We had a concrete deck. That spring I liked to sit out on it, drink about two beers, put on Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and try to look forward to getting older. This typically while Lucinda rode her tricycle in odd circles, sometimes calling “Speedy Delivery!” as she passed.
Sometimes she would crash and I would have to parent. But for much of the time: a kind of oblivion. There was me in one of the deck chairs I bought Sheila for her birthday. There was the sunshine and beer. There was Lucinda in circles.
The chairs were recliners and I liked to call them our Herman Miller Aeron Chairs, but their actual name was Zero Gravity. They had black plastic screw covers that would pop off and that Lucinda would collect and put in the basket of her tricycle, or else they would end up in her mouth, which would result in me having to land, track her down, and ask her to “open” three times – this only rhetorically because each time I said “open” she would clamp her mouth shut – and then I would squeeze her cheeks until I could get a finger in there to fish out the screw cover and she would exact the toll of her teeth in my finger. Then, we would snuggle. We would lean back in the Aeron chair. Then, she would demand her freedom and I would go get another beer.
I took a picture of her one time wearing a tanktop and diaper, her little feet in my blue deck shoes, her hands and face smeared with dirt beside a red geranium we had planted.
I took a picture of her in a paper crown eating a purple-frosted cupcake. There was frosting on her knee.
I thought the photos captured something of her toddler essence, but her grandparents wanted a proper birthday photo.
The biggest tantrum she had that spring happened after she helped to spread purple frosting on 12 cupcakes, and then could not understand at all why she was allowed to eat just one.
For me mostly it was oblivion. I would get her riding circles, get my beer. The two of us with two hours to kill until Sheila got home. I thought it would do Lucinda good to have an interval a few days a week in which she circled her reclining father. I thought there was value in raising a kid around beer.
When I reclined the concrete was nowhere. I could see only the budding leaves and the tops of the mill buildings, old brick, and I could hear the street noise, the dunk-da-dunk-dunk of Puerto Rican pop combining with Bruce Hornsby and the Range – all of it combining with the beer, and the floating feeling of being in the Herman Miller Zero Gravity Aeron chair, and the kid happy and entertaining herself, delivering things beside me – things that I would acknowledge eventually. A pebble. A stick. A plastic figurine.
That time was good for reflecting on things that would usually be scary, but were not so scary when seen through the lens of two-beer Bruce Hornsby oblivion. Things like, say, defaulting on my student loans: saving up a little war chest mostly by neglecting other bills while taking out enough credit cards to eventually (and quickly) transfer all the student-debt onto the cards (it would take a lot of cards!), and then demanding a smaller payoff and / or declaring bankruptcy.
The second beer was for putting Lucinda in a hoodie and staying outside while the sun went down. The second beer was for telling Sheila my credit card plan when she got home, while she sat in the matching Herman Miller Zero Gravity Aeron Chair.
Sheila, sighing: “Here’s what I think, Tommy. Your little scheme would be so convoluted and so stressful and would come with so many other consequences that it would actually feel better to just keep giving the government tons of money. Plus, we’d still have credit.”
Me: “Here’s what I think: my plan would have the benefits of being proactive, mischievous, and righteously vindictive all at the same time, so that it would feel good, and maybe even work out well, despite the consequences.”
Sheila: “Well, you should have launched this plan before you had a family.”
Me: “In my plan we’d probably get divorced, but only for tax purposes.”
If it was warm enough, after dinner I would go back to recline on the deck. A third beer. A fourth beer. I was no alcoholic. I would usually cool it after that. But that fourth beer, though: I would think about all the men in my family who had died of heart disease and of the beer thinning my blood. I would put on Bruce Hornsby and the Range. For the oblivion. I would think of the beer as a cholesterol drug and antidepressant fermented into one, and I would look not at the dark shadows of the leaves, but at the still slightly light spaces between them, and I would think about the divorced men who were all my little league coaches, and that really they were not estranged from their wives and kids but were only hiding from their debt. I would think of the bright orange, grassless little league infields, and I would think they were not for baseball so much as they were terrain where distant men could publically care for children while a few other parents bore witness in the metal bleachers. I would think what a good little fielder I had been, and that we were going to have to buy Lucinda dance lessons, and how strange that she knew already to ask for them, and how strange she already wanted to go to Disney World.
And then Sheila would send Lucinda out to get me, and I would hold out my hand and Lucinda would give me five, and if she was already in pajamas, I would pick her up and put her on my lap.
Once she even fell asleep like that, the both of us on a warm night in the Herman Miller Zero Gravity Aeron Chair with the dark mill buildings looming over us, and the muffled Puerto Rican pop, and I always imagined all our Puerto Rican neighbors were always making the best of things in their big Puerto Rican families, and that there was a kind of goodwill or bonhomie between us while Sheila, Lucinda, and I made the best of things in our small family. This even though we were gentrifiers – even though we didn’t feel like we were. On the street we all inevitably sneered and got sneered at. But I always imagined our city was vacant and bombed out enough that there was room for everybody. I always remembered we had been priced out of where we used to live surrounded by lead paint and white people, and now we had a 1200 square foot townhouse with a dishwasher and washing machine and a “Lead-free” certificate. I truly believed the Bruce Hornsby and the beer was for how much I loved my kid, and for how helpless I felt in the face of that love.
I’m talking about the smallness of life.
The concrete deck was also very good for grilling hamburgers.
Our neighborhood had once been Polish and Irish, and there was an Irish biker bar across the street with its own wooden deck. They had a sign that was supposed to countdown the days until St. Paddy’s but they were very bad at keeping up with it. Friday and Saturday nights their patrons would park their bikes ostentatiously on the sidewalk, even amongst block after block of free curbside parking in our largely vacant city.
On Thursday nights they had live music. For a while it was a few different bands, but then it dwindled down to just this one guy with a guitar. He started on Creedence Clearwater Revival and stayed on Creedence Clearwater Revival and then he played Allman Brothers and Lynard Skynard, and then Guns ‘n Roses, and then Skid Row. The same set every time, played faithfully. The set ended with “I Used to Love Her But I Had to Kill Her,” and then “I Remember You,” as a kind of encore, palette cleanser.
Sometimes I would take the dog out our front door and across the street so that the dog could take a dump, and so I could make sure there were only like four people listening to this incredibly loud guy play the same set as the last week. There were never more than five.
Sometimes I would sit on the deck and imagine the arc at which I might throw a tennis ball or beer bottle, high over the concrete wall on the side of our deck, across the street, down through the power lines and tree branches, onto the deck of the Irish biker bar where the ball or bottle would land exactly on the microphone.
Sometimes I would hum along to the songs, which I could enjoy by virtue of knowing precisely when they would be over. 9:30 sharp. The bar never pushed it. I think the owner didn’t want to the cops to come.
I never saw the guy. I got as close as I could with the dog a few times, and I could see where the guy was – he was under a blue tarp strung up on some plastic poles to make a little awning – but I could never see the guy. I could see only a dark cavity from where the music came.
Through time, through the spring of my oblivion, this grew more mysterious to me. The guy’s set was played so faithfully, with such precision, and yet was also so obviously live. The mic crackled. He stopped to tune his guitar. He bantered with the crowd. A little bit.
I figured he had a kind of glorified karaoke set-up and he played along with some recording, or that he played along with a previous recording of himself. Or else, it was all a recording and there was no guy, and the Irish biker bar had some shitbox technology that could make recorded music sound live, and they had decided to blast this pseudo-live music into the largely Puerto Rican neighborhood while their four or five biker patrons stood on the deck and smoked, and, I don’t know, tried to get up the drunken guts to harass the couple of women who were there. Whatever.
A few times I tried to tell if one night’s banter was the exact same as the last week’s banter, but I could never tell exactly, and so concluded that there had to be a guy. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, on Thursday nights that spring I was joined on my deck by this mysterious guy on a different deck who faithfully blasted out his own oblivion. I started to think of him as a problematic friend or kindred spirit. I don’t know. I stopped counting my beers. I started not to be not so annoyed by the cars blasting our their dunk-da-dunk-dunk in the wee hours because that was some else’s oblivion and I thought in this imperfect world we could at least allow each other oblivion, even when that oblivion impinges briefly on one’s right to quiet enjoyment. And I knew I was right about this on certain nights when the air was humid and close and the whole neighborhood smelled like weed.
