Thursday, May 26, 2011


The new born summer wailed with heat and Danny sat on his skateboard in the middle of an empty parking lot, head between his knees hanging down to cheek the bass waves of hazy sun beating off of the black tarmac. It was gummy beneath his wheels and streaked the red plastic with sooty skids, his shoes picked up a misty carbon sheen like they had over toasted in the oven. The traffic was light for rush hour, eerie lapses in cars between people dribbling home from work with their shirt sleeves rolled up and their ties flapping. Danny liked those people better, he didn't have air conditioning and the only relief from the stuffy neighborhood air was to get out of his house and keep moving, generating his own breeze skating or walking by the river. The business people with their windows rolled up and throat high buttons looked so alien behind the glass, he hated the thought of being trapped in a cold bubble where the organic outdoor noise was muffled, and the swelling air felt like an assault when you cracked the seal on your door to run inside.

He rolled himself back and forth, the satisfying spin of ball bearings mixed with forlorn bird whistles and moms corralling toddlers to the park or library. Summer was a ten day old thing and already all of his friends had fled town, to Avalon or Sea Isle or their mountain cabins. They were the places they went with their families, leaving in a caravan in the early cool of Saturday morning, and their dads came home with one tanned arm from where it hung on the window. They laughed at each other when they mowed their lawns the next week, pointing to their single red elbows. Danny mowed his lawn and he and his mother didn't get to go on vacations. It was a strange and lonesome two weeks when so much of the population evaporated leaving him to skate up and down empty streets after the sun had set and a stripe of sweat ran chills up his back like a skunks tail, the chucking wheels echoing off of the blank windows.

It was Danny's secret covenant to eat with his mother at least once a day. He wondered if it was hard, no husband and spending most nights at home. He was always out with his friends and even when they were gone he was too restless to stay in more than once or twice a week. Was it different to be an adult or do you just get used to things? Danny never had the courage to ask her. Sometimes he made her eggs before she left in the morning, or skated to her office with a sandwich. This morning he scraped hard butter on his burnt toast, black speckles of crumb coming off on the knife. He mom sat at the table and they made small talk about the day's plans. She took a sip of her coffee and said "You must get bored with all your friends gone. I don't know what you do all day."

"It's not bad." Danny said, "I get by."

"You'll probably get a job next summer, save for a car. Everything changes, but you'll be able to do more things."

Danny felt her looking at him, measuring him somehow in a mother's way that didn't need inches. It was like she was asking him a question but he didn't know what it was. "I'm ok with my skateboard, mom. I don't know what I'd change."

They sat there in silence lit in a timeless gold, she didn't have to rush off on summer mornings because so many people were away. She looked like she was going to say something but she finished her coffee instead and stood up. On her way passed him she leaned over and kissed his head and said, "You never were any trouble, Danny boy."

Sunday, May 22, 2011


The cabinet was particle board covered with faux wood vinyl laminate that peeled back at the corners revealing the spongy looking honeycomb underneath. Victor sat in front of the record player looking at the flat summit, towering above his head like a Mayan pyramid, the sacred and mystical apex rotating with a serpents hiss and dusty pops before the music came in. He was fascinated by the mechanics even more than the sounds, the grooves in the record and their fingerprint ridges, the way the translucent tooth locking into them as sure as a train track, and the lazy rotation of the turn table. There was a satisfying, outdated clicking as the motor powered on, the analog sound of electricity real and soulful. Victor put his hands on the speaker like the hollow diaphragm stretched with a drum of skin, he could feel the beating of the bass pulsing from the woofer, belching sparkling dust in the air like Tinkerbell. He felt like he was in an aquarium, bubbles floating all around him, daylight stars in the shafts of orange morning light.

Victor dug through boxes that smelled of moldering cardboard, like wet earth and stale air. Turning up an item people had forgotten about was like having your own secret, Victor would investigate the disowned origins and cast off history, making his own sense where he could. He found a box of LPs, some of them with hand made jackets, photocopied fliers, in different colors like milky orange marble and translucent yellow. He played them over and over, sitting beneath the record playing and looking up with his chin in his hands, hoping when he grew up he could buy a suit with a skinny black tie, and wear a Joe Friday hat with sunglasses and two tone wing tips all the time.

