Tuesday, September 25, 2012

68th and Chappel, 1989 - Part 2

Anyway, one day the alley got a real hoop. I don’t know how it happened, but one day there it was, up about ten feet with a net and a backboard and the kids playing with a real ball. I watched them play, shooting from the chest and diving in piles after rebounds, hot dogging and hot dogging, shake and bake and the hustle, winner gets the ball again.

There were two kids sitting on the ground, watching the game. The girl was about two, sitting on her butt in the dirt, her hands covered with dust and her pink dress pathetically dirty. The boy was about six, and seemed to be the one in charge. “Come on Neri, don’t be eatin that dirt, you know momma gonna be mad”. But Neri’s mouth was a clownface brown and she was wearing the huge smile of a kid who knows she’s gotten away with something she shouldn’t have.

I’d gotten some peaches the day before, and I was eating one as I was talking to John. He asked me what I was eating, and I told him it was a peach, and he asked if he could have one too. He was amazed by the peach, the juice ran down his face and he couldn’t reach his tongue far enough to get it all. “This peach is good. I want to have a peach every day”.

It was almost dark, most of the kids had been called back inside, to eat and wait for the lurking hours. I asked John my he wasn’t playing with the other boys. “I got to mind Neri. That’s what my momma told me, so I got to mind her.” One of the previous tenants had left a basketball in the apartment. It was kind of flat, and you really had to pound it to dribble, but I went up and brought it outside.
“Come on, let’s play some hoops.”

He wasn’t very coordinated, but I showed him how to shoot the ball so it would get some backspin, and how to do a layup. He would do his thing and I brought the ball back to him, sometimes trying a really goofy shot that would make John laugh. And the weird thing was that those shots just kept going in, like when you are in the zone and you just can’t miss.

“You know, I met Michael Jordan once”
“For real?”
“Yeah. You know he doesn’t do drugs, or run with a gang, or anything like that.”
“Yeah. And he told me, when he was young, he always minded his momma. He wasn’t tall either, when he was growing up. He was short, and skinny, and nobody would let him play in the basketball games. But he kept practicing, and practicing, and then, when he finally started growing, he just kicked butt on all the people who used to think they were so much better than he was.”

John was silent, and looked for Neri, to make sure she wasn’t doing anything. She was still sitting on the ground, taking dirt and throwing it up in the air. Then he turned back, with a kind of suspicious look, and said “Did you ever see Michael dunk?” The look on his face seemed to say that this was the testing point, that somehow, everything I had said was contingent on this answer.

I’d never been able to dunk before, always hitting the rim or having the ball slide out of my hand, but I said
“Sure. Let me show you how Michael slammed on me. I was going with him, not giving him any room, like this”
I took up a defensive stand, and moved around a little
“But Michael, he was like this”
I turned around, and started dribbling, sticking my tongue way out.
“And all of a sudden he is by me”
I pushed the ball hard into my right hand, trying desperately to keep my fingers from slipping from the palm grip they had on the ball.
“And he went up”

I started to run, four steps, and on the fourth step I planted my left foot and prayed, and jumped as hard and as high as I could, hoping against hope that somehow, that little bit of magic that had made all my jumpers go in and the dribbles never go off my shoes would give me this final piece of credibility, that little extra to make me, instead of the Brothers of the Folks, a temporary hero.

I went up, I pushed every part of my body, stretching it as far as it would go. The ball didn’t slip out, and just as I felt myself at the top of my leap, that magic moment where there’s no gravity and no sound, I threw the ball down and slammed my hand onto the rim, holding on for dear life and to miss the telephone pole.

The ball flew through the net, bounced, went up about five feet, and came down. John caught it and brought it back to me. “Wow, Michael Jordan”.

68th and Chappel, 1989 - Part 1

There was an alley behind my apartment where all the kids of the neighborhood hung out, it being the middle of summer vacation from the brown ridiculous schoolyards and absurd yellow buses. Streetside daycare was the way of the neighborhood, single parents sleeping off their dead end jobs and getting the kids out of the bedroom, “Don’t make so much noise, momma’s got to sleep, go outside, there’s a package of hot dogs in the refrigerator and I’ll bring you over to your auntie’s tonight”.

The kids who had parents on the day shift, or even two of the them, would go to the windows, opening them up to the air, no one on the South Side has air conditioning, watching the games in the alley and yelling down to their friends the latest alley gossip, hanging out of the window until an unseen voice would yell from the kitchen, “SilkieRaquel, you come in here right now, I don’t want you hanging out that window no more. Come on!”.

Little girls in pigtails and bright summer skirts would double dutch, and a crowd of waiters and hangers on would watch, waiting their turn and secretly hoping she messed up soon. Two mothers out on a back porch, drinking coffee and smoking Newports saying “Shit girl, when I was young I could do that all day long, jumping and double dutching, now I get tired just going up the stairs” “Oh I hear you sister”.

