Here it is again, fans: my long lost, 15,422-word college writing class epic, "GORILLA-VANCE." Shout out to D-Boy, my long lost college friend, for plucking it from the abyss. And to Fuschia Quillman and Delicious Delicious, for the Art.
It is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, a tale told by an idiot: Me, in 2015. A late-graduating wiseass, trapped in The Evergreen State College making jokes that nobody liked all day. But the true protagonist of the story is not this "Tesse Wolfson" narrating the adventure, but the savage and majestic Evergreen woods in which he narrates. (Or maybe that protagonist is the gorilla.)
Click that "read more" button if you think you can handle it.
By Jesse Wilson
Cover Art by Fuchsia Quillman
“Gorilla Y Soup” Cartoon by Delicious Delicious
I was light green, a tall forest man, a gorilla hunter. I liked the idea and the image, I must say…I touched the knife hilt at my side, and remembered that all men were once boys, and that boys were always looking for ways to become men. Some of the ways are easy, too; all you have to do is be satisfied that it has happened.
--James Dickey, DELIVERANCE.
I don’t know what inspired me to wake up that day. Maybe it was the obnoxious “old school phone” ringtone coming from the phone that was next to my head. Maybe it was the “oBnOxIoUs SoNgS” mixtape playing on my bedroom boombox. Maybe it was the woodpeckers pecking at my window.
Who’s to say. What I’m pretty sure it actually was, though, was that my body was tired of being unconscious. Sleep starts to wear out its welcome after 13 or 14 hours, you know? It’s fun at first, but then it gets kind of boring. I tried to turn off my phone, and wound up answering it by accident. It was my friend D’Vangelous Hitchens. I was surprised to hear from him, because he was supposed to be up north, at a dandelion picking workshop, or something. That wasn’t it but it was something like that.
“Hey” I said. “I thought you were supposed to be at your pancake buttering workshop.”
“What?” he said.
“I thought you—
“I’m in the car” he said. It sounded like he was yelling, but it wasn’t coming through very loud. “I wanted to see if you could do something for me.”
“No” I yelled. I was mad because the day before the day before this takes place, I’d lost $25 to D’Vangelous gambling on Japanese bug fighting videos. The goliath beetles kept letting me down. Also, I think D’Vangelous had seen some of the videos already.
“C’mahhhhnn” he yelled, in a mock-pleading tone that actually meant “real pleading.” I just need you to go downtown and pick up some shoes for me. I know, I know, but wait till you see them—they’re friggin' Dorf Badonkadonk status. And if you do this, I’ll forget about $35 you owe me."
“No” I yelled.
“Go to Hugh’s shoes on—”
Then his voice became unintelligible, and I hung up.
Shoes, eh? I thought.
D’Vangelous is a weird guy. He looks like a cross between D’Angelo, Vangelis, and Christopher Hitchens, and sounds like a lower-pitched Darth Vader. He’s funny—almost moreso than me, sometimes—but it’s a real sarcastic, reference-heavy style of humor, which isn’t really my cup of tea. I like the stuff we can all laugh at, like a monkey smoking a cigarette or a Jew slipping on a banana.
We made a good pair, though. I was the cool, funny one and he was the one that other people thought was cool and funny. If our 2-man team was the Beatles, I would’ve been Ringo and D’Vangelous would’ve been one of the other guys.
When he got back from his short story-writing workshop, we were going to load up his small Japanese car and drive to LA together, and enroll in firefighting school. D’Vangelous had heard on the radio somewhere that firemen could really clean up in LA, sex-wise, since everyone else down there was in the entertainment industry. Girls would be so relieved that we weren’t directors or movie stars, they’d be clawing each other’s hands off just to listen to us talk about our manly, selfless jobs, and suck us off. Seemed like pretty good logic to me. I was pretty physically and mentally weak compared to most firemen, but that wasn’t going to stop me, I predicted.
I closed my eyes for a minute, and pictured some of the women I was going to be getting sucked off by, soon. They were just as hot as I’d always imagined, I imagined.
Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.
OK, time to get going I thought, taking my hand out of my pajama jeans. (Pajama jeans are denim pajamas that look and feel like jeans, so you don’t have to waste time changing into your pants in the morning. And there’s pockets for your phone, keys and change.) Yawning theatrically, I took off the Hawaiian shirt I’d fallen asleep in and replaced it with a similar Hawaiian shirt. Then I flossed and brushed and had breakfast (an egg-in-a-glass and a bowl of orange soup) (they tasted terrible because I’d just brushed my teeth) and woke up my computer. On the screen, there were some poems I’d been working on the night previous:
THE MIDDLE OF A DETECTIVE STORY
Me and Riggs had to haul off his mattress
It was smelly, and sagged, from his fatness
There was so much ejaculate
Caked on the back of it
I almost missed the dead actress!
THE LOCKSMITH’S WEDDING
Jill, when I met you
I felt like I’d finally
found my perfect lock.
Wow I thought. These really hold up. I was impressed by the “economy of words” I’d displayed there. Usually I have a terrible “economy of words.”
Me and Riggs had to haul off his mattress
It was smelly, and sagged, from his fatness
There was so much ejaculate
Caked on the back of it
I almost missed the dead actress!
THE LOCKSMITH’S WEDDING
Jill, when I met you
I felt like I’d finally
found my perfect lock.
Wow I thought. These really hold up. I was impressed by the “economy of words” I’d displayed there. Usually I have a terrible “economy of words.”
I tried to open up the internet, to look up where Hugh’s Shoes was, but Comcast Internet Services wasn’t having it. I guess I hadn’t been giving them enough money.
Then I thought wait a minute, what am I doing picking up shoes for D’Vangelous Hitchens?
Still, I needed somewhere to go, now that I didn’t have internet.
I stepped outside, into the cool Olympia fog.
Olympia is the town where this story takes place. It’s in Washington (which you might know as “Oregon”), at the bottom of Puget Sound. I’d recently graduated from the liberal arts college there, with an undeclared major in creative writing (obviously), and it was just starting to sink in that a chapter of my life was coming to a close. This sense of the wheels of life turning around and around, together with the poetry skills I’d picked up during my 9 years of immersive English study, caused me to look at everything in town in a very poetic light.
It’s funny how things change in 9 years, I thought. Like this dumpster in my apartment complex, for example.
Actually, though, the dumpster hadn’t changed that much. But there was something kind of interesting next to the dumpster. It was the current (at the time) issue of The Cooper Point Journal, which is the campus newspaper for The Evergreen State College, which is the college I went to. (Sorry, I meant to tell you that before.) It was a truly excellent newspaper, The Cooper Point Journal. It had photographs of modern art paintings, police brutality exposes, hard-to-read comics—everything someone who didn’t have an iPhone and needed to take a shit on campus could want. But, you know, you didn’t have to be part of that demographic, necessarily, to enjoy it. So I picked it up, shook off the dumpster water, and tucked it under my arm, like a businessman.
I really should have submitted something to The Cooper Point Journal while I was in college I thought to myself. Why didn’t I ever submit anything to The Cooper Point Journal? I would have been a hit with that demographic.
It would have been really easy. Getting published in The Cooper Point Journal is even easier than getting into The Evergreen State College. That’s part of its charm. But like so many great opportunities in my life, I’d squandered it. I was real squanderer back then. A squanderer and a ponderer.
Maybe I’m over-pondering things I realized. That could be what’s hurting my productivity.
I took one more lap around the parking lot and then pointed myself in the direction of downtown.
I was going to miss these introspective walks. That was one thing I really loved about the Pacific Northwest: It was perfect for walking in the cold and thinking about regrets.
Then I started thinking about a song I used to like when I was 11. Then I remembered a time I said something stupid, and everyone laughed. I laughed to myself, admiringly.
My thought was interrupted when my brain recognized some shapes in the foggy distance.
They were human-shaped shapes, and they looked very similar to the shapes of two 20-year-old acquaintances of mine named Clarence Clipclop and Henrietta Karenson, who I was afraid I might run into.
I’d met Clarence and Henrietta in a wood shop class (“Wood Shop: Something Something Humanities”) and offered them my acquaintanceship after some brief conversations about wood and alcohol demonstrated their worthiness to me. I was drawn to their casual demeanors, and their appreciation of my wood sculptures, which were otherwise not very popular.
Also, as much as I hate to admit it, they were good-looking. Clarence looked like a non-handicapped version of The Six-Fingered Man from The Princess Bride, and Henrietta…she was even better-looking, if you ask me. She was what you would call “conventionally attractive,” if you were judging by the conventions of the black and latino communities. Picture a younger version of Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife.
It seemed like they really had their fingers on the pulse of 20-year old society. (I was 27, then.) (And I was fat, too. Keep that in mind, when you’re picturing me.) We could have a symbiotic relationship, I thought: They would tell me what all the sexually active 20-year-olds were up to, these days, and in exchange, I would give them sage advice about how to live their lives in accordance with my complex, often contradictory moral guidelines.
“We should go smoke a Backwood in the woods sometime” I suggested to them, on the last day of wood shop. “You guys ever smoke a Backwood in the woods? You can just throw them on the ground when you’re done, and they blend right in.”
