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by Andre Bertolino 8 months ago in humanity

On the road in the time of Covid 19


At the border there is a checkpoint with 26 police cars. I told them I was from Georgia, and they waved me through with no further questions. Jacksonville was a ghost town, but the beaches were open. I pulled into dock “A,” of Lambs Marina and heated up a can of vegetable soup on my butane stove. In St. Augustine everything was open for mothers day and no one was wearing a mask, accept for me. I was wearing a Niosh certified respirator with P95 filters. Some people looked at me like I had made a fashion faux pas. Others as if I had made a bad joke. Some simply stared at me in a manner that would suggest in other situations, that I had a bug on my head. They thought the government was making me do this, but, in reality, I’m doing it because I care about other people. Social distancing was a foreign concept among these god fearing libertarian antivaxxers. Of course the beaches were open with the yellow plague flag flying. I stayed on the property of my step cousin, in a 3 man tent. When it started to rain at 7:00 AM I packed up and drove. At launch complex 41 in Cape Canaveral Nasa was preparing to Launch an unpiloted Air Force X-37B spaceplane on a secret mission. The secret mission is manifold. One objective is to monitor the effect that space has on seeds, and other materials. Another is to test technology that converts solar energy into microwave bursts. Its Russian built RD-130 engines were prepared to push the 20 story rocket with more than 860,000 pounds of thrust. This will be the 90th flight of the RD-180 engine. The goal of the flight is to place the X-37B into one of the Pentagons private orbits, governed by the Rapid Capabilities office of the U.S. Space Force.The X-37B looks like a space shuttle. It has Delta wings, heat shield tiles and a compact payload bay for a solar array that allows for extremely long flights. The last flight of the X-37B lasted 780 days before ending with a secret landing in Florida last October. The duration of the current mission is not known. I checked out the big white boner on the launch site with my binoculars. It looked like the flight was going to be postponed due to incessant rain. So I headed to Lake Okeechobee at 120 mph, because the roads were empty and the landscape was so flat that I could see a cop from 2 miles away. I was starting to feel dirty so I took a bath in lake Okeechobee, with Dr. Bronners soap. Afterwards I still felt dirty. The Towns on the circumference of Lake Okeechobee are somewhat impoverished farming communities who grow Sugar Cane, Papaya, Limes or raise Cows. I told Arnold Schwarzenegger, the voice actor of my GPS, to direct me to Miami and avoid all tolls. Initially I was excited to see Miami, the kind of city that makes you feel like you’re in a science fiction novel. The kind that will be under water by the year 2100, like most of Florida. Upon closer inspection I was disappointed to learn that Miami was closed to all but the homeless. Even the Beaches and state parks were closed. Human feces littered every street downtown. “This is what renaissance fairs should look like, I thought.” I didn’t feel safe camping again. Arnold directed me to a 4 star hotel, called the InterContinental. I rented their $500.00 sheets for $100.00. That night I applied to a few jobs in the keys, to get me around the road block. I had an interview scheduled in Key west by the morning. No continental breakfast. Rooftop Pool closed. I almost made it to Key Largo, but at Mile marker 120 the police turned me around. My e-mail from “Two Friends Patio,” didn’t cut it. So I refueled In Homestead and crossed the everglades. Only one Airboat company was open. I Harvested Epiphytes, and hunted alligators on the Seneca reservation. Giant orange grasshoppers communing on the Cedars. In Fort Meyers the beaches are open, and no one wears a mask. I mean NO ONE. Wearing a mask is considered a political statement akin to waving a flag with Barak Obama’s face on it.I wanted to see the Gulf Coast so, I headed for Cape Coral, then Matlacha, then Pine Island. Couldn’t find anywhere desolate enough to camp and the sun was going down, so I drove until midnight. Disney land Is Closed, though they are preparing to open in a week or two with blunt disclaimers posted pertaining to the inherent stupidity of visiting Disneyworld in the middle of a Pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. The cheapest hotel in the Magic Kingdom is $160.00, but there was a defunct bank with cones surrounding the drive thru adjacent. I just drove between the cones and parked in the shadows. Three exposed light bulbs shed light on my intended campsite, so I took out my Daisy Powerline Air pistol and shot them out, using 10 of my 14 pellets. Then I kicked my shoes off and relaxed for a bit. Less than 15 minutes later a state trooper was parked on the other side of the bank. He was hiding out in the shadows just like me, I’m pretty sure, because when I drove out of the drive through he was pretty surprised to see me. In Orlando and Deytona,(That’s central FL) people are being fined $500.00 for failure to put a mask on. As I drove through Deytona, I looked at my Odometer. It said 7,420. I had only driven one thousand miles during my time in Florida. It is a long and Narrow state. It has gotten a bad rap from all the steak fuckers and junk huffers, but it had a lot of beautiful places in it.

