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Monday, November 17, 2003

Today, we're going to try something a little new, a little unusual, a little bit crazy and unexpected. It's called: behaving like a reasonable, responsible human being! I know, this might be a first for this website, but nobody has more distaste for a rut than I, so it's time to shake things up a little.

Obviously, I couldn't be trusted with being a reasonable, responsible human being if I just hit the road first thing in the morning, which was my initial plan, so after waking up a scant 15 minutes before check-out time, I called the front desk here at the Moab Motel 6 and signed up for an additional night. If you're really paying attention here, you'll notice that, even being out of booze last night, I was still unable to get to sleep at a reasonable time and get a full night's rest. Part of this might be because I was concerned that I was on the downslide into becoming a full-time unreasonable, irresponsible human being, and that was bothering my subconscious. Another part of this might be because I watched Jaws last night while killing time before Nick @ Nite began in earnest. I've said it before, and I am just about to say it again, but Jaws is an unbelievably great movie, and still might be Spielberg's best. I could watch it over and over. And I might just have to, since it's one of only a handful of DVDs which I brought with me from Santa Monica. This has been: Ben Reviewz the Moviez!!

Anyhoo, after securing this, at $36.99, the most reasonably priced of the many Motel 6 rooms I've ever not had sex at, I got up and headed back to Arches in the hope that if I spent enough time there, it would work its magic on me as it had failed to do the previous evening. I drove around to hit all the viewpoints, did a little hour-long hike to some of the more notable arches, hid from a brief rainshower under one of them, took a bunch of pictures, and failed to drink any alcohol! Reasonable! Responsible! My final verdict on Arches is that, ironically, the arches themselves are rather anticlimactic, and in fact are one of the least interesting things about the park. In the areas of impressive visuals and inspirational ambiance, they are largely eclipsed by the humungous, alien-shaped rock formations and grand vistas of rolling sandstone, some of which I've captured for you in the form of digital photographs. Fins to the left, fins to the right, and I'm the only non-Mormon in town.

Tired and bleeding (after climbing on a rock and re-opening my bowling wound from last week), I headed back to Moab, where I drove through the town to get a sense of what it's probably like to live in Moab. ("Boring.") Then I drove back to the Motel 6, and walked over once again to the local Denny's, where I did the least reasonable and responsible thing of the day, and ordered a "Meat Lover's Breakfast".

For those of you who have enough self-respect to never eat at a Denny's, let me set the scene: A large plate. A big slab of ham. Two link sausages. Two slices of bacon. A large pile of undercooked hashbrowns. Two eggs, resentfully prepared to your specification (over-easy for your boy). That is an enormous meal, right there. Of course, while you're staring at it, wondering how in the hell you're supposed to snarf this giant pile of cholesterol into your drooling maw, and what the quickest way to the hospital is, they bring you a side plate of four dartboard-sized buttermilk pancakes (with a healthy slather of whipped butter and maple syrup). I don't even want to think about this anymore, so I'll just sum up by saying, I reasonably and responsibly ended up eating only HALF the hashbrowns, only ONE of the sausages, and only HALF of the pancakes. I'll also sum up by saying, I hadn't eaten pancakes in years and years, and, damn are they good! I could go for a big pile right now, in fact. I wonder if they're still open...

After wiping the excess grease and syrup off of my ever-widening face, I waddled back to the room, where I paid a bill! Then called a few people and arranged the next few days of my trip! What says "reasonable" and "responsible" more than paying bills and planning a cross-country trip? Well, I'll tell you what: Cleaning out the car, and then driving to the grocery store for juice and healthy, fruit-oriented snacks! And no booze or beer!

Unpacking my goods back at room 102, I decided to push the reasonability and responsibility meter to "WAY 2 X-TREME" and began doing laundry! And then began updating my website! Which is where we stand now, and we're not even to 6 PM yet!

So, let's sum up: Arches? Hiked. Bills? Paid. People? Called. Laundry? In the drier. Drinking none of today? Alcohol. Eggs? Over-easy.

The plan for the rest of the evening is fairly simple, as well as, naturally, reasonable and responsible. I'll fold and pack my laundry. Then I'll watch some football while sipping apple cider and perhaps enjoying a fresh pear. Then maybe read a little newspaper, or watch a little movie, maybe a little Nick @ Nite, and then off to bed to get a fresh, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed start first thing tomorrow morning!

Man, I need a drink.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Once again had to force myself up to beat the check-out deadline, which I blame solely on you people, for whom I stayed up all night writing these endless stories of perpetual motion and irresponsibility. I packed up all my stuff, an activity I've developed quite a rhythm for, except for the part about finding clean socks, which is becoming a serious problem, so if any of you have any clean socks I can borrow, please send them to... ah, crap. Never mind.

I lurched out of the motel door, two suitcases and a laptop carrying case in hand, to find: little white things! Falling from the sky! Why... I think I've seen this before, way back in my youthier youth... Yes, I do believe it is snow! Naturally, having only been awake for 20 minutes at the time, my reaction was: "Hmmph." But it was pretty.

My goods packed up, I headed back to Bryce to do a little last-minute sightseeing trip. Now, the weather situation, packing the entire valley with snow and fog, was going to be tricky, but stick with me. I drove past the Navajo Loop I'd trudged through the day before, and drove the extra 15 miles to some of the higher plateaus and viewing points. I parked at Farview Point, and it sure lived up to its name, because, even in the snow and fog, if you walk up to the furthest viewing platform, and look really closely, you can make out, without a bit of uncertainty: nothing.

Then you can drive back to Bryce Point, where you stood just 16 some-odd hours earlier, walk down the slippery slope to the most photogenic point in the park and see: nothing. I mean, nothing. A giant sheet of white, shrowding all the amazing things that, just a day before, you'd paid $20 to gawk at. Well, screw this.

Back in the car, and back on the highways, where I drove for many many hours, listening to such NPR shows as "Car Talk", the famous show where people call in and do imitations of the bad sounds their cars are making, while the hosts laugh all the while and try to guess how many thousands of dollars it's going to take the poor caller to fix their beater, "The Splendid Table", where some woman expounds for hours on the relative worth of different brands of olive oil, and "Prairie Home Companion", where Garrison Keillor talks about Minnesota, but without the funny accent, which, let's face it, is the only reason to listen to anyone talk about Minnesota.

I got on route 70 east, in Utah. This is where preparations began, which was a good thing, because route 70, in Utah, is excellent. More than once I found my mouth agape, and not just because I was making room for more Corn Nuts. When in Utah, please enjoy route 70!

As 5 PM approached, I arrived at Arches National Park, the last of my scheduled National Park appearances. This one cost $10, which I was both relieved and concerned to find. I mean, I was tired of shelling out $20 for every damn park I came across, but... hey, this wasn't going to suck, was it?

I raced through the initial part of the drive, fighting against the sun's inevitable denouement, looking for something. Looking for photo ops. Looking for arches, fer chrissakes. Every damn park guide you've ever seen shows the same arch, the "Delicate Arch", in the section about Arches National Park. So I drove. And drove. And drove. (And drank.) And drove. Where the hell's the goddamn arches? My kingdom for an arch!!

Miles later, I found a sign leading to the Delicate Arch viewpoint. I took it. I parked. I got out. I packed the last of my rum in my jacket. I hiked. Took about ten minutes, up fairly steep (for this time of day, ahem) trails, where you eventually reach a plateau, and then look off into the distance to see... an arch? I guess? A litte dime-sized figure on the horizon which, while definitely resembling an arch, was about the lamest excuse for a $10 sightseeing trip I'd seen in the past month. I'd so overdosed on the wonders of erosion the past week that I was unable to contain my disappointment at this so-called "discovery". So, I polished off the rest of the rum, in protest.

It was now very, very dark. The walk back was, shall we say, tricky. I stopped short of the parking lot, after passing another group of late-night hikers and composing myself enough to not appear too terribly blasted, or more embarrassingly, winded. Then I found a quiet spot over to the corner of the trail, heeded nature's call, and then just stood there and... stood there.

This was nice. Total silence. Total fucking silence. Except for an occasional jet passing miles above, on final approach to Salt Lake, which of course did nothing but add to the ambiance for me.

The crew I'd passed earlier was making their way back along the path, unaware that I was lurking in the darkness just 50 feet to their left. One of them whispered a cautionary warning to the other: "Jessica!"

That name. I felt a reflexive shot of adrenaline shoot through my rum-infested veins. To my great relief, I just laughed to myself. Perhaps, unlike my blisters from bowling over the last few days, this wound has healed. About goddamn time.

I stumbled back to my car, where I proceeded to attempt to navigate myself back out of the park. At one point, I noticed the sky, which was clear as a bell, and featuring nearly every star that has ever existed, and stopped under the imposing presence of the "Courthouse Towers". 2112 was playing on my CD player, which I let continue playing, as I got out and just stared slackjawed up at the heavens. Listening to Geddy yelping about the Temples of Syrinx, underneath these massive rock formations, with the entire galaxy on display for me above, well, that was pretty darn special. Any Rush fan would have been proud of me. I sure was.

After a few more minutes of this silliness, I made my way back out of the park and to the northern end of Moab, where I grabbed a Motel 6 room, and then hoofed it over to the Denny's next door. The ham & cheddar omelette and two cups of coffee really hit the spot, but I have still yet to visit at Denny's without having to listen to the help complain to each other about their jobs. I mean, you don't get this at Shari's in Oregon. You certainly don't get this at Kristina's in Eureka. I think it's the name. People don't like working at Denny's because, well, I mean, Jesus, you work at Denny's. Perhaps if they changed the name, employee morale would improve. But I can't save the entire world, as much as I'd like to.

Now I'm back, writing this thing, on the bed of my Motel 6 room, out of booze and nearly out of Corn Nuts, so there's actually a chance I might get a decent night's sleep tonight.

No promises, though.



Saturday, November 15, 2003

No way. I'm actually writing an update on the actual day it's being written about? Why, that can only mean two things! One, it's late, and I'm real tired! And two, it's gonna be real short! Ready?

Got up! Packed the car! Checked out of the hotel! Got back into my car! Started the car!

Realized I had no idea where I was going!

I sat in the car for awhile, checking my handy atlas, trying to determine the next leg of this grand adventure, and decided that, no matter where my next stop was, I was gonna need to head north on 89. That was good enough for me. And, as a bonus, the route would take me through the Canyon park one more time, for one last awestruck glance.

The main selling point for getting a prepaid pass for the Park is that you don't have to go through the regular, bourgeoise, loser lanes at the entrance station, where you have to stop, open the window, lean out the window, and show the nice lady your pass. No, you, being from the better 1/4 of society, could take the far left lane, for VIPs only!

I had avoided that lane for the past two days, though. The first day, I avoided it because there was a large steel barrier blocking it. The second day, I avoided it because I was in a "rhythm", and didn't want to break out of my routine. But, when was I gonna be here again, right? Left Lane Ben, that's what they call me.

I pulled into the left lane. I stopped at the stop sign. I looked around for some sign of what to do so I don't get chased down by Park Police and thrown in Park Jail. I saw the nice lady in her little booth. She motioned for me to show her my pass. Now, because the nice lady is now on my right, rather than my left, rather than just rolling down my window, I get to put the emergency brake on, get out of the car, walk around the car, and show her the pass from the other side! Behold, the wonders of the Left Lane!

I drove through the park, on my prescribed route, casting brief glances to my left to catch my last views of the monster. I decided then I'd picked the right time to leave, because the same sight that two days before had left me dumbstruck, was leaving me looking for the "Park Exit" sign. Yeah. Big canyon. Lots of rocks. Big deal. Next?

Next was 89 North. Rocks. Yay.
Next was the town of Page. Grocery store. Gas. Jack in the Box.
Next was Grand Staircase National Monument. Yeah. Cliffs. More rocks. Woo.
Next was the town of Kahab. Reduced Speed Ahead. Starting to hate those signs.

Now I have a decision, though. Zion or Bryce? Zion or Bryce? Gotta pick one to be my next stop. I checked my mental calendar and realized that time, she was a-tickin'. I remembered my brief discussion with Saeid Zoonematkermani on my last night in town, where he advised me to check out Zion if I had time. Well, technically speaking, I have all the time in the world, but having just come from, and having just burned out on the Grand Canyon, the most amazing-looking thing in the history of history, I found it unlikely that I'd be wowed by some place that I'd only want to check out if I had time. Plus, it's further west than Bryce, and every mile west I drive feels like backtracking. Bryce it is.

Naturally, after I passed Kahab, I began "preparing", with some of the goods I'd picked up at the Basha's in Page. Funny, though, it wasn't working for me today. Must be something about me. After the third or fourth day of being out on the road, on my own, I just start feeling tired, and a little depressed, and no amount of discount rum is going to perk me up. And all I had ahead of me was some place called "Bryce Canyon", which, while I'm sure it's very nice, I fail to see how any canyon in the universe is going to light my fire after the last three days. But, nowhere else to go at this point. The sun was already threatening to leave the party, and even if this place didn't impress me, there were probably hotels near it.

The drive on route 12 to Bryce passes through an area called Red Canyon, named naturally for the rock formations which comprise its perimeter, which are in no uncertain terms: pink. I do admit to stopping the car once or twice on this road to take pictures, not because any of the sights were all that overwhelming or awe-inspiring, but they were definitely weird. I never went "whoa", but I did go, "whaa??" a few times, which I liked.

Lava Beds National Monument cost $10 to enter. Lassen Volcanic National Park cost $10 to enter. When I got to the Grand Canyon and saw that it was $20, well, I had to forgive that, just because, well, Lassen ain't no Grand Canyon, right? So as I approached the entry gate to Bryce "Not Grand" Canyon, I naturally reached into my wallet for a $10 bill.

Whoops! Heh! Guess what! Bryce? Yeah, that "canyon" is actually going to cost you the full Jackson. I did my best play-acting to appear cheerful to the nice money-taking lady, and then drove on, grumbling to myself that, NO, this was not going to be worth $20, and YES, I should have gotten that "Eagle Pass" or whatever it was that Saeid Zoonematkermani had told me to do, and NO, this rum is not kicking in, and YES, I am drinking too much, and YES, I'm gaining weight from all of these Corn Nuts and cheeseburgers, and NO, I don't have my baby here to enjoy this with me, and NO, whatever hotel I find tonight is probably not going to have bowling alleys, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because YES, my thumb still hurts like hell. Grmph.

"Sunrise Point", the sign said, with a helpful little $20 arrow pointing to the left. Sunrise. Yeah, well, it's 4:30 in the afternoon, so, I don't think any fucking sunrises are in the offing any time soon. Grmph.

"Sunset Point", the sign said. Well, alright then. This was just the right time of day for a little sunset action, so, I'll take the sign's advice and drive up to the viewpoint. I parked the car.

As I walked up to the rim, I noticed that it was quite overcast, and the sun was hidden behind a thick layer of altostratus. Oh, great. There goes that idea. Deciding to make the best of a bad situation, I "framed up the shot" just right so that as I approached the viewpoint, the whole thing was set up like a Spielberg movie, and slowly walked the last ten feet. Maybe I was being too hard on the place. Maybe it would overwhelm me if I gave it a chance and set the scene just right. Here comes the rim. Here we go.



Look, I just came from the most enormous, exasperatingly impressive thing on the face of the earth, and now I'm looking at... well, it's a canyon, kind of, though it looks more like a hillside. A hillside with lots of...

I looked closer.


Okay, this place was just weird enough to be cool. What appeared at first to be a standard rocky hillside revealed itself to instead be comprised of thousands of pink, snow-covered rock spires which looked for all the world like man-made fiberglass alien rock sculptures put together at Paramount studios for the next Star Trek episode. Whaaa??

I walked about 50 feet down a paved trail that appeared to lead into the bowl hundreds of feet below my feet. That's where I found a sign saying, "Navajo Loop, 1.3 miles."

Well, let's see, I've been drinking rum, eating Corn Nuts, and otherwise mistreating myself all day, and have no water with me, and am wearing the wrong shoes for any sort of hiking, much less hiking down a steep slope into unknown territory. Alright, let's do it!

Once I managed to slide myself down the initial icy, muddy, slushy switchbacks and got back on reasonably flat ground, I looked around. Now this is hiking. This is what I'm talking about. Unlike the Grand Canyon, not only does the scenery change every five seconds, but the scenery changes from one weird, alien landscape to another. Plus, everything's got a thin layer of snow on it, and unlike Grand, there ain't a hundred other hikers and douchebags cluttering up the paths, and there's a serenity and silence to the place, and... Well, Bryce Canyon is where it's at, I'm here to tell you!

Of course, that was before I had to hike back up to the top.

This "hiking" thing, I'm not sure I like so much. The entire point appears to be to take a peaceful, photogenic, beautiful part of the world, and make you want to drop a 10 megaton nuclear bomb on it. Of course, that could be because I'm so physical unfit that I get out of breath thinking about a staircase, but I mean, seriously, would it hurt so much to install an elevator somewhere in these places? I'll kick in another $20, just to help out.

Once back at the top, I used the time I need to catch my breath by taking a few more pictures and also bending over and wheezing. Then I drove to a few more "viewpoints", which I enjoyed not for the view, since the sun had long since given up on me, but because I got some more serious "alone" time. Not a soul in sight, not a sound to be heard, and nothing to do but look down upon what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of miles of land that hadn't been touched by anyone but Mother Nature in the last 20 million years. Good stuff.

Split the park and headed once again to the closest Tourist Town, where I check in once again to the Best Western, which did not have bowling alleys, but which did have a General Store which sold beer and sandwiches, which I availed myself of and then went back to the room where I spent all goddamn night writing for this website, taking a bath, and checking up on my email, which I was able to do because this place has wireless internet! When in Bryce Canyon, please stay at the Best Western!

Now I'm going to watch Nick @ Nite, which they also have, and eat a Corn Nut or two.

Aren't you glad I kept this short?

Friday, November 14, 2003

Once I finally got up and shook off the cobwebs, I headed straight out to the Canyon, first to make sure it was still that cool and I hadn't just imagined that the day before (which it was), and then to find the "Bright Angel Trail", which, based on my readings, was just the right choice for an aggressive, yet terribly out-of-shape hiker such as myself. It had all the requisite characteristics for a trail I'd like: It had a place 1.5 miles down where you could turn around, it was easy to find, and it had a cool name.

I found it, packed a water bottle in my jacket, popped a stick of Juicyfruit, and headed on down.

As I descended below the rim, I was feeling pretty good about things. Hikin' the Canyon, baby. And just look at those views! The Colorado River! Gorges of incomparable beauty! The faces of the people hiking back up, sweating and frowning and gasping and wheezing and...

Uh oh!

Remembering my unpleasant experiences on the Lost Coast Trail, back at Shelter Cove, I decided right then that the 1.5 mile rest house would be as far as I would go. No sense risking anything. Plus, I had more to do this day than slum it here with these land-walkers all goddamn day.

The hike down was nice, although generally, one of the joys of hiking is the changing of the scenery. This, you do not get at the Canyon, because, no matter where you are on the trail, bam, there it is. It's just too damn huge. From switchback to switchback, the change of the view is barely perceptible. I mean, I'm sure if you do an overnighter down to the river, then, yeah, things look a little different, but I got to the 1.5 mile rest house, and could see the 3 mile resthouse down the hill, and, welp, bam, there it was.

Part of me wanted to keep on going, though, and push on to the next point on the trail, just because... well, just because. I mean, when was I going to be here again? I mulled it over and mulled it over, and then, at the last second, decided instead to start the long trip back up. This proved to be one of the better decisions I can remember making, as I clawed and scraped the last tenth of a mile to the rim, lunging my hands out randomly in all directions, hoping beyond hope that I'd somehow hit an elevator button. Yeah, 1.5 mile rest house. That's a full hike right there, no need to push anything.

I was so exhausted when I collapsed back into my car that I almost forgot that I'd, only one day before, had the greatest idea ever! Of course, since I'd originally had the greatest idea ever, it had slowly but with great consistency lost its luster, to the point where it no longer seemed like the greatest idea ever, and in fact no longer seemed like much of a good idea at all. But, again, when was I gonna be here again? And at least it wouldn't involve any walking.

I drove to the airport and asked the nice lady at the front desk of Grand Canyon Airlines, "Do you, or anyone else here at the airport, rent airplanes and do flight instruction?"

"No, sorry, not here." I did my best to conceal the great sigh I instinctively let out. "Well, then, how much are the air tours?" "$75, and we have seats on the 10 AM flight tomorrow morning." "Okay, sign me up for that, then!"

I would have flown the Canyon, if they had rented 'em. That's the important point. It was still the greatest idea ever. Anyone who's played Flight Simulator knows this to be the case.

At this point, I was getting mighty hungry, what with the hike from earlier and the fact that it was already nearly 3 PM and I hadn't eaten, so I went back to the hotel (a "Best Western", if you're still curious) and went down to the "Saguaro Sports Grill" for a draft and a burger. Unfortunately, the Saguaro Sports Grill wasn't to open for a half hour. This would not do for me, because I was awfully hungry, and plus, I was on a timeline, because I wanted to make one last trip through the Park, at sunset, looking for spectacular photo opportunities. So I went to the vending machine next to my room and noshed on pretzels and Corn Nuts. Everything a growing boy needs.

Then the photo expedition, which went fine, and provided me an opportunity to see some of the parts of the park I hadn't already been to, but really, the whole idea is stupid. This (unlike Mr. Mushroom from Ferndale!) is unphotographable. I mean, you can get shots that LOOK like the Canyon, but even the best one, done by teams of professional photographers, can't begin to convey the feel, which is the whole deal. The feel is the deal. Hey, I like that.

