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Ms. Bowery

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Ms. Bowery is setting out the plates. It is 1 a.m.

Ms. Bowery has hair towered into a bouffant, pink at its base, but crowned with an acceptant gray that she’s chosen to leave untouched.  She has stray locks which tangle with her eyelashes, but, unswept, they signify she’s just emerged from a kitchen where heat and humidity have had their play. A menagerie of brass instruments in the backdrop express steam intermittently; a pan of pastries lay proofed in align like a mausoleum of bees encased in their own honey.

“I have polenta crisps,” she offers, which I accept greedily, and she hands me a lacquered patisserie studded with cornmeal, bowed to fit both sides of the plate. I have to crack it with a fork.

“The hotel’s asleep, you know,” Ms. Bowery says; I look up.

“Oh, I know,” I respond, as she leans up against the counter with weighty arms.

I’ve been wandering the hotel since most the doors have closed, following the hallways and remarking the damask carpet.

I gesture with my fork. “This is the best time of night, though.”

“Tell me about that,” Ms. Bowery says, and she turns in her pinstripe uniform to scrub honey from a spent tray of rolls.

I play with my food while she dutifully scours the pan, the back of her arms in constant up and down motion above the sink. The crisp is like the crust of a crème brulee, Ms. Bowery suddenly the alchemist. The polenta falls into candied shards upon the plate, like teeth falling out tink-tink into porcelain.

“I dunno, Ms. Bowery. There’s the side-yard, first of all.”

“Oh—you’ve been there?” she smiles, turning around briefly, before returning to her scrubbing.

“That and the downstairs lobby. I turned a corner, and I at first noticed the chandelier.”

Ms. Bowery shrugs.

“Well hear me out. I noticed the chandelier, but that wasn’t it. Every hotel’s got a chandelier. There were those two hallways leading to the back.”

“Which one did you go down?” Ms. Bowery, asks, shaking the pan dry.

“The left one.”

She nods, returns to the counter, and places her chin in hand.

“Good choice.” She looks down.

“You done with that?” she remarks, gesturing to my food, which is tilework on my plate. I haven’t been eating well.

I push the plate her direction.

“The left hallway had all these intricate balconies—wrought-iron balustrades done up like Spanish moss—wall-hangings, big potted plants. All these voices from the rooms, like, they were condensing on the under-leaves of the plants, and the carpet was thick and I was bare-foot and it was nice.”

“Hmm. Thanks for staying up with us,” Ms. Bowery says, simply, while clearing my plate. She returns to the sink and it’s just me and her in the lobby. There’s the sound of porcelain banging against the aluminum basin.

I try a half-hearted sneer. “Well, if I didn’t stay up with you, then you wouldn’t exist, y’know.”

She returns to the counter and sighs, shakes her head gently. “The quite opposite is true. You realize your eyes are closed, don’t you?” She cocks her head leeward and looks at me sadly.

“I know,” I admit.

“What’d you see in the side-yard?” There’s no lobby music playing.

I take Ms. Bowery’s hand and sigh.

There’s the nothing-sound of a great machine stopped, the otherwise expression of steam from one of Ms. Bowery’s brass contraptions.

Ms. Bowery’s hand disappears and I’m in a field of grass gone silver in the crepuscular light. The sun has slipped its chariot and the night emerges little by little until the sky is just a field of uninterrupted stars. I can’t make out the constellations; I am looking through the long arm of the Milky Way, so it’s as if I’m pressing on my eyes and seeing my retinas explode in multitudinous dots, yellows and greens and blues, that encapsulate and exceed vision at once; and there are crickets which play metered time in the humus beneath my head, a soft timbre that is not a stopwatch, nor a lullaby, but a reminder still of moments passing while stars fall from their orbit in a series of sky happenings, as the horizon gets darker, as the moon grows brighter, as the silver grass grows more illuminative with 1 a.m passing, then 2.

“It’s a good place, isn’t it?” Ms. Bowery asks.

I nod my head. She tucks a curl back from her brow.

“Come back anytime. This hotel, it is yours.”

