Would you trust a guy who lied to you when people were shooting at him?
That’s what I asked myself as I stood by the side of the road, an old red bandana of Bill’s tied around my forehead, my thumb pointing south. Why did he tell me those people in Portland weren’t shooting at him when they obviously were? And why, after he made his dishonest nature so clear, did I spend the next six months with him?
But here’s the thing. We had a great six months. Since nothing ever happened in Crossroads before noon, I didn’t have to show up at the newspaper early. So I went to Bill’s gigs at The Kitchen, swilling Tequila Sunrises while he crooned the blues along with his dirty guitar. After the show we went back to the Clean Linen, as we called the rooming house we lived in, and cooked middle-of-the-night omelets, filling them with whatever Mrs. Perkins, the landlady, had left in the fridge.
Mashed potatoes and turkey gravy made a very filling omelet. Bleu cheese and black olives tasted divine. Capers and walnuts were strangely salty and crunchy. It didn’t matter. We ate omelets every night, damned our poor cholesterol clogged arteries, and laughed, first muffled, then louder, until Mrs. Perkins banged on the wall between her room and the kitchen.
Bill listened while I ranted about the frustrations of the small town reporter. I whined about the city council meeting that ran three hours over because none of those people had anything else to do, the city council being comprised of the same bunch of old men that congregated at Ella’s, the coffee shop, in the morning and at The Kitchen at night. I complained about the regional school superintendent who never, ever, answered her phone and, I suspected, didn’t really exist. I bemoaned the utter lack of real news, the dearth of excitement, the near total absence of behavior among the citizens of Crossroads.
Bill nodded, made sympathetic noises, and praised the magnificent quality of the articles I drafted out of thin air to inform the public about very little.
He talked to me about music.
We played Mrs. Perkins’ beat up old radio constantly, always tuned to the blues station out of Sacramento. When a favorite tune came on we sang along, and then Bill told me who wrote it, who played it first, who covered it, and which version was the very best. The next time we heard it, his “best version” had often changed.
He told me the story of Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his ungodly talent and then died a horrible, painful death by poison or maybe by the hound dog on his trail. I would never sell my soul, I told him. Not because I’m too good to do so, but because there was nothing I wanted that much.
Talked out, we would tumble into bed, where Bill proved he wasn’t that old. We slept until mid-morning, our fingers always lightly touching.
Some nights, I would’ve stayed at the Clean Linen in Crossroads forever. I was warm and safe there, well-fed, and loved by my editor, my readers, and my simultaneously wonderful and untrustworthy best friend.
But there I was, standing on the shoulder, waiting for a ride.