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 café 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.

Big-Ass Beers in San Angelo

Location: Bill’s house, San Angelo, TX
Miles: 141nn.n

Driving between Clovis and Lubbock, I had the thought “Columbus was wrong.” The world is very flat out there. There is a town called Levelland. You can see a long way across the planar plain, and what you see is… telephone poles, power poles, and the occasional silo. The poles march in straight lines across the land, criss-crossing each other’s paths without rhyme or reason.

Windmill at Sunset Past Lubbock, as it started to get dark, the land started to roll a little bit. I rolled with it, cruise control set on exactly the speed limit, along with everyone else. A few people were going a wee bit over the limit, but there were no flagrant violators that I saw. Nevertheless I saw two drivers pulled over by cops. We got law and order in this state, son. It was a relaxing drive, however, as the road was nearly empty after 8:30. They also have early bedtimes out here. The night was dark. No moon and few lights left me imagining what the terrain was like outside the splash of my headlights.

Now I’m here in San Angelo (“The largest city in the country that’s not on an interstate,” Bill tells me.), helping Bill enjoy his weekend, which occurs on Wednesday and Thursday. Bill has been an excellent tour guide, showing me the sights. (In Clovis it was more about the smells.) Last night of course we went to a couple of bars, The Steel Penny and one Bill referred to as 5-point. The name refers to the 5-way intersection outside; the bar is named something else I don’t recall. It was bazooka night at 5-point. Bazookas are big-ass beers, something like 36 ounces. On Wednesday’s they’re both big and cheap. Two of my favorite attributes in a beer. Top it off with free hot dogs and a pretty bartender (did she say her name was Kelly? Kristen?) and you’ve got yourself a good place to hang.

Hang we did. Bill’s friend joined us and did his part to reduce the world beer supply. After a couple of those big ‘ol mofos we pushed on to the Steel Penny, which was pretty quiet but they had a good beer selection and lots of sports on the televisions. We sipped Dead Guy Ale slowly until it was time to head home. A couple of my rival presidential candidates were debating on TV, so we watched them blather on for a while.

Here’s something interesting: if the electoral college splits exactly 50-50, the House chooses the President and the Senate chooses the veep. The voting rules for the House are odd, but Bush would probably win there. The Senate is close, and if the Democrats pick up a couple of seats they would probably install Edwards as VP. What would Bush do without Cheney to give him instructions? I imagine that Rumsfeld would be even more influential than he is now.

But enough of all that silliness. It’s time to go out again. No great big beers tonight, I expect, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

High Desert Retreat

Location: Laguna Vista (map – updated for much greater accuracy)
Miles 10339.0

Now I find myself holed up alone with the pups, high in the mountains. The closest town of any size is Chama (pop. 1,199), which has a couple of stores, a few restaurants, a couple of bars, and no traffic lights. I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the bars later, but I’ll have to be careful, it’s about 15 miles back home. I have no cell phone signal and only dialup Internet access, which still may prove to be too much.

This is a test for me. I have plenty of food, plenty of drink, and no obligations whatsoever except those I impose upon myself. My one and only goal: get The Monster Within to puberty. I think I can do it in four days or so if I work hard.

Last night, however, was not a good start. I did some farting around on the Internet and then I watched TV. TV! I’ve mentioned before what television does to me; I’m even stupider than most people when the box is glowing. I never built up the immunity that so many of my peers seem to have. So today, no boob tube, and only enough time online to care for and feed my Media Empire ™. And check out my favorite sites. And maybe try a link or two. Gaah! Bad Writer! Probably in the next few days the entertainment level here (if there ever was one) will be lower.

Time to take the dogs on a walk.

Back in the day, I had a very good routine going: work on Jer’s Novel Writer in the morning, take a break and go to a bar and write in the early afternoon, and come home and tend to the hut in the evening. Naturally my travels have disrupted this pattern, and it is very important for me to prove I still have what it takes to be what is called a “self-starter” in the business world. I’m not going to put much effort into the software this week, but the novel must be in good shape by October 31st, since of course I will be writing a different story in November.

Then I’ve got to figure out how to get published. That can’t be too hard, right?

Open Bar

Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. I’d stayed with Bill and Joanne, leaving my car tied up to the hitching post at Callahan’s. I got up earlier than I had been, tried to come up with a good subject for an episode for this blog, failed, and just drifted around on the Internet for a while. Sometimes after an episode which which I’m particularly pleased I have a tough time coming up with something good enough to justify pushing the good one out of the top spot. But this is the Internet, and has a voracious appetite for new. I drank some tea, but was soon yearning to be reunited with my toothbrush. Ride to car, drive to Pacific Beach, clean the choppers; I’m ready to go.

