Nag Champa, a scent that carries memory. It’s autumn 1993. I’m 18, not getting ready to go off for college.
I have a job at Perkins picking up after everyone else. Friends from school hang out till 4 am choking the smoking section with quotes from Monty Python and Nietzsche, sucking down coffee creamers and bending spoons into neckties. I talk too loud, give myself away to customers who shouldn’t be listening, turn red, laugh it off.
The manager, just two years ahead of me in school and locally famous for organizing punk shows at TT’s Hotspot calls me over to where he’s standing on a ladder. He unscrews a light bulb, hands it down, “Fix this, would ya?” he says.
At 7 am I leave carrying an overburdened bag stuffed with a uniform and waitstaff training books. I walk along Milton Avenue. It’s the weekend, traffic is light. A cop car pulls ahead of me into the parking lot of the KFC. He demands my ID. I think, only in Janesville do you get pulled over for walking. “You fit the description of a runaway,” he says.