An Ohio winter is a dismal and cold thing at times. The fields of the farms I drive past are stark and distant, barren, maybe. I guess that would be a good word. I think inaccessible would be a better one.It’s just too cold to walk across those fields and a lot of times too muddy to go through them particularly when there is no real reward, no reason to do it.Pointless wandering ceases I guess is what it really is and even though I would not be likely to stop my car by the side of the road to go walking across a farmer’s field, to get out and cross the open space to a fence then climb that to find out what is beyond what I can see at 60 miles per hour, the idea that I can’t easily do it confines me.I stare at the rolling landscape presented as one thing; the tiny moving pieces I know through my windows are a sepia and grey rejection of the moment; a wish to be beyond this.3rd shift at the factory was not my favorite way to spend time. The idea of staying up through the night and seeing the sun rise, watching the world change from one thing to another had always before been intriguing.Before I had this job I at times would stay awake just to see the night world disappear as an arc of light rose over the horizon and quickly filled the blackened sky changing everything in the brief transition as if the night packed up its tools, clocked out and left.It stayed away until the short evening signaled its return. Its pieces assumed the familiar positions in the world revealed when the light went away.The magic and mystic edge of those thoughts of secret transitions had long ago been lost to the heat and smell of burning rubber in the tire factory, to pissed off old drunks getting sober by degrees and stoned young men nodding off at 3:00 am then gradually coming back into the day world sane and sober to drive home to sleep. Day now didn’t bring a renewal, a fresh start as a simple metaphor would suggest, demand of us really. It just brought a contrast to our lives lived in the dark defining us as lesser beings from a different world.It was the last day of work that week and I had a couple of days off. I was going to drive directly to my brother Andy’s apartment near the Ohio State University campus in Columbus about 30 miles away from my job. We were planning to go Christmas shopping.I had gotten a big bag of some pretty good pot. I rolled a joint as I drove taking the paper out laying it on the passenger seat, getting my weed and massaging the buds and leaves between my thumb and fingers into a finer blend onto the paper then rolling the mix toward the glue end, bringing the edge of the paper to my tongue and licking it just so then rolling the joint shut.I could do this all in a nearly seamless motion with my right hand while driving. I got so good at it I could do it at night damn near by feel with just a few points of reference needed in the flashes of light I could get from passing cars.I parked on the cold street in front of my brother’s place, jumped the snow piled at the edge of the sidewalk opened the door to the stairs that led to his apartment above the arts and craft gallery and went up to his place and knocked on the door. He’d lived there a couple of years now, his first apartment after leaving home when he was 18. “Hey” I said as he opened the door. “How’s it goin?” “Fine Gerald. You high?” He grinned at me.I pulled out the bag of weed and said, “This is some pretty good shit.” I smoked one coming here. Wanna smoke some?”He had a third shift job as well at a local TV station as a janitor, which is what he had to do to support his avocation, his career in the arts working as a mime.“I got some wine.” He said as he pulled out a bottle of purple colored “something cheap”. His standards were low but exacting. The wine had to be cheap, not commonly drunk and available at the carryout, which was a short walk from his place. I was not much for wine, which might have been a reasonable judgment considering the vintage of the stuff that was available then, or at least commonly drunk, by kids in the mid-1970s. “Shit man this is our evening. We’re just off work.” He rationalized as he poured me a healthy dose of the grape Kool-Aid colored drink into a Josie and Pussycats In Outer Space milk glass at about 9 in the morning. The cartoon characters in action were intended to be played out against a background of white milk I assume as their bright colors were now dulled by the wine. “I love this glass.” I had mentioned that to him before. The irony of it was the reason he had it. “Yeah it’s just the right size for juice.” He said.He lately had been getting healthy as a part of his training for his work in mime. He took an assortment of supplements and had become a vegetarian, along with quitting this 2-year amphetamine addiction. Drinking a milk glass filled with orange juice each morning was part of his overall plan toward better health.I stuffed his water pipe with weed and we fired it up, smoked, drank and made plans for our Tuesday off. “Where do you want to go?” I asked. “We can go to any mall”. We generally took the bus