Monday, December 29, 2014

Song For Girl In Window

Originally published in the Huron River Review back in 2010:

Song for girl in window

One night young and poor
barely in college
walking by a sorority house
on the main busy street
happening to look up
at a window on the second floor
with the shade raised
just enough for a space
just enough to see the girl inside
her underwear black and shiny
long curly brown hair
and warm-looking skin

stopping and staring
though shamed
by the people in cars driving by
wondering if
she ever would have talked to me
what she was like
where she was going
what kind of dress she was going to put on
and for who

thinking about that girl
many times in the last fifteen years
when I have forgotten the names

of women I have kissed 

Friday, December 26, 2014

SANTA FE WOMEN—novel excerpt

The first 20 pages of my novel SANTA FE WOMEN:

Try staying in a band after college while any non-musician friends go on to real jobs in other parts of the country. Try working at Zingerman’s Bakery part-time because, though it doesn’t pay well, it allows a flexible schedule, because this is what you want to do, play music, so try it. Try playing clubs like The Heidelburg and The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, branching out to places in Detroit (this may take years) and even down to Toledo, Cleveland, or over to Kalamazoo and down to Chicago, and putting out your own CD, which sells ok (that is, you make back the money you spent), and your band may even get an offer from an indie label, who pays for another CD (this will take years) but who never pays you a cent, though they may hook you up with a booking agent, who gets you on a circuit starting in Chicago but going down, way down, to Texas, then across west through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and back to Chicago.
And try living on the road like that, in the back of a rental van that you weren’t supposed to take out of state, with the same six guys 24/7 for weeks, staying in hotel rooms or (to save money) even sleeping on the floors of strange but generous fans in various cities, living on ten dollars a day for food, or more, since there are always credit cards to live on which you can always pay back, right?
And try leaving Austin one morning, heading north to Dallas, with your singer Rick talking non-stop and realizing, this is it, I can’t stand him. All the confidence and attitude that came off so well on stage just a façade for this insecure jabberjaw and you can’t take it anymore. You’ve heard about husbands or wives just leaving a relationship, just getting up and walking away, and this is how you feel: you could almost walk away right there at one of those truck stops, only your guitars and amplifiers keeping you there. You have no money, no way to get them home, so you spend the next two weeks with your headphones on, trying to drown out the world with Metallica and Johnny Cash.
And try having a relationship while on the road. Either you’re on your cellphone in a van, or at lunch or dinner breaks, or you’re at a club setting up, or you’re at a club and it’s too loud, or you’re playing, or it’s after the show, at the hotel room, which you’re sharing with one or two other guys, and it’s late, especially with the time difference the farther you go west, and your girlfriend Donna doesn’t stay up that late anyways, and then you’re each talking on cellphones which, no matter what anybody says, suck, sound quality-wise, so not conducive to long conversations, and try getting home and finding out your girlfriend wants to break up with you, and in fact already has in her head, so that all that’s left for her to do is go through the rehearsed lines and the already imagined emotions, so that you are being broken up with by an emotional robot.
And then when Rick, the one you’ve come to despise for his ego, or his seeming to feel that he is the leader of the band, after all the phone calls you made booking gigs, arranging rehearsals, making flyers, and all the songs you brought in, some of which you felt (admit it now, might as well) that he contributed some pretty cheeseball lyrics, of everyone in the band, he’s the one that calls to tell you that he and the other two guys have decided to kick you out, and he’s telling you this on his cellphone while he’s in a Burger King, and even though you were going to quit anyways (I mean, probably) you suddenly see in the future nothing but a black wall....
....except maybe that small path off to the side, the one that opened up when you were in the van leaving Santa Fe and you thought, I’d like to live here someday, and that path too goes in the black wall of the future, but it seems to keep going, past where you can see, but it’s something, which is more than what you currently have.
So you sell most of your equipment, your guitars and amps (except that Fender acoustic—that one you decide to keep, no matter what) and you throw what you have left in the back of your truck, and you head south and west, south and west, past the cornfields, the Mississippi, the Ozarks, into high desert plains, cow processing plants, Carhenge, mountains and reservations, until you’re there behind the black wall, and though you see another black wall way up ahead, where you’re at doesn’t seem that bad: it’s sunny. You’re alone, but it’s sunny and you’ve got some things to be doing, which will keep you busy for a while, and also there are women in Santa Fe so, you hope, they too will keep you busy....

I knew I wanted to live near el centro, the old town part of town, and not down south off of the Cerrillos Road strip mall part. Finding a place seemed to come down to luck more than anything. I checked CraigsList online and most places I called had already been rented out almost immediately, though I found a few, mostly what they called ‘casitas’ there, small houses out back of people’s houses, old garages maybe, that owners rented out, either officially or unofficially (I was finding that people made a living, had to make a living, creatively), but prices insane, and that’s coming from someone who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I kept holding out. Almost went with a woman who had a casita out back of her place, but she also kept goats and chickens in a pen in the rest of the backyard. In fact, the pen was bigger than the casita, and I kept imagining those chickens screeching at five in the morning.
But then I tried the old fashioned way and looked in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper classifieds, and there was someone advertising a casita up in the canyon, just north of el centro. Sounded too good to be true, but I called and it was still available.
The landlady, Estrella, had a small adobe casita to the side of her house. She was from an old Spanish family that had been in the area forever, and was very proud of her heritage. She was the first, though not the last, person I met who became very offended at being called mexicans: They considered themselves Spanish first, then american. When I mentioned going to Mexico once, she made a face and snorted. —They smell.
The property belonged to her, she was a widow, but Pedro was either her boyfriend or second husband, I was never really clear on his official status. When I first got there he was lying on the kitchen floor because he said he back was hurting him, though he got up and shook my hand.
I tried some of my spanish on them and they were both impressed, especially when I said I thought spanish was a beautiful language (which it is). At that point I would’ve rented anything (except the chicken place), since I was spending a small fortune on what was considered a cheap hotel room, but their casita was nice. I mean, small—one room, with a kitchenette, and a small bathroom, but the price actually a little cheaper than some places farther out of town, so I took it and moved in that day.

