I had a dream last night that I should post teasers for each of the stories in my book to entice new readers.
As his children ran toward him, stolen oranges gathered up in their T-shirts, he wished with all his heart that he had not promised to take them to Disney World.
The Endless Mountains
The house, when they found it, had tipped even farther back from the road. There was a van with a gas company logo parked out front, but no sign of activity beyond the barricades. Yellow police tape was scattered in the front yard amid furniture, toys, soggy bedding, and trash bags with clothes spilling out of them.
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, boychik,” Lou said.
A snow-topped mountain, a sky of impossible blue. A waterfall dissolving into a beautiful sunset. A pure white dove gliding across the screen, peeling away the sunset with its beak to reveal the image beneath: three old women chopping vegetables in an outdoor kitchen. “Those are Movladi’s aunties,” Zabet said. She pressed fast-forward as a wedding tent went up in juddering video frames.
The Cloud of Unknowing
Still wearing their coats, they sat down on the floor across from each other, each leaning against a wall, and Jim put on the Shangri-Las. The record had an echoey sound to it, as if it had been made specifically to be listened to in a room like this: a cold room with no furniture. The tough, sad girls were Out in the Street, they were Walking in the Sand, they could Never Go Home Anymore. It was dark when the record ended, but Jim didn’t turn on the light.
Her eyes were still adjusting to Los Angeles. She drove down legendary-sounding boulevards—Wilshire, Beverly, La Cienega—sweating into her vinyl car seat, impatient for the city to reveal its glamour. Sometimes as she drove, she spoke to herself in imaginary Raymond Chandler prose: “I followed the Nash west on Sunset and swung up Sepulveda, climbing until I lost his taillights in the fog.”
The Breakfast Shift
With that, the engine of the day turned over, setting in motion the thousand trivial urgencies of waitressing. The delivery drivers ate their eggs and paid their checks, passing on their way out the Boston Edison workers, who arrived in groups of three and four, identical in their winter Carhartts, then table-hopped, creating an atmosphere of screwball anarchy.
The Smockey Bar
Sometimes, later in the evening, every barstool would be occupied, and union plumbers would rub shoulders with bookstore clerks. And as the volume rose from all those minds meeting, Smockey would turn on the close captioning so he could follow along as the Luftwaffe got its ass kicked in the Battle of Britain.
Rush hour has come and gone. The old man with the paper hat is here now, and he’s showing Nancy a dream book. She’s earnestly explaining to him why he shouldn’t play the lottery. A number, she says, can never be due.
Catch of the Day
Pinky’s New York Deli is not in New York, and it’s not really a deli either. It’s a coffee shop in a long, dark room. The chairs scrape unpleasantly on brown quarry tiles, and the square tables are arranged at an angle so the waitresses can squeeze past them. Under the glass on each tabletop is a cutout of a smiling fish that says, “Catch of the Day.” The catch of the day is always chipped beef.
Safe, Reliable, Courteous
Kitty’s seatmate draws a dune buggy. And then, on command, a dog and a truck. “Now I’m gonna make something scary,” he says. He draws a skeleton. After considering it for a minute, pencil to lips, he adds a pirate’s hat and a sword, dripping with blood. He tears the sheet off and hands it to the little boy.
“You know what’s scary?” the boy, says. “A bat!”
“Skeletons are scarier than bats,” he says with authority.
“No, bats are scarier.”
He snorts. “You’re nuts.” He puts his drawing pad away.
If he could get over his shyness and penetrate the scene, he’d transform this place. He would make thrones out of the rubble, and an amphitheater of scary organic shapes like Gaudi. He would paint the back wall white and project movies, and he would be the king of it out here.
He told me he had drawn plans for a prototype of a modern minivan when he was ten years old, and he therefore felt that it was, in a certain way, his invention.
She didn’t, as she’d always thought, like the little bug-eyed dogs any less, or the fussy breed dogs with their strange haircuts. The delight of them, and the tragedy, was that they were as doggy as any others, bearing the yoke of human vanity with canine indifference.
She typed without pausing for a while, then reviewed what she had written and added, “You can be a kook as long as you’re an interesting kook, and I don’t care if you have a high school diploma.”