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Chapter One: 1/3/11

It was January 3rd, 2011.

It’s an easy date to remember. Right after New Years.

We couldn’t find any smoke – and folk who say smoke ain’t a gateway drug are lying to themselves.

Some of us have a silent dragon stalking us our entire lives – and it wants to free itself. It wants to devour all it can – it wants to clean out our bank accounts.

It’s alive and we act like it ain’t there. I use to look back at drinking with a bit of a twinkle in my eye – I used to tell folk with anxiety to drink because it’d calm ’em down – that was horrible advice but I didn’t know any better.

It was parasitic.

I seen someone get stabbed before, seen someone get thrown through a window, seen an uncle kick his old lady square in the crotch and watched three of my cousins jump him shortly after – the sort of hell that came from boozin’ was well known to me. I can’t even scratch the surface but the rednecks and natives know how bad it can get – and you can too if you’ve ever seen the chair fight in Gummo.

Alcohol creates community, it creates life, it creates meaning, creates chaos, it’s an unstoppable force and it sits on the shelves of liquor stores all across this country. I’ve seen too much – seen what it does to us – seen many relatives lose their lives because of it and that didn’t sway me.

I drank anyway. Waited longer than most of my friends and relatives. Drank some whiskey on the other side of the state. Friend was having band practice so we stayed overnight. I said “Fuck it”. And nothing bad happened.

And that first time in the white man’s basement wasn’t the beginning of the end. It was a pleasant experience. My vision changed and the world felt nice. A warmth came over me.

Somewhere out in the multiverse I only drank the one time and walked away unscathed. Unmarked. But that ain’t the universe I woke up in.

Ain’t the one I marched head first towards.

We’re a toxic people. That’s the truth. We’re toxic. We hate success – we hate seeing other people succeed.

January 3rd was in no way special as far as I could tell. Just another winter day. We didn’t know anyone with any hook ups. I’m talkin’ five dollar joints of brick weed. The kind that popped and sang as seeds burned up. But it was too late and we were already addicted to it. And we sought it out – over and over – sought it out. Because I was a music fan and there ain’t no better way to listen to music than while you’re stoned.

I called up a friend. Figured we’d cruise town and do some searchin’ – waste some time.

A blizzard came through a week before and fucked up the smoke-flow. Massive snowstorm, massive pain in the ass. Fifteen foot high snow piles at the corner of each street.

We called up everyone we could think of – stopped by every house we could think of and no one had shit. My friend and I were fiends that lacked the self awareness needed to see that we had an addiction.

Eventually we get a phone call from a relative. Says he needs a ride south of town.

We pick him up. Formerly fat fella. Another lost soul like us – maybe a bit further a long.

Cast and characters: you had me – I was a smooth talkin’ ball of neurosis – you got my buddy, we’ll call him Yellow Eagle, always tried to talk with a smile – a people person of sorts – then you had my cousin, we’ll call him Jane because that feels appropriate.

Now south of town’s a bit odd because it’s not really south of town if you think about it. It’s really east of town – at a certain point it angles the other direction. Took me twenty five years before I noticed it.

Two mile stretch of highway. Quiet place. Plenty of ghosts wandering that road. Plenty of people die out there. Walking between communities, drunk. Hell, one of my dad’s pallbearers died a few months after my old man. Smoked out by a vehicle while walking back to his community.

I wonder if the ghosts are complete or do they turn into sentient slabs of meat, bones, and eyes?

Isolated community and folk walk back and forth between there and town all the time. Keeps them in shape. Well, sort of. Okay not really. Lot of big Indians who get more than enough cardio. I’m guessing it’s because of the forty ounces. Lot of carbs in those fuckers.

Yellow Eagle’s charm is good but it ain’t as good as it could be. Jane and him work at the grocery store. Talkin’ shop and smokin’ cigarettes.

Got a four door car. Dodge Intrepid, and if the path smiles upon me, and gifts me with money I will buy a new one someday. Because the thing handled on ice like a beast – which is quite different compared to the vehicle I use now. That damn thing doesn’t move in the winter.

We drop Jane off – and before he goes Yellow Eagle speaks up, “Hey killer!” Jane walks back to the car, “You know where we can score any smoke?” The guy stands up for a moment and looks around before leaning back in, “Nah man. Dry out. Here. Take this instead.” – He hands us a plastic bag and leaves.

Reverse. And head back into town. “What is it? How much he give you?” Yellow Eagle looks between his legs. “Tilt. He gave us two cans.”

“Well shit. That’s like… street people booze ain’t it?”

“It’s also all we got after searching for a few hours.”

“True.”

“What do you want to do?”

We parked in my community. Dead end street with the heat cranked. Had a relative get alcohol poisoning in sixth grade. My middle name came from my ma’s uncle – said he used to put alcohol pads into a cup of water, let it soak awhile – then he’d drink it. Pops said grandma found my uncle blue in a trailer outside their house. Said my other uncle’s liver got all swollen – died in a hospital. I watched my uncle spray WD-40 in his mouth before leaving for the last time – saw him laying dead under a blanket near the powwow ground behind a crowd of ambulances and cop cars – hit and run.

Folk talk about natives having a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism and they are absolutely right. But there’s another side to this dance – nature and nurture. We’re tasked with an immense burden – to carry all the horrors we’ve seen – to carry that and transmute it into something beneficial. And that’s harder than you can imagine – there are multiple gyres spinning under the surface – lines and traumatic memories – scars that stretch and hurt – to gather enough strength, to make it out unscathed, to make it out a good person, a morally good person – it’s impossible.

Trauma begets trauma, horror begets horror, hurt begets hurt – and it’s harder than you can imagine because it doesn’t happen at once.

It happens over time. Over years. And those little moments of sorrow go and fade – a bad dream, a nightmare forgotten soon after – and we can live while pushing those memories away but they fight back. We are haunted by our actions and the actions of others. Now and forever.

Cracked the windows and an immense cold descends upon the interior. “Well shit. Lets do this then.” Yellow Eagle cracked the can and took a shot. Passed it to me. Blue. Sweet – much too sweet. Metallic. Used my tongue and pressed it up against the roof of my mouth – to force the drink to the back of my throat as fast as possible. And when it goes down you hold your breath for a moment or two. Twelve percent ABV. The cans are warm. After two shots a piece the pace quickens. We’re downing these things faster than we should. One can – two cans.

I gave away my soul in that moment – I invited devils into my psyche – I invited in ghosts that will never leave.

My stomach warmed up. I lowered my head and took in the moment. This is what damnation feels like. This begins a new cycle – and on the other side will be failure and death. You will need strength now, nephew, because your life will get much, much worse. You had an opportunity once, you had a path out once, and you should have taken it. Neptune clouds the stars and the underworld shakes from It’s slumber. I’ll see you on the other side – I’ll see you in seven years.

“Yeah right.”

“You say something?”

“What? No. It’s nothing. Let’s go for a cruise.”

Ain’t no designated drivers around here. No traffic either. It’s the simple life. Going from my place to Yellow Eagle’s was one straight away, a left turn, straight, a left turn. Simple.

