‘With great power must also come – great responsibility!’
Well, shit. I’ve just quoted Spiderman. But just between you and me and whoever else may be out there – Kryptons and others, it seems – perhaps Jerry Siegel took the above Stan Lee quote and ran it straight to the gym. I mean, come on, look at them pecs. I’d imagine that Henry Cavill – I mean, Superman, I mean, Clark, shit! Kal-El, whatever his name is anyways – needed custom tailoring for even the baggiest of shirts for the filming of this two plus hour homage to physical perfection. Superman with his shirt off, Superman in a chesty t-shirt, Superman in a form-fitting uniform … it’s exhausting to watch. Those things strapped to his chest are more barrel than brawn, more brawn than brass, all thick corded muscle and hair. I’m not gay but, come on, nobody’s that straight, either.
It’s tough, man. Tough for me, tough for you. I want to Dear Superman him; ask the guy what he eats when he chooses to eat. You know – is it all protein and vegetables, or do you mix it up with some carbs in your weak moments? Have you ever had a drop of alcohol, or a taste of chocolate? Can you even taste chocolate? How much do you bench press? Where do you workout? Is there a ‘first week free’ option, or do I have to join the gym before I can flick sweat around on the same equipment you use?
The questions could go on and on and on. Superman should start a FAQ Blog, write a book, and give us Regular Joes some tips. I’ve never thought him selfish … the man does save the world on occasion … but he is awfully close-lipped with his workout regime.
So open up, Superman! When did you start pumping the iron? Don’t tell me you’d never worked a sweat before the whole ‘school bus incident.’ Share with us. Lois shouldn’t be the only one to get the inside scoop. Live a little! Let us connect, give us a look at the day-to-day routine … and pay special attention in describing when you work in that time to pick up those weights and put them back down. Inquiring minds – mine especially – want to know.
But that’s just what I think.
Christ, I don’t know … confessions from a megalomaniac: I always grew up hating Superman. Come on – the guy has an unfair advantage over everything. Oh? Pickle jar stuck? That’s fine – SNAP – enjoy your pickles, ma’am. It’s not fair. Like putting a pre-cannibalistic Mike Tyson in the ring with DJ Qualls (that skinny guy from Road Trip) and telling them to fight it out.
Tyson wins every time … and the pickle jar loses. Wham, bam, thank you madam. Earth is saved and is allowed to continue spinning on its axis.
Superman. What a stud, and yet, it weighs on the young youth of today. This idea that there may be aliens in our midst, aliens that not only have the power to fly, shoot lasers from their eyeballs, repel bullets, keep oil rigs from collapsing on helicopters, and save the fate of humanity on a regular, selfless basis … but can also – by the sheer mass of them alone – cause the Earth to orbit around their superhuman nipple hair. How frustrating for us humans, us lowly individuals forced to suffer through our Body Pump classes at the gym – us sweaty workout buffs who can’t help but check out our reflections in the street window while passing through town – knowing that there is a race –an entire planet of people – born into such bodies.
So to us men I say this: Why even try? Let’s go eat some macaroni and cheese and fried corn instead. There’s no use, no sense in the efforts … together let’s be fat and flabby and loving life because the codex himself – that buff bro with the strong jaw-line, this beacon of masculinity – can come and pull us off the john when we get stuck. And to the women? Keep dreaming, and if you want to set a date with the man, he’ll schedule you in the event of some disaster. Perhaps tossing yourself out of an economy airplane while it’s at cruising altitude will land you right where you want to be – cradled between those ham haunches he calls arms. Saving humanity, one life at a time … it’s in his contract or something.
So all together! Let’s have another beer! And let’s toast this man, this Superman, and all of his physical accomplishments. I’ve given up the pursuit of physical perfection … not that it was ever manifest before the Man of Steel … and have chosen a new direction – a less demanding route, one that leads to the refrigerator more than the gym.
Because somewhere out there, somewhere in this great universe of ours, there’s a man with great power, with great responsibility. A man who can save the world, one pectoral at a time.
And that man, ladies and gentlemen, is not me.
Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment?
Let me be the first, respectfully, to twist this topic into a more manageable direction. Variables – those fickle kinks to the cogs – make any sensible explanation to this broad, indiscriminate question almost impossible when considering the 800 word limit. I can try … so first let me give it a shot.
Question: ‘Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment?’
Answer: ‘I don’t know.’
And there you have it! I don’t know. And rather than spend the next ten minutes defending a position on shaky ground – with the rocks tumbling about and limbs cracking in the storm – I state unequivocally that I haven’t the foggiest if your average trail race (whatever that may be) results in unnecessary, malevolent damage to its immediate surroundings.
Now let me explain why I don’t know: there are all sorts of trail races. Big ones, small ones … 100 mile ultra marathons through the Rocky Mountains and 5k tromps in the woods behind the local elementary school … we’re talking Dr. Seuss here: one, two, red, blue – in this day trail races are trending faster than naked photo shoots while straddling a large piece of construction equipment. Trending, what an amusing concept. And yet it’s pertinent for this discussion.
Why, you ask? Google ‘trail race 2014’ and see what happens. Go on, do it. It’s dizzying, isn’t it? A veritable smorgasbord of racing options in the coming year awaits the trail minded individual.
The logical question following such a realization is, of course, what?
What is the money going towards?
That’s right – where does the money flow? Into the pockets of the race directors? To charity? If so, what charity and how much? How about this: how much is going towards local conservation efforts?
Boom. Dynamite. Let’s blow the doors off and dig deeper. Local conservation efforts, now there’s an idea … a bit of honey to sweeten the damage done because of the race – because of the hundreds of feet stamping along the single-track of the cherished woods – and then all the wrongs of the race is fended, mended, and perhaps (dare I say it?) amended. So what? Well, what if this is a successful race? What if you’re getting more entries each year? Then you’re raising awareness and bringing in additional monies to pay for these conservation projects.
And that, dear readers, results in a positive return to the environment. Simple as that. But perhaps this is just a pipe dream – something to wake up to, hanging on my ceiling above, staring back with its pale, glimmering eyes – this idea of a positive feedback loop … a recurrent tract that not only brings outdoor enthusiasts to the starting line, that not only raises awareness in the surrounding community … but also actively participates in nature conservancy to repair any damages wrought from racing.
There’s hope. Hope for you, me, and the trees. Hope that we can one day, together, as a community, makes these trail races – all four hundred a year and counting – events that reap beneficial impacts to the surrounding environment. For as our renewable energies are moving to not just a zero impact industry but rather a positive impact (i.e. - providing energy back) we as a running community must move towards leaving constructive impacts on our trails so the surrounding habitat remains as healthy and vibrant as the day the race was conceived.
And if we can do this – unite together under a bond of conservation – then I’ll have a more concrete answer to this question of ‘Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment?’
The answer, of course, would be no.
There are those defining days – those days when the universe is pristine, and a divine sense of being forms concrete as the world spins on its perfect little axis – that shape you.
These are the days – these defining days – that you remember the finest detail, the splash of red against the swallow’s breast as she fled the woods where which you ran, burned into memory. Here are the days that you consider for a lifetime, a hundred years and more, this day of adventure.
And this day – this unforgettable day – for your lonesome author and his Father? June 23rd, 2013 … our shot at the Maroon Bells Four Pass Run.
* * * * * * *
Now, let’s be honest here, one friend to another – I am in no shape for this particular 28 mile extravaganza, this dizzying affair that will slip Pops and I up and over four passes sitting right at 12,500 feet above sea level. I, mistakes learned, chose to drink my way through the senior semester of college. Miles logged at the bar instead of the trail.
And thus I arrive in the quiet city of Aspen with my family – Father, Mother, and Marie – with a good bit of hesitation, body unsure of the coming venture.
Pops, of course, is in killer shape – fifty and spry, thin as a bristle and ready to climb baby climb in preparation for the infamous Leadville Trail 100 Run. This is shaping into a tale of two experiences.
But I swallow the trepidation and suck in the belly roll and walk around the chill town with hands shoved into my pockets, pockets shoved into my pants. Aspen is cold! Where in the world are we, four southerners from the humble state of North Carolina, tiptoeing through this memorialized town? I keep replaying scenes from Dumb & Dumber in my head, of a bucktooth Lloyd telling straw-haired Harry about this magical mountain escape: ‘I’ll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Aspen.’
Lloyd struck out, and I am shivering with no beer fountain and certainly without the harem of women jumping upstream to cling to my pants. And to top it off? We’ve just been told there was no way José the four passes are passable.
Pause for a moment.
What do you mean, it can’t be done?
We are buying energy gels at Ute Mountaineer, and the cashier looks at Pops and I as if we’ve been disemboweled by rabid hyenas after we’d struck up conversation about Maroon Bells. ‘It can’t be done. Chest high snow along the back three passes. We had a hiker up there last week that had to turn around at Buckskin Pass. I don’t want to even think about Trail Rider or Frigid Air.’
Oh snap. We’d just flown halfway across the nation to be told that, well, oopsie poopsie but there’s a shelf of snow keeping you from crossing over to Snowmass Lake? So sorry but check back in late July.
It seems that weather here plays by its own game.
But never fret! We’re hardy folk, us Carolinians … at least, my Father is and he happens to be the one calling the shots. It is decided over dinner to completely disregard the Ute employee and all of her professional expertise and attempt the passes come hell or high, impassible snow. I drink two thick Guinness and watch the cheese on my meaty macaroni bubble and burst atop hot noodles, contemplating the nature of thermodynamic heat transfer. Perhaps if I carried a cauldron of hot cheese to Buckskin and proceeded to pour the contents of this molten vat atop the snow – as one may do a plate of nachos – I would be at the very least afforded a look upon the famous Snowmass Lake?
Of course, the passes being blocked may prove better for one’s general health … there is far smaller chance of my broken body keeling over somewhere in the boonies between Frigid Air and West Maroon Pass, or of my slipping off the narrow pebbly trail along the backside of Trail Rider Pass to plummet down the steepened slope, coming to rest only when I’ve crunched up against a boulder way, way down. Ah, but such thoughts are no fun for consideration, and do little to ease the mind. Better instead to focus on the positive, to repeat a mantra, to grow a bit through the worries.
We’re here, dammit. We’re here and we’re going out there to at least venture the trail and despite my hesitation, despite all I’ve bemoaned, I want this run as bad as Pops – for him to guide me through as we lift each other up and over the snowy slopes. This will be our day, our mountains, and the Rockies shall shake at our ascent.
But maybe that’s just the beer talking.
Regardless, I’m emboldened heading back to the hotel, ready to check in and just as the night is taking hold over the town. Spirits within the ranks are high and I fall asleep early …
… And wake to Father rustling about the room, muttering to himself. A packet of GU slaps my face, thrown from across the room. ‘Get up!’ he said. ‘It’s almost dawn!’
Oh my. What a wakeup call. A quick dress, a bagel for breakfast, one last check of the equipment – three liters of water tucked into a small pack, four Honey Stingers, two sticks of elk jerky, two packets of Perpetuem, a water purifier, and a camera. Socks are up and shoes are on. Let’s boogie.
And so we go, the four of us, headed to the mystery. Who knows what the day will bring? Disappointment and defeat? Trial and retreat? Or perhaps – just maybe – the trail complete?
Us four roll to the park gates and into White River National Forest. I hear the bells toll. Our trial of trail has begun.
We pull up, park, and step out at Maroon Lake. I’m bowled by the beauty of the day. Gaw! Look at this! Mountains! Pines! Aspens up the hills, snow in the shade, and the steel blue waters sitting placid, watching our arrival. I squirm and shout, unable to contain the rustling that’d welled from chest to throat.
Marie and Mom (who are well prepared for their day with plans to hike to Buckskin and back … we hope to all be finishing around dusk) take pictures of us pre-run, a skinny short-haired Father and his skinnyish short-haired Son, and then we’re off, passing Maroon Lake, headed to Crater Lake and then Buckskin Pass, where we’ll find out the day’s fate.
We start slow, each considering the various complexities of the surrounding wilderness. I find thoughts venturing to my equipment, where I’m encumbered by my pack. Straps slap my chin as the bag bounces on my back and I wonder the consequences of shrugging off the bag and continuing upwards without.
Climbing steadily to Crater Lake breath grows heavy, bordering on ragged. We pass few, a couple here with their shaggy black Collie, a woman wearing all neon, all pink clicking along with her hiking poles against the rocky trail. They give us looks as we pass, a man and son hopping ponderously from stone to stone in the morning’s sun. The crisp air turns warm and I shed a layer. We continue up, not so much passing Crater Lake as skirting diagonally from it as we take to the switchbacks, stopping when afforded a view of the shrunken mass. From our height it looks more puddle than pond, more pond than lake. Yet names are names and Idon;t consider it further. There’s not enough oxygen in my brain for such thoughts.
