Because of his non-stop drinking, and lack of exercising, one of Ryan's only friends at this point was his beer gut. He'd slap it every now and again, not till it was red and sore, but the way a parent playfully paddles their kids behind when they're losing a kickball tournament.
"Go away. You're not welcome here!" SMACK SMACK "Who told you-you could stay here?" SLAP SLAP. Sugar turns to fat faster than fat turns to fat.
In his 20's, it wouldn't be uncommon for him to binge drink during the day, and late into the evening, scarf down entire pizzas or taco 12 packs from Taco Bell without paying the price physically, but currently he had no appetite to speak of. Today he had to force himself to eat a fifty cent bag of Lance peanuts. He didn't enjoy the process of eating anymore. "This isn't fair," he said slapping his beer gut a few more times. “I haven't had a regular meal in months... this beer gut only proves my theory that man can live on beer alone."
The only appetite he had was for booze, but his current diarrhea, fatigue, and depression suppressed even THAT desire to get into his car and drive to 7-11 for some three dollar screwdrivers in a can. Hermitville, USA.
Ryan wanted to do a study on telepathy and E.S.P. - not being able to understand how Judah could throw out a completely random phrase, and there would be a connection in real time wondering if it was something they were both able to do since they were kids or some unique talent or how he felt his life was turning into some science fiction novel because most of the dreams at this stage of the game now occurred when he wasn't drinking or smoking weed and somehow usually happened during extended periods of sobriety from anything other than cigarettes and coffee - all the while knowing there was a connection between his dream life and the ability to know about certain events in Judah's life without any prior knowledge and venture off to do all sorts of Google searches or even go to the library to find out all he could about this strange phenomenon and "The Shining" book AND film book and the film or having something like what Danny Torrance had while yet dismissing the theory of time-travel as having any validity, at least not in the way they were put together in novels or sci-fi flicks, but rather the theory of alien life form, and mental telepathy that made him think... "well why not?"
Life in and of itself is strange to begin with. He wasn't ruling anything out just yet.
So rock bottom again. Nothing new.
Ryan knew he really screwed the pooch this time. Showing up to sometimes random people's houses, hammered out of his skull... joy riding around town drinking cocktails out of a can, completely throwing all caution to the wind. "Things could be a whole lot worse," he thought. A couple weeks after Stephany had left, he got pulled over by a cop after the end of a book tour. This time, he had a Styrofoam cup full of Mike's Harder Blood Orange. The cop gave him a ticket for driving with revoked plates and out of date registration. Ryan thought it must have been an act of God that he didn't ask him what was in the cup.
The next day, Ryan called his editor, Reese Hansen. They talked for an hour and eventually agreed that Ryan should spend some time drying out at his compound in Central America since AA meetings and rehab didn't seem to be doing much of anything. Ryan flew to Guatemala City the following week and Reese came to pick him up at the airport. The airport looked like any other international airport on the inside, but once outside, it's highly recommended one have a solid travel itinerary put together. This wasn't a city to be free wielding around in.
Ryan grabbed his luggage from the arrival carousel and immediately went to the closest restaurant and ordered a tall Michelob. He had to kiss that poison one more time. He looked out the window and saw a barefoot guy hop a moving bus. Another hour to kill.
After steak and rice, he ordered another beer and gave his email in-box a thorough read, knowing cell phone or internet service wouldn't be available in a few hours.
"You're gonna love my girlfriend," said Reese pulling onto the highway in his dusty beat up Nissan pickup.
"I'm sure she's the one this time," laughed Ryan lighting a Marlboro.
"Tania? She's the best cook in Comitancillo. Great at massages too. But don't you even think about it. Like I was telling you on the phone the other night - this is an old school ancient village man. Real small. Just think of it like a campground in Texas somewhere."
"I can't wait."
"I hope you're not afraid of heights. They don't use guardrails where we're going," said Reese popping into 4th gear.
"I'm not. Not much scares me anymore. Even when I'm not drinking."
"And sober you shall stay. We're gonna get that demon out of you," said Reese pulling a Dos Equis out from under his seat.
"You're not gonna do that here in front of me? For real man?" asked Ryan all wide eyed.
"Yep. It's part of my comprehensive program to get you back on track," said Reese taking a swig.
"You... but I..."
"You... you... you but what," mocked Reese, laughing. "You're gonna have to get used to plenty of other people drinking in front of you, and I'm going to be your training wheels for a while."
"Fair enough. Deal."
"Have you hit rock bottom?"
Ryan shook his head in a moment of eerie silence, put on some headphones. "I'm exhausted. I couldn't sleep on the plane."
"Yeah. Do that. Those are some pretty dark circles you got going there. Plus, when we start venturing up into the mountains, you're not gonna want to be awake."
The following morning, Tania cooked a breakfast of local sausage and eggs on the patio grill as they all got acquainted. She only knew a few words and phrases so didn't say a whole lot.
"I still don't understand why you can't get back into writing that non-fiction stuff that put you on the map to begin with," said Reese, pouring everyone coffee from a French Press.
"We've been over this before. I'm all out of concepts. I don't need the money."
"But you didn't start writing because of the money. You don't have to work another day in your life. I get it. But no one is going to make you live another day in your life either. It's like a piece of your soul is gone. Talk to me," said Reese taking a sip.
Ryan pulled out a cigarette.
"Oh no," said Tania shaking her finger.
"Sorry," said Ryan putting the cigarette back in the pack, taking out a tin of Grizz.
"You can't smoke here," said Reese. "I know this part of the compound doesn't have a roof, but around here, we don't need any bad press."
"What?" laughed Ryan.
"We don't care about the dip," said Reese, "but no smoking, we'll have hoards of street-kids over here in twenty minutes. Vaping herb in the house - that's it. Some of this coffee if you're lucky," tapping his index finger to his cup.
"Look," said Ryan standing up spitting into a potted plant jar. "I didn't sign up for Rocky IV."
"Well we are going to start jogging every morning," said Reese.
"Good," said Ryan clasping his hands together in agreement.
"And you have to quit cigarettes."
"And you're gonna eat healthy from now on."
"And I'm gonna edit something brilliant."
"We start tomorrow," said Reese nodding his head.
The three walked around the village after washing dishes, stopped by a few knick knack huts and watched part of a soccer game in a newly renovated indoor soccer field about half a mile up the dirt road.
"Missionaries," said Reese as they were leaving, holding the door open for Tania.
"Oh yeah?" said Ryan.
"Yeah... from Minnesota. I don't know if they're Baptist or Mormon or Methodist or what they are, but they really cleaned things up around here."
Ryan set up his desk in the guest room later on that evening and got settled in. Reese said he could stay as long as he needed to as long as he wasn't drinking. The three watched a few movies and called it a night by eleven. Ryan slept peacefully for the first time in what seemed like years. No twitching, or headache. No nausea. Content.
"The written word," he thought to himself, winding down before sleep. "It's all over the place. From the toothpaste, to the stop sign, to the highway exit, to the check out registers. From dusk till dawn. I've got more focus and clarity now. I can beat this thing."
The next day was even better. Comitancillo was refreshing but out of step with what Ryan was used to.
"This village is pretty neato," said Ryan as the three ventured away from the compound the following morning. "But to me anyway, it kind of seems that you two kind of live in some sort of... oh... I don't know... a social bubble here."
"No cualquiera que tú señor mayor," said Tania, waving at the neighbors.
"Was that directed at me?" asked Ryan. "She was waving at the neighbors as we all can see, but I feel like that was directed at me. I can pick up on these things."
"Hell if I know," laughed Reese. "I don't know any more Spanish than you do."
"Spanish?" asked Ryan, shocked.
All of a sudden a gaggle of young kids came running up to the three foreigners and crowded shouting, kicking a soccer ball around.
"What the hell are they all excited about?" asked Ryan.
"You're fresh blood Si," said Reese taking the sack of tamales and paying the elderly street vendor.
"I thought she was Mam... you mean she's speaking Spanish?"
"Mam – Spanish," laughed Reese. "Whats the difference?"
"Can she understand what I'm saying? Be honest?"
"How much weed did you vape this morning before we left? Damn son. Time to cut back. Just try and enjoy yourself. You wouldn't be asking these questions if we in Palo."
"But this ain't Palo," said Ryan looking at a rack of unplucked chickens as they walked, "and I really don't know if this is a place I can get used to man."
"Aw," said Reese. "You're not bailing just yet are you?"
