Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"The Paper Boys"

I'm in a mood today.

So here's a stream-of-consciousness piece I started writing some time ago while outlining a possible novel idea. It's a little rough, but I hope you can look through the grammatical and syntax errors and connect with the burgeoning story...

* * * * *

The Paper Boys

The crickets sing to me.

Thirty generations ago, their ancestors sang me to sleep with the very same song. Like lake water lapping or the surrogate hum of an electric fan, the crickets' summer lullaby was the white noise of my youth. Many nights I lay atop our garage, staring into the twinkling solemnity of the night sky; the crickets were the incidental music, playing to me softly, rhythmically, hypnotically erasing the troubles of my day. Their's was the sonatta that bid me escape.

I'll never kill a cricket.

I sit here tonight on the grassy hillock just across the street from the corner house where I grew up. I've been still long enough that the crickets closest to me have begun chirping again. This very spot used to be our neighbor's front yard, or at least a part of it. Now it's a small steep slope running up to the barrier that separates my old street from the new freeway.

The moon wanes and the bright crispness of the stars belies the warm weather, foretelling the coming of autumn. Midnight dew has left a fine sheen of wetness along the tips of the grass, and I don't care that the seat of my suit pants are probably indelibly grass stained.

Burgundy has replaced the avacado green trim, but the body of the house is still painted white.

My house.

I never owned it, never made a single mortagage payment on the place, I do not live there now - nor have I in some twenty-five years, but I claim it as my own. Parts of me are still in there. And sitting here tonight, I wonder if there is ever a way to reclaim the lost and missing pieces of my childhood locked inside those walls. It is said that places can take on the charcter of the people who lived there and loved it. A chill runs up the back of my neck on the tail of that thought.

It's one A.M.

My pipe has long since gone cold. I tap out the ashen tobacco against the side of my brown wing tips. The crickets go silent. In habit, I raise the bowl to my lips and blow a quick, susinct puff of air into the cavity, then run my little finger along the inside, checking for any stray ash. A pipe, of all things. Who'd've thought that I would be a pipe-smoker? "The little kid without a dad grows up all distinguished," says nobody.

I'd smoke a cigar like the rest of the guys down at the club, but I really hate the taste. The pipe, though, is different. How many thirty-something businessmen smoke a pipe? Not many. To me it lends an air of...singularity, individuality. No - legibility. All intellectuals smoke pipes, right? I'm not really trying to be something I'm not, but I do have to keep telling myself that it makes me look studiously elegant. Aloof yet readable. When I first bought it I stood in front of the mirror and worked at just the right way to hold the thing in my teeth. Ahh... vanity is still alive and well! All that's needed to complete the facade is a cardigan and some argyle socks.

With a wry smile to myself I return the pipe to it's place inside the pocket of the suitcoat I left lying in a clumsy bundle on the grass. I'm not a smoker. Not really. But I like the picture it makes. Were my pipe a woman, it would chide me for not taking it out more often.

They do that a lot. Women - not pipes. The nurturing gender are expert at doling out grief. With the slightest provocation they lash out. Then leave. I can almost believe that they care of nothing other than self, feigning love and faking orgasms. Thespians all. Wives and mothers; mothers and wives. They act out their daily routines as dutiful domestics and coddling moms, all the while, deep down inside, hidden out of site, is their well-laid-out plan of escape. Apathy and abandonment.

A distant siren shakes me out of my reverie. "My God! Listen to the bile coming out of me!" I say out loud. And I stand and brush the loose grass off my ass, disgusted by my own mental gymnastics.

A car slowly comes up the street and rounds the corner. I quickly sit back down so I won't look like some strange guy wandering around their neighborhood - as if sitting here will look any better. I clasp my hands around one knee, and nod to reassure them of my harmlessness as the headlights pass over me. After all, this is my neighborhood, my house. But they aren't my neighbors. I'm an outsider to them. An alien.

They drive on.

