Only good cribbage hands
My town had a tiny little library. It was right in the center of town. You couldn’t miss it. No one ever asked where the library was because if you didn’t stop at the stop sign at the end of the road heading into town, you would run right into the building.
It wasn’t far from my house. I could walk to it, and I did, often. I’d make a morning of it. I’d go to the store, stop at the post office, make my way to the library. There was a small bridge over a stream right next to it, and my friends and I would throw down our bikes and head under the bridge. From there, we could jump from rock to rock as we followed the stream to its mouth, where it fed into the ocean.
There was nothing like the smell of the library. Old books and mildewed wood, the deep, dark fragrance of dust and age. There was always coffee brewing somewhere. During Story Hour, where all my friends would meet, there would be baked goods; oatmeal cookies or blueberry muffins or banana bread and Dixie cups full of Kool-Aid. The bathroom had an incinerator toilet, a loud thing that used flame to render whatever went into it a pile of ash. I never dared use it, but I burned my fair share of toilet paper and Dixie cups.
The field behind the library overlooked the sea. It was a long, green expanse, edged with patches of wildflowers. The scent of sugar pear blossoms floated in on a salty breeze. It was a beautiful spot. Years later, one of my best friends would get married there. We had a little reunion of friends and family in the field behind the library.
And one day, just like we always expected, a car didn’t stop at the stop sign. It plowed down the brick walkway and smashed into the front of our little town library. I couldn’t help imaging what it would have been like to be inside the building when the accident happened. I pictured the walls rattling, the shelves upending, sending classic novels and old hardcover volumes of poetry and my favorite children’s books scattering to the floor. I could see the glass exploding in the French doors of the back room looking out to sea. I could hear the little old lady librarian who read to us at Story Hour exhaling a surprised little gasp as the vehicle slammed into the wall behind the front desk.
I’m sure it didn’t happen like that. The library wasn’t open at the time of the collision. It stayed closed for a while after, too. But it was fixed up again. And it still stands today, right in the center of town. You can’t miss it.
Spent the weekend cleaning out the old shed. We took absolutely everything out of it, got rid of half of the junk, made a pile for a future garage sale, and put the rest of our stuff back. I was astounded at how clean it was. We made a lot of room. There were places to put things like tools and bikes. It was kind of amazing. My friend stopped by while we were sweeping up and he said, dude, I’ll be right back. He brought me a mini fridge. I now have a beer fridge in my shed. I stocked it yesterday. I’m feeling pretty good right now.
In an old charcoal grill, we found a nest. Inside, nestled next to the old burned out briquets, were three baby mice. They were so tiny, their eyes weren’t even open yet. I looked at them and made an involuntary cooing sound, like when you see a cute puppy or someone’s newborn baby. I couldn’t help it. I showed my wife. She made the same sound. I grabbed my phone and took a bunch of pictures. The mice were just so freakin’ adorable. I scooped them up into a plastic sand beach pail and took them out into the woods. I would much rather catch them that way than in a mouse trap.
We decided to reward ourselves for all our hard work with a bite to eat. Before we left, we had to put all the chickens back in their pen. We got five out of the six in there, and one was causing me a lot of grief. I chased it up the steps, across the lawn, over the rock wall, down the driveway and back again. Halfway through my pursuit, I had the mental clarity to comprehend the silliness of my situation. I was running with my arms held out before me, hands scooped up in some kind of freaky human basket, hunched over in a simian fashion so I was closer to the ground, grunting like a caveman, snatching wildly at a stupid chicken, which eluded me at every turn. Just as I had this thought, I caught the tip of my old sneaker on the edge of the railroad risers by the front steps and fell on my face, smashing my arm into another riser. I’ve got a big old bruise/scrape/welt thing on my arm now. It hurts like crazy, and when I showed my wife, she said either go take a bunch of ibuprofen, or go drink another beer. I was thirsty after all that running.
I was shopping to fill my beer fridge yesterday and had the kids in the flame-painted race car cart, tooling down the aisles, picking up essentials like microwave popcorn and ice cream, when I came upon the frozen pizza section. They had eight different kinds of personal pizzas for 95¢ each. I scooped them all up and threw them in the cart. Never shop hungry.
When I got home, I stuck the 12-pack of Geary’s in the new fridge and cracked a beer. I stood on the porch with my phone and turned the camera toward me to capture the moment. I looked at the screen. Didn’t like that one. Deleted it. Took another one. Accidentally deleted it, and in the process, deleted all the pictures I took of the shed and the mice. Cursed loudly. Then my eight year old daughter out on the porch and asked me if I wanted her to take the picture for me. I put the phone down.
