Wednesday, December 30, 2009

But What About A Baby?

But What About A Baby?

Art hadn’t seen Larry in a few months. It was unlike the brothers to go this long, but a lot of things got in the way. Art and Jennifer were trying again for one thing. They’d been close before, almost four weeks to be exact, until Jennifer woke up one morning in August with horrible cramps. When the blood came they knew. It disappointed Art for sure, but Jennifer took it the worst. She did nothing but cry for a week. Every time Art tried to console her she’d start crying again. She’d tell him, “Art, I had it in me but I lost it.” He tried telling her that they were in it together, but his comfort had no effect on her well-being. Art called his mother and she said to give it some time. Art called Larry and cancelled their weekly bullshit sessions over beer at The Moose. He said he had to cancel everything indefinitely. Larry told Art to do what he needed to do, that he and Denise would be there for them if they needed it. Art was thankful for this. Larry always came through for him.

“So just like that she got over it?” Larry said, sitting down with a new pitcher of beer.

“It wasn’t just like that,” Art said, pouring Larry a draft and then himself one. “It took time.”

“But she’s okay now?”

“Jen is doing fine. She wants to try again.”

“And you?”

“Sure.” Art looked around The Moose. “This place is ugly.”

Larry laughed, had some beer. “It’s always been ugly.”

“Yes. But do you remember when it didn’t bother us?”

“It still doesn’t bother me.”

“Because you don’t think about things,” Art said. He lit a cigarette but then put it out. He remembered the new smoking ban inside of bars and restaurants. “Anyway, I have Carla on my back as well.”

“I think,” Larry said. “I just don’t worry the way you do.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Art asked. He had more beer.

“I thought you ended that.”

“I did. But after Jen lost the thing I got confused and all tangled again.”

“And now what?”

“Now I have two of them on my back,” Art said.

Larry took a long pull on his beer and nodded. Someone played The Dead on the jukebox. It was the same old story in this bar. Someone always played The Dead. The joint was filled with a bunch of old castoffs from the 1960s, guys who could be Larry and Art’s father, but could never be. Their father was a conservative man. He wore ties when he didn’t have to anymore. The guys in The Moose kept their hair long and wore earrings. Larry was somewhere in the middle of this. He kept earrings and his hair was turning gray, but he kept it short. Art liked to dress like their father. Not a tie all of the time, but he enjoyed wearing them. He had a collection of ties with baseball teams and cities and famous paintings on them.

“This place really is ugly,” Art said.

“A baby,” Larry said.

“I know.”

“How soon ago was it?”

Art thought for a moment. “About four months since it happened.”

“We haven’t been out in four months?”

“Jen waited for the doctor’s okay,” Art said. “I thought she’d wait longer but here we are.”

“Have you tried again?” Larry asked. He had more beer and looked around The Moose. The bartender was huddled in the corner having a shot with a coke dealer. They were both smoking cigarettes. “It might be okay to light up now.”

“Huh?” Art said.

“A cigarette.” Art handed Larry one mechanically. “I meant you. I quit.”

“When?” Art asked, putting the new smoke in his mouth. This time he lit it and smoked without reserve.

“Last month. I didn’t want to tell you because you were going through it with Jen, but it damn near killed me. It killed me,” Larry said. He shook his head and thought about it. The Dead ended on the jukebox and a few of the guys at the bar grumbled. Sammy got up from his stool to play another. “I almost ran Denise off, I was so miserable.”

“What worked?” Art asked. He took a drag on his smoke then placed his cigarette hand underneath the table.”

“I stared at a wall for the entire day,” Larry said.

“That worked?”

“No, I got that bad.” Larry finished off his draft and poured another. The pitcher was empty. “I had to go on the patch, you see?” He pulled up a sleeve revealing a small, beige colored patch on his shoulder. “I still need the nicotine.”

“Remember when dad quit?” Art asked.

“It was while mom was pregnant with Gayle,” Larry said.

“Was it?”

“See, you don’t really remember.”

“I do. I was five back then.”

“But you don’t remember,” Larry said. “You don’t remember like I do because I was eight.”

“I remember locusts,” Art said. “There were locusts that summer.”

“Yes, there were,” Larry said. He signaled over to Kenny at the bar. Kenny grabbed another pitcher and began filling it, as another Dead song came on the jukebox. “Do you remember playing with Kurt and his cousin Samantha?”

“Of course I remember Kurt,” Art said. “Kurt was my friend.”

“And Samantha?” Larry asked. He got up to get the new pitcher of beer from Kenny then came back. “Do you remember Samantha?”

“Where were we living?” Art asked. He took a last pull on his smoke then put it out on the floor.

“Buffalo,” Larry said, pouring them more beer.

“It was that year?”

“Around that year.”

“I think I remember Samantha.”

“You do or you don’t,” Larry said.

“I was five. I remember her.” Art had some beer. “What does this have to do with Gayle or dad’s smoking? What does this have to do with them?”

“Mom was miserable that year. She never wanted to leave Cleveland.” Larry picked up Art’s pack of smokes and fondled it before putting it down. “She didn’t do anything that year but cry and fight with dad. Dad took that job in Buffalo and we moved there.”

“I remember.”

“She was miserable and we moved there. She did nothing but cry. She cried and we watched television together most of that summer.”

“Where was I?” Art asked.

“You were five,” Larry said, having some beer. “Mom had you over at Kurt’s.”

“Why weren’t you there?”

“He was your friend,” Larry said. “I came over after Samantha showed up.”

“Samantha was a brunette, right?”

“Blonde. She had short blonde hair,” Larry said.

“Just like Denise,” Art said.

“Denise dyes her hair.”

Larry had more beer. Art picked up his pack of smokes and fondled it. He took one out. “Do you mind?”

“I’ve got the patch.”

Art lit a smoke and shook the match until the sulfur smell was gone. The Dead ended on the jukebox again but this time a Hot Tuna song came on. “Does the patch really work?”

“Do you remember Samantha’s dad?” Larry asked.

“I don’t really remember Samantha,” Art said. “I was five. I remember Kurt and the locusts.”

“Samantha and her dad came to live with Kurt’s family for about a month or so. He was a strange guy do you remember?” Art shook his head. “He was really thin and had a head of shaggy hair. He wore sunglasses all of the time and had a beard with flecks of gray in it.”

Art took a drag on his smoke and looked around. “Like the guys in here?”

“He wasn’t like dad at all,” Larry said, having some more beer. He looked at Art’s pack of cigarettes. “The patch doesn’t work as well as I’d like. But it keeps Denise and I on decent terms.”

“I’m going to have to quit if Jen gets pregnant this time?” Art said.

“And Carla?”

“She doesn’t smoke.”

“Charlie,” Larry said, suddenly. “See, I didn’t think I’d remember his name. I thought I’d have to call him Samantha’s father but his name is Charlie.”

“Charlie who was nothing like dad,” Art said. He took a drag on his smoke and a long pull on his beer. “What’s with Charlie?”

“Charlie came over to our house a lot that summer after Kurt’s mom introduced him to our mom,” Larry said.

“Oh,” Art said. “He came into our house with his sunglasses and beard?”

“Yes. You see, you don’t remember,” Larry said.

“I remember...”

“...Kurt and locusts. And you think Samantha was a brunette.”

“Okay,” Art said. He finished his beer and got up. “Have it your way, bro. Tell me about Charlie.”

Art went to the bathroom as the Hot Tuna song was ending. Larry sat there and had some more beer. He touched Art’s pack of cigarettes and then rubbed the patch underneath his sleeve. On the television there was a hockey game on. Larry had hated hockey ever since Buffalo. He pulled out his cell phone and checked the messages. There was one from Art that he never listened to, and another three from Denise. Larry had more beer and decided to check them later.

“Okay, so tell me about this Charlie,” Art said, sitting down.

Larry poured them both some more beer. “Mom was miserable that year.”

“I know. Because dad moved us to Buffalo.”

“She was miserable before then as well,” Larry said.

“But why?”

“Charlie made mom laugh. I remember once we were all in Kurt’s yard with the locusts signing and Samantha did that belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide.”

Art’s eyes lit up. “I remember that! She was a brunette!”

“No, no, you’re thinking of someone else,” Larry said. “You were only five.” Art nodded and fumbled with his cigarette pack. “Oh, let me have one of those, for Christ’s sake.”

“But Denise,” Art began.

“She won’t know,” Larry said. Art gave him a cigarette and offered a light. Larry declined. He just held on to the smoke and listened as Tom Petty played on the jukebox now. “She won’t have a clue.”

“Carla wants me to quit smoking,” Art said. “She’s always on me.”

“But what does she matter?” Larry asked.

“Come on and tell me about funny Charlie.”

Larry coughed and had some more beer. He held onto the cigarette. “Samantha did that big belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide. Remember that Kurt’s mom wasn’t home and we weren’t supposed to be in the yard when she wasn’t there. Charlie was watching us but he wasn’t there.”

“Where was he?” Art asked.

Larry gave him a look. “Where do you think he was?”

“No. Funny Charlie was with mom?”

“I don’t know what they were doing,” Larry said. He had more beer. He put the cigarette in his mouth but did not light it. Then he took it out. Art watched him the whole time. “I went next door. I went home to get Charlie because Samantha did that belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide and she was crying.”

“What did you see?” Art asked. He had more beer. Larry said nothing but drank his draft. “Jesus Christ, tell me. What were mom and funny Charlie doing?”

“They were sitting at a table,” Larry said.

Art fell back in his seat. “Oh. That’s all?”

“You were too young, you don’t remember. They were sitting at a table. Mom was crying but she was laughing at the same time. Charlie had his sunglasses on but you could see that his face was red too.” Larry had more beer. He fondled the smoke. “Hey, give me a light, okay?”

“Can you smoke that with the patch?” Art asked.

“I don’t know.” Larry rolled up his sleeve and took the patch off of his arm. “Give me a light, okay?”

Art gave Larry a light. Larry sucked in on the smoke. He took a deep drag and then chased it with some beer. “Be careful,” Art said.

“They were sitting at a table laughing and crying,” Larry continued. “Mom and funny Charlie.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Larry said. “And when I came in the door they acted like nothing had happened.”

“Because nothing did happen,” Art said, pouring the last of the new pitcher. “Nothing happened.”

“You don’t remember,” Larry said. “You were only five.”

“Okay, smart ass. What happened?”

“We moved back to Cleveland for one thing,” Larry said. “Dad put in his notice with the new job after the school year and was able to get back into the place he used to work. After we got back mom got pregnant with Gayle.”

