The Unknown: The Red Line.

We had given a reading at Books and Coffee, a bookstore whose title speaks of solid integrity, and, as usual, had met some interesting people. I had a headache from the heat and dehydration of the drive and took a pill I thought was ibuprofen. In the middle of my reading I started cracking up. My knees and jaw turned to rubber and I began extemporizing what I thought was a sonnet: “When I get blown in Albuquerque / Get me a Pabst and a stick of beef jerky.”

Dirk helped me offstage amid wild applause. I remember the reading he gave seemed like a film sped up. I blinked and then it was over and they were helping me to the car. I had a copy of Wuthering Heights I had either bought or stolen or received as a gift and I wasn’t sure why.

Then we were at a bar called Two Dollar Bill’s. We were with a couple who I remember as a very large man with a beard who spoke little and had a FUCK AUTHORITY t-shirt, and a tiny woman with big hair who talked excessively. She smoked like a demon and she kept giving Scott more cigarettes. They were having Long Island Iced Teas. I think someone ordered me a beer so I’d attract less attention. The place was crowded and there was tension. Dirk and Scott and our two friends went off to throw darts, I think, and I was propped at the bar watching a game on TV. I think it was hockey. I remember a great big Budweiser clock above the bar and the minute hand was moving so quickly I could watch its progression. A chipmunk next to me engaged me in conversation. I’m not sure I spoke back or acknowledged him. It didn’t matter. He may have taken my wallet. I discovered it was missing the next morning. I woke up in the back seat of the car at dawn, my face flattened against cold glass and sunrise over the Manzano Mountains. There was the remains of a campfire and a tent and Dirk in a sleeping bag on a picnic table. I climbed out of the car and rubbed my limbs, investigating for bruises and restoring circulation. Next to Dirk was a half-finished can of Pabst which cured what little hangover I had. I walked off to find water.

I found out that the couple we had partied with, whom I had taken for bikers, were also scouts for Norton. They were very impressed by me, Dirk said; I had appeared very thoughtful, and they had signed some kind of deal with me for a book-length poem. I never found out what I had signed, but we spent the advance they sent to Marla on one great skydiving and gourmet food weekend at a resort in Tahoe. We were on the road again by noon, and had broken down by six.


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