Book Review: The Zen Path Through Depression

The Zen Path Through DepressionThe Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since zen is basically stoicism but further East, and CBT is essentially a cut-and-paste job of stoicism, it tracks that you can use zen to get through depression, too. Less journaling and self-critique, more listening to birds, roughly the same amount of meditation, but all roads lead to Rome. Or to China, in this case.

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Dublin: The Irish Won’t Stop Singing & The Monster Club

September 28, 2019. Dublin, Ireland.
Soundtrack: Headstone Horrors – Monster Club

The hostel was a collegiate Skinner box labyrinth with a grim, cafeteria style dining hall, faux bars full of noisy Australian teenagers, and a “hammock room” full of hungover chrysalises that stank like feet. The walls were covered in elaborate murals celebrating copyright infringement, and I practiced the path back to my 24-bed military dorm by quietly muttering to myself, “Right at C3P0, down the stairs, left at the Titty Elf, door 19.”

I didn’t spend much time there. I dumped my stuff and headed back out into my first weekend in Dublin.

I’d seen the city before, but it had been the launchpad of my first sojourn into bastardly travel, and I was yet a boy, unwise in the ways of the world. I booked the worst hostel money could by and spent the weekend hiding in it from the relentless, oppressive rain.

This time around the weather was as nice as it gets in Ireland, and the whole of the country had gathered in the bars, or in the streets, to sing. There’s nowhere in the world as thoroughly pervaded with music as Dublin on a Friday. The pubs were filled to bursting, and every one was playing live music, and everyone in the audience was singing along with the live music, whether they knew the words or not.

In the streets and walkways were interlocking circles of spectators clustered around buskers playing guitars and horns, doing DJ sets and tooting away on bagpipes.

It was uncanny. There was a college town weekend vibe, if the college town specialized in performing arts and spanned miles in every direction.

I had a coffee stout at an overfull microbrewery where everyone was singing alt-rock from the 90s. In America, ours tend to stick to the Tony Hawk soundtrack. I had as much Third Eye Blind as I could stand, then hiked twenty minutes through the musical chaos and found Fibber Magees.

It was easily identifiable. Punks look like punks, no matter where you are in the world. The battle jackets leaned more toward the Adicts and GBH than I was used to, but I was still able to track the concentration of studded leather to the bar entrance.

I met up with the horror punks from the ferry. They had with them a lanky Irish metalhead who had many recommendations for me, both about metal bands and about how to improve the political climate in America.

“Ye don’t understand,” he told me. “Ye run all of it. Th’ world economy relies on ye. When ye make a decision like electin’ Troomp, the entoire warld suffers, because our leaders just blindly go along with whatever ye say.”

“The problem with my country is they don’t consult me,” I confided in him.

“How’n the hell did ye wind up with Troomp, anyway?”

I was used to fielding this one. I explained that the overwhelming majority of America is made up of People of Wal-Mart. Their terrifying biomass is barely contained by their 4XL Tweety Bird t-shirts and they highly prize family values, which means maintaining two household shrines, one to Jesus and the other to Dale Earnhardt.

“They outnumber the Americans you see on TV or talk to on the internet 100 to 1,” I said. “They are the deciders of the election.”

“Jaysus,” he said.

“And the world mourns together.”

Speaking of mourning, the first band went on.

We went outside and stood in the beer garden shared by four different bars until that ended. When it did, four oldheads went up and played some solid post-punk.

“What’s post-punk?” the horrorpunk drummer asked.

“Punk, but the drums are slow.”

He nodded his spiked head a few times.

“You’re right. None of our songs go this slow.”

The Headstone Horrors set up and the metalhead approached me, slurring heavily.

“I’m goona start a fookin’ pit fer ’em,” he said, holding onto my shoulder for balance. “These guys desarve it.”

It got silly. A bunch of fookin’ taarists or badly confused locals wandered up to the front of the edges of the pit with full glasses of beer. Of course they wound up spilling it all over the place. I was on the wrong side of a few of these unfortunate yet unavoidable accidents, and they looked on me with baldfaced shock. One nearly escalated to violence, but I smiled disarmingly even as I continued to be a hulking tower of American meat.

It got wild. One of the mutants from that first band tried to pick a fight with an elderly skinhead by hissing at him and trying to punch him, and other assorted middle-school anime girl shit. He maintained his composure, which is more than you’d expect from a skinhead.

They tore the place apart, and it was one of the greatest experiences I’d had overseas. Certainly the greatest in the United Kingdom.

They finished up, I finished my beer, and bade a fond farewell to my new friends. They cautioned me again about a fortified Scottish wine; the name escapes me, but they talked about it like it was a combination of Boones’ Farm and tequila.

The only resident Irishman in our little party grew maudlin, as they are wont to do.

“Ya’re leaving? Already? I thought we could grab a few marr drinks. Well, that’s the way it goes, I s’pose. Maybe… in anudder life… anudder time…”

I clapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for his metal recommendations, then congratulated the Horrors on their set again and made for the door.

“Wait,” the singer said. “Thanks for coming, and for dancing. Here, take this.”

And she produced their album from one of their duffel bags, on CD. I didn’t know where I would play a CD, but the gesture was magnanimous. I thanked them again and made my way back to the hostel.

And that brings the tale of my most recent overseas jaunt to a close.

Epilogue: After an uneventful return to America, I discovered that the Girl brought a stereo system from the 90s from her parent’s house. It could play CDs. And since the only CDs in our possession in this, the year of our lord 2019 were the Headstone Horrors LP and what I’m told is a collection of “marimba classics”, I set the stereo up in the kitchen and kept those spooky little punkers spinning whenever I was cooking something.