“And dad quit smoking!” Art nearly shouted. “See, I do remember some things!”

“Yes. Dad quit smoking after we moved back to Cleveland.”

“Have you talked to Gayle lately?” Art asked.

“No. Have you?”

“She and Regis are trying too.”

“That’s good,” Larry said.

“What happened to Samantha? And good old funny Charlie?” Art asked.

“I don’t know,” Larry said. He took another deep pull on his smoke and then his phone rang. It was Denise. “I have to take this.”

Larry got up and went outside the bar. Art lit another cigarette and tried to remember that year in Buffalo. He couldn’t picture funny Charlie and he was still set on Samantha being a brunette. Mom was miserable that whole year, he thought, only Art didn’t remember misery. He just remembered Kurt and the locusts. The Tom Petty song ended and suddenly the bar was quiet. Larry came back in looking green.

“Is it Denise?” Art asked.

“No. The cigarette is making me sick,” Larry said. “I shouldn’t have.”

“We should go,” Art said, taking the last of his draft.

“But what are you going to do?” Larry asked.

“Something always happens,” Art said.

The brothers said goodbye in the parking lot. They promised to meet next week for another couple rounds, or the week after if something got in the way. Larry went over to his car and just stood there for a few moments. To Art he still looked green. Art waited for Larry to open his door and pull out before he made a move. Then he walked over to his car and got inside.

The whole ride home he thought about his mother and funny Charlie. He thought about what Larry saw that day in the window, laughing and crying and holding hands. Art tried to imagine himself in Larry’s place. He tried to imagine what he would’ve seen had he been the one who’d come home to get Charlie instead of Larry. He imagined coming home and stepping up to the window, seeing his mother somewhere between grief and joy. He pictured Charlie. Sunglasses and a beard flecked with gray. Art knew he wasn’t picturing the real Charlie, but just an amalgamation of all of the guys in The Moose. Charlie was nothing like their father. Art imagined being the one to come upon that scene, laughter and tears, and then the weight of it hit him like a ton of bricks. He wished he could remember more.

The living room was dark when Art got home, but the television was on. Jennifer was watching that show again, the one that Art hated. That was why he picked Wednesday nights to go out with Larry. He picked that night because he wouldn’t have to stay home with Jen and that goddamned show. He picked that night because Carla worked Wednesday nights. Art thought about Carla and his mother and funny Charlie. Then he got himself a beer out of the refrigerator.

“Hey,” Jen said, coming into the kitchen. She was wearing a burgundy robe that went just above the knees. He long, black hair looked tussled, as if she’d just gotten out of bed. Art drank his beer and watched his wife, trying his hardest to suppress all desire. “How was it?”

“It was fine,” Art said.

“How was Larry?”

“Larry quit smoking,” Art said. He took another pull on his beer. He finished it and then went into the fridge for another one. Art took a large pull on that beer as well.”

“Careful,” Jen said. And then she smiled devilishly. “Don’t get too, too drunk. Someone is ovulating tonight.”

Art pulled the beer away from his mouth. A sickness welled deep inside of him. Something was coming up, bile, or beer, or something else. He was beginning to remember. Art was beginning to remember all of it. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “Not that. Not tonight.”

“But what about a baby?” Jen asked. “What are we going to do about a baby?”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Knock on the Door

A Knock on the Door

There was a knock on the door.

Marie had been in the bathroom the whole time. There was a knock on the door, and then someone tried to push it open. She’d been in there before she heard the shots. Marcel had cut her break short, and she had to go. She told Dara that she had to go. Dara said to go, that she’d cover Marie’s tables. So she went. Marie got in the bathroom and sat on the toilet. She’d just finished going and was thinking about her next paycheck, looking down at an old pair of underwear when the first three shots came. They came quick. Bam. Bam. Bam. And then there was silence. Then there was screaming. Dara. Maybe someone else. Marie was sure it was a woman’s voice. Then another two shots came. Bam. Bam. And then the silence was deafening.

Then there was a knock on the door. Someone tried to open it, but of course it was locked. They tried to push it open but it wouldn’t budge. Marie did her best to stay stone silent. She didn’t even want to breathe. She heard them talking outside the door. One of them asked who was in there, as if they’d know if she told them. One of them pushed on the door again. Marie huddled into herself. She felt embarrassed more than scared. What if they knocked in the door, and she was still sitting there with those old underwear around her ankles? What if she died like that? Old underwear wrapped around her tired ankles. Marie didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to think about anything. Was that Dara who screamed?

There was a knock on the door. They told Marie they wouldn’t hurt her if she opened up. They told her all they wanted was the money. Marie thought that it was odd that they didn’t just take the money and go. After all, she hadn’t seen them. She’d been in the bathroom because she had to go. And if she didn’t see them then she couldn’t identify them. Why would she even come out of the bathroom with them still there? Marie resolved that she wasn’t coming out of the bathroom until she heard sirens and a cop shoved his badge underneath the door. That’s when she’d come out. Then she’d find Marcel and Dara. She’d tell the cops she didn’t see a damned thing, and then she’d get the hell out of that restaurant and never come back. She’d tell Davis it was time to get off of his ass and go find a job, bad economy or not. She was staying home with the kids now. Marie would say and do all of those things once she got outside the bathroom door. She knew for sure that she would.

There was a knock on the door. Marie knew that she could wait it out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Whore of Calcutta

The Whore of Calcutta

Bob missed the express train home. He sat on a small wooden bench on the platform and took out a book. No point in being pissed off, he thought. She wouldn’t be there again tonight anyway. It had been like this for two weeks ever since Anne took that secretarial job. Life was late nights and more late nights, dinner out of a box, and going to bed alone. Bob hated Anne’s new job. Anne told him too bad. She said that with the economy being what it was, he had no right to hate her job. There were millions of people who would be envious for her job, or hadn’t he watched the news, read a paper, lately. Maybe Bob should work a little bit harder at getting a job for himself.

Of course he hadn’t. He wouldn’t. Bob had wasted six months of his life on a fruitless job search. He’d wasted months waking up at five or six, having two cursory cups of coffee, and then hitting the online job banks for something, anything. There wasn’t anything. Nothing but a trail of jobs in the finance sector that about ten to eleven other qualified, most times better qualified, people all clamored for at the same time. Plus Bob was bad at interviews. He sweated a lot, stuttered, asked the interviewer to repeat certain questions over and over again because he sat there worrying about how much he was sweating and stuttering. It was a horror to interview in his eyes. That was one of the reasons why Bob kept with Harrison & Whitman even though the work was terrible, and the hours were long. How they were long? It was less than a year ago that Anne was in his position, waiting up until odd hours, cooking dinner alone, and ultimately going to bed by herself. Now the job was gone. Now it was his turn to wait.

Bob hated Anne’s boss, Dale, as well. When he saw Anne it was Dale this and Dale that. Dale has an apartment on the Upper West Side. Dale wants me to get a Blackberry. Dale eats lobster every Saturday night. We should get lobster sometime, Bob. It’s been since the beach since I had a lobster. Bob pictured Dale often. He imagined him as some tall, blonde, muscular type; one of the ones you see running on a treadmill on a Friday night in the window of one of those overpriced gyms, after you’ve just shoved down a plate of wings with a pitcher of beer. He bet Dale told Anne all about the gym. It made Bob jealous. Anne wasn’t the youngest thing out there, but she was still a good-looking woman. Anne had kept herself in decent shape by walking and eating like a bird. She still had that long, jet-black Italian hair and those big almond-shaped eyes. Bob often told her that she looked like that actress from that television show everyone was going nuts about on cable. Anne blushed when he told her this.

Bob heard the train come rumbling down the track. He put his book back in his bag and then stood on the platform and waited. He’d done nothing that day except wander around the museum again, and have a few beers over at Muldoon’s. Muldoon’s was a force of habit. That’s where Bob used to go to unwind after a day at Harrison & Whitman’s. He went for happy hour and to talk with his colleagues and the blonde bartender from Ireland. He loved hearing her accent, the way she joked around with all of the other suits getting their fix of booze on the cheap, before going home to face the hell of their domestic life. Bob had kissed her once, briefly. It happened during the office’s Christmas party at Muldoon’s. It happened right by the women’s bathroom. She walked out and made a joke, something about office drunks, and Bob just planted one on her. He thought she liked it. After all, the woman did smile at him all of the time. She didn’t really like it, however, and soon after the kiss, Bob went home to Anne.

He took his book out on the train and stared at it. Bob could never remember where he was at in the thing. It was some book about the French and Indian War, written by some authority on the subject. Bob knew nothing about the French and Indian War, and decided that with Anne gone so often maybe he’d learn something about something. But it was hard reading the book. It was hard keeping up with forts and generals, and what England was doing to France, how the American Colonies fit it and such. The book was more trouble than it was worth. It was hard to lug around too. Bob thought maybe he’d just leave it on a seat on this train, let someone else take up the burden of history, but he decided against it. The book had been a gift from Anne, something to get Bob motivated toward a goal, any kind of goal.

At Atlantic the train became packed with passengers transferring. An old woman got on lugging one of those metal carts. It was full of plastic grocery bags. Bob only had another three stops to go, so he gave up the seat to the woman. She didn’t even say thanks but grumbled something, and sat her fat ass down on his warm seat. Then there was Bob pressed up against the rest of humanity like a goddamned sardine. Most days he couldn’t believe this was one of the biggest cities in the world. It felt like Calcutta, riding on packed trains like this. It felt like being a passenger in the Third World. Anne hated when Bob used to come home yelling about the trains. She’d fix him a drink and tell him to forget it. Bob thought Anne was nuts. How can you just forget a constant indignity like the rush hour train? When Anne got her secretarial job she came home raving about the trains. Bob would pour her a drink as she went off about how the city had the best public transportation in all of America. When Bob remarked that Anne took the train during off-peak hours she said nothing, started in talking about Dale.

“This is something,” an old man said to Bob. Bob looked at the man. He was barely hanging on to his pole; he was so short and shriveled. All around them sat younger people with their noses buried in electronic books or in digital phones, playing useless digital games. Not one of them could give up a seat to the old man? Bob looked over at the old lady he’d given up his seat to. She was already asleep.

“This is hell,” Bob said back to the old man. “This is what it’s like in Calcutta.”

