THE END

Schools out.  I pull my tie off and spit on the ground as I chill back on a bench waiting for… her.       

     Waves of sentimental kids push out the doors, hugging, signing year books, every word out of their mouths saturated with the elation of being done. I sit there as if  I were James Dean not giving a fuck.     

     “Congrats John?” They say as they pass and I’m shaking everyone’s hand. I guess I was lucky enough to be one of the cool kids. In with, and well liked by all the cliques.     

     Nick Amonte, my best friend makes his way out of the crowd of students. He’s a good looking kid. A Spanish, European half-breed, with a laid back vibe and long, curly, dark hair that all the girls swoon over. He takes a seat on the bench beside me.     

     “We gonna get punished at your place tonight?” Punished was code for getting drunk. My place was really just my parents house. They always left the burbs early on Friday for the cottage, at which point, my parents house became ‘my place.’     

     “Yeah. I’ll hit the beer store on the way home and pick up a case of Wildcat.” I tell  Nick. Wildcat was the cheapest beer you could buy and I had fake ID and a hand me down 1984 Chevy Caprice Classic so It was always on me to grab the booze.     

     “Cool Cool. I’ll pay you back tonight.”   Nick stands up and walks over to another crowd of kids just at the edge of school property. He bums a smoke off a younger kid who looks at him like he’s a teen idol because of the way he sparks the butt dangling casually from his lips then pushes on into the smoke huddle.           

     In the mix of kids still filtering out, a teacher stops to congratulate me.   I wasn’t the best student, I didn’t kiss ass and didn’t work too hard but teachers seemed to always like me anyway.   I got good enough grades and respected their authority and in turn they let me wear my tie loose, didn’t hassle me to tuck in my shirt and let it slide when I skipped class.          

     “Congratulations Mr. Saunders!” He offers his hand. I shake it. “What’s next? You going to go out there and take on the  world?”        

     “I guess so.” I laugh, but that was just a knee jerk response. What else was I going to say.  I hadn’t really thought about it. At least not in any serious way until right then and there.  It’s hard to explain. Here we are, empowered with a sense of relief and accomplishment; we just finished fucking high school and the warmth of the July breeze promises of summer fun and freedom ahead; yet, I’m sitting there feeling different than I think I should feel. It’s hard to nail it down, but you wait so long to get out and work so hard at being a rebel, and then the day comes, you’re free, but all you feel is this uneasy thing in your gut.    Being a high school student means being a kid. It’s all we’ve ever known and now it’s over.   I had it good, really good. I look over at Nick, laughing it up with a tight crew of friends. We were Kings.     

     A second later, she walks out.   She’s got her catholic school girl skirt extra short. Her white button down shirt has the top three buttons undone and her collar is half popped, half relaxed. Her long, dark hair flows behind her. Not a speck of makeup necessary. She has these deep hazel eyes that turn various hues of yellow the moment the light fills them. She’s walking towards me, the sunlight flares behind her, and the impact of it all stops time like a snapshot. There she is….my heart. Last day of high school. Schools out forever and I realize that uneasy thing in my gut is fear. ‘What’s next?” how the hell was I supposed to know.   ‘Take on the World?’ yeah right. Why would we want this to end? What did we know about the world outside of these grounds, outside of getting drunk on weekends at our parents houses, outside of being kids?  Sure the possibilities were exciting but this was our turf. These were our friends. That was my heart. This is who we were. Who would we be tomorrow?

REBORN

We’d been on the road for eight months. I woke up with a foggy head in a cheap Tijuana hotel. Actually it was more like a room above a bar. Actually it was a strip joint. It was a room above a strip joint. I can’t recall the name, Bambi’s maybe? I’ll stick with Bambi’s.

I crawled out of bed and looked around at the shit hole of shit holes I found myself in. I walked over to the window to let some light in. The place was grungy, awful. It was a place where Mexican drunks, junkies and hookers rented by the hour and the grime on the walls oozed out the dirt of their sad lives. It should have been a surprise to find myself there but it wasn’t. There were a lot of places we stayed like that in Mexico. There were a lot of the grandest palace resorts as well; it just depended on where we ended up and to us it didn’t matter either way.

I kick a pile of sheets on the floor only to reveal an orange thong tangled up in the mess.   A MYSTERY. A brief flash of the night before re-materializes in a beam of sunlight burning in through the window. There were green and pink neon lights, flickering.   A thick Mexican woman on the stage in an orange thong, dancing. Her pubic bush stuck out from her bikini line like a reverse Mohawk, mesmerizing us in the most horrifying way.   There were countless empty shot classes strewn out on the table in front of us.   Loud techno music pulsed throughout the place as if it were playing to a room full of spring breakers, but the place was dead, except for the three of us, two Mexican brothers that looked all of about twelve and fourteen, and the dancing girls of course.

After we stumbled out from a different Tijuana bar these two brothers lured the three of us to Bambi’s. They were on the street corner handing out promotional flyers that were printed to look like U.S. dollar bills with a dancing girl in place of George Washington’s head. The streets of Tijuana were full and bustling with people but apparently Bambi’s was a hard sell because it was empty. The shots were cheap though, and hey, they had naked girls, so we drank there all night and ended up taking the room above it to crash.

I searched the room to make sure the thick specimen befouling the orange thong the night before wasn’t anywhere to be found. The coast was clear. I drag myself into the bathroom and catch a glimpse of my hung-over self in the mirror. My hair had gotten long and I had a scruffy black beard that had earned me my new name – Pirata.  Nick’s curls were now knotted into dreads and he went by the name Chino; he was still crashed out in his underwear on the bed, his morning boner pitching a tent.  Now, I mentioned there were three of us; the third was El Wason. He was naked on the floor, face down, dried blood around his broken nose, bambi dollars clutched tightly in his fist. Mystery solved.

        GREAT WHITE NORTH

Let me go about five months back to explain how this El Wason character came into our lives.

