A sharp wind passed over the sleeping city. Across deserted sidewalks, this swept little clouds of loose snow into a whirlwind at the intersection of University Avenue and Fifteenth Street. Another gust, stronger and colder than the last whipped down the carefully laid grid work which is Minneapolis. It caused massive oaks to groan and old home to answer with high pitched creaking. The trees acknowledged the homes by caressing their skin with long, boney fingers. From within the eerier rat-tat-ta-tap-tap-tap upon window panes stirred the slumbering occupants. By the time the seven o’clock alarm sounded, the eastern horizon had already begun to grow pale.
As the sun consumed more and more of Night’s blackened sky, snooze buttons were hit, dreamlands abandoned as four walls became familiar once again. An hour later after a refreshing shit, shower, and shave people would leave their homes with bellies full of oatmeal, and eggs, and toast, and coffee thick and black as tar. Woolen sweaters would be worn to keep the early morning chill off the backs of necks.
The New Year came and went without much excitement. For the couple of days previous I drove my ass all over Minnesota to say my good byes to various friends and relatives, and then D Day, January 2 came like any other. Only this time instead of waking up to go to work, I packed up my father’s red, Ford truck and said my last good byes to my family.
I was so incredibly scared. Having never done something so completely new and unknown, something so huge was incredibly frightening to me. I can honestly say that as I stood in the driveway, shivering in the cold air, telling Lea that I loved her and really, truly, meaning it, more so than I ever had in the past, was the scariest moment in my life. If some dude tried to rob me, with a gun pointed at my head, at that moment, I would have told him to fuck off, cause if he was trying to make me panic it was already far too late.
“Mary, you know that you do not have to do this if you don’t want to,” my mother said, wrapping her arms around me, burying my face in her graying, straw-like hair.
“I know ma, but even if I did not want to, I would feel like a chicken shit for not trying.”
“Well,” she said, choking back a load of tears I knew was she going to let loose once I was in the cab of the truck, “I have always wanted to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade with all of those big balloons and shit in the air, so if you are still living in New York come November, I will come and visit you.”
“Will you bring dad too?” I muttered through the water works already streaming down my cheeks, and snot dripping from my nose.
“I will see what I can do. Just call us from the road so we know that you and Neil are safe. Call me when you are all moved into your apartment.”
“Yeah, sure thing ma,” I stammered, looking quickly to the ground to try and avoid her eyes, which would know that I was lying thru my teeth about having a place to stay.
That is actually not entirely true. I did not know for sure if I had a place to stay. The night before I had been frantically searching for a place to work as well as a place to live on Craigslist.org when I came across an ad that was looking for a person to work the front desk at a youth hostel on the upper west side at about 101st and Central Park West. I immediately called and was told that I would have to come in and speak with the manager on duty. In order to save me from worrying my mother anymore than I am sure I already had, I told her it was a really great, inexpensive place (glad she knew as much about housing in New York as much as I did), with really great roommates (In hindsight, I have come to know that in very rare cases, one actually can find a really great roommate), and in a really safe neighborhood. It seemed to appease her nerves for the moment. It sure did a number on mine as well.
“Neil,” mother half screamed, half sobbed, “Neil. Make sure she is safe. Do not let her out of your sight until you absolutely have to. Make sure the locks on her doors are in proper working order.”
“Yeah, yeah sure. Whatever you say,” Neil yessed her in hopes of getting on the road as soon as possible.
“Do not yes me to death. This is hard enough, watching my baby go off alone, without you having to yes me like that.”
“Well, ma, we have got to get going if we want to make it to Chicago by this evening. We will call you as soon as we are there.” My brother knew a couple of fellas he had gone to college with whom we could spend our first night out.
It sounds sadistic of me to say, but I felt pretty happy to see my mother crying. In a way it let me know that she still loved and cared about me, even though I was doing something that she whole heartedly disagreed with. It felt good to cry too. Cleanse the system, you know. Get ready for new adventures, heartaches and whatever else causes one to cry about.