A tall redhead gave Bob a dirty look after he said the bit about Calcutta. Christ, he thought, another one of those PC types. They make the world so difficult sometimes; you have to watch what you say even amongst the salivating masses. He couldn’t stand people like that, these vegan, yoga types. He couldn’t stand uppity bitches who had nothing better to get angry about other than the abuse of farm animals or which belabored country we weren’t helping out this week. People needed help in America, Bob thought. He gave her a look back. He smiled smugly and raised an eyebrow. He winked at her. Yeah, baby, Bob thought. I’m one of those types. The redhead turned away in disgust.

Then an idea came to him after the next stop. Bob inched a little bit closer to the redhead, as they made their way toward his station. Bob began breathing heavily, blowing his hot breath on the woman’s neck. She tried not paying attention to him, keeping her nose buried in some drab magazine, but Bob knew he was getting to her. How could he not? Blowing hot breath on her neck. A couple of times she brushed the blow of wind away, as if it were a bug or something. She tried inching forward but there was nowhere to go. She had no room to look back, that’s how close Bob had gotten to her. She was his captive, his little whore of Calcutta.

When the train reached the next station, Bob hesitated just a second. The doors on the train opened and before anyone could make a move, he reached out and grabbed a handful of the redhead’s ass. It was fit and bony, but Bob got a nice chunk of it. The woman screamed, tried to twirl around but there still wasn’t enough room, what, with the rush of people heading toward the exit doors. Bob held on, pinched again, and then turned to head out of the train doors just as the redhead was able to spin around.

“Hey!” was all she screamed, as the influx of people getting on the train stopped her from saying any more.

“See ya!” Bob shouted, standing on the platform. He waved at the redhead as the doors closed. She gave him one last angry look, before the train barreled out of the station and down into the dark depths of the tunnel. Bob stood there and watched it until the thing was gone.

He was one stop away from where he should’ve gotten off the train, but it was worth it just to see the look on that woman’s face. His little whore of Calcutta. Bob laughed as he walked along the crowded evening street. He stopped in a bar, not his regular one, and had a couple of beers with a hamburger, as the evening news played on a huge television in the corner of the room. Bob ate the burger voraciously. He was happy that it didn’t come out of a box. When he was done the bartender took his plate away with a smile. She was another blonde. Bob imagined kissing her too, but decided to have a third beer instead.

It wasn’t a bad walk home. Winter was coming again, and the evenings were getting his kind of cold. Most people bundled up in this weather, but not Bob. Bob could go deep into December before he had to pull out the winter coat and hat. Sometimes he made it to January, he thought, stopping to look at sundry items in the many stores that lined the street. Maybe he’d pick up a little something for Anne, like a bottle of wine for when she got home. Yes, Bob thought. He went into a liquor store and bought a big bottle of red, enough for the two of them to get silly on.

There were voices in the apartment. Bob could hear them from down the hall. There was chatter and then laughter. A male voice he didn’t recognize was raised in the most dramatic fashion. What the hell? Bob thought. He could smell food cooking too, one of the dishes that Anne used to make before she got the job. Bob took in a huge huff of the smell and then reached into his pants to dig for his keys. But as soon as they dangled in the lock, the door opened. Anne saw him and smiled.

“Hey,” she said.

“I got the wine,” Bob said. “I thought you’d be working late.”

He stepped inside the apartment. In the kitchen was a short, balding man with a salt and pepper colored goatee. Bob eyed him and then scanned the living room. Sitting on his couch, on his seat, was the redhead from the train. She was drinking a glass of his good bourbon, watching the evening news on his television set. Bob gave her a dumb smile, which the redhead met with a dark glare. She put her glass of bourbon down and got off of the couch.

“Bob, this is Dale,” Anne said, directing Bob toward the bald man. Bob shook his hand but watched in the living room as the redhead reached for her coat.

“Yes,” Bob said, putting the wine on the kitchen table. Then the three of them watched as the redhead put on her coat and reached for her purse.

“And that’s Linda,” Anne said, an awkward look on her face. Bob had never heard about Linda. She put her purse on her shoulder and began walking toward them.

“Hello,” Bob said to the advancing woman.

“We were going to work from home tonight, if you don’t mind,” Anne said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Autograph Session

Autograph Session

Frankie’s old man pulled the car over by Gate C, which was just about at left field, and not even close to Gate A, which was where everyone seemed to be getting into the stadium on that particular day.

“I’ll pick you up here in a couple of hours,” he said.

Frankie looked at the short distance ahead of him, at packs of kids and their fathers all heading toward Gate A, the proper gate. “You can’t pull up a little bit more.”

Frankie’s dad surveyed the scene. Lines of cars with other fathers dropping their kids off, a mess of traffic that was sure to delay his getting over to Sal’s for an early round. At least from Gate C his old man could back the car up a little bit and head right down Spring Way without getting caught in any of that miserable shit. “No.”

“Fine,” Frankie said. He grabbed his satchel and go out of the car.

“Two hours.”

“Gate C.” Then his old man backed up the car, cut it quickly right, honked once, and was gone down the lonely, narrow street. “Lousy drunk.” Frankie wasn’t sure if this was true or not, if his old man was, in fact, a lousy drunk, but he’d certainly heard his mother call his dad one enough to believe there might be some level of truth to the statement.

Frankie stopped over by a vacant hot dog stand, for no vendor felt that being stationed up at Gate C, left field entrance, was worth his time on a day like this, and checked his satchel. Three National League issue baseballs. Check. A color 8x10 photo of Roberto Morris going deep on a Rawlings. Check. One glossy Ticket to the Crusaders All-Day Autograph Bash. Check. Frankie put it all back in the satchel and nodded proudly. He’d been waiting months for this. Crusaders All-Day Autograph Bash. It happened once a year. All the Crusader players sat in groups of three around the stadium, and fans lined up to get autographs and their pictures taken with their favorites.

Frankie had one favorite, Roberto Morris, AKA, Bobby Mo. Bobby Mo was the Crusaders to Frankie. The lone hero on a team that was destined to lose ninety games this season, for the third straight year. Bobby Mo had a .380 batting average at the All-Star break, and people were already throwing his name around with Teddy Ballgame, and the immortal mark of .400. He’d just made a splash at the big game in New York last week, going 3-4, and hitting in the final three runs on the deepest triple anyone had ever seen on television. Of course all the television announcers could talk about was how Bobby Mo’s free agent season was coming up, and that chances were good that triple was the first in a long line of big moments for him in New York. Screw that, Frankie thought. Bobby Mo came up with the Crusaders. He defined the Crusaders. This town wouldn’t be shit without Bobby Mo.

Of course, Frankie’s old man hated Bobby Mo. He called him a hot dog; said Bobby didn’t hustle for the ball out there in right field. Frankie’s old man said that Bobby threw like a girl, and wasn’t worth all the money those goddamned owners were going to throw at him once the season was over and he realized that he could get out of this shit town for a brighter skyline. It pissed Frankie off to hear this, so much so that he quit watching the games with his old man. He’d go down to Mickey’s house and together they’d watch the games with Mickey’s old man, a guy who loved Bobby Mo, and could appreciate a .380 batting average in July. Mickey’s dad said that Bobby’s arm was average for right field, and that some girls threw an awful lot harder than we fellows thought. Frankie’s dad said that Mickey’s dad probably threw like a girl too.

Frankie made his way toward Gate A, and the throngs of people working to get in. He felt the baseballs in his satchel, and wished that he didn’t have to do this alone. Mickey was supposed to come. It was supposed to be the two of them, but Mickey’s goddamned mother had to go into labor that morning, and Mickey’s grandmother had to be in town to stop him from going. One of the baseballs was for Mickey, for sure. The other was for Mickey’s dad. Frankie already had a shiny new ball holder at home for his baseball. It came with an extra slot for a baseball card as well. Frankie had already selected the card; Bobby Mo’s rookie card. Now all he needed was that third ball signed. The glossy 8x10 was going on his wall of fame, third wall in the room, covered with Crusader pennants and used game tickets. The Bobby Mo photo would be the centerpiece.

“You got your ticket, kid,” the usher at Gate A asked.

“Um.” Frankie fumbled around in his atchel and pulled out the ticket. It was only a little bit bent. “Here.” The usher scanned it and handed it back. Then he sent Frankie through the gate with the other excited masses.

It was like being at a regular Crusaders game, Frankie thought. All of the concessions were open. You could smell hot dogs and popcorn, and even some stale beer. The team gift shop was open and there were tons of people inside, buying souvenirs, and getting last minute things for the players to sign. Frankie walked over toward a row of box seats, and looked out onto the field. He sighed. The field looked beautiful and green, like a real diamond out there. The scoreboard even looked better from this vantage point.

Frankie looked to right field and imagined Bobby Mo firing one in to home plate. He cringed. Well, at least he could picture Bobby Mo lobbing one to the cut-off man at second. Then he touched one of the dark, plastic seats in front of him. He never got to sit in the box seats. They were too expensive his old man said. When they went to the game they sat in the nosebleeds and Frankie’s old man bought him a hot dog and a soda, and sucked down three beers for himself with a thing of nachos. Just once Frankie would’ve forgone the six-dollar hot dog and three-dollar soda, for a chance to sit so close to the action. He would’ve gladly eaten at home.

Then his cell phone rang. “You lucky bastard,” Mickey said.

“I know,” Frankie answered, still looking around the place with awe. “I wish your gram would’ve let you come.”

“I told you not to tell her your dad was driving.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Nothing,” Mickey said. “Anyway you still got my ball?”


“Get him to sign it on the sweet spot.”

“No doubt.”

Mickey sighed. “Bobby Mo written right on the sweet spot.”

“You’re goddamned right about that,” Frankie said, trying to sound like his old man.

“Are you getting a picture with him?”

“I don’t have anyone to take my picture. That was your job.”

“Damn,” Mickey said.

“How’s your mom?” Frankie asked.

“Who cares?” Then Mickey’s grandmother began yelling in the background. “I have to go.”
Frankie hung up the phone and looked around the stadium, trying to figure out where the players were. Around the Taco Hut he found the first group of them: Charlie Grissom, Mark Presley, and fireball relief pitcher Neal Rivera. Charlie Grissom was the big stud rookie who’d just come up in May. The sportswriters called him the future of the franchise. He was currently batting about .235, and had yet to knock one out of the park. Presley was good, and Rivera had been good in his day. Frankie liked them all as much as he liked all the Crusaders, but Grissom, Presley, and Rivera were no Bobby Mo. No one was Bobby Mo. Frankie looked further in the distance, at another batch of players, but could make out whom they were. Finally an usher walked by. Frankie grabbed his arm, and the guy gave him a gruff brush.

“Excuse me,” Frankie called to him.

“What, kid?”

“Where’s Bobby Mo?”

