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First Chapters
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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapters

Going Buckeye
Phil Mershon
The 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

There’s 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 year’s 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/DC’s Highway to Hell, and Dion’s 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 you’re 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 I’m 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 don’t like people taking pictures of my house. Who are you?”
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 I’d 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 CD’s burned especially for the occasion into the compact storage case and plunged ahead down I-10 toward Tucson en route to the first night’s 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 CD’s 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 down.
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 Gillan’s counter-twister scream wail strangled up with Ritchie Blackmore’s controlled adrenaline guitar boxing match and propelled the Audi’s 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 motorist’s 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 song’s title took hold: The Byrds’ version of Dylan’s “You Ain’t 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 Dudley’s “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 hasn’t 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 Geronimo’s Cadillac song called “Crack Up in Las Cruces” to get me over the hump.

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. “You’re 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 kid’s 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 McDonald’s “Texas Flower,” Elton’s Merle Haggard parody “Texas Love Song,” Louis Armstrong and King Oliver’s “Texas Moaner Blues,” and Lester Young’s “Texas Shuffle.” It was the situationally appropriate “Texas to Ohio” by Damien Jurado that actually introduced me to trouble. I’d cranked those ghost guitars and gravel road vocals so high that my gaze wired itself to the highway and I didn’t detect the friendly Texas State Trooper until long after he’d seen me.
Imagine if you will: you’re 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 doesn’t 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 best behavior.
“Is your dog gonna bite me?” the friendly trooper inquired with what appeared to be genuine concern for his own safety.
“Not if you don’t 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 McDonald’s 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 we’d 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 he’d 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 officer’s 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 Who’s “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 Who’s Next, the better it gets. Forever.” Better advice I have never received.

As we roared on in search of our next major stop in Dallas, we punched up Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s teenaged eight-track classic “Roll on Down the Highway.” The song’s 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 Jagger’s 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 emporium.

My friendships there weren’t lifelong, but they were deep. As The Beatles’ “Get Back” bled into Elvis Presley’s version of Hank Snow’s “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 Welliver’s 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 Parson’s 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 SUV’s. 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 Audi’s, probably because SUV drivers recognize that there are only three or four non-Audi’s 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 Harrison’s “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 there’s 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 CCR’s “Cottonfields,” “Arkansas Hop” by Boz and the Highrollers, “Joan of Arkansas” by Dorothy Shay, Big Medicine’s “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 Russell’s duet of “A Little Girl From Little Rock.” Hell, I’m 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 Berry’s 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 wasn’t part of the burger axis of indigestion, Dan Bern’s “Graceland” whupped me upside the head:
Well look at me, Lord
I’m 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 today’s 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 Cash’s version of daddy John’s “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 bear’s 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 world’s 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 Ringo’s “Nashville Jam,” received scads of curious looks throughout the playing of Godhead’s “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 she’d been aimlessly licking and stared at me as if I’d 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 don’t 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. We’d 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 we’d run--during which time I searched vainly for Springsteen’s “Mr. State Trooper.” The best I could come up with was Randy Newman’s “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. Haven’t been there in over twenty--”
“Ohio?” he queried, although when he said it, the state name sounded like “Ah-hi-ya.”
“Yes sir, Ohio. That’s where I’m from. Looking forward to--”
“I don’t 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 you’re 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 ticket’s going on your driving record, boy. You’re almost out of Tennessee. You make sure you pay this when you get to Ohio or wherever you’re going. You make sure that dog of yours don’t obstruct your view. And you better make sure you don’t 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 BTO’s “Freeways,” Joe South’s high strung “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” the heavy-light xylophone of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Reunion Blues,” the harmelodic majesty of Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America,” the power and the glory of Phil Ochs’ “Power and the Glory,” the pop up grind and slash of Tom Petty’s “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. “Here’s 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 don’t care where we’re goin’ from here, honey, you decide.

Jackson Browne, “The Road and the Sky”

Somehow wedged in between Deep Purple’s heavy lunged version of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” and Elvis Presley’s 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 boy’s 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; I’m 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, I’ve always assumed it would terminate in a more abstract way, probably as a result of a lack of imagination. In other words, Browne’s 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/Everybody’s gonna get wet/Don’t think it won’t happen/Just because it hasn’t 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 weren’t 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 Altman’s 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. That’s 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 I’ve 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 reckon.

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 winner’s 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 he’d probably quickly become the CFO at a growing pharmaceutical conglomerate.
I could go on, but what’s 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 name change.
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 I’d 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. That’s why it’s 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 nation’s 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 CD’s 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.
“I’m 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 Bonnie’s “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Comin’ Home.”

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, I’d 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 I’d 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 weren’t 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 he’d 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 I’d 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 stranger’s dream.
Greg was the kind of kid you’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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. “It’s 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, he’d attracted a considerable audience away from the twenty-minute football game that typically held top billing. One bystander claimed the dew drop wasn’t 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. I’d 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. I’d 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 didn’t 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 said sure.

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 wouldn’t 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 farmer’s pick-up truck with commercial plates before we’d 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 Greg’s feet.

Once we realized that Willie’s aim was to conk us on the heads with his hurling rocks, Greg yelled, “Let’s 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 didn’t 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 behind us.

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 we’d 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 they’d seen me. I checked my watch. It was about six-thirty and darkness was about to control the sky.

After a lengthy, well-intentioned and bitter lecture about me being a sickly child who had to remember that his mother wasn’t in very good health either and certainly shouldn’t 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 week’s 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 Trader’s busiest day of the year.

Greg didn’t care. He couldn’t 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. I’ll 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 Ann’s 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? She’s gay. She’s also brilliant, beautiful, strong, deep, hilarious. She was then and she remains the same. She’s 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 town’s a-coming in sight/If you think I’m happy, you’re 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 I’d 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 can’t mend it.” For that four mile drive to my old school, our wheels never so much as threatened to bend.
Except for a refreshment center near the rear exit, the school hadn’t changed a bit. Hysteria bubbled up in my neck. I’m amazed still to have survived that sight. Part Three
I’ve been swimming in a sea of anarchy
I’ve been living on coffee and nicotine
I’ve been wondering if all the things I’ve 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 that’s called glad.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry, who indeed sang like a frog and like a girl, gutter-chirped “Ain’t Go No Home.”
Randy Newman croaked his version of his very own “I’ll Be Home,” followed close and tight by Harry Nilsson’s 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? Even less.

A-huh huh/ Oh yeah. So glad to be back in the USA. Now if only those patrols would leave us alone.
The car’s owner’s 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, what’s next? Lord, it’ll never stop, let’s 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 Mabel’s jam. “Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday…” chanted The Clash’s “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 you’re 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 doesn’t 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, he’s got this dog and there seems to be some hanky-panky goin’ on here.”
“You mean…?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
“Get his goddamn perverted ass the hell out of here. Follow him to the border. Let Tennessee handle him. Ain’t 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 hadn’t 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 Christie’s in Phoenix, so I thought I’d 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 didn’t seem to be many cars in the lot.

The Platinum Rose, like it’s cousin Christie’s, 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, I’ll let the Reader draw conclusions unaided.

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 don’t 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 hadn’t 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. I’d 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 there’s a lot of dog food in that truck,” she must have been thinking.

I’ve 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 about myself.
Gotta go now. There’s some new CD’s that just arrived in the mail…

© Phil Mershon March 2004
Glendale, AZ

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