Asked by definitelyjk:
Since I'm a new follower and only know about you from reading some of your recent posts (which are excellent by the way), do you mind telling a few of the basics about yourself?
Yes, I will do that. I haven’t done one of these in a while.
I’m a Mainer, born and raised on the coast. I love lobster and blueberry pie and Moxie and Stephen King. My father is a lobsterman but I get seasick so I can’t work on the water like him. He told me to find a job doing something inside, so I did. I’m still in the nautical business. I’ve been a graphic designer for a marine supply company for fifteen years.
I always wanted to be a writer but I haven’t had much luck. I love that I have a blog and I get to hit publish whenever I feel like it. Thanks for reading.
I have three kids, two daughters and a son. Fatherhood is a life-changing event, if it’s done right. My son has specialities, which is a whole other thing. It has probably defined me more than anything else in my life. He’s been trached and ventilated for almost all of his five years of life, and everything I have and can do goes toward his continued survival. It has been a complete rewrite of the life I thought I was going to live, but it’s all worth it, because he’s the toughest, most remarkable kid I’ve ever known.
I love music. Like, love music. The things that have been important in my memory have had a soundtrack. Chasing down these songs, experiencing them again, and searching for new ones has been a private mission. Also, making sure my own children are similarly steeped in good tunes feels like one of the best things I can do for them, just like my father did for me.
One more… my phone makes a noise, right? So I pick it up and look at the notification. My wife asks, is it about basketball? I say no, beer. She figured it had to be one of the two.
Asked by oh-no-what-did-i-do:
If you choose to, please tell us five things you like about yourself and then pass on to a bunch of tumblrs (or not). :)
1. I wear little kids’ socks sometimes. That probably tells you plenty.
2. I’m very nostalgic. Memories hit me like a ton of lead, usually triggered by music or smells. Colors wash over me, words and letters and numbers have specific associations, flashes go off inside my brain, but not in my field of vision. I used to think I was a synesthete, but now I know better.
3. I used to think I was a lot of things. The older I get, the more I realize that my dreams were just dreams, and I don’t disparage that. I think you need dreams to drag you through reality, because reality can be no fun. If that’s all you have, then there is plenty to make you feel bad about your life. Now I know you don’t always have to win, but you do always have to work hard.
4. I always expected more. I’m open to finding it. Joe Hill wrote a line in N0S4A2 that struck me… Couldn’t afford to ignore a good idea. Could anyone?
5. I don’t really hate many movies. I can enjoy almost anything. Like the Fantastic Four films, for example. They weren’t great, but my kids love ‘em, and I can appreciate them for what they are. Like most Marvel fans, I think there have been few missteps, I’m excited about the next phase, worried about Ant-Man, and I wish all the characters were allowed to be under the same movie studio. And I’m starting to think DC might be getting their act together.
6. It’s Saturday, here’s one more. My dream is to go home. I want to live where my parents live. I want to build a house on the coast. I want to ride on slow roads, enjoy simple times, and breathe ocean air. That would be ideal.
The first week of July is always exhausting. Birthdays for two of the three kids. I was so happy when the 8th rolled around and I sighed a big heavy sigh of relief and thought, yes. I did it. I made it through, yet again.
The boy from the unit, the stranger who showed up on my doorstep, has come back three more times. It’s getting kind of ridiculous. No one in the family knows how to cope with this. We’ve tried to get the people at the unit to do something, and they don’t know what to do, either. It’s like having a sitcom neighbor who just appears and opens your fridge and drinks your milk and instead of everyone laughing at his unusual antics, we all kind of cringe until he disappears.
This is not going to be the summer of fun. I have so many things I want to do, but I don’t have the extra money. The weekends roll around and I think, wow, maybe we’ll go here and do this thing, but we can’t. On the bright side, when I got pulled over this week, I found a gift certificate for the local pizza place in my glove box when I was searching for my expired registration, so there’s that.
I really only want a burger and a beer every once in a while. I’m pretty easy.
But, hey, it’s a big, busy world, and I’m just another small piece of it, a relative cog in an industrial machine, full of noise and bluster and things being built and things being torn down and LeBron James and antique furniture and LED floodlights and train tracks and Wall Street and aliens and weather patterns and sex scandals and Dana Carvey and cyborgs and experimentation on animals and acres and acres and acres of graveyards. It all goes to the scrap pile eventually.
