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.

The Irish Sea: Keelhaulin’

September 28, 2019. The Irish Sea.
Soundtrack: Flogging Molly – Salty Dog

“And will ye be wantin’ the tinned to-MAH-tohs?”

“Please,” I said. I hadn’t seen a vegetable in what seemed like years.

The kindly old Welsh lady brought me a fried pile of meat, blood, and gluten, along with two mushrooms and some apocalypse prepper tomatoes. I inhaled the greased protein, chased it with a coffee, and set out to set sail.

I had a romantic notion of how the ferry to Dublin would play out. I’d approach the docks and it would suddenly be night, during a thunderstorm. I’d say, “I’m looking for passage to Dublin’s fair city,” and a crusty old mariner with a Mr. Krabs accent and one or more amputations replaced with hooks, all corroded from saltwater, would glare at me through his remaining eye and spit at my feet and say, “No room for the likes’a you.”

I’d be forced to stowaway aboard the vessel, hiding in the cargo hold, possibly among pigs. I’d crouch behind the storage pens, me father’s lucky knife clutched in me fist, lest I be discovered and need to stab myself out a distraction.

I’d flee from the scene, the crew in hot pursuit, cutlasses hissing from their scabbards, and with one last desperate prayer to Athena, Poseidon, or both, I’d hurl myself from the deck and into the black and fathomless deep, the chaos of the waves roiling around me, unsure which direction is up but fighting with an animal desperation to feel the broken stones of Éire beneath my feet once again, to feel the deliverance of my fingertips sifting the soil of my forefathers.

Instead, a pudgy, smiling lady took my ticket and herded me onto a bus full of middle-aged Dubliners and three punk rockers with day-glo Bird of Paradise hair. I hadn’t seen liberty spikes since high school, and they brought me comfort even as they nearly gouged out my eye.

“You guys a band?” I asked one of the punks, nodding to the tom case he was trying, with limited success, to hold between his ankles.

“Yeah,” he said politely. No sneering. I was a little disappointed.

“What do you play?”

“Punk.”

I laughed. “Well, yeah, I put that one together. What kind?”

They turned out to be a horrorpunk band from England called the Headstone Horrors. We talked shop a little. I told them about the Murphys song that inspired this leg of my trip and the Icelandic Punk museum, and they seemed amused enough. They told me they were taking the ferry because it was the cheapest way from Wales to Dublin, if not the fastest, and they had to scramble to a show that night in a rock bar called Fibber Magees.

The bus stopped, and we were herded onto what had been misidentified to me as a ferry.

The Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls is a ferry. What I had boarded was a floating mall.

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Vile

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It was 11 levels, somehow. I spent some of the journey on what portions of the deck weren’t cordoned off, squinting against the wind and wishing I still smoked.

At some point I made my way belowdecks and explored the multiple fine dining establishments on offer. There was a comfort food buffet situation, likewise without knowledge of vegetables, for $20 a plate.

I opted for the chain pizza kitchen instead, and ate a large pizza to the face. A man has to keep his strength up, especially at sea.

There was no stowing away. There was no swashbuckling. There was barely any internet. I wrote until we landed, then we were all herded into another bus, and I had to get my hands on some Euros again.

The punk rockers were on the same bus, as were a middle-aged couple from Denver. We talked about our various travels, and the Denverites told the punk rockers about their folk band, and wound up buying their CD before disappearing into uptown.

The punks and I took the bus to the last stop, around Temple Bar. They told me to swing by the show if I was in the area. I told them I’d keep an eye out, then ducked into the first bar I saw and had a beer.

Next stop, a two hour hike to my hostel. I needed the exercise.

Love,

B.

 

Bilbao: 8 Incredible Reasons to Avoid Ryanair

Tuesday, September 26, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Electric Six – Transatlantic Flight

That’s not “incredible” as hyperbole, but in the traditional sense, where some of this shit defies credulity. Don’t fly Ryanair. There are many reasons. Here are some:

  1. You have to print your own boarding pass in advance and bring it to the airport. They don’t do digital passes for non-EU passports. If you don’t bring your own boarding pass, they’ll charge you a €20 “reissue fee”.
  2. Do not take your bag off your back. If they see it, they’ll arbitrarily decide it’s too big, and charge you €55 “carry-on fee” at the gate. This didn’t happen to me, but it happened to the girl in front of me. She wasn’t even mad. Just disappointed.
  3. The instructions on the printed pass you had to bring will say, “take this to check-in for validation”. I waited 40 minutes in check-in, behind a group of people speaking in rapid, furious Spanish, understandably trying to argue one of Ryanair’s arbitrary fines. When I got to the desk, the lady said, “You have to take this to the Help Desk.”
  4. If everyone in the Help Desk line hadn’t also been in the check-in line, they wouldn’t have let me cut and get my stamp (took 5 seconds), and I would’ve missed my flight.
  5. The ticket said board at gate 6R. They were boarding the flight at gate 6. When I tried to go to 6R, a guard who spoke no English stopped me, said something in Spanish, and pointed vaguely the way I came. I’ve since learned I tried to go past the check-in without checking in. In America, I would now be dead.
  6. The flight was late. On the descent, the pilot plunged into a stormcloud, then just kind of hung out there. It was the worst turbulence I’d ever lived through. The old lady next to me was clutching the seat in front of her and hyperventilating. The plane convulsed like a wooden roller coaster. The charm of wooden roller coasters, what allows you to look past the way the lap-bar breaks your ribs, is that the ride is over in 60 seconds. This particular bout of turbulence took twenty minutes.
  7. The landing was less a landing and more a rolling crash. I’ve never been on a flight where the plane was Barkley chaos-dunked onto the runway like that before. Everyone screamed. Children started to cry in the back. I said, “Landed the shit outta that one!” No one was amused, despite my irreverent charm. This was due to their scrape with mortality.
  8. The pilot was standing with the flight crew at the front of the plane as we disembarked. He looked abashed. Good.

