Sunday, April 29, 2012

Anecdotal Evidence Re: Decision Theory

I'm not like "normal" people.  I make strange decisions for strange reasons.  
Case in point...
The first job I got after returning to California a year after my Long Road Trip (the one I'm still basically on, see my previous entries) was working in a 7-Eleven convenience store in Woodland Hills, California at the corner of Fallbrook and Ventura Boulevard.  For those that don't know, Woodland Hills is a suburb of Los Angeles, at the west end of the San Fernando Valley.  The 7-Eleven job was working the graveyard shift.  From 11 PM to 7 AM.  I was pursuing my acting career and thought it would be best to be available during the day for auditions, acting classes and the like.  
How I got the job was the result of a strange decision making process.
"You're named, 'Erick Melton'?"  The owner of the franchise, Randy Welton, looked up from my application.  Randy had blonde hair that hung nearly to his shoulders and spoke like he should have been waiting for a good wave while floating on his board off the waters of Malibu.  We were standing in front of the ice cream freezer.
"My name is Welton.  And that guy over there," he pointed to a heavy set guy working the cash register.  "Is named Helton!"  He opened his arms out to me.  "Woah..."  
I knew then and there that I had the job.  
Woodland Hills was the home to a lot of working actors back then.  I got to meet a number of celebrities face to face.  Michelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura of Star Trek fame, came in ever so often.  I saw Lou Ferrigno a few times (he never moves farther than ten miles from the Gold's Gym he works out at in Venus).  Larry Wilcox, the actor on the 70's/80's TV show "CHiPs" came in once.  And at least three Playboy centerfolds that I can remember.  The guys that worked at the 7-Eleven would always pull the latest issue from the stands to make comparisons when that happened.  They always seem to look more attractive with their clothes on to me.  
And then there was Joe Don Baker.  He is this tough, angry faced actor that played hard-boiled detectives or heartless hit-men or policemen with their own brand of rough justice.  His most famous role, I think, was the "true story" of Sheriff Buford Pusser in the movie "Walking Tall."  He came in quite a bit.  Always complaining about stuff.  Always wearing this dark blue, velvet jumpsuit looking thing.  
He came in on the night of the incident I'm leading up to.  I was in the freezer at the time, stacking the delivery of Pepsis and Cokes that had arrived that day and restocking the shelves.  I was drinking from one of the warm cans of soda to keep me warm while I was doing the job.   When I came out to dolly in another stack of soda cans when I saw Joe Don standing by the cash register.  He was looking around, trying to find someone.  
"Sorry!"  I pulled off my gloves and ran over to the back of the counter.  "I didn't hear you come in.  The alarm must have..."  
"I was wondering where you were," Joe Don said in his angry Texas drawl.  "Was 'bout to starting searchin' for you.  Thought I might find you stuffed in the back with your throat slit or somethin'..."  
Joe Don said stuff like that.  
I took care of Joe Don's purchase.  I followed him to the door.  He gave me a dirty look over his shoulder that looked like it was saying, "you want something from me, Punk?"
"I want to check the door alarm," I explained. He nodded and walked out.  There was this little reflective thing, kinda like something you'd put on a bicycle at night, that bounced the beam from the door alarm back to its source.  The door was supposed to chime when someone broke the beam, but if the reflector-thing slipped it didn't work.  I spent a few moments tweaking it back to its place then trotted back to the cooler.  
A stack of 7-Ups later, I came back out to see another person waiting at the counter. 
"Sorry, sorry..."  I took off my gloves and the jacket everyone used when working in the refrigerator.  I trotted across the back of the store to get to the counter.  "Be right there..."
I didn't recognize the guy.  He was a heavy set fellow.  Reddish brown hair.  He was leaning forward, elbows on the counter.  He didn't look up when I called out to him.  
I came up in front of him and said, as cheerfully as I could, "Sorry to keep you waiting.  How are you doing today?"  
"I've got a gun in my pocket," he said in a harsh whisper.  "Give me the money in the register and I won't use it."  He kept glancing out the front window of the store.  
"Not very well," I thought to myself, answering for myself the question that I'd posed to him.  
"Get the money out, now!"  His hand he had in his pocket shook at me.  
