Two times a year I go home. Not to where I live, but to where I was born. Once when the eastern wind howls around the houses, packing the snow in drives so tight a grown, drunken man can walk on it. They say it comes from Siberia, but I never heard the wind say anything but mocking my sorry choice of clothing. The other time is when the sun never sets and the prevailing winds are northbound, riding the back of the mighty Gulf Stream. Sometimes you can take a bath in it, cause it’s still warm after travelling from Florida all the way to 69°N.
You run into people, sometimes 20 years after you saw them last, 18 winters old and not really interested in whatever plans they have for the rest of their lives. When taking a smoke break, lying in the stiff grass above the tree line after racing your friend to the Swedish border on the straights of the brand new motorway, you don’t go “How many kids are you having, anyway?” or “What if there’s an alcoholic waiting to break out from under her flawless 17 year old skin?”
You never ask since nobody really cares. You are freer than any bird. Birds don’t own rusty old cars after all, they just spend their lives looking for something to eat. You, on the other hand, spend your life looking for the next adrenalin rush in the form of a tight corner on the E6 highway or the hint of an imaginary cleavage. What’s flying compared to 170 km/h in an Opel?
So you forget. Forget those who stay behind when you leave in a cloud of dust to become a city guy and fend for yourself amongst the 100 dollar haircuts and the drone of polite corporate spewtalk stripped of all meaning. Nobody knows you’re really a country boy if you just keep your mouth shut. PowerPoint doesn’t speak with an accent.
All of my life
But I dreamed
Someday I’d go
Where blue eyed girls
And red guitars and
Naked rivers flow
Erik was always the short one with bow legs, muffled words and indeterminable skin hue. They said it was from his dubious heritage, something I - when I was a lot younger - always took to mean he was some kind of human hound dog. Well, he wasn’t. He was of sami origin like so many others. It never meant anything until one day we were told it was supposed to mean everything. Word was that he’d straightened himself up, stopped stealing cars, took a few night courses, knocked up his girlfriend, moved in with her and started spending his days welding stuff together. They say he runs a bead like nobody else and works as hard as anyone with a college degree and love handles.
He holds his pint of beer up in front of him like a shield, conditioned to a guard.
“You guys were never very nice to me.”
“No, we weren’t and I’m sorry for that. Did I ever tell you I’m sorry?”
My eyes shift to a point between his eyes. It’s more comfortable like that, now that someone is pinning his 20 year old blame on me.
“You just did.”
Erik is smiling a little and invites me to his house for coffe. I say yes and thanks and sure but I don’t go.
I always stayed around
I’ve been as far as Mercy and Grand
Frozen to the ground
I can’t stay here and I’m scared to leave
(Just kiss me once and then)
I’ll go to hell
I might as well
Be whistlin’ down the wind
In the supermarket there’s a figure hunched over the milk crates. Thomas still look 1987. He’s done everything there is to do and then some, all in pill form. He became my mate when I was his younger sister’s boyfriend for a while. Thomas was our biggest fan. He left to become a fisherman when I took off to join the army. After a year on the Arctic Sea he spent some of his pay on a washing machine for his mother. The rest of it he squandered on drugs and booze. They say he never quite recovered from the two year brawl and became somewhat of a religious nut. All this has passed me by.
He looks worn out and hazy eyed. His shirt is clean though - ironed even, his jaw still ruddy from shaving. Dressed up for the weekly milk and bread run.
He lives up where the old dead-end road turns right before the steep descent to the rickety old bridge they took down in ‘91, he proclaims. I have my own place. I’m all set.
“I still have the mix tapes you made me. They’re almost worn out.”
“I’ll make you a new one. How’s that?”, I say instead of hugging him.
“Nah. It’ll be someone else’s memories.”
We shake hands and leave. He doesn’t look back.
The clock’s on the wall
There’s no wind at all
I’ve yelled and I cursed
If i stay here I’ll rust
I’m stuck like a shipwreck
Out here in the dust
Along the road to Sweden, near the old dam someone built to provide drinking water nobody need anymore, just down the river from the makeshift fortifications Austrian teenagers built for Hitler in 1940, there’s an old abandoned trailer park. I know that place. The stunted birches, twisted by the relentless Siberian draft are few and far between at that altitude, and the trailers are even rarer.
- He bought himself a used trailer and moved up there with his woman. God knows what they are doing up there. Haven’t heard from him in weeks. He’s a captain in the local unit and I hear he runs a tight ship. Some kinda Lone Ranger, huh?
Few people could sing sad songs the way he could, and we never managed to figure out where he hid himself once we had finished making noises and were trying to haul our stash out to the lorry again. Sometimes he showed up the next day, sometimes just before we left, but always with a big grin on his face. Even though he was the only blond guy among us, the girls flocked around him like there actually was no tomorrow and he was indeed the last man alive on the planet. Now, with the winter solstice behind us and new year’s eve before us, we were one original member short for our jam session number.
I missed him. It’s hard to sing The Weight’s harmonies without the lead vocal.
“Lone Ranger, huh?”
And the world’s on fire
And the corn is taller than me
The dog is tied
To a wagon of rain
And the road is as wet as the sea
And sometimes the music from a dance
Will carry across the plains
And the places that I’m dreaming of
Do they dream only of me?
And the circus never ends
So I will take the Marley Bone Coach
And whistle down the wind
This is what became of us. It’s easy to forget.
Just kiss me once and then
I might as well
Be whistlin’ down the wind
Whistle Down The Wind is © 1992 Island Records. Lyrics written by Tom Waits and used within fair use standards. If you don’t quite get Tom Waits, try substituting his lyrics above with Mississippi from Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. Then look in the mirror to see which one fits you best.