The sun went down, though, so I drove back to the hotel, where the Saguaro had long since opened up, so I perched at the bar, had that draft and burger I'd spoken of earlier, and chatted with the amiable latino bartender, Juan. My bowling blisters from the day before had since burst and revealed raw, red, extremely sensitive and painful skin underneath, and after Juan noticed this, he got out the bar's First Aid kit and patched me right up. This was the first time I'd ever received medical assistance at a bar, I should add. I know, I'm amazed too.

A few drafts later, and my thumb feeling better after Juan's TLC, I had one of the worst ideas of all time, which was, "Hey! I'm gonna go bowling again!"

My first ball went straight into the gutter, which people would probably have noticed if they hadn't instead been prompted to stare straight at me, after I let out a yelp of pain. No, my thumb was not better. And my first game of 130 bore that fact out.

Why I even bothered to finish that first game is beyond me. Why I bothered to play a second game, then, is beyond everybody I've ever known. However, summoning the intestinal fortitude of a thousand wounded, slightly drunk bowlers, I knocked out a very respectable 192. In pain more exquisite than I could remember, I turned in my shoes and thought about heading for the emergency room, but instead just stopped by the ice cream vending machine and had a Klondike bar. Hey, you go to your doctors, I'll go to mine.

Then I went back to my room, took another bath, took my very last Tylenol PM which I'd been saving for a special occasion, and then watched TV while munching on more vending machine goodies the rest of the evening until I zonked out.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Time to check the So Now Then mailbag, where a concerned reader writes:

Hey Ben! Love your website. One thing that bothers me, though, is that fact that you write about drinking while you're driving on these little adventures of yours. Don't you know that ten billion cute little cherub-faced children with no front teeth and holding a little teddy bear with one eye are killed every year by lush-faced scuzbuckets such as yourself? Other than that, though, love the site!

I'm glad this fan wrote in on this subject, because I do think it's an important subject, and one which I'd like to address in a two-pronged response:

1. Get your own website, Mr. Complainy-pants. So Now Then doesn't even have a mailbag, and just for this reason.

2. Hey, ain't you the same one who introduced me to the many and varied wonders of excessive alcohol consumption, while I was destroying you at Star Control under the din of Led Zeppelin albums, lo those many years ago in Crystal City, Virginia? Why yes, I think you were. So maybe let's reel it in a little on the proselytizing, huh?

But, it's a fair question. And nobody out there is going to like hearing this, but don't even bother trying to contact me and talk some sense into me, because this, I promise you, will not change.

Yes, I drink when I drive. Only on long trips such as these, and never past the point where I'm incapable of driving better than any other damn fool on the highways, but I do it, and I'm going to keep doing it until I get where I'm going. There are two primary reasons for this, the first being, having a little nip or two sure takes a lot of the tedium out of driving hundreds upon hundreds of long, straight, intolerably boring miles. Just spruces you (well, me) right up, and by the time you (well, me) (well, I) know it, you've reached the destination.

The other reason is that, if you're going someplace indescribably cool, you are definitely going to want a buzz on when you arrive, because then instead of just parking the car, looking around, and going, "Whoa," you can look forward to parking the car, looking around, and going... "WHHHHOoooaooaoahahh!!! LOL!!"

So, let's hear no more about this distasteful subject, and get on to the business of telling you about Thursday, November 13, 2003!

I got up. As much as my aunts were hoping it wouldn't be, the weather was fabulous. In a last-ditch effort to get me to stay, Aunt Shirley recommended I check the internet for weather in the Grand Canyon, my first stop. The weather there was even more fabulous than in Sun City West. Yep, it was definitely time to get this show on the road.

After showering and packing up, I spent the next 45 minutes fending off Aunt Shirley's generous offers to give me things to take with me on my trip. Food. Beverages. Kitchen utensils. Major appliances. Shirley is extremely generous, and while I appreciated the thoughts, I had already accepted enough random things to fill up whatever scant free space I still had left in my car, and my rear shocks are already straining under so much weight that even an additional bag of sour cream & onion potato chips would probably have me start bottoming out every time I hit a bug on the road. So I took the unflavored kind.

Back on the road, my first stop was in Sedona, which I'd heard good things about, and which was quite a quaint little town with lots of touristy shops and lots of funky rock formations, which I would later come to realize were fairly small potatoes. In fact, the entire "stop" consisted of me seeking out a decent spot to take a picture, which happened to be somebody's driveway, where I got out and quickly snapped a few shots before they saw me and chased me down with a double-barrelled shotgun.

Once out of Sedona, and onto the uninhabited, barren highway to the north, I did in fact begin "preparing", in the manner I've described above, for the next destination. The Grand Canyon. The Grand Fucking Canyon. Everyone else had been there. The Brady Bunch had been there, for Christ's sake. Everyone but me. It was time. Stopping halfway only to gas up, buy a park pass, some Corn Nuts, and a Budweiser, the adrenaline started pumping as I got closer. I'd heard good things. I'd heard very, very good things.

On the road heading into the park, there are billboards advertizing helicopter and airplane tours. I dismissed them at first, but then (as the Budweiser can emptied out) started thinking, "Hey, that might be fun. Grab a seat on one of them tours and... see the Grand Canyon... from the... air."

And that's when I remembered one important thing, and had: The Greatest Idea Ever.

I'm a fucking pilot, you moron! I'll take my own goddamn air tour! Yes! I am totally doing this!! This was the greatest idea ever!!!

Supercharged by this plan, the rest of the trip to the Canyon was a cinch. I went through the entry gate, armed with my prepaid pass, and then busted all the speed limits up to the first viewpoint, because the sun was going down, and I wanted to be able to take some pictures and revel in whatever beauty the Canyon held before it got too dark and cold.

Where to go, though? Where to go. Ah, there's a sign. "Mathers Point". Hey, I like Eminem. And there's lots of cars there, so there must be something to look at.

I parked, and got out, and went to where there was a big group of people just staring out into the distance, not moving, not saying much of anything. Walking on up, I remember thinking, "This better be good. I've heard so much from so many people that I'm sure there's no way this is going to live up to the hype, but, I mean, I've come all the way here and so I'd just like to---"



Man. If that ain't the most amazing thing ever, then I just don't know what is. That, right there, is a big-ass canyon. There's no getting around that simple fact. And with the waning sun setting the top of the north rim afire with ruby and orange, the enormity of the situation gradually sinking into my Corn Nut-encrusted head, well, it damn near took my breath away. I felt like an idiot standing there with thirty other people clicking snapshots, the samn damn snapshots that people had been taking since photography was invented, but I did it anyway.

But I had all tomorrow to sit around gawking at rocks. The more important part now was to find a hotel room, so I headed back out of the park and into the closest little tourist town, where I saw the only sign I needed to see:


Needless to say, within ten minutes, I was booked in there for the next two days. And needless to say, within ten minutes of that, I'd made my way to the bowling alley, where I proceeded to roll six games. I hadn't bowled in nearly two years, but I like to pop into the lanes and roll a few from time to time, just to make sure I can still kill, if ever I am called upon to perform any bowling-related duties. Got a huge, painful blister, and didn't manage to break 180, which concerned me greatly, but it was a good time nonetheless, and quite surreal, too. Standing at the Grand Canyon, I would have bet pretty decent money that I wouldn't be bowling 30 minutes from then. But there I stood.

After that, I grabbed my trusty laptop and headed down to one of their three restaurants, the "fancy" one, where I asked if I could eat dinner at the bar. They only served appetizers at the bar, though, so I instead got a little table. Being a "table for two", there was really no way to set up the laptop, so I shelved that idea and instead dined on elk, of all things. I had not had elk before, and though it was lovingly and elegantly (and expensively) prepared, I do not think I shall have it again. Too lean. I needs me some fat with my meat, knowhumsayin'?

I charged the meal to my room, silently cursed myself (an unemployed, homeless person) for paying so much for a meal, and then-- hey! There's the bar again! Naturally, then I finally set up at the place I wanted to sit in the first place, popped open the laptop like one of those assholes who pops open their laptops in public places, got an after dinner drink (or two) (or...) and proceeded to pound out a few quality days of SNT. I think I write better at bars. And here I was, afraid I'd go through this whole journey and not learn anything about myself.

Once the $20 I'd laid out on the bar had been whittled down to pocket change, I packed back up and headed on up to my room, where I disrobed (that's for the ladies) and prepared to take a shower. My hand was halfway extended toward the shower control, when I thought about a big ol' Victorian-era clawfoot tub I'd once bathed in, way back up in a little town called Ferndale, CA. Wistfully recalling those carefree days of yestermonth, I reached down, plugged up the drain, and drew myself one kick-ass motherfucker of a bath, where I lounged about, reading Canyon literature and getting all waterlogged for the next hour or so. Good times.

(After that, I dried off, flipped on some ESPN and went to sleep, but that seems like somewhat of a pedestrian way to end such an exciting, action-packed update, doesn't it?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Right! Time to get up and get on the road! Hit the Grand Canyon! Hit the National Parks! Get going! First day of the rest of my life! Yee-haw!

Well, except... Except it was raining. Here in Arizona. There, in the Canyon. There, in the National parks. Wherever there was, it was raining there. I lurched out of bed, sat down at Shirley's computer, checked my email, and then perused Yep, it was bad. Of course, it didn't help that Shirley was behind me telling me I shouldn't go today, and Alice was on the phone telling Shirley to tell me that I shouldn't go today, and my grandparents were on the phone to Alice to tell Shirley to tell me that I shouldn't go today, and...

...NO! I have to go today. This was my plan. It's in the schedule, god dammit. And if I could just get this raging headache to go away, and get the energy somehow to get out of this chair, and maybe once in my life not stay up until three in the fucking morning getting hammered and auuguugugghhhhh.

Fuck it, I ain't going.

So I didn't. Friends? Wednesday, November 12, 2003? I call this, the Lost Day. I swear to you, as David Koresh is my witness, I sat in that computer chair for about five hours straight, checking email, and then going through Shirley's bookmarks, and all the stupid games that she plays to pass the time. The first one I came across was "Word Whomp", which is the second stupidest game of all time, in which you are given six letters, and have to find as many words in those six letters as possible within a certain time period. The whole point of this game is, if you get enough words, you get "tokens" added to your account, which can later be exchanged for valuable prizes, cash, or opportunities to receive spam email from shady operations all around the world. I asked Shirley, "What do you use the tokens for? You know, these tokens which are the only point to playing this mind-numbingly idiotic, tedious, ridiculous, lame-ass game?"

"What tokens?" she replied without irony. Oh Lord.

I ended up playing Word Whomp for two hours, finding word upon word, in an attempt to gain tokens which would never do anyone in this universe any good. I call these, the Lost Tokens.

Then I happened upon Slingo, which narrowly beat out Word Whomp for the stupidest game of all time. Slingo is, as the name would imply, a combination of Bingo and slot machines, both of which I hate. Naturally, I only ended up playing this game for the next three hours. I call these, the Lost Hours.

