Journey to the Infinite Part 3

The look on Frank’s face told a rather complete and tragic tale. Up until that point I had never known a feline to have the capacity to emote more than three expressions: “I like this.” “I dislike this or am otherwise not interested.” And lastly “I WILL REMOVE YOUR EYES IF MY PRESENT SITUATION IS NOT RESOLVED TO MY SATISFACTION.” But as I looked through the bars of his crate, Frank surprised me with a face of remorse, self-loathing and defeat. I suppose I would feel the same If I was entirely drenched in my own piss.

I know what you’re thinking. Poor Frank. But let me offer another perspective. Poor Nick and Nicole. There we were, standing outside of the car at 1 am in the middle of a poorly lit gas station in Godknowswhere, Mississippi. Population 347. A cat swimming in its own urine and meowing with increasing urgency at us from within the confines a carrier. At the time, I felt like we were a couple of bomb disposal techs working out how to approach the defusal of a 20-kiloton warhead. Each meow felt like a tick of the clock. Steady hands and cool heads were needed. Unfortunately we had neither, and at that hour, grace and propriety were in short supply.

That’s how I found myself holding on to a thrashing, piss soaked cat while a few slack-jawed local onlookers guffawed and snorted to each other with glee. Apparently in Mississippi a gas station also serves as a community gathering place and social nexus for the surrounding area. I quietly scorned their levity while considering the tactical applications of a piss-soaked cat as a disruptive projectile. Imagine a SWAT team just tossing a couple of piss-soaked cats into a room they were attempting to breach. The cats would do half the work, assaulting the senses in a fashion several orders of magnitude greater than a conventional flash-bang.

While doing my best to mentally check-out of the situation, Nicole cleaned out Frank’s carrier as best as she could until finally we were able to in turn get Frank calmed down and at least a bit drier. Frank had at that point dropped all of the sophisticated expressions of a cat navigating a complex emotional mire and instead reverted in full to feline emote #3. Mind you, we were doing this all without gloves. After realizing the scent of cat urine had permeated not only my skin but the fabric of my soul and essence, I excused myself to the station washroom to clean up and get some relief.

As I approached the doors of the food mart, I took some comfort in what appeared to be readily accessible public restrooms offered just beyond the racks of slimjims and adjacent to the coolers full of Bud Light (aka America’s Beer). Before I even touched the handles of the door I made eye contact with two underage males just inside, standing near what I’m assuming was the adult magazine section, given that their eye contact was a mere flash of embarrassment. They scuttled out of the section and out the door past me as I walked in.

To my right was the meth-iest meth-head that ever meth-ed, moonlighting as a cashier. Or at least the person he killed for meth-money and then later assumed the identity of was at one point a cashier. His name badge read Jarret, but I was never introduced, in fact he only spoke once the entire time I was within earshot. But I’ll get to that later.

After scaring away the pre-pubescents and taking in some sidelong glances of the outcome of America’s War on Drugs, the sting of urine filled my nostrils once again. I realized I was still walking around with urine on my hands. Funny how no one in the food mart seemed to notice. I brushed past a rack of pork rinds on my way towards the fading, hand written sign for RESTROOMS.

As I closed the distance, I saw what looked like a janitor, possibly Jarret’s only co-worker, leaving the men’s room. He looked up at me for what I assumed would be the man-nod. You know. The sacred man-nod of unspoken fraternity and universal understanding that beer is refreshing, Bill Clinton has reached the summit of manhood (Nick Offerman is on the ascent) and fashioning a gun out of legos is a rite of passage.

But alas no man-nod would be offered to me. Instead I was met with the look of a surgeon exiting a tense operating room, his eyes pregnant with the delivery of bad news. In his hands he was pushing along the handle of a mop and bucket, filled to the brim with some kind of dense, vile bog-water. He was straining to push the bucket along, and quickly broke eye contact with me, re-affixing his mournful gaze to the ground as I passed him. To this day I can’t say if I imagined it or not, but I thought heard an “I’m sorry.” I turned to ask “Sorry?” To my surprise he just kept pushing the bucket in a straight line out the door, never lifting his head as he struggled past a vacant Jarrett. I don’t think Jarrett even acknowledged his co-workers presence with a blink. They were both fluorescent apparitions operating independently and only half-present in the waking world. I pressed on to the men’s room.

