road trip with camus

Camus moves to the back seat and holds the beer on his lap. Sartre feeds the dog from the can of ALPO. The Poodle licks Camus and tries to sit in his lap, Camus sits rigidly, his face frozen in a mask of horror…”


by troy dockins



I picked up Camus first. He could be kind of bitchy about stuff, always calling out “Shotgun!” and getting all po’ed if he didn’t get it. He came out of his house wearing his leather backpack, a dust mask and rubber gloves. He was kinda paranoid about germs. Had been since he wrote ‘The Plague” way back when. He got in the front seat after wiping it down with rubbing alcohol. He immediately tries to roll up his window even though it’s about 80 plus degrees out and the car has no AC. “Uh…Albert, that windows broken, it won’t stay up”, I tell him, as the window slides back down. Camus rolls it back up; it slides back down…back up, back down. “Sorry ‘bout the window dude! I apologize. “I don’t fucking care about the window, I am indifferent about the fucking window’ snarls Camus. He rolls it up. It slides back down. He scowls at me and continues his futile effort. I could see it was going to be a problem. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” he barks at me, I back out of the driveway and head to Tenzin’s place.

Tenzin Gyatso is the Dalai Lama, the living Buddha of Compassion. Pretty cool! I pull up and honk. No sign of the Lama. Typical. For a Buddha of Compassion, Kundun could pretty much give a fuck about making anybody wait for his slow ass. I go to the door and pound on it, no answer. It’s unlocked so I head inside. “Tenzin!” I yell, still no response. I head towards the bathroom, the door is ajar and the light’s on. I stick my head inside…”Kundun? You in here…? Oh, Christ dude! Light a match!” The Dalai Lama is on the pot, and has apparently reincarnated last night’s dinner into evil incarnate. I step back into the hall; “We’re ready to go here, Lama. How long you gonna be, dude?” I ask. “Don’t rush me” comes the surly reply, followed by an audible plopping sound. “Camus’ in the car, and the guys are gonna be pissed” I warn. “Fuck ‘em”, comes his enlightened response. I wait. The toilet finally flushes, only to be followed with oaths and cursing. The Lama rushes past me buck-naked. “Oh man! Put a robe on…please!” “Outta the way” says the Lama, grabbing the plunger and rushing back into the commode. Gurgling sounds and grunts of effort emanate from the can, I peer in, afraid of what I will see but strangely drawn nonetheless. I stare transfixed. “What’s taking so damn long?’ asks Camus, looking over my shoulder. His angry visage is replaced by one of revulsion at the sight of the Tibetan holy man up to his elbows in the overflowing crapper. Camus scuttles out of the house without a word. I turn back to find Tenzin washing at the sink. “The bowl couldn’t handle me!” he says grinning broadly, “Old friends pass away, new friends appear!” “Are you talking about your turds, dude? I query. He laughs and dons his maroon robes, “Let’s do it!”, he says. Looking at the mess on the floor, I say “Aren’t you gonna clean this up?” “Nah, one of the initiates’ll take care of it. Let’s roll”. He grabs his cooler and a collection of oriental carpets and heads out the door.

Tossing his gear in the trunk, the living Buddha then hops in the back and claps Camus on the shoulder, “How’s it hangin’, Albert?” he says. Camus looks at the Lama’s hand with obvious discomfort. The Lama starts to rub the shoulders of the tense Frenchman, enjoying his rising angst immensely. Next stop is Nietzsche’s apartment; he is waiting outside with his sister. Nietzsche holds a plastic hammer and a banana. He opens the car door and says “Move over” to Camus. Camus does not budge. Nietzsche gets that crazy look he gets and screams “MOVE OVER!” right in Camus’ ear. Camus moves over and the German philosopher squeezes in. “You are small, cowardly and hedonistic, you are a herd animal and I despise you” he says to Camus and stares at him. Camus looks away. His sister comes around to my window. “Watch out” she whispers, “He hasn’t been the same since he saw the horse being flogged. If you need to…use this”. She hands me a small bundle and walks off without explanation. I stick it under the seat. Nietzsche stares ahead, expressionless, tapping the hammer again and again on his knee, which convulses in reflex with each blow. Camus seems distracted, irritated and angry.

