Heirlooms, Tattoos, and Routines

  “Junie,” he stopped just inside the door, letting it close, as he slightly tilted forward and gave a single, concise wave of his left hand, leaving his arm erect like a crane until she responded. Junie looked up, “oh heyyy Howie, g’morning, how are you feelin.” He let his hand drop and walked towards his seat, two away from the store’s front window. “Junie, I’m very well this morning, very well. All that rain last night, who could believe it.” “I know right, and it’s so beautiful today, who can figure it.” “You know Junie, you’re absolutely right.” He grabbed the paper from his back pocket and unfolded it onto the table so that the sports page showed. He took his seat.                                                               .
    Howie had to wash his clothes, his father’s washer machine wasn’t working. It hadn’t been working properly for some time, but it seemed disrespectful to get a new one, and he wasn’t sure how to fix it. He searched online and after much deliberation decided on a laundromat, one that also had a cafe attached to it. He let out a “hmmmmmm” in approving curiosity upon reading about this feature. 

    After 5 or so minutes of getting situated- taking his jacket and hat off, adjusting his glasses, counting his change- Howie approached the counter. Junie smiled, “usual Howie?” Howie smiled in his serious manner, no teeth showing, “you know what I say Junie, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Junie smiled again, “had a feeling, I just like to make sure all the same.” “You know Junie, that’s customer service, that’s customer service at it’s finest, that’s what keeps people coming back here.” “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” Howie belted out a single, “HA. You’re a riot Junie, I’ll give you that.” She placed 3 paper cups on the counter, one 7/8 filled with black coffee, one 1/4 filled with whole milk, and one to-go espresso cup with 3-1/2 tablespoons of sugar in it. Howie was counting his change again, “you know Junie, I think I’ll have one of those mini blueberry muffins.” “Not the corn muffin, Howie?” “No I’ll have one of those mini blueberry muffins.” “You got it, no laundry today Howie?” “No, no. I washed a few items yesterday, Randall was working, nice young man.” “Yea, Randy can be nice when he feels like it.” Howie belted another single, “HA. You know Junie, I can see what you mean. Randall’s a very nice young man, but he can have an edge at times.” “He sure can, they can’t all be as nice as me Howie.” “You know Junie, you’re absolutely right, you’re always a delight.” “Well thank you Howie, so are you, that’s gonna be $2.50.” Before she finished saying the number, Howie was placing 2 stacks of 10 dimes each on the counter and 1 stack of 10 nickels in a neat line. “Thank you, Howie.” “Thank you, Junie.” Howie made two trips to his seat, first taking the milk and sugar cups, then the coffee and muffin, silently cheersing to Junie, his arm acting as a crane again before going back to his seat.

    Randy walked in a few minutes before his shift started, “hey hey heyyy,” he greeted Junie. “Hello Randall.” He laughed, “Randall? Who are you my grandmother or Howie.” Junie smiled, “Howie, he was commenting on what a nice young man you are earlier.” “Hmm, that’s surprising.” Junie walked over to where Randy was putting his things away, “well just because you’re a cynical jerk doesn’t mean everyone else is.” Randy slowly walked around her, “I’ll take being a cynical jerk over being Howie.” Junie’s eyes and mouth widened momentarily, “you’re horrible. He’s a sweet, lonely guy.” Randy slowly began his beginning of shift routine, checking the levels of coffee, cups, lids, and sugar, “he’s a crazy person.” “He’s just peculiar.” He started to make a fresh pot of drip coffee, “either way I’m tired of having the same conversations with him everyday.” Junie grinned, “I hope people aren’t this mean to you when you’re a lonely middle aged man.” “I’m not mean to him, I’m just increasingly short with him.” “That’s mean.” “He doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s in his own, lonely world,” Randy laughed, Junie’s eyes and mouth were even further agaped than before, “oh my god, you’re truly horrible.” Randy wiped down the steam wand on the espresso machine, “I’m a very nice young man.” 

       Howie had been going to the laundromat/cafe 3-4 times a week for about a month, sometimes when didn’t even have clothes to wash. He couldn’t get over what a great concept it was, enjoy a cup of coffee and a treat while you run an otherwise boring errand. Hell, bring the paper if you want, make a morning of it. He decided to leave a review on the website where he discovered it. They only had 4.5 stars, and he felt it was easily a 5 star establishment. He clicked 5 stars and began to think of something to write. Short, sweet, and to the point, he thought. He went with his first draft, “it’s a great place to have a cup of tea or coffee while you wash your clothes.”

    Howie finished his coffee and muffin, then brought his 3 cups and napkins over to the garbage can near the counter. “So how are you today Randall, it was pretty busy earlier.” “Yea Howie, you know, morning rush.” “You handle it very well Randall, you’re very fast.” Randy grinned, “well you know, been doing it long enough.” “That’s right, that’s right, you know what I say, practice always makes perfect.” “Yep, pretty much.” “How long have you been here Randall?” “I try not to think about it.” Howie belted out a single, “HA. There’s that Randall edge that me and Junie we’re discussing the other day.” “That’s what they call me, Randall Edge.” “Do they now?” Randy paused for a moment, “yea.” He began creating work for himself, recleaing counters and the espresso machine, picking things up and putting them down somewhere else, then putting them back, trying to show Howie how busy he was. “So how long has it been Randall, because I remember when you first started, you didn’t have any of those big tattoos that you have now.” Randall stopped working, succumbing to the conversation, “yea I guess this place kinda paid for them… 4 years I’ve been here.” “They’re very nice, nice and colorful. 4 years, excellent, that’s shows commitment… A fella who worked with my father had some from his days serving in the navy, not quite as colorful or as nice as yours though.” “Yea, the artist’s have come a long way.” “I think Jack was the fellas name, worked doing roofing and painting with my father for years, he was also very committed.” “Is that right.” “It is, it is… but my father passed away some years ago,” “heart attack, right?” “That’s right, that’s right, so I’ve told you. I’m like a broken record player,” Howie grinned. Randy grinned, “yea I remember you mentioning it, sorry to hear it.” “He was a good man, Randall, raised me by himself after my mother passed when I was very young.” “Wow, that’s rough… he left you the house right?” “Thats right, that’s right, you have quite the memory,” Howie grinned as Randy began to reclean things, “I’m like a broken record player.” 

