Dubrovnik walked down the hall from his bedroom and entered the living room, shuffling softly over the construction-orange carpet in a pair of moose-hide slippers that he more or less lived in since he’d moved back in with his parents. Dubrovnik’s mother forbid the wearing of shoes as a preservative measure for the new carpet. She policed the situation fairly fanatically. If she saw footprints on her orange carpet she’d squeal, “Who’s wearing shoes?”
Dubrovnik had moved back home to save money after the steel mills closed. He’d lost his job as an inspector in a tin plate mill. This reprise of his childhood was one of the unforeseen consequences of the mills closing. One of the least analyzed but nevertheless most deeply felt effects of the ascent of Japan’s economy was that Mitchell Dubrovnik no longer got to wear shoes in his own house.
He noticed his father beached in a blue velour La-Z-Boy on the far side of the living room. Mr. Dubrovnik was swaddled in a white terry cloth bathrobe—his chapped and bleeding, toenail-less feet with yellow patches of dead skin flapping off them, hanging over the edge of the footrest. He had terrible feet—the ugliest feet most anyone had ever seen, but he wasn’t ashamed of them. He’d gotten something called jungle rot while in the Pacific during the war. The Dubrovniks were proud of Mr. Dubrovnik’s feet. If anybody ever asked about them, it gave them an opportunity to talk about where Mr. Dubrovnik had been and what he had done in the war. “He was in the Pacific,” someone would say and everybody knew exactly what that meant. He’d fought the Japs.
At the moment Mr. Dubrovnik wasn’t doing much of anything. He was sleeping, on and off. A copy of a book—The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: My Life as a Navy Seal—was laying facedown and open, bellowing up and down upon his chest.
Dubrovnik was relieved to see that his father was unconscious. It was 11 a.m. and he felt guilty. During these morning appearances he always felt like a prisoner being pulled out of a drunk tank to face the local magistrate. He felt obligated to explain his belated presence to his father, usually greeting him with some detail of a program he’d been watching: Have you ever seen that penguin documentary? The Charlton Heston one? That thing’s incredible. It was on late. Have you seen that? Sixty degrees below and they’re outside walkin’ around! Charlton Heston says they’re the most courageous things on earth. Sixty degrees below.
He’d go on like that and Mr. Dubrovnik would grunt and groan, but he’d never get the absolution he was seeking and he usually regretted talking. Mr. Dubrovnik would obliquely change the subject, bringing up, in this case, Ben-Hur, his favorite picture. The most Dubrovnik knew of his father’s feelings about his nocturnal hours came whenever he’d hear the soft knock on his bedroom door, and his father’s voice saying: “Last call for the human race, Mitchell. Last call. Rise and shine.”
Today Dubrovnik crept into the kitchen, treating his father like a sentry. He saw the note his mother had left on the refrigerator. In large letters in red Magic Marker it said: mitchell! please eat the kielbasa. He stood still for a minute and listened for the sound of the washer and dryer coming from the basement. Nothing. His mother was apparently out somewhere. “Good for her,” he muttered.
Dubrovnik cautiously opened the door to look for the kielbasa. His appetite was subordinate to his mother’s need to not throw anything out. Since moving home he sometimes felt she was using his digestive tract as a garbage disposal. He alternated between resentment and, in more elevated and mature moments that never lasted long, the realization that feeding him was the way she showed her love. While her doting may have kept his stomach full it often turned against his other urges. Without saying a word she’d confiscated fireworks out of his closet that he’d brought back from a visit to South Carolina. And his copy of The Happy Hooker had disappeared without a word from its hiding place in the lining of his mattress. But he kept quiet about it.
Opening the refrigerator door he saw Tuesday’s pork roast sitting in a snowy bed of congealed fat. Sunday’s ham was down to the fatty ends near the bottom of the bone, resting on a blue china platter and on its way to becoming ham salad and, finally, navy bean and ham soup. This soup had something of a reputation in the Dubrovnik household based on its historical significance. It was the only dish his father had enjoyed while serving in the Pacific. Whenever it was on the menu the dinner conversation inevitably teed off with this anecdote. It was part of the family gestalt that none of them could look at a ham without thinking about his father’s time in the service. And then, finally, in a blue Tupperware crypt hiding behind a large-mouthed bottle of ketchup, Dubrovnik found the kielbasa, enough for two large sandwiches. He went over to the counter and sliced it up, put it between two slices of Lady Lee white bread, and smothered it so thoroughly with ketchup that his sandwich looked like a bandage that needed to be changed.
