Friday, October 9, 2009

We're back, back, like a heart attack

LA, Tuba City, Denver, Ft. Collins, Severance, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Billings, Butte, Death Valley, LA.

You know when old people take out the photo album and show you their trip? We're about to spend the next few blogs doing just that.

Stay tuned.

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T minus five seconds to take off!

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T minus four - WAIT! I fogetted my seatbelt!

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Gwavity bad!!!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pistol Pete and all his famous friends

There are three types of people that attend film school. They are, in no particular order, A.) Legitimate artists and filmmakers, skilled and serious about their craft. B.) Kids who want to make movies but lack any sort of creative intellect and finally, C.) The recently graduated who didn't want to join the military. Pistol Pete was of the latter.

I'd been living in the dorms / converted air force barracks for roughly a year and a half and was feeling morose about seeing my time there coming to such an abrupt end. The CCA populous was a motley crew, not by choice but just by nature. We were atoms reacting and responding to one another, the island of misfit toys, broken and stupid and usually drunk. Jones was of Korean descent and his mother spoke no English. Having been born and raised in The States he spoke no Korean. At home and at Christmas he would sign to his mother, "going to bed", "I'm hungry" and "goodbye". Pink was a heavy kid from somewhere in northern Colorado and had been raised in a coal mine. Every summer, when school would end, he'd sadly crawl into his mom's car and drive back to The Black Lung where he would spend his days in a dark cave, slamming a pick ax into the ground, a little flashlight helmut covering his head. Self proclaimed "Uncle Stevie" was dabbling in alcoholism and could be found at any given moment tumbling through the halls or picking cigarette butts from the outdoor ashtrays. He had a girlfriend of Greek descent named Roxy who's father was on the Olympic weightlifting team once upon a time. Lauren looked like the third Olsen twin and was bisexual. This meant she could have had any guy in the place of her choosing and with a 10 to 1 male / female ratio, the battle was on. She was raw meat thrown to the vultures. Some of us would have stood a chance had we not all been jobless, carless, drunks; something we quickly discovered women considered to be negative attributes.

For Thanksgiving, Jade and I invited Lauren to spend the holidays in the mountains with ourselves and the parental units. She complied and I would bet that any guy in the building would have given his left nut to have been in my position. I was excited to see who Lauren was outside of the big crowd, who she was face to face. So far I had just seen her as the pornography crazed, pierced clitori aficionado. When there was no one to impress would she be intelligent? Tasteful? Taciturn? Upon arrival on the mountain top the three of us partook in a jolly good snowball fight. Jade was snapping photos of us during our playful rendezvous while Lauren kept removing pieces of her outer garments, complaining about the heat. Although there was snow on the ground, it was a warm winter, but that was the least of my concerns. My girlfriend had a camera. This hot bisexual was removing her coat, hat, the mittens on you......bad girl.......I was sure I'd seen adult films begin this way. Sadly, before I could begin segueing the conversation towards pinker territory, we were called in by Jade's mom for dinner.

We eat turkey and we eat cranberries and we eat stuffing and we eat pumpkin pie and afterwards we all retire to our bedrooms, wishing we were dead, our poor bellies bloated to Ripley's Believe it or Not proportions. As I lie in bed, reading a book, Lauren pokes her head into the room. I act casual. I act like I don't have a plan up my sleeve involving her touching my girlfriend's boobs. "Howdy". She smiles and says, "Is there a bathroom up here?" and I say, "er.....yeah.....right down the - down the hall," and she disappears for I don't know how long. I actually lose track of time she's been in there for such a lengthy period. I read a chapter, I read a second chapter, I'm well into my third chapter (20? 30 pages later?) when I hear the door open and remember that I'd forgotten that she had excused herself. I pretend not to notice the squeaky hinges and her gentle footsteps down the hall. She's only human and we ALL ate a pretty hefty meal. Sometimes you gotta drop the deuce and it's all very natural and that's just fine but I try not to picture it, her, doing it. While not trying to picture it, I picture it. She sits squarely on the toilet, her knees bent just slightly in towards one another, her tight jeans and red thong in a little bunch around her ankles. It's actually sort of a cute image in a very strange way until I imagine her gripping the sink, gripping the shower door, a towel pinched between her teeth, her face as red as her thong as she tries not to scream through her butt birth. I try to shake the image away but only manage to burn it further into my mind. Lauren peaks her head into my room just as I'm rubbing my eyes, scratching the vision from my retinas. "Hey," she says and I try to play it cool, extra cool, super cool, "hey", I say. Jade walks into the room and sits down on the bed. Lauren says, "we should get a plunger in that bathroom. There's no plunger. I just.....hahaha, I just clogged up the toilet BIG TIME and couldn't figure out how to flush it down so I just used my hands to sort it out," and I stare at her, the image in my mind changing, morphing to one of Lauren on her knees, her pants and thong still pushed down around her ankles. She's bent over the toilet and covered in sweat. She's elbow deep in her own muck and she wipes her perspiration from her brow with her forearm. I pray to God that he gives me the old image back, the clutching, straining one. Anything for this. My kingdom for a new memory! Jade laughs and asks her why she didn't just ask for a plunger and Lauren pauses, stares at us as if we're mad and says, "How embarrassing would THAT be". Brains and beauty. You rarely get both.

