(Click here to read Part 1 and/or Part 2)

Things you need to know before reading this blawg:

Number 1: I am bad at directions. No, that’s not quite right. How about this? I am terrible at directions. Actually, that still does not accurately describe my shortcomings in this particular area. OK, OK, I’ve got it. Ready? If “directions” were “making inoffensive public statements about Jews” I would be Mel Gibson. That about sums it up.

Number 2: I can drive perfectly well, but I haven’t owned a car since 1999.

Number 3: I mentioned that we have a cat, right? And I also happened to casually indicate that she might possibly be a demon spawn from another dimension, correct? OK, just checking.

Number 4: The Less Abrasive Pessimist and I both hate driving. H. A. T. E. She gets road anxiety; I get road rage. It isn’t pretty.

Number 5: When I get bored, I have imaginary conversations in my head. These usually start out as fairly innocuous chats with people I know or people I would like to meet or random inanimate objects. However, if I get really bored and tired and stressed and trapped inside the tiny cab of a truck traveling down an endless flat road with the sun shining directly in my face for ten hours at a time and small-town radio preachers telling me the world is going to end because Obama uses the wrong kind of spoon to eat his breakfast cereal, the conversations in my head start getting a little…weird. Just FYI.

Number 6: Google Maps says it’s about a 16-hour drive from Boulder to Austin. It took closer to 20 hours. (See Numbers 1,2, and4)

So we finally gave up on the moving company and rented a truck. And since there was no way in hell that The Less Abrasive Pessimist was going to drive it, and since it was my fault we were in this mess in the first place, guess who got behind the wheel. (See Number 2.)

By this time, we were more than ready to leave. We were like those neurotic tigers at the zoo pacing back and forth in their cramped cages. We wanted out. It was late notice on a Monday, so finding help was difficult, but we were soon joined by our musician friend Nate Cook, lead singer of one of my favorite bands The Yawpers (this pathetic plug and two Budweisers were his only compensation), and Mother Less Abrasive Pessimist.

We had obtained some prescription tranquilizers from our veterinarian for the journey, and The Less Abrasive Pessimist and her mother managed to force one down the throat of our agitated kitten. An hour passed. Nothing. If anything The Tempest was even more energetic than usual. So we gave her another one. Still nothing. But we couldn’t wait any longer. I told The Less Abrasive Pessimist that if the tranquilizers didn’t work on the cat, she could always take them. She was not amused. It was time to go.

The truck was loaded and we were on the road by 4pm. Not a great start, but at least we were moving. Our new landlords had expected us to show up and sign the lease on June 1. It was now the 3rd and we had more than 900 miles of road between us and our new lives.

When I got in the truck, I immediately noticed a fat housefly trapped inside the cab with me. I thought about rolling down the window and setting him free, but then I thought, When is a housefly ever going to have an opportunity like this again? He only lives a few weeks, and he’s going to travel almost a thousand miles in that time. He’ll be a legend in cyclorrhapha history! The Christofly Columbus of insects!

So I put the truck in gear, and we began our adventure!

We got two miles down the road, and The Less Abrasive Pessimist was forced to pull over. The cat was running laps inside the car, yowling like Fran Drescher receiving a rectal exam from a far-sighted proctologist. Apparently, the cat didn’t like the position of her litter box. So The Less Abrasive Pessimist adjusted it to Her Highness’s liking, and she calmed down.

And now back to the adventure!

We hit bumper-to-bumper traffic immediately in Denver. It was move three inches, slam on the breaks, move three more inches. The vein in the side of my forehead began to twitch. The cat kept crawling on top of the boxes in the back seat, and every time The Less Abrasive Pessimist hit the breaks she took a header. I love that animal, but it was still pretty funny to watch.

Finally, after about thirty minutes, the traffic opened up and we were on our way. I’d brought a selection of my favorite CDs for the journey, and I consulted Christofly on what to play. It turned out we were both Johnny Cash fans.

Observation: Johnny Cash proves that the supposed chasm between liberals and conservatives in America is not as wide as we think. Everyone listens to Cash, and he sings for everyone. “Man In Black” is basically a Marxist anthem, and I’m certain “Ragged Old Flag” is being played at Tea Party meetings across the country as I write.

