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New house rule: rearranged my CDs on the first of each month. I’ve got a pile, stacked 3 feet high, near my. I choose the mix as the day goes on. There’s the early morning music, mid-afternoon “lets be productive” tracks.
And the late-night “holy shit deadline’s looming” CDs.
I cut my pile down by two-thirds, stored them away. Without much thought pulled out an equal number from of CDs from the drawers. I must revisit those I’ve not spun in years. I’ve got some CDs still in the cellophane wrap. Others I’m not even certain why I own it.
Piles all around me. Organized, but piles nonetheless. Mostly papers and books and magazines I want to read. Sometimes I succeed at finishing them. Other times, I pick them up and have completely lost interest in them. Or can’t remember what made me want to read it in the first place.
The newspaper yellows under prolonged sunlight exposure.
And so goes my constant battle with my mess. Piles climb, crumble, and get tossed into the garbage. A metaphor for my brain. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (Stolen from F Scott Fitzgerald).
Every day starts the same. Four cylinders screaming. Gasping for oxygen, fuel and fire. Sputtering out some toxic fumes. Me, cursing the on-ramp, the hill I’m climbing and the truck, with his brights blinding my eyes and his rig storming up behind me.
“Kiss my ass”. Kiss my bumper. Make my day.
Cup of coffee in my crotch and the soon-to-be rising sun. It’s not daybreak, but it’s clearly getting lighter ahead of me to the East and still pitch black in my rearview mirror. It used to be the claustrophobic path of Storrow Drive and now it’s the 134.
In the summertime, I’d stop at the Dunkin Donuts. Order the same thing: three glazed and large iced coffee. The routine became so familiar it was as if the car drove there on its own. The smell of the sickly sweet donuts would coat the back of my throat. In the sweltering humidity, my iced coffee would perspire.
Wet stains in my crotch.
Without a cup holder in my Subaru, that’s the only place to put my coffee. I’d chomp down on the donuts, suck on the soda straw. Sugar and caffeine were necessary. Start the day with a buzz.
Too much coffee and it stays with you all day. It’s like having pancakes for breakfast. There’s something in maple syrup that never leaves your mouth.
All day I get the residue aftertaste.
Mom used to fix pancakes about once a week. And on those days, I’d be in Algebra or some other stupid class, trying to act like I’m listening to the teacher (who’s trying to act like he cares about us learning). And then my tongue would unlock another pocket of Aunt Jemima. I’d spend the next half hour staring at equations and thinking about warm buttermilk pancakes.
Made a plan. I’ve got two cameras sitting around the house. Disposable green Fuji’s with about 10 exposures each. Bought them back during our Oregon road trip last summer. (That trip was the best one). I must get them developed-- and before Valentine’s Day.
I’ll surprise her with a framed picture.
But if only I’d gotten a picture, as we arrived in Ashland, of her sobbing. I’m not much of a photographer. Probably goes back to the time Dad tried spending “quality time” with me-- and a Nikon. I hated following his directions. Always felt stupid under his watchful gaze.
We just saw each other six weeks back. But now, my Brother-in-Law is in town on a business. Dinner and to visit my place. I’ve been here two years and he’s never seen it. Wish we could have more time together, but I’m under deadline. Must rush through conversation.
We don’t have much to say, though we don’t stop talking.
Questions about future plans, past decisions. Even a few stories revolving around weather: ice storm demolished the neighborhood trees. Limbs underweight of ice snap off the pines. They’re nothing but a telephone pole with a circle of evergreen limbs below.
Had the pleasure of sleeping in for once. I can’t remember the last time I saw 6 in the morning on my bedroom alarm clock. It has truly been a long time. Coach gave me the word: arrive late, warm up a little by swimming a mile and get more rest.
I behaved, took advantage of a three-hour nap.
I can’t be sure this is enough. I still fear swimming tomorrow. I must make qualifying times, but I’m aching. Lactic acid piles up in my shoulders. Calf tightens up, cramps. My hips feel like they’re going to buckle under pressure.
Hundreds of kids surround me. Tiny, stick-figured people all 5 feet and under. Not an ounce of body fat on their frames. Hair wet and chlorine damaged. We’re at a swim meet together. They’re doing just what kids their age do: race about once a month and hope they’ll get best. I, on the other hand, have only goal.
Try and make Nationals-- in Honolulu-- qualifying times.
Make that two goals: and not look like a fool, while the kids out-swim me. I succeeded in the first, but failed-- and miserably-- in the second. 13-year-olds schooling me is downright embarrassing.
