Choosy Toads Choose Jif

I had a dream where I was in danger. After reaching safety someone gifted me a clear plastic container that looked like it once held truck stop take-out. It was full of sloshing, yellow, pickle juice. Riding on this sea of seeds and cucumber brine was a toad. He sat atop a torn baguette, his fat, bulbous neck pulsing in and out. Perhaps he was sailing his ship up and down the Toadcoast searching for recruits like me.

The person who gave me the container told me this was the Toad of Safety. Whenever I found myself in trouble I was to look to the toad for guidance. Just always do as the toad does. That was iterated over and over. No matter what, do as the toad does. He was a compassionate guy. He would show me the ropes.

I looked at King Toad, his skin like a pickle, and thought I could nestle into an air pocket aboard his bread ship. Live as a stowaway until he needed me to sweep the deck or act as a concubine in his harem. Under the guidance of my good captain I would be safe forever. Follow him to the end. No decisions to be made. Just do as the toad does. But when I woke up I thought about a story I once wrote, specifically these lines:

A reminiscent sick swirl hits my stomach, like trying to digest cow shit compacted with hay and drunken toads. They sing within me. I tell them, “No. We’re done with that.”

Stating it out loud acts as an audible medicine. The feeling passes for a moment. But soon the shitfed toads in me come alive, wiggling in the hay, reprising their hooched up chorus. Croaks shouted to the world.

It also got me to look up a toad video I’d made:

The dream was wrong. Toads can’t pluck me out of trouble and drop me into fermented, yellow waters. Can’t give me safe passage through life. But it made me think about somewhere I used to go that acted as a reset on a bad day. Somewhere that always made me feel as if I had safe passage when I walked through it: Gabriel Park in Portland.

I used to see a kid around with CUM written on the belly of his board. This was at the skatepark in Gabriel. Even though Portland has the famous Burnside skatepark, which Tony Hawk let me do a digital ollie in while wearing just kneepads and undies, teens came to this one every day to ride around. Gabriel Park was our backyard in Portland, so I spent lots of my time there too.

To get to Gabriel I went past the parking lot of our apartment and hiked through a woods full of high pines and mud. Sometimes stopped to piss on a tree. Sometimes saw teens sitting on old tires getting high. Thought about hauling our shitty couch out there for them to rest on. Instead of stepping over rooted tree veins, and the puddles they lapped from on the narrow trail, I often climbed the side of a hill in this forest.

I’d pull myself upward by grabbing onto branches and tall weeds. Always hoping they’d stay rooted while bearing the whole of my weight. Cautious not to slip and muddy the cherished Alaska sweater my older sister gave me. Every step I took was careful. At times I’d watch my feet making their little steps, green laces picking up dirt and twigs. I’d look up into the light of the approaching clearing and know my hilly Gabriel was near. After a minute or two I’d emerge beneath a pine tree, covered with burrs, in sight of a paved trail.

I took lots of walks here at all times of day and night. Sometimes a couple a day. The main section of Gabriel has a loop trail that takes twenty minutes to get around, and I’d often circle it over and over, the dips of hills giving me momentum to carry on. I always had my iPod with me. Could listen to Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key over and over, tuning out the world with the push of a button. Sometimes my sister came with. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we just listened to our music, stopping to sit on the grass and watch a baseball game or kids yelling FAG through their phones.

The trail was built on the high edges of the park, so you could look into the valley of life below. I saw baseball games, the thick clumps of tall trees, flowery hills, people pushing their hideous children in strollers, a high school tennis team’s practices, cute dogs being taught how to fetch ropes and balls. Sometimes the tennis kids had cake or other food which I always devised complicated, sinister plans to steal. I never did taste that cake. Curses.

I’d sit on a hill of dandelions and watch the skaters like a weirdo. The seeds of the flowery weeds floating down on them, pollinating with the CUM deck. Their progeny to create plant human hybrids whose hair would be blown away, whose heads you could pop off with a thumb. I thought the skate kids could do some cool shit on their boards. Always waited around to see one last great trick before I moved on.