At around 5, though, Alice came over and forced me to get out of the chair, so I could prepare dinner, in the form of leftover Bendaloo. Second day, even better than the first. Holy crap. It had been a slow day, though, and every once in a while, I like to have a little fun by indulging in my own passion for pedantry, so while eating, I tried baiting the two aunts with one of my favorites. "This is a pretty easy-to-make curry."

Well, they took that one, hook, line and stinker. "Oh, you used curry in this?"

That's when I launched into my standard fifteen-minute rant on how "curry" is not a spice, not an ingredient, not a flavor, not any of the things anybody thinks it is. It just means "stew". So I revelled in laying into them about this, over Alice's objections that she knew people who'd lived in India, and who had assured her that "curry" is a particular type of additive which comes in a jar and makes things taste like... that. Hahahaha. I love being right. I come from two parents, one of whom loves to be right, and so never admits to being wrong, and one of whom hated to be wrong, and so never was. I was doomed from the start, I tells ya.

That fun business out of the way, Alice left, Shirley turned in, and I was once again left to my own questionable devices. I grabbed an after-dinner cocktail, flipped on the TV, and channel-surfed until I came across a movie to help kill the time before Nick @ Nite hit the meat of its schedule. The movie? Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

(See how I tied that theme together? Man, some day, hundreds of years from now, people are going to find this website and think: "Where's the naked chicks?")

While watching, I started to realize that, hey, I was really enjoying my time in Sun City West. And with the weather forecast a little foreboding, maybe I should just kick it here a few more days. Hey, Shirley wants me to. Alice wants me to. Shirley's husband Tom, who I think is cool and funny as hell, would be home the next day, and I could play golf with him. I could just kick it here, getting free room and board for a few days, and then just speed over to the east coast at the last minute! Yeah!

That's when I went into the bathroom to freshen up. And I looked at the mirror. At myself. At my face. Which is where I saw it.

It might have been there a while, but I sure never noticed it. Hell, I'd just gotten carded at Gelson's a few days ago, for looking like a teenager. It couldn't have been there then. I turned from side to side, checked the lighting in the room, checked from every angle. It was still there. It wasn't going away.

A wrinkle.

You always remember your first. First lay. First landing. First kill.

First wrinkle. Right there, northeast of my mouth. A "laugh line", I think they call this. Whatever they call it, though, it ain't good news.

Things are breaking down already. Things are winding down at an alarming rate. Time, she is of the essence. It will get worse before it gets better, and it will never get better. A brief flash of sorrow was immediately washed over by an absolute shock of urgency. Onward and upward, yes. But please, with a quickness, now.

That's it. Tomorrow morning, I'm outta here. I don't care if I have to dodge tornados. 'Cause there might be another wrinkle on the other side of my face tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Sleeping in would have been the move today. In fact, not only was it the move, but it was my primary plan. But, as any good general knows, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And at around 10:30, I was woken up by the sound of Aunt Alice walking through the front door, asking about my whereabouts. Aunt Shirley informed her that, wonder of wonders, the big lumbering oaf from California was still asleep in his big luxurious room in his big luxurious bed. Well, this wouldn't stand with them, so in an attempt to "subtly" wake me from my much-needed slumber, they first stood outside my door and did a little play-acting, at maximum volume. "But, Shirley, we can't let him sleep!! He's only here for one day!! How can you just let him sleep?!" "Well, Alice, I want to be a good hostess, you understand!! Can't just go around waking up guests even though they probably didn't get to sleep until 3 AM the previous morning because he found out we have both Nick @ Nite and a full liquor cabinet!"

But I ain't no rookie. I held my ground, and didn't make a sound. That's when they brought out the big guns, and opened the door, letting the two hounds from hell in. They are both small dogs, both white and puffy, both cute as buttons, and both capable of making the most ear-splittingly annoying sounds known to man. "YAP YIP YIP YAP YAP YIPE!" they screamed. Well, that did it. Against my will, I succumbed to the clamor, got up, and began trying to get myself together.

I bid good morning to Alice, who, after seeing she'd accomplished her mission, took off to go to her manicurist, which was a terrifically anxious, unpleasant venture for her, because she wants to switch manicurists, and is terribly afraid that she'll hurt the current one's feelings, so her 45-minute drive to get her nails done is fraught with guilt and dread. To get her nails done. This, an 80+ year old woman. I could do a whole webpage about that by itself, but I need to get on with this one, because I'm three goddamn days behind again, and I'm still writing two paragraphs for every word in my "daily notes" notebook, and this is getting ridiculous.

What to do, though? Shirley and I still had a whole day ahead of us. First thing was, to get in the car and swing past the house that my grandparents will begin calling home just a little over a month from now. It's a nice house. It looks like every other house within 5 miles, which means, a nice, spacious house with a two-car garage and a cactus in the front. And the best part is, it's not surrounded by a thousand 90-year-olds. Instead, they'll be surrounded by a thousand 70-year-olds. But, believe me. It makes a difference.

After that, we went to the grocery store, because I wanted to do something nice for my two aunts who I hardly ever see. I had broached the subject the previous evening. "Hey guys! How would you like me to whip you up a nice dinner tomorrow, to express my appreciation for your hospitality!"

"Great!" they replied. "What are we having?"

"I thought I'd whip together my famous Indian dish!"

"I CAN'T HAVE SPICY FOOD!" they both yelled in unison, while grimacing at each other. Jesus. You try to do something nice for people.

After convincing them that "Indian" doesn't necessarily mean "burning", they reluctantly agreed to let me, their darling nephew, cook them a beautiful meal out of the goodness of my own heart. Those troopers. So, at the grocery store, I went around buying up all the required ingredients. Of course, Shirley was trying to convince me that she already had all the ingredients, as I rattled off my shopping list. "Garlic!" "Oh, we have lots of jars of minced garlic!" Nigga, please. "Basmati rice!" "Oh, we have a whole box of Uncle Ben's!" Black person, please.

I enjoyed the shopping because, well, I always enjoy grocery shopping. Plus, no matter how much I protested, Shirley insisted on paying for all of it.

Once home, I began cooking, because the dish takes several hours to prepare. Here, for you now, I present the recipe for my own personal take on traditional vindaloo, "Bendaloo":

Actually, you know what? Screw that. I was going to put the recipe in here to pad this entry out, but seeing as how the page is already scrolling in Editplus with each new line I write, I'm going to save that one. Rest assured, though, it's fabulous. And you have to use basmati rice, even if your aunts swear they can't tell the difference between properly prepared basmati and any old instant rice you just slap into a pan. I can't believe I actually come from this family.

Once I had the pot simmering away, which it has to do for several hours, to let all the flavors blend together, let the sauce thicken up, and let the meat get so tender you can suck it through a straw, it was time for a little social occasion. Alice had a couple friends from out of town coming in to visit her at her local country club, Briarwood, and so we all got in the car to hit "happy hour" at the Briarwood lounge. A lot of people would wince at the prospect of sitting at a table with a bunch of "the aged", but after my experiences at the Peking Inn just a few days earlier, this was like Wiffleball (TM). Of course, it didn't hurt that Shirley and Alice are, themselves, pretty with-it and cool, and Alice's two friends were also pretty damn together, and more importantly, thought I was hilarious and charming. Which I am. And which I am.

Back to the house, though, because the Bendaloo was starting to shape up. And just a mere hour or two later, it was done, and we all sat down to eat.

Some things I cook, I genuinely hope that the people eating it like it, because I'm not too sure whether it's good or not, and I don't know if it's something they'd like, and I don't know if I did it right, or whatever. One bite of this, though, and I went into Dictator Chef mode. This was great. This was excellent. This was some of my finest work. "It's good," Shirley said, trying to assuage whatever anxiety she might have thought I had. I quickly corrected her. "No, it's great." Anything other than a glowing review was unacceptable. Damn was that some fine Bendaloo. Please ask around for the recipe. Or if I'm going to be visiting you in about three or four days, you may wish to demand that I cook it for you. Whoever you might be.

After dinner, we sat around the dining room table, stuffed and impressed (at least, I was), and played a little "Taboo", which is that game where you have to describe the word without using certain other words. For instance, if the word was "", you would have to describe it without using the most obvious keywords, such as "alcoholism", "mushrooms", and "Shortcake". This was fun, except, since I'm a professional writer by trade (well...) and know every word in the universe, it was way too easy for me.

The game of Taboo mastered, I bid Alice a good night as she went back to her place, and then went around the house doing other stuff I'm great at, like fixing Shirley's computer for her, and raiding her liquor cabinet. Then I decided to show her my hundreds upon hundreds of Ferndale pictures, in silent revenge for all the family photo albums I'd ever had to endure over the past 30-some-odd years. You're going to sit here, and you're going to look at these pictures, and you're going to like them, even the ones that show Clash packing a bowl full of weed, goddammit.

Of course, I sure wish I had remembered that, a couple days earlier, I had, in a fit of whimsy, set my Windows wallpaper to be a slightly pornographic photo of a young lass in just her skimpiest unmentionables. I'm usually so good about not being caught with porn, which is tricky for me, because porn comprises approximately two out of every three bytes on my hard (heh) drive, including the swap file, so this was a little embarrassing. But I moved on and showed her the pics, reliving the moments as I flipped through them. Good ol' Ferndale.

Shirley then went to bed, which meant it was time to me to roll back into my nightly schedule of watching Nick @ Nite, writing a little, and drinking too much, which I swear I wouldn't do, except everything comes on here an hour later than everywhere else, so in order to watch Roseanne, I have to stay up until 1 in the goddamn morning. When am I ever going to catch a break!?

Monday, November 10, 2003

Now, in my previous update, I said I'd get up "early" and get on my way. Of course, "early" to me, as you can probably tell by reading the rest of this page, has basically come to mean "beating the noon siren".

Got up around 10, dilly dallied about Saeid's place, showering and tidying up for awhile, and then hit the road at 11 sharp. I have here in my notes something about mentioning that I was upset that I'd left my soap and my shampoo back at my grandparents' house, and thus had to use Saeid's, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that talking about forgetting to pack shampoo does not make for particularly interesting reading, so I don't think I'll even bring it up here.

I spent the next six and a half hours driving to Sun City West, where my grandparents are moving in a week, where my aunts Shirley and Alice live, where I finally arrived at 5:30, a half hour before I told my aunts Shirley and Alice I'd be there. Except... Oh, crap! Arizona is an hour ahead of California! So instead of being a half hour early, I was actually a half hour late. You can imagine the level of my embarrassment at this faux pas. (None.)

After my arrival, they decided it would be nice to take me out for a special dinner at one of their fancier, most elegant local restaurants. So we got in the car, headed out, and eventually landed in the parking lot of...


I had the "Cowboy Burger", which, while not up to No Brand standards, was pretty good, and we had a good time sitting around watching me drink beer and talking to them about mushrooms, which, I must describe them in fairly glowing terms, because all these people who shake their heads when I start telling the story, by the end of the story they're asking me if they can get some. First come first serve, ladies! My mommy asked first.

