Proctor, Vermont: Flooded Quarries and Forbidden Castles

April 16, 2021. Proctor, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Wind Rose – Diggy Diggy Hole

Vermont is peopled, not with people, but with quarries. You can’t spit without hitting one, and the rare few that are not still in operation because they, what, ran out of rocks? – have gone on to be repurposed into subterranean ice skating rinks and swimming holes, the use of which are deeply, deeply illegal.

Fortunately, the police are (arguably) people, and you can’t be arrested if there’s no one around to arrest you. Which, there isn’t. The entire state is an arboreal wasteland.

“Beefton!” I said. “Do not leap into the quarry!”

“I tire of this life!” Beefton called back over his rippling, comically oversized deltoid. “The time has come for the next great adventure!

We were shouting because there was some kind of bird going absolutely bananas up along the wall in what had to be the most obnoxious, least effective mating display I’d ever seen. And I spent a good deal of time at the West Chester Landmark.

If anyone knows what this loser bird is, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. It haunts me to this day.

My attorney approached the ledge again, heaved in a breath, steadied his nerves.

“Farewell, Bastard. Witch. I’ll never forget all you’ve taught me.”

It was at that point he recognized that the quarry was full of water, and he resolved to live another day. Beefton is highly avoidant of swimming, and if a light drizzle wets his fur he goes frothing mad and barrels through the house as fast as his densely packed, efficient little body will go, smashing into every available surface.

There are times I’m thankful he’s more pitbull than labrador, and most of those times are when we’re near a body of water in 40 degree weather. Do you think purebred a chocolate lab would hesitate, for even an instant? There might be ducks in there.

We loaded back into the wagon and resumed our traversal of the woodland wasteland, hoping to find somewhere to eat. In our travels, the universe provided me with a gift to ensure that my conduct was right and in accordance with my destiny.

Astoundingly, the giant gorilla dumbbell shoulder pressing a car was not on Atlas Obscura, but Wilson’s Castle was. Wilson’s Castle was also closed off to the public under penalty of law.

Not very defensible,I decided. Minimal ramparts, no murder holes to speak of. There’s tactical value in the elevation, but you just couldn’t muster a sufficient force of archers on that balcony to deter an invading force. Especially with the ground-level windows!

Disgusted at the misleading designation of this large, butt-ugly house, as well as at the Orwellian hellworld we occupy that forbade me from getting closer to pass still more cutting judgment on its strategic worthlessness, we wheeled the wagon around, returned my legal representation to the humper haunted airbnb, and drifted into Rutland proper, whereupon I learned what risotto is.

It’s this.

Outside the restaurant, I found an excellent mural of a peregrine falcon. Since a fungal encounter with a falcon in the dead of winter in my picaresque early twenties, I take raptors as universal signposts from Athena assuring me that I’m on the right track.

“Okay,” I told her. “I’ll learn a risotto recipe.”

Love,

B.

Middlebury, Vermont: Good Night Sweet Prince

Friday, April 16, 2021. Middlebury, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Here Come the Mummies – Ra Ra Ra

We touched down on an active farm deep in the heart of Clarendon, where we would be staying for the weekend while she conducted whatever dark and uncatholic dealings she had lined up. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, so no one could hear screaming, should there have been any screaming. I wasn’t afraid. Remember in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the actor who played Kenan’s dad just boots Leatherface square in the gut, side-kick style? I knew karate once. I’d go high, Beefy’d go low, the witch could nuke from the backline.

Assuming Leatherface was the concern, of course, and I didn’t get turned into a donkey and ridden all over the countryside like in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That series gave me a powerful childhood fear of agriculture. I maintain the fear, but now it’s because of comparative studies of hunter gatherer societies, and knowledge of what grain does to the human body.

The farm itself was populated by aloof female farm dogs, and a single male Australian Shepherd named Cody with a mutation that caused his right pupil to split, like the eye of a goat. He would not stop humping my attorney.

