Johnny America




We put gas in the car and drove to the plane. We land­ed on the oth­er side
and took the bus to the booth where we paid for the gas in the car with the
plas­tic in our pock­ets. We treat­ed the car like our own even though it was a
rental. It was red and han­dled smooth­ly. We didn’t wor­ry that it ate more gas
than our car back home, which ate on­ly a mod­er­ate amount of gas and made us
feel good about our­selves day to day. We didn’t wor­ry be­cause we were on

The car had a wide track and a fine stereo. We played the stereo and al­most couldn’t hear the jack­ham­mers or sirens out­side. We were deaf to near­ly every­thing around us.

We parked the car at the land­ing. We looked for­ward to climb­ing the
gang­plank and board­ing the boat, but first we had to stand in line to buy
tick­ets. There were groans. The last thing we want­ed to do was stand in line.
Stand­ing in line re­mind­ed us just how much we hat­ed stand­ing in line which in
turn re­mind­ed us of all the things we did back home that cre­at­ed similar
feel­ings, and if there’s one thing a va­ca­tion shouldn’t do it shouldn’t remind
you of home. That’s why we have vacations.

We were all think­ing the same thing: we should have planned ahead. If we’d
planned ahead we could have bought the tick­ets in ad­vance and have avoid­ed the
line al­to­geth­er. Then we would be the peo­ple al­ready on the boat look­ing down
at the peo­ple in line in­stead of be­ing the peo­ple in line look­ing at the boat
with long­ing and regret.

A glac­i­er tour. That’s why we’d come so far. We want­ed to see the world’s
old­est ice.

Be­cause it’s dif­fer­ent, that’s why.

The ice back home is young and bor­ing. It’s made to melt. In­fant ice, we
call it. Ba­by ice. Ice that would cry if it could.

Even­tu­al­ly we board­ed the boat and we set sail and cast off our thoughts of
home and our long­ing and our re­gret. We em­braced our vacation.

The seas were chop­py and swollen. Along the coast we saw glac­i­ers rise from
the wa­ter like cas­tles be­hind moats. Our mouths were open. We were very
im­pressed. It’s not every day you see ice big enough to scare you.

We ate our sand­wich­es and watched a large ice chunk wrench from the glacier
and drop to the wa­ter. Its sound was that of thun­der. The sea seethed and
tantrumed waves. Some­one in a fan­cy suit said, “You’ve just wit­nessed the birth
of an ice­berg. It’s called calv­ing. It’s both beau­ti­ful and sad.”

Every­one agreed he was right.

The waves heaved. They rocked the boat. One or two peo­ple fell over­board but
we pre­tend­ed not to notice.

We looked through our binoc­u­lars at the ice calf. Up­on clos­er in­spec­tion we
spot­ted some­thing dark in­side. A seal or a wal­rus frozen ages ago. A
mam­mal-ci­cle. Most things die and are swal­lowed up in dirt. Oth­ers get trapped
in pock­ets of ice.

But maybe the dark spot wasn’t a wal­rus. Maybe it was a pre­his­toric man.

The way the ice­berg bobbed up and down con­vinced us we were on to something.
There was an ice­man in­side. We were sure of it.

We won­dered what his clothes were like. His shoes. Did the an­i­mal fur
cov­er­ing his body have pock­ets? If so, we want­ed to know what was in them. Did
pre­his­toric men have trin­kets? Did they have baubles? Or was every­thing they
car­ried of ut­most importance?

We thought of his death, how he suc­cumbed to hunger and thirst. He fell to
his knees. His breath­ing shal­lowed and he looked to the sky, shak­ing for any
num­ber of rea­sons. The snow came down and cov­ered him. He knew what was next
and he thought he would be there for­ev­er, nev­er mov­ing again.

Even­tu­al­ly the ice­berg will melt and the ice­man will sink to the bot­tom of
the sea. But he should have stayed there, frozen, locked away. The earth likes
to hide things, and once it’s tucked you in you should re­main there, asleep in
nature’s pocket.

We shouldn’t try to fight it. The earth al­ways gets what it wants and most
days it wants to bury us all.

Filed under Fiction on April 12th, 2010

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