There’s something calming about it. The intensity of dark, no way out. No other lights. Been driving for 3 and change hours with nothing but Mark’s lighter and my headlights shining, invading, perverting the cut. I toy with turning them off, only for a second, just to feel a little more alive. I don’t, just keep slicing through the dark in this box; swerving between lanes. I’m paying attention to the wheel but the weight isn’t what I’m used to. Give me a shitty SUV that sounds like a lawnmower, with shittier brakes and a speedometer that’s stuck at 120 mph and I’m much more relaxed in my own reality. Never drove an RV before. Might not ever again. I like the time behind the wheel, try to hold on to each moment; the nervousness. Being in charge of 6 bodies for 4 hours per day. Sleepy, awake, sober, kind of high, whatever. We’re all nervous when we drive, the 4 of us that do. You can see it in our arched backs, our tense shoulders. We’re soldiers. We haven’t showered in days. Haven’t shit in a few, either. The GPS says I have 106 more miles to go on a flat, straight, 2 lane highway in Fuckwoods, Mississippi. No rest stops, no exits, no civilization. No gods or any of their damned things. Just Mark and me, 4 others asleep on a kitchen table, or directly above, or the lucky ones on the bed some feet behind us. Silence and darkness. Keep driving. Keep going. I don’t know why I thought there’d be less road on this road trip, but here we are. Next stop: New Orleans. 7 long hours to go.
Every morning is practically the same. Jimmy is usually the first awake, Josh or me next. Fern follows with Nikko or Mark waking up later. Time in the RV doesn’t really matter, it continues forward and so do we. Jimmy usually starts the day driving, followed by Nikko, myself, then Mark. Not always like that, but most times. We drive until we can’t anymore, until our eyeballs dance around in our head and make everything around us blurry, cause the cars in front and on the sides to disappear for a moment. Drive until you panic behind the wheel, but only to yourself. “FUCK, is there a car on the side of me? Fuck fuck. Don’t swerve. Fuck man. Pass me, damn it. Where’s the fucking car? Where’d it go?” Maybe it was there once, who knows. That’s my cue, it’s time for sleep.
We wake up and automatically steady ourselves. The first 3 days confused me. Waking up, shaking in the moving box, fetal on the table too small for an 8 year old to sleep. My head jolted up those first mornings, “WHATTHEFUCKISHAPPENING” typically the first thought in my mind. “Right, in the RV. Jimmy’s driving. Right.” After 4 days we became professionals. When the RV accelerates we have to put whatever fits into the sink or cabinets or wedged between cushions so shit doesn’t fall everywhere: cameras, tripods, laptops, phones, food, drinks, or garbage. Shove it wherever. I think I slept on a laptop and some cords last night but I won’t say anything. Indents across my body looking a lot like a USB plug.
“How long you been driving?”
Jimmy jumps a bit, “Oh shit I didn’t know you were awake. Maybe half an hour. You hungry?”
I’m usually not. “Na, I can wait.” I pick myself up off the table, put my hat on, and scramble to the passenger seat, falling into it.
“Where are we?” The question of the day, every day.
“Louisiana. Almost there man.”
Right now, the only thing in all of our heads, awake or asleep, is the RV Park oasis we’re searching for. Running water. Showers. A drain for the piss currently sitting stagnant in the bottom of the RV. Even the car’s bladder is about to explode. I don’t really notice the smell, but I know it’s there. I feel a kind of wetness all over my body, slimy and oily. Josh complains of the smell from his ball sack; compares it to rotting cheese. I can almost see the waves of stink coming from my boots. We all take our time brushing our teeth, it’s the only clean ritual we have left. There’s no running water in the RV so we use bottled water to rinse our mouths out, to wash our oily faces, or to wash the hot piss from the toilet can we use when necessary. Never shit in the toilet can. NEVER. Almost an hour away from New Orleans, most are awake now except Mark and Nikko sprawled across each other above the driver’s seat. We’re all mostly silent. I’m in passenger seat as Jimmy drives. Josh is sitting directly behind Jimmy looking over his shoulder and out front at the bodies of water appearing around us. Fern is sitting at the table typing on his laptop. Every once in a while he breaks the silence to ask a professional question of Jimmy, “I need a quote about GIFs. Do you think you can make a living off of them?”
