What if you could take a collection of short memories, weird and otherwise, and store them on your iPod? Then people could scroll through and play them back at their leisure. Would some play in loop mode? What would some of yours be?


Nick Belardes iPod Memory List:

Flock of fat green parakeets battle with a mockingbird over Bakersfield skies.

Tarantula walks on sweaty palm.

Rich Ferguson screams “Bones! Bones! Bones!”

Explosion behind rocket site mountain at Edwards Air Force Base.

Ghost in a chair with black eyes and screaming mouth.

Swim with a seal.

Little girl laughs on phone in conversation about hamsters biting belly hair.

Score hat trick in roller hockey game.

Train wrecks into coffee truck. Random opera singer on train holds out phone with Twitter photo of me.

Catch a shark.

Find a $20 bill.

Sergio Aragones draws a Mad Magazine cartoon of himself in a book that mentions him drawing Mad Magazine cartoons.

A dream about Bono being one of the pals.

Over the handlebars bike crash.

Stealing television.

Near swerving car collision through red light traffic.

Lightning crashes into mountain.

Desert rainbows everywhere.

*READ: Part One

I got onto the hood of our car and stared up at the milky stars. Eric’s yellow school bus was parked right behind us. Desert shrubs looked eerie in the moonlight. Olaf grabbed a blanket and walked off into the desert while I found myself dreaming about the past and the walking stick in the trunk and the mysterious man we had stumbled upon in the middle of the Ohio woods many days before.

Then I listened for snakes. I remembered what my parents had told me about the time they broke down in their old Volkswagen Beetle in the desert in the 1960s. My mother saw dozens of rattlesnakes when she took my sister for a pee by some shrubs. The way I remember my pop telling the story, there were snakes in the road, snakes winding past shrubs, snakes tangled, slithering, everywhere. It was like one of those classic old desert-set 1950s horror movies.

That story had given me an irrational fear of the desert. I figured the snakes would come and get me even if I were locked in a car. Now I lay back on the warm hood, smiling nervously, because I knew I couldn’t do what Olaf was doing. He wasn’t afraid. He’d come from Norway on an adventure to drive his son, Eric, from South Dakota to Arizona in a big yellow school bus. Eric was an air ambulance pilot. He flew medicine onto Indian reservations.

It had been a long trip across some of America: the green Midwest—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois; and into the South—Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; and then into the Southwest—New Mexico and Arizona. We were dirty and alive. I looked forward to Eric’s shower. We had slept in the car for seven days now, save the one night in Eric’s bus. And we had grown oddly used to it. We had become ragged Americans, odd travelers staring into the burnt open face of our land. It was still a sonnenreise. I thought, in zigzag fashion, about the things we had seen and about all the places full of bushy trees and green grass and tall red brick buildings, and the many cluttered downtowns. How the St. Louis Arch had seemed stuck to the earth like a giant magnet near the Mississippi River’s edge. I thought about Jordan running up to the steely arch, hugging it and wanting to take the elevator to the top; and about wandering along the Missouri streets and staring at a decrepit fountain spewing blue-dyed water; about driving our dirty car through Indianapolis, where we had felt small and our car had looked tiny against the monstrous skyscrapers, the churches and malls; and then tearing through the countrysides and Oklahoma—passing countless cicada-filled trees, buzzing in the darkness. How our headlights had failed at a gas station and three UPS workers fumbled with wires under the hood before finding the right ones to twist together. And then on to Oklahoma City and thinking about all the people madly connected to the bombing; and then back to Missouri and the bathroom off the freeway with a sign inside reading “No Niggers Allowed” in handwriting that matched a sign by the front counter where a quiet white man stood and took our money; and near Amarillo where we spent the night parked at a motel and my girlfriend and I did it because we felt lonely and tired and had nothing else to do while Jordan slept; and in Texas where we ate at a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere, mountains of pancakes with syrup, and stared out the windows into the green countryside, rain clouds rumbling; and in New Mexico and all that happened in Santa Rosa: the Blue Hole oasis, Olaf cooking hot dogs at Park Lake, our car dying as the rain fell against the scorched earth.

Back in the desert, I was shaken awake. Eric’s face hung above mine looking bluer than ever. It’s the starlight, I thought. His normally strong face looked frail in the faint glow and his eyes were cold like two black holes in the heavens. I got up. Already Eric had moved away and disappeared into his bus. And Olaf, back from the desert and amazingly alive, was waiting for me to rejoin the caravan.

I climbed into the car, where my girlfriend lay, asleep. I started the motor, and it shook her awake. “You okay?” she asked, her voice cracking. I said yes and pulled out to follow the demon red lights of the bus.

After a while, the fatigue set in and the white lines blurred together and didn’t seem so broken, but were instead almost snake-like, as if an albino serpent had uncoiled itself across the vast desert expanse. Its head was just around the next turn. Then those Ohio woods again rushed back into my mind. I saw myself with Jordan and my girlfriend as we went searching for Buttermilk Falls. I saw us rounding a corner and finding the man there. He was leaning on a log, carving a head into a staff. He looked like a killer, the way he sat there silently with his knife. He handed over the carved stick and mumbled a few words. Jordan held onto it like a shaman child. His face was filled with what appeared to be instant wisdom.


(Jordan Belardes at left holds the old man walking stick. Circa 1996)

Back in the desert again. Five in the morning. The road. The lines. The mountains just outside of Flagstaff. Huge green meadows, some rung with high wooden fences. Pine trees and valley peaks rising on either side, cradling our entry.