Beefton is a gentleman of culture and refinement. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t want to kill the vibe, so he never fights other dogs unless it’s clear that they’re just wrasslin’. He kept running away. Cody was single-minded, obsessive, and not actually too into it, since he was whining on the approach every time. I figured he was trying to assert his dominance over the larger, younger male dog invading his territory, but halfheartedly. Beefton had no idea what was going on and just kept fleeing.

“You’re gonna have to flip him,” I told him. “You’ve got to set boundaries.”

Beefton gazed at me with his doofy Baby Yoda face, awaiting intervention as Cody set up to sort of hump at his left hip. I imagined Cody didn’t get off the farm much.

“It’s a microcosm of life,” I said. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself. They’ll try to fuck you if you let them. Or… do whatever that is.”

“Cody!” yelled the farmers. “Get off him!”

Cody would not be dissuaded. Beefton looked at my beseechingly. I shrugged.

“You outweigh him by like 30 pounds. Put him on his ass and this will never happen again.”

“I am a man of peace,” Beefton told me. “We’re better than this.”

“Just throw one of the left hooks you use to flip the scrappy little German Shepherd madchens at the dog park.”

“But that’s for funsies and this feels like it’s for serious,” he said, apprehensively. Beefy took a few steps away from Cody, glancing back over his own rippling, overdeveloped deltoids. Undeterred, Cody wandered over to get back to what he perceived as his task.

“It might be funsies, but they respect your torque! An armed society is a polite society, lil mans.”

“Cody!” the farmers were still yelling. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Leave him alone!”

Beefton nodded, considering my words. He turned toward Cody, who was crookedly humping the air in the vicinity of Beefton’s side. They made eye contact. Beefy growled a little, then let loose one of his bassy sonic boom barks that have proven so effective at scaring teens off my front stoop back in Philly.

Cody dismounted and drifted away.

For the time being.

We loaded back up into the wagon and made our way across the state so the witch could scout locations for a thaumaturgist’s hut. Beefton and I secured the perimeter, burning the pent up anxiety from his protracted assault by lunging at squirrels and peeing on everything. He did most of the lunging and peeing.

And once in Middlebury, we stopped in to pay our respects to the late Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef.

You’re gonna love this one.

In the late 1800s, deep in the social oasis of Middlebury (relative to the utter backwoods desolation that is the rest of Vermont), there lived a collector of expensive, weird things by the name of Henry Sheldon.

He looks around his curio collection and decides, “You know what this could really use? A mummy.” So he puts in an order for a mummified Egyptian prince, a two-year-old called Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef. This was before Craigslist, so there were really no pictures of the mummy available. Caveat emptor and all that.

The mummy arrives, and Sheldon is inconsolable. It was apparently “in such a degraded condition that Sheldon never put it out on display”.

“This mummy sucks!” Sheldon probably said, jabbing a finger at the withered corpse of Egyptian royalty dating back to 2000 BC. “This mummy is bullshit!”

Disgraced and ashamed, Sheldon stashed the little body up in his attic, where it remained until decades after Sheldon himself died.

Lil Amum is then happened upon by the curator of the Henry Sheldon museum, a good-hearted fella called George Mead. Mead recognizes that this isn’t what this two-year-old Egyptian prince would have wanted, to be so far from home, from the land of his forefathers, boxed up in some Vermontian attic because he’s too ugly to be displayed, like a leisure suit or home movies on VHS.

Mead sets things right by having the mummy cremated and buried in a Judeo-Christian cemetery across the street from the Middlebury Art College.

I like to think Amum was just booling out in the Egyptian afterlife with all his slaves and gold, all the things that mummification was required to insure, and then abruptly vaporizes a la “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark” and reappears in the middle of Sunday mass in Heaven, seated in the pew and looking up at the actual, actively writhing body of Jesus, since you’ve got to assume in Heaven they don’t need to do carved representations.

Probably frigged up his whole day.

