I have switched into an outward, very task focused, mode. When I’m here, the internal dialogue switches from how I feel about myself, the world, and other people, to thinking about what is next on the list to tick off.
I have been home for 2 days. I can feel myself slipping back into the routine. But atlas, I hear a faint whisper in my ear, whispering a sweet poem, calling me forth:
by John Masefield
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over
“Man haven’t you heard of an airplane and shit? How we gonna handle our B. I. if you afraid to fly?” says Short Stocky Man.
“I don’t like no airplanes man, ” says Tall Rasta Hair Man.
“You afraid to fly? Man you done fought wars and shit and you afraid to fly? ” Short Stocky Man says in disbelief.
“Naw man, I’m not afraid to fly. But they want to get all in your socks and shit, checkin out your underwear. Just cause I’ma black man, they want to check all my shit, made me take off my shoes and shit last time. These some eighty dollar shoes man. And they got Bin Laden in the front seat. Ain’t nobody bothering him. Shit mother fucka has 4 guns in his pocket and they want to search me. I said fuck it, I won’t use them no more. I’ll take the mother fuckin greydog and see the countryside.”
Big scramble to get on the bus, there were about 20 people fighting for 8 seats. Apparently, the check in lady told people scheduled for the 8.10 bus that they could get on the 7.10 bus – my bus. Everybody wants to get somewhere, and nobody wants to be left behind.
The bus driver gave me some hassle getting on. Like everyone else, I wanted to start my journey south, so I made sure I had my ticket right up there for the driver to see. I put my ticket near his hand. He looked up slowly, like Clint Eastwood in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
“You’ll get on when you get on. There’s only 8 seats. Don’t be sticking your ticket all up in my face.” Yes! Put that man in for an outstanding customer service award. For the record, I didn’t shove my ticket in his face.
The driver eventually took my ticket. I had to fight my way through the crowd to put my bag underneath the bus and then fight my way on to the bus.
Bored, tired faces greeted me as I looked down the aisle for one of the 8 vacant seats. No one wanted to make eye contact, and those that did, flashed a look to say, “I hope he doesn’t sit with me.” A look made even stronger by the fact that those in seats by themselves took up the space of both seats and made no effort to move off the empty seat.
Jay’s has the best hot wings in the country. Actually, in true American style, Jay’s has the best hot wings in the world! Oh and Jay’s Elbow Room is also famous for the highest concentration of ugly toothless women.
Missy walked into the mall wearing black. She hasn’t changed much – still tall and thin and sporting a tan. She has a few more lines on her face, but looking good. We hug and say a few pleasantries.
While shopping, I felt compelled to tie up a loose end with Missy.
“I never told you this before?”
“Told me what?”
“That you are partly responsible for Ruth and I getting together. I came down from West Point to spend the weekend with you, but you were being a total cow.”
“I was a bitch wasn’t I? Was I having man trouble? I was with the Marine guy I think.”
“All I know is you were being a total bitch. So I told you I was going to run to the store real quick and I got in my car and drove the 2 hours back to West Point without telling you or saying good bye.”
“I always wondered what had happened.”
“Yeah…It was the weekend, so all of my friends were gone. Flicking through my wallet, I found Ruth’s phone number which had been sitting in my wallet months. At the time the time I got her number, I was already dating another British girl – some chick named Emma. ”
“That was a funny one because I was dating Emma, but when I saw Ruth, I was determined to meet her, so the only thing I could thing to do was to introduce her to Emma seeing how they were both from England. Then I had to figure out how to ditch Emma and get with Ruth. Anyway That’s another story.”
“I called Ruth up that night and surprisingly she was home and she still remembered me. She agreed to hang out with me and the rest is history as they say.”
“So me being a bitch paid off?”
“It appears so.”
“It’s good to see you.”
There are a few places that have a profound influence on making me the person that i am today. South Jersey is one of those places.
