No Music No Sproing
It occurs to Lane on his way out of town, as he is coming off the bridge that spans the sluggish press of the olive-drab Swillamette and passes beneath the enormous thatched osprey nest that sits atop the power pole, that this time, he is leaving nothing behind in Mortalus for which he needs to return. The only trace left of Lane Baker, after seven years in Mortalus, are the two-dozen New Yorker covers he’d put on the walls of the FRCC adjunct faculty office (it had bothered him that no one had taken time to decorate it) and fifteen empty black milk-crates left neatly stacked in a damp basement (it will be a fortnight before he realizes how badly he needs these and kicks himself for this oversight). Good friends, too, are being left behind, but he does not dwell on this, knowing such thoughts will lead to questions like, what are friends, really? Do they even like me at all? Are they glad to see me go? He doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want twizzle—his new word for debilitating worry—to taint his departure. Instead he thinks about how there is nothing for him to return to in Mortalus, and if having nothing to return to is like being free from a coiled spring that pulls you back, and the sound a stretched-out spring makes as it releases is sproing, then, just as his departure is without tunes because there is no way to play music in the U-haul truck he is driving, his departure is also void of sproing.
The first twelve-mile stretch of highway is as familiar to Lane as any stretch of road he’s driven in his lifetime. This is the route he’d taken on the bus every weekday morning for four years on his way to Flynn-Renton Community College where he taught after getting his MFA at the university in Mortalus. This stretch, through flat green pastures that remind him of his visit to Anzio, Italy, he drives in reverential silence, scanning the fields for sheep to whom he can bid farewell.
He comes to I-5, the 1,381.29-mile long freeway, the fifth longest running north-south freeway in the U.S., which he plans someday to write an essay on, and turns south. It is 288.9 miles from Mortalus to his destination in Seed, California. He passes through a series of intense showers between Springfield and Roseburg, the traffic snaking its way through gradual mist-fissured turns. He admires the landscape when he can, and is bothered by the fact that only on sharp turns can he see in his mirrors any sign of the Toyota Corolla he is towing.
It doesn’t take long for him to become comfortable with the smooth-driving truck and when he does, he wishes for a stereo. It had been his great desire to listen to Budgie and the Kinks on this drive.
His interest in history is prodded when he passes the sign for The Applegate Trail Museum outside Canyonville. This he adds to the mental list of Oregon museums he wants to visit, along with the Museum of Flight in McMinnville and the High Desert Museum south of Bend.
At one point, just north of Grants Pass, the mental list he has compiled, of possible reasons for his contract at Flynn-Renton Community College not being renewed the previous spring, runs through his head. These hypothetical reasons run the gamut from peculiar to—he hates to admit it—valid, and include the tangible sense of unease that had flowed through his class when he showed the 1967 film adaption of the Cheever story, The Swimmer. The students’ palpable discomfort found its genesis with the first glimpse of Burt Lancaster’s teeny-weeny swim trunks and only grew with the scene where he tries to seduce a neighbor’s high school daughter. There was also the time Lane absent-mindedly borrowed a whetstone from a student to sharpen his knife in front of the class (a student had later expressed her shock at his disregard for campus safety policy). He supposed he couldn’t discount the time he told a class the story of his using copious amounts of gasoline to set a swimming pool on fire when he was in fifth grade (he’d tried to tie the anecdote in with a discussion of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Rural Delivery”). He does not like these useless thoughts and, on the long straight descent into Grants Pass, he banishes them from his mind.
In Lane’s ears, the steady sibilance of tires slicing through sheets of water is purpose renewed. He recalls feeling the same way seven years earlier while driving over Fourth of July Pass during his departure from Missoula for graduate school in Mortalus. And while leaving Mortalus fills him with relief, he does not want substantial setbacks and significant downfalls that may have occurred during his time there to overshadow the bright moments. Lane does not want to see his departure as either escape or defeat, although, having recently read Graham Greene’s, A Burnt Out Case, parallels between his decision to take the job in Seed and Querry’s decision to take a powder from his previous life and reappear at a leper colony in remote Africa are apparent.
