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The last time I sang along to a Pearl Jam CD was just a few weeks ago. I was driving home on a Saturday morning, having just dropped my wife off at work. She works at the Freeman Plant, which is a weird name for a museum and education center. Probably has something to do with whatever the building was before it got bought up and put to a different use. But I like the place, generally. The cafeteria has decent french fries.
My wife’s car, actually, fairly new, all sorts of fun gadgets controlled right there from the steering wheel. There I was, at a stop light, thumbing past songs until I got to “Why Go,” and peaking over the top of a nearby hill, a dinosaur. Not a metaphor. Not a statue. Nothing to do with the Freeman Plant. An honest-to-fucking-god Tyrannosaurus Rex. My brain couldn’t handle it, had no way to put a living moving dinosaur into my present context.
The last time before that that I had listened to Pearl Jam must have been, gosh, ten years or so ago. My memory’s murky. When I first got the CD, I played it all the damn time, nearly nonstop, and no skipping songs. I had my favorites, but I was coming off a five or six year classical music binge, and this new sound from these kids in Seattle was amazing to me (I lived Kansas at the time, moved to Seattle a few years ago: coincidence). Classical music, can you blame me? Did you hear what they were pumping out as an excuse for music in the late eighties? I swear to jesus some genius with a time machine came back from the new millennium with one idea in mind: make music that would be fun to remember on VH1. I mean, really, it served no other purpose.
“Why Go” is about a woman in a mental institution, ostensibly. I’m sure there’s some deep background to it. And I was singing that line: “She’s been diagnosed/by some stupid fuck…” when the T-Rex saw me. Look at me, calling it a T-Rex, like we were old pals, like this sort of thing happens all the time. What’s with our propensity to rename things, shorten them? Language is what sets us apart from the animals, makes us truly human– I reads that on a brochure while eating some french fries in the Freeman Plant cafeteria while waiting for my wife to get off work one Sunday.
She doesn’t normally work weekends, and I don’t normally drive her to work, but when she does have to pull a Saturday or Sunday shift, I’m happy to oblige. She doesn’t like driving much. Hates traffic, just hates it. Of course on weekends there’s hardly any traffic at all, so I don’t know if I’m doing her any favors. More I’m doing myself the favor because it gets me out of bed when I otherwise might not, keeps me from standing, at 11:00 am, in my PJs and my bathrobe, in front of the refrigerator, trying to decide if it’s worth the effort of pulling out the milk to have a bowl of cereal.
When I take my wife to work, by the time I’ve dropped her off, I’ve got enough gumption to have a proper breakfast, and I do so in the form of a tall mocha from Starbucks. If all is well in the world and it’s autumn, I go away from her pre-sets and turn on the sports radio station and listen to college or pro football play-by-plays. But on this day, T-Rex day, it was either late winter or early spring. And that’s the first thing that occurred to me, at the red light, singing along to Pearl Jam, she’s been diagnosed, by some stupid fuck, aren’t dinosaurs supposed to live in lush tropical environments? What’s a T-Rex doing in late winter Seattle? And mommy agrees.
Boom, melt down. The T-Rex was running right at me, or at the car I was in, my wife’s car, her new car, with me listening to a CD that was literally the oldest thing I owned, a song I always liked but one that didn’t last as long as the others– I mean, “Alive” is the one they play on the oldies stations (oldies station for fuck’s sake) or maybe “Even Flow” and sometimes “Jeremy” or maybe “Black,” even I liked “Porch” more than “Why Go,” and so it really had been at least 10 years since that song was inside my head, and for the first time, ever, I understood what the words 5after “by some stupid fuck” were. And mommy agrees.
Turns out the song’s not about some lady in an institution, but some kid, some little girl, and somehow my brain always knew what the words where, even though I always sort of mumbled that part when I sang it out loud. What was it that made it click now? Being older, being 40? Listening to it here, in Seattle, where’d I’d moved five years ago, where the song was originally written? Or was it that T-Rex, running right at me, making the ground shake, a keening from my throat matched against the roaring coming from gaping jaws as it got closer and closer?
Thankfully, I have a hypothalamus. At the last second I wrenched open the door and dived out of the car, just as the T-Rex bashed it with his head. The car went flying over me, the T-Rex went in pursuit, and I scrambled for a nearby copse of trees before looking back. Know what’s funny? Either I accidentally hit the volume button on the steering wheel, in my panic, or something the T-Rex did made the speakers go loud, because even though I couldn’t see where they’d gone, I could hear the car tumbling away, the song screaming “Why go home? Why go home? Why go home?”
Since then, things have gotten a bit silly. Of course, I went straight back to the Freeman Plant, found my wife, and told her what happened. She didn’t believe me. She thought I was joking, then thought I was acting crazy, then thought I was faking crazy just to cover something up, then thought I was faking crazy just to be a huge asshole. I started to doubt myself. I went back to the intersection. I saw the broken glass. I walked around for a while, finding evidence of where the car had been tumbled, finally finding the car itself, several blocks away, in a ditch. Called the cops. Asked them how in the hell the body of the car had punctures in it the size of Tyrannosaurus Rex teeth. They gave me a citation for wrecking the car.
I’m not on drugs. I am not insane. I’ve had no head injuries. I don’t believe in magic. But my wife won’t speak to me, has kicked me out of the house, and I’ve had to ask for sick leave from work. I’m staying in a motel. And right now, I’m a few blocks away from the Freeman Plant, on one of the side streets, in a rented car, which I paid extra for so I could get a good stereo. I have “Oceans,” the song after “Why Go,” cued up on the CD player. Cued up, isn’t that a term from when we used to use tape players? Anyway, I’m going to see what happens. I’ve never understood most of the lyrics to that song. It’s about surfing, I think. I have a camera. I’m going to get that fucking T-Rex.