I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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February 12, 2003

Last weekend in my life, as told by those who lived it:

For three consecutive days, I had less than five hours' sleep. On Tuesday, always a late night, there was no parking when I came home from bowling; On Wednesday, I was preparing for a job interview by trying to coerce my new computer and old printer into entering a fruitful, loving relationship in order to print my resume, which I then had to recreate from memory, having left the latest version at work; On Thursday, I was a fool, spending two hours past bedtime waging a brilliant internet checkers campaign against a French fellow who requested several rematches after his initial defeat, most of which he lost, and the rest of which ended in stalemate. I should have walked away from the Frenchman, though, and slept. Therefore, as the record shows, I was sleep-deprived and paranoid.

I had a busy evening ahead of me: Andrei Rublev at the Siskel Film Center downtown, four hours of hijinks with Tatar Mongols and Russian monks; a midnight show I was scheduled to perform at the ImprovOlympic; long-standing plans to join some friends for a nice weekend in the frozen Wisconsin air, many miles north of my home. By the time I arrived home after the movie, I was absolutely convinced that I would be mugged as soon as I stepped outside. I had $40 in my wallet for use in Wisconsin. Planning to foil these schemers, I took the cash and my ATM card out of my wallet. I was going to write an insulting note and put it where the money would be, but then I became distracted by the overwhelming certainty that my apartment, too, would be robbed. So, I hid the money and the card in the couch. Chalk one up for planning ahead, fuckers.

The show was pretty good. It started late, around 12:30, but my jittery delirium calmed once I was out on stage. I don't think the show began well, but we had done some good things by the end. There was a bit of change in my wallet, and most of it was used to purchase Spearmint Altoids, for reasons that escape me. I got a ride home from friends who had come to see the show, and came home to a pleasant, warm, secure apartment.

A fourth night without much sleep didn't seem wise, especially with a four-hour drive ahead of me, so I slept in and dozed off in the shower during my first, half-hearted attempt to wake up. I had found a sack of cookies on my way out of work on Friday - I don't know where they came from, but they were sitting right there in the break room, and if there are five things that are true about me, one of them is that, yes, I would like to have a cookie - and I had a lovely milk and cookies breakfast, while televised NBA stars tried to sell me on reading as a means toward achievement. Finally, around noon, I left.

I was mighty chuffed at the way 'The Seed 2.0' from the Roots' Phrenology kicked in just as I hit full speed on the highway. I hadn't planned it like that. When the CD had run its course, I tried to eject it. It would not come out of the CD player - only the edge emerged. This, I noted, was empirical evidence that the music of the Roots is phatter than the music of any other musicians, because no other CD has ever been stuck like that in my car CD player. It just couldn't fit back through. I pulled off at the next exit to buy some tweezers. Don't truckers need tweezers? Evidently not, because the road mart did not carry any. Baby alligator clips - whose intended function, I do not know - seemed likely to get the job done, so I brought them up to the counter. The clerk requested $1.40 in payment. I reached for my wallet.

In my paranoia, I had hidden the cash and ATM card pretty well, so I did not remember them at all when I got home that night, nor did it occur to me to recover them before I left. I was momentarily grateful that I had not written an insulting note, because if I had, that bell would toll for me. But now I was stuck. I had a seldom-used credit card with precious little remaining balance, so I used that for the alligator clips, no cash could be made to come from the credit card, and I was down to the coins remaining in my car's change dish to make it through the remaining highway tolls. I was too far to turn back. This was no good.

I had 76 cents left, which is good enough to pay one toll and possibly a second, if the batting of eyelashes is accepted in lieu of four cents. I paid the first toll, but the joyless harpy at the second did not respond to my eyelashes. She gave me an Unpaid Toll ticket, which requires that one leave the highway at the next exit, placing me square in the middle of Rockford, a town as musical as its name suggests.

The woman claimed that it was illegal to have multiple 'Unpaid Toll' tickets, and that my ass would be thrown in the clink. (That was not her exact phrasing.) Later consultations have revealed that one can get away with that sort of thing. I didn't know at the time, though.

I headed into downtown Rockford. My plan was to raid the fuck out of any and all 'Take a Penny, Leave a Penny' dishes that I found. Trips to Citgo, Mobil, Dairy Queen, New York Bakery, IHOP, Burger King and some pizza joint established that Rockford is keeping its damn pennies, thank you very much. At this point, a lot of time had passed. I had some vague memory of a Borders Bookstore in Rockford from the Michael Moore movie The Big One, so I went looking for it. My plan, loosely, was to steal popular books and set up my own bookstore out front, asking only for toll money in exchange for the bestsellers of the day. I had seen homeless people try things like that, and I had only found one salt-encrusted penny on the sidewalk after over an hours' wandering, so I was ready for anything.

Borders has a discount table in the foyer between the outside and inside doors, so I stood there for a moment to gather my thoughts. I saw a big oversized book about Rodin, so I picked it up, because Rodin is part of my posse. A middle-aged woman entered the store and began looking at the discount table. She glanced over at what I was reading. "That's a lovely sculpture", she said. I smiled and replied, "Yes. Can I have fifty cents?" She was startled and didn't know what to say, so she gave me the money. Home free! I thanked her and left. A homeless guy asked me for change on the way to my car. I had to respect his timing.

They don't charge highway tolls in Wisconsin. Cheese subsidies take care of that sort of thing. Free from the toll system, my vehicle felt swift, weightless. I did not get lost at all, and the rest of the drive was a breeze. There was shouting and merriment upon my arrival, for everyone else had arrived long ago. We played cards, ate dinner, and went separate ways: bowling for some, skiing for others.

Although it was relatively crowded, there were remarkably few people actually bowling in the bowling alley. Most were teens who kept wandering in and out, occasionally ordering family-size fries or cheese curds. Drunk women in the next lane kept falling down, bellowing, flirting and bowling poorly. We had a good time. I took my watch off at one point and set it down, but I did not remember to pick it up later.

They don't make watches like it anymore; they make better ones. I bought it in college at the 24-hour store. I needed a watch, and I didn't have enough velcro in my life, so I bought a velcro watch. My late-night purchasing decisions are often ill-informed like that. The velcro fuzz is no longer much to speak of, so the watch flaps around a lot. But it still tells time.

We met up with the skiiers in our party, and headed to the Ho-Chunk Casino down the road. The idea had been proposed early, but some of us were hesitant because all of us were poor and no one knew exactly where it was. We found it without trouble, though. It's pretty big. The Ho-Chunk are an Indian tribe, and in one of those half-assed apologies for genocide that America does like no one else, Indian tribes are often given license to run casinos in places where others are not. Having known a few members of the Ho-Chunk tribe when I was in college, I felt bad for what happened next.

Holy shit. Let me tell you, in all honesty, that I walked into that place with three borrowed dollars to spend. Let me then say to you that I walked out of that casino, one hour later, with nine dollars and seventy cents. I am not fucking with you. After struggling so mightily for toll money earlier that very day, my eyes bugged the fuck out when I beat the Monopoly slot machine to the tune of fifty-three nickels. Fifty-three! They rained down, these nickels, and for so long it seemed as though they would never stop. I was intoxicated by my sudden wealth and almost stopped there, but I thought I saw something vulnerable in another slot machine, called "X-Factor". I stepped up. I pulled the handle. As the last of twenty quarters rained into my bucket, the machine spoke 'error', and it was shut down. The bank was broken. I did not bother to conceal the strut in my walk as I headed to the cashier. I was a rich, rich man.

1. Casinos will pay me to spend time in them;
2. I am the master of slots;
3. Hard work is for shit.

After a hearty breakfast on the Ho-Chunk Casino's dime, I headed home the next afternoon. I was well-prepared for the tolls. The money and my ATM card were still safely hidden in my couch. Most surprisingly, the watch had improbably wrapped itself around the tag hanging from my bowling ball's bag, and the velcro had remained attached throughout the trip to the car, a drop to the floor, a trip from that car to my car, and the walk back to my apartment. As it turns out, the velcro had a little bit of life left in it after all. I was quite pleased.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.