And Now For Something Completely Different

And Now For Something Completely Different

“You have twenty days to live!” said the laughing driver, sliding behind the wheel of a white and blue Ford Aerostar. The seemingly short and bald man in the passenger seat held a box in his lap, which he peered into with an expression of mixed uncertainty and admiration. The driver, dark-skinned and thin with a moustache, flicked his large soulful eyes in my direction as he pulled away from the gas pumps behind my own Ford Aerostar and made a left turn towards the street.

I hadn’t seen that particular Aerostar, the blue and white one. I spotted the black and grey-ish one by pump number three as the Race-Trac station slid up to meet me. Pump number seven was unoccupied as I pulled up to the forward-most machine, as I always do. Some people are so inconsiderate as to pull to the rear set of hoses, forcing you to angle in if it’s a gas rush, or to drive in head-on, which usually and ironically pisses off the person who forced you to make such a move. I always pull forward. It’s just good karma.

After I had gone inside to pay, I went to open the driver’s side door and that’s when I spotted the Aerostar behind me. That’s when the angel spoke.

“You have twenty days to live!” He didn’t seem sad at all. In fact, he was laughing softly. I thought about that fact for a second. It did seem a wee bit sinister at first, but then I thought about my beliefs and how they filter the life/afterlife experience and I realized that the laugh could’ve been a rejoicing sound. I’m so happy for you. You’re coming home!”

I took the news calmly and thought about it while drinking a twelve-pack of Icehouse and sitting at the piano, twirling notes around in tightly packed circles. The Aerostars had been a miracle, this much was certain in my densely packed head. From the force that led me to Anita to this prophetic pronouncement and every weird little glitch and phantasmic ripple in between, this had been one eye-opening trip.

The Aerostars began making themselves known to me about a week after I purchased Anita from a strip-mall used auto joint on 17-92. I had been riding my bike on an errand-running mission one particularly hot spring day when the decision to alter the route to home base came over me. Without thinking much about it, I headed down Mills Avenue and was about to make a turn when I saw her. $2995 samolians and I could solve that band transportation problem; here was our band vehicle! 1991 Ford Aerostar Eddie Bauer Edition. 6 cylinder, front and rear air conditioning, on-board trip computer and removable, reclinable seats. 127,000 miles, looked like it had been babied. Perhaps it belonged to a church.

“I just marked it down from $3995 this morning,” said the salesman, handing me the keys as I put my bike in his office.

“Want my license or something?” I offered, thinking a bike was no fair trade for a minivan. Identity is always worth something; giving someone the direct route to where you live involves a certain exchange of trust. But he just waved at me and looked out the window, lighting a cigarette. “I just cleaned her out. Go ahead,” he said amiably. “Take her down the street.”

I put her on my Visa card.

Just about everyone I knew was surprised when they heard I’d picked up a van off of the street. “Don’t worry, she’s clean!” I joked. Sure, the mileage was high, but someone had taken care of the vehicle. Besides, it more than suited our needs for transporting the band back and forth to out-of-town gigs. The Eddie Bauer Edition came in requisite green and gold with burgandy trim and it gave the familiar slope-nosed blockiness of the Aerostar a hint of suburban sophistication. When asked where the name “Anita” came from, I told the same story over and over again. I saw her sitting there, knowing that I needed a band transport and thought, “I need-a Aerostar!” The joke usually took a while to sink in. I thought about it all the time, every time I saw another Aerostar. And another, and another. And I thought about the angel and how he laughed so softly as he said “you have twenty days to live.”

At first, I’d only see one or two a week. Anita would be nosing through the streets of Orlando, heading to a music store or restaurant or to and from home, and I’d see another Aerostar, usually turning right in front of me.

“Hey look, another Aerostar,” I’d think to her.

After a month or so, it seemed that not a day went by without a couple of sightings. They were easily detected from far away thanks to a distinctive and, some say, undistinguished profile that is easily recognizable from just about any angle. Boxy, with square, black-rimmed headlights, far-forward front axle with two lengths; ultra-boxy and cigar-boxy. In all manner of colors, too. What made the Aerostar sightings all the more interesting was how many combinations of color combinations Ford apparently made. It was just about this time that an annoying and persistent tone began to ring out from Anita’s dashboard along with a flashing oil symbol. Checked the oil; it seemed fine. So Jae, that’s my fiancee’, and I take it to Sun State Ford on West Colonial and have them do an analysis on the engine. Their diagnosis: engine’s not maintaining oil pressure. Solution: Need a re-built engine. Cost For Brilliant Solution: $4500.

Ouch. And I was preparing to take it up the ass with a table leg when Jae stepped in and suggested we get a second opinion. A family friend turned us on to a shop on East Colonial owned by a whiskey-voiced good ol’ boy named Ron who chain-smoked Winston no-filters and walked with a slight limp. His diagnosis: “it might be the fuckin’ gauge”. Solution: “Replaced the oil pump and the gauge switch.” Cost For Brilliant Solution: $40. Do the math. We went to Outback that night.

At some point in time, I began to notice Aerostars so much that I commented to Jae, “wonder how many of these Ford made?” Ubuiquitous little bastards. We made up a game. Whenever you spotted a Ford Aerostar, you had to call it out. “Aerostar!” Sort of like “Punch Buggy”, only with more punches administered. But we left out the punching and settled for calling out “Aerostar!” before the other could spot one. After awhile, the frequency of the calls became tiresome and we stopped.

Normally, I would see them doing something that mirrored the path that Anita and I took. If we were turning left, there would be an Aerostar at that intersection turning left also, but appearing to turn right from our point of view. Or traveling in the other direction. It wasn’t long before they started creeping into the rear view mirror and suddenly turning from side streets to rotate next to us, falling into line. Three or four sightings a day. Then ten. And then I noticed something peculiar about the timing of the sightings.

I’ve been a professional driver for over twenty years, from parking lot trams to box trucks to airport shuttles to court courier. When you drive for a living, you see a greater percentage of stupidity on the road than you do if you’re just commuting to and from work. Those of us who are on the road eight, nine or ten hours or more a day get to spend a full working shift on the road with clowns of all colorful sorts. The Darters, who lane-change through traffic like a dragonfly, the Parking Lot Elitists who come tear-assing out of parking lots like there’s no oncoming traffic to consider, or even the Oh Shit, Our Exit Is Here types who love to travel in the fast lane and then decide that overshooting their exit by one is not as cool as cutting across four lanes of traffic at a 90 degree angle in an attempt to hit the exit-ramp.

They’re all out there. So I’ve learned to not just drive defensively but also to anticipate stupidity on the roads of Orlando. I never have to wait long.

Dodging, swerving, braking (always leaving room to slam on the brakes), accelerating out of the way, my eyes are always moving from mirror to mirror, from ignition to the removal of the keys, I’m an extension of the machine, these big huge machines that the frail human bodies pilot, not something to be taken for granted, from get to go to stop, I’m on red alert, relaxed and enjoying the ride somehow. And a trend developed. Whenever I had some kind of situation where it would have turned out differently, like if I hadn’t been alert, I would’ve hit this vehicle zipping out of a driveway or if I hadn’t been going the speed limit, such and such would have happened, well – an Aerostar would show up somewhere. Near-misses, good judgement calls, the yellow-light that wasn’t run and the red light that was, whatever – it happens several times a day when you’re out there. But with me, whenever it happened, an Aerostar would float by the picture and I’d try to get a look at who was driving.

Maybe they were angels.

One day, Anita’s air-conditioning went out. Right about the same time that the irritating beeping noise came back. We shuttled her down to the E. Colonial place and Ron shook his head and mumbled a few things before writing down the info on an order sheet and saying something about “Monday.” It would be $900 to replace the vacuum pump on the a/c and he suspected that there might be a clog in the oil lines somewhere. “So we took it down in my old lady’s deep fryer and cooked the shit out of it,” he said jovially with a broad grin. The air worked nicely. The beep was gone. A silver Aerostar cruised by as we left, $1200 poorer.

Money problems and other issues caused some friction at the home front and I found myself out at night, prowling the scene and touring the bars where others self-medicate their problems away, or at least dull the cutting edge of Life’s Knife. More than one time, I poured myself into Anita’s pilot seat and ferried us home despite having plied my veins with ounces upon ounces of booze. More than one time, I found myself amazed that I had made it that far. The next morning, I’d be beside myself and dismayed that being let off the hook wasn’t enough of a sign.

“Have you been drinking?” the officer asked. “I smell alcohol.”

I tried not to slur my words. “I was just at a club, but I wasn’t drinking.” I felt it. I wasn’t getting out of this one. I was right. But curiously enough, I was arrested for driving while my license was suspended; nothing else.

When I went to retrieve my car from the towing service that absconded with it that night, I was angry to find that there was no key included. “It didn’t come with a key,” said the dispatcher, looking vaguely annoyed that I would question his firm’s fidelity. We towed my little blue Metro home and I thought about the angry things that I had to say to that cop. He had those keys, he should’ve given them to the tow truck guy. What the hell was he thinking?

And then I started thinking about what the hell he was thinking.

Cops are meticulous people – they don’t regularly lose keys. And they don’t regularly gloss over obvious D.U.I.’s either. The guy had given me a break. And a little reminder of it in case I was too thick.

So many people die from alcohol-related wrecks, and that’s no accident. I sometimes wrongly justified my abilities behind the wheel by my track record of driving professionally, though a handful of minor metal twisting had been wrought due to severe imbibing and on at least one occasion, ripping my face open in the process. You’d think a person would learn, but sometimes when we drink, we don’t think. I didn’t think many times. I don’t know if there were Aerostars riding as my wing-guards on those dark, desperate nights on the short trip from downtown to home, but I can still see them out there. Riding point in a diamond formation, clearing traffic as I head for the trail.

Anita refused to go backwards one day. Ron gave me a wry look as the wrecker set her down. Transmission: $1200. Then, the beep came back. “What is up with that noise?” asked my lead singer, looking around in the back of the van. I explained the road map of repairs thus far and how the beeping seems to have eluded the mechanic. She laughed and replied, “your car is haunted!” I knew that my house was haunted, but did I have a mobile spirit that was now manifesting its presence in my ride? It seemed possible. Problems maintaining a charge: alternator fried out. Some $400 all told. The Angels in Aerostars Rescue and Protection Mission stepped up operations and sent out pairs of Aerostars to send beacons of safety and love to Anita and I as we miraculously avoided scrape after scrape after scrape. We were like matador to the world’s bulls, all pointing headlights in our direction, but never catching anything but the swish of our draft, deftly dodging the dangerous Detroit devils as they attempt to remove us with a precision strike! The beep comes and goes, depending on its mood, I suppose. One morning, Anita throws up fluid that resembles thousand island dressing. All over the driveway. A quick starting of the engine and it was evident that the power steering had busted. New pump and rack and pinion mount: $900. Now at this point, it’s starting to sink in. She needs four tires, seeing her up on chocks so often has revealed this fact very plainly. Suffice it to say, after all got said and done, a week later she blew a head-gasket and the beep decided to become more of a regular thing. At least twenty Aerostars a day now. The colors are amazing.

Bushings for the front right wheel. Right rear shock needs replacing. Overheating problem that causes the gas to ignite before it hits the solenoid, or some shit. And because Ron’s little shop is busy with rebuilding a stock car, it takes five days turnaround to get Anita back on the streets. It’s really starting to sink in now: this van’s a big, fat lemon. Its owners had ditched it for good reason, fixed it up just enough to roll it onto a lot and pray that it wouldn’t start freaking out before someone could buy it. It was the Amityville Aerostar and I had inherited the money pit on wheels. But I had felt so divinely inspired to purchase her. She seemed the answer to all of my problems, but now, she ranked number one with a bullet as my all-time biggest headache. Poor Anita, I thought. She’s really a cute, personable, pleasant ride. But I may have to cut her loose.

“You have twenty days to live!”

I came out of my reverie of recollection and sucked down the last of the 12-pack. So what if the angel was happy for me? What if it’s not my time to go? It had been a winter of re-awakening and the spring had found me turning inward to hold a mirror up to the light. All it takes is a little bit of acting to present what you wish to someone else. But you can’t lie to yourself. Oh, you may find a way to dress it up in your mind, mutter it under your breath, but ultimately you know what you know and why you know it. How you feel it. If everyone’s real and uncensored first thoughts, real and primal thoughts, were ever to be transmitted, well the walls would have to come down then, wouldn’t they? Over the past few months, I had “gotten real” and ascended to the next level of awareness. Jae understood this big crazy game we played, which is one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. She was the key person to initiate the work that continues as this writing unfolds. Both of us wanted to find the inner core and feed from that source, living off of the love-light that we’re all connected to. The goal to reach a state of pure, unfiltered love, at all times, a worthy conquest. So that the first thought off the front of our minds, our fleshy, human minds, would be connected to the spirit’s first thought, which is “love”.

Love isn’t always fun, pretty, uplifting, romantic and good for your soul, you come to discover. Jae and I had been through the wringer in our first year of a rollercoaster relationship, but our spiritual connection kept us bound by determination and pure, raw, agonizing love. I told her about the angel at the Race Trac and that I had twenty days to live. We quickly made up a will and plans for running the business after my death. But something told me that no-one should know that May 17th would be my last day on Earth. This time around. And I wouldn’t suddenly call up all of the people I’ve known and loved to pour out last words and to heal old wounds. Not everyone gets that kind of luxury, to pay last rites to the living, and besides – with all the people I’ve loved and left, it would take more than 20 days to get a minute in with all of them.

It sat in the back of my brain every day. Every day as Jae and I re-launched our love on the wings of second chance. Every day since we both started the Atkins Diet and began taking better care of our bodies, including abstaining from alcohol. Every day that we exercised and communicated and cohabitated and comingled, it sat out there, but I didn’t think too much about how or when or why and just about then it became clear to me that at the moment of the angel’s admonition to me, I was at the threshold of this radical new direction in my life. What if my death in 20 days was only if I didn’t make that change? Like a car dodged in traffic because I’m kicked back and tuned in to the Angel Station, I might’ve dodged a bullet (or an oncoming car). What got me thinking about that? The fact that I took seriously what I had heard. There were no questions about “what did he actually say?” Did I mishear this man in a vehicle that seemed to haunt me where ever I went?

They’re everywhere. It seems every other car is an Aerostar. They’re parked next to me, cruising to the side of me and in front of me on the highway. They’re always in the next space over when I come back from store, hanging around outside the houses I visit, lurking on every level of the parking garages that I park in. I no longer look at the drivers to see if they look like angels, because I know that both angels and devils come in all shapes and sizes and you’d be unwise to make a judgement based on appearance only. Just like an Aerostar, some are immaculate and sleek while others are most assuredly Ghettostars. Anita had been stable for a few weeks, so I hesitantly took a courier job and began hauling bits and pieces from Tampa to Gainesville in a few days. The beep would surface every now and again, but Anita was a champ, putting in days of 150 miles and more sequentially. This was the road test for taking the band out-of-state. I wanted to be sure that nothing else would go wrong with her, not that she hadn’t been mostly rebuilt at this point. It didn’t take long for the air-conditioning to go out again, and soon thereafter – a strange sort of grinding from under the hood.

“Ron’s not here, but we can help you,” the guy from the shop said on the phone. I asked him about the little loose part on the a/c compressor that was dangling loose and not spinning. He said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as it wasn’t affecting the belt. It was on a long delivery to Ponce Inlet that the bearing froze up and started smoking the belts as I attempted to head back to town. A peace and a calm rode over me as we managed to solve the problem with no hairs raised. A nice gig downtown. A nice night. A nice day. The feeling is there. Look at how more vibrant life is. It’s actually enjoyable. All of it. And I’m an eleventh hour kind of guy, gotta come with a deadline or it doesn’t get done. The day before, I was supposed to die, a day that is today, I wrote a song about what I’ve found that life is about and it reads like this:

Took a trip down to the ocean
with my dreadlocks blowin’ in the breeze
got the window wide open
child, look at them beautiful seas

there’s a red light on the dash board
something tells me this can’t be good
pullin’ off of A1A in a flash, Jack
smoke’s coming out from under the hood

Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine
Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine

the sky sure is blue today
I wonder if it’ll take the tow truck long
not that I’m in any hurry, you see
I’ve got time to write this song

Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine
Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine

I’m blessed to receive positive vibes all over
it’s what I believe, that you get back what you give
I’m blessed to receive positive vibes all over
and that’s a relief, sometimes it’s so hard, so hard to live

I’m in the truck heading back to O-Town
watching plants and trees go scrolling by
my ride bouncing along behind me
still there’s not a cloud in this sky

you know life is funny, life’s funny – it’s full of setbacks
there’s nothing you can do against that kind of source
you gotta bend with the wind, be like the reed
and take youru comfort from the purest source

Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine
Got a feeling – it’ll all turn out just fine

13:43 5-16-03 B.F.
&copy 2003 Fajita Musik

My real life and fantasies are fodder for the fire, and farther from the friction forms a factual fallacy. This is my life and everything I know is wrong. “You have twenty days to live” could have easily been an admonishment or a threat. The big arrow that comes up during driving games to let you know that you’re veering off course so badly that you need a big, blinking, fucking arrow in your face tellin’ ya “THAT way THAT way!” sometimes. Or the guy could’ve been talking about his laundry list or whatever the hell his buddy had in the box that confused him so. Sometimes I see too much, the details of every little thing. Enough to have that need to mentally tap into a wellspring of “duh” and veg out in order to escape the signals. Once I find peace in the stream, it’ll all become clear. Jae and I are fishing in the stream of light. Trying damn hard to simply think, be and show love. To all, excluding none. Tuning into that frequency that we all share, turning on the radio, turning on the conscious, turning on the sub-conscious, turning on the super-conscious, the Akashic Record hot-wired to the population of this and every other world.

I used to think people who talked like this were loony. Now, I’m smiling from the other side of the glass. And….loving it.


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