June, July, and August

The smell of humid dryer-air as I bolted from the laundry room where my mother was folding clothes. The cool rasp of galvanized steel as I hung from the crossbar of the clothesline pipes.

The grinding quarter turn of my sneakered heel in the sandy grass that was home plate, midway through a fully wild swing at an innocent, floating softball. The leather laces of my baseball glove, wet and chewy in my mouth, vaguely hoping for a pop fly.

The not-quite-painful metal barb of bicycle pedals on bare feet as we raced around in circles with whirring tires on parched sidewalks. Straddling the bike with the front wheel clenched between my thighs and yanking the handlebars back into alignment.

We twirled in the late evening air with clear-skied stars streaking above us and cool, damp grass and earth beneath. We waited for the lunar eclipse and got dizzy in thickening blue twilight.

My face pressed against the screen-window’s mesh, feeling the breath of mid-day moving in and out in hot languid waves, watching for kids to come out and play. Picking grains of sand from my skinned knee striped fleshy white and blood red.

The electric buzz of a light outside the kitchen table window way past bedtime learning to play chess with my father.

The instant drying bake of July-roasted cement beside the public pool’s shallow end, and the wet shadows of our bodies melting outward, sending rivulets back into the water. We vanished in shimmering heat.

My head double-weighted, hair pulled taut, laying too far back in the swing as trees and clouds and planes at thirty thousand feet flipped back and forth in brazen defiance of physics and reason.

Released from the summer-school bus at the top of the hill on crackling dry August grass and hearing the folding doors swoomp shut behind me. The belly rumble of the diesel engine; a few remaining kids framed by rectangular windows. Not quite the last stop.

String cheese, turkey sandwich, cool grapes, Doritos. Cereal with milk and sugar. Bomb pops.

Watching traffic backed up outside the fairground’s main gate; short-sleeved policemen with their thumbs squarely into belt loops tucked. Sunburned men in tank tops and fanny packs and families with strollers of sleeping, shrieking children.

Climbed the sledding hill to a spot where through branches I could see and barely hear fireworks above a spinning sliver of the Ferris Wheel’s lights. The mad random jubilant chaos of the midway just after dark.

Dinnertime. The sun is down. On the scratchy blue carpet in my bedroom the backpack’s neatly packed; still short two notebooks and a protractor.

Crickets. The light is off. Fifth grade tomorrow and for the first time in memory I can’t fall asleep.

The last day of summer.

Bases Loaded

Holy crap! This post is older than my children. Twice! Anyway, in honor of  Twins Opening Day, here you go:

I have always hated baseball. The standing around. The body-part scratching. The throwing and catching. Goofy socks.

There are so many ways to ridicule the game of baseball it’s difficult to choose where to start. Difficult, but not impossible.

As a kid whose parents were from South America, I grew up thinking fútbol was far superior. This despite the fact that neither my parents nor my Argentine relatives cared any more about fútbol than they cared about bais-bol. My parents considered it a sport for thugs. My mom worried about head injuries and tackling. Also drugs (Maradona, cocaine, etc.).

So I made a point of treating our national pastime with contempt. I decried it as a non-sport. It required no physical fitness, like golf or chess. It was the most poorly designed of  sports, in my mind, because the rules were strange and arbitrary and often self-conflicting.

So when the time came in gym class or on the playground to play what was, in the late 80s and early 90s, still The Nation’s Pastime, it was with glum satisfaction that I joined in. On one hand, I hated participating in that Sport Which Crushed All Other Sports. On the other hand, I could criticize to my heart’s delight, from the perfect vantage point: right field.

This happened throughout my childhood. Late summer nights spent watching wispy dead dandelions under the bright outfield lights. I even played on the neighborhood team in a ill-fated attempt at cultural assimilation.

In the short-term, at least, it didn’t work. I never fit in with the boys who collected baseball cards. They did it not because everyone else did, but because it was a fact of life, like breathing. These were kids who really did play catch with their dads in the back yard after dinner. My dad and I played multiplication tables.

But over time, baseball made a mark on me in a subtle, nearly undetectable way, like the sun on a painting hung on a south-facing wall. I remember running up the stairs the night the Twins won the 1991 World Series. We’d just moved into our first real house.

