So you know it’s got soul plays soft and low through the speakers. Van is spluttering and jerking his way through the lyrics, the drummer kicking against the pricks of Van the Man’s seemingly chaotic, but in reality, immensely controlled performance. Van Morrison launches himself into Cyprus Avenue like he is throwing himself off a building, and I settle back into my passenger seat, pulling my jackets around my shoulders, turning up the collar to the snow outside the window, no heat on because Billy inexplicably believes turning on the ambient heat will blow out the engine, my fingerless gloves barely cutting through the cold, shivering and shaking caught in the slipstream of the air that blows in through the windows he has cracked to keep him awake while we do this starlit drive east over mountains.
He has stolen my green train driver’s cap that looks like I had stolen it from Dylan’s head circa 1963. I never got it back, it was a goodwill find, hidden amongst all used bath towels, polyester nightdresses and knee support hose: buried treasure. Van is doing some fine fine scat in the background talking about the train the train the train the train….and those in the back seat who are sleeping so peacefully as we shake rattle and roll down the highway, curled up in blankets, heads on pillows, propped up on camper benches, strapped in, safe, sound, my Girl’s hand on mine as it rests on the back of my bucket chair. She sleeps digging her nails into my flesh, drawing blood, leaving scars. I never move it away, I sit there letting her hold onto me, clawing into my hand connected by blood and bone and sinew. Child, does it all have to be so hard? Boy is curled into a ball, feet up on the bench, seatbelt lightly fastened around him. The Beastie rattles and shakes so hard I worry it will shake itself apart sending us gravity-falling off the mountainside, as we hydroplane for a millisecond sending my stomach into my mouth and my heart to my boots.
Billy’s hand reaches for the CD player, I groan as he presses the eject button, and fumbles for the case for Van’s CD. I don’t want to fly off the mountain pass, Oregon passing too fast out the window, so I snap, “I’ll grab it, please look at the fucking ROAD, man. Damnit! What do you want to hear?”
“Steppenwolf” – Snowblind Friend. It could be worse. It could be that hideous Matthew Sweet album, that song which deserves to be trashed to the bottom of the deepest pit of hell and never played again. Someone to Pull the Trigger. If I could destroy one song, it would be that piece of maudlin bullshit two penny bit Dickensian fakeass, wishes he was Leonard Cohen with a faceful of shaving cream and a headful of suicidal tendencies, pity-party fest. The song is disgusting: Sweet is looking for someone else to be the person with guts and balls and nerve and to ‘pull the trigger’ for him, because he both wants to cop out of life and out of responsibility for himself. Don’t listen to it, I beg you. If you are stable then it is a major irritant and you will want to slap Sweet round the head with a wet haddock telling him that he is a self indulgent, wanna be rock star who writes songs for people to torture other decent people with. If you are not stable, my gosh, it is a whimpering, begging, pleading, lard candle of a song, that drips and stinks the whole room up with the rancid fat of the dying days of the indie scene.
This song is that friend who calls you up every Friday night, without fail, after a few too many drinks, begging you to kill them, because they don’t have the guts to do it for themselves, and don’t really want to die, they just want the scene that surrounds their unreasonable demands, that can only be responded to by walking away. It is emotional violence of the most decrepit degree. Sweet can’t even do gothic scary, just that loaded psycho boyfriend tiresome dangerous thing, with the loaded .45 magnum begging you to kill em, after they shot too much speed and haven’t slept for 4 days straight, and as you wrestle them for it, feeling cold hard steel in your grasp, trying to keep that safety on, that rail not ‘loaded and ready” as Sweet so sickenly puts it, as he mistakes amphetamine glassiness for ‘clarity’, and you hear them yell that there is no going back now, and instead you drop it, let it all, let him have the gun, and walk out the door, back turned waiting for the bullet to head into his brain or yours, but instead all there is left is the sound of tears and a man you once loved falling to his knees weeping, and all the strength leaving your legs as your brush with death caresses your face. All because Matthew Sweet set him off with that damn song. “Tie me up and drug me! Love me!” begs Matthew, like some serial killer fantasizing about the victim wanting the death they want to give them. Fuck that for a game of failed songwriting and floppy haired, mororse in need of psych ward and some serious psychiatric drugs. It isn’t cool, it isn’t edgy, it isn’t even interesting. It’s no Excitable Boy fun, coke-fuelled psycho-fest, it is plain old emotional abuse and blackmail. Whenever I see a copy in a charity store – basically the only place Sweet ever shows up nowadays, I buy it and destroy it. Save a life. Destroy Someone to Pull the Trigger.
I digress. The particular pity party which is being summoned is the perfectly acceptable, if mildly sentimental ode to the fallen, Snowblind Friend. Absolutely find if it is being played for someone else, absolutely irritating when someone is narcissitically requesting to listen to it so they can cry for their own sorry addicted ass. I don’t enjoy John Kay’s voice, that hyper masculine deep boom and all that testosterone and machismo semen stained biggest bull in the pen shit. The strut and thrust of Steppenwolf just isn’t my bag. I tried to dig the song, considering the icy snow outside the window that we were driving into, instead of the paen to blow, and stimulant fiended fallen friends that it is in actuality. “Stoned on some new potion, he found upon the wall, in some unholy bathroom in some ungodly hall” Kay sings, and the man in the drivers seat cries for himself. There were no tears for me. Not once. not ever. Not over that. Perhaps once upon a time tears for the blackeyes and the injuries in Japan, and the thought i was going to die out there, but for the thought of me overdosed and dead, nothing: I was going to be another bitch going blue, so be it. I deserved it. Tears were reserved for the fallen men, never our suffering sisters, not from the guys that lived off their bodies, their efforts, their care and devotions, nothing but scorn. Women are held to standards men are not required to have. We have to be whore, or virgin, mother or crone, and damn us to hell if we are ourselves – human, frail, strong, surviving or dying.
