Sylvester Volume 2

Chapter 1

I woke up in my heaven-feel of a bed, feeling like it was heaven.   But then inevitably I gotta pee, and that’s when I pry myself into the harsh morning air.  Harsh as the sky is blue; harsh as water is wet.  I love sleeping so much that for me all morning air is inhospitable.

Anyway I’m not a morning person, but there I am up at the crack of dawn, daily, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Even on my days off, the instant sunlight hits my eyelids I’m up.  As soon as I’m up, the TV goes on

I love TV, and whenever anyone says there’s nothing on or that TV sucks now anyway, I just can’t relate.  In recent years the internet and Netflix have made it so that a lot of people just don’t have a TV anymore, but the TV has always been my light in the storm.  I don’t wanna say it’s always been my best friend because that’s weird and it hasn’t, but whenever the problems keep piling up faster than I know how to handle them, television’s there.  I guess that probably sounds weird too, but I don’t care.

With the TV muted I stick to watching Top Plays on SportCenter or seeing what they’re talking about on CNN, whatever I can stare at and lose myself for a couple of hours before I go to work.  On the morning in question SportCenter was just talking about the NBA finals which were going on at the time and CNN was showing President Obama talking into a microphone about the “significant progress” made against ISIS.  I rolled my eyes and went hunting for something more interesting to watch.

How It’s Made was on, showing an umbrella being fashioned by hand, so I stopped my flipping to watch it happen.  It turned out that making an umbrella by hand, one uses a sewing machine an awful lot, and I began to wonder if sewing machine use and maintenance would be a good skill to add to my set.  I thought to myself about everything I could do; I could repair ripped clothes, stitch disparate items together like parachutes and floatation devices, the possibilities were literally endless.  I often have thoughts like these, none of which have ever come to anything, but I don’t really expect them to.  I just like considering options.

Anyway eventually my eyes wandered onto a clock as it said 8:47 AM, so I had to leave for Harvest Time, my place of employment.  As much as I enjoy relaxing in the morning, when I finally rouse myself it’s also it’s own kind of joy.  I went with a smile to open the grocery store.

When I got there a few people are normally already there getting things ready, and everyday roughly a block from the entrance I find Guadeloupe chain smoking.  I like Guadeloupe, or anyway I like to maintain a cordial relationship with my senior register attendant, so I normally open with a joke.

“Shit’ll kill ya, ya know, I saw it on the news.”  She didn’t laugh, as she’d heard exactly the same quip from me countless times before, and she didn’t seem to be in the mood.

As I approached her, Guadeloupe flicked her cigarette onto the ground and stamped it with the heel of her boot.  “Fuck you Sil,” she said with a disdain in her voice that I preferred to assume was meant mockingly.  “We’re still waiting on the first truck, I called ‘em and they don’t know what’s goin’ on.”

My brow was furrowed, as this wasn’t the first time our produce shipment had been delayed, and it would mean that they would probably need my help setting it out as soon as it got there.  “Shit, we’re good for the morning though right?”

“Yeah, but not if people want fresh fruit.”

Just as Guadeloupe answered my question I saw the produce truck turn off Western on to Lawrence a couple blocks from the store.  I motioned toward it with my left hand saying “there it is, we just gotta tell ‘em again not to take Western.”

She took out another cigarette, lit it and began to puff away.  “They won’t listen.  They never listen.”  As she discarded her cigarette and stomped it into the ground, I could almost see the hate pour out of her nose as she exhaled, Guadeloupe hated truck drivers.  As she turned around and headed to the store’s back entrance, she spit on the ground.

“Just go to the loading bay, I’ll open up the store.”  I went to turn on the lights and unlock the door rather than load the produce because, in the off chance that it was her husband driving the produce truck, I didn’t want to bear witness to the verbal and physical beating that was sure to take place.

She hated truck drivers primarily, I figured, because she was married to one, and she claimed to have a full understanding of just how lazy they were.  As she was my oldest and most trusted employee, the forty-five year-old housewife-turned general manager Guadeloupe Izquierda and I had something of a friendship, which meant that I was her main sounding board for complaints about her husband Saul (pronounced Sa-ool).  She said that truck drivers never really kept to a schedule because they didn’t care to, and since most people can’t drive a big rig truck, “They got us by the balls.”

When I was first getting to know Guadeloupe 15 years earlier, I’d found it ironic that she harbored a resentment towards the trucking industry, as she was married to a trucker, but the more I got to know her the more it made sense.  Saul was never home, she said, always claiming to be stuck running long hauls at all hours of the day and night.  Her tangled, greasy hair fell over her face and stuck to her back, led by the mean scowl on her lips and the dark tension in her eyes.

