Joshua Tree (and some places east of there), January, 2005
hitch-hiking back seemed like the best thing to do since we'd gotten there that way, and heather was up for the job, but i was emotionally broken from problems with my old lady (her father was dying), so we just rented a stupid white sedan and the journey became a boring string of highways that we had to battle, cops we had to dodge, and gas stations we had to keep time to, since the mechanical pulse of the car made such demands, like a primitive kind of horse.
i had the blues, but it was only ankle-deep. other problems were to come.
the first night heather and i slept in albuquerque with an old friend of mine. we used to fight forest fires together. now, having moved up in the world, he runs fire dispatch for the bureau of indian affairs. he's a cool-hand and his wife is a hot-head and they're one of the only married couples i know that will stay together longer than i'll breathe. since he works for the BIA he's looking for proof of his cherokee-ness, and since i'm cherokee, and since my aunt has all the lineage for the cherokees around tennessee, he should be able to get verification, and thus a pay raise, via pedigree. despite the fact that he, like i, is just a regular white-male. anyway, after a good night's rest, heather and i drove again that morning, and we felt removed from the world, there in the mobile living room called a car. we missed hitching. it was uneventful, though relaxing, and perhaps safer than the trip out to colorado had been. i don't know if it was a mistake, not to hitch-hike, but i suspect it was. that second night i, severely depressed about love, set my concentrations to drinking what little booze we had in the car. after that went down my throat heather bought me a bottle of smirnoff 57, which looked as good as a droplet-covered bottle of ice water on a hot summer day of no reprieve.
we pulled off the highway, banged the car down into a little canyon, and made a fire. i will spare you, patient reader, my rantings about love and depression. suffice it to say that my heart was not broken, merely cracked, and heather was kind to listen to me babbling about love and misunderstanding. the vodka numbed me and helped me finger the pain, and pick it clean.
by the time i start staggering, which is also when we run out of wood, which is also about the time the little green LED lines of the dashboard clock blink 3:30, i climb into the car. i pull my rainjacket around my shoulders, throw the hood over my face, and pass out like a dead haddock on a cutting board. i like sleeping drunk. especially in a car in the middle of the desert after you've been driving all day and now, at night, in the dark safety of pre-sleep stupor, you smell the campfire everywhere, and your friend is nearby, outside, and the night-stars up above all seem like little angels, squirming, stuck on the high-up huge sphere of black flypaper that we call heaven.
suddenly the sun is up, and heather is driving and we're somewhere in the fucking bright sun and i am really badly wanting an egg mcmuffin, but (almost as much) hating mcdonald's, and so; torn. i have to piss and the car is screaming down the desert highway so i wipe some sand off the side of my face, realize it's wet from drool, and pass out again as the highway continues to scream, just outside the window, unable to get it's flashing teeth around my soft and boozy head. peace. drunk. and dark again wraps its wings around me and i feel my breathing slow.
suddenly awake, i manage to step over, yes indeed, lift my foot past, the threshold of the door and put it down onto a brown matte that says, "WELCOME TO JONNIES TRUCK STOP!" and there are large panes of glass we're walking through and i push open another door, following heather. the woman with the brown apron and the desert-dweller face of cracked lips and thin cheeks leads us to a booth so that we can sit down and order food. the restaurant swims in those peculiarly californian shades of relaxation that range from a feces brown to a 14-karat gold, these gentle and fecund visual themes of western american living, as if you are surrounded, always, by a sandy sunset of profit. but this was the 1960s aesthetic, you understand, and now it is just a truck stop. as i suck on some water, the icecold running up the straw and about to give me a rather aggravating cold-inspired headache - the kind you get in your forehead from ice cream - heather tells me that at around dawn she heard a muffled gasping, in fast repetition, and looked over to see the hood of my jacket getting sucked into my mouth, then blown out, then sucked in again, like some mouth-for-a-face creature next to her in the car. she asked what i was doing and i had replied, "hyperventilating. but i can drive if you'd like," (i have this ability to answer questions when i'm asleep and, apparently, drunk as well). she decided it was better if she drove. i think heather was smart to take this approach. i don't - even after she recounts this situation - remember any of it. i suppose i was having a hard time breathing through my jacket. the non-mcdonald's version of my egg mcmuffin appears in front of me, with coffee and a smile from the woman with the cracked lips named Flo or something believable. a huge slab of slimey ham, three scrambled eggs (a bit runny at the edge), chunks of velveeta melt over the english muffins that are also buttered. i smash this mess of melted lard into something like a sandwich and between mouthfuls of the cheesy, warm concoction that will make my mind so happy and set my arteries to work for a good decade (it's like being in a womb, only you swallow it, and take it inside of you, this inversion of reality called Comfort Food), i thank heather for her help. i think i have all the sand off my face now and thinking this realize how grateful i am to have a good friend these days. my life has been too torn up and strange for even me to understand. and anyway, she just got her degree in therapy, so it's fine with her. i'm her psychological guinea-pig, chewing on melted fat, immobilized from alcohol, but still willing to talk, drive, and sleep, all at the same time. i eat enough food for the next four days, then stagger back to the car to get back to my drunken slumpen. the sun is in the windshield and it's warm, flowing over me like scambled eggs. i don't remember anything after that.
suddenly, again awake, heather's pushing on my shoulder. i'm not pleased because i was nicely asleep and digesting my head full of vodka and womb of a cheeseWad. but there's a problem now, she says. the sound of her voice is urgent. immediate. we are not moving. i sit up, pop the seat back into location, and look around, my eyes focusing and head feeling smeared. we are definitely not at the restaurant. we're in the middle of a weedy desert. i don't see any buildings. i look at her, and blink. my mouth tastes like acetalyne and velveeta. it must be close to noon. i am ravenously thirsty. "the car's stuck." she says, quite seriously. it does seem as if we're sitting a bit close to the ground, now that she mentions it. drinking makes you young, then it makes you old. and i am on the geriatric side of this equation and do not feel like doing what is to come. i certainly, with this taste of acid in my mouth, do not feel like lifting my frame out of the car, getting on my knees, scooping sand, walking in search of large flat stones, humping these back to the car, scooping more sand, shoving them behind the wheels, humping more rocks, spinning the car tires on these stones, realizing our approach is failing, considering the problem, not vomiting, coming up with another solution of jacking the car up, pushing the stones directly underneath the tires this time, still not vomiting, setting the car back down on top of them, feeling hopeful, sweating, still managing not to puke, repeating this jacking procedure on the other side, backing the car up a foot or so, and repeating the goddam process again and again and once more until the car is out and we're free to back up the two miles to the road that heather turned down in the first place. but this is what i must do, despite my morning drunk. and i manage to do these things, while my stomach mutinies, and makes the jump for freedom, but my throat holds loyal, and keeps the little bastard where he belongs.
this is all heather's fault.
heather got us into this. heather risked killing us in the desert. heather got the car stuck. this is all heather's fault and i love heather because she's just as stupid as me and we both have a marvellous time playing in the sand, pretending this is all very serious. which, i suppose, it could have been.
we're actually both having a lot of fun.
vice is just a wimpy suicide attempt. it is usually it's own best reward. and this morning, after the drunken car-dig and the ensuing sweat, we hike up a hill to get a look around. i sweat out the booze, the depression, and most of the cheese, through my skin, and the wind blows it away, like shreds of ash being lifted from a fire.
we get in the car and drive back to los angeles.