I'm struck by the number of shrines I see on dashboards around Chicago. Plastic Marys, plastic crucifixes, miniature Buddhas, or any of the various Saints. I assume other major cities are no different, but this is something I did not see in the rural areas of my childhood. Why does this seem to be a urban phenomenon? I mean it seems kind of strange that rural and/or Southern people are often stereotyped as the religious zealots of America.
And do these shrines really reflect the priorities of modern life? In this day of feigned reality (Survivor, Joe Millionaire, etc.), and Hollywood idol worship (How many bloggers spent time not only watching the Oscars, but discussing the various atrocities (fashion and otherwise) of the evening,) it would seem to be a misrepresentation of people's values. In a time where people clutch their cell phones like Rosaries, and spend more time with text-messaging than religious texts, these plastic idols look like relics who's survival is due more to oversight than reverence.
Then again, maybe dash-mounted cell phones are the new holy figures, with little plasic mounting trays instead of doilies. Kinda gives new meaning to the phrase "Dashboard Confessional."
Funny, but I've also heard the argument that Timberland specifically "targeted" their products to black ghetto youth.' Damned if they do and damned if they don't.
My first real car was a 1977 Trans Am. Black w/gold trim, honeycomb rims, machined dashplate, t-tops - the works. Looked just like Bandit's. Well, except that mine was missing half the pinstriping, had a dent in nearly every body panel, and the passenger t-top fluttered, mercilessly threatening to take flight at any given moment. The interior lighting consisted of one tiny, lone bulb buried deep enough in the dash that you could barely read the speedometer at night, which wasn't really that much of a problem. I mean, at sixteen, who really looks at the speedo anyway? It also had the tendency to die specifically at inopportune times- like when your cruising slow by a gaggle of girls sitting at the Dairy Queen.
One night shortly after my purchase, I headed north for a night of cruising in "the city" (Population: 12,380.) The city about a 30 minute drive away. A 30 minute drive through nothing but corn, beans, and the occasional oil well. After a full night of fruitless cruising, I started for home. Somewhere amidst a break in the beans and oil fields, U.S. 45 dips into the woods and the trees loom up on either side, reaching toward each other overhead.
It was here that an early 70's hearse in absolutely pristine condition appeared from a dirt road that either didn't have a sign, or I missed it in the apparition of that spotless white hearse pulling onto the highway from a overly large path that led nowhere. And when I say that it was spotless, I mean that thing was damn near glowing in the moonlight.
It crawled out onto the highway, and eased up to a cruising speed of about 45 mph. Through the back glass I could see the shimmer of the equally immaculate white satin curtains contrasted against the darkness inside - black as a cave and somehow looked just as deep.
I followed that hearse for what seemed like hours. I stared at it's glowing iridescence and gleaming chrome trim through the neverending and unpassable curves. I followed that spook white hearse until my mind twisted tight with fear and wouldn't let me follow it any more.
I stomped that pedal down so hard I heard it smack against the floor over the bellowing roar of the engine, and almost immediately, I saw whisps of white flash from the exhaust of the hearse. Veering into the oncoming lane, I inched my front wheels almost even with its white rear door. Side by side we dove into a curve, the needle bouncing wildy past 70, leg muscles twitching against the bottomed-out pedal. I glanced up at the driver's window, but saw nothing but the reflection of the double yellow line streaming by. Pulling myself against the steering wheel, and strained to see something inside. The speedometer continued to climb. Then somewhere in the dark glass a fleck of white appeared. Just a little spot at first, but as I gaineed on the hearse that tiny glare split in two. The flecks of white flared out sideways, until they seemed to light up the inside of my car.
My engine stumbled and I snapped my head around to look at the dash, but the glare of two white lights speeding toward me changed my mind. My feet were on the brake before the throttle came up. The steering wheel grew tight in my hands. Red 'alt' and 'oil' warnings flared out at me from the dash. I pulled myself into the pedal trying to overcome the sudden loss of power brakes. My tires howled and the ass-end of the car skated right, my hood still precariously in the wrong lane. I don't remember counter-steering, but I do remember watching my front bumber magically slip back to the right side of the centerline just as the oncoming car blared past and disappeared around the curve.
