Lugs disabled the alarm with the magnet points and I slipped the lock and we were in.
“Nice place,” I said, looking around. “You ever eat here?”
“You fucking kidding?” he said, unscrewing the cap off of the jerrycan and dripping homemade napalm across a row of booths. “All my money goes to the track.”
“I came here once,” I said, “when I was kid. I dated this rich girl. Her father wanted to take my measure.”
“Yeah? How’d that work out?”
“Not so hot,” I said as I uncapped the flares.
“Gonna be hot now,” smiled lugs. “You ready?”
Oi, what’s Wanker on about this time? Bugger’s as flighty as a sparrow in a barn.
He spent six months on the chips cart idea, only to throw it over when he found he’d need a health permit.
I told him, “Wanker, it’s food. What did you bloody expect?”
He just got chuff and slammed out of the flat without another word.
Next it was breeding them big dogs, mastiffs. That one was a bleeding shambles.
So now, it’s street photography. I guess he nicked a camera somewheres and thinks that’s all there is to it.
Taking photos of streets.
Uncle Trash said they called us second-story men because people used to live above the stores where they worked during the day.
We’d go up the fire escape to the roof, then across to a neighboring building, down another fire escape. We wore coveralls with names on them. Nobody bothers two guys in coveralls even when they see them on a rooftop.
I carried one of those slim prybars to slip in the window sash. We’d get through five, six places a day. Find the jewelry, the cash, then leave the place neat a pin.
Even fed a cat once.
Ramón’s eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep as he conned the cruiser between the channel markers.
Chipita set a steaming mug of coffee at his elbow and squeezed his shoulder. “What can I do to help?”
“Look for a sign that says Harbor Master or Marina Office. We want to get a slip near the middle where it’s crowded.”
She nodded. “I’ll tell them we’re looking to store it for the winter, maybe.”
He started laughing, the tension making it almost maniacal. “Except that it’s May, Chipi.”
She laughed too, then grew somber. “Will we be safe here?”
“It’s the damned landline. I don’t know why he can’t get a cellphone like every other human being.”
“Jim. We’re talking about a man who wouldn’t buy a television with a remote control. Remember when he was forced to because they no longer made TVs without them?”
“Yeah, I remember. He smashed it with a hammer.”
“Same as he did with the iPhone you gave him last year.”
“But that damned landline is going to ruin him. He must have lost twenty thousand to the Nigerians.”
“Closer to thirty. But he’s stubborn. Can’t tell him anything.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Elmore said to leave the boring parts out.
King says when you get in a fog to put the pedal down and drive right on through.
Patterson says the outline is everything,
Lish says it’s about one beautiful sentence after another,
Hemingway said to sit down and bleed.
I say fuck ’em all.
Stories happen to people who can tell ’em.
Sure, there’s craft.
Grammar, cadence, dialogue.
Remember, people get hooked by different stuff.
Twilight was shit, but that didn’t stop millions from reading it.
The difference between a writer and a wannabe?
The doing of the thing.
This the man who survived Khe Sanh, my father the Marine corpsman, the savior of God knows how many lives despite his wounds.
This the man who, back in the states came close to dying by the bottle, recovered and started saving others.
This the man who hoisted his first car atop a pole and served thousands of meals, sometimes without charge.
This the man who never stood by watching without rolling up his sleeves to help where he could, never shirking.
This the man lying blue and gasping for breath, refusing the respirator so another’s life might be saved.
I never got the influenza, though I am far from the strongest in my family.
That would be Pa, and then Brother Jim.
I recall that one day they was both sneezing and the next day Doc took them and Ma to the Consolidated School where they’d set up the hospital.
They took the sick folks to the gym where they had rows of cots set up.
When they got worse they’d take them upstairs to die in Mrs. Lee’s third-grade room.
The cafeteria was the morgue, long tables set out.
I doubt I’ll ever go back to that school.
The 1918 Spanish flu strain killed its victims with a swiftness never seen before. In the United States stories abounded of people waking up sick and dying on their way to work. The symptoms were gruesome: Sufferers would develop a fever and become short of breath. Lack of oxygen meant their faces appeared tinged with blue. Hemorrhages filled the lungs with blood and caused catastrophic vomiting and nosebleeds, with victims drowning in their own fluids. Unlike so many strains of influenza before it, Spanish flu attacked not only the very young and the very old, but also healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
“You’re kidding me. This is it?”
“Just what you see.”
“To you, maybe. But just you wait a while. Even wormy apples look good once you’re hungry enough.”
“Seriously, what happened? This is the worst I’ve seen it.”
“My truck was waylaid. I had to give up most of the cargo. I was lucky to get away with as much as you see here.”
“Times are hard.”
“And getting harder. In a few weeks, this might seem like the good old days.”
“I suppose so. I guess I’ll take three of those apples, then.”
“Fine. That’ll be sixty Euro.”
He felt a fool in white tights and the thin Capezio slippers.
Zoritch walked around him, inspecting his body from all angles as though he was a sculpture.
“Turn out your leg, like so,” said Zoritch. “And arms thus.”
He did as directed, watched the mirror as the master studied him.
“You want my opinion, then?” said Zoritch.
“You have an ideal physique for ballet, but at eighteen you are far too old. Boys at the Kirov start when they are five, six. Physical attributes, yes. But the mental toughness? It is doubtful.”
It was the perfect thing to tell him.
This is a true story.