Chapter Five (continued from Tim Redding)
When I first found these ripped up 2008 cards on Golf Road I envisioned spreading the lucky, hopeful buzz the find gave me over an entire month, writing nearly every day about one of the cards, welcoming the spring by celebrating the miraculous renewal of each trashed present-day journeyman, a month-long 22-chapter novella that would ultimately establish the bus stop on Golf Road as my personal church, a temple for the embrace of the moment in the heart of the blind spot of the American Dream, which also happened to be the heart of my own strongest desire to escape the moment. It was pretty ambitious. It was bound to end up incomplete.
In truth there’s not much to the story. The bus came by and I got on. That about wraps things up regarding the day I found the cards. There’s also a Grateful Dead song that starts with those words. The bus mentioned in the song is metaphorical in some ways, but the metaphor has its roots in an actual bus, Furthur, which belonged to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who used the vehicle, an old conveyance for schoolchildren that the proto-hippies had emblazoned with Day-Glo paint, to roam the land ingesting prodigious amounts of LSD and acting unusually around members of the general populace. This was in 1964. They believed they could transform society by passing along, through artful pranks, the enlightenment they were experiencing. Mostly they exhibited their painted naked bodies and yelled at tax-paying citizens with a megaphone. When they returned to California from the cross-country trip they began inviting the general public to acid tests, which the Grateful Dead fully participated in, managing somehow to play their electrified instruments and add strange music to the general sensory assault while they, like everyone else there, hallucinated ferociously. In other words, the bus came by and they got on.
Others followed. The man who would become my step-father was the first in my family to get on the bus, dropping out of college, growing his hair long, crisscrossing the country on a motorcycle, eventually stumbling around the Oregon woods on acid made by the Merry Prankster’s own famous chemist, Owsley. My mother followed him onto the bus. In fact they literally met on a bus to a peace march. I don’t know if you could say my father ever got on the bus, but he didn’t throw rocks at the bus or anything, and when the family split up he did ride another kind of bus (Greyhound) up to see us a lot, and my brother and I took the same Greyhound down to see him every summer. A few years later I rode a Greyhound all the way across the country. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel. That’s another line from the Grateful Dead song. It’s a reference to Neal Cassady, who was the driver of the Merry Prankster bus and who I first read about in On the Road a couple years before my cross-country bus ride. I wanted to ride beside him, crisscrossing the country in a frenzied search for ecstatic visions, so I tried to get on the bus, but it was a Greyhound. Once the Greyhound had taken me and my liquefying spine to California I saw my first Grateful Dead show and started tripping pretty hard during the first notes of the first song the visibly aging men on stage were playing, Jack Straw. We can share the women we can share the wine. There were people sharing things all around me, most notably hugs in big unshowered hug circles. I found I wanted no part of it. It wasn’t all the hairy armpits, either. I’ve never been a joiner. I prefer solitary, even lonely, anonymity, where without ever having to actually talk to anybody I can painlessly imagine great untroubled renown and warm feelings of vibrant community. I went to a few more Grateful Dead shows over the next couple years and it was the same thing: strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands, as another of their songs go, and me off to the side, my jaw clenching and my nostrils flaring with the chemical pulse coursing through me, my pupils like fire-blackened dimes. At one show a hippie girl even shouted at me, in a rhetorical way that was akin to a distancing shove of the palm to the chest, “Why are you hiding?”
Anyway that was all a long time ago. More recently the bus came by, the Pace Bus, and I got on and slid my transit card into the slot. That’s about it. Cowboy Neal wasn’t at the wheel but it turned out that Kevin “Cowboy Up” Millar was partially and in pieces in my pocket. Quite a while later the bus arrived at the CTA terminal and I got off. I got on a train. I got off the train. I walked home. Same as any other day. Today I heard on the radio that there’s a physiological phenomenon called synaptic rutting, which leads to physical and mental degeneration and which stems from the kind of repetitive living that I engage in. But I guess there are always slight variations in my routine. On the day in question, of course, I was able on my arrival at my apartment to delay the routine of simultaneous ingestion of food and television by dumping my card shreds onto the counter and with the help of my wife piecing together whatever we could. When she went to take a shower I taped up the pieces, trying to be careful at first but then deciding to be willfully haphazard, so that the torn parts showed even in the cards that had all their parts.
Not all the cards had all their parts, and I guess it says something about me that these partial cards are my favorites. Of those favorites, this Kevin Millar card is first and foremost. This is not surprising, given my favorite team, and given that the player featured on the card not only started what turned out to be the greatest rally in team history but also seemed to be the foremost contributor to the 2004 Red Sox’ renowned looseness. He was, and probably still is, a goofball. Before Millar the Red Sox had always stared into their chronic collapses with the Yaz-faced dourness of a man being told there was no cure for his hemorrhoids. Conversely, Millar’s response to the deeply humiliating 0-3 hole the Red Sox dug for themselves in the 2004 playoffs was to smile like he had just stumbled from a keg party and tell reporters that his team was going to shock the world. He didn’t sound like the raving young Cassius Clay, the first to make such a claim, but rather like a guy who was simply prepared to continue having some fun playing baseball. How much Millar’s attitude and locker room hijinx actually contributed to the team’s famous comeback is a matter for debate, but the fact is the team seemed to take his lead and play the game both without tension and with passion, a sure sign that they were, as any goofball would have wanted it, enjoying themselves.
I was just thinking last night that the goofball is a lucky guy. Last night as he played first base for the Baltimore Orioles a run scored when he let a groundball go through his legs. He has managed to put together a good career, but what would have happened if that error had not occurred in the first inning of an early-season game that his team would come back to win but instead had occurred in, say, the tenth inning of the sixth game of a World Series? But then again maybe there’s something to being a goofball. Maybe goofballs are just luckier. Maybe they know that the mere fact of being alive is itself a pretty lucky thing, so you might as well enjoy yourself when you can.
I was lucky to find these cards, especially the partial 2008 Kevin Millar. In the days following my find I continued to search the grass around the bus stop on Golf Road. I didn’t find anything the first time I did this, but on the second day I came up with three scraps, one of them the missing piece of Kevin Millar. I put them in my back pocket when the bus arrived. Later, as I was exiting the train station in my neighborhood, a guy was handing out brochures for some street fair. I avoid interpersonal contact whenever possible, but because of one of the briefest chapters in the spotty employment history that has brought me to Golf Road I now take things from people when they hand them out. Several years ago I got some money by working for an outfit that handed out surveys in front of movie theaters. We had to say the same thing over and over: “The producers would love to hear what you think of this movie.” The repetitiveness of this, and the fact that I had to go against my deep-seated personal preference to leave people alone, made me start crying on the subway home. But my money was so thin I had to do it again a few more times. Most people I accosted passed me by. During the movie we filled in blank surveys with fictional responses to the movie we hadn’t seen, then when the movie let out we went up and down the aisles and pried any castoff surveys loose from the gooey floor. So anyway I always take pity on poor slobs handing out things, which led to me taking the brochure and shoving it in my back pocket, then pulling it out when I came to a garbage can. When I got home I found that I only had two scraps of cards in my back pocket. The final piece of Kevin Millar had been jarred loose somehow, probably by a ripple from my lackluster, ridiculous past.
I was angry at first, but what are you gonna do? Punch yourself in the head? Fuck it, life is short. You might as well celebrate what luck comes to you and leave the rest for someone else to find.