Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Mystery of Adjective Noun Road

Among all the other problems I have with my family, I frequently feel like I’m the only one who remembers things. The rest of them might state the problem as “Drew doesn’t remember important things,” and that’s true — I don’t, resulting in awkward situations such as “No, I don’t recall the directions for how to get to this place I haven’t been to since I was a kid” and “What do you mean she died?” and “Louise who?” However, the one thing I have on the rest of my family is the ability to remember the weird stuff — stories about strange, unexplained happenings that I can relive vividly but which everyone seems to have pushed out of their minds.

For example, I have the clearest memory of playing on the lawn with my brother when I was maybe seven. It was late enough to be dark, and my parents were in the midst of a dinner party inside. I spotted the family dog hurrying off into the recesses of the property with something in his mouth. My brother and I chased after him, but the dog wasn’t having it; whatever he had he wanted to keep to himself. Eventually we cornered him and got a look at his prize: I said out loud, “I think he caught a bird,” then reaching down to pull it away from him. It wasn’t a bird. It was a deer’s head. And the head had been cleanly removed from the rest of the animal’s body. I remember dropping it. I remember the noise it made on the grass. My brother decided we should probably tell our dad, and I even remember standing on the edge of the dining room while my brother went over to my dad, at the head of the table, and discreetly told him what we’d found. I remember the look on my dad’s face.

But here’s the weird part (and no, in this version of the story, finding a deer’s head that had been cut off from its body, clearly by a human clearly using some kind of sharp instrument, is not the weird part): My brother has no recollection of this happening. My mom doesn’t either, though to be honest we may never have told her. “Don’t tell Mom” could have been stitched on a sampler and hung above our fireplace. Only my dad retains any memory of this incident — he thinks he tossed the head over the fence, washed his hands and then returned to dinner, but he’s not even sure — and to me, that seems so very strange, because the whole scene, start to finish, was surprising and horrifying and mysterious. It left a big impression on me.

There are larger implications to this incident. I, uniquely even in the context of my extended family, am the only one who seems to think that anything out of the ordinary is immediately more interesting and probably better than whatever standard-issue thing everyone else has. This has likely shaped my life to some degree. This has likely shaped my family’s opinion of me to some degree as well

I have written this lengthy preface just to get to a weird, vaguely Halloween-appropriate story I have that I, once again, am the only one of my (surviving) family members who remembers anything about. And while yes, that does seem like something an unreliable narrator might say, that’s the case and I blame this uneven distribution of memories on my family’s preoccupation with sports, dynastic families in my hometown, people whose relatives I apparently attended high school with and this Louise person, whom I’m not sure I’ve met.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents — that is, my American grandparents, my mother’s parents — and this is not strictly a result of the fact that they had a pool which I loved dearly and now miss dearly. On more than one occasion when I was at their house, I heard my grandmother answer the phone and speak something along the lines of the following: “Hello? Oh, hello, Sam. No, we don’t want any potatoes today. But you have a good day!” And the she’d hang up. Her response would vary from call to call. Sam would be George or Bob or Joe, and potatoes would be pineapples or rutabagas or cabbages. This happened a lot — like, over the span of several years — and every time I’d ask, my grandmother would dismiss my questions. The most I ever got was, “Oh, that’s just someone who calls a lot, and that’s how your grandfather told me to deal with him.” This quickly became a mystery I fixated on, Nancy Drew-style — and yes, I realize the implications of that phrase and shut up — but it was something my brother had literally never noticed. I’d point out to him, “That guy called again,” but he never seemed to retain any memory of it having happened before.

One day, I was swimming in the pool without my brother, and my grandmother, who was watching me swim (and covertly napping), had to attend to some friend who was delivering some parcel that apparently required the cooperation of two old ladies to bring inside. My grandmother told me, “Don’t use the diving board and just be safe,” and left me in the pool alone. For grandchildren-watching purposes specifically, my grandparents had had a telephone installed by the pool — like Hollywood movie stars or something — and while my grandmother was out on the street, helping her friend, the phone rang. It was in the same early afternoon span of time that the vegetable man would always call, and I realized that this provided me a unique opportunity.

I got out of the pool and answered the phone, and to this day, I can remember the conversation vividly.

“Is Ray there?” the man on the other end eventually responded when I picked up.

I lied. “He’s busy. Can I take a message?”

“Tell him that I have something for him, and he should come out to Old Stage Road.”

“Where on Old Stage Road do you want him to go?”

“There is only one house. He knows where.”

“Okay.”

Then there was a pause. And then the man spoke again. “Which one of his grandsons is this?”

I hung up the phone and ran back to the safety of the pool. To this day, when I think about the man on the other end of the call knowing that Ray had grandsons and that I was one of them, I get goosebumps.

I need to break the narrative for a second and point out that the street the man mentioned isn’t Old Stage Road, which is an old country backroad that connects San Juan Bautista and Salinas and which has many houses on it. The street the man said sounded similar, however: It followed that pattern of [adjective] + [noun] — like Lone Pine Road or Red Oak Road or Big Rock Road or something. I’ll get back to my inability to remember in a moment.

