Together We Sit Alone

Charles River Sparkles 2016

First light skips from the surface of the Charles River, tossing sparkles in its wake.

The hour remains quiet, the murmur of early morning traffic across the river soothing.

Sitting on a favorite bench I rub palms over painted wood planks, still cool from evening air. Moisture clings to exposed skin, sticky like a healing balm.

The earthen path before the bench remains quiet, trodden by only ants, frogs, a beetle and me.

To my rear, church bells mark the passage of time in Harvard Square.

Over the opposite bank of the Charles, day breaks like a stick bent too far, splintering light across nature’s mirror.

As sunlight tumbles over stretching trees I close my eyes. Bright light leaks through shuttered eyelids. The levee breaks, and the world becomes pink.

I sit in silence.

I sit alone.

Then, soundlessly, someone approaches from the left.

And with eyes shut tight I do not see the interloper. The approach is silent, transparent.

It’s not that I hear the stealthy presence. I sense it, a tug growing stronger as the sun pours over me.

All about seems to vibrate. The vibration – not unlike the rumble of a subway train underfoot – drifts through me with a shudder.

And just like that the feeling’s gone.

Pebbles click and clack.

The sound of feet shuffling along the dirt path confirms the visitor is near.

And taking a peek I spy a shadow to my left.

Backlit by pouring sunlight a slender man comes into focus.

My squinting eyes adjust as the stranger approaches.

I take his measure.

Hands clasped before his chest, the stranger glides to a stop before the bench. I cannot help but notice the man’s bare feet, finely powdered by the dusty path. His brown feet are well worn, as if hardened by a lifetime of wandering. My gaze drifts up baggy pants. They’re faded and stitched at the right knee and draped gently around a hungry man’s waist. A rope, cinched in a perfect knot, keeps the oversized pants from falling. His bright white shirt is buttoned haphazardly, exposing chocolatey skin and a wiry body. Around his head a halo forms as uncoiling sunlight leaps from his shoulders.

His chin hangs low, resting on his chest. He seems to study the path before the bench, or perhaps, he prays. His face remains hidden in a shadow of his own making.

Homeless, I assume.

And raising his head to face me he spreads hands wide.

Bright pink palms are sullied with jagged scars. Deep puncture wounds, long ago healed.

Startled by the ugliness of the stranger’s scars my head jerks up to catch his face, framed by a thicket of sunlit hair.

The stranger takes my measure.

“May I sit?” he asks. His voice is soft, confident.

As he speaks a breeze blows along the river, scenting the air with warm earth.

His is not the voice of a homeless man.

I cast my right hand over the empty portion of the bench.

The stranger bows before taking a seat just to my right.

As he sits I cannot help but notice the scent of fresh cut grass, my favorite smell.

He offers a quick smile before stiffening his spine to stare across the river.

Together, we sit in silence.

Together, we sit alone.

After some time he tilts his head to face my direction. And feeling the weight of his gaze I turn to my right.

From two feet away he admires me without restraint.

His face is smooth, graceful.

His cheeks, high.

His nose is Roman, broad and regal.

His eyes are two black pools, timeless.

And staring into his eyes I fall in.

He whispers; so softly I am forced to lean forward to catch his words.

Slowly, deliberately, he traces an arc with his left hand over the expanse of the river. “It’s all so very beautiful, yet at the same time, so very painful, isn’t it?”

He leans in before continuing, “Life, I mean.”

I nod my agreement.

Placing a hand across his chest he bobs his head. “If you don’t mind me asking, if you could live forever would you?”

I spit a piece of dust from my lower lip before cocking my head toward the stranger. I frown.

“I see. Perhaps a bit too painful at this point in time?”

My head moves up and down.

“I understand.” He looks away, speaking to the river, “It should be lovely; full of love. But it’s not, is it?”

Staring ahead I do not answer. The stranger draws a slow breath.

“You know, my friend, I see you. I see all of you. Even as I look away.”

I offer a modest shrug.

The stranger sits still as a pair of ducks drift along the river. He juts a sharp chin toward the ducks. “Love; perhaps the greatest gift.”

When I do not answer he shakes his head, as if saddened by my lack of response. “The opportunity for love is so often squandered. The simple beauty of that precious sensation so often overlooked.”

And watching the ducks I nod my head.

The stranger snaps his fingers. The sound is substantial, like that of a snapping branch.

As if electrocuted, the ducks spring from the water. And soaring from the river they hurtle toward the sun, disappearing into the light.

He chuckles. “Just a little parlor trick.”

Impressed, I give him a smirk.

He clears his throat. He clears it so roughly I assume he’s going to spit onto the dusty path.

But no.

Shifting on the bench he squares his shoulders to face me. “You’re the writer, aren’t you?”

My eyebrows float upward.

