Born to Run (2016)

BOOK TWO

BORN TO RUN

FORTY-TWO

HELLO WALLS

I returned to New Jersey after the River tour. While on the road, I’d been tossed from my farmhouse and transplanted to a ranch house in Colts Neck, rented sight unseen. The place sat nicely on a reservoir, just a spit from the rope swing my surfing pals and I would visit with our girlfriends on the days the Atlantic lay flat upon the shore. The tour had made sure I finally had my creditors paid and what felt to me like a small fortune in the bank. I’d have to find some new things to worry about. I’d driven strictly vintage automobiles my whole life. My two-thousand-dollar ’57 Chevy morphed into my six-thousand-dollar ’Vette, backed by my 1970 Ford pickup as a daily driver. In the winter I’d load my truck bed with tree trunks for rear-wheel traction and run the icy roads of Monmouth County. Debts paid, career established, all should have been pretty free and easy, but I’m not free and easy. So, I sat around and anguished over whether I should spend ten thousand dollars on a new car. I was thirty-one and I’d never owned a new car in my life. For that matter, outside of studio expenses, I’d never spent ten thousand dollars on myself. I didn’t know anyone who was making more than they could live on, so the money I’d made left me feeling uncomfortably different and somewhat embarrassed. Still, I bit the bullet, rode down to the dealer and drove away in a 1982 Chevy Z28 Camaro. I felt as conspicuous as if I were driving a solid-gold Rolls-Royce.

A House Is Not a Home

My ranch house was wall-to-wall orange shag carpet. I know, it was Frank Sinatra’s favorite color, but I could feel a serial killing comin’ on. I decided I needed a permanent home. I found a real estate agent, several real estate agents, and started looking. I scoured the state and looked at everything from the humble to the high and mighty. Every available crib in Central and Western New Jersey was cleared of its inhabitants, invaded and scrutinized. Nothing. They were all either too big, too small, too old, too new, too cheap, too expensive, too far or too close. At first, I felt like, “Well, I just didn’t see anything I liked.” It took a while and some mental probing, but I came to see that NO HOME BUILT BY MAN! was going to hold/satisfy the Jersey Devil. As was my way, I turned the minutest of decisions into full-blown identity issues: What car? What shirt? What house? What girl? I had not mastered the simple principle that to live shy of insanity, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cigar needs to be just a cigar.

At the end of the day, I was simply a guy who was rarely comfortable in his own skin, whatever skin that might be. The idea of home itself, like much else, filled me with distrust and a bucket load of grief. I’d long convinced myself . . . almost . . . that homes were for everybody else. But now, something was fucking with my movie. (That movie would be the one where I play an itinerant musician, unlucky at love but fabulously and unrewardingly talented; a charismatic man whose happy-go-lucky exterior covers a bruised but noble soul. As I drift from town to town, two things regularly occur. One, a beautiful woman always falls helplessly in love with me, a love that I cannot reciprocate due to the fact that my “heart” belongs to the highway. And two, I transform the life of everyone I meet to such a degree that they welcome me into their homes, feed me, lay upon my brow laurels, give me their girlfriends and will “always remember” me. I nod my head in humble acknowledgment, then travel on, whistling, suitcase in hand, along the dusty back roads of America, lonely but free, to seek out my next adventure. I lived that masterpiece for a long time.)

A winter morning sun shines on a roadkill doe, its fur covered in a pink frost, as I drive toward my “Rosebud”—Freehold, New Jersey. I still spent many hours a four-wheeled phantom on the edges of my birth city. Mine was a pathetic and quasi-religious compulsion. On my visits to my hometown, I would never leave the confines of my car. That would’ve ruined it. My car was my sealed time capsule from whose bucket seats I could experience the little town that had its crushing boot on my neck in whatever mental time, space or moment I chose. Come evening I rolled through its streets, listening for the voices of my father, my mother, me as a child. I’d pass by the old stores and Victorian homes of Freehold and daydream . . . of purchasing a house, moving back, away from all the noise I’d created, bringing it all full circle, fixing things, receiving the blessings of these streets, finding a love, one that would last, marrying and walking through town, my children in my arms, my woman at my side. It was a pleasant fantasy and I suppose I took comfort in the illusion that I could go back. But I’d been around long enough to know history is sealed and unchangeable. You can move on, with a heart stronger in the places it’s been broken, create new love. You can hammer pain and trauma into a righteous sword and use it in defense of life, love, human grace and God’s blessings. But nobody gets a do-over. Nobody gets to go back and there’s only one road out. Ahead, into the dark.