Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chapter 1

After my first two, very difficult, years of living a coastal life about two thousand miles first east, then west of my family, I have decided to return to Minnesota and write about what I have experienced.
            I should first tell you that at the present moment, I am sitting on an old couch overlooking a frozen Rice Lake in Paynesville, Minnesota. It is Tuesday, January 11th, 2005. I feel it is the perfect place to get away from all of the uncertainties, pollution and seemingly endless hours of waiting tables[1] that my life had become. I am also trying to mend a relationship with a friend of mine, Jak, tho at this point, I have dreaded the moment when I would have to say this ever since we met in Mr. W’s English class junior year, I feel like any attempt to heal will do more harm than help. She is the kind of girl who is so effervescent that it is inevitable that one would come to dislike her so. Part of me worries that our time up here may turn into a scene of bloodshed and cuss words that will make anything you have ever seen on television, or in the movies seem like child’s play. No pun intended.
            I should also tell you now, before I begin my Tale of Two Years, that I love adventure. I love to travel. I’d travel across the country/world if the right opportunity, not necessarily the most fun or rational, presented itself. After what seemed like an eternity, I graduated from high school (Thank God ®), quite a journey in and of itself, and was gifted by my brother, a road atlas and compass. Both of which I have used on more than a few occasions. In fact, guided by Mr. McNally, I once drove for eight hours straight from the Twin Cities to go to Canada and have a Labatt’s Blue in a shitty, roadside, Canadian dive, just across the boarder from International Falls in the small, and desivtatingly dreary town of Fort Frances, Ontario. I think the toll to get across the bridge cost more than the actual reason why I drove so far only to turn right around and come back home. Another time I went to see an Irish punk rock band play a show in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day. I have eaten a Bismarck in Bismarck and have drunk a Keystone in Keystone. If there is anything to be said about these seemingly minor excursions, I will say that I am glad to have done these things, if only to have an interesting story to tell over cocktails in an airport bar. Truth be told, I think it helped sculpt me into the fine, young citizen that I am today.
            That being said, the only logical place to start would be at the beginning, right? But what was it that got me into this shack in the middle of a bitter, cold winter in the first place? I really believe that it was my love for adventure that did it, tho at times I used to think I had shot myself in the foot with that one.
            Be that as it may, I blame my not being able to stay in one place on three things[2]:
1.     My mother is part gypsy. At least that is what she has told my siblings[3] and me since we were old enough to understand what the Hell she was babbling about.
2.     When I had begun to understand that I was a walleye in a school of minnows, Neil gave me a copy of Kerouac’s On the Road, thru which I could vicariously hitchhike all over the country.
3.     Meeting Malachi, the Blues Guy, as he called himself. He may have been smelly, had a partial set of teeth and rude as Hell, but it was what my mother would have called a blessing in disguise. He was character number one, of a very great many, in a series of events that led me to this little cabin on a big hill.
About two and a half years ago I as living in Minneapolis. It was one of those really shitty situations that tend to develop between a pair of friends who decide to become roommates, in which one of whom is a college graduate at age nineteen and the other is a burnout, pothead with no respect for herself or anyone else (or so I was told). It took me quite some time, but I finally decided that I had had enough, and in the throes of a brutal screaming match it was decided that I should move out. Meh, I always say it is better to loose a friend and a place to lay my head at night than to hate living in my own home and having to put up with her list of rigid rules or her lame ass boy toy.
One particular afternoon, after my subsequent departure from the shithole I called home, I was having a coffee up at a cafe on Fourteenth between Fourth and Fifth. It was a typical day in the early spring when all of the students from the University of Minnesota were preparing for finals, talking about differential equations or the party at the “ski house” on Friday night.
I was minding my own business, reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I noticed two very big dogs with two sets of very sharp looking teeth, and a burly, weathered man stop on the sidewalk next to my table.
“Spare any change so I can buy some water for my dogs?” he asked, extending his grubby paw. He had a deep and booming voice and I think he saw me jump when he asked. I remember looking from him to the dogs with curious eyes.
“I think they give out water for the dogs for free,” and motioned over my shoulder with my thumb.
“Do my dogs look like the kind of bitches who would drink tap water?” Then as tho it had been choreographed, the dogs began barking, snapping and jumping at me. “Girls!” he hollered, and pulled them back by their leashes. “Settle down, girls! Settle!”
“Oh sweet fucking Christ!” I screamed, jumping back in my seat in hopes to avoid gnashing jaws and paws.
“Girls,” he bellowed once more, finally settling them down to a pair of snarling, drooling and, seemingly, angry canines. However, not before I nearly shit myself out of fright.
