no parking anytime

no parking anytime

Chikun­gunya, a virus. Land­ing in North Amer­ica. And hav­ing noth­ing to do with ‘Chick­a­munga’, the Uncle Tupelo song. Which is what I read when first see­ing the word.

The like­li­hood of never hear­ing ‘Chick­a­munga’ on the radio—or any­where else for that mat­ter, unless I put it on.

We did how­ever hear a few other gems in the truck today:

  • Twi­light Zone’ — Golden Earring
  • (Don’t Fear) the Reaper’ — BÖC
  • Crack­lin’ Rosie’ — Neil Diamond

We’ve a new­bie on board. Amber. Started last week. A bit of a dul­cet thing. Quiet and reserved, for most part. But begin­ning to loosen up. Daz, of course, has taken a shine to her. His usu­ally judge­men­tal man­ner has under­gone an agree­able change. He slips up now and again, lets his true col­ors paint long-winded opin­ions. But in gen­eral the tem­per in the cab is refresh­ingly jovial.

I’m not cer­tain Daz is aware Amber plays on her own team.

Nev­er­the­less, being wit­ness to his smit­ten­hood is enter­tain­ing. His tall lank­i­ness ever-bending and con­tort­ing to her much shorter stockiness.

And Leddy’s rad­i­cally toned down his out­bursts. He’s had noth­ing to say on Malaysian Air­lines 17. Or the lat­est in Gaza. Con­tent to scan the dailies and con­sider his bets in rel­a­tive silence. I think the only words he spoke today were, ‘Two a clock.’ In ref­er­ence to a car ahead of us in the right lane. A lichen-colored Smart Car. Licence plate 003.

Pecadil­loes are not in any way related to armadil­los, or even anteaters.

Had monthly crew talk yes­ter­day. Quite the scene — 40+ trucks descend­ing on a small yard, releas­ing their pay­load of 3–4 bod­ies. Orga­ni­za­tional shit­show. Tend to for­get what a large com­pany I work for. The talk itself was same old same old. Only after­wards I’m asked into Laura’s office for a quick chat. She asked me to have a seat. A round of smalltalk. If I was happy in my posi­tion etc. Then she asked if knew about the John­son job.

This would be the hun­dred mil­lion dol­lar house rumoured to start being built in the fall.

The com­pany landed install and two years main­te­nance. I said this was great. Which is when things got for­mal. She said the com­pany wants me on the project. And not just as a heavy lifter. She handed me some paper­work. Asked me to take it home and look it over.

Pro­posal is that I start with my own truck and crew for the rest of the sum­mer. Doing high end jobs. To get me up to speed etc. All very excit­ing, I sup­pose. Save that my gut reac­tion is to decline.

Dio­clet­ian didn’t wear under­wear. Nor do dalmatians.

The meet­ing took more than half an hour. By the time I got out the con­gre­ga­tion had dispersed—and all the donuts were gone. I walked the two blocks to the truck.

Leddy and Amber were stand­ing by the hood with their arms crossed. I didn’t see Daz and asked where he was. Leddy nod­ded to the wall I’d parked beside. Which was a large wood­plank receiv­ing door on tracks. It had an inset door that was half open. Above the smaller door a painted No Park­ing Any­time sign, over which ran a band of grimy win­dows. A cool com­po­si­tion, to my eye. So much so I moved the truck to take pictures.

For dad, who loves relics of any kind; for Liz, who’d see some­thing inspir­ing in the com­po­si­tion; and for Wendy, just because.

Unex­pected bonus: see­ing Daz run out in a panic, wav­ing his gan­gly arms over his head, yelling for us not to for­get him.

Not to men­tion the thought of armadil­los singing ‘Chick­a­munga’ to dalmatians.

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modulation on a summer’s theme

summer sun, morning

Over at Wendy’s. To fight the heat. She’s got an air con­di­tioner. Goes against my scru­ples. But my body’s on fire and my head’s an oven of rest­less thoughts. Too hot and both­ered to settle.

I’m down to my box­ers. Got a towel of ice around my neck. I can hear the Doris, the res­i­dent man­ager, laugh­ing down below. She likes noth­ing more on these hot days than lay­ing on a reclin­ing lawn­chair in the front lawn. Read­ing paper­backs. Sip­ping ciders. Smok­ing. Strik­ing up con­ver­sa­tions with who­ever hap­pens to pass. Her laugh­ter shrill and phlegmy. Like an antic crow on amphet­a­mines and a pack-a-day habit.

On the week­end she was out there hav­ing a yard sale. Set up clothes on the hedge and a sur­pris­ing array of junk on the lawn. Wendy and I were head­ing out for brunch. She got to talk­ing with Doris. To keep from impa­tience I scanned the goods. Shock of shocks I spied the unmis­tak­able white spines of Salinger books. Nes­tled in a lower cor­ner of a shelf of books cater­ing to thrillers and mys­ter­ies. All on sale for a buck a pop.

The Salinger books, all four of them, were in per­fect shape. Even Catcher didn’t appear to have ever been opened.

Never look a gift horse.

