Me and Bobby McGee (Excerpt: Chapters 1-5)
***Me and Bobby McGee by Chad Coenson (2010 - Inkwater Press) ***
Chapter 1: The Day After Fat Tuesday
Wednesday – I awoke between the breasts of a perfectly inviting stranger. After an awkward moment of silence I offered an ignorant smile, a kiss on the cheek, and then an indifferent farewell. Apparently this is customary in New Orleans the day after Fat Tuesday as she offered the same unaffected grace with no interest in my identity or next destination.
The morning air smelt of lost innocence and bourbon as I wandered the streets trying to trace my steps or more, my stumbles from the preceding evening. Sin is supposed to have been filtered from the body on this day and a renewal of piety is meant to occur. Of course this is Louisiana or more so this is New Orleans, where all the names have tattoos, and the tattoos have faces, and behind those faces, those deprecating glares that falsely advertise sincerity, there is always an ulterior motive. The only trustworthy adversaries left are the shadows, and perhaps the wordless gospel sounding from the cardboard stages of displaced blues musicians; the revelry of Cajun saxophones, the soft inspirations of the hopeful and the somber lamentations of the hopeless. Either way I suppose it is life in a balance. All actions of the lost are counteracted by the found, but the lingering question is always, “who is who?”
And amidst these misplaced identities, on that plane of existence in between the scent of day-old jambalaya and ageless voodoo incantations, are those of us who still think we have a purpose. I was relieved when I found I was able to align myself with this order of souls. My purpose: to find a purpose. This is never an easy task, especially for a drunkard son-of-a-bitch like me.
I think that is in fact the central problem with alcohol. When the sun is down you can do anything you want because the rest of the fuck-ups around you don’t care, don’t notice, or would do the same thing if only they could walk. The morning though is spent contemplating just about everything, uncertain if perhaps you did solve some major social issue or economic world problem last night; and no matter what anyone tells you the charming humor of retrospect is still countered by reason and conscience accountability.
And now the sun was up, there was jazz in the wind, and life had begun again. I think Fat Tuesday is the perfect sequel to New Year’s Eve. It’s another wonderful excuse to be human. Another time to remember that before there were words, before everything needed to be defined, there was raw, unconscious bliss. And that’s comforting because I couldn’t recall a moment of the preceding evening.
As I wandered through the French Quarter entertaining my nose and torturing my stomach with the scent of Cajun breakfast, I tried to envision where I’d left my car. I had started this day three nights ago when I first rolled into town. It was four in the morning and the streets were filled with people as was expected. It was instantaneous madness; I had crossed the city limits, which entailed entering a social contract with some manner of spirit in between Lucifer and Dionysius. With a quart of confidence in hand, I dove into the sea of ten-dollar identities and bare-breasted beauties. Beer and bayou-brewed bourbon stole my face and some voodoo gypsy with beads around her waist stole my mind. I’m sure plenty of other stuff happened too but that was about all I could remember, which of course helped me in no way with my only chore.
Everyone I saw on the street had the same look on their face, what I like to call the, “Why the hell did I get up this morning look?” There is no solace or comfort in that look, just ill will and the smell of vomit and whiskey sweat. And then suddenly a sweet sound grabbed my ears and led me like one of the pied piper’s rats. I tripped over some broken cardboard boxes as the sound carried me down the remains of an alley way. It was the sweetest sax I had ever heard. Even the great John Coltrane had never inspired me in such a way. I was blind to the world and used my ears to see and guide me. It was like looking for the end of the rainbow except there was no pot of gold, just an old, toothless bum sitting on the ground with a Styrofoam urn filled to the brim with change. His music pierced through my entire body, all the way to the depths of my soul. It filled my hollow intentions with something a bit more soluble, a reason for being alive. I listened for a while and then dropped a five-dollar bill in the cup. The old man winked at me but just kept on playing. My existence was a mirage to him but at least he could buy a bottle of wine or something to warm himself, some blanket of escape.
