Tag Archives: writing

Note to the piano movers

First, thanks so much for coming during the hurricane. As I told Big Al on the phone, the upright piano in the dining room needs to be moved into one of three upstairs rooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ignore the dog

I am talking about the Steinway, not the Baldwin, which is slated for destruction and may already be rigged with explosives. The first and best option for the Steinway upright (please do not move the Steinway grand) is the bedroom in the southwest corner of the west wing of the second floor. Take precise measurements of the hallway before you start. Of particular concern is the sharp left zig-zag leading to the small stairs. Remove the handrail but under no circumstances are you to destroy it – nothing should be destroyed unless you receive instructions from me to the contrary. If you are able to navigate the west wing stairs, hallways, and hairpin turns place the piano along the south wall. As always, before moving the piano, please check inside for dead animals.

Should the southwest second floor bedroom prove inaccessible, try the north tower. Again: measure, measure, measure. You may use my husband Derek’s surveying tools as long as you wipe your fingerprints from them when you return them to cold storage. The round tower stairway may prove tricky, however, I have every confidence in your abilities. If needed, you may construct and install a suitable winch which should be removed upon successful completion of the move. Place the piano in the exact center of the tower facing west so that my daughter Ezmerine can play her little concertos at sunset, her only real joy. If you see Ezmerine, please do not comment on or make notice of her nudity. Though she is a free spirit, she is very touchy on the subject. On second thought, the tower is the first choice.

If options one or two fail, then as a last result, use the east by northeast drawing room. I don’t think any explanation is needed here as I’m sure one of the first two options, particularly number two, which is now to be considered first. If this third option is even a consideration, contact me on my fourth mobile phone. Big Al should have briefed you, but phone #1 is for my husband and family; #2 is for my agent and attorneys; #3 is for my current lover, Geoffrey, although it’s possible that Antoine, Isabella, or Gert may still have that number as I haven’t blocked their calls yet. Just in case. So, cell phone #4 only. #5 is for my aftermarket medicinal supplier.

Anyway, it’s a small job and I expect you to be finished in under an hour. Help yourself to the special brownies as you leave. Should the access road to the house be under water due to the hurricane, you may wait out the storm in your truck.

TTFN,

Violetta Cheesegrater-Fencepost

Carried off by the swift waters

“All right,” I said. “Tell me all about it.” Like I said, I had time and more than anything, I like a good story.

Alder Fanspree got up from the bench and turned to face me and his wife.

“I had just dug into breakfast, egg and cheese on a toasted roll, when a man sat down to share the table. This was outside. This happened often and I didn’t bother to look up. ‘Does the name Shnabullious Traffletum mean anything to you,’ he said.

“I looked at him over the top of the Post. He sported an outlandish  thick moustache, curled at the ends, and his cheeks were ruddied as if by a raw winter wind.

“‘Of course it wouldn’t,’ he continued. ‘You’re just an average man caught up in a mundane life. You’re married. You have two children. The girl, the older one you have named Willow, is an athlete, a decent student who will no doubt get into a state school one day. Although, she dreams of an Ivy, it’s beyond her and she knows it. The other struggles. Maybe he’s on the spectrum. Maybe he isn’t.  You think he may have difficulties in social situations that will make it harder for him as he grows up.’

“This man’s information was only partly right. I am nothing if not average. You’ve met my wife, but, we’re childless. I told him, ’You have me mistaken for someone else.’

“’So, that’s how you’re going to play it,’ he said. And he smiled and twirled the end of his moustache.

“‘Look,’ I pressed on. ‘You have confused me with someone who looks a lot like me. I get it – I have one of those faces. But I don’t have children. You’re after another man. Not me.’

“He slid a 9 & 12 envelope across the table to me. ‘Open it,’ he said.

“There was a photo of a man jogging in the early morning along the river. It was an excellent capture of a tall, strikingly handsome man in the midst of an easy run. In the background, another runner out of focus, followed.

“‘That is Shnabullious Traffletum.’”

“I flipped the photo over and in the next image Mr. Traffletum was out of focus and the trailing runner was in sharp focus. That runner looked a lot like me, but it wasn’t me. For one thing, he wore a knee brace. I didn’t know who he was, but he must live nearby. We’d seen him around. I could see how we’d get mixed up. I often run past the same place.

“This man had information about a guy who looked like me, his children, and maybe every salient detail about his life. Stuff he could use to leverage the guy.

“‘Look at him,’ I said. ‘He’s wearing a knee brace. I don’t have one. My knee’s fine. And I don’t run that early. It’s not me.’

“‘That was Saturday,’ the stranger said.

“The next image showed Mr. Traffletum again, this time from the side passing a gate that separated the running path from the river.

