That Old Drag

We hit the red light just off 91. They were getting around to tearing down the middle school so you could see its guts, all the way down to its pipes, already stripped of copper. Across the street was a fire station where a middle-aged man sat outside, staring off. At the corner a man held a sign that said, ‘Too proud to beg. Too ugly to whore. Just want a drink.’ There was a sign posted by the city just behind him that read, ‘Please only donate to registered charities,’ but it didn’t seem to be working. I sighed, reached out to give him a dollar, and turned onto Main Street.

“You good, man?” Billy asked.

I didn’t answer, letting The Clash play instead. Then Chris Stapleton. The road had more potholes than I remembered. Cracked and threatening to rip up my tires. I definitely didn’t remember the roads being this bad.

Next to the gas station, where I vaguely remembered there being an issue where they put diesel in the wrong tank, was a field I used to play baseball. That was the same field I found glory as a ten year old with an undefeated youth season. I bet if I looked through my mom’s basement I could still find my hat, where I kept my stats on the brim. It didn’t look like anyone bothered to mow the field anymore.

“I just wish I could’ve kept the fucking dog,” I said.

“The whole thing sucks,” Billy said, trying to sound sorry.

“What if I kidnapped her?”

“Which her?”

I hesitated, “The dog.”

“That’s dognapping, not kidnapping.”

“Well, what if I dognapped her?”

“How?” He seemed interested, but I really didn’t have any details. I just wanted him to say that it made sense to take my dog back. I told him I still have a key.

“I guess it would be easy enough then,” he hesitated, “And then you’d have a dog.”

“Probably pretty obvious it was me, though.”

“Yeah. That’d probably get back to you.”

I smiled, thinking it might be worth it as I pulled into Dave’s Dogs. It’s an old, one room hot dog shack. From the outside, it looked like an old colonial home that had converted the living room into a small area to order and dine from. Around the side was a hole in the wall that we used to get soft serve ice cream from after baseball games. They sold shirts that claimed to be a local tradition, and I suppose they were. They were one of my first stops when I was back in town, at least. Something about their striped awning, like a circus tent, and that flashing neon sign always drew me in, I suppose. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that they were ghosts.

There was a line, but that was to be expected. Someone had turned the jukebox in the corner onto The Beach Boys and I was a bit surprised that the old thing worked. I didn’t need to look at the menu, but I did anyway, and figured they were making enough money to fix the jukebox.

They did hot dogs the right way. Steamed dog. Steamed bun. New England style bun. I ordered them the right way too. No ketchup. Never any fucking ketchup. Side of baked beans, maybe some fries, and a bottle of root beer. Cream soda if you’re in the mood.

We sat at the counter, looking out the window towards the road. They were the same stools that were there when I was a kid and would spin around on them like a top. I let myself smile, “I’m probably not going to kidnap that dog. Just sit around and hope everything fixes itself.”

“That’s what I figured,” Bill said with a mouthful of onion rings. He put up a finger, swallowed, and asked, “How do you expect to do that?”

“If I were going to try and get that dog back, I’d probably follow her around for a while. Not stalking, necessarily, but also not stalking. I’d have to find a time when she took the dog into public because if she went missing from the house it would obviously be me. But if she took the dog somewhere, and let her out of her sight, like a doggy daycare kind of place, then I’d have a chance.”

“Not the dog, dumbass. I meant everything.”

“Well, she said that I needed to get my life in order. Be an adult on my own. Something like that…I guess I’ll start there. Fix myself.”

“That’s not the worst idea.”

“I just wish I knew how to, you know? I don’t think it’s possible to actually judge yourself. To see your own faults and know what to work on. So, we just go for the generic things that everyone does. Go to the gym a couple of times. Pretend to eat right. Maybe find a higher paying job.”

“Well, what does she think is wrong with you?”

“To be determined, but I’m stuck here until I do…maybe longer,” I took a breath, “Maybe I’ll take up yoga,” I took a breath, “And you know what? She’d make me so happy, even for just a moment. I miss that feeling. Ever since she kicked me out…” I lost the thought, and I couldn’t even begin to start and figure out where it was going anyways.

“Well, that’s as good a place as any. Why don’t you try and be happy again?

“Guess it seems like a waste of time,” I lied.

“Then we should go drinking tonight.”

“We should,” I said, looking out the window. A cop was directing traffic outside, and I remembered that this is where I saw my first car accident.

Billy burped into his hand, “So, how long do you think you’ll be here?”

“Who knows? I don’t have any plan left at this point.”

“You gotta have some kind of plan.”

I tilted my head, thinking more about that accident, “Well, I’m seeing you now. We have plans to drink, and I’ll have to pencil you in to smoke at some point. That’ll take care of seeing some friends. I figure I’ll hit up some girl I vaguely remember from high school. See how that goes, but I’m sure it’ll make me feel better. Obviously…Then, yeah, I guess my life will just be fixed.

He pretended to laugh, and I thought about how I could make myself better for her. I know she said I should do it for me, but I could only think about doing it for her. Still, I couldn’t figure what she would want me to work on first. Maybe I’d actually start doing yoga. I couldn’t think of anything else but that I missed her.

“You ready to get going?” Billy asked, but I hardly heard him. I let my mind drift back towards the road. I still remember the crack, like a bullwhip, bumper and hood crunched like stepping on cracked ice. The pickup hadn’t been paying attention, I suppose. It was like they had hit a wall. I just remembered how much it scared me.