This morning we had breakfast and then caught a bus into Flagstaff. Currently we are wandering the empty streets in search of a famous road. So far we have only found a gun shop and a petrol station. No sign yet of the Historic Route 66. For that famous road is the reason we are here.
A road with a no doubt glorious history that I have yet failed to come across in my admittedly lacklustre attempts at research. The first road to be built in England was in 46AD by the Romans. 1,880 years later, in 1926, Route 66 came into being. 59 years after that, in 1985, it was decommissioned. We have castles, they have tarmac. America is, to be fair, a young country. And of course, we mustn’t forget, our history is also theirs. Most Americans did after all hail from Europe. A point they often forget, especially when expounding ignorant slurs towards immigrants in the never ending political debate pushed by the too often right wing televisual slop that is USA broadcasting.
We come across a 10ft statue of what seems to be something of a mascot for this town; Louie the Lumberjack. He wears a yellow t-shirt and a red woollen hat. His hands rest on the end of an axe handle with the head of the axe between his feet. I’ve never seen a statue look so sad. I step up onto the raised platform and put my hand on his arm sympathetically, “What’s getting you down buddy?”
I mimic his pose while David takes a picture. Louie has a seriously glum expression. It’s like he has the world on his shoulders and he just doesn’t give a shit about it. All he wants to do is have a nice cup of hot chocolate and a good cry.
It turns out that poor Louie the Lumberjack has a good reason to be sad. In 2004 Louie was the victim of vandalism. According to azdailysun.com he was, “knocked down, broken at the ankles, decapitated and had his axe head broken off.” Thankfully, after $3,000 of repair, the poor fella was back on his feet.
We find Route 66 and are mostly underwhelmed by it.
“Where are they all?” I say, removing a chocolate covered curiosity out of a small pink paper bag and eying it suspiciously.
“Where are what?” says David.
“All the women?”
“I don’t think there are supposed to be any women on your chocolate.”
“No, I mean everywhere. I’m just worried about eating this. Want to try a bit?”
“No. I’m good with my fudge.”
“Mum?” I say, offering her a bit. I shake the bag temptingly.
“I’ll try it.”
She takes a piece out of the bag and puts it in her mouth. She chews thoughtfully. I have a piece as well and join her in thoughtful contemplation of the curious taste event that is happening on my tongue. “I don’t know. What do you think?” I say.
“Not sure. It’s not really bad, and it’s not really good either.”
I swallow. “Why did they make this?”
“America,” she says, “They seem to think it’s a desert thing. They eat it with strawberry jam for breakfast.”
What are we eating? Could this be what the Christians have been talking about? The Immaculate Confection? Let me enlighten you. We went into a sweet shop called The Sweet Shoppe and Nut House. In that shop they sold strips of bacon that were covered in chocolate. How could I resist? Meaty chocolate. Surely this is heaven on earth. By Jove (feel free to ignore this parentheses clause, but, you might be interested to know that “Jove” in this use is the Roman God of the bright sky, and not the Christian Jove, which would be very blasphemous in this country. And, God damn it, I am not that guy! Again, this bears no relevance to this conversation, hence the original clause to ignore it) it is good… but then not so good. After that bacon taste is adrift with the saliva what is left but a slightly meaty cocoa? You put a piece in your mouth and are treated to some very nice chocolate. And then you bite into it and the smoky taste of bacon fills your mouth. I like the taste of both things. God bless the diabolical and unashamed pursuit of being a fat-ass in this country. I assume the Nut House part of the shop name refers to the insane candy maker I imagine lives in a dark cave somewhere under the shop maniacally designing unnecessary candy, like an evil Willy Wonka.
“What’s that got to do with women?” says David, returning to my original comment.
“Not a great deal. But we still haven’t come across any.”
“What about the singing waitress?”
“Yes, I forgot about her. So that’s a total of one? We have so far come across one young female. I reckon they’re being harvested for something.”
“I still think they’re hiding from us.”
The rest of the shops in this small town aren’t worth mentioning. Except for a new-age shop called Crystal Magic that had an endearing dog that slept in the entrance and sold a very curious object (the shop I mean. The dog wasn’t selling anything as far as I’m aware). It was a globe of the earth that spun continuously and claimed to be powered by perpetual motion. I’m not sure what gimmick lies at the heart of its spinning but if it is perpetual motion someone should really tell a scientist about it. We will have to change everything we now about Thermodynamics and all the world’s problems regarding energy and fuel will be solved immediately.
