No More Hawaiian Punch Notebooks
I remember driving very fast down Double Trouble Road in Berkley Township, NJ. I’d had my license for a year and hadn’t even wrecked yet. There had been a forest fire a few years before and all the pines were charred. But there was new sprigs of green coming up out of the last of the dirty snow and I didn’t have a job.
I was in love but my ex-girlfriend was off at college and we’d broken up because I wasn’t going to college with her or college anywhere else. There’d really been that line drawn in the sand. If I didn’t go to school we couldn’t keep dating.
The coins on the dresser were enough to get a quarter tank of gas and a newspaper. Later that day I’d drive around and look for a job, or I wouldn’t. Tax returns were about to come and my rent was already paid a few months ahead with my easy going landlord parents. I got a cup of coffee at Wawa and instead of answering the ad for telemarketer or furniture delivery or factory line work, I headed back into the development where I grew up. The development that popped to life the same year that the nuclear power plant came and the workers needed places to live. I went home. And like a zillion other humans with lives wide open, on a whim, I decided I was going to write a novel.
This was the day my brother was in the hospital because he’d fallen off the back of a garbage truck and landed in a giant slush puddle, fucking himself all up. As I walked in the door, a call came in on the house line. Could I go and pick him up the voice said.
I didn’t know how bad he was hurt, just that he’d gotten hurt at work and I had to go sign the release forms at the ER for him, or maybe he just needed a ride. I don’t remember.
Double Trouble Road is just two lanes and there’s usually no one on it so you can drive as fast as you want. Around 80mph I decided when I got back to my room downstairs I was going to do something different with my time, I was gonna stop reading all the time and try and write a book.
I’d written in notebooks since I was fourteen. But I’d never learned how to type and now I didn’t give a shit anymore. I was going to type out the novel, skip the notebook. All the notebooks in all my life have never gone anywhere. They’ve just gotten Hawaiian Punch spilled on them or left out in the rain on a picnic table and that’s that.
My father had found a computer at the township dump and he figured out how to put a new motherboard in it, and he gave me the computer. And he gave me a garbage dump keyboard. And a garage dump mouse. And I took the shitty formica desk from upstairs because they were going to throw it away, smashed off the top hutch and made it a computer desk. I’ve still got that here actually, I’m sitting at it right now, 13 years later. On 173rd Street and Haven Ave. in Washington Heights, NYC. Year of our Lord 2016.
When I got to the ER, Year of Our Lord 2003, my brother was wheeled out by an orderly and he was holding this big plastic bag on his lap.
He started to tell me this story: “I was jumping over this slush puddle and my foot slipped when I landed on the back of the truck and … I cracked my head on the road and I was laying in this icy ass puddle and this old lady opened the door and said ‘don’t move you might have a spine injury I’ll call an ambulance’.
“What’s in the bag?”
“My trench coat.”
The orderly busted out laughing and I started laughing too, my brother got pissed.
In the car on the way back to the house I think I told him that I was going to write a novel and he was looking out the window still really pissed off at me.
We were on Double Trouble Road again and I was driving very fast again. Pretty much the only road I ever drove recklessly on back in my hometown was that road.
Except this other time when I was thinking about buying the car I have now, and I wanted to take it for a test drive but my brother is much more mechanical than me so he went along for the ride and it was pouring rain and I got that car up to 125 mph on a rain slick road and my brother said, “Please slow down you’re going to get us fucking killed.”
“I’m just testing it out …”
“Well don’t …”
“Seeing what it can do.”
“Take me home.”
I did write that novel. I came home from the hospital and I started that night. I was laid off of work at the time and I didn’t have to go to sleep. And back then everything was new to me and I didn’t know a single rule, I liked to drink Seagrams Seven and ginger ale. I’m glad I didn’t learn too many of those rules. I’m happy they still make Seagrams Seven and they still make Ginger Ale.
I just wrote and wrote and wrote and it was all garbage. But Jesus, I had the best time.
When the novel was done, I was cool with being done too. I didn’t edit it passed a first draft. I didn’t submit it to any publishing houses. I went to Staples and I got one copy of the book printed out and bound with rings. Cost me $22 or something silly.
I looked at it and said, “Fucking A, I wrote a book.”
I remember it snowed really hard and my friend who was living in Seaside Heights called me up on the phone to come over and eat painkillers with him, so I hopped in my car and drove across the bridge all icy like the end of the world and when I got to my friend’s apartment there was nowhere to park on the street, so I put the car on this little basketball court that was around the corner because I figured no one was going to play basketball with the court that iced over. I guess the cops figured that too because they didn’t give me any tickets, which was strange because pretty much anytime I ever went to Seaside Heights, I got a ticket. Once I got two tickets and one must have blown away and I got my license suspended for not paying the other one.
When I walked up to my friend’s door he’d grown a beard and I guess so had I, so it looked like something you just automatically did when you turned 20, no matter who you are. We sat on his couch and he asked what was new and I said, “My brother fell off the back of a garbage truck and got hurt pretty bad and I wrote a novel.”
“Holy shit, bro! You wrote a novel? You’re gonna get fucking rich.”
“R, I, C, H.”
We celebrated our good fortune that there were five Yuengling beers in the fridge and one Rolling Rock and the Chinese food place down the block would still deliver no matter how close the apocalypse came to the edge of the cave. And we took the painkillers and watched TV, and it was a Wednesday with nothing at stake and life was good.