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The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride in On (an odd, philosophical, semi-romantic meandering)
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Some stories are hard to believe. This is one of them, even though it happened to me. Part of me still wants to think it was a trick of the mind, failure to pay attention, faulty memory. Another part wants to believe that it happened just the way I remember, as my own brush with the Twilight Zone.
By September of 1983, I had finally gotten around to graduating from college and had moved to Columbus, Ohio to start my first post-college job. Okay, so I was 25 and selling stereo equipment with no plans, no dreams, and no trace of ambition. At least it was something different from the last four years.
I had gotten hired by a now-defunct company called SUN TV and moved into an apartment on the southeast side of town, less than a mile from the store where they said I'd be working when they hired me. The guy had neglected to mention that I would be training at a branch on the northwest side, rather more than a mile away.
The distance mattered because the valiant Volkswagen squareback that had been my transportation despite its numerous wounds had died beyond resuscitation once it got me to my apartment the first day. While the car deserved to be bronzed and put on display for what it had endured, I was still on foot in a strange city, unfamiliar with the buses and too broke for a cab.
I don't even remember how I got to work that first day, but I arrived just to find out that it was the audio manager's day off, and there was no one there to start my training. "Can you just come back tomorrow?" Naturally, I said it was no problem, and I walked out of the cool store into a bright, hot September day in my new shoes with most of the city between me and my apartment.
Not long after that, I would know that I could get from the store to my apartment by bus with just a couple of changes, but that day I knew close to nothing and figured I had to walk at least the two miles to High St. to catch the right bus. Partly, it was my fear of doing anything I hadn't done before, and after growing up in a town with less than 5000 people, that included riding any bus except for two trips by Greyhound that I'd rather not think too much about. It was also partly habit going back to first and second grade when I would walk to the bus stop to wait for the school bus, get bored, and walk to school.
Perhaps there was some other impetus I was unaware of, but when I got to High St. I just kept walking. I didn't really know the route back to my apartment except that it was south and east, so I would walk a bit south and a few blocks east, a bit south, a bit east. I figured that would get me to familiar territory eventually, and I didn't have anything else to do.
By the time I was walking past some shops on Third St., the heat and new shoes had me regretting my decision, so when I realized I was in front of a used record store, I went in. My first paycheck was weeks away, but the store was air-conditioned and had a water fountain. It wouldn't hurt to drink some water and look through the albums.
At that point, I wasn't thinking about the promise I had made in the Fall of '79 when my girlfriend at the time mentioned liking the song "Ghost Dancer" by the Addrisi Brothers. I liked it as well and made a mental promise to buy the record when I got a chance. As usual, I was broke, much to broke to be buying a new record and too broke to drive 30 miles or more to find a used record store that might or might not have the record. Yeah, today I could buy it on the 'net, cheap and quick, but I grew up in primitive time.
The relationship went down like the Twin Towers about six months later, but the promise remained four years later when I entered the store on Third St. and finally stumbled across "Ghost Dancer" for the first time. The prime constant in my life was that emptiness in my wallet. The record wasn't expensive unless you thought about it in terms of food or bus rides.
Every trace of reason was against buying the record that day. After all, what were the odds that someone would buy it before I got paid? Maybe I should have been more careful with the promise and allowed myself some wiggle room, but the promise had been that I would buy the record when I found it. It was in my hand.
I had never mentioned the promise to anyone, just myself and anyone who might be squatting in the unused space in my head. The ex-girlfriend would neither know nor care if I broke the promise. I wouldn't get fired or promoted at the new job based on whether or not I bought the record. After all, silent, private promises are the easiest to break. Sometimes, they're the most important ones to keep even when there's no obvious loss or gain. Call it a karma thing.
I bought the record and still love the song.
I also lived in Columbus for another two years and later lived there again. Since Third St. is a fairly major route, I traveled it many times after that day. It was only later that I realized I had never noticed the record shop again. I went looking for it, looked on Third St. and several blocks around. I found where I thought it should be, but it wasn't there. Nothing there even looked like it.
I hadn't paid any real attention to the name of the shop, and it isn't on the record, so I can't do any real research. Maybe I don't even want to know the answer, normal or not, but that one day, there was a tiny used record shop on the west side of Third St.
Did anything really change because I stepped through that door and bought the record? There's no knowing. Well-traveled or less traveled, you choose the path, and as Robert Frost told us, that makes "all the difference." We just never know what the difference is even when one turn of the path slips into, and maybe out of, the Twilight Zone.
Converse, Critique, Question
Would you like to know when the site gets updated? Drop me an e-mail, and I'll add you to the list. Much of my writing has been for the antiques site lately, but I have a long list of essays in assorted stages of revision for this site. The people who e-mail often apologize because they assume I'm swamped with e-mails. I only wish it were true. I'm a teacher from the marrow out, so give me questions. I'm a writer, so I also need an audience. Sometimes that means applause, sometimes rotten tomatoes.
From time to time, a student decides to use some of my ideas, or perhaps they even quote me in a paper. Great, I'll take what fame and traces of immortality I can get. However, I should also warn such students that my ideas are not always the things that your teachers want to hear. I'm a stubborn idealist, and that puts me at odds with quite a bit of education theory and literary criticism. Sure, I think I'm right about some things, and I'm sometimes convinced of my own brilliance, but don't jump into the fire blindfolded.