The oldest among them was twenty, and they were all thin. Sometimes they’d write messages in chalk on the cement to each other. “Fucking off at Danny’s. Meet us there at five.” Sometimes they just drew pictures or scribbled out Nirvana lyrics in pink chalk. Soon enough the wheels of their boards changed these words into meaningless, rosy dust.

It was the same group almost every day. They hung out together. Always laughing, smoking, hugging. Waiting on their turn to ride the bowl, they’d play bad music from the stereos of shitty high school cars. I could tell which ones had dropped out because they’d get there so early in the afternoon. But they were passionate about their riding and it seemed the skatepark was a place they could make their lives work.

Every few weeks someone graffitied the place with dumb tags and Mario art. Brit went down in the bowl one night to look at the paint and couldn’t get back out without grabbing my arm like a branch, a rooted weed. In the day I’d see the skaters out there scrubbing off the mess, protecting their little piece of peace in Gabriel. I envied their sense of purpose, their camaraderie.

I was reading a lot of Harvey Pekar in the Portland winter. It was mild enough out that I could take an American Splendor book with me and page it on a bench as the sun went down. Felt so different than the North Dakota winters I’d known for twenty four years. But when it snowed in Portland the green of Gabriel turned white and people spazzed. Whole town shut down at the threat of snow, as if they though it was Satan’s cum bubbling up from the earth. The cleansing came on Easter weekend when Brit and I walked through the park, spotting three different groups of Christians formed in semi-circles around men carrying the cross. They prayed to their replica Jesus while back at home we gifted each other baskets of Easter grass filled with socks, soap, and macaroni.

I felt blessed to have such a wonderful little world just minutes from our cold bare apartment. It got me away from my self pity. Away from the two forks and one knife we owned. From having to reuse dishes over and over because we had so few. From the world famous tacos I made because they were all I knew how to cook. From trying over and over to find a good girl but failing. From the days where the only time I wore anything but underwear was to walk across the street and buy as many cans of Four Loko as I could carry. Away from getting drunk on a couch I’d fall asleep on by myself after masturbating — ruing the life I’d created. Trying to realize that these vices were just false toads trying to steer me away from a happiness I needed to create and sustain on my own. Away from my trusted life philosophy of never working, of eating mattress crumbs forever.

In a separate section of Gabriel, away from the main park, people bring their dogs. We’d go there to watch the woof woof machines and think of our own. How happy they made us, how much we missed them and our family and friends in North Dakota. Sometimes there was a funny man on the trail to the dog park who talked to himself and waved his arms at the sky. Other times drunkards would follow along with us and talk before having to rush to a metal barrel and vomit

There is a gym at the far end of Gabriel. We’d go there because we wanted to be healthy and because the exercise made us feel good. Brittany has a young face and the morbidly obese desk clerks selling popcorn at the gym often ID’d her to make sure she wasn’t fourteen. At times I had to vouch that she was actually who she claimed to be. Once inside I did endless elliptical while Brit walked on the treadmill. I was getting in shape and feeling good about my body for once. My physical health was an element I could control, and that helped me start to feel better about all things in my life.

We’d share a water bottle and swap iPods. After our workouts we always went to the pool. In there we’d swim and hold water treading competitions, then retire to the big hot tub. In this we’d relax and let the jets rub our muscles until it got too hot or the water turned off. We were always afraid to hit the big red button to turn the jets back on, perhaps fearing that to push it would cause the hot tub to self destruct.

Every now and then the sun would peek out and dispel the Portland grays for a few hours. On these days we’d skip going to the gym and instead bring a little lunch or some books and sit atop a hill overlooking the skatepark. We’d lay out and tan, trying to push the clouds away with our hands.

On one of these nice days atop our hill we spied on this mullet man, with an Aerosmith shirt covering his smoker’s body, as he desperately tried to impress his first date. She was a hag, but prettier than him, and we couldn’t figure out what the hell she was doing there. He told her about driving into Canada to find God, being raptured, and wanting to explore the jungle now that he’s not slamming heroin. We laughed, reminiscing on all the wonderful crazy people around Portland we met like the forty year old crackheads arguing about God beneath a neon Jesus statue hung over a cafe jukebox. I got bored when the first date guy pulled out ice cream from his guitar case and began to sing and play, so took pictures of the holes in Brit’s feet:

Scholars think of her sore as an eye. The flap of skin above is its lid. ‘Tis a portal through which you can gaze into another plane. Stare into it long enough and you will go blind. Thinking of it too long is to risk descending into madness and depravity.Some see prophecy in the foot. Folks from all over the world come to bow before it. To lick grass from the wound. Eat from it depths. Puss oozing from their mouths as they greedily suck for more. In hopes they will be healed. They seldom receive more than a frothy chicken taste in their mouths, but tithe anyway. The infection is powered by donations. The more given, the more infected it becomes. Sometimes dead flowers grow and pop through the cracks of its scabs. With more infection, the followers know their god is an awesome god. A living god who reigns through heaven and earth.

Some lash their own feet in errant attempts to replicate its holy mystery. Soaking their torn footsies in chicken noodle soup for weeks. “More sliced carrots,” they cry. Infection soon comes. But the eye portal does not recognize false idols. These duplicate foot gods are punished with amputation. Then fed to dogs. The woof woof doggies are then boiled in a giant vat of what will become condensed chicken noodle soup.

But there is a legend, a mere fool’s tale some say, that one day the chosen one will appear at this mysterious sore. Pull some Honey, I Shrunk the Kids shit and enter the foot — headfirst — birthed into a new, infected world. His message will spread. Soon the chosen one will become emperor of this joyous, bacteria filled hell.

It has been concluded that this is what the Bible meant when it said Jesus would return. Though as a consequence, the wormhole will seal. We will not be allowed to follow Him into the chosen foot. Many will attempt to by hacking themselves into small pieces or purchasing mail order shrink-rays. The faithful will try find traces of Jesus in the broth of puss they suck out from the triangular portal, asking the ooze, “Why have you forsaken me?” Through the hole will come the echo of a voice saying, “Microwave me for three minutes on high.”

A few weeks after His rapturing into the sore, Brit’s foot will be amputated and shot off into the heavens. For that is how it is written. And then it will be forever lost. Jesus making the toes wiggle as a gesture of goodbye; noodles popping out of the sore, flying through the stars and landing on earth. Each noodle in actuality an evolving foot bacteria.

The remnants of Christ’s followers will gather this pasta and learn to speak its language. The noodles will eventually grow into feet and learn English, telling the followers that Jesus said he’d be back in a few thousand years with stove-top instructions. Thus both sinner and believer of present will be left to writhe for the rest of their lives. With no prospect of escape to heaven or hell, new foot gods will appear. Stories will be written. Many cans of chicken noodle soup will be sold…

But most Portland days weren’t sunny and so we’d end up at the gym a couple times a week. Sometimes I’d get caught up in an awkward conversation or situation there. A star of the place was this fortyish fat man with some kind of mental disturbance. We’d see him on an exercise bike in tight clothes, muttering to himself. In the pool he’d come into our lane even when others were free. Dude swam in a way that made it look as if he were walking in the water, always talking to himself up and down those lanes. I can’t remember if what he said was angry or nonsensical, depraved or funny. I just know it never stopped.

While in the hot tub we once saw him go over to the kid’s pool and begin playing with other people’s children. He splashed water on their chests and tried getting them to do the same onto his bulbous, hairy gut. He followed them around until the parents caught on and took their kids out. When he’d cleared the area, dude went before a spigot in the kid’s pool that blew water like a fire hydrant. He spun its wheel so it shot full blast, then bent over and let the water give him an enema — staring into our eyes the whole time.

