After a day of traveling aimlessly along Sunset Boulevard it was time to take a break. It had been a good day of harvesting cigarette butts. Joe had always felt it was his civic duty to help address this serious environmental problem by picking up this toxic waste. Now was the time to sit and enjoy the fruits of his labor. He watched for awhile the congestion of traffic and remembered the time he too lived that life…. but no more. The last few embers glowed at the end of the cigarette as Joe inhaled, and as the white smoke curled up in a spiral motion, he pressed lightly his shirt pocket to the fragment ends of tobacco to insure a reserve till morning. Taking the last drag the ashes glowed brighter and crackled as air passed through the cigarette and the smoke went deeply into his lungs. He dropped the butt on the concrete and stubbed it out in a rhythmical tapping of his right foot. How wonderful it would have been to have a cup of coffee to accompanied his cigarette break he thought. The sun had set, but he had decided to stay sitting on the bench and watch the world drive by and maybe have another cigarette.
“Sitting here in La, La, Land I can see how you would believe that a gluten free diet and drinking green veggie smoothes is the answer to all your worldly woes. It’s a lie sweetheart, what really works in this world is a pack of Marlboro red, a cup of coffee and a buttermilk donut. Listen sunshine, there is no guarantees in life, this is it, this is all you get. Honey, you and I are living in a temporary parking lot between Nativity Lane and Sunset Boulevard.”
Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter Eight, Dog Biscuit and Noah’s Ark
We waited another half an hour after the Turkish patrol had disappeared out of sight before we hauled ass off the apron of Mt. Ararat and on to flat ground. My knees were shot and my feet were thrashed. We crossed numerous gullies, sliding down their drops then trudging back up their inclines, which rapidly depleted our remaining energy reserves.
Stumbling forward, my boots scraped against the rolling rocks as I repeatedly stabbed with the ski poles for an opening between the rocks to right myself. The flare must have burned out because it became dark again. I faltered a number of times but kept an eye on my fellow climbers Cronuck and Stublich and watched them move at a steady pace towards the faint yellow and white lights of Doğubayazıt on the horizon – which I affectionately call Dog Biscuit
My feet felt warm and soggy which was a sure sign of blood.
It was at this point – stemming from many things, such as dehydration and sheer exhaustion – that I fell into mild delirium and David Byrnes of Talking Heads became my chaperones.
‘And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?’
‘You know, David, you’re holding me hostage with that broken record. I mean, I can appreciate your words but after a while it gets a little old. Know what I mean?’
I didn’t get a straight answer from David; instead, he gave me his advice. ‘The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now…’
At that moment, a second flare burst in the night sky. It was a couple of seconds later that we heard the low boom of the flare gun, which meant there was a good distance between us and the Turkish military. I made it to the edge of the stone field; Cornuke and Stublich stopped long enough to ask me if I was okay. My lips were cracked, my tongue was swollen and all my saliva had evaporated. I could only answer with a nod and a whisper: ‘I’m okay.’
Ahead, I could hear Dick slapping the iridium satellite phone repeatedly, trying to get enough charge out of the dead battery to make a call to Micah, our Kurdish fixer, so that he could meet us at the predetermined rendezvous point.
George grumbled. ‘This is fucking stupid. Let’s go to the main highway and catch a ride to town.’
Dick stopped smacking the sat-phone and directed all his attention towards George. ‘Shut the fuck up, George. The Turkish military use that road all the time. What do you think they’ll assume if they come across us on that highway with all our gear?’
George didn’t listen and relentlessly argued his point as the sound of the dogs’ howls grew louder. There was a gunshot in the distance followed by the hiss of another parachute flare. That was all the motivation we needed; the five of us turned and hauled ourselves across the plain. David followed nearby. ‘We make a pretty good team. Don’t get exhausted; I’ll do some driving. You ought to get some sleep.’
‘You know, David, it must be Mercury in retrograde with all the hurdles we’ve had to clear,’ I muttered.
There was no response.
We’d been tramping about in the darkness for hours and we were spent, physically and emotionally. We walked on autopilot, using the light of Dog Biscuit as our beacon.
‘You know, David, I could’ve stayed in L.A. picking up work shooting a mindless sitcom and watching a celebrity with two soft, protruding organs give us the local weather report. I could have, but I wouldn’t have had this wonderful field trip to remember. Know what I mean?’
David paused then caught up with me. ‘You may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? You may ask yourself: where does that highway lead to? You may ask yourself: am I right; am I wrong? You may say to yourself: my God, what have I done?’