Towards midnight fatigue was setting in and my mind began to drift toward previous car trips I had endured that were much longer.

Dead Pigeon

It was Tabitha who invited me to Portland Oregon. She drove while I navigated and we split the costs, so naturally she comes to mind when I think of Portland, but strangely enough not for those conspicuous devices she used to draw attention to herself. Her tattoos and piercings- none of them come to mind just now, or the way she used to spray her hair with product until it stuck out like a headdress of duck feathers; what comes to mind is her laughter and tears.

The first time I saw her cry was at work. We were wheeling the book carts out onto the porch at Borders when I noticed a fresh blood stain on the steps. I followed the drips and splatters of blood until I came to a…Pigeon huddled against the wall. I ran inside to fetch a box, put my gloves on told Sarah to call the humane society and ran back out. The pigeon had a gaping hole in its chest through which I could see its heart pumping. I carried the pigeon back to the warehouse in the box and Tabitha followed. She asked if she could see it so I took the bird out of the box and cradled it in my arms. I looked into its eyes for a few seconds before it died, and closed its eyes. I told Tabitha that it was dead and she began to cry. She looked so beautiful and innocent.

I left the dead pigeon in the box in the warehouse for a few hours, until Heather found it and started screaming bloody murdered pigeon into the walkie. The general manager, Fryderyck, told me to throw it in the dumpster but I thought that was disrespectful so I put it behind the dumpster instead with the intention of burying it later. When I got off from work I went to retrieve the pigeon from its box and found it was frozen stiff. In hindsight I realize I should have taken it home and put it in my freezer until spring, but at that moment I could see my ex-wife’s Subaru parked across the street in Panera’s parking lot and I could not resist the urge to ornament it. I put it on her roof right over the driver side door for dramatic effect.

A few hours later she left a hysterical message on my phone “There’s a dead bird on my car, you’ve got to come and get it off, I can’t leave work with a dead bird on my car!” I never told her how it got there.

Tabitha and I began hanging out at my place that winter. We exchanged CD’s and poetry. In the summer I showed her how to ride a bike strait into oncoming traffic and she showed me where I would camp if I were a hobo with a fishing pole, or dynamite.

Tabitha was a free spirit. Freedom was what she had. Nobody told her when to go to bed. Nobody told her to do her homework. So why did she feel so trapped? Why did she feel like she had no options in her life when options were the only thing she had?

More than anything she wanted to break free. But free from what? That was the problem. Because she didn’t know what it was she wanted to break free from, she was stuck.

So she figured if she didn’t have the answer, maybe somebody else did. She decided that what she needed was a boyfriend. A boyfriend she decided would be her ticket out, of whatever it was that she was in.

Tabitha’s boyfriend, Arsibault who was a raging alcoholic, should not be compared to me or me to him.

I realize that my open contempt for him, which may not be attributable to jealousy, is somewhat caused by his passion for getting drunk and bragging about his idiotic experiences, combined with the suspicion that he did not appreciate his girlfriend at all, while being a middle manager at Borders.

However in his defense, there is a reason that N.H. drinks more alcohol per capita than any other state in America.

All addictions are just ways to treat the same problem. Drugs, overeating, alcohol and sex are all just another way to find peace. To escape our over-education. To find some deeper connection to something.

When people are treated like cattle that’s how they act. Maybe he was just bored. It could be that nobody is made to do the same things every day month after month. We are healthy, young, awake and alive people, when you look at it which act is more unnatural? Sitting in a room the size of a shipping crate, staring at a computer screen or coming into work hungover?

