Can’t Remember Anything at All
I can sometimes smell the spring coming, even though it’s fall, soon to be supplanted by the scentless air of winter. In those moments I feel hope and joy and renewal. My tired brain ceases to ache for a moment or two. But then I’m back. Fighting to stay awake, my energy bleeds from me until I am empty. I sit behind the wheel in this city of traffic, no longer able to pound my steering wheel, scream profane words, or gnash my teeth. Nick Cave sings from the stereo about driving his car down to Geneva whilst passing a series of flame trees on fire. He offers to teach his prospective lover the Higgs Boson Blues but admits he can’t remember anything at all. And neither can I.
I know I’m heading somewhere south of here but I’ve been nearly motionless for so long that I cannot remember where I’m going or why. Wherever, for whatever, I’m sure it’s too late to matter. Nothing seems to matter anymore. Time moves on, as it always has, but in the relative universe of this car, of all the cars on this highway, it has fallen substantially out of sync, barely progressing at the rate of more than a few inches an hour. All I can do is sit here, listening to music. That’s all any of us can do. Yes, out there beyond this endless river of stationery vehicles are places we’d like to be, people we’d like to see, things we’d like to do. But that is all an impossible dream now.
It wasn’t always.
There used to be a train. Multiple trains in fact, traveling on multiple rail lines. Through a series of interchanges one could get anywhere in the city with relative ease. But then rapid transit was declared to be of the Devil, something for the wicked people of those big cities. Not for us good people. We are, after all, a place of small town values, though the population of a metropolis we may have. Those high rise towers on the shoreline and at the city center, let them and their occupants be damned! Those who live there, work there, have business there – they can all drive there goddamnit!
Horns beep angrily in the distance behind me – drivers who haven’t made it as far as me, who aren’t quite as spent yet. Soon they will be. But until then they will stew in the frustrations of life, their psyches slowly boiling into a profuse hatred for humanity. With teeth gritted they reflect on their ingrate children, their nagging wives, lazy coworkers, the whistlers and the throat clearers and the loud breathers, and those long-haired shaggy-bearded de-generates who reek of cannabis smoke and evangelize their Unitarian pseudo-faith, vegan lifestyle, and gluten free diet. “Fuck them and their organic produce!” the horns seem to be screaming from the horizon in my rearview mirror.
The traffic momentarily begins to move, resurrecting the hope that they will soon be where they intend to be, for many that being home. When it stops again, tranquil visions of the family bliss that awaits them turn to thoughts of the toys left on the living room floor, the unwashed dishes piled in the sink, the lights left on in unoccupied rooms, and the grievances of their disgruntled spouses over their alleged lack of participation in important household matters. Rebuked for their perpetual absence during the hours they are attempting to accrue the financial means necessary to sustain their families’ comfortable lives, they are perhaps blamed for the tantrums of their defiant children. Sometimes there are even unfounded accusations of infidelity, ultimatums, threats of dissolution.
No, this isn’t the entirety of their lives. In fact, there are many times of great joy. But sitting in that car – unable to move, watching the sun slip away, witnessing the blue sky turning black, watching the present evaporate and become forever lost – the memories of those many happy times become as degraded as a radio signal at the perimeter of its range. Eventually they dissolve into pure static then reform as flashbacks of those irksome provocations and resentments over hypothetical future events that ultimately lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Knuckles are bruised and bloodied, hair is pulled, teeth are chipped, pharynxes go raw, and angry shrieks grow hoarse. And then it burns out. Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it ends up on the nightly news – a violent act of road rage, an office shooting, a family murder-suicide.
But for the grace of God . . .
In my own moments back there I often find myself seething at the thought that this is all caused by a slow moving convoy up in front, organized and executed by a gaggle of bitter old men intent on teaching us “whippersnappers” some perverse lesson on punctuality. Surely you know the geriatric motherfuckers of whom I speak, those early-rising cantankerous pricks who denounce our lazy asses for daring to sleep past 4am and who admonish our audacious acceptance of modern technology, citing it as prima facie evidence of our intellectual inferiority (“Nobody ain’t gotta learn nuthin’ these days on account of them computas doin’ all their thinkin’ for ‘em!”). Blaming us for sending their once great country down the tubes, they are quick to profess their patriotism while, at the same time, praising the so-called “Chinks”, Saddam Hussein, and the Stalin-era Soviets for knowing how to keep their people in line. “The trouble is,” they are prone to saying, “people in this country got too much damn freedom!”
