The Do-Dah Man
Working off a quad injury on the elliptical – third floor – empty gym. Oh, yeah, except for the guy behind me which makes me kind of nervous like I wish there were more mirrors in the gym so I could see what’s going on behind me.
I got my one hour run playlist playing on my headphones. Runnin’ Down a Dream. I will survive. Jump on top of me baby. Truckin’!
And there is this guy in front of me. There is a guy in front of me which means three floors down on the street below in front of the old two story white – a corner house off Central Avenue in need of fresh paint and a lawn mower. There is a small red pickup with a half full trailer out next to the curb.
The Grateful Dead in my head.
Truckin' got my chips cashed in
Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
The do-dah man. The guy three floors down – Older, slender and a little stooped. He has the look of a man who has done a lot of physical work in his life—the way he carries the mattress out to the red truck. Rough hands, several scars, still some years left of muscle-hard. Not many. He positions the mattress upright and rearranges the small dresser a little tighter next to it. He wipes his brow and retreats back into the house. Every step more purposeful, yet a bit slower, than the last.
The lights on the panel of my elliptical flash. 48 minutes. I am trying to do an hour but, shit, not knowing if the elliptical is good for (A) a quad strain or (B) a stress fracture or (C) referred pain from back injury or (D) all of the above because none of my google searches proved definitive, I am cautiously aware of how my leg is reacting with each step. A little sore, but my legs keep moving, as purposeful and determined as the Do-Dah Man’s.
Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings
His plates on his truck aren’t North Dakota and all the squinting and neck-straining in the world won’t let me read the place he might call home. My guess is he came out along the “Oil Trail,” with the rest— The hobo sack has become the pickup and trailer – the do-dah man following the typical daydream in Minot North Dakota and now many more of them leaving more homes than just this one.. The Doo-da man makes two more passes from the house to the truck to the house to the truck. A lamp. A tire. They find their way onto the growing mountain of possessions – a heap on wheels. He retreats back into the house.
My legs keep moving up and down up and down up and down. The doo-dah man, I imagine now, once inside his house, might grab a drink of water from the kitchen tap, look around, and notice that the place is almost empty. This might be the moment he questions this very moment, even wonder how he got to be 58 years of age and owns so little. Enough to fit on the back of a pickup with a small flatbed trailer attached. But then, it might not be the moment. That might come later somewhere deep into Montana or somewhere in the foothills of Utah. It might not ever come at all . . .
The daydream, whether or not it was ever his dream or not, popped somewhere at $43 a barrel-- about $57 a barrel less than when he first made this trek back and forth back and forth from his trailer to his little white house on the corner of Central Avenue and 5th Street for $1850 a month. The rental agency already has it relisted at $1000 a month –might not even be worth that much now, even for a family of four making ends meet waiting tables and brewing beer at Souris River Brewing—just a short walk to work around the corner and up 3rd Street.
Dallas, got a soft machine Houston, too close to New Orleans
New York’s got the ways and means and just won’t let you be
Minot’s is like Bakken Suburbia- the biggest oil play in the country. There are man camps spread out from Williston to Ross to Stanley to Berthold and then there is Minot—something just far enough away from an oil derrick to be able to decompress. Three years ago every block in every neighborhood trucks rolled in with trailers attached. License plates: Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Arizona . . . and even more quickly left. Michigan, Utah. The pickups pull out faster than they pulled in two years earlier. Minot grows a little slower but still, probably, way too fast. Single family homes and whole new neighborhoods sprout up on the hill for the new oil rich and six story apartment buildings plant near the valley for the oil better off than they were in their past life -- living in recessionville Detroit, Salinas or even Boulder.
Most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home
The Do-dah man lives alone – The single Do-Dah man. There aren’t any tricycles or bunk beds balancing precariously from the top of his pickup trailer pile. There aren’t any eyebrow pierced 15 year olds avoiding work, leaning against the blind side of the house, earbuds in place and fingers flying along a cell phone – texting a friend, looking for misadventure. Maybe the Do-Dah man should go back home. Maybe he is tired of being alone, listening to the wind blow through the uninsulated eaves above his upstairs bedroom It’d be easier, he thinks, if he still drank—a temporary salve for the noise echoing through the hollow roofline – or the calm that follows with silence. And then maybe there’s that sweet woman – somewhere along the Sonoma Coast -- holy, she ain’t so sweet but when you spent your last two years in Timbuk whatever North Dakota any warm woman on the west coast—or any coast-- is sweet. Two winters feels like a couple lifetimes listening to the blustering– watching the snow pile up along the curbs, swirling dream like among the bare trees along the avenue. How do people do this? Not so sweet is better than nothin’ and a couple drinks sure could have helped sleep off this silent nightmare of winter. Been a scream deep within me that just don’t get quite so loud enough that i have to cover my ears – but it’s always there.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone
The doo-da man never stops moving-- back and forth, back and forth – from house to truck to house to truck. Hands full. Hands Empty. Packing. Loading. Toward the truck, hands full. Back again, hands empty. Carrying. Carting. He places a small end table on the trailer and opens the driver side of the truck. Leaning over and then leaning over farther, sprawled along the long front bucket seat of the old truck his head disappears from view, his legs – oil stained levis and brown splattered work boots, the only thing visible.
My legskeep pumping, up and down up and down, while his are standing again beyond the window and three stories below. He has found something. A piece of paper, a map perhaps, studying the piece of paper in his hand. He thinks about the time. He looks at his watch. . He looks at his phone. He presses a number. Just one. Speed dial.. I look to the big clock in the gym to my right.5:54. He stands, head cocked, talking into his cell. There is a someday on the other end of that call. A family? A Child? Maybe a different sweetheart somewhere else. Santa Rosa? Santa Fe? Tucson? He has been sending her money so she can keep the house that they own. He misses her. She misses him . . . but not enough to come to North Dakota and share an afternoon of snow-swirling-down-the-avenue watching.
And then, maybe he has no one. And he is just looking for the next quick buck that he can find in the next town down the road . . .
Truckin', like the do-dah man. Once told me you've got to play your hand
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down
It’s always a gamble where you lay down your boots and park your truck and call home. Maybe it is “When” that is the gamble. The timing of the event. This time he thought the timing was good. Everyone said the timing was good. 25 years of non-stop high volume oil pumping production blah blah blah. Home is usually where the oil is flowing and priced high. That was the problem. It has to be priced high and the next picket fence is usually a half grown lawn deadened in spots with dog piss.
He kicks at the long handled tool by the door. Picks it up and examines it. He thinks better of it and flings it down again. He goes back inside and comes back out with two white bags and lays them on the street side of his house, next to an overflowing pale green garbage can. He goes back to his truck and examines the mattress. Yanks it. Pulls it. Pushes it. Satisfied. He goes back in the house.
Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been
There are twinges in my legs now as I pump up and down. I am not certain if the elliptical was a great cross training choice. Too much quad bending. Too much . . . of everything. I am hating machines and missing the simplicity of a simple pair of shoes and a trail that leads somewhere or nowhere – shady or sunny or even windy at five am. Afternoon workout sucks. Elliptical sucks. Any machine sucks . . . suck it up I tell myself yet somehow life is feeling a little less promising without that five mile run to get me up in the morning. Four months of training and the training was WAS the whole point. The goal. The daily grind of working toward something bigger than myself . . . the proverbial carrot that keeps moving is what keeps it happening, keeps it going. Jeeez . . . when you catch the carrot what happens? You stop. No . . . some of us, me, maybe the guy down there in the truck packing everything he unpacked two years ago, maybe we are chasing different carrots for the same exact reason and with similar results but just maybe, just maybe this is okay too – as long as they keep us busy enough to stay out of that corner with the fifth of tequila, bottle of Sherry staring at us half-empty.
What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is ain't it a shame?
I am kind of thinking that it would be that Santa Rosa woman he’s got on his mind, but not always good thoughts. Not even now from the view of an almost fully loaded pick up and trailer and no current destination mapped out. What, with her in and out of rehab herself and he ain’t so sure that her son wasn’t fucked up on something when he pulled out in front of that truck on the highway. Screwed up his head. Ain’t so sure I should be heading that way – what with him almost 9 months sober himself. It’s a shame when you’re too poor to retire and too old to do the same work you’ve always been doing without popping a hydro or two or three every night just to sleep through the pain. Now them drugs, if they didn’t count they would somehow count against mysobriety – hell if it matters sometimes he pops one or two extra to unwind a little more than I need to. It’s okay – but then why does it bother me so much the next day.
