Pedro Ávila

Our temperatures were almost back up to a steady ninety-something degrees by the time we made it back to the HTG Lodge. The day’s excitement had started to wind down by then so it was just as well that we be in a place with a roof above us instead of a cave. Particularly a cave famous for its thousands of glow-in-the-dark insects.

It was better this way.

I sat in the common room of the Hamilton Tomo Group backpacker’s lodge, where we were staying that night for only twelve bucks. A gaggle of backpackers was doing what backpackers do best: chill. I opened up the Spaight’s Ale that we had been hauling for exactly this sort of time when the dust has settled, everyone has showered and the mission has been accomplished. Well actually, not everyone had showered, but no matter – two out of three ain’t bad. A part of me listened to a Maori story-teller from the Department of Conservation while another part of me watched Paulo, my little brother and partner in crime, play drinking games with some blond wasteland from Chicago who had evidently lost her way. Good for him. My other nefarious cohorts were mingling with the crowd and chilling just as well as any of them. Good for them.

As I scanned the scene, taking it in and letting myself appreciate the absurd success of the day, I spotted James in the audience, listening indifferently to the stories and drinking a beer. James had been our guide earlier that afternoon, taking us on a tour of the Waitomo Caves in a way that no Lonely Planet book could have foreseen; by their very nature, guidebooks can’t take you off the beaten path, but there are people who can, if you’re willing. In the end, he had really saved the day for us, perhaps even made the trip.

See, nothing that day had gone according to the plan. Normally this is at least expected when traveling but we had seen a freakish streak of good luck in the last two weeks that pretty much convinced us that we were unstoppable. So when we had arrived in Taupo we had earmarked some cash and booked a skydive with the Freefall Tandem Co., thinking that time was our puppet. Then came the rain and the winds.

We had been bumming around for two days doing short hikes, checking out the local attractions like natural geysers and absurd water falls, sleeping in and catching up on some drinking – whatever the weather would allow, really. Lake Taupo is a friendly little nothing of a town across a vast lake from Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe, a perfectly conical and dormant volcano that appropriately sits smack in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. Within the adrenalin capital of the world, it is the island nation’s hotspot for skydiving. So we held out.

In the early hours of the morning on the third day it rained, though I thought I had dreamed it. We woke up foolishly optimistic for the sky-dive because there was no wind and Lake Taupo was a mirror. It was still overcast but we stalled, hoping for the third day in a row that the sun would cast aside its sheepishness and creep out from behind the clouds to wipe the fog away like Windex, the way it does by mid-morning on the central coast of California in April. However hopeful we longed however, after some tea and a little guitar we agreed to agree that skydiving was a lost cause and not worth further loss of time. We got the hell out of Dodge.

On our way north towards Auckland, we stopped in a small damp place called Waitomo, little more than a collection of a few convenience stores, a post office, a museum and limestone caves to behold. Not having sky-dived, we had some extra cash, which we agreed to burn on a spelunking tour of the famous caves from which the town gets its name.

The “Black Abyss Co.” cave tour got us into wet suits, rubber boots and hardhats with headlamps and then took us ab-sailing (rappelling) down a damp hole thirty-four meters (100 feet) deep. After a brief and very tight-squeezed walk underground we came to a cliff that overlooked another ledge perched roughly ten meters (thirty feet) below us, separated by a river that ran god knows how far below us. James had us turn off our headlamps and listen to the liquid rush against the gorge. Underground. And then he did something I didn’t expect.

He tied someone to a line and pushed them off the cliff. At least, that’s about as much as I can assume from listening to shuffling feet and whispers in the dark followed by a girlish shriek. When he turned his headlamp on again we saw that J.J., the assisting guide, had careened down a foxline (zipline) connected to the cliff across from the river. Very cool.

Once we had all traversed the chasm (in the dark) he sat us down with our legs dangling over this lower cliff and busted out a waterproof bag of hot tang and little squares of chocolate, insisting that we enjoy the snack in the dark, listening to the underground river that was now about six meters (20 feet) below us.

“Is this guy for real?” somebody whispered in the abyss. I thought it was a fair question.

I listened to the water rush its way past stones that lived in the blackness and heard a pair of girls in our group mumble something to one another about not being able to get back out. At that moment, armed with a hot drink and munchies, my feet hanging over an underground river in the dark, I didn’t really understand why one would want to.

James brought out a stash of large inner tubes they keep down in the caves and passed them around.

“Now, this is what you’re gonna do,” he said, emphasizing the you to J.J., “Hold the tube against your bum, just like J.J. is doing here and then jump off the cliff, landing on the water already sitting on your tube …”

A moment passed, along with the river and his words hung in the air as if even they couldn’t believe what he had just said. Then J.J.’s tube hit the water with him on it, and the cracking sound that reverberated throughout the caves was deafening. I wondered what it would be like to do this every day and as I did, it occurred to me that maybe the way out really was to go deeper still into the darkness and the unknown – that perhaps it was the only way.

But no matter – too late to go back and too stupid with excitement to know the difference, I saddled up and jumped in after J.J. Most everyone in the group landed just fine; Paulo managed to miss his inner tube almost completely but we would all end up getting wet eventually. We floated down stream with the river’s current, looking up at the famous Waitomo glow worms, small insects that produce glow-in-the-dark mucus to trap prey, and part of what makes these caves so special. Bats flapped their thin wings somewhere in the distance. The water that lapped at our butts was out-of-control freezing but we didn’t care – it was a magical place for a perfect series of moments that discomfort couldn’t ruin.

After some time floating on our backs with the current, the river got too shallow for the tubes and we dismounted. With the cave walls so steep and slick there was no real way to walk dry along the edge of the river, so we waded downstream until our freezing mass of moving liquid met with another freezing mass of moving liquid. We turned a dark-colored stone corner and stood facing an underground waterfall about three meters (ten feet) tall. The way out entailed climbing up the waterfall so it was either freeze or stay. We stared in reverence, inspired by the underground cataract lit only by insect mucus and a handful of LEDs. Soon, standing still in a pool of swishing, recently thawed water motivated us, one by one, to sack it up and get a move on. We continued wading through a series of tunnels, large and small until we came to see patches of light. Alas, we had made good time and were early.

James was a sport, though. Not wanting to short change us on what should’ve been a 4 hour adventure, he said he wanted to show us another cave.

“It’s not part of the tour and if it starts raining we’ll be in a bit of a jam but it’s incredible, if you’re up for it.” With sophomorish intent, we didn’t even look back to see how far behind us the others were – we wanted more.