He thinks of Mortalus’s bright moments. Dance parties at Liv’s with The Pointer Sisters and Tom Petty on vinyl and Liv’s lithe figure making graceful bends as her naked heels rose and fell, like the arms of oil wells, on the hardwood floor. He thinks of babysitting Camille, his friend’s five-year-old daughter, her telling him with studied seriousness, as she squeezed balls of dark Swillamette mud between her fingers, that she was an “expert on mud.” After hearing this Lane had wanted her to give a guest lecture in his Writing 121 class and talk about mud and its significance. He remembers playing guitar in the Confusinators and their New Year’s gig at Hombre’s where they slayed and which was the first show of theirs that Alicia came to. He remembers the reading he gave as part of Flynn-Renton’s Visiting Writers series. He thinks about the trip to the beach with Alicia and their fucking in the Mortalus home—and bed—of the University’s Department Chair for whom she was house-sitting. He thinks of his students at Flynn Renton, of Jaime, former gang member and Iraq War vet, who had written his informative essay on Zeus, and Callie with whom he’d bonded over Rush and with whom he’d watched the documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage. He’d promised Callie he would read Harry Potter, a promise that had gone unfulfilled. He thinks of Jack Galstom who’d argued in his persuasive essay that Sammy Hagar would never fill the shoes of David Lee Roth as Van Halen’s front man and who’d taken him crabbing in Depot Bay.
He stops for gas in Ashland amid careening snow flurries and asks the attendant about conditions on Riskytoos Pass. He is prepared to spend a day or two in Ashland if necessary. The attendant says the pass is open, no chains are required. Back on the interstate Lane’s focus is heightened and his grip on the wheel made firmer by the immediate steepness and worsening conditions. He quickly eyes the breathtaking angles of imposing granite and thick timber and wonders how anyone could have come through here in covered wagons. His old Sierra trail crew job paled in comparison to the effort that must have been required to carve a path for oxen-led prairie schooners through this tumultuous landscape.
Fog shrouds the top of the pass where, on a clear day, drivers catch their first glimpse of monolithic Mount Ashtas. If Lane were to write a story about starting a new life in Seed, he would begin here, with the main character cresting Riskytoos Summit in a Uhaul truck. The only difference being, in Lane’s story, blue skies would allow for a breathtaking view of the snow-blanketed mountain and the presence of a stereo would allow for the Kinks song, “No More Looking Back,” from School Boys in Disgrace to be playing. That is how it should be, Lane thinks, when someone in his shoes, drives over Riskytoos Pass.
Coming up on the fruit checkpoint at the California border is a relief when driving a Uhaul and towing a car in questionable weather. Infrastructure and cell phone service is what Lane wants should a pickle arise. How different this is from previous drives when he’d arrived unexpectedly at the line of booths having just smoked a bowl. He used to look forward to driving over Riskytoos Pass on his way to the Bay Area because its twisting remoteness allowed him to puff while driving with less chance of a cop making an appearance from any number of on-ramps, but Lane always forgot about the checkpoint until he was rolling up on the maw of booths. As soon as the traffic began to slow and he saw what was happening, he would roll down all his windows hoping to usher out the smoke before the officer leaned forward to ask if he had any fruit.
Lane arrives in Seed just before dark. The swirling snow now has an urgency to it. He gets his keys from the neighbor in apartment #2. Shirley is in her late fifties and will be leaving the following day for a spiritual retreat in India. “You’ll like it here,” she tells him. “There’s not a whole lot to do, but if you like the outdoors, there are some great hikes and cool lakes. The college is nice.” She shows him the apartment. He is thrilled. It is the first time he’s had an apartment with more than a single room. Here there is both a front and a back room with a door opening onto a small back porch. He likes the island in the kitchen, even though, when he leans against it, the counter top slides nearly all the way off. He will have to be careful there, he tells himself. “Are you into spiritual stuff?” Shirley asks him. “Not particularly,” he tells her. “Oh,” she says. “A lot of people here are. The mountain,” she says indicating the window outside of which, somewhere in the darkness and whispering snow, looms Mt. Ashtas. Shirley’s son, who is taking classes at College of the Riskytoos, helps him unload the truck. For this Lane is grateful, and for the fact that his worry about possibly having tweakers for neighbors has proven not to be the case. He is also grateful and surprised by the fact that the predominant sensation he feels at this hour, after accomplishing so much, but still with so much to do, is not one of being harried, but one of flickering hope, a blue shimmer and soft whistle toward which he strives.
Lane spends only one day in Seed before continuing on to Palo Alto where his mother is in Intensive Care at Stanford Hospital having recently undergone open-heart surgery. The brief time in his new home is spent trying to make sense of the wall of milk-crates stacked three deep and filled with books, files, LPs, and stuffed with clothes. His landlord suggested that, to save on electricity, he keep only the front room heated in the winter. Lane moves all crates containing books and vinyl to the back room where he will deal with them when the world warms in the spring. It has stopped snowing, but the temperature has dropped to zero. Lane sleeps in a sleeping bag on a thin futon in the front room, and it is here, on his first night in his new home in Seed, with his head resting on a duffle bag, that he finishes Graham Greene’s A Burnt Out Case. On the morning he leaves for Palo Alto, it takes him ten minutes to scrape the ice off his windshield with a cracked CD case.
Jake Wade and the Idiot Dunce
Leaving Seed for the drive south, he puts on AC/DC’s Powerage. Distinctive down-tuned power chords chop frosty air as the Corolla leans into turns. He is of the opinion that Bon’s second to last studio album is the band’s best.
The scenery is mysterious and intimidating. Until Redding, steep slopes and sinuous ridgelines dictate the freeway’s narrow course. South of Redding everything flattens out, becomes Kansas-like, Lane likes to say. He hates this part of the drive, the only interesting sight, a peculiar collection of connected pinnacles, looking like a dragon’s back, that rises from the flatness east of Williams. When the southern tip of this singular outcropping is just over his left shoulder, he knows he will soon be leaving I-5 and turning onto the equally flat 505 which will take him, straight as a spear, to Vacaville and the first inertia of Bay Area traffic.
Merging on to the 505 he puts on the Kinks’ Schoolboys in Disgrace. He gives a nod to the accomplishments of “Jack the Idiot Dunce,” who in the track of that name manages to wrangle dances with popular girls despite walking like “his feet are all back to front.” If Jack can do it so can I, thinks Lane. If he can win these girls’ affections at the high school dance, I can make my new life in Seed work.
He reaches Berkeley shortly after noon where he stops at the yacht club to meet Tim Burr, the landlord of his new apartment in Seed, and sign a lease. All Lane knows of Tim is that he raised a family and built a house in Seed, which his ex-wife lives in, and that he now lives on a boat at the Berkeley Marina. The sky is clear and they sit at a picnic table in the briny wind beneath a cluster of gulls. Lane immediately takes a liking to Tim who is in his early sixties and wearing a white British driving cap, aviator sunglasses, and who has a white Fu Manchu mustache. Tim tells Lane how glad he is to have a teacher living in the unit, someone who is “squared away.” Tim chops the air with the edge of his hand. “Someone who has their shit together,” he says. “I’ve seen that neighborhood go through a lot of changes,” he says, letting out a long whistle and shaking his head. Lane wonders if this is an allusion to a tweaker proliferation.
“You’ve met your neighbor Shirley?” Tim asks him.
“I have,” Lane says.
“She’s good people. Her house burned down in the recent fire so she’s going through a tough time. She’s into the spiritual stuff, so she’s got support from that community. Nothing too hooby-gooby.” Tim wiggles the fingers of both hands in the air beside his head then looks at Lane. “Sorry, maybe you are into that stuff, that’s okay,” he says apologetically.
“No, can’t say that I am.”