We stop after an hour and eat a caramel waffle. Mmm. I catch my breath and chew, crumbs sticking to lips and mustache. Pops gives me a sidelong glance. ‘What do you think?’
I shake my head, unable to answer him. The words of this narrow-minded hillbilly bumpkin would only serve to sully the beauty laid before us.
Up we continue to Buckskin, drawing above the tree line and into marmot territory. Four of the eleven I spy today are on the ascent to Buckskin – which looms menacingly above, white and dense with snow. They’re furry little critters, not unlike the gopher from Caddyshack. I find myself humming Kenny Loggins in tune to my steps. Fuzzy eyes watch me from fuzzy bodies atop exposed boulders a hundred feet above. I attempt a picture but am rewarded just a blurry shot that could just as well portray yeti’s offspring as it could a bounding marmot.
Buckskin Pass is not chest high with snow. It is, in fact, devoid of snow. A hundred feet to the left, however, is an impressive icy shelf that’s poised to melt and fall as summer takes hold in the Rockies. I hold my arms to the whipping wind and holler, feeling alive. Pops smiles, catches his breath, and points my gaze further along the trail, to Snowmass Lake, sitting tucked between pine forest and mountain. ‘That’s where we’re going,’ he shouted over the wind. ‘About three miles!’ Bring it.
Down we go, giving up in two miles all that we’d worked to climb.
And thus is the theme for our day – climb and fall, sit and see, eat and think. We talk, my Father and I, about life and plans for the future. Ideas surface and sink, wants bursting over needs, dreams rising with altitude. If this is life then I want more of it. Adventure in the purest – uncut, unadulterated, a full blown adrenaline shot to the main vein – is adventure shared, and we continue along this trail from pass to pass, holding apprehension with each climb.
There are harrowing moments – a scramble over, aha, chest high snow atop Frigid Air, a slow trek on slick ice cutting across our trail on the front side of Trail Rider, and romp from drift to drift descending from West Maroon – but we win each pass.
I like to think that the marmots cheer us on, those cuddly creatures with their brown paws and fluffy faces. Our audience of rodents. I find them entertaining, reassuring. Where there are marmots there is hope – hope for this run and for my future, a future so unsure I know not where the next month lead.
And this day, this chill June day, I know where my steps lead. Down from West Maroon Pass to Crater Lake, Crater Lake to Maroon Lake, Maroon Lake to home. Home to the lives we’d left on the east coast – home to the fleas of Chapel Hill, the greens of summer in the Carolina hills, and the baggage of the tethered life.
Yet there is excitement, a sense gained at hour eleven, mile 27, as Pops and I pound the rocks down into Maroon Lake, back to Marie and Mother. A sense of knowledge, a gap filled with the experiences of the day – the simple knowing of the blues and greens and browns of this mountain trail, the realization that there is more to life than the walls of home, that somewhere there are dizzying heights hiding fields of yellow flowers where little marmot houses of rock and earth sit and stand in winter and spring.
There is more than work, more than the comforts of security, more than the norms of society. There are wonders yet to behold, feelings yet to rock the foundations as this day in Maroon Bells rocked me, snowy passes be damned. The marmots guided us through, our hairy friends. They kept the trail clean ahead and the cold far behind as Pops and I ran and considered the wonders about.
Of mountains and marmots, this is the story of Maroon Bells. Peaks and passes guarded by these lonesome critters, allowing passage for a Father taking his Son on a run in the bright light of a June day.
Let’s go corporate, Pal, you and me.
Let’s pursue a life with limited liability.
We’ll make others slave and sweat and work and paw,
We’ll make others scratch and sniff and hem and haw.
We’ll take some chances but not more than a few,
And keep our monies better than any Jew.
Whoa! Come on now Buddy, let’s be PC!
Lest the HR department comes after me.
Are you crazy Pal? We’re upper management bro,
Who cares about the workers, this is the shareholder show.
Sure we’ll work some long hours and late nights
But that’s what it’s worth keep the margins away from tight.
Slow down here Buddy! We’re moving too fast!
There’s lots more to cover if we’re to cover our ass!
There’s lots more to a business than you’re letting on!
So stop shaking your pecker and get off the john.
We’ve got to talk dress code and color schemes …
Right now I’m thinking brown and blue and green.
What about social media? Tweetly Dee and Tweetly Dum?
How can we make our staff rallies a little more fun?
We’ve got to have coffee on hand,
And keep our taxation on hold.
We’ve got to keep perception high,
And make our management bold!
We can’t cut corners! Well, maybe a couple.
Like our desk chairs – they needn’t be supple.
We should hire employees with a longer commute
Studies show those ones are extra stressed, extra brute.
I’m all for going corporate, Buddy. You know me -
Those bonuses are the key to keeping me lean
Time to spend biking or on the slopes
Six packs from fat, fat stacks of notes
That’s what I’m saying Pal! Let’s do it big
And for God’s sakes, get rid of your secretary pig.
She scares me … let’s get a skinny minx.
You know - young and fit, poised like a sphinx.
But still a nice rack, Buddy?
Like, I’m asking ‘Hubby hubby?’
Pal, we’re talking double D!
Pillows so nice it’d make you scream!
Well that’s more like it! Consider this business a go!
Let’s spread the word and let the consumer public know!
Let them know that we’ve made a decision bold and great,
Our decision, our decision to incorporate.
Written in Summer 2012, when I was just coming to grips with my current trajectory …
“Is this reality?”
Wes Fargo didn’t exactly know how to answer this question. His inability to answer was partially due to the fact that the man asking this question, David Tosh, was currently two hours into a psychedelic trip of mushrooms. This would make any serious response improbable, especially because Tosh would be spending the next six hours walking the fraternity halls in a naked delirium. But Wes’s lack of a response was inevitable, because he couldn’t have honestly answered this question had it been asked in an entirely sober situation.
As a senior two days removed from graduation at the University, one would have hoped that Wes would maybe have a more definite answer for such inane questions. A logical response would have been, “Of course! After two months off from school, I’ll enroll in grad school at Columbia, get my master’s degree, find a beautiful wife, buy a house, get my PhD, have two children named Annabel Smith and Jameson Sutter, teach at the local university and do independent research on the side, and grow into retirement a happy man. Is that what you meant by reality?” Maybe even “Sure, Toshie, this is reality, but I am still looking for an escape. Are you sharing the rest of your stuff?” Or, how about, “What do you think you high baller? Why don’t you just go to sleep? Or would you rather keep asking me stupid, insignificant nubbins?”
Those would have worked fine, considering the circumstances. But Wes chose not to answer. Instead, he drained his beer, left the party, and went for a walk on that curiously cold May night. Usually, the weather that time of the year for any normal environment is somewhere around low 60’s, but as every native Carolinian knows, there is no conceivable way to predict the weather, even for the following day. It could be forty degrees or it could be eighty. Wes’s mother always used to joke that “North Carolina is the only place where you can get all four seasons in one week!” She was right, per usual.
And so on this curiously cold May night Wes walked and thought, and thought and walked, all the time considering ‘reality.’ The trails snaked around the University’s campus, almost forming a barrier between the neighboring townie community and the campus activities. Wes knew all of these trails from four years of running daily. The runs provided him with a means of escape from the struggles of a short life that hadn’t quite spun the way the yarn predicted. What had happened to the time? The friendships left behind? The knowledge crammed in hours before a test, only to be dumped out hours afterwards in an attempt to make room for the next round of assessments? What had happened to his faith? His ideals? His dreams entering a four year university deemed “the public ivy?” Had he matured intellectually? Arguably. Socially? Certainly. Emotionally? Doubtful.
So, was this reality? That seemed to currently be his most pertinent question, and as Wes was feeling slightly buzzed from a frat party, him with one foot falling in front of the other on this dark, curiously cold May night, on trails hardened by the impact of step after step, why not think deeply for once? He had never really thought of himself as an intellectual … but tonight seemed a good night to start.
What is reality? Wes had never thought of college as ‘real,’ but more of an awkward stage slammed between youth and manhood, an ideal situation placed upon a pedestal by parents looking for their children to hitch up their britches and make something out of themselves. College is the imperative, the MUST for any youth wanting to not live at home, not wanting to work at the local McDonald’s, and not wanting to Skype with college friends living a happier, richer lifestyle. It’s what is branded into the minds of every child from the ripe age of six: “Go to college, and you will be happy.”
Why? Because college is a spring board into adulthood. Get that degree, and you’ve got a job. If you’ve got a job, then you’re going to be happy. Period. It seems simple enough. So the question was “Why wasn’t Wes happy?” He had jumped through all of the hoops, made all of the grades, majored with the intent to cash large checks, but he still was unsatisfied.
Depression wasn’t an adequate solution to his problem. That would have been too easy, like attempting to shove a square into a circled hole. The feelings would still be there, regardless of how hard one attempted to make it work. And to Wes, that seemed to be the fundamental problem with college.
In an attempt to accommodate all 16,458 undergraduate students, the university is forced to place some students where they don’t want to be, whether by the weed-eater classes like Chemistry 101 and Two-Variable Calculus, or by poor academic advisors who scheduled too many appointments for one day. Maybe it’s by social pressures bearing upon the backs of these young and impressionable students, whispering nasty phrases of “English? What good is English? Is it practical today? No. Do you know what’s practical? Computer programming,” or “Yes, yes, yes. Biology major is a great step towards pre-med,” and “The business school is fantastic, but an economics double major looks even better. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To stand out?”
It’s not fair to say that Wes was denied the pursuit of his dreams, but it is safe to say that college inhibited his quest “to change the world.” Wes had no problem thinking this, because he reasoned that it happens to every single student, starting the moment they step onto campus. The opportunities to grow and expand as an individual, to explore new thoughts, to pursue new experiences, well … they get overwhelming. There is so much going on that it can be hard to remember why one goes to college to begin with. It’s not for the parties, or the sex, or the drugs, but for an opportunity to figure out what makes you tick. It’s what really gets you revved up and excited for classes. It’s what brings you to office hours, to the library, to a community of like-minded individuals. That thirst for knowledge outweighs any worries about GPA or what comes after graduation date.
And, unfortunately, it’s what Wes missed in four years at this “public ivy league university.” Not to say that he wasn’t looking at a promising future: Columbia University, then the bar exam, followed by the opening of his own practice. But was he going to be happy?
That seemed to be a corollary in his search for the answer to reality. Can Wes be happy in this reality that he has carved for himself? The feelings could be repressed. The emotions … internalized. But deep down, in the pit of his stomach, it seemed unlikely.
That chilling thought jarred Wes from his musings. It was getting very cold now, and his buzz was wearing off. The trail had ended and light led past the football stadium and back to campus, but Wes stood there, breathing in the crisp air. A wind rustled the budding leaves. What am I doing with my life?
Written the night before my Spring 2012 Differential Equations Final Exam … and this story hasn’t been pursued since. Perhaps one day we’ll hear more from the Mushroom Folk, but for now you’ll have to enjoy the first chapter.
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?”
1302: Ezra-Windors, part 1
The first time Damien Wolfbane died he was too far from the Vast Chasm to be sent to “the next life.” So, they held a secret funeral in the woods on the far reaches of the Land of Light, out of the eyes of the Masters and the rest of society. Damien had never been a popular man and the burial went without incident. On the twenty-second hour of the twenty-second day of June, year 1302, Damien Wolfbane was lowered into the ground with four strong hands— Sander Gorgontail and Walker Castlerock laid him to rest while the sister, Demarien Wolfbane, watched in silence.
If the Masters were to find out all individuals involved – including Damien – would have been offered to the Land of Dark within a fortnight. In the blackness they would have arrived to steal the lives of the three who laid Damien to rest. But no one in the village of Ezra took notice of Damien’s death and if they did no one asked questions in fear of their answer and thus, neither the sister nor the friends were caught in the woods as they put Damien Wolfbane into the ground.
That night they remembered the brief life of Damien Wolfbane and discussed the manner of his death. The poor man (and he was a poor man in every sense of the word - destitute and without luck) had been victim to a mighty fall along the cliffs of Ezra-Windors, where one may say that the world ends.
It was inevitable, they said. The man foraged for the mushrooms growing on the cliff face … and with the suspect rope and harness purchased from the drifter six fortnights ago it was only a matter of time until the carabineer snapped and sent one of the three, Damien, Sander, or Walker, to their death four hundred feet below.
But it was the only way to survive, they argued. The farming industry had long run its course in the town of Ezra, and the barren fields along the Cobble Highway leading to and from the village served as a reminder to Ezra’s citizens that while the Land of Light is the fertile half of the world (but is it really half of the world? Walker asked Demarien), it can still be an impossible place to live.
