I will once again flag this as NSFW (Not Suitable For Work). Sam is a very creative writer – Simon
The joys and pains of travel
Charles knew he was in dire need of creative time — as quickly as possible. He needed to clear his head of all the clutter and start thinking about three very important components.
“Collages, collages, and collages,” he chuckled as he remembered the banter with Emma about real estate’s three most important subjects.
Usually, going on a cross country flight would give Charles plenty of time to turn loose his creativity. This flight would be different. Firstly, Gary was accompanying him and secondly, Charles thought all Gary would focus on would be the hype machine known as Hollywood.
Charles had other things on his mind besides not traveling alone and wading knee deep into Hollywood.
He still had to deal with Demi Silica.
Better yet, he thought, how not to deal with her?
Ah, the two eternal questions that have plagued both men and women for eons. How to deal with each and how not to deal with each other?
This is what made him decide to take a train from Boston to New York City to hook up with Gary. From New York City they would travel together on a plane to Los Angeles.
What he decided is that he wanted time to work on his collage – a train ride to be creative, shake his head free of thoughts of Demi, and to focus on building a relationship with Dr. Emma Everly Hancock.
Charles booked the train from Boston via the Back Bay South Station to New York City’s Penn Station on the high speed Acela train. It would take him three to four hours, and he was told by the ticket agent there would be plenty enough room for his luggage and to stretch out to enjoy the views of the countryside. Then the ticket agent hit him with a whammy.
“That will be $96.77,” the man said.
“Excuse me?” Charles said.
“$96.77. It’s a steal,” the ticket agent said.
“I agree. I should be wearing a mask. I feel like I just committed a robbery. A flight would have cost me over $500,” Charles said as he paid the man.
“The best part is that you will have plenty leg room,” the agent said as he stamped Charles’s ticket and told him the train would be leaving the next day and at what time.
Great. I have plenty enough time to pack and organize and the leg room will allow this writer to be extra creative with scissors, pencil, magazines, and writing paper, Charles thought as he walked back to his place with a big smile on his face.
Charles took care of all the items one has to accomplish before a long and lengthy trip.
The next morning he took his sweet time at saying good-bye to Max at Emma’s house.
Or was it Emma? he thought, as he drove back to Boston to drop off his car and head for the train station to begin his West Coast odyssey.
“Hope it works out better for you than Ulysses,” Emma said to him sarcastically after they had embraced each other — out of sight of Emma’s daughters, who busy were giving Max a lot of attention (Max was eating that up).
Ulysses was a character from one of the giants of literary works past, present and future. Ulysses was the hero of The Odyssey. The Odyssey was written by Homer.
“It worked pretty well for Ulysses, you know?” Charles said as he kissed her on the lips.
“But not Oedipus.” Emma said.
“Greeks are weird. I mean, Ulysses wants to hear the songs of the Sirens, knowing it will drive him crazy. What does he do? Ties himself to the mast and almost goes mad
listening to the sounds of the Sirens. At least he took care of his men, though. He stuffs wax in their ears so they can get through the straits, only to die in other nasty ways,” Charles said.
“Who said fiction was easy?” Emma said as she walked him to his car and watched him climb in and drive away.
“There is one good thing so far, Emma.” He called her within minutes after driving off.
“What is that?” she asked him.
“Max must love your girls. He didn’t even come out to say goodbye to me,” Charles said in a pretend sad voice.
“Max and the cat are running around with the girls right now. Who says cats and dogs can’t be friends?” Emma said.
“Probably someone who never had a cat or a dog to love.”
“One of my patients is on the other line. Call you later,” Emma said.
I hate when other people call and interrupt the person I want to have a conversation with — for as long as I want to have it, Charles thought as he drove home to pack.
“That’s like saying ‘Don’t interrupt me when I am interrupting you’,” Gary said to him in one of the few moments during their flight where Charles wasn’t talking non-stop about the changes he felt were coming and were needed in his life.
