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Lin Jorgensen and Ben Jorgensen

Friends with Wheels
© Lin Jorgensen

Written using Ben Jorgensen’s story (below) as inspiration

After her son was born, she stopped being able to drive. Not overnight; she was supposed to take it easy after the C-section, but when he was only a week old, she eased herself into the big green boat of a Cutlass and went to buy groceries, do laundry.

But sometime that winter, she became terrified of driving. And she just sort of stopped. Maybe it was the pressure of nursing a six-month-old while helping her unemployed husband type his dissertation and send out applications.  Maybe it was all that Wisconsin snow piled up as high as the windows, pressing down on the roof.  You had to carve a tunnel out just to get to the car.

It got to her. Her heart was overflowing with tenderness for her son, but the rest of her felt frozen.

“It’s natural,” said her father the pediatrician, kindly, by phone from a thousand miles away. In NC, you can attend the Christmas Eve midnight service coatless. “Many new mothers panic when they see how dependent their baby is.”

But that wasn’t all of it, she didn’t think.  She might’ve just needed a friend with wheels.  And for awhile that hot summer right after their boy was born, that’s what he was.

Everyone said it was the hottest summer in the entire history of Wisconsin weather. Of course, what else!  Nothing came easily to them anymore.  The small farmhouse where they lived was a sieve for every bit of dust, cold, and heat that blew by, the dark rooms holding onto it.  So when the baby had trouble sleeping, they got into the car and drove slowly, silently around the back roads and fields. For hours.

It was cooler. The gentle swishing of the bald tires, the crickets and cicadas courting their mates. A mockingbird, up late too, singing himself down to sleep after a hard day in the recording studio.  But nothing much else. Mostly the waves of silence coming off old windbreaks of velvet-black-looking 100-foot-tall white pines.

To be nice, he always drove them by the catalpa tree she loved best of all, a specimen off by itself in a stand of arbor vitae. Its odorless white blooms shone even on a moonless night. Better by far than the aggressively sweet magnolias of her hometown, she thought.

That courtesy—without being asked, driving her past the catalpa—touched her. Those were the best times of their marriage.  She cradled the perspiring baby as lightly as she could, his head in the crook of her arm nearest the window to catch the slightest breeze. No mandatory safety belts or seats or balloons back then. You could hold your baby in the front seat like a hammock, swaying with the motion of the car, lulling him to sleep.

She craved those drives so much that she was disappointed when the baby fell asleep without one. Her heart lifted when he fussed himself awake at about 9 pm.  “I guess we’d better take him for a ride,” she’d say, with as much apology as she could muster.

She never wanted to leave that car when it was time to go back.  And not long after, she never wanted to drive again.  She didn’t think in terms of “never,” or “Now I’ve stopped driving.” She wasn’t renouncing it. More like forgetting it entirely.

Next spring, they packed up and moved south. She and the baby lived by themselves for half a year while he looked for work in a city a thousand miles away. She kept the car but seldom used it. Gas was expensive in the frightening tail-end of 1977’s recession, but that’s not why.  She drove to get groceries with her heart in her throat, often reaching up to wipe fine strands of her hair off her face, away from her eyes. They felt like cobwebs. But the feeling of cobwebs persisted and made her heart race. She would distract herself by singing to the baby, till, stop sign by stop sign, they safely reached home.

Of course the joke is that home wasn’t safe at all. Home was unraveling. Standing in his crib each morning when she came to get him, though, the baby would lift his arms. Soon, he crawled and walked.  He was her life, her only warmth.

When he turned two, they rented a house that was cheap but too big. Spread sparsely around, their stuff looked like dollhouse furnishing. His father had a difficult commute to the work he’d finally found. He was chilly with anger when he was there, but it was almost always just the two of them. So that was good.

The car went to the job, so they walked everywhere or went with friends with wheels. Or stayed put.  He started to draw dozens of pictures every day.  She bought him crayons and paints and pads of per.  But his favorite thing was playing with cars and trucks. Endlessly vroooming and screeching them across the floor, down the hallway. He slept with them.

In August of the summer he turned three, they bought a small sieve of a house nearer to his father’s work. The mother wanted to the little boy to make friends his own age and be with adults who weren’t sad all the time. So, ignoring the still-unpacked boxes, unscrubbed floors, and unmown waist-high grass, she doggedly searched the Yellow Pages, calling nearby places till she found a co-op preschool with one spot left, a week before class started.

They went to an interview, all three of them, and passed muster. She had begged the father not to lecture the head teacher about the failures of the American educational system. He sat sourly silent while she agreed to take her turn at helping the teacher.  All he said was, “He’s a good boy.” She was so grateful she teared up.

But when they got home, the father announced that it was up to her to figure out the transportation—no way was he leaving the car at home for that.  He was angry enough about the tuition and didn’t plan to give her cab money indefinitely. “Maybe you can find a way to carpool,” he shot over his shoulder as he left the room. He knew she hadn’t driven a car in a year and was mortally shy, as well.

