|random thoughts and thoroughbred selections|
|"All life is 6-5 against" - Damon Runyon|
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Saturday's NaNo Stuff
Continuing yesterday's chapter, still not done with it. 1,271 today.
I had a pit in my stomach from the hunger and was just a little woozy from the combination of dehydration and altitude, but I felt good. Energized. It was as much as I could do to keep my feet moving one in front of the other and not lifting hopefully off the gravel and into the night as I hopped tracks and searched for the fence line. I headed north on instinct alone and traced the chain link for what had to be at least half a mile to the emptied parking lot and main gate. Route 211 lay right out front, and my scouting of the area on the Internet revealed a small truck stop about eight miles up the road.
It was a T&A. I'm going to be ninety years old and I'll still find that funny.
Eight miles doesn't seem like a great deal of travel, but with the reality of pancakes or at least a Snickers bar at the end of the road, the walk over was interminable. The north end of Boise is as bustling as you'd expect it to be in the 2AM hour, and I'm sure that my appearance didn't help sway the opinion of the five cars and trucks that managed to zip by going my way. I'd been smart enough to dress dark as a means of not looking any filthier than I was bound to get through napping on oily steel floors and piles of packaging rubbish. I had managed to sweat through my dark blue golf shirt, and figured that next time I jumped a train I'd make sure to be carrying a knapsack.
And a sandwich. Shit. At least I had some time to think about how to get to McCall from here. It was a clean hundred miles from this end of town on lightly traveled mountain roads, and I'd be lucky to find an easy ride up there. It's not on the way to or from anywhere in particular, which I suppose was why it held a great deal of appeal for me. I remembered spending all of two nights up there with my mother, freezing in an unseasonal and unexpected Independence Day sleet on a McCall mountaintop while celebrating marriage number two of four with her sister. Well, four at this point. We watched the fireworks crash the snowfall's quiet absurdity over Lake McCall with the bridal party that night, a night where the thirteen year-old version of me surreptitiously took a long draw off a bottle of Bushmill's I was supposed to be passing across the prow of the boat, and not-so-surreptitiously hacked and wheezed the fire out of my throat to much laughter. I remember vaguely there was a goofy tourist legend of a sea monster perpetuated by the local shop owners, all of whom selling overpriced stuffed Nessies to every kid's mom who managed to get suckered into a purchase.
I remember my aunt's husband spending far too much energy throwing elbows into my ribs exclaiming, "There he is! Did you see that? Ah, you JUST MISSED HIM!" I wonder if the same dour-faced world-weary child that shows up in my class photos and our yearly non-committal holiday cards was the same mask I wore with my half-assed attempts to spot McCall's legendary sea monster cresting through the mist. In spite of my temporary uncle's sadly misappropriated enthusiasm, McCall was one of the few places to which I've always wanted to return. It wasn't the snow on the Fourth of July, although it kinda was. It certainly wasn't the prospect of spotting an anachronistic sea creature, although it really kinda was.
What it was... I caught a fish in McCall. Baited the hook, watched the bobber plunge eagerly in the trout pond, and was goaded into digging my fingers up and through the sliced belly of the fish to dig out the entrails to get it ready for the frying pan. I wandered the Rodeo Drive of McCall tourist kitsch and came away with a "collectible" spoon, plastic sword and sheath, and a salmon colored sweatshirt with the Boise State University logo that I never wore again. I took a swig of Bushmill's, I ate tourist taffy until I got ill, and I took my turn at driving the boat. Three days and two nights in McCall, three days and two nights in a four bedroom A-frame with the bridal party, and three days and two nights with my mother so wrapped up in her own bullshit that I managed to sneak being a kid for a change right out from under her nose.
What it is was the last place I can remember her taking me that she didn't ruin for me.
How to get to McCall was the question. I still had every last bit of that thousand dollars in my pocket, but I didn't think I'd get lucky enough to find a Greyhound or Amtrak to get up there. Renting a car was out, as I had no ID or credit cards on me. Walking and camping along the way was plausible, but certainly wasn't the most attractive option. I did have plenty of cash to buy a pack, a change of clothes and a small tent, but a hundred miles would take something like five days to travel, especially in that terrain. Boise might be in the Rockies, but McCall sat right at the top.
Problem was, the rest of my plan hinged on some semblance of anonymity. If I took a ride to McCall and got dropped off in the center of town with a friendly wave and a smile, I'd be likely to be remembered by the good samaritan who gave me the ride.
I trudged along, deflated at the prospects of having five days of hiking in front of me. There didn't seem to be any other obvious solution to making it up there, but there was no way to take the easy way out of this either. My internal argument had actually distracted me enough from my profound hunger that I barely noticed the lights of the T&A (hee hee) until I was nearly on top of it.
