After a surf with Ketut at Echo Beach this morning, I decided to hope on my scooter and head into the mountains of Ubud in search of a cockfight – I’d heard that’s where the bouts go down.
It was an hour and a half ride through crowded villages and rice patties into the mountains, but I was happy to leave Canggu. I was starting to get comfortable there, and knew that I didn’t get out then, I may never leave.
The ride was intense – there are no rules of the road, and it’s customary to pass people on the right side, veering in the lane opposite filled with oncoming traffic. Do as the locals do, they say. We do. The cars behave like assholes, speeding up and pushing right when a scooter tries to pass. The logic is flawed for scooter traffic has little to do with their estimated time of arrivals.
After several near misses and wrong turns, we finally arrive to our location outside downtown Ubud. It’s down a dirt road, surrounded by rice patties, rundown temples and homes.
Just outside Ubud, there’s no tourism. Walking down the street from my hotel, I was the only non-native. I passed a school with kids banging bells, an old contemplative man smoking and grimacing, a group of kids racing bikes, women chatting outside little shops, lost cocks rummaging through the sewers, and gangs of stray dogs fighting and barking and sleeping. Each house looked like a temple and large bamboo lanterns hung over the streets for the recent Gelungen, I’m told by our small opportunistic guide it’s the equivalent to Christmas.
Our guide’s name is Eday, and she didn’t apply for the job, rather she just took it. She’s a journalist, allegedly, from Jakarta, and doesn’t ever stop talking. She’s also very afraid of dogs and the dark. She also shies away from photographs because, she alleged, she is a little famous in her country. Other than that, it was nice to have her knowledge and Indonesian as we made our way through the streets of this little town on the outskirts of Ubud.
We stopped at a local warung and ordered Nasi Goreng and Cap Cay for 10,000 rupiah each. That’s less than a dollar for each dish. The warung was small, the entire family sitting in there with us. They were sweet and smiled and nodded, encouraging us to eat and order more. I’m in search of a chicken fight, I told them. I would have said cock, but I didn’t. I asked Eday to translate. She did and they laughed. They said check in downtown Ubud.
They also told us there was an international cock fighting festival just up the road last month. Other than that, they said they didn’t know when the next fight would be – there wasn’t a set schedule, but they thought Saturday nearer Ubud was our best bet. I’ll have my cock fight, yet.
Despite its illegality, cock fighting is still alive and well in the more practicing Hindi parts of Bali and I intend on finding one. Tomorrow we’ll find out more. The plan is to see temples in the jungle and then head to Keramas for more surf the next day. If the cock fight is found and confirmed I’ll put Keramas on hold and stay for the fight. If not, I’ll head to Keramas and then Mount Agung, the tallest mountain in Bali. A hike to the top – some nine-thousand feet – in the middle of the night, just in time for sunrise.
The temples have been viewed. We also visited the monkey forest – excuse the “sacred” monkey forest. I know, I know. I didn’t want to go, but my companions insisted upon it and so I, being the benevolent compromiser that I am, quietly and respectfully obliged.
It was a nightmare, a bullshit nightmare. Confident, brazen monkeys swarming the herds of camera-clad tourists, I’m surprised more people don’t contract rabies and die. I don’t know the statistics, though – maybe they do. There was a concession stand and each visitor must purchase a ticket to enter the sacred forest.
Not me, however. I refused to pay that admission and so I strolled around the perimeter, walking in through exits and stepping over ankle high chains, until I finally just walked through the front door. The key is to avoid eye contact, while maintaining an air of belonging.
After the monkey forest, we returned to the hotel, waiting for a new motorbike. I forgot to mention mine had refused to start this morning and so I found myself, once again, on the back of a man’s scooter.
This was lucky, however, because the breakdown led me to where I am right now, sitting in a café, talking with a sleezy man who calls himself Sam. Surely, Sam is not his real name. Moments ago, I brought up my desire to see a cock fight while I’m here. His eyes lit up and he put a small hand on my shoulder, guiding me outside to somewhere more private.
“There’s a big fight tonight,” he said, smiling and patting me on the back as if I needed some sort of encouragement. “Meet here at 11pm and we’ll take you there. Beer and everything,” he declared happily. He then leaned in close and offered me any of his girls of the night. “Good price,” he said. I believe him, too, however, I declined respectfully and told him the bird fight would be just fine.
So, eleven tonight it will be. The birds will fight. I will crow. I might also win some money.
Camera-clad like those tourists at the sacred forest, except these pictures will be bloodier.
More later, as always.
I’m sandwiched in between an English girl, seemingly drunk, dancing and trying to sing along to the song playing aloud, and a group of girls to my right discussing the best approach when formulating pitch emails for different clothing and bikini brands.
“You should always add a little bit of fluff…but always, always make sure you put your name or brand in all caps, then an X and the company you’re pitching in the subject line,” the tiny one with jean short cutoffs says as she stretches one of her legs on the stool.
“Oh my God, that’s so smart,” rebuts one her seated friends.
Your God is definitely not my God, and I’m thanking my God right now that the free-spirited English girl dancing and singing has left the café. Oh, and now the pitch girls are leaving, too. My God is good.
That’s the worst part about Canggu. There are plenty great parts, too.
I’ve been irritated all day. It started when I woke up this morning, and it was raining and ninety degrees. No one’s fault, it just irked me. It wasn’t the weather, actually. It was, and is, all the people. There are so many people bustling around this tiny, ill-equipped town – constantly. It never stops. That’s fine, but I’ve reached my breaking point and now I’m irritated and scheduled to go off like a cannon. Tick, tick, tock.
In the water this morning, still raining, I called a local guy a “motherfucker”. He was territorial and possessive. He didn't understand but he knew I was upset. I immediately felt bad and paddled closer. Offering a smile, I began to talk with him. Not much English, but after that he calmed down. Disarmed, he became my ocean guide and I happily followed him around, sitting in the right spots and trading waves for the next two hours. His name was Ketut.
Mine calling him a motherfucker was lightly influenced by an article I’d recently read detailing the death of famed Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck. A few days ago, while in Nepal acclimatizing on the Himalayan mountain Nuptse, Steck fell to his death. Later this month Steck was scheduled to attempt a route that linked both Everest and Lhotse, something never before attempted.
Steck was renowned for his speedy ascensions up the treacherous mountains of Europe and the Himalayas, holding multiple records. He was a purist, and climbed without ropes – videos of his climbs are less that of a calculate professional, more reminiscent of an abominable snow beast staggering up these massive mountains as if he's being chased.
He climbed the south face of Annapurna Massif, a Himalayan mountain that has claimed the lives of some of the best alpinists, in a mere two hours and twenty-two minutes. His physical stamina and meticulous preparation garnered him the nickname, Swiss Machine.
The reason Steck came to mind, however, had nothing to do with climbing, but rather a fight at the base of one. In 2013, he and his Italian climbing partner, Simone Moro, were attempting the route that linked both Lhotse and Everest. As mentioned before, it was a bold route that had never before been attempted, and the same route that Steck planned to attempt later this month.
On the Lhotse Face the pair came across a group of Sherpas. The group of Sherpas were repairing the fixed lines used by the many commercial guiding companies that inundate the tallest mountain on Earth each season (last week there was a two-hour wait at the Hillary Step). On “fixing days”, as they’ve been dubbed, the commercial companies have agreed that no one climbs. This agreement is agreed upon by the guiding companies, yet it is debatable whether it is also contractual for a small professional outfit like the team of Steck and Moro that day.
The Sherpas became angry with Steck and Moro as they neared the lines, several of the Sherpas above the duo going as far to kick free chunks of ice, a lethal attack. Moro, notoriously fiery and hotheaded, called one of the Sherpas a machinke, which translates to “motherfucker” – far more offensive in Nepalese culture. The Sherpas instantly stopped their work and retreated to camp two. Steck and Moro stayed behind and secured the lines the Sherpas had left unfinished. They could have continued to the next camp, however, they decided to return to camp two, as well, to try to resolve the disagreement.
Upon their arrival, a swarm of Sherpas attacked them with fists, feet, and rocks. The brawl escalated quickly. Eye-witness reports circulated that many Sherpas were asking for Moro and Steck to be killed. Steck, huddled inside the mess tent, bleeding, was attacked by an onslaught of rocks, which sliced through the tent like knife through butter. Ueli Steck thought he was going to be killed. Footage here.
Eventually, the fight was broken up and both sides retreated to their respective camps. Steck and Moro would not get the chance to continue their summit attempt, choosing instead to abandon the climb entirely and return home. It would be four years before Steck would return to Everest, just last weekend.
Anyway, that’s what I thought when I, under my breath, called that Balinese ocean guide a motherfucker. No rocks, luckily.
The ocean has been angry all day long, choosing to rain most of the day. Unfortunately, I just sent a German girl out into the night, giving her directions to a restaurant down the road. She just arrived at the hotel. It’s pouring rain.
Tomorrow I’ll either go east to Keramas or north to Medewi. By scooter for both.
More later, as always.
It’s a spicy Indonesian beef dish, and I’ve eaten it several times, but more importantly its name has a great ring to it, and I haven’t been able to stop ringing it since I’ve been here.
“Beef ren-dang,” I say as I saunter through the hotel, barely picking my feet off the tiled floor.
“Beef ren…dang.” I’m a bit delirious, most definitely sleep deprived. It feels like I’ve been in Bali for a week. It’s only been three days and not even full ones at that. I’m trying to keep track of time, but it’s been a pointless endeavor. As I’ve travelled, time has slowly slipped into a thick gelatin warp.
Today is…today. Yes, today is, uh…today, and that’s enough.
It’s always a bit strange arriving somewhere at night, which is what I did. Muggy and sweaty and buggy and over a million taxi drivers grabbing and whistling and touching. Pick me, choose me, want me. Fuck, I didn’t even know an appropriate price for a cab. Upon arrival, I changed my Australian dollars into rupiahs and was instantly a millionaire. Stupid. That’s a con. Any place where cups of coffee and laundry cost thousands of dollars is begging you to abandon your grasp on currency and value.