He sat down to eat at the kitchen table. A copy of the want ads from that morning’s Ironton Vindicator was waiting for him there. His mother always left them out just to be sure that her son and the want ads would cross paths sometime during the day. Dubrovnik had stopped reading the classifieds six months ago, after a year of unemployment. What was the use? he’d thought, somewhat reasonably, with four thousand unemployed steelworkers chasing after a handful of low-paying jobs. Nobody was looking for a sheet inspector in a tin plate mill, or a hot mill tapper, or a switchman for dumper cars that fed iron ore into a skyscraper-sized Bessemer converter—or any of the other jobs Dubrovnik had held as a steelworker during the twelve years since he’d graduated high school. Those occupations had been modernized out of existence by a new generation of steel-making technology that never arrived in his rusty, polluted corner of Ohio.
Most of the unemployed, men with families of their own, had run off to the Sun Belt to become convenience store managers and bank tellers and security guards in non-union towns like Tampa and Houston and Phoenix. But Dubrovnik, thanks to his bachelor status and the graciousness of his parents, got to stay behind in Ironton and wait for better days while eating his mother’s cooking.
Sometimes he went out after jobs for the sake of household diplomacy. Once, after his mother pestered him into answering an ad for a swimming pool chemicals salesman, he took revenge on her by responding to an ad for subjects for a medical experiment.
His friend Eddie Richetti, who’d also worked at Sheet and Tube and had hung out with Dubrovnik since high school, had pointed out the ad to him. Doctors at the University of Akron were looking for male subjects between the age of 18–40 to participate in a study of fat cells. For ninety days they would have to consume nothing but protein supplements and raw or steamed vegetables. You couldn’t even put anything on the vegetables. Dubrovnik knew this because he asked the nurse who made he and Richetti’s appointment for an interview. He’d ask her, “What about oleo?”
The idea of her son selling himself into vegetarianism irritated his mother and Dubrovnik knew it. He couldn’t have tweaked her much worse if he’d shaved his head, put on a sarong, and started begging for money at airports. He and Richetti drove up to Akron and tried to sign up. A doctor in a lab coat interviewed them in an office wrapped in frosted glass. The doctor told them that they couldn’t drink alcohol during the study, something the ad hadn’t mentioned and neither of them had considered. Their idea of the experiment consisted mainly of a fantasy of them living among all those lovely suburban girls who shielded their breasts with their books. They’d both missed out on college. But what sense was their being around all those beautiful girls if they couldn’t get drunk? How would they communicate? That news damaged their enthusiasm, but the idea officially died when Dubrovnik’s mother had called the Ohio Department of Labor Bureau of Unemployment Compensation and found out that any compensation he took in would cause his benefits to be reduced. Dubrovnik wasn’t risking that. Not for $50 per day.
Dubrovnik was still hungry. He went back to the refrigerator, opened it absentmindedly and looked in. His plans for the day were beginning to solidify. He’d spotted a story in the Vindicator saying that today the demolition experts were going to blow up the blast furnaces at Ironton Sheet and Tube. A brief campaign to preserve them as a museum had failed due to a lack of government interest. A steel museum was already being planned in Birmingham, Alabama. Ironton would get nothing.
Dubrovnik thought he would watch the demolition. He wasn’t sentimental about it. Whatever sentimentality he had about the mills was attached to the men who’d worked in them. Behind the bar in the Dubrovnik basement was a black and white photograph taken during his grandfather’s days in the mills. It showed a couple of sooty-faced hard-hats smiling beneath a sign at the entrance to the mill that said: days since last disabling injury. A blurry 9 was written below in chalk. No, Dubrovnik wasn’t sad about today’s events. He simply loved explosions.
He then spotted a single can of Iron City hiding behind a two- pound tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. It was noon. A beer was tempting, as long as he opened it quietly enough not to awaken his father. He pulled the top and the beer let out a loud snake-like hiss.
A couple of minutes into dinner that night Mr. Dubrovnik spoke up on behalf of his favorite vegetable. “I love carrots this way,” he said. His mother took it from there. “That’s because they’re cooked right down in the grease, beside the meatloaf. They really soak up the flavor that way.”
Sometime between Dubrovnik’s first stint with his parents and his second, food had replaced sex as the medium of exchange in their relationship. That was fine with Dubrovnik. He sat there silently forking his way through his meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and carrots, hoping not to be drafted into the conversation.