      Howie maintained the garden in his backyard that his father kept for years. Howie always had a green thumb, and his father passed down whatever soil, pruning, and pest knowledge that he had to Howie with ease. Howie grew various greens such as arugula, spinach, and lettuces. As well as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and carrots, along with several varieties of windowsill herbs. Howie’s neighbors could expect a bounty of fresh vegetables from April-October in exchange for some light conversation. Howie was out back one July afternoon, pruning the suckers off his prized heirloom tomatoes. He knew there was rain in the forecast, but thought he could get the pruning done before the storm clouds rolled in. The sky darkened earlier than forecasted, and the downpour muddied up Howie in less than a minute. Howie went back inside, drenched and dirtied. He figured he’d better shower and get this outfit to the cafe once the storm passed. He could bring them some tomatoes too, he smiled, “blessing in disguise.”    

         Randy walked into work a few minutes before his shift started. Junie was talking to a guy at the counter, “yo yo,” Randy said as he passed behind them. “Heyyy Rand,” Junie replied, this is my boyfriend Gerry.” Randy resisted the urge to stop in his tracks, he continued to walk over to the shelf where the staff’s jackets and bags were kept, “hey man,” he put his bookbag down then walked back over towards them, extending his hand, “Randy.” They shook hands, “good to meet you, I’ve heard all about you.” Randy grinned, “don’t believe Junie, I’m not as big of an asshole as she thinks.” Gerry laughed, “it wasn’t all bad.” Randy shot Junie a quick look, “I bet,” and he quickly started his beginning of shift routine; checking levels of coffee, cups, lids, and sugar. Less than a minute later Howie walked through the door, stopping just inside the doorway, letting the door close, “full House this afternoon,” he enthusiastically said. He would’ve given his signature wave, but his hands were full, one with a bag of dirty clothes, one with a bag of tomatoes. “Hey Howie,” Junie replied. Howie walked over to his seat, two away from the front window, set down his laundry on the floor, and took off his jacket and hat. Adjusting his glasses, then counting his change. They were silent at the counter, aside from Randy’s busying around, as Howie went through his routine. He approached the counter, smiling very seriously. “You’re back, Howie,” Junie said. “You know Junie, I was pruning my tomatoes,” he said lifting the tomatoes like a dumbbell, “and the news said I had until 2 before the storm rolled in,” “oh no,” “long story short, I have some very muddy clothes.” Gerry pointed to the bag of tomatoes, “at least it looks like you got a pretty good harvest.” “Thats right, that’s right, the rain in certainly good for that.” “Howie, this is my boyfriend Gerry.” Howie looked back over to Gerry, “you don’t say, very nice to meet you Gerry.” “Good to meet you, Howie.” “You know, Junie is a delightful, delightful young lady.” “She sure is,” Gerry responded, Randy continued to reclean and recheck levels. “Everyone here is delightful; Junie, Randall, everyone.” Junie smiled, “hear that Randall, you’re delightful,” he didn’t look up, “that’s what I hear.” Howie responded, “it’s true, Randall’s just got an edge, like me and Junie discussed the other day.” Gerry replied, “is that so?” They all looked over at Randy, he shot them a fake smile as if to say, “you know me, Randall Edge.” Gerry looked back towards Howie, “so, you come here a lot then, Howie?” “You know, just about every morning for at least 5 or 6 years, it’s like I say, another home away from home.” “Is that so.” “It is, it is,” Howie became very serious in that moment, “it’s a great place to have a cup of tea or coffee while you wash your clothes.” Gerry grinned, nodded his head and looked at Junie then back to Howie, “yea, I can see that.” Howie smiled, even showing some teeth, “well,” he said after a moment, “these tomatoes are for all of you here, enjoy, they’re heirlooms. A little olive oil, salt, pepper, very good.” Junie beemed, “wow, thank you Howie, that’s so nice. Isn’t that nice Randall,” she jokingly looked over at Randy who was going through his bag on the shelf, without looking up he said, “yea, thanks Howie.” “Don’t ever mention it,” he smiled seriously again, “ok, so I think I’ll put those muddy clothes in the wash, then come get some hot coffee.” Junie grinned, “usual Howie?” “You know what I say, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Howie, Junie, and Gerry grinned.     

Howie walked over towards his seat. 

   

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Sleeping Alone in Different Places

   I was gonna offer the guy sitting next to me some of my Pringles, it was gonna be a long flight and we were seated next to each other, but what was the point. I mean, it was the start of a new adventure, I could’ve transformed into the guy who offers his Pringles to strangers. I could’ve been that guy, but what was the point. 

      It was true, I worked slinging coffee for a while, a good while. I liked making coffee, lattes and shit, there was an art and a science to it, and not having to pay for coffee was fantastic. What I didn’t like was other humans ordering coffee at my face. They would order then say things like, “don’t look so happy to be here,” or “you sure look happy to be here,” or “one of those days…” And it usually wasn’t one of those days until they spoke words to my face about the angry look on my face. But that was just my face, I couldn’t help it. So I’d be having a normal annoying work day until some asshole threw around their sarcasm about the level of my face happiness. Then I’d go from having resting angry face to actually being pissed off. 

