In The Good Ol’ Summertime

by Flynn Washburne, July 12, 2017

I woke up this morning with the following phrase rattling around in my head: in the absence of rabbits. I don't know where it came from, if it was the remnant of a dream or a snatch of something unconsciously overheard, or just random neurons slapping words together for kicks, not having any meaningful employment to engage them during my off hours. But I liked the sound of it. In the absence of rabbits. Two anapestic feet joined by the rhyming of “ab” at the stress points. You don't hear an “ab” rhyme every day.

I experimented with completing the sentence. “In the absence of rabbits, the clover flourished in the meadow.” Or, doubling down on the rhyme and maintaining its poetic integrity, “In the absence of rabbits, the cabbage was fabulous.” Either example begs the question, of course: what became of the rabbits? Did their legendary fecundity and rapaciousness denude the meadow of rabbit-sustaining foliage, and they hopped away in search of greener pastures? Did some lagomorph-specific ailment devastate the colony, or a blight attack the food supply? Carnivores must always be considered in the absence of rabbits, as well as shotgun-wielding farmers (see: Mr. McGregor).

The question, while intriguing, is unanswerable and pointless in the extreme, but I have about about as much say in what goes on up in the penthouse as I do in Icelandic economic policy. It's a jungle up there and I try to steer clear, lest it try to involve me in another one of its dangerous and ill-advised schemes. I have long felt, ever since becoming aware of its existence, that my brain is trying to kill me.

I don't know why, as I believe we are interdependent and neither capable of going it solo. Modern science and current events have proven that without a brain, the best one might hope for in the matter of careers is President of the United States. Clearly we need one another — no one wants to end up like that — but sometimes I wonder if we might both be better off severing our association and going our separate ways. I could be happy and carefree, writing reviews of paperback mysteries and EDM records for the Press-Democrat and watching network television. That I could do with nothing more than a lump of soft cheese in my skull, and ol' Brainy would be free to focus his murderous impulses elsewhere.

My response to having this antagonistic lodger in the upper story has been to either render him insensible or keep him focused on meaningless minutiae, neither condition exactly suited to anything resembling “success” as popularly defined, but I do yet draw breath and I call that a “W.” Upon reflection, though, I'm wondering if that might not have been his intent all along, as in:

Brain: Nobody likes you, especially not the pretty girls.

Me: Shut up. Have a drink.

Brain: Heh heh heh.

You see what I'm up against. It's a wonder I've managed to thrive lo these many years.

On a completely unrelated note, summer has arrived and with it the scorching temperatures, dessicating winds, and extra-long days that give the desert its unique charm, and by charm I mean hellish character. Dante, having only had the lush vineyards and rolling hills of his native Italy as a referent against which to compare for his depiction of a land of everlasting torment and wickedness, undershot significantly and would have had to redesign the whole shootin' match had he seen the Mojave.

I'm certain that Joshua trees would have figured prominently in the new version. These gnarled, stumpy grotesqueries would fit right in in the landscape of hell, or a nuclear-bomb proving ground, or a Dr. Seuss story if he got really depressed and angry and ate some boomers.

The extremely inhospitable planet of Hyperion, in the Dan Simmons novel of the same name and which I recommend unreservedly, has not only trees generating billions of volts of electricity which will flash-incinerate you, but ones whose foliage is razor-sharp stainless-steel spears upon which the Shrike impales you to await real torture. I invariably harken back to that terrifying world whenever I see Joshua trees.

Living in the desert, and living in the desert in summer, is like the difference between living in a pot of sewage and that pot being on the stove over an open flame. Unpleasant, and then infinitely moreso. And yet, this particular solstice does not engender the usual feelings of dread and hopelessness attendant with the season. Oh, I hate it just as much, and once I make it out of here I will never again venture below a latitude of 40 degrees — everyone knows that north and west are the “good” cardinal points, south and east the “bad” ones, and for incontrovertible proof of this one need only observe Florida, America's sink­trap and extreme south-east — but this onset of my annual broiling I greet with pleasure and anticipation. Why? Because it's my last one.

It's my last everything, from here on out. Last baseball season, Super Bowl, Xmas, birthday, etc., and so I greet every marker and milestone with grateful enthusiasm.

I should probably clarify — I'm not dying, only getting out of prison next year. My last everything in prison, and as important, my last anything in the Mojave Desert. Never again will I behold the Joshua trees flaunting their grisly, cockeyed limbs at me. Good riddance.

For all its quirks and failings, Fort Bragg is a town that knows how to conduct a summer properly: with cool, measured restraint. Not for them the garish and flamboyant sunshine of the southern climes; muted grays and drizzle are the order of the season, and I for one applaud this approach. Sunshine addles the mind, encouraging impure thoughts and unfounded optimism.

