Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Signal

We pull into the motel parking lot just as the storm begins rolling into the city. Over the flickering sign that says Vacancy, I watch dark clouds illuminated by lightning within as the world around me rumbles. It hasn’t started raining yet, but it's on its way. The breeze coming through the rolled-down window smells like some ancient sea.

Dane says, “You know who really sucks? Green Arrow. I mean, here’s this guy surrounded by fucking Superman and Flash and Wonder Woman and the green Martian guy with basically the same powers as Superman...”

I say, “Martian Manhunter.”

He says, “Yeah, him. I mean, you’ve got all these people with the powers of fucking Greek gods and shit, and then you’ve got a dude decked out all in green with his cute little hat and a goddamn bow and arrow. He doesn’t have any special powers or anything. Even his girlfriend in the fishnets has the sonic scream thing. But this guy, he’s got nothing.”

I say, “What about Batman?”

Dane flashes me a look as he flicks his cigarette ashes through the crack in the car window.

“What about him?”

I light up a cigarette of my own and say, “Well, Batman doesn’t have any powers. He’s no better off than the Green Arrow. Superman could flick his fucking pinky finger and shatter his skull. He’s just a guy in a suit.”

“Yeah, but it’s a cool fucking suit. I mean, if you had the choice to go to a Halloween party dressed as Batman or Green Arrow, which one are you going to choose? Batman’s suit looks all menacing and shit. Green Arrow looks like a fucking faggot. Plus Batman’s a detective. What’s Green Arrow? A flaming liberal? There’s no comparison.”

I take a drag and say, “But he’s still just a guy in a suit. And don’t you think wearing that cape would get in the way in a real fight? At least Green Arrow won’t get his ass stuck in a revolving door.”

Dane says, “Dude, we’re talking about fucking comic books here. None of that shit applies in the real world. In the real world, the government would’ve either killed superheroes for being freaks of nature or they would have kept them a big secret and used them in special ops. You can’t apply real world shit to comics.”

I say, “Then why can’t someone wear a green suit and be a bad ass with a bow and arrow?”

Dane says, “Because it’s gay. This is a world full of super-powered villains, not fucking Sherwood Forest. What are you, a fucking Green Arrow fan?”

I say, “Nah. I always liked Hawkeye better. At least he pissed off Captain America all the time.”

Dane says, “Yeah, too bad he’s dead.”

“Nobody ever stays dead in Marvel comics except Captain Marvel and he died of cancer.”

Dane says, “And Bucky.”

“Fuck Bucky.”

We’re sitting in the usual spot in the parking lot waiting for someone to signal us with the lights. We’ve been coming to the Egyptian Motel for a couple of months now. Everyone’s favorite drug dealer, Eddie the Eel always gets a different room each day because he’s paranoid. I mean, he’s a drug dealer. In his line of work, it pays to be paranoid.

If you aren’t paranoid, you’re fucking stupid.

I don’t know how long we’ve been talking but it seems like it's been longer than usual. The Eel is a greedy bastard and he never makes us wait long. I like that about him. Most drug dealers dick around with you, just making you squirm like a fucking worm on a fishhook. But not the Eel. He’s quick and efficient. Everything always goes smooth as silk.

I finish my cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. In low volume on the radio a deejay is talking about thunderstorm warnings, so I turn the station. I fucking hate bad news.

Dane lights another cigarette and looks over at me, “Think he’s in there taking a shit or something.”

“Was just wondering that myself,” I say lighting another one of my own. I reach into the backseat floorboard and pull a beer out of the cooler. I pop it open and throw back half of the beer in a few gulps.

Dane says, “Thirsty?”

I say, “Nervous. You know I’m always paranoid.”

“Who isn’t in this business? It’s a shame everything good is fucking illegal, isn’t it?”

“What about comic books?”

“Dude, have you ever gotten laid because of comic books? If comics got you laid they’d probably make them illegal, too.”

“Guess you’re right,” I concede and finish off my beer.

In room number twelve a light flicks on and off quickly two times. This is pretty unusual because the signal is three times. Eddie the Eel’s always been adamant about that. Both of us wait for the light to go off and on again, but the light stays on.

“Do you remember what two times means?” Dane asks me taking another drag off his cigarette and blowing smoke out of his nose.

