Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why We're Here

"Blessed fuckin' be," Gordon whistled to the neon sign reading: OPEN.

He sauntered past the scratched oak door, it slamming behind him with a groan of age and use. The inside of the pub smelt of cigar smoke and vice, the acrid stench invading his nostrils and filling his veins with a familiar electricity. A few of the dead-eyed patrons offered him a disinterested look as he entered before quickly returning their gaze to the bottom of their pints. He, in turn, offered them a curt grin before pushing his way past a barmaid, seeking out the brilliant luminescence of the bar's inventory beyond.

He found a vacant stool situated between two other patrons. To his left sat a bear of a man, clad in flannel and the stench of long hauls, the pale and pimpled crack of his ass bursting from the seams of his worn, weathered blue jeans. To his right, a petite girl sat nursing a mug of ale, her face obscured by the hood of her navy blue sweater, her shaking ebony fingers clutching the handle of her drink with unyielding resolve. He thought it best to bother neither and instead took his attention to the bartender.

"Barman! What's the drip?"

The bartender stared at him, pitching his soiled rag across his shoulder like an archetype from the film noir period and studying Gordon with the curiosity possessed by children at the zoo.

Gordon sighed as he crept unto his stool, folding his hands in front of him on the counter.

"Ok, what you got on tap, paht-nurr?" he inquired, manipulating his lips and tongue to imitate an American accent as best he could.

"Bud," the bartender responded with indifference. "And Pabst."

"Guinness?" Gordon offered.

"No," the bartender said.

"Bud it is," Gordon rescinded.

The bartender snatched a clean mug from his sink and held it beneath the tap. Whether a credit to his inexperience or simply a gesture of distaste for his latest customer, he didn't seem to mind as the mug filled with foam in the place of drink. He placed the mug in front of Gordon with a jerk, foam spilling over the side and further greasing the already-greased bar top.

"You're not from around here, are you?" the bartender asked, quirking an eyebrow and surveying Gordon closely as he took his first drink of the froth.

His throat cooled, Gordon rubbed the sore spot on his chin (Thanks Mali, ya cunt, he thought to himself) and offered the bartender a shrug.

"No. Me and mine, we've found ourselves stuck in Utah a little longer than we would have liked." He caught himself upon realized the offended look creeping onto the barkeep's face and quickly continued, "Not that it isn't a fine state, ser. Just that we've got places to be."

"What's keeping you?"

"Had ourselves a spat, of sorts."

The bear-man to his left gave him a look of contempt, grunted once, and took his leave. As he ambled away, Gordon could faintly detect a murmur escaping him to the effect of, "Fuckin' Brit faggots."

Gordon shrugged and offered his mug to the girl to his right in a cheer. She obliged and clinked her glass against his without a look.

"What sort of spat?" the bartender asked. His interest, soaked and saturated in an expression of indifference, seemed motivated by a means to pass the time, rather than a genuine concern for Gordon's troubles. Gordon didn't mind.

We set out from sunny California a few weeks back. Several weeks back, fact is. The troupe of us, storytellers all, set our sights on seeing America and giving our talents a go on the road; each of us in for our own reasons - but you might say we're united in a common purpose, if you want to spread cheese on the cracker.

That purpose, of course, being to tell stories.

And hear a few, too, strangers permitting.

Among our ranks was the man you see before you. I transferred to UCLA from the Merry Ol' last year, but found California wanting in what you Republican-types call "traditional American values". I spied with my little eye an advertisement posted on the commons board, calling for a band of storytellers interested in traveling the country and trying our talents against the rigors of such a venture. You can imagine my excitement.

I've got to admit to you, ser, in my travels so far, I've been left a little let down. I haven't pitched a baseball nor eaten apple pie, and me' mum is still a short, mean woman sending me care packages of shortbread and anxious letters from home.

The others don't seem to be having much better luck.

There's Mali, a techno-savvy gadget-bearing gidget who, as my face recently discovered, is quite adept with a left hook. A sweet girl, lest you bring up communal utopia. We sat through a meeting of Future Socialists of America earlier this evening and, ser, I've never seen in my twenty-two years a creature of five feet knock more backsides to the dirt.

At her heels is Parker, who I'd think is someone you'd get along with just fine. Dear boy was raised in the ways of the Lord, the Good Word thick on his tongue and stuck like gelatin in his mind. He'll keel over before the rest of us, I'd think, for all his secrets, though; you ever get the feeling someone is keeping something from you? Bottle that in an altar boy and you've got yourself a Parker.

Our fearless leader - and I say that in jest, mate, because the ruddy fucker would jump clean out of his skin at the slightest suggestion - is Joe. He's the one who posted the advertisement in the first place, the one with this big, Kerouac idea of seeing the world and getting by on the charms of his tales. To his credit, he's a good man, but I'm not so convinced he in't making it up as he goes.

The last of us is Casey, a lovely girl who seems to have taken a liking to Joe. And when I say "liking", I mean they snog like bunnies on ecstasy. She's our den mother of sorts, picking up after our uncleanly selves when we vacate a hotel room and keeping the tethers of this whole trip together. But I tell you, for a maternal figure, she sure does fuck a lot.

In all, we're a bit of a bunch, ain't we? But we've made it as far as Utah, so that's got to be good for something. Sure, it hasn't all been kitten giggles and kumbayahs. We've argued and we've spat, and in the case of this evening, it's even come to blows. I even had to read poetry to a group of latte-sipping environmentalists! It's too bad I couldn't make a rhyme of "Drill, baby, drill!"

But I believe in it, you know? I think we all do. We wouldn't be here otherwise.

This is the prime shit that every starry-eyed collegiate wants to do. We're living it.

We are the road.

Now if we could just turn tail and get the hell out of this God-blessed state.

Gordon finished and realized the bartender had ceased paying him any mind for some time. He shrugged to his mug and took a long swig of the lukewarm foam, settling in against the rail of the bar for a long night of drinks.

"Gordon?" inquired the girl next to him.

He turned and discovered Casey's face peering out at him from under her hood. She was crying.

"Casey?! Bleeding hell, kitten, how fucking long were you going to sit there and let me ramble to the bar taps?"

Casey lunged at him. Still in the throws of Mali's courtesy beating earlier, Gordon reflexively recoiled. Casey caught him, though, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She buried her face in his chest, squeezing him in a drunken embrace. Gordon returned the gesture and held her as best he could, balancing their weight against the rickety bar stool.

Casey sniffed and broke her hold on him. "Can we get out of here? I need to talk to Joe."

"Okay, lamb," Gordon nodded. "I think Hops McBarkeep over here is bored with my talking anyway." He produced a few tattered bills from his pocket and placed them on the countertop. "Let's bounce, love."

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