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Mushroom Telephone At Sunset

~click here for black & white display~

In the morning I woke up having to pee so bad it was painful even to put on my shoes. I wobbled past the truck-stop carnival machines, the things that let you try for misshapen stuffed animals with a crane arm, their mirrors and bare light bulbs sliding inside my eyes, and into the bathroom of the fast food syndicate that had bought this particular toll-way exit from the syndicate that ran the highway, the government people.

I made it off the tollway back onto the regular freeway even before the afternoon had really started and to celebrate I put in one of my few surviving tapes. I was driving through Kansas, with sunlight and old people all around me, and I stared at the future, at the straight line of freeway that threaded into the same vanishing point, for hours, and hours.

Perhaps it was the tape I was listening to, or the sheer bible and shitty beer aura that made me start smiling in advance, but at one point I looked over and saw, I shit you not, a pick-up with plywood panels coming up on both sides of the bed, the whole thing painted with thick drips of green housepaint underneath white block letters spelling out "Jesus Love You Dog Grooming Service," with a crude sheepdog image next to the "Love."

This prepared me, slightly, for the sight, about a mile later, of a billboard cut with sawtooth edges to simulate rough-cut wood and a huge friendly yellow arrow inviting me "To the Ozarks Mall!!" and I suddenly felt claustrophobic. No one would get me out of this place but me. What if my arms or legs, or eyes or brain, stopped working?

My voice sounded strained as I talked to my skeletal companion. 'Dorothy, I think we're in fucking Kansas!' I looked over at the skull-face, but I don't know what reaction I expected.

Having sex in that dorm room the previous day had saturated me with biological chemicals. Noticing that my little white car was alone on the freeway for miles in either direction, I undid my jeans and ran my fingers all the way down. It felt lovely to ignore so many rules at once, and there wasn't any rush, I just sat behind the steering wheel with a ridiculous smile on my face, feeling no need to explain my bonobo behaviors to any silly ape whose fun parts were all buttoned, locked and zipped away. The breeze drifted through the car and the sun was too bright but I didn't care, gently moving my arm, getting away with it, this pleasurable thing. I had a dirty t-shirt or a kleenex, or something like that in the front seat, and something soft rolled over me five or seven times and I didn't crash, or even fuck the car seats up.

I was still driving, hours later, but my hormonal system had long ago curled up and taken a nap. On the other hand, the psychic energy of, well, people with short haircuts and a perpetual frown who chose to live in, well, Kansas still bombarded me from all directions. The first exception appeared near the end of the afternoon when a red economy hatchback with a caterpillar-on-mushroom sticker in its back window rolled by in the fast lane. I had smoked a tiny bit of my dwindling joint that afternoon, but even before it faded the feeling of floating in an isolation tank had returned. Until I saw these people, who looked like they were having fun. I thought it must be a couple changing coasts. The guy in the passenger seat had on mirror-shades and long straight hippy hair coming out of an aqua bandanna folded into a triangle, its point fluttering in the artificial wind.

Both cars seemed to have similar preferred cruising speeds, and we politely passed each other a few times, smiling and nodding each time. When the driver, a friendly-looking woman with short dark hair, pulled off at a rest stop, I did too. I parked a few spaces away, and said to the figures getting out of the car, 'Hey, I hope you don't mind me pulling in here too, but it's been five hours since I've seen anyone I felt like talking to.'

"No, that's cool, how're you doing?" The person with the aqua bandanna pulled off her glasses. Ah. My worry that two women would be annoyed at any lone male who came grinning up to them vanished, as they grinned right back at me.

It turned out they were leaving New York, on their way to San Francisco. I told them I was going to Los Angeles, to stay with another friend from high school. Like me, they were changing coasts in a car they didn't own. They had signed up with another drive-away company. Another curious coincidence, I thought, wondering how many other temporary drivers were racing across the country at any moment.

I excused myself to pee, and they ducked into the other restroom. When we all came back out, they offered me some trail mix from what must have been at least a five pound bag. I said sure, and they filled up a baggy for me.

Something floated under the surface of the conversation until I decided to just risk it, and ask. 'Do you guys ever get stoned?'

They looked at each other and laughed and the one with long hair said, "Yeah, we just did a little while ago, but we'll smoke with you." They produced a little ceramic pipe in the swirling shape of a mushroom and we took it behind some picnic stalls. We each put in some pot, and passed the pipe around until my ears hummed.

We were talking about driving into the fierce orange sky, where the sun would hang on the horizon for at least an hour. They were happier about it than I was, because they had a video camera that they were shooting their trip with, and knew the sunset would come out well. Later, as we were leaving, one of them took a shot of me getting into the car, with the door half-open, waving to them. Because I liked them, and they'd given me food, I gave them the toy telephone from the back seat as a good luck charm.

But still back there on the bench, handing back their pipe, I had said smiling, 'That's really cool you're making a record of this trip, and it's kind of funny that you mention it. Because I am too.'

...what just happened again?...
...section four...
story index - iv