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Archive for June, 2012

Beatty’s gas station was located next to the First National Bank in the heart of Three Springs. Deb Smith sat on black wooden bench inside the air-conditioned store and smoked Marlboro cigarettes until it was time for her late night shift at a sowing factory to begin. Her shaven white legs, although slightly jaggy to the touch, rested as if on lazy-boy recliner. Deb’s freckled arm moved slowly up and down as a cold soda bottle chilled her skinny lips. Her freshly painted fingernails dripped with dew from Mountain Dew.

The view from that black wooden bench was the best in town. By glaring out a large, glass window, Deb watched every car come and go; of course there was not much traffic in the little town, so keeping an eye on traffic was like baby sitting a kid that slept all day.

At the intersection outside that big window there was one flashing traffic light that coordinative all movement through Three Springs. It blinked red on one side, and flashed yellow on the other, throwing caution to all traffic coming into town from the town of Waterfall.

Deb sat there like a cat all afternoon, just watching cars come and go into the gas station—it was the perfect location to see and be seen by everyone, unlike Deb’s back yard on the outskirts of town where she often sat in a lawn chair woven from synthetic, nylon straps, from which she read thick romance novels under the sun. I could see Deb from my own back yard and often passed her sitting on that chair on my way to play with her son Chris.

“What’s that stuff you are putting on your skin?” I asked, “You are getting really dark.”

“Well, hello, Charlie Taylor,” she said looking up from the book with a nearly naked muscular man on the cover. Deb always greeting me using my full name, “This is a mixture of egg yolks, baby oil and melted butter—it makes a tan last longer,” she explained.

I robbed the junk drawer inside our trailer every morning before heading out the door and over to Chris and Deb’s trailer. Often, my stepfather, while emptying his pockets of ‘junk’ tossed in his unwanted pennies inside the drawer. There were always enough pennies for me to get a mouthful of gumballs sold at the gas station where Deb hung out in and where her son played video games until it was time for the pool to open.

It took an entire quarter to play the popular video games that Chris and almost all the other kids in town were addicted too. Only the quarters that I found at the bottom of the Three Springs pool gave me access to these new technical machines, and I would much rather buy a can of snuff than waste money on a machine that really did not offer anything, other than a few moments of thrills that ended with a sad “Game Over”.

No one was better than Chris Smith on Ms. Pacman—he got the highest score every week. Old man Beatty offered $5 prizes every Friday night to the kid who made the highest score on any of his pinball machines or newer video games.

Randy Marlin, also from a single child household like Chris Smith, had handfuls of quarters to spend on those machines. One Friday afternoon, Chris topped Randy’s high score on Ms. PacMan. Old man Beatty came through a door from behind the cash register counter with a piece of white cardboard—the back side of an empty cigarette carton, and wrote “Chris Smith—160,000’ and hung the card above the video game that Randy Marlin had “dominated” with the high score and little billboard since Monday morning. Randy was angry. He dropped another quarter into the machine and his skinny hand rotated the red joystick like a paintbrush—

“You’re mother’s a fucking whore,” Randy Marlin noted to Chris, rubbing his sweaty hands on his jeans. “Your mother hangs out here all day, picking up any man who she thinks might marry her and feed you. No wonder you can play so fucking good. You have no home to go to, but this dirty old gas station.”

Chris Smith, who had just got a curly perm in his long brown hair giggled at Randy’s comment and replied, “Well at least my dad ain’t a drunk like some people’s. My dad is a photographer for the ‘Daily News’. If ya don’t believe me, go right out there and look at today’s paper. His name is on the front page again,” Chris gave Randy the middle finger as Randy pretended not to see; his skinny white hand rotating that stick a mile a minute.

Chris, plucking his new curls with a pick that “black people used”, turned to me and asked– “Hey Charlie, you want a pop before we go to the pool?”

I knew what Chris was talking about when he offered me a soda—it was not a pop from Beatty’s, that I knew. Chris would never give away a quarter for a soda when he could use it to play Ms Pac Man instead. Chris learned a new trick outside of the video game screen. He could steal cans of soda from a pop machine in front of the Three Springs Fire Hall.