Near the end of the first helping his mother poked him. “What’s wrong with your milk, Mitchell?” she said.
It took Dubrovnik a second to realize what she was referring to. Then he realized that Mrs. Dubrovnik was speaking rhetorically. She knew exactly what was wrong with his milk: it was getting warm. To her the kilowatts that went into cooling a glass of milk were part of its quantitative value. Her son was throwing money out the window.
“Well, if you’re so doggone worried about it then why don’t you drink it?” Dubrovnik said, raising the glass to her. “Here! Go for it.”
“Put that down,” she said. “Stop wasting it.”
“Wasting what?” he asked.
Dubrovnik’s father cleared his throat, his way of warning people he wanted to change the subject. “Mitchell, did everything get blown up OK?” he asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Dubrovnik.
“Were there a lot of people?” he asked.
“Couple hundred, maybe,” Dubrovnik said, without looking up from his plate.
Actually, the demolition disappointed Dubrovnik. The old open hearth went down in a puff of smoke that rose up and swallowed the best parts of the performance. All he saw was a strategic series of blue flashes followed by a rumbling that sounded like a bunch of trash cans being blown down an alley. Then came a blinding cloud of dust that drove everybody back to their cars.
Mr. Dubrovnik rested his palms on the edge of table and pushed his chair back a foot or so. By this gesture he meant that he was about to broaden the scope of the conversation.“They’ll all be back,” he said, patting his stomach. “As long as we have water, we’ll have industry. They’re not going to be doing much without our water. That’s why they all came here to begin with.”
The water theory was Mr. Dubrovnik’s sole contribution to economics. It had a biblical ring. It went like this: You couldn’t have industry without lots of water. Ironton’s industrial success was ordained by nature. They were lucky to live so close to Lake Erie. Companies were disappearing to the Sun Belt for non-union labor and tax breaks. Eventually, the laws of reality would catch up with them. They’d run out of water. They’d come running back.
Mr. Dubrovnik looked at his son. “What are they going to do when they run out of water? What then?”
“I dunno,” said Dubrovnik. “Write it off on their taxes.”
Dubrovnik had himself lately started thinking of defecting. A friend of his, Anthony, had moved to Atlantic City and he’d been pestering Dubrovnik to take advantage of his couch.
Mrs. Dubrovnik stood at the counter holding an electric knife over a cutting board, staring down an enormous lump of meatloaf.
“Is anybody thinking about more meatloaf?” she asked. In the middle of dinner she usually sought some kind of meat forecast. Mr. Dubrovnik said he’d have more. Dubrovnik turned her down.
“Why don’t you do something with your hands, Mitchell?” she asked. “You’re good with your hands. I wish you’d use them.”
The “good with your hands” thing started in Dubrovnik’s high school days. During his junior year he had been caught building pipe bombs in shop class. During a disciplinary conference, Dubrovnik’s shop teacher, Mr. Roncone, tried to console Mrs. Dubrovnik by saying repeatedly that he’d never seen a kid quite so good with his hands. In doing so he’d given her her favorite idea of her son—a boy with subtle physical creativity. After graduation she urged Dubrovnik to do something with his hands, but instead he’d gone straight into the mills.
After dinner Dubrovnik marched off to his bedroom. The first thing he saw when he opened the door was a pink envelope sitting on his pillow. Mrs. Dubrovnik always left his mail there. There was only one source of pink envelopes in his life: the Ohio Department of Labor’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, which used them to deliver urgent bad news. The last one he’d received was a summons to visit the local unemployment office. He’d had to go down and enter the brightly-lit linoleum world of the unemployment office, stand in line for a couple of nervous, rubber-legged hours, and meet with a counselor.
His employment counselor was George O’Connell, a big beefy balding red-haired guy whom Dubrovnik suspected was the same George O’Connell who bowled with his parents. Dubrovnik had heard his parents say that this O’Connell had a plate in his head from Korea. Dubrovnik spent the first part of the interview scouting O’Connell’s scalp for signs of staples, stitches, rivets and his bookshelves for anything that might link him to either the Korean conflict or the St. Anthony’s bowling league, but all could see were family photos and a couple of unframed certificates conferred by the Northeastern Ohio Development Corporation.
