Unfinished story about a wedding

[There are reasons why this is timely, which I will go into later. I always wished I had finished this, but I didn’t. But read what there is, and let me know what you think. This was, btw, written in 1996.]

I sat in my bed, listening to an old Shadowfax CD, watching the helicopters land on top of the hospital as the giant window of grey-blue sky slowly dissolved into black. I thought about the giant crane across the street, the spindly arm of faded steel that stood over the hospital construction site. It might make a decent photo, just this massive pillar of steel cross-beams, etched by a year of Seattle weather, reaching for the sky like God’s hand on the ceiling of the sistine chapel.

Before I got my camera, I played the future events in my head: I’d take a handful of photos, using a zoom, posing them in some artistic fashion. Then a few months would pass, I’d develop the film, and I’d wonder why the fuck I took 12 photos of the Seattle skyline with a tiny speck of a crane on the distant horizon.

I’ve been smart enough to stay away from taking pictures of sunsets, full moons, mountain ranges, and other giant spectacles of nature. You either need to see Mount Ranier for yourself, or sell your car to buy some large-format photo gear and high-end lenses to capture the moment.

Fares are low. Just fly to the mountains and check them out the real way. It’s worth the hundred bucks.

I’ve always been religious about writing three hours a night. I started this ritualistic scrawling when all of my friends moved away and I couldn’t deal with all of the shithead 19 year olds ruling the campus anymore. I hid in my room, or in the basement of the building where I worked, and etched journal pages in tiny black-ink print, a running dialog for what didn’t happen with other people anymore. I wrote because I didn’t have a girlfriend and didn’t want to deal with finding one. I wrote because I didn’t like TV and I didn’t like basketball games and I didn’t like frat parties and I didn’t have any other options in the disintegrating college town.

When I moved to Seattle, the nightly writing served a dual purpose. The advertized intent was to say I was a serious writer. I wrote books, novels, epics in my spare time. The day job – just a cover. Just a way to pay rent while I turned out the next great American masterpiece. Van Gogh’s brother gave him free pants, I worked at Spry. In a sense, the serious writing bit was true, or at least I wanted it to be.

On the other hand, the writing was still a way of eating my time when I had no other social tools in place. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know where things were, I didn’t know what was happening in this new and strange city. And I feared leaving the house for a few months, because every time I tried to find new stores or new clubs or new hangouts, I’d spend $80 in 14 minutes, or get a parking ticket because I didn’t know how to decipher the Seattle parking system. And I’d get lost, and spend half of the day learning the difference between 4th Ave and 4th Ave S. To avoid this, I’d just sit at home and write. And I turned out two full manuscripts and a lot of little stuff because of this.

But I haven’t been writing lately. When I get home from work, I sleep for 2 or 3 hours, then eat a TV dinner while reading my email. Then I watch the blue sky slowly fade to black outside the giant window my by bed. Sometimes I read, sometimes I don’t. I haven’t been latching onto big, complex books lately, so I read some Bukowski, or sometimes just zines or catalogs. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I enjoy the sound of nothing.

When I need to get out of the house, I take long drives with no destination. I just got back from one – I rolled down the windows, and wandered around lake Union, then up to the U-district and back again. Wind blows into the car, the darkness surrounding me, providing a sense of removal, a desolation almost required by my mood. The night contrasts the high-tech view of the city, the lights and steel and climbing buildings and concrete growing into the 21st century.

The last time I drove like this was two years ago. I got a Mustang when my friend Bill moved away. And that summer, everyone moved away. After June, I had an apartment to myself, and the silence engulfed me, almost too much. After a day of classes, writing, work, and everything else, I’d be sitting on my couch at 8 o’clock, staring at the wall, and go for a long drive to nowhere. It was the first time I had a car, and I enjoyed cruising the same streets over and over, breathing the summer air, wishing there was something more exciting than the small, empty college campus. Now, I do the same thing, but I’ve got enough terrain to get lost in, I can pick a direction and find things I’ve never seen before. And there’s more to see. But, it’s still a lonely, self-torturous exercise.

