Highway Talk and Apartment Living

A teapot. Two candles. A pot of chrysanthemums. Cool late winter light streaming into the room. Punxsutawney Phil says there is going to be another six weeks of winter, and I believe him. This has been the coldest winter I have ever felt in San Francisco. It is hardly uncomfortable inside here in this apartment. It is not winter with the water dripping through the ceiling of a van, or the sides of a tent touching the tarp and directing the water inside the space soaking sleeping bags and clothes, still, I am frozen and spoilt. I am too old to be dream of being back on the road again, my body would never take it. I would wake up with wet clothes, soaked to the bone, and though it was bad, it was not as bad as the boy waking up soaking in rain water, chilled to the core and shaking as he woke up… but alive…both alive. I look back at myself crying, trying to get everything and everyone dry and warm. I look back and watch myself in that bittersweet inner-movie, trying to start a campfire up, and keep it burning holding frozen bones as close to the flame as close as was possible. There is nothing for it but hot drinks, trying to get into dry clothes, and score as hot a shower as possible. There is nothing like hot water on a cold body for wiping away the effects of the cold.

The 101 winds through my mind and soul. I am still here, still close to it. The 101 runs right through this City and heads down to Los Angeles. Highway 61 is not my highway. It runs north to south up and down that midwest-to-New-Orleans corridor, right down the blues trail. I cheated on the 101 with Highway 61 for a few miles back in Minnesota, collecting the little shield road sign in my memory banks and long lost photographs. It was like sleeping with someone else’s wife: exciting in its strange newness of the body of its surface and the quality of the landscape, but in the end it was not the comfortable old bones I was used to laying my body against. It was fine for a fling, to invigorate the senses, but there is no place like home, and the 101 has become as close to home as anywhere has ever been. Palo Road Number 41 sprung up on me like a sneak or a shy fish nibbling the bait. We missed the turn for that east road back towards Leech Lake. By the time I realized what had happened it was miles behind us and all that stretched in front of us was unknown road for miles and miles, set out in criss-cross formation dividing empty fields into quarters and eighths. The rain was coming down in sheets like it does sometimes in the humid Minnesota summer, thunder cracking, lightning mercifully not dry and even more dangerous than it already was. Stipe’s voice hovered on the stereo, singing about aluminum-tasting fear and hashish. The rain and the music, the sound and the fury and the road – that unknown lost-on-the-highway road, that was so far away from the wild and rugged twists and turns my my beloved 101, all conspired to take me under.

I had a bag of pills from a trailer park angel stuffed in between the lining and the outer plastic of my bag; a raggedy mish-mash of hillbilly heroin, percs, tylenol 3 (the kind with a little codeine in the mix), and one lonesome precious green hard as diamond morphine. She seemed so far behind, that toothless Angel with the bleach blonde hair and the belly full of scars she had drawn on herself. Some Angels are merciful, and some are cool and unforgiving. She was of the warmer yet crazier kind. The Old Man had driven away in a fit of ‘better off without me’ doubts and selfish fears, and left me and the kids in her trailer with her six flea-ridden cats and her beads and bags of pills. There is an unspoken click of recognition between more sensitive female beings. She saw my pain and responded with the only relief she had to offer, freely and generously and kindly. All drugs went to the Old Man, yet this time I hoarded this female comfort to myself. All the best Angels have crumpled wings and hold shattered mirrors up to the human psyche. The ones that don’t suffer, have no damage, no scars and no empathy are no good for anything except singing the various praises of the vast and unloving. This Angel shrieked and giggled, laughed and cried in an almost human way.

As the rain and the sound and the road went on I patted the bag that sat between my legs, let my head loll back against the headrest and told the Old Man that we had passed that turning miles back and there was nothing for it except to take some road that vaguely led back to the west. I didn’t care. I was temporarily devoid of my humanity. I could not care about anything because I had cared too much for everyone. I was burnt out on the highway like any good writer should be at least once in their lives. The road never ends. Whether you are up on the Canadian border staring at the end of the 101, or down in Texas staring over the Mexican border seeing if you can see the rain in Juarez, that road always has somewhere to go, even if the only direction you can take it is all the way back home again.

The Old Man was convinced I had some goodies from the trailer park that I was not handing over. I just shook my head and swapped Stipe for James Taylor. We stopped for gas and as the Old Man was outside paying and wiping windshield down I excused myself to the bathroom and popped a single pill in my mouth. Playing chicken with pills of dubious origin is a young person’s game. A game for a girl with no children. A game for someone who did not have her entire world depending on her continued existence. I wanted to shed my femininity like a shredded blanket. It was of no use to me. I sat back down in my seat, spread the map on my legs and pushed my dollar store sunglasses up my nose. Waves of warmness and sunshine spread throughout my body. Sunshine pills. Little nuggets of bone-warmth. Walking on summer breezes. They turn all the lights on in my body, and soften all the angles until I slip into something more comfortable, somewhere brighter and softer and a little kinder round the edges.

The sunshine does not last for long, whether you snort the ground up powder or swallow them whole like they should be taken, then it starts: that long land of nod snooze. The head gets heavy and the body melts away and all that care, all that shoulda must coulda would ya gets put to one side. This body is resting. This mind is drifting. That fabled land of nod.

Of course I was in trouble, as I always am in the end. I was absent, letting the other adult in the room take the load. I was off on a warm vacation in the sun, with Marquee Moon turned up high, hanging loose and long with the Venus De Milo whose long beautiful arms had caught me up in a cool highway half-smile that to everyone else around looks more like a smirk. No siren, no cop, no earthquake, no crisis or bitching 60s refugee could bring me out of my own little private heaven, still they try. They always try. It seems like only rarely can people leave a happy soul alone in the privacy of their own little hobby, their own time out of the drudge and the fear and the coldness of it all. They are always prodding and poking and slapping gently round the face so that you feel as shitty as they do once more. I reached into my bag, threw the little sandwich baggie of pills at the Old Man, and shuffled further down in my seat once more pushing my glasses comfortably over my eyes. I don’t care that I am a disgrace. I could not give less of a fuck I have occasionally been absent. I am no Angel, junkyard, trailer park or otherwise. I am one person against a tidal wave of shit and sometimes I need to float away from the stench.

In the background two children bickered over radios and batteries and card games. A small female hand patted me on the head and squeezed my shoulder and little rosebud lips planted a daughterly kiss on the crown of my head. Two long brown young boyish legs, full of scrapes and scuffs and scabs draped across two chairs. Three voices played a road game of name the….find the….see the…and in that moment home meant nothing to me. Home was not on Palo Road Number 41 that remained elusive. Home was not down a new highway headed south, nor was it running north to south along the west coast. Home was with those people at that time, with a head full of pharmaceutical opiates and a heart not lacking in guilt or sadness. I did what I could. I did a lot of what was possible, more of what was not. When I came to the Old Man pushed a travel tin mug of tea into my hand and growled at me in what was the closest thing he had to forgiveness at the time and we carried down another road, stopping by a lake, a casino car park, a gas station….another life in another time, one that is drifting away in the marrow of my bones but has left an indelible imprint on my soul.

A teapot. A pot of chrysanthemums, two candles in thrift store taper holders. I have no choice but to return to the here and now where the Old Man and the Girl are gone and I have nothing to do except wonder when it is all going to crash over the cliff edge of the 101, or into a tree on the highway 61, or else my little life is going to finally reach that dead end I have yet to find on this road.

Leave a Reply