In 2006 I had needed to conduct an unplanned (and rather unpleasant) visit to Albuquerque. I had not been warned of the balloon festival taking place and at that eleventh hour to describe the travel arrangements as ad hoc would be an act of charity. From the meager supply of remaining accommodations available in the Duke City I was forced to settle for a second floor room at an Extended Stay hotel located in a completely lifeless industrial district. The room itself was no problem; a bed with clean sheets, a shower and a toilet. At 12:45 AM (2:45 eastern) no other amenities are required.
Extended Stay America hotels are a fabulous bargain for the true road warrior. They are well appointed suites all, with a full sized refrigerator and a functional kitchenette, they are a below median priced refuge from the ravages of the road. Whether for a night or for a week they are a good value for your travel dollar spent. The only other amenities on the grounds are a small vending area and a guest laundry. One does indeed get what one pays for and in the case of Extended Stay hotels be prepared to bring your own fun. It’s still a lot cheaper than cocktail lounges and cab fare.
One of the other cost reducing measures taken by this chain, which allows them to provide such a value, is the absence of a desk attendant between the hours of 11P to 7A. Not even a housekeeper. Arrangements are made with late arrivals to obtain their key through a mailbox which is accessible with a key code entry. In one sense I rather admire their optimism with regard to basic human character. These hotel guests are all grown ups, after all, aren’t they? Surely they can fend for themselves for eight hours without any supervision! What could possibly go wrong?
I was one of the ill-fated late arrivals that early morning. In fact I was the last check in of the night. I took the key from the night deposit box and returned to the rental just to retrieve a satchel from the front seat, leaving the other luggage for daylight. Upon entering the suite I found it poorly lit and underwhelmingly dull. It was perfect for my purposes.
I hadn’t eaten since Pueblo, over six hours earlier. Two large steak burritos and six bottles of Bohemia Cerveza. Sometimes life on the road can be sweet, but the burritos were now screaming to complete their odyssey through my plumbing. It was at that precise moment that I knew there were three things that were going to happen in this suite, further, that these should occur in the following order:
1 – I was going to relieve myself of the screaming burritos
2 – I was going to drink Captain Morgans straight from the bottle until I was on the verge of passing out, and finally…
3 – drop two hits of plain white blotter
There was important work to commence at sunrise. I would need to be alert.
The initial phase of this plan was achieved in a mercifully brief span of time. With only the remaining evidence to dispose of at the end of a 3” handle I was eagerly anticipating that sharp, crisp snap of the seal of the bottle, awaiting in the satchel. Alas! My wishes were to be confounded by a most cruel twist of fate.
There is an oddity in the digestion of the common steak burrito. It is one of only a handful of foods on the planet that are able to produce a volume of waste product equal to or greater than the mass of it’s original form. You may be surprised to learn that there are no Indian foods included in this short list. In any event, suffice to say that the plumbing in my suite did not appear to be up to the task, much to my chagrin. Had I been in my top form at the time I would have cursed at the toilet. Violently. The flush handle returned to it’s 3:00 heading and the mass rose with the water, higher and higher. I had no energy to protest and stared blankly with the certainty that it would spill over the rim. The rotation slowed and the turd soup crested just beneath the seat. It would have taken no more than a lemon dropped into it to begin the flood. I had no further need of these facilities now. This could wait for housekeeping in a few hours. I retreated from the horror, resolved that if I should need to urinate at any time before then the sink would do.
When I unzipped the large outer compartment of my satchel the pristine bottle of Captain Morgans beamed up at me. That brazen harlot with the come hither look in her eyes, aflame with a desire to be consumed. Many a bottle has been my siren song, ensnaring me in the rocky shoals of life, until a change of tide should bring other fortunes, for better or worse. Yet still the seas rage. All the ebb and flow of tides will pass, the surf will crash and gulls will wail. These pass unconscious from mind in the ether filled kiss of her lips. Each bottle is a seductress, wantonly swaying her hips in invitation then coyly protesting your advances. Small sips, like softly nibbling an earlobe and then casting hot breath upon the nape of her neck, until the heat builds and you drink deeper from that well. Somewhere between 4 and 5 ounces you feel her flesh become pliant to your touch. The dance is done, me lad; come and take your reward.
I had reached my limit, the shades of unconsciousness hovered over my eyes. It was time to execute phase three. I fished into one of the other pockets of the case to locate a small cellophane. In a drunken stupor I miraculously extracted the small wrapping, successfully unrolling it to locate two 3/16” squares of plain white stock. Each of these was infused with precisely 150 micrograms of a very high grade LSD, produced in a state of the art laboratory approximately 22 minutes outside of the Denver metro area. It’s an old friend of mine, a renegade pharmacist I guess you’d call him. Maybe a chemo-anarchist? Well, the label doesn’t matter. The dude makes some seriously good shit. Clean. I was just in time. They would dissolve in my mouth as I passed out, I would enjoy 90 minutes of blissful oblivion and then wake with the dawn, hyper-alert and ready for violence (should that prove necessary).
I did indeed succumb to the bliss of dreamless sleep, though I know not for what duration. It was the sleep of the dead, complete void while it lasted. The expectation had been that the dose would have the time to develop momentum within a cocoon of total sedation. Instead this proved to be yet another of many instances in which the experience fails to match the expectation. These occasions do not always equate disappointment, just most of the time. This time was no exception.
What I had attempted is a technique of dropping acid known to the experienced psychonaut as “the tripper’s awakening”. With a couple of notable exceptions that ended in heart failure (due more to other underlying health issues) it is a method that, although seldom attempted, has yielded a wild array of results. Little has been officially documented, for reasons I need not expand upon here. The ideal would have been to be at a point of near total sedation at time of ingestion, remaining in the sedated state for a period of up to two hours before the stimulative effects would cause awakening. The moment of regaining consciousness emerges from the enhanced dream state just prior to awakening. No caffeine required, simply hit the ground running with energy, hyper-alertness and a panoramic field of color and shifting shapes.
Instead of that optimal result I was awakened by a screaming fire alarm. I’ve never had a bad trip, but I learned a good way to begin one. I thought I had died; that the alarm was the blare of trumpets, a menacing herald for my impending judgment. I hadn’t even begun to sweat out the alcohol, my pulse elevated and my eyelids peeled back seamlessly. The mental image registered went straight from blackness to shimmering patterns, punctuated by the glowing pulse of the red light on the wall flashing in time with the alarm. My adrenal gland shifted into hyperdrive and I found myself cresting upon a complete psychotic meltdown. It was very nearly past the tipping point, but I remained grounded in some anchor to reality. I was mentally coaching myself to remember to breath, just breath man! Slow down. My breathing steadied and my heart rate soon followed. I was in a hotel. In Albuquerque. This was a fire alarm. Oh – what – the – fuck!
The shifting shapes and light or shadow play raged unabated as the background. It was like life unfolding with a giant cinema screen behind, filled with camp images from cheap Japanese horror films. Against this wallpaper I slowly moved in reaction to the reality unfolding within that same space. I wasn’t even certain at that moment in space/time that my sense of smell was even functioning. Nonetheless I instinctively sniffed at the air for any sign of smoke. There was none. At least, not that I could perceive. My next instinct would thrust me towards the door to have a look outside for any sign of flame on the premises. The intermittent flashing red light of the alarm combined with my hallucinogenic haze created a maze I was unable to navigate. I knew they did not exist, but my visual field registered two tears rendered from the earth as deep chasms between my being and the distant door. Dark, unknown and dread depths that a man dare not tread near. The only remaining option was to pivot into the swirling collage and reach for the switch to the mirror lamp above the bathroom sink.
Good Christ on a bike, man! The horror that greeted me with the light! There, in a pooling mass of liquid shit on that bathroom floor was the face of none other than Richard Milhouse Nixon. Mercifully that spill of light from the bathroom mirror was enough to show a path around the looming chasms. In panic I fled up this path and reached for the door handle. I reached with an expectation of some relief, that there was some still altered, yet kinder reality awaiting on the other side. Maybe I was expecting something like the cover of a Carlos Castaneda paperback. Anything would have been better than the surreal terror that lay in the space behind me.
The hellfire caverns ablaze at my back, the door handle felt unnaturally cool to the touch, like wet fingertips touching frozen steel. I was committed to it now; opening the door provided the only hope of removing my hand without losing several layers of flesh. At once I pulled with all my might upon the handle and was nearly inhaled by the whooshing vacuum this created. I dared not turn to see, but I could hear the hissing of those sulfur pits extinguished behind me. The chill of the high mesa’s predawn hour sucked into the suite completely changed the gravity. In a sudden moment of lucidity I sensed my satchel somewhere in the peripheral field to my right. I rapidly snatched it away from it’s resting place and confronted the scene framed in the doorway.
