Somewhere the fuck! – Upstate New York – Alice
I like the countryside, I do. I like to see cows in a field and a silo next to a well-cared for barn. I like the chirping sounds of crickets, as long as they stay over there and don’t jump on me. But I’m not happy at the moment. I have a little bit of a hangover still and I’ve still not seen any of my favorite black and white cows.
After picking up Bette’s grand gesture from LaGuardia’s American Airlines freight and cargo terminal this morning we’ve been driving northwest for about three hours. Shane and I fell for Bette’s all expenses paid trip to New York coercion to reassemble the fucking ’17 Reasons Why!’ sign. It sure sounded like a great idea two days ago, but now? As Bette’s anxiety coils tighter and tighter the closer she gets to seeing Jodie again, the more unsure I am that our coming here was actually a good idea at all.
“Are you serious? You actually have a joint with you? You smuggled this all the way here?” I turn around in my seat as marijuana smoke drifts past me.
Shane holds in her breath before she answers, “I just found it looking for Chapstick.”
As I lean behind me and take a hit from her, the van’s cargo door next to us groans open.
Bette looks stressed. “Here guys, Moosehead Ale is the best they had. Holy fuck!” She waves at the reefer smoke that floats in front of her face.
“And Little Debbie’s snack cakes!” Shane tears the cellophane with her teeth.
“I think smoking grass is actually legal here now, Bette, so don’t worry.”
“What? Are you serious?” She looks at me suspiciously.
“Well, I know they’re talking about it.” I add defensively as I apply Shane’s chapstick to my desiccating lips. “It’s freezing out there! Shut the door, please.”
“Oh, Christ!” Bette pushes inside with our beer, junk food, and other groceries. “Scoot over Shane so I can get this door closed because I think you’re full of shit, Alice.” She crawls past us and over to the driver’s seat.
“Well, they should. I mean it’s so dumb.” I take another affirming hit of pot and a snack cake from Shane.
“People don’t do a lot of things they should do, Alice.” Bette opens the lid to her steaming cup of tea.
“You’ll be back in plenty of time to help Tina with Angelica’s birthday party, Bette.” Shane adds.
“I know. I know I will. I just feel sometimes like I …” her voice drifts. Momentarily distracted, she takes a sip and burns her lips.
“Jesus Christ! That’s scalding hot!”
“Quick! Use this, Bette, or you’ll have a blister.” I hand over the chapstick.
Bette knits her forehead as she dabs on the scalded places along her lips. Sitting outside of Big Buddy’s Bait and Beer somewhere the fuck outside of Woodstock, New York I come to a conclusion – as I take another puff of marijuana – there are probably sixteen more reasons why our coming here is ill fated.
If they were so great together then why is this trip, this sign, this cargo van – really why is any of this necessary? Grand gestures are great! You gotta love ’em, but at the core of this nonsensical declaration that Bette knows ’17 reasons why!’ – or how she can mend her romantic relationships – leaves me with a definite “as if” feeling, and sixteen too many more questions.
Could Jodie and Bette’s communications misses be possibly any worse than Bette and Tina’s? Could anyone’s be that abysmal? Their dilemmas are a constant source of mystery to me because I’m a talker. I can’t keep anything inside. If they ever do get back together – either grouping of them – I’m not going to sit idly by or recommend therapy to them. Nope! I’m going to insist that Tina and Bette take Italian lessons and read poetry to each other. Maybe then they’ll see the tragic parts of themselves and understand their misaligned feelings for each other.
And if Jodie loves Bette, and vice versa, then please find some common ground in a subject other than art and give us all a break! I mean, really. Lisa the Lesbian had more self awareness than these three put together. And that is not a compliment.
As much as I’ve tried over the years to pry personal information out of Bette she can be a master of deflection. She’s both enigmatic and quixotic. The disassembled sign that has incessantly rattled and gotten on my nerves for the last three hours is certainly a result of that.
Tilting at Windmills
I suppose we would all be the poorer for it if we every once in a while we didn’t go off in mad pursuit of something we’d convinced ourselves it was impossible to live without. Take me and Dana. She was the greatest best friend, and I ruined my health trying to force her back to me as a lover. Or Shane, who despite all tendencies, odds, and a mountain of evidence to the contrary pursued marriage with Carmen to the very bitter end. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow I will seriously question the sanity of her upcoming move in with Paige. It’s as if we’re all blind to ourselves, our follies and fallacies. The jury is out whether to sentence us to more rock breaking repetitions. I understand their reasons. It’s true – we might never rehabilitate and learn our life lessons.
“You forgot to blow the steam off it first, Bette.” Shane hands her the joint. “Hey, we’ve all done it.”
Outside Big Buddy’s Bait and Beer – Shane
Growing up the way I did as a ward of the State of Texas I never traveled much. Offer me a trip to most anywhere and I’m in. The only traveling I ever did was when the nuns would pile us into battered old buses and take us to the circus, or the county fair if the tickets were free. One thing we could always count on though was the Friday night rodeos. Whenever I hear the phrase, ‘a roll in the hay,’ my many assignations in rodeo horse trailers send buzzing memories shooting right through me.
I liked heavily tooled cowboy boots back then, too. The ones with stitching and snake skins, and I didn’t mind if they had a little bit of wear on ’em either. But my favorites by far were the turquoise tinted cowboy boots of Rhonda, my Rodeo Queen. Our timing was or wasn’t perfect – I’m fairly bad about gauging these things – but I’d met Rhonda shortly before I’d hitchhiked myself right out of the State of Texas.
People, who grow up with families and Sunday dinners and real Christmas stockings and a tree, have no idea what it meant for me to have my brother, Shay, here with me. No, I take that back. My family with Tina and Bette at the head, or the center, and now off to the side of it understood. But me have a clue about their problems? I admit, they confuse the fuck out of me.
The more grass I smoke in the enclosed space of this chilly cargo van the more I wonder why I go along on these descents into Hell with them? Loyalty is my only clue.
I put the joint out and try to imagine what’s going on inside Bette’s mind as we sit together sharing sugary snack cakes outside of Big Buddy’s.
I don’t think she’s really thought her “Hail Mary” thing with Jodie all the way through. If she had surely she would’ve flown ahead in her mind, as I have, and imagined the holidays with all of us ahead. Does Bette actually think she sees a day in the future when Jodie and Tom, and Tina and whoever she eventually ends up with sitting together around a holiday table for dinner?
Because I’ve imagined it! And in my mind there’s nothing about that Christmas dinner that seems festive to me. I want what Carmen’s family had in spades – something noisy and full of happy commotion. But the pictures in my mind of the holidays looming on the horizon of my future, strained by Bette and Tina’s tension, makes me want to follow all the Jews to the movie theater on Christmas Day instead.
And that kinda hurts me, and I see a mounting, growing list of inescapable problems ahead.
Maybe more than anybody I’ve watched Bette since it all came apart years ago. Living next door to her I probably “see” her more than anybody, and I’ve watched how her mind’s begun to eat itself alive the longer she lives alone.
And Tina used to take care of all that, and now Jodie really doesn’t.
And I like Jodie, I do. But she lives practicing broad jumps from place to place, and from what I’ve gathered so far – she’s had no bad falls. But deep down inside herself I don’t think Bette really trusts her. And the other really fucked up thing? The one that’s propelled us three thousand miles, and up into these pretty mountains and countryside, is Tina’s own fucking fault.
Tina, who’s now officially single, but possibly dating has her own unique hang ups. For awhile she fussed over keeping sprigs of grass alive in her apartment so she could squeeze them with a mashing pressing thing whenever she wanted into a dark green colored juice. So, I’ve seen her weirdness and how she gets way dug in, and is too intractable and especially stupid about “Bette” things.
She starts the van and checks her mirrors to see behind us. I wonder as I see her reflection: Do any of the women around me – who seem to get their eye shadow on right – actually ever really look at themselves while staring into mirrors? I mean really look and not turn away? Because one night I did for hours when I was high on Dilaudid and cocaine. That mirror shit was freaky and I quit doing drugs for awhile after that. I get the avoidance of it. But as we back up, and the huge metal sign behind me in the van’s cargo bay begins to rattle, Bette flashes me a cheery look, also filled with trepidation look that I read as: For better or worse here we go.