I remember getting my first fitted ‘Minnesota’ hat, now trapped in a grave of dust behind a dresser in my little brother’s room.

And I remember the sun going down over a slow freight train out behind right field. A reddish haze of gravel dust on my shoes and a gloved hand raised above my head to draw the gnats away.

There I stood; for all anyone knew I was waiting for a fly ball.

Somewhere between then and now I learned to love baseball. Not for the game itself, which still bores me to tears most of the time, but for the way it burrowed into my memory. Uninvited, unwelcome and out-of-place, baseball carved out a niche for itself in my life.

It is the end of summer. It is the Twins and the Braves. It the bright crack of a high fly ball, sailing into the summer sky.

Up, out, and into right field.

Still Working on This …

I am the king of unfinished things. I’m the captain of the Just Good Enough. I often know where to start but not where to stop.

I am a jack of all trades, or, if I’m honest, a 10 of spades. And “all” is meant figuratively. Secretly I yearn to be the joker.

I am the cabinet door left open. I have again forgotten to close it. I have made a trip somewhere to pick up one specific thing and have –  despite reminders by phone and text – returned home without it.

Where is my wallet? Where are my keys? Why is my car rolling away?

Oh. I left it in neutral.

I am texting while I drive. I am reading my e-mail. I am taking business calls on the toilet. I mute while I flush.

I am napping under a desk in an abandoned cubicle on the fifth floor of the corporate office building where I work. I am taking excessively long walks over my lunch break. I see a deer and her fawn in the woods behind the parking lot in the sunlight.

Let’s face it: I’m just rinsing most of these dishes. The sponge has long been out of soap.

I am overdue for an oil change. My wiper fluid is out.

My dentist’s receptionist has sent a series of e-mails. Polite. Concerned. Annoyed. Disgusted. I have missed many cleanings.

I did not wash that fruit. I told you I did, but I didn’t.

I did not wash my hands. I lifted the lever and ran the water for a subterfugeous second.

I am my keychain, left in plain view on my unlocked car’s passenger seat. Overnight. Again. I have been running on empty for over two days.

I am scores of dead houseplants, starved by neglect, then overwatered into oblivion.

I am thirty thousand undone sit ups coalesced and marching in formation back and forth across the sky.

Where is my phone? Where are those stamps? What is this letter from the IRS?

They have seen fit to get in touch with me directly.

I am the king of unfinished things, and I don’t know if it’s good or if it’s bad. I think I am trying to change it.

But I’m not trying very hard.

The Man and the Lady – A Heroic Escape

I know he’s still in here. He’s just crouched down on the carpet where I can’t see him. I hear sounds, and I can’t make them out. Is it a man moving around on the floor of my bedroom, or is it something else?

There are strange sounds at night and I can’t get used to them. The outside ones and the inside ones get mixed up. The warm air blower thingy groans and creaks. That elephant who blows steam from his face grumbles and rattles.

The Man’s arm is here, so the Man must also be here. But I can’t see him and this makes me furious. The arm puts the tiny rubber booby in my mouth. I love the tiny rubber booby, but not now, arm! I spit it out, and the arm puts it back in.

Monkey is here, too. I loathe Monkey. The Man forever tries to make me hug it, but Monkey just smothers me. Yesterday I awoke with his fluffy body suffocating me. I was so terrified. I did rolling and screaming – at the same time – to get him off. Then I struggled for half an hour to get to the other side of the crib. Monkey is immobile; he can’t follow me.

I keep the booby in for a while so the arm will leave me alone. My goal this morning, as ever, is simple: escape.

I dream about freedom. About the food chair and about the sweet potato purée and about grabbing it and rubbing it all over my forehead. But most of all I dream about the Lady, and her soft skin and quiet voice and her red hair.

I am distracted. I do push ups. I try to make my head go backwards. I have a mouth! I put everything in there. I try doing noises. I turn to my back.

This was my first big breakthrough, several months into captivity. At first the Man and Lady would only allow me to sleep on my stomach. And I was so enfeebled from the Very Long Dark Swim that I couldn’t turn over. But finally, after much struggling, I learned the kicky side roll. Most of my weight is in my head, and if I can some momentum going, it brings the rest of me along. Now I can turn over whenever I want, and the Lady usually lets me stay that way. The Man often forces me back on my stomach, but right now he hasn’t noticed (or he’s gone).