O’Connell asked Dubrovnik what he was doing about a job. Dubrovnik, sensing he wanted something anecdotal, told him how he’d made it to the final interview for a swimming pool supply salesman job. He told O’Connell how, during the second interview, the owner asked him to take a personality test. “I never heard back,” Dubrovnik said.
“Did you ever call to find out what had happened?” O’Connell asked.
“No,” said Dubrovnik.
“Ahhh, you should always call, always,” said O’Connell. “What if the guy had lost your phone number? Geezus, Mitchell, you have to be more persistent. He might have kept you in mind if something came up. A lot of getting a job is luck. The right place at the right time. Always follow up. You never know. Have you ever heard the expression that ninety percent of life is showing up?”
“I missed that,” Dubrovnik said.
O’Connell asked Dubrovnik what he’d like to do if he could do anything and Dubrovnik had said he’d like to do something with his hands. He told O’Connell how he’d applied to the Electricians, the Plumbers, and the Carpenters but hadn’t heard anything back.
“That’s because you don’t know anybody,” O’Connell said. “You need to know people to get those kinds of jobs.”
“What kind of people?” Dubrovnik asked.
O’Connell took his hands out from behind his head and slid on his elbows across his desk toward Dubrovnik until they were nearly nose to nose. “Well, let’s put it this way,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to be Italian. Not in this town anyways.”
O’Connell signed Dubrovnik up for another personality test. “You need to take more advantage of the Department’s resources,” he said. He ordered him down to the Skills Assessment Center, where he said a woman named Kathy would be waiting with a personality test. Dubrovnik stood up and made a final inspection of O’Connell’s skull. It was shiny and spider-veined but without a single trace of shrapnel. O’Connell took Dubrovnik’s lingering attention as a sign he was reluctant to go searching for Kathy. “Don’t worry, you’ll find her,” he said. “You can’t miss her. Big black hair and bright red dress.” Dubrovnik marched down the hall but all he found was a scattering a folding chairs and some black board notes. An arrow connecting the words lazy and answering machines. After a couple of minutes, he bolted.
Now, seeing the pink envelope on his pillow, he wondered if the missed personality test had finally caught up to him. He opened it and read:
mitchell augustus dubrovnik:
this is your final payment. your current period of eligibility has expired. if you would like to apply for an extension of benefits or, if you believe you have received this notice in error, then contact your local office or call 1-800-jobsnow, ext. 17.
Dubrovnik didn’t know what to make of it. He lay back on his bed with the notice on his chest. He stared at the swirls of paint on the ceiling. A series of huge explosions were going off on the television on the other side of the wall behind his head. Mr. Dubrovnik was out in the living room digesting and watching The World at War. He knew this episode by heart. The Germans were nearly surrounded and escaping back to Paris. The Americans held them in a noose, but Ike, that bureaucrat, was holding back General Patton.
Dubrovnik heard an asthmatic wheeze at his door accompanied by a faint knock. “Mitchell, you alive in there?” It was his father.
“What,” Dubrovnik said, louder than he meant to.
“Your mother wants to know if you need shoes,” he said. “There’s a sale here in the paper.” He rustled the paper.
“I’ll think about it,” said Dubrovnik.
His father went away. He went back to thinking. He told himself the state was doing him a favor. He remembered Al Martinelli, a retired electrician who had enormous tufts of hair growing out his ears, saying he had no regrets about things he’d done in his life; it was the things he didn’t do that he regretted. “My motto: Do something—even if it’s wrong,” he’d said. Dubrovnik liked it so much he asked the bartender for a pen and wrote it down on a cocktail napkin beside a drawing of a naked woman lying in a martini glass.
Dubrovnik noticed something fluttering softly outside the window. He sat up and looked out. It was snowing. Snow everywhere. The neighborhood was turning a magical white. He opened the window and inhaled—he liked that cold mentholated taste snow put in the air. He watched a couple of cars make tracks back and forth down the street He pledged that tomorrow, no matter what, he’d call his friend in Atlantic City just to see what was happening.
Anthony told him that Atlantic City was going great guns. He’d made $250 last Saturday night—driving a cab. “Sinatra was in town,” he said. Dubrovnik told him he was finally coming out to take a look around.