The younger boys would play some game whose rules were always amorphous but seemed to consist of running around screaming and pointing phallic objects at each other, with plenty of dramatic death-throes. The older boys would play stickball in the abandoned lot until they lost the tennis ball or broke the broom handle down so that they couldn’t use it any more, then they would stand around and mutter and throw stones and eventually disperse and then the younger boys would sneak in and collect the pieces to integrate them into their own new game. “Pow – you’re dead.”

The older boys would sit around and watch, in their slick Converse sweatsuits, the price tags still hanging on them, baseball hats broke left or right, Brothers or Folks, this was Terror Town. Sometimes, a legendary homeboy of the neighborhood would come by, in a Cadillac or just walking, a lot of gold but basically the same uniform without price tags, back to catch up on things or a cousin; “You seen Christmas? He stay with his auntie, you know, Chuck Christmas, he hoops over Stony Island.”

If those were the heroes, the God was Luster. Luster had a garden apartment in one of the buildings on the front of the alley. I think he was supposed to be a janitor or caretaker, but I never saw him do anything , just sit there on the moldy couch in that garden apartment in his undershirt watching tv with a big floor fan going, smoking Kools and leaving them, still burning, the heaped ashtray that I never saw empty.

To the kids he sold icycups, the summer treat of choice in the neighborhood, twenty five cents for a Styrofoam cup filled with frozen Kool-Aid and a stick stuck in it. He also sold Milky Ways and Almond Joys for thirty cents; he bought them by the case and undersold the drugstores. The kids would pester their mother or sibling in charge for a quarter “Wanna get an icycup”, or they would look in the already scoured lot for the small change, chump change that the Brothers and Folks so despised, tossing it away in imitation of their idols, the Rangers, who never carried around anything smaller than a fifty.

As soon as the kids got the money inside their tiny, clenched, fists, they would run all the way down to Luster’s. One of the little girls, she loved money the way cats love catnip, screaming “Money money money, I love money”, kissing it and rubbing it on her skin, squealing in ecstasy “money money money I goin get me an icycup an icycup and a Snickers, no I get me an Almond Joy an Almond Joy and an icycup”.

To the older kids Luster sold dust and buds and wicket, the marijuana coming in little manila envelopes that came from the post office stamp machine, dime or nickel bags, sometimes dust would wind up with the buds, hear kids screaming in the middle of the night “the bugs the bugs I got the bugs”. Luster’s apartment was truce territory between Brothers and Folks, they would just look at each other, with their arms crossed just like Chuck D.

For everyone else, Luster sold crack and horse, still never getting up from that moldy couch. Some of the younger brother dealt the shit down at the basketball courts, and after eight when the games broke up the park would be filled with kids shooting up or lighting the wick of a crack pipe. The cops never went down to the park, don’t fuck with the niggers on their own turf, just keep your head down and do your job, the cycle of shit made real every day

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lookin For Love

(She signed up)
At the gym
Working off all of those middle aged pounds
She noticed him
One of those guys who was always around
They'd both dipped in to
Retirement accounts
She did her tits
He bought a Porche 944

Yeah this is dating
In your prime
You're forty and you're free
Aren't you having a good time?

At the restaurant
Very careful about what they eat
Lactose intolerant
He tells her that he just can't do the wheat
They share some friends
Both had taken the same cooking class
He paid the check
She wonders if he really likes her ass

Yeah this is dating
In your prime
You're forty and you're free
Aren't you having a good time?

She's looking for love
In a push up bra
He's driving around
In a new sports car
He's looking for love
In her push up bra
She's riding around
In his new sports car

Small apartment
With a double bunk bed for his kids
She's got an ex
But forgets exactly where he lives
It's not ideal
She checks for texts on her cute smartphone
But here's the deal
Sometimes you just don't want to be alone

Yeah this is dating
In your prime
You're forty and you're free
Aren't you having a good time?

Yeah this is dating
In your prime
You're forty and you're free
Aren't you having .....
A good time?


In the morning chill of approaching fall
The roses send out their second bloom
Absent the heat of the long dry summer
The lawn returns to a lush hopeful green
I'm waiting for life to finally slow down
So I can figure out what this all means

It's spring in Australia but here it is autumn
And I pass by an old Brit along the canal
He's thinking of leaving for the open road
My car remains parked in its regular spot
I'm waiting for life to finally slow down
So I can remember all the things I forgot

On the banks of the river Suzanne waits for me
Her table pre-set with oranges and tea
But I'm drawn every morning to the dusty tow path
Where I crunch on the gravel and admire the trees
Attached to my barge until evening's quick black
I'm waiting for life to finally slow down
So I can figure how I can make my way back.

