Forty-seven and a half minutes of sleep. No food. Three-day old socks. Two-day old underwear. He had spent a week worrying about what he had to do that day, yet he woke up tired and unprepared because insomnia, dirty clothes and empty refrigerators were the symptoms of his dis-ease. Grocery stores and laundromats were two of life’s inescapable public places that disturbed him to the point of keeping him up at night.
It was June 5th, the day of his daughter’s school play. Within the hour he’d be entering the heart of suburbia on a city bus. Quinn grew up in the suburbs but moved downtown in his early twenties. Since then he and his homeland had become estranged. In fact, having to leave the walls of his apartment for the conspicuous byways of his past had put his stomach in a knot.
While screenshotting the suggested travel itinerary, he remembered that he needed to get sunglasses from the corner store. Taking public transit without sunglasses to hide behind was inconceivable, and so he brushed his teeth, grabbed his backpack, put his hat on, rumbled down the stairwell of his fourth-floor walk-up and stepped out the door into a perfectly dreary day.
Clouds let loose with cold drizzle as germaphobia demanded that he open the door of the store with his hand tucked into his shirt cuff. Inside, he went straight for the revolving rack of sunglasses and grabbed the cheapest pair of wraparounds.
At the checkout counter the cashier smiled and commented on the miserable weather. This made him realize that wearing sunglasses in the context of the weather might draw attention. But the alternative was worse. Naked eyes led to naked eye contact, which all too often led to conversation, and conversation was to be avoided at all cost.
This brings us to his Inner Alamo.
The doomed fortress inside Quinn’s head was built with the stones of failure, or rather perceived failure. The first stone was laid a year after he got back from his Wichita trip, and the last stone was laid about a year before the June 5th of this book, when his then-girlfriend took a job out west.
Sometimes his Inner Alamo would function according to plan, which is to say that it fostered a sense of resilience. But more often than not it made him feel trapped, and then doomed. These inevitable turns of historical accuracy led to the peculiar habit of him wishing himself free. If a milkweed seed floated by on the breeze, he wished himself free. If he passed a fountain with coins in his pocket, he wished himself free. Every birthday and every New Year’s Eve he wished himself free.
It’s true. Quinn was a sad sack. But, to his credit, he was not delusional. He knew that a granted wish was—in reality—the product of a good work ethic. In other words, he understood genie protocol and by extension the metaphor of showing up to polish one’s lamp. Unfortunately, he had convinced himself that he did not have a lamp. And not having a lamp was a psychological injury that would plunge him into darkness…upon losing his job…
*this is the opening bit from Bus Back to Omaha, as it will appear in the omnibus edition of Bus Back to Omaha and Taxicab to Wichita, to be published in 2018 by John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal