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Panic Room

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JJ found the car parked around the corner from the bar. It had a ticket under the wiper (meter expired, never fed) but looked intact. Night was falling and there were people going here and there, young people with hope and a bounce in their steps. There was an expectant Friday night feel. He sat on a bench near the car and strove for a post-binge clarity of his position and state of affairs. There were pros and cons.

Pro: He hadn’t lost the car and it appeared to be undamaged. The keys were in his pocket.

Con: He didn’t know what happened during the past three days.

Pro: Except for a sodden dread and a railroad spike of pain in his head, he appeared to be mostly intact. Dirty, but physically intact.

Con: All his cash was gone.

Pro: He still had his wallet and debit card.

First things first. Find an ATM. There’s a bank right over there with the little ATM booth attached near the side entrance. A swipe, a buzz, and the too bright flourescent light. Check balance? (A dreadful stirring and shadowy memories, much too recent.)

Balance: $1,254.88.

Before he left Massachusetts it was $51,000 and change, the last of his lottery winnings.

He stared at the current number. The digits floated a little on the screen, disconnecting then all lining up. He blinked but the number of digits didn’t increase. It took him a minute to do the math as his heart started to pound. The shadow beasts were starting to emerge from the mist.

He was missing $50,000.

Other memories now, little glimpses of a movie in which he was the slow-moving and dimwitted star. A bank. Bank employee in a suit (never a good sign). Phone calls and … signatures? And… And…

A person with him. A woman? Yes? A young woman. The Mountain Dude? That was later, he was pretty sure.

He stood frozen at the ATM until it double-beeped and threatened to end the transaction. He cancelled the transaction and stumbled back against the wall of the ATM booth. Sliding down to a crouch with his back against the wall, JJ tried to piece it all together and pierce the fog of the last three days. The ride from Denver, a liquor store along the way, a hotel off the highway, drinking and watching a baseball game on TV. Restlessness and boredom. Then the fog thickened. JJ, head down in concentration and shame, trying to keep the panic at bay, crouched there for a minute or an eternity.

There was a knock on the glass of the ATM panic room. JJ startled with a surge of fear and jerked his head up. The demons were trying to get in!

He saw a woman smiling at him through the glass. Was it…? Lila? But, no, just for a second there. The shape of her. The hair. But it was not Lila. JJ opened the door.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “I got my stuff. The camping gear.”

“What?”

“Are you alright? We’re driving up to see the land.”

“…”

“The land we bought?”

“…”

“Jason?”

“You drive,” he said and handed her the keys. “And help me up, please.”

 

 

 

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Safe in the Woods

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Emerging from a blackout, one finds oneself in the midst of the strangest scenarios. You re-enter your body like a time traveler and need to catch up quick lest you are discovered.

JJ re-entered his body, sitting on a park bench in Fort Collins, CO. Sitting next to him, hairy and hulking, was the Mountain Dude.

“I dreamt of a broken safe in the woods, full of acorns.”

“Huh?” JJ was disoriented and wondered what had happened. How was he here? Where did the Mountain Dude come from? And, holy shit, where was the car?

“I was walking down a mountainside. Saw an appliance or something down the hill in a clearing.   Got closer and it was a safe, busted open, with acorns spilling out.”

“A safe? Who was safe?”

The Mountain Dude looked at JJ. “Man, you’re really out of it. It was a safe, like where you keep your valuables. In the middle of the woods, busted open, with acorns spilling out. Hundreds of acorns.”

“When did this happen?”

“Dude! It was a dream.”

A dream. Maybe this was a dream, too. How could the Mountain Dude, who JJ instantly recognized as the Mountain Dude from back east, be sitting here in a park in Colorado talking to him about dreams.

“Is this real?”

“I’m real. I’m really real. The dream? What kind of symbol is a broken safe in the woods?”

JJ looked at the park. Late summer, late afternoon. People walked their dogs and threw Frisbees. The foothills of the Rockies rose beyond the town, sage and brown. He felt quavery and dry, his head too big for his body. Standing would be a major issue. Worse, there were knuckle-dragging beasts, just beyond the fog in his head and heart. Feelings and memories chasing him, making threatening movements, shadows in the fog. If that fog clears…

“Precious things are kept in a safe, locked away,” JJ said.

“Right. Not just documents. Gems and jewels.”

“So maybe the things you hold precious, locked up inside, need to come out. Or they’re already out.”

“So the woods are my soul or unconscious,” the Mountain Dude said. “And I come upon this safe that’s broken open.”

“Full of God’s thoughts.”dsc_0789

“What?”

“Acorns are God’s thoughts. Simple and perfect, but not too perfect.”

“Dude. I knew you could do it.”

“You knew? How?”

“You told me. In the bar. An interpreter of dreams you said you were. A seeker of symbols. I pulled you out of there before they threw you out of there.” The Mountain Dude stood up. “And I’ve been rewarded.”

“You’re going?”

“I have to go off and think on these images.”

“What about me?”

“You’ll have to carry on and find your own acorns.”

The Mountain Dude walked down the grassy hill toward the foothills beyond.

JJ stared after him, befogged and befuddled.  What now?  Then he yelled at the departing Mountain Dude, “Have you seen a Hyper Blue Metallic Camaro?”

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Go West

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Thoreau, in Walking, romanticized the instinct to go West as the human impulse toward the wild, which for him meant to be really alive. The West represents the wild urge inside of us that we need to respect and not fuck with. He was leery of settling down, of becoming smug and lame, and mocked his neighbors who were strangely pleased about being rooted in place by their comfort and real estate. He would abhor most of the US today.

