September 21, 2002

Izzy is taking Henry and a friend to the marina, where the boys are going to film another vignette for their musical about the aftermath of Moby Dick. Along the way, a cigarette is tossed from a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban.

Ahead of us, as we slogged through weekend traffic across the city, the driver of a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban was smoking a cigarette. The Suburban’s tinted windows were rolled up, sealing its occupants from the environment.

The driver’s side window, however, would periodically roll down an inch, belching a white puff of smoke and then the tip of a cigarette would emerge, tapping ash into the street. We pulled behind the Suburban at a stoplight. When the light turned to green, the cigarette fell into the street as we, the traffic, moved forward ensemble.

I committed myself to stay close to the Suburban. When my father harpooned an auto-flicker, I knew it right away. I wondered if Henry had figured out the signs yet.

“You want me to put this in the notes?” Henry said. When I turned to look, he had already pulled the notebook from the glove box and was writing something down, peering at the Suburban.

“We’re never going to know any more about them now they’ve gone back into their cave,” I offered, almost ready to give up the chase.

“If you live in a coffin, you got to keep it clean,” my son said.

“What are you talking about?” Leonard asked from the middle pew.

“We are doing research for a behavioral study,” Henry volunteered. “Why people defy God by throwing cigarette butts from their cars.”


“I’m a frustrated social scientist,” I said to the middle row, wondering when this had become about god.

Then, suddenly, the Suburban pulled into a small parking lot next to a collection of run-down stores that had once held loftier commercial aspirations. I swerved in behind the Suburban.

From a box in the Pennsylvania dirt, my father could still yank my steering wheel.

The three of us sat in the parking lot silently concentrating on the Suburban. After a moment, the driver’s door opened. A short, foreign-looking woman climbed down from the cab, straightened out a tube top that looked too small to be comfortable, and trudged daintily on sneakers toward one of the markets.

Was there anyone else in the sport-utility vehicle? I reached for the pile of bumper stickers on the floor between the two front seats.

“I’ll do it, Dad,” Henry said.

But I couldn’t send him out there into enemy fire.

“Keep the engine running,” I said, easing open the door. “Tell Mom I love her if I don’t make it back.” I walked toward the Suburban. I couldn’t see anything through its tinted windows. As surreptitiously as possible, I slid the magnetized disk onto the left hip of the Suburban and then made a 180-degree turn back to the minivan.

“Smooth, Dad,” Henry said. I was already pulling the gearshift into gear and maneuvering us toward the street when the Suburban driver re-appeared stage left, momentarily looking straight at me, and I at her. But she turned away immediately, schooled not to make visual contact with strangers, and I watched in the outside rearview mirror as she walked around the back of her vehicle without noticing the new ornament there.

Then we were back in traffic, headed toward our next assignment, only a small detour for science on the path to art. We went to a marina on the Potomac where a motley collection of musical-theater pirates was waiting on a cigarette boat that looked ready to fly.

When the captain turned the engine over, everyone within a nine-iron turned their heads.

Henry and Leonard climbed into a smaller, saner inboard cruiser and followed the go-fast boat out toward an open expanse of the river to film it coming closer, full of pirates.

I kinda wished I was on the fast one.

September 17, 2002

Izzy recreates an event from his youth: sneaking next door to put a bumper sticker on the neighbor’s car, a 1999 Ford Taurus.

But first, Henry outlines the plot of the musical he’s working on.

At dinner, Elizabeth and I asked Henry about the musical.

“We were working on Scene 4 today, the one where Ishmael is booted off the Rachel because the missionary discovers him with the missionary’s oldest daughter in a position that missionary daughters aren’t supposed to be in.”

I thought this was ironic, which must have been the point. “The missionary?”

“Yeah. The Rachel is taking a family of missionaries to a south Pacific island, but the oldest daughter falls in love with  Ishmael. But when the captain agrees to put Ishmael off the ship at the next port of call, the daughter sneaks away with him.”

