Drowning in the Land of Madness (Day 2)

Morning comes like a practical joke. Waking me up in the night like a hyperactive infant. My body thinks its 3pm but the time is actually 7am. Me and David are up and have found the coffee percolator. I search for the coffee and find it in the cupboard above the sink. Nobody should be up at 7am while on holiday. 7am should be a secret kept by the employed. The rest of us should not know of its evils. Our parents wake up, disturbed by the racket we are making, and join us in the lounge of their RV.

The RV; I am yet to introduce you to it. The grand tour then. When I think of my parents roaming around this huge country I imagine the RV like some kind of a giant mechanical rhino, galloping enthusiastically down interstates and highways in search of some kind of peace. Some kind of American dream. It has the ability to convert from a vehicle to a place of residence like a giant movie-inept Transformer. It starts off as a bus and with the press of a button the sides extend outwards in two places and then, as if by magic, it becomes a slightly wider bus with a lounge and a bedroom in it. It has two sofas, a dining room table, a double bedroom, a kitchen with a sink, gas hobs and microwave oven, a toilet and shower room, a fridge/freezer with ice maker, a cockpit with two white leather swivel chairs. It’s homely and comfortable. It has cable and satellite television, and it also, and most importantly, has a cooler full of beer and ice. Converting it from bus to home is an easy and quick process. One of the sofas and the dining area both convert into double beds meaning that this RV has three double beds in total. Last night David got dibs on the dining table bed while I ended up with the sofa bed.

I drink two coffees but still don’t feel human. My mum, by some kind of culinary miracle, cooks up four toasted sausage, cheese, egg, and BBQ sauce sandwiches and we all sit around the table to eat. We chat like we’ve sat around this table many times before. It doesn’t matter, as you probably know, how long it has been since you last saw a loved one you know well, when you do meet again it is like no time has passed at all. It is good to sit around with them, talking about nothing and stuffing our faces with mums greasy sandwiches, and dad’s strong coffee. With the coffee and food in my body a sense of humanity is finally finding its way back to my soul.

Outside, next to the pool, humming birds flit around man-made bird feeders filled with red syrup. The swimming pool is calling me. So is the beer in the cooler. Is it too early to drink? For the people back in England it’s 4pm now. I crack open a beer and head to the pool.

Keeping a regular diary is an undertaking that few of us have the ability to keep up. Hold on, let me stop here for a sec. Why do people keep diaries? Why am I keeping this diary? I have tried to keep a diary before but find I have too much to write so I just end up with a backlog of notes that grow with no hope of ever being properly put to paper. Perhaps that’s why keeping a holiday diary is the right option for me. I won’t be able to do this for a year but I think two weeks is well within my grasp. This holiday then seems like the perfect opportunity. But who is this for? For me in the future? Yes, of course. But knowing me this will end up the length of a novel and I’ll want to release it into the wild. Publish it. But why would you read this? Why are you reading this? These are questions I can’t answer. I haven’t even managed to put my trousers on yet so answering hypothetical questions posed to myself is well beyond my current grasp. However, in the interest of both nudging my future memory, and filling in a bit of back story for you, I’ll tell you why my parents, and by virtue of that, me and my brother, came to be in this situation.

My parents have been married for 35 years. Their three children, me (Andy), my brother; David, and my sister; Marie, are fully grown and responsible human beings. Our parents were sick of going to work every day and so made the envious choice of fucking off around the world for the rest of their lives instead. They sold their house, got rid of most of their things, and managed to reduce 35 years of marriage down to two suitcases and a handbag. They hopped on a plane and landed in Texas with no real plan or idea of what the future held for them. After a few weeks they had bought an RV and set off on a vague course due west. A few months later my sister visited them for a month and now, another month down the line, me and my brother thought we would take up the opportunity for a tag along too. We had no idea what part of the country they would be in when we booked our time off work but as it turns out they are in Phoenix and we plan to spend the next week traveling to Las Vegas stopping at the Grand Canyon on the way via the historic Route 66. Anyway, that’s enough back story for now. Feel free to make up the rest.

