Category Archives: big vans
I couldn’t understand why people weren’t excited for me. Read the rest of this entry
On the Mesa to the so-called North West (the Earth is still not flat despite sick peoples best efforts) of Taos, a mesa whose name I do not know but know is worth knowing, I spent a beautiful hopeful time.
I drank a lot less out there, which meant more than an average person but not so much that I had to steal away to another town in the night trying to outrun my shame.
I looked up all of the time. I looked up into a sky that never ended, stretching for eternity. The sky was so big that my heart would race when I looked up. I would feel nervous without a canopy, but I liked it. So much of so many blues and far away blues.
I stayed with a man who years before had noticed he had been alone on this land for so long that he was loosing his mind. He had a moment of clarity where he recognized this as a state he may not return from, so he signed up to host woofers on a make believe farm. Two girls came out and smoked weed in his sweet spicy one room half buried palace. They shared a cast iron, if it got cold they made love or something like it.
He had found himself having all kinds of company ever since. I was there with a pack of performers making their living giving shows to drunks on sidewalks and in strip clubs, we moonlighted as thieves. We made clothes with pockets so big they could hide thirty paint markers or a gallon of wine.
My van blended into a sea of automobiles, buses, vans, motorcycles, and station wagons all in various stages of rot. The motley crew had one thing in common, each vehicle had at some point been given its current paint job by one or more clowns on one or more drugs whose names I can hardly pronounce.
Mine was stripes and stars but had cleverly avoided being patriotic.
Up the road was another sea of dilapidated old cars. We heard a rumour that the old man who lived in them was using their parts to make a roller coaster. I have been meaning to go back and check.
People out there were pretty isolated old geniuses. The ones that are much less fun to be around than to hear stories of. Besides the man with the roller coaster there were all kinds of people making all kinds of contraptions, spirally vortex crystal whirligigs, mechanisms for extracting ever more potent hallucinogenic properties from exotic plants, and most of all time machines; too many time machines to count. People were always talking about their time machines but never about where they were thinking they would go?
What time did these lonely fools think would be better for them? I was and am so curious about this.
The folks who were not inventors were focused on other kinds of incredible time (not) machines. For instance fire and farting; these two fantastic ones, exist perfectly inside and outside of all time. No matter what someone is watching on T.V. at any given hour in any given condition, their attention will always be drawn if their yard is on fire. In the same way, no matter how flat and sterile and cold the environment everyone giggles if a fart gets loose. People may even find themselves at the same window where they watched the yard burn, letting the smell out.
These were the kinds of important things that these people, who were smart enough and crazy enough that they could have been hired to build weapons of mass destruction, were keeping busy doing. Thank Gods.
I loved it there. My life is what I love today but sometimes there are not enough puppets hanging from rafters hitting me in the forehead while I am frying an egg.
My dog joined a pack of wild dogs and I hardly saw him. Bitches gave birth to puppies that were full grown pack members in a day and a half.
That pack was second in command only to a crew of feral three-year oldes. They were definitely in charge of the people end of that strange place. They ran everywhere naked and wild eyed. They stole food and made everything they could touch into their new best toy. They came in when they were tired, they knew their names and they screamed them as they ran barefoot over bushes that made me cry if they poked me even through a shoe.
I found some scribbling I did about this place a few years ago this morning as I was riffling through old notebooks.
That piece ended something like this:
Why do I think about that place today when I sit down to write about something or somewhere? Why that place of all of the places? I think it is all the looking up. It is such a striking time of looking up because it is sandwiched between times when I was always looking down, so far down that my face could not be told from the sidewalk.
Whidbey Island until the End
Somewhere in there Otay had reached sexual maturity and night time cages became more necessary when we were outside or in dilapidated houses that were less like inside than a tarp. His testicles, which were as big as his torso called him to wander in a way he was less likely to return from.
We moved to Whidbey Island in the spring. Otay met a lot of goats and passed the time tearing keys off laptops that were left open and unattended. Sometimes he could get one off while a person was just a few steps away from their computer.
We hopped around to Olympia a little, and sometimes stayed over in Port Townsend, me in a bed in the back of a box truck and him leaving pee trails on the front seats.
These were the days when he took up a rather curious hobby of chasing Skrap (or any other dog I trusted not to eat him) and trying to nibble at their penises. He was dedicated and would not give up the chase until such time as I took pity on my patient dog and picked up Otay and tucked him in my shirt. Tucking Otay in my shirt was like putting a towel over a birdcage and he would go right to sleep.
Otay lived nights in a condo built from an old rabbit hutch so that Skrap could rest a few hours in the evening unmolested.
When we moved back to Olympia it was summer. We bounced around for a hot minute and then moved into a little house made of windows in a luscious backyard. It was a place I had seen in my dreams and not surprising to me that it showed up physically.
Otay took no time finding an escape under a gardening drawer; at least I think that was where the hole was. Truth be told it was months of me plugging up holes I though were ‘the one’. Eventually he could only be off me when I was right there and even then sometimes he would disappear and materialize outside in the tall grass.
Once he escaped for less than five minutes but I found him covered in leaves as though he had fashioned himself clothes chewing on the bark of a tree he was clinging to. It was as though he had been on his own, surviving in the wild for months. This was Otays only foray into re-wilding.
In October that year I put together an art instillation at a hall just outside of town. My dear friend watched Otay for a few days so I could work around the clock without him leaping off of ladders or chasing raccoons to try to taste their junk.
That was our first time apart. I would not have thought it was possible but when I would walk into a room after being separated from him for any length of time he would scamper to me as fast as his little legs would go, or he would sneeze to me where he was until I picked him up.
When we cleaned up the show we had a load for the dump. I was heaving bags of non-burnables and smashed toilets down about twenty feet into the otherwise empty bin. I was just about to throw down a very heavy object when I spotted none other than Otay at the bottom of the bin sniffing broken glass, wading in dumpster soup.
I nearly had a coronary incident. I put down the heavy object and ran to the lady in the booth where the dump handled money. Like a cartoon, 8 very buff men showed up quickly like they just hid all day, polishing their muscles, waiting for someone to rescue. They talked about trajectories and strategies and action plans. I offered that someone could put the ladder they had brought down into the bin. Then that person could climb down, pick up Otay and climb back out.
I was told to keep quiet and let the professionals do their job. Twenty minutes later one of the men put his ladder down into the bin. He then climbed down, picked up Otay and then climbed back out. The team left Hi-5’ing each other and talking about God’s grace in the face of such adversity.
It was a good summer for Otay. We did not know it would be his last. He rode with me on bicycles, went to the beach and the river, and ate everything his mouth touched. He spent more and more time on the bodies of other friends. My roommate learned the hard way about his computer key habit, three times.
We went to New Mexico in the winter for our first trip to the little round trailer I have since lived in twice a year. The folks in La Madera had never heard of a pet rat, and wanted to hurl when they saw how he drank. So Otay stayed in the trailer and ate avocados and drank water with Osha in it to fix up what seemed like a urinary tract infection. This was the only time Otay was ever sick. When he was healthy we went back north to our glass nest.
These final months he had a more active social life than myself. We would go to a party and people I had never met would stick their hands in my shirt to flirt with him and coo about some recent adventure they had shared. These people would regard me about as much as the chair a friend is sitting in gets regarded.
Otay was a man about town. He had many more girlfriends than me.
One day we went to Elma to see the horse that had recently become the newest member of our family. Otay stayed in the van because when he rode on me during manual labor, my neck would look like a scratching post afterwards.
He had never escaped from a car. After work we got back in the van and drove the 40 miles home at 65 miles per hour. I did not see Otay but there was any number of places I figured he was hiding.
When we got home there was still no sign of him. We searched and searched. I called his name 1000 times. We called Elma so they could check their own driveway.
Eventually we all sat crying on the porch, wondering if he had escaped or if he had gotten into the engine somehow and fell off on the highway. I had a strong feeling that he was alive but in danger. We went back to the van. My friend checked the back again. I sat in the drivers seat and closed my eyes. I called his name and spoke our secret clicking language and then I listened, hard.
Then suddenly, a sneeze!!!!! Halleluiah! From inside the dashboard. Behind the steering wheel, so many sneezes then. 16 screws, a lot of prayers and a dashboard removal later he was free. As near as we could figure, Otay had crawled through the gas pedal hole up to a tiny platform in the dashboard where he had clung on for dear life, surviving high speeds and bone rattling pop music.
In spring a trip to California brought Otays first stay in a five star hotel. On our way back north we were stopped at a friends place and I put a watermelon rind in his cage. In the morning he was scratching like wild at his bars. I looked and it was like a horror movie, everything in the cage was covered in ants so thick it was all you could see. There were two lines marching out of the wall right into the cage with no sign of stopping. Otay was rescued in the nick of time.
