I'm driving on Route 80 towards the sunset, and I see the green sign that says, “Allamuchy Exit” right above the highway. I'm almost to Pennsylvania. I hate this state, but right now I just have to get away from that damn strip club, because I’ll be damned if that guy isn’t dead, and the cops will soon be looking for me.
This state is tough on me, brings back a lot of memories. When I was young, my grandparents had a house where I would be every weekend, going to swap meets in the burning sun, visiting whatever old Pennsylvania Dutch town they made into a museum. Day after day I smelled the scent of horse shit that permeates the streets there, some of which are still made of that swirling brown dust that exists only in the country. I got used to noticing when we crossed a river, and would imagine in my child's mind Yankees and Rebels fighting on the banks, charging next to the car, bounding through the woods like dear in their pursuits of each other. The rebels always won.
They are both gone now; one dead and in the ground, the other's heart as stony as those bottom of the Delaware that I was passing over. Memories still haunt me; there are always ghosts standing guard, eyes burning a special brand of red when they see me coming. When I smell horse shit now, it no longer smells like home... it smells like fucking Judas-in-the-ice-Satan’s-wings-burning-for-eternity hell, and if I inhale too much of it will suffocate me and I will drown slowly.
I always wondered why Pennsylvania has a toll getting into their state; there's nothing there, so why do I have to pay seventy five cents to see it? The Delaware is low and wide, as it normally is during these massively hot days in August, and I can see the bottom of the river shake through water so clear that it shimmers like a piece of ceran wrap. This bridge is maybe fifty or a hundred feet up... if I jumped, would I live? Or would I crash upon those old rocks and break myself into pieces, and have my teeth float down and end up in Delaware Bay? See here I go, getting all philosophical and shit. It is a curse, one that I’ve just attributed to having an overactive mind. But see, again, I know what you’re thinking already. This guy, this fucking guy, can think like that?
Sometimes you regular folks mistake “not caring” for “not understanding.” People like me, we can appreciate stupid, cornily beautiful things just as much as you, be it an auburn sunset over the mountains to a single green stalk of life raging it’s way through the concrete. We just look at it differently is all. We see the hope, we see the great fight for life- don‘t underestimate us. It’s just that at the same time we see the world for what it is- a cruel, vicious place that will kick you in the teeth when you are down. We see the beauty and all that, of course, but we also refuse to be the ones who’s teeth get kicked in.
I’m am awfully articulate for being such a piece of shit. Don’t let the movies fool you; there’s plenty of smart people out there that never went to college but still read books once in a while, and some of us can even sound educated when we want to. But don’t let that make you think that we’re not still lowlifes. Reciting Shakespeare while you kill isn’t any more noble than reciting Roadhouse.
I know you’re wondering if I feel bad about the guy at the strip club. The honest answer is that it depends on whether he’s dead or not. If he’s not dead, then no, I don’t feel bad. He was a sucker who got caught in the middle of me trying to stay alive and that stripper trying to make some extra dough. That’s capitalism baby- knock out who you can and take what you need. It’s the American way.
Now, if he’s dead, then the story might change. Then, I just killed some mother’s son, and maybe some poor wife’s unfaithful husband. Some kid is going to wake up tomorrow with a dead father, and it’s likely that this kid will end up as fucked up as his old man just because of the two seconds that I saw a knife flash in the dark night. If nothing else, this doesn’t help me sleep at night. These are the things that I can’t think about, the things that I have to push out of my head and attribute to my war for survival. One day, God will come for me. I know this. But I hope it ain’t today.
I pull off of 80 and into the blackness that blankets the countryside. In five minutes I’m on some backwoods road that no one has seen since 1916 and I grab the bag from underneath the seat. The white powder cascades down the sides of the clear plastic like a Guinness when it‘s poured right. I cut a little line out on the center console, and though the plastic makes it a pain in the ass, I snort it and my head shoots up and my eyes are huge and ready and I’ve already forgotten what I did and how I got here.
I've been driving all night into the sunrise, and my eyes are beginning to shut involuntarily even as the light pounds their lids. I pull over at the nearest hotel, which is about ten minutes south of 80. The haggard woman at the counter gives me my key, and the room is 222. Second floor, left hand side. I drag my sorry ass in there and collapse onto the maroon comforter of the twin bed that hasn’t been washed since Pearl Harbor. I sleep soundly for thirteen hours.
I awake with a jump, startled by some dream that I can’t remember. For a second I am entirely disorientated, like when you wake up staring at a ceiling that isn’t yours after a night of hard drinking. I shake my head quickly while falling back onto the pillow, my hands wiping my eyes clear of the fog. I glance at the alarm clock. 10:00. I need food. I get up, a mess of coughing lungs and heavy conscience. Why can’t I sweep this under the rug? I’ve killed before. My conscience always hits hardest when I’m hungover. When I’m sober, I can rationalize things, take life one shot at a time and roll with it. When I’ve been drinking, I forget all my problems. When I’m hungover, I just feel guilty. There’s been times that I felt like offing myself after a night of drinking even though I know nothing bad happened last night. The sins of the past, though, they crowd upon me and hold my head under the water, there lithe fingers strengthened with hatred and anger.
I wander down the staircase with it’s white paint chipping and flaking off and head to the front desk.
“Where’s the nearest diner?”
“About three miles west. You’ll see signs.” The haggard broad has her perennially annoyed face on. I hate her immediately.
