Two gray and white pigeons, three brown chickens, one large white duck and one blue nylon bag with two orange chicken feet sticking out are getting pulled under by the high tide right now. There's more. All the bird bodies have been beheaded and the heads are scattered onto the sand just beyond the blue nylon bag. Someone is desperate to please a ravenous Orisha.
Over fifty people in white outfits were gathered next to the pier at 6:25 this morning. Most were middle-aged. Just a handful of kids. All were Mexican. Nobody was watching the sunrise. They were circled around a wooden post clinging to each other. They were chanting something, but I couldn't make out words - only their rhythm beneath the crash of the waves and AWW-AWW of the seagulls.
He gave me the combination yesterday. I am afraid to look inside.
The street’s still here. The subway’s still here. The screeching’s still here. Even the smell’s still here. But, you’re still gone.
"I'm not from Needles, but I was in Needles before I came here. I'm originally from Brooklyn. What kind of dog is that?" I answered, "Corgi and something else. Not sure." "Have you been to Needles? Where are you from? You're not from here." I answered, "Back east. New England." "I know New England. Where in New England?" I answered, "I was born in Connecticut, but mostly Maine." "Maine! The doctor in Needles was from Lewiston, Maine. Nothing goin' on upstairs. He lived at the hospital. Lived there. Never took a break and should have taken a break. He read my wife's CAT scan wrong. She died. 128 degrees every day out there. No stores for groceries or anything. You gotta get in a car and drive over 20 miles to get anything. I ended up in Needles cuz I play the cards. I'm Jewish from Brooklyn... worked for the Mafia. Mostly cards, but I did what I had to to, you know, survive. Did you ever hear of Bob Dylan?" I answered, "Sure." "There's a guy down in Venice who claims he is Bob Dylan. Dylan's real name is Zimmerman. This guys says he's Robert Zimmerman. Did you know Bob Dylan's Jewish?" I answered, "Yeah." "Are you Jewish?" I answered, "I'm not." "Muhammad Ali fought Sonny Liston. Liston threw it. I know he threw it. He was crooked. I'm not judging Liston. Listen, you do what you gotta do, right?" I nodded, "Yep." "Looks like your dog wants to get movin'. My sister has a dog. The dog is dangerous, but he protects the family. Your dog is nice." My dog pulled me further away. "Have a good day. I'm headed to Venice. Have you been to Venice? The people are nuts. Nuts. Take care of yourself." I continued to walk away, "Have a nice day." "Hey, don't you ever go to Needles." I waved, "I won't."
Brownie Guy smiled, “I have a special brownie for you.” I returned his smile with a “no thanks”. Brownie Guy nodded and stared down at my dog, Fletcher. "What happened to your legs, dude?" He giggled and cooed over Fletcher, "Wow, such a nice little dude dog." He sweetly held out the brownie to me, "For free, babe." So, I walked away with my free and special brownie. As soon as Brownie Guy was gone, I tossed my free and special brownie into a trash can and Fletch and I crossed the street. I looked back and a Street Lady was doubled over inside the trash can. I panicked, turned Fletcher around and crossed back. From a few feet away I politely called out "Hey there" and "Hi there" , but she didn't surface. We stepped closer and I tried again. No response. Smoking Girl, hanging and smoking on the nearby bench, smiled and asked me if she could help. “Yes” and I told her about the free and special brownie and explained how I was worried that Street Lady might eat it and trip out in a bad way. Smoking Girl nodded and walked over to the trash can and KNOCKED on it. The Street Lady popped up, not happy about being disturbed. She mumbled and waved her right arm around. Smoking Girl was kind but firm, "There's a brownie in there you probably shouldn't eat." I quickly added, "It has something in it." Street Lady gave us a harsh, "FUCK YOU." Smoking Girl kicked the side of the trash can and challenged her with something like "BACK THE FUCK UP" or "SHUT THE FUCK UP". At this point, I was soaked with nervous sweat and wanted to run, but instead I said, "Let’s calm down. It's only a brownie and let's say you want a brownie, that's cool. I'm more than happy to give you some money to step away from the trash can and go buy a fresh brownie like over at the Coffee Bean. It's two blocks away and they have really good brownies." I rambled on more about the Coffee Bean’s tea and held out a five dollar bill to Street Lady. She grabbed the bill and shuffled off not in the direction of the Coffee Bean. Smoking Girl turned on her iphone's flashlight and we found the free and special brownie. I folded it into a napkin and thanked her for helping me. Fletcher and I took the special brownie home... where I broke it into tiny pieces and flushed it down the toilet.
"Todd’s great uncle or something. Right after the bell."
The bell RINGS. Tina waits by my locker.
I slam my locker shut.
Tina KICKS open the Jr. High School's front door. I follow her out the door and across the street and into the tiny convenience store.
Todd and Jill are hiding behind the bread rack. I watch Todd and Jill whispering with Tina.
Tina and I grab candy. I pay for mine. Tina pockets her candy and follows me out.
We follow Todd and Jill down the hill. Todd and Jill are MUCH taller than me and they both have this bouncy, cool stoner gait. I imitate them by forcing my arms to hang in a way that allows my hands to dangle slightly behind my hips and "bounce walk" down the hill. I feel cool. Todd and Jill stop on the railroad tracks at the base of the hill. Jill pulls one cigarette out of her flannel shirt pocket. Todd holds back Jill's curly black hair with one hand and lights her cigarette with the other. His lighter is fancy. It sticks out against his frayed, faded and patched jeans and jacket. Jill takes one very long drag and then hands the cigarette to Todd. He takes a long drag and hands it back to Jill. Todd winks at Tina and then looks at me. "You two wanna get high?" Tina gives a quick "Yep." I smile and nod. Jill smiles back and kinda laughs and then coughs, "Let's do it."
I'm nervous and I really want to turn around and run back up the hill to school, but I don't. I follow them around the corner.
Tina, Todd and Jill slowly turn left onto Union Street and it begins to rain. I know we're going to somebody's house. Somebody is Todd's uncle or his great uncle or something.
Tina is laughing as Todd reaches under the torn-up welcome mat and pulls out a key. Without looking back, they disappear into the old house. Jill waits for me. I'm even more nervous now and toss out some polite small talk. "Do you come here a lot?" Jill shrugs and smiles, "Not really." She leans into me and whispers, "Don't be freaked out by Don. He's okay. Just yells shit when he's drunk. He would never ever hurt anybody." I nod. He would never ever hurt anybody. That's good. My hands are shaking, so I hold tight to the cuffs on the sleeves of my wool jacket.
Jill hops up the front steps. I take a deep breath. I smell the dead leaves and the rain and I hop-follow her up the steps and into the house.
It's dark inside. Not completely dark, but it is around 3 on some weekday in October and there aren't any lights on inside this old house. Don's on a cot in the far corner of the smoky room. Don's 70ish. He's old. He's wearing an undershirt with a gray sheet wrapped around his middle. He doesn't have any legs. There are wooden legs leaning against the wall near him. My Uncle Junior has a wooden leg that looks exactly like Don's wooden legs. Don's drinking from a pint bottle and yelling something about "Todd and his God damned hood friends!" I look away before he catches me staring.
Other kids are there, in a circle on the floor in front of Don. Some of them I know. Some I don't. The room smells like a skunk. Not exactly like a skunk, but something like a skunk. Jill gently kicks at two kids to expand the circle. They giggle and back up. Jill sits down and I sit down next to her. Tina and Todd are on the opposite side of the circle. In the center of the circle are a couple of homemade PVC pipe bongs and some weed. Todd grabs up one of the bongs and fills it with weed. He pulls out his fancy lighter and lights up. The circle watches the bowl fire up and listens to the water bubble. Todd coughs and passes it on to Tina. The circle watches the bowl fire up and listens to the water bubble. And again and again, until it reaches me. Someone says, "Only take a small hit." Jill refills the bowl and lights it for me as I take a small hit. And the bong goes from kid to kid, again and again, until it reaches me again and again. I take a bigger hit and I cough. And I take another hit and now I'm high.
Todd puts on some music. Jill peeks into my bag of candy and pulls out a fireball. I pass the bag to the kid on my left. Tina dumps the stolen candy out of her pockets. We all laugh. Everyone is squinting and laughing and eating candy. Don screeches, "WHAT'S SO GOD DAMN FUNNY?" Most of us stop laughing. Todd and Jill laugh even harder. Jill shouts back, "You want another pint, Don?" Don screeches, "YOU DON'T TELL ME ANYTHING! I CAN GET MY OWN GOD DAMNED PINT! YOU'RE A BUNCH OF HOODS! ALL OF YOU! I WANT YOU OUT OF MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW OR I'M CALLING THE GOD DAMN POLICE!" I slide back from the circle. Everyone else squints and laughs. Todd smiles and tells me it's okay to stay. I make up some excuse about my ride home and gymnastics and I slide back more. I glance over at Don and he points at me, "YOU BETTER GET YOUR LITTLE ASS UP AND OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW!" Terrified, I jump up, quickly apologize to the entire room and run out of the old house.
Time and space are not going the way they usually go. I'm running back to Parker Street, back over the tracks, back up the hill and back to the store. It isn't raining and I'm thirsty. I've never felt so thirsty in my entire life. I go into the store and buy an orange soda. Everything I say, hear and do is slow motion. Counting out the correct change takes time. Time. I look at the store clock. It is only 4:00 and my Mom is coming to pick me up at 5:00. I finish counting out the correct change, open my orange soda and leave the store.
Time and space are still not going the way they usually go. I decide to hide in some bushes across the street from the gymnasium. I select bushes in front of a house where there isn't a car in the driveway. It seems like a good place to wait. I burrow behind a bush with red leaves and drink my orange soda. I wonder if the leaves are always red or only red because it is October. Before I can think about much more, I hear someone ask, "What's going on out here?" I close my eyes and hope she, the someone, isn't speaking to me. "Get out or I'm calling the police!" I open my eyes and say I'm sorry and walk across the street toward the gymnasium.
I walk into the gymnasium entry and throw my empty soda bottle into the trash. It is 4:55. I sniff my wool jacket. It smells a little bit like a skunk. I walk outside and wait along the edge of the road. I wave my arms in large circles and twirl around to air myself out. I see my Mom's car turn the corner. I over-wave as she approaches. The car stops. My little brother is in the front seat. I get into the backseat. Just as I close the car door, my Mom drives and asks, "How was gymnastics?" "Great." I roll down my window and lean my head out. My Mom glances back and asks if I'm all right. I tell her I'm feeling kinda sick. She asks if I ate lunch. I did. She asks if I drank water while at gymnastics practice. I didn't. She asks why. I wonder why I'm lying about not drinking water at the gymnastics practice I never attended. "I had an orange soda." "That's why you don't feel well, missy." As Mom's car turns onto Parker Street, I see Todd, Jill and Tina coming up the hill. They spot me hanging my head out the car window and wave. I don't wave back. My Mom looks back at me and asks if I know them. I tell her, "Not really." She asks why they waved to me. I tell her, "I don't know." The car bounces as it rolls over the railroad tracks and my Mom's blinker makes that blinker sound again and again and her car turns right and we drive away.