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Heathens of Whitefish / Frank Reardon

I walked fifteen miles. I kept walking and I don't know why. I only stopped for the occasional breather. Everything and everyone looked sanctimonious in the deads of a strange heart. Whitefish is heathen. A mix of ski bum and self-righteous guru. I felt like I was in a snowcapped Lynchian nightmare minus Frank Booth and the music of Roy Orbison.


The hospital I walked by was covered in Christian, Buddhist, and other religious symbols. It wasn't called a hospital but a "wellness retreat." Getting a long camera up your ass or cancer treatments in the halls of the wellness retreat, epic feeling of wellness! On the main drag, everyone drove a Prius, a Subaru, or an SUV. Regardless of age, most everyone I walked by had a perfect body, firm and supple ass, joyous face, silk hair dancing in the sun. And walking by in the opposite direction there was frumpy me with my eleven scars and missing chunks of flesh, promenading up and down busy Third Street like the bolt and stitches monster looking for the bride, “I am done with man!”


I walked past tons of people on my way to the downtown square. No one said 'hi" or smiled. I’ve gotten more "hellos," from the resting bitch face, and fast paced people back home in self-defeatist Boston. I must've been an alien. A defective piece of machinery. When they built their impeccable world, they tossed out the broken souls. They looked at me as if I escaped the sludge pile. Downtrodden guy lives! How can that be!?


I went to the local independent bookstore; I figured books will save me. I opened the door to the scent of patchouli incense burning and the sounds of spiritual sitar music. I wanted to yell, "go figure!" But I made it a point to find something, anything to buy. Their self-help and spiritual sections were ten times bigger than the fiction section. I ignored the people huddled around books on Taoism and Yogis and Buddha’s and looked and looked. I came across a dozen titles I liked but I read them all. The people for whatever reason began to laugh joyous thunder around books on yoga. I dusted off two Cormac McCarthy books I didn't own but read years ago. Why did they ignore fiction in favor of betterment bullshit? Do they hate to feel and think anything outside safe programming? There is more truth hidden in the lie than there is in the open hand. The world’s greatest cons have been bullshitting people for centuries with the illusion of an open hand.


I picked up the books and ran to the counter. Past the spiritual laughter for no reason, past the incense, past full-of-shit Tony Robbins, past mousey and dull Eckhart Tolle. I paid the old woman with white dreads who judged the dirt on my old Red Sox cap with a look of pity. She didn’t thank me or wish me a good day; she turned around and returned to the joyful hippie laughter around the spiritual books. I found it funny no one was even reading one, they were laughing at the books. A comedy show, a gathering of the eternally stupid. After I shut the door, I looked back and saw a sign on the door, it read: ‘Don’t bring your bad vibes in here.’ Whoopsie!


I made it outside and the first thing that walked by me was a well-manicured man with a seventy-dollar latte gripped in his pristine white fist. He wore a scarf wrapped around his neck that fell over a T-shirt, and a man-bun on his head. In his other hand, two large dogs. He pulled the dogs away from me when I went to pet them as If he said to them, "Oh no Fido! Not that man! That broken, fucked old man. You don't need his human vibes. He feels things, steps on the mellow, bro. We don’t feel what’s human. He’s not fresh organic, not like us!”


I thought, I need food. I looked for a restaurant, a grease pit, but every other building I saw was a yoga center, an Eastern prayer center, and stores selling exercise clothes for hundreds of dollars. People with brand new yoga pants and brand new Carhartt ball caps surrounded the buildings. Carhartt! Have they ever worked with their hands, their backs? No one went to the bars. No one went inside the one liquor store I saw. They wanted to acquire perfect asses through prayer, deep breathing, and guided meditation. They wanted a higher state of horseshit for four hundred dollars a week paid to a charlatan guru named Swami Lou. 


Everyone I walked by sneered. They disapproved of my aching body, my scars, my split knuckles, my half-cracked eye socket that never healed. My shoulder ready to fall off. I walked by a dozen more yoga schools, a thousand crystal shops. I walked by poles littered with fliers for gurus and various betterment workshops. I bet their favorite words are toxic and manifestation!

I remember growing up near the city and the fliers on poles were littered with bands like Puke on My Dick; Savage Orgasm; She Pissed on Me; and Blow Up the Church. It excited me to see such weird and risky names on street poles, I thought it creative and scary. A frightening feeling I liked and wanted to investigate. From afar I heard the chants and laughter walking out from the bookstore and onto the cobblestones. Rage and anxiety, a dizzy feeling in my gut finally took over, I ran. 


I ran down the street at full speed like I did when I was a teenager running from the cops. I lost my breath. I slowed down. I sat down, no payment necessary. I ended up by a small pond surrounded by brush. I found colorful graffiti. I thought, maybe they forgot to get rid of this place like they did me. I sat there a while longer thinking about the people I met on the train. Lost people with human stories. I missed them. I missed their honesty, broken laughter, alcohol eyes, and tears. A man drinking wine in a bag was on his way from Texas to Montana to work a rodeo, he hadn’t seen his family in years. A woman sat next to me, older than me, told me how she was seeing her son for the first time in over decade. From time to time her eyes vanished mid story into a nothingness I couldn’t see, then she returned and told me more. The rodeo man passed the bottle between the three of us, a gesture of trust, a way to let go of regret, even if only for twenty minutes. I made the choice to walk back to my hotel. I was done for the day. 


I entered a gas station for soda and water. The old woman working the counter had wrinkles and a deep voice. She smoked inside her store and reeked of gin. A man walked by with filthy work pants covered in blacktop. I felt safe. Painful slouching allowed! I walked around and listened to people rant and carry on about their horrible jobs, their broken cars. How they laughed at every joke while secretly hanging on by a string. They didn’t discuss their misery in a hugging kind of way. They lathered sarcasm on top of sadness and in doing so they were able to take another fifteen steps before another shot of sarcasm to the brain was needed. I felt love, reality, truth. I didn't need to escape from my realness, my skin. I could be the laughing monster.


I made it back to my hotel room on the third floor, still the only person on the floor. The carpets looked like a Kubrick nightmare. I walked inside, drank my soda, put down my books, and rifled through my backpack. Inside a small bag of magic mushrooms, I bought in North Dakota. 


This trip is about more than the heartbroken, the grifters, the perfect people, the trains, the shops, the bullshit gurus. It's a trip to take a trip. One I haven't taken in twenty plus years. One I am going to take alone in the Rocky Mountains of Glacier on Sunday or Monday. It has been the plan all along. Maybe I'll turn into Jeremiah Johnson. Maybe I'll be mauled by a bear and discovered one hundred years later. But judging from my experience in Whitefish, someone chanting with a crystal in their hand will step over my corpse on their way to entitlement and enlightenment. Maybe I'll look inside myself and see what I came to see. Maybe I'll lose my mind. 


Or just maybe I won't give a fuck. Like any true blooded, waste of space, American.


FRANK REARDON was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Charlotte, NC. Frank has published short stories and poetry in many reviews, journals and online zines. His first poetry collection, 'Interstate Chokehold,' was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second poetry collection 'Nirvana Haymaker' in 2012. His third poetry collection 'Blood Music' was published by Punk Hostage Press in 2013. In 2014 Reardon published a chapbook with Dog on A Chain Press titled 'The Broken Halo Blues.'

In 2019 he published a collection with Blue Horse, 'Loud Love on The Sevens and Elevens.' Frank is currently working on a nonfiction column for Hobart, more short fiction, and will have a short story collection finished later in 2024.

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