Nick met a guy named Trip Morrison in line at a job fair in Whistler, British Columbia.   He made his way out west from Toronto after high school, just like Nick and I, and we were all there looking for work.   Trip had shaggy blonde hair and a surfers body that was covered in tattoos. He had a small backpack full of everything he owned and an appetite for trouble. Nick and I picked up menial jobs to share the cost of renting a small chalet type place near the mountain with some New Zealanders. Trip was a broke snowboard photographer and had been living in the bedroom closet of his six-foot-eight, lazy eyed, drug dealing, brother.   Whistler was a haven for ski bums and during the winter months it was nearly impossible to find housing. Trip was lucky to rent the floor of his brothers closet and that’s where he was living before taking his backpack and moving into my Chevy which was permanently parked in the Blackcomb parking lot for the winter. The Chevy needed a rest after Nick and I drove it through Ontario, Manitoba, across the Prairies and over the Rocky Mountains before landing in Whistler. It got snowed in, encased in 6 feet of powder and it was growing lonely in that parking lot. I told Trip if he dug a path to it, it was his – rent free. It didn’t have a hot tub but it was fairly roomy for one dude to live in and dealing with the cold temperatures was better than having his head stepped on every time his brother wanted to put on a clean shirt. So Trip moved in.   We later found out that Trip was born in a drawer. Well more accurately his mom and dad kept baby Trip in a drawer when they first brought him home because they couldn’t afford a crib.

Come late February, the pillowy, white heaven of Whistler was beginning to lose its grip on us.   There was a warm spell in Whistler village and the snow had started to retreat away from the old Chevy and it called for the road. Nick and I decided to leave our winter gear behind and make our way south through Washington, Oregon, and eventually down highway 1 to California where we would find a parking lot in San Diego to once again give the Chevy a well deserved rest.  From there we would carry on into the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Since Trip was already living in my car and had a passport in that backpack of his, he decided to leave the great white north too and joined us on our way south.

It was the middle of the night when we finally arrived in Cabo San Lucas which is the southernmost tip of Baja. We got dropped off by a chicken truck we’d hitched twenty-four hours earlier after crossing the Sad Diego/Tijuana boarder.  One ride took us all the way there.  Our first night in Cabo we camped on the beach, there were a lot of nights on the beach.   That night though there was huge moon, the biggest I’d ever seen and have ever seen since and it sat on the Sea of Cortez’s horizon like a giant gateway into another world.

“Hernan Cortes was a conquistador that killed Indians like a child kills ants and so they named this sea after him.” Trip told us. He was as an encyclopedia of historical facts.

The next morning we woke up on the beach and the sun brought brutal, burning heat. We were unprepared and had no shelter or sun block so clear aloe vera sap, which we plucked and cut open, was our only protection from the salt and sun. But our skin burned that day regardless. By sundown we ventured into town to find a place to have a beer and to set up a home base.   Nick spoke the mother tongue and asked an old wrinkled local who moved like a sloth in the evening heat where a good cheap place to rent would be.   The answers he gave us were all the usual gringo hotels like the Holiday Inn, and the Best Western, but Nick spoke the language fluently and picked up the local slang and worked the old man into giving up something else, something a little more cultural. The old sloth pointed to a white stuccoed building off the main street, tarnished with the brown dry dust of Mexico. As he pointed, he uttered in slow antique voice, “CASA BLANCA!”

WHITE HOUSE

 Casa Blanca was the local brothel.  Like other brothels in the world it served its intended purpose, but somehow it was…different.  Casa Blanca was a sort of diamond in the rough, a paradise in ruins.    It had rooms you could rent by the hour or by the night.  We managed to rent a room by the week and stayed for two months.  Trip, Nick and I shared a room with two double beds, a closet, which Trip wanted nothing to do with, and a tiled corner which served as an open concept toilet and shower.  It was perfect for hangovers because you could puke and shower at the same time.  Aside from the great hangover feature, the room wasn’t much to brag about but it was clean and it was ours.

Outside the room however, Casa Blanca had a beautiful lush courtyard enclosed by arched corridors, inspired by Spanish colonial architecture.   It had a connecting building with a discotheque called El Toro Bravo, which was where you could buy a Senorita a drink and take her back to your room for some extra pesos.   White bed sheets were forever hung out on lines, flowing in the breeze and decorating the courtyard with a pure, airy, guise.  But those bed sheets were anything but pure.

The courtyard was our living room and the guests were our television.  Most came and went within a hour, some for a few days.  Few ever made it their home like we did except for one other man who was there before we arrived and there after we left.  We came to know him simply as Pedro.

Nick went up to him and to ask for a light.  “That shit’s gonna kill us man.”  He replied in English but with a heavy Spanish accent.

Pedro was much older, maybe in his early sixties?   He had a full head of hair that hadn’t gone white yet, pleasant eyes, and a face that boasted good looks in his youth. But now his skin was wrinkled and weathered like an old road map.  Pedro pulled out his lighter, lit his smoke first and then Nick’s.   He leaned over and pulled out the chair next to him, offering it to Nick. Then gestured with his hand for Trip and I to take up the other chairs at his table.

There were three old white guys crossing the courtyard, boozy and red from the sun, accompanied by three Mexican girls.   Pedro gazed upon them, a nostalgic smile broke across his face as he watched the magical courtship of john and prostitute dance past us before evaporating into Casa Blanca’s rooms.   He then turned to us and said,   “I used to fucked the best, now I fuck the rest.” and punctuated the catch phrase of century with a toothless smile.

We became quick friends with Pedro.  He was a vagabond in the true sense of the word.   He’d been wandering up and down the west coast of North America for twenty-five years, hustling here and there to stay alive.  He didn’t have much money for girls anymore but staying at Casa Blanca brought the old man closer to his younger days.  His hands shook in the morning until the three of us chipped in to buy him a Corona for breakfast.  It took the edge off and got him started for the day.

Pedro told us wild stories of his travels.  He told us about how he first discovered Casa Blanca 15 years ago when he found a Kilo of cocaine that had washed up on the beach.  He was so afraid the cartel would come looking for it so he found a little place off the strip, Casa Blanca, and hid out there for two weeks straight, and only came out for sunlight after he had slept with every girl in the place and snorted every last bit of his cocaine treasure.

