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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Between Semesters

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Mini Golf Cup, Fun Forest Pavillion, Seattle Center, 2009



Matt teed up his ball then found his footing. He took a few practice swings, paused, then let it rip. It sounded good on impact as it always did, but once again it hooked left, this time into the trees off the 18th fairway.

“Shit,” Matt said.

“Your shoulders are turned too far right, man,” said his friend, Harry.

Matt removed his tee from the grass and stuck it between his teeth. “I hate this game,” he mumbled.

Harry’s shot was straight and true and outdistanced Matt’s by a good twenty yards. He led Matt by 12 strokes heading into the final hole and Matt did not need another lesson at this moment.

Harry continued, “You’re trying to overcompensate by---.”

Matt interrupted him, “Just help me find my ball.”



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Protective Netting, Interbay Golf Center, 2009



The brush was thick with prickly pine trees. Matt moved a branch away from where he thought his ball had landed . His palm became covered in sticky black sap. He cursed under his breath and wiped his hand on his pants. He thought he had a bottle of hand sanitizer in his bag and was about to get it when he looked down and spotted a ball. The ball was nestled under the beak of a large crow, which appeared to be freshly dead. Matt squatted and recognized that the ball was indeed his, a Dunlop 3.



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6th Hole, Fun Forest Pavillion Mini Golf, Seattle Center, 2009




Matt and Harry, both twenty-one, handsome and athletic, had been best friends since they were middle school students at Tyee in Bellevue. They graduated together from Interlake High School and now were brothers in the Sigma Chi Fraternity at the University of Washington. Their fathers were long standing members of the country club and, growing up, the boys had spent almost as much time on the grounds here as in their own palatial backyards. And for Matt, who struggled mightily with this frustrating game and his father’s expectation that he keep at it because, at the very least, it will make good business sense in the long run, these trees and rough were all too familiar.

“You find it?” Harry shouted.

“No,” Matt said. “I’ll take the penalty.”

“Oh, forget it. Just drop a ball and play on.”

And play on they did. Harry beat Matt again, this time by 14 strokes, and the friends walked to the clubhouse to begin their post match ritual of seeing who could out drink the other.

“Beer’s on me,” said Harry, “You’ve had a rough day. Heh-heh. Get it, rough day?”



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Driving Range, Interbay Golf Center, 2009




“I’ve gotta pee,” said Matt, and he got up from the table and headed to the restroom. Harry laughed and told him to hurry back because it’s no fun to drink alone.

Matt walked right past the men’s room and out the back door of the clubhouse. Without hesitating he started to sprint in the direction of the 18th fairway, cutting through a surprised foursome on the 16th green.

As Matt ran he recalled his mom’s last day, how she had passed with such dignity and grace even after the series of failed treatments had worn her down to a shell of herself. He missed his mom‘s encouragement and sense of humor. He wished he would have been kinder to her, more cheerful and happy around her, like he was with his friends.

He finally got to the spot on the 18th fairway where his ball had sailed out of bounds and stepped amongst the trees.

The crow’s eyes were open . A wing was instinctively fluttering some. Matt found a stick and nudged the bird ever so lightly in the ribs, but it did not respond. He knelt down over the crow and began blowing on it, as if to will it into action, to make it rise from this pathetic state and become it’s proud, obnoxious self again.

He stood up over the bird and began to cry. He hadn’t cried since his mom’s funeral six years ago, and even then the tears did not come easy.

He rubbed his thumb into the palm of his hand to work off the lingering sap. Then, he lifted his foot and with his spiked golf shoe, crushed the crow’s skull, killing the creature instantly.

Matt picked up his Dunlop 3, pocketed it, and walked back to the clubhouse.




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Donkey Mini Golf, Fun Forest Pavillion, Seattle Center, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bad Traffic

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Poppies On My Parking Strip, 2009



The invitation said 7:00 and they were running late. An accident on 99 had reduced northbound traffic to one lane. He kept calling her, updating her on his status, and it wasn’t looking good. Her boss was notoriously anal about punctuality. This would be a mark against her.

She had dreaded this evening ever since the invitation was received a week ago. Of course she had to accept. Of course they had to go, she and her husband, the man who had informed her just a day before the invitation arrived that he wasn’t sure if he loved her anymore.

How do you explain to the intimidating, volatile boss of your new dream job that his invitation is appreciated, but due to a little domestic disturbance, a little bump in the road, we must pass?

He called again and told her he hadn’t moved an inch in twenty minutes.

She changed her dress to something less formal. She looked at herself in the mirror and thought that she looked desperate and calculating and put the formal dress back on. He would say that she looked good in either dress. That’s what he always said. He said to her what he thought she wanted to hear.

