Stories and photographs by Jim Hamerlinck©2009, 2010, 2011

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Stray

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Outdoor Seating, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009




Dutch shook out his umbrella, stomped his feet a few times, then stepped out of the rain and into Winchell’s. He waved at Steve as the Assistant Manager-Trainee took a customer’s order. Steve winked in return.

The doughnut shop's aging linoleum floor was muddy wet. Bare florescent bulbs cast a blinding reflection off the glass display case. The radio played something closer to static than Soft Hits. The windows were covered in condensation. Dutch traced a smiley face above a Puffies poster that clung by a single piece of tape, then slid into his usual seat at his usual table, removed his parka, and waited for Tina to bring him his coffee and lemon jelly doughnut.

It was a just another dreary Tuesday morning in the Wallingford Winchell's Donut House and Dutch couldn’t have been happier.

Dutch Kerrigan would turn sixty-eight next week. He would mark the occasion in the same manner as he had for the last ten years, the length of his sobriety. He would pull the thick wallet out of his coat pocket and show the kid behind the counter--probably Steve this year--his driver’s license. “See? It's my birthday today. I'm still here,” Dutch would grin. “Where's my free doughnut?”And the kid would find a candle, stick it in the doughnut or apple fritter or maple bar, light it, and make Dutch’s day.

Dutch was everyone's favorite regular--gregarious, sweet and unassuming. He regaled the staff and fellow customers with stories about the Wallingford of his youth. He told corny jokes. He handed out trinkets to little kids. He greeted everyone who walked in the shop like a long, lost friend.

Steve walked over with the coffee and lemon jelly. “Morning, Dutch. Here you go.”

“Thanks, kid. Where’s Tina?”

Dutch had a special fondness for Tina, a tough, ornery street kid, a runaway from Wisconsin who escaped an abusive boyfriend by hitchhiking across the western states with nothing but the clothes on her back and plenty of guile and perseverance. When she started working at Winchell’s last summer, Tina treated Dutch with the same poorly disguised contempt as everyone else she encountered. But Dutch saw through her tough façade. He recognized the disillusionment and hurt beneath the scowls and attitude. She reminded Dutch of his oldest daughter, Kimmie-- the one who got away.

In spite of her resistance, Tina evenutually warmed to the doughnut shop's beloved fixture. With a few words exchanged each morning across a grimy, laminated table in a poorly lit, nearly empty doughnut shop within earshot of the Interstate's drone, a friendship was forged.




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Entrance, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009



Steve looked solemnly at Dutch's jelly doughnut, then took a seat across from the old man. “Tina’s probably not coming in today, Dutch.”

“Oh. Why’s that?” asked Dutch.

Steve explained that the Winchell’s corporation was losing money and closing unprofitable franchises. He told Dutch that all of the employees at the Wallingford location were being laid off or offered part-time positions at a shop in Kent, some twenty miles away.

Dutch took a sip from his cup and considered this news. He scanned the empty room and noticed that his smiley face had disintegrated into something abstract and lifeless. “Are you going to Kent, Steve?”

“No, Dutch,” replied Steve, “I’m done with doughnuts. I’m thinking of going back to school.”

“Oh, that’s good. What about Tina?”

“I don’t know, Dutch.” Steve heard the chime indicating the door had opened and turned to see a couple of teenage boys enter the shop. He got up from the table. “When I told her about the lay-offs yesterday she was pretty mad. She stormed outta here without saying much. I don’t know where she is, Dutch.”

Dutch couldn’t finish his doughnut. His felt anxious.

Tina was strong, a survivor. She had been through far worse than this, but still Dutch worried for her. He couldn’t help it. He envisioned her somewhere out on the streets frantic, beside herself, with no one to turn to. He left the shop without saying goodbye to Steve.


Dutch waited in the rain for the number 44 to take him into the U-District, to the dilapidated house on 7th that Tina shared with a bunch of other kids. He would find her and offer her whatever comfort and support he could. She might refuse him, he knew this--fall back on her street instincts to protect herself--but he would be there for her. He would not lose this one.



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Service Entry, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wrong, All Wrong

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Blue Beam, Fremont, 2009



The memo informed John that the promotion would go to Davis, not him.

This news surprised John. He was certain that he would get it. He had been given every indication by his boss that the promotion was his to lose. The interview had gone very well. Everyone liked him. Everyone. His production was up. He hadn’t missed a day of work all year. Not one day.

But it was Davis, not him, who was named the new assistant.

Davis.

“How can this be?” he wondered. “I’ve done every thing they’ve asked. Everything. What has Davis done?”

That evening after work, Davis approached John in the parking lot as he was getting into his car. John decided that he would avoid Davis. “Just look straight ahead,” he told himself.

Before he could escape, though, Davis stepped in front of the car and tapped on its hood. John could not ignore him. He took a deep breath and rolled down the window. “Davis,” he said.

“John,” smiled Davis. “I’m glad I caught you before you left.”

“What is it, Davis?”

“I just wanted to say…well…I just, ah….”

“Congratulations on the promotion, Davis,” John said.

“Thanks, John. I know it must be hard--”

“Tell me, Davis,” interrupted John, “what have you done?”

“John?”

“What have you done in the time you’ve been here?” asked John.

“I’ve done everything they’ve asked,” replied Davis.

“Have you?” said John.

“Yes,” confirmed Davis. “Everything.”

John fiddled with the zipper of his jacket. A squirrel scampered across the parking lot with what looked to be a piece of pumpkin pie in its mouth.

“Did you see that, Davis?”

“See what?” asked Davis.

“Never mind,” said John.

“John--”

“I have to go, Davis. Things to do, you know.”

“Sure, John” said Davis. “I understand.”

John rolled up the window and drove off, ignoring Davis' wave.

On the way home, as snowflakes began to fall, John decided that his car needed washing. He pulled into a stall at the deserted Fremont Brown Bear and spent the next three hours there, under the harsh florescent lights, washing and rinsing his Prius and wondering what more he could have done.



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Foam, Leary Way Northwest, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Aerialist

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Blue Tarp 1, 2009



When are you going to fix the roof?

When the rain lets up a bit.

It’s not raining now.

It's not?

No.

I need to get a few more materials. The right tools. I need to do some research. On the internet.

What were you just doing on the internet?

Looking at…pictures of…endangered wildlife.

There’s a leak in the bedroom now.

Yeah, I know.

And the bathroom.

Yes. I know.

You said you would fix it this weekend.

I'm organizing my thoughts.




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Blue Tarp 2, 2009





Why don’t you just hire a contractor?

I told you I don’t trust contractors. They’ll just charge us for repairs we don’t really need. And they’ll take forever. I’ll do this myself and save us thousands of dollars.

Alright. When?

It's stopped raining?

Yes. The kitchen has a leak, too.

It does?

Yes.

Hmm.

Should I call my brother?

No.

Why not? He’ll help. He’s good. He wants to help.

I don’t need help. It’s a one man job.

You sure?

I’ll fix the roof.

You know what you’re doing?

What?

You know what you're doing?

I might have to improvise.

Improvise?



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Blue Tarp 3, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Mule And The Salt Lick

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Doors, Mottman Building, Pioneer Square, 2009



He ran his fingers carefully through the bowl one more time, convinced that there were some uneaten pistachios hiding among the spent shells. He would find the elusive last few and finish the whole snack. Nice and tidy. Nothing wasted.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Digging and stirring. Whisking. He kept at it, but found nothing but hollow, dusty half shells.

He stopped fishing for nuts and licked the salt from his fingers. "What am I doing?" he wondered.

He craved one more unopened treasure, one more shell to break apart (the satisfying snap!), one more kernel to suck up like a vacuum cleaner. One more savory nugget to chew.

"Stop this!" he told himself, then resumed mining the bowl.

Just as he was about to give up and get on with his evening, he found one.

It was a pistachio he recalled tossing back because it was sealed shut. It had been quickly dismissed and discarded. Useless. But that was when the bowl was chock full of ripe candidates, easy openers. Then, it was simply interference, an obstacle, a tease. Now, it was his last hope.

He held it pinched between his thumb and forefinger and re-examined its potential. Perhaps he had been a bit hasty. There was some space there, not much, but something to work with, at least. He placed the pistachio between his clenched teeth--like a vise--and bit down in an effort to pry the seam apart, but the nut did not cooperate and flew from his mouth onto the table top, then down to the carpeted floor, where it lay harmlessly at his feet.