As I watched the produce truck near and unlocked the front entrance of Harvest Time Grocery & Produce, I silently prayed to myself that Saul wasn’t driving it.  If Guadeloupe saw her husband at the wheel of the truck that was then a full half hour late, she would certainly end up beating him about the head and back with her meaty hands.  I’ve often felt compassion for Saul as I’ve watched Guadeloupe stock 25 pound bags of potatoes like they were nothing, and knowing that she was a terrifying and aggressive presence.  The few times I’ve actually seen and communed with Saul, the stick-thin six foot spectacled victim of his wife’s frequent and unexpected rages, he’s seemed like a fearful puppy.

 

As the truck neared Harvest Time thirty minutes after its expected arrival time, I turned the lights on and started the low rumble of Spanish-Language elevator music that was the store’s regular soundtrack.  Harvest Time was not an independent operation, but rather the largest part of a network of laundromat’s, corner stores, and bodegas owned by Jorge Garcia, wealthy Mexican immigrant and owner of what I considered the world’s worst haircut.

Garcia’s portrait, which held a wall space of prominence in each of his 8 businesses located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, made me at least chuckle silently to myself every time I saw it.  His hair was black and so greasy-smooth on top that it appeared like a helmet, which combined with the thick curls at either side of his head to frame his face perfectly.  It was like he was a robot with wires coming out of the screen that displayed his face.

I’d had a monthly meeting with boss Jorge (as he preferred to be called), and in the countless number of these meetings we’d had he always seemed like a paragon of management expertise.  I can only say that, I guess, because he owns so many businesses and they all seem to make money.

Anyway as I booted up the computer in my office, a cubicle-sized room in the back of the store I don’t really spend that much time working in, it occurred to me that I might need to intervene on Saul’s behalf once he got to the store, as a bloodbath would be bad for business.  Guadeloupe had anger problems, and if she took the opportunity to beat her husband in full view of any curious would-be customers, it might make things awkward, which could potentially lose us business.

I went out behind the store to rescue Guadeloupe’s husband from her clutches if need be, but she was just yelling at some new young truck driver I’d never seen before.  I sighed, relieved as I was not just on behalf of Saul, but also on my own behalf, as it was an unpleasant thing to see a grown man dressed down and humiliated.  I guess that might seem kind of selfish, at least to me, but I just don’t wanna be there for the uncomfortable sound of another man’s ego being pounded into dust.

Anyway me and Guadeloupe were the only people at the store upon opening at 9:07, ready to greet the flood of customer that poured through the front door.  I say flood of customer and not customers because just like normal, my first customer is a single man, and I call him a flood because he’s roughly six feet tall weighing three hundred and fifty pounds.  Those measurements are just my best guess, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he, Douglas Krandall, actually weighs more than four hundred pounds.  Every time I see him I remember the beginning Raiders of the Lost Arc and imagine him chasing me out of a cave, but he’s a really nice guy, and whip smart too.

“Hey Doug, the produce was a little late today, so it’ll be a few minutes before Guadeloupe sets it all out.”

Mr. Krandall nodded slightly looking me in the eyes and apprehended a shopping cart from the row of them adjacent to the store’s entrance.  Immediately after I told him that the produce was late, I wondered why I’d done so, as I knew well that the greens would not be his first stop.  His first stop that day, as it was roughly every other day, was the cereal aisle.  In the cereal aisle he normally retrieved at least four boxes of sugary cereal.

Though exactly which boxes he attained differed from day to day, they always included at least two, and as many as nine of the following cereals: Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Reece’s Puffs, Cocoa Puffs, Sugar Smacks, Raisin Bran Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Life Cereal, and Froot Loops.  Whenever he went through checkout with his collection, I found myself fantasizing about what he would have for breakfast that day.  Would he eat a normal-sized bowl of just one cereal?  No, I was sure he’d have a heaping bowl of a combination of at least two of them, but which ones and how much of each?  The most obvious combinations seemed to be both types of Cheerios and both Types of Puffs, but what were his final choices?

I didn’t dare ask, of course, as it seemed likely this man had likely fought a losing battle with his weight for his entire life, and he didn’t need me reminding him that he was essentially buying a lot of boxes of candy.  I’ve long figured that the fat guy who buys too much cereal probably has a sad life, and that he seems to be filling his mornings with a variety of cereal to quell a sickening loneliness.  Or, come to think of it, he could have children, and the cereal could be for his large family that loves him very much.

I don’t think he has a family though.  I think that these boxes of cereal are not purchased for anything but his own addiction, as he seems to have a real problem with self control.  I’m overweight, and I’m very sensitive to the stigma this brings, so I watch what I eat, or try to.  Mr. Krandall seems to have given up.  He must purchase boxes of powdered donuts, set them on their kitchen table and stare at them, overcome by the inevitability of it.  He must look at those donuts thinking to himself that he cannot resist them, and any effort spent combatting the desire to taste the donuts will surely be wasted.

