Drive, she said.

Driving  a Long Island highway after dark,  air cool and damp the way it does when winter turns to spring, how it does in early summer near the beach, air so heavy with moisture I turn my wipers on to shear away the mist, the beach air, and the cool and damp; loud music, turned up to 11; blacktop gently curves. I move smoothly between broken white lines; turn the music up until it drowns out the car, the other cars, my thoughts; following red tail lights going as fast as I am, passing the ones who refuse to speed up to double the speed limit whatever the speed limit is and there is that moment. That moment when I am here, right now.  And here, forty years ago.

Speeding down a Long Island highway at night coming home from a day caring for my mother slides into that other night/many other nights, four decades ago, driving home to my mother’s house from Long Beach after a crowded club and loud bands, Twisted Sister turning it up to 11. I exist in both nights, two of me occupy the same seat in one car, two cars become one: the 1975 Ford Pinto is the 1999 Volkswagen Golf. One littered with empty cigarette packs, beer bottles, and cassette tapes. One with empty candy wrappers, water bottles, and CDs. Steering wheels feel the same, the cool damp air still keeps me alert, and driving calms my nerves. I’m twenty and I’m sixty.

I taste vodka in the back of my throat. I have not had a drink since summer, 1990. The ashtray overflows with cigarette butts, all Marlboro. I smoked with delight, with panache, windows open, smoke and scarves and common sense flying out the windows behind me, Isadore Duncan without the talent, or the untimely death. There is no ashtray.

There is no ashtray.

Like rivers and creeks, time eddies and swirls, spins in and out of little whirlpools, diverts, evaporates, pools in gullies, returns as rain, seeps into the ground/pulls me into the mud/deeper still, rises as mist, settles like dew, washes me clean, pummels me, and chills my bones.

If a pack of Marlboros appears on my dashboard, I will smoke without a single thought. If a glass of vodka and seven was nestled in the seat next to me, with a single red swizzle stick, I would drink the same way I had night after night after night all those nights ago. Drinking, driving, smoking, and speeding. Some nights are just made for that, no matter how fast you’ve driven, how long, or how far you’ve come.

Hey, Chubby

A woman has her hand over her mouth trying to stop her hiccups, Detroit, Michigan, September 10, 1957. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

“Hey, Chubby.”

We’re in the car, once again on our way to or from a doctor’s office.

“Hey there, Chubby.”

She’s not talking to me. The “Chubby” in question is a man in baggy black shorts and a sweaty purple t-shirt. And a complete stranger. He’s minding his business, walking in the opposite direction we’re driving and any minute we’ll pass, me and mom in my car going west, and the fat man walking east.

“Ccchhubby.” I look at her. “What? He is. He’s chubby.” She’s wrong, and she’s being kind. He’s grossly overweight. And lucky for all three of us, he is on the sidewalk, and we are in my car, and the windows are rolled up and the air conditioner is on and she is speaking what she thinks is softly, to herself. And it almost is, comparatively speaking.

She listens to the television with the volume set at 40. I had no idea it went up that high, but this is the volume things need be if you expect her to hear them and understand what’s being said. When she whispers you can hear her in the next room—her version of a whisper is my normal speaking voice. No one has ever accused me of being soft-spoken. I am not a person to whom anyone has ever said, “Can you speak up?” This, to my mother, is a whisper. Even if “Chubby” could hear her, she’s at an age where she feels that anything can be said as long as it’s true. More accurately, she feels that she can say anything as long as it’s true. I’m not sure how she feels about what other people say. Doesn’t matter, unless they’re turned up to 40 (and you thought it only went up to 11), she doesn’t hear them.

We stop on our way out of the doctor’s office to look at a beautiful little baby. The baby is Black, or Hispanic, a “baby of color.” The young mother barely notices our coo-coo-cooing over her baby, she manages a weak smile and turns away. Her mind is probably elsewhere, on whomever she had to bring down here to nuclear medicine.

I can feel my mother’s inner harrumph at being ignored, and then: “I didn’t shoot Trayvon,” she says in her stage whisper as we get to the elevator. I don’t think anyone heard her but me, but for a brief moment, I consider jumping into the elevator, letting the doors close, and letting Big Edie fend for herself.

On the drive home, she apologizes because she’s ruined my life, because she got sick. I’m here to take care of her, push through for doctor’s appointments, make sure she drinks liquids—“I don’t like water!”—that she eats something other than generic dollar-store fig newtons, that she uses the steroid spray when she’s congested—“I’m always congested. I have a deviated system.”

“You didn’t ruin my life, Ma. You fucked up my vacation, but you didn’t ruin my life.”

At home, I search the internet to find out what time and what channels and how many times a day her favorite show is on. “You know the one. Raymond, but Jewish and skinny.”

Seinfeld, it turns out, is on TBS every day at 6:00, 6:30, and 7:00pm.

1957 Rambler Rebel

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Scene: I am 19, Big Edie on my break up with my boyfriend, Bobby, who we both thought was “the one.”

Big Edie: I feel sorry for the men in your life. You take the nice ones and twist their minds, and you take the crazy ones and push them right over the edge.

rambler 1957 custom

Scene: Thirty years later, she is 79 and finally found a good one for herself, and we’d talk about the men in her life. And I’d realize which side of the family I inherited my broken picker from. But there’s a no return policy on the original factory-installed parts for this 1957 model. Not the broken picker, the shoddy brakes, or my busted speedometer. I went too fast, in the wrong direction, with no idea how to slow down. For thousands of miles and hundreds of years.

I don’t tell her he wasn’t “the one,” at all, he wasn’t even “one of the good ones.” He was simply one in a long line of bullets I would dodge, playing with crazy too often, just a little too close to the edge.

I’ve installed a super-sized rear view mirror so it’s a little easier to see the roads I’ve traveled, where I’ve been, the places I’m leaving. And every once in a while I pull over, and leave a little more luggage by the side of the road.


god’s graffiti

jodi sh doff  : onlythejodi : gods graffiti : BQE traffic
Saturday morning on the BQE. 8am. 9am. 10am.~jshd2010

Sometimes, when I’m stuck in a never ending line of traffic.
When even though I’m pointed in the right direction, nothing seems to be moving,
— or at least not fast enough.
When the heat gets turned up just a little too high.
When it seems like I’m never going to get where I’m going.
When I start thinking about ditching it all.

I just need to look around.
XXXXXSee where I’m really at
XXXXXXXXXXRead the writing on the wall
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXAnd simply follow directions.

jodi sh doff  : onlythejodi : gods graffiti : BQE billboard
the burning bush ~jshd2010