Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Strife on the Mississippi


Mark Twain had a good chuckle at my expense.

I was seeing this girl who was a little older than me, and things had moved fast with her. I liked her because she was a budding photographer who carried a Nikon SLR around with her, frequently stopping to take pictures. She twisted the focus ring underhanded, the way you’ll see the pros do it. I thought that was pretty cool.

But she was also highly transgressive. She’d purposely say provocative things as people were passing by us, shocking sexual things meant to make them turn and look, give her mean eyes. She got off on that kind of stuff.

She was also a crack shoplifter. I remember once we were in a shop that sold pins, like lapel pins with funny things on them. I think I still have one I bought there, with Elvis Costello on it.

Oh, yeah. Here it is. ———–☞ img_1454

She asked the clerk to show her one with the guy from Eraserhead — you know the guy — so he took it down and let her handle it. When he wasn’t looking she pocketed it, then asked him to show her a couple of others, gave them back, asked for more, kept him busy and a little rattled. Then she asked to see the Eraserhead one again. He concluded that he must have misplaced it. Sorry. It’ll turn up. I paid for my Costello button and we left.

We were always getting back in the car, and she’d reveal what she’d just lifted from the store we were in. It was driving me nuts.

We were looking for something to do one weekend, so we took a late bus up to Hannibal. Why take an evening bus? No idea. Maybe it was the only one. She wanted to make out in one of the back seats, and it got so hot and heavy I felt like people were starting to look, but I guess the kind of people who take the night bus to Hannibal were used to this kind of thing. Still, I was embarrassed and made her stop.


The old bridge at Hannibal — gone now

So we arrive in Hannibal and it’s about nine, I guess, and dark, and it turns out there are no rooms (my travel karma). We eat something at the Maid-Rite Diner, but then we have to walk across this bridge (now demolished) to Illinois in the dark and get a room at the motel over there (also now demolished). It feels dangerous crossing the Mississippi on that bridge in the dark. We’re laughing over it, or at least she is, and we run the last fifty yards to hit solid land before we get pancaked by a semi. I sit out on a grassy hillside while she goes in to get the room because she has a credit card and I don’t and we feel like if we both go in they won’t give us the room. I was channeling Benjamin Braddock big time.

That’s when, as I looked across the river at the modest lights of Hannibal, I thought of Mark Twain and what he’d make of my illicit tryst in some sleazy mothball-smelling motel room in Illinois, a twentieth-century Huck Finn about to get himself into a real fix. I could just about make out Samuel’s head and shoulders looming over the orange clouds behind his hometown, roaring with laughter at what I thought was illicit and at the idea anybody would give a care what kind of jollification this lunkhead and the shoplifting photographer might indulge in behind closed doors. He had a point.

The girl waved me over, dangling a key like it promised such earthly delights I couldn’t begin to resist, but I could swear as I trotted toward her that I heard a voice in the air offering some paternal advice. “Best keep your undress uniform on, boy,” he said, meaning my long johns, “and be ready to absquatulate at the first sign of the law.”

This is probably the best advice anybody ever gave me; it suits more scenarios than the one I was stumbling into. And because the room was scuzzier than either of us expected, we wound up sleeping in our clothes and leaving in the morning at first light.

Thanks to MT, I like to think, I broke up with that girl a couple of weeks later.

Bridge photo By Xnatedawgx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.


9 comments on “Strife on the Mississippi

  1. pinklightsabre
    January 31, 2017

    Oh, how the writer voice thinks and talks, that’s funny, you thought like that. Or how much of this is the You Voice Now animating itself in the body of You then? Sorry, that’s a bit ‘crystal caressing’ of me there. I love these vignettes, though. And we’re on a strange shared frequency because I referenced Twain in a comment to Lynn Love this morning, about serializing her blog posts.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 31, 2017

      I’m sure I had Twain on the brain at the time, since he’s ever-present in Hannibal. I don’t think I imagined his practical advice, though.

      I hope I never visit Kafka’s hometown!

      • pinklightsabre
        January 31, 2017

        You probably have (isn’t Kafka from Prague?). Bill

      • Kevin Brennan
        January 31, 2017

        Never got to Prague, somehow. Ran out of money in Vienna. Prague is still on the bucket list, though.

  2. islandeditions
    January 31, 2017

    Am loving these stories of earlier-life Kevin!

  3. John W. Howell
    January 31, 2017

    Another captivating story, Kevin. I could feel the reluctance sap your desire. 😀

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