International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Homecoming
Sensitive, Thin Man
on my father's dirty living room couch made from raw white silk,
I see through the drawn bamboo blinds my friend's short frame rapidly
advancing across the front lawn towards the front door.
"Youre home!" Jacob says as I open the door. I just
look at him, with eyes half-closed from the brightness. I want to
explain to Jacob that I am a sensitive, thin man in need of long
undisturbed hours of self-absorption, and that he should call ahead
before coming over.
"I made you this compilation disc since I know you dont have
any good music." He sticks a CD into my hand. On the back of the
disc sleeve hes scribbled in graffiti-style lettering a laundry
list of death metal band names. The band names are all gory-sounding
diseases and blasphemous references.
We drift down my familiar hallway toward my old familiar room.
"I came over about a week ago but you werent home, I talked
to your father though. It seemed like he was eating an entire chicken
by himself for dinner, and drinking a 2-liter of Pepsi." Jacob
In my room, Jacob sits cross-legged in my old armchair of various multicolored
yarns that are coming loose while I sit on the floor next to the stereo.
I put in the CD, and the first song that comes on is all rapid-fire
drumbeats and terrorizing guitar sounds and screams. I turn the volume
down and Jacob starts to tell me about the conversation he and my father
had the previous week about attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,
since my father also used to attend AA meetings when he and mom were
Suddenly the music stops for no reason at all and its very quiet
in my room. I stare blankly at Jacob's head. The shaggy, matted hair
that used to cover the sides of his face has been shaved off, and without
it his eyes have the sensitive look of a child. Its unnerving
in a way. His cropped hair has been dyed blond, which matches his yellowish
Extending one leg, he points at my feet which are dirty and encrusted
with thick calluses with his Vans. "What happened to your feet?"
I consider telling Jacob that most of the time I just walk around barefoot,
but say nothing. People become surprised and then concerned about the
possibly of me walking upon millions of microscopic shards of green
glass that sparkle the streets, and which are undoubtedly laced with
hepatitis. I would like to find comfortable shoes but can never seem
to. What I'd really like is to enroll in some kind of community workshop
where a hippy art teacher would teach us how to weave together moccasins
from raw materials.
"My stomach feels like a waterbed." I mumble.
"Maybe a watermelon is growing inside."
"I dont much like watermelon." I say after reflecting
"Whats wrong with it?"
"My stomach? I dont know." I crook my head and furrow
an eyebrow, doing my best Marlon Brando impersonation.
"I had this guy stand up on it during a camping trip with some
people I know from State. But that was a while ago."
"Why the helld you do that?"
"I wanted to know how itd feel. Didnt your Karate teacher
used to do that to you?" I point to my gut where the guy had applied
his full weight.
"That was higher up where all the abdominal muscles are, you dont
have any muscles down there right around the pelvic region."
I turn toward my mismatched stereo system, which sits atop a 70's green
Naugahyde chair and is flanked by giant brown stereo speakers with the
fuzzy coverings. The chair looks like one of those ones high schools
hang onto for about three decades, the kind you might see in a councilors
office where scrawny long-haired teenagers with denimed legs sit, drifting
off. The Naugahyde is smooth and cracked in the seat where the receiver,
CD player and turntable are stacked. Sliding out an old record, I gingerly
lay it on the record player. Then I turn the device on and touch the
needle to the lined vinyl. Soothing bluegrass music comes on and it
plays well along with the buzz of a chainsaw rotating off in the distance.
I know Jacob doesn't like this music. I lace my hands behind my head
and lye back on the brown carpet, imagining a gang of guitar and banjo
players riding in the back of some old jalopy full of watermelons and
hay, twanging and weaving away on a bumpy southern road.
Jacob puts down a magazine he's been looking at and stands up. "Do
you have any alcohol?" He says.
I shake my head.
"Well let's go for a drive and a smoke, maybe we can get you something
to put on your feet. And I want to go to Burger King too."
"I dont want to go to McDonalds."
"Not McDonalds, Burger King."
I stand up, stretch, and walk over to peer through the blinds. "I
hate driving the Volvo."
"Well I cant drive. If you wont drive, we walk. Dont
you want to eat at Burger King?"
I steer the old Volvo station wagon into a dilapidated shopping plaza
located about a mile from my father's house. This mall has become a
wasteland with many of the storefronts vacant, having gone out of business
one-by-one over the last ten years. There's plenty of parking close-by,
but I park the car some distance from the stores as we finish our cigarettes
in the car. Once finished, we make our way across the hot lot as we
head for frosty shakes and hamburgers with all the greasy fixings. Burger
King has a pretty strict no bare feet policy, and I try my best to keep
the soles of my feet from coming into contact with the floors of fast-food
restaurants, so while Jacob orders two Double Whoppers and two vanilla
shakes as I wait in a plastic booth near the front entrance.
