2nd Revised Edition of 'Midnight Shining Sun' is coming this Summer 2018 in audio book format read by author Aaron Berg.
THREE - JOHNNY’S DODGE RAM 1500
Johnny’s van is a blue Dodge Ram 1500. Through the vibrating expanse of dashboard I can hear the engine throbbing a steely baritone. The radio hisses like the ghost of the recently vanquished rain. In the rearview mirror I see Johnny round the corner from the art gallery down the street. The human brain reverses everything like a mirror. Objects in a mirror are closer than they appear. He turns sideways in order to slip by two overstuffed dumpsters and a towering stack of empty pallets. The whole alley wears the sour-sweet stench of trash. He slings himself up into the driver’s seat and closes the door all in one motion.
After our evening long serenade to semi-interested gallery-goers we head towards a Huddle House diner by the highway entrance. Snaking our way through interlocking grids of red brick plazas, office towers, and parking garages at right angles only the occasional statue or fountain adorned with its own tiny plot of grass affords an oasis from the wasteland of bronze-faced statues and marble pillared banks their institution bones destined for consumption by a savage mask of green oxygen death. Up ahead the scalloped lights of a suspension bridge rise and fall against a moonless sky. As my mind starts to drift I roll the window down as if to ease my descent into the underworld.
Johnny and Breadfoot are deep into an intricate debate over flavors and quality of various late night diner condiments especially syrups. The van is rumbling now at full speed down a nearly empty avenue. Breadfoot who was lying horizontally on the middle bench seat sits up and leans forward as Johnny makes a sweeping left across oncoming traffic. A middle aged couple in a sports car object by blaring their uninterrupted horn at us. I look over as we curve past in a flash their hands raised above their heads in exasperation as they shout noiselessly behind the windshield. Straightening out the wheel Johnny lets out a joyful string of expletives as he completes successfully another of his signature maneuvers. Breadfoot now facing forward seated on the bench directly in between the two front seats begins rolling a cigarette.
Going over the bridge the rhythmic thud of the pavement sounds like galloping horses. The vertical suspension cables whir past my open window turning the ancient exodus of water into a flickering band of film. The City of Baltimore fades out behind us. When you travel often it gradually becomes apparent that every city is more or less the same city. Then after quite a bit more time that every city is the same city. It is this sameness, this fleeting eclipse of timeless anonymity that can make life seem suddenly bizarre. It is hard then not to laugh at ourselves when all our desperate measures are added together and still in our oblivious upward climb we fail to see we are both the cause and the effect that all the impending disasters we seek to avoid are only self-inspired omens sent to remind us that heaven and hell are now and will forever be immediately within our reach. Rather what is needed is to reach out and kiss the honey lips of death. Remember and be here now. Eternity is not a long time. It is constant as are we. There is a memory larger than this one where fragments become whole and points form curves.
As we approach the center of bridge Johnny looks out at the murky skyline and breaks the silence: “This river is where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while captured on board a British ship. Before that the river valley was a sacred campground for native fisherman and a meeting place for tribal leaders. Who knows what those crazy bastards were doing down there”, he laughs a mischievous giggle blended with a mild cough. After you knew Johnny for a while you could tell he was pretty well read though he would never admit it. Driving with the hood of his sweatshirt raised over his head from the side he looks like a hovering specter. Having recovered from his fit of coughing laughter he continues, “About two centuries ago it was the mainline for the Ohio-Baltimore railroad. One of the thickest arteries of train travel in North America. Kind of makes you wonder what the river knows that we don’t.” He laughs again.
A few weeks before I left to head South in Johnny’s thunder blue automotive I went by train to Wellesley to attend the college graduation of a cousin. Earlier in the day we took a tour of Boston harbor. The young guide recited his monologue through the static of the speakers his voice rising at the most dramatic parts: “in the American Revolution farmers and townsfolk hung lanterns from trees to signal by which means the British would attack.” He pauses for effect: “One if by land. Two if by sea” was the call passed up and down the coast.
The tour was given in an amphibious decommissioned World War Two vehicle known as a duck for short. The duck was basically an oversized jeep that could float with a canvas top and an outboard motor in the back. Many thousands landed on the beaches at Normandy following the allied invasion with supplies and reinforcements. Towards the end of the tour we moved down towards the water to begin the boat portion of our amphibious tour.
Along the way the guide pointed out various landmarks. Houses of senators, hotels former presidents stayed in, the old public gallows, a soon to be completed children’s museum, and an entire novel’s worth of taverns and bars where revolutionary heroes drank pints and gave impromptu speeches their righteous hearts and clenched fists perfectly matched for the challenges ahead. Lumbering through the cobblestone streets on the lowest portion of the battery surrounding the harbor we eventually came upon a series of boat ramps. The young guide briefed us on what to expect upon converting into boat form. I couldn’t help but think of all the young men who had been briefed in these boats decades ago about what to expect upon landing on a French beach they had never seen. As we slipped down the ramp into the water with a gurgling thud the guide asked if anyone had any questions. I wanted to ask him if he thought war was an event or an industry but I got distracted watching the children run up and down the slippery aisle to take turns steering the duck around the harbor.
Trying to determine which of the crooked steps of the conquered and the conquering you are standing on can be difficult. Invasions come from an infinite number of directions. One piling up on top of the other. Riding around in circles through Boston harbor I thought of myself. All my defeats. All my conquests.
I waited three hours in the snow for a girl I hardly knew. The human heart amazes me. People who understand the least know the most. Light and Sound are our best chance for communion with the Divine. Angels speak through coincidences and omens. The Devil speaks sometimes also but I don’t mind. From the darkest places comes the sweetest stands of hope. At least I hope so. Sparks of light ripple as Breadfoot clicks his lighter into action between his cupped hands.
After our show tonight I got a kiss on the cheek from a drunken middle aged hippie women. I read her a poem because she asked me to choose one from her book. I could smell the whiskey on her breath. Up close her face was a painted mask. There were less than ten people in the place. I am not sure who should have felt more sorry for whom. It didn’t seem like anybody really cared to care and that in some some way that was a comforting place to be for everyone involved. No judgement. No holding back.
As we near the end of the bridge a lone black bird seated on a suspension wire catapults into flight as we rumble past. For a moment I almost forgot how much I loved you until in the Huddle House staring into my coffee I thought of you as the sugar melted into the dark.
Chapter 3 from Part 1 of Midnight Shining Sun by Aaron Berg (c)2018