He points to my chest. “Your shirt. I saw the logo on your shirt. I mean, there aren’t too many GTMO t-shirts running around Cambridge. I knew it was you.”

I move my head in the affirmative.

“And do you know who I am?”

I shake my head no.

He smiles, amused. “All in good time.”

And growing weary of this game of 20 questions I look away.

The stranger sighs. “Deep inside we all have reason to be sad.”

He taps the bench lightly. “This is the place from which you wrote the story Broken, is it not?”

I stare into the stranger’s black eyes, now narrowed like those of a predator.

And registering my unease he holds hands high so palms face me. In the glare of morning sun his scars are red and angry.

“I mean no harm, writer. I mean look at me. Like you, am I not broken?”

Looking around he continues, though now in a whisper, “Truth is, we are all broken.”

He takes his right index finger and presses it firmly against the scar marking his left palm. “As time passes though, we heal.” He eyes me before continuing, “If we allow it to be so.”

He smiles; like how a father might at a child struggling through a lesson.

“You’re no Philistine are you?”

He answers his own question with a quick nod before continuing, “It’s through art that we capture moments of beauty, those fleeting moments of love.”

He pauses for a moment. “We live – and endure our pain – for those precious moments in life, don’t we?”

It’s not so much a question as a statement so I do not respond. I cast my eyes about, catching the light as it skips and dances along the smooth surface of the Charles.

Silence returns to find the space between us.

The interloper leans forward as if to look past the invisible presence joining us on the bench.

He whispers, “I adored her long before you, my friend.”

I look to him, confused.

He smiles knowingly. “Silence, my friend, silence. I must confess I love her too.”

I look away as silence, embarrassed and bashful, takes her leave.

The wind rustles green leaves behind our bench.

Propping elbows on my knees I cover my face with open palms. My hands are warm and sticky against my face.

Again the stranger clears his throat. He speaks softly and as he does the trees, the river, the world about grow quiet. “When you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid.”

The words hum and vibrate as they join moisture, clinging tight to exposed skin.

The stranger pauses before continuing, “Oh, I do like that verse, my little one.”

He touches my right shoulder with his warm palm and, seeing me look up, points across the river. “Look. For you.”

My hands fall from my face.

There, on the opposite bank of the Charles, I spy my mother and father. Standing together for the first time in 15 years. They hold hands, radiant under morning’s first light. Their shoulders touch, bumping affectionately. Their demeanor is that of high school sweethearts. Mom stands on tip toes to kiss Dad’s cheek. And as is his habit, he scrunches shoulders tight and squirms, embarrassed at the show of public affection.

Unable to speak, I float upward.

Standing before the bench my right hand covers a gaping mouth.

Turning to the stranger I find him sitting cross-legged, eyes closed. He beams as if consumed by a movie now playing on the inside of his skull. Then, sensing my stare, he looks to me and smiles broadly.

He snaps his fingers.

All around, the sound of snapping wood.

I do not look across the river for I know they are gone.

The stranger taps the bench, inviting me to return. “Please, join me.”

Stunned, I obey.

As I sit the stranger leans toward me as if in conspiracy. “They’re here, with us.”

He throws his hands wide, nearly striking me in the chest. “They’re all here.”

His eyes sparkle as sunlight reflects from bottomless pools.

He speaks with authority, the trees swaying in time with his words.

“I am who is and who was, and who is to come.”

He smiles, satisfied, before continuing, “We have a bit in common, you know. Like you, I’m a Messenger.” He adds with a smirk, “Though perhaps we operate on different scales.”

His demeanor changes as he leans toward me. He rests his hands across his lap.

“Perhaps now you know who I am.”

And though I do not speak, inside my head I say it.

The stranger’s eyes narrow. “Of all the things to think of me you think of me as a murderer?”

I hesitate, unable to move my head.

Like the world about, I’m shaking.

Coursing blood pounds my eardrums. My heart races as the stranger places a hand over his heart. “Perhaps I am. Yet, my needs are far reaching, little one.”

He looks away before continuing, “And do you know what I need right now?”

Shivering like an animal exposed as prey I move my head slightly.

“It’s not money. Or power. Or glory. But you know that. I need to be treated with dignity; ‘like a human’ as you say. I need to feel warm inside. And not so empty.”

And recognizing such needs I struggle to hold it together on this bench on the banks of the Charles. Collecting myself I nod in agreement.

He smiles, though this time his smile wanes like the morning moon.

“I see you. And I see you are alone and trying to fill an empty vessel.”

My hands grip the edge of the bench as I keep myself from toppling into bottomless black pools.

The stranger places an index finger to his lips before closing eyes tight. He turns his head toward the sky, his face bathed in a beam of rippling sunlight.

Facing the sun he queries me, “You’re not going to join me, are you?”

My breaths are short and shallow. I bite my lower lip before shaking my head no.

