The International Writers Magazine : First
Last time I saw Phoenix:
The mother of all roadtrips to Ohio in an Audi TT
'If I ever return to Dallas, it will not be unarmed'.
Warning Long Read
been no gray and only the slightest signs of a waistline spread, but
the sensibilities of middle age mutate sufficiently these days, enough
so that the time came to make a substantial adjustment. I bought a sports
car: an Audi TT Roadster. Moro blue with vanilla interior, convertible,
turbo engine, two seater, automatic with a secret S gear
for aggressive driving purposes, and a remarkable stereo system with
a volume that goes up to thirty, ignoring the fact that my ears bleed
somewhere around twenty-two. The only unanswered questions remaining:
(1) Where do I go; (2) What music do I take?
Born and raised in Ohio, I had not ventured from Arizona to the Buckeye
state in twenty-one years, despite near constant longing for my artificial
boyhood paradise. I already missed this years World Famous Annual
Circleville Pumpkin Show, but there remained plenty to see and do in
Central Ohioan bohemia, so I mapped out a rough outline of a route,
threw three sweat shirts and a pair of jeans in an old suitcase and
psyched myself up for the journey, mostly focusing on question number
two: what would be the perfect sounds for this mid-life road experience?
I immediately abandoned obvious selections, such as The Ramones
Road to Ruin, AC/DCs Highway to Hell, and Dions The Wanderer,
classics all, but a tad too predictable for my forthcoming nervous collapse.
No, I needed music for both the general between-city-tedium, and locale-specific
sonics, music and noise that would propel my traveling companion dog
Molly and me through the stratosphere of interstate highway ecstasy.
This was gonna be fun.
Remember that jive by Elton John about Get back/Honky cat/Better
get back to the woods? Well, from my personal point of view, that
notion stinks and EJ too. The high point of my trip, as it turned out,
was when having hooked up with my friend Ruth Ann, she and I motored
stately into my old neighborhood--Jefferson Addition--for the narrow
and specific purpose of taking a few pictures of my old house. The place
looked pretty much the same, despite the thin and fractured roadways
which had seemed so much wider before, and we pulled over alongside
my former abode, the morning rain yielding to a brisk pre-winter cloud
sulk, and I hopped out with my camera. There I stood, in awe of my former
home, located at 367 Ludwig Drive, in case anyone wants to visit. Just
as I was lining up the exposure, this craggily retiree came bounding
out from my old living room and threw open the door. Hey!
he hollered, for that is what one does to get attention in Circleville.
What the hell do you think youre doing?
Looking over my shoulder, I noticed Ruth Ann slouching low in the passenger
seat. Ah, the things friends must endure. I used to live here
and Im taking some pictures of the house. Could you step out of
the frame please? The old guy was having none of this, but to
my surprise, he did move out of the way so I could snap my photos.
I dont like people taking pictures of my house. Who are
I explained that this had been my house long before he owned it and
that I was indeed going to take pictures and thank you very much. He
displayed a lot of flag decals on the garage, so he probably thought
we were terrorists, staking out the structure of the house, all the
better to position our surface-to-air rocket launchers. By the time
Id shot the third exposure, his glazed eyes were steaming, so
I said I suppose a tour of the place is out of the question
and hopped back in, spraying mud while Ruth Ann laughed herself silly.
She is a good egg, that girl.
My trip from Phoenix began well enough. Having mapped out my destination
and estimating my overnight cities, I popped the CDs burned especially
for the occasion into the compact storage case and plunged ahead down
I-10 toward Tucson en route to the first nights stop in El Paso,
a mere 650 miles away.
The proper musical accompaniment not only provides a much needed surcease
in the audial road burn; perhaps more importantly, it imposes upon the
driver a vivid soundtrack with which to recall the trip, possibly many
years later. And so I divided the CDs into the general category--for
those long stretches of interstate where nothing much more than tumbleweeds
and rusted-out cricket pumps decorate the landscape--and the specific
category--songs which made some implied or overt reference to the city
or region through which I was passing. Sometimes those references boasted
the glories of the area and sometimes they made their point with a bit
less reverence. In either case, volume was key and the top was definitely
Just out from the biospheres of Tucson, as the road straightens and
clocks its hours of monotony, I plugged in the ideal tune to launch
the trip: Highway Star by Deep Purple. As the dust devils
swirled up and above the copper-coated dirt fields, threatening to transplant
dog, car and self into Oz the hard way, Ian Gillans counter-twister
scream wail strangled up with Ritchie Blackmores controlled adrenaline
guitar boxing match and propelled the Audis contents forward with
such velocity that airborne fails to capture the sensation.
My hair straightened, the hat I was wearing is now attached to some
motorists CB antennae, my cheeks went taut and the feeling is
just now beginning to return to my gums. There was nothing much to see
along the southern border of Arizona anyway, except a few rattlesnake
pits and the bursting tires of eighteen wheelers. Just as my heart palpitations
yielded to police-induced paranoia, the irony of the next songs
title took hold: The Byrds version of Dylans You Aint
Going Nowhere. There remains something about the line, Strap
yourself to a tree with roots, that perfectly encapsulates the
cartoon futility of the trip ahead.
The Sweetheart of the Rodeo album from which the aforementioned number
came provided the ideal transition into the Flying Burrito Bros
take on Dave Dudleys Six Days on the Road, the most
often repeated tune here. From this, it was a cold water crash directly
into the instrumental abutment of The Ramones Durango 95,
the song that crashed down just as twilight warned that it was time
to get specific.
The southern leg of New Mexico hasnt lent itself to an overabundance
of name-place musicality, primarily because nothing much between Deming
and Las Cruces jumps up and demands attention, other than the occasional
patch of fallen cattle, apparently either the victims of underground
nuclear testing or a simple lack of imagination. Las Cruces itself was
clearly a bi-pass town, although I did come up with a Geronimos
Cadillac song called Crack Up in Las Cruces to get me over
About seventy miles beyond Las Cruces is the Southwest Texas town of
El Paso, which presented more problems of an overnight nature than of
musical. I flipped in the CD marked EP and charged up the intro mariachi
slash flamenco chords of Marty Robbins classic, a tune local town
folk were quick to point out they are so tired of hearing, a stay in
the local jail is the proscribed punishment for blaring it past eight
pm. Heeding this timely advice, I skipped forward to El Paso
by the Gourds, from their Bolsa de Agua LP. This choice meeting with
some favorable nods, I inquired where might be a nice place to stay
the night. The look of alarm on the kids hanging outside the Dairy Queen
spoke volumes. Youre not gonna park that car outside a motel,
are you? one of them asked.
