Smiles in TV Land Abyss (a short story)

Before reading, I recommend watching this old TV commercial to better understand the story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovRaOfllGgw

Margaret gazed out the kitchen window, of what she could see anyways, most of it fogged and misted with fast-changing autumn.  She opened the Venetian blinds just a smidge to allow some fresher air to circulate around the small Victorian house.  There were the sounds of a gentle breeze blowing in spurts over the green Pennsylvania hills.  In the distance, the clunking sound of the neighbor’s car as it coughed to life.  Nature met with the sounds of man-made machines and Margaret clicked on the television, the telly, the tube– otherwise known in the scientific world as the cathode ray tube.

First, there was the initial and expected crackle and black and white fuzz as she turned the knob, followed by a quick pop as the signal intercepted.  She wiped the counters despite the already brushed shine, she swept the floor, she folded the clean clothes; she performed her role with a mixture of pride and as of late tint of sadness as autumn closed in.  The weather changed her moods, her conditions– always had, even since she was a small girl.  She did find herself content enough with her family life; two boys and a girl and a reliable husband, a typical middle-class life.  Her life was the epitome of the American dream; part of a healthy family unit and her husband George was a well-off enough miner that brought home enough bacon for the whole family, with some extra fat to spare as of late.

Lately she found herself trapped inside some sort of bubble of funk, wishing somehow for something more than what she had in front of her– even though the other voice would resound inside her louder, telling her that she was being ungrateful and appreciate the blessings she had in her life.  A cold wind seeped, weeped through the window, sent a chill down her spine, and for a moment brought her back to reality– which for the moment was an empty kitchen with the distant chatter of children playing in the other room and blare of the TV set in front of her.  A calendar posted on the fridge read October 1961.  The TV show she was watching stopped and a commercial popped on, caught her attention.

The black and white commercial showed a family of five (much like the size of her own) dressed in their vacation beach outfits, looks of undeniable happiness glazed on their faces.  Gosh, Margaret thought.  That family looks really happy.  Why are they so happy?  Then: why can’t we be more like them?  How can we become as fullfilled as they appear?  She found herself realizing that it’d been some four years since they had taken a family vacation, given George’s hectic work schedule.

The voice of a male narrator that sounded like the summon of God himself came on with an authoritative voice, beginning the commercial,” Safeguard’s family album presents: the traveling family who traveled 60,000 miles on just one bar of soap!”

The man in the commercial, seemingly speaking to the omniscient narrator then said,” No, ONE KIND of soap!” then the authoritative narrator replied,”SAFEGUARD!”, an attempt to let known the product for sale once more.  “COME ON, THE WHOLE FAMILY USED IT, THE BABY USED IT, THE TEENAGER USED IT, THE DEODORANT SOAP?!”

The narrator seemed excited about the soap, but as Margaret watched she didn’t notice that she had stopped what she was doing and had taken three steps closer to the tube, transfixed, sucked in.  The smiles on the faces of the couple and the kids were perfectly flawless, even the health of the family seemed to permeate a majestic glow that cut through the black and the white.  This is the quintessential family, Margaret thought.  This is what my family needs to be.  Maybe we even need to buy this soap to get onwards with our family vacation!

“Oh, this soap is more than that!,” claimed the man in the commercial.  Then the mother, a classy-in-appearance brunette said,” Safeguard helps prevent diaper rash and prevent acne!”  Everything was said with distinct cheerfulness without a micro-fiber of gloom.  “YOU’RE KIDDING, I THOUGHT SAFEGUARD WAS A DEODORANT SOAP!,” retorts the male narrator.

The black and white husband maintains his smile and glances at his black and white wife, says, ” Remember when we saw that baseball game at Yankees stadium?  Ha!  Ninety degrees temperature!” , to which the wife replies,” And we were still fresh enough to take in China town!”

The commercial allows the camera person to back away from the still frame of the ever-smiling family and then confirms in the loudest voice of the commercial yet, ” SAFEGUARD, THE ONE DEODORANT YOUR FAMILY NEEDS!”

Margaret stood in a paralyzed state as the commercial segued into another commercial and she found herself wishing to be that family and to somehow inhabit their happiness.  Suddenly, there was a sound that broke her thoughts– a loud tap, the sound of a fist knocking on glass and her eyes darted back to the television screen and before Margaret could even conclude if she had fallen asleep on the couch and was dreaming or not she saw the family had reappeared with their black and white cheerfulness and they were speaking to her, seductively from inside the tube.

“Hello Margaret, would you like to step inside and join us?,” he invited.  Her lips wouldn’t move to spell out a response and almost against her own will she found herself taking the husband’s hand and stepping into the portal of the TV.  There was a contrast of two very distinct worlds– the colors of autumn and her moody overcast, which suddenly was uplifted as the smiles of the black and white family welcomed her with warm smiles.  As she stepped into the new world, she gasped when she noticed that her skin and clothes were transforming from colored to black and white.  The blue kitchen apron that she wore now chameleoned into a grey, her face into a pale white and at first she felt herself transformed temporarily and blending in with this happy family.  The new air smelled of something ultra-sanitized to the point of olfactory numbness, similar to the smells of a hospital.  She found herself in a tiny kitchen with one small door near a rug that suggested WELCOME.

The black and white woman put her hand gently on Margaret’s shoulder and pulled out a chair for her.  “Oh, just have a seat, please be our guest,” the black and white wife perked.  It struck Margaret that the entire family had put on their morning clothing and switched out of their bathing suits at record speed.  The woman set a bowl of cereal in front of her.  Suddenly, a loud authoritative male voice spoke; the voice of the commercial omnipotent commercial God.  “START YOUR DAY RIGHT WITH NUTRITIOUS GRAIN FLAKES!,” he said.

Margaret felt slightly uncomfortable by the attention and hospitality.  The black and white husband brought her a container of soap on top of a white towel and set it on the table.  “SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” boomed the narrator from who-knows-where.

“Safeguard will make you clean,” said the black and white husband.  The kids gathered around the table and stared and her creepily, as if expecting something.  It made Margaret feel nervous, the way the eyes of these people burned into her skull.  They all continued to stare at her and watch anxiously as Margaret gathered the strength to take her first bite; the Grain Flakes tasted like rubber cement and was dry on her lips like cotton.

“What is this?,” Margaret asked them.  “How did I get here?”  It was at this moment she noticed the TV in the corner of the room, which reflected a mirror image of the other dimension, Margaret’s dimension, which was her couch and coffee table and blue carpeting– the family’s TV looked into her house, the only thing in color in this black and white room.  Margaret was in another dimension, gazing into the TV at her colored world.

Like a child planted in front of a television, Margaret was mesmerized, in a temporary conciousness of TV Land Zombia.  “We’d love to make you happy just like us,” said the black and white wife.  Suddenly, she had draped an apron over her dress as if she was prepared to cook.  “Yes, we can make you happy, just like us,” affirmed the patriarchal black and white husband.  “SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” commanded the domineering narrative voice from TV Land Abyss.

This has to be a dream, Margaret theorized to herself.  I fell asleep on the couch and just need to wake up.  She pinched herself twice and she felt pain on her forearm, even though she could not see the redness.  The mild pain was genuine real, so clearly this wasn’t a dream.

Margaret felt a cold liquid on her scalp.  “Hey!,” she cried out, startled.  The black and white wife had squeezed some of the Safeguard soap onto her head.  “One kind of soap!,” said the wife.  “This will make you happy just like us Margaret!”

The black and white family gathered closer to her, the parents taking the soap and working it into her hair.  The soap smelled akin to an ultra-sanitized hospital bed.  She felt like it was killing all of the cells on her head.  Margaret was increasingly becoming aware that there was something pretentious and fake of this family’s outer-appearance; their demeanor was naturally beginning to bring quivers of fear.

“SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” once again boomed the male narrator from TV Land Abyss.

“You can stay happy with us forever, Margaret,” suggested the black and white wife.  “Doesn’t that just sound fantastic?  We’ll lather you with Safeguard Soap once every half-hour and feed you Grain Flakes forever.  In our world, you’ll be able to stay ageless and we’ll keep you safe.  Safeguard soap will keep you young Margaret.  Safeguard brings infinite beauty, keeps your skin looking wonderful, is best for any family–“

My family.”  The words slipped out of Margaret’s mouth without her realizing it.  If this wasn’t a dream, how could she escape this place?  Would she be able to see her family again?   Or was this just a vivid dream?

Outside, she could hear birds chirping.  Either blue jays or robins.  That was it– maybe she could simply walk out the door and make the way back to her house!

She pushed the family’s hands and Safeguard soap aside and ran to the front door.  When she opened it, her jaw dropped, an elevator in a free fall without cables.

“Margaret, you cannot leave!,” the wife pleaded.  The wide smiles remained on her face despite the sentiment of desperation buried in her voice.  “Safeguard is the better soap, the key to happiness!  You won’t find happiness outside these doors!  Soon, you’ll learn to appreciate our family and the comforts the product provides!,” beamed the black and white wife.

Margaret gazed out the door opening, where there was only white noise; nothing, and then eternal black.  “There’s nothing out there, Margaret!,” said the black and white father.  “It’s only safe here in our house, where we are surrounded by superior products and happiness.  Can’t you see?  Won’t you appreciate this, Margaret?”

“SAFEGUARD, THE SUPERIOR SOAP,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.

It was at that moment that Margaret began to panic.  “I don’t care about your soap!,” she yelled.  ” I want to get back to my family! Now, let me go!”

Suddenly, the walls began to shake furiously like a seismic earthquake.  The black and whites continued to smile and stare at Margaret like an examined lab rat.  Clearly, they were superior lab rats, having conquered the Rat Race, emerging as victors concealed, cloked in forever-comfort.  A chunk of dry wall came crashing to the ground, nearly knocking Margaret on the head.  She dropped down in the fetal position behind the couch, covering her heard with her hands.

“YOU WILL NEVER SPEAK IN NEGATION OF SAFEGUARD, THE SUPERIOR SOAP,” boomed the narrative voice angrily.  “THERE IS NO SOAP ABOVE SAFEGUARD.”

“If you’ll just follow along with us, you’ll be happy,” said the wife.  “You’ll be able to fit right in with our family  and you can stay with us forever Margaret.”   The black and white kids jumped up and down with uncontainable jubilance.  The earthquake stopped after the wife squirted more soap into Margaret’s hair.  “Repeat after me,” instructed the wife.  “Safeguard, the superior soap.”

Margaret glanced at the color TV in horror and noticed that her husband had arrived home from work.  His suitcase was dropped at the front doormat and he was pacing around the room calling for someone, a worried look on his face.  There was no audio on the color TV.  Margaret placed her hands on the TV, wanting desperately to get back to the other side.  She felt only a cold TV screen; vacant, empty, mocking her inner-voice to the core.

“Oh, we should turn up the volume for her honey,” the husband suggested.  Smiling widely, the wife gracefully stepped across the living room and grabbed a remote, pressed the volume upwards.

“Margaret!,” she heard her husband’s voice call out through the house.  Painfully, she watched.  Tears swelled up in her eyes.  She watched him rush outside, then run back inside and dial the police on the phone.  Suddenly the TV changed to a black and white commercial for Safeguard soap, like the ultimate insult.  The rest of the family smiled.  Wider.  Wider.  They poured soap onto her head and she fell to the carpet and cried.

“Safeguard Soap works better for everybody, Margaret!,” beamed the black and white wife.  “Ha! Even for Margaret!,” added the black and white husband.

After the commercial, it segued back to the birds’ eye view of her house.  Where was the camera recording this? Margaret wondered.  it appeared as if it were attached and angled from her ceiling.

Margaret had been stuck inside this commercial nightmare for hours now and the happy facade the family emitted was still there.  It made her sick, the glow that covered something truly dark, smiles laced on lame minds, happiness tied to nothing more elusive than the ultimatum and bottom line of a plastic product.  Plasticity.  She looked into the faces of the black and white family and saw actors and actress, all firm in their happiness since they had been bought and paid for to behave this way.  Surface happiness, and beneath it a layer of hardened concrete, layer after layer of things as short-lived and mundane as Safeguard soap.  These people had the mystery of life sucked right out of them for definite answers, their so-called tolerance for her was only to manipulate her and make her just like them, to force her into submission and material purpose.  She no longer wanted to aspire for this kind of cheap imitation happiness for her own family; she only wanted to go home, to feel loved, to love, to get away from this twisted version of it.  Margaret thought back to before her family and everyone else owned TV sets, back when neighbors would sit out on lawn chairs in the  fresh summer air and talk about anything and everything while the kids laughed and chased each other around, did things like throw pinecones at each other. It seemed that the transition from that distant life to the life of gathering around a glowing TV screen all happened within the breath of a month and the blink of an eye.  Now, instead of families walking the neighborhood and talking outside, there was only silence, the hum of the street lights, the containment of the neighborhood.

Not till now did this dawn on her, as she stole the Safeguard soap from the black and white wife’s hands, and then dumping every last drop onto the carpet, somehow redeemed herself.  She could now see her husband on the reality side of the screen looking in at her, frantically trying to find a way inside the TV box to rescue her.

“Noooooooo!,” the black and white wife cried.  “Safeguard is the better soap!  You’re ruining it! ” She continued to allow the soap to ooze out drip by drip, and then thrust the plastic bottle into a corner of the room with a CLANK.

“Forget about your worthless soap! You are all insane!”

Margaret flipped the table upside down with fury and proceeded to destroy the house.  China silverware and cutlery was thrown around the room.  She broke the windows by throwing chairs around in a tornado whirlwind.  She didn’t stop until she was out of breath and drenched in her own sweat, completely finished.

“STOP THAT, NOW! ,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.  “SAFEGUARD IS QUALITY SOAP AND YOU ARE DIMINISHING IT’S NAME!”

The family’s smiles almost instantly transformed from plastic happiness to an ugliness that couldn’t be described in words and their perfectly white teeth changed to jagged yellow (or what was left of them) and their smooth, healthy shining skin metamorphized to a slimy, rough reptilian surface and the whites of their eyes glazed over to a fury red, and slowly they crept towards Margaret, cornering her into the now-demolished room.  The lie of the perfect family was unmasked, something sinister revealed; nothing was for sale anymore.

“Von’t vou vunderstand, Vargaret! Vaccept vand voin vus vow!,” the black and white lizards croaked.  ” LISTEN TO THEM OR THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES, MARGARET!,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.

On the other dimension of the TV, Margaret saw her husband banging on the glass, a look of glassed horror on his face as they closed in on her.  There was nothing he could do.

“Vit vis vover vow, Vargaret,” hissed the black and white lizard husband. “Vwe vwill vestroy vou.”

As they crept closer, Margaret had an idea that occured to her and she quickly pulled out a small bottle of hand sanitizer she remembered was in her pocket.  She unscrewed the dispensing lid and chucked gobs of liquid at the black and white lizards.  Their soft mannequin hands had evolved razor-sharp claw; they could easily tear her apart.

“Clearflow, the better soap, you bastards!,” she screamed, and as the soap fell onto their face, they cringed and fell convulsing to the carpet below them.

The room shook with fury and the walls caved in as the narrator from TV Land Abyss cried that the advertisement was ruined and all hope was lost; that the eternal smile had now burned out and for a moment, maybe just one wasted TV Land second, there was a breath of truth.

Then everything in Margaret’s vision went black.

**************************************

She awoke on the couch in her own house, surrounded by her family.  She found the TV smashed and in pieces, a sledge hammer lying next to it; it was almost comical.  Instead, they decided to go for a walk for the evening.  As they were walking to the front door to escape to outside, there was a ring at the doorbell.  Margaret gasped when she opened the door and saw two familiar ghostly pale faces, smeared in make-up and fake smiles.  It was the black and whites and the wife held in her hands a canister of soap.

“Hi!,” she beamed.  “We just moved in next door.  Thought we’d be kind and invite our neighbors over for a house warming party and we’d love to show you this new product that we are using!  What’s wrong?  You look pale, Margaret!  We’ll have a golly great time!”

Top 8 Traits of a Successful Super Fancy Business Man or Woman

Clearly, becoming a Super Fancy business man or woman is not for everyone. In an increasingly competitive global and connected Internet market, not everyone can afford to sell their soul for giant pieces of real estate and Hollywood mansions. How do you know it’s for you? Proper Big Business etiquette starts with fakery, legal thievery, and a mindset to follow the guidelines of the eight traits below:

1) An air of importance and superiority. From the morning conferences, to the daily checking of the stock market and other investments, to riding in a limousine or taxi, to taking a dump in a porcelain toilet– they do it in a manner of superior air and privilege above all other humans.

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2) They work harder than everyone else, as long as it does not involve actual physical labor. Successful super fancy business men and women around the world love to micromanage and create tasks for others to do and “create jobs” with their endless piles of cash– but put in an actual labor job before their eyes and they’ll be sure to disappear before you can say the word wage and they’ll set off immediately to assign someone else for the labor.

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3) Relentless ambition. From their so-called associates to business partners, successful super fancy business men and women will stomp all over their compatriots in a heat beat if it gets in the way of their “vision” of financial gain and power. At the end of the day, you can find these gems of society possibly smoking a cigar or drinking a glass of wine and celebrating business-as-usual. Upon viewing their excrement in a porcelain toilet, they may find its’ essence to be a shimmering golden nugget. Even the bathroom may be decorated with various awards and degrees to showcase their betterment than everyone else. You can find their social networks pampered with exorbitant awards and visuals of do-gooding and other collections of half-truths.
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4) Over-confidence. Have a good idea you want to share with a super fancy business man or woman? You better not do it without first bowing down to these Harvard-graduated, leopard-scarf wearing, pricey cologne-perfume scented, classist, fascist people who consider themselves Gods. They’re way more creative, more efficient, more savvy, more logical, better for business, better for the environment, promote more workplace equalness, and anything that comes out of their mouth hole is better than thou. So loosen your tie, put your head down, and roll out the red carpet for a Super fancy business man or woman who will save the day or even the world, all while increasing profits and the companies’ trade worth.

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5) Sense of purpose above others. Is your city or town bankrupt? Need a billionaire Super Fancy business man or woman to save the day? No problem. These elitist leaders have more purpose than any existing primates and will gladly demolish your historic towns and pull in their big business ventures. That’s a historic church, you say? Well let’s give this town a sense of purpose by ripping it down, stripping it of its’ character, and in its’ place building monochrome neighborhoods and Corporate banks. Watch a Super fancy business man or woman stride through uptown on any day of the week and you better believe they’ll let you know who you’re dealing with.
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6) Bravery in the workplace. In this constant, fast-paced, fast-priced, dog-eat-dog business climate, a Super Fancy business man or woman has to acquire bravery to rise to the top of the Rat Race. Firing employees if it affects the overhead cost-profit margin too much, sending business overseas at any time, or even going where no Super Fancy business man or woman has gone before and replacing mom and pap businesses with characterless Corporate franchises. A billionaire has to be brave when he or she has nothing to lose but a few measly million-dollar investments.
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7) Their words are impeccable, and only because they said so. If a Super Fancy business man or woman tells you they “care about the environment” or the “future of the community” or “reducing pollution”, you better believe it without question since they are the authority. As long as these words lead to power and profits, you can bet your bottom dollar and last unpolluted river that they’ll tell their customers whatever it is that they want to hear. Now go buy yourself a five-dollar Starbucks coffee chump, and save the environment while conversing with others about synergy and company core values.

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8) They care about your future. Of course they do, because Super Fancy business men and women own most of the world’s money and resources in theory, locked up in bank vaults while others starve. They care about what they are investing in and the piles of mass consumed garbage around the world can prove it. Super Fancy business men and women know what’s best for everyone at every time, and the bureaucrats and police authorities support them above others. Now stop reading this and get out of the way– there is progress to be made, loser!

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The Graveyard Salesman

He was in the business of selling stocks in souls for five cents a share. As the supply went down and the demand went up, the price for sale was set to rise exponentially. Profits to be made were at hand. With a black briefcase full of sparks and a fast hands, the graveyard salesman was in it to make quick and easy sales.

