there was mold on the bathroom wall. the kitchen clock was broken. severe weather sirens echoed at noon every day. Cliff Longhouse called it “the great decline,” said it started when his mom and dad drove him home from the “miracle” maternity ward and continued through the years, but it was something other than tombstones he thought about as a teenager that had him putting a book down before finishing a page.
light poured in through his bedroom blinds….shadows too and together, side by side, light and dark, they reminded Cliff of prison bars. He could have moved out, found an apartment on one of the other sides of town, joined a church choir, clipped coupons and flirted with a dreamy looking cashier at the local grocery store, but he couldn’t and he knew why. it was because of the curse a middle-aged Danish lady once put on him. She didn’t wave a wand, but she promised that he would grow old and lonely and scatter brained, be unable to focus on anything, not even during Do Something Different Day, the most cherished day in Hankerville.
The day was announced on both AM and FM radio, spontaneously, sometimes three times in the same month and other times, only once per year. The rules were simple – do something different. walk to work up or down a never before street. Drive around in a rented hearse. Wear a red hat. Walk with a hippity-hop in your step. Sing out loud. something, anything different.
no one knew who or where the judges were, but they were there because friday night, at sun down, the winners were announced and rewarded with 10 tickets to Tubman’s Movie House. Most winners waited till the first of the month, when the new movie came out, to use their tickets. That gave them something to look forward to for 10 months. Cut the town’s suicide rate down by five percent.
there was one memorable Do Something Different Day that came when leaves had already turned yellow and red, broke free from branch home, and begun their wild see saw sway to the ground. And as they did their death ritual, a voice came, at first undecipherable, but once out on the street, all ears turned towards the place where no one had previously looked – megaphones sandwiched between tree branches and light poles… a voice with a southern drawl….
“Two boats been discovered at the bottom of lake makeawish.”
mothers and fathers made a bread line rush for the lake in search of something new – a Kansas City Athletics hat, a Montreal Expos t-shirt, a pliers, an anonymous family photo. kids left their bikes behind….everyone under a spell – the sudden need for something different, everyone ready to dive and discover.
And Cliff? he heard the words too, but they slipped in one ear and out the other, that damn scatter brain curse, his mind switching to thoughts of beer, to Hedwigs Pub and so that’s where he went. he sat in a booth beside Bobcat, Train Track Tom, Vandy the vampire and The poet, as always, lingered at the end of the rail, sipping from his customary pitcher of Blatz, no glass needed, reading from his latest poetry publication – “Hagar’s Kin.” he stopped in mid-poem and said – “Cliff, turn yourself into a pretzel, become solstitial,” the poet clearly under the effects of Do Something Different Day……the poet suddenly an alchemist.
Solstitial, thought Cliff, as in solstices, as in two polars, as in change, as in lack of focus, as in up and down, as in happy and sad, an all over the place way of being. Cliff laughed, an out of his mind laugh, so long and loud that he thought he had replaced his old mind with a new mind, a laughing mind, that maybe he’d been saved, but then he stopped laughing and thought about rivets and erector sets, his mind still operating like a baggage carrousel on the move.
“I’ll call my old friend Rilo Davillo,” said the poet. “He’ll be home and he never turns down a beer, not on Do Something Different Day day and don’t you worry Cliff, he’ll bring a bag of balls. And a bat? Look no further than our family doctor, the bartender, Hector. He always keeps one beside the grey goose vodka in case one of those punks high on energy drinks jumps the rail in search of a freebee.”
Rilo arrived in less than an hour and he was a beer drinker. it was in his DNA, stretched back to the beer baron ancestor days on his father’s side, but this was Do Something Different Day so he dangled a flask of Jamesons Whisky in front of Cliff and led him outside, up 4th avenue, to the Food Emporium parking lot where the lights stayed on all night.
“Take the bat and stand by the wall,” instructed Rilo.
“Give me that flask and I will.”
Rilo handed him the flask and counted off 60 feet six inches.
Cliff took a nice healthy swig, swiped his feet on the cement, spit on his hands and waved that bat like carney lansford and on the first pitch, he took a wild swing, low and outside, way out of the strike zone, and on the second pitch, he tried to check his swing, but couldn’t, inside, almost hit him. amazing that he was even able to swing, more than enough fodder to inspire Rilo, typically quiet and humble to offer advice.
“You got a lay off the useless, wild ones; they do you no good? Like those thoughts of yours, that distraction-itis. The poet told me all about it.
“I hate Do Something Different Day,” screamed Cliff, “Turns a poet and his friend into a buddhist Tony Robbins. I’m going back to the bar.”
Cliff drank beer all the way until 2 AM bar time, and that’s when he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and studied the room like a weather vane studies the wind, to know if there were an after hours party to attend. there wasn’t so he asked the bartender Hector for a bag of peanuts and Hector, on the Do Something Different Day frequency, handed Cliff a bag, no charge, and added two cans of miller beer. Cliff, already drunk, stumbled a while, but his GPS guided him up 5th avenue, then down 5th avenue, then across the Green tree bridge and sliding down the hillside.
He sat under that Green Tree Bridge, beside the water, and the sound of Lake Makeawish came to him. He forgot all about the peanuts and beer. Instead, he thought about the two boats at the bottom of the Lake and then his mind, his ears, turned towards that sound of water. he listened to it and for a change, he had no other thoughts except that sound.