Jesse Millner: The Bus Driver's Book of the Dead

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  MEMOIR by Jesse Millner
Polish Wedding  Devolution  Aliens Among Us  Eddie Jones  Dave   Tom MarionStarved Rock State Park  The Alcoholic Point of View   My Lost Season  Listening for God  I Remember a Pet Peeve  Hair Salon Panic Attack!  
Please Don't Bury Me in that Cold, Cold Ground

Polish Wedding: Chicago 1983

The liquor was free. The groom drove a UPS truck and the bride was a secretary for someone at the Board of Trade. They were both Polish, born to immigrants who’d moved to the south suburbs. Now they’re dancing to the bunny hop, and you and I are dancing to the bunny hop, and we’re laughing in that booze-induced hilarity where everything moves a little faster than it should and the chandeliers shine down like stars, and even the priest is dancing to the bunny hop, his bald head beading sweat as he smiles, somehow making the hopping holy.

After the reception we headed farther south and found the tavern from those directions your friend had scribbled on a beer-stained napkin inscribed in fake gold, Thelma and Wally, January 19th, 1983. We walked inside and a pool table materialized in that land of smoke. I wondered if the tavern was burning, but then I saw Father Tom at the counter with a cigarette, surrounded by fiends making love with their Lucky Strikes, so I fetched us rum and Cokes and we drank beyond our previous stupor, reached that Paradise where every worry and sorrow was relieved, where the world was a good and happy place and the sound of the Sinbad pinball machine was the singing of angels, and the UPS man and the secretary wore halos, and the moonlight trickling through the burglar bars was light converted into language, a righteous hymn from an almighty God. We were His children, drunk and playing pool, hugging each other, inhaling cheap perfume and cologne, until it is late and you’re guiding me to the car and I’m wearing the grey trench coat I bought at the Goodwill, the one I think makes me look retro and cool. And a small voice says something about using the bathroom inside but mostly I don’t care, so I pee in the parking lot, even as you yell at me for being a drunken pig.

During the long drive home we didn’t speak, and I was glad you were behind the wheel because things like lane markers and signs bearing directions meant nothing to me as we cruised by the Loop on the Dan Ryan, high on the spaghetti interchange that led from Chicago to the four corners of the world. And I stared at the Sears Tower, that black void in the heart of everything, red lights bleeping from its summit, 1454 feet from the dirty streets below.


I’ve never told you this, but two years after our divorce I ran into Wally at an AA meeting on the north side. We talked about the Cubs for awhile, and how great it was to be sober. He asked about you and I told him about your living in San Diego, how it was for the best. He said, life’s hard, and told me about Thelma’s stillborn child, quite a transition from baseball and divorce, and for a moment I didn’t know what to say, you know how it is when someone surprises you with grief that is beyond language, and all you can say is, I’m sorry.

Thank god we never had children to witness our drinking and those awful fights, like the time you called the police when I wouldn’t leave our own house, and they rushed through the front door and found me sitting in my BVDs holding the phone cord, which I’d just torn in half. I can see again the red carpet of that place on Addison Street with its shit stains from Mike the dog. I can see a younger me sitting on the floor in his underwear, telling the cops it won’t happen again. I can see you standing there crying, your body skinny from booze and neglect, bones visible beneath your nightgown.

So I told Wally I was sorry and bought him a cup of bad coffee, turned the conversation toward UPS and the way they were working him like a dog, adding to his delivery territory, but not to his pay. Outside the AA club, dusk was coming on. I remember it was cold spring, late April when it was still possible that the Cubs would win the pennant and the rain that fell so hard on Sheffield Avenue would bring crocuses and daffodils to Lakeview gardens. I said goodbye to Wally and walked toward the Ravenswood el, and soon I was chilled to the bone, whispers of grey breath rising toward the sky as I thought of bad marriages and dead children, of old pain and sorrows yet to come. And the rain fell like memory, steady with its sad music, puddling beneath the el platform, where stunned pigeons sheltered beneath the weathered planks.


© 2010, Jesse Millner

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