His tears fell from himself as we slid and skated across the mountains that separate west from eastern Oregon, the valleys from the high lonesome dust and scrub of the plains out past La Pine. My tears fell for him too. I knew, I knew somewhere deep inside that he didn’t have forever. I knew our days were numbered.
There is a beauty in that drive. The cell signal blinks out, the road climbs, the tunnels look foreboding, the weather darkens. Even in Spring, the snow falls fast and thick adding to the piles by the roadside, and the black ice on the road. I would be pouring over trip check to see if we were going to make it over the 58 going east. We would delay until it looked as if the road would be passable to our 26 foot camper, and even then we sometimes did that drive and I would not be so sure it was sensible, and when we tipped out into La Pine, to those pretty little dust and plains campgrounds with their chipmunks and cardinals, bluebirds and snakes, it was sometimes so cold that the water was turned off, the snow was so deep we could not see where one camping space began and the other ended. That night we pulled into a spot, hooked up the electric, no water because it was too cold and the spigots were turned off still, and the snow piled into drifts so deep and thick when I went out to use the hot showers in the outside shower block, my hikng boots sank into the snow, wetting my jeans up to the knee. The sky was black, the the air biting cold, in the life-sized snow glove beauty of La Pine. The stars shone big and bright, fairy lights through a thin curtain of darkness, and the path disappeared. I headed towards the lights of the bathroom block, leaving a trail of footprints lonesome on the plain, taking with me my shampoo and soap and shower slippers. A family of skiers staying in a cabin, piled out of the bathroom laughing in matching pyjamas with deer heads woven into the reds and blues. They looked so perfectly happy, so clean, so healthy. I felt ashamed with my slimy walmart bag of toiletries, as I ripped off sheets of harsh brown paper to dry myself on – paper handtowel from the women’s bathroom makes a scratchy if clean way to dry off from a shower. We had no way of washing clothes, let alone bathtowels, so owned no towels, they just get wet and smelly and rotten very fast. I tried not to catch the mother’s eye, as she herded her children away from me, frightened of my poverty.
By the time I had locked myself in the stall I was crying. She felt frightened enough to put her arm around her daughters and hurry away. She must not have seen my bowed head, my submissive body posture, my sobriety, my small smile, she just saw dirty, homeless, poor: different and therefore dangerous. The showers are always a hit and miss affair, but since it was winter and the skiiers were out and about the rangers must have turned the heat up on the hot water boiler. There was no temperature adjustment, just water on or water off, I turned it on, let the room fill with steam and then dared to take off my clothes. Jacket, inner jacket. Teeshirt. Undershirt. Bra. Find the hook, if no one has ripped it off, and hang clothes up away from the dirt and the wet. No clean clothes, but that is ok. That is life. Dollar teeshirts are cheaper than washing clothes, I would go to Walmart and pick up an armful of discounted teeshirts in ugly colors. Neons, three sizes too large, pinks and pastels, a size too small, but the fabled great American dollar, then throw away my old dirty ones, and swap them out for the new. Checking the door is locked to the stall, no way to lock the outside door to the strip of showers and toilet stalls, pulling off jeans, throwing down rubber slippers, taking off one sock, foot into the shower shoe, other sock, other shoe, underwear off. Into the shower water hoping for enough heat. There was not quite enough for the snow and the coldness in my bones and the bite of shame, but enough for it not to be dangerous in any way. Not comfortable, that was all. I had had worse showers. I stood under the heat working fast, not warm enough for thinking or dawdling. Shampoo, soap, fast fast fast. Rinse hair, soap again. Rinse body. Push the hair out of my face. Leave the shower on for whatever warmth it provided, grab the paper towel stuffed into the leg of my pants, and rub the water off body and hair as best I could. It hardly absorbed anything at all. Then clothes back onto my damp cold body. Finally dressed, pulling on my boots, and heading for the door, out into the freezing night air.
The air was thick with snowflakes, caught in the glare of the neon luminescent bulbs, falling and settling onto the whitened floor. Everything was white. I couldn’t remember which way I had came, my footsteps covered by fresh snowfall, not a soul around. I walked in a straight line ahead, thinking I could see some light in the distance. Walking in circles, past a few campers, none of which were mine, past the nice cabins with warm glows inside and skis and toboggans outside, past a few fat robins lazily perched, guts hanging out like bikers in a bar after twenty pints and a strip show, past the insultated spigot which had been kept running with heating tape and hope, and back around to the bathroom again. This time I walked to the back of the building, utterly turned around, completely snowblind, absolutely lost, and stumbled damp and frozen to the core, breath taken away.
Ahead of me I heard a yell and saw a flashlight in the dark heading my direction. “Detroit! Dee! Baby! Dee! Dee! Come home, honey! Dee! It’s Billy! He stumbled towards me as I fell towards him in the dark, his father’s coat wrapped around his shoulders, smelling of damp and hessian sacks, sweat and warehouses, his boot’s silver straps glinting in the dark, and I feel into his arms gasping and crying. “I got lost!” I cried, as I huddled into him shivering and he took my torn plastic bag from my stiff fingers. As he wrapped his arm around me, leading me back to the children and the camper, back to some shelter as leaky and cold as it was, back to him and our quiet life of campfires and picnic tables, he started to sing soft and low, “lost on a highway made of snow”. “Yeah, Angel, praying is just too slow…” I riffed back at him, “your halo slipped..” He giggled that little boy laugh at me, called me a goofball, the sweetest term of endearment that came to him in the cold of the moment, crystaline in memory now, doors flung open and snow stamped off of boots, tea pushed into my hand, and out the window snow falling in deep drifts.