Usually, i tell people i’m from around Boston, but I’m not even from there. I grew up just outside New Bedford. It’s a port city on the South Shore that used to be big on whaling. You got lots of ugly Portuguese there. I live and work in L.A. now and when I tell my coworkers where I’m from, the most I ever get is:
“So is that near Cape Cod?”
“Yeah,” I’ll say.
“I went to Martha’s Vineyard when I was a kid,” they might say.
“Oh yeah?” I’d say.
Yeah. Nobody from New Bedford ever left to go live somewhere else where people actually use their brains. Not my parents or my friends or anybody else. They’re all just a bunch of brain-zombies there. Nothing ever happened in New Bedford other than graduation or someone having a kid.
Me and some guys from high school used to race cars to cut the boredom. We’d buy these shitbox clunkers listed in Autotrader and install all kinds of aftermarket parts to make them roll faster. On a given Sunday, there’d be like three or four of us drinking beers in a garage, tuning these beasts. When a part was incompatible we’d work a miracle just to keep them running. Then the sun would set and we’d burn up the state roads like a bunch of retards.
The driveway goes right down the middle of the lawn, splitting it into two patches of grass you can’t really do much of nothing with. I never played football or catch growing up because Dad’s truck would be in the way.
I was there the night Anthony DiGinnaro flipped his Nissan Skyline. I was racing him. He was banking hard, trying to keep ahead of my Mark II but he kept fishtailing ’cause his power train was weird and his ABS wasn’t set up. Grinding out this one sharp turn near the Fall River exit, he hit a hole in the road and, boom, popped his front left tire. Skyline lost traction, hit the barrier going like sixty or something and flipped over it. Crunch. Dude went through the windshield and hit a tree.
All my friends went to the funeral, but I didn’t go. Nobody knew it was me he was racing, but showing up just didn’t feel right.
I started having these nightmares about keeping Anthony’s engine in my dad’s basement, like I’d lifted it out of his wrecked Skyline somehow. We’d be eating dinner but that engine would be on a cinder block downstairs running hot. I’d come down ’cause of the noise and there it was, pistons firing redder and redder and smoking up the space. I’d wake up screaming.
“It’s just stress,” My dad said. “Your mother used to be like that.”
I cracked and told him about the race. We got into a fight about the whole thing.
“You oughta be ashamed,” he said. “What if you hit someone?”
Euthanasia by car? No different than the movies, when people drive into a big crowd of zombies. Kinda like bowling. I threw it back in his face. I don’t know why. Maybe I was disappointed at how he had no crazy story of his own to absolve me with. Something about how, back in the day, he and Uncle Beamish used to put their toes right up to the edge, too. He didn’t have any stories like that. I kind of felt like I had outgrown him.
So I sold my Mark II and bought a plane ticket with the money, thinking I’d cut out and see California. I got on the plane with just a duffel bag. I never got into acting or producing, but I did end up with a few office gigs. My dad thought I was only gonna be gone for a little while, but I never came back until now.
I didn’t make a big deal about it at first. I figured I wanted a few days just to be by myself. Mirna knows I came back, though. She was my dad’s neighbor. She saw me fiddling with the keys at the front door after getting out of the cab.
“You want me to keep it a secret?” she says with a nasal sort of New England accent that comes from the top of the throat.
“OK. I can’t tell nobody you’re back? What about Lizette? Remember her? We work together at Davy’s Locker now.”
I remember her. “Yeah, all right.”
“You gonna sell your dad’s house?”
“That’s what I’m back for,” I say. Key is in the door.
“Huh. Well, if you want, my cousin can come clean it for ya.”
“Maybe next week. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Mirna says from her front steps. She surveys her lawn from under her aluminum awning like she’d just noticed how dark it was outside. “Lemme know if you need something, ’kay?”
My dad’s house is an old Georgian colonial. Unlike the rest of the houses on the street, his is set back away from the curb. The driveway goes right down the middle of the lawn, splitting it into two patches of grass you can’t really do much of nothing with. I never played football or catch growing up because Dad’s truck would be in the way.
The entire right side of the house is covered by a big bush. It’s such a big bastard of a bush that I think everyone in the family stopped using that side of the house, you know? The basement windows haven’t even been cleaned in years ’cause no one can get to them.
The stairs creak, echoing in the stairwell when I come up to my old room. Uncle Beamish already came and took away most of Dad’s furniture, but there’s still a mattress and frame done up sort of nice and I remember when my dad used my room for storage after I moved out.
