Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Caravan

After years of playing in kid’s basements and back-door clubs, Second Hand Wasted finally gets our big break. Some teenager in Toulouse finds a clip of us on YouTube and sends it to friends who send it to their friends who start such a huge chain of emails and MySpace posts that we accidentally acquire a fan base in France. So after months of negotiations, French lessons, and seemingly unnecessary PR, we have ourselves a twenty-five city French tour and more money than any of us have ever seen before. The barbeque is meant to be a going away party for the band and me.
            “Maybe you’ll find yourself a nice French man who will give me grandchildren,” my mother says, sipping from her fifth Manhattan of the hour. I’m barely nineteen, and already she wants grandchildren.
            “What do I need with a French man when I have a perfectly good American right here,” I tell her, reaching out for Radley’s hand. But he’s not there. Looking around, I see the silhouette of his Anti-Flag tee behind the screen of the closed-in porch. Walking towards him, I see Dagmar’s caramel leg running up Radley’s waist and it becomes obvious that he is kissing her. After less than a second of shock, my anger forces me into a dead sprint.
            “Baby, let me explain” he slurs, but the look on my face makes him stop in his tracks. Dagmar runs away, and I decide to deal with her later.
“I can’t believe you kissed her, Radley. She’s my sister. This is the worst thing you’ve ever done. I don’t know what was going through your mind. You’re such an assho… Just…I think you should go.” I manage to get all this out through tears. “Don’t call me, don’t e-mail me, don’t even bump into me. If you see me on the street, walk the other way!” I warn before pointing to the door. He stumbles through the gate, and I hope the roads are wet and he forgets his seatbelt.

 “How could you do this? We’re sisters. We’re supposed to stick together,” I tell Dagmar. It’s hours after Radley leaves, and I feel like I’ve calmed down a little. Dagmar’s friend Benjy, used to our sisterly quarrels, sits in the corner of her room reading High Fidelity.
“You’re just mad because your boyfriend likes me better than you. You hate me because I’m the pretty one and you have to be an ‘individual’ just to stand out next to me. He could just smell the jealousy on you,” she says, smirking.
“Beauty is an accident of genetics, Dagmar, an accident like mom’s trip to Morocco that brought you into this world.” The words come out muddled, but she gets the point. Benjy holds back a smirk beneath his book.
“At least my mother didn’t throw me in a dumpster behind the Hilton after prom, border bunny,” Dagmar shoots back. I don’t mean to break her nose. I guess I’m just not as calmed down as I think.

The tour is torture. I can’t get Radley and Dagmar out of my head. I drink away my sorrows in Lille. I cry under the Eiffel Tower. I worry myself sick in Dijon.
By the time we get to Grenoble, I’m either too drunk or too depressed to go on. The record company decides it’s best to cancel the rest of the tour.  None of the boys will look me in the eye on the plane back to the States. Two weeks later, they tell me we will have one last show, and then it’s over.
“We owe it to the people who supported Second Hand Wasted when we were nothing,” Warren justifies, and I say yes for lack of an excuse.
Everything might have been fine if not for one little oversight.

“Security!” I yell when I see Radley staring up at me from the crowd of our last show. The sheer shock of seeing his face makes me forget I’m playing. The boys look at me confused before they see security taking Radley away and understanding sinks in.
Without saying a word I walk off the stage at The Icebox, speed back to my apartment to pack up my things, and just drive.  I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what I’m doing. But I am getting out of here. I drive west for hundreds of miles without thinking of anything but escaping Radley. After 2,500 miles I start to feel safe enough to stop.

The circumstances of finding the trailer feel serendipitous, a phenomenon that seems to happen a lot in this desert. I’m sitting in a diner, sticky from the dirt and sweat of my journey, and I ask the waitress if she knows of any vacant apartments. She scrutinizes me for a moment before signaling to a woman at the end of the counter.  
“I have another recruit for your caravan,” the waitress says before walking away. Waddling towards me is a woman, old and sun-damaged, in a long gypsy skirt and gauzy top. She jingles with bangles that almost completely cover her arms.
“So, you’re looking for a place, are ya? Well let me ask. Are you mad, mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, someone who never yawns or says a commonplace thing, but burns, burns, burns...?" She is quoting something, but I can’t place it.
“Look. Three days ago I was in Pennsylvania. Then, for reasons I don’t know you well enough to talk about, I jumped in my car and didn’t stop driving for anything but food and bathrooms until I got here. Is that mad enough for ya?” There is a moment of silence between us as she looks me up-and-down.
“I’m Sarah Haras,” she says, extending a jingling arm.

My first year in the caravan flew by like one long day. I don’t know if we can be considered a legitimate caravan, seeing as we never move anywhere. It’s more of a place that people move to rather than with.
“This is where the broken come to get fixed,” Sarah explains to me one day. We are sitting under the awning of my trailer door, drinking some combination of cactus juice and alcohol. “Haven’t you read the sign?”
Right outside the perimeter of the caravan, there is a wooden sign that’s meant to welcome people in. I saw it when I first arrived, but never thought to question it until now.
Be Aware
                        This is where the broken come to get fixed.
                        Here there are shamans, mystics and seers.
                        Shooting stars move in circles.
                        Rain clouds make ninety degree turns at the caravan’s border.
                        This is a place of synchronicity.
                        Coincidences are common.
                        Welcome Here Are the Magical Minds.