During this era of my life, I had to accompany every meet-up suggestion with a proposal to drink or smoke weed. It was the behavior of a deeply insecure man, I realized, and that made me feel insecure, and do it more. But, you know, it’s a lot of pressure talking to 20-year-olds, sometimes, because you have to establish yourself as better than them, and that’s much easier said than done.
I’d definitely failed to establish that with Clarence Clipclop and Henrietta Karenson. They hadn’t contacted me since the day I offered to smoke a backwood with them, and it made me tremble with rage to think about it.
I was thinking about it now, as I approached the shapes that looked like them, trembling.
Smug little mollypoppers, I thought. I’ll show them. I’ll fight their apathy…with ignoring.
I took The Cooper Point Journal out from under my arm and started to read it, so I would have an excuse to not notice them.
I flipped the paper open to the comics page, and saw this cartoon:
Oh my God I thought. That’s the best cartoon I’ve eve--
“WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!” someone yelled, as I bumped into them. I looked up from the paper, and saw that it wasn’t Clarence Clipclop or Henrietta Karenson. It was a fat old drunk with a shopping cart.
“Uh...” I said, trying to think of something to say back to him. “If YOU were watching where YOU were going, you should’ve been able to dodge me." The guy had already passed, though.
My thoughts returned to the gorilla cartoon. It was so easy to read and understand compared to the other Cooper Point Journal comics! And there was something about that gorilla’s face. His four facial expressions were my four facial expressions. Was the gorilla my spirit animal, or something? I’d recently changed spirit animals, from antelope to hippo. Maybe it was time to change again. Or maybe you weren’t allowed to change your spirit animal, and I was still an antelope. Maybe thinking about dumb shit like spirit animals was the reason I was where I was in life.
Who’s to say I thought. Why, even--
“Heads up!” said an urgent voice to my left. I looked up, and a water balloon hit me right in the face. It didn’t pop, though. It just molded itself, briefly, to the curvature of my left cheek, and then fell to the sidewalk with a gentle thwap.
The kid whose face the balloon was intended for, probably, whizzed past me on a tiny bike. I picked the balloon up and threw it at him, but it fell short, and didn’t break.
What— I started to think, but then gave up. There was too much to think, all of a sudden. Too much to be angry about. I ripped a daisy out of the ground and stomped on it, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
Arhghghghghghghhg I thought.
Then I ran out of steam and went back to my regular, semi-happy (or semi-sad?) demeanor.
I re-examined the CPJ, and started reading the horoscopes.
How did I never think of walking and reading before? I thought, reading. This is almost as good as listening to headphones.
I read my dumb little horoscope. (“Pieces: You are never going to find love.”) Then, as fate would have it, my eyes found an article about a gorilla, next to the horoscope section.
Little did I know, it was the plot-propelling device that would turn my un-romantic dramedy of a life into a romantic action-tragedy.
Here’s the article, as I read it, reprinted from memory without the permission of the Cooper Point Journal:
Backwoods’ Factbooks #4:
THERE’S A GORILLA LOOSE IN THE WOODS!!!
By Tommy Backwoods*
*Tommy Backwoods was the alias of a conspiracy theorist/“science hippie” named Ricardo (not his real name) who lived near campus and sold cough syrup and jewelry.
Sasquatch is real. We all know this.
But he died, earlier this year.
Did you know that?
Do you know HOW he died?
Dig this, truth-miners:
Sasquatch was a half woman, half gorilla. He was bred by an eccentric Japanese billionaire named Tim Yamamoto, who’s part of a secret society of eccentric, mostly-Japanese tech billionaires who breed their own monsters, and get drunk and watch them fight to the death in giant, secret monster-fighting arenas.
Sounds cool, right? But the Japanese billionaires are bad at keeping the monsters from escaping. They put a ton of resources into breeding the monsters, and then they skimp on the cages and locks, to compensate.
Does that still sound cool to you, reader? Not in real life, it isn’t.
Ever heard of The Giant Squid of Puget Sound?
How about The Giant Goliath Beetle of Lewis County?
There are old men and tweaker gas station attendants who will corroborate the rumors for you. The Giant Goliath Beetle of Lewis County went on a violent rampage back in the early 2000’s, and killed a couple of garlic farmers, but the Japanese billionaires paid the cops to blame it all on some tweakers.
Anyway, Sasquatch was one of the best inventions that Tim Yamamoto ever thought of. It combined the strength of a silverback gorilla with the speed and resourcefulness of a kidnapped prostitute.
But it kept on escaping. Even more than the other monsters. It made The Giant Goliath Beetle of Lewis County look like Blue Sloth of Aberdeen. All in all, Sasquatch escaped more than 20 times, and each time they had to track it down with human- and gorilla-sniffing wolves, and kill all the witnesses--at no small cost to Tim Yamamoto.
The last time Sasquatch escaped, Tim flew into a drunken rage and killed it. Apparently, he has issues with alcohol and rage. (You should try cough syrup, Tim!)
When he awoke from his drunken stupor and realized what he’d done, he flew into a hungover rage, and screamed at his henchmen to find him another human/gorilla couple as soon as possible, to make him a new Sasquatch.
So the henchmen scoured the globe for another aggressive-looking gorilla, found one pretty quickly in Seattle, and brought it back to Tim Yamamoto’s lab, where they injected it with drugs to make it hyper-sexual. Then they found a girl from Enumclaw who was willing to have sex with it for $45. So far, so good.
But when they put the girl and the gorilla into the breeding chamber this time--
“HEY, LOOK WHO IT IS!” I heard someone say from across the street. I swiveled my head around to see who it was, just in case.
It was Clarence Clipclop and Henrietta Karenson! My body, which doesn’t do transitions well, went into a panic.
“Whoa” I said. “Look who it is.” Then I remembered that that was pretty much what Clarence had said.
They walked over to me.
“Hey” said Henrietta.
Dammit, that’s what I was going to say I thought.
“Whatchya reading there?” said Clarence. He was a very confident person. Or at least, that’s what he seemed like, in comparison to me, to me. Maybe he was one of those people who was a wreck on the inside. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, though.
“None of your fucking business, Clarence” I said, throwing the paper to the ground. I was in “fight” mode, still.
“Whoa” he said, holding his hands up in mock-deference.
“Don’t mock-defer to me” I said. “I’ll kick you in the shins.”
I tried to kick him in the shins, and missed.
“It’s been a while, eh?” said Clarence.
“Yeah” I said.
“What were you reading?” he said.
“That CPJ article about the gorilla who’s loose in the woods” I said, cleverly using the word “that” to make it seem like I already knew that everyone had heard about the article already, and I was the last one to the party. I guess Clarence and Henrietta hadn’t heard about it, though.
“What?!” said Clarence.
He picked the paper up off the ground and started reading it. Henrietta started reading it, too. It looked like they were really fast readers, based on their eyes.
“This is amazing” said Clarence.
“I know” I said.
“Well, guess where we were just on our way to” said Clarence, finally, putting down the newspaper. (It was really gross, at this point.)
“The woods?” I said.
“Ding ding ding” he said, imitating a “correct answer” bell. “Maybe we’ll find the gorilla.”
“Wait, what? I said. The gorilla’s on the loose in the woods? I didn’t get that far into the article.”
“It was right there in the headline” said Clarence.
Ah, fuck I thought.
I tried to think of a cool parting remark.
“Don’t get cornho--”
“You want to come to the woods with us?” said Clarence.
I was pretty sure he was just asking me to be polite, which infuriated me, but I really wanted to say yes.
“No” I said.
“C’mon” said Clarence. “Don’t be such a faggot.”
“Ok” I said. “But we have to stop by my apartment first. If we’re going to woods, I want to roll some backwoods.”
This was my way of making it seem like I was negotiating. And of reminding Clarence and Henrietta that I smoked weed.
“Ok” said Clarence.
Everyone, including me, seemed surprised that I was going to the woods, now, but no one could come up with a reason for me not to be able to go. It all happened so fast.
What type of conspiracy is going on here? I thought. I couldn’t tell if there were too many coincidences taking place, or just the normal amount.
It was an 8 minute walk back to my apartment.
“So, do you guys believe in God?” I said, to get the conversation going.
“No” said Henrietta.
“Yeah, me neither, I’m pretty sure” I said, trying to sound unafraid.
“What have you been up to these days?” asked Clarence.
“I just graduated” I said. “I’m fucking around here doing nothing for a week, and then I’m moving to LA to become a fireman.”
“Really?” said Henrietta.
I don’t know if it was just the feeling in the air, or what, but it seemed like the idea of me becoming a fireman was making Henrietta kind of horny. That was the vibe I was picking up
“Yeah” I said. “I’ve always hated fire, ever since I can remember. When I was a little kid and I’d blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I’d always wish for the opportunity to extinguish more fires. Looks like it’s finally coming true.” That was a joke I was working on, for telling people I was becoming a fireman. It was still too long.
Henrietta laughed, quietly but erotically.
“Is there a fitness test?” said Clarence.
“Go fuck yourself, Clarence” I said.
“I just want to know what you have to do to become a fireman” said Clarence.
“I don’t know yet” I said.
“You don’t know?” said Clarence.
“No” I said.
No one said anything for about a minute. We were walking up a hill, and I think everyone got tired.
“What have you guys been up to, these days?” I asked, after we’d crested the hill.
“Work” said Clarence.
Real cool answer, Clarence I thought.
“Has anything exciting happened at the place you work at?” I said.
