A Three-Part Adventure,
Sponsored by RALPH LAUREN PAINTS.
Part III: Apple Butter Dreaming.
We were somewhere around DUKE’S VINEYARD or DEVONSHIRE, or maybe it was Hell as far as I knew, driving, nearing dawn and our JOURNEY’S END, all surrounded by these abnormally GREEN FARMS and disgustingly FINE SPRINGS when the APPLE BUTTER began to take hold and have its brutish, unholy way with us. I remember the TRAPPER saying something like, “Believe I had me a bit too much of that apple butter. You better drive now.” He was yelling this in sign language, which I somehow could comprehend, and driving with his second set of arms, which didn’t really bother me in the slightest. I’ve always said when a man’s got a second set of arms he should use them.
We were crazy and insane, a couple of mad, gibbering, wild-eyed escaped patients busted out of the mental asylum of strait-laced, straitjacketed America, by which I mean we were speeding, or at least seemed to be moving fast. Make that very fast. Suddenly STORM LIGHTNING lit up the whole sky, revealing that the PICKUP TRUCK was being invaded and colonized by what looked like a SCORPION army, all gnashing and crawling and clattering over the hood and windshield, the cab and bed of the truck, which was going around a hundred gajillion miles an hour, or at the very least eighty-five. A voice from the radio screamed: “Christ, give those scorpions some apple butter. Give them what they want.” And the trapper turned down the volume and looked at me and said, in slow-motion Swahili or maybe Urdu, both of which I also understood, “Now when did you start doing a radio show?”
The road unrolled like a grotesquely long TAFFETA RIBBON straight into the heart of some metaphor I couldn’t be bothered to understand. Just then a star flew across the sky, leaving behind a BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL, and the truck was in reality a flying TEA TOWEL pulled forward by a sturdy NIGHTHORSE.
I had a RHINO TUSK, cunningly shaped to appear exactly like a HUNTING HORN, stuck snugly in my ear. “Captain, I’m picking up the marching orders of the scorpion commander,” I said. “Sir, I think I know exactly what the little fuckers are planning. Hold on… wait… commander says… proceed casually.”
I glanced over at the trapper, to make sure he’d heard me. The trapper looked exactly as if he had just left a LOCKER ROOM to stand on a PUTTING GREEN and try to sink a ROWBOAT with a BUSTED OARLOCK from twenty-five yards out. He had that whole look on his face. “Captain, if I may, sir, an obvious ruse, that ‘proceed casually.’ No self-respecting scorpion army has ever in the history of scorpions proceeded casually. In point of fact, sir, with all due respect, I have it on very good authority the scorpion language possesses no word equivalent to our ‘casual.’”
“Furthermore, I know these scorpions, sir. I’m not unacquainted with their tactics and primitive wiles. Given half a chance, they’ll shove BAMBOO up fingernails. In conclusion, let me conclude by saying, ’I’ve got their number.’”
The trapper was now deep in the clutches of the apple butter, behaving as if he had to pass a HOCKEY PUCK through a GOAL POST, grab his WINCHESTER rifle, slide down a WASHBOARD, hop on a waiting CATAMARAN, unfurl the TOPSAIL, and successfully navigate to DYLAN’S GROVE. His face spoke only of the challenge, the intensity, the sheer courage of the eventual goal. Such dedication to the events of the STEEPLECHASE, undaunted by the less than stable states of our apple butter-addled brains. I am not afraid to say it brought tears to even my jaundiced eyes. What determination, what zeal, what determination and uncommon fearlessness so infrequently witnessed in this fallen world. (His face spoke this in eighteenth century French, which I also grasped).
I looked at the trapper. I couldn’t not look at him, because of how I was sitting, which is to say sideways, with my feet pulled up underneath me and my left arm under my right knee and my right arm around the back of my neck so that its fingers reached underneath my nose. "I’m going to need the apple butter, sir, " I said. “For the scorpions. For battle.”
The trapper looked over. “We ate all the apple butter.”
“But captain, sir, are you telling me there’s no more apple butter.”
“We finished it off a while back.”
“Give it to me straight, sir. I want your complete honesty here. I demand it.”
“It’s all gone.”
“Pull over,” I said. “At once. Pronto. Aim for that tree over there.”
A SOLITARY TREE stood approximately thirty-nine and one-half yards off the road, on a slight rise. The tree ended up being a SPRINTER, standing on the exact edge of the road, with his thumb held out to the air. Obviously, one of those rare sprinter trees. I’d heard tell of them in story books but had not yet had the chance to investigate one for myself.
This particular sprinter tree was a hitchhiker, an American, in short a person in need of a certain variety of roadside succor only we, as missionaries of the highest rank and greatest accomplishment from the Church of Apple Butter, were qualified to provide.
The trapper said, “Hey, man,” as the sprinter climbed in the cab.
The sprinter said, “Hey.”
That’s when I started to get this sinking feeling they knew each other, their words so familiar, their tone. I fiddled with the radio dials until my voice came through clear and loud and good:
“Might the recently arrived gentleman require the administration of some apple butter upon his tongue?”
The trapper said, “Leave him alone.” Then to the sprinter, “Just ignore the NOMAD.”
The sprinter said, “How far you guys going?”
“As far as it takes and not one single mile more,” said the radio. “Right straight into the bleeding, puss-filled, worm-ridden, blistered, sick and ailing and blackened heart of the American landscape.”
“He means as far as the vineyard,” the trapper explained. “We have reservations.”
How do we know he’s not a spy, dispatched by the scorpions, sent to fool us, to mingle in our company and learn our ways, study our customs, master our language? Besides, how do we know he’s not a spy? But what’s the plan? There’s always a plan. For that matter, how do we know he’s not a spy? Must be some sort of disguise… a mask… underneath his real face… another face….
The sprinter said, “Okay. Whatever.”