A Harvest Moon
Our morning transgression, the boy with his face in the and full of the cereal and the groggier version of myself packing his lunch and setting out his clothes, went as most mornings do, ending in the success of us arriving at the corner where he’d catch the school bus in time. He’s off, and I am as well, laptop in bag, bag on back and back on my bike, headed for Oakland to sip coffees, read Internets and try and muster some semblance of work out of the day. It was a hard, fast ride, pushing my lungs and legs to the limit as I darted through and between traffic, drivers greedy to get to their workplaces, desperate for those cubicles they claim to hate but have a hard time getting to with any amount of sane slowness. Somehow I conquered them all, the slippery aptitude of a bicycle much better suited for city streets lined with parked cars, unaware pedestrians, one way streets and stop lights. I pushed hard enough that by the time I got to where it was I was going, I nearly collapsed form exhaustion.
The bottled water was glistening particularly appealing as the barista, young and hipster, both in lifestyle choice and childbearing status, backed her actions with an all Modest Mouse mix CD as she took orders and delivered results. Everyone was happy, or at least not unhappy, likely due to the fact that none of us in the place seemed to have jobs to get to – they were all students or the retired, I am by all but the strictest definitions, unemployed. When it was my turn I seeped my desire for cold, cold water as accurately as I could through a still recovering panting and racing heart. Her smiling attractive pleasantries were a welcomed change from the disgruntled mumblings of my usual liquid coffee supplier and soon I was reading and writing and doing whatever it is I think is important for me to be doing, daily.
A giant map on the wall showed all of the countries of the world, there shapes at least and colored one of five hues. Canada is huge, I thought. Greenland is more North America than Old World. Why did they use red and pink?
An old man who is the very definition of what my mind pictures when someone mentions the words “high school basketball coach” comes through the door, a young boy, bleached, blonde, probably 3 years old and still talking like a baby, in tow. A hispanic boy, short and with short hair, dark skin and wearing oversized clothing – white shirt and black gym shorts with two white stripes, perhaps the official clothing of his particular culture – leans against the magazine rack which had just recently been refilled as he drinks at whatever beverage his paper to-go cup holds. The old man sees him, and erupts with nostalgic happiness. They talk for probably 30 minutes or more about the old gang and what Jimmy Gomez is up to or how it’s sad what happened to Mikey Ray, but at least his brother Tim seems to be doing really well. “He’s a doctor now, right?”
They speak as though they know the neighborhood like the back of my hand knows my snotty nose on a cold winter’s wait for the bus. Then I realize that they’re not speaking about Oakland or Pittsburgh at all, but Los Angeles. The old man was their coach, maybe baseball, maybe basketball, it’s never made clear, but they go on and on – the hispanic kid slowly makes his way to a table and I imagine he’d rather not be having this conversation, but he’s polite, extremely polite and seems like perhaps one of the nicest people I’ve ever evesdropped on. Discussions of foreign travels, the old neighborhood and what people are doing with their lives now continues. I start to stare at something else, they fade off, and the day goes on about as normally as any day. Coffee, cigarette, typing at speeds sometimes just teetering under 100wpm, more coffee, my legs start shaking a little, I need to piss but this place keeps the door locked and I don’t trust the denizens to not steal my laptop if I leave it here, but neither do I have any desire to carry it with me into the stall.
Later that day a friend would come over, the boy would get home, and the lady and I would take them both up to Mellon Park, a vast hill of grass and gardens and stone walls that almost form a loose labyrinth, complete with statues of toads, lions defying gravity or standing majestic, lording over their domains as nearly naked and shapely women are forced to remember their Grecian lives in an as eternally carved from stone a lifestyle as they can muster. Flowers grow, clouds barely speckle the blue sky, and we drink cola and coffee as unopened bottles of wine dot our picnic, empty orange peels fill the air with the memory of the citrus we’ve eaten and we share blackberries the size of ping pong balls, though blacker and more squished/elongated than ping pong balls are used to being seen.
In earlier times we might all be sled riding or if I were alone, smoking grass and writing despondent college poetry, but today a small herd of owners and their dogs are playing fetch and all trying to get laid. The boy is running laps through the maze of garden, grove and stone. The lady is photographing it all for later recollection and helicopters fly low to the ground all around the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s one of the first times I’ve been truly happy in weeks, or at least I think that multiple times. Storm clouds whisper in and spread heat lighting spiderlike and fingering my peripheral vision. The sky is still quite blue, though, but the leaves rustle and the air sheds its lazy afternoon attitude in favor of the unmistakable chill of a coming thunderstorm. It’s not even nearly night yet, even as the evening sets heavy and the dogs and owners all leave. We clean up our mess and make our way home. In the span of fifteen minutes it goes from broad daylight to pitch black and dropping buckets of rain, each drop enough to water a starving African child for days, and here most of Pittsburgh is just letting it wash away their charcoal or carry cigarette butt fleets down street gutters and into the underbelly that is the modern day sewage system. I can’t see the moon, but it’s up there.