He walked up and down the rows of cracked stone grave markers, some old, some new and freshly waxed with fancy gravestone quotes. If one didn’t know any better, one would have thought even in the afterlife there was a caste system readily in place. Some angels were better than others, some devils were of lesser evils. Some required so much paperwork that the others didn’t know where to send them. “Aaaaaah, take a number and have a seat,” a woman in stiletto heels and a fat cigar lit in her mouth mumbled in between puffs at the pearly gates. She shuffled a mound of paperwork restlessly, some blowing down and torching at the edges, others blowing in the wind and evaporating in the clouds. ” Eh, just go back, there’s too much paperwork and we don’t have the time.”

But that was then, this was here. Here was a dark night out of a Hollywood B-side movie on a rainy night as the wolves howled in the distance, the owl hooted from a direction the wind would not suggest, and nobody was around but a weary traveler and a graveyard full of healthy ghosts from different eras and strange, separate but elusively still-connected lives.

The graveyard salesman trotted on, passing the traveler and his dirty rucksack where it lay next to a pile of dusty clothes used as a makeshift pillows. He thought of stopping to try and sell him something but years of tele-marketing, social network-marketing, door-to-door selling and graveyard marketing informed him that a living person that slept in graveyards probably didn’t want to buy anything. So he let him peacefully to dream, one half of his mind out of this world, the other half on a pile of crinkled, dirty traveler’s apparel.

” Step right up!,” the graveyard salesman called out as he approached a group of young twenty-somethings dancing to Elvis. They all had died in a car crash years ago. “Step right up and buy something, we’ve got everything you’d ever want! Everything you’ll ever need and then some! Buy it today, not tomorrow! Financing available! Pay installments forever!” (This last tactic only worked since they were already dead and they existed only in a state of foreverism, so there would be plenty of time to pay bills)

The youth kept dancing, the music blasting from a tired set of crackly speakers and a scratchy, dust-blown record player. The voice of Elvis came out of the speakers like a fast-whipping hurricane:

I look at window
and what to I see
I see a bird
way up in the tree
I want to be free free

He offered them an Iphone, for sale on discount since it was a slightly expired model. To this generation, it should be something unimaginably futuristic and something to impress their friends with. The graveyard salesman even offered in a free solar panel thrown in the deal, all only for the price of 299.99, plus taxes, thank you very much, so they could charge their gadgets during the day and use them when they came alive at night.

“Imagine a juke box that fits into the palm of your hand! All of your music to dance to at your fingertips! Everything you could ever need to be happy and then some!”

The group just exchanged confused glances as they turned down the music and they passed.

Onwards to the next gravestone, that a man who died of cancer in his early forties only ten years ago. The man was in a long-sleeve white shirt, black pants and a loosened red tie. His shirt was torn, shredded and his face seemed frozen, unchangeable and blank.

“How about you, good sir? Surely, you would be interested in mortgaging a house for the low, low price of 300,000 dollars!” He popped open his briefcase and sparks and fireworks shot out, lighting the dark night sky. A hologram of a beautiful modern home in suburbia shot up onto display.

“This beauuuuuuuutiful home has 12 bedrooms, three bathrooms, a four-car garage, a 100-acre property that overlooks a beach and if you buy today, we can finance forever with low, low installments of only 200 dollars a month! Surely upon buying this good sir, as I can see you need happiness, you will be the happiest person on your block! All of your neighbors will be jealous and envy of your obvious success! So how about sir? Would you like to sign on the dotted line and move into today? Oh yes, and not to mention the fact that the government is offering a no-tax incentive for buyers that have left this Earth! So how ’bout it buddy? You look like you could use a new home!”

The man shook his head, said nothing and nonchalantly set down an old picture of a woman and two kids, frayed at the edges onto the cold ground. The graveyard salesman moved on, to an old gravestone with cracks and cobwebs draped around it. The man had died in the early 1800s of small pox while in his late-twenties.

The man wore a wig, tight brown pants, black boots, and a dignified tan shirt which had the air of aristocracy. He clearly was of European decent and held a prominent position in the society before he checked out.

“Hello, good fine gentleman! Surely I could think of something just right to sell to you! Surely your wife would like a new dress? How about four new horses for your carriage? The automotive revolution doesn’t come till over 100 years from now, but until then you have plenty of materialistic things to indulge yourself and family into! How about an umbrella to keep you dry amongst all this rain tonight? It’s one that surely has an aura of class for a gentleman of high-society as yourself and it comes with a pair of leather boots, all included complimentary!”

A woman in a long red dress suddenly appeared next to the man, glanced the graveyard salesman up and down and held the 19th century gentleman’s hand. “How about something for the lovely lady? Why yes, surely the lovely lady would like some perfume! I’m not sure how the afterlife smells, but it could always smell better for you! If not that, maybe you’d like to invest in the oil industry? Let me just give you a clever hint that it’s bound to make you a rich man sir! Why yes, I can offer you happiness in the form of tangible things, how ’bout it! Just step right up!”

They declined and went back to dancing to slow music, banjos and acoustic guitar, piano and fiddle.

Gravestone to gravestone and the salesman just wasn’t having any luck. Nothing he wanted to sell could be sold to the ghosts, no matter how hard he tried. His commission rates of zero floated through his head and haunted him as he left the cemetery. The salesman’s boots sunk into the soft mud and a coyote eyed him curiously as he walked out onto the main road, shortly after darting back into the bushes and field just beyond. The sun was now rising and morning was rising in a mist of fog and the rain had transformed into a light mist.

