Share Your Joyride

Fat Tire Ale is giving away bicycles to people who submit the best stories, videos or photos of their experiences with Fat Tire Ale. The contest is called “Share Your Joyride.”

I have an exceptionally unforgettable story about Fat Tire Ale, despite my being a non-drinker. But I’m not going to win that bike. You will see why. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty. And FYI, this is a wholly non-Sideways-Gaze-style post. Anyway, here’s my story:

Couple years ago, I was at a summer barbeque at my brother-in-law’s place. Friends, family, lots of good eats and drinks. After making a stop in the bathroom, I noticed a Fat Tire Ale bottle in the trash. Geez, I thought, that’s recyclable. I fished it out and headed downstairs to pitch it in the bin.

En route, I thought, Hm. I’ve heard Fat Tire Ale is really good. Wonder how it smells? I sniffed the bottle. GOOD GOD. What are people thinking? This beer smells like shit. I threw it contemptuously in the recycling and went on with my evening.

Only the next day did I learn that ________ had taken such a massive dump that night that he required the use of an empty beer bottle to get the giant load down the john.

I am not making this up.

I’m sure your ale smells just fine under normal circumstances.

Kunal’s island

Kunal had forgotten his past. He had forgotten building an airplane of balsa and dropping it into the air. He had forgotten running through a tunnel made of the bent arms of flowering trees, running until he tripped and cut open his chin and cried like the boy he was then. He had forgotten his mother and father, his grandmother and his two sisters. And God; of course, he had forgotten God. But above all he had forgotten the concept of dry. He was dunked and salted like a bean in brine, and if it were possible, even more insensate.

For twenty hours Kunal had been floating in the ocean, fingers frozen around the metal body of a defunct communications satellite which had fallen back to earth, he supposed, after becoming obsolete. He should be grateful that the H.M.S. Verizon had found him at all. If rarities constitute miracles, he had experienced two: his plane falling into the sea, and an hour later, the satellite knocking him in the hips as what he had expected would be his last pint of salt water forced its way into his lungs. He could expect no more luck, of any kind.

But at hour twenty-nine, one more miracle appeared. The satellite struck land. Or was it land? Kunal opened his chapped and sunburned eyes and squinted in the pre-dawn glow at a giant reef. The satellite had snagged in its borders and now bobbed slowly within it, a foreign object being absorbed. Kunal laughed, a sound like sandpaper rubbing metal, and rolled from the satellite onto land. He laughed because it was a land he had read about in the newspaper the week before. It was an island of trash: plastic shopping bags, bottles, and toy packaging, gathered from thousands of miles of littered shorelines by sea currents. And now Kunal and the Verizon were two more pieces of refuse cobbled into its mass.

In a little over a day, Kunal had tired of miracles. His old life was gone: one. Yet he did not die: two. And three: it was the laziest element of human nature that had saved him. He yearned for nothing more than to evade further adventure, to just live, to go on through time and perhaps one day remember trees and balsa wood and grandmothers, when it would be safe to do so. He opened a plastic bottle marked with some kind of writing–maybe Chinese?–and a logo of a blue wave. He drank its leftover half cup of sweet, unsalted, though hot and stale, water. And then he fell asleep, smiling. He dreamed, and dreaming, he began his second life.

To let a quiet man be

The man seated in the deli was motionless. There was no plate or cup before him, nor newspaper nor wallet. His head was bowed. I went round with my broom and pan to glance from the corner of my eye, pretending to sweep crumbs. Yes, he is asleep. Sleeping in the deli after sunset on St. Patrick’s Day. I should tell a manager, I suppose, and do: “There’s a man sleeping in the deli.”

I expect action but she says, “Oh yes… he’s been there since six, I think.” She blinks. “He doesn’t seem to be drunk and he isn’t noisy, so we will let him stay.”

I am glad and tell her. How hard was that? How hard to let a quiet man sleep, here in a place of commerce on a night known for wildness? So easy. An easy kindness. Why not? Who would be hurt? Yet so few I know would let him be.

Germophilia

“Hope you feel better soon,” I tell Imma, handing her a receipt as she leaves. The next lady in line, inches away from releasing her purse onto the counter, suddenly frees herself from gravity and sucks her possessions and facial features upward. She leans away, but hisses with the air of someone leaning in: “Does she have The Flu?

“Oh no, just a sore throat I think,” I reply, from within a mask of cheer.

“Oo. Ooo,” she coos, peering at the counter as she would a fresh grave. “I’m a huge germophobe. I think I don’t want to set anything down here.”

“Well, ah, I’m sure I could wipe it down for you, or would you like some sanitizer?” I reach for my spray bottle and cloth, but her face remains frozen in arches.

“Um, I think I’ll just go to another desk.”

