The Open Road
A six pack of O’Douls stares longingly at me from its position on the counter, but I’m not biting. At a whopping one proof, liquor control officers everywhere are amazed that these aren’t flying off the shelves. Oh, the great state of Pennsylvania. Did I mention it’s a Sunday too?
I had wrongly guessed that this shithole convenience store would defiantly sell alcohol without a license. They would gladly sell me cancer in twenty neatly packed sticks, or enough caffeine to give me a fucking heart attack. But god forbid I lose my inhibition for a few hours.
I move down the aisle. Cough syrup? Hmm, 8%. Not bad, though I would probably vomit before I got my load on. How would it look if I bought ten bottles, anyway? Do I even care? Not really, but even I have standards on altering my perception solely for amusement. And maybe some sick kids out there actually need it. I used it medically in my younger years, until I found out it fucked me up pretty good with a few extra doses. Then my parents wondered why I was sick all the time. Nah, too middle school for my taste.
Deodorant? Hairspray? What am I, homeless? As I laugh that one off, the bored clerk shoots me a look that says, Hey buddy, I have a shotgun underneath this counter, and I would love to use it because I’m angry I’m stuck in this dead end job waiting on dicks like you. Wanna dance?
Whoa tiger, you’re not med school material, but we can all go back to college if we want. Or maybe get the GED if we haven’t gotten quite that far. The truth is you don’t want to. Because then you can be contently pissed off all day reading your porno mags. Who really wants to be happy in this life anyway?
Bingo. The light bulb suddenly goes on. All the big questions have been answered. I feel like I just ate twenty apples from the Tree of Knowledge. Naked, and with a snake nearby egging me on. I grab a bottle of Listerine Gold from a neglected shelf and immediately focus on the ingredients list. 26.9% alcohol. I pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.
Though I don’t know you, I think we’ll get along just fine. We’ll have a long chat and figure out we have a lot in common. I’ll look past your warning signs, the fact that you’re friends with dozens of dangerous chemicals who would gladly send me staggering to the nearest ER, and you can ignore the fact that I’m way too desperate and reliant on self medication. I think it’s a good plan.
Grinning, and holding the bottle like a newborn baby, I swagger to the register in style. I can see the clerk is surprised that I’m not pointing a glock at his pimpled face, or even buying condoms for a motel quick fuck. Some of us have morals, Mister.
Sighing, he seems trapped in some kind of complex moral dilemma, wondering whether to lecture me on my seemingly inappropriate use of hygienic items, or not give a fuck and let natural selection take its run. He ultimately decides in my favor. I grab the bottle without waiting for my change and skip to my beaten up Econoline like I’d just won the lottery.
I was a pretty smart kid in school, though I never had to put in the effort. This drove teachers insane, and resulted in many trips to the inept counselor whom I was sure was a grade A pedophile. In the spirit of great intellectual coke heads, he attempted to delve into my unconscious mind and implied that I was molested as a child. I agreed and started crying just to see his pants rise, and punched him square in his face for being such a fucking faggot. I told him that that was my rage speaking, and begged him not to tell because the other kids would make fun of me. He said yes, keeping his hopes high for a blowjob upon my return.
I never had many friends growing up. I knew a lot of people, but no one close enough to build a fort of blankets in the living room, paint each other’s toe nails, talk about girls, and awkwardly emerge from puberty together. I was a loner, but maintained an air of mystery about myself that for some reason qualified as cool in people’s minds. I went to parties, strolling in like I fucking owned the place and finding some drunken girls to talk to. All the nerds enviously remained virgins while I introduced my dick to every girl in my grade, getting so shitfaced on the weekends I could barely remember doing as such. I still kicked their asses academically. The preppy kids didn’t really know what to make of me. I refused to wear polos or listen to music that I could duplicate in one minute.
My primary interests were always in business and science. For my future I’d imagined that I’d be laundering money for greasy wops or cooking meth for the respectable neo-Nazi skinhead types. Neither really panned out as I couldn’t muster the motivation to do any kind of work, be it legitimate or not. I probably would have just grossly overpaid aging strippers with the dirty money in an intoxicated state, or leveled my house in an explosion of Chernobyl proportions.
With no real options, one day I just left home and drove. And never came back. It’s easy to pick up and leave when you have nothing stopping you.
My parents didn’t give a fuck. I was an only child, and when I crawled out of my mom’s gaping vagina they had continued with their lives as if nothing had changed. Between going to bingo games, fucking her boss on a tower of bread crates, and going to bars, there wasn’t much time for me, let alone my father. The only thing they had in common was an unconditional love of alcohol. He eventually left her, choosing to deepen his relationship with a man named Jim Beam.
I swerve my van onto the shoulder, narrowly missing a deer that had stopped in absolute amazement to stare at my headlights. He slowly walks off to the opposite side of the road, as if sending me a casual fuck you from the local wildlife. I stare ahead in awe wondering how forest animals mastered the art of teleportation before mankind, but the empty bottle in my passenger seat cuts me off. How wise you are.
My head is pounding. Before I open my eyes, I wonder if I’m alone as an angry man loudly tells me about his impoverished neighborhood and how many girls he’s fucked in a trebly voice. Maybe he’s hiding under that poor excuse for an engine that some upper management asshole in Detroit thought was a good idea. Sometimes I wonder if they specifically engineered them to break down in the middle of nowhere, in conjunction with some tourist traps. Occasionally my own theories even frighten me.
