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MCVT

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  1. Cleaning standards don't align? A universal situation and since no gravestone mentions spotless floors, I feel it's a minor issue. Floors, houses, material things come and go, stay healthy and happy inside yourself--adapt and/or invent. This thought this won't eliminate dirt and it may structure an atmosphere where more respect is offered to the person who makes the good life happen. Be glad for the subconscious; you words will linger to reemerge later in your children's lives. Encourage them to study Microbiology. As a kid, I reveled in using the Electrolux floor-cleaning attachments and the smell of the paste wax that came in a yellow tin. That old machine drowned out all the noise around me, my socked feet stepped across the reflected light, I inhaled the unique aroma of carnauba from a distant palm. No one bothered me for hours as I pushed the whirling brushes left and right--I imagined kids around the world with brooms, mops, shaking rugs outside in the same moment. A spiritual task, cleaning floors, it developed a perspective that the repetitive motions of mundane chores were akin to chants of the monks. v
  2. MCVT

    Chapter 1/1

    Not my best time of year: February and March. Can’t remember the exact date, the numbers blur. The events of those two months several years ago still rip me. Their finality’s always clear. Late winter-early spring I stay inside hiding my tearfulness; snuffling. Can’t sleep until I’m so exhausted, I’m unable to push it away any longer. Fall into deep dreams on the porch, sitting in the car in the garage. Fell asleep at the kitchen table for a REM-nap one afternoon and left a puddle of saliva on the place mat. … Last stop. I get off the 113A, no cars allowed here anymore. Big parking lots where tourists used to park, all empty, a few kids skateboarding on the gentle slope in front of the boarded stores. Sea gulls stationed the arms of street lights. Past the edge of the lot, a calm sea. A few trinket shops and cafes on a narrow strip. Several people window shopping. Strangely, few people out; overcast but warm. A nice-looking older lady exits the bus behind me. Older and dressed like she's going out, classy get-up. Her clothes are a style from years ago; something my mother would have worn to church. Navy blazer and matching pillbox hat, she wears jewelry, glitters with heavy rings, pins. Red glossed lips same shade as a ruby brooch on her lapel. … Down the shoreline, sauntering past the shops I hear people abuzz about a tunnel. I listen to a brief conversation and wonder. Tunneling in the sand would be futile—where are the caution signs? Where is the construction equipment? They must mean a funnel structure further inland to divert sea level rise. Meandering to my favorite places, the shell shop that has that calcified, dry smell, and the man with the parrot hawking hermit crabs from a tv tray. Walk the shore, smell the sea’s soup of life and death; my ocean’s pale in soft light caressed by warm breaths of breezes. Peaceful. Ahead is a cluster of folks. Only ten, twelve, all dressed in high style. Stood in small groups talking quietly where the highway ends at the beach. There's a series of creosoted stumps to barricade traffic from the water. The stumps still stink of an almost-iodine stench. Being a curious sort, I have to see what’s going on. Closer. Oh, they’re at the opening of a tunnel. A tall man in a suit with a narrow, black tie approaches, "You're here about the funding?" "Funding?" I retired from that decades-long migraine of a career. "For the tunnel." "I just found out there is a tunnel—why a tunnel here?" "I'll show you." He took me to the opening. It's finished off, but only about eight-ten feet high, roundish opening decorated with brass trim on shellacked wooden beams. A heavy herbal smell of joyful anticipation envelops me—aroma of fresh mown grass issues from the entry. Inside, I see everything is black and green, like black and white, but a deep emerald green and complete black. Green lights above make stark, deeply-colored images in the passageway. Walls are cluttered with framed photos, shelves. "Harsh décor, why is it like that?" The contrast was jarring. He explained to me that every so many feet, the color changed. "Fuchsia, amber, violet, every color. The tunnel is fifteen miles long." Described cultural displays set up inside, each epoch lit with a different color flooding the old photos, bits of the era. People liked it that way. "Soothing with the old curiosities, delightful for others who like the color. And the black—unimportant details. Don’t need to be noticed." "Soothing, colored curiosities for fifteen miles?" I consider that for a moment; “Preposterous.” To my side, here comes the lady from the bus with an even older lady, both dressed to the nines, decked-out in jewelry. They twirl two swiveling chairs that are affixed to a small track which runs into the tunnel. As they seat