Gettin’ my driver’s license was too easy. Too easy because the town’s too small. Ain’t no traffic. No stoplights. Nothin’. To this day I still get white knuckled pulling off the interstate and into the city.

“So you drink now huh?”

“I wouldn’t say that – man. I like it though.”

“I got a bit upset when they told me you drank out in Vermilion. You should’ve done that shit with me, man.”

“It was in the moment – always in the moment. Do what you can while you can. Do what you do.

“Scares me though. It feels too good. I’m smiling for the first time in a long time. I’m shaking. I want to go for a walk. I want to be around people. I want to make small talk with a stranger…”

“Hey… drunk guy – had a can of booze and now he’s acting all easy.”

We both put on our native accents. Haggard things – slow speaking – like a developmentally challenged Wisconsinite.

“Hey You doe-n’t even know me hey.”

“Chh…”

Our dads were boozers in the old days. Friends. Yellow Eagle’s died young – shortly after having his second son. Pops said once while driving that ways his car tire popped off where the guy died. Said he got out and heard the guy calling his name. Said it scared the shit out of him. Grabbed the tire and put it on as quick as possible and got the hell out of there.

I don’t want to believe in ghosts. I want to be an atheist. I want to rest knowing that there ain’t no grand ending – just a long slumber. The longest slumber.

Yellow Eagle’s phone rings.

“Yeah. Yeah hold up.” He puts the phone against his shirt, “Hey. Jane wants a ride back into town – you down or what?”

Lift my hand to see my gas gauge.

“Yeah fuck it – tell him we’ll be there in ten.”

“Yeah we’ll be down.”

“What you think he went down there for?”

“Fuck if I know. He sound drunk or what?”

“Fuck. When isn’t he?”

“Eee… rugged guy. Can’t take him NO Where!”

“Jayte – can’t even take him to church!”

Jane lost all the weight over a summer by riding his bike everywhere. He wasn’t particularly bright but managed to win homecoming king. Which wasn’t really a victory in any way. He was a special ed kid – I don’t know if he was stupid, maybe he wasn’t. I think he was just lazy but you never can tell with those kinds.

Antisocial since day one. And the teachers just pass ’em right along so they’ll be out the door sooner. Jane was shacking up with a waitress – she too was a special ed type of person. She won homecoming queen. It was a joke that everyone was in on. Jane was an obvious fuck up and his old lady was… well they were special.

They were both addicts before their lives began. A true small town romance – with the possibility of true longevity. Find a partner – have a kid, both of you work a job until the day one of you dies. Live in an apartment or trailer. Indulge in an addiction or two or ten. Codependency.

“Can you believe those two already have their own place?”

“Fuckin’ tell me about it. Those fuckers just lapped us as far as this whole adult-thing goes. Good on ’em.”

A thick miasma followed Jane into the car. Vodka. Burned the nose. And he was louder than usual – and his sentences weren’t ending right. He was drunk as fuck.

“Hey you boys still lookin’ for some smoke or what?”

Yellow Eagle’s eyes lit up.

“Yeah. Hell yeah – why you know someone.”

“I know someone. My Wee-uh.”

(Wee-uh meaning old lady)

“Just drop me off at the apartment then. I’ll get you boys stoned.”

Last summer Jane drove a friend’s car through town. Broke a hundred mph. The guy had a death wish. But who doesn’t? Ain’t much to live for around here anyways. And so what if an innocent dies? Life ain’t made for everyone and that’s not too hard to accept. Jane started drinking too young and that wasn’t an unusual thing. Some folks carry that black cloud with them everywhere they go and you can feel it on them. We had a guy drink a traveler of vodka throughout morning classes. Stood up. Walked to the trash can and threw the jug away. Never came back – could be dead by now. Moving cycles of hurt – wounds that never heal – hardwired to the divine, to anything that’ll change reality in a concrete way.

Jane led the way through the parking lot. I stepped with light feet cause I don’t have too good of luck when it comes to ice. Fluorescent lights and stale air. Runny nose and chapped lips. Apartment seven. First floor. Door opens up. Living room set up like a bedroom – bed where the couch would be. Two bedroom place. Jane had an authoritative, yet clearly sloshed walk about him. Commanding yet subordinate. He showed us respect for no reason other than us being a bit older. He motions to the bathroom – “Smoke with my cousins.” He plops himself down on the mattress. “Don’t forget the towel either!”

His broad was a meek one. Shit I don’t even feel comfortable calling her his broad – she seemed more like a captive.

The house had an ugly aura about it – a palace of misfortune. Yellow Eagle looked back as we followed Anne into the bathroom – Jane was spraying deodorant into a brown paper bag. The door shut behind us and you could hear his loud inhales from the other side. Then a sad song started playing over the tv and he cranked it up – drunkenly singing along.

Anne placed a towel under the door and turned the fan on. She had an angular face and dark skin. Dark hair. “Hey. You still working at the old folks home, Sherman?” She always sounded like her nose was stuffed. Beady eyes behind glasses. “Yeah – yeah. Going on four years now. Everything’s the same. Always the same.” Her hands cradle the joint from the outside world. Sparks it up. She takes a hit and you can hear the paper burning. The rotation starts and Yellow Eagle takes a hit – “What’s up with homeboy… That guy always get this rowdy?

“Was he huffing?”

She adjusts her glasses and sniffs in. “Yeah. He’s a good for nothing.”

I started feeling ugly. I took a hit and another wave of warmth slowly crept over my body.

Jane pounded on the door – hard. “You better have a towel under that thing!”

He walks into an empty bedroom and grabs a stashed away jug of vodka. He takes a large guzzle of it with no chaser. Sees himself reflected in the window. Sees the neighbor’s house – big house. Two stories with a basement garage. Rock wall lining the outside. Water tower looming over this dirt hole town. He takes another swig and nearly pukes. Holds it in. “Fuckin’ bitch.”

He stumbles back into the living room, jug in hand. Pull after pull. He’s hunched over. Melody and sad lyrics hidden behind driving drums and a sweep-picked guitar solo. There’s a fire raging inside of him. A hatred for the world – an undifferentiated psychic blob of red hot energy surrounded by a “pull-into-the-void”. His hands reach back to the spray-on deodorant and he unleashes another ten second burst into a paper bag. In! Breathe in! Breathe in and hold!

The smokes burned down to a roach – there’s still some left but I don’t like staying around and I don’t want to stay around. Anne passes the stick to me but I motion towards Yellow Eagle. He takes a few more hits and I give him a quick glance. He takes the hint.

“Well shit. Thanks for the smoke out.” Anne puts it out. “Sure. Sure thing.” Yellow Eagle opens the door and leads us towards freedom.

Jane’s lips are noticeably wet – pushed outwards, red – the look of a drunk asshole and the apartment stinks of cheap perfume. “Hey!” We stop in our tracks as if we’re about to get scolded by an angry parent. We turn around, putting on a visage of strength. “Yeah what’s going on, man?” He drains the last of his vodka down into his gut – “She smoke you boys up or what?”

“Hell yeah man, thanks for hookin’ it up. We’re bouncin’.”

“Yeah man, see you at work.”

I look at Yellow Eagle and speak under my breath, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Yeah hold up.”