I suppose we all have our addictions, though.  After I’d made sure all the produce was laid out and Guadeloupe had given the trucker whatever tongue lashing he’d had coming, she fumed to her spot behind the cash register nearest the door.

As I’d known for a long time, Guadeloupe had a big problem with rage, and it often expressed itself in her interactions with customers.  Saturday, June 13, 2015, was a day when Guadeloupe’s rage problem showed itself.

Around 4:15, which is normally the time when I have the largest solid force of customers coming through the door, Guadaloupe’s rage made itself known.  I like to say that when a large enough group of customers is attempting to enter the store at the same time, they’re a lot like water, in that they will press the door with the entirety of their being, and nothing can possibly get through them.  And then, if in front of such a crush of people, there is a single customer having an argument with a cashier, all hell’s liable to break loose.

This day, a customer was unsatisfied with the quality of our produce and went to the cashiers to lodge a complaint, and it was his bad luck that his cashier was Guadeloupe.  “Excuse me!?” she asked, with fire in her eyes and acid on her breath.  “You don’t want the fruit than don’t buy it, that’s it!”

She slammed her palms on the flat surface before the cash register, creating a sound not unlike a gunshot.  As the customer wavered backwards Guadeloupe pushed her face towards him, and his brusque manner withered into a warbling apology.  “Sorry it’s, just, I have a—“

“I know!  Go!”  Guadeloupe yelped as she gestured wildly and aggressively.  At that point the customer turned tail and scampered back into the produce section, concluding the most memorable event of the day.  I should say now that as you can see that though I enjoy my job very much, and it pays well enough, it is mostly all the time unbelievably boring.

When I was running a cash register, that was boring, but not as emotionally draining.  Being the manager of a grocery store is just like being a cashier, but oftentimes you have to fire people.  I mean it’s like being a cashier in that one day kind of melds into the next.  It’s incredibly boring because you’re doing the same kinds of things every day, and you don’t even get to deal with customers.  Don’t get me wrong, dealing with customers isn’t always peachy, but I prefer it to solitary confinement.

Customers at least have some variety to them, as a group.  They can at least give your days some color, like “remember when that lady with the crazy orange afro started screaming?”  “Yeah, I remember that, there was sugar everywhere.”  I actually used to have stories like that, but now I just deal with suppliers and logistics all day.  Since I became manager I just deal with a bunch a’ starched white shirts passing each other folders in a warehouse.  I don’t wanna say that the people I deal with on a daily basis can kinda seem to coalesce into a stream of reasoned decision making and managed expectations, and sometimes it kinda gets to me.

So as the clock ticked to 9, closing time, I started to pack the store up for the night.  I like working opening-to-close, for mostly reasons that aren’t “I can get more work done.”  For one, I’m the manager, I have an office, and it allows me to get a1-4 hour nap in the middle of most days.  I pretty much set my own schedule, which gets more filled than I expect most days, but on some days, I’d say at least once a week, I get to pretty much watch everything take care of itself.

At 9:13, another of my coworkers Halley Oldman and I locked up the store, said our goodbyes, and said we’d see each other again after the weekend.  At the end of every work week, I stand out by the backdoor for a while looking up at the night sky.  I don’t know why, I can’t see any stars ‘cause it’s the city and I can’t say for sure what really I’ve been thinking about any of the times I’ve performed this ritual, but I’m out there every Saturday it’s not raining.

 

I’m a casual drinker, I might even call myself a “social drinker,” but the society of fellow drinkers is not really what keeps me coming back to the bar.  I enjoy having my composure slightly impaired in the evening from time to time, and that’s the long and short of it.  For instance, Saturday night, at the bowling alley above the hardware store, there’s always a party going on.  By “party,” I mean mostly regulars sitting around drinking, and sometimes someone plays Prince on the Jukebox (it’s often me).  But they know me by name, so it’s a little like Cheers I guess.

At the corner of Lincoln and Argyle, roughly a block away from Harvest Time, is Lincoln Square Lanes, my bar of preference.  I like it because it’s a bowling alley, and I enjoy the sound of pins tumbling down.  After work I moseyed over to the alley (as I refer to it) and parked myself at the usual station.  I signaled by raising my hand to eye level for an instant.  Raymond, the bartender who’s last name I don’t know, pulled a cold can of Coors and planted it in front of me.

I looked around the bar, trying to see if there was some cleavage to lear at, and saw no faces I recognized.  The moss colored carpet had some new stains by the door indicating that someone had likely vomited while leaving or arriving at the establishment, and staff had lacked what it took to clean it up.  I looked at the stain and thought to myself: “charming.”  I’m still a sarcastic little asshole just like I used to be, only now I do it silently.

Just then, or several minutes later, Simon Despereau, one of my good buddies, busted through the door caterwauling like usual.  “Sil!  I knew I could count on you.”

“Count on me?”

“No one else is here tonight, man.”  Simon slapped my back between the shoulder blades, hard enough to make a sound.  “Look around man, no one’s here, where’s Heath?  Where’s Marge?  Where’s Jojo?  I feel like I’m losing friends every day.”

I suspected from Simon’s aspect while speaking that he was kidding, but I also sensed an edge of regret.  I know that Heath was one of the regular drinkers at Lincoln Square Lanes once upon a time, and I may have at some point known a Marge to come around on occasion, but Jojo was a name Simon definitely made up.  Being the funny guy I am, I felt like continuing the game.  “Yeah man, and where’s Lavondrias?  Crystal Cypher?  Alexander Hamilton?”

Simon collapsed into guffaws while remaining upright as he leaned against the bar.  Simon was a tall, thin man with a handsome face and darting eyes, a little like Peter Lorre in Casablanca.  He might’ve been a ladies man if he’d ever learnt how to speak to them, but he never bothered.  “Crystal Cypher murdered his family and ate them, then shot himself in the head.”

This man was a friend of mine, so though I felt Edgar might have just gone a smidgeon too far, I laughed as I shook my head and clapped Simon on the shoulder.  “I miss you during the week, want a beer?”  Though I did eventually buy Simon a drink, laughing and carrying on like I was having a wonderful time.  I guess I was having a nice time, come to think of it, as I enjoy moderate drinking and cracking jokes with people.

“I miss you too man, bring it in,” Simon declared as he pulled me in for an aggressive hug.  These type of gruff hugs were not uncommon for me and Simon.  I wondered sometimes how much this contact meant to each of us.  I don’t know how much it meant to Simon, as he seemed quite drunk, but for me they comprised the entirety of my physical human contact for the week.  I know there are people who just don’t like to touch other people at all, be it germaphobia or whatever, but I think I need some sort of physical contact.

Though I would never admit it out loud, and I would caution you, dear reader, from attributing any homosexual meaning to it, I felt a rush from Simon’s hug.  As he grabbed me and pulled me close, I clutched Simon in return, shaking slowly from side to side.  “So what’s up tonight man?  Seen any movies lately?”

This was a standard question shared between us, to be met with a standard response.  “Yeah man, tons of ‘em, they all sucked though.”

“Too bad man, maybe next week.”  Both I and Simon are movie lovers and each quite hard to please, so one of our main traditions is declaring our dissatisfaction with the current cinematic landscape.  I suppose I would prefer, given the choice, to have a friend with whom I could speak seriously, but to get one I’d have to open myself up, and I can’t do that first.  I guess this is a problem with being a funny guy, which I am, it sometimes seems like that’s all people want from me.  Maybe humor is all people want from me, or maybe it’s just all I give them.  This, like so many concepts in my life, presents itself as a type of chicken/egg scenario.

That’s not to say that my relationship with Simon is completely superficial and based on taste in films, but as soon as we’re drinking it starts to seem that way.  And anyway Saturdays at the bar all start to run together after a while, until I can’t tell one from the other.  There was one exception, the first time I met Sonia.

It was quite late, say around 12:30, right around the time I normally leave for home, and she came through the door looking thirsty and inquisitive.  She was short, five foot even, and displayed her pot belly proudly in a tight pink dress.  I thought it was fearless and sexy.  She wasn’t blind, and mirrors are plentiful, but she just knew that a belly suited her well.  Sonia’s comfort with herself was so sexy, in fact, that I was drawn into actually introducing myself to her.

“Hi, my name’s Sil, what’s yours?”

“Sonia, but I’m gay.”

Saying just these four words and than turning her back to me, Sonia seemed to me a fine example of pitiless directness.  I laughed aloud, and treated the dialog as if it were a game.  “That’s cool, I’m gay too, that’s my man by the pool table.”

I signaled over to Simon, hunched over the pool table lining up a shot.  Sonia laughed aloud, looking Simon up and down.  She responded, waving her hand as if she was slowly shooing my words away.  “Whatever man, I’ll see ya later.”

