KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. He can be found on twitter @wwwkurtcom.

I DON’T GET HOW ANYTHING WORKS ANYMORE: a conversation between Tyler Dempsey and KKUURRTT

TYLER DEMPSEY: Going to a music festival ten years after you didn't like going to them in the first place. And, just not being able to get that feeling you could back then. Understanding from now on it's a memory unreachable. I've never read a book that used this location/theme combination. Did you come up with that, you bastard?

KKUURRTT: Hahaha I mean I wrote like three versions of this location before I found the theme of chasing a memory unreachable and they were all just pure fucking trash. 10K word false starts that will never see the light of day. Like, look at how fun this thing is wow. But don’t people already kind of know what is fun for them? One day something just clicked, the first line of the book really, the idea of a character being over this thing he claims to still treasure and it all just worked from there.

So, the location was there the whole time, but the theme came later.  I don’t know if that’s the most effective way to write, but I always just start with an inkling and then let it develop on its own. When you write, do you outline, do you plan? Is theme x location a concern?

I’m more in love with this idea of ‘having fun,’ than having my chain yanked tight in anticipation of anything providing it.

Easier said than done but I love the ethos. I hate when I forget this kind of shit and settle into some caveman brain kind of shit, existing on survival mode that doesn’t even apply to this situation I find myself in.

An older friend (97) said the trick to not blowing his head off was being sincerely interested seeing what his brain might think next. I would blow my book’s head off if it didn’t offer results I didn’t anticipate. Heard common burnout, in nonfiction, comes after the research stage. Like, your brain worked through whatever made it interesting.


But if you don’t take notes. Just let it swirl around. It’ll remain interesting and sustain the marathon of book writing.

The biggest points will stick. The others, the brain’s ass will shit out.

I’ve never gotten past the research part of a research-heavy project.  Collapse under the weight of more and more and did I do enough? The only research I let myself do now is in-the-moment kind of stuff. Even then sometimes I just use a [placeholder] and come back on the rewrite. Maybe I’m a fuck research except for that of a life lived kind of guy. I guess that’s what they mean by writing what you know. Not like in any “this is the only way” sort of way. More like, why not use the tools you already have?

I never know what’s about to happen in front of the blinking vertical-line on my screen. A character worth chasing presents a melody to me. The longer I mine it–see where the particular combination of tones leads them–the more image chips out of the marble. A novel I wrote last winter was an exception. Dreamt it. Then had a sense of urgency to get it down. A crime novel set in a fictional, Midwestern town. Realized once I started I needed a map/character outlines/other shit I hate.

Power for you to be able to pull this off. Glad there was benefit in map/character/outline. Some people only write that way and I wish I could. My brain just gets bored by this process and starts acting out against itself.  Self-sabotage my entire life any time someone told me what to do—and that includes me. It’s fucked.

Hope I never do it again. Was it scary writing a book that spans only a few days? Or did it allow you to settle in on the line-level. I gotta be honest—I don't read a lot of Twitter-writers engaging a reader like this—you're actually funny.

The schedule kept grounding me. Always pulled me back to a timetable, even if of my own creation. Otherwise I have the nature to get lost in my diatribes, rather than being in the moment. Time isn’t real when you’re on drugs, so it’s like all really fast or really slow and it didn’t have to be 10 pages = an hour or some shit. Just as much as I wanted to hyperfocus or not. But time kept pulling me out of musings or philosophy or high-speak and into narrative. And even though there’s not much of a narrative, days passing became a sort of replacement narrative. The original version was five days instead of four, but I worked with an editor who helped me pull back slightly. There’s something infinitely relatable about just a weekend. Who hasn’t had one of some comparative nature? I don’t want to call it a bender, but yeah… eventually there is a return to normalcy.

Thanks for the compliment on being funny. I feel like such an asshole when people on twitter are like “are there any actual funny books,” and I’m like ahem… Are there any other books that make you laugh?  Are we supposed to laugh while reading fiction?

Agree. The weekend works on many levels. It’s juuuuust long enough. But not too.

Wasn’t wired for drugs. Even in my 20’s. After 3/4 days I needed 48-hours to grind my teeth in soft lighting. Felt strung out toward the end of your book. Seriously, I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘difficult’ book, but it’s not as easy as railing coke.

It’s just not sustainable. I feel like people think “I’m just a drug guy,” and sure I’ll advocate for experimentation all day, but the book is also very clearly trying to come to terms with the notion that maybe this isn’t the best. Feeling strung out by the end of the book was by design. I got strung out writing it. Too much of a good thing…

Being stuck in a cosmically-unpleasant situation like your narrator hits different. Like watching, Seinfeld, or something.