So why am I so drawn to them... to women, that is? Why am I so distraught over the loss of another one? It's obvious I don't believe my own misogynistic words. They're just the machinations of a hurt, bitter mind. I love women, I just don't know how to make them want to stay.

I stand again, throw my suitcoat over my shoulder and step into the empty street. The warm yellow glow of the humming street lamp illuminates a circle around me, reminding me of refuge.

The breeze stirs, resurrecting another sound from my childhood, this one long forgotten. The leaves of the twin poplars in my front yard dance and rustle on the moving air. The thought occurs to me that I've never seen a poplar since I moved away from this house when I was thirteen. Funny.

I stand here in the middle of the quiet street and close my eyes, listening to the leaves. You can almost imagine the sound of a gentle surf or the prattling of a hard, straight rain on a mid-summer sidewalk. The sound is dissimilar to, yet mimicks the dulcient undertone decible of a bagpipe echoing in some distant glen.

A little boy lying on a garage roof; the stars; the crickets; poplar leaves on the breeze. It's like a layered canvas. Oil upon oil, color upon color, building a translucient picture. Creating a place I want to be. A place I wish I could run to. A Yeatsian wattle and daub cottage.

I open my eyes. Reality.

The pebbly asphalt crinkles under the soles of my shoes, amplified in the quiet of the wee hours. Ever notice how sound echoes more at night? At this moment and in this place, it intensifies both the emptiness of the street, and the welcomness of the nostalgic grassy yard before me. I want to take off my shoes and socks and run through my old lawn.

I exercise better judgement.

All my life I've been running somewhere. Driven to escape. From what I don't know. Wherever I run, it all comes with me. It's a part of me. There is no escape, there is only acceptance and resolution. Absense of pain is the core of denial.

I'm standing in front of my old house in search of something. It is so buried that I can't get my fingers on it. It is out of reach, hiding in the dark.

I don't even know why I'm here.

I turn away from the yard and round the corner, heading back to the neighborhood park a block away where I left my car. At least I got the car. Well, it was mine before the marriage. And I got the stereo. Isn't that all a guy needs anyway? A car, and a stereo? Oh...and a bed...?

Up ahead, my old Mercedes stands out in the dark. It just now occurs to me that it was manufactured the same year I moved away from my old house. The Germans painted their iconoclastic automobiles some pretty wild colors that year. My '74 is a light yet luminescent sky blue, almost white. As I make my way up the street it beacons me back to the present.

The deja' vu here is nearly overwhelming.

Standing on the street-side of the car, I shove my hands in my pockets and gaze over the roof and across the field to the playground where I spent so much time while growing up. Rain or shine, summer or winter my friends and I would meet almost daily at Bellvue Park. Park Board sports and activities in the summer months kept us busy and out of our mothers' hair. An ice rink and warming house during the frigid Minnesota winters kept us from getting cabin fever. Two slides, a jungle gym, a swingset and two sandboxes were the park's compliment.

Along the western perimeter of Bellvue ran an eight-foot-tall chain link fence dividing the park from what we kids called, "The Woods." The Woods, was in actuality, a triple city lot that up to the mid-seventies, despite it's urban location, had survived development. It had one old boarded-up turquoise-colored house in the middle that we all considered haunted, therefore unapproachable. Today there are three modern homes on the site.

When I was a kid, there were dirt paths running through the Woods. We'd sail through there on our bikes with the banana seats, avoiding the path that took us closest the old haunted house, and come flying out where the Woods met the park's chain link fence. In order to miss the fence, the dirt path veered out onto the street, which was relatively quiet, and relatively safe. But one day a kid came flying out of the Woods and into an oncoming car.

Looking down at the pavement below my feet, I realize I'm standing on the exact spot where Billy Hornschemeier passed into cold eternity.

I shake off the chill and utter a brief silent prayer for the anonymous woman who sat weeping in shock in her big black car that afternoon. All of us kids gathered around and silently watched Billy's face turn grey, and his eyes turn to glass. It was the first time I had seen death up close.

* * *

...and that's about it for now...

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