   If it was a pretty girl I would’ve offered her some Pringles, but what was the point. I suppose it could’ve set me off on the right foot, new adventure, new me. But I wasn’t desperate enough to change yet. She probably would’ve declined anyway, and I would’ve felt like a complete moron for years.

   I never knew where I stood with girls. I knew that some very attractive girls from my past were attracted to me, but the vast majority of females did not seem to notice my being a human male on this planet. Was it that the symmetry of my face only appealed to a small percentage of girls whom I also found appealing, or did my angry seeming disposition raise red flags in most girls’ eyes. Were they thinking, “he sure looks happy to be here…” or were they thinking nothing, because my existence did not register with them.

    I wanted to offer the stewardess some Pringles, she was extremely beautiful. But I knew not to do that, I wasn’t that dumb, I knew how that looked. She was paid to acknowledge my existence, and just because I was becoming desperate didn’t mean I had to broadcast it to a plane full of strangers. 

   This was going to be a solo adventure, through a bunch of places where I wasn’t familiar with the native tongue. So I wouldn’t be speaking much with the general public, which was good. I was however going to make a concerted effort to smile more often, so even if I wasn’t speaking with people they’d be thinking, “what a pleasant American.” Or they’d be thinking, “why is that lanky American awkwardly showing his teeth to everybody.” Either way I wouldn’t be able to understand them, so I’d give it a go, maybe.

     I knew the Pringle offering wasn’t paramount, I knew that… But it felt like it was. It felt like if I didn’t offer anyone on that God damn plane some Pringles, then for 2 months I’d hop around from hostel to hostel unable to offer anyone a snack, or even merely say “hello” to my fellow travelers. This plane ride would set the tone, someone else had to eat some of these fuckin chips. 

Walks and Brawls

 

I was taking my daily stroll, and figured I’d swing by the bank to deposit my tax return check. A few minutes into the journey a group of kids doing wheelies on their bikes rode by in bunches of 5 or 6. They were obnoxiously going over their plans for the day, jokingly calling each other faggots, and yelling out whatever else 14 year olds yell about, as one fat kid was pleading “wait up, guys!” from a block behind. The weather was getting warmer, and these passing encounters were becoming an annoying regularity. I began to wonder, if I rocked one of these kids off their bike, mid wheelie, how many more could I take out before they overwhelmed me and fucked me up?

 

When I was about 9, me and my two sisters were sitting in the living room of our old house. It was a fairly small house for 5 kids to be living in, my oldest brother Frank was the only one to have a room to himself. It was a Saturday, so we were just sitting around watching TV or listening to music when we heard Frank’s door open, you could always hear any door that was being opened in the entire house, no matter what room you were in. Frank’s door opened around noon and we thought nothing of it, it was common practice for both my brothers to stagger out of their rooms later in the day, a lot of the times they would call for me to bring them water because they were too hungover to get up, plus they knew I was happy to help. So we thought nothing of it until he carefully came down the 5-6 steps to the living room, and his face was mangled with cuts, scrapes, and bruises. There didn’t seem to be an inch of his face that was unaffected. We slightly gasped, eyes wide, and looked around at each other and him. He closed his already half shut eyes and softly shook his head as if saying ‘don’t ask.’ We didn’t, we knew we’d hear at least some of the story when our parents got home and saw his face, anyway. “Tommy,” his voice was hoarse, “get me a water, please.” I was happy to help.

 

We were all over Frank’s new house to watch a Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view. I don’t remember who he fought, but it was over quickly. So what usually happened at such gatherings happened, the gals formed a gal circle and talked about weddings or whatever, and we talked about the fight, which in turn, got my brothers recalling their war stories. “I just remember having, I don’t even know how many people, kicking me in the face, but being on top of this one dude, and I was just choking the shit out of him and actually saying to him, as this is all happening,” Frank’s hands were now out in front of him, choking the air, “‘were both gonna die tonight mothafucka,’ cuz I really thought I was gonna die, all I could see was feet,” he said, laughing all the while. “I bet that dude still tells that story to this day, he must’ve been horrified, like how is this kid talking about killing me while he’s getting stomped in the face.” The story was being directed at me even though by now I had heard it plenty of times, it seemed to come up every couple of years. “Then finally, Al and Tim started ripping people off of me  and got me up, and they were like ‘yo you’re fucked up, get on the bus,’ but I looked over and saw Dan just taking people out with a crutch and I was like ‘nah fuck that,’” he busted out laughing at this point, “and then I went after more people and like 5 dudes jumped on me again and Dan ran over and started taking them out with the crutch, I was like where the fuck this kid get a crutch?” Dan chimed in, “I took one of Steve’s crutches, that was after he fucked up his knee.” “Yea I had forgotten at the time, I guess due to the pummeling, but yea, then Dan got me up and got me on the bus, it was fuckin insane, pure mayhem.” “Yea,” Dan calmly agreed, “there was like 30 of them and like 10 of us, and one of us was on crutches, I think we still did pretty good,” then he laughed, “but it was still bad… I think you got it the worst.” Frank’s laughing fit had died down and he calmly replied, “yea it was pretty bad,” he laughed again, “I’m just happy I didn’t actually kill that kid, I don’t need that on my conscience.”

 

I guess it all depends on if they knew this attack was happening or not. If they knew, I could probably catch another 4 or 5 before their not yet fully developed fists and feet brought me down. But if they had no idea, at least half of them are booking it out of fear and sheer confusion. So let’s say there were 20, half of them bolt, plus the initial one I took out. That leaves 9. 9 confused, adolescents, I think I could take them all before they formed a united front.

