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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Claudia Sherman

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
--Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Goddamnit.

No, Paul, I haven't been to New York. I haven't been a contender.

Let's begin with a situational metaphor, proven to stimulate appetite for misery. Imagine, if you will, a woodpecker -- genus Melanerpes, subspecies Downy, Red-bellied, Gila, what have you -- mistakenly wanders into Disneyland, becomes lost in the Country Bear Jamboree. Imagine said 'pecker alighting on a tree and, in a vain attempt to extract the juicy larvae, the delectate grubs he expects inside, slams beak directly into -- concrete. The trees in the Country Bear Jamboree sector of Disneyland Anaheim aren't real, of course. Now, substitute Disneyland for a dusty canyon seaside in Malibu. Substitute the tree for the certain Elvis-loving, James-Dean-looking, suede-and-corduroy beef-jerky-strip of a blue-eyed boy. Yours truly, of course, will be playing the part of Hapless Woodpecker. Now, back in Metaphoria, let's up the ante. Let's say that the tree disappears entirely from the Country Bear Jamboree. Mickey-mouse-headed children gasp. Parents, glazed as donuts in the spectacular din, dismiss the tree as a mirage -- 'twern't nothin', Bertha. Just crazy from the heat. And the woodpecker? That there woodpecker would be fucked up hardcore if this shit were perpetrated. And there you go.

I'm moving too fast for you. You, of course, are the certain Elvis-loving, James-Dean-looking, suede-and-corduroy beef-jerky-strip of a blue-eyed boy, of a range-riding boy, of a drive-too-fast, don't-worry-I'm-drunk, she's-buying-a-stairway-to-heaven boy. With me still? Good. And then there's me. I'll hop your fifteen-foot cyclone fence in wooden platform shoes, and so I have. I have picked up giant glossyblack beetles, presented them to your arguments as silent proof. We have drunk cheap and nameless mescal together until our tongues thickened; I have curled up in a champagne-sorrowful bundle on the foot of your bed; I have brought you the most peat-riddled bottle of bastard whiskey I could find. I'll say Dude until I die. Your Jeep swung in a circle, too fast, too tight, too accurate. Don't worry, I'm drunk, you said. Dude, I replied. We understand each other.

When Sitting Bull was assassinated by the tribal police, you said, his horse heard the shots and began to dance. His horse was a gift from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, trained to perform with gunshots. When Sitting Bull lay dying, his horse was dancing above him.

You sleep in a hat with the earflaps pulled tightly down, next to your guitar, your Audrey Hepburn poster. You prefer brunettes. I have blue eyes, too, and hate them. You're a slow-moving shipwreck in my bloodstream.

Driving to the canyon that last time, the sun set over-easy, dripping majestically through the smog-fingered sky, and on the side of the road, a car began to burn. I sobbed thinking about it. A month before I'd sat in my Chevy on the beach, eating raspberries, listening to Bowie, complaining. Giving you a look when I showed up that said I'm too drunk to care about your checkout girl. We understand each other. I sat at your wooden table and listened in a stupour to Lovely Lily, the pneumatically-bodied jeweler, complain about getting to know you, getting to know allllll about you. I wrote some wasted aphorism about courage and foolhardiness being the same damn thing on a scrap of the free paper, which you would refuse to give back. I traced circles on the wood with the base of my glass, wobbled downstairs, laid on the tiled bathroom floor and cried like a rusty windmill turning in an inconsistent wind. At your tap on the door, I pressed one black-ringed eye to the crack of the doorjamb and replied, If Hell is anything like this, I'd better clean up my act. When everyone had finally gone I clambered up the side of a steeply-angled hill, and looked at the sky alone. You said you had been looking for me the entire time. Join the club.

When I hopped your cyclone fence, it was to get out. It was to drift down the soft shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway, alone in my impossible shoes.

After that, there were nights I drove past your house silent as a manta ray, gliding, drifting. You have since disappeared. The man who answers your phone knows your name, doesn't know where you've gone. Six months before we leaned against each other at a disco-lit party that felt like a death, and when you brought me more wine I sailed deeper inside the bottle, a tiny, listing ship, and then I climbed onto a tabletop while you looked at me, always with the same bewilderment lacing your eyes. Don't worry, I'm drunk, I said. Don't worry, dude. I'm only dancing. I'm only dancing. I'm only dancing.

Claudia Sherman moved to lovely Chicago. She used to live in L.A. Please, applaud her.