by Dan Morey
Play. It’s seven a.m. in Erie, Pennsylvania. Two young men sit at a bus stop on East Sixth Street, across from a paper mill that closed the previous year (2002). One young man, Dan Morey, is recently returned from a West Coast university, where he earned a master’s degree in English. When people ask him what he’s doing now, he tells them he’s “considering a PhD.”
Pause. This is patently untrue. Dan Morey has no intention of pursuing a PhD.
Play. The other young man goes by a variety of stage names: Grimlock, Grimes, C. Grimlock Brocklehurst. Grimlock is also a prodigal, having come home after apprenticing at the prestigious Williamstown Theater Festival.
Pause. While at Williamstown, Grimlock helped Ethan Hawke squeeze into his tights and nearly ran over Paul Newman.
Play. It’s an unseasonably warm spring in Erie. The grass lot that fronts the paper mill is greening up and beginning to grow. Grimlock, clad in chinos and a corduroy jacket, stands on the bench and croons the chorus of “Hanginaround,” a 1999 hit (#28 on the Billboard Hot 100) by Counting Crows.
Pause. Dan Morey has no idea why the song is called “Hanginaround” instead of just “Hangin’ Around.” He thinks compressedpopsongtitles are stupid.
Play. Grimlock sings:
I been hangin’ around this town on the corner
I been bummin’ around this old town so long
I been hangin’ around this town on the corner
I been bummin’ around this old town for way too long
Dan Morey chimes in with “Way, way, way, way, way too long.”
“Are you sure it’s five ‘ways’?” says Grimlock.
Pause. Dan Morey is completely sure. Counting Crows will soon play the Warner Theatre in Erie, and their songs are all over local radio. In the past month, he’s heard “Hanginaround” roughly 42,000 times.
Play. “Do you remember the video?” says Grimlock. “The singer is at a bus stop.”
“Perfect,” says Dan Morey.
Grimlock sings part of the second verse:
We spend all day getting sober
Just hiding from daylight
We just look a lot better in the blue light
“Uncomfortably familiar,” says Dan Morey.
Rewind. Play. The bars in downtown Erie have closed. Dan Morey and Grimlock are walking home along Sixth Street.
Pause. Home for Dan Morey is his parents’ house. Home for Grimlock is with his grandfather, Grampy, a cantankerous widower.
Play. Dan Morey and Grimlock stop at a random apartment building and push some buttons on the intercom. It’s three a.m. A man answers. “Come on up,” he says. “I’m just making soup.”
Upstairs, a long-haired man in boxer shorts and a Rush t-shirt pedals an exercise bike while Dan Morey stirs a pot of Campbell’s tomato soup. The apartment is in disarray, with cardboard boxes of Tupperware, plastic utensils, and cassette tapes all over the floor. It’s hard to tell if the man is moving out or moving in. Actually, it’s neither. “Been here five years,” he says, pumping away on the bike.
“Any beer?” says Grimlock.
“No way,” says the man. “I’m on the wagon. Plenty of speed, though!”
Dan Morey and Grimlock eat tomato soup out of stained coffee mugs with plastic spoons. After finishing off a bag of oyster crackers, they exit the apartment. The man says, “Come back any time, dudes!”
Fast forward. Play. “That Counting Crows song is kind of interesting,” says Dan Morey, as a garbage truck rolls by the bus stop. “It’s very bouncy. Almost jubilant.”
“It is jubilant,” says Grimlock. “There are hand claps.”
“And yet the lyrics are depressing.”
Well, I got all this time
To be waiting for what is mine
To be hating what I am
After the light has faded
“Yeah,” says Dan Morey, “and that bit about being ‘weighted by the chains that keep me.’ The inertia is palpable. It’s like he knows he should be moving on with life, but he just can’t get his ass off the couch.”
“Fun music, bummer lyrics,” says Grimlock. “It’s the ‘Margaritaville’ paradox.”
“And there’s a piano part. Similar to the one in that Len song.”
“You’re allowed to rip off that song. It’s called ‘Steal my Sunshine.’ That’s an invitation.”
“This piano just loops around and around, going nowhere.”
“Like the guy’s life,” says Grimlock.
“But does he really care? I mean, doesn’t the upbeat music suggest that he’s actually reveling in his indolence? Enjoying the glorious irresponsibility? Isn’t it all kind of fun?”
“Preaching to the choir,” says Grimlock.
Rewind. Play. Dan Morey wakes up in the basement of the random apartment building. He’s on the floor. Grimlock is face down on a couch. Dan Morey goes into the next room, where he sees washers, dryers, and laundry baskets. When he comes out, a janitor is shaking Grimlock, saying, “Hey, you, get out of here.”
“Where’s the bathroom?” says Dan Morey.
“Get out,” says the janitor. “Right now.”
Fast forward. Play. “I don’t think this bus is coming,” says Dan Morey. “Let’s walk.”
They head east, away from the paper mill and its idle smokestacks.
“Notice how much better this neighborhood smells since they shut the mill?” says Grimlock.
Pause. When the paper mill closed, 760 people lost their jobs. Erie bars were full of unemployed, complaining men. Some would become roofers or landscapers. Others got hired at the GE locomotive plant down the road, where they were soon laid off. Still others would enter government-sponsored retraining programs. These men were often heard to say, “I ain’t gonna be no goddamned male nurse, I’ll tell you that.”
Play. “A lot of environmental types are happy the mill shut down,” says Dan Morey. “But there’s always some jobless guy on the news whining about all the mouths he has to feed.”
“Gross,” says Grimlock.
