Four years ago I visited my sister a few miles beyond the village of Trout Run, PA. Hers is a rural address overlooking a beautiful valley and lake.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERALong day of travel, nine at night, and I had a taste for a few beers. I went down to the quiet village and found the local bar. The place was hopping. Pool table, music, animated customers at the taps and I was looked toward once, then ignored by all, including the bartender. They nailed me as a flatlander. Dang, people still smoke here. Loud women and huge guys in flannel and boots, some with knives on their belts. I wandered down to the take-out cooler. Lotta Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Lite, Coors Light (If you can imagine.) and all alone and way up there at the top of one of the coolers partially obscured by the door was what looked like a sixer of Lagunitas. Boom! I went back down to the busy end of the bar and waited. When she determined I had groveled long enough, the bartender asked, “What would you like?”

I said, “A sixer of Lagunitas to go, please?”

She said, “What? A six pack of Margaritas?” Big laughs all around.

“No, the beer. You have one six pack.”

She looked confused. She scratched her neck on the way to the cooler, and I shadowed her on the other side of the bar. I pointed.

“Okay, whatever,” she said.

Back at the busy end, I paid and left with the beer and my life.

No answer to her knock. Sloshing traffic and hammering rain – gutters full and coming over the walks.

images-1  Okay, this is cool. Place is dry, I’ll chill ‘til it slows down.  Knock again in a couple minutes.

She leaned her bike, pulled off her bag, sat down and got comfortable with her back against the door. She reached in, grabbed a cracker and scooped it across the tub of frosting deep in her bag.

The door imploded, “What the hell?!  Get the hell outta here.  Get it?!”

Sarah tumbled back onto steel-toed boots.  She jolted to her feet, fumbled with her bike, caught her bag in the handlebar and that perfectly frosted graham plummeted down the racing gutter.  He was six-foot-six, his hair in blue curlers.

“I’m here to pick up a package, I’m from a messenger service – Lickety-Split.”

“Yeah?  Well we ain’t got any and we ain’t interested.  Like I said, get the hell.”

“No, I’m supposed to pick up a package here, this morning.  Someone called from here.”

He slumped, “They don’t tell me shit, ‘til too late.”  He slammed the door.  She heard the bolt jam home.

And?

She hovered clueless for a full minute, slipped into her strap and turned her bike toward the storm. She grabbed at her radio to call Alex. A woman opened the door.

“You’re the messenger? How old are you?  Bring your bike in here, I have something for you.”

“Yeah, well, okay…I’m eighteen.”

“Right, and these tits are real.”

Sarah rolled past her into the dim lobby and swung her bike around.  The acid woman bolted the door.

 She was tall, Chinese, mid-thirties and as tired as her robe. She grimaced as she limped past Sarah. She lifted a hinged portion of the countertop, ducked under and lowered the top back into place.  Below the counter, on her haunches, she fiddled with something there in the dark, cursed and, releasing a long breath, stood up and edged what looked like a small shoebox in a plain brown wrapper onto the counter.  She pushed it toward Sarah.

“What else you got in that bag?”

“My stuff, food.”

“Dump it out, there on the table.”

“Why?”

“Just dump it the fuck out, okay?”

“But…”

“You can put it all back in, but this goes in first – in the bottom.”

Sarah squirmed out of her bag, opened the flap and turned it up.  Out onto the table tumbled her wallet, the second Croissan’wich, the box of grahams and the blue and white cylinder of vanilla frosting.

“Cake frosting?”

“It’s really good on graham crackers.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to try that.

This leaves here today and never comes back and you were never here.”

“Sure, right, what is it, uranium?”

“We square on this? You were never here.  I don’t exist.  This club don’t exist.  Be bad for you if it did.”

The woman limped back to the door, slid the bolt and the storm nearly sucked her away. Stretching, she reached for the handle, looked back at Sarah and jerked her head toward the street, “Out.”

Here, she had dated. Tried dating. Gave it a good try, and it was awful.

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Men who seemed smart, accomplished and charming turned out to be full of themselves and desperate to regain lost ground—lost hair, lost muscle. The head of the chamber society, the dentist, the district attorney and they had gone to movies, concerts and art openings. These men could not stop talking about themselves in the car on the way to dinner, during dinner and driving her home. And they were horny. Dropping her off, and no way was she inviting him in, the dentist had leaned across the console, opened his lips in a contorted way he must have thought to be sultry—something was going on with his fingers below his seatbelt—and with the teeth and gums he was flashing she was about to be consumed by The Alien. Startled, she jerked back, hit her head on the window, and she may have been out for a moment. Regaining herself, she opened the door, got out and looked back in at the sheepish man behind the wheel. “Please, don’t! Don’t call, don’t…and please…just don’t.” She closed the door.

 

It’s Saturday night under the lights,

Speedwayand it’s Speedway Racing in anywhere, USA. It’s cold, the motors are revving and riders are nervous and so are girlfriends, husbands and wives. Riders get screwed up out there at 100mph and go over the fence. Crippled and retired pros help tune the bikes and give advice to young riders. But when it starts – and it’s going to goddam start – it’s all hammers and chainsaws.

He was taking a long-needed piss.

TrailerNick's

He watched himself in the mirror over the toilet and it looked like his eyes were on fire. Really fucked from the neck up. Bad skin, and it had never been good. So what? He still wore the new suit and tie, and, from the neck down, it looked like somebody else. He flushed, un-noosed the tie, opened the goddam collar and threw the jacket in the tub. The first thing he’d done returning to the trailer was turn on the TV. It ran like a hamster wheel in the front room. He stepped from the bathroom, bounced off the hall wall and aimed at the kitchen. The whiskey. Dad died.

It’s a 22 oz framing hammer.

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It was swung by a younger man eight-hours a day, five days a week. The head has teeth to bite into inaccurate strikes and continue the nail’s drive as the driver intended. Back in the day I saw one save a man as he fell from a roof and the hammer in his leather tool belt caught on a purlin and stopped him. Big, fearless guy, he went white for a second hanging there in mid-air, broke into a running sweat, then the biggest smile. He bought the crew a round that night.

The 22oz hammer suggest three strikes per nail. At most, four. We’re talking eight-inch ring nails. Noon breaks, we’d see who could drive ‘er deep with one strike. Macho stuff. June won frequently and I don’t think she ever missed hitting the tall sucker right on the head. The down side of that hammer was, if you hit your thumb you were ground meat and it hurt to your nutz. The day I quit, I was 36 feet in the air, stretched out way too far on the top of the ladder in the freezing Pennsylvania rain. I was hungover and had one more goddam rubber-washered siding nail to drive through the steel sheet and we’d be done. I went for it and missed.

GarageTahoeIt’s a daily mile-and-a-half walk through the woods at Tahoe to the little marina for a six-pack. Some say a mile-and-eight-tenths, but I’m sticking with a mile-and-a-half. I pass this little structure and today got to thinking of who might have built it back there in the 1920s. Somebody’s grandfather, I guess. Large man who ate pancakes for breakfast and kept the doors from blowing open with those same three rocks. Probably didn’t know much about building being the first owner of the marina. Knew boats, not building. But his neighbor up the road did. Ed, a retired man missing a finger. It was Ed for Edwin, by the way – not Edward. Ed knew a lot about building. He and Fiona, Ed’s wife, and she’d been a pretty bride, had built the house they retired in – Fiona being as handy with tools as she was in the kitchen. You could say Ed lost his finger for the love of Fiona. He’d been working at the sawmill when they married and everyone knew you shouldn’t be wearing rings doing that kind of work. But he refused to take off his wedding band. One day a chain snapped and came for him at about a hundred-and-twenty-miles-an-hour. Ed instinctively put his hand up and that chain ripped that ring and the finger it was on right off his hand. Once he was recovered, he went into the construction trade and eventually built the little marina and store. And maybe that’s how he got to know the owner and help him build this little garage.