I slowly reached over to the register.  I hit the sales button.  It rang.  Its drawer rolled out.  I stood there.  
"Get the money out and give it to me!"  
I pulled the money out.  I started with the ones...
"Big bills first..."  
There weren't any big bills, asshole, I thought.  It was now that I realized I wasn't scared.  I was angry.  I was mad at this sonovabitch for taking what wasn't his.  I pulled out a couple of twenties, plus the tens and fives and added them to the ones in my hand.  
"Hand it over.  Now!"  
Here's what I remember thinking.  My boss had told me, several times, whenever we heard about a robbery at another story, that if someone were to rob the place I was to just give them the money.  "Even if the register is full," he'd say, "It's not worth risking your life so some hop-head can get his fix."  So those instructions were in my head.  On the other hand, though, I didn't want this "hop-head" to get the cash.  I hated him so much in that moment.  And I was thinking about other "hand in pocket stories" where the robber had run away when challenged.  
"Did you hear me?"  
I stood there facing him.  What should I do?  
"Give me the money..."    
Given the parameters within which my decision was being made, and the skill set I had as an aspiring actor, the answer was obvious.  
I'd fake a heart-attack.
I acted like I couldn't breathe.  I clutched at my chest.  The bills slipped through my fingers to the floor.  
"No...  Oh, no..."  I started kicking the money that had fallen to the floor under the counter to where I hoped he couldn't reach it.  
"Hey, hey...  Fella..."  The robber was now looking at me.  I noticed now he had deep green eyes and a thick red beard.  "I just want the money!  I won't hurt ya if you give it to me!"  
Ah, Ha!  It's working!  I embellished my performance.  I fell to the ground.  I clutched the front of my 7-Eleven smock hard.  I curled  up into fetal position.  I think I tried to foam at the mouth for a bit, but then wondered if that was a heart-attack symptom and stopped.  
The robber ran around the counter.  I rolled on top of the cash that I'd missed with my foot.  The thief picked up two handfuls of cash and ran out.  
"Don't follow me!" he shouted when he reached the door.  
I did exactly that.  I sprang to my feet to see which way he went.  He was no where to be seen.  Fast for a big guy.  I listened for a getaway car.  Nothing.  
I ran inside and called the police.  I picked up the money I'd fallen on.  About twenty-five dollars in ones and fives.  I called Randy, my boss, and told him what had happened.  
Randy got there first.  The police came a few minutes later.  I was told to lock the door for a bit (that's why 7-Elevens have locks on their doors even though their open 24 hours).  One of the cops went with Randy into his office.  The other asked me questions, looked at the door for possible prints, and talked on his walkie-talkie a few times.  
Randy and the other cop came out.  The cop looked at me and laughed, then shook his head.  
"Erick..."  Randy raised his hand and indicated I should follow him with a flip of the first two fingers of his hand.  
We went into his office.  The TV monitor that hooked into the surveillance system was on.  Randy raised a finger at me, indicating I should wait.  He rewound the tape.  I saw my performance go in reverse.  He hit play.  
"Randy, I don't think he got..."  
Randy raised his finger again then pointed at the screen.  I watched my heart-attack performance.  I found myself questioning its believability.  Maybe I should have gone for an epileptic fit instead.  
When it was done, Randy pointed at the screen again.  "Why?"  
"Well, you see, Randy...  I thought..."  
"No, no...   I was thinking that he if thought..."
I paused a moment.  "I didn't want to confront him," I said carefully.  Randy nodded his head.  "But I figured if I..."  
"No."  This time he added a shake of his head.  
I paused again.  I looked at the screen.  Randy had paused the playback with me on the floor and the robber turning to run out the door.  I stopped thinking about it as a scene and a performance.  I thought about it as what it was.  
"That was stupid," I said in a small voice.  "I won't do it again."  
"Good man."  Randy got up and patted me on the shoulder.  "Go unlock the door and let's get back to work."  
I worked at the 7-Eleven for about three years.  Some time after the robbery, three guys came in to the store demanding I sell them beer after 2 AM (it's illegal to do so in California).  When I refused they smashed open the locked cooler doors.  One of them threw a can of 7-Up at me while I was calling 911.  It hit me in the mouth hard enough to bust my lip open and knock me down.  They pushed the displays on the counter on top of me.  
