First Dispatch from Bow Hill

My Aunt Sheila says it takes two weeks in your new house not to feel like you’re just on a  bad vacation. And she’s right.

I have moved a lot in my short life and I hate it so much that I wonder why I keep doing it. I am a person that loves to make is fluffy little nest to retreat to away from people and things. I am a person who is very good at doing nothing at all. I will make any excuse to “rest”, “recharge”, “take it easy”. In other generations that would have been called “lazy.” But I am lucky enough to live now in the era of “self-care, ” that most ego-centric of past times. I am a person who very unapologetically puts myself first. Always have been.

“No, I don’t want to.”

“No, don’t put capers on that.”

“Ugh, I hate this place, I’m leaving.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”

“Nope.”

“No, I brought my own wine.”

Are all things that you may have heard me say. Periodically, through out the day. Even to my kids! (GASP!) I am historically not great at transitions, although I seem to go through them, a lot, by choice (i.e. kids, marriage, moving constantly). But perhaps I keep returning to the things that cause me trauma because I am a sadist? Perhaps. Maybe I just love hard exhausting things because everyone else says “wow you must be so tired” and then I get to go rest a lot afterwards while being congratulated.  That sounds right.

 

I hear my husband say things like “I could never just hang out, I need a project, I like hard work.” I think he has a mental illness. I hate hard work, and I think people who like it are weird. If I could, I would just sit around all day drinking coffee and reading every single page in The New Yorker, which is easily, my favorite thing to do.

 

Yesterday and the day before we chipped up what felt like an entire forest of branches that had to come down of the surrounding trees. I got the worst blister of my life. Rob even took down two massive old dead Hemlocks with a chainsaw. Which was, the highlight of the day, because I got to watch someone else work super hard.  And watching a massive tree fall is nothing less, than thrilling. Especially, if you haven’t watched TV in a month.

 

There is an indescribable amount of hard work that this property and house require and I am so, not, prepared or looking forward to any of it. Also, it has occurred to me, that I am just about the least qualified person to buy and fix up a 100 year old farm house and try to build a working farm on it.

Rob is better suited to just about everything around here. It’s too bad, none of these weeds, dead trees, overgrown blackberries,  or rat-infested sheds, would respond to critical analysis, or a deeply cutting remark, in which case,  I would actually be useful as something other than a warm body, who makes sandwiches, and coffee, I DO make the best coffee of anyone in the family.

 

Rob absolutely excels at all things domestic. He is an amazing cook, carpenter, gardener, parent, wood chopper (the list could continue for three pages). I am excellent at things that are not useful in a survival situation, which, for us has always worked fantastic in an urban setting. But, here, it seems, my lack of domestic skill is exaggerated, in a way that feels unbalanced.

I analyze the weather.  I change diapers and do dishes. I assist in raking, weeding, and trimming. I mitigate toddler misbehavior. I demand apologies from children, and bribe or cajole them into eating, washing, and sleeping.

 

 

I spend about an hour every afternoon on my knees, in the front yard,  with my headphones in, listening to a podcast or an audio-book while I rip up decades of grass and weeds. Someone, more than 40 years ago, paved an intricate stone pathway connecting the side door to the original front door and covered porch.  It is well built, shaped nicely, adds stairs around the steeper parts of the yard. They must have spent weeks on it.

Judy, the previous owner has no more information for me. It was like that when I bought it. She says, with a shrug, and she walks back to her truck with an armful of mail.

But I make up stories about this person. With at least two truck beds of stones, piling, sorting through each one. Digging out the holes, trying out different ones, like a massive nonsensical puzzle. What a delightful project it must have been. They must have really been trying to avoid something way harder than that.

My trowel clinks and scrapes as I peel back the mat of grass and dirt. Bugs, bags of spider eggs, worms, beetles slugs dive and scuttle to avoid my advance. Like the Russian front. Being discouraged only by nature in her power to dwarf human ambition.

 

Humans have always harnessed death and decay to advance life. When something dies it adds richness, sticky nutrition. Serving a purpose. Death is not senseless in the garden. It makes way and nourishes the new. Time’s up spiders. We will be using this pathway anew.

Composting, for instance. Rob is in the middle stage of building a 3 bay composting system where we will  dump our cast offs from the kitchen and garden, and they will rot  and become something rich and fantastic. Again, Rob is so, so good at this.

 

In the evenings I nurse my wounds in warm water,  and pick dirt out of my nails. I slather all kinds of potions on my crackling skin. I make Rob dig out splinters while I whimper. My body stiffens and aches upon waking from the deadest sleep I’ve ever had.  One day we will look back on the first year in this house and feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment and then we can go take a well deserved nap.

 

 

 

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Fresh Dungeeees.

Running down the driveway to the big house with a bottle of beer and a mason jar, through warm rain that steams up off the asphalt as soon as it hits. Purple flashes stain the groaning slate clouds, and I am hoping he isn’t still holding the hedger. Father and son have taken cover on the back porch beneath the modern greek stucco pillars. We stand looking out over the sound, gracing the seats of the ornate outdoor furniture with our torn shorts and grubby gloves. We sip the beer and watch the electric purple veins strike like long vengeful fingernails the wooded islands across the water.

He kisses my damp shoulder, calls me beautiful, and says thanks for the beer. We sit for a while until it clears, watching the ferry boats and cruise ships drift  by;  watching the water steam up off the warm grass and pavement; the sun slicing through again.

This weekend we are headed across the water to places with exotic, and mysterious names; distant watery towns tucked into trees, hanging above docks, curled in on the down of soft pastures. We take the car ferry from Seattle. The weather has cleared and the sun cooks Seattle’s sensitive belly. The locals are all but naked in anticipation of the summer weather. 80 degrees with only a 20 percent chance of rain, to me, it feels like October.  A wave of salt and cedar slough off the looming coasts of small and little-known islands, soaked in exhaust and algea. I try to tamp my excitement, he points to shadow-green strips of land with roofs and decks poking out and says “Indianola, Kingston, Suquamish, Manitou, Vashon, Bainbridge….”   I butcher the old and poetic names with niaeve humor.. “Succotash, Indiana, Manatee…” These are not the familiar Spanish arrangements of my upbringing, but an older and unnatural tounge. I can’t keep strait which are Islands, and which are peninsulas. I wonder about the cold-boned and broad faced people from here. The trickling families, who stays and who leaves, how they get old and petrified with salt and rain like boney logs on the rocky shore.

Once off the ferry and out of town the roads become thin strips of pavement between walls of endless trees. Everything is cut out of the forest with the smallest possible footprint; the trees loom, as if glowering over the gas stations, corner stores, two lane highways, and bright little farm houses tucked apologetically in damp meadows.