My memory of the first few moments inside that dark place have only recently begun to crystallize, as I was almost immediately overcome with a primal surge of adrenaline and fight or flight signals from my brain. One pale bluish light flickered in the corner, revealing the visceral visual detritus in rave-like pulses of horror. I stood very still for about 10 seconds just inside the room, unsure whether or not to take another step. I then noticed for the first time I did not smell the cat urine. That aroma had been replaced by something much, much more disturbing. I would call it death, but that wouldn’t do it justice. It was a cocktail of mildew, fecal material, tobacco and the broken dreams of flowering youth. On the hastily “mopped” floor, years of stains had created a sort of Jackson Pollock floor mural made from dribs and drabs of bodily fluids. It also appeared as though the floor had been covered over and over again with succeeding tile and linoleum treatments, several layers thick now and only visible in a few spots where the strata had been torn asunder, presumably by some primeval wolverine-shitdemon hybrid creature who had set up court here.

I took a quick survey of the rest of the facility without moving and then settled on the fact that I would not be touching any surface. I was even nervous about touching the air. On the plus side, I felt very comfortable relieving my bladder pretty much anywhere, as others before me had already apparently blazed that trail. But before going too far down that road I needed to take care of my hands. Luckily one faucet was permanently running. I ran my hands underneath and dried them on the back of my jeans – the only swath of fabric I was willing to trust within a 50ft radius. I then turned and moved slowly towards the urinals.

It was a bit of guesswork walking in between light strobes – but I felt comfortable about 3 feet from the urinal, unzipped and let her him rip. It was one of the few times I felt like maybe I should wash off the soles of my shoes. A feeling I usually reserve for walks through dog-friendly public parks. Upon answering the urgent call of inner pressure on the wall of my bladder, I rinsed again and headed for the door. I then noticed the words scrawled in what looked like a dark finger-paint right above the door. “GOD LEFT THIS PLACE A LONG TIME AGO.” I took that as a cue for me to follow god’s example and get the hell out of there.

As I exited, I passed Jarret one last time, during which to my surprise I heard him expel a tired “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” under his breath. I don’t know whether it was directed at me to respond, but I looked in his direction anyways. He continued staring straight ahead out beyond the wall of the food-mart and into the abyss of profound questions only the super-high dare to venture. I issued a single man-nod and returned to the car, tearing off my shirt on the way back and leaving the remaining smell of urine in Mississippi. As I drove away I saw a couple of the slack-jawed yokels salvaging the shirt out of the garbage.

Journey to the Infinite Part 2

The human’s name is Nicole. Or Beau. She goes by Beau, which has never made sense to me. I know why it does to you. I don’t care. For the purposes of this story she’s Nicole, and riding with her are three animals. Stacked on top of each other in cat carriers ala Hollywood Squares in the passenger seat are two cats, Franklin and Monkey. I call Franklin Frank because he seems like more of a Frank to me, but Franklin also makes sense since both are black males often marginalized by white protagonists. Or so is my understanding. I never really got into Peanuts. While we’re on the subject of fictional characters, caged up in the back seat is our ginger-faced austrialian shepard, Finn. Like Huckleberry Finn. Or Finn from Adventure Time. Or Finn from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII. That’s right, we future-proofed our dog for pop-culture references. He’ll always be relevant.

 Anyways, Nicole is the head of this peanut gallery, blazing the path through the darkness inside the little prius I’ve been tailing now for what already seems like quite a spell. Now comes the part in the story where I tell you about her driving habits. To say she is aggressive is a misnomer. Nicole is a very…alert and singularly aware driver. Aware of road conditions, aware of her own bladder-to-miles ratio, and especially aware of the driving abilities of the other motorists in her immediate area, to which she is apt to provide “observations.” Those are among her best qualities while behind the wheel. Unfortunately Nicole has no concept of speed or how fast she is going relative to her boyfriend following behind in a moving truck while bobbing and weaving between other vehicles at 85 miles an hour on a tight curve at 3am. It was like chasing down a CPU-controlled Waluigi in 1st place on Mario Cart when you’re plum out of shells. That’s right, Waluigi. Princess Peach or Daisy are too obvious. She drives like Waluigi looks.

While Nicole seemed to pop a mushroom-boost every 2 or three minutes, I struggled to will the Beast into speeds above 60 mph. The thoughtful folks at U-Haul had installed a “Fuel Consumption Gauge” to monitor fuel efficiency throughout the trip. They could have easily called it “How fast your money is being eaten and shat out by this giant metal box o’ worn gears.” I could actually feel my wallet lightening up every time I pressed down on the accelerator. The helpful needle would waver between the green zone of presumably fine china tea-cup sized gas sips to the red zone of construction worker lunchbreak-sized big gulps of unleaded octanes. For the past four hours or so I was perpetually in the red.