The next day we all go to a movie, something called Time Line or Time Zone. It's starring, who my girlfriends refers to as, "The Dreamy Paul Walker". The four of us (Jade, Jade's mom, Lauren and myself) get two bags of popcorn and share, two for two. Lauren sits down next to me and at first, nothing registers. The alarms are not yet going off, not yet screaming. I reach my hand into the buttery brown bag and pull out some fluffy, golden kernels and shove them in my mouth. On the screen Paul Walker says something dreamy. Lauren smiles and I turn to look at her, instinctively. It is then that I notice her shoulder, her arm, her hand. It's stretched across the seat, hovering inches above my man dong, stuffed in the bag of popcorn. She is gripping and grabbing at pieces of the stuff, hungry for it's salty goodness. She pulls her hand from the bag and shoves a fistful of the good stuff in her mouth, campaigning to fit every morsel and tidbit of Mr. Reddenbacher into her gab. When she goes back for more it is then that I realize, licking my fingers, covered in popcorn juices, a handful of the tainted stuff already in my mouth, that she is digging through my movie treats with the same hands that she was, just yesterday, digging through her own dukey like some troubled chimp. Surely she washed her hands. Surely she washed them twice right after the incident and a few times since then, but still, there is principal. I am, what some would consider, a germiphobe. In high school I washed my hands so frequently and so repeatedly that they actually began to chafe and peel, raw and red. I flush toilets with my sneaker and I never ever under ANY circumstance touch a door handle that is not in my own home. If food drops on the floor, it is out. No five second rule. No ten second rule. There is only the It's-On-The-Floor-And-Is-Now-Garbage Rule. My mouth filled with flying fecal matter, I grimace, try to hold back the gag, roll my tongue away from the mush and just try to force it down the hole in my throat without making a scene. Through the rest of the movie I continue to hold the bag of popcorn and I continue to pretend to eat the popcorn but I do not touch the popcorn. Instead I just reach into the bag, grabbing imaginary handfuls and shoving them falsely into my mouth. Lauren finishes the bag alone.

Outside, after the film, we're all crawling into the suburban, taking part in the time honored tradition of reviewing the movie. Mostly it was good, we all agree, but sometimes it was bad and we all agree on that and Lauren is about to say something when, instead of a word, a burp comes out and then she covers her mouth and then she heaves and vomit comes out and it is mostly all yellow popcorn that resembles creamed corn. It spills through her fingers and into her lap and I have to reach across her, open the door and let her out. She drops her hands and the mess spills everywhere, splattering over her pink sneakers. She heaves, once, twice, three times and buckets of mucous and bile and golden barf slip past her lips, lips that have kissed both sexes' organs and I will never think of Lauren the same way again. She gets back in the car and says, "I'm better now," and we drive off.

Lauren is strange and Jones is strange and Pink is strange and Eric, who tries growing mold on Starburst candies because he heard you can smoke it, is strange. But through all this, through all these people, none are as strange as the aforementioned Pistol Pete. The first day he shows up he enthusiastically introduces himself with the line we will all become familiar with, "Hey. I'm Pistol Pete. I rap. You wanna hear me spit a few rhymes......for you?" He would talk like this, sort of pausing out his words at strange intervals while his eyes seemed to look right through you. He had a head shaped like an egg and his peepers were big and round. Later on in life I would meet a girl who claimed that you should never trust a person upon whom you could see the tops of their irises. Most people, if you look them in the eyes, you'll just catch a hint of the bottom. The Crazies, The Whackos? The REAL ones? Not just the run-of-the-mill loonies but the Psychopaths (capital P) the ones who torture animals and burn themselves? It's on these guys that you'll see the tops of the irises. You'll stare them in the face, not quite sure what's wrong with their features but registering that something isn't quite right and then one day you'll come home and your dog will be skinned, still alive, wandering around your house with staples shot into it's face and you will find a note from your Oddly Irised Friend, written in their own blood and feces, scribbled roughly upon your ceiling.

Had I known The Iris Rule a few years earlier I may have been able to help him. I may have been able to help all of us. Pistol Pete's irises rested like fat dinner plates at the bottom of his sloping eye wells, the tops completely and utterly exposed, staring into you, wondering what your small intestine looked like. As far as crazy went, Pistol Pete took the taco grande.

He got his hands on some ecstasy a few weeks after he'd been on campus and, after taking a few tabs by himself, decided to sit on the front steps and accost the passing females. They would walk by him on their way to class or just meandering off to run errands and he'd say, "Yo yo yo! What's up! Hey, beautiful! C'mere - c'mere for a second.....". The girls would offer a single glance back before hustling it double time to their bicycles and automobiles. Another girl. "Yo yo yo! Hey, cutie! Hey there! Hey! C'mere! I just......wanna talk". The way he'd say, "wanna talk" made it sound like he meant "wanna rape" and I imagined him doing it more for the violent thrill and less for the physical release. When his gentle prodding towards conversation didn't work he moved onto what I'm sure he would call The Compliment. "Yo yo yo! Hey, you! Blondie! like your hair. Hey! I said your hair is pretty!". And this is how I found him while heading to my camera tech class. He was slouched on the front steps, almost lying on them, one hand in his pocket, probably stroking his drugged out boner and his other hand propped behind his head. When he sees me he pops a cigarette in his mouth and says, "Yo yo yo! Justin! What's up!?" and I say, "did you just call me Justin?" and instead of answering the question he throws his attention to a girl who's walking by. "Yo yo yo! Hey! Hey you! Nice........" he seems to be struggling for something, ".........JEANS! Hey! I SAID YOU'VE GOT REALLY NICE JEANS!!!". When the girl doesn't respond he looks at me and says, "I don't know what is with these bitches. I sit out here complimenting them all damn day and they don't even SMILE at me. A SMILE! That's all I'm talkin'.........about." When I ask him what he's doing out here he tells me that's he's "rolling" and when I ask him what rolling means he looks at me, the podunk from South Dakota and says, "it means I ate some ecstasy. I'm rollin' on ecstasy. YO YO YO!!!" Another girl walks out and I move along to the school.

After class I find my girlfriend in the parking lot with Lauren, the too-cute, vomiting, toilet clogging, turd excavating bisexual. The three of us make our way slowly back towards the dorms, talking about uncircumcised men. I tell them that I knew a kid growing up who said he had to peel his foreskin back before he peed otherwise the urine was likely to spray around all willy-nilly like a sprinkler system. Just as I finish, what I'm sure the ladies consider to be a spellbinding anecdote, I notice Pistol Pete in the same position as he was two hours prior, still on the steps. A girl walks past him, entering back into the dorms, and he says, shouts, "Yo yo yo! What's your problem? I told you I liked your ass when you left and you just ignored me! Don't you know how to take a compliment?" When the girl walks inside, not acknowledging his presence, he mumbles under his breath, "bitch". When asked if he'd moved since I saw him last he just shakes his head. "Nah, I been out here scamming on hottites all day, but tell you what - these girls are some PRUDES". Another girl exits. "Hey. My name's Pistol Pete. I rap. You wanna hear - no, nothin'? Okay. Hey! Nice jeans! I LIKE YOUR JEANS! NICE FUCKING JEANS!". This was a man desperate for something. Perhaps sobriety. He watches the girl go and then notices the two females flanking me. He turns his attention to hire grounds, "Yo yo yo. What's up ladies?" Jade and Lauren both nod and mumble hellos. He says, "those are some nice jeans," and Lauren says "ooooh, thank you." She coos over his compliment and this is just a big mistake, egging him on like that, encouraging his behavior. He says, "you both have the most eyes I have ever seen," and Lauren scrunches up her lips and says, "my eyes are green," and Jade says, "my eyes are hazel," and Pistol stares at them and says, "well shit, at least they ain't brown." I ruffle his hair and the three of us go inside.

The next time I see him is a few days later at the dinner table. He enters the cafeteria with noticeably more energy than when he was "rolling". Strolling across the large hall, glancing over his shoulder every few steps, he finally sits down next to me and stares into the back of my brain with those bizarre eyes and says, "I just took a couple to the noggin' and I am feelin' goooood". When I inquire about what he means he says he's just slammed three beers as fast as he could, in his room, alone. He cocks his head around, trying to see everyone at once. He leans into me and says, "This girl just crawled out of my tv.....just before dinner and I had sex with her. i did it all. When we were done she crawled back into the tv and I shut it off." I nod and take a drink of my milk. Pete straightens up and announces to those around him, "yo yo yo, I got some pills. Anyone some? They're......purple". I shake my head and take a bite out of my chicken sandwich, wondering just where it was that they bought this meat. It was delicious. Eric picks up his tray and says that he might want some. Pistol looks at him and says, "alright, Adam. I knew I could count on you".

A few days pass without incidence and then Pistol Pete is gone. He's nowhere to be found. Vanished. Two days, three days, a week passes. Some people notice and some people are thankful but mostly nobody cares. Around noon, between two of my classes I get a phone call. It's Pete. I ask him where he is and he hesitates to tell me. I ask him if he's in jail and he says, "not.......exactly". He says, "So my pops calls me the other day and asks me if he can come up, just wantsta, y'know, come by and chill. See where I'm at - all that. So I say okay and he comes by and he asks me if I want to get some ice cream and I say, 'hell YEAH I wanna get some ice cream' and when we leave he drives me to a crazy house and I TOTALLY didn't see that comin'". I ask him to repeat this last part. I say, "did you say you're in an asylum?" And he says, "yes. I didn't see it coming, either. BUT" he assures me, "don't worry. I'm in here with some really cool and famous people. Johnny Depp says hello," and then he hangs up, leaving me listening to a dial tone, wondering if I'm dreaming.

A month, a month and a half later, while Jade and I are watching an episode of Roseanne, my doorknob begins to shake violently, as though possessed by an angry spirit. After I pull the dead bolt and open the door I find Pistol standing on the other side. He stares into my soul with eyes like flying saucers visiting from other worlds and says, "man, why you lockin' your door?" I shrug and he enters and sees Jade. He punches his elbow into my side and says, "OH! I get it! Did I just, like, disturb you two? Were you just gettin' lucky?" Jade winces at his idiocy and I smile because she's uncomfortable. I say, "yeah, we were just foolin' around a little bit. Mostly just pinching each other's nipples know how it is". Jade shakes her head and then laughs as Roseanne says something humorous in regards to dieting. Pete lifts up his hand and I see he's clutching a piece of white cloth in it. A security blanket? A Klan mask? The Shroud of Turin? It's hard to say with this kid. He tells me it's a gift. He tells me he's been working on it the whole time he's been away. He tells me I get it because I'm the only one that talked to him on the phone while he was gone. He undrapes the cloth and I see that it's a white t-shirt with words printed all over it. Upon closer examination I realize that they are all names. Famous names. Celebrity names. Pistol says, "It's signed by all the famous people I was in the nut house with. Here's Johnny Depp. Here's Robert DeNiro. Here's Tupac." I'm about to tell him that Tupac is dead when he says, "Here's God's signature. He signed it twice, just in case". I'm about to ask "just in case what?" when he twists the shirt around, revealing God's dual signature on front and back. He had not signed it as Yahweh or Jehova or Jesus. He merely printed the word GOD in a sloppy green scrawl, so unlike the tidy cursive I imagined him to have.