And though his eyes remain closed he knows my answer.

He sighs.

“Shall I pity you or admire you?”

Choking, I look away. I wipe my eyes.

He nods his head. “I understand, little one.”

His words are warm and velvety.

My heart pounds as I dare not speak.

Together, we sit in silence.

Together, we sit alone.

And sitting in silence he glows, an unrelenting magnet to the sun’s bending light.

Slowly the stranger’s hand slides across the bench, coming to rest halfway between. He flips his palm upward exposing his scar. It seethes in the morning light.

And drawing a deep breath I take his hand in mine. His scar rubs hard and calloused against my palm.

His hand is warm.

And gentle.

And beautiful.

Tenderly he squeezes my fingers. As a patient father might.

Warm; so very warm.

All about seems to vibrate.

I close my eyes as church bells mark the passage of time.

The chimes followed by a mighty snap, like a tree splintering.

Then silence.

And soaring from the bench we hurtle toward the sun, disappearing into the light.



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Dumber Than Whale Shit at the Bottom of the Ocean


Morning light slips past shuttered blinds to stripe our attic bedroom. Slender strips of plastic huddle tight, each resting atop a sleeping neighbor. And as strips of plastic block reaching light shadows are thrown to paint our room with prison bars.

Shunting past blinkered darkness, bright streaks fall upon a blue paneled wall. With graceful strokes they comfort the wall, a shaken witness to a world of self-destruction. Horizontal lines creep low before passing over a headboard covered with ticket stubs, each one stapled, taped or tacked with care above my pillow.

Faded half tickets representing forgotten nights with Aerosmith, Rush, The Dead, Boston, B-52s, Steve Miller, The Clash, Ramones, Devo, Grand Master Flash, Elvis Costello, Ted Nugent, Tull, The Police, Van Halen, Kiss, Cheap Trick, The Beach Boys, Todd Rundren, Run DMC, Santana, The Cars, ELO, Stray Cats, Blondie, Billy Idol, The Pretenders and Queen momentarily brighten under morning light. And, leaving behind faded memories, slivers of light descend the headboard to warm the top of a throbbing head. Flickering through matted hair, light taps at my face with a sharpened nail.

I wince as lancing light carves open an 18 year old skull to expose something broken.

Rolling away from the reaching sunbeams, my stomach swells.

Then a heavy pounding. From just behind my forehead a prisoner bangs the bars of his paneled cell.

I retch, lurching like a cat to dislodge a stubborn hairball. A familiar acidic taste percolates to fill a gaping mouth. And not prepared to deal with the mess accompanying the act of vomiting I keep my mouth shut. Swallowing hard, I return bile from whence it came.

I gasp; like a fish plucked from water.

“Breathe…” I mumble. “Just breathe.”

Crawling to the edge of the bed I drop my head over the side of the mattress. Clammy skin bristles against the smooth white sheets of a still made bed. Drool drips and stretches, reaching for the warmth of the room’s blue carpet.

The string of drool soon snaps and the carpet adds to its collection.

“Bye…” I whisper.

Then, more pounding. The prisoner agitates for escape.

My head too heavy to lift, I close eyes tight and absorb the prisoner’s blows.

The feeling is familiar.

A penance to be paid.

But I don’t care.

I’m home.

And safe.

My left arm flails, striking a collection of stolen bar glasses topping the end table next to my bed. Thuds waft from the carpet as glasses topple and fall. The soft sounds are quickly followed by the tinkling of broken glass.

The tinkling is loud.

And painful.

Retreating from the noise I roll to my back and witness slants of light sliding across blue paneling. Above me the walls pulse and throb and I’m forced to look away. And looking down I see I’m fully clothed.

My face puckers as the scent of a forgotten night asserts itself.

Grabbing at my crotch I confirm I haven’t peed the bed. The day’s first smile soon wanes, slipping over the side of the bed to join pooling drool.

Like the glasses next to my bed, broken memories collect in a pile.

A bar. Across the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Near the stage with the band …

Mumbles drift through morning light. “Twisted Sister, with KJ and … who else? Two guys? No, wait …”

My brother? “KJ …”

Turning toward the bedroom window I protect eyes from morning light.

Just below the window, face down and striped by shadows, I spy my brother. Still wearing his leather bomber jacket and black work boots he’s motionless. His upper body is sprawled over the bed. His legs splayed across the blue carpet. His face is hidden under Joey Ramone-like hair.

I try to speak but my voice croaks. Brittle lips crack.

Clearing my throat I try again; this time in a whisper, “KJ. You alive?”

He’s quiet, though that’s his way.

I reach toward my brother but the collision with morning light knocks me back.

“Breathe,” I murmur.

Monitoring his unmoving body my heart pushes against a constricting chest.


Still nothing.