I plopped a 2o into Doris’ hand. Doris dug into her fanny pack for change. I waved her off, said they were in too good a con­di­tion to sell for so cheap. Doris still tried giv­ing me the change. I refused, say­ing she’d done me a favor by hav­ing them all. Doris relented on that and said they were Donnie’s.

A barely per­cep­ti­ble cloud began to form around the soft­ness of Doris’ eyes.

Oh, I said. And was about to ask after who this Don­nie was when Wendy made swift and stepped on my foot. For good mea­sure she pre­tended to fall into me, tug­ging on my arm in her inten­tional effort to stay upright.

Oops, she said. Sorry dear (her eyes plead­ing with me not to say another word).

Her plan worked to per­fec­tion. Doris instinc­tively lurched for­ward, asked if she was all right. Wendy laughed and blamed her flip-flops. Which got Doris laugh­ing and say­ing she never could wear the things.

I left the girls laugh­ing to take the books upstairs. When I went back down Wendy grabbed my hand and off we went.

On the way she explained that Don­nie was Doris’ son. He was killed about a decade ago. On a peace­keep­ing mis­sion in the Mid­dle East. He was every­thing to Doris. She still kept his stuff in his room. Which Wendy had seen the day she came to look at her apartment.

This rev­e­la­tion did lit­tle to alter my opin­ion of Doris. (She’s on the wonky side, for sure. Yet always in a good mood. Quick to laugh­ter. Gov­erned by a decent and char­i­ta­ble spirit. Never misses an oppor­tu­nity to say hello and offer her favorite words — ‘Have won­der­ful day!’) But it has made me mar­vel on her abil­ity to be who she is with­out faltering.

And there is her laugh­ter again. Cas­cad­ing through the mechan­i­cal hum of the air conditioner.

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loose laces and the like

bridge art

Wendy tells me about a woman she sees on her way to work. Each time she’s seen her the woman is car­ry­ing a take-out tray bear­ing a large cof­fee and an extra large foun­tain drink. Usu­ally with one hand. The woman walks slowly. With a painful-looking shuf­fle. She wears plat­form shoes that bring her up to about 5–5 (Wendy’s height). Her hair is cov­ered by a scarf or a beret. High col­lars hide her neck. Her hands are gloved. Large sun­glasses make a secret of her eyes. She often smokes long cig­a­rettes. Draw­ing atten­tion to her lip­stick, bright in con­trast to the unusual pale­ness of her heav­ily made up face. Which is what most intrigues Wendy. The face. Its ochre pal­lor. The lack of lines—no wrin­kles, yet not exactly smooth. No def­i­n­i­tion to the cheeks or jaw. A small nose that barely bumps. The chin hardly reg­is­ter­ing. In whole, a face that appears to hold no expres­sion. With skin that doesn’t look real.

I tell Wendy about the older gen­tle­man I some­times see when head­ing to the house on sunny after­noons. Lay­ing on the grass between side­walk and curb under the shade of a tulip tree. On his back on a white towel and a small pil­low. Knees up. Read­ing a sec­tion of news­pa­per. Beside him a neat pile of dou­bly folded sec­tions, pre­sum­ably read. He’s bald­ing but has a fine grey beard. His garb is, each time I’ve seen him, san­dals, jeans, open cor­duroy vest, long sleeve button-up rolled above elbows, a dressy watch on his left wrist and braided leather bracelet on his right, a sim­ple gold wed­ding band. His eyes are grey­ish blue and har­bour a quiet fatigue. As if the sun has stolen his resolve. His fore­head is deeply fur­rowed. The skin on his head/face/neck, arms and feet is evenly and darkly tanned. He’s thin but doesn’t appear under­fed. Given that the street is res­i­den­tial and the neigh­bour­hood more­or­less upper­class and some­what out of the way for tran­sients, I can’t imag­ine what his deal is.

Wendy tells me not to call her a nurse. She’s a radi­ol­o­gist. I have a lot of fun with this. Espe­cially when she’s naked.

I tell her in singsong about my day. The things that catch my eye. Native art under bridges. How peo­ple con­duct them­selves. The plants I take pic­tures of to aid in iden­ti­fy­ing later. Things peo­ple say. How it is that noth­ing comes from noth­ing. Except for that some­thing that must’ve started the whole she­bang. If in fact there ever was a time when there was nothing.

She tells me she wasn’t sure about approach­ing me. That I always seemed to be work­ing some­thing through.

I tell her I’m eas­ily distracted.

She tells me my note­book is like a col­lec­tion of scat­tered thoughts that seem connected.

I tell her it is.

She tells me she’s inter­ested in hear­ing more about Joshua’s dying wish. Like how he ends up dying. Or if he ever gets round to writ­ing anything.

I tell her that maybe it’s best that Con­stance finds him. Keeled over the type­writer. The page in the spool filled with para­graphs of non­sense. Only the last line leg­i­ble. Some­thing like: ‘Still and all, in the end, thanks to C., I lived a richer, fuller life than ever I could have imagined.’

She tells me she liked that I helped her move her stuff into her apart­ment. Par­tic­u­larly because I had only myself just moved in ear­lier that same day.

I tell her I like the way she puts her untied laces in their respec­tive shoes.