The open road sucks. This is my humble opinion. Songs have been sung and stories told about wagon trains besieged by Indians and intrepid pioneers mauled by bears, but nowadays it’s just a series of gradual right and left turns with the occasional thrill of passing a slow-moving truck with cow butts poking out the back end. After about five hours, it gets to the point where you think a Sioux raiding party or a rabid grizzly would be a welcome change of pace.

Christofly agreed. It was amazing how much we had in common. True, we hadn’t yet discussed things like the Middle East or Obamacare, but there was plenty of time for that. We were trying to keep it light. I’d filled a Coke cap with soda, and placed it on the dashboard for him. Christofly had stopped slamming his head repeatedly against the windshield and was now sipping genially from the cap. We were having a grande old time, two brave journeymen cruising down the highway with the wind in our hair…or antennae or whatever.

We drove through Colorado and the gun barrel of Oklahoma before finally reaching Texas. Oklahoma roads are terrible. We were in Oklahoma for less than an hour, but the whole time it felt like I was driving on Ryan Gosling’s abs. But as soon as we got to Texas, the roads were as smooth as Ryan Gosling’s hairless buttocks.

There was a wind storm at dusk that was incredibly surreal. The sky was cobalt blue and there were all these giant windmills along the highway that were slowly turning like enormous robot drones on some desert planet. Thousands of them lined up in perfect rows. It was freaky.

Finally, we decided to call it a day at around eleven, and we pulled in to a Best Western that accepted pets in the town of Dumas. My guess is the name is supposed to be pronounced like the French writer, Alexandre Dumas, but I’d bet my right arm the locals will tell you they live in Dumb-Ass without a hint of irony. It definitely looked like a town called Dumb-Ass.

Observation: Texas has some great town names. My favorite were Roscoe, Wastella, Fluvanna, and Lawn.

I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps it had something to do with the long drive or the excitement of the journey or the strange hotel room or the five cups of vanilla-flavored coffee, but I just stared at the ceiling as the hours ticked by. The Less Abrasive Pessimist had no such problem. She was snoring like an asthmatic walrus (albeit a cute asthmatic walrus) as soon as her head hit the starched pillow. The cat was still up though. By this time, she was so tired she was staggering around the room like a drunken sailor on shore leave, but there were strange corners to sniff and furniture that had never been jumped on and cabinets to stare at creepily, so she fought to stay awake in order to perform her duties.

After a refreshing three-hour nap, the alarm screamed bloody murder and I stumbled bleary-eyed into the bathroom. I obtained more coffee and we got back on the road. Christofly and I attempted to get the conversational juices flowing by talking about the landscape. We agreed that all these little Texas towns looked the same. One church, one post office, and one bar. But they made you slow down to 30 miles per hour to pass that one church, one post office, and one bar. I suggested that if you stopped at any of these facilities, there would be a small family of emaciated citizens waiting there with a net and a shotgun. “Now you’re gonna pray, have a drink, and send a letter…or else!” they’d say. Christofly agreed.

After jawing a bit more, we put in Johnny Cash again and had ourselves a good old fashioned sing along to keep the blood pumping. We were really getting into it. It was right at the end of “Folsom Prison Blues” when I looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed The Less Abrasive Pessimist’s car wasn’t behind us. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time it was behind us. I then looked at my phone and saw that it was on vibrate from the night before. There were eight missed calls, three voice messages, and two text messages. And it was right about that time I passed a road sign that said, “WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA!”

I’d driven almost an hour in the wrong direction.

Now there are many things I could tell you, dear reader, about how this happened. The phrase that comes to my mind is “sharing valid reasons,” or as The Less Abrasive Pessimist likes to call it, “spreading the bullshit.” For instance, I could bring up the insomnia again from the previous night. Or I could tell you that before checking in to the Best Western we’d pulled up to a La Quinta on the other side of the street, and in the process I got turned around. Or I could remind you that my sense of direction is like Mel Gibson making public statements about Jews. Or I could talk about all those little Texas towns that looked exactly alike (turns out they looked like the same towns from the night before because they actually were the same towns from the night before, but let’s not quibble over details). Of course, none of this explains why I failed to notice my future wife honking and flashing her lights at me for thirty miles. Or why I drove on for twenty minutes after she gave up and pulled to the side of the road, thinking I would immediately notice her absence and check my phone.