After the move, the stereo went into storage, so now I stream them on Spotify, but I keep the album in a place of honor out of a Celtic sentimentality that four-hundred years of Americanization hasn’t yet pounded from my blood.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and it might be a little while before I go on another trip worth recording.

But I’m still here, and I’ll find something to fill up the digital pages.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

B.

Reykjavik: The Dong Shrine

Saturday, September 21, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Mickey Avalon – My Dick

The last installment might have been a little high-handed and self-indulgent. The subtitle of this blog is “barbarian travelogue”, and in light of the D&D renaissance, one could expect that would involve less artistic Frasierly pontification and more crushing enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of the women.

I hear you, beautiful reader. And let me just say: I do what I want. Eat a dick.

Now, if you’re having difficulty locating a dick to eat, this episode might provide you a solution. Reykjavik proudly and prominently sports the “Phallological Museum”, a ghoulish collection of severed mammalian members set up like a self-effacing cross between a curiosities shop and a Spencer’s gifts.

The little blonde clerk at the front desk is perpetually giggling, as if she’s in on a joke that you’re not, and the joke is the whole building is full of wieners. She sits next to the Viagra Scorn pole.

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Scorn pole #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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It wasn’t that scornful, though it was postmodern.

Beyond the Scorn Pole was a cabinet full of hand-carved penis-shaped accoutrements designed and painstakingly produced by the founder of the museum, Sigurður Hjartarson.

The plaque alongside Sigurður’s Freudian trophy cabinet explains the origin of his, if you’ll excuse the phrase, phallic fixation. When he was but a lad, he was a farmer out in the boonies of Iceland (Iceland is roughly 99% boonies by weight). They kept cattle, somehow, and young Sigurður was charged with driving them from field to field. To this purpose, he would use a dried, braided bull’s penis, fashioned into a whip, to scare the cows.

Don’t overthink it.

When his friends found out about his alarming serial killer origin story, they started bringing Sigurður severed penises from all kinds of animals, allegedly as a joke. Sigurður leaned hard into it and became “the penis guy”.

I stand now in a monument to this legacy.

When you stand facing the dolphin dong cabinet, the sperm whale wang looms behind you in its wet specimen tank like some kind of Lovecraftian monument.

On the other side of the room is the horse hog cabinet. I’m not going to say I felt threatened, but I was certainly given pause.

In addition to all the severed dicks, the walls were hung with inspirational poetry.

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poetry #poem #bastardtravel

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Here’s a fun little Jeopardy fact for you: the Icelandic handball team won silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in celebration sent silver replicas of all their Johns Thomas to the phallological museum. Thanks, fellas.

In the mythical creature room, they attributed some chode to a native Icelandic troll, found preserved in a block of ice and thawed out like that Paulie Shore movie.

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Troll pole #troll #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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Iceland has a folklore creature called “hidden men”; they’re basically elves that can go invisible at will, and you’re not supposed to throw rocks in case you clock one of ’em.

Something terrible has happened to the Christmas Lad.

“Did you see how many people tried to donate their own junk to the museum?” Ladygirl asked, motioning toward all the signed waivers stating that, upon their death, Icelandic nobody randos would have their members added to Sigurdur’s collection. “What do you think that says about the male mind?”

“Nothing worth exploring,” I said. “At least not here in Priapus’s temple. Let’s get gone.”

On the way out, I said, “Have you ever seen The Cell? The horror movie from 2000 with J.Lo?”

Ladygirl looked at me blankly.

“Right, it’s a horror movie, so of course not. Well, the premise is somebody invents this Freddy Krueger-ass machine that lets you teleport into other people’s dreams. J.Lo is a psychologist who smokes mad weed, and she volunteers to be put into the nightmare subconscious of this comatose serial killer to try to extract the location of his victim, who’s being slowly drowned in this tank on a timer… it’s real contrived. Anyway, production brought in surrealist artists to design the dreamworld, and that’s the movie’s only redeeming quality. That’s what this place reminds me of.”

“Gross,” she said.

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I barely escaped #phallologicalmuseum #bastardtravel

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No shortage of volunteers.

We slipped out into the street. It was raining again. It’s always raining in Iceland.

“So, onward. Where next?” I said. “Maybe get lunch or something? Eat more fuckin’ smashed fish.”

“You know, weirdly enough?” Ladygirl said, “I’m even less hungry now.”

“Did you see the one letter from the guy with the 13-inch dingaling, though?” I asked.

“Yeah. They kept asking him to donate a cast or something, and he kept turning them down, for the same reason he never made a porn. He wants to be accepted on his merits as a writer instead of on something he had no control over.”

“Now that’s what I call BDE.”

Love,

B.

Reykjavik: Up the Pönx

Wednesday, September 18, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: The Utangarðsmenn – It’s Easy

I slept ten hours and woke feeling like a human, ready to face the constant, relentless torrent of rain.

Deep in the bowels of central Reykjavik, there was once a public restroom. It’s unknown how that chapter ended, but in the next, an Icelandic crust punk bought the whole big bastard and converted it into a museum that celebrated Iceland’s storied punk rock legacy.

Now, if you’re like me, you came of age during the punk revival of the early 2000s, and so paid due diligence to the bands that laid the foundation back before punk died in the 80s. For a punctuated history of this, check out the song Droppin’ Like Flies by the Real McKenzies.

The revival bands exhumed and reanimated aspects of classic punk rock, like fast drums, frenetic guitarwork, lackluster vocals, and body odor, but repackaged it for a kinder, gentler millennium. The anger had been bastardized into pop-punk, repackaged and sold by bands like Anti-Flag, The Casualties, and fucking Green Day.

Bands like Rancid, The Offspring, AFI, and other such classics from Tony Hawk/Crazy Taxi soundtracks helped shape the frog-march of misery and angst that was my adolescence, but they weren’t punk in the way the Sex Pistols or the Dead Kennedys were. These bands helped voice the incomprehensible rage and  hormonal onslaught of puberty in the decaying, carcinogenic boomtown ruin of Northeastern Pennsylvania. For an accurate snapshot of this particular barking at the moon, Sometimes I Feel Like by Bad Religion.

I did my research, listened to the old bands no matter how bad they sucked (don’t pretend the Sex Pistols didn’t suck, you fuckin poser), and had a Crimson Ghost patch on a thrift shop leather jacket. I put spikes into my boots by hand, punching the holes with a kitchen knife (what tf is an awl?), and I got suspended for it. Sometimes, late at night, when the city is asleep and there’s no risk of my being caught, I’ll draw the shades and listen to Horror Business. My credentials are unassailable. That said, I wasn’t aware of Iceland’s contribution to punk as a genre.

Dr. Gunni corrected that for me.

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Punk museum entrance #punk #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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“This is it,” I said. “There’s no other reason someone would print a Crass sign.”

We descended into the underworld, whereupon the door explained why people charge for things.

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enter #punk #bastardtravel

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“Oh!” said a stout, wizened man with a green mohawk and a sleeveless vest. “I didn’t see you there! Come in, I’ll do my little speech.”

Dr. Gunni looked and smelled punk, all right. He described this subterranean bathroom as “his little piece of Heaven” and explained that the walls tell a story in chronological order, so it’s best to start on the right and go counterclockwise, through each stall, until you return to the center room.

“That will chart the progression of Icelandic punk from antiquity to today. And it’s kind of funny, so make sure not to skip any. Is that for me?” he asked, pointing to the krona in my hand.

“Absolutely.”

“Super. Someone is in there right now so you might wait a few minutes so you don’t get stuck in the same part, get all crowded. On the ceiling, you will see records with headphones hanging down. Each of those headphones are playing those records, so go ahead, familiarize yourself with Icelandic punk. When you’re done with the museum, we have a drum set, guitar, bass, feel free to make some music, smash it around, make noise, I don’t care.”

I liked Dr. Gunni a lot.

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It means "outsiders" #punk #reykjavik #bastardtravel

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Utangarðsmenn were by far my favorite. For your listening pleasure, the shockingly long punk song It’s Easy, clocking in at four minutes due to a beautiful dub breakdown. Since Op Ivy didn’t hit the scene until 1987, it’s fair to call the Outsiders proto-ska-punk.

And the lyrics!

“It’s easy to talk about anarchy when you got someplace to hide,
It’s easy to be a CAAAHmmunist when daddy’s paying for the ride”

The mark of truly great art is that it stands the test of time.

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Punk museum interior #punk #bastardtravel

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The museum itself looked like a good venue should, or like bad houses I’ve lived in did. The defunct urinals were stuffed with broken headphones and instrument cables. The writing on the wall charted the development of Iceland from the viking age to the present, ending each of the pithy little summaries with “No punk.” right up until 1974, at which point we received Pönk.

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Öp tha pönx #punk #bastardtravel

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Due to being a grotesque ogre, the museum delighted me. Ladygirl, on the other hand, is clean, polite, and an unironic fan of disco. She felt badly out of sorts in this particular destroyed men’s room.

After I’d absorbed as much counterculture as I could in a handicapped stall, I made my way back out to the main room and got my hands on the bass. The brand had been sanded off, but it played beautifully. I plopped down on a spray-painted tom that said “FOR SMALL PERSONS TO STAND ON” and ran through Journey to the End of East Bay like a showboating buffoon. A Reykjaviki local was dicking around on the guitar. He played powerchords and I ran a bassline through the progression. We got through eight measures before he got bashful and left, but that’s okay. Eight measures is the length of a punk song anyway.

I told Dr. Gunni this place was incredible and thanked him. He looked at me with a level of disinterest appropriate to his archetype and said, “Sure”.

“That was incredible!” I howled into the rain, once back out on the Reykjavik streets.

“Sure,” Ladygirl also said.

We found a place called Icelandic Street Food, distinct from Reykjavik Street Food in that you got unlimited free refills. I ate a boat’s worth of Plokkfiskur.

Plokkfiskur is smashed cod mixed into mashed potatoes and that’s it. Bone apple teeth. Phenomenal.

I’d been setting the pace these past few days, and Ladygirl was ready to do vacation things, like “sitting down” and “reading” or some such nonsense. We returned to the hostel and I finished a book about Ireland and a book about psychopaths. The reviews will be forthcoming next time I’m forced to sit down.

Love,

The Bastard

Reykjavik: Bones and Stones

Tuesday, September 17, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: The Sword – Cloak of Feathers

We were woken by the dulcet tones of a dude with a jackhammer outside of Kex, which is equal parts hostel and social event of the season. The downstairs bar/venue room is a huge, beautiful library full of fine leatherbound books in a language I can’t read. The chairs are leather as well, and it always smells like toast. Unfortunately, everything there costs a minimum of 2500 krona, which is like $22 in real money. I enjoy the ambiance, but not enough to pay that much for the Icelandic equivalent of Budwiser.

I brought a padlock from the states. I got it from Wal-Mart. It broke as soon as I strapped it onto the locker. I spent the first half hour of the morning googling WikiHows of how to crack combination locks and growling.

I succeeded, eventually. Eureka! We hit a cafe, from whence I tickatacka’d yesterday’s BT, then we made our way to a neighboring hostel where I foraged up something that contained meat and vegetables.

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Shakshouka #shakshouka #bastardtravel

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From there, we proceeded across downtown to soak up some culture.

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My mans lost 😦 #berlin #bear #bastardtravel

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I suspect this was the consulate building, if not the consulate himself. We’re both a long way from home, little fella.