The Dalai Lama falls asleep in the back and snores loudly adding to Camus’ irritation and apparently further agitating Nietzsche who looks back at Kundun murderously. I pull up in front of Sartre’s office and honk. The frog-like Frenchman walks out with a can opener, a squeeze toy and a Standard Poodle on a lead. “JP, you said you were leaving the dog,” I say with irritation, as his dog is unruly and Sartre makes no effort to control his pet. He opens the rear door, the dog hops in, Sartre follows. The poodle immediately begins to lick the back of Camus’ head. Camus is deathly in fear of all dogs and bears it in silence. Sartre smirks. The Lama snores on. “I need cigarettes, ” says Sartre, “Stop at the store”. I pull into the Speedy Mart and we pile out. Sartre grabs 3 cans of ALPO and asks the cashier if they have Galouises. The boy stares at him uncomprehendingly. “Idiot” murmurs the impatient Sartre. “Give me the KOOL’s…NO! The carton! Mon Dieu!” He slams down the money and storms back to the car. Nietzsche purchases toenail clippers and begins to trim his mustache with them. Camus looks on in horror as he purchases bandages and antiseptic spray. I buy 2 cases of Budweiser and we hit the road again. Camus moves to the back seat and holds the beer on his lap. Sartre feeds the dog from the can of ALPO. The Poodle licks Camus and tries to sit in his lap, Camus sits rigidly, his face frozen in a mask of horror. The dog eats ALPO, licks Camus, eats ALPO, licks Camus. Sartre smiles at Nietzsche, who removes his shoes and begins to compulsively trim his toenails, the odor is oppressive. We roll down the windows. Camus whimpers.

Last stop is Foucault’s house; Michel comes out with an assortment of personal lubricants and sex toys. “Pop the trunk” he says. I do and he tosses them in back. He comes around to the driver side and says; “I’ll drive”. “Whatever you say Fester”, I slide over and he gets in and looks at me quizzically, “Fester?” he says. “Never mind,” I reply. He pops the clutch and we peel out. The dog loses its balance and falls. It scrabbles to its feet, growls and bites Camus. Foucault takes the curve at speed. The dog again falls heavily, and again bites Camus in misplaced retaliation. Camus bears it quietly, not wanting to further antagonize the poodle. Tenzin hoots and grins broadly, “Hand me a beer, Albert!” he yells. Camus does. Nietzsche reaches back and grabs a can and begins to drink greedily. Foucault looks at him in disapproval, “Fuckin’ Nietzsche! You only think of yourself! Hand me a beer, you ass!” Nietzsche picks up his hammer and looks at Foucault menacingly, “Don’t blame me for the difficulties you experience, Frenchman!”. “Thus spake Proto-Nazi” mutters Foucault. “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”, replies Nietzsche. Sartre hands us beers and pets his dog. “What a good boy” he says, smiling at Camus. Camus applies antiseptic and bandages to his dog bites and drinks heavily. “God, it hurts!” he moans. Nietzsche blurts out; “Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” We stare at him. Nietzsche sucks at his Budweiser and eats his banana with the skin on.

Foucault, once on the highway, turns out to be a fairly good driver, despite a disconcerting tendency to drive on the left side of the road. He does tend to ramble on about philosophy and he is boring as hell. Nietzsche tells him to “Shut up” about every five minutes. He won’t. Camus begins to complain about sitting in the back, “I called shotgun,” he says. “Perhaps, it is your fate, and the fate of all of us to sit, or not to sit, in our respective, or irrespective, positions…or not. Or perhaps it is a phenomenon of historiology” intones Foucault, winking at me. Camus shrieks, “Fate is not a punishment”, and begins to sob. Sartre says, “Fate is gratuitous, this car, this road, my dog, myself. Gratuitous. It makes me feel sick”. Sartre vomits all over Camus. The poodle laps it up. The tubercular Camus stops sobbing and coughs up blood, the poodle laps it up as well. “Behold the superfluous. They are always sick. They vomit their gall and call it art”, intones Nietzsche contemptuously.