“Rest in power, little king,” I said to Amum.

At that moment, probably coincidentally, the sky opened up and it started pouring. We ran back to the car where Beefy was waiting to make sure the campus police didn’t ticket us.

Love,

BT

Vermont: A Travelogue Prologue

Thursday, April 15, 2021. Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: The Sword – Tres Brujas

I’d been chewing holes in the walls since quarantine was first announced, and by the second year of the two-week curve flattening, my increasingly feral mindstate had only marginally improved. The plague still sweeps through our land, slipping through cracks and into our homes in the dead of night, blighting our crops and killing our fats and olds, both of which are cornerstones of this great nation. Bill Gates is filling our blood with liquid 5G, offering a stay of execution and increasing our personal bandwidth so long as we upload our RNA straight into the Bing Matrix.

For a year I’ve been crouched in the blasted ruins of The City of Brotherly Crackheads Screaming at 3 AM, shooting arrows in the basement and slowly trading away all my worldly possessions for mid-range guitars and houseplants.

This is no way for a bastard to live.

Luckily, a witch offered me reprieve from the monotony of the broken glass pile that is Philadelphia.

“I’ve got to go to Vermont,” she said. “Come with?”

I’ve had many, many what you would call encounters with witches over the years, and they often end in hexing. That’s just the dice you throw. When the only tool you have is True Polymorph, everything looks like a newt.

You can imagine my leeriness, especially having waited out the statute of limitations on curses so many times before. There was even one who would convince her thralls (we call these simps now) to do “blood pacts”, and cut their hands, then reopen the same wound in her finger to blend their blood.

Imagine playing it that fast and loose with your essence. That’s unrepentant necromancy. She never got my blood. To this day, I won’t even touch a goddamned crystal.

But this witch, the witch offering me an out of the city, she maintains that she is of a different stripe. She says she’s a green witch. I’m a simple man, and a melee build, so I don’t know all the subclassifications, but I imagine they all have access to the same skill tree. But I am eco-friendly, and I did miss silence.

“Let’s go,” says I.

And so I loaded the same pack that got me across Yurp with the same essentials – a few changes of clothes and a glowing rectangle with a library in it – then clambered up into her broom-drawn carriage. We were joined by my attorney, Beefton Duke.

He’s very good.

It barely occured to me to ask why Vermont, bit-champing as I was to get free of the 215. The 5-hour haul allowed plenty of time to correct that.

“Why Vermont?”

“Matters to attend to,” she said cryptically. “Business.”

Components, I reckoned. Bones and rocks and herbs and whatnot. Something big brewing. Big and allegedly green. That’s okay. I would be looking down the right side of the barrel this time.

We screeched past a collection of cop cars, all with their flashers on, but only flashing in blue.

“Looks like trouble,” Beefton whispered to me.

“I know you can’t tell, but it’s all just one color,” I told him.

“What?” the witch asked.

“The flashers. They’re only one color.”

“I can tell!” she said.

“Maybe it’s not a stop, then,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s a sale. Blue Light Special.”

“What the hell is blue?” Beefton asked. “Ridiculous. You can’t afford the heat right now.”

“I don’t think we have to be worried about it.”

“As your legal counsel,” he continued, “here’s my suggestion. Pull off up ahead in this next plaza with all the wooden sasquatch lawn ornaments. Go into that grocery store. Buy a whole big bag of pepperoni.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“The big bag. Economy pack. None of that 2 oz shit.”

And so began the Dream-Quest of Unknown Clarendon, into the most desolate reaches of New England.

Love,

BT

The New Hotness: Postcards from the Fringe

Your boy is branching out from book reviews and Bourdainposting to break into the virgin market of théâtre.

Bastard Travel is collaborating with Death Science, the pet project of a bone sculptor and close personal friend of mine named Mr. Death. No, really. We were in a band together.

Select adventures are going to be filmed in spooky campfire story format and hosted on Death Science TV. The segment will be called “Postcards from the Fringe”, as they absolutely are.