"No – not at all. So what's the game plan today man?"
"Whatever you want that doesn't involve booze. Let's work on replacement therapy today."
"How much is all of this going to cost me again?" laughed Ryan.
"I'm not gonna run a bill up on you Ryan. I'm your editor, not your shrink."
"I've never needed one of those. That's for weak minded people, and I've never been weak minded."
"Lets keep that attitude up there 'migo."
"So what's there to do around here anyway? It's kind of a pig stye in certain areas. And what's with the Orange Crush signage all over the place? Not just here but in the city..."
"It's just their thing. You couldn't make that connection the second you got off the plane?"
"Awphpfft," said Ryan, throwing his hands up unknowingly. "So what are we doing today?"
"Well, Tania's cousin, Marlin, real sweetheart – you'll love her... yeah," said Reese, "she lives up the road. Let's head over there and look over some of your work."
"Sounds like a plan," said Ryan. "I did manage to get some writing done last night. I started a couple of short stories."
"You ever think about releasing a compilation of them?" asked Reese opening the door to Tania's cousin's house.
"That might be something to consider. I've lost so many over the years. So many well-documented pieces gone for good."
After everyone got acquainted at Marlin's place, and all the kids settled down, Ryan and Reese took their laptops, bundles of manilla envelopes, and a steamroller full of the bio-star strain that Reese had stumbled across while in the city.
"You're not gonna believe this stuff," said Reese packing up the steamroller. "You know how to use one of these things?" he coughed.
"I majored in Weed in college," said Ryan taking a seat on a chair in the gazebo. "The girls don't care we're out here smoking?" he asked pointing to the piece.
"We're high enough above the village where they won't smell it. It's cool man. Trust me. Go ahead, take a rip."
Ryan shrugged and placed his left hand at the end of the steamroller and took a huge puff. Marijuana maintenance, he thought.
"Now don't you get all weird and mystical on me now," said Reese taking the steamroller back, taking another rip.
"What do you mean?"
"Well you know... This is the land of the Mayans. Lots of human sacrifices and stuff. I don't want you getting all weirded out on me. You have a track record of doing that."
"I'm not paranoid. You're being paranoid."
"Just give it a minute and we'll see," said Reese, picking up a manilla envelope, flipping through it.
"Oh you know," said Ryan. "Whatever I guess. It's your rehab."
"I'm liking this essay you got here about the teacher strike your senior year," said Reese, the manuscript flapping around underneath the ceiling fan. "You ever think about stretching this one out a little more?"
"Let me see," asked Ryan, grabbing the copy. "Oh yeah. I remember this one. Wrote it about ten years ago. Should have time stamped it."
"Well, that's your homework, sir. See if you can extend that out any."
Moments later, Tania opened the gazebo door with a pot of coffee and cups. "Hola," she said, setting the tray on the table, embracing and kissing Reese, nibbling his ear.
"You two really got something there," said Ryan winking, lighting a Marlboro.
"Hey," snapped Reese, "you said you were quitting. Give me the cigarettes."
"Get bent man."
"Whatever," said Reese kissing Tania gently. "Smoke all you want here. None of that shit at my place though," he said turning back to Tania, smiling. " I love you baby," he said kissing her gently, brushing her long black hair from her face. "You mind if Tania stays to cuddle while I read?"
"That's fine. Whatever you need to get us to where we need to be," said Ryan circling a few paragraphs on some older manuscripts.
This kind of routine went on for a week, and Ryan started jogging alone in the morning before the sun came up. He found the aroma of the burning wood in the morning satisfying and soothing. Ryan kept to himself for the most part when he went jogging with nothing much more than a bottle of water and some earphones for music. Fortunately, he downloaded plenty of music and podcasts for jogging and writing when Reese informed him there wouldn't be any cell phone service.
There was a guy named Tane in his late forties who ran a food shack up just up the road from the compound. Ryan became a regular and loyal customer quickly with laptop and legal pad.
"More espresso?" asked Tane, who could carry some simple conversations in English.
"You bet," said Ryan pushing his cup to the side of the table. "Oh here comes Galip."
Galip was a four-year-old homeless street kid who latched onto Ryan over a couple days time. He was painfully thin, but always had a big smile on his face.
