Plugs

A. Portland, Oregon


1. Grand adventure is calling!

2. Slide your ass out of bed.

3. Drink a Stumptown or three.

4. Clear IPAs from your head.

5. Gas up the Subie wagon!

6. Put on your old Birks!

7. You’re in Oregon camo.

8. (In the city that works.)

9. Avoid roads with bored cops.

10. (You don’t want to go down.)

11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!

12. Head straight south out of town.

637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):

B. San Francisco, California

1. Cross your choice of big bridges.

2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!

3. Go up and go down.

4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!

5. Go up and go down.

6. Get lost and then again!

7. Do E with a homeless dude.

8. He’ll become your best friend!

9. Good luck finding parking.

10. (Though it helps some to pray.)

11. Kick the homeless dude out.

12. And head south to L.A.

381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):

C. Los Angeles, California

1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!

2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!

3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!

4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!

5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.

6. Never trust a valet.

7. Careful snorting while driving.

8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!

9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.

10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!

11. Avoid being on a reality show.

12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.

792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):

D. Albuquerque, New Mexico

1. Take that left turn.

2. (You know that you want to!)

3. Make fun of the town’s name.

4. Just where no one can hear you.

5. It’s a good place for business.

6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).

7. But they drive like they have

8. Nowhere special to go.

9. So just drink some peyote.

10. View the great color fountain!

11. See hot air balloon fiestas.

12. Then head on up the mountain!

449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):

E. Denver, Colorado

1. Celebrate that you’re here!

2. Your adventure is done.

3. Drink beer and get stoned.

4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!

5. It’s the Mile High City.

6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!

7. Reflect on your adventure.

8. All the places you’ve been!

9. You’ve had traffic and parking.

10. Yes, at times you were vexed.

11. But it’s your destination!

12. Where will you go next?

It took Sylvie all morning, steering her motorbike through crowded market streets and up stairway alleys, before she found the corner and the four bas-relief elephants, right where the fortune teller said they’d be, sculpted into the stone of each building at the intersection. The second-floor balconies perched like howdahs on the backs of the elephants, and the doors were half-hidden in the legs that were the buildings’ front corners.
Sylvie tugged the bell-pull by the knee of the blue elephant’s door-leg, heard a faint chime and the sound of feet down stairs. The door opened; a woman bent from the second step. She wore a long dress, black and covered with tiny glinting beads, her hair wrapped in a white towel, as if just washed. She curled her hand in a gesture that seemed to mean Sylvie should follow, and led the way up.
The fortune woman had said Sylvie would die, soon and horribly, if she didn’t stay in the elephant long enough to hear three things.
They came up into bright sunlight on the howdah-porch. Beyond it, the room went back into shadows. Sylvie saw couches and cushions on which more women in dark dresses sat or lounged. Incense so heavy she nearly sneezed. From below, the sputter-pop of her motorbike, someone stealing it, or trying to, and almost ran back down the stairs.
A life-size silver gorilla sculpture, on top of which someone had left a dusty bowler hat.
“For any who visit,” said the woman. “You can go no farther bare-headed.”
Sylvie put it on. The thief had the bike motor rumbling close to the right note. Sylive’s palms sweated; ever since the last accident, she knew every time she started the bike, every time made a delivery, it might lead to a final accident. That’s why she’d found the fortune teller.
The whine of her bike increasingly distant as Syvie walked into the room, stepping around cushions. This must have been the fortune teller’s plan. Send her here so her bike would be stolen, and she couldn’t die in a crash.
“Not many find us,” said the woman. That was two.
Sylvie had escaped death, but, without a bike, she doubted there was anything the fortune woman could to do to avoid Debtors’ Island.
“What is this place?” said Sylvie.
“It is the fortune tellers’ school.” The woman spread her arms. Smiled. Women on the nearer couches looked up. “And you are our newest student.”

There was a miser who had a cat.

He died.

The miser, that is.

