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

 

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.

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hey boo

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.

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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.

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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

Into the Abyss

August 10, 2018. Manchester, New Hampshire.

After seven hours on the road, pausing only to explore an Old Ones cult site, storm a terrible castle, and eat distressingly dry corned beef at a Greek diner that still advertised one of their menu items as “Michael Jackson’s favorite grinder”, we were in dire need of respite.

Establishing a forward operating base was our first priority. For my part, I can sleep anywhere. My bonfire days in the Frozen North frequently necessitated pitching a $10 K-Mart tent over gravel, then drinking bottom-shelf whiskey until you didn’t realize you were sleeping in a puddle of rainwater and broken glass. That’s not a knack you lose. The Girl was always more discerning, and became even more so after our experience in Phoenix with the inept criminal front halfway house hotel. We agreed that she can veto any of the lodgings I book. Sometimes, late at night, I’ll hold a flashlight under my chin and tell her spoOoOoky stories about hostels in Ireland.

She insisted on the airport Super 8. I was hoping to stay in a quaint deep woods motel called “Unsmiling Jed’s Sleepaway”, attached to sister business “Unsmiling Jed’s Discount Plastic Surgery Silo and Chili Kitchen”. If I can’t protect it, I don’t deserve to have it. That goes double for life.

A friendly foreign woman checked us in at the Super 8, then proceeded into utter bafflement when I asked for a first aid kit. I chewed myself up pretty good climbing Bancroft’s Castle, and I’d spent the last half hour bleeding into an oily dog blanket to avoid ruining my upholstery. That’s how plagues start.

There were no band-aids, or antiseptics, or possibly medicine as a concept. There was a three gallon tub of hand sanitizer. I thanked her, but graciously declined.

We went up to the third floor. The hallways were lined with people sitting on the carpet outside their rooms, shouting and smoking cigarettes. The room itself was clean and the air conditioning worked. All my boxes were checked. The bathroom reeked of weed, which some would interpret as a bonus. I scrubbed my wounds raw in the sink, tucked away the precious cargo of wine and peaches, and set out to investigate downtown Manchester.

Streetlight technology has not yet made its way to Manchester, so we spent twenty minutes missing exits in ocean-floor darkness. What little town we could make out looked worryingly like Wilkes-Barre, which is not where one would choose to vacation, were one sane.

Downtown erupted like graphic pop-in on a video game running at its lowest resolution. One second you’re in leatherface country, with nothing breaking the abyssal darkness but the occasional half-broken Jiffy Lube sign. The next, you’re on vibrant neon market strip, replete with hipsters and the homeless.

We knew we had hit downtown proper when we passed by the “craft grilled cheese bistro”.

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only programmers will understand!!!! like and reblog if u get it

Since I am an adult man, grilled cheese cannot be dinner. Both “gastropubs” we tried, despite their bitchin’ Greek mythology names, offered generic terrible burgers and a draft list that consisted of Coors Light.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl told me. “I’m gonna die.”

“We all will,” I assured her. “Soon.”

Yelp claimed there was a brewery five blocks away. We walked off the only lit street into absolute, encompassing blackness. It would’ve been spooky if I didn’t always kind of hope some Putty Patrol mook would lunge at me from the dark while I’m far away from home, having told no one where I’m going and left no paper trail.

There were no incidents. No one was murdered in self-defense. No one knows what we did last summer. The Stark Brewing Company was in the basement of a grim looking office complex, and it was vacant save for two other lost souls.

We sat at the bar and ordered a flight and an imperial stout. I wanted to find an actual restaurant, but the Girl ordered “Penne with vodka sauce”, which was not the right color, flavor, or texture to be anything but penne bolognese. The Girl didn’t seem to mind. I ate a pulled pork sandwich.

The beers were warm, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter what the beers were, so long as they were beers. And not Coors Light. The brewery themed all of their beers off of dogs, for some reason, which I believe to be the ideal business model. According to the bartenders, the brewery had been open for 25 years, but hadn’t yet received their big boom.

I was outraged. The beers were excellent, and would probably be even better if they weren’t room temperature, and the taps were not only named for specific dogs, but also had pictures.

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The bathroom was covered in sharpie beer lore.

The bartender and waitresses swore a lot more than you would normally expect in this context. The Girl maintains they were swearing at us. I disagreed.

“They were swearing <i>with</i> us,” I mansplained.

“We weren’t swearing,” she countered.

“But if we HAD been.”