I went to the Irish biker bar just once.
That spring I had a singular social tactic and that tactic was to invite people over to grill hamburgers on our deck, and when those people arrived I would ply them with beer, and try my best to have a casual cookout morph into a rowdy party. Usually things would fall short of that, but we would all have a good time, even if in the aftermath I was a little miffed at the refusal of my friends to really let loose. Even if it was a Tuesday.
Except for Phil. That spring Phil was unemployed and I was about to be, and for a while Phil came over almost once a week and he always planned to stay in our spare bed, which meant we also shared a tacit agreement that when Phil was over he and I would drink as much beer as we could.
This was how one night we found ourselves walking across the street to the Irish biker bar. We had run out of beer. We had built up the drunken guts.
Inside it was immediately as if we had walked into a private club, and not in a good way. At the far end of the bar sat a woman with extremely blond hair and extremely thin arms. The bartender, who talked to her intermittently, had long hair and a long beard and was wearing probably the biggest gray t-shirt I have ever seen. Another guy, in cowboy boots and tight jeans stood beside the jukebox. He had been standing by the jukebox playing Creedence for like two hours. This we found out from two guys who came up and introduced themselves as Pauley and Guido, even though their real names were probably something like Ronnie and Chet.
Anyway, according to Pauley and Guido, the reason the cowboy guy was standing by the jukebox playing nothing but Creedence was because he was a cop. That’s what cops did – stood by the jukebox and played Creedence. Why else would he have so many quarters?
The bartender brought us beers. It was May, but the beer on special was Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest. $2 a pint.
Phil told Pauley and Guido we’d try not to get crosswise with the cop, and Pauley and Guido thought that was a funny thing to say. They wondered if Phil had said that because he and I were cops.
Here, in case it’s not already apparent, I should probably point out that if Phil and I were cops, we would be two of the skinniest, shortest, hoodiest-wearing, most bearded cops anyone has ever seen. We pointed this out to Pauley and Guido.
Perhaps we were deep undercover, Pauley and Guido said. Perhaps we had been shrunk down in order to appear not-cops.
“Hey look, cops or not, why don’t we buy you guys each a shot?” I said. “Come on, let’s do a shot.”
The shots arrived, we all said cheers, knocked them back, and Pauley said, “Guido, Guido, this is great. These guys can be the new guys.” And Guido said: “These guys? These guys just told us they might be cops.” And Pauley said to the bartender: “Another round of shots for us and the cops!” And the cowboy in the corner nodded his head almost imperceptibly as John Fogerty sang out, “Tambourines and elephants were playin’ with the band.”
We did the shots and we got new beers while Pauley told us stories, and Guido stood to the side and said he would gauge our reactions to these stories because he was a great examiner of people, and our reactions to the stories would determine the extent to which we may or may not be cops.
In the first story, it was thirty years earlier, and Pauley and Guido were a couple of badass high schoolers and the cops had come to arrest them in this very Irish biker bar because of all the crooked things Pauley and Guido had been into. “And what’d we do to those cops?” Pauley said.
“We threw the cops in trash cans,” Guido said. He demonstrated the karate he and Pauley had used to get the cops into the trash cans.
“Threw ‘em right into the trash cans,” Pauley said.
Then it was Guido’s turn to tell a story. In Guido’s story, he had been running his own bar someplace far away. One night he had been in the basement office counting money when a guy showed up to rob him. The robber held an icepick and said, “This is a stick-up.”
“And tell ‘em what you did,” Pauley said.
“I said, ‘gimme that,’” Guido said. “And I took the icepick and I stuck it right in his head!”
“Stuck it right in his head!” Pauley said.
“And what’d the guy do?” Phil said.
“Ha!” Pauley said.
“The guy?” Guido said. “He fuckin died.”
As if in acknowledgement of the solemnity of death, Guido poured a little of beer on the floor, so Phil and I did too. For the guy he had killed.
