Sunday, September 20, 2009


“This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
~ William Shakespeare; ‘Hamlet’

One of the things that every person on this planet has in common with all others is individuality – uniqueness. We are ALL one-of-a-kind. From your fingerprints, to the pattern in your iris, to your voiceprint, to your likes and dislikes, there is no one else quite like you. (And I thank God for that!) Nor is there anyone else quite like me. (Go ahead and thank The Lord.) This is a fact about us that we all share. Ironic, ain’t it?

Individuality was something I became conscious of at a very early age. Primarily because when I was in perhaps the third grade I had a slight crush on a little girl in my classroom who had a small round scar on her forehead. I can no longer remember her given name but I believe her last name was Smith. (With that surname, I don’t suppose she could be too terribly difficult to locate at Facebook.) I thought my would-be girlfriend’s little scar made her “special” and so I decided that I wanted a scar also.

I can recall deliberately walking around barefooted in the alley behind my Orange County house on Ward Street, hoping that I would “accidentally” step on a nail which might produce a scar. Then I could go to school, take my shoe off and show Smithgirl, “Look! I have a scar, too!” But the REALLY stupid thing about this is that all the while I was walking around in the alley, hoping to acquire a scar on my foot as a mark of my uniqueness, I was carrying around a large brown birthmark on my left forearm. (Uhp! I’m an idiot!)

But over the next few years I reached that same mental state that all kids do, where I just wanted to “fit in”; I wanted to look like all the “cool kids” did – to wear the popular clothing and think in the popular ways. With 50-year-old hindsight, I am now able to recognize the two seminal phases of my early life which allowed me to overcome the desire to be a part of the crowd and, rather, to formulate the mind-set that I was my own man – an independent thinker:

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
~ Henry David Thoreau; ‘Walden’

#1: For most of my childhood, our family was pretty darn poor. No, we were not on the very bottom rung of the economic ladder, but we were close enough to it that I could smell the bad breath of the poorest. My Brother and Sister and I always received an overabundance of gifts at Christmas because our Ma, who was dirt poor as a Great Depression child, didn’t want us to experience the same lack she had on that most special of days. But what I didn’t find out until many years later is that all of our Christmas gifts were charged, and my parents would barely get them paid off before it was time to charge the next round of Christmas gifts.

During the year, however, we rarely had the top-of-the-line stuffs that most of the other kids had. I recall that when I was in grade school High-Top Converse tennis shoes were super-popular. All the cool boys wore them and I wanted a pair so bad that I could almost taste the rubber and canvas. I remember begging my Pa for a pair of Converse one time while we were shopping for tennis shoes at Thrifty Drug Store (!) What I wound up getting were shoes made from some cheap polyvinylplastic-like material. We simply couldn’t afford name brand stuffs like Converse.

At school, everybody who was anybody at that time was wearing Converse, and one night I had a dream that I had awakened to find a pair of the High-Tops underneath my bed. The joy I experienced in the dream was so intense that it actually woke me up out of a dead sleep. Naturally, I immediately looked underneath my bed, but all I saw under there were dust bunnies… all wearing miniature Converse High-Tops and laughing at me.

But growing up on the lower rungs of the economic ladder was a good lesson for me. It taught me that having what everyone else has is not what makes a person content; that it’s OK to stand outside of the crowd and go your own way, whether of necessity or by will. Although I never got to LOOK like one of the Coolboys, I got through that period anyhow and had a ridiculously happy childhood. Other than bourbon, martinis and sake, happiness cannot be bought, and there’s a whole lot more to life than running with the “In Crowd”… in Converse tennis shoes.

