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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Hospital 10, August 2014

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When the van’s battery died at 6AM, and we had to move our backpacks and bicycles to the pickup, and we realized that all three of us would have to sit together in the cab for three hours each way, and one of us would have to endure six hours of stickshift-in-groin, that’s probably when we should have given up, right there. When we noticed that one of the bikes had a flat tire, we should have heeded the signs. We should have listened to the owls. But no, we decided that we knew better, we three, that we had experience in this sort of thing and that any problems could be overcome, and that later the whole story would seem hilarious. Such are the delusions of sinful men.

So we headed out, to a spot we had never visited, on which we could find no reliable information, on the other side of the state. We parked the truck miles away, rode our bikes along suburban streets until we came to a dirt road leading into the woods, at which point we casually lurched off the street and – as far as I could tell – directly into the jungles of Laos.

It was hot, we were drenched and chafing in our long pants (except for M) and long-sleeved shirts (except for M), yet we were still far from our ultimate destination, separated from it by several hundred acres of green hell: impossibly dense thickets of choking vine and thorny bush, foul-smelling swampland, vast patches of poison ivy, all patrolled by angry clouds of malarial insects.

Why didn’t we give up when M’s shin was torn open by a rose bush? No one would have judged us. Why didn’t we turn around when I stepped on the partially-exposed skeleton of a cat, gradually being digested by the spongy ground? Our friends likely would have praised our cool-headed decision. “Discretion is the better part of valor,” they would have said cheerfully.

But we chose another path.

After hours of beating our way through fields of thorny sweetbrier and wild rose, our cheeks and hands (and shins, in M’s case) flayed to the bone, weak from blood loss, blinded by sweat and glaring sun, hallucinating, we finally came to a clearing. “Praise the merciful Lord!” we exclaimed. “Our suffering has come to an end!” But we were wrong. Somehow we had gotten off course, out in the bush, our eyes closed, confused by heat distortion, and we had ended up in an old lady’s back yard. I wept softly as we headed back into the forest. As you are no doubt reminding me under your breath, this would have been an excellent time to cut our losses and head back to our bikes.

For reasons which are still unclear, we did not head back to our bikes.

After untold hours of wandering, we located the buildings we had been seeking. We skirted the main building and saw no way in. We spent a short time in a smaller building before returning like moths to a Coleman lantern. I walked around the perimeter, looking for an access point… no dice. All of the tempting windows had pieces of glass and small branches placed carefully as tell-tales. “The security at this place are really doing their job,” commented my friend. There was a well-worn walking trail around the building. “Clearly, the security person walks around this building on a regular basis,” we thought to ourselves. Interesting. And still we stood there, in plain sight, directly in front of the only No Trespassing sign we had seen all day.

“DROP IT!” someone yelled, or possibly, “OH SHIT!” or maybe even, “YOU’RE TRESpassing.” Later, there was disagreement on this point. As my friends fled into the tree line, I stupidly turned to Security Guy and smiled. “Hey,” I said in a friendly tone. “What’s up?” I would like to pretend that this was some kind of strategy, but the truth is that I was straight up dumbfounded. “What’s up?” was literally the only thing I could think of to say. After a brief and not-very-friendly conversation, I apologized and said that, hey, if that was the case, no worries, I would just go ahead and leave, but Security Guy didn’t like that, so I bolted.

As we stumbled and fell through the brambles, we heard Security Guy barking into his hand-held: “WE’VE GOT THREE WHITE MALES TRESPASSING- ” and the rest was drowned out by the shrieking of the swamp-wolves.

“Great! That’s just great!” one of us hissed.

“What do we do now?” answered another.

“Let’s head over that way through the swamp and come out behind the CVS- ”

“But our bikes are stashed back the other way!”

“FUCK THE BIKES!”

This went on for a while. Many plans were brightly suggested and angrily dismissed. In the end, one plan emerged as the clear winner: hang around in the swamp for a couple of hours, and hope the cops get called off to break up a peaceful protest or something.

But we couldn’t just *stand* in the swamp. Golly, no. To stay below the sight-line of the road, we would need to crouch. For two hours. While mosquitoes feasted on every inch of exposed flesh.

“Fuck the bikes?” I muttered unhappily. “Yeah, right! That’s easy to say if you have a shitty bike. Who does he think he is, casually suggesting I abandon my bike in the swamp? That bike cost me five hundred dollars! Some friend…” I grumbled, swatting at an engorged tick on my neck. “Before the moon is full, I will kill him…”

That’s not a direct quote. I’m just trying to give you an idea of my mind-set, while I crouched there in the muck, faint from methane inhalation, in the early stages of Ebola bleed-out, being devoured by howling swarms of insects.

Two hours later, we retrieved our bikes and rode back to the truck. The cops were probably never even looking for us. In fact, now I’m starting to think that Security Guy was just yelling into his hand. Nicely played, Security Guy. Nicely played.

Anyway, we got some neat pictures.

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