We come to a fatal wreck on the highway. Foucault stops abruptly, triggering another 4-car pile up. The philosophers, the Lama and myself pile out and stare with fascination at the scale of the carnage. Foucault smiles broadly, “Isn’t this glorious!” he grabs his head and exclaims, “Death has been dissected, cut to bits by a series of little steps, which finally makes it impossible to know which step was the real death, the one in which consciousness was lost, or the one in which breathing stopped.” “Life” mumbles Camus, “is absurd. Our existence is meaningless. Death and pain are irrational. There is no sense in this exercise we call Life. I am a stranger among men, an outsider.” Sartre snorts, “Stinking humanist!” Camus wheels on him, “Call your dog!” The poodle gnaws on the leg of one of the victims. Sartre refuses. Nietzsche speaks thusly, “Error has transformed animals into men; is truth perhaps capable of changing man back into an animal?” The Living Buddha of Compassion steps forward and chants, “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world,” and offers the poodle his leg. Foucault and Nietzsche roll their eyes. The poodle ignores him. The Lama shrugs, walks back to the car, grabs beers, and hands them out to the appreciative philosophers and myself. “We are neither in the amphitheater, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism…” ponders Foucault, then, “Chugging contest!!!” he yells. Nietzsche drains his in no time, the clear winner. The Dalai Lama finishes second and crushes the empty can on his forehead. Sartre is third and belches loudly and prolongedly. Foucault ponders his can of Bud. Camus weeps.

The sounds of multiple sirens become audible. “Time to go” says Foucault. “Shotgun” yells Camus through his tears. Sartre and Nietzsche knock him down and jump in the front seat. “Barbarism is never temporary”, Camus warns sullenly, as he gets in the back seat next to me. Sartre cracks open another beer as we drive off, takes a huge gulp, turns and spews beer onto the poodle and Camus in the back seat. “This beer is ‘neant’, I want hard liquor. Michel, find a store! Now!” Foucault nods and accelerates down the highway, dangerously weaving in and out of the slow moving traffic. The poodle methodically licks Camus, growling at any attempts of deterrence. “Get your dog off me, Sartre…or I swear I will kill it!” mumbles Camus through clenched teeth. Sartre turns to face his countryman. “Idiot! You do not understand. The dog is nothingness, he is, like you, like me, and like all humans…consciousness…and is essentially free. Any attempt by you to believe otherwise is a form of delusional self-deception”. Foucault nods, “A prison of your own making…fantastic!” Camus says nothing but appears to understand. “There! A store!” yells Nietzsche. Foucault exits the highway and pulls into the lot; the sign reads ‘HI HO LIQUORS’. “This will turn out badly,” says Camus under his breath to no one in particular.

Under the bright fluorescent lights of the alcohol warehouse pyramids of hooch beckon invitingly and each in turn grabs a basket and heads in their perhaps predestined directions. All save Sartre and Camus, Camus stares on disapprovingly and Sartre enlists the aid of a shopping cart. The Dalai Lama mercilessly grills a hapless cashier as to the reason why they do not carry an obscure liquor distilled from the milk and blood of yak. The cashier’s answer is insufficient for the living Buddha and he strikes him repeatedly about the head and shoulders. “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher”, explains Tenzin, as if that helps the clerk. “Oh” says the clerk. Nietzsche stops the Lama, sends him on his way, and resumes the victimized cashier’s beating, adding a few well placed kicks for good measure. He screams at the poor clerk, “I mistrust all systemizers and I avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.” “Sorry” whimpers the prostrate boy. Nietzsche soon enlists his fellow philosophers to assault other cashiers in turn. I wonder how a group of such forward thinkers and a man reincarnated as the living Buddha of compassion could turn so savage and violent. I look up at the buzzing fluorescent lights. Their brightness wounds me. I kick over the nearest pyramid of tequila. The other cashiers scurry for safety.

The boys have got their booze but there is no one at the register to check them out. “Let’s ROLL!!!, yells Tenzing who drinks wantonly from an open bottle of Gusano de Oro Mezcal. “I want the worm!” he yells, to no on in particular. We pile out of the HI-HO unopposed and pile back into the car. The Lama drives, badly. Nietzsche has procured several bottles of a disgusting banana liqueur which he guzzles with apparent relish. Sartre, who desperately wants to drive but will never admit that it matters to him, sullenly sips from a bottle of expensive Cognac. The Lama gets the worm and heaves the bottle onto the highway where it shatters. The philosophers hoot as one. Foucault drinks a variety of canned cocktails …Cosmopolitans, Tequila Sunrise, Salty Dog…you name it, he seems to have it. Camus does not drink, but surreptitiously gives the poodle large quantities of Grand Marinier. “I shall tell you a great secret, my canine friend. Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day”, he whispers to the slurping poodle. I stick to Bud. Following two hours of driving and an unusual period of quiet due to the concentration on the task at hand…drinking, the Lama abruptly turns onto a dirt road and continues down it for several miles. He stops the car and says, “We’re here!” “Where?” I wonder. But I pile out of the car with the rest of the boys. The poodle sleeps, Camus smiles, Sartre farts.