I would see the brake lights of the Prius changing its own shades of crimson every few seconds as it was forced to slow down. I imagined I was probably the latest subject of one of Nicole’s “observations,” but there was nothing I could do. Kicking your spurs on a wooden horse get you about as far as baking it a pie. I made that up, but it sounds like something a Texan would say, doesn’t it? Pity I was just getting into that role.

Anyways I was maxing out my horsepower as I watched other cars passing us on both sides. Riding up high, I could see down into the cabs of the other cabs pretty easily. Most people looked about as dead-eyed as I was, passing mile after mile in a race of phantoms. When you drive for so long on the same road you see the same cars/drivers again and again as you pass each other. For me it became a sort of fellowship of ghouls, forever cursed to roam the highways. They soon became such familiar travelling companions I started naming them. The white acura was Whitey Folgers (he was perpetually drinking a mug full of what looked like homemade coffee). A black F-150 was Mr. Dipshits, named simply because in my experience guys who buy tricked out F-150s are dipshits. I know it’s a hasty generalization. Some guys who own tricked out F-150s are successful mexicans, and more power to them brother.

I had just passed a familiar Honda Civic (Simple Lisa was her name) when my phone began ringing. I guess phones today don’t really ring. Mine just sort of pulses a pleasing tone while vibrating in spasms. I looked down and saw Nicole’s face vibrating across the seat next to me as if she were calling me so hard and with such urgency that she was causing the phone to jump up and into my lap. I grabbed it with one hand and awkwardly answered “hello?” If it wasn’t already obvious and evidenced by the fact that I was assigning personalities to people around me, this was my first time talking to someone in hours. I was also a little leary to hear how she was doing in animal-infested roll-cage on wheels after several hours. I only had to manage myself and my imaginary phantom friends. Nicole on the other hand was clocking-in hours as both driver and animal wrangler.

 “Hey, we have to stop” she said. “Oh yeah? Gas?” “No. Frank.”

I soon found out what she meant. Pets are great.

Journey to the Infinite Part 1

It was 8:30pm on a Friday when I strapped myself into the aging, soon-to-be decommissioned U-Haul along with all of my earthly possessions. Not that I have some other-earthly possessions in a storage unit somewhere out in the astral realm. That would be a great episode of Storage Wars.

 Anyways, I remember the time because I was already running an hour late. I had to arrive at my destination by 11:00 am the next day. It was going to be tight if not impossible. Certainly improbable. I had 930 miles to cover between now and then, from Austin to Atlanta. I would only have time to stop and gas up this cantankerous old beast of a moving truck along the way. No stops for food, relief or sleep. This was the hour of ass-sweat and eye-glaze. This was my journey into the dark recesses of the South; twisting and turning along the many back roads of the brain.

I took a quick inventory of my supplies. Phone, headphones, phone charger, 8 pack of 5-hour energy drinks, 16 cans of Red Bull Zero (I’m watching my figure), a single pack of Doublemint gum, a mini-fun bag of Funyuns and a complete collection of Fran Drescher stand-up “comedy” recordings. Everything I needed to keep my blood pressure spiked and my eyes open for the next 16 hours.

I plunged the key into the ignition and summoned the beast from his slumber alongside the fire lane where I had illegally parked and loaded him up. I’m assigning the truck a male gender, because I don’t like to think about those kinds of noises coming out of a woman. He coughed and groaned before landing on the steady sound of an old, fat man breaking wind in a massage chair at Brookstone set to maximum vibrate.

I shifted down to D and felt a tremor throughout the cab as if a really important piece of the truck had just said “fuck it, I’m out.” I popped the parking brake and miraculously the truck began rolling forward. It felt more like falling forward actually, like I just opened a door a drunk man had been leaning against. But it moved. I could feel the mighty 6-mpg engine pulling me and my shit inch after inch further into the East.

As we approached the first red light, the beast whined a little before resuming its flatulent grumble while idling behind a silver prius. I remember sitting there in the cab, illuminated by the red LED filaments thinking if the prius in front of me was sentient it would feel an awful lot like it was standing in line for the bathroom with a sweaty 400 lb. man behind it doing the potty dance. Notice I did not assign the Prius a gender. Because let’s face it, Priuses (or is it Priusi or Pri-i), if any car on the road, would be gender-neutral.

Did I mention that I’m following that Prius for 930 miles? I am. Because it’s full of animals and a human that are also making the trip with me. But we’ll get into that later. The important thing is that I’m following it for the entire trip, and I’m in the truck by myself. Undulating with the engine and my foot on the precipice of release, I began to stare into the ass of the Prius, thinking that the brake lights, bumper and license plate kind of formed a rudimentary face smiling back at me. Jesus. I was already tired. That’s not good, my little silver-faced friend. The Prius only smiled back before some of the light went out of its eyes and we were on our way.