From: bretts@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM (Evolve or Perish) Newsgroups: talk.bizarre Subject: OK To Suck Again Day: Dennis Date: 9 Dec 1997 03:18:10 -0600 Organization: NeoSoft Internet Services +1 888 NEOSOFT Lines: 218 Message-ID: <66j2ci$b39$1@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM> His name was Dennis Domagas. Domagas, he told us, was Greek for "my bath is too hot." Dennis was Filipino. The Philippines have been colonized in turn by the Greeks, the Spanish, and the Japanese. Despite successive waves of less-than-helpful foreigners, the Filipinos have remained a mellow people, and Dennis was a mellow guy. Dennis collected and dealt in comic books. Comics were something I'd never been into as a child, and knew nothing about. I teased him mercilessly. "Aren't you about ten years too old for this stuff?" I asked him. "I made $300 at that convention last weekend," he replied. "Oh," I said. Dennis was convinced he was a ladies' man. He was unable to convince anyone else of this, particularly the ladies. Dennis slept with his eyes open. If he was asleep in the room and his eyes happened to be pointed at you, it was unsettling enough to make you move. The only other Filipino man I have known personally also slept with his eyes open. I need more data points. Dennis was a brilliant portrait artist. With a #2 pencil and a Q-Tip, he could make pictures that looked like a black-and-white photographs. Dennis was frequently to be seen about the house in a bright blue Chinese silk shirt complete with embroidery and big buttons, yellow sweat pants, sandals, and a cowboy hat. "No, Dennis," we'd tell him, "No!" Filipinos have family networks that make the Chinese look cold and remote. Dennis could pick up the phone, call someone in Portland that he'd never met, and say "My great-aunt's daughter-in-law used to be your cousin's bowling partner," and the reply would be "You must come stay with us." When Dennis decided that he wanted to travel around the country, he made about twenty such calls, and went from San Diego up the west coast to Seattle, crossed the great American West to Chicago, continued on to New England, worked his way down the Eastern Seaboard to Florida, and came back to Texas without staying in a single hotel. How did he get from Texas to San Diego? That's where I come in. My parents lived in Bakersfield at the time ("Bakersfield," Leslie would say to me a year later, "it sounds like the kind of place a serial killer would be from"), and had insisted that I spend the summer with them. I would be driving, and it sounded like a good trade-off to go a few hundred miles out of my way if it meant that I wouldn't have to drive the endless waste of I-10 by myself. My car back then was 1978 Audi Fox. This car, in a word, sucked. It handled like nothing else I've ever driven, but it hated me and wouldn't run for more than a month between expensive repairs (which would be an excellent way to begin my story about Katherine, but this story is about Dennis). To survive three months in Bakersfield, with my parents, I felt I would need a few things. At the very least, I would need my stereo and my bicycle. So I tried to rent a trailer. "Sorry, sir," I was told at U-Haul, "the '78 was the year Audi tried the aluminum bumper, and we can't put a hitch on that. A roof carrier? No sir, the '78 was the year the Fox had a sun roof, and we can't put a carrier on a car with a sun roof." So we now have all of my crap, and all of Dennis', stuffed into my two-door peeling white curse. But we're off on our Grand Adventure. I put the Fox in reverse, and back into a boat. Someone had parked a boat trailer immediately behind me in the minute we were settling ourselves into the car. The front wheel of the bike is destroyed. The boat is dinged a bit. We make a quick getaway. West Texas. I-10. Abbey has written about it. Kerouac has written about it. The Mad Monks have written about it. Paul Vader has written about it. All have failed to convey the monotony and frustration, the hypnotic sameness, the mind-crushing repetition of mesquite and dirt, the anaesthetic enormity of crossing my adopted state. "The sun is ris'n and the sun is set / And here we is in Texas yet." Best to do it at night - if you can't see it, it's not as horrible. Plus you skip the heat. I wake up around two in the morning. "Where are we?" "I'm not sure," Dennis says, "We passed an army base or a town or something a couple hours ago." "Fort Stockton?" I ask. "Yeah!" I look at the gas gauge. Oh god. Dennis has taken us through Fort Stockton and not filled the tank. You don't do this. You just don't. We've got less than a quarter of a tank, and we're at least 150 miles from anywhere. I carefully weigh the options, and decide to panic. We drive on in complete silence. Then, with the needle hovering just over 'E,' we start seeing signs for a town. The signs say only that the exit for this town is two miles ahead. We take it, seeing as there's nothing along I-10 for another hundred miles. A couple minutes on the new highway, and we see another sign. Our town is another 40 miles away. We are well and truly fucked. The Audi rolls to a stop a few minutes later. At 2:30am. In the middle of West Texas. On a road with no traffic. So we wait. And we wait. In the first hour, two cars have gone by, ignoring our frantic waving. And then, around three, a huge Buick pulls over. I tell Dennis to stay with the car. I explain myself to the occupants of the Buick - three college students like ourselves, travelling with the back seat loaded to the ceiling. I only get the first sentence out, and they say "Get in." True brothers of the road! So now it's the four of us in the front seat of a car that's bigger than some European countries, going 100 miles per hour across the American desert. We're young, we're free, we're on a Mission. That's when I realize everyone in the car is drunk, and that I am going to die. Thirty white-knuckled, sphincter-clenching miles later, we pull into Flyspeck, Texas, a charming burg consisting of a Texaco station on one side of the