Excuse the cliche, but when you haven't eaten in forty-some hours, this was truly an oasis. Digging through my pockets on the way in I grabbed a copy of the Idaho Statesman from the machine out front, and threw my weariness against the back of a booth in the flourescent lit restaurant. I took a quick look through the headlines, half-morbidly and half-curious if I'd see any sort of news of my disappearance on a national scale. No dice. Not today - or rather, in yesterday's morning edition, which would have to do. Then again, did I really want to see "Son of award-winning author disappears, presumed dead" anyway?
Two trucks gassing up outside, one gaunt presumed meth-head in a camoflauge cap trying to decide between RockStar and Red Bull halfway across the joint. The cashier has the laconic look of someone who has the innate ability to spend their summer evenings both slinging change at a register and soaking in the rays on a beach in Rio simultaneously. She's not eyeing down the meth-head who may or may not be pushing a couple cans of that Red Bull down his pants pockets to cool off or shoplift. It's clean and cool inside, and just a little jarring to not be traveling in the shadows for an hour or two.
Live Blogging The Pick Six
As CJ mentioned, thanks to all our investors for helping us have a little fun today. We're heavy on the favorites, which would generally depress payouts on this thing if it comes in favorite after favorite through these six. Of course, we did our best to cover that possibility by extending our "base" ticket five times. If we can catch a scenario where what's supposed to happen happens, we can cash five winners.
Going into the Filly and Mare Turf, the first race in this Pick Six, we're staring at a 6/5 favorite in Ouija Board. I'm all about the European horses on the grass, and we get to put that theory to the test right off the bat here. We'll take #5 Honey Ryder (9/1 currently) or #7 Wait A While (2/1 now) as acceptable outcomes, and #1 Dancing Edie (35/1) and #4 Film Maker (8/1) keep us alive.
20 minutes to post.
I'm zero-for-my-bets today, but am thinking the two-horse Ouija Board/Wait A While race comes to fruition. I'm throwing a trifecta together with those two on top, and a bunch underneath. We'll see what happens...
They're loading, and Ouija Board/Wait a While are your expected favorites. And they're off!
Nine and ten out slow, that's fine by me. Dancing Edie out fast, that's to be expected. My Typhoon out there too. Looking for brisk fractions. We want a closing kick from Ouija or Honey Ryder ideally. Dancing Edie through the first half, My Typhoon just behind. 49 and 3 for the half, that's fairly brisk but not overly so. Measured pace, Ouija is comfortable in eighth. My Typhoon snares the lead and they still have another turn. Wait a While coming up on the outside now, this would be a nice outcome. My Typhoon is in the lead at the final turn, here comes Ouija, jst barely urged and he's going off. I'm going to miss my trifecta, but we're alive. Ouija, then Film Maker and Honey Ryder. One for one, plenty of live outcomes possible from here.
Now, obviously we want as many of our base ticket possibilities to keep hitting as possible. I feel good about #6 Bordonaro and #11 Siren Lure here, but even though a Henny Hughes victory trims our possible winning options down considerably, we're spread out in the Turf (race 9) on the Henny Hughes ticket, and I think that's good fortune and/or good bet construction on our part. I feel really good about our picks in the Distaff and Classic, and Gorella in the Mile is a horse I'm very comfortable singling. So the Turf - where our base is a single - is where good flexibility can be found. When all is said and done here, we really want Siren Lure in this next spot though. If that's going to happen, we need a contentious pace and Solis has to find a seam to take Siren Lure to the lead late. He's going to want to bomb from off the pace, and this race could set up well for him.
Twenty five min to post.
Eight minutes to post, and Henny Hughes is being overbet at 9/5. Thing is, this isn't inflating the prices around him. Too Much Bling and Siren Lure are both under 6/1, where I thought we'd be likely to see 10/1 or better on both. Bordonaro is 9/2. Five horses in the field are sitting north of 40/1, and I'm going to be sick if one of these horses manages to eke out a win here.
By the way, I'm going to lay off on this race. That's right, no betting. If you don't think you're getting the best of it, don't chase something goofy.
Loading up in the Sprint, and they're still pounding Henny Hughes at the window. 8/5 now, might move a digit in either direction as things settle. Bordonaro gets 4/1, Siren Lure 5/1 and Too Much Bling 6/1. I liked most of these, but I just can't take 5/1 in a Breeders Cup race on Siren Lure. I need a little more than that. It's to the credit of the Feeble Five in this race (Friendly Island, Lewis Michael, Areyoutalkintome, Malibu Mint and Attila's Storm) that the best horses are gathering cash and dropping in odds. The Feeble Five are anywhere from 43/1 to 63/1 right now.
Christ almighty, please don't any of you win.