Truckin', up to Buffalo. Been thinkin', you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin' on
The Do-Dah man comes out of the house again. He is carrying a lamp and another white trash bag. The lamp goes in the passenger side of his car. The white bag goes along the other white bag next to the garbage can on the curb.
He looks a bit more tired than each preceding pass from house to truck. His stride is long, like his legs, and slender. Scandinavian build. Lanky. But his pace slows. He stops at his pickup and rubs his back. He puts his foot on the bumper and adjusts something inside his shoe. A sock maybe. Just a quick yank and tug and he pulls his pants back over the top of his boots. He goes back to the trailer again, hands on hips, looks it over. Pleased and back inside the house.
Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in
My legs, like the do-dah man’s , also slow with every pass
As I try to get through the next ten minutes of elliptical hell a policeman cruises down Central and past the Do-Dah Man’s truck. The black and white turns up 5th street. Slows. Circles. Turns right and heads west down central. Red sirens flash and I hear them fade down the avenue.
Busted, down on Bourbon Street, set up, like a bowlin' pin
Knocked down, it get's to wearin' thin. They just won't let you be
He comes out of his house again. Walks to the end of his sidewalk. Looks down the street in the direction of the sirens, the noise that dissipates into the evening.. The shadows are growing longer. This is the last week of summer before school starts in town, but it is still warm. He carries a bottle of water with him this time and takes a big drink. The dampness under his shirt has steadily grown-two small dank pool under his armpits
I can no longer hear the sirens. Only the swish swish swish of the elliptical. Swish.
You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin'
Get out of the door and light out and look all around
He thinks better of the tool leaning against the house. Who knows? Maybe the next one stopping off street will have a white picket fence and a sweet Jane and a garden. He carries the tool and I realize now that it is a shovel -- a tool made for new beginnings. A spring tool. A breaking new ground for new beginnings tool new life tool.
Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
He sets the tool in his pick up, squeezed somewhere between the yellowing mattress and the small dresser. He looks down toward the sunset, Central avenue heading due West for only a mile before the Avenue which leads to the highway South. He shades his eyes. I am thinking that this is a good idea, bringing the shovel that only takes up a tiny space of trailer floor between mattress and small dresser. I envy him. Maybe he is going west where the sunshines and you can break ground in October – something always grows out there. Broccolli in the winter. A small bed of beets maybe . . .
Other times I can barely see
He stands at the door of his pickup with his hand on the handle and turns slightly behind him toward the east. On small glance -- and then one last furtive look at his white house and then his home --piled on the trailer behind him. A glance at his watch too and he steps into the open door of his truck -- pulling slowly away from the curb and down the street.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been
The white plastic bags along the curb flutter, slightly, in a breeze that has picked up. My elliptical beeps. One hour.
I climb off the elliptical, stiff, light sweat coating my face and chest. I limp slightly to the locker, favoring the inside of my tight right thigh. I exchange my running shoes for a pair of brown knock off Uggs and take one more glance at the clock above my head. 5:59.
Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong.
I think about ice and what stretching I can do and if I can handle one more day of cross-training without having my fuckin’ head explode.
The Do-Dah man turns on hwy 52 – heads straight west and into the sun past Berthold, Stanley, Ross and Williston. If he never stopped and drove faster he thinks it would never grow dark. But it does. Somewhere around the Montana border he slows down for some heavy construction, fighting two miles of dirt and gravel. His shovel slides quietly off his trailer somewhere in the thick of it. A short while later, 20 miles or so, the Do-Dah man pulls off the road into the light of a blinking vacancy sign.
He puts his key card in room 213 and thinks West is a long way.
Back home, I sit down and patch my bones . . .
I put a pile of pillows under my leg and grab an ice pack for my thigh. I turn on the bedroom TV. The Twins are playing the Oakland A’s and Miguel Sano hits a two run dinger – which the Doo-dah man misses because he already fell asleep in the bottom of the 5th inning. In fact, he fell asleep almost the same instant his shovel half flew- sliding sideways into the ditch alongside the road. The oil-truck driver who hits the shovel with his front right tire is hauling Bakken Crude. The driver swears just a bit but keeps on moving -- no harm! The shovel is stilled under the hypnotically seductive dance of the Northern sky. The sound of crickets complaining return as the truck ascends and disappears over a slight rise in the gravelled road –