He picked up the pistachio and cleaned it with his shirt. “We've made some headway,” he supposed, optimistically. “The door is ajar, I think.”

He inserted his sharpest nail, his right thumbnail, into the suggestion of a crack and began to pry. He wedged his left thumbnail in. He pulled and pried and twisted. He persisted, but it was no use. The shell halves would not budge. The kernel remained safely ensconced in its casing.

For his futile efforts, he sustained a small but painful cut beneath his right thumbnail--no man's land. It was sore, throbbing, and the salt found its way into the wound and made the sting worse. He instinctively put his thumb into his mouth to suck the pain away. It was the last salt he would taste that night.

He dropped the pistachio into the bowl then buried it. He had laundry that needed folding.



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Shell, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Do You Want To Walk Around Green Lake?

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Green Lake Path #1, 2009




A couple of women, neighbors, who have known each other only a short while, talk more openly about their lives with each other . A middle aged man, bald and sweaty and shirtless, navigates the path gracefully on roller blades, bobbing his head to the beat of his music. A new mother pushes her babe in a stroller and exhibits a particularly joyful gait. A group of three adolescent girls in bright clothing and braces laugh and gesture and move at a pace that the small dog one of them is walking can barely keep up with. A mother in her sixties is walking with her daughter in her forties and they are talking about the man who was neither a very good husband or a very present father.




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Green Lake Path #2, 2009




A contented looking man is wearing blue athletic shorts that are a product of the Seventies--super short and very tight fitting. A large man in soiled gray sweatpants is jogging deliberately, huffing mightily, trying to maintain his pace, but you wish he would stop and rest. A grandmother pulls off the path and adjusts the hat on her new grandchild’s little head. The delicacy and tenderness she bestows on this small task is touching. Two twelve year old boys on small bikes maneuver their way around and through the walkers and runners with a confidence that borders on cockiness. But they are not out to hurt or intimidate--it’s their lake, too, and they're aware of you. Two men walk side by side but find words hard to come by. A tiny man runs as if his very life depended on getting around that lake. Two couples with dogs cross paths. The dogs stop and sniff and inspect each other, but the human couples hardly acknowledge the other’s existence. A young couple in their twenties, in the throes of new love, hold hands and smile and laugh, oblivious to all around them. A little girl tries to steady herself on her pink bike as her dad gently guides her along the path. A woman skater glides by, looking like electricity on wheels with a smile that tells all.




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Green Lake Path #3, 2009




A clean cut, conservatively dressed man in his thirties performs some knee bends and push ups before engaging in meditative Tai Chi movements. The sweaty, bald skater whips by once again. Three women walk in unison and talk animatedly about something either very embarrassing or very sexy. A couple looks like they’ve taken this walk everyday for fifty years. They wear matching REI-type clothing and hiking boots. They seem to have come to some kind of agreement about their relationship. A woman of an indeterminate age wears an expression of deep, deep sadness. A large collection of people, maybe ten or twelve, who look not to be related but associated in some way, move with an awkward, uncertain unity. They don’t know each other’s pace. There is no real leader. Conversation is difficult in such a setting. Yet, they look happy to be with each other at this park on this beautiful day.




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Green Lake Path #4, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Salvation

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Shirt, Ship Canal, Fremont, 2009



She spent a restless night under a maple tree in Gilman Park, thinking and planning and worrying. No one bothered her, no one was around, but she was convinced that she was being watched, that she was being trailed, that she would be accused of something if captured, and couldn’t sleep for the anxiety this caused her. They only pursued her at night. Morning couldn’t have come soon enough.

Daylight would be her salvation.

She methodically pushed the grocery cart filled with her belongings along the Burke-Gilman Trail toward Fremont, past warehouses and metal fabricating shops and marine enterprises. The worn rubber wheels ground and stuttered erratically over the rough asphalt trail. Her arthritic hands could scarcely grip the handle of the cart. Lumbago had seized her back and every step she took the pain worsened. Her feet were calloused and sore, the paper thin soles of her slippers offered no protection. Still, she labored on.

When she reached the stretch of trail along the ship canal lined with poplar trees, she stopped and began unloading her possessions onto the soft, wet lawn for inspection.

Piece by piece, her valuables were sorted and displayed and accounted for.

The napkins came first, weighted in place by a brick. Pens and straws followed--the pens laid horizontally, the straws vertically. Newspapers were next, tied in twine and bundled chronologically. Yogurt cups were stacked into towers according to brands and flavors. She arranged her neatly folded blankets, seven of them, in a semi-circular pattern from darkest to lightest. Aluminum cans, stuffed with gum wrappers and bottle caps, were set in three precisely aligned rows. Plastic bags containing her paperbacks and receipts and rocks would be reviewed some other day.

Satisfied with her work, she moved to push her cart off the trail and onto the lawn and as she did, a man on a bike, commuting from Ballard to his office Downtown, approached and shouted, “Look out!” He tried, but could not maneuver his bike around her quick enough and smashed into the cart, knocking it over and sending her sprawling onto the grass.

She lay motionless amongst her scattered articles.

The man had somehow managed to stay on his feet. He straddled his fallen bike, its mangled rear wheel spinning irregularly just below his crotch.

“Godammit,” he said. “I could’ve been killed.”

The man’s knuckles were bruised and bleeding. He put his hand to his mouth to suck away the blood. He couldn’t move his right index finger and cried in pain, “I think it’s broken! Shit!”

He slipped the carryall off of his shoulder and got out his cell phone. He called his wife, who was at home with their baby daughter.

“Honey, my bike is shattered and I--”

He saw her then, flat on her back, her hands cupped atop her chest, looking like a angel in repose.

“Are you all right?” he asked, but she did not respond.

“Who are you talking to?” asked his wife.

He walked toward her, stepping over the goods strewn about, careful not to knock over the last standing yogurt cup tower. “Can I help you up?”

“Mitch,” pleaded his wife, “what’s going on? Where are you?”

As he crouched over her, several drops of blood fell from his knuckle onto her cheek. “Oh, my God, I’m sorry,” he said, and gently wiped the blood off of her with his shirtsleeve. She opened her eyes.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” he asked. She looked at him, smiled, then closed her eyes. His chest tightened, then released, as he watched her go.




He stood and yelled for help.

“Mitch, my God, what’s wrong?! Mitch!” cried his wife.

“Oh, Honey, this is bad, this is bad….“ He lifted the brick from the napkin pile, grabbed a handful, and wrapped the wad around his knuckle which was bleeding profusely now.

“Mitch, what is it?!“

“I‘m gonna have to...." He stopped, breathless.

"What?!" asked his wife.

"I'm gonna have to... call the police now, Honey. I'll talk to you soon," he told her, and hung up.

He picked up one of the blankets, the woolen gray blanket with the blue floral pattern, third from the right in the semi-circle, unfolded it, and placed it over her still body.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” he reassured her. “I promise.”

And he was right.



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Call, Northgate Mall, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Softy

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Hillside, Lower Queen Anne, 2009




His voice is so soft that it is difficult to understand him sometimes.

He is reasonably intelligent and articulate, has a decent vocabulary and expresses himself well enough, but it is observed that he mumbles occasionally.

A conversation with him is peppered with these phrases….

“What?”

“Say that again.”

“Did you say something?”

“I didn’t hear you.”

If he is right in front of you when speaking, it usually isn’t a problem. But if the distance between the two of you is greater than, say, ten feet, well....

In a crowded room, at a party, in a bar, it is virtually impossible to hear him the first time around.

“What did you say?”

“Speak up.”

“Once more?”

He is typically good natured about this perceived…condition of his. He can laugh about it, poke fun at himself. There are worse afflictions than having a quiet voice, after all.

However, he does sometimes get flustered on the phone, where his inaudible mutter is most often misinterpreted as disinterest or aloofness, or worse, incomprehension. He will ask or answer a question and get no response. He will say something clever or funny and the recipient will remain eerily silent. He will wait a moment, then say what ever it was he had said over again, for clarification.

“Are you still there?” they will inquire.

“Yes.”

“What?” they will ask.

“I said, yes, I’m still here.”

