The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

Argent came over to hang out with us the day that Liz Chaplin got my friend Jippy to tell me that if I asked her out, she’d go out with me.

“Using gasoline as an accelerant isn’t that crazy,” Argent said. “I know that people make a big deal out of not playing with gas, but if you’re not an idiot about it, it’s fine.”

We looked at Argent with looks we wanted him to read as “what are you talking about?”

“I mean, you guys light stuff on fire anyway, right?” he said.

We all nodded or intoned a low ”yeah.” Argent made the gesture you make with your hands in front of, palms upturned, akin to a shrug, that says, “we have to admit that I’m right, don’t we?”

“I do it in my garage at home all the time, and I’ve never gotten caught, never burned anything down. Like we have this hole in our garage floor, and I found this old metal pipe that’s this long,” Argent held his hands 12 inches apart,” and I put it in the hole, and then pour some gas in there, drop a match down it, and boom, shoots fire almost to the ceiling.”

We all laughed, against our will. I laughed against my will. Argent didn’t hang out with us, which had been fine with us, or me, because he felt unmanageable. He wore clothes with sports insignia. He followed, and considered himself a fan of, specific professional sports teams, for reasons that we, or I, couldn’t understand. I could understand why someone would enjoy sports, but I couldn’t conceive of how someone could choose a particular team to follow.

“I do that in my garage, without anyone finding out. And my garage is connected to my house, unlike yours.” He waved a hand around to draw our attention to the structure whose threshold he stood inside. ”Not to mention the happy circumstance of your mom being gone.”

Jippy shook his head like he was trying to swing a spider off his nose. We called him “Jippy” because his younger brother called him “Jippy” because his younger brother even at eight years old could say only the words “eggs” and “gun” clearly,

“Cool,” Jippy said. “Lighting gasoline on fire sounds cool. I’ve mystified my mom by burning off several cans of PAM cooking spray. Do you know PAM brand cooking spray? It creates a pretty neat blowtorch if you use it in conjunction with any kind of kitchen lighter. The ones with the triggers. But that was a few years back.”

He shook his head a few times. Jippy’s default vocal attitude made him sound like a gameshow host at a cocktail party.

“What I think is really cool,” Jippy said, “is your jacket. You support the Bulls’ basketball team?”

“Yeah,” Argent said in a way that made it obvious that he was wondering where this line of questioning was headed. We were all wondering where this line of questioning was headed.

“I couldn’t help but notice,” Jippy said, his eyes focused at a spot five feet left of Argent’s knee. “I guess because I supported the Orlando Magic for awhile when I was 12. Because a basketball team with magical powers sounded ideal to me. Basketball without magical powers seemed fine, just not quite as interesting.”

Argent stepped back into the garage. He picked up a roll of paper towels, rolled several off into a bundle, and lit this on fire. He tossed the flaming bundle onto the ground in a gravelly divot in front of the garage. The sheets unballed themselves a bit as they flared up, then turned to leaves of ash-paper that glowed orange, then turned black and crumbled in the breeze.

“Very cool,” Jippy said. “Even devouring some paper towels, fire truly is an elemental force, and inspires, in me anyhow, both awe and respect.”

Argent ignored him.

“See, lame,” he said. “Without an accelerant there’s no flair to it. You want to feel the heat on your forehead, some sweat. Get your own personal sprinkler system going.” He took several jumpy steps backwards and grabbed the gas can.

Another spasmy bout of head-shaking overtook Jippy.

“Picking up that other thread of conversation, I actually went so far as to buy an Orlando Magic baseball cap. Then I was unsurprised but still disappointed to confirm that the team possessed no magical powers. I never bothered to learn the name of a single player on the team. I found the hat several months later, in the wet part of the basement, under a have-a-heart-trap, ruined. All moldy. The little stars of magic around the logo, that accompany and signify magical deeds accomplished, all black with mildew. As was my love for the team the hat represented.”

Argent tore a train of paper towels off. He soaked the remaining roll in gasoline.

Jippy’s stream of language and Argent’s determined series of actions worked together to incapacitate me.

“Let’s light these,” Argent said, in a voice that made this seem unassailably reasonable.

“I tried buying hats that had nothing to do with sports teams after that,” Jippy said. “I tried to wear hats that someone in James Herriot’s Yorkshire might wear.”

