Instant Karma Resolution Day 7 – Silent Hell

Here’s how my 2010 Instant Karma Resolution works. Each day, I will randomly draw a name from my Friends List and make that person the subject of a status update where I will cull from memory some funny or interesting anecdote about the person. I’ll do this once a day until I work my way through the entire list. When you’ve been selected, I will also post this note to your wall and tag 5 of our mutual acquaintances in the hopes it will spur some nostalgic commentary.

Today I drew #7 – my friend Joe Dolat.

Joe and I have been close friends ever since our paths crossed in college, when Joe made the unfortunate mistake of taking the reigns as R.A. from the disgraced, departing residential advisor who had either impregnated the school’s mascot or illicitly let some pining paramour into the object of his affection’s room to drop off some flowers – it all really depends on who you ask. Anyway, Joe couldn’t have known that what looked like an easy gig to score a small stipend and free room and board would lead to a lifelong bond with Thatcher dorm’s resident evil – me.

Alas, I’m a little too quick to toss myself under the bus. If this revisionist history hadn’t gotten in the way, I’d be able to reveal that it was Joe’s great fortune that he made my acquaintance as a few years later, when he and I had regretfully been tossed from the campus for the unfortunate crime of completing our degrees, I looked him up and found he was back in his hometown of Granby, MA where he granted himself a stay of execution by toiling away his days at the local retail emporium. This tiny little hick town would never allow the true talents of an excellent graphic artist flourish. The boy needed the big city if he was ever going to break free of a predetermined life of painting Metallica and Morlocks or vixens and valkyries on the side of every van and suped-up pick-up within 10 miles of the town limits.

So I took the little scamp under my wing and barked my orders. “Quit that job Joe and join me in the Big City.” With nary a second thought, Joe walked into his boss’s office at the local Buy More and tendered his resignation. Sure, he was only 4 weeks away from making Chief Door Greeter – a lofty perch that gifted a man with the swooning adoration of women everywhere and all the smiley face stickers he could hand out. But it was worth taking a gamble on fate if for the one reason that where he was headed, they had motorized carriage horses.

After tying that loose end, Joe bid his kinfolk a long, sad goodbye. That night, the whole town gathered ’round to bid their favorite son a fond adieu. As the Granby Fiddler Corps #32 supplied soundtrack to the festivities, a lone tear moistened his Mom’s cheek and gave life to her fears of what horrors awaited Lil’ Joe in the Big City. If the sites and stories she had picked up in the ‘talkies’ that ran down at The Granby Cinemateque, Movietorium and Laundromat were to be believed, the Big City was nothing more than a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy.’ Then again, maybe Joe’s move would be good for the village. Maybe, there in the Big City, Joe would fulfill the Prophecy. Maybe he would bring fire to Granby. At last.

With Joe fully ensconced in my grasp, I got him set-up quickly. First, a job at my corporate office. Hey, if $17,500 per year was good enough for me to starve on, then it was good enough for my great friend. Also, the two of us scoured the papers and found a converted mill which provided shelter in the form of the best townhouse any of us would ever locate. At $900 a month, this two floor, three bedroom dwelling was a steal.

Now, this story is not about our years living together. If you want a color commentary focusing on the shocking amount of softcore smut that waded through our abode, you can bounce over to my website and search for “Along Came a Ryder” which tells the titillating true story of our humble beginnings. Instead, I just wanted to bring y’all up to speed on the who, what and when before I drag Joe and I to Hell.

For in those days, despite the fact that we had a third roommate in our friend Sean, the latter was a phantasm who was rarely seen but rattled away in the dead of night when the rest of the normal world was fast asleep. As Sean proved particularly tricksy to nail down with his creeping comings and goings, Joe and I were forced into a bromance – sending us on all manner of adventures.

Which is why we found ourselves steaming towards the Grey Lady, Nantucket, in the bone chilling dead of winter looking to acquire a prized bauble for my Dad’s Christmas Gift.

Earlier that summer, my Dad had worked a stint over on the island for the phone company where they set him up for a 4 month tour of duty. It was a nice change of pace from his normal stomping grounds of Brockton, MA and while there he fell under the island’s spell. Of course, I took advantage of the free vacation getaway and made a couple trips to visit him when the weather was warm and the island, hopping.

On one of those trips, my Dad pointed out a print displaying a line of ships sailing past Nantucket Light and remarked what a great picture it was. In his home base of Brockton, he had a Cape-ish nautical theme that tied his kitchen and breezeway together, so I etched a mental note that if he hadn’t procured the print by Thanksgiving, I would make the trip over to grab it as the crowning achievement for a Christmas surprise.

Turkey Day came and his walls remained bare so Joe and I embarked on our fantastic voyage. While we were both big fans of the island, neither of us had ever been there past Labor Day so we hadn’t a clue what to expect for tourist clutter. That said, we were still a few weeks ahead of Christmas so we figured all the quaint shops that stood sentinel around the cobblestone Main Street would likely be aglow with holiday hopes; the picture perfect Rockwellian village come to vibrant life. The day began cold and grey as we left our Mansfield manse but we didn’t give it a moment’s thought as we knew the moment we exited the ferry, we would be drunk on that Christmas cheer.

As we boarded the ferry that morning, a nagging concern nibbled somewhere just beyond conscious thought. “There should be more people on here”, I thought. After all, in the summer this grand dame was the belle of the ball, surrounded by excited fellas and their blushing brides. Joe and I looked around the ferry environs and spied only a handful of hearty souls – the majority of which I would chalk up to the grizzled sea captain persuasion.

“It’s Saturday!!!”, we assured ourselves. The tourists would have come over on Friday eve to beat the dinner rush and spend the weekend soaking in a little island holiday hospitality. With those fears successfully sunk at sea, we enjoyed the rest of our ride.

Finally, the steamer sounded a mournful wail, letting us know that we were moments from arrival. Looking out at the closely approaching shoreline, we took notice of the marked lack of traffic – both of the pedal and pedestrian variety. No bother; it was cold outside and the smart shoppers were likely keeping themselves warm while tossing coin in each friendly store owner’s coffers. We’d be joining them momentarily – making our little contribution to the off-season economy.

So, with that cold comfort in our heart, we bounded from the ferry and made a beeline to the local photography establishment, which to the delight of my wondering eyes still had that same lighthouse print beaming from the shop window. Within moments of exiting the good ship, I had turned over a chunk of change to the cashier and was bounding out the door content with a mission accomplished – Joe and I now free to go off book and chase down whatever dreams may come next.

And that’s when we walked straight into a nightmare.

In our frenzy to get into the store and procure the prized possession before some other wayward soul could sink their mealy mitts onto it, we hadn’t noticed that the lack of foot traffic was backed by a beat most troubling – the deafening sounds of silence. This wasn’t just one of those ambient winter days, where the smell of snow teases the nostrils and seemingly shuts down all other sense and sensibilities. On a day like that, if you listen hard enough, you’ll eventually tune in to the rhythmic beeping of a truck backing up, children’s laughter as they let loose a vicious volley of snowball hell, or the random caw of some wayward grackle that lost its way on the long journey South. The point is, we’re fooled on a fine winter’s day into thinking life had come to a halt when in fact, it’s all still there; you just have to remember to listen for it.

But here, there was nothing. No sound. No hub-bub. No muffled chatter from behind the door of the local coffee shop or welcoming tavern. In fact, in that direction there was nothing but darkness as we noticed that aside from the photography shop and a tiny grocer mere feet from the docks, none of the businesses bore the traditional signs of welcome. The doors had been shuttered and the lights dimmed sometime after the last tourists left the island following the previous weekend’s Christmas Stroll and now Nantucket had been rolled up for a long winter’s nap.

And what color had remained in the day, was suddenly drained of life as everything went several shades of grey.

Somehow, in the quarter hour that we had been sequestered on the island, sly tendrils of silver mist had begun to envelop the island. The notorious Nantucket fog was beginning its subversive attack on the island, leaving Joe and I alone in the encroaching darkness. We hadn’t said a word in the past few moments as we each struggled to catch conscious thought and etch a plan of escape but in that instant – as daylight bowed to dusk several long hours before it should normally yield to twilight – we knew we needed to give voice to our predicament.

“The Ferry!!!”, we sang in unison and with that, we were off like a shot – rocketing blindly through the inky air. We were off instruments and depending upon instinct and internal navigation to get us back to the docks, where we could find safe harbor aboard that ship and set sail for safe and secure civilization.

Although we were only a quarter-mile from the coast, the frantic foot chase seemed to stretch for hours. As we rounded the final bend, our hearts sunk. Where there should be a massive ship was nothing but empty swirling canvas. Gazing beyond that location, we caught sight of a familiar silhouette slinking deeper into that moist air mass. Our ship had sailed.

We were trapped and according to our ferry schedule, salvation wasn’t due to return for another 4 hours. Four hours on a tiny, desolate island that was rapidly being consumed all around us. The walls were caving in and all around, the shadows of  trees, long since stripped of their vibrant foliage, stood sentinel, their skeletal limbs pointing accusingly towards the sky. This place was Death.

“What are we going to do”, Joe asked tearfully?

I tried my best to comfort him. After all, I was the mother hen to this kindly hick. I had taken this rube in once upon a time and he was my responsibility now. I got us in this predicament and now it was on me to cowboy up and get us out of it. I knew he was hurting bad inside and thus I needed to let him know that all would be OK. That the big, bad boogeyman couldn’t get us. That the sun would come out tomorrow.

“We’re gonna’ die”, is all I could muster.

And with that Joe lost hold of all rationale thought and bladder control. I was his fearless leader and needed to come up with a plan that would kill the next four hours quicker than this island could nosh on our soul.

“All right. There’s an airport here. That’s guaranteed to be open. And where there’s an airport, there are pilots. And where there are pilots, there’s a bar. We’ll go there and do what all men of our ilk have done when confronted with impossible odds and a no-win situation. We’ll drink ourselves to death and rob the island of that privilege.”

Internally Joe batted around his misgivings but begrudgingly agreed. After all, I was the civilized man raised in the enlightened eastern end of Massachusetts. He was just a Granby man – my world frightened and confused him.

So Joe and I hit the road and started walking inward. We figured if we walked a mile out of town, we should be able to pick up the whir of idling props, thereby granting us an audio cue that would lead the way to salvation. And sure enough, once we said our final farewell to Main Street, we heard that blessed buzzing in the distance. Tuning our internal antenna towards that sound, we marked our waypoints and continued the trek.

As we walked, we felt the weight of a thousand eyes upon us. Each neighborhood we turned onto was as vacant as the last. When we were wading through the regions dotted with summer rentals and quaint cottages we could simply chalk it up to the off season vacancy. But, Nantucket is not just a celebrity vacation hot spot – it’s a legitimate town linked to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are schools. A post office. Libraries and public works. There should be people here. At the very least, stranded paparazzi.

But every street we turned to offered the same old story. The streets were empty, as if sucked dry by some vacancy scouring vampire. Heads down, we pushed forward – every once in awhile catching movement out of the corner of our eyes. The rustle of a curtain. The tiny shimmer off a shutter. We were being watched.

And as much as we couldn’t shake the specter staring down upon us, unseen in the shadows, we were equally vexed by the fact that no matter how far we pressed along, that sound signaling the airport seemed to push further into the distance. We would cut right when we felt it shifted to the side and the sound would relocate once again. We were walking in what we thought was an increasingly tightening radius and still the sound grew softer. Minutes yielded to hours and our stomachs joined the chorus. It had been at least 90 minutes since we last ate. If I had to go on like this for a half hour more, I might be forced to nosh upon my pal. At least his death wouldn’t be in vain.

Finally, a beacon rose before us. No, not the airport. That continued to elude us. But off in the distance was one of those roadside truck stops that really had no business nestled smack-dab in the midst of a 3 mile wide island. Can’t imagine the Porkchop Express comes rolling through these parts that often.

Knowing we were probably walking towards our own private Hotel California, Joe and I issued a collective “Screw It” and raced for the front door. As we threw open the shutters suddenly we were hit with a major shock. Here was the island! The place was packed as waitresses bustled about serving a motley crew of lifers, longshoremen and lovesick teens.

We found an empty booth and I ordered up two frosty pitchers and the biggest moon of a pizza pie that could possibly hit my eye. Within minutes, we were scarfing slices and chasing each delicious morsel with a generous splash of that dear, sweet nectar.

And then, with my belly full and my head in that slightly sleepy haze that the best of brews bring forth, a troubling thought occurred to me. Had we found this joint or were we led here?

Gazing all around, I found the once cordial islanders’ eyes were upon us. Looking at Joe, I saw that his primitive mind had suddenly caught up to my superior intellect and we were now in complete agreement.

We were to be this season’s Wicker Men…

(Editor’s Note – If you have any knowledge of the current whereabouts of either Ed Humphries or Joe Dolat, you are urged to contact Detective Roma Scarpetti of the Hook County Federal Bureau of Investigation.)