“Hey Anne.”

“Yes?” She spoke with voice of genuine concern.

“Say you or your old man wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette or two would you?”

She took out her purse and dug around for a moment. Jane looked up from a micro-nap. “Hey! Did she smoke you boys up or what?”

“Yeah man. We’re heading out now.”

“Wash-tay”

(It’s all good.)

Yellow Eagle answered back, “Wash-tay-yell-oh”

(Really good.)

We were out the door and I didn’t want to look back.

“You think we’re cowards?”

Yellow Eagle was busy lighting up his cigarette.

“What? Us? Why would I think that?” Out in the winter air and I’m pushing away the need to shiver. Yellow Eagle speaks again, “For Jane getting fucked up? Shit – I told you he was no good. Listen, man. There’s nothing we can do about that, shit man. Guy’s off and she’s with him.

“What do you want us to do? I sure as shit ain’t gonna save anyone and I sure as shit ain’t gonna make any changes myself.

“It is what it…”

The sound of metal and a loud thud.

Jane sticks his head out the bedroom window.

“Hey Sherman!”

I turn around. “Yeah man, what’s up.”

“I’m sorry.

“I mean it man, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m…”

To this day I don’t know what the fuck he was sorry about. Maybe it was some shit from when we were younger. Maybe it was some shit I didn’t know about yet. Or maybe it was an intimation. An intimation of all the nonsense that two cans of tilt would lead me towards over the next decade.

I yell back, “Don’t worry about it!”

“Close that fuckin’ window – you didn’t pay for propane!”, yelled Anne.

“Yeah WELL FUCK YOU TOO!”

Music bled out of the apartment and into the dead streets. Bickering. Bickering and then the window slams shut.

“Bitches, amirite or amirite?”

I let out a quick burst of laughter.

“Yeah I guess, man. I guess.”

“Here – Sherman Hemsley, maybe this will make you feel better.” He hands over a lit cigarette.

“And if that doesn’t work I got this too.”

He flashed another can of tilt at me.

“The fuck did you get that from?”

“Stole it from their kitchen.”

“Huh.”

“Listen Sherman – I guarantee you that taking a can of beer ain’t the worst thing happening in this town tonight.

“Plus homeboy drank a pint of vodka and huffed body spray in the ten minutes we were there – I HIGHLY doubt he’s going to be missing a can of beer. Plus they live like… a five minute walk from the corner store.”

“What if it was Anne’s?

“I know I’d need to be stoned and plastered to put up with that guy.”

“Fuck ’em.

“Noooo – I’m just joking.

“Them types don’t need to be fucking.

“That’d just make more of them. And there’s enough of them around already.”

“Sam. You make a valid point.”

“Shit yeah I do. Let’s take a walk and drink this thing. Town’s deader than shit anyway.”

“Slam it or what?”

“That’s the plan.”

We strolled to the back of the apartments. A gazebo. Iced over railings. Yellow Eagle reached over and unplugged the Christmas lights so we could drink without being out in the open.

“This the drunkest you’ve ever been or what?” He gives a small nod in my direction and passes the can to me. My shivering hands take it from him – still heavy. Still too sweet. Still too metallic. Breathe out. “You know what… It is.”

“I like it.

“I really like it.”

Sam takes a big as shit swig and I do the same. We drain the thing in two pulls a piece. It settles in my gut.

“Cheaper than smoke too.

“What we drank tonight? That shit’s cheaper than two joints. Hell for two joints we could’ve got another can and I’m already feeling this shit.

“Something to think about.”

“Yeah. What about you – you drink much?”

“Fuck no.

“Maybe a handful of times out of the year.”

Dead silence.

“We should start.”

“You think? Second time drinking and he’s already an alcoholic”

“Why not? Cheaper than smoke. Feel’s pretty good. Better than good.

“Don’t have to do it everyday. Maybe every payday. Make it a celebration.”

“My payday or yours?”

“Yes.”

Spiritus Contra Spiritum

January 3rd 2011. I gave away my life. It took nearly seven years to wake up. Most of all I forsook my only real “gift” from this life, and that was my art.

I grew up in a different time and in a different life. Cigarette smoke sticking to curtains and hair. Drunken laughter bellowing through a mostly empty house. Bloodshot eyes and deep insecurity. My old man was a drunk who could put down a jug of Everclear every night and my ma would get sloshed on the weekends with him.

And it was always loud.

My first memory was of the Hale Bop comet moving across the sky. Held in the arms of an elder. It was an intimation of consciousness but not the real deal. I often times wonder if my soul fell from the heavens. If I fell into this life after committing suicide with the Heaven’s Gate congregation.

It’s a nice thought.

I was pulled into this body one night many years ago. My parents’ generation were all drunk for a large chunk of my childhood. Death, cancer, incarceration, suicide – none of these unwelcomed visitors had come to camp out with us just yet.

My uncle had a soft voice and weak hands. I remember him as a frail man, I remember when his kidneys started to fail, when he started pissing blood. And most of all I remember one of his exes.

She sat in the kitchen at the table. The only light in the room was from a pair of lamps in the corner of the living room. She had a windbreaker on, a perm, and thick faded-tint glasses. I must’ve been four or so. That curious age where eye contact and smiles come naturally. And this curly haired wench gave me a gift. And that gift was a cigarette burn. I smiled at her and she smiled back. The next thing I know she’s putting her chung-lee (cig) out on my right hand.

I learned then and there to not trust strangers. To not make eye contact. To not smile.

And that’s how it went.

She gave me the gift of consciousness. She trapped me in this life and I could no longer return to that before-world, to that mytho-poetic realm known to the psychotic and the young.

We called it getting miserable and people always got miserable. It’s when the party dies down and the radio plays a sad song and someone goes silent. They start breathing through their nostrils, hard. And what’s always waiting on the other side is tears or unbridled anger. A god or goddess is channeled through the ego and a war cry makes the whole earth tremble.

My old man was insecure and guilty.

My ma never got over the death of my brother.

And they would fight.

Every goddamn weekend.

My younger years were spent watching over them. Trying to make them stop. Trying and trying and never living.

I was given another gift.

And that gift was the arts.

I began to scribble and I found something there that no one else seemed to see or understand. I saw with my own eyes life. I saw movement in the paper and ink. I saw scenes playing out in front of me. And I scribbled on everything I could get my hands on. Paper, the inside covers of books, the walls. Didn’t matter. I was hooked.

And if you were to look at my ink work or my painting these days you’d still see remnants of that old compulsion ringing through – all these years later. The static noise lining every canvas and sheet of paper. The pointillistic backdrop made from frantic ink strokes, from layered contrasting acrylic paint. My skrying device has only become stronger and more refined as the years passed. And that’s what I’d call what I do. Skrying. Skrying and sculpting. I build my pieces up from nothing. Layering them a half dozen times before I start to chisel out the main features.

And if the end ain’t what I think it needs to be, we can destroy it all and rebuild.

That’s a lesson some artists and musicians could do well to learn. We don’t need to hold what we create so close to our heart that it causes us to lash out at ourselves and others. I’ve seen people react this way. I’ve fought two people because of this dogmatic and blind allegiance to whatever nonsense passes through their hands and into the earth. I’ve gotten bottles thrown at me, I’ve gotten into shouting matches, I got a guitar broken over my head because of it.