From there, Sonia stood, walked over to Simon, and draped her arm over his shoulders.  Simon, though initially startled, returned the favor by winding his own elbow around Sonia’s neck.  Having been suitably humiliated, I went home, concluding another night at Lincoln Square Lanes.  I don’t remember if I cried on the way home, but since I was a little drunk and very lonely, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I had.

https://andrewhalteromniblog.com/2016/05/09/sylvester-volume-1/

Sylvester Volume 2

The Head (Volume 2)

His name was Alister, or that’s what he took, anyways,

like a coin he flipped, into the thieves ken, student-wise,

“Or so he says” said the boy, but Horshoe is elder, he decides,

“The future can be ours,” he said, “But I am older always,”

like a windy rainstorm on the plain, rushing and nothing else,

the boy is blustery screaming vengeance for the horror wrought,

wrought in the future though, it must be said, if he’s honest,

“For now you tire,” says jackal taking a knee, “Rest and heal,”

these were kind words, the boy realized, and felt a familiarity.

 

He lay on a cot against the wall, Jackal kicked the leg out,

calcium musical collision, he was socked, eyes open,

“Okay kid,” Horshoe howled coyotily, and Jackal too,

“”First task:” in unison declared, “We need a dinner,”

“Get us food,” Jackal put plainly, an assignment was had,

“Find a stranger,” Horshoe held my gaze in his hands,

as he pounded his palm, “And take what’s his,”

“Get food,” Jackal interjected, “If you don’t I’ll be cross,”

Horshoe cackled, “Worry not, he’ll do naught without say-so,”

Jackal said nothing, allowing his knuckles to dangle,

the boy was off, to search for a coin purse or pettibag,

bystanders are spread wide, seems, rivers between,

daylight lingers caution, so once again waiting’s the game,

no hidden hovel, his shelter was the strength of his gait.

 

Sunset and Alister saw a citizen, stretching in a field,

“Like a mental case,” spoken aloud, “What are you?”

“Readying,” he said, folding his arms over his knee,

“Do you not?” he quested like he’s the teacher,

so the boy threw a rock, on a straight line to his temple,

that was intent, of course far from real, as it landed in hay,

the citizen ignored it, as if righteous, or he didn’t notice,

lies like these are oil, pour it on and set it aflame,

charging, gripping, pounding and crushing his head,

such was Alister’s intent, but he was disarmed quick,

his wrist was wrenched, and his eyes blurred white flash,

the boy cried out, praying as his knees hit the ground,

and a final thud, just as he heard Jackal and Horshoe,

 

The boy woke to the two of them sitting, filled up and forthright,

he noticed a dead body near the fire, “was his death required?””

the boy asked, crestfallen morality mask, asking and curving eyebrows,

“Requirement is illusion,” Horshoe taught, “4 letter words,”

“Like have and must are poison, directions and barriers,”

and they taught that in the world, self is the one only good,

the boy saw through their seduction, his eyes on the guidebook,

they were vulnerable, the boy figured of the unarmed thieves,

wine was a drunk then, and each of them swayed crashing,

but there were two of them, so he set to sewing conflict,

“So where to next?” he asked, to Jackal only, as Horshoe watched,

“Training,” said Horshoe stone faced, “You need teaching,”

“This is true,” Jackal agreed, “But our stores need filling,”

and the two of them fought, plastered confusion face paint.

 

Each of them cursed the other, and Alister stirred the pot,

“Horshoe said” was a lie I told, and “Jackal said” the same,

Horshoe: “I taught Jackal all he knows, and he would be nothing were I not everything,”

Jackal: “Horshoe is a liar and a thief whose day as come, he’s dead and his time is done,”

he agreed to aid each, palming blades and burying pebbles,

the boy pledged aid to each, waiting for a cleansing bloodbath,

Jackal: “You will approach from behind, piercing flab and muscled exterior coverings,”

Horshoe: “You will cut his throat while I hold his arms and we douse our flame in his blood,”

at sunrise, dual betrayal deliberated too late, time to go,

this was the time pledged to both, so the boy decided to see,

Jackal and Horshoe both struggled, expecting my aid, forthcoming not through the fight

Jackal stabbed Horshoe in the torso, as his throat was cut, and both of them fell away.

 

Both of the thieves Alister travelled with were bleeding to death,

as he had killed both of them, in self defense he’d figured,

and though they were both dead, their lessons remained,

he searched both satchels, finding them empty, thieves are poor,

but thrown off discarded into a ditch, a wolf’s eyes were still,

the boy boiled as this bystander was a salesman from the night before,

the boy’s thoughts of honor, his belief in the concept was threatened,

perhaps no such thing is, he spoke aloud in his head to himself,

honor is dead, and coin is the one poor good, so he wrapped the head,

slinging it in a satchel over shoulder, he set out to sell his wares,

he wait for darkness, the head overslung shoulder, torch held aloft.

