Fear & Loathing At Fantastic Fest 2013, Part I: Back To The Womb. (NSFW!)

CHAPTER 1: ON THE ROAD AGAIN

It's Tuesday night and I'm driving a 2011 cherry red Cadillac station wagon. It's rented of course. I could never afford a 2011 Cadillac. Even in 2021, I still won't be able to afford a 2011 Cadillac.

I didn't intend on renting a station wagon, but it seemed appropriate that it was the last car left in the lot that my credit would allow me to rent.

I'm on my second day of driving out to Austin for Fantastic Fest and I'm feeling a strong sense of déjà vu. I've already made this drive before, nearly four years ago to the day. I had moved out to Austin back in 2009 after scoring a prominent internship with the highly touted genre fest. And then I had made the same drive back after crashing and burning in the self proclaimed weirdest city in America.

And I have a sinking suspicion that I'll be driving home with the same overbearing sense of failure ten days from now.

The back of the car is loaded with about forty framed pieces of psychedelic black light erotica that I'll be showcasing at a new art gallery in downtown Austin.

Danny is riding shotgun with an open case of Schlitz by his feet and a flask nestled between his legs.

And I'm not proud to admit that we've been sharing both for the majority of the drive thus far.

If the rings around my eyes were any indication of my age, then I would put myself around 75 years old right now.

I'm burnt out. My skin feels like scorched earth. I haven't slept since I returned to Philadelphia from Toronto. I haven't slept once during our days on the road, and yet I still feel wired.

It's only a matter of time until the terrifying effects of sleep deprivation begin to kick. I wonder how long it will be until I start hallucinating, until I steer the car off the road into the guard rail in an attempt to avoid hitting the mythical black dog.

We're about a half hour's drive outside of Memphis, Tennessee and I could use some food, preferably greasy food, food that's bad for me. I've been indulging my sadomasochistic side these past few days, and I want food that will make me sick. And it wouldn't be half bad to wash it down with a beer that's a few notches colder than the luke warm Schlitz that I've been sipping on.

And that's when I see a sign advertising a Hooters just off of the next exit. I've never been to a Hooters and I've never had any desire to go to a Hooters. But I'm on the road, far from home, and when you're on vacation, there's always a temptation to do things you'd otherwise wouldn't.

So I decide that I want some boobs, beer, and breaded chicken wings, so I turn off whatever highway it is that we're on at this point, and head towards the Mecca of tacky.

Danny is too drunk to notice that I've made a detour. It isn't until I pull into the parking lot and am greeted by a gaggle of full bosomed young girls in tight T-shirts and orange short shorts offering to wash my car that Danny turns to me and says, "What the fuck, Greg? Really? Fucking Hooters?"

"I'm the one driving and you haven't been putting shit towards gas. If I want to appease my inner cave man and eat deep fried death and ogle some cleavage, then that's what we're going to do!"

"Ok. Ok. As long as they can make me a strong Long Island Iced Tea, I really don't give a fuck."

"That's the attitude."

I put the car in park and open the driver's side door when a young blonde woman named Cindy asks me if I'd like them to wash my car.

I ask, "How much?"

With a perplexing strained school girl accent, she tells me, "It's complimentary."

"Sure."

I wave Danny to follow me inside. As we walk away from the Cadillac, Cindy calls out,
"Usually, the guys like to stay in the car while we wash it!"

I hold my hand up as if to say, "No, that's fine. I'm might be pathetic, but I'm not that pathetic yet."

We're quickly seated and I'm immediately uncomfortable with my decision.

Hooters is a weird place. It's rather intriguing from a sociological standpoint, I almost feel as though it should be requisite field work for every anthropology student to spend time at Hooters and study its environment because there's nothing else in this world quite like it.

It feels alien and I simply don't understand it.

Sure, the waitresses are all still clothed, but little is left to the imagination. The tight white T-shirts are mostly see through, but I suspect some of the employees are going to the back and using a little ice to help themselves. And the shorts are barely even that.

But, this is a family restaurant and I see plenty of entire families seated around the spacious sports bar. There are grisly fathers whose eyes are wandering to every pair of tits walking around while their wives struggle to make conversation with their young sons hiding their erections and daughters now learning to adapt to negative cultural conditioning.

There are lonely, sad looking men seated by themselves with an entire pitcher of beer placed at their table, awkwardly making chit chat with their servers.

I'd like to think that I'm better than all of them, but then again, I'm still here aren't I?

I'm disturbed that our own waitress, Crystal, actually sits down at our table when we order our drinks.

She's the restaurant's lone red head, and I feel queasy that my initial reaction was that we had hit the jackpot because we definitely have the most attractive waitress working this place.

I see plenty of other male customers starting over at our direction, pining for our waitress, jealous that she's serving us and not them.