 

I must’ve been 12 or 13, me and my friends were walking back from a movie, getting kicked out of a department store, calling each other faggots, whatever else 12 or 13 year olds did. We were about 20 minutes from home when another group of kids on bikes passed us. Nothing was said but there was certainly a fair deal of glaring. When they were almost out of earshot one of my friends yelled out “HEY!” or something, then shot them the finger. This was fairly common practice amongst 12 or 13 year olds, but perhaps ill-advised since they had bikes and we were on foot. A few minutes later the messenger from their group caught up to us and said they were gonna fuck us up. My friend who initiated all of this unconvincingly welcomed a fight, or perhaps it sounded unconvincing to me because I wanted no part of it. They had bikes for fuck’s sake, with pegs. This was what it must’ve felt like to see the Mongol Army approaching across the horizon for the first time. We continued walking and they continued following on their steads, 10-20 yards behind. We kept talking a good deal to hype ourselves up. “If they follow us around the bend, forget it.” “If they’re still behind us on Stoneham, that’s it.” “If they cross Guyon, we’re fucking them up.” “Oh god, I hope they follow us all the way back to the neighborhood, they won’t even know what hit ‘em.” Somewhere in the ever shifting line in the sand between Stoneham and Guyon, they retreated, lucky them. Sweet relief. The rest of the day we fantasized of the blood bath that would’ve ensued had they followed us a little longer.

 

I woke up on the couch at my brother’s apartment after a night of boozing. After some stirring, him and his girlfriend came out to the living room. None of us were in a real rush to do anything, so we sat around bullshitting, listening to music for a while. Somehow conversation drifted towards someone from his past that he used to wreak havoc with. Dan was 9 years older than me, so we didn’t hang much during his wreaking havoc days. “So these were the kids,” he was midway through the story about how he lost 98% hearing in his left ear, “these were the fuckin kids, and they, for some reason, I have no fuckin idea why, they came down to our neighborhood, and were talkin all this crazy shit.” His girlfriend Ashley was trying to get all the facts straight, “so wait…the kids you hit with the bowling pin, who then hit you with the bowling pin, later came down to where you hung out? To do what?” “Yea…well that was the thing, I’m not sure what they thought was gonna happen…but it was bad, my god, it was fuckin bad,” he said while laughing and shaking his head. “Why,” Ashley asked, “did you beat them up?” “Putting it lightly, yea…well I didn’t do anything, the fellas, uh,” Dan laughed again, “the fellas wouldn’t let me, they said they’d take care of it. So the kid Dave, my friend Dave, this is so wild thinking back on it, so the one kid’s sitting on the curb for some reason, tryin to look all cocky and talkin shit, and Dave just goes ‘oh shit! Look out for ya boy!’ and our other friend Steve came out of nowhere with a half full 40, and broke it over this kid’s head.” Dan was still chuckling and shaking his head, Ashley put her hands over her mouth and looked over at me as if to say ‘do you believe this?’ I could, I could believe it. I’ve heard this story and many more like it a million times over. “Oh my god, what the fuck,” she said. Dan continued “so yea, they just went to town on these kids…oh man it was fuckin bad, Jesus Christ, haha.” “Why are you laughing?!” “Cuz fuck them, they almost killed me.” “Well you hit somebody first.” “Well yea, I kinda had it coming, but still, fuck them anyway. Whatever, that’s how it was… crazy times.” She was shaking her head, not necessarily in disgust, more in amused disbelief, “a gang, you were in a fuckin gang.” “God…I think about all that stuff and it really seems like a whole other life, like a totally different life that didn’t actually happen.” She looked over at me, “meanwhile you’re so calm.” I smiled, “I just didn’t want to get smashed in the head with a bowling pin, I avoided all the mayhem.” Dan jumped back in, “that’s why I don’t speak to anybody from that era anymore, it just got to a point where I was just like ‘you know what, I don’t wanna do this anymore, I’m tired of beating the shit out of people because of my asshole friends.’” “Well why the fuck were you always beating the shit out of people,” she asked. “Because… we were a bunch of degenerates,” he laughed, “but it wasn’t all our fault, dudes would always start shit with us because there wasn’t a whole lot of us-whether it was over graffiti or a girl or fuckin whatever- they would have us wildly outnumbered but we were all maniacs and happened to be fuckin huge, so we would just fuckin charge them, and they’d be like ‘ahh AAHHHHHH’ and wouldn’t know what to do, and most of the time we’d win.” “A gang, you were a fuckin gang.” “It was just different times… My neighborhood was fuckin crazy growin’ up, it was only 3 blocks, but the concentration of lunatics in that place was insane. When I was like 12, this 16 year old just blasted me across the head with a 2×4…for no fuckin reason. I didn’t go outside for like 3 years.” She laughed, “and that’s when you said you got fat, right?” “Yea, I was horrified. I just stayed inside and ate entire pizzas, for like 3 years,” he said laughing and shaking his head.