The headlights from passing cars strafe across the ceiling and wall, cut into squares by the windowsill. I hear a faint hum and I think at first that it’s a fog horn passing through the harbor, but then I realize that my phone is vibrating inside my roller bag. I ignore it. Now that none of our stuff is in the house anymore I see how the rooms were just a bunch of lines and planes that organized all that stuff into squares.
An hour later, I wake up to the sound of someone banging on the front door.
“Jimaaay!” I hear from outside.
My shirttails hiked themselves out of my pants in my sleep. I walk over to the window and look down.
“Jim, you in there?”
A car in the driveway has its headlights on, flooding the bottom floor windows. It’s Vinnie. His breath is steaming in the headlights. Even in his Bruins jacket, I can tell he gained weight. I shuffle downstairs in the dark to meet him.
“Oh shit, what’s up?” he says and slaps my hand. The slap lingers and turns into a handshake, then leans into a back-pat, creaking the screen door out of the way.
“Hey, you wanna come in?”
The camera is an old heavy analogue and its black dials and levers look complicated. I fiddle with some of them but I have no idea what I’m doing or what the little white symbols mean.
Vin looks over my shoulder at the emptiness of the house. “Nah, come out real quick. Mirna told Lizette you were back. Come get beers.”
“I can’t, man. I gotta be up—”
“It’s Saturday. What do you got tomorrow?”
I think about lying to him. I don’t actually have to meet the real estate lady until Monday.
Vin is one of my closest friends and I haven’t seen him in three years. Back in high school, he used to be really into Jiu-Jitsu. When I asked his sister Lizette out, he chaperoned us around, since he was the only one with a car. He’d put me in arm locks and joke about clobbering me for dating his sister.
After two weeks, Lizette and I broke up, but he and I kept hanging out. We’d smoke weed out by the Lloyd Center marshlands and karate-kick old wooden palates apart.
Vin is driving. “What happened to your old car?” I ask.
“The Camaro? Sold it. Thing barely turned over anymore. I traded it for a boat.”
“You got a whole boat for that?”
“Nah,” he shakes his head. “Like a little dinghy boat. I bought this one from the dealership on Route 6. Warranty’s still on it, so I’m gonna wait on parts.”
I punch in the lighter and light a Parliament. Then I crack the window, flick the ash and pinch a thread of tobacco off my tongue with my pinky and thumb. The movement makes me think of all the streets I had bombed down in Vin’s old Camaro, going nowhere.
“So what’s it been, like, a million years?” he says, glancing from the road over to me. Then he grabs my sleeve and shakes me a little to emphasize his excitement and the car swerves.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“My mom’s. I’ve got something to give you and she wants to say hi.”
“Hows your sister?” I ask. “We stopping by Davy’s Locker tonight?”
“You’re gonna start with that shit already?” Vin says, backhanding me in the chest. I laugh. For a second, I forget that I came back to sell my dad’s house.
“Oh, jeez,” Vin’s mom says when she sees me come into her kitchen.
She looks ancient and acts surprised, like Vin’s old friends always pop in and give her a hard time, but she was waiting with a casserole dish with some kind of lasagna in it, all warm and ready to eat almost an hour before midnight. I kiss her on the cheek and hug her around the neck because her huge old lady boobs get in the way and I want to be polite.
Vin taps me on the back of the head and stomps upstairs. I wonder if he has his own place or if he’s been staying here at his mom’s. I imagine that it’s some sort of combination.
“Sit with me. You can stay a minute and talk, Jimmy. Be polite.”
“Of course, Ms. V.”
“Yeah, a little.”
Vin’s mom pushes me into a chair. Then she sways around the range trying to shovel out a neat square of lasagna that slides apart when it gets to the table. I tell her about my job and how I work in an office where I do sales stuff over the internet.
“Oh yeah?” she says, as if selling something over the internet is clever. “You ever do eBay? I do eBay. I sold a box of Vincent’s grandmother’s stuff, but they said I had to bring it all the way to the post office. What a hassle.”
It’s about one in the morning. Vin and I just drank our second pitcher of beer. I took a piss but I still feel really full so I go outside for a cigarette. The Narragansett beer sign in the bar window is really bright. It makes my reflection look goonier than it really is, but no one seems to notice. There aren’t many people outside anyway, or there’s more space, or I don’t know.
Vin comes outside holding his cell phone to his ear. He has these puffy eyes now, which I’ve seen on older blue-collar guys when they drink or are tired. I don’t like that look on his face. It makes him look spent, and I know the night will end before it really even begins and I’ll have to go back to my dad’s house.