I sat there in the suddenly quiet night, staring at my hands on the steering wheel. The shook when I finally released it and tried to light a cigarette. They shook even more when I looked up and saw the hearse - stopped some 500 yards up the road, the pearl-white back door now bathed in red from the brake lights.
Been away visiting friends and such. Not a whole lot to say right now, but I've been thinking (more than I should have on a weekend away) about various things- mostly though, about where I'm headed. Both physically and otherwise. I sat in a bar Friday night in the town where I grew up, and was reminded one of the reasons I left (Read: the inbred, corn-fed, simple-minded bigots that seem to overrun the place). Yet, I've got some great friends there, and I miss the rolling countryside- the woods. My friends who have to drive through miles of it every day are probably rolling their eyes at that, but there it is. Eh, it's too early for this . . .
Click da pic
Ehh . . . So let me get this straight. You can buy a wireless microphone/earpiece
attachment for your wireless phone? Exactly how many devices can we put between
ourselves and the person we're talking to?
One brutally hot August day, a maroon pickup of Nissan descent and late 80's origin rolls into the shop for a rotate and balance. R&B's are quick and easy. It was always nice to see five R&B tickets in line, because it meant that if you hustled, you just might be able to knock 'em out and grab a Coke or a smoke (you won't be getting lunch) before the next wave of tread-worn customers fill the waiting room.
Anyway, I've got it on the lift and about to pop the center-caps off, when I noticed Dude had cut out what I assume were supposed to be circles of iridescent sticker material to cover them. I use the term 'cut out' loosely, as a hedge trimmer would have given a more precise cut. Just as I was admiring this handywork, in walked the artist himself, who immediately started talking. I tried to ignore him and concentrate on finishing the job, but he wouldn't have it. This guy had more questions than my three year old nephew. With each question he is turning a five minute R&B into a 30 minute lesson on the physics of rolling traction, and killing any hope I had of a break in the process. So, in a last ditch effort to shut him up I try the only thing I can think of: Sarcasm.
"Thanks. We get big sheets of those stickers where I work, and I thought that would look pretty cool on my wheels."
Shit. All hope vanished. Sigh. "Yeah, where do you work?"
"Over at the _______ Bicycle plant."
"Yeah, we get these big 2'x2' sheets of that stuff . . ." He rambled on through the clamor of impacts and hammers about what exactly he did at ______ Bicycle plant. Don't ask, I wasn't listening. Finally, I lowered the truck and torqued the lugs.
"You really like them?"
"You really like the way I did my wheels?" He was appallingly earnest.
"Yeah, I bet they look really cool with the sun shining on them." I handed him his keys, and headed for the bathroom before he could suck up any more of my time.
So a few days goes by, I walk in to work one morning, and a salesman tells me Karl stopped by to see me.
"Yeah. He left this for you." The salesman hands me three 2 foot squares of iridescent vinyl. Granted, they weren't really worth much, but still . . .
I mean, really. A carp? You've got to be kidding. Any fisherman worth his or her tackle knows carp are the lowest bottom-feeders around. They make catfish look like aquatic royalty fer cryin' out loud.
Taking the semiotics a bit far here, don't you think? I implore you, please.
Lisa removed a book from her purple duffle bag before stuffing it in to the overhead. The sleeping woman in the window seat stirred slightly, shifting her also sleeping baby a little higher on her shoulder. Taking her seat, Lisa flipped through the book briefly and turned back to her seatmates. The mother had the weathered look of someone who had been pretty once, but who had aged prematurely. The high, wide cheekbones were still prominent under the crumpled skin. The eyebrows arched just so, ends precisely plucked and tapered. Light brownish blond highlights iridesced through her mahogany hair which had been mashed down here and there from sleep.
Lisa turned back to her book.
And immediately she felt her eyelids get heavy. Closing the book, she sighed and stuffed it into the seat pocket. The quote test tomorrow shouldn't be that hard anyway. She turned sideways in her seat and looked past the old sleeping couple across the aisle and out their window. The blackness of the midwestern night galloped by, breaking only occasionally by a farm house vapor light. The yards and buildings of each stood out in a bluish-white glow like islands in a dark sea of corn and soybeans.