Now that I am getting to a point in my story where my older brother Neil comes to shine, I should tell you about the relationship I have with him. He and I have always been very close. He was then, and still is as much so now, my best friend. The dynamic that existed prior to my moving to New York was that he was always the one who had held the reins of knowledge, life experience, etc. I had always looked up to him, still do, and not just because he towers an astonishing eight inches over me, but because whatever it is he has to say, I always want to listen. I also look up to him because I literally owe him my life. I do try to thank him every now and again for being a good boy scout and for pulling me from the bottom of a lake when I was about two years old. He really did not have to do that if he didn’t want to. I would have died otherwise and, consequently, would not be here telling you this fantastic story of a young girl’s morph into womanhood and better understanding of the world around her. When we get the rare chance to see each other now, I feel like the both of us have a unique experience under our belts with which to educate and enlighten the other. Somehow I always saw him as a peer, even when I was four and he was twelve and already in middle a school. Now I feel that he finally sees me as a contemporary as well.
When he was just a couple years older than me, he quit college and moved to California for a few years to explore life and see all that there was to see, do all that there was to do before coming back to Minnesota to finish his college education as a physicist, akin to what I was doing myself. He loves adventure just as much as I do and will jump on just about any occasion to get a fix. He driving me across the Midwest and on to the East Coast was the perfect opportunity for the both of us to have at least one last adventure together before I was ostensibly gone forever. The experience was especially bonding for me, if not the both of us. There was a lot of nasty, gritty, B.S. that was gotten out of the way, by means of conversation or screaming, that brought our friendship a Hell of a lot closer. It was not very pretty, but it needed to be done.
As we headed eastward down Interstate 94, the sun crept high and higher in to the sky. Its golden rays hurt my puffy, cried out eyes, but I welcomed the feeling, as it would be the last time for a long time that I would enjoy a perfect, unobstructed sunrise over the St. Croix River.
“You are being awfully quiet in light of such a momentous occasion.” Neil said clearing his throat, just as we passed through Eau Claire, Wisconsin about an hour and a half later.
“Yeah, sorry,” I mumbled, “I just get so involved with watching the trees going by that I forget where I am.”
“Fuck you, then. Do you want to drive?”
“No, I am serious. I just get spaced out after a while.”
“Right on,” he cleared his throat again, “What are you thinking about?”
“Just how scared shitless I am.”
“Good. You should be scared.”
“Thanks for the advice. Anything other bits of wisdom you care to share with me?”
“If you are broke, there is always prostitution. There is nothing like getting paid for getting laid.”
“Oh go to Hell.” I fucking hated it when he would say that. It is not like he meant anything by it, just being a real funny guy, but I was, and still am, totally irked by that.
“I think what you are doing is great. I am not sure why you decided on moving to New York, but I really dig that you are doing your own thang now before you get too sucked into this, this,” he repeated, sort of spacing out himself just looking for the word, “This life.”
“Oh, yeah? Were you scared when you moved to San Fran?”
“Sheesh, you bet I was,” he glanced in my direction and winked, “Only I was too naive to realize how frightened I should have been. Damn.”
“I bet you are going to meet some really fuken cool people.”
“I hope so. That would be nice,” I closed my eyes and imagined all of the über fashionable and artistic types gathering in a loft style apartment smoking hand rolled cigarettes from fancy cigarette holders and calling them “fags” instead of cigarettes or smokes, listening to new music that no one in a million years in Minnesota would ever hear of, and talking about shit beside the weather and no name little debutants I had gone to high school with that no one really gave two shits about anyway. It all seemed so refreshing and I welcomed the day dream with an open mind.
“I bet you are going to see some truly exceptional independent films,” he continued.
“I do not know about that,” I laughed and opened my eyes. I have never been a big fan of watching movies, because:
1. They are too long, and my three minute attention span does not cope well.
2. Movie stars are really bothersome. Their flawless skin, their seamless hair and designer clothes. What a load of shit. Their nice, smiling, glitzy, well rehearsed answers for Jay Leno or David Letterman. Please, I would rather have my one good eye taken out with a rusty, fucking spoon.