He found it very easy to pack his bags and get ready for the upcoming trip. He arrived a half hour before his departure and was pleased that the trip was getting off to a rousing start because he wasn’t forced to deal with terrorists masquerading as cab drivers or even worse… the dreaded TSA.
“Storm troopers for the airlines,” he called them.
“Highly unnecessary tactics they use,” Gary had once said.
“Fucking waste of taxpayer money,” Colonel Spitz said.
If Emma was grading their comments, she would have given the Colonel the best grade, Gary the second best, and Charles would have gotten in ‘A’ in creativity, but an ‘F’ in actuality.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed after the terrorist’s attacks of 9/11 to strengthen security for the national transportation services scattered around America.
Most TSA employees work at airports where they do everything but strengthen security 12 years after the fact.
It has become a full-fledged federal bureaucracy of long lines, short tempers, and cheap feels.
“And the airlines get a free pass at paying for security, because the taxpayers are picking up the tab,” Colonel Spitz pointed out.
No one argued with that point about the TSA, because many Americans in the year 2015 have been conditioned to the federal government picking a favorite industry to favor, and then, lavishing that industry with all sorts of government goodies.
It was good for government.
It was good for that selected industry
In general, it a terrible deal for the taxpayers.
Traveling by train gave Charles a partial reprieve from the dreaded TSA security guards whose silliness ran rampart from feeling up good looking men and women, to detaining elderly people (because their dentures grip might be plastic explosives), to verbally abusing young children (to obey their commands), had become so legendary that Charles would have argued with Emma, to no end, that they were indeed ‘storm troopers for the airlines.’
But he really wanted to travel by train to work on his collages. Seeing the country side roll by, while he cleared his mind of what awaited him in Hollywood.
“Who you trying to kid, Charles?” Gary said. “You want to be pampered.”
“Yes, and no,” Charles said — which shocked Gary, because he received a partial affirmative answer.
“I’m still flying with you to LA. This short train ride is my middle finger to the airline industry,” Charles lied.
“Bullshit!” responded Gary. “There’s something eating at you, and I want to discuss it on the plane ride.”
“Deal!” Charles said, hoping to exactly accomplish just that after he had accomplished some old fashioned creative time on the train ride.
He came up with nine future collages while the train ran from Boston to New York City. He would have accomplished a lot more, but he experienced something he had never before experienced and hoped he never would ever again.
Charles Craig Curtis suffered his first panic attack after he worked on the following collage ideas:
A survival collage. A midget collage. A Buffalo Springfield Collage. A Jewish Deli collage. An Italian eatery collage. A bar collage. A domestic animal collage. A wild animal collage. A Boston collage. A New York City collage. A starving writer’s collage. A Modigliani collage, and then a travel collage.
He knew it would be easy to give them captions after they were through, because the survival collage might be titled ‘Gun Owners’ Wet Dream’. He was thinking of some other titles as he watched the New England scenery pass by when his body temperature started to rise at a rate he had never felt before, and his eyes started to lose their focus.
He quickly realized that he wasn’t suffering from a drink by Anne Snow, and that he was looking at the scenery with his reading glasses on. He figured that was what was causing his body temperature to rise. He put the glasses on top of his head, and he still felt hot, but he could see the landscape better.
Up to this point in his life, for a man such as Charles Craig Curtis this was a very strange feeling.
He looked for the bottle of water that he had bought prior to boarding the train and quickly downed what was left in it, which wasn’t much. This made him feel a tiny bit better, but not anywhere what he considered normal. He leaned up against the back of his booth and rigidly positioned himself. He then closed his eyes hoping that would help.
It didn’t, and it started to scare him — scared him so bad he was embarrassed to say anything to anyone.
Then his body started to cool down a bit, but he felt his chest tightening. Then he thought he was having a heart attack because his chest started pounding and he felt like screaming, but out of a combination of fear and embarrassment, he did not.
“You were embarrassed?” an astonished Emma asked him later, when Charles arrived safely in New York City.