Now here is a pickle. The mobile has snagged my attention. I admit it; I’m a sucker for the mobile. It turns so slow! Will it speed up? Who makes it turn? How does it float up there? I grab my feet and try to eat them.

Do you know your mouth hole can make sounds? I knew my poop hole could make sounds, but then I saw the People moving their mouths all the time and now I can do two sounds: ‘da’ and ‘ba’. I practice putting the sounds together into long strings, doing them really loud, and then really quiet.

I try: “da-da DA! DA! daaaah d-dd-d-da DAAA! da d-um bum bu ba ba da YEAAAAAA!

I try: “Ungghghggh! AGGHGHG!”

The Man is back. He is standing over me with his arms crossed, looking annoyed. But there is some blue light now coming through from behind the curtains, just enough for me to see that he’s trying not to smile.

“A dah! A dah! A daaaah daaaah daaaaah DGHAAAAGHGHG!”

Now he laughs a bit. This is good. This is working. He begins talking to me. Praising my noises, presumably.

The door opens, and behind it comes the Lady.

I now flail, I believe the word is, uncontrollably.

The Lady is coming. She’s coming to get me. I am so close! I know what I need to do:

I open my mandibles extremely wide and bare my teeth. She can not resist them. She reaches down and picks me up, and I look at the Man with a victory glare I reserve for just these sorts of moments.

Now about those sweet potatoes.

The Second Quarter

I had a an uncle named Rawley. Well, I have an uncle named Rawley but he lives in California. He used to come over on Saturday mornings and take me to get groceries. He was terrible at groceries. My mom gave him lists but he liked going up and down every aisle instead. It took forever.

The basketball says Rawlings. I prefer Spalding because that’s what they use in the NBA, but still this is a nice basketball. I like to feel the dimples, like an orange. A huge orange.

I bet Rawlings and Spalding were cousins. Spalding Evinrude and Tom Rawlings.

I look at the game clock, and note that I have been holding the ball for twenty-seven seconds.

If my name was Spalding and my cousin’s name was Tom, I’d be pissed too. I bet they were buddies until high school, when Tom got picked for varsity and Spalding got made fun of and no one asked him to prom. Then Rawlings went to a D-I school and Evinrude had an apprenticeship in a shoe factory.

It’s the second quarter. In the first quarter we scored 17 points. I scored 14 points. Arnault hit a three from the corner. I got the assist.

There are six minutes and forty-two seconds left before halftime. I look at coach.

If I had to guess, I would guess coach is fifty-two. He wears braces on both knees even though he never runs with us in practice. He alternates between two shiny wind-breakers and a navy blazer with gold buttons he wears for games. The buttons have anchors on them. Like, for ships.

Fortunately, I don’t have to guess. I know he’s forty-one, because he told us last year when he turned forty. He went to Vegas for a week, and Dolores, our assistant coach, took over for him. When he told us he was turning forty, I think most of the guys were kind of disappointed. It meant there was absolutely no chance of him retiring before any of us graduated.

I look at Dolores. It’s been about two minutes. I have the ball cradled under my armpit and I’m pulling the drawstring on my shorts. She makes a pushing motion with her arms like ‘get rid of something hot!’ or ‘here take this baby!’ but I realize she means I should pass the ball to Arnault. I hate to do this, but I do it.

Now Arnault is holding the ball. The other team is confused. The big white kid who plays center for them is standing under the hoop with his arms up, trying too hard. I want to tell him he’s going to get a three-second, but why would I tell him that? Anyway I don’t think he’s going to get one. The refs are talking and they have their arms crossed.

Did you know there’s no shot clock in high school basketball?

Arnault has been holding the ball for a minute. I smile, thinking “Here Arnault, can you hold this basketball for a minute?” I hate to let him touch the ball. But it’s true he hits that three from the corner almost every time.

I look at coach now, and he hugs his belly with both his arms and looks at me and frowns. Arnault throws the ball back to me.

Here is the thing I don’t like about him: when my mom was home sick last year in the spring and she said I could drive the car, I told Arnault I could pick him up, but he said no, he’d rather take the bus. That’s bullshit. We live on the same damn block.