We should strive to be more like the Buddhist monks who destroy their sand mandalas after completion.

When I was young the worlds blurred. I remember stabbing someone in the eye even though it never happened. I remember seeing three women in white sundresses and flowers on their heads push the sun down a hill at sunset even though that’s not how it works. I remember seeing living battles in the scribble marks.

I wish I could return to seeing the world this way. To peel back the layers of reality, to expose the archetypal nature of this being human. To see the gods and devils eternally fighting, seducing, dying, and being reborn.

I knew what booze did to people. I knew people who got alcohol poisoning before they were in high school. I’ve seen the way it fucked over my family members. I had to put up with drunks my entire life. Obnoxious, wrathful, and miserable.

And I still fell into it.

Slowly.

First it was smoke. Then synthetic smoke. And then a blizzard hit our town and smoke was tough to find for a good week or two. One day we said fuck it and ventured out into the cold wilderness in search of smoke. We found nothing. We found nothing and scored two cans of malt liquor.

We drove to the end of my neighborhood and made the plunge. We drank two cans of this shit in less than five minutes. And that was it. I was hooked.

I loved getting shit faced. I loved parking out in the country with my friends, with a case of this cheap, ugly shit. And most of all I loved that first piss after getting sufficiently sloshed. I loved walking back to the car after the booze kicked in. I loved the way my body felt, the way the booze plastered a smile across my face.

When I discovered booze I gave up my artwork.

I’d practice everyday during school and when school was over and the booze started flowing I had no more use for drawing.

I’d only paint for a month, if that, annually.

Painting was a therapeutic endeavor. Painting was something I did when I started getting too anxious. It was a bandage for a wound no one could heal.

And in those seven years I would paint at least a hundred pieces. Very few of which I’d consider good these days. Though more than a handful stand out now in memory. But that’s what you call the odds.

I gave away at least a hundred pieces. Dropped them off in city allies in stacks. Gave them to artist friends so they could drop them off or paint over them. Gave them to friends.

The boil would get lanced and then it’d go dormant.

I’d get stoned to the gills. I’d get as drunk as I possibly could and then I’d tell myself I’d paint or write.

That was the lie. I’d tell myself that getting shit faced would help me paint or write something “real” and that was always bullshit.

I’d get stoned or drunk and fuck off, be a glutton, start scheming to get more booze, to get more smoke. That was the pattern. That was the life. I wanted to escape from living, and for good reason. I had nothing to live for. I had no reason to wake up because my life had reached a stand still.

I remember seeing a pile of clothes on the floor. They were black and in the shape of a body. Whatever made up the face, made a terrified and sad face. The folds in the shirt or pants created a furrowed brow with black hollows for eyes and a mouth. And this shadow creature laid on my floor, possibly for weeks, staring at me the entire time. And in it’s hand was an unused sketchbook.

And in that instance a thought went through my head like an arrow shot out of a hundred pound compound bow.

A flash.

I thought of Lord of the Flies where the fellow starts hearing voice coming from a decapitated pig’s head. I thought about what it must be like to have been a primitive artist overcome by the urge to create. To sculpt mud into crude forms and faces. To create totem poles and sculptures. And I see in that instant – cult practices devoted to sacred art.

At that moment I begin to dialogue with this miserable being. In my mind’s eye I take this shadow brother into my arms and hold them tight. I tell it that I’m sorry for what I’ve done with our life.

This pile of clothes has an unused sketchpad in it’s hands and I “hear” the voice, hear the disappointment, the loss of potential. And in this one instant I tell this shadow figure that I’m sorry. That I’m sorry and that I will paint again. That I will draw again. That I will live again.

I was lying to myself.

There is no vessel, no ritual, no container in this era. There is no living myth strong enough to contain and adequately channel the energy flowing through a young man’s heart and psyche. That’s the belief, that’s the statement that I stand by, and until we can build a new container, a new myth, a new vessel, then we will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future.

In those seven years I took my journey across the river. I tasted the numinous with my own tongue. I had my dreams and visions.

I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of Jungians through lectures and interviews and this life is almost a calling. Something brought us to this tradition, and this something is alive and out of our control.

My path was no different.

Shortly after I started drinking I found Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. And in this book Campbell says that the psyche will compensate for a lack-of-rites-of-passage if the culture has nothing to offer in regards to initiation.

I believe this to be true.

I’ve seen many things. And it was the Jungian tradition that taught me to honor my dreams, to honor the arts, to honor the unconscious.

I believe we are building a foundation for a new tradition when we sneak off into the isolated forests of the psyche.

I dreamed once, that I was seated between two posts that were connected by a wire. A voice commanded me to pray to the center. And for one reason or another I failed. And when this happened I saw a demonic tree rise through a forest. I watched as my grandfather walked up to this tree with a staff. He slammed the staff into the bough of this tree and was overcome with a green light. His face then appeared on the other side of this tree.

The unconscious is a trickster and interpreting dreams by oneself is difficult due to it’s mercurial nature.

But I’ve come to an interpretation that I believe to be adequate enough. And that interpretation goes like this: The voice in the dream, the voice of the Self was telling me to pray to the center, to live in moderation.

I failed.

There were no male role models in my family. My grandmother’s house was home to many uncles and cousins and they were all drunks, they were all unemployed, they were all assholes and failures. My father’s side of the family wasn’t any better.

The only person I knew who was not like them was my grandfather. That is, my mother’s father.

He was a hard worker. He was disciplined. He knew how to work on vehicles. He could be seen keeping the yard in order, crushing and recycling cans, cleaning fish and deer. I have no memories of him being a drunk because he suffered a stroke, either in my infancy or before I was born. And this caused him to shake off the booze.

I’ve heard of survivors of strokes reporting blissful states. Maybe my grandfather experienced something because of that. There were whispers around the household of it from my cousins for a long time. I remember him talking about a mass exodus heading towards the east or some such.

I also remember him reading scripture every evening.

These were all aspects of my own personality that were impaired for one reason. I was not useful, I was not disciplined, I had no respect for spirituality, and I did not like to read.

I wonder if I gave life to these discarded aspects of my personality – I wonder if I did so, maybe it’d be possible to undue some of the harm inherent in our family tree.

In another dream I see myself dressed in traditional clothing. I walk around a square stone atop a pillar. Each section has a carved-in circle with a dot in the middle. I tap the stone with a staff in my left hand.

Up ahead is an old man and he’s praying. He goes into a trance and from out of his mouth and eyes comes a beam of energy. The energy hits the stone and shoots up through the top. When this happens I fall to the ground.

I open my eyes and find that I am on the moon. Floating silently above the earth. I stare at our home, floating quietly, glowing bright blue and green.

I see that there is life on the moon. I see animals waking from a long slumber. Shaking off the dew of a long night. I feel moist grass between my toes and know that I am in the presence of something numinous. I look at the earth and take in as much I possibly can before I’m sucked back into my body.

I look up and see the old man staring across the stone. And on the other side is a younger version of himself. And behind that is an army of ghosts, of people he had harmed in his younger years.

I feel that a lot of what I’m doing now, on this side of alcoholism is similar to the praying old man. And I’m trying to make peace with the ghosts that haunt my psyche all these years later.

I had my dreams and visions over the course of some seven years.

Towards the end of my alcoholism I got a pair of dreams.

In one I’m trying to catch up to this older native woman. But she’s always just out of reach. And in an instant we’re facing each other inside of a house. She hands me a fetus, I understand it to be a cherry seed. She tells me to plant it and in five days it will bloom.

And sure enough, five days from the dream another dream came.

In the dream I’m pushing a dead lamb in a wheelbarrow. I pass a crowd of elders bathed in a white light, in white clothes. I recognize them as Jungian analysts. The thinkers who helped me build a personal philosophy that could withstand my youthful nihilism. And from them came the Man himself.

C.G. Jung walked up to me and told me to “say it’s name”.

And when I did the lamb woke up.

He told me to say it’s name again.

The lamb stood up and shook off the rigor mortis.

“Say it’s name.”

The lamb could now walk and run.

“Say it’s name.”

The lamb grew wings, ran, and began to fly.

I was worried it’d run away from me.

“Say it’s name.”

It came back to me.

I would go through a dark period. I would drink harder than I ever did. I would drink a few forties before work, I would drink at work, and every day after work I’d drink a traveler of vodka, minimum. I did this for months and got a taste of withdrawals. And after that brief run in I knew I had to slow down. So I switched to beer, but even then I was still drinking every day, all day.

Finally, towards the end I started painting again.

And I sold the first one. And in that same week I sold another. And another. And another. And it spiraled out.

I was a housekeeper at a motel. Five bucks a room. One painting sold would be the same as cleaning damn near fifty rooms.

And that was the beginning of the end.

Four months after painting I got in a car wreck. I blacked out and came to with a broken collarbone, a totaled car, and a cut up leg.

I drank for the last time two days after the wreck and that was that.

The end of a chapter – and the beginning of my life as an artist.

My vehicle sat outside my house on full display. A makeshift grave stone dedicated to my former life. I had suffered through a ritual death and could now be reborn.

And birth is painful.

It’s painful but the arts gave me a way to channel the dark bullshit that had accumulated in my psyche. Painting worked as a form of exorcism that I had to tend to every day. Even with my right arm out of the game. I picked up painting with my left and got good at it.

I had to paint. I had to paint every day and that was that.

There was a house of spirits in my head from that point onward.

There was a lifetime of regret ruminating up there and these ghosts had no intention of leaving peacefully.

And why should they? I earned them with my recklessness, with my selfishness. I earned their mocking voices. I earned their spiteful glances. I earned the looping memories. I earned every last accusation, every last barbed tongue, every last threat and arrow.

I earned them.

I had my issues and my issues had to be faced sober.

I carried and continue to carry that cross with a sense of bravado now.

I am sober. After six and a half years I am sober. I walked the same route that my brothers, uncles, and father walked. I walked the same path that has killed friends, that has killed family, that has traumatized entire generations. I walked the same path and I got fucked over because of it. And I know that if my people are meant to move forward, are meant to improve our lot in life, then they will have to suffer a similar fate.

They too will have to live with ghosts that scream and shout, they will have to live with terror, with anxiety, with fear, with simulations of hell, they too will be haunted in their sleep, and every day will feel like the last day until the day they die.

To move forward we will have to accept this burden, to carry our cross.

Spirtius contra spiritum.

Spirit fighting spirit.

Creativity, the arts, spirit – in opposition of spirit (liquor).

Shortly before Jung died Bill Wilson, the co-founder of alcoholics anonymous wrote the old man. Telling Jung that Jung was invaluable to the program. It was Jung that stressed the importance of a spiritual experience in the path towards sobriety. A message that got lost through the years.

Bill Wilson later tried to use his foundation as a safe space to use LSD for it’s spiritual qualities in order to help the alcoholics view life in a more holistic way. Our puritan minded brothers and sisters did not like the idea.

How foolish they were.

My sobriety rests entirely on spiritual experiences found through dreams, through a mushroom, through the arts, through the unconscious.

My sobriety rests entirely on the work of the Jungians.

It was their reverence for the sacred and the psyche that helped me give up my life as an atheist, that helped me honor the psyche for what it was.

My old man was an artist and that’s something not many people know.

He was an above average artist.

I wonder if the arts could have saved him the way it saved me.

I wonder if the Jungians could have saved him the way they saved me.

I wonder if he could have dreamed, if he could have eaten a mushroom.

We will never know.

My family is marked by addiction. Is marked by our growing up in an era where the booze flowed. We saw and were apart of things we shouldn’t have been apart of.

My tribe has an 88 percent unemployment rate. Most of my relatives turned into alcoholics. Most of my friends and their friends have turned to meth.

There are very few fathers, very few elders, very few mentors available to raise the next generation.

I believe trauma is our ultimate enemy. Trauma and addiction. Trauma begets addiction. Addiction begets trauma.

All other culprits are merely phantoms.

We have only our selves to blame now.

We have no initiatory rites. We have no cosmology. We have no ritual elders.

In this sense we are without a culture and moving forward will not be possible until these aspects are reborn.

If they are reborn in traditional indigenous garb then that’s the way it is.

If they are reborn in a different tradition, if they are reborn in the Jungian tradition…

I will not prioritize my race over something that works.

Noted Jungian analyst Monika Wikman said in an interview that Jung thought Americans had a curious fate, that we had the western mind and the spirit of the indigenous.

I have not found the source of this quote but, since Wikman said it I’ll believe it for the time being.

I believe we have the prima materia out here on the reservation. I believe we have the makings of the philosopher’s stone. The Jungians believe that the Jewish people were able to come into contact with the god-image because they were so thoroughly defeated by the surrounding cultures, because they were cast out of their sacred lands.

The modern native american is in a similar position.

I can not be the only one to have walked this path, to have come to a similar conclusion.

They say that the artists intuit coming changes in the collective conscious.

I hope that this rediscovery of the immense importance of the unconscious, of visions, of dreams, of the arts – I hope this journey is the beginning of a new epoch.

That we can pick up the scattered shards of Christianity, of paganism, of folk lore, of psychoses, of eastern and western psychology, and we are able to make a coherent worldview that can insulate us from self destruction, and hopefully this path can open up a pathway for a rebirth into life, in this life, without the need to self destruct literally, without having to commit suicide but instead, commit “ego-cide”.

Work

I’ve been doing this gig for years. Literally, years. This shit’s second nature to me now. I’m a well honed dish washing machine.

Skills unmatched by anyone this side of the mighty Mississippi. Three trays of coffee cups. One mixed matched. The other two plain white. The mixed ones have names on ‘em. Blue ones. Big mugs. Small mugs. I have ‘em in me, second god-damned-nature. Walk around the tables. Don’t even have to look. The cups all adorning my fingers like a pimp’s rings. Each one falling where they need to. It’s a dance at this point. A wondrous dance and I’ve got all the steps memorized. Small circular tables stretched out in the dining hall. Walk around like flowing water – flowing energy. Cups fall into place. Sugar falls into place. Pepper, salt, creamer. All falling into place with the slightest flick of the wrist. The napkins floating in the air for a brief moment before fluttering quietly to the earth.

