Pick one up today— Sidewalk Story: the book
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I love Berkeley, but my crush is New York City.
Poet Dog Takes a Detour
The German shepherd I see at the park is clean and well-groomed. He has happy ears and barks in iambic pentameter. Meanwhile, I find out from a talking lawyer what a “frolic” and a “detour” are. If a guy is driving around delivering office supplies and stops for a sandwich and hits a fire hydrant, he’s still on the clock and the company pays for the damage: that’s a detour. But if the guy finishes early, takes the truck to the beach and hits a post there, he’s responsible: a frolic. The lawyer’s listener likes the words “Frolic and a Detour” together and thinks they would make a good title for a poem. And “Oh hey, Sheila,” she calls to her dog (the German Shepherd I thought male). The dog is dancing through some ivy. The woman shouts, “Sheila! Sheila! Get out of there! That’s prose!” We know, of course, what the dog will do next.
She took one bite and spat out the bitter fruit. Someone thought it a good idea to put cranberries in the fruit cup in honor of the holiday, but clearly, the mixture had remained unsampled.
She’s waiting tables at a home, assisted living, some prefer. Got the white blouse and black pants, you bet, and a good smile, better at actions, not words. She’s at the tail end of high school: it’s her first job. At her table they are seated, saw the specials, but forgot (pan-seared halibut, vegi pasta, acorn squash, vanilla pie). But that’s okay, it’s her job to read the foods aloud. Faces upward, faces wait, menus closed, hands look for bread. She takes a breath, checks her notes, and then recites, “Pan-scared halibut. Is that right? Ha-li-but? It has no bones.”
Her Small Town
She was surprised he had heard of her small town, suspicious, until he said, “There was a diner there called ‘Hi! Let’s Eat.’” And she told him that the bottom had fallen off the E so it now read, “Hi! Let’s Fat.” And long ago it was bought and turned into a hardware store, and now, instead of burgers, it sold flyswatters and other personalized gifts.
Did you hear what Carmen did? You know those family stickers? With the line drawings? The ones you can put on your car window? She and her husband had one? Not on their sedan? But on their van? With a picture of Jeremy and a bowling ball? Carmen with a pencil behind her ear? And the two kids? The girl in a tutu and the older boy with a snake? And Jeremy had a work wife? And he left? But he took the sedan? And she went out with a razor blade? And scraped off his head? Off the family sticker?
The Price of Desire
Montana Avenue is decorated with chic boutiques now, no longer the home of gas stations and nurseries and vacant lots. If you have money and want beautiful boots, shop here. If you want custom made skirts or smoothies, shop here. Whole Foods replaced Fireside Market & Liquor decades ago. Still proud, the old Aero Theater shows vintage films and brings in live actors to introduce them. And at the edge of the avenue, the Montana Branch Library still stands with its Flintstone-esque façade.
On one corner, in a caged area adjacent to a skin-care salon, we spot a menagerie of metal animals, painted, and I make my spouse stop so I can take pictures. The bars are far enough apart that I can hold my camera inside to shoot the pigs, roosters, cow, goat, and more pigs. A man with a grizzled beard and wearing a t-shirt and jeans comes out of the sleek salon and locks the door behind him.
“Are these yours?” M asks.
“Yes, they are. I have more but they’re in a show.”
“A real barnyard.”
“I like animals. I have dogs—nine black Labs. I also have a bunch of these at home, put them in the yard, and at first the dogs were terrified. But after awhile they got used to them and the dogs wander around and pee on them. Someone told me pigs were good luck, so I got more pigs.”
“Who makes them?” I ask.
“I don’t know. They’re made out of scrap metal: old fenders, signs, recycled.”
I tell him they are really neat.
“A woman asked me how much they were. They’re $95-$300 for the larger ones. She said that was expensive. I looked at her and said, ‘but you paid $500 for that tattoo.’ She was shocked and said, ‘how did you know?’ and I said ‘I used to be a tattoo artist.’ I have tattoos all over.” He rolls back his short sleeve to reveal heavily patterned, intricate ink, clearly up over his shoulder and beyond. He says tattoos are easier to make than these animals, that with a tattoo if you get a line wrong you can just stretch the skin and connect it up. Skin is pliable. Metal isn’t.
We tell him we think the prices are good for art. I want one. I’d pay. If it was any other day, any other time, I would buy one. A little rooster, most likely.
The white FedEx home delivery truck—the one with the puppy painted on the side—pulls up to the child care center. Out pops the uniformed driver. He opens the side door and lifts something out. It’s a little boy. The uniformed driver sets the boy down and takes hold of the boy’s hand, then escorts him into the school. “Bye Daddy,” says the boy. “Learn things,” says the driver. Of course, we knew it was his father all along. But what if parents merely paid a parcel driver to deliver their child to school? And what about insurance?
Slippery When Grieving
Her hand let go of the milk before she got it to the basket, and it fell to the dairy aisle floor as the announcement came: The police are doing a free car seat safety check today in the parking lot. Take advantage of this opportunity to get your car seat checked and keep your baby safe. Ten years earlier, her young son had died from complications in his heart. If only there had been a safety check for that.
She believed in life after Jeff: thought she could get there if she gunned it: was confident that the universe beyond a warm surface did exist: a blank, empty area provided for parking.
Each neighbor felt that he or she had a say in Laura’s front garden, long in the making, a procedure both admired and judged. Everyone noted and plotted and kept tabs. They watched as if they were all owners of the property. Oh, there was a fence to keep them out, but it was set back five feet from the sidewalk so they could enjoy some of the plantings. Oh, there were large rocks. They seemed nice enough. Look at the new trees, the wildflowers. A flamingo appeared in a patch of pink flowers. Another joined it. Did they fit in? Didn’t they? Daily, Laura was out in her yard, digging and planting and watering. Hummingbirds came to drink from her hose. A deer jumped the fence into the yard to feast on flower buds and succulent new growth. Laura worked hard, smiling. A man crossed the street and approached her, puzzled. “Where are your flamingos?” he asked Laura. “They flew away,” she said. “I didn’t put them there. They weren’t mine.”
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