“Can you put your mouth closer to the phone?” they will suggest.

“It can’t get any closer.”

“What?” they will ask again.

He will raise his voice ever so slightly and try once more. “How’s this?”

“I’m going to hang up now,” they will say, somewhat exasperated. “Can we talk later?”

“But we’re talking now.”

“What did you say?”

"I said, we're talk--"

***click***



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Grace And Natalie, International District, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Appointment

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Smith Tower, Downtown, 2009



The dental hygienist placed protective glasses over Roger's eyes and asked him if he had been flossing.

“Yes,” Roger lied.

The one-size-does-not-fit-all glasses pinched the back of his ears and the bridge of his nose. The bleached yellow lenses cast Mary Anne, the hygienist, in a dreary light. “You look a little jaundiced,” joked Roger.

“What?” said Mary Anne, through a surgical mask.

“I said you look a little jaundiced...."

“Open, please,” instructed Mary Anne.

Roger took a deep swallow then opened his mouth as wide as he could, straining his jaw muscles, and clenched his fists against his thighs. “Aaahhh,” he bellowed.

“You can relax your jaw," said Mary Anne. “Not so wide.”

“Okay,” said Roger, as the Warm Hits announcer introduced The Little River Band’s Reminiscing.

“I see some build up, some tartar in there. If you are flossing, you’re not doing a thorough enough job.”

Roger raised his eyebrows slightly, neither admitting nor denying anything.

Mary Anne held a hooked instument in one hand, a small mirror in the other. She looked like she was preparing to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. "Open, please."

Roger alternately held his breath and winced as Mary Anne probed his gums. “You have some sensitive areas?” she asked, rhetorically.

“You’re right. Good work,” thought Roger, “I do. May I leave now?”

The hygienist proceeded with her job, poking and scraping. “Your gums are a little red. If you don’t clean the areas between your teeth, Roger, you’ll develop gingivitis then, eventually, Periodontal disease. You could lose your teeth.”

Roger was barely tolerating the pain. He looked at Mary Anne pleadingly and blinked once, slowly, as if to say “Yes, I may have been negligent, but I will do better, I promise. Have mercy. I beg you.” But Mary Anne was too busy grating to notice.

Phil Collins' One More Night was cut short. The radio signal was lost temporarily and now the only sounds in the room were metal on enamel, and Mary Anne’s labored breathing.

Roger gazed at the high-rise across the street. He imagined its offices to be full of busy people with healthy, bright, white teeth doing important things, developing new ideas, original models, master plans, more efficient methods. He wanted a pretty woman carrying a stack of documents to glance over and catch his eye and give him a look of sympathy and understanding. “It’ll be over before you know it,” she would mouth, and blow him a kiss.

But the windows were black and reflective and all Roger could see were the soles of his sad shoes and Mary Anne, hunched over his helpless, supine torso like a vulture devouring a carcass, busy and deliberate.

“Prevention is your best weapon against gum disease, Roger,” she said, as her tool found a particularly tender spot near Roger’s lower right first bicuspid. “Ohh!” cried Roger.

“I’m sorry,” said Mary Anne. “I’ll make note of that for the Doctor.”

She pressed on, giving each of Roger's neglected teeth equal time and attention, working diligently with her sickle and hoe and mirror, extracting layers of laziness and sloth and apathy and tartar and plaque.

Time stopped (but the soft hits did not). Mary Anne worked with great focus but seemed to make no progress. She was taking forever. Hooks and blades and bristles and points and suction and swishes and swallows. Sometimes the pain was dull, sometimes sharp, sometimes excruciating. Roger considered ripping off his bib and leaving, never returning, and accepting the decaying state of his mouth and a liquid diet for the rest of his life.

Roger's feet began to reflexively rattle in response to the pain. The dental chair vibrated against Mary Anne's leg. She set down her tools.

"Are you all right, Roger?"

“May I have a pint of Novocaine?" he whispered.

Mary Anne smiled. “We’re just about done. I promise," she said, and resumed working.

Lionel Richie’s Endless Love (with Diana Ross) came on and Mary Anne hummed along. Roger joined in.

“You like this song, Roger?” she asked.

“Not really,” Roger said.

“Me either,” said Mary Anne.

Roger grinned, then closed his eyes, grateful that the end was near.



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Tightly Coiled, Duwamish Industrial Area, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Hay

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Styrofoam Posting, Ballard Light Industrial Area, 2009



Dean locked his office door, then bid goodnight to the custodian and the security guard. A late night meant Dean would miss his workout at the gym, and this disappointed him. He quickened his pace as he walked across the parking lot toward his truck and thought about going for a run when he got home.

As Dean approached his pickup he discovered, inexplicably, that someone had placed a bale of hay in its bed.

Of course, Dean was puzzled. Who would have done this? And why? It made no sense. On the drive home he tried to come up with some logical explanation, but failed.

As he prepared his dinner, Dean called his ex-wife, Laura.

Laura and Dean did not get along. Their divorce was acrimonious. They were out of each other’s lives and were trying to move on, but resentment lingered.

Dean got right to the point: “Laura, did you put a bale of hay in the back of my truck?”

“What?”

“I said, ’Did you put hay in the back of my truck?’”

Laura hung up without responding.

Dean went to bed uncertain that it was Laura who was responsible for the hay. But if not her, then who?

Dean couldn't settle. He couldn't sleep.

He got up and went out to the driveway to make sure he wasn't imagining things. Of course, the hay was there. He scanned the truck with his flashlight in search of some clue, some indication of foul play, some evidence left behind by the perpetrator, but found nothing.

Dean went back inside and dialed 9-1-1. When the operator answered, Dean hung up. "This is ridiculous," thought Dean. "What am I doing? It's a bale of hay for cryin' out loud."

An hour later, Dean got out of bed and phoned his good friend and associate Merle, a mathematician, with whom he shared a beer on occasion.

Once more, Dean didn’t bother with small talk: “Merle, do you know anything about the hay in my truck?”

“What?” asked Merle, half asleep. “Dean, it’s one in the morning. What’s wrong?”

“I said, 'Do you know anything about the hay in my truck?’”

“What, Dean? ...Haiti?”

“Never mind, Merle. I’m sorry I woke you.”

Dean got back into bed. A sleepless hour passed. He wanted to believe that a stressful day at the office and the missed workout were the cause of his insomnia, but he knew the real source of his restlessness.


Dean rose and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

As he waited for the water to boil, he called his older sister, Kathryn, who lived with her husband on a ranch in Kentucky. They raised horses, or at least they did years ago, and so would have plenty of hay at their disposal....

"Hello, Kathryn?"

"Dean?....Oh, my God, Dean, is it Mother!?"

"No, Kathryn. Mom's fine."

"Then what is it? Why are you calling so early? Or late? What's wrong?"

Dean stood before the living room window and gazed out at his driveway. Under the white light of a street lamp, dew glistened atop the bundle in the back of his truck.

"Who would do such a thing?" wondered Dean.

"Dean? Dean, are you there?"

"Yes, Kathryn, I'm here," Dean said, finally. "I... just... wanted to hear your voice."

"Oh. ...That's sweet, Dean."

"Well. That's all. I'll call you later, Kathryn. Bye."

He crawled back into bed, but it was useless. He could not sleep. He could not get the hay out of his mind.



Dean resolved to rid himself of this inconvenience, this bother, now, in the middle of night. The issue would be vanquished, like a disturbing dream, by morning.

He dressed, put on a pair of gardening gloves, and drove his pickup and its mysterious cargo around the foggy streets of his Fremont neighborhood.

Dean eventually pulled into the empty parking lot of Market Time grocery.

"Here," he decided.

As Dean was hoisting the bale into a dumpster, a police car approached and flashed its lights. An officer ordered Dean to lay down and put his hands on his head.

Dean sqinted into the glare of the beam. “But... this is not my hay, officer.”

"Then who's hay is it?" asked the policeman.

"I guess it doesn't matter, does it?" said Dean.

"No," replied the officer. "Not really."


At the North Precinct, Dean was afforded one phone call before he was booked.

"Hi, Kathryn. It's me again. Dean."

"Dean," hesitated Kathryn. "Um...How are you?"

"I'm good, Kathryn," said Dean. "I'm better, anyway."



