The Coffee Chronicles
Husky and Starch Almost go to Prison
By Catherine Black and Amy Culberg
Illustration by Grant Reynolds
Last month you met Husky and Starch for the very first time at the Golden Nugget. Perhaps you thought that is where you would meet them every time, and normally you would. But it's a big week for Husky and Starch because Starch's cousin, Bert, is getting out of prison in Joliet. Only problem is that Starch can't remember the name of the prison Bert is in and there are five prisons in Joliet. Joliet's what they call a prison economy. Every time somebody's talking about putting up a new prison they get Joliet's bid. Keeps the economy healthy and they keep the doors locked day and night. So if you ever worry about moving to Joliet, or if you're driving through on your way to Iowa, don't worry - they got all their criminals locked up.
Starch isn't worried about not knowing the name, though. The prisoners stand out as much as girls looking for sailors on the docks, which if you've been listening to the news, hasn't been this popular since WWII.
They pick up a couple bottles of Captain Morgan spiced rum from George's carry-out bar on Wabash for the trip and approach the van. It is bright yellow, reads SHOW THE BUGS WHO'S BOSS and has a giant insect jetting out of the top of the van. It doesn't smell too safe either.
Husky: You drive, I'm drunk.
A drunk Starch stumbles around to the driver's seat and gets in. He revs the van and peels out, bound for Joliet. Husky grabs the Weekly World News and thumbs through the pages.
Starch: Did you see that article on Sharon Stone? Turns out her brain tumor wasn't permanent.
Husky: Wasn't permanent?
Starch: Nope, a temporary condition.
Husky: Lucky girl. I've never heard of that.
Starch: She got it from exercising too much.
Husky: Maybe she learned something then.
Husky: You can't fight gravity.
Starch: Yeah, Husky, whatever.
Husky: Gravity's just bigger than we are, Starch.
Starch: Okay, whatever.
Husky: Gravity's telling Sharon Stone that if she's gonna keep fighting, well, so will he.
Starch: Gravity isn't a he.
Husky: Why's that?
Starch: Well, the way you put it, I mean the way I see you explaining it, is that gravity is telling Sharon fucking Stone to get fat, to let herself go, to become a Sheila instead of a Betty.
Husky: So you're with me.
Starch: Well, I'm saying Gravity's some jealous woman because if gravity was a guy, he wouldn't give her a brain tumor for trying to keep her ass from hitting the floor. If gravity was a guy, he'd leave that goddess alone.
Husky: You're smarter than you look.
Starch: I know it.
Husky: Do you want to get a cup of coffee?
Starch: Nah, I got the Morgan.
Later ... driving through Joliet.
Husky: When was the last time you saw your cousin Bert?
Starch: Years ago.
Husky: How come you're picking him up?
Starch: Come on, Husk. You know.
Husky: Something about the wife.
Starch: That's how come he's in.
Husky: He kill her?
Starch: Not exactly.
Husky: How exactly does that work, Hutch?
Starch: I mean, not on purpose. Not like, premeditated.
Husky: I don't want to know. I might not go with you if I know.
Starch: Hey, she ran into the car.
Husky: That's an odd way to commit suicide.
Starch: Husky, I wouldn't mess with this guy.
Husky: Oh, great. Okay, so she ran into the car and he didn't step on the brakes?
Starch: That's right.
Husky: Some reason he didn't step on the brakes?
Starch: Bert's a drinker. Sometimes he bumps into things.
Husky and Starch drive past three separate prisons, gliding past men waiting outside for their rides, looking for Bert. At the fourth prison, a drunk Starch squints and sticks his head out the window.
Starch: That's him.
Husky: That's him?
Starch: Uh huh.
Husky: Maybe we should just keep driving.
Starch: We're the ride.
Husky: Did he look like that when he went in?
Starch: More or less. Thinner maybe.
Husky: I don't know, Starch. Maybe someone else should pick him up.
Starch: He sees us (Starch waves) Hey buddy. Hey! Bert!
Husky: He looks like a terrorist.
Starch: You're tanked.
Husky: We're both tanked. He still looks like a terrorist.
Starch: You should watch yourself.
Husky: Why, is he a terrorist?
Bert shuffles over carrying a black gym bag.
Starch: Hey Bert.
Husky: Hello, Bert. Is that short for something, like Albert or -
Bert: Just Bert. Yep.
Starch: So how's it feel to be out?
Bert: Been a while, ain't it, cuz?
Starch: So so, you know. Been busy.
Bert: Been like seven years, ain't it cuz?
Starch: Yeah, maybe so.
Bert: You know what? Starch here's my first cousin and he ain't visited me once since I been in.
Husky: Like he said ... He's a busy man.
Bert: This your truck mister?
Husky: No, it's Starch's truck.
Bert: Ya take the bugs out 'fore ya got here?
Starch: I don't collect 'em Bert. I kill 'em.
Husky: Show the bugs who's boss!
Bert: I can read.
Husky: I never said that you couldn't read.
Bert: It's on the truck.
Bert: Show the bugs who's boss. It's on the truck.
Husky: Hey Starch. Your cousin can read.
Bert: Your friend better shut his pie hole.
Starch: I know it.
Bert: You two drunk?
Starch: Guess so.
Bert: You pick me up from hell drunk?
Husky: So this is hell ...
Bert: Shut your pie hole.
Starch: Captain Morgan brain.
Bert: Move over.
Husky: We didn't even know what prison you were in.
Bert: Move over.
Husky: Starch lost the little piece of paper that said where you were.
Bert shoves the two of them over and sits in the driver's seat.
Bert: Show the bugs who's boss.
Starch: That's right.
Bert: Six years.
Starch: Long time.
Bert: So cuz, ya wanna tell me what happened to goddamn 'merica while I was in?
Husky: Hung out at the Nugget.
Bert: You two give a damn about your country?
Starch: Someone should sit in back.
Bert: I want both you two in back.
Husky: No way. We drove here.
Bert: Sleep off that Morgan.
Starch: I'll stay up here with you cuz.
Bert: Nope, in the back.
Starch: I gotta piss.
Bert: That's good.
Husky: Why's it good? Are you planning on leaving us behind?
Bert: Hey this one's sharp. He work for you?
Starch: Really bad, like if we don't stop soon ...
Bert: Inside, guys pissed where they stood.
Starch: I see a rest stop. Please Bert, please please please.
Bert: I'll buy you two a cup of coffee, then you can sit up and watch me if that's what you're afraid of.
Husky: Sure. I can do that. Yes, thank you. Coffee sounds wonderful.
Bert: Where'd you meet this bozo? Yes, thank you that would be wonderful and shit.
Bert: All right. You two girlie boys go piss and I'll get your coffee.
Starch and Husky run to the bathroom. Bert walks over to the coffee machine, buys a couple of powdered cappucinos, takes a pinch of powder from a plastic bag and sprinkles it in their drinks.They return looking relieved.
Bert: Coffee, girls!
Half an hour later Husky and Starch are conked out. They're sleeping like babies with big smiles on their faces. Bert arrives at the world's biggest man statue, a landmark in Illinois, a thing of pride. (You never heard of it? Well, shame on you.) Bert isn't too happy about how America has been taking care of itself since his stay in the pen. Bert gets out of the car and looks around. No one is at the statue.
He takes something out of his bag and places it by the statue. On the way out he tapes a note to the Illinois Historical Marker.
Bert: Smoke 'em outta their holes.
Husky and Starch wake up. They are both drowsy, but Husky sits up, semi-alert.
Husky: What happened? Where are we?
Bert: Still in Illinoise.
Husky: Illinois - silent s.
Bert: Man, you just woke up and you're already a shit bag.
Husky: Starch, wake up. Your cousin has kidnapped us.
Starch: No kiddin'?
Bert: Time to see the road girlies.
Husky: Who do you think you are? Jack Kerouac? William Least Heat Moon?
Bert: Okay Starch. Your friend is speaking Chinese again.
Starch: Okay Bert. Where we headin'?
Bert: 'merica my friends. You all screwed up this country so bad while I was in, I'd like to see it again. See if it's still there.
Husky: What exactly are you looking for?
Husky: I knew we shouldn't have...
Bert: You should feel fortunate.
Husky: I don't.
Bert: This country forgot itself when I was in.
Husky: And our driving around it is going to repair it somehow?
Starch: Sounds good to me.
Bert: Draft dodgers.
Husky reaches forward and switches the radio on. A special alert.
Bert: No more friendly skies.
Starch: Turn that up.
Bert: My pleasure. One thing after the other - no way to heal this country.
