Friday, July 20, 2007

The Rope Swing

I spent one summer at college in Auburn, Alabama, hanging out with my then-girlfriend and working in a restaurant as a waiter at a restaurant called Amsterdam. I knew little about food and had the attention span of a flashbulb. She was a waitress with no natural sense of balance and had a penchant for quoting lines from famous plays. Her favorite was Noises Off. SARDINES! SARDINES! WHERE DID I PUT THOSE SARDINES!!! Denis, the owner, had come from The Netherlands and forgot how to speak Dutch before bothering to finish learning English. He had strong opinions about topical concerns like: the importance of gambling, the virtues of Jewish women, the blow lock the state put on his car to stop him from driving drunk. His wife was an elusive Chinese woman who showed up only once that summer, with some fresh produce, yelling. I survived on okay wine and bad advice. My girlfriend tripped and he muttered and none of us really understood the others. (After I left, she eventually quit, Denis broke his leg and threatened to close the restaurant.)

How she and I made it through twenty minutes on the job was a regular source of astonishment, and I took minor solace in the idea that being fired would be its own reward but we got portabella sandwiches. We had a delicate thing going on but we weren’t really equipped to touch delicate things. It made us tired. When we weren’t working, and she wasn’t in class, we would sometimes get in the car and find the rope swing.

Teenagers love unattended places to goof and kiss and make fun. Multiply by factor of five if water; ten if weak branches to climb and do dangerous-looking stuff on; rare points for a rope swing, however simple…there is regular misbehavin’ and then there’s misbehavin’ that requires building materials. Progressive misbehavin’. There were no walls, so they grafittied the trees. Sometimes the fat kid got taunted until he took the rope. It was normal and it hurt. They drank beer.

We rarely talked to them, but it was fine. Sometimes we’d get it to ourselves and sit for a while. Other times we wandered down, stuck out like neon lights, took two jumps, and walked back to the car swallowing hot air.

There’s something called the special place exchange: I know this great place, it is very hard to find, they have the best BLANK this side of the BLANK, you will know this spot because there is a tiger paw graffitied to a rock, ask for Tim. The operating logic being, I guess, that the world or God or people are big eyes we could all use a minute out from under, so here’s a guiding secret. I hate these exchanges. It takes the piss out of everything.

What I loved about the rope swing is that, despite keeping a relatively pristine mental map of Auburn, Alabama in my head, I never figured out exactly where it was. That summer, there was a lot of construction on that road we used to park on. We were constantly finding newer, more animalistic ways to the clearing. A sign would come up for the state line, I would start to whistle and make a casual U-turn, my girlfriend would shout something about being lost, I would smile, and we would make our way back. Magic was not part of the routine. The place that was most vivid to me was a pain in the ass to find.

My relationship with her always existed in a rarified and unwavering way. We’d never spent a lot of time together in the same city and were so stupidly in love we’d get scared of being in the same room. The clearing was a place and time, but it was also a limited space…a figment, even…for us to get away from friends who were always materializing on the front lawn; from Denis’ incredibly misguided interpretations of World War II; from our weird movements in domestic society (she freaked out one time when I used a fork on a frying pan; I freaked her out by palming oranges with my feet) It was not great, then perfect for a moment, then confusing, then I left. In the back of our minds, something broke, but we didn’t realize it for a couple of years. We were surrounded by potholes and conflicting signs, chatter, slack faces puffing dope and landing witless jokes and their subsequent, deserving high fives. But some days it was just quiet, no big deal, some torn beer cans in the dirt, 103 degrees, two jumps before work.

NP: Josh Rouse "Hollywood Bass Player"