I wake up on a plane. The flight attendant asks me if I’d like to eat. She has a red mouth and looks like an out-of-focus Kate Winslet, which makes me think of my wife, or, should I say, “ex-wife.” What an odd title for such a serious, blissful woman. In the dream I am on the way to Brussels to ask the president of the European Union why Europe is collapsing. “Would you like anything else?” On my fourth attempt, I manage to break open the transparent wrapping, and bite into the snack cake. The flavor of plastic orchards beneath wide stagnant skies. I wake up on a plane.
In the late eighties, when I was twelve, I went to a camp called Walking G Ranch. My sisters went, too. It was in the mountains of California, in Taylorsville, but now I have to look that up on a map because when you’re a kid you never know where you are. It was a working ranch, and we all got up early in the morning to take care of the animals – milk the cows and feed the pigs their slop – and sometimes at night, my friend Anne and I slept in the hayloft. On other nights, we rowed out to a little island in the middle of the pond. It felt immensely far, but it was just a pond.
Three of them are shooting hoops in the echo chamber between our house and the neighbor’s, close clapboard and winter-washed cedars walling in the narrow driveway. Someone is the swaggering smuggler of an enormous speaker, and the bass ricochets off the concrete. There’s a wife-beater, boom box vibe even though it’s Spotify. In my small-town childhood only boys without cars had boom boxes, and they slunk down Main Street blasting Metal to distortion, trailing smoke, projecting danger. The boys at the boarding school up the hill, ravaged stoners, were less aggressive but more alienated.
Here at The Common, we’re all about place, so we’ve been experimenting with more ways for readers to experience the locations of our pieces. Using this map, you can explore all the dispatches we’ve published set in New York City. Get to know Eli the Seltzer Man, the nighthawks on the Upper West Side, and more!
There’s a cafe called Dante’s on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village that my father and I used to visit when I was a teenager.
It’s located in what is sometimes called the “south village,” which once was largely Italian. There were still traces of that neighborhood when I was a kid. Grandmothers on folding chairs outside tenements on Leroy Street, Our Lady of Pompei on Carmine Street, a Mafia social club on Sullivan Street, St. Anthony’s Church, the Vesuvio Bakery, tough kids hanging out in Thompson Park, Ottamanelli’s butcher shop.
“Kinder,es endet noch schlecht!” my grandmother cautions my cousins, who are wrestling near the fireplace. “Kids, this is going to end badly!” She laughs as she says it, though. Everyone is scattered around the living room, the nucleus of the big house. Cushioned benches run the length of two walls, and there’s a big fireplace elevated in a square stone fixture in the center of the room. A giant cylindrical black flue descends from the ceiling to catch the smoke and carry it outside.
We both come from famous places. He’s from Nashville, I’m from Sedona. We one-up each other: He saw Porter Waggoner pushing a mower and Chet Atkins at the golf course. I served Bruce Springsteen a chocolate ice cream; Ted Danson’s folks banked with my mom.
I wrote my first college paper on a new Smith Corona electric typewriter and my last on an Osborne compact word processor. I started graduate school with a turntable and ended with a compact disc player. When the boys were born, I took their pictures on film that had to be sent away to be developed. The pictures came back to fill albums and shoeboxes. When the boys graduated from high school, I uploaded the photos to my computer and posted them on Facebook.
We walk back onto the road and down towards Niko’s house. The herd of sheep follow us and begin to run up the rocky dirt path. The island whispers. Trees sway above, letting sporadic splotches of sunlight warm the road, pierce the ground, looking like a bundle of rocks landing on the Aegean’s surface. Tiny figs dangle from each branch, growing. I turn to look at the free animals as they hurry to push by. Some get trampled, stuck and pinned between a bigger body and the half-opened fence separating the den from the road. Others squeeze through the tiniest of crevices. They all wiggle themselves out and soar together. They cheer in unison, ringing their bells up the mountain. They don’t have to worry about financial crises.