Tonight, I listened to a tape an ex-girlfriend made me three years ago, sappy and sentimental music she wanted me to hear when she was in Tampa and I was in Indiana. The music reminds me of her, her letters in perfect cursive on blue stationary, her precise phone calls every Saturday at 11am, her visits to my house when she was on campus, waking me up after her first three classes. It all depresses me – which is something I crave sometimes.

I savor my depression, or at least the mediocre, mid-line depression that fills in the empty spaces between exciting events and major crashes. I don’t like the depression following a breakup, a death, a loss, or an event that causes canyon-like holes of despair in my mental terrain. But when nothing’s happening, and life’s playing a test pattern on my soul, I soak in my own negative feelings about the past, and baste them with reminders and nostalgia. When I know I’m fucked up, I read old letters, e-mails, journals, and stories. I look at photos of people I’ll never see again and listen to old songs and smell old cologne I never wear because of the olfactory memories they carry. It doesn’t always bring the heavy, spine-scouring depression though. It’s just a heavy nostalgia, something more than yearbook photos but not dehabilitating. Just reminiscent.

So what’s the deal with the depression, the rut, the interruption this month? Two things have me off-kilter lately. The first has to do with my trip. And my trip starts with some background. Get yourself a drink first, this probably gets boring fast.

I’ve never been close to either of my parents. My preschool years were spent either alone or with my sister, on a house in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. I learned to read before I could remember, and constructed an airtight routine of endless books, crayon drawings, lego frontiers, and Star Wars figures. When we moved to Indiana, I never escaped these worlds, and instead of learning about girls and football in the public schools, I went to gifted school and learned about Apple computers, Steinbeck, Bradbury, Asimov, and Tolstoy. So when I was thirteen and my parents divorced, their custody antics were just interruptions in my BASIC programming and Dungeons and Dragons games. I had a complete, albeit isolated, world without much interaction from them.

There always were strings preventing a clean break though, items of conditionality that haunted my life over the last decade. Rent, tuition, books, cars, insurance, clothes, credit cards, and food all became chains, issues that kept either parent hacking at my freewill over the years. I tried to work jobs and take loans as much as possible, but some form of leash always kept me under their control.

When I moved to Seattle, however, most or all of the money issues dissolved. I started paying my own bills, and didn’t ask for any help. Times were tight after moving here, but one day I remember just realizing I was financially independant. After years of struggle and worry that I’d never be able to sever ties, I realized I had in fact cut all monentary relations from my elders.

Why am I babbling about this? Because without conditionality, and without that great emotional bond of closeness that some assholes share with their parents, I have no real reason to ever see mine again.

However, my parents “miss” me, or have been conditioned to have me around for holidays, as some sort of default bonding procedure. Last Christmas, I took a week of unpaid leave from my job and flew from Seattle to Elkhart (via Cincy) to see my folks. After suffering through being broke the whole time, messing up my bill schedule with the missing pay, flying in a storm in a tiny prop plane that was two steps less airworthy than the plane Buddy Holly died in, and dealing with the rush of holiday frenzy at the airports, I barely saw my parents. I didn’t see my dad at all, he was smart enough to evacuate to Florida for the winter. My mom was with her new boyfriend the whole time, so I saw her maybe twice the whole week. Carless and broke, I basically spent thousands of dollars to spend a week watching _Saved By the Bell_ reruns in the freezing, shitty climate of Northern Indiana. (_Saved By the Bell_ isn’t too bad once you’ve seen _Showgirls_, however.) After that incident, I pledged to never come home again, unless Ed McMahon accidentally delivered my check there and required me to show up and cash it.

Then my mom announced that she was getting married to this guy, and wanted me to visit for the wedding. She offered to pay for everything, so I agreed to come out for a weekend, nothing more. From this moment, my mind filled with fear.