His grandparents live in a little wooden house, on a clear-cut patch of grass at the edge of a cliff. “That over there, is Miller Bay…” Grandpa says, ” There is Suquamish, these guys here are getting busted for crabbing without a license… look at them… yeah… busted.” He points down at a little yellowing boat, ensconced in buoys, being approached by a police boat with it’s sirens on. The red muddy tide curls along the shore.

“The crabbin’ been good this year,” He says, “I’m getting some salmon this week… ’bout fifty pounds… gonna smoke it.” This leads to a debate between merits of Sock-eye versus King Salmon (subcategories I only know from menus) settling on the merits of the King, it having more fat, therefore better for smoking. This is all sounding like a foreign language to me, a girl from a patterned stucco suburb of Los Angeles. We fished once a year, at a penny-sized man-made pond  called “Trout-Dale”. The thin dead trout would then live in our freezer in plastic bags until mom threw them out.

Grandpa is buying the salmon from someone “in the tribe“, who has the right to fish the coveted breed. The tribe is a presence around here, a frontage road running along side the highway, a sub culture. There is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ with a oval of impasse, relationships of convenience. They  mention “the Rez” in the same way that I would mention  “Van Nuys” or “Riverside.”

We wrap up our visit with cups of tea and sugar-free cookies. More driving through trees, across bridges, through towns, more naming of  beaches – thin and pebbly. The town of Indianola is absurdly charming. There is a stop sign, and a little red building called the Country Mart. Out front – like he was painted in by Norman Rockwell – a little toe-head boy shares an ice-cream cone with a curly-haired dog. We pick up a 12 pack of Rainer (that’s Washington-Speak for Pabst-Blue-Ribbon) and walk down to the dock, where teenage girls lean against the wooden railings talking to thin boys with fishing rods.

We are picked up by a shirt-less crew of Rob’s good friends, in a little speed boat and I work quickly to impress them with my wit, trying hard not to seem too “Californian.” I  hide my squeamishness when they pull up glittering cages of brown spidery Dungeness Crabs, clinging in panic, snapping their prehistoric claws with indignant rage. They seem so benign in the big glass aquariums at Pavillions, I can’t fathom how we are going to eat these things, they look like dinosaurs. We zip around to a few different buoys drinking beer, pulling up baskets of angry crabs.  The sun lighting us up, burning up the corners of our eyes, and drying yesterday’s storm.

In the  grassy yard of a little house, just up the road from the dock, we set up the BBQ and the crabs are boiled on the grass in an old beer keg with the top cut off, the screaming yellow foam brings a few curious neighbors, who ask about “our pull.” They eye me warily, they ask me where I’m from, and with proud grins, inform me with sweeping arms, that I am lucky to be here. I agree as I slice vegetables on a picnic table, help a little girl spell everyone’s name with a crayon, and take shots of  whiskey. I watch and learn how to crack crab on a pile of newspapers.  Finally the sun sets around 9:30, the fire-pit is lit, and we drunkenly eat crab salad and grilled vegetables. Someone turns on “The Talking Heads” which spawns a sing-a-long. The kids fall asleep in the master bedroom, and I am the only one with a sweater on, as it has fallen below 70 degrees now. The air, the still and shore-clean air holds the sweatness of the grass, and the fresh crab, and the crackling fire-pit. I want to bottle this smell and keep it on a shelf, and whenever I am feeling lonely or sad, I could just open the little bottle and sniff the cap, go back in time to an unfamiliar homeyness I felt, right then.

Rob’s Crab Ceviche/ Salad:

Ingredients: 

15 Fresh Dungeness Crab boiled in an old beer keg

1 head of crunchy purple lettuce

1 head of Garlic

1 jalapeno

1 thai pepper

1 purple onion

2-3 heads of fresh uncooked corn

1 can black beans

limes, lemons, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce to taste

Directions: Crack crab on sheets of Newspaper; chop all vegetables; put everything in the same bowl. Enjoy with beer, and friends, on tortilla chips or with a fork. 

I know there are hot dogs in heaven.

I am ten years old, visiting grandma and grandpa for the first time on my own. I take the train to Sacremento, they great me at the station standing side by side. Grandpa Owen with his hat and cane. Grandma Maura with her tent-like lavender blouse. I ride in the back seat of his big blue cadillac, sinking into the velveteen apolstry. The air thin and hot. Always too hot. He drives as if the thing is made of glass, not detroit steel. He sings to me in his thick brogue, In Dublin’s fair city…where the girls are so pretty… I first set me eyes on sweet Molly Malone… he smiles at me through the mile-wide rearview and tells me he’s going to ship me to Ireland to be Rose of Tralee. I think he tells all the grand daughters that, but it feels like he is telling just me.

The house is like a balm. I can almost see through the slats of the tall wood fence. We fumble with the latch on the dutch-door. The side yard is shaded by a two-story maple, the interlocking bricks have the tiniest hint of moss. The ash-tray on the patio table is half filled, and the ceramic garden goose in a light blue bonnet, sunk deep in the muddy planter,  gazes across the wild lawn at the junipers, where the leprechauns live. Grandpa brought them over from Ireland in a trunk, But they don’t like it here, grandma says, it’s too hot, they’d rather live by the sea. She uncrosses her legs, looking at me through her lashes she flashes a wink, so quick, you’d think you imagined it.

The  noon- sun beams just-so through the paint-by-number glass decoration, suctioned to a small square pane of the side door. The carpet, long and green gets between my toes, and hides chocolate crumbs. Its worn flat and bald where everyone shuffles in, dumping their purses and back packs on the flowered couch. It’s quiet without my thirteen cousins and 8 or so Aunts and Uncles, except for the steady clock,  but the air buzzes like after a shout.

I stay in “the mices” room (the nickname for my mom and my aunt Sheila, always rolling around in a trouble-some pair). Always choosing the bed by the window. My mom’s old bed. She slept here when she was my age. The closet is full of sweaters in all colors and sizes, toys that fall apart, it smells like old things. The hall closet is the most interesting, full of thin creamy linens, and pinging china. I know the priest is coming for dinner because the good plates are out and the whiskey.  The kitchen is hot with steam from the potatoes. She is making turnips for me, my favorite, after reading a book about a girl named Molly who had a Victory garden and  hated turnips. I had to ask my mom what turnips were, I don’t think she knew much more than I did about them. But grandma knew all about victory gardens, and turnips. It turns out, I liked turnips: boiled, salted, and mashed with parsnips, onions and carrots.

All the pictures on the walls and on the shelves are peeling away, or wrinkling. The people’s faces are just a collection of black and white specks. Thats Aunt Nan, and Pat, there is your mother and your Aunt sheila. Thats Aunt Deb at her wedding, thats my brother Billy, he died in the war, thats me on the Queen Elizabeth…thats a boat, we called it the QE2, a very fancy boat.