The sinking of the Pequod might have been the best thing to happen to Ishmael, I thought to myself.

That night, after dinner was had and homework was attended to and my wifely administrations were concluded, I tried to keep myself awake until all the lights in Ted’s house darkened, but his Ramadan was taking too long. I set the alarm on my wristwatch for three in the morning and went to bed.

It was one of those sleeps with one level of consciousness keeping watch over my shoulder, waiting for the alarm to go. When it did, I knew right away why, and I don’t know whether I was ever asleep, or what sleep is if you’re not in a summer heat coma near the 16th green. I slid out of bed, pulled sweatpants and a tee shirt and padded into my son’s room, remembering a story we used to read to the kids, lying side-by-side in a child’s bed, embalmed by the warmth of infancy.

“Hey, buddy,” I whispered, and stirred Henry’s shoulder.

“What’s up, Dad?” Disorientated, but not particularly surprised.

“I got a mission for us. It’ll only take a minute.”

Henry was in pajamas. We headed down the staircase single-file and at the front door he asked what we were doing.

“I want to leave something for Ted’s car.”

It was balmy and wonderful outside in the pre-dawn. I had a magnetic bumper sticker in hand. We paused to study Ted’s house for a minute. No lights. There was the hush of a household making sawdust. I crouched down, for no goddamn reason, and crept to the back of Ted’s Taurus.

“Should I come along?” Henry asked.

I shushed him, index finger to lips, and waved him to follow me. But instead of crouching and creeping, he just walked to my side.

The Taurus was the biggest-selling car in the U.S. for several years, but by the time this model was dispatched in 1999, it was losing ground to the Toyota Camry, and sales depended mightily on fleet purchases by risk-averse, cost-conscious bureaucrats. Its rear end featured a burglar’s mask arrangement of lights and a roundness free of personality. By 2002, it had become a car’s ass that America was tired of looking at.

My magnetic bumper sticker would not stick to its plastic bumper so I made due with an uneven patch on the trunk.

“There,” I said.

Crawling still, I crept back toward our front door, the teenager in pajamas and bare feet walking along behind.

September 15, 2002

Izzy gets into an argument with a guy in a 1989 Lincoln in the parking lot near the C&O canal. Later, he goes for a little rid.

Then he drove off faster than he’d arrived. The 1989 Lincoln Mark VII had the spare-wheel bump in the trunk, which would remind some people of Secret Service agents climbing up the back of a Lincoln in Dallas to shepherd the lady in pink back to her seat. It was a design lost in the 1970s, all boxy and rectangular, with an iron-pumper’s stance. The roofline tried to lift the car visually, but there was just too much holding it down, rooted in steel, flexing its muscles.

I couldn’t remember whether anyone had previously said they’d thrown a cigarette into the street just because the window was open.

Along the C&O canal, there is a mule-drawn canal barge for tourists, a lot like the one in New Hope. I watched from the towpath as the barge captain began his spiel for the modern generation of canal-history buffs.

A mule not far from me shat. The teenager dressed in 19th-century clothes who walked along the towpath with the mules didn’t seem to notice.

The barge crew moved to pull in the gangplank that connected them to dry ground. It crossed my mind that I would like to try vaulting across a canal to a barge before I die.

Instead, I dashed to step on the gangplank before it was unmoored, and I boarded the barge.

When they pulled in the board, we were tethered to the land only by ropes pulled taught by a pair of honest, god-fearing mules. We lightened up on the cushion of fluid that held us free off the earth. Free of the cares of life, I settled into an old wooden barge-pew worn warm by generations of lore-seeking tourists like myself, and with my new shipmates set off for barbarous coasts.

September 10, 2002

I found a typo in today’s chapter!

There was a smaller crowd at James’s funeral service; he had spent most of his adult life far away and no one seemed to know anyone from that life. I thought that Mrs. Crick, his anonymous benefactress, would show up, but she did not, and I figured she was intent on taking her generosity to the grave.

My sister, Katie, gave a good little speech about how James was judged harshly by some for his work with doctors who were studying psychoactive drugs in behavioral therapy. “There are a lot of ways to come to the truth,” she said, sounding more like Speedy than I could bear. “We can’t dismiss the striving of people of good heart who are trying to help others.”

So I was there to help stow away the remains of the last of the Yardley brothers and try to make sense of a world that snuffs out bright candles too soon. The best I could come up was to tell myself to avoid the Heroism of Misguided Causes, like the ones that doomed those poor saps on the Pequod. Those kinds of pursuits might be all right for novelists, I thought, but I had a life to live. A fucking life to live, as Juliana would have reminded me.

Back in 2002, I hung around the Korean War Memorial for a while, and then headed home. In front of me, a 1998 Dodge Stratus. An uninspired rear end with a curved lid on the trunk. Like a lot of cars, it was camouflaged in gray, invisible in the September evening.

The driver in the Stratus, in slow motion, threw his cigarette into the street while we were both parked at a traffic light.

“Write that down,” I said to myself, fumbling for the notepad that Speedy and I had kept, and scribbled without looking. “’98 Dodge Stratus. Driver threw cig to street just to make me notice what’s going on.”

When I got home, our neighbor was sitting in his car, parked in the street. I waved to him as I turned up our walkway, but he didn’t respond. I detoured.

“What’s up, Ted?” I asked, chatting through his open passenger-side window. He was a career Army man who still wore khaki to work. He sat behind the steering wheel looking like the last still-swimming fish in a dingy aquarium.

“I put in for retirement this month,” he said, talking as much to himself as to me, staring through the windshield at an expanse of nothingness. “But the department has stopped processing retirement requests.”

The Army was the only job Ted ever had. He was almost ready to leave a couple of years ago, and then his own son went in and then the Pentagon, where he worked, was attacked by zealots.

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“It means they don’t want to let anybody go if they think there’s another war coming.”

Ted’s boy was in an armored division.

I think my Mom had one of these before the World told her to stop driving. Would have been Dad’s last car purchase. Anybody else notice how boring cars were in the late 90s?

September 7, 2002

Taking his kid to an on-site filming session, Izzy gets into it with a BMW yuppie. BTW, I get spam on this blog from:

  • people who want me to “monetize” my website and
  •  people who want to sell me some kinda app that generates blog content.

To the latter, today’s extensive post is dedicated. To the former, just send me whatever money you think I should be making at this.

Then, a couple of generations later, I was driving toward Old Town, a place in Alexandria that was heavy on brick and cobblestone, for the making of another video for the musical. Someone—I suspected Henry, but he denied responsibility—had outfitted me in clothing intended to resemble 19th century seafaring attire. Because there would be no place to change where we were shooting, I wore my costume en route.

With us were four girls from the cast, including Meredith, who was playing the role of a missionary’s daughter who is outbound on the Rachel when they pick up Ishmael. I wasn’t sure, but I thought there might be more than a thespian thing between them. Along with her three sisters, the missionary girls would sing onstage about the better life they left behind in America while a video of that better life played on the screen in the theater.

Or so it was explained to me.

My role was to amble around in the background, looking like I was about 150 years old. In the musical, the character played by Meredith was going to fall madly in love with Ishmael after he’s rescued from the sea.

The girls were chattering a mile a minute, a like-filled blur of something akin to the conversation of birds cooing on an overhead phone line. To pass the time, they rehearsed their onstage song, a parody of a 1960s girl-group ballad about boyfriends that made me think of Juliana.


A blue-gray 2002 BWM 320i convertible was ahead of us in the boulevard. The top was down. The passenger, a young woman with carefully blonde hair and long, slender arms of tan, was smoking. The driver, sunglasses, pastel golf shirt, big watch on his wrist, was not.

The traffic was a wide, moving logjam, creeping through a gauntlet of side streets, parallel parkers and un-parkers, traffic lights and cars dodging around a Metrobus. The BMW was finless and mostly chrome-free. There was a small ornamental BMW badge in the middle of the back. It was a tidy, fancy box that symbolized the driver’s entry into the pampered classes. The 2002 model year was a huge seller, in the U.S. and globally.

A lot of people were knighted that year.

Then the princess casually dropped her cigarette into the road. Not a flick or pitch. Just an unconscious letting go that said, I’m done with this, let someone else pick it up. Or not.

I almost lost them at the next stoplight, which was a lot closer to red than yellow by the time I pushed through, an angry horn of protest in my wake from a car trying to exert its right-of-way from an intersecting street. Henry looked quickly over at me, usually the most boringly non-contentious driver on the road.

“What’s up, Dad?” he asked.

“She’s a flicker, son.” The most important thing was to stay close. Joan Jett came to mind, and I realized that I don’t give a damn about my reputation either.

The four girls in the back quieted down and tuned into the front seat of the minivan. A parent going off the rails. This could be amusing.

Next thing I knew, we were side by side, me in the left lane, the BMW in the right. I held my position even though the car in front of us was pulling away. BMW had to slow down for a right turn happening just in front of him.

“Hey, Daddy-O,” I called. The BMW driver was at least 20 years younger than me. When he glanced my way, I mimed the roll-down-your window signal, even though his windows (and his roof) were already down. He looked away, pretending he hadn’t seen my gesture.

“Your girl dropped a cigarette back there.”

A double take. He was trying to pay attention to the car in front of him. A car behind me barked: I held my ground.

“She threw her cigarette in the road,” I repeated.

I could feel the intense focus of high schoolers aft and starboard, unable to look away from a social shipwreck. It is written somewhere that minivans, especially when they are captained by middle-aged men dressed as ancient mariners, are not supposed to harass BMWs.

The BMW found clear space and zipped ahead. But my harpoon was in him. He had the jump on me, but I held on a few yards behind his left bumper, cutting off a lane change. We pulled alongside again; I was looking aft, careful of the traffic. I could feel Henry staring straight ahead, wishing perhaps that this wasn’t happening. Then the BMW suddenly turned right onto a side street, too quickly for me to follow. I caught a wave of intuition and zipped ahead into the right-lane space that he would have occupied, and sped toward the next intersection, hurriedly turned right and then made the next right, thinking I might catch him coming in the opposite direction.

It was a tree-lined residential street a block off the boulevard and the BMW was at my mercy, rolling straight toward us. I edged toward the middle of the street, which was narrow anyway because cars were parked on both sides. He probably could have squeezed through, but an entry-level luxury car paint job is a hard thing to sacrifice to a lunatic baby boomer dressed for serving fish and chips. In the battle of nuttiness, I had gained the upper hand.

Our slow-motion jousting match brought us closer together. As we came driver-to-driver, I held up my left hand peacefully. I stopped directly alongside him, and though he obviously didn’t want to, he stopped as well.

“Hey, man. I just want to know why the first mate dropped her cigarette in the road.”

The pretty young woman was looking furiously straight ahead, and she turned once to glare at me in utter disgust, as though there ought to have been somebody around in a position of authority to deal with me.

The BMW driver was stuck. “Well, uhh, you know. People just do things.”

“This is research. For science.” The science card can be powerful. I nodded sideways toward Henry. “We don’t care what your names are, and we’re not taking license numbers. We’ve heard all kinds of explanations. Is that your answer then, ‘people just do things’?”

The young woman was fuming. “Yeah,” she said, louder and getting her fur up. “People just do things. And what’s up with that stupid hat?”

Unconsciously, I looked up as though I could see the black tri-corner on my head. “We’re theater people,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “Have a good day.”

And then, we captains each steered our vessels through the narrow channel between cars docked to the curb.

“What was that?” asked Meredith from the middle row of the mini-van.

“It’s a research project I started with my dad a long time ago,” I said and clasped eyes with her the way people do in rearview mirrors. She had a distant look as though she was trying to imagine how someone as old as me could have a father and an existence in the blurry, sepia-toned long-ago. Maybe my old-timey seafarer hat helped her orient herself between my father’s time and the present.