highway, and a truck stop on the other. I get out of the Buick and stand on wobbly knees. My new friends wish me luck, and vanish in a spray of gravel. I march into the Texaco station, still somewhat shaken from my brush with charity, and offer the attendant a simple business transaction - I would like to buy some gas and a gas can. The conversation that followed was a bit too nonlinear to reconstruct, and was punctuated by my interlocutor with twitches, darting eye movements, sniffling, and much nose-wiping. I don't know where they're getting cocaine in Flyspeck, but this at least is a situation I can handle. The attendant doesn't have a gas can. Well, he might have a gas can, but it's not the station's, it's in his truck. It's his gas can, you see. Or rather his father's, who I gather has passed away. I can't have this gas can, because it has great sentimental value. Maybe I could borrow this gas can, if I'd bring it back, it's not that he doesn't want to help, but Dad didn't leave him much. But he'd have to be sure I was coming back. I finally get out of there, leaving Twitchy in possession of my Texaco card and driver's license, with two gallons of gas in an ancient metal can with no cap. I cross the highway, and lurk around the truckstop for about ten minutes looking for a ride back to my car. Sooner than I'd expect, two kindly old gentlemen tell me they're going that way, and I can ride with them. I hop in the back seat of a car even bigger than the Buick, and we're off at a sane cruising speed of 45 miles per hour. These guys were great. Widowers both, known each other for forty years, finally decided they wanted to see (Chicago? Las Vegas? I can't recall), and here they were, puttering across Texas on their own schedule without an obligation or care in the world. Five minutes on the road, and they both light up cigarettes. I hold my breath and wait for the explosion. The desert has light long before the sun comes up. In a place as flat as West Texas, you might get up to an hour of glorious purple glow before the first ray of orange touches the horizon. In that hour, this desert is beautiful. But only for an hour, so pay close attention. We came up on the Audi in this hour - it was easy enough to spot, even on the other side of a divided highway. I wished my benefactors a safe journey, and crossed the median slowly. Exhausted and exasperated as I was, the cool hush of the pre-dawn desert still made an impression. I gave it its moment, and walked up to the car. Dennis had put the passenger seat down, and was sound asleep (eyes open, of course). He looked so peaceful. I quietly set the gas can down, and brought my fist down on the roof of the car as hard as I could. Dennis jolted from his nap and smacked his head on the ceiling. I began to feel a little better. San Diego. The only piece of southern California worth thinking about. It's a clean city with lovely Spanish architecture and a mild climate. Dennis was going to have a good time here, I could tell. "So, where to?" "Just stop at a phone and I'll get some specific directions." "Well, we got a map of the area, we can probably find it." "I'd like to call though, just to let them know I'm in town." "Dennis?" "Yes?" "You do have an address, right?" "I have a phone number." So the first order of business is to find a phone. Actually, the first order of business is for Dennis to pry my hands from his throat. Dennis remembers that the house was on a street called "Heather-something," so while he makes the call, I check out the map. There are over a dozen streets in San Diego that begin with the word "Heather." Dennis comes back. His relatives aren't home. At this point, I'm not really sure about the sequence of events. Somehow Dennis talked me into trying a couple of the addresses in the phone book, even though the number he had wasn't listed. It didn't make any sense, but then neither does travelling 1500 miles and having no idea where you're supposed to be. No luck, of course. And the family continued to be not home. "Dennis, do they know when you're coming?" "They knew it would be this week." Why did I ask? Finally, I stop at a realtor's office. Leaving Dennis in the car, I am able to discover the following: the phone number we have has a brand-new prefix, and the agent knows exactly where it is. It's in a brand-new development which so far isn't on any city maps. However, she has a xeroxed developer's map of the place, and gives it to me with detailed directions on how to get there. I reflect that with friends like Dennis, one necessarily becomes dependent on the kindness of strangers, and head back to the car. When we arrive at the house, six hours after getting to San Diego, Dennis' relatives are home. Now, only six or seven more hours to Bakersfield so the real hell can begin! I left Dennis behind with one tiny satisfaction. The girl who greeted us at the door was drop-dead gorgeous. She was 18, with full lips, a mass of glossy hair in long ringlets, and perfect skin the color of coffee with just a touch of cream. Dewy, nubile, these are all words that apply. Dennis was speechless. She also turned out to be his first cousin. Three months later, back in Texas, Dennis tells us of his travels. He's seen the entire west coast, Chicago, New York, Boston, the Florida Keys, places I'll probably never be. He is proudest of being mugged. In New Hampshire. The last time I saw Dennis, he was living in Houston, working the graveyard shift as an attendant in a psych ward, studying to apply to the FBI. He had this image of himself in a trenchcoat and fedora, making his way through the world as a cross between Bogart and Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he already had the trenchcoat and fedora. In them, he looked much more like a flasher than a G-man. He described his job as "reading magazines until someone beats me up." He gave me a great present - a stack of photographs from our time on the A&M fencing team (I hadn't had a camera through those years). It was a good time. I miss him. b r e t t -- http://prometheus.frii.com/~brett, for what it's worth.