This is really really fucking gross. I can't help but think of that Rapey Robin Thicke song, Blurred Lines. There's something much worse about this than a strip club. I understand the purpose of strip clubs, I understand that the expectations and unwritten rules of conduct with that.

Crystal asks us about our professions, where we're from, what we do and where we're going.

It doesn't escape me that she doesn't actually care.

Again, It's kind of like a strip club, only it's not a strip club at all. I don't know what the protocol is here. Am I supposed to tip her every time she takes an order or brings a round? Am I supposed to slip her a dollar every time she sits to chat so she'll go and leave us alone?

And yet, I'm utterly hypnotized by it all. It's a beautiful hot mess. It's the perfect illustration of the American fantasy.

Danny is beginning to lighten up. He's starting to find the humor in it although I'm sure the iced teas are helping with that. We toast our third round of drinks.

We've hardly talked about our plans for Fantastic Fest, mostly because neither of us have plans for Fantastic Fest. I'm not sure if he realizes that I'm crashing the festival, and I doubt he's aware of my certainty that he's definitely crashing the festival. It's the elephant in the room. But that's OK; I've learned to get along with those types of elephants. They can shit on my dinner plate and I'll still be able to turn a blind eye and waste time by gossiping about common adversaries.

Danny offers a toast and makes a proposal, "How much would you give me if I were to motorboat our waitress when she comes back?"

Like his previous dare back in Toronto, I don't assume that it's a harmless joke. I worry that he needs the dough to pay for his dinner tonight and this might be his one way to earn it.

But I've got about $2500 cash in my pocked from dealing weed with my father at TIFF, so I console Danny by letting him know, "Dinner is on me either way, so you don't need to do that."

He looks disappointed and tells his drink, "Well, it would've been funny if I had."

When Crystal returns to take our food orders, she sits at the table again, pressing us on more about our lives.

She says, "You boys sure don't look like you're from around here. Visiting Memphis?"

I answer, "I think we're going to stay the night in town, yeah. We're on our way to Texas from
Philadelphia."

She lets out a fake giggle and says, "I figured you guys for some East Coasters, what with all of the black you're wearing and all. You guys look hip like some fancy New Yorker types. Are you artists, maybe writers?"

I really don't like this weird game we're playing, so I say, "You seem like a really cool person, Crystal, but you don't have to pretend to like us. I've never been to a Hooters before. I was just kind of curious. I'll still tip you well, but I don't need you to flirt with me."

Danny plants his palm on his face and sighs, "Jesus, Greg. You really do have aspergers don't you?"

I apologize to Crystal, "I'm sorry if that was rude."

But she cuts me off, "No, that's fine. But you really don't look like anyone else I've seen come through here. And you're not staring at my tits nearly as much as the other guys I deal with here, and that's kind of refreshing."

"Yeah, I thought that's what I came here for but I already felt guilty and weird about that after being here for five minutes."

Crystal drops the high pitched ditzy girl act and asks more legitimately, "Well, where are you guys staying?"

Danny snorts, "I didn't know we were staying in Memphis."

I interject, "We'll find a place once we're in town.  We just need to crash for the night."

Sincerely, Crystal responds, "I'm guessing you've never been to Memphis before. It's a rough town. Be careful about where you stay. I'd avoid any motels. You should find somewhere as close to Beale Street as possible."

Danny is giving me that look, that look that suggests that our waitress is crazy, and I'm even crazier for humoring her.

I try to joke, "Oh, we're from Philly, we'll be fine. I'm not going to let Memphis scare me."

Crystal gets dead serious, "I've been to Philly. Philly ain't Memphis. Hell, Detroit ain't Memphis.  Y'all seem like nice folks, Memphis eats nice folks like y'all alive and then spits them out."

She takes our order and leaves the table.

Danny is laughing to himself. He tells me, "You're a smooth one, Greg. Jesus Christ."

"Shut up."

I drink my beer and he drinks his Long Island Iced Tea.

One pitcher, twenty wings, and two iced teas later, Crystal returns to our table with the check and a sheet of notebook paper.  On the piece of notebook paper are two lists of hotels separated into seperate columns. One column is labeled good, the other bad.

Crystal hands me the paper and explains, " If you can afford it, you should find a room at one of these hotels. But whatever you do, don't stay at the others unless you want to get robbed, beaten, and left for dead. "

She points to a pair of phone numbers beneath the lists and tells us, "The first phone number I've written down is a friend of mine who works as a concierge with the Double Tree. If he can't book you there, he can help you find another hotel. The second phone number is mine. I get off of work at 10. If you find yourself lost or stranded, you feel free to give me call."

I really can't say if this is an attempted pick up. I can't tell if Crystal was flirting. I really believe this may have legitimately been some of that warm and friendly southern hospitality that I've heard so much about.