“Well, there’s a lot of that up there. The mountain draws all kinds. You’ll see.” Tim gestures toward the marina, tightly packed with an array of vessels. “Yeah, I bought the boat ten years ago. Moved down here. Had to get out of Seed.” He leaves it at that.
To avoid paying the garage fee, Lane parks a half a mile away from the Stanford Hospital. The walk from car to hospital he wishes would take forever. Waiting to cross Sand Hill Road, he tries to push Davies brothers’ guitar licks from his head and prepare himself for seeing his mother. The thought of her in a hospital bed is unpleasant and the Kinks persist. He is surprised to find, in the large rectangular fountain outside the hospital’s front entrance, a collection of ducks darting through the water above turquoise tiles. He wonders if these might be the same ducks that frequent the pond at Burgess Park a mile up El Camino. The Burgess ducks he has always felt a connection to, one based largely on guilt, ever since the night sixteen years earlier when he’d witnessed one of his friends, Mason, in a meth-lacquered state of disenchantment, kill one of the Burgess ducks with his skateboard. When Lane had realized the initial blow had not been lethal, he’d demanded Mason put the bird out of its misery. The bird’s prolonged death, Mason grinding the tail of his skateboard into its neck on the sidewalk, had been hard to watch. Now Lane looks at the ducks in the fountain outside the hospital and says, “Hey guys, are you the Burgess crew? How’s it going, huh?”
He wishes he could take a duck up to his mom’s hospital room. “Look, Mom,” he’d say holding it before him, “I brought you a duck.”
Inside the hospital the number of attractive women of all nationalities untethers curious needs inside him. He sees, in the waiting areas, stylishly dressed women looking both worried and resigned, and threading their way through the halls, women in green smocks with stethoscopes and clipboards, all poise and purpose. He thinks of the T-shirt Robert Plant wore when Zeppelin played the Oakland Coliseum in 1977, following the singer’s recovery from a car accident in Rhodes; Nurses do it better, it read.
He eases around the curtain to find his mom resting in bed flanked by monitors and tubes. While she has looked smaller every time he’s seen her for the past fifteen years, her pronounced frailty, apparent in her labored breath, is startling, as is the raised purple scar visible at the base of her neck. More startling is the fear Lane sees flicker in her eyes when she recognizes him. It is a clear fear that she may be dying. As soon as the flicker of fear emerges, she pushes it aside, focusing on him. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you,” she rasps. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again.” She begins to cry. He cannot handle this. She lifts a trembling hand from the bed sheets. He thinks of taking it in his own, but does not, fearful of disconnecting some important tube or cord. He is more fearful of her weakness seeping into him. He does not want to see this. Does not want to be faced with the possibility of such helplessness. He wants to be with the nurses out in the hall.
He pulls up a chair and listens as she tells him about her doctors and how she’s doing. “One doctor, a heart specialist, is a young hot shot. He sometimes wears cowboy boots under his white coat. You’d like him.”
Lane takes in the monitors that flank his mother’s bed. The marvels of modern science, electric pulses, plastic wires, and microchips providing human vitality. His mother’s vitality. He looks at her small form encumbered by patches, IVs, and her own infirmity, and, seeing a trace of hope in her eyes, aims for easy conversation.
“I’ve started David Copperfield,” he tells her. “I thought I could read you some while I’m here. “
“That would be wonderful. When do you start teaching?” she asks, her voice wobbly.
“Not until January fifth.”
“Well let’s be thankful for that. Do you have any big plans for New Year’s?”
Lane realizes the following day will be New Year’s Eve. He shakes his head. Most of his old friends have vanished from the Bay Area. There is an old flame, Cindy, he could look up, but she is a neurotic single mom oriented toward material success in every way. Nor will he be drinking. These seem like fine reasons for a quiet night at home, or rather in his mom’s apartment in her Palo Alto retirement community.
“Do you remember the sparklers we used to get?” his mom asks. “Boy, you thought that was a big deal.” She works her lips into a gentle smile.
