Symphony

I’m going to go on Merrimack TV and I don’t have any shirts and ties.

Got invited on Chattin’ with Jeanine to talk about my book.

I used to have shirts and ties, though.

The last time I wore a suit was for a wedding in May, 2019.

After all, at many jobs, you only need the suit at the interview.

But where have my shirts and ties vanished to?

Some ties were snagged by scavengers in Brooklyn after an argument that ended with clothes getting thrown out the window.

Some shirts are dressing someone poor or thrifty in Florida after I dropped boxes off at a Goodwill before moving.

At least one shirt is sitting in the trunk of taxi cab in Medellin.

Now here are I am with a suit jacket and pants but no shirts and ties.

And the closest Macy’s is an hour and twenty minutes away by car. Rush hour traffic is slow. I will barely make it there before closing time at this rate.

The Macy’s is almost empty when I arrive.

I find the section with the men’s dress shirts.

Rows of identical shirts with sets of three numbers. Measurements, of course. I don’t know mine.

Signs are posted everywhere.

“We’ve suspended our fitting assistance services as a COVID-19 safety measure.”

I pick up a shirt.

It’s held stiff by a piece cardboard stock. It is filled with lethal pins. Tissue inside it crackles. I hold it up over my chest and glance in the mirror.

“Need any help, sir?”

A woman with a name badge asks me.

“Are you the one who helps people dress themselves?”

What a dumb way to ask that question.

“No,” she says.

“I don’t know my measurements at all.”

“We stopped helping with that for COVID-19.”

“Thank you, I saw the sign.”

“Let me know if you need anything else. We close soon.”

Loud speaker announcement overhead: ten minutes to close.

I look around.

This store is a big, lonely, unhelpful, place.

And I’m not going to get my shirt and tie before the television show tomorrow, am I?

“Perhaps I can help,” says a thick accent. Hard to say where the accent is from.

The speaker is an older guy. Argyle sweater, black slacks. Macy’s name tag.

“The sign says you can’t help me with the measurement.”

He stands six feet away. Squints his eye. Holds up his hand with thumb and forefinger apart like an old carpenter who doesn’t use rulers anymore.

“Seventeen, thirty-two, thirty-three,” he says. “Now stand shoulder to shoulder with me in the mirror.”

The starting COVID formalities are over, thankfully. Apparently, tape measures are what really spread disease.

“Would you say your neck is bigger or smaller than mine?” he asks me. “In thickness.”

“They look pretty similar, to be honest.”

“I agree,” he answers.

He brings me two a table of shirts of the right size.

I show him the grey suit I’m going to wear.

He grabs a cream color shirt and black tie.

Tucks the shirt into the suit and lays the tie on top. He gestures over the pairing.

“Here there is melody and counter melody,” he says.

His accent is too thick to ignore.

“Where are you from?”

“I am Armenian,” he says.

I shift my head and look at the dark tie.

“Hey. I didn’t notice it from the other angle, but there’s little glitters in there.”

“Where?” He shift the tie back and forth in his hand. “Ah, yes. It is wrong for you.”

He replaces the tie with another one.

“Here there is melody and rhythm.”

“It’s for a local TV show. That one might look weird.”

“Ah, nothing to make a rainbow in the camera.”

“Exactly.”

Loud speaker: five minutes to close.

“I know this rule,” the Armenian tailor says. “I was on TV once for music.”

“What do you play?”

“Symphonies, concertos, so on. Piano.”

“Very cool.”

He puts out a final shirt and tie pairing.

“Here there is melody and harmony.”

He makes a conductor’s grand gesture.

Yeah, that’s the best looking shirt and tie pairing he’s done.

“Ok, I’ll take it.”

We go to the cash register.

“They took away our commissions,” he says.

The bay lights overhead clang off. There’s one little lamp behind him.

“They want you to work with no tape measure and no commission?”

His forehead furrows and I can tell from his cheeks there is a pained smile under his face mask.

“Exactly, sir.”

I look up at big, dark Macy’s.

“Hey,” I ask. “Do you write your own music, too?”

His eyes crinkle.

“I don’t like to say so, but since you ask,” he says.

He pulls out his phone. Plays a video on it. It is a symphony he wrote. A violin is playing. Then come deeper clarinets and cellos to harmonize with it. The music crashes into a big all-together repeat of the thing the violin was saying at the start.

“It’s amazing,” I say.

He tucks the receipt in the bag.

“Please enjoy your evening sir,” he says.

“Thank you, you too.”

He pauses the symphony on his phone, and tucks it into his pocket.

I leave the closed store, finding my way by the few security lights.

Drunk Owl

Enjoy this story and grab my book for rare stories you won’t find online.

Hour thirty of driving. Day three on the road.

Packed my life inside a Toyota Corolla.

Left Florida for New England a few days ago.

Now driving on a road in New Hampshire with granite cliffs on one side and mountain views on the other.

Black mountain shapes with red radio tower lights on top in the night.

A line of brake lights flares red ahead of me.

The cars start flowing around something.

Soon I will see what they are avoiding.

Headlights shine on the paved road texture.

They shine on a hooked beak and round face.

Feathery wings spread out their full span.

There’s an owl standing on the white dotted line between lanes.

Cars and trucks give him his distance.

Owl spreads his wings full span. Bobs his beaked head like a boxer.

Come at me, come at me, to every vehicle.

What’s with the attitude, little animal?

You’re only still alive because many strangers gave you a break and a brake.

