river rat: A trip home, part I. Does this give you any idea why I feel the need to go back home? Do you have anything like this running through your veins? Were you raised on this, on living this every single day of your childhood? I took Tim and Whitney there so someone who knows me now would have a small idea of how this river, this area, has latched onto me and won't let go.
Tim was ready for me. Layin' for me, as they say. 8:00 a.m. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen made him a sausage, egg and cheese and built me a BLT in exchange for a few dollars. Caffe Driade donated a coupla' Driade shakes (2 shots espresso, one cup vanilla ice cream, two tablespoons cocoa, two tablespoons powdered malt, a half cup of whole milk) to help us start our day.
I-85 for two hours, I-95 for two hours, 695 for half an hour, I-83 for an hour and half, and we arrive in Harrisburg. Somewhere along the way we visit Jamaica and the edges roll away, the shingles fall to the berm. Focus, focus...now clarity. Three pints of Guiness down near City Island park on Second Street, rock star parking helps us recover from the drive. Tim and I walk over to the island on the Walnut Street Bridge to take a piss. We watch an asian couple go through a training course on two Seque scooters they've rented and walk back to the car, headed for the airport to pick up Whitney.
On the way from the airport up to Liverpool, the Jamaicans stop in again and pollute the car. Lady Liberty of the Susquehanna confuses me everytime I see her. She stands on a railway bridge pier wrecked in the 1936 flood. We float by at 80 mph on Dauphin County's version of the Autobahn, headed for Lowe's Restaurant in Liverpool. The food was marginal, the decor late sixties truck stop and the clientelle straight from the mind of Gary Larsen. Sam Shetterly held court in his corner, drinking coffee and eating waffles and liver pudding as he has done for thirty years.
We head for Jimmy the Fertilizer's house. As a nervous eight year old he rolled several dry rabbit pellet turds down his leg into the lawn one day when he couldn't quite articulate his need to poo. Our mom picked him up and shook out the rest of his load into a freshly turned flower bed, hence the name. Jimmy's a peach. A happy, laughing father of two great girls and husband to Kim, his only sweetheart who has more patience with him than one can imagine. He has a keg on tap at all times. We drank with him and Skeeter, a neighbor whose been a good friend since we played ball in school together. Skeeter and a friend once walked naked into Lowe's restaurant on a Friday night wearing sneakers and sunglasses. This is where I grew up. Skeeter's wife and child joined us, we drank and laughed. Jim's new house up on Key Hill has the most fabulous view of the river, framed by the cemetary and the Schmatterhorn.
I give Jimmy a rough time. I have to. He will pounce on me and pummel me with words and names, ribbing me 'til I gasp for air. He works a nerve like a bum on a bologne sandwich. Last time I visited, I wasn't ready. He crushed me. This time, he's mine. I do not relent, he's broken by the fourth beer.
We drive to the end of the world, turn left, go another mile and we're at my Dad's house in the woods. Dad and Jane sit on the deck listening to the night creep up on them from all sides, wrapping them in black velvet and stars. We drink beer on his deck and see him inside where he'll tether himself to a peritoneal dialysis machine for the next six hours as he does every evening. Got a kidney you're not using. My old man could use it.
We drank more beers. I convinced Tim and Whitney that the three of us would be safe walking up to the end of the road, that the 440 pound black bear taken off Dad's property last season was a fluke. I lied. They were all around us, eating berries and sniffing who we three stoners were peeing in the berm and laughing up the road. At the end of the world the stars pierced the sky holding our eyes up. Brilliant pissholes in a snowbank. Black night thick with pollen and humidity. We walked back into a dark maw and headed for bed. I slept with Tim in a double bed. I didn't check if he was wearing any underwear.
Breakfast. Pounds of scrapple, bacon, fresh strawberries, preserves. Jane fueled our guts for the river. Dad carried us and our gear to Jimmy's oldest brother's house, cousin Paul's. His boat got us there, a narrow john boat he used for duck hunting.
Paul: "Watch out for Jimmy. He'll bust your balls." Me: "I know, I know." Paul: "His name should be changed to Maytag, 'cause I don't know a better goddamned agitator."
We put in at Sweigert's Island, a state owned island leased to farmers and off limits to the public. I poled seated because Paul's pole belonged to his grandfather and he couldn't part with it, no matter how short it became. Seated poling sucks in everything but a canoe.
We fished, we drifted, we drank and navigated the channels towards the other side of the river. Anchored under a birch in a rapids, sleep came to us flanked by two islands under dappled sun. No fish found us. No matter.
A quick visit to the island, THE island, Skull Island, we saw someone's crudely rebuilt version of the cabin on the old one's footprint. Too much poison to camp there, no one sprays DDT like dear old Dad used to. I pole us over to a favorite rock outcropping where the teen me partied all night long with friends for years. We make camp.
Tim's in the tent, pulling up his zipper. It's always a good idea to have your zipper up when preparing to build a fire.