Dubrovnik spent the rest of the day feeling expansive. For the first time in years his brain was too stimulated to watch TV. He saw himself living on a higher plane—with cameos by Old Blue Eyes and the Atlantic as a backdrop. That night he walked into the living room to to tell his parents. His father was rereading a book about Patton’s campaign in Sicily. His mother was knitting, getting a jump on Christmas. Dubrovnik was nervous. After he told them they just sat there looking around the room uncertainly. Then he mentioned Sinatra being there last Saturday. The words popped out of his mouth, almost involuntarily, in a desperate attempt to add some positive weight to his decision. It worked. His parents perked up. “He was here about forty years ago,” his mother said. “I have his autograph floating around here somewhere,” she said, aiming a knitting needle at the bankers desk in the corner, where the family archives sat amid postage stamps and pile of coupons for antifreeze and antacid. “He was just a skinny kid.”
On the morning of Dubrovnik’s last day in Ohio his mother accosted him through the bathroom door. “What would you like on your sandwiches?” she asked. She was mad at him for making such a late appearance on a day he needed to drive eight hours to Atlantic City. Talking to him through the bathroom door was her earliest opportunity to show it. She knew he hated talking when he was in the bathroom. And he knew she knew. Nothing was better for making Dubrovnik feel infantile than the sound of his mother’s voice just inches away while he was sitting bare-assed on the toilet.
“Mustard,” he barked, rooting for her to jump back.
But Mrs. Dubrovnik, a fighter by nature, gladly took one to give one. She stepped back up to the door. “You want mustard on turkey. That it?” she said, making mustard on white meat sound incredibly unkosher.
“Yes,” he said, “Mustard!”
When Dubrovnik reached the living room his father was waiting. Mr. Dubrovnik had devoted his morning to thinking about his son and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He worried his son didn’t understand the risks.
“Only a guardrail separates you from oncoming traffic,” he said. “If it rains you’ll be blinded every time you try to pass a truck. And I mean totally blinded.”
“Sounds terrible,” Dubrovnik said, unconvincingly
“It used to be much worse,” his father said. “Much worse. Your grandfather drove that way before there was a turnpike. Imagine going through those mountains before tunnels.”
The legend of the Pennsylvania Turnpike always began with Dubrovnik’s grandfather, who blazed the trail from Ohio to Florida, returning with grapefruit, conch shells, and Joe DiMaggio’s autograph on the menu of an Italian joint in St. Petersburg. Any time anybody in the household was about to take a long journey by car, the spirit of Augustus Dubrovnik was invoked—the wise grandfather who wrapped his car seats in plastic, belonged to Triple A from the very beginning, and brought road flares, undercoating, and steering wheel clubs into the family.
Dubrovnik couldn’t be bothered about the turnpike. He was more worried about the bag of pot he’d lost a couple of months ago. It kept reappearing in the form of miniature nervous breakdowns whenever he was about to leave the house for a spell. He could just see his mother reclaiming his bedroom on behalf of her sewing machine, stumbling into a dime bag and wondering where she’d failed as a parent. Dubrovnik walked to his bedroom, swept his hand behind the dresser and under the mattress, gave his old athletic socks a final squeeze for contraband, stuck his hands up the bung hole of the ceramic kangaroo atop his dresser to see if there was a shred of plastic hiding anywhere up there, and then said a final goodbye to his room.
When it was time to go his mother and father were standing by the front door, waiting. His mother handed him the traditional Dubrovnik traveler’s kit—a plastic bread bag stuffed with pounds of sandwiches, cookies, and potato chips. She pointed to a large metal canister sitting on a bench beside the door—a five pound can of Cheetos. Dubrovnik had spotted the Cheetos a couple days ago and mistook it for a sign she was hosting club. “That’s yours,” she said, giddily.
“Really, mine?” he said. “All that.”
“You don’t have to eat it all today,” she said, smiling.
Dubrovnik studied the canister—a solid metal cylinder with an orange, blue, red, white paint job. He was touched. He realized these Cheetos were his mother’s way of remaining in his life a while longer—first as snack food, then, possibly, as a wastebasket. He hugged her.
The Cheetos gave Mr. Dubrovnik an idea. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I have something.” He ran off through the dining room toward the garage, setting off a glassy tinkle in the china cabinet that caused Mrs. Dubrovnik to place a hand over her stomach. Mr. Dubrovnik returned with a couple of jugs of sky-blue liquid—windshield washer fluid. “You’ll want this if you run into anything on the turnpike,” he said. “Any kind of weather at all.” He handed it over and started in about the time Grandpa ran out of windshield washer fluid on the turnpike and everybody was sold out so that he could barely see to drive. “He had to think about getting a motel,” he said.
