Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The mountain and the lake

I took a deep breath and the smell of coming rain filled my lungs. My little Ford Escort was pointed west. I was so thrilled that I could fit everything I owned into the backseat. I was headed to Minneapolis to live with Brian, an Air Force buddy of mine. The plan was to live through a Minnesota winter and then head to California in the spring. I had spent the last four years traveling the world. It seemed a perpetual force was pushing me along. That is the way I was looking at it; twenty-four years old and I just wanted to keep pushing. I gazed towards the sky as it ripped wide open. The cool drops of rain ran off the ends of my hair and my face and the tips of my fingers.

I drove out past the spacious farms and empty space and began to climb into the mountains. Driving those twisting turns and the exaggerated ups and downs, I felt there had to be something special on the other side. I noticed the sweet smell of the mountain air; it was the cold air you could taste from your mouth to the bottom of your stomach.

I wanted to feel this air on my skin. I stopped in a small Virginia town named Reginald. There was a dark building on top of a hill with a plain sign that read, “diner.” I walked in to find checkerboard floors and plush, red, vinyl booths. It was dark and dusty and smelled like old grease. I liked this place instantly. I sat down and picked up the well-worn menu. I ordered a burger and sat back to try to soak it all in. I couldn’t help but smile at the big-bottomed waitress marching around the place, as content a waitress as I had ever seen. I imagined a farmer gathering up his family to go out for a special meal at the diner. The big waitresses would be in their pink and white uniforms flirting with the father. Meanwhile Momma would be dancing to the jukebox with little Johnny. Everyone would have smiles as big as can be. I was thinking of this simple life as my food arrived. The tastiest burger I had ever had. Stacked tall with plenty of grease. I left a big tip and walked out in love with the world.

I started out on my way down the mountain. Things started getting flatter and I was racing towards the vastness of the Midwest. I drove as the sun shone down on the green of Kentucky. The skies began to darken through Illinois and by the time I reached St. Louis, it was night.

I decided I’d had enough driving. I was going to check out downtown. I found a quiet street to park on and walked until I found a bar. It had a neon tiger in the front window. I ordered a pitcher and some potato skins from the bartender. There was a basketball game on the television and I lost my feel for time for a bit. I don’t recall anything extraordinary about the inside of the bar. It looked like any other sports bar in any other city, filled with local team posters and dartboards and pool tables. Booths were filled with all sorts of men drinking and laughing. I felt lonely for the first time on this trip. I was feeling drunk and tired. The road had worn me thin and the beer was about to knock me out.

I fell into the passenger seat of my car and tried to lay it back as far as I could. With a back seat filled with everything I owned, I couldn’t move it much. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and fell asleep fast and hard.

I woke soaked with sweat. It took me a moment to find my memory. It was only three hours later. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there. It was startling enough to send me back behind the wheel. I headed northwest through Missouri towards Iowa. I started thinking about the dream I had woken so suddenly from. I was starting a new job as a ferryboat pilot. I showed up for my first day and all my family and friends were there. It was great; I was taking them across a serene lake and everyone was grinning. Then I realized no one was speaking to me and the grins were actually grimaces. My passengers were beginning to yell and they were coming towards me with ropes and broken beer bottles. I was forced to dive into the lake that was now raging and the color of blood. As my head dipped below the crimson waves I saw the ferryboat mob staring, except where their eyes were supposed to be there were just empty sockets.

My head was buzzing. The tiredness was putting up a good fight, but there was no way I was giving in. I was pointed north; towards Minnesota. I leaned forward and gunned past the small highway towns as the sun’s glow appeared all around.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

God Bless Lemmy!

Larry had his black Fendi wraparound sunglasses on as he rolled down interstate 394 towards downtown Minneapolis. He was wearing a black Motorhead T-shirt and rust colored corduroy pants; this was what he wore almost everyday. He drove his PT Cruiser into the sun, put up the devil horns, and glanced towards the sky for a moment, as if mugging for the state highway camera.

The PT Cruiser was Larry’s dream car. He had saved for a solid year, taking a second job bussing tables at IHOP in addition to his daytime warehouse gig. He knew exactly what he wanted: the 2003 GT model with smoke gray leather interior, chrome features on the dashboard, and a six speaker Alpine AM/FM/MP3 6-disc CD changer although he rarely listened to any disc besides the 1980 classic “Ace of Spades”, by Motorhead. He wanted the exterior of the cruiser to be all black except for some painted flames licking up from the undercarriages as if the car was stalled on the side of the highway to hell.

In the middle of the dashboard Larry had meticulously placed a Motorhead sticker. It was the winged demon skull that appeared on the cover of the “Hammered” album by Motorhead, it also appeared as a patch on the back of Larry’s denim jacket with the leather sleeves.

Larry was quite fond of Motorhead; possibly obsessive. He had a way of bringing Motorhead into his everyday vocabulary. When he was peeved he would mutter, “god bless Lemmy”. When he was happy he would rejoice with the refrain, “God, bless Lemmy”. When he was frustrated, “God, Bless, Lemmy!”. As he pulled up to the stoplight and saw the Motorhead tour bus outside of First Avenue he stammered to himself, “God…Bless…Lemmy”.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Photo

My imagination tells me that it was a warm spring Saturday morning. You can see the diffused sunlight that has been fractured by the clouds. The picture shows green grass and my Dad and I in short-sleeves. I don’t remember when or where this picture was taken. I do know it captures a time when everything was new and unspoiled.

I was maybe four years old and my Dad was probably in his early thirties, a little bit older than I am now. His hairline is beginning it’s journey into oblivion and his waistline is in the beginning stages of the bowl of jelly it would become. I am standing in his Navy duffel bag as he begins to lift me up. My eyes are full of wonder and awe that a boy has for his father at his age.

This photograph always makes me wonder what it felt like. I have made up my own stories and thought to go with the image. I know for sure it was a different time. I think of how much regret and angst had passed between us since that picture was taken. We never quite lived up to the expectations that we had for each other.

Now it is almost thirty years later, but we stand forever hopeful in that photograph. When I think about what I would take with me if I had to leave, and could only take a handful of things, I don’t know if this would be the first thing that I reached for. I do know that if I didn’t take it I would forever regret not having it with me.

The picture came into my possession only a year and a half ago. I found it as I thumbed through an old photo album while I was home to attend my father’s funeral. I could probably ask for more details about the picture, like when and where it was taken, but I prefer to keep the story in my head. I keep it as a secret shared between my dad and me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


I could write a song
with the words you use
to say goodnight
to say I am lonely without you