Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Plane Crash Boys

Fri. Mar. 10

Woke at dawn, turned off the appliances in my apartment and packed my Caliber in the bone-chilling cold of a Marquette morning -- phone says four degrees with a wind chill of minus eleven -- then drove into historic downtown Marquette on the bay, all view of the lake drowned out by a whiteout, lake effect snow; parked in the shadows of St. Peter Cathedral's massive twin sandstone steeples. I walk west down Washington Street, headlong into the bay, searching the icy storefront windows for address numbers, literally experiencing a brain freeze as Superior's gales howl off the frozen lake. My therapist's office turns out to be right off the lake, at the intersection of Washington and Lakeshore Drive, and I open the big brass door and stomp my boots on the landing as I warm my bones from the cold. The directory hanging on the wall tells me that my therapist's office is upstairs on the first floor.

What with its nineteenth century style heat vents and narrow, boarding house hallways with hardened green carpet laid over the creaky wood floorboards, the staircase and indeed the building in general remind me of Paul Biegler's Ishpeming law offices and the Marquette county courthouse on the bay in Anatomy of a Murder -- ' just a stone's throw away from the world's largest inland lake, as dark and deceitful as a spurned woman, either caressing or raging at the shore, but today on its best company manners, presenting the falsely placid aspect of a mill pond' (as a substitute teacher, I had employed that as my daily quote to my students at a local high school up there on Monday, and my mind momentarily went back to them). I find my therapist's office at the end of a long hall with ficus plants scattered throughout, behind another big wooden door that reminds me somehow of the old Burt Lake cottage with its boarding house style rooms. Inside the office, I'm dumbfounded with serendipity as I run into Angel, the hero who salvaged Adam and I's camping trip to Copper Harbor when Adam visited back in November of last year; I'm certain he recognizes me in the same way I instantaneously recognize him, as certain as I am that I will see him again soon.

Whiteout conditions dominating the Upper Peninsula landscape, I drive cautiously and anxiously across Northern Michigan listening to some of the Dan Lebatard show, only to find M-28 along Lake Superior closed due to strong winds/waves over the road. I turn around and take a detour South, lose the Marquette ESPN station and put on my new audiobook The Agony and the Ecstasy, a fictionalized biography of the Italian artist Michelangelo; get lost in the first four chapters of Michelangelo's apprenticeship to Ghirlandaio in fifteenth century Tuscany. The book is written by the same author as the Van Gogh bio -- his final, one-eared years were largely spent in an insane asylum -- I just finished, Irving Stone. Stopped for a piss break in the one-stoplight town of Engadine, where I parked my car next to an Amish horse-drawn buggy.

By the time I hit U.S. 2 along the Lake Michigan underbelly of the Upper Peninsula the weather had let up, opening my windshield to a vast portrait of snow-capped evergreens along the frozen shores, where the hilly sand dunes are coated in thick layers of ice, and to my incredulous bemusement I found the Michigan basketball game coming in from a Traverse City station just in time for the second half, the Wolverines holding a one point lead headed into the locker rooms despite a half court buzzer beater by Purdue. The game has me mesmerized through Gaylord, at least (the teller at the Mackinac Bridge, an older gentleman in yooper cap, hearing my radio, asks me the score, and I joyously relay the Michigan advantage to him) the Boilermakers and Wolverines going back and forth, Michigan's young bigs in Mo Wagner and DJ Wilson more than holding their own against Purdue's twin towers in B10 Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. When Michigan pulls away in overtime, I pump my fist to an empty gray sky, nary a car in sight going North or South on 1-75 in the middle of nowhere, Northern Michigan. What had heretofore been perhaps my least favorite senior class in Michigan Basketball history in Walton and Irvin, the duo suddenly seemed bent on rewriting their legacies in Michigan Basketball lore, a legend that was growing in lieu of the team's plane crash mishap en route to the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C.

It would be dishonest for me to say that I didn't revel in the following game, too, rolling through the flat farm lands of mid-Michigan towards the industrial smokestacks of Saginaw -- a low scoring, old-fashioned Big Ten battle between Michigan State and Minnesota, which the Spartans wind up blowing late. Maybe I'm really becoming a Yooper, because I can barely fathom the rush hour traffic on the freeways as I reenter the familiar confines of  the Metro Detroit area; suburbanites drive like maniacs.