He sleeps on the couch in his mother’s apartment—the green corduroy couch his parents bought through Stanford in 1967 while in graduate school—and in the morning, out on the communal patio, works on the syllabus for his ENG 1001 comp class. It never takes him long to feel at home in the Bay Area, which he thinks has something to do with the morning light. He spends the afternoon at the hospital where he reads aloud to his mother of young Davey’s arrival at Salem House and how Davey is made to wear the sign reading Take care of him, he bites by the vindictive Mr. Murdstone. Lane’s reading becomes more nuanced when he senses a nurse’s curiosity.
Later, Lane is almost undone by the sight of a nurse helping his mother to the bathroom and flees shortly thereafter. As he passes the ducks drifting in the entranceway fountain, he is glad that he was not here at the hospital a year ago to see his father’s final moments. He hadn’t wanted to be anywhere near the hospital then and doesn’t now. His half-brother from his father’s first marriage had been there for the old man, which had taken some of the pressure off Lane. He is his mother’s only child and, he reminds himself while walking the half-mile to his car in the twilight, not a very good one at that.
Driving down El Camino he reflects on his favorite stories concerning his mother. How, as a Michigan teenager of spectacular scholastic merit, she’d been selected to accompany 1952 vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon on his campaign train for a day. The irony here is that she became a dedicated Democrat and worked for McCarthy’s campaign in ’72. Then there is the story of her snatching a switchblade out of an Italian-American student’s hand while the student was arguing with a rival gang member in the Newark, New Jersey high school where she first taught in 1959. Lane calls this her “West Side Story story.”
He spends new Year’s eve watching the 1958 western, The Law and Jake Wade. The Sierra crests visible in the background of several scenes is country he is familiar with. Seeing those mountains on the screen for the first time since leaving the Park Service is bittersweet. He revels in Richard Widmark’s performance as Clint Hollister, the outlaw with a desire to see the Alps.
Later, lying on the couch and listening to fireworks, he remembers his last sober New Year’s being 1991 in Ojai, California. He’d been sixteen. The most excessive one would have to have been 2001 at his apartment in Missoula. He recalls—barely—two spent alone in San Francisco’s tenderloin. He guesses those to have been 2003 and 2004.
He is fine with being posted up in his mother’s retirement home, lying on the green corduroy couch his parents had bought in 1967, with Westerns to watch and Dickens to read. He thinks of Seed and hopes his belongings, his records, books, and guitars are safe in that frigid mountain enclave with its smattering of spiritual designs and recent economic blight. The reality of his new situation in Seed, especially while sitting in a Palo Alto old folks home, is not easy to access. He tells himself not to twizzle and, closing his eyes, imagines he is outside under the stars on a high-desert night.
On his last morning in the Bay Area he spends an hour with his mother reading Dickens. He reads of Steerforth’s “horrors” and he is struck by the passage: ‘And I have been sitting here,’ said Steerforth, glancing round the room, ‘thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might—to judge from the present wasted air of the place—be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don’t know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years.’
When he finishes the chapter his mom says, “I just love Dickens’ characters’ names. My favorite is…” and here she says with as much enthusiasm as she can muster, “Martin Chuzzlewit! From The Pickwick Papers!” The strain causes her to close her eyes, but a protracted smile remains. “Who has his own book,” she says in a knowing tone.
Lane puts the book in his pack and thanks the nurses for their help before bending over to kiss his mom goodbye.
“Good luck with your class,” she tells him. “You’ll do fine.”
Bridge to Big Mother
During his return to Seed, while driving on the flat Interstate 505, between Vacaville and Interstate 5, he listens to the Kinks, digging very much the song, “Dead End Street.”