“I didn’t know there was a two.”

“Back when we first met Eddie. He told us that three times meant come to the room and two times meant something else.”

“Maybe it means he’s high and forgot to do it three times. I don’t remember him saying anything about two times. Let’s just go to the room, man. I’m ready to get stoned.”

I start to get out of the car and Dane grabs my arm.

“Wait a minute, man. I don’t like this.”

“Dude, nothing is fucked here.”

Dane flashes me a look as he flicks his cigarette out the window. “Don’t start quoting Lebowski, asshole. You know that annoys me.”

“That’s what I live for. Annoying you. Listen, man, let’s just go get the drugs and get the fuck out of here before it starts raining. There’s no two times signal. Eddie’s just high or something.”

“Fuck it. You’re right. I mean, what would fucking Captain America do? He wouldn’t sit out here in the car wondering about being cautious. He’d just go charging in.”

“Number one, Captain America wouldn’t be buying weed and, number two, he has an indestructible shield.”

“Don’t get all logical on me, man. Let’s just go get the pound and get the fuck out of here.”

We roll up the windows on the Chevelle and get out of the car. I light another cigarette and Dane follows suit. Normally, we’d probably be more cautious, but with the storm and the fact we’d been out of weed for a couple of days and people had been bugging the shit out of us, we wanted to get this done.

We walk up to the door of room number twelve and Dane knocks. We wait about a minute and no one answers. Now this is really fucking weird. The Eel never turns away money. Ever. Not unless he thinks you're a cop.

I whisper, “The fuck is going on here?”

Dane whispers back, “How the hell should I know? Think I should try the knob?”

“What and get shot in the gut by a paranoid drug dealer when you come walking into his motel room? Go right ahead.”

Dane tries the door. “It’s unlocked.”

“Captain fucking America, right?”

Dane opens the door and his face freezes. I see a bunch of people in the room that look like cops. The first thing I do is bolt, but I notice cops are coming out of the adjacent rooms. We’re so fucked. I think about making a run for the car, but looking back I see that they’ve already grabbed Dane and he has the keys, so I change direction and head for the woods across the street. I hear people screaming for me to stop and what sounds like a gunshot, but maybe it’s just thunder. Cops don’t shoot unarmed men in the back, do they?

Everything’s happening so fucking fast. I feel something heavy hit in me in the back and the next thing I know I’m eating loose gravel and some big guy is trying to wrestle with me on the ground. I manage to kick him in the guts, but by that time two more guys are on me and my face is planted in sharp little rocks.

Something told me that tonight was going to be a shitty night.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Nature Wants To Kill Me

On Sunday, I decided to take my nature-loving girlfriend, Ptiza, to one of the local natural wonders. To put it mildly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the so-called Great Outdoors. There’s a reason we lost our fur millions of years ago. Give me a computer, air-conditioning, a pack of cigarettes, a large quantity of beer, and a bed to pass out in and I’m content, but I figured if Ptiza, who’s happy both in the bustling Big Apple and out in the middle of a bug-infested forest, is going to be stuck in this one horse town, I could at least show her some of the things in this area she might enjoy.

A few weeks ago we went hiking through the Land Between the Lakes- a huge nature preserve nestled between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley- where I promptly got eaten alive by blood-sucking chiggers. It’s a fun little hike but there isn’t really much to see except a bunch of trees, a man-made lake, and a few squirrels.

This time I opted to take her to the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. Garden of the Gods offers what many profess to be a breath-taking view of forest and rock formations. The sandstone rock formations with names like Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, and Devil’s Smokestack are the modern reminders of an ancient sea which once covered most of Illinois, western Indiana, and western Kentucky. According to one website, “For millions of years ancient rivers carried sand and mud to this sea where it settled on the shoreline. Over time, the weight of the sediments turned them into layers of rock, thousands of feet thick. At Garden of the Gods, the sediment layers were more than 20,000 feet thick, or about 4 miles deep. Eventually uplift occurred that fractured the bedrock, exposing it to nature’s erosive forces. Since that time, windblown sand, rain and freezing and thawing actions have worn down the layers of sediment, creating the marvelous rock formations”

After spending a couple of hours driving around Southern Illinois trying to rattle my drug-stunted memory enough to remember how to get to the Garden of the Gods, which I’d only been to a couple of times years ago, I ended up stopping in a ghetto convenience store in the tiny Southern town of Golconda to ask for directions. The corpulent, two-toothed cashier gave me half-assed directions and after putting some more gas in the car so we wouldn’t run out of fuel in the middle of Bum Fuck Egypt, we were off again.