Creamy custard yogurt. Chunky peanut butter. Maple and brown sugar instant oatmeal. General Mill’s Raisin Nut Bran cereal. Angel hair pasta. Fresh sliced oranges. Guacamole dip with lots of Tabasco. Snickers. Doctor Pepper.
Fettuccini Alfredo with poppy seeds.
Pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. Artichoke, steamed to perfection, with lots of butter dip (no mayonnaise please). Corn bread. Coffee. Caesar salad (hold the anchovies) with extra pepper and grated parmesian cheese. Huevos Rancheros with scrambled eggs and black beans. Pita bread lightly toasted dipped into honey and butter. Humus. Tostitos. Eggo’s and Syrup.
Alex, what are my favorite comfort foods?
My high school buddies and I formed our own four-man bobsled team. Mark, the German one got to be the driver. Steve, Matt and I pushed the imaginary sleigh. If I remember we used an old desk and slid it across the linoleum floor.
We adopted out own German names.
The team was molded after the fastest bobsled racers at the Olympics. Who else but the Germans-- East Germans. I was Fritz, there was also Gunther, Helmut and Dagmar on the team. We got our own T-Shirts, wore them around school like dorks. But we were proud, crazy but proud.
I simply wished her a happy birthday by email. We haven’t seen one another for years. Not since her move to NYC. We run hot and cold in communicating. Are definitely in a drought.
It came as a complete surprise she replied-- and she was in town.
Not necessarily on a tight schedule, but the trip’s lasting only a few days. which meant she couldn’t get to everyone who might want to see her. I was lucky enough to get on that short list. Two hours, in the afternoon, with her best friend Tina tagging along. Went shopping at Goodwill.
We spent our time sifting through loads of used goods. Old dresses, piles of toys. All looked to be junk. But according to the dozens of people frantically going through this unorganized mess, it was hidden treasures. Dig deep enough and there might be gold.
Somewhere in there she dropped the bomb.
An ex, who I rarely talk with, has a huge apartment, great boyfriend and will soon have a wedding. Or so that’s the word. He’s breaking his lease, getting down on one knee, proposing and will so be co-habitating with her. It stung for days. And it shouldn’t.
Triple date: popular Italian restaurant in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner. Ten years ago. I knew one of the waiters. Slipped in faster than if we’d been down on the list. Got a great booth. Toasted a birthday. Triple toasted an engagement. The proposal was days before, this was the first announcement. I remember pasta, booze, laughs and lots of kisses.
Fast forward: Three are married.
The proposal turned into two toddlers. The other guy married last summer. We were all there but his ex. Another awaits a proposal from the current boyfriend (who else?). Two are on the west coast. Single.
What will never escape me from that Valentine’s Day is the lesson of expectations. It’s difficult not to expect “things” on that holiday. The pressure’s on. That night, we walked home after our lovely dinner. I had thoughts about our upcoming lovely sex.
Then we crossed paths with another couple, who were obviously in pain.
She was crouched on the sidewalk, gripping the cold wrought iron fence, sobbing tears frozen to her cheeks. He stood there dumbfounded. Unable to comfort her. embarrassed to see us stroll by. She was screaming, with wrinkled chin: “It wasn’t supposed to be this way”.
I brought a smile, a small but thoughtful gift and the food. Carry out from Baja Fresh: grilled vegetable burrito and taco salad with chicken strips-- extra salsa. She provided a color TV, a fake gas fire in the fireplace and the drinks. We sat on the floor all night. Chowed down and watched the Olympics.
We made a list for “Hump Island”.
Five celebrities, you pick and they’ll be available anytime for wild, abandoned sex. No rules, just name them and they’re yours for the taking. Kate and Audrey Hepburn in their 30s. Halle Berry. Winona Ryder. Courtney Love.
The idea was to conserve energy, recycle and do something no one else had ever thought of. During lunch, I’d walk around, make myself a total annoyance and look for soda cans. I figured each can, filled with insulation would make a perfect brick. Spread on some mortar, cover with stucco and you’ve got yourself a house. After a while, can collecting became an obsession. Wash them out at the water fountain and store them in my locker. My locker space for books became smaller.
Mike loved kicking the bottom of the can pile and watch them all tumble out.
Drooling in the hardware store. Testosterone flowed through my veins. I’m not into power tools. I reached for a tree trimmer with an extension pole.
All afternoon, I found a use for my new tool. That is, until I made a fatal mistake.
Trimming the avocado tree, I got too aggressive. And took down my neighbors phone line, which runs through the warped branches. Sliced into a thick branch, yanked down hard and the wire came with it. I put away my tool, called to inform them of the line, but as if I had nothing to do with it.
Like a Pavlov dog. I react just walking into a hardware store. The stench of raw fertilizer takes me back home. Summers with dad on the weekends. He always made an excuse to visit the hardware store. I’d travel with him.
