Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: precarious lee (page 2 of 7)

When I Stack My Masterpiece

The word “masterpiece” is more literal than you might have realized. The guilds of the past–which became the unions of the present–worked on a tiered system: you entered the trade as an apprentice, and then became a craftsman, and a journeyman. To earn the rank of master required that you produce a piece that respected members of the guild would judge.

And this, Enthusiasts, is Precarious Lee’s masterpiece. Notice the lack of symmetry along any plane whatsoever; the waggish nonchalance towards gravity; the duck is upside down. It might be the upside-down duck that pushes this tableaux into the realm of Art.

Those are geese.

Ducks are geese. Multiple names for the same animal. Like puma and cougar and panther and mountain lion all means the same cat, or buffalo and bison, or octopus and squid.

Stop typing.

A True Artist Does Not Need To Sign His Work

Jesus. Precarious?

“Yo.”

What the fuck? I mean: what the fucking fuck, man?

“The monitor?”

Yes.

“It’s fine.”

It’s not.

“Sure, it is. Long as, you know, no one touches it or makes a loud noise ’round it.”

Right.

Awful Forte For A Piano

jerry-bobby-side-32873

Precarious!

“Yo.”

Keith is having trouble hearing himself.

“Yeah?”

“I could put a giant speaker a foot from his face.”

Good plan.

“Eh. Plan.”

The Gospel Of Saint Francis Of Hoboken

As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains,
So men pass on, but States remain permanent forever. – William Blake

Peregrinantium impetro praecepit duplum – Official slogan of the Little Aleppo tourist board.

The Reverend Arcade Jones discovered that God was a circle, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nowhere was religion more free than in Little Aleppo, but they still passed around the collection plate. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists: all were represented, and so were the backbenchers. There was a Zoroastrian temple, and a Zorroastrian temple where the ambulances lined up each Sunday, as it is a terrible idea to mix communion wine with swords. There were several churches that were clearly making it up as they went, and the Consecrated Church of Making It Up As We Go, which was a favorite among locals. Organized religions, and disorganized religions where the services never start on time because everyone shows up late, and no one remembers where they left the Bibles.

God was Little Aleppo’s rust. The Town Fathers had laws and maps and thick red markers, and they tried to pen God in on Rose Street, but the whores from Eighth Avenue would get specks of Him on the bottom of their high heels, and the sailors from the Salt Wharf brushed against Him when they sought forgiveness for praying to Poseidon during that last storm. Flecks of God, tiny and stuck to the back of sweaty necks, flaking off all over Little Aleppo and with only the smallest bit of oxygen a patch would grow the same brownish-red as a dying man’s last shit. The Town Fathers scraped and scraped until they hit bare and shiny metal, over and over, in the same places. But God was rust. You know what they say about rust.

In the beginning, there were Indians. (That last sentence only applies to America. Also the rest of the Western Hemisphere, but this is an American story.) The tribe that lived in the area were called the Pulaski, which is a word in their language that means “the only humans that matter” and they did not have a religion. They were noble, and they were savage. They worshipped trees and weather and buffalo. They also had regularly-scheduled feasts, and communal prayers, and songs, and rituals for birth and death, and an elaborate afterlife, and a creation story, and an incomprehensible amount of legend, myth, half-fictionalized history. But they hadn’t written it down in a leather-bound book with gilt edges and a ribbon to mark your place, so it wasn’t a religion.

Additionally, Busybody Tyndale scowled, there was no Jesus. That wouldn’t do. He was a preacher of no particular affiliation, and he had been chased out of towns and villages across the country. He was not a drunk, nor a cad, nor did he hold with impertinent doctrine–he preached just about the same Gospel as the next guy–and he bathed often for a man of his era. Busybody Tyndale’s recurring problem was that his love for Christ was not a cistern, but a fountain, and it often overflowed. He would chase people, and he was fast.

The preacher’s stay in Utica ended when he stood over a bank president’s bed in the middle of the night, giggling in anticipation of telling the man about the Lord. There is no sleep deep enough that you will not sense a stranger looming over you, giggling in anticipation, and the instant the bank president snapped his eyes open, Busybody Tyndale shouted “JESUS!” at him; the man screamed “JESUS!” right back, but for entirely different reasons. That was the end of the preacher’s time in Upstate New York. You could get away with doing that to a fishmonger or someone who worked in a yarn shop, but not a bank president. The young man went West.

Busybody Tyndale rode the rails and buttonholed brakemen, and preached at Paiute on the prairie. To all the souls in the Comstock, the miners in the darkness of a rich man’s pocket, where there was no light: he read the Bible from memory but still kept it open, and his finger still moved along left to right and down the page. To the rivers, which did not even stop to listen, and to the mountains, which did not go forth to share His teachings. Busybody Tyndale yelled at America about Jesus.

He bought a horse. In Selacina, by the Low Desert, he traded “going away and bothering someone else” for a horse and learned to ride so he could bring the Good Word to the Comanche, and as Busybody Tyndale was galloping away from the Comanche as fast as he could, he yelled the 23rd Psalm over his shoulder. He figured that was a start.

The Pulaski did not immediately try to kill him, though, so the preacher figured that that was a start, too, and he straightened his shredded tie and brushed the trail from his jacket’s left sleeve. (He had lost the right one somewhere in Nebraska.) He wore out Bibles like tires at the Indy 500, and this latest one was already smoking blue in the corners, and bulging at the middle. When Busybody Tyndale read the Good Book, he would heat up and the sweat would drop to the page, a tiny and transparent circle forming on the page, but he did not worry about where his next Bible would come from, even in the wilderness that was not yet C——a City where the hills met the ocean to form a natural harbor in the place that was not yet called Little Aleppo.

“I BRING THE WORD OF THE LORD!” he thundered.

(Thundered is the wrong word. Busybody Tyndale was 5’2″ and 110 pound soaking wet–108 pounds now that he’d lost one of his jacket sleeves–and was simply lacking the mass to properly thunder. You can’t use pipsqueak as a verb. You can’t, but I can, so why don’t we start the dialogue part again with more linguistic precision?)

“I BRING THE WORD OF THE LORD!” he pipsqueaked.

The Pulaski lived in teepees, but they were made of wood and called kotchas. There were a dozen around a communal building, and there was a large open oven alongside that. They had met white men before, so they sent someone out to talk to the preacher, while several others snuck around behind him with knives.

“Who?”

“THE LORD!”

“Stop yelling.”

“The Lord.”