“Well, I try my best to be just like I am, but
everybody wants you to be just like them.”
~ Bob Dylan; ‘Maggie’s Farm’

#2: In my last year of junior high and the first two years of high school, I was a member of the police Explorer program. The Explorers is a branch of the Boy Scouts but specifically related to law enforcement. Explorers are teenagers who receive training in principles of police work and help with crowd control and traffic direction at civic events, etc. Being an Explorer in the mid-1970s was just about the “uncoolest” thing one could be. While everyone else was smoking dope and wearing “hair like Jesus wore it,” I was running around with a badge and wearing close-cropped hair. No dope-smoking for me. (And we won’t discuss the beer and firearms at Explorer campouts.) At school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear someone in a crowd shout out “Narc! Narc!” when I was nearby, or even to occasionally have someone call me that right to my face. Even the nerds wouldn’t have anything to do with me. More than once, word came to me that I was going to get beaten up after school, but no one ever actually attempted it.

Once, about a week or two after I had received some emergency medical training at the Explorer Academy (think “Boot Camp”, only much more stressful than what our military personnel currently experience in real Basic Training), I actually employed what I had learned to LITERALLY save my Brother’s life when Nappy went through a large window while chasing down a fly ball in our backyard in 1974. But that’s a story for another year.

I survived that sometimes tense Explorer experience, doing what I wanted to do at the time, regardless of what anyone else thought of it, and in the end, I learned that the criticism of others doesn’t mean a thing – it’s absolutely irrelevant, even when you’re totally alone amongst the masses.

“I ain't goin' your way; Get outta my way!”
~ Bobby Darin; ‘Lazy River’

I believe it was in living through these two early stages of my life that I gained most of the inner strength to become my own man in every situation and to find the courage to go my own way regardless of what anyone else thought of it.

The ability to remain true to one’s own “voice” is perhaps the one personality trait I prize most in a friend. That is to say, I think I value an honest person who has embraced the uniqueness that God has endowed them with and who has self-explored their individual identity more than I value any other sort of person. I can even overlook certain traits that I find annoying IF I believe that this person is really honest and is being true to him or her self. In other words, I think I probably like a guy whom I dislike but who is always authentic, more than I like a guy whom I like but who is rarely himself. Got that? (Yeah, you know what I mean, and so do I.)

“Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”
~ Mark Twain

There is no “type” of person I dislike more than “The Follower.” I have no use for Mr., Miss, or Mrs. Follower, also known as Fadboy and Fadgal, as I like to call them, or the “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” as The Kinks put it.

But I’m not talking strictly about clothing. No, I’m talking about the following of all trends, whether popular clothing, pop music, pop books, pop slogans, pop vehicles, pop TV programs, pop political movements – you name it. There are three types of people where this is concerned. There’s the Fadboy or Fadgal: people who are nothing more than a walking, talking billboard of the latest trends, with no real identity of their own. (Unfortunately, my own niece is one of these.) More people, however, are a kind of combination of pop stuffs mixed in with a little authentic selfhood, but only when they’re certain that their selfhood is SAFE to express. These are the Semi-Fadfolks. I have some of these in my own family, too. Rarest of all is the “Real Self” men and women who don’t give a rat’s patoot one way or another whether or not they are hip, current, or hopelessly behind the times. They yam what they yam, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em. These are the “Real People” that I really like. They are usually "one step ahead or behind" (to steal from Ol' Waylon).

“Originality is the key to success.”
~ Tiny Tim

I think perhaps there’s nothing sadder than a person who isn’t a person. You know? A person who hasn’t yet explored and mapped their own Selfhood – who is just a combination of various fads and pop lingo and contemporary crapola. And the truth of the matter is that only a small percentage of Americans really know themselves and are comfortable in their own skin. Most folks are AFRAID to really express their true inner self so they seek that “safety in numbers.” Even those people who on the outside “appear” to be giving the status quo the middle finger are really just following a different crowd. Notice how the body piercing movement exploded exponentially only after it reached a certain point of “critical mass” which made it seem “safe” for all the Fadboys and Fadgals to join.

[An aside to Generation X, Y, Z, and 666: I’m sorry to have to be the one to break it to you – yes, you with all the rings and rods in your mug! – but there ain’t nothing at all cool about going around with a face that looks like a plugged up colander! My first thought at the sight of your faddish face? “Here’s a Follower with a 26 I.Q.” And I said that burger was “To Go.”]

I remember one time, circa 1982, that I had taken my Ma out Christmas shopping. I think we were in Sears or some similar department store when she saw this guy with his roommate looking at Christmas trees. The one guy wearing the pink mohawk and the designer Punk Rock threads says, “No way, man! I don’t want no ARTIFICIAL tree in our place! We gotta get a REAL tree.” I didn’t hear this, but the irony didn’t get by my Ma who pulled me aside to relate it to me so we could share a good laugh.

“It is not he or she or them or it
that you belong to.”
~ Bob Dylan; ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’

The next time you see a motorcycle gang on a highway, look to see if any member stands out for being genuinely different. Is there any member who DOESN’T wear leather or denim, or long hair, or tattoos? No? Then every member of that motorcycle gang is a Follower. True, they’ve gone in a direction that seems to challenge society’s norm, but in actuality, all they’ve really done is accept an alternate fad – they follow the “standard” that has been set for motorcycle gangs. These guys and their old “ladies” [sic] are no less “Followers” than the everyday followers of “polite society” whom they pretend to rebel against. They’re just “In” with another “Crowd.” Born To Be Wild? Nah, they were Born To Follow. That is, to follow their leader who looks just like they do but is astride the Harley that is out in front of the gang - The Leader Of The Pack… of Followers.

During the time that I was playing regularly at the I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER site, I happened to come across a woman’s profile page on which she described herself this way:

Extraordinarily happily married for 18 years; older than I look, younger than I feel; lotsa tats, lotsa piercings and purple hair; some-time artist, part-time writer, full-time smart-assed sarcastic cynic.

Well, I’m glad to know she’s happily married, but there was one thing she left out of her self-assessment: Full-Time Follower.

This woman is severely suffering from what I call The L.A.M.-L.A.M. Syndrome. L.A.M.-L.A.M. is an acronym that stands for “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” People who have a case of L.A.M.-L.A.M. are not unlike 5-year old children. You know how that little boy calls out to everyone, “Look at me!” just before he jumps into the shallow end of a swimming pool? And how that little girl calls out to everyone, “Look at me!” just before she performs a cartwheel on the grass at the picnic? Well, it’s not so offensive coming from little kids, but when you find adults obviously making a big show of themselves in order to attract attention, it’s nothing less than downright embarrassing. The best thing we can do for them is to ignore them. Maybe in failing to receive the attention they so obviously crave, it will cause them to reconsider their personality flaw and perhaps redirect their energies toward something that is truly worthy of our notice.

Sometimes it seems to me that at least 3/4ths of the people are like drones controlled by some frightened herd mentality. The woman I mentioned above, for instance, she chooses to believe that the outward appearance she’s adopted somehow makes her different. All the while, she fails to see the obvious: in attempting to LOOK different, she has only proven her instinct to follow the In Crowd of pseudo-rebels – the “poseurs.” And then as if that wasn’t bad enough, she actually publicly brags about her “safe rebellion”, making sure that no one has failed to note how “special” she is. “Look at me, everyone! I have lotsa tattoos and body piercings, and I have purple hair. Ain’t I DIFFERENT!” Hogwash and dog doo-doo!

When you find a woman like this one, who has adopted ALL of the latest fads, what you have found is a person with a chronic case of L.A.M.-L.A.M. Best to look the other way.

I think the most pathetic sight in the world is that of a 50+ year old woman with tattoos. Not only is this woman a mindless follower, but she’s old enough to know better. She’s supposed to be setting a good example for the younger generation, not following the younger generation’s ridiculous fads and emulating its immature peccadilloes. Dumbass! Get a life! Preferably your own.

I no longer date because I have no interest in forging a romantic relationship at this point in my life, but I can assure you that if I were still in the hunt and I found me a woman who looked just like Gene Tierney in her prime, who smelled like carnations and tasted like wine, who handled like a Lamborghini, who was absolutely mad for me and who turned back into a virgin every night at 10:00, and two hours later became a mint julep - if she had so much as a small butterfly tattooed on her ankle, I’d say, “It was nice not knowin’ ya!” How can I be expected to get to know and fall in love with a woman who doesn’t even know herself?

