Friday, February 1, 2008

Memorial Day

On the Sunday before Memorial Day of this year my wife and I went to a cookout in New Rochelle. I was playing a cd in the car as we pulled away from our house. It was country or jazz. “I feel like rock n roll,” she said, “on the radio.” I noticed we were both wearing blue jeans, and I hoped her desire foretold a day or two of youthful fun.

I was in a different car, our Volvo, the next morning, when I loaded up our dogs and went out for my morning coffee. I remembered my wife’s preference from the day before, and tuned into a new station. I think they played Van Halen for the first leg of my outing. I don’t know hard rock too well, but it wasn’t bad, and I thought I’d stick with this station for the time being.

Loaded up with hot coffee, dark and sweet, from the Bagel Boys, I headed on to the video store. We got shafted earlier in the weekend with all the new releases we wanted gone when we stopped by after dinner. It was actually pretty stunning because they had about 25 empty cases of each one on the shelves. You’d think that would be enough of The Good Shepherd, say, but it was not. We love the new releases around here, I guess. A morning video run seemed like a savvy answer. Besides, what’s better than a little early beat-the-traffic tooling around with three dogs and a hot cup of coffee?

I took a right after the coffee, turned the radio back on and “Piece of My Heart,” was just getting started. “… and didn’t I give you everythang… that a woman possibly caaan?..” I turned it up a little louder. It was raw and real; she meant "everythang." It was a gorgeous morning too. No traffic on route 35. The mastiff sat in the back seat and pressed her rugby ball head against my right shoulder while I drove. The dogs love routine and this is what we like to do. They get a little down if the errand running goes past a half-hour or so.

I screamed along with Janis for another three minutes. Then they played, “Already Gone,” the Eagles song. I thought, what a good station. It’s a great song, not a classic that’s worn out a groove in your brain, but a familiar goodie. The sentiment is I don’t want you either baby and who can’t relate to that? “I will sing this victory song!”

But victory was not to be mine. Blockbuster opens at 10 am as it turns out. You can return videos in the slot, and I had to content myself with that. My hope of picking up an evening’s entertainment with a painless morning car ride had ended at 9:15 am.

Steve Miller made it all better. The chorus of The Joker is dull and overly familiar. I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, yeah yeah yeah. But the song starts out with the some wiggy stuff: “Some people call me Maurice because I speak of the pompitous of love.” I read an article about Steve Miller once that made me admire him. As I recall, he moved to San Francisco in the late sixties as a business proposition. He was a good blues guitarist and knew that the hippy bands there would need players who could actually play. His plan worked out well. So I enjoyed the Joker. Gimme Three Steps came next. My mood stayed fine although that one is doesn’t hold up all that well for me.

I arrived back in South Salem and took a left off the state route 35 onto Bouton, the same road where my wife said she wanted to hear the radio. Gimme Three Steps was over and the most richly produced drum beats I know of started to pound. It was Bruce Springsteen doing Born in the USA. Bouton Road goes up over a little mountain so its early stages give you a chance to engage the motor. And up over the mountain we went. I love how Born in the USA is a patriotic-feeling rock n roll anthem and a protest song. Inclusive and incisive at the same time. Quite a trick. I was rocking too.

We came down the moutain’s other side and cars were accumulating at the T, about 200 feet from my house. Six cars stopped at the yield sign, with someone at the bottom of the hill holding everybody up. I squinted and leaned forward to see. Suddenly, three men in tank tops came around the corner and charged up the hill. It was a race; the Memorial Day 10-K. The top guy looked like he was about 17 but two men breathing hard on his left and right were in their middle or late twenties.

The mastiff went nuts. Poor old Penny, our mutt, who’s 17 herself, had to scramble out of the way. Magda, 180 pounds and a deafening barker was drowning out Bruce and trying to scare the crap out of all the racers. They chugged by my car, which was literally rocking, heroically working the hill. A whole town’s worth of runners. After the leaders came the middle-aged majority, 30 men and women in better shape than I. Then the men with baby carriages, then a few hardy elderly. Penny joined the barking. So did our Shih Tsu. Their rage is contagious, and they show no mercy for the weak or old.

At first I was embarrassed by the barking, the fury, the fogged up windows. But then I thought: this is applause. They love this. I do too. The Memorial Day racers are reminding us to remember. I was missing the good song, but holidays are like that.