As I stared at the shirt, debating how much I could sell this for on Ebay, I began to wonder if A.) Pistol believed these people to be famous, B.) these people believed themselves to be famous or C.) Pete had actually just scribbled different names down on a shirt in different handwritings. I was sure that the only person who knew would certainly never tell. I look up from the shirt to find his bulging, multi-dimensional eyes staring at me, surely sucking the life essence out of me. He seems hungry for approval so I say, "this is VERY cool. This is.....this is actually pretty unbelievable that were all these famous people just sitting in there with you or what?" and he looks at me, very serious, and says, "Listen, Justin. I know your secret. I know you're famous. I know that everyone in this place is a famous person and that you're all pretending to be normal people so you can escape the limelight. I know your girlfriend is Kate Winslet and that her fake name is Jade. I know that John Goodman lives right down the hall and I KNOW, I KNOW, that Eminem is in room 104. I've already spoken with him and he's going to help me get a record deal". I stare at him and nod and I am suddenly starting to see the true boundaries of his sickness. He turns away from me and walks over to Jade / Kate, sits down next to her. He says, "Yo yo yo. Look at me. Listen. I want to tell you something". Jade mutes the real John Goodman on the TV and turns to Pete, fluttering her eyelashes. She does this when she thinks that what you are about to say is going to be completely asinine and that she is only listening to make you feel important, wanting to take no interest in the actual conversation. Pete says, "I want to thank you," and then Jade gets a littler more serious and says, "'re welcome. For what?" and he says, "you gave me the best blowjobs I've ever had while I was locked up. You lived in my brain and we had the craziest sex every single night and you helped me get through it. Let me tell you're really good".

I'm punching in the final thumb tack, leaving the nut house celebrity t-shirt to display itself in my bathroom among posters of b-movie monsters and torn off beer labels when I hear Pistol professing his lust for my girlfriend. I step back into the room to make sure he's "just chatting" and not "face raping" her when there's a knock at the door. It is now, at these moments, when you truly, truly believe that things could not become stranger that they most often do. Once that snowball starts rolling downhill, there is no stopping it. It just continues to grow, gathering speed, destroying skiers and smashing villages in it's abominable journey.

I don't recognize the knock, however, I DO recognize that there is a strange sense of authority in it. Pistol's head spins on his shoulders and he says, "don't answer that," and I stand there for a moment before realizing that I'm taking orders from a man that has had tea with all four Golden Girls, probably while enjoying the snug fit of a straight jacket. I reach for the handle and hesitantly open the door, half expecting The Ghost of Christmas Past. As I swing it open though, it only reveals a small black haired man who resembles Casey Affleck. I immediately notice his lazy eye and then realize that I'm staring directly into it. I quickly look at his other eye but it appears to be off center as well. I become confused and can't seem to find myself. I can see the top of only one of his irises. What does this mean? Half crazy? Perhaps. Are his eyes two different colors? Who is this man? Is he talking to me? I don't know where to look. I decide to just stare at the bridge of his nose, splitting the difference between Lazy Eye Option A and Lazy Eye Option B.

He introduces himself as, ironically, "Casey". He says he is Peter's guardian and tells me that he is here to pick him up. I open the door further and Pistol says, "Yo yo yo! I TOLD you I'd be right down. Why you gotta be bustin' my balls all the time? Gimmie one......SECOND!" and Casey says, "C'mon" and holds out his hand. Pistol reluctantly stands up, leaving Jade on the couch alone and steps outside with the (cross-eyed?) man. Casey asks me if I'd like to walk with them to the car and I say "yes". I walk with them down the hall. Pistol turns to Casey and says, "Casey. This is Justin........Timberlake. Are you pretty excited that I'm friends with him?" and I laugh and say, "that's right. Justin Timberlake," and Casey stops walking and looks at me with disgust and says, "tell him the truth" and I say "what?" and he says, "tell him the truth. Tell him you are not Justin Timerlake. Tell him your real name" and Pistol stares at me. His forehead wrinkles into folded terrain and he cocks his head. Never before or after have I seen such strange eyes as Pistol Pete's and on that day I saw something in them that made me cringe. It was the look of a man who's reality is crumbling down around him, being broken, shattered and smashed. The things he knows or thought he knew and loved about everyone were all lies. He waits for it. He waits for me to talk. I say, feeling a little silly, "I'm......not.......I'm not really Justin.....Timberlake. My name is........John Brookbank" and Pistol pauses and the look is gone. He seems fine and I think that it was easier than I was anticipating. Pete winks at me and says, "oh......riiiiiiiight" and Casey tells me to say it again. People are starting to gather in the halls. Class is out and lunch is beginning and why are the walls closing in on me? Why are all these people looking at me? I glance over my shoulder nervously and shuffle my feet. I stick my hands in my pockets. The audience is sensing something in the wind. They smell it and they are hungry for gossip. I say, "I am not......Justin Timberlake. I am not Justin Timberlake. I am John Brookbank" and I'm imagining all these people thinking that I'm the crazy one. They're watching me trying to grasp my identity. "I'm JOHN. I'm JOHN Brookbank. My name is JOHN Brookbank. I am NOT Justin Timberlake. My name is JOHN Brookbank". Casey says, "Peter is sick. Peter is schizophrenic and has been selling his medication. We're taking him away," and I say, "when will he be back?" and Casey says, "I don't know" as he begins pulling him away, down the hall. I stand and watch as they disappear around the corner. Eric pokes his head out from his door to see what all the commotion is just as Pete shouts at him, "Adam Sandler! Adam Sandler! Please help me!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller

The biggest problem growing up in a town who's greatest past time for the rascally youth is the roller skating arena is the pension for those children to go out and find their own brand of trouble. While most of my friends turned to cigarettes, marijuana and beer at an early age, I decided to just say no and instead focused my attentions to the slightly more creative arts of theft, vandalism and general adolescent naughtiness. In elementary school I began sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night to meet up with my equally juvenile friends. We'd prowl the neighborhood, lurking from shadow to shadow, hiding from passing cars and dodging motion sensors. Initially, the simple thrill of just being out and meandering the block at midnight was enough to tide us over but it quickly became apparent that it would not satiate our pubescent urges for long. As with all things, the newness of the situation rapidly faded and we needed to move on, expand our horizons, chase down unexplored territory. We began experimenting with toilet papering homes, garages, cars and trees, which turned into putting whipped cream messages on people's automobiles (sometimes our parents') "F U!" "EAT MY DICK" and the apocalyptic epitome "PENIS" were among some of my favorites to etch, usually in print as cursive was not yet my strong point. If you're going to send someone a message, they may as well be able to read (and appreciate) it. The whip cream was just a small step for mankind to eggs and the eggs easily segued to rocks. We would pick up stones from the alleyways that ran between the rows of Craftsman homes and we would chuck them as hard and accurately as possible towards the glass targets that served as garage windows. There is no sound in the world as thrilling and exhilarating to a young boy as the sound of shattering glass. We would disappear down the block, trying to suppress our laughter and glee at another fine mission complete. What were we aiming for? What was our purpose? Were we not concerned for the property and assets of those around us? These questions are out of reach of the common vandal, especially one that is barely a decade old. Cheap thrills. Adrenaline. The MOMENT. Like a junkie seeking his next hit, we were only concerned about the result. We didn't care who got hurt along the way; our family, our neighbors, ourselves. We would steal fluorescent bulbs from behind stores (whether they were functioning or not we cared little). We would retreat to our secret spots - the woods, the bike trail, the creek, the railroad tracks - and we would smash them one after another, watching in amazement, all of us glossy eyed and locked in like stoners experiencing their zen moment as the glass seemed to evaporate into dust before our very beings.

In the woods, under cover of leaves and disguised by trash, we had our collection of pornography; things we'd stolen from our parents and from the local book stores. We discussed the best times and days to steal our beloved nudie magazines; we had meetings, plans and blue prints. Two of us, maybe three of us would enter the bookstore at a time, the first heading to the front desk where, after a moment of silence the old woman would look up and address us, not with "hello" or "how can I help you?" but merely a cocked eyebrow. We were children and as such didn't deserve to be treated with respect and humanity. Truth be told, we were monsters, thieves and liars and got just what we had earned. We would ask for a book, something she'd never heard of, something that would get her to leave the desk and focus her attention on the shelves. "I'm looking for........something about werewolves.......". She would lead the decoy to a far corner where, nearby, the second of us would be glancing over books about Dungeons and Dragons even though none of us played. This just served as a distraction. A full store is a hard store to watch.

The third kid, usually played by a boy who was about three years my senior, would enter in a zipped up army jacket. His left hand would swing freely at his side while his right would appear to be tucked into his jacket pocket. Allegedly tucked into his jacket pocket. In actuality, in reality, it would be inside his coat, curled against his body. He would approach the stand that contained comics on the bottom shelf (kid height) and magazines about wrestling, cars and hunting on the top shelf (adult height). Behind all these worthless magazines resided The Good Stuff, our City of Gold; Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Club Confidential. The ones with the censored covers were the best because if THAT'S what they put on the OUTSIDE, boy oh boy, could you just imagine what they put on the inside??? The army clad crook would slip down his camo zipper just enough to enable him to reach his hand out the top of the jacket, snag a handful of adult literature and gently float them back into his coat and then, just as quickly as he had come, he would go. I would follow out a few seconds later, leaving my guard post at the D&D rack and the decoy would never find the book on werewolves he was looking for.

Outside, the group of us would rush away, heading for the nearest safe spot; a public bathroom, a group of trees, a dumpster. We all crawl inside and the army jacket slips down and all eyes are wide and all stomachs are in knots and all toes are curling. Three magazines slip out and are distributed. I tear at the plastic covering with my fingernails, with my teeth, shredding it into so much useless garbage, more camouflaged junk in the dumpster bed. On the cover are two permed blondes, both of them naked, both of them resting their peachy bottoms upon a motorcycle sitting against a black backdrop. I caress the glossy title and stare directly into their sharp blue eyes. They appear to be twins and I wonder if there is something wrong in partaking in pornography that seems to be incestuous in nature. I decide that I will first stare at their delicate bodies and fulfill any carnal appetites I may be having before discussing my moral obligations with my conscience. I slide my finger slowly under the cover, being as delicate as can be, treating this Guide to Greater Lands with as much respect as a newly wed virgin. Two other guys peer over my shoulder and not a word is said as the first page falls open, revealing a nude redhead holding a pink guitar. What is each of us thinking? What is rolling through our heads? The answer is simple and across the board: "I gotta get me one of those".

There are two girls in a pool, one of them a brunette and one of them a blonde. Neither is wearing a swimsuit save for goggles and flippers and the things they are doing one to the other are generally considered to be traditionally untraditional but the act appeals to us nonetheless. And it is this, Ladies and Sperms, where we find our sex education. In school they tell us that having wet dreams is normal and something we should not be ashamed of. In school they say that a young boy will get 19 boners a day and that you shouldn't worry. In school they tell us that having sex with a girl on her period is frowned upon and when we ask why, genuinely inquisitive, they frown upon us. In school they do NOT tell us that an entire fist would be considered "too much" for vaginal ingestion or that a wrench doesn't offer quite the same flexibility and give that your standard phallus would. We think all girls can swallow entire bananas and so, this is what we are sent out into the world with. These are the things we are expecting. And when we present our girlfriends and wives with the "exciting proposition" to blindfold them and duct tape them to a chair and throw hot grease on them we are greeted with looks of disgust, puckered and pouty, next to divorce papers.

