If you want to go
where the rainbows end
you'll have to say goodbye
all our dreams come true
baby up ahead
and it's out where your memories lie.- Tom Waits, "Yesterday is Here."
From Frank's Wild Years (Island, 1987)
There's a rainstorm raging right outside my kitchen window, the sky's slate-gray, and the trees are dancing black ogres against the horizon.
For some reason, 2006 stopped at a quarter past eight this morning, sometime between my first and second cups of coffee, between reading the Los Angeles Times and Denver Post online editions.
By half past nine, I'm stuck in the Summer of 1989.
* * *
I'm sitting on my old beat-up bicycle near Meherrin, Virginia, staring at three old black men as they drink Thunderbird and play dominoes in front of a tarpaper-and-clapboard shack.
Their skin is the color of pokeberries, tanned down to ebony leather, arms ashy and worn. They're hollering and laughing, smoking cheap cigarettes and shooting the shit over what appears to be nothing in particular.
A group of large women sit in front of a homemade picnic table (an old door held up by sawhorses), cackling like crazed chickens over songs on the radio, the air filled with Lawds and Oooo childs and Mmm-Hmms.
Sam Cooke's singing "A Change is Gonna Come" through old-ass speakers from beyond the grave. Freddy Jackson's wailing falsetto-driven R&B, singing "Just Like the First Time."
I have no clue how long I've been standing there, watching old men slamming bones and women gossiping over the remnants of a Saturday fried chicken supper.
There's a group of pig-tailed girls jumping rope by an old truck. One young woman, probably 16 or 17, is calmly breastfeeding a kid while sitting on the tailgate of the pick-up.
Three guys, stripped to the waist, are playing basketball a few yards behind the house. Their court is of red clay; the backboard is an old metal Mountain Dew sign.
Nobody seems to notice this white kid sitting there on his bike, in the middle of an old unpaved county road, dusty and sweating, breathless and late for a cookout at G'maw's house.
I can smell the tobacco growing in Lunenburg County fields, the smell of money reaching skyward. Honeysuckle and Carolina pine sweetens the aroma.
I can hear the whippoorwills and the crickets warming up in the woods for their evening performance. Fireflies dance in the thick, humid air. Even the mosquitoes whiz by in gleeful harmony.
For some reason, I don't want to leave. I can't make my legs work the pedals, though it's only a quick three miles back to the family farm.
And then it starts to rain. A good hard, steady summer rain.
The drops are heavy enough to send dust into the air upon impact. Thunder starts to roll in the distance...
Who says there is no such thing as a perfect memory?
* * *
The ol' mobile phone rattles across the kitchen table in 2006, and I'm drawn back into the 21st Century by a wrong number. I log into Yahoo Instant Messenger; there's five offline messages and three folks catch me within two minutes...
You know, I think I'm going to power down the laptop, turn off the cell, and put on some Sam Cooke.
I think I'm going to open the kitchen door, pull a chair right up to the threshold, and watch the rain.
I think I'm just tired of thinking, dammit.
Time is measured in moments. The more perfect moments one can catch like a butterfly in he desert, the less one will have to regret when this world is finished.
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'- John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn