Tomorrow's my birthday. For the last five years or so it's turned into sort of a tradition for my friend Greg and I to hit the road and travel to Cherokee, NC, where they have a casino, and, once there, do our part to recompensate the Cherokee for the awful, awful things our ancestors did to them. Also, maybe we'll win money. In which case, screw the Cherokee.
Currently, I'm actually a fair amount ahead on my lifetime winnings at Cherokee. This is because each year, I only take $100 with me to gamble with, and for the last few years I've been lucky to walk away with more than $20 of it. But, I did win a 1250 jackpot off a quarter on a trip five years ago--so I can go back for another 8 years before I'm losing money again.
These trips also involve the annual harrassment of our friend James Rice. James is somebody we went to college with many moons ago, and he is, to be blunt, insane. Not wild party animal insane, but a much more spooky and sinister, hitchhiker-chained-up-in-the-cellar insane. He's a backwoods mountain child with a history of early childhood head trauma and, somehow appropriately, a deep love of classical poetry. He works as a guard in a juvenile detention home and has scary stories to tell that will leave you forever fearful of teenage boys, if you aren't already, which you should be, trust me. And, he has a very dangerous, bizarre, and disgusting medical condition: When he laughs too hard, he vomits. Not every time, but often enough to make Greg and me flinch when we're around him. We are, it should be noted, very funny people.
The wierdest thing about James Rice, though, is that the universe seems determined to make us be friends with him. We have three James Rice encounter stories that, were they fiction, would be completely unbelievable, yet they are, I swear, true.
Chance encounter number 1: Almost ten years back, Greg was still living in Asheville. James lived in Mars Hill, about 30 miles away. I drove up to see Greg and met him downtown. They have these granite blocks lining the sidewalks downtown, and when I parallel parked, I somehow hit one of these granite blocks in such a fashion that it knocked the valve stem off my tire and gave me a flat. So, while Greg and I are fixing the flat, who should drive by and spot us but James Rice. We acknowledged this as a coincidence, and a pleasant one, since it was good to catch up with an old friend. By itself, this is an unremarkable story. These things happen.
Chance encounter number 2: So, the first coincidental encounter, no big deal. You occassionally run into people you know. But, a few years later, Greg was on the interstate in near Marion, NC, about 50 miles from Asheville. He pulled off at the rest stop there and who should he find but: James Rice, standing in the parking lot, utterly lost. James had been trying to drive to Black Mountain, NC, and had completely missed it, and had pulled off at the rest area to try to ask directions. So, this was something of a bigger coincidence, since the encounter took place far from both of their homes. Fortunately, Greg got James turned around and heading back in the right direction. It was a wierd bit of luck for James, but, again, these things happen.
Chance encounter number 3: So, the first two encounters, Greg meets James when he wasn't thinking about him. He just turned up. But, yet another time, Greg and I had both moved from Asheville. This was around the time of my first divorce, if I remember correctly, and I was heading back to Asheville to my ex-wife's house to collect some of my stuff, and Greg was along for the ride. We spent the night at a motel in Asheville. The next morning, we're up around seven in the morning, and Greg says we should call James Rice and see if he wants to get together with us for a little while that morning. The hotel charges some outrageous amount for phone calls though, so we decide to go to the mall and use the payphones there. We get to the mall and, of course, every store in it is closed. We are the only car in the parking lot. The doors are open though, and we walk inside to look for the payphones. And, in the vast main hallway, at the far end, there is a lone figure walking toward us. We walk toward him. And, when we get close enough to see who it is, it turns out to be: Elvis Presley. Wait, no, that was a typo. It's James Rice apparently acting under the commands of whatever demons drive him to show up at the mall hours before any stores open and walk around for a while until we show up. So, again, pure chance, pure coincidence, but by now, we understand a pattern has formed. We are tied to this wierd vomiting poet psycopath--the universe will not let us avoid him, not that we were trying too.
So, off we go, flinging ourselves once more into the North Carolina mountains, land of strange odds and general wierdness, hoping that this year, we'll win the big one, a jackpot that will forever change our lives, or at least payoff a credit card. And, failing that, we will settle for the smaller goal, the hope that, perhaps, this year, we will not witness vomiting.