I fell in love with many women in Santa Fe, I still fall in love with many women everywhere, but maybe the first was one who worked at my credit union. Tall and dark, with local spanish blood. Long straight black hair and, though I actually don’t necessarily like super skinny women, being that tall made up for it. Falling in love with women at credit unions or banks seems to involve how they dress, and she dressed well. Always with high heels and nylons. Business skirt, grey or tan, white blouse, gold cross necklace dipping down her chest. How many nights fantasizing about how that cross would shine between her breasts as she rode me....
For that reason, and guys are like this, I would skip the ATM machine and go inside for the chance to see her, trying to jockey my position in line to get her and her smile. Eventually I noticed the ring, but who really cares about things like that? It just made the gold cross fantasy that much naughtier.
Bank managers need to realize that should hire ugly people as their tellers, so people will use ATMs more and the banks won’t have to hire as many employees. But then, if I were the manager, I’d hire women like that too. Maybe the advantage of happy, in-lust customers outweighs the money they save. Así es la vida.
She also sometimes worked the reception desk which gave me the freedom to say hello to her and not have to jockey for position, and one time I even said, Cómo estás?, as I passed her and without hesitation she said bien back which confirmed that she was my dream girl.
And the next time I came in I saw her getting what looked like manager training, so I knew my time was limited, but the next time after that she was back at the reception desk, so I said hola and did my transaction, nervous, hoping the timing would be right, And it was, she was alone, so I went up to the desk and mumbled out in spanish that I just wanted to compliment her on how beautiful she was. Which took everything out of me. I had just poured my soul out to her.
And she smiled and said, —Gracias.
And I walked out the door, in shock. I didn’t say anything else to her. I hadn’t planned that far ahead. My plan being for the next time to ask her out.
And the next time she wasn’t there.
Or the next.
I asked one of the other tellers that had been there as long as I had been going, a perfectly nice young woman whose only fault was she wasn’t my dream girl, who said Graciela had taken a promotion up at the Los Alamos branch. So fuck.
Downtown Subscription was a café located on the edge of downtown where the canyon opened up, a short walk from Art Row, where many of the town’s art dealers had their shops, though a long enough walk, and a little bit hidden, to keep a lot of the tourists away. Most of the customers local, including every european in town because it was a place you could go to just hang out and talk, and study, and or write, for as long as you wanted. It also stocked magazines from all over the world, on any subject, from Cosmo (in German) to The String Theory Quarterly. It was a bout a mile and half down canyon from my casita, so on free days I liked to walk down and read or scribble while sipping a coffee. I actually liked the walk more than anything. It made me just think, or maybe allowed me the time to think, with no distractions, about my life and what the hell I was doing with it, so that by the time I had my coffee and was sitting at a table I might be scribbling down a first verse, and spend the rest of the afternoon working on it, with the background noise of people talking, their energy, and looking at the various beautiful women coming and going.
Did I ever talk to any of those women? Of course not. It was weird, but sometimes when I saw a woman who was not only beautiful, but intriguing-seeming, who might even be sitting by herself, those were the times when the words that needed to be written down came the easiest.
Plus I’d be scared to death to talk to a woman. What if she slapped me? What if she ran screaming from the cafe? What if she said no? Better to enjoy the thought, the possibility, than crush it with the reality of rejection. Though, better to be alone than to have tried and failed? Every man can talk himself into that logic. And meanwhile the women sit there alone, wishing a man would come talk to them (I mean, right?) but he never does, so the women get cats or dogs and read Jane Austin at home, eating chocolate.

Unless you come across a brazen whore who will actually talk to you, which is what happened to me one day when I was bent over my notebook.
—How’s the writing going today?
She was short, with straight blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. Skinny, with jeans and sandals and a dark green sparkly shirt with long see-thru sleeves. Holding a cup of tea and smiling.
I started to go into male freeze-up, but managed to say, —It’s going alright today.
—Are you writing a novel?
I leaned back in my chair. —No, just...lyrics.
Her smiled got bigger. —Lyrics? Ahh, you’re a songwriter.
—Well, trying.
—Do you play guitar?
—Yeah, I do but...
—I’d love to hear you play sometime.
She kept standing there holding her tea. Expectantly.
—Uh, would you like to sit down?
She smiled and pulled up a seat. —Sure. I can’t stay long. I’m seeing my shrink in half an hour.
Which should have been my first warning, but being lonely makes us do these things. But talking came easy to her. She had lived in Santa Fe for five years. —That’s a record! Most people only last two!
Originally from Boston, Rachel had moved out to SF after she got divorced. —Haven’t you figured it out yet? Santa Fe is where divorced women come to heal.
Like everyone else, she was trying to figure out what to do with her life. And, like everyone else, she too was exploring her creative side, painting, but also contemplating going back to grad school to study psychology.
I took a sip of coffee. —A friend of mine back in college always said, if you’re ever at a party and you meet a beautiful girl, who seems very cool, and she tells you she’s psychology major, run away as fast as you can.
She laughed out loud, holding her stomach, people around us looking over. —That’s great! I’ll have to remember that one. It’s true of course. I’m crazier than a bedbug.
She got up to go. —I’ll tell my shrink that one. He’ll love it.
Other men know how to say those lines so they don’t come out like a cliché. Me, no. —So...would you like to get dinner sometime?
She smiled again. —You’re funny. Sure.
She wrote down her number and put a smiley face underneath, waving goodbye at the door.

I’d had this thought rolling around in the back of my brain, to start studying spanish again, I guess from being in Santa Fe, feeling like I was in old Mexico. Back in college, spanish had actually been one of my favorite classes, though it was a lot of hard work. I always seemed to have to study hours with flash cards while my classmates would look at the chapter vocabulary lists right before the tests and do better than me. I’d done the mandatory two years, then actually got permission from the department to take an upper level beginning literature class, and if it hadn’t been for a horrible bitter old lady from Venezuela, I might’ve even changed majors. But, that was also when the band was everything, so school was less than everything. I also took a literature in translation class, which I also didn’t do well in, though I knew there was something there: I liked the stories, and remembered Pablo Neruda’s odes to storms and french fries, and I always thought it would be cool to be bilingual, maybe just to seduce mexican girls, but maybe also because spanish seemed like the second language of America, at least down south, and again, if it hadn’t been for the band and music, I would have loved to live in Mexico and do the Jack Kerouac thing, meet a Tristessa of my own.
And one day at Downtown Subscription I was sitting next to a woman obviously giving a spanish lesson to a girl, explaining the verb gustar and how it’s reflexive:
—Yo gusto el café.
—No no no, it pleases you. Me gusta el café.
—But I like it.
—But in spanish, things are pleasing to us.
— El café?
—Sí. Así.
—That’s so weird.
So after they were done, I leaned over to her. —Disculpe.
She looked surprised. —Sí?
—Me encanta el español. Could I take lessons from you?
We would meet once a week, for an hour. María was in her late fifties, though looked younger, her short black hair frosted with grey. She had lived in Santa Fe for twenty years. Her ex had worked up a the Lab in Los Alamos and still lived in their house in Tesuque, east of town. She’d been divorced for a couple years and was living with a rich family as a nannie. She had a son, who was in prison on a car theft charge. I had only asked about her family for polite conversation, and felt bad when her eyes started tearing up as she was telling me about him.
She had divorced her ex not for any horrible bad thing but more, it sounded, out of exasperation. Though apparently a scientific genius, pulling in a good money from his own company contracting with the Lab, he was horrible at managing it, and had put even the lease on his home in jeopardy through simple lack of paying bills. That plus being uncommunicative and clueless, the usual with men.
My spanish was shaky, but María was good about not speaking in English, and with the lessons, and me practicing reading easy stuff in spanish, like MAXIM en español, just for the articles, I realized I still had it with me, locked away in some dusty part of my brain.

