Good Luck: Episode Twenty-Four
My friend, the vampire, wanted to go to the vampire dance club in Newark, New Jersey. I said sure, even though I was not a vampire and didn’t dance. Turns out I was driving, too. That’s fine. There was nothing else going on. September, in my bayside town, one hour south. We climbed in my silver Mercury Cougar and drove north.
I met Jane at that vampire dance club. She was not a vampire either.
Everybody else was a vampire at that dance club. Everybody except for this beautiful blonde girl I saw walking around, here and there. The blonde had on blue jeans and a green striped shirt. Maybe she was an undercover vampire, I thought, and walked over with my drink. Type O Negative was playing over the sound system. Smoke machines and strobe lights. If she was an undercover vampire then I would just pretend to be the same thing.
“What’s your name?”
She leaned forward and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”
I leaned next to her on the brick wall, and screamed, “What’s your name?”
“Reena,” she screamed.
We went somewhere quieter. We talked, and she helped me drink my drink. We kissed. She was looking at me like she loved me, which was cool. I could always tell my vampire friend, Marty, that he could take a bus home or something, somehow. Then the look on her face changed and she gagged, stood, and ran down the foggy, purple lit hallway.
I sat there waiting.
A tall brunette that looked like she might be halfway vampire nodded at me and walked into the women’s bathroom. She came out a minute later and sat down on the bench next to me. “I saw you talking to my friend.” “Yeah,” I said. The girl said, “She’s in there getting really sick. I think we might have to leave.” “Oh, that’s no good.” She took a pen out of her pocket and wrote a phone number down on a napkin.
A few nights later, I called the number and Jane answered. We talked awhile, bands and books, and a trip she was planning across the USA. Would I like to go on a date? Yeah, sure, I’ll go on a date, where? She gave me the address to a movie theater in Cranbury. I MapQuested it. Far away, but I had just enough gas to make it there and back. I printed out the directions, and left for the movies. When I got there, the blonde girl, Reena was not there. I’d mixed up Reena and Jane in my mind. It didn’t matter. “What movie are we watching?” “Monsters Inc.” We went into the theater and, halfway through the movie, Jane held my hand.
After that, we saw each other a few times a week. I’d drive up to her house in the little town of Menlo Park, where Thomas Edison helped bring about the invention of the incandescent light bulb, among other things, or she’d drive down to Bayville, where nothing was ever invented and nothing ever would be. She drank Midori Sours. Didn’t do any drugs. Liked metal, or rock bands with more screaming than singing. She painted and drew. Had big, straight teeth, and long black hair. She looked like she could go as Patti Smith’s niece to a costume party, without dressing up. Her hands were cold. She was smart, and didn’t suffer fools, so for a while I had to pretend to not be a fool.
She had a red pickup truck and was saving up her money because the next summer she was going cross country for two months, at least. “Where are you going to go?” “Everywhere.” “You’re not scared of traveling alone?” “No, I’ll get a dog.” “I could come along, maybe.” “I’m gonna do it alone.” That was fine by me, I had no money to travel. She worked as a graphic designer in Montclair, and made $23 an hour, which was a fortune. I was making $7. I had a beige pickup truck, and one night driving up the parkway to see her, the headlight switch broke and got stuck on high beam. For a long time, I drove around with the headlights stuck on high beam like that. Everybody getting out of my way. Me saying out the window, “Hey sorry.”
Jane’s father was a Marine. She lived with him in a little house. They were roommates, split the bills. He was divorced and working night shift as as unit operator at a chemical plant. He had a dog named Morgan, a brindle whippet, which is like a greyhound but not as popular, so every time someone sees your dog they say, “What a nice looking greyhound.” Morgan was skinny and very timid, but fast, of course. I liked her father a lot. He was slow on foot, but also a little timid. He was really kind to me and never pulled any of that bullshit where he told me he had a gun and would shoot me if I hurt his daughter. Jane lived upstairs, in the attic. She was fast and brave. I slept over a lot. It was the first time I’d slept in a girl’s bed. She’d bought it with her own money. These were my first days as an adult.
Awake, late at night, I could hear the cars streaming by on the highway. I tried to write down what the night sounded like, and what it felt like to be there, and to be 20. But I couldn’t do it right. I started writing there, really trying. Books and stories. Poems. Her attic in Menlo Park, that’s where I started trying to write. It was too hard. I stuck with playing guitar. Sometimes there would still be a poem that came along. But I never wrote a poem for Jane, we’ll just say it like that.
That winter, we went and saw her uncle in Pennsylvania. He was a Marine too. Looked just like his brother but he was quieter and not as gentle. He lived in a little house in the woods, next door to his girlfriend, a painter. When I walked into his house, I saw a giant oil painting of him as a younger man standing there like Rambo, machine gun cocked in the air, a Cambodian village burning behind him. Thatched roofs. Muddy ground. It was the most ridiculous painting I’d ever seen. He saw me looking at it and said, “Isn’t that amazing how she painted that?” I said, “Yeah.” He opened a drawer and out came the real photo, which looked, point for point, exactly like the painting. His girlfriend, it turned out, was a photorealist.