“Uhh, no. I don’t think anybody can make a living off of them.”
“Come on Jimmy, I need something better than that!”
Fern presses on. I don’t know what he’s looking for, maybe something more optimistic. Something to make him not regret taking this road trip. He’s got the money to take a plane, it’s written on his face and all of his actions. Hell, he’s taking a plane from Austin back to NY when we get there. He vacations at his summer home in Puerto Rico. He works hard but he’s become his job. He’s a journalist. It’s a form of writing so removed from what I do. So much red tape; nix this, can’t say that. This is too controversial, this isn’t juicy enough. “I can’t put that in!” is a common phrase from Fern. He always ends up with a straight laced article. Each day, pressing on, each article reads nearly identical. What do I know though, I’m the fucking fiction writer here for my own inspiration. I began writing on the RV but stopped after day 2. Live, observe, then write. My own poor excuse justifying my own laziness.
“Uhh…” Jimmy thinks. “Tell the DailyDot to pay us. Then we’ll make a living off making GIFs.” He’s joking but he’s not.
“Come on, Jimmy!”
“I don’t know, Fern, make something up. Who cares?”
We sit in the silence again. We’re all on edge, each of us with our own visions of ourselves in the shower. I’ve never been so desperate for running water. The oil and stink are everywhere. I swear to god I leave a trail of slime behind me when I stumble around the RV. The only thing that breaks the smell of urine, male foul, and whatever the fuck was left in the warm freezer is weed. It’s also how I know Mark and Nikko are awake. Following the smell is dangling legs inside denim from above. We pass the blunt around then continue in our silence. Rule 1: whenever it’s your turn to drive you have to be sober. Not driving, not sober. The weed makes me sleepy but we’re close to New Orleans, to showers, to life without stink.
“Yo Ant, can you grab the pamphlet? What street is this place on?” The pamphlet’s map is hidden under so much glaring text that finding this place becomes near impossible.
“Uh, there’s a street … called … ok we’re on Orleans Ave. We have to find North Claiborne I think.”
“what’s the name of the street?”
“There’s so much fucking writing over everything. I think it’s … fucking, I don’t think there is a name! I think this shit is on North Claiborne, right?”
He looks at the pamphlet while driving but neither of us can make anything out other than the outlying streets, which we’re currently on.
“If we hit North Villere, we’re going the wrong way.”
“Ok… I think we’re on it …”
The silence coming from the cabin is intensified by the stink.
“It smells like DICK in here.” Josh Craig is reading minds. He gets up from looking over Jimmy’s shoulder and throws himself on the bed, picks up his book on the forgotten history of punk rock, puts on headphones, and exits our misery.
“Ok, where the fuck is this place …” My frustration is mounting and I’m seriously starting to question the camp’s existence. Maybe we picked up an old pamphlet, maybe Katrina took it with her. We’re driving down narrow streets near the French Quarter, we’re on North Claiborne but we can’t find it. Jimmy pulls into an alley and suddenly gates appear before us. There’s a 6 foot barbed brick wall on both sides and a keypad to enter.
“Found it.” Jimmy says without emotion. Just get us to the fucking showers.
Standing in front of the gates, the motor hums and they begin to open. I’m silently laughing to myself, “My god!” I think, “We finally found it!” We’re starving men in a desert. We found our oasis; our Mecca, it’s a barbed beauty. A buxom brick queen. Lusting at it, I feel like I’m cheating on my girlfriend. We quickly find our place at the back and park, the RV coming to a complete silence.
Mark and Nikko scramble from above and throw open the door for a cigarette. They close it behind them.
“Holy shit.” I say in a mixture of exhaustion and happiness, throwing myself back into the passenger seat.
Jimmy is already out of the RV and checking us in. Fern is sitting with headphones on poking away at his keyboard, and Josh looks up, acknowledges our parking, and continues reading. The RV is stagnating in its own filth. It looks exactly what a picture of 6 guys in an RV would look like. Smells like it too.