The music danced around in my head as I walked back to Bourbon Street and it filled me with the desire to do something, to become someone more. It’s easy to rationalize emptiness with illusions of grandeur when you’re all alone in the world. There was a time when I wanted to be lots of things but somehow along the way my desire for greatness became a daydream of sorts and I settled for this life. This wandering decadence, a wash of sin and deceit; this was my existence.
But who’s to say I had to give up on dreams? All I needed was a little taste of wonder and magnificence; then I could make my mark on this world…an enormous, neon mark, big enough to hide the last one I’d made. But first and foremost I needed money. Luckily that was the true reason I had come to this insane asylum city. Yes folks, I’m a gambling man, a Doc Holliday prodigy if you will. I live by the roll of the dice, the flip of the cards, and the gentle caress of lady luck. Some people think the great American gambler is dead and gone, but I’ll tell you, it is one hell of a way to live if you play your cards right. But let’s call a spade a spade, living this way only leaves you chasing the queen of diamonds and dodging the queen of hearts. But I guess it’s only lonely when I’m alone.
Anyway, I needed to score big and the only way I could do that was to find an unsanctioned game. That riverboat shit is for tourist and the stakes are never high enough. Don’t get me wrong, a few rounds of blackjack are not unlike good sex, especially when the cards are falling your way. In this particular instance though, I needed enough money to make it to the great western United States, and some tourist attraction was not going to get me there. I needed to find some gritty moonshine-blind Cajuns who had money to lose. The question was of course, Where do I find them in this strange city? You can always check the local bars for a game, but when you have a powerful thirst such as the one that has plagued me since I can or cannot remember, it’s hard to avoid ending up drunk and in bed with some desperate waitress. With this in mind I forced myself to seek assistance in my quest elsewhere.
On my way to seek assistance elsewhere I stopped in a bar called Elsewhere, to have a drink, to help me think about where I might find this assistance which I did so desperately seek. There’s nothing my old friends Jacky D. and the Captain don’t have an answer for. Surely with their help I would be able to find a high-stakes game; and for the record I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a seasoned professional.
The bar was dark, cold, and extremely cozy, a place for strangers and the remains of outlaws. The wooden walls bore no nostalgia or photographs, except just behind the bar there was a framed print of Van Gogh’s painting of the Absinthe bottle. At first I was aroused by the cultural depth the shit-hole dive chose to display, but then I began to wonder if perhaps it was not excellent taste in artwork but more an advertisement. I sat down at the bar, which was made of unfinished wood, and got a splinter as soon as I put my hand on the surly thing.
The bartender, a heavy-set gentleman with an obvious glass eye and minimal teeth, waddled over. I could see by the look in his good eye that I wasn’t welcome; the glass eye remained indifferent. It seemed as though my penchant for dental hygiene had gotten me on someone’s bad side once again. Not only did I have all my teeth, not one of them gold, but I didn’t even have a cavity. I could see it in his eye…hell, I could see it in that hideous glass eye; I was everything he hated.
“Play it cool,” I thought, “order something or bang your jaw against the counter so a few teeth come out, just don’t let him know that you know.” I shuffled in my seat a little and cleared my throat. I was about to say something when he beat me to it.
“Whatcha want?” he snarled.
“Um, nice artwork you got there,” I responded.
“This ain’t no fehggot bar, Suzy. I ain’t here to discuss no cult’cha wit’choo.”
“Wow, you southern folks really are gentlemen; you’re like a walking cliché, my backwoods friend.” He looked puzzled but I kept on, hoping I was talking too fast for him to pick up on the insults. “I’ll have a pint of the dark stuff and a shot of Absinthe.” A smirk crossed his lips and I thought he was going to laugh in my face. Instead he filled a beer glass and then blew the dust off a black bottle and poured me a shot of the green death; liquid Expressionism.
Oh, it chills me how I get myself into these perils. Sometimes I think I’m out of control and wish I had someone to think for me. But I don’t. I stand alone in a desert of faces. Like the cracked section of a cheap stained-glass window, no one cares, because no one notices.