We cross the railroad tracks to the other side of town to a bar called Lumberjacks for a drink.
“IDs please gents,” says the waiter to me and David. We reach into our wallets and produce our UK Drivers Licences. The waiter looks at them scornfully. “I can’t accept them. I won’t be able to serve you drinks.”
“Are you fucking kidding?” I say. Good god, you should see the look on his face, I think it might be the first time he’s heard a swear word.
“Rules are rules,” he says, snapping out of his bewilderment.
“We are both past 30.”
“Do you have any other form of ID?”
“No. Unless you accept facial hair?”
And so it is that we end our little day trip to the town of Flagstaff being forced to order soft drinks and coffee. The horror! The horror!
You cannot truly relax on holiday unless you are in some way inebriated. If you find yourself taken by a whim to moisten your parched lips with a cold pint, or to dive blindly into the abyss of madness that is total obliteration, you should, at the very least, be in the position to prove to a stranger that you are not a child. When we get back to the RV my passport is going directly into my pocket where it shall stay should the situation arise again. But still, for now the drinking can wait. Is there really any point to it anyway? Christ! What am I saying?
Undeterred by our sobriety we catch another bus to the Flagstaff Mall on the outskirts of town.
We are on a bus sitting all in a row. The people occupying the seats facing us are all strangers to each other but it took me a while to work this out. I saw them all get on at different stops but they interact in a way that, in England, would seem improper. They were talking to each other… on public transport. The innate friendliness that makes this brand of human seem so fake, or shallow, to the likes of us unsentimental and cold bastards from England, extends way beyond what I thought was just good customer service. They do it in private too. In trying to deduce the reasons for the dissimilarities between Americans and Brits I sometimes wish I had the inductive (and not deductive as people are mistaken to believe) capabilities of that famous autistic sociopath Sherlock Holmes. But I don’t. I can only assume they were raised better than us.
A man gets on the bus. He has tattoos, baggy jeans, a pierced eyebrow, and frown lines that are shadows of many a scornful scowl. Here we go, I think, this guy will bring back some hostile normality. He takes a seat at the back of the bus, and smiles at the old guy next to him. They immediately begin to share pleasant and idle chit-chat.
Having come to no real conclusions as to the reason for their friendliness (again, not a bad thing) the man in front of me (who is white, in his 40s, and looks like a bit of a hiker) does something that must surely even be strange to Americans. He reaches into his rucksack and takes out a half empty bottle of water. He takes a sip and offers it to the Mexican woman next to him. She takes it without a word, gladly drinks about a quarter, and hands it back. She doesn’t say thank you. He puts it back in his rucksack. The exchange happens as if it is as common as a hand shake. Perhaps the hot climate here has made water a necessity that has become an openly shared thing in the community. Or maybe this is all very normal and I am a very sheltered and miserly individual that has, by ignorance of the true nature of humanity, been perpetuating a very selfish and rude persona of myself. Especially when it comes to sharing fluids. And there I was thinking I was one of the good guys.
The bus arrives at its final stop at the Flagstaff Mal. The mall is an uneventful shapeless building that is notable for only two things –
1: Meat sauce.
2: Evil automatons.
Since my parents arrived in this fine country they have been on the hunt for pâté. In England pâté on toast was one of Dad’s favourite things to have for breakfast (coming a close second I expect to a good old fashioned full English fry up. Good god I could eat one of those right now). They simply don’t have pâté here. Try to explain to a shop assistant what pâté is and they will imagine it with a grimace. “Meat that you can spread?”
“Yes. Are you sure you don’t have any?”
It does sound kind of gross now I think about it. But you’d think they would lap it up over here, they have meat every other way imaginable. Even in chocolate a we discovered earlier.
We enter the mall and find ourselves in the food court. On the right is a burger takeaway, and just past that a pizza one. On the left is a Chinese buffet takeaway and then a curry place. American, Italian, Chinese, and Indian, and all of them staffed by Mexicans. Yet, sadly, there is no Mexican food to be found anywhere. In the centre is a field of chairs and tables that are used by all the food outlets.
I order the most American thing I can find; a double cheeseburger with meat sauce. Meat sauce is sauce that is made out of meat. Need it be said? Is it nice? Kind of. Having tried a spoonful before properly tucking in I can tell you that it is like drinking a burger.