 

Volume 1:

https://andrewhalteromniblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/poetry-the-head-volume-1/

The Head (Volume 2)

Treetops (volume 4)

4. Concourse Parkway

Norwood Park was like every other park in the city during the day, a collection of baseball diamonds and children running as fast as they can.  At night though, Norwood Park belonged to the gangs.

It hadn’t always been this way.  There was even a time when Norwood Park and the Teddy were considered sister parks, and in 2003, the two were connected by a shiny sidewalk marketplace filled with book stores and vintage record shops.  The area became a magnet for moneyed tourists, a garden of possibilities for pickpockets and stick-up-men, so gangs were permanently struggling to gain control of it.

Two of the city’s biggest gangs, the Vikings and the Gents, spent the entire year of 2005 at war over this stretch of real estate, and on September 26th, two combatants were stabbed to death in the alley behind the Bombay Noodle Hut.  As a result of this and several other violent departures from normalcy, consumers avoided the area.  As the years stretched on and the gangs went nowhere, Concourse Parkway became a retail graveyard, and thus, it was no longer an area of contention between any gangs.

Businesses began to fail and get boarded up, creating the skeletal remains of commerce.  These corpses continued to serve a purpose at least for the gangs, as empty space to cover with spray paint signatures.  Roly, upon seeing all the tags, called out,  “Do we have a sprayer?”

“No,” Max said, “We didn’t bring one.”

“Fuckin of course not,” Roly stepped away from the others, casting his hands frustrated to the sky.

Mason, having been handed a can of red spray paint by one of his soldiers, tossed it up to Roly.  “Here ya go.”

Roly began to shake it vigorously, making that familiar rattle loud enough for all to hear.  Simon asked, “What is that red?” but it was more statement than question.  He knew that the can was red, Red was the Heaters signifying color, while the Treetops’ was green.

“You’re right,” said Roly as he flipped the can back to Mason, “Can’t use it.”

Mason shrugged, took the can and tossed it to another Heater as he signaled toward a blank patch of brick over a dumpster with a closed lid.  The Heater, a pudgy boy with thick glasses, started struggling to pull himself up and tag the space with a red H.

Seeing this, Simon made himself known, calling out loudly, “Right, I’ma just keep goin, anyone can join me.”

Art jogged over to Simon, beckoning Max to join them, which he did.  Roly stood at the mouth of the alley holding his hands in front of him attempting to bar anyone from leaving, “Wait we’re almost done.”

“Na, just catch up,” Big D said as he joined Max Art and Simon.  The Treetops stepped into the street, posting up next to a jeep.

After a short time the Jeep’s doors opened, and out stepped a young couple.  The man, Zachary wore a purple handkerchief around his neck, and the woman, Angelica, had a purple doo-rag on her head.  Max knew who they were.  He was head of the Gents and she was head of the Rosie’s, two gangs with a history of interbreeding so deep that they’d long ago been considered in effect the same gang.

The Rosie spoke first, “Who’re you?”

Simon introduced them, “The Treetops, from Evergreen.”

“Tourists,” said a heavily tattooed man holding a cedar cane and wearing shined wingtips as he too stepped out of the Jeep, “Get the fuck outta here.”

Max dug in his pocket, looking for the invitation he’d received that morning, but Simon spoke before he could find it.  “Or what?”

The Gent seemed stunned, clearly unused to defiance.  “Or we fuck you up, what you think?”  He took the cane, held it up vertically as its tip planted onto the cement directly in front of him.

Max found the invitation and held it out.  “Here’s our pass to the summit, it’s cool.”

Angelica stepped forward and grabbed the invitation.  “What the fuck is this?”  As she read the pass she chuckled, “oh my god you stupid fucks, where’d you get this?”

Just then, Roly, Mason and the Heaters arrived huffing and gasping, having run half the way down the block.  “These are the Treetops, from one a the south suburbs, Evergreen, they’re cool though.”

Angelica shook her head laughing.  “They’re cool?”  She turned and walked directly to Mason, staring at him in the eyes as she did.  “They don’t look cool.”

Art, who’d previously been silent, offered what he felt was a helpful suggestion.  “We could just throw down.”  Everyone who’d heard was stunned, and rendered quiet by their surprise.  “I mean, if ya just wanna know if we’re for real, there’s an easy way to find out right?”  He stared down each Gent in turn, finally stopping in front of the biggest one, Zachary.

He looked around, watching Art’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow gang members, and he knew what was expected of him.  He swung hard, landing his knuckles in Art’s cheek with a moist wallop.

After having the position of his head suddenly and violently altered, he slowly brought it back to standard position.  The Rosies and the Gents both shot into action, creating semi-circles behind their members

“Is that it?” Art said grinning ear to ear.  He hadn’t moved at all, and did not appear to have been struck.  Zachary was bolstered then, and pulled his fist back farther than before, but Art interjected with an elbow to the gut.  Zachary hadn’t seen it coming, so it knocked the wind out of him, and he collapsed gasping for air.