Meanwhile my book bag had been knocked from the table in all of the commotion, unloading its contents on the pavement for all to see. For a split second I was hoping that, as I looked out over the countless tampons, empty packs of cigarettes and at least two trashy romance novels that I had been dreaming and that at any moment my eyes would fly open and I’d be in my little bed. It took me until this disgusting man belted out a few hearty laughs when I realized that “no honey, you are not dreaming.” Trying to hide my reddening face, I quickly leapt out of my seat and began jamming all of my shit back into my sack.
“Have you gotten to the part where he fucks her on the dining room table? It is so hot.” Again he laughed, which was loud like a clap of thunder. He reached down and picked up a book entitled My Husband Returns at Five. It has a picture of a woman on the cover with bright red hair, and her lover is a plumber with his shirt unbuttoned half way. He even has a nap of chest hair erupting over the top. It doesn’t get any classier than that.
“I love lonely housewives,” he said, quite loud in fact, while smiling and laughing, almost in hysterics, opened the book to a page that had been dog eared. He started reading aloud to the small group of about eight or nine people who had around gathered to see what all of the hubbub was about.
“‘Gradually he slid his hands down her legs and spread them in one, easy motion. He pulled her closer to himself with his other arm so that at any moment he could plunge his throbbing, rock hard tool into her soft and wet womanhood.’”
“Jesus Christ!” I screamed and tore the book from his filthy mitts. I had been totally humiliated. I looked around at the people who had been standing close enough to hear. About six people were laughing hysterically, another had gone inside during the scene and one person mouthed the words “Are you okay?”
“What the fuck dude? What is your fucking problem?” He didn’t say anything, just laughed, gathered his dogs and walked across the street. I followed, flustered and enraged. I had not been exactly sure just what I would have said or done had he even acknowledged me.     
Just then he abruptly stopped and turned to face me. I had been quite surprised and jumped back when he did. He looked at me for a moment and then grasped me by the hand and led me into a record store.
“Have you ever been so moved by something it changed your life?” he asked. I just looked at his like I was deaf and dumb. “Wait here,” he continued and went to speak with the clerk. He returned a few moments later, smiling and rubbing his hands together.
“Ever since I left home, I try to make it back every year,” in the background Tom Waits’ November began to play, “because of this song. Music is my lifeblood. It moves me”
“How long have you been gone?”
“I was 16 when I first started riding the rails. It has been so long, one big adventure that I can’t remember.” He held out his hand to me, “Care to dance?”
Whatever anger I had for this unknown man had dissipated and was now replaced by curiosity.                    
“Sure, why not?”  I smiled, and took his hand. We started whirling in small, slow circles.
            “Where do you call home?”
            “Car 45 on Soo. 57 on Burlington Northern,” he croaked thru one of the most horrific sets of teeth I have ever come across.
            I understand not being able to afford proper dental care, but this was quite another thing. Seriously, a tooth brush costs only ninety-nine cents at the Ninety-nine Cents Store, as well as a tube of toothpaste. It is not that difficult, even if you are a bum. Most of his teeth were a crusty yellowish brown color, while one or two were dead and gray. There were also a couple spaces where teeth used to be.
            “Eh,” I stammered, thoroughly disgusted at the sight of his teeth, “Where did you grow up?”
            “Mobile, Alabama.”
            The small, slow circles got faster and faster, growing larger and larger as Tom Waits sang of shiny, black ravens on chimney smoke lanes.
            “Why this song?”
            “My mother’s birthday is in November.”
            “When was the last time you saw her?”
            “I was sixteen. It was at her funeral. She committed suicide,” he said rather happily and then began laughing maniacally. It was sort of a heavy bit of information to digest, but I couldn’t help myself, and started laughing too.
            All around us customers looked up from listening stations, broke conversations/transactions to see who was laughing. Neither of us noticed, naturally, and kept right on dancing, as the song faded out and Just the Right Bullets began.
            “Seeing my mother so sad and miserable with her life really made me put mine into perspective,” he said. I swear I could almost see tears forming in the corners of his eyes, bit I didn’t say anything, only held onto his hand a little tighter. “She never got to do anything she wanted. She had dreams that died the moment she met my father.” He gritted his teeth, looked down at me and smiled. I looked away quickly just because I couldn’t stand to look at his Hell mouth again.
            Dancing and laughing with this complete stranger had been the first time I had ever given a serious thought about all of the things I had ever wanted to do in life. First thing I wanted to do, more than anything else, was to go home and brush my teeth.
            “I’ve always wanted to ‘Stand on the arms of the Williamsburg Bridge and cry “Well, hey man, this is Babylon.”’ I’ve always wanted to live in New York City. I’ve always wanted to trav,” at which point he cut me off.
            “Ahh. New York, New York. It really is the greatest city in the world. Everyday there is something new to see. Always somewhere new to go. The question I pose to you now is: What is stopping you from going?” He released my hand as and walked toward the clerk again, looking back every now and again with an incredibly devilish grin on his mug.
