All I wanted was a milkshake.
I opened up the trunk of the 1991 Pontiac Bonneville, D.o.A. in the vast expanse of a vacant lot at the University at Buffalo. I aggressively pried a ramshackle 15-speed out of the formerly beastly and bright hunk of rotting metal.
The formerly beautiful vehicle had been undone and unhinged by leaks, busts, cracks, scratches, rust and wrecks. All that remained was an empty-soul shell of a 3800 V6 with a pile of clothes, empty pizza boxes, various tools and assorted eccentri scattered across the front passenger seats.
This was my home.
Some time recently, I’d lost my driving privileges because I thought I’d be able to cure my whiskey-induced nausea by popping a couple oxycotin and driving an even drunker friend home so the idiot wouldn’t get arrested. An hour later, I needed a nap, and the fingerprint machine was quite warm.
That kick-started what was to be quite the productive spring of losing health care, a phone number, Internet, a driver’s license, car insurance, and a job. It was a sad time. A lonely time. It’s amazing how far your friends will run away once you’ve been undone by your own demons and demise.
I scuttled around the Northeast, breaking the law by driving to gigs where I’d earn money for gas and an occasional bite to eat.
Until the car gave out. And I was alone. Very, very alone. And hungry.
I’m not particularly proud, but this night I was able to craft and hone my eye for finding shiny change upon the streets. A nickel here, a quarter there. I never asked for change. I never panhandled. That face is too forlorn. The eyes of disapproving strangers too piercing. I accumulated $3.80. Time to treat myself.
All I wanted was a milkshake.
I dragged the 15-speed and stuffed the change inside a plastic bag. I rode on a cool, breezy Buffalo evening the 3.4 miles to Anderson’s, a local mass-market sorta-gourmet ice cream parlor chain, and put the kick-stand up. I strolled inside. I confidently, as if I was just stopping in after a long, treacherous bike trek, walked to the counter.
“Strawberry milkshake. Large.”
I could taste it now. There’s something delectable about strawberries, sugar and cream. It’s a rapturous sensory assault on the tongue, a sweet release, a sour bite and a cool, velvet breeze meandering down your throat. It’s refreshing, sweet and satisfying. The perfect almost-food.
I waited seven minutes, but I got my holy grail. I took a sip at near-orgasm: my first taste in 80 hours.
I took another sip. Good lord, this is nirvana.
I jumped back on my bike and journeyed back from whence I came. Cars at night aren’t too friendly and don’t often go around, so I peddle on the sidewalk to be sure I won’t be harmed. Anxious to return to my four walls on wheels, I raced myself, invigorated by new glucose in my blood.
Then, a “thump.” The front tire plunged downward. I grabbed a handle to hold on, but lost my 32-oz cup. If you’ve ever seen a wedding cake drop from a 35th-floor balcony in slow-motion, you could understand how long it took for that shake to hit the asphalt.
Down … down … down …
I reached my hand in futility, only grazing the lid with my finger.
Down … down …
Open.The shake bled to death all over the road.
I just sat there. On the road. Next to the bike and the shake. I surveyed the scene as if I’d just run over a kitten … and I could feel the tears well up in my eyes.
And I spilled an ocean of cry. Like a lost little boy in Midtown Manhattan at 4am. I want my mommy. I want to go home. I want a hot meal and a warm hug. I want a friend to talk to. I want a soft bed and a place to call my own.
I stirred what was left in the cup and sucked the straw till it was dry. Then I sucked some more … but I was still starving, and the salt-water running down my face wasn’t filling me up. I want this all to end. I want to fall asleep and wake up next year, or never at all.
But all I really wanted was a milkshake.
I think some days, we’d all settle for that.