Sunday, November 8, 2009

Smoky Balls

"Where in the hell have you been?" my wife asked.  That was as close to a hero's welcome as I was going to get after The Engineer and I had gone to hell and back, tazered by goons, and pepper-sprayed by harpies, while escaping from the Fox News studios.

"I-I-I...," I stammered.

"Be quiet," she said.  "Now, you are going to be very contrite.  You are going to be dead honest.  You are going to be straight to the point.  What have you been up to?"

The time for lies was over.  My dear wife had no idea about what The Engineer and I had been up to for the last few months.  I told her that I had quit my position at the firm I had worked at for the last twelve years, and launched into a synopsis of our adventures, and how we had come face-to-face with The Prince of Darkness, had been uncomfortably close to Dick Cheney, in the same room, in an undisclosed location and lived to tell about it, and how we had duped Glenn Beck to eat dirt polluted with chicken shit.  She listened without uttering a word for the full twenty minutes it took me to recount our epoch saga.

She sat quietly, for a few moments, searching my eyes, and then burst into tears.  "Hey, what's the matter?" I asked consolingly, trying to hug her.

"Get away--don't touch me," she said.  It was then I noticed our two daughters standing behind her, looking at me, with scowls on their precious little faces.  I was out numbered.  The best course of action, for the time being, was for me to shut up and take my lumps.

My wife retreated to our bedroom, wailing and sobbing, mistreated and let down.  I retreated to the back patio, with a cigar and a low ball with three fingers worth of scotch poured over ice.  The whole thing came crashing down around me in the moment of reflection that ensued as the scotch started to do its magic.  It was true, as I have mentioned before here in this blog, that The Engineer and I were more popular than Jesus Christ, at least with our fanatical core of eleven followers.  We had braved horrifying conditions and circumstances in our undaunted pursuit of the truth.  We lived adventures that lesser men only dream about as they cowardly live out their days, second-by-second closer to their graves with little to show for it.

This looked like the end of the road for The Engineer and me.  My family needed me. The money I had saved in law practice would not last for ever.  The Adsense feature on the blog had not brought in a single nickle.  Taking a slug from my scotch, I resolved to give up this craziness, and go back, full time, to doing what had to be done to support my family:  practicing law.  I wanted to cry.

My cell phone rang.  It was The Engineer.  "Hey man," he said, "I'm parked in front of your house.  You have got to come out here.  I'll tell you all about it as soon as we are on the road."

His timing was horrible and I told him so.  "No way in hell.  I'm giving all of this up.  I've got to do right by my family.  I-I," I said starting to choke up, "I have to go back to practicing law."

"Duuuude," said The Engineer.  "You can't give up on this now.  Look at what we have done.  Fathom the grandiosity of it all.  Are you ready to drop the whole thing?  What about the Pulitzer Prize we are sure to win?  What about the fame and glory we will surely bask in?  What about being on the cover Rolling Stone and Interpretive Dance Today?  We've fought too hard to come this far.  Remember our mission:   Drawing clarity from the opaque, shining light into darkness, confronting ignorance with brilliance, and strangling boredom with competent absurdity and critique of postmodern interpretive dance.  Come on, man!  It's time to reach down in your pants and make sure you've still got a couple." 

Just then I jumped into the front seat of The Engineer's Nissan Cube, while he was still on the phone giving me a pep talk.  "Punch it!  Go, go, go!" I yelled as The Engineer smoked the front tires and left tread the full length of the block.  Soon enough, we were on the highway, heading West out of town.

The Engineer explained that he had been contacted by a medicine man of a regional indian tribe.  The medicine man had invited us to his tribal reservation promising that he had something to show us that would turn our worlds', as we knew it, upside down, with a great mystery that awaited us.

"Well, what is it--what's this enigmatic shaman supposed to reveal to us?" I asked.

The Engineer answered, "Um, I have no clue."  So there we were, hauling ass out of town, going I didn't know where, nor did I know why; and behind me, a marriage on the brink of complete implosion.  I felt like throwing up. 

An hour and a half later we drove under a large sign that indicated that we had arrived at the reservation.  Before us was a dirt road that stretched out to the horizon.  After twenty minutes of bumping along, feeling like my brains were going to be jostled out of my head, we heard a loud popping noise, and The Engineer momentarily lost control of the Cube, but was able to bring it to a screeching halt.  We got out of the car to discover that one of the tires had blown a flat.