In retrospect this was the closest he ever came to being eaten.
In Portland we met a rat named Augustine Octavius who was being called Cointel-pro, living a lonely life in a basement. He was not older than Otay but he was bigger and paralyzed from the waste down. He was supposedly a biter.
We learned that Oggy (as we called him) was a sweet flower waiting to blossom with love and avocados. We adopted him as a pet for Otay who had been lonely in his cage when I found steady work.
They were quick cuddle buddies. Oggy was the only rat Otay had ever liked. Oggy thrived in Olympia. Otay on the other hand began to wither. It was too much time in his cage and not enough on my body. Even with Oggy as a pet, I believe his heart was broken.
Two weeks later he got sick. It came on fast, a matter of a day or two. By the time I noticed he was not well he was hardly moving and not eating or drinking by himself.
For two days we sat watching him. I fed him nettle tea in an eyedropper. I had seen nettle tea bring goats back from the gates of death. I also fed him pedialyte and at one point he ate applesauce and we thought he would recover.
It was not so. He passed away, cuddled between our greatest friend and me. It was the early morning of June the 8th. We wrapped him in lace like the sweetheart of Mel Gibson in Brave Heart. We had a public viewing for the entire day and then he was buried by a parade of children who loved him, in a bed of flowers and stories and a boat made of flute melodies created for his journey.
In a world where complacency can take us over so quickly Otay was a living and constant reminder of lifes’ magic. Though he may be sitting on a golden throne eating dog dick in rat heaven, we are hear missing him and forever listening for his sneeze.
I had tried to put it behind me. I loved her so much, she was untouchable, she was perfect to me. She was never reachable even when we shared a bed or a car or 15 states. She was the taste of port and cigarettes and late nights. She was the color of every red and green and yellow pencil in her case when they blended over faceless figures dancing on the beach.
I couldn’t be touched either. I couldn’t stop drinking, I couldn’t stop panicking, I couldn’t stop naming my days after her moods.
I had finally left her. I was in Portland where I had been four months. My lover was upstairs in her room getting ready for the party. I was in a tutu and boom boom shorts putting an abundance of snack trays out. I heard the door behind me, I turned around double fisting dumpstered cheese and there she was, next to another friend I had left behind.
We all started laughing. Had she seen me in anything but carharts and flannels? The cheese was melting into my tattered elbow length gloves before anyone said anything.
The next day she came again. She said she loved me and that she had been a fool. She told me to move back with her, she told me we would start again. At least I swear this is what I heard.
I told her to pick me up the next day. I walked inside and up the stairs and with no notice and no empathy told the person who loved me, who had fed and housed and nursed me, the one who kept the wine coming, the one whose kids were very used to me, that I was leaving the next day.
I was surprised she was upset. I thought it was unreasonable.
She picked me up at the planned time, I thought that was a sign of how things had changed. She picked me up in a ¾ ton diesel van, navy blue called Boxcar Bertha.
Two weeks later she told me she was leaving. She had trained me to take over her job in the office without me realizing that’s what she was doing. No one would have willingly signed on for that job and this was the way she could get out. She moved to the town she had picked me up from.
She left the apartment paid up for a few months to soften the blow.
The blow was not softened.
I drank alone in that apartment, tried to fuck other girls in that bed but could not do it. I did all the work I needed too and nothing more. I listened to one leonard cohen song and one cat power album on repeat for hours. The cake she had bought me for my birthday molded in the kitchen.
At some point she left the west coast all together. Before she did she gave me Boxcar Bertha. I had no license or address or means of switching the title. In those first months it was still in her name and I drove around collecting parking tickets hoping that parking enforcement would find her in the Carolinas and she would think of me.
Bertha had a good long run with me, many parking related accidents, many miraculously close calls with bigger problems. So many people lived in her, traveled in her. All across the country and back through new paint and break downs.
She was built by a company who, in an attempt to compete with other vans of the time, had quickly converted a gasoline car engine into diesel and shoved it in a van body. To touch the alternator with my fingertips I had to have my arm in the engine up to the shoulder. She had a dog house between the front seats that was good for graffiti or for people from the back of the van to sit on during brief visits to the driver.
This is where all of her times with me began….