"Lo siento no más comida," said Ryan. "... just a bunch of stories on paper," he laughed high fiving the kid, ruffling his dusty head of hair.
Galip pulled up a chair to Ryan's table, ripped a page out of his legal pad, and started making a paper airplane.
"No tengo hambre. Cualquier cantidad de agua sin embargo?" said Galip, his tank top covered in mud.
Tane laughed and poured Galip a cup of water and set it on the table. Galip quickly gulped down the water, set the cup back down, and ran off holding the paper airplane high in the air, joining his friends on the other side of the road.
"Living proof kids raise themselves," said Tane grinding some corn in a wooden bowl.
"They have so little," said Ryan twirling a pencil, "but they seem so content. No Playstations or skateboards. No malls or food court drama. They're not sweating over what college they're going to get into, or what they're going to do for a living, who they're gonna fall in love with and marry. They just seem to enjoy living."
Reese thought he could help manage Ryan's alcoholism, but Ryan was the only one who was going to be able to help Ryan. Eventually, they started to spend less and less time together, and Ryan slipped back into his old habits. He crashed a couple of old golf carts and had to split or deal with the local law enforcement. Enter Antigua.
Reese and Tania sped down the dusty road in his banged up 1986 Datsun pickup toward Antigua, playing the inebriated voice message Ryan had left ten hours earlier. It went:
“Hey-uh-HEY! Reese – you tried man. Iss my thing though bruh. You see? I'm married to this brew and they'll bury me with the bottle too. Doesn't matter what fuckin country am livin' in – ya know? You should come to Antigua with your goddam posse. Yeah. Pile 'em in that piece of shit truck of yours like a bunch of illegals and... I'm ser-hup-serious-man. Hup! Bring your fuckin' posse down here and shoot me between the eyes. Like it's some dumb ass Sam Peckinpah flick – cause I don't give a fuck and I don't deserve to live. OK? Got it?! I'm a waste of life............................ or don't fuckin' come – I don't give a fuck,” his voice trailing off the recording.
The first few places they checked were a couple of local cantinas – but no luck. At a burrito stand, and after a lot of broken Spanglish, some of the locals said they saw gringo Americana stumble into Hostal Juantanitas a few blocks away. Reese found what looked like a reasonably good place to park the car, and the couple walked up to the place.
“Hey,” shouted Ryan from the balcony as they approached. He had a young Latina in one arm and a half a bottle of Don Julio in the other.
“Holy Preciosa!!” shouted the young girl. “Quieres ir de fiesta con nosotros tio?” she laughed, waving to Reese and Tania, nibbling on Ryan's earlobe. Ryan began to tickle her and spilled some of the tequila as she tickled him back.
“Are you fucking serious?!?!?” said Reese stopping abruptly at the base of the balcony staircase in an irreverent Jesus Christ pose.
“We're just having some fun man – here – gimme a fuckin smoke dude,” asked Ryan extending a bottle to Reese. “Here, try this. Top shelf. No hangover whatso- whatsoever. Here,” he insisted.
“Cigarettes of liquor?” said Ryan pulling the girl closer, whispering to her. “Salto en el bebe ducha. Dame tres minutos... ok?” he said slapping her ass as she winked – walking back inside the room.
Reese tapped his phone a few times and play the clip on speakerphone as he and Tania climbed the rusty staircase like a couple of lazy but curious lizards. It's not to say that Reese and Tania didn't do their fair share of drinking, but Ryan was on an organ killing mission, and everyone could tell.
“Look man,” said Ryan. “I'm fine. Really. In all seriousness. All that stuff about you guys coming to kill me... it's a joke. You know that. Right?”
“We figured this much. You've been drinking all day like this – haven't you?” said Reese.
“You're killing yourself,” said Tania. “I know a suicide note when I hear one. Why Reese?”
“Let me handle this one,” said Reese rubbing her back gently.
“What of it?” asked Ryan. “What? You two gonna have me deported?”
“Not yet,” said Reese, “but that's strike one.”
“Aw shucks pops,” said Ryan, “so good to know you're so concerned about my health. Matter of fact – I'll drink to to that. To health!”
Reese snatched the bottle from Ryan's hand and takes a big gulp. He hand's Tania the bottle who follows suit.
“Let's have a meeting,” said Ryan.
