Richard Sansom shares a particular diary entry from his American movements.
Driving into Phoenix, Arizona, the road was barely visible. The high-noon sun showered raging light against the desert sand and a trillion disregarded beams ricocheted off every grain. As far as we could make out, the approaching city was a matrix of limitless highway punctuated by the odd Walmart behemoth. Having skipped the scabby breakfast at our motel, and famished as a result, we pulled over at a rest-stop. When you’re out in the United Sticks of America, all sustenance is derived from mechanically-recovered pseudo-meats and the mouth-watering cocktail of high-fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, and sucralose, invariably served in ultramarine. With the usual spread of reeking holes available to us, we selected our trough at random and pulled over at a Wendy’s to buy a couple of sad sandwiches. Sat outside on the curb, David’s putrid patty slipped out from between two sheets of Wonder Bread and slapped onto the tarmac. He stared at it blankly as it sizzled, bleeding its greases into the dirt until it was just another puck of carbon out in the Sonoran. He inhaled a fag, booted his burger into the wild, and we were off.
The plan was to meet a man called Micah later that day, our host for the night from couchsurfing.com. He had agreed to let us stay with him at short notice, because we couldn’t face the 850km drive to our next destination just yet. We hadn’t had any sleep because our hosts from the night before had cancelled on us at the last minute, and so we were forced to spend the night trawling through the UFO-infested hinterlands looking for a motel-alternative. At the witching hour, we eventually found a place to stay, a seed-splashed suite replete with heart-shaped bed, wall-to-wall mirrors, nightlong surround-squealing, and a receptionist who shot us a curious look when we requested the keys for just the one love-shack, having previously revealed in conversation that we were brothers. Unable to get off to sleep, we switched on the TV to find only three channels available, all of which were showing inexhaustible repeats of Debbie Does Dallas (1978). We had Wi-Fi at least, so I mounted a desperate campaign to find us shelter for the following night, an effort that brought us to Micah some sordid twelve hours later.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Couch Surfing is an extraordinary thing. It’s an accommodation site, the populace of which is divided into two categories of users: hosts and surfers. Surfers, like David and I, along with thousands others, use the platform as a means to find a place to stay on budget trips abroad. Hosts, on the other hand, are a rare breed. They consist of people who are apparently willing to let total strangers into their home gratis, for any number of nights. In order to meet the criteria required to qualify as a member of this particular brand of maniac, one must have an unnervingly blasé attitude towards the security of one’s home, and an irrational penchant for meeting literally anyone. Micah acquired his hosting qualifications with distinction, and proved to be quite the most loveable fruitcake one could hope to meet.
Prior to the rendezvous, we had spent the afternoon hunting down a pawn-shop guitar to use in New Orleans, as part of our recently established Blues outfit, ‘Bottleache’. No guitar, alas, but what we did end up finding was a gift for our dad, who is a lifelong John Ford fan and long-distance desert devotee. At Big Red’s Scrapshack, we came across a 1920s laxative box, within which, to our delight, was a rattlesnake rattle that hissed as you pulled out its compartment. Needless to say, we snapped it up with glee and set off for Micah’s triumphantly. We arrived at his compound — a coral, faux-adobe toy-town — at around 8pm. Micah met us outside his apartment with a rapt expression, the root cause of which would soon become apparent. He was, at first sight, a novelty: angelic face, twinkly eyes, all the cuddly charm of a young Pillsbury Doughboy. He sheepishly led us upstairs into the flat and introduced us to his housemate Justin, a wide-eyed, strigine looking guy, sprawled slankily on a pouf playing video games. The flat was relatively empty, a little eerie, hospital-clean and bracingly pine-fresh – it had clearly been bought recently. Our hosts offered us some dinner and we accepted gratefully.
At the table, conversation was stilted. Micah hammered us with a series of left-field questions, mostly about life in Britain, in particular our relationship with badgers, which were phrased in a way that suggested he had almost exclusively derived his knowledge of the UK from episodes of Blue Peter. Justin’s worldview seemed somewhat nascent too. He thought, for example, that Obama had ‘won a competition’ to get into office in 2008, as if his success in the presidential race could be equated to securing a 50m swimming badge for your towel. Something was off, and it wasn’t just the BBQ-pulled-jackfruit-baps that Micah had lovingly prepared for us by jamming the sickly, sinewy mixture into hollowed out rolls using his stubby little chipolata fingers. Alarmingly, over ice-cream, the chit-chat became increasingly charged with a kind of nervous, sexual energy. Everything Micah said seemed subtly coquettish and exploratory. He seemed to often be tracing the contours of David’s lips (but not mine, wtf) until his eyes glazed over entirely, saliva welled up inside his Ben and Jerry-caked mouth. Whatever Micah’s game was, David had no intention of succumbing to this Poppin Fresh’s penetrative gaze, but he cruelly let him carry on whittling away at his sexual carapace for the sport of it.
As the discussion continued, the root cause of all this tension became apparent. When conversation wandered, limping, onto the subject of religion, our hosts glanced at each other self-consciously. It transpired that, six months prior to our arrival in Phoenix, Micah and Justin were excommunicated from the Mormon church, struck off as apostates on account of their rampant homosexual behaviour. They were cast out from their commune into the desert, wandering with but a dicoria leaf to cover their modesty. They eventually made it to Phoenix, and had only recently stopped having sex, separated at last from the stifling constraints of their garments of holy priesthood, and free to commit themselves spiritedly to Satan’s work. David and I adopted Micah’s rapt expression from earlier and listened intently from that moment on. We whiled away the night, regaled by the epic tale of two rebel angels on their quest for gay abandon. Needless to say, in the cold light of a now godless world, their vices were innumerable. A few days later they would be off to Burning Man in a souped-up convertible with a suitcase full of enough pingers, poppers, and peyote to see them through to Judgement Day. Had we not been due in El Paso the next evening to help smash up a Trump piñata at our friend’s border party, we would have gladly joined them as the 3rd and 4th horsemen.
No fear, though. Micah will be visiting London soon. I’m looking forward to playing the harbingers of degeneracy in Soho when he does.