Sluka’s was next, of course, then the library. It’s funny how quickly I’ve fallen into that routine considering how unstructured the rest of my life is. I got back and Amy arrived soon after, trying to juggle her life so she could take a quick trip back to Florida to see her family, who are right in the center of the devastation from hurricane Charley. Apparently they’re getting bottled water now, but they have no electricity and no beer. Amy can’t take them 120V AC, but a transcontinental beer run is in the offing. Tally Ho!

In the afternoon Amy went to get some work done on her car to resolve a fix-it ticket (imagine that!) and I actually got a couple of things done. The big one was getting her old laptop set up so she can freeload off the neighbor’s wireless network. Amy is now Internet-enabled. Tremble in fear, citizens of the Web! Of course my reasons for setting her up were purely selfish; I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter on that paper stuff.

Later Paul came over and the Packers game was on and Amy cooked up a fantastic meal and there was beer and all was good. It was decided: after the game we’d go to the Open Bar. We were all feeling jolly. The Pack lost and off we went.

I have only been to the open bar a couple of times before, and never as part of a group. The first thing I learned is that the pool tables suck. Two of them are so bad no one was using them; the owner of the place should just get rid of them to make more room for drinkers. The third table was usable and in use. The bar was way too hot and muggy despite having one side open onto the smoking patio. To the great outdoors I eventually repaired. Paul made a couple of attempts to set me up with women at the bar, a skill at which he far surpasses me. I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of stuff, though. I did get a laugh from one for my “Scotsman at a Baseball Game” joke.

I also ran into one of my favorite waitresses of all time, from back in the day. I didn’t recognize her right away out of the Callahan’s context; I just kept looking at her and wondering why she looked so familiar. Finally she recognized me. Tawny was there with some girlfriends and they were whooping it up. It was great to see her again. I had a thought as we talked that other people would be wondering what the two most attractive people in the bar were doing talking to me. I owe it all to regularization.

I don’t know how Amy and Paul wound up being so much drunker than I was. They must have been drinking faster back at the house. They were really starting to get on each other’s nerves, though, and it was harshing my mellow, to borrow a phrase from Halfsies, wherever he is. Amy had an unpleasant encounter with some other guy in the bar and we left in a hurry without telling Paul, who was off somewhere else. We walked back to Amy’s; it was a peaceful San Diego night and as we walked along the bay the fireworks were popping over Sea World. I breathed a sigh of relief to be out of the bar and into the quiet. Paul was waiting for us when we got back to Amy’s place. I was treated to an endless series of Paul needling Amy and Amy roaring back. Finally I went into the kitchen and turned up the music so I wouldn’t have to hear them bicker anymore.

Why can’t we all just get along?

Paul left soon after that, plenty pissed off. Things quieted down, and one uneaten grilled cheese sandwich cut into bite-sized morsels later, Amy was asleep and I had my peace, curled up with a cat on the short sofa.

Morning arrived gently, and after a shower it’s off to Sluka’s for me. I may be here a few more days if Amy needs me to housesit while she’s in Florida. I’d rather be on the road, though.

Saturday Morning

I have reported previously how much I enjoyed shooting the bull with Amy through the night. The reason I had the pleasure of Amy’s company on those late nights is that Cute Boy has a job; he has to get up at 5 am. Well, last night wasn’t a school night for him so Amy went straight there after work and I haven’t seen her since. She said something about Erica having a party.

Which left me in the dark and quiet of Amy’s place, her absence a presence. Amy has one of those large personalities, that fills the room and rivers out into the street through the doors and windows. Maybe that’s why only one of three windows on her car can be closed. (The fourth, if opened, would probably fall off.) Confining Amy in such a small place would be dangerous. I imagine there is some part of her soul, some force that comes from Earth itself, that has damaged the windows so that it might always be free.

I wondered why neither Amy nor Erica had invited me to the party. I’m not that surprised, really—if they thought of it at all they probably judged (rightly) that it wasn’t my kind of bash, but of course that doesn’t change the perceived slight of not being asked. Amy probably didn’t want any distractions from Cute Boy in any case. Chances are he’s as tired of hearing about me being in her house as I am of hearing what she plans to do to him when she gets the chance. Last night was her chance. I thought about that more than once.