Rawley used to tell me, when we were going up and down the aisles, not to let anyone think they’re better than you. I already didn’t think anyone was better than me, but the point was not to let anyone else think it either. I think that’s what Arnault thinks. He thinks he could score fourteen points in the first quarter if all the plays weren’t designed to get me the ball.

There’s a minute left on the clock. Coach told us before the game if he made an X with his two forearms that we should just hold the ball.

– Like call a timeout? I asked.

– No, just hold it. Pick up your dribble. Just hold it.

– Can we doing that? This is Diego asking that. Diego speaks very little English. He moved here from Barcelona when his dad got a job teaching philosophy at the college. I think things were pretty different in Barcelona.

– Yes, Diego, we can do that.

Coach says Diego like “Deego”.

– Or you can pass it, if you want. But just you two. Ok?

Arnault is dancing around and clapping at me. He wants the ball. There are thirty-six seconds left on the clock. Yeah like I’m going to give you the ball after all that.

Coach calls a play. He holds his fist up and then a two, which is a pick and roll for me to the left. I cross over twice, and kid in front of me pulls his shorts up over his knees. I cut to the right, then Arnault slides over and sets the pick. I cut back left and go behind my back to my left hand, and now I’m clear all the way to the hoop.

In two more years I’ll be out of here. Out of high school and out of New Hampshire and I’ll go to USC and live with Rawley and they’ll have Spaldings.

I go up for the layup with my left. And out of nowhere that giant white kid is there, behind me, like a clown, and he swats my shot away. He hits the ball clean and doesn’t make contact and just the shock of it knocks me off balance and I go twirling down to the hardwood.

The ball flies, arc-less, as if drawn by a powerful magnet, to the corner, where Arnault has set up, and is completely undefended. He checks his feet, brings his elbows up, sticks his tongue out one side of his mouth, and nails the three.

Le Petit Pont

Do you remember, darling, how you broke my heart?

The pieces of it, lying in the street, swept into the gutter on the remains of the afternoon’s cloudburst?

It was there, on the bridge, right there. Where you see the young Algerians roller skating for the tourists, scissoring their legs and flying off the curb so reckless and graceful.

It was Friday, and the rain had washed the air of its late summer smog and heat. The sky was marbled yellow, pink, gray, and purple as the sun set behind the storm. Above us it was clear, and we sat and watched the cool dusk come over the city; watched the umbrellas collapsing all at once, and the tourists emerging from beneath grocery bags and newspapers.

You held my hand, cherie, your perfect fingers aimless and fidgeting. We talked as though it hadn’t been so long, in quiet voices, smiling. You glanced across the river at the great church. There were children standing frozen – pigeons lined their outstretched arms – in Our Lady’s plaza. How many times did we kiss under her watchful gaze?

I wanted to ask you so many things. I didn’t understand. Not long ago everything between us was so perfect, so pure. In spring, it seemed we were just babies, remember? We played, blithely, like we didn’t know what we were doing.

Then came Pablo. Bastille Day, at the park. He just showed up, a bad dream in denim shorts. And bald, cherie, bald! You didn’t care; you were carried away. His lines of Baudelaire, crudely recited, had the intended effect. His Neruda, my dear, I’m sure of it, was all invented on the spot. But what could I prove? I don’t speak Spanish.

You said he was mature; I said he was old. You said he was worldly, but I had never heard of these places. I looked them up and found nothing; granted, it was a place mat map, but it seemed complete.

By August I saw you less and less. The last time, you said you were going away for a while. The rage I felt then. A sick jealousy occupied my soul. Jealous of Pablo, of all things, and his shiny skull. The twisted fates.

And then you were gone. Oh, I asked around a bit, acting casual with your friends; they all said they didn’t know. Until one day Maria said she thought it was Disney World. Orlando, she said.

I found it on the place mat. I tried to imagine you there, with him. I lost my appetite.

Finally the wind changed. The highest leaves in the trees started to lose their color. The children went back to school, and I could see their uniformed bodies packed into city buses and coming up from Metro stops gasping for air.

I was preparing for the damp and cold, knowing I’d be alone throughout the worst of it, wondering if I could once more bear to watch the city put on the sour, empty costume it wears in winter.