My brother Nappy once said something that hit the nail right on the head. He said, “The people who try to make you notice them by the way they dress or cut their hair or by the kind of car they drive, they have to resort to those tactics because they know they can’t get your attention just by the power of their personality.” Right on, Brother Nappy! And it was also The Napster who many years ago made me aware of this memorable quote which I have borrowed many times over the decades:

“Nonconformists are easy to spot because they all look alike.”
~ Anonymous

That Anonymous cat said a lot of great things, didn’t he?
(I knew there had to be SOME REASON I saved Nappy’s life in ’74.)

Well, now that you know what Anonymous said, here’s what I say: If you are currently sporting any tattoo of anything anywhere, which you weren’t sporting 16 years ago, then make no mistake about it, you are a “Big Ol’ FOLLOWER” (regardless of your physical size). You are a Follower because you weren’t displaying your (phony) “rebellion” or “personal style” until the rest of society said it was “safe” to do so by getting tattooed en masse. And if you’re a guy wearing an earring, you really ought to consider the possibility that the earring might look a whole lot prettier on your sister. In other words, STICK IT IN YER SISTER’S EAR! You’re a “Big Ol’ FOLLOWER” too… unless you were wearing that earring long before it became fashionable for men to do so. (And we both know you weren’t.)

“You're gonna be knowing the loneliest kind of lonely. It may be rough going. Just to do your thing's the hardest thing to do. But you've gotta make your own kind of music; sing your own special song. Make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along.”
~ Mama Cass; ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music’

Back when I worked for a magazine publisher, I had a coworker/buddy named Don whom I called “Big D.” I genuinely liked Big D a lot and we had many fine conversations during the time I was employed there. (Don was a bright guy who started out working in the warehouse but later went on to buy the company, which he still successfully runs today.) Like myself, Big D was a true Old School man, and I recall him once telling me that he wished that fedoras and all the old 1940s style clothing would come back in fashion for men because that’s the way he would really like to dress. Naturally, I told him, “Well, Big D, if that’s the way you’d really prefer to dress, then just DO IT! You don’t need to wait for anyone else. Who cares how other guys dress? What does that have to do with you? Just dress the way you want, and who knows, maybe you’ll actually be the one who restarts an old trend.” Unfortunately, despite all of his many other excellent qualities, when it came to fashion, Big D didn’t have the courage to go it alone.

I feel it’s important to stress, however, that I am NOT saying that one should NEVER EVER adopt or follow a current trend or fad. The person who refuses to “get on board” with some currently popular fad for no other reason than that it IS currently popular, is being just as foolish as the Fadboy or Fadgal. His anti-faddism may be 180 degrees removed from the mind-set of the Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, but as a person, he is no less inauthentic. This poor, misguided soul is not really HIMSELF, he’s simply not THEM. Denigrating today’s style simply because it’s popular doesn’t bring a person one step closer to Selfhood.

The goal is to become true to your genuine inner Self, and only YOU really know what that Self looks like. If a person HONESTLY, in their heart-of-hearts finds something currently “In” to be to their liking, then it would be wrong to deny that, for it would be attempting to deny a natural aspect of their own personality.

I can illustrate this from my own experience as it relates to pop lingo: I’m old enough to remember the Hippie Era, when all that Flower Power slang was slung. For whatever reason, I always disliked the word “Groovy.” I’d say “Right On” and even “Far Out” once in awhile, buy no one ever heard me call something “Groovy.” In the ‘80s, it became fashionable to end with the word “Not!” when being sarcastic. “Liberals are very smart people. …NOT!” That always struck me as super-stupid, and I avoided saying “Not” like I avoided Liberals. Remember when really cool stuff was supposed to be “Da Bomb”? Da Bomb was dumb! I never said it unless I was mocking Da Maroons. I also hated and still hate the expression “My Bad.” (Your Bad? Yeah, well, what else is new?) “Uhp! I’m An Idiot!” is “mo’ bettah” than “My Bad.”

However, modern slang that did click for me personally was Homer Simpson’s famous “DOH!” Sometimes nothing expresses it quite like “DOH!” That’s a modern classic in The STMcMe Book Of Slang. I’m also known to say “It’z All Good!” I like that because I like that. Another Oldie But Goodie is “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.” I call that an “Oldie” because, in fact, I have a 1960s Blues album by Lightnin’ Hopkins in which he uses that expression not once but twice.

And speaking of the Blues, some weeks back I found myself one day listening to ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’ by Robert Johnson, while simultaneously reading ‘The Cat In The Hat’ by Dr. Seuss. Now that’s what I call “Incongrutiating” as well as Jus’ Bein’ Me.

All of this yakking has led up to (or down to, if I’m going to be literal about it) this point where I reveal the #1 Rule Of Selfhood. It’s a really simple rule - almost too simple, really. So simple that it shouldn’t even be necessary to state it, although one look around us proves that it IS necessary. Fortunately, however, the rule is so damned simple that EVERYONE should be able to follow it. And the #1 RULE OF SELFHOOD is:


Remember, you never have to TRY to be unique because
you already ARE!


All I ever wanted was to hang out with the “In Crowd”;
To lose myself within the throng; to me that was Heaven.
I wanted the latest clothing, whether subdued or loud;
To turn my amp up past one, but not up to eleven.

I wanted to run with the pack so I’d not lose or win;
Just to keep up with the Joneses but never to surpass.
Didn’t want my body tattooed unless tattoos were in.
When ponytails were the thing, I wore one like an ass.

When male athletes got their ears pierced, I got mine pierced too.
I kept up with the latest fads, never wanting to lag.
When colored hair was popular, I dyed my blonde hair blue.
But my blue hair and my earrings made me look like a fag.

I watched Idol, NASCAR, Buffy, and Sex And The City;
I watched Survivor and CSI: Bumfuhk, Idaho;
Watched Ultimate Fighting and other shows that were shitty.
Studied martial arts to back up my braggadocio.

I shamelessly ran with the herd; took my place in the queue;
I was the lemming of lemmings and a sheep among sheep.
I didn’t know who I was ‘cause I was following You.
So superficial I couldn’t even spell the word “deep.”

I read the hot magazines and bought the latest cell phones;
I listened to the music that my coworkers spoke of.
I embraced the common and tawdry like all other drones,
And like famous celebrities, I had sex without love.

In the Sixties I dropped acid and protested for peace;
Ten years later I moved from tie-dyed shirts to a mohawk.
I went from Janis and Hendrix to the Clash and Police.
Decades later, I bought “Hope and Change” and voted “Barack.”

And then I finally grew old and could no longer hear;
Stiff joints made it hard to follow; my eyes too weak to see.
Away from the crowd I did involuntarily veer.
And that’s how, in the end, I accidentally found “ME.”

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

Link To The Companion Piece:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Several weeks ago, Brother Nappy and I decided we were gonna get outta Phoenix over the Labor Day weekend, but we couldn’t decide where to go. Tombstone? Nah, too old. Sedona? Nah, too crowded. Flagstaff? Nah, too granola. It started to look as if we wouldn’t know where we were goin’ until we started the car and went. But finally we hit on the place that was "just right": Payson (also known as Rim Country). Neither of us had ever visited Payson. It’s up in the mountains (cooler weather), and I had a friend named Lorna who loved Payson so much she eventually moved up there. We had made our decision. Payson it was.

So, Sunday morning, Nappy and I drove my truck up the mountain and got there without incident. It was a pleasant one-and-a-half or two-hour drive from our home in Phoenix. Good road all the way; two lanes in each direction, so ya don’t gotta take no lip from no slow-movin' Winnebago boys. The only complaint that Nappy and I had? How is it that they can put a man on the moon, but they can’t figure out a way to make mountain driving all downhill?

