Hubbardton, Vermont: Zen Mind, First-Generation Mind

April 17, 2021. Hubbardton, Vermont.
Soundtrack:
Druids – Yeyin

“We need to hike,” she told me.

“Yes.”

It was never an argument. As I may have mentioned by now, Vermont is nothing but woods. She alleges that she is a green witch. Woods are green. For my part, I liked the experience of being out in nature before all the eggheads started publishing fringe studies suggesting that a walk in the woods and eating fruit is better for your mental health than blowing rails of Pixie Sticks and watching 10 hours of Netflix alone in your bed.

There was also Beefton to consider. He forgets he’s a lethargic couch ornament when you take him into the woods, and goes caroming through the underbrush, gasping like a sleep apneiac in a doomed effort to catch wildlife. The furry little golem is too slow to catch other dogs, let alone squirrels or rabbits, but we must imagine Sisyphus fulfilling his evolutionary pack-hunting imperative. “Sweet dreams of the chase, and a mouthful of blood,” as Thomas Harris put it.

The Witch and I had both grown increasingly feral over the quarantine, I from my anachronistic training regimen and unyielding dedication to my unga bunga bullshit, and she from her penchant for collecting and cataloguing rocks, a pursuit she regarded as equal parts secular and spiritual. The prowling and hauling had left her long limbs knotted with muscle, and I found her nonchalant ability to move faster than me along hiking trails both impressive and irritating.

So why, then, had we spent so much of our brief time in arboreal oblivion locked in the haunted farmhouse, gnawing steak and charcuterie?

“It’s still raining,” I said.

“Well, we can’t just not hike in Vermont,” she said. “But a lot of the trails are washed out because it’s ‘the muddy season’?”

“The muddy season.”

“Yeah.”

“When you say washed out,” I asked, “do you mean we’re wading upstream? I’ve got the big waterproof boots. I’m good to go. Never had to use them when it’s 40 degrees, but I gotta get out of this room. The chair is whispering again.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Never worry about it. Washed out?”

“A lot of it is hills and canyons,” she explained, gesticulating in a fashion both attention-deficit and highly Italian, “so the trails just… wash away. Wash off the mountain.”

“So it’s like a cliff. Hiking cliffs, like mountain goats.”

“Maybe? Good thing we got Cap stelliums to go around, huh?”

“Athena sends her soggiest battles to her antsiest soldiers. Beefy! We ride!”

Beefton launched from his concrete mattress and stretched into a flawless downward dog pose to evince his readiness.

“It is a good day to die,” Beefy said, though not in so many words.

The rain didn’t stop, but it shuffled its feet and hesitated long enough for us to find the Taconic Mountain Ramble, known and beloved far and wide for its Japanese Zen garden trail.

“Look at all that infrastructure,” I said. “There’s no way this leads to a state park. We’re going to get out of the car, and a cannibal hermit is going to put us on meathooks in his basement.”

“We’ll have to steer clear of basements, then.”

“He’s gonna take our skin, Witch,” I said. “You roll around in cocoa butter all the time, and I subsist on water and fish oil. Finest hides in Vermont right now. You saw the Vermontians at the restaurants. Woeful skin. Like the before pictures on a ProActiv commercial.”

“It’s because they’re always drinking maple syrup, I’ll bet.”

This was true, and disgusting. Maple syrup is to Vermont as ouzo is to Athens, in that no matter where you go, what you order, or what time of day it is, they will give you a little cup of it. I asked for hot sauce for my french fries, they asked “hot sauce or wing sauce?”, and I said hot sauce again. They brought me a little ramiken of wing sauce, and my highly refined palette immediately determined that some rabid anarchist jackal poured maple syrup in it.

“Gross,” she added.

We parked the car and I covered my bases.

“Beefy, there will likely be an abduction attempt. I need you to eat our kidnappers before they eat us. Your bloodline reaches back to the molossus, the great Roman dogs of war. You were bred for this.”

Beefton leaned across the center console and licked my face.

“No, dammit,” I said. “I need your war face. Who wants blood? Huh? Whom wanna drink blood?”

His ears lifted higher onto his head.