I could make excuses for all of this, dear reader, but I’m not the type of man to pass the buck. Nope, “take responsibility for your actions,” that’s my motto. So I’m going to put the blame squarely where it belongs: Christofly.

You see, we had an agreement. I would take care of all the driving, snack purchasing, music playing, and temperature modulating if Christofly kept just one of his many eyes on the rear-view mirror. That was his only job. But Christofly was the jealous type, and he’d gotten it into his little fly head that if he could get rid of the Less Abrasive Pessimist, we could be roommates in Austin. Never mind the fact that I’m a mammal and he’s an insect, or that he had no way to pay his half of the rent, or that he would be dead in a week. None of that mattered to over-possessive little Christofly. So when The Less Abrasive Pessimist pulled to the side of the road, he saw his chance.

I tried to explain all of this to The Less Abrasive Pessimist, but she seemed to think we needed to get back on the road immediately. She had a point. After all the delays, I’d promised our new landlords we would sign the lease before their office closed on June 4 at 5pm. It was now June 4 at 11am, and we still had to drive an hour just to get back to Dumas. (The name of the town was now definitely pronounced Dumb-Ass in my head, but for more personal reasons.)

I called the new landlord and told them we were still on our way, but it looked like it would be past 5pm when we arrived. She was very kind. It sounded like she said she would leave our apartment unlocked with the keys inside, but the phone kept cutting out and I couldn’t be sure. I decided I’d heard that the apartment would be unlocked with the keys inside.

Meanwhile, Christofly and I were not speaking to each other. He had betrayed my trust, and I was not in a forgiving mood. I glared silently at the road, while he tried to get my goat by crawling all over my face. I just ignored him.

Christofly said he wanted to listen to Paul Simon, so I turned on a local country station instead, knowing he would hate that.

Observation: For all its hard-nosed bluster, country might be the sappiest genre of music out there aside from teen pop. When they’re not talking about their pickup trucks or threatening to put a boot in bin Laden’s ass, there’s a lot of romance on the country airwaves. “I’m gonna find me a new way to light up an old flame,” “In all the world you’ll never find a love as true as mine,” “If you’re callin’ bout my heart it’s still yours.”

The great thing about listening to local radio stations is that you get to hear about the local news. For instance, in Roscoe, Texas, a man named Conway Alvarez died recently at the age of 78. He was a prison guard who was survived by his hunting dog and his sister. His wake was being held at his favorite bar, which also happened to be the town’s only bar. This was reported by a deejay simply named Stumpy.

Things were going along just fine until we hit a detour. And then another detour. The first detour worked out OK, and we were routed back around the the proper road. However, on the second detour, they failed tell us where to go, and we ended up on a frontage road next to an empty field. We turned around a few times, consulted the smartphone, and finally found our way back twenty minutes later.

We were hungry, so we pulled in to a truck stop cafe to eat a bunch of starch and meat. By the time we finished, I had gout.

Observation: Texas toilets are literally larger than Colorado toilets.

Observation: There’s a reason Texas toilets are larger than Colorado toilets.

By now we were several hours behind schedule, and it did not appear as though we would get into Austin until almost midnight. I tried to call the landlord and relay this information, but only managed to leave a voice message. We drove. And drove. And drove. When night came, we were alone on the road, aside from the giant semis, which were lit up like carnival floats after dark.

And then, just when I was starting to lose all feeling below the waist, we finally passed a sign welcoming us to Austin. Christofly and I cheered and high-fived, an act that unfortunately sent Christofly careening across the cab. But he shook it off and we laughed and laughed and laughed. It had been a long journey, and although we’d had our differences, we decided to bury the fly swatter. We were friends again, and I promised to share our new apartment with him, although he was not allowed to regurgitate on our food.

We pulled up to our new apartment complex, found the right door, and turned the handle.


I almost cried. I texted our apartment manager, Brooke, and she bounced right over, as if letting people in to their apartment in the middle of the night was her favorite part of the job. We thanked her profusely, blew up an air mattress, and fell asleep.

When I got up the next morning to move our stuff, I opened the truck door and Christofly Columbus flew out before I could stop him. He zoomed up into the bright blue sky, excited to explore the new land he had discovered.