We tell each other some­thing of our sto­ries. Who we think we are. How we got here. And try to artic­u­late where we see our­selves going. What we think we want. The stuff we don’t think any­one else would be inter­ested in hearing.

Some­how this changes everything.

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knocknock

oak needle

The moon. Half waned. A mot­tled white stain daubed on the baby blue sky. It’s 5 in the morn­ing. I’m on the roof of my apart­ment. Lis­ten­ing to early birds. Perus­ing foolscap notes from last cou­ple weeks.

Solar road­ways.

The look on the face of the woman in the sta­tion. Stuck behind elderly man with cane walk­ing slowly.

China build­ing arti­fi­cial islands.

The pos­si­bil­ity of Russ­ian sci­en­tists res­ur­rect­ing Nikola Tesla’s War­den­clyffe Tower.

Tesla’s elec­tric car patents in tatters.

The brown house on the cor­ner down the hill. Where lives Mr Miller. Reput­edly an old coot. Once upon a time Liz and I used to play with his kids, Steven and Terry, in the big back yard. I remem­ber it used to have a sweet swingset and a long 4-plank fence with a framed gate. The gate posts remain. As does the frame­work of the swingset. But the fence is gone. And all that remains of the swings is var­ied lengths of hang­ing chain. In the dri­ve­way is parked a Road Ranger RV. Its tires flat. Licence plate out of date. I once went on a fish­ing trip in that RV. With Steven and Mr Miller. I caught my first fish on that trip. Couldn’t have been older than 10. Steven and I were good friends. Then we went to dif­fer­ent mid­dle schools. I have no idea what hap­pened to the Miller fam­ily. When it was that Mr Miller became an old coot. Or why. But the house reaches greater degrees of dis­re­pair each time I see it. This after­noon I saw a Hand­iBus parked along the long side of the house. I saw an old man with crutches hav­ing dif­fi­culty nego­ti­at­ing the front stairs. Refus­ing to accept the assis­tance of the care worker beside him. The old man’s cussing sounded noth­ing like what I remem­ber of Mr Miller. Who I recall as being highly com­pe­tent and deeply contemplative.

Shoot­ing sea­son being upon us.

The nee­dle stuck in the root flare of an oak tree. Sit­u­ated in green space attached to one of the more expen­sive hotels in town.

Band of rav­en­ous crows beaking at large bits of what can only be dried puke. On a well-buried stone. Along the side of a walk-in clinic. Where, on most days, shop­ping cart retail­ers dis­play their wares.

The fact that I left the nee­dle in the oak tree. Just to see if it would still be there the fol­low­ing week. Which it was. Leav­ing it another week. Again, just to see. Remov­ing it upon third visit after suf­fer­ing pangs conscience.

Streeter puppy cutely asleep amid clothes in open suit­case. Beside the suit­case a Guild acoustic. Bat­tered and miss­ing both E strings. Owner nowhere in sight.

The strange indif­fer­ence of our col­lec­tive disapproval.

Con­stance. Being the name of Joshua’s wife. Who abides by her husband’s dying wish.

Hav­ing no idea why I take note of such things.

Or why I made such a list:

Ask­ing for for­give­ness.
Break­ing down con­stituent parts.
Break­ing radio silence.

Chalk­ing a game of hop­scotch.
Drink­ing.
Eek­ing one’s way out of debt.
Fork­ing peas.
Jock­ey­ing for another in a series of self­ish impo­si­tions.
Kick­ing up an unwar­ranted fuss.
Knead­ing silly putty.
Link­ing metaphors.
Mask­ing the obvi­ous, delib­er­ately.
Mock­ing fuck up celebri­ties anony­mously, as if we could do any bet­ter.
Nick­ing your­self shav­ing.
Oink­ing.
Peek­ing when told not to.
Quick­en­ing the pace.
Risk­ing noth­ing but com­plain­ing about every­thing.
Soak­ing it up.
Speak­ing with­out inten­tion.
Stick­ing it out.
Tak­ing the edge off.
Vikings.
Wreak­ing, if you have noth­ing bet­ter to do, havoc.
Yank­ing weeds from wet soil.
Zonk­ing out.

Return­ing to my apart­ment this evening. Putting on Out­landos D’Amour. Prepar­ing to make the place halfway hab­it­able. Before the end of ‘Next to You’ a knock at the door.

Wendy from across the hall. Stand­ing there in her scrubs. Hair up in pony­tail. A back pack over her shoul­der. Keys in hand. Says she heard the music. Wanted to check on me. See how I’ve been. If every­thing is all right. Because I haven’t been around much.

Tell her I’ve been stay­ing at mom’s house. Tak­ing care of things. Her relief is vis­i­ble. ‘And there I’d thought maybe you’d gone and got your­self a girl­friend.’ Said with a gen­tly ner­vous laugh. I chuckle at the thought. Only becom­ing aware of the flush upon her cheeks as I’m in the midst of voic­ing negation:

No. Noth­ing quite so inter­est­ing as that.’

A sud­denly thick moment quickly thinned by the noise of Tris­tan com­ing down the hall.

He’s got a box of PBR. Says hey. Unlocks his door. Lingers. Says he’s just heard a joke.