"Shit," said The Engineer.  The sun was setting.  I was being consumed with a growing sense of anxiety that was eroding any patience I had left.  "Give me a hand?" asked The Engineer.

I lost it.  "We have no fucking idea where we are out in the middle of a reservation.  Technically, we're trespassing.  The sun is going down.  My wife is going to divorce me in all likelihood.  Fuck you!  Fix the goddamn flat your fucking self, you stupid fuck-head."  The Engineer and I stared at each other, both of our faces flushed crimson with anger.

"What did you say, you fuck-face ignoramus?"

"You heard me, you prick.  You've ruined my life, you son-of-a-bitch.  Prepare to have your ass kicked!" I said.

As quick as I could, I bent down and picked up a hand full of dry, powdery dirt and threw it in The Engineer's face, momentarily blinding him.  Then I went straight for him, grabbing him by the neck.  The Engineer croaked, "fuck you," and brought his knee up, connecting squarely with my round ones.  I released my hands from The Engineer's neck and bent over, recuperating from the indescribable pain.  The Engineer coughed and sputtered, catching his breath.

"You boys need some help?" asked the stranger that seemed to appear from no where.  He was an old indian man, dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, a short sleeve button-up, western-style shirt, donning a well-worn cowboy hat, with a leather satchel slung around his shoulder.

Though it felt like my gonads were lodged in my stomach, and The Engineer sounded like a dying duck gasping for its last breath, we greeted the old man.  "Hello," The Engineer croaked.

"Good afternoon," I said in an unusually high pitch, trying to resist the urge to hold my crotch.

"My name is Soaring Eagle.  Are you boys The Lawyer and The Engineer?"

"That's the guy--he's the one," said The Engineer, regaining his usual enthusiasm.

How fortuitous, I thought, regarding the old man.  What were the odds that he would pop up out of no where to save us from our own insanity?  I didn't speculate on that issue for long, preferring a rational explanation for things in general.

Soaring Eagle implored us to follow him--that the car would be safe where it was, and we could come back later to change the tire.  We walked, mostly in silence for what seemed like a mile.  Soaring Eagle looked to the sky, and then bent down to the ground and planted the palm of his hands flat in the soil.  "This is the place," he announced.  "Come, sit here with me, and I will show you what it is that I want you to know."

The reckoning of the oddness of the situation shown on our faces as we sat in the dirt facing the happy, old codger.  He pulled out a small leather bag out of the satchel, and a liter of tequila.  "Are you serious?" I asked.  "We came all the way out here--wherever 'here' is--to get drunk with a cooky old man, while my wife is at home thumbing through the phone book looking for a divorce attorney?"

"Patience, young man.  We're not getting drunk," said Soaring Eagle.  "I am going to guide the two of you on a vision quest."  Soaring Eagle emptied, what looked like dried figs, from the bag into the palm of his hand.  "Take these," he said handing five of the crusty things to me, and five to The Engineer.

The Engineer said, "Oh, goody--I love trail mix," and popped the handful of them in his mouth and set about chewing like he hadn't had a square meal in days.

"Good God, man, are you nuts?" I asked.  "You have no idea what you just put in your mouth.  It could be horse turds for all you know."  The Engineer's face contorted, and his eyes began to water.

"Christ!" said The Engineer, talking with his mouth full.  "That's the bitterest thing I have ever tasted in my life."

The old indian chimed in.  "That's what the tequila is for.  It will wash away the bitterness."  The Engineer grabbed the bottle, and turned it skyward as he gulped down the kibble and tequila.

"All right," I said, still holding the dried chips in my hands.  "What is this stuff?"

"It is the key to the spirit world, my friend--it is peyote," said Soaring Eagle.  'Might as well,' I thought.  It was a perfect evening for a bad trip.  I tossed the peyote in my mouth, and set about chewing like a disenchanted cow.  The bitterness was overwhelming.  I grabbed the bottle and took swigs, until I had managed to adequately masticate the peyote and get it down my gullet.

An hour later the sun had completely set, as Soaring Eagle, The Engineer and myself, sat around a roaring camp fire that Soaring Eagle had lit.  Nothing was happening as we sat quietly looking at each other like a bunch of idiots.  Soaring Eagle broke the silence by bringing his hands together, rubbing them vigorously and holding them to the air.  "The time has come," he said.  "The door to the spirit world is opening, and the quest begins."