I have often fled West to seek a sense of space and newness, to get revitalized. But I always returned east to get devitalized.

I sit on this westbound plane craving alcohol and trying to (not) look down the shirt of the woman next to me. Forty-five minutes into the flight and she has not acknowledged me in any way though we sit six inches apart. I’m working up the courage to go for a full-on glimpse of her bra. I need to know the color!

When the drink cart comes I buy two vodkas and dump them into my airline coffee. That gets her attention and the distance between us grows to seven inches.

Have you ever been to the Denver International Airport? It is a light and airy place, trying for a mood of a whimsical futuristic Colorado with no shale oil or coal mining, only skiing and taxable marijuana. It has a soaring roof that imitates the snowcapped peaks in the distance. It has underground trains that go to various terminals. It takes an hour to get from the arrival gate to the outdoors.

I take a shuttle to the Hertz building where I enter what looks like an Apple Store highlighted in Hertz-yellow and talk to a guy named Brett about renting a convertible.

“Right on,” Brett says. “We usually recommend the full-size SUV if you’re going into the mountains.”

“Is the full-size SUV a convertible?”

He chuckles in a don’t-be-silly way. “Nope. But it has lot of room.”

“Brett,” I say. “Dude. Let’s cut through the upsell bullshit and get me on the road in that convertible.”

“Right on.”

Chevy Camaro. Hyper Blue Metallic. Enough said.

The Denver metro area is sprawling and vast and it takes a while to get that driving in the west feeling of space and possibility. I head north along the Front Range. There’s this headache and my body is crying for more liquor but I’m determined to hold out for a little while until…

The guy at the liquor store is eyeing my Camaro. “That’s a nice one.”

“Just got it,” I say and grab my bottle of whiskey. “Now I’m gonna christen it.”

“Right on.”

By christen it, I mean take a big hit off the Wild Turkey bottle and keep driving.

There’s two levels to me right now, very distinct. There’s Jason, the part that knows I’m fucked, out of control, headed for something painful and unpleasant, probably involving police or hospital.

Then there’s the other part, exultant, insatiable and free. JJ unleashed. Jason knows that this is fleeting, already slipping away even as I howl into the top-down air. But, it’s so good, this rush of doomed possibility. It just is! So, shut the fuck up, Jason! Shut up about the dwindling lottery winnings. Shut up about Lila and Carl and family. Shut up about finishing the memoir.

JJ reserves the right to revel in this pure freedom of road, mountains, and hyper blue metallic rental Camaro. I accept the deal. Pure bliss for an hour or two before the really compulsive drinking takes over and I blackout or gray-out for a few days and do something stupid.

That’s a bargain!

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I Will Not Be Caged

The bank guy said, “Sir, we may not have all those bills, and even if we do, you’ll have to fill out a form for the federal…”

“That doesn’t concern me, Mr. Bummel.”

“It’s Hummels, sir.  And I would advise…”

“I’m not looking for advice Mr. Bummel.  I’m looking for my cash.”  JJ corrected his posture, pushing himself up from slouch for emphasis.  He felt this leather bank chair was pulling him under, sucking him in.  “My cash,” he said.

“Sir, I’ll need to talk to the manager.  But, I need to ask.  It’s uncomfortable but, are you intoxicated, sir?”  Hummels looked at him, steady and professional, which JJ kind of respected through the fog of his binge.

“Mr. Hummels, sir, that’s neither here or there.  I just need my cash.”  Hummels considered, looking at the specimen across his desk.  A clock was ticking in the office, a small glassed-in space right off the main lobby.  JJ thought of a reptile cage in a zoo, though no one was looking in.  The reptiles usually just sit there anyway, dignified and bored, until feeding time.  “Komodo dragon,” he thought and snickered a little.

“How much did you say, sir?”

“Well that’s where I need your help a little.  How much cash will fill a bath tub?”  A pause.  “It can be a mixture of demona…demomma…denominations.”

“You’re putting this cash in a bath tub?”

He drew himself up again, fighting the slouch, dignified.  “I intend to bathe in my money, yes.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but may I ask why?”

“You may ask,” JJ said and paused.  “I want to feel it all around me.  Beyond that, we’ll see.”

“Are you going to put water in the tub?”

“You must think I’m an idiot!  I don’t want to ruin my money!”

“Sir, keep your voice down, please.  I’ll see what we can do.”

JJ watched Hummels walk to the bank guard near the entrance.  They shared a word and a glanced back at the glass office, then Hummels headed to the larger office in the corner.  Something told him it was time to leave.  The air was going out of the balloon, the idea bulb above his head dimming.  This bank, this sucking leather chair, was killing momentum.  He stood and listed toward the lobby, but the exit seemed far away.  Komodo dragon, trapped in the reptile house, its enclosure door suddenly left open by a careless zookeeper.  You read about escaped zoo animals sometimes, on the internet.  It was now or never.

The bank guard watched him walk out, took a step, but then let him pass through the lobby.  “Tell Bummels to forget it,” JJ said as he passed the guard.  “I will not be caged.”

“Yes, sir,” the guard said.  JJ went out into the cold and headed across the parking lot.  He was on foot, which was a good thing, considering.  Glancing back, he saw the guard watching him from inside the door.  The stifling bank behind, JJ headed toward home without his cash, transformed from caged reptile to some poor antlered beast, still captive in the zoo, but with room to roam within its habitat.  Liquor store first, then back home.

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