He took us along a small creek that seemed to dead-end against a rock wall with trees on either side, but I wondered why the water level didn’t rise.

“That’s because it’s being drained beneath this wall,” he explained by tapping his hands on the rock, “and we’ve got to go under it.”

“You mean under it, like, hold your breath and go underwater?” someone asked, “Are you daft?”

“Listen, mate, the tour’s effectively over. If you prefer, you can hike back over that hill to the lodge for bagels and soup…warm your toasty little heart out.” I felt like we were finally off the beaten path, going into a place unfit for those that only have the spirit. This was the part where you had to have balls and be willing to get them wet, too.

“Right, then,” James concluded. It was more of a speech to inspire the stupid, but we were beyond saving at that point.

The nature of the crack just beneath the creek’s surface was such that you had to go in head first and once we came up on the other side we saw a crack, barely large enough for a human being. The passage was so small and narrow and horizontal that for a good while we had to inch our way on our stomachs and elbows, in very strange, “people-don’t-belong-here” kind of positions. There were cave crickets everywhere but they ignored us for the large part, which is not to downplay the horror that those girls who left would’ve experienced had they come into these here caves. Cave crickets are creepy little things with antennae that move with a strange, patternless smoothness. They look sort of like spiders but they have long legs … longer legs, about the size of an open palm, and they covered the walls like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, tickling rocks and creeping things out. No, those girls would not have made it this far.

We could tell when it started raining because the water level in those narrow passageways began to rise with a noticeable quickness. We continued to squeeze and inch our way deeper into what semed more and more like a crack in a boulder rather than a passage to anywhere at all and the cold water was at our knees and rising. Around the same time that the water level passed the male package threshold, the notion that this move was imprudent simultaneously crossed all of our minds. Collectively, we all took a deep breath so quickly that a light whimper echoed throughout the caves.

When I noticed that the cave crickets were gone like drowned rats I got an icy, sinking feeling as cold as the water that was up to our chests now and approaching nipple level. Another collective whimper filled the small space left in the corridor.

Soon we had to lift up our chins in order to navigate and still have enough room to breath. “We’re almost there,” I barely heard James say from a few meters forward, but I don’t know if I bought it. I was too focused on wriggling forward like some kind of dumb gopher but I wanted to yell out at him: “Where are the crickets, James? If we’re almost there and we’re not going to drown or die sealing the cracks in this rock, then where are the Goddamned crickets?

Suddenly the gap widened and we waded up the bank to our ankles. We found ourselves at a taller waterfall than before, colder still than before, dealing with the same decision as before: freeze or stay. We looked up and at each other without honestly weighing the options, each of us wearing the same thought stamped on his face: staying is for suckers and cave crickets.

Dylan Cormack

Well, friends — it’s happened to you now, perhaps not for the first time: you found your way to this here little bit of internet real estate and you want the show. You went to all the trouble to click on the link in your email or whatever. Some of you even typed the damn URL into the address bar. Bravo.

So you went to all that work and what do you find here? Another post on the media mess. That’s right.

Why, god — why? you ask yourself. Why won’t he post something fun or at least something I can follow, like Lindsey Lohan’s hair, her crack addiction or the Warriors or something that, like, all my friends are talking about?

I worry about you sometimes, reader.


In what was sure to be the momentous turn around for the image of the mainstream media, all hell broke loose and the potential crumbled and fell to shit.

An accident on interstate 880 at the MacArthur Maze of the Bay Area; it was the chance for the local channels to show their merit, to report what happened and to give us information alongside a captivating story. You know — journalism. And to do it on the scene. Get back to it. Do it now.

This thing was a wet dream for journalists with nothing else to do – it had it all:

  • an exploded gasoline tanker that was melting concrete with its combustible contents even as the story played out
  • a collapsed freeway at the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area
  • traffic problems as far as the eye can see and the clock can count
  • politicians on the scene, making no sense

And all on a Sunday night. Think of it, reader. Think about Monday morning. Think of the potential to do the right thing.

Naturally they fucked it up and made a mess of things. Media crews were either dispatched to the scene or else just attracted to it like children to an ice cream truck. And what were they there to do? Were they there to cover the story? Were they there to describe the impact to the community and the options to the leaders and to investigate the facts with the depth and passion that their junior college journalism professors had inspired in them? Were they going to ask the tough questions and get the straight answers out of the ones with a stake in the ordeal no matter what lines they had to cross?

Sure, Goose.

Nah, they were kissing the ass of whatever was the easiest political target to put on the screen at that moment. Whatever attracted the most viewers and called and grasped the most attention for more than 6 seconds would get the spotlight.

Why? Because short attention spans in your audience means that advertisers want you to have people’s attention for slightly less than a minute so that whatever is left can be their 30 second blurb, for which they pay handsomely. It’s all about the dollars involved. You know it is. Rupert Murdoch gets all giddy when something like this happens.

Besides, you’re not supposed to as why to a thing like this. It’s not a questions of reasons, just incentives.

So the local news networks recorded a segment on the brief facts they barely knew at the time – a rig crashed, exploded, melted a freeway – yeah, I see that much from the hellish fire behind you. Then they married it to the most dramatic footage they got of the flames and the onlookers, and hiccuped it back to viewers every five minutes. The spastic reporting added nothing on every new replay except to say that they still didn’t know anything at all, which also, was obvious.

What they did do is give the Governator a forum to declare a moment for himself when he offered taxpayer moneys to pay for a free day of BART for everyone, even if it was just for the day. That his proposal made no sense and added nothing to anyone’s benefits didn’t seem to be on the edge of anyone’s tongue, including the news team.

The amazing thing? Not one media outlet offered a report of what it would cost the tax payers and what the benefits would be. Not one.

Instead, they reported an interview with the taxi driver that took the non-injured truck driver to the hospital.

You fucking twats.

And I’m not just talking about the media, because they’re beyond helping. Remember that they report this silliness because of – not in spite of – you people. It’s your lack of attention to detail that makes this all real. It’s your addiction to gossip that takes the focus away from what’s important, and it’s your pathetic lack of continuing education that keeps the circle of doom alive and well.

The solution should be obvious but mother nature is in over her head and we’re going to have to rely on our own stupidity and eradicate ourselves. We’re well beyond being flooded out because many of us already have Hobie Cats. I still need to get one.

In other news, a Washington prostitution ring! The guy is 65 and married. He’s a politician, for christsake, saying “they sent women over to my hotel room for massages but there was no sex.” That’s practically the same thing as saying, “I paid for whores,” isn’t it?

Again: who is asking the questions?

No one.

Dylan Cormack

Things on TV got crazy this week, right from the onset. Ed Meese and the name of his legacy were thrown around by the talking heads on TV like sock puppets when the 24 hour networks needed something to compare against the most recent Alberto Gonzales fiasco. It was like watching the history books of the next generation be written except that some geek was holding the pen. Tragic.

El Presidente continued his familiar scurry for reason in an ocean of madness, trying to affirm what a fantastic job the Justice Department is doing by managing US Attorneys based on crony-ism. It reeked of Michael Brown and Harriet Meyers and he knew it but what else could he do? The man doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Later, things got ugly when Karl Rove was implicated in the Valerie Plame affair for the first time (officially) and Condi Rice found herself on the receiving end of the taunts and ugly faces of the President of Egypt (who is, in fact, not a bad looking guy). He threw her out of his country for trying to meddle in their affairs, which is, in retrospect, a very American thing, isn’t it?

People are starting to see that for the GOP, there will be no resurrection; the cavalry is not coming. In fact, the cavalry is heading out to Syria where Nanci Pelosi, self made Colonel of the voice of the people, decided to bypass the joke that the administration has been trying to pass off as a foreign policy. It was little more than a photo op, except that it was a statement to the the GOP and at least, people, at least someone heard it. The Bush machine was PISSED but now they have no muscle to flex.

It’s a strange time: Al Gore is showing his face in Congress for the first time since the democratic disaster of 2000, shouting words of global warming and denying rumors of a run for the presidency. Nobody believes him and most are begging him to squash Hillary Clinton before she fucks over the Democrats’ best hopes of actually winning a decent election in a decade.

Meanwhile, Michael Bolton went on the Daily Show to make an ape of himself and embarrassed anyone right of Joe Lieberman. He tried to argue about the basics of democratic theory with one of the major intellects of our time. Admittedly, watching him argue about Abraham Lincoln with Jon Stewart was like attempting to shoot down an F-22 with a potato gun. The man was a sitting contradiction whenever he spoke. I guess the best that could be said of Bolton is that at least he was cognizant enough to turn red whenever he said something ridiculous, which was often. This is more than can be said for the rest of the faces in his party, thought that might be because his face is such a contrast to his white mustache. In any case, we can speculate that he only knows he’s saying something ridiculous because the studio audience pointed and laughed whenever his mustache moved. Jon Stuart managed to present a respectable discussion table but all Bolton did was give him pieces of nonsense while his mustache did strange things on TV. At times it seemed as if he was trying his damnedest to make sense but instead uttered nothing and was laughed off the set while Jon giggled like a giddy child sitting at the teacher’s desk.

Did we never outgrow this madness? Were not these same jerks and idiots running the place in the 80′s when the slime got really filthy? Did we not learn single thing from the failure of the Regan Revolution and the creepy little hands of Ollie North and Ed Meese? Did we really vote in the same people who should’ve been sent to jail in 1987?

My god.

It’s just as well, though. The day is strange enough, and now at least it makes sense why…

Kurt Vonnegut died today. Everyone within arm’s reach of a blog has been writing “so it goes.” Appropriate for the masses that loved his work, I guess.

But there’s a somber mood about it, something that reeks of sadness, and if this is the case, it’s NOT appropriate. Kurt Jr. loved life and all its farting around but he also despised the confinement. Typical of a writer, true, and not unexpected. But we’re talking about a man who’s best reason for not committing suicide wasn’t that he botched it the first time he tried it, but that it wouldn’t be setting a good example for his kids. Kind words, as far as that goes.

We’re talking about a man who wanted to sue the tobacco companies because they write on their boxes that their product kills and yet, 90 cigarettes a day for 30 years, and he was still here. What a sham.

Though in defense of the tobacco companies, it’s not like we can’t expect survival from a man whose mother committed suicide just before he lived through the apparently senseless bombing of Dresden inside of a meat locker only to escape in his own writings with the help of Tralfamadorians. Oh, and sleeping pills and alcohol too. Seriously; the man was like an Olympic torch. Ultimately it took a bad fall and brain injuries to shake loose the mortal coil.

He used to say that Hemingway’s suicide really put a period at the end of his life but that old age was going to be more of a semi-colon. Oh well — an ellipsis will have to do, old man…

… ahh hell – so it goes.

Pedro Ávila

In about an hour I will be dropping 440 feet above a ravine. The nut of it is, I’d say I’m pretty calm. On the 30-minute bus ride from Queenstown to The Nevis, the highest bungy jump site in New Zealand, I find myself – as I often do on a trip like this – retracing my steps and wondering how it is that I got here. My mind wanders in search of focus and clarity but these are scarce comodities in a place with so much to do and so much to see. I lean my forehead deeper into the window and look out as far as my eyes will take me, going places this bus wouldn’t dare.

My younger brother, Paulo, and I had already been in New Zealand for a week visiting our friend, Bryce. Our stubbly beards were coming in nicely since we had made a “no shaving” pact for the trip, mostly to see how dirty we could get and how much fun we could have in the process. Despite our youthful spirits, our charming wit, our rugged travel know-how or anything else that others may say about us we are, after all, just boys.

The previous night we had arrived in Queenstown from our adventures in Milford Sound. It had been a glorious couple of days of mountains covered in the first fresh snow of winter and drives through roads that wound their way deeply around lush valley floors. We had spent much of the time struck dumb like boys at a prom but all of it deserved much introspection. At Homner Tunnel, we had barely managed to escape the grip of a raging blizzard that tried to rip the very chains off our car, though that’s another story. We had been feasting on trail mix and a bag of wine but these things were in short supply after our miscellaneous romps and the food supplies had been getting dangerously homogeneous. Soon the nuts were gone and the bag of wine had vanished. All we were left with was the bag of twenty four sausages that we had bought outside of Queenstown for eight New Zealand Dollars.

Naturally, when you have a pack of twenty four sausages that cost you only slight more than thirty cents per sausage, you end up eating sausage more often than would be considered normal. Or healthy. For breakfast, that’s not such a bad thing; in fact, it’s delicious. I wasn’t exactly eager, though, to see what sausagenous creations we’d come up with for lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.

And speaking of delicious, the Kiwis have sort of standardized a thing called a mochaccino. It’s simple enough: a cappuccino with chocolate milk, but no, it’s not a mocha. And it’s not a cappuccino with chocolate syrup added, like those heathens at Starbucks do it after I explicitly described to them that the milk must be chocolate from the beginning, otherwise it tastes like coffee with chocolate. A mochaccino is, very distinctly, chocolate with coffee – it makes all the difference in the world, reader, and I had focused intently on my beverage while we waited for the AJ Hackett bungy center to open.

And now I’m here, my mochaccino is gone and I’m sitting on a small commuter bus with about 19 other lunatics on the way to the rush of our lives. As the road leaves Queenstown it veers left and the Gibson Highway passes a remarkable mountain range known as – and this is where the Kiwis get really creative: “The Remarkables”. You’ve probably seen these rocky peaks if you’ve seen “The Lord of the Rings” since pretty much every mountain range in “The Return of the King” was composed from shots of these majesties. The bus takes us out into the country on a picturesque drive along green pastures spotted with rocks and boulders, a landscape very much like one would expect in northern Scotland, which is, of course, worlds away. In the distance every peak reminds us of how well we timed our trip: the first snow of the season had fallen not a week before and now the sun is shining just brightly enough to slice the thin, crisp air that cools our nose hairs before refreshing our blood.

Hot damn.

In order to climb the foothills to the Nevis Crossing and the jump station gondola (yeah, you jump off a gondola; no joke), a more rugged vehicle is needed and so we’re told we have to ditch the bus. I sort of wonder how bad it could be until we come to a muddy stretch that is practically on a 45 degree incline.

“Jesus,” Bryce says, “you couldn’t climb that mess with crampons and rail spikes.”

“Sure you can, mate,” pipes in the kiwi guide, “but ya need one of those,” and he points to a canvas-backed monster vehicle, supposedly to take us up to the gondola. It’s tires are each the size of a Volkswagen, and the kiwis had put chains on every one. The 4WD animal probably runs on puppies, it’s so mean-looking. The cabin consists of 2 seats and a steering wheel with no other frills like seatbelts or doors. The passenger compartment behind it is essentially a cage in a tarp, and the tarp is mostly ripped.

As we stare in amazement at this thing, I hesitate to point out to Paul and Bryce that the emergency exit of the beast, while clearly labeled, is a tear in the canvas.

“Safety first…” I hear Paul mumble to no one in particular. I have to agree. This concern for the image of safety doesn’t exactly leave me swollen with confidence on the cusp of my first bungy jump. The kiwis call it “dropping,” which I think sort of downplays the absurdity of jumping off of a gondola that hangs over a ravine with a six inch-deep creek at the bottom. But we climb into the belly of the beast and it roars to life, gripping the mountain, pulling its narrow mud paths under the chains on those massive tires.

At the top of the mountain we put on full-body harnesses and are instructed on how not to die when bungy jumping. At first I am struck by the lack of attention the other jumpers give to this lecture but then again, if you’ve paid good money to have some one help you jump from a dangling platform, survival and self-preservation may not be your keenest instinct. I, for one, still have some odd notion that I want to survive this and double and triple check my equipment.

“Hey, Pete, c’mon. We’re going to the gondola and we need your weight to be balanced.”

“Hang on, Bryce, I have to make sure this strap is – hmmmmf – tight enough.”

“Pete, you’ve checked that strap four times and the clip isn’t coming unclipped until you put those opposable thumbs to work.”

“Let me just check it one more time.”

“Dammit, Pete.”

After securing the equipment they ferry us out to the dangling “room” which is suspended on the middle of a wire that crosses a ravine. This is where you jump from. Naturally.

The Nevis (as the thing is called) hangs one hundred thirty four meters (four hundred forty feet) over a cobalt-colored river running through a stony gorge. Giant snow-capped mountains situated over the surrounding rocky cliffs are lined with snow like pointy ice cream cones dipped in white chocolate. Why they bothered to hang the thing over a river that is at most six to eight inches deep probably has more to do with the gorge than with the river. That’s not a very comforting thought, but it’s probably true and I recommend not thinking about it.

I have a ridiculous nervous grin on my face and I can’t wipe it off, like a six-year-old boy waiting for his turn on the bumper cars. I’m excited. I’m nervous, but in a generously excited manner that is making me dangerously unafraid. The man who put on the velcro strap on my feet guides me out to the platform as if I were walking the plank. I pull my shoulders back and I hold my head high like a proud captain who does not fear the pirates or the sharks. The scenery is fantastic and I notice that I’m level with the snow line. I find the last tree before the line of white powder that consumes the mountain. I focus on it. I think about my family. I hear a countdown but it doesn’t reach three – already there is nothing under my feet…

I’m not thinking about anything on my way down, just my family. Nothing in particular about them, just them. And soon they, too, are gone and there is nothing but me. I don’t close my eyes for a moment. The world is frozen in time and like the inside of a wave, it is perfectly soundless. There is no roaring rumble, and no screaming wind. I feel blissful, in sync with everything that exists or could exist. Who knew such peace could be had?

…and then, just like that, the bungy bounces and I’m back on the platform. The mountains are unimpressed (I can tell), but my breath is still out there in the open, somewhere down by the river.

Paul is a different story.

Fact: he yells the ENTIRE way down, even on the bounces. After his yelling is outside of my hearing range I watch him through the plate-glass floor on the jump platform with the eyes of a big brother, my heart in my hands like a stress ball. I can’t help it. It’s probably uncool, I know, but that’s just the way some things go. Apparently Paul’s near-death experience provokes some grand stir of emotions. As soon as his feet can feel something other than air underneath them he lunges at me for a hug and I feel his heart trying to leap out of his chest. He completely let go of himself in his own way and I can see it in my little brother’s eyes; I can feel it in his hug. Awesome.

As people take their turns they get us off the gondola in batches according to our weight. By the time Bryce takes his dive, Paul and I have already been escorted off the platform and we get to watch him from the edge of the cliff. He spots us and makes faces on his bounces, goofing off as if he were on the ground.

After the drops the beast takes us down and the bus takes us back. But for one Asian girl who somehow doesn’t take a hint that no one wants to hear her talk about how, like, totally cool bungy jumping is, the ride is silent. Everything seems lighter. I feel a trance descending on the bus: the silence after the storm. It feels so natural and justified. I lean my head deep into that window and wonder things. We are, remember, just boys, but how did we ever get this far?

Oscar Bjørne

Thunder and lightning in the darkness of Houston, site of my latest professional escapades…and I can’t sleep.

The AC is running mad in my Marriott room, a temporary abode that seems to spread across the country. Still, the covers are too thick and it feels as if someone lit a fire under the bed. I toss the bedspread around, looking for a pocket of cool air. I rotate the 16 pillows they put on the bed, looking for one where the heat has completely dissipated and I can rest my head on it without taking on more thermal energy.