“Never heard of him. Is he tall?”

“The tallest!”

“Taller than him?”

The tallest Pulaski man stepped out of his kotcha.

“Much taller.”

The man went back inside.

“And the Lord has a son!”

“Is he tall, too?”

“You’re obsessed with height.”

“Just asking.”

“Ask of the Christ! He is Risen! He is Savior! He is Lord! He forgives our sins! Slayer of Legion! Resurrector of Lazarus! Son of the Virgin Mother! Healer! Teacher! Ask me of the Christ!”

“Which one?”

“Huh?”

“You just mentioned nine different guys.”

“All one guy. Jesus.”

“Jesus? Who’s that? You were talking about a guy named Christ.”

“They are the same. Jesus Christ.”

“Ohhh. So, Christ’s his last name?”

“No. It’s Greek. It’s a title. Not important. Jesus is all; he is everything. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.”

“Why would you say that to me when we just established I don’t speak Greek?”

“He’s everything from A to Z.”

“It sounds better in Greek. Lemme get this straight: your god manifests infinite variations of himself, connected only by a narrative thread of character essentialism?”

“What now?”

There was a leaf that grew on a tree by the Pulaski village. You walked straight towards the sun in the morning, and turned left at the lake that smelled weird. The women would bring them back in flat-bottomed baskets with sides woven from redwood bark.

“Chew on this.”

“Why?”

“Trust me.”

On the edge of the clearing where the village was, there was a rock with a broad, flat top. It was under a sequoia, and so it stayed cool even in the hot afternoons of summer.

“Is Jesus in that rock?” the Pulaski man asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“Then that will be an excellent place to talk about him.”

They went and sat on the rock, and chewed their leaves for a while.

“My word, I’m the rudest man alive! My love for preaching the Gospel has blotted out the paltry few manners I was taught! I haven’t asked your name.”

“You can’t pronounce it.”

“May I call you Trismegistus?”

“I can’t pronounce that.”

“How about Peter?”

“Sure.”

They chewed their leaves some more.

“Peter, my head feels a bit odd.”

“Uh-huh. Go over there when you puke.”

“What now?”

When the preacher was finished puking, he came back; Busybody Tyndale and Peter sat there for the rest of the day, and well into the evening. The fire roared at the moon. They talked about Jesus the Many, and the concept of infinicy. They talked about silly stories, and they talked about myth, and Myth, and though they were speaking it was always clear to both when the word was capitalized. They talked about a trail, an all-compassing track, that did not go from town to town, but between them.

“Out there,” and Peter pointed to the east, “is a road upon which time becomes confused, and everywhere happens at once. It hides itself under rivers and in mountains. It is difficult to find an entrance, but sometimes moreso to find a way out.”

“It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door.”

“I think you’ve had enough leaves.”

They sat on the rock and talked some more, and somewhere near midnight–long after the village had fallen asleep–upon that rock the First Church of the Iterated Christ was born. It was a start.

The universe has several constraints: the speed of light, and absolute zero, and third on the list was Arcade Jones’ dyslexia. He was all the way on the left end of the spectrum; the pages of a book looked like a teevee with the dial caught between stations. There are all kinds of strategies and techniques to deal with disorders of the visual processing systems nowadays, but when Arcade was a child in Loxachachi, Florida, there was only one, and that was Jesus. The first thing he did in the morning was pray the same prayer, and the second thing he did was open his Bible to find his prayer had been ignored again.

But he was charming, which will get you far in America, and he was the size of a linebacker, which will get you far in football, and so Arcade Jones was always well-regarded by everyone save himself, because he had been told that the Word of God was in a book, one that he carried with him all day and slept next to at night, and he couldn’t make heads or tails of the thing.

But he was a good listener, and an even better talker, and when he was thirteen–after years of not saying a word in church–he stood up during the preacher’s sermon, which had not been going well, and began to tell a story he had heard in that very church. The one about a man named Jonah, and a whale named something you couldn’t pronounce. The women fanned themselves and said, “That’s right,” and the men nodded and said, “Go on,” and the gators in the swamp that started right beyond the church parking lot plopped their fat bellies on the beach to listen. Arcade Jones could talk real good.

He went to the University of Florida on a football scholarship, and made the Dean’s List right up until the day his ACL tore, after which his grades plummeted. Arcade had no degree and no prospects, but he loved the Lord with all his heart. His stomach, however, loved food, and the rest of him loved being indoors, so he needed a job.

For a while, he worked security for a pop star–his friend from the football team, Big Ping Pong, had gotten him the gig–and Arcade saw the world: New York, and Paris, and Beijing. He took his Bible with him to all of these places, and it never made any more sense than it did beside the childhood bed in Loxachachi that he had outgrown years before he stopped sleeping in. The food was good, though. Say that about the rest of the world, Arcade thought: they do everything wrong, but they’ve got good food.

When Arcade’s mother died, the pop star flew him home on her private plane. When he was young, he would watch planes skim the sky across the top of the mangroves and think the passengers closer to God, but Arcade just felt alone. He did not understand how God could need his mother more than he did, but he knew the answer to that question was in the book that he carried with him all day and slept next to every night and could not make heads or tails of.

Somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, under the only burning light on an otherwise-dark jet, Arcade Jones began to get the unmistakable feeling that he was being fucked with.

He had no degree, and no prospects, and no longer loved the Lord with any part of himself; now he had no mother, which meant he had no home. Arcade could still talk, though, and so he preached. Church after church. Back on the road, but no private plane this time: the deacons put him up for the week, he praised God through his teeth on Sunday, and Monday was getaway day. Sometimes, he preached at mega-churches for the sizable honorariums; he visited one small ministry in North Carolina every six months because of the barbecue joint next door. Arcade Jones drifted through America, lying about Jesus.

It was the first time Arcade had been to Cascabel, which is in Texas, but the sermon at the Holy Royal Macadamia Church of the Anointed Christ went well. The congregation gave him three standing ovations, and after the third there was the distinct sound of a rooster crowing, and because Arcade Jones was a very good listener, he felt very alone and then he was relieved, as he had come to the end of a journey.

Arcade Jones was sure he was being fucked with.

He walked out of the church and past the house of the deacon where he was staying for the week, and out of town and then there were no more people or buildings, just a highway that leads to America, and it stretches forever into the distance. Perhaps he did not mean to wander into the low desert, or maybe he did. He was there, either way. Walked for a month-and-a-half, and then he looked down and his thumb was out, and then he looked back up and a car had stopped.

It was a cherry red Ford Mustang with white leather seats. There was a briefcase, tweed and battered, on the passenger seat, but the driver tossed it in the back and pushed the door open from the inside.

“Where you headed to?”

“No idea,” Arcade said to the skinny man with the veiny forearms and large hands.

“Me, too. Smoke?”

Arcade said no, thank you, and got in. The tires squealed, just a little bit, as the driver popped the clutch and soon they were blasting through the world at a reasonable and prudent–but still rather quick–speed. Arcade did not know whether the ride was temptation or salvation, and he was too afraid to ask, so the car was silent. After several states, the man spoke up.

“So. Can you…y’know…do anything?”

“I can preach.”

The driver scratched the edges of a freshly-grown mustache, and humped his butt up out of the seat so he could fetch his Zippo from the change pocket of his Levi’s, and lit another cigarette.

“Need a job?”

“I no longer love the Lord.”

“Not the question.”

And then Arcade’s stomach yowled and popped, and he stared straight ahead out the windshield where he did not see the Lord at all, only America.

“I do need a job, yes. Please.”

“I know a guy.”

The First Church of the Iterated Christ of Little Aleppo had trouble keeping pastors. And ministers. Also reverends, priests, and vicars. They hired a rabbi once, but that didn’t work at all. “Too many Christs!” each would shout while leaving for less complicated pastures. Some didn’t even have the courtesy to storm out, just fucked off back to Harvard Divinity in the middle of the night.

The driver had made a phone call on the way, and Arcade was the new preacher, no questions asked, and the cherry red Ford Mustang with white leather seats glided up in front of the church.

“I can’t go in there looking like this,” Arcade said, and he was right. His suit had lost one of its arms, and his tie was shredded. His beard was patchy, and his hair too long.

The driver pulled his briefcase from the back, opened it, and took out a paperback sci-fi novel and a pencil. He tore the last page out and wrote something down, and then turned it over and wrote something on the back.

“Big-Dicked Sheila’s the first one. Hair. Creepy Ernie second. Clothes.”

“Does everyone here have such odd names?”

“My name’s normal,” the man said as he handed Arcade the piece of paper. It had two addresses on it, and on the back was written in deliberately legible block printing: Take care of this man, PL.

Arcade Jones straightened up on the curb, and pretended to read the note, and said “Thank you” many times as the car pulled away onto Rose Street, and turned onto the Main Drag and disappeared. He was a stranger in the strangest land he had ever seen, and he did not love the Lord with any part of himself, and there was nowhere to go but into the church, missing sleeve and patchy beard announcing his pitiable nature.

But Little Aleppians are used to receiving freight that’s been damaged in transit, and the deacons of the First Church of the Iterated Christ took no notice of his raggedness. They ordered him pizza, and then they took him to Creepy Ernie’s, where Arcade discovered why he was named that, and then to Big-Dicked Sheila’s, where he took her word for it. He had a small, but neat, apartment on the second floor of the church, and on Sundays he preached a Gospel he had never read and no longer believed. The congregation always smiled, and nodded their heads, and told him to “Go on,” but that was just because he talked so good that it didn’t matter what he said.

Time went by. It does that.

Arcade Jones spent his free time sitting in a pew on the left side of the church, near the front but not in the first row. He left a Bible open in his lap for appearance’s sake, and locals would stop in. They brought him their problems. Sometimes, they brought him food. Arcade accepted it all.

One day, the man who had picked him up on the highway came in with two cups of coffee, black and scalding hot, and they sat on the pew and drank their coffee in silence, and Arcade stared straight ahead. Christ the Iterated lay before him, and Jesus the Infinite refracted before him, endless, like a shattered mirror and he could not make sense of the pieces that looked to him just like a teevee with its dial caught between stations.

His head felt odd and he looked at his coffee cup the coffee black inside white cupped in his massive black hand and though there was a circle there was no describing the circle–not precisely not with sureness–as Pi was infinite and not knowable but the circle was there in his hand the coffee black in the white in the black of his hand and he grew hot and he knew that within the circle was all every number and every letter he had never known but THEY WERE THERE in the circle of the coffee cup which grew colder he sucked its heat from the liquid and it popped out of the pores on his forehead sweat beadingdrippingfalling fat and PLOP on the Bible open on his lap the page turns transparent and bubbles up in a circle which cannot be described nor named nor numbered but THERE IT IS on the page which he had been told was God’s word and could not read but oh God Oh my Lord sweet you are and sinner I am you are here with me and you are me in Christ’s infinite Iteration and if He is is All then He is me and you and Me and You and either all of it is holy or none of it is and it was so hot in the church where he had sucked the warmth from his coffee cup which was holy and which was Him and Arcade Jones was nude cock bouncing thigh to thigh the aisle the door the sun and then there was the Lord THERE HE WAS everywhere and everyone and everything spreading by the green of the Verdance and the crowd of the Main Drag where there were so many sinners and none at all clouds whirled and wheeled overhead underfoot through his eyes and poets and grocery clerks and pickpockets and lawyers lion tamers long-haul truckers prisoners and preachers all the Lord all the Lord all the Lord.

And all the midnight librarians, and all the recording angels with their Tetragramophones. All of it was holy, or none of it was.

The Reverend Arcade Jones had a little belly, just the beginning of one, that fleshed out above his pubis; the head of his cock slapped against it as he ran down the street telling people what he knew about God. That He was rust, and that He was a circle. God put his Word in a book, but He also put Himself everywhere else. Arcade Jones’ heart was made of God and he used that heart to love Him, which formed a circle, and circles cannot be precisely described but still exist.

The door to the bookstore with no title has a little bell attached to it, and it went TINKadink on a Tuesday afternoon not long after the preacher had had such an exciting day. Mr. Venable was in his customary seat, in his customary suit; there was a large book in front of him open to a page with an illustration.

“Precarious Lee. Back so soon.”

“Yo.”

“How are we doing on the naked giants blathering about Jesus front? Main Drag clear or should we shelter in place?”

“None today.”

“It’s early.”

“Mm.”

“Did you enjoy the book? A Guide to North American Arboreuticals. Not your usual fare of sci-fi and Western crap.”

“Change of pace.”

“It’s a myth, Precarious. Trees don’t produce hallucinogenic leaves. Made-up nonsense.”

“You’re probably right.”

Precarious jutted his chin at the book on Mr. Venable’s desk.

“You readin’ picture books now?”

