I found him on a bar stall in Virginia, hanging from a noose strung from the moon, chattering obscurities, drunk as a skunk. His eyes were full of the mountain snow that reached up above us, even now, at the end of may. They licked down every woman in the room. I'd been searching for the artist of the penis etched on every bathroom stall I'd entered, and now, I realised, I'd finally found him.
"My name is Al, what’s your name?", he drawls, and breathes close to me, smelling quite like a wet otter. The white balls just below his forehead seem ready to pop out, full of salty water from the ocean. "Yeahhh, I drive everywhere; Canada, Mehico, all across the United States", he grins. "In a big truck, the biggest you can have, one which carries houses and stuff, you know? Earn two hundred thousand a year...nothing to do with it though.."
The karaoke drowns the bar. I have to move closer to him to hear anything. This would be what is commonly known as a redneck drinking hole, but here, unlike those of the north, there is a warm sense of comradery. "Your trough is here too? Well, drink on up, partner".
"I like this place", Al says, "I’ve been visiting here for twenty five years…they won’t screw you here, steal your money or overcharge you…It’s a good place to be..". He buys us drinks, Lee and I, the first Englishman I'd encountered in three months. Lee gazes at Al in wonder, like he'd just appeared there, out of nowhere, out of a trucker's hat, like a rabbit.
Lee picked me up in the Appalachians, North Carolina, an hour's walk from my friend's small little mountain cabin full of mice, wine, tea and chocolate. My friend had drunk solitude like water, and two weeks after arriving, it was time to leave with scribbled words and books, into the rain and north to Québec. Disappointment has a way of adding up, but the cabin had been nourishing and warm.
He was exploring the roads, searching for bears, mountain peaks and avoiding skunks. "I'm gonna take you to hooters, Jass, you can't leave the states without going..." and so we went, drowned in throngs of nipples tight against white shirts and beer guts. And then - the announcement that to drink at this fine establishment, one must have a US identity card. Uh huh..
Here, southern blue grass songs lick the walls sung by middle aged men and women with perfectly rounded beer bellies, with the tattoos of partners that they’d long since forgotten adorning their arms, bellowing their songs without the need to read the lyrics flashing on the screen.
"You know, I don't know about you..", Lee murmurs in my ear with his thick midlands accent, despite having living here for seven years, "but I think most of these women could be anywhere from nineteen to forty five, eh eh eh?", Lee says, "but back home, you wouldn't see a girl with tatts like that, know what I mean?" He speaks in particular of a woman standing at the bar with blond hair pulled into a ponytail that makes her look remarkably like a donkey with large bucket like breasts and a bowling ball stomach. "But I tell you what, I wouldn’t fancy a fight with any one of them". Their arms were like tree trunks.
Al touches me on the arm as if desperate for attention. Sitting on a bar stall, his height is elevated to my own, but looking down at his legs, they seem to be that of a small jumping jack.
"I have a massager in my seat, in my truck", he says. I react as if being blessed a tibetan lama. "But", he smiles in delight, "it’s not a normal chair. See, one time, I was walking in a field and had to climb a fence. Can’t remember what I was doing there, mind…but I was walking, I know that. Oh, yeah... there were cows and I’d been camping. I thought they would come and eat me. Cows are mysterious alien like creatures, don’t you think? Anyway, so I’d packed up and was trying to avoid them. Every time I moved, the herd followed me. See, I had to climb over a fence into where they were and then back over again to get to the road. They weren’t there when I’d been there in the night. I step on the fence and get a big shock. I forget about the cows. They stare at me. But oh, how glorious it was to touch this fence! Oh oh oh..."
He becomes lost in his memories, murmuring. I don't see it, but I can sense his saliva dripping down onto the bar.
"Oh...it was so good…I stayed there all day fondling it, writhing it over my back, oh such pleasure I have never known. The cows lost interest. Maybe they thought I was crazy. In the evening, a farmer came and asked me what I was doing. I tell him. He turns away in disgust. How I laughed! I was in heaven…such heaven.. The farmer returns with a shotgun and I scamper off, my skin leaping at the sky...
"So you know, I had to get an electric shock therapy machine in my truck, so now I can just press a button and it shoots straight down my spine, oh such ecstasy I knew every time I drove…" His eyes flutter up to the ceiling, into the hovering fans and burst through the roof, out to the mountain stars.
"But now…I find it's not strong enough…I have the strongest one...", he blinks his eyes sadly. "Yet, look at me, I look so young…so, so young…", waving his arms in the air. He looks to be in his late sixties. "I’ll be fifty two this year! Just look at me, would you? All because of my electric shocks!"
War everywhere here: Tiny wars, large wars between a wife and a husband or supermarket workers sabotaging the milk isle while the managers all had their backs turned: A `Remember North Korea and 9-11` banner, huge, stretched across an entire house in Boston. The homeless bellowing shrieking screaming down alleyways of industrial cities…discarded when their body or mind failed them, no longer any use for war. Or those armed to the teeth in arms and still manage to shoot their best friend in the face by accident. Or young kids who know nothing else but to murder another, because it’s all they’ve been trained to do.
"Yeap, served my time in `Nam", Al murmurs when I ask him. "Still I have dreams about it, it's why I like my tequila, warms me up a little, you know…I saw something out there…one of the circles of hell, it was…". Now he lowers his voice so that I can barely hear him. "I don’t really want to talk about it though…people here might get upset…"
"Then just tell me".
He looks at me, surprised. "I made a lot of good friends, out there. You have to…so many of them are dead now…but not me!" He grins and downs another shot of tequila. He shakes
"But a lot of people had to be killed…you see…there was no time to feel for the people we were killing…we had to do it…or suffer the same fate ourselves...
"One time, a teenage woman came in. So pretty, she was, flawless. Had a body to die for, from her toes to her eyes. Her dress was lowcut and almost revealed everything she had. But she didn't fool me, not my type: I, unlike everyone else, just looked in her eyes. Saved our lives, that did. I swear we would have been dead by now. She had two children with her. This was the time of the ceasefire, at night…it was still a humane war, you know…we are not animals…I shot her in the head, twice to be sure, then the children”.
I finish my corona…beer from Mexico, and suck on my lime.
"Sure enough, she had explosives strapped around her. That could have been dangerous too, but we were trained for it and quickly dismantled it." He smiles and sighs…"Oh, this life of ours…"
"You know what, Jass?" He smiles wider. "You know what I really, really love?"
"I can’t guess…"
"Fat women. There’s so much more to love, and they have so much more of a appreciation to be with somebody because not many others would take them. And no matter what, they always cook for you…"
I suddenly become aware that I’m in the company of a great master. Of what, I do not know...
"There was once this really big babe here. I got talking to her and asked if she wanted to wrestle. She agreed. We were both really drunk…really sloshed…We both took off our tops, half naked. Her titties were so big, I tell you…oh how I squeezed them! She squashed me onto the ground, though. 'Alright, alright!', I says, 'I give in!'…oh it was so good, made me so horny, all on the floor here, right before you. Everyone loved it. But my back has been strained ever since, for weeks and weeks, I couldn’t drive for a long time…they don’t have insurance for wrestling fat girls, do they?"
We leave him and the men who look like their women and tattoos and tequila and bluegrass sung with lungs bursting and come out into the night, climbing back out of a rabbit hole full of sweat, stories and old yarns that nobody else in the world will ever hear.