On Top of the World, there is Nowhere to Run but Down

Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn

Outside FAIRBANKS, Alaska

64.678° N, 148.327° W

This far north, midsummer dusk is separated from dawn by the slightest of darknesses. If night ever did fall, which is debatable, I must’ve blinked and missed it entirely. Sleep did not come for us as much as it stole-away in fits of spontaneous unconsciousness. Desperate attempts were made at napping as we folded into fetal positions, cuddled together in the shade of Mt McKinley. But science has proven naps can’t be forced. Naps must be earned, and having achieved such earnings, naps must be administered by the gods of sleep, whomever they may be (I’ve run the numbers and its inconclusive). Those gods of sleep, or at least their local representation, denied us our collective claim for rest, resulting in a continued existence of drowsy delirium, over-caffeinated nerves and jumping at shadows both real & hallucinated. Sleep would come, of course, but it would strike suddenly!, and, just as suddenly!, we’d stumble awake, drool-dampened, numb limbs akimbo, each of us pondering, where the fuck?

Vic Neverman flossing bear teeth

Hi there!, welcome to Alaska.

———

Lewis & Clark has nothing on the VanDango & Neverman RV Expedition. We may have no military or geological surveying experience, no Sacagawea, no fate of a nation resting on our shoulders, but damnit, we have gusto. We have a CD player. We have a stocked bar oozing with boozy goodness. We have avocados!, and a toaster!; certainly neither Clark nor Lewis thought to make avocado toast. We have enough frozen burritos to last an ice age; frozen burritos which can serve the triple purpose of sustenance, laxative and/or weapon to hurl should a rogue moose meander too close. We have sriracha! I bet Lewis wished he had some hot sauce for his daily grubs and berries. I bet Clark would have liked to spice-up the charred squirrel kabob which stinks of burnt fur. And we have the internet of things!, though our smart phones are rendered deaf and dumb over these large stretches of sub-arctic highway. But Jago has a ukulele which he uses to sing about our embarrassment of riches: we got… four wheels, six tits and grit! We got… four dongs and a love song! We got… seven hearts between fourteen thighs! And Mrs. Robinson has a belly full of mudpies!

Mrs. Robinson, the tragic heroine of our operatic odyssey, is our vessel, the recreational vehicle-for-hire we picked-up in Anchorage. She was named, aptly, for being an older model who really wanted to fuck us. Don’t forget!, Jago says, Mrs. Robinson guzzles everything we pump into her. Jago is hushed by his older brother. Dude!, Paul VanDango asks of Jago, how is gas mileage even relevant to the story Vic is trying to tell? Jago defends himself by saying, it’s relevant because it is funny and it is funny because it is true. Jago strums his ukulele and sings, I love you… like a brother! Paul shakes his head and says, you’re an idiot. 

Despite how self-sustaining the VanDango-Neverman Expedition is, we do like to break the yellow-line monotony for the occasional roadhouse pitstop. It is one such stop which brought our sleepless crew within the confines of Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn.  

Skinny Dick’s is a temple of innuendo, a paradise of low-brow humor, a sanctuary for the perverse with a gift shop to boot. Jago VanDango is the first to find his delights in the store. Browsing the gift shop aisles, Jago is overjoyed at the paraphernalia and tells his brother, Dude!, dildo paperweights are my jam, man! Editorial Note: he’s a puckish fuck, this Jago, a curly-haired faun with goat-legs hidden under his jeans. Ben-Wa Balls!, Jago says and high-fives his brother. Dude, this is great, Jago says, I lost my last set. Jago asks Paul with an impish grin, wanna know where? I’ll give you a hint. Paul refuses the hint, saying, you’re an idiot. Paul walks away. Jago shrugs off his brother to continue perusing the other sex toys. He is startled when approached by a trollish woman who stepped out from behind the cash register. Dude!, Jago shrieks at the woman. She smiles with the radiance of a microwaved golden raisin. She speaks through a throat callused from a century of unfiltered cigarettes, holding up two fingers for Jago. Take two pennies, she says to him. Why?, Jago asks, near tears. Take two pennies, the old woman says before asking, see the car? What car?, Jago looks around. A Lincoln, she says. See the snake?, she asks, before saying, a copperhead. See the pussy?, she asks Jago, thin lips raised over her diseased gums. Jago concentrates his eyes on the ceiling, afraid of what this woman might be displaying. Jesus, et tu Padre, Jago says, searching for some long forgotten Catholic prayer. No!, the old woman says with relish. And for two cents you aren’t gonna see any pussy! She then cackles a laugh, which turns into a tortuous coughing fit. Okay, funny, Jago says and turns away from her. Approaching his brother, he says, Dude, do you got a nickel? The lady at the register has a story for you. 

