"You hear that?" I yelled at Lary, holding the cell phone up to Mona's howling. "Your cat's coming with me. She's not spending another day all alone in that big damn mausoleum you call a house while you're somewhere else."
At that time Lary was working in New York, probably clinging to a carabiner attached to the top of a stadium that very second, adjusting stuff or whatever it is he does. None of us really know what he does. All I know is that back in the '90s, he used to work adjusting stuff at rock concerts and we got to get in free. He'd just walk us in through the back stage, waving at everyone along the way. Once Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil slapped him on the back in passing. "Hey, Otis," he said.
"Who's Otis?" I asked.
"I am," said Lary.
OK, a lot of people, I suppose, let their brains go to different places when they're punching the clock, like once I asked my co-worker why she was so smiley, what with the plane lurching in turbulence like it was being batted around by a big kitten in the sky, and her answer was, "I'm somewhere else. I'm on a sailboat in the Caribbean." So I see how people might mentally transport themselves for a bit when stuff gets a little unbearable, but to create a whole other identity? And Lary's job is not even unbearable. Not to him, anyway. He gets to show up hungover, lug stuff, hang from a harness and come within a molecule of electrocuting himself. That's what he does at home for fun.
So it's not like he's unhappy, which personally, is the biggest reason I can think of for imagining yourself somewhere else. I remember my family and I driving across the country in a Ford Fairlane with no air conditioning or seat belts, and the radio didn't hardly work, either, except to bleat out a few notes here and there, making Hank Williams sound like the voice of grownups in the Charlie Brown cartoons. We drove through the desert like that, down Route 66, with both my parents wearing homemade hats fashioned from cut-up Budweiser cans and blue yarn.
At first I wanted to toss myself from the Fairlane's perpetually rolled-down window onto the Santa Fe train tracks that ran alongside the highway, except I was blocked in on either side by my sisters. It was our practice to fight at every rest stop over who'd have to sit on the middle hump in the backseat, and it seemed I lost every goddamn time, because I recall sitting in that potential shredded-windshield-meat seat for decades until I finally figured out how to send my brain somewhere else.
Where I sent it is still a surprise to me, because up until then I'd had only two obsessive thoughts in my head. The first one involved my conviction I was suffering symptoms of every disease I'd learned about in seventh-grade life sciences class, including, but not limited to, sclerosis of both the arteries and liver. The second thought involved Satan and my certainty that he'd possessed my soul.
It did not help that the year before I'd read The Exorcist, a book -- with pictures from the film! -- my mother had left lying around like a bottle of prescription drugs for me to fuck with. After that, I knew Satan was inside me looking for an orifice to pour out of, and I just tried to make sure there were places I could discreetly duck into once I could feel him about to roil his ugly head. Above anything else, I was more terrified of having to puke and piss in public.
Those were the only two notions I thought crowded my head, but once we got on the open road my brain didn't take me there, it took me somewhere else entirely. For some reason I constantly found myself on a Ferris wheel pining for an Australian carnival worker who took my tickets at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. I must have ridden that Ferris wheel 50 times just so I could feel him latch my barrier strap and hear him tell me to have a good ride. He had brown hair to his shoulders, a chipped tooth and eyes the color of caramel apples. After awhile he just let me stay on board, too, and it wasn't until we heard my father shouting at me from Wump-a-Weasel that he halted the ride to let me off.
So that is where my brain took me on this road trip, thank God, because otherwise I don't think I could have survived the constant worry about barfing up a nest of snakes onto my parents in the front seat. Instead I was somewhere else, I was on a Ferris wheel, falling in love every five minutes. I was hearing my caramel-eyed carnival worker tell me softly, "Have a good ride."
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins). Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com.
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