It’s me, Donna. How are you?
I’m ok.
What are you doing in New Mexico?
Well, I’m not sure.
That’s crazy.
I guess. How did you get my number?
I called your mom. So what are you doing down there? Are you in a band?
No, no. Just hanging out.
Do you have a job?
Not yet.
I can’t believe you’re in New Mexico. You just took off.
Do you miss Michigan?
Um, no. Ann Arbor a little.
So like, you’re not playing music at all?
A little. For myself. like, it’s good hear your voice. I just wanted to, um, tell you....
Tell me what?
In case you found out from someone else.
Just that, Rick and I are seeing each other.
I just didn’t want you to find out and think that I was, like planning it or something. Cause I wasn’t. It just kind of happened.
So are you seeing anybody down there?
Um, nobody serious. Just here and there.
Well, ok. When are you coming back to Michigan?
Um, never, I think.
Never? Not even to visit?
I don’t know.
Well if you do, give me a call. I still have the same cellphone.
Are you angry or something?
Well, you’re super quiet.
I don’t care, it’s just, I thought you might be angry. But I’d rather you hear it from me.
Ok, well, I’m gonna get going.
It was good to talk to you.
Ok Donna.

For our first date I took Rachel to dinner at Udon Noodles down on Cerrillos, where she seemed to know everyone. —They’re all in my yoga classes. It’s weird to see them. I never go out to eat unless I’m with a suitor.
—A suitor? Am I a suitor?
She grinned. —Hee hee. You’re cute. Yes, I suppose you are, aren’t you? We’re out to dinner.
—Ok but for the record I’m not looking for a wife.
She clapped her hands and people at other tables looked over. —Ha! That’s great! Good for you! Who needs it? Except women. We need it.
—For security.
—Just get a good paying job.
—As if it were that easy. Especially in Santa Fe. And anyways, I meant it differently. Security in life. Security in love.
—Ba humbug.
She wagged a finger at me. —Oh, you say that, but you’re sad and lonely just like the rest of us.
—Yeah, well, marriage will solve all that? You’re the divorcée.
She laughed again, and our noodles arrived (the waitress wasn’t that attractive so I didn’t have to worry about staring at her ass or not) of which Rachel ate almost nothing, and ordered a box to go.
Afterwards she invited me to a club called SWIG, which I’d heard of but knew nothing about. We had to access it by an elevator, the doors opening right into the club and loud ambient techno. And here were all the young adults (late 20s to some older guys in their late 30s) from other more cultivated cities, like maybe LA or New York. No locals. No more cowboy hats, no more jeans, or hippies skirts, or pueblo design wool coats. Suddenly we were surrounded by people in black, men in ties and dress shirts, women with lots o’ make-up in mini-skirts. I felt a little annoyed that Rachel hadn’t filled me in, since I was in jeans and long-sleeved shirt, but she wasn’t much better in a simple white cotton dress, though she did have some high heel sandals, so maybe she just didn’t know, or care.
We went into one corner and sat at a couch. No dance floor, just two rooms connected by a hallway where the bathrooms were. Since the music was loud, I’m not sure what anybody was talking about: They seemed to just be standing around looking like they were going to be doing some coke soon.
A drop dead gorgeous young waitress in a tight mini-skirt came over and took our drink orders and I tried not to stare at her legs as she walked away. Rachel excused herself for a second, leaving me to people-watch and wonder what the hell we were doing there. When she came back she squeezed my hand. —You have to see the bathrooms here!
The men’s room walls were covered in astro-turf, even around the urinals, and it was huge, though nobody else came in while I was there. I kept expecting a posse of American Psycho types to pile in but I guess it was too early for that. Though it was Santa Fe: I couldn’t imagine the place being open past one o’clock.
When I got back and sat down next to Rachel, she slipped her sandals off and put her bare feet in my lap, so of course I started massaging them while we talked about her friends. She had gone to St. John’s College there, for a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts. —Which is as basically useless as it sounds.
But she hooked up with some girlfriends there, all with much more money than her: The kind that lived in houses their parents had bought for them. —So they kind of took me in and had pity on me. I’m the token poor girl they can all take care of. They like to come here.
And on cue, Ingrid arrived with a gaggle of friends. She was an art dealer in town, though I couldn’t figure out if she took that seriously (meaning she liked bad cowboy art) or not (meaning she was in it for the money). But she had shown some of Rachel’s paintings at one point. She kissed me European style when we were introduced and then I basically sat by myself while she and Rachel talked for awhile. So I looked at our waitress’ legs some more, which were nice, and I swear she even smiled at me, which is the weird thing about women: She wouldn’t have even looked at me if I’d been there by myself. Maybe since I was with a woman I wasn’t putting out pheromones of desperation.
But watching Rachel interact with Ingrid was...intriguing. Basically Ingrid spoke, and Rachel listened, which reminded me less of a friendship and more of how I used to schmooze with club owners, promoters, or other bands. And they kept talking, and none of Ingrid’s girlfriends were talking to me, so I got up and did a walk-around to the other room, where the music was even louder and there were more single guys in suits, so I just came back and told Rachel I was taking off. She got a concerned look on her face and put a hand on my cheek. —Oh you poor boy. I’m not paying attention to you, am I? Do you want to go someplace and talk?
—No, I’m done for the night.
—Well, call me. Ok?

I pulled up next to my casita and got out. Quiet. Crickets. Some lights on in some of the house in the neighborhood. The air cool. I stood there looking up at the stars filling the sky, with the Star River running through the middle. My breath drifting lonely as a cloud. My truck Ana clinking, cooling.