Eventually, I got out of the pool and dried off and told my grandmother I’d talked to the vegetable man, and she was visibly disturbed by this. She asked what he’d told me and what I’d told him. “Don’t tell your grandfather that you spoke to him,” she said. “And don’t tell your mother either.” (See, I told you this was a recurring theme.)

A few years later, my grandfather was driving me back from a golf lesson — this was a thing that some family members believed I should do, at one point, for reasons I still don’t understand — and I asked him about the phone calls, which to my knowledge had stopped. My grandfather asked how I knew about these, and I explained everything I’d overheard. He told me the calls had become less frequent but still happened from time to time, still with the same message, and that I shouldn’t worry about them.

My grandfather died during my sophomore year of high school, shortly before I got my driver’s license, and I can remember sitting in the pew at his funeral and thinking that as soon as I could drive myself, I was going to find Adjective Noun Road and knock on the door of the one house that existed there. And I’d go in — maybe with a friend, maybe with a cover story, maybe like Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar in I Know What You Did Last Summer, when they lie their way into interrogating Anne Heche (and hey, come on, it was 1997 and I was a dumb teenager with a narrow frame of pop cultural references). And once I’d gotten enough out of these people, I’d demand they tell me why they called and called and called and what they could possibly have had to do with my grandfather.

After I got my license, however, I didn’t think about those calls again until later in high school, when it suddenly popped into my head that I’d never Nancy Drewed this mystery. One catch: I could no longer remember the name of the road. (I told you that I forget the important stuff.) I got my hands on a Thomas Guide and scanned the list of streets. Nothing. Not one of them jogged my memory with “That’s the place I need to go.” I asked my grandmother. She told me she didn’t know.

Just today, this whole weird story popped into my head again. I have no idea why. I texted my brother, who still lives in my hometown and has a better memory for key details such as street names, and I asked if he knew of any Adjective Noun Roads with only one house of them. He didn’t, though I realize that it’s been more than twenty years since the call I answered and there’s more than a small chance that this mystery road might now have more than one home on it. I asked my brother if he remembered the strange phone calls that our grandparents used to get. He said he didn’t.

Today, I’m thirty-three years old and I live in Los Angeles. I write for a living, and in theory I have the time to investigate mysteries and find out everything about them and then write it all out in an engaging fashion. It is very strange to me to be sitting at my kitchen table — which, notably, was once my grandparents’ kitchen table — and recall all this and realize that the mystery is essentially unsolvable. I can look over maps and ask my family if they might remember anything that could be helpful, but it hasn’t proven effective in the last decade, and I’m not hopeful that it will suddenly jog anyone’s memory as time moves forward.

It still have a profound reaction to thinking about when that man asked which grandson I was.

I’m glad I did’t tell him.

I hope he’s dead now.

I don’t regret saying that.


And there’s part of me that wonders if it was self-protective that I couldn’t remember the name of that road. Having it be hopelessly on the tip of my tongue for the last seventeen years could have easily prevented me from walking directly into a place that one or maybe both my grandparents seemed to take pains to dissuade me from visiting.

It may be better to forget. I still remember that deer head vividly, though.

(Something to contemplate.)

3 comments:

  1. Both of these stories are incredibly Lynchian.

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  2. You're such a great writer. I hope one day you remember the name of that road.

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  3. Just stumbled into my own Noun Adjective Road.

    Earlier tonight my roommate knocked on my door and handed me an envelope. I'm not one to receive mail, especially at this address - which I moved to only a few months ago and haven't had any reason to give the address to anyone - so I assumed it was a bill (which would be strange in its own right, because no bills that would come to this address are in my name). But it wasn't a bill.

    It was a yellow envelope, and right there in a handwriting I didn't recognize was my name and address. There was, of course, no return address, and furthermore, it had Canadian postage. I found out later the postal code belonged to Toronto. That didn't help.

    Already perplexed, I cautiously opened the letter. Inside, I found a folded piece of paper with an attached post-it that read - again, in a handwriting I didn't recognize and didn't seem to match the handwriting on the envelope - "Finally found it! Banned from Bratelli to Solberg, and here's proof it actually exists!" I have no idea what the "it" is.

    So I unfolded the piece of paper and it turned out to be a comics page...in Norwegian. On one side was a page of your typical comic book ads (they seem to be universal), including the fantastic "kengarumaske", which, as you might guess, is a kangaroo mask. On the other side was one page of what seems to be a sci-fi horror comic.

    Even after seeing the page, I don't know what the "it" is referring to, or why it was banned. I don't know anyone in Toronto. I don't know who I would've been talking to about a banned Norwegian comic, nor do I have any recollection doing so. And I didn't know what "from Bratelli to Solberg" could mean, though I eventually learned those are two Norwegian prime ministers.

    That doesn't help.

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