Mexico was so full of young girls from the US, Europe, and Canada we had no need for prostitutes, but it was here that we learned to see prostitutes as people, traveling through life, just like us.  Casa Blanca was an education in human nature, not human sexuality.  A brothel is just a building, brick and mortar.  It’s the people who pass within its walls that teach you the lessons.  It’s the souls of all persuasions that end up there that teach you both the dark  and brilliant truths about being human.    We invited runaways to sit and drink at our table, we heard their sorrows.  We heard the confessions of fugitives, who had arrived at Casa Blanca to go out with a bang before the law caught up to them.  We watched bad men with good girls and good men with bad girls go in and out of those rooms.   We heard the sound of laughter and tears, headboards and bedsprings and to Pedro it was all just the sound of music, bringing a smile to his face as if his glory days had passed only yesterday.

Our last day at Casa Blanca we pitched in for one last Corona for Pedro.  He was a crazy old man but he had love in his heart and on that day it revealed itself like a two tonne weight on his brow.   “My first wife was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.  There’s nothing like your first love.” he told us.  “I haven’t seen her or my daughter in 20 years.  They don’t know If I’m even alive.  I had other wives, four others to be exact, but every time I let them down.  I love whores.  I loved them all, every whore and every wife I ever had.  I loved them.  But not quite like my first.  Nothing like your first love.”   Pedro brought the cold beer to his lips snapping out of his poetic nostalgia.  Then he turned to me and said,  “Usted es un Pirata.” he bestowed upon me my new name and gave me a firm hug goodbye.   Then he turned to Nick, “Te Llamare Chino.” and finally he looked to Trip, “Y usted es El Wason.”

We walked off the dusty side road where Casa Blanca hid from the masses and headed to Cabo’s main drag and stuck out our thumbs.  We never saw or heard from Pedro again.

FIRST LOVE

Before we were a “thing” we were just friends.   I loved her from the moment she sat beside me in geography class back in grade 9 when she used to draw hearts all over my text book; but we always kept it at “friends”.  She had boyfriends and other guy friends, and I had girlfriends but nothing steady, and  there was no one we ever confided in more than each other. She liked to keep the boys close and at her beckon call and had a skill for breaking hearts. I was selective and picky about who I would take out, never really feeling right about any of them. She was wild, the kind of wild that made her daddy threaten to send her off to private school if she didn’t smarten up. But she had this charming, sweet, side that allowed her to get away with anything.  I wasn’t the only one, everyone loved her.  

     She’s still frozen in that snapshot. I’m still sitting on that bench. It’s still the last day of school. A couple months before that it was my 17th birthday.

     Someone’s parents had left town for the weekend and their backyard was now full of kids drinking and smoking weed.   Coloured lanterns lit the scene, and loud music spewed through the speakers.   I looked over at Nick who was brewing bots with some other stoners.   He saw me looking over and flipped me the finger while a puff of smoke left his nostrils. I flipped him back my own finger.

     I was with her, off to the side near the pool, and we were getting to the bottom of a tequila bottle that she bought especially for my birthday.   I’m not sure why but the bottle came with a promotional sombrero and it found its way onto my ridiculous head.    

     “Promise you’ll eat it?” I asked. “It’s gonna really fuck us up!”

     “Hell yeah. Let’s do it.” She fires back. She looked beautiful, the rippling blue pool light glowing on her face. She didn’t hesitate, that’s what I loved about her. That’s what everyone loved.

     I emptied the tequila with one last swig and the worm at the bottom swished out along with it. I caught the little bastard with my lips, half in half out and was about to bite it in two so she could have the other half but her eyes lit up, “Don’t bite it.”  She said.  She wasn’t afraid of anything.  She moved in close, to bite the other half of the worm. herself. The ample amount of tequila in my blood steadied my nerves, I pressed forward, our lips touched, then melted into one. Our eyes closed and all sound and shape dissolved into nothing. All that was left was our beating hearts, a kaleidoscope of eclectic pulses firing in our brains, and the wonderful ecstasy of kissing the girl you  love for the first time.  

     The audio grew from a low murmur to a thundering roar again.   The lantern light burned my eyes as they finally opened and everything took shape. The crowd around us reappeared, but somehow we were the only ones there. 

     “Let’s run away to California together.” She whispered.

     “I always thought “friends” was bullshit anyway.” I tell her.

We’d never be the same.

CALIFORNIA

We hadn’t worked in months and our collective net worth was dwindling to a few hundred bucks.  From Cabo we’d hitched our way back north, camping out on stretches of deserted beaches and cacti desserts where every sunrise and sunset was like a painting to be hung in paradise.  We sought out only the cheapest, sketchiest hotels in order stretch our money.  Our final night in Mexico was at Bambi’s and when Chino and El Wason finally rose from the dead in that hole of holes, we walked across the U.S. border with no itinerary other than to retrieve the old Chevy in San Diego and take the road toward the lights of Las Vegas.

It was covered in dust,  but the V-8 engine started on the first turn and the sound felt like the distant echo of home.  National City was the next stop.  It was a small, I guess you could call it a suburb, of San Diego.  A sprawl of unflattering strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations and bungalows, all in what seemed to be a bland muted southwest colour pallet.  It was blue collar California, unpolished and real.

Back in Baja, as we were hitching north, we met a band of surfers who hailed from National City and were Spring Breaking in Rosarito.   Rosarito is a coastal town just south of Tijuana where kids from southern California who can’t afford the luxuries of airfare and all inclusive resorts can drive across the border and overrun the town for one huge week of parties.   It was ram packed with American kids – a fairly toxic mix of white, arrogant college jackasses,  surfers, and real, authentic cholos and their bitches form south central and the surrounding hoods. There were more tear drops under the eye than a funeral procession for the Holy Mary Mother of God.