downtown. I had a new car, the first really reliable one either of us had. I had a lot of money from my job and no place to be. “You know what?” he said. “Screw shopping we should try to find the old man.” We both laughed at that suggestion. We had not seen our father since I was almost 13 and he was 15 five years ago.The old man had come back then in a stumbling drunken blaze of glory, arching across the sky of our lives once more not as the meteor of terror he had been when we were kids but more like a bottle rocket that had fizzled out, dropped too fast and hit the ground with a slight puff of an explosion, a dud. He was in the area for a couple of weeks then disappeared again. We had a rough idea where his family was. We knew if we took route 84 north out of our home town we’d eventually come to a little village where his extended family lived. It was not a big place so if he lived there finding him once we arrived would not be hard. We’d just stop at some store and ask where my Grandmother’s house was.I thought that might be fun to show up stoned. I had not seen her since Thanksgiving Day when I was five years old. I had seen her the previous Thanksgiving when I was four, which added up to all the times I had seen her in my life. “Cool!” I said, “That’d be a blast!” We both knew no matter how badly it turned out, and it was likely to turn out badly, it would be fun.Andy put on his “fall down jacket” so named as it was cut funny with the pockets too high so when he wore it and put his hands in the pockets and walked on the icy streets his arms were up at an angle with the elbows out like chicken wings, an unnatural pose that did not allow for quick removal of his hands to make those little adjustments in balance necessary to keep him from falling when he slipped slightly on ice.“I noticed I was fallin’ down a lot. I slipped going to the carryout, coming out of Pizza Hut and a few other times then I figured it out. It’s these pockets man.”He kept the jacket because with the black fake fur collar, the plastic rings made to look like brass on the faux adjusting straps on the side and the vinyl in a leather finish brought it in the range of something acceptable to wear.I said, “You look like one of the gorilla soldiers from the Planet of the Apes movie in that thing.” He wrapped a long colorful knit scarf around his neck with the tail ends hanging down to his waist, pulled on a knit hat and made his transition into travel clothes.I had not removed my long green army surplus jacket or my beret as one of his new health theories was that people made themselves sick with too much heat; the change from going from hot to cold threw the system out of balance, so he kept his place pretty cold.“We can’t drive around drinking wine.” I told him.“Wait! I got an idea.” He said as he opened the cupboard and took out a cleaned plastic cottage cheese container and an empty Nescafe coffee jar. “We can use these.” He grinned as if he’d just cleverly figured out a riddle.I was all for it as it was such a funny idea. He transferred our drinks into the new containers and topped them with off with the rest of the wine. I got the cottage cheese one, which was pretty wide and hard to hold in one hand so I had to use both and drink from it like a goblet.He held up the coffee jar the wine filling it to the raised lines where the lid screwed on. “Yeah not suspicious at all.” I laughed. “Some cop will look at us and say ‘nothing wrong there. I thought they might have beer but them boys is just drinkin’ cottage cheese and having some grape juice from a coffee jar’.”I gave him the keys so he could drive as he had developed a better skill set for doing so while high, having two more years of driving experience and a lot more times driving really loaded as practice. We drove out of Columbus back through our hometown to Route 84. When we got on the open road and passed the factory where our mother worked I was immediately transported back into our past as kids.84 was the route that also led to a place near a town called Stratford where we had lived for the year I was in 5th grade when my Mom had married some guy she met at work and before that thing blew apart we’d take that road back and forth to where her family lived near our home town.We drove past where we first stayed after the breakup, the worst place we’d ever lived, and there was a lot of competition for that spot at the top of awful places.We landed there after a few weeks of homelessness when Mom abandoned her grand experiment in being normal. She ran off one afternoon with me Andy and my 3 other brothers and what we could pack into a crippled red Studebaker in 15 minutes.“Jesus Christ I hated that place.” I said as we turned off the route to take a loop through the tiny town where that house stood among others in a similar state of neglect and decay. “Remember shitting in the freaking cold out house when it was 20 below?”