Chris could reach his hand inside the machine, somehow without getting cut, and pull out cans of soda—mostly the brand Mello Yello, because, Chris explained, it was closest to the chute where he could reach over a cold metal bar down into. Chris pulled the beach towel he had around his neck over his head as we walked back outside, under the hot sun.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Mom,” Chris shouted as we left Beatty’s.

Randy never came to the pool with Chris and I, or the rest of the little league team for that matter. It was a well- known fact that although Randy could play second base better than anyone, he could not swim or go under water without holding his nose. He played video games all day instead—just he and Deb Smith inside that cool store as the daylight hours passed.

Every time Randy Marlin, who was no fish, ran back to the store counter for more quarters, there she was—Deb Smith with her feet up, drinking another orange or grape soda, just staring out that window as if the world itself was a video game. It made him sick, in a way, the way she was, not a good housewife like his own mother. Randy hated swimming, and more than that, he hated the fact that Deb, Chris’s mom, hung out at Beatty’s with him all day.

“Hey, there, Randy Marlin,” Deb said. “You were good in the little league game yesterday. I saw you hit that double.”

“I’ve been having trouble with my wrist, that’s why it wasn’t a homer,” Randy explained, holding up his skinny arm to show off a new pair of sweatbands he was wearing.

On hot afternoons with the rest of his friends and team at the pool, Randy stayed inside that air conditioned, windowless arcade, wiping his head with those sweat bands, and permitting his mind to roam within the graphics of the fancy new game in town—his pencils and brushes were now somewhere in a box under his bed. HIs creativity had been re-focused due to technology. He was now obsessed on topping a new high score, one that would last even after the machine was unplugged at night.

Deb just waited there, watching out that window for a car to come down the hill and pass through the intersection with the flashing yellow light—Ms Pac Man she was, in a way, at least according to Randy Marlin.

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Barbie Walker worked as a lifeguard at the Three Springs pool. She sat atop a fiberglass lifeguard chair with her nose high up in the air. A silver whistle on a black string hung around her sunburned neck and balanced, like a big cubic zirconia, atop a firm set of breasts that seemed like flotation devices that kids in the baby pool floated around on.

Barbie, along with the other lifeguards at the Three Springs pool, had one resource, besides their whistles, that enabled them to keep kids in- line and safe in the water. If a child was caught breaking one of several rules of the community pool, a lifeguard, instead of spanking a child, could ‘bench’ them. This meant that misbehaving sunbathers had to sit on one of many wooden benches that surrounded the water for as long as was dictated by the lifeguard.

All of my friends had at one time or another been ‘benched’ by Barbie Walker. The boys taunted her often and it was a water sport of sorts, to piss her off and make her blow hard on her whistle. Barbie never had a reason to seat me upon one of the hard benches. My time at the pool was spent perfecting what were called ‘can openers’ —a cannonball of sorts, where when I landed, I grabbed my right leg at the knee and entered the water with just my left toe. Upon submersion, I leaned slightly back, causing a gigantic splash that often reached as far as the lifeguard stand where Barbie sat keeping a close eye on things.

When I came up for air, Barbie always smiled. It seemed the drops of cool water were refreshing to the lifeguard. I watched as she leaned over to rub the cool droplets all over her legs coated in Coppertone sunscreen. The whistle would drop from its resting place between her boobs, and for one brief moment, I’d stare in hopes that her floatation devises would pop out of her tight spandex one-piece.

Breezes warmed by the sun and filtered through miles of wooded mountains caressed the chlorinated water and warmed my dripping skin as I stood atop the highest dive at the Three Springs pool. A mower in the distance made rounds across the town ball field and the scent of freshly cut grass caused my stomach to growl. All the black pieces of crud that had collected under my humungous toenails throughout the long winter had magically disappeared. I felt so alive, preparing for my next and greatest maneuver. My toes sparkled like Barbie’s teeth as I stood atop the twelve foot high diving board waiting for the diver in front of me to reach the ladder.

An old man named Michael Zimmerman was always at the diving board when I worked to perfect my “can opener”. Other kids in town called Mike “a crazy old man” because he did a trick on the diving board. He stood on his head for long periods of time at the very edge of the board and slowly, he would permit his body to fall over into the blue water below. He could stand on his head for what seemed like hours, and at times, he only fell over into the water when Barbie blew her whistle at him. What mesmerized me most about old Mike Zimmerman was his ability to stay under water for long periods of time following his unusual entries into the crystal blue water.