Funny’s hard. Which is why your book’s refreshing. Zac Smith tickles me in an intellectual way. I see his ‘flex,’ if you could say he has one, as subversive. Very: don’t look at me, but please, please look. He’s phenomenal. Stuart Buck’s recent novel, Hypnopony, made me laugh.

Lots of writers seem to be doing similar, highly-cerebral comedy. Aimed at a writerly-audience—Cavin, Sam Pink, et al.

LOL on Zac. His writing definitely has a flex. I see the look at me/don’t look at me kind of thing, but I also think it transcends even beyond that. I can’t wait to see what Zac is writing in thirty years. Cavin and Sam, I’ll ride or die on both of their writings. Haven’t read a page I haven’t loved. I need to read Hypnopony, fuck.

We love seeing people get what they deserve. As the situation becomes more a mockery of itself, tension builds, almost in the way horror operates—even minor situations are imbued with oh-shit-what’s-gonna-happen feels. Being one step away from a k-hole…

Just putting people in worse and worse situations. And drugs make that even easier. Like I knew a k-hole and a bad trip were incoming, but I had to save them for the right moment. Tension and release. I love horror movies, but can’t really fuck with horror fiction. Guess I’m more inclined to let comedy be my horror. Same kind of visceral reaction… just horrible shit happening to people. Except here, it’s funny.

Roland’s musings act like an adjacent narrative, then SNAP back into the flow of what's going on at the festival. And, because the paces (like, how they say people in different cities walk different speeds) aren't aligned with one another in each narrative, there's a pleasing warble when the reader gets to pull off that merge. Like nailing a simple trick. An ollie. You still feel good.

The musings to narrative snap IS exactly what I was going for, something that could balance interiority and presence in physical space simultaneously. I really appreciate you comparing it to an ollie. There’s an excitement to it, even if it’s simple. The author who inspired this stylistic effort most is probably Henry Miller. But his obsessions are more fucking-influenced than mine.

It’s just the way my brain works and I couldn’t do anything else if I wanted. How do you translate your thoughts to the page? Do you silence some and let others through? I’m sure everybody’s process is different, but mine is 100% apparent on the page.

Agree, everything’s on the page. Henry Miller, haven’t read him. What book/s operate/s similarly?

Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus and Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn are all too long and the magic trick wears off well before you’re done. The books of his that get it most right in my opinion are Quiet Days in Clichy and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, but I like to read Miller more for tone and style than narrative anyway. Can pick it up, read 50 pages, and put it down for six months. I haven’t read everything, nor do I really intend to.

I translate my thoughts to the page in a murderous sprint. Most of what’s left, after editing, is propelling plot.

I DO try to reward in craft-y ways. Another reason I’m drawn to your work, I’m sure. My novel, Consumption, switches narrators each chapter, so it has that ollie-reward. Readers get to know narrators/voices, and don’t need fancy bells and whistles, like me saying who’s talking, to know who’s talking. Writers who pull this off, I see as magicians.

I had a screenwriting teacher when I was 18/19 tell me—as nice as she could—that all my characters sounded exactly alike—like me. Probably why I just tend to write in first person present. I have a lot of ideas that need close narrative distance to multiple people, and I always feel incapable.

Do you write on drugs?

Write high, edit sober…? No, write sober, make stranger/sillier high, edit sober.

It’s occasional. Like a pass or a paragraph. Moreso I let music guide me. Obviously I was listening to a lot of house music when I was writing this. Just 2 hour set after 2 hour set, putting me in that forward momentum. Though, music depends on the project. I write a lot to the Grateful Dead and Kanye. Right now the thing I’m working on is Aphex Twin. We’ve been talking music in the DMs. Do you use music to write? Does it change?

Music’s huge. It’s a daily necessity. I struggle with mental health and can only get by off the music in my head a few days before I need a massive aural-assault from the outside to set me straight. I use music to check whether what I’m writing/reading is good. If it can’t compete with mid-volume background noise for my attention, it probably isn’t.

I’m going to start using that as a litmus test for both things I’m writing myself and also reading. Nothing worse than reading the same sentence over and over. Can music focus me away from my phone? Here’s hoping. If not, trash it.

What were your favorite tropes to riff?  Aurora? The druggies/dealers? So many prepackaged images, you could really go crazy there and I found myself able to catch up, even if I got lost for a second. Kind of BLE-URBG'ing myself back into the scene.

