The entire length of the coast of maine smelled of lobster -- that buttery rich slang of fish and crustacean, all saltwater and slick oil. I had made a tactical error at the northernmost point of the state, just shy of where it meets new brunswick, where the crab fishermen were stirring up headlines with their vehement demands -- lighting fires and acting very irate for reasons I didn’t research -- but thought were nevertheless hilarious. Crabfishermen gone wild. It had a good ring to it.

My tactical error lay in this -- I chose to hitch the coastal highway, rather than the more busy, wider, weller trodden path of the interstate. I don’t recall the whims that dictated the decision, but because of it the pace of my travel yawned out to near cosmic proportions. Few were the cars that passed me, and even fewer were the rides that lifted my feet off the tarmac -- invariably setting me back down at the outskirts of the next town and no further, causing me to walk for an hour or two at a stretch, thumb cocked perpendicular to the way I was headed each time I heard the swish of rubber gripping quickly the road. It took me the whole day and 16 or 20 rides to travel the length of the state of Maine, which isn’t squat at all, and hardly crammed with the space eating sprawl that currently passes for civilization.

I began my trek on a small island off the coast of new brunswick, where friends of a friend put me up for the night. I was in new brunswick, in the first place, visiting Josh Denis, a friend from my single collegiate year. I was hitching Maine in an attempt to emulate kerouac, who I had just finished studying up on. The little/big town of merrimac, new hampshire, was my destination. Lilly lived there, who I had met in chicago, who was blonde and entirely swedish (by ancestry), whose first car’s license plate had the motto ‘Live Free or Die’ embossed on its state color coded tin.

The first ride I got in maine was an american built sedan packed with three shopping bag brown native americans. They were all three of them women. They passed me a joint of marijuana that made me inconveniently sleepy -- it was my second time with the weed cannabis and it’s chattery, brainscrambling doors had decided to remain locked to me once more.

I actually just had my first experience with lsd a few days prior, with Josh. We bought the little stamp from a young guy whose mind had been smudged infantile by the stuff and like substances. Two hours after dosing, Josh and I were standing on his parent’s back porch, in the absolute darkness, when I finally felt something of the kick. Josh began to grow bigger and bigger before me, while my proportions shrank.

I remember wanting to grab ahold of his leg, to hug it like a child would a tree. I was scared. My fear had nothing to do with the drug, or the effects it had begun to flushing through my system. I was scared cause it was at that time in my life that I first realized that nothing is certain, nothing is sacred unless I believe it to be, and so make it so. I was trembling with the threat of my own individuality, needing something to hug, to plant me firmly into the ground. I was nineteen and understood only that everything I was was about to be called into question.

That night, tripping, we ran through the acres of his parent's property, laughing and shouting Wow with the tongues our hears had commandeered. We ended up sitting on the slim cement middle of a small dam, water frothing with its greedy physics on one side, swelling with its patient mastery of stasis on the other. I was telling him about the Empire I wanted to build, out of letters. I was probably grating on him with my idealisms as regards art and commerce, love and God and all the scribbles that dance out the pen when one contends with meaning, preciousness, pretension. Josh asked me one question, and then again I began to shatter, to crumble into a speck of dirt at his feet.

Ben,’ he put to me, ‘why does everything you do have to be so big and bold?’

I didn't have an answer. I didn't know any better than to start feeling sorry for myself.

*

The next day I cried a lot. I wrote Lilly a long letter, mostly all self-denigration, tearing at the root of my worth, arguing the case of my own dayglo-pink worthlessness, that needed to be tattooed to my forehead, that needed to be (I thought at the time) utterly made evident, to first of all and especially her, who I had courted for months before she allowed me some kisses and a few fingers through her bodice, skirt, a few dates, hours of calls, many such ramblings as this -- who am I? Who do I think I am? Darkmanmisternothing, heh. And that darkman had such a hold on me, the day after the trip with Josh, and my chest hurt, and my head, too, from crying so much. I felt like I had no right to any of this. Life. I was worthless. I wrote her a long letter and then Josh and I went out and got pissed on a fifth of rum and a bottle of gato negro table wine. It was just like jack kerouac. At one a.m. I was crawling on my hands and knees across the underbelly of a defunct train bridge, crawling cause I didn’t trust my legs not to fuck up the rhythm of the planks and send my body splattered against the city-lit water 30 feet below.

