Through the desert and into the future.

7 October 2012

I drink coffee from my Wonder Woman coffee mug and listen to Rachael Yamagata’s eponymous EP. I discover this album while walking around Athens, GA one day. I stop into SchoolKids Records (which I believe is now defunct), walk over to the listening station and press play. I am hooked from the moment the drums pump into my ears.


We are in Wendover with The Hippo’s parents and Adamantium. Wendover is a gambling city on the border of Utah and Nevada. Wendover is the line between blond men and women who wear magic underwear and old women in short skirts and corsets selling drinks to adults mesmerised by instant opportunity and flashing robots.

We stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats rest stop. We take pictures. Three persons ask The Hippo to take their photograph. The lone woman in the group compliments The Hippo on her necklace, which is a coat hanger symbolising America’s dark past (and present) of limits on access to abortion. Adamantium and I throw rocks onto the salty ground. The Hippo and I race toward the distant mountains as a joke. As we run, we note that the distance we run for the joke is equal to the distance we have to return to the car and reality. We stop in our tracks and walk back. If only the Donner Party had our adherence to reason and understanding of our own limits.

Ready to get on with our own hopeless venture into quick riches, we return to the car. The car does not start. The Hippo’s dad thinks the car hates him. We wait for 10 minutes, which is the trick to get the car started again. We have to wait for two 10-minute sessions before we can proceed. We are only nine miles from Wendover.

The drive is sagebrush, white salt flats, hazy mountains, yellow wildflowers and brown rocks. A train chugs parallel in the distance. All the train cars are the same.


I move on to Xiu Xiu’s Women As Lovers. Wonder Woman looks at me suggestively with her lasso of truth over her shoulder like a trench coat she is ready to remove. Now I feel strange about drinking coffee from a hole in her head. Maybe this is how she gets her kicks. After all, William Moulton Marston wasn’t the most conventional guy.


We arrive in Wendover and drive to the Peppermill straightaway for lunch. Darkness. Sounds. Flashing. Buzzing. There is no time here. Smoke. Money going down the drain. I order breakfast. Neon and fake light and dimness. Reds. I imagine vampires would/do live here.

I know we are in the right spot when we all have our first sighting of an old woman in a shiny cap (gold).

We sit around the table after our meal and catch up on one another’s lives. We have not all been together for a couple of weeks now. The casual chat is to become my favourite part of the outing. I joke that my meal of eggs, chicken-fried steak, hashbrowns and toast will provide me the energy I need for gambling. I forget the more energy I have, the less tolerable gambling seems. I wish I had chosen a more enervating meal. Later, I have a mildly dulling gin and tonic. It is not enough.

An older woman in the restaurant wears a sweatshirt. On the back and at the bottom (assuming she is wearing the sweatshirt properly) is the word “cute.” The “U” is red to indicate support for and allegiance to the University of Utah, which is called “The U.”


I lay awake last night trying to think of a comedy bit about the need to throw all religious leaders in jail and why pastors are, in many ways, more dangerous than imprisoned criminals.


We split up after lunch to throw away our money. I play games called Rich Girl (which I was sure would be my ticket out of debt) and Mine Mine. The Hippo plays a game called Fiesta Chihuahua. She wins a bonus and piñatas fill the screen! Lights flash! Bonus spins activate! Five bonus spins!

She wins a quarter.

The game is in Spanish. We press the translation button and “ganancia” becomes “winnings” and “winnings” become zero (which is the same in both languages).

I order a cappuccino from a tiny, pregnant woman whose nametag indicates I can call her Joceline. I remember our lunch server says, “Thank you so much” at least 50 times during the meal and flashes a large, toothy grin just as frequently.

I spend $17 on gambling. I set aside $20, but it just seems I should not continue. I look forward to the dinner buffet, as I have never had a buffet in a gambling city.

A man works here. He wears an oversize green jacket with the sleeves hanging at least three inches over his hand. The Peppermill is out of rooms. The Rainbow has rooms for $180 per night.


I get up to pee. Is it a good idea to drink coffee after 6:00 pm when I need to go to sleep by 11:00 pm? If she knows any better, Wonder Woman certainly isn’t saying.


We visit Blue Boutique, a store geared toward sex-related items (books, clothing, games and videos). We look at parody porn videos. One is based on Superman. Upon looking at the back of the box, the parody seems to have little to do with Superman except for one scene in which a man wears a knock-off Superman costume. The store contains edible clothing and a book about anal sex positions. The book confuses me, because I imagine anal sex positions would be the same positions as vaginal sex, just with a slightly different location. But then again, I grew up Southern Baptist, so what do I know?

We leave the Blue Boutique and drive to the liquor store. We clearly want to get in as much sin as possible before returning to Utah. I buy a red wine called Vampire. On the back of the bottle is a quote from Lord Byron. The clerk at the store asks if I’m here for the concert hall. I say no. She says Cheech and Chong are playing, which I know from the advertisements. She says she does not like them. She says they are too old to be making marijuana jokes.

We go to the Montego Bay for dinner. We eat at the Oceano Buffet. The persons working at the buffet wear black pants and blue shirts with images of fish printed on them. The carpet has images of fish. The light fixtures feature images of palm trees and the lampshades are covered in thatch. We eat in a tropical simulacrum in some strange, lazy future. The neon signs tell me where I can find DESSERT, ASIAN, SEAFOOD, BBQ, CARVING and PIZZA. The food is exactly what I hoped it would be. I eat shrimp prepared in five different ways.

We eat and get to the real reason we are at a table in a shiny, reflective aluminum dis/utopia: catching up some more. We talk about school and writing and online gaming and enjoy one another’s company as my stomach wonders why a person would choose to eat shrimp in so many different forms when it is just going to destroy them (the shrimp) with acid before sending the results to oblivion.

The Hippo’s parents and Adamantium wander back in to the casino. The Hippo and I sit and talk. I drink coffee. I get sleepier the more coffee I drink. We get up and walk over to the Wendover Nugget. We get there via sky bridge.  No reason to go outside. I find something oddly appealing about traveling with no need to be out-of-doors.

I finally win at a game called Fast Food. The bonus round involves feeding a hungry man different foods with various point values. I learn the soda always has a high point value. I feel smug and disturbed.

We all meet back up and begin the drive home through the alien, desert landscape. In the distance are the lights of the waste-treatment facility. We breeze through Tooele, UT, where my friend Justin and I stopped one night in 1999.

I could not have predicted I would end up living in Utah twice in my adult life. I am here and I have a second family. I am in the midst of mountains that care as little of my life as the trees with which I was raised. I am in the midst of a religion just as deadly as the one I know from childhood. I am just as alive in the sere browns as I am in the verdant greens.

Somehow, I am still home (and only out $20).


Best served warm

27 September 2012

This weekend, The Hippo and I begin watching Once Upon A Time.

Today is grey, cloudy and full of impending precipitation. Two women play tennis on the court next to my office. Soon their instructor arrives. He lobs a ball at one. She returns it. He lobs a ball at the other. She returns it. Thus, are professionals made.

I cannot stop myself from flipping off the Orrin Hatch billboard everyday. It irks me to no end. I want other motorists to know he is not worthy of office. I cannot let him stare smugly down, thinking we all adore him.

A Kansas City atheist group create a billboard calling for “Godless Government.” If only.

The god myth does much to ruin lives. Some persons say we should respect all religious beliefs, even ones disallowing women to wear pants or hold office or be of greater value than donkeys. I  cannot agree with this opinion. Oppression is oppression, no matter what cultist myth it hides behind. For me, tolerance for beliefs does not extend without question.

I meet a Libertarian who does not like either current US presidential candidate.

I eat a bean and cheese burrito from Smith’s Marketplace for lunch. My stomach begins protesting before I even swallow the first bite. I battle my way through, refusing to give up. (I’m sure this is what Winston Churchill had in mind.)

I also get a cookie with icing. The cookie has an icing spider web design with a plastic spider (which can be worn as a ring) at the top of the web.

I have eight minutes of lunch remaining.

I am getting sleepy.

I finish reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods. I think about technology, humanity and technologised humanity. I remember essays I read in graduate school calling modern humans cyborgs. We are part-human, part-machine, all superhero.


Last night, the rain started. The Hippo says it woke her up at 4:00 AM. I hear it when I wake at 6. I feel calm. Rain is safety and childhood and comfort.

