Gus was rejected. Again. Can rejection be both a noun and a verb? I was rejected, and they sent me a rejection. Yeah, I guess it can. Only I didn’t even get a rejection. I just checked the list of people who were accepted, and I wasn’t one of them. If you’re not accepted, you’re rejected.
And it wasn’t me directly who ended up rejected. It was the story that I had written. Is that last sentence correct? Or should it be, “The story I had written was rejected.”? That’s more proper, but they both get the idea across.
The story was one that I had worked on for a long time. I had honed it and polished it. I had written and erased and added and cut and rearranged. I worked on it. I felt as if I had breathed life into it.
And they rejected it. After almost three months of deliberation, and each day bringing me that much closer to believing that they wanted it, I got my rejection.
My discovery of rejection happened on a cloudy-dark and cold day. The clouds were rain clouds, the first I’ve seen in a month. They were heavy with unspent moisture, and the wind, coming from the southeast, hurled them across the sun and the sky. There were patches of blue seen obliquely between the black and sullen clouds.
But would clouds really be sullen with the wind tossing them around like that? More likely they’d be shouting, roaring with glee, begging to be thrown further and faster than any cloud had ever been flung before! So perhaps it was my mood that was sullen and heavy, and I was projecting that onto the clouds, my clouds, brother clouds. I wanted them to be sullen and heavy and dark, and follow me wherever I went.
After a couple of hours of walking in and out of the house, half-heartedly beginning little chores, my friend, P, mentioned that she could see those clouds following me, and that there were waves of darkness rolling off of me. Good, I thought. P mentioned that maybe I should get out, maybe go for a bike ride. I looked at the sky and thought, yes, a bike ride would be perfect. Maybe it will rain. I hope it does rain.
I packed a few things in my bike. I took the requisite notebook and pen, my old iPod, some fruit and water. I dressed sensibly, in layers. I wore a wicking undershirt covered by a fleece. A fleece in the middle of July. How could it be this cold? I biked down to the trail and headed into the wind. The one thing I’ve learned over the years was that it’s good to begin a trip into the wind. It makes the return trip easier.
During the first mile I almost turned back. I didn’t know where I was going anyway. But my legs warmed up and I decided to keep going. The trees around me whipped back and forth, and small dry branches broke off here and there, falling onto the trail. Along the bluffs a flock of buzzards seemed to be playing in the wind, letting it take them higher and higher, then plunging hard and fast toward the ground and swooping suddenly to slice along the edge of the bluff and out of sight.
I pedalled along, head down against the wind. I rolled over bridges and past the former town of Podunk. There really was a town named Podunk? Well, it was more of a whistle stop, but all that remains now is an old stone potato storage shed beside what use to be the railroad tracks. It’s an interesting structure, with walls two-feet thick. It’s been converted into a hunting cabin, or just a weekend hideaway.
I finally rolled into LaValle. There were some cars gathered down by the River Mill, and I imagined people inside, nursing drinks, huddling out of the wind, maybe talking about sports and laughing together. They might have shots of something warming, maybe some sipping whiskey to take the chill from their bones.
I stood at the crossroads and stared down the street for a while. Then I biked down to the little local library. They have a wifi hotspot. I stood outside and checked my email on the iPod. There was an email from P. “How ya doing?” “Doing great” I replied. I got back on my bike and leaned back into the wind. My stomach was empty, but I didn’t want any of my stupid fruit.
I had a destination in mind now. I was going to bike to the Corner Pub in Reedsburg. I was going to order a porter and sit in the corner and write. A porter sounded good on such a cold and windy day. Maybe a burger a little later. I pushed on against the wind. In a few places the river cut in close to the trail. There were ripples on the water, little splashing whitecaps, even down there in the protection of the close-growing trees.
There were other bikers on the trail. There were single people, couples, and families, scattered along the way. I made sure to smile and say hi. Some of them seemed to be having fun, some were just working at it. I saw a person up ahead, walking away from me. It was a woman. I called out from a distance. I didn’t want to startle her. There was no reaction. I called out as I got closer, then again. Still no reaction. I slowed to pass and saw that she had ear buds in, listening to something that was not her surroundings.