They said that the real miracle is that we were able to retrieve Damien’s body. When Sander heard the snap and felt the rope go slack he assumed the worst and rushed to the edge of the cliff. Damien’s broken body was just a red dot of ink on a grey sheet of stone. He called to Walker and Demarien who were slicing the mushrooms in the woods not far from where Damien would be buried. They noted the hysteria in Sander’s voice and dropped their knives, coming to see just what had happened. Walker took charge from there. He ran along the cliff of Ezra-Windors, through the woods of Ezra to their cabin bordering the woods and the back edge of town. There he gathered the entirety of their rope, slung it around his shoulders and set off at a daunting pace through the woods of Ezra and back along the cliff of Ezra-Windors until he reached Sander and Demarien once again.
The only difference from when he had left was that the red dot of Damien had become a red blotch on the grey below. They tied the rope together, wrapped one end twice around the oak tree standing lonesome on the bluffs, and threw the other end down the side of the cliff. The tail of the rope just reached where Damien lay. Up came the rope and after a brief, violent discussion about who was going down Sander fashioned a rough harness around the legs of Walker. The descent took thirty minutes, with Sander using his belay knowledge from years of climbing to safely repel Walker down the cliff.
Walker gave Sander five minutes to rest before tugging the rope to signal his wish to ascend with Damien. Demarien helped this time, and after two hours Sander’s brown hair was seen above the “edge of infinity,” as the locals called the edge of the cliff. As the rest of Sander’s body came into view Demarien gasped—her friend was red from the blood of her brother. Damien had been tied to the rope and then slung across Sander’s back, not unlike how Sander carried the rope from the cabin to the cliff face.
Damien’s skull was caved in and where his left eye was once blue it now was a pulpy red. He enjoyed no right eye. His left thigh bone had broken the skin and his cotton pants … the splintered bone now visible when he was laid flat. As for his arms they were bent in all the wrong directions and his back was more than shattered— it had collapsed, leaving a once strong man broken and hideous.
Demarien cried. Sander stared. Walker walked behind the lone oak tree on the edge of infinity and vomited. After much debating and at the insistence of Demarien, Walker and Sander dragged the body into the woods and hid it under a pile of rotting leaves to wait for night to fall. If this were normal circumstances and we were normal folk, they said, we would have had to call into the Offices of the Masters to report the death. But that would have required another trek through the woods of Ezra and a walk into town, where only Sander was permitted to walk. The rest of the group— Damein, Demarien, and Walker— were merely known as the “Mushroom Folk.” While the town of Ezra focused on the cultivation of sheep, these four were outcasts for lack of land and questionable methods of obtaining their mushrooms. Some residents of Ezra argued that Demarien was a witch, using her three men as sexual accomplices as she conjured the sweet mushrooms from their sins of the flesh. The Mushroom Folk’s counterarguments went unheeded by such strong headed accusers … the cliffs of Ezra-Windors had been unoccupied for countless years past, ever since the Year of Reckoning. Mushroom Folk foraging on the cliff face? Preposterous.
The village tsar, Tsar Waith, had once proclaimed the Mushroom Folk as “vagabonds within our city” and instructed them to appoint one member of their group to trade in the village. Sander was chosen for his easy smile and had been their emissary ever since.
And so Damien lay under the pile of rotting leaves until the nightfall. Walker and Demarien continued cutting mushrooms; Sander busied himself by winding the rope that had been used to retrieve Damein. They left the cliffs at dusk and returned to their cabin in time for Sander to clean himself and venture into town to trade at the night market. They made no more mention of the death, but when Sander returned on the twentieth hour of the twenty-second of June of the year 1302, they returned to the cliff with a shovel and uncovered Damien, dragging him into the woods of Ezra. An hour later Damien’s body was in the ground with no marker to memorialize his burial. It was safer that way, they said. Safer for Damien and safer for us.
And that was that.
The next day they returned to the cliffs to forage for mushrooms, returning to the lone oak tree next to the edge of infinity. Only once did they look into the woods where Damien lay. Only once did Sander sigh and only once did Demarien let out a strangled sob caught in the top of her throat. Walker said nothing the entirety of the day except for when he volunteered to be the one to forage along the cliff face. That night they returned to their cabin and Sander went to the night market with his bag of freshly chopped mushrooms. By accident Demarien set Damien’s spot at the table and dropped his wooden cup when she realized that he wouldn’t be joining them for dinner that night or for that matter any nights to come.
The next day was better than the day before. Demarien let out no cries of sorrow and Sander did not sigh once. Walker spoke once in the morning and twice in the afternoon. That night Demarien did not set Damien’s spot at the table and did not fill his cup with the water he craved after a day of foraging. That night they fell asleep with relative ease.
The next morning was brighter than most summer days in the Land of Light, and Walker found himself shading his eyes when they exited the dense woods of Ezra and came upon the light blue sky past the cliffs of Ezra-Windors. There were no clouds today but Walker still could not see the horizon. There was no horizon past the cliffs of Ezra-Windors. It wasn’t called the “edge of infinity” without good reason.
They walked to the lone oak tree in silence, knowing too well that soon they would need to find a new location along the cliffs to forage. The mushrooms growing along that wall face were becoming fewer and farther between.
From a great distance the lone oak tree looked no different, a dark marker on the edge of the world. But as they approached Demarien noticed a figure leaning against the tree, body turned facing the blue expanse. She nudged Sander, who nodded and drew his hunting knife from its sheath. Mushrooms were their livelihood, but mushrooms alone couldn’t feed the group, and Sander’s hunting knife was their lone option in flaying the rabbits and squirrels caught in their traps set in the woods of Ezra. It was razor sharp and Sander prided his quick wrist.
They approached the figure slowly and in plain sight. Man or woman, it did not move. It just stared out at the sky. Sander thought that perhaps it was someone who ventured to the edge for death. Walker held onto the reservation that it was a trap and wanted to move their advance into the woods. Demarien didn’t know what she thought.
Still they walked toward the oak tree, its features becoming more distinct in their advance. Still the figure did not move. They were a hundred meters away. Then fifty. Then ten. The figure was almost assuredly a man, but his head was turned such that none could tell the face. Five meters. Three.
And then they were upon him, Sander first with his knife held out. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked.
The man turned his familiar head and smiled a familiar smile, his blue eyes sparkling in the oddly bright summer morning.
“Good morning, Sander,” Damien said.
In Spring 2011 enrolled in a creative writing class and was consequently charged with writing a fictitious short story, an undertaking that proved far more intensive than expected. Such revelations were understood upon receiving my first draft edits … the document was damp in the blood of poor grammar. So here below is the edited, polished, refined story of Professor Alexander Hoyt, and his first class of the semester …
Professor Alexander Hoyt marched into the first class of the semester precisely two minutes after twelve, not because he had stopped to converse with a colleague or because he had lost track of time, but because after twenty long years of academia he had become infatuated with the complexity of social manipulation.
This First Lecture Ritual, as Professor Hoyt lovingly termed it, had developed over the years. In the beginning Hoyt would be in class at least five minutes before noon, prepping his final notes and waiting for students to arrive. In its pubescent years, the FLR witnessed drastic change when Hoyt discovered the novelty of arriving precisely at twelve. He would time it right down to the last DONG of the bell tower. It commands attention the professor would boast to the philosophy department. It induces rapture. They would roll their eyes but nod their heads out of respect. He had, after all, been teaching for two decades.
In time, however, Hoyt grew to love his two minute drill— striding confidently into class just as students were getting restless. They would shuffle their papers, tap their pencils, and nod thin lipped to their classmates in anticipation. Some might whisper, wondering if Hoyt would in fact arrive at precisely two after. Hoyt hoped a few might vocally doubt his timing, relishing the opportunity to squelch these rumors. And just for good measure, to make the scene complete, Hoyt imagined a few would flatuate … low, guttural farts. He hoped they would smell. It would add to the ambiance.
And it was when that smell was permeating the classroom, penetrating their nostrils, making them gag, well, that’s when Professor Hoyt would sweep in, the savior. His intellectual firepower was legendary, spanning the east coast and making Hoyt a proud old man. Specifically, he was a proud old man resembling an ostrich: tall but not yet stooped, wrinkled but not yet leathery, his wispy white hair and profuse ear hair placed the Professor somewhere in his early 70’s … but he would tell everyone he is feeling good at 60. The sharpened chin and hooked nose indicated a German background. He swore of Irish descent. What’s there to believe? Hoyt would debate in the lounge with his irksome crooked tooth peeking its yellow head out from his irksome crooked smirk. What’s there to believe?
Peculiar, however, were the frown lines which Hoyt wore. It was as if he had stopped smiling at a young age.
Yet this was not on Hoyt’s mind at one minute to twelve— no, at one minute to twelve on the first day of this semester he was most concerned with the last goddamned step of tying his bow tie.
Tying bowties is like the seven stages of grief, Hoyt thought, first shock and denial, followed by guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, then—ah! Finally! The tie slipped through the hole and after a few quick adjustments Hoyt looked at himself in the mirror. Shit. It’s crooked. But it compliments my nose. And now, with a quick look to his watch, now it is time to make an entrance.
The lecture hall was tense with ten seconds to spare before 12:02. Some students were ready for his arrival, others hopeful that he wouldn’t arrive at all. Some were nervous— nervous to face his legend. These were the ones who shuffled papers. These were the ones who clicked their cheap plastic pencils and farted sulfur. It was, as Alexander Hoyt would say, a grand time for a lecture.
He entered. With élan. And the room quieted.
Hoyt stood before his classroom, his kingdom, and waited, smiling his toothy grin and rocking back and forth on his heels. Hoyt inspected his subjects. They look weak. Easy to mold. Good. Because if there is one thing in this world I love, it’s a class that will bend.
“Hello!” Hoyt said. He waited. There were a few grumbles from the back. The front of the room was quiet. Hoyt counted roughly forty students.
Shrugging, Hoyt turned his back to the classroom and approached his desk. He put down his notes and a water bottle, and then went to the chalkboard. His insufferable chalkboard. If only education was less intimate, Hoyt thought. Immediate satisfaction without the tedium of introductions. Sighing, he wrote in rough letters Alexander Hoyt on the board. Hoyt turned.
“Let me tell you a bit about myself,” Hoyt said. “I am Alexander Hoyt. You’re probably wondering why am I here? Yes, why am I here at this precise moment and why am I talking to you? The truth is I don’t exactly know myself. It seems I am a confused man.” Hoyt looked somber, pensive.
“Allow me to tell you a bit about this class: after twenty years of complaining about the rigidity of the curriculum, our university has been kind enough to allow me develop my own class— this class— an introduction to philosophy course dealing specifically with the energy of the universe. And this is what I have been teaching ever since.” Hoyt winks at the class, proud of himself. “I began academia way back in the 80’s with only a tweed vest and a piece of chalk to my name. I may not have changed my wardrobe too much, but at least I have gotten more chalk.” He paused, waiting for the laughter. None. “Now, I am compelled to warn you that this course not easy. The grade distribution is favorable … but you are going to have to work for it. That’s how I operate.” Hoyt smiled his toothy grin.
“And so if we are going to develop together this semester, I need to share with you, I need to GET DEEP with you, lay everything on the table.” Hoyt smirked. “You see, I have a few quirks … you want to hear them?” Hoyt looked around the room, bobbing his head and grinning. There were mumbles from the back, possible consent.
“Then we’ll make a deal, okay? I’ll do my best to paint a self portrait, and then one of you brave scholars up front will give me an honest characterization of yourself. Sound good?” More grumblings. “Fine. It’s a deal.” The class was quiet, all grumblings subsided. They were intrigued.
“Let’s see—I am the kind of man who doesn’t like to smile, I keep the shades down in my house, I eat little, drink too much coffee. I scowl at the sunshine, I fight the rain. I love cursing under my breath and provoking altercations at the campus crosswalks. I recently was banned from the grocery store for stealing a bottle of overpriced milk and I only pay in EXACT change. I protect a beautiful garden in my back yard … one which I water every day. I take great pleasure in spraying my neighbor’s insufferable yapping Pomeranian. One could say, and I might agree with them, that I have little to live for but am just not yet ready to die.”
The classroom was quiet. There were no more rustling papers, no more clicking pencils. Hoyt sniffed. Rotting eggs no longer assaulted his nasal cavity. The students were at his mercy, enraptured. Hoyt chuckled and shook his head.
“That’s it. That’s me. And now it’s your turn. Come on! What are you waiting on? We had a deal, right? It’s time for one you to step up. I want to hear what I am dealing with this semester! I want to hear from …” Hoyt paused. He looked left, then right and made eye contact with a bewildered brunette. She was pretty.
“You! Bingo! Bazzam! Ding ding ding!” Hoyt cupped his hands around his mouth. “Ladies and gentlemen we have ourselves a winner!” He scuttled over to her and using his hand as microphone interrogated the woman. “And you, what’s your name?”
She was startled, flushed. “Um, Sandy?”
Hoyt clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Tsk tsk tsk. Now don’t answer a question with a question! I’m sure that your mother raised you better than that. Now, what’s your name?”