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Hay Bale, Fremont Avenue North, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Him, Again

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Passenger, Metro 54, 2009



You see him all the time.

Everywhere.

He lives and moves and operates in your world. You exist in the same orbit of sidewalks and stores and parks and stoplights. He minds his own business, tends to his own thoughts. He shares nothing of himself with you, is uninterested in you, and seems entirely comfortable with that arrangement.

He won't make eye contact with you. But, why would he? You offer him nothing but your curiosity and, maybe, your contempt.

His age is indeterminate. He could be anywhere from thirty to fifty. He is white and small and scrawny. He sports a goatee. He wears a loose fitting t-shirt, tattered jeans, and a baseball hat worn backwards. And always sunglasses. Today he is listening to something, or nothing, on oversized headphones.

He moves like a ghost, appearing here, then there, out of nowhere, unannounced. And just as quickly, he is gone. Without a trace.

(Maybe he really wants something from you and is following you, gathering information, making observations about you. Perhaps behind those sunglasses his steely eyes are tracking your every move. Might he be trying to break you down? Is he plotting some crime against you?)

You see him outside the pet store, squatting against the cool brick exterior. His hands are folded. His head is downcast, motionless. You take note of his posture, his dress, his willful disdain for convention, as you walk past. But he doesn’t seem to notice you.

Then you see him coming out of the auto parts store, hands in pockets, and he glides by you, brushing against you, without so much as a glance of recognition. He has something on his mind and it’s clearly not you.

You buy a candy bar and when you leave the drug store, he enters.

Minutes later, there he is again, standing outside a dark tavern by himself. Is this mere chance? (Of course it is.) Why does this man intrigue you so? Should you say something to him? Something stupid like, “Fancy running into you again.” No. You walk right by him like he does not exist and behind those black sunglasses he is just as perplexed and amused and slightly bothered by these encounters as you. Or so you like to think, anyway.

You wait for the bus to arrive to take you downtown, away from this neighborhood. And him.

You step onto the bus and pay your fare and you see him, of course, seated there, by himself, leaning against the window, buried under the oversized headphones, lost in thought.

Every instinct tells you to take a seat at the very back of the bus, hidden from his watchful eye, but you choose to sit just a few seats behind him because you need to see where this relationship is headed.



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Parking Lot, Northgate Mall, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flight 283, Row 16, Seats A B C D E F

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Dated, Gas Works Park, 2009




A
She is returning to Seattle to resume the conversation she had with her father fifteen years ago, the last time they spoke. She cannot sleep. She cannot concentrate on the novel she bought at the airport. So, she looks at the wing of the plane and the tops of heads and the latch holding the tray in place and considers what she will say to her father and how to say it. She has rehearsed the scenario in her head over and over but it is never comfortable, never right. She is nervous and scared and wishes the plane would just stay suspended here in the clouds. She pops a stick of gum into her mouth. She folds its wrapper into the tiniest, most perfect square possible and drops it inside the pouch which holds the in-flight magazine and emergency instructions.

B
She is tired and feels dirty and wants to be home sitting in her bathtub, but home is five hundred miles behind her now and she won’t see it for another week. Just relax, she tells herself. She knows she should be grateful for her sister’s invitation and is trying to convince herself that they will get along great this time and that it will be different because the boy is older, easier, less prone to tantrums. But she knows her sister will criticize the boy's father and she will come to his defense. But the truth is that she is angry that his father doesn’t take more responsibility, more interest, send more money, make inquiries…it makes her wish she had not met him. The boy is calm right now. She offers him a piece of blue candy. On the wrapper it says that the candy contains real fruit and other natural ingredients.

C
He likes these trains and the animal characters riding them. They are all the wrong colors and ridiculous. The thick cardboard pages feel good between his fingers. He likes the weight, the sturdiness, the glossy coating. He wants to bite and chew on these pages. He thinks that if he threw the book it would not tear or bend and that it might hit someone, maybe that mean-looking man in front of him, and that it would cause the man to turn around and frown at him. He wants to stand up and see what or who is behind him but knows his mom will tell him to sit down and be quiet but he will try it and see if she might not care for once. He wipes the sticky blue candy residue off of his cheek with the back of his hand.

D
He has to go, again, but considers waiting a little while longer so as not to look like someone who has to go to the bathroom every five minutes for that is embarrassing. He thought that by reducing his water intake before the flight that this would not be a problem, and this frustrates him. He wonders if anyone has noticed his new glasses. He wonders if anyone admires the way they make him look sophisticated and intellectual. He’s only had them for a week and they are causing irritation along the bridge of his nose, but he knows that this can’t last long and he’ll get used to them and is willing to put up with the temporary discomfort because the glasses are just so flattering and expensive. He made a good choice. He thinks that the flight attendant looks sort of like his mother might have twenty years ago if she were a little heavier and had brown hair.

E
He pulls the sandwich out of his backpack and bites into it though he’s not really hungry. It is nervous energy, he knows, and there’s nothing he can do about it. (He doesn’t like this kind of bread. What is it? Whole wheat?) He is returning to graduate school and thinks that it is the biggest mistake of his life but he would never tell anyone that, especially his girlfriend, because then she would lose all respect for him and he would lose her, and that would be worse than anything. He takes another bite of the sandwich and some sauce drips onto his pants. He wishes there was someone in his life to tell him what to do, to counsel him. His foot is tapping uncontrollably but he won't stop it because there’s something comforting about the rhythm it keeps. It's a rhythm that scores his eating and his nervousness. It’s his rhythm. He’s making it. It’s his. He feels full but keeps eating the sandwich and can tell that the man next to him finds his chewing and his foot tapping annoying and so he tries to chew softly and demurely and slow down the foot, but he’s not sure that’s possible and why must he always try and please others and not himself?

F
She hates this traveling back and forth between her sons but what else is she to do? She has no one else. It wears her down. She is always tired. She misses her husband terribly right now and is remembering how they held hands so tightly when planes would land, how they would squeeze each other so hard until the screeching wheels finally, mercifully, stopped, and they knew they would live to see another day. Her son will be in the baggage claim area waiting for her and he will not be smiling, she knows this. He will lift her bag from the carrousel and they will walk in silence to the car and they will listen to the radio on the way to his house and not say a word. But maybe it will be different this time. She sensed something in his voice last night that led her to believe that he might be more sympathetic this time. Her feet are aching again and she wants to slip off her shoes but she won’t because she’s not bold enough, like her late best friend, Louise. She wishes she had the nerve to just wear her slippers all the time, like Louise did. She wants the flight attendant to bring her a Bloody Mary because you deserve it, Ma’am, and here is a blanket and pillow for you, as well.



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Barrier, Greyhound Terminal, Downtown, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do Not Open 'til Christmas

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University Heights Center, University District, 2009



Shane was talking to his new next door neighbor, Beth, who had recently divorced. He was feeling sympathetic toward Beth, who, at fifty five, was alone for the first time in many years, so invited her to take whatever she wanted from his garage to help her get started in her new life. "Most of this stuff is in near mint condition,” he explained. "Help yourself."

Beth had little interest in Shane’s old tools or sports equipment, or floor tiles, or bags of sand, or board games, or a giant computer monitor or his collection of science fiction paperbacks. But she did like the wind chime, thinking that it would bring a bit of cheer to her sterile new apartment. “I’ll hang it out on the deck,” she told Shane. "It'll chime for both of us."

Shane had forgotten about the wind chime. His mother had sent it to him as a Christmas present two years ago but it never left the box. It was buried behind a Hefty bag full of clothes that no longer fit and an old VCR player which he didn’t feel right about throwing away because he still had his Great Moments In TV Comedy tapes somewhere in the house--the attic, maybe--and he might want to play them for his kids some day, should he ever have kids.

“Oh, are you sure you want that old thing?” Shane asked.

“It looks like it hasn’t been opened,” Beth said, and held out the box for Shane to inspect.

“Huh. You're right. It was a gift from my mom.”

“That’s sweet,” said Beth. “Then you should keep it. You should hang it up.”

“No. That’s okay,” replied Shane. “You take it.”

“Thank you for your generosity, Slade,” said Beth. “I really appreciate your kindness and support.”

“It’s Shane. And you’re welcome. Enjoy the wind chime,” he said.