The first day, the little boy and his mother got to school by cab. Holding his hand in the doorway, she smiled at the classroom full of cheerful kids and adults. She knew this was the right thing to do. She hoped she looked normal enough to the other mothers. A kid needs a mother who acts normal. She knew that  the hard way.

Then she let go of his hand and walked away so he could begin his life apart from her, knowing that’s exactly what was happening . Her hands and feet were numb and cold while she waited in the parking lot for class to be over. For two hours, she worried: “How can I possibly pull this off? What am I doing?”

She dreaded the thought of the next round of cab rides to school, and people seeing her sitting alone by the curb with a book, like a nut.

But the next time, after she’d let go of her son’s hand, a smiling woman walked out with her and struck up a conversation. Then she simply said, “You know, if you’d like a ride home, you’re right on my way.” They ended up talking in the parking lot for two hours, and agreed to trade off driving their boys to school, since they lived so near each other.

So the mother insisted on having the use of the car one day a week. When his father moved out, they kept it. And that was that.

The boy still drew and painted dozens of pictures every day, though he also now built tall buildings with wood blocks and constructed elaborate tents. His favorite thing to draw was geometric patterns, cars, houses, flowers, birds, trees, and little boys with no arms or legs or feet.

Smiling little boys with wheels.
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In the Worst Way
© Ben Jorgensen

I’m getting overheated even though the car isn’t running in the red yet. There is no air conditioning in this car. Wouldn’t mind getting it fixed if it wasn’t number priority number 547 on my list. It’s only a real issue when I’m heading to an interview, which I happen to be right now. Hopefully, if there’s time, I can excuse myself to the bathroom and put some paper towels to the task. Even without that cushion, I have to at least make it there on time. I start thinking about last week when the temp company sent me to an interview in downtown DC and I got horribly lost. You know the kind of lost when you get to the point where you’re about to say “fuck it”, and just go back home even though it’s the most irrational decision to make? Well, it was that kind.

I’m sure due in no small part to the fact that I was late, I haven’t heard back from that company yet. So, if I want off of the mac and cheese/pb and j regimen, I needed this one to go well. I had always thought that living on my own was going to be so great. Up late, eating whatever I wanted, total privacy. Staying up until 2 a.m. to eat Cheetos in my own apartment, that’s the triple play of independence, right? Pizza for breakfast and Pop Tarts for dinner? Sure, why not? Because I forgot that I would actually have to buy the pizza and Pop Tarts first, that’s why. Forget South Beach or Atkins, boy have I got a plan for you. Try the East Coast Underfunded Dude Diet, where Ravoli in a can is only 2 points! Anyway, I was ready to move up a rung and not just on the food intake scale.

By the time I got to this jobsite, nerves, frustration and the 97 degree temperature had me swimming in my clothes. Arriving with about ten minutes to spare, I check in with the secretary after mopping my forehead with a few futile and furtive passes of shirt sleeve cuff. All was well in the world when they weren’t quite ready to see me and I had just enough time to clean up. What I didn’t realize until later was that I had sat through the entire interview process with paper towel residue peppering my head. Apparently cheap Kleenex type paper products plus hurried moisture removal equals my brow needing a rinse cycle. It almost looked like when you cut yourself shaving and have plastered tissue bits to your face. Great, now the recruiter thinks I shave my forehead or something equally bizarre. Always keep them guessing someone famous once said.

After pulling up to the curb back home and letting the car “settle” (and you thought just houses did that), I peeled myself out of the ’84 Honda hatchback that’s been my staid pal since college. Lest you think it’s not up to spec, keep in mind that it’s the LX model. I used to joke with one of my college roommates that it stood for Luxury. And driving an old Ford Tempo that was the GL model, he chipped in that his was Good Lookin’. Of course most people in college imagine that as soon as they graduate they will be looking back amusingly at their “college car” while signing the paperwork for their new one. I guess a lot of them do but my car was still going strong and the job market was not, so it was a match made in heaven. I had my own brand of vehicular pride after all.

Of course there are some things that money can’t buy; there just happen to be a lot of things that it does. Heck, at 15 years old, my car was just about to hit puberty and had its whole life in front of it. In three years it would be off to college…but wait, we’ve already covered that.