(Click here to read Part 1 and/or Part 2)

(Read Part 1 and/or Part 3)

Things you need to know before reading this blawg:

Number1: After three years together, the less abrasive pessimist and I got engaged at the same cemetery I took her to on our first date. This was surprising news, to say the least, for my friends and family, who had started to compare my relationships to M. Night Shyamalan movies: in the beginning they’re filled with promise and intensity, followed a lot of ominous foreshadowing in the middle, and everyone leaves disappointed in the end. We’d been engaged less than four months at the time of the move, and I’m certain there were those who were expecting me to screw it up somehow, myself included.

Number 2: We have a one-year-old cat named The Tempest. She’s half Siamese and half Paranoid Schizophrenic.

Number 3: Neither of us had jobs. (This blawg is being written about events that have already taken place, hence the past tense, but it would be more accurate to use the present-tense verb “have” in this particular situation.) But we’d saved up enough money to pay the rent for a few months while we searched for employment.

Number 4: I just want to remind the reader about that whole cheap-vs.-lazy thing from the last blawg. Here’s where it becomes relevant…

In the past twenty years or so, I have moved approximately fifteen times. Each time I simply pack my belongings into a rental car (not a truck or a van…a car), throw away whatever does not fit, and drive to my new home. The only time I’ve ever altered this routine was when I moved to Prague for a year, and in that situation, I brought two bags on the plane, one for clothes and the other for books. I have never purchased a single piece of furniture. Instead, I simply leave my old furniture behind, sleep on the floor for a few months at my new residence until a neighbor decides to leave a mattress next to the Dumpster, then I drag the mysteriously stained rectangle up to my bedroom, plop it on the floor, wrap a plastic cover around it, and take a nap. Couches, lamps, bookshelves, tables, and televisions are obtained in a similar fashion. Sometimes, coworkers or friends’ mothers hear about the way I live, gasp, and donate entire bedroom sets. But that’s rare. More often you can find me sitting on a lawn chair in my living room, eating cold SpaghettiOs straight out of the can with a plastic spork, and glaring psychotically at my laptop.

For some reason, my new fiancee did not see the advantage of moving halfway across the country with just a toothbrush and a worn Billy Joel CD. So plans had to be made. Plans that involved doing work. Plans that involved spending money.

The cheapest way to move was to rent a truck and drive sixteen hours south to our destination. I’ve had some bad experiences with U-Haul in the past, so I looked at Budget and Enterprise. The cost of a truck was around $600 or so. Add the cost of gas for the truck and the less abrasive pessimist’s car and the total would be around $1,000. But we also had to load our belongings on and off the truck ourselves. Not good for the lazy side.

A friend recommended I try a website called uShip, which allows you to enter the details about your move into a profile and then movers all over the country can bid on it. This satisfied my lazy requirement, but when I entered the information, the website told me my best bid would probably come in at around $2,500. The cheap devil in me balked. So I restricted the maximum bid to $1,200 thinking it would do no harm if no one wanted to accept it. This was a little more than the cost of renting a truck, but it would also be less work. It was the perfect balance of cheap vs. lazy. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Several weeks passed and no bid. Finally, when the profile was about to expire, I received an email from a company called Gatz Shipping. It was a small, family operation out of Idaho, just a man named Jeff Gatz and his wife. They were moving someone else to Austin and wanted to add our belongings to the trip. Sort of like killing two birds with one moving truck. I said that sounded great to me. I gave him my number and he called immediately to work out the details. He said he would pick us up at the end of May and we would be in Austin by June 1 to start our new lives. My fiancee was a bit dubious, but since she’d been dreading driving two vehicles while trying to control our spazoid cat, she finally came around to the idea. I was a hero!

The long story of how Mr. Gatz thoroughly and unapologetically screwed us can be read here. The short version is that he never showed up. It would have been bad enough if he simply told us he wasn’t coming, but he kept telling us he would be there until several days after he was supposed to be there. The less abrasive pessimist picked up on the pattern early and suggested we find a rental truck on May 25, which would have kept us on schedule. However, I did not want to give up on my dream of being lazy. So I told her I was certain Mr. Gatz would come through for us if we gave him more time. May 26th passed, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st. We entered June and still no moving company. I’d gone from hero to heel in a housefly’s lifetime.

To be continued…

(Read Part 1 and/or Part 3)

(Read Part 2 and/or Part 3)

There are several things you need to know before reading this blawg post.

Number 1 (and this is by far the most important): I am an asshole. I’m not the kind of asshole that wears Ax Body Spray and roofies girls’ drinks at frat parties or the kind that wears wife beaters and refers to vaginas as “hotdog warmers” or the kind that pulls up next to homeless men in BMWs and tells them to get jobs or Ann Coulter. I’m just a cranky, pessimistic bastard who hopes that people will be good but assumes they will suck. It’s a perfectly valid point of view in my opinion. I try to use my powers of assholery to protect the innocent and thwart the evil, but I usually just end up mildly pissing off other assholes and making my friends chuckle.

Number 2: I live by a specific philosophical code. This is not a code that I developed after observing human nature for numerous decades, ruminating on my findings, and then attempting to codify the results of my study into a system of psychological/physiological/behavioral rules. I’m no Plato. No, I developed my philosophy for much less altruistic reasons. After living a relatively selfish lower-class existence for thirty years or so, it dawned on me one day that practically all of the decisions in my life were dictated by my attempts to balance two factors: cheap vs. lazy. Obviously, this has little relevance when I’m making macro decisions, such as voting for the president or plotting to overthrow the world with my super-villain powers, but in the microcosm of my everyday life it is surprisingly consistent. I am profoundly cheap and perversely lazy. And since this is America, where money very often purchases convenience, a person such as myself who does not want to work hard for more money but wishes to remain comfortable in his poverty must constantly seek harmony between the stingy ying and the snoozy yang. (I promise this will be relevant later on in the story.)

Number 3: I recently got engaged to a fellow pessimist, albeit one much less abrasive than myself.

Number 4: Me and the less abrasive pessimist decided to move from Boulder, Colorado to Austin, Texas. In June. To an apartment we’d never seen.

Number 5: Also, neither of us had ever been to Austin. Ever.

Now we can begin…

Hey, boys and girls! Here’s a fun social experiment you can perform with your liberal acquaintances! Tell them that you’re moving and when they ask where say, “Texas!” and then watch their faces melt off like that Nazi dude at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

People have opinions about Texas. Strong opinions. Strange opinions. Long-winded opinions. Opinions they feel the need to share despite the fact that you never asked for said opinions or cared about said opinions or really gave a shit about any opinion the person in front of you is now spouting off concerning the decisions you are making with your life that have nothing whatsoever to do with them. There are various ways to deal with these particular opinion-sharers, but my favorite is to simply yell “YEEEEHAW!”, grab my crotch, spit, and walk away.

If you perform the same experiment but say “Austin!” the person you are talking to will inevitably reply, “You know that’s in Texas, right?” and then laugh hysterically as though they are the first person to ever think of this clever witticism. This happens approximately 72 percent of the time.

We discussed the issue for months, and in the end here’s the short version of why we decided to move to Austin: we hate winter and Austin is fairly cheap for a culturally relevant city.

Also, I’ve never seen an armadillo. (It’s like a dinosaur and a possum made sweet sweet love and then had a baby that’s apparently prone to vehicular suicide.)

It’s hot in Texas.

This is one of the intellectual tidbits the opinion-sharers like to share, as if the temperature south of Oklahoma is some closely kept government secret that only they are privy to. And if you tell them that, yes, you know it’s hot, they will interrupt you and say, “No, you don’t understand. It’s really hot.” Actually, I do understand, Mr. Italics. I’ve traveled and lived in countries all over the world, some of them in the desert, some of them in the tropics. I understand heat. We know that in the summer is going to be uncomfortably hot. We get it. We would simply rather be uncomfortably hot in the summer than uncomfortably cold in the winter. We’re heat people.

The other thing people like to tell you is how far your journey will be. Once again, this is not difficult information to obtain, especially in the age of Google. Just clickety-clack for two seconds on the old computer keyboard and WALLAH! It’s a 16-hour drive from Boulder to Austin.

And this is where my idiotic philosophical code almost ruined our move.

(Read Part 2 and/or Part 3)

Originally Published in Heads Magazine

June 2007

They called themselves the Dirt People and they wanted our souls.  I knew this because their leader, a skeletal, albino hermaphrodite with a Messiah complex, who was wrapped from head to foot in a white bed sheet, his golden dreadlocks sprawled out like Medusa’s snakes, Derek, from Idaho, said, “We want your souls.”

“What do you want with them?” asked Paul, my friend, a pale, bald pygmy who exploded on the scene like a mouthy cannonball wherever he went.  “I’m not using mine right now, but I might need it later.”