 

The train let you off at the top of Guyon, it was about a mile and a half walk home. But it was on a downward slope, so even drunk at 2 in the morning it wasn’t too bad. Plus it was a beautiful summer night. A kid in my age range, 21, 22, something like that, got off the train a little before me. We were walking down the same side of Guyon, he was probably 2-3 blocks ahead of me. As I was approaching the main intersection at Hylan Blvd- which was about my halfway point- a car pulled up a block behind my fellow pedestrian, a kid with his hoodie up got out of the backseat, and began following him. I couldn’t tell if my fellow pedestrian noticed any of this happening, I slowed down a bit and used my peripherals to see if anyone was on my tail. Nothing yet. Before I arrived at the intersection the car pulled ahead of everybody and turned onto one of the crisscrossing side streets. Maybe I was in luck. My fellow pedestrian turned down a different street. Did he do this intentionally? I had no idea. The hooded kid jogged up in pursuit, but still appearing to keep a little distance. By the time I crossed the intersection, I had Guyon to myself, but it didn’t feel that way. I passed the street they turned on a minute later and nothing seemed to be happening, no sounds or signs of a struggle. Perhaps my fellow pedestrian escaped, perhaps he didn’t. I wasn’t sure which outcome would’ve worked more in my favor. Either way, I quickened my pace while trying to maintain a confident gait, and decided to forgo my usual shortcuts down side streets. A block before my normal shortcut, the same car slowly passed by me on the opposite side of Guyon, I pretended not to notice. I passed by my shortcut on Riga, passed Stoneham, and turned right on the next street, Mill. I gave one glance as I turned; the car had made a U-turn. Half way on Mill between the street I lived on and Guyon, another car was parked with people getting out of it. Civilians. Witnesses. The car slowly passed us all, but made the next left. My street was a one way, sandwiched in the middle of parallel running two way streets. All 3 ran about 1/3 of a mile long. All 3 were desolate, and I lived all the way at the bottom. I still had a chance if they didn’t park near the top. I jogged over, ducked behind a parked car, and peaked out. The car was stopped all the way down, seemingly right near my house. I figured this to be a coincidence, assuming these random assailants didn’t know where I lived. This would’ve been rotten luck if Dan hadn’t moved into the side apartment across from my parent’s house a few weeks prior. I ran down the sidewalk, slouching behind what few cars were parked there, until I got to an old friend’s vacant house, and ducked into his backyard to call Dan. He was home, he was awake, he didn’t really believe me, he sighed, “alright, gimme a minute.” He took a little longer than I would’ve liked. For 5-10 minutes I went between hiding and running out behind a parked car to peak my head out and see if the car was still there. And after 5-10 minutes the car pulled away and looped around to the adjacent street. I carefully jogged down towards my house; Dan appeared when I was almost all the way home. He was wearing basketball shorts and a white ginny-tee, covered in tattoos, and wielding my little league baseball bat, apparently it was his now. We met in the middle of the street, “well,” he looked around, “nobody’s here.” “They just turned the corner a minute ago, they were parked down there for like 10 minutes.” Alright,” he said, still not believing me, “and they followed you?” “Yea, maybe all the way from the train, I saw them tracking the kid ahead of me.” “Alright…you sure? You’re not just a little high? Paranoid, somethin’?” “Yea man, I’m fuckin sure, they’ve been following me since Hylan, and were parked down here and probably heard your door opening and drove off.” “Alright… guess we’ll just wait a minute and see if they come back.” He steadied the bat at the top of the barrel so it was standing on the asphalt, turned and started to piss in the middle of the street. A moment later headlights swept across the top of the block, a car was slowly coming down. “See man,” I said. “That’s the car?” “I can’t tell from here, but who else is it gonna be.” “Alright, let’s see what happens,” Dan said as he grabbed the handle of the bat. A minute later the car slowly passed us as we stood near the narrow sidewalk, staring in as they passed by. They parked in the middle of the street about 25 yards from us. We waited to see if anybody was getting out, when they didn’t Dan took a B-line for the car, my little league bat slightly shielded at his side, I followed right behind him. When we got within about 15 yards, two guys with their hoods up got out of the passenger side, the one who got out of the front seat leaned back in and grabbed something, then quickly stuck it in his pocket. They started to walk in our direction, but not straight at us. When we were a few yards out of striking distance, Dan slightly raised the bat and causally said, “hey fellas, what’s goin’ on tonight?” They put their heads down and walked right past us, opened the nearest gate, and scurried across the vacant backyards to the other parallel running street. The car peeled away, me and Dan stood in the middle of the street, watching them go. Dan looked at me and shrugged, “alright then.” We walked to his apartment and opened up a shitty bottle of wine. “Jesus man, what the fuck was that,” I said before taking a gulp. “A couple of fake frustrated tough guys cruising around on a Friday night looking for someone to beat on.” “What do you think that was the dude in the front seat grabbed?” “He grabbed something?” “Yea, he grabbed something as he was getting out and put it in his pocket.” “Really? I didn’t even see that, you sure?” “Yea, must’ve been like a Taser or some shit, it was small enough to fit in his pocket.” Dan took this in for a minute. “Hm, well now I’m pissed, I should’ve just cracked him with the fuckin’ bat if he had a Taser.” “Well I don’t know if it was definitely a Taser, just kinda looked like it.” He shook his head and looked off to the side for a second, “fuckin sweet boys. You know what, good thing I didn’t see that, good thing I didn’t see that and good thing Frank’s not here, we might be burying two bodies,” he laughed, “fuckin’ punks. That drives me nuts, it’s not bad enough you’re driving around jumping random people by themselves walking home, you need to fuckin electrocute them too. Good thing I didn’t see that fuckin pussy grab a Taser…” Dan went on about the ethics of brawling a bit more, while we polished off another bottle or two of Yellow Tail.

 

Then I started to think, what happened afterwards if I do level this group of bike riding teenagers. Say they are all sprawled out across the street and sidewalk, their bikes everywhere. It was a busy street, it might stop traffic. What happened next? There would be ample witnesses, possibly an adult who would see this heinous act and counter attack me. Even if it was someone I could normally take, I’d be tired from wailing on the children. Once I come to from my burst of fury, what’s my next move as I stood there, blood and bikes about? Do I continue to the bank? Turn and go home? Take a bike and make a run for it? It all seemed like a horrendous ending for me, so long story short, I didn’t do it.

