Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

July 4 ruminations

Chuck Stringer called me from Billings, Montana. He stole his neighbor’s plastic pink flamingo and has been driving across the country and taking pictures of it at national monuments and stuff. When I drove the same route, I didn’t sleep, and I blacked out but kept driving at some point past Spokane. It was the 4th of July and I was hoping to get to Seattle in time for the fireworks.

That was 1995. On July 4, 1993, I was driving my mom’s station wagon filled with the remainder of my belongings at the 414 South Mitchell apartment in Bloomington. I was headed to Elkhart, and somewhere around Kokomo, I saw a burst of fireworks, and thought of the year before.

It was so weird leaving that apartment. I spent 2 years in that closet of a roominghouse flat. After everything was in the car, I sat on my favorite wooden chair (that I forgot!) and looked at the dirty, wooden paneled bedroom. It looked just like the day I moved in in 1991, but so much had happened. My dating life did a full 180 at least 4 or 5 times, I listened to music, Ray slept on the floor, I froze, I sweated, and bees crawled through the ceiling and evaded three different exterminators.

My phone line was still hooked up that weekend, but I had to bring a phone with me. My girlfriend called me from Florida and woke me up on Saturday morning. I thought she was over in Willkie quad and I told her to come over before I realized she was 1200 miles away.

The year before, Yusef and I drove to Zionsville to sell glowsticks at the fireworks show. We sold almost all of them in about 5 minutes. We left right after the fireworks started and hauled ass to get to a carnival before it got too crowded. We didn’t sell them as fast at the carnival; rednecks populated this carnival, not the rich lawyers and doctors at the Zionsville fireworks show. We had to work people for every sale, and put up with the ridicule of drunken 17 year olds or drunken 37 year olds acting like 17 year olds.

I got dumped by someone at the beginning of summer, and spent two months failing miserably at dating and meeting new people. I watched all of the couples in love walking the concourses, playing the games where you win big teddy bears, buying elephant ears and eating them together. This was the part of Indiana where bringing your girlfriend to the county fair would get you laid every time. Not only was I alone, but I was working as a street vendor, one of the most demeaning jobs that didn’t involve shoveling shit or holding a “Will work for food” sign.

And I heard Metallica’s “black” album constantly that night. The people running the tilt-a-whirl or the gravitron or one of those rides kept playing it over and over. It was the anthem to the whole event.

It felt demeaning putting up with these peoples’ shit. Every time some redneck started with the power trip, I felt like telling them that I was halfway done with a computer science degree, had all of my teeth, and was holding $2500 in ones and fives in my pocket.

I took that money and one Saturday when I was depressed, this little freshman girl called me up and wanted me to buy her alcohol. I bought a fifth of Bacardi black rum and drank most of it myself in about an hour. Someone called and didn’t leave a message, so I called almost everyone I knew, trying to find out if it was them. I kept calling people after I blacked out, and a bunch of people called me the next Sunday to see if I was okay – people I didn’t remember calling.

While I was hung over, I bought the Ice-T “Cop Killer” album, a new pair of sunglasses, and did my laundry. I met up with Leslie Puccinelli while I was at the laundry on 3rd street, across from Jerry’s Liquor’s.

Yusef used to walk to Jerry’s Liquor, buy a 40, and drink it on the walk home. One time me, him, and Derik rented a VCR from Sun Coast, along with all of those Chucky movies. We hooked it up to a black and white 12″ tv, and then realized we needed to get fucked up first. We got into my car and on the hill just before 3rd street, a tire blew out on my Rabbit.

The spring before, Patty and I were at my apartment, and we woke up at like 5 so she could get to her dorm, get ready, take a shower, and walk to her 8:00 music class. It was March and in the 60s that night, but when we went outside, there was a foot of snow on the ground. I offered to drive her home, but when we got to my car, the passenger door wouldn’t open – I had to pry it open. Then, it wouldn’t shut – the latch caught on about the 15th slam. When we were driving up the hill, the door flew open and a sea of moving white and ice and powder appeared and lit the car like a supernova. She grabbed the handle and held the door shut, but on the drive home, the door flew open and shut on every turn.

On the 4th of July weekend, 1991, I was with Jo in Chicago and the same Rabbit got hung up on a manhole cover that ripped off the entire exhaust. We cancelled the reservations, stayed with a friend of hers, and got a new Meineke exhaust for about $160.

I took the Rabbit to Meineke two more times – once when it needed a new flex pipe in the exhaust, which cost about $120, and once when it finally died. The brakes went out, and the frame was so rusted that they couldn’t lift the car on the rack.

Once I was at that laundry on 3rd street with Racquel’s car. I made her a deal that I would wash her car if I could use it to drive to the laundry and do some other shopping. I scraped the spoiler part on the underside of the car, but she never saw it, so I never told her. It’s the part that gets scraped up anyway from the parking lot dividers. I also listened to Cannibal Corpse’s _Tomb of the Mutilated_ while I was driving around town.

Later, I was in the same part of town with her and we went to some kind of company event where there was a generic 50’s band and some catered stuff. It might have been the kind of thing where you buy tickets for $20 and the proceeds to to some schmuck who needs a new kidney. We walked around before then and she gave me a toy puzzle that was made out of a few pieces of metal and a string and you had to move one piece over the other on the string or something.

Come to think about it, I guess some other stuff happened that night, but maybe I should check my diary.

In 1991, Becky gave me a leatherbound diary for Christmas. She destroyed my entire room after we broke up, including my diary. I wrote a bunch of stuff in it the first week, like how I wanted to break up with Jo and how it was good to be with Tom again, even though he lost a bunch of weight in China and now looked like some kind of Vietnam POW from a Rambo movie.

And then I wrote a parser for an adventure game in modula 2, on an IBM-PC with only one 5.25″ floppy drive. And I bought a new keyboard, and I drove on the new US-20 bypass, and I thought about how things would change once I got back to school. They did.