Obituary #3: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Mike Banta has been born again, hard. He tells me and my kids that the Holy Spirit has been convicting him to renounce his record collection, album by album.

“The Savior tests our hearts, don’t He?” he asks us. “‘Lay down your idols,’ the Word says.”

Mmm, we say.

Mike works at Community Lanes, where we've come to bowl.

“God forgives our sins but not their consequences,” he says to me in particular. “Amen?”

Mmm, I say.

He looks for a long moment at my youngest, Ben, who looks the most like I did in high school, when I had more to be forgiven for.

“You ever take marijuana, brother?” Banta asks him.

“What, like smoke it?” Ben says.

“Mmm,” he says.

Mike pushes his bangs out of the way. I bet he’s put on thirty pounds since he drowned. His brothers said he looked like fat John Fogerty when the body was finally recovered. But still the chipped front tooth where he hit it on the curb when we were kids. Still the down vest and corduroy Levi’s jacket he'd worn since elementary school. Still the thin brown hair parted down the middle and feathered back like wings. Still the ghost of a moustache.

He and I were best friends. We were in the back of a school bus returning from an eighth-grade rafting trip when our history teacher left his seat behind the driver and walked down the aisle to tell us what he’d just heard on the radio: a plane had crashed and Leonard Skinnard was dead. He meant Lynyrd Skynyrd and he meant Ronnie, but he was right anyway. Skynyrd was dead.

God made time stand still. At the mention of the news, Mike and I looked at each other like our mouths were over water but we couldn’t drink.

Skynyrd, man,” we kept saying.

Banta asks my kids what size shoes they need. They tell him. He finds each pair in its cubby. Carries the pairs by the tongues. Sets them on the counter. Stretches the laces loose with a tug. With a professional flair, he turns the shoes around heels first and slides them across the counter to my daughter, my son, my son.  

“How about you, brother?” he asks me.

I hold up my bowling ball bag from the ‘70s, a parched pair of bowling shoes tied to the handles.

“All set,” I say.

He tips the invisible bill of the Pioneer Seed hat he used to always wear. We all give him a nod.  

“A good good evening,” he says.

You, too, we say, and we walk off through the nearly empty building.  

This place is dead. Bowling is dead. Skynyrd’s dead. Mike's dead.

Even the ancient ceiling fans are spinning listlessly over these lanes, like the alley’s engines have been cut and we’re all just riding air now.

Bird Report

{Pay attention to dead birds. Goldfinch. Dead in the road. Lying on side, peacefully. A hawk—mashed and splayed. Violent crash landing.

Pay attention to which birds perch on wires and which don’t. Doves always. Starlings always. In the summer, swallows—choirs of them. Two wires. Two rows. Etc. Kestrals. Always just one—and never stays perched when my car approaches. Right before I pass: leaps from the line like an athlete off the bench.}