Let me fill you in on the mom situation. Her dad died last July, which meant that she would inherit a bunch of money once his estate cleared probate court. With this financial security on the back burner, she divorced her second husband in October. In November, she started dating this new guy. Is he a doctor? A lawyer? An executive?

He’s a truck driver. A redneck, closed-minded, racist, homophobic, belt-buckle wearing, broken car-collecting, truck driver. My mom thinks he’s great. She wonders why I don’t call him my stepdad. Actually, she wonders why I don’t call her, period.

About the inheritance, the money isn’t an incredible amount; you couldn’t retire on it or even live like a hog for a long time with it. But you could pay off your house and your other bills and make some investments so you wouldn’t have to worry about when things break or when you want a vacation. If you gave me this dollar amount when I was 18, I would’ve thought about retiring and buying big houses and Rolls convertibles. Now, I’d divide it by my annual income and realize that it should be wisely invested after paying the bills. My mom thinks it’s a lot of cash. I’m expecting her to be broke in 10 years, asking me for her next house payment or something.

I didn’t approve of the marriage or her plans, but 5,000 frequent flier miles and a chance to see my friend Ray didn’t sound like too bad of a plan. I told her she had to get me a car, gave her my tux size, and a few weeks before the wedding, some tickets appeared in my mailbox. It was a done deal, I’d fly out on Thursday, July 11, and leave the next Sunday.

Fast forward to the day I leave. I haven’t talked to my mom in a week or confirmed any of the plans. All I know is that I have tickets to get to O’Hare airport in Chicago, and a reservation at Budget to get a car and drive into Elkhart (about 140 miles). I pack a single suitcase with my crap and her gift, a box of stuff from the Made in Washington store, and leave my car at SeaTac for the journey.

I’ve made a few changes to my itinerary that she doesn’t know about. First, I’ll be staying with my friend Ray instead of her. She’s got other guests from out of town staying at the house, I don’t have a bed there anymore and I don’t want to battle and stand in line for hours every time I want to use the bathroom. Plus there’s a different kind of insanity flowing at Ray’s place, that of death metal and godzilla films and zombies and all-night rap sessions about chicks and death and gore, not the insanity of wedding preparations and my mother verbally throttling us kids for not having the right socks to match our clothes or something. I also planned on making a few unplanned visits while I had the unlimited-mileage car. More on those in a bit.

Airports are pretty surreal at 2pm on a weekday. The people wandering the concourses are one of three types. The first is the RoboExecutive, dressed to kill, lugging one of everything from the Sharper Image, closing that important deal on the cell phone in the airport Burger King Express, elbowing past everyone else because, of course, they are IMPORTANT. Second type of person is the retired senior citizen, usually travelling in groups to places like Pasadena or Palm Springs. They’re incompatable with the power businessperson because they take forever to get on and off the plane, and spend most of their time loading up on high octane coffee and bran muffins right before takeoff so they can bitch and moan about being sick when you have to sit next to them. The third type of midday voyager is the 20 year old white trash looking woman with 4 unruly kids. I don’t know if they travel back to their parents to show off the kids or if they are really child smugglers in disguise. All I know is the kids usually inflict extreme terror and make the skies much less than friendly.

Today’s journey wasn’t too bad though. I ditched the Escort in short term parking, got asked a billion questions about my suitcase because of the RITUAL SACRIFICE stickers all over the side (hey, it’s simple to spot in the luggage conveyor), and even found a complete copy of USA Decay in the men’s crapper. I caught a bit of sleep on the plane, and got a great view of Montana and Idaho on the way out. Descending into Chicago, I saw the daylight and sunset behind me as we flew into darkness at about 9pm. It’s pretty weird to be in nightfall and still be able to look at the sun, and made it a bit depressing to lose 2 hours. But we landed fast, and I was once again in Illinois.

Chicago’s a great city. My entire family on my Mom’s side is there, and we made trips there every holiday to my grandparents’ place where there was always a giant gathering of dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives. Later in life, Chicago became the place to go for big concerts, cool shopping, and general rebellion, since it was only 100 miles away. It’s sad to think that my entire Chicago experience has been limited to the O’Hare airport. I usually got to the city about once a year for a big party or show when I was in school. Since I moved to Seattle, I was in Chicago 5 or 6 times, all of them layovers in the airport. It’s frustrating to be that close to all of the cool things you knew in a previous life, but unable to do anything because you’ve got to run 900 yards in 14 minutes to catch a plane.

O’Hare was busy, and I instantly got in my shitty yes sir/no sir mode to avoid getting mugged or ripped off. When I was at the rental car place, the guy at the counter said “Chill out, this is Chicago, not Beirut”. Same difference to me, buddy.

I got set up with a Mazda 626, and took the shuttle to the rental car field to pick up my ride. I wanted a foreign car because I knew that my mom’s fiancee was one of those “proud to buy American” types, and I wanted to get some Japanese wheels and spend the weekend talking about how much nicer they were than my Ford. Oh, and I didn’t want a Ford – I wasn’t about to rent an Escort. That’s like cheating on your middle-aged wife with another middle-aged housewife.

I put in a Jawbreaker tape, tore out of the lot into the night, and struggled with every aspect of the car. I couldn’t find the lights. Then I couldn’t adjust the seat, the lever was all backward. Then I couldn’t figure out the tilt wheel. The whole car was awkward and I had a lot of trouble doing all of this while going 70 on I190.

Then I wanted to rewind my tape. I hit the button, and nothing happened. I hit fast forward – nothing. I hit eject. No dice. I hit the radio and it shut off. After pulling into a gas station and closely inspecting the radio, I concluded it was fucked, and turned around.

The lady at the car place was nice enough to quickly swap me into another car – a Toyota Corolla. Air in the Paragraph Line readers who caught issue 3 might remember that I rented a Corolla when in San Jose, and had a pretty good experience. This car was even better. It was a 1996 with only 4000 miles, all options, and it still smelled like a brand spanking new vehicle. I swapped my stuff into the other car, and took off down the Skyway.

Chicago seemed much tamer and smaller than I had remembered. The daily driving in Seattle and other big cities made the whole thing more mundane. But it felt good to cruise the Loop in the new car, pushing on the express lanes while jamming to my Jawbreaker tape. I jacked the car up to what felt like 70 or 80, and was shocked when I looked down at the speedometer and saw it bouncing off the 110 mark on the far right. Even at this opened-out speed, there was no wind noise, no shudder – it felt like my new Escort at 30mph. My next stop of Griffith, Indiana, would be approaching pretty fast with this kind of speed, I thought, and the excitement built about seeing Jia again.

I met Jia in the seventh grade, in first hour algebra. Back then, we almost looked identical – thick glasses, reddish hair in a greasy bowl cut, and always in front of an Apple II or a Dungeons and Dragons game. We were friends all through school, but really grew tight in our last few years of high school. We spent a lot of time together, wandering the area and getting into some heavy discussions at times. I was Radar to his Hawkeye sometimes – he dated, partied, and seemed to integrate a bit better than me. But we still had similarities, our thoughts were uncannily similar most of the time.

He went to Purdue and I went to Indiana, and we’d manage to talk or see each other every 6 months or year. I was friends with his mom, who worked at the Walden Books by my mom’s house and was pretty cool (she gave me a copy of Dalton Trumbo’s _Johnny Got His Gun_, which is now one of my favorite books of all time). But about three years ago, I came home and found that his parents moved out of town, and we weren’t synched up with college addresses or phones. Then he graduated, I graduated, I moved, he probably moved… he was an MIA.

Thanks to switchboard.com, I found his number a few months ago. I called, and we talked for the first time in three years. I agreed to stop in and see him, and now I was cruising into Griffith, with a set of instructions on a post-it note, looking for his apartment.