The deed is done and the dining room is looking damn good if I do say so myself. Now – if God can keep the wandering old folk from messing up the tables while we tend to our other business – it’ll be a great day.

The dishwashing machine is my baby. It is my life blood. It’s what makes this whole living business worth it. It sanitizes the plates and burns hot. It ain’t the fastest on the block and I don’t need it to be. No, no no. Keep being you and I’ll keep being me. I want to name it. But names have never been my strong suit. Instead I’ll hum songs to myself and replay old memories while I wipe it down.

Open it up slightly so all the gunk slides up and dislodges. A warm rag with dish soap. Wipe the whole thing down and get the other shit. The metal cleaner. Spray it down – but don’t get too carried away. It’s sweet smelling and strong. It’ll have you coughing if you use too much.

Pull out the stopper and drain the water. Pull out the screen under the stopper and pull out all the salt, sugar, and pepper packets that snuck through. Spray the fibers hanging off. Put the screen back in place. Give a once over. Job well done. Keep on keeping on, dish washing machine, I need you more than you know.

Hold a black button down to refill it with water.

Take the trash. Refill the milk. Color the nails in on my left hand side with a permanent marker because I got nothing better to do. Play with the black keys on the piano in the chapel area. Listen to the bard speak through my headphones. He’s talking about how drugs shape their cultures. India was a hashish culture. The South Americans had psychedelics. And the Americans and Europeans had booze. America – we got red meat, sugar, and tobacco too. Not much psychedelics though. Says people got visions through intense physical pain. Says a lot of things in that nasally voice.

I listen to folk speak now. I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. Listen to stories. Whacked out thinkers from the seventies. Strange talk about drug states, kundalini yoga and the implications of living in a holographic universe. I ain’t much of a reader and I think I got my writing voice from that time of my life. Absorbing stories, cadence, rhythm…

Zero hours coming.

D Day is coming.

War is coming.

I know this because a lady in scrubs just walked in and asked if we’re ready. I say give me ten minutes. I ain’t finished with the milk yet. Eight by eight. Or seven by seven. Who the hell knows. There’s a lot of cups and you gotta get ‘em out before the dementia patients show up and drink other folk’s drinks. Pitcher after pitcher. Use two of ‘em. Prop one of the milk handles open so it fills up while the other one’s poured out.

I got this down to a science.

There’s loud music blaring in my headphones and I’m in the zone. Push the cart out. I’m like water. Two cups of milk in each hand. Dancing the dance of life. Table after table. Used to take me forever – but now? Now it ain’t shit. I am Bad Thigh – conqueror of the dining hall. My name hangs high above all others. Bad Thigh deliverer of water and milk, setter of tables, destroyer of worlds!

My half brother shows up. Wearing scrubs. “Yo – man. I forgot to sign up, can you set me a plate?”

“No problem man, how many workers you got this evening?”

“I got west side, by myself. We got two on east. But that’s it. Short handed. Might take awhile to get ‘em out.”

“Ite.”

“Hook me up with a few extra hamburgers.”

“I got you, dog. I got you.”

Darrell lifts the lid off the food. Steam comes up. Has a pitcher of milk – blending up food for the folk with no teeth. I get the desserts out of the fridge and start setting ‘em out. Fruit cups for the diabetics and cookies for the other folk. My kind of set up, you know. Easy clean up. All of it’s an easy clean up.

The blended’s are set out.

He puts a cd into the stereo. Presses play. Get hype. Get hype as fuck.

Look over at Darrell. “Let’s fuck shit UP!”

“HELL YEAH, WE GOT THIS!”

We let out our war cries. Yelling at the heavens. Charging at an oncoming army. Natives against invading Vikings. Adorned in regalia. Shields in hand. Clubs made from the bones of our enemies.

He spontaneously grows a beard while a cigar pops out of my mouth. He’s barking orders like mad Ahab while huge crashing waves rain down on our boat. Ship jargon I’m too dense to understand flies out of his mouth with the voice of a sixty year old daily smoker. I’m a deckhand and we’re under attack – pirates, the Japanese circa WWII, a pissed off monstrous squid – all coming down on us. The water’s a raging torrent. Rogue waves threatening to swallow us whole.

I taste blood and bourbon. The grounds covered in water and I have an oar in my hand. .I suck some water down my gullet while placing the finished plates on the trays above the steam table. Another wave fifty feet high – alls gone dark green. Fruit cups and cookies placed gently a top – throwing resident’s name cards like freshly caught tuna. Weighted by our struggle. They hit the ground hard, with a heavy THWACK!

Hamburgers, green beans, baked potatoes, butter, fruit cups and cookies. We get the first twelve done. No C.N.A’s handing out the food. The finished plates are losing warmth. “Yo, I’m gonna go hand some of these out real quick.” Darrell gives me a nod as the ocean waters disappear, our ship reverts to a lone island in the middle of the kitchen. Look out the front door. They’re coming down, slowly.

Go back to the steam table and read the cards – go back to the door – match names and faces. Start haulin’ ‘em out. The old guy with the stutter is pouring some of his milk into his coffee. Old lady Angela’s smiling at her neighbor – welcoming her with open arms. The place is packed and Ant’s the only worker I can see.

Wish I had eight arms, man. Eight arms and I was seven feet tall. Circular body – like an amusement park ride. Each arm extending out into the farthest reaches of the dining hall, carefully laying the old folk’s food down in front of ‘em.

“Thanks Mister-Weird-Octopus-Armed-Man”

“No problem” – I respond with a big ol’ smile on my face, all eight arms on my hips “Anything for you ol’ folks, anything for you…”

Anton’s hauling ass around the hall, pouring coffee for the old folk. A nurse aide saunters over and puts on a hair net. Back up has arrived. Go back to the kitchen and man my station. Another worker shows up. Older woman. Rough skin like leather.

Big breath – and exhale. Two more hours and we’re done, two more hours and we’re done, two more hours and…

Plates go up and trays go out. We’re in business. Close my eyes and wish I followed my guidance counselor’s advice. Guy called me into his office once. Asked me what I wanted to do with my life, “Well. I figured I’d work at the old folks home, have kids with a woman I don’t really love until I get cancer of some form or die in car wreck.”

There’s a line around his mouth, shows disgust – like he smelled something stink. He’s leaned slightly forward, both eyes on me.

“You know it doesn’t have to be that way?

“You work the kitchen right? My sister’s a dietician. You could be IN CHARGE of that place, go to school. Work towards something, be someone.”

“But…

“I kinda like my plan more

“So…”

He didn’t put up much of a fight, you know. Said alright then excused me. Didn’t talk to me again for the next three years.

I fucked up.

Guy died of a heart attack not long ago.

Darrell drops the pots into the dishwashing area with a loud clang. The day dream’s over. I’m sweating.

It’s go time. My time of the day – these dishes ain’t shit. I am the master of all creation – an exemplary model of human achievement. The sole arbiter of cosmic justice in the microcosm. A dishwasher who’s hands are impervious to pain. Throw the hottest water you can find at me and I’ll burn my skin off without feeling a thing.

