This coming-of-age story, although set in the 90’s, is still very relevant to today. It explores a quest for God without religion. Written with bursts of stream-of-consciousness and first-person narrative, “Punk” is simultaneously an urban existential fiction and a mystery novel.
I awoke cold on the shoulder of a highway. I had no idea how I got there. As the song goes, I found my mind in a brown paper bag—only this wasn’t the sixties, and the bag was clear, not brown. My life felt like a cliché as I found myself in this shoulder—this ditch. I slowly stood up. A semi-truck whirled by sending up a dirt cloud. I choked. To complete the cliché, I held out a thumb: the one that had been broken the year before when I fell out of a bar. The cars flew by and filled the air with exhaust. I smiled beside myself. Beside my life. I smiled at all the self-destruction, the missed opportunities, the lust, and the indulgences… All the indulgences. The thought carried as the wind blew. Finding my sunglasses in the high grass, I put them on hiding my bloodshot eyes and, hopefully, the haggard sketchiness that those eyes contained. As I looked at the empty eyes of drivers
passingng me on their way to work, my sympathy was with them. What day was this? What month? What year? When did the bender start? When would it finish? Finally, a car slowed as I gazed up at the sun just showing itself.
Running to the car on the shoulder, I attempted to piece together what happened the night before. Did my run-in with the Afeller boys go amiss? Their punk rock band was becoming so big—and with it, lots of new characters were on the scene. Did I offend some white-top? Something about his mother, I’m sure. The car put on its hazards as the driver opened his window and gestured me over. I ran my hands over my patched black jeans. I guess they didn’t offend; nor did my red and blond Mohawk that I never wore up.
I opened the door and peered in. The man was fortyish. He looked like a family man in his suit and tie. I smiled, knowing I was everything he wouldn’t want his children to become. And yet he offered me a ride.
“Hey there. You from the city, or some drifter?”
“Neither. I’m not from this city, nor a drifter. I’m a man of the land with nothing but my good sense to guide me through waters deep and quick.”
“Son, I’m not some girl at the bar, I’m the man driving you back to the city. So save the bullshit. Do you want some coffee? I have a thermos. You must drink coffee?” The man smiled as he passed over a thermos and a small brown disposable cup.
“Thanks. I know you’re not a girl at the bar, so I will put away my charm—and yes, I drink coffee, but only when I smoke. And I seem to be out,” I said as I lazily checked my black leather jacket and found nothing but an empty pack.
“You’re a drifter then; smoking’s a dying pastime. A losing battle.”
“Then you don’t partake?”
“Lucky for you, son, I’m also a dying breed.” He pulled out a silver case full of long cigarettes.
“Thanks,” I said as he passed me the case.
“You have a name? A real name? I offered you my smokes and my coffee; least you can do is give me a name.” I lit the cigarette and sipped the coffee.
“A real name, eh?” I took a long drag. “Clark. Clark Kent,” I smiled at him.
“Superman, eh? Fully able to fly, but stuck in an ‘85 Toyota, smoking my cigarettes, drinking my coffee and dressed in a fashion that I take it Lois Lane picked out?”
“Yeah, she’s a great dame.” I kept trying to remember what had happened last night.
“Humph. Where in the city are you going? Or should I just shoot for the downtown homeless shelter?”
“Mid-city would be good. I just need to get to my bike. It’s in a garage I rent with the money I make saving the world and all.”
“What were you doing on the side of the road? Good old Lex Luthor leave you high and dry?”
“If you must know, he attacked me with kryptonite and took my cape. I wouldn’t need the lift if I had the cape. You should know that.”
“Good point. Have some more coffee. A bike guy, eh?”
“Harley guy. It was my father’s,” I replied.
“A gift for your law school graduation?”
I could see the city approaching, the skyscrapers visible with an early morning summer haze around them.
“And what do you do for work there, Clark?”
“Me? The usual philanthropy, human projects, building churches, and feeding the poor.”
“Ah, a fine job for Superman.”
“Fine job for any man. You wouldn’t happen to have anything… I could put in this coffee?” I asked.
“I’m a family man myself—but like I said, a dying breed. Look inside the glove compartment.”
I opened it, and inside was a small bottle of bourbon. This was a man after my own heart. I poured a healthy amount into my mug.
“And for you?”
“No thanks; not before lunch.” As he shoulder-checked, I slipped the bottle into my inside jacket pocket.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You were a ‘60s hippy into the drug scene who got some flower child knocked up and started looking at things seriously. Your college degree wouldn’t get you far, so you got into sales. You don’t work in the office, hence the road drinks and the engraved cigarette holder: a gift for being with the company maybe fifteen years. You have children in their teens and you wish for nothing more than for them to go to college, get good jobs, and become nothing like you used to be—and definitely nothing like me.”
He laughed. “The world is a cruel place and not for the faint. Don’t doubt that you’re heading down a bad path: one where your super powers won’t be enough to save you. One day you’ll need redemption, but no one will show you any mercy. You’ll cry out, and no one will answer.” He stared at me, no longer watching the road. I looked back at him.
“Let me tell you something, man. I’ve cried out already. I’ve cried to the world, and you know what the world said back? It said no, just like you’re saying it would. But you know why that makes me better than a day driver—a day salesman whose life lost its lustre over the years?” I pulled the bottle out of my jacket and took a long swig, looking at him as I did. “The world has also cried out to me. And I was the one saying no, just the same. I fight the good fight and walk down the road walked by so many others, but I will never falter. I will never cave. I will seek out a life all want, but none have the courage to live.”
“Keep the bottle, then, and let your destruction swallow you whole. And if you come out alive, the tie and jacket will welcome you on the other side—and there will be someone like me, bailing you out.”
We drove into the city.
“Drop me off by Manulife Place.” I was feeling the kind of clarity the drink will give, as I put my hangover aside. “Alright.” He slowed. The sun was just barely up; it must have been about 6 in the morning when we reached the mall’s entrance. I opened the door.
“I never got your name, oh wise one,” I said as I stepped onto the sidewalk.
“Why do you care? You’ll forget me as soon as you light another smoke.” He handed me another one. “The name is… Ivan. Ivan the terrible.”
“Ha. Good day, sir. Watch out for that looming mid-life crisis,” I said as I closed the door.
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