There’s this total visual overload at a festival, and I did my best to capture it, but I don’t know if that is even possible through prose—especially as someone who largely lays off of description.

I think my favorite tropes were describing one or two people in passing: the viking men or the guy in a suit or the couple out of basic raver monthly. Find a way to cut them down to size with a half a phrase rather than a full description. So much going on that it always felt like a flash of this and a twist of that would work. I feel zen in a situation of overstimulation, but it’s impossible to catch all of the details.

Had a poetry professor say we write about our obsessions, and I definitely got some out with this book. Might try to avoid drugs in the future. Try and come at it from a different angle. Do you have obsessions that refuse to leave your writing?

I had fun writing Crime. The one I enjoyed most, though, was the Californian. Already Dead was the first book I read that made me want to write that trope. Lived in the Bay Area for a few years. Made me realize these unique cultures—the Bostonian, Californian, New Orleanian, the Southerner, the Appalachian–naturally brought so much to the fiction table. That book has such real characters. Have you read it? One of Denis Johnson’s lesser-knowns.

There’s something so cool about California lit. It has the ability to be a million different things to a million different people. Such thematic differences between say Good at Drugs and Body High, which are the only recent California drug novels of my recent memory. I’ve only read Jesus’ Son and Largesse of the Sea Maiden, but Johnson is a king, so I can’t see why this wouldn’t be as well.

Read the plot summary and it was an instantaneous cop:

Can’t wait.

Awesome. Body High floored me.

Obsession is an obsession. I riff origins, often. Surreal seems pervasive. Thinking of Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, etc., here.

Hell yeah. You ever watch any De Palma movies? I feel like he nails this.

I haven’t. Sounds like something I should pirate.

I imagine if anything my career throughline will be music more-so than drugs. This is my rockstar shit… fictionalizing rock star shit.  Honestly, the only thing Dave Chappelle has ever said that was of any interest to me was in his Block Party movie directed by Michel Gondry: “Every comic wants to be a musician. Every musician thinks they're funny. It's a very strange relationship that we have. Some musicians are funny. Some comedians can play.”

I’m neither, but writing both.

Good at Drugs is about belonging. Or not. Didn't realize how whored-out-for-community every facet of festivals sadly broadcasts itself being—sunglasses/face-paint/glowsticks, groupthink, I-knew-about-this-band, yoga. The only similar trying-this-hard-but-failing-sortacommunity I can think of is the Writing one. Do you mind talking some on your own sense of alienation? What, if anything, have you gotten from the writing community in making this book? How’d you come by the Anwyll blurb?

Welfare is so so good, so I just shot him an email and he dug it. Felt really quite fortunate. I still feel like I owe him, but I don't know how or what…? The communities can be very similar, except doing drugs with people is definitely this bonding experience and I’m pretty sure I was the only person at AWP on acid that year. I got my MFA and felt like an outsider because I didn’t write in literary or genre stylings. In fact, all of the people I bonded with (aside from the wonderful Tex Gresham) were poets. People that were obsessed with language more than plot. God, the first piece I wrote for that program was about an open-mic comic who goes on stage and melts as performance art. In retrospect, it felt like out of the gate I was like “fuck your workshop.” When I found this literary community I felt that I belonged. A bunch of weirdos who took writing seriously and sometimes even let themselves have fun with it. I think with time I started to see the false trappings here just like the festival-community, but I’ve made good friends in both.  You’ve just got to weed through the bullshit.

Or slide into the DMs. I read Newspaper Drumsticks when you posted it as a pdf months back and I liked it but I didn’t say anything. I’m glad you reached out to me and started talking rap music.

But maybe the bullshit is just the timeline and we all really need to get to know each other in person better. Maybe there is value in things like AWP or writing retreats. I don’t know. I’ve been at this too short of a time to be jaded. I’m glad we met. The internet itself is alienating, even though it has this great power of bringing people together. Maybe it’s all about finding your niche and being satisfied with it? From the phrasing “trying-this-hard-but-failing-sortacommunity” it seems like you’re feeling alienated. Is that the case?

The Timeline’s a big table. Everything’s picked over. Or, like, the apples and shit laid around deflate if you bite em. I’m too new to be jaded, too. But, you're right. Everything requires bullshit-combing. Hearing you say you liked my book is awesome. It’s nice hearing anything. Most of what I read hits the way it sounds a lot of the stuff in your MFA did. Like, a completely different sport, or something.

I don’t know why sometimes telling another person that I liked what they did feels like the hardest thing in the world. We really are fucking weird creatures.

For sure. Still haven’t found a ‘community.’ X-R-A-Y is the closest thing. Reading there has been huge. A few individuals respond to my thing. And, you know, I see writerly groups on Twitter connecting, and I’m happy for them.

Don’t know what people think about my circle on their timeline.

I used to wish people would understand me. But, that didn’t work.

What we’re circling—maybe—is work? Like, you can’t expect community to come on, like you crushed it up, loaded it in a bong, and sprinkled DMT on top. Your efforts usually end with the message never answered.

But, that isn’t the point.

Or is it the point entirely? Are we having a conversation (partially) to embolden other writers who feel without community to start talking? Two Writers Talking—a new series on [wherever this ends up getting published].

I hope.

Good at Drugs feels like it needed to be written. For you. To set down a thing that once buzzed and felt special. A book literally millions of seemingly 'normal' people, who flashback every time they sip orange juice, would love. Do you get a sense it's reaching readers? Can you envision a way writers might hustle in the future to reach niche-but-adjacent audiences?

Yes yes. The people that are reading it are feeling a connection even if they don’t have that direct experience and that’s definitely exciting to me. A solid amount of people have bought it, but I believe it’s just sitting there on most people’s shelves. I appreciate everyone who tweets about books they love. Obviously indie literature lives or dies by buzz. I don’t think this book has connected with ravers quite yet. Like there are hundreds of thousands of people who do drugs and go see live dance music, but getting this book into their hands has proven to be a challenge. I believe the right DJ gets their hands on it and posts about it and it’s like, game on. I didn’t write this for a niche, but I wish that niche would have the desire to support it. There aren’t many novels about the rave. I figured I could be at least one of the ones that matters. But maybe I was barking up the wrong niche and it’s only those adjacent that will come out with the hell yeahs and the high fives.

I think the answer about hustling to a niche is just authenticity. Write about what you love and it’ll show. I’d love to read your rap writing. Do you have any? If someone were really into watching twitch streamers, I’m sure they could write a really great book about watching twitch streams. I think readers are fundamentally interested in what other people are interested in. How do you get non-readers to read? Fuck if I know.

Like, have you read Convenience Store Woman? Literally shut off my phone every night to read about convenience stores.

No, but this is exactly what I’m talking about. I think we all have those interests, even if we struggle to see them through the fog.

Interesting, you think it’s sitting on shelves unread.

You mentioned Tex, and I thought of him while reading. Yours doesn’t match his epic, page-number-wise. But, mentioned yours requires work. I see that requirement being antithetical to what (most) indie publishers are pushing and people are reading these days—the bite-sized novel. There will always be readers for harder works, but maybe the breed is thinning?

Tex was really important in validating this book for me. He read an earlier draft and gave me the confidence that readers—and not just ravers—would like it. That it had a universality in its fiber. But then again, I think the people that are coming to it are appreciating that it’s got some heft to it. That it feels like a traditional novel in many ways, and is not just bite-sized (even though I like the bite-sized as much as the next guy). I know that the heft and sprawling epicness is definitely part of what I appreciate about Sunflower. Like, oh, wow, yeah, okay. That book might not get the love it deserves in Tex’s lifetime, but it is a masterpiece, and I hope some future society is able to look back on it as the postmodern classic it is.

Recently, I had a rapper cosign Newspaper Drumsticks. While my Amazon rank soared, I was like—wow, the rap community is a niche for prison-writing. How a writer domino-effects into several large, otherwise unattainable audiences is something I’m very interested in.

For fucking sure. Doesn’t it all feel like a goddamn fucking mystery sometimes? Like I don’t think I get how anything works anymore.

Thanks for saying you’d love to read some rap-writing. Pretty sure the last thing Rap needs is a white guy named Tyler. I’ll keep sounding the whistle about what I think needs more ears, and flooding DMs with playlists.

We started here by the way:

Tyler’s got the ear that’s for sure. Maybe you just write about being a white guy named Tyler who likes Rap. A playlist creation obsession…

I could slay that book. Hear you're writing now. Can you talk about it?

I’m doing this thing where I write three to four microfictions a week. I’m going to keep at this for the entire year of 2022. From there, see what my obsessions are and try to find a collection within that. Other than my collaborative novel with Tex Gresham, Easy Rider II: Sleazy Driver, coming out this Spring, I might hold off on publishing for a while. It feels like a three year cycle is healthy. I want people to want me. This book still has buzz to build. I have some other bigger projects in the pipeline that I want to keep close to the vest, but I will tell you that I’m terrified of writing a second novel. It already feels like I forgot how to do that thing I just did. Humbling as hell.