The Pueblo Indians have been in this area since the beginning of the tenth century, if not sooner. You can visit Bandalier National Monument, with examples of both their cliff dwellings and old adobe style buildings. Santa Fe became the first capital city in America in 1607 (or some sources say 1610), even though it actually belonged to Spain at the time (the whole area was called Nueva España). It’s also the only American city where a successful Indian uprising happened, against the Spanish, in 1680.
Santa Fe became the northern trade hub down to Mexico City, both for the Spanish, and then Mexico when it seceded in 1821. After the Mexican-American War, in 1821, the city changed hands to the United States, and that same year the famous Santa Fe Trail was opened up to connect the northeast states with the new southwest territories. This makes Santa Fe the only city in North America to be under four different national flags: Spain, Mexico, the Confederate States during the American Civil War (for like, a week), and The United States. It has been the capital city in the area, both as a territory and as a state, though nowadays it seems a little out of the way compared to Albuquerque, which grew huge from being at the crossroads of two interstate highways.
New Mexico became a state in 1912, but the freaks had already started to arrive: Painters like Georgia O’Keefe (who liked the light) and writers like DH Lawrence (who liked the freedom and wanted to found a creative anarchist commune). You can still visit the Lawrence Ranch north of Taos, about an hour north of Santa Fe, and see the Lawrence Tree, which O’Keefe made famous in her painting of that name, which, when I first saw it, looked, because of the weird perspective, like a giant squid squirting ink in space.
Santa Fe also seems to have been one of the first American cities (at least west of the Mississippi) to plan for tourism and a city identity, centering around the architectural ‘look’ of the western adobe flat top buildings, the traditional Mexican ‘pueblo’ look. By 1912, all buildings had to have this look, reinforced by a city ordinance in 1958, so that today when you walk around the streets, if you ignore the SUVs, you can almost picture yourself in an old Mexican town from 150 years ago. This ‘Santa Fe Look’ now includes interior decorating, and even clothing.
The other economy of Santa Fe was, and is, the Los Alamos Lab, run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Built during World War Two to research and construct the atomic bomb, it was picked originally for its location: Far away from most anything, up on a mesa thirty miles (as the crow flies) west of Santa Fe. ‘The Lab’ stayed in business after the war, bringing in leading scientists to continue nuclear research. Los Alamos is now its own town, and if you go up to visit, you feel like you’ve stepped back into a slice of the east coast: non-adobe trophy homes, grass lawns, and even more expensive rents than in Santa Fe. Not even the Cerro Gordo Fire of 2000, where the Park Service lost control of a prescribed burn in Bandalier and the escaped fire ended up burning dozens of homes, not even something like that could pull property values down, so that lots of scientists and their families live down in Santa Fe, or small villages out on the reservations like Tesuque or Pojaque and commute.
During the sixties and seventies, the hippies and alternative life-stylers started to arrive, for the good weather, the arts, and (again) (I think) the sense of Santa Fe being so far away from anything else. If you watch the original version of Lolita, which came out in 1962, directed by Stanley Kubrick, which I did in a theatre there, the pervert stalker guy (not Humbert, the other pervert, the really bad one) ends up taking Lolita to Santa Fe for a life of hedonism and porn. When the grown up Lol tells Humbert about her Santa Fe days, the whole theatre started to, knowingly, laugh and snicker. Santa Fe is called The City Different (I believe from the spanish way of putting adjectives after the nouns: La Ciudad Diferente) and people take great pride in being different. It’s actually one of the attractions: If you feel like a freak somewhere else, you’ll finally be normal in Santa Fe.
But there was no person called Santa Fe, even if nowadays you can find women with the name Fe. The original name of the city was “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís,” which means, “The Royal Village of Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.” San Francisco, or in english, Saint Francis, being the patron saint of poor people, animals, and (I guess) Italians (or anyway, they seem to love him).
Saint Francis had the strange anti-capitalist idea of devoting himself to poverty, and talking other people into doing the same. The poorer he made himself, the more money and property people donated to his cause. But he was born rich, which allowed him to get a good education, and would explain why he was able to think of embracing “lady poverty,” because surely no poor person would ever come up with that idea.
He was inspired by the section in Mathew 10:9 when Jesus tells his followers to go out in the world and tell about the kingdom of God. And not bring any money. Or even shoes. And although he may not sound like a fun guy to us Americans, he and his followers apparently could be found enjoying themselves up in mountain forests, singing and laughing. He was never actually ordained as a priest, but the Pope at the time granted him permission to found a new order of monks, which lives on to this day, and they bake good bread too, I visited one of their monasteries up in the UP, in Michigan.
According to legend, Francis was called to help a village whose sheep were being killed by a wolf. He went into the woods and the wolf appeared in front of him, growling, but as soon as Francis started talking to him, the wolf lay down and put it’s head on its paws. They talked and the wolf explained the situation, and Francis freaked everyone out by bringing the wolf down into the village plaza with him.
Francis explained the wolf’s point of view to the villagers, that the wolf was only killing because it was hungry, because (and I’m ass-uming this part) probably as the village grew and the farmers cut down forests for farmland, and as they hunted more and more deer, they took away the wolf’s normal livelihood.
So, again, according to the myth, once Francis explained the situation, the villagers agreed that, as long as the wolf stopped killing their sheep, they would agree to feed it. And everyone lives happily every after like good Christians, and we’re supposed to take the wolf as a metaphor for anything, or anybody, say for example, terrorists. That all violence comes down to misunderstandings, and if everyone could just sit down and talk, we could come to peaceable agreements. Except, what are the villagers going to feed the wolf? Bread? No, they’ve got to feed it sheep. So apparently they’re ok with giving away what the wolf would take anyways. So, the reasoning would go, if terrorists perform acts of terror to get the US to stop meddling in mid-east politics, in order to make them stop, you would presumably stop meddling in med-east politics. Which sounds good. But the reality is, the villagers are just going to kill the wolf. And as the village expands, they’ll kill the next one, and the next one (because there will always be other wolves) with the added benefit of more deer to hunt. Sorry Francis. It’s cool you can talk to wolves but, even though we say we’re good Christians, we can handle things our own way, the good ole American way.

You can find statues of Saint Francis all over Santa Fe, usually with little bird and squirrel statues gathered around him. He was also apparently the first person to suffer stigmata, though he never told anybody: One of his followers described them to people after he died, in 1226. In 1228, the Pope (a different one this time) made him a saint.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

RUST—novel excerpt

First 20 pages or so of my (unpublished) novel RUST, including the intro in italics. Enjoy.

Glaciers shaped the lower peninsula of Michigan like a mitten by during the Ice Age, gouging out the five Great Lakes around it. People out in the country still find weird geologist nerds stopping in front of their lawns in order to look at big rocks that were carried hundreds, maybe thousands (!) of miles in ice. Jackson, Michigan, if the mitten is the right hand facing up, is where the Life Line curves down and ends almost at the wrist, between the two meaty sections at the bottom. Though Native Americans had been around for thousands of years, Jackson was ‘founded’ in 1829 by Horace Blackman, who named it after President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, but if you go to the corner of Second and Franklin, just south of downtown, there’s a small park with a plaque titled “Under The Oaks” describing the founding the Republican Party on July 6, 1854. The population hub of Detroit and the communist city-state of Ann Arbor represent the liberal parts of Michigan. The rest of the state, including Jackson, is the generally conservative part, though Michiganders are a weird mix: They can overwhelmingly elect a democratic governor, but will at the same time overwhelming vote to ban gay marriage. Most of the people belonging to the Democratic Party do so in order to protect their union jobs. And look how well that’s worked.
Jackson became known as a small parts city, with smaller factories supplying the bigger ones in Detroit, though as more and more jobs go south, to other states, and other countries, the less small parts are needed. And there’s never been anything to replace those jobs, except rich people from Ann Arbor and Detroit who became willing to make the commute in order to get cheaper houses. When the feds eased restrictions on drilling on government land out in places like Utah and Wyoming, job recruiters came all the way to Jackson to find people who wouldn’t mind the harsh winters in places like Casper. And they got takers.

Economically and geographically, Jackson is right in the middle of the Rust Belt, which stretches from Minnesota to Pennsylvania, and was coined for the decline in iron and steel production in the 70s, but grew to include the decline in all the manufacturing industries, like cars. Starting with the Industrial Revolution, and Henry Ford’s new factory system, and especially after the first World War, many African-Americans moved up for all the new jobs assembling cars on the assembly lines of Detroit and surrounding cities. This was not without some conflict. With too many people for too few jobs, as is usually the case, the poor whites blame the poor blacks, instead of the rich white guys running the car companies, or the rich white politicians ‘running’ the system. White people abandoned city centers for the suburbs (“white flight”) and, starting in the 60s, Detroit and other cities in the state have had their share of race riots. Yes, even into the 21st century, though you won’t hear about it on the news anymore.
Jackson is about two thirds white, one third black, and only a sprinkling of latinos filtering up in search of well-paying dishwashing jobs. There are a few Asians, from Asian countries proper, plus the Indian sub continent and the Middle East, all safely belonging to the upper middle class. For the most part, these different groups get along, now, though of course they all stay in our respective cultures: At school: black kids at one table, white kids at another. On the bus: black kids in their seats (yes, usually in the back) and white kids in theirs. In restaurants, white folks at their tables, black folks at theirs. Only at Jackson Community College is it different: white kids in all the college-prep transfer classes, poor whites in developmental and trade classes, and blacks hardly anywhere.
Michigan was logged completely back in the day, when everyone thought the trees of North America would last forever. Most of the trees you see there now are 2nd or 3rd generation. Along with, and after, logging, came farming, and you can still see fields and fields of corn around Jackson, though less and less than even a few decades ago. Summers in Jackson are hot and humid, with flies and mosquitoes. When you’ve been gone for awhile, you forget how lush the area is: cornstalks tall and green, trees bending out over the roads, forming green tunnels. Thunderstorms lasting days, the thunder soothing though, you can fall asleep to it.
Fall is the best time in Jackson. Leaves turning, sometimes amazingly, red, yellow, orange. Nights cool, all the bugs gone, and it feels good to put on a jacket and go for a walk, looking at the stars, brighter with the drier air. We know what’s coming, so we enjoy the sun and the outdoors as much as we can, unless we’re inside watching college football. The first snow nice, pleasant, beautiful, especially since the sun still comes out afterwards and keeps everything brighter than it’s been in a while. If we’re lucky, the big snow doesn’t come until December, though sometimes it can come as early as October.
But then January comes and there’s no excuse, nor escaping: it’s full on Winter, the feet of snow, eyeball-freezing wind, and the vanishing of the sun until April. You get up in the dark, work inside somewhere all day, and come back in the dark. Not that there’s sky to see: just grey clouds all the time, something to do with being surrounded by Great Lakes. Winter in Colorado, for example, is nice because there is sun in the daytime, and with the high altitude, the temperature can get up in the 40s. In Michigan, when it gets in the 40s, teenagers wears shorts. There’s also no social life in Jackson in Winter. Many would argue there’s no social life in Jackson period, but in Winter it’s hard to feel attractive when bundled up in five layers, head tucked down. Better just to just stay in, rent movies and eat Doritos, with a partner if you’re lucky. If not, that’s what internet porn was invented for.
Then Spring. The sun comes out. The snow melts. The lake ice melts. The sandhill cranes come back. The tulips in Ella Sharp Park bloom. Little buds appear on trees, then actual leaves. And grass, the Great American lawn becomes visible and men can finally mow their lawns.

I found her in the woods behind the subdivision by my house, between the dirt road and the lake, lying on her back in the weeds. Black dress. One of her black leather shoes missing. Short brown hair like my sister Jenna. Her eyes still open. Her lower lip cut with dried blood.
I knew her. My old babysitter’s sister. I couldn’t remember her name. I knelt down and touched her. Her blouse wet from the dew. The ribs underneath. I touched her bare leg. Cold. Smooth. I pressed down on the skin. Her eyes staring out away from me. I picked a piece of leaf from her hair and traced my finger down her cheek. Cold.
I stood up and looked around. Nothing, no one. Just trees. The road, the lake. I bent down and lifted her skirt and looked.
I dropped her skirt and stood up, looking. Then I ran away.

My mom was back from Ann Arbor, sitting on a couch grading papers, listening to cuban jazz and drinking tea. She looked at me as I came in and tilted her head. —Danny, what’s wrong?
—She’s dead.
—Dead? What do you mean? Who?
—Jennifer’s sister. In the woods out back by the lake. She’s dead. I saw her.
She put down her tea and got up. —Jennifer? Jennifer Streeter? Her sister? Danny are you sure? This isn’t playing?
I shook my head. —No. She’s there.
—Can you show me?
She called to Jenna that we would be right back and took me in our car out on the dirt road. I told her when to stop and we got out. She held my hand and I led her through the trees to the girl. When she saw the body she said, —Oh my god.
She ran over to it. covered her mouth with one hand, and started to cry. Then she turned around and took me back to the car.
We drove home and she called the police. She put more water on the stove for tea and stood there holding her hands over the teapot. By the time the tea was ready a police car drove into the driveway with its lights flashing.
My mom talked to them, then went with them to show the body. She was gone a while. I turned on the tv. Jenna came out and sat next to him. —What’s going on?
—I found Jennifer’s sister in the woods. She’s dead.
Her eyes got wide. —Dead? Where?
—By the lake.
—You saw her?
—What was she like?
—Like...she was sleeping, except her eyes were open and she didn’t move.
—What did she look like?
The police car pulled back into the driveway and my mom got out with an officer. They came inside and my mom took Jenna back to her room. The officer came and sat next to me. —Hello Danny, my name’s Kyle. I’m with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. Can I talk to you for a minute?
I kept staring at the tv. —Ok.
—Do you mind if I turn off the tv?
The officer got up and turned it off and sat back down. He took out a notebook. —Danny, first we want to thank you for what you did. It was very brave.
I didn’t say anything.
—Did you see anything else there? Any people?
—No. Just her.
—I thought so. I had to ask. Did you touch the body at all?
I shook my head. —No.
—And she’s your babysitter’s sister?
I nodded. —Yeah.
—Did you know her? Did she every babysit you?
I shook his head again. —No. I’ve just seen her.
The officer nodded slowly. —How exactly did you find her?
—I was walking in the woods. I was going out to the lake and I saw her color. It was different. So I went over and it was her.
—How close did you get?
— I saw her eyes and then I knew she was dead.
—How do you feel right now?
—Me too.
—Did somebody kill her?
—We don’t know. But we will.
He put his hand on my head. —Listen, Danny. If you like, you can talk to somebody about this. A therapist. It’s ok to be sad. Sometimes people like to talk about being sad and it helps.
I stared at the floor. —I’m ok.
—Are you sure? I talked with our mom and she said it would be up to you.
—I’m ok.
—How old are you and your sister?
—I’m eleven, she’s ten. We’re in the same grade though.
Danny nodded.
—Ok, well...I just need to take some notes real quick and then I’ll leave you alone. Ok?
After he wrote something, he stood up. —Thank you Danny. Do you want the tv back on?
My mom came back out and offered the officer some tea but he said no. They went outside to the car. I went over to the window and listened.
—Will he be ok?
—I think so. I just wanted to be sure he didn’t look too closely. Then I would be worried. around him. If he looks bad give that therapist a call. She’s good. But, I think it’ll be ok.
—Ok, thank you. Is there....
—Any danger? Shouldn’t be, for your family. This was...sexually related.
—Sexually related. The poor girl....
When she came back in I was watching tv again. She sat down and asked how I was, stroking my forehead.
—I’m ok Mom.
—Are you sure baby?
—I’m ok. I’m sad is all.
—I know.
—She seemed nice.
She kissed him. —You’re very sweet. How about we go out to eat tonight? Do you want pizza?
—Ok. Can we go to Sir Pizza?
—Wherever you want baby.