Then we came back, Alice headed back to her place, and I spent the rest of the evening watching Nick @ Nite and trying to get Shirley's two dogs (Puffy and Cuddles) (really) to play with me, which they staunchly refused to do. They did enjoy barking mercilessly at me, though.

Since today was a pretty light day, I'd like to talk about Nick @ Nite for a moment. Right after I sold my TV's, they started playing Roseanne. Now, nobody likes Roseanne Barr Arnold Schleimberg Phelps III as a person, that's obvious. But back when the show was in first run, I remember thinking, "Yeah, she's an asshole, but this show is pretty goddamn good." I took a lot of heat for that, believe me.

Now that I'm in someone else's home, with cable, I've been able over the past week to watch several of these reruns, to re-evaluate my initial take on the show, since I was much younger and more naive way back then. Here's my verdict: It was a pretty goddamn good show. Well written. Well acted, with the exception of Becky. John Goodman is great. Darlene is great. Even Roseanne is great. GREAT show, I don't care what any of you elitist punks say.

This has been: Ben Reviewz the TV Showz!!

Sunday, November 9, 2003

It's Sunday, and that can mean only one thing: Time to get up early, get dressed in your finest, and go down to the church to give thanks to the Lord Jesus for all the wonderful blessings he has bestowed upon us, his children of faith, such as kittens, aged gouda, and that chick's ass. Unfortunately, for the 1613th straight week, I neglected to do that, and instead just lied on the floor and watched football.

I used to be a huge Redskins fan, and as such a huge football fan, but I'm ashamed to admit that, though the season is over halfway through already, I had yet to actually sit down and watch and entire game. But, seeing as how the Carolina Panthers, my soon-to-be adopted home town team, were on, and seeing as how I didn't particularly feel like doing anything strenuous like getting off the floor, or changing the channel, I watched that whole damn game. Great game! GO PANTS!

At that point, I got up and did random things around the house to help out. Can I help pack, Grandma? Can I help make the bed, Grandpa? Can I do anything, anything here? Because once I run out of things to do here, I know Miriam, the neighbor, who probably still hadn't stopped talking since the party yesterday, even though nobody else lives with her, wanted some computer help before I left town. And she promised that, while I was there, she'd recite some more poetry for me. Isn't it just my luck that it was too early in the day to start drinking.

I'm a good guy, though, so I went. It took approximately 90 seconds to do the computer thing she wanted me to do. And I was there for 45 minutes. None of these numbers are exaggerated. Oh, she'd long since forgotten that she was going to recite poetry to me, but just to make sure I didn't escape unscathed, I got the entire background story of both of her brothers, one of which who got rich writing gardening books, and the other who got rich by winning the lottery. Both of these stories, of course, came with accompanying photo albums and various keepsake trinkets she'd saved over the years. I have never seen or heard anything like this woman. She can't stop. She absolutely can't stop talking, under penalty of death. And it's all monologue. I don't think I said more than 10 words total in the entire time I was there, because one story led into the next, and one sentence led into the next, and there was just no empty space to jump in and utter even the simplest of phrases (like, for instance, "kill me").

After barely making it out alive, I went back to the grands', where I played one last game of Scrabble with Grandma (UNDEFEATED, baby!! How you like me NOW, grams!?) and then sat around with them at the table, having various discussions on various topics. At one point in the conversation, my dad's name came up, at which point Grandma lost it a little and had to leave the room, sobbing, but in a couple minutes, she'd recovered and was back in action.

But all good, hearing-aid-assisted things must come to an end, and it was time for me to pack up, head out, and go over to Saeid Zoonematkermani's place, where'd I'd spent one last evening with my buddy, and then head out early the next morning. No tears were shed during this goodbye, but it felt fairly significant to all involved, I'd imagine. You never know what the future holds, of course, but I think we were all a little afraid that this might be the last time we all saw each other. You just never know.

Once at Saeid's, we sat around chatting for awhile, then drove to Agoura Hills to have dinner at Padri, our favorite Italian restaurant in SoCal, where he had risotto in a sausage ragout, and I had their osso bucco, which is still as fabulous as ever. Also, the hostess there on this particular night could have gotten a job at Curley's. That's all I need to say about that.

Then we headed back, had some aperatifs, sat by the fire chatting about the various places I'd be going on my trip, and just generally relaxing. At about 11, though, I bowed out and headed to the little "outhouse", as I call it, which, if you'll think back, was where this whole journey began in the first place. It was also significant because it was the first time in way, way too long that I'd had access to a high speed internet connection.

I stayed up in the outhouse until about 2:30, because, damn, it's amazing how much internet porn you have to catch up on if you miss just one little month!

Saturday, November 8, 2003

Have to wake up.


No. Have to wake up now. Come on.


Because. Because they're going to be here soon.


Why, the lowest scum on the face of the earth, other than radio salespeople, of course! That's right, the realtors are on their way, to try to foist this decrepit old house onto some decrepit old people, and that means that you, sir, lying there on the living room floor, empty flask of Black Velvet safely hidden under the sofa so your grandparents won't ask what you were doing until three in the morning last night, better get your ass up!

Ugh. Uggh. It's amazing to me, as a 32 year old person who has fairly revelled in his own sybaritic tendencies since at least the age of 18, and at a reasonably aggressive pace to be sure, that staying up late all night abusing myself can still seem like such a good idea at the time, when I know for damn sure that the next morning, I'm going to be feeling like... this. And did you ever notice that "this" is an anagram for "shit"? Well, never has it been more appropriate. Ugh.

Six hours of sleep and a reasonable excuse for a hangover is not the way you'd want to wake up to any average day of your life, believe me. Six hours of sleep and a reasonable excuse for a hangover, though, is definitely not the way you want to wake up to a day in which you know you're going to have to face...

Oh dear, I still can't bring myself to talk about it...

Well, I suppose that for this website, being the only known record of my current existence on this planet, I'll have to talk about it. Just forgive me if I'm brief.

It's just that... you see, a couple of my grandmother's friends had decided to put together a little "farewell lunch" for her. Yes, they'd suggested that they all get together at a local Chinese restaurant, have a little lo mein, relive some good times, and give her the send-off that she deserves.

Yes, just her, and me...

...and thirty-five of her closest octagenarian buddies.

"Would you rather not go?" she asked.
"I would rather shove my head into the garbage disposal and flick the switch than go, Grandma," I replied.
"Well, that's too goddamn bad," she retorted.

Even while I was waking up, dressing myself, and doing my best impersonation of a non-hungover grandson, I couldn't believe that this thing was actually going to happen, and that I was actually going to be a part of it. And that she was actually bringing the karaoke machine out of the closet, and that she was actually appointing me the "producer" of this little show, where she planned to plug in the microphone, grab a blank tape, and record the proceedings. I pinched myself in the hopes I was still stuck in one of those "hide Clash's plant" dreams, but all I got was a welt.

Well, if rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it, that's my motto. So, off to the Peking Inn we went. This was almost the funniest part. Grandma was all jazzed for this occasion, and had dressed to the nines and was looking like a million bucks. Our car consisted of me driving, her in the passenger seat, and two of her closest friends in the back, one of which was the aforementioned tiny, talkative Miriam. Well, Miriam and whoever the other old fossil back there was, from the time we left the driveway to the time we drove up to the restaurant, were all: "BAbabababababababaBBBabAbabaBbabababa...", and I mean, non-stop. And so, my grandmother, who was looking forward to this event more than life at self, gives me a surreptitious little pat on the knee and makes this motion to me to indicate that, boy, does she have a headache from these people already.

She has a headache. SHE has a headache. Hey, sweetheart, bark up some other tree, 'right? Good god.

Anyway, we got there, and somehow the place was able to corral all these blue-hairs into one room and get them to sit down and eat whatever slop they piled in front of them, with a remarkable lack of whining and complaining, though I feared there might be a scene when the egg-drop soup was served and one of the women at our table, approximately 185 years old, told poor Chingchong, our waiter, "EXCUSE ME, YOUNG MAN!?! WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENTS OF THIS SOUP!?!"

"Oh, dassa 'egg drop soup', so dat have, ahh, egg in it, and ahhh, drop. Gotta egg and a drop. Inna soup."

The rest of the meal passed with a minimum of discomfort. Then it was time for the speeches. The speeches consisted of my grandmother getting up, grabbing the mic and letting everyone in the room know where she was going and why, and then her passing the microphone around the room, encouraging everyone to let her know exactly how wonderful she is, and how much they were going to miss her.

Thing is, they almost all grabbed the mic. Many went on at great length. Some broke into tears. This is the thing about my grandmother. She basically owns Leisure Village. She is most of these people's surrogate Savior. She has, for many years, taught classes on "self-awareness". And what most of them have come to be aware of is that they're emotionally dependent on her for any sense of purpose and meaning in their life. They call her, all hours of the day and night, asking what to do, where to go, how to wipe their own ass. And you better believe she loves every second of it. She was proud as a peacock, I do believe. I base this not only on my own sense of how she was dealing with the occasion, but also on the fact that since we got back, she's been driving the audio tape of the party around to anyone in Leisure Village who wasn't there, so they can hear it.

We got about four full styrofoam containers of leftover [extremely mediocre] Chinese food, packed up the gear and headed back. Due to the pair of Tsing Tao's I coerced out of Chingchong, our waiter, my hangover was gone, and added to the relief of knowing that the horror was over, I could finally admit to myself that, hey, it wasn't all that bad a time after all.

My favorite part, I should tell you, was after I'd set the microphone thing up, and was sitting quietly over in the corner, I switched the mic on for a second, and, without anyone knowing where it was coming from, started reading bingo numbers. "B... 24. B... 24." Old, glassy eyes looked around the room in confusion. "G... 19. G... 19." I like to make my own fun.

Got back to Leisure Village, unpacked and unwinded, and sat around with the grands, retelling the story for Grandpa who couldn't be there because he was dealing with matters of selling the house (which I think was bullshit, and just a made-up excuse to not come to the party, but I'll deal with that later), and just cooling out for awhile. It was during this conversation that I noticed that Grandpa was telling me a lot more stories from his youth and his other experiences than I generally hear. I wondered what prompted this little flurry of tale-telling, when it dawned on me...

I'm leaving tomorrow. And he thinks this just might be the last time we're together, talking face to face.

And while I can't tell the future, he might very well have a point. So I was glad to just sit there and listen, which was more enjoyable than it might sound, because my man does have some good stories, and being the consummate entertainer he is, he tells them quite well.

After that, I split and went to Woodland Hills to meet Adam at BJ's and have one last meal with my man, at my old bar, in my old seat, and check up on what he was up to. Finally got a job. Filipina magically then decided to start seeing him again. See how they are? Gotta have a J. O. B. if they gonna be with thee. Oh well, nice to see him not quite as miserable anymore.