“The mushrooms are sacred.  They come from the earth.”

“A lot of shit comes out of the earth.”

“Yes, and it’s all sacred.”

“Uh-huh.  Well, you can take our souls if you need to—just give us the shrooms.  We want to get fucked up.”

We were in Palenque, down south, the Oaxaca region, smack dab in the middle of the rain forest, hot and wet, sleeping with the beasties and the cannibals.  The night before, our Dutch neighbors, Sven and Sven, had found a scorpion in their thatched cabana room, a hideous thing, part insect, part reptile, part demon, and they beat it to death with their wooden shoes.  “Take dat!” they screamed into the night air. “Take dat!  Take dat!  Take dat!”

Actually, I don’t know if their shoes were wooden, or if their names were Sven, but that is neither here nor there.  They were definitely Dutch.  They drenched their french fries in mayonnaise and they had a fondness for windmills.

Palenque was one of the hot spots mentioned in the backpacker’s bible, the Lonely Planet, and therefore travelers from across the globe flocked there like ex-patriotic sheep, hoping to get off the “beaten path.”  Of course, every path we traveled had already been beaten mercilessly, like an altar boy’s ding-dong, but we tried not to think about that.  We didn’t want adventure, not really—we were young, bored, First World suburbanites who wanted to take the guided tour through the Heart of Darkness, snapping pictures with our disposable cameras along the way.

And then there were the Dirt People.  They weren’t tourists like the rest of us.  They were throwbacks.  Cultural cavemen.  The Merry Posers.  The hairy offspring of the beatniks and the hippies.  Forty years ago, they would have been littering the sidewalks of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, living in makeshift communes, gobbling up five dollar sheets of acid, freaking out the squares with their promiscuous sexual habits.  They would have been relevant.

This abominable mind-fuck all began when the so-called counter culture movement died out in the 1970s, almost before it even started.  When the decade ended, our parents abandoned their hideous experiment and left behind an impossible myth about Peace and Love and Flower Power—a myth that captured generations of disillusioned youth, boys and girls all across the American Heartland, confused, depressed, too cynical for pop culture, too passive for punk rock.  They couldn’t go back to the Sixties and they couldn’t stay in the Eighties.  There was nothing left for them in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Cosby Show.

So they packed their passports and their Birkenstocks and moved south.  Not “South”—not Texas or Georgia—south south, down Mexico way.  They said Adios to their parents and their country, turned their backs on reality, and they ran deep into the Mexican jungle, where they could grow their hair long and sleep out in the open, take drugs, listen to Bob Marley, learn to play the sitar.

You find these neo-hippies all across Central America.  You can recognize them by the half-starved look in their eyes and their antisocial behavior.  They know the locals will never accept them and they don’t associate with other travelers, except to sell them jewelry and drugs.  They live between worlds, in the shadows of society, where they have no rights but more freedom.  At least, that’s how they tell it.  Either way, you have to respect their tenacity.  It’s not an easy lifestyle.

Derek and the rest of the Dirt People lived at El Panchan, the camp where Paul and I stayed for three nights.  They slept in hammocks and bathed in the river.  They dressed in odd, colorful clothes made from leftover scraps, making them look like a group of savage court jesters.  They boiled their water before they drank it.  For dinner, they usually had rice with a side of rice.

The Dirt People shunned all practical skills and embraced the absurd.  Not one of them could hold down a straight job sweeping floors or waiting tables, but they sewed their own costumes and juggled fire sticks and wove ornate necklaces out of tree bark and forest seeds.  At El Panchan, they paid their room and board by performing for the customers at the camp’s outdoor restaurant, a surprisingly elegant establishment considering the rustic surroundings.  Every night, after the sun had set and the tables were filled with smiling, satiated patrons, the Dirt People took the floor.  Naked from the waste up, the sleek coffee-skinned boys attacked their bongos, which they always held at crotch level, making it appear as though their animalistic rhythms were a masturbatory act.  And the women, those malnourished sirens, performed their serpentine dance, driving all the repressed spectators crazy with sexual desire.  Later, those same tourists would go back to their cabanas to fuck like they never fucked before, their thoughts dominated by visions of hairy, writhing throwbacks from another world.

Of course, not everyone performed.  Derek stayed back and worked the crowd, spouting his pseudo-philosophical musings to various onlookers, feeling out the room for possible drug deals.