I’ll add them as they go up, or you can track them and other mortality-themed infotainment straight the source at www.deathscience.tv

Love,
BT

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.

Barcelona: La Rambla Möbius Market

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Ram Jam – Black Betty

Take a moment to appreciate the Ram Jam video, if you’ve never seen it. Magnificent bastards.

The Gothic Quarter abuts La Rambla, and you know you’ve crossed the threshold because there’s suddenly enough space to move around. At least, there would be, if not for all the damned humans.

These two sections are the primary tourist attractions in Barcelona, and while the Gothic Quarter squeezes you in its tight, spooky corridors like a Halloween-themed sardine can, La Rambla offers the space necessary for a bit of perspective on the sheer concentration of virulent humanity in Barcelona.

It stretches for eternity in either direction, an unbroken line in the true geometric sense. Along this infinite parkway you can find anything you can imagine, so long as you’re imagining fifty identical tchochkes mass-produced in Bangladesh.

Each stand has the same items, but the prices vary by up to a Euro. An Euro? One Euro. When you walk far enough in on direction, the veil begins to thin, and the stands branch out into selling genetically engineered bell pepper seeds that will, eventually, look like wieners.

But the legimate stands aren’t the true draw.

These fine and fragrant gentlemen set up their wares on blankets, and they just pitch these displays up like an Amish barn-raising. It’s spectacular to behold. It’s like those cup stacking competitions on Japanese game shows.

I was privileged enough to be passing through when one of Barcelona’s five total cops came a-ramblin’ down La Rambla, and the resultant hive-mind communication among these young entrepeneurs was truly something to behold.

In near unison, they grabbed the ropes on the corners of their blankets, pulled, and swung, securing the whole of their business on their back — and hidden from prying pigs peepers — like a big ol’ Santa sack.

Absolutely breathtaking.

We hit the outer reaches of La Rambla, where the simulation begins breaking down, far beyond the penis peppers and into the realm of street performers and statuary. By design, they make it difficult to tell one from the other.

I would never have known that this Galileo had an art degree if he didn’t start friggin’ around with his little telescope after a child popped a Euro into his globe.

We abouted-face and went back to where the ley lines were stronger, where a man could get a half-recent Catalonian flag keychain made out of beads, then pulled off to the side and rolled into La Boqueria.

La Boqueria is an elaborate indoor food market reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar, but in Spanish. You’re crammed in elbow to elbow, and you have to mosh your way from stand to stand, but it’s worth it once you get there.

The origin of the name is thought to come from “boc“, which is Catalan for goat, and thus: a market where goat meat is sold.

I worked up an independent hypothesis which I told to Ladygirl as though it were fact, in which the root word is the Spanish “boca“, or mouth, making the area “the mouthery”, so named for the fact that everything there goes in the mouth.

Especially the Sucs Naturals.

We got some empanadas and some Sucs Naturals, then realized we had been walking pretty much nonstop since waking up and decided to touch down in the hostel, maybe read books or something.

The new place was right next to the Arc, and much bigger than our last one, which is both blessing and curse. On the terrace we encountered a charming British girl who claimed she hadn’t slept in days (a popular passtime in Barcelona), made vague mention of a sex museum in Amsterdam, then immediately lost consciousness in a sunbathing chair. She remained in her li’l restful torpor until a handful of Australian bros came outside to chainsmoke and shout.

There are three types of people that you meet when traveling.

But that’s a post for another day.

Love,

B.

 

Providence: Snug benches and the Gun Totem

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

I’d spent too much time in the Delph and my skin was starting to itch. I’d already booked three or four flights for the summer and had a slew of weird adventures lined up, like a beer festival in Denver that I will be attending on a cocktail of whatever further psychoactive substances they legalize in the interim (don’t tell the Girl, it’ll be a fun surprise), another Left Coast voyage for a wook music festival I’m promised will be in some way shamanic, and a presumably more civilized jaunt to Iceland. Stay tuned.

But that’s then, and for right now I’m breaking my back every goddamn day, somehow using my useless degree to accrue a vast fortune destined to be converted to unmarked bills for my inevitable disappearance into Latin America.

The Girl and I loaded up the car and went to Providence, Rhode Island.

The trip was a straight shot up the highway where I wasn’t forced to kill anyone. I’ve tamed most of my frustrated adolescent rage and sublimate it into useful things, such as writing, hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer, and a +2 bonus to both attack and damage rolls. The only place my incandescent, white hot fury persists is road rage, and I frequently inform strangers who don’t signal when merging that I will “peel off your fucking skin and eat your insides like an avocado” while my passengers look on in mortified alarm. This was worse when I drove for Uber.

We dumped our gear at the Motel 6. We booked it exclusively for the cardboard cutout of Tormund Thunderballs in a tuxedo, which is the only amenity I consider relevant in a lodging. Unfortunately, that’s at the Super 8. Not Motel 6. Same number of letters, same division and placement of vowels and consonants, same numerical character at the end, but one has Tormund and the other has fifty stoned Indian dudes sitting in the hallway that leads to your room.

We got there around 10pm and, plumb tuckered from the drive, we fell into a merciful unconsciousness.

According to an algorithm advertisement for something called “WaterFire”, which is almost my favorite post-punk band, the move is dropping your car at “providence mall”. It was the first common noun location I’d seen on Google Maps on this side of the Atlantic.

Farbeit for me to challenge the oracle, this was the move we made.

The parking garage exits were not clearly marked, and the first door we tried set off an alarm. We pretended this was normal or appropriate, and then found ourselves in the Silent Hill bowels of the mall, trepidation mounting as we navigated the labyrinth of the flaking plaster, bare yellow hanging bulbs, and inexplicable metal painter’s scaffolding that materialized around every corner and stretched, foreboding and monolithic, to the thirty foot ceilings. We’d noclipped out of reality in the city that built Lovecraft, and I already didn’t like our chances.

Every door we found was locked, and we had gone too far into the Backrooms to follow our breadcrumbs back to the parking garage, even if I wasn’t born with crippling directional insanity. The alarm wailed in the distance, growing louder and softer at complete random, like the physical manifestation of anxiety.

Desparation was setting in when we turned another identical corner and found three iron push-bar doors. Some demon had forgotten to lock the middle one.

We emerged under a bridge near the Providence Waterfront.

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Our first stop was some sort of Veganarium that sold exotic egg sandwiches covered in dandelions. They had no cups for the mustard or hot sauce, so I was forced to use coffee cup lids as shallow condiment receptacles. This worked surprisingly well, but I am an idiot, and the liquid tabasco rolled through the tiny vent and got all over my shorts.

First meal. First meal of the day! I’d been awake for like an hour!

This tiny egg and quinoa-grain bread or whatever provided me the power to cross town for elevensies at Providence’s most highly recommended mom-and-pop restaurant, which is called “Kitchen”. That’s the whole name.

Kitchen had five tables total and a line of hipsters out the door and halfway down the block. We wound up waiting for around forty-five minutes, which sounds much worse than it was, as Girl and I wound up befriending a troupe of theater kids from the local art school. I butted into their conversation when they couldn’t think of the thing that’s “like a dragon but with just two legs and wings” (wyvern), and they proceeded to provide us with many thoughtful recommendations for things to eat and do around downtown, all of which we promptly ignored.

This slight wasn’t deliberate. We just rapidly forgot.

When our time finally came, I found I could not fit into the booth.

Kitchen is a little farm-to-table dealie that provides an excellent experience with  standard breakfast fare. I housed my own eggs, sausage, and bacon, then ate most of Girl’s eggs, which may be a contributing factor as to why I don’t fit in some chairs. I declined her leftover biscuits, however, as I deny the Demon Wheat.