Movement beside her. A small groan. Lisa turned in her seat to see the mother squirming and trying to maneuver the still sleeping child into a more comfortable position. She seemed to give up, and settled for loosely cradling the child across her lap. Glancing around, she spotted Lisa and gave her a sad smile. Lisa mouthed a 'hi,' and looked down at the face poking out of the light blue blanket. The fine, blonde hair almost indistinguishable from the creamy-white skin.
"What's his name?" she whispered.
"Hamlin. Eleven weeks."
Lisa looked at his blonde hair. "Is that Swedish . . . or German?"
"French, actually. Named after my great-grandfather. I'm Georgia, by the way."
They spoke for a while about those things of which passengers typically speak. A conversation of destinations and origins forced by the strange social rule that proximity necessitates intimacy. Georgia offered a story that explained at least the current weariness in her face. She had boarded the train in California, a little over 50 hours ago. That much time on a train with an eleven week old child would make anyone look a little beat down, Lisa thought. They made small talk over Hamlin's statistics: 9 lbs. 3 oz, 22 inches.
"Oh, please do. I think my arm is falling asleep." The sleeping Hamlin fussed briefly as he changed hands. Lisa rocked him gently with his head against her cheek, his fine hair partially hidden under her blonde curls. He was asleep again before he even opened his eyes. She closed her eyes and smelt that unique baby smell. A combination of powder, lotion, and something vaguely like salt.
"Would you . . . ."
"Nothing, I just . . . I haven't had a cigarette all day. Would you care to watch him for five minutes?" She hurried on, "the smoking lounge is just one car up."
"Sure. I'd be glad to."
"Thank you. I'll only be a minute."
"My pleasure." Lisa turned sideways to let Georgia into the aisle. As Georgia disappeared through the sliding door, a conductor and some other employees passed her and made their way through the car. The train began to slow down.
"Is there a problem?" she asked the last employee.
"No." He pointed through the window at another train. "We're just switching crews with the west-bound train."
Well, because Amtrak doesn't want to pay to put us up in a hotel, and this way I get to go home and sleep in my own bed." He smiled. First time on this train?"
"Yeah." She felt herself blushing.
"Well don't you worry, you two just sit back and enjoy the ride."
She smiled back at him. A few minutes later the new crew passed her from behind and the train started rolling again. She eased her seat back and let the swaying train rock them both. With her eyes closed, the smell of the baby and the muted click-click cadence of the wheels seemed to completely envelop her.
She awoke, a little startled, and glanced around. The old couple across the aisle had been replaced by a rather large woman and a boy of about eight playing a Game Boy. Twisting in her seat, she scanned the passengers behind her in the dim cabin. Strangers. She didn't recognize a single face. Her watch, although she couldn't believe it, said she'd been sleeping for almost two hours. The baby was sleep heavy in her arms so she laid him on his back in her lap. The seat beside her was empty and Georgia's purse was gone. I bet her arms really were falling asleep. Must have snuck out for another smoke.
She looked into the little boy's face. His skin was so white and perfect. "I hope you don't burn as easily as I do when you get older," she whispered. Hamlin brought a tiny little fist up to his face and fussed in protest. She stroked the little arm and tried to soothe him with whispers. The conductor appeared, walking toward the rear of the car, and stopped when he saw the little boy.
"What's his name?"
"Don't cry Hamlin, we're almost there little guy."
"Yep. Were coming into Chicago right now."
Lisa looked out the window at the barrage of lights. "Have you seen . . ." she started, but he was already gone. Hamlin's fussing turned into a full-on cry.
"Shhh" she bounced her knees a little, but he only seemed to cry louder. The woman across the way was glaring at her, and her son contorted his face, pressing his hands to his ears. The rail yard appeared outside the windows and Lisa realized the train had slowed to a crawl. She put the baby to her shoulder and started for the front of the car. The other passengers were getting out of their seats, stretching their legs, and retrieving bags from the overheads. A man in a tweed coat elbowed her in the arm while getting his laptop, and Hamlin wailed at the jolt. A woman in front of her was backing up as she tried to extract a huge wheeled suitcase from between the seats.  Lisa, in turn, bumped into the person behind her trying to make room. Hamlin's perfect white face was now an angry scarlet. Lisa felt the train lurch to a stop and faintly heard the release of pressurized gas over his screams. Someone behind her was propelling her forward with their carry-on.
"Watch your step ma'am" the conductor said, motioning towards the stairs with a pained smile.