We devour and conquer our food and go for a wander. We enter the first shop and it’s as if I have entered some kind of nightmare. All around me, as I walk down the aisles, fucked-up robots jump out at me. It’s a Halloween shop. In England Halloween is a chance for kids to dress up like princesses and get some free candy. It is a sadly uneventful holiday that is getting sadder by the year. But not here. In America Halloween is a holiday with a chip on its shoulder.
The automatons react to sensors and scare the shit out of me every chance they get. Freaky dead kids with their spines arched backwards and awkwardly shaking and screeching like a demented human/crab hybrid. I step on a sensor and a horrifying monster wails to my right and I lurch out of its way in time to see a dead baby scurry up the wall. We make our way around the shop hesitantly, ready to fight back if we have to. At the back of the store I come across two halves of two babies that have been stitched together at the waist. It looks like a cat with arms for legs and a face at each end. I kick it experimentally to see if it’s programed to jump and scare the pants off me. This one at least does not spring forth and attack. The dead child on a swing next to it however does. I nearly punch the creepy little fucker in the face and run for the door. Goddamn these crazy fucking toys. My daughter would have had nightmares for the rest of her life had she been here to see this. The crappy automated witches and skeletons we get back in England are enough to terrify her. But dead babies and screaming girls in night dresses? That’s another level.
There is nothing else to tell you about Flagstaff. I can only suggest you never visit it yourself. Unless you crave the abys of boredom.
We have a BBQ when we get back to the RV. David opens the blue cheese sauce and half of it squirts out of the bottle in one fierce eruption.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I say.
He laughs and a dollop of blue cheese falls from his chin. “I didn’t do anything. It just sprayed out by itself.”
“Sure it did,” says Mum.
I crack open a beer and move the sauce away from his vicinity. “Nobody let him near the rest of the condiments.” I say, “He can’t be trusted.”
He has strong builder’s hands, my brother, and doesn’t realise the strength of his own grip. Now the silly bastard has a paddling pool of blue cheese covering his gammon and nobody to blame but himself.
I will not bore you with the rest of the day. I will only tell you that we ate, drank, and went to bed. I will however tell you about the vision that currently has me in its grasp.
You will have to trust me that what you are about to read is an honest account of what I see before me. I am hallucinating. You shouldn’t be concerned about this, it happens from time to time, normally when I’m sleeping in a strange place and occasionally at home. It’s just never been this odd before. Normally I see bugs, or birds nesting in my curtain rail, or the walls and ceiling covered in vines, or hundreds of spiders (the usual stuff) but this, this is something different. (It is happening more often recently at home for reasons I haven’t been able to determine. Maybe because I live on my own now and my subconscious gets a kick out of messing with me. Normally I switch on the light on my bedside table and whatever I’m seeing vanishes. The weekend before I flew out here the table light wouldn’t work and I had to get out of bed and navigate around two weird fucking monsters that had taken residency in my room. One was on the swivel chair at my desk, looking over the back of it at me with a small sad face lit by the moon. The other stood still at the corner of my bed with a head like a giant elastic band ball. These hallucinations don’t scare me anymore. They used to. But now I know they are only a hangover from a dream I can’t quite shake off, or wake up from, and never has one of these visions ever tried to hurt or talk to me. I have become used to them. I watch them with curiosity now. I take note of how vividly real they are. I walk around them without taking my eyes off them until I turn on the light and when I do they always vanish. It’s the trigger that finally wakes me from my conscious slumber. But one day they won’t vanish with the light. That is when the fear will come. This kind of madness is called Hypnopompia. It’s harmless fun. I have other sleeping issues too; Hypnogogia, Sleep Paralysis, lucid dreams. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have a lucid dream you’ll know just how fun this particular kind of problem can be).
But anyway, back to the current. Here I am. In the RV. Enjoying my slumber when something stirs me from my sleep. I sit up slightly. My eyes adjust to the dark and I see a figure standing in the kitchen area looking down at my sleeping brother. It, or he, I think it’s a he, is wearing a velvet suit and has the head of a cat. It puts the revolver it is holding in its paw down on the kitchen worktop and then reaches up and places his paws on his cheeks. He pauses for a moment and looks quietly down at my brother. Then he tenses his arms and lifts his head off his shoulders. He drops his head silently in the bin, takes a step back, and disappears into the shadows.
Seeing a cat remove its head serves no purpose that I can think of. There is no use in trying to find meaning here. We all have odd dreams. It’s just that sometimes they stick around after you wake up. I lie back down and close my eyes.