My Memorial Day Vacation
With a little luck I could swing by the politically correct natural grocery chain, scoop up Madness when he got off work, motor over to Chaos’ place from there and still be on the road to Jacumba by 3:30, at the absolute latest. That would put us there by 9 or 9:30 leaving plenty of time for whatever it is we needed to do once we got there. It was all fairly unclear really. We were to stay in a hotel there but the hotel wasn’t actually in Jacumba, it was in some place called Boulevard up the Interstate a bit. There was no rhythm to the gig because Droll hadn’t been a band before. Really, it was just a concept in the minds of Sorrow and Despair. And this coming out party definitely belonged to Sorrow. Jacumba had become over recent years a getaway favorite of his and his woman Caution. When the Healing Waters Festival of Whatever was conceived Sorrow was there to offer the un-virtualization of the heretofore virtual band Droll. It seemed to the rest of us like a bit of a stretch to make the first ever live performance of Droll a freebie in the burnt, desolate hills of Sonora del Norte. But it is not the place of Madness, Chaos, and Despair to challenge Sorrow in these matters.
I said “with a little luck” and that implies that unless certain things go wrong there should be no problem. However, with this particular crowd it really means that it’ll nearly be impossible, given who we are and what we each deal with, to get out of here before dark. I spent much longer than I intended that Saturday trying to cram many megabytes of sound samples into my keyboard in order to be able to recreate various utterings of George W. Bush, James Tolleson, and others at critical moments during our performance. Most of my time preparing for this gig was spent in this pursuit rather than in actually learning the songs we would be performing, a fact that was to come back and haunt me later.
By the time I actually was packed and headed to retrieve Madness he was already off work. This can be bad. Madness has a way of transitioning from work to hopelessly drunk in a very short time. My cell phone rang as I was just about to head that way. “Dude I’m off,” he said, “I’ll just meet you at Doc and Eddie’s.” So I’m doing the best I can but traffic is what it is and it takes awhile to get all the way across town. As I near the appointed bar my cell rings again, this time with Chaos. “What’s going on?” always in halting tones and suspicious sounding. “I’m on my way to grab Madness at the bar.” I reply. “Which bar?” Chaos intones, hoping that it’s his bar where he is most of the time, if he isn’t at home. I explain that it’s not that bar and Chaos asks that we please take our time, he’ll need a shower and some alone time on the commode. I agree, accepting the fact that 3:30 is a pipe dream anyway and I can now, guilt-free, enjoy some liquid refreshment.
So I get there and there’s Madness in his usual spot and I order a pitcher of something dark and quickly enter a state where I no longer care at all how long it takes or when or if we ever leave. We take seriously our time enjoying and imbibing, watching women’s doubles beach volleyball, an absolutely wonderful invention.
It is time to enter the realm of Chaos though. In this circle it is acceptable to alter your state and show up utterly unprepared for a performance, but it is entirely uncool to not show up at all. Our gig is at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and it is still only 4:20 p.m. on Saturday so we are cool. We wander to the now, only partially loaded, Despairmobile. It will hold much more before it’s over. We have agreed, as the last leaving Drollians, to take all the miscellaneous remaining equipment, in addition to ourselves. We said we’d make that work somehow, none of us really having any idea if it were truly possible.
So Madness and I did in fact make our way to the land of Chaos. As is typical at this place you usually run into the roommate and business partner of Chaos before you actually see Chaos himself. His name shall be Crisis. He now only lives to party, having recently transformed himself from a middle-aged married responsible person to something quite different. And being it was Memorial Day weekend he was in the middle of planning the final points of his trip to the lake with members of his entourage. He had the boat. He had the booze. He had the drugs. And he began explaining that he had the strippers as well. Some from Babes, some from that other place on Scottsdale Road. It all sounded kind of intriguing as by now I had switched to shots of Jack Daniels and cigarettes in my trip preparation. I contemplated switching allegiances to this Crisis venture as well.
