an old man that was not quite an old man but would one day be an old man by Mark Baumer


Leon and I stood in the motel parking lot next to a dump truck. He asked how close we were to St. Louis. I took a deep breath and looked at my right lung. It did not know where we were. I asked it a question. It didn’t respond. I could not smell anything that smelled like St. Louis. I had never smelled St. Louis. I couldn’t smell anything.

A male attendant was already cleaning our motel room. In one hand he was holding a bottle of Windex. In his other hand he was holding a toothbrush. I touched my face. It was still filled with a normal amount of teeth. I looked at Leon’s mouth. He had more than one tooth. I tried to remember if my mother had used Windex on my mouth when I was a child. I thought of her squirting Windex on the face of a baby that wasn’t me. The baby turned into a glass snow globe. My mother picked up the snow globe and shook it until the globe wizard got a snowflake in his left eyeball.

Mickey left his motel room and handed me a key to the dump truck. He was wearing the same black shorts and blue short-sleeve buttoned shirt that he had worn the day before. Leon and I climbed into something that was a dump truck. A boy the size of a grossly enlarged thimble stood next to a white van and watched us. He was wearing a black, faded t-shirt that said, “Timmy” on the front. There seemed to be stains in all the creases of his clothing. When Mickey walked up to the white van Timmy asked his father if he could eat some skittles for breakfast. Mickey nodded. I sat in the driver’s seat of the dump truck and fingered the ignition. Mickey and Timmy made space for themselves in a white van. Something called Billy sat alone in a white pickup.

Our little parade of automobiles left the motel parking lot in search of a highway. The white van inched to the front of our transportation party. I prodded the dump truck up behind the white van. I looked in the rearview mirror. Jimmy and the white pickup moped behind us.

It did not take very long to find the highway. Highways are large structures that were built with the intention of being seen. There are very few places left in America for a large interstate highway to hide comfortably where no one can see it.

The first hour in the dump truck was similar to every other hour I had ever spent in a moving vehicle. I held onto a steering wheel and only turned it when it needed to be turned. For long stretches there was nothing to do except look ahead, out the windshield. I did not need to turn the steering wheel very often. When I turned the steering wheel I only turned it slightly. Other cars surrounded the dump truck and did similar things to the road, but these cars were smaller so they felt less significant. Very few objects can do what a dump truck does. The dump truck did things to the road and the road did things to the dump truck. Their love for each other was not something I was not jealous about, but it reminded me of a tall couple I once saw outside of a grocery store on matching bicycles. One of the bicycles had a basket. It was filled with fourteen clementines.

Leon asked me if I missed my motel bed. I told him I had slept like a dead leaf. Leon said, “I don’t enjoy the way you talk about yourself.” A piece of skin peeled off my leg and fell on the floor of the dump truck. I looked at the flake of myself for twelve seconds. When I looked over at Leon he was asleep. Sometimes when I looked at Leon I didn’t like him. As he slept, part of his mouth hung open. I had an urge to spit on my fingers and rub them on the floor of the dump truck and then smear my dirty fingers in the parts of Leon’s mouth that were open. I was not proud of these thoughts. We had reached a point in the trip where neither of us liked each other as much as we had once liked each other. I thought about pulling the dump truck to the side of the road and leaving Leon in a ditch, but I knew Mickey wouldn’t have been happy with me if I had stopped so I did not stop. The dump truck continued to move at sixty miles an hour. When I tried to drive faster the dump truck would not move any faster.

Our path had become a stream flowing into a void. When Leon woke up he asked where we were. I didn’t know where we were. I took out my cell phone. The shape of the cell phone did not know where we were either. It only said 10:30 a.m. I looked out the windshield ahead of us and could not decide if we were still in Ohio or not. We continued driving until we were no longer in the original place where we didn’t know where we were. We were in a new location that was similar to the old location. The shapeless mumble of the highway discouraged all modes of thought and imagination.

It started to get warm in the dump truck. Leon took off his shirt. Some of his chest hair smiled. A family-sized blue truck full of inflatable pool toys passed us. One of the plastic inflatable objects looked like the veiled eyelid of an octopus. The right blinker on Mickey’s truck began to beep. Leon touched one of his chest hairs and asked me what he should name it. I told to name all his chest hairs, “Baby Noels.”

We stopped for lunch at a store that sold fried chicken, pizza, and tacos. Mickey, Billy, and Timmy ordered fried chicken combo meals with french fries. Leon ordered four tacos. I got a small bucket of pizza and a fountain soda. Everyone sat at the same table and ate in silence. After Mickey, Timmy, and Billy ate their fried chicken they watched me eat from my bucket. Mickey, Timmy, and Billy did not eat their french fries. Mickey asked if I wanted to eat his french fries. I looked in my bucket. It was still half full. I was the last one to finish eating.

Before we left Leon used the bathroom. I waited outside for him in the hallway. Someone had written a poem on one of the tiles next to the bathroom door. It said, “eat the peace you are given to do whatever you please.” I heard a muffle of toilet paper. When Leon came out he said there was an old taco stain on the ceiling of the bathroom.

We followed the white van to a refueling structure. It was near an old pine tree. I parked the dump truck and let it suck on a fuel tank for twenty minutes. While I squeezed the gas nozzle I watched a family finish their lunch at a picnic table next to the gas station. Two boys argued over who would eat the last olive. An older woman cut the olive in half. Each boy put a piece of the olive in their mouth. When the family left the picnic table each member seemed to be dragging a full stomach. The youngest object in the family held his ass until the older woman noticed and took him to the gas station bathroom. On the ground, in the grass, near one of the legs of the picnic table, I saw the peelings of a clementine. I was tempted to put something in my mouth and wait for my body to swallow it, but I didn’t do anything.

Billy held the hood of the white pickup open. I watched him pull out the dipstick and look at it. His lips barely moved as he held up the dipstick and then used a rag from the floor of his truck to wipe the dipstick clean. When he put the dipstick back in the truck he looked around until he noticed me watching him. I waved. He closed the hood of the truck very quickly and walked into the gas station. Timmy followed his brother into the gas station. The nozzle I was squeezing stopped working. I removed it from the truck. Mickey went into the gas station to pay. A few minutes later I saw Timmy leave the gas station holding three candy bars and a Mountain Dew.

We returned to the highway. The inside of the dump truck grew warmer the longer we used it. The parts that were broken still knew how to make us sweat. Leon took off his shirt and drew a stick figure on his chest. He said, “I drew a picture of myself on my own chest.” He asked if I wanted a picture of him drawn on my chest. I looked at Leon and his chest and said, “Nah, I don’t want a picture of you on my chest.” Leon put away his pen and crawled out of his seat and sat on the floor of the dump truck. He climbed off the floor and leaned half his body out the window. I heard him slapping the side of the dump truck, encouraging it to move faster. I looked at the speedometer. We were going about as fast as we had been going the whole time.

Ohio held us in its palm for a few more minutes and then handed us over to Indiana. Leon asked where we were. I said, “I was once born in this state.” Leon did not believe me. I told him he should call my mother and ask her where I was born. I handed him my phone. I watched him press some buttons and hold the phone to the side of his head. After a few seconds I heard a small version of my mother’s voice speak in Leon’s ear. He asked my mother where I was born. She told him I was once born in Indiana. Leon handed me the phone. I told my mother I loved her and hung up.

When we got near Indianapolis I noticed the white van seemed confused. It turned off the interstate. Leon asked me where the white van was going. I shrugged and followed the white van. We were no longer on a major interstate heading west. I looked at a road sign. It said we were heading north. The white van slowed and did a u-turn. I worried the dump truck wouldn’t be able to do a u-turn, but I followed the white van’s lead and did a u-turn. Leon said, “The white van seems confused.” We returned to a major interstate highway headed west. I wasn’t sure what was happening. The white van merged back onto highway. We followed. I looked at the white van. It continued on through Indiana.

I mostly held the steering wheel of the dump truck with both hands, but sometimes I would stop holding the steering wheel with my right hand so I could use my right hand to hold a cup of iced-tea. Leon asked me if the iced-tea was still icy. I took a sip and told him that the iced-tea was warm and no longer an icy beverage. He asked if my icy beverage had turned into “hot juice.” I took another sip and said, “The icy beverage is now a hot juice.”

A truck passed us. I looked at the man driving the truck. He looked like a beard that was wearing a dirty shirt. I waved to him. He raised his arm to wave at me. I noticed his armpit was greasy. Leon said, “The human body contains more grease than a jar of whale oil.” I asked Leon if he was going to put whale oil in his hair when he got older. He said he would probably put some form of grease in his hair, but was not sure if he felt morally comfortable putting whale sauce on his human fibers.

Some men in orange vests were cutting the grass on the side of the road. A brown station wagon passed us on their way to the Grand Canyon. Two boys sat in the back of the station wagon. One of them was blowing on a trumpet. The other was sipping on a juice box. The dump truck continued to pass through Indiana. Three hours disappeared.

The white van turned on its blinker again. I looked at the gas gauge even though it was broken. I followed the white van to a gas station and parked next to a diesel pump. Leon and I climbed out of the truck. I put some fuel in the dump truck. Leon wandered off and asked some of the other truck drivers if he could rub their trucks.

A few minutes later Mickey walked over to us. He looked concerned. He rubbed his forehead. He asked if I had a driver’s license. I told him I did. I followed Mickey into the gas station. The woman behind the counter took my driver’s license and looked at it. She was wearing a perm. My driver’s license was a regular driver’s license. There was nothing special about it. I did not have a special license that said I could drive large machinery. Mickey stood next to me waiting. I wondered if he had a license. I was going to ask him why he didn’t show the woman his license, but the woman handed me back my license and said, “All set.” Mickey asked if I wanted something to eat or drink. I grabbed some candy and some more iced-tea. I asked Mickey where we were. He said we were in Illinois.

The dump truck followed the white van back to the highway. Everything seemed okay. The dump truck didn’t seem any more broken than it had been the whole trip. Leon was eating gummy worms. He bit off half of one of the gummy worms and stuck the other half to the side-view mirror. I asked if I could have a gummy worm. He gave me one. I ate it. Leon was laughing. I laughed too. We were only seventy miles from St. Louis. Leon said, “We will probably be in St. Louis in a few hours.” I nodded and said, “St. Louis smells close.”

A few minutes later black smoke began pouring from the engine of the dump truck. Everything that had been going beautifully was now a massive broken object breathing out large amounts of smoke. We would be stranded. Someone would rub their face. The business opportunities in St. Louis mailed us a postcard. I thought of where I wanted to end up and I could not remember what I thought. Everything smelled like black smoke. A grown man rubbed his face until he turned into an old man.

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Mark Baumer was once younger. He likes to eat. He knows how to read because he once learned to read a book. He has some websites. One website is thebaumer.com. The other website is everydayyeah.com