 I like the way she takes a breath in when she says “yes” while she is remembering something…Yes…(breath-in) yes, yes. Her eyes will flick around  and she will nod and lick her lips, thats when I met your grandpa. I went to Ireland, and met him at confession, now THERE’S a place to meet a nice boy. She points at me with her wooden spoon, hot water and potato bits flinging onto the gold-flecked linoleum. It bubbles in places, making nice long creaks when your trying to get to the candy cabinet. If we all lined up, all the cousins and held out our hands and closed our eyes and said “please” she would go down the line and pour from a 1 pound bag of M&Ms into our outstretched hands. It was like getting communion but better,  and you had to cup your hands real tight so they would slip through your fingers. By the time you were done, you had sweaty multi-colored palms, your mouth raw with sugary milk chocolate.

She showed me how to knead the dough for the irish soda bread, her fingers, pale and already warping under the knotted pressure of arthritis. Push it back with the heal of your palms, then fold it over, getting flour in all the air pockets. then you make a cross on each loaf, father, son, and the holy ghost. We’d eat the dough off our fingers, salty and sweet.

In the morning I would climb into her bed after grandpa went for his walk, with our books and tea and toast, dipping the corner of the toast triangle in the molten belly of the egg: sitting up-right and decapitated in one of her many egg-cups. In the afternoons we would hang up her “un mentionables” on the clothes line, large flesh-colored silks that I could use as a hammock if I dared. I would poke around in the yard, sticking my face unside the large  hollow globes of hydrangea. They came out different colors every season. Sometimes punches of blue and lavender, sometimes pale pink and red. If it was a good season, yellow and white daffodils would spring up from bulbs, the fairies plant them and use them for tea-cups, she told me, and she would find me hiding in the spidery caves of the junipers, waiting for fairies with a handful of daffodils. They won’t come out when you’re here sweetie, lets go get a treat and let them have tea. We would go out to the market and stop at the bakery for an eclair or a raspberry swirl, watching the wild chickens strut around old town. They belong to everybody and nobody, they are wild chickens, they tried to kick them out, but they didn’t want to leave… no we can’t eat them. Then we would wrap the roast in twine and watch Murder She Wrote  while it cooked. Angela Landsbury was her hero, I think.

In much later years, we would break her out the back door of the nursing home on Foothill  at and 35th  at dinner time (3 pm) in a wheel chair with her big sunglasses on to go get a handmade pork tamale at the taco-truck across the street. Braving the deadliest  cross walk in the world, for what is sure to be the fluffiest tamale north of Lompoc. She loved the melon agua fresca.

One of the last things she ever asked me for was a hot dog. I’m not hungry but I could always go for a hot dog.  It’s such a simple American thing. A tube of beef parts (if you’re lucky) wrapped in a white flour bun, doused in relish, mustard and ketchup. But for her it symbolized an elementary part of life, living in the burroughs of New York City, nestled in between jews, italians, and puerto ricans, the lowest common denominator is a hot-dog.

I wish I could have gotten her a good old-fashioned dog. I hope that when I’m taking my last breaths at a catholic nursing home that someone I love will bring me a “mission dog”. Something so foundational to my young-adult personality. An item that that you can only get between the hours of 11pm and 4am roughly between 16th street and Ceasar Chavez, the smell of grilling meat and onions will guide you to a small man, next to a rolling grill, wrapping bacon around a meat tube, grilling onions and jalepenos, You wan onions? Si. Peppers? Si. You wan mustard? Si. Ketchup? Si. Mayo? No, no mayo pro favor,  I have a thing with mayonnaise. .. and he shrugs, hands me the foil wrapped savior, and asks for 4 dollars.

How well can you know a person? I know her, my grandmother, like I know the sea-glass bottles she kept on the kitchen window sill, and the soft way she smelled, and the way her breath would whistle through her teeth, or how she would slap your leg if you told her something biting and funny. I told her once that she was like a compfy couch, a compliment not appreciated by any woman, and for good reason. It was possibly my first metaphor, misguided and naive. What I was trying to say was that you could curl up in her and feel safe, steady. But how well do I know her sadness and her anger? How well do I know what she thought about her life, the choices she made, mistakes, guilt, loss. She looked up at me, on my last day with her, shortly before her hot-dog craving, It was never all that great, she said. This is something you never want to hear from an old person. We want to know that it’s great to get old, to live a long life with intermittent pain and joy. We want to know even on our heaviest days, thats it’s worth it.  All I could offer her was some juice and a scone. Even if it wasn’t ever all that great for her, it was great for us, maybe she just couldn’t see it and it still is great for us, and it will always be great. Dancing an amateur version of the irish jig after we’ve all had seconds on dessert, irish coffees, and gone through the 7th bottle of wine, and the last slice of yorkshire pudding (which is neither a pudding, nor from Yorkshire), laughing like idiots… thats great. It’s moments like that, making it all worth it, getting us out of bed in the morning. We wouldn’t have any of it, if it wasn’t for her, picking up a cute guy after confession one sodden afternoon in Tralee, Ireland.

Revisions

The next two stories are ones that you may have read before in their first or second drafts but I took ’em to the butcher, then the car-wash, then the jeweler, then sent them out in an envelope across the country. As I signed the mail receipt, I felt like a parent  dropping her kid off at college. Going over again and again, all the mistakes I may have made, what I could have done differently.  I almost shouted “call me when you get there… don’t eat with your elbows on the table…play nice with the other manuscripts!”

Settle in, it’s a long one.

That Time We Accidentally Killed Louise

We came rattling down the mountains, in borrowed cars. Steel sleds packed shoulder-to-shoulder with vibrating young bodies, happy to be squeezed together, skin lighting up.

They knew who we were; they had heard how we put Howie Barnes in the hospital with a cracked spine after he jumped me in the parking lot of a 7-11.We shut down the school with smoke bombs and spray painted giant cocks all over the inside walls of the gym, the lockers, the windows of the coach’s office. We got suspended, but we didn’t really go to school anyway… we had to help the janitor clean up the cocks, or else be fined. We didn’t have any money; we didn’t have anything but each other. We grew up on bologna, mayonnaise, and soda.  We tattooed each other with sewing needles and pen ink. We shaved our heads, and paid the homeless schizophrenic guy to buy us booze. We stole our mother’s cigarettes. We liked the bare thinness of snowy air, and the pale silence of unheated mornings in abandoned trailers, sick and foggy from the malt liquor and speed. We had loyal dogs, mutts, who would run a hundred miles if we told them too.

