Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Flying Over Trouble Street
I got a wrong number last night at my local grocery store: $6.66.
I'm not a superstitious man--knock wood--but I wish I hadn't come up with the devil's number on my bill.
It was probably the Diet Coke that pushed me into perdition; the offending bottle cost 99 cents with 6 cents deposit. Like anything else in this life, if I had tried to do this, it would never have happened in a million years.
"That's a bad number," I said half-jokingly to the cashier, who kind of shrugged and proceeded to bag my things.
Jesus--and I mean that--my aunt is always after me to quit this stuff and now in addition to the chemicals, I have to worry about murderous crows, snarling devil dogs, and all those other satanic freaks from The Omen movies.
Of course if I had gotten a larger bottle of Diet Coke I would have been in the clear, too, but don't tell my aunt that.
I was out of town for the long holiday weekend, up at her place in the Berkshires for my own private exorcism.
It took a lot of hemming and hawing before I made the decision to go, of course, but New York seemed really empty and I wasn't going to spend the whole weekend in front of the DVD player if I could help it.
I headed over to the Port Authority bus terminal early Saturday morning. I was under some delusion everyone had left town the night before, but once inside I felt like I was starring in a road show production of Dante's Inferno.
There were bodies everywhere you looked. I nearly keeled over when I saw one line stretched around the lower level of the terminal and thought it was for my bus. It turned out to be the coach to Boston and I think those people are still waiting to get on that bus.
I felt like an out-of-towner all of a sudden, not sure where I was supposed to be. One guy appeared from nowhere and offered to walk me to my gate.
"Let's go," he said with a creepy smile.
"I got it," I said firmly. "Really, I got it."
I saw this young black kid hanging out by the escalator who suddenly jumped when this voice boomed out from the lower level.
"Do me a favor," the man from below thundered, "get out of here before I lock your ass up!"
I looked down the escalator and saw this very heavy black man in a sleeveless t-shirt pulling a suitcase and yanking out a badge he had around his neck.
"Go on about your business," he told the kid, who promptly vanished.
I caught a ride on the Screaming Baby Bus Line and got the hell of town. It's really the Peter Pan Bus Company, but you're pretty much guaranteed a screaming baby on each ride, so they might as well be up front about it.
I rode next to two ladies from Springfield, Mass., a hardscrabble factory town that's been going through tough times for a while now. They were on their way back from a night at Atlantic City and one of them was on her way to Foxwoods that evening.
They were heavy, poorly educated, but they seemed like decent people. I initially thought of them as white trash and I ashamed of myself now. There's no reason to judge people so harshly just because they don't listen to NPR and rent foreign movies from Netflix.
I had to change at Hartford and then again at Springfield, where I said goodbye to my two friends, and then it was off to Northampton. I swear, as much as I hate riding the bus, I do love that feeling when we pull into that town.
My aunt arrived just then and we took off up the mountain to her place in Cummington. The weather was beautiful and the place is so quiet, you'd think you were on another planet. Which I guess you are, in a way.
As soon as we got to her house, I went up to my old bedroom, stopping to put my head in what used to be my parents' room when they stayed there. I did a slight bow in their honor and then I heard my aunt screaming.
I knew it had to be a mouse, so I ran downstairs and found one of the little buggers had apparently dropped from the ceiling. My aunt is deathly afraid of mice, to a point where she can't even toss out the dead bodies.
This guy was half-dead already, so I scooped him with a broom and hurled him out into the nearby field.
Every time I go away I cram too much into my schedule. I was determined not to do it on this painfully short weekend. It was going to be quick hops with plenty of rest in between.
I went with my aunt to a nearby farm to get goat's milk and I got a tour of the place and it's various animals.
It was like Noah's Ark, with chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, and a three-legged dog. While I'm in no immediate danger of becoming a vegetarian, I must say it was strange watching chickens strutting around the yard and thinking about all the chicken I've eaten in mt life.
Oh, I thought, that's what they look like before they get to the butcher shop.
On Sunday we went to Shelbourne Falls to take in the Bridge of Flowers. I've been there a million times, but I never get tired of that place.