After pro­longed preamble:

Knock knock.‘
’Who’s there.‘
’Fuck.‘
’Fuck who?‘
’Fuck you!’

He doesn’t get the reac­tion he wants. No mat­ter. He wan­ders over. Starts telling us about hav­ing spent the after­noon at the beach. Get­ting high and play­ing Fris­bee with a few buds etc. He offers beers. Says we should head upstairs. I’m game. Wendy says she might join us after a shower.

Peanuts’ is play­ing as I close my door to join Tris­tan up on the roof. Where, for the sec­ond time today, the moon. And while Tris­tan con­sid­ers green cheese I won­der after Wendy.

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just about epiphanies

rainy intersection

Story of dying man’s wish to spend remain­ing time on Earth pen­ning auto­bi­og­ra­phy of life he didn’t lead. A fic­tion of sorts. But based on real­ity as he knew it. Buys type­writer and paper and for weeks on end stares at a blank page. In his mind he vis­its piv­otal points in his life and imag­ines how he could’ve acted dif­fer­ently. The scenes, and their con­se­quences, are rich in detail. Like a series of lucid dreams. From 9–5, day after day, he is devoted to this silent com­po­si­tion. Yet the page remains blank.

Don’t know where the idea came from. What its seeds were. But it popped into my head this after­noon. While wait­ing at a red light in the pour­ing rain.

Maybe it was see­ing man on side­walk strug­gle to stay mounted on bike. The rain lash­ing at him. His clothes soaked and cling­ing. The rivulets stream­ing down his face. A gri­mace of toil as he fights pelt­ing rain. And grav­ity. The bike lean­ing. Him los­ing bal­ance. Foot slip­ping on slick con­crete. Bike end­ing up on top of him crouch­ing. The image rem­i­nis­cent of another seen close to quit­ting time on Friday.

Was down­town. Work­ing a gen­tri­fied com­plex adja­cent to city park. Got talk­ing to park atten­dant who’d pulled up in Gator. We’re stand­ing by foun­tain. She’s warn­ing me about nee­dles in beds when guy on bike rolls up. He’s pant­ing and sweat­ing. Asks parkie in demand­ing tone if she’s found a yel­low shirt. She says no. He per­sists. She says all she’s picked up today is bed­ding. He gets amped, says the bedding’s his, that an out-patient of his bor­rowed it. She says he can col­lect it at her lock-up in half an hour. He gets testy, wants to go now. She says she’s got other things to do first. He starts yelling, ask­ing why she’s being like this, say­ing she knows him, that he picks up all the rigs for her. She puts up her hand, says con­ver­sa­tion is over. He directs his crazed gaze at me. There’s impa­tience in his eyes. An addled look of injus­tice. Fierce is the tem­per­a­ture of his words. The parkie has stepped toward the gator, sig­nals for me to get on board. Next I know we’re hurtling along, the dis­tem­pered cyclist in hot pur­suit. She tells me to hang on. We cruise through park and park­ing lot at sur­pris­ing speed. Come to sharp rest in front of cop shop. She’s inside in mat­ter of sec­onds. I see the cyclist veer off, aban­don­ing the chase. She comes back out with pair of blue shirts. They’re going to accom­pany her to her lock up. I say I’m fine to head back to job site and crew. They want me to wait it out a bit with them. Just in case. After 20 min­utes or so I make my way. Which is when I see the cyclist again. In an alcove. Crouched beside his bike. In unmis­tak­able pose of giv­ing him­self a shot in the arm.

I told dad about all this over din­ner. Father’s Day Chi­nese. He nod­ded and after a short pause asked if I remem­ber Pangaea.

His inter­jec­tions are so ran­dom these days. Whether or not he’s heard any­thing I’ve said is debat­able. The gloss in his gaze sug­gests not. It’s a bit wor­ry­ing. The absence of recep­tiv­ity. He seems more and more to exist in a dis­tant space. Watch­ing a carousel of mem­o­ries prance past.

Pan­gaea is what he used to say upon return­ing home from his field­work when me and Liz were kids. His way of say­ing all was right with the world. (When he embarked on his trips he used to call Liz Laura­sia and me Gondwana.)

It was the sec­ond time he’d asked if I remem­ber Pan­gaea since we sat down for dinner.

I said I do both times. With a smile.

He didn’t ask why Liz wasn’t with us. And I didn’t tell him she’s on a date with a guy named Howard.

The kicker of the evening hap­pened when I walked him into his apart­ment. As I hugged him good­bye he said Fri­day was a full­moon Fri­day the 13th and that I should name the dying man Joshua.

Balls.

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interference

no warning

Con­stantly waver­ing over unim­por­tant things. The ‘rado’, for instance, in Sil­ver­ado, El Dorado, Desperado.

Suc­co­tash & grits.
Boon­docks.
Whose cow?

Mar­gins & mar­gin­a­lia.
Mak­ing allit­er­a­tions with, yes, mag­no­lias in general.

Offal flot­sam, to say noth­ing of unseen lagan.

Styra­ca­ceous trees. In par­tic­u­lar Styrax obassia. Just because.