Chapter 2: Stuck in the Middle with You
I woke up to cold water being thrown in my face again – never a good sign. My head felt like tractors had been having sex in it. In these situations it is always smart to make your hands the first body parts you attempt to move. That way you can tell if you’re tied up or not. If you are tied up you know that you’re in a hostile situation and that the chances of talking your way out of the problem are much slimmer, and you can bet pink slips that you’re going to get some new scars. If your hands are free you know that you’ve merely gotten too shit-
housed and you’re either getting kicked out of the bar or you’re in jail.
Luckily my hands were free and as I gazed around the room I saw no bars or police officers. But I was definitely still inside and not out on the street, and in a different room from the last one I remembered being in. The floor was concrete and the lights were much brighter than those of the Absinthe bar; it was more like some suburban garage. Of course my next thoughts were, “Goddamn it, turn down those lights. I’ve got a ridiculous hangover right now and I’d really like to sleep it off.” Then I began to wonder how the hell I had gotten to this elegant Louisiana garage. Of course, then the guys who’d just woken me up with the cold water decided I’d had enough time to reorient myself with the planet.
They were big fat fuckers. It was like Burger King’s version of the Double-Mint twins. They were wearing cheap gray suits and white shirts with those silly little cowboy ties that country singers often sport. Both of them were sweating heavily. It was by far the worst wet t-shirt contest I had ever been to.
“You know why you’s here?” Sweaty Fat Guy asked, with Dixie pride in his voice.
“Sure. You guys are the IRS and you’re here to personally present me an award for honesty and diligence when filing my taxes. Good to see you fellows.” They looked at me perplexed. At least I knew I was dealing with intelligent life forms.
“You’s gotta strange attitude foe someone who-dun know where they’s at,” Big Fat Fucker responded.
“And you’ve got great taste in suits for a guy with a fourth-grade education,” I don’t always try to be so charming when I speak to people but I liked these two guys. They were amusing me, until Big Fat Fucker landed a roundhouse kick to the side of my face and Sweaty Fat Guy decided to garnish me with a slimy side of his finest saliva.
“That smart-ass mouth of yas’ gonna git ya into moe trouble if ya ain’t careful,” Big Fat Fucker replied. I could sense he was apologetic for kicking me in the face so I decided to play nice.
“Okay, where am I, fellas?”
“We ain’t gon-da tell you’s that just yet,” Sweaty Fat Guy responded.
“Okay, why am I here?” I rephrased the question, hoping this would be the correct way to start collecting answers.
“You’re here because you were gambling with money you didn’t have and now you have a significant debt to pay,” a voice behind me spoke. A much more articulate and intimidating voice I might add. “You’re here because you’re a degenerate alcoholic and no one will miss you. You’re here because you’re a parasite in the heart of evolution. You’re here because you are a shitty poker player.”
“Look asshole, I am not an alcoholic.” It’s important to stand up for yourself in situations such as this one. You can’t let the guy you’ve pissed off know you are weak. Weakness is the first step towards impotence and no one respects a guy with a flaccid penis.
“My Mr. Cypher, there’s no need to stop being a gentleman,” the voice chuckled as it edged closer. I knew soon enough I would see the owner’s face. The slow footsteps in my direction made me ponder why I didn’t just turn around and look at the guy, but then I thought, “Bad guys are so good at being dramatic, don’t ruin the moment, let your life mimic the movies.” Seconds later I realized I’d made a terrible mistake when the fucker kicked me in the back of my head.
“It’s rude not to look at someone when they’re talking to you!” the voice shouted angrily. I still couldn’t look at him though because my eyes were shut in nightmarish pain. The back of my head was sore from the kick, the front sore from drinking. When is my life going to add up to something more than excuses for suicidal tendencies and experimental psychology? I needed a beer and a shot of whiskey in the worst way and I figured the only means of getting a taste would be to behave.
I swung blindly and hit the bastard in the knee. The twin tubbies were on me instantly. They stretched my arms out and each chose a hand to stand on.
