“Who?” I said to the owl outside my window.
It looked at me curiously and said, with a slight twist of its head: “Keith Olberman.”
“Wow, really?” I said, with sincere surprise.
“I guess,” it said, “I’ve never thought to answer before. I usually just ask.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, “you’re an owl. You can’t talk.”
“Can’t I?” it responded with a sarcastic grin.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Whooooo?” it said.
… and shit if I know. Now I’m back to square one. Fucking owls.
Readers, the last few weeks have been progressively more unintelligible, as you can see from above — abstract in meaning and purpose. Things have been practically productive and yet lacking in substance. They’ve been filled with laborious management work and the unfruitful worries of politics…
Except last weekend. Last weekend was fun.
In a spur of youthful relapse, I received a call from a shady character you all know as Mo.
Mo does not like to be answered; he prefers to be responded to. He’s from Oregon, so it’s cool. But it means he leaves messages, often cryptic and spotted with holes that consume entire sentences. Sometimes he says the message is from someone else entirely, leaving me to chase down imaginary names in an Oregon mindset, which I don’t really have. Except when I do.
The call spoke of capoeira in the ‘Lou, and y’all know I just love me some capoeira in the ‘Lou. There are far too many spankings needed in slo-town these days and with a Mestre going down for the sheer love of the kids, we thought we would whoop it up down there with those that needed us.
Really, the entire weekend is a blur of fast kicks, raging pain and something involving a duchess. I’ll explain in a few paragraphs. It makes more sense if I do this semi-chronologically. Let’s start with the airport, of all places.
Now, normally I wouldn’t start with such a predictable starting place as an airport but in this case I’ll make it worth your while.
Trevor and I drove around the San Jose airport several times, mostly looking for Mo. It was a pleasant day and we rolled the windows down, taking in the brisk air and the sunny rays and coming up with what to write on the sign that we would greet him with. We were preoccupied with the cops that shoo-ed us along and had to drive around the airport a dozen times before an ominous character emerged from the terminal wearing a blue shirt with a middle finger on it and dark shades that meant trouble.
“Just write something quick on that notepad while I drive passed him,” I said to Trevor. “I’ll pull over to get him about a hundred yards ahead. That’ll make him have to walk through that group of security men who’ll certainly give him a hard time.” Trevor chuckled.
The next thing I knew Trevor had opened up my sun roof and was standing up in the car, his skinny torso hoovering over my Honda Civic, holding a sign towards half a dozen airport security cops and Mo, standing on the sidewalk, nodding and smiling. Whatever Trevor had written on that notepad, Mo had understood. I drove beyond the pick up point and pulled over so we could watch Mo be harrassed by a few cops before catching up to us.
“What’d you write on that pad,” I asked him.
“Mo Isgay, in very large letters,” he answered.
“Crafty,” I said. “Think those militant cops were bothered by it?”
“We’ll find out soon enough. Look at this guy…”
Mo was sprinting towards us after he’d answered the respectable-looking marines to their satisfaction but it seemed they were chasing him. When he opened the door it was to the sound of, “You goddamn motherfuckers, I love you guys! Now drive!”
“Are we picking up a fugitive?” I asked.
Having gotten to know the airport circle better than most, I got us out of there quickly and onto interstate 101 heading south. Once we were safely past the traffic, the air in the car thinned out a bit and the conversation started up again.
“‘What’d those ugly cops want from you?” asked Trevor.
“Probably a blow-job,” I said.
“Heheh, nah — they told me to tell you jerk-offs to stop circling the airport like lunatics. I thanked them appropriately and then left.”
“You liar,” Trevor said. “What else did you tell them? Like, just before you started sprinting here?”
“Oh yeah! HAHA! No, man, it’s not what you’re thinking. I just said that ‘the fat is in the fire’ as I passed them, you know, because this weekend is going to kick so much ass. But then I realized what that sounded like, with security and everyone else wound up so tight these days. So I sprinted to the car before they could get me.”
“You fool!” I said. “They’re going to label this a fugitive car and have every cop in Salinas waiting for us.”