“I do,” he said.

“You wanna get a little blood? Huh? Who’s a blood drinking boy?”

“I am! I drink blood!”

I opened the back door and he uncoiled like a spring, bolting out into the forest teeth-first, jowls waving in the cold mist.

“Go get ’em!” I said. “Save yourself! Kill them all!”

We followed the trail down past an incongruous trailer. The Witch suggested the park rangers probably used it when the trails were open during the non-muddy season, but that first sign suggested that the great state of Vermont wasn’t funnelling too much of that good maple tax lucre into the parks system. Just beyond the trailer was The Spot.

Which, conveniently, faces away from the trailer, keeping you leaned back in the Adirondack, off balance and too distracted by nature’s splendor to notice the chloroform rag until it’s too late.

We wended our way into the Zen garden, which was gorgeous even in shitty weather, and must be incredible when it’s nice out.

There were two huge boulders with chairs at the top, but only one was accessible. The ladders were washed out from the other one. We could have feasibly freeclimbed it in the summer, but with the frozen moss and our wet, clunky hiking boots, we opted to take turns on the first.

Beefton flew into a screaming frenzy when we climbed the ladders, which were arranged in short, tiered platforms, not unlike the level design of the original Donkey Kong. He found his way up one, then panicked and jumped back down, slamming his chest against the earth and using the bounce to propel himself in a noisy, savage loop around the whole little lagoon. Fortunately, he is indestructible, and learned an important lesson about ladders.

We loitered on the rocks, amassing karma until we got hungry enough to go find something else undoubtedly made with maple syrup.

Love,

B.

North Clarendon, Vermont: Whispers in the Dark

April 21, 2021. North Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Bad Religion – My Head Is Full of Ghosts

We turned the widening gyre back to the airbnb farmstead. Beefer narrowly evaded Cody’s lascivious onslaught. Cody would not run. It was a plodding, relentless pursuit predation, like if Michael Meyers’s end goal were a poorly understood iteration of humping.

Which would technically describe Austin Powers, but that’s incidental, and the wrong vibe.

In Vermont, steak is dirt cheap. We stocked up on $3/lb porterhouses and stashed them in the fridge for the lean times ahead. We had rented the upper floor of the farmhouse, and had the equivalent square footage of my row home in Philly all to ourselves. It was a slipshod entanglement of rooms and hallways that didn’t lead anywhere. Single steps changed the floor’s height at random, giving the whole complex the sensibility of a McDonald’s Playplace in dark oak.

“I love it!” said the Witch.

This didn’t surprise me. The shelves were full of obscure bronze implements, faded stash boxes, and glazed ceramic mugs, inexpertly crafted and unlikely to function as drinking vessels with any degree of reliability. The Witch wandered around, vaping herbs and cooing at the scavenged Goodwill decor.

There was a daybed off the kitchen, and judging by the damage it did to my coccyx when I sat, it was made of concrete. Beefton didn’t mind. He hopped up and lost consciousness, likely from the blunt force trauma of settling his cannonball head on the “mattress”.

The walls were covered in light switches. Some worked lights in adjacent rooms, which you couldn’t see. Some didn’t seem to do anything. When bedtime rolled around, getting them all shut off was like solving a logic puzzle, and I couldn’t shake the thought that one of them turned on the host’s microwave and catalyzed the immolation of the whole desolate, wooded state.

It was around 3 AM when I woke up and stumbled down the hallway toward the bathroom. I didn’t try to turn on the lights. Why bother? I didn’t want to cause another Fukushima. Up I tottered, stripped to the waist, laboring through the dark like Theseus in the labyrinth.

Then came the whispering.

Probably a ritual. A Witch ritual. A witchual, I decided. Wasn’t 3 AM Shakespeare’s witching hour? When churchyards yawn and Hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world? Did Shakespeare even have 3 AM? How old were clocks?

This was not unusual for me. My stream of consciousness is more a chain of whitewater rapids into a Niagaran fall, and in the daylight hours, I make an effort to reconstruct and articulate whatever splinters survive the drop. At night, no such luck. Monkeys and typewriters, the full span of the synapse.