A little beyond the expatriate bear, we found Tjornin Lake, a gorgeous shallow pond full of hateful waterfowl.

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sick lake

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Tourists were frigging around with the birds, trying to catch them on their hands like in Snow White. The difference is, the birds in Snow White are cute little cartoon bluebirds, whereas the birds of Lake Tjornin are colossal ex-dinosaurs, molded by evolution since the Mesazoic to become diseased airborne gang rapists.

I have it on good authority that the secret to defeating a goose is grabbing it by the neck, spinning it around like Mario 64 Bowser, and hurling it through the air. It’s important you scream the entire time. I was confident that I could do this, if it came down to it, but I didn’t want to. Instead, we retreated to the National Museum, to look at culture.

This was about the extent of the old god’s representation in the museum, unless it was also Jesus.

Grave goods were a big seller, though. The first half of the museum was recovered beads and rusted weapons once buried with long deceased Icelanders. Grave goods apparently included horses, whom, the Icelandair video had assured me, are known as “the true ambassadors of Iceland”.

Horrific ghoul King Olaf of Norway decided in 1000 AD that Iceland should spurn the old gods and embrace Christianity. Iceland was like “okay, I guess.” Their squat and deadlift totals immediately plummeted, despite their truly awesome fish protein intake.

Look at this messiah, though. Who needs Thor?

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Socialist scum #socialism #bastardtravel

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Politic.

I would’ve preferred this to be an elaborate engraving of Ragnarok but I’m not going to turn down whatever the hell this is.

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Boat #boat

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Boat.

In our time at the National Museum, we were followed around by a cadre of collegiate German tourists with no concept of volume control. They would not shut the fuck up. And it’s not even like they were conversational about it; they toddled along and inflected, shouting in German, presumably to appreciate the acoustics of the empty, silent god damn museum.

It was a dissonant experience for me, and here’s why. Firstly, I don’t speak German. Maybe what they’re saying is pertinent. Maybe this dude is explaining his treatise to his 22-year-old review board. Maybe he’s a tour guide with mild Asperger’s.

Secondly, I don’t know the cultural mores of this land, this Ice Land, as yet. Maybe shouting in the museum is encouraged! Maybe I’m the one making a faux pas by quietly reading the placards surrounding the artifacts.

Thirdly, I’m an American. We are the loud obnoxious tourists. That’s our whole purpose. Look up “loud American Japanese business”; it’s not even a stereotype, it’s a living wage.

It was on the third floor I noticed everyone else at the museum fleeing from the Germans whenever they entered a room. It’s not like you didn’t hear ’em coming.

“Let’s go back downstairs until they’re done,” Ladygirl suggested.

“Excuse me!” I called to them. “Can you guys keep it down?”

They gawped at me, presumably for addressing them at the same volume. Sort of like the frat boys back at college who would yell at pedestrians from their little beer pong porch bunkers, right up until you yelled something back, at which point they would go record-scratch silent.

“We’re just talking,” one of the girls said.

“I know,” I said. “We can all hear you. We’re in a museum.”

European politesse won out, and they entschuldigung`d and continued their heated exchange with their inside voices.

Ladygirl and I finished the circuit at a decibel level appropriate for a dimly lit museum, then suited up and made our way across town to the Culture House. The tickets were two for one, and you had no choice. Sodden with Icelandic culture as I already was, I’d be remiss to waste this other ticket that I apparently bought.

The Culture House was more to my tastes. A lot of the paintings were spooky, and trolls were well-represented.

I also happened onto a display of old Icelandic spellbooks from the pre-Christian days, and I took pictures of them in order to push my luck with the spirit world.

That was as much culture and eldritch knowledge as I could collect in one day. We proceeded to Brew Dog.

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Aqua mural in Brew Dog #mural #beer #bastardtravel

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Toilets with threatening auras #bastardtravel

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The beers were spectacular. The only thing stopping Reykjavik from being heaven is the fact everything costs twice as much as it does in the real world.

I cannot stress this enough: Iceland is preposterously expensive for no reason.

Well, okay, that’s intellectually dishonest. There’s a reason. It’s a huge cold socialist island, and everything has to be imported. While that has nothing to do with me, the cheapest meal surrogate I’ve been able to get my grubby little mitts on is a shwarma sandwich, which still cost $10.

$10! For shwarma! What?

I don’t hold it against them. It’s not their fault. I’d want some kind of recompense too, if I had to put up with this weather every day.

Love,

The Bastard

Denver: The Grisly History of Poltergeist Park

Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.

The Denver trip was not supposed to be the monomythical underworld descent. You ever see that Dark Tourist show on Netflix? Don’t, it’s terrible, but recounting these experiences got me feeling like that guy, if he had chest hair.

We sat on the hostel bed reading digital books and occasionally groaning about how full of exotic meat and alcohol we were.

“This cannot stand,” I said. The elk and alligator were making me too powerful, too rambunctious. The quail were imbuing me with an overwhelming desire to take flight. “I gotta get out of this room. You want to go to the haunted park?”

“What haunted park?” Ladygirl asked without looking up from her ebook about collating shoes or Ronald Reagan or whatever.

“Cheesman Park,” I said. “It’s the plot of Poltergeist, only they turned it into a public park instead of a sick mansion.”

“I’ve never seen Poltergeist.”

“Of COURSE you’ve never seen Poltergeist!” I roared, hurling a chair out the window in a shower of broken glass and pre-broken curtains.

“How far is it?” Ladygirl asked.

“About two miles.”

“Get fucked,” she said.

Okay, she didn’t. She just thought it. But she did, more tactfully, make it known that she was not interested in walking two hours to a haunted park. She was full of steak and wanted to do something called “relaxing”.