Oh, no! I assured him. This thing disassembles in
just a few minutes. Hey, you guys ever heard of Kinky Friedman?
Having not, I played them the classic Asshole From El Paso,
which cheered them up so much that one young honey with a waistline
tattoo offered directions to the local Holiday Inn.
I had not much more than checked in, watered, fed and walked the cocker
spaniel, when the look on that one kids face started giving me
the jitters. My room leaned on the first floor, the car rested right
outside the window, and the alarm system screeched loud enough to unhinge
arms from their sockets. But darned if I could sleep for fear of getting
stuck for God knows how long in a Holiday Inn this far from home. Insurance
is fine, but how long would it take for them to wire me the funds, get
the check cashed, and hop a plane the hell out of here? Nope, better
to take a quick shower and shave, grab a burger and get on down the
road a ways.
This jittered-out paranoia settled into a warm place in my mind, becoming
a defining element of the rest of the journey.
Just outside of Van Horn, I jotted up to I-20, climbing steadily on
the overnight drive to Dallas, a little more than 600 miles in the distance.
On past Pecos, Odessa, Midland and Big Spring I drove, a confused cocker
trying to get comfortable on her small leather seat, constantly insisting
on inspecting the exterior of every semi we passed. Between Big Spring
and Abilene, I entertained my passenger with a variety of general Texas
tunes, like the bassist Randy McDonalds Texas Flower,
Eltons Merle Haggard parody Texas Love Song, Louis
Armstrong and King Olivers Texas Moaner Blues, and
Lester Youngs Texas Shuffle. It was the situationally
appropriate Texas to Ohio by Damien Jurado that actually
introduced me to trouble. Id cranked those ghost guitars and gravel
road vocals so high that my gaze wired itself to the highway and I didnt
detect the friendly Texas State Trooper until long after hed seen
Imagine if you will: youre a cop and you see a dark blue sports
car speeding through the night at somewhere between 85 and 90 mph, temporary
tags and out of state ones at that, plus the driver doesnt even
slow down when he passes you. The red white blue bubble lights did compel
my attention, however, and I pulled over, lecturing Molly to be on her
Is your dog gonna bite me? the friendly trooper inquired
with what appeared to be genuine concern for his own safety.
Not if you dont bite her first, I responded, all bleary-eyed
with good humor.
He turned out to be a very nice guy, letting me off with a warning,
all of which made what happened less than an hour later moderately embarrassing.
Having stopped briefly at a McDonalds drive-thru for a freshening
cup of coffee, I revved the midnight beast up just past 115, the hazel
stars sparkling in admiration at my inability to learn a simple lesson
about local law enforcement. Somewhere between a replay of The Ramones
instrumental Durango 95 (the title lifted from a late-night
drive in Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange) and the Collins Kids
Hot Rod, the unhappy contra flash erupted over the oncoming
crest, a flash I passed as fast as it approached from the other side
of the median. A quick glance in the tiny rearview assured me of my
toast status: the trooper-mobile spun across that divider and sprayed
angry gravel in the air as it yearned for sufficient traction to end
my careless ways. I eased off the gas, found a strip of shoulder, and
reined the Audi in for a graceful stop.
It felt like a scene out of Les Miserables as the same trooper sauntered
up, flipping the pages in his ticket book.
He explained that at the speed wed been traveling, he had every
right known to God and Man to throw my skinny ass in the pokey, but
since that might not bode well for Molly the wonder dog, he would record
the pace at 98, just low enough to keep the Spaniel from having to seek
out food and shelter on her own. I admitted that I found his actions
quite generous and wondered aloud if hed be interested in taking
the Roadster for a spin. I figured he wanted to, and the pause between
my question and his answer confirmed my suspicions. He politely declined
despite my offer to keep an eye on his short. As a result of this fine
officers manners, I did indeed learn my lesson and that was my
final speed infraction in the state of Texas.
After an upright two hour nap at a breezy roadside rest, Molly and I
greeted the dawn with the multi-level hyper speed ping pong attack of
The Whos Going Mobile. The beyond perfect production
from Glyn Johns--the most incredible separation in all of rock--in harmony
with grand musical ambitions and acid-accurate lyrics that shot out
like Kerouac, reminded me of something my friend Paul Hormick had told
me years and years earlier: The more you listen to Whos
Next, the better it gets. Forever. Better advice I have never
As we roared on in search of our next major stop in Dallas, we punched
up Bachman-Turner Overdrives teenaged eight-track classic Roll
on Down the Highway. The songs mechanical rhythm section,
indecipherable vocals and moderately inspired lead guitar encouraged
the dog and I to shoulder dance even as BTO faded and the Rolling Stones
dirged into all eleven plus minutes of Going Home.
Neither Molly nor I had Mick Jaggers baby waiting for us back
home, but despite this social inadequacy, we were both dying to get
back there, even though Molly had never heard of the place and the only
thing I knew for certain was that I believed I had been happy living
there. I did in fact have some splendid specific recollections, most
of which centered around various bicycles I had owned and the places
they had taken me. One of those places was The Blue Drummer Steak House.
I was a frightened yet brash sixteen year old anticipating college with
about as much clarity as I was old age pensions and my parents insisted
I take the job not only to defray up and coming educational expenses
but mostly as a way of guiding myself along the path toward some infantile
form of maturity. And so for nearly two years I rode my ten-speed racer
the two miles from our garage to the Bicentennial-appropriate steak
My friendships there werent lifelong, but they were deep. As The
Beatles Get Back bled into Elvis Presleys version
of Hank Snows Movin On, some of those memory
images came rolling back. Most stark was a kid about my own age at the
time, just an average friendly kid named Jamie Welliver. One night Jamie
and I were toking up in his Duster, listening to the soundtrack from
the new Tommy movie, and he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. It
was cold as a shit storm out, and I was already in enough trouble for
one night, so I passed. The next morning, a Sunday, if memory serves,
I came back to work at eleven, just a few minutes before the lunch crowds
emerged from the various church services. I walked in, bebopping a whistle
to some self-composed tune, when the look another co-worker delivered
stopped me cold. Jamie Wellivers dead. He wrapped his car
around a telephone pole. Before I even had a chance to register
the horror of this, our manager, Pat Bevan, charged in through the big
metallic doors and ordered us to get ready for the lunch rush. Ms. Bevan
knew what had happened. She knew that we knew. But she had an insignificant
job to perform and nothing was going to get in the way of that.