That was how we met him.  Paul asked him for mushrooms and Derek asked for our souls.  Plus twenty bucks.

The Dirt People believed mushrooms were a spiritual tool used to open the mind.  “I’ve been here fourteen months,” Derek said.  “I was only supposed to stay overnight.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I couldn’t leave.”

That was all he said.  Not, I didn’t leave—I couldn’t leave.  He handed Paul a plastic bag, then he drifted off to a table filled with wide-eyed Canadian girls, a magical shaman with predatory needs.

There were seven shrooms in the bag, firm, fresh, smelling of leaves and manure, and we took them to our room so we could devour them in private.  We washed them off with bottled water and divided the lot, tearing the largest one in half, a monster that Alice might have nibbled on while conversing with a snarky, intellectual caterpillar.  They tasted stale and earthy, like moldy bread that had been dropped in an open grave, and we savored every last bite before returning to the restaurant to finish the show.

Nothing happened.

There was a warm breeze coming out of the north that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  The waiter brought food.  The hippies played “Buffalo Soldier.”  I felt good but I didn’t feel high, and I was starting to believe that this drug deal had gone awry.  I was about to suggest that we hunt down Derek and show him the true meaning of The Howl when Paul pointed at the pizza in front of us.

“Look at that,” he said.


“The toppings are dancing.”

The toppings weren’t dancing, of course.  That was ridiculous.  But as soon as Paul mentioned it, as soon as those words spilled out, like an incantation, the peppers and unions began to wiggle back and forth right before my eyes.  They began to jive.  Then they started grooving.  It was a party.  I stared at them for what seemed like hours, entranced, not a single thought in my beleaguered buzzing brain, and when I looked up, someone had taken away the restaurant and replaced it with a Salvador Dali painting.  And I was the artist inside the canvas, controlling time and space with my brush, bending the material world surrounding me as though it was all made of neon Silly Putty.  Oh, what a ridiculous freak-fest it was!  And, oh, how I loved being the Ring Master!

I was tripping.

Every physical sensation had new meaning that night.  There were colors I’d never imagined before and the jungle was filled with an impossible cacophony of forest sounds.  Nothing escaped my notice.  The air ignited with blue electricity that filled up the darkness and illuminated everything.  Suddenly, the beauty of the world was almost unbearable.

After an indeterminable amount of time, I looked up from my musings to discover that the music had stopped and everyone in the restaurant was watching me as I rubbed a bottle of Fanta on my bare chest.  I had no idea when I’d removed my shirt, but it felt so good.  The tourists were giggling and the Dirt People were staring at me in mute anger, offended that I dared partake of their sacrament with such flippancy.  And I pointed at them and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Finally, we decided to leave, because, as Paul said, “I don’t think this room will hold us much longer.”

And he was right.  The ceiling was getting closer.  It was just a matter of time before everyone was crushed under it.  I laughed again.

We went back to our cabana and ripped the place apart.  I giggled while I shed my pants for no apparent reason and then, half-naked, proceeded to break every piece of furniture in the room.  Paul wrapped himself in a bed sheet and tried to keep out of harm’s way.  “Take dat!” I screamed into the night air.  “Take dat!  Take dat!  Take dat!”

Then we slipped into oblivion.

*     *     *

Contrary to the preachings of certain New Age evangelists, it is not natural to eat mushrooms just because they come from the earth.  Hemlock comes from the earth—ask Socrates how natural that shit was when it choked the life out of him.  The earth hates us.  The earth tries to kill us every day.  It’s a war, and I for one plan to come out victorious.

I don’t know where the idea to unite drugs and spirituality came from, but it’s all a crock of shit.  I’ve taken over a dozen different drugs on hundreds of occasions and never once did they expand my mind.  I don’t take them to raise my consciousness.  I don’t take them to cope with the world.  And I sure as hell don’t take them because of peer pressure.  I take drugs because I can.  It’s that simple.  I want to.  I need no other reason.

*     *     *

The next morning, Paul and I woke at the crack of dawn to catch the first bus out of that beautiful, tropical hell-hole.  As we shouldered our backpacks, we saw the Dirt People scuttling about with their morning rituals, washing plates, mending socks, praying to unnamed gods.  They looked like colorful, domestic gorillas in the dawn light, and I felt like Jane Goodall with a penis.