Wearing a sort wave radio strapped to your ear or breast feeding your baby in public?

We never do anything exciting because we are educated enough to talk yourselves out of any plan. To deconstruct any fantasy. Explain away any goal. We are so smart we can negate any dream.

People have been working for hundreds of years to make this world a safe organized place. Nobody realized how boring it would become.

With the whole world property lined, speed limited, zoned, taxed and regulated, with everyone tested, registered, addressed and recorded, nobody has much room left for adventure, except maybe the kind you can buy at Game stop, on a roller coaster or at a movie.

Still it will always be a kind of fake excitement. We know there is no possibility of a real disaster. And because there is no possibility of real risk, we are left with no chance for real salvation. Real elation. Real excitement, joy, discovery, invention. The rules that keep us safe are the same rules that condemn us to boredom, but without access to chaos, we will never have true peace.

The only frontier left to us is the world of intangibles. Everything else is sewn up too tight. Caged inside too many laws.

By intangibles, I mean the internet, movies, music, art, rumors, anything that isn’t real.

Our culture, the unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as we can imagine it.

Because it is only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs and fantasies that last. Stone crumbles, wood rots, people die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.

If we can change the way we think. The way we see ourselves the way we see the world, we can change the way we live our lives. And that is the only lasting thing we can create. Besides, at some point, our memories, stories and adventures will be the only things we have left. Our goal should be, to be an engine of excitement in our own lives.

Our purpose should be to give Ourselves glorious stories to tell.

But our bureaucracy and our laws have turned the world into a clean, safe work camp.

We don’t want to learn how to be helpless. If we wanted to live in a perfectly structured and micromanaged environment we would board a cruise ship.

To tell the truth I admire addicts In a world where everybody is waiting for some blind random disaster or some sudden disease, they have the comfort of knowing psoriasis of the liver awaits them down the road. they have taken some control of their final exit, and their addiction keeps the cause of death from being a total surprise. So In a way being an addict is very proactive.

But, don’t take my word for it language, is just another way to explain away the wonder and glory of the world, to deconstruct, to dismiss. No one can deal with how beautiful the world really is. How it can’t be explained and understood.

I was not physically attracted to Tabitha because she was of such a diminutive stature. I surmised that her little mouth wasn’t even fit for kissing. I just wanted to be her friend. It was pleasant to have someone I could go to with my troubles, certain of an attentive ear and somewhat reasonable counsel. Tabitha had a knack for sympathy. It is a charming ability, but one often abused by those who are conscious of its possession.

Tabitha was a wanderer, and most wanderers lead a sedentary life. Their unalterable surroundings, the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the immensity of life, glide past, viewed not by a sense of mystery but a slightly disdainful ignorance. For there is nothing mysterious to a wanderer unless it be wandering itself, which is as unfathomable as destiny.

After a few hours in transit, a casual stroll on the streets of any neighborhood sufficed to reveal to her the secret of a whole city, and she usually found the secret not worth knowing.

When she was a little girl growing up in Hillsborough New Hampshire, she hitched short distances. It proved good for her morale, good theoretically for her soul. Parents, teachers, neighbors, ministers and cops tried to reason with her. The short frail child listened to their pleas and warnings, but her mind had a logic of its own. If tires were predestined to roll and seats convey passengers, then who was she to deflect these splendid things from their rightful purpose?

“There are distasteful and Horrible men who drive about in cars,” they told her. “you’re guaranteed to be picked up by some of them eventually.”

The truth was, Tabitha was picked up by such men twice a week. There are a lot more men like that than people think. In time she learned to identify hot heads and would be rapists by subtle symptoms (Tight lips, shifty eyes, and the pallor that comes from sitting around in stuffy rooms reading playboy and the Bible) and refused their rides.

Hitchhiking is not a sport. It is not an art. It certainly isn’t work, for it requires no particular ability nor does it produce anything of value. It is adventure. The American road represents choice, escape, opportunity, a way to somewhere else. However illusory, the road was freedom, and the freest way to ride the road was hitchhiking.