I’ll level with you: the flights are dirt cheap and you get what you pay for. In all likelihood, I will continue to fly Ryanair. But what you have to understand is I never grew out of my adolescent delusions of invulnerability, and even if I had, I place no value on my life! I have seen the time, place, and manner of my death, and it is not here, and it is not now. I have nothing to lose by flying in these cut-rate death traps.

But you, beautiful reader. You have so much to live for. You have people who love and depend on you. You have a whole future ahead of you.

Don’t fly Ryanair. Not flying Ryanair is self-care.

Love,

B.

Denver: Vehicular Manslaughter

Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.

I woke in the Aloft hostel. It had been fine the night before, when I was so drunk I couldn’t see, but that beautiful dream was burning away, as if in morning sunlight. Not literally, since the shade was broken, and there was no sunlight. Just pretend.

Desperation had driven me to this chain before. The Dublin Aloft was an exercise in the grotesque, but it was also my first hostel and I mistakenly believed every hostel would be like that, and that’s why they are all like $20 a night.

I quickly determined that our toilet was broken. The reason we had a broken toilet is some brain genius left the instructions in the tank upon installation.

I peeled the lid off the tank and found a plastic bag containing a swollen bundle of pages the size of a telephone book, bobbing in the water like it belonged there.

“Hmm,” I said.

I called down to inform the front desk. Nothing happened for fifteen minutes. I also went down in person to inform the front desk. We were assured it would be taken care of. I asked when. The timetable was unknown.

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reeeee

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Also, plumbing ree!

The showers worked, for the time being, and we made use of them and then had breakfast at a place called the Delectable Egg. It delivered as advertised.

Everything in Denver is craft. How do dog silhouettes relate to hot sauce, you may ask? Well, another reason this magnificent city is the modern shangri-la is no one has fewer than two dogs at any given time. You walk around these huge, open streets, breathe the clean air, and exchange smiles (smiling! in a city!) with the population of rangy, athletic people walking multiple dogs.

It’s like Bizarro Philly.

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Long may be reign #dog #milehighdogs #allhail #Denver

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We made our way up the 16th Street Mall, a collection of big-name boutiques with a fleet of big red shuttle buses running on each block for free. We had grand designs to catch one of the shuttles and ride it to the end of its track, then cross the bridge into downtown proper, allowing us to absorb more of the local flavor than would be accessible at Dunkin and Old Navy.

The block down from the hostel had a little outdoor topiary garden and avant garde sculptures, as well as just a regular-ass cow with Denver facts written on it.

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Infrastructure cow #infrastructure #cow #denver

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While we were admiring the shrubbery, the shuttle rolled up, and kept rolling, directly into a homeless guy.

Anarchy erupted.

The driver waddled out of the bus, stricken, literally chewing her nails as a mob formed. The homeless guy lay next to the bus, alongside his metal walker, both sprawled in the decorative hedges. Concerned locals circled like vultures. I started to call 911, but a screaming lady was already on it.

Some bald guy was whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He was howling all sorts of invective; the details escape me, but the general implication was that this was no accident, but rather, premeditated vehicular homicide, and if we did not act soon the obese middle-aged immigrant bus driver would get away with it again.

“For TOO LONG they’ve been getting away with this! When are we going to stand up and ACT!”

The wolves were closing in. Everyone was getting louder and angrier. It was approaching the event horizon. I helpfully interjected with the fullness of my Thu’um.

“Everybody shut up!” I roared. “The man is hurt, and this isn’t helping him! Back up and give him some air!”

I am big, and rarely roar these days. The majority of my work is with women, and they find it distressing. It was risky to inject that kind of visceral fight-or-flight response into an already escalated crowd, but I maintain adolescent delusions of physical invulnerability, and I doubt those middle-aged women and Left coast soyboys could actually kill me. They could kill the bus driver, though. Metabolic syndrome had done half the job already.

So I drew their attention, and everyone’s head whipped around to me like I’d farted in church. Most of them were suitably abashed. The bald kid was not. Rather, he was immediately in my face.

“Don’t fucking talk to me like that!” he yelled. “Who the fuck are you, to talk to me like that?”

“You’re making it worse,” I said to him. Quietly, now. Conversationally. Within the newfound intimacy of our range. “Rein it in.”

“Fuck you! You fucking dork.”

He spat this as though it were the most devastating slur in his arsenal. I looked down at him, at the roadmap of veins bulging on his male pattern pate. The modern parlance would place him firmly in the manlet zone, 5’6″ or so, and visibly winded from all the excitement.

Though I felt a yearning to break him down into his component parts, I knew it was vestigal instinct, and not real useful. How embarrassing would that be? Ruining my first Bastard Travel in months by getting arrested at the scene of a vehicular manslaughter for punching the skin off this tubby progeriac? “It was self-defense! He called me a dork.”

“All right, buddy,” I said slowly, as though talking to a small, dull child. “This isn’t about you. Somebody’s hurt.”

He said something clever about “fuck you” again, so I walked past him, giving him the opportunity to do something aside from snarl. He did not.

I crouched by the homeless dude. He was breathing. No blood or anything. The shuttle just knocked him off his feet. Or off his walker, I guess. His shoulder was pressed against the side of the shuttle, into a billboard ad for knockout dentistry. A few bystanders were also pressing their hands into the ad to ensure the bus driver didn’t make a quick getaway.

The ambulance pulled up. Cops would be there soon. Though I’m no longer the hood rat criminal I once was, I continue to make it a point to be where cops aren’t.

The bus driver wasn’t stoned to death, so that was a plus, depending on where you were standing. I went to go find Ladygirl.

“Listen man,” the bald kid said, drifting back into my line of vision, “I’m sorry. That’s my bad. I was caught up in the moment, and I was out of line. It’s just, this shit keeps happening.”

“The bus keeps hitting people?” I asked.

“I’m an activist,” he told me, suddenly and jarringly. By rote. He had been preparing this. When had he prepared this? We stopped talking sixty seconds ago. “So I use my voice a lot.”

“Okay,” I said.

He limply shook my hand, then started to describe more of his activism to me. I said I had somewhere to be and bounced.

Ladygirl was half a block up, sitting on a bench next to all the horticulture and looking perturbed. You can tell she’s perturbed because her eyes triple in size, so you can see the whites all the way around. Whenever there’s a loud noise, she briefly looks like an anime character.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The bus hit a homeless guy,” I said.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Is everyone okay?”

“Nobody died while I was there,” I said. “Although this bald dude came close. Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah,” she said, “maybe… maybe let’s catch the bus the next block up.”

“Sure,” I said. “Just be ready to dodge.”

On our return journey (spoiler: we survive the day), we would find the bald activist howling incoherently on the same street corner, to no one. Motioning frantically to the scene of the crime. The lack of an audiance did not discourage him from “using his voice”.

Fuckin’ dork.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Fort Collins: The Dark Calculus of the Colorado Brewer’s Festival, Act the Second

Saturday, June 29th, 2019. Fort Collins, Colorado.

It is at this juncture our recounting gets disjointed. The following will read a little like Catch 22.

The floor was overflowing with craft beer enthusiasts, most hailing from Fort Collins and thus dubbed “Fortnites”. Every Fortnite who’d graduated to the fourth floor was falling-down drunk.

If there was one thing I’d learned in Rome, it’s “when in Rome, eat a lasagna. It’s the most cost-effective calorie bomb.” They didn’t have any lasagna on the fourth floor, but they did have dozens of beer stands. I made my way through them instead.

Speaking of stands, the bandstand in the center of the floor was initially showcasing a geriatric bluegrass band. A venerable fiddless tore it up, but only occasionally, allowing the Willie Nelson look-a-like on guitar to do most of the heavy lifting. Likely for fear of lumbar integrity.

When they cleared out an honest-to-Yog brass band set up, and Ladygirl and I reconvened on the dance floor to demonstrate out swingdance moves (of which we have a sum total of 4. That’s all they covered in the single beginner’s swing lesson we went to).

We were the first inebriate fools to use the dancefloor for dancing, but it triggered a rapid dispersal of inhibitions still extant in the Fortnites, and soon we were surrounded by flailing locals. Many opted for the Herman Munster slowdance of middle-school fame at roughly 4x tempo.

“This is it!” Ladygirl screeched into my ear, conspiratorially. She has no indoor voice, and neither the music nor the libations were correcting that. “This is why I wanted to learn to dance so we could just, bust it out! Social capital!”

A pair of stout rockabilly Fortnites spun onto the dance floor and absolutely lit it up. You can do a lot with four moves, but you can do a lot more with actual knowledge of dancing, and they demonstrated that to devastating effect. I wanted to applaud, but Ladygirl would not release my hand.

“We need to get more beer,” I told her, a number of times.

“We need to get more DANCE!” she shrieked in response, an equal number of times.

A man appeared on the stage with a sousaphone. “BRAAAAT,” it said, over and over.

Ladygirl would later inform me that, at some point during the swingdance, I hurled her to the earth and everybody gasped. It was almost certainly an accident. She said I scooped her back up like when someone falls in a mosh pit and we dropped right back into the song, nary so much as a single jockey. I have no recollection of this. I suspect she’s gaslighting me. However, if the return to dancing was as a seamless as I’ve been led to believe, I suspect I was pilot-testing an innovative new swingdance maneuever.

The song ended and I said, “I’m getting more beer”, then escaped before she could protest.

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Go better rams #coloradostate #beer

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I collected myself outside, looking over the immaculate football field that I thought we would be drinking on and baking in the merciless Colorado sun. It was soothing, but didn’t help how sweaty I was.

When I reentered, Ladygirl homed in on me like a guided missile.

“So much just happened!” she said.

“How?”

“Some bros tried to assimilate me into their bro band!” she said. “They’re very small and two of them look the same! Their alpha is bald and won’t stop yelling!”

“Okay,” I said. “Did it work? Are you now one with the Brollective?”

“No! Maybe,” she said. “I’ll introduce you next time they find me. They’re getting the peanut butter beer. And remember those two who danced really good?”

“Yes,” I said. There were only two on the floor who danced really good. We were not either of them. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, she was so excited.

“They’re a COMPETITIVE LINDY HOP CREW!” she exploded. “They want us to join! Their crew! They tried to recruit us to their lindy hop team!”

“But they saw me slam-dunk you onto the dance floor, right?”

“Yeah! I guess! They don’t care! I told them we would, but we’re from Pennsylvania. But see how good we are?”

“So good,” I lied to her sweet, sweet face. “Ready for the, uh, big time.”

There was more drinking, and more dancing, though up next was a salsa band and nobody knew how to salsa. The singer tried to instruct us all, with mixed results. There was a surprising amount of skanking; perhaps the most surprising part is that I wasn’t involved in it.

I met the bros. They were a spirited bunch. Their obvious shot-caller was a head taller than the other two, and on that head he wore two hats he had somehow hustled from beer stand purveyors as drunk as their patrons. The next time I saw him, he was holding three cardboard signs.

“I got THREE NUMBERS!” he roared, waving his erstwhile acquisitions in the air.

“Gotta catch ’em all.”

“Fuck yeah, dude!” he said, then staggered off to gather whatever else was available for collection.

The festival rolled to a tragic close, stands depleted to only a beer each, then to none. The thirsty would approach like Oliver Twist, “please sir, can I have some more?”, and the brewers would shrug helplessly. I slammed my last glass, some sort of IPA I’m sure, then turned to the Bro, S–, who had initially imprinted on Ladygirl.

“Y’all got borger around here?”

“No burgers,” S– said. “But I know a place we can go. Hoo, I know a place we can GO!”

He was yelling. I was yelling. Ladygirl had been yelling for three hours. We were a force of nature.

“WE’RE GOING TO YUM YUM!” S– bellowed at The Collector. Then, he turned back to us.

“You guys like Greek food?”

“Yes.”

“YUM YUMMMMMS!” he told the Collector again.

“YEAH!” the Collector said back. “I’ve gotta do something first, but I’ll meet you there!”

He would not meet us there. We postulate, in retrospect, that he was following up on one of the three numbers.

Ladygirl, S– and I stumbled out into the relentless sun. Due to Colorado’s elevation, the sun is only seven or eight miles away at any given time, and it burns all the liquid from your body. Fortunately, we were fortified with liquids.

BASTARD’S BEST IN SHOW:
1) Crooked Stave – L’Brett d’Or. An explosive 5% sour that I drank three or four of. Both names are real cool.

2)  Rally King – Jale Berry Jalapeno Sour. A strawberry jalapeno sour at 6.7% ABV that burned going down. I hovered around that keg like a vulture until it was a kicked.

3) Soul Squared – Imperial Red. Red, strong enough (7.5%), complex, but real light. You could make some serious mistakes drinking this one.

LADYGIRL LIKES:
1) Black Bottle Brewery – Friar Chuck
2) High Hops Brewery – Blueberry Wheat
3) Millercoors – Blue Moon  nope not today not here
3) Mash Lab – Peaches and Cream
4) Odell Brewing – 30th Anniversary IPA 
5) Rally King – Jale Berry Jalapeno Sour we have a winner
6) Prost – Helles

I don’t like going over 1k words in a post, so you’ll have to tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion.

Love,

The Bastard

Providence: Big Bear Boss Battle and Lovecraft’s Grave

May 26, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

The narrow escape from Dystopia Beach left a bad taste in my mouth, and my only recourse was to cleanse it with some of Providence’s world-famous Greek food.

I ordered moussaka and they gave me a hot pocket with chili powder in it for some reason. Whatever. We got beef, we got eggplant, there aren’t any dandelion sprouts on it, I’ll be okay.

My olive oil levels once again stabilized, we ranged out to Brown University campus to see what Atlas Obscura vaguely described as a “colossal, untitled bear”.

We just so happened to show up on graduation weekend, because of course we did. The campus was overflowing with humans and absolutely filthy with pigs, setting up their little flashy-light campus cruisers on every corner, blocking intersections, leering at college girls from beneath their sad faux-military haircuts like the hundred palette-swapped bastards of Hoggish Greedly.

The Girl was slower to shake Dystopia Beach’s malaise. The whole drive and for most of the walk she was grumbling and gnashing her teeth with a formless misanthropy about to Brown being ritzy ivy-league digs. It was surreal. Like looking in a pretty, red-haireded mirror.

“There’s just an arrogance to it,” she told me as we passed the sixth or seventh lax bro in salmon chino shorts and sandals. “Like it carries all this weight just because it’s an ivy league school. There’s this grand implication to it, like they pity anyone who didn’t have the few hundred grand lying around to avoid a state school. It’s pretentious.”

“I didn’t know Brown was ivy league.”

“Yeah!” she said. “Brown is like, a big deal art school.”

I shrugged. “Can’t be too big a deal. I never heard of it before I found out about the bear.”

Let’s talk about the bear.

According to Atlas Obscura,

“This strange bear slumps in the corner of a university quad. There’s nothing cuddly about the oversized creature, or the abnormally large lamp slicing into its head.

Untitled (Lamp/Bear) by Swiss artist Urs Fischer is a unique addition to Brown University’s campus. It certainly keeps with the school’s reputation as the most free-spirited member of the Ivy League.”

Oof. Okay, I could see how the ivy league thing could get grating.

It’s supposed to be made of bronze, but the pictures on the site made it look like a perspective trick done with a beanie baby. Although, this beanie baby has a lamp jammed in its head, with sort of a Sid’s room Toy Story aesthetic. How could I resist?

We left the car by a park and climbed up a ridiculous hill toward the campus proper for what had to be the better part of a mile.

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Take warning #hill #providence

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Yeah, that’s an understatement.

Halfway up, Google Maps told me we were approaching “Lovecraft Square”. We swung a block wide to check out what was undoubtedly a grand monument to Providence’s weirdest son.

Not so much with the “grand”. I figured, they’re so free and easy with bronze in this town, the least they could do is throw together a bust of his grimacing elongated mug. No such luck. This plaque was the entire memorial.

“They did my mans dirty,” I said with a mournful shake of my head.

When we finally crested Mount Brown, we walked into what appeared to be an active graduation ceremony. Real frying pan-fire scenario. We had to push against the flow of bodies, functionally swimming upstream to get onto one of the several quads and begin the hunt.

For a gargantuan sky-blue bear sculpture, it proved surprisingly difficult to find. We did two laps of the block before turning the correct corner and facing the monster down.

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Boss battle #bear #brown #providence

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It was truly huge, and deceptively made of metal. I knocked on its huge foot and it did, in fact, make a ting sound. A local approached me, sensing my awe of the size of this lad, and asked if I’d take her picture with it.

“Sure. You here for the festivities too?”

“Oh, I just graduated,” she said with commendable nonchalance, leaning on the bear. “I just didn’t want to walk. The ceremony is a waste of time, and it’s not like I’m done.”

“Yeah? Congratulations! What was your major?”

“Evolutionary biology,” she said. “But it’s just a Master’s. I’m going for the doctorate, this is barely even a thing.”

“You did the work!” I said, taking the picture. “You can be proud of the work. A lot of people never make it to Master’s, even if it is just a pit stop for you. Congratulations, really.”

She looked down and smiled and said thanks. It was a humble, charming gesture, but obviously too close to a compliment. I broke even by telling her I didn’t walk either.

“The ceremony itself is absolutely bullshit.”

Staring up into Untitled Bear/Lamp’s cold, vacant eyes, I finally knew fear.

The Girl and I swam back downstream and tumbled down Mount Brown, then got into the car and made our getaway. We had already settled affairs at the hotel. There was only one stop left to make.

Howie P had an understated plot in the center of a sprawling cemetery complex, differentiated from its fellows only by the worn grass, the stacks of pennies, and the small Cthulhu statue.

“Rise, H.P.,” I said with an appropriately necromantic gesticulation. “Wise fwom youw gwave! Get your bony ass up, we got things to do!”

He remained reluctant.

“Up and at ’em!” I said. “Come on. You gotta see the state of the place. Cthulhu’s a household name! Heads up, don’t say the N-word, though. That’s… pretty important.”

The lazy bastard stayed down. I frowned over at the Girl.

“Maybe it has to be dark,” I said.

“This is ghoulish,” she said.

“It’s what he would have wanted.”

I left an incantation hanging, hoping it would take once night fell. We didn’t stick around to find out. If you see a lanky skeleton with social anxiety jangling around Rhode Island, that’s my bad.

And so ends the Providence chronicle. We headed back to Philly to prepare for the next week’s jaunt to a beach, distinct from the Rhode Island beach trip in that it was planned and consensual.

Love,

The Bastard

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.

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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 Shadow Over Portsmouth

August 11, 2018. Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In the deepest hidden recesses of the internet, on a vague Wikipedia page about “brewing in New Hampshire“, I learned that there is one beer that stands above all others. It is a Russian imperial stout lovingly handcrafted by an unusually tall hill dwarf, undoubtedly from an ancient recipe that his clan brought from under the mountain untold ages ago.

Wikipedia claims it is “the best beer in America” and also “the most sought-after beer in America”. It’s called Kate the Great, and legend has it that it can only be obtained by locating this master brewer on his home turf, the Portsmouth Brewery, and praying to whatever gods you keep that the stars have aligned and it’s in season.

It was drizzling on Mystery Hill, but it hadn’t quite started to monsoon in Portsmouth yet. Thunderclouds loomed in the sky like hanged men, shrouding the little downtown in portentous darkness. Everyone we encountered hated us. This isn’t altogether foreign to me, I’ve chosen the Bastard moniker for a reason, but the Girl tends toward amicability and we hadn’t done anything yet.

In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an archaeologist crossing New England in search of genealogical information finds a foggy, derelict port town. He thinks it might be interesting to check out, so he books a room and pokes around. The locals seem to share a common deformity, a scaling skin disease, puffing around the face and eyes, and unusual hydrocephaly. They spurn him outright. We’re talking like, Amish shunning. The inhabitants call him an outsider and refuse to sell him anything. They bar most public places against him, and retreat into their homes if they see him on the street. As the novella goes on, he discovers that the inhabitants of Innsmouth have been interbreeding with a race of cannibal fish-people, the Deep Ones, who conduct grisly rites in worship of a bloodthirsty aquatic god called Dagon.

I thought the parallels were cute at first, but as our time in Portsmouth wore on, they got more distressing. We’d driven across New Hampshire into an HD remaster of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

katethegreat

The Portsmouth Brewery was wall-to-wall with people, easily the most active building in the town. The hostess sneered that the wait for a table would be 20 minutes. The Girl said that would be fine, and asked if we could get a drink while we wait.

“Yeah, I guess.”

We dodged around the teeming masses of people and, for some reason, all their infant children, to get to the bar. When did the bringing babies into bars phenomenon start? And why? Babies don’t go in bars. Babies go in, I don’t know, parks. McDonald’s Playplace.

Eventually, the girl tending came over to us.

“Hey, we’re here treasure hunting,” I said, trying for charming. “Legend has it this is our best shot at getting Kate the Great. Do you have that right now?”

She scoffed. “We’ll never serve THAT beer again.”

I exchanged a glance with the Girl.

“Is this like, a sensitive subject?”

“No,” she said, providing the exposition she really should have led with, “It’s just, the brewer just quit working here, it was this whole big thing, so we don’t have Kate the Great anymore.”

“Do you know where he went?”

“He opened his own brewery, Tributary. It’s in Maine. But here, you can see our draft list.”

This was technically true. It was in Maine, across a bridge, an 8 minute drive from our present location. It was also technically true that we could see the draft list. It consisted entirely of IPAs, which would have been clutch if I’d ever liked one.

“Can we have a minute to think about it?” the Girl asked. The bartender nodded and drifted off. We escaped to the place next door, which had a similar draft list, substituting one of the IPAs with Budweiser which it listed as a “light lager”.

“I can’t Yelp,” the Girl said. “This is impossible. Two for two. You do it. I’m losing hope.”

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dolphins have had it good for TOO LONG

A few blocks away was a brewery called Earth Eagle, which specialized in a hopless proto-beer called “gruit”. It’s a Danish word, and should be pronounced “gryoo-IT”, but I pronounce it groot and will continue to do so until dead.

We made our way past the cute little technicolor New England cottages to Earth Eagle. Random assignment from day two of any outdoor music festival would give you the clientele. It was also crowded, but not as bad as the Portsmouth Brewery.

“Could we sit outside?” the Girl asked. The waitress glared at us balefully.

“You can if you want,” she said. “But it’s gonna rain.”

“If it starts to get bad, we’ll move back in,” the Girl said.

“You should probably just sit inside.”

The Girl was ready to fight her on this. She was hangry. I’m always hangry, and so I’ve developed a tolerance. I steered her aside.

“Not worth it,” I said. “If we sit outside, no one’s going to come take our order.”

It looked like no one was going to anyway. After a while, one of the Deep Ones waddled over, and we ordered gruit. It tasted like beer-flavored juice. They also played the entirety of Rancid’s “And Out Come the Wolves”. I found that suspicious. Like they were humoring me, and when I left they’d return to their backward recordings of whale song and those high-pitched meditation bowls.

The scene was about to turn. I could hear them sharpening their knives. During the next ponderous waitress’ circuit, we waylaid, paid, and am-scrayed.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl said. “This is where we die.”

“Very possible. I’ll bet they have a sacrificial table here, too.”

“Bastard, we need to find something,” she said. “I’ll go back in there and eat tofu puffs if I have to.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “Listen. We’ll go back to the pizza place. We don’t need to drink there. We’ll just get a pizza. It’s impossible to ruin pizza.”

She was hesitant, but I kept saying, “Huh? Piiizza?”, and that eventually won her over. That’s a pro strat for you, fellas. No charge. Just remember where you learned it.

They were kinder at the pizza place, probably because it was in a basement full of aquariums, and being below sea level and surrounded by their brethren soothed the agitated merfolk. They had a giant neon sign for RED HOOK, which I presumed to be of “The Horror At” fame, and would have won me a prize had I remembered my Mythos bingo card.

