Brush Day

Remember what a tragedy it was when you were growing up–a kid, a teenager, maybe even a young adult–and your good friend moved away? Here’s a wistful song one of those friends put on a tape for me after he moved, called “Keeping the Weekend Free” by a band called Liquorice, which had that mid-90s lo-fi sound that so many bands I jizzed over back then did (*cough* Pavement *cough*). So much of that lo-fi indie music I learned about from white friends with older siblings, because back then, before the internet, older siblings were major sources of subcultural coolness. 

Anyway, for whatever reason, found this song lodged in my head this weekend while dragging about ten years of brush to the curb. Monday is brush day and code compliance is after us for our unruly yard full of lizard habitat. And while I dragged it out, I found myself thinking about the many small gestures mentioned in the song, which, after the passing of the landline, have become technologically obsolete—long distance, charges getting reversed, hanging up in anger, busy signals, having to stick around the house if you’re desperate to get a call. Asra and I were at a boba tea place recently that decorates in an antique telephone motif, and as we played around with a rotary dialer, I reflected on how immense a cultural loss it is to be unable to slam a phone down in anger. What other gesture so succinctly expresses such a depth of betrayal or anguish?

You’re mental miles away

Long distance some might say

I can’t hear you say it

Time takes its toll but you still have to pay

Loose charges get reversed

All depends on who calls first

You hang up in anger

Why raise a fist if you can’t lift a finger

Keeping the weekend free

in the event you’ll call 

Keeping myself locked up

Letting the weekend go

Waiting for my reward

You’re seven digits far

However close we are

Close to desperation 

Until you call with your kind invitation

You took to me

Like an axe takes to a tree

I was felled; you followed

Some lines are occupied,

some rings are hollow

Keeping the weekend free

In the event you’ll call

Keeping myself locked up

Letting the weekend go

Waiting for my reward

After my friend moved from rural Central Texas to Ann Arbor, MI, he sent me a mixtape with the Liquorice song, maybe a letter or two after that, and then we never really corresponded again. He visited once the summer after moving and we hung out; I remember at one point feeling such great love well up in me that I told him I loved him—not romantically but just, I loved him. He said it back but I could tell it kinda weirded him out. 

As for me some 25 years later: I hauled brush until I got hungry then stopped for lunch. Something about getting so dirty and hungry, something about removing my muddy rubber boots, work gloves, and hat at the door made me feel like a farmer–so after lunch I fixed myself a cup of coffee like my Minnesota grandfather would do after coming in from the fields for the noon meal. Dinner, they called it up there; it was their main meal of the day. He and my grandma, a tenant farmer’s wife who cooked three meals a day for ten people, day in and day out for decades, would always close out dinner with a cup of instant Folgers.

Sitting down with my coffee, I searched for the song on YouTube, found it, played it: found myself transported back to the time and landscape of landlines.