The water under the dives, like the high dive itself, was twelve feet deep at the section of the pool where the diving boards were. When the pool first opened for the day, before waves covered the surface of the once tranquil, shimmering oasis and the surface of the water was smooth, like Barbie’s near perfect complexion, one could see an array of coins that had fallen from the pockets of cut- off Toughskin jeans that most of the kids in town wore. The zippers were not prone to rusting and on several occasions, the Baptist and Methodist children of town received second and third circumcisions.

I was always the first in line at the high dive when the pool opened sharply at 1 pm. I’d coordinate my jump perfectly and permit my body to enter the perfectly still water in a straight line. I sank quickly to the bottom and I would grab as many quarters as my little hands could hold.

I asked Mike Zimmerman one sunny day how he managed to stay under water for so long.

“I can teach you, but it will take you all summer to learn,” he promised.

“Teach me, please,” I begged. “I’ll give you some of my french fries,” I offered, holding out a small cardboard container of the hot, greasy potatoes that were only seventy-five cents at the pool. The fries were incredibly good at the pool. I put enough vinegar and salt on mine to kill an ant—which is what I often did after finishing my fries while laying on my beach towel in the grass, watching a tiny world unfold under my nose where everything seemed so busy and none of the tiny black and red ants seemed to want to swim. Before learning to dive for quarters, I spent many summers at the pool as a poor, broke, white boy with a bad haircut watching other children eat them in pure bliss. Our mother could afford only to give her three oldest sons a quarter a piece for food at the pool—that quarter was spent on Flava-Ices—frozen Kool Aid in a long, plastic straw. I knew as a little boy with an order of those fries, one could convince anyone to do anything for them.

“Are you sure you don’t want to learn to do a head-stand before you learn to stay under water for a long time?” Mr. Zimmerman asked.

“I can already stand on my head,” I explained. It was true. I once broke the head stand record at my elementary school. I managed to stand on my head for eight minutes before the gym coach told me to stop because I had shattered the previous record held by Brett Hershey by nearly three minutes and my face had turned a horrible beet red.

“It’s all about the breathing,” Mr. Zimmerman explained reaching for one of my soggy yet tangy fries. I want you to practice taking as much air into your lungs as possible and when you think you can’t possibly take any more air in, take in a little more. Then, leave it all out and do it again, over and over. Practice that exercise regularly, everywhere you are, not only here at the pool. You see, the trick is to make your lungs expand.”

I followed Mike Zimmerman’s instructions perfectly. All summer long, while other boys were taunting Barbie in her lifeguard chair, I practiced the art of taking more and more air into my little lungs. I found that I could easily swim the entire length of the pool without coming up for air, and when I made those deep dives down for quarters, I no longer felt as if I would die before returning to the surface.

One evening, just after Mike Zimmerman completed a head stand that was broken by Barbie’s loud whistle, the old man shared a little more advice in regards to the art of staying under water for long periods of time—

“Now I want you to focus on being calm while under water. Don’t swim frantically. Move your arms and legs slowly—you see, every time you move an arm or a leg, your body uses up oxygen. Keep your mind calm too—that also uses up oxygen,” he explained rubbing my shaggy and stiff, chlorinated hair.

Mike Zimmerman’s secrets to staying underwater worked. I found myself at the bottom of the twelve foot section of the pool for minutes at a time—my secret was to grab hold of a metal drain that was down there; by doing this, I did not have to move any of my body parts. I made a fortune that summer. I found gold jewelry that I swore one day I would give to a wife and I had even found the gold class ring that handsome, Brad Rupert lost while doing fancy dives in an effort to impress Barbie Walker.

When I returned the expensive ring to Brad, he was angry because he said it had a gold chain on it and he swore I had stolen it.

One busy day at the pool when the water was cloudy due to too much baby oil being used by sunbathers, I decided to stay under water for as long as was humanly possible. One of the rules of the diving section of the pool was that before diving or jumping from the board, one had to wait until the individual who went before made it to a metal ladder near the lifeguard stand. Kids were jumping in over top of me. I was at the bottom, holding onto the drain for a very long time. As time slowly passed, I turned over on my back while holding my nose and released a bit of the huge breath I had in my lungs. After releasing a large portion of my deep breath, I learned the weight of the water was enough to keep me from naturally floating to the top. I watched the divers come and go above me. The beauty of the bodies was like nothing I had ever seen. What made the moment magical was that I thought no one could see me, way down there.