“Isn’t that crazy?” Charles said.
“No, it’s stupid,” Emma said bluntly. “Health you take seriously. Don’t do that again,” she scolded.
“I won’t because I was given the antidote,” Charles managed to say.
The antidote was when Charles thought he was going to the hereafter by dying on a train from Boston to New York City with all his collage material laid out for everyone to see, a stranger on the train approached him with an old fashioned brown paper bag.
Charles hadn’t noticed that anyone else was even on the train he was riding; such was his dedication to his own world of creativity.
Great, this lady is going to make sure if I puke before I die, the mess won’t stink up the place, he thought as the helping hands put the bag over his nose and mouth and in a reassuring voice told him to breathe in and out of the bag.
Charles did as he was told, but started breathing, way, too fast, and this added to his misery.
“Slow down…. Easy does it…. Deep breaths,” the reassuring voice, which happened to be a female (but of course), told Charles.
Charles did as he was told. Later, when he told everyone, he could only say “What else could I do?”
Thus, Charles smartly did as instructed by the melodic voice that he was frantically clinging to like a drowning person clings to anything floating by.
To his surprise, as he listened to the voice and followed her instructions, he started to calm down, breathe easier, feel better and sense his body cooling down. Within minutes, he felt stronger and was feeling a lot better and then damn — if his mind didn’t start playing tricks with his body.
There is something seriously wrong with me and the timing couldn’t be worse, he thought as he felt as though his body was going into a bad repeat mode.
As his head got lighter, his body temperature higher and his strength weaker; Charles Craig Curtis thought the final page was being turned in his book of life.
“Sit up straight and breathe into the bag. You’re your own worst enemy and best ally right now,” the voice said.
Truer words hadn’t been spoken to Charles in a long time, and he did as he was told and just like before, he felt better and stopped breathing into the brown bag.
“Who are you?” he asked the woman who his eyes now started to focus on.
“Not your guardian angel,” she said with a laugh.
“As usual, her voice didn’t match the body,” Charles later told Gary on the plane ride when he was relaying the story.
“It never does, Charles. You of all people should know that.”
The woman with the reassuring voice and brown paper bag, at the ready, was short and stocky. Her hair was grey and pulled back very tight, which made the features of her face stand out.
The aspect most glaring was a black mole on the left side of her chin that more than a few hairs protruded from. Her eyes were the shade of green that Charles had recently seen residing in Emma’s cats’ face. Her hands and fingers were thick like sausages.
Her clothes were frumpy. But her voice was sweet and she knew about panic attacks. Once Charles felt composed he asked her name.
“Alice,” she said.
“Figures,” Charles said sarcastically. “I felt like I just fell through a rabbit hole.”
“No, a panic attack is worse. Know why?” she asked him as he motioned for her to sit down. She looked at all his papers, pictures, and notes and gave him a ‘where do I sit look?’
Charles gathered up all his stuff with one big swoop, and she sat down and gave him a mini lecture on her knowledge of panic attacks.
“I’m a traveling saleswoman,” Alice began. “I started suffering from panic attacks a long time ago. It got so bad I couldn’t drive in a car anymore on a highway. Not a good
thing for a traveling saleswoman. As you can see, I never conquered that phobia.” She said as she gestured to the train they were both riding in.
“Got any good jokes?” Charles asked her.
“I thought all traveling salespeople had good jokes,” Charles said.
“I don’t. But I have great advice for you,” she said seriously. “You just had your first panic attack. Listen up. After all I am your guardian angel.”
I must be dreaming, Charles thought.
“Number one, you must carry a brown paper lunch bag with you at all times. Keep the one I gave you. But buy a package of them as soon as you can.
Charles looked at the crinkled bag next to his hand and thought great — everyone will think I am a wino. He then grabbed the bag and held on to it. He wasn’t going to lose this crutch until he did as Alice said and purchased some more. Just like a wino uses his he mused as he listened to her summary of what had happened to him.