The Engineer and I looked at each other, a portrait of skepticism.  "What are you talking about?" The Engineer asked.  "I can't feel a thing.  This stuff is bunk--a complete dud.  I'm leaving.  This is a sham.  Come on," he said turning to me.  "We're--," The Engineer went silent, as he stared out in front of him looking utterly lost in his thoughts, as his pupils grew to the size of dimes.  "Whooooooooa," he noted.

I asked "Are you okay, okay, okay, okay...?" the words echoing in my head and all around me.  "Whoooooooa," I said, feeling like I was continuously falling backwards, though I remained sitting upright and cross legged.  I looked across the blazing fire, emitting hues of white, green and orange, at Soaring Eagle who appeared to be in about fifteen different places at once.

Soaring Eagle spoke:  "Here on the threshold of the unknown we journey to its depths transcending opposites.  There we will find the undiscovered country and retrieve from it its great mystery; that all the world is one in its most distilled essence, and there we find with our soul and spirit, freed from the bonds of our mortal bodies, we are more real than real, forever joined in unity with the world beyond, our true home..."  His diatribe seemed to continue to drone on and recede into silence, as I fell, spread out in the dirt on my back, and felt myself lift from the ground as a single, condensed point of awareness, and took to the sky, like a rocket.  Soaring Eagle's voice seemed all around my, like a cloud.  "We are each of us, a part of The Great Spirit, knowing, experiencing and creating itself.  May your quest be fruitful."

The terrain below pulsated, and breathed alive, radiating colors of an indescribable intensity.  It could have been minutes or hours--I don't know--until I found myself on the ground again, flat on my back.  I sat up feeling like my hair was sticking straight out in ever direction.  The fire, The Engineer and the insane indian were no where in sight.

I bound to my feet startled by something wrestling about in the bushes a few yards from me, prompting in me a desire to run for my life. Hardly able to get to my feet I stayed where I was.  A furry face sprang from the top of the shrubbery.  I jumped, but settled myself.  It was a raccoon.  "Wow," I said.  "Ha.  Just a raccoon."

"How's it going?" asked the raccoon.  I stared at the ring-tailed creature for a moment, with my mouth open.

"Forgive me for being rude," I said, "but I cannot get in the habit of talking to random raccoons.  It's just not right, you know."

"Really," said the raccoon.  "Suit yourself, then.  I'm out of here."  The raccoon turned its back to me, with its tail sticking straight in the air, and began to saunter off.

"Wait, wait," I begged, deciding that a little companionship, under the circumstances, was not such a bad thing.  The raccoon stopped and slowly turned to me.  "Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm your animal spirit.  Like you, I'm a wily, deceitful, self-serving, prick with an inflated ego, who is loathsome of others, and prefers to lurk in the shadows."  It was an oddity beyond comprehension, being insulted by a furry, ring-tailed, dumpster-diving, over-grown rodent.

"Oh, please.  I'm not that bad am I?"

"You're wife would agree with me," the raccoon said.

"Okay," I conceded.  "You may have a point.  But, what should I do?"

"How should I know?  I'm a raccoon, not a therapist.  Are you hungry?"

"No, not at all," I said.

"Are you sure?  There is a trash can close by with some left over bean soup and peanut butter in it," he said.

"No thanks.  I couldn't eat a thing," I said.  "But hey, you could help me.  Is there a camp fire around here somewhere?"  The raccoon stood on its hind legs and sniffed the air.

"Yeah, there is.  Follow me."

A short distance away, and over a hill I saw The Engineer sprawled out on the ground next to the fire.  Soaring Eagle was no where to be seen.  "Hey, thank you," I said to the raccoon, who I  noticed had since disappeared.

I leaned over The Engineer who had a mad, disconcerted look on his face, and was muttering, "I'm a lizard, man.  See my tail.  I've turned into a lizard."  His tongue was darting in and out of his mouth.  I shook him.

"You're not a lizard," I said.  The Engineer sat up, patting himself and reaching for his hind quarters.

"Where's my tail?  I had a tail.  I had turned green, and my face was pointy, like a sleestack from the Land of the Lost."  I pointed out that he was perfectly human, and he slowly acquiesced in the proposition.  We sat by the fire that was still blazing, but was beginning to look like ordinary fire--mostly orange.