Radio: The world's biggest man statue has been terrorized. First a note was found. "Smoke them out of their holes," it read. Then the explosion. American at war.
Husky: Oh my god.
Starch: Where was that?
Starch: Scary coincidence.
The three of them drive on. They see signs for the World's Biggest Ketchup Bottle.
Husky: You've got to be kidding.
Starch: All right! Can we stop and get some hot dogs first?
Bert: Don't see why not. It's 'merican.
Husky: The word is America. It starts with the letter A.
Bert: Starch, your girlie friend is smarter than us, I guess.
Starch: I know it.
Bert: So what's gonna happen now, girlies?
Husky: We were supposed to drive you home.
Bert: 'merica's my home. Oh sorry. America. What's gonna happen to your country now that I'm out?
Husky: How far are we from Chicago?
Bert: Far nuff, not far.
Starch: You shoulda asked us if we wanted to road trip.
Bert: You were asleep.
Starch: You coulda shook us.
Bert: I'm trying to shake you. So that's why I'm askin', what's gonna happen now?
Husky: You're going to murder us in cold blood and leave us in the woods, aren't you?
Bert: What woods?
Starch: He's my cousin. He wouldn't do that to us.
Bert: To 'merica boys! What's gonna happen?
Starch: We'll be okay, Bert. America's not in trouble. Gotta be optimistic.
Bert: What about you, smart boy? What's gonna happen to 'merica?
Husky: We'll get through it.
Bert: Smoke 'em outta their holes!
Husky: Why exactly do you want to see the largest ketchup bottle?
Bert: Don't matter. You think 'merica's in the clear?
Husky: We'll be all right.
Bert: One thing after another. It's too late, see. Bombs. Anthrax! Small pox? What's so okay about that?
Starch: How much further?
Bert: But it ain't just one thing, is it Husky? What kind of name is that anyhow?
Husky: It's a different country than when you went in. I'll agree with you there.
Bert: You know who knows what's goin' on, though, don't ya smart boy?
Husky: No, tell me. I'm dying to know.
Bert: George W. That's who. He's gonna be as much a hero as Kennedy.
Husky: Pull over.
Starch: Do you see a hotdog stand?
Husky: Your cousin is asking too much of me, Starch. I'm supposed to compare Bush to Kennedy. Pull over.
Bert: George W. is a hero.
Husky: I think I heard that one before. Is it the one with the rabbi and the priest on an airplane?
Starch: What one?
Husky: I'm still waiting for the punch line.
Husky turns up the radio.
Radio: The police are narrowing in on the suspected terrorist of the world's biggest man statue. An unidentified man with two passengers driving a van with a large insect on it was last spotted in Southern Illinois. If you see him, call the police but try to stop him yourself, if you can. This is a new country we live in.
It's our job to help.
Bert: We're here.
Starch: We forgot the hot dogs.
Husky: The tower isn't really ketchup.
Bert: You know why they didn't interview me on TV?
Husky: I dunno Bert, because you were in jail.
Bert: Nope they didn't interview me 'cause I speak the truth.
Starch: What's that?
Bert: There ain't no heroes in 'merica. There's shoppers. And there's telemarketers. Let's go look at the ketchup.
Husky: Why ketchup, Bert?
Bert: You're not so dumb after all.
Starch: What about ketchup?
Bert: What's more American than ketchup?
Husky: You're making America worse.
Bert: It is worse.
Husky: You're as bad as they are. You should be more proactive.
Bert: You need to deal with re-alitism!
Husky: What about you?
Bert: People aren't buying plane tickets. People aren't buying Christmas presents. America is changing. George W. is a hero! Smoke 'em out of their holes W! They're everywhere! They're here!
Bert approaches the ketchup bottle with an object and returns with a piece of paper, which he tapes to the Illinois Historical Marker.
Bert: Leave it alone.
Starch: He's changed.
Husky: We all have.
An explosion behind them. The Golden Nugget glows in the distance. Sirens can be heard in the background. Bert runs the opposite direction of the Golden Nugget. He is screaming something impossible to hear.
Husky: I see it.
Starch: Is that it?
Husky: There it is.
Husky: You think they still have the pancake sandwich?
Starch: Eggs on the side.
Husky: You think anything happened in the news today?
Starch: Let's pick up the Enquirer.
Husky: You bet.