ŅFinding God in ToledoÓ

            There was a time when IÕd go to Ohio. Because I truly despise the Buckeyes; but nonetheless, my love of football and U of M hadnÕt kept me from going. Though rarely, I would occasionally leave Michigan and head down south because smokes there are so much cheaper.

            But now I refuse to set foot there. IÕm serious, and itÕs all because of a nightmarish day that IÕd had as a teen in Toledo. And to say the least it was scarring: when I was nineteen, my decision to skip school and drive to Ohio was one of my worst ones ever.

            And thatÕs saying a hell of a lot here. Because I suppose I was just born wild; and accordingly, IÕve done things like awoken in the middle of a flight and not known where I was going. Often boozy, my terrible choices have also come from drugs and continue now that IÕm thirty.

            But that wasnÕt the case with Toledo. I was sober, and hadnÕt done drugs for a month or two aside from my wake-and-bake mornings. And letÕs be perfectly honest: while I donÕt now, smoking pot shouldnÕt be illegal and weed is not a narcotic.

            And God had I loved marijuana. For back then IÕd been a serious stoner; and every day, I had gotten up and smoked a joint as I drove to my place of employment. A college dropout, I was working mornings at a video store and couldnÕt have been more contented.

            Because my job was absurdly easy. It was a joke, and my shifts had consisted of stealing candy and watching films from the counter. Because thereÕd barely been any business: from nine to five, I had been there on weekdays when everyone was at work except for degenerates and seniors.

            And sometimes people were both of those. Because the video store had a porn room; and for example, there was a little old lady whoÕd get out tapes with titles like Goo Guzzlers Seven. With the sweetest smile, she would hand me her cash while IÕd happily thought that I had the best job ever.

            But then my girlfriend had gone and ruined it. She was pissed, and had told me that I had to be better with money and re-enroll for some classes. Because sheÕd said that there was an issue: evidently, I could no longer live in her parentsÕ basement as her mom and dad had abhorred me.

            Because for awhile thatÕs where IÕd been staying. And it was too bad that I wasnÕt Maltesean; for awkwardly, thatÕs what they were and they resented the fact that I wasnÕt one of their number. Immigrants, they had busted their asses to make it here and were appalled by their daughterÕs selection.

            And I canÕt really say that IÕd blamed them. I got it, and things werenÕt helped by my shaggy hair or disinterest in Maltesean culture. And her parents were far from stupid: without a doubt, theyÕd had to have known what we were doing downstairs before sheÕd go sleep in her bedroom.

            But I was bummed about my eviction. Because theyÕd had the most comfortable sofa; and moreover, I had been able to blow my checks on their daughter as IÕd lived a rent-free existence. For three months, IÕd been sleeping there and buying her shit when I was supposed to have just stayed for a weekend.

            And I really was a sweet boyfriend. I loved her, and had done things like spend around four hundred bucks to buy her an inflatable castle. And that castle was fucking awesome: with room for ten, you could party in its various sections and when inflated it had filled up the basement.

            But it sucked that it was too flimsy to live in. Because there was no way around getting booted; and whatÕs more, my girlfriendÕs announcement had come right after the death of my Ō92 Escort. Up shit creek, the deceased vehicle would have been my paddle as I could have used it for shelter.

            And so IÕd had to call up my parents. We were estranged, and at the time theyÕd had every reason on earth to not let me back in their household. Because like I said IÕve always been wild: a terrible kid, I had put them through hell since I started to walk and had just cost them thousands of dollars.

            Because IÕd left U of M without telling them. And Jesus Christ was that shitty; for while I partied, they had continued to pay my rent in Ann Arbor while theyÕd thought that I was still taking classes. My freshman year, it was the second semester and theyÕd only found out when I confessed at the start of the summer.

            But my parents were wholly forgiving. It was December, and we hadnÕt spoken since early May when I told them what IÕd really been up to. And I was amazed that theyÕd been so clement: while my mom cried, they had taken me back in under certain conditions that were fair and not hard to abide by.

            Because theyÕd largely echoed my girlfriend. And I didnÕt want to go back to college; but reluctantly, I had agreed to do it if it meant their forgiveness and that I wouldnÕt be single and homeless. While spoiled, I was further grateful that theyÕd pay for school despite the fact that I hated it.

            And theyÕd gotten me another Escort. It was new, and had come with the provision that it was for work and school or driving to go see my girlfriend. And thereÕd been a last stipulation: for one semester, I had to live at home and do well in school before theyÕd pay for me to live in Ann Arbor.

            But I hadnÕt at all objected. Because IÕd been treated more than fairly; and at the same time, I had been happy to be back in my parentsÕ lives when I really hadnÕt deserved it. At home in Plymouth, I had signed up to take classes in January and switched to part-time employment.

            And so I donÕt know why I went to Ohio. It wasnÕt planned, and chances are IÕll never grasp what had made me do something so stupid. And IÕd gone the first day of classes: two below zero, it was a Monday morning and IÕd suddenly decided to get on the ramp for Toledo.

            Because IÕd been on my way to Ann Arbor. And I was aware that I was being crazy; for as I drove, there was a voice in my head that said turn around and to think of my suffering parents. Quite insistent, it had nonetheless lost to the lack of reason that I have as the ultimate fuck-up.

            But IÕd made a rationalization. I would learn, or find a museum that would teach me as much as I wouldÕve learned in a classroom. Because in the end there wasnÕt a difference: after my trip, I would be more intelligent while everyone knew that the first day of classes was bullshit.

            And IÕd just had to be back by dinner. Because I had class from 1:00 to 4:30; and afterwards, I was supposed to go to my girlfriendsÕ parents in an attempt to thaw our relations. The night before, I had promised to be both punctual and pleasant when food was served at 5:30.

            But then IÕd had my first problem. It was 1:00, and IÕd gotten to Toledo after an hour and parked my car in a structure. And thatÕs when IÕd felt like a dip-shit: as I hit the street, I had remembered that museums are closed on Mondays regardless of their city or nature.

            And IÕd almost just left Toledo. Because the voice in my head had grown stronger; but instead, I had elected to stay and check out the city despite the frigid conditions. My first time there, I had assumed that I would find some pretty cool shit and maybe some book stores and records.

            But my search was entirely fruitless. I was freezing, and as IÕd looked around for an hour-and-a-half nothing had captured my fancy. Because ToledoÕs absurdly boring: for block after block, it was nothing but spaces for private firms or stores that were closed and abandoned.

            And so IÕd decided to start driving homewards. But by then I was getting hungry; and as I froze, I had wanted to eat and saw a restaurant that seemed like some sort of omen. ŅThe Maltese FalconÓ, its dˇcor was inspired by the book and movie while its cuisine was described as Maltesean.

            But itÕs not like IÕd known its dishes. I was a brat, and hadnÕt tried to grasp the culture that was dear to my girlfriendÕs parents. And hence why I was surprised by the menu: when I saw it, there was a meal called ŅsenkataÓ that was rabbit and rice and IÕd thought that it sounded delicious.

            And then IÕd had some more problems. Because there was a sign that said Ņcash onlyÓ; and when I looked, I had seen that my wallet had only two dollars and that IÕd have to re-brave the weather. Cold and famished, I needed to find an ATM if I wanted to have some senkata.

            But my girlfriend had called me beforehand. While I searched, she had hit up my cell and IÕd answered the phone as I roamed the streets of Toledo.

            ŅHello?Ó I said.

            ŅWhy arenÕt you in class?Ó she asked.

            ŅWhat?Ó

            ŅWhy arenÕt you in class now? I thought you had class from 1:00 to 4:30 and I was going to leave you a message.Ó

            ŅOh, uh- they let us out early,Ó I told her.