“William Blake.”

“Does he write detective stories?”

“In a way.”

Precarious nodded, and wandered back into the store, where the bookshelves stretched out and refracted before him, infinite in their iterations. He did not know what he was looking for, but he knew that it would be there if he kept looking, so he walked into the stacks of stories in the bookstore with no title, which is located on the Main Drag in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

One More For Route 77

precarious-highway-sunset

Precarious Lee needed a drink. He didn’t have much of a taste for booze, but when he did it came on powerful and loud. Just a little one, and a larger one stood right next to the first to wash it back, and set it up again until last call. He wasn’t particularly good at drinking, but he wasn’t particularly good at fucking, either, and had never let that stop him. Precarious was good at driving, and working, and keeping his big stupid mouth shut, but alcohol took away all those abilities and so he avoided it until if he could. Every four years or so, he couldn’t.

He had been living out in Tiburon, in a friend of a friend of a drug dealer of a fan’s guest house, halfway up Paradise Drive on the way out to Bluff Point. In the morning, or whenever he was calling morning that week, Precarious would take his coffee out to the lawn in his boxers and take a piss while he looked across Raccoon Strait to Angel’s Island. Some mornings, he wished he didn’t know about all the military facilities on the island, or the Nike missile base dug into the wet ground Mt. Livermore rose out of. Other mornings, he felt like the truth, the whole truth, and another cup of coffee.

Precarious loved coffee, and didn’t much understand those that didn’t. He was respectful about smoking near children, or anyone that seemed to be bothered, and that made sense: each of the dozens of times he had quit, the first thing he realized was how bad smoking smelled. Pot smelled good to him, and he had not once in his life bothered to quit that, but he also understood that it just wasn’t for everybody. And he wasn’t a drinker, so it would be odd to judge a teetotaler, but people who didn’t drink coffee damn near got on his nerves. If you didn’t like it black–Precarious took his black and hot as possible–then put some crap in it, he thought. Leaving aside the folks with medical conditions, he assumed that anyone who turned down a cup of coffee was a health nut, religious nut, or some other, unspecified, nut.

He had just bought a new car that wasn’t new at all, which was the way Precarious liked it. New new cars were for suckers, but a new used car was a joy unless it broke down on the way back from the guy’s house, which would happen from time to time. That was okay. He could fix it. Precarious had never built anything in his life, but he could sure as shit keep things working. Upgrade the wiring first, he thought. Systems fail at the connections. A machine that does not communicate with itself cannot cooperate with itself. After that, check the transmission.

Friends called when they were buying cars, and he would meet them and usually end up taking over the deal. “Just look at it,” they’d ask him, as if he could know anything about anything from sight, and he’d nod and agree and then do what needed to be done. When Precarious was younger, he would argue with people when he thought they were wrong, but had found that it was far more efficient to simply nod and agree and then do whatever needed to be done. Certain sightings had to be made–gotta put your eye down the chassis just to see if she’s still straight–but other than that, a car had to be driven to know anything about it. Precarious had seen too much of the world to trust his eyes, but he held the opinions of his ears and asshole highly.

If you can’t take a car out to the highway, roll up the gears and then back down again, and then bring her home without knowing everything about that automobile you need to know, then you had little business in the car business, Precarious thought. You shut off the radio and listened to the engine, and you let your asshole monitor the gearshift. Does the sound the car’s making build and ebb, or does it make a lot of sudden noises? Does the vibration of the road massage or provoke your prostate? Wasn’t rocket science, although he did know a few actual rocket scientists and not a one of them could even change a tire.

If you called and asked, he would go, and especially if you were Big-Dicked Sheila, whom Precarious would do just about anything for. She had her eye on a 1961 Lincoln Continental. It was the four-door convertible model with a 462 cubic inch V8 engine and a Turbo-Drive automatic gearbox, and it had a 25-gallon fuel tank, and the door locks were pneumatic and so was the roof, and it had suicide doors. Precarious wasn’t a religious man, but he knew that Heaven’s entrance had suicide doors. Sheila told him over the phone that it was black with green leather seats, and he looked through his old car magazines to find the proper name for the color, which was Presidential Black, and he put on his pants and went down to Sheila’s shop.

Precarious didn’t mean to steal the car. Well, he did, but he didn’t plan on it. He had stolen several cars in his life, but Precarious figured that he was a working man, and a working man has a boss. Sometimes, he further thought, the boss is the situation, and sometimes the situation demands that you steal a car. Precarious also figured that whole line of rationalizing was complete horseshit, but otherwise he’d have to call himself a car thief, and he’d prefer not to do that to himself. Besides, he thought, he was going to pay for the the damn thing: it’s just that he didn’t tell the owner–or Sheila, who thought she was buying it–before setting off on the test drive.

But a thirst hit him during the ride, heavy and loud, and instead of taking the Lincoln back he kept going until he hit a highway, any highway, and then he kept going until he hit America, any America, and then he kept going until he hit Route 77, of which there was only one. Precarious stopped to gas up on the way and called home. He knew Sheila would take care of everything, and he was right, but he also knew that it was gonna cost him, and he was right about that, too. He told her it was unusual for a car to appreciate a thousand bucks in a few hours, and he did not argue when he was told it was a “jackass tax.” Sounded about right. Shouldn’t profit off a friend, Precarious figured, but you could fine their dumb asses once in a while.

A 25-gallon tank takes forever to fill, and he needed cigarettes, so Precarious went in the station’s convenience store and bought a carton of Camels from the on-ramp to Route 77, who was working a second job as a cashier at a gas station outside Yuba City. The on-ramp told Precarious that his children, a cloverleaf and a jug handle, needed repaving, and so he had taken this second job, to which Precarious responded that he resented the on-ramp subjecting him to this kind of weirdness before he had even gotten on the Interstitial. The on-ramp to Route 77 did not take this well, and there was a scuffle in which both the gum rack and sunglass spinner were knocked to the ground.

The sun was going down on Route 77, and later Route 77 would go down on the sun. Shooting stars were way overhead, and stabbing stars were unpleasantly close. Dinosaur used to roam here, and then buffalo, and now Precarious. America was made to roam around in, he thought, but not tonight. He was thirsty, and it was too damn quiet no matter how loud he turned up the radio, and he figured he could kill two birds with one barroom.