I speculate that in the heart of this storm, the atmosphere is thicker and the humidity is too saturated to properly take heat from anything. The television has long been turned off and still I lie, awake. Hours go by and I am kept awake by the tune in my head, some annoying Norah Jones blues rift that I can’t remember hearing. I am also kept awake by the anxiety of the ever approaching dawn. I wrestle with the possibility that it’s too late to sleep — that I’m better off staying awake for another hour or two and then just going straight to work.

Wait. What? No…


Stuck in Houston is no place to be, not during any time of year. Particularly depressing is being here on the vernal equinox, the cusp of my birthday season. I hear the flowers are in full bloom but it’s not like I see the light of day from where I am. In here it’s a war room of nerds and executives that run the world with their corporate expense accounts. That and Texas freeways are empty, soul-less stretches of tollways and concrete that are 2nd to sucking only compared to the LA basin. They say nature abhors a vacuum but I’m still trying to figure out what this place is filled with besides empty hotel lots and corporate parks off of freeways that never made sense to anyone but the locals.

Luckily there are a lot of trees and the tex-mex isn’t all that bad here. Your stomach builds immunity to toxins more rapidly than you’d think and with the right amounts of bourbon in your gut, things are almost passable.

I exagerate, of course, readers. Things are not quite that grim. Plus: mileage!

The problem is that now, in the morning, I’m alone in the office. It’s not my office, you understand, but that doesn’t matter. For me, usually alone is a good place where sounds are not heard and new ones are invented. But today there are things to be done and dammit, I don’t want to do all this crap myself.

Where the hell is everybody?

At first I thought that what was keeping them all away was a combination of flu and hanta virus with a dash of anthrax, but no. Apparently all of my co-workers in this remote location just outside of north Houston are stuck, either in a holding pattern burning fuel at 10,000 ft or on a taxiway at the airport because all the computers at IAH are down.

I’m not talking down, like the printers don’t work or they can’t ping Google. I mean the tower is out. Gone. Struck by lightning and had anything with a computer chip in it simple fizzle and turn into a very expensive paper weight. They’re tagging luggage with pencil and paper.

Did you get that? Pencil and paper.

Am I getting through to you? I can’t imagine that a tower getting struck by lightning is a typical occurrence, but at least it warrants a contingency plan, no? And how are they communicating with the airplanes up at 10k? Carrier Pigeons? I heard a particularly loud CRACK this morning…I imagine that’s what a flock of pigeons being vaporized by the madness sounds like.

Needless to say, the day goes by far too slowly for pleasure. It’s bad enough to have Oracle database problems at 7 in the morning … but being alone to fix it is a stretch to ask of any man.

Shit. This madness is being thrust upon me but who cares? You don’t want to hear about it. But I must handle it.

And that’s validation, readers. We’re all seeking validation for the things we do, be it paying student loans, doing your job correctly, behaving as a part of some kind of society or some other form of growing up. We’re all seeking validation. People are fourteen-year-old teenagers who are either faking whatever maturity and control that they can get away with or else they simply don’t know any better. Either way, it’s all bullshit. There is no control unless you know it, just like there is no surrender unless you accept it.

… and ‘round and ‘round we go.

Headquarters, Tomball Parkway in Houston, TX — March 2007

Oscar Bjørne

A note to my editor:

Berkeley, CA

March 14th, 2007


I see that you’ve agreed to approve the funding necessary for the trip to Arizona for that story on the working woman’s fitness weekend to Mike’s Mile-High Ranch. Chances are that no serious damage will be done to the expense account but I appreciate the investment and the vote of confidence nonetheless.

As you know, things of late have bordered on crazy. My day job consumes my waking hours and the corporate grayness touches skies everywhere. It doesn’t help that I have 4 or 5 people who think I report to them; all that matters is that they are all equally greedy weasels, horny for lap dances and sales revenue. They should be put to sleep, Pam, violently, if it comes to that.

But never mind that, let’s focus on the story. I’m convinced that the angle this thing must take is not that of a fitness article but rather a misguided romp in the desert with unexpected perils often at the risk of dismemberment in ugly accidents involving chains, WD-40 and road rashes. It seems practically required in order for it to work and be marketable. However, it seems that I’ve written myself into some kind of terrible trap.

Understand that I’ve tried all the usual tricks of the writing trade: profuse amounts of alcohol, wandering around on public transportation and sleep deprivation. Jesus, I’ve tried flash cards that I took from some lost biology major that I met at dark bar the other night; things are getting desperate and pretty creepy, even for me. I haven’t gone so low as to wallow in a local Starbucks but I’ll admit to having wandered past one and in a moment of weakness I looked inside and saw the teeming hoards of souls who write to be seen, less proud than I and more willing to discuss the merits of their Macs and Timbuk2 messenger bags. At least it gave me the strength to know I didn’t want to go down that road.

What I have been doing instead is typing during my day job under the auspices of management emails and status checking while I watch the prying little eyes of the executive leprechauns who keep tabs on my billable hours like starving animals in the Savannah. What I do seems to satisfy their corporate wet dreams enough to keep them off my back, so it’ll do for now.

Still, I find myself sitting in a car in an empty Marriott parking lot, half spent and waiting for the heavy rain to subside enough to sprint my way through the lobby without making eye-contact with any of the locals or at least without engaging in conversation with them. In the meantime, I am staring at a blank page just now that is spattered with the shadow of dozens of raindrops thrown by the parking lot lampposts through the open moon roof of the rental car. I am weighing my options. There is sense in somebody dying in this story, possibly the very journalist who writes it …

But how do I kill him?

Inside the car the keys rest, thrown on the passenger seat and I’ve turned the lonely radio off. There is no moon and the lightning prefers to come in through the angled windshield. It distracts me to no end in this dark silence, like some strobe-lit banshee in the vast sky. The rain is staunch and thick and it hammers the roof and the hood like a heavy windless mass. The air is weighed down, so thick and muggy during the storm that even the thunder is muffled amidst the vast pines of the Midwest.

Cars and buses zoom in the wet reflection of rain on the road next to which I am adjacently parked. The semaphore turns yellow, pauses slightly too long to go unnoticed, and then turns red, all out of the corner of my eye. I continue to stare at the empty page, wondering how to kill a man I haven’t even named yet.

I have half a mind to base this practically dead journalist on a man I know who happens to be one of my bosses in a life different from this one, where I write. I figure this will make him easier to kill later, when the story calls for it. While this is fine since he’s not my only protagonist, it’s already difficult because the thing of it is that when it really comes down to it, he’s a character quite apart from others. Aside from the relentless emails he sends and phone calls he makes at absurd hours of the night, he is a fidgety ferret of a man, replete with insecurity issues and self doubt. When the executives fly into town for board meetings and the like, he and his minions scurry for purpose and status reports like hungry raccoons and stammer like bumbling children. Can you imagine him romping through the Mexicali desert with ten fifty-year-old women on ATVs? He’s perfect.

