Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Guest Post: Trailblazing and the Proxy Wars, Memoir by Chase Griffin

Chase Griffin is a writer currently living in Ybor City and he lives in a spooky old house with his wife and son. He loves Miranda July, Stephen King, David Sedaris, PKD, Ursula Le Guin, Season Six of The Simpsons, and visiting Fort De Soto when the weather is cold (cold for Florida). He has publications in Five 2 One and Florida Is A Verb. He also has a bedroom pop project chasegriffin.bandcamp.com.
Chase has never successfully conjured the dead and he has an unhealthy obsession with throw pillows.
2001 was an odd time to be alive and 14-years-old. I was old enough to understand that we had just shifted from the 20th to the 21st century, but I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the significance. The Cold War had been over for only a decade and the weight of The Great War leading to World War II giving birth to the Age of Paranoia and the Proxy Wars only felt like legend to me. As a 14-year-old middle class boy, not much held weight to me.
     By early November 2001, the Age of Paranoia had grown almost overnight from it’s extended childhood of 1945 to September 2001 into a rebellious teen, all hunched over and claiming domination over everything with an unsteady grip, yanking at the chair of the world, pulling the object around to its body, and sitting on it backwards, oozing a wild coolness and attitude that comes off as entitled, spoiled smugness. An Age of Cynicism was spilling over and overlapping with the Age of Paranoia, turning the very real and reflective history and tragedy into fake chunks and units and objects that could only be sniffed, scorned, and imitated as if it were all about the glory rather than the lesson.
     I was just this stupid kid who religiously listened to Morning View by Incubus on his discman. I would sleep in well past breakfast duty and I would stumble out of my tent while fumbling to turn my discman back on. The CD skipped with every step I took, even with the mechanism’s guaranteed skip-resistance.
     There was a chill in the air. It was that crisp autumnal feeling at 8 in the morning in Florida’s November that does the same thing to the brain as caffeine. It created the euphoria and excitement that a new world was beginning, and I very well might have a great roll to play in these new times. The fog lazily slept in too in the cow pasture of Ward Ranch in Ocala Florida. As the fog wrapped around a live oak I couldn’t help but think of Sleepy Hollow even though that story takes place in New York.
     The night before was weird just like every night a bunch of 11 to 18-year-old boys get together in the woods to venture into the dark beyond, leaving their Dads by the campfire. The Floridian Wilderness had this terrifying effect on us. All of us turned into different people, maybe the people we wanted to be like, like the movie and rock stars we emulated, or maybe like the people we really were when the adults were missing. It was scary sometimes. This was 2001 before being a decent human was respected in pop culture. This was very much when being a douchebag was popular and was probably about the time it peaked.
     We were deep into the damp clearings with the piles and piles of cow patties sprinkling the land like giant chocolate chip cookies. We crisscrossed like a Scooby Doo montage in and out of the murky envelopments of oaks and palms with all the creepy crawlies undulating in the pin hole beams of moonlight. Occasionally, we would gather together usually when one of us had come up with or recalled a great poop or dick joke. During the official final assembly of the evening before everything went to hell, Chris showed us the lizard he caught. I’m pretty sure it was a brown anole lizard. All flashlights were on Chris and his scaly captive like a theater spotlight that kept multiplying like a cell but then rejoined in an unsure fusion.
      Under the warming light cocooning Chris from November’s chill, he did that thing a lot of Floridian kids do. He held the lizard up to his ear lobe and rubbed the tip of the lizard’s mouth against it until the lizard chomped down onto his ear. Then, Chris let go and revealed his new jewelry to us.
     “Big deal,” Greg said.
     Chris took this as a challenge. He yanked the lizard off his ear and knelt beside the oak we were all being shielded by. He held the lizard against the exposed roots of the tree like a butcher holding a chicken against a chopping block. He whipped his multitool off his belt, flipped open the knife with his thumb, and cut off the poor lizard’s head.
     Looking back, my childhood feels like the childhood that old men are always grumbling about and yearning for, and I am wondering why. Maybe the unsupervised youth they are envisioning like the one I lived within is an unconscious craving for the pulling together of the Ayn Randian untethered adulthood filled with unaccountability and the unbound childhood that would lead up to that spoiled Howard Roarkian adulthood.
