So, where were we? Oh, yeah, back in Los Angeles, recovering from the Traipsemobile’s one-and-only criminal intrusion, the window-breaking, GPS-taking smash-and-grab in Oakland.
And that was, let me do the math here, TWO DAMN YEARS AGO!?!! Holy Shit! And by “that” I mean the last dispatch chronicling those particular events. The events themselves were even longer ago. Christ on a Kaiser Roll!!
I have been derelict in my duties. I have frittered away two goddam years, doing essentially nothing for months and months, wandering aimlessly for miles and miles, plying myself with beer after beer after beer, floating around and across North America in a figure eight like some sort of malfunctioning low-altitude drone. Anyone with the slightest trace of pride or self-esteem would be overcome with shame and remorse. Luckily, that’s not me.
Which means we can carry on here as if nothing has happened since the last actual dispatch (which doesn’t include the links to stories I wrote for money). Agreed? Good. Now, with that in mind, here’s a truncated list of things I would have written about if I hadn’t been so lazy and/or drunk.
1. That time in Montana where I decided that Missoula was the coolest city I had never been to before, that Bozeman is nothing but rich people in newly-purchased designer sweaters, that Billings still has some of it’s old-cowboy coolness and that the Going To The Sun Road doesn’t actually go all the way to the sun, but is still damned impressive and close as you’re likely to get to self-propelled space flight without access to rocketry. And, oh yeah, there was that time when I saw Shooter Jennings, Waylon’s boy, playing in a tiny bar (The Harp & Thistle) in just-as-tiny Anaconda which is a pretty-much-abandoned smelter town about 20 miles northwest of Butte.
I’d seen him play a few weeks before in Missoula in a much-larger place. In Anaconda, his tour bus was bigger than the bar he was playing. This is true. The stage entrance was a swinging screen door and backstage was the sidewalk outside. There was a cowboy, an actual cowboy, as drunk as I’ve ever seen a human anywhere ever. He alternated between threatening to beat up his girlfriend and passing out on the dance floor. In her lap. They left together, of course. Arm in arm. I imagine they’ve broken up and gotten together approximately a thousand times since then. I hope they’re both ok.
2. That time in Seattle where I knocked the satellite dish off the Traipsemobile and came to realize that having a big black dome on the roof of my vehicle/home had a larger effect on people than I would have guessed. I noticed early on that the Traipsemobile’s gunmetal-gray paint job gave it a certain official and slightly intimidating aura. People often assumed it was a government vehicle, maybe affiliated with the FBI or the CIA or some other unnamed top secret organization. (DARPA!) I was fine with them thinking that. It made it all the more unlikely that someone would bother me in the middle of the night. But I didn’t realize how much of that government surveillance vibe was attributable to the satellite dish. Until, woozy from jet lag (the only plane trip I’ve taken since inhabiting the Traipsemobile: Lesson learned!) I hit a motel awning in Seattle and decapitated the dome. Knocked it clean off. I didn’t think it would matter, but it did. People mentioned it. People missed it. People said the Traipsemobile had lost some of it’s mojo. I hadn’t replaced the actual satellite dish because it would have cost me $1500 to replace it and I wasn’t watching much tv anyway. So, for months, I drove around domeless. But who can put a price on mojo? I went on E-bay and found a replacement dome – not the satellite dish, just the dome – for $150. And almost immediately I noticed the difference. The double takes. The whispers. The questions. “Is that a turret?” “Are you with the government?” “Am I on camera right now?” The dome made a difference. I do not tell them that it is a Potemkin dome, empty inside. They do not need to know.
3. That time where I dripped shitwater all over the Pacific Northwest and attempted to fix it myself with a hilarious assortment of failed patches including (but not limited to): duct tape, waterproof putty (easily mistaken for plastic explosives), more duct tape and spray-on rubber (in an assortment of colors, as seen on late-night TV.) This went on for at least a couple of months: me detecting a drip (sometimes by sight, sometimes by smell) and attempting to cover it, the drip continuing, me attempting to cover it with something else layered over the preceding patch, until I had something that looked like a malformed hornet’s nest covering my entire septic tank. Here’s the thing: gravity always wins. No matter how many leaks I covered, no matter how much tape and spray-on rubber and globs of putty I added, there was, inevitably, another leak, a smelly horrible and pretty-much-constant drip of liquefied human waste, deposited over 7 states (My particular apologies to you, Montana) and 2 Canadian provinces. Fortunately, it rained a lot. Also my front seat had spray cans, breathing masks and rubber gloves all over it. Might as well have had a “Serial Rapist Lives Here” sticker on the window. Eventually, doing what I should have done when all this started, I went to a professional shitwater tank repairman in Portland, who put in a new specially-modified shitwater tank (my third, if you’re keeping score at home) and sent me on my way, no longer a rolling health hazard. However, every time I drive by a water treatment plant and get a whiff, I panic a little.