The usher groaned then pulled a sheet of paper out of his back pocket, examining it as if it contained vital information. Frankie knew that it did. “He’s down that way.” The usher pointed in the opposite direction of the Taco Hut. “Down toward Left Field.”


“Yeah. You shoulda used Gate C.”

“Shit,” Frankie said to himself. He began the long walk back toward Gate C.

There was a huge line. Of course there was. You couldn’t even see where the players were sitting. The line was filled with guys like himself, boys carrying satchels full of memorabilia, and old men with big, graying caterpillar moustaches, sports merchandise peddlers, holding stacks of glossy 8x10s. They all smelled of cheap cigars and beer. Last year one of the peddlers tried to pay Frankie and Mickey to go into lines, and get some of the stuff signed, but they refused because of all the security guards standing around. There wasn’t even enough time for themselves to get autographs, even with Bobby Mo missing the big session due to a groin injury.
Frankie stood on this toes and craned his neck. In the deep distance, he could see him. Bobby Mo was sitting on the left side of the table, signing things, and talking to a guy standing to his right. The guy was wearing a suit, had sunglasses on, and his gray hair was slicked back. It was Sean Horton, the big sports agent. Everyone knew about him. He was the agent for most of the big stars in the game. Frankie looked at Horton talking to Bobby Mo and then into his cell phone, and a small surge of hatred well up inside of him. Frankie’s old man thought that Horton was a genius. He said Horton was going to get Bobby Mo out of the city by hook or crook next season. He had it all worked out on the down low with one of those teams in New York. If only something could be done about Sean Horton, Frankie thought.

“Are you a big Bobby Mo fan?” some kid asked. Frankie took his hateful gaze away from Sean Horton, and looked at the kid standing in front of him in line. He was some fat loser with blonde hair and glasses that were too small for his face. He had a replica Bobby Mo jersey on. The jersey didn’t even fit him right.

“Yeah,” Frankie said, hesitantly.

“What do you have?” the kid asked, trying to look down into Frankie’s satchel.

“Some balls and stuff.”

The kid nodded. He was holding a replica Crusaders helmet, so Frankie didn’t bother asking him what he was getting signed. “They’re only signing like one thing.”

“Bullshit,” Frankie said.

The kid’s eyes widened like he never heard the word before. “No, it’s true. My brother got Charlie Grissom’s autograph, and the guy before him had like a stack of things to sign, and they wouldn’t let him.”

“That’s because he’s one of those sports merchandise guys,” Frankie said. “They never let those guys get more than one thing signed. We’re just kids.”

“Well, I’m just telling you what my brother said,” the kid said.

“Well, I don’t care what your brother said.”

Frankie turned away from the fat kid and looked back up toward Bobby Mo. He was still signing away and talking to Sean Horton. This line will take forever, Frankie thought. He wanted to throw down his stuff and shout at the people around him, get things moving a little bit. He hated waiting. Waiting was all that Frankie did. He waited for his mother to get home from work to make dinner. He waited for his old man to finish dinner, before he’d toss him a few pop flies in the backyard. He waited for Mickey, waited countless hours for Mickey, to get done digesting food before they could play wiffle ball in the street. He waited until almost seven every night for the Crusaders game to come on, and for the announcer Jim Farrington to say, “Sounds like some hits to me,” when Bobby Mo came to bat. Life was one big, goddamned wait to Frankie. His old man told him to get used to it. He said get used to waiting and back pain, whatever that meant.
Then he heard shouts behind him. Frankie looked back. Some younger kids were crying and people were shouting at a small pack of ushers.

“What’s going on?” Frankie asked the fat kid.

“They closed off the line,” he said. “Sucks.”

Frankie breathed in deeply, suddenly happy for his long wait in line. “No kidding.”

It took a long time, over an hour, and there’d be no time to get anyone else’s autograph before his old man was waiting back at Gate C, but Frankie didn’t care. He was less than four people away from his hero. He looked at Bobby Mo. Bobby looked bigger in person than he did on television. The navy colored short-sleeve shirt that he was wearing made his muscles bulge. Frankie wanted muscles like that. He and Mickey spent hours lifting weights in his basement, and then holding a baseball bat the way that Bobby Mo did, taking swings, pretending to knock the stuffing off of a Rawlings. Mickey had even perfected doing that thing Bobby Mo did whenever he missed a ball. Bobby Mo would walk out of the batter’s box, clasp the bat with both hands, take in a deep breath and look up at the sky as if praying to God, before lighly tapping his helmet with the bat and stepping back in the box. Mickey had it down pat. Frankie always missed the intake of breath, so his Bobby Mo was less than perfect.

He was next. The fat kid stepped up to the table, and set his helmet down. Bobby Mo didn’t even look at it, as he signed. He kept his head turned toward Sean Horton, talking to him in between Horton’s cell phone call. The fat kid kept trying to talk to Bobby, but Bobby would answer him. He spoke only to Horton. Bobby Mo won’t do this. Bobby Mo won’t pay that. Bobby Mo won’t play there next season, unless they’re serious about winning. Frankie heard all of this talk and his heart dropped. But then he thought maybe the fat kid was just a drag. Bobby Mo better be getting paid that, or they can find someone else.

The fat kid was gone. Frankie took in a deep breath, the way Bobby Mo did it, and stepped up to the table. He figured he’d ask Bobby about his .380 batting average and what it felt like chasing Teddy Ballgame. He reached into his satchel and pulled out the first ball. Bobby Mo took it without looking at him, and signed that ball underneath the table. Frankie couldn’t see where he signed the thing.

“Bobby Mo wants at least a mil,” Bobby Mo said to Horton while he signed Frankie’s ball under the table. Horton turned away from his phone and nodded. “I’m serious, Sean.”

“Mr. Morris,” Frankie started. But Bobby Mo didn’t even acknowledge him.

He gave the ball back to Frankie. Actually Bobby Mo set it on the table and let it roll. Frankie grabbed the ball and looked at it. He hadn’t even signed it on the sweet spot, and the signature was smudged. Damn it, Frankie thought. His heart raced. He could feel the sweat collecting underneath his Crusader’s hat. Bobby Mo wants at least a mil. Quickly he grabbed his second baseball and tried to hand it to his idol.

“Bobby,” Frankie started again.

“Kid,” an usher said. It was a woman, some tall, lanky chick. It felt like she came out of nowhere. “The players can only sign one thing.”

“But,” Frankie looked at Bobby Mo for some help, but Bobby Mo was asking Sean Horton about his car commercial deal. “I have some more stuff.”

“Everyone has more stuff,” the usher said. “One item per person.” And then she pointed at the huge line behind Frankie as if to get her point across.

“Can’t I just to one more thing?” Frankie asked. The ball for Mickey, or maybe the glossy 8x10. Again he appealed to Bobby Mo, but he was talking to Sean Horton about his deal with Pepsi.

“No,” the usher said. “There’s still time to get someone else’s autograph. How about Charlie Grissom?”


“Come on, kid,” another usher said, some pimple-faced college student this time, taking Frankie by the arm and pulling him out of the line.

Frankie sulked up against a wall. He watched Bobby Mo sign for a few more minutes, stupefied, as if he couldn’t believe what had happened. One goddamned item? But it was true. Nearly every person that came up after him had to be told the same thing. Kids with baseball cards and pictures were turned away after one signature. Sports peddlers were berated by the ushers, and escorted promptly out of line by security guards if they got too loud. Sean Horton even made it a point to interrupt one of his phone calls to yell at a guy. Bobby Mo didn’t say anything to anybody except Horton. He didn’t even say anything to the blonde usher when she handed him a cup of water. He just kept on saying Bobby Mo this and Bobby Mo that. Frankie’s world felt crushed. He looked at his one signed baseball, the smudged signature that was not even on the sweet spot, tossed it in his satchel, and he headed out of Gate C.

There was a garbage can right by the unused hot dog vending cart. Frankie opened his satchel and took out the glossy 8x10. He took one last look at Bobby Mo going psycho on a Rawlings before he ripped the picture and tossed it into the trash. Then he took the two unsigned baseballs and threw them away as well. Lastly he came to the signed baseball, the tainted jewel that had a ball holder waiting for it at home. Frankie looked at the signature. It didn’t even look like Bobby Mo’s signature, at least not the way he wrote his name on all of the balls that they had for sale at the sports store in the mall. Tears welled in Frankie’s eyes. He brushed them away, feeling like a fool. He was just about to throw the signed baseball in the garbage can when he heard his old man’s horn honk.

“Two hours, right on time,” his old man said, pulling up to the curb. Frankie got in the car and stared straight ahead. “So was it everything you hoped it would be?”

“Yeah,” Frankie said, quietly.

“Well, let me see them.”


“Huh?” the old man said.

“They would only let me get one thing signed.”

Frankie handed the baseball to his old man, and his dad examined it. “Didn’t even sign it on the sweet spot, did he?”

“No,” Frankie said. His old man tried to give the ball back, but Frankie wouldn’t take it. So his old man leaned over and put the ball back into the satchel. “Bobby Mo doesn’t sign on the sweet spot.”

“I see,” his old man said. Then they were silent a while, the car still idling outside of the stadium, as happy kids and their fathers walked by. Frankie breathed in deeply, the way Bobby Mo did. The whole car smelled of sweat and stale beer.

“Can we just go?” Frankie finally asked.

“Sure,” his old man said, pulling the car back out onto the street. He made a left and took them down Spring Way. “How about a burger and a Coke at Sal’s?”

“Fine,” Frankie said, quietly. He felt serious hunger pains in his belly. Or maybe it was something else.

“He still throws like a girl,” Frankie’s old man said. Frankie looked up at his old man. He wanted to be angry at him, to cry, but instead he laughed. His old man seemed shocked at first, but then he laughed too. He took off Frankie’s hat and tussled his sweaty mop of hair. Then the two of them kept on down Spring Way, until you couldn’t see the stadium anymore, just houses and houses full of people doing ordinary and common things on a summer afternoon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Born Here, Die Here

Born Here, Die Here

Regis had just finished his drink when Davy came in pushing Gino in a wheelchair. All the guys in the bar made a loud roar, and Gino waved like the fucking president before Davy set him over at a table by the television. A couple of the guys left their stools and came over to slap Gino on the back, lean down and talk to him for a little bit, before going back and hunching over their drinks again. Some continued yelling and laughing. It was like a goddamned resurrection, the most interesting thing to happen in the bar in weeks.

“Christ, Skip, can you get me another one?” Regis said, shaking his glass.