We had arrived without any knowledge of how busy Rosarito was.  We had been on the road so long we were free of calendar dates and it didn’t matter if it were January or June.  Spring break meant nothing to us except that it was a nuisance finding a vacant place to crash.   The place we found, was a crumbling concrete structure with peeling paint and a pipe sticking out of the wall for plumbing.  It would normally have been condemned, but during spring break it was alive like Frankenstein.  The only thing dead were the cockroaches you’d find on their backs, under the beds, when you woke up on the floor.   Gangsters, girls, kids, music, car horns, audio systems, overlapping chatter, party roars and laughter in both Spanish and English occupied every room, every bar and spilled out into every street corner.   By day there were beach parties, volleyball, sun worshiping, all the usual stuff.  By night it was a circus of sloppiness, alcohol, drugs, testosterone and all out adolescent bedlam.

We were at a beach club/night club called Papas n’ Beer, drunk, stoned, chasing girls and trying not to get murdered.  Chino had a college girl on the hook and El Wason was slurring into the ear of her unimpressed friend. I made my way through a haze of sweaty bodies,  all colours, all shapes and sizes, toward the dance floor, when California Love, the Dr. Dre and 2 Pac song began blasting out of the speakers.  The crowd suddenly melded.  I could feel it expand and compress around me as if it were heaving in and out, like a giant living, breathing, hulk of lung.  It bounced and swayed in unison to Dr. Dre’s rhythm, and erupted with a cataclysmal energy as he called out the different cities and towns of California.  Oakland, L.A., Long Beach, Compton, Inglewood, Bristow, Sacramento.  I knew the song, I had heard it before many times on the radio, but this time, at the epicenter of this teenage mass, its powerful words, hit me with phenomenal weight.    It was about their homes, the places they grew up, went to high school, the places they drove around in everyday in their cars. The places they fought in and made love in.  The places they lived and died.  California is just a coastal land mass but this song transformed it into mythology and along with it made these kids gods.  They were Californians.  This was their celebration. That song was their anthem and it pumped through the speakers and drove them to a state of greatness and hysteria and arrogant pride.  It was everything that was beautiful and everything that was ugly about America right there in one rap song in Baja California, Mexico.

All fucked up in this cauldron of American youth, El Wason met a surfer kid named Eric who was like a less comical version of Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  “What kinda shit you after man?” asked Eric, in a classic surfer accent.

“What do you have?”

Eric passed a joint to El Wason to free up his hands and pulled out a little bottle of pills. “Soma man.” He gave one to each of us.     Soma was the street name for a pharmaceutical kids like Eric stole from their parents. Chino and El Wason popped them right then and there with a swig of rum from little clear plastic cups but Eric said it would “make you chill and mellow.” so I pocketed mine and saved it for the hitch we were making the next day.  Before Eric disappeared into a vague drunken memory he scribbled down his address on little piece of paper, and said to El Wason, “If you’re ever in National City, call me and I’ll hook you up.”

Back in National City, Eric’s house was a small and simple block abode.  The yard had dry yellow grass with patches of dirt.  A pitbull barked from behind the front door which was basically a thin screen in a wood frame with two rusted hinges keeping it on the jamb.  For us boys from the north, it didn’t go unnoticed that a flimsy screen door, so easy to penetrate, was all that was needed for year round protection from the elements.   Inside it was hard to tell, because it was dark and the California sun kept our eyes adjusted for the light.  It wasn’t quite hoarder status but the place was a mess of unorganized possessions, mostly surf gear and bongs.   Eric appeared at the door in his shorts, no shoes, no shirt, and brought us out to the lean-to of a garage.   Underneath a fibreglass patched long board,  he had a cooler, and inside large ziploc bags of pretty much anything a customer might want.  “Fuckin’ pills, bit of coke, lots of grass or maybe you’re lookin’ for something a little more biological man. I got the Copelandia and Mycena variety. These will make you fuckin’ religious man.”  It was a simple choice. Mushrooms.

BIOLOGY

  The teacher is talking about mitosis and how our cells divide to create new cells.   I’m half listening, half day dreaming, learning through osmosis.  I hear something lightly hit the window I’m sitting next to.   I look out and there she is, throwing pebbles to get my attention.   She smiles and unbuttons her shirt, pulls back her lapel to reveal a little bit of her cleavage and sends me into a state of…paralysis.    She beckons me come outside.   I’m stuck in class and words like metaphase, anaphase and telephase are flying out of the teachers mouth but they don’t permeate cause the blood in my body isn’t in my brain anymore.   I shrug to gesture, “I can’t.”    She pouts like a rejected puppy and walks away.  

     The teacher is still talking when suddenly my paralysis is lifted because now he’s taking about meiosis which is not to be confused with mitosis because meiosis is the process by which cells divide during sexual reproduction and because of where all the blood in my body is currently at, the words “sexual reproduction” jump out at me with a certain…emphasis.   Then, as if I was suffering from some sort of psychosis, there’s a knock on the classroom door.   The teacher, starchy shirt, cheap tie, polyester slacks and all, walks over and opens it, and there she is.    “Hi Sir. I was wondering if I could borrow  John Saunders for a few minutes?”  I love it when she says my full name.   

     “Borrow him?”  

     “Yes Sir.”   She says, so sweetly as she bites her lip.  

     “Is it important?”  

     She’s looks up at the teacher with her charming eyes and nods her head up and down.  

     “And you can’t share it with the rest of us?”  

     “No Sir.” she’s got him under her spell.

     The teacher turns and looks right at me.   The whole class looks right at me.   Clearly I have neurosis.   It’s hard to tell what he was thinking. Either he was dumbfounded by the audacity of a student to knock on his classroom door mid lesson to “borrow” another student.  Or he was thinking, ‘you lucky little prick John.”     He  turns back over to her.  The whole class turns over to her.    I don’t hear the words coming out of his mouth because I’ve gone deaf, but I see his lips move, shaping the words,   “I don’t see why that would be a problem.”   Then he turns to me again,  “Mr. Saunders, there’s a girl at the door who would like to borrow you.”  At which point my brain divides into the prophase, followed by the prometaphase, and quickly onto the… procreate phase.