themselves, they’re smiling, talking about musicals, artists, Marcelled hair, rumble seats. My eyes follow them as they comment, sit and cross their ankles. Much further ahead of them, a dot of the aqua and black section; another period—Elliot had a ’58 Impala that very color…. The chairs move them away as they chatter about a man named Cab. … "Where does the tunnel end up?" I ask the man, "How do they get back or can only one group go at a time?" "They don't come back." Gave me a kind look, tilted his head. “Don’t come back….” I didn’t understand, “Well, what’s your rate?” “No charge, that’s why I asked about funding. EPA and the county PHC are sending someone. Thought that might be you.” EPA I knew, “PHC?” The man glanced around, “Personal Happiness Committee. Part of the Travel and Tourism Commission.” No government could ever manage such a program. Adjunct to those idiots in Tourism? Blood pressure rose and an achy anger stretched through my guts. “My personal happiness has never been on their agenda….” … Took me over an hour to calm myself; required two banana shakes with butter brickle ice cream and a steak sandwich. Blood pressure stayed high; I took a pill, then another. Banana shake and steak sandwich; Elliot’s favorite on Saturdays after he mowed, edged while I swept. Weekend guests came often, stayed late; guests became close friends over the years. … Grabbed Elliot’s green polyester apron and went to my lounger before I fell asleep at the table again. Tossed his apron over the lampshade, turned it on and looked through the boxes of old photos a pool of green light. Evening shadows deepened to hide the clothes I hadn’t taken to the washer, the cups and trays that held half-eaten microwaved dinners. Held a photo of Elliot in his black knit trunks at the beach, strutting his big, hairy body, hoping to impress me. There’s me in baggy trunks hoping he wouldn’t notice I had nothing to impress him with. Young, gay, unknowing and thinking my life would span few years, I looked away, didn’t return his smiles. For a million painful reasons, I’d only weigh on the planet’s resources briefly—my secret distress allowed only short-term plans. He must have known his hyper-masculine display made me tremble. Braggadocio became benign curiosity as we spoke. He recognized parts of himself in me. Elliot became what I needed: acceptance. Acceptance evolved to lust, then love, then an unspoken cherishing. Holidays, dinners, vacations; closed my eyes and remembered our lovemaking. Elliot was a big man in every respect. Always burned. Now, only my eyes burned. First times, last time sharply replayed in my head. Squeezed my eyes shut to slow my thoughts in the inky infinity behind my eyelids. Dreams and days are getting harder to sort. Pad of my thumb rubs the edge of that old photo at the beach, tears run, breaths heats…. Hard, him leaving. Harder being the one left. Never thought I’d impress a man more than twice my age—twice my everything. I must have; he cherished me until that late winter-early spring when our cherishing tied us together across a span greater than fifteen miles.
  3. MCVT

    Green and Black

    Very brief tale of how memories and dreams distort thoughts among isolated souls waiting out the current times. Salvage the best distortions and move on knowing it’s the brave hearts that have the richest memories, (like the ones I hope you hold).
  4. A young man was assigned to war-torn land—a new democracy stood shakily after years of civil strife. Skirmishes continued in the countryside far from the capitol while the new nation began rebuilding their freedom. In a village of around a hundred folk, the young man and his mission were welcomed. His presence made a difference and the village was proud to host him—they furnished him a room in an ancient, converted coffee processing shed. This was their best for the young man who was unique among many. His presence protected them from further shelling and skirmishes as any injury he might sustain would begin an international incident. By dint of birthplace, he was a living peace-insurance policy though the strategy of his assignment was not recognized as such. … Few amenities in the distant village, unfortunately and fortunately the young man was accustomed a disadvantaged life. The village community sang together, built bonfires and danced to music from homemade instruments for celebrations. Fresh fruits from the jungles provided their sweet treats. On their dusty or muddy roads, few shod feet tread to work and school. Sunset brought out torches, improvised oil lamps. In his room was a bucket to haul water. This took much time and energy in the heat. Looking at the stream, he saw it was dirty and the children of the area were ill. Many died. The smell of the water alarmed him. Before beginning his assigned task, he addressed the problem. The telephone was in the next village; he walked. Weeks he spent calling the capitol, international organizations, churches, old friends, enlisting help. Took almost a year for the government to install a tap providing fresh water from a deep well. Water had to be pumped manually, and a highly celebrated pump it was. Villagers dug trenches diverting waste water and many came to the pre-formed concrete bathhouse to wash every day. Women scrubbed laundry outside the unroofed structure, their children played nearby. At dawn, the young man waited in line. Then, finger on his hairline in front of his ear; left cheek, right cheek, he shaved in the bucket-and-cup stall. Ran his hand across his chin, his neck, washed quickly. Another man waited behind. Soon, an elderly man appeared near the bath house. With a wooden stool and a pair of scissors, he charged little to keep the villagers groomed in a fashion distinct to the area. Bowl cuts only; a practical style. Through this time, the young man noticed there were no mirrors. Occasionally he glimpsed his reflection in the only window left intact. It was at an old bodega where a family now resided; his glances were brief, didn’t want to appear snooping. … Monthly he traveled to a larger village, visited a shed refashioned into a cafe. Different people, music, jokes and news while consuming the bitter, local brew. Others’ faces held scars of war, deep lines of hard pasts or accidents, each face distinct. The group he worked for had a good reputation and a few in the cafe knew his face, most recognized his blue jacket with the name of his organization. The next day he’d pick up his supplies and take any mail. If lucky, he’d meet a genial truck driver and hop a lift. Pigs and turnips were often his travel companions back to the village. … Time passed, and the perspective of the young man changed, he took close note of the earth’s changes, the seasons, though there were only two. The height of corn and bean crops in the fields, the blossoms and forming fruits, the beginnings of banana bracts and buds were significant. He observed edible plants intently--he was as hungry as the rest of the villagers. Assuming the quiet faith of the people around him, he took water until victuals were had. Children’s bellies were the first to be filled. His work was repetitive yet he continued and enjoyed village life, especially the children’s curiosity and spontaneity. The impact of his teaching wouldn’t be fully realized for years, yet what he built in their minds was solid. He was well-respected for his dedication. In turn, he admired the campesinos’ tenacity, their unity facing hardships. … Came time the teacher was called home. Village life, its rhythms had taken root inside him, yet funding had diminished. His school would continue in a greatly reduced manner. The new instructor stayed with him several weeks. The teacher packed what he gathered but left most of it, supplies were meager. A grand fiesta heralded his departure. Villagers would miss him. He’d left his sweat on the roadsides clearing fallen trees, helped raise structures. He sat with dying villagers, taking a share of their sorrow. More than a teacher, he was their link to a better life, he had brought them the peace needed to expand their fields, rebuild houses, flocks, barns and the market. The market, the very heart of the village had returned with scant offerings, and it reflected their success. The teacher would miss the people who surrounded him, they’d taught him unspoken lessons in their ways. Sadly, he headed to the airport in the pre-dawn chill. His blue jacket had paled and frayed and it was his only jacket. … The international airport was simply an air-conditioned building with wide tarmac strips nearby. Only a duty-free shop, customs agents’ desks inside the structure. At the terminal, he found it empty, dark; security guards roamed nearby. He hailed a uniformed man, “I’m supposed to leave at noon. What happened?” “Political problems.” He said, “If you were going north, all flights are cancelled until the governments reinstate their agreements.” “I’ve heard there is a train. Where is the depot?” He was expected to present a summation of his work soon. The guard shook his head, “It only goes to Nandaime, not the border.” Quickly recalculating, the man decided to take buses further north, get a plane where he could. Back on the city bus, he asked for directions. Other riders thought him a bumpkin by his dress and dialect. They chuckled, helped him along. … Another delay. The bus northward would arrive in the morning. Other awaiting riders slept in the station on the wooden benches. The night was warm, there were no walls, though uncomfortable, it was peaceful but for a family of small, green lizards darting for bugs. During those years, buses were loud, informal transit. The ancient, bulky, rehabbed carriages were hand-painted, bright transport. Interiors were shabby and smelled of disinfectant. The first leg of the man’s home-bound trip he sat aside a basket of peeping baby chicks. Children roamed the aisles during stops selling cold drinks and candies. Food vendors handed their snacks through the windows of the bus; drivers didn’t dally. … It