That night I was still awake when Jenna opened my bedroom door and whispered my name. She came in and got under the covers with me. I stared at the ceiling while she looked at me in the dark.
—Will you tell me about her now?
—Like what?
—Like what she was wearing.
I was quiet for a second. —A dress. She only had one shoe.
—Did you touch her?
—Yeah. She was cold.
I touched Jenna. —And harder. Not like you.
—Was she still pretty?
—Did somebody kill her?
She rubbed her eyes. —That’s sad.
I kept staring at the ceiling. —I looked up her skirt.
She stopped crying. —You did? What was it like?
I didn’t say anything.
—What was it like?
—There was blood. I think he killed her there.
—There? How?
—I don’t know.
—Did you tell?
—Not about that.
She snuggled up to me and rested her head on my shoulder. —I wish they could have left her alone. Are you sad?
I touched her arm. —Yes.
—Why don’t you cry?
I closed his eyes. —I don’t know.

I stayed up in bed looking at my clock until eleven o’clock, then went out to the living room to watch the news on television. They talked about her.
Our top story tonight, police recovered the body of eighteen year old Wendy Streeter, reported missing yesterday. The police say they have detained an acquaintance of hers. Relatives report that the two people were intimate, and police have said it is a quote crime of passion unquote. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday at St. John’s Church. In other news, another Michigan soldier has been killed in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad....
I turned the television off and went back to my room, but stopped when I saw there was still a light on in my mom’s room. I hesitated, then knocked softly. —Mom?
—Danny? Come in...
I opened the door. She was reading in bed, one large candle lit on the bedstand next to her futon. She put her book down and looked at me. —What is it baby?
—Mom, what’s passion?
She sat up and motioned me to sit on the bed. —What do you mean?
I sat down. —What does it mean?
—’s love. It’s strong love. Extreme love.
I stared at the floor.
—So when someone is passionate about something that’s all they think about. Like, someone can have a passion for playing music. They’re passionate.
I nodded. —Oh. But...can you be passionate about a person?
—Um, yes. Usually it’s about doing something, but yes.
—But if you’re passionate about someone, why would you kill them?
—What? Baby, is this about that girl?
—Yes. They said it was a crime of passion.
—Oh. Oh. Jeezus. The poor girl.
—Was it her boyfriend?
—I guess so. If they said that, then probably. I guess...maybe he...I guess he was jealous. That’s usually what it means.
—Jealous of what?
—Of...another man. Maybe she was with another man and her boyfriend found out and...killed her.
—Baby I don’t know. People are...fucked up. Just fucked up. It’s not right to do that.
—But...he loved her?
—Well...maybe. In a way. But not in a good way
—How do you know when you love someone in a good way?
—When you don’t want to hurt them.
—But....ok. But...why was she with another man?
She sighed. —Baby...sometimes that happens. I’m not saying it’s right but...sometimes you get attracted to another man. Or woman.’s a big mess.
—Did she love the other man?
She shook her head. —I don’t know. Only she knows.
—But did she love her boyfriend?
—Maybe. Maybe she used to and then didn’t. Maybe she never did.
—Why would she be with both of them if she didn’t love either of them?
—Well...people can be attracted to people. You can like someone without loving them. Love comes later?
—And one person can love someone even if the other person doesn’t love them?
She sighed again. —Yes.
—Why do people fall in love?
She smiled. —Nobody knows. But it feels good when both people do.
—It feels passionate?
—Um...yes. You can’t think of anyone else.
—So why is it a crime?
—Oh. Well, when someone loves someone else, passionately, but the other person doesn’t feel the same way...that can hurt. So...I guess he wanted to hurt back.
She touched my shoulder. —But promise you’ll never do that to someone. Never hurt anyone.
—Even if they hurt me?
—No. It doesn’t make things better. With this girl, now her family is hurt.
—But you said that if someone feels passionate they don’t think about anything else.
—So...I don’t want to feel passionate about anyone. Ever.
—Baby, why?
—Because if they didn’t feel the same way it would hurt.
—Oh baby, come here.
She hugged him. —It’s ok to feel that. If you find a girl and feel that way, it’s ok.
—What if...she doesn’t?
—Then...her loss. And there will be others.
I yawned. —But...
—Baby go to sleep. You’re too young to be worrying about this stuff. Too heavy.
I stood up. —Mom?
—Can I go to the funeral?
—Oh. Sure baby. We’ll go. That’s very... nice of you.

My mom picked me up after lunch from school and we drove to the funeral at St. John’s Church. There were lots of people. It was an open casket, but we sat in back so I couldn’t see her very well. The minister talked and I looked around at the other people. Her family sat in front. Jennifer was between her parents, wearing a black dress. The mother was slouched over, crying the whole time. The father just say there straight with red eyes. The other sister sat next to them in a wheelchair in the aisle, wearing a military uniform.
After the minister finished speaking, everyone stood in line to view the body. I waited in line with my mom’s hands on my shoulders. Jennifer’s mom bent over the coffin and cried until the father and Jennifer helped her away.
When I finally stood next to her, she looked like she had in the grass. Sleeping. Hair brushed, shiny. Hands crossed on her chest. Eyes closed this time. I touched her arm.
My mom grabbed my hand and drew it back, whispering, —Danny no, it’s disrespectful.
I looked up at her as they walked away. —I just wanted to touch her.
—Well....don’t. Come on.
I looked back at her face one more time.

The family stood at the doors to greet people. Jennifer was first. She held out her arms and hugged me. —Oh Danny. I’m so sorry. Thank you.
Her body was warm. Her hair in my face. Apples. —I’m sorry Jennifer.
She looked at me and started to cry, then leaned over to her mother and whispered in her ear. The mother’s eyes got wide and she started to cry again. She leaned down and hugged me. —Oh my boy, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Thank you.
The father held out his hand. —Son, thank you for finding her.
He shook his hand and looked up at him. —I’m...I’m sorry. She seemed like...I could have liked her.
The father closed his eyes hard. Looked at him again. —Thank you son.

