If there’s one thing I truly hate, and I try to hate very little, it’s commercials with dead celebrities in them. It’s deplorable, shameless and downright weird. There are enough living people to sell me a can of Coke, I don’t need Greta Garbo selling me a Coke. John Wayne made once again flesh by computers and ad executives does not make me want to purchase a vacuum cleaner. Ginny, however, thought these ads were light-hearted in their intent and quite imaginative in their execution. We’d end up fighting. She’d tell me I’m worked up over nothing and I’d tell her she’s just as bad as them, and they are double-worse than Hitler. Then, often, she would storm out of the house and return from the deli with a Coke and drink it, in spite, in front of me.
But you’re not here to listen to our differing beliefs in advertising practices. You’re here to see a slide show of our vacation across the country. And in an attempt to prove to Ginny, wherever she may be now, that I am not without a sense of humor in these matters, I have inserted dead celebrities into the photographs of our vacation. As if they joined us in our travels. As if they shared with us a lobster roll on a pier in Portland, Maine or made with us human square around the Four Corners. As if somehow, from beyond their famous graves, they endorsed our love and the time we were together. We never actually made it to the Four Corners. But I’ll get that.
This is Ginny and me leaving our townhouse in Akron, Ohio. Please notice the sheer fullness of our 1989 Plymouth Reliant. Please notice also our nation’s thirteenth president Millard Fillmore peering out from the window of the second floor bathroom. His job was to keep watch over our home. Keep the plants watered, the bathroom tidy. Millard Fillmore was a lackluster president and as a sentinel he didn’t fair much better. For while the bathrooms were clean and the plants had their health, our home itself, when we returned, was not at all the place we left. Perhaps you cannot fault him for this. I choose to anyway. Fucking Fillmore.
Here we are, eating ice cream in Madison, Wisconsin. Ginny went to school out there and she assured me the ice cream was like nothing else. The freshness came from the quality of the cows and the city’s proximity to their udders and I tried my best to mask my disappointment but she could tell, she could always tell. The expectations... I muttered but she laughed it was fine and we sat there as the sun went down and our treats melted to nothing.
Oh, and behind us is German filmmaker Fritz Lang, enjoying some mint chip with chocolate sprinkles. As you can see, he has no qualms with his. There is joy in each bite, his face is saying, which you can tell because he was, after all, an expressionist.
A motel on the road somewhere outside of Zumbrota, Minnesota. I have nothing to say about this picture. Except that we were about to go to sleep when I took it. Except that a crack of lightening somewhere in the middle of the night flooded our room with a sudden brightness. Except that when that happened we looked at each us with both eyes open and pressed everything we had together, starting with our ice cold hands and feet. I have nothing to say about this picture. Except that Gilda Ratner is brushing her teeth in our bathroom.
A man and his Irish wolfhound at a gas station in Gettysburg, South Dakota. When Ginny saw the dog she shouted Look at the size of that dog and said we have to take a picture but when we asked the owner if we could he said Only if I can be in it too So, there they are. The two of them.
He seemed very happy to have his picture taken but then I said I heard those things don’t live very long because they’re so big, because of the size of their bodies compared to the size of their hearts and he didn’t seem to take that very well. Over dinner Ginny asked me why I had to say that. I told her I’m sure he already knew that. She looked at me like that’s not the point at all.
To be honest, I feel pretty bad. That look on that man’s face as he stared at his dog—oblivious, panting. The dog was, I mean. Truth is, I can’t see this without feeling rotten inside so I took out the face of actual man we met and replaced him with that of Erno Rubik. The Hungarian professor who invented the Rubik’s Cube. Is he even dead? I hope so. Well, not really. But, still. Sake of the thing. Took a long time. That’s all.
It took the wind out of our whole day. Why did I have to say that? The smallness of a trying heart. The dog’s, again, I mean. Well. Both of theirs All of ours.
Here I am at the gift shop of the Grand Tetons outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ginny wanted to hike the mountains and I said I didn’t feel like it and she said Rick would have hiked them and I said you’re going to go there and she said she didn’t mean it and I said fine, hike those boobs by yourself and then she did and I was alone in the gift shop and was about to take a picture of myself but then Janis Joplin and Nikola Tesla showed up and we had so much goddamn fun, you have no idea. That was the real gift.
The base of the Sawtooth Mountains outside of Stanly, Idaho. Oh great, more mountains and Ginny said we don’t have to climb them and I said that’s swell because we’re not going to.
We fished for salmon at a clearing along the Salmon river. Ginny said How appropriate and I told her that wasn’t funny in a way that I really didn’t mean. She asked me why I said that I said I don’t know. To be funny I guess. She said Well that wasn’t either. Then neither of said anything, nor caught any fish. What I wanted to tell her was that the night we met, before we kissed for the first time out on that fire escape, I pictured us dipping our feet in the water at the edge of a river in a place I’d never been before. What a thing to picture, huh? Can you believe I didn’t mention it? I didn’t even think to mention it. There’s Elvis. This was a stupid idea.
Fucking Fillmore. He had one fucking job. Well, the flowers. The bathroom. Still.
A hot spring outside of Ashland, Oregon. They perform Shakespeare there. That’s why he’s pictured in the left-hand corner. In Ashland, not in the Hot Spring. Well, maybe someone does that too. After hours, soaking in that warmth, a pair of naked bodies whisper. And maybe they splash and get the lines mixed-up but of course that doesn’t matter because the world in that moment is nothing more than the heat from that water and the kind of breath that can be seen. Maybe someone does that. I don’t know.
I didn’t leave the lens cap on, if that’s what you’re thinking. In the northwest tip of Leggitt, California you’ll find the Chandelier Tree. A Coastal Redwood three hundred and fifteen feet tall and approximately older than Christ. Through the trunk, there’s a tunnel carved wide enough for a car to drive through and for five dollars one can.
Just before dark Ginny and I drove through the Chandelier tree. Inside, surrounded by darkness, I let the car idle for a moment, then an extended moment, and then several of them. I unrolled the windows and innumerable scores of the dead, all of whom had been hiding in the man-made hole, climbed into our car. Some famous, some less so, but all of them filled with new-life and joy. They tussled our hair, patted our backs and sang breathless songs, stopping only to laugh. We were not scared.
Ginny let her head rest on my shoulder then we each put a hand on the camera and held it out in front of us. The whole car stilled. And even though there was no flash, even though we all knew it would come out as only blackness, only nothing, we smiled like hell and took a picture anyway because, Jesus, we had to try didn’t we?
Then we left and ate and slept a little then turned around and drove home. Seeing no more sites, taking no more pictures, stopping only to visit my father at an assisted living facility in Kansas City, Missouri.
As I said earlier, we never made it to the Four Corners. But there’s no time for that and I don’t think there ever was.