And they're off! We want a fairly brisk pace, something like 21 and 3 or lower for the quarter and 43 or under for the half, and we'll see if we get it. Attila out fast, Bordonaro and Pomeroy too. Thor's Echo out well too. Bunched up early, no one conceding ground. Henny way back, Siren Lure too. Boronaro running well, Thor's Echo too. Come on Bordonaro, Henny's done. Thor's strong, and I'm going to be sick. Bordonaro is done, Thor's got this and we're fucked. Fuck fuck fuck.
So we do have a shot at some consolation payouts here, so long as we can hit five of six. Basically, we need to run the table on our base ticket. If that happens, we can cash five consolation tickets (covering all five horses we had in the race). I'd figure those would pay in the $250-$300 neighborhood at best, but times five that's at least our money back.
Then again, we have to run the table to make that happen.
Root like hell for Gorella here. She's 3/1 against the boys.
The bet here is Araafa on top, Echo of Light and Gorella in second, with Echo, Gorella, Rob Roy and Aragorn in third. I'm playing the Euros and hitting them hard. Three min to post.
They're loading up, Araafa is the favorite, with Gorella and Aragorn right there too. Gorella loves to come from way off the pace with drama, so we'll see what happens here. I also just threw a last minute $10 win bet at Aussie Rules at 11/1. He was dominant in the Shadwell, but that race set up perfectly and the competition parted like the Red Sea for his stretch run.
And they're off! Rob Roy saved ground early with a nice break, moved to the rail but is last behind Gorella. 23 and 1 for the opening quarter, honest pace. Silent Name is out front, that can't hold. The Japanese would go nuts. Echo of Light is moving up after the half, Aragorn got hung out five wide on the turn. Gorella is way back, Rob Roy too. Silent Name is opening up, Araafa coming up strong. Miesque's Approval is getting up there, and like an asshole I didn't bet him at 23/1. Because I'm an asshole. I picked him, and I'm an asshole.
End of updates today, as we're officially dead on all our bets. Thanks for playing along, I'm frustrated.
Here's what we decided upon for our Pick Six approach... Since there are strong favorites in each race, we're taking our best and strongest ticket as our "base" bet, then building out in different races from there. By doing this, we've got the best horses played across five different tickets. If it shakes out the way we think it should, we could be holding five winners (or five -or more- consolation tickets) instead of one.
Our base ticket:
Filly & Mare Turf: #2 Ouija Board, #5 Honey Ryder and #7 Wait A While
Sprint: #6 Bordonaro and #11 Siren Lure (we're playing against the favorite Henny Hughes for the most part)
Mile: #12 Gorella
Distaff: #2 Pine Island, #6 Spun Sugar and #7 Fleet Indian
Turf: #7 Hurricane Run
Classic: #3 Bernardini and #11 Invasor
Base Ticket Price = $72
Base ticket plus...
Sprint: #4 Henny Hughes, #8 Pomeroy and #9 Too Much Bling
Turf: #4 Scorpion and #6 Cacique
Ticket Two Price = $540
Base ticket plus...
Mile: #3 Araafa and #14 Aussie Rules
Ticket Three Price = $216
Base ticket plus...
Classic: #7 David Junior and #13 Sun King
Ticket Four Price = $144
Base ticket plus...
Filly & Mare Turf: #1 Dancing Edie and #4 Film Maker
Distaff: #12 Asi Siempre and #13 Happy Ticket
Classic: #10 Giacomo
Ticket Five Price = $300
Friday, November 03, 2006
Breeders' Cup Picks...
CJ and I will post our Pick Six ticket later, but here are my picks for each of the races so far:
Top Three: Dreaming Of Anna, Octave, Appealing Zophie
Worth a Look at a Price: Ad Rhythm, Her Majesty
Going to Win: Appealing Zophie
Top Three: Scat Daddy, Principle Secret, Circular Quay
Worth a Look at a Price: Pegasus Wind, U D Ghetto
Going to Win: Principle Secret
Filly & Mare Turf (Pick Six starts here)
Top Three: Ouija Board, Dancing Edie, Honey Ryder
Worth a Look at a Price: Dancing Edie
Going to Win: Honey Ryder
Top Three: Henny Hughes, Bordonaro, Siren Lure
Worth a Look at a Price: Siren Lure, Too Much Bling
Going to Win: Bordonaro
Top Three: Miesque's Approval, Gorella, Free Thinking
Worth a Look at a Price: Free Thinking, Miesque's Approval
Going to Win: Gorella (my best bet on the card, 4/1 morning line)
Top Three: Spun Sugar, Fleet Indian, Pine Island
Worth a Look at a Price: Spun Sugar, Balletto, Pool Land, Healthy Addiction
Going to Win: Spun Sugar
Top Three: Hurricane Run, English Channel, TH Approval
Worth a Look at a Price: TH Approval, Go Deputy
Going to Win: Hurricane Run
Classic (Jesus, this should be a great race)
Top Three: Bernardini, Lava Man, Invasor
Worth a Look at a Price: David Junior, Giacomo (both on the pace collapse angle)
Going to Win: Bernardini
1,444 so far, but I keep getting sidetracked. I'll toss this up, might update later on. This isn't a complete chapter...