Chaos finally made his shirtless appearance and the real packing began. Chaos had his giant bass cabinet that slid comfortably beneath my enormous keyboard case. He also had his other gear and all of us had our clothing and other sundry bags. We also had mountains of Sorrow’s equipment and all of Madness’s brand new gear to get on board. I complained of a bad back and let the others take the lead on starting the Chinese puzzle solution process. Once they had finished their packing it was time to say goodbye to Crisis and head towards the new digs of Madness for his gear.
It’s now at least 5 and we’re heading through the congested streets of Tempe, battling bicyclists and hopping speed tables in our quest. Madness has recently moved into a new place that has the potential to be a breathtaking respite from the heat and bustle of the nearby downtown. But now, in its unfinished state it is at best a beastly hot, roach and spider infested prison that boasts at least one completely open wall. By open, I mean where a wall should be there is only air and space. Beyond that space is the outside. Therefore, Madness sometimes is awakened by cats fighting inside his room, next to him. He sleeps with mosquito netting over him because pretty much anything of the night can, and will, join him during his slumber.
My back hurts and I decide I’ll go into Madness’s place and lay on the wooden floor, next to a dead roach, and pretend to be asleep while he packs and they load. The plan works. By the time I pretend to wake up and wander outside they have completed their mission. And by God, it does all fit. Sadly, Madness’s back row seating area has been reduced to something approximating that of the cockpit of a Mercury space capsule. He must wedge himself past an out thrusting guitar case, next to his new amp and near unto the large body of the bass console. As he gets into his module I can see only one eye and the furrowed brow of Madness in my rearview.
We are on the road! We get approximately three quarters of a mile into our 300 mile adventure when Chaos adamantly suggests that we stop at the Sail Inn for one more cocktail prior to leaving for Jacumba. This is the first and only time during the trip where I try to instill a modicum of common sense. If we stop at the Sail we may NEVER reach our appointed destination and that would clearly violate the unwritten code of being in a band. So we turned a deaf ear to Chaos and began our journey.
The route from the Valley toward San Diego is, at best, non-descript and at worst legendary in its ghastliness. At least when the coast is the final objective there is a nice reward at the end of the ordeal; namely, the coast. In this case, however, we would be driving for hours and hours through barren desert to finally reach our destination, a very particular piece of barren desert.
At first our pace was deliberate and our progress admirable. I drove straight through to Gila Bend as Chaos alternately grinned, chuckled, and let his head roll to the side in sudden sleep spasms. Meanwhile, I could just make out the right eye (or was it the left) of Madness in the rear view mirror. He was definitely meditating or at least in deep thought. A few miles before the Bend he became alert and inquired, “Dude, you mind if I light up?” I reply in the negative. “Not in my car, dude.” He says that’s cool and that he respects my desire. Madness briefly stirs from his slumber long enough to stare at me and say, “You don’t have to yell at him man.” Then his head rolls back to the side and he’s out again.
Gila Bend is a microcosm of our long desert journey. A terrible place to lift the curtain of inebriation. Nothing more than a stretch of pitiful commercial highway caterers carved out of the lunar landscape, it serves primarily as a strategically placed pee stop. We came dragging up to the QuickMart in the filthy Despair-mobile looking like something out of an only slightly modernized Steinbeck novel. The really cool part about the Shine’s back seat space capsule was that he can’t open the door from the inside due to the door handle being busted. He must be physically released by a crewman outside the vehicle. This of course only heightens the space capsule analogy and fuels Madness’s rising claustrophobia. He keeps talking about Apollo 1 and “burning on the pad, Man”. I tried to comfort him by explaining that he was just fine until he knew he couldn’t get out. It doesn’t seem to help though. He also complains that he’s hearing some kind of constant buzzing or ringing sound throughout the drive. I can’t hear it so I chalk it up to general Madness and his lifetime of being altered.