“Come on outside,” Pauley said. “I wanna show you new guys something.”
On the deck of the Irish biker bar, the air was warm and close and smelled like weed. There were pink circles around the streetlights. We sat with Guido in some old deck chairs while Pauley rummaged beneath the tarp where the guitar guy played on Thursday nights. Then, Pauley came back to us with a portable cd player and a book of cd’s. He held one up.
“This is a little guy with a big voice,” he said. “You guys will like this. You guys are little guys.”
“I don’t like little guys,” Guido said.
“Little guy, big voice. Listen to the voice,” Pauley said.
He pressed play on the portable cd player. The song was “Take Me into Your Lovin Arms,” by the British pop singer Ed Sheeran. And though the song would be a smash hit later that summer, it was not on the radio yet. Neither Phil nor I had ever heard it before. We’d never even heard of Ed Sheeran. But on the wooden deck, we listened to it four times in a row, Pauley and Guido singing louder each time, Phil and I humming along.
Then Pauley went inside to do something or other, and we were left with Guido, and Guido said, “You little guys are lucky Pauley likes you guys, because I’m pretty sure you little guys are cops.”
At that point I thought how many times is this guy going to call us cops tonight, and I thought aren’t I’m a little guy with a big voice? and I said, “You got us. Guido. You’re right. We’re cops.”
Guido stood up and said, “Goddammit. I fuckin knew it.” “Pauley!” he yelled.
“Come on Guido. He’s just messing around. We’re not cops. He’s kidding, Guido,” Phil said.
“I’m just kidding Guido. I’m just a little guy,” I said, and saying this I laughed.
Guido stepped closer and he said, “So you two cops wanna laugh at me?”
I said “You’re pretty funny Guido, if that’s really your name, thinking we’re cops, telling all these bogus stories.” I stayed seated while I said this, and I waited to see what Guido would do. He was a big guy, but I didn’t think he’d do anything, and I didn’t think it’d hurt if he did. Such was my oblivion. That night it had started to talk.
But Phil came to my defense anyway. He stood up and got between me and Guido, which meant that I also had to stand up.
Guido put his hand on Phil’s neck, and squeezed. He squeezed more and Phil started to cough. I wanted to tell him to stop it, but my voice was gone by then, and I again was just a quiet little guy.
Phil coughed some more and then Guido launched him backwards across a wooden table, spilling an ashtray, knocking over a few abandoned plastic beer cups. And while Phil tried to orient himself, Guido yelled, “Pauley! Get out here Pauley. I think I did something bad!”
Phil coughed some more and managed to stand up. His neck was ok, but his hands and arms were all scraped up.
Pauley came out and said: “Come on guys. Stay, guys. Let me and Guido buy your guys a shot. Guys, come on. Don’t be cops.”
I still didn’t say anything, but I what I thought now was that Phil and I had been initiated and could probably have stayed, become regulars, thrown our lives away on a grander scale, figured out the secret of the Thursday night guitar guy.
But Phil had already stepped through the little gate on the side of the deck.
“Come on. Be the new guys. Don’t be cops,” Pauley said.
“Maybe next time don’t throw the new guys,” Phil said.
“I knew I did something bad,” Guido said.
I said nothing. The moments to speak kept passing me by. They kept becoming new moments and the thing I was about to say kept becoming irrelevant, and I was in control of myself just enough not to say the irrelevant thing. Not saying the irrelevant thing was the only thing keeping me from disintegrating, I thought.
We walked around a while before going back to my townhouse so that Pauly and Guido wouldn’t know where I lived – Phil’s idea. I got in bed with Sheila and did the thing that gave away how wasted I was: I barely pulled the sheet back, laid on the extreme edge of the bed and kept a foot on the floor, which I believed was the secret to not puking.
Then it was morning, and Phil and I weren’t even hungover, and Phil told Sheila his theory: adrenaline had vaccinated us. He had the faintest little bruises on his neck that looked like hickies and he wondered why I didn’t try to help him the way he’d helped me, even though this probably would’ve resulted in me getting thrown, too.
Then, Sheila had an idea: I should take a week off from beer. Which I did.
