Raven on a Cold Night

December 22, 2008 at 7:10 pm (Cussed Dumbers, On the road again..., Sweet sticky things)

The city of Portland has been under siege. A giant blanket of white powder has covered the town. I have a giant Ziploc baggie of white crystalline substance in my jacket pocket. I’m listening to Wendy O Williams sing exercise workout songs. (“Pump that boo-tay, work that muscle…”) Is it 1980 again?

Almost, if you listen to the weatherman. The white stuff in my pocket? No rehab required. (Rock SALT.) The powder covering the city? It doesn’t have busboys and wannabe-fabulous dolls running to the loo to powder their nose. It’s the dreaded SNOW! Worst since 1980, supposedly.

Nonstop weather reports are driving me nuts. I’m home, and staying here for a while. A broken water heater is complicating life. Snow drifts to the hood of the car are keeping everybody home. Laundry is past due, and the garbageman just called. They ain’t comin’.

The people in Minnesota are laughing at us…

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my
chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

It started snowing a week ago. The usual Portland panic ensued; cub reporters were dispatched to Sylvan and Troutdale for the obligatory live remotes. When the first snowflake hit Mark Glyzewski’s nose, it was on! Close the schools. Woohoo, sick days! After spending every day of the GREAT BLIZZARD of 2004 running all over hell and back with Mizelle, I don’t let a little media frenzy keep me indoors. Master P issued a memo with the last paycheck: Employees are required to show up for work, even if it snows. (He lives on top of Mt Scott, and feels if he can make it to work the employees should too.) I’d leave for work an hour early, show up for work an hour early and pad the paycheck.

And then the real weather hit.

Despite having to walk a half-mile to the bus, I was having fun. I dug through my skinny clothes and found an old denim shirt. It used to make me look like an overstuffed teddy bear; now it hangs loosely. Perfect for layering. Add my omnipresent hoody, an extra pair of dry shoes in a bag, and I’m set. I packed two days worth of lunch, just in case. It was a good thing. I found my wool ballcap with the Devil’s Rejects button, and added a couple more flair pins. I was downright insulated.

The downside? The buses were prompt, and very well-heated. By the time I got to town I’d be sweaty, and lucky if the droplets didn’t freeze me to a wall. (Note to self: No leaning on lampposts.) I got to work, shed the layers and became Mr Cool. As the night wore on, I’d begun to worry about getting home. I rely on the last couple of buses going my general direction, and if they cancel or break down, I’m fooked.

Master P insists on having the doors to his stores open 24/7, literally. Exceptions? If it’s over 100 degrees, we can close the door so the air conditioning doesn’t blow up. If it gets below 30, we can close the door to retain what little heat R2-D2 (space heater) provides. I toughed it out as long as possible, and said the hell with it. If I were to remain sleeveless, the door would have to close.

Apparently not all employees read the memo. The last two work shifts have turned into doubles.

The first time I volunteered. Chuckles lives out in Sandy, and was legitimately snowed in, with no bus or shuttle service. I could see the little vein on Grinder’s forehead start to grow, so I offered to pull a double in exchange for the next night off. Instant three-day weekend! Woohoo!

I had a full weekend, hung out with the family, watched football, movies, caught up on sleep. When the snow intensified on Sunday, I left for work early. I was restless. No one would mind if I was a bit early for work.

Dr T was manning the register and talking to Grinder on the phone. “Speak of the devil, he just walked in.” He cupped the phone. “I was bracing for a double, just in case.”

“There’s no need to fear… Underdog is here!” I do a pitiful Wally Cox.

Dr T and I did a register change, and he prepared to leave. “Oh, just a minute.” I went to my backpack and fished out a small brown package. “Happy Hanukkah.”

“What the?…” He tore it open, and a big goofy grin followed. While shopping at Finnegan’s, I’d gotten him a keychain with a rubber chicken. “Sweet!”

“I call him Al. Al Bumen.”

“Aughh…”

Each time he reached for his keys, he’d get a funny look on his face. “I’m not used to having a squishy dead chicken in my pocket.” After the obligatory pecker jokes, he wandered off, but not before offering to come back if I wanted an early start on catching a bus home. Management at Master P’s is always accommodating when I’m involved.

“I’ll call if I need you. Elmo’s reliable, and if not? I’ll just do another double!”

I thought I was joking.

The snow continued, interspersed with freezing rain. I was forming contingency plans when Raven walked in.

Raven is a woman from the neighborhood, a recent transplant from Colorado. Her job evaporated soon after she arrived, and she’s been scraping by. We’ve been talking, hanging out, nothing serious. I invited her out for a drink once, and was told it would have to be a ‘friends-only’ type of drink.

Since I’m of the opinion that an old guy like me can never have too many cute female friends, I was okay with that.

We talked a bit, and I pondered how (or if) I was going to get home. That’s when she said the magic words. “I suppose you could crash on my floor. It’d be warmer than the concrete floor in the back room…”

Trying to keep my heart in my chest, I asked, “Are you sure? That would be so sweet. The buses start running about 6 AM, I could duck out then…”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t have any pillows or blankets-”

“I’m packing a ton of stuff, I’ll make do. And I’ll be a gentleman, won’t get all grabby and stuff-”

“If I thought any different, I wouldn’t have invited you. I’m not prone to sleepovers.”

“Cool! And thank you.”

“Just call me an hour before you get off, okay?”

“Deal.” I hope I didn’t look too happy. I now had a back-up plan, and I’d been wanting to spend time alone with her. Most of our conversations happen walking down a street, or around customers and co-workers. It’s be nice to have a conversation uninterrupted by strangers.

But as the night went on, I began getting nervous. Not the usual nervous involved with sleeping over with a girl for the first time; other stuff. What if we get on each others nerves after an hour? She lives in an SRO apartment; there’s no ‘other room’ to go to. I was afraid of crowding her. I wanted to make a good impression, but I wanted to be genuine. I’ve long ago given up on pretending to be someone I’m not. You get the package, the full-meal deal, warts and all. If she couldn’t accept me as I am, so be it. But she’s a nice girl, and I enjoy her company. What should I do?

A half-hour before I was to call her, she came in. “I needed emergency chocolate. What are you doing?”

I was rotating my socks. In my hurry to get out the door for work, with all that planning ahead with the shoes, etc… I’d forgotten one important thing: socks. Clean, dry socks. I was trying to dry them out and warm them up using the fan and space heater. They were crunchy warm. Raven looked at my bare ankle bones poking out over the sneakers. “Is THAT all you’re wearing? Jesus…”

“It’s okay.” I explained my forgetfulness, and snuck a surreptitious sniff while she looked at candy bars. (It’s a small room…) Which brought me back on point. “Hey, are you sure you want me there all night? That’s a big imposition…”

“What else are you going to do? You can’t really go home, and you don’t want to stay here all night, do you?”

“I think it’d be fun, like a slumber party. But we hardly know each other, and I know how you are. You offered because you’re thoughtful and nice, but being caged up with me all night might be a bit much. You sure you’re up for it?”

She thought for a minute. “Do you snore?”

I snickered. “I don’t know. I’m always asleep…”

“Well, I slept all day, so I probably won’t sleep much. I’m not used to having other people with me. But it’ll be okay. Really.”

“All right, if you’re sure. I so appreciate it, you know?”

“I know. I’ll see you in a little while, okay?” She smiled. I like that I can make her smile. She looks so serious sometimes…

I busied myself by finding lunch. (Grinder and Master P graciously told me to buy myself lunch on them during the previous double shift. I chose to save the opportunity for a moment like this.) I was ready for Elmo, my graveyard relief. I waited.

And waited.

Waited some more.

Damn it. I called Elmo’s cell phone. There was no answer. Hmm.

I called Raven. “Hey you. It looks like I’m spending the night at work anyway. My relief didn’t show, so you’re off the hook.”

“Ohh… I’m sorry you’re stuck.”

“It’s probably just as well. I’d feel guilty about keeping you awake all night.”

“Okay, well… stay warm. Put some goddamn socks on!”

She called to check up on me an hour later. Still stuck. And yes, I put my goddamn socks on.

I caught up on past issues of Rolling Stone. Read three newspapers. Did the side work that never gets done on graveyard. (That took about ten minutes. WTF?) I cussed and sputtered, though no one spit on me at alcohol cut-off time. Bonus that.

At 6 AM I paged Grinder. “WHAT?” He sounded sleepy.

“Hey, it’s me. I’ve got good news, bad news, and more good news. Good news? I didn’t call you in for graveyard. Bad news? Elmo was no call/no show. Good news? I’ve already made arrangements for Pan to cover my shift. Just need your approval, ‘cuz I ain’t comin’ in tonight!”

He thanked me, cussed some more, and rang off. My relief was an hour early, bless his pointed little head. I grabbed my stuff and ran for the MAX. I waited about five minutes in the falling snow, and caught a ride down to my bus stop. It was about 6:30.

At 7:45 my bus pulled up. Delirious with joy, I ran past a stuck bus into the middle of the street to wave the driver down. He opened the door. “I’m just going around the corner to get chains on, it’ll take about an hour and a half. You might want to catch the next one.”

Shit.

I sat for another half-hour, replaying the scene when the next bus going my way came along. This time? Success! Travel was slow, but we were moving. And it was warm… Raven may have a point with that whole sock idea. My feet were freezing. The hoody was wet. Ick. Fortunately I would only have a block or two to navigate once I got to my final stop.

We meandered through Southeast Portland, spacing out on the drifting snow. Occasionally we’d pass a bus stranded on the side of the road. While I’d not ridden with this particular driver before, I was impressed. She drove at a steady pace, one step ahead of the idiots four-wheeling and getting stuck.

All was well until we hit a particular hill. We made it through the intersection at 39th Avenue, then the tires began spinning. We drifted sideways, and there was a loud thunk. “There goes my left chain!” announced the driver. She got out, wandered around the bus, and reboarded. I was the only one on the bus. She gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry, hon. End of the line.”

We were out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by two other stuck buses. What the hell? “How am I supposed to get home?”

“Somebody will be along. It helps that there are three of us stuck here, but they always unstick the buses nearer the core first. We could be here a while. Wish I’d used the bathroom at 7-Eleven like I’d thought of doing…”

“I feel your pain, sister.” Actually, I did. Three hours with cold feet? I was eyeballing the brush nearby when the driver said, “There’s a #19! It might take you to a better transfer point?”

Hmm… Sit on a sorta-warm bus watching a driver that reminded me of ThatGirl read a romance novel, or catch a bus actually going somewhere? I could go back downtown and wake Raven up, but I felt uneasy about that. I didn’t want to rush things, or pressure her. We’ve been calling each other a lot, maybe I should just ease back a bit…

“Look! There’s another bus!”

It was the guy who’d went around the block to get his chains fixed. Saints be praised! I was going home!

The new driver stopped mid-intersection to pick up my pathetic shivering ass. We went off-route numerous times, for the sake of getting to the end of the line. Along the way we saw probably every other bus on that line in a ditch, or stuck behind another bus. I counted ten of them. And that was just one bus line. My sister called for a progress report. I was practically delirious; we were less than twenty blocks from my house!

Fifteen minutes later the nice driver dropped me off in another intersection near my house. As I plodded down the middle of the street I saw crystalline rainbow sparkles coming up from the snow. (I might have enjoyed it more if I’d been stoned or not so goddamned tired.) The dog gave me a hero’s welcome. My niece gave a hug. Little sister offered homemade Oatmeal/Rocky Road cookies. (Home recipe. Not so much visually, but delicious beyond description.) I peeled my frozen feet, tempted to throw away my cursed socks. Fuckers are jinxed!

I usually find my room stuffy and oppressive when it’s been closed for a day or two. This morning it felt marvelous. I sat in the easy chair for a few minutes, deciding the bed was more comfortable. Next thing I knew, my cell phone was ringing. It was Raven.

“Hi. Whazzup?” I tried to shake off the cobwebs.

“Not much, just wanted to make sure you got home okay. Did I wake you?”

“Not really. I had to pee anyway. Making up for lost time after that bus ride.” I told her the whole story.

“Go back to sleep. You’ve had a day.” I rang off, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of warmth from my new friend. I haven’t been feeling a lot of warmth lately. It was a nice feeling.

All day long I’ve had a song stuck in my head. Time to borrow my sister’s copy of Alan Parsons’ Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe-1845

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