“Yo, open that fucking door and air this shit out!” Josh yells from the bed. As he’s saying it, Nikko opens the door to come back from his cigarette; the sun beams its way in and the death screeches from the stale, foul air exhale into the cool Louisiana day. Mark comes back inside and hops on his computer while Nikko and Jimmy walk, looking for the showers.
I stumble outside and look at the park. Ours is easily the smallest RV of the filled lot. The couple next to us has a whale RV next to our guppy. They’ve been sailing around the east coast and south for some months and the two of them have been luxuriously roughing it in their upper middle class sized mobile. On the other side a woman is grooming a dog and continues to groom it for well over an hour. The dog is lying down dead looking as she combs him with gloved hands. At first I swear she’s giving it surgery but then it seems more like she’s primping it for a dog show. Either way: poor dog. There are RVs around I had never thought existed. More than a few have interiors that extend outward when parked. Though the windows are tinted I can see a flat screen TV and stacked mini bar below. Are those bottles made of crystal? Am I staring? We have a refrigerator that smells as awful as we do with strewn Budweiser cans, Jim Beam, Jagermeister, and shit tequila. Other than the two families on either side of us, nobody really leaves their camper. I don’t blame them; any one of these campers is nicer than my actual house.
Jimmy comes in with arms up in front of him as though he were just sterilized for surgery on the dog next door.
“Who wants to lick the piss from my fingers? Mmm”
“Shit, did you get a lot on you?” Fern says.
He laughs, “Na, at least it’s just piss. Good job everybody on not taking a dump in the toilet!” if anybody did, we’d know immediately. While draining the RV’s hog, Jimmy got some of all of us on him. He washes his hands with bottled water and soap.
“At least we’ll have sink water soon!” He’s filling up the RV’s bladder so we can actually drink the drinking water. I grab my towel, shampoo, soap, razor and silently begin my march towards the showers. The water. The warmth. My god, the freedom of this bullshit smell I’ve carried with me from D.C. to Nashville, through Atlanta, Alabama, Mississippi, and into Louisiana. My hair has been wet for 3 days. I don’t know how. I don’t want to know why. A mixture of grease and sweat and dirt, debris, and whatever-the-fuck-else it managed to pick up as souvenirs throughout the trip. I have a hat on for the sake of everybody near me. Judging from everybody else’s current sheen look, I wish they had brought head gear as well. My god, the smell.
It’s amazing how quickly and well the body can adapt to situations. I hadn’t really given it too much thought before the camp but the amount of bathroom stops we took between six men was curiously low. I felt as if my body just stopped processing all of the awful foods we had been consuming, ceasing every bodily function and saying “I give up dude. Do whatever the fuck you want to me.” and judging me from the inside, “Dude, Waffle House again? Taco Bell? Jesus have we ever even had Taco Bell before this trip?”
Closing in on the bathrooms, however, I can feel every bodily need urgently looking for a way out. I really hope there’s a vacant stall or we’re going to have to stop at a Wal-Mart.
There’s a line of white painted doors with numbers on them. They look like nicer motel rooms, and in front of them is a sad March jacuzzi/pool, green from debris and neglect, half-filled and stagnant; a film of New Orleans sits on top and plays itself an upbeat funeral march in notes of algae green and show-yer-tits-beads blue-yellow. Not a single bead in sight. I only pass it but even sitting, pissing, and sleeping in the same hole in the road for the past week doesn’t make this thing look inviting. Its season hasn’t come yet though, I’ll bet when the weather gets warmer this thing has more jizzum in it than 3 strip clubs in the quarter. The green and blue-yellow water turns pink and purple from beads and naked flesh and when the RVs are a-rockin’ then them rich folk be a’ fockin’. Stall 3’s door is open and I shuffle in holding a towel, a bag of personal cleaning supplies, and (relatively) fresh clothes. There’s an honest-to-god toilet and sink. I immediately release every demonic burrito and multiple egg-steak hybrids from my bowels and into the sewers of Louisiana. While on the toilet I decide to undress wholly, sitting in the glory and absolute stink of my nudity. A smell rises from between my legs and I don’t know if it’s from the toilet or my junk but either way it’s mine. I can feel a cousin of the film in the jacuzzi between my legs gripping them together then sliding them back. It’s a wetness I never realized before this moment, my always present denim must have absorbed the culture for further experiments. “How the fuck did I last this long?” I think out loud, seeing my clothes in a close bundle on the tiles in front of me, landing with a wet “phhlloofffppp” on the ground and crawling away from the toilet, my naked, disgusting stench, and the film creating a protective layer from harmful UV rays but emitting its own powerful BO rays across galaxies and into other star systems. This is what Neanderthals smelled like all of the time. They probably had more shit smeared on them though.
My first exposure to warm water actually causes a guffaw from my rotting mouth. When I run my hair through the water I smell, for the last time, the smell of unbridled thoughts seeping through my hair follicles. I actually don’t know what to do first; I have shampoo and a full bar of soap and I look at both in amazement. I’m like Oliver Twist had he gotten his 2nd portion of gruel that wound up getting him into so much trouble. I stared at both like friends reunited, we were together and it felt so good. I was a peasant, a boy whose dreams were finally realized. Oliver Twist would have looked at the bowl of cardboard, admired first the sole bubble that rose to the top, pushed its way through the oats’ armor, and offered a warm and inviting, saliva inducing “blup”. Maybe he would have, after eating the second portion, written a sonnet about it and forced Dickens himself to look at the optimistic side of severe impoverishment. Maybe he would have turned it into a short story. I choose to treat my hair; shampoo first. Fingers run wild through my untamed hair, it’s a massage where I know each coming action but still anticipate them all. White foam grows from my head and envelopes my hands, the warmth is so good. The remains run down my body, my lover’s slippery fingers, and say nothing and demand nothing in return. The white residue of an over-pumped bottle slides feverishly down my front and back; a warm embrace that seems forbidden. I blush. “WHAT WAS THAT?” I think and glance over my shoulder out to the toilet and wet heap in the next room, a past so distant and foul from the eroticism occurring one room over. I use so much my body is soon washed over in foamy white froth, slipping past my closed mouth saying “shhh”, into my ear canals, and momentarily finding its way over far reaching areas of my body, parts pure before this shower. The water pours over me and the shampoo, pulling it into the corner drain and slipping out of my room quietly.
I lather the bar of soap in my hands for a moment and then decided to run its body over mine. All the nights sleeping next to another grown man, all the days living in the same shirt, same underwear, stained and absorbing every disgusting smell and excretion from myself and the RV, settling into my skin and almost giving it a new pigmentation and a lost meaning for life. I feel like I should be using the bar as an ice chipper, crushing the crust that formed a toxic shell over myself, freeing myself from the colostic casing and hurling it across the shower and into the far wall, smashing it into a million little toxic pieces that would leave my shower room in the same way my as my loving shampoo. There’s dampness on parts of me that feel significantly different than the shower’s water, even with both mixing. I feel like I need a series of shots after this trip followed by a trip to the doctor. I scrub away at the unwanted guest’s areas and soon I’m glowing with cleanliness. I scrub some more to make certain the stink is annihilated. I could have stayed in that shower the entire day, but 569 words are enough.
Once reluctantly leaving the shower head warm embrace I shave, throw cold water on my face repeatedly in the sink, and brush my teeth for hours. I put on fresh clothes and look for government officials wearing HAZMAT suits to remove the slop of clothes near the toilet. I feel Grecian. All that I need is olive oil rubbed into my skin and I would become Odysseus, fighting my way back from poking at a one-eyed monster and traveling back to my homeland; maybe we could swing past Ithaca, NY on the way back.
The sky must have opened up while I was giving my shower masturbatory detail; the film in the Jacuzzi is punched by Louisiana rain drops that cleaned the filth from everything in preparation for a night that would fill the streets with a brand new filth. The air’s heavy with a cloudy, after-rain fragrance and I’m heavy in my own. The woman next to us has not given up grooming/massaging/operating the poor pup in spite of the rain; an awning makes sure no moisture ruins her ritual and its misery. I walk back to the RV a new man, entering the same sticky, dirty, damp, dark, molded RV. Mark’s working on his computer, Fern had showered and is doing the same. Jimmy, Josh, and Nikko are probably still bathing in a similarly orgasmic way as I had. Approximately 40 strip clubs in town and the only sticky clear expulsion for me came from a salon style shampoo bottle.