We walk into the convenience market in Hell and the unmistakable scent of pickled eggs mixed with stale rotisserie hot dogs practically floors me. And as I fill my caffeine laced Big Gulp I pretend not to notice Madness and Chaos purchasing alcoholic beverages for the remainder of the ride. I decide rather than confront them on this I’ll just try to explain to the cop that stops us that I had no idea what they were up to. Gasoline has reached something like $2.50 a gallon and I pay the exorbitant bill and we hop back into the navy blue death trap and fire up for the I-8 leg of our mission. “Don’t you hear that sound, man?” pleads our backseat astronaut. “It’s a constant tone, like an A.” I thought I might have heard something but I’ve had too many late evenings standing in front of Ghandi’s amp to be certain. A brief silence is interrupted only by the telltale hiss of an aluminum beer can being opened. And then another. Here we go.
We pick up I-8 just beyond the Bend and begin the debilitating curve-less jaunt towards Yuma. This is a stretch of highway that begs important questions regarding the purpose of life and God’s plan and geological upheaval and I’m all alone in this vastness with my comatose posse and that single suddenly audible tone of Madness. Only music has the hope of deadening the ringing in my brain and softening the mild hangover symptoms that have already begun, for I will not drink AND drive. I may occasionally drink THEN drive, which is probably equally dangerous but feels better somehow. I dig through my CDs as best I can and put in the DROLL Practice CD thinking that this hopelessly unprepared trio could stand the subliminal influence of listening at least once to the music we were going to play the next day. All the while I’m driving west directly into the setting sun and I’m starting to get that feeling of having sunburned retinas. Honestly, there could have been a full grown buffalo standing in my lane and I wouldn’t have been able to see it until I was right on top of it. From the back I hear “dude, OK if I torch the pipe?” “No, not in my car man. I just really would rather you didn’t. Thanks.” “That’s cool dude.”
This stretch of road features a “valley” with a few farm fields and a whole lot of desert then a mountain and another valley with some lava and a whole lot of desert then a mountain and a valley with a few farm fields and a whole lot of desert. It was all I could do to not let my eyes fall the final millimeter to the “off” position. I fought with everything I could muster, but being Despair I really didn’t care that much. I guess I stayed awake for Madness and Chaos. Despair should never change the course of Madness and Chaos for long. It just wouldn’t do, so I think about all I can think about and keep the car from going left or right and hunker down for the long haul.
The trip is only interrupted by the occasional urine break. They have these filthy rest stop places everywhere I suppose and they come in quite handy, but they have to be the loneliest places on earth. When I come upon places like this I tend to wonder who is in charge and who has to clean them and where do they live and why would they even consider doing this sort of work. Why does the wind never stop blowing in lonely places? “Dude, I’m going to hang back and light up, OK?” “OK, just not in the car dude.” “Oh, I thought it was just when we were driving. But that’s cool.”
So we do our business and reassemble in the Droll wagon, our next stop Yuma. There is one interesting feature on this Interstate stretch. At one point as you pass the last valley before the river, the highway lanes cross themselves. Not like a Catholic, more like a DNA strand such that suddenly I’m noticing cars on the highway coming from the other direction are passing me on my right. This can be disorienting to anyone, but particularly so for the tired and chemically deprived. I manage to fight through the unnatural panic and stay the course. We finally ramble in to the gas equipped mini-mart just off the 4th Avenue exit and the sun is gone but the heat’s still there and I’m completely ready to be done but the boys are just getting cooked and they sit on the picnic table smoking. Smoking that brand of cigarettes that looks Native American that sells itself on being more healthy than “big corporate” cigarettes. I’m guessing they’re not that great for you either but who am I, Despair, to say about such things? So I smoke one and we sit there on this ancient fibre glass table next to the Interstate and I’m talking to the guys and starting to think how I’d gotten here and we mostly made fun of the place and the people we saw there. It occurred to me that we didn’t have a lot of room to talk as we appeared to be perfectly cut out for this place. At least an objective observer might think so. And the people going in and out did resemble somewhat the people who often wandered in to watch us play at one of a number of seedy establishments.