Once I had to share the hot tub with an old blind lady who tried talking to me the whole time. She couldn’t see me closing my eyes, the visual cues I was giving that said I just wanted to relax and be left alone. Perhaps I wondered if she’d stared at the hole in Brit’s foot for too long and lost her sight. It made me think of the story my mom told me from when she used to teach blind kids. Some girl had both her eyes fall out during class and they rolled down the aisle since the floor was at a tilt.

I pictured the eyes of the blind woman in the waters with me falling into the hot tub. Perhaps they’d be attached to nerves like real eyes. They’d climb up my shorts and look at my penis through their non-sight. The water enema dude would pocket one and rub himself against it later, his chatter not letting up even as orgasm approached. She’d ask me to scoop them up for her as they bobbed atop jet waves. Like picking meatballs from boiling water. The experience with her made me think of another section from that story I wrote with the drunk toad chorus:

Though I’d rather not see him just now, there Larrygogan is, crouched in the alleyway shooting marbles with some of his other remedial class friends. I’m slinking my backpack off one shoulder and he turns his head to greet me with that goofy, rolling stare of his. He smiles, though he shouldn’t. His teeth are a dark yellow, and all molars, even the front ones.

He sometimes talks by chomping his mouth, occasionally only able to release a word at a time. I. Chomp. Got. Chomp. A. Chomp. Twix. Chomp. Bar. Chomp. Dark. Chomp. Chocolate. Chomp.

“Salish. Hello!”

“Hey, Larry, how it be?”

“I. Be. Good,” he chews out. “Oh. Me. Turn.” Larry reaches a hand to his face and pulls out his left eye. He lines it up for a shot and flicks it with his thumb. It shoots past the ring of marbles, not even close. “Oh no. Me marble is on the lam!”

He runs after his rolling blue peeper, which gently clinks into a brick wall, but thankfully doesn’t crack. His downturned head bonks into the brick. His fat crooked body, his punk clothing assembled from the Salvation Army throwaway bin, his uneven buzz cut, it all topples. I’ve tried to explain depth perception to him a hundred times, all to no avail.

I grab Larrygogan’s eye and toss it back as he stands up. He spit shines the thing and returns it, though sideways, into the empty cavernous home in his face.

The blind lady only made the hot tub better for me. It was fun to think about her dead eyes. The tub’s warm waters made everything good. Washed away the afterbirth of waking up, being born into a lonely day. After we got too hot in the tub we’d get out. So relaxed we felt dizzy. I’d dry off with Brit’s wet towel after she finished because I always forgot mine. The locker room was cement and smelled of chips and piss. After meeting in the lobby, looking like wet dogs, we’d swap stories about the gross old fat naked bodies we were subjected to while changing. Then it was time to head back through Gabriel, catching one last look at our favorite place before settling into a night of watching Conan on the couch.

In one of those drunken couch nights, before I learned that going to our backyard park was part of what I needed to help sort myself out, I watched a show where a spaceship gave birth to a warship. It got my imagination going and I thought of the man who blasted water up his ass. I mean, he had definitely jacked to birthing videos before, but this was next level shit. I began to think of all the ways he must masturbate. How he didn’t use Gabriel for good like the skaters or Brit and I had come to.

Gabriel was good for bringing me a sense of peace. I always felt a tangible joy after a walk through there. It gave me time to relax from my life of leisure. In it I could think about the things in myself that needed to change. There were many. Brit and I had no friends in Portland, so in absence of social lives we relied on our walks to spend time with each other and to feel better. I guess that really was it. We were lonely and needed relief from every burden that creates in your life. We’d come out of the woods, then disappear back into them, dropping off from one world into another.

In the world of my imagination the water enema dipshit couldn’t harness the magic of Gabriel, so had to try force his way out of loneliness. He found himself in the locker room, naked, his skin like a pickle’s. Little boys surrounded him, bowing, pissing on the legs of their god. He sawed off the feet of a lucky few. Sucked little toes as their smiling owners bled out on cement floors. Perhaps the man began to utter Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and masturbate. Perhaps a voice in the heads of those children told them to do as the toad does.

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