GREETINGS, FELLOW TRAVELERS on the hazy and poorly defined road of life. Greetings fellow seekers on the circuitous, radioactive, signless, thousand-mile-an-hour expressway of existence. Greetings fellow road-ragers on the software updated, voyeurism-rich, surgically enhanced, self-branding, if-you-didn’t-post-it-it-didn’t-happen, hundred-lane superhighway replete with millions of diversions and no substantive answer to the ultimate point of anything.
I’ve been out of touch, recently. Tired of all the work and the noise, I decided to make an exploratory trip to Yellowstone National Park in order to find Forrest Fenn’s buried treasure. The search is not to be taken lightly. About a dozen people die every year looking for the legendary stash of riches, which will probably end up being a steamer trunk full of the man’s dirty laundry when someone actually stumbles upon it. Ol Forrest will have the last laugh, to be sure. Every time someone slips off the edge of a cliff or is incinerated in a boiling hot spring in a mindless pursuit for what will amount to some crusty underwear, a preternatural laugh creeps through the wilderness, although more often than not the shrieking is blamed on coyotes.
Still, most of us treasure seekers will not be discouraged. We know that once we find an actual treasure chest filled with precious gems and pieces of gold, our problems will all be over. Because that means we’ll be able to afford the finest of everything. I’m talking about being able to purchase the absolute best of modern design and technology. I want to own the things that are built to last, and not the cheap, disposable, low-grade products that malfunction almost immediately. Actually, I’m alright with things that break down. What I get frustrated with are things that kind of break down. If something breaks I just throw it away. But if its integrity begins to gradually erode while still maintaining a certain ratio of usefulness, that is when my own sense of composure begins to erode right along with it, until both gadget and I are compromised, barely functioning versions of our former selves.
A few months ago I was invited to a cabin by the lake. It was the kind of offer almost irresistible to a writer and a drinker. “It’s super quiet,” she said. “You can write during the morning and in the afternoon you can jump into the lake and then lay out on the dock with an ice cold beer.”
It sounded too good to pass up, although she warned that the cabin was kind of old and quirky. Her parents owned it, and even though they were wealthy, they were somewhat frugal when it came to household repairs. They were part of the Sackler family, having made their fortune with prescription opioids. The tide was turning on their empire, and money was to be hoarded and hidden until all the class action lawsuits were settled. Anyway I was only going to be there for a day, so I didn’t think there’d be too much of a problem. I was a bit weirded out, though, when I walked onto the front porch of the quiet house in the solemn woods, only to have my foot fall through a loose board whose opposite end see-sawed up to smack me in the face.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, don’t step on that board. It’s firm when you walk on it from the opposite direction, but going toward the door it’ll jump up and slap you.”
“Why don’t you replace it,” I said, rubbing my nose.
“Because it works fine if you just know how to step on it the right way.”
Totally my fault, then. We walked inside. It had been a long drive and I needed to use the bathroom.
“Number one or number two?” she said.
“Because if it’s number one then you have to jiggle the handle just so, not too hard, just enough to ensure the rubber stopper drops back down over the water valve. Now, if it’s number two, you have to hold the handle down as far as it can go as the poo travels into the toilet, or else it will be stuck there, and nobody wants that, right? In fact, it’s best to sit on the toilet facing the tank, so you can properly manipulate the handle, almost like the stick shift on a car.”
“I’m just going to take a piss outside,” I said, walking out the back screen door, which fell off its hinges and down a rickety set of stairs as I tried to open it.
“You broke it!” she screamed. “You have to pull the door to the right, toward the far jamb when you open it. Oh you’ve ripped the screen. My dad is going to have a fit.”
“The door was already broken. Why else would it have fallen off the hinges?”
“It didn’t fall off the hinges until you started messing with it,” she snapped.
I shook my head and walked down to the edge of the lake. Already I’d been putting my plan together to head out to Yellowstone to look for the buried treasure. This was along with my plan to never set foot in the condemned cabin ever again. I wanted a door that would work, a floor that held whatever was standing on it, reliable plumbing, and a little joy now and again. It didn’t seem like too much to ask. I’m not an ostentatious fellow, and I rely on the basics to fulfill most needs.
I stepped onto the floating dock, and walked to the edge of it. A quiet lake is a natural work of art, perfect in its design. A few fish lingered lazily in the water below. Then they disappeared, spooked by something. It took me a minute to realize that the dock was drifting from the shore. I knew then that I had stepped on it the wrong way, knocking it loose from its moorings, and now I was headed out into open water, stranded in a way, but in another way, completely liberated. I pulled out a Vegas Robaina I’d been saving, lighted the end of it and took a few solid puffs. Finally, something that worked. The secret of life is enjoying the ride, I decided. I could hear her yelling from the shore. I turned and watched her gesture in apoplectic fury. Luckily I was too far from her to hear what she was actually saying, her shouting sufficiently muffled by the distance, and I turned to face forward, eager for the great wide open, and whatever happened next.