Skip took the glass then nodded over toward the table. “How long’s he been gone for?”

“About a month, give or take some days.”

“What happened?”
Regis shook his head and gave Skip a look. “You don’t know? Shit, you been bartendin’ here for fifteen years. Gino comes in every day.”


“His wife died last month.”

“I know that part, genius. Why’s he in a wheelchair?” Skip asked, setting down Regis’ new draft.

“Had a mild stroke about three weeks ago.”

“And he’s in a bar?”

“Yeah,” Regis said. “Ain’t his money any good?”

“To each their own,” Skip answered.

Davy came over to the bar. Regis didn’t like Davy. They’d known each other since grade school. They’d both worked for Gino in the corner store during high school and college; Davy sweeping floors while Regis ran the deli and innocently flirted with Francesca. They’d both sat at Gino’s table drinking jug wine and talking about football while slurping down plates full of Francesca’s prized carbonera pasta. They’d both been married around the same time, but didn’t attend each other’s weddings. Regis was happy to hear about Davy’s divorce, and then felt chagrined nine months later when Paula dropped the bomb on him. Davy’s life seemed to run parallel to Regis’ in some perverted manner. And here they were almost thirty years later, out of love and luck, sucking away the lonesome hours at the same bar their fathers and uncles used to drink at after their jobs at the brewery. Regis didn’t like Davy because he’d grown into the bar kiss-ass, the guy who went on sandwich runs for pocket change, who drove you home if you had more than him; Davy was the kind of asshole who picked you up at the hospital after you had a mild stroke. He was a good guy and everybody said so, and that was another reason why Regis didn’t like him.

“Hey guys,” Davy said. He nodded over toward Gino, who was vacantly staring at the television. “See what the old man can do?”

“He’s a wonder of mankind,” Regis said.

“That he is, Reg. Two weeks ago he was still laid up. But now we got him this wheelchair and it seems to be working.”

“Who’s we?”

“Me and a couple of the guys.”

Regis grunted.

“You should’ve come by the hospital to see him,” Davy said.

“I got hired on this job and....”

“That’s nice.”

“How’s he doing, you know, with Francesca and all?”

“He still can’t talk about it.”

Regis nodded. He always liked Francesca. Back then she’d been a beautiful olive-skinned woman in solid colored, round-necked dresses, a New World woman playing the part of Old World bella for her husband, who could please the lady customers with gossip at the cash register, and flirt with the male customers coming in to get something that their wives forgot. In the bar she could put them down with the best of the guys. Scotch, whiskey, shooters of beer; it didn’t matter. Francesca would drink booze and laugh while Gino talked with bookies and other bar flies, pumping quarters in the jukebox to hear her Louis Prima songs or her blessed Dean Martin. Most of the time she was the only woman in a place full of old blue collar men drinking away the hours after work, teaching their underage sons how to do the same. Regis’ dad called Francesca the grand dame of Liberty Avenue.

Regis looked over at the Power Poker machine. Later on, it was Francesca’s favorite tavern diversion, something to drown out the monotony that she said was life with Gino after he closed the corner shop and retired. She used to spend hours playing it while Gino held court with the group of them, talking about the old days Lawrenceville and the characters that used to walk into the store off the street, a time when the baseball team wasn’t so bad, and the city was still covered in soot. Gino loved to talk about the old names: Frankie Kunkle, Jimmy Wrobleski, and all of the others who were gone.

Francesca called them dumb ghosts. Regis figured that Gino’s diarrhea of the mouth was another reason why she spent so much time alone at that machine. It kept her sanity. And after Francesca died, Regis played that machine for two hours straight just thinking about her, about the past, losing forty dollars in the process. He couldn’t bring himself to go and see Gino, even though he’d been like a father, well, maybe an uncle to him. He couldn’t bear to see Francesca cold and lifeless in her casket. There was enough lifelessness sitting in the bar, or out on the street. Regis skipped the wake and the funeral too, opting to spend the day in the ‘Round Corner with Skip talking his ear off about the horses, going home when he knew the regulars, and maybe Gino, would come. Regis couldn’t rectify the past with the present. He missed the Gino and Francesca that he knew. They added something to the bar, he always thought. It wasn’t class. Nah, this joint was beyond class. They added kindness.

“Have you heard from Paula?” Davy asked. The name still stung Regis. Why ask that? He thought. He and Paula had been divorced for three years and had no kids. Why would he hear from her?

“I think she’s living in Harrisburg,” Regis said mechanically, looking through Davy to where Gino sat almost motionless.

Davy glanced back. “Maybe he’ll talk to you about things.”

“Nah,” Regis said, taking a pull on his drink. “You know, Gino. He’ll talk about everything except what he’s got buried in the basement.”

“Still, you should go over and sit with him for a few.” Regis looked over at the poker machine and then turned to meet Davy eye to eye. Christ, how he hated him. Who made Davy McNally, Gino’s benefactor anyway. “He’s been asking about you since the hospital.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably stop over,” Regis said.

Skip handed Davy two tall drafts. “Good,” Davy said, then walked back over to the table to sit with Gino. Then there was two of them staring blankly at the television.

“That fucking guy,” Regis said.

“Davy?” Skip said. “Davy’s all right.”

“You don’t know him like I know him.”

“He does things for people. Things he don’t have to do. I know that. And it makes him okay in my book.”

“Sure. We got our own Jesus Christ right here at the ‘Round Corner.”

Skip leaned over the bar. “You don’t have to say that. You don’t need to take his name like that.”

“Right, Skip. Because you’re so religious. That’s why you’re open on a Sunday afternoon.”

“Hey, I went to church this morning. What did you do, Reg?”

Regis finished his draft. “I cleaned a fucking bank all night, so that I could come here and spend my dough and keep you and your wife in the lap of luxury.” He threw down a few more dollars and pushed his glass toward Skip.

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m getting so wealthy on you drinking all of this green beer,” Skip said, refilling the pint. “I think I’ll go and buy that yacht now.”

“Good,” Regis said taking his pint. He took a good pull and then walked over toward the poker machine. He thought about putting a dollar in and starting up a game, but money was scarce. And if he won Skip probably wouldn’t pay out today anyway. So Regis took a couple long pulls on his pint, set the rest down on a counter, and made to leave.

“Regis,” Gino said. His voice already thick from Italy sounded garbled with whatever stress the stroke had put on him.

Regis turned to look, and there was Davy beckoning him over. “Sit down, man.”

Regis sat and no one spoke. Davy nursed his draft and Gino let his sit, content to stare up at the game on the television. The voices of the announcers boomed down on Regis’ head. They came at him like echoes, distant, hollow voices, saying nothing of value. He looked at the scratched wood of the table. If nothing else, Regis thought, he should’ve gone to the funeral. The cask would’ve been closed at the funeral. Suddenly, desperately, Regis needed another drink. But when he got up, Gino lightly grabbed his hand.

“She said she didn’t want to be burned,” he started. “She said, Gino, I was born here and now I’m gonna die here.” He paused for a few minutes, his face contorting, searching for words that had been lost. “She said be sure you put me somewhere nice.”

“And did you?” Regis asked, his voice growing tighter.

Gino nodded. “I found a big oak tree in the cemetery. She’s there.”

“That’s great.” Regis patted Gino’s hand and then rose. He walked over to the bar, his body feeling like lead. When he got there, Skip eyed him up. “Another draft, Skip.”

“Where’s your glass?”

Regis just shook his head. Skip sighed and grabbed a new pint from a row of glasses then set about filling the new draft. “How about a shot of Imperial as well.”

Skip nodded and got Regis a shot. He set them both down and took a few more dollars from Regis’ pile of bills. He held a five up and winked. “Now I can get that new wing put on the mansion as well.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Laundry Day

I came in the laundry room, and there she was taking all of my clothes out of the washing machine that I’d been using.

“Jesus Christ,” I said to her. “What are you doing?”

She didn’t even look at me but jumped a little bit. “You scared me.”

“What are you doing?”

“These clothes have been sitting in the washing machine for longer than a half hour. I have every right to take them out.”

“Lady, they’ve been in the machine for thirty-five minutes,” I said. I looked around the room. “Besides, there are four other machines in here.”

“This is my favorite machine,” she said, tossing pieces of my clothing into a corroded cart. She stopped to examine a few of my wine stained t-shirts, shakes her head, and then tosses them too.

“Do you mind?” I said.

“I have my rights.” She pointed to a sign posted on the wall. The sign said that other tenants reserve the right to remove clothing out of the washers and dryers should they be in the machines for thirty minutes after their cycle is done.

“But it’s only been five extra minutes,” I said.

“How do I know that?” she said, tossing the last of my clothing in the cart. She pushed the cart toward me without a thought and then began to load her laundry into my machine. “They could’ve been here all day.”

“It’s nine-thirty in the morning,” I said.

“Some of us have been up for hours,” she said.

“It’s been five minutes, lady,” I said. “I went to take out the trash with one minute remaining on the machine. And then I came back.” I stepped closer to her.

“Don’t you come any closer to me!” she said. “I don’t know you.”

“I live here,” I said.

“I don’t know that. You could be someone off the street. You could be a rapist.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I said.


I started looking through my cart. “You didn’t even let these clothes spin.”

“What did you say?”

“What are you some kind of washing Nazi? Did you wait until I left, and then just pounce on my machine.”

She stopped putting her clothing in the machine. “I’m getting the super. I’m calling the landlord. You can’t talk to me that way.”

I pushed the corroded cart over to a dryer and began unloading my clothes in it. Then I stopped. “This isn’t your favorite dryer, is it?” I ask.

“Keep it up,” she said. “You’ll be out on the street.”

“It’s just that I don’t want to use this dryer if it’s your absolute favorite,” I said. “If it has some sentimental value to you.”

“You have a smart mouth,” she said.

I picked up the rest of my clothing and tossed them into the machine while she continued to bitch at me. I pumped the machine full of quarters and thought about how I was going to leave the clothing in it all day while I sat at the bar and got drunk on two-dollar cans of silver bullet. “Lady, I don’t think you could pick smart out of a police line-up.”

“You’ll be on the street,” she repeated. “You’ll be out there in the cold with the rest of the bums.”

I bowed to her. “And a good day to you too, m’lady.”

Then I left the laundry room and began walking down the hall. The super had just put in these new timer lights that were supposed to turn on when it sensed human motion. The lights failed often for me.

“You could’ve been a rapist!” I heard her shout.