The sign outside of Skinny Dick’s has a disclaimer warning visitors of foul-language and copulating bears. Copernicus points at the bear-on-bear love illustrated, saying, bad tidings, Vic, you should consider shaving your back. He adds, I have read bears do eat the shit out of a good ass, which you might find pleasurable until you hemorrhage to death. I shake my head at Copernicus, saying, dude, you’re the one burping salmon tacos. The bears will smell you first. Copernicus takes a long sigh and looks towards the near hillside. He says, survival guides suggest you play dead when approached by a bear, but what if bears are ass-eating necrophiliacs? Do you really want to put the play-possum theory to the test? Copernicus asks me, when you sniff a bag of pork rinds, do you ever think, oh, this pig-asshole would be better if the pig was still oinking? No, you’re happy to dig in, Copernicus says. Dude, I say to him, what kind of psychopath sniffs bags of pork rinds?

Whoa-oh, her she comes, Jago VanDango arrives, snapping his fingers, singing Hall & Oats. Watch-out boy, she’ll chew you up. Whoa-oh, here she comes. She’s a sphincter-eater. 

Past the gift shop, inside the bar, my sister, Vera, and Paul’s wife, Christina, have found barstools. The interior of this roadhouse is borderline stimulus overload. Every spare inch of wall space is occupied with graffiti, pictures, obscene objects or taxidermy. The ceiling is leafed with dollar bills. I’d insure the shit out of this decorative wallpapering, Christina VanDango informs my sis. There must be an easy grand above us, she says. Babe, my sister says to Christina, get your mind out of the salt mine. Stop thinking about work, we on vay-cay, girl. Christina nods, saying, you’re right, you’re right… but if you think about what a simple grease fire might mean in damages. Countering, Vera Neverman says to Christina, you know what I’d like? An insurance policy against goddamn sobriety. Yo barkeep!, Vera says, a couple glasses of your finest cheap chardonnay, please. On the rocks!

Sail on Sailors: Christina, Paul, Jago and Vera

I order an Alaskan Amber. Just one as I am driving Mrs. Robinson. Copernicus gets a tallboy of Rainer, which he dumps into a pint glass. Before the beer suds can foam-over, Copernicus takes a finger swipe of the bridge of his nose before plunging his oily index into the glass to dissipate the bubbles. It is an impressive feat, this mastery of suds. Whoa!, Jago says, asking Copernicus, are you a wizard? Copernicus shakes his head, no, only in cosplay sex parties. Cool, cool, Jago says before asking, does your wand cast the spells or are you more of the spell catcher in these wizard orgies? Copernicus thinks about it… In Portland, most sex parties are a bunch of nerds gathered around two coked-up girls making out. Cool, cool, Jago says before asking, is that like a spell you can cast as a wizard? Like abracadabra, lesbomonium, what’s the magic word?, please! Copernicus thinks about it… If you toss cocaine at the right people, anything can happen. Cocaine is magical, Jago says. I mean, from what my brother tells me. 

Further down the bar at Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn, my sister, Vera Neverman, is making friends with a local. At least he seems local: he smells like turpentine, he’s got a beard at high-tide, a black ear from frostbite, his crooked flannels looked lived-in, but he has a Nickajack southern accent. Who are ya in the lower 48?, he asks of Vera. She informs him she’s a recruiter. He chuckles after looking over our crew and jokes, recruit for what, a cult of mammy-jammer hippies? No, my sister says, I recruit for Big Pharma. She then turns towards the rest of us. Paul sells tractors for Big Farm and my brother, Vic, delivers pizza for Big Parm. Jago is a metallurgist and Copernicus is a mixologist. Christina is an insurance adjuster and Jago’s fiancé sleeping in the camper is maladjusted. That’s all we’re cracked-up to be in a nutshell. Well, I’ll be, Nickajack nods. Ain’t y’all slicker than owl shit? What’s it y’all running from, he asks. People coming to Alaska, he says, well they almost always running from something. Vera, super-suspect, responds with a question, what’s it you’re running from, Jack? He confesses, I had to cut-bait in Chattanooga cos they wanted to hang me for being a podophile. You mean pedophile?, Christina VanDango enters the conversation, defensively stepping between Jack and Vera. Nope, Nickajack says, a podophile. I just love feet. Why would they hang you for having a foot fetish?, Christina asks. Nickajack shrugs, I guess cos I mostly like children’s feet. Christina waves at the bartender, check please!