He found the first home he could in the land of suburbia. A newer black SUV and a red car set in a freshly-paved driveway and perfectly manicured lawn. The house belonged to a small family of four yet looked like you could fit about four families of ten inside it comfortably. The graveyard salesman became the suburbia salesman and he knocked firmly, two times on a wooden door.

A woman answered the door, as first tentative, but then seeing his shiny black briefcase and hearing his spill she offered him inside. ” Mam, I can offer you anything you might need. How about a new 30-inch plasma TV? A new Iphone? A shiny new car? A short vacation to a far off land where people serve you as you sip martinis? How about some imitation happiness, manufactured in a country just shortly off our own country’s shores? That’s been selling well lately, lots, lots, LOTS of satisfied customers! Why, of course, we offer payment plans with minimal interest rates!”

Before long, the graveyard salesman’s eyes were lit up in dollars and people from all over the neighborhood were lining right up. “Cometh all ye idiots, gather in long lines of blissful consumerism and order ye IPhones!,” he called out over a loudspeaker. He could always count on the next person in line to spend more money on the bigger and better version than the former.

He poured his profits in his briefcase and set off down the road, with the intention from now on to avoid the living at all costs.

He was in the business of selling souls for ten cents a share; stocks were rising.

Tabletop Mountain (Golden, CO)

At the entrance to the trail head at the furthest point the small bus of Golden is willing to take us, we begin to ascend up a winding switchback to the top of Tabletop Mountain in Golden. The mountain is a series of jagged rocks and sharp switchbacks with some scrambling at the peak. Formed through volcanic activity millions of years ago (the mountain is now dormant), it has an aged-appearance of something that is timeless and doesn’t bend or forgive to man’s petty 30 to 100 years spent on this planet. We are minuscule; a tiny drop of sand along the ocean, tiny glint of light in the galaxy, a soggy corn flake at the bottom of your morning cereal bowl. The mountain has many paths, all of which lead to death– but you’re free to enjoy whichever path you choose. That’s the gift of life.
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The erosion of sand along the trail makes it slick in some spots and it makes it difficult at time to find your footing. I find myself wishing I had brought boots rather than running sneaks. The view from the top is stunning, although everything in mountain country tends to lean this way. Below, there is the Coors brewery with its’ faded paint mixed with the pungent smell of hops and refinery. The smell is intoxicating and my taste buds and stomach crave for a fresh beer, yet up here there is just dust, grime, sunlight. The sun shoots a blanket of heat down to the hardened canopy below.
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Along the trail, there is an abandoned Home Depot shopping cart and a black widow with a red dot on the abdomen nestled beside it. It’s good to keep your eyes open before you sit down. The red hourglass on the body serves as nature’s warning for other birds thinking of dining on the poisonous spider; however, some birds dine on them anyways and pay the consequence.

Being how high up on the ridge we are, one has to ask how the shopping cart actually got there. Did someone drag it all the way to the top? Attached to the front handles of the cart is a hardened rope. It seems too steep for someone to have pulled it to the top though. It’s not till we get to the top that we realize there are other paths that are less steep that lead to the same confluence and someone could have perhaps took it along the straighter path and pushed it off the cliff…? But why, and what’s the story? You can make a guess.
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The height of Tabletop Mountain is only over 6,000 feet so it’s nothing to grueling but an efficiently-timed day hike that’s easy to squeeze into about any schedule. At the top, we stop to enjoy the view. The sky is clear blue with scattered puffs of white clouds like something out of a picture book. The artistry in the sky is nonchalant in attitude. Cactus sprout up occasionally. Someone has placed a pacifier on the branch of a bush along the descending trail. Suck on that as a landmark! There is something that’s not as nerving when you see an object along the trail of the sort that someone has put thought behind it. It’s the discarded and empty beer bottles along the beginnings of trail heads that piss me off. And why is it, almost always, that they are at the beginnings of the trails and less frequent at the top? As another mark of the sloppy people that mindlessly discard aluminum cans into the bush, most are too lazy to even make it to the top.
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On the descending trail, there is suddenly less sun and more shade offered as the sun is on the other side. We are now on the west side of the mountain. Here the climate has changed enough to offer different plant and wildlife. Sparrows shoot back and forth in between the valley. A tiny, furry critter on four legs darts between bushes along the trail but is unrecognizable. Near the bottom of the trail nearest the houses and a residential neighborhood, we stumble upon a rattlesnake which upon closer inspection turns out to be dead. Someone has taken it upon his or herself to chop off its’ head. Now nature is taking its’ course with every small insect from flies to bees bringing it back to where it came from– just dust in the ground.
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Magpies congregate at the beginning of the trail head where we began this trek; yapping away and flying from the pine tree to the wooden fence of the house beside it. The mountain said, “there are multiple trails. All which lead to death.” Still, they often times end up taking you back to the same place you came from, except it looks altogether different this time around.

Backpack Full of Bush Dust

A caravan with a camper trailer cuts us off causing the driver to swerve out of the way. She just about honks the horn but something causes her to refrain. “Oh well,” she says. “Without tourism this town would die.” This is in the small town of Ingham, Australia.
The car rambles on, the motor thumping away at the beat of its’ last legs of life. The lady who has offered me a ride is an older country woman. “We have a chicken at the farm that lays 8 to 10 eggs each day,” she says with a measure of pride.

Hitchhiking has been slow-going and tough in this area.
On a winding road through the tropical region near Cairns and sprawls of sugar cane plantations I wait on the side of the road for over two hours before a ride finally comes. One short ride had gotten me into a tough spot where the traffic was too fast and it was difficult for anyone to pull over, even if they wanted to.
I get a lift from an Aboriginal man named Matt, who has picked up a couple that are hitchhiking together all around Australia. Not only are they hitchhiking Australia but they say they have been continuously wandering the roads, landscape and culture of Australia for over five years. They make their travel money from their online business. They seem cautious to tell me exactly what that online business is.
Matt, the driver works for a company called Linked-In that helps Aboriginal people link with their lost relatives from the Stolen Generation. I ask him what his job ensues.

“It’s a mixture of using library databases, computers, and speaking with local communities,” he says. “Some kids were taken away as far as New Zealand, even the United States in some instances.”
Amanda tells me a story about her and Alex driving a desolate road in Australia once and a man came out of the bushes with torn clothing and a three-foot long beard. “We usually pick up every hitchhiker we see, it’s our commitment,” she said. “But that was the one guy we actually passed up. “He looked like he had been living in the bush for years.”
Hours later, we arrive in Cairns and I call Max my host. He says that he won’t be around till tomorrow, so it looks like I’ll be camping again tonight. I throw out my guitar case and busk for awhile and in over an hour I’ve done considerably well. People appreciate the music, except for a disgruntled fat woman who acts as the authoritative manager and tells me I have to move along. I wonder how she would feel if someone came and told her to “move along” with her job? I’m creating a pleasant atmosphere for her customers; some people can be thoughtless and robotic in nature.

I can’t fully blame her though. It’s only the pressures and the weight of the world. Her boss pressures her to behave and remain obedient to the rules of the Corporate Masters.

I stealth camp right in front of the grocery store, in a small island of grass filled with trees. I lay low inside my bevy sack and take shelter from the misty rain that falls and comes down off the mountains.

Read more by purchasing the book “Backpack Full of Bush Dust” by J.R. Clancy, available for paperback and Kindle on Amazon!

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Back in the Saddle– Misadventures to Come

In less than a week, I’ll be either sharing a ride or hitchhiking to Los Angeles, California to fly out to Bangkok, Thailand for a self-supported bicycle trip around the country of Thailand. I’ll be cycling in Thailand-Malaysia for a month and ending the first segment in Singapore. On April second, I will be flying out of Singapore and into Darwin, Australia. The next three months or so will be spent cycling and exploring the Outback and the eastern coast of Australia. (that is the plan anyways!)

Here is a picture of my intended route of Thailand-Malaysia and Australia (up for improvisation of course!) Solid lines are intended cycling and broken lines are intended bus/hitchhiking.

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I’ve never traveled to either one of the countries ever in my life, and I do not speak a lick of Thai. If you have been following the news, Bangkok has been going through a sort of people’s revolution at the moment, so things might get interesting. I will be winging it and hopefully meeting lots of locals and wild camping along the trip, in both countries. I’ve been living frugally and saving for this trip for some time. I’ll also be living frugally during the trip in order to stretch my funds. It makes it for a more interesting trip and more adventuresome– I won’t be staying in any five star hotels, although I might give in and stay in a hostel or two here and there.

As I said in my earlier post, I’ll be bringing a Dahon folding bicycle as it can be shipped easier (and hopefully for less hassle and without bogus fees!) on the airplanes. My plan is to package the bike each time into a cardboard box, which I can discard once I reach my destination. Three flights- one from LA to Bangkok, one from Singapore to Darwin, and one (that I have not yet booked) most likely from Darwin back to LA. I’m not sure that I’ll find time to post here as I travel (or want to, really) but I will be posting some pictures and reflections if not during, definitely upon the return from the trip in about four months.

I’ve been thinking about and dreaming of this trip more or less since I returned from previous travels, and it’s hard to believe it’s around the corner. I’d like to connect with other travelers on this blog and swap stories, especially with vagabond- bicycle tourist-musician type travelers.

Where are you traveling? Why are you going there? I’m interested in your stories.

Why not go on the trip you’ve been dreaming about? I’ve always been interested in Australia and Southeast Asia. I think bicycle is the best form of travel in my experience and a great way to meet people and move at a decent pace as you go. Not to mention that you get exercise and stay healthy as you do so. You are able to travel with goals and you don’t waste time just lounging on beaches with the other tourists. I can’t wait to eat as much Thai food as I possibly can!

It’s about following passion, it’s about improvising with limited resources and using your imagination. Being committed to following what you love and honestly, thinking for yourself, listening to but also developing one’s own opinions through travel. Supporting everyone else who stays true to who they are. I’ll be bringing a small travel guitar, of course. (gotta keep chops up and I’m sure I will meet musicians on the road)

Who knows what’s going to happen along the way. Misadventures are bound to happen and they’re always the shittiest things to go through when they happen, but the best to talk and laugh about in hindsight. I’m going to have the time of my life no matter what.