I tentatively tiptoe into the freezing pool with the sun blazing down on me and with Mum calling me a wuss. I take the plunge and swim for a while under water. I surface and attempt to float on my back, something I have never fully mastered, and notice that I’m thirsty. “David! Get me a beer!” I shout, in the direction of the RV.

“Get it yourself.”

“I can’t. I am immersed in water. Get beer and come get in the pool. We’re on holiday!”

He appears from behind the RV wearing a giant floppy hat and sunglasses. His face, which was clean shaven just yesterday, is beginning to sprout some ginger bristles. “No.”

“Come on, it’s warm. Mum and dad are in here.” I point at them to give unnecessary credence to my statement. There they are, apparently immune to the sun. I’m already feeling the skin on my shoulders begin to sizzle and here they are floating around like happy sea lions.

“Fine. Catch.”

He throws a beer over the fence and I catch it with one hand. Unfortunately I have to immediately hide the beer under water. There is a list of rules on the wall which stipulates that booze is strictly prohibited from the pool area. It also says one must have a shower and go to the toilet before entering the pool, but I’m not sure why. How will they know I haven’t been to the toilet if the question for some reason arises? Will they squeeze me and see if I squirt? Normally I would drink anyway and wait to be told not to. Who reads those safety signs anyway? But the owner of this RV park is clearly a tyrant and a menace. She enters the pool area and grunts at us. She is a woman who seems to have no knowledge of customer service, and possibly lacks entirely the ability to smile.

I patiently hold my beer under the water until she is done re-stocking the vending machines around the pool (there is nowhere in this fine country where fizzy drinks and chocolate bars can’t be easily obtained. Vending machines litter the place like clumsy loitering youths). Finally she leaves but my beer has become warm. David joins us in the pool.

“Damn it. I need another beer.”

“Just drink it warm.”

A reasonable argument that persuades me easily. I open the beer and down its tepid contents. “Well, that was jolly disgusting.”

“So, what’s the plan for today?” says David, who stands in the pool like he’s never seen one before and has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing in it.

I shrug. “Mum?”

“Whatever you want. Go for a walk and see what’s around? We have no plans today. Just to relax so you two can get over your long flight.”

“Well I’m finished swimming,” says David, getting out again. He then proceeds to take my towel from a nearby sun-lounger and fucks off back to the RV.

“Hey, that’s my towel. How am I supposed to get dry?”

“I don’t know. That’s your problem.”

I get out and wander around aimlessly until the wet is blasted from my body by the Phoenix sun. It takes only a moment. In fact by the time I get back to the RV to grab my towel off David I no longer need it. I take a seat next to him instead on one of the camping seats that have been set up outside the RV and crack open another beer.

David is drinking a Muller Draft and he is looking at it quizzically. “What’s this?”

“I’m no expert, but I think it’s a beer.”

He picks the RV keys up off the little plastic table next to him and jabs at the top of his can. I look at mine to see what he could be doing. Just to the right of the ring pull there is a small half circle and the directions on the side of the can seem to indicate that if you puncture it the can of beer will, by some kind of wonderful technological advance in beer-to-mouth delivery systems, take on all the characteristics of a draft beer. I try to beat mine through with a stone but only managed to dent the thing into an almost undrinkable shape. David takes it off me and presses the key into it.

“Does it make any difference?” I say, sniffing my can dubiously.

“Tastes the same. I think it just allows the air to flow while you’re drinking it.”

I slurp from my mangled beer receptacle and frown at it. “Why don’t beer companies stop with these goddamn gimmicks? The beer tastes like crap with or without the second blow hole.”

Dad enters the shadows of the RVs canopy with a towel around his shoulders. “We found a bar just down the road yesterday when we were waiting for you two to arrive. If you want we can go down there for a few tonight. We’ll take a walk down the road in a bit and you can check the place out.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I say.

