You’re a child of eighteen, and you’re playing a game: down four shots of vodka and then hop in the car, try to make it to the local diner before the booze kicks in, and then wait out the buzz, sharing one plate of fries with four friends, drinking endless cups of black coffee. It’s snowing out, it’s been snowing since sundown the day before, and now there’s a slick covering of refrozen snow and ice on the roads. You’re racing your friends: they take the longer, safer route, around the county park; you cut through, hoping the inline-four in your wagon can tackle the grade of Dead Man’s Hill.
Yes, your town actually has a Dead Man’s Hill; no, no one in recorded history has died there. You’ve been sledding there in the winter, since you were six, the slope as crowded as a ski trail, parents and children. You once drunkenly made out with a girl there, in the summer, laying in the grass, until things got a little too intense and she laughed, rolled away down the hill, giggling in dizzy bursts and then throwing up in the creek at the bottom.
Your car makes it half-way up the hill, slides – a shimmy left, a feint right – and stalls out. You start your car up again, and gun it, tires spinning madly in the snow, but nothing. You think: I’m clever, I can sort this out. You see your friends’ car, pushing through the dark on the far end of the park. You think: I better hurry. You stumble out of the car – the vodka is catching up, it seems – and take your coat off. You kneel down, hoping your coat – stuffed under the wheel – will give it some traction. But then there is a crunching sound, ice breaking, and the car slides backwards, headlights blazing and contracting. Your car slides down the hill unmanned. Backwards and then sideways, as you watch stupified, it goes silently down across the snow and ice and over the little creek bridge and comes to rest in the parking lot.
It is a perfect shot, put-put golf with a 2,500 lb ball, sweeping around the obstacles – the fence, the water hazard, the ravine -with steady, confident grace. You laugh, running down the hill, and hop back in your car. You start it up, and drive down the access road out of the park. Your friends beat you to the dinner, the vodka beats everybody. You throw up in the diner bathroom and then drop down at the table, all smiles.
You tell them the story; they laugh.
You are this lucky, this fucking blessed, this goddamn stupid.
You are me. Lucky you.
My wife and I say, probably too often, that we’ve used up all our luck. It’s not true. What is true: we have not won the lottery. My band has not yet been signed to a major label; my fiction has not yet been picked up by a major publishing house. And, if that was the point – to play rock’n’roll, to write stories, the way you’d buy a scratch-off ticket – then I’d probably have quit by now. What else is true: we are lucky – embarrassingly lucky – to have survived ourselves long enough to meet each other. Nothing is more decadent, more narcissistic, than self-destruction. And we both took a pretty good crack at ourselves. We were gutterpunks, the lumpenproletariat, the scum of the earth: we liked to think it was hard. But the gutter is easy, climbing out is hard. And luck won’t help you.
This short little post – of necessity: new job, new works in progress, my days are full-up – is as close to ‘inspirational’ as you’ll ever catch me writing. It’s the closest thing I know to a moral, to this or any story: I’m alive to tell it, you’re alive to hear it.