ORANGES

The Chevy was parked on Sunset Boulevard, mid afternoon.   Chino,  El Wason and I walked into the famed Rainbow Lounge for a drink.   We were sitting in one of their curved red leather booths feeling like rock stars when the waiter came over.  “What can I get for you guys?”

“I’ll take a beer. Anything domestic.” I say.

“Same.”  Adds Chino.

“Shot of whisky….  And whatever beer they’re getting.”   El Wason completes the order.

“You guys have I.D.?”

“No.” I fess up. Not feeling like rock stars anymore.

“I’ll bring you boys some orange juice then.”

So we sat there drinking orange juice when out of nowhere these three beautiful ladies took it upon themselves to join us.   They just came on over and sandwiched us in at our booth.  Now, when I say ladies, I don’t mean girls, or teens, I mean older woman, early forties.   They had outgrown the awkward years of youth and the uncertainty of young adulthood and they were full and beautiful.  You could see their age in the faint wrinkles around their eyes and subtle sun spots adorning their skin but they wore it well and their  ripeness made them that much more attractive.    They well dressed, well manicured and the combination of the three different perfumes they were wearing wafted in the aroma of a Rodeo Drive boutique.    It’s good thing we’d all showered that morning in a Los Angles men’s hostel.

One of them introduced herself as Elaine, and her friends as Suzanne and Cheryl.   Elaine, noticed our orange juice and wasted no time ushering our waiter back to order a round of daiquiris.

“Three orange daiquiris for the ladies?”

“Yes, Thank you.”  She replied.

When the drinks arrived Elaine and her friends poured out some of their drinks into our orange juice glasses on the sly.  Daiquiris weren’t exactly our thing but we were accustom to drinking whatever was free and it beat straight orange juice, so we didn’t say shit.

Elaine was confident and spoke eloquently. “I have to tell you.  We watched you walk in and well…you boys look very interesting.”

“Wait are you guys like hookers?” blurts,  El Wason.

They laugh, showing they’re good sports.  “Oh No.   We were just having our weekly lunch get together and thought you looked like a fun bunch of guys to have a drink with.”

El Wason, chugged his daiquiri in one gulp.  “So you’re like from fucking heaven then?”

“From Orange County actually.”  Elaine held up her drink.  “To Orange.”    We all clink glasses.

“So what brings you to L.A?” She asks.

We sat in the booth for the better part of the afternoon.  The daiquiris kept flowin’ and the talk was easy goin’.   We recounted some of our stories from the road and while we enjoyed an injection of class into our lives,  they seemed to enjoy our youthful exuberance.  We didn’t move, lift a finger for service, or scramble to search our empty pockets for money when the bill came.   Elaine pulled out her platinum card and it was taken care of.

As we were all standing on the street saying our goodbyes, El Wason was working Suzanne into convincing her she should take him home.  For a second it looked like it might work.  She was charmed by his drunken boyish determination but finally broke his heart when she told him her husband probably wouldn’t take kindly to him moving in.      Chino and El Wason walked a few cars up to escort Cheryl and Suzanne to their convertible Benz .   I was leaning against the Chevy when Elaine leaned in to kiss cheeks and managed to slip a card into my hand at the same time.   “I don’t have a husband.”  She smiled.  “Dinner at my place tonight?”  But it wasn’t like she was asking me.  It was like she was telling me.

“What about these guys?” I nod toward Chino and El Wason.

“They can come.”  and she turned and walked toward her car.

BEGINERS

Seconds after I jailbreak biology class I’m in a nook somewhere in the school hallway.   Her back is pressed against the wall, my lips are on her neck and my hand up her skirt.

     “Not here….we’ll get in so much trouble.” she tells me.

     A second later I’ve got her hand in mine and we are speed walking down the school hallway. 

     We burst out of the doors.

     A second after that we’re in the back seat of my 84 Chevy.   I’m fumbling to take off her shirt and she’s fumbling to undo my belt.   It’s not even noon yet, we’re in the school parking lot.  Our hearts are beating at the speed of a Rabbit in flight mode.   My pants crumple to my knees.  I can’t get her god damn bra off.    We start giggling madly before I finally pull the strap off her one shoulder and kiss her small perfect breasts.  

     “Do you have protection?” She asks nervously.

     Stopping  what I’m doing to answer questions is a major inconvenience.  “No. Why the fuck would I have protection? I’m supposed to be in biology class.”

   Her legs relax and she lets me climb in-between them.  I reach under her skirt to pull off her panties.   Suddenly her giggling stops.  She looks me intensely in the eyes, my forehead rests against hers.

     “What?” I ask.  “What’s wrong?”

     “I’ve never done this before.”  I see her lips trembling.  They are flush and lovely.

      I push the hair away from eyes.  “I haven’t either.”  My veins swell with a perfect dose of  dopamine.

She pulls me closer, whispering,”Fuck me.” 

THE GRADUATE

           The iron rod gates to Elaine’s California mansion were open.   I drove the Chevy into the roundabout driveway that encircled a lit fountain.  Lush flowers and lanterns adorned a walkway toward a set of very heavy looking, solid wood doors.

“Do you think she wants us all to bone her?”  El Wason was practically watering at the mouth.     Elaine opened the door on the first knock and welcomed us in.

“Hi boys. I hope you’re hungry.”  She looked beautiful.

“Are you all alone?”  El Wason stuttered his words and stood frozen at the door way.  Chino finally nudged him in.

“Yes.  But don’t worry Suzanne and Cheryl are coming by.”   It’s hard to say if it was relief or disappointment on El Wason’s face.

The foyer was like a cavernous hall with a grand winding staircase and a crystal chandelier.   Elaine escorted us to kitchen where she had a prepared an antipasto spread that was laid out on a giant Carrara marble island.  “There’s plenty of beer in the fridge.” she told us.

“Do you have anything harder?” asked El Wason.

“Of Course.  The bar is over there. Help yourselves.”

The kitchen was opened up to a living room that had a full bar with stools and a brass foot rail.  Elaine prepared dinner while we sat at the bar and drank.  Within the hour Suzanne and Cheryl arrived.

