A plain day, in-between things, no events to mark it, nothing assigned to it. When you walk outside and cannot tell if it is hot or cold or if you should leave town or stay. I sat for a while, like sitting in a void or one of those sensory chambers the dopers used to go into during the sixties.
“There’s only one way out,” he waited for a reply, hoping he was wrong. No one replied.
“On three?” still thinking an alternative might present itself before the deadline.
“On three or where four should be?” at last a friend who understood the need for procrastination.
“On three, right as we say three. He had thought that would be easy enough to understand,” he sounded impatient but he was anything but.
“Don’t get in a huff,” added the procrastinating friend. “Just didn’t want to be standing here all alone waiting for where four should be and everyone left on three, that’s all.”
‘“There, you just said it, “on three,”’ this guy was really starting to bug. “How hard could it be?”
“Just making sure, don’t get dandruff all over your shirt.”
“Just an expression.”
‘“No it’s not, you just made it up and it doesn’t make a lick of sense,” he was thinking, “this guy needs to shut up and soon.”’
“Hey, look over there!”
“Another way!” all the tension just drained away. “Okay guys, follow me.”
Their motorcycles were leaning at the front door; close enough to need notice but far enough away not to be a real nuisance. The two of them, in uniform with utility belts and holstered guns gave the intended impression of being comfortably sprawled in two wooden chairs but it was a lie, they were nervous. They watched, using peripheral vision, as I avoided the fly blower at the door and walked away from them and toward the ordering counter.
“Tall Americano.” I stated flatly. My speech was unnecessary the girl behind the counter had already written David on my paper cup. I gave her three dollars and put the change in the tip cup. I took my preferred seat in the corner and scanned the room, looking through the uniforms as if their chairs were empty. I settled my stare a foot to the right of the tallest officer and focused on a parking lot light standard two hundred feet through the spring drizzle, a drizzle that had the parking lot shining black and reflecting every light. The tall officer looked at me, thinking he was returning my stare, but when he realized I wasn’t looking at him he turned away too quickly, embarrassed. I allowed a hint of a smile, like the light standard had done something to please me. I listened to their conversation as they tried to make small talk, pretending they were not bothered by my presence. One kept referring to working out and having been in the Marines the other didn’t take the hint and told a story about his mother and what a truly caring woman she was. I grew tired of their conversion and concentrated more on what I was writing and on sipping my Americano. I’ll check my FaceBook page even though none of my “friends” are awake yet. I’ll finish what’s in my cup and leave the men in blue to their break.
“Sorry about that.”
“We took a little longer than usual.”
“Didn’t even notice.”
“Well, there you go.”
Some places put the water in first. Other places put the coffee in first. It’s pretty much the same but I prefer for the water to go in first, the coffee makes a nice layer of tiny light brown bubbles when the coffee is on top. It’s not just visual, it smells better too.
Most of our creek hunts take place along the banks but today, with the water running so high, the best game is floating down stream. I follow Ricky’s example, find a nice long stick and watch upstream for my victim. And then I see it – the mother lode of rusty nails – a complete wooden gate, with hinges and latch floating heavy in the water. I brace myself at the water’s edge, stick at the ready; I see ahead how the current will turn the gate and where my purchase will be the most effective. The moment comes and I jab my stick into a crack between two of the planks nailed to the front of the heavy gate. The stick takes hold and the gate spins in the predicted direction. As the gate hits the bank at my feet creek water backs up and spills over the top of the gate filling both my shoes with water as it helps me lift the gate out of the water and up the bank enough to keep the raft of a gate from continuing its journey downstream.
“Hey!” I yell across the water to Ricky who has watched the capture from the other side of the creek, he gives me a cheer and takes off running for the next bridge. I pull the gate up the bank a few feet and sit on my bottom in the mud, drain my shoes and wait for Ricky’s help getting this prize home. I count five two-by-fours at least four feet long, enough one-by-six for a four foot by five foot deck, and everything comes with its own supply of nails!
“It’s a beauty Jimmy!” Ricky shouts as he slides down the slippery bank to where I sit. We sit and admire our conquest and get our breath, the real work will be dragging this mess to my carport but the battle for materials has been won. When we are rested I cup my left hand under the top rail of the gate, Ricky cups his right hand under the top rail of the gate, we drag the gate up the bank and to the sidewalk next to the road. We leave a trail of sawdust as the concrete sands the bottom edge of the gate. The scraping noise fills the neighborhood. People come to their porches. Ricky and I with big grins on our faces wave with our free hands. Some people just shake their heads and go back inside their homes, some wave back, one old guy on a front porch swing gives us a big thumbs up and shouts, “Way to go boys!”
