Friday, September 25, 2020

The Crossroads


11 years old. Summer, 96.

A whistle blows. Adult Swim.

Wet feet slap warm concrete as me and my friends rush to the concessions stand.

Airheads cost a nickel. I have two quarters. I’m gonna make it rain Airheads.

We elbow each other in line. A tune plays from an old boom box wedged in the window of the lifeguard’s office.

“See you at the crossroads…”

We nod and sing along like we are the coolest dudes in the world. We aren’t of course. That title belongs to The Kid, Ken Griffey Jr.

The song ends, though we don’t want it to. We want the burdenless moment to last.

Kyle brags. He’s got the single on audio cassette. He can listen to it whenever he wants. He’s not a slave to the whims of a sweaty DJ in a cramped studio somewhere.

Prove it, we say.

But he can’t. It’s in his mom’s bronco. So we point out the obvious, that he can’t actually listen to it whenever he wants.

He’ll listen to it five times on the way home, he says, while we suckers will be glued to the radio with our hands clasped in prayer.

It’s a good rebuttal.

We slip into silence and I hear the chorus in my head.

I wonder which crossroads the Bone Thugs are talking about. I think of the one stoplight in my town, where two state routes smack into each other. An ice cream stand sits at the corner. Is that where they’re gonna meet?

My stomach flutters at the thought.

They’re being metaphorical of course. But at 9 years old, we didn’t do metaphor. The best things could be touched, smelled, heard and sung. And imaginary things were still real. As long as we didn’t pause and look closely, and allow ourselves to see the cracks. We never stopped long enough, though. It was summertime and we were pedal to the floor until we crashed.

Mike was still alive then.

 The rest are still alive now. Separated by the seas of time---some with their sails titled against the wind, some rudderless---to sandy beaches or jagged rocks.

Life is a hell of a thing no matter where the boat comes to a stop. We know it now and we knew it then. Maybe we didn’t know how to say it, but we knew it. As sure as we knew wearing our ball-cap backwards increased our coolness by a factor of 10 and made baseballs travel further.

But knowing something ain’t always what it’s cracked up to be. And if G.I. Joe was right and knowing is half the battle, the other half must be trying to live with it. Or in spite of it. Or because of it.

The crossroads.

The decision to keep going. Or stop.

The battle that all men must fight.

On that hot summer day, without a word, we made a decision. To keep going. To sail into the future until we all reach the shore.

I guess this is a long and meandering way of saying I miss my friends.

I'll see you at the crossroads.