We all sat across from each other at a large table and began to eat.  It had been sometime since we’d eaten a proper home cooked meal  so when dinner was served we just dug in like uncouth heathens while Elaine and her friends sipped white wine and ate like civilised people.  The contrast couldn’t have been greater, yet we all laughed and chatted like we’d all been cut from the same cloth.   Suzanne was originally from Texas but moved to California twenty years ago to be a singer.  Despite her flirtations with El Wason she was a happily married with two kids nearly our age.   Chino was chatting up Cheryl who was also married with kids but didn’t seem to care because she couldn’t stop telling Chino how beautiful he was and that she wanted to have his love child.     Elaine sat across the table from me and told us how she got married way too young to her high school sweetheart.    After ten years of marriage, they both realized they weren’t in love anymore and divorced.   The end of her marriage left her with a lot of money and she soon realized that money was only part of living the good life, so she decided to go back to school to became a family doctor.    And we thought they were hookers, who knew?!   She didn’t long for her youth, she was happy with where she was,  she owned her own medical clinic and was living  life doing only what she loved, with no regrets, spending time with close friends, traveling, laughing and following her passions.

After dinner we moved over to the living room where she had a very expensive Italian sectional couch and a large screen television.   Elaine dimmed the lights and put on Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe.   Five minute into the film Chino and Cheryl were making out like kids in a movie Theater.  El Wason was passed out on Suzanne’s lap and Elaine had taken my hand and led me upstairs to her bedroom.

She brought me over to her king sized, four poster bed with a sea of white satin pillows on top.

“What do you think John?” she asked.

The room was layered with rich drapery, a white chez lounge, fresh flowers, candles and dark wood furniture.

“I think you have a very nice bedroom Dr.”

She looked directly at me.  There was no hesitation.  She took off my shirt and caressed my chest.  Then she pushed me onto the bed and undressed herself in front of me, leaving only her gold, jeweled necklace, black thigh high stockings and a garter.   She lifted herself up on her tepee toes and turned to show me her ass, while looking at me over her shoulder.

“What do you think now John?”

This was a woman.  She knew what she wanted and knew how to take it without shame or quilt.     “I think you are fucking beautiful.”

She came over and took off my pants.   Her finger nails gently grazing my legs on the way down.  I ran my hand up the length of smooth black leg and squeeze the fullness of her naked inner thigh.

“I’m glad you like what you see John.”

She took out a silk scarf from her bedside table and blindfolded me.   I can feel the softness of her hair drape over my stomach as she takes me inside her mouth.   The darkness is euphoric.

DARKNESS

You know you love someone when that same someone has the ability to hurt you.   It’s a strange irony, but then again, so is being born to inevitably die. 

      Reality check. I had plans to go to University in the fall and needed to make some money so I got a job in a factory, working in a dark room.     My summer freedom dissolved into twelve hour shifts which felt like an endless prison sentence. The care free days of  needing a part-time job for drinking money were replaced with the need to make real money for school.  And with that need came the constant hum of deafening machines, in a room so dark that I wasn’t able to see my own hand two inches in front of my face. 

     I was eight hours into a shift and the repetitive choreography of packaging light sensitive rolls of photo paper off a ceaseless conveyor belt had robbed me of the ability to feel.  I was numb.  I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear.  I was just this miserable consciousness floating around in a black void. Maybe I was dead.  

     For a split second my brain projects a perfect image of her.   She’s staring at me, I can see her hazel eyes as if they are in front of me and can almost touch her pink lips.  But her image quickly blurs and obscures as her eyes turn away from me.   I try to bring it back but I’m betrayed by my own brain because it won’t connect the pieces of my memory that I need to conjure up her image again.  All I feel is the melancholy of loss.  I can hear her distant voice on the other end of a phone, “I don’t know…I’m just really confused.  I think we need some time away from each other to figure things out.”  My ears burn.    

     I can’t remember the exact moment where it started to go wrong, but the ache in my chest stuck for weeks.   There were more minutes, and soon, more hours between her returning my calls. She was more and more busy.  As the summer eroded a sense that she was drifting away from me crept in like the winter cold.   I realized that the high of her affection and love was finite,  and it crushed me. 

     We knew everything about each other, and there was this expectation that we would be perfect together.  That pressure made being lovers complicated.      We were always meant to be together.  We always knew it, everyone seemed to know it, but here we are…broken.  It was complicated in ways our teenage years could not fully comprehend. 

     My mind jettisoned away from my body, deeper into the dark void.  I was dead. Killed by the poison only lovers know. 

DEATH

    Like the conveyor belts in the factory back home, the road rolled onward.   Orange County was a dot on the yellow line that forever got longer behind us and Vegas wasn’t far.    But before I build Vegas up too much, I need to warn you. Vegas is not the climax of this story.   There are a lot of cliché’s about Vegas; about how wild and crazy it is.   They are cliché’s and whether true or not, this story refuses to end in an overused French word.   I will however use the  familiar phrase, ‘It’s not the destination but the journey that counts.’  because the same is true for this story.   What happened in Vegas was not as interesting as what happened on the road to Vegas.  There is a fairly large swatch of sand and dust on the California/Nevada border know as the Mojave desert, and in that desert lies a valley – DEATH VALLEY.

I was alone, it was perfectly quiet except for the breeze.  I followed a tangle of tumble weed blowing along the primitive desert floor.  I was totally naked aside from my boots.  I abandon my clothes because I couldn’t bare the weight of them.  I wandered away from Chino and El Wason because I couldn’t bare the madness.   When the tumble weeds took pause from the wind I searched under the rocks where they stopped.  I wasn’t sure what I was searching for.   On the surface, scorpions or snakes, perhaps?  I was a Neanderthal, primitive man guided by the instinct of the wind, digging below the surface, searching for history, answers, searching for the purpose of my own humanity.  The shrooms had kicked in really hard.