Danny's jaw is on the table. I guess he thinks it was a pick up.

He exclaims, "Am I drunk or did that just happen?"

"You are drunk, and that did just happen, but I don't think it was what you think it was."

I pay our tab and leave a 50% tip and when we get back to the car, it's been cleaned spotless.

CHAPTER 2: HANGOVER IN A PLASTIC BOOT


Crystal's friend came through. I called him and he got us a pretty decent room at the Double Tree for a pretty decent price.

But I'm starting to give credence to Crystal's warnings on Memphis.

When we drove into city, there was still sunlight out and that was just about the only thing that was out. The streets of downtown Memphis were deserted. I almost expected to see tumble weeds passing by across the streets. I've never seen a major city so empty of people.

There was something eerie and ominous to it.

The only living, breathing person that I did spot was a young male wearing a hoodie and baseball cap covering his face with one hand in a pocket and the other holding a spliff. He was pacing about at a corner about three blocks from our hotel. My instincts were telling me that he wasn't waiting for the bus; he was waiting for a mark.

The second tip off to Crystal's hyperbolic cautions came after Danny and I checked into our room and made our way out for some drinks on Beale Street.

I was stopped by the hotel desk attendant as we were exiting the lobby.  

She was a middle aged Indian woman and she called out to me specifically.

"Excuse me sir?"

"Yes?"

"What is that you're carrying there?"

She pointed to the leather camera case strapped around my shoulder.

She told me, "I don't know what you have there, but that's a nice case. It looks expensive. I would strongly advise you not to carry that. You do not want to appear as though you have something that might be expensive on you."

I was flabbergasted. Memphis cannot be this bad.

I reasoned with the desk attendant, "I'll take that as a compliment. The case is fake leather, it's not expensive at all, and the camera inside of it isn't anything special."

She pleaded, "Please, I would be much more comfortable if you left that in your room.  I would suggest that you go and tour the area a little, and if you still feel confident enough to carry that camera, then you can come back for it. We're only a two block walk away from Beale Street; it would not be very much out of your way, sir. But I think maybe you won't want to come back for camera."

Fucking really?! Memphis cannot be this bad.

I waved her off and headed out the door with Danny. When we made it to the corner, the dealer in the hoodie and baseball cap we saw earlier approached us.

With his hand still in his pocket gripping some vague object underneath, he said, "Hey, Homes. What you got in that case? That's a nice looking case. How about you spot me a dolla or two?"

I immediately turned around and headed back towards the hotel.  Danny followed me, and so did that man on the corner.  I started to walker faster, Danny started to walk faster, and then the man started to walk faster.

Our new found friend shouted, "Why you walking away from me?! I know you got some change to spare. With a case like, I know you got more than enough motha fucka."

I broke into a stride, so did Danny, but the man had decided to stop his pursuit.

I rushed back to my room and left the camera, and then I retrieved my .380 from my luggage and tucked inside my right pocket. I really didn't want to carry a gun tonight, particularly since I don't know if my carrying permit is applicable in this state. But I started to realize that Memphis might just be that bad.

An hour later, Danny and I are stumbling around the tourist packed Beale Street drinking strange alcoholic slushy concoctions out of enormous plastic boots.

We are a shit show playing out our own private act in an even bigger shit opera.

The street is lined with hundreds of bustling blues bars with their giant neon signs all competing for the attention of drunken white tourists looking for a taste of bluesy southern authenticity. The street is packed shoulder to shoulder with those drunken tourists, most of whom are also drinking hang overs in plastic boots with long twirling straws.

Nearly every bar has some type of fixture in their front windows exclaiming that fire arms are explicitly forbidden on their premises. But since I can qualify as white, I never get searched.

Danny is now incoherent, and maybe I am as well for all I know. Most times, drunks don't realize that they're drunk, or at least, that they're no longer making sense.

The music is fantastic though. Every bar has a different band playing, and none of them are charging a cover. We walk into one place, hear a song, and then make our way into the next.

Every musician, every singer, guitarist, drummer, and bassist is African American. And every patron is white, most of them middle aged and overweight. They sway from side to side for every finger slide and blues scale solo.

And at nearly every bar, every band warns the audience in between sets to be careful. Nearly all of them give the same PSA speech word for word.

"I thank y'all for being here. I thank y'all for coming to Memphis and supporting the home of blues, but I know y'all ain't from here and I want y'all to be safe. Be careful tonight; don't walk back to your hotels even if your hotel is a walking distance. Be smart, take a cab. And if you find yourself astray, if you find yourself off of Beale Street, don't walk down no alleys. Don't walk donwn no streets where there ain't no lights. Always stay in the lights, folks.  And always tip your band, we'll be passing a bucket around shortly and it'd be mighty kind if you left something in appreciation for the music we gave you tonight. But remember; don't go walking back to your hotels when the night ends."

I've never liked being told what to do, so I find myself ducking out of the bar and heading towards a small alley only a few feet off of Beale Street to get some fresh air. And by fresh air, I mean to smoke a cigarette.

I pull the internet up on my phone. I'm checking for news from Toronto. I'm checking to see if my articles are getting any hits, if there's any feedback, to see what trouble I might be in.

There's no word from anyone. No emails from my editor, nothing to suggest that the men in blue might be on my tail.

And that's when I hear a man shouting at me again. He's shrouded in darkness; he's hardly more than a shadow.

He calls out at me with a question and an accusation, "What you doing in my alley? You know you don't belong here. This is my street, bitch."

Great. I haven't even gotten to Texas yet and I'm already in a position where I might have to draw a gun on a person.

He continues, "You gonna have to pay a toll now. You gonna have to pay the price."

I still can't see him clearly, but I can see that he's walking towards me.  I put my hand in my pocket and find the small Ruger.

My soon to be mugger says, "That's right, you get that money out now."

In my mind, I'm laughing. "Yeah, I got something for you."

When it comes to flight or fight, I've always been the idiot who chooses to fight. But I'm trying to better myself; I don't want to be that guy anymore. So I make a different choice. I run.

I run as fast as I can and find little trouble in passing the bridge troll. I keep running. I forget about Danny. I forget where I am.

I duck into the closest blues club that I can find and seat myself by the bar. I'm out of breath, which really means I'm out of shape. I hardly ran two blocks and yet it feels like my chest is going to cave in on itself.

It really is time that I stop smoking.

I order a Sprite and a shot of Jack. I want the Jack to calm my nerves and I want the Sprite to sober me up. It's a faulty plan, but it's all I got.

I down the shot and sip the Sprite and my nerves are neither calmed nor am I any more sober than I was five minutes ago.

When I finally look up from my glass of carbonated sugar syrup, I find a familiar face. It's Crystal, my waitress from Hooters.

She smiles and says, "Hi."

I groan and let out, "You were right, this town is way more fucked than Philly."

CHAPTER 3: SCARY MAN EATING VAGINAS

An hour, three shoots, two beers, and one joint later, I'm laying on my hotel bed back at the Double Tree. Crystal is in the room with me.

I don't know where Danny is. I tried texting and calling him but his phone is out of order. I'm sure he's having an adventure of his own. Or maybe he was shived by a mugger and is bleeding out in a gutter somewhere.

Or maybe he stole a car and drove it through the front gate of Graceland and is now passed out on Elvis' bed. That would be a pretty awesome story. It's more likely that he's asleep in a diner booth somewhere with a half eaten omelet in front of him, but I'd rather tell myself that he's building a tent fort in the King of Rock and Roll's living room.

I don't remember how I got back to the hotel; I don't really understand the circumstances that led Crystal here with me. Did I pick her up, or did she pick me up? I'm not really clear on it.

Crystal is down to her bra and panties. I'm still wearing my jeans. She's brushing my chest hair with one hand and tugging at my pants with the other.

I'm not very responsive. I've got the spins. I close my eyes and concentrate on not throwing up. I'm going to be useless to her, I already know that I've got whiskey dick.

I really think she must have picked me up, because I know my limits, and I would've known that I'm far too drunk for this tonight.

But then again, Crystal is an incredibly attractive woman, an attractive and seemingly smart and level headed woman. Why would she pick up a strange tourist who's obviously on some self destructive bender?  She's not a prostitute, this isn't Leaving Las Vegas, I'm not paying her, there's no reason for her to be in this room with me.

I'm not James Bond, there's nothing very cool or romantic to my behavior right now.

Crystal unhooks her bra straps and I bury my face into a pillow, desperately trying to find some sense of balance and stillness. My hangover tomorrow is going to suck.

The Hooters waitress rips my jeans down to my knees while I lie on stomach away from her.

I worry for a moment that Crystal might rob me, that she's waiting for me to be passed out and naked, that I'm going to wake up in the room tomorrow clothes less and penniless.

But then again, I'd deserve that at this point.

I roll over onto my back after a few moments have passed where I don't feel Crystal's fingers all over me anymore.


ff final 1.jpgff final 2.jpgff final 3.jpgEverything goes black...


TO BE CONTINUED!
Around the Internet:
  • Goldie_Hawn_Golden_Shower

    I can't believe none of the readers here at twitch gave at least 1 fucking comment? Here's a suggestion, next time you guys go on a road trip, have a designated driver to you know, help you drive along the way??? Oh and while reading this, I someday hoped that my road trip would be this fucking intense. Boy, I really do hope you guys make it to Austin, please keep us posted. Todd Brown are you reading this??

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