It was a late June day of appropriately steely and sober complexion and I was about to undergo a major life change. Only three months removed from completion of my first prison term, I was already beginning to spiral out of control and in a rare moment of wise and judicious maturity, I reached out to my parole officer for help, who secured me a place at the Ford Street Project. It was there I was making preparations to go, packing a bag and drinking 7&7s early in the morning with my friend and driver to Ukiah, Reuby.

"I'm not sure it's a wise idea for you to show up drunk," she said.

"Well, you know, there's drunk, and then there's drunk," I said. "This is more about alleviating stress and smoothing out the transition. Mostly therapeutic, if you think about it."

She “tsked” and I went on gathering my things. It didn't take any more than two-and-a-half hours to consolidate my defecation and we headed out at about 10 am under a leaden sky, wiper set at intermittent to clear the gathering mists.

I had arrived in Ukiah two years previous in the dead of winter and not left the coast since. I had no idea of the vast temperature variations in summer between Ukiah and Fort Bragg and when I stepped out of the car at QuestMart where we stopped for gas and smokes, I felt as if I'd been physically assaulted. When we left the coast it was in the low 40s; it was now hot enough to caramelize a crème brûlée. I crumpled against the side of the car and collapsed in on myself like a Shrinky-Dink, making melting-witch noises. "Why?" I moaned. "Dear God, why?"

"You're not on the coast anymore, son. This is Ukiah. Get used to it,” Reuby said. I thought I might just as easily get used to breathing methane or walking on water, but held my tongue and walked into the blessedly cool QuestMart interior. "This is nice," I said. "I could just stay in here."

"I don't think so. Complete your transaction and get out," said the clerk.

"Man, folks sure are rude up here in the big city," I said.

When we got to Ford Street, I saw a familiar face out in the parking lot, my friend C. Noyo Fielding from Fort Bragg. "Con, what's shakin'?" I said.

"AC's out. Trying to get some air," he said, the enervating heat robbing his ability to form complete sentences. "You checking in?"

"Yep. What's the procedure?"

"First, you gotta go to the hospital to get medically cleared, then they go through your shit and do a shitload of paperwork, then the fun begins," the last two words spoken in a singsong manner that suggested quite the opposite.

"They search you, huh? Like, thoroughly?"

"I don't know. Depends."

The reason I asked is that I had a quantity of spakank secreted on my person. That may seem counter to my ostensive mission to rid my body and life of that very chemical, but coming down is a very unpleasant and traumatic experience, and I find that a liberal application of the stuff — sort of a “fight fire with fire” tactic — smooths out a lot of the bumps and takes most of the sting out of the process. I prefer a much more gradual approach than the binary absoluteness recommended by most rehab centers. They can be quite unreasonable and inflexible about it, so I figured I'd better finish my sack before checking in, but after getting examined. The systemic physical elevations wrought by the wing­dang-doodle were liable to raise some red flags down at the ER.

By the time I got to the office to check in I was sweating like a New Orleans dock-walloper, which incited comment by my interviewer when my perspirings hadn't abated at all a full hour into the admissions procedure.

"You sure are sweating a lot," she said.

"Not used to the heat," I gasped.

My insides were revving like a redlined crotch-rocket, I was trying to remain calm, my body was reacting by throwing off heat like a blast furnace, and my internal cooling system had thrown open the sluice gates in desperation.

"Maybe you should go take a shower or something, you're gonna get my carpet all mildewed," she said distastefully.

Thirty minutes under a cold shower and a gallon or so inside of me set me to rights. As predicted and planned for, the initial stages of my withdrawal were rather pleasant and spent chatting amiably with my fellow rehabbers. "I hardly even miss it," I observed at one point. The less said about the succeeding days the better, as my bumper wore off and I became my usual prickly, short-tempered self, only much more so because of the heat and withdrawal.

I did eventually establish a tentative detente with the climate and managed to ride out the summer, albeit with a lot of griping and moaning. Little did I know that in just a few short years, and as a direct result of not taking my drug rehabilitation more seriously, I would go from the figurative frying pan into the literal fire as I suffered through four summers that made Ukiah's feel like a balmy Parisian springtime.

Meanwhile, back in the brain, the rabbit question remains unresolved, and ultimately I'd have to say: good riddance. In the absence of rabbits, nobody even noticed they were gone. I never cared much for these lopsided kind of animals anyway, your rabbits and kangaroos and such. Give me a good symmetrical beast every time with four roughly equal-sized limbs, one who doesn't look ridiculous traveling at low speeds. Hopping is unseemly and indicative of questionable character, I'd say.

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