“Shut up, Jippy,” I said.

Argent twisted the loose paper towels into a sort of fuse. He poured gasoline over the fuse. He ran the fuse to the roll.

Jippy moved towards Argent as Argent stuck his hand into his pocket and retrieved a lighter. The rest of us stood there or sat there.

“Don’t light it,” Jippy said. “I tried the indirect approach, but I think you should stop. All that’s required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

Argent kicked Jippy in the knee. We stood there. Argent lit the paper towel fuse on fire, the flame ran to the paper towel roll, which grew like a bush of flame. The dry grass around the front of the garage caught fire. The overflowing contents of the trashcans just inside the garage caught fire.

“Stomp it out,” I said. I was walking towards the garage.

“Don’t,” Jippy said. He pointed to the gas can, which sat just a couple feet away from the trashcans. “That’ll catch in just a second.”

We moved away. The gas can caught and exploded, threw flames further into the garage. Our bike tires expanded then exploded. The whole garage was on fire.

Argent walked over and stood next to me.

“I love Liz,” he said. He walked to the street and away.

We moved further away from the garage, as sweat grew on our faces. The flames from the garage burned without any concern for our opinion of them. They danced as if we were not watching.

“Argent will probably get arrested for this,” Jippy said.

We all just nodded and sat there.

Reuben, who’d been silent this whole time said, “I think I love Liz, too.”

I told him to shut up.

Jippy walked over and stood in front of me. He was about to say something when my mom pulled up in the car and the push mower exploded.

The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

Under the Water

“Don’t go in the water. No one knows what’s in the water,” the boy’s mother said. They were at the beach.

“I know what’s in the water,” the boy said.

“You can’t see what’s under the water,” the boy’s mother said. “It’s too dark and deep for anyone to see what’s there.”

The boy looked hard at the water, its green and blue and black swirling.

“There,” the boy said. “I saw.”

“No, you didn’t. You couldn’t have seen.” His mother dug her feet into the sand down to the cool wet beneath.

“I did,” the boy said. He walked close to the edge of the water and stared. He looked like a small tree bending out over the water.

“What do you see?” the mother said.

“Monsters,” the boy said. Continue reading “Under the Water”

Under the Water


After he unlocked the shop door, and stood look looking at the figures in the display area, Levi slapped one of the wooden figures in the face. The figure bore a fish’s head, and the wide-eyed stare almost seemed to be a consequence of having been struck. He walked to the back of the shop, then stopped and turned around. He trudged back to the figure.

He patted it on the head, making amends, struggling with himself not to tell it, out loud, “I’m sorry.” Throughout this, the creature’s expression remained fixed, staring. But even in the static expression there lived a spark, unmistakeable in Paul’s work. He almost waited for the figure to take a breath. He glanced around at the bird-headed, dog-headed, beetle-headed figures. A menagerie of heads on humanoid bodies. He felt their eyes on him. Continue reading “Workshop”


Stealing: A Monologue

“The thing about getting older is that we’re all, as we get older, at least everyone around me, we’re all spending a lot less time stealing from convenience stores. I never stole much, but I had a few friends that did.

“The one time I stole from a convenience store I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It wasn’t a pre-meditated hit. I was walking down an aisle with two friends. One was Dave and one was Jon. They’d both been in separate life-threatening car accidents, but Jon was the one who’d had mild brain damage. It hadn’t lowered his IQ at all, but it had made him somewhat spacey and passive. And I think that when we were walking down one of the convenience store aisles, and I saw a package of oatmeal cream pies, and thought, “I’d like those” it was Jon’s passivity that beckoned to me, and encouraged me to actually take the cream pies and shove them into his coat and down the sleeve of his coat. Continue reading “Stealing: A Monologue”

Stealing: A Monologue

Other Voices, Other . . .

A number of years ago a mother and her daughter were in their home. The mother was busy with something. She was washing dishes, perhaps.

“Mom!” came the voice of the daughter.

They had a standing rule that the daughter could not simply yell at the mother from across the house. The mother ignored the voice.

“Mom,” the voice said.

“Don’t yell at me. If you need something, come to me and ask me,” the mother said and went to wipe the table down.

“Mom,” the voice said again.

The mother put down the wash rag and went to the back of the house, following the voice. The mother didn’t stomp, but she let her feet fall heavier than was necessary. She went back to the room. The daughter wasn’t there.

