The Wind in the Backseat

There’s that specific stretch of Interstate 8 that is not switch-backed. It has its own particular curves, though, where the merges border on dangerous. The billboards are garrulous with all their product-positive words. They’re generally marked with Clear-Channel footers.

The freeway’s white and the sun that bounces off the asphalt midday is merciless. It’s all sorts of glare. A two-year-old Cayden shifts in the backseat and complains in the way only a two-year old can, the sun hitting  his eyes too hard, light reflecting off the road, cheating the downturned visors.

“Stop it, Sun. You’re on time-out, Sun.”

The kid places the universe on time-out. Something of toddling arrogance to place the Copernican model in the corner.

“Time-out, Sun.” Cayden squints. “Stop it.”

The windows are rolled down. In the rear-view, Cayde looks to the left so that the sun hits the side of his face instead. He has blond hair that becomes a sudden wind-blown corona. With there being a new center of the universe in my backseat, reflected nicely in the rear-view, ancient and heliocentric astronomers slouch toward their deserved and punitive corner.

Cayde is momentarily content. My hands are on ten and two.

Windows are cracked, and with it being a few years later, Cayde flags his hand outside the backseat passenger’s side. He says: ‘Look, Daddy—a hand kite.” We drive past through the same bleached freeway. Cayde’s hand is cupped and his fingernails are dirty , this being the prescribed uniform for any five-year old.

The hand he flies outside the fast-moving window directs the wind, therefore the car. The sun’s no longer in his eyes because he’s taller in his seat. There are still billboards for the casinos, which are twenty miles in the opposite direction. The billboards remark in succession (and like an old Burma-shave campaign): “Clean.” “Honest.” “Fair.” We drive away from the adverts, pass some sub-par establishments, and Cayde flies his hand outside the window, singingly up and down, transversing the crests and troughs as we barrel down the freeway with the sun remaining in absolutely no one’s eyes.

Cayden’s right hand is probably cold by the time we find a driveway. Pretendedly—it directed us home. The hand-kite had us taking all the appropriate lefts, Cayde being  in the back passenger seat and opposite of left. The car’s stopped engine ticks and there are wheels in the driveway, us having avoided all the rights.

The wind’s not always in the backseat. Sometimes it’s in the front. I remember driving home with my dad in the old Ford, the blue one, which was most likely built on a Friday, Fridays when joints have looser seals and when workers just want to retire to a six-pack and the blue of a television screen. Buy a truck made on a Tuesday is the adage. The truck was blue: if riding in the front of the cab and on the passenger side, there was a constant wind that was something about a misaligned door. If you were the passenger, you were necessarily cold. Especially if it was dark and if you were in the right-hand seat.

We were driving on the 52. Those stuck on semantics hate the ‘the’ we Southern Californians assign our major thoroughfares, as if they don’t deserve it, but–really–every freeway should have an article attached. The 8. The 52. The roads are as important as are the vested wheels. We drive the 52, which is a long and gradual uphill. On the uphil,l there are breaks in the topography, sometimes canyons. There are bridges that don’t feel like bridges until the vehicles eddy. The buckwheat remains ruddy and consistently low-growing. Bridges happen when the wind rocks the cab and the vegetation doesn’t shake, just the cars.

The Ford was past the crest of the hill and I was cold. On the right-hand side I was freezing.

Pass Santos Road, there was the approximation of a mountain overpass, else two fuzzy hills with fences and shaggy overgrowth, young grasses and a lack of lights. There were certainly a lot of Call Boxes, and yellow signs signalling a peak. You crest the hill and you see Santee,parts of El Cajon, and you prefer just making the peak.

I had been ushering a poetry event. It was something my writing professor was curating at the La Jolla MOCA. I was a student. I got to wear a button on my lapel and tear ticket stubs as extra-credit.

(I missed the Ginsberg reading. He, I learned, signed books afterwards and probably when his liver was on something of a jaundiced junket. He was sallow. Yellow tie. Planted a bottle of amber in front of him when signing books. Drunk, but you wouldn’t have known it save for his fifth of an advertisement).

I heard Sharon Olds read Ginsberg’s Walt Whitman poem in requiem the next year. Garcia Lorca was down by the watermelons.

