There was hot death blowing through the windows. Before us a black ribbon of asphalt unrolled to a horizon dancing hula in the heat waves. Every party has to come to an end, and ours just came to a screeching halt through a cinderblock wall, up a ramp, over a troop of Girl Scouts, and into a vat of hot tar. Panic attacks, shakes, retching, eyes watering, the hammer of guilt banging on the anvil of shame, just behind the temples. It was going to be a long ride home.
Marko and I were on our way back from a visit to California, after an eleven day bender we would never forget–if we could remember any of it. I do remember emceeing a punk rock show in Ventura while in a black-out, if that counts as remembering. After 1,200 beers or so, we finally ran out of steam and decided to call it a day. We could sense a mob collecting torches and pitchforks, so it was time to go. Besides, I had library books due, and Marko couldn’t remember if he left the curling iron on.
Now, poison oozed from us in a viscous, bubonic sweat. It coated us in a glaze that the desert kiln baked into our clay, our skin pulled tight against our desiccated skulls, lips pulled back and stuck above teeth dry enough to light a match on. Grimacing like game show hosts on their third face-lift, our decaying organs gassed a fetid funk from our sewer holes. It smelled like rotting something. Rotting us.
We were drinking plenty of water, except it happened to come with beer. It was hot beer, too. Not Oh-gee-look-what-I-found-under-the-bed warm, but Cup O’ Soup chicken noodle hot. Bottled beer broth. Drinking beer that hot, really signals the end is near. It’s purely maintenance drinking by that point. Party time is over. Drinking just enough to keep away the Jumping Jiminees, and maybe something worse, like a moment of clarity.
No time for that shit. Now was not the time to fall apart, penitent, blubbering for redemption. We had to make it home, and that was beyond the Indus, beyond the Hindu-Kush.
The car seemed thirsty enough for water. It was boiling it away by the gallon. I stared at the temperature gauge intently. My blurred vision saw three of them, all different.
“We may be fucked, or not,” I said, pointing to the dash, “It totally depends on which one of these is a lying son of a bitch.”
Marko didn’t say anything. Lips tight. Eyes on the road. Hands at ten and two o’clock. He was going stoic on me.
Marko and I were a combustible combination on any given school night, but even more so when on a mission to “blow off a little steam.” We had wanted to take it to the next level and were thinking about going back to California for a while. We figured that when you get used to drinking beer at a 7,000 foot altitude and you return to sea level, you would become a blood-doped Olympic-caliber drinker ready shatter records, and anything else lying around. It was only a theory back then, but today a proven scientific fact.
A situation took place which presented the two of us with a perfect opportunity to research our thesis. This incident, while a most unfortunate mishap, had created a stellar excuse for us to leave Santa Fe. While waiting for things to cool down, we could visit family and friends, and reassure them we were doing well and feeling fit. I know we reassured them alright. Reeling and reeking, walking through a closed screen door, knocking over the Ficus, one of us wearing two different sneakers, the other with bloodied toilet paper stuck up a nostril, dragging a toy wagon filled with beer, “Hi everybody, we’re really drunk, AND we brought guns!”
I don’t know if I can say it turned out to be a good visit. Eventful yes. Perhaps monumental. But not all that good. I still have some amends to make for that outing, including one to a chubby little teenage woman with bleached hair. It’s tricky because I don’t know her name or what she looks like beyond the description I just gave. Does anybody know her? I think she was from Ventura. She was at the punk show I can’t remember emceeing. I have a letter for her.
It was time to get out of the town we got out of town to. The air conditioner murdered our gas mileage, so we kept the windows down and let the Mohave come blasting in. All one hundred and eleven degrees of it. It felt like sitting in a toaster oven while wearing blow driers for goggles.
“Dude, I need you to pull over so I can piss!” I yelled. No response. Did he hear?
“Dude, I need you to pull–”
“Needles in seventeen miles. Hold it.”
“No man, this is a serious levee breaker. Pull the fuck over.”
“We can’t stop out here. We’ll never move again, and die.”
I kind of knew what he meant. Sometimes you think you’re just going to take a knee to catch your breath, but fall over, permanently. Can’t risk that. I squeezed myself between my finger and thumb. Time to soldier up.
When Needles, CA looks like an oasis, you know things are sucking hard. We pulled into a gas station. We filled up with gas and topped off the radiator. I went inside to use their restroom. Afterwards, I looked around the store, and grabbed a Gatorade from the cooler.
“What good is that going to do?” Marko asked. I thought about it, and put it back. Don’t waste money on foolish things. Was it time for the one hamburger I had budgeted for this 900 mile journey? No, wait for Flagstaff. Candy? Bad for you. Too hot for cigarettes. Hmm…cold beer seems to be the only thing left. We bought a six pack. That’s right, for between the two of us. Really not feeling well.
Back into the Oldsmobile and onto I-40. Sipping on a cold beer will help. All we needed was our 89th wind.
Marko suggested we smoke some weed. It might make us feel better.
That is the lie, the big lie about weed, that somehow it will help, instead of making everything 47,ooo times worse. Not thirty seconds after coughing your lungs out, you realize that you just took the first step towards turning some minor mental turmoil into a nightmare of Byronic proportions. You brought this on yourself, with full knowledge and prior experience. You did this voluntarily and not under the duress of some punishing deity or burdensome social obligation. You are the Satan you once feared.
“Yeah, might as well.” We rolled up the windows.
The weed didn’t make us feel better. Just different. Different as in worse.
“I think I’m going to die,” I announced as calmly as possible, “I can’t feel my heart.”
Marko looked over. “How do we know we haven’t died already? How do we know we weren’t killed in an accident a few miles back, and are just imagining this?”
We drove along in silence for a while.
“Okay, that better not be true!” I started clapping my hands and blinking my eyes. Still here. Still here. Fucking weed.
I tried to stay positive. “You know, it’s not like dying right now would be the worst thing that could happen to us, right?”
“Yeah, not dying right now seems to be a lot worse.”
I thought about that. That’s never a good place to go, especially when you’re rubbed raw and severely stoned. Here we go with the heavy reflections…
“I’ve tried to live a good life. You know, not hurt a lot of people.” Marko just laughed. “I’m serious, dude. It’s not like I went out of my way.” More laughter. “I don’t think my karma will be too bad if I have to come back as anything.” Silence. I waved my hands around. “Maybe all this is just karmic payback for something.”
Highway Patrol passing us slowly. Do not look over. Push the bag over to Marko’s side. Pretend you’re talking.
“Do you think molecules miss people when they die?”
“I bet people sure miss the molecules,” Marko said, cracking open a new beer, way before the 75 mile limit we set.
I had scared myself enough to join him. Smoke more weed, too. Might help.
By Flagstaff the wheels were really coming off. After pulling off to fill up and finally get my hamburger, we got lost getting back on the Interstate. It was night and our nerves were dangling out the window. We were driving around looking for the on-ramp, barking and bitching at each other. I was beginning to freak.
I seized on the fact that Arizona was a zero-tolerance state, which meant getting caught with any marijuana was enough to get a life sentence. They don’t fuck around here. They still think Hitler was misunderstood, and that daylight savings time is some sort of commie conspiracy.
We needed to throw the weed out the window, right now!
“Are you fucking crazy?”
“I don’t want to be raped!”
He grabbed the bag out of my hand. “We are NOT going to be throwing our weed out the window! You need to get a grip!” he commanded. I could tell he meant it, and settled down. I did need to get a grip, but how does one do that? I don’t know what to do in order to get this grip everyone so desperately wants me to obtain. It seemed elusive.
My best guess in life was to drink as much beer as humanly possible. That didn’t seem to be working. Still needed some tinkering. So now what? I felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown, which is very opposite of getting a grip. Then I thought, “Boy, I could sure use some help getting a grip.” That was it. It wasn’t a prayer. More like a statement.
I nervously fiddled around with the radio and found a station playing Gregorian chants. Honest to God. Probably some public station trying to fill time, but it was just what we needed, something calming. Soothing soul balm. “Dominus ex patria, plurumbus unim exaltum, santu benedictum ortho novum …” . Monks chanting their prayers in cool caverns with damp moss-covered walls. Some with eyes that can turn into blue flame and heal the sick with a touch a touch of their staff.
It had a sanctifying effect. Marko and I started to relax. While not entirely redeemed, we did feel temporarily absolved, and managed to chill out. The air was getting cooler, too. We stopped snapping at each other, and were soon back to cracking each other up. He found the on-ramp and we resumed our journey.
There was plenty of horror left for us to enjoy during that death march home, but for now, with magically powered monks serenading us, we had stumbled upon a real oasis. A place to rest, and get a grip.
To this day, we both agree that moment with the monks was the best one of the entire trip. Looking back, I wonder if the little statement/request had anything to do with tuning in to the monk chants and subsequent chill-out. Who knows? Could it really be that easy? Boy, that would piss off a lot of people. I don’t know why, but it seems like it would. These days.
Frankly, I had to resort to some similar hocus pocus mumbo jumbo to get sober. I couldn’t stop drinking, no matter how bad it got, until I got so desperate that I just asked, something, anything, out there to help me. I remember doing it in a bathroom in Redondo Beach. I had been trying to detox myself, and was violently gagging as I tried to hold down the beer I needed to get in me to keep away the DT’s. I looked up and saw myself in the mirror.
For the first time in my life I felt compassion for that poor fucker looking back at me. “God, if you’re out there, and whatever you are, you need to help that guy. Nobody deserves to live like this.” That was it. I don’t know if that counts as a prayer, or a surrender, or whatever. I hated myself so much that I couldn’t even ask for the help for me. It had to be for that guy over there in the mirror.
After that, events started unfolding, and like finding chanting monks on the radio when there’s no hope left, things got better. I got better. All I had to do was ask. Oh, and endure a bunch of soul-scorching fire, but you can’t be a total pussy when asking for help. You need to show you’re willing to work. That part kind of sucks, but not one tenth of what life was like before. At least this journey has a happy destination, and plenty of rest stops along the way. Good food. Clean bathrooms. Ice cold drinks. And good directions.