We sit and eat. I talk a little bit about college and how this year
I mostly just took the required courses as well as a few introductory
Business Administration classes. Jacob mentions he is currently working
in a store at the mall that sells educational toys. He says his sister,
who knows the owner, helped him land this job a month ago. We finish
our hamburgers and shakes then sit still for a while, as our stomachs
Shoe City is just one store down from the Burger King. We pass through
sliding glass doors and enter into a warehouse of a shoe store, where
boxes upon boxes of shoes are left out for customers to rummage through.
After scanning the bright aisles I eventually hone in on a pair of Chuck
Taylor knock-offs, however I have trouble finding the nine and a half
inch black canvas variety. I approach a stock girl nearby who is busy
arranging shoeboxes on a large metal display rack using a long metal
pole. She loads a box of fancy womens shoes onto a small platform
welded to the end of the pole, and then elevating it, places the box
high upon the rack. When she turns her attention towards me, I show
her the shoes Im interested in and ask if they have my size in
the back. She takes the shoebox from my hands and then, after glancing
at my feet, disappears inside the stockroom. When she returns she has
the correct size and color plus a pair of disposable beige-colored socks
that look like women's stockings.
I lace up one shoe, then squatting, dig a foot in and pull the white
laces tight. While still bent, as I tie the laces into a bow, I ask
Jacob why he goes to AA meetings. He hesitates, and then tells me that
a couple of months ago he went to a party at a friend of a friend's
apartment. At the party hed been drinking whiskey and beer and
was singing at the top of his lungs, kissing strangers and laughing.
I rise and looking at Jacob, notice hes grinning. I tread several
paces awkwardly with one foot strapped in while the other stockinged
foot touches the cool linoleum flooring. I pivot, and return to face
Jacob goes on to claim that another unknown person at the party, annoyed
with his behavior, started pushing him around and telling him to shut
up because he was in a bad mood. When Jacob didnt quit it, the
angry guy pushed Jacob down a couple of times onto a couch full of people.
The second time Jacob was pushed into the laps of the drunk people relaxing
on the couch, they held him fast to prevent him from getting up. When
Jacob continued laughing they attempted to cover his mouth with their
hands, but this only made him laugh harder. Finally, once Jacob struggled
to his feet, the irate man seized him by the collar and the two spun
like ice dancers performing a couples maneuver until the man eventually
let go, launching Jacob headfirst into the hallway where his head connected
with a wooden doorframe.
"I woke up on the grass outside the apartment just as paramedics
were loading me into the ambulance. In the emergency room they informed
me I had sustained a concussion, but was otherwise okay. I was released
a few hours later. But two weeks later I was smoking a cigarette during
lunch break, when I all of a sudden I started getting the spins. I felt
spaced out, like I was in some kind of weird altered state and my head
was disconnected from the rest of my body. When it kept happening from
time to time, I eventually had to go see a neurologist to have it checked
out. Theyve run a bunch of tests, but so far they dont really
know whats causing it."
I don't know what to say, so I don't say anything. I crouch down again
and, resting my chin on my knee, frown at the shoe on my foot. I press
down on the toe. Theyre comfortable enough but just feel cheap.
"Why don't you just buy some flip flops?" Jacob asks.
"They always cause me blisters between my toes."
"You want to look someplace else?"
"I just want to go home. Let's call it a night."
He shrugs and we leave. We motor through the cool, late afternoon glooming
with the car windows down. The suburban streets today seem completely
deserted, the manicured lawns and neighboring parks are vivid and real
to look at. As I drop Jacob off at the entrance to his sisters
townhome community, he shuts the squeaky car door and sticks his head
in the open window.
"See you soon." I say. "Maybe next year when I'm back
in school you come up and visit sometime. You could probably crash in
my dorm room for a few days if my roommate doesn't mind."
Jacob just nods. "Yeah maybe."
I wave him off, and drive home where I promptly collapse back onto the
living room couch and I sleep for an hour. I awake abruptly to find
the orange glow that had been filtering in through the bamboo blinds
replaced by twilight. My father is still not home from work to prepare
I take a Diet Coke from the fridge and walk down the hall to my room,
which is a good four degrees warmer than the rest of the house in the
evening. Sitting on my bed, I look around at my sparse, clean bedroom.
Except for a duffel bag, all the shopping bags and cardboard boxes containing
my belongings are stacked in the hall, waiting to be unpacked. I slide
open the closet door and find that in my absence my father has hung
a large winter jacket and old work shirts on the rack. Looking underneath
a shelf that I created long ago from two large bricks and a thick board
worn smooth, I see exercise equipment, my fathers old soccer shoes
and his old brown leather loafers that he used to wear so often. The
loafers are stretched wide on account of his broad feet, are worn, and
as I discover, can be easily slipped on and off. They dont feel
Flatmo January 2009
larsflatmo at gmail.com
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