What I’ll Be Bringing

Life on the road will include the following: (I’m going minimal as possible this time to save weight!)

1 Dahon folding bicycle

1 spare tube ( no more, I figure I can patch them as I go and buy more if needed at a local bicycle shop)

1 mini bike pump

1 sleeping bag

1 bivvy sack (in case I get stuck in rain in the middle of the country!– this replaces the bulk weight of having a tent)

1 pair of pants

1 nice shirt (for going to dinner, stuff like that)

1 shorts

1 shirt

3 boxers

3 pair socks

1 tire lever

1 bicycle lubricant

2 bicycle panniers

1 toothbrush, tube of toothpaste

1 raincoat

1 pair shoes

1 pair lightweight sandals

1 Martin travel guitar (weighs 2 pounds!)

1 journal, 1 I-Touch device (for pictures and Wi-fi connection)

If anything goes majorly wrong with the bike– which I hope it doesn’t but could happen– I’ll just hitch into the next town and have it fixed. It’s not worth it to me to carry heavy tools around to fix it myself on the road. Every kilo counts! Life will be simple– the less the better. Really, what more does a person need?!

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(The bike, loaded down. )

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(Makeshift backpack for carrying my guitar and food/ what-not. A good use of an otherwise junk backpack.)

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(More or less everything I will be carrying on the trip.)

In First Review: The Dahon Folding Bicycle

ImageThe Dahon folding bicycle fits well into place along San Diego beaches.

 

Have you ever been in the position where you’d like to take your bicycle somewhere but transporting it to that place hold you back?  Take, for example, fitting a full-sized road bicycle onto a crowded train that has no designated area for bicycles during rush hour in a city.  Or bringing your bicycle overseas to bicycle tour in a foreign country.  Or commuting by bicycle to work but having no convenient area in your small office to store it safely while working. Dahon offers a possible solution to these problems for cyclists. 

Personally, I’ve toured the United States and Europe a few times and folding bicycles and it truly is nice to have over twenty gears to choose from, especially on long stretches of rolling hills or mountain passes– this, of course, is a no-brainer.  However, I’d reached a point in my bicycle touring adventures where I had to come to a compromise.  

Developing my style of travel, I’ve decided that it’s nice to have the option to hop off the bike and take a train or hitchhike whenever one feels like up.  It can help to change the pace and also break up what can become monotony while cycling– which is, ironically, usually the very reason one jumps on a bicycle and starts riding cross-country in the first place.

So enter the Dahon folding bicycle, pictured above.  It folds at four key points in less than a minute, making it for easy transportation.  It can fit easily into any car (which is often a problem unless one has a proper bicycle rack), it can fit easily into trains (without taking up too much space), and it can easily be transported from one country to the next on planes (hopefully without excess fees, more to come on that!).

So I took the Dahon folding bicycle on a mini-adventure to San Diego from Denver, Colorado to really test this bicycle out.  I could ride it around locally all day long, but the real test for me is how it holds up on long-distance trips– the ultimate test is coming up soon when I fly into Bangkok, Thailand with it at the end of this month and start cycle touring Southeast Asia.  

So, after a mix of hitchhiking and cycling from Denver to San Diego and back, I’ve got the results in my experience to all interested!

Portability- This bike has proven to be extremely portable!  I fit it into a tiny little Mazda hatchback with four passengers total and extra luggage without a problem.  The Dahon bicycle folds once in the center, and at the front fork so the handlebars come down.  The pedals also fold inwards.  In total, the bicycle weighs close to twenty pounds–extremely light!  The model I have also has a rear rack for touring or town commuting.

ImageDahon bike folded nicely along the road while hitchhiking in northern-inland California.  

Rideability-  I was questioning this one when I bought the bike.  I thought it might feel like a cheesy kids’ bike and not something truly roadworthy.  To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong.  It handles and feels like a real bicycle, and I’m confident to take it touring with me.  It handles bumps smoothly, doesn’t make any strange squeaky noises, and moves at a surprisingly quick speed.  Hills, however, can be more challenging, but nothing that will make someone determined enough quit.  The steering can take some getting used to– a bit different than a regular road bike for sure.

Affordability-  There are a variety of models available online starting around $500.  One site worth checking out is nycewheels.com.  

Touring Worthiness? -  In my experience so far, yes.  I only had one flat so far, and since the wheels on mine are only a size 20, they were thoroughly easy to change tubes on (sure beats fighting with a mountain bike tire!) and maintenance on this bike is very simple.  Only having seven gears to choose from keeps things simple, although slightly a bit more challenging.  

Overall, I would give these bicycles a 9 out of 10– 9 being because there doesn’t seem to be a place on my bike to install a simple water bottle holder.  Perhaps I’ll have to drill installments myself!  More reviews to come on this bike, and follow the blog to track my bicycle trip through southeast Asia on a Dahon folding bicycle!  

In the meantime, check out the bicycles available on Nyce Wheels here:

http://www.nycewheels.com/dahon-folding-bike.html Continue reading