What’s this, VAMP?, a grisly graybeard barfly inquires about the shirt Jago, Copernicus and I are all wearing. Volunteer Association of Mosquito Preservation, I inform him. Preservation?, he gurgles, spitting-up a sip of his whiskey & coke, a concoction quickly absorbed in chin hairs yellowed from nicotine. Preserving them? What on earth for?, Graybeard asks. Mosquitos are misunderstood, I say. Mosquitos get a bad-rap for their biological imperative to suck the life-force out of any fella who walks into the room. 

Much like your ex-wife!, Christina yells at me from several stools away. I’m not amused. 

I refocus and begin to tell Graybeard mosquitos are an essential part of ecosystem, but his attention is already drawn towards Jago, who has a hand on his shoulder and is quietly saying to him, yeah, but no, dude, what’s important is VAMP is definitely not a sleeper cell of Russian spies. Graybeard leans back, asking, huh? Graybeard removes his camouflaged ball cap to smooth over his unwashed hair before repeating, huh? Jago VanDango doubles-down, what I am saying is that out of all of us, none of us are Soviets who are illegally in Alaska after taking a submarine to the Aleutian Islands. If that is who you are looking for, that is not us, Jago says. No one in our group is a Russian spy. Except maybe that guy, Jago points to Copernicus, I’ve never seen him before in my life. 

What’s this?, Copernicus, distracted with something lodged in his teeth, is raising eyebrows quizzically at the sudden attention. Graybeard nearly has a stroke on his next belch, saying, Soviets? Jago responds to Graybeard, why do you ask? Wait!, Jago asks Graybeard with wide eyes, are you Mother?

Dude!, I say, grabbing Jago by the shoulder, enough pandering paranoia you fucking fucker. Jago is giggling as Copernicus and I walk him towards the exit. Off-stage, we hear shouting at the pool tables. My sister had been returning from the ladies room, past the billiards, when an outfit of misfit woodsmen began catcalling her. Hey girl, you lost? Cos I’m tracking your position. Hey baby, you a beaver? Cos dammmmn! Paul VanDango, our fearless leader in shorts, was already on the scene, approaching the ruffians, saying, gentlemen, you should place a call to Liam Neeson because this girl is taken. The pool hall thugs do not take kindly to Paul VanDango and tell him to fuck-off back to whichever country club he climbed out of. “Miss Vicious”, as my sister is known in the High Intensity Training sub-culture of suburban Denver, is pissed, turning on a pivot to tell the rednecked crowd, suck a dick, the lot of you. She says to them, Paul will give any one of you a hundred bucks if you can do more push-ups than me. The ruffians laugh and roll-up their sleeves. This is a bad idea, I am thinking. My sister might be the strongest Neverman in the history of Nevermen and will crush these boondockers in push-ups and there is nothing worse than a bunch of hinterland hillbillies with bruised egos. Hey, Veer!, I say to my sister, shaking my head, no. I turn to Captain Paul, saying, let’s get the fuck out of dodge. Alright sailors, Paul says, clapping his hands, let’s sail-on. 

Exodus Skinny Dick’s…

We load into our ancient recreational vehicle, Mrs. Robinson, and get back out on the highway. I am behind the wheel with Captain Paul sitting shotgun, giving me navigational directions. Paul’s wife Christina is at our living room table, reaching for olive oil and a bowl as a part of some Sicilian gypsy shit. What the fuck are you doing?, Paul asks his wife. Christina says, I am giving us protection. Oh Christ, Paul shakes his head and turns back to his atlas.

I do not take this precaution unnecessarily, Christina tells her eager pupil, Vera Neverman. I save this for asshats and cannibals, both of which I feel we encountered back at Skinny Dick’s. All one needs to create the protective evil eye is olive oil, water, a bowl, a string and a weighted metal object. Okay, Veer, drop three drops of olive oil into this bowl of water. As the oil and water dances in the bowl, in this moving RV, Christina put hands on Vera, saying, Father, this prayer is being said for Little Miss Vicious and I pray that it works in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and forever shall be. Christina smiles and grips my sister’s hands, the Malcocchio works best on Christmas Eve, but this will protect you nevertheless. Christina’s husband, Paul VanDango, hesitantly turns around to tell the ladies, well, we might be in the middle of summer, but we are heading to the most Christmasy place on earth: North Pole, Alaska.