“A panic attack is nothing more than a period or, in some cases, periods of very intense fear,” Alice said.
“I was only scared that I thought I was having a heart attack,” Charles said.
“No. Something else triggered a phobia or an anxiety that made you think that,” Alice said.
“It began so suddenly,” Charles pointed out.
“They always do.”
“Do they always last so long?”
“How long did it feel like it lasted?” Alice asked him.
“Years,” he said. “I thought I would be seeing the movie of my life as my chest tightened and my body temperature went up,” Charles said.
“Are you religious?” she asked him.
“I believe in one God who doesn’t listen to a helluva a lot of people, and I didn’t think of praying to him because I was too busy worrying,” Charles said.
“Believe in God. I told you I am your guardian angel,” Alice said with a chuckle. “Panic attacks last eight to ten minutes. Lucky for you, I was around with the brown paper bag.”
“I know that about the brown paper bag, it’s the ‘guardian angel’ thing I am not so sure of,” Charles said with a laugh.
“That bag will save your life as it will keep you from passing out. Imagine having a panic attack while driving on the highway and passing out? That means death to you, your passenger, and the people or person whom you hit. The bag is very important because if you can’t escape the situation that is inducing the panic attack the suffering can get worse and last longer,” she lectured.
“What do you mean by saying ‘escape the situation’?” Charles asked Alice.
“This has never happened to you before, has it?” she asked him.
“I don’t think so,” he said meekly.
“You don’t just suffer a first panic attack. They build in you and something triggers it, and the next thing you know, you had better have a brown paper bag at the ready,” she said.
“So the attack is based on something building in me that I am not consciously aware of?” Charles asked his guardian angel.
“You’re a good student,” Alice said.
“I wish it were another subject,” Charles said with a sigh.
“You, me, and millions others,” remarked Alice.
“Strength in numbers, right?” Charles said sarcastically.
“It should comfort you that lots of other people suffer from panic attacks and most cure themselves even if they never find out the rock center of what their anxiety or phobia is. But most know… and you know. You just haven’t felt comfortable enough dealing with it, and hence you suffered from the panic attack. Just keep the brown paper bag handy and breathe as I showed you. If they continue, you should see someone who is a professional to draw out your phobia and then conquer it. I did it, but by the time I conquered it I was driving, way, too slow to be on the highway. Doesn’t bother me that I take back roads or the train or fly if necessary. Probably makes all those drivers who zoom along on the highway happy that I am not there,” Alice said with a laugh.
“Thanks for the advice and, of course, the help. Just what is it that you sell, Alice?”
“I sell Fabbri shotguns. Specifically Italian double shotguns. The average price is $75,000.00 for one,” Alice said with a grin.
Charles was dumbfounded with her answer. “I never would have guessed that.” I wonder if she knows Spitz or Paige? He thought. “You could sell a lot of those in Maine.”
“Not many people guess correctly about my occupation. Have to take you up on visiting that state to increase my sales,” Alice said. “Always remember to keep a brown paper bag handy, Charles,” she said as she got up and returned to her seat. “If you ever bump into me it will not be in a nursing home.”
Charles returned to his collage ideas and immediately decided to make a collage about brown paper bags, a collage on phobias, a collage on anxieties, a collage on panic attacks, a collage on Fabbri Italian shotguns (and other guns) and, of course, a collage on guardian angels.
He felt a lot better after his talk with Alice. His binge of sudden and new ideas told him that.
I wonder if she really is my guardian angel he mused as he strained his neck looking to where she had returned to. He wanted to buy her something or better yet — give her an autographed copy of one of his books. Better still, he wanted to talk to her some more.
So, he got up and went looking for Alice.
He couldn’t find her (and he didn’t panic).
He asked the conductor and others who he came across in the car if they had seen Alice and described her appearance to the few he spoke to. They all gave him either a blank stare or a look that said he was some sort of a nut.
Fucking rude assholes. Have to be New Yorkers on their way back from throwing batteries at Red Sox outfielders he thought as he made his way back to his seat.
