By Tony D’Aloisio
I remember laying there for a few minutes right after waking up that morning, feeling all hazy and out of it. Like that was all I could do once I’d kicked off the covers, just lolling away on the one sheet I had left and blinking my eyes, trying to get them into focus and rub the fuzz and shit out of them.
You could already tell it was going to be blazing-hot, a total scorcher. It was almost summer, and it was like we were only just now getting this massive foretaste of the sizzling months to come.
I finally managed to drag myself out of bed and threw on some clothes and then I was hauling my way upstairs to grab a little breakfast. I figured I could get some cereal and that way at least the milk would be cold, right? So I was reaching for the cereal from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. And right then I caught a look outside our front window.
Okay, you know those pictures they’ve always got in astronomy books? Artists’ conceptions or whatever they’re called, of what it would be like to spend an afternoon on the planet Mercury?
That’s exactly how this was. You practically expected to see lakes of molten metal everywhere and shit catching fire wherever you looked and the sun like this blinding basketball overhead. E Street was all stopped up like some huge sludgy river of lead, and the parked cars were just stranded and strewn along its banks. And nothing was moving either. Not a twig or a leaf or a blade of grass. Nothing. Even the trees looked blasted where they stood, just hanging there now like scarecrows.
These smoldering hulks.
I managed to get down a couple bowls of Cheerios while reading over the back of the box a bunch more times. Then I made my way out into the living room. I figured I could watch TV for a little while and that at least would kill some time, only as it turned out there was nothing on but tennis and horseracing (just the usual shit on a Sunday). And all of that naugahyde was definitely starting to feel like the kiss of death right then; it was sticking to everything I owned. Which was how I ended up on the floor, all sprawled out on the rug and reaching up to grab the knob to change the channel once in a while, with the carpet foul and sweaty and scratching like these wires along my arms.
Then just like that I had to take off. It was like I couldn’t take it anymore, all that heat prostration or whatever. So I went lurching up onto my feet and headed toward the stairs. I had to go past my mom, still sitting over there in their room with the newspaper all spread out on the bed in front of her, flipping through it with the fan blowing on her and rattling the pages once in a while.
Whenever they got too close to the draft.
I went down the stairs and over into the basement, past my sister’s door (she was over at some other friend’s for the weekend, being sociable as usual). Then I was just standing there next to the washer and dryer, breathing it in. That whole subterranean atmosphere. The first pears from our tree out in back, those ones I’d had to pick, were all laying on top of the machines and ripening (these weird little blobs in the light). Everything was pretty murky down there, even with the overhead light on, that one bulb with the pull chain. It smelled kind of musty too, the same as usual, but for once I didn’t mind, since it was this cool damp smell that could almost make you forget about the oven baking away outside.
I could make out a little more stuff now. All those old boxes of mine that were laid up there on that little hill of dirt piled up behind the heater, just kind of stacked around. And since I didn’t have anything else to do, I figured I might as well go through them all. And it’s not like I’d been hit with this sudden burst of nostalgia or whatever. Mostly I was trying to make sure that the rest of my stuff was intact, that nothing else had disappeared on me in the past few days. My dad had just launched another one of his major cleaning campaigns, so you never knew what you were gonna end up missing. And it’s not like he would ever bother to tell you about it, right?–I mean, that he’d just hauled off half your stuff. Seriously, that would be way too much to ask.
Anyway, I couldn’t see any major gaps in what I had left. Then I came across this real old box, from when we were still living out in Stockton, and that was bringing back a whole bunch of memories.
Really dredging them up.
Somewhere around there I heard my dad come back inside from the yard work he’d been doing, weeding or watering or whatever. He went stomping up the stairs past where I was like this whole platoon or troops, then his TV was blasting away in the den.
There were these other voices too, coming from somewhere. They sounded way off in the distance, like they were getting piped in from some far corner of the world. Only they kept getting louder and louder, like they were making their way down in my direction.
Finally, I figured I’d go up and take a look. I headed up the basement stairs to the garage and then I was stepping toward the garage doors between the Jeep and the Impala and squinting out there. There was this little gap right in the middle where a chink of wood was missing, like it must’ve gotten knocked out before we ever moved in to the place, and past the rest of my dad’s cars (the MG and the Cougar and the Riviera and the Falcon) I could see them over on the other side of the street.
They were out in the sun. This whole gang of five guys. Right next to the donation box that was perched there on the little stretch of sidewalk by the fire hydrant, just where it started. On the other side of Grand Valley Market.
They were just hanging around there at first, like there was nothing else to do. No better way to while away the long afternoon. Which was when the donation box caught their eye. I mean, it’s not like you could’ve overlooked the thing for long, right? Just standing there in the middle of everything, all yellow and upright. Like some major prankster had taken a locker from P.E. and upended it in the middle of our quiet little neighborhood.
So just like that they had it surrounded. They all started whacking on it, beating out this real hypnotic rhythm. Then they took turns tugging at the lock, this padlock on a latch.