 

 

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School Pictures

Cayde sat opposite the couch from me mired in spiral-bound notebooks and three-ring binders. He had one ear bud in, the cord of which trailed to the computer, and there was the small tintinnabulation of EDM playing incessant 6/4 time while Cayde typed on the keyboard. His face was illuminated by the laptop screen, underlit like a boy playing with a flashlight beneath the covers, eyes and nose done up in alien shadow. I studied him from across the way, surreptitiously, so as not to interrupt him with my gaze. In between keystrokes he’d reach over and pluck a few grapes from a plate next to him, else crunch on a pita chip dipped in hummus: just a boy doing his homework, without rile. He could almost be described as inexpressive, which made studying him that much more an objective exercise; me tracing the lines of his face with my eyes; following those rounded cheeks down to the jut of his chin; remarking his brow, smooth, yet to be furrowed with the worries of age. The block of his hair fell weightily to the right and threatened need of cutting. Behind Cayde, the living room window reflected the night’s Spanish homework, now beyond my reading level, but Cayde’s eyes flickered along comprehendingly, and the window flickered as quickly, displaying flashes of light and color while Cayde parsed through the various screens.

It occurred to me suddenly, that though Cayden was wrapped in his custom makeshift nest of cushions, pillows and blankets, obviously at home and content; that though his mom and dad were in the room and reflected in the window screen as well; that I didn’t know exactly who Cayden looked like anymore, that I could’ve been looking at a stranger across the playground. Perhaps it was the under-lighting, the martian glow provided by the computer, but suddenly eleven seemed a world away from every myriad age Cayde had been up until this evening, back when his features were recognizable morphs: my eyes, Jenn’s nose, his grandmother’s cherubic cheeks. Now he was just Boy, caught somewhere in between features, on his way to something pre-adolescent and independent of his heredity, if briefly. As if his genes were unloosed and given free expression for a moment, allowed to rearrange to their own liking.

I cocked my head and tried looking at him from a different angle, trying to take him in. I was reminded of the time I visited the Grand Canyon when I was in high school. I was with my friend Ryan, and we were perched on the East Rim overlooking one of the canyon’s sprawling vistas. Unlike anything embossed in miniature on a postcard, the Canyon was immeasurable, irreducible, and no matter of perspective allowed the eye to capture it at once. So, too, looking at Cayde was like trying to minimize something far too expansive to take in at one time. I searched his face for something essential, something recognizable, that would frame him in the moment, as readily as the windowpane behind him squared his figure on the chaise, the reflections in the glass haloed his head in illuminative graphics. He continued typing on the keyboard, occasionally shaking the bangs loose from his forehead; I studied his mannerisms, still careful not to disturb him with my stare, and slowly Cayde emerged, by nature of his small movements. It was like watching a painting come alive, a two-dimensionality wrest its away into the unlikely third, and it was the gestures, the particular way in which Cayde reached for his grapes or the way in which he adjusted the laptop screen, that reminded me of my boy. Still, I couldn’t see myself in him, his mother for that matter either.

On cue, Jenn tapped me on the shoulder from her perch behind me on the orange recliner. “Take a look at these.”

“Hmm? What?” I asked, woken out of my reverie. “Oh,” and I collected a portfolio she had handed me.

“School pictures.”

I slid the photos from their sheath, and there was Cayde’s face in multiplicate, matte and frozen in smile.

“Doesn’t he look like my dad?” Jenn asked. “Like young pictures of him,” she elaborated.

“I dunno,” I said, squinting. “I was just wondering that I don’t know who Cayde looks like anymore.”

Cayde looked up from his screen, face still illuminated in silver light, and deftly held up his hands between philtrum and his chin. “From here to here, I look like Mommy,” he announced, before returning to finish his Spanish.

His self-awareness is sudden relief and once he closes the laptop, the light-show turned off so that there’s just the nothingness of the window behind him, I in part recognize him again, and he looks up at me which are my eyes, surely; headlamps are passing vagaries in the street and Cayde is occasionally silhouetted, and we look at each other with shared eyes and I slide the school pictures slowly back into their sheath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Think, Feel, Behave.

“Coach, two,” I say to John who’s barking at his boys in a Ugandan accent. He nods assent while I toss him deuces.

I sit against the chain-link behind Cayde who’s the itinerant goalie, pink shoes and leather gloves.

Cayde glances at me, then returns to the game, which—considering the practice lot’s vicinity to the street—is really just a keep-away game from the cars. He tugs at the thumb of his left glove with front teeth and readies himself for another drive.

“NOW NOW NOW!” and Coach John urges his mid-fielders forward toward Cayde’s cage. There’s the inimitable sound of a ball being punted, then the sound of Cayde crashing to the grass with an <oomph> having deftly caught it.

“Alright, Cayde. Let’s go. End on a good one.”

I shake the coach’s hand.

“Gotta pull him early, Coach.”