Friday, September 14, 2012

For Allie, On Her 40th Birthday

A dull autumn fog descends over Stockholm
As she waits for the plane which will fly her away
The airline attendant leafs through her papers
"They are quite in order, and ... happy birthday"

Standing in line to pass through London customs
There is plenty of time to reflect on her age
Forty today - where have the years gone
She counts in her head her mounting gray hairs

She takes magazines and two Ambien
And reads and sleeps all the way to LA
Blue sky above, blue Pacific below
And before you the sun slipping into the sea

I don't know how you can just sit there,
Just in your own, staring out the window
I like talking to people, interacting, you know
(Having exhausted his battery with the latest superhero)

Where I'm from, in the north, we are a quiet people
You can be together with someone an entire day
And not exchange five words, it is our way
But we understand that here you are different
When we travel we must put our Swedish faces away
Wear an American smile for your public display

When they told her the dates and attendees of the conference
She thought about booking the opposite flight
Timing the date line to skip a whole day
And remain thirty nine the rest of her life

But budgets are tight and it seemed quite
A lot to accommodate her private anxiety
And she told herself it really was not such a big thing
Molehill, not mountain, just another day

A speck of light on the horizon becomes a warm glow
And gradually turns into a city
Seat belts go on and cabin lights go out
The plane banks and descends down into Hawaii

At midnight the airport looks like any other
Honolulu generic and dark
She walks through the warmth and gets into a cab
Destination the Hilton on Waikiki Beach

She unpacks her bag and considers her options
Thirty hours aloft and twelve hours offset
She finds the exercise room and runs elliptical stairs
To the repetitive strains of late night CNN

Freshly exhausted she takes a long shower
And somberly considers her moistened reflection
Not bad for forty, not good for sixteen
She takes another two Ambien and goes hopefully to bed.

She awakes to the end of an afternoon rain
Lush dripping landscape of palm fronds and rainbows
She thinks to call home, but it is 3 am
And the children are all in their beds fast asleep


Two of the bulbs in the backlight are broken
Check in the flight case; there should be some extras
This top won't attach to the hook on the scrim
Turn it around, I think you've got it upside down

Yes he did, thank you ... I know
We ordered ... last week ... great
Now Fed Ex ... drop ship
They did, but ... thank you

Agricultural products? No, they're koosh balls.
You drop them on a desk, they go koosh
Trust me, terrorists do not send koosh balls
Absolutely, go ahead and open it

I'm telling you ... what's not to love?
No, not at all ... I understand completely
I'm sending someone ... five o'clock?
Thank you, I appreciate that

We've got a demo station and a brand new banner
Stacks of business cards and a hand badge scanner
Live tweets and video, raffles and swag galore
Doors open at ten am, be here half an hour before


The light in the bar is low and discreet
Divan like couches and a single tea candle
Two glasses of wine, they recline at their leisure
Exchanging notes in the rare face to face

Did I tell you about the chairs?
When we shut down the office
And moved to temporary space
Mike didn't realize that it was unfurnished

No coffee, no cups, no wifi, no water, no chairs, no tables, no nothing
I had to go to the auction where they were selling our stuff
And bid on the furniture with my own money,
Just so we all could have someplace to sit

He still wants to be seen, playing late at roulette
Throwing his chips on the black or the seven
But if he has to sell, and get what we're worth
He's got to pick up his chips and take a limo ride home.

After four years, it's finally come to this.
Four years? I have been here ten
The original patents were from my dissertation
I was Erika's last student; this has been my life.


Canapes on trays and melting ice sculpture
Chardonnay poured into clear plastic glasses
Booth babes circulate and Metallica plays
When the convention hall closes they adjourn

And they drink and they lie and they hope for the best
Dance while the band plays their retro requests
And they hide from each other what everyone knows
That this is the end, the end of the road

Mike falls over and almost starts a fight
They drop a big tip and hustle him out
The party was great, the show's a success
Lean on me Mike. Allie, open the door.

They get him to his room and put him to bed
And stagger out into the hotel hallway
Look at each other, smile and laugh
I have never seen Mike get so drunk, she says

He grabs her and they kiss, both over eager and awkward
Like inexperienced teenagers or naive adults
They make love like strangers, to each other and to themselves
But they rest like people who know each other well

And because it's the end they do it again
This time with a tenderness fraught with regret
And they walk on the beach to a Hawaiian sunrise
Hand in hand as if they were just sixteen

On the long flight home, to an uncertain future
She accepts that her life will go on, and be different
Yet the same, just another turn in a road full of twists
"Since I've turned forty, I've got one less line on my bucket list"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Girl (1986)

The acid taste of rain in all that remains
Of our smoke in the mist and the sound of your train
As we kissed on the tracks and your train pulled away
You waved goodbye and said "I'll be back someday"

But a someday girl just ain't worth waiting for
Someday never comes knocking at my door
Maybe next Tuesday I'll wait some more
Till then I'll grab a seat with the guys here on the floor

I'm standing at the station in a winter rain
Waiting for my Tuesday girl and the evening train
With the cabbies and the fathers and the boiyfriends
Watching the time and the tracks and the signal lights over the line
They're ok when their train comes they'll be fine

A someday girl just ain't worth waiting for
Someday never comes knocking at my door
Maybe next Tuesday I'll wait some more
Till then I'll grab a seat with the guys here on the floor