Thirty minutes later propelled by blind luck, I found the road to the Garden of the Gods, and we pulled into a heavily populated parking lot. You don’t expect to have trouble finding a parking place in the middle of Shawnee National Forest but, believe me, it happens. Apparently, a lot of other really bored people had the same idea I had.

The first thing I noticed when we got out of the car and headed towards the quarter mile circular trail that showcases the splendor of this natural wonder was the smell of human fecal matter.

“What’s that smell?” I asked my darling girlfriend.

“I dunno,” she said.

“Smells like shit.” I said.

Ah, nature. You gotta love it, right?

Anyway, after stopping off at the culprit causing the awful smell, a building resembling a public restroom only without the benefit of running water, so it was actually a giant outhouse with a big hole in the ground full of all the other tourists piss and shit and their little insect friends which swarmed around the toilets, we gaggingly made our way down the cobblestone trail to the wonder of nature that awaited us. Thankfully, the smell vanished as we made our way a little farther down the trail.

To our left we saw the first rock formation. A rather small one in comparison to the ones we would see, with no view at all. So we trudged up the side of it for a minute and stood there. I told Ptiza that she hadn’t seen anything yet and we made our way back down this small rock formation. Ptiza was wearing hiking boots, so she scampered down the small rock like a little mountain goat and was already heading off down the trail. I, on the other hand being the nature hater that I am, was ill-equipped for this venture and was wearing a pair of Vans. Where she was sure-footed, my Vans slipped out from under me as I made my way down the rock. The next thing I knew my foot twisted as it slipped and I was falling with nothing to grab onto. Luckily, there was a small tree at the base of the rock which broke my fall as my upper arm slammed into it with all the force that a two-hundred pound body in free fall could muster. It wasn’t a nice cushioned stop to say the least and somehow my wrists had gotten bloodied on the way down as well.

Ptiza rushed over to comfort her fallen man and besides a bruised pride and upper arm and several minor scrapes, I found I was still in working order. So I soldiered on so she might see some of the grandeur of Southern Illinois.

Needless to say, from that point on I was a little apprehensive about traipsing around on the giant rocks. Especially since, after the first one that I’d fallen off of, the drop was a lot steeper, by literally hundreds of feet on some of the bigger rock formations overlooking the view. While Ptiza scampered about on the rocks like the mountain goat she was apparently descended from, I made sure each step was carefully calculated to not include me falling to my doom.

But the view was gorgeous, as much as nature can be gorgeous to me, hampered only by the fact that there were too many loud and obnoxious people there ruining the serenity of its natural majesty. We saw the giant rock that looked like a cock, aka Devil’s Smokestack. We saw the other giant rock that supposedly looked like a camel. And we saw a bunch of other rocks that looked like, well, big fucking rocks. These rocks all overlooked a huge valley of trees covered in leaves that were just starting to turn into a brilliance of varied colors in accordance with fall. If you really loved nature, this would be the place to see, except of course for all the people being people and mucking it up.

After about twenty of minutes of crawling about on the giant rocks and enjoying the view with the sun blazing in the west, we made our way back up the cobblestone trail and past the foul-smelling public restroom to the car and made our way back to the creature comforts of the Fortress of Solipsism where booze and air-conditioning and the internet awaited our return.

On the way home, we saw a bevy of deer, including to Ptiza’s delight a little baby deer. And, lest I forget, some little baby goats. We also saw some of finest and most alarming examples of redneck living, not to mention a whole lot of Bush-Cheney signs littering the yards of the ignorant and uninformed. Pope County, Illinois, where I nearly lost my life at party once, is full of fine upstanding rednecks that will kill you just for being different.

Once home, I crawled onto the couch with the blessed a/c blasting and turned on the droning sounds of television and popped a doctor-prescribed Lortab to deal with the aches and pains from my massive fall while Ptiza checked her e-mail and the latest posts on the Lebowski Fest forum.

The absolute best thing about nature is the fact that we don’t have to live in it.