None of the Gents or the Rosies made a move, and all held silent.  Mason stepped forward,  “These are the Treetops, from Evergreen, they’re coming in to the summit, ‘kay?”

As the Treetops crossed the street from the concourse to Norwood Park, Max jogged ahead of them again and called out, “Simon, Roly, D, Art, powow.”  He flipped an open palm above his head and used it to signal that the Treetops should come together.

Mason raised his arm and opened his mouth as if to offer protest, then thought better of it, and stuck his hands in his pockets.  He hurried across the street to the park and disappeared in the shadows.

When he was certain Mason was out of earshot, Max spoke sounding nervous.  “I don’t trust Mason, I think those invitations were fake, I think he planted them.”  As he made his suspicions known, he became aware that though Big D’s face wore its standard blank expression, he detected what he thought was a nervous tension in Roly’s knit eyebrows.

“Yeah well that’s real interesting,” Simon spoke, his voice filled with what could be described as an aggressive boredom.  “I’m not goin’ back to Evergreen.  Mason’s suspicious, okay, so what?”

“Yeah I’m not missing this,” said Art, “I can handle myself.”

Max was frustrated by what he felt was brash overconfidence displayed by his fellow Treetops.  Didn’t they realize the danger of their situation?  Could he really trust Roly and Big D?  The Treetops were a gang, not a family, so every member was a potential traitor.

After a time of silent consideration, Roly interjected.  “Don’t worry about Mason.  Mason’s solid–well, he’s not solid, but he’s not, ya know, not, ambitious, I guess.”

“What?”  Max blared, as he’d not expected Roly to use that word.  The wheels in his head rolled over the word again and again.  “Ambitious?  What’s that supposed to mean?  What the fuck does Mason have to be ambitious about?  Why’d you pick that word?”

“I don’t know, uh, I just said it, it felt right I don’t know.”

Max grabbed Roly’s collar and forced him backwards until his back met the cold jagged brick of the alley wall.  “Are you working with Mason?  What’s the plan?”

Big D grabbed Max’s arm and wrenched it away, holding it against his own chest.  “Come on, guys, let’s just go to the speech.”

Roly dropped onto his ass, folding his arms around his knees.  “I don’t know why I said ambitious, I guess cause it sounded cool, I don’t know.”

Across the street, Simon and Art already stood, motioning with their hands for the others to join them.  Max yelled, “are you ladies done?  It’s not safe for young ladies to wander at night, look.”

The gangs were heading into the park, and in the distance was heard the squeal of a PA system turning on.  The speech was just about to take place, so Simon and Art turned and walked toward the noise, with Max Roly and Big D in tow.  Max was still extremely nervous, but there was no time to deal with fears, however justified.

Volume 3

Volume 2

Volume 1

Treetops (volume 4)

Treetops (Volume 3)

3. The Teddy

Mason led them to the Main Concourse, an asphalt line that bisected the park and was peppered with streetlights.  It was twenty yards wide, and at night completely barren, making of it an eerie black stone river.

Simon, energized from what he felt was a victory over Mason, could not hide his excitement.  “Let’s find a spot and post up, see what happens.”  As Simon broke into a light jog, coasting in front of the rest.

Mason grinned, barely letting his teeth show.  Max noticed this anticipatory smile and called after Simon.  “I don’t think that’s real wise.”

Simon responded, “Whatever,” curt and sharp.  He sat on a garbage can, hanging his feet before its mouth.

As soon as he did this, two large, muscled gang members rushed out from under the trees and knocked Simon to the ground, causing him to land painfully on his hip.  They were both wearing black tank tops, green suspenders and world war 2 era headgear.

“The summit is to take place in Norwood park, keep moving.”  These were members of War Helmet, a gang renowned throughout the city for its brutal discipline.  Simon tried to lash out at the Helmet who’d assaulted him, but before he could take a swing, two more grabbed him by each arm and held him still.

“That’s War Helmet,” Mason said casually, “They’re providing some of the security.”

“Security?”  Simon opened his mouth as if he didn’t understand.  After just a moment of consideration he closed his mouth and relaxed his arms, seeing that in a physical contest he would be outmatched and outnumbered.  “Understood.”  Simon frowned and lowered his head.

As they continued down the Concourse, Mason kept the dialog going.  “War Helmet comes from Port Ashland, I don’t know much about them, don’t mess with ’em though.”

“Yeah,” Simon said, defeated.

As quickly as the members of War Helmet had arrived, they disappeared into the darkness created by the trees.  Art was intrigued by this show of mastery, and he searched the darkness for other members of this gang, crouching under low branches and peering up through the leaves toward the streetlights.

