21 2013

A long time ago, I got a phone call from Darryn. At the time, I was an addle-brained and oftentimes pantsless college student, a far, far cry from the addle-brained and wholly pantsless adult I am today.

The voice on the other end of the phone was slow, lazy, and thick. Darryn, being from the South, had an accent. As a stupid college kid raised on the dumb notion of Yankee superiority over all things Southern, I was honor bound to hate Darryn and also to tell him to cram it with walnuts;  that being no, no I did not want to share an apartment with him that summer.

Darryn and I were chosen to be interns at the Nashville Tennessean, a daily newspaper of at least some small repute. Darryn was the business reporting intern. I was to toil mightily on the newspaper’s features desk.

My first mistake was to dismiss Darryn. Years and miles after the fact, I am comfortable enough to say I was a dumbass. Luckily for me, my error was minimized by the fact that Darryn and I ended up living together after a fashion—albeit in separate rooms—in the sweltering heckhole of the Tennessee State University dorms.

Life is at once funny and strange. Years after the fact, I cannot recall working at friendship with Darryn. We simply met and fell into it, a goofy white kid from New York and a sober and earnestly religious black guy from Alabama. Darryn was smart and funny. He loved video games and long lunches and we shared many common interests such as eating long lunches, sweating, and resenting me for our stay in the sweatlodge that were the TSU dorms.

Darryn and I drove to work every day in the Orlandomobile, a rusted-out 1983 Toyota Celica. We’d wake, bleary and dumb, and drive from the university to downtown, a series of railroad tracks marking the rough delineation between the cruddy areas of Nashville and its more metropolitan center.

We never, ever, wanted to get caught with the trains coming. The Orlandomobile wasn’t great with extended pauses, and the slow-moving freight trains would rumble past in a parade that took 10 minutes. We came to fear and loathe the lowered crossing gates, and so would frequently scheme to circumvent them when no cops were in sight. Darryn would hop out of the Orlandomobile, scout the tracks for oncoming trains, and wave me across. Take that, Union Pacific.

It was a summer of amazing heat and long lunches spent in the air-conditioned comfort of a Nashville mall’s food court. I’d be out to avoid the cruel eye of The Tennessean’s news editor who, if he spotted me and thought I might be enjoying a leisurely moment, would put me to work writing stories about Nashville’s incredible heat. It was about this time I learned that stories written by features interns about the temperature in the South should be avoided at all hazards. So, lunch and plenty of it, then.

The interns would sometimes be sent off to Vanderbilt University and given lectures on journalism. Some of the interns were part of a program and their attendance was mandatory. I’d never heard of the program, but was made to attend by the newspaper’s features staff. None of us were happy about this, but the University’s first amendment center did have a fully stocked refrigerator and Darryn and I once staged a bold, mid-lecture, daylight soda robbery. In our defense, we were exercising our first amendment rights to be full of delicious soda while and after being lectured about good journalism. It’s in the Constitution. I looked it up.

I’m not largely sentimental, but the past few days have had me thinking about stuff. Somewhere, upstairs in the attic, is a picture I took with me from the Tennessean, a picture I hope someday to reconnect with. It was of a Burger King, and it was part of a story Darryn did during his internship. I don’t remember the details exactly; Burger Kings in Nashville were making some sort of expansion that would allow them, I assume, to further the science of fattening human beings for their eventual slaughter and consumption by the aliens from Planet Grebnax.  The people at Burger King had sent Darryn a fax of what the new add-ons would look like, but the fax emerged as this hideous series of shadows that resembled your average Hell house. As in, literally, a house built from sorrow and despair in Hell.

I took the fax and wrote on it: We live within a charnel house. Rotten to the core. It’s a line from a Motorhead song. It fit.

I’m not sure why that picture took on the totemistic quality it did with me. But I kept that sheet of paper. And when I can find it, it will remind me of the idiot manchild I was once was and the summer I had with a good friend.

(There are probably pictures of Darryn and I out there, but the only one I have is of the two of us and the Orlandomobile. We’re both cowering from the camera, hiding with our hands over our faces in abject shame of being seen near the Orlandomobile. Or maybe we were just afeared the camera would steal our souls.)


Categories: A Friend is a Friend

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