It wasn't too long ago when I came across a story by Garrison Keillor regarding county and state fairs. Americana at its best. Once upon a time, I referred Garrison Keillor as one of my guilty pleasures, but I don't think that's completely true. Now cock rock, there's a guilty pleasure. At least to me, and part of me feels quite dirty in the admission of it. Sometimes, when contemplating whiskey or having had a little too much wine I find myself trolling the spider's web for old, old hair metal videos.
Those tales are not this one...
Back in the North Carolina, my father and I would listen to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio, or even watch it on the telly on occasion. Sometimes, my mother and siblings were there too. My favorite part was when Garrison Keillor would tell a story, his voice was like the great rivers and chocolate and soda and all the things good and wholesome about living somewhere rural. I think back to those stories now and wonder if I look hard enough on the spider's web if I'll find A Prairie Home Companion these days, or perhaps just archives of those stories I used to hear as an adolescent.
It's getting on a few years ago now when my father and I struck out for the North Carolina for what we both hoped would be the very last time. We were getting things from his mother's house before the rest of the southern relatives sold it off and carved up the bits of her estate that weren't going to my brother, sister, and I. There was a cooler full or beer and bottle of fine Irish whiskey. With resignation that this little trip wasn't going to do itself and some excitement over a having a father/son adventure-despite the auspice-we were on our way.
A game of ours was to hit the seek button on the radio and find a classic rock station. We would listen to it until the static came and swallowed the signal whole, and then hit the seek button once more, searching. I like the sound of static. More to the point, I like catching the disembodied signals through it. There is something haunting about it one does not find whilst listening to a satellite station, streamed music, or one of those portable players. I have a hard time putting this particular pleasure of mine into language.
We were crossing the badlands along a stretch of road near Topeka, where we would have to pay tolls to cross through labyrinthine cites to cross the first of the great rivers of the American Empire heading east. My father was mutherfuckering this circumstance. I was noticing the midwestern twilight and lamenting having put the American Maghreb behind me. I was missing my daughter and Sabina and all the tiny things that made that part of the world more my home than anywhere east ever was. It was my turn to hit the seek button.
And there is was; A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. I smiled at my father and he chuckled, as if to ask me if I remembered those younger days. We got my favorite part of Garrison Keillor telling a story, his voice was like the great rivers and chocolate and soda and all the things good and wholesome about living somewhere rural. Then the static began to creep in. I adjusted the volume, and leaned in closer, saying a mantra under my breath, as if I hoped that would somehow sharpen my hearing. Garrison Keillor's voice began to be swallowed. The signal began to turn to noise.
"You going to change that?" My father asked me, but I wasn't listening. "Son? Hey! Boy!"
"The story's not finished yet!" I protested, it was like I was fourteen years old all over again.
Then there was a rush of static, like a wave. A new signal, a new voice, came on the radio. It was some doomsday zealot's voice speaking in the tongues of judgment. I looked up at my father with a weak smile and shrug.
"Mei fei tsu," I muttered, hitting the seek button and reaching back into the cooler for another beer. I took a long swig, as if mourning for a sense of innocence lost.