Then I reached the elevator and pushed the button for my floor, wondering what tasks in this world were actually simple, and why could I never find those to do on a rainy Saturday morning with the wine bottle empty and the bars not yet open for the day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mistaken Identity

“What is that?” Jake asked, breathlessly sitting down across from Martin. As usual Martin had Jake’s beer waiting, a Stella Artois.

“Oh, do you mean this?” Martin said pointing at the rash on his neck, and the ones going down both of his arms. “This would be a rash brought on by using that spray and starch shit that you left out for me.”

“I didn’t tell you to douse yourself in it, man,” Jake said fidgeting, staring out the beer-sign slathered window, before taking a pull on his beer. He gave no money to Martin for the drink, par for the course as well. “How much did you use?”

“Not much,” Martin said, wincing. Then he scratched both arms. “I sprayed it on my shirt and on the suit pants.”

“Good God, man. You should see a doctor.”

“Don’t start. You know how I feel about....”

“Listen,” Jake interrupted. “Something happened to me today.”

“What now?” Martin asked, having some of his own beer. He tried not to scratch his neck, but the tickle underneath the skin was too much.

Jake poured down half of his pint. “You know that girl that I was telling you about? The one who comes into the center for my poetry class?”

“You mean the sixteen-year-old?”

“The very same.”

“Do I want to know about this?” Martin asked.

“No. But you need to. It affects us both.” Jake was silent a moment. He finished off his beer, as a flock of blonde administrative assistants came cackling into the bar. Jake had slept with the tall one. Martin had failed with two of the others. “I sort of slept with her.”

“How does one sort of sleep with a teenager?” Martin asked, incredulously.

“Easily,” Jake said. “You meet for coffee after the poetry class. She gushes over some of your favorite poets, she gushes over you, and then nature sort of takes its course.”

“I see. And where did this illicit encounter take place?” Martin scratched both arms then finished off his beer.

“Our apartment.”

“You brought a sixteen year-old girl to our apartment!” Martin shouted, standing up. When he realized he was making a small spectacle of himself he quickly regained his composure, and leaned in close to Jake. “You brought a child to our apartment...and fucked her?”

“If you want to be base like that, and put it in those terms,” Jake said.

“What other terms are there for statutory rape?” Martin asked, grabbing both pint glasses off the table.

“Now you’re just being crass.”

“I doubt I’m the crass one here,” Martin said. “Think about that while I’m gone.” Then he went and grabbed two more pints from the bar.

While Martin waited for the beer, another set of pints that he would pay for, he watched Jake. Jake sat there like he hadn’t a care in the world, smiling at a few of the blonde women then fiddling with his cell phone. How had this happened? Martin thought. No one should get an apartment with someone they don’t really know, no matter how desperate the situation. But it had been desperate. Elaine had left him with a note. Two years together and she couldn’t even level with him in person. Had he been that bad? Martin wondered. Had he been that horrid to her? A rough time finding a job, a few bouts with the bottle, and Elaine was down for the count. Rumor had it that she was living over in Hoboken with a dentist. A dentist. And here was Martin left with the Jake the kid fucker.

“Your beers,” the bartender said, breaking Martin out of his thoughts.

“Thanks,” he said, throwing a ten on the bar.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Jake said, when Martin sat back down. He took his draft and had a good pull on it.

“Of course you are,” Martin said, scratching his neck, watching his roommate suck down the free suds. “If memory serves me correctly, you mentioned that this little tryst with the child affects both of us.”

“You really should buy some cream for that rash,” Jake said, coming up for air from his pint. “It looks really red.”

“Never mind that. The girl.”

“Oh.” Jake was silent a moment. He looked outside the bar at the quickly darkening street. “There might be some complications that we’re both going to have to deal with.”


“Like there’s someone waiting outside our apartment right now.”

“Right now?” Martin asked. Frustration welled inside of him, similar to when Jake left clothes all over the place, similar to when Jake had random women over, similar, no this was much worse. Way fucking worse. “Could that person be, I don’t know, the child’s father?”

“No, thank God,” Jake said. “It’s her boyfriend.”

“So there’s a sixteen year-old boy outside of our apartment waiting to exact his revenge upon you because you deflowered his girlfriend?”

“I wouldn’t say I deflowered anything,” Jake said, smiling. “And he’s seventeen. A pretty good poet too.”

“Is he in the workshop?” Martin asked, disbelieving this entire conversation. He had some beer, wondered what Elaine and her dentist were doing in that moment. Surely they weren’t discussing statutory rape.

“No, but she lets me read some of his work.”


“It’s sappy and overly sentimental, but with the right teacher he could have a future.”

“Not his fucking poetry,” Martin spat. “I mean what are you going to do about this?”

“I was hoping he’d just go away,” Jake said. “You know teenagers. With all the technology they can’t keep their minds on anything sustainable.”

Martin nodded, looking down at Jake’s cell phone, portable video game player, and his portable music player, resting like a digital bundle on the table. “But what if he doesn’t go?”

“That’s where you come in,” Jake said.


He took a long pull on his draft, finishing it. Martin was determined not to buy him a third. “I want you to talk to the kid.”


“You’re better with words than I am,” Jake said.

“You’re a published poet for Christ’s sake!” Martin said. “You have a blog. You teach a fucking class! How in the hell am I better with words than you are?”

“Soothing words.”

“What are soothing words?”

“Look,” Jake started. But then he stopped. He scratched his head and looked Martin right in the eyes. “I know what happened between you and your girlfriend. I heard you talking on the phone to her that one time, and I just thought that maybe you could relate some information to the kid, you know, like smooth things over.”

“Because my girlfriend left me?” Martin asked, before finishing off his draft in one long pull. “Because I’ve been fucked over?”

“Well, not in those words. I-I just thought you could relate to him better.”

“Of course you thought that,” Martin said, standing. He sighed then scratched the swelling red blotch on his neck.

“So you’ll do it?”

“If he’s standing outside of the building, I mean, what choice do I have? I’d like to get a peaceful night sleep, you know.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Don’t thank me for shit,” Martin said. He made to leave.

“Hey, Marty?” Jake called to him.


“Can you spot me a ten? I’m going to hang out here a bit,” Jake nodded over toward the pack of blonde administrative assistants, “and see what’s happening.”

Martin laughed bitterly, but opened his wallet and gave Jake a ten. “You and I need to talk once this is all said and done.”

“Sure thing.” Jake held up the bill. “Thanks.”

Outside the bar there was a decent wind, and Martin huddled into himself. He was underdressed, a symptom of the rash. He couldn’t handle clothing touching his red and welted skin. A light rain began to fall. It figured. Light rain always fell during dooming moments such as this one. Light rain fell the day Martin came home to a half-empty apartment, and a quickly scrawled “Dear John” letter from Elaine. Light rain was the blight on Martin’s world.

Around the corner he saw a tall, lanky figure hanging in front of the building. The light from the lamppost made him look imposing, and Martin wondered if it wasn’t, in fact, the girl’s father. He braced himself, walked a little bit gingerly in the rain. As he got closer Martin loosened up. It wasn’t the girl’s father. It was the boyfriend, an awkward kid with a matt of wet hair, and cheeks that looked rosy and newborn. He almost looked pathetic. Martin put on his kind smile and approached.

“Hey kid,” He began. But the boy charged him.

“No, you listen!” he shouted. “I don’t know what kind of a teacher you are, or what. But how? How could you, dude? She was my girlfriend!”

Martin backed away a little bit, and the boy didn’t pursue. “But I’m not...”

“I should’ve known too,” The kid interrupted. “She kept talking and talking about this poetry class at the center, kept saying how cool you were, and what a great writer you were. Then she came home with one of your books, right? It was even signed. She kept telling me I had to read it, like you were the greatest poet or something. And you know what, dude?” The kid stopped for a moment, and tussled his wet, sticking hair. “You suck as a poet! My little brother writes better poems than you.”

Martin couldn’t help but smile at that.

“You think that’s funny?” The kid asked. “I guess you got it all figured out, huh? Living in this big place, banging a bunch of chicks because they think you’re all smart. Having some rash all over your neck.” The kid got a crooked smile on his face. “Or maybe you aren’t so slick. Yeah, maybe you’re some kind of loser who has to go around and pick up high school chicks. You know that’s illegal right, dude? You know I could go and tell her dad, and then it would be the end of you. He’s like a cop or something.”

“Is he really a cop?” Martin asked, scratching himself.

The kid glared at him. “No. But he knows some cops. Dude, you could go to jail.”

“Kid,” Martin began, but then he stopped. He looked at the kid. His hair was soaked, a dirty brown, sopping mess. And his jean jacket was damp at the shoulders. He looked like a drowned rat, to use a clichéd phrase. “You probably don’t want to hear this, especially from me, but I know how you feel.” The kid crinkled up his face at what Martin said. Martin didn’t want to continue either. But he felt he had to. “It’s true. Did you know that I was married once? Did she tell you that?"


“Well, I was. I had...Christ, she was beautiful, man. Raven hair. The softest face. Her eyes were almost purple; they were so dark and rich. And we used to just spend hours together, doing nothing but being together. I mean we’d read or watch a movie or go for walks or something, but it was just good to be together, you know?” Martin was silent for a moment. He could feel the rain begin to weaken. “We were like that for a long time.”

“Yeah,” The kid said. He crossed his arms but seemed to calm a little bit. “And then what happened?”

“She left me.”


Martin paused. “She left me. I came home one day and the apartment, this big apartment, was half empty.”

“She took all your stuff?”

“No. She took her stuff. Maybe she took some of my stuff that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that she was gone. She left nothing but a note, kid, and not anything worth keeping. All it said was that she’d probably never loved me.” Martin took out a cigarette, the one luxury he allowed himself toward the end of the day. But he needed it now. “Do you mind?”

The kid took out his own pack of smokes, and lit one. He held the match out to Martin. “Do you mind?”

“Touché,” Martin said, cautiously lighting his smoke.

“So you got fucked over, and you go around fucking other people over. Is that what I’m supposed to get from this story?”

“No,” Martin began. “That’s not it at all. What you’re supposed to get this shit happens to everyone, right? We all get fucked over in this game of love. Some of us get it when we’re young, like you, and thankfully you can get over it pretty quickly. And some of us.... well...some of us get it later on in life, and it takes some time, a long time to get over it.”

“So you’re not over her?” The kid asked. “I mean your wife.”

“Not even close, pal.” Martin took a drag on his smoke, and blew it out into the cold, rainy night. Then he looked at the kid. “But I hope to be one day.”

“I guess you deserve a second chance.”