I get out of the van, thankful that it lasted me this far. A diner, glowing full neon in broad daylight, smiles at me from the distance. It beckons all those who’ve had a rough night a chance at a bargain breakfast, complete with coffee flavored water and desperate single mother waitresses. I easily fall into its trap and stumble towards this oasis, stopping for a minute to decorate the shoulder of the road with my vomit.
Another new place, another new opportunity. I can never stay in one area for too long. I guess part of the problem is my inability to see anything but the worst in people, or more generally in everything. Say what you will about childhood trauma and poor role models, it doesn’t change anything. Everything gets old after awhile, its true nature revealed through cracks in the façade that people like me work endlessly to see through. No, I’m not perfect, and nor do I claim to be. But by moving around, I, for the most part, spare other people the virus of my cynical nature, and for myself the inevitable disappointment in growing close to someone.
A trip wire of cheap bells alerts my entrance to the hostess, busy saturating herself with makeup in hopes of a few extra dollars. Before I take my seat at the counter, a cup of coffee is already being poured for me. I have the appearance of a veteran homeless man with the smell to back it up, so she must be extremely desperate. I thank her, and she politely nods as she hands me a menu that hasn’t been changed since the 70s.
A trucker to my left a few seats down softly grunts, acknowledging my presence. Loners instinctively identify another one of their kind and make futile attempts at communication, a kind of human anomaly if you will. The open road is a grim life. But for some people, it’s the only way.
A plate of eggs and bacon that I didn’t order is plopped down before me. The waitress quickly smiles, then scurries away to sweet talk some toothless redneck. Somewhat bewildered, but following only the orders of my malnourished body, I begin gorging myself with food. It’s been awhile since I’ve eaten, and it’s probably good I have a calorie intake that hasn’t been distilled.
“That’s some appetite you’ve got there, buddy.”
I almost spit out my food in noticing that the trucker seamlessly beamed himself across the room, defying all laws of physics. He’s wearing a Nascar hat and cutoff jean jacket, displaying a bear belly that would make any blue collar man proud. His gaze remains on me after a few seconds. With my mouth full, I search for a napkin to no avail, settling for the sleeve of my already stained shirt. I’m equally successful in a search for words, only offering a nod and forced chuckle.
“Where ya headed?”
He takes a sip of coffee. This is more than just small talk. I don’t have the look of a trucker, nor a naïve adventurer with an army of maps just passing by. I stick out like a Jerry Falwell in a bar frequented by Nathan Lane.
“Wherever the road takes me.”
He laughs. He liked my answer. Finally breaking his gaze from me, he pulls out a pack of cigarettes, ignoring the blatant no smoking sign in the immediate vicinity. At the sound of a lighter, the waitress looks over, but continues talking to the toothless charmer. Whatever keeps the business afloat, I suppose.
“I’m Marty. Nice to meet you.”
He extends an arm in my direction. Oh what a fun time it would be to connect all those track marks. I shake his hand, this time with a genuine smile.
He didn’t have to tell me his life story. I already knew it. A family photo out of his immediate sight says it all. Divorced, two kids. She has custody, probably remarried to some dickless businessman with a degree in management.
I can guess that they met in high school based on her waspy appearance and his caveman demeanor. He was probably captain of the football team, scoring touchdowns for the cheerleader way out of his league. They say opposites attract, but high school sweethearts never last. At that point in life, most people go with what makes them happy. And what makes people happy is almost never the best means for survival. That burger from McDonald’s tastes good, but your arteries likely have an objection.
I don’t even know where we’re going, but I don’t care. He knows that. I’ll go wherever the road leads me. I just hope it ends with my diminished sobriety.
I thank Marty for the ride and offer him some money I don’t have. Thankfully he turns down my offer. Acts of kindness like this instinctively alarm me, but I guess some people actually had a stable childhood.
“Best of luck to you.”
I nod and wave to him. It’s somewhat unsettling knowing that he’s driving a tractor trailer in such a state, but who am I to judge? As he pulls away, I laugh at the How’s my driving? decal with a number provided. Not so good, Marty. I turn and slowly begin walking.
It’s funny sometimes where the road takes you. Some call it fate or destiny, or even just dumb luck. No matter how you label it, the end result doesn’t change. You are where you are. What put you there rarely matters: you’re left to deal with it. Some people might also search for higher purpose. Why am I here? What’s the significance of this? Mental masturbation was never quite my thing. That orgasm of realization never comes. I’m here because I am. Maybe something good will come of it. Maybe not. Only time will tell.
I haven’t been here in years, yet it’s exactly as I remember it: the lawn almost qualifies as a nature reserve, the paint has long since faded, several windows are broken, and an overweight man is intently staring from the porch. Home sweet home.
The gate creeks as I open it. I stare at the cement path as I walk up. Reaching the steps, I face my father. Time has not been kind to him, but who do you think taught me my strict virtue of moderation? He studies me for a few seconds, and then reaches into the cooler next to him. He hands me a beer, and I pull up a chair next to him.
“Good weather we’re having, don’t ya think?”