Where the Wind Blows
PART 1 of 4: Bad Burrito. Filming. Last Year. Martinsburg, West Virginia.
I’m sitting in a harshly lit lobby of a Comfort Inn, in West Virginia, at a tall table with chairs too short for it made out of particle board and vinyl, eating a bad burrito I ordered off a screen at a Sheetz across the highway. The burrito is full of junk. Unmelted yellow cheese, lukewarm fried chicken, soggy iceberg lettuce, and a pink sour cream sauce. It’s late and I’m by myself and the burrito is making me sick, but I’m hungry – and worse, I’m lonely. I’m down in the lobby eating it instead of up in my room because I’m hoping to run into someone. Someone that might take the edge off and make this middle-of-nowhere Martinsburg night bearable. Someone other than the guy who’s about to approach me.
“Can I join you?” a glassy-eyed man about my age comes shuffling towards me.
He looked like someone you went to high school with and forgot their name. He had dark features with no evidence of any ethnicity. He wasn’t handsome or ugly. Short brown hair that wasn’t clean or dirty. He looked disturbingly normal, but high as a kite on opioids. Smiley and happy in an awful way and full of curiosity for me, like a toddler. Painkillers do that. They kill the pain of adulthood, returning you to a place somewhere between the womb and the first day of school.
“Sure,” I answer, setting my burrito down in some pink sour cream sauce spilled across the plastic Sheetz bag.
He smells like outside – like he’s been rolling around in cold wind and damp leaves. And his eyes are rolling around the table like God’s running his insides through a washing machine.
“You look cool, man,” he says to me without ever looking at me. “You look like you get it.”
This is the synthetic heroin talking. He, like me, is lonely, and my presence seems oddly holy because his world is illuminated like a drawn out firework and I am part of that light. This makes me feel a bit Jesus-y in the little time we’re about to share together at this particle board table in the lobby of a Comfort Inn, in West Virginia.
“Do you want to go to a strip club?”
“I’m okay,” I answer, and I hold back from waving my hand in front of his face like Obi Wan Kenobi, ‘You don’t want to go to a strip club either… not in West Virginia.’
“I’ll pay,” he says and he takes out a wad of cash, “I make good money.”
“What do you do?”
“I have a wife and kids.”
“That’s cool,” and I ask again, “What do you do?”
And he makes eye contact with me for the first time before answering.
“I build bridges.”
“Yeah. I fix them and build them and work on them, you name it. It’s good money.”
I’m jealous. What a neat job – to be a builder – to construct something so vital. I can’t do that. I can barely construct a sentence without moving from past to present tense.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think. “That’s awesome,” I say.
And he agrees and I agree and I bet you agree. He loves his job or at least likes it. He’s a real-life Lego man.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an actor,” I answer.
And he’s jealous of me in this weird light and I feel like telling him it’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be. His excitement makes me feel like a liar. I want to tell him how synthetic my career is…
“Are you with the NASCAR show?”
“Yes,” I answer, nervous.
He must’ve spoken to one of my other cast members staying in the hotel with me. We had been in Martinsburg for about a week now, filming NASCAR: The Rise of American Speed for Country Music Television.
“Who are you playing?”
“Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” I answer and this strikes another chord with him and again I want to lower his expectations. I can predict ahead of time that most of my scenes will end up on the cutting room floor and I’ll be embarrassed for having told anyone of my involvement with this non-union made-for-TV re-enactment mini-series.
“Wow,” he answers and his eyes roll so far back they actually leave his sockets for a few seconds and fall behind his cheekbones.
The Earnhardt men are folk heroes in these parts and in this synthetic moment, I am loosely part of that history.
“I’m Eric.” He reaches out his hand and it’s as clammy as I predicted.
“You want to go to a strip club?”
I almost say yes, but–
“I’ll drive,” Eric says and stands to go and almost tips over, but not in a drunk way, in this ecstatic way. Not ecstatic like bubbly or thrilled, but more elastic and acoustic. Ecstatic like the drug – like you’re falling towards something heavy. That’s why people get high. It’s falling in rhythm with the holy-redshift rumbling of our distant galaxies at a speed proportional to everyone’s separation from one.
“How long are you guys here?”
“I’m only here for two weeks, but I think the production’s here for a month.”
“Wow,” he answers again.
And part of me wants to try synthetic heroin. It’s important to build bridges with your fellow man, as if souls are states and time is the river between them.
“I feel ecst – uhhh – fucking excellent,” he says to the table.
The drugs are a bit too much for Eric now and he rests his hand on the tall table like it’s the rim of heaven.
“What are you on?” I ask.
And without hesitation, Eric plops an orange plastic bottle of Oxy between us.
Oxycontin – a river of pain and ecstasy.
“Wow,” I repeat his words, examining my country’s heroin epidemic on the table in front of me. Federally approved and prescribed.
What a fucking nightmare.
“You want one?” Eric pops the cap and pours 4 on the table.
“I’m okay,” I answer quickly because the bad burrito in my gut wants 7.
“Are you a Democrat?” he barks out of nowhere. “Yer-all from California. I talked to one of your friends, Danny, yer all a little nuts, huh?” Eric’s agitated by the drugs scattered in front of us and he’s trying to clock how many he has left and how many I’m going to take.
“I don’t, uhh— I don’t subscribe to that labeling…” and I regurgitate some Democratic, progressive, liberal elitist horseshit about not belonging to either party and being a free thinker, bound by no corporate-engineered ideology. The kind of real highfalutin holier-than-thou city-slicker stuff that makes NASCAR fans glad we fly over their territory. Fuck micro-dosing app-building hippies. Rednecks build bridges. It’s fun to be a Republican in this neck of the woods. Believe me, if you were walking along a highway in the Mountain State to a Sheetz where there might be a few tweakers, you’d want a gun on your hip too. Liberal fantasies don’t work here; there’s beasts in the woods, and we might need guns to fight them.
“Good,” he says. “Here,” Eric pushes a pill towards me and pulls the other three back and the irony of his welfare isn’t lost on me. He wants to see me happy, but his happiness is 3 times more important .
“Thanks, but I can’t.” I push the little pill back to him and it skips up on some invisible bridge between us.
“Cool cool,” Eric pops it and sweats.
“Are you a Democrat?” I ask.
“No. Bunch of brainwashed snowflake hippies,” he answers.
And I nod my head with the part of my spine that agrees with him and I feel my own redshift.
“You ever listen to Alex Jones?”
Gimme one of those pills, I think as my vibes change the frequency of their wavelength relative to my distance from California.
“They’re trying to control us.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, what a nightmare,” I mumble in a voice deeper than my own.
There’s something odd when two men talk conspiracies in West Virginia and one’s blasted on Oxy and the other’s lost part of himself to a decade of confusion. I liked Eric and I knew he meant well and I wanted to agree with him on everything, not because I did, but because he was being soulful and honest and I was a visitor here, part of a film taking advantage of West Virginia’s tax breaks. I wanted to hate government and laugh at liberal yuppies and strap a gun to my hip and take my country back from the royal bloodlines that rob us of our minds and freedoms. At this particle board table at this weird Comfort Inn built over some lost Civil War battleground, we weren’t divided and conquered. Eric was high and I was listening.
“They don’t give a damn about us. Y’know the movies? The movies you guys are shooting?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“They got their hands in the movies. The CIA. You think the CIA looks at entertainment and goes, ‘Oh, we’re not gonna mess with that?!’”
“If you think the CIA doesn’t dabble in entertainment and the news, that’s ludicrous. That’s the number one thing they mess with to try to get people going in the direction they want. You can’t trust anything.”
Except what rings true to you, I think.
And then Eric goes on this wild-eyed rant and I start to think he’s fired up on something more than just Oxy. Probably not cocaine. Maybe a little speed. Maybe just the fear.
“Martial law is the goal,” Eric pounds his fist on the table and it doesn’t make a nice sound because it’s not solid wood. A solid wood table will echo like a drum, but particle board sounds dead and muffled.
“I understand the conundrum,” I say and I lean back and put my hands behind my head to protect the back of my neck.
“WAzzzzzup,” our mutual friend Danny walks into the lobby. He’s also an actor in the NASCAR series and also here from California. He’s got a Sheetz bag and a six pack of Stella and a big grin on his face.
“This guy’s a Democrat,” Eric points to Danny and laughs.
“I’m not a Democrat or a Republican,” Danny shakes his head. “Democrats need to grow a pair and Republicans need to get back to nature,” Danny says as he drags a chair to our table. “It’s called being a libertarian,” he plops his soggy chicken, lettuce and pink-sauced burrito on the table and passes the Stellas out. Danny is ready to dive into all the world’s problems with Eric. He’s a little buzzed too and plans on gorging. He doesn’t have to film in the morning.
“I like you,” Eric says to Danny and gives him a high five.
“There’s something I want you to Youtube,” Danny says.
“Kryon. He’s this guy that channels his future self. He’s become God.”
And I don’t know if it’s scarier that Danny believes God has a Youtube channel or that these two are going to talk for twenty minutes about psychic vampires and then head to a strip club in Martinsburg, but both give me chills. I’ve lost my appetite even though I’m hungry.
“I gotta hit the sack.” I stand and down my Stella. And I look sadly at the remaining half of my burrito and the iceberg lettuce saturated in pink sauce now.
I feel sick.
Maybe it was Danny spitting little bits of soggy chicken out of his mouth every time he talked. Maybe it was just the lettuce. Maybe the reality in front of me was too eerie and the horror in my gut, too sober, to spend any more time not in bed sleeping.
“Alright buddy,” Danny slaps me on the back.
“Nice meeting you,” Eric nods and nods.
“Likewise,” and I throw my Sheetz bag in the trash and recycle my Stella and I take the elevator upstairs so I can go to sleep and play Eric’s NASCAR hero in the morning.