With the black night, the parking lot beyond and glaring security lights as the backdrop, there stood the dark profile of a tall man with long hair, features indistinct. For the first time since awakening I heard sound other than the blaring alarm.
“Hey man! Your shitters run over down into my room! The fucking sprinklers are going off!”
This was my introduction to Javier. Satchel in hand my instinct was to flee this scene. It was indeed true that the toilet had overflowed. In my unconscious state this had pooled into a space somewhere between the floors, creating a short in some wiring, a small fire with the subsequent alarm and sprinklers triggered inside of Javier’s suite. In my altered state, indeed perhaps because of it, I could sense there was no malice. Instead I was overwhelmed by an empathetic understanding that here was a man in desperation. For the first time in many hours I spoke, my own voice sounding foreign.
“Do you have some place else you can go?”
“Uh, yeah. Why?”
“Then I’m with you, kid. Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
“Okay, but you gotta help me pick up my shit, man!”
Not another word was exchanged for some time. I followed him to the stairs and down. The doors of other guest rooms were opening now, a parade of gruesome masks of irritation and jeers. The door to Javier’s suite was standing open and a Ford cargo van with Montana plates was backed up in the space before it. Javier opened the rear doors of the van and then plunged into the suite, emerging dripping wet moments later with two large black garbage bags. They were quite fragrant: there was little doubt of their content. I reckoned there to be something in the range of 50 pounds. He loaded these into the back of the van, slammed the doors shut and raced to the drivers seat. I was able to hold him up just long enough to drop the keys in the front seat of the rental car and retrieve my other bag. Within three minutes of our initial encounter we were loaded and pulling away from that nightmare.
I was captive in the shotgun seat. I had no possible inkling of where this vehicle was headed, but Javier carried a certain bearing which spoke to a high level of competence in situations like these. We hadn’t even been formally introduced at that point. Javier gunned the engine to full throttle as soon as we departed the street lights of the city, north and west rising from the scrub of the mesa and into the dark ridges beyond. The sun would soon be chasing us from over the east horizon. While the green glow of the dashboard lighting illuminated his features in an otherworldly mask I was still able to peer inside the hallucinogenic experience to the truth of the man’s face. He bore the hawkish facial features of an ancient Spanish nobility, but there was some peerage higher than mere dukes or earls coursing those veins. I finally decided to speak before the sun’s rays began to sear through the rear windows.
“I was sent here to see a man about some chemicals. You know anything about that?” His eyes remained cemented to the road. No reaction at all. “Name’s Ford. Since we’re probably committing a felony together we probably oughtta at least exchange numbers or something, right?” Ah! There it was, just a little crease of amusement at the corner of his mouth.
“Javier. Thanks for helping me, man.”
“Sure. No problem. Sorry about the shitter! I think the fucking thing was possessed. Hope your packages were unharmed. What the fuck you got in there? You shouldn’t even need to light that shit!”
Javier barely suppressed a grimace that told he was a little annoyed with the sudden rapid fire, yet he remained calm, hands on the wheel and eyes fixed upon the road. He offered no reply to any of it, though he did speak again after a time.
“What kind of chemicals?”
“Oh you know! Just your run of the mill industrial solvents, aluminum powder.”
“Just those. Okay. Hope you weren’t looking to meet your guy this morning.”
In light of the circumstances that entire exercise was off the table now. I wouldn’t be going back to Albuquerque any time soon. I waved off the notion. “Bah! That’s off. I’ll get hold of Enterprise, tell ‘em to pick up the sedan and have another one ready for me at, uh… where are we going anyway?”
“Tell them to have another one ready for you in Santa Fe in two days.”
“We’re going to Santa Fe?”
“No. I will deliver you there in two days.”
“Yeah. Okay, sounds good. So why two days?”
Javier turned his head from the road for the first time since I had climbed aboard. A broad grin expanded across his mouth as he turned toward me and at that very instant the sun broke the horizon behind us and shone an iconic beam upon those white fangs. I was still deep in the dose, in a state of what I believe current vernacular refers to as “tripping balls”. I was instantly hypnotized by this kaleidoscopic vision of Javier’s wicked smile. From a voice sounding somewhere far distant from the man before me I heard: “Go ahead, man. Check out what’s in the bags”. Then I heard laughter. I was struggling to keep a clear focus on his face. Every time his features grew clear, sharp and distinct I had to avoid staring too hard, lest his face should again melt into a sinister wax of crimson and black. In the fleeting images between molten pools I could at least make clear that it was not he who was laughing: it was I.