“Why didn’t you tie him up?!” The bad guy shouted as he rose to his feet. I could see his face now. He was a simple looking, white-bread, southern type. He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t scary, he was just normal. It was like Mr. Rogers trying to be a hard-ass, with the pointy nose and flat demeanor; all he needed was a sweater. He had brown hair, parted to the left, with a few gray patches that so eloquently benchmarked his age. His eyes were glaringly shallow, like deserted tide pools occasionally stirred by rain. I can always gauge the extent of a man’s compassion by the depth of his eyes. By the looks of his, I was in deep shit. “You’re feisty, Cypher! I like that, it’s not just a parlor act to disguise your bad luck,” he breathed heavily.
“That’s what the drinking is for,” I grimaced. “Speaking of which, I could really go for one.”
“All in good time,” a grin made a cameo on his scornful lips and then he pulled a cigar from his suit. He didn’t light it though; he just sniffed it and put it back. My hands were killing me; I wondered when he was going to get these fat bastards to move. “Nothing quite like a Cuban cigar.”
“You spend a lot of time there?” I replied, close to tears, and looked up at Sweaty Fat Guy and Big Fat Fucker, “You two should spend some time in Ethiopia.” They both spat on me.
“I’ve never been to Cuba. I get these from Mexico. As long as you know the right places to shop, it’s just like being in Havana.”
“And by saying, ‘just like Havana,’ you mean you assume it is just like being in Havana. Not really knowing for sure since you’ve never really been there, but that’s what you meant, right?” I responded rudely. I hate people who make assumptions about places they’ve never been. It's like saying Greenland is a lush and tropical island or that Hollywood, Florida, is ripe with movie stars.
“You’ve been to Havana I assume?”
“In my younger years I found myself shipwrecked on that island once or twice.”
“That’s a fine way to put it,” he answered thoughtfully, “business or pleasure?”
“What pleasure can there be without business?”
“You have a strange attitude, Mr. Cypher,” he scratched his chin, “You also have a debt to pay.”
“Okay hold on a minute. I’ll give you the list and you answer one at a time: Who are you? How did I get here? Can you get the poster children for Crisco off of my hands? And how much?” The first two really weren’t that important to me but I figured it would give me time to prepare myself for the bad news.
“Boys, I think he’ll behave now.” They slowly lifted their feet up and the blood that had abandoned my hands for fear of being pulverized into a gaseous state returned in haste to comfort my aching bones.
“Jesus, those guys are fat,” I rubbed my hands lovingly. As the pain subsided I was ready to listen to the missing details of my life.
“Well, the food is good around here,” he laughed. I laughed a little too and remembered that this guy had just had two of the most obese people I’ve ever encountered standing on my hands. My giggling eyes returned to their glare of disdain. His laughter deserted him as well and business resumed.
“So tell me, how did we become buddies?” I smiled sarcastically.
“I believe you had one or twelve shots of Absinthe at my Cousin Leo’s bar. You told him you were a Hollywood producer looking for a bunch of redneck suckers to play poker with and that you were really sorry he didn’t have all of his teeth, and could recommend a fabulous dentist in Malibu.”
“I do remember him. You should get him a toothbrush next Christmas,” I suggested. “I doubt they have any in Louisiana but I think they sell them in Mexico. You know, just down the street from the cigar shop.”
He shook off my comments, “Leo called me and the boys to come out from the back and we sat down to play a little no limit Texas Hold ‘Em. You won a few hands until we realized exactly how drunk you were. Then we cleaned you out. You swore you could win it all back, I asked you if you wanted the opportunity to do more than win it back. You asked me exactly what I meant. I told you I could lend you up to a million dollars but no more. Is any of this ringing a bell?”
“Not exactly,” I replied, “but it does sound like something I would do.”
Chapter 3: Things to Do When You Don’t
Humidity makes me sweat. Some people sweat from fear or exercise but not me. I never exercise and I ran out of fear some years back, just before I lost my job. You see, I used to work for the worldwide sponsor of fear and paranoia, a nameless government agency with all the group-wide aptitude you could possibly imagine but not a single individual brain. Clichés lie like shopping mall Santas the day before Christmas and safety in numbers is the most strategic one of all. It keeps the masses from regressing to the temperament of primitive beasts. There is no national intelligence as far I’m concerned, just a lot of complex guessing games.