3. Books are much more fascinating, and do not kill brain cells at an exponential rate.
“Well you will probably see some fascinating art then.” He had the biggest smile on his face and his eyes blankly watched the yellow, center lines zip by on the salty, black asphalt. I knew he was thinking about all of the people he had met, all of the movies he has seen and all of the wonderful art that is all around in the more cultured corners of this United States of America™.
“I remember the first time I ever saw San Francisco after driving for days across Nebraska and Colorado,” his bright blue eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth twitched in and out of a smile, as the images flashed across his brain.
“What the fuck did it look like? I have never been there, so I do not have any sort of reference.”
“Oh, right. Sorry,” he laughed, “I always forget that most of my family and friends never came out to visit me when I lived there.”
“Sorry,” I said immediately. I felt, somehow, that he needed to hear that, “I really wanted to tho.”
“Oh, no. I did not expect you to visit. You were still pretty young then, weren’t you?” I nodded. He reached over, squeezed my knee cap and then turned his sights eastward once again.
“I remember it was really fuken late. Prolly ‘bout two-thirty or three aay emm. The interstate was twisting and turning in and out of these mountains, not really mountains, but,”
“But bigger than what we are used to seeing.”
“Precisely. So the road is twisting and turning for what seems like ever. At that point I was so damned tired and so incredibly excited to be out of the car and in San Fran at last, that when I finally did see it,” he paused for quite a few moments, and was only brought back to the whole point of his story when the right tire started drifting over the rumble strip on the side of the road, “When I finally saw that big, orange bridge poking out of the dense for that tumbled right out of the water and on up the hill side. When I saw downtown S.F. and all the glittering lights, I started crying. I could not help it. I just started bawling like a fricking baby.”
I smiled, and we both came back to I-94 and the snow covered farms dotted along the frozen Wisconsin country side. We drove in silence for a while. Neil reminiscing about the fog, cable cars, Chinatown and life out West, while I dreamed of art and coffee and bagels and pizza at four thirty eight in the morning and wondering if it was true what they say about New York, that it never sleeps.
“I think this will be really good for you. You will find out a lot about who you are as a person.”
“I fucking hope so, because I am so lost right now. I hate to admit that I do not have a good grip on my life, or reality, but I figure that if something was kick my ass, so to speak, New York would be the perfect place.”
“Just be careful you do not actually get your ass kicked.”
“Oh do not even talk like that. I don’t know what I would do if someone tried to rob me.”
“Just fucking trust me. Let them take your wallet, your earrings, whatever. Just let them take it. It is not worth getting hurt over.”
“What if they want to rape me?”
“You can’t rape the willing.”
“Fuck you, Neil. I am serious! What do I do if someone tries to rape me?”
“I don’t know. I have never tried to rape anyone before. Kick and scream. Make lots of noise. That might be worth getting hurt over.”
“Do you think I should carry as knife or something?”
“Maybe you should carry some mace. You would not want anyone using a weapon on you.”
“Where can I punch my attacker that will make him lose is grip on me?”
“Grab him by the testes and with his nuts between your thumb and pointer finger, pinch ‘em until they pop.”
“Amongst other things, that will make him lose his grip on you.”
“Neil. I am so scared. I do not even have a place to live.” He slammed on the brakes and we skidded to a halt on the snowy shoulder.
My heart nearly stopped at the same moment the truck did. Neil glared at me with a look of surprise and utter disbelief.
“Excuse me? Um, Mare, did you just say that you do not have a place to stay?” He looked away and locked his gaze upon the dashboard. His breath was fast and erratic and that alone really freaked me out. I could not even look at him I was so scared at what he might do. I just looked out the window at the peaceful grove of pine trees and crows circling over head.
I said nothing for quite some time. I had tried to though, honestly I did, but every time I opened my mouth to say anything only a small choking sound would escape.
“We are not moving until you answer my question,” he said, not looking up from the dash, “Do you not have a place to live?” This time his question was yelled, and he pounded his hands on the steering wheel as if it would make his inquiry come across more clearly.
“No,” I whispered.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘No’ God damn it!”
“Did you even think about that one minor detail before you left?”
“Yes, but Neil,” I started to protest but was cut short.
“Do not ‘But Neil,’ me. I thought you told mom and dad you had a place to stay?”