Ricky’s back yard is a small cage; the swimming pool takes up most of the space, leaving just enough room for a few chairs and his dad’s bar-b-que. My back yard is not only longer and wider but there is no fence between the neighbors on each side. On one side an older couple without kids and without a use for their backyard lives. On the other side of my backyard Justin, an only child, lives with his parents who are very busy and also have no use for their back yard. When it becomes necessary we claim all three backyards and have a massive field suitable for many uses right behind my house. Holes have been dug. Forts have been built. Tree houses have been started.
My father has a mantra he likes to share when asked about his apparent success in the construction business, he says, “first materials, then equipment, and then men.” When we have a project we always have the labor from the first day of work, we never have the proper materials, and we have been know to use rocks to hammer nails. Today we have three boards, new two by fours replaced two old two-by-fours during a back fence repair my father conducted a couple years ago – they have been lying beside the house for two years. The third two by four had been nailed to a couple of branches of the fruitless mulberry tree at the corner of our back yard – left from a previous attempt at constructing a tree house. We were much younger last summer when that attempt was made and instead of rocks, this summer, we have captured a hammer! We also have a hand saw which when we drag it across one of the old Douglas fir two-by-fours produces very impressive scratches. We have decided to keep the two-by-fours at their present length and adjust the plans for the tree house accordingly (our plans consist of looking up into the fruitless mulberry tree and finding the three branches we want to nail our floor joists to).
All carpentry projects begin the same way. We collect and straighten nails. The best source of nails is old boards. There is a very easy way to remove nails from old boards my father showed me; first you hit the points of the nails from the back side, then slip the claw end of a hammer onto the nail shaft below the nail’s head, and then you push the hammer sideways – the nail will pull out almost an inch but you have just put a bend in your nail that will never straighten out! Without the very effective sideways hammer push as an option we have found the one person holds the board and the other jumps on the hammer option to be an occasional success!
“Hit the handle against the concrete,” I instruct Ricky. He slams the hammer against the carport floor and the hammerhead tightens back up onto the handle.
“If we hammer a couple of nails into the top it might keep the head from coming off,” Ricky suggests after the third reattachment.
“What do we hammer the nails in with?” I ask but we both know the answer. As Ricky goes off to find a nice rock to hammer with I straighten out a few short nails to tighten our hammers head’s grip on its handle with.
With the hammer repaired Ricky asks, “ how many more do you think we will need?”
I count the nails we have that are long enough to go through the two by fours and still have enough length to connect securely to the tree branches, “at least four more.”
Ricky looks over our stock, “We’ll need to go on a hunt.” A hunt means a walk down the banks of the creek. We take the hammer.
The creek is running high today. The water, moving fast enough to create ripples, covers the lower paths. The upper paths are still accessible but a little muddy. It’s the middle of the summer and there hasn’t been any rain for a long time; it has something to do with farmers. We separate at the first bridge and each search a side of the creek for suitable nail infested debris. Ricky uses a long thin branch to snag a piece of plywood out of the water.
“Hammer!” Ricky yells across the water. I toss it across the creek, it sails end over end and buries itself ten feet up the bank and about ten feet in front of Ricky. He grabs it up and sets to work claiming a couple of nails.
When our house was built the plan was to have a large storage room off the main hallway. This storage room would have a door to the hall and a door to the outside making it convenient to bring stuff from either the inside or the outside into the room. The room was half filled with stuff that would never be used at the time Amy came to live with us, she was a newborn baby at the time and I was four years old. Amy stayed in my mother and father’s room for a year or so and then they wanted her out, my being much smaller than they and able to offer little resistance, they moved her into my room! I never saw this as something I had gained but as long as she stayed in her cage in the corner of the room it seemed a livable arrangement. I was six years old when Amy learned to climb over the rail of her crib and land screaming on the floor. Once she learned this skill she felt the need to practice it every night after my parents had gone to bed, it was the screaming part that wore me down. I called a family meeting. Amy was excluded from this meeting because of her age and because of the subject matter. It was decided that my father would build a shed in the backyard and I would take possession of the storage room at the end of the hall. The storage room was small, it had no closet, no windows but it had access to the great outdoors, which even at the age of six I understood to be a level of freedom. At nine years old I understand how easily this freedom can be taken away and only escape through my back door when absolutely necessary and well after both of my parents have gone to sleep for the night. Tonight is such a night.