“Nah” said Clarence.
“Well, shit.” I said. “What’s up with you, Henrietta?”
“Class, starting next week” she said.
I decided to not ask her what class she was taking, to be funny.
The banter bounced back and forth like that for a few more minutes, and then I looked up and we were at my apartment.
“You guys still drink booze?” I asked, as we walked inside. “There’s beers in the fridge, if you’re interested.”
“No thanks” said Henrietta.
“I’ll have a beer” said Clarence, walking over to the kitchen.
“Get me one, too” I said.
I went to my desk to get the tostitos mild salsa jar I kept my weed in.
“Sit down wherever you want” I said. “It’s gonna take me a minute to roll these backwoods.”
Henrietta stayed standing.
“There aren’t any beers in here” said Clarence.
“Hehe, whoops” I said.
Clarence came back into the living room and stood next to Henrietta.
I sat down in my rocking chair and picked up my copy of Anthony Brown’s King Kong book for children, which I used as a rolling surface. It was my old copy, from childhood, but it still held up. I balanced the salsa jar on the book, and picked the backwoods and the plastic measuring cup I use for chopping weed up in up off the floor. Then I realized I’d forgotten the scissors, and I had to put everything down and get the scissors, and pick everything back up again.
“You guys going to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre at Capitol Theater next Friday?” I asked, gingerly pouring the contents of the salsa jar into the plastic measuring cup.
“The original?” said Clarence.
“Yeah” I said. “You guys should go. Capitol Theater is tight. The friday after next they’re playing Next Friday, and the friday after that they’re playing The Day After Tomorrow.”
“Uh…” said Clarence.
Chopchopchop went the scissors.
“We can’t make it next Friday” said Henrietta. “We’re going to be in Seattle.”
Hmmm… I thought.
“What are you guys doing in Seattle?” I asked.
“Concert” said Henrietta.
I decided to not ask her what concert they were going to, to be funny.
“The Fanny Grabbers” said Clarence, ignoring my questionlessness.
“Wow,” I said, “is that a real band? That name is great.”
It’s not a real band. I changed the name when I wrote this. Isn’t that a great name for a band, though?
“I bet you’d like them” said Clarence. “They’re funny.”
“Maybe I’ll go to the concert” I said. “Sounds like there’s going to be at least one girl there.”
“It’s sold out, I’m pretty sure” said Henrietta.
Well, shit I thought.
“You guys go to a lot of concerts?” I said.
“No” said Clarence.
Damn I thought.
“What’s wrong with your knuckle?” said Henrietta.
I was sucking my knuckle, now. The abrasion on it was rubbing against the handles of my chopping scissors in a very annoyingly painful way.
“I was trying to catch one of those little floating white flowers that grant you a wish, and I scraped it on the sidewalk” I said.
Clarence and Henrietta laughed, politely.
“It’s true, though” I said.
“What was your wish?” said Henrietta.
I paused, and tried to think of something funny.
“I wished that there would be a big drought in Africa” I said.
Clarence exhaled through his nose in a bemused way. Or maybe it was a disapproving way.
I’m not good at reading people.
(Actually, now that I mention it, it might have been Henrietta who exhaled through her nose.)
“Good thing my wish won’t come true now, eh?” I said, backpeddling.
No one knew what to say after that, so we all just took a breather.
I went over to the trash to split and empty the backwoods, and then went back to rolling. It was hard to focus, because out the corner of my eye I could see Clarence and Henrietta talking to each other in sign language. It was something that a lot of people who went to my college and took sign language class did, and it made my blood boil. I let it slide, though, because the people who do that like it even more when you get mad at them.
“We should get going soon” said Clarence, out loud, after a minute.
“This is a delicate process, Clarence” I said, with mock, and also real indignation.
In 10 short minutes, I was done rolling the blunts, and drying the spit off them.
“Hey, let’s go, Koko the Gorilla” I said, in an old-timey east coast accent, without making it clear who I was talking to.
(That’s another one of my famous reoccurring jokes: I take forever to leave, and then tell people to hurry up when I’m done getting ready.)
“Finally” said Clarence.
I went to my bedroom to get my backpack.
“Back in a flash” I yelled.
I was actually back pretty soon, too.
“Ok, let’s do this” I said.
I opened the door and we all marched out, youthfully unprepared for the journey ahead. It had gotten really colorful and bright outside. It was almost like, the kind of picturesque scene you’d read about in a novel, or something, with gay dancing sunbeams and birds. But there were shadows, too. Dark shadows.
“Where do you think you’re going, dude?” said my downstairs neighbor, Bridgette, from her smoking stoop in the shadows beneath my front stairs.
“None of your beeswax” I said.
“What?” she said.
“I said ‘none of your beeswax,’” I said.
“Why are you so mean to me?” she said, theatrically.
“I just don’t like you that much” I said.
Bridgette laughed, and let out a dainty (by her standards) cough.
I should spend more time with Bridgette I thought.
“See you later” I said.
“Don’t get lost” she said.
I stumbled on one of her sleeping, unneutered cats as we were walking out of the parking lot, and it woke up and hissed at me.
“Do you guys know what time the bus goes by Harrison and Division?” I asked Clarence and Henrietta. Harrison and Division was an intersection near my house, where the bus stopped.
“No” said Clarence. “It’s your bus stop.”
“Could you look it up?” I said. “My phone’s out of batteries.”
“Why didn’t you charge it at your apartment?” said Clarence.
“I had a lot on my mind” I lied.
Clarence looked it up. “We just missed it” he said.
“OK” I said. “Let’s go to Texaco for supplies."
“What kind of supplies?” asked Henrietta, suggestively.
“I want to get some extra snug condoms and an I heart haters hat” I said.
For what seemed like the 2nd or 3rd time that day, no one said anything. I was having an “off” day, I realized. Cool it with the jokes I told myself.
“Seriously, though, probably just beer and cigarettes” I said. “You guys want to go thirdsies on an 18er of light beer?”
“Nah” said Clarence.
“Henrietta?” I offered. “Halfsies?” I already knew the answer, though.
By now, we had exited the parking lot of my apartment complex and rounded the corner onto the street. I was already sweating pretty hard. Washington was abnormally hot that summer.
“It’s hot as a werewolf’s pussy out here” I said, forgetting to cool it with the jokes.
Fortunately, my companions’ unappreciative silence was soon interrupted, when a bum passed us going the other way. He had a big, heavily-stained beard and a sleeveless shirt with a Union Army flag on it.
“Hey, does one of you have a cigarette I could bum?” he said.
“Yeah” I said. “Have two.” I was just glad someone was breaking the silence. But when I reached into my pocket to get my cigarettes, I realized I didn’t have any. “Ah, shit” I said. “I’m out, actually. But we’re about to go to Texaco and get some cigarettes there, probably.”
“Nah, that’s OK” said the bum, which took me by surprise.
Then, as he passed us, I noticed another weird thing about him: he smelled really, really good. It was a tropical fruit smell, like you’d smell on a nice-smelling girl, or a piece of tropical fruit.
“Hey!” I said, turning around to compliment him, but he’d already ducked behind a bush or something.
“Did you guys get a whiff of that bum?” I asked Clarence and Henrietta.
Apparently they hadn’t.
“He smelled delicious” I said.
“Huh” offered Clarence.
No one said anything till we got to Texaco. I think Clarence and Henrietta were talking in sign language, again, behind my back.
“We’re just going to wait here” said Clarence, out loud, when we got to the front door. Henrietta had a worried expression on her face, and seemed to be studying everything very intently.
They huddled around the air pump and mumbled to each other.
“See you soon” I said.
I walked into Texaco, took a sharp right (as is my custom), and spent 5 minutes looking over all the beers and gatorades that I already knew were there. I settled on a 6-pack of 16oz. Hamm’s. My mother once told me that Hamm’s was my grandfather’s favorite beer, and that’s what lead me to that decision, that day. I guess I was thinking about my grandfather, for some reason.
Don’t ask me why. I’m not a mind reader.
An annoying old song that I secretly enjoy started playing on Texaco’s hidden stereo, and it improved my mood a little bit. I’m gonna say something funny to the lady at the counter I thought.
The lady at the counter was old and Chinese, but our differences didn’t intimidate me. Last spring I’d sprung $15 for Rosetta Stone Mandarin, Level 1. (Or at least, that’s what I thought it was, when I bought it. The sketchy Chinese company that I bought it from ended up giving me English, Level 5, in Mandarin by accident. But I was doing pretty good with it, still.) Plus, I’m a hit with old people.
“Hey” I said. “How’s it going?
“Hi, how are you” said the counter lady.
“B+” I said.
That was a new joke—or half joke, I guess—that I’d been trying out recently: When people asked me how I was doing, I’d give them a letter grade. I never went above an A- or below a D+. It was getting a C- reaction from the public.
I set the beers down heavily on the counter.
“Six beers, please” I said.
She rang up the beers.
“This was my grandfather’s favorite beer” I said.
“He must be proud of you” said the counter lady.
Goddammit, I thought. This lady’s funnier than I am.
I mumbled something that no one heard, including me.
“Anything else?” she said.
“Yeah” I said. “Give me some…”
Suddenly, I decided to not get cigarettes.
“…lottery tickets” I said.
I got two of the crossword puzzle ones, to match my literary sensibilities.