This, my friends, is how I was introduced to not just Javier, but to two no less remarkable phenomena: Carlton Milhouse, botanist par excellence and his blessed progeny, the immortal Presidential Cheese. Though I might with ease and at length extol the virtues of this unequaled display of botanical prowess, I will refrain from further comment in deference to another staff contributor who shall cover the topic in greater depth in another upcoming feature. Now as concerns Javier, he has remained a frequent associate in the years since. Not a close associate, but one with whom I have had occasion to conduct business in one form or another at least once a year, some years a bit more. Quite often these may entail nothing more than phone conversations, the likes of which incidentally was had just a few short weeks ago:
“Javier! Que pasa, mi amigo? Livin’ large in Denver now, eh?”
“Hey Ford! Good to hear from you, man! How’s life in the lair?”
“Great, great. It looks better every day.”
“Cool. So what’s on your mind, hombre?”
“Ah, Judas Priest, Javier! Can you believe this putz!? I can’t believe what I am watching on my screen!”
“What Ford? Calm down, man! Which putz?”
“Oh, that? So?”
“So!? Are you fucking kidding me man? Crybaby Boehner. Un-fucking-real! No political capital at stake now and we are supposed to believe that his thinking has just “evolved”? No brother, I call bull shit. He’s just one more of these pricks who lick their finger and stick it up in the air every morning to see which way the headwinds are blowing. Now that the tides have shifted he’s just looking to be part of the cabal ready to swoop in and grab their monopoly with state sponsorship and cash in on the commercialization. It’ll end up being shitty dope! What will happen to the Cheese, man?”
“Yo, bro! Chill! Look,man… I know why you’re thinking that. I do, bro. I dig what you’re putting down, but I gotta tell ya, man. There’s more to Boehner’s story than you know, okay?”
This brought the conversation to a grinding halt. I was incredulous. I know Javier. Javier is a solid dude, without question. For a moment I was left dumbstruck: what could he possibly be saying?
“Okay Javi. I’ll bite. Give. Whaddya know?”
“Alright. Put on your logic cap for minute. The announcement comes in close proximity to what date? April 20, four twenty, right? You really think Boehner’s smart enough to figure that out on his own?”
“I see…go on.”
“Boehner has an adviser/publicist, a firm that does similar work for the big tobacco companies. You know he is an unapologetic smoker and had a long voting record in support of tobacco interests…”
“Sonofabitch! It’ll be cigarette tax on steriods! I knew it!”
“You’re right Ford, but hold on. There is still more to the story that you do not know.”
“Ha! What else could I learn that could possibly change what I already know?”
“Well look, friend. His motives may be corrupted now, but I can tell you his conversion is genuine.”
“Shut the fuck up! Are you eating the Cheese for breakfast now?”
“Ha ha ha! Only on Fridays my friend. No, it’s for real. Do you remember when Pope Francis came to Washington a few years back?”
“Ok, well remember when Boehner made that big blubbering display in the press conference after meeting his Holiness? And then not long after he resigns from the House?”
“Oh fuck me running, Javier! You gonna try to sell me on some kinda Papal conspiracy? Come on!”
“No, not like that. Dude! Just listen to me a minute, okay? I know this is all legit because that same week my friend, I was entrusted as the personal courier to deliver a special package of Cheese to none other than….”
“Wait, wait! This is too good. What you are telling me is that… The Pope smokes Dope?”
“That is exactly what I am telling you, bro! Not just any dope, mind you. Only the finest. Only the Presidential Cheese.”
“So Il Papa smokes up Boehner with some of the Cheese and that’s all she wrote. Jesus, Javier! Is this a great fucking country or what? I mean where else on the planet?”
“I know, right? So yeah, man. There it is. That’s the straight poop on Boehner, man.”
“Hmm. Indeed. You know he’s still part of the Dark Side, though. You’ve gotta set me up with Carlton soon! We have to get our ducks in a row!”
“What the fuck are you on about now, Ford?”
“I’m serious! It’s the only way we’ll subvert these corporate bastards! We’ve got to set up a direct to market network. Maybe drone delivery? But we gotta move fast, man! I can see it now: Presidential Cheese. It’s what the Pope smokes!”
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll be learning more about the Presidential Cheese soon. Don’t look for it on your grocery store shelves, but if you hang around the delivery entrance of your local Rectory you may run across some enterprising seminary students who can oblige. Tell them Ford sent you.