Our street looks much different at night. There are four streetlights on each block, one at each corner and two evenly spaced mid block, one is directly in front of our house. The light from one streetlight reaches the light from the next so I am never in complete darkness, I can see well enough not to trip. The trees make strange patterns on the concrete walkway that change from dim to dark and from in front of me to behind me depending on which street light is closest. The houses are all dark; some porch lights are on, not many. Some houses have detectors in their porch lights so when a cat passes by the lights will come on, but most of the houses are dark and remain dark as I walk by. I haven’t got far to go. Up ahead I see the sparkle of two eyes peeking around the trunk of a tree. I walk faster, toward the concealed person. The last peek was from the left side of the tree, closest to the sidewalk, so I walk as quietly as I can on the grass next to the road and slowly creep around the trunk from the left side closest to the road. Just as the person takes another peek and discovers I am no longer on the sidewalk, I give him a poke between his shoulders, Ricky jumps about a foot. I try to keep from laughing out loud and end up making some wierd sucking sounds which cause Ricky to start making the same sort of sounds which ends with us sitting on the grass on the dark side of the tree waiting to see if any porch lights come on. None do.
“You ‘bout scared me to death,” Ricky says as soon as it is clear we haven’t woke anyone up.
“Have any trouble getting out?” I ask. Ricky’s room doesn’t have a back door.
“No, they sleep like babies,” Ricky whispers, returning to stealth mode.
“Trust me, babies are not great at sleeping,” I still remember the year I roomed with one. “Lets go,” I motion toward the sidewalk and toward town. The shops along what was once Main Street and now is some kind of park-like plaza are dimly lit on the insides with their signs all dark. Some of the shops have neon signs in the corner of their windows announcing they are closed. The plaza has old looking streetlights spaced about twenty feet apart. The streetlights are not old even though they have been make to look old and have timers that automatically dim their light at night after the stores have closed. Some of the trees growing out of planters have been decorated with white Christmas lights wrapped around their branches and the trees do more to light up the red brick covered plaza than the streetlights do.
Ricky taps his watch so it will light up, “It’s almost time,” he whispers.
“Always at the same time?” I whisper back, already knowing the answer but just making conversation.
Ricky nods, “Justin saw him three nights in a row when his house was being painted and his family stayed in the hotel.” We find a place near the closed for the night coffee shop. In a corner shaded by some brick pillars we do what every great hunter is good at, we find a comfortable spot on the ground and we wait. Five minutes go by. The still summer night offers a slight chill compared with the heat of the day, stars fill the dark sky.
“There,” Ricky whispers and points to a lone figure. The person, dressed in black, walks to the door of Alan’s bookstore across the plaza and tries the door, it appears to be locked. He looks around himself. Did we make a noise? Did he catch a movement we made? The lone man walks to the next business and tries the door to the candy shop, it appears to be locked. As he makes his way to the next shop I nudge Ricky and point toward the man, Ricky nods and we slowly get to our feet and clinging to the shadows we make our way to where the man tries the door to our jewelry shop. As he tried the locked door we get within ten feet behind him.
“Hey you!” I shout in my most adult cop voice. The man jumps a couple of feet into the air and turns slamming himself against the glass front of the jewelry shop his hands instinctively raised above his head.
And then he sees us, “what are you kids doing out here?” he asks. “You about scared me to death,” my second near death causing of the night.
“What are you doing here?” I go ahead and ask my prepared question although I can see plainly written across the front of his black shirt the name of the security company he works for.
“I’m doing my job,” he answers, “and part of that job is to send you kids home.” We take off toward our houses before he can think of taking names and informing parents.
“Super heroes are only as good as their information,” Ricky states as we get back to the concrete walkway that leads to our homes.
“I’m thinking of getting out of the business,” I say after walking in silence for a while and giving it some thought.
“What else could he have been doing three nights in a row?” Ricky asked shaking his head in disbelief.
“We just saw what we wanted to see, Ricky. We just saw what we wanted to see.” It was a good feeling knowing we had not shared our plans with anyone. “What should we tell Justin?” I ask.
“Nothing,” Ricky answers.
“Good plan.” I make the turn into my yard and Ricky keeps walking toward his house. The back door to my room squeaks, note to self – oil the door.