She talks about it sometimes. It always sounded fake to me. It’s when you stop moving for like 15+ minutes at a time, but you’re supposedly not bored?

My bones were starting to itch. I said I’d be back someday and darted out into the twilight.

The walk was pleasant enough because Denver is absolutely colossal. In the West they have city planners, which tends to make them pleasant places to live, as opposed to the East’s tendency to make every metropolitan area an homage to Escape from New York. Denver’s full of green spaces, clean air, and dogs.

Cheesman Park could pass for a golf course if it weren’t for all the trees. The square footage is phenomenal. The story is even better.

It used to be Prospect Hill Cemetery, a federal acquisition that just kept growing larger as the city grew larger and more people died, as they are wont to do. According to the Wikipedia,

“As time went on different areas of the cemetery were designated for different religions, ethnic groups and fraternal organizations such as Odd Fellows, Society of Masons, Roman Catholics, Jewish, the Grand Army of the Republic, and a segregated section at the south end for the Chinese. Some sections were well maintained by family descendants or their organizations, but others were terribly neglected. “

Senator Henry Moore Teller decided this land would be better put to use as a park, and wheedled Congress into letting them move all the bodies. He then named it “Congress Park”. Kiss-ass.

Families were given 90 days to pull all the bodies out and move them elsewhere, and those with the money did. The cemetery was in central Denver, and most of the dead were “vagrants, criminals, and paupers”, so no one came to play musical chairs with their earthly remains.

In 1893, the city of Denver, in its infrastructural dedication, contracted an undertaker named E.P. McGovern to move the remains of the bodies, providing each a “fresh coffin” for a total of about $1.90 each.

For the first couple days, our boy E.P. delivered as advertised. Then, he realized he could be making out better on this deal, and started jamming the remains into 3.5 ft child’s coffins.

Technically within contractual bounds!

A wooden fence was thrown around the perimeter of the park as E.P. began the gruesome work of chopping up the remains and jamming them into discount children’s coffins. It sometimes took as many as three coffins for one body, which sounds to me like a net loss of profit unless the little coffins were 60 cents a piece.

The fence kept a sum total of zero onlookers from looking on. Soon, the whole cemetery (by now a body mill looking like that scene from Fargo) is overrun with reporters, curiosity seekers, and all-purpose ghouls.

The place is littered with corpse detritus. Bones and chunks are all over the ground. E.P.’s in the middle of it all, hackin’ and whackin’ and thwackin’.

Mayor Rogers brought the hammer down on that contract, kicking E.P. to the curb, and they started cleaning up. They filled in all the holes over the next ten years, but they never issued a new contract. The rest of the bodies are still under the park.

Beautiful land, though. I couldn’t even get spooky vibes from it, it’s too clean and neat and full of athletic college students playing with their dogs.

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The haunted park #cheesmanpark #park #ghosts #denver

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I did a couple laps, but there was no paranormal activity. The spirits must be resting in peace. Unsurprising. I’d be all right with being buried in a spot like that.

I trekked back to Aloft, having burned off all those volatile whiskey calories, and managed to lay down and read a little without vibrating out of my skin.

Love,

The Bastard

Do Attend

April 27, 2019. At 27th and Girard Ave. on the vacant lot, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

It started, as so many things do, with a call to arms. A valiant Philly native assessed the amount of food alive in his body and declared, “This jawn shall not stand.” Under cover of darkness, this unknown hero planted the following cipher in mailboxes all across the Delph:

do attend

And attend we did. This mysterious figure had tapped the zeitgeist of both Fairmountaineers and ex-first graders the world over, had given voice to their most secret, fondest wish: to be put under anesthesia and immolated in a steel furnace, only to be resolidified into an invulnerable statue, free from all pain and all food.

“Farewell,” I bid my loved ones. “My time has come. Catch me at the steel furnace thus:”

terminator

leanin p heavy on terminator references these days

I got on my bike and rode, as Freddy Mercury commanded, across the dystopian Delphscape and out to the vacant lot, eager for my metallic ascendance. And what to my wondering eyes should appear?

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Glorious. I shackled my faithful steed Rocinante to a rusted fence next to a dumpster full of wood and sallied forth, giddy with the anticipation of curing my body dysmorphia the old fashioned way.


what meeting would be complete without a DJ?

 

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“Excuse me,” I asked the dude on the right, cutting in front of the reporter. “Are you the anesthesiologist?”

“WHAT”

A fair question. “Will you be the one sedating us?”

He looked down at his colorful outfit, then back up at me.

“No!”

“All right, sorry to bother you.”

I moved on.

 

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This guy was cosplaying as a bulldozer. Not very effective, but his heart was true.

 

 

 

I believe this is what the kids call “squad goals”.

 

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This guy brought a grill. Sadly, not a furnace, not hot enough to melt steel, and not large enough to immolate me. Think bigger, my friend.

 

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Oh no.

OH NO!

DOG! DOG GET OUT OF THERE QUICK YOU’RE A SITTING DUCK

My heart bled for that fluffy champion but I wasn’t going to get caught in the crossfire until my soft, beautiful body had been replaced with hot, beautiful steel, so I made my way back up to the meeting DJ.

And lo, as it is foretold, so it became.

 

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my mans is prepared, come what may

 

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WITNESS ME!

 

 

To my mortification, a socialist newspaper had chosen this venue, at this moment, to attempt to discuss the Green New Deal. At least, that’s what was on the newspapers they were waving. I obviously didn’t read them. I did eavesdrop on a conversation happening nearby, though:

Dude 1: “See, but that’s why we need free college! Everyone deserves to go to college!”

Dude 2: “Are you kidding me, dude? Half the kids at college are just there to party and be fuckin’ idiots. Most of them drop out in a couple months! You want everyone to do that?”