Upon exiting Texaco, I noticed that Clarence and Henrietta were gone.
Dammit I thought. Outfoxed again.
I hovered in the parking lot for a minute, feeling angry, and then realized I needed an immediate plan of action.
Maybe I should just go to the woods, still I thought. By myself.
I trudged off towards the bus stop.
“WAIT!” I heard someone yell behind me.
My heart soared, for a second, but it was just an unconventionally attractive girl telling me I dropped my wallet.
“Thanks” I said.
“Aren’t you going to give me a reward, or something?” she said, mockingly.
“No” I said.
Then it turned out we were both going to the same bus stop, and the bus took 15 minutes to get there. What a fuckin’ nightmare.
It felt like everyone in my life had been shoveling big, heavy pieces of straw onto my back all day, for no reason, and then this unconventionally attractive girl had run up to me and kicked me in the shins, and told me I sucked at carrying straw.
“You want a beer?” I asked her, spitefully.
“No thanks” she said.
I got a window seat on the bus, and looked out the window. Why is it when you’re feeling gloomy, you always get the window seat on the bus? I thought.
I could feel another gust of wistfulness coming on, and I decided to ride it out. I gazed out the window at the moldy old houses and uncomfortable bus shelters passing us by (or getting passed by by us, I guess) and tried to dig up some emotional memories to throw myself into. I wished I had my headphones with me. As it was, I had to sing to myself, in my head:
(I don't remember which song I was talking about, but here's a link to all the songs I recorded in college.)
(I don't remember which song I was talking about, but here's a link to all the songs I recorded in college.)
That was a song that I wrote—believe it or not—when I was a freshmen in college, 9 short years before this story takes place. I formed a rap group with my friends called “Creative Americans” (a name that was probably taken already), and we released one song, which was that. It gave me a bit of what I was looking for. In contrast to the abrasive, homophobic lyrics, this song had a very wistful beat.
Then, as the bus passed by the abandoned Handy Pantry, I noticed something surprising:
The bum from earlier—the tropical fruit-smelling bum who wanted a cigarette—was standing out front, with a fresh pack of cigarettes. He was doing that thing where you slap a newly-purchased pack against your non-dominant palm, to make them denser or something, so they give you a bigger “dome rush.” (I’m not 100% certain of the science behind that.)
Wow I thought. Is there a secret stash of factory-sealed cigarettes inside the abandoned Handy Pantry?
This seemed like a weird place for the bum to be. It wasn’t impossible for him to be there, but it seemed like he’d gotten there unusually fast, especially when you considered that he was walking in an anti-Handy Pantry direction when I last saw him, out by Texaco. And how, actually, did he get 20 brand-new factory-sealed cigarettes along the way and open them just now? Did he find some kind of kindly stranger? Or was it something stranger?
It’s funny how things can change in half an hour I thought. Before you know it, this guy won’t even be a bum anymore.
Maybe he isn’t a bum.
Or maybe he is a bum, but it’s a different bum than the one from before, and I just remember all bums as the same person.
I almost wanted to get off the bus at the next stop, and ask him, but I didn’t want to delay my woods excursion any longer. I’m one of those guys who needs all the momentum he can get.
Unfortunately, the bus broke down 2 or 3 stops later. The lights just turned off, and we stopped moving.
Damn I thought. I hope they’re not going to gas us up and send us to a deserted location to fight to the death for the entertainment of some crazy old Japanese men, like the kids in Battle Royale or the monsters in The Cooper Point Journal.
The bus driver didn’t tell us to get off the bus, but I decided to get off there anyway and “hoof it” the rest of the way to campus, to keep that momentum going.
Plus, it was a nice day out.
I decided to stop at the Texaco near campus (my “#2 Texaco”) first, for more supplies, since I didn’t have Clarence Clipclop or Henrietta Karenson to count on for supplies, now. I pointed myself in that direction and started hoofing. The gentle “clippity clop” of my loose-fitting “hooves” (shoes) put me in a sort of trance, and I was able to stop thinking about conspiracies for a while. The sun beat down with cancerous ferocity on my pale, unworking neck, and the woods, which started less than a foot off the road to either side, beckoned to me, silently, like the ghost of an old, good-looking woman.
The more I walked, the calmer I got. Walking in extreme heat can be oddly relaxing, you know? By the time I got to the armed Japanese guards I’m about to tell you about, my mind was a perfect void--the center of the tiniest Russian doll in a Russian doll set, or the secret 0 at the center of an O.
The guards were standing in front of a bunch of barriers, caution tape and ROAD CLOSED signs that were blocking the road to campus. They were wearing sunglasses and scary grey camo, and had a bunch of giant dogs with them.
I just shrugged it off and moved on toward Texaco #2, since I had a bunch of momentum built up and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.
(If you want a little diagram, to get your bearings, here’s a little diagram):
(Hope that helps. Personally, I hate when I’m reading something and I can’t keep track of the action.)
Maybe the road to campus will be open when I get back from Texaco #2. I thought.
I decided to not ask the guards why the road was closed, to be funny. They weren’t laughing, though.
The air inside Texaco #2 was like a cold bath, with no water in it. I decided to get some water. I’m sort of against buying bottled water, on principle (which is weird, because I’m terrible with money), but it’s not such a bad deal if you just think of it as buying a cheap water bottle, with free water in it. I also got 6 more beers--Rainier, this time, to mix it up--and a blueberry gas station muffin. I’ve got a thing for gas station muffins. I like to crumple up the muffin paper and eat it sometimes, like a Japanese candy wrapper. That way, you get your money’s worth.
There was one person in front of me in line. Normally, I’d spend my time in line thinking of something good to say to the person at the counter, but this time I already had a good line locked and loaded.
“Hey,” I said, when I got to the front of the line, “what’s the deal with all those armed Japanese guards blocking the road to Evergreen campus?”
I’d never seen this counter guy before. (Granted, this wasn’t my primary Texaco.) He was a 20 or 30 or low 40 (or MAYBE 50-)-something white guy with sunken eyes, and a sleeve of unoriginal, menacing tattoos on one of his arms.
“The Japanese karate team is in town” he said, tiredly. I guess he’d been getting that question a lot.
“What?!” I said.
“Yeah, they’re guests of the Evergreen Dean, and they’re using the gym at the college today for practice.” he said.
“What, like the National Japanese Karate Team?” I said.
“Yeah” he said.
Is he making this up? I thought. I had a feeling he was making it all up, for his own amusement.
“Why wasn’t there anything about this in The Cooper Point Journal?” I asked.
He shrugged again. “I don’t know what that is” he said.
“You don’t go to Evergreen?” I said.
“Nah” he said. “I just work at this gas station and smoke meth.”
Damn I thought. This guy’s funnier than I am.
“OK, take it easy” I said.
I stepped outside and went around to the back of the Texaco, where there was a gentle downward slope where people liked to litter and smoke cigarettes.
What a day this is turning out to be I thought, sitting down on the grass. Gorillas, karate, magic bums…it’s like something out of a fairytale. What’s next, a magic fairy?
“I heard that!” said a tiny, indignant voice to my right.
I cracked a beer.
How do I get past those Japanese guards and into the woods, I wonder I thought. I knew I had to get to the woods, somehow. There was too much potentially interesting stuff involved, now, and I’d been trying to get there for too long. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a simple task taking forever to complete that really turns me on.
If I don’t get to the woods I thought to myself, in a Werner Herzog voice, I will be a man without dreams.
(Did you ever see BURDEN OF DREAMS?)
Of course, “getting to the woods” wasn’t a specific enough goal, though. The woods were too big. They were sitting right there across the street, for Christsakes (sp?). It would be too easy to just “go to the woods.”
Then a plan hit me, like a boxing glove full of fishing weights.
I went back into the Texaco.
“Hey do you guys sell machetes here?” I said.
“No” said the counter guy. “But I’ll sell you my dead brother’s machete”
Wow, that’s cool as shit I thought.
He gave it to me for $300.
Here was my plan: I’d cross the street from Texaco, enter the woods there, and then plow my way through the woods--like a Sasquatch, say, or The Green River Killer--to “F lot” on Evergreen campus, which is where I’d normally go to begin a walk in the woods. Trippy, huh? (You ever hear that song “The Circle Game?” It was kind of like that, I figured, albeit a little less circular, because I’d be walking in a line.) It might not be the best plan ever, but it wasn’t bad for one minute of brainstorming.
Here’s another diagram, to clarify the plan for you:
That’s not actually a very good diagram. The proportions and stuff are way off. But that’ll give you a general idea, hopefully.
The crossing the street part of the plan (“part one”) went pretty well. I tripped over my foot and skinned my knee up pretty bad, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I poured some beer on it, and dabbed my tears off with an REI waterproof pocket square, which I thankfully keep with me at all times. Then I decided to finish the sterilization beer, since it was already open anyway. Then I took out another beer and shotgunned it, to make sure I had a nice buzz on, for the woods. I was a little bit disgusted with the speed with which I could shotgun a 16-oz. beer, and by the fact that I was shotgunning beers, alone, this soon into my post-college career, but hey—at least I was a man with a mission. You’re allowed to engage in certain vices when you’re on a mission. Look at how we all forgave Columbus.
My first step into “The Green In-fern-o,” as they call it, was a confident one.
