SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

After several hours on the road we pulled off for gas and to pick up snacks from a Stop N' Shop. I slowly hoisted myself from the seat and stretched my stiff, weary legs. The composed February evergreens indicated we were closing in on the border and the air washed my city lungs like spring water. Looking up, the endless gray sky was as vast and sprawled out as the upstate highways we'd been driving on - but the hum of the road was finally hushed. The still silence of country life resounded in the gravel underneath our shoes.

Vanessa made friends with the overweight teenager working the register. He was frustrated on account of Neil, his co-worker, who should have been at work an hour ago. Nobody knew where Neil was and I never would have known Neil was even missing if Vanessa hadn't told me so. The teenager wore his frustration gracefully, like an old coonhound with a full bladder and nobody to let him outside.

Next door to the gas station in the otherwise-nothingness sat an old gray shack; creaky and crumbly, plopped upon itself like a precarious pile of books. In the driveway were several cars, each one a stoic meditation of cold metal in varying extremities of stillness. They could have been the exposed roots of whatever kept that shack from simply blowing away. The four of us followed our curiosity up the hill and towards the entrance.

Inside was a wall to wall junk sale - books, records, artwork. A man waived us in from a table in the middle of the room, "Come on in folks, have a look around!" his unkempt curly hair was graying but the passage of time was too busy everywhere else to make him old. In fact, his mustache was still tobacco brown and there was a trace of mischief in his eyes. He looked like the third Mario brother and this decaying shack housed his accumulated inventory of frog suits, warp whistles, and p-wings. With him was a woman who barely acknowledged us, transfixed on the game of backgammon she was losing.

The entire shack had the old book smell so dense and full that the act of looking actually felt like reading. There was no place to direct your eyes that wouldn't beg some question. No blank space, no vast horizons. We wandered the labyrinth-like narrows, dwarfed by stacks of tackle boxes, empty photo frames, baseball autobiographies, and Donald Duck inner-tubes. There was nothing to be sought after but everything to find. The man watched me fingering through a stack of paintings, "Oh, you like art! My son did those paintings."

Vibrant wood-wrapped canvases mostly comprised of large deliberate dots of acrylic primary colors, plopped in incredible patterns to create landscapes, chairs and faces. I said, "These are great." I would have bought one but any one of them would have dominated my bedroom with manic authority, I'd have had to pay it rent. Besides that, the possibility of discovering the price on his son's artwork was more than I'd be willing to pay was an awkwardness I couldn't chance. These paintings were perfectly at home in the shack, so there they'd stay.

"We're drinking beer tonight." the man excitedly blurted, as if we couldn't see the box of LeBatt Blue sitting plainly in the chair next to him. Dragon told him we on our way to Montreal from the city. "Which city?" he asked.

I didn't want to spend a lot of money but I needed a souviner so I settled on a Vest Pocket Dictionary that looked like it was from the 1930's. "I'd like to buy this" I said. "Oh, that? You can just have that."

Phil bought a few records including a handsome Leon Redbone album. As he paid for them I looked at the half empty twelve-pack sitting in the chair next to the man and across from the woman. In that moment, and there's no way to explain how I knew it, I was certain that those were not regular beers. Those beers were his son the artist, transformed perhaps by some immortal backwoods wizard, and there with us occupying his space in the middle of nowhere..