I turned one of the endless House of Leaves corners and the whispers stopped. Beefton sat bolt upright, his focus concentrated to a near physical force, staring at a wooden chair.

“What the dog doin?” I murmured.

He didn’t look at me.

I drew closer, hesitant, the boards no longer creaking under my feet, the silence whole and encompassing. Darkness swallowed us, and the single rail of moonlight cast a faint circle of illumination around me, my attorney, and the antique chair.

“Beefyboi?”

He jolted upright, whirling, eyes huge and wild.

“Whoa, it’s all right! Shhh. It’s night. You okay?”

His tail wagged once, twice, tentatively. He looked back at the chair. Beefton is an expressive creature, a full suite of emotion made available from his labrador and pitbull heritages, and I could tell a side eye when I saw one.

I filled my jug at the kitchen sink. In the rushing static of the water, I could hear the whispers again, almost voices, almost comprehensible, some impetus bleeding through the dissonance.

I turned back toward the hall. Beefy was sitting again, staring again, ramrod straight and still as a gargoyle.

“The hell are you looking at?” I asked. I squatted down next to him to follow his line of sight.

The old Victorian chair had a demon’s mask carved into the backrest, a leering, manic snarl that seemed to jump and dance in the shadows cast by the weak white light of the moon. The pupils rolled up toward the top of the eyes like the face was in some ecstatic state, a debaucherous midpoint between orgasm and death, lips pulled back to expose a toothed beak, flanked by curling ram’s horns.

Staring into the carving, I heard the whisper again, bright and pure as a bell.

“Kill them,” it said. Not from the chair, but from inside my own head. “Kill them all.”

I looked to Beefton, but he couldn’t see me. His eyes had rolled back to show red blood vessels and white sclera, mirroring the face in the wood.

“No,” I said. “The Witch is gonna do half the drive home. And I paid $300 for this dog.”

The chair didn’t answer. I decided it could spend the rest of the night on the balcony, if it wanted to be so chatty. I opened the door to put it out and a wolf howled in the chill night air.

“I get it,” I said. I tipped over the chair for good measure.

Beefton’s trance was broken and when I came back inside, he wanted to wrassle. I told him there was no wrassling at 3 AM and he followed me back into the bedroom, where he climbed his 85 lb bulk on top of the Witch and immediately fell asleep. She made a sound like being punched in the gut, but didn’t stir.

I spent the night in swirling, torrential dreams of black mazes, faint whispers, and switches that didn’t do anything.

When I woke the next morning, the chair was back in the kitchen, next to the concrete bed. Of course it was. The face was still in the daylight, but the leer remained, and the suggestion of knowledge and premeditation behind it.

I crouched next to the haunted chair, gave it my own manic leer.

“Here’s to life,” I whispered.

Then I grilled up a couple of truly formidible breakfast steaks.

Love,

B.

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

Athens: Tell Herb I Slowed Down

November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.

What are we at now? Five days in Athens? Unheard of. We’ve found the upper limit boys and ghouls, and that is one work-week in a single spot before the wanderlust starts itching like a motivated scabie. I’m in the spooky coffee shop again, all the witches recognize me, smile at me. Standard procedure with witches in my life, true enough, but this feels different. I gotta skedaddle.

ghosthost

Bastard Travel Kid’s Korner: can you spot the tiny Greek witch watching me from a distance?

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caught ya

Party City cobwebs are translucent, spookycakes. Get back to work before you get maleficarum’d.

Fortunately, I’ve already got my next jaunt picked out. This episode of Bastard Travel is real interactive, because I’m not going to tell you where, but fabulous emotional prizes will be awarded to anyone who can guess.

validate

So let me take a second to tell you about Greek food. So far, it’s my favorite in Europe. I’ve never deliberately ordered a salad before, but I went out of my way to do so here.

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look at that feta! filthy.

Now, you might be a little confused. You might be saying, “You Bastard, you miserable fucking animal, there’s no lettuce in there. How can you call this a salad and sleep at night?” to which I would say, first of all, a little bit more aggro than necessary, and secondly, the Greeks avoid lettuce if they can get around it. When they say “Greek salad”, what they mean is pizza toppings. Tomatoes, green peppers, olives, onions, olive oil, and way too much cheese. They slip cucumbers in there to keep you from making the connection.