Fucking heat. It always keeps my mind wandering…I can never focus on the problem and I had just found my way into a big one. The illustrious “Bad Guy,” who I came to find out was named Monte Weecel, had me in a bind unlike any other. I owed him 1.2 million dollars and had no way to pay. Damn Van Gogh and his overly appealing obsession with mild hallucinogens that taste like black licorice-flavored urine. Find me one person who can resist such an appealing drink, just one sane individual who can shake off the offer of a flame-toasted shot of Absinthe, and I’ll get a 9 to 5 job and spend the rest of my life drying out in the pitiless sun.
But anyway, I was deep in debt and Monte gave me two choices. The first was to die, a typical offer which shouldn’t count as a choice because I’ve never heard of anyone choosing it. It shouldn’t be called a choice, it should be called, “shitty option number one.” Following the first shitty option of course was a second that didn’t involve being shot, stabbed, tossed into a river with cinder blocks tied to my feet, and/or eaten by rabid dogs. At least not directly, which was good enough for me, being that despite my past career choices I have always valued my life. I am the center of mine own universe, and no sun shines brighter than the two-dimensional glow of self-glorification.
With this in mind the second shitty option was in fact, my only option. It involved running an errand of some type. I was to meet my point of contact in Tucson, Arizona, where he would give me “the goods,” and I would then bring them across the border into Mexico. I would be given more details when I arrived in Tucson, but Monte felt this was sufficient for now.
My assumption was of course that, “the goods,” were drugs, but who has ever smuggled drugs into Mexico? There’s no money in that. It’s like bringing whiskey to Ireland. I would have to wait until I met my contact to find out exactly what the deal was.
As you can imagine my first instinct was to agree to the whole thing and then flee the country and never look back. Unfortunately, Monte had accounted for this already. I would have a chaperone of sorts with me the whole way. Well, almost the whole way. I would have to cross the border myself, therefore assuming all of the risk, whatever the risk was to be. The foiling of my plan of escape was disheartening but only at first; then I met my chaperone.
Chapter 4: Things to Do When You Do
She was statuesque as any femme fatale should be. She had long flowing brown hair that halted itself a few inches past her shoulders. Her brown eyes matched her hair in a chorus of exquisite simplicity, but their soft shape and intricate gaze made her exotic and penetrating. She could make heads turn like traffic lights and my heart’s once evasive palpations seemed too long for capture. I hadn’t felt this way about a woman since yesterday and I knew I wasn’t going to let this feeling go.
Lucky for me I had many designated and required hours to spend in her company. The wind would blow her alluring scent under my nose and I would allow myself to be seduced by its charms. I would introduce a new and exciting thought into her mind, something intellectual but not showy. We’d talk about it for hours and then realize halfway through that we were in love. Soon she would suggest that we pull over for the evening and I would reciprocate the suggestion with one of my own – a bottle of wine. My choice would impress her and she would comment on my “having good taste.” I would respond with an, “I know,” and an obvious nod in her direction. The arms of passion would wrap around us both and pull us closer together, and then we would make love until dawn. I would then wake before her, kiss her on the cheek, and slip out before she opened her eyes to live happily ever after in a third world country with a fake passport and a stolen car.
Of course nothing ever happens the way you want it too. As I reached out my hand to offer a greeting she kicked me in the balls.
“You fucking bitch!” I coughed out.
“I just wanted to set a precedent for our relationship in case you were having any thoughts about pulling over for the evening and getting drunk and screwing. This is strictly business,” she barked just like the bitch I thought she’d be. I knew from the minute I saw her that she was a stuck-up, plastic whore. She had devil eyes, bad hair, and the signature of fading beauty written in permanent ink across her entire body. It was going to be a long trip and yet I remained optimistic that she would choke on her arrogance and die from the agonizing realization of her own self-worth.