It must have been close to noon when I got to Reedsburg. I biked to the Corner Pub. I walked the bike around to the front where there was a bike rack. It was full. Full of kids bikes, BMX style bikes. I looked in the big plate glass windows. There was a sea of little league uniforms inside, packed from wall to wall, along with their parents. There was no place to sit, no hope for a quiet corner. Pete stood at the grill in the front window, tending to rows of burgers. He saw me. He nodded and shrugged at the same time. I waved back and got back on my bike. I waited for a break in traffic, then headed across town.
I had thought I’d go to J’s at the other end of town. Yes, it’s really called, “J’s” I thought, maybe there I could find a corner to hide in. Then I got to wondering about their beer choices, and wondering how welcome or comfortable I might feel there. Halfway there I turned around. I biked back downtown and stopped at the Deli Bean. I ordered a sandwich and water. Marilyn, who owns the Deli Bean with her husband, Mohammed, was working at the counter. She seemed happy to see me, but it didn’t really lift the clouds. Sometimes a guy just doesn’t want those clouds to lift.
My uncle had a theory that Hell might be that way, in which we would just sit and refuse any comfort, maybe even be unable to accept it if it was offered. That seems like a description of depression to ol’ Gus.
I like the food at the Deli Bean. It’s mostly sandwiches, and some soups. But they’re all good, and have some imagination to them, and even flavor and spice. They have a turkey-and-chutney sandwich, muffaletta, roasted veggie. They make a very nice french onion soup, and in the summertime you can get freshly made gazpacho. And on quiet days it’s always fun to chat with Marilyn and Mohammed. Politics can get pretty lively in there.
Today it was was kind of busy. Reedsburg was having its sidewalk sale weekend, so people were coming and going the entire time I was there. I sat over by the window with my pork carnita panini. It was good, and mildly spicy. It warmed my belly. I watched the people, notebook in hand but not writing anything. The people were happily shopping, and almost everyone had a bag or package in their hand. But Gus wasn’t doing any shopping. Gus had raided the small change jar to make this trip.
Gus hasn’t been working much these days, for various reasons. But there was a job coming up in another week, tearing off old siding and putting on new. It looked like about two weeks worth of work with Gus’s friend, S. We used to drink together back in the day. We even worked together years later. I always enjoyed it. And I was looking forward to making a few bucks again. I tried to feel good about it, but the clouds stayed.
I finished my sandwich and got up to leave. Marilyn was talking to a friend about things she hates. She is able to do this while laughing at the same time. And partway through her list she saw me waiting to get past her to leave. She laughed again and said, “But I really like you, Gus!”
Well that was a nice thing to hear. I climbed back on my bike, feeling a little better. I headed back west, toward home.
The wind was at my back now, blowing me down the trail. But the sitting had stiffened me up a little. It took some time to work the kinks out. The air, instead of growing warmer as the day progressed, seemed to get colder. The clouds gathered, and halfway to LaValle the rain came down. It was a cold rain, and felt like icy pebbles beating on my fingers as they gripped the handlebars. I tried to upshift, but my legs didn’t like it. So I kept my head down and pressed on through the rain.
I finally reached LaValle, and biked down to the library again to have a drink of water under the awning. There was another email from P, wanting to know how I was, and would I need a ride. No, I was fine. Gus got back on his bike, put his head down and slogged down the trail. For exactly two blocks. Screw this. He turned around and biked straight to the River Mill. He sat down and ordered a Moon Man ale. And emailed to P, yes, I’ll take that ride. I’ll buy you a beer.
When Gus arrived home, there was another email waiting for him. The siding job was off. The owner of the house had decided to be the help. Rejected again.
Reading over this post, I know it’s a somber one. Well, it’s about rejection. But for some reason, Gus never stays down for very long. Since then I did some other work, got back in the money, and that was good. I sat down the next day with the Writer’s Market to see where else I can send my work. I don’t even care if it pays or not. I just want to be accepted in something beside my own blog. I know I can do it. And this makes Gus feel pretty good, just knowing that he’s doing something besides riding under his own dark clouds.
And a final note. Since I started typing this up, Mike, the owner of the River Mill died. Mike was a genial and jovial man, who laughed easily. Mike made up the personality of the River Mill, and his staff reflect his nature. It’s hard to imagine the place without him. I’ll admit that I was on the outer fringes of his acquaintances, but he always recognized me, and passed the time of day when things were quiet. Very often a few friendly words with a near-stranger can brighten a person’s day as much as the sun unexpectedly breaking and beaming through stormy clouds.