Griffith is a large strip mall between Gary and Chicago, one of many Indiana cities that consists of only gas stations, Burger Kings, and urban sprawl. The apartment wasn’t hard to find, a typical modular place with 6 apartments per building, and a few dozen cloned buildings named after letters of the alphabet.

There weren’t any surprises with Jia – no little kids running around, no facial tattoos or green mohawk, he looked the same as usual. We sat and talked, watched MTV and shot the shit. It was strange, even after the years apart, how similar our lives were. He was a chemical engineer, and worked for a big steel company. It wasn’t something exciting, or any life-long love, but it paid the bills and the money was comfortable. I feel the same way about the technical writing stuff. I’d rather be writing fiction all day, fucking chicks in Paris, wandering streets in China, sleeping all day in Seattle – I didn’t wake up when I was 10 and say “Mommy! Someday I want to index computer manuals and take minutes at boring meetings!” I like my job, and it’s a good way to earn money, but it’s not leisure work or something I’d do as a hobby for no money. And once you make the money, you buy more shit, and get more debt, and even when you have three times as much a month, you’re still scraping by.

Jia didn’t get married either, and I think we both share the same frustrations about that whole subject. And he’s writing too, although he’s more of a poet. But we talked about the art, the idea of publishing books and knowing that someone might pick up your book and read it and totally identify with it, and how that creationism makes it all worthwhile.

Jia had to work the next day, and I had to meet up with Ray – it was already 1 in the morning after we talked for awhile. I wanted to take out my contacts, which were bothering the fuck out of me because I got a tiny droplet of salad dressing in them earlier. I dug through my backpack for my glasses and… couldn’t find them. I checked my suitcase and… no dice. No luck in the car either.

This sent me in extreme, leak-in-spacesuit-in-deep-space panic. I’m pretty fucking blind, and my contacts only last for about 12 hours at best before they dry and stop working. They were in hour 15 now, and with no glasses, there was no way I could make it into the weekend. And I couldn’t just get a set of replacement glasses at walmart or something – it took the glasses-in-an-hour place A WEEK to make my current pair.

After some quick calls (okay, they weren’t quick – I ended up in a phone tree for a while), I got to the people at the car place at O’Hare. I figured that when I got the 626, I dumped out my shit on the front seat and left the glasses there. A clerk went and checked, and they found the case, and I could pick them up any time at the 24 hour car return desk.

I called Ray and told him that I’d be a few hours late, and then soaked my lenses with solution to buy some more time from them. I said goodbye to Jia, and gave him a draft of my book and the back catalog of the zine. Next stop – O’Hare.

On the way out of Griffith, I realized that there was a Motel 6 right next to the highway that had historical significance to me. In my freshman year of college, I started dating a woman and we were going to Chicago for the weekend. We drove up, and then her car broke, so we ended up limping the thing to Griffith and spending a night in that Motel 6. I won’t go into why that motel has a certain significance to me, but I’m sure you can figure it out.

In my blur of a trip north, I somehow ended up on 294, which is a toll road wrapping around the south side of Chicago. That’s a bum deal for a few reasons – it costs about $1.60 to get to O’Hare and I only had about $35 on me for the whole weekend, it’s a closed course which means cops could easily prey on people or idiots could jam the whole thing up, and I wouldn’t see the city. But I highballed the stretch of road, keeping it above 90 for most of the venture. When the semis are going 80, you know it’s safe.

The same beautiful, young latino woman who helped me with the 626 to Corolla swap had my glasses. Whoever you were, thank you very much! An incredible relief swept my entire body when I popped the lenses and went back to glasses, like a splinter being removed. I said thanks 10 more times, and hit out for I-190.

The second trip through Chicago went by even faster. I locked into the express lanes with nobody around, and probably had the car at 120 for the entire stretch. With the first Beastie Boys album in the player, I jammed down the skyway at breakneck speed. It felt like being on a Grand Prix track, with concrete walls on either side of me and no openings. But this Grand Prix ran through Chicago, and the familiar skyline and lake and exits blurred past.