“Let's make fun of AA. Great buddy – way to go. You're fucked up Ryan – how are you not completely miserable under these bleak set of circumstances you got going on here? Nevermind that – how old is that girl in the shower?”
“I don't know. Enough.”
Reese spat some tequila from the balcony onto the dirt.
“Is this where you're passing out tonight?” asked Reese perusing around the room slowly with half a grin on his face.
Ryan took a seat in a cheap plastic chair, and did a tiny line of blow from the girl's tiny vanity mirror on the top of a cardboard box they had turned into a makeshift coffee table saying,
“Three US dollars per night? What – are you fucking kidding me? You bet your sweet ass I'm staying here. Matter of fact, I don't think I plan on going anywhere for quite a while. Hell yeah – gonna stay here and write. Nice place to set up shop – camp out for a while.”
“You got any more of this blow?” asked Reese, taking his index finger to the mirror, rubbing his gums.
“You come here to drag me back to the compound for more therapy, or did you and Tania come here to party? They do have a functioning ATM believe it or not just up the road.”
“Look, Ryan, I invited you to my house to get your shit together and all of this is really a major slap in the face.”
Reese took another swig from the bottle and said, “It's your life man, and it's your liver. I don't know what to tell you. Just so you know... no one is funneling booze down your hatch. You're the one got roped into all that, and you're out of control. Zero temperance. It's sad.”
“Fine. But in the meantime, this blow you've been slobbering over? It's all her stash. I never buy the stuff. Dude, check it out,” said Ryan much quieter, leaning in. “I don't even know this chick's name, but the quality is way better than I thought it would be in this part of the world. I thought all the best shit was export – not the case at all. And I'm not championing the stuff when I say that if you're gonna turn into a huge ass coke head, this ain't the worst place in the world to start.”
Ryan jumped out of his chair and walked over to the old Adler typewriter next to an old black and white television with a rusty hanger used as a makeshift antenna.
“Check out what I've been working on,” he said pulling the paper from the platen, handing it to Reese.
Several fireworks went off in the distance – who knows – there could have been a couple of gun shots in there too.
* * *
“There are a shit ton of typo's in here.”
“Well what do you think. Fuck the typos”
“Yeah fuck the typos. Lazy ass.”
“The content is good but-”
“You think it sucks. Be honest with me.”
“Your characterization is weak. And you sound like a different writer. You have a completely different voice – even from only a year ago. You're not grabbing my attention as well in the opening paragraph and your syntax looks like that of a fifth grader. You're usually way better than this.”
“My stuff isn't plot driven. You're not in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. I disagree with everything you just said. Take a bong rip later tonight and re-read the thing.. or don't...”
“You're devolving. It's the booze man – turning you into a retard. What else can I say?”
“Fuck you dickwad.”
“I don't give a shit if you devolve, here, light this joint, because we all have to at some point if we're honest with ourselves unless we die in a car or plane crash before we get too old and maybe this tactile response to your so-called 'intrepid marketing expertise' is something that goes without merit or criticism, but I'd caution you not to insult your core readership. You don't want to alienate them. Don't do that. They're your readers for Chrissakes show a little resp-”
“Who cares about readership – if they don't want to read it – fuck em.”
“Yeah but you're...”
“Yeah but given your penchant for hard liquor and candy, I'd say you don't care about much else. You not putting the same focus you used to in your prose.”
“I'll never write the same book twice. No one will. I can't stand some of those people anyway.”
“I'm not trying to piss you off – just a dose of brutal honesty.”
Dusk was more humid than usual. Everyone was tired, but Reese didn't want to stay the night – he didn't feel safe. “Let's rally gang,” he said finally, throwing a paper airplane, grazing the top of an already heaping garbage can. “Too many flies around here anyway. No offense. Should get some flypaper... bet they're only a few pesos,” looking toward the latina. “Kiss your girl goodbye Ryan. Give her a dum dum if it makes it any easier. She's not gonna start bawling, is she? Damn bubba - you should be ashamed of-”
“If there's grass in the fi-”
“Shut the fuck up. I don't want to hear it.”
The all had one last pow-wow as Ryan lied to the young latina – telling her he'd be by in the morning. Outside, Ryan and Reese argued for a minute about who would be driving the motorcycle. Tania grabbed the helmet from Reese' hands and peeled off toward their little Mayan bungalow in the village. Mila, Reese' housekeeper, greeted them with hot ham stew when they returned later that evening.