“Much better! Do you remember our deal, Sandy?” he asked. She nodded her head. “Ok, so Sandy, I want you to stand before your classmates and paint them a picture for me. And I mean, go deep.”
“I’d rather not.”
Hoyt staggered back, clutching both hands against his heart. His knees buckled comically. Grasping one hand against the table Hoyt shook his head. “No no no. I don’t think you understood that wasn’t a question, Sandy. It’s okay. It happens. Now stand up before your class, before I have a heart attack right here and now.”
The classroom was quiet as Sandy stood. She looked young. Perhaps a freshman … but maybe not. Why did I choose her?
Cough. “My name is Sandra Lynn Burgess and I hail from New Haven, Connecticut. I am a freshman undecided major and I love to ride horses and –“
“STOP!” Hoyt said. Sandy looked startled and scared. “I want deep, Sandy. Continue.”
“Ok. Ok.” She ran a finger through her hair, thought for a second, and began again. She was sweating. “I am afraid of spiders, I do not like to eat meat, I—“
“SIT DOWN, please.” Hoyt said. Sandy sat, flushed. She didn’t look up, embarrassed, but Hoyt was pleased enough. He sat on his desk, legs dangling over the edge, and took a sip of water. He stared at Sandy. “You did fine. Thank you.”
“You’re— you’re welcome.”
Hoyt looked around the classroom. His students were wrapped around his finger. He was the puppet master. “Yes, that was just fine. Now for the rest of you,” Hoyt pointed a gnarled finger around the classroom, “expect this. You will be called on randomly, constantly, expected to know answers when there is no possible explanation. It is unreasonable, it is unfair. I do not care. And neither does society. Get used to it.”
Hoyt nodded once again to Sandy. She was still flustered but under control. She brushed her hand through her hair unconsciously, a coping mechanism for uncomfortable situations. Hoyt choked a little and then coughed. Her hair, her hand, they seemed familiar. Mother, mother. Hoyt’s mind drifted— there was water in the back of his skull. He shook his head and cleared his throat.
Compose yourself, dammit.
Hoyt looked to the classroom, focusing on anyone, anything other than Sandy. “Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Philosophy 222, the philosophy of energy. What do I mean by energy?” Hoyt was back at the chalkboard and selected a piece of long, thin chalk. It was starch white. He drew a big circle on the board. “What do you think this is?”
Hoyt turned to face the classroom. A few hands were raised. Hoyt put a hand over his eyes and spun twice. “And … you!” He pointed with his free finger, removing his blinding hand.
It was a male this time. He had a hand raised and a backwards baseball cap perched delicately on top of massive amounts of hair. The cap read … Hoyas. The student was taken aback. “Who, me?”
“Oh yes. You are exactly who I want to answer this question. What specifically does this crudely constructed circle represent?”
“Bzzzt! Wrong! It is, actually, the Earth! Now, double or nothing … why oh why did I draw the Earth?”
“I … I mean … maybe to represent the population?”
“Partial credit is awarded! This is in fact the earth and, yes, the human population does have something to do with this diagram, but I am thinking bigger. I am thinking of galactic proportions!” Hoyt flung his arms, creating an orb.
“You see, I am not sure if you know exactly what this class is about. You saw the academic requirements this course would fulfill and the favorable grade distribution and probably thought, ‘what the hell, right? Why not?’ But do you KNOW what you are getting into? Is there anyone here brave enough to venture a guess?”
Hoyt stopped, arms still wide, and looked to the classroom. Blank stares returned gaze. “Hm. I see. Well get out your pencils, get out your pens, flip open to that clean white sheet of paper and write this down—even if you do not write anything else down for the rest of the semester I want this to be in your minds at all times, crowding your thoughts, weighing you down. It’s selfish of me to impose this on you … but I don’t particularly care. So whenever you are lying awake at night, cursing me for imparting to you the truth, just remember that it’s tough titty said the kitty because YOU are the ones who paid for this class.”
He paused, taking pulse of the room. Silence. He smiled his toothy grin and his body trembled and his hands perspired. This is exciting. And with a deep breath, Hoyt began.
“The Earth is a temporary placeholder for the energy of the universe, and thus we as humans are temporary placeholders of this energy.” Hoyt said. He paused, looking around the classroom. Silence. “Now, there are some rules, or should I say, standards, that come with this theory.”
Hoyt was turning towards the chalkboard when a student in the front rose and made for the door. Hoyt hated for students to interrupt lecture. Ignoramus. Hoyt turned to see a thin student with a bushy red beard.
“Sir,” Hoyt said, “don’t you have any manners?”
The bearded fellow spun around. “I like to think that I have quite a few manners, thank you for asking.”
“Ah! Wonderful! Thank you, sir, for enlightening me. But you see— I am now confused. I was of the belief that rudeness encompasses the loosely defined ‘classroom disruption.’ Are you saying that’s not the case?” Hoyt was slowly approaching. “Or is this specific instance excusable by your own interpretations?”
The bearded student locked eyes with Hoyt briefly, shook his head, and sat back down, chagrined. Hoyt smiled.
“Thank you!” Hoyt said. He turned back to the chalkboard. Now where was I? Ah yes!”
Hoyt turned to the board and wrote: The Earth is a temporary placeholder for the energy of the universe, and thus we as humans are temporary placeholders for the energy of the universe. He pointed to his words.
“The thesis. We have established this. And now, the rules.”
He turned back to the board and wrote a (1).
“(1) there is a set amount of energy in the universe. Period. What does this mean? The potential for energy has remained constant since inception, since the creation of society. The potential for energy is always there, but must be tapped by the individual.
“(2): every person has a predetermined amount of energy. Those with more energy make a bigger impact on society, while those with less energy make a smaller impact. However, one has to tap into their energy before use. This can take years. Or … days. For some, energy falls into their laps one day over breakfast. Others may spend their whole life searching, digging introspectively for their energy and still never find it. I feel bad for these people.
“(3) energy is only transferred in death.” Hoyt asterisked this sentence. “This is the most important of the rules. Social interactions do not allow for energy transfer. Only in death is energy transferred, and it’s often given to those whom the deceased loved. For example, if you are in a close relationship with a parent and that individual passes, then you are likely to receive their energy.” This last sentence was hard to say. Hoyt swallowed hard. Water swirled, trickling in the back of his mind.
The bearded student rose again, this time grabbing his backpack. Hoyt stared at him.
“Sir, what do you think you are doing? This is the second time you have attempted to leave this class and I tire of your antics. Now please. SIT BACK DOWN.” Hoyt walked back over to the student, who was now standing and facing Hoyt.
The beard swung back and forth, mirroring Hoyt’s footsteps. “Professor, I am going to decline with the deepest sincerity. I do not care for your mannerisms. I do not care for your theory. I do not care for your smile, your nose, or attire. I do not care for your smell.” He sniffed for effect. Hoyt was within two feet of the student. “You reek of coffee and depression. So no matter how rude I may be for leaving this lecture before you have dismissed class, it shall never outweigh the strong negative feelings I have for you. I have stripped you of this power. You do not wield it over me. You cannot hold it over my head. I am sorry.”
“ARE YOU TRULY SORRY THOUGH?” Hoyt asked. “Do you feel remorse down in the deepest darkest depths of your soul; does your body ache and does your stomach churn? Do your eyes water from the guilt? Can you even begin to comprehend the gravity of your actions?” They were eye to eye, chin to chin; a stooped man to a proud student.
The beard arched towards the ceiling, exposing the unprotected neck. The student scratched his jawline, thinking. The beard lowered.
“No, professor, you didn’t catch the pointed sarcasm. I am not sorry for leaving because, put as bluntly as possible, I just don’t give a fuck about you or your stupid theory.”
Hoyt stepped back as the student left for the door. Hoyt called after him.
“Sir, your energy is vapid. You are destined for mediocrity, for an utterly banal existence. Enjoy.”
The student never slowed stride, never looked back to face Hoyt. But his last quip was heard as he left the classroom. “Your tie is crooked, bub.”
Snickering, in the classroom. Hoyt was stunned, looking at the door.
And then the rumbling began.
He felt the rush deep in the folds of his occipital lobe. Looking back on such an odd sensation, Hoyt would attempt to quantify the magnitude of this experience. It was like the path of the river, snaking through the back of the brain, under my cerebellum and up to the temporal lobe, gathering steam and anger, coursing onwards and upwards, violent, powerful, until it hit the prefrontal cortex. And then I was there. I was at—.
The funeral. Hoyt was in the bathroom, struggling to tie his bowtie. It’s more difficult when you are crying, unable to see the mirror clearly because of the tears. Hoyt’s father was at the front of the church for the Divine Liturgy, more concerned with the cost of the priest than Mother’s proper burial. Hoyt was next on the podium, and had prepared a speech to discuss Mother’s light— a tall task for an eleven year old. He had stayed up all night writing and crying, and by the morning his speech was ready. But then my bow came undone, and I could not for the life of me tie it back right. It always came out … crooked.
Father came into the bathroom. He was mad, mad. He grabbed Hoyt’s shoulders, breathing poison into Hoyt’s face. He was drunk. He was drunk and Hoyt had missed the podium.
“Alex, Alex,” Father said. “You left me up there waiting for you to take my place. Why did you never come?”
Hoyt was crying harder, guilt obstructing his airway. The bowtie was limp, dangling from his neck. Father still gripped Hoyt’s shoulders, squeezing hard. Head down, a tear ran off Hoyt’s nose and splooshed onto the dirty floor.
“Look at me son!”
Hoyt lifted his head and looked his Father in the eyes.
“You have her eyes, you know?” Father said. “Deep green.” It was too much for Hoyt. A heave ripped through his body. He leaned against Father for support.
“She loved you,” Father said. “She never wanted to leave us, leave you. It was … my fault. Mine. Don’t hate her for that. She was a good woman. Respect her now that she has passed. Love her. Please. Just love her again.”
Hoyt’s chest heaved. “I can’t Father, I can’t. You know that. I can’t.”
Father’s head swung back and forth, eyes still locked on the floor. “Please Hoyt, please Hoyt, please Hoyt, please—”
“—Hoyt? Professor Hoyt?”
Hoyt was still watching the door of the classroom, waiting for the bearded student to walk back into the room. His palms were sweaty. Knees, shaking. He was disoriented. A student was talking to him. Sandy.
“Hm?” he asked.
“You’ve been staring at the door for a full minute now,” Sandy said.
“Ah! That was … merely an exercise in meditation.” What a poor excuse … his voice shook too much. Hoyt walked slowly to the chalkboard and erased the Earth. His stomach ached. “So! Where were we? I had just presented the theory, THE theory and the rules. And then Johnny-Come-Lately exited, followed by my minute rumination of the whole ordeal, and now I am here! So, specifically, how did I arrive here?”
A student spoke up in the back. “You walked?”
“No no no no no. Well, yes. But no. I’m asking ‘How did I get HERE, on Earth?’ How did I come about, manifest, grow?”
“Your mother?” Ouch. A pang lit his abdomen.
“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP?” Hoyt yelled. He was angry. Get it together, you pathetic man. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “You are all scholars here, correct? Now look at the rules and figure it out.”
Sandy raised her hand. Hoyt softened. “Yes, Sandy?”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t understand. Are you implying that each person in this room has a certain amount of energy?” Yes. “And you can feel that energy?” Yes. “And you can feel my energy?” Yes. Your energy is familiar to me.
Hoyt paused, surprised by his thought. “Sandy, this is the theory I have been developing for a long long time, before you were even a, what do they say, ‘twinkle in your mother’s eyes.’” Sandy shook visibly. Hoyt did not notice. “So yes, Sandy. I can feel your energy, just like I can feel ALL of your energies!”
Hoyt’s arms flew out from his sides. He held them, suspended, as he smiled at the class. He had forgotten about the bearded student. Hoyt was caught in the moment. They rustled, uncomfortable. His arms dropped and Hoyt looked at the clock on the wall. 12:45. He did not want to progress any further today. They have enough on their minds, no use overloading them with the specifics. We have all semester to continue.
“I am going to leave you here today,” Hoyt said. “Contemplate the statement ‘How did I get here,’ focusing on the information we discussed.”
The classroom stood. Sandy remained seated. She stared at the ground as notebooks ruffled and bags zipped. The room emptied. Hoyt did not notice Sandy as he gathered his notes and walked towards the door.
“Professor!” Sandy said.
Hoyt spun, surprised. “Oh! Sandy— you startled me. You are the first student in twenty years to stick around after the first lecture. What can I do for you?” Hoyt nodded to the blackboard.
“I want to talk about the rules. The one about death, specifically.”
Hoyt sat on his desk. He was intrigued. “Ok, shoot.”
“Why is energy only transferred in death? Why not through interactions—why does sitting and talking to you right now not exchange energy?” Sandy fiddled with her hands.