I, as always, want the rain and cloudiness to persist all day, all week, all year. I know this is impossible in the desert.

On the way to work, the car hydroplanes briefly in a puddle of water. A light on the car’s dashboard display indicates “Traction Active.” The Hippo tells me of the voice she hears when this light blinks into existence. She hears a soothing, slightly robotic Sigourney Weaver.

I see blue sky and my disappointment builds. I need to live in a grey, dark climate.

I step out for lunch into the cold air. I take it in like a friend who visits too rarely, but is always welcome. The sky is white with clouds like the sky levels in Super Mario Bros. games. The clouds are so low I imagine I will see one drifting beside me as I drive home on the interstate. I am alive. I live in a desert and I don’t know why.

I know exactly what to listen to on a day like this. I pick out Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief and King of Limbs and Richard Hawley’s Lady’s Bridge. I start with Mr. Hawley and find his smooth voice a perfect complement to the calm, still day.

I like dark, depressive music that explores sadness, hurt and tragedy and does not always come out the other side. I enjoy thinking about death and hurt because they feel so real and prevalent. They are to be welcomed and embraced, not ignored.

I continue reading where I left off in Foucault’s Discipline & Punish. Where Supergods was the story of getting outside of our bodies to become superhumans, Discipline & Punish is about getting beyond the body to break the human spirit instead – scars that are difficult to heal.

Instead of beating, quartering and hanging criminals, we prevent them from voting and driving and obtaining gainful employment. We judge their souls.


Today, Memaw (my grandmother) has surgery to clean out her carotid artery. I talk to her yesterday and she is in good spirits. She says she loves me until the day she dies. And then, just as I think it, she says, “And beyond.”

I tell The Hippo as we walk to the elevator this morning. I lose composure.

Memaw comes through the surgery ok.

I buy krab salad from the Smith’s Marketplace deli. I ask the woman behind the counter if they will have the hot wings I like again. She has unbreaded wings that she will cook tomorrow. Now I must return.

I buy TownHouse crackers. The box has an Olympic promo and tells me to play a game called Throw For The Gold. From the box:


– What you need: 3+ players and a ball

– Pick 1 player to go first and give him/her the ball. Remaining players move to the opposite side of the yard.

– Player 1 tosses the ball toward the others and calls out a medal value for catching it. The values are Gold (3 points) Silver (2 points) Bronze (1 point)

The remaining players try to catch the ball before it touches the ground to win the medal. Player 1 continues making tosses until another player collects enough medals to add up to 10 points. They then become the new thrower, and the game starts over!

After reading the rules, I realise I only want to be the person keeping score as tossers lob balls at fools.

Summer Sanders is on the back of the box hawking her “Super Red Pepper Spread.” She is called a “Gold Medal Mom,” but I have no idea what qualifies her. Any fuck can make a vegetable spread.

A box of gourmet mini cinnamon rolls claims “Best Served Warm.” I initially want to have the job of testing this claim, but I think of other foods that may need to be tested as well – coffee, butter, pork. (“Pork is best served warm on account of I died when I ate it cold.” – Former-food tester.)

I have a sudden urge to pretend to be Mormon to get a job.


Reading Pet Sematary: Day Three (the finale)

16 March 2012

[Warning: While I do not intend to reveal any specific plot points or twists in this series of blogs, I may do so from time to time. I will also comment on the pacing of the novel. If you do not care to have any plot points or pacing revealed to you, please read no further until you read Pet Sematary for yourself. – JPR]

I begin reading alone in the kitchen at 11:07 AM (MDT).

I am on the verge of tears for the characters in the story as part two begins.

I also continue to laugh out loud at various points in the book thanks to Louis Creed’s insanely prosaic inner dialogue.

The characters are at a viewing and funeral for the deceased.

I remember the viewing for and funeral of my stepfather. I stood with my mother and younger brother as friends and strangers came to shake our hands, hug us and offer sympathy and “reassuring” words. I played the part of the adult. I was just about to graduate from college and I was getting practice in one of the most reliable parts of adulthood: death.

