He says, "Actually, I don't live anywhere right now. I live in my vehicle... I live in Iowa City at the moment."
I add, "On Friendship Street."
It's an old RV, and he's got it parked in front of my house while he camps out on my couch. It's got a makeshift "patio" on the roof and a miniature Christmas tree annealed to the rear bumper. He tells me he needs to get the lights back up. I imagine them blowing off in the freeway wind.
He was late getting out of Chicago when he got a flat. The tire man said, incredulously, "Did you put these things on?", and when he demurred, said, "I've never seen tires like this on a mobile home. They're like tires for a backhoe or something," and sold him a new pair for the rear.
He was parked on a Chicago street another time when he received a midnight visitor. I'd asked him if it scared him to sleep in it and whether he locked the door, and he laughed and said one time he forgot. He woke up groggy to find a man moving stealthily around the interior of the RV and demanded to know what he was doing there. The man began to object in broken English that he lived there, that the RV was parked in front of his house in "his" space on the public street, that he couldn't park. The man eventually went away, only to come back later when he'd fallen asleep again. This time the man resorted to repeating a single unintelligible question: "Are you swervy? Are you swervy?" Finally he realized the man meant to ask him if he was sorry, if he apologized for parking in the man's space. "Yes, I'm swervy." And he went back to sleep.
He's been visiting friends in Brooklyn recently, friends who took turns sitting up on the rooftop patio and composed poems to the RV. His home had stayed parked on the street for three days. The day after he left, someone set fire to three of the cars parked on that block. He thanked his good fortune for the minor inconvenience of a flat backhoe tire.
Now he's living in Iowa City, going to the Sharpless farm auction with me in the Wednesday twilight, sun pooling out over the farmlands and lilting hills of the Herbert Hoover Highway. He's ogling metal objects too unwieldy to transport and scores of old Macintoshes. He talks about dressing them in hats and programming them to talk to one another. He is nearly drooling at the prospect of their ridiculously low going rate. But we're hungry, and the IBC Root Beer isn't enough.
We head into town for tapas at Devotay, making the standard riffs on "topless bars," and order entrees instead. He makes a case for sangria while I launch into my grilled chicken sandwich. We compete against one another in the consumption of chocolate mousse, and I am outdone. I achieve bottom in a one-sided gouging cheat and mourn my grownup inequality to richness while he scrapes his dish clean with male pride.
The birds in the biergarden don't shit on him, like they do on Maggie and me, but still we move to another table. He's practicing smoking, drawing on the fag hungrily like it's a joint, smoking it down to its filter. He makes me feel wasteful. Every time a stray raindrop falls, I jump.
He's headed West, caravaning with a Christmas tree and his emblazoned URL making an interesting view for the cars behind him. He's headed for states where the lack of air conditioning in July won't faze him. He's driving out of the plains and through the mountains and into another world on the other side. And I envy him.
posted 19 july 2001 - Sarah Townsend