“Awight. YOU GO GOOD.” Coach has no volume button. I’m being instructed to leave early, well, though I asked permission. Story of my life. I have a deck of cards in one pocket, a pen in the other.

I show Cayden to the car, which is parked to the side.

“Where are we going?”

“Not sure yet.”

We drive.

“Why’d you cut seventh period, Cayde? And why’d you destroy your phone?”

(This is all my fault).

“I dunno. BUT they were the worst mistakes I ever did.”

There’s a green light on 30th, so I turn. I know about worst mistakes, so I take pause while the intersection clears.

“Lemme get this straight: you like photo class, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Why ditch it?”

“They’re only talking about how cameras are made and boring stuff.”

“Oh.”

I look at Cayde and smile.

“That’s not boring stuff, y’know.”

The lights on University are Green and we circle aimlessly, like the universe is telling me to ‘go’ but I don’t know exactly where. It’s six p.m. and most the reputable coffee shops are closed.

I clear my throat.

“My friend Brad teaches photography, and the first thing he teaches his students to do is to make a camera out of a Quaker Oat box.” I downshift and park.

We exit the car.

“You see, Cayde,” I say, as we leave the car tick-ticking its heat, “It’s not about the instrument. It’s about YOU.”

We’re in front of the North Park Observatory, where Cayde and I saw one of our first shows. A Starbucks is built into its lobby. We’re going to Starbucks.

“Whaddya mean?”

“I’ll tell you. First you tell me why you destroyed your phone. Then we can talk.”

(A note about the Observatory: I took Cayden here when he was ten. Phantogram show. He was excited to be with his Dad. I remembered a TV episode from years back—Black Sheep Squadron—and, TV lieutenant to Major Pappy Boyington: TJ told Pappy he was unsure if he loved his dad, that it was getting in the way of his flying. Pappy told TJ that it was ok if he didn’t love his dad. Hearing that, TJ could fly again.

‘Love you, Kid—Jeezus, just settle down.’ And Phantogram came on, and we struggled to the midsection; Cayde fell asleep on my shoulder while the amplifiers played in clip, and I thought, ‘Fucking TJ. Just love your Dad already.’ Me and Cayde walked home, and Cayde narrated the entire walk back to make me remember why I’m a Dad , and why it is that he will never ever be a TJ).

“Why’d you break your phone?”
“I was angry,” we are dealing gin rummy over a hot chocolate and an Americano. We have met the barista. His name is Tomaso. I instruct Cayden to always introduce yourself to your ‘server’.

(“They’re not your ‘server’, Cayde,” scratching my beard, “You have no idea what they might be outside of serving you a drink or a movie ticket or your groceries. Introduce yourself, always. ALWAYS know their name.”)

“I was angry. It was stupid.”

“Thoughts become feelings become actions, Dude. I know it. You gotta stop at the ‘thoughts/feelings’ part.”

We play gin. The rhythm of the game allows me time to think. Cayde’s gotten pretty good, so I have a worthy partner. ‘Bout being a Dad? You make this shit up as you go, and no matter how smart you are, you need time on the ropes to wipe the blood off your face.

“I’m sorry you….”

Cayde lays down ten cards. “Beat you, Daddy!”

I have no time to finish.

“Yes. Yes, you did.” I swipe up the cards.

I quietly lay a pen down on the table. “What’s this, Cayde?”

“A pen.”

“What does it do?”

“It writes things and makes essays and stuff.”

I shake my head.

“Try again.”

“It writes?”

I shake my head again while I replace the pen in my front pocket.

“It does nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

I re-shuffle the cards, and my Americano is getting cold.

“It does nothing. It sits in the goddamn store until someone buys it and uses it. THEN it means something. It’s why you probably shouldn’t have destroyed your phone; there’s a nice camera on there. It’s now like an unbought pen. Lemme show you something.”

It’s near eight at the Starbucks and the baristas are starting to stack chairs and express steam from the machines. The neon lights have come on.

I walk Cayden across the store.

“Look at our coffee cups.”

“OK.”

“Gonna teach you something. ‘Taught this in New Orleans. Look at our coffee cups. OK? Now let’s walk across the store and look at them again. They’re different, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s walk here.”

“They’re different again.”

“Exactly. Now if I had a pen or a camera, I would take either which one and *note* how things are different while staying the same. I haven’t moved my coffee cup, but it looks different because we’re looking at it from a different angle.”

“…”

“Tomaso is cleaning up the floor. What color is his apron?”

“Green.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Green?”

“No—gimme a word that describes green.”

“Plants.”

“His apron is not a plant, but you called it a plant. That’s metaphor, and we’ve just seen how things can look depending on where you sit in the room.”

“Yeah!”

And I point to his forehead.

“That’s your brain working, Kid. Nothing in this room has changed, except that we’ve moved around it. Good thing I’ve got a pen to write it all down: the simplest, stupidest of all things.

“Don’t wreck your camera. It’s got worth, Dude. Learn how it works, but learn how better to work it. ‘S all important, every part of it. And—seriously—Think. Feel. Behave. In that order.”

I’ve not entirely lost Cayden at this point, though I’m in part talking to myself. We close out the Starbucks and we hold hands on the way to the car, cards neatly tucked away into my pocket.

Think. Feel. Behave. Think. Feel. Behave. Ad infinitum.

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Gunslinger

goodGunslinger night.

Cayde and I just watched the rocket launch out of Vandeberg and have a date to play a few rounds of 7-card before bed. I never ‘let’ him win.

“Is there a strategy to this game?” Cayden asked me one time.

“Yeah, Kid. I’m using it right now, and you’re not gonna win until you figure out what it is I’m doing. By the way, I know you have a seven in your hand so don’t count on me giving up my eight.”

Hard-knocks.

I think back to when Cayde and I used to play Connect-Four; Cayde was maybe five. Cayde would stick his tongue out and make the wrong Tetris time and again—we’d pull the lever and make the chips clatter to the tabletop.  Then, we’d reset and repeat.

I remember the first time he beat me at my own game, having finally learned to think at least two moves ahead (and play a diagonal board, dammit). Could’ve been embarrassing to lose to a kindergartner, but instead I was really proud.

“Let’s go get some food before we play tonight,” the rocket launch fading into the chambre sky, lights muted by a column of clouds.

We stop at the taco truck after stopping at the mom n’ pop for some graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate.

“Dude—the taco diablo,” I say to the cook who’s leaning his head out the window, “’S spicy shrimp?”

“Yes, my friend: spring mix, cabbage, mozza, shrimp and pico.”

“How spicy is spicy?”

“Whatchoo want, one to ten?” I pause, so he just answers for me: “I give you a four.”

“Whoa, whoa—before we agree, whaddya use for spice?”

“Oh—there’s a spicy salsa on the side.”

“No, no—what makes your shrimp a 1-10?”

“Oooh,” he smiles—“Habañero, my friend.”

“Let’s make it a five to start then,” and we give knucks.

Cayde and I make rangetop S’mores when we get home, and I attempt the taco.

It’s a weak five, the cook having buried the shrimp in mozza to suppress the heat.

I return to the truck, Morricone music faintly playing in the background.

The cook smiles and leans his head out the window again, like Frank Morgan peering out the Emerald Gateway in Wizard of Oz.

“Heey—you’re back my Friend.”

“Dude—the taco was excellent, but sling me a nine at least. Less cheese.”

I pass the test: he smiles, retreats to his rangetop, and starts making me some real shit.

“There you go, my Friend,” he passes me a nicely wrapped tortilla. “I’ll see you next week.”

I love cooks—you just gotta know how to play their game.

“Alright, Cayden,” I say dealing the cards. “Didja figure it out yet? The strategy?” We play through half the deck before I gracefully play a five-card straight and lop-side the scoreboard, 100-10. Cayde twists his mouth. I re-deal.

“I go first, Kid,” and I start the game with trip fours. The game goes back and forth and I’ve got some kings and aces in my hand, am looking to go out with a flourish, like the rocket from Vandever, which earlier had sparked brightly in the sky before sneakily appearing further south on the skyline.

Cayde has seven cards in his hand, and I have five—he looks consternated and pretends to be frustrated at the discard pile. I just need an ace to run away with this one.

Cayde pulls a card, frowns. He rearranges the cards in his hand as if rethinking his straights and trips. Morricone music plays again. He discards a three and—just as I’m about to pick up a fresh card—he says: “Hold on, Daddy.”

He lays down a straight and a trip at once, depleting his hand. Like we were playing gin rummy versus seven-card. Card shark shit.

“You have aces in your hand, Daddy.”

I let my hand crumble to the carpet. Two aces, two kings. I’m down fifty points immediately.

Cayden smirks, and I’m proud as can be. He not only swept the leg, he guessed my hand.

“Nice job, Kid.”

<exeunt>