Shane did not like wind chimes but had never gotten up the nerve to tell his mother. He was slightly embarrassed, to be honest, by his reaction to something so seemingly innocuous. But the constant, invasive clinking and tinkling drove him nuts.

When he was outside working or lounging in his yard he wanted to hear …quiet. Or birds. He wanted to hear the wind brushing against the branches of the fir and maple trees, not hollow little metal sticks and discs. He could put up with the odd motorcycle or jet roaring past, or children playing in a yard nearby, or someone mowing their lawn, or the blast from a teenager’s car stereo. Those occurrences were part of the natural soundscape of a city. The noises came and went. Their duration was short.

A wind chime, however, never stopped. The tink-tink-tink was incessant, relentless.

“It’s a violation of my senses. It’s noise pollution,” Shane declared. He just couldn’t allow this to happen.

So Shane baked a cake.

He would take the cake to Beth and explain to her that he is sorry but he must ask her not to hang the wind chime and hopes that she understands and he would poke fun at his neurosis and they would have a good laugh and she would reassure him that, no, she would not hang the chime because she totally understands what it’s like to have your peace and quiet disturbed and don‘t think any more of it and lets have a piece of this good cake.

But, then...

When Beth answered the door, Shane handed her the cake.

“Oh, my God! Thank you, Slade.”

“It’s Shane. Beth. Actually...I would like to keep that wind chime if you don’t mind. I think I’ll hang it from my porch."

"Oh," she said.

"May I have it back, please?”

Beth put the cake on a table then went out to her deck and carefully removed the wind chime from its hook.

“Here you are,” she said.

“Thank you, Beth. Sorry about that. You understand, right?”

“Yes,” said Beth. “I understand.”

"Umm. Do you still have the box?" Shane asked.

"Yes. I'll get it."

Beth returned with the box and handed it to Shane.

“Well...." said Shane. "Enjoy the cake!”

“I will,” said Beth. “Thank you.”



Shane returned the wind chime to the shelf in his garage, behind the Hefty, safely hidden, forever muffled.

Several weeks later, Beth bought her own wind chime at a street fair--a fancy, ornamental, multi-layered unit with sea shells and bamboo made in Thailand--and hung it from her deck.

The neighbors rarely spoke anymore. But with Beth's wind chime producing its subtle variations of dings, tinks, pings and clinks, an exchange, of a sort, existed between the two, ongoing and continuous.





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Apartment Steps, University District, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Sensualist

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Popcorn, Day Old, Seattle Center, 2009



The hummus tasted good at the time, but now he had a craving for something, maybe something sweet, that might eliminate the thick, smokey aftertaste it had left in his mouth.

It was late, 10:30, almost time for bed, so the practical thing would have been to simply brush his teeth and call it a night.

But then he got to thinking....

He reasoned that a piece of licorice, which is what he had after dinner, was not dessert. Not in the classic sense. Not that every dessert had to be a true classic, of course, like pie or cake or peach cobbler or a thick slice of fudge. But one small, bite-sized, semi-sweet piece of black licorice does not produce smiles and ahhh’s when eaten. It is almost like taking a pill, really.

In his mind a meal has three components:

1. A salad.
2. An entrée.
3. A dessert.

Tonight he did not have dessert, a real dessert, so the meal felt incomplete. He felt incomplete. This is what he reasoned.

And this is why he got out of his pajamas and back into his clothes and walked four blocks to the Seven Eleven to find some real dessert so that the meal could be completed--in the classic sense--before he retired for the night.

He headed straight to the freezer in the back of the store and eyed their rotating selection of Haagen Dasz and Ben And Jerry’s ice cream. He was in the mood for something slightly--slightly--more decadent than plain vanilla or chocolate or strawberry.

But every offering seemed to include four or five different incongruous flavors in one pint. Peanut butter with marshmello and Oreo chunks and cherries and cookie dough and chocolate covered jelly beans and pretzels and banana pudding and raspberry swirls and cotton candy and M & M’s and Cap’n Crunch and cinnamon sticks and graham cracker crumbs and….

The freezer door was fully fogged now. The clerk behind the counter cleared his throat loudly and said, “You pick now?”

He had to make a choice. Or did he? He could walk away from the store right now empty handed and go home and go to bed and everything would be just fine in the morning and he did not need a classic dessert and who was he fooling?

He selected Chunky Waves of Grain (butterscotch ice cream with candy coated bread crumbs and dried apple shavings). “Now, that’s a dessert!” he joked with the clerk who handed him his change and said nothing.

Back home and in his pajamas he sat in front of the TV and scraped away at Chunky Waves of Grain, determined to eat only a quarter of the pint, at most. “This will be my dessert for the rest of the week,” he promised himself.

The syndicated crime scene investigation program was very compelling, and by the time it was over at midnight he had eaten the entire pint, despite his best intentions.

Now he did not feel well at all. He felt bloated.

He did not feel complete.

His sister once told him that eating licorice helped alleviate nausea. So he ate a piece then went to bed.



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Warning Sign, Abandoned Building, Westlake Avenue North, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Effort

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Leaf, University of Washington, 2009



He followed her down the hall once more, only this time with a sense of purpose.

Class had been dismissed on the final day of the semester. It was now or never. He caught up with her, then tapped her elbow.

She stopped and turned, “Yes?”

But his courage betrayed him. He froze.

“Yes,” she repeated. “What is it?”

He locked on to her sympathetic, pale blue eyes but could summon no words. She was granting him an invitation into her world but he was paralyzed by his reserve.

“Well?” she said.

For nine weeks they had shared the same small classroom with just six other students, yet she looked at him as if he were a stranger.

Finally, he spoke. “I think y-y-y-you forgot your….”

“My what?” she asked.

“I forgot my pencil,” he responded, and the descent commenced.

She blinked once, slowly. "Oh," she said.

She noticed the pencil in his fist, then said, “Well, you should go back to the classroom and get it before Telford locks the door.”

I. Forgot. My. Pencil.

This is not how he had rehearsed the scene in his daydreams. This is not what he envisioned. He saw the exchange ending in a soft, tender kiss, not I FORGOT MY PENCIL.

The disappointment and embarrassment cut deep. But worse, he had placed the burden of salvaging the moment, and his dignity, on her.

"Oh, right," was all he could muster.

He stepped away from her and saw that the classroom door had already been locked but knew that where retreat was concerned, his imagination was limitless. He surreptitiously pocketed his pencil and continued toward the room, moving his legs in slow motion. She would be gone by the time he reached the door. He would will her gone. She would be gone, for humiliation cannot run any deeper.

“Hey!”

He recognized the voice as hers and quickened his stride.

“Wait,” she pleaded.

He could not resist, and turned to her approach.

“Why don’t you just borrow one of mine,” she said, and handed him a pencil. “I’ve got a bunch.”

“Oh. Okay. Thank you." He avoided looking at her but regarded the pencil as if it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. And it may have been.

“I expect to get that back,” she said, as she walked away. “Eventually.”



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Rose, University of Washington, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where You Need To Be

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Stay, Fishermen's Terminal, 2009




The Greyhound pulled into the Seattle terminal at midnight and Bradley stepped off because he had run out of money.

When he got on the bus three days ago, his future was as cloudy as the Illinois sky that he was leaving behind. Now, at least, he had arrived somewhere. His destination had been established. There was no option. Seattle would be his home.

He grabbed his duffle bag from the storage compartment and begged some change off a police officer so that he could call his mom and tell her where he was and that he was safe.

Bradley was eighteen and out on his own for the first time. His mother, Varlene, had pleaded with him to stay with her in Normal, but Bradley would not hear it. He needed to erase his sad history in that town: the school suspensions, the brushes with the law, the restlessness and aggravation and lonliness that haunted him. He told his mom that if he didn’t get out of Normal he didn’t know what he would do.

Varlene knew her boy, and knew that this was not idle talk.

Resentment and anger festered in him like a virus and was destroying his soul. It broke her heart, but she did what any other mother would do to protect her child. She set him free. She saved him from himself.

“Go out and find your life, Bradley,” she whispered in his ear, as she held him for the last time. “My boy.”

“I love you, Momma. I’ll always love you, Momma.”