I dumped out to US20 after I crossed the Indiana state line. It was a pretty scary road, four lanes, undivided, with plenty of turnoffs and other turmoil. But it was free, and would be empty. I dug in, and cranked the car as much as possible, cautiously watching for other motorists or police. Ray and I used to take this road home from shows in Chicago, and I knew most of the landmarks and small towns. Somewhere near Michigan City, I had to stop for a train. Welcome to Indiana.

The voyage continued with no incident. I crossed the South Bend line and passed the Michiana Airport. 160 miles: 86 minutes. That included the train and a stop in bumblefuck, IN for a Coke. A new record for team Toyota.

I drove straight through downtown South Bend, bringing on a new range of flashbacks of my past. South Bend was the cool place to go in my junior and senior year, the city 20 miles from Elkhart that wasn’t spectacular, but wasn’t Elkhart. Driving downtown and past the Century Center reminded me of Friday nights when Jia and I went to the 24 hour porno shops on Michigan, when Tom and I hit the malls and shops and cruised in my old Camaro, hoping to find women that we never met, or driving with Ray or Larry to obscure friends’ houses or clubs or dives, driving a half an hour to meet someone who supposedly saw Metallica on the Ride the Lightning tour. The roads looked the same, felt the same as they did in 1989.

And the next part looked pretty damn similar to 1991, the year I was at IU South Bend, commuting to Elkhart via US33 every day. I curved eastward on this road, a route heavily burned into my mind from the year of commuting. Every night, after working my late computer lab shift at the school, I’d climb into my Turismo and zip down this amber-lit path through Mishawaka, driving the desolate streets of post-midnight michiana. Now, at 3:30 am, it looked the same, like I was going back to my mom’s house to sleep until the next day of skipping classes and playing Smash TV or Tetris with Ray all day, and hacking Modula-2 and helping idiots with WordPerfect 5.1 all night.

Within a few minutes, I descended into Elkhart, and shuttled over to Ray’s place. We pulled my luggage into the house, and I looked around at the changes since last Christmas. Ray lives in a house that his Grandmother used to live in. The basement is his mom’s business by day, and his band’s practice room by night. The upstairs is now his. When I went into the living room, unanswered mail lay strewn over every square inch of the room, in no particular order. Ray’s never been great about his mail, but there must’ve been a recent explosion or hostile takeover or something. A tip if you ever write Metal Curse magazine – don’t expect a reply in under 4 years. He’ll write back, but he’s currently answering mail from 1992.

Ray’s room was also taken over by CDs. Between the magazine, trading with other bands, working at a record store, and just spending a lot of money on CDs, Ray has several thousand CDs now, and several times more cassettes and demos. You may think I’m exaggerating or joking, but he seriously has several THOUSAND CDs. Like an entire wall, floor to ceiling. Like the entire stock of a small record store.

Ray and I didn’t have much catching up to do – we talk on the phone several times a week, and had just talked for a few hours the night before. But I told him the whole story about the contacts and the car and everything else while he tried to clear the living room floor of mail so I could sleep. After an hour of trip stories and making fun of the wedding, we hauled a spare mattress out of his basement, and I set up camp in the middle of a valley of mail. On all sides, Par Avoin envelopes from Scandanavian bands with names like _Inverted Bitch Fister_ engulfed me. We talked more and laid out weekend plans, until light started streaming through the windows and I freaked out because I had early morning plans with my mom. He gave me an alarm and told me his mom and the other people who worked in the basement would probably show up at 8:45 and most likely wake me up with their bustle and noise. I looked at my watch and didn’t feel too bad – that would give me 5 hours of sleep. Then I realized that I hadn’t reset my watch, and I’d only sleep for 3 hours. At least I fell asleep quick.