“Nevermind those airport cops,” said Trevor. “They have no coherent process for communicating with the police force. I used to work for the DA’s office in Oakland and I’ve seen the systems they use for data logging and transfer to other districts and precincts. It’s a goddamn miracle they can find their way home at night. We’ll be fine.”
I was still a little apprehensive about the cop situation but I guessed we’d see what kind of trouble was waiting for us in Salinas.
I had forgotten how much that drive sucks dry, vast empty balls. At Coyote you start to lose the sense that you’re still in a populated area and as Morgan Hill rolls by that notion really thins out. By Gilroy, only the signs for cherries and garlic still remind you there is a reason people would ever live out there. By the time you hit the red flea-market barn by Prunedale there is only farmland and all semblance of a city is long gone. Thank god for the winding Blood Alley before Salinas to grab your attention and knock your nerves around a bit, if only to avoid rear-ending the naked big-rigs that seemingly swerve onto the highway instead of merging like decent, god-fearing human beings. But the rest of it is a collection of largely meaningless miles between one metropolis and another with nothing but fields of lettuce and cabbage and other Mexican-grown crops. I had T drive the stereo while I drove the car.
I had been tense up until that point but once we rolled into the In & Out in Salinas I relaxed my nerves. From here on south there was very little crossing of jurisdiction as no respectable central coaster wants to get tangled in the bureacracy of the north.
“I think we can relax now,” I said. “They won’t come farther down than this.”
“I knew it all along,” said Mo, and then he paused for what seemed like a moment of pondering. “Holy shit, does that drive suck or what?” he suddenly blurted out.
“Glad I don’t have to do that on any kind of regular schedule anymore,” said T. “Fuck college.”
We all agreed on the spot that it was best to be out of that institution and that San Luis Obispo itself was a setback to evolution and epicosity. But as we approached the Cuesta Grade we felt the nostalgia kick in with the smells of the dry grass on the hills and the burnt clutches and brakes of the semi trucks rolling beyond Pismo towards Ventura and Oxnard. We listened to the whisps of the wind rushing through the valleys of Poly Canyon and the crushing sounds of downshifting eighteen-wheelers driving over Grand Avenue. We admired the views of Mt. Madonna and Bishop’s Peak that hug this city that we all but ruled for five years. T’s signature mix of Rock and Roll will save the World had gotten us this far. Despite all the shit we’d been through in that town, we felt like we were coming home.
Interestingly it hadn’t occurred to us up until then that while we had been invited to this affair, no one had prepared lodging for us. So where would we go? Familiar places were no longer familiar, old friends were long gone. Some ex-girlfriends were still around but we weren’t that desperate. But it turned out that a friend named Henry was still in town and had recently moved out of his van into a more stable establishment. We were promptly invited and we partook of the hospitality of his couches, which were many. The beer broke out almost immediately.
After capoeira we headed to the bars, determined to be as filthy sleazy as we could handle. We were, after all, returning college grads, and only a loser comes back for college girls. We started at Spike’s at the bottom of Higuera, usually a place to end the night, though we were using it as a warm up.
In between the first and second rounds I went to the bathroom and noticed on the hallway wall something that made me jump out of my skin and I dashed back to our table.
“Holyshittheresafuckingpictureofusontheirwall…” I managed to get out to them.
“What’d he say?” Henry asked Mo.
“Ah, don’t worry about him, H-bomb,” Trevor said. “Here. Have another beer,” and he poured him another beer.
“No, wait guys,” Mo interjected, “I think I know what he’s saying. Remember that night we all came here and they said if we could finish that huge mug of beer we could get our picture taken for their wall?”
“Is that the picture you’re talking about?” Trevor asked me.
“Hmmhmmmm,” I mumbled, still slightly in shock. They walked over to the wall with me.
“Holyshittheresapictureofusontheirwall!” Mo yammered.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” I said.
“H-bomb,” Trevor started, “you and I are calm right now. These two jackasses need a moment to lighten up. Now, we must have this picture.”
It was a picture of an array of our friends on a night when they’d decided to finish a mug of beer the size of a small kayak and had been posted as a token to our awesomeness. When the bar changed owners, though, we figured it was long gone.
“We must have this,” I heard T tell Mo when he calmed down. Henry and I looked on, slightly worried, but still with it.