That was the last time Phil came over. He had gotten a job doing social media with the City of Philadelphia and he began to send me text message updates about the size and growth of his several new retirement accounts.
He also claimed to have a booming new love life, but he didn’t want to be tied down. He was afraid of commitment and had been hurt by several relationships – this was what we’d talk about when it was just the two of us, finishing off a case on the concrete deck – but in Philadelphia he started dating married women. He could sort for them on his various dating apps, and soon he was french kissing married women in Philadelphia’s romantic locations. He was buying married women craft beers, and he was going to parks and to festivals with married women. His retirement accounts grew. He would soon have enough City of Philadelphia employee service time that he would become un-fire-able.
That fall I went to visit him. Over cheese steaks, in a park, we celebrated: Phil, me, and a married woman. The married woman and I raised a toast to him: He had become un-fire-able.
Through the spring the job I’d had for six years was ending and then summer came and it ended. My oblivion expanded again. I carried a little Bruce Hornsby with me at all times, always in the background, like tinnitus. The Bruce Hornsby was in me. I was The Range. Some part of me was always just sitting there while Guido got ready to throw Phil.
Also, Lucinda’s daycare closed for the summer. And Lucinda gave up naps. And Lucinda stopped wearing diapers.
The night of the summer solstice I stayed reclined in one of the Herman Miller Zero Gravity Aeron Chairs. I imagined I was a witch or a warlock and that I might go sans shoes for the next three months and that I might learn to feel the earth feeling me and get connected with some essential something. I would add my positive charge to the earth, and I would let the earth’s negative charge eradicate all my free radicals. I was ready to grow my hair and pierce my ears and learn spells and make potions and sew clothing and eat fungus and buy crystals and squirt patchouli. I’d had my shoes off all day. I had a headstart on shoeless-ness. I had already cast a spell on myself, the spell of stillness. Our family’s deck creature, that’s what I’d become. I might set up a tent out there, refuse to come inside, get sunburned as a castaway – be, in that way, a wild and great dad. Be a great dog owner.
Way after midnight Sheila came out to get me. She leaned over to see if I was awake. I was. She said only, “Tommy. Sweetie.”
Now instead of two hours to kill before Sheila got home, Lucinda and I had 16 hours of daylight, and during 9.5 of those 16 hours we were awake and Sheila was at work.
I found a neighbor from whom I could reliably score weed and through experimentation I learned to make a marijuana tincture because I was too afraid of lung cancer to smoke any longer, and this allowed me to do what is called “micro-dosing.”
There was too much broken glass around to go anywhere barefoot, and the deck grew too small for what Lucinda wanted to do with her tricycle, and quickly our summer became The Summer of Splash Pads.
There was a splash pad in the otherwise neglected city park just below our concrete deck. Our record was one time we went six times in a day. I learned not to put Lucinda in a bathing suit because letting her run around while she air-dried was another thing that took up time. We both liked the process of hanging her wet clothes on the clothes line on the deck – a pennant of each visit to the splash pad. And she was the one who got to be our deck creature: She got incredibly suntanned, even though I slathered her with sunblock. Her brown hair turned almost blond.
Weekday mornings we liked to get to the splash pad as early as possible so that the dog could also splash, and we taught the dog to use her paw to hit the button that turned on the water, and Lucinda splashed, and the dog supervised. And then the dog would try to eat the water and we would laugh. Then Lucinda would try to eat the water.
Later in the day, Lucinda would join the splashing Puerto Rican children and I would join the texting Puerto Rican moms, and I learned not to be too proactive at the splash pad because if I was too proactive I would end up with 10 little kids asking me questions and wanting me to get in the water with them and thinking maybe I could give them icecream money. At which point the Puerto Rican moms would start shaking their heads and whispering. So I would sit and text Phil, and ask about the hotness of the married women he was dating, and try not to wonder if he wanted to date Sheila and if Sheila wanted to date him, and generally let Lucinda do what she would do.