During this short visit, a friend of his dropped by unexpectedly, a Norwegian, or a Swede, I forget. The uncle saw this as a sign that we were supposed to go and get a tour of the local waterfalls, at Dingman’s. The friend was a mountain climber who’d scaled the Alps, and pissed his name in the snow on top of Mt. Everest or something. Jane said it could be fun, so we went. The uncle stayed behind, his knees were bad. The hike to the falls is not too bad in warm weather, but I quickly saw how treacherous it was in November. The elevated paths were covered with ice, and if you went over the sides, you’d easily fall to your death. The mountain climber was unfazed, up we all went. Jane and I pressed our backs to the rock walls, my Old Skool Vans flat on the ground, no footsteps, just shuffling sideways. Jane did the same in her All Stars. A ways up the trail things grew worse, ice on everything. A sign warned us not to proceed without ice cleats, ropes, picks. The mountain climber laughed the sign off, and we kept going. Jane and I whispered to ourselves about turning back, but we didn’t want to look like cowards. Up we went, worse it got. Here came some other climbers, descending, and they all had the ice gear. “It’s dangerous, even for us, turn back.” Our ‘guide’ laughed, and motioned us on. But Jane and I were already with the ice climbers, going the other way, back down to earth.
One day I drove up to see her and there was another dog. A pit bull. Bobbi the pit bull. Wagging her tail, all friendly and licking my hand. A black runt. Maybe two years old already. Jane had rescued Bobbi from the kill shelter. Bobbi would be her companion, headed to the south, and headed all the way out west. Riding shotgun. Panting. We drove over to the local AAA, where Jane was a member, and she got a ‘free’ guidebook for 48 of the states. No Alaska or Hawaii, but she was going to the rest of them. It was springtime. The tulips popped out of the ground. Jesus came back. We met up for drinks with Reena, who didn’t remember me at all.
He father returned from some motorcycle trip with a small statue for me, a bald eagle holding an American flag. I said, “No thanks.” Which was rude. But I didn’t want it. I should have taken it, to be polite, but I never was good at that. He looked so hurt, so rejected. He really was a nice man. He’d been dumped by his wife, and his daughter was dating a communist. Still, he remained kind to me. He put the statue on the table, and later it went up on the bookcase.
On the first day of June, Jane and Bobbi and all those many American guidebooks made a beeline for Key West, and New Orleans after that, and Austin after that, and after that, she was just gone, I’m not even sure where. I went to my wheelbarrow job, shoveled dirt. But then I got a call from Denver. “I miss you,” she said. I quit my job and got on a plane to Las Vegas. Met her there.
In the casino. Gawking. Too young to place a bet and just as well. Jane buying the drinks with cash from my unemployment checks. Nighttime, camped just a stone’s throw from the Pacific. Reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Travels with Charley. Laundry at midnight in Malibu, California. Mostly what we would do is go to campgrounds and put up a tent and leave early in the morning before the rangers noticed. Swimming and bathing in cold rivers. Oregon. Idaho. Montana. Wyoming. North Dakota. South Dakota, and then through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado again, New Mexico, Arizona, California slow this time, a month of it, San Diego to Oregon again. No money for anything but gas, stopping at a market and buying more peanut butter and jelly, and a loaf of bread, a bag of dog food for Bobbi. Having fun the whole time, until, suddenly, a miserable day in Iowa, fighting, driving through endless corn, and nothing but the bluest sky, under which we agreed to break up when we got back to Jersey, and so we drove faster to get there, just to get the fuck away from each other.
August now. I went back to my job. They couldn’t believe I’d come back. They looked so disappointed to see me. I was disappointed to see them too. They gave me back my shovel.
October and still seeing Jane. Driving up there and staying over. Her father saying, “If you’re just friends you shouldn’t be sleeping over.” Happy Halloween. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. I gave her father a handshake, up the stairs I went.
One night, the last night I can remember with Jane, and with Bobbi, there was a fire in the neighborhood. A house burning down a few blocks away. We heard the sirens and got out of bed. The middle of a bad snowstorm, too. The snow blasting down, hard to walk through. Flames dancing over the rooftops. Turning the corner, around the block, we saw the fire department doing their best in rubber and red and yellow and the hydrants all open, pumper going, but it didn’t look like their best was enough. We stood and watched, anyway. Three spectators, shivering, and Bobbi whimpering.
In the morning, I left Jane asleep and took Bobbi for a walk through the snow. A foot and a half of snow everywhere, in some spots even deeper where the wind had made drifts. But when we got to the scene of the previous night’s fire, there was no house left to speak of, and no snow in that yard. There was just the charred remains, blackened, still steaming and popping in the new dawn. Gray ash stirred up in the wind. I looked down. And right there and nowhere else, was green green grass. The greenest grass I’d ever seen. Bobbi crouched down on it and pissed.