driving, I like to navigate by landmarks. I may not know the name
of a street to turn on, but I know to turn at the Tastee Mart.
It's easy to find Lavender City--the lights and buildings loom
above the local landscape. The only catch to this if I drive
unfamiliar territory, or especially to return home. When you have a
large city, most roads lead to it. Unfortunately only one of
those leads you home...
Because of my navigational proclivity, I don't carry maps in the car.
Because I'm male, I don't like to ask for directions. For
the most part, this just results in a few extra gallons burned while
I'm getting myself reoriented. I know all the major routes
through Lavender City, and I figure if you keep going long enough,
you're bound to run into one of them. Some of my natural bon
vivant attitude began to deteriorate as the day was wearing on, and the places became
more and more unfamiliar. I saw huddled masses on street corners,
stirring stew on 3-legged kettles over trash fires. The roads
went from four lane, to two lane, to one lane, with ox carts blocking
half the street. If I turned around, I knew there would only be
dead end alleys to turn into. Groups of children with rags
wrapped around their feet stared at me with hungry eyes.
It was then that the car made the special kind of clunk that tells you
there's no use looking under the hood--just look in the yellow pages...
I had my cell phone, but the street signs were all corroded, some
of them with shaggy lichen hanging off of them. When the car made
the noise, the children all ran off, as if they had caused the car
problem and didn't want to be caught for it. Perhaps they
had--I'm no car mechanic. At this point, I wanted, not revenge, but
directions to a landmark I knew.
There were grain elevators scattered about, but that was no
clue--Lavender City was full of mills, many of them made derelict
by the changing economy. All I could tell from one of them was
that Billy loved Lisa. The paint was faded sufficiently that I
figured the romance was done. It was over for me, anyway. I found a
railroad and started walking along the tracks, hoping it would come to
an identifiable road. Some hoboes were burning autos to keep
warm, after draining the windshield washer reservoirs for a cheap
drink. I decided to steer clear of them--they obviously had an
To avoid them, I headed down a bank near the river. Of course! The river! It leads to Lavender Falls, and downtown
Lavender City. There was a well beaten hobo trail, so I didn't
have to fight the underbrush. As I walked along, I was almost
lulled into a sense of security, when a voice spoke right behind me: "Hey, buddy, got any industrial quality cleaning solvents?" "Uh, no," I said, quickening my pace.
"You want some?" the obvious nut case asked me. Every bit of his
clothes were the brightest colors you can obtain at a thrift store, and
many of them in a combination guaranteed to make your eyes water.
Why don't I ever meet any sane people?
I wondered. This was the beginning of my theory that everyone is
crazy. My counselor takes exception to this, but she's nuttier
than average herself, and refuses to let me mention "minestrone" or
"baseball" in any of my counseling sessions. I never would have
thought of mentioning either of them, but since signing an agreement at
our first session that I would not discuss those two topics, slowly the
obsession has been growing on me to try it and see what she'd do.
But given the legal document, I suspect that whatever else she
might do, she'd probably sue. I suspect she's crazy like a fox.
While these thoughts flitted through my brain, the solvent salesman
began looking at me askance. I decided I'd better decline, in as
polite a way as I could manage... "That's
wonderfully kind of you, but I don't have any industries that need
cleaning or dissolving right now, " I said, "but I'll call you if
anything comes up." "Then let me give you my
card," he said, and handed me a card that could use some industrial
cleaning solvents. Anathema Johnson, collector and purveyor of industrial cleaning solvents,
the card read under the dirt. Good grief! He's not just
another unstable bum looking to set me on fire to keep warm, but a poor
schmuck salesperson not too different from myself... I
fished out a card in return... "Banjo sales! You might need some banjo cleaner," he pointed out, hopefully.
"Well, mostly I sell new instruments that come clean from the factory,
" I said, then I added, diplomatically, "but if I take any dirty
old ones as trade-ins, I'll keep your card in my wallet.
Say," I said, hoping to change the topic to one more useful to myself,"
do you know how far we are here from Downtown?"
"It's not far," he said, but you'll have to make it through the Sons of
Harley biker gathering and the Left Hand of Darkness rally that are
happening along the river first. I'd say you'd have a better chance if
you picked up a few stalwart companions and a shotgun...
The Sons of Harley didn't bother me too much. Sometimes they'd
roll into the bars in my part of town, chug a few beers, make their
bikes go chug chug squeal, and leave. But I'd never heard of the Left
Hand of Darkness. "So what is the Left Hand of Darkness?" I asked.
"Militant Southpaws," he said. "Lefties who won't stop until we
all learn to write from right to left, so the right handers can get ink
all over their hands for a change..." "That's
fiendish!" I said. "You mean to say there are still some people
who are writing things long hand? I thought that died with the personal
Our theoretical discussion was interupted by a bat wielding woman with
her face obscured by a catcher's mitt. "Minestrone!" she screamed, and ran towards us. Suddenly she stopped dead. "Phil Steen!" she said. "What are you doing here?" "Would this be the proper time to discuss minestrone, Doctor?" I asked politely.
The next thing I knew Anathema and I were rushing into the water to
avoid the flailing psychiatrist. She waggled the bat at us
angrily, holding it high in her left hand, as we floated downstream.
We got out well short of the waterfall. I'd done waterfalls, and
had no great desire to repeat the experience, in spite of some people
claiming there were no waterfalls on that creek...
'So," I said to Anathema. "Do you think I should keep my next
counseling appointment, or just start looking for a lawyer?"
"Well," he said, "I'm no lawyer, but unless you had scheduled a
major brain adjustment via baseball bat, I wouldn't say that
"minestrone" was discussed in a formal therapy session, so you
should be exempt." "I'm beginning to think that everyone is crazy," I said.
"That's true," he said, "Except for me. Industrial cleaning
solvents are just my job, not an obsession." "That's a relief." "The only thing I feel strongly about is alien abductions. They're all totally bogus. "
Dang, he had me there. I don't make a point of discussing my
abduction, but abduction deniers make my blood boil...
If I were English, I might have said that Anathema and I departed
"brass rags," but since I'm not English, and don't really understand
the implications of the colorful phrase, let's just say that we left on
a sour note.
I was now oriented in time and space, and ready to buy a replacement
vehicle at Walt's, since he had one in stock. And since I knew
Sprague from one end to the other, I was able to get home in time for
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