Driving away I began to imagine that the Mercury’s backseat side windows had once been affixed with gaudy decals too. And would I discover brochures under the seats or in the trunk? Stopping for gas, I noticed that not one tire tread matched and two were vulcanized no-names.
But none of this mattered any longer.
I only needed the vehicle to run until I could paste one more decal on it. Not literally, but in my mind, one that I’d slap over the yellow ’n’ blue sky Golden Gate.
Mine would be a modest rendering of a skeletal truss bridge, spanning the Allegheny River directly before it and the Monongahela River joined to form the mighty Ohio. Possessed to discover out how many times I could cross it with no headlights after dark, how close each pass I could steer the car to the bridge’s edge without skinning its railing…at what point in one of the passages, I pondered, would the vehicle assume a mind of its own and vault the parapets?
Parked alongside the river that Saturday at dusk, I recall waiting for darkness to envelop downtown Pittsburgh while listening to Stan Kenton perform Artistry in Rhythm
from some ballroom in Ohio, Charley Parker and Dizzy Gillespie out of Los Angeles, and Johnny Ray warbling The Little White Cloud That Cried
. That started me laughing.
Then Chet Baker crooned like his voice had escaped from a slit throat.
A series of acidic-green bulbs encased in jelly jars outlined the bridge’s railing. River barges, appearing to be illuminated by the very same lights, moved downstream-upstream.
The dashboard of the Mercury glowed a fiery-orange.
When the sky turned pitch black, I commenced the runs, maneuvering the bedizened-by-wonders-of-the-48 alongside the glowing jars…while crooning Misty
I saw my father cry once. That’s when Franklin D. Roosevelt died.
It was the only tangible evidence to rely on when I phoned him later that grim night, rousing him out of bed.
“It’s me,” I said. “Doing something I shouldn’t. I can’t stop.”
Grown up—probably 26—yet thinking that the next pass was probably going to be my last. Could he detect that over the phone lines? I mean to say, could he smell how frightened I was?
“Where are you, son?”
“Racing back and forth across the Allegheny in a forest-green Mercury with mohair seats, the driver’s side now very wet as am I.”
“Hold on, hold on,” he kept murmuring.
“Time’s up,” I said. “Time’s up, Dad.”
“Wait a minute. Now just a minute. What are you doing on the bridge?”
“Seeing how close I can get to the edge? Have you seen the green lights in jelly jars? Ever tried to skin them without their exploding into a thousand pieces of light?”
Deposit another five cents please.
Oh, Christ, wasn’t that a joke?