“You fucking bitch,” I thought aloud, not meaning to be redundant, “I mean, pleased to meet you too…you fucking bitch!”
“It seems you have a true knack for conversation, Mr. Cypher, please tell me more,” she smirked.
“Hey Monte, can I get one of the Weight Watchers’ ‘before’ models to come with me instead?” I said winking and pointing at Big Fat Fucker and Sweaty Fat Guy.
“No Mr. Cypher, I think Miss McGee here will be the perfect company for you on this mission.”
“Miss McGee? You mean she’s not married. What a surprise, I thought every guy liked to get sucker kicked in the balls,” I shook my head at her, “you fucking bitch.”
“Oh, get over it, we have work to do,” she smiled as if she greeted everyone in the same manner…she probably did.
“Fine. But not without a proper introduction. I am Keesey Cypher,” I said, reaching out my hand. She then landed a second swift kick right in my crotch. I fell to my knees again.
“And I am Bobby McGee. And this, as I told you before,” she smirked, “is strictly business. Get up and let’s go.”
“You fucking bitch!” was my only response.
Chapter 5: Retrospect and Disappointment
You know, a lot of times when you think you know…you might. I might have thought my life was going to turn out easy and I’d have died young, died long before all the guilt, self-disappointment, and empty bottles piled up. But it didn’t happen that way. I’ve sipped from the pit of longevity, against my will, and have entered my late thirties a mere mirror of the man I might have been.
I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s a lot of things that might have happened and at that time I may or may not have been able to predict accurately what was to come, even though I may have known exactly what was to be. But, in the day’s particular instance, I seem to be rather clairvoyant. I had moved my usual maybe or might stance on life to an unfortunate certainty. I knew that the future I could see bending over the horizon was going to suck.
Yes, a cheap-shot taking bitch as my co-pilot on a mission of mystery through the fucking desert and I had to drive. Most likely she would have a gun pointed at me the entire time, and some Gila monster would edge its leisurely ass across the road, I’d slam on the brakes, and the gun would go off. And then, for extra fun, I probably wouldn’t die. I’d just be missing an ear and half of my brain. And it wouldn’t be the half of the brain that I think with. No, not at all. It would be the half of the brain that controls all of my motor skills and instinctive actions. I would be able to recite Chaucer in my mind word for word, yet I wouldn’t be able to begin explaining that I had shit myself. A living mind and a dead body, not really a vegetable, more of a fungus, like psilocybin or athlete’s foot.
But maybe I didn’t have to worry about it. If she shot me, the bitch would surely leave me out in the desert to be eaten by vultures or worse, maybe Texas locals. I can’t be fed to Texans, I prefer Memphis style BBQ sauce.
Yes, it was for certain that this trip was going to be the most fun I’ve had since I stopped assassinating the country's most feared enemies that you’ve never heard of. That was the one thing these people didn’t know: I liked to kill and had nothing but utter disregard for human life, including my own. I got fired because I killed too many people on a mission that never really existed in the first place. But then again it is all confidential and I deny my own realities.
Have you ever had dreams that seemed reasonable? Dreams that you were sure you could accomplish someday. Not the flying or illusions of supernatural grandeur type of bullshit, but practical dreams. Those are the only types of dreams I have these days, that and the occasional nightmarish flashback to my previous life and my last day of work. But I don’t like to think about that unless my mind forces me to. The rest of you is so genuinely vulnerable when you sleep and memory is often as hostile as a scorned woman. But when my dreams are filtered by peace I prefer to gaze upon a house of my own, tucked away somewhere by the shore in Northern California. A place accessible only by some dirt road visible to the invited or watchful eye. A holy place, blessed by solitude and worshiped by forgetfulness. A place to rest until the mighty Pacific finally gives in to its hunger and swallows the West Coast and all its inhabitants. But that would all have to wait.
Through all the quickly fleeting notions of possibility and nervous sarcasm, my gut, which I trust way more than my heart, told me after much deliberation that the car ride I was about to take was going to seriously fuck up my life forever. I took a deep breath and then casually asked my hosts if I could use the restroom before we left.