Shattered Middle Class Dreams


One night only. Roy Orbison. Written in swooping red neon script on the tired marquee in front of the last roadhouse, where now stands an Outlet Mall on Highway 94 between Chicago and Milwaukee.

It was a Wednesday night. Bitter wild December wind cold. Long, long ago. Back when I did things like stopping to listen without a second thought.

Easing down on the exit ramp and coasting by “The Brat Stop,” a jarring restaurant lounge screaming TOURIST! And instead parking in front of “Bobby Nelson’s,” the quiet red brick cheese and sausage heaven that would provide tonight’s dinner. Buying way too much. Because a pound of this and a pound of that, wrapped tight in butcher paper and torn open as soon as I got back in the car does add up.

Circling back under Highway 94, to the almost empty lot in front of the Roadhouse. The neon flashing like a heart beat. Roy Orbison.

Inside to the welcoming warm darkness, an almost empty room, except for there she was, at the end of the bar, by herself. Eating a chocolate chip cookie. She looked up, smiled, and time stopped.

“What are . . .” I started.

“Of all the gin joints in all the world,” she laughed and winter suddenly was a memory. This was a woman who wasn’t afraid to tuck herself alone in to the corner of a dark bar on a Wednesday night. If there was a good reason to be there.

“I’m flying home out of Milwaukee. Late flight” she said. And you didn’t think I’d spend any more time in Beloit!”

“Hey, there are worse fates. So how do you know this place? Or did you just see the sign?”

“Oh this is the Prophet’s Bar.”

“The what?”

“You gotta get your nose out of the books and pay attention young man! The Prophet! I heard about him back at school from a guy who comes from Kenosha. They call this guy ‘The Prophet.’ Nice old guy. Doesn’t hurt anybody. See him sitting by himself over there with the Old Style draft?” She pointed at an older man I hadn’t noticed having only been drawn to the light of her smile.

“Yeah, he’ll just come over, say something, nod his head politely and leave. He gives these little speeches. He’ll do it before the music starts. Won’t interrupt anything. People around here, the bartender was just telling me, they all expect it. Nod their heads. Say ‘Thank you Timothy’ and he goes on to someone else or back to his beer.

‘Timothy?’

“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll come see us.”

It was an hour to the show. And we spent most of it in that warm corner finishing each other’s sentences.

Sometimes, and if you’re one of the fortunate ones you’ll have this happen to you, you simply connect with another human being. A world without them isn’t a thought you could ever have. Instead there is a history. That slow, steady drum beat waltz leading up to that connection. Then there is right now. A right now so overwhelmingly good that it makes your soul breathe. And finally there is a future. The natural as a summer rain future of the two of you together in some small corner of a green Jersey forest, or a warm wind Carolina mountaintop, or some secluded sun drenched beach along the Gulf Coast. Anywhere. Because there will be a future. Full of work that you will both do in the rhythm of some larger song you can both almost hear.

As the time for Roy Orbison to play came close, I looked down and discovered we were holding hands and I could not remember when we started. We had always held hands. Always would.

As Timothy the Prophet approached, she saw him first.

He cleared his throat. Looked at us both. Blue eyes of kindness and he spoke.

“Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.”

When he finished we were all three quiet for a moment. His words settling in to some silent corner of our connected hearts. Devastating words of warning as a prelude to a love song.

Roy Orbison came on alone. Just him. No strings, back up singers or any of that.

Just that voice. Just Roy Orbinson’s voice

He sang “In Dreams.” And we held hands. Like a world without end . . . . .

And tonight. As I shut down the circuit breakers in my janitor’s closet in the outlet mall, reminded myself to stop on my way home to pick up a six pack, wondered what I’d be watching on television tonight; I remembered Timothy’s warning for the first time in years.

I held on tight to the sound of Roy Orbison’s voice.

And I wondered where she’d gone.

One Response to “Shattered Middle Class Dreams”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,
    Difficult times ahead indeed for most. It is amazing how the threads of human decency have worn thin and almost disappeared. On the plus side, this time of year churches and other groups do what they can to provide holiday meals and such for the needy and lonely but what about the rest of the year? And what about the agencies that are supposed to support these people? I don’t know many people that have woke up from the American dream and found it real. Most awake from their dreams and find a dark, cold, depressing reality.

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