I paid two-hundred thousand for a cab, which was a struggle in itself – and probably too high, but I was tired and it was late and Indonesia. Three different people circled me, doing their best hustle routine as I emerged from customs. They wanted me to pay fifty-thousand for the cab from the airport to Canggu, and I don’t know exactly how I landed on two-hundred but I did and I was pissed off about it. I was not budging. Of course they caved once I started to walk away.
The ride in was slow. Eleven at night and still bumper to bumper traffic. Unbelievable, really, and hectic, anxiety-inducing. Roads are just a little too small to allow for normal flow of traffic and there aren’t lanes. The lines are physically painted, but seldom obeyed. Quickly, it became clear that Circle K was the ruling convenient store in this for foreign land. Seven-Eleven has been defeated. I’ve never seen so many Circle K’s, nor have I seen so many people sitting in front of them, smoking and drinking and spending time.
“Beef ren…dang,” I say again as I fumble with dishes in the communal kitchen. There’s watermelon in the fridge and I take a piece. Then another. My plan today is to try to do some fishing. Preferably alone. It’s hard to be alone in this place, Canggu. Of Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu – the three cities I’ve visited – Canggu is the most peaceful and uncrowded, which is saying very little. Kuta is a rotting apple core. Seminyak more like a discarded coffee cup, sitting upright and in good enough condition, but stained. Canggu is like a used spoon sitting on the brink of the sink. A wash needed but with useful potential.
It’s a lawless place and in many ways like Mexico, although as if it’s been shot in the vein with a dose of hipstery style and bloggers and girls trying to Eat, Pray, and Love. There’s trash everywhere and the water is muddy and murky. This is the most touristy part of Bali, I imagine. Actually, I know that. I’m excited to get out of here and find some crystal clear water and quiet.
“Beef ren…dang,” I repeat, now outside, lethargically flirting with a dip in the pool. Finally, I let my weight swing and drop me into the water. This is nice. This is very nice. “Beef rendang, beef rendang.”
For my first day, I had two goals: surf and get a straight blade shave. Everything else would be gravy. The surf was easy to accomplish and the waves were good and cooperative at the first beach I checked. To help, I had enlisted the service of a young squire called Rocky. Truthfully, I didn’t enlist anything, more he immediately started following me around. His English is scattered but he’s happy to hang around and help, it seems. Of course, occasional tips help his enthusiasm. I’m a millionaire, remember?
I acted out what I wanted, sliding an imaginary razor over my head. He understood and told me to get on the bike. Okay. Speeding through Bali on my newly hired squire’s motorbike, I outweighed him by a hundred pounds, at least, and it was clearly a bit of a struggle for him to handle the bike. Had I wanted I could have taken us down with a slight shuffle of weight. I didn’t want that, so I stayed straight and balanced.
His friend is actually his friend, the barber, although much older – it wasn’t a ploy or plot for my life. The man’s name was Edi. A kind, detailed man who keeps his barbershop in pristine condition. The beard sculpt and straight blade cut would cost 55,000 rupiahs, which is less than five U.S. dollars, dependent on the current exchange rate.
Edi is a master of his craft, his brow constantly creased in intense focus. Not once did I feel like he would make a wrong cut. A steady hand and love for his work had done him well. I was also probably the first customer he’d had in a while. There was only one chair in the place. Afterwards, I took his photo. He grabbed his scissors and threw a cloth over his arm like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. In front of the chair, he posed stoically, looking like a man who was meant to cut hair. He was very appreciative that I would take his photograph. I’ve find most Indonesians are. They think fame comes with the picture.
Once done, I woke up the young squire, who had fallen asleep on the lone couch in the shop. Tough work taxiing around the largest human in the village. To the beach! I told him, for an ear of corn and a Coca-Cola before another surf. He obliged and we sat at a little wooden bar on the beach watching the surf. The corn and coke cost a dollar each, which is pricey for there.
“Beef REN-DANG!” I say, wading in the deep end of the pool. I laugh because I think I’m funny, or I think “beef ren-dang” is funny, at least. “Cangguuu,” I yodel. This is a new one that has just occurred to me. I think I’ll switch to that catchphrase for a bit.
That evening I met a Dutchman with big plugs in both ears and tattoos from neck to toe. His name is Jelle, pronounced Yellah, and he hails from a small town outside of Amsterdam. Despite his appearance, he’s a kind man and eager to make new friends. His English is good and he knows Bali well. “Beers?,” he asked. Yeah. Sure. He’s actually the person who introduced me to beef rendang. Thank you. You’re welcome.
Jelle makes an exception to his rule: only girls allowed on the back of his motorbike. We taxi over to Echo beach to a wide-open bar called Old Man’s. You’ve seen it on the internet, I’m sure. Two for one happy hour, and we took advantage of it. I spoke to an Australian girl nearby. She was horrible. The absolute pits. She was a self-righteous bitter young lady. Pretty, but one of those people who think her plight in life is more poignant, more relevant, and far more difficult than anyone else’s. Every single thing I said, very light stuff, was met with a rebuttal about Aboriginal rights or racism or India or German guilt. It was great. I loved it like I love splinters.
Hey lady, you’re sipping a $2 strawberry margarita in Bali.
Jelle got so drunk he began pirating, bucaneering around the bar, one eye closed (not by choice) mumbling things in Dutch. I had to send my new friend home in a taxi. I stayed, however, and moved with the crowd out onto the beach when Old Man’s closed at midnight. A DJ played sewage music while everyone danced in the rising tide and flooding lights. Surprisingly, not that many stars in the sky. I bowed out quickly, hopping on the back of yet another man’s motorbike. I’m seeing a trend, here. Three dollars for the ride.
When you ride a motorbike through town it feels like you’re in a parade. Especially near five in the afternoon, when the streets are instantly inundated with every person that can possibly fit out on the roads. There’s a shortcut from my hotel to downtown Canggu and it’s only wide enough for one proper car. Legally, it’s been designated as a one-way street. That, however, does not stop traffic from flowing in both directions, which causes comedic traffic jams. So crowded and lawless, one must laugh or be swallowed up by the crowd and dumped into the rice patty ravines lining both sides of the thin road. Cars and bikes are regularly spotted tipped over in those ravines. Still comedic, I tell you.
“Cangguuu,” I say, now out of the pool, towel wrapped around my waist. I want to make a cup of coffee, but the coffee is shit. I have a motorbike of my own now, and I’ll probably pop over to one of the many shops down the road for a cup. It took me two days to rent one. Left side driving and chaotic, but it’s easy. It’s always easy until it’s not and you’re in the rice patty ravine with a broken leg.
The day after Old Man’s was spent at the beach. Surf and feed and relax. There’s an old man with a cart down there selling bowls of home-cooked Indonesian food for a dollar. The locals down there eat it and now so do I.
Jelle and I meet a new friend called Jose, from Argentina. They’re both older than me, which is good because I look older than both of them. The three of us will go to Seminyak that night, a twenty-minute scooter ride. There’s a kitschy beach club there, Potato Head, and the drinks are expensive, not for the U.S. or Australia, but outrageous by Bali standards. I didn’t bring enough cash with me. No cards or phone or wallet. After our condemnation of Potato Head, we biked over to a place called La Favela. The place also sells expensive drinks, and so we concoct a plan to drink on the stoop of the mini mart across the street, watching the people go by and smoking Indonesian ciggies, the ones that make your lips sweet.
La Favela is quite literally the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland mixed with alcohol and taller ceilings. I liked it. I was lost most of the time, as the décor was flush and symmetrical throughout.
We lost Jose. To be honest, I didn’t really look for him. I knew he’d be alright. He was one of them cagey Argentinians. He likes Messi, but loves Maradonna. Says all Argentinians agree with him. That must be nice.
Jelle and I will stop at a Warung (restaurant) on the way home. The place looked closed but we went in anyway and bought food. Jelle swears it’s the best beef rendang he’s ever had, repeatedly claiming himself as a connoisseur of the stuff. I’m not sure, though, because the next night, as we’re at dinner with a group of people we’d just met (Jose, too), he grabs my knee in a panic, fear burning in his eyes, and he will proclaim his chest to be hurting and it’s really bad. His right arm, too. He thinks he needs an ambulance.
“Really?” I will ask, skeptical and thinking he may have just eaten his beef rendang too fast.
“Yeah, I do. I do right now.”
The place we were at, the people there, were inept and wouldn’t listen to me as I told them I needed an ambulance – now. They wanted money, so I ran across the street to a nicer spot. Fortunately, the glasses-clad man at the front desk was competent and responsive. He had a car, not an ambulance, there for us in two minutes and we were on our way to Canggu Medical, which is like a walk-in clinic. The pain was getting worse and Jelle didn’t have his passport. It wasn’t a problem so long as we could pay. I only brought a little cash, so I wasn’t paying.
They gave him a shot of something that the young doctor said would help. She’s been practicing medicine for three years, she told us. It didn’t work, the shot. Next, they gave him some simethicone. It didn’t work, either. He was beginning to get very scared. I was worried it was a heart attack. He revealed he has a herniated stomach and suffers from intense acidic attacks. I still think it’s a heart attack. The pain was getting worse despite the doctor’s efforts and before long we were on our way to Siloam Hospital in Kuta.
Jose and a young Portuguese girl (I don’t even know her name. Still don’t) met us at Canggu Medical. It was regular ol’ team, I guess. The four of us took a taxi to Kuta and got Jelle in the emergency room. His vitals are good, but the doctors there are also worried it could be heart related. The pain was increasing still. He declared it felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. Arms were still hurting, too. Both are symptoms of a heart attack. The doctors plugged him into some wires and took his blood to run tests. They were hesitant to treat him before knowing what was wrong. I told Jelle he had to ask for something to soothe his gastric pain, something like Pepto Bismol but stronger, clinical. He did and they brought over several shots of pink stuff.
