Now, I got a ride though. A lot of good that does me, gets me all the way to the pawn shop. I smoke my last cigarette on the ripped couch, staring at the wood paneling at the spot where the TV used to be before I sold that. Then I go down the hallway, put on my Ramones shirt, tie my greasy hair off with a bread tie ’cause I can’t find any rubberbands anywhere in the trailer.
It’s misting as I make numerous trips down to the car, piling junk into the trunk; an old aquarium left over from my snake that died, a box of horror DVDs, metal and punk CDs … mostly worhless crap I could care less about. Many trips, my boots clunking up the rusty steps. Then I’m carrying my guitar amp out and really feeling like crap that I gotta sell that.
It get’s worse. I pluck my cherry Gibson SG off the hook in the living room. The inside of the case is bright neon pink plush, inviting and sad to me at the same time—nothing in my life is bright. I close the case. Lock it, take it out to the Sunfire, buckle it into the passenger seat, as if it were a child.
What choice do I have?
I’m outta loot, gonna get evicted. They sent my job at the factory over to Indonesia. I don’t even know where that is. Good, Indonesians, enjoy my job. I used to dream about drilling holes when I went to sleep, now I dream about normal things; playing drums for Megadeth, banging super-models, flying, time travel …
I drive out of the trailer park, pass my weirdo neighbor who’s sitting there on the front lawn smoking a strawberry scented cigar in the rain. My guess is he’s dusted. He’s usually dusted. I pull out onto route 37, stomp the gas, the car wheezes and whines and a plume of black smoke erupts out of the tailpipe.
Between my trailer park and the pawn shop there are eight lights. I call this strip of highway the gauntlet. Flanked on both sides by strip mall after strip mall with pathetic blinking neon signs, it really crushes my heart to have to drive up and down this road. The worst part is, you always get stuck at the lights, they are set up in such a way to try and slow you down, so you have to stop and look at the sickening blinking strip mall signs.
The Sunfire screams out, stuck in gear but I just manage to slip through the first light.
I curse under my breath and search the glove box for some left over smokes. Nothing. I scatter papers and receipts and old coffee cups, can’t find anything. Then there on the carpet, I spot a half smoked butt with Fawn’s red lipstick smeared at the filter. I reach down, taking my eyes off the road for a moment. I snag it up. Pop the cigarette lighter in … when I look back at the road, I’m surprised to see that I’m gonna make the second light.
“Heh .. look at that.” I say to myself, looking in the rearview mirror. I’m embarrassed, my face is all broke out in acne and I haven’t brushed my teeth in two days. What the fuck is my problem? Really what is it?
Up ahead, I can see the church.
I’m gonna have to go there this month for food pantry handouts to feed myself. Man, how disgusting is that? Drag myself over there and listen to those people dish out some free advice about light and happiness and all that swell stuff for some boxes of pasta and some store brand tomato sauce, Ramen noodle, peanut butter, raspberry jelly (it’s always raspberry jelly.) Will I have the balls to wear my pentagram necklace, or will I pussy out? All for some stale Wonder Bread.
I make the next light too.
I’m surprised. I glance at the church as I pass it. The sign says, “CH_ _CH WHAT’S MISSING. U R”
I start screwing around with the tape player, trying to get it to work. It’s been dead so long. It’s no use really. It ate my Slayer tape, the thing practically melting in there. Oh, I remember Fawn laughing about that. She was drunk, she was always drunk, she said, “I did that. I used my dark magic.” I told her to use her dark magic to “get us out of this town”
“Not a chance,” she said.
Buddy, let me tell you — I made it through the next two lights. Just zooming along. I wasn’t happy at all about where I was going. I was just sick to my stomach about the idea of selling my shit. My guitar especially. I mean, I worked real hard when I was a kid to get that fucking thing. I mowed all the lawns in the trailer park for a whole summer. Yeah … that was some crazy shit. Then I shoveled driveways, and it snowed a lot that year. A lot. It doesn’t snow like that in Jersey anymore. Global warming. The government has these machines generating heat … I don’t wanna get into it, LOL.
Up ahead is the county mall. They have a big sign out front. A Hot Tub Sale.
That’s exactly where I should be going. To buy a Hot Tub.
Isn’t that the American dream?
Does the American dream have anything to do with barely being able to scrape by and having to hock your shit just so you don’t have to go live under the overpass or shack up in tent city with the rest of the bummed out freaks. Or worse than all that, start selling meth. I mean, that’s an option too, isn’t it. But so’s fucking prison.
Whoooosh … I slide through that traffic light right as it turns yellow.
I grin from ear to ear.
This hasn’t ever happened to me before. It hasn’t ever happened to anybody ever before. I’m just cruising along. Sure, the Sunfire is shaking and the RPMs are pinned at 6000 solidly in the red cause my trans is all jacked up and frying and my gas gauge is dipping down below a 1/16th of a tank … but here I am … winning at something.
The game of the traffic lights.
Something nobody ever wins.
Well, look at me.
Ahead are the strip malls. A massive block of them. One after another, an interconnected maze of consumer filth. I’ve applied in most of the businesses, none of them are hiring apparently. Not Food Universe; Fried Paradise, Mattress Mayhem. Electronics Explosion, Gastown, Sub-Heaven, Tire City, Hank’s Hardware, Sudsy Laundry, Home Depot, Pool Palace … none of them.
But I make the light!
I’m bouncing up and down in my seat now. I’m looking all around, there’s not a single car on the road now, no one in front and no one behind. I’m shouting. “GO! GO! GO!”
Six green lights!
I pass Burgerland; Big Lots, Taco Bell, the Costume store, the Toyota Dealership, the Ford Dealership, Hang Ten Surfshop, Kite Kingdom …
I cross the seventh light.
My tape player starts to make a creepy noise. Inexplicably it starts to grind back to life. Slayer starts to pump through the speakers. Crystal clear. I’m freaked out.
My gas gauge starts to jump around.
It goes from sixteenth of a tank up, just bouncing up … eighth a quarter of a tank,fucking half a tank …
A line of blinking neon signs looms ahead. The rain pelting down now, severe. K-Mart. Another Food Universe, Dean’s Drugs, Supersonic Stereo, Pet Asylum, Moogie’s Pizza, Barchord, Cash For Gold …
I see the last traffic light ahead. It hangs there like the gatekeeper guarding the exit to hell.
Beyond that light is the bridge. The bridge goes out of the town and towards the ocean. I close my eyes and imagine the ocean. The rain sweeps across the hood of the Sunfire. I open my eyes. The light is still green. I’m gonna make the last light.
There’s Pete’s Pawn Alley … I glance at my guitar in the passenger seat. Fuck it. I’m not hocking that fucking thing. Not now.
There’s the light.
It turns yellow.
I stomp on the gas. There’s an explosion underneath the hood of the Sunfire. The transmission. The car rocks forward, a new life. Winged like motherfucking Pegasus.
… the Sunfire catches gear somehow, slipping out of 3rd and into fourth and then into fifth.
I just make it through the green light and my heart is so full of blood and hope and joy. I glance at my face in the rearview. The acne is gone. Wtf, I just keep driving.
I never come back. To any of it.