The two days of box car living were worse than the two nights. Summertime, even in the midst of crossing the Rocky Mountains on my way to Boise, was unbearably hot while encased in a steel box with a steel floor. It was also nearly impossible to shake the impetus daylight seems to give my mind that I should be doing something productive. Anything. Night was easy, the waking daydreams of possibility were everything I carried with me and they were as energizing and refreshing to my heart as sleeping could be. But during the light it was difficult to do anything but explore the shadows.
Regret probably isn't the right way to express what taking this stand meant to me in total, but it became nearly poisonous to my end game to think about what I had wrought. For all the expectations I had for no longer having to carry the loaded perceptions of my mother along with every decision and inclination I could face, I spent far too much time thinking about what would happen in the wake of leaving town. They'd trace me to the grocery store, the ATM, find my wallet, and the trail would hopefully go cold. I'd be a missing person, and I would have to assume at some point they'd declare me dead.
That's a morbid thought. Declared dead. Although that's certainly what I was aiming for metaphorically, it was something that became more and more real as the sun baked the box car and my mind took the ideal and spun it into all the literal outcomes. would my mother let her brand of faux-New England stoicism be the frozen mask she wore to my funeral - My Funeral! - or would she put on a show for all who attended by throwing herself dramatically over the casket? I'd assume they'd have a casket, even without a body. Even the least cynical of us would assume a funeral parlor wouldn't throw a "celebration of life," or whatever you want to call it, without selling a casket. Hell, my mother wouldn't allow an improperly decorated and ornamentalized funeral to be thrown under her name anyway. In about three weeks, maybe four, maybe longer there's going to be a florist, a caterer and a funeral home that will all hit their quarterly sales numbers in one fell swoop.
Maybe it was the absurdity of the whole idea, but thinking about my own funeral was kind of amusing. I wondered if my mother paid enough attention to know not to have it at a church, as neither of us had been the least bit religious. I really should have left instructions for her. A jazz quintet playing the music of mid-60s Miles, readings from the books of Dylan ("Ain't it just like the night to play / tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?"), Van Morrison (anything from "Astral Weeks"), and Lou Reed ("And there's even some evil mothers / Well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt" - naturally). There'd be a huge spread, meats and cheeses, beer and wine. I wouldn't want some morbid affair with lillies and a solemn mahogany casket set up like some altar of remorse. Of course, without the ability to wring her hands publicly, I can't imagine my mother even wanting to attend.
This death thing was trickier for me to handle when it came to Marnie. It wasn't that I still loved her, because I did and that's really not the point. It's that I was giving her the gift of absolution, an excuse for her to mourn my passing and by giving her my absence allowing her to take forgiveness on her own terms. I'd rather break my mother's heart than give Marnie the satisfaction of playing the grieving widow straight through to the land of guilt-free happiness. I think any reasonable person generally knows the difference between forgiveness and being absolved entirely of blame, but I knew Marnie far too well for that. Had I given any of her apologies forgiveness, she would have absolutely taken that as her cue to no longer feel the responsibility for ruining our marriage. Sleeping with Scott was bad enough, not feeling responsible for it was absolutely worse. This was the worst by-product of all my assumptions about leaving. Although I had promised myself I would go my last breath without telling her she was forgiven, I knew she'd wear the widow's veil until she quickly grew weary, then could shake herself free of residual guilt without a living reminder in her rear view mirror.
If it was bad enough baking myself to medium-rare in a rumbling steel carton in the heat of July sunshine, it was worse to toss around the probabilities as I rolled northwest to Boise. And if thinking about my mother and Marnie was worse, it was nearly unbearable to be sweating out the guilt of remorse on an empty stomach. I had been smart enough to find a vending machine outside an auto-repair shop on my way to catch the train in Grand Rapids, and I plugged dollars in to snatch five bottles of water and one of Coke - one in each hand, two in my pockets and one elastic-strapped in my waistline was all I could carry. I didn't want to risk stepping into a convenience store somewhere in Grand Rapids, for fear of security cameras and one more person in the late night who could say, "Yeah, I saw that guy heading that-a-way." I knew I had some downtime in Chicago, but with one train stopping in the dark and the next leaving in the light, I stowed away in the shadows without finding a sandwich or candy bar to tide me over.
The ride to North Platte was fucking unbearable, as I rationed my water and took sips off the Coke to give me some sugar of sustenance. Naturally, the North Platte rail yard was well off anything residential, commercial or industrial, and all the sneaking around I did to find anything to eat was purely in vain. The hundred and ten in the rolling easy bake oven was braiding with my dehydration and guilt, twisting itself tighter and tighter around what remorse I had managed to carry with me, amplifying and magnifying every nuance of regret along the way.
But the night brought sweet relief from the heat, and the fatigue I had wrought on my body and my mind was eager to switch off and push anticipation back to the forefront. Darkness hit as we crossed the mountain peaks and I curled into a corner of the box car, feeling the cool mountain air regulating the steel walls down from oven to refrigerator. I closed my eyes, four hours or more outside of Boise.
The grinding squeal of the breaking train woke me from my easy sleep, and I hustled to the walls of the car to peer out and see if we were slowing or stopping. I checked my watch, confirmed that 2AM was well within the destination window, and eagerly hoped to see the tell-tale signs of a rail yard growing around me.
I wasn't disappointed. It was Boise. Had to be. Or rather, about ten miles out on the fringes. The gradual disappearance of the metal-on-metal screeching and the final sigh of the engine and I carefully slid open the door and dropped both feet to the ground. In the darkness of the Idaho morning I slipped anonymously away from the car and wandered with purpose through the yard to find the fence line, where I'd eventually find the parking lot, the trailer at the entrance and Route 211 running north-south on the periphery of the city.
Crunching gravel beneath my feat I chuckled to myself alone in the dark, as I fully expected to have to run the gauntlet of the hobo villages I assumed to be part and parcel with every junction of the rail lines. I thought I'd find a couple dozen wanderers in tattered clothes huddled over steel drum fires - yes, even in the summertime - eyeing the well-fed traveler thirty years their junior suspiciously. I figured that I'd have a run-in with a gypsy traveler or downtrodden homeless box car hopper, but not once in Chicago, not once in North Platte, and nowhere to be seen on the ground in Boise were any of my assumptions made true.
I was alone. Still. I hadn't seen or spoken with another person in just over three days, and was sincerely in need of a shower.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Thursday 11/2/06 Entry
Wondering aloud, if I write too many things out of order, is that going to really come back to spank me somewhere down the line? I know the things I want to hit before and after what I've already written, and no one said I had to put this thing together sequentially...
I had barely settled in to the Doc's office this afternoon, but I knew where I wanted to start. "Did you hear the thing about the Pope?"
Dr. Meyer shook his head and offered, "Not unless you're talking about the one where the Pope, a Rabbi and Courtney Love walk into a bar." He grinned slightly. "What happened with the Pope?"
"I've been wrestling with this in my mind all day long Doc. The Pope declared that unbaptized babies don't go to Limbo when they die anymore." I paused, letting the thought sit out there to see if Dr. Meyer came to the same conclusion I had. He just nodded and looked at me expectantly over the top of his glasses. "How old is the Catholic Church? First century? Two thousand years?"
"As far as I know. You're not a religious man though."
"No, not at all. It's just... Look, I was watching the news last night and there was a report that said the Pope and the Vatican Council decided that babies don't go to Limbo anymore. Then they went to the man-on-the-street reaction, which obviously caught people exiting mass on Sunday. One guy said, 'I think it's great. Those babies didn't have any choice, so why should they have to go to Limbo?'"
Dr. Meyer scribbled a few notes in his ever-present binder and asked, "Is it that you find this humorous? Absurd? Offensive?"
"I don't know," I said, absently pawing the arm of the low leather chair that was my home every other Tuesday afternoon. "Look, if the Pope came out and declared that he had evidence that Moses carved the Sphinx, that I'd understand."
"But," Dr. Meyer offered helpfully, "that the Pope can somehow change the nature of the afterlife with an earthly proclimation..."
"Yeah," I said, filling in the blank, "I have a hard time wrapping my head around that. I mean, I suppose I understand that faith means accepting certain ideas as truth that are most likely going to always be well beyond the burden of proof, but I don't understand what it means to take something that old and with a wave of the hand declare it to be something other than what it is. Or was. That's what I mean."
The Doc tilted his head slightly to his shoulder and blinked slowly, the standard tell that he was actively trying to find the framework with which to lead me to my answers. "Now I'm confused Langston. Do you mean that you don't understand the concept of faith?"
I shrugged him off. "I think I understand faith just fine, but it's the intersection of faith and reality that has me puzzled. Doctrine is just a means of framing faith into what seems to be a sensible reality, right?" Dr. Meyer seemed to agree. "So if there were no such thing as Catholic doctrine, there would be no such thing as Catholics, simply because there wouldn't be a uniform framework of ideas that dictate what the reality of the faith is, correct?"
"That's an interesting phrase, 'reality of the faith.' Why are you so interested in religion all of a sudden?"
"It's not religion, it's reality. I'm really just genuinely astonished that the reaction to this is, 'Well, that's good for all the little babies.'"