“Alright. What about a bar?”
“Same road, another mile at the intersection. Ask the people at the diner.”
“Thank you kindly.” I fake like I’m tipping my hat to her, and, while I really want to give her the finger, I bite my tongue and my wit and walk out the glass doors and into the cool night.
I light a cigarette, and am caught off guard by the amount of stars out here. It’s not something you would think about, especially coming from where I come from in Jersey. But it’s kind of like how some city people can’t sleep when it’s too quiet out- I can’t walk when there’s too many stars. Sometimes, amongst the city lights and sirens, I forget all that’s out there.
I follow the directions she gave me, and they lead me to a low brown building that lies on the side of the road with a lit up sign that says, "Food, Coffee, Cigarettes" written in red script. There's a line of bikes outside, along with maybe three or four other cars, two of which are minivans, both of them a maroon color. One has a "Baby on Board" sign in the window.
Taking a seat inside, I light another cigarette, silently thanking God that the Democrats haven’t made Pennsylvania into a pussy state yet by banning smoking indoors. My mind rolls like a gyre as I stare out the window into the lot that is lit by a few small bulbs. Is that motherfucker dead? How far do I have to run? If he isn’t dead, I get assault, possibly assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder, depending on which way the broad goes. If I she says she never saw me, then I’m good. If she already rolled, then I’m fucked and I’ve just got to roll with it. Fuck, there’s not any fucking money for an attorney, I’m damn near dead broke except for the little that’s in my account, and that-
She scares the shit out of me. Whoops. A scowl decorates her face, like she has been standing there for a while and has something better to do besides wait on me. I know she doesn't.
“Coffee," I say.
“No food?” she asks. I look at her. She is ugly, with matted brown hair and fucked up teeth. I don't know how these rednecks get so damn ugly... although I bet it's probably the same process that makes most rich families beautiful- they breed the ugly out. It's kind of Aryan, if you think about it, just in reverse.
“No. No food. If I want food, though, you’ll be the first person I tell.”
I know she’s going to spit in my coffee now, but fuck her. I look out the window again, and see the bikers smoking cigarettes by the line of Harleys. I don't know how they got out there without me seeing them, but they look like hell, most of them just wearing the colors and no shirt, which gives them that rugged look of guys who haven’t showered in a couple weeks and don’t give two shits. Most of them are smoking cigarettes, and half of them are drinking beer in open view of the road.
I see man walk towards the door, leading the way for his wife and kid. She is wearing black pants and a pink tank top, and she has a perfect ass and I can just see the trouble lining up right here. As soon as they enter the night, it becomes abundantly clear that the wife has made the mistake of being gorgeous and blonde, and this has attracted the wrong kind of attention.
The bikers swagger over towards her, and I can see their mouths moving. The husband is getting nervous, and he should be. As the bikers talk, they begin to circle the couple, and now these poor folks are caught in something that is going to get very out of hand very quickly. One of them grabs the husband firmly with a hand on his shoulder, and begins snaking between him and his wife. The man's eyes remind me of my golden retriever’s when she knew she was about to get a bath.
There’s too many of them, and he’s getting pulled away and the rest quickly close in on her. The little kid is starting to cry, and the wife is getting extremely upset, and all I can think about is how I wish I had a fucking shotgun and how I’d blow every one of their heads apart for screwing with this woman like that. I’ve always had a soft spot for women even though I hate them, and right now I feel like I’m watching one of those old horror movies where too many girls die in too many gruesome ways and that sick feeling wells up inside of me. How much of a hypocrite am I, huh? I can’t watch this shit, but I can pull the crap I’ve done. I guess it’s like my mother always said about me having a heart… it will be your worst strength and your greatest downfall.
The kid is wailing now, and the guy is either too smart or too cowardly to really put up much of a fight. I’m considering getting up and going outside to try and break this shit up, but I’m not in the mood to get the shit kicked out of me.
I put the cigarette out, and there is a war going on inside me, because I cannot watch whatever is about to happen happen, but I am powerless against twenty of them. My eyes tear involuntarily as they always do, but as I'm about to stand up, I see a man intently walking from the end of the parking lot. He's a big man who walks with his head down, and he's got on a black cowboy hat that makes him look like a riverboat gambler. He’s got his hands in the pockets of his jacket, this man is somehow dangerous.
He nears one the bikers, and I see a badge flash from his left hand while he pulls a gun out with his right. He’s pointing at the guy, not overtly aggressive but firmly. He motions to the gun with his head, and points between the outlaw’s eyes. There is a moment of tension as they stare at each other, and I back away from the window.
Suddenly the biker laughs, and waves his hand in the air. He puts his arm around this... cop, and starts yelling to the other bikers. They release the guy, and the woman and child are left alone long enough to get the hell out of there and into their car. The minivan speeds off with screeching tires, and the cop turns and begins walking towards the road where he came from. His head is low again, and he’s not nearly as proud of himself as I would be if I just faced down a bunch of bikers. For a second I wonder if he’s thinking about what would have happened if he hadn't been there, and why such terrible things happen in this world that good men like him have to stop... but then I think that he's just thanking god nothing happened, because they'd have killed him too, as soon as look at him.
I look down. My coffee is cold.
I walk out and look at the strips on the pavement from where the bikers burned out when they left the diner empty handed and mighty pissed. I hope a trailer jackknifes in front of them and they all die in a gas fire, burning slowly in flaming puddles.