A friend gives me a ride to another friend’s house, so that I can buy greener cigarettes than Camel can provide and he offers me a beer even though he mentions he’s getting sick and doesn’t want to split a smoke with me. After it’s lit, though, he changes his mind and we start to discuss up-and-coming parties where he claims women will be modeling lingerie as we sip double or triple or triple double IPAs and other beers that I’ve been learned to drink, though I still don’t find as refreshing as a solid, frigid Miller Lite used to be. While we sit there the new fall lineup on NBC says the same old crime scene, lawyers and orders and two other people stop over for a purpose similar to mine own. They’re foreign, which is always fun – if not for their personalities then at least for the difference in the sound of the uninteresting things they say – and they’re philosophy students so I feel they’re likely very excellent people. Thinking such thoughts makes me feel a little too Bill & Ted, but seeing as how I’m typically on an Excellent Adventure, I run with it. We spark a secondary smoke, and given the propensity of this brand of burns tendency toward paranoia, I find an excuse to exit back into the Autumn night.
A black sky looms above me, speckled with white and lighter-than-black blue. I realize that the blackest parts aren’t the sky, and the lighter areas aren’t the clouds, but the opposite way, which puts nearly the entire sky behind cloud cover. Then I see it, enormous and ringing with a golden glowing gorgeousness that only the Harvest Moon can hold onto. Whatever it is, atmosphere or trajectory or pollution, that makes the moon larger at times is doing its job well. A few clouds ride in front, flimsy and unable to completely encompass our Earth’s firstborn satellite, in exactly the way that every Autumn painting has ever portrayed, as though werewolves were likely off having an orgy and drinking thick wine and unafraid to let their hair down on a Wednesday night. I’m happy to be walking around, alone, on this night, under this sky, a Camel light by my side and I get the urge to listen to music, but the all encompassing paranoia still riding up my spine and spinning through my head, making my eyes heavy and my thoughts more interesting tells me it’s best to keep my wits about me, at least as much as possible. Hearing an attacker, if one was out there, coming at you with death or violence or worse is better than being blindsided unaware, I presume. The slow and low flying helicopters still circle the sky above, and I begin to realize that they’re likely on a mission to find a killer, this assumed attacker that I had until now been able to put out of my mind as something my imagination had been allowed to toy with was suddenly so much more real. I contemplate the consequences of taking the stone footpath through the garden that would save me maybe 45 seconds off of my journey, the weight of my likely inability to console with myself the choice were I attacked while in there measured against the sheer pleasure that walking through it would provide. The sight and scent of flowers somehow seems valuable enough to risk the pains of death, and before I know it I’m in and out of the garden, on the other side.
Between his neighborhood and my own, both affluent areas full of grad students and people who used to be grad students but who are now making loads of money being scientists or robotics engineers or brain surgeons, there is a small strip of street that is speckled with ghetto. Nothing dangerous, usually, but the potential is there. One woman asks me for some change, I decline. Another asks me for a cigarette, I oblige. I work for my money and shouldn’t have to share it unless I choose to, but I throw that money away on cigarettes and giving them to someone who shares the addiction seems a worthy enough cause. Soon enough I’ve traversed the entire strip and am now in my own neighborhood, only a few steps away from the shortcut that will take me down to the very street I live on. A young kid, probably college age, is walking toward me and wearing some of the largest headphones I’ve ever seen. I laugh at myself a little, this kid isn’t afraid to listen to music at night – but neither should he need to be. He’s short and stuffed with muscles, Hispanic and wearing the familiar white shirt. I think how strange it would be if it were the same kid from this morning, then I remember him mentioning he just moved to my neighborhood when he and his coach had been at it earlier. That makes me smile, I remember the kids good nature and I’m almost home. The paranoia will subside once I’m within the familiar safety of my own space.
But he’s walking toward me, he changes his path as I change my own, attempting to avoid a head on collision. He’s not smiling, so it doesn’t seem like one of those awkward dances where two people are both trying to politely get out of the way and end up just making the same choices. He picks up and speed and begins running, full force and right at me. With one hand he pulls his headphones off and then raises it in the air, balled into a fist and he’s yelling something. I stop and get into some type of stance, is it karate, is it defensive end, what’s happening? I dig my feet into the sidewalk and get ready for the impact of whatever is about to happen as he gets so close I can already feel my jaw sounding with the pain of cracking bone and bleeding knuckles. His hand goes higher into the air and just as he’s no more than four feet away from me I spin to the side to avoid him, and he jumps out into South Negley Avenue and directs his attention across the street, flagging down a friend.
I keep walking, headed home and laughing my ass off, on the inside at least. When I get home my son is asleep, the rain is picking up and my girlfriend mentions that she couldn’t find the moon. I show it to her, hidden behind a growing pile of cloud, and we stand in the rain and hang out like we were new and young lovers. Eventually the rain dies out long enough for us to make a fire out of old newspapers, cardboard and what wood we have around. The rain picks up, the fire keeps on, and we drink wine until midnight marks a new day.
Up Next: In life, and as time goes on...