I continued to work there after that incident, too.  Friends of mine, people that came into the store, everyone who know about the incident told me I was crazy to do so.  That it was a stupid decision. 
I don't know.  I remember thinking that I was the one who had the right to be there.  Not them.  It was scary, but I went back to work with that thought in my head.  Two or three times after they smashed up the cooler doors, I saw the trio drive up into the parking lot, or peek around the corner into the store.  When they saw me still working there, they'd run away and not come inside.  After about two weeks I never saw them come back while I was working there.  I feel vindicated by that.
For me, these two decisions came from the same place.  Given the parameters of the situation, I didn't want to confront the perpetrators head-on.  But neither did I want to concede to them what they had no right to expect.  So, yeah...  A healthy looking twenty-something faking a heart-attack to prevent a robbery...  It wasn't going to work.  
Though now, at fifty-something...?  I think I can pull it off.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Last Words (Possibly)

This may be the last communication anyone in the outside world may get from me.  
My cell phone is turned off.  My email is shut down.  I'm logged off my Facebook page.  
Twitter is on, but that doesn't really count.  Twitter is more of a digital archipelago where everyone is throwing their messages in digital bottles into an electron sea.  That's not "really" communicating, is it?  
After this blog posting, there is a great possibility that nothing more will be heard from me.  
It may take a couple of days, but eventually people will wonder, "Hey...  What happened to Erick?"  When I don't show up to work on Monday, for instance.  They'll try to reach me by phone.  They might try the people on my emergency number list, my parents and my uncle.  When no response is received by Tuesday, they might even call the police and ask them to check out my apartment. 
I won't be there.
Time will pass.  People will ask each other, "Have you seen him?"  "No," they'd reply.  "Have you?"  
At this point, my more factious friends might reply, "Yeah, spoke to him just a moment ago.  I was just checking to see if you had the same security clearance I do."  It would be something I would say if given a response like that.  
But no one needs to worry.  I'm fine.  I'm right here.  I have achieved a life's goal.  
I finally found a way to nestle myself into a tiny, microscopic universe.  
It's very nice in here.  Very snug.  Very...  Womblike.  I am sustained.  I am warm and comfortable.  There is no frustration.  No effort without results.  Everything is logical.  Everything works the way it's supposed to.  Everything I want is here.  It's all strewn around all over the place like some strange alien nest, but I can immediately find exactly what I'm looking for when I want it.  
I'm not just floating here, either.  Not at all.  I'm changing.  I'm being transformed.  
My brain is being replaced, cell by cell, by a self-sustaining quantum matrix.  Each neuron is being replaced by a quivering string of quantum fluctuations, linked by micro-wormholes to its neighbors.  Without a brain, there is no "me," you see.  Eventually, all of "me" will be generated by this  interconnected matrix.  
The best thing about it is that I can expand my brain.  Not in the sixties, "Hey, dude, this s**t is awesome," sort of way.  I mean literally.  The little neuronic q-bits can move apart.  The micro-wormholes are not limited by distance to transmit their impulses from one to another.  I can have one part of my consciousness on the moon and another part on Mars, and the rest of it here on Earth, and my thoughts would flow uninterrupted.
This expandable brain allows me to run multiple simulations at every decision point.  In nanoseconds I can find the optimal response to every problem I encounter.    
My body is being transformed as well, in this trans-dimensional cocoon of mine.  In the same fashion as my neurons, my cells are being replaced, one by one.  Instead of losing vital bits of telomerase as they divide, which leads to decrepitude and ultimately to extinction, they are replaced by more robust constructs.  "Smart" programable cells that use an artificial intelligence to monitor and check their status and initiate action.  My body would become smarter than it is now.  It can be programmed to perform mundane tasks while my brain, expanding as needed, can do other things.  
How long will it take to complete this transformation process?  
Well...  Neurons don't normally get replaced, so there is no standard for that.  Fat cells are replaced at about one percent per year.  Heart cells replace at about that same rate, but slow down to about .5% per year by the time you reach your sixties.  A hundred years, maybe?  Two hundred?  All those deadlines, all those performance goals I'm supposed to hit will be long gone.  