4. That time I realized there was a hole in my hair. I have, for the most part, remained remarkably healthy in my nearly 5 years on the road. A couple of colds, one particularly ugly case of influenza, some belly aches, a sore back now and then. I attribute this primarily to my rigorous dietary habits, in which I have at least 2 beers every night and then pass out without brushing my teeth. This allows the nutrients to permeate my system undiluted and undisturbed. Okay, there was the kidney stone thing. We’ll get to that a little later. But the weirdest malady I’ve had – and now that I think about it, this started at just about the same time as my shitwater crisis – is when I realized one morning that there was a quarter-sized patch of exposed skin on the back of my head. I thought at first that I’d somehow rubbed it off or maybe it was my shampoo. But it kept getting bigger, an ever-enlarging circle of exposed skull, too far down the back of my head to be a bald spot (or to cover up with a cap). It was like one of those nightmares where you suddenly realize you’re missing your teeth or your pants. Except that this was real. And growing to the circumference of a tennis ball. I couldn’t see it, of course, it being on the back of my head. But I could feel it, (had a hard time keeping my hands off of it, actually. Rubbing the bald spot constantly, like my head was a magic lamp.) and it was getting little bigger every day. It turned out to be alopecia areata, an auto immune disease where basically your immune system decides that your hair, some of it anyway, is an invader, a threat that must be destroyed. In extreme cases, alopecians (a group name which I may have just made up) have no hair at all, not even eyelashes. Mike Nichols, for instance. There was no way to know whether my alopecia would stay where it was or keep going until I was completely hairless. So, hey, how’s that for exciting, huh?
I drove around like that for months, down the west coast, across Texas, through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, on my way to Florida for the winter. I got used to it, got a steroid injection from a dermatologist in Orlando named, I kid you not, Rhett Butler. Maybe it helped. Maybe it didn’t. Plans, serious plans, were made that involved tattooing various things on to my skull. An eyeball. A USB outlet. A “How’s My Driving?” sign.
I got used to it. Kind of. And over time, ever so slowly, it began to shrink. I wasn’t even thinking about it when I went into Carmelo’s Barber Shop in Palm Coast, Florida. I asked for the same buzz cut I’d gotten in barber shops all over America. “This is the easiest haircut you’ll ever give,” I told Carmelo. “A 4 on the top and a 2 on the beard.” Those were the clipper settings. He knew what I meant. He’s a damn barber. So, I took off my glasses, let him wrap me in that neck apron deal and, pretty much blind, listened to the familiar buzz of the clipper. I could see the blur of my reflection, but nothing more.
It took me a while to sense that an inordinate amount of hair seemed to be falling on the floor. Something seemed off. So I asked Carmelo to stop for a second, put on my glasses and realized that he had SHAVED HALF THE HAIR OFF MY HEAD! My very clever reaction to this was to scream, “HOLY SHIT, YOU’VE SHAVED MY HEAD.” Carmelo, who had not struck me as a psychopath up to this point, responded, “That’s what you asked me to do.”
I don’t know why he thought this. I don’t know how he heard “zero” when I said “four.” I also didn’t know what to do next. Something approaching shock had set in. “Do you want me to finish,” Carmelo asked. Well, duh!!! There’s no turning back now, Carmelo because, let me repeat, “YOU SHAVED MY HEAD!!” So he finished the job and then asked if I still wanted him to trim my beard. I was in a trauma-induced stupor at this point and could barely summon the strength to mutter, “Yeah, I guess.” So he did. I got up from the chair, slightly woozy and started to make my way out of the shop.
To which I responded, (and this is pretty much verbatim), “WHAT? PAY YOU?? YOU SHAVED MY FUCKING HEAD. HELL NO, I’M NOT GOING TO PAY YOU.”
“I’m not charging you for the haircut. But you asked me to trim your beard. Five dollars.”
I was the definition of dumbfounded. Really? Seriously? Are you kidding? “DUDE, YOU SHAVED MY FUCKING HEAD. I’m not giving you a dime.”
“Then I will call the police.” Which he did. Carmelo called the goddam police. I sat quietly and waited for them to arrive. When they got there, three officers, who must have thought this was the stupidest 911 call they’d ever received. Carmelo accused me of trying to rip him off. Now that he thought about it, he told them, he believes I did it on purpose. That I had asked for a head shave and then refused to pay, as if I were some kind of traveling haircut grifter. At this point, it occurred to me that Carmelo might be insane. We could be in a Sweeney Todd situation here.
“What happens if I refuse to pay,” I asked one of the cops. Clearly, I had not gotten the service I’d requested and, oh, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, HE SHAVED MY HEAD!!!!
“Do you want to know what the law says?,” the officer asked, very calmly. Why, yes, yes I do.
“He provided a service. It might not be the service you wanted, but if he insists that you pay and you refuse then we have to take you to jail. If he wants to press charges.
“I’ want to press charges!!,” Carmelo proclaimed.
So, there I was, with a bald misshapen head, bearing a strong resemblance to a human cantaloupe, just beginning to recover use of my central nervous system and about to be taken into custody. “You can take him to small claims court if you want, ” the officer said, trying to be helpful. “But you have to pay him today.
There was a part of me (the stupid part) that wanted to stand my ground, to stand up for truth and justice and the fight against non-consensual head shaving. “Okay then,” that part of me thought, “take me to jail.”
But that’s not what I did. I pulled out $5 and slammed it down on the counter, glaring at Carmelo as I turned to the door and shouted, “But you’re not getting a tip.”
(To be continued . . .)