“How about some music?” Nate asked. I nodded. He grabbed the radio tuner and began twisting it, ‘What a feeling’ by Irene Cara came on.
I shook my head. “Oh man, find something else other than that pop crap.”
Nate twisted the nob until Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’ came out of the speakers.
“Now you’re talking. Leave it there,” I said.
We listened to the tune until nearing the laundromat near Henderson and Main.
“What are you doing this summer?”
“Summer course at Colorado College then Western Illinois in the fall.” It had all been planned for me, but not by me. I had to go to college, that much was certain. Everyone else in the family had gone, so I would too. Was it something I wanted? I was less certain of that, but lacking alternatives, what else was there?
The silence stretched between us as I made the turn from Henderson onto Main. The dim glow of Galesburg’s downtown area rose before us beyond one of the many sets of railroad tracks. The rail crossing lights started flashing, and the crossing guards came down. I eased to a stop as the mournful wail of the railroad train emerged from a distance.
“You gonna miss the Burg?”
“Like a case of syphilis,” I shot back. Miss the town, oh hell no. What was there to miss?
“How about your parents?”
“Them? Not sure. Mom, yes, but Dad?” The old man would be relieved, finally rid of the last of his birth control malfunctions. Then he could go back to doing whatever he wanted and hang around those he liked. “How about you?”
“The town? No, this place is a canker sore of dead-end opportunities and smothered dreams.”
“Damn, that should be on the sign coming into town.” I paused thinking back on what he’d asked me. “Say, what about your mom?”
“What about her?”
“Are you going to miss her?”
Nate stared out the window as the Burlington Northern train roared past. Then he said something I couldn’t hear.
“What?” I asked turning off the radio.
He had to raise his voice, “She’d be lonely if I left.”
“Thought she was dating that guy … what’s his name … Eric.”
“Nah, he stole her pain meds and ran off.”
“Jesus, she’s got quite the luck with men.”
Nate’s face fell like I’d just kicked him in the stomach. The train finished passing and let off another anguished moan before disappearing into the darkness. “Wish Dad hadn’t died,” he muttered.
The crossing gates rose, and I eased over the tracks. After sailing around the “square” which some wag at city planning had designed as a circular roundabout, we soon entered the downtown area. Empty closed up storefronts greeted us. No one walked the streets, except for bums stumbling into or out of the numerous bars in the area.
A wave of regret passed over me. I shouldn’t have said anything about his mom. It always led to this. Time to change the subject. “Where are you going to college?”
Nate cringed, then shook his head.
Oh damn. It never occurred to me he wouldn’t go. Can’t be about grades, he’s smarter than I am. It has to be money.
“Why not at least do Sandbox,” I said, using the nickname of the local community college, Carl Sandburg College. “They’re pretty cheap.”
“When Dad died, he left nothing behind except for cash stuffed in a metal ammo box in the closet. That all went to bury him. We have no savings.”
“How about a student loan? That might help.”
“Maybe, but then I’d have to pay off the debt. If I can’t find a job, I’m screwed.”
“Do nothing, and you’ll be screwed anyway.”
“Suppose you’re right. Typical Galesburg – your choice of how to get sodomized. But for now, I’m trying for anything that will pay.”
“I hear male prostitution pays well.”
He squinted but replied, “Well, you would know.”
I laughed. “Got something lined up?”
“I put in an application at Farm Pride, but you know how that goes … no experience – no job, no job – no experience.”
Yeah, I sure could understand. Jobs were few and far between, getting one involved a fair amount of luck or nepotism. But poor Nate didn’t have either. I had the latter. The old man owned a bunch of rental units and paid me to patch holes after men shoved their girlfriend’s head through the drywall or rip up carpeting where tenants had been crapping in the living room.
“You could mow lawns,” I offered and instantly regretted how stupid it sounded.
He guffawed. “Until winter, then what? Shovel snow? There’s got to be something else I can do.”
“How about the military? They’re always looking for people.”
“Be all I can be for our dickhead government. Now that sounds like a great plan.”
“Travel the world, meet exotic people and kill them. All in the name of freedom. It’s the American way.”
Nate chuckled. “Now you’re just being a jerk. How about we join together?”
“Oh hell no. My old man was career military, never around until he retired, then didn’t want anything to do with the family.”
“Kind of fucked him up, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, that and Vietnam,” I said.
“At least we’re not there anymore. Of course, now you just have to watch out for Reagan’s dick wagging in Lebanon.”
“That worked out well. Got a bunch of our Marines blown up in Beirut, didn’t he?”
Nate cocked his head and rolled his eyes. “But he was sorry, so it’s okay.”
“The apologizer in chief. Who says those Hollywood acting classes didn’t pay off?”
I flicked on the radio again, Jackson Browne’s ‘Somebody’s Baby’ came on.
“Love this song,” Nate commented.
Too sweet for me. My inner cynic hummed the lyrics to Foreigner’s ‘Cold As Ice.’ “You’re a hopeless romantic.”
“Guilty as charged.”