The other night I consumed entirely too much of that sketchy moonshine ouzo I bought in that alley and the usual hostel crew faded back to their rooms pretty early. I had the remains of a weak beer with me, so I couldn’t leave the terrace yet, but nobody was speaking English, so I tried my luck with a trio of Greek girls sitting in the corner.

“Hey!” I said, blithe as is my idiom. “Where y’all from?”

They had a brief exchange in Greek, then decided I made the cut, and deigned to tell me they were native Athenians.

“I need to know something,” I said. “I’ve been hearing mixed opinions on this. Everywhere I go, people give me feta. No matter what I order, they find a way to give me feta. And olives, usually, but listen. Do you actually eat that much feta here, or is it for the tourists?”

“Absolutely, we do eat that much feta,” the tall one said. The other two nodded in immediate agreement.

“We buy it every time we go to the store,” said the little one. “No matter what we need to buy, we will also get half a kilo of feta.”

I did bad, drunk math. It’s like a pound. Okay.

“And then it just sits in the fridge, and whenever you at anything, you put some feta on it.”

“Olives, too,” I said. “I ordered bread, they gave me like three olives in a bowl with it.”

“Well, olives are delicious.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s… we’re not arguing, here. I’m just saying, olives in a bowl are not, technically speaking, bread.”

We drank and they became increasingly candidon the state of the Greek economy. They had actual, profitable majors, which would be a rare occurrence if they were, say, three random college-aged girls at a bar in America. Computer science, mechanical engineering, and… math. They were all very glum about their chances of getting a job in Greece, and talked about wanting to escape.

“Computer science, though?” I asked the small one. “That’s money, back in the states. You’re like, guaranteed a decent job.”

“Not in Greece,” she said dourly. “If you get past the wait list, it is like 800 Euro a month.”

(That’s around $6 an hour.)

“Jesus,” I said. “Sorry I brought it up.”

“Do not be,” said the tall one, shaking her head. “It’s what we would have been talking about anyway. Just, in Greek.”

Wow, beautiful reader. I just digressed real bad there, huh. Let’s see if I can pull it back out of this depressive tailspin.

I went up the Plaka, which is the oldest village in Europe, overlooked by the Acropolis, trying to find some traditional Grecian grub. I was recommended spinach pies and meatballs. I’ve had three Spinach pies in the past two days, but all from bakeries, and all radically different. Some are like apple turnovers only instead of histamines (for me) it’s full of spinach and feta. Yesterday I had one that just looked like a normal slice of pie, but instead of filling, it contained a dense block of spinach with what tasted like pickling spices on it.

I ordered meatballs and a spinach pie, which I didn’t have the foresight to photograph. They brought me a plate full of discs of heavily spiced meat in a tomato-and-wine sauce, with peppers. I assumed they were meatballs. Then, they brought me another plate, this one full of things that were very obviously meatballs, in that they were made of meat, and shaped like balls. The medallion shape of the first course really should have given me a clue.

I ate the meatballs, staring in wonder at the empty plate that I had thought were non-balled meatballs. I’m not a gourmand, and I don’t pretend understanding of traditional Greek culture beyond a -encyclopedic knowledge of ancient mythology, but I was nearly 80% sure that contained neither spinach nor pie. But food is food, and I needed meat, and it was obviously too late to pull a “hey, this wasn’t what I ordered”. My native contact demanded I find the name. I did, but that was unhelpful, as I didn’t want to embarrass either of us with my attempt to spell it, but we concluded it was definitely sausage.

Later, I recounted this to Austria.

“It’s because you’re American,” he said. “They must have thought you were confused. ‘He ordered spinach, but I don’t think he knows what it is. Better to give him more meat.'”

“Well, I have been craving meat.”

“See? They were right.”

He left for Berlin. Getting gone seems like the thing to do. I’m going to try the Delphi day trip again tomorrow. With Athena’s consent, ideally.

Let’s wrap up with another graffiti picture dump.

See you tomorrow.

Love,

The Bastard