“It helps to keep out the normals,” Sarah explains. When I ask her what is so abnormal about this place, she tells me about the other people in the caravan.
“That’s Bishop. He’s a shaman for followers of the Longhouse religion. He’s a very wise man, but never bring up the Bush Administration in his presence. It’s not so much that he’ll be angry, it’s just that he doesn’t understand the concept of cliché and his diatribes never end. Cherry over there is a stripper at The Whispering Eye. Last year, she was abducted by aliens. I don’t know what they did to her, but she can climb up and down that pole using only the strength of her legs. Chayton, he owns the Whispering Eye. He’s a Shoshone Indian and he swears he’s a direct descendant of Sacagawea. Although everyone around here knows that her tribe was from Idaho and North Dakota, while Chayton’s people haven’t left Nevada since before the Trail of Tears. Besides that white lie, he’s a good businessman and treats his girls right.  If you’re looking for a job, The Whispering Eye is always looking for new talent. A mixed race girl like you could make big bucks. The boys like variety.” I don’t know how to respond to this. My nationality has been a point of shame up until this point. I only know about my heritage from my birth mother’s police report (she was never found after leaving me in the dumpster.) and what’s been told to me by my birth father, who later became a police officer and illegally let me see the report. I look around, wanting to change the subject.
“What about him?” I ask, about the man whose trailer is on the opposite side of the circle from me. 
 “That’s Jasper. I don’t know much about him. He keeps to himself most of the time. All I know is that he goes through books like they keep him alive. Euphemina, that’s the woman in the trailer next to me, schizophrenic, but she tends her flowers like they’re her children, and, well, she went into his trailer once. Books everywhere. She couldn’t figure out where the poor thing slept with all those books lying around.” I look towards Jasper again, and he’s staring right at me. He’s at the door to his trailer, hundreds of feet away, but I can feel his eyes barreling into me and I shudder.

I end up going for a job at The Whispering Eye. I don’t exactly need the money; I still have quite a bit left from the French tour. But desert days are long and I can only drink so many cactus-y drinks with Sarah before I feel like I’m wasting my life away. I’m sure I should try to find a more venerable means of employment, but I feel at home on the stage and music just reminds me of Radley. I came here to escape him.
 As I expected of a strip club in the desert, The Whispering Eye has a Western theme, unpainted wood, country music, and cowboy hats. The building itself is a triple wide trailer with a small bar up front and only the one stage. Even Chayton dons a ten-gallon hat and spurred cowboy boots.
“Where you from, sweetheart?” Chayton asks.
“Pennsylvania” I tell him. He gives a loud hoot that I interpret as a laugh.
“No, girl. I mean what nationality are you?” he laughs again.
“Oh. Well…” I never know what to say when people ask this. Mainly because I don’t identify with my birth parents, but I’m sure Chayton is curious about my skin tone rather than my upbringing, so I answer honestly. “Um… my mother is Chicana, my father is German, and my adoptive parents are WASPs.”
“Well, that’s a fine mix of girl you got in that skin. You’re hired,” he tells me, and the excitement of a new job mixes in with the realization that I am a stripper. I don’t know whether to jump for joy or vomit.

The club gets surprisingly full for being in the middle of nowhere. Men, and some women, come from somewhere unknown to see us take off our tops and climb the pole. Bishop has a reserved seat every Thursday night to see Candy do her magic. Sarah wasn’t kidding when she said Candy can climb the pole with her feet. She lies down at the base of the pole, and inch by inch she arches her back and wraps her legs around the metal until she’s lying completely vertical. The crowd goes wild.
My act isn’t nearly as astonishing. From the time I was two until I turned sixteen and decided rock and roll was more my lifestyle, Dagmar and I took dance classes. I still have the flexibility, though it’s been five years since I quit. This, however is the only skill I have when it comes to erotic dancing. I can’t work the pole, I don’t have much rhythm, and the first few times I got out there I fell an extra eight inches off my spiked heels. The only other thing I got going for me is that Dagmar was wrong; we are both the pretty one.

One night, I’m up on the stage, crawling around to The Coaster’s “Down in Mexico,” when someone catches my eye. The room is dark, but from one corner of the trailer, I feel a particular set of eyes barreling into me and I shudder.
After the song, I venture over to that corner just to make sure my feeling is correct. It’s him. Although it’s dark, he has his nose in a book.
“Hey there, sugar,” I say, taking on the persona of what I think a stripper is supposed to be like. He places his book on the table. High Fidelity. I had a moment of nostalgia I could only slightly place.
“I’ve been watching you,” he says. His accent is a mixture of the American West and French.
“Oh yeah? You like what you see?” I smile coyly, pushing away the silly feeling I get when I take on this persona. Jasper smiles, seeming to know this is just an act.
“Life’s a bitch, then you die. Fuck the world, let’s get high” he quotes Second Hand Wasted and gives me a knowing smile. For a second, I don’t know how to react. I haven’t told anyone about the band and I never imagined someone outside of France would know who I was. “Coincidences are commonplace,” he tells me. We both laugh.

Jasper comes to the club every night I work after that. He sits in the same corner, and when my dance ends, I join him. Mostly we talk about music. He tells me about bands like Babylon Circus and HushPuppies, French rock bands that remind him of our sound. I try to explain the battle between grunge and Britpop in the mid-90’s.
I fall for Jasper hard and fast. I think of him before I go to bed. I imagine moving into his trailer, listening to Eliot Smith late into the night. He’ll read his books and I’ll take up the guitar again. We’ll never get married and he’ll never have to meet my family. Dagmar will never steal him away. We can live in sin in the desert. Maybe have a lovechild. These are the thoughts that lull me to sleep at night.

“You wanna get out of here,” he asks one night. It’s been a month since I first saw him in the club and he seems to have fallen for me just as hard as I have for him. “I wanna show you something.” It’s Tuesday, a slow night for the club, and nearly four o’clock in the morning, so I say yes. Jasper waits as Chayton cashes me out, and then we get into his Volkswagen Rabbit and drive off into the desert.  Babylon Circus’ “La Caravane” plays on the stereo, and I sing along to the chorus: 
La caravane passe passe la caravane passe
La caravane passe passe la caravane passe
La caravane passe elle est pas prete de s'arreter
Et les chiens n'ont pas fini d'aboyer[1]

            “You speak with skill” Jasper tells me, and I blush.
“Thanks. Yeah…I’m not fluent, but I pronounce pretty well I guess. Where are we going?” Jasper smiles as he turns onto a sand road. Up ahead, spirals of sandstone stretch into the sparse clouds. The full moon spotlights an otherwise dark cluster of cock’s comb shaped rocks. Jasper parks at the base of the mountain.
“Follow me,” Jasper says as he lights an oil lamp. Slowly, we scale the mountain, Jasper with the lamp and me with the moon. As the moon descends under the horizon, we rise up to meet the peak. There’s a moment when we’re level to the moon, and I feel like I can reach out and grab it.
“A few more steps,” Jasper says as he disappears into the mountain. His hand reaches out. I take hold, and with one last push of my legs I’m on top of the mountain. I lose my balance for a moment, and Jasper puts one surprisingly muscular arm around my waist, pulling me up.
“Now what?” I ask as I find my footing.
“Look,” Jasper says, pointing behind me. On the horizon, the sun is just about to pop out from behind the mountains. The sky glows red and white with the mixture of clouds and sunlight and for a moment I don’t know where heaven stops and the earth begins. Words escape me as Jasper puts his arm around my shoulder. I put my arm around his waist and take in the view. I can feel his face moving closer to mine and as our lips meet for the first time, my knees go weak. I know I’ll laugh about it later, but for the moment I just go with it.
We lay back against the sandstone, still warm after a night in the dark. Jasper slowly runs his hands up and down my thigh and as they move upward I’m slightly embarrassed that I’m not wearing underwear. His breath tastes like tequila as our kissing becomes deeper. His skin smells like a Caribbean library, old books and suntan lotion. I run my hands up his chest and remove the sweat-drenched tee that sticks to his body. The cat’s cradle of strings that hold my shirt on gets tangled in his ring, and he ends up ripping it from my body. We each take time to remove our pants, and as he slips himself inside of me, the years I’ve gone without sex rush back to me in an awesome wave. This is the first time I’ve been touched by a man since Radley, and it feels like the perfect way to end my dry spell.

I think back on that night now, and wonder what could have been. Jasper and I make love until the sun envelopes our naked bodies. He drops me off in front of my trailer and tells me he has some errands to run. That’s the last time I see him.
“What do you mean he’s gone?” I ask Sarah.
“He said he was cured. Came here to get over writer’s block. He said he had a breakthrough and needed to get back to his typewriter.”

Sun-bleached pink rocks stretch for miles out the window of my trailer. The blazing Nevada sun blackjacks through my window. Having already exhausted the car battery, I flap the Chinese paper fan I won at the Chuck E. Cheese in Henderson. I take another drag of my Camel and re-read Jasper’s postcard for the umpteenth time. There is no apology, no explanation for what happened.
            The Valley Spirit never dies. It is named the Mysterious Female. And the doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang. It is there within us all the while; Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry.
 These are the only words I get for a year, but I’m over it. The medicinal quality of the desert air holds no room for grudges.
 Second Hand Wasted’s LP whispers from the CD player beside my Murphy bed:

                        Sex, drugs, rock and roll,
                        Weed, speed, birth control,
                        Life’s a bitch, then you die.
                        Fuck the world, let’s get high.

 The singer feels like a stranger, though I know it’s me. A different time. A different girl.

[1]The caravan will pass the caravan passes
The caravan moves it is not ready to stop
And dogs are still barking

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this story! I like a lot of what I have read on your blog. You have some very good stories here. Good job.