The town of Payson was small yet considerably larger than I had anticipated. Originally I thought I could ask around and probably locate my old friend Lorna, but as soon as Payson came into view, I knew there was no hope of a reunion. But it was green and pretty up there. Not as pretty as Lorna was, but still pretty.

Nappy and I drove through the town a bit to get a feel for the place and then stopped in at a Famous Sams for a glass of Bass Ale. Nappy was criticizing a White bloke he had worked for in the air conditioning business: “The guy once told me that his favorite food is tacos. How can a person’s favorite food be tacos? Gimme a break!”
I replied, “Well, what would you say about a person whose favorite food is avocado on toast?”
“That’s different,” said Nappy. “We were raised on avocado on toast; that’s part of our heritage.”

It’s true. We grew up in California eating avocado on buttered white toast topped with lots of salt – something our Pa prepared for us regularly at breakfast because in his childhood, HIS Pa had regularly made it for HIM at breakfast. I got to telling Nappy how I suspect our paternal Grandpa may have invented that method for eating avocado. “He moved to Santa Monica from Canada,” I said. “And I’m pretty sure Canada is too cold for avocado trees, so I doubt it’s a uniquely Canadian way of eating it. And other than us, I’ve never heard of anyone else eating avocado on toast. And I’ll tell you something else: I think I would probably request avocado on toast as my last meal if I were scheduled to be executed – that’s how much I like it.” Nappy said that perhaps he would choose it as his final meal also.

We got to yakking with the barmaid and Nappy told her we’d return after we “get ourselves a room.” Back at the truck I said to him, “I wish you had worded that bit about getting ourselves a room a little better.” Nappy laughed and said, “Yeah, as soon as I said that I knew it didn’t sound good. That’s why I mentioned an old girlfriend right after that.” This was the first time in our lives that Nappy and I hoped that we looked enough alike that it was clear we were brothers.

We checked into a motel, glad to learn that they have a breakfast room with waffles, muffins, toast, and cereal. “Everything but the bacon and eggs,” the desk clerk said as she assigned us room number 222. We made some remark about the room number to the clerk but she claimed never to have heard of a TV show called ‘Room 222.’ We thought that was too strange. “How could an American woman in her 40s never have heard of ‘Room 222’?” I incredulously asked Nappy as an odd uneasiness swept over me.

The uneasiness soon intensified. While walking through the motel parking lot toward room 222, we saw a ripe avocado lying all by itself on the ground. There it was just calling out to us like Snow White’s poisoned apple. This was it: our ticket out! God had provided us with our last meal request! Monday morning, we would get buttered toast from the breakfast room, top it with avocado and salt, and die in a car crash while going down the mountain back to Phoenix. We were finally gonna be FREE! Free from this world! But we were determined to live it up on this, our final night of life.

“Eat The Avocado” and "Bite The Avocado" were now the new euphemisms for the old euphemisms “Kick The Bucket" and "Bite The Dust."

Nappy suggested we draw all of our money out of our bank accounts and drink it up. “Once the money runs out, we eat the avocado!” he said. But just in case something went wrong with the plan (after all, we ARE McCarthys) I said we’d better leave the money in the bank accounts and just drink up the money we'd brought to Payson. So once we were settled into Room 222, we went to a Safeway market and bought two bottles of California red wines and photographed them with the Avocado Of Death perched between their necks:

The California reds would wait; it was time to find a bar. (The only place in town that even remotely resembles a “real” bar is The Buffalo.) At The Buffalo, I ordered the traditional Vacation Martini – if I have to tell you what a martini is made with, you’ve found this Blog by mistake. Nappy ordered a “Kilt Lifter” Scottish-style ale. (The less said about that name, the better. Get a room!). Here’s what that order looked like:

Just a few sips into the ale and Nappy was speaking to the waitress with a Scottish accent. (You probably think I’m kidding. Silly you. You know nothing of Nappy’s work!)