Or maybe you’re trying to end it all.

Your little owl life got too dark and hopeless.

I come to a full stop and honk at him. He bobs his head at the car.

I lay on the horn. He flies away after a long blast.

Stubborn bird.

Drive on.

They Don’t Know About Evil in Warren, PA

Warren, PA

These free stories are not in my book. Grab the book here.

***

Trucking the final ten miles to my first stop on the way out west.

I’ve been driving since just after 5pm.

I’m charging towards a wall of milky fog.

The fog is slithering all over the road.

It’s rising up my windshield as I drive farther.

Yellow diamond-shaped signs with ‘Deer X-ing’ are posted every few miles on this road.

I hit a high wall of fog. Now I’m driving blind. High beams make it worse.

I ease off the gas even though I just want to plow through these last ten miles and get some sleep.

But there could be a deer standing in this stewy, soggy fog.

There could be anything in here.

Mind phantoms dance in the fog.

Shapes that look like an animal or a human face with a giant forehead. Big teeth.

It’s like picking shapes out of storm clouds.

The green glowing numbers on my speedometer flicker.

Every light on my truck dies.

I’m bowling blind through the night. Release the accelerator completely.

The lights return.

No explanation.

Then the needle on the speedometer jumps from 40mph to 60mph.

But my pedal pressure is the same as it has always been. The RPMs are the same. They are not whining louder.

Though the fog makes it hard to tell, I am driving the same speed.

The needle quivers and dives down to zero miles per hour.

But I’m still going at a speed that feels like 40mph.

Now the speedometer licks up to 40 but then crashes to zero. Whips across the entire dial to point at 100mph.

All lies. My speed is not changing. The needle is possessed.

The truck is old.

She’s mechanically sound, but she has emotional problems.

Just under ten more miles to Warren.

I got sick of hearing my music and wanted some quiet.

Running in silence. Deaf to the engine hum after these hours.

Rhodie, the truck, starts beeping.

I slap the dash. The beeping stops. The engine starts hiccuping and coughing. It makes the ride bumpy.

If I break down, I can pull the bike out of the bed and get to town.

And then…what? Nothing will be open. Still. I can bike somewhere. I can do something. Or I can pull over, pull my sleeping bag out of the back, and nap in the cab till dawn.

Let some cop rap on the window with his flashlight. Demand to search the truck.

Rhodie, get it together.

We are this close to town. Get me a few miles more and tomorrow, I will buy you everything you want and anything you need. Fluid top off, new spark plugs, spa day, you name it.

The lights flicker again.

Those clunking sounds in the engine jolt the driver’s seat.

Little farther, please.

I pull off the road, cross a bridge, and drive through a brick downtown.

My Airbnb is only point eight miles away.

I park in a garage across the street as instructed by the host. Grab the two most important bags from the bed. Pull the bike out too. Pull a tarp over the landscaping supplies and food. They’re not as attractive to thieves as the bike would be.

With two backpacks and one guitar on my back, I bike to the Airbnb.

The first-floor door is unlocked. That’s weird.

I walk the bike up three flights of stairs.

My Airbnb’s room is unlocked, too. I call into the room to see if the unlocked door is because the host or last guest is still inside. Or if someone broke into this Airbnb.

No answer. Tiny kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom are all empty. All closets empty. There’s a key on a red piece of yarn on the table. I lock the door and go to bed.

Good morning.

I find a note on a chair I didn’t see last night explaining the unlocked doors. Honor system.

The place is very clean. The bedroom and kitchen are squished into one room. The closet-sized bathroom with a plastic cubicle for a shower crammed into it. It looks retrofitted. Like the apartment didn’t always have a shower.

Showered and shaved, I’m walking on the same street I drove down last night with brick buildings on either side. I pass a stone statue. The bridge over the river I drove across. I want to check the bed of the truck for missing items.

A woman in a parka and gloves is walking past me. She says good morning and smiles. I say it back, surprised. Two more people do this.

In the parking garage, nothing is missing from the truck bed.

This town. No litter. Nobody sleeping behind dumpsters. No locks on the Airbnb. Every stranger says hello.

Clearly, they don’t know about evil in Warren, Pennsylvania.

I need to do one more day of work before my vacation begins. I work from my laptop in a cafe all day. It has a few tables and big leather chairs with a coffee table near a gas fireplace.

“I don’t recognize you,” the barista says when I order an Americano and breakfast burrito.

She is surprised to see someone new. I’m surprised she expects to recognize her customers.

I explain the truck. The journey west. The land. She beams.

Halfway through the workday, I step out to buy a phone charger.

When I come back, the manager makes eye contact with me.

“How’s your road trip going?” she asks. “How’s the truck?”

I ask how she knows about those things.

“Word gets around fast here,” she says.

The coffee shop empties out. I’m still working.

“Are you closing?” I ask the manager.

She is wiping tables down with a rag.

“Oh, we closed ten minutes ago, but you looked so busy we let you stay. I just can’t let you back in once you leave.”

I thank her. Finish work. Bag up the laptop and cables. Say goodbye.

It’s time to check the truck’s fluid levels.

Test a couple of theories about what caused last night’s moodiness in drive performance.

I come back to the parking garage with my bags.

A yellow parking ticket is tucked under the wiper blade of the truck. Thirty-five dollars. Payable by mail or online.

Wow.

I just became the only criminal in Warren.

Time to hit the road.

To be continued