My breath fogs the windshield, and for the life of me, I can never remember if I’m supposed to turn the heat up or down for that. This will be my third winter with a license. Well, once it is winter. But there’s time. I haven’t passed a single car and there are no headlights as far as the eye can see; I’ll have nothing but time tonight.
I check the rearview mirror one last time for cops, and then I hit the brakes, easing off the road and up to the forest line. I pull the keys out of the ignition, grab my backpack from the passenger seat, and flip the headlights off—I forgot that last time. I got halfway up before I realized, and I had to climb all the way back down, all while a pair of headlights were approaching in the distance. State trooper. Told her I almost hit a deer, and that’s why I was in the ditch, out of breath, and—unbeknown to her—toting a bag filled with spray paint. I didn’t get the chance to finish last year. This year will be different.
Headlights off. Next step, the billboard lights. They make the control box as much of a pain in the ass to get into as they possibly can. Last time I opened it up and it was nothing but circuits, so I took a few educated guesses. Wouldn’t you know it, they worked. But this time I have a more elegant solution.
The geniuses made this box out of indestructium, yet amazingly enough, the wire leading up from it is coated in nothing but plastic. No spotlight for me tonight, but during rush hour tomorrow, my work will have center stage.
I sniffle as I climb up the pegs. I’ll have to add that to my pocket list for the winter: keys, jackknife, wallet, tissue. And chapstick. Last winter, I learned that my lips had spent many snowy seasons in undue agony. But I’ve learned to help things like that. Hence why I’m up here.
I pull myself up onto the platform, then place foot in front of foot, running my hand along my canvas. Hopefully the law firm won’t mind if I borrow some of their ad space. They’ll take it down either way, but in the meantime, maybe they’ll appreciate the artistry.
Gripping the side of the billboard, I gaze out at my homeland of Wisconsin. Absolutely terrible. Well, the stars are pretty and all. I wish I could say the same for the people, but what they lack in looks, at least they make up for in cynicism. It’s a coping mechanism, really. Winter sucks, so hey, why fight it? Let’s make our personalities match the weather; let’s make ourselves cold and bitter and hope for the best.
The best hasn’t happened yet. It’s gotten us by and we’ve even managed to laugh about it, but self-deprecating humor only works for so long before there’s nothing left to take away. I unzip my bag.
I give the first can a shake, and reach up as high as I can while applying the white coat. First a big, solid circle, right in the center. Then I walk the platform from one end to the other, filling in a wide box underneath my professional, lopsided, almost-round shape. It’s alright. This coat is just the base anyways. Winter here has taught me that as redundant as it feels, it’s better to dress in layers. I toss the can back in my bag and take one last look over my shoulder for headlights.
Next comes the black. A quick few shakes lead to a quick few shapes as I work atop the circle. After that come the letters underneath, and as the spray paint mixes with my icy breath, I laugh to myself. Perfect timing.
I climb down, then work whatever duct tape magic I can on the severed wire. The heat blasts as I pull back onto the road—foggy windows be damned.
A quick glance into the rearview mirror shows my handiwork. And I’m proud of it. I really am.
Try to smile today
© Ray Underscore Thompson, October 2015