The most peculiar aspect of the entire experience was that when I had
first begun working there, my number one concern, fear, obsession, was
that by earning an insubstantial living there I might lose the young
kid in me that I so cherished. Every man in the world frets about this
constantly. Lose that internal boy and prepare to crawl inside a box
and pile on the dirt. I never did completely lose him, of course, but
that Sunday morning, a little part of him died for the first time.
On the outskirts of Dallas, the pre-encore take of Gram Parsons
live version of Six Days on the Road filled the air for
miles and my heart muscles tightened for the first time since the trip
had begun. An ominous cloud clings over Dallas and always will. A lot
of that, naturally, stems from the Kennedy assassination, and a lot
of it sprouts from social conditions that could allow something like
that assassination to take place. There was a lot I wanted to see in
Dallas, but there was only one song I wanted to hear: Willin
by Little Feat. Sadly, the story of Alice--Dallas Alice--was nowhere
in my collection. So sitting in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn,
I rolled up the windows and sang the damn thing myself. Molly wept.
By the time we checked into our room, we had been on the road exactly
twenty-four hours. We had driven thirteen hundred miles. Giddy with
exhaustion, I plopped Molly back in the shotgun seat and we set out
to discover Dallas.
About a mile and a half from the hotel we found ourselves so hopelessly
lost it took the better part of three hours just to stream our way back.
We never unearthed Dealey Plaza. We did learn, however, that Dallas
sports a lot of road construction that only slows down the out of towners.
Prior to motoring along freeways reduced to one lane with unyielding
SUV psychos and crypto-tank drivers both fore and aft, I would have
sworn that Phoenix drivers are the most hateful pack of self-absorbed
sons of bitches who ever lived. After three hours sweltering and choking
in the blood pools of Dallas congestion, I can honestly report that
Phoenicians are among the most polite motorists in the world. If I ever
return to Dallas, it will not be unarmed.
One of the primary reasons for my purchase of the Audi TT was that it
is the ultimate anti-SUV. Despite the fact that every one of my current
friends drives one, I do not like SUVs. Perhaps more importantly
for the purposes of this story, many people who drive the rough-riding
death traps do not like the occasional little sports cars that punctuate
the road like dots at the end of exclamation points. In particular,
they do not like Audis, probably because SUV drivers recognize
that there are only three or four non-Audis that can outrun the
Roadster and none that can are the modern day urban tanks that in reality
have nothing to do with either sports or utility. They are, in fact,
only marginally vehicular. They do, however, serve as excellent tools
for committing interstate homicide. Just ask the guy in the onyx black
Denali a few miles south of Little Rock who tried to stampede his moon-roofed
marauder up and across my roll-over bars, or the tailgating Esplanade,
both of whom endeavored to careen their armored kill machines up and
over my back just because I had the audacity to mouth the words stupid
twat in their directions as I passed them merging back onto the
freeway. Like a breath of fresh air irony, George Harrisons All
Things Must Pass filled the Audi and I switched lanes just as
the mini-convoy barreled boldly by.
Arkansas is the most beautiful state, blessed as it is with miles of
aisles of cotton, soybeans, wheat, corn and stacks of flax. The unsettled
purr of idling semis spills a churn of its own kind of symphony. Strangely,
a lot of great music comes from Arkansas but theres not tons of
tomes about it. That may be because in the early autumn, the scenery
is so splendid, nearly nothing could approximate the grandeur. The fading
foliage from the Ozarks announce themselves modestly and the timber
trembles in awe of its own multihued gorgeosity. If there were ever
a region in which it is manifestly appropriate to put the top down on
the car, this is most definitely that place. The dying allergens kissing
tightly to forsaken cotton balls, the colliding spruce and pine perfumes,
the lust grip of cones and cinders: the sights and smells alone make
a majestic visual-olfactory orgy that mere music cannot replicate. So
I settled--if one can call it that--for a smorgasbord of CCRs
Cottonfields, Arkansas Hop by Boz and the Highrollers,
Joan of Arkansas by Dorothy Shay, Big Medicines My
Ozark Mountain Home, Black Oak Arkansas Jim Dandy,
Sweet Little Rock and Roller by Chuck Berry, the American
Gypsies Bottle of Hope (get it?), and--may God have
mercy on my weary soul--Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russells duet
of A Little Girl From Little Rock. Hell, Im no snob.
I played the latter ditty three times as I wound my way around and through
LR (as the local signs refer to it) on my way northeast to Memphis.
No city on our trip boasted a greater selection and variety of place-specific
songs than did Memphis, Tennessee. About twenty miles out from this
remarkably friendly border town, I snapped in the first four versions
of Chuck Berrys classic: the first was by Chuck, of course; then
came the slightly hokey rendition by Flatt & Scruggs (recorded,
no doubt, because of its title), followed by the rave up instrumental
take by Lonnie Mack and the sloppy but transcendent cover by Sandy Denny.
Long distance information, I sang as loud as my frayed vocal
cords would permit. Give me Memphis, Tennessee!
Flipping from manual back into automatic as I stretched my neck to find
a place to eat that wasnt part of the burger axis of indigestion,
Dan Berns Graceland whupped me upside the head:
Well look at me, Lord
Im at Graceland
On a Saturday afternoon
I threw up last night
At a rest stop
From eating cheese grits
At the Waffle House
The Memphis horns hit me like a Gospel brick house as the late Dusty
Springfield cued herself up on Willie and Laura Mae Jones,
another place and another time belting out as real and immediate as
front porch lemonade. Memphis Minnie sashayed in shout-singing the Killer
Diller Blues, the guitar sounding just like a banjo. King Curtis
spooned up todays special of Memphis Soul Stew, and
when those fat back drums strolled in, I swear the trees along the roadway
actually bowed. The obvious Mott the Hoople number bleated like a dying
calf, but that memory quickly faded with the authentically ridiculous
Memphis Train by soul papa Rufus Thomas. Whoo! Aw,
shucks now! And before I knew it, I was leaving Memphis behind,
the tires twirling and oblivious as the steady country rhythm of Rosanne
Cashs version of daddy Johns Tennessee Flat Top Box
battered down on Molly and I like rain on the roof of a caboose.
