Friday, May 11, 2007

A Layman's Guide to Horrific Trampoline Injuries

Fifteen days ago...

Our car blasts down the winding desert highway, a mesa rising 650 feet straight up from the left shoulder and on the right, a canyon dropping away 100 feet to a nearly dry riverbed. This leaves precious little room for error, and McDougal is using every bit of it. The big man is steering the car with his knees. He has the cruise control locked in at 85. His right hand is busy pounding out a beat on the ceiling. His left is clutching a bottle of codeine cough syrup (lime flavor), from which he is chugging furiously. I am the only one watching the road, but the music is so loud he doesn't hear me when I yell "look out for that cow!"

It doesn't matter. McDougal drives with some sixth sense. We weave drunkenly across the centerline, missing the cow by inches. It stares stupidly at the car that nearly killed it as we go by. I wish I could be that oblivious. Also, I don't feel bad about eating beef. No one should feel bad about eating an animal with no sense of self preservation. For a fraction of a second I start to understand why McDougal sometimes lapses into bouts of cannibalism. Then I shake that thought away. Every car should have at least one sane person in it, even if that individual is not the driver.

On the floor between the bucket seats sits a stack of prescriptions as thick as a Manhattan phone book. Each one says that McDougal has a terminal case of bronchitis. Roughly every fifteen minutes one of the sheets will lift off. It flutters around the car for a bit, then flies out the sunroof, off into the night.

McDougal pulls the bottle away from his lips and peers into the mouth. Deciding that he has, indeed, drained yet another one, he tosses the bottle out the window and belches the words "take the wheel." Apparently he trusts my driving more than his own at this point, because as soon as the steering wheel is firmly in my grasp he flips off the cruise control and stomps on the gas. I'm having trouble concentrating on driving because the music is so loud. It's Def Leppard's "Pyromania." McDougal bought a whole grocery bag full of cassette tapes at a truck stop in Greeley, Colorado because they were only $3.99 each.

I can only vaguely make out my side of the road because McDougal kicked out the passenger side headlight back in Tempe. Unfortunately, that is the side where most of the cows are. They must smell the water at the bottom of the gorge. Lord knows where they all came from...

While I am looking for cows on the shoulder, I almost hit an old woman who is standing on the centerline. She doesn't even spare us a glance to acknowledge our existence as we roar by. She is too busy staring up into the night sky. Her wispy white hair blows out behind her like a tattered penant in the hot desert wind.

Goddamn... That is a bad omen. I don't know what it is supposed to mean, but there is no possible way something like that could stand for anything good.

McDougal turns back around and says "I got it." He puts his knees back on the wheel. He's got another bottle of cough syrup. He also has another cassette tape. He is peeling the plastic off with his teeth.

McDougal seems to be fleeing from something. I've never known him to run from anything, but we've been on the road for almost a week and he hasn't spoken of any set destination. We seem to be changing direction at random, either on a whim or based on something only McDougal can smell in the air...

McDougal suddenly punches the eject button and pops the Def Leppard cassette out of the stereo. He studies it for a second and, deciding it was worth keeping, tosses it into the back seat.

In the blessed silence that resulted, the big man speaks.

"I never should have gotten into politics. Now all the honeybees are dying."

And with those cryptic statements, possibly related, possibly unrelated, he pushes a new cassette into the tape player. Before I can ask him what he means by that, the car is filled with the thundering John Bonham drum loop of the Beastie Boys "Rhymin & Stealin."

It now occurs to me that perhaps what McDougal is trying to run from is himself.

A wise man once said, "Always remember, wherever you go... there you are."

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