Now that we had taken that Phoenix edge off, it was time to resume the search for a “real” bar, so Nappy and I wandered along down Payson’s main drag, Highway 87, also known as Beeline Highway. Tucked into a side street with a movie theatre, I spotted Macky's Grill. We made a beeline for it only to discover that the grill was a damned grill! Someone should sue Macky for false advertising. Everyone knows that when you put the word “grill” on a sign it really means “bar.” Looks like I’d been fooled again – I don’t like it!

Looking in both directions, up and down the highway, we could see nothing that looked like a real bar. So in disgust, we gave up and walked unhappily into the Chilis restaurant behind us. I don’t drive to a little mountain town in order to patronize national chain establishments, for crying-out-loud! But this turned out to be a nice surprise. Yes, they had a dang tennis game on the TV set (Tennis! Ugh!), but the martini that the woman behind the bar made for me was perfecto! I was most complimentary about it and so Nappy asked the woman, “Have you ever been to a bartending school?” (Nappy and I are both Summa Cum Laude graduates of a Los Angeles bartending school.) She said she wasn’t professionally trained in mixology but that she "used to work at an Elks Lodge, and those people are very particular about their martinis.” God bless the Elks!

Here’s what a marvelous martini looks like standing next to Nappy’s hops and clear mountain spring water:

Our barmaid didn’t know any pretty woman named Lorna living in Payson, but she knew where to find the gin, vermouth and green olives, and that was pretty enough for me.

Heading back up Beeline Highway toward our motel, right next to a Dairy Queen, we came across an abandoned building that had been used as Payson’s USAP headquarters during the presidential campaign. The sign was still up. I took a cell phone photo of Nappy flipping “the bird” to the Barack Obama sign. Just then, we heard a car horn loudly beep twice at us from the Dairy Queen drive-through. I wheeled around, thinking Payson might be on the verge of becoming Duke City; Nappy spun on his heels, ready to redirect that “bird” he was holding. But what we saw were four dudes in a compact car at the Dairy Queen drive-through window, and the four dudes wore big smiles and were giving the McCarthy Brothers eight “thumbs up.” We were a hit in Payson. Here’s the evidence:

Walking back to our motel, I kept finding beetles on the ground that had gone belly up. They seemed to be all over the place. We named the first one John and the second one George, but we ran out of dead Beatles long before we ran out of dead beetles. I don’t know wha’s up with that, but take my advice: if you’re a beetle, you’d better not go to Payson or you’re doomed to eat the avocado.

Walking past a Burger King I noticed this large East Indian family having a picnic on the outdoor tables and benches. Seriously. They’d brought ice chests and homemade sandwiches and soda pop and everything (maybe even brought their own ants) and they were picincking right there on Burger King’s property. I liked Payson, I really did: cooler weather, pine trees, Payson’s slower payc of life – but there’s a Twilight Zoneish thang goin’ on there. I told Nappy that I wasn’t so sure the town really even existed until we reached it. Maybe it was cobbled together in the eleventh hour for our benefit. “Yoey O’Dogherty, hurry up with that Obama sign; the McCarthy boys are almost here! Madge, are you sure we’ve got enough green olives in town?” I was almost afraid to lean up against anything in case the paint was still wet.

We went to Room 222 to stretch out on the beds and watch some boob tube. Initially, we were watching some PBS-like channel, but as soon as it dawned on us that the programmer was trying to teach us facts and history and stuffs like that, we went channel surfing until we found some Andy Griffith Show reruns. Then we popped the cork on one of those bottles of red California gold and emptied it. (That’s two glasses of wine for each of us, for those of you who are trying to keep score.)

Some hours later, when the effect of the wine was winding down, we headed back to The Buffalo sort-of-bar, walking past dead beetles all the way. As we walked into The Buffalo there was a band on stage playing ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia.’ OK, I’m getting a little freaked now. Maybe we should rethink tomorrow morning’s avocado on toast breakfast? What if our journey back down Beeline Highway isn’t a highway to Heaven like we’ve been assuming?

