Excerpt: Long Past Stopping by Oran Canfield

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

By Oran Canfield

“How did this shit happen to me? I didn’t ask for any of it. Not that I was complaining, but how many thirteen-year-olds had gotten drunk, smoked pot, and sniffed cocaine in the back of a police car?”

Sitting on Raul’s porch on Friday night, I could hear the town start to come alive. Conversations, arguments, the smell of food, and that fucking siren were all drifting through the air. I was reading a collection of short stories by Paul Bowles that centered around various tourists traveling to strange lands and finding themselves in the most unlikely situations. The story I was reading was about a guy who was in Morocco for his honeymoon. He left the hotel one day in a simple quest to buy some milk, and by the end, was wandering around the desert wearing a full body suit made out of the bottoms of tin cans, the sharp sides facing in. I could hear the police siren getting closer and was interrupted from the book by Raul skidding to a stop in front of the house. I looked up to wave hello and saw two other guys in the car with him.

Raul turned off the siren to tell me to get in the car.

¿Por que?” I asked, not wanting to have anything to do with these guys. He said something to the guy in the passenger seat, who translated for him.

“Raul, he asks if you want to be policeman for one night.”

Maybe I was wrong, but I had always been under the impression that a lot of cops out there thought us regular people looked up to them. I figured that since they had always wanted to be policemen, they assumed everyone else did, too. People who didn’t like cops were clearly jealous of them. We just didn’t have what it took.

I had nowhere to be and nothing to do and was unable to come up with an excuse not to get in the car.

I got in the backseat and was introduced to Chino, who was either Chinese or just happened to have high cheekbones—I couldn’t understand their explanation of his name, or why they laughed so hard about it—and Charlie, the guy who spoke a little English. Before I could even close the door, Raul was peeling out and had turned the siren back on. He fishtailed into a left turn, speeding into the center of town, where he did a few donuts at the roundabout before shooting on to another road and skidding to a stop in front of a liquor store.

I wanted out of that car immediately. Maybe there was something wrong with me, but I just never got a thrill from that kind of thing like other people seemed to get. Roller coasters, fireworks, horror movies, driving fast in police cars . . . I had more than enough anxiety just sitting alone in my room. I sure as hell didn’t need to go out and look for it.

Raul handed me some money and Charlie told me to go into the store and buy four botellas grandes.

“You have to go. I’m only thirteen,” I said.

Está bien. They do not care. Four of the big ones, in the brown bottle.”

I didn’t ask him why he wanted four. I didn’t even think about it. When I got back to the car, Raul opened one of the bottles and passed it back to me.

I couldn’t help but think about the book I had been reading before these guys had shown up. It dawned on me that each one of those stories started to get ugly after the main character started drinking, smoked some kif (whatever that was), or followed a twelve-year-old boy somewhere he shouldn’t have. I drank the beer anyway. I needed something to calm my nerves so I drank it fast. Raul was driving slowly for the first time so that Chino, who was in the back next to me, could focus on the task of peeling the tinfoil off a chewing gum wrapper. I didn’t know why he was doing it, but there must have been a good reason if it got Raul to slow down.

“How come you no drink the cerveza?” Charlie asked me. I held up the bottle and turned it over to show him I was done. “Ay chinga. ¡Raul! Vámonos al mercado cabrón. Ordan nececita más cerveza.” Instantly the lights and siren went on as Raul slammed on the brakes, skidding into a U-turn. Chino started yelling up a storm. “¡Chinga tu madre!” he yelled at Raul, holding up two broken pieces of his chewing gum wrapper. “Despacio, por favor.” He threw the bits of paper out the window and pulled out two more sticks of gum. He offered me a piece after he took it out of the wrapper. When I declined, he threw it out of the window as well.

I bought four more beers, and Raul started heading out into the country. “Mira,” Chino said, showing me how to peel the tinfoil off the paper.

“What is he doing?” I finally asked Charlie.

“He is making, how do you say . . . you know, papel por la . . .” he held up his thumb and forefinger to his lips and inhaled deeply as if he were smoking a joint. I understood what he meant, but he held his breath for a while longer anyway before breaking into a fit of fake coughing.

“They think no papel is going to stop us from smoking the mota? Nothing can stop us.” If “they” meant the police, then “they” was sitting right next to him with no intention of stopping him from doing anything.

This time Chino was successful.

“Now ju try,” he said, handing me a wrapper. I gave it a try but ended up ripping right through it. He handed me three more sticks of gum to practice on and started rolling a joint. If there was ever a time I felt serious peer pressure to smoke pot, this was it. I couldn’t imagine a worse situation to get high than in a cop car in the middle of the desert in northern Mexico. I should have told Raul back at the house that I was allergic to cop cars, that the lights gave me seizures, that I was molested in one, something, anything. How did this happen?

I tried taking as small a hit as I could, but within moments I went straight into that self-absorbed place in my head that pot always took me to. This time was different, though, because the alcohol was making it hard to hold on to any one thought for too long. It was more of a free-floating sense of anxiety and paranoia than the everyone’s-out-to-destroy-me vibe I usually got. The combination also nauseated me. Raul had now left the highway for the open desert, and we were bumping around all over the place.

Alto,” I yelled at Raul, but it was too late. I started puking out the window before he had a chance to stop. They all burst out laughing. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of that fucking car, but as soon as I did, Raul did his classic peel out, leaving me there in the middle of nowhere.

I was too fucked up to care, and too fucked up to stand, so I just sat down, trying to stop my head from spinning as I watched them drive away. They didn’t go too far, just sped around, swerving left and right in an apparent attempt to flip over. Then I watched them jump the car over a hill a few times before coming back to get me.

Vámonos. We go back now,” Charlie yelled down at me. I stood up and felt much better, having puked up all the alcohol.

Una más para Ordan,” Raul said, stepping on the gas.

I put on my seat belt and clenched my stomach muscles as we sped toward the hill.

“Raul say he take you to Moscar now, but you can’t say him what happened. ¿Sí?” Charlie said as we were getting back to the town.

¿Moscar. Que es Moscar?” I asked.

“Oscar. We call him Moscar. It means, you know bzzzzzzzzz . . .” He pretended he was watching something flying around the car, and then slapped Chino on the top of his head.

Chinga tu madre, pinche puto cabrón,” Chino said, trying to hit him back.

“Fly?” I asked after the two of them settled down.

. Fly,” he said, taking a bag of white powder from Raul. He dipped a key into the bag and held it out to me. I shook my head, but he insisted.

Es muy poquito. You need it to help Moscar. I promise, you won’t even feel it. If you don’t, Moscar will know you are borracho, and we are all in trouble.”

It was so tiny, just a white spot on the tip of a key. I sniffed it up and felt instantly sober. Too sober really. I started smiling at the absurdity of it. It was a lot easier to smile now that I had made it safely back. How did this shit happen to me? I didn’t ask for any of it. Not that I was complaining, but how many thirteen-year-olds had gotten drunk, smoked pot, and sniffed cocaine in the back of a police car?

Excerpted from Long Past Stopping: A Memoir by Oran Canfield, published in September 2009 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2009 by Oran Canfield. All rights reserved.


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