Charlie always woke up early, but today he meant business. The fact that he had awoken to an empty bed was startling at first because his wife was missing! Am I still dreaming, he must silently have asked himself? As he slowly awakened from his slumber, Charlie remembered that his wife had left late last night because they were fighting quite a bit these days. They desperately needed a respite from one another, so the disgruntled couple concluded that an impromptu trip to Oregon might be helpful. It was akin to a trial separation, but only for a week.
It was the beginning of another scorching hot summer’s day in Farmington, New Mexico. “The weather is going to be good today,” Charlie told himself, as he looked forward to the day’s events. He knew that he would have his ‘number-one-son’ all to himself. It was a perfect day for a flea-market because it was the first of the month, meaning the Navajo Indians had all received their government subsidy checks by now. Charlie needed coffee, so he briskly kicked off the polyester comforter and rolled out of the king-sized bed. Knowing that his wife, Tammy, and Quentin were safely in Oregon, he felt an elusive feeling of liberation. As a result, he didn’t bother putting on a bathrobe. Instead he just stumbled down the narrow hallway in sagging Fruit-of-the-Loom briefs. As he struggled to feel around for the light switch, he stubbed his toe on a mysterious metal object. It was pitch black in the trailer-house because they never left any lights burning at night. By the time Charlie illuminated the slender corridor he identified the culprit as one of Zane’s toys. It was a 12-inch-long steel replica of a Chevy pick-up truck that ‘Santa’ had brought.
It was sometime during the previous afternoon that Charlie’s wife proclaimed she was leaving and taking the kids with her! Betty was highly agitated, and as a result she didn’t care if the children were eavesdropping from behind closed bedroom doors. It was a modest home with three tiny bedrooms, and because of this it was readily apparent when the parents would argue. The children were accustomed to the friction because it would permeate through the paper-thin walls. Yesterday’s bout was especially tumultuous, and the shouting match was peppered with the sounds of shattering glass! On this particular occasion, Zane had enough, and he took it upon himself to defend his father’s honor. In the heat of the moment Zane stomped into the kitchen and informed his Mom that he was going to stay home with Dad! Cleary this inflamed Betty’s insecurities, but she was secretly relieved. Not only did she need a break from her husband, but Betty also needed some time away from her eldest son! As she hastily packed a suitcase, Betty informed her oldest boy that, “when you grow up, you’re going to be just like your dad!” The words slowly spewed from her mouth with a seething vitriol that was representative of Betty’s upbringing. Zane resented his mother, and the feeling was mutual. With every ounce of restraint a six-year-old boy could muster, Zane resisted the urge to lash out! Instead, he secretly screamed out the word “GOOD!!!” Of course Zane wouldn’t dare say something that hateful ‘out loud.’ His mother had a propensity for violence, and he knew it. Because of her limited coping skills, his mother could be dangerous at times. Fortunately for Zane, most of his mother’s pent-up aggression was taken out on Charlie, but on rare occasions, Betty would unleash her fury on the young lad as well. In uncontrollable outbursts, Betty was known to use whatever was within her grasp as a projectile. Hair brushes and high-heeled shoes were her weapons of choice.
Over breakfast, Charlie casually asked Zane if he missed his mother. He was quietly pondering the state of his marriage. Zane was hardly listening as he eagerly sopped up some egg yolk with the remainder of his half-eaten wheat toast. He gulped a large swig of milk from a glass tumbler, and with a perfectly formed milky mustache, he asked his father to repeat the question. His blue eyes were shining like diamonds. “I guess he didn’t hear me,” Charlie thought to himself. It was probably for the best he reasoned as he treated himself to a huge gulp of black coffee. “Never mind,” his father said. “I was just thinking out loud.” Zane didn’t know what that meant, so he continued to finish eating his bacon.
It was just passed six in morning by the time Charlie and his boy finished their breakfast. The duo walked out of the house and towards the back yard. An antique decommissioned school bus awaited them in the sunlit dawn. By the time Charlie acquired the bus, the seats had already been salvaged. The extendable folding stop-sign that was common among school busses had been removed. The lenses of the assorted amber and red warning lights had been camouflaged with some surplus lime green paint. In the forward area of the interior was a small hastily installed wood-burning cook stove. A small folding table, that measured four-feet square, was stowed behind a beer cooler that lie adjacent to a neatly kept twin bed. Charlie, who wasn’t a carpenter by any stretch of the imagination, did his best to fabricate a wooden partition that separated the living area from the cargo hold. From a small child’s standpoint, the bus had seemingly fallen from the sky; from out of nowhere! In reality, Charlie had purchased the old bus from a ‘business associate’ by the name of Floyd. Charlie got the dilapidated school bus ‘for a song,’ because he was such a clever negotiator. In Zane’s mind, the bus was the greatest thing in the world! He would proudly proclaim to the envious neighbor kids that, “My Dad’s got a school bus you know!” The bus was a hideous sight to behold. It was a 1960 Chevrolet Viking with four protruding headlights, and a gigantic bumper that could have been used as a battering ram. Promptly upon obtaining the old bus, the crew took to the task of painting it with a hand roller. They used the remaining green paint to cover up the traditional yellow and black color scheme. They only had one gallon of the dull green liquid, so they had to use it sparingly. As a result there was barely enough paint for one thin coat. They left the front bumper painted black, which contrasted the pale green matte finish in a strange but soothing way.
