Hiking into Adulthood: A Tale of Self-Discovery in the Utah Desert

Jack and Marie Macias and their 17 year old son Ray live in a modest but immaculate home in Lake Forest, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Next to their prized collection of Latino artwork is an enormous picture window showcasing the inky black nothingness that is the shores of Lake Michigan at five o’clock in the morning. Jack and Marie have had a lot of nights like this one; crying in each other’s arms on their white leather couch while Ray cavorts around Chicago doing God knows what. But, no matter how unspeakable Ray’s behavior, they love him and refuse to give up on him.

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The School of Last Resort

    The Maple Lane School is one of the smallest and most exclusive high schools in the state of Washington. It is on the Register of Historic Places. It’s older than the highway upon which it’s located, though you would never know it unless you were told. The grounds are landscaped to country club standards and are brightly lit 24 hours a day, disturbing the gray northern winter and illuminating every falling raindrop. The sprawling campus looks sterile like a hospital but smells overwhelmingly of the nearby dairy farm. The aroma is confusing to the part of your brain that tries to find some context among all five senses.

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The Epidemic of Autilliteracy

I like this article because a dude named Dot, part of Seattle rapper GMK’s entourage, has some fantastic responses to very dull, systematic questions. When simply asked how old he was, Dot resisted this sort of arbitrary institution. He exists only in the present moment, he said. He mystically replied, “…if you’re asking how many times I’ve been on this earth as its rotated around the sun, I’d say about 24 times.”

I’ve only been here for twenty-two revolutions of the sun, but today, in the present moment, I can respect Dot’s fierce, existentialist inability to accept and abide by society’s conventions. I’ve been here in my microscopic corner of the world long enough to notice the English language and all its inconsistencies. Despite having roughly 600,000 words to choose from, I can never seem to pick the right one. On average, English speakers know about 20,000 words and use 2,000 of them in a given week. Writers especially grapple with this. The vocabulary and syntax of the English language is a lot like a great work of fiction-in-progress. It has character, setting, nuance, theme, and conflict. Good writing is very deliberate. Every word and punctuation mark is put in a specific place to imply a specific thing. Good writing can manipulate something as reliable as time. Good writing should shock you and tickle your five senses. The best writing makes a mockery of society’s rules.

Most people, however, do this very poorly and sometimes even the best editors won’t understand it. I’ve even coined a term for this condition: autilliterate. Adjective. Of or relating to the act of speaking, writing, or communicating without theory or cohesion.

I have a tendency to pretend every interaction I have with every human being is an interview. I am NPR and you are delivering a dissertation on whatever you see fit. If I let most of the general public go on without limit, I have no choice but to conclude that they are severely racist, schizophrenic, or chronically depressed. Above all, self-interested. I’m sure I’m guilty of it, too, given the frequency with which I open my mouth. I reckon, though, that this kind of improvisational dialogue—casual, political, or irrational—can be improved. If the interview I’m conducting is only producing unimaginative and spurious bullshit, then, thank you, that’s all the time we have.

Besides the obvious existential nonsense, what Dot and I have in common is that we are aware of this autilliteracy, and we can craft our sentences accordingly. By no means do I profess to be any kind of authority on linguistics, but since it’s the only thing humans have to connect and cooperate with one another, I might as well learn how to use it right. I live in the present moment with Dot. The Here and Now. Dot and I could be on the same street corner at the same time and he and I would observe entirely different things. That doesn’t make those observations any less true. Dot and I have our lenses pointed outward, at least.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is only 44 words, yet it’s one of the most significant pieces of prose ever written. This is also the brilliance of Twitter, because it’s hard to make yourself look ignorant in less than 140 characters. I’m not proposing we all start conversing in sound bites or bumper stickers (I refuse to acknowledge the word ‘tweet’), I just think it would do us all some good to sit down with a thesaurus, or at least pay attention to the performance until we understand it a little clearer.

In other valet news

My first week on the job, after four months of having no job whatsoever, the hotel I’m working at is hosting a shindig for some tire and wheel jockeys from Canadian Tire (and Discount Tire, the patriotic equivalent). All 200 of them drive massive diesel trucks with chintzy chrome rims and retrieve their trucks at four in the morning completely shit-faced and hurling abuse at their old ladies, and not just the drunken kind either. Classy folks, is what I’m trying to say.

It was this particular night that I taught the hotel a gruesome lesson about how Ford F-350s do not fit in our garage. You see, a big metal box hangs over the edge of the curb upon entry to the exit ramp, limiting the abilities of farm equipment to fit into a garage made for Hondas. I took an interesting angle of attack with the diesel behemoth, catching its left rear fender on the big metal box. Crunch. As I was rending his fender, the customer—a western-looking gentleman from Enumclaw, WA—was having a friendly chat with my fellow valet Johnny about leaving his “deadbeat wife” to go find a prostitute. I reach the top drive and get out to examine my work. Johnny witnessed the terror strike the man’s heart. He threw his cowboy hat to the curb and lit a cigarette before he began yelling about what I had done. It was not a pretty sight. I got the hell up out of there on the quick. I left the truck running and gave Johnny a millisecond of a nod, as if to say “ohmygod I’m sorry you can have all my tips tonight.” He diffused the situation quite well, I might add. I stayed incognito the rest of the night, but from what I understand, the man from Enumclaw got a nice payday out of the whole ordeal. I just got my name on something called an incident report and a constant, continuous stream of shame and humiliation. Every truck I drive now, someone says, “Hey Bagwell, you sure you got that?”