Steam table pans, blender pitchers – squeeze tight on the water nozzle, the gunk washes out under the blades. Utensils, big and small. Tongs, scoops, knives, forks, spatulas, small metal containers for boiling milk – run burning hot water in those bastards because the milk scorches around the edges. Put ‘em all on a flat rack stacked on another rack – they’ll fly off and around if you don’t do that.

One by one – the pile grows smaller and smaller. I’m goin’ solo so I gotta stop after six loads. Take off yer gloves and wash your hands, don’t cross contaminate. Wipe my face off on my apron.

Dishes go away. Pots and pans go away. I love this job because I make order out of chaos. I am an artist of sorts. Crafting beauty from shit. Load after load after load.

The worst part is almost over. All I gotta do is sweep, mop, and wait for the old folk to clear out.

Then it’s the final stretch.

The residents are feeding themselves.

Ant’s taking a quick break – making himself a sandwich by the steam table.

“How’s it goin’, man.”

“Can’t wait to switch back to night shift. They got me doing everything out here. Prefer the other shit.

“All you gotta do is put ‘em to sleep and do your charts.

“What about you, man?”

“Not much man, chillin, killin, the usual.”

“No doubt, no doubt.

“You gonna be up to after ten, wanna do some drinkin’?”

“Nah, I got morning shift.

“We’ll hang out sooner or later.”

“Word.

“By the way…

“Your shit’s flooding.”

“What?”

He points behind me with his chin.

“Aww… Goddamn it.”

Water from the janitor closet sink’s spreading our way.

Throw a handful of rags on the fucker, soak that shit up. “This ain’t even my damn job.” Throw a handful of aprons on it. Darrell’s problem.

Don’t know where the fuck he went or why he left the thing unattended.

Take my own plate to the back hallway. Get my grub on. Loves me some old folk home hamburgers. Make quick work of the shit because I want to take a walk while they eat.

Back door opens.

Cigarette smoke wafts in.

“Your mop water overflowed.”

“Shit.

“Forgot about that.”

Dude runs into the kitchen.

My boots are heavy and stink. My apron’s wet. My shirt’s wet. The sun set during the rush. I head out south. My workplace is on the edge of town – out of the way. Across both front and back of the place are fields. Unpaved roads. Put a dip of chew in and go for a walk. I ain’t never been to the ocean but it’s here right now. I can see the earth’s shadow on the atmosphere – out there in the horizon. Burning purple and red.

I can hear the birds. They fly high – dropping shit on some unlucky assholes. There’s broken bottles on the beach because my imagination don’t like things to be too good. Sets a bad standard, can’t be preoccupied by greener pastures or you’ll find yourself with a shotgun barrel in your mouth. No – lets keep it reasonable. By the ocean and I’m wearing flip flops. There’s sand between my toes and my toes stink because I can’t afford to live on the coast, nor can I afford to properly groom myself. No – I’m a vagabond. Wasted all of my cash just to get here. I’m going to gamble, find me a nice, but reasonably priced hotel and sing my death song. Sing my death song and bet it all on black. I apologize to you, poor housekeeper that finds my corpse, I put a good tip on the counter for you. I know how it is working for nothing.

The ocean’s not as beautiful as I thought it’d be and there’s no guardian angels comin’ down to save me. No friendly escorts offering me a discount. No new friends offering some life saving advice at the last moment, while I prepare my noose on the pier. No, no, not at all. So I shape shift into a seagull and fly up, higher than the stars.

Fall with my wings back, into the water. Into the mouth of a hungry big game fish. I’ll make you fat so some white fisherman can look nice in his portrait. Burn away my bones in your stomach. Shit me out into the sea. Let what’s left of me sink to the darkest depths where I wait for reincarnation but it don’t come, no, not ever. An eon under water until it all boils away.

Open that heavy metal door and get back to work. Darrell’s chartin’ how much food the old folk ate. He’s done with the bigger section of the hall. I walk in and gather all the plates onto the center table. Saves time for when he scrapes ‘em. Put a new hair net on and new gloves. Throw two large bins onto my cart and get started. Three large cups per hand. Dump ‘em in the bin. Go to every table and gather just those cups. Do the same for the coffee mugs. Same for the silverware. Slow business but the day’s almost over. My hands are sticky and wet from the milk.

Ant’s on his break. Playin’ a song on the chapel piano. A ballad. A funeral dirge. The doors are all closed and the lights go out.

Table by table – it all gets cleaned again. Put the bins in the dishwashing window. Put the water cups through while Darrell scrapes the plates. Three loads. Start on the coffee cups. Peek my head out every five minutes or so – waiting to pick the rest of ‘em up.

When I quit I will break every mug, plate, and saucer in this bitch.

Leave it for the next asshole.

Nah. I could never do that. These people are family.

The nasally-voiced bard’s talking through my headphones. Saying something about inter-dimensional elves. Said it ain’t nothing like getting stoned. Says you stay sober minded through the whole ordeal. It’s like a 747 crashing into your house. Just as real as the here and now. Says they make mind-boggling ornaments with their voices. Says that if one of these structures were to be created here the world would change forever. Says the elves are excited to see you, most times.

“We’ve waited so long for you to come back, we’ve been waiting for you.”

He says some shamans would allow these beings to hop into their chest. Said the more they could hold in themselves the stronger their medicine was. He’s dazzling the crowd with his stories. What is this strange substance and why haven’t any of us ever heard about it? “Where do we get access to this stuff” asks a curious audience member. The bard says that those sitting around you now are your best bet.

He says there’s a legal entheogen available and you can pick it up at the gardening section of any super store. Morning Glory. Says to plant them and wait for the seeds to sprout because the companies coat them in a poison of sorts to keep people from eatin’ them. Says there’s another seed that produces the same compound – Hawaiian Baby Wood Rose.

“Wood Rose, huh.”

I use the bin for the coffee cups and saucers to soak the plates, even if the food ain’t caked on too bad. Because there’s nothing worse than sending your dishes through then finding bits of food still on ‘em. I’m too prideful of my work to wipe ‘em off and pretend they were never on there, this is a labor of love, and things you love should be taken care of properly.

After awhile the use of gloves makes no difference, I generally take ‘em off after I get the milk and water cups through. Because those will make your hands sticky… that and there’s more old people germs on ‘em, which is probably factually incorrect. Doesn’t matter. That’s what hot water and soap is for.

Three loads finished on the receiving end – one in the machine, two to three ready to go so you’re pacing ain’t fucked up any. The drink cups are the easiest to deal with – just put the rack on the cup stack. Coffee cups ain’t too bad either. They’re hot as all hell from the machine but that ain’t nothing a handful of cold water can’t remedy. Next up – the silverware. They’re a bit of a pain in the ass because you have to sort ‘em out but once you find your groove it’s smooth sailing.

Plates go next – they’re not too much of a fuss. After that it’s the coffee pots and coffee filter. They ain’t much of a hassle. Pull off the tops and pour ‘em out. Make sure to use a flat rack as a filter over the sink to catch the tea bags.

Set ‘em up. That’s two loads ready to go so you can put more dishes away.