 

I guess I was 19? 20? My friend was having a shindig in his basement apartment at his grandmother’s house, this was common practice at 19 or 20. A group of kids we knew to be douchebags showed up, and not too much later, began living up to their reputation. Well it started with one kid who I didn’t really know, friend of a friend, that kind of thing. Somebody called somebody else a faggot, and supposedly the other somebody was indeed gay. I never really got the story straight. I just saw a melee, and I didn’t really know the two kids at the bottom of the scrum, so I was just interested in keeping some order of peace for my friend and his grandmother’s sake. But once mayhem ensues, it’s difficult to retain peace. So there were kinda bodies everywhere, some trying to fight, most trying to break it up. I was one of the breaking it up people, until one of the main fighting people tried to throw a couple of haymakers at my friend whose house it was. I wasn’t sure what tunnel vision was, but that must’ve been the state I went into upon seeing these horrendously thrown punches in the direction of the party’s host. Outer body could’ve been another term, I yelled out, “YOU FUCKIN KIDDIN’ ME?” and darted in their direction, grabbed the assailant away from my friend, and rag dolled him what felt like 15 feet, across the lawn. As soon as I let him go, and he was sprawled out on the grass, attempting to get up, my other friend came out of nowhere to rock him in the face, but pulled up a tad last second and just forcefully tapped him with his fist. The first person I saw when I looked up was my friend’s grandmother, nervously leaning, half in half out, her screen door, staring at the ruckus. Thankfully nothing escalated after that, it might’ve killed her. I was replaying the brouhaha to my sisters and Frank the next day, before heading to a family BBQ. Upon the conclusion of my story, we headed out in separate cars. Me and my sisters in one, Frank and his girlfriend in the other. As we got in the car, Amy lit a cigarette and said “god, Frankie looked like he was gonna cream his pants while you were telling that little story.” Sue added, “reliving his past battles,” we laughed, “but seriously, don’t start being like them now, mom can’t handle another lunatic.” “I’m aware, it’s not like I went out looking for blood, this kid was swinging at my friend, what was I supposed to do.” “I know. I’m just saying… try to avoid it. You’re the good one, you can’t kill mom.” We laughed, and I rolled my eyes.

 

I arrived at the bank and deposited my tax return check. As I was coming out of the bank, an older guy of 75-80 was about 10 feet away. I walked through the door, waited a couple of extra seconds before leaving to hold the door open for him. “Thanks,” he said in a raspy tone, putting a little extra effort into his stride to take the door from me. “Have a good one,” I said with a smile. I nearly took a bow, what a gracious act.

Fireworks

    I was hanging out with my parents. My parents were having a thing, it was the Fourth of July, you know, so they had people over, they had everybody over, they were having a thing. I liked my parents, they were fine.

    So everybody came over, they’re all from my mom’s side, everybody came over, it was fine. But, you know, we all like to drink, so everybody came over and we were drinking and it was fine. But it was always fine until it wasn’t.

    At the end of the night I was hanging out with my dad and my uncle, everybody had left. My dad doesn’t drink anymore, he said, “what did I say?” My sister had left in a huff, and he didn’t know what he said. I kinda knew what he said, but it wasn’t a big deal, she overreacted, she got like that. 

   Later, I was hanging out with my mom and she said, “well he knows how she is when she’s drinking.” But we were all drinking. He didn’t drink anymore, but he had ideas, he had beliefs. We had opposing beliefs from him, he wasn’t talking about that, but it was always a comment away from becoming about that. So she left in a huff. My mom said “he knows how she gets.” 

   Everyone knew how everyone got, but it never made it any better, it always ended like that, it never ended with a song. 

Register

   I was there too, I was in line with them. Hard to say I was just an innocent bystander. I was there just as much as they were.   

  But I had the decency to never reproduce, give me that at least. At least I didn’t bring a clan of mini savages with me, and at least I wasn’t yelling a very personal conversation into my phone while ignoring the savages as they ran amok. Throwing hula hoops at each other and anyone else who crossed their paths, screaming across the store to the asshole who brought them into this world about some bullshit toy they wanted, as the asshole ignored them and yelled a very personal conversation into their phone, while their stomach drooped past the bottom of their shirt. Give me that, at least I didn’t bring all that, I just brought myself, give me that.  

   I had to have headphones in, I took out my headphones for a few seconds to focus on a text. I took out my headphones to concentrate and I heard the asshole’s personal conversation and the screaming savages and everyone else’s bullshit, and I understood mass shootings. I didn’t have a gun, but I understood mass shootings in that moment. 

  But I was there, I chose to be there. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I could’ve went somewhere else, but I went there. The sunglasses came in cool colors, and although the phone cases were dirt cheap, they were sturdy as fuck, so I decided to go there, I made that choice, I’ll concede that. 

  The guy at the register was old, too old to be the register guy at this place. Aloof teens should have been the only ones manning the register in such a god forsaken establishment. Instead it was this old man. He grinned at the behavior of the mini savages at one point, I was blown away. I was still somewhat young, and didn’t even work the register here, and I now understood mass shootings. Yet this old man, working an aloof teens job, grinned at these savages. He grinned as if to say, “kids, amirite?” But I thought they were complete savages. I was rooting for one of them to somehow get hurt by the hula hoops they were fucking with.