“Yeah” Andy said, “and washing your hair in barely warm water in a bucket in that little room off the kitchen. You first had to pump it outside, heat some of it up on the stove, mix it with cold water and wash and rinse your hair as fast as you could before you froze to death. I didn’t have a comb so I used a fork to comb my hair. I thought I was a pretty cool to figure that out until I heard some girl at school say about another guy, ‘He looks like he combs his hair with a fork,’ I didn’t know it was a common put down.”“Dumbass.” I said to him.“Hey man I was makin’ it up as I went along.” He said“Yeah not much of a pattern to follow, was there?” I said, “At least not one that I wanted to follow.” At that point we had begun to engineer our way out of the kind of life our mother had given us.“Remember ‘fumes’?” he said and we both laughed until we nearly had to pull the car over to get ourselves together so we could drive. “Mom always thinking fumes were leaking out of everything and would poison us?” I said, “Car fumes from the exhaust, fumes from the hot water heater from our house in Amish country, fumes from the bathroom heater where she lives now. And don’t forget the worst fumes, the ones from that glue we used to stick together those plastic models.”We drove by the turn off that would take us to Stratford. I looked down the road that quickly disappeared over a hill and thought of those times. “Damn I hated that place. I was never so glad to get the hell out of anywhere even if we did end up in that shithole of a house.”After a few more miles Andy pulled over to go into a little store to get something to eat and ask directions as we were now north of Stratford in unchartered territory. I sat there and in a pot fueled sort of way imagined he was gone all this time because someone inside was messing with him due to the fact he was young and had long hair so I decided I’d go in and straighten things out.“I was takin’ to that guy and you came bustin’ in saying ‘What the hell is goin’ on here!’ and there was immediate tension.” Andy told me as we drove away. “You dumbass.” He laughed. “I was gettin’ along fine with him. Good thing I got out of there before he called the cops.”“What the hell did you buy in there anyway?” He asked as he was looking down at my 2-quart popcorn tub that didn’t have popcorn in it.“Broken ice cream cones; the brown waffle kind. I got this whole tub of them for a quarter. They taste pretty good”. I said as pushed a handful into my mouth. I moved the tub toward him and said, “Want some?”He was laughing and said, “Why in the hell would I want to eat broken ice cream cones. You dumbass. You know what kind of chemicals are in that shit?”The landscape now was flatter and more open than what we’d just left. It stretched on forever disappearing under the grey sky miles and miles away. I said “We ain’t that far from Canada. We should just go there.”“Great idea!” He said. So we set off for Canada. We figured we’d just drive north until we got to Michigan and turn right at some point.We were into the “Going to Canada” mode for a while deciding to navigate by dead reckoning. We knew 84 ran north but veered off, we thought, at some point and headed a bit east. We weren’t quite sure and we didn’t have a map but knew if we kept driving and eventually came to Lake Erie we could just ride the edge of it to the left and eventually get there.We turned off route 84 and veered left a few times keeping the sun at first on the right but as we drove, the sun rose and the roads twisted and turned making it harder to get our bearings and determine what direction was north. “Mayer lives up here some place” Andy was defining the entire northwest quadrant of Ohio as “up here”.“How long as it been since you’ve seen him?” I asked. Doc Mayer had introduced Andy to speed. He was 12 years older than Andy. He had lived across the street from the last place my family lived before Andy moved out.After Mayer was divorced he stayed with Andy on and off for a couple of years, mostly when they’d managed to get a fair amount of speed and were doing a week long crank marathon without sleep.“Last summer he stopped by for a minute. But he didn’t stay. I know he was lookin’ for crank. As soon as he figured out I didn’t have any he left.”“How’d he look?” I asked.“Same. Still kinda fat” he said a bit distracted as if he were thinking about those times in detail. “We should screw Canada and find Mayer. He lives in Lima.”With that our quest changed again from Canada to Lima, which at least from where we had started was a lot closer. We weren’t quite sure where we were at that point.Andy pulled over to a mechanics garage out in the middle of nowhere off this narrow two lane road we’d managed to get lost on and asked for directions. I was watching as they stood there and talked having been warned by Andy to “Stay the hell in the car. I can handle this. Don’t get out and scream shit and get our asses kicked.”The mechanic turned toward the west stuck his hand in the air, looked to the horizon and moved his arm in a long sweeping motion.Andy got back in and told me the story, said the guy told him “ ‘Lima? It’s way way far away in that direction’.” So we now headed due west.After a few more stops and recues we were drove into Lima at about 3 pm. Andy had been there before and remembered where Mayer lived at his grandmother’s house. “One time Mayer was so desperate to get high he took her dog’s medicine.” Andy said as we pulled up in front of her place.I said, “Even if he didn’t get high I bet he had a nice shiny coat and no fleas.”Andy went in and asked about him.