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Music Story

Winter Has Come For The Young

When I was in Colombia during the fall of 2010, I listened to the album All Those I Know by the Milwaukee indie-pop band Eric & Magill a lot. I was particularly fond of the song “Old Man Winter,” which to me embodied the album’s ethereal, melancholic style. I was so inspired, in fact, that I wrote a very short story/script based on that song about an unnamed couple that reconnects for the first time after a falling-out.

I wanted eventually to turn it into a short film, with “Old Man Winter” serving as the short’s bookends (I copped the story’s title from the song lyrics). The short film never happened, but the story remained buried in my personal files – until now. Maybe the short film will happen one day. But until then, here is the story in its script form.

Winter Has Come For The Young

Midday. Overcast. Snow. The woman sits inside, holding her book on the stairs near the door, aloof. The man comes out of the stairwell and walks toward the door. He sees her and pauses for a moment, then continues out the door.

She sees him as he walks outside. As he walks down the front steps she packs up quickly and follows him out. He’s gearing up outside when she approaches. He’s cold to her.

WOMAN: I hate the cold.

MAN: I know. Once you’re outside, there’s no escape. Some people don’t like that feeling. … But I’ve learned to live with it.

WOMAN: I’ve seen you around.

MAN: Just trying to crowd the hours.

She wants to say what she wants to say but holds back.

WOMAN: Would you want to get a coffee with me?

He thinks about it. What does she want? Is this a good idea? Better than the status quo.

MAN: OK.

They start walking. Cut to walking out of a coffeehouse with their drinks.

MAN: Where to?

WOMAN: I know a place.

They walk around the corner. He keeps his distance. They arrive at the river. They stand in silence, looking at the snow and the river.

MAN: Why did we come here?

WOMAN: It’s beautiful.

MAN: Why did we really come here?

WOMAN: I want to talk to you.

MAN: So talk.

A pause.

WOMAN: How are you?

MAN: As good as can be expected.

WOMAN: I love you.

MAN: (coldly) As much as can be expected.

WOMAN: I said I love you.

MAN: I heard you.

WOMAN: I mean it.

MAN: Actions speak louder than words.

Pause.

WOMAN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It makes me sick and ashamed and cold. I can’t work. I can’t sleep. … God, I hate the cold.

MAN: I know. There’s no escape, is there?

WOMAN: What can I do? I’ll do it. What can I do?

She looks at him. He looks at the river. Is it worth it? Is she worth it? She gently takes hold of his face. They’re eye to eye. He makes his decision.

He breaks her grasp and turns around and walks away, leaving a trail of his fogged breath. She’s surprised and her face drops. As he walks away, she blurts it out.

WOMAN: You left your jacket at my place. I sleep with it every night just so I can feel close to you. It smells like summer at the cabin.

MAN: We were in love then.

He turns around to look at her. She approaches.

WOMAN: I’m no saint. And neither are you. I made a mistake that I’ll regret as long as I live. But it taught me that real love is about crawling through all the shit together, no matter how dirty it gets.

They’re standing face to face.

WOMAN: Your move.

They look at each other. Finally:

MAN: I’m freezing. Let’s get out of this cold.

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Etc. Life Story

On The River

The sky is clear and the air is clear and the air smells clean. So clean. The wilderness of northern Wisconsin is still very wild. Evergreens clog the air. It’s perfect, this time of summer. Glory defined, with a high of 75. And it’s a perfect time to ride the Brule River, which snakes through the thick woods all the way to Lake Superior.

I’m in a yellow kayak, the kayak eroded by age and water, sliding smoothly down the river. It was so clear I could see the bottom. If only there were mountains peeking over those tall evergreens. My paddle takes another dip, leaving a tiny tornado in its wake. I round another wide bend, avoiding a felled tree protruding from the shrub-choked shore. The steady current gently pushes me along, like a raindrop on a window. I lean back in my kayak and close my eyes and smell the air ambling by. Surely there is nothing better than this.

I open my eyes and the treetops are looking back at me. A lone cloud follows me down the river. I sit up and paddle some more. Another bend approaches. On my right in an opening to the woods, a doe’s head shoots up. Her ears twitch. I pass slowly, admiring her grace, as two fawns emerge from the woods and flank their mom. The family’s out for a walk.

The bend nears. I maneuver around a portly boulder. From farther away it seemed slight, but now I see how deep it extends. My very own summer iceberg. The rocks closer to the surface scrape the bottom of my kayak. Around the bend, a cliff of rocks and weeds looms over a sandy shore. Two ducks meander, nibbling just below the surface for snacks. Past the sand, the river straightened back out into a crystalline path.

I think of Colorado. On vacation with my family two years before, we had rafted down the Colorado River, where the whitewaters made you work hard to stay afloat. We had drifted through a serene sandstone canyon and fought through feral rapids. We had driven ATVs deep into the Great Divide, a vast stretch of mountains and plains that unites a continent. And I had ridden bicycles with my dad down a mountain, zipping back and forth across its face, trying not to careen off the path. I saw the views at the end of each of those adventures. Views I told myself I would see again someday.

A small rapid beckons me ahead. Only a few turns. I paddle hard. Approaching the brink, I start paddling one way but the rapid pulls me the other. My kayak slams one rock and bounces over another. I stab my paddle into the cold water between two rocks and pull myself past the boulders. My kayak continues on, steady and smooth. The battle over, I rest my paddle across my lap, smile and lay back.

I think about life on the river. Taking one of those week-long canoe trips where survival means a good paddle and the need for adventure. I could do something like that. I need to do something like that. It’s a test, really. A test of the limits of your courage. A lot of people take it. Kayaking rivers, biking down mountains, hiking hidden paths—conquering the unconquerable. When you venture miles into untamed land you feel untamed yourself. When you risk death to take on a raging river you feel alive. When you finally flee civilization and safety and risk losing something, you return to the best of yourself. Nature is funny that way.

I round another bend and see the rest of my group gathering at the load-in dock. Some are wading in the shallows, waiting for the stragglers. A girl jumps off a wood ledge and floats downstream for a few seconds before pulling herself back up. For those few seconds she had floated on her back and saw the same treetops I had seen. She was a dreamer.

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Etc. Life

Knife To Meet You

True story from NPR:

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”