It’s been pretty cold but it’s not cold today. The big sign on Route 380, the one that has different Dixie Cup riddles every day (what do you call a snow man with a head cold?) reads 19 degrees. And it feels warm. That’s the beauty of winter. You fear it all year long. And then, when it does arrive and that wind is howling and the dry bulb is below zero and even the act of climbing out of your car and inserting your credit card into the slot and then pushing the “enter” button and then pushing the “yes” button for your receipt, and then removing your gas cap and then inserting the nozzle seems impossible, and everything really sucks and you can’t think of one thing to look forward to except for your tank to finish filling so you can get back into your truck, the weather breaks. And Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow and suddenly nineteen degrees feels like spring and you tell yourself, “Hey. It’s February already! Winter’s almost over, man! It wasn’t so bad!” And you feel like a real tough guy for having the gumption to stand there in the wind when it’s below zero until your tank if full.
On the way to Waterloo, I watch the age-old dance of assholes on the interstate. The Dodge truck with the sticker of a deer with a big rack passes me in the fast lane with a little white car attached to his ass. There’s a semi ahead of me, so there’s no way the little red car, which was following the little white car before he slings out directly in front of me, has room to pass the Dodge pickup. You’d think the little red car would just slow down and tuck itself in behind the little white car again, but the little red car won’t back down. The little red car won’t accept defeat and be humiliated that way. He wedges himself between the rear bumper of the truck and the front bumper of the white car, forcing the white car to slam on its breaks. Watching this dance of assholes, anxiety is building in me. Even though I am not involved in this exchange; I neither accelerate nor decelerate nor cut the wheel one way or the other, I’m somehow invested. I can’t help it. Now I’m sending a telepathic message to the Dodge truck. I’m saying, “Don’t you do it, man! Don’t you change lanes and let that little bastard pas you!” And he doesn’t. He doesn’t change lanes. And my heart is rejoicing because the little red car is snookered and the driver must be pissed off and he deserves it. But then, to my chagrin, the truck does suddenly jump into the slow lane. You’d think the little red car, having been is such an all-fired hurry, would punch the accelerator and charge past the pickup at high speeds, but he doesn’t. He’s too much of an asshole for that. He slowly passes the truck. Like, the truck is doing 80 and this guy wants to do 81. Which, for some reason, pisses me off even more. The minute the bumper of the red car clears the front bumper of the Dodge pickup, the truck zings over into the fast lane riding the little red car’s bumper like he wants to fuck it up the ass. And it’s a good thing to see and it makes me feel all warm and full of hatred and revenge. But then, at the earliest convenience, what do you think the red car does? He pulls over into the slow lane, presenting the pickup with the choice of either slowing down, changing lanes, and continuing to tailgate or speeding up and passing. Either way, he’s sort of left with his dick in his hand. You’d think getting through a cold snap would bring a community together. But it doesn’t. People still drive like assholes. We drove like assholes through that ice storm last weekend and we’re still driving like assholes and we’ll always drive like assholes because we are, at heart, assholes.
At least that’s how I feel before I take the San Marnin exit and stop at McDonald’s for two breakfast burritos and a coffee. The woman at window one isn’t so friendly. She tells me to have a good day, but she doesn’t mean it. Not that I’m looking to her for validation or anything. The woman at window two, on the other hand, is very nice and tells me to have a great day and she means it. She really wants me to have a great day. I tell her to have a great day too and pull away from the window, cracking the lid on my coffee to make sure she remembered to add the cream. She didn’t remember to add the cream and I need to park the work truck and walk in and ask for my cream but not before an old guy beats me to the counter and says, “You got any decaf back there?” The woman reaches for the pot, which is three quarters empty (or one quarter full depending). “You bet,” she says, proudly. “We’ve got some right-“ “Not there you don’t,” says the old guy, cutting her off. “We’ll need more than that.” “Tell you what,” says the counter woman, who, according to her official pin, is the manager, as she places the pot of hot coffee on the counter in front of the old man, “Why don’t you use this up and then I’ll make you a-“ “I’ll just wait for a fresh pot,” says the old man, waving her off. I was unaware that we got free refills at McDonalds. In fact, I’m quite sure we do not get refills. At least, I’m sure I don’t get them. I glance over at the window section where a cartel of four or five old guys has congregated. The leader of the cartel was laying down the law. He was not to be trifled with. He would have his free refill and it would be fresh and that was that. “Can I help you?” says the manager. “Yes,” I say. “Can I have two creams please?” She hesitates. Who am I to ask for cream? “I just came through the drive through,” I explain. “I ordered coffee with cream but they forgot the cream.” “Oh,” says the manager. “I’m so sorry!” She rummages around for the cream. “Here,” she says. “You want sugar too? Here. Let’s get you a stirrer too. Here. Here you go!” While she hands me my booty, the manager squints at the woman who is working the second window. “I probably forgot to ask for it,” I say. “What?” she says. “The cream,” I say.
There are news stories on the Superbowl. On AM1600, AM1650, AM910. I can’t escape it. I just finished watching the damned thing seven hours ago and I don’t want to hear about it this morning. Not the “controversial” “non-call” as they are calling it, when the Forty Niner’s rookie quarterback, Collin Kaepernick, on a fourth and goal with seconds remaining lofted the ball into the corner of the end zone. Michael Crabtree was not in position to make the play because the man charged with defending him, whomever that might have been, had his arms wrapped around him like he wanted to slow dance. The referee didn’t call it. And the game was over. And that was that. Nothing more to talk about. Not how the coaches of both teams involved are brothers. Or this being Ray Lewis’ last NFL game. Or anything else. In this way, sports is like sex. There’s a lot of pre-game buildup. And when the event itself is happening it’s usually pretty cool. And when it’s over, you start thinking about the sliding glass door that leads to the back porch and you wonder why it’s been sticking like that and you wonder if you should remove the door and spray a little WD40 on those little plastic wheels. Yes. Maybe that would be just the thing.
The guard shack at John Deere is crowded with truck drivers and security guards. “Where’s it going?” one security guard is saying. “I don’t know,” says the truck driver. “They told me Gate D.” “Well,” says the security guard, “this is gate D. Is there something wrong with it?” “I don’t think so," says the driver. "She drove onto the bed and I guess she’ll drive right off too. I don’t see why she wouldn’t.” “Where is it coming from?” says another security guard. “The port of Baltimore,” says the first security guard. I consider mentioning the Superbowl, but I restrain myself. “It probably came in from overseas,” adds the first security guard. “She only had three and a half hours on her,” says the driver. “Must have been sent over for a sales presentation,” says the first security guard. “What a waste of gas,” said the second security guard, “shipping it all the way over there and then back again.” “She looked real pretty and green two days ago,” says the driver, “but now she looks sort of like, pardon my French, baby shit brown.” The trucker glances at me when he says this, including me in the conversation. “We’ll just clean it with the Hotsy,” says the second security guard. “What’s your first name?” There is a big break in the conversation. And there continues to be a break until I realize the question has been aimed at me. “Joe,” I say. “Joe,” says the second security guard. “I can never remember your first name.” I almost say something like, “Just think of Joe Flacco,” but I don’t say it because that was the Superbowl and it’s over now.
After I the second security guard hands me my badge, I’m out in the 19 degree morning again, surrounded by roaring tractors and rumbling semis all trying to pass through Gate D, either in or out. “God damn,” says an old trucker, a sparkle in his eye. “We’re gonna get god damned run over out here!” I laugh. He laughs. I get in my little work van and squirt through the gate home free and I’m thinking, “Gee! Everyone’s kind of friendly and people are nice in general. And isn’t it nice to be a part of everything?”
It seems odd, ingrained in my daily routine as I am, that I’ll be interviewed next month about a book I wrote three years ago based on events that occurred five years ago. I am so removed from the events and the writing of the book that I can’t answer for either one of them. Someone will ask something like, “Why did you feel compelled to make this very private information about yourself public?” And I won’t know what to say because I don’t know. I didn’t write the book with publication in mind. I didn’t give it any thought. And then, when Scribner offered me a book deal, I didn’t consider the question of why. Why do I want to get this thing published? It would have seemed, at the time, to be a crazy question. I had always wanted to be published. It was just. . .what I wanted. Why didn’t enter into it. I suppose I felt flattered that someone wanted to publish a book I wrote. I did experience a surge of egotism. A very short surge. I believed, for that brief moment, that I deserved to be published. That I had been blessed by God to be a good writer. I thought that maybe it was time to take a chance. I thought I might change my life. It wasn’t about anyone but myself. Which embarrasses me to say, although the fact that my motives were selfish only stands to reason because the subject of the book was largely concerned with myself seeing as it was, after all, a memoir.
I may sound like I’m condemning myself in hopes that you will correct me and tell me that I’m being too hard on myself. But such is not the case. This would be more of the “all about myself” thing again. I don’t want my life to be about myself.
I feel foolish, from my present vantage point, for asking a bunch of people whom I did not know to be my friends on Facebook. I was trying to be aggressive. Like my publisher wanted me to be. But the truth is, a great majority of my friends on Facebook who I blindly requested simply because their little picture popped up as someone I might know, are writers. And a great many writers are on Facebook so we can build a “platform” (as they call it in the publishing world) upon which we can promote our writing. It’s all about ourselves, all this promotion bullshit. And the whole thing is a bit sickening. But you aren’t the blind friend. You’re not that.
I didn’t know it three years ago when I wrote my last book, my first book that was published, but I think I wrote it so that you would read it. Because I knew that I had always been alone. And I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I didn’t want to blab my words into the atmosphere and have nothing come of them. I wanted something to come of them. I wanted to tell you something. And then I wanted you to tell me something. And then I wanted to tell you something about the thing you told me. And so on. That’s what I wanted. And it’s what I still want. That’s what all the texting is about. All the Facebooking. Tweeting. Writing. All the painting and music and sculpture. It’s not really about me. And neither is it about you. It’s about us.
I tell myself that winter’s almost over. The groundhog thinks so. Even though February isn’t what you’d call “spring”. Nor is March. April, for its part, is, according to one reliable source, the cruelest month, breeding lilacs from the dead land. Or whatever. Each spring seems unlikely. Each time it happens. I keep doubting the possibility of it. Like maybe this year it won’t happen. But it has indeed happened fifty times so far that I know of for sure.