“He’s uptown looking for a job.” He said to me as he got back in the car. At this point I was falling asleep, having been awake for about 24 hours. Andy parked the car across from the unemployment office and I slept learning against the window.I woke up after a bit and did not know how much time had passed. I was still high as hell and somehow managed to conclude that Andy had been arrested and had left the keys with me and I had dropped them into the giant tub of broken ice cream cones.I reached into it and searched for them. I couldn’t find them so I dumped the tub over and was running my hands through the broken mess on the floor of my car. I then figured out they were probably on the sidewalk outside so I got out leaned over and began looking for them there as I did a staggering walk in that contorted position.The town was busy with people doing Christmas shopping and going about their day as normal on a Tuesday. I recognized that but I was so focused on finding the keys and getting out of there I wasn’t paying much attention. I could hear off in the distance “Hey Gerald! Hey!”I looked up and Andy and Mayer were across the street laughing and waving at me. Andy ran to me and said, “What the hell are you doing? I was sittin’ there with Mayer waiting for him to be talked to and he looked out the window and said ‘Oh Jesus Christ go get Gerald.’ ““I look out and here you’re bent over stumbling around lookin’ like you were doing an elephant dance.”“I was hunting for the keys man.” I said“They’re right here.” He showed them to me in his hand.Mayer came over and we all started laughing. “I think we should get out of here now before we get arrested.” He said.As we drove down the street Mayer said, “Man I was at Grandma’s and she had been on me for a couple of weeks about goin’ and gettin’ a job. I finally get it together to get up and go down the unemployment office and I’m gettin’ serious fillin’ out a form and you guys show up.”He wasn’t angry but relieved I think as if kismet had brought us there and saved him from employment. Kismet also brought him pot, which was hard to come by around Lima at that time for someone with no money.He guided us around town as we rolled joints, smoked and laughed. At one point we were in among some apartment buildings and Andy, misjudging where the road went due to the snow, got us stuck in the middle of a yard. He got out to survey the situation, put his hands in his jacket pockets took a couple of steps then slipped and fell in the snow. "Damn jacket!" he yelled while rolling on his side still trying to remove his hands. He got back in the car to drive and Mayer and I, still laughing so hard at his fall that we had to lean on the hood to support ourselves, pushed the car out. It was getting dark by then so we took Mayer back to his Grandma’s house and we headed home.I fell asleep but became aware of the aroma of popcorn at some point. I looked over and Andy was eating from a big bag of it. He asked me if I wanted some but I didn’t and I fell back to sleep.We got back to his place about 9 pm. I walked in and lay down on the couch. Andy went into the bathroom and I could hear him puking into the toilet.He came out refreshed and not groggy or ill looking at all.“I figured out a long time ago once I puke if I drink or eat too much I’m fine. It’s like it cleanses you.” Again he was speaking from the healthy living angle. “Plus man that popcorn will give you a super damn hangover. It’s the fake butter-like grease on it I guess.”I asked him if he was going to sleep now.“No” he said, “I gotta be to work at 11.”“You’re going’ in?” I asked, “How long has it been since you slept?’“I slept yesterday after work so only about 30 hours. That ain’t nothing. I used to be up for a week on speed.”Apparently he had learned the pattern and could maintain it even without the drug.He got something else to eat, sat around a while and got on his bike to ride the few miles in the now heavily falling snow to his job.I could see him from the apartment window with both ends of his long scarf trailing behind his gorilla soldier jacket in the wind as he maneuvered through the traffic on the street below now bright with snow; returned to the night where we fit in.Before I lost consciousness, still fully clothed with coat, hat and boots on I thought about that 12 hour compression of my life we’d just passed through that revealed very little and quickly brought me right back to where I started that morning. The only insight I gained from the adventure - Christmas shopping, finding the old man, the trip to Canada and searching for Mayer - at that point was that having a road map of the state might be a pretty good idea.
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!