THE PUNCH, chpt 6
After fifteen minutes looking around the office and talking to the two people who worked there, Lissa signed up as a volunteer for the Linn Campaign. She filled out some online questioners, and took an campaign icebreaker called ‘Joe or Cobra?’ it was some sort of personality test that was supposed to find out what type of GI Joe character you were. Then she got a campaign schedule of events and a working copy of the office inventory and budget.
By the time she got all that done, Lissa realized JD would be home in thirty minutes and she promised to make dinner. She made it to their house in fifteen, dropped a load of pamphlets and whitepapers on the kitchen island and started rooting around in the refrigerator for a salad and some eggs to hard-boil and slice. Then the phone rang.
It was JD. Lissa smiled. Apparently one of the NT devices wouldn’t cooperate with the network. He was staying late he told her. Then he asked if they dropped that lumber off today.
Fuck, Lissa thought, the delivery. She walked to the front of the house and opened the door, stuck on the screen door was a yellow sorry we missed you note.
“No,” she told him, “they never came. I’ll call tomorrow and see what happened.”
Then JD hung up. She stared out the front door, past the rough hewn boards laid out along the grid lines in the yard. Lissa couldn’t picture it, not the way JD could, how he envisioned the final product, the structure as it occupied the vacant space in front of their house. JD had pictures of it, blueprints and renderings piled up across the house. He had views from every conceivable angle of the new front porch he was building.
When the first renderings came, he took her out front with the printed pieces of CAD illustrated paper. He held them up in front of her and tried to explain it, paint the picture. But Lissa would get lost in the details as he rattled off his thinking about every joist, and riser, the angle of the light, and the trellis system. It was his first real project and he talked of it with the bravado of the men who designed the aqueducts or the grand medieval cathedrals.
It was a large addition. The county zoning board almost wouldn’t allow it. But he did an intense redesign over a couple weeks around the Baby’s birthday and won the board’s approval by dragging it back a little closer to the house.
It was going to have bare wood columns ten feet high and wrought iron gilt work and banisters, and a Queen Anne style roof fused with Asian design. The whole superstructure was going up without any nails or glue. It was going to change the whole profile of the house, he told her, and would weigh heavy on the home’s use and soul for years.
Now that he could break ground, he really put his hands and sweat into the thing. He spent all his time on the porch. He leveled and graded the slope of the lawn, dug down for soil samples at the foundation points for the posts. All need was that load of lumber to start the frame and sink the posts. But until that wood arrived all there was, was this skeleton washed up against the side of their house, and the yard of dead, sun starved lawn and the piles of waste wood. And nothing else.
Across the street, the neighbor’s house was still up for sale. The real estate agent, the same one who sold her and JD their house, walked a new couple through the living room. Lissa watched them through the other house’s bare picture windows. The couple and Realtor took turns as each pointed and gawked at the cheap molding and wall paper. Lissa could imagine the agents spiel, “location, location. It’s country living with city convenience.”
It’s what got her and JD stuck out there. It was the line she used to sell this quasi-country home and its convenience of adjacency to both a college town and the second largest city in the State. It worked perfectly to those who came in from the coasts to live in the middle of the country and had some antiquated, Bridges over Madison County image of the land.
The Realtor walked the couple through the carpeted sitting room, to the pine board hallways and tiled kitchen, Lissa watched as they passed in front of the un-shuttered windows walking between each empty room. Lissa missed the old neighbors.
They weren’t bad people. Lissa remembered how enthusiastically they helped unload the Uhaul when she and JD first pulled up to the house. They were fun and active people, the wife was always out in the lawn gardening or shuttling kids to and from various events. Lissa seemed to remember that the woman was president of the PTA and the North Liberty Boosters.
But two months after they moved in, or maybe it was three, the entire street had to be evacuated by the police because of them. The elderly couple cattycorner to Lissa thought they smelled gas. It ended up being a week before they got the all clear and could go back to their homes. And that was only after State Troopers and EPA agents in hazmat suits and respirators dismantled the methamphetamine lab the old neighbors were running in their garage. The state had to dig up and replace all the contaminated soil to make that little section inhabitable for humans. That these things really happened was what really blew Lissa’s mind.
The double garage doors shuddered and smoothly rode back along the turn screw pulley. The Realtor stood in the middle of floor, her arms spread out as wide as she could get them. The realtor was up on her toes in her heels and the husband couldn’t help but notice the bunched calf muscles and the way her buttock lifted as she stretched.
Then they all shook hands and the couple walked down to their Subaru parked at the curb. They got in and pulled away without looking back. Lissa knew that they wouldn’t be her new neighbors, even before she noticed the Gore/Lieberman sticker bravely holding on to the bumper of their all wheel drive vehicle.
The Realtor saw Lissa standing in the open doorway. She waved her arm and bared her bracingly white teeth. Lissa tried not to hold eye contact and checked the mailbox on the side wall. She pretended not to see the realtor wave and closed the door, leaving behind the yellow note.
The Realtor was a woman who loved her job and had seen a bit of the world, including most of Europe on a two week package deal with airfare and accommodations. She mulled around on the edge of the street, after Lissa closed the door. Then as if drawn to some imperfection, bent down to the lawn and picked at the grass. Satisfied, she held her hand outstretched and blew a blade of yellowed grass away.
The realtor made her way back to the house and locked up. She crossed off the couple from her potential buyers list while she walked to the car. She drove home to her condo off the reservoir in her Pink Cadillac and left herself a voice memo to call Gary to come run a lawnmower over the yard and to trim the back bushes.
An hour and a half later JD came home and found Lissa at the kitchen table, oblivious. She lifted her head and JD was there, staring at her from the Kitchen doorway.
“Hi,” he said.
“Oh, baby.” Lissa said, “I completely forgot your dinner. Tell me what you want, I’ll fix it up. I’ve got some clams. I could make you fettuccine.”
She looked around in the Refrigerator for something to cook, remembering that she was hungry as well. JD walked out to the front of the house. She could hear him doing something with the wood as she took stock of the fridge: wilted Romaine, half a Vidalia onion and some turkey slices. In the freezer, she had two steaks from their Wal-Mart trip last week. But it would take too long to thaw without the Microwave that JD drowned in the Mississippi, an hour trip both ways, after it burned its last bag of popcorn.
“JD baby, I’m sorry. I just got so caught up with all of this, that I forgot dinner. Can we order out?” She yelled down the hall and out the front door
“Sure, I was just going to work on the deck, but since they never came with the wood. Why don’t we just go out? What do you feel like?” He asked her walking back up the hall.
He dropped the balled up yellow piece of carbon paper and dropped it in the trash. Lissa looked at him. She watched it fall, but neither of them said anything. Instead, they went out for dinner.
Looking for good food in Iowa is a task not to be taken lightly, especially if your idea of good involves flavor, spice and a reasonable price. You could spend fifteen bucks on Wasabi potatoes and grilled vegetables and walk away wondering if the waitress just forgot the Wasabi you were supposed to stir in yourself and if the grill was on the fritz and they just went ahead and pan fried the vegetables to save time.
Eventually you find yourself at the Mill, drinking watered down Tennessee whiskey when you ordered Bourbon and wiping the copious mounds of catsup and Sriracha chili sauce off your buffalo wings.
After dinner you may find yourself walking through the Pedestrian Mall, stumbling out onto Dubuque St. Here at the crossroads to the downtown, you’ll stare down flop house joints with loud music and plastic drink cups for the kids or increasingly uptight bistros with local wine and micro brewed beer from up north. Distracted by the throngs of kids at every corner, you end up seated at the Deadwood’s bar drinking Wild Turkey and watching the first Republican debates next to a short, stocky man with thinning hair and biker shorts. His loose pages of paper with cryptic Chinese characters strewn about the wet bar stick to the bottom of your glass every time you pick it up.
He might tell you all about his car accident and the cancer they discovered six months later, in between his profane cries at the television and his bird like sips from his beer. You wonder aloud why he’s so upset. He mutters like a forlorn lover about the last elections, cursing the promise of hope. Then he starts into his Chinese poetry. He reads it loudly and in Chinese. His lips struggle to articulate the harsh consonants in a slow, staccato crawl that you accept as accurate.
The accident he told you about earlier has left him partially debilitated and the two pitchers of Lienie’s Red have pushed him over into full fledged dysphasia. He sits and sings his off sounding Chinese poetry, dancing like some rundown circus clown and drinking heavily from the pitcher. His thoughts and body no longer communicate accurately, so he continues yelling, unable to get anything across the right way. He studies Chinese at the university now, because it connects him to a side of his brain long cut off by the accident and chemo.
He tells you he’s working toward his teaching certificate. In his past life he was a civil engineer with the park service, but now his body can no longer carry him out into the fields. He wants to teach inner city kids in South Chicago. Then he begins again with the poetry, having never bothered to translate the first poem. You try your best to turn away and focus on the candidates, but their show is no better.
Next to Lissa, the drunken Chinese speaking poet cheered Senator Linn. The punch, he screamed out, the punch!
“Don’t take no shit son, not from these farm boy mofos,” he said and then turned back to his Xeroxed poems
JD held up a shot glass and Lissa grabbed her own.
“To Iowa,” he said, “the land of the shrugged off souls of Manifest Destiny.”
She smiled and took her shot, then grabbed JD’s hand and kissed it.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.”
Then the Chinese poet next to her knocked over his glass and the bartender quickly threw down a towel to stop the flow of beer from over taking Lissa with one hand and removed the half pitcher with the other before the poet realized it.
They got back to North Liberty in time to catch the end of the local news. JD half heartedly watched a story on yet another Gulf Coast catastrophe before he flipped through the channels and let it stop on a reality show about weddings of one iteration or another.
“Damn, that one looks crazy.” He said, “why would you agree to go through a ceremony with a bride who willfully throws things? Doesn’t the guy realize that, that’s who she really is? I mean that is crazy laid bare.”
“Well, that’s it for me. I’m off to bed,” he told her, “to dream about life among the masses and overcrowded Atlantic beaches.”
JD always talked about heading back home, going East, anywhere East, or even along the Gulf Shore. But they’d been gone now for two years, lost in the plains lands. They were exiled, cut off, from family and friends. People that Lissa once thought were her best friends, women she’d grown up with, gone through puberty with, held their hands while they waited for the hCG sensitive paper to unveil their futures and cried into Lissa’s shoulder regardless of the answer, no longer called.
No one from their old life ever came out. That first year in Iowa, JD and Lissa were practically boosters for the state. They sent pictures, links and interesting snatches of local lore to everyone they knew in hopes of getting them to take the three hour plane ride through Detroit or Chicago to the Cedar Rapids airport. But no one came, and now they existed in the space between who they were back home and who they’d become in Iowa.
When Lissa and JD first arrived, they’d go on little anthropological excursions. They would day trip out to the small towns around them, the Amish villages, the Quaker towns and Amana Colonies. It seemed the whole countryside was filled with separatists and loners who wished to live out their existence far from the constraints of sophisticated society.
They started out videotaping everything. They captured high school homecoming parades that took up entire downtowns. They roamed around the Amish furniture markets where the Amish kids hid out in the parking lots and huffed gas siphoned from the tanks of SUVs and Subarus with rubberized hoses.
When JD and Lissa were out, they maintained an observational aloofness. They never allowed themselves to become part of places and events they were involved in. Because of this they missed the chance to connect to this new place. They kept a distance, because they weren’t going to stay here. This was only temporary this exile.
But now two years in, it felt permanent, this Limbo. They weren’t anchored anymore to this place than they were to the memory of the life they had back home. Now it felt like the only thing that kept her and JD from floating away from each other was this house with its mortgage and the plans for his monstrous addition.
Lissa heard him stumble against the door jamb on the way to the bedroom. JD hit the bed, rolled over on his side and within minutes his mouth was open and the sonorous gasp of apneic sleep rustled through the halls. Lissa left the house through the side door and brought the bags from her car into the little muck room off the kitchen.
She put a couple of campaign tri-folds delicately over the top of the various articles poking out from the bags in an attempt to camouflage them rather than drag them down stairs and risk waking JD. From above the fridge in the kitchen she pulled down a bottle of wine filled a tall Collins glass and walked it out into the living room.
She watched TV for a while with the sound off and listened to the gusts of summer wind rustle through the trees. The sound of the wind like the ebb and flow of the tides along the beach, relaxed her and she laid her head down on the armrest. The last story she remembered on the news was about an upcoming Vigil downtown for the missing girl.
She woke up still propped up on the arm rest of the couch. JD was brewing some coffee and eating a piece of toast in the kitchen. Neither said anything to the other, but both wondered what it meant that Lissa never came to bed anymore when he did.