  I was there too, there was absolutely no denying that. I didn’t have to be there, I could’ve ordered a phone case and sunglasses online. That was the truth, I could’ve done that. But I was there. I was there with my nose up in the air, my eyes rolling back until I could see my brain. My higher functioning brain, higher than these savages and that fuckin asshole on the phone. Higher than the old man working an aloof teen’s job. Higher. Even though I was there too, even though I was also waiting in line. I could’ve left at any moment, I could’ve walked right out the door. 

Backpack

It’s not that it wasn’t fun or whatever. It was good. It was fun. It wasn’t completely ruined or anything, it was still a good time.
That being said…there were times, challenging times, even before we called it quits, it got challenging.
The flight home was particularly challenging, it was like twenty hours or something like that, so it was a long time and a lot of emotions were happening. Well not really a lot of emotions, not a great range, mostly one emotion.
It was almost as if we were slowly breaking up for two weeks, and the plane ride home was like a countdown to it being officially over. So the last two weeks were pretty challenging, but at least we were still in it, we were still together and enjoying ourselves half the time. There wasn’t much to enjoy on the plane, it was just long, and sad, and finalizing.
It wasn’t just that we were calling it quits, but the whole trip was over. Back to responsibilities and making choices aside from what to eat. Two months, and it was over, and we were over, and we started ending it with two weeks still to go. And the plane ride was like twenty hours.
There was crying and whispering, trying to keep everything between us, luckily the plane was like half empty. We wanted to land, but we weren’t ready to go back yet.
The last two weeks were challenging. A lot of speculation of what we would do once we landed, where we would each go once we landed. It was challenging, and we kept making out and almost having sex, then stopping. In the last two weeks there was a lot of dry humping followed by masturbating in our respective bunks.
It was still fun, but the whole trip was challenging. Living in hostels, riding on trains and crammed buses, hot, just being hot all the time. Smelling most of the time, being sticky, but it was fun.
We went from being in a semi long distance relationship to spending every waking moment together, being hot, and sticky, and smelling most of the time, but having fun, but being challenged. Tested.
There were factors, there were many factors. Spending every day with a person for two months straight in country where we didn’t know anyone else was a challenge, and a big factor. And we almost made it. But then we didn’t, and we still had the two weeks, and we still had the twenty hours.
So we landed after twenty hours. And my phone was still on some temporary roaming plan where I couldn’t make calls, and her phone was dead, so it took us an hour to find our ride, so it was twenty-one hours. The last hour was mostly exhaustion and anger and frustration, so I guess there were more emotions after all.                                   So we went home. I sat up alone and there was only one person I wanted to talk to. It was a challenge, because she was the only person I really talked to for two months and twenty-one hours, although the last hour was just me furiously complaining about cell phones. I forgot how to speak to other people. People asked questions, but I only wanted to talk to one person. But the whole thing was about doing something that was uncomfortable, doing something that was a challenge.
Not texting her was a challenge. Laying in bed that first night home was as uncomfortable as a twenty hour flight or a crammed, hot bus. It was less fun than those last two weeks.