Living by some dumb shit creed that “If you ain’t at least half an hour early then you’re late”, these pieces of Jurassic era dog shit spread themselves across all lanes, riding along at half the pace of a slow moving snail. They cause multiple accidents in their wake as unsuspecting drivers are forced to slam their breaks upon encountering the sudden drop-off in velocity. Lanes are closed and emergency vehicles are dispatched, bringing about what the chopperman calls “pockets of congestion”. A ripple effect sweeps across the highway as rubbernecking leads to further collisions and entire portions of the road are shut down, many times detoured through already slow moving construction zones. The surly old fucks smile in satisfaction, the chaos and carnage they’ve caused being the one, singular source of gratification in their otherwise miserable and meaningless lives.
I feel an unexpected surge of energy as a final reserve of epinephrine I didn’t know I had is released into my brain and my mind floods with thoughts of grabbing one of these stupid old fucks and beating him to death with his cane. “In my day . . .,” he attempts to explain as I strike the first blow. With his laments of those good old days of “separate but equal”, “duck and cover”, “a chicken in every pot”, and “better dead than red” echoing in my head, I bash his imaginary skull until I can bash no more. My gorgeous victory is sadly washed away, however, by thoughts of the multiple prison rapes I will be forced to endure at the state penitentiary before finally being capitally punished when the Governor denies my appeal for clemency. Rather unfair, it seems, that I should be dragged to the death chamber at my relatively young age considering that my victim was such an ancient prick. Should they not wait until I am at least the same age he was when I murdered him? The Good Book does say “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” which does seem to infer a certain sense of equivalency with regard to the exchange. Certainly a healthy, fully functioning eye for a disgusting, cataractous old peeper is not within the spirit of the Law. And could our Lord possibly consider the extraction of one of my pearly whites to be fair recompense for a nasty, malodorous, saliva-corroded denture? Of course not!
The adrenaline fizzles out and I sink back into my seat, even more exhausted than before. This time I am fully empty. I am not even sure I could muster the energy to press down on the accelerator were this traffic to start moving again. For better or worse that does not happen. Still unable to remember where I’m going, I start rehashing a prominent childhood fantasy.
As a bored school boy I would often find myself daydreaming about owning a dirigible. Though not exactly sure where I would procure such a vehicle or how I would learn to fly it (the old NYNEX Yellow Pages revealed our metro area to be somewhat lacking when it came to both dirigible retailers and dirigible aviation schools), I would nonetheless plan all of the wonderful things I would do once I had one. In particular, I would climb aboard everyday around 3pm and fly down to the bus stop to offer my classmates a ride home. I’m not sure why I didn’t think to fly it to the actual school and pick them up there but it probably had something to do with the lack of a mooring tower on campus. Of course that then begs the question of how I would exit the bus, run home, board my dirigible, and fly it back down to the bus stop quicker than the other kids could walk home. I’m sure I would have figured it out though. Either way, my dirigible was sure to make me the most popular kid in school. And surely it would impress Lisa Nowlin!
Lisa Nowlin was a pretty blonde girl in the same grade as me and who rode the same bus as me but had never been in the same class as me. She lived way up on Lynn Road, the furthest point from our bus stop, which meant we would have ample time to get to know one another during the dirigible flight home and we would even be afforded some alone time between when we dropped Matt Sullivan off and when we got to her house. But alas, there never was a dirigible to provide for that. If only I had saved my allowance and the money relatives would give me for Christmas and birthdays instead of indulging in those reckless spending sprees at ChildWorld and KayBee. Then maybe I could have accumulated the funds to buy that dirigible for real instead of just fantasizing about it. Then Lisa Nowlin would have loved me. Surely she would! And we would have been very happy together, I just know it! In fact, our eventual divorce would be nothing less than amicable, the settlement most fair and equitable. Even after parting ways we would remain great friends through the years, so much so that when my second marriage ended there would be opportunity to rekindle our romance. Lisa, of course, would have remained chaste the whole time, waiting for me. How could she not? Surely no man who does not own a dirigible can compete with one who does (and there are not many who do).
I sometime wonder where sweet Lisa Nowlin is these days and what she’s doing, whether she’s married, if she has kids, if she found herself a man with a dirigible. If she did, then I guess I am happy for her. She and I, it seems, were just never meant to be. Nor was my ambition to a have a dirigible. That’s a dream I now recognize to be as dead as Hoyt Axton. How silly it was, my fleeting thought that it would somehow materialize at this moment, allowing me to sail away from all of this on a cloud of helium, far, far away from the infinite wall of brake lights now before me, the swirling sea of exhaust fumes that engulfs me. Dismissing my stupid thought, I notice how full my bladder is and realize that pissing my pants is my only option.
Oh how I long for all of this to just be over already, to be back sitting in my basement patio. Looking over at the dashboard clock, the display confirms that, whatever this was all about, it’s too late. Under my heavy eyelids it all goes black. And I can’t remember anything at all.
Can’t remember anything at all.