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In Search Of Milk And Other Things In Outer Burbia

Photo by L. Salkin

The search for milk in outer burbia yields many prospects but few rewards: on the corner, a produce stand with fruit and vegetables, but no dairy.

There’s gotta be a deli around here somewhere.

But “gotta be’s” don’t reflect reality — a vast bucolic landscape stretches alongside the road and beyond it. Industry is an understudy to nature here.

Occasionally, a building appears then fades into asphalt sky: a veterinarian hospital on the left, a mulch distributor on the right.

Another long sweep through an overhang of shadows in the late afternoon sky gives way to more scenic greenery. But there’s not a deli or mini-mart in sight. They’re endangered species on remote country roads.

Maybe I need a cow.

People around here probably have cows instead of stores. Yet, the distant road doesn’t look promising for milk dispensaries of any kind.

The cows must be hiding.

Maybe they’re so rare their cow parents keep them hidden inside the house where the refrigerator used to be.

Back in the old days, dwelling in the folds of inner suburbia, there was practically a deli on every corner, tiny islands of food and dairy. A mini-mart here. A mom and pop store there.

At night, lights brightened the dark streets below. (It’s never really night in suburbia.) Places are easy to find. Milk abundant, white like the lights cascading through darkness.

That was 18 years ago when youth held hope and the future seemed like flashes from a waking dream. The years passed by, wispy images in the rearview mirror lingering like dust trails in sunlight.

Yet, I always had milk with my morning coffee.

Even as fantasies of an interview with Oprah, touting the release of my latest book, choked in the overgrown weeds outside my window — there would always be milk or cream in the green room, but not for me.

I was destined to travel a road devoid of the things I need: a day on the lake, an Overlook with an ocean view, a coffee klatch with southern comfort friends, a focus friendly rest stop to gain perspective on the past. Out here, there’s nothing for me unless my tire gets flat — there’s a garage for that!

But no milk or cows. They’re ghosts on the road.

Like my dreams don’t coexist with reality, the hope of finding what I need eludes me.

All the faded places I pass on the road are left behind, rusty wrecks falling apart on weathered tar, miles away from the montage of colors that appear so close, yet are so intangibly far.

Another road mirage disappears on approach. It’s the end of the day and I’m no closer to a milk oasis.

The cows are home, and I’m still outside searching for vitamin D. An udder disaster. But my GPS knows where to go, and I keep following the road, hoping for a glimpse of a deli or Deja Vous moment that led me here.

Life’s unintended obstacles: a family crisis required a force of nurture to rebuke a grade school bureaucracy and a complicit doctor, to right the wrongs they wrought upon my son.

Time and a dwindling emotional expenditure spent on protecting my son from a school more concerned with its grade point average than a student’s need for special services. They were aided by the insurance company’s database shrink whose need to ingratiate himself to school officials outweighed the need to help my son.

I would do it all over again. He grew up good in spite of the education gremlins.

Sometimes dreams need to go on hiatus to make way for more important things.

And now my dreams lie on the side of the road with other discarded items tossed out the window. But they’re never completely lost. Contrary to the deficit of milk and cows, other elusive things can be found if you take the time to look for them.

I’m resilient and tenacious and my GPS knows where to go. Maybe I’ll find a mini-mart yet.