I gather strength and toss my hand up to grope across the table next to my bed. I grab a shot glass. It’s thick and heavy. Fingering the glass my thumb passes over a large chip along the rim. This one’s from the Blarney Stone by the Garden.

And aiming for KJ’s legs I cock my arm and lob the glass across the space separating twin beds of teenage boys. Time slows as the glass makes its way across the room. A sparkle of light flashes from the arcing glassware. The glass misses its intended target, however, and strikes the back of KJ’s neck, just above the leather collar. The heavy glass bounces from his neck to the bed before falling to the carpeted floor where it joins broken glass and a pool of seeping drool.

He remains motionless.

Silent moments drift and float. Then, his head turns away from morning light as he chooses words wisely. “Fuck you, asshole.”

Struggling to prop myself up I face my brother. The room lurches.

Dry heaving, I’m forced to pause. “Hey, I was making sure you weren’t dead.”

“Fuck. You.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re OK, dude.”

He hacks a phlegm ball into his pillow. His body seizes, sending tiny dust particles swirling through slender beams of light.

My brother stirs. “Is today a school day?”

“Oh crap, I hope not.” I consider the calendar, “No. It’s Saturday. So, no school. I have work at Paramus Park this afternoon.”

“What time is it?”

Shielding my eyes, I gather intelligence from the slanting light. “I don’t know. I’d say eleven or so.”

“The clock, you asshole. Look at the clock.”

The room spins as I turn my head. “10:39AM.” I pause before asking, “You hung over?”

“What do you think?”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Will you shut up already? I’m trying to sleep.”

“Hey, fuck you dick smoker. I’m trying to see if you’re OK so don’t be such a pin about it.”

I turn away from my brother. “I’m going downstairs.”

“Well, be quiet about it.”

Rolling from the bed, I fall to the carpet. Broken glass twinkles under morning light. I’ll leave that shit for later. Unable to stand, I crawl from the bed to the top of the stairs. Before figuring out how to descend the stairs without adding to the pounding inside my skull I work myself into a sitting position. And sitting on the top step I take an inventory.

My eyes ache and I can see clearly. That means I slept with my contacts. “Stupid.”

Holding my breath, I rub both hands across my face. My right eye is tender and painful to the touch, though not swollen. Hands shake as they move over my head before meeting at the back of my neck. And finding no swelling and no new lumps I withdraw my hands to continue the review.

Turning hands over I view front and back. A black X, added with permanent marker to the back of my right hand, confirms I was at a club drinking. My hands are dirty, but no marks on the knuckles and no scrapes on the palms. And gathering courage, I smell my fingers.

I gag at the tart smell of Kamikazes. At the top of the stairs my body heaves and, covering my mouth, I try not to vomit.

Again the room spins. I grow nauseous as a drumbeat marches its way across my forehead. Squeezing a pounding head between Kamikaze-smelling hands I look down and notice my Sasson jeans are torn at the knee.

“Fuck!” I hiss. “I just stole these from Chess King! They didn’t last a fucking week.”

I stamp the top step with my foot.

My brother coughs, sending specks of dust dancing through lancing light.

Squeezing front pockets, I find my wallet, a Cricket lighter and a shot glass. I roll the shot glass toward my bed and inspect the wallet. One five, two singles.

“Goddammit! There’s no way I spent $80 last night. No fucking way.”

From the other side of the room my brother moans. “Will you leave already? How about instead of sitting there and crying you throw yourself down the fucking stairs and break your pencil neck. Maybe that’ll shut you up.”

His words bounce off the side of my head, adding to the dull ache. Limply, my head falls forward, broken at the stem like a discarded flower. Looking down I notice I’m still wearing my Twisted Sister shirt.

With both hands I feel my chest. Slowly, I draw in a breath without coughing.

“I’m OK,” I tell myself.

Step by step I slide down the stairs toward the second floor. Before making my way downstairs to the kitchen I check Mom and Dad’s bedroom. They’re gone and the bed’s made. Working I assume.

“Thank God.”

With arms extended wide I place a hand on each of the hallway’s opposing walls. Slowly, I guide myself from one end of the hall to the other. Finding the bathroom I pee out $80 of beer and Kamikazes. Avoiding the mirror I sip from the faucet, rinse contacts with saline and attempt to brush my teeth.

The toothbrush triggers a choke response and I retch. Lurching forward I fill the sink with puke. The liquid is viscous and smells of Kamikazes. Keeping my face as far from the sink as possible I run water to wash away vomit. Skin bristles before turning cold. My forehead throbs. My fingers tingle.

The white tiled bathroom pulses with a life of its own. Struggling to stay upright I grow dizzy. Groping for the edge of the sink I teeter backward and tumble into the bathtub, pulling down the plastic shower curtain during my fall. Plastic rings snap and scatter across the tile floor. Landing with a thud, my head bangs dully against the tub’s smooth rim. And realizing I’m not hurt I let the cool feel of porcelain seep through the back of my neck. Like my brother upstairs, I remain motionless.