And just like that one of them, the tallest one, got it to break free. It happened all of the sudden too, and he was sort of jolted back with it. It was like in some old silent movie, because you couldn’t hear it snap off or anything. Just their laughs coming over the top of everything, like it was part of some completely different soundtrack.
Now they were crowding inside the box. Like one of them would disappear in there and come barging back out, squeezing past whoever was next in line. Hauling more items out onto the sidewalk.
No doubt about it, some of the stuff they were dragging out was starting to look pretty familiar. Like this really old baseball glove–black and almost flat, more like an oven mitt than anything you’d ever really use for fielding. And a ping pong paddle with a worn handle that had a big slice taken out of it. And other things, stuff that looked like it had come off some immigrant steamship: little appliances with cords dangling and a vacuum cleaner with a big long hose attached, and a huge pair of boots, like those things that fishermen wear.
Now this little bag of golf clubs was being dragged out. The guy was really doing a number on it too, wrestling it by the scruff of the neck out into the daylight and strewing it across the sidewalk like this sack of trash, in the middle of everybody else shoring up their own collections.
So that was it. I turned the knob of the lock and the garage doors were swinging out wide and letting in this total blast of air. I went heading out there, into the searing sun and across the wide empty street. Moving over to where they stood.
Crockett looked up and gave me this nod.
We hadn’t really talked to each other for a while. Not since that time when we’d been playing records in my room and he’d swung his arm out and it knocked the needle all the way across one of my records and left this big huge scratch. It was one of my favorite ones too, or at least it was back then (Simon and Garfunkel). He kept saying he was sorry, only he never did get me a new one like he’d said he was going to.
Those other guys didn’t even look up. They just kept stomping around through the rubble, scattering it around like it was the ruins of some fallen empire.
“Shit, it’s hot,” Crockett said.
“Yeah.” I nodded.
“Can you believe this stuff?” He reached down to bring up this huge pair of hedge clippers, all dirty and rust-covered. “I mean, who would even use these?”
“I guess that’s why they donated them.”
“Yeah right.” He let out this short laugh.
He was trying with both hands to get the blades to come apart, only it wasn’t working. “Fuck–” He tossed the contraption back down on the pile of rubble with a swipe of his hands.
I said I’d been watching while they opened the door.
“You watched us?” His eyes grew narrow.
“Yeah. From my house.” I jabbed my thumb back over there.
“Oh yeah.” He nodded sort of absently.
“You guys broke in to it.”
He came back to attention right away. “It was unlocked.”
“No, there was a lock. You were pulling on it.”
“It was broken. It came right off in Steve’s hand.” He stared up at me. “You wanna see it? It’s right there.” Pointing down amongst the debris at the discarded lock, its clasp angled back on the ground. Like the pinned-back arm of some wrestling victim in gym class.
He was taking up one of my old golf clubs by its end. He brandished it like a sword, stabbing in the direction of one of his buddies, these quick feints to the arm, the heart. The guy clamped a staying hand on the rubber end, then was yanking on the handle, trying to wrench it from Crockett’s grip, or to tumble him over. Crockett yanked it away, then made a deep lunge at the guy’s head. They all were laughing.
Next Crockett was lining up a 200-foot putt on that stretch of sidewalk and letting it roll. You could practically hear the whispers from the commentators and the gasps of amazement from the gallery as the ball continued to roll true toward the distant cup. He took several wallops at that thicket of cattails that grew regularly there, right at the base of the NO PARKING sign.
By that point the club had become a guitar. Crockett was improvising a blistering solo, duck walk and all (they had just had a documentary about Chuck Berry on TV).
“All this stuff and it’s free. Shit! It’s just sitting here.”
He’d just come back over to me. Then he launched into a major bout of gunfire with my old cap gun, the snub-nosed chrome-plated detective .38 special, picking off those other guys in a circle where they stood, more or less ignoring him. Absorbed in their own pursuits. I heard the clink of metal every time he pulled the trigger, and couldn’t help remembering how that had felt on my finger when I had bought it in sixth grade. When I was still living in the old neighborhood, before I even knew him.
He was saying a lot of the merchandise wasn’t too great. “Like these–” A hand flapping toward the binoculars that were slung low around his neck, bouncing now against his stomach–hanging from the thick white cord that stood out against his black T-shirt. “They don’t even really work.” He was glancing off. “But…”
“Yeah. Actually, those are mine.”
His eyes narrowed again. “Yours?”
“Well, they were anyway.”
We were being interrupted by another burst of activity. One of the other guys had opened up a toolbox filled with wrenches, and they were all rummaging around through it. Tossing them back in with clanks and clatters, and talking about how much they might be worth.
Crockett looked like he had something else on his mind now.
“So you donated these?” He gave a jerk of his head down toward the binoculars.
“Well, my dad did.”
“But you didn’t want them?”
“He never asked me.”
Actually, I’d only found out about it a couple days ago. That time I went down into the basement right after school to lift weights for the first time in a while and came upon this space where my barbells had been. Everything I’d stored in that corner–the one place in the whole garage that I had, that wasn’t claimed by somebody or something else–had been cleared out.