One of the side effects of trying to be a writer is that when I’m in a funk I find myself nursing the feeling rather than trying to banish or forget it. It’s a strange sort of masochism to try to put the blues to work, like poking at an open sore to make it sting more.

I had decided to stay through the weekend to help Amy steam-clean her carpet and upholstery, but now I think those plans have been forgotten. Just as well; I’ve been invited to a barbecue later today and another one tomorrow, both at the houses of people I’ve met in bars. A farewell tour of sorts, with steak.

My melancholy has carried over to today, and the weather seems sympathetic. The marine layer has been much more persistent this morning, keeping the world slightly gray but the world keeps moving anyway. Sluka’s is fairly crowded, most people choosing to sit outside and probably appreciating the cooler morning air. Later the sun will be out and the beach will be crowded. Sluka himself is bustling around, putting up advertising for his latest venture as a flight instructor.

After the road trip novel sells a million and I follow it up with the blockbuster boat trip novel, I’ll have to go on a plane trip.

Just Another Day in Paradise

Location: Pacific Beach Library (map )

I chauffeured Amy to the Sandbar last night so she could party with her coworkers unencumbered by vehicular responsibility. By the time the cab deposited her at the door midnight was just a distant memory, but our tradition of staying up and chit-chatting was too entrenched to allow her to go to sleep when she got home. It was a later night than usual. I interrupted a story about Cute Boy to tell her I would be leaving on Monday. She wasn’t happy about that at all. She proposed a date a few weeks from now. She asked me to wait at least until she had a day off so we could hang out, but she’ll want to be spending her rare days with Cute Boy, I’m sure. Now she wants to find Cute Girl for me so I’ll stay. She better hurry. Still, it’s nice to feel welcome.

We did make a pact to get married if we’re both still single when she turns 35. Lord help both of us if that happens. Fortunately we still have a few years. I guess I better figure out when her birthday is.

This morning I loaded up the laptop for my daily pilgrimage from Amy’s (map) along the shore of Mission Bay, pausing to watch the Hobie Cats dart about, soaking up the sun, listening to construction workers curse at each other, and generally enjoying myself. On my way up Cass street I heard Rich practicing piano through his open front door. I was tempted to drop by and say hello to my former coworker, but I didn’t want to break his concentration. I’ll flag him down later if he walks his dog past Sluka’s (aka Javanican) (map) while I’m there. Usually I go to Sluka’s and then come to the library, but I wasn’t very hungry and I was interested in seeing what had happened in my media empire overnight. (One of Amy’s neighbors has an unsecured wireless network, but to get a reliable connection I have to stand on the arm of the sofa in one corner, my head almost touching the ceiling, and holding the laptop up at eye level. Makes it hard to get much done.)

Now I’m hungry, though, so I think I’ll just throw this to the wind and go grab some chow. I’ll make this episode more worthwhile later by adding a picture from my commute.

Can’t keep this up

I stayed up with Amy into the wee hours again last night, for the third night in a row. She works until late to start with, and when she gets home she is filled with stories and adrenaline. I laugh and tingle and share stories of my own, and we drink wine. I’m tired now; she must be beat. I don’t sleep a whole lot more than she does, but that little bit can make a big difference. I also don’t have two jobs to hold down.

I’m going to have to leave soon, whether or not I have taken care of all my stuff here in town. I’m not making much progress at it anyway, and the road is calling. Sharing a small apartment with an attractive woman who just got herself a new boyfriend (Cute Boy is mentioned frequently and explicitly) doesn’t help. Sure, it’s fun, but… you know. Last night was the toughest, even while it was the most fun. I hauled out the camera and we took pictures. Most of the pictures suffer either from a harsh flash or long, long exposures without a tripod. The wine didn’t help, either. I’ll go through them later and see if there are any worth trying to rescue. A very few of them look really good on the camera’s little screen, so we’ll see.

Amy wants me to stay longer, and she can be persuasive. She wants me to meet some of her new coworkers. They sound like a good bunch. Also I think she enjoys having me around. I’ve agreed to stay through the weekend to help her steam-clean her upholstery, which doesn’t even begin to repay her for the use of her couch for so many more nights than I had intended. After that it’s time for me to go. Best to be gone before the welcome mat is revoked.

