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Ever the Transient August 12, 2002

Posted by LHK in college.
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Gloria’s redneck son answered the doorbell after two rings, after I had already considered leaving and buying more coffee and reading more Dave Eggers and then coming back and ringing the bell again. The redneck son was thin and sullen and didn’t understand the need of recent college graduates to stay at their co-workers’ homes for two nights. “You’re here to see my mom, huh?” He has been downloading Creed songs on the computer. His t-shirt and the front plates on his Dodge Ram displayed the Rebel flag in clever hidden ways.

Gloria was smoking in the basement when the sullen redneck son led me to her. Her cigarettes have gotten cheaper over the course of this year, moving from Marlboro to Winston to some off-brand in glossy red and black packaging, bought by the carton each week at the Golden Pantry. She folded clothes as the cheap cigarette dangled from one side of her mouth. Then, with expert enunciation, she complained about the state the house was in. I took the opportunity to tell her it was huge, because it was. Three bedrooms upstairs, three bedrooms down, and a room off the garage that could be used to sleep someone as well. Acreage. Deer in the forest. A creek. At work lately she’s been telling me about her plans to grow a yard full of irises, and how she and Jack (questionable husband) have been out in the yard with a tractor, readying the yard for this massive garden.

Huge, I said, without hinting that I had no idea how she could afford the place, especially on the salary that Ann gives her, especially with her being in credit card debt from those years she spent ordering every product she saw advertised on TV late at night.

(Which is hilarious, if you really take the time to picture it: this forty-something woman of many marriages, this mother to three odd children, this woman of thick dark hair and small eyes and sundresses, staring at the screen at two in the morning, chain smoking in her nightgown, holding the phone in the other hand, telling herself that buying the Time-Life Easy Listening Jazz Collection, the Easy Fold value pack, and three gallons of Oxy-Clean is a very good idea.)

She seemed to disregard my compliments to the house, then showed me to my room, which was home to J.R.’s cross-country trophies and a prefab brown bookshelf full of lesser-known children’s books. The sullen redneck son traipsed through the hallway, peering inside at me, curled on the bed with my journal, still having no idea what I was doing here.

Gloria and I and the questionable husband met their musician friend for dinner at Mexicali Grill, a well-known eastside watering hole for fratboys and neo-hippies alike. The musician met us in the parking lot. He drove an old Volvo. He’s the brooding former boyfriend of Krimson, Gloria’s daughter, who, at twenty-four, follows Widespread Panic around the country and still finds the time to own and manage a sandwich shop. And he is, indeed, a real musician. He plays the 40 Watt and has enemies at Flagpole Magazine. He’s going to the studio tomorrow after staying tonight at Gloria’s (just “the house,” she calls it. Not her house, but everybody’s house. She’s invited me here many times. Anyone can come here for dinner, can set up shop in the basement. Gloria would make an excellent communist). I didn’t say much to the musician at dinner, besides the fair amount of babbling I did about hormones fed to chickens. The musician seemed altogether uninterested.

On the ride back, with Gloria and Jack (questionable husband) both smoking and not wearing their seatbelts, I talked a whole lot about the cruise and my road trip and my mom acting crazy and my dad being a day trader. Gloria and Jack agreed that I should take the road trip now, while I’m free from responsibility. “‘Cause pretty soon you’ll have a job again, and credit card debt, and then one day you’ll have a kid, and that’ll set you back twenty years,” Gloria said.

“And then you’ll be fifty like us,” Jack said. “And then you’ll be able to think about traveling again.”

I kept expecting one of them to say something like, “Wow, L., that’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk.” Or, “See, you can make her talk if you just ask her the right thing” (which is much worse than the first statement, as it implies that they have been discussing strategies to make you more vocal). It just came back to me: Katey B. saying something of the sort to me and my other summer camp cronies during my days of Frisbee injuries and tire-swing-induced vomiting at Holcomb Bridge School. Should these things seem far away to me? Just today, as I was entering Watkinsville and passing Gloria’s house for the second time, I was thinking about how wholly unsurprised I’d be to wake up at age sixteen tomorrow morning, to be worrying once more about school buses and Honors Chemistry and GHP auditions and eternal virginity.

***

For future reference, Gloria’s other son is J.R., the better looking one, though I’ve never met him. His cross country picture is on the wall right near me, and he has a striking what-Ben-Affleck-must-have-looked-like-at-Harvard look. He just returned from El Salvador a few weeks ago, where he visited his girlfriend, who ignored him.

For more future reference, the musician friend returned with a demo CD of his new song, “Damn Good Dawg.” It’s a rollicking country anthem for the University of Georgia’s mascot. He and Gloria and the questionable husband and I sat in the truck and listened to it. This, the musician said, was the next big thing. Every single UGA fan was going to have a copy of this CD in hand on game day. He stood and talked to me about it in the driveway for a long time. It was ten PM and I was barefoot and still wearing my work skirt.