I spent the majority of today out on the back roads of my county, dodging the thunderstorms rolling in unusually hard from the east and the clip-clopping traffic of the black buggies full of grey beards. There was no particular destination that I had in mind, other than to just… move. I just needed to steal a clear breath free from the stagnant air of isolation and to see myself somewhere other than my couch so precariously poised to hold the indentations of my body permanently fused into its fading fabric.
With time to kill free from a virus trying its best to kill me, I set out in search of both some clarity and some perspective, two qualities I have found running so low through these many days of this sequestered nonsense. Too much time inside of my head, for too many days and nights devoid of new stimulations or experiences, is never a good or healthy experience. At least not from the perspective of my tenuously brittle mental health. Because the stagnation of the spirit is often the death of creativity.
And, I just want to keep on writing.
So, I gassed up the truck and headed north, outside the constricting boundaries of this fine City of Wayne to just let the fates, and the unpredictably uncooperative weather, decide my ultimate destination. Sometimes it isn’t about where you land, or even how you got there in the first place. Sometimes, it is about taking that toe-curlingly uncomfortable first step off the cliff and just letting yourself fall free.
As the pavement splashed and the battered wipers struggled both to keep up and to keep time, my mind was free to wander a bit. The open road is often the pathway to my better muse and when I find myself struggling to find her inside my little house hidden in the heart of this little flyover town, taking to the uncrowded byways and the unpredictable county roads is often the best bet to help renew that fading and tumultuous love affair.
As the radio pushed out the Pixies at me, somewhat acoustically pixelated and muffled, but still somehow the perfect accompaniment to the randomness of the drive, I let my thoughts wander and run as free and unrestricted as all the little rivers and streams outside my fogged side window, running hard and out of bounds from all the recent storms.
And my mind thought about some rather odd things.
I thought about that ephedrine and energy drink-fueled overnight drive up to Chicago, in the earliest days of the lock-down, just to throw some lingering memories into the waiting and patient waves of Lake Michigan. It was a spring blizzard of purged items thrown in an environmentally unfriendly flurry of ritualized cleansing. It stemmed originally from an afternoon of “there isn’t fuck all else to do today, so I’m going to organize all the things” compulsions, back early enough in the pandemic that I actually gave a crap about the future.
And I needed those things, all those letters and notes and cards and trinkets, gone and out of this midlife reshuffle. Simply tossing them in the garbage seemed just a little too autobiographical for comfort, so being the hopelessly romantic fool that I am, I instead gambled on a grander gesture to help bring some meaning to the disposal of the now meaningless.
I thought about the night my friend stopped over, both of us willingly violating enforced isolation just for the sake of a much-needed conversation over cocktails. But it was during that visit that I discovered a technical hiccup involved in consuming drinks safely during a pandemic when in the company of someone else, something which Emily Post never got around to properly addressing.
Since the masks we wore didn’t provide easy or reliable access to the glass, we needed a solution. But, I did not have the foresight to stock the bar with straws. And it was too cold and dark to sit in the safety of a socially distanced outside setting.
Just as I was considering calling the whole thing off, inspiration hit. On the corner shelf, tucked back against the wall, were several drink boxes of Yoo-hoo, purchased months before in a random fit of culinary nostalgia. And they each had a straw conveniently attached to the side.
So, we talked and danced and drank our respective cocktails out of those annoyingly slim and bendy straws. But we could safely slip them under our masks, fueling a ridiculously drunken night because those bent bits of hollow plastic made the booze hit extra hard.
And it was hilariously memorable.
I was well outside the limits of the City of Wayne when I thought about how ill-advised it was that one day to consume all that cheaply edible microwavable Mexican food on top of those too many cups of morning coffee. And then to brave the plague long enough to go shopping for a typer, just to scratch that compulsive itch. The belches that ultimately became trapped behind my mask were unworldly unpleasant, almost as if Juan Valdez and Jose Ole hooked up and spawned their demon love child within the snuggled confines of my facially adhered PPE mask.