He ran into the bathroom to pee and yelled that he was sorry he was late and that traffic in Seattle was horrible and that he just needed a minute to wash up and change and he would be right out. She didn’t say anything.

He drove their SUV through the narrow streets of Queen Anne searching for a place to park. It was 7:42 and she told him to park anywhere, it didn’t matter now, but he insisted he could get closer if she would just relax.

There was a spot. Right in front of the boss’s house. He pulled in and saw the fire hydrant and said that they don’t patrol these streets so it’s okay. She said its illegal but she’s not driving, so whatever. He got out and looked at how close he was to the hydrant and determined that it was almost a car’s length.

“We’re fine,” he said.

She got out and they walked up the steps to the boss’s front door and knocked.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Everything

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Entry, 4500 NW Leary, 2009


He decided to do it as he was shaving last night . He would put every last piece of his collection in the back of the truck and do what he had been considering for the last couple of years.

He got out of bed without disturbing his wife, put on his clothes, and went to the garage. He skipped the coffee this morning. Any more time to contemplate at the kitchen table and he might just change his mind. He would have a cup of coffee after it was over.

His wife wouldn’t even care. She hadn’t asked about his things in ages. Perhaps she had grown tired of it all, tired of him.

Methodically, piece by piece, he loaded his things in the truck, careful not to startle the dog and set him howling. He leaned a large piece of plywood against the tailgate and pushed the heavier items in that way.

Every last article, from the pipes to the pistons to the bolts and barstools, all would be gone from his life in a matter of a few hours.

It made him more sentimental than he had thought. These clips and wrenches and sheets of cheap metal and canisters and molding and rods and filters and tubes and casings and…well, these were his things. His. And they would have eventually been used, by him or someone else. Eventually.

But, no. He stopped this thinking, and proceeded with the job that had to be done.



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Children's Pool, Leary Way NW, 2009


He loaded the last piece in and threw the tarp over the lot. There, almost done. The dog walked over to him and sat, puzzled. He took his seat in the truck and beckoned the dog in. The dog hesitated, as if he knew something was not right, but loyalty forced him up and in.

From Kent, he headed north up to Seattle on a nearly empty I-5. The tarp was flapping violently but held steady. His goods were well protected and secure, at least for the time being.

He pulled his truck up onto the curb in front of the Leary Way building. The proprietor pushed a rusty sheet of corrugated aluminum out of his way and stepped up to the truck. “What do ya got?” he asked.

“Everything," he said, and instinctively grabbed a hold of his dog’s collar.

“I’m sorry, but we’re not taking anything. Seems the owner’s selling the place. We‘re closing up here on Saturday. You and your Everything are out of luck.”

He drove away, but not home. He got back on I-5 and headed north ,to where he knew not.


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Alarmed, 4500 NW Leary Way, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We've Had This Conversation A Thousand Times

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Golden Gardens, 2009



He slammed both of his fists against the table and screamed , “Stop it!”

And in that very instant he knew that he had crossed a boundary. He had betrayed his own sense of propriety, but more importantly, he had betrayed the trust of the woman he loved. Yet, he said nothing more. He just looked at her, defiantly.

She stood before him, stunned, her palms pressed to her chest, her knees buckling. She let out an audible breath, finally, then calmly turned and walked out the kitchen door and into the backyard.

He watched her exit and head toward the garage. Every impulse told him to get up and go after her and apologize and beg for her forgiveness. But he denied the impulse. He would not go. He sat there at the kitchen table, gripped his coffee cup, and considered, instead, what would happen if he let this anger sit for a while. He was shaken, but part of him liked this feeling, this adrenalin rush. He had finally been heard, been taken seriously. In that horrible moment he had gotten through to her, and by God she heard it. Didn’t she?

She pulled open the door and stepped inside the cool darkness of the garage. His car was there with the keys in the ignition, as usual. Behind the car she spied the old push mower. She dragged it out onto the driveway, then the lawn. She studied the handles, took hold of them, and began awkwardly pushing the mower across the grass. It was heavier and bulkier than she had expected, but she handled the machine well enough. This is simple, she thought. She remembered all of the times he would come into the house sweating and puffing and complaining about this old mower. She found her rhythm. The click-click-click of the blades, the turning and rotating metal blades, slashing the damp grass, tossing it every which way, pleased her, satisfied her.

His last sip of coffee was cold and he walked over to the sink and spat it out. He rinsed the cup and placed it in the drainer. He noticed her tea cup and the dish on which she had placed her toast were in the sink. He looked at them and thought about her, about how she drinks the same kind of tea, Earl Grey, out of the same cup every morning at the same time. He picked up her cup and slowly ran his finger across the flowers painted on it. He poured the last of her tea down the drain. He picked up the dish and ran water over it to remove the few crumbs of bread on it and placed it gently in the drainer. He turned and looked to see if she was coming back in.