Along I-40 East and slightly north toward the former country music capital,
as the winds whipped and the sun brayed in harmony, the first genuine
scenic rhythms of recognition gripped me like a corpse. Tennessee houses
a thousand tiny towns, most of which are thoroughly ignored by the grand
interstates that double-X their arms across the expanse. Jackson--one
of the biggest names in all the South--retains a bears share of
promotion, but real people also live and die in Brunswick, Rosemark,
Gallaway, Braden, Keeling, Stanton, Shepp, Leighton (I been everywhere,
man, I been everywhere): God, so many towns and people Molly and I will
never meet, many of whom may well someday be doomed to course their
ways on wheeled rafts between the banks of paved pathways, fishing for
legal fireworks and dreading the oncoming hug of familiarity. That familiarity
spooked me like a slime monster peeking from a hollow log as we neared
Nashville, the worlds most down home town. As we strained our
eyes for yet another Holiday Inn, we got caught up in the porcine okey-doke
of Nashville Cats by the Lovin Spoonful, melted into
the leather buckets with Nashville Radio courtesy of Jon
Langford, self-paralyzed with nostalgia during a dose of Waylon Jennings
Nashville Bum, damn near cried from the pain of Ringos
Nashville Jam, received scads of curious looks throughout
the playing of Godheads Nashville Bust, and felt like
genuine cowboy punks as we blared Hank Williams Jr.s Nashville
Scene. I awoke a little after three the next morning, sweating
like a fever blister, completely unaware of where I was. Molly jumped
away from the wet foot shed been aimlessly licking and stared
at me as if Id suddenly become real. Nashville! one
of us said to the other, or maybe the word came from the radio alarm
clock that some fool before me had set. Over that tinny radio transmission,
Mississippi Fred McDowell, who surely dont play no rock n
roll, reminded us we had to move, so after a quick run through the shower
we did just that, with all the haste of unrepentant sinners fleeing
the wrath of a jealous God. I dropped Molly a packet of dog glop and
chugged my own magic milkshake as Chris Knight serenaded us with his
eerily appropriate Devil Behind the Wheel, that Mellencamp
impression never sounding better. Wed be in Circleville sometime
within the next twenty-four hours and despite the dark thumb tapping
its warning against my heart, I hastened us on, my own internal cruise
control as unyielding as time itself.
Running on I-65 North en route to Louisville, the next major stop, we
passed a sign that said White House 18 Miles Next Exit.
We also passed a Tennessee State Trooper who was himself somewhat exceeding
the speed limit, and both Molly and I realized that another citation
lay in our progress.
This guy stayed parked behind us for at least five minutes--no doubt
staring us down from the rear to see if wed run--during which
time I searched vainly for Springsteens Mr. State Trooper.
The best I could come up with was Randy Newmans Rednecks,
but by the time the cop swaggered up to our car, that song had come
and gone. I smiled and killed the engine.
You come up here from Air-ee-zonaw, he began. So I
know you seen the sign at the state crossing that admonishes you to
obey Tennessee speed limits, right? Zat your dog?
Yes sir, Arizona. On our way to Ohio. Havent been there
in over twenty--
Ohio? he queried, although when he said it, the state name
sounded like Ah-hi-ya.
Yes sir, Ohio. Thats where Im from. Looking forward
I dont have all day to hear about that. Sign this and answer
my question. Zat your dog?
I signed the receipt of citation without even looking at it. Right,
my dog. Molly.
She obstruct your view in that little thing youre driving?
I desperately needed a drink or a drug or something to blur out the
shades of simmering paranoia.
No. She sits still. Rides low. Rarely moves. No trouble.
This here tickets going on your driving record, boy. Youre
almost out of Tennessee. You make sure you pay this when you get to
Ohio or wherever youre going. You make sure that dog of yours
dont obstruct your view. And you better make sure you dont
get no more tickets in this state. You follow me?
Assured clear distance, I replied as I hummed up the engine
and rolled on toward Louisville.
My ears popped and clogged steadily as we climbed the road altitude
that glides one almost unconsciously into northern Kentucky. Late in
October, the trees coughed out crackling colors like daytime fireworks,
each leaf a silent harbinger and leaden weight. Law enforcement warnings
and penalties to the contrary, I shot us up to ninety just after we
crossed the Kentucky line and the music took over for the next hundred
miles. The deranged banjo stomp of Danny Barnes Life in
the Country, The Byrds Goin Back (with
its self-referential and irreverent line: a little courage is
all we lack), the unsolemn roll of BTOs Freeways,
Joe Souths high strung Dont It Make You Want to Go
Home, the heavy-light xylophone of the Modern Jazz Quartets
Reunion Blues, the harmelodic majesty of Ornette Colemans
Skies of America, the power and the glory of Phil Ochs
Power and the Glory, the pop up grind and slash of Tom Pettys
Runnin Down a Dream: aw, it was somnambulant, it was
invigorating, it was a bunch of purple mountain majesty, it was pure
and fleshy, and my terror finally backed off. We truly were, as Funkadelic
promised, One Nation Under a Groove. A zombied-out nation
in our protective shells sealed for our own sanity, but one nation nevertheless.
Heres my chance/to dance my way/out of my constriction.
Rat own. Part Two
When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide
Run me over the edge and let my spirit glide
They told me I was gonna have to work for a livin but all I wanna
do is ride
I dont care where were goin from here, honey, you
Jackson Browne, The Road and the Sky
Somehow wedged in between Deep Purples heavy lunged version of
Neil Diamonds Kentucky Woman and Elvis Presleys
maudlin as hell Kentucky Rain, the song excerpted above
trumpeted itself, one of a handful or two of which it is quite fair,
balanced and accurate to say: That there song, well, it just came
along at a time in the boys life when something was bound to change
him forever. In this case, it happened to be a song about a car thief
who prophesizes--correctly--the apocalypse. There ya go.
Not to give a false impression, I should clarify: I do not steal cars;
Im not prone to prolonged lethargy; and while some may say the
world will end in fire, some in ice, and with all due respect to Robert
Frost, Ive always assumed it would terminate in a more abstract
way, probably as a result of a lack of imagination. In other words,
Brownes centerpiece from Late for the Sky influenced me more in
terms of sensibility than in terms of prophesy. And that sensibility
occasionally leans toward a studiously pronounced gloved sweat of dread.
So there I was, riding along with Molly the wonder dog, the top down
on the Audi, the northern Kentucky hill winds straightening back my
lengthy blond hair, an absurd set of aviator goggles swatting away stray
flying insects, lamb skin leather jacket insulating my torso, and matching
black Kenneth Cole boots against the pedal, pretentious as hell, when
along comes Jackson Browne, declaring, Hold on steady/Try to keep
ready/Everybodys gonna get wet/Dont think it wont
happen/Just because it hasnt happened yet.