And it comes to him. A growing ring of realization. What must surely be the mysterious reason for his contract at Flynn-Renton not being renewed the previous spring. He’d had a short-lived fling with a student worker. She’d held a work-study position in the Humanities office making copies and setting up for meetings and gatherings. She’d been only a couple of years younger than him with a daughter in high school. The one night she’d been to Lane’s place she’d transfixed him with a sudden outburst of sexual energy. She’d expressed interest in his books and, hoping to encourage her to read, he’d bought her Russell Banks’ Lost Memory of Skin from a bargain bin at Staples of all places. She stopped returning his calls. When he saw her on campus she was visibly flustered. Finally, she explained in an email that she’d been abused as a child and that Banks’ novel, in which the protagonist is incarcerated on alleged sex charges, had triggered her severe PTSD. Lane had not expected this response to come from his encouraging someone to read, nor did he see it coming from her, following her forthright desire that night in his apartment. Lane feels now, there is a good chance she acted on her wounded response to Russell Banks and explained to someone the strangeness that now existed between her and Lane. In the tumult of his hunt for a new job and his preparing to move, he’d overlooked this occurrence, this real possibility for what might have ended, so abruptly, the Oregon chapter of his life.
Fucking bizarre, he thinks to himself and then, let’s not be thinking about that right now.
His thoughts reabsorb the road and hearing the final verse of “Dead End Street” he thinks, here could be the inspiration for AC/DC’s “Down Payment Blues,” as both songs comment on economic hardship. As if in celebration of this epiphany related to thematic connection, one of the drive’s most distinct landmarks rises up in front of him, that lonesome spine of brushy pinnacles scraping the blue above the flat fields east of Dunnigan, which tells Lane he has arrived at Interstate 5.
He stops for gas at Wonderland Avenue just north of Redding. Driving over the Lake Shasta bridge he sees the red ribbons of Martian sand ringing the lake, indicative of the frighteningly low water level. He puts on Budgie, digging very much the track, “Whiskey River.” Winding through the narrow canyon carved by the Sacramento River, he thinks of the fortitude the region’s first settlers and then has to remind himself the region’s first settlers did not arrive in Conestoga Wagons, but were Native Americans living an existence profound in its understanding of the natural world. But it is the former narrative that interests him more. His understanding of the west having been narrowed by an anglo lense and distorted by Hollywood. He wishes he could have watched The Law and Jake Wade with his father. Westerns were one of the few enjoyable connections they had. They would have both recognized the locations in the film, pointed out peaks in the background. His father, he knows, would have delighted in Widmark’s laconic sinisterism.
Back in Seed Lane pulls into the parking spot beneath his new living room window. Bracing himself for the cold he thinks, this is where the new start really begins, now, with the visit to his mother behind him. Now he can begin to do those things he needs to, and wants to. Step by step. Write, get reacquainted with his LPs—he hasn’t listened to them in five years—start playing guitar again, and do the best job possible as a new adjunct English instructor at College of the Riskytoos. He kills the engine and when he steps out of the car, the cold does not bother him.
After a night spent in his sleeping bag on the futon Lane begins stacking black milk crates to build a bookshelf. He begins with the As.
Edward Abbey The Brave Cowboy
Oscar Zeta Acosta, Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
Woody Allen, Without Feathers
Lane finds in one of the crates a photograph given to him by a former student, John Dark. John had been in his late fifties when he came to Flynn-Renton Community College hoping to get a veterinarian degree. He’d led a wild and wooly life having been a Marine, a bull rider, a logger, and a tweaker. In the photo John is standing in front of a gigantic fallen pine, the trunk of which has a ten-foot circumference. The photo looks like it was taken in the late seventies. Equally impressive in the photo is the four-foot long chainsaw that a soaked John is holding. The picture had accompanied a journal entry John had written for class titled, The Biggest Mother I Ever Dropped. John, realizing he could have done worse than having Professor Baker for WR 121 gave Lane the photo when Lane commented on it, saying, “Go ahead keep her, I got plenty a others,” before dropping his black Stetson on his head and smiling a few-teeth-shy smile. John had attached a photo to another journal entry in which he could be seen straddling an enormous airborne bull. The title of that entry had been, The Biggest Mother I Ever Rode.