Dude 1: “No, I just… they deserve a chance!”

Dude 2: “They have a chance! It’s called loans!”

Dude 1: “We need debt forgiveness!”

Dude 2: “Why would we need that? The job market’s already saturated!”

It got mumbly after that, and if I really wanted to hear this debate to its conclusion, I could go into literally any Facebook group. Instead, I decided to get a beer.

Crime and Punishment Brewing Company across the street had made a jalapeno double IPA to commemorate the Fairmount denizens metamorphoses into the 21st century answer to the terracotta army. Since Abba was over, it seemed like now was the time.

 

I saw this ghoul as I crossed. As you can see, in my pursuit of journalistic integrity, I got close enough that he could have swiped me with whatever the hell is going on with his left hand there.

This was the man who wrote the letter. He had transubstantiated… but at what cost?

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was starting to rethink the invincibility. I didn’t want to carry an umbrella! Umbrellas are for wimps!

A modern Buddha like this dude must have known that, and he must have been carrying it as an ironic statement — “I can no longer be harmed, yet I embrace the trappings of wussyhood, for who could challenge me”? An inspiration without saying a word. The Flower Sermon, reborn like a phoenix in concrete.

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I waited in line for a thousand years and got the jalapeno beer. It tasted like how I remember New Mexico.

I was over it, though. The flesh husk had carried me this far, and I may as well see it through to its natural completion. Besides, it’s the future. The transhumanist movement is already surgically implanting magnets in their hands, and all of our high-profile billionaires are mad scientists hurling their limitless money at developing sci-fi tech. It’ll be the singularity in a couple years. I can wait.

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And what Philly outdoor event would be complete without somebody climbing on top of shit?

Nobody stole Rocinante. I saddled up and went home. I’d nursed all the food in my body since first grade. Another year wouldn’t hurt.

But there’s always next year.

Love,

The Bastard

(note: To anyone I may have photographed or recorded, I took your leaping in front of my camera, grinning, as consent to be featured on my world renown and widely read blog. If this isn’t the case, contact me at bastardtravel@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to take it down. You fuckin’ crybaby.)

Hidden in the Moors

August 12, 2018. Brookline, New Hampshire.

I was drinking the terrible, watery coffee and eating the terrible, watery waffles in the hotel lobby, carboloading for the art gallery we had slated today. Allegedly, they had early Monets. The TV was too loud, so I had no choice but to hear every detail of developing vandal scandal wherein somebody hit Donnie Trump’s walk of fame star with a pickaxe.

Obviously, I chortled. Who didn’t? My mirth enraged a squadron of portly dads, who proceeded to talk too loud about “these goddamn Democrats”, presumably for my benefit. I do have big black glasses and a beard. You couldn’t blame them for jumping to conclusions. After they didn’t point directly at me to tell me what was wrong with my generation, they quieted down and proceeded into some light racism.

The news then heel-face turned into a story about the New Hampshire Food Truck festival that was taking place a mere 15 minutes from my very table. Well, that settled it. To Hell with Monet. Life is the true art.

The Girl eventually woke and I explained to her that culture can only be absorbed by immersion. She blinked at me blearily and said, “That’s nice.”

It was decided. We drove out to the New Hampshire Dome in Milford.

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It was an imposing structure, but the trucks weren’t in it. When you consider what the trucks are for, it makes sense to not put them indoors.

The traffic cone rope and the tiny Hampshirians in their reflective vests pointed us up the hill, into the woods. The obvious choice.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

It was around 11 AM, and the expansive selection was still setting up; the juggalo-themed art tent wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. We made a beeline to the Indochine Pavilion.

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The critics, as you can see, were raving. The N.Y. Times called them “Good”! To maximize our food truck festivities and truly appreciate all that NH had to offer, the Girl and I decided we wouldn’t get any actual meals from these trucks. Chicken garlic on a stick are three of my favorite things, so we started there.

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it was, at very least, a three-star affair

From there we proceeded to a local breakfast favorite, the fried manicotti.

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just like mom used to fry. excuse my product placement, Asics is giving me kickbacks

And what New Hampshire foggy moor outing would be complete without the statewide signature favorite, Hot Ballz?

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a bold claim

What are hot ballz, you may ask? A reasonable question. Imagine a hush puppy. Now, instead of spicy dough, fill it with mac and cheese.

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That was about the time I had a heart attack. Bloated with cheese and grease, the Girl and I waddled back out of the moors and, unbelievably, decided our best course of action would be a hike along the Andres Institute of Art outdoor exhibit.

I liked the freaky baby head, but most of the installments looked like the little brass sculptures you find in every flea market. Not to denigrate them; that’s exactly where I found Sir Tetanus the Tintinnabulatory, and he has been a trusted friend and guardian for well over ten years.

mymans

my mans

It started to rain in earnest, and the exhibits were not arranged in an overly user-friendly fashion. If you wanted to see them all, you’d need to take the 14 mile loop. We didn’t want to see them all.

The Girl and I bade a fond(ish) farewell to New Hampshire, and marathon drove home, pausing only to hit a Dunkin Donuts and listen to a hefty local woman scream vitriol at a teenage counter attendant over their lack of donut selection. Imagine her horror if she found outthey’re just called “Dunkin Coffee” in Europe.

And so concludes this leg of the chronicle. Now that I’m financially stable, and so firmly rooted in Philly that I occasionally say “jawn”, it’s time to begin local exploration in earnest.

Love,

The Bastard

 

The Perfect Chimera

September 19, 2018. Bastard HQ.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution that apparently reaches up the academic ladder to professional anatomists using research grants to stitch together ideal Frankensteins in their own image out of discarded Australian animal parts.

