Stewart is finished with his rounds of the automobile storage lot. He climbs the steps to the temporary mobile office unit, enters and hangs up his jacket. The temporary unit is only temporary in that it looks about to collapse under its own weight. It shifted on its foundation during an earthquake and was never jacked back up to level.
It is about 2:00 am. There are no deliveries due tonight. Unloading a train full of late model cars takes most of the shift. A team of drivers and others mill about, getting the new cars off the train, parked and signed off. This lot serves many of the local dealerships. But tonight is blissfully quiet.
Stewart likes the graveyard shift. He enjoys the freedom it offers, to bask in his thoughts, his music, his poetry and privacy.
Roy sits before the computer at the far end of the mobile office unit. He looks up at Stewart as he approaches.
“Hey Stew. Anything to report?”
“Great. Listen up. I’m going to call HQ.” Roy held the walkie-talkie up to his ear. “Lot C to HQ. Anyone there? Over.”
In a moment, a voice responds. “HQ copies Lot C. You have something to report? Over.”
“Yeah. I need some back-up. We have some unauthorized bunny rabbits here on the lot. Please advise. Over.”
There was a pause and then HQ responded. “Lot C, did I hear you right? Unauthorized bunnies? Over.”
“Yeah. You heard me. Rabbits. There are several unauthorized bunny rabbits hiding out on the lot. They might be threatening the inventory. Please advise. Over.”
“HQ copies your report of unauthorized bunnies, Lot C. Stand by until further notice. Take no action. Over.”
“Lot C copies that. Are you sure? Over.”
“HQ confirms. Take no action at this time. Over.”
“Lot C copies. Over.”
Roy put the walkie-talkie down and smiled at Stewart. He was thrilled with himself.
“I get such a pleasure giving them grief.”
Stewart shook his head. “I know you get bored Roy. But you really think they give a damn? How often do you make that call? Once a month? They think you’re crazy.”
“Maybe. But it makes the night go faster.”
“Whatever floats your boat. I’m going for a walk.” Stewart turns and heads toward the door.
“You just got back, Stew. Here. Take the desk.”
“Naw. That’s okay.”
“Going to call your girlfriend?”
Stewart doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have a girlfriend. Never will. And Roy knows it. Roy loves giving everyone grief. Stewart thinks belief in God is easier than expecting a woman to desire him.
Stewart pulls his jacket close, against the cooler than usual night. He sees the acres of cars, row after row, gleaming in the moonlight. Some nights they remind him of the rows of stones in a cemetery. All polished up, with nowhere to go.
He gazed at the stars. Here, on the edge of the city, you can actually see them. A rare source of joy for Stewart.
Looking at the sky, the strains of his concerto ‘Star Stylings,’ run through his head. Inspired, but not influenced by John Cage, Stewart didn’t resort to random consultations of the I Ching to determine which star from the sky to place on the musical scale. Stewart thinks Cage’s star map compositions are clever on their face, but too brittle and discordant for Stewart’s tastes.
And Stewart felt Cage’s pretense of invoking an indifferent universe, was a fraud. How is it random if you choose the parameters of the exercise? Creation demands choice. And choices have consequences.
Stewart’s astral influences are both more grounded and lyrical. They draw on the flowing lines of the Saturn, the Mercury, the Nova, and for counterpoint, the Lotus. There was no denying cars are an integral part of his life.
The musical themes suggested by the designs of these cars, suit his yearning, romantic heart. And he likes the private joke too. Years of nightly tours of the lot, provided ample opportunities to study the graceful lines of his favorite models.
How he incorporated the tempo marking the phases of the moon, he could not explain. You would have to hear it, to understand. And maybe not even then.
How to get it heard, though. How does someone like him, a freak of nature, ever get an orchestra to play his music? Or an audience to hear? Stewart doesn’t know if such a thing as an undiscovered genius actually exists. It isn’t for him to claim that status. But being undiscovered, of that he has no doubt. He’s half-way there.
Stewart makes his way through the routine. He moves from station to station, turns the key to mark his passage and confirm all is well at this location. He trains his flashlight across the terrain, outside the fence, and down, between rows of cars. Even at the moon. No one ever breached the perimeter. Not on his watch.
His adoptive mother had high hopes for him. She loved him so much. She and her husband provided Stewart with the best education. Music. Literature. Broad cultural horizons. They, or she, did for his mind what they couldn’t for his body. Stewart learned soon enough though, intellect doesn’t draw the girls.
No matter how his mother cared, life teaches what it will. The incessant schoolyard nickname ‘Igor,’ taught him where he stood in the exacting social strata of grade school. At the bottom. The daily playground lessons in survival, toughened him in a way his mother could not. Those bullies unwittingly, did him a favor. They confirmed what he learned from his ‘father’.
Of food, clothing and shelter, he had no wants. Education? Granted. But he was never accepted. Adapt, or die.
It might have seemed strange to grow up in home always feeling like a guest that over stayed. There was always a sense he was too dim to take the hint and leave. But that was the only life he knew.
Eventually, he did leave. And now he lives independent of external influences, a night watchman. He provides security to others while maintaining visions of grandeur, with modest means. He is his own man. Mainly.
With each new generation of cars, Stewart notes the incremental changes in styling, which make all cars resemble some bland Platonic ideal. He remembers when cars were distinctive and made a statement. Now, except for their size and the emblem, a car is a car is a car. When will the pendulum turn? Does everyone really want to drive a variation of the Toyota Corolla?
Stewart admits his living circumstances are not ideal. But he chose them. They serve his purposes. Stewart and his friend Ira, live in his 1973 Lincoln Town Car, known to them as Lincoln Manor. Their joke is, they could supplement their income by subletting the spacious trunk.
They pay no rent. Their overhead is nil, save for insurance and occasional gas. They shower at the community college. And eat, wherever.
Parking tickets are their biggest expense.
Stewart recalls their last conversation. And many prior conversations, when Ira got tickets.
“How do you expect us to save money when we get multiple tickets per week?”
“I know, man. I’m sorry.”
“You’d be living the high life in Costa Rica, by now, without these things dinging us every week.”
“You think so?”
“Do the math, Ira. Tickets add up.”
“I believe you. I’m no good at math. You know that.”
“You’re missing the point. You can be with Dolores and be happy.”
Ira was an interesting case. He could have any woman he wanted. Stewart often observed Ira’s effect on the fair sex. Standing in line, or walking through a mall, women would literally flock around him. Ira had charisma to spare. There were worse things than being the wingman for a chick magnet like Ira.
Stewart enjoys talking with women. They respond to his poetic outlook on life. But he knows they never see him as more than a source for an interesting conversation. Stewart cherishes those times. But he knows his limitations. It is close to ideal.
Except Ira is attached. Dolores is his fiancé. They met online. They are in love. He is saving to join her in Costa Rica and get married. It will be a wonderful life. Ira’s been working toward this for five years.
Ira’s loyal friend, Stewart, wants for Ira what he can never have for himself. Stewart works to save enough cash for Ira to embrace his dream.
Once Ira achieves his destiny, Stewart feels his task will be complete. Then he can check out. Hang it up. Take the high dive.
Who would miss him?
Who knows? If he went to Costa Rica too, maybe he could meet a senorita who wants an ‘gringo grotesque’.
Being a security guard is a low status and low pressure job. But, also a necessary one. Stewart takes in the acres of mass produced status, under his care. Most would find it boring. But it provides Stewart with the freedom to explore his passions. It energizes him.
Some would consider him homeless. But Stewart chooses to live in his car. His mother’s sister, Aunt Jean, offered him a home with her. But she wants to mother him. Stewart isn’t a kid anymore.
And, Jean wouldn’t accept Ira. She doesn’t know him. He isn’t family. Since Stewart can’t abandon Ira, they continue on at Lincoln Manor.
Besides his music, Stewart also writes. Days off, he sits in his spacious front seat with pad and pen and works on his sonnet cycle. This is another sore spot for Stewart. Getting published.
He has almost two dozen sonnets completed. Each leads to the next. In them, Stewart grapples with questions about his humble place in the universe. He sees himself, an existential ant, but without connection to any nest. Each question leads to another. And so ‘round and ‘round it goes.
He’s composing the final one now, which ties back to the first. You could start with any and read them through, full circle. It all makes sense, regardless your entry point. Each poem begins with the final word of the one before.
But getting it published is the trick. Stewart doesn’t know the ropes. Where can someone like him find a publisher? Who buys poetry?
Making his rounds, Stewart walks the well-trodden perimeter, past car after shiny car. The rhythm of his stride serves as his metronome while composing each line.
A rabbit hops onto the path from behind a shiny new car and Stewart chuckles, remembering Roy.
“You are late, March Hare. Hop to.”
The rabbit stares and then continues on his way. Stewart considers the possibility the rabbit occupies a superior place in the universe. It isn’t plagued with useless knowledge and doubts about purpose and destiny. It doesn’t cling to fallible reason. In its innocence, the rabbit needs and conceives of nothing like salvation. The rabbit is the crown of its creation. Or is it at such peace, because it is conscious and sure of the part it plays?
Stewart looks again to the sky. What instrument or pen could connect those dots and coax out an image of the divine? He always ponders the question he would ask of this tormentor.
“God, how long?”
Once again, done with his rounds, Stewart enters the temporary office unit. Roy is still at the computer.
“Hey Stewart. Anything to report?”
“Great! You want to take a break? Dig it. I just beat my all-time high score on Tetris. Go ahead, try to beat that! Three hundred eight thousand, four hundred, nineteen!”
Stewart looks at the computer screen and nods.
“That’s amazing. You rock. Looks unbeatable to me. I’m going to take a walk.”
“Aww, man. You want some coffee or something?”
“I’m going to take in the sunrise, before I punch out.”
Stewart steps onto the gravel lot and looks to the east. The glimmers of another dawn are barely perceptible.