Girls With Strange Names

    My alarm would go off at 430, everything would still be dark, and I’d just be like “fuck, still? I still have to do this?” And that’s how it was for the entirety of our relationship. I’d wake up before the sun and just feel like, “fuck…” As I started driving in, I would think, “maybe I’ll get into a wreck and I won’t have to go in today, wouldn’t that be awesome,” but it never happened. She was away at school about 86% of the time, so it wasn’t like I was waking up next to a beautiful, warm body, I was just waking up and feeling “fuck.”
    My exes name was pretty standard, but it had a twist, a nice lemon twist. She had a “Y” where most white people with her name used an “I.” So it was different, she was different. She had a lemon twist, and a “Y” where there was typically an “I,” she was intriguing and smart and hilarious, stunning, but she was also intense, felt a good many feelings, intensely. It wasn’t easy. Not being white was a lemon twist as well, but in a way I hadn’t considered, I wouldn’t say that was the main reason she was my ex, but it wasn’t not the reason.
   People told me interracial relationships were hard, but I would say, “pfffffft, it’s 2014-2016, wake up people, it’s merely a lemon twist!” And it was to a certain extent, but a more complex lemon twist, a lemon-lime twist, the kind of twist that could make your lips pucker. We ended on good terms, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments of puckering towards the end.
      I wasn’t waking before the sun anymore, I was waking up whenever I wanted. Funemployment the kid’s were calling it. I was however still waking up cold. Waking up next to a beautiful, warm body was down from 14% of the time to 0%, due to the puckering. When I decided to finally rise for the day, I would go to a local urban farm where I volunteered most of my free, sober time.
    The first girl I hooked up with, post puckering and lemon twists, was named after a famed European city, but she was American, borderline southern. We met at the Jersey shore, she did farm things as well, that was my in. She had a ridiculous voice, almost cartoonish, but she was a delight to look at, and even a greater delight to roll around the sand with. I didn’t even mind her unshaven legs, like her name, they had a strange appeal. She was couch surfing and wasn’t comfortable having sex on a public beach or her friends living room couch, so we never consummated. I never fully recovered from the blue balling of that weekend. But I’m confident that if I ever found myself near the borderline south, I could pay a visit to the famed European city.
   The girl who snapped my drought was actually a friend of the famed European city, and her name, well her name actually sounded quite Southern. But I think she was from like Connecticut or something, go figure. Her name sounded like hospitality, or a tire swing next to a rickety old porch, or sweet tea, or a pie made with some berry you’d never heard of before. We were hanging out at another mutual friend’s birthday party, a few months after my fling with the famed European city. We were back at our mutual friend’s house later on that night, and the dog kept trying to cock block me, every time she would touch my dick, the dog came over and use it’s mouth to throw a pillow on my face and started barking. The dog eventually left us alone, but I was like fuck, what has to happen for me to get laid. This drought was lengthy, and I really needed this sweet tea, this farkleberry pie. I wasn’t particularly attracted to her, maybe that’s why I didn’t remember exactly where she said she was from, or any other information about her at all.
      I had to wake up again, but the sun was up when I did, so it wasn’t all bad. The pay was bad, I guess when you were limited, you had to wake up before the sun to make decent money, who knew. The farm wasn’t able to employ me, but the restaurant that bought there produce was, so suddenly I was a cook. I had zero professional kitchen experience, so I was uneasy, felt like a fraud. I dreaded every order that came in.
     I was seeing my future sister in law’s best friend. She had a boy’s name with a few extra “e’s” added to make it sound feminine. I was a fan of that. The sex was phenomenal. The conversation, less than thrilling. This was a delicate situation. Not too long before that, before the farkleberry pie, I was in a Californiaesque drought, I remembered how tough it was out there, most girl’s had regular names. She was one of my future sister in law’s bridesmaids, I was one of my brother’s groomsmen. We were gonna be walking down the aisle together at their upcoming wedding. This was a delicate situation. We were fucking around for like a month or so, and it was feeling pretty casual. I felt like she wasn’t looking for that, perhaps because she mentioned she wasn’t comfortable with a casual relationship after the first time we had sex. I made her a nice birthday card, but wasn’t taking her on dates or talking to her that often or anything like that. I figured if i kept this up any longer, I was skating along the edge of being a pretty shitty person. The longer I kept up this charade the more awkward walking down the aisle at my brother’s wedding would be. The sex was phenomenal, she was quite attractive. But the conversation…less than thrilling. I had an out, I had just started cooking professionally. I pulled the “its not you, it’s me,” but with a lemon twist. I said, “it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the job. Too much stress, too many hours, I don’t know what I’m doing, it wouldn’t be fair to you. I couldn’t be as present as I would want to be in a more than casual relationship.” Hook, line, and sinker, I couldn’t believe how well that worked. Nobody was hurt, but I was back out there.
    I woke up hungover and went to this party where I didn’t think I was going to know anyone, I was dreading it all day before going there. Ended up having a blast, I met this girl who I kinda met a few times before, but had never had a conversation with. I just assumed she wasn’t interested, but on that day she was interested from the second I walked in. She was named after a color, and not some bland primary or secondary color, it was a tertiary, or whatever comes after tertiary, color. We hung out, danced, talked, all that jazz, the entire party. She was smart, and the kind of hot only rich girls could pull off, charismatic, and kind of annoying, but I was very drawn in. I was in the beginning stages of what felt like could be another substantial drought, who was I to knit pick just because she was harmonizing without jest with her sister to a Mariah Carey song. She was a Manhattanite, openly and knowledgeably talked about the anatomy of the vagina and how orgasms worked, you know that kind of girl, the kind that’s named after a tertiary color. After the impromptu anatomy lesson, I figured I was in. After I dropped her off at the train and we exchanged numbers and later got one of those dumb ass emoji things sent to me, I knew I was in. A few party goers even went out of their way to say things like, “by the way, you’re totally in.” I texted her some pedestrian joke about my terrible spelling a few days later, trying to get a conversation started, and she didn’t answer me for a day. When she finally did answer, she was short and uninterested. I was baffled. These storm clouds were a fake out, they passed right over, leaving me parched and smoldering.
   I had to wait for a girl named after a poem, or the wind, or something to come along now. Who knew how long that would be. I didn’t have many options at work, but they finally hired a real looker as a waitress. I felt like we were flirting a good deal, but then she mentioned something about a firefighter boyfriend. This wasn’t surprising, she had a pretty regular name, girl’s with regular names loved firemen, and dudes in the army. Heros. I was no hero, I wanted to wake up when I felt like it.

Lemonade Stand

Seriously, who am I? Who am I to give this guy any shit? We’re all on this train alone, I’m gonna judge this guy? I’m gonna judge this guy because he’s old and fat? I’m gonna judge this guy because he’s old and fat and looks homeless and has a jug of pink lemonade? I’m gonna judge this guy because he’s old and fat and looks homeless and has a jug of pink lemonade that he knocked over while he was sleeping? Who the fuck am I? I’m gonna judge this guy?  Because he knocked over this pink lemonade and it’s flowing down the entire length of the train and looks like the Nile River? I’m gonna judge him? Because the pink lemonade split the train in two? Have I seen the Nile River? Has he? I don’t think so, so neither of us has seen it. So who the fuck am I? I’m gonna judge this guy? I’m on some kinda superior Staten Island train? Some higher train than this fuckin guy? Why? Because I’m younger and thinner and have options in life? Do I? Is that why? What, I’m gonna judge him? We’re on the same train. So what’s the difference, really? I had a lemonade stand when I was younger, sure, it wasn’t much money. Now I’m grown, and not a whole lot is different in that regard. I’m on the train, and I’m not going back to my own place, and I’ve never seen the Nile, and I bet he’s never seen the Nile, but who am I to judge? Maybe he has, I don’t know this fuckin guy, I’m gonna judge him? Sure he spilled a jug of pink lemonade, sure it split the train in half like the Nile, sure he’s old, and fat, and looks homeless, and he spilled the pink lemonade, sure. But who the fuck am I? I’m on the other side of the river, I’m taking train too at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. I’m going somewhere. He’s going somewhere. And who the fuck am I anyway? Get real, we’re both going somewhere, and it ain’t the Nile. I got off before him, by that time he picked up the jug of pink lemonade, but who cares, it left a stream, like the Nile River, but who cares. I got off before him, and he got after, and we both had less lemonade, so what did it matter.