Hey guys and gals, Jago VanDango says as he comes forward from the back bedroom where his vegetative girlfriend hibernates, consuming Cheetos, Pepsi and TikTok. Jago says to us, not to spoil this circle-jerk, but I think we are being followed. 

Yeah, I fucking know, I acknowledge from behind the wheel. In the side-mirrors of Mrs. Robinson, I’ve already noticed three four-wheelers and a tow-truck speeding-up behind us, only to fall-back again instead of passing. Captain Paul calls for a meeting in the foredeck. Hey fuckers!, Paul hollers at the inhabitants of the recreational vehicle, family meeting! Oh shit, Jago says, are people complaining about the largeness of my balls again? Copernicus is snacking on avocado toast from an interior sofa as he suggests, hey Vic!, we could likely barter our safety with these highwaymen by marrying off your sister in exchange for a few cartons of cigarettes and free passage to British Columbia. Miss Vicious, my sister, punches Copernicus in the ear-hole and says, only a few cartons of cigarettes? Christina tells everyone to calm down, her hex should keep the fuck-tards at-bay. 

Vera and Vic near Seward

I do not engage with the hysterics as I am trying to drive Mrs. Robinson as fast as I can with minimal power-steering. She loves the full throttle, though her carriage is shaking, rattling, nearly coming undone as we press forward. 

Look!, Paul VanDango says. We have a situation. We cannot outrun whoever is following us, not in this old boat. But we can outsmart these Deliverance fucks. Who’s got ideas? Jago VanDango eagerly raises a hand, dude!, bro!, no, so let’s let loose the sewage tank and have them slip around on our brown gravy. Paul calls him an idiot. Paul says, in order to pull that off, you’d have to crawl outside the moving RV and empty the tanks while being dragged on the road like something out of National Lampoon’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jago thinks on it, nods, says, I think Copper Nickel is up to it. Who?, Copernicus asks, from his hunched-over position in the cramped quarters. Jago smacks Copernicus on the shoulder, saying, give me two pennies and I will show you my pussy. Copernicus asks what the fuck. Sorry dude, Jago shakes his head, it sounded better from the fried-green tomato at Skinny Dick’s. But we believe in you, man, Jago says to Copernicus. If you do this for us, we’ll forgive you for porking all of our avocados. Say what you want, dude, Jago says to Copernicus, but that is not the most efficient way to de-pit an avocado. Copernicus calmly replies, I’ll have you know, I have not had sex with any fruit or vegetable this entire trip. Wait, does hummus count?, he asks straight-faced before laughing. 

The shared nervous giggles within Mrs. Robinson do not hide the strained mechanical hum of the RV being pushed to her limits. Okay, Vic, Paul says as he climbs back into the shotgun seat. Time for evasive maneuvers. Keep speeding along and take a sharp right… here! Fuck, I think, gritting my teeth as I pull the heavy wheel to the right, hoping to take the turn without rolling this RV halfway to Banff. Our wheels manage to stick onto a provincial side-road, and we find our way into what is North Pole, Alaska. Our pursuers slow, turning their heads to watch our off-ramp, before speeding off into the distance. Jago is yelling from the back of the RV, dudes!, I think we lost them!, the coast is clear! Up in the front of the RV, Paul and I share a look, the coast is not clear. 

We hurry into a Christmas-themed trailer park. Hopefully, Captain Paul VanDango says, they’ve lost interest in pursuing us, but we should still find a spot hidden as far away from the main road in case they return. Christina speaks up, no, they’ve been persuaded away. Centuries of tradition make for more than a good red sauce, Paul, she says. Jesus, Paul says, yeah, maybe your Gypsy shit worked up until Vic took that corner and sent your bowl against the wall. Christina shrugs, the curse was set. But that was the last of our good olive oil. 

Are we here? I look around at the goofy campground. Intentionally?

Welcome to the North Pole, Paul says, get cozy, we’re booked for the night. Whatever night might find us. 

Too late, I mention, tapping the dashboard clock. We missed tonight. We’re already tomorrow. 

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