I was suspended from the Military Academy for one year. South Jersey became my purgatory. Still a cadet, but no longer at the Academy, I was stuck between two worlds. In some ways I was glad to be free of the strict system of rules and regulations as only a place as steeped in tradition as West Point can be; In other ways, I was sad and disappointed with myself for having let my life and future career spiral out of control.
I drove down to South Jersey to meet some old friends. When you are travelling, your time is your own. For my friends, however, their time was very much controlled by their jobs. While I had nothing to do all day, they had to work. Consequently, I couldn’t see everyone I wanted to. And though I was close to most of them, five years of being apart has a way of shifting you down on the priority list of things to do.
I stopped at the Moorestown Mall to get some grub and to make a few phone calls to see who was around. I had about 6 hours to kill before meeting Richie K.
I called Missy. As luck would have it, she was taking the rest of the afternoon off from work to buy an outfit for her son to attend his cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. She was on her way over to the mall; she had enough time to do this errand before going to her son’s school to be a mystery reader. Not a problem. A half hour was better than nothing.
I have know Missy for 15 years. We met through her sister Debbie whom I was working with at Living Well Fitness Center the year I was suspended from West Point. We were both single then. Her sister was married, and I needed a wild thing child to hang out with and party. And we did a lot of partying together during that one year.
Missy walked into the mall wearing all black….
I met Fat Mike on the NJ Transit bus going to Menlo Park. I didn’t have the correct change to get on the bus. Mike changed my $20 bill which saved me a lot of hassle from the bus driver. Fat Mike (he literally fitted into 2 seats) and I started talking. It turns out that we ran over the same stomping grounds as kids…Tinton Falls, Asbury Park, Long Branch, Red Bank, Little Silver…He went to Rumson High; I went to Monmouth Regional. We played against each other in sports. Fat Mike made it a point to tell me he was a poor Jew and that he got along better with the “sisters” meaning black women, than he did with “his own kind.” I suppose this was he way of trying to bond with me.
Been up since 3am, I couldn’t sleep any longer. I wrote a long letter and went for a walk about at 6am. I found a copy of the Joy of Sex lying on the side of the road. I read a few entries:
…sex from behind is good standing, lying, or kneeling.
….anal sex is not recommended anymore because of aids, though most couples try it at least once. Some continue because of the pleasurable tightness for men and the intensified feeling for women….
Stopped in a shop to buy a jar of coffee…a seemingly innocent thing to do. The shopkeeper said:
“I’ll give you a bag for that. They see it, they will take it. You know what these people are like.”
Not sure what that was about.
We drove through Newark on the way from the Greyhound station. Loads of memories flood my mind. I was born in Newark and lived here until I was 9.
…coming on the train, being picked up by grandpa Harvey Lee in his great big lime green Cadillac…
…cold nights walking up Elizabeth avenue with Val to get home before dark…being a afraid because it was dark and bad people came out at night…we lived in a bad neighborhood with bad people…
…hearing a loud pop, pop…saying to my mom that sounds like gun shots….mom says no I didn’t, only to be shortly confronted by a bleeding man in his boxer shorts pleading for help because he had been mugged and shot… My mom didn’t help him, she hurried us along…
We drove by the daycare center I went to as a toddler:
…feelings of abandonment and hurt…
I never did like that place.
America has become a paranoid nation and is obsessed with photo ID. I had to show a photo ID to get a hotel room, to buy a bus ticket, you even need a photo ID to deposit money in your own bank account! It seems every time I step up to a counter of some sort, the clerk asks me for my photo ID.
And yes I am indeed back in the land of opportunity, where a man can earn $900 per month masturbating in a plastic container. The only catch is you have to be between the ages of 18 and 38 and have a Bachelor’s degree and are willing to commit for 12 months.
Travelling by Greyhound has prove to be a good place to meet interesting people. With the plane tickets being as cheap as they are these days, it sometimes cost less to fly than to catch the bus. For instance, I could fly to Georgia for $124 and get there in 3 hours. Or I could pay $112 and take the Greyhound and get there in 16 – 18 hours. Why would anyone take the bus then? It was a question I thought hard about before deciding to buy a 16 hour trip to Augusta. What type of people are attracted to long distance bus trips?
