Captain Fantastic and Bennie and the Forest

December 23, 2010

I was grade-school age and my face was pressed to the window of my dad’s orange Chevy. It was my window to the world during our family outings. My parents never had the money to take us to Disneyland or even across state lines when I was little, so we saw as much of the state from that rolling orange bear of a car as a full tank of gas and my dad’s behind-the-wheel stamina could bear.

Ma and Pa never were much for music: It was always background to them, as it was when we drove through the Cascades (or at least that’s where I think we were) that Sunday afternoon. My brother fidgeted in the left passenger side next to me, picking purposefully at the black faux-leather seatback like it was an especially itchy scab. Fun and funny as he was, he sometimes didn’t have the patience for the long drives. Me, I liked letting the scenery and the music carry me at their own pace.

The piano galloped on the AM radio, echoing throughout the car because it was too chilly outside to roll down the window, and because my parents were too preoccupied to turn the radio down. So I associated–for years–the grandeur of those conifers jutting from the countryside, and the winding roadways opening up to increasingly spectacular vistas as the car glided along the ill-tended asphalt, with those loping ivories and the way the clapping and drums loped along.

Frankenstein in glittering platforms, stomping through the fuzzily-scenic woods.

They didn’t really have any literal connection, the forest and the massive beauty and that song, I guess. But it all made sense and still does to my insides; the part of me that knows that the song and that drive celebrated something alien-beautiful and silly and wonderful about what my eyes and ears were absorbing that day. I remember the taste of the glass and the condensation of my breath on the surface as Elton John playfully hissed out the S in Jetssssss, and it spikes directly from the little kid sitting in that car to the ostensible adult occupying this particular space during this particular Now.

Underneath the branches of a faintly-moss-dusted and winter-bared tree I sit on a picnic bench in Seattle, listening to the song and remembering. The night sky’s draped in the same gauzy beauty-haze as it was that afternoon in the Cascades or wherever we were, all those years ago. A full moon stares down (he can always be counted for memory spikes, no matter what the hour). And it’s the exact same temperature–I’m sure–as it was that day, when after what seemed like ages I cranked down the rubber handle of the Chevy’s rear window and stuck my head out.

I feel the air in my lungs, and in a slow-motion replay of that afternoon long ago the rushing breeze is buffing my cheeks to a numb sheen; nostrils and mouth flooded by the coolness so headily that I chomp at the air like a dog, gulping oxygen and shivering slightly. And I realize that the balding sparkle-adorned imp singing those alien-silly lyrics in unearthly falsetto and tickling those grand piano keys was some sort of an angel for five minutes of my life.


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