I didn’t think any of them would have believed me if I said he gave his life for this project.

That afternoon we filmed at a couple of locations in historic-looking spots in Alexandria. After we dropped off the girls, Henry informed me that the logs of whaling ventures recorded isolated cases in which women, disguised as men, joined the forecastle crew of whalers. “It wasn’t common, for sure,” he said. “Whaling masters sometimes took their wives with them, or took wives from the islands.”

Historical context was important to him.

“Life was very hard before the mast of a whaler,” he said. “It would have been a desperate choice for a woman to make.”

September 3, 2002

In a pouring rain, Izzy watches a man throw his cigarette from a 1995 Jeep Wrangler.

Most days, Henry rode his bike to school. But it was raining a monsoon on the day after Labor Day, so I was on my way to give my youngest child a dry ride home in the minivan, thinking about how much empty space I was carting along by myself, spending down precious road bandwidth from the dwindling communal supply.

At a traffic light, I pulled alongside a young man driving a 1995 Jeep Wrangler with the top off, the rain pouring all over. He was smoking, which was some feat, given the downpour. He cupped the cigarette in his right hand, raising it to his mouth periodically and exhaling a cloud of smoke into the driving rain. As the light changed green, he threw the cigarette into the street.

This hardly seemed like littering. You can get so wet that it no longer matters what you do. Yielding to rain is a release from the narrow life, joining the will of insistent nature. Through most of our millennia here, people have gone about their business in the rain. But we have a lot more people now and very few caves.

As the Jeep drove off into the storm, I fetched the research log and jotted “ashtray flooded” as the likely cause for the flick. I reckoned I would be ordering bumper stickers soon.

September 2, 2002

That’s not a typo. The AutoFlick story has shifted to 2002. Izzy is now himself a father, driving his son Henry to a school-related activity on Labor Day weekend. An interlude with a 1996 Honda Civic convinces him to restart the butt-flicking study that has been dormant for 34 years.

It sometimes seemed far-fetched that Henry and I were related at all, and yet I was there at his conception and his birth. He was the one of my three children who was most Yardley and yet the least like me.

At Henry’s age, I was pushing a lawnmower all day, ruminating in the droning of a two-stroke engine, watching long grass become short grass. Henry spent the summer before his last year in high school working with dozens of classmates planning, writing, and preparing to stage a musical.

He was full of talents and wonderfully skilled at working with others. When I was turning 17, I was a good walker who could barely play a radio. In 34 years, I had deftly managed my career to a point where I was the number two in a two-man consulting firm that did traffic studies for small governments.

Our minivan had served my wife for 10 years of family duty and in semi-retirement had become our cargo vehicle. Its air conditioning stopped cooling sometime in Clinton’s first term, the right-hand outside mirror was held in place with duct tape, and there was a perilous fault line in the windshield. The radio still worked; mysteriously; however, it only seemed to play songs that I didn’t know.

Henry did not drive. He was old enough and capable enough, but he was taking a stand on what he called the petro-global jihad against the planet. When he was 14, he made an iron-on tee shirt that said: Fuck the PGJ. They say it skips a generation, like baldness.

We lived in Maryland, where I ended up when I couldn’t stay in Pennsylvania any longer. That Labor Day, Henry and I had driven almost free of the Washington urban core and were navigating the interconnected lagoons of subdivisions when a red 1996 Honda Civic zipped past us, passing in a no-passing lane on a two-lane country road crowned in the middle. As the Civic squeezed in front of us, the driver flicked a cigarette into the road. And triggered a genetic response in me.

Without any warning, I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I revved the menopausal minivan, pushing it to keep pace with the Honda, and we were soon going fast (for me), and Henry was looking at my profile probably wondering why the telephone poles on the other side of the road were galloping past us with such uncharacteristic speed.