They knew we were coming down for the show; one of our guys, Daren, had slept with one of their girls, a pudgy blonde named Louise, and her boyfriend Kelly wanted to kick Daren’s ass, so he had to come up against all of us. We played cassette tapes on the way down, mostly Slayer.  Lauren was my girl at the time; she was just a freshman, her hair long and brick red. She brought bottle of schnapps stolen from her parents. She wore my ‘Youth of Today’ shirt, cut off the stomach, her egg-colored belly glowing against her back denim shorts.

We drank 40’s of beer in the parking lot of the show and passed around a couple bottles of cheep vodka, seeing who could take the longest pull, I got up to 5 seconds before I gagged. The sky down here in the city was a blank navy blue with a few yellow spots.  We were used to the mountain sky: a sugared wet blanket, a lid on the ridges, like incisors. Down there in the flats, never dipping below 50, the asphalt was warm beneath us, but we hunched over anyway, sucking on Pall Malls, with our hands in our pockets like it was cold; we didn’t know how else to act. Our girls gathered around pocket mirrors taking hits off the schnapps bottle, rubbing black pencil around their eyes and speaking to each other in hushed song, like a distant carousel. They were growing more and more into a mysterious tribe; painted and secretive.  But sometimes, late at night in the back of cars, or laughing they were still the girls we used to know in school. Jessica was Pete’s. girl, he was our biggest man, so she was the queen of them. Short with big tits, heavily made-up. Her blond hair dyed black and cut against her scalp, except for the long trail of bangs framing her face. Our moms used to live in the same apartment complex. But when we were in 7th grade her mom married a motor-home salesman and they moved to his big house on the North end of the Lake.

We crushed the beer cans and threw them around; Moving through the place was like swimming in a pool of wet t-shirts. Everyone stared at us right in the eyes, but we didn’t look away. They knew who we were, in our starched collard shirts and close-shaved heads. Lauren pressed against my shoulder, gripped the pocket of my jeans, her breath quivering, I thought she might run.

We were fables, like giants, traveling around the room on breath. Macho Kelly came out of the crowd towards us, he asked who Daren was, and we all stared strait ahead at him. He asked again, and our biggest man, Peter came forward,

We’re all Daren,’ he said.

‘Then I’ll have to kill all of you.’ Kelly said. He rolled his shoulders back, his evenly shaved head coming up to Pete’s nose.

‘Good,’ Pete said, ‘ Because we can’t live with ourselves after fucking that fat fucking pet pig of yours…’ a little bead of sweat jiggled down his chin and onto the clean chest of macho Kelly’s white t-shirt. Kelly grabbed Peter’s throat with his left hand, his veins popping out the side of his head, his grip barely made it around Pete’s jugular. Peter just smiled and laughed, pushing his throat into Kelly’s struggling grip. Fat Louise stood behind Kelly, her arms folded, her face was red like she was holding her breath, cheeks wet. No one knew what to do. Kelly finally reached up his right hand, attempting to cover Pete’s wild mouth, but Pete bit down hard, and blood spurted out, and like a dog he started shaking his head and locking his jaw down on Kelly’s hand. Kelly went white, his mouth dropped open and his eyes rolled back as Pete kept shaking his hand around in his mouth, and blood was, all over his face. Louise screamed and launched herself at Pete, which prompted drunken Jessica to launch herself toward Louise. Both sides folded in around the girls kicking and screaming. I just started flinging bodies out of the way looking for the girls.  I could hear wheezing and growling and screaming, and the shuffling of bodies all swollen with adrenaline. In a moment sirens flashed outside, and we made for the fire exits, toward the back parking lot. Our eyes swimming, our skin raw, throats scraped open with gasping.

We all met at the cars, squatted and leaned, breathing, checking for blood or busted bones. Coming down after a fight, everything sounded sharp, my limbs begging me to run. Lauren, sat on the bumper of my car, arms folded, looking down at her shoes. I called to her but she wouldn’t answer. ‘I want to go home,’ She said.  One of the girls, Dee, had some hair pulled out and was bleeding pretty bad; it poured down her face and blended with her dripping make-up.

‘ Oh fuck you little girl!’ Dee said, ‘I wanna go home…’ she fake sniveled, ‘ where the fuck were you?’ pretending to rub her eyes with her fists, giving the effect of a zombie clown, ‘ while I was getting scalped by a valley whore?!’ But she was laughing and leaning on her friend who stuck a bar napkin in the seeping gash, and laid her down on the back seat of my car, an ’86 Cutlass, my grandfather’s hand-me-down, I could have it, he said, as long as I did all my grandmother’s grocery shopping, and took her to her doctor’s appointments.

Shut up Dee,’ I said, ‘ Don’t get blood on my car.’  Lauren put her finger up to the corner of her eye, and stood walking around so her back was to me, her red hair falling in a neat orange column around her.

Our big man, Peter, came back minutes later, with asphalt ground into his shoulder and a blood pouring out of his nose, mixing with Kelly’s blood that circled his mouth. He hovered for a second on the outside of the circle; he put his hand on Daren’s back. ‘Louise is dead,’ He said and his voice cracked open, ‘And we need to get the fuck out of here.’ His words clogged with blood and spit. We all looked at Daren, the one who’d fucked her in the first place. He put his head down sort of nodding and scuffing the ground, his mouth opening in a silent cry.  Lauren gasped and lifted her head, I reached out to her but she turned her shoulders, ‘Just an accident,’ I said, ‘ she was just stupid to get in the middle of the fight.’ My face was turned to Lauren, but I said it for all of us. For Daren, who was now squatting with his head between his knees, rocking back and forth.  Pete turned his face up, rinsing his mouth with a warm beer.

There was a gag and a cough from in between the cars where Jessica, the big man’s girl, sat leaning against the rear wheel, nursing a busted-up knee. She leaned up on her palms, clearing her throat.  There were little black tears coming off the corners of her eyes, towards her hairline, she looked like an Egyptian painting. She held her arm out with her palm up and one of the other girls silently passed her the bottle. She didn’t say anything, but she swallowed the last half-inch of vodka, and leaned back against the car, her breath catching unevenly in her throat, like a toddler too upset to speak.

‘It’s not our fault,’ I said whipping around, I pointed at Peter ‘ But they’re going to blame you for this.’ Peter was picking gravel out of his arm, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here,’ He said ‘Before this gets really shitty.’

The cops shut down the main drag coming out of the venue, no doubt, looking for two packed cars full of busted up teenagers with addresses in the Sierras. So we backed the cars out of the delivery entrance, no headlights, and took the long way around the outside of town, behind the Costo and joined up with the 99 until we hit the pass.

Jason kept saying that he probably had some broken ribs, ‘No man, I definitely broke some ribs or something.’ I thought about what other kids our age where doing tonight. Thursday, maybe the preps and the sporty kids were having a party after a basketball game, down on the lakeshore, with a fire, and some beer. Every year there was always a girl or two that got drunk for the first time ever and drowned in a foot of water a few yards away from her friends on the beach. She was always a nice girl, from a good family, with good grades, and a soccer scholarship to USD. You never saw some greasy skinhead drowning in a foot of water or puke.