“I know this doesn’t mean anything to you,” Martin said. “But I’m sorry. And I am a loser. I’m a huge loser who has no business being with teenaged girls. But I didn’t know she had a boyfriend until things got too complicated. And when I found out I stopped it. I guess that’s why she told you.”

“She didn’t tell me,” The kid said. “I found some poem that she wrote about you. Then I looked you up on the Internet, and found your address.”

“The Internet?”

“You don’t know the Internet?”

“Of course I do. I just didn’t think my address was up on it.”

“Everything’s up on the Internet,” the kid said.

“So she didn’t tell you anything?” Martin asked. “You just assumed something happened between us.”

“I read her poem.”

Martin laughed out loud in spite of himself.

“What’s so funny?” The kid asked.

“Humanity,” Martin answered. “My advice to you, kid, is to get yourself another girlfriend. You’re young. And there’s got to be some little poetess out there who only wants to write poems about you.”

The kid took a drag on his smoke and considered the advice. “I guess.”

Martin tossed his smoke and made toward his front door. “I’m going to go inside now, get out of this rain. You should go home too.”

“Okay,” The kid said, tossing his smoke.

“And kid,” Martin began. “Keep writing. It’ll all work out in the end.”

“Yeah. You too. And get some cream for that rash, dude.”

“I will.”

Martin watched the kid cross the street and run over to a small car that was parked next to a fire hydrant. Then he scratched his arms until they burned. Martin saw the amber of another match being struck and then the kid fired up his car. Horrible bass music permeated the street, and then the headlights made a flood that poured onto the next block. The kid revved his engine a couple of times, and pulled out slowly. Then he was gone. And Martin went inside to fix himself some dinner and a stiff drink, before Jake stumbled in from the bar.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Night at the Bar

Another Night at the Bar

My date had just kicked me out because I got drunk on her homemade wine. I was screwed up. I took the long way down Phillips Avenue, in a light rain, huffing and puffing, and smacking into unkempt bushes. I passed all the darkened homes on the block, full of good, right-living American families. I was going to the bar. I needed to talk, and something in my soused mind told me the Squirrel Cage would be a good place to go for a nightcap, and a few words with a random friend. Karl would be there. He’d be hovering over the jukebox, like always, plugging quarters into the machine for old Leadbelly songs. Karl would be drinking his beer by the pitcher, and I would come stumbling in with my story about how Judy tossed me. I really needed to yell at him anyway. I needed to send a little blame Karl's way for the night I'd had. Perhaps I should've just gone home and forgotten everything with a good night's sleep. But that wasn't what I did. I was no good at calling quits. So I trudged froth in my goal for that last climatic drink.

"Hey, man."

He was at the end of Murray Avenue when I first saw him. He was wobbling alone in the glimmer of lights from the massive conglomerate bookstore. He looked out of place, an intoxicated moron with a ballcap on backwards. The kid looked like the victim of a fraternity prank, a dumb pledge left to fend for himself and find his way back to the university. We exchanged weak smiles as I passed, one drunk recognizing another for the cheap fools we really were. Christ, if only it had been that simple.

"Hey man, you got any change?" he said, his voice trailing behind me.

"None," I said, over my back. It was a lie, but not a big one.

"Come on," the kid continued. He caught up to me when I rounded the bend onto Forbes Avenue. He was right in pace with me, walking sideways, almost pleading. I felt bad. "Just a buck. You understand, right, bro? Chicks and shit will make you broke."

"I understand. It’s better to jerk it off, pal." I smiled weakly, again. The Cage was only a door or so down. I focused on the illuminated hues coming from the neon signs lighting the wet pavement, like a rainbow. I wanted the kid to go away, to go back home to his frat brothers.

"Fuck you then, you bitch!" he shouted, stopping in his tracks.

"Flattery won't get you anywhere," I shouted. But then I picked up the pace. I was glad the kid had quit moving. I knew he was too drunk to wait me out, by the time I'd leave the bar. My moment of eeriness was over. The gleaming bar was almost in my tainted hands. The night could resume undeterred at its misanthropic speed.

But then the kid attacked me. He ran up from behind and clasped my elbows in his hands. He pushed me up against the last beige brick of the travel agency, next to the bar. We were just out of sight of any windows. There was no one to save me but myself.

"All I wanted was a dollar, man," he spat. Then he laughed.

"I don't have a dollar," I said, panting, unsure what to do. The kid kept brushing my face against the wall. The texture of the brick hurt me a little, just a little.

"What you gonna do now?" he said. He laughed again, a sniveling college boy chuckle. This kid was the kind who had to medicate a woman if he wanted to sleep with her.

"I'm not gonna do shit, except have another beer when this is all over," I said. And then I laughed. We both laughed. We looked like two idiots in the rain, roughhousing outside the bar. To the passerby we probably looked like best pals, like manhandling chums.

"Can I have that dollar now?" the kid asked. His grip lessened on me. It was just enough for me to maneuver my arms and elbow him in the chest. The kid groaned. He loosened his grip some more. Then I turned. I pushed us both back into the wall. The kid smacked into the wall first. He fell to the pavement. I wanted to kick the son-of-a-bitch, but he didn't look that hurt. He looked stunned. So I took off and ran inside the Squirrel Cage.

They were all in there, taking up two large wooden tables at the front of the bar. Karl was there. So was my other pal, Gene Oldham. They were with this girl I knew only as, Gennifer with a G, and a host of other artists and musicians, the bulk of whom barely said more than a few words to me. I didn't go over to them right away. I was too shaken. Instead I staggered over to the bar and sat myself on a stool. I ordered a whisky. I shot it down with a beer chaser. Then I talked to Noel, the bartender, about some books. He poured me another shot. It was all I could do to listen. I kept looking back through the Cage's window, expecting that fucking kid to be waiting on the other side, with a meaty fist clinched, and a look of retribution on his smug face. I lit a nervous cigarette and tried to calm myself.

"What's the matter, Bill?" Noel asked. He set down a third shot. I took it down in one gulp, holding him off from getting me another.

"Bad night," I answered. I rubbed the raw spot on my cheek where my face had run against the building. "Women and alcohol and fistfights."

"I understand," Noel said.

"Hey Bill!" Karl called from the table. He had all of his greasy hair combed back. Karl looked like a real low-class wiseguy. “How'd your night go?"

I took a quick look outside the window. “She threw me out because I got drunk. Hey, Karl, did you see any suspicious looking characters around tonight?"

"There are always suspicious looking characters around.”

"Not that kind. I mean the clean cut kind, the sort of character that should be off trying to inebriate sorority girls, or running for president."

Karl shrugged.

"Some prick just tried to jump me outside."

"No kidding," Gene said, butting in. He acted like this sort of shit happened every day. "Did you do anything to, uh, provoke him?"

"Yeah," I answered. I took a sip of the beer I brought over. "I wouldn't give the guy a buck."

"Sometimes that’s all it takes," Gennifer with a G said.

I sat there for a while and didn't say anything. I just drank my beer in silence and kept a close watch on the door. It was as if I'd never even joined the table. Everyone went back to their superficial conversations about bands and fraudulent art techniques. They only talked to show one another up. I hated artists. So I drank my beer and watched the television at the far end of the bar. It was playing a rerun of a goddamned award show. The same damn actors and models were on the screen. Their whole dishonest act sickened me, and I spat on the floor in a rage. I wanted to leave and go for a walk around Squirrel Hill just to clear my head. But I couldn't. I was afraid that kid was outside waiting. It upset me so much what a horrendous chicken I'd become.

Just then the door to the Cage opened with a thud. In walked the kid from outside. He had a grin of vengeance on his face. I nearly shit myself right at the table. It got worse. Behind him sauntered two of his fraternity pals. They were a couple of thick-necked, bullet-headed, WASPy types with university t-shirts, and their ballcaps pulled down low over their eyes. The three of them singled me out from within the midst of my crowded table. I wanted to leave, but I was too frozen to move. Instead I put on my tough guy veneer. They pointed at me a second time, and I pointed right back. I hated acting tough.

You know them?" Gennifer with a G asked, watching the frat boys as they bound on over.

"Old friends," I answered.

My assailant from outside bent down so that our greasy noses almost touched. Our reddened eyes peered into one another. He was smirking at me, clearly pleased with himself that he'd found his prey. His buddies laughed. I looked up at them.

"You know I was just kidding outside, right?" the kid said. He grabbed a hold of my head and turned it back toward him. "I was just messing around, until you had to go and play tough guy. Are you still a tough guy?" he asked.

"I'm a lover, not a fighter." I responded. No one around me laughed. They left me virtually alone with the three stooges.

"You couldn't get laid if you tried," the kid said.

"You're probably right," I answered. "It’s a good thing I drink."

The kid laughed at me then he took a quick glance at all of the effeminate men, huddled with their bottles of expensive import beer. He looked at all of the pretty women intertwined with us. "I'll bet you like boys, anyway," he said, before rising to his feet.

I took a nervous sip on my beer and lit a smoke. The three bullies continued to meander around our table. They said nothing. They just acted the roles of rich college boys. I felt bad for inflicting the creeps on everyone. I'd never felt so much tension. I wanted to rise and deck the kid just to break the cloud of high anxiety looming overhead. But I didn't have to. One of the kid's friends decided to take things into his own hands. He slapped one of the artist boys in the face, this big fellow named, Rick O'Sullivan, who was a regular Jack Kerouac. Rick was an aging jock playing the role of tragic unknown author. I actually got along pretty well with him.

Rick got up and pushed the college boy right across the bar. He fell flat against the table of a booth. The kid's other friend tried to intervene, but another of the artist boys tripped him, and he did a header right into a vacant stool. Both characters were stunned. And then it was the kid's turn. He tried to punch Rick, but Rick moved out of the way. His fist connected with one of Gennifer's friend's shoulders. The girl squealed and quickly slapped the kid several times, until Rick picked him up and tossed him right into his friend. It was like a goddamned movie! The fight was like a regular old action film starring one of those pretty actors from television. I wanted to get another beer, to take in the action, but Noel was on the phone, probably with the cops. Besides I was too much of a target to become mobile. So I had a sip of Karl's drink.

"Alright!" Noel shouted. He slammed down the phone and everyone stopped. "I just called the cops and they're on the way! You all have about a minute to get the hell out of here!"

The kid and his pals got to their feet quickly. They tore out the front door, smacking into one another like cartoons, before breaking off into the blackness of the night. Rick straightened himself and smiled at Noel. He sat back down as if nothing happened.

"That means you guys, too!" Noel said. "I don't put up with that fighting shit. You all can keep drinking if you want, but you're not doing it in here."