The photographer, on the other hand, I’m convinced wears a hat, perhaps something like a fedora, even in that merciless yellow desert. He despises the journalist for all the right reasons, including some that I’m sure will come to me at the time I get to writing this thing. He finds him pretentious, like most writers, and unnerving, not to mention a political hazard as far as these magazine gigs go. But he’s the quiet type.

Obviously there’s more work to be done, more development that will certainly occur pre, during and post flight to the Baja region, and some maybe on the cold desert nights while the story unfolds. The old girls will, after all, be gassing up ATV’s 300+ miles from across the desert to the Ranch, and flight attendants aren’t all that reputable for their thick skin outside of their tin cans, although some will surprise even a cynical villain such as this reporter. At this point I can only imagine what riding in one hundred ten degree dry asphault is like with the company of ten middle-aged women who are just giddy enough to endure the trial in order to arrive at a weekend spa in the middle of a desert they despise. My god, it occurs to me that they may snap and just burn the place down when they get there; I have no real way of knowing.

After all, women are nutty enough, particularly women in this phase. Christ, just last week some aging menopause-stricken dame came at me out of nowhere in a liquor store just north of Houston. I was trying to get some bourbon for my coffee sometime after 10 pm in that place off of a highway 249 exit when I was suddenly hit in the back of the ear with a rolled up magazine that I would later learn she had brought in herself. She was sweating viciously and grinding her teeth while yammering some nonsense about me having borrowed her sister’s car 2 years ago and only returning it last week reeking of gin, mushrooms and immigrants. Madness, of course.

I showed her a slingshot I carried for these occasions and told her to get back in her fungus car and drive away or I’d have the manager of the premises (a cohort of mine) put her in a cage in the back where we’d take turns poking her with a sharp stick. Naturally I was gone by the time the cops showed up but then again, so was she. What is the world coming to?

On another note entirely, I spoke with that staff writer from the Examiner that I told you about, Trevor. You remember, the one who bailed without pitching in for the cab that night at North Beach in San Francisco? Well, he says he’s not surprised, given the sheer volume of booze that flowed that night, but that he’s sorry for the feeling of malcontent that he generated (his words, not mine). He also said that he has no inclination to write for some attention-craving liberal arts major who’s itching for a promotion to validate her student loans just because she’s too busy to find a boyfriend or a girlfriend and get laid. Also his words, not mine.

Don’t worry, though. I’ll talk to him again.


Marriott Parking Lot in Houston, TX — March, 2007

Pedro Ávila

They say you should never drink alone, which is why I always order TWO drinks.



SFO to SNA: John-motherfucking-Wayne airport in Santa Ana. A windless quiet and complete solitude over the mighty Pacific and the California coastline, all through window 1A of first class…I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon but only because I could be at the back of the plane paying for my drinks.

Oh god. It’s a new day only in the sense that the sun set last night and rose in the morning. Other than that, I’ve prodded along the same sterile hallways in the hours of day and the same lamp-lit streets when I should’ve been asleep. Producing seems to be a thing of the past but I must, must get out of this slump.

At least a night with the illustrious brother Shakib opened some windows into the metaphorical light, but the day is essentially unchanged. I-5 moves through the LA basin like a lamppost: straight and not at all. But all the driving, the traffic, the stop and the go, and sheer mass of vehicles wearies a soul and opens up all kinds of evil doors to dark thoughts…who knows, friends? Maybe it’s a tunnel with some light at the end…but who knows how deep the hole goes before something happens?

Oh well. Dwelling on the dark is so last month. I’m surviving, which is what’s important, right? I’m still here, with possibilities and potential at my fingertips, twenty-something and full of lucid stupidity and wit, bound by nothing but time and dollars, and they’re sure to be coming at me soon, fast and hard, like excuses during midterm exams.

Are you still comparing things to college?

What? No. Only a jackass would do that. I am telling a story here and it’s more or less coming together. In the meantime, like I said, I survive. Even in the OC. A strict regiment of Thai food and bagels along with at least 6 hours of sleep and 90 minutes of hard exercise per day is slowly bringing me to levels of consciousness attributable to a human. I was functioning with one foot in another dimension there for a while, another plane of existence or something…I mean seriously — 4 hours of sleep, boiled meat/fried fish and chips and no exercise but the constant walking on a sprained ankle for four or five hours a night, not to mention the ghastly amounts of hand-pumped cask ale I was drinking were making me question my very humanity. On the other hand, it was all for a higher purpose and worth every second of misery I may have experienced across the pond. And that’s what it’s all about, kids: experience. It builds character.

Recent thoughts and conversations have leaned towards this…tendency, I guess. It’s not so much a theme as much as it is a trend of bending any discussion I’m involved in to turn to the one thing I don’t want to think about.

It’s been far too long, and although it would be easy to say “I’ve been busy” or to utter the other usual mediocre words people choose to formulate excuses, they’re just that: excuses. These days abroad have shed some light on a complicated little facet of life between cultures. It occurs to me that it’s not so much that I have a foot in both camps, but rather like not having a foot in any camp at all.

The way I see it, the problem is a matter of self-image, of pertinence, of identity. Examine where my loyalties lie, in order of importance:

  • Family
  • Earth

It’s missing some critical junctures, don’t you think?

I had this thought the other day whilst thinking about war. You know who I’d kill for? You know who I’d go to war for, fight for, or give a shit about? Family. You see what I’m saying? I don’t think you do, yet.

Here’s the thing: there’s no city to which I feel tied, no state I feel duty-bound to defend. No way of life except mine. It’s all just land and water to me, with different plants and mountains and a variety of vermin infesting all of it. Principles matter to me much more than does dirt. Terra. And that’s the other one on the list, right? Earth is a great planet (definitely the best inner planet) and if I were in some kind of mid-space truck stop and heard non-Terrans talkin’ shit, it wouldn’t stand. I might do the same for California if I were in a pub in London and heard some dude from upstate New York slobbering a lot of gibberish about New York being better…

But that’s about it.

So when I walk into a foreign place and hear the voices and the words in their strange tongues and they are laying the proverbial smack-down on that American man, the machine of war that is the current administration, the insolent loudmouths that turn the lights on in the middle of the night in hostel dorm room their mothers paid for…well, I’m not the right person to be repping’ that.

Fuck it.