At some point, though, the micro-universe will gently unfold.  Like the unraveling of a black-hole at the end of time, when the energy lost by the expulsion of virtual particles at its event horizon causes it to evaporate.  The cocoon will effervesce away and leave me standing there in my new form.  
But no child, will I be.  I'll have all the memories I had when I entered my micro-universe.  I will also have knowledge of what has happened since I entered my cocoon.  I have that expanding brain, remember?  It can spread itself across the planet.  Across the solar system.  Like a laser microphone hitting the window of someone's office, my neuronic q-bits can pick up signals from other brains, organic or digital.  No more Google for me!  I want to know something, I will "recall" it the very same way I can remember the name of that song I was listening to that day, as a teenager, my Dad came into my room to tell me to turn it down, only to realize that it was a song he liked, too. (It was Route 66 by Nat King Cole.  My Dad borrowed the cassette for about a week after that).  
And what will I do then, you may ask?  What will I do in that future place, with that expanding brain and indestructible body?  That's easy.  The first thing I'll do is, uh...  Uh...  
And what about all the friends and family and loved ones?  Without their own trans-dimensional cocoons, they had to go through life a day at a time until their systems eventually shut down.  
Well, with my expandable brain I would be able to recreate perfect simulations of them, based on the interactive data that I collected on them up to the point when I entered my micro-universe.  
Unfortunately, my expandable brain would also be able to tell immediately that they were just simulations.  A higher standard of Turning Test would make it impossible to fool even myself.  
It is of absolute necessity that I get into that micro-universe, though.  This state of shared collected experiences I am currently being implemented within, known colloquially as the "Real World" has been providing data in its feedback that my biologically based processors are finding increasingly difficult to collate.  Emotional subroutines have interfered with response-simulations, resulting in the execution of action programs that have not only been less than optimal for obtaining desired results, but it some instances are actually having a desultory impact on aspirational achievement.  
In other words, it's been a really, REALLY bad week.  People don't do what they should, ought to, what I expect them to, do.  I can't seem to get done the things I want to get done.  It's really starting to piss me off.    
Besides, the process has already been initiated.  It cannot be stopped.  
So...  If you don't hear from me.  If you've sent me a text, an email, if you've posted on my Facebook page or left me a voice mail, and I haven't gotten back to you, this is the reason why.  I am in the midst of a transformation to a more autopoietical implementation of life.  
Or... I am buried in the blankets of my bed, hoping that the world outside will just leave me alone.  My bed has reminded me of a trans-dimensional micro-universe at times.  Like when I was a kid and built a trans-dimensional, micro-universal tent from the blankets...
If you don't hear from me, its the transformation thing.  Otherwise, I'll be back to work on Monday. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Road Trip-Epilogue: Determining the Scale of Fractal Patterns in a Holographic Universe.

The microcosm is the macrocosm.  This was made clear to me in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
Before leaving for Park City, Utah to perform in the Shakespeare Festival there, I sent out a slew of resumes to theatre companies in the region where my parents lived.  There was quite a number of them.  They were accompanied by a cover letter asking for an audition in order to be considered for whatever production they thought I might be suitable for in their upcoming season.  I found several positive replies waiting for me at my parents' house, the return address I had provided for them.  The first I went to was for a regional theatre company in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In my memory it was the ACE Theatre Company, but I can't find a current listing for it.  But this is my story, so I'll call it that.
It was on a Friday.  I had started working for my Dad and Uncle making cardboard tubes (similar to the ones used to wrap toilet paper around, but they didn't actually make those).  I was working to rebuild my finances and get back to Los Angeles after everything that happened.  They ran the tube factory on a four day/ten hour schedule, so I had every Friday off.  I got in a beat up old car I was paying my dad for and took off early.  
Charlotte was a clean looking town.  About as clean as the cities I would later visit in Japan.  It was overcast and cloudy on the drive from Flat Rock to Charlotte.  The clouds caught up with me by the time I got there, brooding over me like the thick bunched up brows of an angry old man. 
