Thursday, March 10, 2011

The mis-adventures of the Wiscokid: Talking Tennessee (Arrival)

Part 2:

STOP: This is part two of a multi-post story. If you have not read "Talking Tennessee (Knoxville Bound)" go do that or you will ruin the fucking story.

I pulled into a gas station parking lot to use the pay phone around 5:00 in the morning. I was in need of more specific directions to my final destination. It had become apparent a wrong turn occurred somewhere after exiting I 75. Early morning Knoxville with no sleep over the past twenty-two hours was utterly unimpressive. My body ached, my head was foggy and I had a sick feeling caused by my attempt to offset a lack of sleep with a chemical state of awareness. This is why one should heed warning labels. The ephedrine tablets clearly said not to exceed recommended dosage which I had at least quadrupled. The label also stated not to mix with caffeine, a notion I scoffed at. I was paying a high price for discounting the sage advice conveyed by the manufacturers of the legalized speed. Why this shit was ever legal is beyond me, it has since been removed from the market in most places that I know of. My heart raced, my balls were retracted so tightly I feared people might start calling me Pat, and my eyes bounced around like a pair of hyper active 6 year old boys who had eaten their weight in pop-rocks and chased the sugary treats with Jolt Cola. Mike answered the phone sounding more like he was drunk, than someone who had just been shocked out of a restful sleep by a ringing phone with potentially bad news on the other end. The type of news generally anticipated when answering a call at 5:00 in the morning. He provided me with satisfactory directions and warned that the two large Australian cattle dogs sure to greet me upon arrival while appearing intimidating were in fact quite friendly.  
I drifted off to sleep sitting in the gas station parking lot for what seemed like hours but was in fact about 3 minutes. My mind went back to childhood days of playing ding-dong ditch, and egging the Wartik house across the street from where Mike grew up. Mike and I had been friends, partners in crime for as long as I could remember. My mother watched him in afternoons when school let out. By the time we reached 8 years of age we were insurgents in our own neighborhood. Terrorizing classmates, stealthily stalking streets to throw stones at passing cars, stringing rope across roadways in hopes of decapitating passing bicyclists, slinging rocks at windows to show our displeasure with the institution they called a school. Growing up, my teachers said it was Mike's fault I was wreaking havoc and his teachers blamed the other half of the duo. I dropped my head against the steering wheel and dreamt about the time Mike ran out into the street chasing the “Bimbo” which is what we called the ice cream truck. Mike was running after the Bimbo and darted across a busy road on his quest for a screwball. As he leapt from the median, half way to achieving victory in this caper, he was struck by a passing car. He bounced off the hood of the car and continued running to the other side of the road, simultaneously screaming for the Bimbo to stop and hurling curse words at the driver of the offending car. He got his screwball despite suffering some bruised ribs and abrasions in the process. He laughed as he lay in the grass savoring that screwball saying “you see that mother fucker hit me? What a son of a bitch.” I woke with that terrible feeling of falling off the bed and started the car.
I pulled into the drive, heard the dogs barking and Mike walked out to greet me shoving a beer in my hand even though it was 5:30 in the morning. I had slept about three minutes in the past twenty-four hours and Mike wants to party. This was to be expected, but I was looking forward to a much needed sleep. He looked like shit and I couldn’t have looked much better, he was obviously at the tail end of a bender that had lasted several days. We drank a beer, did a couple of shots of George Dickle and I asked Mike to show me to a bed. He said “the girls will be up in a couple of hours till then crash on the couch and we’ll figure it out later.” Mike had been staying in this quiet Knoxville neighborhood with Jen and her roommate Cindy. Jen was Mike’s on again off again girlfriend since the summer before we entered the eighth grade. She moved to Tennessee with her family a couple years later. I had last seen Jen about 6 or 7 years ago at a hotel party when she was visiting Milwaukee. Jen’s last visit to Milwaukee was also the first time Mike disappeared. He left home to go back to Tennessee with Jen. I only found out when his mother called our house frantic, searching for him. He was gone about a month before his parents tracked him down and got him on a bus home. The only thing I knew for certain about Cindy was that she was around 30 years old. Mike talked her up on the phone to add a little extra incentive for my trip. I had agreed to drive down to Knoxville for the week I would be on layoff at the factory. Hink made sure I had a message for Mike, “tell that cocksucker I said fuck him” Hink paused then said “And you betta brang yo ass home when it’s time mutha fucka.”
I woke to noises in the kitchen and the smell of coffee brewing. Rolling off the worn, sun-faded, overstuffed, blue-gray couch I stumbled to the kitchen, still weary from the lack of sleep and the hard crash from the caffeine and ephedrine pills. A woman stood leaning against the counter reading a paper and drinking a cup of coffee. The two large cattle dogs sat at her feet, tails wagging in recognition of my entrance to the scene. The dogs looked at me intently then turned their gaze toward the woman who took no notice of the dogs or the strange man standing behind her. She was dressed in black running pants and a tight fitting colorful top made of some high-tech material designed to simultaneously keep muscles warm and wick moisture away from a perspiring body. She was about 5’6” and judging by her muscled arms she was in great physical shape, she had dark hair that was pulled back in a tight pony tail, she appeared to be attractive from the limited view I had standing behind her. She turned to see me staring at her and smiled, “So you’re Chad, want some coffee? Hazelnut. I’m Cindy.” She poured a cup of coffee and pushed it across the counter before I had a chance to respond. I took notice of her hand wrapped around the robins egg colored mug as she guided it across the speckled expanse of linoleum counter top, the surface of the dark liquid rippling as if a child had just skipped a stone disrupting the serenity of a quiet pond. I remembered Mike telling me she had suffered extreme frostbite as a kid and her hands were disfigured as a result.
I sat quietly sipping the coffee watching Cindy finish what she was reading in the local paper. The dogs had scooted over to sit at my side jockeying for position to be the recipient of a subconscious hand scratching the nearest dog head. Cindy folded the paper and spun to face me. She launched into a story about how some idiot who stayed with them recently had spilled bleach in the laundry room, poured an excessive amount of the bleach in the wash destroying an entire load of laundry and the carpeting in the wash room. She then grabbed her car keys headed for the door and said “Got a class, see you later.” I drank the rest of the pot of coffee, wrestled with the dogs and peeked in the laundry room to scope out the bleach stained carpet. Mike finally stumbled out of his room a few hours later. Jen was already up and out of the house.