Folded into the tub I doze for an unmeasured amount of time.

Time marches on, leaving a broken boy behind.

Waking with a start, I pull myself up and head downstairs to the kitchen. I’ll deal with the shower curtain later.

The kitchen’s quiet. And warm. The room smells of burnt toast. Next to the sink, sunlight sparkles from a dozen juice glasses, organized four to a line to dry on a hand towel spread across the counter. Below the phalanx of glasses two-dimensional apples peak from the towel’s printed design. Next to the glasses sits a real apple, bruised and lonely under morning’s pounding sun.

On the kitchen table two cups of tea, each covered by a saucer, and two bowls of Frosted Flakes wait patiently. A white sugar bowl separates the tea cups. And propped against the sugar bowl is a note.

Dear Beasley and KJ,

Here’s some tea and breakfast. Please eat something.
And please cut the lawn and put gas in the car before your dad comes home.
I’m at the bank this morning. I’m going to 5:00 mass tonight if you want to join me (it might do you some good. Ha! Ha!).

See you this afternoon.


Returning the note to the table I search the refrigerator for Dad’s Gatorade. The lid pops loudly as I open the bottle. Gently, I place the cool glass rim against my lips. First, a quick sip to confirm I’ll not vomit. Then, taking my time, I stand in front of the fridge to work my way through the large bottle of green Gatorade.

Finishing the Gatorade I turn to the table. Hands shake as I add milk and sugar to cold tea. Without a sound KJ appears. He’s now wearing sweat pants and a Black Sabbath shirt.


He nods slowly. Leaning against the counter his brow furrows. “Pretty messed up night, huh?”

I shrug as he downs cold tea.

He places the empty cup in the sink as I grope for an answer. “I don’t remember much. I know we went over the Tap to see Twisted Sister at Detroit. That much I remember. And being up front by the stage.” I rub the back of my neck before continuing, “And doing shots; lots and lots of shots.”

Again, my brother nods. “We finished a case before even getting inside.”

I shrug.

Speaking slowly, he shifts his weight. “And do you remember ramming our car into that van in the parking lot before the show.”

“Huh?” Afraid of what will come next I shake my head in the negative.

KJ rubs his face with both hands. I wonder if his hands smell as bad as mine. Withdrawing his hands he speaks slowly. “We couldn’t find a parking space and me and Marcus and Sanderson were screaming at you to just park the car …”

I try to interrupt but my brother waves me off, “and I don’t know what happened but you were like ‘fuck it’ and you just drove up behind this beater-of-a-van and, well, you rammed it from behind. I mean you stepped on the gas and shoved the thing over the curb into a hedge and up a …”

“What? You’re yanking my crank cause I don’t remember that shit at all!”

KJ ignores my interruption. He looks down, his hair covering dime slot eyes.

“Dude everyone was screaming at you. Marcus was tripping his brains out in the back seat and howling like an animal. Just howling. And I guess you were like, ‘if I can’t find a space I’ll make one!’ And, then after shoving the van forward you turned off the car like it was OK to park there. And me and Sanderson were like, ‘You dumb fuck! You can’t park here! They’ll know it was you that rammed their car into the bushes.’ So you just sat there; not saying anything. And then you turn on the car, pop in an eight track and back out like you were leaving the supermarket on a normal day. You cranked up the tunes and drove around real slowly. Then, outa nowhere, you started doing donuts. I mean there was smoke everywhere, man. Everywhere.”

I sip my tea. “Were we listening to Zeppelin?”

“You’re kidding, right? After I tell you that you rammed a car that’s what you ask me?”

“Well, if we were listening to Zeppelin then I’m pretty sure I remember.”

He throws up his hands. “You’re a moron. A real moron. And yeah, we were listening to Zeppelin.”

A memory leaks forward. “And after that we twisted up in the parking lot right? We parked by some dumpsters or something like that.”

KJ looks out the kitchen window to the street. Under morning sun, neighborhood children are riding bicycles in a circle. Though the window we hear them singing Ring Around the Rosie. “Yeah, we met a bunch of your messed up friends from Paramus Park and ended up partying with them. What’s that dusted guy’s name? Harry or Henry or something like that?”

“Henley!” I lean forward, trying to contain snorting laughter. “He’s a mess huh?”

KJ nods. “Yeah, he ended up dosing with Marcus.”

KJ grows quiet before continuing, “And do you remember what happened in the parking lot with those guys; after ramming the van and before we went into the club?”

“Ah, no…”

“Well, Henry or Henley or whatever his name is, was whining ‘cause his car wouldn’t start – the dumb fuck got there early and left his lights on while he drank in the parking lot – so he needed a jump. But we couldn’t find jumper cables. And you had the bright idea of sneaking into the Sears Auto Center across the parking lot. You don’t remember this?”