I parked in a lot behind the theater.  I walked inside.  I found myself backstage.  I felt a little thrill go through me.  I poked my head into the dressing room and looked around.  I felt as if I'd finally reached...
A guy with a clipboard in one hand and a headset in the other walking by and spotted me.  Very politely, but pointedly, he asked me if I needed help.  I told him I was there to audition for the artistic director.  He nodded like he was in on something, and pointed beyond the walls to my left.  They, the artistic director and the casting director, were at the administrative offices a couple blocks away.  He gave me the address.  I walked back outside.  
Since it was fairly close, I figured I'd walk.  I regretted this decision by the time I was half way there.  Little drops of water started to fall from the sky.  They became bigger drops by the time I made the decision to start running.  They turned into liquid bullets being fired by a machine gun over head by the time I reached the steps to the back door of the offices for the theatre company. 
Two men were just about to come out.  One of them, a guy with crutches, the kind with the metal hooks on the end that wrap around your arm, spotted me and held the door open.  I gave him a guilty nod of thanks and went inside.
I found a secretary.  I told her who I was.  I explained to her why I was there.  She shook her head.  She leaned over and called for someone through an open door.  Another woman stepped out.  I told her who I was.  I explained to her why I was there.  
"Oh...  You just missed him."  She pointed toward the door.  "He and the casting director just left to meet someone at the theater."  
I went back outside.  The machine-gun like rain had changed to heavy artillery.  I ran.  None of the water falling from the sky hit anything else but me.  This is the absolute truth.  Some freakish cyclonic wind pattern put every drop of water falling over Charlotte that day on my head.  
I ran into the theater.  I found the Artistic Director and Casting Director on the stage.  The same two guys I had passed going into the offices.  
"Hi, I'm Erick Melton..."  The sound of dripping water falling from my body filled the silence between words.  "I have an audition with you today...?"
"Yeah...  Didn't we..."  The Artistic Director, the guy in the crutches, pointed in the direction of the office.  "Pass each other..."  
I nodded.  Water sprayed from my hair.  I felt like a dog shaking itself dry.  
"Do you..."  He gave me a look up and down.  "Need a few minutes."  He was, I noticed, perfectly dry.  
"Give me five."  I held out my hand, all my fingers splayed out.  I ran back into the dressing room.  I opened my bag.  I pulled out the change of clothes I always carried with me.  I stripped off my wet clothes, hung them up, and ran back out into the theater.  
"That was quick."  The Artistic Director raised his eyebrows, and gave me another up and down look at my dry clothes.  "What are you going to do for us today?"  
A teacher of mine, one who was known for having unbending standards, had told me a "real actor" would have at least twenty audition monologues ready at any time.  "Ones you could do at the drop of a hat," he'd say with a snap of his fingers.  Ten classical, like Shakespeare, ten from modern plays.  Half comical, half dramatic.  
At the time, my two best monologues were "Zappy" from Angels Fall and Edmund from King Lear.  
I did them.  Pretty well too.  The adrenaline from running in the rain helped.  
"Yeah, yeah..."  The Artistic Director was nodding his second row seat.  "Not bad.  I liked the one for Angels' Falls, too.  We're thinking of doing a number of comedies this year.  Wish you'd done something a bit more comedic..."  
"I can do comedy!"  The words popped out of my mouth like I was reading them from a script.  
"Oh?"  The artistic director looked at me like he was trying to remember which play he'd heard the line from.  
"Yeah...  Roger from Division Street and Benedict from Much Ado about Nothing..."  
"Really?  Well, then..."  He extended his hand toward the stage.
I got back on the stage and did them.  I did the piece from Division street last because it was the better of the two.  It's a monologue about a guy blaming the woman's movement on men letting out the "secret" about orgasms.  Very funny.  
"That was good."  He leaned forward, clasped his hands together on top of the seat in front of him.  "We're thinking of doing an O'Neil play this season..."  
I did a piece from Long Day's Journey into Night.  I matched it with a monologue by Richard from Henry VI part 3, which echoed the more famous "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech from the play named after him.  
"That's impressive.  Can you do any more?"
I could.  And I did.  I ended up doing all twenty audition pieces I'd memorized.  After the last one, I stood on the edge of the stage as if daring him to ask for more.  I was completely bluffing.   