But time is not in our favor and we still have miles of road before us so we bid adieu to this place of convenience with its fluorescent lights and accompanying giant moths. Our next stop will be Jacumba, gateway to Boulevard. As I’m backing my way from the parking area the by now familiar voice of Madness intones “dude, I can still hear that sound and it’s driving me crazy so can I light up one?” “Not in the car dude. Thanks.” The highway crosses the river and begins another non-descript roping over featureless creosote laden flatlands that are broken only by some really pristine, towering, Sahara-like sand dunes. I wanted to point them out in the moonlight but neither Madness nor Chaos seemed particularly attuned to the natural beauty thing right now. We flashed through El Centro without slowing down, barely acknowledging that we were below sea level yet still dry. Further up the road we begin the long and, in the summer daylight, arduous climb up into the mountains through large boulders and unearth like landscapes that conjure images of Kirk battling the Gorn. We are now practically upon Jacumba and the tension is mounting with every mile. The tension I’m speaking of has nothing to do with our impending performance but rather with the sudden incomprehensibility of us actually being able to find any of our party when we don’t really know where they are in this “town” we’ve never been to and whose exact location we are a bit unsure of. I know there’s an exit that says ‘Jacumba’ as I’ve passed it many times on the way to the coast. But that’s all I know. In retrospect I believe that only I experienced this tension though. Madness and Chaos don’t often worry about such things.
As we clear a crest the giant SHELL sign looms in the
distance like an enormous marshmallow Peep, lighting the destination for these
three not-so-wise men. When I open
my mouth to vocalize this landmark I hear the unmistakable sound of a Bic
lighter having its flint stroked, followed by a telltale glow and the ensuing
smoke. From somewhere under the
bass cabinet and in halting, half choking gasps comes, “. . . I went ahead and
lit up dude. It doesn’t make
sense not to.” I cracked the
windows some and pointed the rattling command module towards our emerging
The gravel crunches under our heat inflamed tires like virgin bubble wrap as I swing the turgid light beams through the dusty darkness. Here there are no street lamps or anything very much useful in the way of highway markings. My head lamps cut swaths across wilted creosote and prickly pear as we are pulled by our illuminating chopsticks down the asphalt belt conveying us to our destination. Immediately I realize this isn’t at all how I had pictured the “resort” town painted by Sorrow. This isn’t in the green hills and mountains above the desert. It is in the heart of the ashtray itself. I recall glancing this way once or twice, on my way to somewhere else, assuming I was staring into the remote northern reaches of Mexico. But it is pretty dark now, and the only road sign available informs us that we are but 2 miles from Oz. No semblance of order. No hallmarks of normalcy. No one to hear us scream?
This is crunch time. It is time to pay the price for the uncertainty of where exactly we are supposed to be going. Visibility is limited. These car lights are old and askew and the cabin itself is becoming fairly thick with the smoke of Madness. Not for the last time I find myself questioning my life choices. I am now quite sober and arguably, exhausted. I know enough of the tribe I’m with that I might get a semi-comfy place to sleep tonight in somewhere between 3 hours and never. There are so many unlikely events that must occur before sleep can happen that I can’t begin to wrap my head around the sequence that must unfold. I’m about to get negative and surly, but up ahead, across the dark farm patch infested bowl, we can see the twinkling lights of civilization. Up ahead I think I can make out the faint prime colors of an American beer sign. Up ahead surely Sorrow awaits.
“He said it would be easy to find, that we couldn’t miss it”, I intoned to no one in particular. “But am I supposed to stay on this road or turn off on a side road? We may never find them and die of thirst and starvation in Mexico! We’ll most likely be bludgeoned by Federales and left to rot in a stinking, sodomizing prison!” Chaos remands me for my negativity and insists that I “just damn relax”. And from the back, “now can you hear that? I think it’s a ‘Just A’. A ‘480 A’ you know. Like we play everything in.” Whatever. . . I hear nothing but madness. Maybe he just always hears that, or thinks that he does, now that he’s been standing in front of a certain bass/lead man’s blaring amp for such a comparatively long time. I have a similar problem as a matter of fact. Instead of a tone I just hear far less than I did a few short years ago.