Got back to Leisure Village at 9, earlier than I'd planned, so I played another game of Scrabble with Grandma (whooped her ass. BEN: 3, GRANDMA: 0, if you're keeping track), then spent the rest of the evening watching Nick @ Nite and lying on the living room floor.

Friday, November 7, 2003

Slept a little late, on the floor of my grandparents' living room, so once I got up and put myself together, it was already time to head out to Westwood, to meet up with Franky, my ex-coworker at [my ex-employer], and go back to Isshin to indulge in a voracious sushi feast! There ain't much I miss about LA, and there's even less I miss about working at [my ex-employer], but boy was I looking forward to this. Ferndale, lovely little town it is, is not known for its sushi. In fact, the closest place to go is in Eureka, which, in their radio ads, actually emphasize the fact that, well, "if you don't like raw fish, don't worry! Because here at Redneck Douchebag Sushi, we never use raw fish!" So what the hell do you use? Starkist? As you can see, then, walking back into Isshin was, at least in sushi terms, like escaping prison.

My man Nori was there, at his post, rockin' and rollin'. And oh, how the sushi flowed. Uni after maguro after habachi after masago, it just kept coming. So good. So wonderful. So delicate and delectable. Plus, now that I wasn't working, I was having Kirin Lights as fast as they could bring 'em to me. At one point, Nori handed me an empty coffee mug and said, "gimme some of that". So I did. Then Franky pulled the coolest move of the day, and ordered a beer for Nori. So there we all were, all three of us, toasting and drinking, Nori throwing us little "extras", bites of whatever sashimi he was in the middle of preparing for someone else, the other folks at the bar looking at us with envy and admiration, and... well, damn, it was just too much fun. Love that place. Love it! When in Westwood, please enjoy sushi at Isshin!

Other than chowing down on fishies, though, the other purpose of this trip was to get my goddamn check. It was about 1:00 PM at this point, and I knew they wouldn't have my goddamn check until later in the afternoon, so I killed some time by walking around town, shopping at Best Buy for awhile, having a little espresso, then buying a newspaper and going to the Westwood Brewing Company, which is a pretty lousy brewpub, but it's right across the street from where I was going to get my goddamn check. After slumming it there for awhile, quaffing mediocre homebrews, trying unsuccessfully to do the USA Today crossword puzzle, and ogling the hostess, I kicked it on back to the office.

After politely greeting all the folks I'd seen yesterday, I marched into the accounting office and said, "Where's my goddamn check, goddammit?" Wonder of wonders, they had it sitting right there waiting for me. Good thing, otherwise I would have had to shoot the place up and then turn the gun on myself.

With a fat wallet and a little buzz going, I felt good enough about life that I went back to Frank's desk to challenge him to one last ping pong game, which he narrowly beat me at, which blew away all the good feelings from earlier and left me depressed and angry, so I left.

I sat in the car, in the parking garage, thinking about how this was probably the last time I'd be at LRN. The last time I'd be in Westwood. The last time I'd be in LA. The last time I'd be anywhere near Santa Monica. Ah, I'd had some good times there. I thought back to some of them. Everything I came up with, I realized had taken place at the airport. The good old airport, where I'd signed up with Justice Aviation nearly a year before, got current again, and took to the skies. Justice Aviation. I'd miss that crew. Over there at... Justice... Aviation. Where I... paid with a credit card... and got $5 off the standard rate... because...

Holy crap! I still had a $500 account there! And here I was, minutes from forgetting to ever cash that baby out!

Well, I tore outta there and crawled down the 405 (I hate LA), then crawled down the 10 (I hate LA), and narrowly avoided an accident on Bundy South (I hate LA), arriving finally at KSMO, Santa Monica Municipal Airport. A proverbial lump in my throat was already halfway up as I drove into the place, and saw them. 172EP. 96575. 2447B. All lined up to wave goodbye to me one last time. Love those birds.

I went into Justice, got the $500 credited back to my account, told the folks there how much I appreciated them, and then went up to the observation deck to watch a few takeoffs and landings and get all wistful. But, onward and upward.

I got back in the car, sorrow on my mind, and went back to the grands', where I destroyed my Grandma in Scrabble again (HAHAAHA), wrote a little, and then feasted on dried up three-day-old spaghetti (not to be confused with the aforementioned dried up three-day-old lasagna, and then stayed up until 3 AM drinking heavily and reading my own website. Anything, anything to put off going to sleep, because I knew that the sooner I fell asleep, the sooner I would wake up, and have to face...

Oh. I can't even talk about it, it was going to be so horrible.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

"I've been wearing the same underwear since Tuesday."

    -- Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Without their knowing it, the grands woke me up with their morning routines. This is one of my favorite parts of the day, because this is when I spend about a half hour pretending that I'm asleep and eavesdropping into their conversations, listening for one of 'em to say something about me that I can pounce on them for. Just checking for any chink in the armor I can use against them in a pinch. Unfortunately, I'm such a fabulous, wonderful, and universally loved person, that nobody ever says boo. All I ever get is, "We should wake him up in 20 minutes, before the realtor gets here." Goddamn realtors, man, it's like they're following me.

Got up, (changed underwear,) had some coffee with pops there, then headed off to Santa Monica, where I had some business to attend to. First stop was to swing by Gold's Gym and convince them to cancel my membership, since I had moved out of the requisite 25 mile radius they require for cancellations. Since I was having my bills sent to Leisure Village in Camarillo, I showed 'em a phone bill and they took it. Of course, they require 30 days notice for cancellation, so I'll be paying for one more month. That brings the grand total, including signup fees and monthly dues, to something like $300, for a place that, all told, I ended up visiting four times. I sheepishly exited the establishment, deftly avoiding the giant sweat globs flying off all the gargantuans and Adonii, all of whom who had probably been there more than four times. That day.

Next was a quick swing past Jiffy Lube, to get the ol' girl spruced up. I'm bad at Jiffy Lube, because they always come in after about five minutes and say, "Mr. Parrish, can we talk to you?" And then I say, "Yes." And then they say, "Okay, things are looking good, but you might want to get the defragulator overhauled and the opposing compensator valve replaced." And then I say, "How much will that cost?" And then they say, "About a million dollars." And then I say, "Uhh. Well, do I really need a new opposing compensator valve?" And then they say, "Oh, only if you don't want your car to explode into a million bits!" And then I say, "Oh. Well, okay then, I guess." And I give them a million dollars, and everyone's happy.

Million dollars spent, and opposing compensator valve replaced, I went back to the Evil Empire of [my ex-employer], where my goal was to get my last check, which I never got because they sent it to the wrong address, and also to meet up with all the folks I used to enjoy working with, as well as actively avoid seeing my ex-boss, who is still a dirtbag, and will always be a dirtbag. I went into the accounting office and asked for my check, at which point I was cheerily told, "Oh, sure! We'll have that for you tomorrow!" Hm. That was disappointing, but just to make sure the visit wasn't a total loss, I got absolutely waxed at ping pong by one of my old adversaries. It's like I never left!

Then I sped up the PCH to get back to Leisure Village, because it was dinnertime, and I'd never forgive myself if I missed out on the feast of dried up, three-day-old lasagna which grandma had in store for us! After that, we went over to her neighbor Miriam's house, where it was my job to fix Miriam's computer, and then try to find a way to get out of her house within the next hour and a half, which is tougher than you might think, because Miriam, little tiny English sweetheart that she is, is physically incapable of not talking. If you take one step for the door, she's got a story for you to hear. If you make one twist of the door handle, she's at the ready, reciting some of her favorite poetry. If the door opens a single crack, she just has to show you pictures of her dead husband and regail (or regale, depending on how that word is spelled) you with stories of their glory days. Needless to say, I stopped by my car to get the hidden bottle of Black Velvet on the way back to the grands' house.

Then I did one of my least favorite things, which is to play Scrabble with my grandmother, who loves the game, and never tires of squashing me at it and jumping around making fun of how much I suck at it. Oh, except... except wait a second, you old bat! Check this shit out! "EXUDER", triple word score, 68 points, last play of the game. Check that score there, Grandma. Oh? You say I won? By four points? Well, how you like them apples, HUH!? A little tough to swallow, is it?! Well, you must not have tried the lasagna! HA HA HAHAHAH!

(This is all in fun, of course. If you're reading this, Grandma, you know I love you! You're not an old bat! And, by the way, you suck at Scrabble, and will never beat me again! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!)

Enough of that, though. I was falling dangerously behind on this hated website, so I sat down to do some writing. Or rather, I sat down to try to think of ways to put off doing any writing. First thing was to show pictures of my trip to Grandma. That was fun for both of us, but I think mostly for me, because in the space of 20 minutes, I got to relive the last month in pictures. Then I grabbed a guitar, and started playing a little song. Grandma asks, "Oh, that's nice, what is that?" I said, "That's called 'He Went To Paris', by Jimmy Buffett." Which is when Grandma whipped out the funniest line of the day:

"Oh, is he one of the new composers? The young kids?"

Well, everything's relative, I suppose. Boy, an incident like that really makes me appreciate my mother all the more (Hi mom! (She loves it when I mention her on this page, even when it's in the context of calling her an alcoholic) (which she is)). I mean, the Momster probably can't recite the words to "Bitch I'ma Kill You" verbatim, but she sure as hell knows who Eminem is. (He's one of the new composers, by the way. You know, the young kids.)

Then I winded down the evening by hitting the Black Velvet, watching Nick @ Nite, and trying to fall asleep over the din of Grandma's sleep tapes, which in order to hear, she has to blast at full volume.


Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Neck still hurting like a mofo, I got up and headed out on the town with Michelle! Well, except Michelle is addicted to the Game Show Network, so when I flipped the TV on two seconds after I woke up (which is what people suffering TV withdrawal tend to do), there was an old episode of Family Feud, and Richard Dawson's big pink drunk-ass face staring me in the puss. Naturally, I flipped the TV right back off. Well, after watching Family Feud reruns and shouting out answers like a Down syndrome kid for about a goddamn hour and a half after that. Game Show Network. Never again, I swear. I'd never leave the house.