“Stop looking for us,” a voice came from nowhere, loud and deep.  “The summit is to take place in Norwood park, clear the Concourse.”

“Or what?”  Simon strode slowly into the middle of the black, solid path.  Stretching his arms to his sides, he straightened his right leg out in front of him, than switched it with his left.  “Come on, War Helmet, scare me, I wanna see your force.”

After around 15 seconds watching the willows, Mason tapped Simon on the shoulder and spoke softly into his ear.  “Unless you’re gonna go in there and look for them, I think we should go.”

With his mouth held open and his pupils flicking back and forth, Simon nodded and began to walk forward.  The rest of the Treetops followed, continuing a frightened caravan.

 

The Treetops came to and passed what was affectionately referred to as the Big Fountain.  The Big Fountain had once upon a time been one of the city’s central meeting places, hosting all manner of political rallies and musical performances, but it had been decades since water had flowed through it.  Now it was simply a grouping of mold-covered gargoyles looking fearsome and portending doom.

Seeing that on the edge of the Big Fountain sat a fairly nondescript group of street hoods, displaying no obvious colors and all facing in different directions.  Passing them, Mason casually waved his hand.  “Jeremy.”

A Skinny man in an undershirt waved, remaining silent.  His face was gaunt and his bones stuck out, making it appear as though he’d not eaten for years.  The streetlights circling the fountain made the divots and crevices in his face create shadows when the streetlight hit them from the right angle.  The shadows on his face made him appear ghostlike, but not the ghost of a person, more a dark harbinger of the end times.

“That was Jeremy, he runs The Numbers, they’re all right.”  From the fountain, The Treetops and The Heaters continued through a tight group of willow trees.  The trees were packed together such that they created a decaying canopy, moonlight shining through its gaps at different angles.

Max became uneasy.  “Who’re The Numbers?”  Max asked nervously, as though the answer would harm him.

“They’re from the outskirts, I think, by the train yards, I think.”

Waiting until the Numbers were out of earshot, Simon eventually proffered his analysis.  “The Numbers is a stupid name.”

“So is the Treetops,” said Art, casting his potentially offensive statement casually; just throwing it out there.  “And so is the Forty-Niners, and so is the Heaters.  Gang names are stupid.”  Art looked into Simon’s eyes, challenging him.  Simon and Art conflicted often, sometimes even coming to blows, but Simon was too scared after his encounter with War Helmet to tire himself out in this way, so he said nothing.

As soon as he invoked the name of the Heaters, which had already been the center of a contentious moment, Art looked Mason in the eye, seemingly daring him to make a move.  Mason silently kept moving, trying not to look at Art.

“The numbers is a stupid name,” Simon spoke, his voice tinged with anticipation.  “The Heaters is a stupider name though, it must be said.”

In an instant Simon was on his back, Mason standing over him with a cocked-back fist.  “Why’re you fuckin with me?”

Simon twisted and pushed up with his hands, backing Mason up and claiming his own patch of grass.  “Cause we don’t need you.  I don’t even know why you’re here, get the fuck out.”

“He’s here cause we wanted a guide,” Roly said, backing Simon and Mason away from one another.  “We weren’t gonna come up here with no plan.  Mason knows the park better than we do.”

“Oh wow he probably knows they got trees and stuff.”  Simon spoke staring into Mason’s eyes as they circled each other, Big D standing between them.  “Fuck that, like we can’t figure it out.”

As he stretched his arms out, Big D sounded like a toddler begging his parents not to hurt each other.  “Two is better than one right?  Isn’t that a good enough reason?”

Simon responded quickly, “No, I don’t trust Mason, he’s got a plan and I don’t like it.”

Purposefully and deliberately, Max strode out between them.  “Cool it, Simon.  Fact is, we weren’t gonna come without a guide and you know it.”

“But why couldn’t we come without a guide?  We got an invitation same as them, we’re not stupid.”

Max lowered his head and beckoned Simon with his hand to lower his the same way so they could speak more softly and privately with one another.  “I wasn’t comin’ without a guide, that’s what it comes to.  You wanna blame someone for nothing?  Fine blame me, but cool it, you’re not helping us, look around.”

Simon stood up straight, looked around and saw they were surrounded at all sides by the Heaters, many of them clutching weapons.  He looked left to right, seeing the whole situation.  “Okay, you’re right, that was uncalled for, I apologize.”

Mason stood silent watching Simon’s face, seeing from his expression that his apology had been insincere.  “It’s okay, whatever.  Want us to take you to Norwood now?”

Max felt sickened by Mason’s superior attitude, but he just said “yeah,” and they all moved on.

Treetops (Volume 3)