Myke Johns and Nick Tecosky are the producers of WRITE CLUB Atlanta. In an ill-conceived bid to remain hip and relevant and also to vent their anger and bile at people who actually are hip and relevant, they have devoted themselves to reviewing #2 hits on the Billboard charts.
For the week of March 17th, the #2 hit on the Billboard Hot Country chart is:
It was nighttime, in the Summer, and I found myself on the outskirts of Valdosta, Georgia. The air was thick with the oppressive humidity of early August and I was dizzy on the symphony of crickets and bullfrogs and the sickly-sweet taste of my first sip of Southern Comfort.
She was sweating, rivulets rolling down her graceful neck, absorbed into that too-tight shirt, the uniform of bold youth, that which screams “I am, and I am, and I am!” and that call you cannot ignore, I couldn’t, because she was, she was, to me, she was. As she passed on the red clay road, I inhaled deeply the draught of a young girl on the verge of womanhood, and it mingled in my nose with the mud and sweet-grasses and wildflowers. A glance back over her shoulder, at me, me! A quiet beckoning. I knew longing for the first time. I knew desire. I was hers, and she mine.
God, the nights, the nights, so endless they seemed to me in the heady drunkenness of adolescence, of coming into myself, of the anticipation of trekking an undiscovered country, dark and sweet and secret, belonging only to me, to keep and lock away in my heart, to be dusted off in the dry solitude of old age, and clutched to my grey chest, a moment in time frozen, proof that once, I loved.
This, I know, is how we once rolled: Stuck to our guns, shooting the moon.
Every wax must be followed by wane and the dirt road life which once gave us succor began to leave us wanting. And so in a night we agreed to move. Or I agreed. Maybe I had. She had a way of determining every step while making the footfalls seem like my idea. I rented a truck.
Our intertwined lives did not fit neatly into the boxes I brought home from behind the liquor store. And the detritus of dust-covered things left over once the packing is almost done looked like the cobwebbed decorations from a very strange haunted house. Most of the things had been mine.
The last day, standing on the wide wood floors of our empty house she held me about my shoulders and whispered “let’s go.” So to the city we went, her and I. And all the way, she sang along to everything on the radio–songs I had never heard before, music I was not even sure existed. She belted and cooed and danced to this world she hadn’t shared with me. Her lithe arms waved up and down outside of the window, her hand cupping the air, letting it go. And I wondered if I had ever known her at all.
We had no plan. We didn’t know the place. We only knew that it was different, bigger, bigger than our imaginations had led us to believe. At three a.m., after traversing the city twice, we pulled into the AmericaSuites by the airport. $169 a week bought us a single room with a dingy kitchenette and a toilet that ran constantly, and the sound of the drain and the airplanes overhead lulled us to sleep that first night, and I dreamt of something huge and far off, charging toward us across a great void. Some great machine, its gears grinding and huge structure groaning and I didn’t know what it wanted, whether it meant us harm, and I wanted to protect her, and I clutched her tight. But she didn’t tremble. She didn’t whimper. She gazed out into the dark expanse with fire in her eyes and locked on something in the distance. And she smiled. When I woke in the morning, I could not recognize what coursed through my being.
Was it dread?
The following days could have dampened any man’s hope. She was able to find a job at a Hartsfield bar almost immediately. And so she went, stationary among the hustle and bustle of commerce, and worked nights slinging watered-down booze to weary businessmen. They must have loved her. And why not? Her charm, her crooked smile, those bright, fearless eyes that burned even when her face was at rest. It made her irresistible. I imagine that they would sit for hours, ensnared in her presence. I know that I was. But I was not so lucky.