Alice holds up her iPhone with GPS. “Looks like we’ll be there in twenty minutes, maybe less.”
Route 28 – Bette
Twenty minutes later –
As the chilly air rushes in from the window I sense Alice fidgeting in the seat next to me, and whatever Shane’s last thought was has left her with a ragged sigh, and the need to go prone on the long seat behind me.
I think about turning back. I could pull into the farm road I see ahead and turn us all around by that lonesome looking silo then, driving straight back southeast we could be back in the city by six. New York is fun at night.
It’s fun anytime as long as you’ve got money you don’t mind literally disappearing from your hands every minute you’re there. Everything, everything, everything costs and the tab for this scheme of mine to get back Jodie is going to run me every bit of five thousand dollars and probably then some.
Transporting the sign alone was nearly three! But I pulled the pin on this and I’m going to fall on it as it drops, or explodes, and if it blows me into a million bits then, I’ll drown my sorrows tonight in a bar in Manhattan.
There’s no grey for me anymore and even if there were? I’ve been told I probably wouldn’t see it. And her with not so much as a, ‘Fuck you!’ leaving me like that. Then, I knew better, but I kept reaching for my phone to call her and then I’d remember: Jodie can’t hear, so that won’t work.
Every fucking miserable detail of my ridiculous wreck of a love life I’d first have to say to Tom, and then hear him repeat it all over again to her. It was bad enough hearing myself say it, much less his tone of voice interpreting me. So, imagining that ridiculous make up assisted scenario really just pissed me off even more. What choice did I have but to tell Jodie face to face? And with a five thousand dollar to be screwed together steel and aluminum gesture that I hope to God doesn’t fall flat?
Pushing up into my thoughts is my share of a sizable private preschool enrollment expense that comes up pretty soon. Oh my God, my credit cards! Christ! They’ll be the ruin of me.
I pull into a gravel road when Alice says, “Turn right here.”
“Wait! Go left. Didn’t you see me pointing left?” Alice snaps her hand toward me.
“I saw you waving your hand around, Alice, but you were saying turn right, so I did.” I sigh and stare up at the greying winter sky above the grain silo, and roll the window down.
Shane asks from the back. “Do you mind if I get out and stretch for a minute before you meet your fate in the field over there?”
“Oh, and I want to take a picture of this silo, too.” Alice opens her door and walks the short distance to the grey stones towering above us.
“Isn’t that Jodie way over there across the road in that field?” Shane points as she puts her hand above her eyes to shield the winter glare.
“Hey, guys! Look what I found. There’s a shed with a nice little tractor and trailer back here.” I hear Alice’s voice from behind the silo. “Bette, instead of you bumping up in a van with us smelling like beer and reefer and your grand gesture, ’17 Reasons Why!’ sign trussed up like a hostage in the back – I mean if you really want to make your point – we should assemble the thing together. Then, you drive it over there and see what happens.” Alice ends with emphasis and crosses her arms in what looks like a dare. “And Shane and I will wait here.”
I put my binoculars up to my eyes and slowly draw Jodie into focus as she walks with a group of men all dressed for high grasses and muddy terrain. I watch as Jodie looks towards the pasture’s boundary and treeline, and then up and over across the road toward the silo and me. She points up to the sky above the towering silo, and then down again. I can tell she’s thinking about something she’s not quite seeing yet, only imagining.
I shift my weight and wonder what to do. Steal the tractor to take the stolen sign? See if she’ll make up with me and kiss my blistering, fucked up lips?
Jodie shifts in the frame of my field glasses. I follow her slowly across far hillside when she stops and does something that seems like a signal even though she hasn’t seen me.
Is it a sign to come over there? I press the binoculars together and give myself one single field of telescopic vision and watch Jodie as she lifts her hands to frame exactly where I’m standing on a hillside a thousand feet away. Her fingers squarely and exactly surround us. She looks through the box and I see it all very clearly.
I must go through this imaginary window between us because I must see what’s on the other side.
The next chapter is titled, “The Weather Report.”
Alice senses earthquake weather, and that anything could happen in this unusual environment when she witnesses a confrontation between Tina, Bette, Dawn Denbo and My Girlfriend Cindy.