Back in the Love Dumpster someone says that they want to be a photographer when they grow up so they can look at boobs all day long. I correct them and explain that while the boob is wonderful, it's truly the nipple that they desire. Someone else turns away, disgusted. We look at him, this outsider, with queer wonderment. He says, "I don't get it - I'm not into chicks being with other chicks - it's not like they're gonna get with me - it's not like they're gonna be interested in me and have sex with me". I tell him that these girls are a decade older than him and live 3,000 miles away and, oh yeah, they're just on a glossy print paper, so I don't think he has anything to worry about. He shrugs and turns the page to a picture of a girl lying in a pile of hay, shoving a carrot up her butt. He says, "That's what I'm talking about!" before we crawl from the dumpster, go to the video store and steal some sodas. We rent a movie (A Nightmare of Elm Street Part 2) and after signing for it I grab the VHS and proceed over to the cooler where cases of Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew are held. I slide it open, grab a 24 pack and walk right out of the store, not hesitating for the grab, not stopping to think twice, not pausing to look back. A thief must be precise and accurate and emotionless. As I blow through the doors into the (dirt) parking lot I let out a cowboy-esque "yee-haw!" and we all jump on our Huffies and peddle down the street to watch a film my mother has forbade me from viewing.

That night I tell my mom I'm spending the night at Steve's house and Steve tells his dad he's spending the night at Aaron's house and Aaron tells his folks he's spending the night at my house and we take advantage of our parent's trust / carelessness to own the night. Mitchell is our playground and we are tiny, conniving psychopaths. We start a collection of hood ornaments; Mustang's, Ford's, Dodge's. It doesn't really matter what make or model they're from. We're not picky. We just destroy and steal, tearing off the automobile mast heads and sticking them in our deep pockets and back packs. We become familiar with the term "Car Shopping". To the standard adult, car shopping is the act of going from dealership to dealership, trying to find that diamond in the rough, seeking out the good deals and haggling them down even lower. It is a time honored tradition that most American males over the age of sixteen revel in. To a group of ten, eleven and twelve year olds living in a town where nobody locks their doors, Car Shopping is the act of rifling and pillaging in people's personals and taking what you want with the oldest coupon that exists: The Five Finger Discount. Many of us acquired our first walkman this way or a nice pair of sunglasses or a cassette tape of Michael Jackson's Thriller. From time to time you'd find some change, maybe some quarters for the arcade machine at the 711 or a couple bucks to purchase A Nightmare on Elm Street part 3 or Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two boys are siblings and three boys are a society and four boys are a brotherhood and four we stood, all for one and one for all, robbing the rich to feed the poor and all those popular lines from famous literature that justify taking things that don't belong to us and standing up for the idiots we call our friends. A brotherhood. We ride our bicycles, our stallions, our steads, down the bike trail to a sewer pipe we've been debating on exploring. Today we come equipped with our back packs stuffed to the brim with flashlights, canteens filled with water, plastic bags plump with food as well as weapons of defense: squirt guns filled with holy water, vampire stakes and forks made from silver. The four of us duck low and enter the dark tunnel, the only noise the running water flowing in a light but steady stream between our sneakers and the sound of said sneakers tapping lightly at the rotund orifice. We walk in a straight line, the tunnel only wide enough for one of us at a time. Steve is first, our valiant hero, our brave explorer, his flashlight beam shining out eight, ten feet in front of him, exposing nothing but more darkness, more water, more tunnel and the general direction in which we are heading. The rest of us hold flashlights as well but they illuminate nothing more than the butt of the jeans of the kid in front of us. Ten minutes pass, fifteen minutes pass and we approach a room. it is perhaps twelve feet in circumference and fifteen feet high. We all stand up straight, stretching and arching our backs, sore from walking at a ninety degree angle. I reach into my pack and pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Everyone follows suit. We share and exchange food, a ritual amongst boys; what's yours is mine (as long as you have something I want). The room in which we stand offers us a choice of direction. We can continue to follow our path straight through, exploring further in the same (Eastern?) direction or we can take the smaller tunnel to the left. We opt to continue straight on because, even at four foot three, the smaller tunnel is just too tight a squeeze for any of us. Eventually we find ourselves running short on food and water and decide to head back but the tunnel has not yet seen the best of us. The next day we come back with more stock and the day after we show up earlier and the day after we move faster and the day after we stop in each of the four cavernous rooms for quicker breaks and soon we are eating as we walk, not stopping at all, hungry to know where this tunnel leads. We crawl in it for thirty minutes, forty five minutes, an hour and fifteen minutes, straight through, turning where necessary and marking our way with X's written in chalk above the correct tunnel. We're running short on food and water but have heard that you can survive for at least a few DAYS without access to either. We march on, determined to discover where the tunnel comes out. Will we be led to a small river outlet? Will we uncover a pirate ship ala Goonies? Will we run into a giant antechamber where every pipe and funnel of the Mitchell populous pours out? The truth will reveal itself, we are sure of it and we plunge forth into the darkness. Fear never grips us, only the sense of adventure.

A strange scraping noise suddenly rips through the dark oblivion and forces our attention to it. The sound is metal in nature, similar to a big rusty plate sliding against concrete. It grinds and scrapes and the noise echoes through the catacomb of pipes, reverberating off the curved walls. We all stop, stand stalk still, bent over at the knees. We all kill our flashlights as a unit and listen. The noise stops and then continues. A grunting noise. A man grunting...two men. We have discovered C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic. Humanoid. Underground. Dweller.) We have found our monster. It has finally crawled from the movie screen, from our TVs and is here to claim our lives. It was not discovered in the dark of night nor in our basements or bedroom closets but here in the sewer systems and it is here to kill us and we have walked right to it's dinner table. All four of us are about to die in some dank sewer and nobody will ever discover our bodies. We will be the kids who went out to play and then were nothing more than grainy black and white photos in the newspaper. We had come into this dark hole as explorers, midget versions of Louis and Clark and we would leave as brown floating sewer waste from the monster that lived beneath our city. His (her?) skin is a dark blue, the color of choked and murdered children, pockmarked and horned. It's black eyes see nothing. Living in the dark (for years? centuries?) this creature (demon?) has evolved it's sense of smell and oh yes, it smells us, four children, sweating, hungry, thirsty and scared. This, of course, is only how I picture him (her / it) in my head. A blob, sliding through the tunnels, gobbling up nutrients from the feces that we've been dumping down our drains and toilets since the invention of modern sewage. We are only ten year olds but we stand firm. We are a brotherhood and we are a team. None of us move our feet but we all slowly reach into our bags, our knapsacks, our book bags, our Monster Hunting Packs and we each pull out something to defend ourselves with; a wooden vampire stake, a silver fork, a rusty horseshoe (this last having no kind of lore behind it for fighting monsters but makes itself useful for angry whapping).
What was the source of that noise? Did the monster have a machine? A weapon? Did it crush bone? Was the creature tightening the bars on a cage that we were to be put in? Would we meet other missing children? The Midwest versions of Hansel and Gretel? We hadn't left any bread crumbs but we had left the white X's marking our way back......our way back......that was worthless for anyone coming IN to find us and how on earth would they ever realize that we'd crawled (willingly) into the tunnel to begin with? They would first search homes and riverbeds. They would charge into the local sex offender's dwellings and scour their closets and basements, our parents simultaneously hoping and not hoping that they might find us there. The riverbeds would turn up nothing save for a pair of our glasses if they happened to be bouyant enough to flow down the sewer drain like so much gray water before them, if they happened to take the correct tunnels, marked by white X's, if they happened to not get eaten by this drainage ditch behemoth. It's dark and the air is heavy but, strangely, it has a bit of a chill to it. I can't see what's coming. I can't see the kid in front of me. I can't see my own hand with the flashlight in it. I think about flicking it on and just taking a peek but would certainly give us away. If it didn't know we were here, it certainly would after a stupid act like that. I didn't want to be the guy in the horror movie who wants to investigate the noise but the urge was almost unbearable. Never again would I judge him and scream at him and call him an idiot. Instead I would sympathize with him and stand up for him when others mocked his curiosity.......if the opportunity ever arose.......if I were to get out of here alive.........if I ever saw tomorrow.
Light. Lots of it. My pupils shriek and recoil, contracting into little pinholes. Everything is white and I can't see a thing. Sensory overload. Too much. I squint and hold my hand up in front of my face. My other hand grips the flashlight and I remember watching Stephen King's It and I remember the monster, the alien, the (demon?) floating above the children, trapped in the sewer and what is pouring from out of it's eyes, it's guts, it's very being? Light. The Deadlights. You stare into them, hypnotized and they call to you and you enter them and they eat you. I shut my eyes. I pinch them tight. I will not look. I will not look. I will not look into The Deadlights. I don't tell my friends to shut their eyes. Instead I put my hands over my lids, not wanting a speck of the prism poison to leak into my brain. I hear shuffling feet and I think, "it's all over. I am going to die down here". Either IT is coming for us or my friends, my brothers, are being pulled into The Deadlights. The boy behind me, Aaron, pushes against me and I try to stop him but he shoves past me and I fall against the wall and I hear him shout, "UNCLE STAN!!!" and I think, "NO! He is a monster of glamor and he wears many masks, Aaron! He only APPEARS to be your Uncle Stan! He goes by many names - he is Pennywise, he is Bob Grey, he is The Eater of Worlds, stay away!" but I just say, "ug..." as my hand dips into some of the water under our feet. A man's voice, "what're you guys doin' down here?" and Steve says, "uh.....just exploring" and I think "NO! He's using his glamor and is wearing the mask of the plumber!" and the man says, "c'mere - let's getchya outta there" and I hear Steve step forward. I hear Aaron step forward. The kid behind me, Steve's younger brother Shawn, says, "go" and I open my eyes to find that they have adjusted and that we are standing about five feet from another room. I enter it and look up and see two city workers staring down at me through a naked manhole. The taller and skinnier of the pair says, "climb up" and I do. The two men tell us that they were working down the road - about a mile back - when they heard our voices through the grates in the street and decided to follow us.. They ask us how we got in and we tell them of the uncovered sewer pipe by the bike trail. They laugh and the shorter, fatter one says, "that's about two and a half miles away," and we say, "REALLY???" oh so proud of our accomplishment. They tell us not to go back. They tell us that they flush out those pipes with water and that we could get caught in the flood. They tell us there is poisonous gas down there and that there are giant killer rats. They tell us we could get lost and we listen to them speak. In our heads we are not afraid. In our heads we are thinking, "Giant rats? I gotta get me one of those."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Corn Palace

I was born to Mike and Kathy Brookbank on September 17th, 1982 in Mitchell, South Dakota. The town rests towards the south eastern corner of the state and is surrounded by cows, corn and prairies. However, much like the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, you'll find that without having seen the Golden Grain Oblivion for yourself, it's nearly impossible to fathom. The yellow fields stretch on and on on, disappearing, vanishing, meeting at the horizon. The amber waves of grain stand erect and alert, an army of wheat, watching you pass them on the interstate, on the highway. They have been drafted from Wheatville by the thousands and they guard the secrets of the cucumber patch. Passing through the state, you are a little helpless boat lost in a great sea of seed. If your car dies out here, chances are, so do you. Children of the Corn, hillbilly helter skelters and rednecks in wranglers. In South Dakota, no one can hear you scream.

The population rests at around 15K which means it's just big enough to make it impossible for the standard Mitchellite to know everyone personally but is just small enough to know who's worth gossiping about. It has a lake on the outskirts of town that is filled to the brim with dead fish, broken bottles and man piss. As children, my sister and I would spend our summers swimming in it, a decision I can't imagine willfully making today without at least the consideration of a Borax shower afterwards. I would often dare myself to open my eyes beneath the water where I would see nothing but a slimy, radioactive green blur. In junior high my friend had sex in the lake and to this day I'm certain that, because of it, her vagina grew teeth, maybe even a mouth and nose. Had she come to me and asked if I would inspect a nasty itch or rash down yonder for her, I would of had to respectfully decline for fear of getting bit by the toothy Pink Taco, or worse, having it start a conversation with me regarding the writings of Kafka.

Around my junior year in high school we (Mitchell) acquired a Cabela's and that was a really, really, REALLY big deal because it meant that the local economy was about to go ka-boom. Job opportunities, tourists.......dare we hope......maybe a Wal-Mart??? When I went to college and people asked me about my hometown I would simply tell them that it was really no big deal until the Cabella's moved in. I would stand there, nodding my head and smiling while they generally just stared back at me blankly, waiting for more information. I was truly and legitimately surprised to find that 95% of the populous had no idea what I was talking about. Little did I know that that phrase would soon become the story of my life. Eventually the silence was broken when they said, "What is a Kublella's?" and I would say that "it's a place where people go to make themselves more precise killers. It's the Wal-Mart of hunting stores. If you are the Charles Manson of the animal kingdom, this is your wet dream. If you want to find arrows with GPS locators on them, infrared goggles and spray that takes away your scent, this is the place for YOU!" I would take a deep breath before continuing on, "Mitchell is also the boastful home of The World's Only Corn Palace. It is the jewel of our city." My new friends would stare at me with what I initially read as intrigue and amusement but would later find was just the look you gave when watching a mentally handicapped person trying to solve a Rubix Cube. After a brief pause and a few attempts at suppressed laughter they would say loudly, hoping to attract attention, more people to watch the dancing monkey, "What, exactly, IS it? This.....Corn Palace?" This, again, is shocking to me. This notion that they didn't know what The World Famous Corn Palace was. Just look at the name! A.) It's a Corn Palace. B.) It's World Famous - how have you not heard of this!!!??? So I tell them that it looks like a legitimate palace.......made from corn. The design and architecture is strictly Russian; the building is topped with strange acorn type spires and the outside is dressed in murals made from corn husks and corn cobs; murals of Martin Luther King, murals of Apollo 13, murals of Elvis Presley. Every year they change and every year they are more and more elaborate and intricate. Last time I visited I actually discovered that The Corn Palace had a mural of the Corn Palace on it. The Beatles, Abraham Lincoln, The Corn Palace. As you can see, it holds itself in QUITE high esteem and RIGHTLY SO (World Famous). I drive past it and I try to put myself in the position of the weary traveler, pulled from the interstate by billboards promising an "A-MAIZE-ING experience" or the oath of "To see is human, to EAR divine", obviously a reference to an ear of corn and, for those of you not familiar with the slew of different vocab for corn, 'MAIZE' is only one of many. Much like the eskimos with the word for snow, South Dakotans and Nebraskans have over seven HUNDRED names for the stuff, Yellow Gold among them. The tourists stand on the sidewalk opposite the "palace" and take pictures of it's many fine virtues. I wonder if any of them come back year after year, monitoring, observing, chronicling the changing exterior.

If I didn't know what was inside this King Cob, what would I imagine? I would think that it would be filled with art made from corn, just like the outside. Louis and Clark, made from cobs, pointing out to a vast unexplored ocean of popcorn seed, their fingers made from stiff throws of baby corn. Their pupils Old Maids (the popcorn seeds that don't pop), their ascots (Louis and Clark wear ascots in my imagination) are made from flowing yellow corn husks. Perhaps someone is selling corn cob pipes (perhaps Louis and Clark are even using them) or perhaps they have..........I DON'T KNOW! I can't think of any stupid art to make out of corn. If I was going to make a piece of art I wouldn't choose corn for my medium! You walk into the The World Famous Corn Palace (self-proclaimed) and you find that it is nothing more than a self-satisfying monument to itself. Pictures hang on the wall, pictures of The World Famous Corn Palace, year after year. In one of the photos there is an image of a swastika made out of corn, planted (get it) firmly above the front doors of the building. People say it's an Indian good luck sign and that Hitler inversed it and made it his own. People say The World Famous Corn Palace is haunted by the ghost of a deceased circus performer. People call it the world's biggest bird feeder. Pigeons from all over the region are attracted to this bird buffet. They gather and they peck and they eat George Washington's face, gouging his eyes out. They crap all over the picture of the capital building and they nest in the 2-D teepees that Crazy Horse might have dwelt in. The birds (but mainly the bird poop and the utter lack of respect the birds seem to hold for the pride of their nation) become so bad, so out of control, that the city heads gather to conspire against the pigeons, the doves and the robins. There will be an uprising and the winged rats will never see it coming. The blue jays, the sparrows, the hummingbirds, they won't know what hit 'em.

The mayor, his eyes glowing red in a dark room, a cigar hanging from his mouth, he says, "We will befriend them and we will attack from the inside out". The head of Parks and Rec smiles maliciously and nods. "Yes....yes, the plan is brilliant, your majesty". The villains, the masterminds, the mob, they purchase pallets and crates and boxes filled with corn and they purchase as many vials and jars of poison as they can. They use my taxes. They use my money. And they laugh. They poison the corn and they hire a man the bird's recognize as friend to set the food / bait out on the roof. The bird's flock down to the complimentary dinner and they feast, unaware that this is their last meal. One after another they drop from the heavens, starry eyed and incapable of flight, crashing and exploding on the sidewalk below, usually dying on impact but sometimes just breaking their wings and legs, spinning in tight circles and screaming until, finally, they just bleed to death.

Now when the tourists come they no longer see streaks of white bird turds vandalizing the face of Emelia Earnhart. Now they have to merely step around the corpses of the avian race that litter the sidewalk, the dead feathered friends that lay like fallen soldiers on the concrete battlefield. The tourists still take photos of The World Famous Corn Palace but now they crop the sidewalk out. Some people say you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Maybe they're right. Maybe there is a greater good to be had here. The World Famous Corn Palace Must. Live. On.