“We will take it,” Mo decided between the two of them.
“Yeah, but we’ll need a screwdriver,” T noted. “or maybe a really potent hammer. These bastards used three goddamn drywall screws for a fucking picture. That’s probably why it’s still on the wall – they couldn’t get the goddamn thing out.”
“It’s like fucking Excalibur, man,” I noted.
“I’ll bet you it was the Canadian chick who didn’t like me,” Mo insisted. “She had strange markings on her ankles. I don’t know why she didn’t like me.”
“Didn’t you threaten to bite her once if she didn’t get some Ashland beer into this place?” I asked him.
“A perfectly natural reaction to her saying that Canadians have better beer than Oregon,” Mo retorted. They all agreed. I let it go.
H-bomb wanted to make sure the situation didn’t turn ugly so he got the process started quickly, turned around and called the waitress with the sparkle in his eye.
“Listen, who would we have to talk to to get that picture? And can I take you to dinner by the starlit beach?” He didn’t actually say this last part but it was both heavily implied and certainly understood. She melted instantly.
“I’d love to give it to you (I’m assuming at this point that she’s talking about the picture) but I’m not sure how to get it off the wall. The previous owners put it in there and weren’t able to get it off. See how the frame is cracked?”
“Never mind the frame,” T blurted out from behind H-bomb. The bar had gotten a bit more packed and he’d missed part of the conversation. “How much for the picture?” He was dead-set on ripping the thing from the wall but I knew this poor lamb trying to finish her shift at Spike’s without any ugly incidents didn’t need that kind of chaos on her hands. I decided to do what I could to avoid it and offered that I recalled them keeping a drill of some kind on the premises. Bullshit, of course, but the chances were good that if they at least looked they would find something. So she let us look.
Mo went straight for the bar while T and I scoured the restroom area. It’s not a big place and H-bomb kept the girl’s gaze by smiling and sparkling. The man is a beacon of game.
I turned quickly when I heard T whooping up a pre-mature victory jig but I realized why when I saw Mo coming out from behind the bar with a full-on cordless power-drill, complete with the bit and everything. Drilling started immediately.
The waitress didn’t break her gaze from H-bomb for even a second. When the screws had been pried off, T showed it around to everyone but didn’t let it leave his hands. Leaving Spike’s, he clutched it close to his chest like a prized family heirloom. I’ll bet it will fast become one, knowing Trevor.
After having salvaged that war relic, we walked up the strip, headed towards trouble. T was still clutching the picture like a vip pass. Lord knows how much we drank at the newly named Downtown Brew where I witnessed a fight while I relieved myself. Some dude crushed a pint glass over another guy because he cut in line. I tried to stop the damn thing but there’s only so much you can do while looking over your shoulder in mid-stream. But the Downtown Brew is and had always been a place where boys go to dry hump sketchy girls while geeks and vagrants look on. There may be a time for that kind of behavior, but that was not the night. The Frog & Peach pub was a much better bet place for the things we wanted that night.
When we walked into the Frog we were introduced to a dangerous game. A crowd of Orgeonians had all converged there and I knew we California boys had our work cut out for ourselves. When they started buying rounds I wasn’t worried, so much as challenged…but when they started playing drowning duchess I knew I had little chance of getting out in one piece.
It works like this: you get a newbie to buy a pitcher of something. Drew is a perpetual newbie, poor bastard, so he bought quite a bit. Then you get a shot glass. The newbie buys everyone a bottle of something else (bud, probably) and you take turns filling in the shot glass while it floats in the pitcher of beer. Whoever fills the glass so much that it sinks, has to fish it out with their hands and drink it’s contents. By Oregon rules, I found out, spitting in the pitcher is allowed. But this isn’t Oregon, dammit. We have limits.
Weird people and best friends. Damn — what a fucking place. As the night wore on we got out of control, saw a familiar face here and there but mostly stuck together. We behaved like degenerates because, after all, we’d earned it. Everything after that was bitter sweet. But we conquered our past and resolved never to go back again, though we may one day do just that.
Who the fuck knows? Who can face the week ahead without something of this kind close by? Sure, the drive on 101 south after all, still sucks.
But the drive back? Well, it’s even worse.