Category Archives: Stories

Losing Streak

4d1af14e7a807236f29adf88b0bf7128After negotiating the weekend parking menace for ten minutes, I meet him out front. I don’t notice right away that our shirts are nearly an identical match, but it’s early and people are sober. Two pale white men of a certain age wearing lightly checked button-downs in a Cuban cigar bar isn’t the kind of thing likely to go unnoticed for long.

I scan the room; Jeffrey gawks. I tell him to occasionally allow his eyes to drift off target and not to move his neck and torso when he wants to have a better look at someone. “It’s rudimentary field craft,” I joke without much enthusiasm. He follows the instructions, but his movements are slow and mechanical, giving him the appearance of a particularly pervy automaton. He becomes distracted by the cigar case, and it’s like a jolt of electricity speeds up his moving parts. He draws the attention of an attendant, asks a few questions while pointing an index finger at the glass, and selects something that isn’t Cuban, but is probably passable. Continue reading

Rapture Delayed

tumblr_miyuutKkeP1qf5ca3o1_2501. This past week, an acquaintance, a Facebook friend with whom I’d spoken to on the phone and engaged with on Facebook in the polite ways you engage with folks you’ve never met in real life, was murdered. A victim of stalking and domestic violence. She is survived by her young son. I don’t know how to respond to that.

2. Back in the early 1980s, my paternal grandmother was reunited with a sister from whom she had been separated since childhood, when the sister was an infant. So they had never really met. Then, sixty-five years later, they did. I vaguely remember photographs taken in front of the restaurant my parents managed at the time. I don’t know if they kept in touch after that.

3. A student of mine from 2004 became my friend on Facebook not long after our student-teacher relationship was over. We never hung out outside the classroom, but we kept in touch, commenting on each other’s posts, “like”ing this and that. One year I dropped him a line wishing him a happy birthday. A few days later, I received a note from his roommate that he had passed away. What else to say?

4. In late 2010, I began seeing a therapist/counselor about my various personal problems. He was a retired attorney and self-appointed addiction expert and a hell of a nice guy. I met with him once a week and we ended up talking about movies a lot of the time. One Friday evening, I was at Stacey’s house, visiting E., doing our normal dinner and bedtime routine when my phone rang. The number was unfamiliar, but for some reason I answered it. It was my therapist’s wife, calling to inform me that just two hours earlier, Brad had passed away, so our appointment was canceled. She was just going through his appointment book, calling people, one by one. I think it was helping her to maintain, or maybe she was still in shock. She sounded both very calm and very devastated. Turns out he spotted a young man trying to burglarize a car (not his car) outside his office building. He yelled at the man, sprinted down the stairs, and chased the burglar down an alley, while dialing the police during his pursuit. By the time the police arrived a few minutes later, they found Brad, lying in the alley, phone in hand, dead from a sudden heart attack.

5. I think about death every day but am not morose.
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Two Stories From “Pretty Much Dead

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IN RE: Citation #31312035T

Dear Municipal Transit Authority (MTA):

I am writing to you today in regards to Citation #31312035T. I have enclosed a copy of said citation. I am asking that you please dismiss the citation and the $100 fine.

MTA, about 39 years ago, there was a little girl in Harvey’s Drugstore in Manlius, New York. You have probably not heard of either the town or the store. Manlius is a small town, though it was ranked #98 on CNN’s top places to live in 2005. I don’t think it was that good 39 years ago, except maybe in Harvey’s Drugstore: There were jars of all sorts of candy sticks lined up one next to the others. Peppermint, sure, but there was also orange, and lemon, and cherry, and licorice, and anything you can imagine, in colors too magical to be anything except candy.

In this story, 39 years ago, a 4-year-old girl asked her mother for a candy stick. Because it was close to dinner, the mother said no. The little girl darkened like a cloud.

The little girl — angry and full of desire so strong it was stronger, even, than reason or fear – put four sticks of candy in her dress pocket. The cunning girl slid down to the floor of the station wagon’s leathery red backseat rapturously. The radio played Fleetwood Mac, but not loudly enough: Her mother heard the plastic crinkling in her daughter’s hands. She turned the car around. The girl was marched into the drugstore, spitting an apology through her tears, paying for the candy with sticky hands. She did not have that kind of money. It took weeks for her to work off the candy money with chores. It took weeks more for the tears to stop.

MTA, that little girl was me. In the 39 years since then, I have not stolen a thing. This is not because I am good. I have done some really, really horrible things in my life — far worse than, say, accidentally not paying a transit fare. I have broken hearts. I have told lies. I have cheated at Monopoly. I have done shameful things that hurt other people and caused damage that I will never begin to repair. But, MTA, I can pay you the fare that I somehow didn’t pay when I got on that morning. You will find a check for $2 attached. Please take this check in lieu of the $100 requested, because:

  1. If you check my fare history, you will see that, like clockwork, I pay a morning fare to get to work, and I pay a fare to get home from work. Every day. Why would I suddenly decide it was time to skip a day?

  1. Fare Inspectors are waiting at the station when I exit. They’re there every day. They’d be hard to miss in their fluorescent yellow jackets.

  1. I pay a $2 fare. Does it REALLY make sense that I would suddenly risk a $100 fine for $2? There was $38.75 on my transit card. Why wouldn’t I pay?

  1. Let’s put it all together: Maybe I decided not to pay the fare EVEN THOUGH I HAD MONEY on my card AND I KNEW there would be Fare Inspectors AND I ALWAYS GET CAUGHT WHEN I DO SOMETHING WRONG, or I was somehow distracted or unaware that I didn’t pay the fare, because: Continue reading