Thursday, April 11th, 201:. Trent and I were finishing up my rounds out in Burbank. The final bit of pet sitting services on my schedule before I took three days off: The old lady recovering from cancer who needs the kitty litter box cleaned once a month. She likes to talk about rock n' roll and politics. She always leaves the radio on, when I am not there, that is her only outlet to the world. Traffic was bad out of LA. We had to swing down to Anaheim to pick up two boys from Mexico City we connected with on Facebook who bought the camping pass for Coachella Music Festival ahead of time. (We had neglected to do so) Then we had to stop off at a Target so we could put all our camping supplies and food on my Target card. That was the arrangement as Trent bought my ticket months in advance. And then we had to pull into the small town of Indio, California to set up camp for a three day weekend of drugs and music.
Sure, there were thoughts that the two young Mexicans would slice our throats, steal my 1996 Saturn and enjoy the rest of the weekend with my Target card. We needed that camping pass though, and as we pulled into a Days Inn off the 5 freeway, I saw two young, rather innocent kids no more than 21 years of age, waiting patiently in the empty, sterile lounge through tiny, double glass doors and large luggage on their laps. One was Salvador, tall, virile and handsome. A thick head of black hair and dimples that rose and vanished under a blanket of rotating expressions. The other was a larger boy named Fernando. He was shy, with a broader face but long hair to hide behind. His nose and lips more prominent and more self-conscious.
It would become apparent that Fernando was in love with Salvador. Of course, we were all in love with Salvador. We couldn’t have found gentler and more generous souls anywhere in this big, bad world. We lucked out.
Just before driving into Indio, we decorated my car. There is a prize for the most decorated car, promising free entry into the following year’s Coachella Music Festival. It was then that I took out the window decal I bought over the internet. Over the rear windshield, we spread out in large pink letters, my new, used car’s name: Black Betty. As a foursome, we scratched it over glass so it would take. It wasn’t centered. Fuck it.
We drove off the freeway and followed signs to the music festival, then got in a long line of cars waiting for a camping spot assignment. Cars in front and behind us were dumping bottles of alcohol. “Yeah, you can’t bring it any glass containers,” Trent said. At the Target parking lot, we had already poured two bottles of cheap, white wine in an emptied jug of water. It barely covered a quarter of the jug. Cans of beer were acceptable. Trent always needed a huge stock of beer.
It took over an hour to gently roll Black Betty into the field where camping passes were scanned and cars were checked by security. Our security officer picked up our plastic jug. “Smart,” she said. “Ok, go on through.” We were packing some drugs but not as much as we wanted. Our Los Angeles drug dealer was rather unreliable. Somewhere between a psychotic disorder and a drug addiction, he was barely surviving in a one bedroom apartment. He lived in a pile of discarded clothes, disposable razors, emptied Snapple bottles and expensive, vintage movie posters.
One of the last times I went to visit him, he told me “they” broke into his apartment. He threw his arms around his apartment as if I could see how much worse off everything is than it was. I couldn’t tell the difference. He pointed to the back of his front door, “See dat! Do you see dat!?” he said in a thick German accent. “It is some kind of witchcraft symbol. Cult bullshit! Dat wasn’t there before. They left dat!” I looked at him, bare chested under his leather vest with a thin, cloth scarf tied around his neck and struggled to find the symbol.
I found what appeared to be spilled coffee on the back corner of his front door. I hadn’t heard from him since. I knew he was moving. I knew he was changing cell phone numbers. And I was unable to replenish our stash for the Coachella festivities. We knew we could buy from kids holding at Coachella.
As we slowly rolled in, I saw bronzed, white girls in uggs and matching outfits. Midriffs and streaked, chocolate-blonde hair. They all looked identical. I had forgotten what it was to be young in mind. To long to be identical to the others. They waved neon, light tubes in the air, pretending to be a little more tipsy than the other. A little more available. Just a little different from the other. A shade of variation instead of a scream of uniquity.
I hadn’t gone to a regular University. I applied to one college: a hippie four-year school with no grades, no tests and a reputation for stoner students who are awarded academic credit in exchange for a self-constructed academia around growing marijuana. Evergreen State College was the beginning of the real me. Everything synched for the first time in my awkward, uncomfortable, painfully shy existence. Those kids listened to my music. Those kids tripped to Beatles and Pink Floyd, running through rain forests and drumming next to fires. Those kids let me feel that my instincts were leading me in the right direction. It was the beginning of my real life. I wasn’t waiting anymore: waiting to move away from my parents, waiting to get through an unenthusiastic educational institution, waiting to move out of a strip mall. Waiting to talk to people who already knew me. At 18, I was able to skip over football games and frat boys, sororities and keggers. I escaped, and somehow was brought full circle in Indio.
I was shocked to see them there. My impression was that Coachella was a modern day Woodstock. A celebration of psychedelics, good music and spontaneous friendship. I tried not to hate the BMWs and the Mercedes Benzes as they all lined up in perfect order from each other. I think my car was the only model assembled prior to 2005 in our entire section. The bitterness yanked on my lower intestine as my parking break through anchor on its stretch of field and grass. I kept asking Trent, “Did they work for the money for that car?” As if any answer would heal my working class scratches and bruises, the scars and scabs that hardened and broke back open. Trent related to the feeling and we both exchanged snarky remarks as we pitched a tent in strangers’ headlights. Earlier, we watched two young girls smoke a joint like a cigarette out of their parents Lexus. We were already worked up before even entering festival grounds.
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” Trent screamed at them. They posed like we were paparazzi in my pathetic headlights. Like we envied their uniformity and money. We did envy the ease with which they slithered into our world.
Once we were settled, I hid in the tent for a quick nap. I was working my ass off with school and work. I wasn’t sleeping full nights. I rarely had a day off. I was grouchy and exhausted. When I slipped off into a starry doze with the cold desert air settling on my face and chest, I would startle to my name.
“Just a few more minutes …” I called before feeling my body lift to the sky.
When I got up, everyone was up and celebrating with beer and pre-festivity drugs. No psychedelics yet.
“We feel so sorry for you,” Salvador said.
“Every time I called your name, you woke up for a second to say you would be right out. I would just call your name out whenever we got bored and you sat right up to talk,” Trent explained, as he broke over laughing. “Your brain will not let you sleep!”
I rubbed the star dust off my face and grabbed a beer. “I am up. What time is it?”
“Two” someone answered.
Trent and I stayed up all night terrorizing our neighbors. Two young men named Houston and Benny who were separated from their group. We may not have gravitated towards them if they moved within their pod, but they were on their own and close to us, so we went a few rounds of psychological banter and bruising before feeling a comradery. Benny was attractive. He looked to be about 20 to 21, but was tall. He had a soft face. Almond-shaped eyes. He looked down when he chuckled to fill the void. Trent and I tore him apart, asking him question after question about his sexuality, about his childhood, about his fantasies. He kept standing until dawn and one of our neighbor’s stumbled out of his tent to use the toilet. “You two could make a fortune breaking down someone’s psyche like that. I have been listening to it all night.”
Trent spilled his lovable cackle. Trent would break down pretty boys. If they were straight, it would be more fuel for the fire. I know Trent well, but I still haven’t figured out the paper puzzle for which he unfolds. How does he fall in love? How does he give himself over? How does he feel free? When he comes close to any of those great moments of being human, of manhood, he hides under fists. The last time he was in love … it was beautiful, but complicated. Emotionally gentle but psychologically rough. Monogamous but paraded as polyandrous. I fell in love with both of them. When Trent lost him, so did I. And so the ballad fades out into the next, sad love song.
Trent and I stood there as the sun rose. “Are we really the last ones standing?”
Then it was Friday.