Until this morning, at breakfast, mother said you were back; that she thought you might like to see me. I scowled, but she continued. She’d run into Pauline at the market and my name had come up.

So, like a fool, I let her drag me down there to the Seine, to sit over it with you and watch the rain and the sunset, believing perhaps my fortunes had changed. Believing – idiot! – you had come back to tell me your heart was not with him, there, in Orlando. That it was with me, always me, and that we’d spend the winter together, bundled against the chill, exploring the city of lights.

Instead we talked like old friends, as I said, smiling, watching the world go by. And you touched my hand, but you didn’t hold it. You let me go, cherie, and the sun went lower, and the streetlights flickered on.

And then my mother said goodbye, and Pauline pushed you away. And I watched you, in your stroller, as she took you down the Petit Pont, and you disappeared into the crowd.

The Vegetable Power Rankings

Onion –  The only vegetable capable of self-defense. Impossible to cook without.

Brussel Sprout – Still my favorite to win it all after last year’s impressive post-season run. It’s a tasty, miniature cabbage. When I’m eating them I like to imagine they’re little crunchy marinated chipmunk skulls. Ok no I don’t, and you’re right, that’s gross.

Cauliflower – Great name. What is a cauli? Is that a tree? Only albino version of another vegetable.

Artichoke – Just a badass, deadly-sounding dude of a vegetable. Deadly.

Asparagus – It can make your pee more horribler smelling.

Peas – Why did it take me thirty years to realize that this vegetable is the plural of ‘pee’? Good for rolling. Only spherical vegetable.

Celery – For when you run out of floss.

Corn – Or else what would there be in your throw up?

Spinach – The liver of vegetables.

Garlic – Good for masking finger smells. Like when you’ve been scratching your butthole. Then you go cook something with garlic in it and no one will know!

Shallot – Why do recipes call for shallots? Where are all these shallots? What is a shallot, anyway? Gene Shallot?

Jicama – For when you wanted packing peanuts in your salad, but you already ate all the packing peanuts.

Beet – Mr. Stainy.

Potato – Potato, you stupid, ugly vegetable. I would feel bad for the potato if it just weren’t so … ugly. Just, go look at a potato that’s starting to sprout. You’ll know what I mean. If I really wanted to insult someone I would tell them “Potato-face”. I can’t think of anyone I dislike enough to say that to. Yes, I know it’s a tuber.

Carrots – Usually safe, just don’t eat a whole bag. Long story. Ulcers.


Jeremy said he knew for a fact they kept cash in the back, and there was no pickup Tuesday night because of the holiday. I told him bullshit but he said his cousin used to work there before his mother died.

So Tuesday night we killed time at Murphy’s, drinking and playing Big Buck Hunter. I’m sixteen but Laurel works there and she was in my sister’s class and she doesn’t check my ID. It was pretty empty anyway, just some college guys with their backwards hats.

After that Jeremy said we needed somewhere to put the cash, and a way to cover our faces. I said I didn’t think a bagel place would have that kind of security, and Jeremy called me a dumbass, everyone has cameras. Continue reading “Burglar-agelry”

A Sledding Accident, and Death

Two little boys, legs askew, bodies tilted in opposite directions, about two feet off the ground. One wore a green down jacket, the other was dressed in brown with a red hat. Beneath them, the sled tracked their downward progress, ready to catch them again at the end of the short flight.

Except, of course, after all that mid-air rotation, when they hit the sled again, their bodies didn’t fit neatly in, as they had when their grandparents had packed them safely at the top of the hill. So one boy’s rear end hit squarely on the edge of the plastic sled, flipping the other edge up and catapulting the brother skyward. Continue reading “A Sledding Accident, and Death”

Moon Shadows

When I was a kid, my sister’s room had a splatter of glow-in-the-dark sticky stars on the ceiling. They had been put there by the previous occupants; college-aged tenants, since the house was a rental before we bought it. And the ceiling tiles in her bedroom were painted alternative squares of blue and white, except where they weren’t, because someone’s final exam had gotten in the way of finishing the job. Or maybe a girlfriend stormed in demanding answers.

Whatever the reason, the stars, constellatorily incomplete, and the half-painted tiles remained, unaltered, throughout our adolescence. Continue reading “Moon Shadows”

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