was on the second stretch of his long journey he sat by a window which still held a pane of glass. Night fell and the driver stopped to refuel. Dim overhead lights came on, riders stood to stretch. In the soft light the man turned to the window. He saw a face. A momentary shudder startled him. His reflection appeared as a specter, pale and gaunt. Time and life had changed him. Thin features didn’t disturb him, nor the wrinkles. It was the color. The reflection was so white as to be unnatural; so white as to consider he had died, but he wasn’t dead. He could feel his heart thumping rapidly from this surprise. He turned away. The bus driver called his riders and they began northward again. The man couldn’t look back at his reflection, it made him uncomfortable. Took many kilometers for him to realize that he’d only seen the faces of dark-skinned people, every shade of the browns and bronze, golden tan but had not seen his own image for years. He was as troubled as he was puzzled by his thoughts. Expectations and the unrealized collided inside him leaving a feeling that something deep had detached. … Baffling trip he created homeward. Planes, buses and taxis and the teacher arrived to be immediately shuffled to the capitol of the nation to present his report to a sub-group of a sub-committee. Traffic noises on the streets, moving images and crowds surrounded the man as he strode the steps to the austere building. He’d learned quickly not to ask for help in his homeland, people plugged their ears with wired devices—they paid a stranger no mind. Snippets of conversations on public transit made him aware that their conversations were much like the village folk—dinner, friends and lovers, work, pay, hopes and dreams…. Taking his place at the podium, he presented a well-organized speech, all aligned with the objectives he was given years ago, “Additionally, your funding has brought hope. Peace has allowed rebuilding to progress. Hope and opportunity cannot be assessed by dollars and they have regrown from the destruction to flourish.” He smiled after being given a certificate for his work, applause and thanks from those present. Many of the other teachers assigned to the same far nation had returned home early, unable to adapt to the grind of poverty and hunger. He had stayed. As he left, a committee member pulled him aside, “We’d like for you to continue. Will you take another assignment?” “In the same place?” He wanted to reclaim the part of him that had detached. “Plenary session will decide in July.” … The teacher had funds to live almost comfortably and sought out an area where familiar foods were sold, near an immigrant enclave where the sounds and smells were similar to the village. His stomach no longer tolerated the rich foods of his homeland, a simple diet was in order. The rooms in his home he decorated in greens, every verdant hue, to again wrap his life in jungle colors. Modestly tasteful, his home was cozy yet he covered the mirror in the bath, avoiding his discomfiting reflection. Upon occasion, he visited local bars. Men’s faces were smooth, beautiful. Almost every one appeared a model or a star. After a few visits, the faces appeared so similar as to be the same. Jokes, news and chatter was repetitive; competition for instant intimacy was the order of the day. During that time, it was a risky, lethal game he avoided. … It was on the metro one evening that the teacher saw a man reading a tattered newspaper. Familiar words in a foreign language headed the front page. It was from the nation that housed his village. Softly, he struck up a conversation with the dark man, “Is the countryside still peaceful?” “War? No, but drought, floods, bugs—farmers live a hard life. Why?” “I taught at a school in the countryside for several years; in the northeast.” “There are teaching jobs here that pay well. Why did you go?” The teacher hesitated and told a half-truth, “I lost someone I loved. I went—I went because… to distract myself from losing him.” He looked away to avoid another question. Their conversation continued every evening and the men exchanged phone numbers. They cooked for each other, shared coffee and news. The dark man’s apartment was as basic as possible, many men lived there; single mattresses leaned against all the walls when not in use. Roommates came and went through the nights and days; all worked several jobs. … At the teacher’s home, the dark man asked, “Why is your mirror covered? I looked. It isn’t broken.” The teacher explained his discomfort with his own reflection. “It didn’t happen until I left the village. Feels like part of me is missing—very disturbing. Did this happen to you?” “I miss my family and friends, but not any part of me.” “Have you ever felt yourself in the wrong color skin—like you’ve seen so many white faces, you think you should be pale as well?” The dark man was confused. He’d never felt the loss of his color living in a nation of pale-skinned people. Was this a peculiar Caucasian problem? To him, feelings of discomfort were nothing more than passing moods. His life was pressed by other issues. He left feeling doltish in how to address his friend’s dilemma. Both somewhat embarrassed to speak of these unusual sentiments, they didn’t call or visit for several months. … On a Friday night late, the teacher got a call from his friend, “May I visit?” “Bienvinedo, my friend.” The teacher was relieved, he feared he’d asked a question that carried an unknown insult or revealed, perhaps, insanity. The dark-skinned man brought a single, wine-colored rose and a big smile. “My teacher, my teacher,” he shook his head, embraced his host. “I tried what you had done. I began looking into every face I met, like you and the villagers. I do see myself differently when I look straight into another’s eyes when I speak. I don’t lose my color, it becomes richer. I am proud of my life, myself and helping the ones who gave me brown skin. Thank you.” The teacher stared; he’d not expected that. “Come,” The dark man took his friend’s hand and uncovered the mirror in the bath. “Look at two handsome men. We’re different, yes, and the same inside. The loss you feel is the lies you’ve been told about colors—those lies must go. Close your eyes.” The dark man used a simple tactic to comfort a man he respected. The teacher thought this odd, yet complied. The dark man tapped on the teacher’s chest, “That place where you feel you lost something, go there and listen.” Then the dark man smiled widely, “You’ll hear the truth that all hearts beat as one.” With that, he gathered the teacher against his chest and squeezed him close, “Feel it?” The teacher smelled the dark man’s sweat; memories of a young lover stirred from a blurry past. He took another deep whiff, found the unreconciled place inside. It appeared as an ethereal hallway. Ahead, he sensed the man he’d loved deeply so long ago, still young and brave. Words he couldn’t speak in life rang through the glowing passage and across the years. Brightness collapsed through him leaving calm. A stark thought arose. His detached part wasn’t about color but a fault in how he viewed himself. It was about regrets, the barriers he’d build against another loss, a barricade against fully realizing who he was. He’d blocked his own eyes from seeing himself whole, beyond losses and beside others who’d lost yet lived to love again. A teacher’s arms enwrapped a friend who gave warm consolation. A friend who brought his best to offer freely. Burning tears came, profound gratitude heated, “Thank you.” With that, he hesitantly kissed his friend’s neck and felt himself squeezed harder. Hope for rebuilding his heart, his life, flickered. “Yes, I feel it.” Hearts beat in unison.
  5. This short tale is of a young man’s journeys during turbulent times. Memories can seem a nest of tangled snakes. Expectations, emotions, doubts and inherent elements crystalize here to be sorted in different ways, from different perspectives.
  6. During the 1950s there was a male performer from Louisiana, from off the bayous. He made this phrase popular: "If I'm lyin', I'm dyin.'" (For some reason I associate the phrase with Zydeco music.) This phrase underscores your truthfulness. "Yes, the check is in the mail. If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'." See how much stronger that statement is? v
  7. This is a very politically incorrect phrase, and I'll allow it as its used to make a statement not about disability, but about a person stepping away from convention: The phrase is: "Every family got their idiot child." This may allude to inter-familial relations, and I've heard it used meaning, "That child/person isn't following tradition." This is usually derogatory, but not always. It may mean the person isn't using common sense or may simply be an exclamation about a new situation. A liberal politician introducing a new idea may get this comment in a conservative area. Because I've worked with so many people with disabilities, I find it a crude but honest recognizing differences in groups; farming life is hard, often dangerous and medical services are not always available. v
  8. "Pretty little heifer." For farming people, a cow giving birth to a female was a fortuitous event. Females make more calves and give milk. Males are treated differently and didn't enjoy a long lifespan. A heifer was a thing of beauty in the minds and lives of many rural southerners. This is not an insult, but a compliment, though many girls/women didn't like being compared to livestock. I never used the phrase. v
  9. Some I've heard often: "Ain't that sumptin'?" or, "Aren't you special today?" These phrases carry the opposite meaning. Example: "Ain't that sumptin'? You only spilled half your coffee on your shirt this morning. You're so special today." This is southern sarcasm at its cattiest. Phrase is used for people drawing attention to something they did that they were actually expected to do. (Keep coffee in either cup or mouth.) Can be used in the superlative by adding the word "Mercy!" before or after the insult. v.