I actually woke in 2 hours, and couldn’t fall back to sleep because I was still in my clothes, sleeping in a hot room in a pile of mail that wouldn’t be opened until the year 2006. Sometimes in foreign surroundings, or when I have to wake up in under 4 hours, I wake up too early, even if I’m completely zoned out upon consciousness. And I was – I stumbled to the bathroom at took a shower, my head pounding with lack of sleep, my eyes welded shut. No contact lenses that morning, but I did manage a shave and some halfway humane clothes. I said a quick hello to Ray’s mom and the women who worked downstairs, and went back to the house.

Flashbacks abounded on the drive back to my mom’s, but most of my mind that was awake was blurred by the changes. Elkhart was never a mecca of culture, diversity, and change, but when I went to high school, it had its moments. Maybe I just sought out and found the remote crevices of the city that leaked tiny bits of coolness, or maybe I was hipper than I thought and created my own decent surroundings. At any rate, all of this was gone now. The tiny record stores, the familiar restaurants, the friends’ houses, the home turf all vanished. The Walmart-ification of the area caused it to look something like Orwell’s 1984 or something – gray and devoid of all life except for people driving to factories and renting videos and buying beer.

The subdivision looked the same, a bunch of identical houses, expensive cars, and yuppie motherfuckers all trying to bribe ChemLawn to make their front lawns greener. When I got to the house, I realized I didn’t have a key anymore. Both of my sisters’ cars were out front, so I banged on the door for 10 minutes, trying to get in. No answer. I took this as a sign that my mom wasn’t there to meet me, so I bolted.

I went back to Concord Mall. This mall was like the keystone of my existance for all of high school. I worked there, at Montgomery Ward, and spent 3 years almost living there. It was like Fast Times at Ridgemont High – I’d go out on my breaks into the mall, eat lunch, flirt with the girls at the different stores, go to Walden Books and talk to Jia’s mom, and hang out with the guys at the crappy record store. It wasn’t that I had a few fond memories there – my entire life happened there for 3 years, sad as it may seem. Christmas seasons of listening to the same muzak over and over, dealing with the customers, working all day in the summer, Friday nights alone in the paint department, fucking around with the girls in housewares and my friend Roger in Automotive. It sounds pathetic compared to my life now, but at the time, it was better than frying 100 pounds of french fries or cleaning toilets at a gas station.

The Concord Mall, like most other retail operations in Indiana, got driven south by the WalMart and Meijer stores. I walked the concourse and saw nothing but plywood over the old storefronts, with maybe one in ten stores actually still open. The old places I loved were all gone, only a few still standing. There wasn’t any tumbleweed blowing through the aisles, but it felt like there should be.

Being in my old store felt the worst. I went looking for my old manager Preston, just to say hi and tell him I was in town. My old department, the paint/wallpaper area, had completely vanished a few years ago – the walls were torn down, the paint racks and mixing equipment trashed, and the whole area filled with scratch and dent furniture. None of the familiar surroundings were there anymore. I also couldn’t find Preston. I did talk to a guy from Automotive who vaguely remembered me, but he seemed pretty vague about everything. It reminded me of my Christmas trip, the first time I returned from Seattle – I ran into about 4 or 5 people from high school, and none of them recognized me at all. They just politely said hi and nodded when I said I moved out west and started working. Maybe my ten year high school reunion will be a major waste of time.

I headed back to the house, and my sister Angie woke up and let me in. My mom left a giant list of stuff she was doing all day, and it didn’t look like we’d hook up at all. Plus the tux shop was closed until noon, which meant I could’ve slept 3 times as long. Great.

I went to the tux place and found my worst nightmares were pretty much dead-on with the rental. It had normal pants, a semi-normal shirt, some little black Amish-type of backless vest, and some kind of demented tie that looked like something Boss Hogg would wear, or maybe an extra from the film Gettysberg. The coat didn’t exactly fit, either – the shoulders were tailored all wrong. It felt like a suit right off the WalMart rack. At least I brought my own shoes, I planned on wearing either some nice leather Bass shoes, or a pair of combat boots. And I had a pin for the lapel that said “I Fuck Corpses”.

That’s where the story ends. With that, I must go finish dinner in my heat-less apartment.


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