I think I might have been gripping the steering wheel tightly. In my heart, I knew we would not keep up with the Honda unless there was divine intervention.

We rounded a bend in the road. The traffic stopped suddenly. Road construction. Only one lane of traffic getting through. It was our turn to give right-of-way to the traffic coming at us from the other direction.

There was a fellow in an orange vest holding a stop/slow sign in synch with his partner at the other end of the construction zone. This was more than familiar to me; it was part of me. After I went to college, I spent some time working for the highway department, chaperoning traffic through roadwork zones.

“Dick Cheney says the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action,” I said aloud to myself.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Henry, and shoved the minivan into park—it sighed when I did that—and I unbuckled my seat belt and got out of the car. Carried ahead by tailwinds from the past, I marched determinedly to the driver’s side of the Honda. A monument to plastic, bereft of chrome, a large, molded bumper designed to self-destruct at 10 miles-per-hour of impact, tinted windows, rear light epaulettes integrated silently into the smooth, boxy contour of the body. It was the hatchback, a small prairie of black glass under a little brim. Car design had leapt ahead generations since the last recorded autoflicker to discover the “box.”

The Honda was throbbing a hip-hoppy salsa beat. Two thick-necked men sat in the front buckets. They were nearly as surprised as I was to find myself there, walking around in an auto zone.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I noticed you threw a cigarette from your window as you were passing me back there.” I was trying to echo my father’s tightrope act over the chasm between neighborly civility and intrusion.

The driver looked up at me without any sign of comprehension.

“I’m an anthropologist,” I said, wondering what it would be like if that were true. “Working on a research project. Can you tell me why you threw the cigarette out the window?”

“Not speak English,” he said.

As far as I could remember at that moment, this was a unique response.

“Okay, well,” I said, and turned back to our car, muttering, “See, this can be a rational thing that nobody needs to get upset about it.”

Henry stared at me as I slid behind the steering wheel. “Write this down someplace before I forget,” I told him. “When asked why he threw his cigarette out the window, the subject responded that he did not speak English, though I think he spoke at least a little bit. I believe that is a 1999 Honda Accord.”

August 31, 1968

A pivotal day in the AutoFlick chronology marking the end of part one. Izzy and Speedy are canoeing the Delaware River below New Hope when a 1968 Correct Craft Ski Nautique approaches, towing a water skier.

Facing downstream again, I saw on the river’s horizon a speedboat towing a water skier. It’s a big enough river and there was plenty of room for others, but from the stern of a canoe they seemed like a distant, noisy intrusion. The speedboat was plowing straight up the river; the water skier was making wide, lazy turns, slaloming out from behind the boat from one side to the other.

We suddenly felt slow.

They were heading toward us. I held my line, determined to exert my right of way as the downstream vessel and the one without power. I wondered if the speedboat driver had read the same chapter.

My father suddenly turned around and sat up in the bow seat, taking up his paddle. The speedboat began to make a sweeping right turn in front of us, still at a safe distance, its engine crowding into our quiet. Suddenly the skier slalomed toward her right, her orbit coming as close as it would to our path. I recognized the swimsuit first.

I glanced from Juliana to the captain of the speedboat. A man of impeccable timing, Vic Martine flicked a cigarette from the boat into the river and finished his turn back downstream.

It was a 1968 Correct Craft Ski Nautique, a top-of-line water-ski boat in those days. There were two other people in the boat whom I did not recognize.

“Hey!” my father yelled, pointlessly, at the retreating wake of the speedboat pulling Juliana, skipping across the waves, a bauble of gushing, youthful beauty in a bathing suit, her hair flying behind her.

He turned around to me. “Oh, we gotta catch up with them.”

“It’s Juliana, and that guy who wants to build a subdivision on the canal,” I said, unsure whether he heard me.

“All the more reason,” said Speedy.

I wasn’t so sure, considering that the pursuit of whales is always under great and extraordinary difficulties, that every individual moment comprises a peril. But I shrugged, knowing there was no way we could catch them. My father turned determinedly to the task and began digging relentlessly into the water.

I had to switch sides to balance his enthusiasm. It took a few dozen strokes before we found a sustainable rhythm and the canoe began to track. This was not the kind of lazy paddling my father and I usually did; it was committed, like a distance runner escaping the totalitarian north, keeping stride and mowing down the fathoms.

A sunny summer afternoon kind of lunacy and I liked it. Our poetic craft bearing purple stars and popcorn didn’t feel slow anymore, though Martine and Juliana were soon enough specks on the downstream horizon of the river. Chasing ghosts, we were a live, two-cylinder human engine churning down the river. My father was the muscle, planting and pulling long, even strokes that made it easy to match his beat, skipping one stroke every once in a while to keep us trimmed just off line into the gentle wind sweeping on to us.

We probably paddled 10 minutes without hesitation and I think we might have gone right past my mother and sister if they hadn’t started calling us from the riverbank. With some resignation, my father stopped paddling and rested the shaft across the gunwales in front him, as I redirected us toward the shoreline.

August 25, 1968

Izzy gets a ride to New Hope in a 1948 Ford. 

But this day wasn’t going to get any better. It took some time before I caught a ride in a battered 1948 Ford. It was the last of the post-war Fords, a remnant of classic automobile architecture made at a time when the industry was already shifting to more modern soft-shell designs. In a year, Ford would blast right through the frontier to rocket designs with the 1949 model. The driver wore farmer overalls. There were piles of stuff in the back seat, and the seats were frayed. He had pop-riveted sheet metal onto the floorboard beneath the front passenger seat, and I could almost feel the road rushing like rapids under my feet. It had triangular jib windows in the front doors that could be pointed against the current to blow more air into the cabin, and there were outdoor vents from the hood into the leg space. It was summer, and getting on in the afternoon, but the overall sensation was not unpleasant.

We rode in silence for a while and then he offered me a cigarette, which I declined, and he finally asked where I was going. I told him the river, and he said he wasn’t going that far, but then he ended up driving me into New Hope anyway. As I got out of the car, he seemed to be finishing with his cigarette. I asked him if I could throw it away for him.

He looked at me with a queer expression, old farmer blue eyes burning bright from a deeply sun-burnt face, his hands gnarled by a lifetime behind a tractor wheel. He took another draw on the cigarette and handed it to me, who was still standing in the open door. “Help yourself,” he said.

Later, he tries to find Quentin, the peddler of coconut-head icons.

Less lost, I navigated to Quentin’s rooming house, having little faith that he would be there since the streets were flush with potential icon buyers. And his landlord looked at me as though I had washed up on shore in a hurricane.

“Landlord,” I whispered, “is the harpooner here?”

“Oh, no,” said he, amusedly, “he’s away.”

So I went exploring the streets of New Hope, and after wandering a while I spied above the masses Quentin’s crosstree some ways down the street where I tread. He saw me coming.

“Like an ignorant pilgrim crossing the snowy Alps in winter,” he said, lowering his rack of coconut skulls below its optimal merchandising level in the great open-air marketplace of America.

I clapped his shoulders with both hands.

“What brings thee here?” he asked.

“I was hoping to talk to the canal people again, but they weren’t at the café.”

“No, they aren’t there anymore,” he said, twirling his crosstree of coconut skulls for the tourists.

“Can I find them? I need to get their names.”

“Well, I don’t know. Sometimes they are there; sometimes they aren’t.”

“And if they aren’t there?”

Quentin shrugged, his coconut skulls dancing aloft. “Then they are someplaces else.”

August 23, 1968

Izzy and Speedy come across a repeat butt-flicker in a 1955 Desoto Fireflite.

Later, Izzy tries to make things right with Juliana.

After supper that night, I called Juliana’s house, but her mother said she was still working at the diner. She asked me how I was in a way that was more than just something people say to one another. I told her I was doing all right, and there was a pause before she said Juliana would be home around 10. It sounded like a suggestion.