My brother has been afraid of sharks his whole life. He blames the movie Jaws. He felt that if you went out on a boat and fell overboard, a gigantic creature would rise out of the water and eat you before you hit the surface of the water. I never bought into that. I was more afraid of porcupines.
Part of me was afraid to drive at night. Part of me was afraid of what you couldn’t see in the dark, beyond the headlights. I think this was because of the music I listened to at certain times. I liked to match the moment to the mood, so driving at night was dark music. Soundtracks to movies, orchestral movements, gloomy madrigals to occupy my racing mind and help me push my foot to the gas pedal. I wanted to hear something that sounded like the scraping of clouds across the moon.
In the skittering silence of night, you could lose yourself in the dark. I nearly did just that one night, swerving at the last minute to avoid a porcupine that may or may not have been in the road. I was dead tired, coming home from some party or get together, driving as fast as my exhausted body would allow, probably listening to The Cure’s Disintegration or something by Danny Elfman, and the music stopped. Either the tape came to an end or I did what I feared I would eventually do, and that was fall asleep behind the wheel. I think I did. I fell asleep at the wheel, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the road.
I opened my eyes to see a huge black porcupine shining in my headlights. It was there and then it was gone as I swerved, and my car spun around and nearly tipped up on two wheels as I lost control. I felt the car heave. I was up on my side, partly in the air, but in reality, probably just a few inches off the ground. The car fell back down to the ground with a heavy thud, the sickening sensation that only accompanies the impact of manmade metal vehicle with solid old mother earth. Metal and rubber and wires all rolled together, colliding with ancient dirt and roots and layers of rock. I came to a stop. The music had ended and now it was quiet again. It was just me and the night.
I opened the door against a woodpile. Suddenly, I knew right where I was. I managed to slide into the stack of firewood by my grandfather’s house. I started my car and it limped into the driveway. Something was wrong. I got out and looked. The tire was flat. I went to the trunk and got out my jack and my spare and looked at the tire again. It wasn’t flat. It was completely off the rim.
I leaned against my car and listened to the forest sounds. I heard the trees creaking against each other and the singing crickets in the high grass. I heard the porcupine laughing. It was close by, I was sure of it, and I could hear its high-pitched yodeling, a terrifying shriek in the empty night. That’s when I decided to go into my grandfather’s house and call home. My parents came and got me. We’d come back the next day for the car.
My grandfather showed me in daylight that there were no tire marks on the road. No burned rubber streaks anywhere. I never braked to avoid a porcupine. I never braked at all. He knew I went up on one side and ended up facing the wrong direction in the road. He said I probably sped up and overcorrected, if I did anything. If it wasn’t for the woodpile, I would have flipped the car. I was lucky. For a while, I wouldn’t drive at night. I was too afraid. I blamed the porcupine.
I have a bacon air freshener in my car. No inspection sticker or registration, but an air freshener that looks and smells like three strips of bacon.
I got pulled over this morning. They cop let me off because I cried poverty. He called me “man” but he pronounced it “meh” just like this dude does at work. More people are calling me “meh” lately.
You don’t really want to be friends with a writer. Really, you don’t.
I’ve been on Tumblr for a long time. Long enough to go from youngish guy to old fart. I still act like I’m the kind of guy people would like, but the look no longer matches the attitude. It happens.
I love deleting all my messages. It’s my favorite.
I have no one blocked. I’ve never had anon turned on. I think if I did either of those things, I would just close up shop.
I stay because of how familiar it is. But if I log in every day and look for the same things that aren’t here, maybe it’s time for a change.
I like it when you catch up on me, though. It makes me feel like the words aren’t all for nothing. Unless you heart it without reading it, then it makes me feel cheap and worthless.
It’s hard to be friends with a writer.
My brother and I spent lazy summer days at my grandparents’ house. My father’s parents, already well into their retirement from the sardine factory, watched us while my mother and father worked. They had an old house with a fruit cellar basement, which was always half full of rainwater and rickety shelves brimming with things my grandmother canned or pickled. She would send us down there to get jars of mincemeat or bags of potatoes.
The basement bulkhead was directly outside the window where my grandfather parked himself for the day. He sat beside his scanner, listening for town gossip or news about traffic or house fires since his son, my uncle, was the local fire chief. There was a painting of a ship on a rough sea on the wall beside him. He sat at the window with his white hair slicked back and watched the road and the coastline and me and my brother playing in the yard, while knitting heads for my father’s lobster traps. A seagull started perching on the bulkhead roof right outside the window and my grandfather fed it stale breadcrumbs on the sill. The seagull was there every day, and would tap its beak on the glass when it wanted food.
There was an old pop-up camper left in the yard to air out and my brother and I would sit in there to keep cool. We ate salami and yellow mustard sandwiches on white bread and drank diet ginger ale. There were always popsicles afterward. We ran through the sprinkler and rode bikes around the driveway and through the obstacle course of lawn ornaments, handmade by my grandfather. There were crows with spinning wings, a running but-getting-nowhere Alf, and of course, the old lady bending over with exposed polka-dot knickers.
My grandmother had a friend who lived nearby named Gertrude. She would take us in her gigantic maroon Lincoln Continental to visit Gertrude and her husband. Their house was right on the water, overlooking the harbor. It was cold on the first level and unbearably hot upstairs. Gertrude was a loud lady and a close talker and would often grab my grandmother by the arm and lean in even closer to yell a secret in her ear. I always thought it was funny that Gertrude was louder instead of quieter when she wanted to share something private.
When Gertrude’s husband died, my grandmother took us to Gertrude’s house and let us rummage through the attic. They were getting rid of everything anyway so Gertrude could move into a nursing home, and we got first dibs. I chose a pith helmet that Gertrude’s husband wore during the war; I’m not sure which one. It looked like some jungle expedition G.I. Joe hat, and I loved it. It went right into my toy box with my plastic toy guns and wooden swords and metal Tonka trucks.
My grandparents never went into a nursing home, and stayed right in their own house until they died. The family had our own rummage sale. I took home a bunch of my father’s old toys; a giant robot, all gummy with battery residue, a plastic model of The Wolfman my father made, and his old fishing rod. As I got older, it was weird to drive by and see new people living in their old house. The new owners were friends of my father and they hired me to paint the garage one summer. I pulled into the yard for the first time since my grandparents passed, and although everything was different, I still saw lawn ornaments in the yard, dried cod hanging on the porch, and my grandmother’s clothesline. I looked on the peak of the basement bulkhead for the seagull, but it was gone.
I went to my room with my best friend and our parents waited expectantly and proudly as we ducked into the bathroom and tried on jock straps for the first time. We both met in the middle of our room, offering each other uncomfortable glances. This was so foreign, so unnatural. As soon as we hugged our parents and said goodbye, we went into our respective closets and took those stupid things off.
I had no friends on my team. My buddies and I all got separated into different groups named after universities. I was part of DePaul. My coach hardly ever talked to me. I was a lousy player. I couldn’t make free throws. I got stuck talking to another loser who had an unruly mop of blond curls on top of his head and who constantly crossed his eyes at me and made little jokes about the other players under his breath and called himself a Looney Tune. He was my only friend.
I didn’t take a shower for the entire week. I swam in the Olympic-sized swimming pool. I considered that close enough to bathing. One of the best players on my team came up out of the water once and brushed his hair back and a big line of snot came out of his nose. There was a huge diving board at one end of the pool and the thing I looked forward to at the end of every day was climbing up it and attempting a dive. The first time was the hardest. I hit the water so hard it felt like concrete and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to do that again. But I did. Over and over.
I couldn’t stand the cafeteria. The lines were long and all we did was eat cereal and pudding with a nasty skin on top and mix all the soda kinds together into one flavor. My best friend walked through the line and one of the lunch ladies told him he had the prettiest eyelashes she’d ever seen. She went on and on about it. She called the other lunch ladies over to take a look. All the guys in line behind him started laughing. He turned bright red. At that moment, camp stopped being fun for him, too.
I spent most of my time in my room, avoiding basketball. We’d order in pizza and read Calvin and Hobbes books and draw pictures of our teammates. I got pretty good at doing caricatures of two guys on my team who were handing out nicknames to everyone. They called themselves The Iceman, after George Gervin, and Dr. Dunkenstein. I don’t know where he got that name. He couldn’t dunk. I never got a nickname. Not one that I heard, anyway.
I finally stopped caring if I was good at basketball. And then it got easier. I started hitting free throws. I met some twins who started out camp lousy and got better, too. I showed my drawings to my friend the Looney Tune. I actually got to play in a game, and even though I wasn’t the best, I did what I knew I could do. I tried to steal the ball. I defended. My coach took me aside and joked around with me. He took the padded top off a crutch and stuck it in his sweatpants to make it look like he had this big ol’ dong. I laughed. He laughed. Basketball camp was good. When my parents showed up, I didn’t want to go home.