Dr. Meyer looked a little agitated, maybe a little curious. It was difficult to tell the difference. "Where are you going with this Langston? It's unlike you to be this obtuse."
"I don't know... I mean," I hesitated, because wheels were starting to turn, tumblers were falling into place in my mind. Is it as simple as just believing something completely contrary to what is true? "I mean, my boss gave me - well, he gave all of us - a book to read a couple weeks back. It's one of those bullshit business mantra books whose only point is to find a new way to say 'outside the box.' The author used the phrase, 'Change Your Paradigm.'"
"And what does that mean to you?"
"Marnie calls me at least twice a day, sometimes more. It's been this way since the day I moved out. She'll call to pick another fight, beg for my forgiveness, flirt... she's constantly trying to provoke me. My mom is continuously on my ass about my supposed lack of ambition, but even when I do let her know that what I'm doing for the agency is carrying the load creatively, I don't think she'll be happy until I've got a closet full of Armanis and at least a half dozen magazine covers to my credit. The fucking 'paradigm' for me isn't some sort of B-school construct that I've Whartoned myself into, it's this. It's all this."
"So Langston, how do you change that paradigm?"
I think I shuddered just a little bit with the Doc, of all people, using that phrase. "Christ, every time I hear 'paradigm' now my eyes roll into the back of my head. All it is is a bullshit buzzword that refers to the reality you've constructed around yourself, and how this reality becomes your whatever-colored glasses through which you perceive the world. I think I'm bristling at the concept for other reasons."
The Doc crossed and uncrossed his legs, sure of where he wanted to end up, but not quite clear how to get there. "But this is real life we're talking about here, and it's up to you to take ownership of your own life. Life is complicated, but it's not..." He stalled here, and clicked his pen while examining the leather on the toes of his shoes. For effect, he waited before asking, "What is it that makes you seemingly so powerless to change reality?"
This was the point I've been driving at, and I found myself as animated as I've been in that low leather chair in years. "Because it's not my reality Doc. What do you mean when you say, 'take ownership of your life?' What exactly is it that I'm supposed to do to here? I left Marnie. Maybe I shouldn't have married her in the first place, but I left her. How's that? I'm at least ambitious enough at the agency to be asking for what I deserve, I just can't seem to get past the preconceptions of Roger and the other VPs. And how precisely am I supposed to 'take ownership' of the fact that my mother doesn't seem to approve of who it is that I've become?"
"Okay, but are you happy with who you are?" What a dumb fucking question. I returned his sideways tilt and stared back at him with what I had to assume was utter incredulity on my face. "Obviously not," he continued, "or we wouldn't be going into year three of our relationship, right?" He was trying to be funny, I'm not sure I wanted to be amused.
"So if I want to alleviate these pressures, change their perceptions, then I should probably move back in with Marnie and let her continue to fuck around behind my back while finding some way to win a couple of Clios while dropping thirty pounds on the way to making partner in a Chicago agency. Yeah, that'll show them." Dr. Meyer's habit was to return my flippancy with silence, and we spent an uncomfortable few moments wondering whose turn was next. Mine. "I'm genuinely curious about the Pope thing though. I mean, even if you want to grant that religion is mythology and that any ideas about the afterlife should be met with skepticism at best, he just took two thousand years of what was perceived as truth and turned it on its head."
Dr. Meyer nodded and notated, and he didn't say a word.
It all made sense to me right then and there. I spoke slowly, making sure to choose my words carefully enough to get my answer without loosing my intent. "It's not my responsiblity to carry other people's reality on my shoulders, is it?" Dr. Meyer shook his head and cracked a warm smile as if this was the breakthrough he had been waiting for.
He had no idea.
I continued, "If I want to unburden myself, I just have to shift their perceptions, right?" Thoughts were flying fast, streaking across my mind with an entirely unexpected clarity as they passed. "It's like the Pope playing public relations. If the unpleasant nature of the abstract isn't agreeable, then just declare it to be different." Doc's brow furrowed, and he gave me a look like I had just passed the exit on the freeway he had been gesturing towards for the past ten miles.
"Is it just that easy to fundamentally shift perception then? Just by standing up, making a declaration, taking an idea and just waving it away?" I didn't need him to answer my question. It was simple, it was obvious.
I barely remember making the drive home or cracking the bottle of Barolo I had been saving for our next, but now never to be, anniversary in pre-celebration. But I do remember the moment the realization hit me fully in Dr. Meyer's office. I've been laboring under expectations for too long, and if I couldn't see the daylight from under the avalanche, the solution was obvious. It was clarity, adrenaline and the sunlight I hadn't seen in as long as I could remember.
There is no avalanche.
I poured another glass of Barolo and felt eased. If I couldn't affect the fundamental perception of those around me, there was only one possible way to unburden those perceptions from my reality. I had to stand up, make a declaration, take their ideas and simply wave them away.