David Foster Wallace slayed and everyone was laughing and he signed books in teeny print and he wore his characteristic bandanna. He’s now dead having hanged himself.

Amy Tan, though: she was very sweet.

Czeslaw Milosz read a poem about wheelbarrows that actually topped William Carlos Wiliams’ poem about wheelbarrows. He had a lot of eyebrows, but what I remember most is that my friend leaned into me and said: “You know his son is bat-shit crazy.”

Krista—she lived next door to Milosz’ son who made gun threats and while Milosz won the Nobel prize. Krista had to lock her apartment door and there were authorities involved. This may have been Chicago. I forget the details.

I was eighteen and Krista was my best friend. When shopping for a bridesmaid’s dress, she hid me in the changing room and I saw everything save for her breasts and this was a game that I didn’t know how to play. She had black lace panties. I have a thing about black lace panties; maybe it started then. She slipped a size-zero A-line over her head and we both agreed it was a very nice dress. Who wears white to a wedding anyways?

The sun—it’s sometimes blinding.

On one particular night, Rita Dove read when she was the current National Poet Laureate. The benefit of ushering meant the confirmed meet-and-greet and I was with my friend Keri, ebullient and unrestrained. Rita Dove signed Keri’s dirty sneaker on Keri’s request. They exchanged what, by sound alone, were their favorite words.

Keri said: ‘Latrine.’

You could see the tip of her tongue involved in her smile. “La-trine.”

I forgot what Rita Dove said. A poem about her favorite words. About shoes or something. She signed the sneaker and was laughing because we were star-struck kids.

‘Latrine’ is a very funny word.

The backside of the MOCA is some short grass, requisite concrete, and there’s an ocean view. My eyes weren’t bad then. The ocean had three shades of blue that I could at that point determine, without polarized lenses. Small whitecaps because there was a wind and—with it being the gloaming–the white was something.

The husks of dead palm fronds scraped the stucco of the building and there was the occasional vegetative slap when the wind picked up. I wasn’t cold.

My dad picked me up and could I have cranked the heat. He cleared his throat a few times. I’d been talking non-stop with Keri and the offshore wind was persistent, but I was mute when my dad and I crossed over the peak and when palm fronds were exchanged for lilac and heavy brown buckwheat.

The coast smells like iodine,  the hills just smell sticky. Chaparral flowers bloom and it’s a dusty perfume—savory, something preferred even. Still, nothing that suggests movement or negative ions or the sour grass that spills phosphorescent onto the beaches. It’s not a downhill into Santee, per se, and the wind can be in the front seat sometimes, also the back.

I pick up Finn now, sometimes keeping the windows rolled down.

I rely on my side-view mirrors for caution and I tilt the rear-view down to watch what Finn does in the back seat. Finn catches my reflection in the mirror. Being watched, Finn feels a need to dance. I don’t ask him to—he just does. He bounces in his seat and waves two hands, smiles, and buh-buh-buh’s some approximation to the song on the radio.

(There’s the stereotype that every child with Down Syndrome is happy and Finn does nothing to discount the notion.

I was walking home once with my friend Jen. Her son Ben, also diagnosed with Down Syndrome, was age eight at the time. When passing the neighborhood bar, Ben spontaneously hugged a patron out front.

The whiskey guy laughed: “Oh—hey, Buddy!”

Jen muttered to me: ‘Fucking stereotype. I just wish sometimes…” before trailing off).

The windows are rolled down and there’s a wind and Finn revels in its catastrophe. He squints when looking to the left, when his bangs find a wind-swept vertical; he haphazardly smiles, too, when looking to the right and when his hair flies into a sudden and ecstatic part. Both our hairs are long. His eyes open and he claps. His hair is all over the place in an impractical geometry and there is an intermittent smile. He applauds every song ending on the car radio and he’s not sure when to exactly open his eyes. Or when he shouldn’t and I should.

We’re on the 125. This is the freeway that has its beginnings in buckwheat before turning into the 8 with its white concrete and before becoming the 805, which has its traffic and its trucks in low gear.

I keep the windows rolled down,and I drive this route all the time. I keep the windows down and mostly to just keep the wind constant.


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