Brainerd looks like that tattoo that was once beautiful on a young girl’s arm—but is now faded and embarrassing. And just like that girl that was young one time—you can see it on both Brainerd’s and the old girl’s faces: they’re tired and they will never be what they once were. At best, they’ll spawn something that might be nice to see. They both look like an after-hours barroom floor.
All the talk of rejuvenating Brainerd—it’s never going to work. There’s got to be a place for check-advance houses, pawn shops, tittie bars and meat-market clubs called Envy. The Biker’s Emporium and Church’s Chicken. Those places restore the soul, sometimes. They’re as American as Ronald McDonald. Brainerd’s as good a place as anywhere for them, and being on the bus line anybody that needs a pawn shop or check advance can get there for less than two bucks.
I dozed off for a while, listening to the motor hum and the chatter of the guy up front. When I woke up it was almost dark. I think I’d missed my stop and rode in a circle. I looked out the window trying to figure out where I was. It took a while before I realized I was somewhere around Dodds Avenue. The bus was packed then. There wasn’t an empty seat and everybody who was there before was gone.
I wondered what they all thought of me, jailhouse dirty and broke and too tired to stay awake. I looked around wondering who was watching me the way I’d been watching them. Nobody was. Nobody seemed to notice me at all.
The bus finally made it downtown and I had to get a transfer for the next bus to get me closer to home. I finally made it out to St. Elmo. I could scratch up some change for the next bus ride—I’ll be riding on that bus ‘til I Cadillac—but it didn’t matter that night. I took a much-needed bath, grabbed a Bible and crawled into bed. I flipped open the Good Book and started reading the red letters. It wasn’t the first time I’d lost it all, probably wouldn’t be my last. Tomorrow was another day.
I thought about calling somebody but didn’t want to hear what anyone had to say. Everybody says you have to be better than that. You have to be above this or that. That’s no way to live, they say, and offer somebody they consider better than themselves as the alternative example. You need to get in a church somewhere. Be around good people. You’re talented and you’re wasting yourself.
I had crazy thoughts in my head and my ears were ringing so I turned on the radio. Tuned it to the Collegedale classical station and listened to some Debussey piano music that was playing. I laid back reading the red letters and trying to listen to the piano music on the radio, but I was jonesin’ for another beer and for some reason kept hearing that old ghost of a blues man Robert Johnson singing in my head:
You may bury my body down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride.