I had an episode, but…

It was a good episode, too. It started with the line “I woke to the sound of the cat puking,” and described my morning a couple of days ago. Or, at least, it started that way, but quickly spiraled into Fear and Loathing in Ocean Beach. Look for it in a bookstore near you.

Another reason I haven’t posted much lately (besides laziness, of course) is that many of my adventures involve Amy, and despite her insistence on a life of abstinence and purity (she’s pregnant) I still wouldn’t want her to get tarred with my brush. There’s litigation involved. On top of that is The Short Story That Would Not Die, limited Internet access, and the aforementioned laziness to contend with.

But I can share this with you: right now I’m in a little coffee shop, wearing shorts and sandals, looking across the street to where the waves are rolling in to shore. The surf has lost the rampaging fury it showed a week ago when I got here, but it’s still right nice to look at. Life is, without a doubt, good.

Post-Amy Stress Disorder

I slipped out of San Diego without saying goodbye – just a short phone conversation during her lunch break. I don’t like goodbyes all that much – better just to slip out the side door and move on. I didn’t even wait for Rory to drive me to the airport. I was done with Ocean Beach, my home for the past week, and ready to move on. I was tired.

Physically tired, certainly, and mentally weary as well. It’s been a grinding couple of months, and my stamina has been sapped. Crashing on the sofa of a whirlwind who is trying to figure out if she has a boyfriend or not, who loves wine a little too much, and finds sleep optional is not how you regain your energy. Luckily this time around Amy was starting a new job – a square job with square hours. That meant we only stayed up way too late three-qarters of the time, and I had mornings to recover while she had to go to work. “Have fun,” I’d croak as she passed the sofa on the way out the door. Then I’d roll over and try to sleep some more. That only worked once.

Ocean Beach is a small neighborhood, and is geographically isolated from the rest of the city. That means it has managed to hang on to some of its small-town charm, and it means that if you don’t have a car lying around your options are limited. It wasn’t long until I well knew all the places of interest. There was the brand-new amazingly cheap cafĂ© with free Internet, run by a really weird guy. There were other, swankier places with Internet, but not for free. Once I had locked Amy’s door behind me I spent my days in those places, trying to string words together, but, in my frazzled state, editing was the activity of the day.

Then it was off to the O. B. Grille, which became my office in the late afternoons when I had no place left to go. This is where Amy knew to find me when she got off work, finished her evening activities and negotiations with Cute Boy, and was ready to play. There was no question of sneaking in any writing later, The only thing that ended the evening was sleep.

Now, in the calm after the storm, I miss that wildness, the unpredictability that is Amy. She is a tiny little Las Vegas, a loud and constant invitation to excess, all bundled up and ready to travel. You know when she is there. As the night begins, there is anticipation. Amy is grinning ear to ear, only a little bit crazy yet, and the night extends before us, a journey into the unknown. Somewhere along the way someone says “one more,” and you know it’s not just one more, and someone has to be the designated walker or you’re not getting home.

Like Las Vegas, that sort of lifestyle can only be sustained for a few days before the brain goes into rebellion, shuts down, and leaves you for another head. When you part with Amy, the rest of the world seems muffled; your ears are still ringing after a sternum-thumpingly loud concert. Cowering behind their defenses, your synapses are still tender, still skittish. When a stimulus punches through the scar tissue it rasps across your raw psyche like a cheese grater. You jump, the look of a trapped animal in your eyes, and blurt out “One more!” You are suffering from PASD, Post-Amy Stress Disorder. It’s in the medical books. Look it up.

As I was driving through the desert my thoughts began to slide into their old grooves; a story was born, teased, and buried (one little bit stashed away for future use). There were too many cars for a Saturday. I sighed, relieved, disappointed, adrift, vaguely missing something, already looking forward to the next time I enter Amy’s world.

Bud Light is Horrible

I got some decent work done tonight, hanging at my new Ocean Beach headquarters, getting my baseball fix. I moved one short story to the next level, thanks in large part to Jojo’s criticism. (There is nothing more valuable to a writer than a good critic. I am blessed with several. Friends who back you no matter what are one thing, friends who tell you when you’re full of it are another, and are infinitely better friends.) It was not a word count day at all, I was weighing each word carefully, climbing inside its implications, weighing the symbolism, and generally having a good ol’ time.