We bade goodbye and good luck to the theater kids who were, unbelievably, still waiting in line. The one whose actual name was Gunner said, “We’ve been waiting for two hours now. It’s too late to bail.”

We homed in on our first destination: the Gun Totem.

When reading about this on Atlas Obscura, I assumed an obelisk made of a thousand guns would be really imposing and perhaps suggestive of the fact that we live in a society.

I don’t know if I’d call it anticlimactic, it delivered as advertised. I think Yurp just spoiled obelisks on me. They really mean it out there.

We sat on the river bank and watched a battalion of little goblin tourists try to frighten away the ducks with limited success. This gave me a mighty thirst, and we wound up at the best bar in Providence, a little street corner affair called the Malted Barley. The beer was cheap, the portions generous, and the waitress an angel given material form by the name of “Courtney”. I have not encountered a Courtney in the wild since 2006, and I assumed they went extinct.

Courtney pumped us full of beer and shared with us sacred, secret Providensi lore. I asked her about WaterFire, and her already somewhat disproportionately oversized eyes widened still further in alarm.

“Is that tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Google said to park at the mall. That’s the extent of my knowledge. What is it?”

“Oh,” she said, then, “Oh! WaterFire is this big downtown event where they float burning wood on the river, and that’s the event.”

She paused, then said, “It’s a lot better than it sounds.”

She kept bringing us larger and stronger beers, and soon I was very much daydrunk and doing all in my power not to shout like a crazed animal and alarm the gentle Providencians.

It must be said, the people of Providence are very friendly and surprisingly willing to engage. Courtney theorized this was due to the nice weather. We informed her that we were Philly natives, and it is advisable to avoid interacting with strangers in Philly, as many of them smoke a lot of crack and want you to give them money for absolutely no reason.

“There’s still some of that here,” Courtney said. “But it sounds like… less.”

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This has been a lot of words, and this seems like a natural narrative break. More to come soon.

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

New Jersey: The Hatelands

February 2nd, 2018. Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

You want horror? I’ll give you horror.

New Jersey is a real place, though I don’t know why. No one benefits from it. A Canadian philosopher once told me, “Pennsylvania is just New Jersey but brown and rusty.” I would agree, but with a slight modification: “Pennsylvania is New Jersey but brown, rusty, and not an above-ground sewer that eats the life force of any who wander into it like a rancid, 4th-generation Italian will-o’-the-wisp.”

Do not mistake me. Pennsylvania is incredibly brown and rusty. I’ve lived in this coal crater my entire life, and I didn’t learn about the color “green” until I was a man (which, in the Frozen North, occurs when you bite your first coyote to death, around age 7 or 8). But if you ever enter New Jersey at night – god forbid – you’ll see everything has a faint yellow cast to it. I privately think of it as “piss smog”, though I don’t share that with anyone unfortunate enough to be in the car with me when caught in New Jersey’s event horizon.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu delineates nine types of ground you’ll happen upon in battle and the strategic applications of each. The final, and most severe, is “desperate or deadly ground”, where no tactics can save you. You burn your possessions, you tell your troops to abandon all hope, you put your backs to the wall, and you fight. As interpreted by the enormous herbalist and military advisor Li Ching:

The country is wild, destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of life, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of strength and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man defending it can check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense in the hands of the enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:—in this terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with the slightest effect?”

It’s like Sun Tzu penned their tourism pamphlet.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be a chronicle of tourism. I was in New Jersey once by choice, five years ago. It was because of a redhead, as are all of my lasting life mistakes. I went to the Jersey Shore, not yet realizing that beaches are a waste of time, and I did what I could to ignore the fact it was basically a salty, wet landfill. Here are a couple of action shots featuring my chunky yet funky youthful incarnation making the best of it.

This was shortly after a carnie solicited that I “throw a free dart at the balloons!” I did, and popped two.

“Oh snap,” I said (it was a different time), “What do I win?”