It was the only time we ever bonded.
I’d look up and watch him as he paid cash at the register. His clenched teeth with gnawing jaw. The pulse of his cheek as he gnashed his teeth looked adult and sexy. I thought it was a natural “growing up” thing that occurred like your Adam’s Apple and pubic hair.
I missed her birthday again. She ought to know by now that some years I make an effort and ship a gift on time. Other years, I’ve made some lame attempt with a card, email or package that’s weeks late.
Her birthday gift is always a surprise-- whether she’ll get it at all.
It slipped past. She emailed three days in a row. No word. Finally, I wrote back mentioning everything but her birthday. That is, until the final line. A simple “happy birthday”. Acknowledging that I forgot it, remembered later, and still have no idea what I’ll get her.
Proust was right. Smells open up an entire word of memories, special or not. Spicy, fragrant candles at Pier 1. The one in my neighborhood looks nothing like the store I grew up with. My older sisters would take me. It seemed we’d drive an hour just to shop there.
The remote location made it special.
The aromas overwhelmed me. I was too young to really shop. Stores were of no interest unless they sold food, music or games. Today, when I step into my Pier 1, I’m taken back to that time period. Sisters wearing Viet Nam POW bracelets.
Together again, but this time in the late afternoon. Coffee at my favorite place on the Boulevard. We consume a couple of cups outside on the sidewalk. The sun is melting the city in February. Shorts and tank top weather. Everyone seems to be out and soaking up the heat.
We part ways at sunset, bitter sweet, planning on our next date.
And then, that night, out for small party. Total surprise, she’s there. We’d never discussed the possibility we’d both been invited to the same event. She’s barefoot, painted toes and ready to make ice cream. I scream. Internally.
More dumpster diving. Driving slowly down the street. In search of furniture, especially near apartment at the end of the month. Houses on trash pick up day. I’ve got new chairs, a radio, TV and three cabinets.
Now, all I have to do is find a place for them.
That is, after I clean them up and refurbish them. Otherwise, I’m likely to start looking like Sandford and Son. The stuff is piling up in the basement. Ready to get a new life, if I can find the time to treat them. Next. I’m looking for a used dinner table.
A friend once lived in a basement apartment. It was tiny, dingy and smelled musty. Fishy and musty, since it was on the perimeter of the North End. I was only over there a dozen times or so, but I remember it well.
Especially one afternoon when we got naked.
It wasn’t supposed to happen, but we got bored, hastily stripped and made out. This was months and months after we’d broken up. You can’t imagine how close we came to sex. I was the one who bailed. I had an appointment with my shrink in three-quarters of an hour.
My showers have the oddest smell. I can never seem to wash myself of chlorine. It leeches into my skin every morning while I swim. No matter how long I shower afterwards, there’s always a residue.
I know. I smell chlorine during my afternoon shower.
It makes me wonder if I’ve got an aura of chlorine. Pig Pen had his dust aura, which followed him everywhere he walked. Do I reek of public pool? Do people think I’ve got a cleaning obsession and my hands and arms are stained with Clorox solution? No, I’m just crazy enough to swim daily.
My hunter came home with a friend. Out in the yard he tracked down a grasshopper. Now, that 4-inch bug with legs of Michael Jordan is jumping around my office. He’s leaping across the room. Landing on walls and windows.
My boy is growling, ready to go in for the kill.
Luck would have it. Problem solved in one swift jump. Grasshopper lunges right into the garbage can. Can’t seem to leap over the high, vertical walls. Meanwhile, for all the cat knows he’s completely disappeared. Disgusted, he goes back out in the yard looking for a new play toy.
Water bugs skimming across the calm river water. Long, narrow trunks with eight colorful oars. Pushing and lunging ahead in a constant rhythm. Dozens of them are in the water, early morning, practicing for the Head of the Charles. I go down and watch.
I have a terrible crush on the second oar.
She’s usually unaware that I go to the river to watch her. Occasionally, standing on one of the bridges, I shout my encouragement. She cringes, crinkles her nose out of embarrassment. Her friends won’t stop asking about me. She’s keenly aware of my crush. It went unfulfilled.
I sit and wait with two women I have nothing in common with. We’re waiting to hear about our friend. He’s fallen out a window, smashed face first on the sidewalk below. It was all fun and games until somebody got hurt.
His first question: “Do I still have my teeth?”
He did, but his nose was punched in. Eye socket broken and his face looked lopsided. Like Play-Doh after it dropped two stories and landed on the hard pavement. He eventually recovered. I didn’t. I made a long trip to a Long Island wedding. Got smashed all over again.
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