Next stop: Vegas. A world of its own; the place to overwhelm dark thoughts with sensory overload. Among the braying lights and churning music and honest graft exhaustion is natural and the equation of life is easily simplified. It is a contest of physical endurance and losing the battle is preordained. Brain cells die. The ties from my past, reasserting themselves while I am in San Diego, will be burned away. I will emerge from the desert crucible purified and unbound, so light I won’t leave footprints as I trek across the desert sand.

That’s the plan, anyway.

A Day at the Races

I had thought to stay at Amy’s last night. I was sitting quietly while she was a work (B.B. King and Dr. John at Humphrey’s), just kicking back and writing. The phone rang. It was Amy. New Boyfriend was in town early and she waned to know if she could have the house to herself. Well, duh. It’s her house, and there are several places in town that I can stay. I hit the road with confidence.

The one catch: it was already pretty late. I headed out, but actually the idea of a hotel room appealed to me. The thing about being a guest is that you put a burden on your host. The morning before, Amy had missed her morning TV because she didn’t want to bother me. Not that she minded terribly much (I think), but people have routines, and I don’t like to disrupt them. Some days I like to live free of the burden I place on others. So a hotel seemed like the right idea.

Note to investors: owning a hotel in San Diego in the summer is a friggin slam-dunk sellout. It’s crazy. There were a couple of places with rooms in Mira Mesa, but they were $150 and up. Mira Mesa. Rather than range north, this time I headed south to Hotel Circle. Amazingly, there are lots of hotels there. Not on Hotel Circle, but not too far away, is the Padre Trail Inn. It’s a dump. Until last night I assumed that the only way it stayed in business was because of the military inductees, who sleep their last night as civillians there before they are swept away to basic training. We used to go to the PTI’s lounge after playing softball across the street. The lounge is awesome only because of Melissa. She is an institution there, an icon in tight jeans and low-cut top, a figure that makes it work, and pure Jersey attitude.

I did not see Melissa last night. By the time I got there the lounge was closed. Also, the hotel was full. Padre friggin’ trail was full, and by the look of the parking lot it wasn’t all MEPS. Out of curiosity I asked, “How much would it have been if you had a room?” The answer: $130 plus all the taxes imposed on hotel rooms in San Diego. (This seems to be the one tax the locals are willing to accept.) Wow. A year ago, this was a place the truckers stayed. Sure, it’s near old town, but still.

PTI aside, I had to find a place to sleep. It was getting very late. I tried a couple of places on Hotel Circle, and at the second one the desk lady suggested I try driving out to Chula Vista. That was a long way away. At that point I was considering calling Amy and telling her that I had nowhere else to go. There was no one else I could call by then. I drove east to get on the freeway. Toward Chula Vista.

I passed the King’s Inn and almost didn’t stop. I kind of liked the look of the place, though, and I thought since it wasn’t a big chain perhaps it would have a room. Bingo. The room seemed cheap compared to the other places I had checked, and it was more than adequate. Any idea I had about using the privacy for writing was lost in the bliss of sweet, sweet, sleep. I slept from the moment I hit the pillow, and I nursed it as long as I could in the morning, and then a little longer. I emerged from the room in a magnificent mood.

It was race day. And Cake day. Cake is a band, and they were playing after the races were over. I like Cake.

I was late to Mikie’s place because I stopped at Waffle King forf breakfast, even though I could see that they were busy. I’m glad I did. There was nothing worth reporting here, but there were archetypes at work. Something I saw there will show up somewhere.

While I was sitting there, it occurred to me that the Tabasco boys should make an extra-hot version. Hot hot hot sauces are all the rage these days, but there is no brand with the power of Tabasco. Just a thought. As I ate, Amy called. Her boyfriend hadn’t come over after all. It didn’t matter. I was feeling cheery. Amy had bought a new hat and was drinking a margarita.

Breakfast chowed, running late, I headed to Mikie’s folk’s place, where my car would rest while Mikie, Mike, Kendra and I made our erratic (Mikie was driving) way up the concrete to the place where, as Bing put it, the surf meets the turf. We pulled into the parking log to be greeted my a big flashing sighn reading “No alcohol in any parking lot.” So much for tailgating. Mikie and Kendra had done a masterful job disguising the alcohol anyway, so we loaded up chairs and cooler and headed inside. Not long after that Kim, Ben and Michelle joined us.

