It was just another unremarkable day when I first heard those fateful words - those words that overflowed with import, burst at the seams with meaning, gorged themselves on fortune and grew disgustingly fat with destiny. Those words would change my life, and though they seemed innocuous enough at the time, nations would crumble beneath their weight, and widows would forbid their children from ever mouthing them again. Those words were:
"Hey man, the boss wants to see you in his office."
The man who spoke, if you could even call him that, was my coworker, Dan. Dan was distractingly, infuriatingly short and he had a look on his face that said he couldn't possibly satisfy a woman ...
Yep. That's the look.
"Jesus, ease up dude," the man said to me, "stop narrating me into your bullshit stories."
He slapped me on the back of the head, triggering an instant flood of murderous plots, each more subtle and damningly intricate than the last-
"No, seriously, you need to stop typing everything I do and get to Jack's office. He wants to see you."
I spun around in my chair and looked Dan straight in the eye. No need to stand, of course.
"How did he seem to you?" I asked.
"Dangerous, sexy, pretty sad. You know: The usual." Dan turned to walk away, but I seized the back of his shirt. Rather than stopping, he pulled me along with him for a few paces. My chair had wheels. Whee, I thought.
"Whee!" I screamed, until the ride cruelly and callously ceased. I prodded him a little with my heels and made a 'tut' sound, encouraging him to continue. He did not comply.
"Listen, man, as much fun as that just looked -- and it did look really, really fun, and we will totally do that for the rest of this business day so remember that it's my turn next -- you have to see Jack first. I think it's serious. He's drinking his yelling whiskey."
"s**t. We have to get out of here," I knew that whiskey intimately: It was fury and relentlessness and it was also Jack Daniels.
Although to be fair, all whiskey turns into yelling whiskey towards the bottom of the bottle.
"We?" Dan asked skeptically.
"I need you on this, Dan. The only way we're making it through this alive is together. There's just one thing I need to know first: Do you trust me?"
"Absolutely not," he filled in instantly, beginning to speak the words before I had even finished the question.
"Then let's go!" I stood, hooked my hand through my office chair, and whipped it through the window. From all around me came the swearing and that weird kind of choked crying that always happened right before I had a very good day. I grabbed my Battle Fannypack from its Velcro holster beneath my desk. From it, I pulled one personal desk fan, one industrial-size black garbage bag, and two twist-ties pilfered from other people's loaves of bread. If you've ever wondered what happens to those things; it was me all along. Sorry.
Disclaimer: I am not sorry.
I hastily secured the fan to the bag using the twist-ties, then took two leaping strides - easily hefting Dan's sprightly physique into the air with me - and leapt outwards, into the horizon and the empty, buffeting sky. I deployed the bag above us, but before it even had time to fill with air and lift the pair of us soaring south into a life of freedom and burritos, we landed, hard, on a rickety metal platform. Dan's eyes were wild with either terror or adventure. I chose to assume adventure. We looked up from the cross-hatched metal grating of the window washer's gondola and into a kindly face that was roughly eighty percent moustache, twenty percent Hispanic.
"Que?" The man's mouth flapped in astonishment for a full ten seconds before forming the word.
I laughed: "It's pronounced 'okay,' Luis, and yes, we are. Thank you."
A high, keening sound began to emit from Dan that meant he was either mentally broken or super pumped up. I've found that it's always beneficial to assume the latter of the two options you give yourself, and did so again.
"Hold on to your butts," I cautioned Dan. Then, translating for Luis, "habla es buttos."
I leaned over and kicked what looked to be the brake.
Luis' squeegee went hurtling off into the abyss.
I guessed again, and hit right this time. We rocketed downward with all the rocket-like force of a window washer's gondola propelled downward by rockets. I made a mental note to restock the Battle Fannypack's rocket stores. This could have been way more awesome. I was kind of disappointed in myself, actually.
It's cool, though: I won't forget again. I left myself a note.
Dan was screaming in a wordless breathless, constant emission. Luis was doing the same, but in Spanish.
"Relax," I told them, reaching into the BFP and coming up with a stapler and a bungee cord. I slipped the cord's hook through the hinge of the stapler, and fastened the other end to the cage of the gondola. Then I reached over and punched a staple into the rope slipping through the locks so fast it was generating small plumes of smoke. It didn't work the first time.
I tried it again, still nothing.
No need to panic, I told myself. There is always time to take a minute and think things through, even when you're reaching terminal velocity on a slipshod gondola hurtling from atop a skyscraper. I carefully pondered the physics of the situation - the rope, the stapler, the cord - and after a few stories of freefall, decided that I was probably right to start with and punched another staple into the screeching line.
That did it!
We snapped to a bowel-wrenching stop just in time; right on the ground. Luis looked like he had a few broken everythings, but Dan and I were unharmed: Dan, because he has the hollow mass and bouncy frame of a squirrel, and me because I jumped right before we hit the ground.
"We've got to get a car," I told him levelly, "don't worry. I've got this."
Dan was perfectly still, either in shock or respectful obedience. You know what to do here.
I pulled a gum eraser, a penknife, three rubber bands and a Sony Walkman from the Battle Fannypack. I secured the eraser to the penknife with the bands, then strode confidently over to a Subaru Outback idling at the curb. I opened the door, smiled pleasantly, and stabbed the man inside a few times until he left. Then I put on the Walkman. I unpaused it where I left off last: The affirming, exuberant tones of Tom Cochrane's
"This is my jam!" I yelled ecstatically out to the frozen Dan, "now get in the f*****g car or I'll burn your family."
He numbly strode over and settled into the Outback's spacious but tasteful interior. It's the kind of interior that has nothing to prove...
I closed my eyes, stomped on the gas pedal, and felt our vehicle rip through the beating heart of the world. Personally, I find driving way too terrifying to watch, so I have no idea how fast we were going, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say all of it. All of the fast.
"LIFE IS A HIGHWAY," I joyously hollered to the space where Dan probably was, "WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!"
Either he didn't answer, or else I just couldn't hear him scream "RIDE IT ALL NIGHT LONG!" through the headphones. I assumed the hell out of that latter.
A shudder passed through me as the car shifted, still picking up speed. God, the sheer, mad velocity of it! I could feel it as a physical weight - like a lump of cold, liquid silver settling into the back of my gut; like needles dancing up my neck; like every nerve sang out at once in a note of pure and ceaseless agonistic adrenalin, their billion voices joining together into a cellular power-ballad of bliss and fear. Even the music - the auditory supremacy that is Tom Cochrane - faded and pulled away, to be replaced by a lulling, static nothingness that yelled "What the f**k are you doing, Robert?" in my ear, over and over again.
"I'm not doing
"Get the f**k out of this Earth-shatteringly beautiful Subaru," the void answered back.
"There are...no words. Should have sent...a poet."
I opened my eyes, and stared up into Jack's purpling face, peering in through the lowered window. He held my headphones in one hand, still blaring out the most ethereal masterpiece ever produced by the transcendental and beauteous fingers of Tom Cochrane.
"What is this thing, out of gas?" I asked him, pumping the pedal a few times.
"That's the brake," Jack answered flatly.
"But I felt the universe spin out of control all around me. I resonated with the harmonics of the cosmos," I protested.
"That's the way Tom Cochrane and Subaru Outbacks make everybody feel," Jack spat back impatiently, "now get out of this car-"
"And into your dreams?" I helpfully supplied. Jack smacked me across the mouth and I cried a little. Then he dragged me to inside, to the elevator, and we rode up in tense silence.
"Awwwkwaard," I smiled over at him, trying to break the ice. He did not respond.
I had to get out of this. Luckily, there was one more ace up my sleeve. Moving slowly and deliberately, keeping my focus on Jack in the periphery, I quietly slipped a flat square of duct tape, my trusty Swiss Army knife, two hockey tickets and a piece of semi-chewed gum from their various compartments within the BFP. I surreptitiously secured the blade of the knife to the patch of duct tape with the gum, then pressed the hockey tickets over the sticky wad to fasten them there.
With hockey tickets and duct tape, you can make everything. Even...love.
The doors dinged, and began to open.
"HA!" I screamed victoriously, and threw the lump of stuff into Jack's face. I bolted from the elevators, took a random but intricate series of turns, then hid beneath a desk in a darkened office at the end of a short corridor. I giggled to myself, to pass the time.
Suddenly, the door swung open. Strong, drunkenly confident steps closed the distance between the entrance and my hiding space. The legs settled with pained weariness into the chair, and after a long moment, the voice came.
"God dammit, Robert."
"Clever girl," I muttered up at Jack, "how did you find me so fast?"
"This is my office. This is our floor. We pushed the button, and the elevator took to us the corresponding story of the building. That is how elevators work."
"Well played," I congratulated him, crawling around and settling into my traditional Scolding Chair, "you wanted to see me?"
"I...yes. I suppose I did. I just wanted to know what your column was about this week, but now that we've lost a window, half of a janitor, and probably another court battle against a dude who got stabbed in a Subaru, I guess we have other things to discuss."
He sucked in a slow, shuddering breath. I did not hear it release.
"I went to f*****g Georgetown University, Robert. Do you understand that? Georgetown. f*****g. University. The world was my oyster!"
"m***********g Georgetown University! That's like 3/16 of a Harvard!"
"I could've managed a Denny's in Alaska, for god's sake! Fairbanks, maybe! I had a life in front of me, and now all I have are these...these...shenanigans! Endless
"MacGyver," I answered him simply, "the column's about MacGyver. You know they have the whole series up on Netflix now? Fantastic show."
"Fine," He said, pinching his eyes shut and motioning me outward. I rose and made for the door.
"Listen, Jack," I stopped abruptly, not looking back when I spoke, but down at the floor. I kept my voice careful, soft, and even: "Try not to let all of this get you down. See, life's like a road that you travel on, when there's one day here and the next day gone. Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand, sometimes you turn your back to the wind. But there's a world outside every darkened door, where the blues won't haunt you anymore, where the brave are free and lovers soar."
We stood in silence for a moment. When I turned around, there were tears streaking his boyish face.
"Life is a highway," I whispered, "life is a highway."
"Are you...are you going my way?" Jack asked through broken sobs.
"I am, Jack. I always am."
We hugged until it got awkward and then I went and played yo-yo for a while.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. This column was not sponsored by Subaru, but strangely enough, it was sponsored by Life is a Highway.
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