“If you think about it this way,” Hoyt said. “It’s simple.”
He grabbed the water bottle off his desk and removed the cap. “Our energy is only accessible through the ones we love, through the ones whom they connect with most closely.” Hoyt turned the bottle over and slowly poured water into his hand. Water pooled in his palm and then spilled over. “If energy was transferred fluidly, as you suggested, then no one could hold onto power, no one could hold onto love. It would just slip through our fingers at every ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye.’ Constant energy transfer would yield an insipid existence.”
Sandy swallowed, looking at the puddle now formed under Hoyt’s feet. “But what happens when the ones you love don’t love you back?”
“There are exceptions to the rules.” Hoyt chose his words carefully. “And Sandy—I can feel your energy. It is strong.” This was no lie. Sandy had something extra about her. And Hoyt couldn’t put his finger on it. Not yet.
“Who did I get my energy from? Who did you get your energy from?” Sandy asked.
Hoyt slid off the desk. He paced over to the window and looked out. “Sandy … I can’t answer that question. Not now. I have never been able to answer that question.” Hoyt turned from the window. “And there lies the truth.”
Sandy nodded, unsatisfied but sated. She was still looking at the puddle, but her eyes were glazed over. Her thoughts were far from the classroom. Hoyt looked back out the window, concerned. Just when I know I have experienced everything academia has to offer, I get Sandy. Sandy, the forgotten. Sandy, the beloved. She was still staring at the puddle. Hoyt looked at hor. Her eyes are … green.
Hoyt faltered for a minute, thrust back into the funeral, his father’s voice ringing through his ears— “Forgive her, Hoyt. She never wanted to leave us, leave you.” Recovering, he walked back over to Sandy. “Let me think on it Sandy. Give me until next class.” He opened his mouth to say more, but inhaled sharply instead.
Sandy nodded, thanked Hoyt, and packed her bag. As she was leaving the classroom Hoyt called out, “Sandy!”
She turned. “Yes?”
“Forgive her. Whoever it is. Forgive her. She never wanted to leave you.”
Sandy paused for a moment. She swallowed hard, turned, and left the classroom. Hoyt sat, fiddling with his water bottle for some time. He had too much on his mind. The rules. Sandy. Mother. Mother, she who passed when Hoyt was too young to comprehend the magnitude of death. Hoyt had repressed the memory of the funeral for so long. It only dredged pain, churning the bowels, mucking his waters. There were often nightmares of the funeral— Hoyt was positive. But when he woke up it all slipped away.
He awoke from this reverie. And after cleaning the puddle of water and gathering his notes, Hoyt left the classroom. He took one glance towards the exit, and then turned for his office.
It had been quite the interesting day. At least the class is promising. Sandy, in particular, was intriguing. There was something familiar about her. Her energy. Her eyes. Her green eyes.
Hoyt’s knees buckled again. He steadied himself against the wall outside his office. He grabbed the doorknob and stumbled in. Hoyt emptied the bag on his desk, making no move to clean the spilled contents and dropped into his chair. He had no desire to reorganize, recollect. There was too much on the brain.
Sandy Sandy Sandy. How could he feel her energy, feel it coursing through her veins? It contradicted the third rule of the theory, the theory that he had been developing for years, basing his entire academic career off of. The theory was a gift— Hoyt knew this because it was an explanation of why, an explanation of what happened to Mother. That was when he began developing his theory. When she died. When he was eleven.
The theory made sense to Hoyt, it was natural even. And as the theory’s creator, its God, Hoyt knew he had been given great energy. But not Mother’s. What happened? She was strong-willed, strong-hearted, full of energy. Hoyt knew her power. He felt it when she rocked him to sleep at night. She sang lullabies and cried. And then she died, leaving Hoyt alone. I was eleven. And then her energy disappeared, swept away in a river of tears and confusion. Where did her energy go? Why did Mother not leave anything with Hoyt except anger?
It festered and grew. Hoyt distanced himself emotionally, an independent body trapped in a teenage frame. He spoke little to his father and even less to those deemed worthy enough as friends. Father died of doctor diagnosed “stress cancer” when Hoyt was twenty. Hoyt wore no tie to the funeral and gave delivered the Divine Liturgy. He cried, and still the anger overwhelmed him.
The anger drove Hoyt into academia, drove him to create the theory. It was comforting knowing that Mother was close. The theory grounded Hoyt and eased the anger. Her energy had been passed on to someone … even if it wasn’t him. Maybe, possibly, she could touch a life. Maybe, possibly she could quell the anger consuming a student, overwhelming them in their darkest moments. Was Mother needed elsewhere? Was Mother needed in a life more tumultuous than his own?
And still the anger swirled.
Hoyt rose from his chair and walked over to his window, looking out onto the quad. Directly across his sightline was Magill Library. The weather must be nice, Hoyt thought, there are students lying out on the lawn, living. The crack in the window caught his attention, as it had done so many times before. Hoyt squatted, hearing his knees pop in objection as he lowered to the same plane as the crack. He ran his finger over the glass. It was smooth. Unblemished on the outside, broken on the inside. The glass had decompressed internally, forming a circle of imploded material. The depression created a six inch diameter circle of glass shards— most concentrated at the center. As Hoyt stared he could see himself a hundred, thousand fold staring back, an introspective look at a shuttered soul. And then it made sense— Sandy.
Hoyt clutched the window sill as pain split his forehead. The rush began deep deep in his skull again, this time more powerful, this time more violent. He shut his eyes, fighting the flood as it drowned him, killed him. NO! Hoyt fought it, eyes clenched hard. He fought the water until it subsided back into the recesses of his skull.
His eyes opened and tears ran down his cheeks. He staggered from the window to his desk and grabbed a pen. He wrote (3) energy is only transferred in death . On the next line he wrote a (3a.) it can be given to those in the most need.
And then the water overwhelmed Hoyt. There was no warning, no rush. It spilled through his brain. And Hoyt accepted it as the blackness—
—Overwhelmed him. Hoyt opened his eyes and wiped the tears against the back of his hand. He sat on a bridge looking over the river. Our river. The river which we used to share. She had been dead for weeks and Hoyt wouldn’t hear from her in years. We used to walk to the bridge and sit on the edge, our feet dangling over the rushing water, Hoyt thought. He would pretend he was walking on water. She would smile and say that one day he would be able to. One day, one day, one day.
The sun was beating down. The lush vegetation along the river was vibrant, pulsating in an organic flux, beating to the flow of the river, dancing the song of the water. Bright deep green reeds penetrated his eyes, fighting the dark blue-gray of the river. There was a flower next to Hoyt on the bridge. It was yellow. A sun flower. Hoyt picked it up and examined it, turned it over in his hand. The coarse stem felt good, rough. His hands were soft and the petals were felt, velvety. And he was alone.
Hoyt plucked a petal and held it up to the sun. The sun shone through the velvet, casting an incandescent light onto his face. He dropped the petal into the water. “She loves me.”
Hoyt plucked another petal, then dropped it into the water. “She loves me not.”
“She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not,” until there was a line of yellow petals coursing along the river, floating away along the banks and around the bend, leaving only a memory.
In June 2013 Cam and I took a road trip to the Manchester flatlands of Tennessee for the fabled Bonnaroo music festival. Below is a nonfiction account of those six party hardy days:
With the supreme lights of Bonnaroo darkening with distance I drove eastwards towards home. I leaned back in my seat – stretching a hunched back from miles of festival traffic – and said to my very asleep co-pilot and tent-mate Cam, “So we survived … that must count for something, right?”
These weren’t the words I expected to first escape this beaten body after our six day excursion into Manchester Tennessee. I’d imagined a veritable soliloquy of memories and songs as intertwined tapestry defining our immediate hours of departure. Stories of camping next to our rather attractive neighbors – Hay and Elk – from New Jersey (whose wardrobe consisted of bikinis and string bikinis and whose vocabulary enjoyed a manner of speech largely vulgar in nature), or the mornings waking to big Mike’s honks, snorts, and squirts courtesy of an advanced case of sleep apnea. I expected talks of the extreme heat of the Bonnaroo badlands, the long days of ninety plus temperatures with ninety plus humidity and zero, zero, clouds on the horizon. I thought discussions of the crippling mud comprising the vast majority of our campsite, shin-deep dark brown goop defining the pocked landscape. I wanted to remember together the water of our camp – hot fluid rotting with sulfur, the smell of hardboiled eggs left baking in the trunk of a black car for four weeks during the height of a record breaking summer – which we were expected to drink and shower in.
Mostly, however, I wanted to remember the music. The face-melting, mind-altering, skin-tingling music that defined our days of Bonnaroo. We heard it all: from Wu Tang to Lumineers to Paul McCartney to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to Reptar to The Tallest Man on Earth to Billy Idol the festival raged from noon to five in the morning every single night.
But alas. Cam was asleep and I was congratulating ourselves on a job well done of enduring an experience I now consider (as I sit, clean and fragrant, in air conditioning) to be life changing. So if you want to realize Bonnaroo through my eyes then read on. Else pick up the Times and enjoy a more conservative review. This was a social experience understood through my lens as a twenty-one year old.
* * * * * *
We arrive at Coffee County High School at noon Tuesday. There are forty-eight hours until the first act kicks off in The Other Tent miles down the road at Centeroo. Cam and I have been driving since first light hoping to receive prime camping reserved for volunteers of the festival. The deal: work eighteen hours and receive free admission to Bonnaroo, three meal tokens inside Centeroo, and unlimited free showers. The catch: we sort trash for those eighteen hours.
I am less than concerned about the rigors of such tasks. I am a dirty, base creature.
So it’s with an air of nonchalance I wait with the thousand other volunteers to receive directions to our campsite and my volunteer shirt – comically brown for Trash Talkers, my title for the week – and jaunt back to the car with Cam stating that this week shall be “better than karate and sex.” Only little do I notice the heat of the morning and the thermometer reading ninety four, a mean temperature for the time. But what the hell – we crank the air-conditioning up once more, blare Alt-J’s Breezeblocks for the fourth time that seven hour drive, and roll down the highway to Bonnaroo.
We get lost, a seemingly impossible task considering there’s but one entrance into the festival grounds … and we’ve a map provided by the high school. Cam, my fearless co-pilot, directs us to the opposite edge of Bonnaroo and after much discussion with a variety of jovial, coherent, and functionally literate carnies determine we must make a large circle around the festival’s perimeter to find ourselves in the appropriate campsite.
As we drive I’m astonished by the size of the grounds. Hundreds of acres reserved for what I hear to be 150,000 excitable festival denizens. Centeroo itself, which we see briefly along our drive, comprises but a fraction of Bonnaroo but will soon house the masses crammed to see the shows. We drive in silence, enjoying the unpopulated scenery.
We make three smart right turns and find ourselves in traffic. Ah-ha! This seems right. The line moves slowly but time rolls by as we people watch. There are dolls and the grunge. There are hippies and then there are hippies who try too hard to be hippies and come off as nasty long-haired tie-dye wearing folks with one arm heavy with jewelry and the other bending at the elbow so they can smoke a fat joint.
This was only the introduction to the Bonnaroo drug culture.
I come to understand why the line is moving so slowly. There are security guards checking each car. I can’t imagine they’re looking for drugs. Anyone who snuck anything in could pop a baggie inside a sock inside a clothing bag inside a duffle bag and there would be nil chance it’d be found. When we’re searched the guards performed a rudimentary rummage through our trunk and with impatience checked our front compartments asking if we (1) had any glass, (2) had any drugs, and (3) had any weapons. I replied no to all three, although I lied – we snuck a jar of pickles in – and were let through. As I drove by I was astonished they didn’t have a pile of guns, knives, drugs, and pickle jars stacked up next to the security station. Oh wait. No, that wasn’t what I felt. It was something more along the lines of “I could have snuck in fourteen pounds of marijuana and they’d never have been the wiser.”
I come to find out that’s something of a theme for the week, but at the moment I’m concerned with my car making it through the field to our campsite. Remember how I said it was muddy? Holy cow, it was muddy. I took the high ground and made it safely to our site but saw many a tire spin without purchase in the thick murk. We hoot, holler, and get the car unpacked. I come to enter an intensely negative relationship with the heat as we set up camp, and these poor vibes continue through the next five days.
With our tent pitched, pantry unpacked in the trunk of our car, and beer on ice we set about meeting our neighbors. To our left there’s Elk and Hay, whom I’ve already mentioned and will certainly become an important part of this story for they were our best friends on the trip, and to the right there’s Tay, a lone traveler from South Carolina who popped with infrequency in and out of our camp after developing a fling with a bronzed man four rows over. Big Mike, who I was unaware at the moment sounded like a choking water buffalo while sleeping, is next to our Jersey girls and has the setup. A big tent, a blowup mattress, foldable chairs, a table, a large tarp, a blue party tent for shade, and immediate access to his trunk for the pounds of salted chicken and pork on ice. As I look at mine, Jersey, and Tay’s tent sites I realize there’s a distinction between first-time festival goers and the seasoned ones. The seasoned ones know what they’re doing and have prepared for it. I will come to fully understand this throughout Bonnaroo as I eat a dozen peanut butter and honey sandwiches and fight the sun with a baseball cap and sunscreen.
With camp set there’s nothing else to do for the remainder of the afternoon. Cam and I make a go at entering Centeroo but are thwarted at the gates by the ‘Croo Guroos who are supervising the volunteers responsible for polishing the finishing touches necessary to open Centeroo by noon on Thursday. So we turn around, complain about the heat, and drink the afternoon away with Hay and Elk as the crowds continue to roll slowly into Staff Lot B, the rather boring name for an exciting group of people.
That evening I dare to shower. Having not yet experienced the smell of sulfur in the water – Cam and I brought four gallons of filtered water in a rare show of intelligence – I was indignant at the offensive odor filling my tiny stall and chalked it up to a nasty flatulence courtesy of my showermate one stall over. It’s not until the next morning when Cam and I have managed to drink four gallons of water in under twenty-four hours and are forced to choke down the Bonnaroo supply that I realize that the smell from the shower is coming from the water supply and not my showermate’s wet cheeks.
As I walk back wet, perhaps nastier than before, slipping through the mud I hear a gaggle of familiar voices. “Byron!” they call and I look up. It’s four of my teammates from high school cross country with whom I’d fallen out of touch. Zak, Peter, Bran, and Andy are sitting at their campsite passing around a joint and have extended the courtesy of letting it burn while catching my attention. I walk over to say hi robed in my towel and mucky boots, promise to be back, and return to my camp where I discover Cam fast asleep in our tent with Elk and Hay asleep in theirs. I change, grab a handful of beers, and return to the XC team. We stay up drinking beers and reminiscing the runs and the races and the days when perhaps life was a tad simpler under a parent’s roof. Around us the party is raging – four separate groups of people wander into the soft glow of their tiki torches and ask for boomers (magic mushrooms), MDMT (ecstasy), bud (marijuana), blow (cocaine), acid (LSD), and when we’d emphatically denied all requests, albeit somewhat less convincingly when asked about pot because one stoned friend giggled without cessation, laughing and saying ‘no man, no.’
By midnight they’re anxious to explore the grounds and I’m anxious for bed so I take my leave, brush my teeth, enjoy the sounds of the thousands partying and playing music. I drop into a deep sleep …
And wake at seven in the morning having sweat out all the beer from last night.
It’s hot. I groan, understanding at long last what a lobster feels as it’s boiled alive to grace the plate. Cam is still sleeping and seems rather unconcerned with the rising temperature. Big Mike certainly doesn’t mind. He’s snark snorking away atop his mattress in the shade. I sigh, rise, and find lace up my shoes for a run. Big mistake. It’s impossibly hot for the day and I stumble along, hungover and dehydrated, for seven miles before collapsing back at the car, contemplating if I should make my way to a port-a-jon or just poop next to the Jersey vehicle and blame a vagrant from last night.
The morning is spent wondering what else I can blame the innocents for – I drink the remainder of the water, eat all of the Chips Ahoy, and drop our roll of Wet Wipes at an ill-timed slip of the hand while standing over a port-a-jon. It’s eleven, Cam is still asleep, and I am burnt. I have a coughing fit next to our tent and moments later Cam wakes up and so do the Jersey girls. Company at last. We sit around talking about – take a guess – the devilish sun and general lack of shade at our camp. Staying outside of our tents for fear of cooking ourselves we bear the weather with towels and tarps and music. I introduce Hay and Elk to Tallest Man on Earth and Reptar while they alternate such artists with Top 40 singles and John Mayer. I don’t find this a fair tradeoff. Mid-afternoon Cam and I roll into Centeroo to visit the campgrounds and secure some fresh water.
You want to talk about organized chaos? Let’s talk twenty hours before Bonnaroo opens to the general public. There are thousands of vendors, volunteers, and staff whirring around shouting and pointing and smiling and scowling and hammering and tying and digging at their various posts. Cam and I are out of our element – two scantily clad individuals staggering around in the heat with four empty gallon bottles strapped to our packs – and are sternly ushered out of Centeroo by a burly security officer in the purple shirt reminding us that unless we are a pre-Croo volunteer then we’re not allowed within Centeroo. Curses. No fresh water for us.
Sulfur water it is! Well … beer then sulfur water. We fill two gallons, dump four tea bags in each, shake them and let those two sit on ice for an hour, and while we wait we drink the High Life and think about cooking a sure to be tasty fare of baked beans and instant turkey chili. We find that beer makes the Earl Grey sulfur water taste reasonable considering the strife of the day and glug the two gallons down over the course of the evening. And thus it’s with a full gurgling belly – either the sulfur or the beans or the turkey, who knows – I find myself enjoying a sunset looking over ten thousand cars. That’s right. Over the course of the afternoon the general public has been rolling into Bonnaroo and filling the remaining campsites of exciting names like Oddjob, Pussy Galore, Goldfinger, and James Bond. I, too ensconced in the earnest games of flip cup with my new eight best friends including Cam, Elk, Hay, Mike, Mike’s Girl, Spencer – a motorcyclist from California, Matt – a motorcyclist from Toronto, and Rudi – a Philadelphian sporting a green St Paddy’s day shirt reading Keep Calm and Shut the Fuck Up, didn’t realize the coming crowds until the field was full.
And perhaps it was the beer or sulfur in our belly or the campsite excitement revolving around the first day of music beginning tomorrow but I find it difficult to sleep and so does Cam. We walk over to the XC tent and spend the next three hours leading a music circle to our right through the lyrics of a handful of songs of which they knew no words and hardly the chords. I beg the question of why attempt a song that no one can play and am met with response by a heavy lidded and unfathomably high ukulele wielding aspiring musician from New York whose contribution to the circle consists of inconsistent C chord strumming. He says quite slowly, “For the Love, man. For. The. Love.” And then he falls asleep, ukulele in one hand, blunt in the other. His friends seem far less concerned with the state of their friend than with the burning blunt and rush to remove it from his grasp lest it drops to the ground.
Cam and I leave shortly after the Love comment, share a good laugh at Joe – a friend of the XC crew who I will meet off and on throughout the festival because he never once remembers me – who had fallen asleep cross legged, head in hands, atop Peter’s Xterra.
I fall asleep wondering how Joe will feel in the morning.
As it turns out, pretty good. When I wake he’s stumbling around Staff Lot B with a cigarette and a stiff rum drink, an early start to a big day. He introduces himself as Joe, Hi Joe, and off he wanders to vomit onto a fence.
I take another run and finish it to the sounds of jeers. Sexual slurs are tossed out by the bros with the ‘Bama caps filling their red cups with liberal (hah!) amounts of Wild Turkey and I’m accused of being a dirty cootersniffer by a gaggle of heavyset older gentlemen in RV camping protected by fencing and numbers. Six sat transfixed by the crackle of bacon sizzling in a pan while three more took it upon themselves to jeer at the campsite’s honorary cootersniffer. These rude fatties would come to play an entertaining roll in our nightly walks home.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Back at the tent Cam is up – surprised? Me too – and applying sunscreen while Hay and Elk are dolling themselves up for the coming rigors of the day. Our Jersey girls have volunteered to work the Silent Auction, which in their words comprised of mostly “sitting around on our asses and collecting sheets of paper with big numbers on them.” How Cam and I drew trash detail I’ll never know.
We eat and listen as the rest of camp wake up. It starts as a rustle, the sound of tents unzipping, and then comes as a rumble, the vibrations of a thousand voices. By noon the grounds are rocking – thick smoke wafts from tents and beer cans crack with reckless abandon – and the Mounties are on patrol. That’s right. Mounties. On big beautiful horses. They patrol up and down the rows and those less clandestine law benders are given a stern lecture by a squat man on a big horse. They’re largely unintimidating but do have wicked stories. A blonde braless yoga instructor and I chatted with one Texan Mountie about working Waskarusa – a music festival in Ozark, Arkansas – and he enjoyed informing me that the mud at Bonaroo was mere pig play compared to what he endured one state west.
Cam is off to talk trash and the girls are off in pursuit of hard drugs so I meet up with the XC crew. We decide to roll into Centeroo together. Well, after the last of the case is finished off. I decline, knowing that I’ll be on my feet in the heat from afternoon till night asking folks to sort their trash before dumping it into compost, recycling, or trash.
The line at Centeroo is monstrous. Eighty thousand people are lined up waiting to come in. We discover the opening of Centeroo has been pushed back an hour due to unforeseen difficulties that I never became privy to. What we did know, however, is that we did not want to wait. Thus we took a walk down Shakedown Street – the hubbub of activity outside Centeroo – and enjoyed the manager of a food truck selling all vegan fare drumming up interest by loudly promoting the upcoming “anal ring toss” over the truck’s intercom.
Our crew departs quickly, no one wanting to be the hapless soul called upon to drop trow at the earnest behest of this vendor. We’re then accosted by a woman selling glow in the dark earrings who, when we informed her that no guys in the group had piercings, offered a free ear piercing provided we purchase the largest of her earring collection.
Sick of the crowds uninterested in the expensive products pushed on Shakedown St. the team makes the decision to return to camp to smoke, drink, and take all their bagged ecstasy and transfer the crystallized drug to dissolvable capsules. I, having nothing better to do than watch my friends smoke, drink, and handle MDMT with the utmost casualness, follow along.
Pandemonium. Where did Peter put the ecstasy?
Turns out he was blackout the night before and, charged with safely storing the drugs, put them somewhere and woke up forgetting he was ever involved in hiding it in the first place. After a frantic turning out of the Xterra the molly is found in the medical tray beneath the Band-Aids. Crisis averted. What would have happened had Peter not found the two hundred dollars – four grams – of ecstasy I do not know but it would have surely put a damper on their entire weekend, a concept I find balanced between amusing and depressing.
I watch with vague interest as the capsules are brought forward, opened, and filled with point two grams each. Questions arise: when to take the molly and how much to take at one time? They all plan on Friday but there seems to be dissension within the ranks. Andy wants to do it all at once during Pretty Lights, Bran is going to make it last from Paul McCartney through Pretty Lights to Animal Collective. Zak has no say in the matter – he’s going to drop acid and figures at that point there’s no reason planning out his night. I leave the four and head off to my shift.
When I arrive at the Clean Vibes tent I collect my brown Trash Talker shirt and begin my shift I am assigned the artist compound. This means, according to my boss lady that “I best be on my fucking A game because if I don’t make the bands making the music happy then you’ll make the masses unhappy which will make me unhappy and when you make me unhappy you are out of a ticket to Bonnaroo. Capiche?.”
So with the threat lodged deeply in the front of my brain I’m carted behind Centeroo to the compound where the bands, friends of the bands, and exclusive VIP members go to relax before and after shows. It’s a green grassy plot with tents erected for shade. There are vendors lining the small field and I come to engage in frequent eye contact with a knockout blonde with Garnier Fructis who is without question out of my league. Beautiful hair bouncing, shining from lavish applications of an affordable yet fragrant shampoo and conditioner, she makes the moon eyes in my direction. Thus emboldened I have the audacity to inform the rockers and sockers that all Bonnaroo cups are crystallized corn syrup and are thus compostable. In fact, the only items entering the landfill are cigarette butts and candy wrappers. The highlight of the afternoon comes when Allen Stone, who is performing that night, is saunters up and flicks water on me, claiming that I “best stay hydrated my man or you are going to pass out in this heat.” Things are looking up … between Allen’s interest in guiding me through a heat stroke free afternoon and the occasional looks at the Garnier stand I feel rather studly.
My confidence falters only later in my shift when my Garnier lady, now done with work, comes over to inform me that thought my head looked funny and was concerned I’d dented it earlier in life.
I’m pulled just before nine and am taken back to Clean Vibes where I check out, receive my meal token, and am reminded to be back tomorrow morning for my seven o’clock shift. Yeah yeah yeah. I hustle out to catch the last song of WALK THE MOON and look for Cam, who promised me before my phone died snapping a picture of Alt-J tossing a banana peel in my compost bin that he’d be at the show. They finished with a favorite I Can Lift a Car but I reflect later it should have been I Can’t Find a Cam for in my naivety I had imagined it easy to find a friend within a crowd of thirty thousand.
No dice. I wait for Alt-J alone, alternating time spent looking for Cam (who’d said he’d be front and center for the show) and watching a freckled ginger eat an entire bag of molly in ten minutes. What was once two grams – he’d informed me with a proud nod when I was caught staring – is been scooped out little by little with his right index finger and rubbed along his gum line until only the finest granules remained stuck to the inner baggie lining, an easy fix once the baggie is turned inside out and sucked clean by his prying lips.