That week with the janitor, painting over the graffiti cocks we made on the walls of the gym, was the most fun I ever had in school. Jason and I were assigned to repainting the mural of the school mascot, the steelhead trout, which didn’t need much help looking like a cock anyway. It took the better part of the week; first the primer, then the base coat, then we stenciled in the design with charcoal and butcher paper, then the colors for the fish, layered lightest to darkest. The Janitor, Will, was a nice looking Mexican dude in his 30s, he must of thought we were such spoiled punks. He taught us how to get perfectly strait lines for the lettering using tape and sponges. He didn’t even get mad when he found us in the paint closet, huffing the thinner. He just told us to ‘get the fuck out of there and get to work. I am not a god damn babysitter.

We crawled back up the mountains silently that night, except for the radio. Pete, and Jessica in the back with Jason who braced against the passenger side door, a cold can of coke pressed up against his puffed face, wincing every time we hit a pothole. Jason’s girlfriend Dee crumpled on the floor of the car, with her head in between Jason’s thighs, the saturated napkin still stuffed in the clotted hole just above her left temple.   She drifted to sleep, humming. Chugging slowly up the two-lane pass draped along the slate shoulders of the familiar ridges, I smoked my last cigarette and thought of what we learned in physical science in the 8th grade. How it took a billion years to make these mountains – earthquakes and lava, and rain and snow and glaciers the size of cities cutting the lake into existence.  And now I am driving an ’86 Cutlass against their ancient belly pausing only a few times so Jessica can vomit at a turnout. Lauren sat silently in the passenger seat, responding to nothing, face pressed to the glass, her breath making a little cloud. As soon as I pulled up to her house she opened the large steel door letting in the sharp pine-clogged air. Took off at a jog, arms strait, hands balled into fists, hair wild. Her parents were on the porch, arms folded. Her dad made a few steps towards us.

‘Fucking prep! Stupid poser pussy!’ Jason yelled out the back window, and hurdled the coke can into the glowing bay window of their house.  A satisfying shatter followed us and I peeled out of their long, smooth driveway.  In the rearview mirror I saw her dad taking off after us, in a sort of sloppy gallop, I laughed and beeped my horn twice.

‘Didn’t fucking need that bitch anyway,’ Jessica said, ‘ fucking pussy ass prep whore.’

I had expected Lauren and her parents to go running to the Police within minutes, but no cars waited for me at home, nobody ever heard about it again, and I still saw her around. She would give me a smile but at the same time a headshake. Her red hair waving around, nose crinkled up like a cat bearing its teeth. She looked more like a kid than before. She never gave back that shirt.

Later that spring, Louise’s brother and Macho Kelly put our big man Peter in the hospital.  They ran him down one night in a big Ford pick-up just as he was leaving his job at the garage. His skull nearly crushed, and his intestines scrambled. They had to remove some of his organs from his body cavity and place them in what looked like a medium sized fishbowl next to his bed while he healed.  He was in the hospital for four months; a new landlord hauled his trailer off the abandoned lot in early summer. No one knew what became of his two rottweilers; we guessed the police just hauled them away too. About a month after that, Jessica took up with me. She needed a place to live and I had an old fishing tackle shack on the south end of the lake. I didn’t blame her, Pete wouldn’t be able to even shit right for years. She was devastated by the loss of her boyfriend and her dogs, one of which was a Christmas present from Pete the previous year.

I worked at the convenience store down the road the “Beer ‘n Bait,” did a good business in the summer. My boss owned the shack, and let me live there if I took three dollars an hour, instead of five, and I promised to fix up the dock, which was rotted almost all the way through. I felt bad for Pete, but nobody harbored any sense of injustice about it. We spent that summer by the water, or inside in bed. She grew her hair out, the black dye fading into a pale grey, then a white blond in the high hot sun. She waited tables at a Mexican restaurant in town, saving her tips so she could go to beauty school.  Scotty, and Jason were sent away to troubled youth training camp by their parents. Daren and his brother went down to the valley to work for their dad’s construction company. Most of the girls hung around taking summer school and waitressing. Dee got pregnant and moved in with Jason’s parents; they had a baby shower for her. When he came home from camp later that summer, he was sold on the Army, and enlisted in October right after his 18th birthday. Dee’s hair never quite grew in on that one patch; it remained a rumpled little divot in the skin. For years, every time I saw her, in the market or at a party I would peer at it, and think about her crumpled in the back of my old Cutlass laughing with a bloody bar napkin stuck to her head.

Jess would visit Big Pete in the hospital almost everyday, out of guilt really. Daren, Jason and I only went to see him once. We stood back against the walls of the little white room, banging into rolling equipment, searching the drawers of the cabinets for anything valuable. We ended up with a lot of medical tape, and stitching needles.  He rambled, half lucid, about getting everyone together, going down there and taking Kelly down, ending it, finishing off that retard family for good. But no one really cared enough, I think we were all tired of it, or maybe it was just the summer that made us want to forget. He could have died, and it would have been easier for everyone. When Pete could finally walk again he moved in with his grandmother. She had a two-bedroom condo in a well-groomed community where the median age was 75.  His skin took on a funny gray tinge, his chest had narrowed and become concave.  A large pink scar crept from the crown of his head, behind his left ear, down to the outer edge of his collarbone.  People just never get right after a head injury like that. I would dream about his guts, all scrambled in a jar, like a pink and gray pasta salad, I would wake up sweating and chewing my lip. Jess would drive Pete to physical therapy, always going over there for lunch first. I hated this, I would protest, and threaten, ‘ We both know he can’t fuck me,’ she would just say ‘I’m going, and you can decide while I’m gone if you’ll let me in later.’  I always would, and sometimes I would sit like a pouting kid in the back seat of her car as she would chauffer Pete around, the two of them always talking or switching the radio.

We were very drunk one late afternoon in September, before Pete was out of the Hospital. We drank ‘Nickel Creek Red’ which cost two dollars a bottle with my employee discount. We tried to fish off the sinking, rotting dock with some old poles, but ended up just throwing smooth rocks against the darkening surface.

‘This whole valley used to be a glacier’ I said.

I heard there is still ice at the bottom.’ She turned her round face towards mine; there were purple stains on the edges of her lip. The gold in her hair like fiber optics. I kissed her.

I wish I had paid attention in science class,’

You didn’t go to science class.’ She teased and pushed my chin away.

I thought of that last day of painting with Will, the Janitor. We were so high from huffing paint thinner when he caught us. We finished the last two letters in ‘heads’ for the mural then started taking the blue tape off, one long strip at a time. We all stood back at center court when it was done, looking at the giant fish with the gapping jaws and spiney fins with the words ‘ GO STEAL HEADS’ across It’s speckled flank. Jason was the first one to start laughing.