People like Tom perhaps. Tom is an ex-North Vietnamese soldier who was standing in line in front me waiting to board the greyhound from Boston to New York City. He was having problems understanding his ticket. The ticket lady had told him once he got to New York, he could take any one of them buses back to Boston. Tom couldn’t find that written on the ticket and was looking for confirmation from someone. I most have a looked a likely enough character. After much reading of the fine print and several trips back to the ticket counter, Tom was finally convinced.
An old bus hand came buy to tell us our bus was stuck in traffic and would be about 20 minutes late. So Tom and I killed time by talking.
How we got on the subject, I’m not sure, but Tom told me his life was very hard before 1975. He was a NVA soldier fighting against the Americans. He described the patches of the American units he remembered. The Big Red One, The 1st Cavalry, and the Marines is what I made out from his description.
He escaped from the NVA and for 37 days he had to survive and run through the jungle, up mountains with no food and very close to death. But he made it south and to freedom. His family immigrated to northern California. He came over with his mom, 4 brothers and 2 sisters. His dad had passed away in 1964.
Tom was in Boston to help a friend. He had been in town for 7 weeks and was looking forward to getting back to California.
“The weather here is no good. Where I from, it’s nice. Not to hot, not cold, and not wet like here.”
I told him about my army background. He told me that his son wants to go the U.S. Airforce Academy in Colorado. So, Tom is now paying $6, 000 so his son can get his private pilot license. His son is 15.
Tom wanted to go see New York City before heading back to California. The highlight of his Boston trip had been reading the words at the Kennedy Center. Tom grew solemn and fumbled with the words, “Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country.”
We finally settled on the bus after a 30 minute delay. The problem with delays is they have a knock on effect for those trying to make connecting buses and traffic being traffic, its hard to make up lost time. I was now in danger of missing my next bus, which I came to find out is not bad because then you get a chance to explore whatever city you end up having to lay over.
Another interesting person I met on the Boston to New York City leg, was William. He has been working in West Africa for the past 2 years with the Peace Corp teaching the people about trees and the importance of trees to the land. He found the work to be interesting, hard, and rewarding. “I think the experience helped me more than it did any of the people I taught. The experience has changed my life.”
William was on his way down to West Virginia to see his parents who had only just moved there two months ago from Chicago. He was going to visit them and then figure out what he wanted to do next. William told me he had also biked 7, 000 km around Africa and wanted to do some things like that. We had another thing in common. Like me, he wants to hike the Road to Santiago.
Autumn colors – the oranges and reds and orange-yellows and yellow-reds line the highway.
We made an unscheduled stop because a lady complained that she was having hot flashes and forgot to bring water with her. She pleaded with the bus driver to stop. When he agreed, a mini rebellion erupted on the bus. Other people had places to be and we were already late, they protested, so therefore we shouldn’t stop. We stopped. I noticed that the protestors didn’t hesitate to get off the bus to go get some stuff from the shop.
I’ve been eating things I haven’t had for ages like Baby Ruth candy bars, cherry Pop Tarts, and Nutter Butter cookies.
Hot Flash Lady is talking to the bis driver.
“How old are?” She asks. The bus driver mumbles something.
“Oh you’re a Pisces?”
“I don’t know nothing about that?” She proceeds to enlighten him. She asks him if he knows JC. The bus driver gets uncomfortable, not wanting the talk to turn religious.
“I’m not planning on visiting heaven any time soon,” he says.
“Me either,” she replies. “I hear they are building supermarkets up there and high rise apartments. Isn’t that something?”
“Nothing surprises me any more,” he says.
It’s a $350 fine to honk your horn in NYC.
We were very late getting to New York City. I had hoped to spend an hour wandering around. But instead, I had 2 minutes to find my connecting bus to Newark.
The NYC Port Authority is organised chaos at its best. I only make my bus because there has been a delay due to a bomb threat.