By the time Tabitha was a teenager she had become the best there ever was or ever would be. She hitched one hundred and twenty seven hours without stopping, without food or sleep, crossed the continent twice in six days, cooled her thumbs in both oceans and caught rides on unlighted highways after midnight, such was her skill, persuasion, rhythm. She set records and immediately cracked them; went farther, faster than any hitchhiker before or since. As she developed, however, she grew more concerned with subtleties and nuances of style. Time in terms of M.P.H. no longer interested her. She began to hitchhike in geological time, slow ancient, vast. Daylight, she would sleep in ditches and under bushes, crawling out in the afternoon, stopping car after car and often as not refusing their lift, or riding only a mile before starting over again. She removed the freeway from its temporal context. Overpasses, cloverleaf’s, exit ramps took on the aspect of an ancient ruin for her. Without destination, without cessation, her run was often silent and empty; there were no increments, no arbitrary gradations reducing time to functional units. She abstracted and purified. Then she began to juxtapose slow, extended runs with short, furiously fast ones-until she could compose melodies, concerti, entire symphonies of hitch. If Kerouac were still around and heard this he would go on a binge of Big Sur proportions. She added dimensions to hitchhiking that others could not even understand. In the age of the Automobile, there have been many great drivers, but only one great passenger. KT hitched and hiked over every state and half the nations, through blizzards and under rainbows, in desserts and in cities. There is no road that did not expect her. Fields of daisies bowed and gas pumps gurgled when she passed by. She was the spirit and the heart of hitchhiking, its cortex and its medulla, its foundation and its culmination, the Jewel in its lotus.

This is the story of how I became her passenger. When I had enough of Borders I quit. That’s not true, actually I called the Teamsters and started a Labor union. The managers of Borders bribed me to quit. Either way I could not find another job in Concord. No one would hire me because I so obviously didn’t give a fuck. My understanding of the depressive personality type and it’s seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool is that depression is a successful adaptation to ceaseless hardship. Pessimism, feelings of worthlessness and lack of entitlement, inability to derive satisfaction from pleasure, a tormenting awareness of the worlds general crappiness. Few things gratify a depressive more than really bad news, but evolutionary advantages aside, this obviously wasn’t an optimal way to live. When I visited a psychologist from Chicken square to pull me out of it and he told me the best way to cure what ailed me was medication and the only way an uninsured guy like me could obtain that was to get checked into a nut house. A controlled environment is essential to the testing of pharmaceuticals on human guinea pigs he rationalized. All the trumpery and quackery of our scientific practitioners came to apotheosis in the person of this suave sadist who operated this clinic with the full concurrence and connivance of the law. Pretending that he understood the secret regulations of the glands, invested with the power of a medieval monarch, oblivious to the pain he inflicted, ignorant of everything but his medical knowledge, he went to work on the human organism like a plumber sets to work on underground drainpipes. He coached me on what I had to say to get admitted and I Paid him $75.00 cash for it. I had a lack of experience at casual dishonesty and doubted the shrinks plan would work, out loud. I should have told him “Hating yourself is so last year. That subculture has been thoroughly subverted by the mainstream, I just need drugs to continue a mediocre life in a one horse town. There isn’t enough incentive for me to live here. Desire haunts my dreams. I knew beauty once and it is essential that I know it again.”

Instead I followed his advice as best I could without betraying my principles. The hospital tested my pee and gave me a glass of water. I told them the magic words three times and they told me “we don’t have any beds available try again tomorrow.” Meaning come back when you have health care. They billed me $1,200.00 for their “services.” As I was leaving the hospital ten hours later & more depressed than ever Tabitha called me and invited me to accompany her to Oregon. I declined; she said “what?” I said “I’ll think about it.” She called back five minutes later “what do you mean you’ll think about it?” I considered what little I had left to loose and gave in. I hated my life. My ex-wife already had custody. It was hard enough getting her to sign the divorce papers without a custody battle. I just wanted to be rid of her and as far away from her as possible. The nausea and insomnia caused by her presence in my life had weakened me to such an extent that I needed to leave just to regain my health.