"But the woman . . ." She looked over his shoulder into the smoking car, which didn't look like a smoking car, just another passenger car full of passengers trying to get off the train.
"Did you see the lady that was sitting beside me?"
"Ma'am? Please step out of the walkway." He pulled her over to the luggage shelves, and the passengers scowled their way around her. "Ma'am, you were sitting alone."
"No! There was a woman, Georgia . . . his mother, sitting beside me. She got up to go to the smoking car just before they switched crews . . . just before you . . ." Lisa was only vaguely aware of her knees giving way, of her back sliding down the wall, of the thump as she hit the floor. They didn't see her. This crew hadn't seen Georgia.
"Ma'am? Are you alright, ma'am?"
She looked past him into the strange, glaring faces of the exiting passengers. No one on this train had seen her. "She went to the smoking car . . ."
"Ma'am, this train doesn't have a smoking car."
So I'd been sitting on the bus since Indianapolis. Sleeping upright with the back of the seat in front of me mashed into my knees. Not sleeping, actually, more like I was exploring that pergatory of consciousness. That place where sleep and wakefulness twine together to create some seriously messed up perceptions. Having spent years on third shift, it is a state I'm familiar with, but it seems the older I get the less I like it.
Anyway, the cabin lights impaled my pupils as the driver announced that we were making a short stop at Gary, IN. New passengers filed down the aisle scanning for empty seats, and I was only half aware that somebody sat down beside me. What with the light drilling into my unprepared eyes. The sound of shuffling, pressure on my arm, a sack of something heavy and hard landed beside my foot, the sound of a pop-top. The lights went out, and the crawl to Chicago resumed.
"Where you headed?"
"Where you goin'?"
"Chicago." I turned back to the window. The sack rustled. Crunching of potato chips.
"You go to church?"
". . . What?!"
"Hey man, I'm just tryin' to pass the time." I tried to go back to the Limbo of Nod, but my conscience was wide awake now. Seems it thought I was guilty of some injustice of etiquette.
"No, I haven't been in a while. You?"
Gee, I'm glad we got that out in the open. The bus rattled on, and I began working on what would later become a serious kink in my neck. Sleep danced a little closer, but stayed just out of reach.
"You like to help people don't you?"
My head snapped around, and for the first time I looked him square in the eye. What the hell kinda question is that? Do I like to help people? "Eh, sometimes."
"Well . . . mind if I tell you something?"
Am I carrying a staff? Am I wearing a beanie or a funny little pointed hat? Do I friggin' look like my name is John Paul? "Sure, go ahead."
"Well, four years ago this girl said she was having my baby." He paused to take another swig of Dr. Pepper. Four years I paid for that kid, and last week she says it ain't mine. So I've been trying to get back to my kin. Stay with them for awhile until I can get back on my feet. Ain't eaten in two days."
"I ain't got nothing for you," I said. Which was true, but it was more of a reflex. A response I'd been conditioned to give by the fortyleven panhandlers and confidence people I pass every day on the street.
"Damn. I don't believe . . ." His voice trailed off as he turned away from me. I turned back to the window and my masochistic endeavor to permanently misalign my vertebrae.
An hour or so later, the lights came on as we hit the 95th street station. I blinked around to see that Mr. Hard Luck had moved across the aisle and was laughing with his new seatmate. I watched as this guy that hadn't eaten for two days miraculously pulled a large bag of Doritos and another Dr. Pepper out of his sack. A modern day miracle man.
Playing on my conscience and emotions. Do I like helping people? Phuqüe, you puke.
Knowledge is power. Yet it can also limit our choices. There are
things that can be difficult to unlearn - moments of experience that raise our
standards and expectations.
A good bowl of gumbo will ruin that once enjoyable box mix.
A little knowledge of electricity and physics can ruin a poorly researched, but otherwise well written story. Something as simple as the author writing 'current' when he or she is actually referring to 'voltage' can be brutally annoying.
A friendship (or any relationship) that is fulfilling beyond anything we've previously experience quells the desire to maintain those of the half-ass variety.
A well written and performed song makes that piece of pop-fluff we listened to yesterday laughable.
Knowledge forces a decision. Do we ignore the knowledge and try to continue with our previous standards? Do we throw out the old, thereby limiting our selection? Is it possible to straddle the two?