We sat for a while in bewildered silence, too disoriented to formulate thoughts.  After a while we could feel the effects of the peyote beginning to dissipate.  As my senses were coming back to me, I started to feel good.  I had a certain feeling of lightness of being that I had not had in years, if ever.  It was then that I felt a surge of energy rise up through my feet, into my spine, and flow through my limbs, and out through the top of my head.  I rose to my feet elated, and raised my arms to the sky.

The Engineer asked, "What are you doing?"

Standing on one leg, with the other raised and touching the knee of the one that supported my weight, my arms still raised, I broke into the interpretive dance of a life time.  Whisking and spinning about, I shed all of my clothes.  The Engineer did the same.  Holding each others hand we spun in a circle, and released, the centrifugal force throwing us outward and away from each other like fractal vortexes unwinding and free.  It was the greatest expose of postmodern dance that had ever occurred on this spinning ball, in this corner of the universe--we just knew it!  We ran and leaped through the flames, over and over, and might have continued for hours more, but for the sudden intrusion of head lights from a car with flashing blue and red lights.

The Engineer and I stopped and observed, wondering if we were still hallucinating.  A man stepped out of the car walked towards us shining a flashlight into our eyes.  I squinted to try to make out who the uninvited guest was.  "What in God's name do you think you fellers are doing?"

"Dancing," confessed The Engineer.

"Christ almighty," said the tribal policeman, noticing that the hair on our heads and between our legs was singed and smoking.  He inspected our eyes closely.  "Ah, ha.  You've been out here with Soaring Eagle, haven't you?"  We nodded in the affirmative.  "Get your clothes on, and get into the car."

There is nothing quite like the startling shock that you feel upon waking up and having no idea where you are or how you got there.  That was the feeling I had looking around the jail cell to the deafening sound of The Engineer snoring.  "Wake up," I said poking at The Engineer.

The Engineer's eyes flew open as he stammered incomprehensibly.  The policeman appeared at the bars of our cell with a tray of coffee, cereal and orange juice.  "You fellers want some breakfast?"  We did, and it was great.

An hour later, our kind host escorted us to the tribal court where we were to be arraigned.  We were seated in the jury box to await the arrival of the presiding judge.  The Engineer, the amiable policeman and I were the only ones in the quiet courtroom.  A door, close to the bench opened, and an elderly woman came out and said, "All rise for the Honorable Soaring Eagle, presiding."

I couldn't believe it.  The same man who had coaxed us into this bizarreness was now going to levy justice on us for whatever laws he encouraged us to break.

"Good morning, boys.  Did you sleep well?"  We nodded that we had.  "Let's see we what we have here," said old Judge Soaring Eagle.  He clicked his tongue and shook his head as he read the charges.  "Indecent exposure, lewd and lascivious behavior, trespassing and malicious mischief.  Those are some serious charges."

"Are you a lawyer, too," I asked the judge.

"Yip," he said pointing to his juris doctorate hanging on the wall behind him.

"Your honor?  My I approach the bench?'' I asked.

"Sure," he said, amused in a grandfatherly kind of way.  Looking over the bench I could see that he was wearing a tie, underneath his robe, with Republican elephants all over it.  I gasped.

"Judge," I said softly.  "Are you a Republican?"

The kindly old judge and medicine man laughed.  "Son, no self-respecting indian is a Democrat.  Many years ago there was a Democratic president, named Andrew Jackson, that sent my people marching from the Atlantic coast, all the way here, half of us dying in the process.  I'm not a fan of the Democrats."  But that was a different time, I thought to myself.  I considered it wise, under the circumstances, to keep my mouth shut, to live to debate another day.

"So, your Honor, can we work out some sort of deal?"  I asked.  Soaring Eagle tugged at his chin, considering the proposition.

"I got it," he said.  "How about a $250 fine for the two of you, and we can let bygones be bygones."

"Ha.  That works for me," I said, happy.  "What about you?" I asked The Engineer.

"Yeah, yeah," he said nodding feverishly.  "That would be great."

Consumed with the spirit of pragmatism, a frustrating realization occurred to me.  "Do you have $500 on you by any chance?" I asked The Engineer.  He didn't, nor did I.  "You Honor, does the Court take credit cards?"  It didn't.  "An I.O.U.?"  Soaring Eagle shook his head in the negative.  I grunted with a creeping sense of loathing.  "Do you have a phone I can use?"

I was escorted to the court clerk's window where I was allowed to use the phone.  I picked it up and dialed.  "Um, hey, sweetie," I said to my wife.  If stony silence was a sound, my ears were ringing with it at that moment.

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