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Jorgensen I

© Lin Jorgensen
Inspiration piece provided to Ben Jorgensen

The Thinker
© Ben Jorgensen

I thought I had the next million dollar idea, and it all came to me in a dream. It was simple; provide a spoon add-on to mayonnaise jars. Simple but invaluable. You know how you can dream about one thing off and on all night and it will feel like it’s been happening for years when you wake up? I felt like the cure for wasted utensils had been bouncing around in my head forever. How lovely for all of those knives dipped into that jar once and then needing to be rinsed or thrown into the dishwasher, never to be sullied by that miraculous white whip again. Package in a tiny spoon with a long handle and you could dip in there, get what you need, and dispose of the tool with no washing. How many small but long spoons would it take to top off a landfill, I don’t know. Admittedly this may not be the most eco-friendly “invention” but my tuna fish can opener/squeezer was already in grocery stores. Another night’s restlessness had led to that idea, of tuna juice no longer running down your hand when you went to squeeze the lid to get it out. Some other crafty person who had endured that frustration one time too many times must have beaten me to it. It can be very frustrating to dream up a concrete idea only to see your invention on Aisle 7’s end cap the next day.

And then there are the fleeting moments of creativity. I hate it when a great idea (supposedly) strikes me and then I forget it (completely). I can come up with and forget a string of dialogue or a plot idea during the course of a long shower. If I don’t jot something down soon after it bubbles up, I often lose it. Wait, waterproof post-its, has anyone done that? Nothing is more maddening and kind of funny at the same time than seeing your notes a day later and having no idea what they mean. I’ve stared at words written in the middle of the night the next morning and wondered who broke into my house and scribbled on my notepad.

When it comes to creativity that is born from looking at the world less seriously, a willingness to be silly, or sometimes just having fun, many like to refer to the “Peter Pan” syndrome. This label is for adults that engage in too many immature activities. I’ve pulled an all-nighter working on a new board game idea. Is that what Mr. Barrie would consider as a “boy who wouldn’t grow up”? I don’t know but it’s interesting that after that first night of excitement and enthusiasm, I never really revisited that game idea. As a child, I created a whole series of games that my friends and I played. Some had monsters we had to defeat with a series of powers we gained from cards I had created. Another was about ninjas, with throwing stars and swords I made out of paper. We basically ran around throwing things at each other and yes, I realize that it was just another version of “tag”. Still, that kind of sustained creativity eludes me now. That young me always kept tinkering, kept planning. Necessity may be the mother of invention but so is the superfluous. There’s a certain freedom to it. Creating something that may not be practical can be just as rewarding as something that is, maybe even more so. Finding a need to be met is one thing but developing something that there is no inherent need for at all is quite a challenge.

And let’s not stop at the aforementioned syndrome. What about MacGyver syndrome or Weeble Wobble syndrome? I still think I’ve got a fighting chance to fix things with paper clips, bubble gum and duct tape because of a childhood television show and I think that’s a good thing. Of course knowing what my repair process involves may make people nervous about standing under anything load-bearing in my home. I’ve been known to quote the Weeble song under my breath whenever I see people stumble but not fall. “Weebles, wobble but they don’t fall down.” Hell, that’s practically inspirational; I’d put it on a bumper sticker!

Even after we’ve left our literal childhood behind, we still have our toys. The grown-up version of Tinkertoys is having a woodshop in the garage. Replacing that LiteBrite is as easy as hanging up your new plasma TV. Want to play dress up? You can fulfill that wish by going to a sale with a credit card. An Easy Bake oven you say? Just replace that “came-with-the-house” oven with a stainless steel convection model, though I can only imagine how many light bulbs that it would use. My wife can say “he’s like a kid in a candy store” and I could be anywhere from a bookstore to a flea market to an actual candy store. We can have our grown-up toys and still stay attached to some of the things that gave us so much joy as kids. Looking back for inspiration can be very worthwhile.

As we get older, we gain patience but lose some of that instantaneous follow through. There are so many real world problems that we are forced to be more practical. I won’t deny patience as a virtue but not getting to do what you want, when you first think of it, can sop up the creative juices and slow our abstract thinking. I’m not necessarily talking about being impulsive, zany or “extreme”, just maybe ignoring the practical obstacles every once in a while. So what, more specifically, am I talking about? I mean the ability to plot. We typically associate plotting with something nefarious but it’s really just a somewhat clandestine plan. That’s what we need to recapture, or hold onto if you’ve been lucky enough to hang on to it so far. As a child, if I decided to build a fort, I would think about how many pillows I needed and where to put the sheet overhead to be the roof. I would decide which comic books and snacks I needed in there with me and then I just built it. Obviously, balancing my checkbook and setting my DVR were not concerns at that time but I don’t want those things to now keep me from setting and achieving my goals.

Milton-Bradley and Random House haven’t called me back about my board game idea or my genre defying novel, respectively. Could it be that I haven’t heard back because I never sent them my material? The better question is, how much does it matter? There is a lot of fun to be had in the thinking, planning, and sketching. They can all keep you going even if it takes you years to follow through, or if you never finish. That’s the part you don’t hear about as much but sometimes just the concept, the machinations of an open mind, can keep you young at heart and having fun. That isn’t to say that I don’t want to finish what I start, just that I want to enjoy the whole process.

I can’t disappoint the great thinker in that wicker rocking chair. He was probably deciding how many arms to draw on an alien. I need to prop my feet up again and get plotting!

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