James Medford


I arrived at Katmandu just after 10:00, barely in time to catch the opening band, Live Gerbil Enema.  I paused momentarily at the bar and considered grabbing something to drink, but the bartender had just finished a batch of Syrian Rue milkshakes, and the long line of customers convinced me to move on.  It was just as well, as I've always kind of questioned the wisdom of consuming anything used in making dyes. Continuing on into the cavernous room where the band was playing, I quickly scanned the crowd for my compadres.  Although I didn't see anyone I knew right away, a girl with Jot tattooed on her cheek looked like someone I had once met at one of those outdoor art festivals that attract an odd mix of punkers, Hare Krishnas, and curious suburbanites.  When I approached her to see if she would remember our brief encounter, she quickly broke eye contact with me, which I took as a rebuff.  I retreated to the nearest pillar on which I could lean to don my "bored and distant" face while the lead singer launched into a tirade about the sorry quality of the sound system. I had never seen this band before, but I met the drummer one night at More 'ffeine, my favorite coffeehouse.  He noticed I was reading one of Harry Crews' novels, and told me he always sympathized with the characters that mow down fifty people, blow themselves up, and fall into a pit of poisonous snakes and the end of each book.  When I told him I felt more empathy for the eighty-year-old tractor operator who empties half a bottle of Jack in one might gulp, he handed me a flier advertising the first show of his band's "Back to Richard Gere" tour.  Thus I found myself a week later sucking down second-hand smoke and listening to a grunge-wannabe screaming into his microphone about cheap monitors and fascist club owners. Midway into this monologue, Pooch Van Dunk bumped my elbow.  Like many of my friends, he uses a pseudonym because he has some horrifying name like Christopher, the sort of moniker yuppies like to give their children so they can advertise their sophistication in public.  "Christopher!  Come away from those Macbooks so we can get into the Volvo and go eat fresh pasta!"  Pooch pressed his peyote cooler into my face and tried to pry open my mouth like he was giving water to a dying man. "Down it, dude!  It makes you puke but after that it's like you're William Burroughs in the jungle." "Uh, you mean chasing after fifteen-year-old boys and shit like that?" "Dude, you are just wound too tight." He was probably right, but I really wasn't excited about retching my intestines in a dark corner of the club where my hands and knees would mingle with rank fluids of unknown origin.  Fortunately, Pooch has the attention span of a four-year-old strung out on two boxes of Lucky Charms, so he abandoned me when he eyed a suspiciously-familiar looking girl standing along in front of the stage.  I took advantage of this situation and went back to the bar for a beer.  The line had evaporated, so I bought a pint of the "mystery brew" of the night and sauntered over to one of the grease-stained sofas by the wall.  Occupying one end of a particularly sordid couch was Harry, the resident eccentric who wanders into the club almost nightly for a complimentary beer and the opportunity to espouse his philosophy to anyone within earshot.  Somehow I inadvertently wandered into no-man's land and came under attack. "Has it ever occurred to you that the Greek myths were metaphorical treatises on the evolution of humans from hunter-gatherers to agrarian creatures?  Or that the homeless are the hunter-gatherers of modern civilized culture?" "No.  Has it ever occurred to you that if you wet your pants and don't change, you'll be totally repulsive to everyone around you?" I only said this because I knew from previous experience that Harry was completely oblivious to anything anyone said to him.  Somewhere along the way he had withdrawn into his own little universe from which he would occasionally fire amazingly articulate salvos about whatever occupied his mind, but which also allowed little return communication.  He usually would recognize me or some of the other regulars at the club, but beyond that any interaction with him was pretty much a one-way street.  I left him lecturing on the role of cattle domestication in the origins of patriarchal religious institutions, and returned to the other room to see if the band had worked out their equipment problems. I sighted Pooch delivering an animated soliloquy to Jot Woman, who had obviously broken eye contact long ago and was wondering when he would take the hint.  Pooch is not burdened with the painful insecurities that so often send the rest of us home to an empty apartment, but he sometimes pays the price with a drink in the face or other public humiliation. By this time the lead singer was ranting about the walls being too perpendicular to the floor, so I figured the whole issue of the sound system had become moot.  He was right, of course.  The walls were much too upright for their own good.  The could barely support the amphibian murals painted on them, but the frogs were swimming around so erratically that I couldn't blame the band for croaking out of tune onstage and ... ... oh, fawwwwwkkkk ... Mystery Brew propelled upward through my epiglottis and crash-landed on the table in front of me, killing 147 tourists returning from a scenic flight to the Andes.  The surviving rugby players ate their dead with a white wine sauce on a bed of polenta and a nice house salad.  The waiter brought around a bucket of ice and poured Looney Tunes music into my glass.  When we reached the top of Everest, my sherpa guide turned to me and screamed, "Sir, would you like us to call a cab to take you home?" I retreated to the sanctity of my right pocket, where I kicked aside two dimes and some string to settle in for a long night.  The lead singer shoved me over to make room for himself and complained about the jagged edges of my car keys.  Down by the bar, Harry emptied his beer and moseyed out into the darkness.


James Medford is a former riverboat captain at Six Flags over Texas. After determining that this wasn't a lucrative career, he went to Rice and then became a steely-eyed missile man working on Space Shuttle flights from Mission Control. Multiple trips to Moscow convinced him that he was a Mir mortal, so he now chases comets through space in a ship made of antimatter, stopping at whatever bar he can, where space babes try to get him to stay on their planets, and where he tells them wormhole after wormhole, “Sorry, baby, I gotta get back to space."