What?’  I said.

Yeah… what’s so funny? You fucking stoner…’ Will clipped him up the side of his head. Jason backed away laughing stopped for a moment, stood up and screamed ‘GO! STEAL! HEADS!’ pumping his fist up towards the ceiling. That’s when we all lost it; I never laughed that hard in my life – cheeks burning.  Will sat down with his hands on his knees and his fingers pinching his nose, his shoulders jumping up and down. If you didn’t know he was laughing, you’d think he was weeping. GO. STEAL. HEADS.

Sitting on the edge of the dock my feet dipped in the water, the skin white with green veins. Jess’ legs dangle just above the surface, she points her toes and makes little rippling circles.

I think I’m gonna be a janitor when I grow up.’ I said.

Don’t be an idiot.’ She said.

Nah, I’m serious…’ I threw a rock strait down into the water; it splashed up onto us, momentarily halting her breath with cold.

Why not just work for your dad?’ She took a pull from the wine bottle and wiped her face.

Because I’m not really cut out for selling ski’s and tennis rackets.’ I motioned to my shaved head and the three-inch scar across my nose.  The air was cooling now as the tiny bright sun hit the serrated ridge of the bowl. The first stars came out behind our heads, the gray blanket of insects shook out around us.

You sell beer…’

‘Exactly…’

She shook her head and pulled her feet up beneath her.

What are you cut out for then?’ She asked, ‘Just getting drunk and beating people up and living in a shack your whole life?’ She was trying to sound light, but I knew she was getting at something, that I didn’t want to get at just yet.

Uh, I don’t know. Sure. Is that job available?’ I still found joy in frustrating people. She shook her head breathing out, and studied me in a way that made me feel like a retarded mouse. Her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched.

I just never want to get into a fight again,’ she said, ‘not after Louise.’

That was just a bad night.’ I saw the goose bumps on her legs and arms, and threw my leather jacket around her shoulders, scooted close to her, so our thighs touched.

Have you ever stepped on a snail?’ she asked.

Sure, tons of times, mostly on purpose.’

That feeling when you crunch through the shell and the gooey part kind of springs you back up…’ she put her lips to the bottle again, and with her other hand gripped my knee, ‘ that’s what it felt like to kill Louise.’ She swallowed and coughed a few times; her voice had this plain tone, like she was reading a letter aloud. ‘ It was crazy, and we were all in this big pile, I just wanted to get out, someone was yanking my arm. Louise was on the ground, wrapped around my right foot. I just screamed for her to let go, and I brought my left foot down as hard as I could on her face and it crunched like a snail but it was soft too… someone launched me off her and I was on the ground again, that’s when the police came and I took off… I just remember all the colors of the stuff coming out of her head…’

I took the bottle away from her and threw it into the lake, it was just something to do, something to watch. I couldn’t stand to talk about stupid Louise that fat whore, at the bottom of the pile, holding on to Jess’ leg like a baby.

‘It’s not your fault,’ I said, ‘ stupid Louise… fucked stupid Daren….’

‘Now Pete’s pretty much dead…’ she shrugged.

Yeah, he should have really died, he doesn’t really care though.’  I could see it in her, the cogs and cranks of a tragic life, carrying around this thing, like rotting from the inside out. Pete and Louise.

‘We are all just jars of guts, I guess…’ I said this, thinking it would somehow trivialize things, make her laugh. But she looked up at me with long red trails of tears on her plump cheeks, her eyeballs dark and clouded over.

I guess…’ she said but didn’t finish, she turned her head and leaned over her knees, for a moment I thought she was going to shout at the water then she emptied her stomach full of wine into the lake with a horrible wretch like a guttural burp.  I held her shoulders to keep her from slipping off the dock. She barfed, again, and again, until there was just a little bit of pink bile coming out of her nose. I couldn’t help but laugh about how embarrassed she was, crying and hiding her face. ‘We are all just jars of guts…’ She said, sobbing, and I was giggling, pulling her up by the armpits, carrying her inside. The dry air sharpened our voices; the lavender sky hurdled down around us.

Making my mom cry…

Over the next couple days I will post here, on this blog, the stories I used as my portfolio to apply to graduate schools for fiction writing.

I applied not only to the University of Texas at Austin, but also to Texas State at San Marcos and Portland State in Oregon.

The one I am posting today is the one that made my mom cry and threaten to run down and “whack”, with a wooden spoon, anyone who rejected my application.

  The Pool

A row of mothers – reclined – watching us; draped a-top white rubber deck loungers in sunglasses and pastel swimsuits. We stare across the length of the pool at them – our toes curling around the wet lip.  The sun licks every divot in their thighs – glazed in tropical scented oil. Magazines spread open – pages slicing air under their voices. They smile and pass around tequila soaked pineapple slices.  Behind them a short dark haired man in a khaki uniform mows the lawn.

In science class we learned that the sky is blue because it reflects the oceans of earth. We saw a picture of what the earth looks like from space; a sapphire marble.  I take my little brother’s wet hand in mine, and tell him this. The sky is like a mirror, I say, Then how come we can’t see ourselves? He asks. Because it’s very far away.  His stomach is drum-tight and round, his skin a deep caramel color, and getting darker everyday. We don’t need sunscreen like the other kids do. Their mothers press and rub their skin with the thick white cream. Don’t forget your ears – don’t forget the tops of you feetDon’t forget to rub it in – if you don’t rub it in it will come off in the water.  My mother smiles – You have your father’s skin, she says, It protects you, like a shield, from the sun.  My father’s skin is covered in hair like black spiders legs. I want my mother to rub the cream into my skin. Maybe then I would look milky, and soft.

It’s Saturday afternoon, Dad tells me to come to the garage he has a surprise for me. He holds his hand out toward my bike; white with a pink seat and matching sparkly handlebars the training wheels are gone. We go around and around the cul-de-sac with him gripping the back of my seat. Let go, let go! I say. He shouts that he already has. I look behind me to follow his voice and he is standing with his hands on his hips, blocking the sun making his figure glow like pictures of saints.  Turn! He yells. I jerk the handlebars to quickly and slam into the asphalt.

Last Saturday, a man named “Angel” fell from our roof. We were having it re-tiled. But no one called him ‘angel’; they called him “Ann-Hell”. We heard a crackling of tile, then a bunch of yelling, a large scraping sound, and then a body hurdled past the kitchen window, a comet trail of broken tile rained down after him. The other workers jumped down and crowded around him saying his name It’s Ann- Hell, they said, Ann-Hell has fallen. Mom called the ambulance, Hi, yes one of the workers fell off our roof, please hurry…Watching with my face pressed against the window, It’s Ann-Hell, I tried the sounds out, Mom, Ann-hell fell from the roof.  I watched his eyes rolling around in his head, a bloody pool forming and the other workers, lifting him up with their dirty hands.