There is no avalanche because there is no snow.
There is no snow because I can refuse to live in a world of winter.
I could simply turn truth on its head and leave winter behind. All I had to do was walk away.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Sign Me Up For NaNo
I'm going to post what I write here every day until I quit or until it's done. Please don't assume this is supposed to be sequential. This is just the first part of this I wanted to write. First pass = 1,861 words.
Probably the biggest drawback to traveling light is that it gets awfully cold at night.
I imagined that outside this enormous and empty filthy steel box that the darkness washing the Great Plains was at least equal to the pitch black inside this rail car. I imagined that we were passing through corn fields, still miles from the next town, and assuredly still half a day from the other side of North Platte, where I'd surreptitiously slip from the Union Pacific-driven steel hauler in which I had stowed into a northwest bound line on the TRX returning to Oregon for more wood.
It had been fifteen hours since I left Chicago in the daylight, and about twenty-six since the Grand Rapids line took me into Illinois. I felt more at peace with the rhythmic click-clack and swaying of the barren boxcar than I felt with all the thoughts that had been running through my head over the last fifteen years. I replaced what was pure loneliness in the midst of supposed friends and family and failure with the rumbling solitude and reassuring momentum of a westbound hauler. I was alone, but I wasn't going to be afraid of my destination anymore.
The southbound train took me to this westbound connection, then in another thirty hours I'd catch the leg to skip me northwest over the Rockies where I'd have a hundred miles to hitch or take by foot to a place I haven't been in twenty years.
It was a place I've been going in my mind for weeks now, ever since the Doc helped me understand I didn't have to carry the weight of anyone's expectations on my own shoulders but my own. They never asked my permission, and I had finally decided I wasn't going to work as their pack mule any longer. I would not be defined by them, I could figure out again what it meant to be me.
If I was going to do this properly, I had to leave the baggage behind.
This turned out to be both a figurative and literal instruction to myself. I craved anonymity, the relief of all this pressure. I wanted to simply unburden myself, but that wasn't going to be realistic. I had to leave, and it needed to be abrupt. Leaving meant disappearing. I couldn't have them looking for me. Disappearing meant running. I wouldn't even take a backpack with a change of clothes, I'd worry about that later, because running meant covering my tracks. I just needed to figure out how.
I thought riding the rails would give legitimacy to my flight. The icon of transient train-hopping is the happy go-lucky hobo with the crumpled top hat, the lid of which has been mangled nearly off by what could only be a can opener. He's got his weatherbeaten overcoat patched at the elbows and across the back, toes poking out of shoes pulling away from their soles, and all his worldly possessions wrapped in a fancifully decorated kerchief on the end of a stick slung over his shoulder. Weary eyes and beans out of the can. While I'm sure that Emmett Kelly Junior icon is nothing more than fantasy at this point, it seems to me that if I'm going to disappear properly, I should look to those than have disappeared before me for guidance.
Logistically, the actual running part turned out to be easier than I had thought.
The glory that is the Internet has given us everything from Japanese foot bondage porn to satellite imagery of the Vegas Strip, so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that ten minutes of searching online brought me everything I ever needed to know about America's network of railroads. Which trains, running when, moving where, stopping for how long, empty returning home, loaded with shipments, heading to port, destination heartland... Who would have thought walking the hobo trail would follow a schedule?
There are hobbyists who spend hours sitting and observing railway arteries, logging what they see and how often. Once you crack the shorthand notations from their online crib sheets and click your way through the various spotters running east or west or whatever from points determined, there seems to be an easily deduced way to get yourself from place to place with just a minimum of effort. For instance, one journal that logs trains passing through the south end of Cleveland on the Union Pacific-laid tracks notates the following:
NWX 1411 / EBD / TUES 0515 HRS - ORG DTW - DST ABE / ENG 2 - BXCR 18 - LDR 6 / CLE STOPS 0 / EMPTY
Followed by a similar notation, in reverse:
NWX 1411 / WBD / FRI 2315 HRS- ORG ABE - DST DTW / ENG 2 - BXCR 18 - LDR 6 / CLE STOPS 0 / STEEL
Loosely translated, the Northwest Express 1411 runs through Toledo, heading to Detroit to drop steel from the Allentown, PA area on Fridays just before midnight, heading back to Allentown on another run that passes through the same tracks in the other direction first thing Tuesday morning. Two engines, eighteen boxcars, six loaders - no stops in Cleveland. Tracing that line all the way back through, another spotter working out of Youngstown, Ohio finds a similar notation:
NWX 1411 / EBD / TUES 1015 HRS - ORG DTW - DST ABE / ENG 2 - BXCR 18 - LDR 6 / YNG STOPS 1 - 90 MIN YNG RAILYARDS - NO CARGO / EMPTY
Naturally, there are spotters who have thoroughly mapped out the Youngstown Railyards, which means that if I were to want to hop a boxcar to Allentown I'd have all the info I needed to access the facility, find the right train, open the boxcar doors and catch a free ride to Allentown.