A reasonable person might, at this point (if not sooner), wonder aloud
at what it was exactly that I was so dreading about the approaching
denouement to a trip that I had, in all fairness and accuracy, undertaken
freely and without apparent coercion. The answer to that requires the
most difficult degree of self-discovery it has ever been my misfortune
to explore. And I only bring it up because I believe (or perhaps, need
to believe) that my personal revelation will resonate with others. God,
I hope it does.
My high school graduation was the Class of 1976. For the benefit of
those of you who werent around at the time, 1976 was a year of
much ballyhoo in the United States. After decades of involvement in
Vietnam and what seemed like decades of Watergate-related embarrassments,
America poised itself to celebrate 200 years of Independence. Special
coins were minted, CBS launched sixty-second spots featuring various
luminaries recounting historic tales of bravery and the overcoming of
adversity, banners and plaques and monuments sprang up out of our blood-drenched
soil heralding the good life we had created. We must be doing
something right, Henry Gibson sang in Robert Altmans Nashville,
to last two hundred years. And in that year of justifiable
(if enforced) patriotism, my graduating class, like doubtless hundreds
of others throughout the country, came to believe that, perhaps by association,
perhaps by divine decree, we were something special.
No. Thats not right. We did not just believe it. We knew it.
My graduating class at Logan Elm High School boasted a whopping eighty-three
students. Just like many classes before and after, there and elsewhere,
we had our share of jocks, leaders, hoods, followers, brains, dopes,
beauty queens, sluts, and a hefty percentage of kids too bland for classification.
But regardless of whatever in-group or out-group to which each of us
belonged, the one immutable fact to which we clung was that as a reigning
member of the graduating class of 1976, we were somehow imbued with
the ability and even responsibility to make something big of ourselves.
This state of affairs existed, as Ive said, in large part because
of our chronological connection to the Bicentennial. Part of it emerged
as a consequence of being subjected to well-intended propaganda from
the staff and teachers. And some of it developed simply as a result
of what then sure seemed like reasonable expectations.
For instance, there stood in one corner of my mind Jeff Reichelderfer
who, despite his germanically complex surname, excelled in football,
basketball and baseball, did well if not exceptionally in his academic
pursuits, came from an above average economic farming family, had a
warm and friendly nature, and certainly lost no favor due to his handsome
appearance. Jeff would certainly be a force with which the world would
Barbara Bolander, her hair a magnificent fiery red, was a brilliant
student, not only academically, but theatrically, musically, and personally.
Rather than stunting herself with mere bookishness, she exuded a broad
popularity that contained not a trace of snobbery.
Keith Dumm, certainly neither an athlete nor a wild-eyed Rasputin, marched
to his own political drum, achieved a splendid grade point average (he
was class Salutorian), struck me as highly sophisticated beyond his
years, and perhaps best of all, evoked a sense of humor as at home in
academia as in the gutter. Keith was a good guy.
Randy McKay smoked a lot of dope, worked third shift at a donut factory,
sported a mischievous yet piercing twinkle in both eyes, and had one
foot firmly planted in the camps of both the winners circle and
the marginal hoodlum square. It was easy to see that Randy would grow
out of his fascination with the dark side of life, and hed probably
quickly become the CFO at a growing pharmaceutical conglomerate.
I could go on, but whats the point? You already know what happened.
Jeff Reichelderfer now runs the family farm. He has a bunch of kids
taking up most of his time.
I have no idea what happened to Barbara Bolander. The successes she
presumably accomplished have been lost to me, most likely due to a marriage-induced
Keith Dumm, during our senior year, impregnated a lovely young girl,
thereby derailing his plans to attend medical school. He owns a Circleville
retail store known as Treasure Isle.
Randy McKay died in a motorcycle accident.
None of my former classmates ever became famous actors, successful politicians,
renowned artists, benevolent patrons, esteemed literary figures, or
any of the other millions of wonderful things we all knew we would begin
doing about three to four weeks after graduation.
Of course, I knew all of this before ever launching my adventure. I
knew all this just as I knew that Id been willfully repressing
memories of the genuinely horrible experiences that befall most high
school kids, elevating in my forebrain only those half dozen or so good
times at the expense of the thousand or more rotten things that had
been banished from my recollections. Thats why its no mere
coincidence that the majority of the songs I culled for the Mid-Life
Nervous Breakdown came from approximately the time that I graduated.
May the roar help me ignore what a bore I am to explore!
It is likewise no coincidence that I chose to drive to Ohio, rather
than to avail myself of this nations vast air transportation network.
You see, although I am capable of being a very fine driver, proving
that statement requires a great deal of concentration on my part. So
there I was, still mastering the various idiosyncrasies of a new car,
operating on damned little sleep, trying to keep a newly acquired dog
entertained, and playing my self-burned CDs so loud that I am
certain to have violated several local noise ordinances. Simply put,
anything I could do to distract myself from the abject horror of recognition
that awaited me--well, I was ready, Freddie. I was ready, that is, until
that fucking Jackson Browne song came on, a song I myself had sequenced
for selective self-sabotage.
An hour later I crossed a bridge and suddenly gazed down the descent
into Cincinnati. Jesus, I was in Ohio. Long time, no think.
Im living on the air in Cincinnati, I sang to the
dog. Cincinnati WKRP! Molly thought that was hilarious.
Riverfront Stadium, sometimes recalled as Cinergy Field, met with a
purposeful and violent demolition on December 29, 2002, an act of domestic
terrorism committed by people with every legal right to do so, an act
transgressed without moral twinge or beleaguered conscience. Teamed
up, Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden could not have done a better
job of crucifying testaments to those things that make America great.
The aptly named Riverfront had been the home to both the Reds (Redlegs,
originally) and the Bengals. The stadium accommodated a capacity of
60,400. The website Stadiums of the NFL calls the former
landmark boring, but a packed house on a Saturday afternoon,
smelling the cold hotdogs and warm beer with The Big Red Machine of
Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo and other local
luminaries activating something unconstrained inside those of us in
attendance--bliss personified, I assure you. What became boring
to the Bengals, and maybe even to the latter-day Reds, I suspect, was
the consistency with which it became impossible to fill a stadium so
large. It would have taken time and money and effort to rid society
of its virus of CheapFastEasy, so they destroyed the medicine rather
than the disease. I went back to Ohio, sang Chrissie Hynde.
But my city was gone. My father took me to games at Riverfront.
The stadium and my father may be gone, but the mindless wheels of professional
progress cannot topple the memories, one-sided as they may be.
