This house in Columbus, Ohio, was the first place I ever heard Frank Zappa. It was 1984. The kids in school wore Gazelle glasses and suede Pumas. Here began ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Dune’. Pac-Man was four, the Walkman was six, and MTV was our new god.
It happened like this: one rainy Saturday morning in November, I was sitting on that porch waiting for my friend Kelly Savage when he opened the front door brandishing the monster fucking boom box his parents his bought him with a “Q-FM 96.6 ROCKS” BMX bike pad wrapped around the handle. He set the radio on the rail and pressed play. The album was Joe’s Garage, and at the time it felt rebellious. I was young. I didn’t know anything much beyond library books and bike rides, or maybe catching the odd glimpse of a breast during ‘Clash of The Titans’. This was the world pre-Internet, before texting dick pics became the sport of kings and 6th graders. We got our sex-ed the old-fashioned way; bullshit stories about the girls we claimed we’d already fingered, a stash of Penthouse magazines under your bed, and, if you played your cards right, a game of Truth or Dare on New Year’s Eve. Everything was young and we were still dumb.
I played my first game of Spin The Bottle on that porch, that upstairs bedroom was the first place I ever heard Cheech & Chong, and that patch of grass to the right of the sidewalk was the first place I ever lost a fight. (There would be many more.) The strange thing about the past is that sometimes I get the idea that I’m going back there again someday, but not in a way I even remotely understand, and certainly not one that doesn’t make me sound like I’m batshit crazy.
“Elf Girl and the Battle of Evermore” happened one night in the summer of 1991. I’d recently escaped from an orbiting penal colony and crash-landed in Central Ohio. Riding around with new friends, the driver pulled up to a side street residence. The back door on my side opened, and a tall girl wearing a Baja pullover, holy jeans, gold-rimmed glasses and a pair of brown moccasin boots climbed in, bringing with her the scent of patchouli. Like theme music, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’ began the moment she entered, and hurriedly straddled me. Everything stopped.
The stereo was good and loud, and the sound filled the car. The door slammed shut and we were away, the acceleration shoving her hard against me. It all happened so fast, but I remember the weight of her body, the clean scent of her hair, and the length of her limbs. She was soft and warm like the surf on a distant beach and I fought the urge to wrap my arms around her and bury my face in her stars.
She looked down at me as the streetlights flashed by and smiled her hello and I said hello back, silently begging my brain for something meaningful to say, something that would start a real conversation, but I could think of nothing and so we rode in silence. Her arrival coalesced with everything suddenly important in my life at that moment: D&D, which I’d just started playing; better music, which I’d just started enjoying, and the concept of sex, which I knew nothing of. Her eyes were big and brown, and she tucked her hair behind her ears with strong fingers. I was trying not to stare at her and take the whole thing in stride, as if this sort of thing happened to me all the time, but I couldn’t help it. I felt the pull of magnets.
“Hey, I’m good here, thanks!” Reverie aborted. The car rolled to a stop and I fumbled with the door handle as she clambered off my lap and sauntered into the night and out of my life, her departure perfectly timed with the end of the song. I never even knew her name. I wanted to scramble out after her.
“Wait, who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing?” But I was too shy. I had no money, no car, and I spent the majority of my time toiling away at a moderately shitty job for laughable pay. What could I offer her? What was I gonna do, catch the bus to her house and hope to talk her shirt off? What would we talk about? I’d never know. As the car pulled away I asked the driver who she was, but he only shrugged. Maybe she’d awed him as well. Maybe we were just four nerds riding around in the Midwest night talking shit, wishing we could open our mouths and minds beyond Highlander quotes and plans for pizza. You only know what you know when you know it.
The shotgun said something I don’t recall; maybe he made a comment about her, maybe he blurted out a line from a movie. Only time remembers. But the crux was lost and I was too embarrassed to inquire any further into the matter, and definitely too cool in my head to risk someone else knowing I’d fallen for a total stranger in only five minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Waiting for the conclusion of the boarding ceremony aboard a flight from SFO to ORF via ATL. Passengers deposit coins, crushed flowers and offerings of oranges upon the altar just outside the cockpit door where fresh incense burns. Sky Ninjas rehearse their fighting style in slow kata: ‘Two Exits Fore and Aft’ style beats ‘Emergency Aisle Lighting’ style beats ‘Butter Bowl Over Your Face In Moments Of Duress’ style beats ‘Follow Along In Passenger Safety Information Card’ style.
I’m wearing a faded band t-shirt, clean jeans, a pressed blazer, and hiking shoes. Today is a good hair day. Presently the engines engage and we break the bonds of gravity.
The pilot’s got all the spells memorized; he knows how to manipulate the artifacts and keep the math happening, recite the incantations for gravity, lift, drag, and thrust…
I never even got her name. She was traveling with friends. She said she worked in tech. She was tall and nervous. Maybe her parents were part deer, and part desert flower. Maybe she was born in a summer rain. Maybe her blood type was Commodore 64. She appeared to be all of these things, but I’ll never know. We exchanged small talk as we lined up on the causeway, waiting our turn to place items on the altar, waiting for the ballet of common courtesy to hurry along. She smiled at me again before she took her seat several rows behind me, and I never saw her again.
This is the extent of my relationships as of late.
We hang on to the past when we cannot touch the present or hear the future. The void could be comfortable, but it’s not. Solitude should be peaceful, but it’s not. It feels like a posh coffin.
Pack a large van with a team of experts and a small mountain of Pelican cases. Drive south to a small town in North Carolina. Take over a hotel, and fake a plane crash. Make believe that a Boeing 747 made an emergency landing in a nearby river. Maybe you got lucky, maybe none of the imaginary passengers died. Maybe the only thing spilled was jet fuel. Deal with the repercussions. Explain to the reporters in the next room that aviation fuel is extremely lightweight and will evaporate quickly. Educate strangers with hand grenades of information. Exercise your growing understanding of high-risk, low-trust situation models. Communicate the following concept without actually saying it: You want your packages delivered overnight, right? Well, someone’s gonna have to fly them. Fuel will be burned. Sometimes planes fail. You take the good, you take the bad, you something-something, and there you have the Facts of Life. Now drink your fucking latte.
Return home. Tell no one about this.
Bury everything you know and dig as deep as you can. Remember that the good stuff sinks into the earth. Surface truth washes away like grass seed in a warm summer rain, and nothing shallow lasts. Consider the thin veneer of civility inherent in the Machine Culture. Realize that your final days will feel like falling through a long tunnel of locks as you attempt to solve them with split-second decisions, or sometimes by slamming your face against them.
Every mile hurts. Don’t expect Band-Aids. Write about going back with all the chips in your favor; put your present self in your 4th grade body and watch the hilarity ensue. Listen to Mudhoney on loop. Read some Marshall McCluhan. Plan a long drive to Asheville with the windows down.
“Remember to come on a Friday,” she said. “You won’t want to miss the drum circle.”
Something-something armored pollen,