More tan­gi­bly. Wrestling with weeds in bor­der bed of Pyra­can­tha and Berberis. Got good gash on left arm. The client was home. Invited me in to clean and dress. She had a cock­a­too named Ulysses. Who kept say­ing, ‘Hello,’ and ‘What are you doing?’ We had a shrewd con­ver­sa­tion of repeat after me. When I returned to work Ulysses said, ‘Fare thee well.’

Yes, I said. I think I will. Yes. (To which Ulysses said, ‘Bawk. Yes. I think I will.’ Ain’t psittacism grand.)

The day breezed from there. Soft winds now and then ruf­fling the best green skirts our street trees wear. Lis­ten­ing to War on Drugs in the truck. Win­dows down. No com­plaints from Leddy, who was abuzz with self-driving cars, Turks & Caicos, the Kings, the influ­ence of the affluent.

He seems to be warm­ing up to the free­dom of being dri­ven around. Even with Daz back in the cab, sullen and weirdly mum on most top­ics. Some­thing trou­bling, or onto­log­i­cally chal­leng­ing, must have hap­pened over his break. About the only com­ment I recall him mak­ing today was in response to Leddy’s chat­ter on afflu­ence. ‘These palaces of too much.’ A mere mum­ble of a line uttered as if to rid a bad taste from his mouth.

These palaces of too much.

Rumor hav­ing it we put a bid in for a res­i­den­tial job. The prop­erty val­ued at over $100,000,000. A sin­gle dwelling for an old man and his young tro­phy (or should that be a young woman and her old trophy?).

Promis­ing adven­tures.
Echoes in daylit alleys.
Kitesurfing.

Tor­pe­does, mis­siles in water.

Envy wear­ing no clothes.
Night­shade, as in Atropa bel­ladonna.

A nom­i­nal road.
Being the one we all take.

Sock on the door means go away’ — Papercuts.

Lagoons. Laos. Labor. Lavan­der. Lapis lazuli. Lances. Lace. Lad­ders. Laugh­ing in the face of.

Sen­tences that rightly stop on a dime.

Mis­siles, tor­pe­does in air.

The word being that Dominic will not be rejoin­ing us. Mean­ing an end to the Eristics.

Of a Mon­day morn­ing. On the bus. The anguish on some faces. Dread­ing the day, the week ahead.

My excite­ment for the new Joe Henry album com­ing out tomor­row. Matched by pon­der­ing what new release dates mean to those who’ve never bought an album one can hold. And that there may be some out there of buy­ing age who’ve never pur­chased music. Three bil­lion dol­lars to set this straight?

And this evening. At the house. On porch hav­ing beer. Rel­ish­ing the low­er­ing sun after such a fine hot day. Mus­ing the pre­ced­ing. Hear neigh­bor call him­self an idiot. His cell­phone rings (open­ing bass riff to ‘Another One Bites the Dust’). He says he’s just started bbq. Excite­ment in his voice. Then com­plete 180. Deep dis­ap­point­ment. ‘So…am I gonna see you in the next decade?’ Him lis­ten­ing. ‘Right. Well, bye then.’

The neigh­bor is Ben­son. I’ve seen him a few times. In pass­ing. Know he has two young girls. That there’s a nanny.

He invited me over for veg­gie burg­ers and beer. Came out that the woman on the phone was the woman he’s been see­ing. Name of Sawyer.

I asked if Sawyer is her last name. No. I asked where the girls. (Tammy and Trace. Trace, no why. Four and five. Or five and four.) Off with his mom. I asked after their mother. Colleen, he said. Not in the pic­ture. Said it was quite the story.

Short ver­sion: Ben­son & Colleen met at a bar, had a fling, went sep­a­rate ways, only to meet again some years later, just when both were giv­ing up on idea of hav­ing fam­ily, they got together, mar­ried, had kids, his busi­ness started blos­som­ing, they moved into the house he lives in now. Things were great. For about a year. Then she took off. No warn­ing. Called him from her par­ents’ place across the coun­try. Said she couldn’t do it any­more. They got a long dis­tance divorce. Just over a year ago. Hasn’t heard from her since. And Sawyer’s the first gal he’s had any time for. But this evening he wasn’t sure they’d last.

Radio sta­tic.

Capiche & kaput.

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howard nelson

composition over timeWent to the house after work. Greeted there by man sit­ting on front steps. Smartly dressed. White short-sleeve button-up, casual pants, expen­sive shiny loafers.

He got up as I approached. Held out right hand. ‘Griffin?’

I shook his prof­fered hand. Try­ing to place the man’s face. No bells ring­ing. He says his name is Howard. That, for a short time, he went to grade school with Liz. He asks if she still lives at the house. The sec­onds are pass­ing. I still haven’t replied either way about being Grif­fin. And must be giv­ing off a defen­sive vibe. Howard smiles.

You don’t remem­ber me.’

I shake my head. ‘It was a long time ago,’ he says. I don’t know quite what to say. He says he under­stands my reluc­tance. That he’s only here to deliver some­thing that once belonged to Liz.

On the steps a pur­ple Crown Royal bag. The kind we all used to keep our mar­bles in. I had such a bag. Upon a time.