“‘The gate is not latched,’ he said. ‘What I’d like you to do, Mr. Grass, is nudge Mr. Traffletum as he passes the gate tomorrow morning on your run. The gate is not latched – it’s there for kayakers and they never lock it. It will be low tide and the rocks at river’s edge will be exposed and Mr. Traffletum will trip as he falls through the gate and if god is with us, he will strike his head on the rocks below, hopefully doing permanent damage. Or, render him unconscious so he can drown. If he remains conscious, he will get carried off by the swift waters, and as he cannot swim, he will likely drown anyway. Eat your sandwich before it gets cold.’

“I noticed the egg and cheese perched in my hand next to my head and took a bite. It was still warm and the cheese was gooey.
‘What do you say? Can we count on you? Do this for us, and our relationship ends and Willow grows up and, who knows, maybe Princeton takes her. Maybe Clem – is that short for Clematis? – gets a little specialized attention to help him over this rough patch he’s going through. Maybe your beautiful wife doesn’t get snatched and held and…’ He paused and fiddled with his moustache again. ’She’ll live. We’re not animals. But would she ever be the same?’”

Laurel had stood up some time ago and she was pacing back and forth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah

It’s a bad idea, going after the woman. It’s already cost me a sport coat and pair of pants. Nice pants. If I think about it I’m already invested in this case. What case? She has disappeared up ninth and I’m a block away.

On top of that, I’ve pissed off whoever Thorn works for. Thorn’s a common simpleton with bills to pay. But his boss, he’ll come calling on me, no doubt. I round the corner at ninth, pedaling uptown now. The street’s packed with the usual traffic. Trucks double- and triple-parked unload produce, pedicabs slow down the one lane that is moving. There’s no space to squeeze through with the old bike so I jump the curb and now I’m swerving through a mass of foot commuters.

“Get off the curb, asshole,” a guy shouts.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say.

“Get off and walk it or you’re getting a ticket,” a cop says. “Oh, hey, Pyrus, how you doing? I didn’t see it was you”

I dismount. “Hey, Weed,” I call back over my shoulder. I stop. “You see a pretty redhead in a black skirt come by?”

“‘Bout a minute ago she crossed 19th.”

“Thanks.”

At 19th, I lose her. I look left. I look right. I check straight ahead. I turn on 19th, heading west, toward the High Line and the Hudson River beyond. It’s a nice day. Maybe I’ll lock the bike and walk, or ride in the park next to the river.

I pass the galleries and coffee shops, peering in the windows to see if I can catch a glimpse of red hair. The galleries aren’t open yet but the coffee shops are crowded with morning types wanting their specialized brews. Just give me a simple espresso and I’m happy.

I’m near the High Line when I hear a rapid firing of shots followed by screams and more shots. I see a man running and shooting calmly on the raised park, an old train line that serviced the butcheries and factories of the former meat packing district.

“Great.  Another angry man with a gun,” a woman says. Standing beside me, two cups of coffee in hand, is the redhead. She hands me a cup. “I assume you take it black?”

We stand there and watch the man duck behind cover. He’s cleared the High Line and now he comes to the railing and starts shooting at people in the street below. “Maybe we should get out of here,” she says.

But then a single loud shot cracks and the man tumbles forward over the railing smacking onto the street below him. Later, we’d learn that he killed seven and wounded 23. My buddy Weed, a member of NYC’s finest, heard the shots, grabbed the rifle from the trunk of his cruiser and nailed him with a single shot from a block away.

“I wanted to thank you for stopping that man earlier.”

“Sure. Where were you heading to in such a hurry?”

She takes a sip from her cup. “To see you.”

She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance

Editor’s Note: this is a continuation of story started two posts earlier about a reluctant detective. You may recall that the narrator observed a man chasing a woman down Eighteenth Street and out of a sense of either chivalry or boredom decided to intervene. There’s no connection to the most recent post, and no way to explain that entry’s  appearance other than we’ve had some difficulty with the writer lately and he’s back on track now after we threatened to replace him with either a robot or a random word generator. 

I’m standing there on Eighteenth in the shadows of the overhead building corridor, twisting the arm of a thug I happen to know who goes by the name of Thorn. I shove his face into the wall, just enough to let him know that he’s got some explaining to do.

“Thorn,” I say. “How’s things?”

“Not bad. Keeping busy,” he says.

“That kid of yours ever get straightened out?”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t believe it, but he’s applying to law school,” he says. “Thanks for asking.”

“Great. That’s great to hear. Why are you chasing the lady?” I ask.

“There’s no chase,” he says. “I’m just in a hurry.”

With my free arm, I increase the pressure on his face. It has to be uncomfortable, but he doesn’t make a sound. The red-headed woman is now nearly a block away. Even with her in those heels, I wouldn’t be able to catch her on foot. She looks back over her shoulder, stops for a moment, appraising the situation, then slows to a casual walk. She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance.