Years later Victor would hear a radio interview with a man that was on many of his treasured records. It seemed profane to hear two strangers talk about something that was so intimate to him, he had since learned all the notes and words, and all the cracks and scratches in those songs. The man said what his song was about and Victor thought "No, that isn't right," not sure if he meant the meaning of the song, or who it actually belonged to. It was carved into wax and left an orphan artifact for Victor, and he had never tried to impose the mystery of that secret on anyone, and he was now unwilling to let anyone instruct him on its' design.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Carol started coming to the Dogwood Parade as a young grandmother after she had moved to Phoenixville to be closer to her daughter's growing family. As the tips of her hair frosted silver and she grew more pear shaped she stopped putting 'young'' before 'grandmother,' and her little muppets started calling her "Gran" instead of "Mom Carol." She saw how the parade evolved over the years, growing and shrinking with the discretionary income available, adding floats full of after school acting and karate programs, losing school marching bands. Carol pinched her chubby grandchildren between her knees and clapped their hands for them until, parade by parade, they grew too big and inevitably embarrassed by her enthusiasm. She loved a small town parade and the crystal May skies, the carefree virgin breeze and the youth of spring. Her little ones were in such a hurry to get older, to wriggle out of their Gran Carol's grasp and go running down the street towards independence. But as each one got away there was a new child to take their place, and Carol rededicated her efforts to try and teach a toddler how to Mummer's strut.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Tru knew she was right every second of the day which was why she strode with her chin up looking everyone confidently in the eye. Her height was sourced mostly in her sapling legs, young striplings with a rubbery bend she glided smoothly on instead of the clockwork oscillation of joints. Tru pressed forward in all things with even determination, eroding everything in front of her persistence. Her hair was cut efficiently short to her head, she wore smart business attire, stylish shoes with severe points. Tru looked like an attorney you didn't want to get into a scrape with.

She was the youngest of four daughters with stern, Kenyan parents. She grew up with the quietest voice in a house of cross examination. Her sister's would make the preliminary volleys, haphazard and full of implication that tried to assert her guilt by association. They made statements in a common voice instead of asking questions, always using the word 'we' in place of "I," hoping Tru would hang herself in her assertions. Her mother would scatter them like pecking chicks and begin her interview in the guise of friendship. Everything her mother asked was framed in the love and guilt of parenthood, drawing information like sap from a tree, drip by drip on the edge of warming and cooling air. Finally her father would interrupt and approach his child with the head on, fear of God approach. He would feign surprise at every topic, even when Tru was sure he had heard it before, and then command "Daughter, Tell me the truth!" as a prefix to every question.

It was the crucible she was born from, argument was a pass time in her family and she expected to be raked over the coals with every decision she made. Many nights of spirited discussion ended when she learned her father had agreed with her all along, he was just evaluating the strength of her conviction. When she was released into the world she realized people that knew her talked to her differently, they loaded their statements with evidence, trying to inoculate it against the resistance she would offer. Tru smiled, her eyes beacon clear and shining.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It wasn't enough just to have a beard because it still showed the shape of his face, where the high roundness of his cheeks tapered into the squareness of his jaw, how the lines of his mouth were drawn down, starting in the wells of his eyes, so Freddy let his beard grow shaggy in thick uneven tufts, almond hairs mixed in with the dark brown, mottled in texture like camouflage. It was Christmas time when he stopped shaving and his face looked hearty in the winter months, but by summer he was gaunt and haunted. Freddy wore his sunglasses whenever possible, even in-doors, something he detested, but the dark lenses took the character out of his eyes. His aim had become to be as featureless as the hidden side of the moon, if he could get away with it he would've worn a ten gallon hat pulled mean and low on his eyes like a cowboy movie villain, and a bandanna tied around his neck for quick and anonymous stick ups.

There was a popular song playing on the supermarket PA, the chorus of girls working the registers were dancing little hippy box steps and clapping along, singing the dramatic overtures together. They had hair like cockatoo's, the girl ringing him out was named Bevin and she pointed to the invisible music and told Freddy "She used to come in here. She babysat my friend's sister!" She was talking about Jenny Bauer, a local girl that had moved to LA and hit. Before she was famous she had long, wild hair, burning red and thatched like straw. Now she wore it chopped up with a razor, severe, and shorts that made her legs impossibly long. Everyone was in love with Jenny Bauer for her clear, honest eyes and her bruised voice. As Freddy picked up his bags and pulled up his hood he heard Bevin tell her friends "Ugh, the guy she's singing about it such a creep. I'm so glad she dumps him in the song."

His phone was ringing at 1am on a weeknight, and for some reason he didn't sleep through the low buzzing. It was a number he didn't recognize, but he picked it up anyway. His room was dark, the mauve streetlamp shone across his feet but his bed was turned to keep his head in the shadows. The voice was delicate and familiar, with a naturally sardonic inflection. "Freddy?"


"Sorry, it's so late. I just got off stage."