     Sometimes in the deep dark forests of Florida with my fellow scouts I thought of Lord of the Flies, especially when we played Manhunt. The lizard beheading prompted the game to begin as Greg and Lee claimed to be their favorite real-life FBI agents Mike Rogers and Frank Keating and that Chris was America’s Most Wanted.
     Troop 22 harbored and empowered very special types of nerds, military and law enforcement nerds. They were the guys who could name any gun, any battle, any tank, any famous soldier or police officer. A lot of these guys I was surrounded by probably did understand the weight of the time construct’s shifting from the canonized-in-marble 20th century to this empty slate century.
     At 14, the only thing I understood was that The Simpsons came on at 5 and again at 5:30. I also understood that I shouldn’t hang around Chris but I did anyway and during the Manhunt while we hid in the saw palmettos pulling ants out of our hair, Chris told me about mushrooms that grow out of cow poop and that the only reason he agreed to come on this stupid trip was to trip.
     Only a couple months before the nodule point of September 2001 during a summer jamboree at Camp Rainy Mountain in Clayton, Georgia I took a cooking merit badge course. The older boy who was teaching us younglings how to make campfire eclairs warned us about the dangers of drugs. Every merit badge course was like this, part related information part Mendez Foundation lessons. He told us that a friend of a friend heard a story about a scout who took mushrooms during a camping trip and ended up shooting himself in the head because he thought snakes were trying to crawl out of his ears. Greg made a joke about Darwinism and we all had a good laugh except for our teacher who still looked emotionally distraught by the story that sounded like it was ripped from a Reagan Era Just Say No health class video.
     It made me a little nervous thinking about eating the mushrooms, but it wasn’t the tripping balls part that racked my nerves. It was the idea of eating something that grew out of cow poop that was disturbing. Chris reminded me that everything we eat is covered in microscopic shit. It made sense to me when I was 14 and this teenism eased my mind.
     The flashlights bounced in the night and the beams hit me and Chris. We were spotted and therefor caught. During our hiding the game had evolved from FBI’s Most Wanted to Vietnam and we were now POWs, dragged by our shoulders to the giant oak tree that was being used as the Hanoi Hilton.
     A couple of the older boys doubled as prison guards and torturers. They didn’t pull our finger nails out, but it was pretty weird. They shined their flashlights in our faces and screamed at us. An 18-year-old human man named Travis took a branch and whacked Chris’s legs, hard enough to break flesh. I say this behavior is weird now, all this adolescent masculinity let loose in a dark forest, but it wasn’t weird to my 14-year-old self. Most of my impressions of “coming of age” came from movies like Stand by Me and Sleepers. The thing I did notice though was that in those movies there was always a tight knit group of three to five guys that had each other’s backs no matter what. All thirty of us were buddies and ran in and out of micro-cliques, but when the parents were away everybody turned on each other and everybody became Kiefer Sutherland’s character in Stand by Me.
     After Travis finished beating Chris’s calves, Chris threatened to kill Travis with his multitool as he failed to free his arms from the ropes.
     Every time one of us tried to run Travis and his cronies shoved us back down and spit in our faces. I think the only reason the older scouts ever joined us for Manhunt was to play these roles.
     The screams and the shaking beams of flashlights rumbled through the field.

     As I approached the campfire the next morning all of the guys told me to fuck off, so I fucked off. I deserved it. It was true. I didn’t help them make breakfast. I sauntered the fifty yards back to my tent and ate some chips, pretending I was Marlon Brando.
     Chris who had also slept in joined me in my tent and I handed him a bag of barbeque potato chips. Now that the blood was gone, his legs didn’t look so bad. It was still pretty weird that they whipped his legs and I could tell he was still pissed, but it wasn’t as gruesome as I thought. In the dark with the flashlights flying off and on, screwing my vision, I thought his skin was pulled back exposing his calf muscle tissue.
As we munched on the chips he muttered through his mouth of MSG-infused starch and asked if I wanted to look for cow patties.
     “Yes, I do,” I said. I feel I remember saying, “Let’s blow this meat popsicle stand,” but I probably didn’t say anything that cool.
