The Dispirited Rats Reluctantly Spreading Their Plague

Part 1

Story by Brian K. Jones

Photography by Adam W. Chapman

A vacuum fueled by banality sucked us down the highway toward the desolate wasteland of the Indiana/Kentucky border.  Run down strip malls, greasy fast food stores, and long winding two way highways were pulling us toward them with no remorse or sense of the solemn despair that would nibble at our souls for the next 14 days.  There was nothing to be done; no flailing, tactful pleading, or rebellion that could prevent us from arriving at our destination.  We all had commitments, be they wife, child, or mortgage; and this trip was just another part of our occupation, an occupation which helped fill the insatiable hunger of our growing responsibilities.  This wasn’t what I had dreamed of when I was 17, far from romantic and blissful or quixotic and meandering, it was rigid and forced, difficult and straining; it was life.

Resigned to the melancholy affliction of boredom and mutual loathing, we did that which we knew how to do, we reveled in debauch.  Like a pirate ship on wheels we rolled down interstate 65, our sail blown by the might of our stale flatulence.

Grape put on his sunglasses and changed lanes, Arnie passed up a porno mag from the back seat and pointed out a woman’s vagina and exclaimed, “Look at that Clam!”

I took the magazine and admired the picture for a minute before perusing the penis pump ads and the personals section.  I handed it back to Arnie and thought about how odd the human condition was, I thought of my daughter and how innocent and pure she is at 19 months old and contrasted the thought with the perverse contortions life imposes on that purity.

A mutual decision was made to find something to eat, Grape pulled off the highway and we looked over the fast food landscape.  Arnie and I suggested we go to Burger King but Grape refused, “I can’t eat that shit.  They put fucking mayo on everything.”

Grape drove us toward McDonalds and pulled into the parking lot. Arnie immediately protested, “Dude it’s too early they won’t be serving lunch.”

“Just order breakfast, what’s the big deal?”  Grape’s suggestion met with silence from the back of the car.

“Can we just fucking pick something?  We’re not going to get to the hotel until 5 if you two stumble bums keep this up.”  I lit a smoke and stared out the window while Grape angrily peeled out in the direction of the Burger King.

Grape pulled up next to the drive thru and we stared at the menu of disgusting treats in silence.

The silence was broken by the muffled voice of the drive thru attendant through the speaker.  “Good morning and welcome to Burger King, My name is Michael!  Would you like to try the Cheesy Double Angus Barbecue Burger today?”

Grape and I whispered our orders to Arnie in the back seat and he relayed them through the speaker to the friendly drive through attendant.   We pulled up to the window and Michael opened his window to us.  He looked old and weathered.  He was probably only 40 or so but his smile relayed a sadness that he had long been working to ignore.  He cheerily accepted our currency and made us change before handing Grape our soft drinks.  We sat and waited while our food was being prepared.  I flicked the rest of my cigarette out the window, and watched in the side mirror as a woman walked into the restaurant behind us.  She grimaced as a bitter wind tried to slow her progress.

In a minute Michael returned to the window with our bag of food and smiled. “Here you go fellas, have a good one now!”

Grape looked at Michael for a second before grabbing the food in silence.  He then motioned to Michael with his thumb and looked at me, “He’s a chipper bastard for working at such at a shithole.”

We all erupted in laughter as Grape drove away from the Drive thru window.  As we drove on I thought of how Michael’s face looked  after Grape had insulted him to his face.  In that moment, he seemingly realized that he wasn’t supposed to be happy or even pretend to, he was supposed to be unhappy and miserable.  I couldn’t help but wonder if it stuck with him, or if he reverted back to fighting the misery off with well meant smiles and cheery salutations.  I prefer to think he chose the latter.

After a few wasted hours we arrived at the entrance of the hotel.  Stepping out of the car I stretched my legs and let out a long fart.  I stared at the row of fast food restaurants across the street, transfixed as I watched people going in and out.  Suddenly, I felt insignificant and estranged.  Despite the fact that this place didn’t look overwhelmingly different than home it lacked familiarity and that made me feel uncomfortable and lost.

I followed Arnie and Grape into the hotel entrance as they made a gesture about smoking weed by putting their thumb and forefinger together followed by putting it up to their mouth in a back and forth motion.  They turned back at me and I mirrored them, making the motion myself.

Arnie started chuckling, “When you do it looks like you’re sucking a tiny dick!”  This was too much for Grape, he erupted into laughter at my expense.  The clerk behind the counter looked at us oddly as Grape and Arnie giddily chuckled and I walked stern faced up to the counter.   I put my head down as I handed her my credit card and rewards card, training my eyes on my shoe laces until she handed me my key card.

After unpacking I sat in the room and listened to the TV as I stared out the window and looked at the fast food restaurants again.  Trying to shake the notion that I had become what I despised I took a swig from a beer.  An hour and a half of consumption quelled the self examination and I made my way to the patio where Grape and Arnie had set up our portable grill.  Arnie handed me an IPA and I opened it and drank from the bottle, its contents causing me to shiver because the taste was so potently bitter.  I lit a smoke and started to chat with Arnie and Grape while I stared into the fire and tried to forget myself.

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