“I’m not sure if it the zest for life that I have or just the carbonation… my friends say that I have a bubbly personality. Oh geez ! People that say you have a bubbly personality… chances are you’re not attractive. I don’t think I’m ugly, I have a great smile, good hair, a positive attitude and I’m a Gemini. Did you know that we Gemini’s are gentle, affectionate, curious, adaptable, with an ability to learn quickly and exchange ideas openly. The downside of being a Gemini is nervousness and indecisive….wait a minute, indecisive…Coca-Cola or Pepsi ? Oh ! it’s not important. The only thing I don’t like about being a soda jerk is the paper hats. I mean they tear easily after you sweat and they never fit right. I don’t throw my paper hat’s away I keep them and make origami zebra’s..you know, the strips on the hat and all. Origami zebras are more difficult to fold than origami cranes. My paper hats are perfect for folding for zebras. It took me forever to get the lines of zebra stripes vertical and not horizontal. My zebras reminds me of the old adage: Not everything is black-or-white, or in my case red and white. The world isn’t black-or-white in the zebras world either. I once read that the symbolic meaning of zebras are the masters of balance, a symbol for individuality, the spiritual significance of knowing yourself, and the magic of illusion. So, I may have a bubbly personality and be optimistic by nature but don’t judge me by my stripes, remember I’m a Gemini.”
A tattered piece of napkin is fused to the formica table top creating a semi circle from where the glass syrup dispenser sat. Frank’s forearm is momentarily glued to the table.
Frank fishes for an ice cube from his water and begins to mop the sugary halo.
The sound of leather and metallic tapping off the chrome bass of the table escalates. Frank’s restless legs syndrome telegraphs his anxiety.
“Okay Frank, this is just between you and I…..okay?”
He nods yes.
“What I understand is that you can’t stop it or shut it down, you can only strap yourself in and go for the ride, you are no longer in the drivers seat. I hate to tell you this, but your guardian angel is helpless and can only watch and maybe drop words of comfort and gently remind you in a sweet whisper that your fucked my friend. You texted me that It started with awareness that your pill box organizer is not lying. Not that the medication is gone or forgotten but each container labeled with each day of the week are still full. It’s just not the loss of time but the loss of days. Is that right Frank?”
Again Frank nods yes. His hand trembles while still holding the ice cube.
“Frank, there are no magic beans here that is going to cure you. It’s a sad affair my friend. What can I do now while you are still cognitive?”
Frank’s eyes wonder over to the woman cashier as the line of customers grows while waiting for a table. He avoids eye contact with me as the truth of his situation becomes a reality.
Frank becomes aware that he is still holding the cube of water.
“Frank look at me, what can I do to help you?”
Franks eyes tears up. He clasps his hands so tight that his knuckles turn white. Frank doesn’t know whether to be angry or heartbroken. The tapping grows louder from underneath the table and suddenly stops. Franks face becomes blank and pale as his emotions fade away. Receding and lost in the chasm of his mind, his soul is swallowed by the bottomless abyss. Frank then disappears from our table.
Karma (in Hinduism and Buddhism) the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences: a buddha is believed to have completely purified his karma.
Have there been times that you find yourself in a muddy gray area that combines breathtaking views of the Twilight Zone with the morally ambiguous ambiance of being in limbo? Well, get out the Sage and smudge the hell out of your environment. This may or may not work for you. But at least you will feel proactive in getting yourself out of the muck of your existential crisis. This dread is when individuals question whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value, and are negatively impacted by this contemplation. By no means do I listen to all the voices in my head. Some of those assholes have hidden agendas and they’re expert at disguising their motive… which is only to make me feel bad about myself.
Getting out of the doldrums requires putting some wind in your sails. What’s called for are challenges that shake things up. I seek pleasure during my stagnation by taking refuge in doing for others who are less fortunate than me. A trip to the Dollar Store and I’ll buy socks. I mean lots of socks. Maybe 50 pairs of socks, socks of all colors, dress socks, crew socks, leg warmer, knee-high socks, split-toe socks, nylon socks, cotton socks, whatever is available on the store shelf. Then drive to skid row and hand out the clean socks. Giving something tangible to another human being gets me out of my head. If karma is real, and I believe it is. Buddhists, especially if you fall in the category of Bodhisattvas then you know souls that have reached enlightenment but have foresworn Nirvana so that they might continue to be reincarnated and work to liberate all sentient being from suffering. In doing so I avoid taking a direct hit of slimy karma by changing in a very small way my immediate surroundings.
As she rested her elbow on an old L.A. Weekly newspaper bin, she continue to smoke from a stubby discarded cigarette.
She then tells me,
“I have more than once made contact with the pavement and it wasn’t so gingerly either, the last time was at the corner of Fairfax and Beverly.”
“She paused, took the last drag of her cigarette and dropped it on the concrete between her battered boots, strange how the world looks from the ground up, I once saw an ostrich too……. all well…. life has no obligation to give us what we expect.”
“Hey man ! It’s all about infinite reflection isn’t it? We ask for an eternal embrace after our rite of passage, but like string theory it’s always about getting the right vibe. The vibe man, the vibration of energy from someone who believes in the third eye… Jesus! I sound so woo woo or stoned. Which reminds me, back in the day I use to watch wonky Dance Fever on tv while stoned….popping Tootsie Rolls and caramel popcorn, man oh man! Maui Wowie! Good shit back then. Jesus! Dance Fever man, hosted by that baby face and swarthy Adrian what’s his name of T J Hooker and Captain Kirk. “Where no man has gone before.” Oh yeah, been there in the cerebral abysses man, damn near didn’t come back. Got to go man, have a date at Pink’s Hot Dogs, peace brother.”