The sun presses down, we are almost dry, and stinking of sour chlorine. My mother smiles – waves – a half-slice of pineapple between her fingers. Our toes grip the wet edge. The deep end – the darkest blue – I can see the drain at the bottom where that girl got her hair stuck and drowned last year. Her name was Michelle, and she had beautiful long blond hair. We had to go to a church service for her, and light candles. She died and the pool was closed for a week. Her mom moved away after that, but we can still see the drain, although there is now a cover on it. The Drain of Death we call it we dare each other to swim down and touch it. Everyone in the neighborhood has done it.  If you swim in the pool at night, she will grab you by the hair and pull you down to swim with her. I squeeze my bother’s plump hand;. We will jump in on the count of three and swim down to the bottom to touch the Drain of Death, every kid in the neighborhood has to do it – my brother’s hand is smaller than mine  – today is my day to touch the drain of death – he grips my finger 1…2…3…

Silver shadows sweep across my ceiling; the glow-in-the-dark stars are peeling off. There is an uneven tapping on my window. Dad is standing down in the court-yard, swaying, something has stolen his skin. He is whispering up at the window: Let me in – His face is not his face – Dad it’s me, mom is asleep, I whisper down to him. He repeats Anne, I love you, I’ll do anything, please let me in. His car is parked on the lawn – the headlights point up, humming at the sky. I am clean Anne, I’ll get sober, just please, let me in Anne, please, I just want to come home…His eyes are blank caves, his body starts shaking. Dad – I say – it’s me. He leans back and screams, he wails up at the roof. A light goes on across the street. A cool hand presses on my shoulder and I jump. Go to bed in your brother’s room. My mother is behind me, stiff as a tight-rope-walker – steady and tense, the phone in her hand, like a brick. The neighbors – she repeats – Ed, keep it down, the neighbors – her voice compressed, livid – Please, he says, Anne, I love you, I promise to be better, please, let me in.

Brother is huddled under his bed with his blanket and a flashlight. I crawl in next to him and we stay like that singing songs until we both fall asleep.

Dad is slumped on a thin cot in a small white room. I wrote him a note on the title page of the book I brought him to read – Call of the Wild. We had to read it in class, I really liked it, I got an A on the book report. The note says – get better. His shirt is huge and wrinkled, his eyes are cavernous, he is unshaven. My mother hands him an overflowing duffle bag. It’s “Family Visit Day” and the staff has provided ice cream sundaes. The toppings are organized floral printed-paper bowls on a folding table in the center of the cafeteria. Mom sits opposite him, she is silent. My brother talks about his baseball team, in the way that little boys do: coach says… coach says… The problem with putting gumballs in your ice cream is that they freeze and are useless, they just bleed unnatural color all over everything else in the bowl – you begin to realize that the colors mean nothing – that they are all the same flavor. My father makes little pigeon sounds when he hugs me goodbye. My tongue is swollen and heavy, my stomach wants to come up and meet it – I have eaten two whole bowls of ice cream with syrup, and Mom didn’t even turn to frown at me. He lifts his hand then lets it fall to his side. The nurse touches his elbow. My mother turns, takes us firmly by the shoulders, I lift my hand in some kind of salute, then turn and follow. I hear the nurses’ shoes click-click down the hall like doors closing. The hospital doors suck open – a blast of hot hair and baking asphalt. I wait until we get close then I lean over the planter, grip the neck of a tiger lily and let my stomach out. Jesus – she says – at least it wasn’t in the car this time­. She scratches my back with her thick fake nails, pulling my hair away from my face.

We are in the air – clinging to each other between sky and water we are tense and waiting for the blow our eyes are closed and our mouths are open and we are thinking about that little dead girl at the bottom of the pool and how the color of our skin protects us from the sun unlike others – we are thinking of the dead girl and deepness and coldness and our mother. We are thinking of our mother in the row of mothers and how she looks like them and we don’t. We are thinking of the sun and our skin and the dead girl and her skin. We are thinking of the color blue and the lips of the dead girl and the eyes of our father and the difference between sky and water. We are thinking of the dead girl – we are clinging to each other – we are waiting for the water – we are smiling at our mother.

Stay up all night watching a thunderstorm

You feel as if you are inside a shoe. The heat sits on top of you, it grabs at every inch of your skin like hundreds of hot wet hands. Unlike the biting cold, there is nothing you can wear to escape it. you stand at the window, which points west. You forget and then remember that the ocean is East, so unnatural.

Every few minutes bitter lavender veins of light reach across the belly of clouds, followed by a low crackling burp of thunder. You will barely sleep tonight, and tomorrow you will sit fit-fully tired at your desk and stare at your computer screen. You would rather sell cupcakes in eternal August tourist traffic than say the word  “strategy” again.

You need a soundtrack. The self titled album by Dire Straits, (sent to you as a gift from the thoughtful and tasteful M),   also known as the album that God was listening to when he invented dark hot thunderstorms. The rain slaps fluffy wet pillows on the window screen, like a homemade water spritzer. You crave a covered porch, and a mint julep. You close your eyes and let your hips swing to ‘Six Blade Knife’. The violet lightening reaches again across the dimpled cloud ceiling in what must be hundreds of twitchy veins. It’s right on top of you now, and because of your imagination you half expect a Delorian to come out of the sky or a superhero to be caught crouching on some silhouetted roof. You pop open your last sweating can of beer and feel it get warm in a record of seconds.

Sirens bleed out somewhere down Flatbush Avenue. You light a candle, the candle, and wonder what your neighbors are watching at this hour, you can see the blue flash of their screen. You decide that ‘Water of Love’ is the best song in the whole world, and that this whole album is the opposite of New York City. You wonder how you can love two things equally that are the complete opposite of each other. This leads to pondering your own personal duality. You live like a split screen montage, always second guessing your choices, wondering how it could have gone, otherwise. You are a sandwich: layers of complimenting, textures and flavors pinned between two fluffy walls.

But really, how can you need solitude as much as you need crowded dance floors? How can you love desolate woods just as much as the city? How can you want to stay in bed and go outside at the same time? How do you love hot beaches and snowy cabins the same? Are you lying to yourself? Do you really love them both equally , or are you just saying that to make things more complicated so you can delay decision-making?

There are moments when you are positive that you will live and die on the 4th floor of a charming brownstone buying groceries at the ‘Haifa Market’ and eating out at ‘Cafe Cubana’. Then there are other moments when you swear you will live and die surrounded by thickly wooded miles and broken rocking chairs. This primal display of nature’s middle finger seems to jolt into you some electric desire to step backwards, wipe the slate clean, and drive through the desert in a Firebird…convertable.

