What do you do when your attempts to do something you absolutely must do are thwarted? Do you quit in the face of adversity? Or go for it?
Of course, you go for it. Full steam ahead. Throw caution to the winds. Your passion demands it – in all things you attempt. Just because pot was – in those antediluvian sixties – verboten, didn’t mean you shied away from the golden weed — quite the opposite. I, for one, smoked as if the sun would never rise again, the burn on the end of the joint adding much-needed light in my life. As my father once said to me when I was a kid making a half-assed attempt at a chore he had given me “if you’ve got a job to do, do it well.” I might add, toke it well, too, my friend.
One Chainsaw to Rule Them All
Five of my cohorts, outlaws that they are, at least for tonight, Sven, Roger, Tony and Tommy Salami ride in my friend Autumn’s car following close behind my truck. We are seven in all with Haggis Altoona sitting in the passenger seat across from me. If you want to include Roger’s dog, who sits between Haggis and me, then we are eight.
My hands are on the wheel, fingers nervously playing a riff as I go over the plan for tonight. The bed of my 55 Ford F-100 is packed with seven chainsaws, one for each of us and two twenty-foot ladders. Just in case.
I can’t help but think about the epigraph at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings and make up my own stoned verse, singing it out loud:
Three chainsaws for the stoners under the sky,
Seven for the potheads with their bongs of mirth,
Nine for the higher ones ready to fly.
One for the doofunnies smoking their joints.
In the land of Amerika where the hucksters lie.
One chainsaw to rule them all, one chainsaw to find the billboards,
One chainsaw to bring them all down and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Amerika where the hucksters lie.
I jam an eight-track tape of the Beatles into the player below the dash. “A Hard Day’s Night” comes on. I feel good. Haggis fires up a joint the size of a fat Cuban cigar, and I have a warm beer lodged between my legs. I grab and chug it, throw the beer can on the floor. Haggis takes a long drag (the man has some mighty lungs to him) and blows out a factory smokestack worth of fume. He coughs, and an earthquake ripples the springs underneath the seat, nearly throwing me into the windshield — Roger’s dog barks. Haggis grins as though molasses is running down his chin. He hands me the joint. I feel, as I let the smoke trickle down into my lungs and hold it, that tonight will be a good night for the fight.
A Burma Shave
Our destination is the giant billboard on Interstate 25, on the way to Colorado Springs — that eyesore, which I failed to cut down the previous year. I vowed, after that experience, to return and take it down to the ground in the gurgle of midnight mud and leave it in a chainsawed mangled mess. It is raining and raining harder. We had waited for this rain-soaked night for a long time. We needed the atmospheric cacophony to drown out the uplifting concert of chainsaw music. No one is going to catch us now.
In the fifties, sixties and seventies billboards procreated like rabbits jacked high on lettuce laced with cocaine. Today, most billboards are made of steel, but at the time they were mostly made of wood. I think of them as gigantic beasts rising out of the land, growling megaliths with one column in the center holding up a great rectangular shape, which makes it look like a Jumbotron, the kind you see in ballparks. Some are even electronic, bright lights blinding you with a blaring sound to match blocking out everything, playing out corporate dreams that invade your consciousness with sugar and spice and all things nice.
As you drive, by you become distracted and swerve, forgetting about the long white line in front of you. You start salivating as you see the depiction of Whopper pass by in your rearview mirror, waving goodbye to you subliminally. You absolutely have to stop at the next hamburger stand, even though you’ve just consumed a grand slam at Denny’s, washed it down with a milkshake and extra pancakes overloaded with syrup and sugar. We can’t blame all this on billboards, but no wonder, as a society, we’re overweight and out of shape. Everything in our modern world has gotten bigger and faster, more in your face. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t cut one of these metallic monstrosities down. I’d have to take a welding torch and burn my way through — that would take far too long. I’d only end up getting caught. Although, using a blowtorch would make the process more silent than the roar of a thirsty gas-guzzling chainsaw.
Today, as in yesteryear, with slogans like Save Coal, Uncle Sam Needs It; Jesus is Watching you; Jesus saves; Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks; Make America White Again; The Pause that Refreshes: Drink Coke (I want to say don’t line it), billboards are one of many metaphors representing the destruction of the environment. They cheapen the natural beauty of the land, the crassness of the adverts intruding on the view, the commercialism bleeding like a polluted river rising over its banks into our minds, employing the catchwords and blurbs of those who want to sell us more stuff we don’t need. Why do we need this overt commercialism when we are out driving in the mountains or the plains? Why do we have to face these behemoths and their subliminal messages? Beloved Burma Shave, brother; get out the chainsaws and shave the growing stubble.
I’m hoping the rain will continue to fall.
It does, coming down sideways and every which way. In spades. The windshield wipers can barely keep up with the precipitation that seems to want to blast right through the windshield. We arrive at the billboard in question, good and stoned. It is pitch dark and I can’t read a word on its massive face here at the Gates of Hell. Darkened and angry, spitting fire, as though it knows what is in store, this three-headed Cerberus as I think of it, leers at me as though daring me to come forward. Cerberus the billboard, meet your doom.
We park the two vehicles on a rocky dirt road behind the looming edifice, — which also reminds me of the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey”— remove the tarp and grab our chainsaws. I’m wiped out. It is a quarter to twelve. I feel like a fish swimming upstream as I walk with my comrades up the path, which had turned into a raging river on the way to the billboard.
An Impossible Task Can be Made Possible
The darkness bleeds into the rain making a thick soup that I imagine drowning in. We switch on the lights affixed to our miner helmets and step forward into the underbelly of Cerberus. As I crawl around inside the posts and struts, my heart freezes. My worst suspicions are confirmed.
The billboard has been reinforced since our last foray. Steel sleeves are installed at the base of each post. Where we had cut before, those posts had been replaced with new ones, bigger and more solid, coated with creosote. Our task has become impossible. But I’m about to give up. Not now. But what to do? After some consultation, Sven and Roger fetch the ladders. If we can get high enough above the sleeves, we might be able to cut from there. This will slow us down – we have to finish before daybreak. If the billboard comes down while we’re up 20 feet on ladders, we’ll go with it. Well, at least the rain is cooperating. Cerberus isn’t. But we’re not about to lie down and quit — we have a job, and we’ll do it well. We are going to bring this behemoth down with The Lord of the Chainsaws.
Next Week: Part Two: Defending Our Planet Everywhere