We were there for five hours before he started to feel better. The blood work came back healthy. While there, at a hospital in a rotting apple core town called Kuta, we had a screaming baby put on oxygen, a passed out old man, and a drunk Australian girl with a bump the size of a grapefruit above her left eye. Scooter fall. Grapefruit is not an exaggeration, either. She quickly decided she didn’t need any treatment, nor could she pay for it, and stumbled out of there with her equally drunk and Australian male counterpart.
That’s how I spent last night. I was supposed to go to bed early. I wanted to get up this morning and go fishing. Jelle told me this morning that he almost went back to the hospital by himself as the pain suddenly returned. I’m wondering if it has something to do with anxiety, panic. Maybe. He feels better now, though, which is good.
“Cangguuu,” I say, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, fighting flies and sweating. It’s time to go fishing, I think. “Beef ren-dang.” Yeah, let’s go fishing.
More later, as always.
I’m heading to Balikpapan, Indonesia, and so my days here in Melbourne are quite literally numbered. I didn’t plan or expect to leave to Bali – or leave Melbourne, actually – so soon, but the timing feels correct. Not right, but correct. My compatriot is leaving the country, as well, but to New Zealand to restore an old World War II plane. He’s unclear of his plans, but I imagine it has something to do with gold. Old planes and gold go very well together. I’ll link up with him once I’ve spent my time in Indonesia alone. Being alone and quiet in a foreign country sounds nice, and so that’s what I’ll do. Trying to keep it simple, although simple rarely persists. That whole monkey wrench kind of thing.
Last night we went to a disco and got ourselves to where the lights looked pretty like stars and the music was never loud enough. Darts were thrown and also smoked on the roof before we retired back to an acquaintance’s loft for wine. It was in celebration of yet another Australian holiday. Australians take holidays seriously. Let’s discuss.
For Easter Sunday, they are allotted both the preceding Friday and that Monday. Same treatment for holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, and Memorial Day – which is actually called ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) Day. Armistice Day had competed for a time for the country’s attention, but it’s since been surpassed by ANZAC. They, Australians I mean, pay special attention in remembering the Battle of Gallipoli, an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula in modern day Turkey during the first World War. It was the crucial battle, and victory, in the Allies’ fight against the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently led to Allies’ occupation of the territory. This occupation coalesced the Turkish people, spurring them to fight for their independence, which they achieved in 1923, coinciding – and a major factor in its happening – with the abolition of the Ottoman Empire and caliphate.
The Battle of Gallipoli is considered the galvanizing moment of Australian and New Zealand pride. It is with this pride they take a holiday every April 25th – to remember and reflect and get absolutely shithouse wasted.
It’s an Australian’s civic duty to take the holiday, and they oblige. It is also an Australian’s civic duty to vote, and the country has made it illegal to abstain from the process (fines are issues for delinquents), also a national holiday. This seems fitting and logical and it is remarkable that such a day does not exist in every single voting country around the world. One would think, or hope, or even suppose, that political participation would be encouraged and shepherded into existence in just this way, yet the opposite seems to persist so often. Hmm.
Back to the holidays, however.
Two holidays specifically set the Australians apart from other frequent holiday-takers. The first one is set aside for the Australian Football Grand Final, which would be like the American Super Bowl or World Series. Can you imagine the jollity? Of course you can. Even without holiday status, the Super Bowl sees plenty.
The other holiday designated is for the annual horse races, the Melbourne Cup, held on the first Tuesday of every November. Think the Kentucky Derby except the entire country files in to scream for it. The more holidays, the better.
Saw the sun rise this morning. Also, smoked too many cigarettes. Everyone here smokes darts constantly. Despite their being taxed so heavily, I honestly haven’t met one Australian who does not smoke cigarettes. I figure I’ll go to Bali, buy as many packs of cigarettes I can manage – I hear they are about a dollar per pack – fly back to Melbourne and hawk ‘em for $6 each. Say I bring back two-hundred packs of cigarettes, and sell them all. That’d be…you can do the math. Not a bad scheme, should it work. I know, I know, there are laws and regulations against how many goods one laymen can travel across country lines with, and I’m vaguely aware of them, but wiggle room is always afforded to the ignorant. Ignorance!
I’m in Sydney now. It’s sunnier here. I think I’ll go to the Opera House before I fly to Indonesia.
All for now.
More later, as always.
There was a fountain that I sat near, drinking a beer, and just sitting. It was a sad fountain. It possessed three levels, each smaller and taller than the one below it. Statues of men and women and children were displayed throughout the fountain. They were all lost in deep thought, seemingly reliving the mistakes they had made the night before – that’s how I saw it.
One of the statues, a gargantuan man, looked as if he was standing in the shower, glaring into the past, remembering the horrible, horrible things he’d done. The nostalgic look inward caused his eyes to whither with hazy emptiness as new details made themselves known, slowly and one by one. The water stream from the showerhead sprayed down on his head incessantly, making breaths wet and sometimes hard to attain. A hand rested on top of his head, frozen, mid-shampoo. He hadn’t meant to keep it there like that, but as he began to recount the night prior the hand forgot its duty and stopped in its tracks. I knew the look. I knew the hand.
We ate a lot of food last night, or I believe it was last night. The nights are starting to blur together. We did eat fried chicken and French fries at 4am. I also drank a Sazerac around that time. It’s a whiskey drink with a touch of vermouth and absinthe. I’m not sure why I ordered it. It was good and southern and French, and the place stayed open all night. Near impossible not to turn a profit with a 24-hour liquor license. I’d like to have one someday.
There was kangaroo steak at one point, earlier in the day at the Napier Hotel – a rundown place that used to serve as a brothel and gambling den before it cleaned up its act and stuck exclusively to cold beer and kangaroo. The “roo”, as it’s called, was surprisingly delicious. I imagined it would be tough and gamey, but it was cooked expertly and proved incredibly appetizing.
I learned several interesting things about kangaroos that night. Conversation tends to flow freely about the animal one is cutting up with fork and knife before them for the first time.
Kangaroos possess extraordinary breeding qualities, which likely correlates to their widespread occupation of the red island of Australia. When baby kangaroos, called Joeys, are born they are no larger than an egg, and are shot directly and effortlessly into the mother’s pouch, where they attach to the teat and feed until sizeable enough to leave the pouch. She doesn’t even have to stop hopping to give birth, they say.
Mother kangaroos also possess a rare ability to pause their pregnancy, and thus the development of the embryo, until their pouch becomes vacant of the previous Joey. Kangaroos are permanently pregnant, mating immediately after one Joey is born. The ability to pause the development of an embryo is to ensure a mother’s pouch is open for the incoming Joey – kangaroos only hold one Joey in pouch at a time.
Aside from humans, kangaroos have no true predators. That being said, every human I’ve met has a story about a dad, uncle, cousin, or brother either killing, fighting, or wrestling a kangaroo. They try to tear your chest out, apparently, and occasionally they’ll lean back onto their tails and use their feet to punt an opponent.
“Any full-grown bloke would be okay against a roo,” said one of my new Australian friends when asked if a kangaroo attack could be fatal. “A smaller girl might be in trouble, though…but like one person every decade is killed by a kangaroo, maybe,” he declared.
Everyone drives trucks equipped with massive “roo bars” on the grill. You can imagine why, I’m sure.
The Australian government will periodically initiate kangaroo culls with trucks and helicopters.
“You’re mad, ya’ damn bastard.” This phrase stuck to our heads like the hand of that giant statue of a man in the fountain mentioned earlier. “You’re mad, ya’ damn bastard.”
It’s a line from a horrifying movie about Australia called Wake in Fright. I recommend it. Every kangaroo killed in the movie was actually killed, something that could never happen today. Warning: During the making of this movie animals were harmed.
Sometime in between the early morning fried chicken and the kangaroo steak, we ate a burger with an egg in it. It was from a place called Danny’s Burgers. No gimmicks or fancy sauces or schemes, just good Australian beef and fresh ingredients. There is a biker gang, similar to our Hell’s Angels, that regulars Danny’s spot.
For breakfast, a late one, we ate arepas and empanadas. Beef and chicken. As I’m writing this now, all that beef and chicken and kangaroo and burger and beer sit inside my gut, its effects spreading throughout my body, pulling it deeper and deeper into a sort of coma, which will be followed by strange dreams of a fight I get into with Kevin Garnett because I won’t allow him to tattoo my entire right leg. The dream, however, ended with him hugging me. I’m not sure what that means, but I don’t think it can be good.
That dream won’t happen until a bit later, though. For now, I’m going to drink this cosmopolitan that someone just ordered me. Bourgeoisie.
For the record, I haven’t seen one kangaroo since I’ve been here.
More later, as always.
Howling wind. That’s a concept with clear visuals. When you think about howling wind, you can see it, picture it, hear it, feel it. Funny thought, as wind alone is unseen. It is only through the objects it moves can we see it – water, trees, plants, dirt, dust, toupee, skirt, paper, trash. Through its manipulation of objects like these we know that it is there.
As we stood looking out over Point Impossible, it was doing just that – howling. Little sparklers of mist flaked off the tops of the swelling waves, the current moving as one from South to North as if it were a choreographed rouse. Not exactly inviting. That’s okay, I’ve been uninvited to plenty of things. I still go, though. An invite should never stop a person from doing the things they want to do. And that tidbit of uninvited advice plies well here now.
Wind-whipped, burnt we stepped from the ocean and packed our things, then retreated back the 100 kilometers to Melbourne. Once home, we rode our pushies (bicycles) to a pub for cheap beers and trivia night.
We came in third place and were awarded a $25 bar tab. Twist: there were only three teams. We were in first place after round one, but in that round we won two jugs (pitchers) of beer. It is those jugs we blame for our fall from grace.
The first jug was won by discerning Beatles songs from a single lyric. My compatriot despises the Beatles and so it was left to me. Six out of ten. First jug. The second was a game of guessing. Specifically, we had to speculate on the amount of eggs that were used in the world’s largest Easter egg hunt. The answer was 501k. Second jug.
