– Interior design shows no mercy in the Alaskan backwaters
Do not smile. Do not make eye contact. Keep your hands on the wheel and fully visible at all times. The border official paces around the car like a paedo-wolf or Piers Morgan, whichever is worse. Do not speak unless you are spoken to. Answer the officer in a timely and respectful manner.
It was another beautiful day at the Poker Creek border crossing.
My Secretary and I hand over our passports and future. It takes a special kind of psycho to do this job. Out here in the no-man’s-land between Canada and the US anything could happen, but nothing ever does. A prison, of sorts. One which has no locks, but bars made out of boredom. And how satisfying to see an Enforcer of the Law in a prison of their own making.
But rage is boredom’s best friend and one should never underestimate the depths a person could sink to given a badge and no witnesses. Officer Nasty is burning a hole in the side of my head with his eyes. HE CAN READ MY MIND. I try to fix my gaze on the wheel as he flicks through our passports looking for crime, but I keep finding my eyes adrift, wandering over his weird leathery face and sweaty, bulging neck.
Keep it together man! Control. Focus. Curiosity sodomised the cat, cut it into pieces and dropped it into a bathtub of perchloric acid, as the old saying goes.
Officer Nasty leans into the car, face sideways, meat hooks and blow torches in his eyes. Our faces are a tiny centimetre apart. Nostrils flare; I think he is scenting. He inhales long and deep and there is a difficult pause before he stamps our documentation. I start the car and reach for our passports.
‘Welcome to America, Sir. Mate with me?’
Yes, thank… wait, what?
‘Have a pleasant day.’
It was too late; our moment was gone. We were like ships passing in the night.
Taylor Highway. Chicken, population 17. West at Tetlin Junction, population not given. Huge areas of charred forest choke the road. Alaska Highway. The big city of Tok, population 1258, is on our horizon.
We arrived at the Bloodied Caribou Lodge on the outskirts of Tok as the clouds turned black and several thousand cubic tonnes of icy sky water fell to the ground.
We took refuge in the bar. There were dead animals everywhere. The walls and floor were made of bear and elk skin, the placemats were flattened out beavers and the menus were held in the lifeless claws of small taxidermied squirrels stood motionless at each table. Every usable surface was a freakish sacrifice to the cruel gods of interior design. We were deep in hillbilly horror.
I approached the bar. It was a glass cabinet full of esoteric looking hunting knives and rusty old trapping equipment. I ordered a beer and the barman asked if I would like a gun with it. I politely declined. If I’m honest I really did want a gun with my beer, just for the novelty of it if nothing else, but I had been brainwashed by a culture that wants to defang as many of its people as possible to find all firearms unsettling.
And with good reason. If the weekly US mass shooting has taught us anything, it is that the average American cannot be trusted with weaponry. But things work differently up here in Alaska. These are not your average Americans. These are good, honest Republicans and they would only shoot someone if they were homosexual or black.
My Secretary had found a seat next to a moose dressed as Charlie Chaplain.
It seemed strange to me that anyone would want to surround themselves with so many stark reminders of the fragility of life. One minute you’re running naked and free through pristine forests and crystalline creeks and the next you’re sat on a grind organ with googly eyes and a fez.
The purpose of a gun is to break things. Guns can break good things or they can break bad things, but mostly guns break neutral things because the concept of things being good or bad is something that people invented to justify their actions.
A gun works in the following way:
A small metal cylinder is placed inside a larger metal tube that is closed at one end. Behind the cylinder is a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate called black powder. Black powder was invented around the 9th century by Taoist priests (or Daoshi) who were alchemists searching for an elixir of immortality, which is ironic. The best black powder uses charcoal made from Pacific willow.
The powder is ignited using a bang switch and the potassium nitrate oxidises, burning the sulphur and charcoal as fuel. The mixture combusts quickly releasing nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas. This gas is confined behind the small metal cylinder and as it expands a pressure differential is created between the front and rear of the cylinder propelling it out of the large metal tube.
The large metal tube is pointed at things to make them dead.
Tok is known for insane weather and a pamphagous storm had reduced the outside to shittery. Frigid winds whipped the rain into snow even though it was June and trees buckled against the gale.
We ordered the Bloodied Caribou Special – a bloodied caribou. Evolution did a great disservice to the caribou by making it so delicious and this one was no exception. We devoured the beast and spat buckshot into a spittoon made of hollowed out fox face as the lights flickered and the walls vibrated in the storm.
That a small piece of metal could turn the laws of physics against you in a split second to make your face into a hole and paint the walls with the back of your head should serve only to remind us of our own mortality, the precarious nature of our very existence. It’s all just a question of matter and velocity – it seems so abstract and inconsequential. And if our bodies can be destroyed by something as trivial and mundane as a small metal object moving through space, what does that say about our lives?
If the harsh reality is that our lives hang in the balance every moment of every day whether we are crossing a busy street, shopping for groceries at a Walmart or shooting black tar heroin into our eyeballs, then perhaps we should protect ourselves?
Some people think that if we all had guns the world would be a safer place, even though that doesn’t make any sense. These people are called the NRA which stands for National Restaurant Association.
The NRA say that we should have more ‘Good Guys with Guns’ so they can stop more ‘Bad Guys with Guns’, which is a polite way of declaring holy war; Good vs Evil, a white man’s jihad on the rest of the world. But as the famous Muslim prophet Jesus Christ once said: ‘Let he who has not done a high school shooting cast the first stone’.
So we drank. We drank as much as possible. Enough to ignore this terrible necrophiliac approach to interior design, enough to temporarily blot out the troubling notion that we are all just meat moving through time and space towards inevitable taxidermy and enough to forget about the torrential rain outside the lodge.
We had established a new status quo. But it was one that could not last.
The lights went out.
And we were alone.
But we were not by ourselves.