It was a great day to be at the racetrack. The sun was shining, the sunscreen was abundant, there was a good crowd that steadily grew as the day wore on, and for the first half of the day the right horses were winning. Mike Sr. and I paid a lot more attention to the numbers, and I had fun sitting by him comparing notes. After a while, though, as the alcohol started to take effect (Nothing close to the effect it was having on Kendra, however), my diligence waned and so did my fortunes. No matter—I was having a good time. Over the day I lost more on overpriced beer than on horses.

The Cake concert was short (what do you want for nothin’?) but excellent. Maybe it wasn’t that short after all, we spent the first part of it in the beer line. It gave me plenty of time to see that the beertenders were not very efficient, but I didn’t make any recommendations when I got to the front of the line. Since the only limit to their business was the rate they could serve customers, I expect they could have made thousands of dollars more if they could have kept their customers adequately beered. No matter—I was having a good time.

Cake played, and played well. The crowd was large but not pushy, and there was plenty of quality people-watching. I ended up dancing to the music, something I don’t do spontaneously at concerts very often. After the show we made our way back to the truck. I went back to the homestead with Mike Sr. while the others, not content to let the party stop, took off to Michelle’s house, teetotaller Ben behind the wheel. The couch was already made up for me when I got back to the homestead, and I crashed with the TV on, just in time to see the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Padre’s latest loss. I’ve got to leave town so they can start winning again. No matter—I’m having a good time.

Ocean Beach Bar Hopping

Most of last night will have to wait until I can disguise it as fiction. Going out on the town with Amy usually works out that way, it seems. I had left a message with her, looking for a place to sleep, and she eventually called back. She was hanging with Rory and Alabama, two of her friends from out of town. They were at South Beach bar in Ocean Beach (A very nice place with a decent beer selection and excellent appetizers. Best fried calamari anywhere. Behind the bar are picture windows looking out over the beach. A good place for sunsets.)

They were just having some shots when I arrived. It didn’t break my heart to miss out on that round, as they looked like some kind of goofy sweet mixed shot instead of good ‘ol straight booze. Why people go to the trouble to get one of those things and then knock it down their gullet so fast they never taste it is beyond me. For that matter, why people pay for top-shelf tequila or scotch and then just throw it down the pie hole is a mystery I may never solve. If you’re not going to taste it, why not just throw some grain alcohol back and wait for the bomb to hit?

I kept my mouth shut about silly shooters, and Amy’s buddies turned out to be pretty cool. I was just finishing my beer when Erica called. She was heading to Sunshine Company and so were we. Sunshine Co. has a good happy hour special and is popular among smokers because the patio (where smoking is legal) is for all intents and purposes indoors.

It’s funny how many smokers I’ve been around since smoking was banned in bars. The sequence goes like this:

  1. Smoking is banned in bars
  2. Jerry starts going to bars more
  3. Jerry hangs out with other bar patrons
  4. Most bar patrons are smokers
  5. Jerry inhales more second-hand smoke

At Sunshine company the pitchers were coming fast and furious but somehow I manage to stay out of their evil grip, nursing two beers the entire time I was there. It was great to see Erica again, bubbly fun sweet and cute, and we talked for quite a while. She’s in love with some boy in Belguim. Our crowd shot some pool, and being the most sober person there I didn’t suck at it. Some girl hit on me – and everyone else in the bar, male and female. It was her birthday and she was looking for a present. She didn’t get far with me, but she didn’t try that hard, either. There were other people in our group she found much more interesting, often several of them at the same time.

Things started to get crazier. A blue-haired butch-looking girl had her hands down Amy’s pants. Amy was trying to use her own sexual wiles to connect Rory and Birthday Girl together. Birthday Girl seemed more interested in Blue-Hair and Amy. Birthday Girl and Blue-Hair were sucking face like a pair of lampreys on spring break. Erica mildly disapproved. Finally it was too much for my poor sober ass. I made Erica promise to come to Prague whenever she went to Belgium, got Amy’s keys and went back to her place.

Amy showed up two hours later with another friend. I made grilled cheese sandwiches (double cheese). The friend would not leave, and It turned into a late night. Finally I curled up on the short sofa and closed my eyes and he took the hint. He’s a nice guy, really; Amy had called him in the middle of the night for a ride home and he had complied. I was just very tired. Making grilled cheese sandwiches can take it out of a guy.

The final image as I turned out the lights was of Amy curled up on the couch, jealously guarding a package of Goldfish even as she slept. I reached out and tugged on the package, open and about to spill, and she snapped down around her precious crackers, contracting like a sea anemone gulping down its prey. I let go of the bag before anyone got hurt.