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“We, too, have run about the slopes and we’ve ran into the night.  We’ve wandered far beneath the stars since auld lange syne.”

– Benji Schneider, Lord Huron, “Auld Lang Syne”

 

There’s a Fleet Foxes song that starts, “Now that I’m older, than my mother and father when they had their daughter, what does that say about me?”  It catches me off guard every time it shuffles up on my iPod.  I’m a year older than my mother was when I was born.  My parents married after college.  They saved for a brick house where they planted a pear tree and a vegetable garden.  There’s a photo of us, taken shortly after Mom’s twenty-sixth birthday: Mom, Dad, and me sitting in a pile of leaves.  I’m propped between them with a white lace bonnet tied beneath my chin.  We look like a postcard family: haloed by late autumn sun and framed by leaves.  Within months of that photograph, I learned to loosen my bonnet.  I’d fling it from my head, shouting “No bonnet” with a gummy smile.  I wiggled away from the postcard image.  But my parents remain tied together.  Mom and Dad still rake leaves in the early fall, wearing faded sweatshirts and soft jeans.  By their mid-twenties my parents saw the shape their life would take.

House

By Cris Mazza

Essay

Prickett Backwaters“Dogwood,” Silver Mountain Road, Ottawa National Forest, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

I haven’t written a fishing essay, nor sat on a lakeshore, writing. The former: I still will not have, including this one. It’s not about fishing. The latter: I likewise still haven’t. Although I set up my camp chair last night at the lake, my notebook remained on the passenger seat of the Jeep. Was going to go back for the paper and pen, but a bluegill took the bait I’d put in the water before unfolding the chair. Then I never did get the notebook, or sit, the remaining 90 minutes I fished.

Hard to get sentimental about a big box bookstore, especially when it was partially responsible for forcing independents out of business. And still.

When I moved to LA, Borders was already on the ropes, the one closest to my apartment a ghostly affair, a museum of unloved titles; they were too expensive to ever find a buyer who would want them enough to forgo Super-Saving Shipping on Amazon. You didn’t even feel like staying to browse magazines.

Sometimes I leaned over the dash to rest my head on Paul’s shoulder. Pennsylvania was as flat and rocky as I remembered and we had to roll down the car’s tinted windows to see the sunset. I’d be falling asleep to the lull of music and conversation when suddenly he’d turn the stereo off and make everything go quiet. He’d hush me and slow down until the sound of the road, the hum of the heater, the clicking of CDs in the door became audible—each was part of the noise of travel. I never thought I’d be with a man like this—one who could flip his car almost sideways on a turn and name each fast car that passed by.

It was a nine-hour drive. When we stopped at a little BBQ joint where he liked to eat and refuel, he told me how a friend of his had made this drive with him before. She kept trying to get into the wrong car. In the end, all white cars were like every other white car to most of us. So she rapped on some guy’s window until he opened the door and let her in. Paul watched her from the window of the restaurant and laughed.

What he didn’t know was that for months I had lagged behind him as we headed back to his white Subaru; I was afraid he’d see me waiting at the wrong door for him to unlock it. Once he’d tried to teach me how to drive his car. I was an excellent driver if the vehicle was an automatic and hopeless otherwise. I once broke the transmission on my stepfather’s vintage Datsun roadster when he tried to teach me; that was the first and last time anyone tried until now. My feet felt unnatural as though I was trying to run on top of ice. This time, at least, nothing was broken. I pretended that I got the idea of driving enough that he’d stop trying to teach me. Or maybe to keep from seeing his disappointment when I couldn’t learn.

To Paul, a car wasn’t just a way to keep warm. It wasn’t just a way to get from one place to another. He heard noises—whirs and whispers—that I had to take on faith. It was like a sixth sense for the road. Whenever we got lost, I pulled out my phone to check our route with Google Maps and GPS. I could feel him cringing on my left; he never let me finish loading the map.

Faith was the word that I’d never associated with cars. Never trusted that when someone took the car at 100 mph through Michigan farmland that I might survive. I felt the rush of adrenaline and kept silent. I let him drive. I let the car keep humming even when I didn’t know why it did the things it did.

In the fall of 2002, after a brief stint in LA, my wife and I moved back to Michigan. We realized as soon as we got there, that it had been a mistake. Then winter settled in, and we really, really knew it had been a mistake. We had a big apartment, little furniture, and a lot of life to kill.

Wifey’s from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.  My college roomie and long time business partner is from Wausau, WI, married to a biomedical engineer and patent lawyer who was also a good college friend, hailing from Sault Saint Marie, MI.  Another college roomie, the first guy I ever heard ranting against the Electoral College when Clinton won in ’92, was from Menomonee.  A manager I’ve worked closely with at Sun Microsystems is from Shano, WI (draw that “o” out, will ya?).

Wifey cold kicked the Great Lakes accent ages ago, but as for any one of the others, all it takes is enough Blatz beer or something else similarly awful and they kick into that fascinating intonation, kinda like if you cross-bred a Norwegian and a Scot with someone born within fifty furlongs of the Mason-Dixon line, then stuffed the chimera’s voice into a deep well.

I’ve certainly never minded the accent, considering all these people, and many more from my college days in Milwaukee are very intelligent and eminently sensible, even the occasional punter who looked earnestly into my eyes to say “you know, you’re the only black person whom I’ve ever had a proper conversation with.”  I’m down with being the Olaudah Equiano of parts nort’ don’t ya know-oh.