  10. Red headed step child: Calling a person this implies his mother stepped outside her marriage to have intimate relations with a person of another faith. (I'll let you figure that out.) This has often come to mean a person who is neglected, abused and mistreated. It is used to describe discourtesy or poor customer service by a commercial enterprise; "That woman talked to me like I was her red headed stepchild." In my experience, through the years, this has fallen from use for the most part through economic downturns. People in the south will take in relatives' children and raise them along with their own as a matter of family preservation and generosity. I do believe the advent of easily available henna has contributed to the disuse of this phrase as well. v
  11. Sippy sack: Small brown paper bag containing a can of beer. Sold/packaged at convenience stores beginning when beer came in cans and continues in some areas today, though more sophisticated materials are used to hide labels of alcoholic beverages from law enforcement. "Sippy Sack." Liquor laws were rigid, and often strange for many reasons. Drinkers found ways to get to their alcohol despite laws. This custom continues in many areas. v
  12. "Snowin' down south." This was a warning phrase between women during the first half of the 1900s. It meant the edge of your crinoline was revealing itself from beneath your skirt. A fashion faux pas at least and if done consistently and brazenly, a scandalous statement. v
  13. A metaphor I've always enjoyed is: "Like a pea in a #2 washtub." This phrase is usually allowed after someone says something really stupid implying the speaker's brain is like a pea in a large wash tub. Tubs come in sizes, but most rural southern families had a large tub for washing clothes, children and smaller animals. v
  14. Stats are interesting, and may be simply a comment on the reputation of the site in combination with the strength of the hook written in the first few lines of the piece. Several years ago when I began posting, one site editor on a very narrowly defined site suggested that each comment reflected 1K readers. (That site had a colourful rep and a few excellent writers though limited scope.) Other sites without counts or rating systems require readers to email give some feedback, that's okay. Some readers are reticent about emailing. Another site has stories with over 10+K views in only a few days. Wow, surprising, but sitting among other good stories posted on the same date, it seemed suspicious. Since we live in a time where comments, likes, sixty-second views, etc can be bought, I don't give "hits" much weight. Comments, I do. When a person takes the time to comment on the site, to actually email me, that counts. Let's face it, there's a number of good sites, a number of good writers and I'll remain grateful for the opportunity to post. Reality is this, to me: There are many kinds of writers, many kinds of readers and sometimes we fit, other times not. My work may not attract high numbers, and I appreciate my readers' comments. Found some nice people through comments. Does that count? I will say this about my own comments, reads and ratings: As a reader, I want respect. There is an excellent writer known across several sites, I refuse to go back to any of his work as several great pieces weren't finished. (What a disappointment.) Another writer has great stories, truly interesting ideas and clear writing, and he slogs the plot with so much irrelevant detail I tire, lose the story line. Didn't respond to him, though as others may appreciate the extra words. Respect for my time and my mental investment, please. In summary, I'll dismiss all the clicking around, all the ratings and such, and stick with the comments directly sent to me. I write because I see a story unfolding in my head and allow my ethos to parade itself publicly, which in itself is a courageous act another will probably appreciate. There are postings from deceased writers whose time to shine may have come. All their hits, counts and ratings are for nothing, but the essence of their truths revealed move forward. No? This is an interesting topic for writers. Thanks for posting it. v
  15. MCVT

    Chapter 1/1

    #366 Our fifteen-year partnership concluded by death. Sold the house, paid the debts, avoided bankruptcy by a few bucks, faced completing a six-page lease application by hand. Co-worker told me about a place where her mother lived. A vacancy opened in a reasonably-priced, respectable old battleship of a building. Decided to stay there as I rebuilt my cache. My grief was still deep—new people might boost my rebound. Four rooms on the third floor became my new home. #366. #612 #612 Was Carl Kolettis’ apartment. Comfortable old guy, spoke softly. Place smelled of bratwursts and white-sugar donuts. Glass of tea, butter-bread always offered. He’d fall asleep when I visited on sunny afternoons. Tiptoed out, locked the door behind me. Carl died shortly after he went to the hospital. Several bags and boxes in the hallway the night before the painters came to erase his presence. Kolettis’ belongings were few: boxes of Polaroids; unknown, smiling faces. Stack of clippings about a fan dancer named Rosemary. Bags of lacy panties, satiny bras, conical foam shapes. None well-worn, each with the tag labeled with the year purchased, it appeared. In 1972 Mr. Kolettis was slender tease—size 6M. #703 Hold each other in place. That’s what neighbors do, or clearly put “better the devil you know.” Gerald was our devil. Gerald had a white-hot temper. Didn’t like certain sounds, often called his neighbors into the hallway for an irrational dressing-down when their noise upset him. Vacuuming, carpet cleaners, furniture assembly, any celebration involving music lit his fuse. Kindly lady in #702 appointed herself the referee during the screaming-matches. Knocking on adjacent doors along the hall, she politely asked everyone to lower the noise and insisted Gerald take his medications, lay down. She calmed him till he rested, his disturbance passed. Her son was easily disturbed as well—succumbed years earlier, they said. Some hands hold others in place thoughtfully. #514 Four servicemen leased #514. Rock music, drinking, partying and whatever makes a person stay all night in the bath groaning. (Old buildings aren’t discrete.) Through the months, some shipped out, they came and went, always re-filled with noisome antics of youth finding their limits. Military actions abroad drew them away. Two civilians sublet. Different kind of men. No beige and camo but linen and cashmere in bright pastels. Modest men, no need for machismo; these two knew themselves. Confident. Applied pre-wash to their stains before they came to the washateria, all their trash was bagged in a neutral, opaque shade, sheer curtains, soft jazz. Dodged the tenant meetings saying they were both working two jobs and left after two years. Moved into their own home near the river. #466 I dreamed of fog; minute droplets of water cooled my face. Water? Jumped up, the ceiling sagged overhead, soaked, ready to burst. Donna, a heavy drinker, lived above. Left the water running again. Immediately sent photos to the maintenance guys, squished across the wet carpeting, moving what I could. Second deluge in three months. Someone in the office laid the law down to Donna, she left for rehab. Thirty days of peace but for the repairs. Several months later I got a note under my door, “Dear Mr. 366, I have to make amends. Personal problems overwhelmed me. I became forgetful….” Not wholly sincere. Slipped a note under her door the next week: “Dear Ms. 466, Came down with a cold slogging across a wet carpet to salvage my things. Two leather coats, my new duvet and therapeutic mattress were ruined. Family and friends stressed helping me recover/replace. Maintenance had to remove drywall, reinstall, repaint, all the floors redone. The costs of your forgetfulness extend far beyond your apartment. Do your amends involve covering these expenses? It’s not your personal problem, but everyone’s and we’re all holding hope for you.” Not all the complete truth, but underlined my point; our shared plight. #366 My duty, as I saw it, was to monitor the parking lot. Keep my desk by the window to watch. I’d call the cops, wake up the security officer until it ceased. Nightly activity below disturbed my rest. A pattern formed, predictable schedule: Homeless dug in the dumpster and bags people left for them. A mother and child pulled a cart for recycled treasures. Chattering carpoolers came home after their swing shifts. Three quick beeps announced the dealer’s arrival. Toward the end of the month, several residents met their clients out back. Rethinking my duty and the reasons behind the noise, I surrendered. I can afford a roof, food as well as earplugs. Started anticipating the nocturnal visitors with reserved concern as they offered up an organic, human serenade. #208 That gadfly Mr. Patel—always spreading rumors, incessant suggestive comments, wiggling his black caterpillar eyebrows at the women. He had the gall to post a note on his door saying he was a good neighbor, “Just knock if you need an egg, cup of milk or flour. Good neighbor lives here.” Patel charged for neighborliness. Case of beer was double the price and he didn’t make change. Good neighbor? His door needed a warning label. #815 “Take these to Riva in 815.” Roberta’s bossy. A small favor I could manage to be amicable. Riva from Hyderabad sounded like she had an extra tongue in her mouth. Rapid-fire, clicking English I could barely understand began as she opened her door. I froze, mail in hand, stuck in a deepening puddle of befuddlement. No walls visible, birdcages everywhere as she displayed her space. Shrieking and peeping, squawking, fluttering sent molted feathers into roiling clouds. A few landed on my face. I didn’t breathe. “Tea?” She screamed at me above the avian din. “Not today.” Bounded to the stairwell, confounded by the chaotic bird-universe she created within inches of the still, drab hallway. #366 Happened to notice a window of another apartment building across the alley. A glint, no, two. Binoculars? Bright trapezoid between Venetian blinds, then it darkened with a watcher’s profile. The unknown exhibitionist in me stood, turned, then pranced in silhouette for them. I arched and strutted like a schoolgirl in full-flirt mode. A few steps to the left, a few more to the right, shook my hips. Being watched offered a short, greasy thrill heretofore unexperienced. One day the blinds were opened, curtains removed. Empty apartment across the alley. Dang. #817 Roberta asked me to dinner. Told me I brought the wrong color of wine, though it