“I did, but Neil.”
“’But Neil I lied.’ Is that what you are trying to tell me?”
“Yes, but Neil.”
“Oh my fucking Lord M.J. What were you thinking?”
“Neil if you would just shut up for one God damn minute I would tell you. Jesus H. Christ!” I screamed. I still could not look at him. My mind was reeling and praying to whatever higher power, that may or may not be, would listen to my plea that the front desk position at the hostel would be available. For some reason tho, I still could not speak.
“Well MacGyver? How do you plan on getting out of this one? If you want we could stop at a hardware store and pick up some duct tape and chocolate bars. I know I do not have any on me, but I am sure you could find some way to use them to save your ass.”
“Shut up, would you?”
“Then fucking talk to me, damn it.”
“Alright! Alright! Will you drive please?”
“Back to Minnesota, or to New York?”
“To New York, please!”
“I will only if you tell me honestly that you have a place to stay.”
“I do,” I peeped, looking up to see what his reaction would be, but his eyes were still on the dash and his fists were white knuckled around the wheel, “Sort of. Just shut up and drive.”
“M.J. I am going to tell you this now so that you are not surprised,” he started to explain as he pulled the big, red truck back out onto America’s black vein and chugged back up to sixty-five miles per hour, “That if what you are about to tell me is a load of crap, I will not think twice about turning this vehicle around and bringing you back to Minnesota.”
“Fine,” I huffed, “Last night I was looking on the internet for any rooms available, people looking for a roommate, etcetera, when I came upon an ad for a youth hostel that was seeking a front desk clerk in exchange for a room. I called the number that was listed and was told that I would need to speak with the manager on Monday morning.”
“And what? That is it.”
“Oh Jesus, Mary. Are you serious? Please tell me that you are not serious.”
“I am serious, Neil. Why do you say that?”
“Have you given any thought as to what you are going to do when you do not get the job?”
“Oh ye of little faith.”
“I am serious ye of little brain.”
“I am too and yes, I have thought of that. While I was on the phone with the guy I asked him what the rates were. The cheapest was forty-five bucks a night and one fifty per week. And since I have a hostel card the rates would be a little cheaper, but he did not say how much less it would cost.”
“And in the mean time you could find a job waiting tables somewhere.”
“Exactly, and since there is a six week maximum stay, I would have to find an apartment quickly too.”
“What about money in the meantime?”
“I have some money, but that is also another incentive to getting a job quickly.”
“Mare, only because I do have faith in you that this hair brained idea might actually work, I am going to keep driving. Just promise me that if you get into trouble, or run out of money, you will not hesitate to call maw and paw to send you some cash, or buy you a plane ticket.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have thought about all of this and I have a plan of action all ready should the need strike. Hopefully it won’t, but it is there and ready.”
“What is your plan?”
“Call ma and pops collect, tell them I made a mistake and ask them to buy me a bus ticket home.”
“Nice, so I will be seeing you again in a couple of weeks?” he asked and cleared his throat again.
“Just because you said that, I am even more determined to make it work.”
“Good, that is why I said it. Just thought I would up the ante a bit.”
I felt bad for lying to my brother, my best friend, about having a place to stay. You would have too, if every damn person you met wanted to know where you were planning on living in New York, cause they had been there once and really liked Times Square, so you should live there too, damn it. Or not to go to the Bronx, because they heard that the Bronx was really tough and you will get mugged in an instant. I just started making shit up as I went, and wouldn’t you know it, every time someone asked me where I was living my neighborhood, roommates and apartment just kept on getting better and better. It is just too bad that my imagination cannot work just as well in reality.
We drove in silence for a few more hours, watching the country side and the occasional truck stop whiz by. Even when we had stopped for gas we did not even speak to each other. Not out of anger, but rather, out of habit. Whoever was driving was always in charge of pumping the gas, and the passenger washed the windows. We would go Dutch on the cost of fuel and whatever munchies our stoner appetites craved. It worked out rather well that way. It should though, because we have been working on a routine that would be flawless ever since Neil began driving at age sixteen or seventeen in his 1970 Mercury Cougar. Damn, that was one sweet whip.