Song #58: The Mommyheads – “Worm”

October 21, 2020
Song #58: The Mommyheads – “Worm”

I slept in a wigwam in the mountains of New Mexico once.

I mean, it was most certainly glamping. I don’t camp. I don’t sleep on the ground. Period. There was a time where Sandy and I would occasionally do it for fun – in college, or when we were first married. But I got spoiled at a job where the executives above me had a philosophy about business travel. I learned about it when I came back from my first business trip, which was to Burlingame, California, in 1994 – same trip where I spilled a whole container of maple syrup into my lap as the plane took off.

I got back from the trip, and that Monday morning, carefully unfolded all my receipts onto my desk and began filling out the company expense report. The National Sales Manager had to approve my expenses, because my boss wasn’t in that day, and he called me into his office.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked. And looked genuinely angry.

I wracked my brain, quickly, trying to imagine which of my expenses would be disallowed. When I was confident they were all allowable, I asked “What?”

He showed me a receipt. “Taco Bell?” he asked, incredulously.

“I don’t get it. It was lunch.”

“When you’re on the road, don’t you ever go to Taco Bell,” he said, firmly. “When you’re on the road, you live like a fucking king.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “I can eat Taco Bell.” I was about 23 years old. I loved Taco Bell.

“You’re not understanding me,” he said. “If you come back from another business trip with an expense report like this, I will fire you (he was not my boss). I spend half my life on the road. I’m away from my family all the time. If I have to be away from my family for work, I’m going to live well. I eat at the best restaurants. I rent nice cars. I have the company pay for my fucking dry cleaning. If they start seeing your expense reports with Taco Bell, they’re going to think maybe I should eat that shit, and I’m not eating any fucking Taco Bell. So when you’re on the road, from now on, your expense reports need to look like mine.”

It was the most fucked-up logic I’d heard, but it was actually logical. So I started eating better food, getting my clothes cleaned on the road, staying at nicer hotels. Once, on a trip to San Diego, the airline lost my luggage and I had to do my presentation in a pair of smoky jeans and a t-shirt that I wore on the flight.

“You bring your luggage?” they asked. “Don’t bring your luggage. Airlines lose luggage. You know who never loses a package? FedEx. FedEx your luggage the day before you leave.

So I started sending my luggage a day ahead of time, via FedEx. It would be waiting at the hotel when I arrived. No baggage carousel, no waiting with the masses for the rental car. I got a membership to the private club at the airport so I could wait in style at any airport in the country.

I learned little travel tips like that, and got really good at it. And by extension, I became conditioned: when I’m traveling, I’m allowed to sleep in a nice place. I most definitely do not sleep on the ground. Squirrels don’t even sleep on the ground.

Though I should note: multiple times while on the road, I have slept in my car. That’s different. That’s romantic. Sleeping on the ground, well, that’s just uncomfortable.

I routed this particular trip from Austin to Phoenix, making sure I got as much time in the desert as possible. I love the Southwest, and I love the desert. It feels like America out there, with miles-long freight trains, RVs set into the foothills, hulking mountains and endless expanses of land. The sky comes right to the ground and explodes all around you, as high as outer space and just as wide.

I found, in the Lincoln National Forest, an Airbnb that was a giant teepee with a king-sized bed inside it, and I reserved it for a night. I took my time driving, beginning the day in El Paso, stopping for lunch in a border town and then slowly making my way north, and up, til I arrived at my destination. The owners of the Airbnb met me outside, and directed me to the teepee, on a raised wooden platform maybe a thousand feet from the back of their house into the woods. They showed me the outdoor shower and chemical toilet that would be mine for the stay. There would not be much between me and mother nature, for sure.

“You can hike up into the mountain behind the teepee,” the lady explained, “there’s nothing but views for miles.”

After a long drive, that sounded great. I grabbed my luggage and brought it into the teepee, took my special vape pen and stuffed it into my pocket, and ventured out into the woods.

I hiked upward, and sort of left – the woman had given me vague directions of how I could walk through an area of burned-out trees where there was once a fire. She explained that once I got through the burned-out area I should walk up a relatively steep hill, and over a bit of rock, which would bring me to an area that had the most spectacular views.

I did what she said, and after hiking for about 45 minutes or so, I came to a clearing and some craggy rocks that overlooked an incredible valley. Across the valley, hulking an unfathomable distance above me, was a much larger, steeper and rockier mountain. The views were outrageous, and I arrived just in time to watch the sun creep below the mountainside.

I had brought my phone with me, thinking I’d have a few hits off my pen while I played some music on the phone, but there was no cell service out there, and thus no way to pick up Spotify. Content to enjoy the silence of the woods and the mountains, I heated up my vaporizer and took a few drags of the special oils inside as I watched the sun dip under the rocks.

The valley I was in most certainly depended on the sun being in the sky for light, and almost immediately as the sun disappeared it became considerably darker and colder. I pulled down my sleeves and, sufficiently stoned, stood up and began making my way back.

Except I had no fucking idea where I was going anymore. And it was quickly getting dark.

I knew I had hiked uphill for the majority of the walk – about 45 minutes or so – so when I reached a decline I began to head downward, slowly making my way from tree to tree, hanging on for balance. The walk down was actually slower and more difficult than the walk up, as there were lots of ankle-twisting roots and fallen branches over which it was easy to trip. I fell once, my right knee clunking against a rocky floor, sending zings of pain up my leg.

After 20 minutes or so, it occurred to me that I was really racing against darkness, trying to make my way back to the camp while I could still see. I had no clue what sort of wildlife lived in those mountains, but that only lurked in the back of my mind, which was beginning to be dominated by the feeling of being lost on the side of a mountain in a dense forest alone at night with no coat and at high elevation while I was stoned with no food and no cell service and no idea how to get where I was going–

Holy shit, it was hard not to panic, is all I’m saying. And it was getting dark fast.

After an hour of walking, I found myself in a clearing along the side of a ridge, and when I approached the ridge, just below a long strip of scraggly brush, was a dirt road.

A road, I thought, has got to lead to somewhere.

So I began walking along the road. A dirt road, wide enough for cars but most certainly a private road. Paranoia started to set in, as I envisioned myself, in the immortal words of John S. Hall, being “Ned Beattied” in the woods of New Mexico and left to freeze to death, squealing like a pig.

Or being eaten by a bear, or a bigfoot, or whatever the local wild animals were.

Officially night now, the road lit by moonlight, I kept checking my cellphone, with no luck finding even a single bar of signal strength. I had no clue if I was walking in the right direction or not, and since I used my GPS to get where I was going, I couldn’t describe to anyone where I needed to be.

Not that there was anyone to describe it to, as there was nobody to be found.

I remember thinking the outward hike was much better than the return trip.

Coming around a bend, I saw a sign and a fork in the road. It was the road sign that I passed in my car on the way in, directing me to the compound where I was staying. I had lost my direction so significantly that I had completely overshot the house, made an enormous half-circle, and returned to the house from the complete opposite direction from which I had departed.

I walked down the driveway, past the house until I saw my car. I thought briefly about getting in the car and getting the fuck out of the Lincoln National Forest, but instead thought “Isn’t this kind of shit the whole reason I’m on the planet?” I signed the Airbnb guest book, took another hit off my pen and settled in for what might’ve been the most peaceful sleep of my life, in a comfortable king-sized bed heaped high with blankets and pillows, the outside temperature in the low 30s and me surrounded by a canvas teepee.

~ by Al on October 21, 2020.

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