It feels good to be in nature I thought. No nagging friends, no girlfriend, no job, and nobody to make fun of you for not having those things. Just a bunch of nice, relaxing branches.
I slashed at a branch with my machete, and the blade almost cut right through it. I slashed again, harder.
Almost there I thought.
Two more slashes, and the branch fell, defeated, onto the cushiony dark ground.
I plowed onward.
Most of the time, I decided, it would be easier to just charge through the branches and brambles and such by plowing through them with my body, instead of slashing them. I didn’t want my machete hand to be sore if I ran into a gorilla.
It was tiring, clearing a path through the forest, but it felt good. Something about getting drunk and fucking up a bunch of plants really makes you feel in touch with nature, you know? And I still had a lot of confidence in the mission, at that point.
I knew I was definitely going to get lost, but I was confident that I’d run into a trail or a creek eventually, and then I could just follow that. It might take a while, but--
Then it occurred to me: What if I’m still in the woods when it gets dark? Even if Tommy Backwoods’ article was wrong, and there wasn’t actually a gorilla loose in the woods, there were still things like owls and serial killers to contend with, and I didn’t think I could defeat them in the dark. They were accustomed to low-light combat situations, and I wasn’t, as much.
I’d better be careful I thought. And right then, as if by evil magic, my shoe sank into a mud trap. (It wasn’t an actual trap, I just like to call it a “mud trap” when I accidentally step in some mud.) It browned my entire left shoe and sock. Damn, this is going to be hell on my athlete’s foot I thought.
Focus I thought.
I tried to focus, and channel people I knew from pop culture who were good at surviving in the woods, like Robin Hood and Willem Dafoe’s character in PLATOON. (Wasn’t that PLATOON, where Willem Dafoe escapes from the woods?) I clenched my body, like it was a giant jaw, and took another inventory of my surroundings.
Ok I thought. I—
SHLOP! Another mud trap. Same foot, though.
After a little more walking (and some bramble-clearing), I found a slope, and walked up it. There was a log sticking out from the slope that led to another nearby slope, like a poorly-constructed bridge over the mud, and I started walking across it, whistling softly to comfort myself. It brought me back to my college days, when me and my friends would get high in these woods and walk across logs, and they’d tell me to stop whistling--“or pick a tune, at least”--and I’d try to push them off the log.
I hopped off the log, and took a beer out of my backpack. Then I remembered the backwoods, and decided to smoke one of those, instead. Then I decided to go with the beer and the backwood.
I got back on the log and sat down, dangling my feet over the edge. The backwood was dry, and slightly askew, like a good British sitcom. I wondered what Clarence Clipclop and Henrietta Karenson would say, if they were around to critique it. I fancied myself a pretty good roller, but I couldn’t seem to develop a reputation as one. Maybe I wasn’t sharing my weed enough. Or maybe I wasn’t doing a good enough job conveying to people that I smoked weed.
Sigh I thought, coughing up weed smoke.
I looked out at the hearty, carefree ferns that dotted the forest floor, and searched around inside myself for an inner calm. I couldn’t find it, but I felt like I was close. I tried to breathe deeply, from the pit of my stomach, and relax my gluteal muscles, like my P.E. teacher used to tell me to do.
You’re OK, Tesse I told myself.
Then I got a little too relaxed, and my weak-ass ass lost its feeble grip on the wood (II) and I fell.
SHLOP! I heard again—this time in stereo—as my shoes plunged into the mud underfoot. The noise of the impact caused me drop the backwood, which fell to the ground with a much quieter (but just as spirit crushing) schlop.
Damn I thought, and said, It’s funny how things can change in 20 seconds.
The beer, fortunately, had stayed perfectly balanced on the log. And the fall had jostled loose the scratch-off tickets I’d bought at Texaco earlier, which I’d totally forgotten about. Counting my blessings, I picked the scratch offs up off the ground, gingerly wiped the mud off the scratchy part with my REI pocket square, and ambled my way back up to the log for a little restorative drinking and gambling.
You’re still OK, Tesse I told myself. Just remember to focus.
The beer tasted good, but the gambling went pretty bad. I couldn’t find any properly-ridged coins in my pocket, so I had to scratch with a nickel. Then, after I’d been scratching for a while, I realized I’d scratched off waay too much, and it took me a long time to find out whether I’d won or not. I didn’t win, I’m pretty sure.
Maybe the second ticket I thought.
Then, seconds after I found out I didn’t win with the second ticket, it started raining. I hadn’t even noticed that it had gotten cloudy (I’m pretty un-observant, in case you haven’t noticed) but I guess it had gotten cloudy. And then some.
It was a mild rain, but determined. I took my “light winter” jacket out of my backpack, and put it on, and looked around in the rest of my backpack for things to make shelter with. Then I thought finish the beer first. One thing at a time. That turned out to be a bad move, because it was R-E-A-L-L-Y rainy by the time I finished the beer.
Fortunately, I had some saran wrap and packing tape in my backpack. But it was harder making a tent out of that stuff than you might think. I kept having to start over. The saran wrap and tape kept on sticking to each other in the wrong places, was the problem.
C’est la vie I thought to myself.
I turned to my plan b, which was to make a tent by standing under the big log. I’d have to step into the mud again, was the problem with this plan, but I was in a very tolerant mood, in terms of problems with plans, because I needed a plan so bad.
The log didn’t do a very good job blocking the rain, as it turned out. Or the wind.
It’s getting pretty chilly out here I thought.
Then something happened that really gave me the chills.
Two things, actually. They were sounds that I heard.
The first sound was gunshots. Or at least, it was sounds I estimated to be gunshots, not really knowing that much about guns. I tried to console myself by telling myself I didn’t know anything about guns. But the thing that made those noises was definitely loud and made by a human and could hurt me somehow I counter-reasoned, with the part of my brain that likes to try to scare the rest of the brain, to be funny.
Shut up I thought.
But I had to admit to myself that I was concerned.
Then the second noise I heard got me into full on emergency mode.
It was a howl.
But get this. Before you call me a pussy for getting scared of a little howl, get this:
It sounded like a human howl. Like the howl that a redneck gives after he’s done counting down the 10 seconds he gave you to start running away.
In tandem with the gunshot noise, it was like having an open-faced worry and adrenaline sandwich for lunch, with sweat sauce. That’s the only way I can describe it.
I started running.
Then I got a cramp, but I kept running.
Then I stopped. I’d run about 20 yards, probably. Not bad, for the woods. These were hard running conditions.
I reached into my backpack, for the water bottle I bought at Texaco. I had a little headache built up, now, and I’d been drinking beers, so I figured I’d better drink a lot of water. And guess what? It did the trick. I mean, this wasn’t particularly great water, but I was REALLY thirsty, I discovered. I ended up drinking the whole bottle. Got me a little stomach ache. I went from a headache to a stomach ache. But that’s not such a bad trade.
I threw the water bottle on the ground and kept walking. Then I went back and got it, because I was afraid of karma. (Isn’t karma annoying?)
As I walked, I thought some more about the scary howls and gunshots I’d heard.
Which potential threat should I be more scared of: the Japanese guards, the Japanese tech billionaires, the gorilla on the loose, or just scary rednecks? I thought.
Also, the idea of just getting lost in the woods and starving to death or getting hypothermia or something was scary, because it would be so embarrassing. (Or how about just tripping and hitting my head on a rock? That would be really embarrassing. In a way, that was scarier than any rape, murder or genital mutilation I could suffer in these woods. Only in one way, though.)
I felt around for my machete, and realized I’d left it somewhere.
At least I’m doing a good job not freaking out I thought. And, really, I was. I wasn’t talking to myself that much, and I wasn’t running through the woods screaming for help.I’m still in the early stages of getting lost, I reassured myself. Hell, I haven’t even jacked off yet. (I live by the code my dad taught me, about getting lost: “Wait a day to have your J.”) (My dad would know, too--he was lost in the jungle for 45 minutes in Vietnam.)
I wished there was someone else there, to see how calm I was being. I was so calm, it was almost boring.
Damn I thought, this is just like my independent learning contract.
For those of you who didn’t go to The Evergreen State College, an independent learning contract is a thing you can do at The Evergreen State College where you design your own class to do at home, instead of going to class. For my last quarter at college, just to go out with a bang, I'd done a contract on Christmas. (“Christmas: A Study of Christmas.”)
For my final project, I wrote a script for a Christmas episode of a sitcom. It was a sitcom I invented called Friend, about one 20-something friend named Josh who lives in the woods, alone.
It seemed like a good idea at first, and it was fun coming up with only-one-person twists on traditional sitcoms (“Christmas is about spending time alone…”) but then when it came down to writing it it was actually really hard
Walking along in the rain, muttering to myself, I felt like I’d felt when I was writing that script for my independent learning contract: I felt like the sitcom of my life needed more characters to bounce off of, right now. More characters, better settings, and a better plot.
After all, it was June Day.
This is the worst June Day ever I thought.
It was getting pretty stormy out.
Ah, well I thought. Maybe this is one of those holiday experiences that you remember with fondness, even though they sucked at the time. Like, say, when your entire Thanksgiving dinner consists of nothing more than you and your wife-to-be sharing a canned turkey in a one-bedroom apartment. It’s fun to look back on later, because you can afford baked turkeys, now, and you have your own bedroom.
So, too, will this June Day experience be fun to look back on, when I’m an old hermit I thought.
I started walking up a hill. It was slippery going, but I’m good at walking on slippery surfaces. Part of me has always thought hat I could survive for weeks in the wild by living like Golem from Lord of the Rings--just grabbing fish out of a creek and bashing their heads in on the slippery rocks all day. And I’d sing a creepy little song.
Finally, I made it to the top of the hill. The view was worth the walk. That being said, though, I couldn’t really see anything useful up there. It all just looked like more forest. I guess it was more of a mound than a hill.
I started to walk back down the mound, in a new direction. At least the rain seemed to be letting up a little. It definitely wasn’t “light rain” status, yet, but it wasn’t what I would call “stormy” anymore, either.
Had to admit it was cold, though!
Maybe if I shiver a little, it will warm me up I thought, clicking my teeth together experimentally.
Then, for the second time that day, something happened that really gave me the chills.
Someone howled again. This time, though, it sounded more like a gorilla than a human!
Shit I thought. I exhaled worriedly, and watched my breath do that thing where it becomes visible. Now I really don’t know what to be afraid of.
I wished my childhood hound dog Lance was there. He used to have a really scary-sounding howl, too, and maybe he could get along with the gorilla, or whatever it was, based on that. He could make a plea for my life, maybe. We’ll never know, though, because when I was about 13 Lance came down with something my dad called “shittingontherugosis” and we had to put him down.
I wished my dad was here to put down the gorilla. I wished I could be a kid again, when no problem seemed too big for old dad and his dog-killing gun. But those days were long go--
Holy shit, a moth! I thought, interrupting myself.
A little white moth was fluttering in front of my face, now, like an ugly little fairy. Maybe I can crush the moth with my hands and eat it I thought, even though I still had some food left in the backpack. (You can never have too much food, I say.) But then I remembered something. A relevant memory. It played in my mind, like a movie:
Kid Scouts, 1990:
(Kid Scouts was a Boy Scouts-type organization that my dad started after he got kicked out of Boy Scouts. I was in it from the ages of 4 to 18.)
(This memory is going to follow a screenplay-like format.)
SCOUT LEADER DON (MY DAD) is lounging in a poolside lounge chair, listening to “Theme From Twin Peaks” on a boombox. He looks over at ME and the two other scouts in the troop—TEMOTHY (brunette) and JEZEBELLA (ginger)—and yells gently, over the music:
“This is the life, eh, scouts?”
The scouts don’t say anything, but he raises a beer to us anyway, and “clinks” us the way you do at a toast when you can’t reach somebody’s drink.
“Hell, you just wait. When you learn how to swim, this pool is going to get like 30% more fun.”
Everyone’s quiet for a minute, then SCOUT LEADER DON clears his throat and says:
“OK, who’s ready to learn how to swim?”
TEMOTHY AND JEZEBELLA: Yaaaay!! I mean, we are!!
SCOUT LEADER DON: Well, hop on in! Let’s get started!
TEMOTHY AND JEZEBELLA run into the pool and start splashing around. Tesse stays seated on the pool chair, focusing over-intently on his toy.
SCOUT LEADER DON: Don’t you want to go swimming, Tesse?
ME: I’m just gonna sit here and play Mothra.
SCOUT LEADER DON: C’mon, Tesse, swimming is important. The earth is 99% water!! You’re going to have to learn some time, and it might as well be now.
ME: I think I’m just going to play a little Mothra right now, and learn how to swim tomorrow, or something.
SCOUT LEADER DON: Ok…
He picks up my toy MOTHRA, and waves it around.
SCOUT LEADER DON: But if you want to play with your moth, you have to GET your moth!
He throws MOTHRA into the pool.
SCOUT LEADER DON: Get the moth, Tesse!
Cut to 2015.
ME: ...Get the moth, Tesse!” I’m re-telling the story, at a family reunion. “Theme From Twin Peaks (Dubstep Remix)” is playing on the iPod dock.
UNCLE CHARLES: Ha ha! You always had a gift for teaching, Don.
(Everyone laughs along at this, because Dad just got fired from his teaching job.)
DAD: Oh, shut up, you think my son is a reliable narrator? I was using his toy moth to teach him an important lesson—
Everyone tries to say something at once.
DAD: I was—shut up—I was trying to teach him an important lesson not about swimming, but about how you can follow a moth when you’re lost, and it’ll take you to the nearest body of water.
AUNT ELIZABETH: What!? You’re out of your mind, Don.
DAD: You never heard that? How you can follow a moth when you’re lost and it’ll take you to the nearest body of water?
AUNT ELIZABETH: No.
DAD: Well, you can.
And it turned out, he was right. Everyone there, except me and Aunt Elizabeth, remembered some version of that lesson from their own childhoods, and nodded in agreement: You can follow a moth when you’re lost, and it’ll take you to the nearest body of water.
The memory movie ended, and I decided to “follow the moth,” to see if it would “take me to the nearest body of water.” I really hoped it would, too, because like I said earlier, once you find a body of water, you’re set. (Unless you’re lost in a body of water.)
The moth took off into the mid-distance, in its slow-fast, drug addict-ish manner of flying, and I took off after it.
It wasn’t the most entertaining chase in the world, but it was good exercise for me. We went all over those woods, it felt like.
This is just what I needed I thought. This is what the woods are all about. No google maps, no mapquest, no “maps” app--just a man and a moth, charging thirstily through the brambles together. It’s manly. If ol’ dad could see this, I bet he’d make me a Gorilla Scout!!
“Gorilla Scout” was like the “Eagle Scout” of Kid Scouts. To become one, you had to get every single merit badge. Most of the Kid Scout merit badges were easier to get than the Boy Scout merit badges—I had an ashtray emptying badge, for example, and a helping an old lady use a computer badge, and a shutting the fuck up badge and some other ones—but I never got them all. I was missing two: the throwing badge and the killing badge. To this day, I was still a lowly Rat Scout (the level below Gorilla Scout), and the thought of it was almost enough to make me crazy—partly because I hate rats, and partly because it made me feel like I’d never become a man. I was a quitter. I’d worked on those two missing badges from the time I was 4 to the time I turned 18, and at the end of it all I just quit, and went to college.
Maybe the reason nobody at college thought I was cool was that they could sense that I wasn’t a man, on some level I thought.
We’ll show them I thought. I mean, look at me right now, charging through the deadly woods in the rain, using ancient Kid Scout techniques to find water. What’s everyone else doing that’s more manly than this? I might not be throwing or killing anything, but—
Then I got a great idea: I’d earn both of my missing Kid Scout badges right now. Not officially, of course, but sometimes it’s the idea of the thing that counts. Maybe it would give me some closure, and the closure would give me some confidence in life. This was feeling like the type of day to do something like that.
So I found a nice throwing rock on the ground, let the moth fly ahead a little, and then threw the rock at it, with all my might.
It missed, by a lot.
Shit I thought.
But then I found the creek, while I was fetching my throwing rock.
Isn’t it funny how things work out like that, sometimes?
I forgot all about murder, and Kid Scouts, and becoming a man, and did a little self-congratulatory fist pump.
Nice going, Tesse I thought.
Relief flooded over me, like creek water over a dead businessman. But then I noticed something weird at the edge of the creek. It conveyed to me that I wasn’t “out of the woods” just yet.
It was a dead businessman, in a cowboy hat. (Most of him, at least.) He was all type of fucked up. It looked less like a person lying there and more like a bunch of pulled pork that someone poured on top of a business suit and a cowboy hat. It was enough to make me yell “WHOA!! HOLY SHIT!!” out loud, and get that tingly feeling you get when you get pulled over drunk or get caught stealing or something, and your body recognizes that something new and unpleasant is going on.
I wasn’t 100% sure that it was a gorilla that had killed this guy, but it sure gave off that impression. Someone had really gone to town on his face and genitals, and I remembered hearing or reading somewhere that that’s how monkeys and apes attack you (or was that just monkeys?): They eat your face and rip off your genitals. In that way, I think, animals are scarier than any terrorist or serial killer. People are always saying that we humans are the real savages, but sometimes I think animals are the real savages. This dead businessman definitely seemed like strong evidence of that. After all, if humans were the real savages, it would be a gorilla sitting in the creek without its face and genitals. (Assuming, again, that it was a gorilla that killed the businessman, and not a serial killer or something. If that was the case, then maybe humans were the real savages, after all.) (They weren’t, though, as it turns out. Animals are.)
I ran back into the woods a little and hid under a bush, reflexively.
Shit I thought. Shit shit shit. What am I supposed to do?
I knew I had no choice but to suck it up and follow the scary creek, though. I couldn’t just run back into the woods and get lost again. If I did that, I’d definitely have to spend the night there, and that would be at least as scary and dangerous as following this creek.
Or would it?
Yeah I decided. Definitely. You can’t get lost again. This is one of those times where you just have to plow ahead, and think about how you’ll remember this later as a horrible experience that’s done with, now, that you did because you had to.
I shotgunned three beers, stripped down to everything but my jacket (“Winnie the Pooh” style, I used to call it, when I’d dress up like that for my college roommates), and put the excess clothes and beer cans in my backpack. Then I took a little creek drink (UP-stream from the body, for safety), and hopped into the water.