“You have to pop at least three balloons to get a prize,” he said. “$5 to play.”

I decided I didn’t need a bootleg stuffed Garfield that bad and started on my way. The dude came roaring around the side of his booth, flailing his arms like an early Jim Carey and j’accuseing me of “NOT EVEN CARING ABOUT THE SHORE!”

“Correct,” I assured him. He seemed to get more upset, even despite my validation.

I did get a fetal shark there, though. His name is Formaldehoward and he has been the best roommate a dude could ask for.

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he’s gotten wrinklier, but who among us hasn’t?

When I escaped Jersey, I solemnly vowed to never return. I was doing well for half a decade.

I’m newly transplanted to Philadelphia, where I’ve burrowed into a seaside cave to ride out the coldest parts of the winter. Never fear, beautiful readers, I’ll run up the Rocky steps, look at statues of Benny Frank’s fat ass, and lambast the local beer as soon as I can go outside without the mucous membranes around my eyes freezing solid. If it were up to me, I’d hunker down and hibernate until I could bang through a long run without my sweat turning to shards of frost before fully escaping my pores. It’s like being stabbed by hundreds of tiny icicles.

Sadly, it’s not up to me. Enter another redhead, this one with $150 in Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift cards. The nearest Bed, Bath, and Beyond is in Cherry Hill which, for the record, featured neither cherries nor hills. It should be called Garbage Crater.

It takes a while to cross the Ben Franklin Bridge, but you can tell when you hit New Jersey because this potent ennui settles around you like a dark cloud of piss smog. Your phone will also chime, and Google Maps will tell you, “You’ve just entered New Jersey. Jeez.” and then autosuggest Suicide Hotline numbers.

The third surefire way to tell whether you’ve crossed the border is how the people around you are driving.

Are they driving like stupid assholes? Odds are good that you’re still in Philly.

Are they driving like stupid assholes who have a personal vendetta against you, and  their genitals are being mauled by wolverines, and also everyone involved is rabid, and on fire? Got some bad news for you, my friend.

After narrowly surviving some merges that would qualify as American tragedies if they’d happened in a NASCAR arena, we pulled into Bed, Bath, and Beyond in search of, apparently, a multitude of wooden cutting boards, each about an inch bigger than the last.

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i’ve got about a dozen punchlines for this one, but they’re beneath us both

If you want a pictorial summary of the Jerseygrant, it’s right here. Don’t look at it too long or you might think about it.

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We narrowly escaped with our lives (and a George Foreman Lean Mean Grillin’ Machine, which was my prime motivation for braving this outdoor dungeon). On the way back, I stopped for gas and discovered most of the t-shirts advertised Philadelphia. At the time, I wrote it off with “Well, I could understand why”.

Then, back across the Ben Franklin Bridge. Entering New Jersey is free. There are signs all over the bridge that say, “NO TOLL THIS WAY”.

But escaping costs $5.

It was a eureka moment for me, the slow-dawning realization that the only reason this enormous seaside diaper-pile can afford what it so courageously calls its infrastructure is by tithing the dumb suckers from Philly, out to visit the only nearby beach.

I slammed my mouth full of the worst chocolate covered peanuts I’ve ever had (how do you even fuck those up?) and vowed, once again, to never return to these blighted hatelands.

But I didn’t leave empty-handed.

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precioussss

Contrary to what deceitful boxes may tell you, the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Grillin’ Machine does not, in fact, remove 42% of the fat. It’s closer to 0% of the fat. It’s just a sloped panini press. If losing the juices from a burger removed the fat, wouldn’t every burger cooked on an open-grate grill be fat free?

However, it DOES cook hamburgers indoors in the dead of winter, providing me valuable iron so I’m not constantly covered in bruises trying to navigate my giant, stupid body through the trappings of civilization. One could say this trip was my paying the iron price, and one wouldn’t be wrong.

But what a price it was.

reek

Love,

The Bastard