Anyway, we headed out to do some shopping and grab some lunch. Since I'm still two days behind on this website, and sick as hell of writing this garbage, and I'm hungry, and I just bought some new porn I'm anxious to peruse, and this website now comprises the totality of every negative thing currently impeding on my life, I'll just hit the high points, once again in the time-tested list format:

  • Shopped at Target, looking for a gift she could buy for her mom's boyfriend. No dice.
  • Shopped at Ross, looking for a gift she could buy for her mom's boyfriend. No dice.
  • Went to Lolo's, her (and my) favorite local Mexican joint, which I desperately needed, if only to wash out the taste (or lack thereof) of the horrid Matias food I'd eaten two days hence. My choice was carne asada tacos. Very good, but nowhere as good as Beaux's (for those hardcore So Now Then readers out there.)
  • Shopped at the Atascadero outlet shops, where I purchased a shirt and two pairs of sunglasses, while Michelle looked for a gift she could buy for her mom's boyfriend. No dice.
  • Shopped at K-Mart, where I purchased some gum, and Michelle looked for a gift she could buy for her mom's boyfriend. Dice.
  • Went to the Eberle Winery for a tasting session and then a tour of the wine caves. The testing was, while enjoyable, a bit uncomfortable for me, because as much as I drink, and as much as I drink wine, I'm really not all that atuned to the various subtle flavors and "winey" shit, so I just ended up saying, after each one, "Ah! Dry! Fruity! Tannic!" Dry, fruity, tannic. Can't go wrong there. The caves, though, were lots of fun, because first of all, I'd just tasted five wines, and lots of things are fun after that, but also: caves! I instinctively crouched down and looked around for my compass and flashlights. Of course, after realizing that there were banquet tables and elaborate chandeliers in these caves, I determined that to not be necessary. Pff. You call this a cave? Buncha wusses.
  • Drove back to her place, during which time, the greatest moment of my life occurred. She had mentioned that it might happen, but I was losing hope, since my visit was drawing to a close. But after we got through the security gate at the front of her property, holy shit!! There's one!! A real, honest to goodness, live tarantula, ambling its way across the road. Awesome! I love tarantulas. Have since I was a little kid. But I'd never seen one in the wild before. The right tires of the car missed it by about an inch as we rolled past. Looking back, he was all pissed and had his front legs up, as if he was giving us the finger. Or, two of them. Love tarantulas, man!

Once back, we relaxed with a cold one, she tried to get me to stay one more day, I politely declined, and hit the road. Then I drove back to my grandparents place. Nice to see them again. They're getting ready to make their own big move, down to Arizona in a couple weeks, so the Leisure Village house has been gutted, sold, given away, or otherwise packed up, and the grands are a little on edge. Feisty. A little anxious. A little short-fused and irritable. In other words, they're more alive than I've seen 'em in years!

We sat around catching up on my trip, them shaking their heads ruefully as I went about explaining all of my various drug experiences, while no doubt secretly wishing I had some shrooms on me. Then they hit the sack, and I stayed up until 1 AM, soaking up the glorious radiant waves of their television, sucking voraciously at the long-missed teat of Nick @ Nite's warming goodness. Ahhh. Dry. Fruity. Tannic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

I awoke. My neck still hurt like hell. But it was on the mend. I wasn't hung over. It was still fairly early.

Oh shit. I'm really leaving. =(

As I took one last stroll through the town to pick up one last newspaper, all I could think is, oh, oh, I so do not want to leave! I love this town. I love Main street. I love (in a heterosexual, manly way) L. T.. I love the Palace, and Number One, and the drunk guy on the pavement, and the way you just keep seeing the same ten people every day, and the definition of a traffic jam is two cow trailers approaching head on, with half of the street taken up by Lane's beat up ol' Chevy with the dog in the back. And I love that stupid goddamn siren. =(

Onward and upward, though, so with a heavy heart, I began carting my stuff out the door, past Spanky the neighbor, past Matias and its lousy Mexican food (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that yesterday: I finally tried the Mexican food at Matias, next door. Possibly the worst Mexican food I've ever had. And you know what? I love Matias, too) and packing it into my car. =(

All too soon, the packing was done. I did a last little cleanup job of the apartment, took one last swing through the place, waved it goodbye, and closed the door. =(

I was running a little late at this point. I'd planned on leaving no later than 10:30, but already it was 11:30, and the clock was ticking. I got in the car, fired it up, took one last long look down Main, trying to imprint the image in my mind forever, and rolled down the road as slowly as I possibly could. I approached the outskirts of town, where the KHUM studios are. I giggled involuntarily, looking up at the "window on the world", and remembering all the goofy abuse of the airwaves I'd been, either tangentially or directly, a part of up there. Then I looked just past the building, and saw the little shack sitting in its shadow...

The No Brand Burger Stand.

Well, you gotta eat, right? So I got one last No Brand burger, and sat in the parking lot, thinking to myself how it might have been the most bittersweet burger I'd ever eaten. But god damn was it good. The best end to the best vacation I'd ever taken. =)

And as I coasted down the road, past the outskirts, and off into the distance, I could faintly hear that noon siren going off for me, one last time.

(Not really, but that would have been totally poetic, don't you think?)

Passing Fernbridge and getting back on the 101, I was trying to relive the entire month, one moment at a time. That was pointless, though, and a waste of energy, since I'd recorded it all in profuse detail on this website...

...except, I never talked about the shooting stars.

The last two weeks I was there, we'd end up spending at least a little time outside almost every day, staring up into unseasonably crystal clear night skies, agog at the clarity and depth of the starfield above us. And not all of those times were mushroom-related either. And I swear, I kept seeing them. Bright, gloriously arcing streakers. I must have seen seven or eight of them over the last ten days. It was the damnedest thing. Clash thought I was making them up, suffering from some drug-related hallucination or confusion. But I swear, I wasn't. Every time I'd look up, there'd be another one. I saw more shooting stars in those last two weeks than I'd seen in my whole life up until that point. Doesn't mean a damn thing, of course, but it sure was nice of them to do that.

But back to my day: Driving. Driving. More driving. You ever driven a really long way, for a really long time? Welp, it was just like that. The low point was driving through San Francisco, which was my first exposure to a big city since I'd left LA a month before, and every block I went through just reminded me of one more thing I definitely do not miss about that life. Funny, too, because on the drive up, San Francisco was kind of a highlight. Now, I guess, I see things a little differently.

Ten hours later, I made it to Paso Robles, where I'd spend the evening at my cousin Michelle's brand new place out in the hills. But first, I needed something to eat. The only place open was McDonald's. I never eat at McDonald's, but unlike Carl's Jr., avoiding it is not a religion with me, the food just sucks. But, hey, I'll give the ol' arches another try, it'd been a few years. I got the relatively new "Big & Tasty".

McDonald's has been serving this same goddamn burger for the last twenty years, trying to sneak it past us with clever new names and packaging. The "McDLT". The... whatever the next iteration of it was. And now, the Big & Tasty. Hey KROC, you ain't fooling anyone, you old dead lunatic! It's the same goddamn burger and it still sucks the big one. Maybe it would catch on a little better if it wasn't the most flavorless, inedible piece of mule droppings every to be packaged in styrofoam, and then later cardboard, and now paper. Of course, I was pretty hungry, so it went down smooth as a mountain stream.

Drove for another twenty minutes through Paso's back roads, and was greeted by Michelle, who welcomed me into her cool new place. We sat around for awhile, havin' cold ones, watching TV, and (if you were me) eating Tylenol PMs. Then I fell asleep on her couch. I've been sleeping on a couch for so long now, I don't think I could get a full night's sleep on a real bed anymore! LOL!

Monday, November 3, 2003

In case there was any doubt left in my mind that I might not actually make it out of Ferndale today, I slept wrong somehow and woke up with intense, unbearably sharp pains throughout my neckal region. There, there's a non-hangover-related excuse for not leaving today. Good deal, I'll take it.

I did need to get up and out of the apartment before 11 AM, though, because the realtor was coming around again, so I tidied up, hid a few things, grabbed my camera and then went out on the street to accomplish the one project which I thought of while in the Land, and decided the next morning was actually a good enough idea to do in real life, which was to walk up and down and photograph the entirety of Main street from either side. I figured this would be a good idea both to allow me to relive some of the experience of being in Ferndale, as well as assist me if I ever decide to write a text adventure about it (which I most certainly will not).

I also took advantage of this little outing to go by the laundromat and make a few cell phone calls to let all the people expecting me know that I wasn't going to show up when I said. Then I got the newspaper. I'm starting to think that maybe this website has progressed enough where it probably isn't necessary for me to explain to you in great detail every time I make a phone call or get a newspaper, so let's just say that, from now on, even if I don't mention it on a particular day, I probably made a phone call and got the newspaper at some point. That will save a lot of disk space, and I only have 500 megs to work with here, so every little bit helps.

Once back at the apartment, I commenced doing all the stuff that I should have done the day before, such as packing, arranging, taking possibly the last clawfoot-tub bath of my life, and of course, doing dishes. God, what a wonderful guest I must be to have around. Then I read the paper and wrote for the website until around 5, when L. T. showed up.

Then we sat around doing nothing until 6. But shit, man, is this how we were going to spend our (really) last night together in Ferndale? Sitting around doing nothing? Even though we were both approaching a stage of complete and thorough physical and mental breakdown from one solid month of personal abuse and outrageous excess? Hell no! Time for one more swing past the Palace, I should say.

Danny greeted us with his characteristic scowl and a Budweiser in each hand, which was like slipping on an old pair of comfortable slippers to us at this point. We hung around, sipping Buds, smoking cigarettes (just because we could) and reminiscing, when someone peeked in through the front door and, in a timid, bewildered tone (she was probably on mushrooms), told Danny, "Uh, there's a guy lying on the sidewalk out here."

Danny took one look outside, and sure enough, there was some ol' coot, who'd probably been in the place since 11 in the morning (no doubt his landlord was coming by), and who'd just left and done a big ol' face plant right into the sidewalk, and my man was out cold. Danny headed straight for the phone.

That goddamn siren wakes me up every day, either at 9, or 10, or the customary noon whistle, and I can never tell what the hell it's for. It blares, and people just seem to go on about their business. But when Danny hung up the phone, and that horrendous sound which reaches right into your neck and grabs a hold of your esophagus went off, I realized what its true purpose is:

To let the cops know they have to come peel some drunk off the street in front of the Palace.

Not 90 seconds later, cops swarmed the front of the establishment, got the guy up and onto the bench, asked him a few questions, and carted him off to the drunk tank. Real-life drama, on my last night in town! I'm so glad we went out.

But wait! It's Monday! And guess where they have an open mic night on Mondays! And guess who seems to have a habit of showing up at said open mic nights! And guess who continues to try like hell to get a date with said person! If you know the answers (and you really should, at this point) to the previous questions, you'll know that the next thing we did was go back to the apartment so L. T. could go take a bath and gussy himself up, while I sat downstairs and concentrated on getting into prime wingman form. Ready to not say anything? Check! Ready to act like everything Clash says is hilarious? Check! Ready to drink beer? Ugghh. I guess. Then let's go!

Here's what we saw at Curley's on this particular night:

  • Sara, cute as ever, sitting over with the drummer.
  • Troy Dexter singing a song and playing the guitar. Troy Dexter was a character from one of the abridged entries earlier in the month where I held back some information so that people wouldn't immediately fly into Ferndale for an intervention, but trust me when I tell you, this was hilarious. Troy Dexter, man. Hahahaha.
  • Number One, off work, dressed in her civvies, and with her hair down. There are no words to describe this. Oh my fucking Lord. The pain. The pain.
  • Milo, a four year old kid, standing on a chair and playing guitar and singing a song, the chorus of which went, "My mom told me not to eat boogers, but I did."
  • A guy with an Indian flute, getting up and shutting everyone up with tearful stories about how the recent fires had destroyed his family's home, then playing some really intense, mournful flute music, which I thought was awesome, and which bored everyone else to tears.
  • Clash almost getting into a fight with a guy who he'd asked to step about a foot to one side so he could better see the stage. I still don't know what happened here, but tensions were high. If Clash was a real host, he would have thrown down with the guy, just for my last day. Oh well.
  • Sara then getting up and coming over to chat with us for a bit, leaving the drummer to fend for himself. Boy is she cute.