In case you haven't been there, the Bridge of Flowers is just that--a bridge with all sorts of beautiful plants, a garden spanning the Deerfield River.
A young couple asked me to take their picture in front of the bridge and I gladly obliged. Then the woman asked me to take another one with the flash.
"This could be a second career for me," I said.
I didn't notice until we were done that the couple was pushing around a kid in a baby carriage. Apparently they didn't one him in the shot. Sorry, kid, I just pressed the button.
We walked down the main drag and we saw Ronnie, a local guy who lives in a shelter in town. I remembered him from last year, when he took a liking to my aunt and I got a little nervous, not understanding what he wanted.
As I walked by him, I heard him speaking to a couple who was eating at an outdoor cafe.
"I hate to ask you for money..." he was saying.
But he's going to ask you anyway. I see Ronnie cuts to the chase faster than he did a year ago.
On the way home, we stopped at a farm to get some peaches, and while my aunt did the shopping, I played with this beautiful husky, who made me pet her over and over.
I thought of how mean I had been to our family dog Casey when I was younger and I wondered if I was the sort of guy who is nice to strangers, but who treats his loved ones like garbage. It's not a nice thought, but it does cross your mind.
With all my talk about being a parent, do I have the patience needed to raise a child or am I better as an uncle who just plays with the kid, but doesn't take any real responsibility?
We headed home and scrapped any plans to go out that evening. I was too tired and too satisfied, really. Why run into town just to catch a movie when I can relax in the mountains?
I was sitting outside late in the afternoon and I happened to look up into the clear blue sky and saw three massive hawks sailing through the air.
They were fabulous, just swooping through the blue. I think of my fear of flying and how this guys live for flight. I could have watched them all day and enjoyed it more than any damn movie.
I tried to imagine what the world looks like from their perspective, how small and slow everything seems.
I hadn't been away for almost a year and I see it's good to take trips, even the short ones, because you can step out of yourself and watch your life fron a distance.
I have to be honest: I didn't like what I saw. I am an angry little guy, no two ways about it. I am in a nearly constant state of pissed-offedness as I relive the past, bitch about the present and agonize about my future.
On my last night before going home, my aunt and I took our customary walk under the stars to the nearby crossroads. My aunt often tells me stories about my mother when they were growing up and it gives me another piece of my mom's life.
We walked up to the Bryant Homestead where our ears were assailed by some loud music. Now I've grown used to this in the city, but here, in this place I consider holy ground, I was livid.
"It's coming from Trouble Street," my aunt said.
Aptly named, that street. My aunt said it only seems to happen on holiday weekends, so she hasn't complained. She doesn't want any...trouble.
We walked home under those brilliant stars, but the effect was ruined somewhat. Once you have those stars, you don't need anything else.
The next day I carried my aunt's sewing machine upstairs where she could work by the window. She offered to help me, then stood back somewhat amazed when I picked up the table on my own.
"It must be great to do that without help," she said.
I realized she was talking about getting older and to be thankful for the time we have while we're still independent. It's like summer: it's great while it lasts, but it just doesn't last long enough.
I regret I couldn't finish assembling the thing for her, but it was time to go. I felt useless, but we just didn't plan things well this weekend.
I caught another Peter Pan (Screaming Baby) Bus down to Springfield, where I crammed into an overstuffed coach heading for New York. And, yes, we did have a screaming baby on board, but she was also cute.
The young black man seated next to me was on his cell phone and was apparently traveling down to Atlanta by bus. It made my trip seem like a walk to the corner.
"I'll see you in Marietta," he said into the phone.
The bus driver played a movie (?) on the way down, a Disney thing called Eight Below, about a dog sled driver who struggles to get back his dog team, which has been abandoned in a fierce antarctic storm.
It was the worst of both worlds for me: a crappy movie, but with enough sentimental scenes to make me weepy, as two of the dogs die in the stuggle to survive. I thought of my husky friend and old Casey.
So now I'm home, the summer is over, and it's going to feel like Antarctica around here pretty soon.
And, yes, I got stuck with the devil's number, but that won't stop me from flying high over all that trouble.