Eric was at the wheel of the bus, exhausted. He swerved out onto the shoulder as the first dim haze of day broke along the horizon. Dirt flew up in a cloud as he wheeled back onto the highway and nearly sideswiped a pick-up truck in passing. I felt lucky to be behind him. I hit the brakes and flashed my lights, hoping Eric would see me. Finally, after many minutes of tired swerving, he managed to steady himself, bringing the bus back between the broken serpent lines and finding an equilibrium.

“Oh good,” my girlfriend said, “he’s awake now.”

As awake as the sun that was lifting its head above the bright Arizona morning.

I pulled up to the gas station in a 1978 Bonneville that was by far the worst car I ever had to drive or ride in. My girlfriend had that same stupid, sweet smile she had on her face as when we’d stolen some gas a few days before. We were in Akron, Ohio. A few days earlier, we had poured about sixteen bucks worth in the tank and took off without paying. It was easy as that.

We were living on the edge, but that was the state of things back in 1996. We were traveling in a terrible car, wishing we had more money, wishing we had a real vacation. We were living on the edge like some kind of Hunter S. Thompson fiasco. My girlfriend had just gotten a job as a waitress at a restaurant where she stole bread each night for us to devour. It was that and the eggplant from a forest ranger who had a big garden in his yard. He made his own mulch, grew his own delicacies. Nick (that was the ranger’s name) had bought his car dirt cheap after some people drove it into a lake and drowned in it. “The car smelled for a while,” he said.

I stole a few boxes of canning jars from the house where I was staying. That way Nick would keep handing over vegetables.

At the gas station we hopped out for a fill-up. That’s when we saw a pig come running out of nowhere and dive under the car across from us. The person pumping the gas got a dumbfounded look on his face. I’m sure I did too. Then some people came running. “You see a pig?” someone said. I gestured to the car. Seemed like ten people peeked underneath at once.

My girlfriend’s stupid smile turned into a roar of laughter.

She liked attention and a circus (whenever she could be near one or create one).

The pig acted like it sensed some kind of insanity in the air and bolted for our car. Either that or my girlfriend’s chaotic laughter had attracted the beast in her direction. It dove underneath the car. I took a peek.

I could see the pig had a terrible panic in its eyes, like it had just seen the secret of the universe because God had left his Book of Infinity open on a desk somewhere. Then, when an arm reached under the Bonneville, this magical pig of Akron bolted again. It zigzagged in an evasive maneuver and was back under the other car in a cloud of dust.

People tried to pull the pig out, but the little fatso had wiggled itself firmly beneath the gas tank.

Then someone came with a rope and tied a slipknot. The pig squeaked. The rope was hooked around one of the pig’s feet. And then it screamed. Mix Luke Skywalker wailing after getting his hand lopped off with Joe Pesci screechin’ for his life—then you’ll have some idea as to the wail of this pig as it was slowly dragged from its freedom.

Once out from under the car the pig didn’t squirm. It let out a shiver, then continued to squeal as the man cradled it in his arms.

Nothing was said. Nobody asked where the pig was from. Nobody asked where the pig was going. No one asked who owned the pig or what its piggy name was.

All around were bushy-headed trees and red-bricked buildings. This was summer in Akron. A time of petty thefts and pigs running amok.

For a brief moment I smiled at the goofy grin splattered on my girl’s tan face. We watched gleefully as the man cradled the crying pig. We stood like idiots under the crackle of distant storms. We were idiot lovers lost somewhere past middle America where dirt roads and city asphalt collided in God’s kaleidoscope.

And then, in an instant, karma took a sudden turn. As we stood there watching, the man darted away with the bawling pig in his arms and walked right through the doors of an Italian restaurant.

What if you could take a collection of short memories, weird and otherwise, and store them on your iPod? Then people could scroll through and play them back at their leisure. Would some play in loop mode? What would some of yours be?

I don’t know what happened. I could be one of those people who black out, who say things in moments where there’s no clarity, no real consciousness, just daydreaming —  starwalking in silent dreams during schoolyard bells.

The bus dropped me off near Geneva Avenue — that’s on the southside of Bakersfield. It was a poor blue collar street with stray dogs, tumbleweeds and the shitty kids I grew up with.

Walking home, I remember a short Asian-Mexican boy with a cleft palate. His face always looked angry, distorted. He had a mouth like a pumpkin scar. He was in the group of kids following me, encouraging the boy at the front of the pack to get me.

There’s no pride in fighting when your father claims to be a fighter and he never teaches you how to even slap someone with a glove and say, “Touche!” So I kept walking.

The boy following me was a dirty-faced white kid with dark stringy hair. He thought I said something at school. Something mean. Something that questioned his boyhood maleness. I racked my brain for some sort of explanation since I had no memory.

He turned me around and clocked me on the left side of the temple.

He was taller than me. He looked tougher. But I remember it didn’t really hurt. And I didn’t fall down. I just stood there. “I don’t want to fight,” I said.

Eventually he and the others left. They were laughing. I got one final stare from the kid with the cleft palate and permanent angry eyebrows. His curdled milk lips knotted into a gleeful smile, thirsting for blood.

I turned around and walked home. I was looking forward to reading another book in the John Carter of Mars adventure series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m guessing I was about halfway through “The Chessmen of Mars.”