She mowed a portion of the lawn, then abruptly stopped. She wiped the sweat from her hands and pushed the hair out of her eyes and took a deep breath. She noticed that the sweet peas he had planted were flowering and that the tomato plants were wilting. His garden always looked slightly neglected, overgrown, but he didn’t see it that way. He just enjoyed being outside, working, seeing things grow. She walked over to the plot and straightened a tomato cage and plucked off a few dead leaves here and there. She pulled out a carrot, no thicker than a nail, and wondered why he never thinned the plants. She rubbed the dirt off the carrot, and took a bite. It tasted sweet.

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Gas Works Park, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Estonia

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He fell in love with her the very first time he saw her. It was a Wednesday morning in February, three years ago, when she walked into the staff lounge, her first day on the job.

Someone introduced her to him and he had told her his name was William, though everyone else had always known him as Bill. He had always referred to himself as Bill as far back as he could remember. But today, at this moment, with this glorious woman, he had been reborn, knighting himself William III, as his parents intended.

She worked in the same department as his and shared some of the same responsibilities, it turned out. They quickly became friendly co-workers, cordial associates. They had an easy rapport. She always called him William (the others still called him Bill) and this pleased him immensely.

A week into the job, she disclosed to him in a casual conversation that she was meeting her boyfriend, Rick, somewhere after work. This did not please him. But what was he to do? Of course she has a boyfriend, he thought. Why wouldn’t a beautiful, intelligent, funny woman like this have a boyfriend? He was crestfallen, but still his love for her did not diminish. He would love her from afar.

He was fifty-eight and twice divorced. Childless. He had a few friends, but mostly stayed to himself. He had been single for almost six years when she walked into his life. No woman had looked at him like her, paid as much attention to him as she had, laughed at his jokes and admired his insights as she did, in a long time. Her smile was warm and sincere. She was kind to everyone. He couldn’t wait to get to work each day to see her and talk with her, spending any time he could in her presence.

And so on it went, for three years, a love unspoken, not acted upon, shared with no one but himself. He dated a few women briefly, but none captivated him as she did.

One day he overheard her mention to another worker that she was going birding on Saturday, specifically to watch the barn swallows which had recently migrated from Mexico. He heard no mention of Rick going birding. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t heard her bring up Rick’s name in quite a while. He wondered.

When he got home he did some research. He knew nothing of birds, really, other than crows annoyed him and that starlings or sparrows or something nested in his neighbor’s attic. If it’s birds she’s interested in, than so am I, he determined. That night he immersed himself in the study of the barn swallow, subspecies H. r. erythrogaster.

He arrived at the office before her the next morning, carrying an atlas. He placed the atlas on his desk, opened to the page featuring the map of Estonia.

“What are you looking at?” she asked him later that morning.

“This? Oh, it’s a map of Estonia. I’m thinking of vacationing there this fall.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah. It seems like an interesting place, lots of history, a rich culture.”

“Huh, “she said.

witt-witt...witt-witt...splee-plink!”

“What?” she laughed.

“Oh....That’s the call of the barn swallow, Estonia’s national bird,” he said with his eyes focused on the atlas. "I'm all about Estonia, these days, you know. Excuse me for that."

She didn't say anything. She folded her arms as if she were cold and walked back to her desk.

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Swallow on Wire, NW 44th Street, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fifteen Miles

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Blue Truck, Industrial Area South of Downtown, 2009


The three men sat side by side in the small cab of the truck.

The driver cleared his throat and asked the other two if there was a particular radio station they wanted to listen to. The man in the middle, a Mexican immigrant, shook his head no and the man in the passenger seat, brand new on the job, said he didn’t care. So the driver chose one of those “Morning Zoo” type stations that played songs intermittently between funny chat and commercials.

They pulled out onto the road and headed for the work site, fifteen miles away.

The driver couldn't stop himself from thinking about the Mexican man’s shoulder pressed against his. He was not accustomed to this kind of intimacy with a man. He had nothing against this man personally, they had never had a disagreement and had worked together well enough on a couple of other projects, and he knew there was nothing inherently wrong with two men's bodies touching like this, yet he couldn't help but feel disturbed by it. And it bothered him that he was disturbed by it. He wondered if there was something wrong with him, if he was homophobic. He kept his eyes on the road, his arms rigid, hands grasped firmly around the wheel. He forced a chuckle when one of the Zoo personalities made a comment about some celebrity's breasts.