Decision time: get some answers from the thug, or go after the woman and see if she has anything to say. There’s a third option. Keep the thug here long enough to let the woman get away, then get back to the business of finding some business.

I twist Thorn’s arm with a bit more pressure. “Still got nothing to say?”

This time he responds, “Unnnnh.” I’m getting through, but not fast enough. I think maybe the woman might be in a chattier mood.

“Have it your way,” I say. I pull a zip tie out of my pocket, untwist his arm and zip his wrists together behind his back. With another tie, I zip him to a street sign. Then with a third, I zip him at the ankles to the sign. That ought to keep him still.

“Good luck with things,” I say, waving goodbye.

“Yeah, you too, Py,” he says.

I unlock the door to the Flamm, grab my bicycle, a Rudge, and sling my leg over the seat and wheel off down Eighteenth in pursuit. My right pant leg, however, gets caught between the crank and the chain and in an instant the bike halts and I go over the handlebars landing hard on the cobbled street. I pick myself up to check for damage. A hole in the jacket and shirt at the elbow and a bloodied, skinned elbow showing through. The right pant leg torn at the cuff. Damn. I like this jacket.

I tuck the pant leg into the sock and start off again, a little more slowly.

The takedown

The morning of the takedown was the first time dad said to Mara and me, “Don’t waste food,” and it had real meaning. We might regret not having that food soon enough. She was little and had burned her bread and didn’t want to eat it. Dad said the time of excess was coming to an end and people had to compete with each other and with wildlife for the first time in anyone’s memory.

We walked to the big hill, my sister and I each gripping one of my father’s gnarled hands. The people circled the great White Oak that stood with giant sheltering arms spread over the hillside, stretching some 120 feet into the sky. Mrs. Heiser arrived and the circle parted and let her in. “Quercus alba,” she said, and, shading her eyes with a hand, looked up to its crown. “All things must pass,” she said to the crowd.

“All things must pass,” they replied.

She walked completely around the base of the tree, running a hand along the rough bark. After completing a circuit, she stopped and stood with a palm resting on the bark, eyes closed. The tree was sick, beginning to show the early signs of the blight. “We must take her now,” Mrs. Heiser said. “so that we can salvage her wood.”

 “What does she mean, dad,” Mara asked.
     “She means that the blight hasn’t gotten deep into the wood yet, but it will. If we don’t cut her down, she’ll fall soon enough and the wood will be useless, even for burning.”
     “All right,” Mrs. Heiser said. “We’ve all done this before. If you don’t know what to do, now’s the time to ask because once we start, it gets dangerous. This beautiful old white oak was here before your great grandparents and probably would have gone on living if times had stayed the way they were.”
     “But they didn’t,” a man called out.
     “They didn’t!” the people replied in one voice.
     “They didn’t, and we’re the reason,” Mrs. Heiser said.
     “We’re the reason!”
     “We honor this tree by cutting her down and using her branches and boards, for shelter, for heat, for whatever may come.”
     “For whatever may come!” the crowd called out.
She strapped crampons on her boots and wrapped a strap around the tree, sliding her hands through loops at each end. With a  flick of her wrists, the strap went up several feet and she scampered up so that she was now about four feet off the ground. She repeated the process so that in a burst she stood hugging the tree some 30 feet overhead to where the lowest branches split out. She rolled up the strap and hooked it to a clip on her belt and continued climbing by hand until she stood at the point where one of the highest branches split off at an angle. She quickly attached a rope and lowered it. Without a word, someone tied a basket on one end and someone else put in a gigantic pulley with a handle on it.
     “That’s a winch,” the father answered without being asked. “Watch.”
     In a few minutes a man strapped a harness on, it was Mr. Paulings, the tooth man. He waved an arm, and called out, “OK, pull me up” There were two sets of winches, one at the top that Mrs. Heiser turned and a large one at the bottom with a big steel wheel turned by two hulking men. Mr. Paulings was up in a matter of seconds. The two hitched themselves to the trunk and walked out on the branch, and about halfway out, began sawing.
     This would have been quick work with a chain saw, but the community voted to use hand tools to minimize noise and the chance of rovers detecting us.

Catching up with an old friend

The woman passes below my window, my perch in the connecting corridor suspended over 18th Street between two buildings, the Flamm and the Mercator. She’s walking eastbound on the south side of the street, sticking to the thin band of shade shiellding her from the summer sun. It’s not her red hair that has my attention, or her tight skirt that stops just at the knees. It’s the hurried nature of her walk. Gaits are a pastime of mine and hers isn’t the oh shit I’m late kind of walk.  It’s the kind of walk you have when you don’t want someone catching up. Short, quick steps and a quick glance over the shoulder. And there he is, about a half block away, a guy in spandex running gear and a jacket, a hand on the pocket.

