b Papa Dog's Blog: Back Before I Was a Family Man

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Back Before I Was a Family Man

For reasons that don’t really bear going into, I spent a little chunk of time today typing up a summary of the contents of a series of letters I wrote during a month on the road with Ambrose in 1992. I kept copies of these letters because I thought they might form the basis for some later piece of writing and maybe they one day will. They sure are a window into a bygone era for me now. Who was it that on the morning of 2 August 1992 woke up in the back seat of a car at a rest stop just over the border from Arizona to New Mexico, paid for gas and groceries in a town called Thoreau, then headed east with a net worth of $10 and no clear idea of a destination? Can it have been yr. humble home-owning responsible parent correspondent? It hardly seems likely, but it was.

Before that, this same fellow got so drunk at a party in L.A. that he allowed a dominatrix to scrawl disparaging graffiti all over his body with expensive make-up. The next morning, he was so hungover that he didn’t notice he was stumbling into an accident scene until he almost bumped into the upside-down car in the middle of the intersection.

We had to be towed into Vegas, having hit a truck tire at 70 mph a short piece outside of town. We stayed in fleabag motels, scamming them by pretending there was only one person staying. For four epic days, Ambrose screwed cocktail waitresses and I lived at the blackjack tables, gambling as compulsively as I ever have before or since. I won enough money to repair the car damage and keep us in food before I lost it all and we left town under a cloud of disgrace – lifted only when I realised that I’d spent more money in town than I’d had with me when I arrived, so I was really in the black as far as the casinos were concerned.

We did all the sight-seeing you could get for free in Arizona, taking a good look at the Lowell Observatory and seeing Walnut Canyon for free, a karmic reward for the one selfless act Ambrose committed along the way.

Entering New Mexico with no clear destination in mind, we ended up in Albuquerque, descending on the home of friends of an acquaintance, and staying with them for four days, having a riotous good time. We had big boisterous meals, drank a lot of Jack Daniels at night and watched Sesame Street with their four-year-old son (who – jesus! – must be 17 now!) in the morning. We visited the Atomic Museum and Ambrose photographed their little boy sitting on Little Boy. We tried to make it to The Crest but had to coast back down the winding hill in the dark when the alternator gave out. The days dragged on as we waited for money to show up, and while we were passing the time, the crackhead stripper neighbour demonstrated for Ambrose a favourite lap dance manoeuvre she’d learned in Fairbanks, Alaska.

We looped through New Mexico, looking at landmarks in the fields of nuclear science and cattle rustling. We saw the site of Pat Garrett’s murder and got chased away from the White Sands Missile Base. We spent a blazing afternoon wandering around White Sands National Monument, looking at mice and lizards bleached white to match the alkali sands, then drove through a driving rainstorm through secondary storms to reach Billy the Kid’s grave bang on the stroke of midnight.

As we lost track of how long we’d been living in the car, our sense of hygiene grew ever more tenuous. In Guthrie, OK, I had a small epiphany and said to Ambrose, “You know, I think I just figured out why we aren’t making any friends in small town America. You’ve been wandering around in your boxer shorts and I’ve been wearing the same ‘Fak Yu!’ t-shirt for the last four days.”

We were laid low in Tulsa when it turned out that the relatives Ambrose had planned on sponging off of had moved without a forwarding address. Evidently, they’d heard we were coming. Laid low, I sprung for a hotel and had my first shower in a week. Ambrose cruised hopelessly looking for a night life.

In Paris, Texas, we walked into a Chinese restaurant and were greeted by an army of waiters staring expectantly at the door as though they’d been waiting for us for days. At the border with Louisiana, we went to an all-you-can-eat Mexican place, intent on having one of everything on the menu. Somewhere past Baton Rouge we realised we were arriving on some other planet, and when I opened the passenger door in New Orleans and set my foot down on Burgundy Street, I knew for reasons I still don’t understand that I’d found a place I was meant to live.

Ambrose is off on another odyssey now. With a cluelessness that’s at once predictable and confounding, he invited me to go along with him for the next couple of months, apparently still not grasping the fact that I have a job and a wife and a daughter and a home. As much as I still feel the allure of being neither here nor there, it would take a hell of a lot more to pull me away from home and hearth than the promise of a night’s sleep in the back of a car parked by a drainage ditch. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’m glad that I did. Have a good trip, man; I found what I needed to find last time, and I’ve found a lot more since then.


Anonymous Mama Dog Duvalier said...

You forgot to mention Doggy Dog as one of your obligations (in addition to the wife, kid, job, and home).

White Sands looks lovely. Please take me there some day soon.

Oh -- and just out of curiosity -- if the promise of a night’s sleep in the back of a car parked by a drainage ditch couldn't pull you away from hearth and home these days, what would instead?

9:04 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Wow, you stopped in Paris, TX? You were definitely hitting on small town America, then. That's where my dad's family is.

12:46 PM  

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