“I know. It reminds me of birds regurgitating.”
“If they didn’t have all those snotty kids, they wouldn’t need to work in a stinking mill all day.”
“Bingo,” says Dan Morey.
As he walks along Sixth Street, past a sprawling housing project, Dan Morey ponders reproduction. What if the childbearing age changed? What if the burden of perpetuating the species shifted from young people, who know little of human suffering, to the elderly? If only old people (intimately familiar with tumors, incontinence, and a horrible array of lingering, debilitating, ultimately fatal illnesses) could create new life, would they? Knowing what they know?
“Look at that,” says Grimlock. “A garage sale.”
They are at the edge of Lawrence Park, an eastern suburb. The house holding the sale has a well-tended yard and looks respectable, so they enter the garage. A blonde woman says, “Hiya! You guys are up early.”
Dan Morey finds an old fedora. Grimlock tries on a pair of mirror lens cop sunglasses. He turns to Dan Morey and says, “You wanted to see me, chief?” Dan Morey stares back mutely. Grimlock whispers, “Put the hat on, dummy. We’re about to improvise.”
Pause. Grimlock’s latest acting obsession is improvisation. He talks a lot about the “Yes, and…” principle.
Play. Dan Morey puts the fedora on. Grimlock says again, “You wanted to see me, chief?”
“You’re damn right I wanted to see you!” says Dan Morey. “You know what your problem is, Brocklehurst? You’re a slacker. When I was a rookie, you think I spent all day loafing around donut shops and drooling on girlie mags? Hell no. I was out busting pimps. Running in dealers. Where’s your ambition, Brocklehurst?”
“I blame Bart Simpson, sir.”
The blonde woman laughs. Her husband comes in and takes a seat on a lawn chair.
“Bart Simpson, my ass,” says Dan Morey. “It was Ferris Bueller. Or Marty McFly. Or Maynard G. Krebs.”
“Maynard G. who, sir?”
“Krebs. The beatnik on Dobie Gillis.”
“Sorry, sir, that was before my time.”
“You disgust me, Brocklehurst. Who do you think you are? Shaggy from Scooby-Doo? The star of Reality Bites? Singles?”
Two young boys enter the garage, listening raptly.
“Maybe you want to move to Seattle, Brocklehurst. Grow a beard. Wear a beanie all day. Read graphic novels.”
“I hate graphic novels, sir. I’ll take the Archies any day.”
“Did I give you permission to speak, Brocklehurst? Who are you now? Peter Pan? Beavis and Butthead? That dreadlocked dope from Counting Crows? You think you don’t have to grow up and take orders like everyone else?”
“Shut up, Brocklehurst. I want to see twenty speeding tickets on my desk by five o’clock. If I don’t, you might as well book that flight to Seattle. Now, get out!”
Grimlock exits as the blonde woman and her family burst into applause. He re-enters to take a bow with Dan Morey.
After purchasing the hat and sunglasses, Dan Morey and Grimlock continue their walk past old row houses built for GE workers.
Pause. General Electric once employed more than fifteen thousand Erieites, Grimlock’s father and Grampy among them. That number is now less than three thousand.
Play. Dan Morey and Grimlock enter a Polish deli in Lawrence Park. They order duck’s blood soup, which neither of them can get down.
“What are we doing with our lives?” says Grimlock. “Is this our Withnail and I phase?”
“I believe you could call us flâneurs,” says Dan Morey.
“Like the Spanish dessert?”
“Flâneurs were nineteenth-century Frenchmen who just sort of wandered around the boulevards all day making clever observations. They were of the crowd, but also apart from it.”
“They declined to work, which is admirable. What’s the point, really? Is there a special place in heaven for hard workers?”
“Every hundred years, all new people,” says Grimlock.
Dan Morey and Grimlock cross the street and sit on the front steps of a bar that is not yet open.
“I been hanging around this town on the corner,” sings Grimlock.
“These days get so long and I got nothing to do,” sings Dan Morey. “I been hanging around this town way, way, way, way, way too long.”
The bartender lets Dan Morey and Grimlock in. She makes them White Russians. “The Dude abides,” says Grimlock.
Dan Morey puts some quarters in the jukebox and plays “Hanginaround” by Counting Crows.
“Great song,” says the bartender.
They all sing along:
And this girl listens to the band play
She says “Where have you been?
I’ve been lyin’ right here on the floor”
After a number of White Russians, the bartender takes Dan Morey aside. “Your friend is making googly eyes at me,” she says. “And he’s spilled two drinks. Better get him home.”
Outside, a bunch of men in Carhartt jackets are shuffling into a building. A sign on the door says “Meeting Today, eleven a.m.”
“Must be AA,” says Grimlock. “I should hit this.”
He goes inside and comes directly out. “Union assembly!” he says.
Grimlock makes his adieux to Dan Morey and cuts across the funeral home parking lot to Grampy’s house. He and Grampy drink Genesee beer and watch Turner Classic Movies.
Dan Morey goes into the woods behind the YMCA, where he runs into Psyches at the old campsite. Psyches is famous for having only worked a single day in his life. It was at Arby’s and he quit. They let him keep the nametag. Dan Morey has a beer with Psyches, then goes home to sleep.
Fast Forward. Play. Counting Crows gently rock the Warner Theatre. Dan Morey and Grimlock do not attend.
Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. He’s worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist, travel correspondent, and outdoor journalist. His writing has appeared in the Chagrin River Review, Roads & Kingdoms, and McSweeney’s Quarterly. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.
Image credit: Thomas Leuthard on Flickr
You may also like: