my favorite foods, and some I think you made up.  (Fried macaroni? Who the fuck are you fooling? Didn’t stop me from eating it, though.)  Your architecture, enthralling; your history, visibly evident. You win, REDACTED! Isn’t that what you wanted to hear?  You’re a town full of spooky hippies and beautiful gypsies and starving dancers and I could probably spend the rest of my life trying to separate your magical madness from your common trash for the sole purpose of preservation and documentation, but I’d probably self-destruct inside of five years, if I didn’t get diabetes or go broke first. I know there’s more to you, REDACTED, but I can’t help running to the bad parts first…

Wish you were here.

10OCT2010

Dear Cass,

I miss you, and I’ll see you soon.

TWM

2 thoughts on “Operation: Sweet Tea – Dispatches from Dagobah

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