I had just picked up something in my left hand when the urge to put my right hand on the keyboard next to me found my hand already moving over to the keys. After a half minute, something told me to hit the red button and I started recording. As always, what was captured was not as sublime as the memory of what was not, but after a few moments of doubt, I decided to push on, anyhow, and recorded the music for the video below. It took 8 minutes to make the music. It took about a half hour to craft the montage. And another couple of hours of tinkering video settings and uploading to YouTube. Is that what they call backloading?
Wet eucalyptus leaves buried the wipers on the old Falcon station wagon. He scooped up three handfuls, throwing them into the gutter by the curbside of the rusty wagon. A light drizzle was falling and he knew in his heart of hearts that the car wouldn’t start. It’d been three days.
At least he’d prepared as best he could, even though when he parked the old beast he was just coming down with what would prove to be an epochal bout of respiratory flu. In the back of his mind, he had seen himself crawling out of a death bed to feebly try to push start the battered jalopy, a long term loaner from a budget body shop.
Prescience is often poor recompense, he told himself as he gauged the logistics of the presumed push start, even as he turned the key.
At least it clunked.
He looked around. Not a soul in sight. Middle of a rainy workday in a working class neighborhood. And his jumper cables had been stolen out of the wagon only the night before he started getting sick.
At least he’d parked near the corner and had a clear out — and he’d made sure to park on a street with a bit of a slope, downhill on his side.
But the Falcon felt about twice as heavy as his Volkswagen — and it felt like it hadn’t been lubed since the Johnson administration. Laboriously, he turned the leaden steering wheel and pushed with all his might as the car slowly nosed out into the traffic lane.
Leaning into the door jam hard, one hand on the wheel, he tried to put everything he had into it and, waiting until the car had passed a little bump, he jumped in and slammed the tree shifter into low… for a terrible moment it seemed like the engine would stop the car’s slow roll, but the old four banger caught with a deep, chassis shaking cough and he gave it a discreet amount of gas.
As he rolled toward the busy boulevard a block away, he had the clutch back in and was working the gas pedal warily, trying to coax the sludgy engine into steady firing on all four cylinders. It seemed to stabilize into a lopsided equilibrium and, since a car was bearing down on him from the rear, he engaged the clutch and gave it a little more gas. It lurched forward, as he backed off and then reengaged the clutch, trying to keep the engine running.
As he rolled to the stop sign, he disengaged the clutch — but he was too late… the engine lurched and died and with the car’s dying momentum he pulled over, rear end still out an an awkward angle to the curb.
Feeling broken, he lowered his forehead to the steering wheel. He thought about just leaving the station wagon there and calling the body shop — but it would surely be towed and they would surely be pissed and he would surely be on the bus for the duration, one way or the other.
He could try push starting it again — but he was pointed into a busy four lane boulevard and, if he turned the wagon around — in itself an arduous, shoulder-bruising task — he would then be pointed back up the slight incline he’d just come down.
He looked around. Cars zoomed by on the boulevard, a few pedestrians walked across the mouth of the side street. Across from him, a pretty girl in a yellow rain slicker was headed toward the corner. As he looked at her, she looked back at the beat up Falcon and he felt, for the moment, shabby and broken.
As he watched, she changed direction, stepped out into the street and over. She put down the hood of her slicker, brown curls falling out, and smiled.
“I saw what happened as I was walking down here. If you can wait five minutes I’ll walk back to my house and get my dad’s car and his jumper cables.”
A few minutes later, she was holding an umbrella over his head in a light rain as he hooked up the jumpers between the wagon and the girl’s father’s Impala, double parked next to the Falcon. He banged some oxidation off the terminals of the Falcon, twisted to dig the teeth in, had the girl restart the Impala and twisted the key… for a long moment nothing seemed to happen. Finally the Falcon struggled to life. He nursed it along with a cautious foot on the throttle until, after a long time, it seemed to settle into something approaching a rough rhythm.
He looked over at the girl. She beamed at him from behind the wheel of the big Chevrolet. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.
Looking back on it thirty — or was it closer to forty — years later, he couldn’t even remember the girl’s name — though he could still see her smile and feel the sudden warmth that seemed to jump from her to him through the wet, winter air. It was a feeling he wanted to always be able to remember. He wanted to look back and think, maybe life isn’t so bad, after all.
He was moping in a pub near the boring, real London Bridge and he finally stumbled out into the slanting daylight late in the afternoon.
His girlfriend, scratch that, ex-girlfriend, had flown back to LA the day before, leaving him with a half deck of traveler’s checks, some of her underwear and nylons (overflow from her own overlarge suitcases that she’d stuffed in his much smaller case) and a digital camera full of pictures of said ex-girlfriend posing in front of a series of British landmarks.
mandolin and guitar
This slip of an improvisation came about as a result of the combination of my recent return to the drone style tuning I was using earlier this year with my continued plinking on my new 50 dollar mandolin.
The title came about when I stumbled onto a bit of the melody from the old London Bridge is falling down nursery rhyme. (Which is the only way I ever play any recognizable melody… heaven knows if I tried I couldn’t do it… my brain simply doesn’t work like that.)
Anyway, I thought this wasn’t entirely without charm…
She managed a jaunty smile in the early snaps, but by the end of the series, any pretense of pleasure or even patience had plainly left her face and in the last few pics, she was giving him that look. He snapped the picture just before she raised her finger at him from in front of the British Museum. After that, he didn’t take any more pictures. After that, it was only a matter of time before one or the both of them left early. Neither of them had enjoyed much since the first few nights — but he was determined that somehow, with her gone, he would. Waiting her out wasn’t that difficult. He kissed her on the cheek at the airport, leaving her in a waiting area long before boarding.
Outside the pub, he decided to walk along toward the Tower Bridge. When he got there, he wandered around the tiny marina off St Katharine’s Way. It was starting to drift into darkness and as he walked across the Tower Bridge, the lights were on and just starting to shimmer in the river.
At first, all he saw of the girl was her eyes — even though she was 15 feet away and gathering dusk should have dimmed the light reflected in them. Maybe they picked up the last light from the sky. They glowed with a deep, green glow. Like he imagined an emerald must look. Her hair was dark and reddish brown, freckles across her cheeks. She was looking past him but as she neared him, in the last few feet before they passed each other, her eyes moved to meet his.
Consciously, he began to look away but just as his eyes began to dart to the side, he looked again — and fell, like a lost boy down a well, into her eyes. For a moment he was in free fall. It wasn’t even a full second but it seemed to go on forever as his heart pounded slowly in his ears. At the last instant, just before she passed him, she smiled, a faint, shy, schoolgirl’s smile.
It was too late for him to smile and, for a moment, he walked, his gaze frozen forward. Then, as casually as he possibly could, in the most offhand manner manageable by a man whose heart was beating like he’d just turned in his best ever 100 meter dash, he looked back over his shoulder.
The sky was darkening and clouds, lit from behind, were stacking up across a deep blue sky, lights coming on, and flooding the century old bridge. On the walkway, the pedestrians quickened their pace a little. But the girl with the green eyes walked, not quite slowly, into the crowd and the darkness on the other side. Maybe she had turned to look back over her own shoulder at him in those first moments after they’d passed — while he had stared mutely forward in disbelief. If she had, he’d never know. But, as he watched her disappear on the other shore, she never looked back.