The cat was fine.

The miser, who’d hoarded, cheated, and loaned at exorbitant and inflexible rates, left all his wealth to the cat.

Had this been strictly a matter of what was written in his will, his lawyer (whom he’d swindled) and the judge (whom he’d nearly bankrupted) would gladly have mislaid or invalidated anything bearing the miser’s signature.

But the miser had guaranteed his wishes by locking his fortune in a brass-bound trunk he buried beneath the oldest, tallest tree in the forest, and by hanging the trunk key on the cat’s collar.

Now, you’ve heard that cats have nine lives, but that doesn’t mean a string of lives lived one after another. Cats live all nine at once. And only one is a cat life. For instance, the miser’s cat was also a riverboat captain, a seamstress, a calendar-scribe, a mathematician, and several other things.

On a cloudy day, the lawyer and the judge finished decoding clues the miser had left in his will, and dug around the roots of some old, tall trees until they struck the brass-bound trunk with a shovel-bending clang! At the very same moment, in a nearby field, the cat wriggled through an inconvenient fence and snagged its collar there, key and all.

While the lawyer and judge rested before raising the trunk, a seamstress and a mathematician were crossing a fence-divided field from different sides. These two women spotted the key at the same moment they spotted each other.

Don’t mistake this for coincidence–this kind of thing happens all the time. In that country, there’s an expression, “They’re two lives of the same cat.” So it was with the seamstress and the mathematician.

It began to rain, softly, but as if it weren’t planning to stop, so they took refuge in the forest. Following the map on the inside of the collar, they found the trunk, opened it, and lived together happily in a vast mansion for many, many years.

The lawyer and the judge, who’d each stolen away to scheme how to defraud the other of his share of the treasure, returned to find the trunk open and empty. The lawyer was convinced that the judge had taken all the treasure, and vice versa. The feud between their families lasted three generations.

The cat, meanwhile, was fine.

Sure there was some temporary anxiety when they took over Trenton and Allentown to carve out their independent nation of Clowninnia, but it soon settled down into a national joke, a prank on a revolutionary scale, a riffing topic for late-night talk show hosts. You could be driving up the New Jersey Turnpike near the border and see ten or fifteen of them clustered around a tiny, fuel-efficient car, their neon hair grungy, smoking cigarettes and juggling fish in complex passing patterns. On Radio Clown they talked about freedom from oppressive social norms, freedom from standard shoe sizing, freedom from objectification of women and persecution of minorities, but then commentators with voices like rubber duckies would excitedly broadcast moment-by-moment accounts of unicycle races or team juggling matches or city-wide pie throwing meets. They were quirky, non-threatening, silly–a bunch of clowns.

Sometime in the dark hours of the morning on April 1st, Clowndependence Day as they later called it, I woke up choking and blinded. Panic turned to dread as I realized that what was choking my airways and clogging my eyelids was coconut cream pie. I wiped some of the goo away and saw a freakishly white face with oversized red lips leaning over me, its kinky orange hair forming a nimbus like a flame against the light coming through the window. In the distance I heard screams, explosion, gunfire, manic laughter, bicycle horns.

I lurched out of bed and away from the silent clown who reached for me with soot-blackened kid gloves. I smelled fire. Running for the door, still trying to clear the pie from my face, I slipped on a banana peel, crashing face-first to the carpet. Moments later a four-foot tall tramp clown and a seven-foot-tall grandma clown were tying me up with orange ribbon and gagging me with a giant polka-dot handkerchief. They dragged me down the stairs, pratfalling over each other, and once out on the street they took me by my bound hands and feet and one-two-three-heaved me into the back of a pickup truck, piled in a heap with other bound captives, all of us wriggling and groaning and petrified.

As the truck rumbled to life, I caught a glimpse of fat clown standing in the middle of the street, forlornly waving goodbye. A skinny clown snuck up behind him with exaggerated stealth, a pie balanced neatly on her palm.

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