Riding the Bus

(A short essay/story about riding the bus. When I was younger I used to ride a lot of buses because I couldn’t afford a car.)

I remember this old lady who freaked me out once when I was riding the bus. I was in college and had two jobs and no car. To get to my crappy jobs I had to take the bus. There were always a lot of downtrodden people riding the bus, but I was one of them so I couldn’t really judge.

I had snagged a window seat that afternoon, which is good on the one hand if you like to look at things on the street like I do, but bad because that also means anyone can sit next to you and you can’t stop them. People try in different ways, like putting their packages or purses or jackets on the seat next to them. I don’t do that though because there are posters up on the buses that specifically say you’re not supposed to. And I also know that I have gotten on the bus many times when the seats are all full, and several people are doing this thing of spreading their crap out, and when you give them a look like move your stuff, dude, so I can sit my tired ass down, they act all perturbed and put out. I really do hate those people.

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Clear Creek (a short story)

(Today I am sharing one of my short stories, instead of an essay.  This short story, “Clear Creek,” was originally published in the literary journal Red Rock Review.)

My Uncle Buddy D told me he never went to a prostitute in Vietnam. Although he said he was in a definite minority. Also, he had jumped out of a helicopter into the jungle thirty-seven times, never suffering more than a broken pinkie finger on his left hand when he landed funny once. He said the jungle there was a hundred times steamier than New York City in August, but that the beaches in Vietnam were more beautiful than anywhere else in the world, including Hawaii.

He usually told me about the prostitutes (or more accurately, the abstinence thereof), and the heat, and other things too, somewhere around the 14th hole of the Clear Creek Golf Club. This would be after he’d chugged down the better part of a six-pack of our famous local brew. He’d start in casually, squinting down the fairway after a long drive that seemed to go sailing east into Nebraska. “Yep, Davey…” He was the only one to call me Davey, my mother always calls me David, and to my friends I’m Dave, but I think to him I remained in some weird time warp. I was only six when my father died in Vietnam. And I was little Davey then, and would so remain.

“Yep, Davey,” he’d say, cigar stub working in the right corner of his mouth, “It indeed may seem a bizarre morality, but your father and I never did any of that shit you see in those Vietnam movies. Your father kept me on the straight and narrow, and for that I’ll always be grateful.” And that’s when he’d go into the stuff about the prostitutes, and how young and sad and skinny they were. And how hollow his stomach felt each and every time he jumped out of a helicopter. And how the hardest thing in his life had been coming home to my mother and me alive. Continue reading

Click (a short story)

Today, a short story instead of an essay.  This short story “Click” won first place in the Pioneer Press fiction contest in 1998.)

Click. TV on. Aim the remote and click through. Channel surfing, my dad calls it. “I think I’ll go channel surfing tonight, see what’s up.” Do a little Hawaiian dance. What a nut he is, always trying to make me laugh.

The kids I am babysitting are downstairs in the basement, Brad playing Sega and Brittany playing with her American Girl dolls. They are ten and eleven, almost too old for a babysitter, but since I live next door and have known them their whole lives, it’s cool for all involved.

That was one of Ashleigh’s favorite things to say. That’s how she was, she wouldn’t just say “cool”, she’d say “cool for all involved.”  Or if she thought someone was acting psycho, she’d say “psycho-delico.” She made up words all the time, like she had her own language. Ashleigh was my best friend, had been my best friend up until three weeks and two days ago, when she killed herself. I guess Ashleigh must still be my best friend; or was there a time limit or something when you had to move on?

That’s what my parents think, anyway. It’s time to move on with my life. They’re so nice to me, I feel bad that they feel bad. So I cover up a lot, and keep things inside. I don’t know if I’m fooling them though. Just yesterday my mom asked me if I needed to talk. She said that even though my lips were smiling, my eyes weren’t, and she knew the difference. How do they know that stuff?

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