Of course, I didn't want to end up in Allentown. I wanted to head west. I wanted remote, I wanted the mountains, I wanted somewhere fifty miles from the nearest highway to anywhere else. I remembered years ago traveling with my mother to her sister's wedding on a mountain top in upstate Idaho. I remembered a place in the mountains where it snowed as they shot off the Independence Day fireworks show over the lake. I remember a legend in the lake about a sea monster, and that being enough of a draw to get the down state Boiseians in their cars with their kids to spend a weekend in a tourist trap that only played the summer months. McCall. I checked a map, and was able to chart my course with the train enthusiast's instruction. I'd take a Grand Rapids train filled with office furniture down to Chicago, switch to an empty train bound for Denver, switch to another line headed northwest in North Platte, Nebraska, taking that all the way to Boise.
From Boise I'd have to figure out a way to trek the hundred some-odd miles up to McCall, but I figured I could pay for a ride in that direction when I got there. What about money? Since I wanted to make my disappearance look legitimate and not at all planned, I did everything I could to hide my intentions. I did all my research on train schedules from a terminal at the local library to stay anonymous. I bought a full and usual load of groceries that weekend, and I was careful not to do anything that would look out of the ordinary. With the schedule I had mapped out, I could buy my food in my "layovers" in Chicago and North Platte, then trade what would by then be the four-day slept-in clothes on my back in for newer ones in Boise. The question was, since I couldn't use my credit card or checks on the road, how was I supposed to get money out of the bank without it looking suspicious?
Actually, the answer to that was to make it look suspicious.
Last night at about 11PM I left my apartment, keys on the table. I didn't lock the door behind me, as I would if I were walking from my apartment to the grocery store down the block. I went in, bought a pint of ice cream and gallon of milk, paid with my debit card and walked out, figuring anyone retracing my steps would assume someone buying ice cream would be heading straight home. As soon as I turned the corner around the side of the store I wheeled around and took the long way back around the parking lot to the bank in the far corner. I took a deep breath, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and nervously approached the ATM.
I looked back to my left and carefully set the ice cream and milk down in front of me. My hands went up and I said out loud, "I'm reaching for my wallet now." Keeping my left hand in front of me and above my head I gingerly removed my wallet with two fingers and held it in front of me. As if I was receiving directions from someone just out of earshot, I took my ATM card out and tossed my wallet to the pavement ten feet in front of me. To anyone watching the security tape, I was obviously being robbed. I punched in a withdrawal of $2000, which produced the expected ATM over-the-limit error. To no one I said, "It won't let me. I can only take out a thousand." I turned back to the ATM and keyed in a $1000 withdrawal, which took far too long to process. Jesus, I hope someone's not watching this right now and calling the cops. Finally, the money came, and I turned back to my left with my left hand up and right hand extended. I took two giant steps forward, and once I was certainly out of camera range I cleaned my wallet out of ID and cards, pocketed the grand, and threw the leather into the nearest waste bin.
The train would be waiting for me behind Steelcase, which was only five miles away. In shorts and comfortable shoes on one of the most beautiful nights I've ever remembered, I broke out into a jog. I wasn't in any danger of missing the train, I still had two hours before it would pull out for Chicago. I had a thousand dollars in my pocket, the clothes on my back, and the Great Plains and Rockies to cross over the next few days.
I didn't have a job anymore. I didn't have a soon-to-be ex-wife either. I wasn't Mary Lynn Connolly's semi-ironic nod to the cliche of motherhood, and I wasn't the son of the woman who wrote the book on the disillusionment of a generation of hope anymore. I wasn't going to be any of those things anymore. I wanted freedom, and this seemed to be the only sensible solution I could come up with.
For the first time in a long time, I wasn't anything but who I wanted to be. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like all the things I was didn't matter anymore. And I was smiling.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
For Peyton and Spaceman and An Average Horseplayer
More auction items over at the For Peyton site, including...
Table signed by WSOP pros
Greg Raymer package
BobbyB/Donkey Puncher/Al will crash your home game
The Real Old Testament on DVD
Mr. Spaceman's gig over at Bluff is going to get picked up by the World Series of Poker website while he's blogging his fingers off for the WSOP Circuit event at Caesar's in Tennessee today (Tuesday) - I want to encourage my hordes of readers to help him out and visit the WSOP site and check it out. (Text shamelessly stolen from Maudie)
Lastly, Rubin gets a press pass for Churchill Downs during Breeders' Cup week. He's blogging daily, and it's good stuff. Go check it out!
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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