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The empty footwell in back was loaded with four cases of Coors beer. It was a present for my brother who, much to his dismay, discovered they didn't ship Coors as far east as Milwaukee. Why would they? Milwaukee had more breweries than all the western states combined and some of them made good beer, which was more than could be said for Coors but there's no accounting for taste.
The cat's litter box perched atop the uppermost case of beer. That's all you really need to know about this story's setup.
We left Albuquerque late in the afternoon of December 23, 1971. Dusk was settling in, what there was of the winter sun was at our backs, the tank was full and, oh yeah, all we had for music was an AM radio. Google it if you don't know what that particular form of torture was.
We also had a bag of weed, a handful of Dexedrine, some black hash and a very large bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies, the recipe for which is my only treasured memory of that particular relationship.
Everything went hummingly until we reached the dead zone, east of Amarillo and west of Oklahoma City. All we could get on the radio was static, fire 'n' brimstone radio preachers, shitkicking cowboy music and, if the skip off the ionosphere was just right, KOMA, 50,000 watts of Top 40 rock 'n' roll.
"Another year over, a new one just begun."
Shortly before dawn, somewhere west of Joplin, Missouri, with heavy snow falling, the pitch of the cat's wail changed from grating to psycho. I don't know if you've ever travelled with a cat, but the best advice I can give you is don't. If you have to, use drugs, if not on the cat, on yourself — it's the only way you'll both survive.
Putting that theory to the test, I pulled the car over — did I mention the girlfriend's girlfriend didn't drive at all and the girlfriend didn't drive in the dark? — and blew a large mouthful of cannabis smoke directly into the cat's nostrils, which I was cupping with one hand while holding the back of its neck with the other. That left no hand to protect against the resulting ninja attack with all four paws, claws at full kill extension. I like to think that was the moment I popularized what would become mainstream a few decades later — pierced lips.
But it did the trick. The cat got quiet, staggered a bit around the backseat, got hungry and — probably shoulda' seen this coming — had a bowel movement that'd put a Doberman to shame.