Molly and I tattooed our minds to the amplified pop blues of Delaney
and Bonnies Going Down the Road Feeling Bad and Comin
The Ohio River demarcates the state named by the Iroquois from both
Kentucky and West Virginia. Route 52 stays just barely on the Ohio side
of the River, ushering a gateway, as it were, to such small Buckeye
towns as New Richmond, Ripley, Aberdeen, Rome, and Portsmouth, the latter
being a smartly named burg that also happens to be the city of my birth,
although, again, I grew up in Circleville. Once in Cincinnati, I considered
following the River toward my birthplace, recalling how, as a child
raised on Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac, Id often fantasized about
modern day explorers traversing the wide and winding River in search
of nothing more economic than adventure. But there were people living
in Portsmouth who claimed me as a relative (although not quite family)
and I thought it best to get my strength back before meeting up with
that particular tribe. And so we selected Interstate 75 Northeast, a
direct path right into the capitol city of Columbus.
Twenty-one years. The lifetime of a young adult. That much trivia had
urinated into the streams of my soul since Id last laid eyes on
this route, its preexisting landscape increasingly familiar with every
accelerated rpm. About fifty miles out from Cinci, the state levels
off and the farms flourish. October held court now, so the main remnants
of agronomical decline were weather-beaten signs proclaiming that delicious
hybrids of silver queen sweet corn could indeed be picked by hungry
customers for two dollars a dozen: from our fields to your pot in only
minutes! Most of the remaining forestry lay off deeper into the heart
of the state, but mountainous wrecking yards and a panoply of country
kitchens hyphenated the compelling monotony of our final miles. Gillian
Welch squeaked out Look at Miss Ohio and Lucinda Williams
soul-crooned American Dream. As we approached the exit for
Grove City, Roger Miller sang-spoke Trailer for sale or rent/Rooms
to let fifty cents, and I knew we had to park immediately. Another
night in a low side of corporate Holiday Inn and the vet might have
had to autopsy Molly. Jackpot Road brought us quickly to the Cross Country
Inn, a fitting temporary reprieve for we two road weary wanderers.
We werent quite home. But, damn, we were close.
With less than six hours of legitimate sack time under my belt in the
last three calendar days, I needed sleep. And inviting as the huge queen-size
bed appeared, I knew that such an idea was a goofy distraction. I dove
into a suitcase for my personal address book and flipped to the page
marked Greg Howard. Living now in the Worthington section of Columbus,
he worked in the party store his wife had inherited, and that was where
I reached him. Greg and I had talked on the phone a few times about
the possibility of my visiting, and since it had never happened, I figured
hed pretty much written off the notion as one of wistful fantasy
on my part. When he answered and I told him where I was, he cried Grove
City! What are you doing there? Let me give you directions! Whoo-ee!
That was exactly the kind of welcoming Id always hoped for myself.
Yankee Trader, the party store in question, occupies five stories in
downtown Columbus, a city where people still walk around to do their
shopping, not for any absence of alternative shopping malls, but rather
because of the concentrated and gregarious nature of life in a Midwest
capital town. Parking is plentiful, if a little awkwardly contrived.
And despite a decidedly old world ambience to the downtown
architecture, local government takes a dim view of crimes against property,
insuring that parking, walking, strolling, window shopping and harmless
carousing can all occur with a modicum of safety. I parked less than
half a block away, proudly jaywalked across the street, and climbed
up the loading platform just as the gate opened. A guy with a moustache
who looked to be in his mid-forties stood on the other side of the passageway,
bearing a wide-open smile I could have picked out of a strangers
Greg was the kind of kid youre delighted to know, and as my best
friend, I felt like the luckiest kid in the world.
Greg Howard transferred to our township when we were both in sixth grade.
It had been, then as now, October, so the school season was a month
old when he joined us, and since it was a small school in the central
Ohio suburbs, my friend Roger and I didnt know any better than
to approach the short new kid during recess, as a way of making him
feel welcome. He asked us what we did for fun during recess and of course
we said we didnt know, being a little embarrassed about our surroundings,
what with him coming from Florida and all. This was during the time
of the Apollo moon missions, and all I knew about Florida was that Cape
Kennedy was there, so I asked him if his father was an astronaut. Greg
said he didnt think so and pulled himself up onto the chin-up
bar we had on the playground. He sat up on it as Roger and I struggled
between the desire to look away and at the same time just surreptitiously
gawk. Greg shifted and crawled on that bar until he managed to hook
it between the bend of his knees. Can you guys do a dew drop?
he asked as he swung back and forth upside down, gaining momentum with
his hands clasped in front of him in a praying grip. We shook our heads.
Its easy, he said, and propelled his body forward
as his knees straightened and his legs arched around, landing him perfectly
flat on his feet.
By the time Greg had performed this miracle three more times, hed
attracted a considerable audience away from the twenty-minute football
game that typically held top billing. One bystander claimed the dew
drop wasnt all that hard to do, and Greg agreed as he swung through
yet another one perfectly. But nobody climbed up on that bar with him.
Most of us just stared and whispered among ourselves. When the first
bell rang, Greg added a twist by drawing up enough momentum to spin
all the way over the top, unfold his knees, leap out and land. Several
lips mouthed the word wow.
You got a bike? Greg asked me as we ran back to class.
I did have a bike. I had a terrific bike. I had the coolest bike in
the world, even though it was a Huffy. The model was called a Spider.
It was bright yellow with black racing stripes, and it had a banana
seat, a sissy bar, monkey handle bars, caliper brakes and a three-speed
gear box right along the universal join. The front wheel was a low sixteen
inches and the rear was twenty. Id also installed an odometer
on the front wheel and a speedometer sat right below the handlebars.
I had a rearview mirror aligned along the right side of the front wheel.
Id been clocked at 44 miles per hour downhill and the Spider had
neither shook nor shimmied. Plus I could rare back on that sissy bar
and do wheelies all afternoon.
Greg rode his bike over to my house after school that day. He had a
much more traditional bike, but it was still pretty sharp: black with
lots of chrome. Besides, his had a transistor radio affixed to the handlebars.
He asked if I wanted to ride over to the garbage dump. I didnt
even know there was a garbage dump. Once again he showed not the slightest
sign of dismay at my evident inadequacies. As for me, I suppose the
thought of seeing something different drew more appeal than any wonderment
about how limited our chances for fun could be at such a place. So I
We rode up my street and out of that subdivision, across the highway
and into his subdivision. The street his house was on was called Chippewa,
and it had a swerving descent that allowed us to tilt our bikes down
low as we crossed Sioux Drive and Tonopah Circle while WCOL-AM crackled
out the Top Ten hits of the week. At the end of the street lay acres
of thick, loose, recently upended clogs of dirt from the perpetual residential
development. We struck the dirt doing just under forty at a slight lean
and rolled about thirty feet out before we realized the earlier October
snow had moistened the dirt, made it soft, and as a result our wheels
transformed into mud pies. We had to push our bikes a mile to the dump
and on the way more snow fell, which was nice except that as the temperature
dropped, the mud froze into our wheels so they wouldnt turn. A
song called Candida came on the radio and before I could
even beg, Great snapped it off.