Her caution has saved her from the plague, she thinks. But who do you think touched the door handle, I want to ask her, or the pens? The delivery confirmation slips? Who stacked the brochures there for you? Who stocked the walls with boxes and stamps? Who coughed in the entry? Who sighed? Her lack of thoroughness in paranoia is disappointing. Why settle for neurosis? If one really wants to be positive of one’s hygiene, commit to psychosis. Witness the colorful festival of bacteria dancing on all surfaces, not just toilets and doorknobs. Acknowledge the legion of supremely creative viruses, struggling to evolve as all life forms do, all of us parasites thriving upon other beings to survive. Tremble at the ugly, though incomplete, truth: it’s a race to the death, and enemies dwell within necessary oxygen, food and drink, elimination. There is no escape.

The woman has settled at Shanelle’s counter. Shanelle hands her a book of stamps, perfectly concealing her sinus headache and congested nasal passages, smiling and nodding. Meanwhile, I greet my next customer, who twiddles his sniffly nose, then reaches forward kindly to shake my hand.

At the gate

Kaczmarek and I leave the USO lounge and walk to Gate E13, sit down in a couple of glossy chairs with chips off them and foam flecking out of the torn spots. Most other passengers have Blackberries or laptops or at least a USA Today, but we just sit and wait. Then this guy, fifties-ish, who’d been sitting across from us and a few seats over, comes over and sticks out his hand and starts talking. He wants to shake our hands and thank us, I realize, because we’re in Desert Battle Dress Uniforms and about to go somewhere. I’m polite, but it’s weird. I look about twelve in this haircut, it makes my ears stick out, but here I am, a man to him, whereas otherwise he’d have been following me around Dillard’s trying to catch me shoplifting. I doubt this guy’s ever been in uniform himself; something about the extra-big smile. Maybe his dad or a brother or two. He doesn’t look rich, so we’re probably not protecting his investments, maybe just his gas tank. I know the military statistics: working for not exactly noble causes, getting PTSD, being more likely to abuse women or become a drunk, etc. I’m not as clueless as the pair of hippies stealing glances at us supposes I am. I know what this is about, and I’m not especially doing it for my country, not sure why I’m doing it, actually—something new, maybe some money, get me out of here, maybe transform myself. I’ll pick a reason later, in hindsight. For now I’m sitting at the gate with another pale-faced rookie from Wyoming, ready to go. The lady at the desk gets on the intercom and starts boarding first class, and everyone gets busy with their own baggage and leaves us alone.

Politician’s protection

Hirohito suggests a lead-plated Bible in my breast pocket. It makes good press with a tinge of holiness when a bullet is arrested mid-epistle, or even more excitingly, as deep as Revelations. Oh, and plus I’d live to tell, unless the protection of a thousand thin pages is mere urban legend. Hirohito, endearingly, tends to value a good story more than the realities of physics–but even if his conviction is worth its salt, I’m the kind of guy who’d be shot from behind.

To Do

  • Eject Woodvole, roommate ordinaire, loathesome drag to entrepreneurial spirit
  • Get Chaz to paint shingle to hang from 2nd story window—crimson and gold; yellow if Chaz too stingy to use gold
  • Butter toasts for parakeet
  • Google how to start escort service
  • Google is it illegal to hang sign advertising escort service
  • Print gift certificate for 3 hrs. free to pay off Chaz, little worm
  • Call Staples: still offering 50 free biz cards? If affirmative: Madame Bistique, Madam, address, phone #, image of slipper? heart? sultry parakeet?
  • Mend 3rd best kimono
  • Find appropriate drape for parakeet cage, otherwise perhaps small gag?
  • Pray for clients, mattress, self
  • Dinner—KFC? PBJ if no more cash. Raisins if no more J.
  • Practice sashay
  • Beauty rest, if stupid parakeet ever shuts up

The bestseller

The private underground garage gates open and the Maserati GranCabrio glides in, finds one of the three most convenient spaces, then purrs to a stop. The door opens and a black Edward Green oxford emerges, polished by elbow grease other than its owner’s own, followed by the trouser leg of a conservative yet perfectly tailored suit. Wesson has arrived at McCarthy Singh & Wesson, unfolding from the comfort of the sedan to his full, imposing height. Uncharacteristically, tiny beads of sweat glisten at his temples. While too small for others to notice, he feels their slight chill. As the wood-paneled elevator speeds smoothly up the shaft toward the office, he prepares for the day—and night—ahead. He’d started out three years ago as a greenhorn attorney representing the people of the Baltimore slums, and had swiftly risen to apprenticeship at a superstar firm, which had been brought down by a massive scheme involving pharmaceuticals and South African diamond mines. He had brought the swindle to light despite no small risk to his life. After that, he had had enough of toeing the line at giant firms—he wanted to call the shots. So he, Blake McCarthy from Balti Legal Aid, and Anjali Singh, the brilliant young lawyer who had been the only one to believe him and get out while she could at Solomon & Holmes, had opened MS&W. They were now enjoying incredible wealth and challenge, in exchange for a mere hundred or so hours of their time and energy each week.

Wesson reviews the case mentally. Although he carries a slender attache, it is nearly always empty, except for a photograph of his fiancée, Lisse, smiling disarmingly in her bathing suit on a beach on the Marau Peninsula of Brazil. Part of his power in the courtroom consists in his freedom from thick sheaves of paper: his photographic memory allows him to appear spur-of-the-moment, reasonable, and refreshingly lacking in smoke and mirrors. The case is a corporate fraud lawsuit. Textbook, but he has a feeling: this is going to be another big one, another wild ride. He wonders why his life is like this. He imagines the novel that spells out the following six months of his life, runs his fingers over its embossed cover and feels its heft. He knows how things will go: long hours, twists and surprises, death threats, perhaps a beating or a kidnapping. A new woman on the scene, dubiously trustworthy, yet spellbinding. He’ll lose a great deal of money, his reputation will be in question, but he’ll pull through in the end. His hard-headed secretary, sprung from the hood but in strict retention of her survival instinct, will point him toward a vital clue. And he’ll topple giants, win back his acclaim and then some, and as a result will own sheets with an even higher thread count, between which he will recline alongside the warm body of Lisse, who always returns to primary status by the last page. The end. Until the next time, the next blockbuster.

Truth be told, sometimes he wishes it were otherwise. The dweller of a non-bestseller life is allowed to wear red college sweatpants on Saturdays; to frequent Hardee’s, and sigh while eating. To put his foot in his mouth, or to stomp that foot in impatience, or to stub its toe in situations other than muggings performed by the thugs of drug cartel kingpins. And beyond this, such a person might have an opportunity to change, to really change. Such a person might become more or less ornery with time. He might develop dementia, or an embarrassing racist streak, or a love of nurturing plants and children. All horrible to consider, and thoroughly impossible for him, but on mornings such as this—mornings of the damp brow, the foreknowledge, the feeling of teetering over the edge of the same cliff yet again—Adam Wesson is wistful.

W. Hegel’s holiday

When Sgt. Roscoe spotted the form slouched over a suitcase at the bus stop bench, she could not tell its gender or age. An oversized checked sweater concealed any shape, and the limbs were pulled in like a turtle’s. Only the head emerged, dwarfed in a cherry-red hunter’s cap, the tip of the nose pointing north into the wind as if waiting, perhaps sniffing, for the bus. She pulled over and lowered her window. “The late bus don’t run on Christmas Day, sir.” Cold air rushed into the car and made her words sound more fragile than she liked. The shape did not move, and she repeated herself. “You OK, sir? Sir?”

When the woman was unwrapped at the hospital—for it was a woman, overweight, around forty five—the staff found her comatose and nearly frozen. Her fingertips were stained with an unknown substance, in addition to being frostbitten. While they nursed her vital signs, several of the less occupied workers opened the suitcase. “Let’s see what Mrs. Claus brought the ER,” said an intern.

The newspaper lady was glad to get the call on the holiday. First Christmas after a divorce, especially if the kids are with their father and his folks, warm around a beautiful tree and floating in torn wrapping paper, while you’re alone in the apartment with the dog and a box of assorted See’s—you need something to do, she thought. The moment she walked into the hospital and met the policewoman holding the open suitcase overflowing with photographs, she realized she had received the gift of a lifetime. There was no ID on the comatose woman, the suitcase, or its contents, but she knew the photographs instantly. They were the work of the reclusive W. Hegel, obviously recently developed, newborn black-and-whites. Moreover, they were unexpected: W. Hegel had not come out with anything new for a decade, and was supposedly dead. The photographer was a master of lighting and angle, and shot anything and everything, except for W. Hegel. No one knew the first thing about the one who held that camera, who had failed to come forward for three Pulitzers, whose books recorded the goings-on of a fragile and oblivious world. But now W. Hegel was in the next room thawing, her fingertips stained with photographic developer, her veins coursing with warmth, taking a well-earned day off.

Paul Bunyan’s homecoming

I popped my eyeballs out and tucked them in the pocket of my flannels to defrost for a few minutes. Gently knocked my temples against the doorframe to loosen crystallized snot from my nose hairs. And ran an empty mascara wand through my lashes to remove the clinging, teary icicles. As I returned the wand to its hook by the deadbolt, a pool of melted snow spread from under my boots, a dark ring magnifying my entry. “Babe!” I cried, in case I was not yet perfectly obvious. “Fire up the coffeepot! Ignite the candelabra! Your fella’s home off the mountain!”