Sunday, July 2, 2017

The past is a great place for memory

(Winter Park Magazine)

A weekend spent working - on call yesterday, actual work today. Trying to fit as much time in as I can before our holiday on the American peninsula. The plans have been hatched. 

Going back to Florida after such an extended hiatus - the longest that I've ever been away from the state, four years now, I think - has me thinking about what it was like to grow up there, if I had ever grown up. The New Smyrna Speedway has occupied more of my memory lately than it ever should have, for unknown reasons. Do an image search for it, you'll see that the fascination for most is with the flaming car wrecks. I remember it as being a place for crash-up derby type races, though I suppose at some level they all are. You would sometimes see cars that raced in New Smyrna on trailers in people's yards. The owners perhaps with dreams of maybe one day racing north of there, in Daytona, the big league of racism. 

My father took my brother and I to the Firecracker 400 one year. It is second only to the Daytona 500 for that speedway. I remember the thrill of standing near the gate when the pack of cars passed, the power and speed combining to become a vehicular tempest, an industrial storm moving at 200 mph. 

That whole area of Florida comes back to me in memory for some reason - the biker bars, the speedway, State Road 44, the road that used to disproportionately take lives in head-on collisions. So much of it comes back to me when I let it. I remember seeing a horrible car crash on S.R. 44. A motorcyclist had been decisively killed when a friend of mine had tried to pass in her new car, couldn't make it in time, hit the brakes and pulled back into her lane but pulled too far, the wheel dipping off the right edge of the road, then the car cutting across the oncoming lane when she overcompensated to get back on the road. It forced an unexpected t-bone situation. The motorcycle lost, though not by much. We arrived on the scene a couple minutes after the inciting incident. I was riding in the back of my buddy's pickup truck, a thing that is now illegal and maybe was then also. 

I didn't know at the time that the girl involved was one I knew. I only found out that Monday when I went back to school, that the driver of the car was in my computer science class, a quiet girl that sat a few seats away from me. She was missing, of course, and there were stories that she had killed somebody in a terrible car accident in her new car coming back from the beach. I want to say that it was a Camaro and that guess would probably be right. She and the other girl lived, though the girl in the passenger's seat had crushed hips and a slew of other issues, as that was the side where the bike made its impact. All I saw of that was the car that had made its way far up into where the trees started away from the roadside. There were a few people running around trying to help. Nobody was trying to help the motorcyclist. His injuries were definitive, nothing left to say or do about him.

I can't remember if there was drinking involved. That was the public speculation, of course, though there usually is in similar situations. The odds in Florida demand it. It is where people go to die, and the youngest there seem nearly willing to die just to escape. 

On that same road, coming home from surfing with a couple friends, somewhere near Wildwood, a cooler half filled with cold beer in the back seat, my friend passed a cop car while we were doing about a hundred mph. I saw it happening but was unable to do anything at all to stop it. The thought, Oh shit... was all that I could come up with. We would have made it home in record time had it not been for his arrest, the first of several of the that kind. When the cop pulled us over and asked my buddy why he thought it would be a good idea to pass a cop at that speed he slurred, "I had hoped that you were working undercover."

"Is there beer in that cooler?"

That was that. A friend in the backseat who had not drunk as much as either of us drove the rest of the way home. We had to go to my buddy's house to tell his mom and dad that he was in the Volusia county jail and would be until they did something about it, which they did after a bit of screaming amongst themselves and at us. His mom finally made it seem as if she was going to be the hero of the moment. She was prepared to act, so she got in her car. The screaming stopped.

I remember seeing my buddy handcuffed, barefoot and dressed only in surfer shorts, being put into the back of the cop car and knowing how the rest of my day was going to unfold. This was long before cell phones. Unpleasantness was more often of the face to face kind, especially with parents. A few years later his mom and dad divorced. His mom stayed on in the house and left half of it empty where dad's stuff used to be, didn't even try to pretend that his absence is what created the gaping emptiness in half of the rooms, as if the split had been planned all along. They had bought him everything he wanted, the son, perhaps as compensation for the guilt they both felt as the love that had produced him dissolved around them. Mom also kept Roxy, the Rottweiler. 

I used to see his dad sometimes at a famous local titty bar - Club Juana - now closed after several decades. There were rumors that James Brown had once played there. His dad started eating steaks there fairly regularly, prime rib, always sitting at the bar and sipping his cocktail. He was convinced that one of the girls liked him and maybe she did. I was there mostly to drop off ecstasy, sometimes for him. Those were different times. Roomfuls of mostly naked women barely phased me, though I had no aversion at all to it, then or now, but neither am I a believer in it. I am reasonably certain that such a sight now would put me in my grave. My heart would burst at the prospect and lure of openly unashamed fertility, if I could stare through the feigned sensuality long and hard enough to glimpse it. 

We're reminded at all chances that having a gravesite is purely a selfishness of the past, a reminder of the wrongful arrogance of those that lived and died before us. Cremation is the conscientious way to be disposed of, unless you grow a tree from your corpse or something along those lines, as if your death arrangements are best handled by an ad in High Times magazine. Any talk of physical presence after death is for the historically iniquitous. The idea that a person can occupy a piece of land after they are gone is an assumption based on some lost, bygone religious notion. 

Only the present and the future can claim any moral supremacy. Unless of course you scratch at and open the cracks of the moment, to see if the present testing of life shows any signs of having already been tested, or worse: that of failure. 

Spontaneous combustion might be the best death of the future.


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