We climbed up on top of the mountain of new suburbanites discards,
and in addition to bottles, cans, paper, undigested food stuffs and
other visual noises, we discovered unopened boxes of packs of baseball
cards, mangled metal, bent wood, large rubber tires, and busted eight
track tapes. And even in Ohio, even in October, even in the snow, we
found furry little rats. They darted and tore and squealed, but they
left us alone.
Mr. Mays was much larger than the rats and he did not leave us alone.
His first name was Clarence, but all the kids called him Willie, which
made him angry since he hated black people, and so we continued to call
him Willie. Apparently it had fallen to Mr. Mays--who as far as I knew
was a farmer whose farm was miles away--to prevent eleven-year-old boys
from frightening the rats away from whose ever garbage dump this was.
He had pulled up in his old black farmers pick-up truck with commercial
plates before wed realized he was there. Greg and I were trying
to see if any of those eight-tracks could be salvaged when the first
rock plunked behind Gregs feet.
Once we realized that Willies aim was to conk us on the heads
with his hurling rocks, Greg yelled, Lets split! (which
was pretty cool talk, I thought, for a kid his age) and used his frozen-wheeled
bike to slide down the far side of the dump. I reached down to pick
up something to throw back and came up with only an eight track, but
this one didnt appear to be busted, so I jammed Stormy Weather
(how perfect is that?) into my jacket pocket and followed Greg down
the far side of garbage mountain. Willie climbed up onto the icy bank
of trash, but by that time we had pushed our sleigh-bikes back around
front and were smacking glop out from between our spokes so we could
escape. We heard him yell something about heathens, and
through nothing but sheer boyhood strength we stood up on our pedals
and forced those wheels to turn, leaving twin thin trails of trash mud
Greg and I parted at his driveway as he hurried to hide his bike in
the garage and I sped on like Clyde Barrow running from a Texas Ranger,
oblivious to the fact that wed done nothing wrong. The feeling
of being a big time criminal was exhilarating and I filled my lungs
with cold October air.
About halfway down my street, Ron Kitchen--who years later would tell
me that Jamie Welliver got killed in a car crash--and his younger sister
Missy--who everybody called Messy--waved me down. Have you seen
your mother? Messy asked, eyes tall with barely restrained panic.
The cold in my lungs lifted to my brain. I said no. Ron told me my mom
was out looking for me, driving around in our family car, hyperventilating
as she asked any kids she could find if theyd seen me. I checked
my watch. It was about six-thirty and darkness was about to control
After a lengthy, well-intentioned and bitter lecture about me being
a sickly child who had to remember that his mother wasnt in very
good health either and certainly shouldnt have to be driving up
and down the snowy roads searching for a young boy no one had seen,
I was sent to my room, which was just fine with me. I had been feeling
so great there for a while, I should have realized the great cosmic
equalizer would come along and pound my high spirits back into their
basement. In my foolishness I had forgotten all about being sick with
whatever horror this weeks favorite was and instead had gone crazy
with happiness at being out with Greg and actually doing something.
So I stood there on that platform more than thirty years later, seeing
the boy within the man who now had responsibilities. He and his wife
Lynette had a young teenaged daughter, they had this remarkably large
store with twelve employees, and as I endeavored to take in the physical
changes that threatened to engulf the child within my friend, I realized
that in a few hours it would be All Hallows Eve, a night when
the sycophants of Satan don their masks and scare hell out of one another.
It was, as it turned out, the Yankee Traders busiest day of the
Greg didnt care. He couldnt have been more gracious--to
me. His wife, Lynette, was clearly getting pissed. The store needed
his help. I let him off the hook by telling him I needed to get some
sleep, which was true enough. Ill call you in a few hours, I said,
which was a lie. I never talked to him again.
That evening I went over to Ruth Anns house.
Ruth Ann and I were great friends in college despite my not infrequent
efforts to take her to bed, a highly unlikely situation given her disposition
toward--oh, how to say it? Shes gay. Shes also brilliant,
beautiful, strong, deep, hilarious. She was then and she remains the
same. Shes also a great hostess, allowing a silly road-weary bumpkin
to join her for pizza on Halloween Eve, when what she obviously wanted
was to serve treats to the stream of decked out children beggars. We
sat on her porch steps smoking M Lights, filling in for each other the
missing connections in the past twenty-odd years. I often make it difficult
for people to like me. Nothing in the last two decades has meant more
to me than the fact that Ruth Ann still did.
As I mentioned, a couple days later she and I drove by my old house.
Undiscouraged by being chased away by the present tenant we motored
off down Tarlton Road to Logan Elm High School. Being a Saturday, no
one stood sentry to scare us off. Dave Dudley sang, My home towns
a-coming in sight/If you think Im happy, youre right!
How many times had I ridden my ten speed up and down these waves of
narrow two-lane spirals, some goofy-ass tune in my head, sublimating
God knows what into super-human strength Id never feel again?
Ruth Ann and I road those waves and bellied those curves at ridiculously
high speeds, nervous as kittens but safe as angels. Anna McGarrigle
declared in the voice of Linda Ronstadt: Some say the heart is
just like a wheel/When you bend it you cant mend it. For
that four mile drive to my old school, our wheels never so much as threatened
Except for a refreshment center near the rear exit, the school hadnt
changed a bit. Hysteria bubbled up in my neck. Im amazed still
to have survived that sight. Part Three
Ive been swimming in a sea of anarchy
Ive been living on coffee and nicotine
Ive been wondering if all the things Ive seen
Were ever real--were ever really happening.
--Sheryl Crow, Brian MacLeod
I spent fifteen minutes with my Aunt Jean, then hopped back in the Roadster
for the final exploration. The two hours of wandering around Marshall
University in search of something familiar--something besides architecture--served
its useless purpose. The time had come to go home.
Home! For the first time in twenty-one years, I actually thought of
Phoenix as home. It took coming back to Ohio to awaken me to the fact
that home is where the driveway is. Or something. And with all due respect
to the saintly Johnny Cash, the green, green grass of home can turn
brown and burn, for all I care these days.
The music took on an amusing, ironic tinge. The Shangri-Las admonished
You Can Never Go Home Anymore. And thats called glad.