Liquor licenses on Route 77 cost millions, and take years of background checks and strip searches. (All bureaucracy on the Interstitial involved strip searches, which may partially account for the insistent lawlessness of the residents.) Luckily, or ironically, or some other adverb, the lawyer who wrote the liquor statutes was an incorrigible drunk, and worded it so that you actually required a liquor license not to sell liquor, Heavy penalties could be levied if you were found not selling liquor without a license, and most business-owners found it cheaper to install taps and a jukebox than to pay the fines.

Besides all the burger joints and children’s bookstores that you could get hammered in, Route 77 had bars and saloons and dives and pubs: the whole spectrum from clip joint to classy establishment. Precarious preferred something in the middle. The bathroom didn’t need be to be cleaned today, but it did need to have been cleaned some time. A large enough selection of beer and booze so that he didn’t feel like a Communist, but not so many as to be daunting. Precarious had tried one of those beer snob picobreweries that had opened up, but it was so authentic that they just hurled barley at you. He wasn’t much versed in beer, but he did know that he liked it in finished form, and cold in a glass.

The Green Dragon Tavern was in a seedy section of Cahokia, but that was what Precarious was looking for: seedy was the Goldilocks spot between fancy and sketchy, he figured. The fancy and sketchy parts of town stole your money, but the seedy part was just happy to take it. He had been to the other bars on the street, like Jeers, where no one knows anyone else’s name, which leads to people screaming “HEY, YOU” at each other all night, but he liked the Green Dragon. It was the kind of place where a man could truly not listen to himself, and that’s what Precarious felt like doing.

Everyone called the bartender Toots. That was not his name, but he didn’t mind, as he had previously worked at Jeers and was thrilled to have any name at all. His fingers were the size of beer bottles, and his forearms were like champagne magnums, and on the left one was a faded tattoo of a bulldog that Toots had gotten while he was a young man, and he was very far from home. He could pour a perfect pint, and he knew every bar trick there was, and if you asked for something pretentious he would smile at you and keep saying, “What?” until you got the hint and ordered a gin & tonic like a reasonable person.

The bathrooms were down by the pool tables and on the other side of the long room was the jukebox and a row of those shooter games: Deer Hunter, and Dealey Plaza, and Silent Scope. The jukebox made of walnut and chrome, and armored with neon, and it still took dimes. Nowadays, you had to put in a shitload, and there was a dollar slot, but it was the principle of accepting the coin. Like any collection on Route 77, the jukebox had become more or less infinite, but if you picked anything but the Rolling Stones it would spray acid at you. Precarious had met the Stones on a number of occasions, and found them to be raging jerk-offs each time, but he had yet to find anything that sounded better in a bar.

The jukebox was wired into the stereo system, which was excellent. It was excellent because it was shitty the first time that Precarious walked in, and now he drinks for free at the Green Dragon, at the end of the bar several seats away from anyone else. Toots put a shot of Braddock’s whiskey in front of him, and a clean ashtray that was made of glass, and to the side of the whiskey he laid a coaster and on that a bottle of Coors Banquet, which was sweating and caught the light from the cigarette machine like a disco ball. In the ashtray was a matchbook with nothing on its cover but a warning to close it before striking, so he did, and the match went zhhhPOP. Precarious cupped his hand around his smoke as he lit it, even though he was indoors, and took a long drag off his unfiltered Camel and shot the whiskey and exhaled PHOOOO and set the glass back down, halfway across the bar, where Toots took it and replaced it with a new glass, which he filled and handed back as Precarious took a pull off his beer and felt the earth beneath him shift down a gear.

There was an old vinyl banner stapled high in the corner advertising football–the Eagles were playing the Redskins, and Dallas had a big game–and several strategic mirrors. Precarious liked a bar with strategic mirrors, where you can see the entire room without turning your head and being obvious about it. Good way to catch someone’s eye, or see where people kept their wallets. You can learn a lot about folks when they don’t know you’re watching them, Precarious thought.

On the jukebox, Mick was singing about being a cold Italian pizza that could use some lemon squeezer, and Precarious agreed with the sentiment even though he had no idea what the fuck Mick was talking about, and he raised his glass of Braddock’s whiskey with his left hand and his cigarette with his right, and sucked in the smoke and drank down the booze, and when he exhaled it shone green in the light of the neon beer sign, and then Toots brought him another, and a fresh bottle of Coors Banquet beer, and while the room was not yet spinning, it had taken on a feeling of orbit.

Last Call is always a surprise, and doubly so on Route 77, as there is no such thing, but Precarious was old enough to know when to quit. He figured it was better to call it a night before the night did. Beat it to the punch. By his count, he still had three more songs left in the jukebox, but he’d heard ’em all before, and he settled up with Toots and walked out to his 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible. He got in and turned the key backwards, and then he looked around for the trunk button for a solid five minutes until he hit it by accident and the trunk went up with a hydraulic whoosh. He took his driver’s license out of his wallet, put the wallet in his briefcase, and then put the briefcase in the trunk and locked it.

The backseat of a Continental isn’t big enough to sleep in, but you can certainly pass out there in style, so Precarious took off his boots and undid the top button of his Levi’s and did just that. Outside the suicide doors, there were shooting stars way overhead, and stabbing stars unpleasantly close, and Precarious Lee closed his eyes and listened to Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles, and He will protect all of His fools and drunks.

You Cannot Petition Route 77 With Prayer

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God is an American. Everything else, too-Chinese and a lady and the sun–but the whole point of God is the omniness. Omnipotent and omniscient and all the rest: If God is everything, then one of those things must be American, and that was the God Precarious Lee preferred. Made it easier if He spoke English. What’s the use in praying if God only understands Italian? Precarious created God in his own image, but a little taller. Precarious figured God would be pretty tall.

He went to church as a kid, a bunch of them. His mother was her own version of forward-thinking, and she wanted Precarious to be exposed to every religion in town, as long as the religion involved Jesus Christ, but not the Catholics. Pentecostal, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, you name it. Some of them were the kind of churches where people holler, and others were more subdued. It was just poor people singing about Jesus in the morning, Precarious thought many years later. He wasn’t quite as observant as a kid, but he never much cared for the experience and would generally spend his time trying to catch a peek at the prettier congregants. He knew that was a sin, but he also knew not paying attention in church at all was a sin, so might as well look at girls. Sin for a penny, sin for a pound.

There were services in the Army, too, and people looked at you funny if you didn’t go to any of them, so Precarious did what his mom taught him and went to just about every one, even the non-Jesus religions. It was the early ’60’s, so there weren’t many non-Jesus religions, but Precarious still dropped by all of them. He decided that the poorer the sect, the better the music, but not much else. Made some friends, and he was also smuggling alcohol onto the base and it turns out that religious services are a superb place to sell booze.