So I gave my super notice and cleaned my pad real nice for Fryderyck my former manager at Borders. I would have it be known that I despise managers in general and Fryderyck in particular. They shudder at the thought of hard work, and lead precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal. In all they say-in their actions, in their looks, in their persons-can be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, and the determination to lounge safely through existence. At Borders they passed the time by back biting and intriguing against each other in a foolish way. There was an air of plotting about that place, but nothing came of it of course. It was as unreal as everything else-as the philanthropic pretense of the whole job, as their talk, as their hierarchy, as their show of work. The only real feeling they had was the desire to be appointed to their own store where money was to be had. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that account-but as to effectively lifting a little finger-0h, no. What’s worse they all have this idea that being nice is more important than being real. My first interview with Fryderyck was curious. He was commonplace in manners, and metro sexual in voice. He was of large build with a head like an ivory q-ball that would turn bright red and begin to smoke whenever he was mad. His facial hair reminded me of either Prince or Shakespeare depending on what angle I was viewing him from. His eyes of the usual color were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as heavy as an axe. Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression on his lips, something like a stealthy smile. It was unconscious; this smile was, though just after he said something it got intensified for an instant. It came at the end of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely unchangeable. He was obeyed yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in the deplorable state of the store. He had little learning and little intelligence. His position had come to him because he was never ill.

On my last night in that dank room in Concord Tabitha knocked on my door at 11:00 pm sobbing & drunk. In the past two weeks she had made it her mission to visit all her ex-boyfriends, flings, crushes & fuck-buddies. On this night she had visited Arsibault and found him with another little girl in his dads’ trailer. Tabitha went into a petulant frenzy at the sight and threw her recently emptied whiskey bottle through the glass door shattering it. When she finished crying I took her shoes off, picked her up and plopped her in my bed. I slept nearby on the floor as I would for the next month. The following morning she vomited in my toilet while I washed the dishes. As she took off that day Fryderyck was already outside with his father preparing to move in. Cracking the whip as always it was too late to turn back.

Tabitha came back later that day with her mom’s car, because her dad was changing the oil in her jeep. My bike wouldn’t fit in this car so I had to leave it. When we arrived at her place I found that her jeep was already full and I was forced to jettison more of my equipment. This didn’t bother me until later when I found out what her jeep was full of. Mostly broken electronics, ugly rocks, clothes that didn’t fit her, books she never read and decorations one could find at any Target. I wasn’t permitted to rearrange the jeep because we had to visit someone in the cemetery before sundown. In 10th grade she had been in a fatal car accident with her best friend. All of Tabitha’s front teeth were knocked out and surgically replaced leaving some scarring. For this reason she receives a small sum of money at regular intervals from an insurance company. This year she gets 20 grand.

When we got back to her place it was late. I met her mom and shook her hand. She looked and felt like Tabitha. She was on an oxygen respirator and addicted to four kinds of prescription drugs. Tabitha was smoking a camel in the kitchen.

There are some families that are skilled at presenting a handsome façade to the world, no matter what is going on; it was all lies, of course, but at least it was a convenience to visitors. Then there are other families where the emotional wounds of the participants never healed, never even closed up and scabbed over, and no one even bothered to cover them up. Like the ghastly effigies in catholic churches with exposed bleeding hearts and gushing stigmata. Having dinner or even polite conversation with them was fraught with danger. Fortunately Tabitha’s Family was of the former variety.

We slept at her place that night and left at 5 the next morning. We were half way to Chicago when she expressed worry for her kitten. I had not seen the cat though I had noticed its litter box whenever we made a turn and something fell on Rosebud, her dog, whom I was obliged to dig out. Shortly thereafter she broke her CD player by hitting all the buttons simultaneously and blamed it on my Blind Melon cassette. Lack of CD player can be a serious condition for a music addict like Tabitha and she was now freaking out.

Thinking that some conversation would be nice to ease the long haul ahead I asked her “so if you liked Portland so much, why did you leave after three months?” She pursed her infantile lips and said “I don’t want to tell you that.” I am not an especially shy person; in fact I would tell my life story to anyone who showed interest. When provoked by questions probing my past, I try to place my memories in context; but the result is often a spontaneous outpouring of irrelevant associations and bizarre ideas. As a result I am often accused of Mythomania. Though this is not entirely impossible it is unlikely since Mythomaniacs usually fabricate untrue tales to present themselves in a good light. While many of my tales end with me in compromised situations.

Andre Bertolino
Andre Bertolino
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Andre Bertolino
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