One of the machines was munching a pile of twisted metal like there was no tomorrow. It drowned out our conversation, so I dropped it. Besides, she was making the same face she made when we first met, like she smelled a fart, which was confusing coming right after the breast thing and all that razzle-dazzle. It was a letdown, too. Then Enz tapped the crap out of a new pack of Marlboros and offered me one. We smoked while Laura went back to nonno, who must have been having a flashback of his own about Connie Mack Stadium and the A’s, because he kept pointing at the scoreboard, which had a “Cold-Brewed Ballantine beer” sign and a clock that was stuck at exactly 12:02. Then he took out his handkerchief and started hacking into it like, well, there was no tomorrow. I wondered what was going on at 12:02 that made the clock stop, but I have learned that some things in life you never find answers to and other things you don’t want answers to. Still, if you’re going to stop a clock, wouldn’t you do it at 12:00 or 12:15 or 12:30?
Before I finished the cigarette, it started to rain, one of those drizzles that doesn’t come from above but from the air around you and smells a lot like grease. It was warm as piss, too, which isn’t so bad until you get inside and it feels like you’re wearing a bathing suit, which reminds me of dreams I have where I’m going around naked but everybody else is dressed up. I act like it’s no big deal, but I usually wake up spooked. That’s how I feel with Laura. Just when I get comfortable and let my guard down, she drops the kabosh rock and I’m right back to where I started. I’ve noticed girls can do that to you. It’s that magic thing again, which I haven’t figured out and probably never will. But it’s worse than that, because how can you spend your entire life off balance, always on your heels? I don’t like that feeling. I also don’t want to get to adulthood not knowing who I am or where I’m going. I remember Mrs. Miller in the fifth grade asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. She asked each one of us, up and down the rows, and when she got to me I told her the truth. I said I didn’t know. What I didn’t tell her was what a stupid question I thought it was. How the hell should I know, I’m in fifth grade, for chrissakes? But she said if I didn’t know then, I’d never know. I think she liked scaring the hell out of us. It worked. I was scared.
[Excerpt from Laura Fedora, a coming of age story set in 1976 in Philadelphia. Want more? Go to Amazon for a deal on this book and others. They’ll make great presents for the New Year.]
Image credits: feature by Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, public domain; crane by Temple University Archives.