We brewed another pot of coffee and Mike got me up to speed on the goings on in Tennessee. Mike fried a couple of eggs and said, “I never ate eggs but that’s what I live on now, egg sandwiches, shit is cheap, more money for beer, everything I need, egg sandwiches and beer” Mike slapped a fried egg between two pieces of white bread and passed it to me, grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and threw it to me cracking one for him self in the process. He talked about the job he was working in the kitchen at some restaurant on the river, world famous for their ribs and sauce. He told me how things were going with Jen, some nights they shared a room some nights they didn’t. He explained the girls both were health nuts and taught classes at a local fitness center. We sat drinking coffee and beer for the next several hours. I told him about Hink being pissed and not believing he was not coming back. It was good to see Mike, we laughed about old stories. I recalled the time our friend Troy who had  a tick where his head swayed side to side constantly earning him the nick name "tick-tock", bought Optimus Prime and Mike in his excitement to see this wonder ran down the alley only to be dragged to the ground by Satan, the neighborhood menace of a dog. Satan was the bane of our childhood existence, there was a network of kids who would quickly spread the word through a flurry of phone calls or shouting through open windows if Satan had been spotted. Prior to that day Mike was dragged to what we thought was certain death there had never been a confirmed attack perpetrated by Satan but he frequently pinned us in trees or sent us scrambling up fences Mike escaped that incident with a bruised ego and a few abrasions. Luckily Satan’s owner was there to quickly pull the dog from Mike’s quivering body.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The mis-adventures of the WiscoKid: Talking Tennessee (Knoxville Bound)

Part 1:

Did I ever tell you about the time?

I woke up laying across a picnic bench in a pole barn that was being used as storage space for a river raft guide service. I was surrounded by assorted rafting equipment, with a row of large yellow rafts placed single file end to end down the center alley way of the barn. It looked like some crude hastily manufactured landing strip laid out in anticipation of a crash landing, the bright yellow rafts lighting the runway to a safe landing that must not have ended so safely. The raft at one end of this rudimentary landing pad was covered in blood, and a trail of blood lead out of the barn into the darkness. There was more blood than would seem acceptable to most reasonable people. I stood up quickly to investigate the scene and inspect my person, smacking my head on an oar that was jutting out of a rack. This knocked me off my feet which were difficult enough to gather under myself in the first place. My head was throbbing, the taste of vomit in my mouth and the feeling of a someone using my intestines to tie a half hitch knot confirmed my suspicion that the feeling of a vice crushing my gray matter was the cause of something other than the recent head trauma I had suffered. Must be the empty bottle of tequila clinched in my fist with bleeding knuckles. Quickly assessing if the puddle of blood had poured from my body and determining it had not, I turned my attention to why I was sitting in the barn and what the hell could have happened to my shoes.

