There's good dumpster diving in Ottawa. The Nordic Isle Buffet throws out whole steamed lobsters. Farlburg Family Ford doesn't send their tire rims back to corporate to be destroyed. The Jemns Inn factory fills their dumpsters with baskets and authentic New England crafts. After the holidays I wake up early and snag any rejected candles that didn’t make it to labeling. Their identity can only be surmised by color. If I had siblings I’d send these home as gifts. Jemns Inn once melted down their shrink, glass and all. When their filtration system died everyone knew exactly how close autumn was when the wind shifted to canvas the city in mauve. Periwinkle in the summer.
It would be better to be home in Michigan with Arnie playing Call of Duty, having some beers and bringing up his old girlfriend so I could fall asleep to him talking about her. I could tell it was summer there when Arnie's new girlfriend would bring us pink lemonade with messages hidden in ice cubes.
Their house was a terrarium with its fudge climate and carpet moss. I could tell it was summer there when Grandma Heather’s leg veins resurfaced. She was the adopted kind of grandma that came built-in to the couch. Forever watching Arnie’s floating rifle blow up oil drums, to feel consumed by such AWESOME graphics. In afternoons, she would sing to us about how the whole house had secret oak flooring and that it was beautiful.
We knew it was spring when the smell of jizz was in the air. “Pyrus calleryana trees did this when they bloomed.” Arnie would say. He combated them by starting a Riekki tree removal business. Before this we used to steal chainsaws, remove the belt and use them as props in his garage/haunted house. $10 leading up to Halloween. $5 November 1st – 8th. Just a bunch of people paying to hang out near old paint cans, pretending to be someone else.
“I tap into the life energy in these things and bam - I let ‘em have it. Have what? You don’t want to know, man.” His palms becoming flattened oyster tongues. Always drifting. Arnie made enough money to buy a batch of yard signs. Riekki Tree Removal - Call Arnie.
“You don’t wanna know how many jizz trees I’ve slaughtered. I deserve this.” This was what he told me after sleeping with other women and ignoring Grandma's Heather's hospital bills. I went with him to buy a used Honda that had only 32,000 miles on it. This number had been written on its windshield in glass chalk. On the back panel it still faintly read 'Congrats FHS Seniors, Go Wildlions.' I helped him scrape that off, and I helped him hold cardboard in the sun to better light the dong pics he sent out. His Publisher's Clearing House mailers.
Arnie's girlfriend divorced him by writing a message on the tub wall in her hair. Grandma Heather was finally eaten by the couch. When they tore up the carpet, it was only planks of little mites underneath. After that Arnie was too depressed to move, but I wasn’t. Putting on his mask involved simply lining up the mouth slit, tucking my own hair behind the band and changing the phone number on all of his yard signs.
To throw out your past is even easier. Upon getting rich off charming away unwanted nut-bearers/car denters using only my mind, I stuffed my old flannels into garbage bags. Five years of winter spreading apart the seams to reveal the tentacled arms with their button suckers. I drove Arnie's car to the Goodwill bin and pushed all those winters into the mouth.
You can carve a key like a shank. Sometimes it's already unlocked. Either way, your clothes will hunt their way back to you. Listen to the 'woolen bloodhounds,' as Heather would say. Even when they're scratching and barking at your door, no one says you have to hear them.
To dive deeper it's all fish skeletons swimming in perfect muck or W9 forms shredded into snow. It's recyclable Big Mac shells where strange mollusks have at long last, found their home. But I'm rich enough to drink coffee indoors now and can point out the people who wear my hand-me-downs as all new younger brothers and sisters. You really only miss the chlorine when its spirit’s annual visits stop. Everything will seem strangely fresh. Then I’ll come back up.
Travis Dahlke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Structo, Sporklet, Apt., SAND Journal, Bridge Eight Press, Occulum, and The Longleaf Review, among other places.