With trivia in our past, we retired to the porch where we quickly descended into an argument. It was over a woman, I admit. Not a woman there, physically, at that moment, but one from home. Neither of us cared for the other’s tone, and frankly, my compatriot did not want to hear me speak of this woman any longer, and so he became upset. I, too, became irritated and shrugged him off. Declaring he was leaving, I encouraged him to go. And so he left. I stayed back to drink our bar tab alone.
The rest is blurry, but I spent the night playing cards and pool with a group of anonymous Australians and Scots. One Scotsman was vehement in his certainty that Scotland would be independent of the U.K. after the Referendum coming up, sparked by Britain’s sudden exit from the EU. Sure, I said.
We ended up in a downtown afterhours balcony pub, puffing cigarettes and drinking whiskey. I walked in at six in the morning, haggard, kebab in hand.
When I woke the next morning, my compatriot was gone. I spent the morning washing myself and my clothes and cleaning up the small messes I had left around the apartment. They had started to gather like spots on a cat.
A call came in from my compatriot detailing his locale, and we agreed to meet and settle our differences. At that time, I did not know if it meant a duel to the death or simply a handshake.
It was just a handshake, and for that, I was grateful. Although, I’m certain I would have handled myself fine in a duel. Disagreement settled, I decided I would refrain from bringing up the woman’s name again. This did not keep her from my thoughts, however, and in the coming days I would speak depend on the ears of strangers to satiate my need to speak of her.
Later in the night, after we’d shared several drinks, we bicycled to the local Kebab diner. In a convenient and apt turn of events, a duo of traveling musicians were set up across the street, loudly belting Beatles songs. If you recall earlier, I mentioned my compatriot’s hatred of the Beatles. As such, as the duo played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Brunswick Street in Melbourne, it annoyed my compatriot. “God damnit,” he said, as we entered the Kebab diner. Given our recent tiff, I took a little joy in this.
His hatred of them, I reason, more due to the fact that largely everyone else has embraced them. A bit of a contrarian in some regards, my compatriot reveled in his loathing of the British foursome.
Inside, I ordered my kebab and he ordered his “HSP”, which I haven’t the faintest clue to what it stands for, but it is essentially meat and French fries slapped with a battalion of sauces. It comes in a Styrofoam container and as we exited the diner with our food, my compatriot took a funny step off the curb and fumbled his meal to the ground. He stood in disbelief over his spilled French fries, meats, and sauces, while Beatles music played loudly in the background. Stray streams of sauce had hit his pants.
I’m not calling it karma, because I don’t think it was. I do, however, believe it to be almost perfectly poetic.
My compatriot scooped the feed from the street, Beatles still playing, and glumly road to the nearest convenient store to replace the lost meal with an easy open bowl of top-Ramen-esque noodles. Both meals came in Styrofoam containers.
All for now.
More later, as always.
As I said before, we rose at five in the morning. I did, at least. My compatriot was not far behind, though. The breakdown of my compatriot’s troubled Mitsubishi van had forced our hand, and we had ordered a rental car. It was a Kia Rio, and it would be our chariot in our trek back down the coast. Unwilling to test the will of the old vehicle, the Rio was our only option.
The trip to the airport, where our Kia was stored, took longer than expected due in large part to our early morning lethargy. We had struggled to find a suitable coffee vendor, causing us to miss a tram. The misstep was remedied with the arrival of the next tram, although minutes were lost.
Gear loaded, an hour drive, and we were back at Bells Beach to spectate the last day of the surfing competition. I must mention, we were lugging around a VCR, which I had travelled with from the United States. The motive for lugging the old tape player wasn’t entirely clear. It was said to be a gift for a friend with a lot of VHS tapes. I am uncertain why the Australian could not secure his own VCR, being that Australia, as well as the USA, possess internet capabilities. My theory: drugs. The VCR was filled with drugs and I, its happy mule.
That being said, the man in need of the VCR was at the contest – or so I was told. After an extended run at sluggishly moving throughout the contest area yelling, “V…C…R here! VCR!” we retired the idea and thought it wiser to let the man with the many tapes come to us.
The surf was large and the competitors were talented, which was expected entirely. They were professionals. We stayed on the beach with the VCR spectating for two-ish hours and then left. There is only so much surfing one can watch from the beach.
Deciding upon Torquay Beach as the destination, we paddled into the ocean. It was a never-ending onslaught of white water, and I took my fair beating. The thrashing tested me, and I was close to breaking open the VCR upon my return to land. I needed those mysterious drugs, I believed.
Showing restraint, the VCR, to this day, remains intact – and in my possession. The battle is not over, however. Once clothed, we found a trailer park to rest our weary heads, but not before popping over to the local hotel for beers and a game of pool. We also sampled the Bush Dukkah, which is essentially bread, malt butter, oil, and assorted grains and oats and spices. One must slather the bread with malt butter, dip it into the oil, and then toss it around in the assorted grains and spices.
Desperately trying to manifest a good time at the hotel (pub), which, we’d been warned, was “rather soulless”, the energy needed was never summoned. By eight at night it was time to call it quits, and so we did.
Like rocks, sore and exhausted and salty and fleshy rocks, we slept. Although, I can only speak for myself.
I woke up at 2am, 4am, and then 8am. The birds were nice with their songs in the early morning.
We’ll go somewhere else today.
More later, as always.
I didn't wake until noon. The night prior had been cursed by good times and it spilled over into the morning. Plans had been made to meet at a friend's mother's apartment at 1pm. I would arrive on time, maybe a few minutes late, with beer in hand.
It was nice of them to have me for Easter Sunday. Quite nice. Pizza, spaghetti bolognese, ensalada, pesto penne. That was the menu. Needed it, and so it was done. There was a barrage of wines and champagnes and beers. Me, being the man I am, I stuck exclusively with beer. Until, of course, I began to mix certain beers with wine…and champagne. I’m not religious, really, although I do believe in an afterlife of some sort. More a haunting I believe in, I suppose. Perhaps, a reincarnation. Undecided. I’ll know when I’m dead.
After the nice meal and dinnertime conversation, which traversed many topics including Australian books and television shows, as well as lawyering and NBA playoffs, we retired back to a friend’s house where we played a new game (to me) called “Touch”.
In Touch, there are three rules. One, you must say “touch cup” before touching the cup. In the game, a coin is used, and I tell you this because the second rule involves the coin. The second rule is that you must never accept the coin from another player. The coin must be spilt onto the table and then gathered by you, the momentary active player. The third rule: when a player successfully flips the coin into the cup three times, they are afforded the right to concoct a rule of their own. All players must follow all rules.
Soon, we all had made a rule, and, therefore, were sitting on the ground, hiding our teeth with our lips, speaking annoyingly in falsetto, fondling green men that were sitting on the lips of our beers, and avoiding eye contact with whomever was Snake Eyes at the moment. Cheeks burned, eyes leaked, and we were favorably twisted into merriment. The holidays, they bring out the best in all of us, don’t they?
The next day would see my compatriot and I scoot down the coast in his Mitsubishi right side steering express van. A wonderfully slow and steady beast, requiring the manager of the wheel to simultaneously manipulate the tree-like knob-top that extends from its center consul with . It was a manual transmission, and thus, a stick-shift.
One-hundred kilometers and we had arrived at Point Impossible, which is a funny, silly name to give such a kind, easy-access point break. There, we set up camp, which meant parking the vehicle, and went for a sobering evening surf. Long-winded, rolling right-handers slowly eased the ache from my head and the tingle from my spine – I’d been sore from a night on a deflated air mattress. The deflation was no one’s fault but my own. I’d been given all the proper tools to fix said deflation, yet I chose, instead, to let laziness guide my way.
That night, once dry, and the sun setting, we realized how unprepared we’d been. Canned beans, canned tuna, top Ramen-esque noodles, and water crackers. Also, we’d forgotten entirely that our bodies run off water, and failed to pack enough. No matter, for we made do with brilliant resolve and high spirits. The dinner, itself, was tasteful, despite a lack of silverware, and we promptly retired to our sleeping spots within the van.
It was a squeaky night of sleep as I tossed and turned in my many attempts to outrun a bear and save my, now dead, dog, Murphy, from certain Grizzly death. In video game style, I was given many lives, and thus spent the night outrunning many, many bears.
Upon waking the next morning, my compatriot, as well as I, were less than pleased with our rest. No matter, for we, once again, showed the kind of resolve and high spirits the road requires.
After a ration of water crackers and several sips of water, we paddled out to Point Impossible for a surf. It was a nice surf, and the sun was shining. How could we have known terror awaited us back at the van?
Well, not terror, but the vehicle had died. Diagnosis: weak battery. Luckily, a goodhearted Australian stopped and helped us get her back on the saddle. Then, I tell you, we were off to the famed Bells Beach.
We surfed again, paddling out far for the waves. Wholeheartedly worth the exertion. As I tucked into a heaving curl towards the end of the session, my board was caught up by a swell of water and slung back into my head. I did not leave the water, however. I can take a blow, and I proved it further with this feat of resiliency.
Several more waves, however, and we were done. Back to Melbourne we travelled. We would need to stop twice en route to Melbourne in order to let the Mitsubishi cool down. She was old and her lungs burned hot if kept on the throttle for too long.
At home, it was pasta (Italian again) and fresh salad. Then, bed. We’d be up at 5am the next morning.
All for now. More later, as always.
Start the day with eggs. Go ahead. Okay, done. Coffee. Got it. Bike down to the park. Okay, I'm here. Play some goddamn basketball. Right now? I'm super hungover, though. That's okay, it'll help. Alright.
And so we played. Three games of three on three in the middle of Melbourne. It was good. There was one portly gentleman, dwarfish in nature, with a quintessential Australian ponytail up-do. He could shoot and understood the game fairly well. There was a skinny man who refused to pass the ball, which was fine. I was there to sweat. It didn't bother me, at all, that he wouldn't pass that damned European ball. Even when I was sitting patiently, wide open at that Euro three-point line, waiting. It didn't bother me. Really.
After retiring from the game, I sauntered over to the footie field to try my luck at kicking a few. They say the technique is to kick the nose of it so that it goes into a backwards tailspin. "More accurate that way," they say.