After weeks of pounding the pavement, I was able to get on with a trucking company. She begged me to keep looking, that we were a unit that could not function apart. But I believed. I believed that this was a foundation that I could build upon. And though I hated to leave her, my heart screamed against it, I knew that the money afforded us a future, a home. A foundation on which a life could be built. I took to the road. The days were a steady silver ribbon through which ran a band of gold. That gold. That gold would lead me back to her, if only I followed it long enough. At night, the dreams continued. Something barreling toward us. I strained to see it in vain. So much fury in the darkness.
This haul wasn’t on the schedule. There was a phone call: this trailer, a run south, no questions. I kissed her bare shoulder and slipped away and was in my rig before dawn.
My instructions led me toward an empty stretch of road, where I was to stop just before mile marker 39. The mark approaching, I saw an accident on the side of the road ahead. I pulled the break, and a cadre of young man approached the cab.
“Thanks for being early” said a man gesturing with a crutch that he clearly didn’t need. “Fellas, are you ready?” He looked to the two men with him, both professionally disheveled, Wearing $300 T-shirts and jeans that had the holes already rubbed into them. They seemed to shine, and the wind seemed to catch their hair just right.
“You know how we roll,” they said in unison and ascended to the roof of the trailer. Helicopters appeared over the horizon and I was told to drive, drive. That’s when I noticed the cameras.
A rumble of bass erupted from inside the trailer, and I drove and the helicopters circled and flew over and followed me down the road. Only they weren’t following me, they were following the two jackasses standing on top of my truck. I could not see them up there, but I could feel their boots hitting the trailer and muffled hooting and hollering coming from inside. Damn, are there people in there? After crawling down the road apiece, they had me turn around and crawl back.
As soon as my boots could hit the ground, I was opening the trailer. Swinging back the handle and latch, I pulled the doors wide and fucking Mardi Gras nearly toppled out onto me. Grown men dressed like high schoolers were drinking straight from champagne bottles, women were dancing, gyrating, and throwing balloons and confetti, and loud music was playing. Some awful pap that sounded like Opie Taylor doing his worst Jay-Z impression. I wandered back to my cab where cameramen were busy filming sexy young women posing against the grille of the vehicle I maintained and took a great deal of pride in.
I thought of her.
I thought of trying to explain my day. I imagined trying to fake a boast to muster cheer and I could not conjure it. The camera men slapped their hands to my shoulder and asked how fast I could take a curve.
“Depends on who’s throwin’ it,” I said. They laughed and I retreated to the quiet of the front seat. Inside the trailer, the song began again and I wondered if she already knew all the words.
I threw her into gear, and she ground into motion. Choppers overhead, strange men on my rooftop. I could hear them, behind me, in the trailer, I could sense the movement, the gyrations of countless pelvises, sickly-sweet alcohol pouring down throats, vile sweat pouring from sallow skin. I was Charon, crossing the Styx out of the Underworld, trailing all of Hell behind me.
I sped toward that curve, and I thought of her face. That face that launched a thousand of my own dreams. Her smile, sweet and off-kilter. And it bolstered me. Fortified me. If I could make this work, I knew that I could do any number of things afterward. This was my gauntlet. When I reached the end of this day, I would go home and I would take her in that tousled bed, and afterward we would find a way to survive and thrive and multiply. Generations of dreamers would be borne from our union. And they would look back and hold in high esteem that night on the outskirts of Valdosta, they would understand in the deep parts of their souls what their grandparents felt, and what they did to make their desires flesh.
I remember the great bulk of the truck leaving the road. I remember the sudden shock of weightlessness, the terrible screams behind and above me, I remember the ground rushing up to meet me, and then–
I am on a vast plain. Cold wind caresses my face, whips my tattered shirt about my torso. She is not with me… but I am not alone. In the distance, the low rumble of a great machine lurching closer in the blackness. This machine was build by divine hands. It is meant for me, and me alone. I do not feel regret. I gave all for her. She is, she is, and she is in me now, and I am, forever, I am. I will carry her forth, no matter what hurtles toward me.
I am not afraid.
I take my first step forward, into the dark.
Illustration by Joe Karg.