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As twilight set over the distant mountains, the 10-years-new Chevy Impala wove through the thinning traffic on Route 278. The man drove on, no destination in mind, born in a hurry to go nowhere.
"Solomon Grundy born on Monday…"
Fresh out of college, he was exploring the wasteland of potholes littering eastern Pennsylvania. A random exit was just as likely to terminate on a dirt road as at a Flying J.
The last sojourn between rows of dent corn ended in face-blinding headlights striking a Mennonite woman milking a cow. As she covered her face with one cotton-clad arm, he thought about apologizing but didn't. His brutish tires widened the furrows her buggy had left in the road as he made an about-face. It felt a little bit obscene and a little bit exciting. This intrusion of the modern world on the pastoral.
The light of the GPS had guided him here, the unwitting crusader. The unreligious worshipper of the church of Silicon Valley. It would be funny if he didn't envy the woman.
He drove just a little further to the truck driver's Mecca. The temples to golden-fried gods were only slightly diminished by the ever-increasing tithe. The true price is not paid in dollars but in diabetes. Insulin for the coffers, meat for the coffins.
Worshipping here was not a rare occurrence.
"Christened on Tuesday…"
After college, a job came. Accepting the pieces of silver did not make him wealthy or poor. Purgatory may be a fabrication by a corrupt church, but what of the working week? Middle-class life. Endless days, mostly the same except when they get worse. A frog in a boiling pot, but this one has a lid.
He met Clarissa at work. She had the same name as some show he watched as a kid. This was enough. They compared their checklists, marriage, kids, and picket fence. It was all in agreement.
He bought her cow earrings, a cruel joke given her bovine countenance. She got him a sweater he would never wear -- food for moths. Life's casual cruelty is doled in dribs and drabs in the opening dance of the Red Death masquerade.
He proposed at Bennigan's. Their families couldn't be happier.
"Married on Wednesday…"
Buy a house, everybody said. The new clothes of the elders are not yet revealed to be the Emperor's. The house Usher's.
A child came. Then another. One he liked, one he didn't. Both were indoctrinated by the television. Toy commercials. Proselytizing apostates for the same McEating habits preventing a third child from darkening their doorstep.
"I'm lovin' it," he thought, wondering how the Mennonite woman was doing. If he should have apologized. Maybe they could have run away together to some far-off farm. Lived on the land. Made sourdough pretzels and had likable children who didn't know what a Blue's Clue even was.
"Took ill on Thursday…"
On the twelfth year of marriage, my moo-wife gave to me: 1 divorce paper, 2 preteen children, 3 measly weekends, and alcoholic liver disease.
Selling their house at a loss to split half the debt 4 years after the crash gave him some cruel satisfaction, even if his money would ultimately go towards settling both halves. Getting fired for being drunk on the job certainly didn't help. Once his crypto gains came through, he'd be flying high again, rather than just Flying J with a cashier's job and a hot dog lunch.
At least she never found out about the imaginary affair.
"Grew worse on Friday…"
His trailer was one of the nice ones. So what if he'd lost his license? He had a bike. He could get to the liquor store most of the time. Those bitcoins had seemed like a sure bet and something Queen Cow couldn't get her greedy hoofs on. He'd still have some left if he'd only found the will to memorize the damned seed phrase.
A drink, a drink. My empire of dirt for a drink. As the lush peddled the slush, a pothole he hadn't seen before abruptly became the iceberg to his Titanic. He'd been pretty thorough in his youthful investigations, but this was eastern Pennsylvania, and the only thing that multiplied faster than rabbits were potholes.
He woke up hours later, somehow in the hospital waiting room. There were beds lining the walls, and the entire place looked like a hurricane had blown through. Man, he could sure use a Hurricane. The situation in the ER due to the global pandemic wasn't an exaggeration. The Masque of the Red Death finally reached the inevitable conclusion, at least since he'd joined the ball.
“Amontillado! Fortunado, a toast!”
"Died on Saturday…"
He'd always planned on a Costco coffin but knew the death industry might somehow sink its ghoulish teeth into him regardless.
Carrion feeders. The same hedge funds buying up all the trailer parks were buying up all the funeral homes and cemeteries. Cradle to the grave, indeed. Grist for the mill!
As his beleaguered organs gave way and his consciousness sank, he thought he heard a fly buzz.
It was just the zipper on the biohazard bag marked "COVID-19 - CORONER."
"Buried on Sunday…"
Clarissa found his will under a pile of empty bottles in the back of the double-wide. The man had never been much for organization. The paper felt strange, a little too thick and smooth. The coffee stain along one edge acted as a wax seal might, breaking away as she unfolded the paper.
The missing bitcoins. The seed phrase. The drunk bastard had written his will on the outside and forgotten.
They buried him in a new cemetery that was once a farm close to where he had worked. The pastoral resting place was at the end of a long, winding dirt road, past rows of dent corn. In the distance, if the wind was blowing just right, you could hear Mennonite women singing as they did their daily chores.
"That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy."
This story contains a few grains of truth from my college years. I was reflecting on why I don’t just drive places anymore, explore exits on the highway, maybe meet a random cow.
The pandemic changed something fundamental, besides messing with my sense of time it messed with my sense of adventure. I wanted to coalesce these feelings to a story, but what’s the framework to use? It’s not exactly a plot, it’s a vibe.
Generation Y (remember them?) has been gobbled up by millennials, basically an erasure of the late 70s/early 80s kid. If you ask a Gen Y how they feel about that, you’ll probably just get a “Yeah. Ok. Whatever.” in return, not realizing that’s precisely the right answer.
Then it struck me: nursary rhyme! Solomon Grundy sums up a life barely lived. It gives structure without purpose… sort of what this story is about. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Grundy_(nursery_rhyme)
I hope you’ll enjoy this lost exit with me!