Amy called. “I left the door open for you,” she said.

“So, then, you’re going out tonight.” She is still trying to make things work with her ex. Last night it was “Screw him! I don’t need that shit!” Things have changed in the last 24, it seems.

“Uh, yeah. But help yourself to anything in the fridge.”

I am home now. The beer in the fridge is not beer. It’s Bud Light. I popped a bottle open, thinking to myself, “I’ve had worse,” but swallowing was difficult, and I can think of no reason to put more of that into my mouth. It is bad. Really, really bad. It redefines awful. In the short term, it is worse than getting your teeth knocked out by an angry Russian hockey player who hasn’t bathed since 1984. Long term, it’s a tossup. [Exercising the journalistic restraint for which I am justifiably well-renowned, I have deleted the reference to the vomit of a rabid pit bull who ate a skunk road kill that had been baking under the Texas sun while buzzards pooped on it.] Bud Lite is bad, bad, bad.

If Bud Lite had no taste at all, that would be an improvement. But for all that it doesn’t have very much taste, what little it does have is retchingly nasty. I am staring at the new stylish bottle, and I know I am looking at one of the world’s most popular beers, and I am flabbergasted. People drink this crap on purpose! I’ve heard them, in bars, requesting the stuff when other beers are available.

That’s not to say that any other pisswater lite beer is any better; I just haven’t had the pleasure lately. But people, please! When you drink this stuff, the terrorists have won.

Into the Valley of the Pizza Rat

I was one of the fortunate few to be selected for an extra-thorough security check at the airport yesterday, just another part of the government trying to make you feel safer by inconveniencing you. I have nothing against the people who have to carry out the illusion, however, and I had plenty of time to burn, so it was no big deal. Certified as USDA Grade-A safe, I climbed into a metal cylinder, took my seat, and a couple of hours later I was in San Diego. My bag, it seems, took a shortcut and was waiting for me when I arrived.

As I stood in the airport I was blindsided my Amy and the fun began.

If, that is, you count Chuck E. Cheese as fun. Amy has family visiting, and the family has kids of just the right age to enjoy a place like that. I had never been in one of those places before, but my mind was filled with horrific images of kids juiced up on caffeine and sugar, running around and screaming and puking on someone dressed up as a rat. I walked in and the first sound to hit my ears, the vanguard of the audio assault, was the wail of a crying child. Oh, grand.

In the end, it was not as bad as I feared. The children were running loose, bouncing from video game to video game, but the noise was low enough to make conversation possible. The place is, simply, Las Vegas for kids. Slot machines have been replaced by other games, and the payout is in tickets redeemable only at the casino for junk that you wouldn’t want to buy anywhere else, but the kids have the look of slot machine junkies, automatons plugging in a coin, running the game, and watching the string of tickets slowly growing at their feet. They are hoping for the big score, the lucky break that converts a single quarter into 200 tickets.

I met Amy’s mother and sister. I have been corresponding with Nicole off and on for some time; Amy has long harbored ideas of hooking us up. This put a great deal more significance on the meeting, but I tried not to think about that. Naturally we had each formed images of what the other looked like, and I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t think I made as strong an impression. My best is none too good, but I was looking scruffier than usual. Shoulda planned a little better. I sat down and nibbled leftover pizza and didn’t try to force the conversation. Eventually the two kids ran out of tokens, and after the ritual Selection of the Prizes we were on our way. I had walked through the valley of the Pizza Rat and lived to tell the tale.

Amy drove as only Amy can, to the horror of her mother. Green Bay was playing, and she wanted to get somewhere with the game on TV before she missed the whole thing. We raced back to the hotel where the family is staying and made a break for the bar there. We arrived in time to watch the last thirty seconds of the game. The place had wireless Internet access, however, so while I was there I popped open the laptop and discovered that someone had crashed Jer’s Novel Writer and his file had become corrupted – very bad – and I had managed to piss off one of the main guys behind the Duke City Shootout – also not good.

Not sure just how I gave offense, but without Christopher Coppola there likely wouldn’t have been a Shootout this year at all, and that means he is directly responsible for our opportunity to make Pirates. It is very cool what he and the other organizers have done (an episode dedicated to them is on the way someday), and perhaps in my exuberance I appeared ungrateful somewhere along the way. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no other festival like the Shootout, and no better opportunity for aspiring film writers that I know of.

So maybe I deserved a little wake-up call to remember to say thanks to these guys, but it didn’t do much for my mood last night or this morning. Knowing one of my faithful beta testers lost some work (not too much, fortunately – he had backups) didn’t help. What did help my mood was Amy. We made it back to her place and just sat and shot the breeze like in the old days. I got the rundown on her life and the juicy gossip about her friends, managed to get a word in edgewise every now and then, and slowly faded.

Then Amy wanted to go to a bar. I wasn’t enthusiastic, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the camaraderie, so off we went for one shot and one beer. The shot was horrible, some kind of mixture that was sweet and clingy. I don’t know why things like that exist at all – if you’re just going to throw it down your throat, why not use some cheap-ass booze and be done with it? The beer was good, though. Stone Pale Ale.

Amy had to get up early this morning; I didn’t. They are all at Legoland right now, and I’m thinking about breakfast and wondering where I can find Internet. It’s almost like I never left.

Happy Birthday

I woke up early this morning, due in part I’m sure to the end of daylight savings time. No one else was stirring, but there was evidence that my hosts had been up. I padded around the quiet house for a bit, not wanting to head out to Camille’s for my morning Media Empire session without touching base with them first. On the stove was a bowl of pumpkin seeds, scooped out of Jack-o-Lanterns the day before, waiting to be roasted.

Tara has been fighting a cold the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve felt vaguely guilty about going out with Jesse while his bride lays at home sick and pregnant, and Tara’s been feeling guilty about not being a better host. All the guilt you need, only half price! Yesterday evening we finally all went out together to a really nice Thai restaurant in Raleigh. The place earned high marks from all of us.

This morning I settled in and read for a while, but I had a hankering for broadband. I was just getting set to leave when Jesse came downstairs, looking tired. After obligatory “good mornings” and whatnot Jesse said, “Tara’s in labor.”

I’m no expert, but I suspect the Panang Beef. There was something about that delicious curry that probably set things off. Pregnant women, take note.

Jesse and I discussed plans for a while and then I headed over here. The roads were empty early on a Sunday morning, and the low sun brought out what color was left in the leaves. The grass lawns around the churches are silvered, heavy with dew. The air is still, as if the world is holding its breath. There is anticipation; change is coming to all of us, and this Indian Summer day is a chance to look back at the good times, to feel the reverberations of the season past, but also a chance to look ahead.

Apparently there’s a chance that the labor is a false alarm, or that things will go slowly, so today may not be the day. I am standing by, prepared to offer what help I can, but in general I think I can be the most help by staying out of the way. I had already planned to head out tomorrow morning, ready to embark on the last leg of my tour, one that may not really qualify as being part of the tour at all, as it will probably not involve any exploration of the continent. I simply need to get to the same city named on my plane ticket—San Francisco. I’ve got a hankerin’ for that Rice-a-Roni.

So, happy birthday, <name to be determined based on gender of child>, welcome to the world, whether today as a goblin or tomorrow as a saint.

A Long Drive Over a Short Distance

Location: Roadside Inn and Suites, Shreveport, Louisiana
Miles: 14540.7

The day woke up before I did, Friday somehow, Thursday missing. Sneaky little Thursday, slipping past without notice, a skunk of a day, a cowardly, conniving little day afraid to show its face when Real Men are checking their calendars. Now it’s time to move on. Past time, really. I wake up antsy. I need the road. I turn down the bike ride so I can pack up and get going.

First, of course, I have to dial in and see how my media empire is fairing. I haven’t been doing that regularly while in San Angelo, but now that I’m returning to my uproots I’m getting back in synch with the blog. It’s funny the care and feeding required. While I am at Bill’s computer the day gets darker and darker. Soon it is dumping rain. Oh, grand.

Rain in San Angelo I’m still not sure what route I’m going to take. Louisiana sounds good, but I need to check a map. The car is at the curb, so during a relative lull I dash out to grab the atlas. No time for shoes, and even had there been time, I don’t think I would have put them on. Splish, splash, out to the car. Open the door, grab the atlas (luckily in plain view) stop to see if the water in the street is going to come up higher than the door. Looks good, so a soggy dash back to the house.