Evolution, beautiful readers, is not what Pokemon promised. It’s not an upward process culminating in an intelligently-designed paragon amalgam. It’s gradual adaptation to the present environment.

Here are the improvements presented by this stupid video, and brief yet tasteful rebuttals about why they’re wrong and I hate them.

1) Chimp Back

It was not a “flawed transition to standing upright”. We’re the best existing species for standing upright. Pursuit predation is how we became apex predators, and why we conquered the world despite our myriad physical failings.

“Pursuit predation”, for those who don’t follow the stuffy animal behavior jargon, is our ability to walk down any other animal due to the efficient design of our lungs. Most are faster than us, sure, but human beings were the Michael Meyers of the prehistoric savanna. A quadrupedal construction is clutch for bursts of speed, as in the majority of predators, and grazing animals benefit from always being about a foot from their food source, but a horse’s lungs will fill with blood if they try to outpace us for more than a couple hours.

Google it. Even the crazy horse girls say companion horses can’t go more than about 35 miles a day. An optimistic estimate would double that for unencumbered ancient horses, 70 miles, which is about how far the average Roman legionnaire would jog every day with a third of his body weight in supplies on his back.

That’s how we won.

A chimp was not designed for pursuit predation. Giving us a thick lower back would increase lower back pain. That’s it.

2) Emu legs

Emu legs are designed to move giant, heavy, stupid birds long distances quickly. Why would we need that? We don’t go quickly! We’re almost uniformly overweight and the fastest man on earth runs at about a quarter the speed of the average cheetah.

That’s evolutionary perfection, folks. We made it.

3) Thigh pumps

We already have that, it’s called the femural artery. They’re huge, man. They’re the main source of blood to the legs, and since we’ve already discussed that we have been shaped by circumstance to walk 50 miles a day waiting for a larger, more effectively defensible animal to doze off, our circulation is just fine.

4) Breastless chest

Breast size is probably a false indicator of fertility, sexually selected, sort of like a peacock’s tail. Breastlessness would require modification of the human mating that led to the runaway Fisherian miracle of prominent breasts. I wouldn’t presume to guess what that would do to us sexually, but it certainly wouldn’t maintain our present status quo. Maybe harems? Maybe serial polygyny? Any way you roll the dice, it’s hard to see how the shift would qualify as “perfect”.

5) Reliable heart of a dog

What? Why?

They’re the same hearts, aside from dog hearts beating faster (due to the size differential). Humans are more prone to heart disease because we won’t stop shoving Big Macs down our moist, fleshy gullets. Dogs are more prone to heartworms because they’re stupid and eat poop.

6) Graceful lungs of a swan

What

possible

reason

7) Marsupial pouch

Okay. All right. Our giant skulls, powerhouse brains, and rampant neotony did cause a big spike in death rate during childbirth, as compared to other species. A pouch might reduce that, and make the child more manageable during its lengthy and helpless childhood.

Except for the massive size and growth rate of human infants as compared to kangaroo joeys. Not to mention how utterly and thoroughly the construction clashes with the rest of the Greek myth monstrosity we’re building here.

8) Sensory transformation

Better hearing and vision could have helped us in prehistory, although light sensitivity would suggest that we’d be more nocturnal and there is absolutely no reason for that. We’re still small and weak. What rankles me is “this could be a human fit for the future”.

How? Justify your statement. We’re surrounded by light stimuli and noise pollution at all times, we spend our days looking at glowing screens, and we’re dying off at incredible rates from lack of exercise and inundation with calorically dense food-substitutes like sugared corn syrup that wreak absolute havoc on our suitably efficient organ systems.

How would increased  light sensitivity help a species that actively suffers from visual impairment and chronic migraines thrive in our burgeoning neon cyberpunk dystopia?

How would more efficient lungs and bony, shock-absorbing knees increase the survivability of animals that are rotting away from inactivity and overnutrition?

You funneled a bunch of grant money into designing a clickbait homunculus. It’s the academic equivalent of a selfie with one of those SnapChat dog filters that makes your eyes all freaky and big. The vanity of pushing your Catelyn Stark elf-fursona as though it were legitimate evolutionary science is misinforming the populace and cheapening the field.

And considering the present political climate, evolutionary biology can’t survive too much more cheapening. Although, it can be argued this, itself, is a form of evolution.

But I wouldn’t argue that because it’s a self-congratulatory intellectual exercise. Sort of like slapping your own face on a CGI BuzzFeed list of “Top 10 Animal Parts That Are Kind of Cool!”

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

 

Haunted Meatloaf

August 11, 2018. Nashua, New Hampshire.

The serrated jaws of madness snapped shut at our heels as we hauled ass from the cultist outpost of Portsmouth and shot down the length of the admittedly non-lengthy state, exhausting my little Korean engine in battle with New Hampshire’s rollicking hills, owing to my stubborn refusal to switch my car out of eco-mode. This is because I’m vegan.

ecofriendly

Wait, don’t stop reading yet. I’m vegan in the way that most people quit smoking. They say, “All right, that’s my last cigarette” and it continues to be true right up until their next cigarette, after which they quit again. Transpose that to ethically motivated dietary restrictions, and replace “cigarette” with “an entire chicken”. So far my record stands at 16 consecutive hours of high-octane additive-free veganism, thanks to intermittent fasting.

The rain had slowed when we arrived at the Country Tavern, alleged by Atlas Obscura to be a brazenly haunted farmhouse turned restaurant and devoting a full page of menu to the legend of the genius locii, Elizabeth Ford. I was hoping to burn enough time that night would have fallen. It was looking like I was going to have to settle for overcast, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost.

There was a brewery across the street called White Birch. A shamanic state of consciousness enhancement could only help my chances of lifting the veil. It was one of the prettier breweries I’d run across on this trip, with an open floor plan, lacquered marble tabletops, and a huge plasma screen TV mounted behind the bar. It was also as cold as meat locker.

Everyone was dressed like they had been phase-shifted in from a ski lodge. I realized I was the only human on the premises in shorts and a t-shirt. It was 80 degrees outside.

The decor spoke to me. The walls were hung with slabs of wood with delightfully redundant carvings of birch trees and Hobbit quotes. Hobbit quotes were a popular ornamentation in New England breweries, for some reason. Between these plaques were $35 White Birch sweatshirts and hoodies. They did not sell t-shirts. That explained the temperature.

I grinned widely in appreciation of their aesthetic sense and their cunning, and ordered a flight of the most heavily liquored beers they had available.

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They just flung bourbon and tequila into all kinds of shit. The bartender was an obvious dad who looked like he played linebacker in college and kept in shape. He surreptitiously warned me that they have to put “4 oz” on the menu for legal reasons, but each flight cup was actually 5 oz. I told him the secret was safe with me.

The Girl returned from the bathroom and ordered a 16 oz draft, since it was “the same price as a flight anyway”. I clucked my tongue and did not call her a rube, but I felt quietly superior.

It would be revealed that we were both, in fact, rubes. The combination of an empty stomach and 20 oz of tequila-beer would result in both of us hurling vitriol at the television during a news story about some girl with terrible squat form. It turns out the point of the story was not that the girl’s squat form was terrible, but that she had survived some debilitating disease and now squatted (poorly). Oops.

Fortunately, I choose to believe our innate charisma helped us break even with the pleasant staff vis-a-vis this high-decibel faux pas. And if I was drunk enough to Bro Out at a quaint, frozen little Tolkeinesque brewery, I was drunk enough to eat with a ghost.

The Country Tavern was a cozy converted farmhouse with old-world sensibilities, decorated like your grandma’s house, if your grandma lived in a massive 3-story restaurant. It was full of Olds, none of whom seemed to mind the advertised aura of death. We sat at the table, demolishing haunted bread. The waitress was a perky blonde woman who became very excited when I asked about the spirit-in-residence, and gave us a punctuated Midnight Society retelling, then gave us a misspelled placemat that filled in the blanks.

Elizabeth Ford lived in the farmhouse in the 1700s. She was married to an alcoholic sea captain with poor impulse control. She had a baby while he was at sea, and when he returned he was… displeased. The jury is out as to whether he thought she cheated on him, or if he was mad she churned out his baby in his absence, or if he just wasn’t ready for fatherhood. What he was ready for was serial murder. He killed his wife and chucked her down a well, then killed the baby and buried it under a tree.

“Have you had any sightings?” the Girl asked. “Like, you personally?”

The waitress frowned, then nodded. “Well, nothing big. Sometimes the cups will fall for no reason, or there will be moving shadows where there shouldn’t be. One time, I was closing, and I almost walked away without taking my tips out of my envelope. I was just about to go out the door when all of a sudden I heard a noise, and I turned around and my envelope had fallen off the table for no reason. I was like, “Oh! Thanks, Elizabeth!””

I snuck off to the bathroom. While in there, I turned the lights off and said “Bloody Mary” into the mirror three times. No spookings occurred. I clicked the light switch back on. The lights didn’t work.

I stood alone in the dark, staring into the mirror and weighing the severity of my miscalculation for three beats. The lights flickered back on.

I wasn’t alone anymore.

Naw, just kidding, I was. That’d be wild though.

I returned to the table, only crying a little, and we put in our orders.

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The Girl put in an order for the ghost’s personal chicken. I strongly considered the haunted meatloaf, but eventually went in for the haunted prime rib. It had been years and I didn’t remember if I liked prime rib. (It turns out I do.)

reset the ol’ vegan counter

It was the first really substantial meal we had eaten all trip. I was rejuvenated. I finished the Girl’s ghost’s pasta and almost ate the decorative plastic flowers by accident.

Before we hit the road, I snuck off to the bathroom again.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” I said aloud. “Liz. Can I call you Liz? Listen, that Bloody Mary thing was in poor taste, and might have been racist, and I’m sorry for it. You’ve been hanging out here for a few hundred years, and I’m just worried you’re dwelling on the past. Why don’t you come with? I’m not tryna sound all psychopompous but my place back in Philly is pretty sick, it’s got all sorts of skulls and candles and witchy shit, good ghost ambiance. Plenty of room! Give city unlife a try. It’s got to beat watching these Olds eat for the rest of eternity.”

I turned off the lights, winked at the mirror, and went out to rejoin the Girl. She had cornered an elderly server, who was pointing out the window to where the baby was alleged to be buried.

“Used to be an old elm tree there,” he said in that distinctive elderly New England man way, with the gravitas that makes Stephen King’s tertiary characters so disturbing. “Tore it up, but they never moved the body. Still lyin’ under there. Ayuh.”

The Girl and I returned to my car. I opened the back door and made a demonstrative ushering gesture.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Getting the door for Liz.”

“You invited a ghost back to the hotel?”

“Her name is Liz. And I invited her back to the house. What, you’ve never thought about a third?”

The resultant skull eye undoubtedly made Liz feel more comfortable.

“Come on,” I said, closing the door and getting behind the wheel. “She’s in the prime of her afterlife.”

“Stoooooop,” the Girl said. It was more of a drawn-out groan. “Stop talking.”

I did.

The three of us headed back toward Manchester. We had one day left in New Hampshire, and while we had originally had grand designs about going to an art gallery, fate would intervene. We were not destined to look at art. We were destined to live it.

Or peer unblinking at it from the great beyond.

spookywoman

hey boo

Love,

The Bastard