He soon asks to move up closer to the stage. I push him through and lose him in the crowds. Cam is somewhere in there as well but as I make a move towards the stage the lights dim and out steps the rising demi-Gods in the indie music scene. Alt-J draws a crowd of forty thousand and the party rocks for a full hour as they play. Time stands still for the show but once their last song ends and they walk off the crowds disperse and I’m left with a decision: ALO with “Special Guest,” Allen Stone, or bed? I check my watch. It’s near one and I’m up in five hours.
Bed it is.
I walk the long trek back to the tent alone, am called a Fag-o-tron 3000 by the big boys of RV Row. My immediate desire is to defecate on their fence but have neither the hutzpah or the energy to step up to the plate. I shake my head and continue on, their jeers ringing as I continue down the road. Cam is waiting for me back at the tent and we apologize for not meeting up. I wipe my face, brush my teeth, and wonder if Allen Stone is spritzing any water on the crowd as I lay down to sleep.
The last noise I hear is Big Mike snarfing two tents over.
When I wake it’s ten before six but fear it’s past eight. The sun has stolen the treeline and the day is warming. Damn this Tennessee weather. The camp, woozy from a late night, is quiet. I rise, dress, eat two peanut butter and honey sandwiches – the seventh in three days – and begin the trek towards Clean Vibes. My head throbs with the dull ache of dehydration, a consequence of drinking no water upon my return to the camp.
Not that I wasn’t thirsty last night. Our gallons of sulfur water, ripe from a day in the heat, had exploded in the cooler.
I arrive a few minutes before seven. There are three others sitting on the ground, oozing airs of despondency. The tent is closed. “They’re not here,” a sunburned man named Kevin informed me. He looks truly upset at the circumstance so I pester him not and spend my time eating an almond a minute – seriously – before my boss rolls up in her ten seat golf cart, heavy dreadlocks waving with the speed, unconcerned that I’ve eaten twenty-seven of my forty-two almonds.
No apology for her lateness, just a grunt when I check in with the seven o’clock crew. “Your ass is bout to be placed in staff catering. They’re assholes in staff catering, ya here?” Her New York accent is thick this time of day. “Just do your job and sort their trash when they don’t listen to you.”
And off we go, zipping through the abandoned Centeroo grounds littered with trash. I see a crew of forty brown-shirted Croo members and ask Alice – boss lady – who they are. “Early crew!” she says. “They get here early, pick up all the trash inside Centeroo before the crowds come, and are off by 1:30. Killer on your back though.” They move as a flock of birds beating their wings together, swooping down to pick up a cup before bagging it and moving on to the next item flipped carelessly onto the ground.
As we pass through I count fourteen people passed out in the grass. One made it near our road before lying down peacefully outside the lone Bonnaroo Salon. Another is facedown and drooling underneath a picnic table. Four are propped against a large tree outside of This Tent and the remaining eight are scattered in the fields, dressed in various colors and clothing, like eggs on Easter Sunday. I wave to a security officer sitting calmly outside the Salon as we pass by. It’s as if he’s guarding the small woman asleep at his feet.
“Hey Alice,” I ask. “What happens to the people who sleep here?”
She barks. “They wake up wondering where they are. It’s all good. They’re safe here and we’ve security patrolling all hours of the night. Happens every night of Bonnaroo, every year. Just wait for the Tom Petty concert on Sunday. Monday morning they’ll be passed out everywhere.” She peels out of Centeroo and takes a dusty road towards staff catering.
She drops Kevin and a tall smelly volunteer named Scott whose malodor I endured the entire trip over off at short term catering with a threat similar to mine yesterday before taking me around back to long term catering. I am to be placed with the “compost pros,” Alice explains. Long term staff catering are the folks who have been at Bonnaroo since before June and have been through the rig and roll of compost-recycle-landfill. Looks like I drew the long end of the stick this morning.
I’m introduced to Chuck and an Aretha Franklin look alike who has a name but I don’t hear it because I’m singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T with extra ampere in my head and am too embarrassed to ask again. Chuck’s got a best of Elton John album rocking over the speakers. I can tell these six hours are going to go by quickly.
And quickly they do. Chuck and I jam to Elton, the new Timberlake album, and a little bit of Animal Collective in preparation for tonight when they play in the wee hours of the morning. Midway through my shift breakfast ends and I have an hour and a half of picking my nose before lunch begins. I busy myself double checking the compost – a thankless task – and then working my way slowly through a yoga sequence to release my tight low back. Chuck is gone during the break but Aretha, who is charged with keeping the catering gate closed until lunch opens, mmhmms and uhuhhhs her way along my sequence and I find these mutterings as close to solidarity as I’m to get while surrounded by six trash cans.
Lunch comes with a bang and I’m back to work. Alicia, bless her, collects me thirty minutes early and I make it for the entirety of the Reptar show. Never have I seen a collection of artists more excited to be on stage. They bop and pop their way through the songs, guitarist, singer, and keyboardist taking long solos to rock ass across the stage. The crowd digs it, cheering especially loud when the keyboardist – sporting a purple speed suit and a side ponytail – keeps beat while hopping behind the band by beating a tambourine atop his head.
I meet Cam back at the Clean Vibes tent – he’s got a shift that afternoon – and collect the car keys from him. We plan on meeting for Paul McCartny at a water station right before the show’s to start. I tromp back to the tent, feeling rather good. I’m two shifts down and have a big day of music ahead of me.
Back at camp I clean up the mess left by the sulfur water, near choking from the smell, eat another – gads – peanut butter and honey sandwich and wash it down with cold Raman, and go over to the XC tent to hang with the boys. Joe’s there – “Hi, my name’s Joe. What’s yours?” – and after introductions he informs me he’s “never been this fucked up for three in the afternoon.”
A skinny guy with a mop of black hair named Steve in the tent over perks up. “Three in the afternoon? No way! It’s gotta be, like, noon or something. I’ve never been this messed up for noon.”
I tell him Joe’s right, it is three. Steve attempts a whistle. “Far out, man.” Then he lapses into silence, busy rolling a big J.
Bran and Zak laugh at Steve and go back to asking Joe what it was like on mescaline last night. My eyes widen. Mescaline, ladies and gentlemen, occurs naturally in peyote but is synthesized for recreational use. It’s immortalized as Johnny Depp’s drug of choice in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and involves a six plus hour hallucinatory trip similar to that of LSD or psilocybin mushrooms.
Joe has somehow managed to remember that he was offered a hit by some fun-loving Danes down the row and in his words, “I wasn’t not going to do mescaline, right? So I took one hit and then was told I’d taken two and then I tripped balls and saw elephants and kaleidoscope shit for the rest of the night.”
With eyes of wonderment and intense, sincere congratulations I leave Joe and the gang to return to the music. Zak and Bran tell me they’ll try to meet up later – but remember Bran’s going to roll and Zak’s gearing up for acid so who knows if our paths will cross – and Joe raises a cup of seventy percent vodka thirty percent water in salute.
As I walk back to Centeroo I pass the porkies behind the fence and am not wrongly accused of smelling like dog shit. I begin to wonder if these men ever leave the comfort of their camp to listen to the music and then realize I hold no interest in finding out.
The remainder of the afternoon is filled with music. Of Monsters and Men and Grizzly Bear carry me through early evening. For the Wu-Tang Clan at the Which Stage I climb a tree and capture the festival’s biggest dance party on camera.
A side comment about Wu-Tang. They’re great. It’s true hip-hop. A posse of eight core members – most notably Ghostface Killah and Raekwon – and a handful of others affiliates, they bop around on stage, commanding the crowd with their music. The best news of the show? A Wu-Tang 20th anniversary album. Get pumped.
I meet up with Cam once he gets off work and, having snuck an entire fifth of Fireball whiskey into Centeroo, begin drinking heavily as we push our way through the crowd of eighty thousand for Paul McCartney. Cam chatters excitedly about hearing Paul’s sound check. “Lot’s of Beatles tunes, brother.”
And lots of Beatles tunes he played. Paul hit all of the highlights: 8 Days a Week, Eleanor Rigby, Hard Day’s Night, Hey Jude, and a dozen others. We worry when the first song left Paul huffing and puffing his way through a wheezy “BONNNAROOO!” – the man is seventy one, after all.- but he plays for a full two and a half hours, including two encores that end with the last three songs of the Abbey Road melody. Cam and I, who finish the whiskey an hour into the concert and are processing the sauce lining our bellies, dance and sing our way through the show.
Get this. Out of the tens of thousands we bump into Elk and Hay. They’re headed to XX who are playing at the smaller Which Stage. We follow, half drunk and full of ourselves. Cam’s taken to screaming Golden Slumbers to the hapless souls passed out against the fencing between the What Stage and the Which Stage. The XX are a bunch of real snoozers. Elk confesses she falls asleep to them. Hay is nodding off and makes the decision to walk back to the tent for a full night’s rest.
We urge Elk to tag along, ditching the XX for ZZ Top across the field. They rock from midnight to two and we stay for the whole show. With thirty minutes left two Elvis impersonators, one thin and one hefty, flank Elk and begin singing – I shit you not – Burning Love while running a straight comb through gelled black hair. Skinny Elvis is wearing an all white suit with red sparkle stripes. Pudgy Elvis is sporting a glittery gold suit with black fringes. Cam and I are losing our minds. I’m pushing Elk to dance with Pudgy Elvis and Cam is back-to-back with Skinny Elvis singing Blue Suede Shoes.
At the end of the ZZ Top show they depart for Pretty Lights, attempting to bring Elk with them. Pudgy Elvis pulls Elk in close and whispers “I’ve got two and a half confessions to make. I’m not Elvis and I’m not from Memphis. My name is Paul and I’m from Michigan. Come with me.”
Elk manages to withstand such honey smooth attraction and sticks around for Animal Collective. It’s packed like sardines, if sardines wore animal masks. Someone wearing a plastic horse head whinnies his way past. Cam slaps him on the butt, yelling “HYAH!” All around there are stoned, rolling, drunk patrons to good music. One – I place him at sixty by the bald head, wrinkles, and white goatee – man is so deeply under that he is physically unable to open his eyes, content to stand and nod his head slowly up and down, following the general rhyme of the beat. By three a.m. we’re tired of the tight quarters and duck out for the tail end of Pretty Lights.
We are sidetracked by a mostly naked hula-hooper wielding two light-up hoops. His crack shows beneath sagged shorts and his hips swing in the most provocative manner, an invitation to any willing member to hop into the action. Elk is particularly transfixed, and while I’m not sure she is the hooper’s target market I imagine he’s at least flattered by her open appreciation for his skill. He’s hooping, I come to realize, to Pretty Lights.
I also come to realize that Pretty Lights is a guy and a computer. Oh. And a lot of speakers. And lights. It’s an elaborate operation. We stay for two songs – he ends up playing until dawn – watching sinusoidal red beams wave into blue hyperbolic curves arcing along the tree line as the beat drops before tracing geometric patterns on the ground and then strobing hot white light to the sound of thump thump whump thump. Flash flash flish flash. Something like that.
Cam confesses he’s entering hangover mode. I’m getting there. Elk is still watching the hoop go round and round but we’re able to convince her to walk home with us. I’m of the opinion only dirty and regrettable memories occur after four a.m. in Centeroo.
As we walk back I ogle the golf cart taxis and wonder how much one would cost to catch the last mile home. Cam doesn’t think. He acts, racing after a taxi and hopping onto the back seat seconds before it stops in a huff at the Taxi Cab center. A driver who witnesses Cam’s daring dash yells from the safety of his cart “Don’t do that! Don’t EVER do that!” Pause. “Not cool man.”
Maybe you had to be there, maybe not, but the remainder of the walk home I chide Cam for picking his nose. “Don’t do that! Don’t EVER do that!” I give him the last rites for walking in a puddle of water. “Don’t do that! Don’t EVER do that!” I inform him the darkest circle of hell awaits for stealing a roll of toilet paper from a port-a-jon as we pass by. “Don’t do that! Don’t EVER do that!”
And thus, with Cam and I giggling harder than a couple of lads with a bad case of the farts we retire in our tent, leaving Elk to wonder what kind of people she’s managed to tent next to.
As it turns out, two hungover kind of people. I hurt Saturday morning. Dehydration drives a man to desperate measures and I drink the sulfur water straight from the source. Vile. The remainder of my morning is spent wondering if my stomach hurts from the Fireball or the water. It takes the mind off the headache but it’s not until I run, bearing again the smorgasbord of hoots and hollers and crude slurs – today I’m told, in fine Louis C.K. form, to go “suck a bag of dicks” by the fenced in fatties … at least I know their material isn’t all original – that I begin to feel human once again. Lunch is dollar fifty Wal-Mart chow mein and, that’s right, peanut butter and honey sandwich. I wash it down with more sulfur water, burping rotten eggs all the way to Centeroo. Elk and Hay are off working the Silent Auction so Cam and I see if the XC boys care to join us for an afternoon in Centeroo. We’re anxious for The Tallest Man on Earth but have heard good things about Lord Huron, the act before Tallest Man is set to perform.
