It was the first snow of the season and we were at Graham’s again, all cracked plaster walls, sticky wooden floors and muted jazz. Liz and Dan sat on the couch in the corner. Dan leaned forward and ash from his cigarette lofted down onto the overstuffed cushion. He picked at the loose threads mindlessly and directed his attention to Liz as she spoke. The ash stained the paint-flecked surface grey and wispy.
“So now I’m not sure what to do. If I move back to Iowa City I’ll try and find a job, but nobody else has any luck.”
Liz was finishing explaining why she wanted to drop out of Stanford.
“Yeah, yeah, but this summer when the students leave a ton of jobs will open up,” Dan offered. “But I can’t bank on that, Dan. If I can’t find a job I’m out—not everybody’s parents are professors.”
“Hey now, don’t be heavy handed. I’m not on the Daily Iowan staff anymore.”
“But you still have a safety net.”
“I guess, but they’re upset I stopped writing, they might stop subsidizing my lease and I’ll have to move back to Cedar Rapids.”
I had heard this exact conversation last night when he lamented to Wyatt. While they spoke I amused myself with imagined newspaper headlines announcing Dan’s return to his childhood home; Dan Returns to Cedar Rapids, City of Molten Quaker Oats and Flood- Ravaged Neighborhoods, Sleeping in Childhood Bed Steal Punk Cred.
“Anyways, Liz, if you do move back you should live here, I know there’s a vacant room right upstairs.”
During the conversation Liz’s countenance had shifted from mild annoyance to resigned distress. I told her that college was a privilege and her lips morphed into a sneer.
She replied hurriedly as she pulled another cigarette from her tight cotton pants.
“Exactly! I’m not content anymore to just sit in my dorm reading JSTOR articles all day. A girl’s gotta get out of the ivory tower.”
In high school Liz had been adamantly anti-nicotine—she thought it was a social crutch and gave you bad breath—but the refined liberality of the West Coast, that Pacific-borne malaise, had given her space for self-discovery, evidenced by her shaved head and recently discovered veganism.
Earlier Liz had referenced Sartre and I both dug the reference and wanted to get an idea of the scope of her recent leftist leanings. I asked if she had been reading the Partisan Review, like the rest of these vagabonds.
“Call me a young Trotsky but it stirs my mind unlike anything else.”
“Yeah, yeah, seems like a lot of the Linn Street crowd are Trotskyites.”
She moved on the couch quickly and the patterns on the overstuffed couch shifted into a koi pond.
“I mean, my social movements class, it’s not like you can just read about it, you gotta live it!”
Her voice was genuinely confident as she stared me down. I was swept by an urge to argue further, but before I could, Jason burst right through the house’s front door.
I hadn’t heard from Jason all year, but I knew he rescued a wayward youth from the woods last month. The dude had been tripping on ’shrooms and fled to a place he called ‘Dante’s Woods.’ Jason had to search in the dark oaks for three hours before he found him in the fetal position next to a dilapidated concrete dam. He called Jason his personal Virgil, a paranoid schizoid with angel tendencies.
Jason entered with wild ambition and chutzpah, red hair wet from the snow outside.
“Carl, you bastard! When did you get back?”
“You should’ve called.”
“Oh. I stopped paying my phone bill.”
If anyone ought to be reading Trotsky it would be the chronically-underemployed Jason.
Liz chimed in, “I gave up my phone as well! I just can’t afford it with my student budget.”
Jason and I ignored her and she turned away to talk to Dan.
When I left Iowa City, Jason had been making pizza at Falbos, saving up money for his band’s upcoming trip to Florida.
Jason took his spot on the couch, and the koi pond morphed back into random paint splatters.
“I am becoming more and more convinced that this couch came from Jackson Pollock’s yard sale.”
He shrugged. I changed the subject.
“I heard about you and Taria, man. Things are heating up?”
David’s hue changed to match his hair.
“You could say that, yeah. She’s living with me right now.”
“How’s Whole Lotta Led?”
Jason played in a Led Zeppelin/Jefferson Airplane tribute band.
“Shitty question, man. We haven’t played for over a month. Cody’s been in the dumps lately ’cause he knocked his girlfriend up.”
His hands danced a melody on worn-out jeans like he did whenever he got nervous.
“Well fuck, man.”
He shrugged absentmindedly.
“What about you?” He asked.
“What?” I replied a little surprised, never before having discussed birth control with Jason.
“How do you prevent that?”
“Oh, yeah, we use the pill, it’s just the easiest,” I said.
“Woah, for real? That shit’s so expensive.”
“Not as much as an abortion.”
“True, but still. Rent’s gone up in Iowa City and I have to make choices.”
I nodded in agreement and looked at Liz and Dan talking on the couch. I couldn’t tell what their conversation was about, but I heard “pedagogy of the oppressed” and “disruption.”
Liz smiled emphatically.
Jason looked at them, expression neutral. Then turned to me.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Jason said quietly.
Jason and I had first met in 9th grade English with Ms. Davis. We sat in the back of the class and spent our time playing paper football, shooting spitballs and laughing at our own stupid jokes. I introduced him to Graham and the three of us made a movie, a Jackass imitation filmed with a smart cam I stole from the journalism department.
In 10th grade he was diagnosed with ADHD but didn’t like taking the pills because he thought they were a crutch. He sold them to pay for a new drumset. At night we played basketball behind the Burge dormitory. The University of Iowa kids were studying, leaving the shadow-lined courts to just us.
In 11th grade Graham told me Jason’s dad had left his mom and kicked off to Cleveland. I never asked him about it because I wasn’t sure what to say.
When senior year rolled around we were still playing ball, but the unspoken realization had hit us both that we were facing very different lives after graduation. We looked grimly ahead to the impending drop-off. But things always look more dramatic before they happen. Jason and I stayed friends.
Jason looked at me bemusedly and announced, “I’m gonna go for a run.” It was 11:00 p.m. and snowing. He had been inside for approximately seven minutes.
“Okay,” I said.
Since he had stopped smoking, he now ran to control his urges.
“Are we still playing basketball tomorrow?” Jason asked, a smile creeping across his face.
“Yeah, man. We can play at the rec,” I ventured.
“I don’t have a car,” Jason said.
“I’ll pick you up around one,” I replied.
He left quickly and I saw him run down the porch. After a moment I stood.
“I gotta bounce too, guys. I’ll see you later.”
Liz and Dan smiled goodbye, and I opened the door. I had a philosophy paper to write.