“Who’s that on the phone?” I ask. “Mike McCarran.” Vin snaps his cell shut.
“No shit? How’s he doing?”
“Real good. He married a girl from Saugus and he cuts lumber.”
“Are they out doing something?”
“Nah, they’re home with their little girl. Hey, gimme a cigarette.”
I give him one of my Parliaments and light it for him. He breathes fast, trying to enjoy the first breath quickly.
“OK, I’ll be right back. Going out to the car.”
He gives the smoke back and shuffles down the block. I want to ask him about his sister again when he gets back because I want to see her. Not like before, I just want to see somebody I used to know. He and I have been wasting time at the bar just bullshitting about these people, but I really want to see them.
Although I’m not a particularly cheery guy, I want to watch their expressions brighten when they see me because I remind them of a time in their lives when they were younger. Even if I didn’t even know them all that well and my face is just a kind of prop in their memory. Shit, it’s been long enough. I feel like I’ve earned that.
Vin comes back from the car holding a plastic irregularly shaped case with a strap and we go back into the bar. He orders two shots of something you plop into a pint glass. I say, “I’m really full,” but he tells me to sack up and we both down them. I feel like I have a sea of mostly ineffective alcohol in my stomach. The lasagna floats upward, splitting apart slowly like a diagram of the earth.
“That was for your pop,” Vin says. Then he slides the case over to me. I look at him and he’s wondering why I don’t already know what it is. I click open the top part of the hard shell which hinges back to reveal the components inside.
“Why are you giving me a camera, Vin?”
“You don’t remember this one? Your dad gave me this one,” he says, breathing heavily out of his nostrils. He says “this one” like there were a litter of cameras born from a bigger camera somewhere and we picked this one special. He puts an elbow on the bar and rests his head in his hand and looks at it, not touching it.
I can’t recollect my dad ever being into photography. The man spent all his time pulling up lobster pots around Buzzards Bay. When he worked a desk at the harbormaster’s sorting schedules he still never had any hobbies or anything apart from watching whatever game was on and taking mom out to dinner on Sunday.
“Vin, you sure?” I ask with a doubtful tone. But he thinks I’m asking if he’s OK with giving it to me, not whether it was actually my dad’s camera.
“Yeah, man. No problem. There are some rolls of film at the bottom of the case from when he gave it to me.”
The camera is an old heavy analog and its black dials and levers look complicated. I fiddle with some of them but I have no idea what I’m doing or what the little white symbols mean. There is a second lens in a fuzzy compartment inside the case, separate from the one attached to the camera body. I have a hard time picturing my dad even using a camera, much less one that needed two lenses. The thought of him in a store deciding to buy an expensive piece of equipment, a piece that uses not one but two lenses, boggles my mind.
“My dad?” I ask aloud, almost as if Vin might be mistaken.
“Yeah, man. He gave it to me when I was visiting him in hospice. We looked at some of those National Geographic magazines together and he started talking about how convoluted some of them photo shoots are. Like, how those dudes get all the way out in some rainforest in the middle of Buttfuckia just to get one picture. Then, bam, he just up and gives me his camera. Maybe he thought I was you and wanted to be a photographer or something.”
I feel like I don’t know my dad anymore. How was I not there to receive something like this? How was I supposed to know this was coming my way? If I didn’t know this about my dad, then what am I doing pretending and hanging out with fucking Vin here? I get mad and I can’t understand why.
I must have had this look on my face like Vin stepped over some sort of line, because he says, “No, hey, look, man I was just holding onto it. I didn’t use it or nothing. I didn’t even take the caps off the lenses, ’cause I know the dust is bad for them.”
Later, maybe like even a few years later, I’m cleaning out my apartment in L.A. and find this camera again, in the back of my closet where I left it.
I think about how my dad’s house is long gone. Well, not gone, but sold to another family living there now. I wonder how they’re using the driveway and if they tore up that fucking bush.
On the way to the office, I find a pharmacy that still develops film to get those film rolls at the bottom of the case developed. When I get them back, there are a few shots that are just white, as if someone was experimenting with shooting. I think at first that maybe Vin actually did try to use the camera. I hope to see some shots of the Lloyd Center with Vin karate-kicking through stuff. I don’t see that, though.
At the bottom of the stack, there are some old, grainy pictures of the lawn in front of dad’s house, shot from the street. The colors are all tinted blue and brown and the windows on the house have the old awnings on them. I see my mother gardening on the side of the house where the bush grew. Behind her, on one side of the driveway, I am jumping through a sprinkler.