David nods, but still seems lost in solemn contemplation of the extra hole in his can.

*

I had no idea that ears could sweat. This is why people travel. To learn new things about themselves. I have the ability to sweat from my ears. I’m not sure if that’s quite the great epiphany people seek on their excursions into the unknown but it’s the best I can do right now.

As we left the RV I realised that the vicious sun was out to get me so I borrowed my dad’s faded green baseball cap to protect my scull from melting. I have also donned sunglasses. We all have. There is no other way to see through the blanket of white heat. I wonder if they sell ear hats in this part of the world? What if this heat kills me? Or renders me in need of a hospital? Thank god I’m not American that’s all I can say. These fuckers get in debt when they fall ill. At least in England if the sun attempted to kill us the NHS will fix you up for no cost (that is of course until the politicians finally lose their minds and bring our forward thinking socialist health care system into the dark ages by privatising it. Go on Cameron, tempt the nation, an uprising of angry sick people will fight you in the streets!)

“I need water,” I try to say, but no sound leaves my quickly mummifying mouth.

Before we flew out here me and David went online to buy travel insurance and he discovered it’s much cheaper to get couples insurance than it is to get insured separately. So that’s what we did. Two brothers pretending they are on a romantic trip to Vegas for the sake of saving a few quid. If I am hospitalised by this heat what will happen? Will they make us kiss to prove we are a couple? I look over at David. He seems to be coping well, but then he is wearing a floppy hat. Christ, that’s a hell of a thing he’s got on his head. It looks like a giant sky-bound manta ray has perched on top of him.

Below my hat and shades you can only see my nose and bearded chin. My beard has become soft with sweat. You can sweat up to 4 litres of water an hour, out of 3 million sweat glands, and the average human body contains 55 litres of water. That gives me 13 hours before I turn to dust. That timeframe gives me hope and I am able to trudge forth in search of a cold beer.

Finally we come across a petrol station and we are pulled by an invisible force in to its air conditioned insides.

“How far is this place?” I say, as I rummage through the treasures in the fridge. “I’m going to need supplies if it’s much farther.”

“It’s just across the interstate,” says Dad.

“Good. I think I’m ready for this.” I had found an oversized can of Red Bull.

“I thought you quit drinking that shit,” says David. Or I think it was David. Maybe it was the Manta Ray? I frown at it. “What’s wrong?” This time I see David’s mouth move and I rest easy.

“I did quit. But needs must.”

Solving dehydration by drinking half a litre of Red Bull is not dissimilar to solving a basic DIY problem by burning down your house. The DIY problem has been eliminated but everything else is in ruin. My eyes begin to twitch behind my shades and my heart grinds against my rib cage. Coffee manages to stimulate you without forcing your heart into hyper drive so why does your body rally so hard against the intrusion of this soft drink?

“Ok, let’s cross this son of a bitch.” I say, as we reach the mammoth interstate. “Do they really need six lanes of traffic?” I ask, and then think aloud, “Maybe it boils down to their inability to queue.”

“Alright, we’ve done this before,” says Mum. “The key is to remember which way the cars are coming from and then run for your lives.”

“Got it.”

“Isn’t that called jaywalking?” says David.

“If you want to walk another mile to the nearest crossing that’s your business,” says Dad.

“Go!” shouts Mum.

We run, and hop, and stall, and run again, and make it across without a single loss to our party.

“Well, this is the place,” says Dad, motioning to the flat roof cement building in front of us.

“Why do you think the windows are blacked out?” says David, opening the door to look inside.

D. H. Lawrence once said, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” I wonder if he was standing right here, where I am now, when he first had that thought? Inside the bar it is dark and the men inside are sat separate from each other at the bar. Some are sitting at the far end staring up at a silent television on the wall above them that is playing baseball. None of them turn to look at us, to see who has shed this glimmer of light into their usually dark abys. They just carry on, festering in their silence and beer, shrouded in ill darkness.

“You think this would be a nice place to drink?” I say.