Anyway, I showed up to work today and the very same truck was parked front and center on my driveway. Funny thing is, it now has chintzy chrome rims, a bumpin’ stereo and a gray racing stripe down the side. And my fender had been fixed. HMMMM.

He was gone before I could have two sips of coffee. I cleverly hid while deferring to Johnny once more. Astonishingly, he tipped well. As he left he slipped us a fiver and said, “Thanks for keeping it up here and not wrapping it around a big metal box this time.”

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Tonight, as the President prepares to address a crowd infinitely more puerile than yesterday’s audience of the nation’s schoolchildren, I will expend more patience than intellectual capital just to fool tourists into believing their automobiles are safe from unspeakable harm. I shouldn’t, though, because they are not. The garage of the Hyatt is a filthy, subterranean place. The exposed sewer pipes that leak into dank corners have conditioned anybody with reason to enter to plug their nose immediately to defeat the foul odor of the tourist’s digestive system. The evidence of our drivers’ careless racing pedigree streaks and smudges the walls and directional bollards with all shades of factory paint. It is also not a wise idea to walk down the path of vehicle travel, because at any moment a colleague could be road testing a Mercedes with the traction control off and the brakes shrieking for any kind of grip. It is a dangerous environment, indeed, and what with a constant concern for safety and other primal, base human emotions, it is certainly unfit for the pursuit of enlightenment—spiritual, moral, or otherwise.

Unlike Mr. Obama, I am an enforcer, whereas he is an executive. He has the ability to sculpt and mold impressionable halfwits like the United States Congress with soaring rhetoric. My rhetoric is less momentous and oft misinterpreted for selfish gain. Part of the enforcer’s jig is to claim blind allegiance to the executive, who—as Americans—we are all taught from birth to distrust.  This suspicion is mutual, and is the reason why there are more cameras focused on the garage than the entire hotel. Maybe the security guard—another enforcer—would care about our shenanigans if he were paid more than minimum wage. It is this prima facie contradiction that is so pervasive, and it’s nothing more than paranoid delusion. If there’s one thing enforcers and executives alike are not desensitized to it is fear of reprisal. It causes humans at every level to babble on like lunatics in the throes of crippling schizophrenia on topics they know nothing about. It stems from the indignity of being cheated, an antipathy to any discomforting notion that challenges “freedom.” There is no overcoming the constituents’ demand for what is rightfully theirs, however, when you ask them what actually is rightfully theirs, all they can come up with is something of monetary value.

As the enforcer-for-profit of all things automotive at swank downtown hotels, I am repeatedly quoted saying “I don’t set the prices, sir.” No matter how outrageously extortionate I believe $39 per night to be, no matter if I’m lucky to receive $39 for an entire eight-hour shift, I still demand it from anybody wishing to hand over their car to me. It’s silly, and it never occurred to me until the other night when a cantankerous gentleman with a cane and a limp arbitrarily parked his Audi TT on the Hyatt’s front driveway without paying, threatening litigation if we don’t stop harassing him regarding his poor choice of parking space. It irritated me that my colleagues were angrily busying themselves extracting all manner of revenge on the disabled man’s car. A Ford F-150 was parked within inches of the Audi, loose screws were placed around his rear tires, and his hotel room was errantly billed for several nights of parking that he did not receive. Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say.

Tonight, though, the hotel is on high alert for the arrival of some corporate executive. As Obama took the stage, nobody at the hotel gave a damn. The indentured Hyatt servants worked like beavers as if their minimum wage jobs depended on it, because they did. Vacuums whirred, windows were wiped, presidential suites prepared; all orders from on high. The gentleman arrived by motorcade and could not have been less interested in the pristine sparkle of his hotel. His watch glimmered with a lurid radiance, outshining the hotel by every measure. He shook a few hands and made a beeline for the elevators. Tourists came and went, not pausing to recognize his grandeur. Not more than two minutes later, hotel security forces swarmed the driveway anxiously awaiting the arrival of a female that the executive had ordered for the evening. Her name was Courtney, they said. The only other descriptor was that she was a blonde. The handling instructions given to me were vague and conditional upon my vow of secrecy. The blonde was to be “given free parking, V.I.P. treatment, and anything else she wants.” She showed up in a brand new BMW 750iL fashionably late to a very anxious executive. She wasted no time with me and was quickly escorted up to the presidential suite. I’ve worked this driveway long enough to know a prostitute when I see one at first glance, no matter what their nightly rate. “Courtney” was definitely of Puget Sound’s most expensive.

Curiously, tonight is just another average night at the Hyatt. The executives are children and the enforcers resent them, being equally dependent and fearful of one another all the while. I went home with twenty dollars in my pocket eager to hear what President Obama had to say to the nation while I was busy entertaining executive whores. I considered the tone of the evening while he addressed 535 Congressmen and women and 50 million Americans. There could not have been a better night to sit down and chat. In many ways, this summer has proven to be a massive regression back to the good ol’ days when we were a people ruled by fear, a shocking acceptance of the status quo, and some drunken idiot from Texas.

It was a brilliant speech by a brilliant leader who knew it was time to reframe the debate and to shun those who believe eating each other’s fingers at town hall meetings is an effective means of debating health care policy. He even addressed Sarah Palin directly at one point. “Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.” Thunderous applause.

He went on to say, “We did not come here to be afraid of the future, we came here to shape it.” Invoking the late Senator Kennedy, the President called into question “the character of our country.” Despite the deep rift of skepticism, I want to believe the Hyatt suit ordering high-dollar prostitutes cares about his valet’s well-being, considering we have to share this country. Unfortunately, he doesn’t, or else he’d offer me health insurance. After tonight, it’s good to know that at least the President cares about my well-being and will not let immature congressional scare tactics derail a chance for America to catch up to the rest of the civilized world and care for its people. Civilized people do not let their own suffer and die because they can’t afford modern medicine. That’s not the character of our country, and I strongly doubt that that’s the America that horny hotel executives want to live in.

The prefix “re-” is attached to words to indicate doing something again and again, with frequent or repetitive force. React. Retaliate. Revenge. Destroy at all costs. We’ve got these ones down to a science, because they are products of our most primal emotion. My question is, why can’t that frequent and repetitive force be used for words like reform, restore, and rebuild? As Obama said tonight, “The time for bickering is over. We have a responsibility.”

Two Years Gone By

"It’s a good feeling to wake up anywhere in the arms of somebody in Chico, but that’s approximately where the joy ends. It’s a dull sort of feeling. Like watching your fourth favorite movie and knowing what all the actors are going to say before they have the chance to say it. Now that I’m denouncing it all, I feel like I’m supposed to be sad about it. But I’m not. I know Chico is going to be the same every time I come home to visit, perhaps with a few more parking structures and Wal-Marts.

"I seek to impress nobody with my imminent lack of planning to move north to some hip, pseudo-European rainforest on a mission only a fool would undertake. However, the people remain awestruck. They say things like “Don’t carry your wallet at night!” and “You need a really good rain jacket!” They are not sure what to make of my sudden departure. They say things like “You must hate us to be moving that far away haha just kidding.”

"Anyway, after a quick trip to The Banshee I set off on my farewell voyage in the 325iS. I love my black coupe. It’s like my white convertible’s evil, racy twin. But, I am convinced that bald tires, rear wheel drive, and a testy clutch will definitely be the death of me in the rainy north. I meet four heavy set men from Sacramento in a dimly lit portion of the Chico Mall parking lot. The leader of the pack asks what’s wrong with her and I am forthright. Two of the four get in, giving her the appearance of being lowered on some blown adjustable coilovers. They burn some rubber, almost taking out several light poles. They do some more damage to the clutch. He neglects to notice the utterly unfixable burnt out right rear tail light. He asks if she’ll make it to some Sacramento suburb and I again nod assuringly. He hands over twenty-two $100 bills and I catch a ride back to the bar in a biodiesel Mercedes taxi that reeks of french fries.

"It’s down to the last twenty four hours of a long and strange 6,205 days confined to this one-horse town. Tomorrow, August 30th, 2007, at six in the morning, Mandy and I will fire up an enormous Penske truck and it’ll be all over. After 6,205 days, I think I got the hang of it. Subtract for days spent elsewhere, hating and loathing Chico all the while. We’re at peace now, I think. I’m ready.

"If this blue notebook filled with rambling chicken-scratch and my modest possessions occupying 1/8th of this Penske truck is all that’s left of a fiery explosion tomorrow, rest assured that Mandy and I were the happiest people traveling the great length of Interstate Five that day."

—A handwritten entry, dated 8/29/2007

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened … There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning … And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave … So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
I’ve always thought the idea of God is absolutely preposterous, but slightly more plausible than the alternative proposition that, given enough time, some green slime could write Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Due to the current economic climate…

…my casual public blogging has been suspended in pursuit of other soapboxes, like KING5 and The Stranger. I may have made a fool of myself, but, ultimately, I’m employed again. My new job doesn’t allow for luxuries like an office, or a computer, or steady, guaranteed paychecks, but it’s better than antagonizing my state’s government.

I have several stories—short and long, fiction and non—that will be posted here as they become fit for public consumption. I’m also working on self-publishing a collection at Amazon. At it’s current rate of development, you can pick it up sometime around September 25th, 2023.