After finally returning to the surface, I learned that Barbie Walker, for the first time in her lifeguard career, had actually crawled down from under her big, tarp umbrella and lifeguard chair—

“Don’t ever, ever, ever do that again!” she yelled, “I thought you were dead,” she shouted with tears in her eyes. Now get on that bench for at least an hour. I should have you kicked out of here for that little trick, mister.”

It was not only Barbie standing at the pool’s edge with her hand on her hip. It seemed the entire town was there waiting for me to come up. One of the kids shouted, “Ya big show off!”

“What’s the big deal?” I asked. “What are you all looking at me like that?” I asked, trying to stay afloat with a large sum of coins in both hands.

“We thought you were dead,” my friend, Brian Hoffman explained, “How the heck did you do that?”

“Buy me some French fries while I’m here on the bench, and I’ll tell ya.”

The entire first string from the town’s little league team sat there listening to me explain the secrets of staying underwater forever…”Don’t think about nothing. Just stay calm. Take just a little bit of breath in your lungs—don’t over inflate them. You don’t want to do that—just little baby breaths,” I explained.

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An insatiable craving for fresh Jersey cucumbers led to unending belching in my sleep last night. As I slept face-up, dreams of the Vlasic pickle stork turned to nightmares, before dawn, I was pregnant and because I did not have a womb, I was spitting green babies out of my mouth. 

The cucumber patches we grew in Three Springs were my favorite part of the garden. After a good rain, these long green melons melted in one’s mouth. 

In early June, we had to pick pickles every morning. The rate at which the vines produced was staggering. My brother Bill and I filled several ten gallon buckets each day. We sat on the porch swing with a salt and pepper shaker and ate cucumbers until we grew tired of the seeds and spit them out, as if these green vegetables were watermelons. 

Our mother canned the most succulent of pickles—sweet ones—tons of cucumbers were sliced lengthways and packed into jars with water and vinegar and a spice called “pickling spice” that if eaten raw caused the peach fuzz on one’s ball’s to stand up straight. The pickles were cooked in a pressure cooker. All afternoon the pressure cooker whistled. The smell of sweet and sour filled the hot, humid air of our mother’s kitchen. 

For supper in mid-June, there was always a big bowl of sliced cucumbers and onions drenched in vinegar on the table. Mom’s big orange Tupperware bowl was nearly overflowing. “Enough of that deer steak, finish up these cucumbers, you know there will be a million more by morning,” she ordered, holding the same wooden spoon she cracked our “skinny asses” with when we were bad. 

Cucumbers are 3 for $2 now—that’s more expensive than shrimp or lobster when considering how fast they grow. 

I got to get more today. It’s such an insatiable craving. 

I must really be pregnant. 

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Watch out for thorns when entering the offices of Dr. Paul Roses in Bayonne, NJ.

 
Although the doctor who casts out demons wears glasses with pink frames and has an office adorned with scripture from the Bible, there is a certain evil that lurks over the large grey house along Avenue C, and it seems he is obsessed at having people bow down to him.

 
Dr. Roses called me last Friday evening at 9 p.m. and invited me to be interviewed for a job as receptionist at his clinic. It seemed odd to receive a call about a job so late at night, but nevertheless, I agreed to attend an interview on Saturday morning.

 
Nearly a week passed before I heard back from the pain in the ass, but Dr. Roses called again the following Tuesday and insisted that I start a “working interview” the following day. “We’ll start you out at $12 an hour”, he promised.

 
Training was vigorous on Wednesday in Bayonne. I learned that Dr. Roses “hired” several other individuals for his “working interview”. Like slaves, we called a list of patients who had missed appointments. We  attempted to have these suckers come back in for another chiropractic visit. I felt like a whore on 42nd Street trying to pick up trade on a Sunday morning.

 
While calling until our ears nearly melted, the trainees discovered that Dr. Roses was still interviewing additional candidates for his “receptionist position”.  Poor, desperate job seekers poured in. Every nervous trainee who came in for an interview was forced to sit in a cramped waiting room and watch a long-winded commercial featuring the ugly doctor. Dr. Roses bloomed on camera, he  ran his mouth repeatedly for a half hour about back pain. In the made-for-waiting room commercial, Dr. Roses explained the details on demon exorcisms by using a term” luxations” to refer to these legions that possess seemingly everyone in the trashy town in Jersey, just east of Elizabeth.