I decided to head downstream, since that would be easier going. Also, I knew there was a creek that flowed into a beach—the main The Evergreen State College beach—and if I could get to the beach I could get back to The Evergreen State College campus, via a nice, easy trail. It was pretty tough going, with the pouring rain and the fatigue and the uncomfortable contours of the creek bottom poking at my soft, baby bottom-like feet bottoms, but I had a pretty good alcohol/adrenaline buzz going, and it put me into another one of my trances.
(Sometimes I wish I could live my whole life in a trance, you know? You could get so much done.)
I remember singing a parody song to myself that I’d learned at summer camp. It was a song some counselor invented while we were doing an activity called “Creek Crawl,” where you just tromped around in a creek, like I was doing now. The song was a parody of the song “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty. The chorus, which was the only part of the parody I remembered, still, went like this:
Now I’m creeeeeeek
I sang those words to myself over and over and over and over and over again. Eventually, I started to almost enjoy what I was doing. The contaminated water felt clean and cool against my crotch, and the trance made me feel purposeful, and alive, like an alive animal. One of good ones, like an eagle, or a human, on a noble quest for survival.
I saw some trails—or what looked like trails—come close to the creek a couple times, but I wasn’t sure what they were exactly, so I decided to stick with the creek.
I started to sing the verses of “Free Fallin’” to myself, as I remember/freestyled them:
I’m a bad boy, I like football and baseball
And pussy, and the FBI….
And guess what? I actually made it to the beach, eventually. (But not eventFULly.)
(There was a big event that happened when I got to the beach, though. A couple of ‘em, actually!)
Have you ever been to that beach, by The Evergreen State College? You should go, if you haven’t. It might not be making the front page of Beach.com anytime soon—it’s missing a lot of traditionally desirable beach features, like sand, waves, and unpolluted water—but it has a certain dreamy quality to it that really hits the spot sometimes, when you’re emerging from the woods. Especially if you’ve been in the woods for a long time, or you’re on psychedelic drugs. Plus, it’s fun trying to balance on the dead trees.
As I strolled along the beach in the crisp wind, clamshells slicing gently at my toe webbing, I thought about all I had done and seen in these woods, and this beach. Not just today, either, I’d spent a whole lot of days out here in these woods (and this beach), with my old college cohorts, laughing, crying and growing up. I had my first acid freakout here, for Christsakes. I threw up out of my first treehouse here.
And you saw your first dead body now, too I reminded myself.
Then, right as I was about to figure out what my time at college was all about, someone shot at me, from somewhere in the woods.
There was a loud noise and a small explosion of debris near me, which was followed by another loud noise and small explosion of debris...from my anus.
Good thing I wasn’t wearing pants.
I ran, I ran, and I ran, along the beach, as fast as my bare, creek-frozen legs and numbed-but-still-somehow-hurting feet could carry me. (If I was a Middle Eastern country in that moment, I would’ve been Fast-ghanistan!) I even ditched the backpack, for speed.
Then I started wondering how long I was going to have to keep running for.
At what point does physical tiredness overcome fear? I wondered. That seemed to be the question of the day.
Pretty early I decided, slowing down.
I tried to let loose a good, filmy spit, but it got caught in the wind and wound up back on my face.
I heard shouting, from somewhere in front of me.
Shit I thought.
Every direction, now, there was something I didn’t want to deal with: Shouting, shooting, a bunch of polluted water and the woods. They all seemed like terrible choices.
Maybe I could bury myself in a hole I thought. It never hurts to consider that, even if it is a “bitch” way out.
(See Tesse Wolfson’s next adventure, DER-ELEPHANTS (Internet, 2018), for more on that technique! –ed.)
Then I saw something—or two things, I guess—in the rainy (it’s raining still, don’t forget) distance that made me decide to run for the woods.
It was a couple of gorillas, running down the beach towards me, with guns.
Whoa! I thought. Except it was a more panicked version of that.
But here’s the thing I have to admit: I think I knew, almost right away, that these "gorillas" weren’t real gorillas. Their orange safety vests gave them away.
But here’s the thing you have to admit, before you go around calling me a pussy for being scared of a couple of people dressed as gorillas running towards me with guns:
That’s still pretty scary, under the right circumstances.
I started running.
The fatter of the two gorillas looked right at me, and pointed his gun and fired. I dove to the ground, and snagged my foreskin on a barnacle.
“AHHHHH!!!! FUCK!!!!!” I yelled.
The "gorillas" started yelling, too.
Then as I turned to take a look at my soon-to-be murderers, I saw one of them take their gorilla mask off.
It was D’Vangelous Hitchens!!
Can you believe that shit?!
Can you believe that shit?! I thought to myself.
“What the fuck?!” I said.
“Tesse?!” said D’Vangelous.
I really thought I was going to pass out from shock.
I closed my eyes, and waited.
Something smelled really good, I noticed. Like tropical fruit.
Nothing happened. I opened my eyes, and D’Vangelous and his gorilla-costumed cohort were right there next to me.
“What’s up, Tesse?” said D’Vangelous, laughing a little.
“This, uh…” I said.
“What are you doing out here in the rain with your dick out?” said D’Vangelous.
“I got lost in the woods and I had to follow a creek for a while” I said.
The other gorilla/person laughed and took their mask off.
And get this:
It was the fuckin’ tropical fruit-smelling bum from before!
“Whoa, this guy?” I said.
“You know Yananthonal?” said D’Vangelous.
“No” said the guy and me, simultaneously.
“I tried to give him a cigarette earlier and he wouldn’t take it, because I didn’t have any” I mumbled, for clarification.
“What?” said the guy--"Yananthonal"--and D’Vangelous, simultaneously.
“Forget it” I said.
“Sorry for shooting at you” said Yananthonal.
“That’s OK” I said, even though I was actually still a little mad about it.
“It’s really hard to see in the rain” said Yananthonal. Then he leaned in and said “I’m on a lot of LSD right now.”
“These guns aren’t lethal” said D’Vangelous.
What I thought.
For what seemed like the 2nd or 3rd time that day, I found myself with too much information to process, and I had to just sit there and prioritize my bewilderment for a minute, and organize my thoughts into questions. (Isn’t it funny how there’s always too much information to process, or not enough?) Then D’Vangelous started asking me questions, and I got even more confused. Plus, D’Vangelous and Yananthonal kept laughing at my exposed bottom half.
20 minutes later, though, we had it mostly sorted out. I’ll summarize it for you here, a little, so I don’t have to keep typing “what?!” so much:
D’Vangelous, apparently, met the son of a friend of a Japanese tech billionaire in one of his Evergreen classes (Sign, Symbol,Symptom: The Politics of Meaning) (:The Best Liberal Arts Course Title of All Time, For My Money), and had been hanging out with him a lot, in secret. (I was a little bit offended, but not really. D’Vangelous said the only reason he didn’t tell me about his new friendship was that this kid knew a lot of important secrets, and I’m bad at keeping secrets.) (I am, too.) (For instance, D’Vangelous went on vacation to Jamaica two years ago and accidentally had sex with a 15-year-old girl.) The kid’s name was Zatoichi Ashizawa (D’Vangelous’s new friend, I mean, not the underage girl), and his father was Ron Ashizawa, the right hand man of Tim Yamamoto. Needless to say, he was always doing cool, exotic stuff. The Ashizawas had taken D’Vangelous whaling, heli-skiing, Nazi hunting, opium smoking, and a whole bunch of other extreme, quasi-legal things that adventurous rich people do. (They had a really cool toilet, too, supposedly.) And now, it was the time of year when Tim Yamamoto had his birthday party.
Tim Yamamoto threw legendary birthday parties for himself. (His birthday fell on June Day, so it was sort of a combination party.) He’d invite his friends and family to a big secret arena to watch the monster fights with him, and do a bunch of cocaine. Last year there was a fight between Sasquatch and an Egyptian Wolf-Hippo that Illuminati BloodsportsMagazine called “10/10…The bloodsport event of the season.” It was going to be hard to top. Maybe impossible. But Tim loved a challenge. That’s why he was so successful. (Personally, I hate challenges.)
But then Sasquatch escaped, as we learned in Tommy Backwoods’ article (‘member?), and threw a wrench into the whole thing. What to do now? It looked like Tim’s birthday was going to have to be cancelled. People don’t want to go to a party and just do a bunch of cocaine, you know? There has to be violence, too.
And that was when Tim showed some of that billionaire ingenuity he was famous for: He decided that instead of having the fights, like usual, he’d just rent out the Evergreen woods and bring in his friends and family to help him hunt down the missing gorilla, with special expensive gorilla suits and gorilla tranquilizer guns. Tim Yamamoto had given a lot of money to Evergreen, over the years, and summer school wasn’t in session yet, so it was no problem for him to rent out the area, and cook up a story about a visiting karate team to keep the citizenry un-suspicious of his guards and dogs and caution tape.
And here we all were. Zatoichi Ashizawa got to bring two friends to the party, because his older brother didn’t have any friends (he had some weird kind of social disorder I can’t remember) (“social retardation,” maybe? Nah), and the friends he picked were Yananthonal and D’Vangelous, for some reason.
Damn I thought, when D’Vangelous was done explaining. I can’t wait to tell all this information to my other friends, Alicia and Scott! And maybe I could track down Tommy Backwoods and get him to do a--
“Tesse, you absolutely cannot tell anyone about this” said D’Vangelous, sensing my thoughts. He was using his serious voice, now. “I know you love blabbing secrets to people, but you can’t blab this one. The billionaires will kill you. Billionaires can kill anyone they want.”