Howard hands me the bag. Mar­bles. It feels smaller than I remem­ber. We stand there by the stairs. He explains that he wasn’t a pop­u­lar kid in grade school. Never stayed in one place long enough to really get to know other kids. He was big for his age. And clumsy and none too bright and hor­ri­bly shy. Mak­ing him the per­fect tar­get for bul­ly­ing. He put up with most of it. Well as he could. But got in trou­ble when push came to shove. For hurt­ing the bul­lies. Which is why his aunt kept mov­ing. To find a place where he might fit in.

Going to a new school was always nerve-rattling. He’d get buddied-up with kids who wanted noth­ing to do with him. When teach­ers made him stand up in front of the class he’d go so red he feared piss­ing him­self. Not a great way to impress. Even the geeks avoided him. He’d stay inside dur­ing recess. After school he’d stay by a win­dow and watch til the other kids had left. Hop­ing against hope the walk home would be clear.

When he was made to stand in front of Liz’s grade 5 class the usual joke from the back of the class got a small group to laugh­ing. But some­thing unusual hap­pened. Some­one turned on the laugh­ers and told them to shut up. Liz.

She didn’t become his friend or any­thing. But he remem­bered her stay­ing inside dur­ing recess a few times. They didn’t talk at first. Still, he knew she was there because of him. Pre­tend­ing to draw or count­ing her mar­bles — she always had that bag of mar­bles with her. After a week or so she put the bag of mar­bles on his desk and asked if he wanted to play. He’d never played before. No one had asked him to. He just sat there dumb, not know­ing what to do.

From then on him and Liz would play mar­bles by the front doors after school, where she waited for me to pick her up.

He remem­bered her ask­ing me if he could join us. The three of us walked as far as our house, then Howard went the rest of the way by himself.

I said I didn’t remem­ber.
He said it was only for about 2 weeks.

I asked where he lived.

High­bury Heights. Now a col­or­ful co-op with much to rec­om­mend itself. Back then, low-rent row-housing where the work­ing poor and the rough and tum­ble made a go of it.

I asked how he ended up with the bag of marbles.

One day him and Liz were wait­ing by the front doors. She’d just put the bag of mar­bles on the ground when a cou­ple of the meaner kids came around the cor­ner. They spot­ted Howard. Came up and started taunt­ing him. Liz tried to get them to go away. One of them grabbed the bag of mar­bles. It became a game of keep away. Lead­ing to the bul­lies run­ning off, Howard in chase.

He didn’t remem­ber every­thing after that. But he did get the bag—and for his trou­bles a good lick­ing. An older woman shooed the bul­lies off. Howard picked him­self up and limped home. Bro­ken ribs, bro­ken nose, a lac­er­ated shin.

He shook his head.

The worst of it,’ he said, ‘was that I didn’t get the chance to see Liz again.’

His aunt didn’t know what to do. She shipped him off to a board­ing school.

Howard handed me a card to pass along to Liz.

I walked him to his car—a new model sil­ver Audi. We said good­bye. He drove off. I noticed the license plate—002 (no let­ters, just 002).

His card: Howard Nel­son, Pres­i­dent and Founder, Now-UX.

Liz doesn’t remem­ber Howard. But she does the mar­bles. She doesn’t know if she will call him.

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green light go

Wait­ing on Leddy in a park­ing garage lighted an eerie green that glows. Algaeic in its bloom. Unset­tling. Soy­lent. Toxic. A good approx­i­ma­tion of Leddy’s mood these last cou­ple weeks.

A right can­tan­ker­ous boob.

Put it down to Dominic tak­ing some time off. To deal with shitty ten­ants. As well as the fall­out from a bad invest­ment. Either one of which could, by Leddy’s account­ing, see Dominic lose his house.

The Eris­tics reduced by half. To a pale, mut­ter­ing imi­ta­tion of itself. An odd cab to be in with­out Dominic. No con­stant bick­er­ing (comedic from the back seat), no arcane gambler’s ban­ter on the daily sports line, no soft­en­ing the bit­ter edge.

That and Leddy gets lost with­out Dominic rid­ing shot­gun. He’s had the driver’s seat for decades but has no idea where he’s going. That’s for Dominic. Whose shaky boozer hands sig­nal what lane to be in, where to turn, when to stop etc.

Seems that Dominic keeps Leddy’s road­rage in check too. Got so bad last week he had to sur­ren­der the wheel to keep from going through the roof. (Though I think some of the issue was with Daz being in the nav­i­ga­tor seat. Daz has no sense of direc­tion — on the road or, seem­ingly, in life. He hop­scotches from one mode of self bet­ter­ment to another. Earnest and search­ing, sure. Both fine qual­i­ties. And not so bad in small doses. But he cer­tainly can prat­tle on given half a chance. Yogic this and dietary that, holis­tic reme­dies, bio­dy­namic fac­toids, to say noth­ing of his TV shows, his ‘poetic’ tan­gents, and his most recent pur­chase: Gus, a boa con­stric­tor. The upshot of which left Leddy alter­nat­ing between blow­ing gas­kets at ‘idiot drivers’/construction/slow traf­fic and seething to a silent boil as Daz went on ad nauseum.)

Ah, the fun we have. It is, in truth, enter­tain­ing. And makes arriv­ing at our sites seem some­thing of a reprieve.