A sympathetic shelter worker found Bradley a cot at that late hour, and the next morning gave him $30 to buy some clothes at Goodwill and $5 more to grab a breakfast at McDonald’s. Bradley was grateful and told the man his kindness would not be forgotten. The man pointed to a sheet of paper taped to the wall. “There’s a list of places that are hiring day workers,” said the man. “Take a look and see if anything appeals to you.”

Bradley did not want to be a day worker. He wanted a real job. He wanted to earn a living, and knew that day work would get him into nothing but trouble.

He bought a blue denim dress shirt, khaki slacks and a pair of decent, used, black work shoes at Goodwill, then, after some breakfast, changed into his new clothes inside the McDonald’s restroom.

He hopped on the first Metro bus that went by, the 17, and determined to take it to wherever he needed to go. “Have faith in yourself,” his mother always told him, “and good things will come your way.”

From Downtown the 17 crosses the north side of Queen Anne and heads into Ballard by way of Westlake Avenue, which runs parallel to the shore of Lake Union, where Seattle’s yacht and pleasure boating related businesses are headquartered.

Bradley had never been on a boat in his life, but he liked what he saw. He was captivated by the size, the stateliness and majesty of these boats, and how they represented wealth and comfort and ease, the good life, the life that Bradley aspired to.

He pulled the cord and got off the 17 because he had found where he needed to be.


At Incredible Yachts Of Seattle, the vinyl sign flapping above the door said, Welcome Aboard! Bradley entered and found Dan Sutterfield, the owner, on the phone with one of his brokers arguing over some deal gone wrong. Sutterfield motioned for Bradley to take a seat and indicated with his finger he would be with him in a minute.

Bradley picked up a copy of Yachting Magazine and paged through its glossy advertisements as he waited.

“See something in there you like?" asked Sutterfield, after he had gotten off the phone.

“I sure do,” said Bradley, pointing to a feature article on a yacht called Odysseus VIII.

“World class boat,” said Sutterfield. “World class.”

“Yup,” agreed Bradley. “World class.”

“What can I do for you today, young man?” asked Sutterfield.

Bradley did not hesitate. “I want to sell yachts,” he said.

Sutterfield said nothing. He looked at Bradley dispassionately, much like one would a broken down car on the side of the road at rush hour. He noticed the second hand shoes that were too big for Bradley’s feet, the unkempt greasy hair and unshaven face, the ill-fitting shirt, the bags under his eyes, the dirty fingernails, the nervous blinking. He saw troubles.

He also saw in this boy the earnestness and sincerity which he, Sutterfield, had lost years ago, and which his current team of brokers apparently had never possessed.

“Just a minute, son,” he told Bradley, and stepped inside of an office where Sutterfield’s wife, Diana, was working.

Bradley helped himself to a drink from the water dispenser. He held the conical paper cup as if it were a fragile cocktail glass, delicately, with his fingertips, and sipped the water carefully, with grace, like a yacht owner might.

“Son,” said Sutterfield, when he had returned from the conference with his wife, “how would you like a job cleaning boats?”

“I would love that, sir,” said Bradley. “I would love that very much.”



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Wholesale Floral Supply Warehouse, South Lake Union, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Break

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Corner, International District, 2009



Elle told her secretary that she was going to get a cup of coffee and would be back in fifteen minutes. Her secretary looked surprised.

“But you don’t drink coffee,” she said.

“I used to. A long time ago,” said Elle. “Do you want me to get you something?”

“Uh…no,” laughed her secretary. “But, thanks.”

“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

“I know,” her secretary said. “You already told me.”

Elle pressed the down arrow and waited for the elevator to open. Then she pressed the up arrow. She waited a moment longer, then returned to her office. “I forgot my purse,” she explained to her secretary. Several minutes later she re-emerged and this time opted to take the stairs. Her secretary noticed that she was not carrying her purse.

“You sure I can’t get you anything?” asked Elle, as she passed. But before her secretary could respond, the door to the stairwell had closed.

Elle ran into one her associates, Dan--Dan, The Ineffectual she called him--in the lobby just as she was about to leave the building.

“Elle. Where are you headed?”

“I need to….,” she stopped herself. “That’s none of your business, Dan,” she finished, and walked away.

Elle wished she had remembered her sunglasses, the light was so intense at midday. She could scarcely look up. It was like trying to walk through a giant kaleidoscope, the unforgiving rays careening recklessly off the steel and glass and asphalt and chrome, blinding her, confusing her.

She rode the wave of pedestrians, though, with their relentless crush of deadlines and appointments and time constraints and agendas until she got to Pioneer Square, where she escaped into the cool shade of an alley. Two men were hoisting large rugs onto a truck but took no notice of her. A seagull perched on a dumpster flew off when she caught its eye. She pressed her back against a crumbling one hundred year old brick wall and put her hand over her chest. She was breathing hard, too hard. She needed water.

She walked to Occidental Park and found its rustic old drinking fountain. The tepid trickle was not refreshing, but she was drinking here for sustenance. A mob of pigeons warily approached her, saw that her hands were empty, and directed their attention on an unsuspecting family who wandered by, carrying their lunch in familiar white Ivar's Seafood bags.

A young woman was leading a small group of toddlers by a rope and Elle followed them for a while, then broke off and headed south on First Avenue, past bars and antique businesses and empty art galleries. She finally reached the end of Pioneer Square where the retail shops transitioned into factories and warehouses.

Elle kept walking. Block after block with her head down in the heat of the afternoon. No one was telling her to stop or to come back. No one cared.

Her face was flush and sunburned, her hair damp, her hands and feet swollen. She walked on until she reached the doughnut shop south of the stadiums. The place was empty but for the teenage boy behind the counter who was texting someone. She slipped out of her heels, then approached him for a glass of water.

“Hold on,” he said, and finished his message before putting his phone into the pocket of his red apron. He filled a 24 ounce cup to the brim and asked her if she would like some ice.

“No. Thank you,” she said.

She took a seat against the window overlooking the railroad tracks and waited for the boy to resume his texting, before dipping her fingers into the water. A train heading south to Portland rumbled past.

As she massaged her feet, Elle decided not return to her office that afternoon. She would ask the teenager to call for a cab to take her home.

Tomorrow she would try again. She would try to fit into this life she had made for herself one more time.



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Alley, International District, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Happens Every Day

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Infield, Ross Park, Fremont, 2009


He called her in the middle of the morning, knowing she would not be able to answer. He left a message.

When she got in from work that evening she listened to her messages, as she always did, and was surprised to hear his voice. “Hey, Babe….”

He had convinced himself that this was the best way. The best way for both of them. The easiest way. The cleanest way.

When he began, “I should probably tell you this face to face….,” she thought he was going to apologize for the insensitive comments he had made about her dress the other evening and was momentarily pleased.

He had reasoned that this kind of thing happens to people every day, all over the world, and will happen again tomorrow and the next day and the next. It happens. It’s just life. She’ll understand. She understands me, how I think, he reasoned. So he called her at ten thirty when that revelation was fresh and certain.

She listened to his message, then pressed nine to save it. The other messages concerned a hair appointment, a meet up with a friend, and something about remembering to vote for the progressive candidate, and were listened to and saved, as well. She immediately called him, got his voicemail, and hung up.

He said he thought that by being quiet--brooding, she called it-- he had made his feelings clear to her the last time they had been with each other. He thought that she knew him well enough to sense that he was unhappy and that it wouldn't serve either of them to pretend otherwise. There was no need to hash things over and make a big display. They were too dignified for that. They were a dignified couple.

She had seen this coming, anticipated the moment, but still felt she deserved to express some outrage and hurt, and to have him...sense it, he would say. He owed her that. They had invested a lot of themselves in this relationship. This moment was big and demanded a gesture worthy of its significance. She searched for the proper response, but it eluded her. She could call her best friend. Her mom, maybe. Or her over-protective little brother. She could drive to his place and pound on his door. Or she could sit here and cry. She could bring on tears easily, and it would be right to cry.

He ended his message with, “I love you,” then hung up. He felt relieved that it was over, that he was a free man and that he had spared her from the drama and the anguish which she did not deserve. He called his friend to see if he wanted to play tennis that afternoon.

She replayed his message. When the mechanized woman prompted her to save or delete, she pressed seven and he was gone. She went to the refrigerator and took out the six pack of beer which he had left from the other night and put it on the counter. She opened a can and took a swig, and as she expected, it tasted like his breath. It tasted good. She took another drink, then poured the remainder in the sink. Glug. Glug. Glug. Glug. The foam and the sizzle.