“Mila , que hacen este tipo de comidas maravillosas . ¿Qué haría yo sin ti?" said Reese spooning up the plates. “Toma asiento.”
Mila sat down quietly, matronly. The wrinkles in her face told everyone she was a hard worker in her earlier years and whatever she did, she did well. Namely cooking.
They all sat around the table for the next hour eating and playing Jeopardy DVD-R's on the TV. Reese knew most of the answers so it wasn't a fair playing field.
Literary Rocks for 800 -
Rocks for 800
This Michael Crichton protagonist, Stanford alumnus, and 1961 Nobel prize winner strained the eyes of readers in his breakthrough novel.
Who is Stone
Right! (Applause) And that puts you back in the lead Tom at sixty-five hundred.
You never read the Andromeda Strain?
I've skimmed it, but all you do is read. Yes – L-rocks 9
It doesn't get any lower than this band formed in 1992 by Stephen King, Dave Barry, Maya Angelou and many other popular authors.
The Bottom Feeders
You're so fuckin baked and twisted... I love it... ha ha –
The Rock Bottom Remainders
Si! Si! Ahhhhhh----
Nice job Tania!
I read a lot.
Reese jumped out of the couch and walked over to the refrigerator for a beer. “Hey Ryan - you want a cold one?'
“You want an Orange Crush?”
“I didn't know you cared. But I don't have feelings for you like you do for me. You give great head though.”
“Well since you brought it up, I'd give it to you in the bottle, but I think you're more can size kind of guy yourself.”
“Is that supposed to sound sexual? Sound's pretty fucking gross if you ask me.”
“That is pretty gross.”
“Nah... I'm good. Coffee.”
“You want one or not? I'm doing you a favor stoner – damn you haven't moved in the past fifteen minutes -just your lazy ass lips moving; giving some of the most sordid and idiotic Jeopardy answers I've ever heard. Ever. But I'm proud of you man- you've come a long way in a very short amount of time. You ever think you'll hook back up with Stephany? Need to get you dried out first.”
“She doesn't know how to communicate with me anymore. Spencer is really into dirt bikes, but he never wears a helmet – otherwise I wouldn't care. He's adventurous, but a moron and I'm sure he scares the shit out of her.”
“I never wore bicycle helmets as a kid.”
“You ever wear a bike helmet growing up Tania?”
“Maybe once or twice. I've tried a couple on – never used one. Those kids got made fun of.”
“Liberal dreck – all these PTA mommies piss me off. With their bake sales for helmets and their baton twirlers for trans bathrooms and all that.”
“You don't agree?”
“I don't want to talk politics.”
“I'm more conservative than you'd think. I just don't talk about it much,” said Reese. “I guess, I don't know- well – I mean – my parents have always been real real right wingers, but I think I lean more libertarian than anything else. What I admire in a president more than anything else is their ability to lead. Reagan could lead, so could both George Sr AAAND Dubb-ya -----and I know you and a multitude of others feel those guys were all imbeciles, but face it... they could pull a country together, and they projected leadership and authoritativeness at every turn.”
“Yeah they told the one percent that everything was going to be OK - not to worry about a thing.”
“I don't think young people care about politics like they used to,” said Tania stretching.
“I think 9-11 was a G.O.P conspiracy,” said Ryan.
“Maybe so. Like I said – I'm libertarian.”
“Politics are Hollywood for the rich, ugly, and old.”
“Unless you're an activist.”
“Or an actor.”
“I think so. I hope so. No.. I know so.”
“It's good to never lack any confidence in anything.”
“You need to learn to manage your expectations.”
“The you that you see as you in five years from right now – could be better or way worse.”
“I don't think it's good to exercise too much confidence in any one thing,” said Tania. “I feel it best to be able to adapt to your surroundings. Do what you're good at I guess guys. Ryan. You're obsessed with word count. Why is that?”
“Its not so much that as I am content. I've always felt less is more.”
“It usually is in your case. You seem to be going through a blue period.”
“Everything you've written since you've been here seems like it's all about you and your suffering and part of me can understand where that's coming from. I haven't really known you all that long, but I've read your books before we met. You touch on a wide variety of themes I believe a lot of other people relate to.”