The sun was setting as we entered the outskirts of Kingman, Arizona. Holiday in Cambodia was playing on satellite radio -- which we each silently noted as weirdly appropriate for a sojourn through John McCain land.
Nobody has ever heard of Kingman, Arizona, so, suspecting that those who enter might never leave, we circumnavigated the city and headed north, figuring that the incredible time we were making justified a side-trip to Vegas, where we aimed meet up with a porn girl named Tank, who, I was assured, would prove an endless source of entertainment.
True to the word of many warnings posted along the way, crossing the Hoover Dam into Nevada involved first a mandatory checkpoint and, in our case, vehicle search. Here's a tip to those anarchists wishing to blow up the Hoover Dam: don't show up looking precisely like the type of anarchist who might wish to blow up the Hoover Dam. And don't have a driver with a funny accent.
"Why don't you three just get out of the car there and pop the trunk. We'll just take a look at what you got in those boxes there."
Happy for an opportunity to stretch, smoke and get friendly with the cops, we obliged scamperingly, and began to unpack the already precariously stacked cargo.
"What've you got in this one then? Let's see...." Reading down the scrawl on the outside of the box so attentively that I began to suspect it was to impress us with his literacy: "Nintendo, comics, socks, toys, camera.... Well, let's just open it up, and maybe if we find these things in here we'll just let you people be on your way."
Using the keys to the Dodge as craft-knives, we hacked into layers of tape and all felt slightly relieved -- in the way you do when you've successfully made it through customs without discovering that somehow your toilet bag has become packed full of heroin -- when a Nintendo game peeked out at us under the glare of cop-torch light.
But our man wasn't satisfied, wanted to be sure....
Now, America is the land of the artfully delivered anecdote, so I'm attempting here to do justice to what has no doubt already been told and retold better and more vividly by the cops involved, by other drivers on the scene, and by any attendant wildlife taking note of proceedings. But I'll make the attempt anyway, because courage, as Atticus told Jem, is "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."
While the cop was pulling out a stack of Plasticman comics, their leaves creating a susurrus in the desert wind like the expectant murmur of a crowd, Zak began looking slightly nervous.
"Um, you know how it says 'toys' on the box, well,...."
"Look, buddy, it's like I told ya: if I find the things in here that you say are in here then you folks've got nothin to worry about."
"Yeah, I know that, it's just...."
Here's how I came to the conclusion that America is the land of the anecdote. Towards the end of a day that took us from Memphis to Albuquerque, Zak Smith [link not work-safe] kept me awake at the wheel with a tale that involved fellow artist, Sean McCarthy, winning a wager of a week's fried chicken by managing to tell fifty good stories, in one night, about his insane Texan family. There were, that is, fifty subordinate anecdotes within Zak's main anecdote -- and, when his recall of the former failed him, Zak had hand-written notes, at the ready, to consult.
And yet, while our highway patrolman is rummaging among Zak's socks and laying them out on his special search-without-a-warrant-handy-cop-tarpaulin, I can tell you that it was in fact Mandy Morbid [link not work-safe], representing Canada, who provided the award-winning anecdote of the trip. It involved a girl, no different, really, from you or me, who, house-sitting for friends, found on the second day of this duty that the rather large dog she had been entrusted to feed and walk had a diminished appetite and no enthusiasm for exercise -- because it was, well, dead.
Managing to ascertain that there was a municipal body given over to the disposal of dead dogs, our heroine, in her confused state, believed that she was obliged to personally deliver the package. Finding a capacious suitcase, then, she installed the corpse and called a cab.
When the cab driver, heaving the luggage down the stairs, learned the details of its contents, he refused the fare and left this poor young girl in a frantic state, realising that she'd have to take the dog on the subway.
Struggling to find her platform, negotiating the escalator in high-heel clogs, and willing her failing strength to continue bearing the load, she finally broke down in tears -- as anyone would. Luckily, she was rescued by a man of chivalry and charm who offered to help her with her burden. When he, as inevitability would have it, enquired as to the source of the suitcase's inexplicable density, she remembered the ungracious cab driver and, for the first time in her innocent life, was "economical with the truth," essentially replacing "dog" with the word "electronics." At this, the gentleman went from being her rescuer to becoming her salvation: accelerating rapidly, dispersing commuters with violence and threats, in seconds he had disappeared into the crowd. He left behind a tear-stained, mascara-tracked face cracking an unlikely smile while behind it a mind wondered vaguely whether this was what they meant by irony.
I imagine there's some similarity between the feelings experienced by the chivalrous gent, when he eagerly opened the suitcase on his unmade bed and found the shit-smeared remains of a family pet, and those of our patrolman when his hand, deep within the now near-empty box, closed around a long, smooth object and emerged holding an impressive purple dildo.
"Oh Lord, what is this?"
"Do you want me to show you?" offered Mandy.
Feeling the impotent rage of one who's been fooled by no one but fate, while his fellow cops were sniggering in delight and Mandy began briefing him on the various qualities of the specimen that he was still waving like a baton, this cop, like many an officious buffoon, felt he had no option but to continue his inspection with fastidiousness.
Having retrieved the larger items (two more dildos, a piercing gun, something that looked like a hairdryer but wasn't, as well as bondage ropes and a hood), he tipped out the remainder onto the tarpaulin: an assortment of creams, gels, butt plugs, clit-ticklers, vibrators, nob-nooses and scrotal moulds.
We even heard him trying to convince his superiors that some of these items might contain "plastic explosives."
But to any rational mind we now appeared more than ever the typically Vegas-bound, and, when they'd managed to disperse the crowd that had gathered to hear Mandy's disquisition, they kindly, even eagerly, helped us repack the box and sent us on our way, over the Dam, into the true heart of America.