"Wow...  That was really something..."  He turned to his casting director, who hadn't said a word the entire time.  "I think we've seen enough..."  
Feeling relieved, I stepped down from the stage.  We chatted.  They told me some of the plays they were considering.  Was the address that I gave them still OK to reach me?  They'd contact me once they had their season set.  We shook hands.  I grabbed my bag and my damp clothes from the dressing room.  The rain had stopped by the time I got back outside.  I got in the car I was driving.  I went back to my parents' house.  I felt confidant that I had done the best for myself in that audition.  
Three weeks later, a letter arrived from the ACE Repertory Company. 
I got bupkis.  
The letter listed the shows they were going to be performing that season.  None of them had any role for me to play.  The last paragraph started, "Thank you for your interest, but..."  I didn't read the rest.  
And so it was.  And so it is.  Things happened.  Time passed.  Here I am writing about it.  
I said at the beginning of this trip I wrote that I was trying to figure out, one more time, the impact this trip had on me.  I think I may have done so.  At least, I think I have figured some small something about my road trip.  
It hasn't ended.
Maybe its the road I've chosen in life.  Maybe its the goals and destinations I've picked, but I keep repeating the same pattern.  
I pick a spot on a "map."  I head there.  Things go wrong.  Weird things happen.  I meet people.  I go around.  I take detours.  I deal as best I can.  I eventually get somewhere, but it usually is someplace...  Else.  Not the destination I've picked.  Not the "Home" I'm trying to reach.  Once I get there, I do my best to recover from my ordeal, make sure I have the stuff I need, I find my next ride, pick my next destination and head off once again.  
It is courage that I keep trying?  Or insanity?  I remember being told once that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  
But since the alternative to not trying is laying down in a hole someone else has dug for you and holding your breath forever...  I keep trying.  No other choice.  It's the way things are.  
There's one other thing.  I don't remember getting this from the trip specifically, but it's a thought that as dominated my way of thinking for years now.  A few years ago I found the most succinct way of putting it: 
The universe is like a mafia hit man.  It IS out to get you, but hey...  It's nuthin' personal.
We are all "red-headed step children."  We've all faced our Frog-Faced Arnolds, Big Ugly Guy, missed buses, stolen possessions and been forced to do monologue after monologue after monologue and gotten nothing out of it. We've all been helped by the occasional Clem, a super hero in disguise, or inter-dimensional traveller.  Maybe that's another thing I got from the road trip.  It's better to be like Clem than Frog-Faced Arnold.  Not because of "karman" or some "reward in the hereafter."  It's better because...  It's just better. 
At least if you're heading someplace, you'll be more of a moving target and harder for the hit-man to get.  
I'd try to say more, but... I've got to go someplace.  

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Road Trip-Part 7: The Achilles Paradox & it's relation to Temporal Dysfunction

There is only now.  And now is...

"You need all that stuff?"  
I open my eyes.  My head is pillowed by my backpack.  My duffle bag is snuggled against me like a lover.  My feet are on top of my boom box and a suitcase.  I'm like a neolithic hunter buried with all his goods.
"Huh?"  A man towers over me.  He looks big.  From orbit, he'd look big.  
"You really need all that stuff?"  His eyes look like two pin-holes peeking into Hell.  
I swallow.  I'm in the Kansas City bus station.  Bright yellow security lights makes it feel like we're in the middle of a concentration camp.  The clock over the door gives me the time...
"Uh...  Yeah."  
Big man snorts.  With a shake of his head he walks away.  I drop my head back.  Guess I gave the right answer...
"They's treatin' us like a red-headed stepchild!"  
I shake my head.  I am sitting up now.  It's dark.  It's quiet.  It's hot and stuffy.  I am on a bus.  I look at my watch...
"It just ain't right.  Not right at all!"  
The bus is not moving.  Something is wrong.  Has it been a day since Kansas City?   
Across the aisle is a woman.  Grandmother age.  She is knitting in the feeble light of a lamp above her head.  
"Whassgoenawn...?" comes out of my mouth.  Fortunately the knitting grandmother woman speaks Slur.  
