The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for March, 2015

Drinking in the Moment

So there I was, rolling along through the Van Duzer Corridor between the Oregon Coast and the Big City – Portland. The curves were tight, the pace was low, and I was driving a 40hp 1965 VW. It was a nice crisp autumn morning, and I was feeling fine.

There was a decent line developing behind me, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I could go no faster, and that quite frankly, no one else should be going faster either. I decided to just bask in the day, drink it in, enjoy the scenery, and not worry about the angst-ridden drivers behind me. The car count behind me got up to 5. then 7, 9, 12 cars. But still, I wasn’t worried.

As we exited the tightest curves, and approached the first of a couple brief passing lanes, I could see a 1990 Dodge Shelby about 4 cars back, jockeying into the oncoming lane. He was in a fine kettle, flashing his lights, blaring the horn, weaving out aggressively as if he were going to pass anyway. I smiled. I knew his kind. None too smart, driving a lame car with stuck on effects to make would-be purchasers think they were getting the full Shelby Treatment, when in fact it was nothing but a K-car underneath.

But I understood his angst too. It was a great road to go blasting down, living one’s fantasies of Nascar, or Formula 1 racing, imagining his name in lights beside the greatest racers of our time. And here was this little Beetle – my Beetle – slowing him down. I understood.

But I answered to a higher power. I drove the speed limit, and just drank in the moment.

The moment we hit the straight stretch – even before the solid yellow line disappeared, he did what I knew he would do. He did his best to light up his tires, jerked his car out into the oncoming lane, and bore down on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive guy, and this car closing on me in the rear-view mirror sparked an instinct in me. But still…I smiled. I even chortled a little inside. It was a beautiful day. And it was about to get even more beautiful.

Shelby Sam went flying past me – had to be doing at least 80 as he scream past, arm extended over the car, violently flipping the bird at me with one hand, working the horn with the other, looking more at me than the road. I have to admit that there was, at that moment, just a twinge of sympathy. Not much, just a hint of it. I recovered quickly.

As he roared past, and reached the point where he wanted to pull back in front of me, his car suddenly jerked back and forth. It had been exactly at the moment that he realized that in front of me was a motorcycle cop, and that he was about to overtake that cop going 90mph. He lit the tires with his brakes, skidding a little back and forth, and then just froze. He couldn’t pass. He didn’t know, suddenly, how to slow back and pull in behind. He was just stuck, mentally, out there in the oncoming lane, doing precisely 55mph.

The motorcycle cop gesticulated to him. With a gracious sweep of his hand he invited the Shelby guy to pull in front of him, and then over. It was such beautiful gesture, kind, understanding, magnanimous. They slowed on the shoulder as one, lights blinking, horn silent.

And as I overtook them on that beautiful fall morning, I offered the best I had, a double tap of a Volkswagen horn. It’s chirpy perkiness brightened up an already glorious morning. And behind me, every car that had just witnessed the moment double-tapped their horns in succession. It was a Noble Moment of solidarity from we drivers.

19 years later, I’m still chuckling.Scan10002

Must Not Remember.

I sat numbly against the concrete blocks rising up at an awkward, uncomfortable right angle to the concrete sidewalk.  I say, “sat”, but there was less energy than that in it.  My body was laying but my legs sat akimbo, situated by luck, gravity, and the curious fluidity a fifth of Rum gives the body.  And so the two halves of me argued themselves into a knot over the hours.

But there was nowhere else to be.  No hope to be found, no dream to pursue.  Sitting.  Breathing.  Thinking about the Dark Days when sobriety forced me to look, drinking the memory away when I could.

And then a man stopped in front of my inverted cap on the sidewalk beside me.  He squatted down, sympathetic yet sophisticated enough, and asks, “if I give you a Lincoln will you use it for a meal, or for rum?”, noting with a glance the bottle beside me.

I knew this routine. The man didn’t want to think himself party to the debasement of another alcoholic binge.  It seemed so unrighteous and wasteful to him, I’m sure.

I clutched, and clawed with unsteady hands a grip for myself on his scarf.  I pulled up and held myself until I could focus on his eyes.  He returned my tortured gaze squinting through a fog of still-liquored breath, bravely holding his righteous ground.

“Mister”, I croaked, the disuse of my voice from days of isolation in this sea of humanity covering my throat with a gravelly coating, “If you’d seen the horrors of the Deep that I’ve seen, if you’d crossed eyes with Davey Jones as have I, if you’d heard the screams of the men he carries below as their life force escaped their tortured, drowning bodies, you’d pray – not beg – pray, for your last meal to be of the strongest Rum.  A Happy Meal is of no use to me, it only fuels my mind – allows me to remember.  I must…not…remember!”

Much has been made in recent months of the plight of the homeless veteran, and of the suicide rates amongst them.  This post isn’t about rehashing the numbers, because to be honest, the numbers aren’t that helpful.  If I say, “there’s a lot”, I’ve said a little more than many people will ever process.  More to the point, there’s a reason these badly-dressed icons are there.  The guys that make jokes on their cardboard signs on the offramp of the freeway…you know, good for them, but there is more to it than those guys who are functional enough to create an effective marketing campaign.  The guys that I know who are or are very close to homelessness – if they could mount a campaign they would, but then they wouldn’t be homeless either.  If food were all they needed, they’d have figured that out by now.  If righteousness was their issue, well…by my beliefs, they stand forgiven already.

It is a dark place to be, someone who has seen and heard the weapons of war take a life, or many lives, and to look down and see your own hand on the trigger, or to have guided the targeting, to know it was YOU who killed.  It is darker still to walk among those whose existence will never come anywhere near that moment, to stand there on a street corner of sharp-dressed businessmen, elegant matrons, smart-dressed workers…and to see yourself in their midst with blood on your hands.   Many work through it a little worse for wear but still functional.  Why it affects some and not others in such violent spasms of insanity isn’t fully known yet.  Treatment exists, but many vets are so jaded they suspect everything – including the help given.  For different reasons, many reject the only interactions and relationships that will help heal them, and clutch desperately to the tree of forgetfulness.

And when that fails, they often commit suicide.  Numbers vary, and are explained differently by different groups.  But while they are busy counting, recounting, and sorting their numbers and working them around into logical order, another confused, paranoid, isolated, maybe homeless veteran dies in a place he doesn’t deserve to die.  So think about that one guy.  Just one.  Maybe you can find him.  Maybe someone you know can find him. Maybe instead of a $5-dollar bill you can sit there beside him, and listen.  Ask for a story.  Expect something crazy, something that doesn’t even seem real, something you doubt ever happened, and just listen anyway.  Hang with the craziness.

Because he never imagined it would happen to him either.