I don't recall how we got home that night, only that we did. The next morning I got a ride with a couple friends of his, out to a small island off the coast of New Brunswick where I would hitch a ride south early the next morning.

There is nothing in the whole corpus of kerouac's pages that prepared me for that hangover.

*

It is my expressed opinion that I don't make all that good a hitchhiker. The day I'm writing about is the only time in my life that I’ve hitchhiked, but I'm pretty certain I’m dead on.

When you hitchhike, when strange people open up their own personal, private mobile bubbles to you, for free, they expect you to chat. I'm not much of a chatty person, for whatever reason, and on top of that I get nervous when there’s a nervous silence. I feel nervous cause I assume the other person is nervous. Nervous cause I’m not really allowing us to check out of the moment we happen to be inhabiting, into some blasé, mundane space all plushed out with neutral topics and strings of banter the world round, and maybe a few laughs. I'm more of one to space out, or talk about love or God or Empire, or just sit there silently watching space exert its impossibly detailed limbs in an unfolding fantasy of difference, distance, between one place and another. I'm talking about scenery, that billions and trillions of specs that make up a viewpoint, and all the multplications that happen when you travel in a car. I just like staring out a window, chopping down my responses to the minimal requirements, so I can get back to absorbing or osmosising or whatever it is hypnotic that looses me in travel. But I feel nervous when I don’t know the other person. I feel obligated. And that disallows me from spacing out – but still, especially under pressure, I have nothing at all to say, unless the other wants to say it. I do like listening. People are exactly like scenery, as long as they aren't set on getting something out of you. Then, they're more like, I don’t know, like the opposite of scenery. Like television or an appetite that pushes you into unreasonable situations, complications, all to satisfy something it wants you to believe you can't do without. People like that -- as well as television -- I tend to avoid. They make me the sort of nervous opposite of the nervous I just described -- nervous cause I can't seem to stop allowing them full entrance to my attention, full sway over what direction my spacing out takes.

This one ride I got was this fucking crazy huge powder blue chevy truck with a camper on its bed and wobbly wheels. Inside was this bearded maniac with eyes the colour of those days the sky seems about to rift apart -- very pale and almost translucent, like a pool of water superimposed on a mirror. There were holes in the bottom of his truck, where my feet were supposed to go, and he had a bottle of jim beam between his legs and a smoking corn cob pipe chomped in his assuredly false teeth, what he would hammer out on the steering column (the pipe, not his teeth) every time it wouldn't give him a thick, pungent puff of smoke, bright curls of still lit and semi-charred tobacco fizzing on his boots, scattering out the vehicle onto the blurry snapshot of asphalt grazing by us at 75mph, as seen through the corrosion-installed observation windows beneath us both.

He talked like an australian even though he was a native of Maine. He'd done a lot of traveling, internationally. Photography was involved. Now he was doing carpentry or something. He stressed to me the importance of knowing fluently more than one language, said the world is wide and round and there are more points on a compass than four and I shouldn't take for granted the fact that america is big and the lone super power now (this was nearly a decade after the fall of all those entities we had deemed dangerous enough to regard as our equals) -- cause it might all be overrated. America, that is. Overrated. Over estimated and plum right ready to fall crashing down in a big dry fart beneath its own bloated weight. He dropped me off after half an hour of me having no chance to get nervous for the sake of his entertainment. As far a scenery goes, he was like a bird’s eye view of the eastern seaboard, inter-apocalypse. He was a great big series of bangs and he didn't offer me one sip of his bourbon. But I didn't ask. I just sat there and nodded my head whenever I supposed that was what I should be doing.

*

I can’t let myself believe in poetry anymore. I feel that cramming every possible thought I have into the space of maybe five or six words is sort of vainglorious, on my part. As if someone has the time to unravel and decipher the tightly packed double helix of my meaning, and really get all I want them to get out of my words -- I'd much rather deliver my broods, moods, tinkers, sensations, events, atmospheres, and left/right hemispheres' parlays of words, ideas, intimations on the busier, more or less straightforward path of prose.

But at the time of this travel, I didn't know any better than to write in the poesy vein, to seethe poetic and with plenty of line breaks across a page. Either that, or I needed to feel not so vulnerable, splayed out so naked in a sense-making voice, while at the same time I very much needed to be as expressive as possible, and loudly so, because my emotions or whatever weren't anything but LOUD. And, to be honest, I don't think I had the diligence to commit to the ordeals of grammar and a steady stream of thought.

So I wrote a lot of poetry.

It was likewise with people, with my interactions with other people. Why go through all the trouble of engaging them with my true self, as I was, when I could hide behind a string of maybe five or six simple, thin, and yet somehow super-charged personas? Here I am: I'm happy! Here I am: I'm sad! Now I’m religious! Now I’m romantic! Now I’m being serious, or maybe just inventing a line that sounds real cool! Hey, check it out, I exist! – or do I?

I was full of evasion and pretension, with a thick soup of self revelry coating each of my extremities. Josh pretty much hit the pimple on the head when he said I was being too brash, too big and bold in my being, which is probably why I crashed so hard the moment he told me that.

I think I hated myself for all of this. I think I felt guilty cause I had always told myself, and the few friends I’d let commiserate with me in my self-pity and self-glory (two things that are never far from eachother, not in us, who to try to use them to make sense of deeper fears, anxieties, ambitions) -- I hated myself cause I always said I hated games, refused to play them. But the more I denounced games, the more I espoused them. The more I tried to extricate them from my life, the more I seemed to breed them, populate my whole day-to-day, my art, my commerce, with these shallow, tricky games. And not the playful kind, no. And not the serious kind, either. It was a way more vapid game I was trying my hand at:

The game of Meaning.

And ambiguity, to me, was safer and therefore more desirable than solid, firmly adhered-to makesense. I couldn’t believe that logic or philosophy proper would lead me to a resolution of the questions I had to contend with. And religion… and God and love… well, I was headed somewhere, wasn’t I?

*

…But maybe it wasn’t so much that I was lazy, that I was too caught up in myself or somehow too full of my own echo to really grapple with myself straightforwardly. Maybe I just didn’t have the willpower. Maybe I wasn’t ready to agree on any one definite course or foundation yet. Maybe I needed to explore raw, unadulterated Possibility before I bottle-necked it towards one definite goal.

There are manymany processes one gets to ramble through, just to get along, from one point to the next, and so maybe the bad taste all that poetasting leaves in my mouth is caused not by the pretensions I so bluntly, so naively aspired to then, but the pretensions I’ve got with me now, that I’m developing, that I’m processing at this very moment.

Any art is no more than a series of refinements.

How much more so, any human being.

*

Another ride came in the form of a black two door lincoln town car. Of course an elderly man was driving it. The moment I stepped into the faux-velveted cabin, two things happened: a blackbird alit on the road, looked about, and took off; and it began to sprinkle. These two events, and especially their collusion, excited my poetic nerve.

It didn’t rain on me once that whole day. The wetness came down only when I was in a vehicle, and cleared away a moment or two before I stepped back onto the road. And secondly, One for sorrow: I had had a rambling conversation on the mystical meaning of counted crows with one of Josh’s friends as we sat around waiting for the acid to come through. One for sorrow, two for mirth, Three for a wedding, four for a birth, Five for silver, six for gold, Seven for a secret not to be told. Eight for heaven, nine for hell, And ten for the devil's own self. . It was a folk anthem from a time and place when/where passions collected at nodal points prophetic, rather than, say, politic, or practical as far as building and sustaining that materialistic american dream is concerned.

I sat in the comfy, regal passenger seat of the black lincoln, transfixed on the portent, thriving with the intersection of life’s subtle poetry of moment.

And the old man himself had seen too many years to be much concerned with the flotsam of life’s currents. He didn’t really chat. Even though everything he said had to do with some facet of life that was totally normal, every word he spoke was emblazoned with carefulness, with a concern that was beautiful and unencumbered by confusion, banality, the mind’s anxious guessworks and passtime. He was 93 and had the eyes of a hawk. He drove a little slow, was all.

After exchanging some circumstantial data with him – where I was going, where I came from, my age and occupation – he told me he was headed to his brother Charlie’s house, who was in his early 80’s. Their other brother, born between them, was in the hospital, and they were going to go see him today, to wish him well. The old man apologized several times he couldn't take me beyond the next town, and repeated again and again (and again) his idea on the best road to take, south. We got off the highway and drove along some residential streets until we got to Charlie’s house. He pulled the car up into the driveway and told me he’d be right back.

For some reason, even though he shut off the engine and took his keys with him, the door alarm started dinging the moment he shut the door. I had no choice put to sit there and weather the incessant indication of something gone awry. I stared at the windshield, watching waterdrops hit and commingle on the glass, caressing down it’s aerodynamic slope in spidery rivulets that caught the light and bent it thin, little streaking lenses. The ding repeated itself tirelessly. It was like twenty minutes before he returned.

He started up the engine and pulled slowly onto the street, heading back to the highway. Charlie wasn’t following us as expected. He said

‘I’m sorry I can’t take you any further than the end of _____. I have to head back home now. My brother died just now. There’s just me and Charlie now. That’s the last of us. I think if I drop you off at ____, you’ll be able to find a ride pretty quick. I think that would be your best bet, south.’

I looked over at him. I didn’t feel either big or small. I watched a clear drop of water come out of his body, out of his eye as it darted here and there across the road. I thought how our cheeks don’t have any windshield wipers. His hands were white and veiny and splotched and they were busy with the steering wheel. When he dropped me off, he said thank you. I’ll never see him again, may peace be upon his face.

*

I remember I bought a ham sandwich and a lemon snapple from a roadside deli, which I consumed on a grodie picnic table overlooking the highway. I remember walking for two hours through an expanse of weird red and green cactus-like things. I remember waiting in an el camino with a blond teenager with a gob of chew in his mouth while his brother picked up a transmission for some other vehicle of theirs. Later on, a highway patrol plane passed over me twice, and I took cover in some bushes, but nothing came of it. I remember crouching in the back of a flatbed toyota, my butt getting bruised by the wheel well, listening to a mix tape Lilly had made me a couple weeks prior -- there was this one natalie merchant song I listened to over and over again, that made my ache for Lilly bearable and unbearable at the same time.

My second to last ride was from a middle aged couple who had a daughter my age, somewhere out in the world. They were coming home from a funeral and the wife insisted they pick me up. She asked me every possible question there’s a one-line reply to. Her husband didn’t say a word to me the entire time. Earlier on, I had gotten ahold of Lilly, and we made plans for her to pick me up in _____, a 45 minute drive from her house in merrimac. I was to call her when I got there, and wait in a denny’s or something till she arrived. The middle aged woman, after an extended mumbling session with her husband, almost insisted I hole up for the night in their garage. They had a camper there, and fresh bedding, and some food for me. She was worried about me. It took some time to convince her I would be fine.

They dropped me off at a gas station just as it begun to rain. I was listening to led zeppelin’s last album ‘coda’ for the sixtieth time when Lilly showed up. We sat in the back seat of the car while her best friend Carry drove. Her boyfriend was seated next to her, in the passenger seat. I was relieved from the chatterbox duty, sat snuggled up close to my girl, examining the blue dark tops of the new england trees.

I had started the day at 5:30 a.m. on a ferry boat off the coast of canada, ended it on a couch in new hampshire, beneath the bedroom of the girl I was to give my virginity to three months later. I gave her the letter I wrote, the confession of all my supposed lack, and she accepted it. She accepted me in ways I still can’t comprehend -- and even if I could comprehend it, I don’t think it would make any sense to me.

It ended up that the car of us, of Lilly and me, crashed several times before we were thrown far enough apart to break the habit of riding together, or towards or away from eachother (which all amounts to the same thing). I think it had a lot to do, all the crashing, with the scenery we got to gazing at, and the speed of our travel, and a lot of other things, most of which, sadly, have been lost along the roadway to this here, this now.

*

Less traveled or not, I think it’s mostly just a trick of being where you are. Which is ever between things. Which is all, each bit of it, passing.

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