The Mexican man looked straight ahead and fought off the discomfort of this awkward arrangement. The new kid should be here, wedged in the middle, not him. But he couldn't find the English to say it. Language had put him here. He hated that aspect of his life in the United States, this compromising all the time. He wanted to maneuver his pinched buttocks into a more comfortable position, but knew this was impossible. He was trapped here between these two seats, these two men, and there was nothing he could do but bear the pain and consider the indignity. He distracted himself by rubbing his nose, examining his fingernails, running his tongue across his lips and mustache, visualizing his girlfriend, their daughter. For a moment he closed his eyes, feigning sleep.

The third man pressed his shoulder against the passenger door, allowing for as much space as possible between himself and the Mexican man. Still, their arms touched, if just barely. Their four booted feet all but supported one another crammed against lunch buckets, a cooler and a tool box. His pale, freckled hand sat stiff on his calf, within inches of the Mexican man’s caramel brown hand. He looked at the Mexican man's wide, gold ring and saw a small, abstract reflection of himself in it. He felt an impulse to touch the ring, but he chose stillness. He wanted to ask the driver if it would be all right to turn off the radio, the loud Zoo personalities, but he chose deference. He wanted to engage them both in some light conversation, some friendly banter, but he chose silence.

He determined that the best way to be accepted and liked by the other men was to do as they did.


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Ten Minutes, Industrial Area South of Downtown, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

That Boy

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Fishermen's Terminal, 2009


His mother passed away when he was twenty-two and still living at home. Fatherless, and with no other family, he was for the first time in his life truly alone. There was no one to cook his meals, wash his clothes, remind him to shower and brush his teeth, give him money for the bus, take him to the aquarium. No one to play card games with, or watch tv. No one to comfort him and hold him when he felt sad.

He had to make his own way now.

A heart attack had taken his mother, his only support, his only real friend. She bore him late in life, an accident, and it had been a difficult birth. Born two months premature, he had suffered brain damage when the umbilical chord got wrapped around his neck. His mother had only scant health insurance and finding the proper medical care for her troubled boy was never easy. But they had overcome much in twenty-two years and despite the hardships loved each with a passion more powerful than all the saints and sinners combined.

She worked as a cook on board fishing vessels for most of her life, a career that did not sit well with her family, from whom she was estranged. She was always considered unconventional, a little abrasive by some, who took her sharp wit, loose tongue and independence the wrong way. She was, however, respected and admired by those who mattered most to her: the men on the boats. She was their mom, their sister, their best friend. Many fell in love with her. One impregnated her, but did not stay around to meet his child.

Caring for the boy meant she couldn’t work on the boats anymore. She found a job tending bar at the terminal's one tavern. Her boy slept and cried and fidgeted at her knees behind the bar while she poured drinks, cooked and sent drunken men home before they got out of hand. Men came back from sea and regaled her with their tales of bravery and heroism and danger and idiocy, all of which she was very familiar. They flirted with her, acted too familiar around her, gave her attention. She listened to them, served them cold beer and warm meals, and longed to be back on the water with them. And she raised a boy, a troubled child, by herself, as best she could.

When she died, the men granted her last request and buried her at sea.


He moved from boat to boat now. The men would find something for him to do, something menial, but mostly they wanted him out of the way. He was not a difficult person to be around , but since he was not handy or skilled at much of anything, his presence on the boats was, frankly, an inconvenience for men who had difficult, often dangerous, work to do. But the men promised his mother before she died that they would look after her boy. And they kept their promise. He was taken care of, protected. When one ship came back to shore, the men would pass him off to another boat on its way out.

His home was the sea now, near his mother, where he felt best.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

At Rest

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Elliot Bay Public Fishing Pier, 2009

No one wants to fish today. It is too cold, too windy.

The lone soul on the fishing pier today is man who is napping on an unforgiving wooden bench in one of the small shelters. Beside the man is a large duffel bag and a radio, which is on and broadcasting news and sports updates to no one and everyone. A paperback novel is resting on the man's belly, anchored there, tenderly, by his large, swollen hands.

No one will disturb him from this rest today. He is safe here, but for his dreams.

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A Good Seat, Elliot Bay Public Fishing Pier, 2009

Not Mentioned

An associate of Walrus, but hardly a friend, approached him one day at the shop and said someone had deposited an old railroad car at a salvage yard and that he could deliver it to Walrus for a small price. Walrus considered the offer. A railroad car would provide much needed storage for many of the odd machine parts which he had acquired over the years and were now taking over his shop. After some haggling over the fee, Walrus agreed to the associate's offer.

The associate delivered the railroad car, as promised, the following Saturday, and Walrus paid him in cash for his services.

Twelve years later, the railroad car still sits on the lot, unused. The associate failed to mention that the container had no gate, no door, no access at all to the inside. It was inexplicably welded shut. Calls to the associate went unanswered and he was never heard from again. Walrus could have drilled through the thick metal panels, he had the tools and the know-how, but never bothered.


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Along Leary Way, 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