If you’re like me you’re thinking that maybe there’s a gun in that pocket. Maybe there’s just a sandwich, an egg and cheese from Jonny’s truck just around the corner. It’s not worth guessing it’s just breakfast. He’s matching her pace, craning his neck around people. She’s looking back over her shoulder every few steps and he’s looking straight ahead. Not gaining on her, but not falling back either.

I grab my sportcoat and race down the steps to the street, coming out of the Flamm door just as the guy’s passing. I fling the door open and it makes him step to the side. I don’t knock him over. Hey, he says.

Hey, yourself, I say and reach out and grab his arm. I have his attention. Get off me, he says. Bobby, I say. Oh it’s you, he says and takes a swing. I see it coming and slide my head back. He makes contact, but it’s no big deal. I take a side step, and twist his arm around behind him.

Inspected by #4

It was the mid-90s and you could still run full tilt through an airport without fuss and arrive at a gate just before the door closed. I’d already missed my connection for any one of the usual reasons, and this was the last flight leaving Pittsburgh for Philadelphia. And somehow there was one ticket left, a middle seat to carry my sleepy body to beautiful snowbound Philadelphia, barely an hour away. I was elated.

Arriving at my designated row, I nodded to the seat, and the woman occupying it, rather than standing to let me pass, simply slid over to the middle seat, the most noble gesture one traveler can make for another. “No, that’s very kind. Please, the aisle seat is yours,” I said, indicating that she should not make this sacrifice for me, a commoner.

“Sit down,” she said, and patted the seat. “You have long legs and I…don’t.”

“Sir,” the flight attendant said. “Please have a seat so we can take off.” I did, stuffing my laptop bag under the seat.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s really the nicest thing anyone’s done for me. I can’t believe I even got a seat on this flight. I missed my connection. Bad weather in Chicago. This was the last flight.” I was babbling, my heart still pounding from my run through Pittsburgh International, my face slick with sweat.

“You’re welcome. You have my traveling companion’s seat. He couldn’t make it.”

“Oh, well, that’s too bad.”

“He couldn’t find his ID and they wouldn’t let him through security.”

“His bad luck certainly worked out for me!” I was still wound up and I was talking too loud.

“Well, here’s the really funny part. When he wasn’t looking, I took his driver’s license out of his wallet. I have it right here in my purse.”

“Get out…really?”

“I’ve been trying to get rid of him, but we made plans for this trip ages ago. Despite my protests, he insisted on coming. Know what else?”

I threw my hands up, then said, “You took his car keys too.”

“Yes. How did you guess?”

“That’s what I would have done.”

She laughed. “He was abusive. With me.”

“Oh.” I looked down, as if to atone for the guilt of all abusive men. “Physically…psychologically…?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just abuse. So, you have someone picking you up? In Philly?”

“Oh, no, my car’s there. She doesn’t do airports.”

“Your girlfriend?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Do you like her?”

“I don’t think she likes me all that much. She’s cold with me. It’s not nearly as good a story as yours. Not that abuse is good… I mean…”

She laughed again. “I understand. You don’t have to say anything else about her.”

She folded her arms across her chest and yawned. “I’m going to try to sleep the rest of the way, if that’s OK.”

Of course it’s OK. We were strangers. She didn’t owe me a conversation. I picked up the inflight magazine and in a few minutes my eyes glazed over and I too fell asleep.

When the plane started to descend I woke up. She was still asleep turned toward me, her head on my shoulder, a hand on my chest, all perfectly naturally. I tried not to move. In awhile, the cabin lights brightened and something dinged and she stirred,  realizing she was leaning on me.

“We’re here?”

“Soon.”

“Oh, I think I drooled on you.” She leaned back away from me. “Thanks for letting me drool on your shirt.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for the aisle seat.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What are you going to do when you get back to Pittsburgh? He’ll be angry.”

“Likely I’ll have him killed.”

“Seems like the only course of action.”

“Maybe you’d kill him for me?”

“Maybe you’d give me your phone number?”

“Certainly not if you’re not going to bump off my ex.”

“Tit for tat…so that’s how it’s going to be.”

We both laughed. The plane landed. I handed her bag down to her and said goodbye. After getting off the jetway, I turned around and saw a couple hugging her. Parents?

I stopped at a phone booth to call the girlfriend. Let her know I’d arrived and that I’d be going back to my apartment. It was late. See her tomorrow maybe. I rummaged my pockets looking for change. Nothing. Nothing but the “Inspected by #4” slip of paper in my shirt pocket. I always leave them in just in case there’s a spot shirt inspection. All I have to do is produce the little slip with its block lettering, and voila, no shirt inspection. I took it out to have a reassuring peek, and there on the other side, neatly written in blue, a phone number.

I rolled my carry-on to the bus that takes me to longterm parking. She climbed into the back of a Saab 4- door, glanced up and saw me in the bus window. She smiled, raised a hand, index finger pointed, thumb up. Bang bang.