A few minutes later a large white station wagon pulled over to the side of the road about fifty feet from where we’d been dropped off by the State Trooper.
“Where ya headed?” shouted a disembodied voice from inside the car.
“Cape Cod,” Ethan called out.
A freckled hand waved us over.
“Us too! Taking the family on vacation! Hop in!”
The driver was a good- looking man in his thirties. He wore a faded madras shirt and khaki shorts. His wife had on some sort of shapeless sundress. They both had that weary look that comes from no sleep and too many kids. I flashed on both of them ten years forward. He, paunchy, with his blonde now almost transparent hair slowly receding up his sunburned head. She, wearied and drawn, lines within lines underneath colorless skin. But now they were still young and maybe even a little dazzling in their blondness.
The husband was a bundle of kinetic energy, one hand on the wheel, one hand reaching in back and slapping at the kids all while his trying unsuccessfully to unscrew the top of the thermos stuck between his legs, trying and pouring the coffee
“Honey, let me help you with that.” The pretty skinny wife said in such a quiet voice, I couldn’t imagine that he’d heard her above all the racket. Ethan shoved me in the back where the three kids were climbing all over each other. He got in the front.
The driver spoke into the rear-view mirror. “Hey kids, make room for our new passenger.”
A giant head with a shock of red hair so bright he reminded me of a Raggedy Andy doll, popped out from the chaos and whined, “Daaad, there’s not enough rooom back here.”
The driver’s large, spotted hand reached in back of the seat and whisked the whole mini-tornado toward one side of the car. I sat down in the vacuum of the empty space. The children stared at me, bug eyed. I tried my best to smile, though what I was actually seeing was three weird looking midgets with giant heads. Ah, lysergic acid diethylamide, I know your game. I tried to relax and make it work for me.
I sang to myself. We represent the Lollypop league, the Lollypop league, the Lollypop league, and we wish to welcome you to Munchkin Land.
“Name’s Jack Edgar, but you can call me Gar,” our captain shouted above the tumult. Or was that just the noise in my head? He patted the pretty blond woman on her thigh. “And this is my wife, Bunny.” She smiled at Ethan, and turned in my direction but couldn’t get her body around that far, so midway she just gave up and sat back down and stared out the window. Gar looked up at the rear-view mirror again and pointed his index finger at the three kids stuffed in the backseat, picking them out one by one. “Those are the twins Joey and Teddy, they’re seven”. The two midgets giggled and punched each other. Then he pushed his finger closer to the reflection. “And that little lady is Laurie Gail, my oldest.” Laurie Gail was a sullen looking eleven or twelve-year-old. She had her mother’s pretty face, but the rest of her was a mass of hormonal confusion. She had long skinny arms and big hands that didn’t fit her small torso. Her legs were long and knobby. She shot me a dirty look. I didn’t blame her. Maybe in a couple of years she’d be a knockout, but right now her body was fighting a war with itself and she was taking heavy losses. Her father kept on moving. He just couldn’t keep still. He tapped on the steering wheel and whistled out of tune. “Just outta school, huh? Great time of life. Nothing to worry about!” he waved his hand in front of him, painting the windshield with a fantastically colored rainbow—which I was pretty sure was invisible to everyone but me. He yanked his thumb out in a hitchhike motion. “You kids didn’t invent this, you know.” Each time he spoke he would let out sort of a gulp and a guffaw, his Adam’s apple popping with each burst of a syllable. “We bummed rides in college plenty of times.” His Adam’s apple danced about.
Every once in a while, he would glance at his wife, who stayed huddled on the other side of the front seat, and patted her on the thigh. She smiled at him with a tired look, her straight blond hair hanging limply over her thin, fragile, beautiful face. The long miles stretched out. Once, during one of Gar’s interminable speeches about the good ole college days, his wife glanced at me in the mirror with such great sadness (at least in my own imagination) that I believed, (also, in my acid induced karmic mind), she was trying to connect with me in some strange and illicit way. That what she was really thinking about behind that dull half smile was what a great big mess this all was—the kids, the station wagon, this silly man next to her. I imagined running away with her; she, now magically airbrushed and dried, beaming at me as we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway toward Monterey, the top down in her daddy’s Porsche convertible. And on the way she laid her head on my lap, unzipping me, and swallowing up my hardness.
Gar’s voice broke the spell. “Remember Sadie Hawkins weekend, Hon? Chad Burns and I hitched all the way from the BU campus that night! Damn! That was fun!” Suddenly, his white teeth and straw hair replaced the sad reflection of the woman I now loved. His eyes met mine. Could he read my thoughts? Nah, that’s the acid talking.
“I bet you guys are having the time of your life! Am I right, I mean, am I right?”
“Sure, we’re having the time of our life,” said Ethan turning around to see if I was still among the living.
The whole trip went like that, Ethan pretending to listen to Gar’s droning voice, me day dreaming my great romance with his bony beautiful wife; the twins giggling and punching each other and the oldest, Laurie Gail, sulking. I didn’t say a word to anyone and just watched my dream girl in the rear-view mirror—until finally, just after the Bourne Bridge that connects Cape Cod to the mainland—Gar pulled the station wagon into a rest area and let us out.
“Here you go guys! Peace and Love! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” He turned around and gave us the peace sign and slapped his wife’s thigh again and gave her a goofy look. She just smiled her pathetic smile and then, just like that, they were gone.
Ethan looked at me through dust that had been kicked up by the wagon’s rear tires. He blinked a few times. I must have looked pretty bad. “What an asshole that guy was.” He wiped his eyes. “You okay?” He waited for me to speak, but I really couldn’t put any words together. I knew Ethan had been worried about me during the long hours of the trip, turning around in my direction every fifteen minutes to see if I was okay. Finally, frustrated by my silence, he threw his hands up. “Sal?”
“I love her,” I finally blurted out.
He let out a laugh and gave me a hug.
“Yeah, I know. But it wouldn’t have worked out. She’s very fickle. Had her hands on my dick the whole trip. Come on, it’s getting dark, let’s find the beach and get some sleep.”
I picked up my duffle and my guitar.
“You suck Ethan,” I said, “You really suck.”
He smiled back. Everything was gonna be all right.
The continuing adventures of Sal Benedetto and Ethan Gold will be back this Fall.