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Running the Dog through a Flaming Gorge on the way to Manhattan

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The barista crossed me, and now she has to pay. I've outlined a revenge plot on the serviette here. I might manipulate her manager into firing her, but she's an affable hipster chick and he's a frumpy, tucked-in beta male, almost certainly in love with her. Any complaint I make might simply provide him with the leverage to make another sideways advance. I'd rather just pull the fire alarm and stick my foot out. Or I could whip this shaker of powdered sugar at her face. Disproportionate response, all she did was ask me how my day was going "so far." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Her words didn't cast even a shadow of sincerity. Answering with specifics and qualifying descriptors would be seen as an over-share, despite being a literal response. She wanted a stock answer to her stock question, something I don't keep on file. "Why don't you just steam my latte, Punky Brewster, and we'll keep the questions on ice?" I thought I was being honest and direct, but the correspondence deteriorated from there. I didn't come here to start a cold war with an airhead, I came to write. So I'll get into it, and tell you about how my life came to ferocious halt. How I crashed into a wall and came out the other side with a bloody smile.

I left Seattle two years ago with a knife in my teeth, and through the wind and rain, moved to New York. It was November. I stuffed the everything-left into my Chevy Malibu at 4:00 am and made for my cousin's house in Inkom, Idaho: eta dusk. Seattle was a gift and a dream, five years of figuring it out and becoming the spit and grit Everyman warrior, but the money dried up and my ideas spoiled in the sun. In a town where no one is friendly but everyone is nice, I got sick of the bullshit. The fog of war masked friend from foe, but someone was twisting a blade in my guts and my time to leave had ticked over.

The LCD sang 5:57 PM as I dropped out of warp and pulled into Jon's driveway. The last time I saw him we were subhuman pre-adolescents, breaking into grandpa's gun rack and snaking cookies from the jar. Fifteen years of circling the sun, with the plates shifting beneath our feet, we both metamorphosed entirely: Jon shot up seven feet in height and I lost all meaningful hair from my scalp. But even over the chasm of time, we lost no synergy, picking up not quite where we left off, but rather where we should have. My knock on the door was returned with a hug and a beer. In a marathon session, we railed through a thirty rack of Coors, built a towering bonfire, and caught up on a baker's decade of lost time. Thin blood and a nostalgia high led to questionable decision making. "Jamie... I've got an idea. Let's grab some beers, jump in the truck and go run the dog." I don't let anyone call me Jamie, and I don't pair driving with alcohol, but this was Idaho and this was family, so - fuck it. "My dog has been eating that Rachel Ray dog food, he's going to shit everywhere, you'll see," a vision that was realized with vigor.

The rules of the house were simple, Jon explained. Help myself to anything in the fridge, but don't walk outside without a piece. It's a rough neighborhood, which is an Idaho way of saying that mountain lions were getting a little too comfortable around the human population. We spent the week boozing heavy, off-roading in the hills, and taking target practice at piles of garbage. Leaving was an act of self preservation as much as timing. My route was scribbled across the map: I chose Colorado over the Dakotas, Chicago over the Heartland. I rumbled through the flaming gorge, a staggering scar of earth where a timeline of layered rock stabs out at the sky, orange and red and terrible.

In Chicago, I stayed with Danniel, a fellow Seattle transplant. Typical of a northwesterner, he ate Ramen and drank french press coffee. I bankrolled our beer supply, and he picked up the grass on his bicycle. The rest is a fantastic blur, most of the four days (I guess?) I spent there were scrambled by blackout drinking and fruitless attempts at sleep. The highlights stood out, sharing a joint on the balcony of a sky scraper, and drowning myself in bucketed beers at a fantastic fucking blues club, a place where caution snapped in the wind and blew out through a drafty entryway.

To leg out the journey I made an ill-advised, do or die 13 hour sprint from Chicago to Queens. Strained from exhaustion, alcohol seeping from every pore, I made the last effort against even my better judgement. Night fell on me in Pennsylvania, and the drive changed from a long quiet cruise to a death-defying scramble not to kill deer. I don't particularly cherish the wonder of wildlife, but a pair of antlers can really rip the shit out of your radiator grill. Near midnight, the sky gushing rain, the George Washington bridge yawned into view and swallowed me into Astoria, my new home. It's a funny little burb, 20 minutes out of Manhattan on the N-train. The population is mostly Greeks and dislocated hipsters. I don't know who I trust less: a Greek who chooses New York winter over the white sand beaches of Mykonos, or a between-jobs graphic designer bartending on the side, scamming the unemployment system.

My journey behind me, exhaustion claimed a photo finish to hunger. On wobbly feet I hobbled to the Neptune diner, a magnificent glimmering beast of a restaurant by the elevated train. The facade is glimmering chrome, bannered with an ancient sign, boasting "Best Diner in New York: 1992." Only Pabst's Blue Ribbon victory could rival this proclamation for age and irrelevance. I sat down, shoveled home a pile of eggs and toast, handed my Alaska Airlines Visa to the server, and exhaled. I was home. A minute later, the waiter returned. "I'm sorry sir... do you have another card? This one was declined."

That was the hand I was dealt two years ago: low, unpaired, and off suit. It was time to roll up my sleeves, dig my heels into the soil, and start bluffing like a madman.


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