I am sitting in the front pew of McIntyre Baptist Church with my mom, brother and Memaw. We are watching a video montage of photographs of my now-dead stepfather. The montage is set to music. We are clasping one another and crying. I am doing my best to take in the moment as soberly as possible. Remembering him with his hairdo that made him look eerily like fitness guru Richard Simmons. There are no pictures of him bloated and out of his mind from the fluid building up in his body and distending his abdomen as his liver slowly failed. I think the montage is meant to be a reassuring remembrance.

I am hugging two friends and crying uncontrollably as a mechanical wench lowers the casket into the ground. I do not really visit his grave, but I do think of him from time to time, usually when hearing an Elvis Presley or Reba McEntire song on the radio.

He died the morning of my college graduation. I am trying to smile in the photographs, but can’t quite manage it.

A few years later, I am in a heated argument with my mom—the kind of argument in which you think, “Well, that’s it. We will never speak again and the next time we will be in the same place will be at a funeral.” I tell her I do not believe in god, sin, hell or heaven. Tears are in her eyes as she drives her Chevrolet van down Highway 441 past the C & S auto mechanic shop. I assume we are driving back from Milledgeville (the antebellum capital) to Irwinton via McIntyre. She asks me where I think my stepdad is, if I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t remember answering.

On page 436 of the novel, I make a new prediction. I later learn my prediction was wrong.

Manic, hysterical desperation. What drives us over the edge?

I make another prediction on page 451. This prediction is also wrong.

“Something is trying to keep me away from him.” (p. 501)

The characters in this book deal with forces beyond their control. Forces that manipulate and even murder them.

I have faced “real” demons before. Perhaps that is why I am not completely drawn in to the mystical part of this novel. One period of my Christian phase can be called The Wesley House Period. This time centers on my involvement with the Methodist campus ministry at my undergraduate alma mater, Georgia College & State University. (Go, Bobcats!)

This period allowed for full-fledged demon battling. The time the minister, Bill, was afflicted with a demon on his side of the house. (The house was divided, fittingly enough. One side was the public, student side where I played bass in the praise band and ate pizza rolls and played Crazy Taxi on some gaming system and began forming the most influential romantic relationship of my life up to this point. The other was where the pastor and his family lived. His family consisted of his wife Amy, his daughter Charlotte and his son Jay.)  A group of us bold Christians prayed in a room with dim lighting, possibly candles, and placed “holy” water on doorjambs.

One night, I drive home in my red Pontiac Sunfire, tingling with fear the entire 20-minute drive. My girlfriend, Bevan, has a feeling that something sinister is in the air and I should not look back on the drive to my mother’s house. I did look back in the rearview mirror on the dark, lonely drive and swore I saw a shadowy presence distinct from the shadows of the road behind.

I am on pins-and-needles as the book draws to a close and inevitable conclusions that have been building for 500 pages are reached. I hold the book farther from my face hoping that will prevent something malevolent from jumping off the pages and startling me (or worse).

“Fuck yes,” I say as I begin part three. “This is some damn good storytelling.”

The suspense grows. I turn my back to the basement stairs like some plant drawn to the sun outside. The dog’s nails click-clack on the plastic mat behind me, giving me a start. I turn so my back is to the TV and not the stairs to prevent unexpected surprises.

I finish the book.

My first trip into the basement afterwards finds me unsettled. I do have a background fear that the resurrected evil will be waiting for me downstairs in the laundry room, turning the Tide of my life. I purposely walk down the stairs as calmly as possible, forcing myself not to rush. I am sure I look like my own revivified creature with little control of my limbs.

The book lingers, but I am not experiencing the paralyzing fear I expected or that I would have had for certain had I seen the film.

Thus endeth Day Three and the reading of Pet Sematary.

(Feel free to go back and read day one and day two of my journey as well.)

Over here? No! Overhear.

2 September 2011

Good Labor Day weekend friends, lovers, family and three-toed sloths.

Today, GF and I travelled to Baltimore, a city in complete disarray apparently due to two sporting events.

Thus, I am too exhausted to write about that trip at the moment.

So, tonight’s post is brought to you by my illegitimate son, Little J.P. Richards. One day, he was in a coffee shop when he overheard some women speaking. (Yes, he is old enough to go to coffee shops.)

Little J.P. overhears a supportive moment