Nappy and I found a place at The Buffalo’s little outdoor cabana-like bar. I ordered a gin and tonic because I like tonic water and lime wedges. Nappy had an Obamarooskie (Black Russian). While we were sitting at the bar nursing our drinks, Nappy said to me, “Do you know what would be the smart thing for us to do right now?”
I guessed: “Go back to our room and go to sleep?”
Nappy said, “Go back to our room and open that other bottle of wine.”

Well, you’ll be glad to hear that we went back to the room but didn’t assault that second bottle of wine, which was cowering under one of the beds. We watched a little more boob tube (nothing educational, I assure you!) and turned in for the night.

Monday morning, I went down to the lobby, grabbed a cup of coffee, a couple of bananas, buttered two pieces of white toast, acquired some salt from desk-clerkboy, and brought it all back up to Room 222 to “eat the avocado.” I’m feeling pretty good, thinking that in just a few hours I’ll be playing a harp in Heaven on cloud #222. Well, Nappy and I “ate the avocado” on toast. Then we showered (not at the same time!) and dressed to go.

I’m pulling on my cowboy boots when I glance over at Nappy and I’m horrified to see that he is wearing his American Graffiti Mel’s Diner T-shirt. Not that there’s anything wrong with that... except that I’m wearing MY American Graffiti Mel’s Diner T-shirt. It was the ultimate fashion faux pas, and neither of us had packed another shirt. Nappy verbally lashed out at me: “Of all the T-shirts you own, that’s the one you had to bring?!”
“Yeah? Well, I could say the same thing to YOU!” I countered.

JUST GREAT! We’re gonna die on the highway looking like the Hardy Boys or the Bobbsey Twins, or something even worse. What’s Saint Peter at the Golden Gate going to think? Well, let’s just hope all that yakking about getting to wear wings and robes of light in Heaven isn’t a bunch of hooey. I sure don’t want to spend eternity known as one of The Bonehead Brothers.

Well, we finally checked out of Room 222, and started down the Beeline Highway toward hell (Phoenix, Airheadzona). I’m kind of fantasizing about our imminent accident and hoping that it won’t be dumb, like a head-on collision with a drunk driver or something mundane like that. I’m hopeful that we’ll blow a tire, or the steering suddenly goes out, and we rocket through a guardrail and plunge 4,000 feet to the valley below. I’m imagining the tremendous explosions that will occur when our livers finally make contact with the ground, and I’m thinking about how cool our smoldering wreckage will look on the 5 O’clock happy hour television news broadcast. And that’s when Nappy spoiled my fantasy and dashed our hopes...

Nappy turns to me and asks, “What’s the last thing you ate?”
I said, “I had a cinnamon mint.”
Nappy says, “I had one of those bananas you brought up to the room.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I had the other banana and ate the cinnamon mint right after that.”
And Nappy says, “Then avocado on toast wasn’t our last meal.”
“Damn! You’re right. We screwed it up!” I yelled as the reality of what Nappy was implying dawned in my noggin. “We weren’t supposed to eat anything after the avocado on toast. We upset the whole arrangement. Crap!”

On the way down the mountain, some stuffs started flying off a truck right in front of us. They looked like rubber floor mats or sumpin’. Nappy, who was behind the wheel, managed to dodge them. I figured those mats had been meant for us; they were intended to cause our glorious demise, but they were overpowered by two bananas and a cinnamon mint.

There was no pretending for either of us now; we knew we’d make it safely back to hell (Phoenix, Airheadzona) and have to go back to work on Tuesday. The party was over; our invitation to paradise had been rescinded. Shoot! Don’tcha hate it when that happens? The Lord had given us a free meal ticket outta here and we stupidly voided it. Uhp! We’re idiots! But we don't need no ladies cryin' 'cause the story's sad. Maybe we didn’t bite the avocado this time, but we will still make it out of “this world” yet. It just looks as if we’re gonna have to wait until 2012 and go out with the rest of ya.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy