waga [july 17 21]

when spring came to the valley i emerged from my terrible apartment, a pale grub weak from a hundred dark days spent indoors and saturated in citrus ethanol. over the winter my friends and i had found what upperclassmen called the wieldings, the substances we chose to abuse to cope with stress and circumstances. for months we'd sat with each other during the long sunless weekends with our drinks and pills and strains and powders all developing new unexplored dependencies.

our older friends had also passed down the skill of skimming for rations at the overnight truck landing off the freeway. we'd pool some money at the start of the night and then pairs of us would zip up our coats and stomp through icy parking lots asking loitering drivers if they "had anything for sally". more often than not they'd grin and nod and disappear into their cabs and return with capsules or baggies or bottles that we'd bring back to our brood.

good fruit was a rarity in the winter months, the good pickings were either sold fresh or exported during the autumn harvest, so what was left was usually mealy or underripe by midwinter. i think that's why i took to citrus vodka.

the best of it would come in glass bottles on the red trucks from the east. there was always clean lemon ethanol for sally on a truck with territory 23 plates. The trucks from the 30s carried nasty stuff that burned the eyes. we didn't know if it was some kind of additive they used during the fermentation process or what but uncapping a fresh bottle from a 30 was like opening a propane valve. we'd hold a lit match at the cap and break the seal and watch the little flame plume. it was awful on the tongue but i liked how it burned slow in my chest. my other friends found their affinities for powder and exceptionally cheap beer. it all kept the winter ice from creeping into our veins.

spring was a relief. bony brushes with tiny pink blossoms bloomed on the stone ridges overlooking the valley floor renewed with green. the sun shone gently through clouds riding the brisk mountain winds eastward to the plateau. we could stand together outside and smoke and look at the moon without chattering the filters off our cigarettes. to celebrate this great change we had Waga.

Waga was an annual celebration on the first weekend of spring, where the music department faced the art department in a friendly softball game followed by drinking for the rest of the day in a field. it began decades ago, organized by the student leadership of the the arts department. i don't know how many games were actually played but by the time i was enrolled there was no softball and no art department, just us musicians drinking in a field. a fragment of its ceremonial quality remained-- in the weeks leading up to the event if you heard someone say "Waga" you had to shout "Waga" to the sky.

so the day comes and me and hector hitch a ride with val to the old baseball field a couple miles east of town. the only indication that the field was ever used for baseball was the twisted cyclone fencing all bent in a pile some 30 yards from the road. the rest was all weeds and antelope brush and abandoned couches.

most of the cohort was already there, spread out in little groups across the field. a couple of jags from the sax studio were pegging each other with whiffle balls. trombonists shotgunned tallboys. woodwinds traded secrets. me and hector drifted to a knot of percussionists who tossed us beers and played freakish jazz from a tinny bluetooth backpack speaker.

the sky was grey with thick clouds that held the heat and moisture against the valley floor. i sweated against my too thick t shirt and hector's ex held court with some vocal majors some feet away. there were worse hangs but they at least had AC.

fifteen minutes passed of stuttering uninteresting conversation about finals. hector looked at me and i looked at him and we wordlessly drained our warm tallboys and crushed the cans. we were a microsecond away from turning to find val to retreat back to town when we were hailed by Cracker Dogg.

Cracker Dogg, or C Dog, was a red faced tuba player with ambition. his ambition was most often to drink sixers and get belligerent but there were some days when he was also interested in playing the tuba. C Dog was loud and made messes of himself like a groundling dog with too large of ears. he gave no respect and seemed happy enough to never receive it. he carried himself like a boulder and he approached me and hector at the edge of the field with a open ziploc bag of something.

he greeted us with a sweaty wassup and asked how we were doing. "good, man" me and hector both replied at almost but not quite the same time. hector looked at the open ziploc bag C Dog was cradling in the crook of his arm. "what you got there C Dog" hector asked. he was wearing a grin like a welding mask.

C Dog lifted the bag and showed us a wad of noodles swimming in a grey green matrix filled with chunks. colorless ectoplasmic vegetal material formed a thick layer at the bottom. a white plastic spork was marooned in the mess, half submerged and wet all the way up the handle. the pale noodles jiggled obscenely as he gestured. i thought of worms devouring rotten whales on the sea floor.

C Dog: "it's some spaghetti with sauce i made from aged beer"

i coughed.

Hector: "oh yeah how'd you do that"

C Dog: "i had a six pack of pyramid that i put in my closet for about seven months"

i closed my eyes to prevent them from bulging completely out of my head.

C Dog: "i cut up the cheeseburger patties i had in the fridge and cooked it all together"

C Dog dug around in the bag with the wet spork.

Hector: "that's crazy man" he shook his head, "you are a crazy dog man from the cave"

a gentle hand laid itself on my shoulder. val's voice came from behind me, "i'm not getting any play you suckers ready to dip?"

i turned to her, "hey val yeah but do you see what C Dog's got?" C Dog scooped into his profanity

val: "Crackers what the fuck is that. thats fucked. you are fucked" Cracker Dogg smiled and lifted a lump out of the bag

C Dog: "i made it from aged beer-"

val: "if i see you put that in your mouth i'm gonna fucking barf man i'm out we are fucking out. nasty as hell"

val pulled me and hector away from C Dog. we picked our way back through the weeds to val's little round car.

val: "that shit was a bust all the lesbians have boyfriends and all the cute guys are too fucking depressed to admire me”.

i rounded the back of her powder blue volkswagen "they need sunshine and water every day and they'll grow into normal happy guys who can receive your beauty".

"they need piss" hector yelled and slammed the door

"sorry they need piss" i said as i ducked into the car

val buckled her seatbelt "what they need is piss". she grabbed her carton of cigarettes off the dashboard and dug a orange lighter out of her pocket "we got way too much daylight left, you guys feel like going for a drive?" she lit her cig and the smell of dark ashen herbs filled the car.

i laid the back of my hand on my forehead and collapsed across the back seat "anywhere, sweet val, take me anywhere"

hector: "let's go to play planet"

val: "oh i'm gonna send you to play planet" she grabbed his collar and pretended to cut his throat. hector mimed blood gushing out of his neck and fell against the window.

val started the car "you been to the mineral lake?"

hector and i both shouted no.

val: "nyalrighty"

she turned the wheel. we pulled off the gravel shoulder and onto the highway. hector rolled his window down and loudly retched as we passed everyone standing in the field.

we rolled east toward the wide and slow river that curves through the red clayland and rides against the cliff of the eastern plateau. the clouds dissolved and the sun burned vital and yellow. i held my hand out of the window and let it glide and cut through the wind. val did the same. i reached forward and touched her elbow and she smiled at me in the side mirror. i smiled back.