“For Christ’s sake, that’s enough,” Mrs. Dubrovnik, interrupted, then turned to her son “You better get going if you want to get in before dark. You don’t want to be caught on the turnpike at night. Not in those mountains. It’s pitch black.”
The first part of Dubrovnik’s trip was dedicated to finding a place to snort the pink perfumed amphetamine powder—crystal meth—that his friend Bob Reid gave him as going away present. Dubrovnik popped in on Bob the night before to say a quick goodbye. Bob dealt to Dubrovnik for the last couple years. He used to be everybody’s drug dealer but then, after a stint in prison, he only sold to friends.
Bob and his girlfriend Else were hanging out as always, sitting around in their underwear watching some nonsense on TV, and arguing whose turn it was to go to the store. When Dubrovnik told Bob he was moving away, Bob got sad. “Hold on,” he said, “I’ve got something for your trip.” He came back from his bedroom with a tiny Ziploc packet stuffed with pinkish powder.
“Ever done crank?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Dubrovnik said. “I’ve eaten a ton of yellow jackets and Christmas trees and shit like that, and some of my mom’s Ritalins, but I don’t ever remember snorting anything. No.”
“Crank is relatively new around here,” Bob said. “It’s a big deal in Philadelphia.”
“I’m going through there on my way to Atlantic City.”
“Well, buddy, you’ll be crossing home plate then. Just ask for the Pagans. They’ve got tons of this shit.”
Dubrovnik held up the envelope for examination, then sniffed its perfumey contents.
“Don’t think too seriously on that stuff,” Bob said. “It’ll make you crazy.” Bob rolled his eyes as a way of alluding to the proof, his apartment. Four months earlier meth inspired Bob to try and understand his motorcycle better, so he took it apart. Now his apartment looked like a parts schematic for a Harley Gold Wing. The frame was leaning against the back of the couch. Some cables, possibly brakes, were slung across the top of the refrigerator, and the household smelled like motor oil.
Until he got into his car Dubrovnik wasn’t sure he’d take the meth. But soon he decided it was better to do meth than to be caught with it, so he pulled into the first rest stop on the turnpike. He drove to the far edge of the parking lot, away from the facilities, and lined his Dart up with a historical marker in front of a picnic area. He figured the historical marker would explain to law enforcement types what he was doing parked way over there by himself. He read the marker. It told how some Indians from New York came down to Pennsylvania to kill some German settlers on behalf of the French in their war with the British for control of the Monongahela Valley. The actual site of the massacre, it said, was out there under the eastbound lanes. Dubrovnik looked off in that direction, where the J.B. Hunts and the Roadways blasted along, and tried to imagine Indians in buckskin scalping the Pennsylvania Dutch.
When he looked back he noticed a bunch of Moravian seniors were straying from their tour bus toward the picnic area, many of them armed with ice cream. They swerved around his car like a school of fish. None of them looked at him, but he smiled anyways so they could see how harmless he was. After the Moravians passed, he dug a fresh dollar bill out of his pocket and rolled it tightly. He spread out some lines of meth on the vinyl bench seat of his Dodge Dart, took a final look around, submerged himself below the dash and blasted off.
His turnpike ended up being different than his father’s or grandfather’s turnpike. The need to urinate was a bigger force than trucks or guardrails. It kept forcing Dubrovnik to confront the fat Germanic female joviality and bright linoleum fluorescence of HoJos. He bought breath mints at New Stanton and a hefty lady in a full-length apron said, “Would you like some ice cream?” He bought a comb in Tuscarora and, again, the lady brought up ice cream. “It’s free,” she said, “with a fill-up.”
“That’s all right,” he said. One of the ladies was about his mother’s age. She was enormous. He recalled his mother saying Germans are fat because they eat nothing but dessert. And his father saying they blow up like balloons once they’re married.
At Valley Forge, he asked one of the ice cream ladies if she sold alcohol. She leaned forward on her fat palms and looked dead at him, like some kind of crab that lived underneath a hair net. “No,” she said, “Alcohol is forbidden on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you want alcohol you’ll have to get off the turnpike altogether.”
Dubrovnik wasn’t interested in leaving the turnpike. He just wanted something to take the edge off the speed. His high needed maintenance. He’d been chewing the same stick of Juicy Fruit for seven hours. The lovely energy that flowered in his brain earlier in the day was now branching out into his body with less uplifting effects. A dull ache was beginning in his stomach. He needed to put something down there, so he broke down and bought some ice cream.