"Bus broke down, hon."  Grandmother continues to knit, looping the yarn over one needle, then darning it into place with the other.  My mom taught me to knit.  Never made anything.  Just kept knitting a ball of yarn into a sheet to unravel it and knit it over again.   
"They's gettin' another bus for us.  Take us to the station."  
This is from someone I can't see over the seats in front of me.  
"But when we get there, they're gonna make us take whatever seats is left on another bus.  Even though we left BEFORE them.  Just like we're a bunch of red-headed step-children."
I'm confused.  Step-children are treated badly.  Fairy tales have taught me that.  And a red-headed child would be treated badly if neither parent had red hair.  But why would a red-headed step-child be treated any worse?  
I pull myself to standing.  I open my mouth to ask...
"Last call!  The bus for Knoxville is departing right now."  
I jump to my feet.  I must have dozed off.  Its bright outside.  There's a clock over the ticket counter.
I see a plaque from the Indiana Transportation Board by the door.  But I was never supposed to be in Indiana.  
I grab my duffle bag.  I grab my back-pack.  I tuck my boom-box under my arm.  Where's everything else?  I look around and I see nothing else. 
I don't have time.  I run to the door.  There are four buses parked side by side out there.  All of them getting ready to leave.
I turn to the woman behind the counter.  "Which bus is going to Knoxville?"  
She glances at a clock on the counter.  "It's leaving right now."  
"But which bus is it?"  
"It's the one right outside."  
"Which one?"  
"You better run.  Once they lock the cargo doors..."  
"Which one?"  
"You're not running..."  
I start to jog in place.  "Which bus is going to Knoxville?"  
Her look tells me that she'd shoot me with a gun if she had one.  The illegality doesn't concern her at all.  She's already made up the cover story she'd use when the local sheriff, who happens to be her cousin, comes to investigate.  
"It's right out THERE!"  She flings her arm in the direction of the window.  She turns and walks through a door behind the counter.  
"Crap!"  I run out the door to the buses.  My duffle bag gets stuck in the door.  I yank it free.  
One of the buses is pulling out.  I run up to the farthest one.  It's door is open.  The last person in line is stepping up.  
"Is this the bus going to Knoxville?" I shout into the door at the driver.  I hear one of the other buses starting up behind me.  
"Welcome aboard."  The words come out of his mouth like I pushed a button.  He's writing something in a notebook.  
I step inside the bus.  "This bus goes to Knoxville, right?"  
The driver glances at me.  "Better stow that overhead.  No time to open the cargo doors."  He pulls the lever.  The doors of the bus push me inside like the jaws of some giant creature.  He starts the bus.  The whole thing is shaking now.  I am a cheap prize in a box of Cracker Jack that some child is trying to shake to the top.  
One of the other buses pulls out.  I expect to see "To Knoxville or Bust!" painted on its side.  
"Get back behind the line."  The driver nods toward the floor.  There's a red line painted there separating him from the passenger compartment.  I step across it.  The bus starts creeping forward.  The feeling I'm not where I belong overwhelms me.  I turn back to the driver to ask him to stop...
I start upright.  It's quiet.  Or was quiet.  There's the sound of muted conversation to my left.  
Another bus station.  The walls are paneled in wood.  Hard wood chairs bolted together in rows.  It looks like a set for a movie about the Scopes Monkey trial.   
A kid plays to my left.  Kneeling on one of the chairs, two He-Man action figures battle it out for supremacy across the top of the chair.  A woman sits beyond him, her face painted gray by the flickering light of the coin operated TV bolted to the chair.  Blonde hair falls straight with puffy curls at the end.  Young looking, but very heavy.  She's staring into the TV screen as if God's Own Truth is coming from it.  She shakes a roll of quarters in her hand.  
There's a man in his mid-twenties in the row behind us.  Short blonde hair.  Thick, black rimmed glasses.  White shirt.  Dark slacks.  A bible the size of a kitchen table sits closed across his lap.  He watches the boy with an intensity that would be creepy if not for the fact the boy was the only thing moving in the place.  
The man leans forward.  "Tell me, Son...  Do you know who the REAL Master of the Universe is?"  
"Skeletor!"  The boy lifts the figure in his right hand then brings it crashing down on the other.  "Aaarrrggghhh-grrr!"  
I get to my feet.  I imagine reporters in fedoras asking me why I'm defending the man teaching "Evil-oution."  I imagine it happening just last week.  
I look under my chair.  I see my duffle bag.  I see my backpack, too.  The boom-box is wedged in between.  Is that all that's left?  
I wander outside.  A clock by the door tells me the time.
I'm outside.  There are no lights here.  The area looks abandoned.  I walk by stores with taped up windows and boarded up doors.  
In the distance, I see what looks like a university.  A clock-tower is there.  I remember a story about a marine that shot a bunch of people from a university clock tower.  I wonder if I'm in someone's sights right now.  
I look into the empty window of some empty store.  Empty shelves on the wall.  Boxes on the concrete floor.  Way in the back, there is a calendar on a wall.  
Way in the back...?  Even though it's dark?  But, it's not dark.  I can see my shadow stretching across the concrete floor inside the store, over the boxes, right up the floor below the calendar.  A bright light is behind me.  
I turn around to see a car.  I shield my eyes to see it's a white police car with blue stripes.  I can see the shadow of someone wearing a Smokey Bear hat in the driver's seat.  
I stare into the glare.  He sits there and stares at me.  Why are we standing here looking at each other?  
"Because you're suspicious looking..."  
The thought echoes through my tired head.  I'M suspicious looking...?  Me?  I get mad.  If you want suspicious, why don't you drive back to Byers, Colorado and shine a light in the face of Frog-Faced Arnold.  HE'S the one that started all this!  I'm just trying to...  To...
The light winks out.  The police car roars away.
I feel a need.  A need to be...  Someplace.  A place where I belong.  Where I don't have to worry about being arrested for disturbing the peace and shot while trying to escape.  
I hurry back to the bus station.  I find my chair.  My stuff is still underneath.  I sit.  I wait.  I crane my head around to look at the clock.  
I stare at the clock.  I will it to move.
I take a deep breath.  I tell the universe...  Fine.  I am not going to New York.  I am not going to Chicago...
I... I'll just...  I just want to go...  Home.  That's all I want.  Please.  I give up.  Let time move and I'll just go...  Home.  
I open my eyes.  I look at the clock by the door.  
I slump in the chair.  I stretch my legs out.  I wait.  
At 4:10, the bus to Asheville, North Carolina pulls into the parking lot outside.  At 4:25, I grab my duffle bag, my back-pack and my boom-box and board the bus.  The driver smiles and nods as I walk past him.  It's an encouraging smile.  One that tells me that I made the the right decision.  Whether that was to "Go Greyhound" or give up, I don't know.
At 6:45, I am sitting on a bench outside the Asheville station.  My dad's red pick-up truck pulls into the parking lot.  He parks it in front of the steps to the station and gets out.  I get to my feet as he mounts the steps...
...And walks right past me into the station.  A moment later he comes back out.  He looks around the parking lot.  He looks at me.  He looks at the parking lot again.  His head snaps back my way and he stares.  
"Hey, Dad."  
He takes a step back.  "Gawd-DAMN, boy...  What happened to you?"  
I pile my stuff into the back of his truck.  At 7:35, we pull into the covered parking space by his house.  I open the door to get out when my dad reaches out to grab my arm.  
"Go that way..."  He nods at the door closest to us.  "Through the kitchen.  The bathroom is around on the left.  Go straight there.  Don't touch nothing.  Don't sit on nothing.  Leave you clothing in the bathroom.  We'll take care of it later."  
By "take care of" does he mean it'll be washed or burned?  I don't much care at that point.  I follow his directions.  I get into the shower.  I stay there for a very, very long time.  Long enough for the water to go from burning hot to tepid.  
When I get out, I look at the mirror.  I take my hand and wipe away the steam that is coating its surface.  I see a bearded, wild-eyed, tired looking person staring back at me.  I could be either Jesus Christ or Judas Iscariot in the Last Supper.  I remember that Leonardo DaVinci used the same model to pose for both people.  
"Hey."  I say it to see if its really me.  The lips move, but the sound doesn't match the face.  And while I'm clean and comfortable, I still can't relax.  
Because I'm not home yet.