     We marched away from the camp back into the Florida wilderness, this time with the sun on our back. I told Chris that I thought it was bullshit that Travis and his dildos ran away right before the game ended and Greg released us POWs. I said I thought he was a wimp and he knew Chris would have punched his face off. Although, this was 2001 and we were stupid 14-year-old boys with heads full of new millennium pop culture so what I really said was, “Man Chris, Travis is a fucking pussy bitch.” Those were unfortunately the days.
     So, we found a lot of cow patties and picked a lot of shrooms, but it wasn’t strawberry picking. We weren’t saving these bad boys in a basket, maybe eating a small handful to test it and saving the rest for later. We just ate them as we found them. We probably ate way too much. We didn’t even attempt to wash them off and for some reason I was over my fear of eating poop. Chris’s teenism about microscopic doodies being on everything must have really worked. So, we ate a bunch of shit with a side of mushrooms.
     Chris and I stopped eating them once we couldn’t find anymore and we walked deeper into the wilderness. The whole time we walked we poked and prodded each other about whether or not he was feeling it yet or if I was tripping my dick off yet.
     We finally sat down next to a pond after we both felt incredibly winded and our teenage speech patterns had disintegrated and I felt like an anthropomorphized woodland creature. I mean I didn’t think we had suddenly been transported into Yogi and Boo Boo’s bodies, but I did feel extra lanky like a bear on its hind legs and we had been walking for so long and the camp felt so far away that it did seem like that’s where the late morning was heading. And at this point, I wasn’t yet aware that the trip was starting. At 14, the hardest thing I had ever taken was some champagne during New Year’s Eve and even then, it might have just been that extra dry sparkling grape juice that recovering alcoholics bring with them to New Year’s Eve parties. It just felt like I was tired and was thinking about stupid shit. I was tired and thought about stupid shit all the time. At 31 I still do.
     Chris and I both threw rocks into the pond and that was when I understood that I was out of my element because the kerplunk sound of the rock passing the water surface combined with the visual of the ripples looked and sounded like the pond was saying HELLOOOOOOOOOOOO to me.
As we sat beside the pond that we had decided to name Lake Poop -- because we were 14 and not in the least bit idiosyncratic -- and noon approached Chris wouldn’t shut up about wanting to kill Travis. It was making me feel super uneasy and the more intense the trip became the more unhinged he seemed to be becoming. He eventually pulled out his multitool and started flipping the knife open and closed. All the neat visuals and auditory hallucinations faded into the background as I became extremely fearful that Chris in his state of uninhibited volatility he would suddenly stab me in the eye or that he would accidentally slash open an artery.
I asked him if he wanted to venture onward and he said yes, putting his tool back into his pocket. We headed in a direction, not sure which because we weren’t paying attention to the sun and didn’t have a compass with us. We were awful Boy Scouts, the worst. We weren’t prepared. We weren’t trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. We didn’t do good turns daily. We were not clean in our outdoor manners. We were not careful with fire. We were not considerate in the outdoors and we were not conservation minded.
     We ended up walking back into camp and I kept commenting on how the saw palmettos didn’t look real and that it looked like somebody had set fake plastic ones all over the ranch. Then, I commented on how the forest looked like anime. I don’t know why it looked like anime. It probably had to do with my anime obsession which took up the middle section of my brain, so it was kind of always on my mind, mixed with the psilocybin. Then, I noticed the leaves of the overgrowth in front of us flapping. It wasn’t all of the leaves like a breeze was picking them up. Every couple seconds a leaf would flap. I thought it was part of the hallucination, but then there was accompanying, zizzing whispers by my ears. My next thought was bees. It had to be bees. So, I asked Chris if he was seeing the super-fast bees pushing their way through the woods, like they were wearing little coats and fedoras with briefcase in hand and leaving forever through the leaf-doors.
     I wasn’t paying attention the previous day -- I usually wasn’t paying attention -- when Scout Master Nixon told us that we would be learning gun safety and then shooting the guns the next day. Chris and I had wandered behind the shooting range. It wasn’t frustrated bees wanting to start a new life in Missouri. It was a cousin of the bee, the 22-caliber bullet. I finally figured it out when Chris began screaming about his Dad and Vietnam. We hit the dirt and began army crawling, still not doing anything right because we were army crawling towards the firing guns. The bullets were still whizzing by our heads, so close to our squishy cat food brains.