It turns out that the town is so bereft of population that side streets aren’t particularly an issue. Most of my concerns have been unjustified. There indeed is but one spot that could possibly be, or have once been, the resort of our quest. It is a friendly, quaint sort of place with enough lighting and an air of commercialism to seem almost inviting, especially after this sardine like jaunt. As I park in the establishment’s lot in front in the powdery dirt underneath the old sign for the place, I’m immediately nearly overcome with a rotten egg smell that reminds me of every sewage treatment plant in every city’s lower part I’ve ever driven by in haste. It is a most unpleasant smell but I recall that I’m in a “hot springs” and that’s just what they smell like, I bet, what with the sulfur and all.
The desert gets very cold at night, even in the late spring. It’s that sort of cold you can’t comfortably flee but we need to smoke cigarettes and we are in California and you can’t do that indoors while in California, even in a low end bar like this one. I don’t see Sorrow but one of my guys recognizes a young man at the bar that I do not. His name is Three Trees. “Despair, this is Three Trees. Three Trees, Despair.” A very decent guy, it turns out, and a musician here for the Healing Love and Enlightenment (or whatever) Festival we’ve come to play. The beers begin to be ordered and I generously pony up cash for my fairly destitute amigos. It’s starting to feel less stressful now. Three Trees is there with his attractive girlfriend Kinshasa who looks very much out of place in this place. The conversation is light hearted if not particularly interesting and I decide that I’d enjoy a potty break about now, and a chance to warm myself.
I slip back into the bar past Chaos and the chairs and find the men’s room approximately where I assume it will be. The stench of sulfur is overwhelming, yet healing somehow. Revelers are loudly going at the coin operated plastic dart machine, perched at tables littered with empty and partially empty pitchers. Cowboy hats are everywhere, and boots as well. I try the bathroom door and it is locked from the inside. I just now realize how badly I need to relieve myself because now, at this moment, I can’t. Now I’m pinned between the locked privy and the hot, and seemingly increasingly violent, dart match. After an interminable period I decide I can wait this out better with more beer and smoke outside with people I know. I’ll empty my bladder and find Sorrow later.
As I spin back around my eyes are drawn helplessly to those of the loudest of the bar competitors. It isn’t her bad outfit or cartoonishly large figure that freezes my gaze so much as the amazing peculiarity of her stare. Where as I have two eyes, each with an independent brow, this large and loud lass has but one good eye with a single brow extending without interruption across both good AND bad. She’s been chatting up some lonely man at a table near the game who seems far more interested in his beer than in her. I shouldn’t be looking at this person. As soon as I realize what could be in store if I don’t turn immediately away, I do so. I quickly shuffle across the sawdust ensconced floor and circle around behind my friends. Pawning a smoke I wait and nod my head and grin stupidly at the conversation I haven’t been listening to. I can see into the bar through the large windows and I clearly see the beast craning her head about. She’s hunting for me I fear. Using all her available inhuman senses to sift through distraction, she remains unwaveringly fixated on her prey.
Madness is on his fourth beer since arrival and I’m chilled to the bone and frightened to the core. I peek past Chaos’s shoulder occasionally and see this thing looming, closer than before, her eyes darting about the room, trying to make out shapes on the patio. The very patio where I shiver, awaiting my doom. I nudge Madness and whisper, “I think there’s a terrible woman in there who’s after me.” He laughs at me, “dude, you’re a musician . . . sort of.” “Yes, but you should see this one. She’s awful.” Three Trees must be eavesdropping because he bursts in with, “Uh oh, I bet it’s Helga,” real concern drips from his comment. “I bet the shit it is!!” I quickly and nervously burp. Of course it is! Some crazed Germanic herdswoman has my number here in a run down dive a stone’s throw from Old Mexico. My bowel rumbles. Where in Christ’s Holy name is Sorrow? I did not sign up for this!