When he got to his seat, he was surprised that next to all his writing paraphernalia there was a sealed plastic bag full of brown paper lunch bags. A note was attached by a paperclip, ‘Everyone needs a brown paper bag to inhale and exhale their problems into. Good luck, Charles! Alice.’
“Ain’t that the truth,” Charles said as he held the package of bags very tightly to his chest and quickly looked around for Alice.
He didn’t see her and slumped into his chair and stared blankly at his work. Satisfied that he had accomplished a lot, he decided to spend some time chewing on the scenery, as they say, and then take a nap.
He gathered up his stuff and put it in his traveling backpack that he thought every writer owned.
“Or probably something like it,” Emma said when she asked what was in the pack before he left.
Emma… he thought as he gazed out the window. His thoughts drifted to her, how he found her, what he wanted with her and what the future held for them as he dozed off.
Thinking of Emma and all they might be in the present and future, put him into a very comfortable deep sleep.
That deep sleep led him into a nightmare that jarred him awake as the train ran into some track turbulence and caused Charles to have a mini panic attack, which was quickly healed by the brown bag technique.
Something else happened to Charles. He remembered the nightmare like it was real.
“Most people only remember parts of their dreams or nightmares,” Emma told him when they later talked.
As far as nightmares go, Charles had experienced worse ones before, especially when he was younger and struggling with paying the bills, worrying about his children, and second guessing his career choice. This one was different.
“Because I remembered every detail. For example, I remembered how many times I thrust my cock in Anne,” he told Gary.
“Well?” egged on Gary.
“Seventeen,” Charles said meekly.
Charles Craig Curtis’ nightmare started with his book reading in New York City and meeting with Lucy and her toe fetish. Then it went to Anne Snow’s apartment, the Viagra, and the judge’s spying. Soon he was traveling to Maine, having a shootout with Colonel Spitz, screwing Paige in the midget town and finally thoughts of eternal suffering from premature ejaculation… but not with Demi, but with Emma!
Charles woke up with that thought melted to his mind and felt another panic attack coming on and quickly grabbed the brown bags that Alice had left for him. He tore it open, grabbed one out and began breathing into it and out of it as Alice had instructed him. Within seconds the feeling of the attack had abated and he relaxed.
“Wow,” he said as he looked around to see if people were rubber-necking at him.
No one was. They were too bust wrapped up in their own world and their own travel by train.
He quickly grabbed his iPhone and dialed Emma’s phone number. The phone failed to connect.
“It’s the drones flying overhead” a passenger across the aisle said to Charles.
Funny how when I had a panic attack this guy was nowhere to be seen and now that he sees I can’t get phone service he has something to say, Charles thought.
He tried Gary Harte. Again, the phone wouldn’t connect.
“Drones,” the man said again.
Charles tried his children’s phones. Again, no cell signal. He turned to the semi-annoying fellow passenger and said “I believe you…drones.”
“You made my day, mister,” the passenger said. The semi-annoying man then buried his face in a magazine he was reading that Charles had to believe was full of government conspiracies.
He took out his iPhone and thought that he might try texting the people he had just called. He started with Gary, since he would be arriving in New York City shortly.
He texted Gary: “Excited?”
Garry’s reply back: “Of course. See you soon. Lots to discuss on the plane ride.”
He thought now there is someone who reads minds. Then it popped into his mind that
He could text but couldn’t get a signal to talk. He looked at the somewhat angry man, who caught his glance. The man mouthed the word “drones” to Charles while he pointed upwards. Charles needed… wanted to clear this man reading his mind right away and texted Gary “Meet you at Don Pepi Pizza when the train comes in.”
Don Pepi Pizza is located at the upper level in Penn Station where all the Amtrak trains stop. It is known for its single slice, thin crust cheese pizza that is so hot when comes out of the oven, you can’t help but burn your wet mouth when you take a bite.
Gary responded: “But, of course.”