My technique was a bit simpler. Kick it high and far. Straight? Well, when convenient.
After the footie kick, I jimmy-jazzed my way over to the botanical gardens for an early afternoon jog...I believe it's pronounced yawg. That was nice. It was. Even though I was wheezing from all the rolled cigarettes, my head was pounding from all the Victoria Bitter, and I was generally dehydrated, I enjoyed the jog through the botanical gardens. I did. It was beautiful.
Anyway, I felt better after all the activity. Better enough to start drinking again, which is exactly what we did. My friend was playing a show with his band a little divey hotel (pub) and so we walked over to his place to play Chinese dice in preparation for the event.
Chinese dice is essentially Liar's Poker, dice version. Good game. Try it. Oh, I'll teach you.
The show was vundebar. I saw a fat man play a beautiful guitar, and I also saw another man with a bowl cut and hanging earring that would have given Janet Reno (Will Ferrell version) a run for her knickers.
We did it. We did it all.
The would be Easter Sunday, but that's for tomorrow.
More later, as always.
"It was just so confronting," one of our Australian friends said. They use the word confronting a lot. I like it. They also call people spuds and refer to cans of beer as tinnies. There are a lot of good words they use. I can't think of any more at this moment, but I will.
My pilgrim accent amuses them and they ask me to repeat things often, which I don't mind doing. Maybe I'm vain. Yeah. Their bewilderment and fear in just talking about guns reveals how different our two cultures are. Good points to be made for both sides, I implore. They don't disagree.
We were sitting on the corner of George St. and Kerr St. drinking jugs (pitchers) of Stone Wood pale ale from Byron Bay. As I poured another pot (glass) of beer they asked me about common names in the States. They were especially interested in the name Craig.
"You say that name so funny. You say it like Cregg...it's Crayg," one of the girls remarked giddily.
"Crayguh," I repeated mockingly. "Maybe I should get some tahmahtoe or some bassil, eh?"
A few more jugs and it was time to get on the tram. The tramways are clean and efficient and useful, and it dropped us right at the steps of the football stadium. There is a Hungry Jack's (Burger King) that we used for the bathroom before going inside.
"We have to get sloppy meat pies. First one to drop theirs gets the first round." They all rejoiced at the game and meat pies to be had.
The meat pies are truly sloppy and comprised solely of meat. I imagine they are the equivalent of a hotdog at a baseball game. In fact, they are very similar to that.
"Don't you want any sauce for it?" one of the girls asked me as I began to walk away with a sauce-less meat pie.
"Sauce?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said, pointing to the ketchup and mustard.
"Ohhh, sauce. Yeah, sure," I answered, heading over to the saucing station. First bite and my tongue was fire-branded by the Melbourne meat pie. Ironic as it was beef (cow) that I was eating, or was it vengeance?
We find open seats up high and begin to drink. Australian football is not like rugby, as I first imagined. It's a combination of many sports, and it's apparent that whoever invented it was having themselves a good old time.
Funny you should ask. It was invented in Melbourne by Tom Wills as a sport to be played by cricketers in the winter time so they could stay fit -- although, that's disputed. It's unclear who actually invented the rules for the game. The first match, organized and umpired by Tom Wills, was played in 1858 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground by Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College.
There are four posts at opposite ends of the giant circular field, think Quidditch. The two middle posts are taller and more important, for if a player is able to kick the football through them it's considered a goal and worth six points. If a player kicks it through either of the spaces formed in conjunction with the outer posts, it's simply a one-pointer, not a goal.
There are four quarters and time is kept as it is in soccer, factoring in stoppage time. One quarter was thirty-two minutes, while another was only twenty-seven. At the end of a quarter, Blitzkrieg sirens sound and everyone either cheers or boos. All drink.
Passing the ball as done in the NFL is prohibited. Instead, one must punch or kick the ball, which can be d0ne in any direction. A player is allowed to run with the ball, but he or she must bounce it every ten steps or so. If a player is tackled to the ground with the ball in hand, it is turned over to the other team. For that reason, the game becomes reminiscent of "Hot Potato" during certain stretches.
In other regards, like when a player boots it upfield, the game is similar to "Three Flies Up". In this way, basketball skills of rebounding and post play are rather relatable.
The running and kicking are of the variety used by a soccer player. Hands for to catch the ball are like those one would find on an NFL player. The tackling, as well. The rapid changes of pace and advantage evoke the suddenness of a hockey game.
The atmosphere, stadium, and field are, I say again, that of a Quidditch match. The fervent drinking like the kind done in a hotel (pub).
It's a wonderful game and I was instantly a fan. However, the stars of the match are the umpires. Firstly, to initiate the game into play, the center umpire sonic booms the ball into the center circle, where it then bounces nearly twenty feet in the air and players from both teams jump to grab possession.
When the ball ventures out of play, the sideline umpire takes the ball, turns his or her back to the players on the field, and chucks it as high as they possibly can into play. Once again, players from both sides jump for possession.
They also throw double finger-shooting guns when a goal is scored. Bang bang.
I spent a lot of my time watching the umpires. A funny lot, them.
The Western Bulldogs, the club that won it all last year, and are, therefore, hated by many (Lakers), were trailing big after the conclusion of the first half. Their play kicked into high gear as the third quarter commenced, however. They got within one point before the North Melbourne Kangaroos rebutted and put one through the center uprights, advancing their lead back to seven. The Blitzkrieg sirens then sounded and we went out on the patio for a rolled cigarette, which was custom.
In a furious fourth quarter, the lead changing with every goal, the two teams fought hard. A Kangaroo had a shot to win it. A goal (six points) would have done it, but the boot sailed wide, garnering only one point. The final sirens then exploded. The Western Bulldogs won by three.
I then ate a parma (Australian chicken parmesan with ham and not parmesan cheese) at a local hotel (pub) and drank more beer.
Heading to the coast.
More later, spuds.
It was a big beer and then a smaller beer, and then a shot of whiskey down the gurgler just north of gate 152 in Los Angeles International that got me, and this trip, under way.
"You know what the biggest word in the world is?" asked the bartender. He was bald and happy and busily wiping down the counter space next to me. He'd told me earlier he wasn't lazy. I hadn't accused him.
"Antidisestablishmentari - ," I began to answer, before he cut me off. Smart alecking all the way to the bank.
"No, no, no!" he interjected, wisps of laughter squeaking through.
"Okay, then what is it?" I said, confident from liquor.
He paused, striking up a stoic embattlement, preparing to drop his line that he has, no doubt, delivered to many before me. "If," he said, smirking and studying my reaction.
"If?" I said.
"If," he confirmed. "I would have done that if...I would have cleaned my room if...I would have been on time if," he remarked, proud.
"I would have been there if I hadn't got so drunk last night."
"Exactly," he said, twirling his rag and pointing a single finger.
I slept on the plane. I did, but it was an uneasy sleep. I was surrounded by three older women with zero regard for their surroundings, resulting in their constant elbowing of me, the one writing this.
The woman in front consistently reached back and, unknowingly, caressed my leg. She would also jerk and elbow my protruding knee occasionally.
The one behind me shook my seat in what seemed like a hurricane of indecision as she fastened and unfastened her tray table incessantly. She also touched my head every time she rose to go to the bathroom, which was often.
The woman next to me was more diabolical than the others. Clearly well-read in torture, for fourteen hours straight she lightly grazed the sides of my ribs with her elbow. It was like having someone tap the soft space between your eyebrows, just lightly and with just enough force to let you know they're there. Maddening. Puts you in a tizzy, a fragile state where you're likely to lose your mind, raise the white flag, and divulge whatever information you'd been withholding.
Unluckily for her, she didn't know I'd swallowed a Vicodin in the slender bathroom, stopping briefly at the mirror to look myself deeply in the eyes before exiting. Two whiskeys later and I was out, comfortably handling the grazing elbow of the devil next to me.
That's unfair, she wasn't a devil. Her daughter was, though, and she was sitting window seat, which made me the gatekeeper. She needed to get up to go the bathroom every two hours. The two of them had me on the goddamn ropes. I commend them.
So, as I said before: Yeah, I slept. I did, but you know.
Melbourne is a low-rising, stretched out San Francisco with a commonwealth flair. It's like Cape Town in many ways. The weather is similar to northern California. Queen Elizabeth II marks their coins and their paper money are colored like jelly beans.
Meeting up with some friends, we talked about water rights and Australia's relationship with China.
"If it came to war, we'd have to side with China because we trade with them on such a massive scale. We trade with Japan, but they're small. The south China Sea is where it's all boiling over. That's where shit is going to hit the fan," said one friend, a farmer from Canberra, a remote mountainous region north of Melbourne.
Minimum wage is high here, but so are meals and booze and cigarettes. All taxed heavily. Everyone rolls their own cigarettes. A pack of regular ciggies go for upwards of twenty dollars.
We're going to an Australian football game tonight. It's the Western Bulldogs, who we root for, against the North Melbourne Kangaroos. Other teams include the Jeelong Cats, Sydney Swans, and Freemantle Dockers. There are more, but I don't know them, yet.
"Do you they serve booze in the stadium?" I asked, referencing the dry stadiums of European football.
"If they didn't, there'd be riots."
Go Dogs, ya cunts.
P.S. This is the longest word: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.
Misophonia is the literal hatred of sound. What sound, or sounds, depends on you. It's not all sounds, and it's not all the time. When it does strike it's randomly, and ugly. For some, it's constant. Waves. For me, it comes in waves. Today was one.
It was a woman chewing her soup, and it happened today at lunch. She was sitting just a table away from me, diagonally and perfectly aligned with my right ear. And this is common knowledge, or it should be: I have very poor eyesight, and because of this, it is my belief, theory, whatever that my auditory system has gradually made up for that slack. Call it gift or curse, it remains something to be dealt with and it's not always dealt with in the politest of ways.