When we met, she was sixteen, I was seventeen. A mutual friend would hold pool parties all summer, and all my friends would go. One night, she was there, and I asked about her. She was from New York, and just moved because her parents split. She was living a few towns from me, and I would drive the forty minutes to her neck of the woods every chance I got.
One summer day, we lazed around our mutual friend’s living room, watching MTV and eating pizza Bagel Bites. A Michael Jackson video came on, and I jumped off the couch, eager to show her I could imitate his moves. She cringed and hid her face. She wouldn’t look at me until the video was over and I’d stopped dancing. Then the Spin Doctors were on with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and she said she loved that song. I was crestfallen.
We walked on the old air strip behind our friend’s house. I told her I wanted to be her boyfriend. She said we should just keep hanging out, and we’d see what happened. My hair was getting long and I went to pull it back and she said no, don’t do that. She didn’t want to date a guy who had a ponytail. So I tucked it behind my ears instead.
I drove her home and she held my hand while I sang along to the tape player. She kept her eyes on me, and her hands on me. It was exhilarating. I dropped her off at her mother’s house in the dark. I told her I liked her caressive touch. I remember thinking that sounded silly. But it was all I could think to say. We kissed in the driveway and I was more aggressive than I should have been. I told myself to slow down and enjoy it. I did, and it was better.
Over the summer, I would get love letters from her with teethmarks on them. I drew her a picture of one of my favorite super hero characters that I made up. We saw each other on the weekends and at pool parties all summer. We rode four wheelers and would stop in the woods and make out. I pulled up her shirt once, but never got past the bra. We talked about it later. Neither of us were ready for anything like that, we realized. Best to take it slow.
In the fall, school started, and we decided to keep seeing each other. I broke my finger playing football, and drove to her house later that night. I showed her my splint. I wanted some sympathy. She said that was a stupid move. I told her I didn’t do it on purpose. She said she knew that. And then she said we should talk. I knew that would mean my finger wouldn’t be the only thing that broke that day. I saw her a few more times after that, but the summer romance had come to an end.
We’d put it up in the yard when school got out and it would stay up throughout the season. We’d sleep in it when the nights were warm and only go inside when the weather didn’t cooperate. Being inside the tent during a thunderstorm was scary. But we’d spend as much time in it as possible, dragging our notebooks and colored pencils and Army Ants and other action figures out to it and setting up a little home away from home. We even put the cassette player and all our Weird Al tapes in the tent. Going inside the house was a last resort. We only went in to get food or use the bathroom if we didn’t feel like peeing in the woods.
Friends would come over and hang out in the tent with us. If we weren’t riding bikes or catching frogs or chasing each other with toy guns through the gravel pit, we were in the tent. Sometimes, friends would spend the night. Just had to ride the bike home and grab the sleeping bag and pillow, then come back and throw it all in the tent. Sometimes, they’d stay there all week.
Night time in the tent was fun. There were fireflies and flashlights and shadow hand puppets and the occasional obligatory mooning. Get enough boys together in a tent and someone was bound to hang a butt in someone’s face. One time, one kid turned around during a moon shot and we got a glimpse of the front instead of the back and everyone got quiet and weirded out for a minute. We peed together all the time, changed during gym class, and everyone was interested in what everyone else was packing, checking out the difference between circumcised and not and all that. But in the tent, you were supposed to keep it put away. It was kind of an unspoken.
There were no rules in the tent, it was us in charge. That was half the fun. But there was a code, and we all stuck to it. No wrestling in the tent. No sharp objects. Keep it dry inside. If we wrecked the tent, we wouldn’t be able to use it anymore, and then we would have to answer to authority. And that would be the undoing. That would mean no more tent.
The same tent would go on many camping trips. We were always sad when we had to tear it down in the yard and roll it up and put it in the car. It was fun to go hiking and swimming or fishing somewhere else. There was something fun about eating hot dogs and s’mores next to a river you’ve never been to before, but it wasn’t the same as having the tent in the yard. We couldn’t wait to go back home and put it up again, air it out, brush away the campsite grass and dirt, and sleep in it again that night. Until it was too cold or we had to go back to school, we stayed in the tent.
Theme by Lauren Ashpole