Ford To City: DROP DEAD. They was golden words to us.
Back then, there was at least two New Yorks.
There was TV New York, the one you see at the beginning of TV shows like Barney Miller or Welcome Back Kotter. Long shots of skyscrapers, maybe cut with a street scene or two.
Them scenes got as much to do with real New York as Bugs Bunny does with a real rabbit.
We lived in the park then, your mother and me, in a cave they since filled in with concrete.
Dangerous? Maybe. But at least we was free.
Twelve tables, two booths,
staff of three:
Frank on the grill
Merla waiting table
Mrs. on the register.
Weekends the wait
is an hour or more
Frank hovers over
the smoking flat-top
like a symphony conductor
each order taking up its little area
a big wedge of hashbrowns
down one edge
bacon and sausage cooking
in the side broiler.
Merla glides through
like an ice skater
pitcher of water
and pot of coffee
in perpetual motion,
plates stacked across her arm.
Mrs sits watching
like a chickenhawk.
Oh he don’t look like much, Birdy, with them cross-eye glasses and orthopedic boots, but I tell you that kid is worth more than his weight in silver dollars. You put that crook-face boy up on a ladder and he can tell you the layout of everything in the room worth a pickled cent. Jewelry, TV, watches… that stuff is all easy. He can spot a wall safe, or a closet strongbox. He can tell you whether the woman of the house is a light sleeper, whether the man has an in-town girl he sees.
Oh yes, Birdy. He’s gold.
The roach-crawling apartment, broken down car, the Waffle House, forty-plus hours a week of aching feet and grease-saturated clothes.
All gone now, left way away down there.
It’d been in her mind ever since signing up for the course. She’d ingratiated herself with Jerry, a middle-aged divorcee who thought he knew everything about ballooning and was eager to share.
The look on his face when she cast off the ballasts and left him standing there. Poor sucker couldn’t believe it. Probably planning what he’d do when she landed.
But she wasn’t going to land.
She turned the burners to full.
Them days we’d meet up after work at Fat Vince’s.
Little Stevie was still alive then, before all that shit with his Ma.
We’d eat and figure out what to do with Saturday Night.
I was holding down seven-to-four at Saragaglia’s Hardware, mixing paint and flirting with the women.
That place got more women than you ever saw in a hardware store, all of them helpless as does.
What’s a Phillips screwdriver, James?
Will this plug fit my drain?
I always remembered all of their names, too.
They loved me.
Looking back, I think that’s why Saragaglia kept me on.
The boys stand in the slim shade of the plaza’s only tree.
“Pretty dead, man.” Tranh leans between his handlebars and spits. “Pretty boring.”
“They’ll unlock it soon,” says Nguyen. “They have to. What happened to your mask?”
“Too fucking hot.” Tranh pats his pocket. “Any cop sees me, I’ll say I’m sorry and put it back on.”
“My old man was talking about the war last night,” says Nguyen. “How they’d ride Hondas through the town and snatch cameras from the GIs. Said Saigon was hopping then. Dangerous, though.”
“Now it’s safe and boring,” says Tranh. “Too fucking bad.”
We never hit it big-big, just semi-big.
The A&R guy saw us pack a house in Cleveland and signed us to a three-record deal, calling us a “cross between ACDC and the Doors,” whatever that meant.
We spent our entire advance on gear and drugs in two months.
Three singles kissed the top ten, only to drift down to obscurity.
You can sometimes hear them on the oldies channel.
We had to pay back the advance, take day jobs.
Through it all, we never gave up.
Same five guys, older and fatter, but still able to rock the house down.
Dad woke me at three AM, tapping on my bedroom window.
“Come on,” he said. “I have a surprise.”
I didn’t ask if he’d talked to mom about it.
By that point I didn’t care.
Now I live here in Kailua, a one-bedroom apartment a thousand feet from the ocean.
I swim all day.
The water is always perfect, calm and inviting.
It’s summer now, but Dad says in the fall I’ll be going to school.
I met some of the kids at the St. Anthony’s rec center on Kalaheo, but they don’t trust me yet because I’m a mainlander.
When the boys were born she’d refused vaccinations. “They are human beings who have agency just like the rest of us,” she told the doctor. “They should be able to choose what goes into their bodies.”
After the divorce, she’d moved to Elum from the Seattle suburbs. The boys were three and five.
Because of their lack of vaccinations, homeschooling was the only option. She tried for a while, but soon she was letting the boys run wild through the woods.
Later, she told the sheriff it simply hadn’t occurred to her to ask Benjamin where his little brother was.
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?”