And that’s generally the routine.

Sometimes a stray room tray will show up towards the end. So you deal with it. You deal with it and set all of the tables up for the morning shift – which the cooks generally help out with after they mop the floors. All in all a good system. A good system because it’s mostly a solitary gig but you still get that people time. The minds not meant to be alone – the body’s not meant to go to waste, to gather bed sores and extra weight. If you can’t be a dietician, if you can’t be an electrician, if you can’t be a doctor – work in a kitchen. Be a dishwasher or a line cook – but be the best damn dishwasher or line cook you can be.

Use a squeegee to catch all the water and food. Push it into the dishwasher. Squirt dish soap on the metal walls and spray it down with water. Lean in and lather that shit up. Spray it all off and into the sinks. Squeegee that shit again – on both sides of the machine. Wipe it all off with a dry rag.

Almost done.

You didn’t sweep earlier, or mop. Get that done real quick – well, as quick as you can. That’s about ten to fifteen more minutes, which ain’t too bad, you ain’t got nothing else planned. Get everything. Everything, under the steam table, under the ovens, under the counters, in the back storage room, the janitors closet, under the dish washing area. Scoop it up. Take the trash one last time and mop.

That’s it.

That’s the cycle and your feet are hurting. Your legs are burning and your sweating through your hairnet. Clock out. The old folk are already tired and heading off to the lounge area for some tv time. Place smells off. A mixture of stink and sanitizer. The charge nurse stares down at a computer through her glasses, behind a large, large desk. You see Anton pushing a cart to each room – handing out juice and sandwiches.

Walk back to the dining hall. Behind two big double doors. Through the kitchen. Through the back hallway. Type in the pass code. Last door. To the left are a bunch of old chairs that have been repurposed for the smoking area. I like ‘em. Big ol’ chairs with tall back boards. Comfortable sons a bitches. Sit down and sink into ‘em. Rest my tired feet. Pack my can of chew with my right hand and put a dip in. Tired. Tired. Tired.

Day’s not over yet.

My boots are heavy and stink. Covered in water but they ain’t soaked. The full moon’s rising in the east. A low hanging leviathan harboring an ancient goddess known since the dawn of man. Her light giving rise to healing dew. The injured lay under her warmth as damaged sinews heal, as cancer dissipates, as sorrow is lifted from the heart.

Dogs bark in succession. Once they start they ain’t stoppin’ until you get to where you’re going. Slow town. Sleepy town. A dreamy town forgotten by the world of conscious man. A dead end town not traveled since the settling of North America. A miserable, wretched place. A death sentence. A home too comfortable to leave. A quarter mile walk on unpaved roads.

The gentle creatures of the day light world have all retreated into their huts for the night. Eyes transfixed on illuminated screens. We roam the streets under the guidance of divine Sophia. Mosquitos too drowsy to bother and the devils have taken an extended sabbatical ever since that dastardly false prophet of a pope took a self inflected slug to the skull.

The road crackles and groans. The cats are all away chasing zombie rats and killing the last remaining phoenix. It injured it’s wings in a fight with a local poacher. It lays hidden in front of us as a pheasant with an odd colored feather pattern. Or what we call, affectionately, a fuckin’ show off piece of shit.

We’re done with our contractually obligated duties at the old folk home and are now journeying westwards. Set out on another quest – for our hearts yearn for companionship and smoke. Mostly smoke. We’re going to visit my cousin and smoke some smoke. The good shit. None of that bastardized, hybridized, fancy-schmancy nonsense you’re used to with your silly “industry standards.” No, no no. We’re after that good shit. That brick shit. The kind that’s deceptively rigid and compressed. The kind that expands when you break it apart like Jesus feeding an entire congregation with a loaf of bread and a few fish.

That. Good. Good.

A small community adjacent to town. Separated by a highway. This is the land of vampires and the innocent. Or rather – this is state versus tribal land and them there cops can’t cross that line. This depressingly dull, trashy cul-de-sac is a church and they ain’t comin’ near it. So the young braves saddle up for war – preparing for Valhalla, for a ritual suicide. Huff some gas and give your body strength for you will execute your duties as a warrior. You will walk into that there gas station, grab as much beer as you can and book it across the highway.

You won’t ever be able to go back but you got yourself and a friend or two a decent enough of a buzz. They will think of you fondly while their assholes leak, burning, watery hangover shits. And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what real friendships are built on. Be intrepid. Be daring. Be a hero in your own way. Be American. Take charge of your life, don’t wallow in pity – don’t get down because you can’t scratch that addictive itch, we founded this land on taking what’s ours so take what’s yours and run across that highway with a case of beer.

I’m about to cross over into my cousin’s neighborhood when a native with a beer belly comes bolting out of the gas station. Red faced, greasy, still rockin’ a mullet even though it ain’t the 90‘s anymore. He’s huffin’ and puffin’. Blood pressure wildly out of control. “Jesus, Joseph, Aunt Irene – if you’re lookin’ down on me… Lord… woo… can’t… my… sides.. are burning…”

He’s makin’ the journey now and godspeed.

I stop – I’m some two hundred yards away but I can see the initiative. I cheer him on from the sidelines. “You can do it! Believe in your self!” My voice echoes across the eons – directly into his heart, he’s rejuvenated by the support. He’s strengthened by it. Maybe too strengthened. Oh no, he got cocky. He look’s back at the pissed off store clerk and tries to flip him off while still holding two cases of beer.

Oooooofffff.

Dale White Horn face plants into the road. A passing semi’s blaring it’s horn loud as shit. One case slides along the pavement and comes to an early end under the semi’s tires. Dale’s face is burning, both from road rash and from embarrassment.

The second case, also did not survive. The handle ripped. He was there, face down, being sprayed by shaken and punctured beer cans. He became immortal for a brief moment, in that no one would ever forget it, and because he looked like a work of art, he became a statue, a wondrous marble sculpture the likes of which man has never been able to recreate ever since.

“Echun.”

(pronounced eee-chun)

Now, a little cultural lesson for you readin’ this, if you ain’t in the know. Echun is a beautiful word from my people, I haven’t stumbled across any equal word in English. That’s not to say I’m some first nations speaker, far from it. This phrase is a relic from that past and every native knows what it means, knows when to say it, knows the embarrassment from having it said to or about you. It means, “That’s what you get.” It can be said with any inflection. If someone’s cocky and they fuck up – echun. If you’ve been an asshole your whole life and someone finally puts you in your place? Echun. Hubris. That’s what it is, a taunting voice that points out hubris. K? k. Story moves on!

He grabs what he can from the road and places them in his shirt like a kangaroo’s pouch. Only makes off with eight cans or so.

You did your best and that’s all we can ask. Now drink your score in peace – in the timber. You did your best and I hope it was worth it. Let your name be etched into the hall of fame – not sure which hall of fame, but we’ll find one for you.

A red nosed pit bull chained to a clothesline. It’s digging up something. It sees me approaching from the east and barks twice. “Lou-if-ous. Lou dog.” It recognizes it’s name and starts wagging it’s tail. I pet it on the head, scratch it, “Where’s your owner at? Where’s your owner?”