“Where are you?” the mother said.

“Right here. I need help with this leotard,” the daughter said.

She wasn’t there. The mother opened the closet. No one there. Continue reading “Other Voices, Other . . .”

Other Voices, Other . . .

Birds and Spiders

I’d finally figured out how to control the birds. Not real birds. The birds that I made. Just because you made something doesn’t mean that you have control over it. I figured that if I made the birds, they’d worship and obey me. But they left droppings on my bike instead.

Here’s why I made the birds: I wanted to. That’s really all of the reason there was. Jordan claimed that he didn’t believe me. I wanted to make beautiful birds and put them out into the world and watch them live.

Here’s how you make a bird. Get good white clay. You need the kind from a stream that’s fed by one of the old springs. One of the springs people used to drink from and cure disease, or turn back death a few years. I know a spot.

Once you have the white clay, you have to work up some spit. It has to be mostly yours, but you can get someone to help you. This is where I got Jordan involved. He’s amazing at spit. It flows out of him. It makes him annoying to talk to, but extremely useful when you’re trying to create living, flying, breathing and singing birds. Continue reading “Birds and Spiders”

Birds and Spiders

Moses, According to Caleb

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in the teriyaki chicken place, Red Bento, with Caleb, and I could tell he had something to say, so I delayed by immediately wondering out loud about this whole Red Bento issue. “Why must the Bento be red?” was my question. Caleb is my younger brother. I’ve made him cry in public more recently than it would appropriate for me to say. Two months ago.

When I concluded with, “and it’s the whole mind-body duality that we’re really at war with,” Caleb nodded and then waited for me to say more, but I’d harvested every field of inane banter on my topic.

“Here’s something I was thinking about,” Caleb said. Right then our server came for our orders.

When he left, Caleb began again.

“I was thinking,” he said, and was interrupted by another server bringing miso soup.

“Do you know the end of Exodus 4?” He pointed his forehead at me, an angle of intense inquiry.

I wanted to best him with instant recall of the passage, but failing that I said, “In the Bible?”

“Exodus, second book of the Bible, chapter 4. End of the chapter, I don’t remember the verses.”

I looked at Caleb.

“Do you know it?” he said.

“Yes.” I didn’t.

Caleb stuck out his lower lip and nodded.

“As you know, it’s where Moses is heading out of Midian, back to free the Hebrews from Pharaoh, and the Lord shows up and wants to kill him.”

“Right. Coming back from Midian,” I said, making a limp gesture.

“Every time I read that passage, it sticks out to me. I’ve never understood why God wants to kill Moses.”

“But now you think you do,” I said. Our food arrived and deplaned.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his chopsticks together in a vigorous attempt either to remove splinters or start a fire.

“It’s because he’s a dick,” Caleb said.

Continue reading “Moses, According to Caleb”

Moses, According to Caleb

Squirrel Baby

My brother wrenched his tiny pick-up from street to street, from hospital to home, while his wife labored on a white-sheeted bed, in a cocoon of medical personnel. The spaces between contractions were tightening, but on his mind’s wall he’d written that the first thing his daughter heard would be Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” a song born for a second time into a wider world as the soundtrack to a car commercial. I knew it from the commercial. CD and player both sat like bored orphans somewhere in his apartment, illegitimate members of the birth kit. I had offered to go for them.

“You won’t get back in time,” he said. “You look for things the way an aging trombonist reads sheet music.”

I found this convoluted, but a recognizable description of myself. I offered to download the song on my phone instead.

“That would work fine,” he said, “if the song were by Ke$ha, with a dynamic range designed for low fidelity MP3s to make you shake your ass and do vaporized alcohol shots while you swim in a sea of potential STDs. This is a song designed to make you shake your heart.”

As the car flung us around, I talked (an attempt at distraction) about how “Pink Moon” was an interesting choice, remarked on the intersection between art and commerce, between obscure poetic expression and commercials, and how it was an appropriate initiation into our shared American identity, and was going to go on and ask questions like “What is a ‘Pink Moon’? and “Why should we concern ourselves with whether or not it’s “on its way”? but he turned from his driving, mid-turn, to show me eyes like two half-empty espresso cups, and say, “I wish you believed in beauty.” Continue reading “Squirrel Baby”

Squirrel Baby