Charles decided to text with his children. When that ended he would text Emma about his panic attack and guardian angel.
He had pleasant text messages with his children that focused on the mundane side of being a parent from Charles’ point of view — to being a child and a sibling from his children’s point of view. And, all agreed that the upcoming trip to Hollywood was the pinnacle of Charles Craig Curtis’ career.
He then sent them each a question (but not in a group message): “Have I been a good father?”
It took a while for the responses, and that annoyed Charles, but he was pleased with what was texted to him by his three children.
His daughter wrote: “Without a doubt!”
His oldest boy sent this: “ultimately – but, of course!’
Ultimately, Charles thought. What a terrible word to receive on such a question. I better have a talk with him when I get back from California.
His youngest wrote: “That’s the dumbest question you’ve ever asked. Go drink a glass of wine and I’ll call you later after you have finished the bottle.”
That answer brought a big smile to Charles Craig Curtis’ face and he put his hands back behind his head and stared out the window for a few minutes as he thought about what he should text Emma.
The truth, because that is what he had learned the most as a patient of the good doctor.
Charles started the text messaging off slowly. “How is Max?”
Emma hit that one out of the park: “Who is this?”
Charles had to react sarcastically. He took a deep breath (but not into a brown paper bag), and wrote this: “It’s me, Pete, the man with a piece of toilet paper stuck in his ass.”
Emma now knew what it was like to be the pitcher who serves up the homerun.
Charles decided to get serious and he texted Emma all about his panic attack and his guardian angel Alice and her wonder drug brown paper bag. It was the longest text message he had ever written and that she had ever received.
“Almost like a short story,” Charles told Gary when they were in flight on their way to Los Angeles.
“Almost…,” Gary sarcastically replied. “Lucky neither of you were driving during such a long text.”
“You said it. I can’t believe how many near misses I have had because of texting while I’m driving. Texting while I’m speeding. Texting while I’m at a stop sign. Texting while in a parking lot. I guess everyone is doing the same thing and catch themselves by split seconds just in time?” Charles said.
“I used to be worse than you at texting. Lucky for us, in the People’s Republic of New York State, Prince Bloomberg and Prince Cuomo rode in on their white horses and saved us from ourselves,” Gary said.
Charles started laughing.
“It probably saved some lives,” Gary admitted.
“Nope. Just led to more arcane police state mumbo-jumbo,” Charles said.
“You’re probably right in today’s post 9/11 American society. Know what I think the best quote about personal freedom is?” Gary asked Charles.
“Something by Jefferson I’m sure.”
“No. I think Ben Franklin coined it. He said something like ‘if you give up freedoms for security, you get neither.’” Gary said.
“Know what Gary?” Charles asked his agent.
Emma texted the first and only question that popped into her mind: ‘Is Alice hot?’
Charles Craig Curtis texted back the truth, and it made him smile.
Emma responded: “I bet you were disappointed she didn’t look like she was half pole stripper and half supermodel.”
Charles sent this text: “My guardian angel couldn’t be hot and shouldn’t be! What she saved me from and educated me on was far more attractive than a hot female body.”
Emma texted: “I want your reading glasses, because I can’t believe what you are texting me.”
Charles instinctively made sure his reading glasses were fitted snugly on his nose and texted: “I guess this proves I see the world’s best psychiatrist.” See in more ways than one, he thought as he waited for a response.
Emma quickly responded: ‘Guess again! You DO have the best help, who happens to think she is falling madly in love with you, but only after repairing your id, super id and ego.’
Now I have a real live brown paper bag for everything, Charles mused as he found himself taking off his reading glasses and dabbing at the tears in the corner of his eyes with one of the bags that Alice had left him. He plopped his glasses back down and texted Emma: ‘You are my brown paper bag for life.’
He’s lucky I know all about panic attacks Emma thought as she suddenly found herself surrounded in her kitchen by her two daughters, the cat, and Max. And everyone in the room was all getting along.
f you missed the earlier Chapters you can find them here.