This week its’s just Leddy and me. I have the keys. He busies him­self with the free dailies. Offer­ing up what­ever catches his fancy. This morn­ing he men­tioned Cal­i­for­nia going up in flames. And that, car­to­graph­i­cally speak­ing, half of Amer­ica is expe­ri­enc­ing drought. Me ask­ing if this includes Alaska. Him ges­tic­u­lat­ing, ‘What (the fuck) dif­fer­ence does that make?’

And then he came upon Anthro­pocene. The word. Said it a cou­ple times. An-thropo-cene. To get his tongue around it. Anth-ro-po-cene. To get his mind around it. He paused. As if he’d never seen/said/thought about it before. (Which can’t really be, can it? Maybe it can. I mean, I don’t know any­thing about about bet­ting on sports.) His analy­sis, ‘Why the fuck we gotta put a fucken name to every­fuck­ingth­ing.’ He wasn’t ask­ing. Wasn’t look­ing for con­ver­sa­tion. All the same I took him up. Tried to explain, in this instance, why the name. That it’s an accepted geo­log­i­cal term etc. He let me ram­ble for a time. But I could tell he wasn’t listening.

Laura, the VP-cum-dispatcher, just called to tell us our rotary’s fixed. She broke her wrist a month back. We see her so infre­quently I asked how it is. Her wrist. She responded by won­der­ing how her cast will come off if the world ended tomor­row. Not an unusual segue for Laura. She didn’t mean any­thing by it. Noth­ing melo­dra­matic. How she expresses her­self. Guns for extremes but is as delight­ful as bees about flowers.

My thoughts are on fire. This green light is killing me with go.

No doubt you are begin­ning to won­der where you are. A rea­son­able question.

As is where’s Leddy already? It’s almost an hour.

Col­lat­eral and cor­re­la­tion.
Ter­mi­nal indul­gences.
Past future per­fect. Future per­fect past. Per­fect past future.

The deter­mi­na­tion of time.

Here’s some­thing. I first heard Anthro­pocene in the read­ing room of the nat­ural sci­ences library on cam­pus. Dad retired at the stately age of 70. Mostly because he couldn’t cycle any­more. He tried stay­ing away but couldn’t flush his need to know the lat­est. So we struck a bar­gain. On Saturday’s I’d drop him off near the library. He’d spend the after­noon perus­ing jour­nals. I’d pick him up a few hours later at the same spot. On the Anthro­pocene day I had to go into the library to col­lect him. I wasn’t amused. But dad was elec­tric, brim­ming. ‘Bril­liant,’ he kept say­ing. ‘Absolutely bril­liant.’ He explained the grav­ity of the idea. And took me out for din­ner to celebrate.

Need­less to say, I didn’t relate this story to Leddy.

Who’s finally returned to the truck.

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first interaction of otherwise normal day

Aesculus hippocastanum_Fotor

Job this morn­ing close to the house. Strip mall on far side of Lake­way Park. Take direct path through. Sub­dued bright­ness of the morn­ing. 630. Park to myself. Dew wet on the toes of my boots. A slight chill. So quiet of human din.

Pass pub­lic wash­room. Con­sider cur­rent need. Weigh it against real­i­ties of site. Decide to turn back.

Squat­ter in there wash­ing head at sink. Note garbage bag of stuff on the counter, large back­pack on ground. I’m at the uri­nal when he starts on about the smell. How bad it is. What died. Leads to impen­e­tra­ble runon­a­logue begin­ning with woman named Donna and some ill­ness she’d con­tracted. Reduced her to a stink­ing cesspot.

A slight dra­matic pause as I move to wash my hands. Squatter’s dry­ing his head with nap­kins. He looks at me indi­rectly. In the mir­ror. To see if I’m fol­low­ing what he’s say­ing? Maybe just to be sure he’s not talk­ing to him­self. Or some branched fig­men­ta­tion of his alonely, pushed-to-the-perimeter mind. He averts gaze. Louder, over the trou­bled sound of water, pro­ceeds to say he took Donna out a few times. Noth­ing fancy or noth­ing. Just drinks at the usual spot. She was such an open mind. Could talk about any­thing. Any­thing but herself.

I’m done at the sink. Squat­ter dis­tances him­self from counter. Grant­ing me unim­peded line to hand dryer. Which is old school. Scarcely hum­ming, let alone pump­ing out air.

Squatter’s talk­ing about Donna’s world of hurt. How you could see it around her eyes. ‘Around’ because ‘in’ her eyes she’d dialled out. Like that head of hers was too full of pain to live inside.

I’m done at the dryer. Step towards door. Squatter’s pac­ing along the counter.

That’s the way it is with the women,’ he says. The way he says ‘women’ denotes a par­tic­u­lar sort of woman I don’t catch straight off. ‘They can’t let them­selves be true. Oth­er­wise there’d be no point. May as well be done with it. Which is why they get on the junk. It’s like killing your­self with a kind of dig­nity. What it feels like. You know.’

I don’t know. Am dan­gling on mat­ters of civil­ity. My hand’s on the han­dle. I’m posi­tioned to exit. Should I just walk out? Or cut him off and say I gotta go? But there’s also a vague curios­ity after where this guy’s gonna go with his talking.