10 PM rolled around soon enough, though, which signaled the end of open mic night, so we filed out. Of course, just for old time's sake you understand, we made one last stop at the Palace. Danny, who'd been so chatty earlier, seemed to have fallen into a bit of a foul humour, as he said not one word to us, and just served our beers and took our money with nary a glance. Never quite figured that guy out. I think he was trying to be funny, acting like he was pissed to see me, since the last two times I'd been in there, I'd said that it was my last time in there.

Anyway, we played one last game of the shuffleboard game (I won in straight sets), and then left, giving Danny one last wave goodbye, to which he responded, "Get the fuck out of here!" This was maybe the happiest moment of my life. Love that guy. Love that place. It ain't California, it's Ferndale, and it ain't Ferndale, it's the Palace.

Then we went back and argued for a while about how "on" it was with Sara. He says totally, I say maybe -- of course, last week, it went exactly the same, and he said no chance, and I said maybe, so I think he's completely lost it, myself.

Then, again for old time's sake, we had one more toke for the road, and turned in. For the last time. I swear.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

When I woke up for the last time (after having been woke up in turn by a 7:30 Siren of Death, a 9:30 church bell serenade, another 11:30 church bell serenade, and the standard noon Siren of Death) at about 1:00 PM, I remember that this was my last day. Of course, the way I felt, I couldn't remember whether that was my last day in Ferndale, or my last day of life on this planet.

L. T., while not in the same dire physical straits I was in, also didn't roll down the stairs until well after the noon whistle, at which point he was kind enough to go get our standard coffee orders while I remain laid out on the couch, groaning unintelligible things to nobody in particular.

He got back with the coffee, which inspired me to actually try getting up, which went better than I expected. We sipped our coffee, and then, seeing that we were both up and recharged with caffeine, decided to kick it one last time over to Curley's for a spot of lunch. All the favorites were there. Brenda the bartender. "Number One", the waitress (so nicknamed by us, because... well... here, make a list, in order, of the hottest women you've ever seen...) Lowell, the open mic guy. Ugh. Lowell. And right away, Lowell starts back in with Clash, "Hey, since yesterday, I came up with about five thousand new great ideas I want to run past you for doing a tie-in between the open mic night and the radio station, so now I'll just talk about them constantly while you're both trying to eat lunch and BABAbabAbabAbABABBAababa..." Man. Of course, our favorite part was when Lowell began telling us about a story where he collapsed onstage during a live radio performance because, to paraphrase ol' Blabbermouth there, "I had just gotten into a new relationship two days before, and... well, you know how it is, right?"

While we're trying to eat, he's telling us this story. He's telling us this story. Particularly, he's telling Clash this story, which is the absolute wrong guy to be telling that story to, because you'll never guess who Lowell used to go out with (and who that story may or may not have been about). Go ahead, guess! I'll give you a hint: She's cute, she wears glasses, she has been mentioned several times on this very webpage over the past couple weeks, and Clash has yet to secure a date with her as of this writing. Lowell is lucky to have escaped Curley's with his life on this day, let's just put it that way.

Anyway, that depressing (other than the tomato basil soup, which I will tell you again, is the best tomato soup I have ever had, and I've had at least three) exercise out of the way, it was time to go back to the apartment and start getting ready to leave early the next morning. First thing I was going to need to do was to do some laundry, which I got started as soon as we got back, while Clash got his shit together to head off to the radio station to begin preparing for his wildly popular Sunday night show.

After laundry, the next things I was going to need to do were to bring all my stuff downstairs from the "storage" room (which was originally going to be my bedroom until I decided to just sleep on the couch), pack up my clothes, get my computer and music equipment unplugged and packed away, clean out the car, take a bath, begin arranging some of the larger items in the car so I'd be able to quickly leave the next morning, and do the dishes.

Unfortunately, I didn't do any of those things, and instead spent the next several hours lying on the couch, half napping, half staring into space, and half doing other random things you can do while lying on a couch. Oh, and half thinking, "there's no way I'm going to be able to make it out of here tomorrow morning."

Bing, bang, boom, that brought us up to 7 PM, which is when the L. T. Show starts, so I tuned in KHUM 104.3/104.7 (Translator K282AD Eureka) and began enjoying the musical stylings our boy had picked out for us this evening. 8 PM then, of course, like I need to remind you, brought the famous Cocktail Hour, which was my cue to 1) have a cocktail or two, as the name of the hour suggests, and 2) begin preparing dinner! Remember the story about the salmon we shopped for yesterday? Welp, it was time to cook that sucker up, using one of my favorite recipes, Wine-Poached Color-Added Salmon Over Linguine Alla y Olio, which I'll now provide for you here, in case you'd like to give it a shot. All measurements are estimated:

  • Heat up some extra-virgin olive oil (heretofore "evoo") in a wide saute pan.
  • Pat down a salmon fillet with generous amounts of salt, pepper, and chopped basil and parsley (or whatever other herbs you like.)
  • Slap that bitch down into the pan, skin-side up.
  • After a few minutes, fill the pan up with about a half bottle of your favorite white wine, a half stick of butter, and some lemon juice. Set to simmer. This should go about 20 minutes, so time everything out accordingly.
  • Meanwhile, in a deep pan, heat up lots and lots of evoo, maybe 3/4 cup or something.
  • Chuck about ten cloves of minced garlic up in that, along with a teaspoon of crushed red pepper, and set on medium-low heat. Let this go for about 5-6 minutes.
  • Cook up some linguini.
  • Chuck the linguini into the oil/garlic sauce and mix up.
  • Peel the skin off the salmon. My trick for this is, flip it over and let it simmer skin-side down for a minute or two, which will loosen it up enough to be able to peel off with a fork (or if you're me, your fingers).
  • Throw summa dat pasta in a bowl.
  • Throw summa dat salmon on top of dat pasta.
  • Chuck some chopped fresh herbs (left over from the salmon crust) on top of everything.
  • Serve!

So, while I busied myself chopping garlic and taste-testing the wine I was going to use, Clash finished up the Cocktail Hour, locked things up at the station, and came home, at which point I got the actual cooking part of the recipe going, and thirty minutes later, we sat down to a lovely salmon dinner! He liked it because he said it tasted good, and I liked it because, Jesus H. Buddha help me, I love to cook!

At that point it was pretty late, though, so Clash (but not me, I'll have you know) smoked up, which is when I decided to let him know that, actually, this wasn't going to be my last night in town, which struck us both as humorous, since on his show earlier in the evening, he had told all his listeners the story about his friend Ben who'd been in town, and was leaving tomorrow, so he dedicated to me the song "Steven's Last Night in Town", by Ben Folds Five, the chorus of which goes:

We thought he was gone
But he's shown up again
Last week it was funny
Now the joke's wearing thin
'Cause everyone knows now
That every night now will be
Steven's last night in town.

Looks like the joke's on you, Radio Man!

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Given the previous late night, we both struggled to get up before noon, but it had to be done, because the soon-to-be new owners of the building were going to be coming by to do an "inspection". So, at around 11:45, we both kicked it into high gear, got ourselves together, put the trash out, and escaped the darkened, icy confines of 452 Main Street.

First stop on our trip was the coffee window, where we got our standard coffee drinks (LT: double nonfat latte, BP: double espresso), then swung past the newspaper racks to pick up a newspaper. The problem was, that's as far as either of us had thought our little adventure through, so we found ourselves standing around on the sidewalk, sipping coffee, and trying to think of something to do.

Like Tiger Woods drawing down deep within his fortitudinousness and coming up with a late eagle to win a $1 million golf tournament, we each became inspired and came up with a brilliant plan. My goal was to go grocery shopping in Fortuna so I could whip up a nice non-chili-oriented meal before I head out of town. Clash then said, well, while we're there, let's go to the Eel River Brewpub, which is right nearby! Well, I was still smarting from my less-than-stellar experience at Six Rivers the day before, but this wasn't Six Rivers, this was Eel River, so what kind of adventurer would I be if I didn't at least give it a shot?

We got into Fortuna and spent a while driving back and forth on random roads (since neither of us actually knew where it was), but, as if we were being guided along by angels, the darkness lifted, and there in front of us was the brewpub. Once again, I headed straight for the I.P.A., which they did have, and which was good! Then we ordered some lunch, which was also good! So, when in Fortuna, please visit the Eel River Brewpub! Way to go, guys.

After that, we stopped at Safeway to do some shopping, which was decent, except it's rapidly becoming apparent that there is nowhere in this entire county where you can buy decent seafood. All I wanted was some salmon, which you can basically go down to the river and grab out of the water with your hands by the poundful, but somehow none of those little buggers seem to end up on the shelves. There was one measely pack of "color-added" fillets, which I bought out of desperation, but it doesn't make sense to me. This place should have salmon raining from the skies, as many of them swim through here. Get with it, Humboldt.

We drove back to the apartment, at which time we headed out to the radio station, where Clash was going to do his show. Normally he'd be there for at least eight hours: a few hours of prep work, and then a five hour live shift. But my man, as much of a trooper and a professional as he is, just could not bear the thought of doing that whole live show late into the evening, so we came up with a different plan: We'd go to the station, and I'd set up my laptop and write a bunch of updates, while he recorded drops for his show. That's right, for the first time in the history of the L. T. Show, he was not live on the air on Saturday night, and after two hours of listening to him try to record his breaks ("Well, that was Bob Dylan, and... let's see, the weather is... ahh, fuck. [rewind, record] Well, that was Dob Bylan, an-- FUCK!!!. [rewind, record]..."), we snuck out of there.

Back at the apartment, we sat around doing absolutely nothing for about two hours, as we were both still exhausted and in no mood to do anything involving moving or saying anything.

At about 8, though, we managed to put on a little rally, and headed out for a brief stop in the Palace. But this time, the brief stop turned into a whole evening, as we spent a long time chatting with Danny, and then Jeff walked in, so we played dice with Jeff, and then we played pool, and it was a whole party! I think we both felt good about the fact that, even in this short time, we'd been able to ingratiate ourselves enough with the regulars and the staff that when we walk in, Danny serves up our beers without even us having to ask, and everyone seems more than happy to hang and chat with us. Good times. I'm gonna miss that place.

Around 11, 11:30, we managed to pull ourselves out of there and head back to the apartment, flush with the good vibes that a night bereft of social awkwardness can bring to two hopeless cases such as ourselves.

Once we got back, though, everything went horribly, horribly wrong.

Let's never speak of it again.

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