We asked the first pleasant waitress in New Hampshire for garlic and it baffled her.

“Garlic? Like, whole garlic?”

“No, like, powder,” the Girl said. “Or salt, if that’s all you have.”

“We… might have some in the kitchen.”

“That’s only a thing where we’re from,” I told her. “When I went west, none of the pizza places had garlic. A lot of ’em didn’t even have oregano.”

The Girl looked as though she might cry. “But… but why?”

“Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

We were given this.

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garçon! a ration of garlic powder, s’il vous plait, and your finest sprinkling fork

We walked back out into the building tempest. The fishfolk were growing stronger as it became soggier. It was like you could hear the Jaws theme playing in the distance.

“We gotta look at the whale wall,” I said. “That’s like the only other attraction. Then we get the hell out of here.”

We looked at the whale wall. It was both.

Then, we scurried back to the car.

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mood

Unfortunately, the Deep Ones were lying in wait for us. A supply truck was sitting in the middle of the street, right next to my car, parking us and only us in. I couldn’t get around it, and there wasn’t enough sidewalk for any real desperate escape maneuvers. I waited, crouched in the driver’s seat with a fileting knife clutched to my chest. The Girl sat shotgun, slowly pumping up a super soaker full of tartar sauce.

Some other lost tourist/genealogist had parked in front of us, and finally returned to her car. She got the hell out of my way and we made our daring escape.

We crossed the bridge into Maine. It immediately stopped raining. Whatever ancient cult magic held sway in Portsmouth didn’t extend beyond its borders.

Tributary Brewing Company even had a parking lot for free! It was busy, as one would expect for the chosen brewery of the creator of America’s alleged best beer. We sat on the bench along the wall and had a flight and took in the ambiance, most of which consisted of impressionist paintings of this dude’s face.

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Mott the Lesser is what he renamed Kate the Great, presumably in order to avoid legal disputes with Portsmouth Brewing. It wasn’t in season, but that was all right. Ask Tennyson. It was never about the Grail. The quest is all.

The man himself sat at a table, eating his lunch and grinning the grin of a man presently living his dreams. He was surrounded by a squadron of adoring Dads. I will admit the dude had an aura, and his biere de miel and porter were magnificent. The porter tasted like smoked joy.

We went next door to a tasteful mermaid-themed restaurant with walls colored in equally tasteful mermaid tiddy art. In retrospect, I should have photographed that, instead of whatever the hell it was we ate. (I know mine was scallops, and I know they were excellent).

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Our next stop, continuing with the supernatural theme along New England’s eldritch ley lines, would lead us to the most haunted restaurant in America.

But that’s a spooky campfire story for another day.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Hengin’ Out on Mystery Hill

 

August 11, 2018. Mystery Hill, New Hampshire.

The continental breakfast was your choice of limp Eggos, individual yogurt containers suspended in ice water, or off-brand chemical cake honey buns. I took a little of everything, variety being the spice of life, and topped it off with three cups of what the truly brazen might describe as coffee. Don’t mistake this for complaining. Continental breakfast is an integral part of the travel experience. If I’d wanted to work around it, I’d have booked a real B&B.

There’s a concept that always puzzled me. You leave home for a change of scenery, then get to a bed-and-breakfast, which is just someone else’s home where you hang out and a stranger takes care of you. I can take care for me. At my own home. The scenery has only technically changed.

First stop, America’s Stonehenge.

sunset

i’m sure you’ve heard this popular colloquialism before

America’s Stonehenge is an active archaeology site in the woods, doing its best to make archaeology an exciting, family-friendly event through the addition of indistinct New Age spirituality, snowshoeing, and an alpaca farm.

The site itself is of nebulous astronomical significance. Carbon dating indicates that the monoliths and cairns served as lines of demarcation for astronomical phenomena, and were probably used in rituals, possibly as far back as 4000 BC. Cosmic entropy has these configurations drifted out of alignment (sort of like how they tried to introduce Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign a few years back), so if these rocks were once for harnessing cosmic juju, they aren’t anymore. Still, pretty cool to see a living chunk of prehistory that may have dated back 6000 years. Some would argue that predates Creation.

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“this is a wigwam. it was probably constructed more recently than 4000 BC, and they usually have walls”

 

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ooo somebody up in that henge

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yall ever have cave anger

20180811_104005Girl: “what time is it?”
me: “time for you to get a sundial”

 

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Oracle Cave interior. i bet that’s what they called it in 4000 BC

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“an etching of an antelope running.” art has since evolved

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now we’re talkin

Nobody’s sure what belief structure dominated in New Hampshire millennia ago, but this table was constructed at the epicenter of this astronomically significant point with a discernible blood channel and a hidden “bed”, carved out way under the rock, so that sound would carry up from under the table while the source of the sound remained hidden.

Metal.

After that we went along the hiking trail and touched all the ominously named monoliths, like the “Eye Stone” and the “Solstice Stone” and for some reason the “Bert Stone”, assuming it would imbue us with stat bonuses like in Skyrim.

I have my suspicions that the last stone there, the thicc Venus of Haverhill, is a more recent addition.

We visited the alpacas on the way out.

It was starting to rain and we hadn’t eaten anything since the several honey buns which were, strictly speaking, not food. We bailed for the forgotten city of Portsmouth. It would be the most like a Lovecraft story I’ve ever lived in real life. The irony there is I didn’t feel particularly eldritch at Mystery Hill, and legend has it visiting the megalith site was big H.P.’s inspiration for The Dunwich Horror.

We didn’t get to stick around til dusk. A real bummer, since you know what they frequently and publicly say: there’s nothing like an America’s Stonehenge sunset.

Love,

The Bastard

Storming the Castle

August 10, 2018. Groton, Massachusetts. 

The itch was too much to resist. The Delf was getting claustrophobic. The skyscrapers were closing in, as were the perpetually growing mounds of garbage that have not once been collected from anywhere in the city since Ben Franklin invented both Philadelphia and garbage. I needed a breather.

The Girl and I opted for New Hampshire this time around. Our last few jaunts had been to the desert, and while they were about 50% fun, after a while you know what sand looks like. Colorado is on the agenda, but we needed something we could squeeze into three days, and I just did Maine and Massachusetts.

New Hampshire is laughably tiny. Once we set up base camp in Manchester, the suspiciously rustic “most populous city” in NH, we accidentally ranged out across state lines twice.

It was six hours from Philly. Toll roads remain arbitrary, but become much more considerate as you head north. It costs around $12 to get from the bottom of PA to the top. It’s $5 to escape from New Jersey, even if you just wandered in by accident. Passing through the godless snarl of NYC traffic is $15. After that, you plow up into New England and you can stay on the turnpike for hours, tolls will be like $1. One was actually 50 cents.

Really, guys? Like we don’t have it bad enough?

At some point in Massachusetts, we happened on an ambiguous temple “COMING SOON!” It didn’t claim a religion, but the only thing blocking the access road was a length of chain, and golden spires were visible in the trees. We parked and investigated.

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It was just rising up in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know any of the characters embossed on the spires. I concluded it had something to do with that black sarcophagus full of mummy juice.

I’ve since done a little more research and discovered that this is going to be a shared Muslim and Hindu temple, which I found bizarre. I’m admittedly unfamiliar with the specifics of Hindu scripture, but I’m fairly certain Islamic theology operates on that Judeo-Christian fan favorite about “No gods before me”, let alone a whole pantheon of them. I also seem to remember some strongly worded bits about “no idols nor graven image”.

(Leviticus 26:1-2 if you’re not a tahrif type, Quran 9.5 if you are.)

The shared temple cover story didn’t hold up to scrutiny. That was a spontaneously generating Nyaralthotemple. New England is filthy with Old Ones.

We bailed before we were descended upon by any unknowable horrors from the black spaces between the stars, stopping for the worst coffee in America on our way to Bancroft’s Castle.

Bancroft’s Castle is a deliciously American story. It starts in 1906 with a renaissance man named General William Bancroft, a soldier, politician, and businessman who decides he’s done enough for one lifetime and he’s going to settle down in the idyllic hills of the charmingly named Groton, Massachusetts. He looks at his 401k and says, “You know what? I’m gonna build a retirement castle.”

He badly underestimates how much it costs to build a castle, which makes you wonder how effective a businessman he was. Our man is over budget by the time he’s built the tower and the bungalow.

He lives in his little Iggy Koopa boss tower for 12 years, then sells it to Doctor Harold Ayers. Doc Ayers converts it into a sanatorium, raking in $20 a week per tuberculosis patient (that’s about $900 a month nowadays, adjusting for inflation), which must have pissed Bancroft off immensely.

He maintained that racket until the late 1920s, and when the sanatorium closed it was converted into a social center and lodge for the Groton Hunt Club. This continued until July 4, 1932, when the castle was burnt down by a firecracker. Must have been one hell of a siege.

Perhaps due to how badly and consistently it failed at being a castle, Bancroft Castle was abandoned. Since Groton Hill was used for hangings in the 1600s, and since it’s a ruin in New England, and since it was once a TB sanatorium, it is alleged to be chock full of ghosts.

 

Despite its inefficacy, I could understand the appeal.

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The bungalow had nothing on the tower proper.

 

In addition to all its other failings, it seemed like it would be pretty easy to scale.

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as seen with Adventure Hat, the stupidest functional headwear New Mexico had to offer

On the way back to the car, the Girl elbowed me in the ribs. Like I wasn’t already bleeding everywhere from my botched superhero landing getting down off the tower.

“Do you see that?”

“Ghosts? Or bears?”

My hands were up. Punching wouldn’t phase either of those things, but damn it, I had to try.

She pointed up into a tree.

 

our ornithologist friend confirmed it as a red-tailed hawk

I’d never seen a red-tailed hawk that close before. It wasn’t even a little frightened of us or the spectral bears. We gawped up at it for five minutes or so, watching it bop around and ruffle its huge clunky body, scoping for vermin, then the mosquitos got too bad and we got back on the road.

Next stop on our New Hampshire trip: actually New Hampshire.

Love,

The Bastard