 
An obese receptionist who has been working in this seedy weed-patch for several years tossed a clipboard at an African American interviewee who she obviously didn’t like. There was something about her nastiness towards this person that nearly caused me to walk out of the office and “quit” on Wednesday.  I should have followed my instinct. Before leaving on Wednesday evening, the severely obese receptionist whose backbone is buried under flesh thicker than Dr. Roses pink glasses, turned away from her intense training exercises and asked me if I had any children.

 
“No, and I don’t want any,” I replied, jokingly.

 
“Well, you are gay, are you not?” she asked. I was floored. Suddenly my back hurt and I got what was my first headache in years. It seemed that demons were being cast out of patients who came and went throughout the day, and we, the half-dozen or so interviewees were there simply for the chiropractor and his demon possessed assistant to release the demonic forces into. My head hurt like pure hell.

 

 

Something’s weird and evil about this place, I thought. Why such hate? I wondered.

 
I learned on Friday morning, upon arrival at the doctor’s office after an hour commute on the bus,  that I was supposed to have been there by 8:30 a.m.  so that the doctor could quiz me on what I had learned the previous day during my “paid interview” and training exercise with Linda Blair.  Apparently, the receptionist neglected to share this information with me. I explained that I was unaware that I was supposed to come in a half hour early.  I was, after all, fifteen minutes early for what I was told was my normal “work schedule” late last Sunday night.

 

 

I wondered if my sexuality had something to do with not getting the job.
“Here,” the creepy doctor said while handing me a $10 gift card for a local convenience store, “this is for your car fare, I have to let you go.”
“Will I be paid for yesterday?” I asked.

 
The non MD pretended he never promised to pay me for our “working interview”. He looked down at my hand through is gay glasses at the plastic card he had placed there  as if he had just given me a back rub.

 

 

May you burn in hell, mother-fucker, I thought, and simply smiled as I walked out of there.

 

I decided to do a little marketing for the quack who cracks backs for a living. In his ad for a job, he did note that he was seeking someone with “marketing experience.”

 

 

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The river in Three Spring becomes a stream in June. Spring rains come to an end, honeysuckles bloom, and wild raspberries ripen along the bank of what people in Central Pennsylvania call “the crick”.

Trout that were raised on trout farms were stocked by the fish commission in March. The fish with rainbow scales are all mostly caught by the end of April, but a few still survive in summer’s shallow waters and seem to turn their noses up at worms.

Near the ball field in town, where the crick runs next to the town swimming pool, there is a limestone cavern. Access to the cave is possible only by crossing the stream atop slippery rocks covered in a green moss that seems to grow only as an effort by nature to keep the kids in town away from that dark, wet cave.

This was where every boy in town smoked his first cigarette. Across the river we waded, taking off our sneakers with a thrill in our heart that seemed to cool only by the chilling water washing over our toes.

The cave was much too dark to explore. We crawled through a narrow opening of the cave located just inches away from the stream—our bellies turning black from crick dirt. Chris Smith carried a box of wooden matches. Total darkness was pierced by the zap of a struck match. In less than ten seconds, a world that was always black turned bright.

A red ember traveled about in the darkness. Little hands, all in training to catch a baseball, reached for the little glowing sun that bounced among stalactites.

“What was that?” Robbie Garlock asked.

“It sounds like the wind,” I replied, exhaling.

“I hear this cave goes on for miles. One time, Jimmy Romic’s dad rented scuba diving gear and disappeared in here for two whole days,” Chris explained, lighting another match. “They say he came out two miles from here on a farm in Saltillo. He said he saw paintings on the walls inside, and there are places where there is no air and you can almost die.”

Quickly we ran from the cave, gasping for air, the sun striking our faces like a match. Randy Marlin bumped the big head atop his skinny body, and shouted a curse word that none of us were old enough to use.

Into the water of the crick we waded, one behind the other. One little kick with my bare foot and it seemed the whole town was in a water battle. The smell of smoke on our clothes had vanished and our childhood fear of the dark seemed to be left across the crick inside that cave that smelled like dead trout.

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