When he joined the circus, that was when his theological education began. Pagans and yogis and dharma bums and Satanists and tons of folks just making shit up as they went. Buddhism was always thrown at him, and occasionally by someone who knew what he was talking about. Precarious couldn’t figure that one out, though. Point of Buddhism is to learn a bunch of foreign words, then sit there quietly until you clear your mind. Wouldn’t it be easier to clear your mind without all those foreign words cluttering it up?

Only denomination he steered clear of was non-denominational: Atheists always wanted to tell you about some book they just read. So mad at people for reading a book that they read their own. If you don’t like a book, Precarious thought, then don’t read it. Don’t read other books at it. Couldn’t find God in any book, anyway, even the ones about Him. You might be able to find God in a random cookbook in the bookstore with no title in Little Aleppo, but you couldn’t count on it.

Precarious Lee looked for God on the highway. The window was down and his elbow baked in the American sun of the low desert which he had been doing idle laps around ever since getting on Route 77 several hours or days or minutes ago. He had no agenda, and he had a 1970 Ford Mustang, which was the last good year. He usually preferred more obscure bullshit, but he was on a mission for God this time, and plus the one for sale had the Boss 302 engine with a four-speed Hurst shifter, and it was Candy Apple red with white leather seats. Precarious had never met the Lord personally, and he hadn’t done too well in Sunday school, but he knew that when you met God, you should do it in a Candy Apple red Mustang with white leather seats.

Although if he were honest about it, he had not strictly been looking for God for a while now. If he were completely honest, Precarious would tell you that it had slipped his mind entirely as he tried to get to the gas station. It had been in his rear-view mirror for around a half-hour: he had tried backing up, but that just put it in his windshield. He had nearly caught up several times, but then the station disappeared again, and Precarious was pretty sure he was being fucked with. When he saw one of the pumps give him the finger, it cemented this belief. He didn’t know what he had done to the gas station to deserve this, but he figured it best to let things blow over.

It was always Sunday morning on Route 77. There are also joints where it’s always Saturday night, and long stretches of Tuesday afternoon, but mostly it’s Sunday morning. The Interstitial is weird, but not that different: religious institutions pay no taxes, so every single structure on Route 77 has declared itself a place of worship. Each rest stop is its own denomination, and they regularly accuse one another of heresy. Gift shops have waged religious wars with food courts, and there are no winners in that conflict.

Route 77 took freedom of religion as a dare. Sects and splinters and schisms, followed by reaffiliations, and then reschisming: you couldn’t tell the prayers without a scorecard. On a back road outside Cahokia was the Mt. Zion Holy Father Fire Baptized Jubilation Congregation of Christ the Lord in His American Rising. The church held raffles and washed cars and played Bingo until they had the money for a giant sign, but the preacher told them to print the whole name on one line, so it snapped in half and now the preacher pretends it’s a metaphor and he did it on purpose.

There were monasteries steeped in silence, and also one place where the monks screamed at the top of their lungs constantly. Many paths to the Lord. A growing sect in Cascadia worshiped a many-nippled owl. Take one step towards God, and He takes two towards you. Route 77 has so many cults that it’s become a buyer’s market, and the cults have had to start offering signing bonuses and dental insurance. To seek Heaven is to reside there by the effort.

Precarious liked to stop in at the First Church of the Iterated Christ. It was a Trinitarian Essentialist church, and they preached that all Jesuses were the true Jesus: Baby Jesus, and Bible Jesus, and the one they talk about on teevee. The one that overturned the money changers’ tables, and the Christ that suffered in the desert. Tall or skinny, white or black: they had every kind of Jesus at the First Church of the Iterated Christ, and Precarious found that it suited him.

It was cool–it is always cool in churches when they’re empty–and all the Christs were there with him, etched into the stained-glass, which by Precarious’ best reckoning was load-bearing. The Interstitial was full of architectural quirks, and that one impressed him, but he still sat as close to the exit as possible. Cherubic or bearded, or Risen and gone: take your pick, the free market at work, and Precarious locked eyes with the Jesus he drove all this way for, which was made out of glass and showed straight through to the highway behind.

There were miles and miles of the Interstitial with speed bumps made from penitents, and hassocks growing wild along the soft shoulder. It was late in the afternoon, even though it was Sunday morning, and beyond the mountain range on the horizon the sun got dragged back to earth by Apollo. It was hazy, but Precarious thought he was in a Pontiac.

He put a five in the plate as he left, and had a cigarette in his mouth before he got to the door. He had locked the car because church parking lots are still parking lots, so he locked the door, and then he unlocked it with care so as not to scratch the Candy Apple red finish of the Mustang he had planned on meeting the Lord in. Precarious ashed his smoke and put it back in his mouth as he sat in the car and crossed another location off the mental checklist he’d been keeping all his life. Another place he hadn’t met God, but he would keep looking after he had a cheeseburger, and figured the best place to do both of those things was Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles, if you can ever find Him.

Ask A Stupid Question

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Precarious?

“Yo.”

Why does that monitor have “Jerry” written on it?

“Belongs to him.”

Good talk.

“Okay.”

Stormy Weather On Route 77

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In some places the road cracked and buckled, and you could see America crawling up through the broken tarmac, the America that was here before the road got laid and will reclaim its face one day. Dirt and wildflowers and earthworms, plump as a grown man’s ring finger. Where the buffaloes roamed. The road wasn’t alive, but it was embedded in something that was. The inside of the earth spins, and the outside drifts, and the skin pocks and burbles. Nothing was ever truly built, Precarious thought. You set things up and then you maintained them. Nothing in this world is permanent without help, and one day Rushmore will just be a mountain again.

It was getting nippy in Northern California, and Southern California was full of Southern Californians, so Precarious thought about taking a drive. Quick one this time, maybe. Last one, who knows? That would work itself out several horizons from now, and there was packing to do. Not much–Precarious traveled light–but the things he needed, he needed. A carton of unfiltered Camel soft packs was in the glove compartment with the maps, plus lighter fluid and flints for his Zippo, which he kept in the change pocket of his jeans. Just in case, he also had some matches.

