Princeton, IL to Columbia, MO: 313 miles.
Music for this leg: jazz hard bop: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis ‘Boplicity.’
Bedtime reading that night: Spenser Well’s ‘Pandora’s Seed.’
I took last week off from work. No crackheads, no mopes or whacks. Just me, driving the open road in a convertible Mustang…wind blowing in my hair…no deadlines or phones, no texts or emails or anything.
Yeah. Except I have no hair so that won’t work out too well. Plus, if I drive with the top down I’m likely to burn the crap outta my skull. And I had my phone…which meant phone calls and texts (and no, I did not text while driving…80…in a construction zone….)
Damn, boy, ain’t you the cops or not?
To be honest, I realized what an idiot I was being and dialed my texting and driving somewhat back after Chris Mitchell called and yelled at me. Then back further when another friend in Princeton yelled at me. Then further still when I got stopped by the poh-poh in Texas.
So the trip was both to attend my 25th high school reunion and to tour the two new books. The Cancer Chronicles (the complete collection of blog entries the year cancer and I fought mano-a-mano in a dark back alley) and Remembrance and Regrets (a collection of dark crime stories).
Much like crack hoes, you can’t sell what you ain’t pimping so I hit the road.
First day’s stop was Columbia, where two of my dearest friends live. With kids and a respectable house and everything! Chris and Lori Mitchell agreed to host a reading and actually had me do it at their church.
I’ve been in a church like…twice…in thirty years.
(cue dramatic and slightly scary music…like the better sections of ‘Carmina Burana.’)
I need not have feared. While it is Baptist, it ain’t no Baptist church I ever seen, Mama. Hip as a new replacement, cool as an ice box, filled with extremely pleasant people, many of whom came to the reading.
I sold a pile of books, ate some cookies (‘cookies on the front seat,’ which became code for…I shit you not…SMBD sex. I told you it wasn’t a standard church!), and had a great time.
The reading was fantastic. I read a few pieces and answered a ton of questions about my cancer, including a question from Chris, who asked me what I learned.
“Uh…duh,” I said. “It’s me…Trey…when have I ever learned from anything I’ve done?”
Okay, I don’t think I said it that way. It was probably more like, “Duh…this is Trey…didn’t learn dick.”
Chris asked me about the take-away. A year of surgery and chemo and there had to be some take-away.
I couldn’t think of anything. Actually, it was a little embarrassing. Not as much as constantly calling one of Chris and Lori’s kids Petey…who was the long-since dead dog, but embarrassing nevertheless.
Because I thought there should be some answer. I thought there should be a cosmic lesson, something writ large on the canvas of my life that imparted a universal truth.
“And so it’s over. And there was no revelation.” (Cancer Chronicles, Pt. 55, December 4, 2006)
Three and a half years later and ain’t nothing changed. No epiphany. No startling discovery about myself.
On a Thursday, I felt fine. On a Friday, I was a stage 3 cancer patient. A year later, I was a cancer survivor. And while there was much pain and much fear and tremendous anger during that year, I walked away. The movie was over and the house lights got turned up.
After the reading, I sold and signed some books. Then I sat with some members of the creative team at the church and we talked about the creation of art in a society that reduces everything it touches to a commodity.
Yeah, I am that pompous.
But I did have a chance to eat barbeque with Chris and Lori, as well as Chris’ parents James and Jane, who I’ve loved since I was but a wee tot.
The food wasn’t brilliant, but the company was perfect. Jane’s laugh – loud and bubbly and utterly, fantastically unrestrained – was exactly as I remember it 25 years ago. James’ slow way of talking and quiet little chuckle was exactly as I remember it 25 years ago.
For a minute, those 25 years didn’t exist. For that, I’ll never be able to thank that quartet enough. Mostly ‘cause I’m feeling waaaaaay old lately and getting back to that crew meant, at least for an hour or so, I was young and beautiful again.
Now, having put myself in a place where I could be young and beautiful, you’d think I’d have gotten some pix, right?
Not a single one. Dumbass.
Well, hang on. I didn’t get any of the quartet or the reading. But I did get some of Mark Twain.
And, man oh mama, was he tall.
But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow, gentle readers, for that.
Tomorrow night’s episode: the long drive through Kansas, the massive sneezing fit that nearly drove me off the road, cows, and Tom Mix.