Pulled into Frank's Farmington Hills condo shortly after six o'clock, an eight hour drive in total; not bad considering the shitty conditions in the Yoop. Knock on Frank's door -- no answer -- let myself in and greet Deek, then find Frank napping. Turned on the TV and watched basketball by myself for three hours, journaled, drifted off to distant galaxies, and watched most of the Duke-Carolina ACC Semifinal solo, until Frank finally woke up, Bryan arrived, and later J, too, Duke capping an epic day of college hoops with an historic comeback to beat the Heals and advance to the ACC Championship. That night, I inwardly reflect on how much of a Yooper I've become while listening to the three of them talk about their upcoming Vegas trip with Steve and Jim, how we lead very different lives, now. Bryan tells us about his most recent speeding ticket and his misadventures at Twin Peaks. Like de ja vu.

Sat. Mar. 11

Saturday morning I showered and went digging through my childhood bedroom closet for my brother and I's old Michigan basketball jerseys, found the old number five Deion Harris jersey (I used to tell people it was a Jalen Rose jersey) and put it on over a long sleeve tee, then ventured over to Frank's to meet Bryan before the Big Ten Semi Final against Minnesota. From there, Bryan drove to the Lakepointe Yacht Club on Newburgh Lake, where we were meeting Steve for a reunion of sorts, along with Bryan's brother and buddies.

"I used to come here every day last summer!" Bryan boasts jokingly.

"I did a lot of writing across the lake in the woods last summer," I respond, laughing hysterically, reflecting on those hot summer afternoons after my day program, when I would sit out at the docks writing; we lead very different lives now indeed.

We order lunch and drinks (beers for them, cokes for me) at a high top wood table in a sea of middle-aged men; been a long time since I've been to the Yacht Club -- probably not since my drinking day, I speculate. The Plane Crash Boys take another, carried by now-undisputed team leader Derrick Walton Jr.'s career high twenty-nine points and nine assists, advancing to the Big Ten Tournament Championship tomorrow, but Steve, Bryan and I are largely distracted. I scribble down notes and corrections for chapters twenty-six and seven of my novel as Steve and Bryan recount their version of events from the spring, summer and fall of 2012; the height of my drinking, I guess my memory of events isn't exactly the greatest.

Sat. night is de ja vu all over again. Is it ever any different on a trip home? Frank calls me over late after he gets off from work, and though I'm already in my pajamas I head over.

"I work every day, literally," he tells me with a dumb smile on his face when I ask him if he has to work again tomorrow.

Bryan is over, too, but he is passed out on the couch; don't think he's been home all day.

"I have to bail someone out of jail later," Bryan mumbles from the couch before rolling over to sleep some more; I'm not sure if he's serious.

"I'm about to pass out, dude," Frank tells me about ten minutes into "Being Charlie," a film written by Rob Reiner's son about an eighteen year old drug rehab runaway that initially reminds me of students at the rehab facility Up North. A few minutes later, however, I realize that Charlie is clearly me, and I suspect that Frank left me alone to watch this movie for a reason. When it's over, I'm left with the deeply profound impact that any addict feels when another addict shares his story, the connection and how it relates to me on a personal level.

Daylight savings robbing us of an hour, I drove home a round three in the morning through the relatively empty streets, listening to the Michelangelo audiobook to get my mind off of "Being Charlie" briefly -- Michelangelo befriends another apprentice named Granacci -- before going back to the radio, when I'm astonished at how closely I can relate to a song I've heard hundreds of times in a way that I never could before, how I've never quite been able to feel it as I feel it in my soul tonight:

"And you can't fight the tears that ain't comin'
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know you're alive

And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am"

After catching a replay of the PAC 12 Championship game and getting some writing done, I finally went to bed around five in the morning.

Sun. Mar. 12

This weekend, I've been explaining the theme of the novel I'm writing to various friends: "It's like fate," I told Steve yesterday at the Yacht Club. It was your fate to go to Michigan State like it was my fate to go to Michigan. My book is like that, with the Red Wings." It never sounds as good as it looks on the page, I reflected.

When I told my brother about it during halftime of the Big Ten Championship game, it dawned on me that I was living in yet another of those fateful sports weekends: "Michigan went on that run as soon as I went to rehab in 2013. I watched every game at your house, including the Trey Burke buzzer beater to beat Kansas," I waxed nostalgically, "and this weekend it feels like I was meant to be home watching this Big Ten tourney run with you guys." Following the plane crash in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, Michigan basketball did seem to be getting the bounces of destiny in recent days.

"I can't wait for you guys to read it," I said to Bryan and Patrick as the Michigan Basketball team emerged from the locker rooms for the start of the second half. I opened the curtain of the sliding glass door for no reason other than to temper my anxiety, looking out at the steel gray Farmington sky. There were two ducks flying in disregard of the coming blizzard.

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