            ŅWell do you promise youÕll be here for dinner?Ó

            ŅYes

            ŅAnd IÕm sorry,Ó she told me. ŅBut my mom keeps saying youÕre gonna be late or that you just wonÕt make it at all.Ó

            ŅIÕll be there and why do you care?Ó

            ŅBecause theyÕre my parents, sweetheart. As much as I love you I love them too and I canÕt be with someone they hate.Ó

            ŅLook,Ó I told her. ŅYou have my word that IÕll be on time and that IÕll do my best to be charming.Ó

            And as we said goodbye IÕd meant it. Because it was only 2:45 still; and once I ate, I had plenty of time to drive back home and be at their for house for dinner. Slightly annoyed, I had thought that sheÕd been overreacting as I found a bank by my structure.

            But I couldnÕt get any money. I was denied, and had stared with shock as the ATM wouldnÕt give me a twenty. For as usual IÕd done something stupid: like an idiot, I hadnÕt noticed that my card had expired at the end of fucking December.

            Because IÕd been living off cash from Christmas. But at least I was right by the structure; for luckily, it was fifty-cents-an-hour and my measly two bucks would cover the time that IÕd parked there. Not yet 3:00, I could still get my car and had more than enough time to drive back to Michigan hungry.

            And so IÕd hurried back to the structure. It had eight floors, and IÕd made a note that I had parked on four before IÕd explored Toledo. But my brand new Escort was missing: while I blanched, I saw that my car had disappeared and was clearly not where IÕd left it.

            Because IÕd known thatÕs where I had parked it. But IÕd still checked the other levels; and frantically, I had held out hope that IÕd made a mistake and it was just in another location. About to cry, I had scoured every single floor as the time neared 3 P.M.

            And before long I was actually crying. IÕd sobbed, and the tears had stuck to my freezing face as I realized just what had happened. Because IÕd have to call up my parents: when they answered, I would have to inform them that my brand new car had been stolen or towed in Toledo.

            Because there was no other way to explain it. And God had I pitied my parents; for once again, I had let them down when theyÕd been so forgiving and wasted more of their money. Wanting to die, I had seriously considered taking a dive off the very top of the structure.

            And IÕd also cried for my girlfriend. I was screwed, and there was no way in hell that she wouldnÕt dump me when I didnÕt make it for dinner. Because I didnÕt see how she couldnÕt: when she heard why, she would know that I was an incorrigible fuck-up who really wasnÕt worth dating.

            But IÕd decided to take my comeuppance. Because it was best to just get it over; and meanwhile, I had started to hope that my parents would forgive my newest and awful transgression. Unlike my girlfriend, there was a chance that theyÕd talk to me in a decade or so though at the time I was thoroughly doubtful.

            And so IÕd gone to get an attendant. HeÕd nodded, and had told me that theft was all too common when it came to the cityÕs garages. And no one had called a tow-truck: if they had, he would have known and IÕd took a seat as he called the cops from the office.

            But of course they took over an hour. Because I really donÕt hate policemen; but at the same time, theyÕre always there when you wish they werenÕt and never around when you need them. As my record shows, I know what IÕm saying though itÕs nothing personal and their job couldnÕt be any harder.

            And when they got there it was 4:15. I was dead, and had been in a daze that kept me from hearing what one of them initially asked me. Because a cop had posed a question: as I came to, I had been stuck in my head as IÕd thought about how my life was officially over.

            ŅExcuse me?Ó I said.

            ŅI asked you if you checked the other structure.Ó

            ŅŌThe other structureÕ?Ó

            ŅYeah,Ó he said. ŅThereÕs another garage thatÕs right across the street.Ó

            And I couldnÕt have been more of a dumb-ass. He was right, and there was an identical structure across the street where weÕd found my ŅstolenÓ Escort. And IÕd actually hugged the policemen: jumping for joy, IÕd thanked them profusely while theyÕd laughed at me for being so fucking stupid. 

            But I wasnÕt out of my jam yet. Because it looked like IÕd be good with my parents; but all the same, it was almost 4:30 and IÕd lacked the funds to get my car out of the structure. A buck-and-a-half short, I should have already left for Michigan if I was going to make it to dinner.