didn’t stay corked. Over dinner she explained about working in a metalwork shop, then went into union organizing. Interesting life the sturdy mid-western gal lived. Thought a movie was on the agenda; Roberta had begun with the right color wine before I arrived, she sat beside me: “I won’t tell.” She rubbed my thigh—I moved. “What won’t you tell?” Tilted her head toward the bedroom door, “Nookie time.” She whispered. “"Let's get one thing straight, I'm not.” I stood. “I’m a queer, gay, homosexual man. Men only.” She stood. “Our secret. I bet you’re a nasty ol’ tin knocker when ya’ get goin’.” Her hand reached toward my belt buckle. “Just close your eyes.” Let myself out. #212 Dave lived in 212, older man, quite a looker if he’d only discover the comb. Mornings he sat in the lobby with Tad listening to a transistor radio—the kind with batteries. Kept up on all the conspiracy theories, right-wing rants in their red, white and blue caps from the ninety-nine-cent store. Visually scanned everyone who walked through for commie garb or peace signs. Dave had his “Commies Destroying the Nation” spiel; don’t get him started. It was Tad that interested me. Quiet, non-combustive, smiled occasionally. I could see Tad’s patio from my window. Afternoons he watched for the school kids get stream toward the building from the bus. Thought it strange that he’d always rinse and hang his boxers, socks and tee shirt over the railing at about the same time. Odd way to perv. Odd until he told me of his youth; immigrant enclave in the Bronx. Odd until he showed me the old photos of his grandparents’ struggles escaping a totalitarian regime. Rinsed boxers weren’t only his memories relived; they honored a family’s tenacity. Daily flew the flag of a family’s perseverance. Lobby Lady Never knew where she lived, tiny woman in flip-flops and a knee-length tee shirt. Lived to complain about other tenants at the front desk. They told her to call the cops, “We screen for serial killers when people apply.” #467 #467 is empty now. Tennant named Snyder finished his degree. Took six disciplined years working full-time, in school at night. When I had extra, I took fruit, a sandwich. Snyder was incredibly handsome. Before graduation, friends came to fill the hallway with boisterous laughter, planning to blow the roof off. Heard the six of them in the lobby that night and watched as they stumbled into the lift, giggling, touching, kissing and almost too loose to stand as they pressed every button. “One night of noise,” I’d excuse their ruckus. Fell asleep on the couch from all their banging on the wall, music didn’t hide their moans. Woke at two, Snyder banging on my door, “You gotta help.” “Are you sick?” Pulled him inside. He leaned close, smelling of rum, “We ran out of lube and…” He made a worried face, “so, we got the peanut butter.” “That’ll work.” “We ran out of peanut butter. It was the strawberry preserves….” #312 312 was between my door and the elevator. Radiated a sweet, sick smell from around the door, like a bottle of old multi-vitamins layered with the thick, human smell of soured sebum. Body unwashed; gauging the stench, never washed. I suspected a hoarder. At the front desk, “Someone lives in 312?” “Yeah.” The woman smirked and turned away, “Men don’t know how to ask for help.” “Does he ever go out?” “Comes to the mailbox at around three in the morning once a week. Has his groceries delivered.” Hesitated calling for a wellness check; privacy’s scarce. Decided to leave a roll of trash bags on his doorknob with a note saying I’d take the filled bags to the chute. Noticed a few dark pellets and new overtones to the smells the next week. Left a box of the sticky mouse traps on the doorknob. Saw and heard nothing. Came home from work one day to find #312 buzzing with people in hazmat suits, filling trash carts. Inside, everything left was covered with a wash of golden yellow. Windows stuck shut, curtains and blinds drawn, fuzzy with dust. Amber-hue walls changed to gray near the kitchen, “Is he okay?” “Left something on the stove, and set off the smoke alarm.” She explained. “His family sent him to a home.” Walls yellowed with apathy, smoke alarm calling for human contact; finally asked for help. #366 Out of milk, I jogged across the parking lot to the bodega, cocoa on my mind. Forgot to change shoes, purple slippers look goofy. If I step fast enough…. “Sir? Sir?” A car pulled close, from the passenger side a young woman called, “Do you live here?” A small child slept on the back seat. “Yes. Why?” “Ask him, Un-ken.” I leaned down: Un-ken had dark hair, warm, brown skin, full face and a thick moustache. Broke a quick sweat and smiled. “Are you looking to lease here?” “A small place till I get reestablished. Hard to find a vacancy.” “Two bedrooms, three?” “Just me. One bedroom’s enough.” Did he almost wink? “There’s a one bedroom open on my floor. Same floor plan, if you want to see the lay out.” I walked around the car. “The previous tenant had it appointed in a charcoal gray and gold motif. Quite sophisticated.” Looked up at the building, “Nice here. Wonderful neighbors, just great.” He got out, glanced at my feet. “Name’s Ken. My niece, Melanie,” then smiled, a wide, bright smile and shook my hand. Leaned into the car, “You two go get donuts while I check this out.” End
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