I thought about the role reversals currently still going on in my family, as my older brother and I struggle to keep our parents from sneaking out of their quarantine. Usually it is in the pursuit of obtaining some comfortingly familiar window food, a building block of their once daily schedule. We warn them, we caution them, and yet almost every phone call reveals that they ignored all of our pleadings and went out again anyway.
It feels like they intentionally violated a responsibly set curfew of some sort, just like we used to do to them. We went out seeking stolen adolescent freedom, they are on the wobbly hunt to score some temporary fast food comfort. How it came to be that it is now the younger generation’s responsibility to scold and to try and parent the parents, all in an effort to help keep them around just a little bit longer, is both baffling and utterly hilarious to me.
Maybe we should try grounding them, like they used to try to do to us. But then, that never really worked, did it?
Then I thought, who am I to judge what is right or wrong for other people? Especially in the middle of a still sparking pandemic and certainly not when I’ve experienced the embarrassed hilarity of my own bad decisions. Like reading my own drunken texts sent the night before, the morning after.
Sometimes, they announce the birth of a new post here, shamefully self-promoting myself, 240 characters at a time. Sometimes, they spout nothing but garbled gibberish. Words tragically misspelled. Basic grammar rules cheerfully ignored in a blatant middle finger flown proudly to proper texting etiquette. There is no better example of just how bad it can get than the night that the word “organizizarioo” came into being.
But today, in unencumbered clarity, the truck eventually stopped in front of a kitschy antique place, complete with creaking wooden floors and a seemingly endless variety of booths to peruse. Typewriter lightening had struck for me there once before, so with little else to do, I ventured back inside to see if maybe it would strike for me again.
I wandered the entire second story first, since I have always been a from the top down kind of a guy. There were endless racks of vintage clothing, random bits of no longer used farming equipment, and expensively overpriced toys that I remembered playing with during my own childhood. But not much else, so I headed down the rickety wooden stairs, worn smooth from a century of heavy use.
I was on the east side of the building, back over where the more promising booths are located and the enticing aroma of made-fresh-on-site caramel corn runs strongest, when I happened to look up over the racks of ironically framed movie posters. And that’s when I saw an astoundingly beautiful Amish woman.
She appeared to be about 22 or 23 years old. Having done enough research for an upcoming novel, I knew by the color of her bonnet that she was still unmarried, so I did not feel too skeevy admiring her from a socially-safe distance. She stood motionless not far from me in a black dress, severe in color and yet somehow flattering against her pale, blemish free skin. It modestly caught just the right amount of curves, in just the right places and, as embarrassing as this is to admit, she fully reawakened that mild Little House on the Prairie fetish I’ve secretly held since the early days of my youth.
In a heartbeat barely noticed, I became caught in the idea of her and her simpler ways. I very much wanted to instantly grow out my beard and join her order, riding off together into the promising glow of an Indiana sunset in buggied mutual delight. My first instinct was to just walk up to her, awkwardly introduce myself, and then give her my phone number.
It took a few seconds for the ridiculousness of that impulse to shove its way through my fleeting attractions and when it did, I couldn’t help but to laugh behind my prudently worn mask.
What the hell was an Amish girl going to do with my phone number?
She heard my rather out of place laughter, caught my gaze, and then she modestly disappeared back into a life I will never fully understand. And I really wanted to chase down her buggy, in the cold spring rain, as would befit the cheesiest of the Hollywood movies she has probably never even seen.
All of these things, all of these little moments recently lived stood up in my thoughts today and reminded me of just how ridiculous all of this is at the end of the day. Or at the end of that random drive. It reminded me that there isn’t much point in getting stressed out about all that stupid little clutter. Or unnecessarily angry at the winds of fate. Or so bogged down in the day to day minutia grind of it all.
Even though the dark nights will inevitably come, just as assuredly as will the new day dawning, I was reminded to shift my focus to the many little gentle acts of compassion shared, or to those little glimpses of a kinder, more hilarious humanity still somehow surviving. That, more than anything else, is what will get us through that next wave barreling down.
And, for what it’s worth, I did eventually find that typewriter, too.