“They still have our souls,” I said.

Paul shrugged.  “Who cares?  They need them more then we do.  Let’s get the hell out of here.”

And so we did.

The Sky’s the Limit

January 13, 2012

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

September 2008

I’m thinking about redecorating my apartment. Nothing fancy, just a giant 7’ by 7’ Cross-Word Puzzle Mural to cover the east wall in my bedroom. It has 28,000 clues and 91,000 squares, and it comes with a 100-page help book and a nifty storage box, all for the very reasonable price of $29.95. Of course, if I purchase that, I’ll also need the World’s Largest Write-On Map Mural, which covers more than 10 square feet of wall space and features capitals, countries, major cities, political boundaries, time zones, ocean depths and more! This is the only detailed, eight-color 2006 mural of its size, and it’s a bargain at just $149.95.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that my living room is going to look pretty drab after my bedroom has been bedazzled with these unreasonably large wall-hangings. That’s why I plan to throw out my couch and replace it with a full-scale replica of King Tutankhamen’s Egyptian Throne Chair. At just $895, this detailed copy of the 3,500-year-old original is a steal. With a hand-painted gold exterior and a carved lion head on each armrest, it’s a must-have for any Egyptophile.

I know, I know — the throne is going to look ridiculous sitting next to my normal, boring oak bookcase. Which is why I absolutely must have the matching $895 King Tut Life-Sized Sarcophagus Cabinet, which looks like an actual sarcophagus on the outside but also has a surprising amount of shelf space on the inside.

*     *     *

I first discovered SkyMall magazine on a flight from Denver to Chicago in 1996. I was 21 years old, and it was the first time I’d ever been on a commercial jet. Consequently, I was scared shitless. I tried to relax by listening to music and digging my fingernails into the right arm of the octogenarian sitting next to me, but I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that I was sitting in a 300,000-pound hunk of metal that was filled with 50,000 gallons of flammable fuel hurling through the sky at 500 mph. For the first time, I truly understood the meaning of the words “death trap.”

After annoying the flight attendant with a million questions, most of them concerning the laws of gravity, I finally picked up a SkyMall and started to flip through the pages. I was immediately enthralled. Robotic vacuum cleaners; collars that translate your dog’s barks into human speech; fish tank coffee tables; musical toilet-paper dispensers — I was perfectly content for the rest of the flight.

Over the past decade, I have continued to collect SkyMall magazines, although I have never made a single purchase from any of them. My favorite issues sit on my coffee table (which, sadly, is not also a fish tank), and I look through them on a nightly basis. As a tool for understanding American culture, SkyMall is more important than The New Yorker, Harper’s, Newsweek, Esquire and Rolling Stone combined. These magazines can only give you facts and supply you with social commentary; SkyMall on the other hand is an ongoing sociological experiment. And since SkyMall’s only agenda is to make money, you can trust that it’s not influenced by anything except greed. SkyMall products that don’t sell are quickly removed from the magazine, but the popular items return month after month, year after year. Therefore, if you’re an obsessive nerd with a lot of time on your hands like I am, you can trace cultural trends by examining how the contents of the magazine evolve over time.

It’s important to note that SkyMall customers don’t fit into a single category. I doubt if bluecollar workers in Detroit are scratching their heads and wondering where they can find a portable commercial steam cleaner or an electric shoe buffer. On the other hand, SkyMall is not just a magazine for high-class millionaires, either. It’s difficult to imagine Donald Trump and his cronies ordering a toolbox with orange flames painted on the side or a bar stool with a motorcycle seat.

At first glance, SkyMall appears to be extremely random and chaotic: a hot dog cooker on one page and a tapestry depicting the French countryside on the next. However, if you read it consistently, you realize that SkyMall has actually tapped into an extremely specific piece of our national psyche: the desire for more. No matter what socio-economic class we belong to, Americans want more. If we have a 24” television, we want a 32” television, or a 45” television, or a flat-screen television. If we have an appliance that makes two pieces of toast at a time, we want one that makes four pieces, or six, or we want an appliance that cooks rotisserie chicken while it balances the checkbook and plays samba music. Americans defeated the British, we conquered the wilderness, we landed on the moon, and now we want a fountain pen with a builtin digital recorder and an FM radio. All for the very reasonable price of $89.99.

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