Clarence Frogman Henry, who indeed sang like a frog and
like a girl, gutter-chirped Aint Go No Home.
Randy Newman croaked his version of his very own Ill Be
Home, followed close and tight by Harry Nilssons take on
the same tune. A bit more Harry? Thank you, no problem. Driving
along at 57,000 miles an hour/Look at those people standing on the pedals
of the flower. Do I know what those lines mean? Nope. Do I care?
A-huh huh/ Oh yeah. So glad to be back in the USA. Now if only those
patrols would leave us alone.
The cars owners manual makes a subtle point about the tires
being guaranteed for speeds up to 130 mph. Then in tiny italics it states:
This is not the maximum speed of your vehicle. And that is quite true.
Barreling through Big Bone Lick Kentucky bluegrass like a B-52 above
a napalmed field of rice paddies, I shot the Audi up the 150, click
clock, then 155, no problem, no shake, no shimmy, whats next?
Lord, itll never stop, lets hit the mark. 160 proud and
bold and free on winding roads built to accommodate slow moving horse
trailers. It was every amphetamine dream without a trace of sediment
in the bloodstream. Each fraction of doubt in my steering could roll
us sideways to Tennessee and yet that vile spark in my eyes shining
back from the rearview mirror kept the road hug just as tight as the
lid on Aunt Mabels jam. Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
chanted The Clashs Police on my Back, and like an
aerial target ignited for my inconvenience, three Kentucky State Police
vehicles damned near skyjacked us over to the side of the road, and
angry does not do their collective mood any justice.
Put your right hand on the wheel and open the door with your left!
Do not step out of the car! Put your left foot on the pavement! Move!
My advice: if youre ever in a similar situation and have access
to an adorable if somewhat simple-minded cocker spaniel, utilize your
affection for that dog to the utmost bounds of bad taste. No matter
how big and hostile the nature of the police officer, he or she does
not much fancy developing a mental image of an other than normal affection
between a boy and his dog. And it doesnt play well at the station
house. Yeah, Sarge, we caught this guy doing 160 down the Interstate--
160! Jesus Joseph and Mary! Throw the bastard in the cage and
mess him up for fun!
Yeah, but Sarge, hes got this dog and there seems to be
some hanky-panky goin on here.
Yeah, Im afraid so.
Get his goddamn perverted ass the hell out of here. Follow him
to the border. Let Tennessee handle him. Aint gonna have no goddamn
dog-sniffers in my station house.
On the subject of social interactions, except for my all too brief visit
with Ruth Ann, I hadnt spent much time with any women on this
visit, and I felt my social skills beginning to slip. Back in Phoenix,
I spend as much time as possible in either of the two major strip clubs,
and I had a clear sensation that the withdrawal I now felt did not bode
well for my continued sanity. Conclusion firmly in place, when I got
back to Memphis, I made a point of finding a madhouse called the Platinum
Rose. I had a passing familiarity with the manager of this establishment
from the days he ran Christies in Phoenix, so I thought Id
stop in. After no less than seventeen wrong turns, I finally located
my destination and proudly sauntered up to the front door, vaguely aware
that there didnt seem to be many cars in the lot.
The Platinum Rose, like its cousin Christies, is lavish
in the Vegas sense of the word: stage lights that eschew the color red,
candles on the tables, expensive sound system, approximately uniformed
waitresses, well-stocked bar, and the typical array of young females
in various stages of undress. But there were three noticeable differences.
First, most of the Memphis dancers were African-American; and second,
Memphis cabaret liquor laws prohibit the selling of anything except
beer and wine. They do not, however, prohibit the manager of such clubs
from giving away hard liquor to well-deserving customers, free
of charge. Since I have no desire to get any of these folks in
trouble with the state liquor board, Ill let the Reader draw conclusions
The third major difference between Phoenix strip clubs and this one
in Memphis manifested itself in the way the entertainers dance. Terms
like dirty and nasty contain a negative connotation.
It might be more neutral and even more accurate to describe the Memphis
dances as more aggressive.
Having satisfactorily explored the vicissitudes of exotic dancing, Memphis
style, I left within the hour.
Taking a slightly alternate trip back home, specifically one that avoided
my earlier nightmare in Dallas, I departed Memphis and motored through
central Arkansas, and onward through the long stretch of Oklahoma. I
only had four Oklahoma-specific songs with me: The first two were actually
the same song, Okie From Muskogee, one by Merle Haggard
and the other by Phil Ochs, diametrical opposites if such things ever
existed. I even forgot I had these two with me until I came upon a road
sign that declared: SOME CALL IT ABORTION. GOD CALLS IT MURDER. I actually
had to circle back and take that one in again. Snapped a picture just
so the folks back home would believe it. We dont take our
trips on LSD, crooned Merle, and I realized he was right. All
you had to do was read the signs on the road and your genetic make-up
would never be the same again. Living on Tulsa time indeed.
The only other Okie song I could come up with was The Raiders
Indian Reservation. Oklahoma means Indian Territory,
according to the history books, and the song seemed appropriate to the
trinket factories and refurbished fallout shelters that housed much
of the indigenous population. My mind was clearly no longer the boss.
Early November in northern New Mexico is cold. Stark, beatific, radiating
splendor and holly jolly, but windy and exceedingly cold. Cold, in a
religious sense. I yearned for a full-service filling station and nevertheless
had to pump my own. No one owns a coat warm enough to stave off the
fruit-juice thick winds of northern NM. No one. That kind of cold seeps
through the emptiness in a man and magnifies the hollow passages. Had
I become the kind of man whose idea of engaging entertainment was to
receive a world class grind from professional lap dancers? Had my perceptions
deteriorated so sufficiently that my faith in a dream that hadnt
been more than bullshit twenty years ago would be all that sustains
me? Was it possible that this nice little sports car represented a motorized
phallus, a wheeled libido, its turbo engine so roaring and fragile that
even the soft breath of something real would shatter it, scatter it
to the winds, and damned cold winds at that? Were my quick wits and
sparkling humor a way of disguising me from myself? Chances are.
Five hours out of Albuquerque I recognized the familiar, the formerly
despised, the ridiculously comfortable. Id been out of songs for
the last couple hours. For entertainment, I watched Molly drool on the
inside glass each time we passed a semi. Bet theres a lot
of dog food in that truck, she must have been thinking.
Ive been back home for a few months now. Nothing here is either
better or worse. I am both better and worse. Worse for confronting self-delusions
that most of us get to ignore, blissfully. And better for knowing that
Gotta go now. Theres some new CDs that just arrived in the
© Phil Mershon March 2004
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