"You're doing pretty well, I heard some girls singing your song today."

"It's crazy, huh?"

"Yeah, crazy. But I always said you were talented."

"Listen, Freddy, I'm sorry you've got to keep hearing that song. I only wanted to hate you for a little while, and I'm done with it, but I've got to keep singing the song, y'know?"

Freddy opened his blinds and ruby light fell across his eyes. "It's ok, I'm happy for you." The night was nameless and empty, "You were right, I should've come out there with you."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Tiffany was a perfect Tiffany, she dyed her blond hair blonder and wore it wet, crimped or curled and up. She smoked Salems or Winstons and her mother told her she had stunted her growth. True enough at sixteen Tiffany had small bird bones and tiny features but her mom had smoked since she could buy looseys from the drug store and didn't have much room to talk. She was just over five feet tall and had milky skin, looking slightly malnourished but she rarely ate much. She would leave the table early and sit on the wooden porch swing smoking menthols, texting her friends about their boyfriends, texting Dom.

Dom always wanted to go down by the lock, back through the tunnels of buzzing bushes and low hanging leaves whose saw teeth caught her hair, like a spider teasing out a single strand of silk. They used to go for a walk around the park, or to buy a Mexican coke at the little bodega and drink it out on the bridge, but once she agreed to go down by the canal that was the only place he brought up. He was a senior and he had a car, both pluses. Her friend dated his friend and had set them up, and Tiffany liked piling in the car and going to the mall or the ball field where they would smoke a joint if no games were going on. She could talk to the other girls while the guys threw the ball around in big cottony arcs.

The broken asphalt turned off of the main road and ran along the still water of the canal, alternate smells of mildew or laundry soap. The leaves sat on the surface like a carpet, sometimes so thick it looked like quicksand from a fairytale, if she tried to step on it and sink to her waist Dom would have to save her with his heavy arms. Over the concrete bridge where the water break rushed below and then down the steep and narrow steps, slick with flower petals like the treacherous footfalls of a princess bride. Thick and wild greenery lined either side of the long stone jetty, Tiffany wasn't sure why it was there except to walk on, there was no water here to hold back, but verdant waves lapped your feet. Dom walked ahead and pulled Tiffany by her doll hand, passing over empty cups and condoms, graffiti faces and names spray painted on crosses. At the end she glimpsed the gray and rushing river through the hole in the trees that opened onto a little gravel beach.

They sat on a cold blanket and he started nuzzling her neck. She shrugged him off but he persisted. "I don't feel like it right now."

Dom puffed his chest and threw his arms up in the air, "Jesus Christ, what now?"

"I just don't feel like it, it's gross here." She smacked mosquitoes away from her white legs, they were drawn to the apple vinegar smell of her hairspray.

"You always have an excuse, just relax." He started kissing her again.

Tiffany thought she heard someone on the path behind them put Dom pulled her face back in. She kissed him with her eyes open, looking out onto the water. An emerald headed mallard and his mate were bobbing in a whirlpool like bars of soap. They cleaned themselves with their flat bills, ruffling their feathers then meticulously smoothing them down. His marble eye caught sight of Tiffany and Dom, and as he spun on the water he turned his head to keep the couple in his field of vision. Tiffany watched him, his jade head catching the setting sun The duck quacked once to his companion and she looked too. Dom put his hand under her bra strap, the two birds revolved in the backwater not taking their eyes off the scene.

"Dom, Dom, stop." She tapped his shoulder until he pulled his head away, she knew she could always speak to him in the language of mixed marshal arts.

"What is it?" he said, now completely irritated and doubting where the night would end up.

"Those ducks are watching us."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I forgot that I used to want to be an improv comic until I heard someone talking about the classes they were taking. It reminded me I wanted to be a priest when I was in kindergarten, and then a movie critic. I was going to move to Alaska and be an astronomer, where there wasn't anything to obscure your view of the stars, and I was sure I wouldn't mind the cold. There were a lot of things I wanted to be and not a lot of things I was, by the time I graduated high school my future was a blank, the hanging syllable before a stutter, and I've remained thoroughly blocked. No matter how dissatisfied I am, and I am all underachieving day, I can't articulate what to do about it.

From my desk I can see a tree, where two birds built a nest of straw and one long bit of shoelace. They hatched three chicks there, pink and wormy with tiny beaks and linty black feathers. All day long the birds feed their chicks whose spring loaded heads stretch skyward ambitiously, and after only a week they're noticeably bigger and stronger, venturing onto wobbly, optimistic legs. It's something to watch all day.

I know a little boy that wants to be a pirate, and I hope he gets to be.