When we got to the car I asked my mom if I could skip the rest of the school day. She said yes and dropped me off at home.
I went for a walk back into the woods and took the path over to the lake, back to the spot. The grass was matted down everywhere. Tire tracks. I found where her body had been. Still the outline in the grass. I touched the matted grass where her legs had been and traced up. I traced up to her head and stroked the grass like her hair. Then I cried.

Wednesday night was our night out with our dad. He picked me up from the house and Jenna from her dance class. We went to Pizza Hut, like always. The manager smiled at my dad when we came in. —Hey, got a booth for you in the corner like you like.
My dad smiled. He liked to feel important. We sat in the booth and Anne, our usual, and Dad’s favorite, waitress, came over and smiled. —Hi, the usual? Let’s see, two Pepsis and one water for the thirsty dancer, and a large pan pizza with pepperoni.
She winked at Jenna. —How are you? How’s the dancing?
Jenna smiled, shy. —Fine.
—Ok, I’ll be right back with your drinks.
She turned and walked away with the menus. I watched my dad watch her, then I looked at her. Her pants were black and tight and I could see the lines of her underwear. I looked at my dad who was still watching. Jenna played with her fork. —I like Anne.
My dad played a video game on his phone. I looked around at the other people. Jenna played with her fork and knife. Anne came back with their drinks. —Here we go, two Pepsis for the boys, and a water for the ballerina. And here’s your straws.
Jenna smiled. —Thank you Anne.
—You’re welcome, ballerina. Your pizza will be right out.
Dad went back to playing his phone. Jenna tore off the tip of the straw cover, turned the straw around, and blew the cover at me. My dad looked at her. —Jenna, stop that.
She looked down at her lap. —Sorry....
I looked around at the people again. The restaurant was busy. I drank some Pepsi.
Eventually the pizza came. Anne cut out the first pieces for us, Jenna first, then me, then my dad. Jenna smiled. —Thank you Anne!
Anne winked and walked away.
We ate. Jenna had two pieces and my dad and I ate the rest. My dad paid with a credit card and we left. My dad gave me the keys and told me to take Jenna out to the car.
—I’ll be there in a second.
I took Jenna’s hand and led her outside to the car.
From the front seat I could see through the restaurant door. My dad was talking to Anne. She nodded at something and looked out the door and saw me. She wrote something on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Then he came out to the car.
Jenna touched his shoulder from the back seat. —Daddy, what were you doing?
He looked at her in the rear-view mirror. —Nothing.
—Are we going to the arcade now?
He drove us to the mall and parked. We got out and went inside to Aladdin’s Castle, dark and red and loud with bleeps and buzzes and explosions and bells. My dad got five dollars worth of tokens and gave us each four to start out. I played games and sometimes watched Jenna play and sometimes my dad when I had to ask for more tokens. When the tokens were done, we left and went back to my dad’s apartment. He turned on the tv and we sat down and watched a MASH rerun. Later, he made popcorn with oil and lots of salt. At nine o’clock my dad and Jenna wanted to watch a show that I didn’t like, so I asked my dad if I could watch the tv in his bedroom. I went in and lay on the bed, using the remote to turn the tv on, propping myself up with pillows and watching his show.
During a commercial, I noticed the top drawer to the night stand slightly open. I opened it all the way and inside was a stack of magazines called Penthouse, with beautiful women on the covers. He took the top one out and opened it to the center to a two-page picture of a naked woman lying on a bed smiling. Showing herself and smiling. She had hair between her legs and fancy jewelry and shiny hair, and she smiled like she liked me looking at her. I turned the pages with more pictures of her. I kept turning pages. There were stories and articles, but then more pictures of another naked woman. Then pictures of two women together. In their underwear and then naked. Kissing and touching each other.
I kept looking. Once I heard my dad get up and I put the magazine away quickly, shutting the drawer. When he sat back down, I opened the drawer again and looked at the magazine until I heard my mom knock at the front door. I put the magazine away and turned off the tv and went out. My mom knocked again. I went to the door and opened it. My mom smiled. —Hey baby, ready to go?
She looked at my dad. —Hello Sean. Jenna, ready to go?
Jenna was sitting next to my dad half-asleep. She shook her head. —I don’t want to go.
—Baby, it’s late. You need to get home and go to sleep.
Jenna snuggled up to my dad.
My mom sighed. —Sean, come on.
My dad sighed too. —Alright. Jenna, come on. Time to go.
—Daddy, no....
—Come on. I’ll see you this weekend.
Jenna got up and slouched out. My dad got up and walked over and patted him on the head. —See ya, kiddo.
I turned around and walked to the end of the hall after Jenna. The door was still open enough to heard my parents’ voices. My mom’s got louder. My dad said something and my mom came out slamming the door behind her. She walked past him. —Come on baby....
Driving home, Jenna slept in the back seat. I sat up front and put my face against the window, the glass cool on my cheek.
My mom kept switching radio channels. —Did you have a good time tonight?
I nodded. —Yeah....

That night, in bed, in the dark, I thought about the woman. I held my pillow and imagined it was her, that I was holding her. I rubbed against the fabric like I was rubbing against her and my penis got hard. I turned over on top of the pillow and rubbed, breathing heavy and thinking about her smile and between her legs and then stuff squirted out of my penis. I thought I’d peed myself. I sat up and turned on the light. It wasn’t pee. It was thicker and white. I turned off the light, turned over the pillow, and lay on my back, touching the white stuff still on my stomach, and fell asleep.