            And thatÕs why IÕd started begging. I was desperate, and had asked random people that I saw on the street for change or a couple of dollars. But no one would even listen: as they hurried past, not a single soul had so much as paused as they rushed to escape the winter.

            But eventually IÕd got someoneÕs attention. And help hadnÕt seemed very likely; for when he stopped, I had seen a man who looked like a bum and was wearing patchwork clothing. Of indeterminate age, he couldÕve been anywhere from thirty to fifty and IÕd asked if he had two dollars.

            ŅAre you saved?Ó he said.

            ŅPardon?Ó

            ŅAre you saved

            ŅOh sure,Ó I told him. ŅIÕm baptized, confirmed, and I made my first communion.Ó

            But that wasnÕt the appropriate answer. He flipped, and IÕd realized too late that I shouldnÕt have alluded to Catholic rites of passage. Because I was dealing with a born-again nut-job: while he raged, he had railed against the church I was raised in though it was years since IÕd been religious.

            And heÕd said that he would give me the money. Because he was buying my soul from the Devil; but first, I had to relinquish my heretical ways and open my heart to Jesus. Shaking from the cold, IÕd knelt on the sidewalk when he ordered me to and ŅagreedÓ with what he was saying.

            ŅTell me,Ó he said. ŅDo you renounce your heresy and admit the Pope is Satan?Ó

            ŅYes.Ó

            ŅWhat?Ó

            ŅYes

            ŅAnd who is GodÕs vicar on earth?Ó

            ŅWell I know that itÕs not the Pope now.Ó

            ŅItÕs me,Ó he said.

            ŅItÕs you,Ó I told him.

            ŅAnd do you accept your Savior Jesus inside your errant heart?Ó

            ŅOf course.Ó

            ŅSay it how I did.Ó

            ŅI accept my Savior Jesus inside my errant heart.Ó

            ŅWhat?Ó

            ŅI ACCEPT MY SAVIOR JESUS INSIDE MY ERRANT HEART.Ó

            ŅGo with God,Ó he told me. ŅAnd today the Father is highly pleased with his one and only vicar.Ó

            And then heÕd gave me two dollars. They were crumpled, and had vaguely smelled like vomit and piss as IÕd stuffed them into my wallet. But their condition hadnÕt mattered: at 4:50, I had just enough time to get my car and try to make it to dinner.

            Because I was determined to get their by speeding. And IÕd known that I was gambling; for if caught, my parents would have learned where IÕd really been when it hurt their monthly insurance. Typically, IÕd made a decision that had the potential to seriously fuck me over.

            But like IÕve said I loved my girlfriend. It was worth it, and when IÕd got in my car I had driven a hundred as I tried to avoid being single. And I was feeling weak from hunger: while I drove, I had fantasized about eating a plate of senkata as IÕd weaved in and out of traffic.

            Yet it looked like I wouldnÕt make it. Because IÕd left in the middle of rush hour; and as I swore, IÕd had to slow down on several occasions before I went back to speeding. Before long, it was painfully apparent that I was going to be late and IÕd tearfully started to panic.

            But while I sped IÕd had an idea. It was genius, and had sprung from my hunger as I got off the highway and parked in front of her parentsÕ. And my watched showed 5:47: looking crushed, my girlfriend let me in and weÕd both sat down to her familyÕs scowling faces.

            ŅIÕm sorry IÕm late,Ó I told them. ŅBut I wanted to bring a dish and I was all over town trying to find some senkata.Ó

            ŅYou know what that is?Ó said her father.

            ŅOf course I do, sir. ItÕs rabbit and rice and I think itÕs a crime that itÕs always so hard to find here.Ó

            ŅThatÕs so sweet,Ó said her mother. And as she smiled, her daughter grabbed my hand while IÕd sat at the table and thanked my new-found Savior.

           

 

© James Curtiss

 

Bio:  His work will soon be featured in The Rusty Nail. James is also a professional musician. The attached story reflects the wildness that is often a part of his industry.