There was dope in the car: Precarious had no doubt that he could find whatever it was he wanted, and some stuff he didn’t need, in any of his regular haunts, but he preferred to smoke his own. Or snort. Or whatever. He stuck to weed, mostly, while he was driving, but he wanted to be prepared. Before he’d take off, Precarious would roll a hundred joints or so: he could do it one-handed, but with both hands. Fun trick for parties, but you can roll joints one-handed or you can roll them perfect, and Precarious liked his joints perfect and when he was done rolling them, he put them in a little tin that had a clasp and a faded, stamped-metal cartoon of Tom Mix on the top.

The backup stash got broken into backup stashes and secreted around the car. Precarious was good at finding hidey-holes and nooks, and if he couldn’t find one, he wasn’t averse to getting his tools and making one. Sometimes, he’d just weld a little safe to the chassis. Man had a God-given right to a hidey-hole, he figured. The joints went in the tin with Tom Mix on the top, and the tin went in the briefcase, which was the only piece of luggage Precarious ever took with him when he went for a drive.

It was a custom job, he got one of the extras that Fender made for Garcia. It didn’t do the things Garcia’s did, but it was still tweed like a guitar case, and had a tasteful Stealie embedded near the handle, and Precarious thought it was nifty. He used to bring a duffel bag, and then a backpack, but he had pared it down to the size of a briefcase. Joint tin. Socks, underwear, t-shirts: three of each rolled tight like he was taught in the Army. Shaving kit with a .22 pistol in it. Wallet with two hundred in cash, plus another two grand in the briefcase’s hidden pocket. Paperback. He didn’t need anything else.

There were bucket seats in the 1971 Dodge Challenger, and a 440 cubic inch V8 engine that was so big the hood needed a bulge in it, and Precarious set his briefcase on the passenger’s seat, and turned the key. The engine sounded like your first love’s voice, and Precarious started off with no particular place to go. He figured he would follow the Challenger’s hood for a while, stay right behind it, see where it went. The car had the Top Banana paint scheme. Precarious couldn’t resist: yellow as a child’s crayoned sun, but with bold black stripes down the side. Precarious didn’t know why a car with stripes was better than a car without them, but he figured his ignorance of a root cause didn’t make it any less of a fact.

It was overcast, just a bit, and the Challenger’s stubborn wheels held the road around the curves around the mountains and into America. The highway was a promise, and it was clear from Provo to Portland, either one, and Precarious lit a cigarette and arched his butt up off the seat to put his Zippo back in the pocket of his jeans. He thought about hitting Route 77, but idly, and the sun started peeking out a little, so he flipped the visor down and the on-ramp to Route 77 fell into his lap. There was a discussion about boundaries during which Precarious punched the on-ramp very hard several times, and then he was on the Interstitial Highway System.

It was fall on Route 77, and the leaves were falling off the trees. They’d hit the ground running, the trees in hot pursuit. There was a nipsey in the air, whispering poetry to drivers with their windows down. Pumpkin growing contests were held, and so were punkin’ chunkin’ contests, and the invariable happened, and many cars were destroyed by 1,500 pound gourds launched from a few miles away. Autumn evenings look like homework and football practice on Route 77, and all the gas stations have added pumpkin spice to their hi-test.

Precarious flew down the road in his Dodge Challenger and thought about nothing at all, but thought very deeply about it. Other times, he would sing along with the radio, but the radio was to be taken with a shaker of salt. There was FM and AM, but there was also PM and you needed to careful with that band of frequencies. One of the stations was real-time 911 calls, and you owe yourself the kindness of never tuning in. There were rock stations that played lost albums, the stuff Skynrd made after they all survived that plane crash, the record Hendrix and Miles David did. A sports talk station had a call-in show that had never had a non-Bababooey caller, and four successive hosts have been driven mad on-air. Art Bell’s show came in crystal clear on Route 77.

Autumn was all right on the Interstitial, Precarious thought, unless an election broke out, and then an election broke out. BAHDAHDAHBWAHBAH! all the stations played at once: John Phillips Sousa was the Emergency Broadcast Signal for elections in Route 77, and Precarious started looking for cover. He tossed his half-smoked Camel out the window and turned off the radio so he could see where he was going. SHWAMP signs on sticks came rocketing out of the ground, impaling several pedestrians. Precarious was halfway to America, on the edge of the desert, and the sky was full of politicians. They swooped and pandered like sleazy eagles, and they smelled a voter in the car.

The gas stations would go partisan next, Precarious knew, and not the whole place at once, either: pump would turn against pump. The billboards would be plastered over with a new image every day, the paint and paper building up on the face of the sign until they began toppling over. This, too, killed pedestrians. Taking advantage of Route 77’s lax adopt-a-highway-section program, campaigns snatched up alternating miles of road, and some of the old-timers remember an election where that didn’t lead to barricades and sabotage within hours, but no one believes them.

Election Day loomed in his rearview, and Precarious gripped the steering wheel with his left hand and reached over to his tweed briefcase with his right, and he took his .22 caliber pistol from the case, making sure the safety was on, and jammed it between his thigh and the leather bucket seat. You can never be too careful with elections, and up ahead was a bar with a motel attached. A couple of drinks and a few hours of sleep sounded like the perfect way to hunker down while the election blew over. The parking lot was not full, and he parked the Challenger easily. The pistol, along with the keys, went in the briefcase, which went with Precarious. He’d watch the worst of it through the window, and when it cleared he would be back on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.

Let Jersey Choogle

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“Jer, y’think we should have a backdrop or something? Maybe, you know, a cleaner kinda look?”

“Huh, yeah, that would look better. But the show starts in an hour, Bobby.”

“That’s enough time. Precarious?”

“Yo?”

“Think you can rustle up a backdrop before the show?”

“Saw a high school a mile away. High schools have auditoriums.”

“You know what to do.”

“Gotcha.”

Please Seat Yourself On Route 77

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America was a year-round kind of place, Precarious noted. In winter, there was the southern route, a big dip down through the desert and the fields, and in the summer all the roads were passable in the places that weren’t on fire. The West caught fire every summer, so Precarious nibbled at the edges of the mountains and skirted the valleys that made for such pretty pictures. Country was big enough so that it was easy enough to avoid trouble if you’re not looking for it, he thought.

Used to be bigger, though. Everything’s bigger when you have to walk it, Precarious figured. Lewis, Clark? Took almost two years to get from St. Louis to the Pacific. They weren’t going for speed, but that’s still a long time. After a while, we got coast-to-coast time down to four or five months, but then Lincoln pounded in the Golden Spike with his hands, or something, and the railroad cinched itself across America’s belly and it was Penn Station to Union Station in three-and-a-half days.