Click to view
No, this wasn't Hotdog Boy. This was Romeo, who actually preceded Hotdog Boy by about a year and a half. He was every bit as bad, albeit, in a completely different way.
A brief bit of history: Romeo wore nothing but designer clothes, Kenneth Cole watches (yes plural,) Guess leather jackets, and spent most of his nights clubbing. The thing was, he never seemed to have any money for food. Thus he did what any young urban hipster would do, he ate his roommate's (read: my) food. This was the start of our beautiful relationship.
And what would Romeo be without a Juliet? She was a pretty, although somewhat bitchy girl who spent lots of time in the bathroom in the mornings. Which, of course, forced me to either wake up extra early, or be late for work. I generally avoid conflict if possible, and so I dealt with Romeo and Juliet the only way I knew how. I ignored them. Or tried to. I moved most of my food into my bedroom, and tried to ignore the occasional swiping of the little food I did keep in the kitchen. I tried to ignore the resonating clamor of them doing the slammin' watusi at 2:00 AM.
So, time strolled agonizingly along, and I continued to tell myself it was only a few more months before he would move out The romantic harmony of my roomates gradually began to disintegrate. A few snide remarks here and there, brief screaming matches, etc. etc. Until one night the screaming carried on into the small hours of the morning. I lay there, contemplating the precious few hours I still had to sleep, when something struck my wall. WTF?
"Listen to me! I didn't . . ."
"No! No! No! You lying little f___!" Her voice lilted as her last word coincided with a bang against the wall. Oh shit. He's beating her. What the hell do I . . . Another explosion sounded against the wall, this time rattling a picture of its nail.
As you may have guessed, I'm not exactly the badass type, and I knew Romeo (who worked out five days a week) probably wouldn't appreciate an intrusion on in his little one-sided sparring match. So, when I say I pulled on a pair of jeans and stepped to his door, it wasn't with any bravado, but only with a somewhat shakey resolve that I was probably, most likely, going to get my ass kicked. Not only was I going to get my ass kicked, but kicked in the defense of a girl I didn't really know, and didn't really like all that much.
Dog psychology. You may not be able to beat his ass, but you might be able to intimidate him. Adrenaline rioted through my veins. I took a deep breath and threw open the door.
Juliet had her back to me, and her crying had devolved into a hysterical wailing. Romeo was sitting across the room on his bed with his face in his hands. Resting up for the next round, I guessed.
Go in strong. Catch him off guard. I took a step forward,
and saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I turned just in time to see
Juliet hit the wall, not with her fist, but with her whole body. She was
throwing herself up against the wall.
f . . .?
Romeo looked up, saw me standing there, and started apologizing.
"Sorry dude, she's just blowing everything out of proportion."
Juliet turned around and managed to reduce her wailing to a muffled blubbering. Me? I just shook my head and went back to my room. Adrenal glands now empty, I dozed off to the muffled sound of his apologies and her crying.
The next morning, Juliet was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of my coffee. I took a shower, and got ready for work. The last time I saw her, she was brewing yet another pot of coffee and eating a bowl of my cereal.
Pity, actually, I was rather beginning to think they were made for each other.
The Boy Who Drew Cats scared the Lucky Charms right out of me when I was little. I remember thinking about sleeping in a closet. About hearing those horrific noises in the room outside and knowing that I wouldn't be able to stay in the closet. That either curiosity or the feeling of helplessness would get the better of me and I'd have to bust out of there. I even went so far as to empty out one of the cabinets in our basement and sit in there with the door closed, just to see what it would feel like. I stayed in there as long as I could (which probably wasn't all that long) before I threw the door open and ran upstairs, knowing at any second that huge rat was going to wrap that cold,furless tail around me like big pink boa constrictor. Then, just before he sunk those two huge teeth into my skull like the sharp end of a claw hammer, I'd feel his whiskers tickle my face, and die laughing.Yeah, I was a weird kid. Incidentally, it would be imaginative moments like this that would keep me from trying acid in later years.
Has anyone ever died from repeated exposure to mathematics? Or by
having an unprotected encounter with binomial distributions, pooled t-intervals,
or the Chi-square? No? Well, hide and watch, boys and girls, I may
be the first.