If you've seen a cow, or not a cow because that's rude or will be taken as such. If you've seen a Cape Buffalo, which is a vicious creature known for it's flanking ability in battle, then chances are you've seen them eating, something they do continuously. They grind their bottom jaw in a circular motion against their stationary top jaw. Around and around that bottom jaw goes gnawing on the the grip of grass and sticks they have in there, mixing it with their saliva, smacking their fat lips. The technique, renown in bovines, is called chewin' the cud.
This woman was chewing the cud with her soup, grinding it in there, smacking her lips, slurping, burping, clanking the spoon clumsily against her teeth, all of it. I'm thinking about it now. The noises attacked, growing louder with each new spoonful. I wanted to break everything. Instead, I slammed my spoon down on her table because I no longer had use for it. I felt it an appropriate message at the time. Now, I'm seeing the holes in it, realizing how misguided, bizarre it probably was.
After the spoon, I left. No more appetite.
It was tomato soup, if you were wondering. Lugh.
Animal Navigation is exactly what it sounds like: how animals navigate accurately without any maps, instruments, assistance. Many animals and insects travel thousands of miles each year to their respective breeding grounds without so much a a gas station attendant pointing them in the general direction. For me, I need a map to get to the coffee shop. I could find it without a map. I could, but not like a whale can find a safe warm water cove 2,321 miles away on the other side of the planet. Tomato, tomato, though. Right?
There are many mehcanisms animals use to navigate accurately. Animals like birds, wasps, and bees often used remembered landmarks. I use those, too. There must be more to it than just remembering a treee or a street sign, though.
The sun plays an important role for many animals on their travels. Fish, sea-turtles, and butterflies are a few animals that use sun compass orienation in transit. However, because the sun moves, this form of navigation requires a strict internal clock. Animals that navigate by the sun use this internal clock to maintain their circadian rhythm, which is a built-in and adjusted oscillation of about 24 hours. I sleep 5-8 hours each night. I need to get me one of them circadian rhythms, ya know?
Just as some animals navigate by the sun, others navigate by the night sky. The African dung beetle is a prime example, and it's been found that it can only navigate when the Milky Way or other clusters of stars are well lit. Sounds made up, I know. It's not. Star guidance was employed by our oldest descendants, and is still used widely across the planet. Not in L.A., though.
How does a blind mole rat navigate? Through magnetoreception, of course. Blind mole rats, also pigeons, are highly sensitive to the earth's magnetic field and use its charges to accurately negotiate their paths. I don't see well, so I often employ this mechanism. It hasn't served me like I'd hoped.
Someone once asked me, "C.M., do salmons have noses that can smell?" Well, the answer may be yes. It turns out, olfaction is what enables salmon to return to the exact rivers in which they were hatched. It is believed they use magnetic fields as well, but decipher between distinct water ways using their olfactory systems.
I'm interested in how humans have affected animal navigation. I imagine you have a lot more lost animals out there.
This has been today's topic. Hope you enjoyed. Thank you.
Our off beat journalist and writer C.M. Stassel (author of Lucy the Elephant) has recently sent me a two part story he wrote up about the California Coastal Commission battle that took place last week and is of deep concern to all of us now. Of course, if you DGAF about protecting Cali’s coastline, this story is still chalk-full of sardonic humor and characters such as the Canadian Trump supporter or salty Morro Bay fisherman… enjoy and be ready for Part 2 coming later this weekend…
The Coast of California Under Siege Pt. 1
There was no sense to his madness, this tiny man dancing around the car, periodically hammering at the metal shell of this old Eighty-eight. “You just got to hammer it out, boy,” he said, looking to me in between swings. “Hammer it and you’ll find that sweet spot,” he said, eyeing his next target. “Like life.”
I had made tentative plans to meet someone in a bar at three o’clock. I doubted she would show, but I had to get out of Costa Mesa and this was a good excuse. The meeting was on the other side of the bay in Corona Del Mar at a little bar where people went to drink and discuss the heightened gall of the coyote population in Newport Beach.
Little dogs were being picked off left and right, they proclaimed. Some of the old-timers wanted authority to shoot on sight. Deputize the whole damn city, they screamed! Sounds just like what we need. I say let ‘em at it. “Those Democrats are taking our guns!” they cry, as they beg for permission to shoot animals in the middle of streets in broad daylight. Oh yeah, I forgot.
I was able to convince the old man to let me use the Eighty-eight. It was dirty-white and hammered to hell and clanked as it rolled, but sturdy like a tank. The woman I was supposed to meet claimed to possess sensitive information regarding Banning Ranch and the Coastal Commission. I was interested, but my mind was still in Idaho, where I had been two days earlier and just barely missed the chance to interview John Kerry. I wanted to ask him what he thought of Peyton Manning and Hassan Khomeini, Ayatollah’s grandson, being excluded from the Iranian election panel. Peyton Manning wasn’t excluded from the panel, so I guess he could he still run, but I was more concerned about him going against the Patriots. I thought John might have some greater insight and I wanted it. I attempted to infiltrate the bar where he was allegedly singing karaoke, but his security detail was quick to swarm. They were a bit rough, but kind to let me go. Apparently they shut down the entire place so that John could sing a few Dixie Chicks songs in peace. John has a nice voice, I could hear it from the street. I thought about tunneling into the bar, but abandoned the idea quickly. No shovels. Instead, I went to an art gallery with free wine and Stella Artois. And expensive art. I touched the art, but no one saw. I was trying to make a point. I think touching the art was art in itself. No one saw.
Back to the road: the Eighty-eight was trash and so was the old man, but I wasn’t worried about that. It was mid-afternoon and the top was down because it was seventy-two and sunny. The middle of winter. We, Americans, were on the brink of what might be the most explosive Presidential election we’ve had in years – we still are. Until the next one, of course. There’s a tendency to overestimate the power that one man can bring into the White House. There’s always the Redeemer and the Demon, that’ll never change. The real ransom happens when they gang up. As a gang, they tend to behave like coyotes in Newport Beach. One way or another you eventually become what you hate. Old women have scolded me for arguing such points.
“You just don’t know, honey,” this old lady who I see at the grocery store, the booze aisle, has said to me many times before. She wears enormous gold earrings, and they weigh down her useless ears, stretching them like taffy. I’ve seen similar ears on an aging punk from Santa Ana who wears those tribal hoops. Sadistic beauty. Or numb cartilage. Like a shark. Aging punk and perfumed booze-hound. “You’re young . You don’t understand,” she’d say. Maybe she’s right, but I don’t really care. And I don’t feel that young. Hanging out with old people does that to you, though – makes you feel young, which is a good thing. It can be soothing, and Lord knows we need soothing, at least I do. Although, they hold their alcohol like high schoolers, which can be a problem, and they seem to care only about the Redeemer and the Demon. Gangs go by unnoticed for them. Anyway, she seems to have her own news sources that cook up her facts just the way she likes them. Well-done and over-salted. “Cook your meat, sweety,” she says when she sees me buying a steak, “or you’re get the salmonella!” It all seems very convenient. Enough with her, though, she’ll be dead soon. Her words, not mine.
Back to the road: Priuses and scooters battled for supremacy, while cyclists, without even so much as a cautionary glance over the shoulder, wobbled in and out of their designated lane. One cyclist, large fellow, was riding hands-free and throwing middle fingers at a middle-aged graphic designer wearing a beanie. I could tell he was a graphic designer by the sticker on his bumper: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Comic Sans”. Stay away from this monster, I thought. I need to get away from all these animals. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing erupted into some savage fight. These people are sick. I pushed the sweet Eighty-eight as hard as she could go. I had to get to that bar across town before three o’clock or I might miss my mark: a professional woman who claimed to have sensitive information regarding Banning Ranch and the Coastal commission. Something about collusion and conspiracy to wipe out the entire population of long-tailed weasels and ornate shrews. I think it really had to do with Charles Lester, current director of the California Coastal Commission. Something was going down, and he was going to be the goat. I feared the worst.
It’s called the Quiet Woman, the place where she wanted to meet. They serve mashed potatoes at all hours of the day, so I ordered myself a plate with a beer when I got in. I sat at the bar, which was dark and clean, glasses hanging upside just above my head. I grabbed one and started to fill it up myself, before the bartender made a run at me. Unhand me, you extremist, I screamed. He eventually got hold of the mug and calmed down, but only after I explained that I was from Europe. They do things differently over there, man, I said. That’s when the businessman at the end of the bar with a briefcase, sipping on some lemonade concoction, said to me, “You from Europe?” I wasn’t about to get into it with some travelling salesman. I was there for the story, for the conspiracy. The collusion!
“Who’s asking?” I answered as the bartender slid me a mug full of beer.
“I’m Canadian,” he responded, moving into the light, revealing his pale white skin and straight brown feathery hair. “You running away too?” he asked excitedly, then standing up and moving closer. I cowered away, preparing for a fight, but he just politely took the seat next to me, then carefully put out his hand in greeting. I refused to touch the thing, telling him instead how sick and contagious it was whatever I had. Stay back. The Canadian believed it without further question.
“So you’re running away, too, then?” he asked again.
“Not sure. Should I be?”
He snuffed at the question, then sipped from his pink cocktail. “No, you’re right in the sweet spot, brother.” I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t know there was a sweet spot.
“What are you running away from?” I asked.
He laughed and glared at me as if I should have known. “All that goddamn democracy and kindness and political correctness,” he exclaimed, slamming down his glass in what was the first emotional display of force I’d ever seen from a Canadian outside a hockey rink. “I can’t stand it. I want the truth and I want it plain. I want walls built and guns and security, and I don’t want to have bite my tongue, brother! You feel me, I can tell,” he said, using his heels to lift himself out of his seat, getting antsy and drunk. “I don’t want refugees or diplomacy or more ‘talking’,” he said, heating up. “I want action and I don’t care what it is! I want Trump!” he shouted, taking a swig in toast. “Donald Trump, goddamnit. That’s why I’m here. I’m here for Donald. I’m here for skyscrapers and hotels and condos and gold! I want to live in a country with that kind of leader.”