You try to listen to the inside of yourself, what would 10-year-old Molly think about this whole thing? She would probably shrug and go back to her Goosebumps Volume 17.

It’s so hot that the water can’t cool the pavement, and the rain just lifts back up into the air in pockets of steam. Its like pouring a garden hose on the 6th ring of Hell.  Nature likes to keep us scared, it likes to watch us skitter back and forth rebuilding houses on cliffs and under the water level. It likes to shriek at us and cackle and roll around like some hallucinating tom cat. For as fantastically clever as we are, we can’t hold back a snowstorm or escape the berating heat. Nature is the ultimate ‘Sultan of Swing,’ sometimes all you can do is sweat it out, drink a beer and watch the show.

Because Freedom is a breakfast food.

Freedom is the first thing you eat everyday. A big hot heaping spoonful that will stick to your ribs. It is an unbalanced breakfast with the scales tipped in your favor. You can say whatever you want (except for “bomb” on an airplane. “I’m sorry sir I was just trying to warm my toes with my Bic because you insist on keeping the cabin at 35 degrees!”) You can own a gun (s), you can own property ($), you can get into all kinds of debt, you can get paid to not have a job, you can read a book for free; that’s freedom, and you eat it like cereal everyday.

Go to the library with a sense of ceremony, dropping off your used items and inquiring about the book you wanted that had gone missing some weeks earlier (gasp!). Get excited when they bring it out of the back like a new baby. Yes, this makes you an absolutely shameless nerd. Comment on the rarity of this short story collection and see the wide bemused eyes of the part-time worker as she nods and points to the check out line. You love libraries, you especially love this one because of his breath-taking art-deco entrance, it’s perturbed staff, and it’s location; It backs up to the entrance of Prospect Park with a fountain, and a French-Libertine inspired arch in the intersection out front. It really does make your errand seem heavy with purpose.

There is nothing more American than going to the library. The well-read socialist inspired FDR, began the Public Library program as a way to cure lack-luster and inconsistent educations in America ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” You know, he had that sort of ability to bust out insanely intelligent sing-song gems to live by. Now, Libraries are some of the last standing relics of an America that could have been. A far-reaching government enforcing the education and imaginations of its citizens, forever employing old maids, and instilling in the collective memory that smell of thin well-worn carpet, human skin, and old paper.

People sometimes forget that books (and now DVDs) are free. Nowadays libraries are associated with homeless people bathing and people sleeping on warm greasy desks. America has forgotten all about the greatness of the public library. But not you, the library is to you, what the Star Trek Enterprise is to… other types of nerds. Its your mothership; your horizon line. As long as Public Libraries exist, America has not failed itself.

You are exceptionally cheery as you step out of the revolving door with a fresh read under your arm and an iced-coffee in the other. In your over-sized purse is a gently wrapped peanut butter sandwich tucked next to a tangerine. The sun is high and hot and a wide bay of grass lays ahead. Just watch out for sports equipment, airborne, or otherwise.

Right up there with Libraries is Public Parks. There is nothing more American than libraries, AND Public Parks. It is free to read books and sit in a lovely groomed park. Sometimes, people forget that.

The thing about parks here in this region (you consider yourself a park and library connoisseur), is that they are all so well-groomed, like paintings from Victorian Paris. Everything is lit with old-fashioned lamps, walkways are meticulous, people actually stay off the grass. The trees look like pleasant cartoon trees, no crippled oaks; or Dr. Suess junipers. No rolling fog on the horizon, no drum circles. Golden gate is a wide spewing mysterious place with its own species of coyote. Prospect and Central park are ruled by polite pathways and plump little squirrels. It looks like a park from a Disney movie. Wooded glens, colorful birds, picnic tables.

One thing that is consistent across all parks in the country : strollers. America has fancy stroller fever. Passing by you on every side are gangs of lulu-lemon wearing moms pushing these robot-pod and Cadillac looking vehicles. Whatever happened to the little aluminum and nylon death-traps of your youth? You know the ones that would launch you into on-coming traffic if the little plastic wheel hit a pebble. Remember 20 years ago, When all a mom needed was four or five aluminum poles, a stretched out nylon floral sling and some hooked handles to drape her over-sized purse on. It was like a toy camping tent. These strollers went for 5 to 10 dollars at Kmart, and your garage was littered with the carcases of many that had been run over or run down, or lost a wheel, or got peed/puked on. They were as disposable as plastic grocery bags (RIP) but now those are taboo too.

There are entire stores dedicated to fancy strollers, There is a parking place in your building for strollers, not bikes. You have counted 2 McClarren’s and one “Stroke” which is a scary Matrix pod looking thing that is able to adjust the height and facing direction of baby. All standard issue strollers are now equiped with 8 zillion pockets, a GPS, Air conditioning, easy folding technique (remember dad trying to get the old stroller in the back of the Mazada? Comedy), Sirius radio, moon roof, and cappuccino machine. The deluxe ones come with their own mexican diaper changing service that folds up into the trunk ( J.Lo’s favorite! Legality not guaranteed)! Whatever happened to getting your little foot caught between the asphalt and the plastic foot rest? Your toes would be bloody and scrapped for the rest of the day, you learned your lesson, Don’t drag your feet! That’s the kind of stuff that builds character. It makes you wonder what these little precious cargos will be like. You wont have to wonder for long, they will be baby sitting your kids in like 15-20 years.

Your point is that American people forget sometimes that no matter where we are, there is a library, and a public park. We like to get caught up in the bells and whistles of things, the politics, the ipads. We forget that kids don’t care what the stroller looks like, because they will end up puking or peeing on it anyway. Remember when your toosh would drag on the ground because you were too big or the stroller was too old? Whenever your mom put something in the “storage sling” she would accidentally kick your back? That was the good stuff, who would want to miss out on that with their high-tech all-weather four-wheel drive?

When everything else is dark and confusing, the world seems to shoot off into all these mysterious tunnels. You revert to your center. The Brady Bunch goes to Sears, Nancy Sinatra goes Downtown, Men go to the YMCA, Yuppies go to the farmer’s markets, and you go to the library. There is not a question in the whole world that cannot be answered at the library. It is a place of magical definitions, of answers. You have tried meditation, you have tried yoga but new-fangled ideas seem to lose you mostly (FDR would equally be confused by “new fangledness”). The library, however, followed by a long sun-burn in the park with a homemade sandwich, is the only cure for a troubled mind. You feel centered, recharged, itchy.

For the rest of the day you will discover small bugs and blades of grass in/around your clothes and hair. Your skin remembers sun and on cue turns a nice card-board color, as dependable as libraries, are the changes in season on your skin.