            I laughed, and wondered what he was up to. What was keeping me in Minnesota? I mean, sure, all of my family lived here, and the few friends I did have went to school out of state and rarely came back to good old Minnesota for a visit. It all seemed too important to me to just give up. Or rather, how was I supposed to go about planning such a task? It was not like it was just another trip that I would go on and come home to afterward.
            A moment later he returned, beaming. The crackling telephone voice in the beginning of True Dreams of Wichita came over the speakers like the sun rising in the east. Slowly at first, very quietly, and then louder and louder until M. Doughty’s voice filled the bustling little shop with beautiful poetry. A smile disseminated across my face and I held out my hand to him.
            “Care to dance?”  I asked, twirling in a circle on the ball of my foot. He took my hand, and reached for a customer, a rather shy looking emo boy, who happened to be passing by too closely. The guy seemed a little surprised, quite unsure how to react to a filthy hobo grabbing him by the hand, but he went along with it anyway, luckily, and the three of us started prancing in a circle.
            “What is your name?” he asked the boy.
            “Ah, Ben.”
            “Well, Ah Ben, what inspires you?”
            “Oh goodness, I’ve never really given it much thought,” Ben replied, seriously considering what it was that made him get out of bed in the morning.
            “Wrong answer,” Hell mouth laughed and released his grip on poor Ben.
            “That was a little harsh, don’t you think?” I asked. Honestly, I did feel a little bad for Ben. All he wanted to do was go shopping for a record, and was then subjected to slight humiliation by being rejected by a bum who smelled like he had not taken a shower since 1984.
            “Not at all. Why should I waste my time with someone who is wasting theirs? It was a simple question.”
            “Why are you still talking to me then?”
            “Because you have humored me this long, I am just interested to see what you are all about.”
            “Okay,” I murmured and spun in a circle under his arm, “If you want to know what I am all about, I’ll need to know what you are all about too.  Have we got a deal?”
             “No.” he shook his head. “I am one of the most influential front runners of the Transients of America. I am none other than Malachi, the Blues Guy,” he recited, as tho it was something that he had been rehearsing for some time now, in hopes that someone would ask his name, or better, had heard of him.
            “I am Malachi, the Blues Guy, and I do not let people get to know me. It is easier on the heart strings that way, in the long run at least. I’ll get to know you though. In fact, I am pretty sure I know exactly who you are.”
            “Yeah?” I asked skeptically. I have always loved it when people thought that they had pegged me as one thing and ended up being completely, and utterly wrong. I couldn’t wait to hear what kind of a person he thought I was.
            “I can tell that you are young. You look young. No more than twenty-one and that is being very generous. You are kind and have an incredible curiosity in people. You have an old soul. You are also very sensitive and like to keep to yourself. You would prefer to gather information from afar and if it seems right, pounce upon the situation with great fury, like a cougar attacking a snowshoe hare. How am I doing so far?”
            “I am not giving you a single inch. I want to see if you really know what the Hell you are talking about,” I humored him. I certainly was not going to say shit when he was making so many open ended statements. Cougar? Snowshoe hare? What the fu…
            “You love adventure. You love to travel. I would say that your appetite for both is quite insatiable,” he continued, “These qualities you possess are all well and good. Yes, in fact, they are incredible qualities for anyone at such a tender age, you for example, to be inflicted with. However.”
            “However, you are a homebody at heart. You love to be near your family. You want to make everyone else comfortable before you even think about pleasing yourself, and you should not do that anymore. Always think of number one.”
            “Anything else?” Somehow, what he was saying started to sound a bit familiar.
             “Starting to sound like someone you know?”
            “A little. A lot, I mean. How are you able to know all of these characteristics about me that most of friends probably have not even picked up on? You haven’t been following me, have you?”
            “No. I just know these things. Your eyes are also a dead giveaway. I also know that on any sort of adventure you may take in life you will need a tarpaulin. This, given your personality and your adventurous spirit, is the most valuable piece of information, advice or knowledge I can bestow upon you.” He glanced around, kissed my hand, bowed and as parting words said, “The hardest part about doing something, anything in life, is taking the first step. Everything else will somehow fall right into place.”  And just as mysteriously as he had appeared, he escaped through the front door, and vanished around the corner.

[1] Prior to coming back to Minnesota, I had been working two waitressing jobs at the time. One at a locally known breakfast joint and the other at Baby Blues Bar-B-Q.
[2] Hyperactivity, a terrible sense of direction, and my all around spontaneous and infinite nature also contribute to my inability to hang around one place for very long, but are far less amusing to talk about.
[3] There are four of us. Neil, the eldest of the bunch, is followed by Ann, I and then our youngest sister, Lea.

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