Sometimes she was timid and we didn’t stay long. Sometimes she gallivanted with the rest. A few times an older Puerto Rican kid took her by the hand and led her through the splash pad, and two times she posed for pictures taken by Puerto Rican moms: “Posar para la blanca! Posar para la blanca!” But the Puerto Rican moms never asked me to watch their kids. They asked each other, but not me. And I never asked them to watch Lucinda. Our kids would be nice to each other, and we would be happy if they played together. This was our understanding.
Then, in August, Lucinda had her checkup, and I had a physical. We did it on the same day – Sheila’s idea. At first Lucinda and I said we were doctor buddies. Then, we realized we were not doctors, so said we were patient buddies, and then while we waited in the waiting rooms we practiced being patient.
At her appointment, Lucinda’s doctor asked her to hop and she hopped. Her doctor asked, “Does she lie to you?”
“Sometimes,” I said. Apparently this was a good sign – the ability to make shit up.
Lucinda had to get two shots. She did not cry during the shots but only looked disdainfully at the nurse’s assistant, and I thought that my being lackadaisical on the deck and at the splash pad was paying off for her. That night Sheila asked her if she’d brushed her teeth and she lied about it.
I didn’t tell Lucinda’s doctor that our concrete deck had started to chip and three times we had pulled bits of concrete from Lucinda’s mouth. The concrete bits would give her cancer or they wouldn’t. What could the doctor do? Nothing. Which was why I didn’t say anything.
But when Sheila asked and I said I hadn’t mentioned the concrete deck bits in Lucinda’s mouth, Shelia said it was because of my oblivion.
At my physical I got the results of some bloodwork and found out I had lost a little weight and my doctor said it probably wasn’t anything to worry about. My doctor chalked it up to summertime. My cholesterol was ok. My liver was ok. I had a mole on my chest that I would have to make another appointment to get further checked out.
My doctor asked Lucinda her name and Lucinda said Lushinda and the doctor said, “Are you named after the country singer?”
“She’s not not named after the country singer,” I said.
My doctor was named Calvin – named after a president. “But not a very good one,” my doctor said.
“And I am named Tommy after a Civil War general who was a machine-like killer, and who I think would today be place on the autism spectrum,” I said.
“If autism had existed then,” said my doctor.
“If autism had existed then,” I said.
“And you’ve quit smoking?” my doctor asked.
“Three years now.”
“Good for you. Your blood pressure’s a little high,” my doctor said. “Could be hereditary. Could be the white-coat effect. Could be too much beer.”
My doctor said I should go to the pharmacy and check it out myself on the pharmacy’s machine. See what’s what. Look for a pattern. Then we would talk again. See what interventions might arise.
Leaving the doctor’s office I knew better what my oblivion was about. It was about not escaping heart disease and it was about dying before I wanted to. The oblivion was about oblivion expanding, and my life shrinking, and about my daughter in the backseat who I loved so much I might burst, and about my marriage that I troubled, and feared I would damage through my troubling, so that would I become not a father, and not a husband, and not much of anything in my pre-hypertension, and in my unemployment, and in my oblivion.
Across the street, the Irish biker bar stopped having the guitar guy play. They stopped having live music at all. There were not so many bikes on the sidewalks. One night the fire department came and put out what was later described as a small fire that had started in their kitchen. Afterwards, over the course of a week, they did a bad job of painting their deck railing orange, and white, and green.
Sheila and I did our best to clean up the chipping concrete on our deck, and we got Lucinda a toy called a water table and set it up. This because the splash pad was broken for a time, and worked only intermittently after that. We were in the heat of the summer by then. Older kids had begun to frequent the splash pad and they liked to find different ways to clog the drain so that the pad became a wading pool, and maybe not so safe for a three-year old with an oblivious dad. But with the water table, Lucinda could splash without leaving our deck. She could splash and splash and splash, and she would sometimes use a plastic cup to water the several pots of geraniums we had planted.
And me? I ran out of The Range. The Bruce Hornsby separated from my oblivion as the baseball season got serious. I got a white plastic table on which to set my laptop and watched baseball games on the deck.
I got very meticulous about drinking exactly 15 beers per week because 15 was the upper limit for a moderate and not a heavy drinker. I figured as long as I did that, and avoided salt, and avoided hamburgers, there was no need for me to frequent the pharmacy to get my blood pressure checked.
The neighbor that sold me weed moved out.
One Monday I showed up at the payroll office of my old job and got them to fill out for me a Public Service Loan Forgiveness application, which is to say I never defaulted on my student loans. I never took out any more credit cards. I tried to stop fantasizing so much about Sheila and I getting divorced and about what the sex would be like as divorcees.
Meanwhile, Lucinda splashed and splashed. She got more tan. She got ready to start preschool. Her preparation for pre-school consisted of me taking her to the pharmacy and buying her markers and a folder and a puppy-power backpack.
The government wrote back and said that although I had made 51 student loan payments while employed at my old job, only 27 of them qualified for public service loan forgiveness. Which meant I still had 93 payments before my loans might be forgiven. Which meant I had made about $13,000 in extra payments.
I drank two beers, went to the pharmacy and got my blood pressure checked. I sat at the automated machine, let it squeeze my arm. On top of the machine there was a line of lights: green, yellow, red. The yellow light closest to the reds blinked. My blood pressure was $13,000.
I sent out applications for other public service jobs. I got three part-time jobs, which made for a crazy schedule, but I stood to make just a little less money than I had in the spring when I was full-time. But part-time public service jobs did not qualify for public service loan forgiveness. But I could again afford the loan payments.
The Irish biker bar held a three day going out of business party over Labor Day weekend. The cops were called each night. Drunk biker men yelled in the street and were arrested all three nights. I don’t know if Guido and Pauley were arrested.
Meanwhile, the Herman Miller Zero Gravity Aeron chairs began to have their screws fall out. I would notice this and put the screws back in. I even got some extra screws and extra nuts from the hardware store, but one night my chair failed. A screw popped out with me in it, and this caused the metal tubing that ran up its side to pinch irrevocably. It pinched me too, and for weeks I had a deep pink-purple bruise where my leg and stomach came together.
I threw the chair away. I put the other on the curb and taped a bag with an extra screw and an extra nut and an extra screw cover to it and a sign that said, “Use at Own Risk.” It was gone in an hour.The deck chipped more. The landlord came to look at it. He would fix it but not until he had fixed the other decks in the complex that were worse. “Maybe next summer,” he said. “Not mañana.”
By then there were yellow jackets living in the bricks of the townhouses and it had gotten too hot to be on the deck much anyway.
Lucinda turned three-and-a-half. She knew she had turned three-and-a-half and she knew to ask for a half-birthday party. So, we baked cupcakes. Purple-frosted again. We let her have two that night. She lied and said her second was her first, and in that way got half a third before Sheila caught on.
I drank my 2.14 beers per night and started watching my baseball games inside. I got ready to start my three new jobs. Sheila and I agreed that in the fall we would have a bi-monthly date night. We would find someone to be a babysitter.
My oblivion morphed into boredom. I joined the Y and started yoga. Yoga was something I could do barefoot. The yoga class was about half Puerto Rican and half white. I was always the only man. We had a Puerto Rican instructor, Yolande. She taught in Spanish and in English. She would pull my hips back when I attempted down dog, and say, “Stretch. Reach.” She never said, “Stretch. Reach, White Man,” but she might as well have. That was what I heard.
Yolande would say to the room, “Now we do tres sun saludo, ladies and gentleman. Tres sun saludo.”
One time I fell over while in tree pose, and the class applauded, and I did a little bow and felt my blood pressure getting lower. I went back to the machine in the pharmacy and after it squeezed my arm, another yellow light blinked, but this yellow light was the one closest to the green lights. My blood pressure was down to $450.
When Sheila got home that night, I went upstairs and got naked and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Again I was a little skinnier. I had little muscles that were a little more visible. My chest-mole had not changed in any way that I could tell, and my three jobs were, so far, manageable. Not much was expected of me, the new part-timer. Driving from one to the other was the hardest part, but I still had plenty of time to apply to other jobs.
In the yellow bathroom light, I stood on the cool tiles and had a sense of solidity. I’d been listening to a lot of Don Henley by then.
Jack Christian is the author of the poetry collections Family System and Domestic Yoga.