I knew right away who’d done it. I asked my dad about it as soon as he got back from work that day.
And he said pretty much what I figured he was going to say. How he would be needing that space pretty soon to store some more shit, lumber or whatever.
“But that stuff was mine.”
“You weren’t even using any of it, Danny. It was all just sitting down there in a pile. Gathering dust.”
“I went down there today to lift weights.”
“You hadn’t used any of it in months. Ever since we moved over here.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My dad has a way of leaving you feeling like that, like all the strength and fight have been sucked out of you. “Why didn’t you ask me first?”
“If I’d’ve left it up to you, you’d never have thrown it out. That’s why we’ve got so much junk down there in the first place.” He had this fed-up sharp-faced look, and the discussion was over. I mean, you just knew.
Crockett was bounding over toward those other guys like a frog. They were standing over my barbells now, all of them, where one of the guys had managed to drag the complete set out into the open, extra weights and all. The guy who’d broken the lock was now talking about taking them home with him. Only it was a ways, several blocks, so they were talking about how they were going to do this without looking too suspicious.
“You can use my wagon,” one of the other guys said. “It’s at my house. I can go get it.”
Crockett grinned. “Your little red wagon?”
The other guys started snickering.
“Shut up, Kevin.”
“Will it fit?”
“Yeah, especially if we take these off–” The guy was pointing at the weights on each end–“and lay the bar across the sides.”
“Okay, let’s do it–“
I was stepping away from them all. Back out into the street, over toward my house.
I heard Crockett call out, “See ya.”
I let out a yeah without looking back. And kept on walking across, around to the side of the house, through the gate and back down into the basement.
I already knew what I was going to do. I mean, I could feel my legs moving along below me, on automatic or whatever. And everything above my neck felt kind of numb and dizzy. As I stepped up to the phone down there, hanging on that post in the middle, and lifted the receiver to dial zero.
It only took a few minutes. They were still standing around discussing their plans or whatever, when the air had turned into these sudden shrieking sirens. It was just like during the summer, all those afternoons when the fire engines would go racing up along E Street past our house to put out another one of those grass fires on the hills that started up all the time whenever they got dry and brown.
I was watching from up in my parents’ room, their window (my mom had taken off to go grocery shopping, but the paper was still all spread out over the bed). I had to be careful to stay back a bit and get ready to duck so none of those guys could see me from over there. Two cop cars came roaring onto the scene from opposite directions, converging on that corner like the opening sequence from some TV show. They screeched to a halt at the intersection, with doors flapping open and two cops emerging. Those guys didn’t have a chance. They were just standing there, all of them, Crockett too, dejected amongst their merchandise.
I heard this sound behind me. My dad had just come back inside (he had been out working in the back yard again). He wanted to know what it was all about; at first he was thinking it was another grass fire, until he saw the cop cars, both of them pulled up right across the street. Then he thought maybe Grand Valley Market had been broken into, till I started telling him what had happened. And what I’d done, the phone call and everything.
It kind of freaked me out a little too. Because he was just smiling at me, and telling me how I’d done a good thing to call the cops on such flagrant violators, especially with them being friends of mine. He put a hand on my back: “I’m proud of you, son–“
He went back outside. One of the cops had a notepad out over there now and was asking them a bunch of questions. Then I watched as they had to carry all the loads of stuff back into the box.
One of the cops got a rope out from his trunk and was tying it around the box in several hitches, ending with a knot in front. The other cop unwrapped a roll of that yellow tape with POLICE LINE–DO NOT CROSS and ran that around the box a few times (that’s how it was too for the next couple of days, until that afternoon when I got back from school and saw that all that stuff was gone, and there was now a bigger latch and padlock).
Then those guys were finally stepping away, walking this dejected path back up E Street. And I left my position at the window.
The next day at school when I ran into Crockett, he was pretty pissed off about it too. I mean, he knew it had been me.
“What’d you have to call the cops for?” Standing there all red-faced.
“It was my stuff.”
“You said your dad donated it.”
“But he didn’t ask me.”
“So what? It was still over there in the box.”
“Why’d you have to call the cops?” He was practically shouting that out, just before he went storming off.
We didn’t talk to each other for a while after that. Shit like that was always happening between us.
But to tell the truth, I still don’t really know myself why I made that call. I guess it was just seeing him standing there with my binoculars. With that stupid thick cotton cord, the yarn I’d had to get from my mom and loop through those two little circlets on either side so I could wear them like that, bright as day against his dark T-shirt. Swinging and flapping against his stomach every time he moved, swaying out whenever he bent forward to look at something else. So he’d have to slap them back, holding them in close with a laugh.
Yeah, I suppose I wouldn’t have done it at all. Except for seeing my binoculars hanging around his neck.
About the Author:
Tony D’Aloisio was born in San Francisco and attended Sonoma State University, where he obtained B.A. in English in 1984. He is also a chess master, and was once ranked in the top 100 players in California.