Suddenly all my back spasms return. I’m winding up like a cross-bow. Maybe I should find the hot springs bath pool things and take the plunge. But I have to pee. And I can’t go inside anymore. My attention wavers for a moment. Madness is asking me if I ever got through any Thomas Pynchon. I say no, and spin back around to monitor the Minotaur’s progress. I don’t see her. Thank God, she’s probably lost interest and moved on. I pivot back around and I’m suddenly grasped in a Marine-like hammer hold by Helga. A “friendly” hammer hold, mind you. Chaos has nobly let her take his place by me in my brief moment of distraction. Her breath hits me thick, like cake batter, warm though and distinctly malodorous with the stench of un-flossed rotted meat from old kills. “I’m not from here, I’m Helga” she drunkenly or possibly Slavic-ly slurs. “You buy me beer! Who knows! Whew!” She slaps me in the back and it hurts and she’s laughing and I’m looking around for the hidden camera and I can’t help but notice Madness and Chaos have moved away now and are smirking behind their beers they hold up to block my view of their smirking, as they pretend to talk of other matters.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say she’s “snuggling into me”. This is not good. She keeps trying to converse I think but I’m only catching bits and pieces. Darts, shit, navy seals, something about a dead man. To my left the fence is about five and a half feet high. Normally I could never clear it but I’m thinking with my new found adrenaline rush I could leap it easily. And then! Something truly amazing happens. Like Aragorn returning to save the happy folk of Gondor, Three Trees gracefully slides between us and strikes up a conversation with Helga. In one motion he discretely and deftly signals me to get out while I can and I practically storm back inside to the restroom. I will never forget my savior.
I’ve nearly wet myself by now and the encounter with the ungainly Komodo dragon hasn’t helped. Alas, the door to the john is still locked. That’s it. I’m going to find Sorrow and piss on him. I trundle through a pair of swinging doors and follow the smell outside. It’s all old, this resort. Very old and not so well kept anymore. It was once a place of some renown. I follow a gnarly sign to an area that must surely contain the baths. And this is where I finally stumble upon Sorrow, up to his man nipples in bubbling sulfurous liquid, the healing waters if you will. But Sorrow isn’t alone. He’s with his woman, Caution, and there are also many more whose faces I don’t recognize. All sharing the same large and malodorous bath. Sorrow invites me to suit up and join them. I decline, citing my friends in the bar and how they probably need me to keep the tab going. Secretly, I didn’t want to get into the broth with those strangers. Probably just paranoid. I try to bring up the hotel and keys and directions but get nowhere.
Now I’m certain I won’t be sleeping anytime soon. I hasten back to the restroom and find it vacant. Things are turning positive. I rejoin my boys on the patio and we spend another couple hours standing, stamping, and shifting from leg to leg, getting soaked on domestic beer and frozen from the desert night. At least Helga has moved on. A bearded gentleman with a slightly insane demeanor strode onto the patio during this time. “Are you guys going to the Casbah?” The man questioned while grinning at our small group. “Get along you drunk fuck,” Chaos offered, smiling as he said it. “Dude!” Madness now, “be nice man. It’s bad karma.” “Stop yelling at me, man.” I started to black out.
When I came to Sorrow and Caution had joined our group. They seemed refreshed and had wet hair and must have showered off the sulfur smell for they were in no way offensive. “Why don’t you guys follow us to the hotel.”
And so we reloaded into the Despairmobile, fired up the vehicle and prepared
to follow Sorrow wherever we had to. He came along beside us in the parking
lot with his window rolled down, “stay close”. And off he went. We turned back
onto the lonely road with Sorrow ahead of us. Soon we were at highway speed,
careening between the fields again. Madness had already relit his smoke, and
I was cautiously optimistic that sleep was at least in the realm of possibility.
My mind was drifting. Out of nowhere a shape darted in front of Sorrow up ahead
of us. An adult jackrabbit, picking absolutely the worst time to cross this
road, made a crazed dash just ahead of Sorrow. “Oh!” I grunted, braking slightly.
Sorrow never slowed. There was a brief pause as the hare seemed to realize he
had run out of options. It was one of Sorrow’s back tires that took the impact.
A rolling lifeless fur ball bounced back to the edge of the road and I had to
swerve slightly to miss what was left. I slowly turned my head to Chaos. His
stare was steel and straight ahead towards Sorrow. “He’s a fuckin’ bunny killer.
That’s what he is,” he whispered, “Bunny killer!!”