a little bit of evansville

Two weeks after returning from our Canada road trip, I went to visit one of my traveling companions at his house in Evansville. I had never spent any amount of quality time in southern Indiana, and had certainly never been to my friend's home. I had heard about it, though; heard about its inclusion in the Jewish cemetery, about how he and his family were sextons. I had a rough expectation of what it looked like (from pictures and prior descriptions) and was not disappointed. And his dog was a wonderful, fluffy, sweetheart of a dog.

When not traipsing across the city or across state borders, we spent a lot of time talking about books. Favorites, likes, dislikes, Hemingway. Talked about what books were good guides on how to write (On Writing), and which ones weren't (Bird by Bird). We watched Midnight in Paris, spoke about rhinoceroses at the zoo the following day. We shared and devoured a heavy meal at a German restaurant (indeed, the salty goulash filled us for the rest of the afternoon and evening). We listened and spoke to a 90-year-old accordion player at a restaurant Friday evening. We grilled out Sunday night, went and listened to live blues music. And, like most introverted, former college journalists, we knocked back some drinks.

On Saturday, we headed south to John James Audubon State Park, which is in Henderson, Kentucky. (John James Audubon was a naturalist and painter who created Birds of America.) The museum, which was actually decorated for a wedding that day, had niches everywhere, small holes for birds and other creatures. The tower provided lovely views of the garden area (as well as the upward construction of the tower itself). With steeply slanting roofs, curving stairs, thick masonry, columns and balconies, this place would be an excellent location for a Gatsby party.

I'll have you know that I took the photo below while waiting for Ty. I had gone outside, into the back courtyard. I was hoping to get a photo of the various architecture in the building. However, when I turned around, I realized that--despite the signs that said USE THIS DOOR--I was locked out. I had my forehead pressed to the glass, my eyes downward in humorous embarrassment, when Ty came back from the restroom. He smirked as he let me in.

"Don't. Say. A word," I said, my palm to his face. I shook my index finger silently and shook my head. "I should not be allowed in public."

Back inside, we saw several birds from the viewing area--bluejays, mockingbirds, finches, wrenches, cardinals.

"Hey, look, a gold finch," Ty said, pointing through one of the room's several windows. "Iowa's state bird."

"Yes, I am well aware of that, thank you," I said, matter-of-factly.

Ty chuckled. "And you've killed how many now?"

"Three," I said immediately. "Death by car." I paused, watched yet another gold finch flutter around the feeders. "But, you know, it's nice to see birds that I can't destroy with my car's windshield."

We flipped through some of the signage, questioning each other with bird-related facts. Ty, unsurprisingly, knew most of the answers.

"Because you've looked at them before," I accused him.


"So, what I've learned so far is that the cardinal is the state bird for seven states and that you're a pretentious bastard."

We kidded each other until we got to the room that concerned even more natural affairs, such as taxidermied deer and preserved eggs.

"Hey, check this out," Ty said, pointing to a large, mock nest intended for the education of children. "See, kids can climb into the nest aaaaand..." he drew my attention to the four-foot-tall bird statue.

I sniggered, attempted to compose my laughter. "What the fuck is this?" I asked, stepping into the nest. "I mean, this is a bean bag with a head." I hugged the bird, shook it a bit. "And it's made of denim. What kind of bird is made from casual day pants?" I flipped through some of the informative boards built into the nest. "Oooooh, look, and the young ones can learn about bird poop while sitting here, in this 'nest.'" I pointed to a model of bird poop on the edge of the nest, and we laughed again. "Mock feces," I said. "Not what I was expecting today."

We also visited the zoo one afternoon. It was a small zoo, yes, but quite delightful given its size. My favorite part about the zoo was "Amazonia," a building that featured various jungle creatures. It reminded me a great deal of the Lied Jungle at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, with its thick vines, large trees, humid temperature, waterfall, ferns. It hosted several of the same animals, and we spent several moments spying on the catatonic capybaras.

On my last night there, we stayed up until three or four in the morning, talking. Talking books, like always. Movies. Short stories. A&P. Sonny's Blues. Smoke Signals. Casablanca. The Sun Also Rises. Death of a Salesman. A Moveable Feast. I sat on the guest room bed, cradling one of the four posts.

"The store in A&P always reminds me of the grocery store in my dad's hometown. The floor tiles, the lights. It is that story. I always think of that every time I drive past it."

Eventually, I threw one of the bed's pillows at Ty, who mistakenly thought I was attacking him for being pedantic.

I laughed. "Actually, no. See, this time, I was legitimately giving you a pillow because I thought you wouldn't want your head on the floor." He had been reclined on his side for some time, one arm behind his head, the other stretched to the dog, who would lick and nuzzle his fingers every few minutes.

"I love your dog," I said. "And I typically hate dogs. Especially small ones. But Bear is just ... such a sweetheart. And he's fluffy. Senile, perhaps, but he makes a good guard dog. I know he's been sleeping in here because this is "his room," but I like to believe he stays here just because I'm in here."

"If that's true, then I'm not pretentious at all," Ty responded, the operative sarcasm falling on the last two words.

More teasing. More jokes. More books. More wishful thinking.

"Ideally," I said, "I think we need to go on vacations or road trips annually. At least once a year."

"Ideally," Ty said, "I think we need to go on vacations or road trips like, four times a year."

"We need to start working on winning the lottery."


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