Thursday, April 22, 2010

When The Rock Starts Rolling, It's Going To Roll Until It Stops, Even If It Has To Roll In The Second Person

Some days you go, Wait, what the hell is going on? And no answer is forthcoming, so you just try to keep things from sitting still for too long. You walk back and forth in your apartment, until eventually you are once again at the windows, looking out at the darkness, or what passes for darkness in an inner-city neighborhood. You put another record on the turntable and, though hoping for a full-on shimmy, settle for the lethargic sway of a bored housewife stoned on Valium and listening to some old original cast Broadway show recording.

You turn out the lights and ask more questions, or rather let the questions come slowly and unbidden: Wait, this is the world? This crooked gyp? Answers to such questions, you've discovered, are stubborn things.

Someone's always telling you not to do things, which is difficult for a specialist in disregard.

The response to anything incriminatory you might wish to allege tonight is either, So?, or Of course, neither of which you are in a mood to find satisfactory.

Earlier this evening, while walking your dog, you encountered the sort of young man who will always fancy himself in charge until --God willing-- the world teaches him otherwise. He was shirtless and dialing his cell phone as he stared down at a barbecue grill upon which a group of creepily pink sausages was merely sweating. His hair was ridiculous, a disheveled and heavily-moussed style that's meant to suggest casual indifference but, you feel certain, actually requires a great deal of time and money to maintain. And he was wearing large, white-plastic framed sunglasses that you figured were supposed to be ironic and which were probably purchased from a clearance rack at a drug store or truck stop.

"Listen to me," you heard him say into his phone. "I am trying to tell you that there is something seriously fucked with this fucking charcoal you sold me."

Now, though, planes are once again sneaking down through the darkness. Nights like this, standing at the window, you remember things. You remember riding your Schwinn stingray over to the Coast-to-Coast store and standing before the glass case of jackknives. Jesus, you wanted a jackknife so badly, but there was also something about them that frightened you, and you never have owned one.

You also remember your parents dragging you down to the high school auditorium to hear Ferrante and Teicher. You were maybe 10 years old and thought it was the most ridiculous thing you'd ever seen. You lived in a place where it seemed like 80% of the women over the age of 25 had a beautician's license. All day and all through the night, in the Gormenghast-looking slaughterhouse on the east side of town, they tore down animals into meat.

"Meat is Community," read a billboard along the main drag.

You remember walking slowly home from detention in the early October gloaming, remember walking into the inescapable smell of a tuna casserole in the oven. Somebody was practicing piano in the little room off the kitchen. In the living room the television seemed like an endlessly looping laugh track of obviously fraudulent and crazy-making ha-ha-has. The place was so tiny in those days, everybody on top of each other. There was no place to escape. You'd take a book and go down behind the furnace in the basement to sit with the dirty laundry.

The library alone was your refuge, and books broke your heart in a way that felt different from the way hearts were customarily broken in your world. Yes, the books were what ultimately took you away, and what broke your heart. But it was a beautiful heartbreak that did not surrender longing.

If the people in that town looked at you, you desperately wanted them to know that you did not belong there, that you would never belong. Your mother taught you and your siblings --taught you zealously and well-- that the greatest escape was pretending.

Finally, you remember falling asleep in the far backseat of your father's station wagon, returning late at night from a trip somewhere, the surf of darkness and locomotion murmuring at the slightly open windows; streetlights and headlights strobing the car's interior, disorienting, and the faint strains of some dated pop hit or a baseball game drifting back from the AM radio in the dashboard. Everyone was quiet, and you were so tired that you wobbled back and forth at the edge of sleep.

You don't know why you're remembering these things now, as another day slips away and another long night looms. Maybe, you think, it's because you're trying to recall what it felt like, all those long years ago, to have the unquestioned knowledge that you were on your way home.


  1. This is one of your most beautiful posts. You catapulted me back into my own childhood.

    - Sarah

  2. That station wagon passage kills me. I saw Thruway toll booths from angles their architects never anticipated. And -- always -- the boxy, nasal blare of the AM radio.

  3. oh man - thruway toll booths. you just catapulted me back into *my* childhood, cjh. three of us in the way back with pillows and sleeping bags, me staring up at the tollbooth while my father rolled down the window and handed over the change. and then we were off again, tires humming on the macadam.

  4. boy, y'all had some different kinds of childhoods than mine. the first time i saw a tollbooth, seventeen and hitching a ride with a trucker into chicago, i was absolutely incredulous. they CHARGE people to DRIVE on the roads here? what the hell kind of place is this? it seemed downright un-american.

    having long seen "macadam" in print yet remaining baffled as to what sort of road it might be (as a young reader i connected it with macadamia nuts), i finally googled it. my, what a free education there is to be had on road building technology from the 1700's on. most interesting, i thought, that tarmac is a shortened word for tar-bound macadam, and is not in fact used in airports.

    all that to say i like the last line. i wish every child and once-a-child could have that feeling.

  5. I'm with Oreo on the toll booths. I didn't encounter one of those until I was out wandering on my own, and was indignant. Still am. I'll drive 100 miles out of my way to avoid a toll road.

    And re that last line: I also wish every child --and every adult-- could have that feeling.