My chin drops to my chest. “No.”

“Well, you pulled a tire from this big ass garbage dumpster and rolled it over to Henley and were like, ‘here, dude, this is for opening the window’ and Sanderson and me were standing there with our mouths open thinking ‘no way’. And Henley was like ‘really?’ and you were like, ‘yeah, man this is your key to the city, dude’ and he started freaking out. I mean he was going mental; stamping his feet and spinning in circles and pulling at his hair. Dude, that guy is damaged goods.”

I nod at my brother’s observation as he continues. “And then your freak show friend picked up the tire, spun in a circle like a shot-putter and heaved it through the window! There was glass everywhere! And he and his dusted friends climbed through and started running around in there and scooping up random shit. They were like a swarm of locust. And you were yelling at him to grab jumpers. I mean, he got out just before the cops came.”

I shake off my brother’s tale. “Yeah well, I don’t think that happened.”

KJ scoffs. “You were seriously fucked up, dude. I mean, think about it; you guys threw a tire through a window and then just walked over to the club like nothing happened when the cops showed.”

I shake my head. “Did his car start?”

“How should I know? We left that shithead outside. I didn’t wanna be anywhere near that freak.”

“I don’t remember any of that so let’s just forget about it.”

KJ shakes his head. “And do you remember doing Kamikaze shots with Marcus at the bar before he got thrown out?”

My body shivers. “I don’t remember Marcus getting tossed but I do remember doing shots.”

KJ frowns as my words slow to a crawl, “OK … what happened?”

“The place was packed – like 4-5 deep at the bar – and you and Marcus squeezed up to the front of the bar and ordered something like 15 or 20 Kamikazes and…”

I interrupt my brother, “So that’s where all my money went. I thought…”

“Shut up! I’m trying to explain something. So you guys start pounding drinks. Shot after shot. I mean it was like; Drink. Slam. Drink Slam. And the bartender told you guys to stop slamming the empties on the bar. You were like, ‘OK, cool’ so you stopped. But Marcus got all hot and bothered.”


“And the crazy fuck started tossing empty shot glasses over his shoulder into the crowd! I was way in the back but I could see his mohawk bouncing around and glasses flying into the crowd. He wasn’t even looking! They were bouncing off everyone. And some big mother fuckers too!”

“Whoa … we’re lucky we didn’t get killed!”

KJ continues, “Well, you were lucky. Before you two idiots could get the shit beat out of you this huge bouncer – I mean this guy was like 300 pounds – grabs Marcus by the arm as he’s about to toss a glass over his shoulder. And Marcus turns to punch the guy but the guy’s like towering over Marcus. And he grabs Marcus by the shoulder, spins him around and picks him up by the back of the pants. He carried him behind the stage and tossed him out the back door.” KJ bursts out laughing, “He was kick’n and scream’n the whole way!”

“I don’t remember any of that! I mean, what the hell was I doing while this was happening?”

A second bouncer was holding you by the collar. And you were like, ‘get the fuck off of me!’ You were trying to pry his fingers from your neck but you couldn’t. I mean the dude was mammoth. And the bouncer asked the bartender if he should toss you but the bartender said ‘no’ so you got to stay.”

KJ taps his lower lip. “I guess you were right; it always pays to tip the bartender well.”

I nod at my apparent wisdom.

My brother fills in blanks. “So anyway Marcus runs around the building and comes back to the front door. He got back in my telling the guy at the door he was tripping and was so fucked up he thought the exit was the bathroom and that he went out the wrong door. And the guy at the door believed him! And let him in! And you two knuckleheads spent the night ducking and hiding from those two bouncers. I mean if they had seen Marcus again they woulda killed you.”

KJ scans the floor, searching for more of the story. “And do you remember after Marcus got tossed you scooped up your drinks and shoved your way to the stage – right up in front by the band – and you lined ‘em up on a speaker and started pounding. And Dee Snider was like, ‘Whoa, man, check this kid out!’ Then you were doing shots with this chick in the front row. And Snider yelled out to the chick and asked her to give you a kiss. And she did! I was like, ‘you’re kidding me’ and everyone started cheering and screaming and you two morons started making our right in front of the stage. The place went mental. You remember that, right?”

“Wait… on yeah. We were in the front row and I gave a shot to Dee and Animal, right?” KJ nods as I grow animated. “And I remember the chick sparked up but the band didn’t want to smoke. I remember one of them say’n, ‘we’re working!’ or something like that.”

Memory combines with imagination to fill in blanks, “Dude, that chick was hot! I mean she looked like Pat Benatar, man.”

KJ spreads his arms wide. “You fucking idiot, half the girls in that place looked like Pat Benatar! And the only reason she made out with you was because Snider told her to! We were like the youngest people in that place and you looked so fucked up she probably took pity on you; thought you were lost or something.”

KJ continues, “And dude, let me tell you this. That music sucks. I mean really bad. Like, they’re awesome showmen and all but that was bogus.”

“Fuck that shit! Twisted Sister rules! So go fuck yourself!”

“Dude, how can you say that? Name one song they played that sounded good.”

I stammer, groping for a song. Then, I remember a flash of something, “Hey … wait a minute. Didn’t someone get a hand job on the dance floor or something like that? Did that happen? Who was it? You? Marcus, Sanderson? Yeah, Sanderson was dressed nice in his button down shirt and slicked back hair.” I look down at my crotch. “I know it wasn’t me. That I’d remember.”

KJ shrugs, “It wasn’t you peckerhead, so forget about it.” He changes the subject. “And do you remember peeing in the sink in the bathroom.”

“Ah, that sounds kinda familiar.”

“Yeah well it should cause there was a huge line for the bathroom and you and Marcus – this was after he snuck back in – shoved your way to the front of the line and instead of waiting your turn like a normal drunk you pulled out your wang and started peeing in the sink. I mean, people were like, ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ and you were like, ‘I can’t wait! I gotta pee!’ and then everyone was like, ‘fuck this, I’m not waiting’ and they all started peeing; in the sinks and in the garbage can and on the walls. It was nasty! Like, people were peeing everywhere. And you started it!”

“Yeah, that I remember. And I admit, the whole peeing thing did get outa hand.”

I shrug, “Well, I’m glad we made it home in once piece.”

KJ nods toward the driveway. “Pez drove most of the way.”

“That I believe.”

KJ continues, “And do you remember falling asleep at the wheel? Just before we crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge?”

My stomach knots. “What? That I do not remember. That did not happen!”

KJ gets serious. “It did, you idiot.” He rubs his face. “I was passed out in the front seat and all of a sudden my head is get’n pounded against the side window. And I wake up and I’m like ‘what the fuck?’ and I look over and Sanderson is reaching over from the back seat steering the car. And you were just slumped against the wheel. And behind me Marcus is flip’n out, kicking and screaming like a wild banshee.”

“No way.”

“Dude, have you ever seen Sanderson scared?”

“Hell no. He’s tough as nails.”

“Well, I have. And it was last night. He was horrified. He was holding the wheel and screaming at you to wake up and then screaming at me to wake you. I mean he was steering the car from the back seat. And he was freaking big time!”

I look out the window to the children riding their bikes as my brother continues, “And we were going off the highway into this gravel alongside the road and there was dust and rocks kicking up everywhere. And the car was bouncing up and down and Sanderson was scream’n bloody murder.”

“Holy shit. Then what happened?”

“I grabbed the wheel with him and then I hauled off and belted you in the side of the head.” I finger my right eye as KJ concludes the story, “And then you woke up and looked around and were like, ‘I’m cool’ and you started driving again; like nothing happened.”


KJ shutters at the thought of plunging our parents’ car into the Hudson. “Me and Sanderson opened all the windows and cranked the tunes so you’d stay awake the rest of the way home.”

“Van Halen?”

“Van Halen II.”

“I do remember it being cold in the car.”

KJ shakes his head, “You coulda killed us, you moron. Sanderson fucking saved us.”

I start to speak but stop.

KJ crosses his arms. “And after that, Pez drove home.”

I look to the heavens. “ Thank you, Pez.” I jut my chin to the back door. “Come on, let’s go out to the car and say thanks to Pez.”

Exiting the kitchen we cross the porch and descend wooden stairs. We find the ’76 Impala station wagon parked in the driveway, one tire on the lawn.

KJ looks from me to the car as he reaches down to pull a branch from the big silver bumper.

I shrug.

And opening the car we’re greeted with the smell of stale beer and cigarettes. We climb into the station wagon’s front seat and turn to face Pez, the one inch plastic pig head stuck on the little hook just above the passenger side door in the second row.

The front seat creaks and groans as if saddened by our return to the vehicle. Clearing my throat I address the small pig head. “Thank you, Pez, for getting us home last night. I mean it. Thanks, man.”

I stare out the windshield. “And thank you, Sanderson; wherever you are.”

KJ reaches back from the front seat. His arm is long and thick. Tenderly he touches the little piece of plastic. “Thank you, Pez.” Then he looks up. “And thank you, God.”

KJ catches me rolling my eyes. He pokes my chest. “Dude, we were super lucky last night. You can’t be doing shit like that. I mean, you can’t be acting like that.”

I push his hand away, agitated. “Like what?”

“Like you don’t care. Like you don’t give a shit.”

My brother grows quiet. And looking through the car’s cloth ceiling he sighs. His words smell of cigarettes. “At some point God’s gonna say enough is enough and let you – and whoever is unlucky enough to be with you when it happens – die.”

His chin drops as words grow soft. “We coulda – no we shoulda – died last night.”

“Well, we didn’t. Besides we don’t need God. We got Pez watching over us.”

KJ slams the seat between us. “Dude that’s some uncool Yul Brynner and the Ten Commandments false idol shit right there. You can’t be saying stuff like that.” He leans forward. “I mean it.”

I look away and scoff. “Pfft.”

“Beasley, you don’t get it, do you? Last night was close. Think about it. Could you imagine if today Mom and Dad were thinking about burying their two kids instead of whether we’re gonna cut the stupid lawn or not?”

“Look, man, I don’t remember that shit. So, like, I’m sorry.”

My brother looks away as I let me head fall against the driver seat window, the glass cool against my cheek. I speak to both Pez and my brother, “Do you think God will ever just say, ‘fuck it, I’m done with you?’ and leave us – leave me – to, you know, get what I deserve?”

KJ looks up, his head falling against the front seat headrest. “Well, I can tell you this; you’ll be leaving God way before He’ll be leaving you. That I can guarantee.”

And hearing my brother’s prescient words the car grows quiet.

I close my eyes and imagine Mom and Dad tasked with the burial of their two teenage boys. I see Mom cleaning out our bedroom and finding my broken shot glasses. I think of her crying as she yanks ticket stubs from my headboard. And I imagine them praying for us and wishing they could take our place or do something different. Slinking low I shield my face from KJ.

My brother waits for the moment to pass. “Come on, let’s get back inside. Leave the doors open; this car reeks.”

As we exit the vehicle Pez, the little plastic pig head, is left behind. He knows what happened. He wants to reach for us but can’t. And without hands he can’t cover his face. Alone in the car he closes his eyes and cries.

My brother and I clomp up porch steps, returning to the kitchen.

I try to smile but can’t. “When’s Mom get off work?”

KJ scratches himself before answering, “One. Maybe a little after.”

We both look up to the kitchen clock. It’s still before noon.

KJ goes to the refrigerator, opens the door and stares. He turns to me. “Wanna make sloppy joes for lunch? We can make Mom one – or maybe make her a tuna sandwich – for when she gets home from work.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Don’t be a fucking moron. It’ll take five minutes. And it’ll make her happy. I mean, come on. You’re lucky to be alive and we’re celebrating the fact that she’s not finding out her boys drove her car off the Tappan Zee Bridge last night.”


KJ takes the lead, gathering ingredients from the fridge.

And shoving my hands into tight Sasson pockets I fall against the kitchen wall, my head still throbbing. Finding what I assume to be a crumpled dollar in my front pocket I withdraw the scrap of paper. Unfolding the paper I lean forward as words and numbers come into focus.

“Hey, dude. It’s that Pat Benatar chick’s phone number! I remember asking her for a number. And check it out. Her name’s Jennifer.”

I beam as I continue, “Miss Jennifer; looking like a rock star, Jennifer.” I hold the paper out for KJ. “Look, it’s a New York area code. Says ‘call me.’ I’m guess’n I left a pretty good impression, huh? Looks like God’s still watching over me!”

KJ shakes his head. “Is that really what you’re thinking about?”

“Dude, I’m gonna call this chick right now.”

I walk to the phone hanging from the kitchen wall. Picking up the receiver I dial slowly so as to avoid mistakes.

It rings twice before a man answers, “Nyack Police. Sargent O’Malley speaking.”

I cup the phone and whisper to KJ, “It’s a police station, man. She must work there. Maybe she’s a cop or something.”

KJ hisses, “Hang up!”

I waive him off and clear my throat. “Um, hi. Can I speak to Jennifer?”

“Who? There’s no Jennifer here.”

“Yeah, there is dude. She must work there or something.”

“Listen, there’s no Jennifer here. What’s the nature of your emergency? And to whom am I speaking?”

“Ah, this is Beasley.”

“And do you have an emergency, Beasley?”

“No, man. I just wanna speak with Jennifer. We met last night at the Twisted Sister show.”

“Well, she’s not here, knucklehead. Never was. Never will be. Now get the hell off my phone. And don’t call back unless you have a goddamned emergency!”


Hanging up the phone I turn to my brother, “Dude, the fuck’n chick works at a police station! I mean, maybe she’s a secretary or an undercover cop or something! You think I was make’n out with a cop last night?”

Satisfied, I shove the crumpled paper back into my pocket and shrug, “Guess she didn’t have to work today.”

KJ folds thick arms across his chest. My brother, my keeper, stares long and hard before looking up to the ceiling. “Forgive him, he knows not what he does.”

In the driveway Pez continues to cry.

In the kitchen my brother sighs before repeating a conclusion frequently shared by our father. “You really are dumber than whale shit at the bottom of the ocean.”



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