The Lama springs into action, “I’ll make a fire! Sartre and Nietzsche, you guys go find more wood. Lots of it! Don’t come back ‘til you got major wood.” Sartre tries to rouse his poodle but cannot. They stumble off into the brush in search of wood. “You two, Michel and Al, pitch camp…I got rugs and stuff in the trunk” The two start rummaging through the car locating the gear they need, and start to work. The Lama gets a great blaze going with some charcoal briquettes he had in the car and disappears around the side of the car. I see him working on something vigorously but can’t figure out what he’s doing. “Yo, Tenzin…what’re you doing?” I yell. “Getting dinner ready…it’s a surprise…old family recipe!” he calls back. I go back to my beer enjoying the heat of the flames in the increasing chill of the night. Foucault and Camus finish with the rugs and join me at the fire. The Dalai Lama comes back with a slotted grill and some meat and sets up his apparatus. My mouth starts to water. “STEAK!!!” say Foucault and Camus in unison and high five. They stare at the Lama in anticipation as he seasons the meat. “Where’re Sartre and Nietzsche” I wonder aloud. “They’ll be back soon, I am sure”, says the Lama. Sure enough, in stumble the two philosophers. Nietzsche is loaded like a mule with a huge pile of wood strapped to his back; Sartre carries nothing aside from a nearly empty bottle of Cognac. “Goddamn, what smells so fucking good!” roars Nietzsche dumping the load of sticks and approaching the fire with the rest of us. “Kundun brought meat” explains Foucault. “Excellent” murmurs Sartre.

The meat is done shortly and the philosopher, Tenzin and myself tear into it. Manners are forgotten, this is an orgy of gluttony. Civilized Camus rips flesh from the bone with his teeth. Nietzsche growls at Foucault who keeps a safe distance. Even Kundun fights with Sartre over the choice cuts. A pile of bones sits near the fire, evidence of the magnificent repast. We eat slower now, enjoying each delicious mouthful. Sartre belches loudly and says, “You’re a fucking genius, you know that Holy Man? I didn’t even know you brought food!” he laughs, as do we all at this unusual show of gratitude from the surly Frenchman, and slaps the Tibetan sage on the back. Tenzin nods and laughs, “But I didn’t bring any food”. The comment goes unobserved by all except Camus. “What was this anyway…goat?” he asks looking at the gnawed bone in his hand. “No” says Kundun. “Sheep?” asks Foucault. “Oh, no” laughs the lama. Nietzsche stares at the Lama, his eyes asking the question. “It’s good isn’t it? Old family recipe,” nods the Lama, laughing. Sartre stares at him, turns and scurries towards the car. “DOG! DOG!?! DOG!!??? He yells looking in and around the vehicle for his poodle. The Lama smiles and rubs his belly and says, “Jean-Paul got it! It’s dog!” Camus looks at the meat in his hand, smiles and takes another huge bite, “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it”, he says with his mouth full. Foucault shrugs, ” In eating this dog I seek the liberation of man from contingent conceptual constraints masked as unsurpassable a priori limits and the adumbration of alternative forms of existence” and continues to eat. “Tastes like chicken” I joke. Nietzsche goes into convulsions; we jump back to avoid his thrashing. Sartre shrieks endlessly.

“My Dog! You motherfucker!” screams Sartre. “Do not confuse my embrace of peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of my people with being an animal lover,” the Lama says, wagging his finger at Sartre. “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called “Ego”, screams Nietzsche, running in wild circles around the fire. Camus says, “Get the package”. I go to the car and fetch Nietzsch’e sister’s package, it is a straightjacket, we wrestle it onto Nietzsche and resume our meal amidst Sartre’s continuing shrieks of agony. “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” Says Camus, we nod, Sartre screams. After a bit the Lama sighs, ” I tire of this incessant wailing”. He approaches Sartre and tackles him. The Frenchman continues to screech. “Hell is — other people!” screams Sartre. The Lama puts him in the trunk. His cries are audible but thankfully muffled. We drink, Nietzsche mumbles incoherently, “Plato was a bore,” he says over and over. “It is a sad thing to see such great intellectuals reduced to this”, I say. “If we knew ourselves perfectly, we should die” says Camus. “I’ve never met any intellectuals”, says Foucault. “Me neither” the Dalai Lama agrees. “Cheers” I say, holding my Budweiser aloft. We toast and drink in front of the dwindling flames.

Originally published:
Issue Six
February 2001


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