     The bullets finally stopped, and I heard laughter.
     “Are they dead?” I heard Greg yell. Scout Master Nixon finally called for a cease fire, so Chris and I jumped to our feet and ran, bumbling on our trippy feet across the terrain until we were out of the line of sight and we ran right into Travis and his cronies. I literally ran into Travis’s chest. Chris and I, stopped in our fucked up and frightened tracks, looked up at the older boys, and gulped.
     “What are you pussies doing?” Travis said. “You pieces of shit smell like shit. What have you been doing? Eating shit all day?”
     Travis’s cronies, I called them Screwhead and Fuckwit, grabbed us by the arms and pulled them back. Chris and I squirmed in their grasp and probably called them a whole slew of names.
     “Yeah,” Chris said and spit in Travis’s eye. “So, what?”
     Travis scooped the spit, rubbed it into his fist, and punched Chris in the eye with it. Chris recovered for a moment, breathing heavy and I was positive I was going to get it next, but Travis didn’t touch me just like he hadn’t whipped me the night before. Travis reached out and touched Chris’s crotch through his pants. He began massaging Chris.
Chris kicked Travis in the balls and I kicked backwards hitting Fuckwit’s leg. Travis fell to his knees, clutching his crotch. Fuckwit fell over, taking me with him. Screwhead began choking Chris as I scrambled in the dirt with Fuckwit. The trip didn’t seem to be wearing off, so all of this was happening through a choppy, trailblazing filter.
I pushed my hands together and punched Fuckwit’s balls, feeling a crunch on the underside of my makeshift mallet. Fuckwit let go of me and shrieked. Chris was turning red and his windpipe was completely blocked, so I jumped back onto my feet, locked my hands back into the mallet position, and slammed down onto the top of Screwhead’s melon head. Screwhead toppled to the ground. I don’t know if I knocked him unconscious, but he definitely ceased to move.
Chris was panting on his knees holding his multitool with the knife extended. Travis was missing. I spun in place, turning myself into my favorite baby toy, a top. I even heard the tinny circus music chiming from the damn thing.
I took Chris’s hand, helped him up, and we bolted. The forest melted into one, and the oaks and palmettos became one green and brown Earthy blur. As the field revealed itself to us in the distance Travis jumped out of a saw palmetto and grabbed Chris by the ankle. Chris fell hard on top of Travis and there was another shriek. I kicked Travis in the balls and pulled Chris off of him. They were both splattered with blood. Chris’s multitool was sitting in Travis’s cheek and blood was pouring out of his mouth and the sides of the wound.
I laughed. I laughed really hard. So did Chris. Travis touched the handle with both hands and screamed. I had a problem for a long time after that incident. Anytime I saw anyone get stabbed in a movie or TV show I laughed really hard, even if it was an innocent person getting stabbed. Everyone I knew thought I was demented. I was demented, but oh well. I don’t laugh at stabbings anymore.
I kicked Travis in the dick again and Chris gave him a big kick in the crotch too. Travis moaned in pain and settled to the dirt, blood, and tears.
Then, Chris grabbed the handle and ripped the knife out of the pervert’s face. There was some rule in the Scouts handbook about never pulling out an object – like a twig or multitool – that has punctured a fellow scout. What a good scout was supposed to do was leave it in, wrap gauze around it, and find an adult to take the scout to the nearest hospital. We were not good scouts.

When we returned to camp that evening none of the adults confronted us about anything. Not our absence, our adventure behind the shooting range, Fuckwit’s crushed balls, Screwhead’s concussion, or Travis’s stabbed face. Chris and I couldn’t find any logs to sit on and neither of us ever remembered to bring camping chairs, so we didn’t stick around the campfire. We went back to my tent, ate barbeque chips, and listened to Incubus, sharing ear buds. We fell asleep with our legs sticking out of the tent.
The album was over, and it was dark again when Greg kicked our legs and told us that there was another game of Manhunt starting, so I guess we were asleep at least an hour. Chris and I joined them and as we sat in a saw palmetto and flicked ants and wolf spiders off our arms and necks, I asked Chris if he wanted to desert and go all Colonel Kurtz in the cow pasture again. He smiled, and we ran away into the dark woods, two levels removed from the old men sitting around the campfire.


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