The first thing I hear when walking up to the Xterra is “Work up in the medical tent at eleven … at night.” My mind falls on Joe and wonder if his “most fucked up Friday” got the best of him. It, in fact, did. This is why our heroine of Bonnaroo wound up with an IV in during the Paul McCartney concert last night and is sprawled out belly-down next to the tent, drooling softly into the grass.
We fail to garner any interest in walking in so early to the festival – our friends have beer to drink and pot to smoke away a wicked MDMT hangover – so Cam and I grunt and brunt the heat towards potable water and live music.
Lord Huron is the truth. I know nothing about them other than their music inspires me to greatness and their sound is a mix of Bruce Springsteen and Grizzly Bear.
My intense affinity for the band sours Tallest Man’s show, which I was perhaps most looking forward to coming into Bonnaroo. A short brooding Swedish man, Kristian Matsson said perhaps ten words to the crowd of thirty thousand, played his set, and left. I, upset with his connection to the crowd, am later placated by a friend who informs me that’s how all his shows go. Get over it, Reese, and enjoy the music. Already I am being spoiled by great musicians who happen to also be great performers. Alas, the life of a needy listener. I forgive you, Kristian.
Cam and I stick around for Dirty Projectors and their sexy trio of female singers – I’m rather transfixed by the older keyboardist – and are blown to bits by their closing song Useful Chamber, which featured seven minutes of shredding and singing worthy of a far larger audience than the ten thousand who witnessed such a display of mind-altering awesomeness.
Thoroughly worn out from standing we sit in the grass and eat a fine dinner of PB&H sandwiches and raw Ramen. I sleep, waking an hour later to Cam slapping my cheek, telling me the Lumineers are coming on in five. Elk and Hay have found us and they’re already moving with the crowd towards Which Stage.
I’m starving and tell my friends the exact extent of my hunger, complaining the Ramen and sandwich did nothing to tide me over. Hay reaches into her purse and hands me a cookie. Cam, indignant that I’m the lone baked good recipient, demands equal action and for his complaints receives a cookie as well. I eat the cookie in one bite. As I chew I notice an earthy quality in the taste and after swallowing I ask Hay how she made them. “With weed,” she says.
Ah. Great. I’ve been drugged. Not that this is my first time experimenting with edibles … my previous (and singular) encounter came sophomore year of college when a friend called me up and asked if he could use my kitchen. We never ate a brownie, just the batter, and the night peaked with me vomiting in the backseat of my roommate’s car at a Wendy’s drive thru. While cleaning out his car the next morning I swore off edible pot – brownies, cookies, butter, and tea – and remained strong through my remaining undergraduate days.
But here I am. Ten minutes to blastoff listening to Ho Hey with sixty thousand Bonnaroovians. Cam – at first upset with the girls – is already giggling in hysteric clumps at their chicanery. I let the vibe ride and figure there damage is already done … no sense in worrying about what I can’t fix. So I dance and sing and enjoy the gentle numbing of my legs and the lightness of my head. Nobody drug tests an unpublished author so what do I have to worry about with the music playing?
The Lumineers end their set to raucous foot stamping and whistles. They’re the true headliner for the night since Mumford & Sons had to drop out of Bonnaroo because of severe illness with their bassist. Jack Johnson is playing in their stead. He played as a special guest during ALO’s late night jam session Thursday night and was asked Friday morning to step in for Mumford. I imagine the conversation between Bonnaroo officials went something like this: “Shit. Mumford’s out. We need a headliner for Saturday.”
“… Jack Johnson’s in town.”
“Has he put anything out since Banana Pancakes?”
“Screw it. Call him up.”
Jack Johnson puts on a great show. We sit in the grass, proper stoned and dreadful thirsty. The four of us drink six liters of water in thirty minutes and, unable to bear the crowds, tromp over to the food trucks for a snack and a respite. I wait in line alone, fixated on a spicy curry with basmati rice and extra pepper sauce. I use a meal token, collect my steaming bowl, and inhale the curry in under forty seconds. I wander around the picnic tables looking for my crew and find them asleep in a field behind the trucks. R. Kelly is coming on – we’ve debated at great length how many times he will threaten to pee on the first row – in a half hour. Billy Idol, whom I grew up rocking to, follows R. Kelly and is the one act left in Bonnaroo I truly want to see. For the life of me, however, I see no possible avenue that will keep me awake and functional for the two hours left to Billy.
So I rouse Cam, Hay, and Elk and we make our way home. Hay begins talking about all the food she’s been hiding from us: cheezeballs, Pringles, spicy cheddar queso, Tostidos scoops, and melted Reese’s peanut butter cups. It’s all I can do to not stop and salivate. But, being capable of only one task at a time I continue walking and fixate solely on the sensation of a warm melted Reese’s filling every tastebud with the explosion of a chocolaty peanut buttery orgastic spectastic.
The food never stood a chance. We decimate it with systematic precision. Elk orchestrates the whole affair, laying out a five course feast with which we tackle out appetizers – cheezeballs and Pringles – first, followed by the main course – chips and queso – and then finish with dessert – the Reese’s. Cam and Hay fall asleep midway through the bag of chips so Elk and I step up to the plate with our big sticks and polish it all off with little regard for our tummies in the morning. I plan on leaving Cam a Reese’s but remember only after I eat the last cup.
I fall asleep with the bump of R. Kelly behind the trees and chocolate smeared all over my face.
When I wake I’m uncharacteristically full. Cam – who is working the morning shift – has taken the keys to the car, thus rendering me incapable of basically anything save for lacing up my muddy running shoes, putting on a pair of old dirty running shorts, and running sockless into Centeroo to find him and my keys.
It takes me four miles to find Cam and work off the post-cookie haze but once I find him and my keys I’m ready for another day of music. I ask Cam when he wants to leave – tonight and beat the crowd but miss most of Tom Petty or tomorrow and fight the traffic – and we decide on tonight.
I return to our camp, give Hay a hard time about drugging us to which she shrugs and makes little apology for a good time, and set about taking down camp. I’m not the only one with such an idea. All around folks are breaking down tents and folding up tarps. I realize our campsite isn’t much with just a plot of grass to sit on … it had much more character with a tent and chairs and a cooler.
My lunch consists of a final bag of chow mein. I eat, say bye to the XC boys – they’re sticking around for the night and I likely will not run into them while volunteering today – and run into Joe on my way back to my car. Joe introduces himself, commenting on what a bummer it is that we didn’t meet until the last day of Bonnaroo “because you look like a lot of fun to party with, bro.” I agree, slap his back, and say goodbye to Joe forever.
Then, putting on my now stiff from sweat brown Bonnaroo Trash Talker staff shirt I trek into Centeroo for the last time, ready for my last shift sorting trash, hoping I’ll at least be stationed near some music.
Talk about luck of the draw. I’m placed at the crossroads of What Stage and Which Stage. I can see Which Stage and when they’re not playing can hear the What Stage. That’s why Sunday is my favorite day of music – I see Delta Rae, The Sheepdogs, and Edwarde Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and hear Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Kendrick Lamar. It’s six hours of sock rocking tunes and I’m stuck smack in the middle of it all.
Location, location, location. While I am fortunate enough to be a part of the music today i have to work my tail off. Let me explain. As I’ve mentioned hat Stage holds eighty thousand people while Which Stage can accomodate sixty thousand. Bonnaroo officials have enough sense to stagger the shows so attendees can see most of each big show. For example, Macklemore plays his show at 3:30-4:30 on What Stage. The Sheepdogs come on at 4:00 and play till 5:15 Then while the Which Stage crew is preparing for Ed Shrape at 5:45 Kendrick Lamar plays from 5-6:15 (double check times) after Macklemore.
This means that there are anywhere from fifty to one hundred thousand people walking between What Stage and Which Stage as the next act is set to begin. There is one road leading directly between these stages and my trash station is on it. I bag and sort more compost in an hour than in my previous twelve as a Trash Talker. It’s intense. People don’t want to listen or are so in their heads they simply cannot hear my words. Frustrating initially, I accept this for basic human nature and get over myself. By four I’m tired, having been on my feet without sitting for over five hours now. I begin keeping a mental log of all shirts that amuse me in some capacity. Here are my favorites:
Tits Clits or Bong Rips
Alcohol & Party & Molly & Sluts
Don’t Make Me Bitch Slap You
Will Tesselate for Alt-J
Bro Bro Bro Bro FUCK Bro
Rudi stumbles into me right before Edward Sharpe plays, eyes redder than the devil’s dong, a big goofy smile pasted to his lips. “You want a smoothie?” he asks. “I gotta get a smoothie, man. Princess needs one.” He points to his shirt, a drawing of Princess Lea, one hand pressed onto her bun - if she’s listening to the beat - and the other hand spinning a record atop a lobotomized R2D2. I assure him I’m well taken care of, that my final peanut butter and honey sandwich is enough to carry me through to my meal token coming in two hours, and off he wanders, offering hi(gh) fives to anyone within a ten foot radius.
The Magnetic Zeros put on a great show, the highlight for me coming when Edward steps into the crowd during “story time” and, upon asking if anyone has a story to tell one girl screams into his microphone “TURN OFF THE PHONES! TURN OFF YOUR PHONES FOR THE LOVE OF EDWARD!” As it turns out, the Zeros didn’t have a public service announcement in mind for story time and asked for another story. At this precise instance a man pushed me out of the way of the trashcans and puked his soul into the compost, the sounds of his retching drawing out the story of Saul, a young cancer survivor.
My immediate surroundings, more impressed with my new friend’s environmental concience, cheers louder for Ser Puke-A-Lot and my doubly soilded compost than for Saul, who is now up on stage with Edward and his band.
My shift ends with my bagging the puke and tossing it to the side for Clean Vibes to pick up. I’m replaced a few minutes to seven and gladly depart, exhausted and smelling of all manner of trash.
Back at Clean Vibes I sign out once more, collect a meal token, and am ensured a full refund on my Bonnaroo ticket. I leave the tent with a certain sense of satisfaction. No, wait. That’s just hunger.
Meeting up with Cam we feast on pizza and chili cheese fries before working our way back to Which Stage for David Byrne - lead singer of Talking Heads - and St. Vincent. Somewhere around eight p.m. I lose my mind and begin dancing with a broken tent pole, earning a comment from one man on a self-proclaimed “bad trip” that he “wants a trip like that.” It’s more entertaining to maintain the illusion of hallucination than confess to this bug-eyed fellow that i am sober as a bird and am merely ready to be driving home. David Byrne ends with a rousing rendition to Burning Down the House and we are then shuttled forward like packed rats to What Stage for Tom Petty.
Elk and Hay, coming down from rolling, find us at a water station and explain the merits of hard drugs for Kendrick Lamar. We shuffle together into the What Stage field, working our way to the back for an easy exit. We’re all trying to leave tonight and figure we might as well leave together. Elk and Hay plan on popping an Adderol before their fourteen hour drive home. Cam and I will settle for coffee, but i suppose it’s all basically the same.
Tom Petty comes on right when I feel the first raindrops splashing against my shoulders. The weather had been flirting with storming all afternoon but held at bay until the sun went down. Now, with the rain falling and the music playing we watch Tom and his band of merry Heartbreakers shred out. He seems drunk to me - his words slurring between songs as he talks to the audience- but he can play a mean song. The cool thing about his is that he sounds - even thirty years later - exactly like his album.
We leave after Free Falling, soaking wet and ready for the comfort of our cars. There’s a long line of traffic out of our campsite - we’re not the only ones with aspirations of beating the masses - and those waiting in line to leave honk and slap hands with us as we pass by. Even the fenced in fatties, whom i am unsure ever actually made it to any shows, are packed up and gone, their only tangible gift to Bonnaroo a collection of candy wrappers and half eaten sausages left scattered around their campsite.
Back at the cars we say our goodbyes, Hay and Elk working their way up north while Cam and I head south. The music that brought us together is also the reason we’re breaking apart. Once the music stops all that’s left of Bonnaroo is mud, heat, and trash. Best leave with the sounds of American Girl softly filling the camp.
And so we leave Bonnaroo, leave Manchester Tennessee, and point our noses West - to a civilization that time has touched - to air conditioning and down pillows and sulfur free water. But I miss Bonnaroo. The music, sure, but especially the people. It’s a different breed out there. A different world filled with happy like-minded inhabitants. So next year, if you get a wild hair and want an experience, sign up and go to a music festival. You may come back with a new point of view. So what’s mine, you ask?
Keep calm and shut the fuck up.