“It’s the only bar we could find,” says Dad.

“I think I’d rather sit outside the RV and drink the cold beers out of the cooler,” says David, turning away from the bar.

“Agreed,” says I.

*

There is no purpose to real life, especially when on holiday. Things just are, and then, just as quick as they were, they are not. But there we are. There is no ultimate goal or structure. Things begin that seem like they’re leading to a greater narrative purpose and then nothing comes of it. Life is a novel written by a sociopath with amnesia.  It’s something you’ll just have to get used to. There will be no point or ultimate revelation, or insight into the human mind, or meaning to anything. You are wasting your life reading about mine. But I’m glad you are here. This whole thing would be nothing more than marks on a page if you were not.

We arrive back at the RV and sit around drinking for a while. For some reason the beer isn’t getting us drunk. I think maybe the booze is evaporating out of our sweat glands before it has a chance to affect our mental states.

Bored of sitting in an RV Park, drinking, David and I decide to go on a little venture out on our own to see if we can find a different pub.

After dragging ourselves around the streets for what seems like a lethal amount of time in this sun I notice that no one else is outside. They must be hibernating away somewhere, in giant nests under industrial air conditioning units. We fail in our endeavour to find another pub and head back having trod the side streets and main drags to find nothing more interesting than petrol stations, churches, and fast food places. People don’t walk in this country. There is nowhere to walk to. Miles of nothing separate everything. If you can’t drive somewhere you stay at home and slowly die.

“Brownie for a dollar?” came a woman’s voice.

“Who the fuck said that?” said I.

“Excuse me? Brownie for a dollar?”

“Who is it? And what do you want from me?”

“I think she wants to sell you a brownie,” says David, pointing at a heavy-set black woman and her family hidden away behind a wrought iron fence.

“Ah, I see. I’m good on the brownie front thank you. But listen, do you know of any bars or pubs around here?”

They look mystified but eventually the tall skinny dude at the back with half his teeth missing chirps up. “There’s this one place just down the interstate you can get a beer.”

“No, we tried that place. We are looking for somewhere with more life in it.”

“Sorry, can’t help ya. Will you buy a brownie though? Shampoo? We’re trying to raise money to start a crèche for the local moms.” (Note the “o” in the middle of the word “mom” as opposed to the “u” that we all know should really be there. These Americans, with their reckless and inconsiderate deformation of our beautiful language. What is so wrong with the clear and not at all confusing way we intended these words to be spelt… or should that be spelled?)

“Shampoo?” I say.

“Or cookies.”

“Fine, I’ll have a brownie.”

I gave the woman a dollar and she gave me a brownie.

“Thank you,” I say, and almost add “Have a nice day,” but manage to stop myself. There’s something about this place that makes you want to say these things you’ve never said before like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Have a nice day,” and, “Where is the restroom?” I’ve never asked for a restroom in my life. It’s a place I only ever rest in by accident when blind drunk. It’s never occurred to me to take a nap in there while in any sober frame of mind. But I’ve already caught myself saying both things and I’ve only been in the country for two days.

“Beer out of the cooler it is then,” says David as we walk off.

“Yep. Do you want this brownie?”

“No.”

“Why did he say shampoo?”

“Did you see the table with the stuff on it?”

“I wasn’t taking any notice.”

“Three trays. Cookies in the first, brownies in the second, bottles of shampoo in the third.”

“Oh. Right. Cookies and shampoo. That’s either a stroke of genius I can’t quite grasp, or a serious cry for help.”

Back at the RV we put on a film and drink a couple of beers. The film is Assassins Bullet (spoiler alert!). It is an incredibly frustrating movie in which the twist at the end centres on the notion that nobody can recognise the face of a woman they know intimately just because she is wearing a wig. The brownie is not touched by either of us.

If you’re thinking, fuck, you’re on holiday and all you’re doing is sitting around watching movies? Well fuck you, we have jetlag. We’ll do more tomorrow. Sorry for swearing. I’m tired.

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