What have you got coming? Tell us about Tyler’s ’22.

I’m writing a novel. About halfway done. Still no clue what it will look like. But, want to experiment with self-publishing? See what it feels like to have control? What difference, if any, I feel with sales?

We’re putting out the co-written book ourselves. Through an imprint, but ultimately the same steps as self-publishing. We can compare notes when it’s all said and done.

That’d be awesome. Thanks. Keeping close tabs on what rappers are doing to push numbers…might try getting weird, start some writing feuds.

Let’s go you fuckin piece of shit motherfucker.

I’m a dawg and you a pussy you eat cat food.

Definitely finishing the novel I mentioned. Who knows? Might finish a second poetry collection by year’s end. Want to write a pulp novel. Maybe under a pseudonym.


More of these? I like this. Feels genuine. Unlike reviews/blurbs, which can feel like having a stranger’s dick/cat in your mouth. You can’t even see their face. IF this gets published. Maybe someone will skrrt in my DMs? Maybe, I’ll start interviewing rappers?

I think we’re onto something. 

Consuming nothing but interactions, right? I’m hungry. Thanks for talking. Making me feel less alone.

You too, my man. Love a situation like this. To break down the borders we have in our heads and talk it out with someone we might not have otherwise. Can’t be beat.  Peace.

Continue Reading...


My friend Brian joined a cult. He was always doing stupid shit like that. This one time when we were fifteen he jumped off a bridge cause fucking Mike Langer dared him to. He broke his shinbone when he hit the water and spent the rest of summer in a cast. It wasn’t all bad though. Langer sold weed and gave him a half-ounce for free because he felt terrible about daring him to do it even though we were playing Truth or Dare on a bridge which was dumb on everybody’s part. Honestly, we’re lucky it came up as short as it did on broken bones. We smoked that grass all summer long and had the time of our lives in many respects, so sometimes you come up on the downstroke I guess. 

They were called Harmony Home and were based out of—fuck—actually, I don’t know where they were based out of even. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I have the facts. I don’t have the facts. I don’t have shit. All I know is they are spread out across the country and Brian got roped into it while living in Seattle trying to write grunge songs even though rock has been dead since before Sonic Youth broke up. 

He and I lost touch like most people who went to high school together. Come on, don’t lie to yourself and tell me some bullshit line about how you still have the exact same friends as the ones you grew up with. You totally might still talk to the homies from way back but it’s not the same, is it? Something’s definitely missing, even if you’ve never been able to place exactly what that missing was. With Brian, it was always a whole bunch of weird shit that just didn’t compute. It made a whole hell of a lot more sense when he turned out to be the type of dude to get roped into following a guy named Steven LightSource like he’s the second coming of Christ. Sell his shit and shave his hair and go full steam ahead like other people do with stand-up comedy or Kickstarter campaigns or love. 

Like the majority of Brian’s acquaintances, I saw this all go down on Facebook. It went from wow Brian’s posting an awful lot about this, to shit well ok, now he’s signing off permanently to join them in the woods and become one with himself and the universe simultaneously. All right buddy whatever makes your knees knock at night. The real problem was that Brian wasn’t the only one. This wasn’t some isolated incident or anything. Harmony Home has more followers than Jesus. I think I know three or four to be honest. 

But now I’m on a bus with his Dad up to central Oregon, heading towards the compound they think he might possibly, theoretically, hopefully be at. Nobody has heard hare nor hide nor hello from him for well over twelve months and they are getting worried that maybe he drank the Kool-Aid or worse, but I don’t know what’s worse. I’m here because Bill asked me to come up with him. Bill was my Basketball coach in middle school and he still plays golf with my Dad. He thinks that since Brian and I have been friends since childhood seeing me will trigger something and make him be all like yeah, let’s fuck this popsicle stand. I’m not so sure about that, but it beats working. If Bill’s gonna pay me the money I’d normally make painting houses for him, fine I’ll be his deprogrammer. I’ll be whatever he wants me to be. 

We cross the border and the bus pulls off the highway following a sign for McDonalds. 1.2 Miles says the sign but who’s counting. There’s a Jack in the Box across the street but we stop at McDonalds. Coffee and fuel so when we finally land and are ready to get to work it’s not like shit let’s get a bagel first. I don’t know what Mr. Rollins has planned but I don’t do so hot on an empty stomach. 

“You want anything?” I ask the old man. His wearied eyes pour over a book about Harmony House that he took out from the library over by my house. He didn’t sleep a wink all ride. I slept like a baby. 


“Oh, uh…” he says, trying to pretend like he heard me the first time. “Large coffee, cream, two sugars,” he responds as if present and accounted for this whole time. “And I don’t know, an Egg McMuffin or whatever you can get them to leave cheese off of.” 


I hop off the bus, feet hitting pavement simultaneously. Sometimes I imagine myself landing skateboard tricks that I’ve never been brave enough to try in real life. 

Fiddle around with the pipe in my pocket as I make my way around back instead of through the entrance like I’m supposed to. Next to a dumpster I sprinkle some green in the thumbprint indent on top of the bowl. I ground this flower up before we left, knowing full well that if I wanted to smoke anything this trip it would have to do it fast and loose. Lips, lighter, and the smoke hits my lungs. Hold it for a five count like I’ve been doing since Brian and I first started back in 2002. I have to be stoned to make it through this weekend. Or maybe it will be just the reminder that Brian needs to help snap his brain back to basics. Get all those cultoids so faded that they’ll be like this shit is wack, man you saved us, and those pretty cult girls will be like show me what a real man fucks like. 

An Egg McMuffin hold the American for the old man and the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes for me, two large coffees, all the cream all the sugar. The girl behind the counter is this beautiful girl who couldn’t have been older than seventeen. Too much eyeshadow on, like maybe she was trying to look older but probably really because she listens to punk rock and is too young to have style with it. I want to talk to her about The Misfits or Morrissey but I’m too stoned to sound like a normal human and would probably just seem like I’m hitting on her. Which I guess I sort of would be, but only not really. It’s fun to flirt with teenage girls the same way it is with old ladies, like they love it and it makes them feel special but nothing’s going to come of it, because come on. Man those peepers pop and I could get absolutely lost in them for a lifetime if I didn’t have business to take care of, like literal transactional business. 

“$17.18” she says like we’re talking about anything else. I want to say something clever. Same as you, right? Seventeen? Eighteen? And then she’d smile at me and we’d get out of there and I’d take her under my wing and protect her like Cherie Currie and the Runaways, but after a while with those doe eyes batting at me all the time we’d become something more and go live in Portland where this kind of age gap is not only accepted it’s encouraged. We’d open a coffee-shop/book-store/performance-space where we could live happily ever after and I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this bullshit.

Instead I say, “uhh yeah,” and fish into my pockets for that crumpled twenty I shoved in there on my way out of the house. I accidentally pull the pipe out with the bill and boy do those mascara monsters take in an eyeful like it’s some sort of lost fucking Indiana Jones treasure, but I guess it would be to a girl in East Klamath Falls, Oregon who probably hasn’t even heard of The Melvins yet. My eyes are shifty but we still manage to make contact. I smile uncomfortably, knowing I’ve blown it with the love of my life but it didn’t matter because I’ll never see her again. I pay with a $20 and don’t even wait for the change. 

The whole bus is waiting for me after another quick detour to get high again adds an extra five past the time I was supposed to be back. Bill won’t let them leave though like he’s some sort of stand up guy for having my back, but really it’s just that he knows he can’t handle any of this without me. Imagine that! Me being a support system for anything! My therapist would be so proud. 

“Thanks Bill.” I hand him the bag and plop my ass into the seat that’s meant for a man about four inches shorter and forty pounds lighter. 

“Bus driver says we’re about two hours outside of Bend. We’ll rent a car there and get a hotel for the night. Get our heads screwed on right before we hit the road again.” “Okay.”

Bill sleeps the whole way to Bend and I can’t stop thinking. Funny. 

Sitting in this Holiday Inn, I look out the window at a Best Buy across the concrete. The sun is out and Bill is snoring louder than a motorcycle with a fresh muffler testing out its new system at Sturgis. VRZZZZZTT—VRZZZZZZT—VRZZZZZZZT. Poor Guy. Guess I would be tuckered out too if I was dealing with the most stressful thing I’d ever dealt with. The hardest thing I had to do was bury my Mom, but my Dad did most of the work and it was so long ago now that I don’t remember if the pain was really that real or I’m just imagining it now. 

I decide to take a stroll through the store and end up in the DVD section looking at the back of The Master hoping to gain some inkling of insight. Hmmm… Philip Seymour Hoffman gone too soon, that’s the best I got. I place it back on the shelf and move up the alphabet to Cheech & Chong: Up in Smoke, which reminds me… 

Behind the box store next to the folded boxes, I’m cheefing through a bowl like there’s four or five of us passing it around. But it’s just me. It’s always just me. I don’t know why any of this matters. 

When I wake up Bill’s already down having a hotel breakfast. I take a seat with my plate of sausage links and look at my Dad’s friend and not my friend’s Dad. He’s head down in that book again like it’s got the solution to his problems and isn’t just leaving him with a better understanding of why his son left his no-job, no-girlfriend, living-in-his-parents-basement existence behind. I roll the meat tubes around with my fork wondering what really makes this man in front of me tick. Is it really about saving his son? Or is it more about saving face? What if his son already is saved? What if after we get there father and son look each other in the eyes and we just turn around and go home? Nothing needs saving here he’ll say and we’ll take the long ride back to Carlsbad in complete silence. I swear if that happens I won’t say a word. 

From Bend we fill up on gas twice, get a cup of coffee each, and I take approximately one piss. When we end up in a town called Burns I know it’s the place before Bill even tells me. It’s just got the vibe. 

Turns out Bill never really had too much of a plan, which I find out the hard way after he drives through town and parks somewhere inconspicuous on the outskirts. He turns to me and says: “So what do you got?” Like I’m the one here to save my son. 

“Uhh…” I say. “Shit,” he says.

He drops me off at the diner, Frank & Marys, with a vague plan of “finding out information.” I put it in quotes because he did when he said it like there was some sort of extra meaning I wasn’t entirely getting. He tells me that he’d do it if he could but he can’t because he looks like a cop. That he’ll sit in his car and think of next steps while I dig around with the locals. Bill leaves me with a twenty and a boot out the passenger side and tells me to call him if I find anything.

Tuna Melt, Coffee all the milk all the sugar. Sit at the counter and MARY, that’s what her name tag says, can hardly even look at me when she takes my order. Another young person stumbling around Burns looking for the quick and easy path to salvation that Steven LightSource advertised on his YouTube channel. I watched one or two of the videos when Brian first disappeared but it all seemed like metaphysical mumbo jumbo to me with the real truths hidden behind the paywall. 

“For 9.99 a month you can have unlimited access to the ‘Source of Eternal Happiness.’ Subscribe here.” No thanks. I’ve got Netflix

Mary drops off my plate and it clatters on the counter like it only can in cartoons. She tops off my coffee letting it steam just like I like it, piping hot, too much to even drink yet. I want to ask if she knows where Harmony House is but know it would become some awkward thing where I have to backtrack and explain myself like no I’m not trying to join—my friend is there and I’m trying to rescue him—I don’t have to explain myself to you MARY.

A girl slides in next to me and orders a bacon cheeseburger and a Coke. She’s pretty in a way directly marketed to me like when you’re talking about a product on the phone and then all of a sudden that exact product is in your Instagram feed. She smiles at me. I turn away.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” she asks.“Yeah yeah.” I say brushing her off.“No seriously,” she continues. “Kurt?”

I mean that’s my name so obviously I turn.

“Oh my God that is you! What are you doing out here?” She says.“I should ask you the same thing.”

I take a look at her face trying to place it. It does look familiar, but my mind has been playing tricks on me lately. The other day I watched an entire movie start to finish before realizing I’d seen it already. The last frame was a total oh shit you’ve seen this moment, but with two whole hours of NOTHING before that.

We eye each other for a long time while she makes faces that she must think will help jog something. They don’t. Finally: “Sam? Samantha Kersaw…”

Still nothing.

“Come on. We dated for a little at ASU. I sold mushrooms.”FUCK I had dated this girl. I think. Pretty sure I broke up with her over text. “Oh shit! How’ve you been?” I say, trying to deflect years of built-up anxiety in the turn of a friendly phrase.

“Great, Kurt. I’ve been really great.” She says before jumping right into it like she’s got no shame whatsoever about being in a cult. Because I guess to her it’s not a cult. It just is. “Have you heard of Harmony Home?”

What utter convenience, right? Travel 700 miles just to run into a girl I used to fuck in college. Or did we ever? It’s not that surprising though, not really. Harmony Home has a tendency to target former or current drug abusers like Brian, Sam and myself. It’s part of their ‘thing’ according to that New York Times exposé that Bill read out loud from on the first leg of our trip. And plus, the world is a minuscule place full of happenstance and coincidence. Synchronicity is as universal as any other thing that happens regularly.