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Left Field Foul Line, Ross Park, Fremont, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's A Fine Line

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Latch, Mottman Building, Pioneer Square, 2009




An overnight security guard stepped into the dim light of the alley and found Johnson fiddling with a lock.

“What are you doing, sir?” he asked.

The guard startled Johnson, but he kept on with his business, undeterred by the interruption.

“I said, what are you doing, sir?”

“What I’m doing is none of your business,” Johnson said. “Now leave, would you?”

“Sir, you’re attempting to unlock this door,” said the guard.

“So you know what I’m doing,” Johnson remarked. “Then why did you ask me?”

“Sir. Step away from the door, please.”

Johnson inserted the correct key and unlocked the door. “Finally,” he sighed, and entered the building.

“Sir, put your hands on your head!” shouted the security guard as he followed Johnson in.

But Johnson ignored the order and kept moving. The inside of the building was dark save for the soft glow cast by the EXIT signs on either side of the foyer. Johnson bumped his leg against the armrest of a couch as he tried to maneuver his way through the blackness. “Owww!” he cried, and grabbed his knee. “Where’s the elevator!?”

“To your immediate left, sir, but I’ve asked you to put your hands on your head.”

Johnson was in pain, his leg badly bruised. He eased himself onto the couch. “Turn on your flashlight and point it toward the elevator,” Johnson demanded. “Or better yet, just turn on the lights.”

“I'm not sure where...Sir, I have the authority to---”

“The authority to what?” snapped Johnson. “I need some ice.”

The guard tried detaching the flashlight from his utility belt, but fumbled in the darkness. “I can have you arrested for breaking and entering,” he said, then sent the flashlight flying to the floor when he inadvertently cracked the plastic clip which had secured it in place. The impact caused the batteries to dislodge from the unit and they could be heard rolling along the marble tiles.

“What was that?” asked Johnson.

“My flashlight, sir” said the guard. “Do you see it? “

“I can’t even see you,” said Johnson. “How do you expect me to see your flashlight?”

“Sir, I can’t lose that flashlight. It was just issued yesterday.”

“Run across the street and get me some ice and I’ll stay here and look for your flashlight, okay, uh….what‘s your name?”

“Mike,“ answered the security guard.

A police cruiser roared by, temporarily illuminating the foyer in brilliant incandescence. The guard caught a glimpse of Johnson, incapacitated on the couch. He slowly backed his way toward the EXIT sign. “Sir, you’ve broken the law here. This is criminal trespassing.”

"I'll find your flashlight, Mike," said Johnson. “Now get me some ice. Quick.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be right back.”

Mike bought a bag of ice at the mini-mart across the street and hastily returned. He stood in the doorway and peered helplessly into the dark foyer, his forehead streaked with sweat. He held the ice in his outstretched arms as if offering salvation.

“Sir?...Sir?...Sir?”



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Bolt, Mottman Building, Pioneer Square, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aerodynamic

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Aurora Bridge Span, 2009




"What in God’s name are you doing?” Margaret asked her husband.

Wallace was in the bedroom getting ready for a bike ride with his friend, Tim.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” he deadpanned.

Tim had suggested to Wallace during their last ride that he might want to buy a pair of biking shorts like his. Tim wore black, skin-tight shorts made of lycra. Tim had claimed that the shorts offered better support than a jock strap and that they kept the sweat off of his body and that they were more efficient, more “aerodynamic,” he said, than the cotton gym shorts Wallace wore when they rode.

“Well. I don’t like it,” professed Margaret. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Wallace could not understand his wife’s displeasure. After all, it was she who badgered him into getting off the couch in the first place. She was the one who told him he was out of shape, that she didn’t want to be a widow before her time. So after several weeks of finding excuses to avoid the inevitable, Wallace finally acquiesced and bought a bike. He committed to an exercise program he had read about in a magazine and was following through. He found exercise to be difficult, but invigorating. Tim, a young paralegal at his firm, had invited him on a ride one afternoon and a friendship blossomed.

“Tim says these are the best. What’s the problem?”

Wallace was sixty-two years old and heavy set. The shorts were extra-large, his typical size, but they were not easy to get into.

“Oh, Tim! Tim is almost thirty years younger than you and is shaped like a toothpick. You look ridiculous.”

Wallace got up off the edge of the bed and stood, topless, before his wife. “See. They fit nicely.”

Margaret glared at her husband. “I suppose you’ll want this.” She reached into the laundry basket she was holding and tossed him his old SuperSonics t-shirt.

“No, I won’t need that,” Wallace said. “I’m wearing this.”

Wallace held up a zippered, polyester mesh jersey that was vibrant with swirling color and unabashedly adorned with corporate logos ranging from soda to candy bars to automobile manufacturers. "What's with all these ads?" Margaret wondered. "They're not ads. They're sponsors," explained Wallace. "Sponsors? For what?" said Margaret. "For the team," Wallace replied. "Tim's team."

“I bet that top breathes better than your Sonics shirt, doesn’t it?” Margaret asked, rhetorically.

“Tim says the elastic hem keeps it from billowing in the wind.”

“It’s more…aerodynamic… than the Sonics shirt?” Margaret suggested.

“Yes,” replied Wallace, as he struggled to get his new jersey zipped.

“Here...let me help you,” said Margaret. She got the zipper to work then stepped back to assess her husband's brazen new look.

"Well...the cars will see you, at least," she said. "Be careful out there, Wally."

“I will, Hon,” said Wallace. “See you later, then.”

He sauntered out of the house, his bike shoes clicking like dog claws against the hardwood floor.




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Burke-Gilman Trail, Under The Aurora Bridge, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mentirosos

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Plate And Fresh Tar, Along The Duwamish River, 2009



He slid the pizza in then sat down to watch some tv. In twenty-five to twenty-seven minutes his meal would be ready.

With a cold beer in one hand and the remote in the other, he began drinking and clicking.

There was a baseball game. Click. A sitcom from his youth. Click. The weather. Click. A home makeover. Click. Entertainment news. Click. A cartoon. Click. Jesus. Click. Click. Click. Click.

The cat hopped onto his lap and licked the back of his hand. “Just a minute, Honey,” he told her. "I'll feed you in a minute." He finished his beer and kept clicking.

He settled on a documentary about World War II fighter planes and decided to have another beer.

He sat and drank and watched the grainy black and white footage. He closed his eyes and listened to the drone of the fighter plane engines and the narrator's assured, comforting voice. He opened his eyes, blinked, then returned to his place of peace where there was no work or talk or responsibility. Just follow the planes. Follow the planes. Follow the planes.

Soon, the bottle rolled from his hand and fell harmlessly to the carpeted floor.

Then, the remote....



“No hice nada malo!!” cried the actress. He woke to the smell of burning cheese.

He singed his hands removing the smouldering pizza from the oven, impulsively throwing the pie on the counter where it slid until it hit a bag of cookies. White smoke had permeated the studio apartment. He coughed and his eyes teared as he struggled to turn the stubborn window crank.

The smoke alarm from the hallway outside his door began beeping now. An actor confessed, “Nunca he amado a ustedes.”

Within a minute, the apartment building's manager, a retired woman named Terri, was banging on his door and screaming, “Are you okay!? Are you all right?!”

“I’m fine, yeah! Everything’s good,” he yelled back. “Thank you!”

“Are you sure!?” Terri hollered.

He walked to the door and opened it a crack, concealing the hazy cloud of his studio from Terri, who was holding her trembling chihuahua, Lovely.

“It’s okay,” he assured her. “It was just my pizza. It‘s under control.”

“Didn’t your alarm go off?” Terri asked.

He said nothing at first, then, “Yes. Yes it did.”

"You put in that battery I gave you, right?"

He looked at her through his swollen, red eyes, seeking absolution. He nodded his head somewhere between yes and no.

“I think you’re a liar,” Terri said, and held his stare. Neither of them blinked or said a word for several long seconds.

Then, as music swelled over the closing credits of the tv drama, she finally broke the stalemate. “Let’s go, Lovely.”

He returned to find Honey on the counter, scratching at the pizza, which had cooled and hardened like molten lava.

“I’m not a liar, am I, Honey?” he said, and opened the cabinet where he kept her food.



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Harborview Medical Center, First Hill, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Saturday Morning

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Hinge, My Backdoor, 2009



He set the novel down in his lap to look at the butterfly which had landed on the lavender plant. It turns out it was just a moth. He was slightly disappointed. Nevertheless, he followed the erratic flight of the moth for the next few seconds until it lost interest in the lavender and flew around the corner of the house to embark on other moth business.

He took a drink of coffee and carefully placed the cup back on the parched, brown grass of his backyard and resumed reading.

Across the street, a landscape crew had finished the weekly maintenance of his neighbor’s pristine yard. Before they left, though, one of the workers put on a pair of headphones and started up a leaf blower. He roamed the pavement with an impressive single-mindedness, a man on a mission. The gas powered blower emitted a deafening roar as it dispersed grass clippings and clouds of dust from one spot to another.

It was too noisy for anyone to read or do much else, so he set the book on the lounge chair and went inside to pee and refill his coffee.



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Meter, My Backyard, 2009


He returned to his chair and book, refreshed.

He flipped through some pages, trying to remember where he had left off. He thought it was somewhere near the middle of Chapter 3. He picked a page at random and began reading. The passage was not familiar but he decided to go on anyway.

A woman walked by pushing a stroller. He watched and waited for her to make eye contact and smile, but she passed him without notice.

He read a sentence, then stopped and closed his eyes for a moment. He could fall asleep if he let himself.

He started over, reading the same sentence.

And again.

But the words on the page did not--would not--register.

He turned to the last page in the book, p. 547.

"I can’t read this,” he finally admitted.

But he was dedicated to completing the book because his wife had suggested it to him and said he would love it and he didn’t want to disappoint her.

It bothered him that he couldn’t get through a page--hell, a sentence-- without having his mind drift elsewhere. He wondered if it was not the book, but rather his own inability to focus that was the problem. “I can watch a sitcom or a football game from beginning to end without any trouble,” he pondered. “Why can't I finish this damn book?”

He took another drink, but the coffee was now tepid.

He watched a jet fly by, heading east, to China maybe.

Then he put the book on the ground next to his chair, and very slowly and deliberately poured the remains of his cup onto its opened pages. He watched the brown streams deface the text then converge in the crevasse of the book’s spine, before filtering out onto the thirsty lawn.



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Retired Mailbox, My Backyard, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vernon Munsley

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Officer Under The Viaduct, 2009


He entered and everyone stopped talking.

He sat in his usual chair near the back of the conference room, then adjusted his tie and cuff links. He removed a folded piece of paper from his pants pocket, cleared his throat, then finally looked up to the podium where the Sargeant was waiting for a cue from his most veteran officer.

“Uh…Ladies and gentlemen,” the Sargeant began, “before today’s briefing, Officer Munsley would like to, uh, come up and, uh, say a few words. So, uh, if you’ll give him your attention, please. Officer Munsley?….”

Vernon Musley stood almost six and a half feet tall with broad shoulders and a barrel chest, his burgeoning mid-section held in check by a belt pulled to its very limit. Despite his girth and a piece of bullet lodged in one leg, he could still out run most officers half his age. He walked toward the front of the room with the deliberateness of a man who knew exactly what he was going to do. But the fact is, inside he was trembling.

Vernon had never spoken formally to a group of people in his life. He was a man of few words, just like his father, who taught Vernon the value of conducting himself with humility and grace. On the street, Vernon’s mere presence, his calm, confident countenance, was as effective and potent as all talk, swagger and bravado, which served his inherent shyness well. His brief conversations were limited to the people he met on his beat, victims and perpetrators, store owners, distraught wives, the drunks, and the like. With fellow officers he was professional and courteous and succinct.

Some of the younger cops mistook Vernon's reserve for arrogance, but those who knew him best--the three partners he had over the course of his career: Sam, Johnny and Russ--would tell you that Vernon was a stalwart cop, tough, reliable, thoughtful and fair. If he seemed unapproachable at times, well, he probably had good reason. “The tax payers are gettin’ their money’s worth outta you, Vernon,” Sam had told him one day.

Vernon was, as always, meticulously groomed as he stood before his comrades. His reddish-gray hair was cut short and neat. His nails were trimmed and clean. His chin was as whiskerless as the day he was born. The pride with which he wore his freshly pressed uniform and carried his pistol was evident. Not a thing was out of place. The only aspect of Vernon Munsley that was altered at this moment was his state of mind.

He pulled a pair of reading glasses out of his chest pocket, then unfolded the paper.

“I, uh…I…I just wanted to say….”

He looked over at his Sargeant for guidance, but the officer had nothing for Vernon.

“I…I, uh…I’m going to need you all to be very patient with me, here….”

The room was his, if only he could summon the courage to say what he needed to say.

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Secured, Alaskan Way Viaduct, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Role Of Desire

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Stop/Go, Fremont Railroad Track, 2009



His wardrobe was ready. A light weight, brown jacket. A navy blue t-shirt. New jeans. White socks. White court shoes. He had laid it out last night in preparation for today.

He ate a good, hearty breakfast, then packed his lunch. He put a second water bottle in the bag just in case. These days could be long.

He checked his hair in the mirror and was disappointed that it didn’t have the same lift, the same sexy, disheveled look that the stylist had achieved yesterday. It looked flat. Like his old hair, only shorter. Oh, well, he thought, then got in his car and drove off.

He had gotten directions off the internet and had them printed out and memorized a week ago. Still, he wanted the sheet at his side as he drove north on I-5 to Seattle. A waft of air entering from the broken vent kept lifting and shifting the paper, forcing him to anchor the directions to the seat with his right hand.

He noticed the gas gauge needle pointing precariously close to E and was angry at himself for neglecting to fill the tank yesterday. There wasn't time now.

An unexpected delay occured near Kent, where a semi-truck had spilled some of its load, several mattresses. Traffic was diverted through one, insufferably slow moving lane for a quarter of a mile.

He had to pee very badly. He looked at the empty Starbucks cup on the floorboard but thought the better of it.

A trip which was supposed to take thiry-eight minutes was running close to an hour and ten minutes. He was thinking the worst thoughts about himself and today and what it would mean if he was late.

Every job I do the same thing!, he scolded himself, and pressed hard on the accelerator.


Finally in Seattle, he took the Mercer Street exit and followed the signs directing him to Memorial Stadium, where he found a pay lot and parked, then ran into a McDonald's to ease the tension in his bladder.

Outside the stadium two hundred or so other extras were patiently waiting in line to fill out release forms and receive their coupons for free subs and sodas. He scanned the crowd for familiar faces but found none. There was a young couple pushing twins in a double stroller. One woman had brought her dachshund along. He saw a man wearing just a bathing suit. A group of Japanese tourists were in line as well, looking at maps and taking pictures. Many others were just now arriving, like him. He hadn't missed a thing. His breathing slowed to normal. He chided himself for getting so worked up and took his place among the assembled.

“Today’s shoot will start in about an hour and forty-five minutes,” a production assistant announced into a blow horn. "You can expect to be here until about 3:00. Take a seat in the stadium around mid-field and make yourself comfortable. I’ll let you know more as information becomes available.”

He found a spot on one of the cold metal bleachers and took out a water bottle.

“That was smart to bring your own water,” said the woman next to him. “I wish I had thought of that.”

"Yes," he said, without looking at the woman.

Then, he reached in his bag for the other bottle and offered it to her. “Here,” he said. “Have this one.”

“Why, thank you!" said the woman, accepting the water. "I’m Kim. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Rory,” he said. “Nice to meet you. Have you worked a sports related film before? I haven't.”

“Yes, I have,” she said. “It’s not too complicated. You’ll do fine. Just follow my lead,” she smiled.

“Okay. Thanks,” he said. He took a long drink from his bottle. “How do I look?”


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Waiting For Opportunity, Brewery, Fremont 2009

© Jim Hamerlinck.All Rights Reserved.

  • “There's nothing to be gained from passive observance, the simple documenting of conditions, because, at its core, it sets a bad example. Every time something is observed and not fixed, or when one has a chance to give in some way and does not, there is a lie being told, the same lie we all know by heart but which needn't be reiterated.” Dave Eggers