Everyone looked stunned, angry, as if their shit didn't stink, and Noel's infraction was a personal affront. They were all no different in their pomposity from the kid and his frat brothers. These artists were just a different kind of bird. Instead of using violence and wealth, the art kids used intellect and culture to invoke their hierarchy over everyone else. They did it to Noel on a daily basis, which was why he probably felt so free in tossing them all out. I couldn't blame him. I just felt bad that I'd become lumped in with such an undesirable group. Who wants to become a hassle to their favorite bar? We all got up and left without protest.

Outside the night was thick with humidity. Thankfully the kid and his frat pals were nowhere to be found. Neither were the cops. Noel probably never even called them. He probably used the threat of those fascists just to get us all to leave. He was a smart man, that Noel. Too bad he talked my ear off all of the time.

"What do we do now?" Karl asked. He was holding his pint glass, a stolen artifact from the outrageous night.

"Find another bar?" I offered.

We both laughed. Gene and Gennifer, and the rest of the art crowd dispersed without a word. Then Karl and I were alone in the quiet of the city street. In truth, I was tired, and probably could've used the comfort of my rickety bed. But as I said, I was a glutton for this type of punishment. I never learned one valuable lesson. I simply kept moving on and probably would, until one day the world just took its toll on me. Plus I needed another drink.

"I'm feeling kind of happy now," I said.

"I guess that's good," Karl answered. He finished his beer and rolled the empty pint glass down the sidewalk, until it landed in the street. Within a minute a bus rode by and smashed it. Of course we laughed. The two of us were too dumb to realize how much time we'd wasted in our young lives. We were too blind to see how much time others had wasted on us.

"We should go to that bar," I said.

"Which one?" Karl asked.

"The one we were at last night. The one where I met my date. There were a lot of pretty women there, and I'm feeling suddenly alone."

"Sounds good," Karl said. “They have cheap drafts.”

And the two of us wandered down Forbes Avenue like we'd probably do again the next night.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Big And Small of It

Big and Small Of It

And then Bill came in the room again. He was fusing about, moving bills and random papers, looking over Tara’s shoulder as she sat reading a magazine and having a glass of wine. He went over to the counter where the dishes were still sitting, waiting for him, and poured himself a tall one out of the jug. Tara turned a page in her magazine. She laughed at some anecdote; some article about some actor on some television show, and that was when Bill decided he’d had enough.

“Hey,” Tara said, as he pulled the magazine away from her.

“Oh, were you reading this?”

“You know damn well that I was.”

Bill put the magazine on the counter, got it wet in a puddle of spilled red wine. “Well I wanna talk.”

“You did all of the talking that you’re going to do right now,” Tara said. She pulled out a cigarette from the pack she had resting on the table. “I don’t need anymore of your shit.”

“Okay, but how much did those cost?” Bill asked, pointing at her pack.

“You know how much they cost.”

“Yes, but I want you to tell me.”

“$9.50,” Tara said. Then she lit up.

Bill nodded. “And the generics?”

“$8.75. Honestly there’s no real difference.”

“There’s a seventy-five cent difference.”

Tara took hard drag on her smoke. “And that would’ve given us what?”

“An extra seventy-five cents,” Bill said.

“Don’t be smart.”

He stood there and looked at her a moment then went over to the counter where the dishes were. “It counts.”


“I don’t know.” Bill picked up a pot where the residue of boxed macaroni and cheese had coagulated to the sides. “Maybe it would’ve gotten us a second box of this.”

“Are you still hungry?” Tara asked. She said it in a way that Bill knew she didn’t care if he was hungry or not.

“No,” he lied. “You?”

“No. But you’re hungry a lot lately, so I thought I’d ask.”

“True. But of course you’re not hungry. You have your $10 pack of ciggies to quell your hunger.”

“Have one.” Tara pushed her pack toward the end of the table.

Suddenly Bill got red in the face. He put the pot down, drank the rest of his wine, and stormed over to where Tara was. When he got close she tightened and curled into herself, as if waiting for a blow. But all Bill did was roll up his sleeve and shove his shoulder into her face. “What’s this look like?””

“The patch,” Tara answered, turning her head away.

“That’s right,” Bill said. “And what can’t I do while I’m on the patch?”


“Again, you’re correct. So why would you offer me something as dumb as a cigarette?”

“I don’t know.” Tara wormed her way from the table and got up. She went over to the counter and poured herself another glass of wine. She refilled Bill’s out of instinct. “I forgot.”

“Ah, the joy of a woman’s memory.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” she said. Tara came back over to the table with both glasses of wine. “Have some of this.”

“Is there poison in that as well?” Bill asked.

“Yes, but it usually takes years for it to work. So I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.”

Bill laughed. He took his glass of wine and had a good pull on it. It went down fine at first. But then, as soon as the sweet booze reached his belly, it began to burn. Bill turned red-faced instantly. He set the wine glass down on the table, spilling some, and then clutched his stomach. “Jesus Christ, what is that?”

Tara smirked. “What do you mean? It’s wine. Carlo Rossi. The same shit we buy every three days.”

“Something’s not right,” Bill said. He held onto his stomach with one hand, and leaned on a chair with the other. “I don’t feel right.”

“What do you mean?” Tara started. But then right before her eyes Bill began shrinking. “Oh God!”



“Tell me!” Bill shouted. His face was red and covered in sweat. He let go of his stomach and the chair, and tried to stand upright. That’s when Tara noticed the sleeves on his shirt go over his hands. She screamed. “Oh Christ, what?”

“You’re shrinking!”

“Come off it,” Bill said. But then he felt another guttural burn in his belly, and felt his pants drop an inch lower. Out of fear he grabbed his belt.

“Bill!” Tara screamed. She backed away from him and headed toward the counter. She dumped the rest of her wine down the sink then took another long drag on her smoke. Tara looked at Bill. It seemed he’d shrunk another few inches. His pants had completely gone over his shoes now, and Bill’s shirt hung so long on him it slumped over his shoulders. He looked like a child playing dress-up with his father’s clothes.

“Help me!”

“I don’t know what to do?” Tara stubbed her smoke out and straightened herself. She made to go over to Bill, but then she felt a strong burn in her stomach. It doubled her over and she fell to the ground. When Tara looked up, she saw that her husband’s eyes were filled with terror. “What is it?”
“You.... you’re growing!”

Tara moaned. She felt an intense pain in her joints, bones, and muscles. It felt as if someone were pulling her about a thousand different ways. She fell on her back and raised her neck. The jeans she was wearing were almost up to her knees. Bill’s old crew neck shirt, one he’d warned her not to wear; the sleeves were up to the elbows. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know,” Bill said, right before his pants and underwear fell completely off of him. Tara looked at him. He was maybe three feet now. Then he was two. And then...

“Bill!” She screamed. Tara tried to get up on her knees but she’d gotten so big that her ass hit the counter, and knocked over the wine bottle, magazine, and pot of macaroni and cheese residue. They all fell on her back. The wine bottle rolled off and smashed on the floor. Glass and blood-red liquid went everywhere. Wine ran down the kitchen toward where Bill was standing. He was maybe six inches tall now, Tara thought, listening as her jeans and shirt ripped. He was completely naked, standing maybe an inch away from his clothing. She reached for him, but she smacked the side of the table hard. She’d grown so much that it turned over on its side. “Bill!”

He had a look of horror on his face, as a stream of red wine raced toward him. Bill moaned. He felt the burn again, and then a horrible new pain all throughout his body. Three more inches were gone. Quickly, he ran toward his mound of clothes. He began climbing the fabric of his brown pants, getting to safety just as the wash of red river encircled him. “Tara!”

“I can’t,” was all that she could say before the pains came again. Tara screamed. The remnants of her shirt and jeans fell off of her, as did her shredded bra and underwear. When the pains stopped, Tara turned and sat, her head tilted against the cold, rough ceiling, one arm, which broke the screen, hung out the kitchen window, and the other pressed against the mixture of wall and cracked table. She was stuck.

“Tara, are you okay!” Bill shouted. But his wife couldn’t hear him. She just sat there, naked and frightened, staring down at him on his island of clothing, at the patch as it went floating by.

It was then that Bill heard a noise coming from the living room. It was a thump and then the patter of feet. From his height, the sound was deafening. The vibrations made him nauseous. Oh, no, Bill thought, bracing himself down in his mound of clothes, the goddamned cat. Sure enough Reggie came around the corner and surveyed the scene without any kind of fear. Fat, round, blue-eyed, Siamese mutt, shaped-like-a-football Reggie, who could never get enough in his damned belly, who always cried during every meal; the ten-year-old nuisance of a cat that Bill couldn’t wait to see die. They were face to face. Reggie was staring Bill right in the eye, and the cold, determined glare of the cat was beyond frightening, aside from being beyond all logic and comprehension. Bill felt his heart race. How long had it been since he tossed the cat across the living room? Five minutes? Ten? Surely, cats couldn’t remember that long.
“Reggie!” Tara screamed, looking down at the cat and her husband. “Reggie! Get!”

But the cat didn’t register her voice. He took his time and walked around the scene. He sniffed at Bill’s clothes, and then came around toward where the spilt wine rested. Reggie sniffed and then turned away. He walked over to where Tara was, found the pot of macaroni and cheese and began licking.

“Thank God,” Bill said from his mound. He looked up at the mountain of flesh that was his wife. “Tara!” But he was sure that he heard nothing.

“Bill!” Tara screamed, as loud as she could. She tilted her head slightly. She looked down at her husband and he was clutching his ears. Shit, she thought. It must be the sound of my voice. Oh God, what’s happened? But then. “Reggie!”

Only it was too late. Reggie had come across the kitchen and pounced on the mound of Bill’s clothes. Tara watched in horror as her husband backed away. But it was only a matter of time. Reggie was patient. He’s been a farm cat, and Bill and Tara had gotten him when he was already a year old and living and learning with his mother and the rest of the liter. Bill made one last attempt. He punched at the cat, full on, right in the middle of Reggie’s nose. The old Siamese mix didn’t even flinch. Then Tara shut her eyes. Tears welled in them. When she opened them, Reggie was laying the middle of Bill’s pile of clothes. He was licking his paws.

“Oh God!” Tara said, looking down at the half-soaked mound that used to be her husband. Reggie looked up at her and meowed. Tara watched a tear fall and splatter on the kitchen floor, and felt a burning in her stomach again. It came long and felt like she’d eaten fire. She tried to clutch her stomach but couldn’t. Then her head wedged away from the ceiling, and she could begin to feel herself shrink.