The concrete on the front porch is much slicker than the the walkway. I slip in true Three Stooges fashion, feet sailing up into the air. Luckily I don’t get my arm down to break my fall, or I would have broken my arm. I land hard on my hip and my back. Saying a few choice words I lie on my back, catching my breath and taking inventory. And getting wet, but that’s not important now. The hip is the early contender for being a problem, but seems to be working out. My left little toe hurts. Apparently when the rest of the foot let go, it tried to hold on. Poor, brave, little toe. The world was going to shit but that toe held its post to the very end, trying to stop the inevitable 165 pound disaster.

A toe toast is in order. Tooooooast!

Limping, shambling, I load the car, bid Bill a fond farewell, and off I go, into the teeth of the storm. Actually, I don’t know about teeth so much, but it sure as hell drooled a lot. Maybe the lightning was the teeth. There was plenty of lightning.

The speed limit was 70, I was doing 50 on average. Out there on the highway, rain positively bucketing, windshield wipers largely ineffective, I crept along. As the wiper blade passed in front of my vision I had for the briefest of instants a view of the highway ahead. I could see the tail lights of the cars in front of me, however. That is, until I meet some numb-nuts idiot driving a silver (rain-colored) minivan with no lights on. I start getting the feeling that there’s someone out there in front of me, and I peer extra-hard through the rain to try to get a fix on the stealth vehicle. Sure enough, someone’s out there, poking along at a safe-and-sane speed but completely hidden from his fellow drivers. Once I think I have a fix on him, I follow so no one else would ram the guy assuming no one would be so stupid as to drive in those conditions without tail lights. When the rain gets particularly peltilicious, I wonder just how much the guy will slow down, and if he stopped on the road, would I see him in time. He seems like a stop-in-the-road kind of driver.

Finally we reach a town. Dearly I want to pull up next to him and catch his attention. I want to get him to roll down his window despite the conditions so I can scream at him “Turn on your lights you f%#ing stupid m#%^@ f!#$%!! Turn on your lights before you f&#%ing kill someone, you dumbass s@%*head! (I like cartoon swearing.) I am not to be satisfied. Instead I pull over for gas and brunch. Getting out of the car reminds me that I am not in top shape. I drag myself up, standing in an inch of water, felling my socks saturate, to discover that the gas station is closed. I don’t figure this out right away; the pump is still powered up. No gas comes out is all. Painfully I climb back into the car and move on to the next place.

Suddenly the rain has stopped. The dumbass is somewhere up the road, unaware of his fuming guardian angel, placidly going on his way. Motherfucker.

The delay puts me in Fort Worth and Dallas at the peak of rush hour, compounding my behindness. Somewhere along the way I had managed to put the top down, but in the stop-and-go I must put it back up to keep the now-gentle rain out. Not a problem. I find a radio station that sucks less than the others and creep along, thinking about the New Pantheon and how the pain in my toe is shooting through my foot now.

I leave Dallas behind and as the night closes in I get the feeling. The road feeling. The air is heavy and damp, and the moon shines down. All around me the frogs are singing, punctuated by the occasional rasp of a cicada. The trees are real trees now, the forests dark and mysterious places in the deepening dusk. I interrupt the Mighty Mighty Bosstones covering “Detroit, Rock City” to listen to the night. This is why there are convertibles. I am in the night, smelling its pungency, hearing its raucousness, tasting its mystery. This is the South. A South we didn’t invent, but must come to accept. I am here now.

Apologies for the Silence

Just a quickie here to explain my relative silence. The problem is that Bill is such a good host. When I go to the bar he comes to, so I leave my technology behind. Then he’s driving which means I’m not (he won’t fit in my car) which means, well, bring on the Big-Ass Beers! That means when I get home I have lots of things to say but not the fingers to say them with.

Oh, all right. The real reason is the game he has on his computer that swallowed my brain for a few days. But that’s all going to change today. I’m going to a bar and I’m taking my laptop with me, by gum!

On an unrelated note, Squirrel Chatter is at an all-time high, and — AND — yesterday as I was pusing my flat-tire bike (healthy lifestyle courtesy Bill) the Black Squirrel of San Angelo scampered across my path. I am not sure what evil this portends, but please take the necessary precautions.

Finally, Haloscan seems to be having trouble right now. If it weren’t for all the comments already in their system, I would consider switching. Hopefully by the time you read this the problem will be fixed.