I got old. It happens to the best of us, I know. I put it off as long as I could. Most of my high school friends got old years ago, but I moved to Vancouver, and then to Montreal, both moves that will delay aging by at least three to six years. Montreal especially. I think I can count my adult moments in Montreal on one hand, and I was there for seven years. But I’ve been back in Ontario for a while now, and suddenly I know I’m old. That, and my sister called me fat the other day. Okay, fat is probably my word, but she suggested I had girth. Girth was most definitely her word. And I’m a skinny fella. I make the lanky blush. But even with my girth and my move, I didn’t feel old until the other morning when Facebook mentioned to me that Neil Young’s Bridge School Concert was celebrating its 25th anniversary. I went to a Bridge School show once. In 1997. Fourteen years ago. See, I’m old.
For those unfamiliar with The Bridge School Concert, it is an all-acoustic benefit show founded and hosted by Neil and Pegi Young in support of The Bridge School, “an innovative organization educating children with severe speech and physical impairments through the use of creative approaches to education and communication, augmentative and alternative communication systems and assistive technology, and extensive involvement of families and community.”
Five of us drove down to Mountain View, California, from Vancouver. It was a horrible drive. A horrible car. And fractured company. The five included me, my girlfriend at the time, her best friend who was my ex-girlfriend, her boss who was a troll of a woman, and one of my roommates who we affectionately called Fat. In retrospect, the whole trip was an awful idea. Fourteen years later I only speak to one person who was in that car, but I still love Neil Young, and there are few things in this world more amazing than driving down that coast. Below is a poem titled “I-5” from my first collection JACK that took parts of the memory of that road trip (and a few others) and threw it on top of the general conceit and focus of the book. Donations to the Bridge School may be made here.
The sign read: 101 Beautiful Naked Women and 3 Ugly Ones.
Most girls wouldn’t have wanted to stop,
but she had pretty eyes,
easing the Volvo to the curb.
Inside we drank flat expensive draught,
watched single mothers dance for indie kids,
in the absence of fat businessmen sweating
small erections through Sears suits.
Pinstripe fiends on long lunches from sad cubicles
that have somehow grown like weeds in a suburbia
that stretches up and down Interstate 5.
I asked the bartender, whose nametag said Horatio
(but his eyes, his eyes said something else),
where the “Ugly Ones” were.
Horatio said they weren’t so much ugly as bitter
at a world painted in suburban strip club teal.
She was an actress, or a waitress.
Not sure if I know the difference.
I wrote her introspective post-modern performance pieces,
from the point of view of a four hundred-year-old syphilitic tuna
named Laverne. She told me writers were just actors
too lazy to work restaurant shifts.
We filled the back of the Volvo with strange aquatic monologues
and two sleeping bags that zipped together awkwardly.
We stopped at a Community College just south of the city,
a place suburban kids get diplomas in Hospitality and Tourism
instead of getting jobs so that they could finally move out
of their parents’ basements.
We befriended a young couple, Harold and Maude,
(who knew only of Cat Stevens as a terrorist
and had surely just failed Menu Planning exams),
shared American Spirits and weak, warm American beer.
We roamed the Emerald City on streets not of yellow brick,
finding no wizard, but rather a mellowed back alley bar
that served exclusively, seductively and unapologetically
Loose Corn Daiquiris and Jager.
With each kernelled drink and Green River b-side,
her eyes filled further with tears like fisheye dreams,
knowing today maybe she’d loved the last of me.
Staggering into a vagrant’s night,
we walked the maze of dishonest sidewalks,
claiming their loyalty,
and streets named for trees
and sixteenth century explorers,
searching for a ’76 Volvo with a cerulean door,
through a park where she said she had lost her virginity,
and bounded into the night as if had she looked hard enough
we might be able to find it in a soft decade’s lazy growth.
In a hotel room where Hendrix
once ate oatmeal with a small spoon,
she dreams in Spanish
whispering truths she wouldn’t dare
in waking or English.
Her body recedes into mine.
It’s a stranger’s life on the I-5,
each mile compounds a nagging hatred
for all things imperial.
How many gallons in a day?
Miles in a silence?
Amusement park gas stations
with Urge Overkill logos,
road apple discount bins,
blue smocked attendants
tirelessly awaiting some kind end.
From the jade and olive of Washington
and part of the O in Oregon
she drank pony cans of Bud,
monopolized the stereo
with local college radio stations.
Christian billboards reminded us
of faults not yet attained,
like notions of episodic lives,
like the desire to fuck
each others closest friends.
She wanted to spend the night in Eugene and visit Ken Kesey.
We didn’t make it to Kesey’s, because it was late
and he’s been dead for seven years.
Instead she sleeps off road apples in a Motel 6.
Ephedrine and caffeine had expected a longer day.
I flipped through the phone book, curious to see
if there was another me living close by.
I had a listing at 1772 Hilyard. I called. I wasn’t home,
but had a clever voice mail message and a wife named Marie.
I wondered where I might be on a Sunday in late October,
maybe in a cheap motel room in Vancouver
calling me and being disappointed,
in my voice mail’s sad plea:
“I’ll be home soon, please leave a message. Please.”
We had breakfast at Denny’s
where the waitress seemed unimpressed
by the beauty of my companion’s smile,
or to answer my questions about white gravy
and the baseball theme. No Hospitality diploma I supposed.
I wonder if anyone in Eugene
will ever read this and say:
“Hey, I live there; I know that Denny’s,
and what the fuck is a Loose Corn Daiquiri?”
Dark, and lit only by the moon,
that fleeting ghost,
that unfeeling guest,
that goddamn moon.
She wanted to stop
at the road sign for South Weed,
take a photograph
that would make her laugh
when she was forty,
and had two friends named Diane.
I refused to stop.
I will not like Diane. I will not know Diane.
Years later I’ll find a map with its towns out of order,
in some cases improperly named.
Missing is Hope, a truck stop in Northern California
where I’m waiting in a two-tone Volvo wagon
for her to come back with a forty of discount Vodka,
and that smile, that says we may have never been there at all.