Charlie went to open the gate, while Zane sprinted towards the starboard side of the raggedy bus. Zane’s tiny arms couldn’t muster enough strength to open the passenger side entrance, but he tried with all of his might just the same. He would use two hands, one to push against the inner edge of the tall inboard door, while tugging on the outboard one. Zane, who wanted to prove his own strength, mimicked his father as he groaned and squirmed. He put all of his intention into opening the stubborn doors while Charlie watched from a distance. He admired the will power of his favorite son, but somehow Charlie couldn’t stand to see his boy struggle. He made his way towards the bus and said. “Let me do it Spud-Bud!” His father motioned for Zane to step aside as he effortlessly pried the panels open with two thick fingers. Charlie was just about as strong as a gorilla. To alleviate his son’s apparent disappointment, Charlie told his boy not to worry. “You’ll be just as strong as the old man some day!” Upon hearing the news, Zane beamed with optimistic pride. Now that he had the doors open, Zane eagerly proceeded on through the threshold. He carefully navigated the large black rubber steps that led up into the cavernous interior. Upon doing so he hopped up onto the driver’s seat so he could practice ‘driving.’ Charlie didn’t mind that his boys played in his vehicles in this way, as long as they didn’t ‘mess with any of the switches!’ Zane sat behind the wheel in glorious rapture as he attempted in vain to twist the gigantic steering wheel back and forth. He would extend his right arm, as far as he could reach, in order to grasp the round black ball that made up the tip of the shifting lever. He could only dream of a time when his dangling legs would be long enough to reach the clutch pedal. “All right Spud Bud Stud,” His father exclaimed as he suddenly appeared from out of nowhere! Charlie joined his son in the small living quarters, and boldly informed him that, “It’s time to switch drivers!” Without saying a word, Zane obediently disembarked from the captain’s chair and plopped himself onto the bed; being careful not to get his dirty shoes onto the wool blanket. Zane preferred sitting at the edge of the bed while his dad drove because it provided a panoramic view of the world ahead through a cracked windshield. There weren’t any seatbelts.
There was nothing in the world that Zane enjoyed more than spending time with his father. In the boy’s heart he knew his dad was a good man. Charlie was ineffable as far as Zane was concerned. The ‘number one son’ carefully studied his dad’s motions as they departed. Zane was mesmerized by the way his father could rapidly ‘double-clutch’ the old Chevrolet. He wanted so badly to be like his father when he grew up. They traveled southbound on LaPlata highway until they came upon the first intersection. At this time the duo was greeted by a large white highway sign with black fonts. For only being in the second grade, Zane was pretty adept at reading. He understood that the sign indicated the town of Shiprock was only 33 miles away. The text was accompanied by an arrow that pointed west. Zane watched in silent amazement as his father wrestled with the large steering wheel in his attempt to negotiate the hard right turn. “How strong is he,” Zane pondered as he recalled how impossible it was for him to even budge that thing. As Charlie straightened out the wheel, he simultaneously started ‘grabbing gears.’ Zane watched as his father masterfully manipulated the push-pull switch that was fastened to the top of the gear shift. The old bus had what they called a ‘split rear-end’ meaning that the differential had two speeds that could be activated independently of the main transmission. In effect this gave the vehicle a total of eight forward speeds. It took a lot of skill to manipulate the gearbox cogs, even for a grown-up. But Charlie made it look just as easy as falling off a log.
They traveled west through the Bisti-Badlands with the rising sun at their backs. Due to high altitude in the New Mexico desert, mornings tended to be a little chilly. In spite of this, Charlie decided that they could use a little fresh air. As he drove, he called out to his son and instructed him to “crack open one of the windows! Zane jumped out of the bed which doubled as a passenger seat, and clumsily stood up as the bus swayed from side to side. Zane had to choose which window to open, and he decided upon the one that was right behind the driver’s seat, so he could be closest to his dad. Upon drawing down the window a sudden whoosh of brisk frigid air swept through the cabin which blended nicely with the fresh scent of his father’s after-shave. Unbeknownst to his father, Zane stood behind him for a long while as they trundled down the highway. He admired the collar of Dad’s button-up shirt. He noticed the texture of the fabric as he sensed the vibration in the floor while the Chevrolet droned on. Zane drifted away as the miles crept by.
Upon arriving at the flea-market, Charlie wheeled the big bus onto the bumpy hard packed dirt that lie adjacent to the main highway. He knew that Zane enjoyed being jostled by rough roads, and he intentionally drove over a large ‘chuck-hole’ in the dirt. The resulting shock to the rigid suspension caused Zane to literally bounce three inches into the air! This was Zane’s cue. The young man knew that it was time to ‘get to work,’ as his dad would say. Charlie navigated the old bus into position, and then he killed the engine. With a huge right hand, Charlie gripped the chrome handle which actuated the swinging front door. With this, Zane bolted out of the bus as if he were on a mission. He was greeted by a smattering of men who had arrived earlier. Floyd, who dealt in turquoise jewelry, was already set-up; meaning that he had already completed the task of displaying his wares. Floyd was an early bird. He called out to Zane in a booming voice and said “Ya-Te-Hay Hosteen!” This was tribal dialogue which translated into ‘Hey Zane! How’ve you been? “Ya-Te-Hay!” Zane replied with an angelic smile! The various other venders were busy unloading their trucks in preparation for the day’s events as the dusty cool morning air yielded to the harsh burning sun.
…to be continued.
Fifty-Two-year-old, stay at home dad, philosopher, and recovering narcissist.