The Chevy was  a tiny dot on the road in the endless Death Valley landscape.  Miles and miles without another car passing, no buildings to look at and no souls to see.  Just dust, rock, cacti and the road.  The signs marking the speed limit were all riddled with bullets holes.  A warning.   There were no rules out there, it was lawless.   El Wason was a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson, and the desert, the unbridled freedom and bullet holes had inspired in him a thirst for carnage that day.  He pulled over at the first roadside gas station that popped up out of nowhere.   In America you can buy alcohol at the same place you buy gas and it was El Wason’s turn to buy both.

The King Cobra malt liquor started to buzz.  It seemed like the engine roared faster, the radio played louder. The limitlessness of our surroundings was intoxicating.   In the back seat of the Chevy, the doors  had armrests with little chrome ashtrays built in.   You could pull out the ashtray to empty it and the little hollow space inside the armrest that was left was a perfect place to stash drugs.    The ashtray lay on the floor.  Chino divided the mushrooms that we’d picked up in National City and the King Cobras washed them down.

The road now rushed at us feverishly and it became apparent that it was no longer a good idea to be on it.    El Wason pulled off and steered the Chevy about a mile or two into uncharted dessert sand where we stopped and spilled out the car like drunks leaving a bar.   It’s unclear really what happened next.  There was no sense of time, no reason.  We lost our fucking minds.   Chino was always pretty chilled out.  He could sleep in a ditch in the pouring rain and still get a good night sleep  but he was laughing hysterically at his own hand.  El Wason completely freaked out and pulled every electronic devise we had been carrying in the car and smashed it to pieces against the dessert rocks.   He even smashed his beloved camera, along with 24 frames of precious film that had been keeping 24 fractions of time. All of Mexico L.A., Elaine, and our visit to Disneyfuckingland burned into nothing from exposure to daylight and was lost forever.    He rebelled against technology and the small little machines stood no chance against his rage.

I returned from wandering sometime just before sunset.  I had put my shorts back on.  Electronic pieces littered the ground.  El Wason was in a state of great remorse as he dug a hole in the ground while draped in magnetic tape from the music cassettes that got smashed.  The Chevy was never outfitted with a CD player so we were still running tape cassettes, at least up until that point. Now Charlie Parker was getting buried in the sand alongside Led Zeppelin and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.    Chino was just sitting in the same place he had been hours ago when I left to follow the tumble weed.    His  hysterics had simmered down to soft mumbling.   His smile and pupils  were as desolate as the dessert itself.

The shrooms were wearing off now and the King Cobra’s were empty.  The sun was sinking and the glow of the Vegas lights were beginning to show over the mountains on the otherwise civilization-less Sierra Nevada horizon.  Chino started up the engine and hit the gas but the Chevy sank into the sand.  He hit the gas again but it just sank further.  The back wheels were buried and there wasn’t a shovel or telephone within a hundred mile radius.   A round of paper rock scissors determined Chino and I would head out to the road to flag someone down and El Wason would stay with the car.

About a mile into our walk we saw a white pickup truck with a trailer on the back.  It stood out like a beacon of hope against the ever darkening sky.   Now picture this; no one around you for miles, you’re a desert hermit living alone in your truck, and suddenly two shirtless dudes, scraggly as hell and coming off a drug educed psychotic episode suddenly show up at your front door, out of nowhere.  What do you do?     Before Chino and I got within ten feet of this beacon of hope, the old dessert dweller, white and yellow stained hair and beard, burst out of trailer pointing a fifty-caliber magnum and aimed it point blank at Chino and I, alternating his shaky hand between the two of us.   Now, when an experienced gunman wants to kill something, they know to aim for the chest.  The head is a small target and there is a chance even a skilled shooter can miss.  The chest is a large easy target and certain to kill you if you get hit with a bullet there.  This guy wasn’t fucking around and had aimed to kill with certainty.  He had the gun pointed right at our chests.  On one half of a split second I envisioned the moment my poor mother got the news that her youngest son was dead.  Nothing else came to me.   All that mattered in that moment was my mother and the sadness that would be in her heart from that moment forward.  The other half of the split second later consisted of our hands going way the fuck up in the air as we screamed “Whoa…Don’t shoot, we’re stranded!”

The old man’s grip on the magnum loosened a bit, time slowed down and soberness hit like a bullet.   I could feel the weight of this weapon as the old man wielded it.   The chromed steel barrel and the black hole I was looking down entered my consciousness with full force.   My best friend and I could have been killed right there and then.  Two bodies in the dessert, dead. Our killer…gone.    But the old man, still aiming, back stepped and curled up into his truck.   Finally he lowered the gun.  He started the engine and disappeared behind a cloud of dust.   The immediate moments and memories after that are lost, erased by a rush of relief and the overwhelming sense of our own mortality.

KARMA

On the roadside, now a pitch black sky, Chino and I finally managed to flag down the county Sherriff who was doing his highway patrol.    He told us nobody was crazy enough to go off road to try to pull our car out except for maybe one guy but we’d have to wait until morning.   We waited another hour on the road till see if we could flag someone else down but not a single car passed.

Back at the car, El Wason was cooking up a highly tasty mixture of Mr. Noodles and Kraft Dinner on a  small fire he stoked up.   Chino and I recounted our brush with death and El Wason  got pissed off that he missed out on almost getting shot in the dessert.   We laid out our sleeping bags beside the Chevy and  slept easy under a galaxy of stars.

The next day, the sun climbed quickly and fiercely in the cloudless blue sky.  Hours of waiting in the heat made us think that the Sheriff had abandon us and that maybe we’d all  just die there after all.   Then suddenly, like a mirage in every great dessert story, our savior came over the horizon.  He rode up over the sand dunes, guzzling and rumbling.  It  was a goddamned monster truck.  No joke.  This thing had wheels seven feet tall, and was piloted by a trucker capped, wife beater wearing, mustached hero named Hank Christmas.   Hank pulled the tooth pick out of his teeth and told the us he’d need a hundred bucks to pull out the car.   Then he tipped his cap and hooked up the Chevy to a chain with links that had to be a half inch thick.  He put the monster truck in gear and pulled the old Chevy  out of the dessert like it was weightless.  Between the three of us we were able to put together the last few bucks we had.  Hank took the cash and climbed in the cab of his monster.

“Best you ride in the bed there till I get us to the road.”  Hank said and nodded toward the back bed of his truck.    We climbed in.    At the road, Hank unhooked the chain and we boarded the Chevy.  Then, Hank came over to our window.

“Say, you boys look like you could use a Bud.  How bout you follow me back to mine?” That sounded to us like an invitation to go drink beer at Hanks house, so we did exactly that.

We followed the monster truck back to a tiny trailer park town in the dessert called Shoshone.  It’s population was a grand total of 50, most of which were Hank’s relatives.  When we pulled up to Hank’s trailer there was a little boy and a little girl, that looked half Asian, running around the yard playing sword fights.

“Don’t mind them, they’re mine and they won’t hurt ya.”

Hanks trailer was well kept.  It had a small garden at the front and a few foldable lawn chairs surrounding a cooler on the lawn.   Hank brushed off the chairs and  offered them up to us.  Then he opened up the cooler and pulled out some frosty Budweiser’s which we welcomed like marooned sailors discovering water.   Then Hank went into his trailer and came back out with his wife, a little Korean lady in slippers and a permanent smile on her face.

“Now my dear,  these boys spent last night out in the dunes and I think they’d sure appreciate some lunch.”   Hank said.

“I’m making some hot dogs for kids.  You like to stay for hot dogs?”

So we stayed for hot dogs and Budweiser and listened to Hank tell stories about being a helicopter pilot in the Korean war where he met his wife.  Hank was born and raised in Shoshone which was named after a Native American tribe which had settled those parts of  California and Nevada deserts.  It must of been strange for the town folk to see three strangers sitting on Hanks front lawn because nearly everyone one of them walked by to say hello at some point during the afternoon, including the Sheriff who we had flagged down the night before.

Hank reached into the cooler and grabbed another Bud for each of us.   He then reached into his back pocket and pulled out the cash we had given him to rescue the Chevy.

“Now I can’t take this money from you boys so go on and take it back.”

He reached out and placed the money back in Chino’s hand then sat back down on the lawn chair.

“Now I don’t know much about Canada and how things work up there, but I’ll tell ya this.  The key to happiness is being good to one another.   It don’t matter where you’re from or the colour of your skin.  If we was all good to one another all the time, there wouldn’t be no wars, no crimes…no suffering.    Just be good to one another and people will be good to you.”   Then he sat in silence and just looked out into space.  We just sat there and contemplated what Hank had just said and we listened to the sounds his kids playing in the yard and the simplicity of life in the little oasis of Shoshone.

Finally, Hank’s wife came outside and told us she was preparing some beds for us to stay the night but we had to get back on the road  so we politely declined.

“Well if you don’t stay, I give you something.”  She disappeared into the house and two minutes later came back out with a three gallons of water, some boxes of granola cereal and some beef jerky.

“In another life, you will help my children when they are out in the world and in need.” She smiled and went about packing our trunk full of karma.   Hank snuck a cool six pack of Bud into the back seat.

“Best to wait until you arrive in Vegas to enjoy those.  Right boys?”

I started the Chevy and put it in reverse.  Hank Christmas, helicopter pilot, husband, father and monster truck hero,  walked us to the end of the driveway, tipped his cap and waved us farewell.

THE ROAD

 Fuelled by the factory job, teenage angst, and a good old fashion broken heart,  I’d sunk into a bit of a existential ditch.

     “Fuck her, man. Not literally, but don’t call her. You got to forget about her.”  Nick always had my back. He pulled a small antique candy tin out of his pocket and from it produced a bud of weed and some mini scissors he’d stolen from his moms manicure kit.       

     “Pass me something to roll on.” he says.  

     I passed him a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road which was sitting atop a stack of books in my bedroom.   On The Road was a like a bible for the restless soul.  It preached the poetry of the open road and salvation in being free. Its jazzy prose and enlightened ramblings had  inspired a wanderlust for generations of readers since 1957.  Now, Nick was using it as a lap table to chop up his weed and it had stirred in me a thirst for wanting to see the world with a new eyes.   A hunger for something more, not materially or spiritually, but an ache to feel new things, get lost in new places, converse with new people, experience new experiences.  Go down new roads.  

 

Kerouac, wouldn’t have had it any other way.   

     I crack open two Wildcats and hand one to Nick. “I don’t know.  I’m not sure if I’m going to school in the fall anymore.   I feel like it’s just gonna be a waste of time.   Like, we’re supposed to start four more years of school, get some bullshit degree and then what?   Get a job?   Get married?  Have 2.5 kids?”    

    “You could always have 2.5 kids and fuck getting married.  I just want to get laid more.” Nick was focused on carefully rolling the green crumbs of herb into a zig zag skin.    “Are we sparking this in here?” he asks. 

     “Crack the window, so my parents don’t smell it.”   

     He opens the window and lights the joint. 

     “I feel like there’s so much you can’t learn in school. I mean, I’m not saying I want to work in a fucking factory the rest of my life, but I’m not even sure of what I want to study right now.” 

     “Study this.” Nick passed me the joint.      

     Sure, going to University would be new, but it was safe. It was a predictable trajectory. With fresh wounds to the heart, and an overflowing curiosity to roam, it was becoming more and more clear in my mind that I needed to get out of where I was.  That this was the perfect time in my life to change. Do something unexpected. Live life on an unknown trajectory. Figure out who I was and  who I could become.

      “I’m going to drive out west.”

     “When?” asked Nick.

     “Instead of school.  On September.” I pass the joint.

     “Where?”

     “Not sure…B.C.  Wherever.  You should come.”

     Nick savors a last toke from the joint and buries the roach in a turned over beer bottle cap.  “I don’t have any money dude.”

     “I’ve saved a little. Enough for gas. We’ll crash outdoors.  Live like bums.  We’ll figure it out.”     I was feeling good and brave.   Five Wildcats in and freshly baked and I was climbing fast out of that ditch.  Nick knew me well and he knew I wasn’t bluffing.

     “Let’s fucking go then.” Neither was he.

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