The photograph of John with the imposing saw is the first piece of artwork Lane puts on the wall of his new home, a two-room apartment on gusty South Seed Boulevard. He follows it with a black and white picture of Myrna Loy wearing a glittery gown and reclining on a couch, a picture of Alice Cooper taken shortly after the unfortunate demise of the original Alice Cooper group, a fridge magnet from The Enchanted Forest, and a postcard sent to him by his friend Del from the Carribean island of Bonaire where Del had been vacationing with his girlfriend. Lane then returns to finding homes for his books.
Richard Braughtigan The Revenge of the Lawn
Larry Brown Dirty Work
Charles Bukowski Women
Lane gets an email from Lana, the 52-year-old married woman he’d been having an affair with in Mortalus, calling for an end to their connection. This is not the first such message, though it sounds final. Lana made a great contribution to Lane’s life, providing clarity by introducing him to the word twizzle. She had a large basket of her own twizzle. While the cessation of riveting sex will be unfortunate, it is, Lane realizes, for the better. It had been her killer ankles in a pair of black Converse low-tops, which he’d spied at an AA meeting that first got him. He’d been thrilled when she told him about seeing Fleetwood Mac in Colorado on the 1977 Rumours Tour. He’d imagined her eighteen-year-old self, dancing in braided abandon.
Three days after beginning the task, he puts the last of his fiction, drama, and poetry books on their milk crate shelves. Film and rock history books, he puts in the unheated back room. He has only a minute to admire this accomplishment before having to head off to the Faculty Planning Day Seminar in the COR performing arts theater. In the theater lobby he meets some of his new colleagues, all of whom are gracious and strike Lane as down to earth.
The presentation they sit through, with its vague language and hyperbole so often associated with these functions, does not madden Lane the way it once might have. So grateful is he to be here, seated in a dark theater at College of the Riskytoos, where he will soon begin teaching, that terms like “design implementation” and “goal assessment” do not bother him with their total impotency. He is able to believe that some good will come from this poorly guided energy. At least a sense of camaraderie amongst the faculty. In the dark of the theater it is hard to gauge how much of this camaraderie exists among his co-workers, but the overall mood is forgiving, even if people are disgruntled at having to spend their evening in the campus theater.
After the presentation there are group workshops and for a moment Lane is fearful he will be seen as less capable than his peers—a worry he often had both in graduate school and at FRCC, but he concentrates on being attentive and appreciative. Surges of laughter from the various groups, including his own, put him at ease and diminish his twizzle.
After the seminar Lane walks through the cold night air toward his new home. He crosses the dark campus and steps out from beneath a line of spruces. Looming before him, the mountain’s white slopes dominate a silvery-blue world. A slender scarf of mist threads its way across the mountain’s girth and a smattering of stars blink around its border. Lane walks down the middle of the street, realizing this will be his new regular commute. How many of these have there been? The walk from the Wilma building to Charlie’s Bar in Missoula, Montana. The walk from his apartment on Ninth Street to the University in Mortalus. The twenty-minute bus ride from Mortalus through a world of flat, wet fields to FRCC. And then there were all the muscle-straining, lung-punching, high-altitude commutes in the Sierra while working on a Park Service trail crew, from various camps to the jobsite, laden with cumbersome tools. He is suddenly humbled by the simplicity of this new commute, a four-block walk, with its stunning view.
Lane stops in the middle of the street. A brief wind stirs the spires of trees. The sibilant phrasing of thinned traffic on I-5 drifts through the neighborhood. He is not sure about the smile he has, where it comes from. A hint of Widmark he thinks as he looks up at the mountain and asks, “Tell me, big mother. Is this real?”
Jed Wyman received his MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon State University in 2009 and currently teaches writing at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay. His stories have appeared in The Masthead, The Bangalore Review, and 34thParallel, and in 2013 and 2014 stories were shortlisted for Writecorner Press’s E.M. Koeppel Award. He spent two summers teaching in Kenya, twelve summers building trails and packing mules in Sequoia National Park, and played guitar in a number of craptastic rock bands, including Grim Reefer (Bard College, New York) and Non Drowsy (Missoula, Montana).