Thursday, August 12, 2004

Huckleberry Jam

Fell asleep behind the blogging dashboard today. The campus network was dormant for most of the morning and afternoon which gave me ample time to re-read THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. AHHHH.....nothing beats slumbering down those rough coils and lazy banks of the Mississippi with Huck and Jim steering the cedar helm.

In 1989, the summer preceeding sixth grade, my best friend Patrick McReynolds (or Pat Mc Crotch as we called him) and myself decided that we were going to "get away" from the emotional mancales of parents and siblings and curfews dictating typical junior high histrionics and travel "cross-country" as Pat called it. Only traveling cross-country entailed "riding the rails." We had no clue how this was done, but we knew that if we packed lightly and waited attentively down past Dry Run Creek, near the abandoned Go-Kart tracks where all the drop outs drank beer out of brown paper bags and smoked pot and made out with their tongues, we would eventually hear the shrilling hoot of a pending locomotive and know it was our cue.

"Picture it V.B.," (Patrick always called me Vee-Bee like I was a col. in the military) " The two of us. Together. Just riding the rails. A harmonica. Lots of Dr. Pepper. A few fellow hobos to keep us company with stories of yesteryear. And a can of beans."

I think it was the can of beans in Patrick's verbal brochure that sold me.

Indebted always to his throughly gruff, blue-collar perpetually pissed-on Irish geneaology, Patrick talks about the future promise land with a sad glint of eternal promise stashed in the dual clover-green of his pupils. The ever evasive leprachaun jigging around the transparent pot of gold; both rapidly fading by the time the potato-tooth, perennial brick layers spotted the rainbow and watched, weary-eyed, as their incumbent treasure is snatched by some overtly protestant Noah who in all likelihood is inevitably British as well.

We spent a week assaying the territory and stocking up on provisions; purloining cans from our parents pantry and mapping out a precise time when the locomotive was to arrive.

"I don't see any box-cars, Patrick." I said, concerned.

"Don't worry V.B. We just scale the tracks and hop on the nearest rungs. Eventually we move from car to car and eventually we hook up with all the other bums, traveling cross-country."

'Where will we end up?" I inquired. Afriad of what my parents might think of my random departure. Patrick looked at me for a second, squinted before responding.

"I dunno," Patrick said. "Patagonia?"

"Argentina?" I quizzically responded.

"Yeah, why not. If not that we can go anywhere. The road is ours V.B. It's ours." Patrick pulled a Benson and Hedges he filched from his mothers pocketbook earlier in the day, while she was in betwen soaps. Carefully removing the menthol filter, Patrick continued.

"You see V.B., say, a hundred years ago--hell, say even seventy-five years ago, we'd have no trouble picking up and just gittin' the hell out of dodge. If we didn't like were we wuz livin'--shit, just get up one night and git."

"I know Patrick," I said, trying not to wade in the second hand smoke. "But that was a long time ago. Besides, what's our parents gonna say. They'll flip out and ground our ass forever."

Patrick took a contemplative drag from the smoke, offered it to me. When I declined by using my palm as a stop sign, he continued.

"The world ain't changed that much and you know it. Besides, I've seen my old man. All he thinks he is is what comes in the mail that he has to pay back. He's just a number on a bill. That's all."

Patrick then looked back at me. It was junior high. I was wearing my Batman '89 t-shirt. He then told me something I still reflect on from time to time today.

"Is that all you want your life to be, V.B.? Just some number. Just some name on a manila envelope that people mail you to milk you out of everything that you've worked for?"

I didn't say anything. In junior high Patrick and I, along with out friend Hale, were the loners. The outcasts. The nerds. I wore thick glasses the size of tennis courts, Hale was the size of a young brontosaurus, only with manners and a high-pitched voice and Patrick looked like he could easily pass for an acne-riddled extra culled from Goonies. We were teased almost incessantly. I had a shitty jock strap crowned on my head before a basketball game by the Pastors son. McCrotch had fake love letters and phone calls sent to his house. Hale, well, lets not go there just yet...

"All I'm saying is that this is our chance V.B. If we don't get the hell out of this shithole now we never will." Patrick took a drag, the lit cherry from his cigarette seemed to be winking assurances in my direction. "You're gonna end up just like your old man and I'm gonna end up just like mine--working all the time with some boss over us who don't know shit. This is our chance V.B. This is our chance."


The next day we packed our bags and waited for the train to arrive. It was scheduled to arrive at five-fifteen and we waited and we waited. The electric lavender-hue that accompanies the endless summers of youth began to paint the siding of the sky with promises of dusk. Patrick looked at his watch.

"It'll come. It'll come V.B. It may not come at the time when we thought it would. But it will come and when it does, we'll be on that train. Just you and me. Best friends forever. We'll be on that train and we'll leave. We'll leave and never come back here again."

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