As I’ve grown larger and more sinuous, I’ve tried to cut back on how often I cuss at strangers. Cultural relativism is the understanding that not everyone grew up among the coalcrackers, and good-natured oaths like “how the hell are you” or use of the fuck-word as a conversational placeholder, while subjectively soothing, can set off fight-or-flight in the small, soft, and bourgeoisie.

I try to maintain direct proportionality between my barbarism and my well-heeledness. Neither the wait staff nor the other two customers shared my bond, and the middle-aged guy on my right proceeded to tell me how his hometown of Denver, Colorado is the greatest fuckin’ city in America, next to maybe Southern California. Which is not a city.

We talked about our homes and travels for a while, then I got my pulled pork sandwich and they left. The sandwich was slightly warmer than the beer. Beats the alternative.

An armada of children came into the bar.

“Oh, shit,” the bartender said. They were visibly teenagers, and on the wrong side of it. They had that gangly awkwardness you get around fourteen or fifteen, and if they were trying to play it off, they were woefully bad at it. There were also nearly twenty of them. It looked like a field trip.

People in their twenties don’t travel in packs of more than six. It’s hard to transport a throng, unless you have a party bus, and why do you have a party bus when you’re twenty-eight? You’re twenty-eight and party buses have always been sad. Get a job. Also, it’s hard to get that many adults to agree on something.

It can be done. You can say, “Hey, adults, you want to do some drugs?” And in a sufficiently sized crowd, you’ll manage to pull twenty or so who will follow you to your house or whatever. This is called an “afterparty”. It doesn’t go to bars at 9pm.

Have you felt out the social zeitgeist recently? Look at a random handful of current memes and it’ll be pretty clear that most adults consider socialization to be a required burden, like paying emotional taxes. “Going out” is the price of living in a civilized society. You’re not going to scare up twenty people, then put them in a party bus, then take them to an abandoned bar half a mile outside of where the actual nightlife is.

“Hey, we’re just about to close,” the bartender said.

A reedy blonde in a top consisting mostly of straps screeched, “But your WEBSITE said you were open til ONE!”

Screeched.

The bar fell silent. Well, more silent. The Girl and I traded looks, her horror for my delight.

“Uhhhhhh,” the bartender said, but with excellent elocution, as though that were the word she had deliberately chosen. “Okay.”

They sat the itinerant mall food court in a big corner table, whereupon they requested shots.

The waitress who had sworn at/with us the least came back to the bar and said, “You guys said you were from Pennsylvania, right?”

We nodded.

“Can I see one of your licenses quick?”

She compared mine against the obviously fake ID one of the tweens had given her. After a moment she said, “Yeah, you can see, the font is different. And the picture looks like it’s photoshopped.”

“Yeah, no one’s license picture ever looks this good,” the Girl said, studying the fake ID.

“Except mine,” I added. They ignored me. I didn’t take it personally.

The waitresses disappeared into the back. Five minutes later, the only dude working at the place was gendered into being the bad cop. He sulked over to the teens.

“You guys gotta leave,” he said. “C’mon. We know your ID’s fake. We’re not trying to get fined. You gotta go.”

For maximum accuracy, imagine this said in Toby’s voice from The Office. Shamefaced, the flash mob of children dispersed.

We paid for our room temperature beers and left the poor, foul-mouthed brewery to close at 9:30 on a Friday. The Girl and I accidentally stalked the battalion of teens through the street, but only because we were all moving back toward the only lights in the city, like moths. They turned a corner and vanished, presumably to find an arcade or laser tag or some sort of large swing set.

The Girl and I followed the sounds of some obnoxious bros announcing, “It’s like a fahkin sketchy ally, dewd”.

It was, in fact, the least sketchy alley I’d ever been in. Cat Alley was the best lit venue in all of New Hampshire. It was clean and well-maintained, and it was covered less in graffiti and more in an outdoor art gallery dedicated to cats.

There were more, but they didn’t all warrant a picture.

Portland Pie Co loomed from the endless darkness like a beacon in the night, hearkening back to those days lost in Maine during the Great Lobster Drought of 2017. We split a bourbon barrel ale which did me in. It was bedtime.

On the way back, toward the end of the main drag, a man made of pure light rode by blasting EZ-Listenin from his Tron bicycle, also made of pure light.

I can’t prove he wasn’t Jesus.

Heartened, we returned to the hotel, where no one was smoking or yelling in the hallway anymore. Excellent. I lost consciousness immediately.

Next stop, Portsmouth.

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