Day 1195 Twenty Years Ago
Wednesday December 30, 2019
310 Days until the 2020 election and 391 days until the Inauguration
He was dusty and dirt was rubbed into his skin like a fine patina. “Twenty years ago?” he said as he rolled the tumbler of whiskey glass bottom in a circle. It was a slow thoughtful action.
“Twenty years ago. Hum. Well, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long ago, but I guess it has.”
The young man sitting at the round table to his left put down his iPad and looked at the grizzled traveler. There was something in his voice that caught his attention.
“Most of use didn’t have cell phones back then.”
The three young people exchanged glances. The young lady looked at one of the men and smirked. As if to say, “Yeah. Right.” (There was no time before cell phones. What was he talking about?)
“It was my first trip to Burning Man,” he said.
“You went to Burning Man?” said the young man to his right, the one who had started the conversation. He was holding the shotgun mic and adjusting the volume controls of the little box in front of him.
“Oh yeah. We all went back then. It was a right of passage so to speak.”
“I’ve heard it’s all sex and drugs,” said the manchild to his right.
Bryce Holliwell looked up from his whiskey glass and asked, “Is that right?”
“Yup, it’s a big party in the desert where everyone gets wasted,” the young man continued.
“Really?” said Bryce. “Tell me, what year did you go.”
“Oh, I’ve never been …”
“So how do you know this,”
“Well, it’s common knowledge.”
“I see. What else do you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve already told me about Burning Man. Maybe, you know something else. Like how Jim Morrison died.”
“Nevermind. Are we done here?”
“No,” said the man with the mic. “We are doing a school project and need to hear what it was like at the turn of the century. You were starting to tell us. There were no cell phones?”
“Oh there were cell phones, but not many. I remember back in 97 seeing cellphones in Hong Kong. Everyone had one. It seemed for guys to be talking on a cell phone with a beautiful woman on your arm was the ultimate expression of power.”
“Really?” said the man on the right.
Bryce looked at him with a slow turn of the head. “Yeah,” he said slowly, “really.”
The kid gulped and was silent.
“In fact,” Bryce continued, “two women was even better. I was wondering if they rented them out. On guy told me that you may not even have service or batteries but you carried a cell phone to show you had power.”
He looked at the kid and nodded. When the kid didn’t make a move to say anything, Bryce looked back down at his tumbler. “You know this whiskey is made from malted barley and other grains and left to mellow in oak casks that have been burned on the inside.”
“Really?” said the guy with the mic.
“Yeah, really,” said Bryce, “you know why that is?”
All three shook their heads.
“Well, ya see, that’s the definition of whiskey. If it was made from something else it would be called something else. Amazing huh?”
The kids weren’t sure what to make of that statement and sat looking at the old timer.
“In this particular case I think they then strained it through a layer of camel piss,” said Bryce.
The girl burst out laughing.
Bryce turned to the know it all on his right and said, “But that’s not all bad. If you drink camel urine, you don’t have to take a statin, or eat fruits and vegetables, because camel piss has the same effect. Look it up.”
The kid kept looking at him.
“Are you deaf?” asked Bryce. “Or did you think I was being rhetorical?”
The kid looked at him and seemed confused.
“Hopeless,” said Bryce. He looked at the young woman across from him. “Have you ever made a porn movie?”
The girl giggled and shook her head.
“One entitled ‘Young Goddess Does It with Old Man’? “
She shook her head.
“Would you like to?” asked Bryce.
She stopped her giggling and shaking for a moment and looked directly at Bryce like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
“Yeah, I used to be a porn star, had a stage name. I guess you call it a stage name even though it’s in movies.”
“What was the stage name?” asked the mic man.
The girl laughed again. She seemed happy to be off the hook.
“Yeah, ‘Billy Bangers and his nine inch dick’ was typically how I was billed. Sometimes it was ten inches.” Bryce turned to his right, “Look it up.”
“Really?” said the mic kid.
“No, I made it up.”
“Really?” said Bryce and the three kids in unison.
Turning to the fellow with the mic, “I bet this isn’t going to make it into the final cut for school?”
The kid nodded.
“So, I guess you don’t want me to tell you about the wild sex orgies and drunken drug fueled fests either?”
He looked from side to side and smiled. “Truth is, I don’t know about any of that. I went for the experience and ended up writing for their paper, mostly about the art.”
“Art?” said the girl.
“Oh yeah, if you want to know what is really happening on the art scene Burning Man is the place. If you want to see what happened go to a museum.”
Bryce eyed them all quizzically for a few seconds and then looked back at his tumbler.
“But you asked me about twenty years ago. We were around Barstow when the drugs started to kick in …” He looked up. “It’s the opening lines from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. “ Again – blank stares.
“What are they teaching you kids in school? Haven’t you read the classics? My god. What is this world coming to? Nevermind. Come to think of it. It wasn’t Burning Man it was a kite buggying event in the middle of a dry lake bed.”
“Yeah, they’re like high tech Big Wheels…”
“I’m sorry. Are we on the same planet? Big Wheels, tricycles with a large wheel in the front and seat behind in a recumbent position with an axel at the back of the seat for the rear wheels.”
“Oh, indeed. Picture it made out of air craft aluminum or steel and no pedals just pegs for your feet. You hold a two or four lined kite that looks like a square parachute and it pulls you across the desert.”
“Wow. Is that for real? It’s like wind surfing.”
“Gnarly man, you dig it? Yeah, it’s like wind surfing, but on a tricycle, going twenty, thirty, miles an hour with your balls six inches off the ground.”
“You’re,” the kid started. Bryce threw him a glance and he stopped.
“kidding? No. Not at all. And we were outside of Barstow. Flew into Las Vegas, went to the desert. Stayed at this motel. The only one I’ve ever been at that had a porn channel. Any rate the phone booth in the middle of the desert was close by.”
“The phone booth in the middle of the desert?”
“What’s your question? ‘Is there a phone booth in the middle of the desert?’, or ‘What’s a phone booth?’ ”
To be continued.
PS On assignment, deep in the jungle at an undisclosed location.