A few weeks earlier I was putting the finishing touches on a freezer door and called Bud over to give me a hand flipping it over so I could send it down the line to shipping. After we flipped the door we leaned against a table, Bud pulled out a pack of Marlboros shook it and offered me one. We stood there smoking our cigarettes and discussing what we did to deserve this shitty life, or more realistically what we didn't do to deserve a better one. The supervisor walked up and asked when we thought Mike would be back. We recently started a rotation of voluntary lay-offs and Mike was among the first to volunteer. Bud looked at the ground to avoid Hinks gaze. I laughed and told Hink Mike wasn't coming back. Hink said "get the fuck outta here man, seriously I haven't heard from his white ass, he was 'spose to be back this week." This time Bud and I both laughed, the kind of deep guttural laugh that bursts up from your belly involuntarily like a fart you couldn’t squelch. I tried to choke back my amusement before speaking. "Hink seriously he aint coming back, he went down to Tennessee, Mike is gone man." Hink was puzzled you could tell he still thought we were fucking with him. "Shiiit, you mutha fuckas is lying, right" Hink questioned. You could see the concern rising in his eyes, like some wounded animal caught in a trap as the hunter approaches. Hink supervised a crew of fuck-ups and drunks. While Mike was no exception to this rule he was one of the more competent fuck ups on the crew and Hink knew this. Bud shook another Marlboro from its pack and passed it to Hink, I lit it for him and said "look man, that's just Mike. No shit he isn't coming back, at least not for awhile." I threw my cigarette on the floor and stepped on it before walking away to let Hink wallow in how he would break the news to the big bosses. I turned back and said, "Ask me sometime about New Jersey". Hink snapped back, "Awwww FUCK YOU bitch"

It's about an eleven hour drive from Milwaukee to Knoxville I could be there by 3:00 the next morning.  I threw a few shirts, a pair of jeans, a notebook and pens in a backpack, and grabbed a shoe box full of cassettes. I had 100 bucks to my name. I threw my bag in the trunk and pulled off. A carton of smokes and half a tank of gas in the long white 86' Fleetwood and I had $70 left to my name. I hit I 94 East about 5:00 pm, already behind my intended schedule, and rolled on to 65 S ‘til I hit a spot just outside of Indianapolis about 5 hours later. I put a ten in the tank and stopped inside to bullshit with the kid behind the counter for a bit. He was about my age and I could tell he smoked out recently by the look in his squinty little eyes and the stupid grin plastered on his face. We talked for a bit about the weather and people passing through while smoking a cigarette before he asked "where you from?" I told him "Wisconsin, heading down to Knoxville to crash with a buddy for a week or so." I asked if I could use the phone and he was cool about it even though you could tell he'd probably get his balls busted by the owners when they saw a long distance call on the phone bill.  After I hung up he stared at me puzzled for a bit then said “Where the fuck is Wisconsin?” I smoked half a joint with the kid, gave him a geography lesson and got back on the road.

It wasn't long before I lit a smoke, drank a Mountain Dew the original energy drink and popped a few ephedrine tablets to keep me going. It was around 3:30 in the morning and I was a little more than an hour and a half from cruising into Knoxville. I had stopped longer than expected at a rest station near Lexington. The combination of driving and pills had gotten to me and I felt like shit. I talked to an old guy while sitting at the rest station he was a Kentucky native on his way home from Flint where he visited his son’s family, who moved “up north” to Flint in the early 80’s to make a better life. That wasn’t working out so well, he was shut out of his job working at a factory that assembled wiring systems for heavy equipment manufacturers. When the plant inevitably closed a few years later, he lost his house and was now living in a two bedroom trailer with his wife and four kids. The old man had driven up in hopes he could convince them to move back home to Somerset about 75 miles south of Lexington. It was obvious the son was unaware of his father’s intentions when he agreed to the visit, which led to a huge blowout prior to the old man driving back to Kentucky. There was something about the old guy I really liked, he talked in thoughtful slow sentences and didn't say much that wasn't worth saying. I felt immediately at ease with him, he pulled a flask from his coat and passed it asking “want a hit?” I grabbed the flask from his huge brown hand which seemed to have a life of its own, wise and hardened from years of hard work. It was cheap hot whisky that felt like razor blades sliding down my throat and carving the names of young lovers in my stomach lining, as the whisky moved through my body it warmed up the way the lovers bodies would as they lay down beneath the tree to consummate their eternal ignorance. The reality of having $60 in my pocket was setting in and worry grew out of that quickly, the Fleetwood had been complaining a bit as I rolled into the rest area. I hit the flask again to convince myself everything was good in the world and I was still invincible.

Talking Tenessee (Part Two) coming soon