I decided to walk over to her house, which was a couple of miles away. I spent a lot of time walking that summer, behind lawnmowers, lugging golf bags around those 18 flags. As I was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men aloft, sometimes insight would emerge from the tossing or rolling of one foot in front of another.

Her house was mostly dark when I got there and the Fairlane was dozing in the driveway. I didn’t know where her bedroom was or much about the layout of the house. It was a split level built over a basement that opened out onto the back yard, which was lower than the front. Lights burned in separate corners of the house.

I scouted around the back and I was not surprised to find the black-and-white glow of the portable television casting creepy shadows on her father’s face. He was staring into the screen, out there in the August night, with a beer can in hand.

Her dad was only a little startled when I stepped out of the night into his cathode-ray campfire. Maybe this happened to him all the time. “We are getting killed by the fucking Braves,” he said, as though we all took communion in the misery of the Phillies, with just one National League trophy to show for all those years of trying.

I came around and looked over his shoulder. Little men in gray were scratching themselves and spitting while they waited for something to happen in the timeless ballet of inspirational geometry that is modern American baseball.

“Is Juliana home?” I asked.

“I dunno. Did you see the Ford?” Then something bad happened again in the television and he groaned. But he was unable to tear himself away from the suffering.

“Yup, it’s in the drive.”

“Then she’s prob’ly in her room.” He couldn’t tear himself away from the unfolding Phillies disaster.

I circled around to the front of the house. A picture window was lit up, but I guessed that it was her mother sitting in the living room. The other light was in a back corner, and on my way there I came across a ladder stored along the side of the house. All of a sudden, it seemed like a good idea to hoist the ladder and peep into the lighted corner window.

Gentle reader, please note that this is usually not a good idea.

However, insurrection was a thing in those days. I raised one track of the ladder to the appropriate length and managed to lean it with little fanfare against the house, right below the beckoning window.

At that point in my life, I was a lot more familiar with work on the surface of the earth. So climbing the wobbly ladder was enlightening. Each rung brought me closer to the Beach Boys, spinning around on Juliana’s record player. Though the middle rungs were wobbly, the climb became more stable at the top and even seemed the right place to be. She was lying face-down on her bed, her foot keeping beat.

Happy times together we could be spending, I hummed along.

I waited until the song was over, and then tapped on the window frame just loud enough to be heard.

Again, it was hard to surprise these people. She looked up, but couldn’t tell what was going on out in the dark on the other side of the screen. Like it was an everyday thing, she got up and came over to raise the screen.

“Look at you,” she said, leaning forward to be kissed. There are some tactics that work nearly every time. Our lips lingered there, remembering.

“I’m sorry I left you at Martine’s. I should have stayed.”

“I got home all right,” she said. I could see in her face that it had upset her. “But I couldn’t figure out why you left.”

“I don’t know myself.” I wondered at that point what I was doing on a ladder at her window.

“Then you told me you love me,” she said, her eyes brimming, “and you left before I could even turn around.”

“I’m sorry about that, too.”

“Sorry that you love me, or sorry that you left so quickly?”

“I am okay with how I feel about you, but I maybe should have waited till I knew what I was talking about.”

She thought that over. “Until you knew what the fuck you were talking about?”

“Yes, that.” We smiled at each other.

“Just because we’re in love doesn’t mean we have to always agree, you know,” Juliana said.

That plural pronoun was one of the most wonderful things anyone had ever said to me.

“Do you know what our highlight has been, so far, for me?” she asked.

I was sifting through possibilities, glad that there was a “so far” in there.

“Skinny-dipping in the creek.”

“Before or after the criminals tried to steal our clothes?”

“I mean all of it. As we were walking back to the car I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where’s he going to take me next, the black hole of Calcutta?’”

“Sheesh, I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Having climbed as high as I could on that ladder, I lingered there with her, the two of us like a pair of idiots, making out through her open bedroom window. And yet when I climbed back down the ladder, I wondered if we had gotten as high as we would get. from the suffering.