I was the last one the school bus dropped off, forty-five minutes after leaving school. I never got a key to the house because I’d figured out how to break in, which was to climb up on the shelf of empty flower beds below the front windows, pull off a screen and set it to the side, then push open one of the windows and slid inside. I’d shut the window, going around to the front door, outside, and put the screen back on. Then I’d go back inside and maybe make popcorn and watch cartoons. If I got tired, which was most of the time, I would go in my room and take a nap.
That night, after picking Jenna up from dance class, my mom got a pizza at Little Caesar’s and came home. I was sleeping but heard them come home and came out. We ate and afterwards my mom sat both of us down on the couch and kneeled down in one of her yoga poses, smiling. —I have really important news to tell you guys. But first of all I want you both to know I love you. And, I just found out today that I’m going to Mexico for a year!
We both stared at her.
—I just found out I got a fellowship to study Spanish for a year there. I...wasn’t sure I’d get it. I leave in three weeks, after you guys get out of school. But, I wanted to say, to ask you both, if that’s ok with you? That I go?
Jenna’s eyes started to water. —You’re leaving?
My mom put her hands on Jenna’s knees. —Not for good baby. I’ll be back before you know it. And this way your father can come live here and you can be with him.
—I hate you!
Jenna got up and ran to her room, slamming the door.
My mom closed her eyes and sighed. —Shit.
She looked at me. —Baby, I’m going to go talk to your sister, ok?
—Are you mad?
—Ok, I’ll be right back.
She went to Jenna’s room and knocked. I could hear everything.
—Go away!
—Jenna baby, I’m going to come in.
My mom opened the door and went in, leaving the door open. Jenna was crying.
—Jenna baby, don’t be mad at me. It hurts.
—I hate you! You don’t love me....
—That’s not true baby. Come here, let me hug you.
—I don’t want you to hug me. I don’t like you. You’re always doing things. Why can’t you be a normal mom?
—Baby, what’s a normal mom?
—Someone who stays. I don’t like having you for a mom. All my friends make fun of me.
—Oh baby, why? What kind of friends are those?
—Why are you leaving?
—I’m not leaving forever. It’s only a year. Baby, this is really important to me.
—Can’t you stay here and do it?
—No, not really. Baby, this is exciting for me. I want you to be happy for me.
Jenna sniffling. —Why can’t you stay?
—Honey...there’s nothing here for me in Jackson. I want to learn things from the world. I want to show you that it’s possible to do that. I don’t want you to stay here all your life.
—I like it here....
—Well...this way you’ll get to be with your dad. I know how much you like him. You can see him all the time.
Jenna’s voice got louder. —Why can’t you be normal? You don’t like me. You like Danny but you don’t like me.
—That’s not true. I like you both.
—You don’t like me! You laugh at me!
—No I don’t baby. When did I do that?
—When...when I asked you about boys, you laughed and made fun of me!
—Baby, I don’t remember that, but I’m sorry if I did.
—Don’t leave!
My mom started to cry. —Please baby, don’t say that. I really really really need to go. I don’t like it here. I need to leave. Please, please say it’s ok.
She sniffled again. —Fine. Ok....
My mom came back out to the living room, still crying a little. —Danny baby, are you ok?
She sat and put her arm around me. She always smelled like tea tree oil. —Baby, you know I love you, don’t you?
—Is it ok if I go?
—Yeah. I want you to. I want you to be happy.
She started to cry again. —Thank you baby, that’s sweet. You know, I’m not sure what it will be like, but I thought, maybe, you could come live with me and go to school there. I don’t know yet and I didn’t want to say anything to your sister. I’m not even sure you would want to, but maybe. I’ll see. Would you like that?
—I don’t know.
—I know, it’s scary. I’m scared too. But, that’s why I want to go, a little. I’ve never done something scary. Do you understand?
—I think so.
She hugged me. —I’m going to miss you. Will you miss me?
My eyes started tearing up. I wiped them. —Yes.
—Will you write me letters? I’ll be lonely down there.
I stood up, still rubbing his eyes. —Ok.
—Oh baby, are you ok?
—Yeah mom. I’m just going to bed.
She touched my arm. —Do you want to snuggle?
—Ok my big boy.
I went into my room and closed the door and got in bed in the dark. I hugged his pillow and listened to Jenna and mother cry.

I got to science class before anyone else and sat in my assigned seat at one of the back tables. Outside, students were still changing classes laughing and yelling. Raquel Vasquez walked in. Dark skin, long black hair, tight white t-shirt and jeans. She looked at me and smiled and went to her seat in front, one row over. I could see her bra under the tight shirt across her back. She got out our science book and started to read.
More kids came in and sat down. Chris, the boy that sat next to me, came in smelling like cigarettes. He started drawing on the table. I got out the science book to read, but he nudged me and leaned over, half-whispering. —Damn, Raquel’s got some big ole titties, don’t she?
I automatically looked up at her. She turned around. I knew she’d heard him, but she looked at me, her face getting red and her eyes watering. She turned back around and slouched over her book. I looked at Chris, who shrugged and kept drawing on the table.
Mr. Messer, our science teacher, came in and slammed the door. He was tall, and big. And ex-marine. —Open your books!
If we hadn’t before, we did then. He told us to read chapter nine and do the questions at the end, then talked about the National Geographic special he saw the night before. I looked at Raquel, but she never looked back, just kept slouching and looking down at her book. Chris nudged him and pointed to what he had drawn on the table: A girl with big breasts and black hair licking her lips.
I glared at him. —Don’t.
—Don’t what?
—Just stop.
Mr. Messer had still been talking. —...and what scientists are now learning is that sharks actually prefer fresh water. Hey, is there a problem back there?
He pointed at me. —Out. Out the door.
Now Raquel was looking at me. Everyone was looking at me. —But—
I stood up. Chris looked down at his book, which was covering the drawing. I closed the door behind me and stood in the hall, looking out the hall window at the bike rack. The door opened and Mr. Messer came out, slamming it behind. —What’s your problem, punk?!
He pushed me on the chest. —You got a problem?!
I barely kept my balance. —No.
—Gabbing with your friend?!
He stepped forward and pushed me again. —No?!
—I didn’t do anything!
—You gonna blame your buddy? Snitch?
I didn’t say anything.
—You’re not tough. I could take you. Think I couldn’t? I was in the marines. I’ve seen punks like you.
He pushed me again. —Are you sorry? Say you’re sorry and you won’t go to the principal’s office.
—I didn’t do anything!
Mr. Messer pointed down the hall. —That’s it. Go.
He slapped me on the face lightly. —Come on, punk.
I backed up. —Ok, I’ll go!
Mr. Messer went back inside and slammed the door again. I stood there and heard him say something and the class laugh. I turned and walked down the hall, looking in open classroom doors.
I passed one of the janitors, an older black man, who winked and smiled. —Busted huh?
I nodded. —Yeah....
—Don’t let him get you down son.
—The Man, son, the Man.
—Who’s the Man?
He exaggerated looking around. —He’s everywhere!
—But, you’re a man.
He nodded slowly, pointing at me. —That’s right son. And you will be too.
I stared at him, unsure what to do, or say. He laughed and patted my shoulder. —Alright son, I’ll be seeing you around.
I walked into the office. The secretary looked at me over her thick glasses, frowning. —Yes?
—I got sent down here.
—By who?
—Mr. Messer.
She sighed. —Oh jeezuz. Alright, have a seat.
I sat in a plastic chair by the door and waited. A girl came in crying. The secretary looked at her. —Yes?
—I have to call my mom. I want to go home.
—What’s wrong honey?
The girl looked around at Danny, then whispered something.
—I’m bleeding!
—Oh honey, sorry. Come here in the other room.
The secretary looked at me. Angry.
I sat and waited to long the girl’s mother came and took her away. Finally the principal, Mrs. Singleton, came out, smiling. —Ok, what’s your name?
—Danny Singer.
—Ok Danny, come in.
I followed her in and sat in a chair. She sighed. —Mr. Messer sent you?
I nodded. —Yes.
—What did you do?
I looked down at his feet. —Nothing.
—What did he say you did?
—Talking I guess.
—Did he do anything?
—He sent me out in the hall.
—Anything else?
She sighed again. —Ok, well, just wait outside until the bell rings, ok?
I nodded. —Ok.
I got up. —Mrs. Singelton?
—Yes Danny?
—How do you tell a girl she’s beautiful in spanish?
She smiled. —Hermosa. Eres hermosa.
—Eres hermosa. Thank you.
—De nada. Buena suerte con la muchacha.
I went out and sat until the bell, then went to gym class.