That was a good point. I wondered if they were going to kill Tommy Backwoods. (UPDATE: They did.)
“So, has anyone caught the gorilla yet?” I said.
“Not yet” said D’Vangelous. “We thought we saw him earlier, but who knows. We’re on a lot of LSD.”
“You too?” I said.
“Yeah” said D’Vangelous. (D’Vangelous is one of those guys who looks totally normal when he’s on drugs.)
“Can I hunt the gorilla a little?” I asked.
“No” said D’Vangelous. “Actually, you should probably get going.”
“OK” I said. “I just have one more question.”
“Shoot” said D’Vangelous.
Yananthonal fired off a shot from his gorilla tranquilizer gun.
“Good one, Yananthonal” I said.
“Don’t encourage him” said D’Vangelous.
“Sorry” I said.
“What’s your question?” said D’Vangelous.
What’s the deal with your guys’ tropical fruit cologne?” I said.
“Gorillas like tropical fruit” said D’Vangelous.
“Shit, I guess that makes sense” I said.
No one said anything.
“Can I get some?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said D’Vangelous, holding his nose. “We should spray some in your mouth, too. Your breath smells like shit.”
D’Vangelous said some stuff into a walkie talkie, and a Japanese guy wearing a gorilla suit came out of the woods, carrying one of those guns, and a sack with some weird packaged food and gorilla perfume in it. It was Zatoichi Ashizawa. Apparently, he was that first guy who shot at me.
“Sorry for shooting at you” he said.
“That’s OK” I said. “You’re not the only Shooty Judy on this beach.”
I elbowed Yananthonal in the ribs, playfully, but he didn’t respond to it. Maybe he was too high on acid.
D’Vangelous explained my situation to Zatoichi.
“OK” said Zatoichi. “I’ll explain everything to the event staff, and tell them not to shoot you.”
“How am I going to get back home?” I asked.
“Just walk back to campus on the main path” said D’Vangelous. “My car’s in the parking lot. I’ll give you the keys, and you can just drive home. Zatoichi’ll tell the guards at the barrier to let your through.”
“Cool” I said. “Thanks.”
I’d never driven D’Vangelous’s car before.
“Are you cool to drive?” said D’Vangelous.
“Yeah” I said, and hoped.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” said Zatoichi.
“Shoot” I said.
I thought Yananthonal was going to shoot his gun off again, but he didn’t this time.
“This is a total shot in the dark” said Zatoichi, “but have you seen a guy walking around in a business suit and a cowboy hat? He’s my brother. He has social retardation (or whatever it was), and I haven’t seen him in a couple hours. I’m starting to get a little worried.”
Oh shit, the businessman in the cowboy hat! I thought.
I decided not to tell him, though.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye then” said D’Vangelous, after my long pause, handing me his car keys, and a little orange safety vest.
“Bye” I said. “See you later. Nice meeting you guys.”
“You too” said Zatoichi. He seemed really down-to-earth, for an ultra-rich kid.
Yananthonal didn’t say anything. He was busy trying to light a cigarette. The rain had let up a little, but he was still having a hard time.
“Hey Yananthonal, do you think I could get one of your cigarettes?” I said.
Yananthonal shook his head. “Sorry bro, I’m almost out.”
“Ok” I said.
I started to walk away, then turned around.
“You guys don’t have any spare shoes, do you?” I said. My feet are getting pretty bloody.”
“Did you not bring shoes with you?” said D’Vangelous.
“I did, but they’re with the rest of my stuff, in my backpack” I said. “I dropped it when I was getting shot at.”
“You want to look for it?”
“Nah, that’s OK” I said.
“Are MY shoes in there?” said D’Vangelous.
“What?” I said. “Why would YOUR shoes be in there? Your shoes are right there, on your feet.”
I pointed down, smugly, to show him, but it turned out he wasn’t wearing shoes. The gorilla costume had protective soles built into the feet.
“I mean the shoes you were going to pick up for me this morning, at Hugh’s Shoes” said D’Vangelous.
“I didn’t pick them up” I said. “I started to, but I got distracted.”
I sure have come a long way I thought.
Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.
“Ok, well, I’ll tell you if we find your backpack” said D’Vangelous. “Now get the fuck out of here.”
The walk back to campus was uneventful, but contemplative.
What did I learn today? I wondered.
I couldn’t think of anything. That was OK though. I was already pretty learned.
Even if I didn’t learn anything today I thought, at least I DID something. At least I’m not at home, drunk, with the lights off. I’m drunk outside.
Like I said before, I’d been worried about how I was going to spend this time in between finishing college and becoming a fireman, and I was proud that this first day had passed without too much one-man debauchery. I was being social!
Then I remembered Clarence Clipclop and Henrietta Karenson.
What ever happened to them? I thought.
When we’d parted ways at Texaco #1 and I decided to set out for the woods alone, I kind of thought I was going to run into them again, but they turned out to be a couple of “red herrings.” Just a couple of red herrings in the Scandinavian pickle jar of the college chapter of my life narrative. “Such is life,” though, you know? There’s red herrings all over the place.
Finally, I stepped out of the woods, and into the Evergreen parking lot. (It was a lot emptier than I thought it would be, considering the circumstances. Maybe there was a secret parking place that the gorilla hunters were using that I didn’t know about. “X” lot, or something.)
Then I realized something:
I’d done it! I’d accomplished my mission!
Damn I thought, doing one of my trademark self-congratulatory fist pumps. I actually did it! I unburdened myself my dreams.
It felt good. I could see why people worked hard to accomplish things, now.
Does this mean I’m finally—
“NO!” said a voice. It sounded like “no,” at least. You know in the PLANET OF THE APES prequel, where the monkey learns to speak, and yells “no!” at his scientist master? It sounded kind of like that.
Actually, to tell you the truth, it was more of just a straight-up howl. Or a growl, even. A snarl.
It was coming from a gorilla.
It was standing on D’Vangelous’s car.
What??! I thought.
You could tell this wasn’t a guy in a gorilla suit.
It blew a raspberry at me. It wasn’t meant to be funny, though. It was in that menacing way gorillas do it. It smashed its fists on the hood when it did it, too.
I went with the “don’t move at all” strategy of confronting wildlife. I thought maybe the gorilla would admire me, in my calmness, and leave me alone out of respect.
He didn’t respect me, though. I looked into his black little eyes, and I could tell that he knew I was his bitch. Everything he’d ever met in his life had been his bitch.
He was like the opposite of me, basically.
He howled, louder than before, and smashed the hood again, then raised his fists in the air like he was stepping out into a wrestling arena.
It was very intimidating.
Then I noticed something about him that was even more intimidating:
It was way smaller than you’d expect a gorilla’s penis to be—probably about 2 inches (which, according to some Wikipedia research I did after this ordeal was over, is about average for a gorilla)—but it was enthusiastically erect, and quivering, like a star-nosed mole.
It wanted to squirm its way into something. There was something in the trembling of it, and in the way the gorilla looked at me. I could tell.
Is this really about to happen? I thought.
The gorilla hopped off the car and hit me in the head before I could finish making a faint noise of protest. He was really, really strong. It looked like my famously-thick head might have finally met its match.
My face hit the ground with a soft crunch.
“Ooof” I said, looking off to the side and thinking about pain.
My thoughts were interrupted when the gorilla picked me up and slammed me down on the hood of the car, face down again.
He howled. It sounded like father nature himself, discovering something bad that I’d done, and reaching for his belt. Only it was more erotically charged.
I tried the not moving at all strategy again, but he wasn’t having it. He grabbed me by the love handles (that’s what they’re for, I guess) and gave a first, experimental thrust with his quivering mole-member that hit me in the back of the thigh.
“No…” I moaned. Then I yelled it:
Then the gorilla was inside me. I could feel him with the inside of my body. It was a strange sensation, to say the least.
It felt like that scene in THE MATRIX, when the bad guys put that squirmy little bug on Neo’s stomach, and it wriggles its way into his belly button. Imagine that, but up your ass.
This is too much I thought.
Then I passed out.
I awoke in my apartment, to the sound of my bedroom boombox. It was 5:45 in the morning, and snowing outside. I had pajama jeans on.
“We got a cold one” said a radio-sounding voice on the radio. “You’d better put away those ice skates and break out the rice cakes—today, you’re gonna have to put all of your skate plans on ice, Kate. It’s too col--”
I mashed the boombox with my palm and it turned off.
Why is it snowing? I wondered. It’s not snow season. What the hell is going on with this town, these last couple of--
Then the day before, in all its splendor, came rushing back to me, like a car during rush hour (but faster). At first, I thought I might’ve dreamed it, or at least some of it, but the soreness in my anus told me I didn’t. Not unless I'd been shoving stuff up my ass in my sleep.
Then I noticed something that confirmed that this story was, in fact, all real. It was a note someone had painted on the inside of my bedroom door. It said, in neat black letters:
DON’T TELL ANYONE.
Pretty effective, I thought.
But, you know, it was too good of a story. I had to tell someone.
I opened up my diary and started writing.
Dear diary, I wrote.
You’re not going to believe this, but I finally lost my virginity.