If the Swiss exchange student in dreads wants to say that Americans are obnoxious servants of the ignorance they practically package because fools are lining up for the culture they’re selling, he’ll get no argument from my end of the table. If he wants to say that George Bush AND John Kerry are both puppets of evil incarnate and no more intelligent or independent than the average galvanized nail, I will be buying the next round of drinks. Hell — if he wants to say that Brazilians are lazy & corrupt, hell, we’ll down ‘em all, ‘cause it’s all true. I mean… shit. I revel in amazement, and only because I am tied to my own cultures solely via the past. Besides that, I’m with them.

I don’t know. My insolence is usually a bit much for people to feel completely comfortable around me. But I, too, have been occasionally known as a nice guy. People are — apparently — fooled, at least to some extent.

Maybe that’s the “why” around this urge to get the hell outta Dodge…there’s nothing specifically tempting about this place. Don’t get me wrong: California is a hell of a place and there are few other places you’d find me putting down roots in the long scheme of things; San Francisco in particular is a difficult place to leave. But the fact of the matter is that I have no history holding me to this place, so there are memories but no substance. And I’m just jonesin’ to fill in that empty space while it lasts, before I become some cynical old madman, weary of the freedoms of the world.

Ahh, dammit. In retrospect I should’ve know it was a terrible idea, reading my old journal from New Zealand. I shouldn’t have overlooked the obvious repercussions that the writing and re-writing of those posts from NZ would have had. Now the damage is done.

But I guess you adapt to things. You do it relatively slowly, and you usually only complain when you can’t keep up with the changes, with the moving of the cheese, or whatever. I had adapted well to not being 23, to not being 23 and on the road with nothing but my pack, beard and compadres. Then I toseds myself into not just my memory but the lucid words from my own mind. I spat it into the wind and got it right in the face.

And now? Shit. Now I need some leverage.

Pedro Ávila

“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.

Sort of.

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.

Oscar Bjørne

..Hey mr. tamborine man, play a song for me…

…aahh Bob — I have no room in my head for you at the moment; the winds howl for change in the depths of this new darkness, this new emptiness that clogs my beautiful night. Twisted fences sprout in my brain and rips thoughts like the barbs on the wire next to a stretch of rural road. Who knows what lies beyond them now?

The last few months have lacked anything resembling the required dose of regularity that it takes for me to even make sense of a situation, let alone write something compelling about it. Afflicted with a debilitating condition that involves not living close to work, I’ve had to commute over 300 miles a week just to get me to somewhere new enough to think clearly. I realize that this has spawned some entries that are wrought with simile and metaphor, none of which you have understood or made sense of. But it is what it is and I hope we can start to move forward again, now that I’ve fallen off my proverbial cliff, even if I occasionally find myself still falling. Don’t worry about me, though; I’ll be fine.

What I want to get to today is a plan. Like a count before you pull the trigger — you have to have a count — you know, for balance. And you should have expected this, reader, you really should have.

Don’t get me wrong; I separate many things. Nevertheless, it’s made it that much more refreshing to return to the screens of the internet on Monday morning to my readings: jcarrol, who I’ve read since Herb Caen passed on, that aging bastard who is always ten steps ahead of me, except when he isn’t. Morford, the sick, twisted hateomaniac who has yet to say something downright wrong. And Neva, my darling of the fruitful tongue, how I wait for the weekend to pass in order to love your words on Monday, or sometimes Tuesday when Monday passes too quickly. Who can tell us what will come of such things? Shall we stand by waiting for what the future brings? Or fear gifts from southern belles with wedding rings?

And those are just the Chronicle writers. I’ve still got a stack of books haunting me since christmas, including Fitzgerald, Kesey, Vonnegut and some new ones. No, in case you were wondering, not a soul had enough vision to get me more HST. Not a one. And maybe it’s for the best, since that guy has a way pushing me over some edge I can never see until it’s far, far too late.

In spite of this help I went out and got them myself; that’s how self-destructive I can be sometimes.

And the plan? Right. Let’s get back to that since it’s why we’re here tonight anyways. Quit fucking around and talk, man. The plan is and has always been about new horizons. That’s the gist of it, anyways. The city. Europe. Morocco. It doesn’t much matter. It just has to go somewhere. Too many schemes have died on the continental airlines page, looking for tickets out of here. It’s time for that shit to stop. Eventually it will drive me insane with self-doubt concerning my convictions. I have the incentive, the festering ideas that sit simmering on my mind while all the proteins denature. What I need is more drive. Something physical on which to strike my match.

Hold on. The wind is beginning to blow. You know what I’m talking about. Not ‘hold on’ as in ‘wait a sec’. HOLD ON!, as in GRAB ON TO SOMETHING AND GRIP IT TIGHT!

After so much time, it’s easy to forget how to hold on. But when you’ve gone through such times, you’ve gotta hold on; things are getting rough and it’s true that I’ve never weathered rougher times. But I will be forced to again, I’ve learned, so I may as well figure out how to do it right this first time. Things are getting black but I’ll see blacker so I may as well learn to lighten the mood, even in this darkness.

Ah, hell… I’m reading back over that and it’s true: I do a piss-poor job with the setting most of the time. And I shouldn’t — setting is important. You have to establish setting before you dive into the story. Sure, there are many ways to establish setting, so I’m not going to apologize, but I’m just sayin’.

Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of the place, but the situation in which one finds oneself…and it makes sense that you all don’t see it because you weren’t, you know, there. That’s why I’m here, I guess: to see to it that you see it.

Often – much more often than it probably should be – there is alcohol involved. These are usually strange kinds of scenes, filled with the kinds of people and the debauchery that folk where I’m from like to pretend don’t exist between the tunnel and the mountain.

But, on with the setting. I’ve found myself stuck in Orange County for a few weeks, which is so close to where they stuffed the carcass of the living breath of California that you can smell the decay from the shallow grave they rushed to dig. But no one came looking for the body. Not in these hills.

I didn’t realize how close to the edge of the desert I was. Somewhere in between LA and the vast Mojave, sitting on the border of two worlds with a case of Heineken that somebody’s expense account had paid for. It sounds cliche to say it but I was physically lost somewhere in the translation.

At one point in the night I found myself crouched against a wall behind some abandoned government building, huddled from the wind and overlooking a valley of strip malls and dim lights. I hugged my knees as the Santa Ana desert wind had its way with the dust. It’s not saddness that I feel at times like these; it’s closer to a deep curiosity of how the fuck I got there at all.

All around me was something worse than death: mediocrity. Apathy in the face of incoherency is mediocre, I don’t care what county you’re in. It shows, in casual conversations of politics, the ignorance of even obvious facts as opposed to the wishful thinking of the oblivious masses. If knowledge is power then America is lost. There’s nothing else we can do.

Earlier this week, stuck in SFO at red-eye time, I couldn’t read or write; I couldn’t focus properly because CNN was on and the lunacy was too much. I couldn’t handle the random people, the short-sighted conversations and all the commercial breaks in between. It’s beyond my abilities as a human being to put up with that level of bullshit and I may as well lose my ideas of any sort of future whatsoever. Sweeping amounts of luck will be required for things to work at this pace. And if history is any kind of indicator, we will rape everything decent long before anything good happens.

Back in the desert I looked around that old building in the moonlight, which I found was an old Greyhound terminal there at the edge of the desert, a place covered in age and asbestos and surrounding me were ghosts of absurd mustaches and People Magazines stretched all over everyone’s faces, covered in Britney Spears and Brad Pitt’s baby. I felt a violent urge to lose my breakfast when I consider what it means because suddenly, America’s problems seem too few given the conditions on the ground.

I stuck around the bus station long enough to lose the hope of having any at all and made my way back towards the hotel. Even then I knew that there was no explanation other than choice for why that evening had been spent alone. I walked on anyways.

Back at whatever Hilton the corporate travel agent had bunked me in that week I stumbled on steps I didn’t expect to find. Was I in LA still? Houston? Columbus? Kansas City? Orlando? Dallas? No not Dallas – why would I be in Dallas? I travel so much that if I don’t pay attention it all becomes a blur, especially if I drink too much – which I do. I’m pretty sure it was either Houston or LA, though.

In that horrible place, someone had managed to stick what must have been their idea of a palace. I groaned a heavy sigh as I approached a sculpted and molded gob of concrete, a cheesy hunk of bad taste in a land of tastelessness. Medieval steps and stone walls crowded the spacious room that was otherwise filled with light and music from the sad piano playing in the acoustic lobby by the granite-lined elevators. As I approached the music the headache that dominates my waking thoughts these days didn’t lift but it did loosen its hold, its grip. It was a window just long enough for me to enjoy the melancholy music from the depths of some desperate soul, playing for a crowd that wasn’t listening in the lobby of a Hilton palace, lost in the middle of the Los Angeles basin. Man, do I know what that feels like, I thought.

Sounds rushed into my ears like memories on a full-mooned night when no one is around. An idiot laughed absurd noises downstairs and I felt like tagging her across the jaw with a grapefruit from up on the upstairs loft, where I stood listening to the piano. She never said a word, just went on with her ridiculous noises while that old man playing the piano cried his heart out through his ivory souls…

All I needed was the grapefruit, or even a lime and a moment, but the citrus never presented itself and the moment passed just as surely as others have. With the ding of its arrival, I got into the elevator. It swallowed me whole and I emerged on the other side, much as I have been before, frustrated, confused, drunk, and alone.

When will it end, oh lord?

Pedro Ávila

It seems too early in the year to be wondering where it’s all going. I am suffocated by the surrounding air, the same stale air of desperation as a man with a noose around his neck and his hands tied behind his back…

And yet.

Waiting and restraint are my dogma these days; my mantra. “Let the debris fall to the bottom and then pick up the pieces like an emotional vacuum cleaner” is what the voices seems to advise.

Nonsense. I tell you, there’s something fiendish out there that wants me unwell and it’ll stop at nothing to see it through. These voices would have me chowing on mediocrity and complacency like it was a well-crafted trail mix.

So, what to do in these harsh times? I try the city. The city does not welcome you out into its streets with open arms, especially when the temperature drops and the clouds darken like the inside of a caged heart; on the contrary, with a maddening indifference that shuns indiscriminately, it grimaces malicious intent. I head for friendly territory, the pads of friends, the bars they frequent and occasionally, I just plain old work late. Often I write, but sometimes…

I don’t know. I think that sometimes I don’t write because I’m afraid that I’ll start and not be able to finish; that I’m afraid of losing my thread; silly, of course, but I suspect it nonetheless. More likely, though, that I’m sometimes hampered by how terrified I might be if I start seeing what really wants to come out of my fingers when I put them to the keyboard. I am stupefied and deathly afraid of some of the things I may say even though in the past I’ve managed to not piss off everybody I know…

…then again, who knows WHO’s been reading this shit? You know?

Maybe I should try to remember when it was in my life that I was happiest, and see what it was that I was doing, who I was with, what was going on, what was I anticipating? And then see if I took a wrong turn and if so, head back in that direction, back to that road…

But I know that life is a one way street, and that although you can correct some of your mistakes, you can’t undo them. You can cover up the potholes but you’re still left with a patched-up street that is nothing close to smooth or level, and is still just a street full of filled in holes. I guess I can change, but I can’t change the way I once was or the things I did then.

So be it.

I’ve been satisfied with things before, this much I remember. I was content, not only with the way things were going but with my prospects, my outlooks. I guess that’s what most saddens me these days is that I’m on a different path; one that is leading me away from what I really want. A path wherein I look ahead of me and see days still in front of me that are marked only by the fading tan line of a band that weighs me down and that never fit me too well to begin with. A path that makes me feel limited, isolated from the path of my friends and family.

hmmm — yeah. I can’ t say anything else strikes me as important or significant except that I don’t want this anymore – any of it. Other symptoms are just that: symptoms. Travel, profession, education, social life… all these things are more limited than they were, and more desired than ever, but they are just symptoms. What matters is the choice I’ve already made, and that that’s what this has always been about.

I guess I’m terrified of being one of those guys that in the near future, someone will ask if I still write or what I ended up doing with this or that skill and that I had; if I had turned that into a tool for success, if I had milked my opportunities like I always promised myself that I would…had I become a writer? A traveler? A real leader? A man in any sense?

…and instead have to question all that I once thought I was because all I see is a shell floating on the sea, making no waves, leaving no wake, going absolutely nowhere. Working in a reasonably fun but pointless job, with less than no prospect of growth: no ambition to do so. Not writing anything more than a diary, and not an impressive word or phrase in it. Consuming every ounce of his will to exercise enough to simply slow-down the middle-age weight-gaining that is sure to follow. Satisfied but unquenched. Life will be an ejaculation with no orgasm.

Terrified because the one doing the asking is me, and knowing that I would, in fact, answer in this way.

Terrified that there’s no way back and that if the way out is forward that I may tire before I find my way.

Terrified of it all, really.

Harsh times, dudes. Harsh times indeed. But they say that this too, will pass.

Goddamn it — I hope it does.