And that was a good number, at least as far as Precarious was concerned. There were airplanes, obviously, and if you had a few people to share the driving, then you could make the trip in 40 hours straight or so, but if you were alone in the car, then three-and-a-half days was right. Eyesight goes wooly after a while, back starts folding. You could cannonball it, tearing ass like a dipshit all the way, and make it in under 30 hours, but that sounded like punishment to Precarious. He’d pissed in bottles plenty of times when he couldn’t stop, but didn’t want to participate in an activity that had bottle-pissing built into it.

Precarious cruised, and 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo is a good car for that activity. It had two enormous doors, and a split-bench seat made from light blue leather the same color as the Landau roof, which was the same color as the jean jacket your older brother gave you, the one with the Zeppelin logo painted on the back. The rest of the car was Tuxedo Black, and under the hood was a Turbo-Jet 454ci engine that for reasons known only to Detroit made just 245 horsepower, but it made a good noise when you eased the gas pedal down. There was power everything, so when Precarious moved the seat back, there would be this faint and guilty-sounding whir, and not the sure, metal KaCHUNK of the slide that used to control the whole deal.

There was a rabbit off to his left as he passed the Continental Divide, and all of the Southwest was to his right, and he thought of Lewis and Clark again. Precarious had been in the army, and a fight or two. Gave himself a couple stitches one time, but that’s not tough so much as dumb. Those fuckers were tougher than he was, and he didn’t think much of the argument that it was a different time: it wasn’t like everyone was walking across the damn country back then, just those iron bastards. It was starting to snow just a little, big wet poofy flakes that made a PWOMP sound on the windshield, and Precarious thought of Lewis and Clark as he adjusted the heater vent so it was blowing outwards toward his arm, which was hanging out of the open window.

Dip your foot in the ocean, and then walk back up the beach to the parking lot where your car is. Point it away from the water, and step on the gas. Hit the brakes when you see the waves again: that’s America. Precarious was thinking about that, and maybe stopping for a cheeseburger, when he saw a grestle out the windshield, and a Menlo Scatback passed him on the left. Up ahead, there was a billboard that read SCENERY and goddammit he was on Route 77 again. No wonder nothing was making sense, and he made a mental note to beat the on-ramp’s ass again, which was becoming a pattern, he further mentally noted.

I’m enjoying the ride, he thought, and put his annoyance aside as his hunger rose. There was the Pioneer Chicken Stand, and Big Kahuna Burger, and Top Jimmy’s Tacos. Route 77 had fast food, and suspiciously fast food, where the meal is waiting on the table when you walk in. There were drive-by restaurants, that shot Chinese food at your car window if you wore the wrong color. There were pizza boys with swords on motorcycles everywhere.

Precarious had always thought of the Interstitial Highway as a rough-and-tumble kind of place, so he was surprised to see foodie culture infest Route 77. One place called Freddy Avlo’s didn’t allow their patrons to eat the food, just post pictures of it on the internet. The Bucolic Pantry took locally-sourced to new heights by restricting the radius of what they considered local to 1000 feet. Luckily, there was a supermarket next door. Farm-to-table was brought to its logical conclusion at The Duck Pond, which was a duck pond. Gourmands and food bloggers would trek for miles to wade into the pond, snatch up a duck, eat it raw, and then work the phrase, “But have you ever had fresh duck?” into conversations once they get back home.

Not for him. Precarious tried to withhold judgment on things he knew he didn’t understand, and he surely did not get obsessing over food as much as some people seemed to, but he couldn’t help himself. There was a difference between bad food and good food, sure, but there was also a difference between good food and fancy bullshit. It’s all left in the toilet the next morning, he thought, and pulled into Tommy’s, which was a 48-hour diner, which is like a 24-hour diner, but twice as much.

To the right, there was a big room with tables, and to the left was the counter and some booths and the kitchen cutout, and in the middle by the door was Tommy, who was not the first Tommy, but was merely the current Tommy. There will always be a Tommy, because Tommy runs the place, and Tommy’s needs running. 48-hour diners were always on the precipice of an all-out riot: it was always three in the morning after a country music concert ended, a rap show finished, all the bars closed, and the local meth dealer just got locked up in a 48-hour diner. Two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon at Tommy’s would find a drunken brawl between warring tribes of metalheads and bowling teams, if not for Tommy.

Tommy kept the peace. The diner never closed–Christmas, hurricanes, presidential assassinations–and Tommy kept his eye out for troublemakers. Precarious liked him a lot: little guy in a white dress shirt and black slacks, both purchased for their price instead of their style, and a thick helmet of wavy black hair. Tommy couldn’t have been 5’6″, but when the waitresses got turned into giant ants that one time, he beat them all to death with the diner’s massive, leather-bound menu like a man twice his size. He had new waitresses within an hour, with the same beehive hairdos and clompy shoes.

If you were trouble, you got tossed. Tommy would 86 you easy as 1-2-3. Once, Precarious had been lingering over the last piece of bacon when he saw Tommy’s head shoot up from his calculator, like a dog smelling something. Tommy ran out to the parking lot, stopped a car that was pulling in, and threw the entire carload of people out of the diner before they had even parked. When Tommy came back in, he caught Precarious’ eye.

“No good,” Tommy said.

Precarious smiled and threw up his hands in agreement, and a cook called out DING hashbrowns are up, and then two sloppy teenagers were full-on dry humping on top of one of the tables, so Tommy went to deal with that. And something after that, and after that, and it would get to Tommy after a while, and he would start staring at the cakes going around and around, and then he would attempt to burn the place down using himself as the kindling. The kitchen wouldn’t even slow down, and there would be a new Tommy along any minute. Tommy’s was a 48-hour diner, and it stayed open.

Precarious had never seen a Changing of the Tommys, but he’d heard it described in great detail and decided he didn’t particularly need to see one. He came in for the eggs, never had to see the menu, which like all 48-hour diners contained every meal known to man. It had a table of contents, and an index. Precarious knew better, though. You kept it basic at a place where Booth War occasionally broke out.

The bill came to six bucks, and Precarious left a ten on the table. He nodded goodbye at Tommy, who was eyeing the pastry carousel with a faraway look, and walked out to the parking lot, where there were teenagers negotiating things with each others, and a girl was crying in the passenger seat of an Oldsmobile as the cars sped by on. Precarious joined them and hit cruising speed in no time and before he knew it he was halfway home, or maybe halfway there, on Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles.

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