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

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Mule And The Salt Lick

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.

Shell, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Do You Want To Walk Around Green Lake?

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.

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.

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.

Green Lake Path #4, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009


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.

Call, Northgate Mall, 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