A visit to American Lake
My mind wanders across landscapes of memory, imagination and speculation. It happens most often when I’m driving and alone in the car, or when I’m taking a long, relaxing soak in a tub. At other times my mind stays relatively focused on the here and now. Well, sometimes.
This morning while driving to the VA hospital at American Lake for routine lab work I rehearsed in my mind what I am going to say at my book event at Orca Books in Olympia (Saturday, Oct. 15, 3-4 p.m.). I’ve decide that rather than reading complete scenes as I sometimes do — after all, isn’t that what authors do at readings? — or inviting actors to read scenes adapted as if for the stage, which I more commonly do, I will simply talk about my new novel, and perhaps read a few not complete scenes but sentences or paragraphs that illustrate what I have to say about the book.
So from 6:30 to 7 this morning while driving on I-5 in smoothly flowing traffic despite it being rush hour, I imagined myself standing in front of a small crowd in Orcas holding a copy of my book with the photo of twin boys on the cover and saying, “This is my book. I wrote it. It is the story of Kevin Lumpkin told in the first person from beyond the grave by Kevin, looking back over a long life at events in his youth in Tupelo, Mississippi.” Kevin remembers girls he had crushes on. He remembers football games and swimming in the local pool and in “Blue Hole” where the boys skinny dipped until the girls invaded, and Lake St. John in Louisiana near the birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis. And he remembers the riots at the nearby University of Mississippi in Oxford when James Meredith became the first Black man to become a student at the previously segregated college.
My wandering mind settled down when I got to the hospital. Walking in, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember where the lab was, but then I remembered that I had to check in downstairs, and when I did, the man at the desk said, “Left off the elevator. Second floor.” Oh yes, I remembered.
In previous visits the waiting room at the lab had always been full, and there was a long wait. But I had never before been there that early in the morning. There was only one other patient, and I got in almost immediately.
The woman who drew my blood was a middle aged Black woman with a broad smile. The doctors, nurses and administrators at the VA are always friendly and helpful. She told me she was from Atlanta, and I told her I was from Mississippi. She said her husband was from there, and we talked about the South while she drew three vials of blood.
After that I had to go pee in a cup and drop it back at the counter, and then I was done. Easy peasy. Back to the elevator. A tall, skinny man with a heavy gray mustache got in and said, “I think I’ve lost my mind. If you see it running around, grab it for me.”
I said all right, I would. I could relate. The elevator stopped at his floor and as he was getting off he said, “My appointment is not until next month.” I guess that was why he said he had lost his mind. I hope he hadn’t had a long drive to get there, and I wondered why, if his appointment is not until next month, he wasn’t leaving.
Walking back out to the parking lot I met an attractive Asian woman with deep dimples who flashed me a big smile and said, “Good morning” as she passed by. Following her lead, I said good morning to the next person who passed by, a man about my age with long hair wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap. He looked like David Crosby. He reached to shake my hand, called me “Bro,” and said, “I’m pissed. Look at that. They’re all employees,” pointing to a row of parked cars. “I’m going to take a picture and send it to Patty Murray.” I got his point. The first row of parking is reserved for employees. Patients, who are generally older and less easily able to walk the greater distance, have to park farther away from where they’re going.
I wonder if Patty Murray will respond to his letter if he actually writes it.
Back in the car heading back to Olympia, I thought about Marcel Duchamp. Thoughts of Duchamp led to remembering my graduate thesis, which led to thought about the use of the N word. And then I thought about how my mind tends to wander across landscapes of memory, imagination and speculation when I’m driving, and then I thought about how I’d like to write about some of these wandering thoughts and maybe post them on this blog — about how I might make it into a kind of semi-regular column.
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