I’d been hearing more and more about people who would up and leave to Canada if Trump were elected. “Nearsighted, narrow-minded, bigoted mutant,” is what I’d heard a convicted burglar and jaywalker call him last week. I was up in Sacramento, political country, when I’d heard it. I had gone to a luncheon at a golf course where local politicians hung out. The politicians weren’t saying these things. They were too careful. It was the convict out back who’d been living in the alley for the past six months, surviving off scraps of food and discarded Wall Street Journals.
“But Canada? Isn’t it all peace and maple syrup and hockey?” I asked. I’d never been.
“No!” he screamed, leaning in closer. “There’s no power up there” he added without hesitation.
“I want to feel that power. I want respect. I don’t want peace.”
“I’ve heard people say they’ll go to Canada if Donald is elected,” I answered, hoping to incite a riot.
“Cowards,” he snorted, finishing his glass and signaling for another. “Good riddance. Can’t stand those people. They’re scared of the power. They don’t want respect. They just want to sit around and braid each other’s hair and smoke dope.”
This man was twisted. The cold must have gotten to him.
“Have you heard of the California Coastal Commission?” he asked. My interest piqued. This is what I had come here for. I told him I had and urged him to continue, and to drink up. “Well they’re finally getting rid of it. Finally, we developers are going to be able to build without restriction. The entire coast is going to be developed. It’s going to be beautiful. The first thing to go will be that dump, Banning Ranch,” he laughed, drinking his pink cocktail. “Hey can I get a lime?” he asked the bartender.
“Screw the lime! Tell me more about the Commission. Where is it going?”
“Going? Hah! It’s going straight down the toilet, brother, and hotels are going up, up, up! They’re getting rid of that Lester guy and they’ll put someone else in place. Someone who will let us build all the way to the water’s edge! You’ll step out of your condo and into the water, brother! There’ll be no one to stop development. We can build to the sky, brother!” he hissed with laughter. “This is why I’m here. This is why I left Canada. Canadians are so concerned with preservation and blah blah blah. They let the land dictate them. Not here. Oh no, brother. Here, we dictate the land. We conquer the land and massage it into anything we want. The land works for us!”
Where was my contact? She should have been there, but as I looked at the giggling Canadian in front of me, chewing on a piece of ice and stirring his pink cocktail I realized who she had wanted me to meet. It was this Trump supporter.
“We’re going to build up every inch of land along the coast, from Mexico to Canada!” he screamed. “Manifest Destiny, brother. Louis and Clark! The Trail of Tears!”
On February 10, 2016 there will be a public hearing held in Morro Bay, California to decide the future of Charles Lester’s employment as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission. The Commission was established by the 1976 Coastal Act, an act signed into law by Governor Brown during his firm term, to protect and conserve the California coastline. I reached out to Lester yesterday, but was unable to reach him. Lester, an environmentally-minded attorney took the helm in 2011. To understand Lester better, it’s wise to look to the man who chose him as his successor, Peter Douglas, who died in 2012. For more than 25 years Douglas, a staunch environmentalist, ran the Commission, advocating for its independence. In 1996, Douglas fought off a very similar attack to replace him with some amorphous invertebrate who would bend and twist in whatever direction developers so chose. He fought off that attack, yes, but the pressures to succumb to narrow interests have gotten stronger, doubling, tripling their efforts, unwilling to see the coastline as anything other than a sexy investment opportunity. The small faction of pro-development commissioners allegedly leading the charge to oust Lester were, ironically, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. The four term governor may very well destroy the commission he signed into law in 1976. Poetic. Further, it seems Lester has been losing the battle to preserve California’s coast of late.
In December, the Commission approved a proposal by U2’s The Edge to build five mansions over an undeveloped ridge in Malibu. The late Peter Douglas called the plan one the worst he had ever seen. In 2014 the commission approved plans to build a hotel and condominium resort on 40 acres of environmentally sensitive sand dunes in Monterey Bay. Call it what you will, but that’s not preserving anything, except a pool filled with urine and over-sugared resort drinks.
This play, now, looks very similar to the one in 1996. The faction of pro-development commissioners quite literally gave Lester two choices: resign or sit through a public trial in which they would decide his future. Seems Lester called their bluff. Along with thirty-five, conservation-minded former members of the CCC who signed a letter opposing the removal of Lester. February 10, 2016 the spectacle will take place. Charles Lester could use some help. The California Coastline could use some help. Trust me, they’re coming for it. As for those in favor of covering every inch of California coastline in metal, tar, and hotels, I know a bar you’ll like. Ask for the Canadian.
Feb 8th, 2016
I've been workin' on a new project called NUKE BLAST presents....It's going to be a weekly Nuclear Email Blast showcasing a DUNK, a SKUNK, and a THUNK. I think it's going to be really good. I'll let you know how to subscribe when it launches. I'm thinking Big Country Reeves makes a comeback!
All the cheese that was promised, and some that was not. The barn was thick with the smell of the molded bricks of dairy. Willis and Robert stood to the side of the party, included but not involved.
“Come on, Robert, let’s make a loop around this place. Just one. Ease your way into it, ya know?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like right now is a good time for me. I’m hungry. You go, though. I’ll be right here. You go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you go. I’ll be right here.”
“Okay, and just so you know, full disclosure – I might get my hands on a little cheese over there. I won’t bring any back, but you know, I might just nibble. Just a little. Just a nibble, nothing much more than that.”
“That’s fine. You are free to nibble away. Not I, though. Not I.”
“Okay, I’ll see you soon.”
The sheep wandered off, leaving Robert behind. Robert snuck away, exiting the barn undetected. The plan was now in motion. His absence was a key ingredient to its success.
At a party in a barn, whose guests are primarily mice, it is not entirely unlike the atmosphere of a party at a house absent of parents, but it is entirely unlike the party that would take place at an art gallery. There is not a rule distinguishing one finger as the sole proprietor of the ability to touch. No, it is accepted in a much different way, a party in a barn with mice and cheese. Boundaries, already loose in interpretation, are flung entirely out the barn window. Rather, the party, or the nucleus of the party, the loudest part, happens directly on top of the cheese. Lounging, with dairy invading every corner and crevasse of their bodies do these creatures sit and play. Songs are sung, tales are swapped, jokes are punch-lined and enjoyed at the top of the mountain of cheese. It was around this mountain Willis made his way, clockwise.
At first, he was timid and cautious. He sought to understand how it all worked, the distribution of cheese. He did not want to seem greedy or gluttonous. To enjoy himself, his only goal. The goal quickly became warped, however, and changed into something different. It was no longer a goal that guided his time spent at this party. Once he understood the distance he must maintain from the mountain, or the distance he saw the others operating, he freely let himself fall into the dairy. Once submerged, he, once again freely, let himself run.
“What is that?” a nearby mouse asked.
“I’m not sure. Is that…is that a sheep?”
“That’s a sheep. He’s eating everything, from the bottom up. The whole thing is going to come down.”
“The whole thing is going to come down inside of him,” the mouse reiterated.
Willis had tasted it all. The Brie and Gouda and Cheddar and Swiss. Methodically, he wound himself through the mountain. Mice were jumping from it as though it were a burning building. Not all who were in attendance had been let in on the plan, and those who were ignorant to it, were surprised, startled by the sudden emergence of this crazed sheep. His coat, once white, was now stained, almost permanently, orange. The cheddar can be credited for that. However, those who understood what was happening, slowly took their places. From the corners of the barn they enclosed the sheep, quietly allowing him to fill himself up entirely. Music continued to play, but the dancing and laughing and talking and singing stopped. All that could be heard were the loud swallowing sounds and grunting elations coming from the sheep. The mice stepped closer, a ring forming naturally around Willis and the place in the center of the room where the cheese once stood. It was no more than a small hill, now. Like a slug, Willis moved across the ground. His gut had ballooned instantly. His condition was much worse than they had all imagined.
Robert, who had been outside, waiting, had now reentered the barn. With him, he carried a coil of string that, on his shoulder, resembled a spiral of rope. Around the room more and more mice emerged, each with their own coils of string. The goal of the evening became clear and just as the slug sheep inched his way through the final brick of cheese, he, too, understood his fate.
“Wait,” he asked, but into motion the mice had sprung. Quickly they worked. It was a one-sided match, for Willis, although he tried, could do little with his belly filled in the way it was. The cheese debilitating, heavy. In moments, he had been tied up. Stuck. Trapped. Bound. Robert stepped forth, his menacing glare sweeping the barn.
“Sheep. Go ahead and bah for us, sheep,” he said as he walked slowly forward. He put his right foot up onto the sheep’s snout. “Bah, you thieving sheep.”
Willis struggling to breath, took in air through his nose and kicked up dirt as he blew it out through his mouth. Robert jumped back, disgusted by the sheep’s wet air.
“You filthy creature. You think you can just continue to eat our cheese? Did you think we didn’t know? What do you take us for? Sheep?” he laughed and spun around to the crowd. They all laughed with him. One mouse cried out, “Bah,” and the rest joined in. Bahs sporadically echoed throughout the barn. Willis’s eyes struggled to meet each bah head on, and so he resolved to shut them tightly, but just as his lids touched, almost instantly, he felt the tiny hands of Robert prying them apart.
“No, no, no, Willis. You must see this, so you can understand how serious we are.” Robert paced room, but restricted his radius to where Willis could see. Robert wanted Willis to see his every move. To hear clearly his every word.
“Willis, sheep, what have you become? Where have you gone?”
There was a struggle from the slug sheep, but mild-mannered and obese, the attempt to break free was short-lived. Several mice laughed at his struggle. Mice were not particularly cruel, evil creatures, but Willis had done something that had turned them, morphed them into the foul beings that now occupied that barn. The sheep had threatened their supply of cheese. Control had everything to do with it, the lack of control.
Willis, on a normal day, had been walking with Robert. They were making their way to the tree they often sat under, it offered the best shade in the yard. Robert, unplanned, had offered Willis a piece of cheese. The kind was Brie. The sheep accepted and it changed him. He hid the affliction, but for a mouse it was easy to identify. After that, Willis did everything he could to get his hands on more cheese. Some methods were discrete, while, other times, they were loud and obtrusive. It started to become a problem for Robert and every mouse in the area. And so the plan was concocted. The very next day, Robert confessed his addiction to cheese, his abuse. The finale had always been planned for the party at the barn. Everything before that led to this place, now.
“There comes a time in every young mouse’s life where he truly understands what cheese means to him. It is not simply a source of nutrition or sustenance, but much more – it fuels our every movement. We did not choose it this way, sheep. No, we did not. This is something that had befallen our species thousands of years ago. Something, an urge, so ingrained in the DNA of our species, you’d think it would wise to leave that one thing alone. Especially, considering how intertwined you are in all of our lives, Willis. This kind of invasion – it befuddles me how you could think you would succeed in hiding it. You had plenty of opportunities to stop, to come clean. We are not a violent species. We were slow to act. It was a response, really. Now, here you are. Tied up. Is this where it will end? Betrayal is your charge, sheep. Bah.”
Willis had not taken his eyes off of Robert. He watched him with soft determination. He understood that Robert needed his respect. The sheep had no intention of this being where it would all end. Robert continued.
“We liked you, Willis. We all did, all that knew you. I, especially. You were my friend, but I’m afraid you’ve become something else – something, whose existence I, we, cannot permit. So, now it is time for us to end this once and for all,” Robert said, walking briskly towards the slug sheep.
Willis squirmed and struggle to get his mouth off the ground long enough so he could utter what may be his final words. He chose them carefully. They were his only logical, genuine choice.
“I’m sorry,” he said, dirt clouding upwards with the apology. He lurched again and very clearly said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”
Robert was stopped flatly by the words. He looked downward, contemplating his own life. He thought of how he would want to be treated. He also thought of his mother and father and sisters. What if it was them? Forgiveness can be given, it’s okay to forgive, he thought. I can forgive.
“Okay, Willis. I forgive. We all forgive you.”
The mice truly did forgive him. All they wanted was an apology and to get Willis well on his way to recovery.
“We will have to leave you here until you sober up. The cheese must run through your system. It will be painful, Willis. I assure you that, but if you live through it, then you are forgiven. Relapse is not an option. We have given you a second chance – us mice are very serious when it comes to cheese. Very serious.”
The mice swept out of the barn, leaving Willis to trudge through his next days of dairy fever. Willis would emerge healed and healthy and sober of cheese, and for the time being he would remain that way.
Robert and he would continue their chats under the shade of the tree in the yard. They remained friends for as long as Willis remained free of cheese.
“You’re a sheep, Willis. Bah. You’re a sheep.”
The sheep and the mouse, Willis and Robert, sat idly next to one another under a nearby tree. In the distance, they could see the barn, and they spoke of the party that would take place that night in that barn. It was a party that would be attended mainly by mice but seldom invitations had been extended to other animals. Willis, the sheep, was one of those animals.
“I really don’t want to go tonight,” said Robert as he fidgeted his small hands in his lap. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Willis. It’s too early. It’s too early for me to be put in a spot like that. It’s a tight spot. It’s a tight, little spot, and I just, I just, I just can’t be put in it. Too tight. Too, too tight.”
On his belly Willis sat, his back two legs crossed comfortably to resemble the twist of a pretzel. He heard Robert’s words but reacted with little enthusiasm, as if similar nondescript concerns had been splayed before him in much the same manner times before. He did, however, respond.
“Too early for what, Robert?” he asked calmly.
The mouse stood in a fit of frustration and placed his hands on his ears, he squeezed and pulled and shook. Into movement he paced, back and forth and back and forth.
“Too early for me to be around all that cheese!” he screamed, his pace increasing. “Do you have any idea how much cheese is going to be at that party tonight?”
Willis perked up, rising from his belly. He had not heard about the cheese before.
“What kind of cheese?” Willis asked, seeking to hide his excitement. The reason Willis had not been listening to the stampeding Robert before had everything to do with the parade of cheeses marching through his head. For the past days he had thought about nothing but cheese and their every variation. His ears, controlled by satellites, focused in on the mouse’s words.
“Oh, are kidding? Every kind of cheese. Gouda and Cheddar and Brie and Swiss, the combinations are endless there’s not a dairy they will miss. There will be American and Dutch and French and German, the smells and odors will draw every kind of vermin. I, on the other hand, will not be in attendance because I’ve still yet to kick my cheesy dependence. It’s much too early and it’s much too soon. If I go and attend, I’ll turn at once into a dairy-filled balloon. I’ll pop and explode and fly away far, the rumors will settle and burn and scar, I’ll eat cheese enough to fill up a car. And if I do go, without a gasp, it’ll be an ironclad, bulletproof relapse. I’ll eat pound after pound to the many cheers and claps. I’ll never stop, I won’t even consider it, for, at that point, the world will cease to have this sick mouse in it.”
Willis, his eyes now popping from his head, was hearing Robert’s words rhythmically. He honestly didn’t believe the mouse to be much of a poet, but now, for some reason, he was piecing together verse after verse and doing it well. Willis thought the poetry might just be a fabrication of his own affliction for cheese, one culminated in the mind, but he could take no chances and knew he must get to that party. He rhymed back as powerfully as he could.
“Robert, my dear, please don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear, think of Kincaid. He’s your long lost cousin and he’ll be there tonight. If you weren’t there to greet him, it just wouldn’t be right. And think of your mother and your father and sis, how on earth could they enjoy themselves if you were to miss? There’s Stuey and Buzz and Fiddles and Snatch, the party’s for them – haven’t you heard about that? How would they feel if you weren’t to show? Suspicion and resentment would only build and grow. No, no, my tiny little friend, I think you’re ready to prove that you don’t depend on dairy as fuel much the same way hay is not dependent on the mule.”
Robert had stopped pacing, his arms hung lamely at his side. Crooked his head sat, pushed askew by confusion. His eyes were spread wide.
“Why are you talking like that?”
Side to side Willis’s eyes went, for he was just realizing how strange that his response should be involved so intimately with lyrical meter. Robert had not been rhyming.
“Uh, well I’m just trying to lighten the mood. To give you a taste of what it’s going to be like tonight!” Willis said cleverly. “There will most certainly be singing and rhyming and cheering and dancing at this party. Don’t you want to be ready?”
Robert was not convinced. “You seem funny, Willis. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Of course I am. Yes, yes, yes. Don’t be silly. I honestly think it is monumental to your recovery for us to attend this party tonight. You need to be able to be around cheese comfortably for your recovery to work. As it is, you are a mouse. Your family and friends are mice. Cheese is going to be a part of your life one way or the other.”
Robert, still skeptical, was forced to see the logic in the sheep’s point. He would not be able to escape cheese unless he were to abandon his friends and family, and that’s not something he wanted to do. Maybe he was ready, he thought. Maybe Willis was right.
“Okay, Willis, but I will need your help. You’ll have to stay by my side the entire time. You can’t leave me alone, and if you do see me start to fade back into my addictive state you’re going to have to stop me.”
“If I see even the slightest shade of your old self I will throw myself on every piece of cheese in that barn, my friend.”
“I’m not sure you have to do that,” Robert said quickly.
“But not another word!” Willis affirmed. “I will eat every piece of cheese in that barn if I have to!”
“Okay, but that’s not necessary, Willis. Just make sure I don’t eat any cheese.”
Willis, took a deep breath to calm himself. He shook himself back into the moment. Wheels of Gouda, blocks of Brie emptied from his ears.
“I swear it, Robert,” he promised seriously. “Look at me. I’m a sheep. Bah. I’m a sheep.”
“Have you considered the alternative?” said Willis. The sheep was standing upright, leaning against the wooden railing of their square pen. There was an absentmindedness to his posture, a sass. His hip was cocked upward and bent opposite the direction of his lean. In his hooved hand he held a thick brick of cheese. Cheddar. He took a bite. The cheese, with each wrench and wind of his jaw, gathered eagerly with the saliva in his mouth, and as the two met and mingled they began to form a thick dairy, and unruly, soup. His eyes, and he, hell-bent on the flavors, rolled into the back of his skull.
“There are so many other ways to go about this, Robert. Take a diet, for example,” he said and waved the brick of cheese which now sported a serrated half-circle at its peak. “You don’t need to give up cheese, entirely. There’s no reason to.”
As a mouse, Robert, his entire life, had been expected to eat and love and live for cheese. And he had done just that. But now, after so many years, Robert had begun to look at things from a very different perspective. He was in a new phase in which he had committed to question and analysis and reevaluation – of everything he had done and known up to that point. Cheese was first on the list.
“Willis, you just can’t understand. You don’t crave the stuff like I do. It’s in my DNA. This kind of abuse is in my genes. It’s a sickness, a condition that needs to be treated medically by a doctor, or a psychologist. I need antibiotics. I need to go on prescription pills of strongest, most absorbing arrangement,” Robert said.
On his stomach his hands rested. He could feel the abuse he spoke of, he could grab at it and try to tear it away, but it would remain. He had built it himself, strong and resilient and layered. It would go nowhere fast.
The sheep, Willis, took another bite from the brick he still held.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” he began after pushing his mouth’s contents to its left side pouch of cheek. “I’ll be your sponsor.”
“Yes, like a coach, or a trainer. Your support system, old buddy.” He took another chunk and welcomed it into the mess he already held between his teeth. “Every time you feel the urge, the tick, you tell me and I’ll take care of it for you. Any time, day or night, I’m here for you. I’ll eat cheese enough for the both of us. I swear it,” he confirmed, his eyes glazed with syrupy desire.
That’s not a bad idea, thought Robert. It couldn’t hurt to have Willis around.
“Okay. I’ll give it a try, but don’t you go falling in love with the cheese the way I have,” the mouse warned. “It’ll ruin your life, Willis. Trust me.”
“Me?” Willis said, gesturing to himself. “I’m a sheep, Robert. Listen to me. Bah. I’m a sheep.”
The brick of cheese had been reduced to nothing.
C.M. Stassel, nothing fancy.