“It’s the um—” I want to say cult I want to say cult I want to say cult—“religious organization that I see on the news all the time.” 

“Exactly! My husband and I run the Oregon chapter. It’s a dream come true really. I was so lost when you knew me back in college. Tune in, turn on, drop out was right. Just had the wrong turn on.”

Is she talking about me?

Mary scoffs as she delivers Sam’s order with the same level of spite she had with mine. Cartoon Clatter 2: The Animated Adventures of Platey and Cuppy. “Cheeseburger and Coke,” she says through gritted teeth, staring Samantha down like they’re old enemies who have had this confrontation many many times before. “You people aren’t welcome here anymore.”

“Please be reasona—”

Mary turns away, without filling me up even though I could clearly use it. My eye stays on the coffee swirling behind the glass. “Come on, let’s take a booth,” Samantha says to me. “Catch up.”

I see Mary making eye contact like don’t do it man but I can’t help myself. We pull into the stretched red leather of the booth. Classic diner fare. She barely gives me a moment to breathe before rocketing right back in.

“So, what’s the real reason you’re all the way out here in the middle of nowhere? You’re interested, right? Came to see what all the fuss is about? I can sense it on you.” I pause.

For what feels like forever.

And maybe it was.

Maybe it was 2 and 1/2 minutes.

Maybe it was eternity and she aged a thousand generations right in front of my face. Maybe it was 2 and a 1/2 seconds.

We’ll never know.

After that I say the only thing I can think to say: “You smoke?”

She doesn’t look over her shoulder, doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t look me in the eyes and tell me that every decision I’ve ever made has been wrong and I need to give up such filthy habits. No. She says, “Yeah, sure.”

I drop the twenty and we get the fuck out of there.

We smoke that bowl and then another one on the drive to Harmony Home. We pass the pipe back and forth in silence as her Jeep bounces on dirt roads that will probably never be paved. If Bill were smart he’d be following us right now, but I refuse to look over my shoulder and check. Fact of the matter is he’s not very smart. He’s probably sitting in a supermarket parking lot crying into his phone about how badly he’s failed as a father. I heard him doing that once to his girlfriend so I can only assume it's what he does every time I’m out of earshot. Maybe he’s got his finger hovering over my name in his phone, too afraid to find out what I’ve found. He never calls.

Sam rests a hand on my thigh and I feel something for the first time in a long time. It’s a familiar touch, but if I’m being completely honest, it’s not one I totally recognize. I remember a girl selling mushrooms and I remember this face, but I don’t really remember being with her in that kind of way. Life was a blur back then, Xanned out more often than not. What the fuck is wrong with me? This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife, how did I get here? Fuck, I’m high.

Windows down as we roll up to our destination and I’m greeted by a chorus of friendliness in a clearing cut out of the woods just for us. A giant mansion stands behind them like they even make houses this big? Step out of the car and both feet land at the same time like it’s some sort of compulsion. I swear it’s not. I pass through a gauntlet of smiles that look like they’ve been tipped off and waiting for my arrival. “Hi, welcome to Harmony Home, I’m Jennifer.”

“Oh, he’s got such a beautiful aura. Where did he come from?”“Once in a Lifetime, brother. Same as it ever was.”

“Anything you need just let me know, I’m your guy. Glad to have you here with us.” At the end of this hallway of humans I see a guy I know. Hey, I know that guy! “Welcome, my friend,” Brian says as I approach. His head is shaved, with a smile planted far further than ear to ear. I wonder if it connects in the back of his head or what. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his eyes as lit up and alive as they are right now. Nothing needs saving here. Turn around and go home. Brian pecks Samantha on the cheek and I slowly but surely connect the dots to who exactly is married to whom. Now, that’s fucking happenstance. 

Arm on my back, Brian draws me nearer to the house. Samantha and the thirty-some others follow behind. No processional, no pomp, none of that shit. No overly excitable people asking if I’d ever heard of their lord and savior. These weren’t brainwashed monkeys. No. They are people, just regular guys and gals splitting off into casual conversations that have nothing to do with saving my soul.

I had expectations and these weren’t them.

Turns out that the ‘Source of Eternal Happiness’ isn’t anything we didn’t already have inside of us this whole time. We are in control of our own destiny. Harmony Home simply provides daily affirmations and necessities to those who seek to live a life in peace and with purpose. For $9.99 a month. Not so bad if you ask me.

I wonder how long Bill ended up waiting before he went home.

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