End up stand­ing there another few min­utes. Lis­ten­ing to Squat­ter leap from pros­ti­tutes to men­tal ill­ness to mass mur­der­ers (‘those moth­er­fuck­ers who feel noth­ing’) to Boko Haram (‘that’s some seri­ous weird’). The tan­gents aren’t per­fect but they link up well enough. Giv­ing me a per­spec­tive I wouldn’t nor­mally make myself avail­able to hearing.

And the thing about it was Squat­ter just wanted to talk. Have a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion. He treated me like a fel­low human being. One with ears. He didn’t ask for any­thing and didn’t once present a neg­a­tive or bit­ter slant on things. Didn’t really say much about him­self at all.

He wound up his nar­ra­tive by say­ing everybody’s got shit on their plates. Shit most of us deal with in what­ever way that works and move on to rest of our lives.

At this point he was lin­ger­ing by one of the stalls.

It’s look­ing a bright morn­ing out there,’ he said.

I said it is. Thereby vol­un­teer­ing my first words of our encounter.

He opened a stall door. Said, ‘Yeah…so.’

All right,’ I said. ‘Have a good one.’

Yeah, man. You have your­self a good night too, then.’

I had a whole and nor­mal day to get to this gor­geous early evening. Where I’m on the roof of my apart­ment build­ing. Sit­ting on a crappy lawn chair. Savor­ing a cou­ple cold ones. Admir­ing the abun­dant array of lit­tle white Christ­mas trees bloom­ing off a huge horse chest­nut (Aes­cu­lus hip­pocas­tanum). Won­der­ing, just now, way in the back of my mind, what kind of day Squat­ter had. If he has any secu­rity in know­ing where he’ll be sleep­ing tonight.

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elizabeths in 450

path in woods_Fotor

Med­i­ta­tion. On struc­ture. Exer­cise in geo­met­ric sequenc­ing. For think­ing too long on any­thing hurts the mind.

Me. And Liz. Sit­ting on the porch. Being quiet with one another like omni­scient twins.

Twi­light sur­round­ing us. She tack­ling Speed­boat. Me with note­book. Peace­ful evening hours. Every­thing for granted.

Flow­ers. In bloom. Red, white, yel­low, blue. Chaenome­les spe­ciosa, Choisya ter­nata, Ker­ria japon­ica, Gen­tiana acaulis.

Eliz­a­beth. Eliza Beth. A union of names. And our de-hyphenated fam­ily name would be Duncanmalone.

Mom’s the Dun­can. Dad’s the Mal­one. Never any­thing but. Either of them. Even when married.

Liz. Green eyes. Straight long auburn hair. Five foot six and three quar­ter inches tall.

Occu­pa­tion. Curator’s assis­tant. Museum of Fine Art. What she got with MFA in mixed media.

Not her dream. Pay ain’t great. Perks at min­i­mum. But of late. Tour­ing day­care kids.

Weekly. On Fri­days. Project and activ­ity time. Her find­ing this sat­is­fy­ing and, as bonus, reinvigorating.

Cre­ativ­ity. Paint­ing again. See­ing bold new approaches. Which is like hav­ing the old spit­fire back.

Way she was. Many moons ago. Before find­ing bore­dom. In every­day affairs. Noth­ing fun anymore.

Drifted. Became indif­fer­ent. Sought excite­ment in reck­less­ness. Refused look­ing in plain mir­rors to see herself.

Depen­dency. On drugs. To heighten her state. And take her deeper than she wanted going.

Gal­leries night­clubs par­ties. Unreal temp­ta­tion machine. Scenes of aban­don. Loss of con­trol. No say­ing no.

Watch­ing. Her fall. Turn­ing into some­one else. Was like hear­ing sirens on the finest afternoon.

Worse. Feel­ing help­less. Unable to be broth­erly. As she slipped into her own lit­tle hell.

Until the night. Another page turned. In my life. A ter­ri­ble truth. When least expected.

Eliz­a­beth. The ex. Who went by Beth. And stole into me with­out appear­ing to trespass.

Seemed. A dream. And that it was. Right on up to the last fated act.

At her place. Showed up unan­nounced. Sur­prise on me. Another man naked. Beth in bathroom.

Shock­ing. Dropped wine. The crash and flood. Walk­ing outta there with shat­tered sense of world.

Zom­boid. Eyes blind. Head under cold water. Going nowhere but the only place I could.

To the house. Liz’s down­stairs flat. Party going on. Her response rocked. Kicked every­one out.

Return. We did. To bond of sib­lings. Not with­out try­ing, not with­out fail­ing, not without.

Senoriza. Dame Liza­lot. Names I’ve called her. Our folks don’t seem to remem­ber why Elizabeth.

She is my. Hon­est to good­ness. And now she. Taps my shoul­der. Points to book.

Sum­mer. The speed­boat. Young tycoon seri­ous about. Fac­to­ries, wife, chil­dren, par­ties, work, art col­lec­tion, resort.

Spring. Back porch. Older brother reflect­ing upon. The path in the woods we took to school.

Bro­ken by Liz. Our silence is. Upon see­ing blink. Tonight’s first star. “O, Eager, look.”

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