All The Girls in France do the Hoochie Coochie Dance
By Laura Scalzo
The place is Denville, New Jersey. The time will show itself shortly. I am the age from where memories either double helix or disappear. I was smitten with this song and sang it when I played in the yard, outside of my mother’s hearing.
And the way they shake is enough to kill a snake
Girls in France killing snakes with their dancing. I believed it.
On Saturdays, we had a babysitter while my mom went to the high school football games my dad coached. What a love story, those two. The babysitter invited all the kids in the neighborhood into our cellar to watch the black and white scary movies that came on after cartoons.
When my husband and I were house hunting, he’d check the cellar for me, if he came up looking serious, we’d leave.
When the snake is dead they put roses in its head
This honoring of the enemy, I felt the gravity of it.
The trees in our backyard offered low leafy shade. I know they were Maples because they sent out helicopters in the spring. I don’t remember what kind of trees were in the front only that on Sundays in the fall, my dad raked their leaves into piles. Later the assistant coaches would come by in their short sleeve shirts and Vince Lombardi glasses to watch films. A small black and white square of the previous day’s game projected onto a fold-up screen with a soft tick tick tick forward and a loud TOCK TOCK TOCK in reverse. Forward went the players, then backward into their crouching line, forward and backward, forward and backward, as the coaches studied history, again and again.
When the roses die
I knew the trees would get their leaves again, but those purposeful roses? No tock tock tocking them back to life. And here is how I know I was four years old.
They say Nineteen sixty, nineteen sixty, nineteen sixty, FIVE.
In the driveway across the street was a pale shimmer green Ford Mustang, a brand new thing that year, a dream then, as it is now.
published by www.havehashad.com
By Laura Scalzo
The kids found a small skeleton, a squirrel or a baby raccoon, bleached white by winter. Where’d it go? Why is Scout coughing? You had to be careful, a roasted chicken on the counter, a freshly decorated gingerbread house, a cheese tray set out for company, animals the size of that little skeleton, still in their flesh and fur. Our black Lab, Scout, sleek as an otter, exuberant beyond our acceptance, loved, loved, loved, us. Each night he took his place under the bed for story time, forgiving our human hearts, so full and not nearly enough.
The Cigarette Trick
By Laura Scalzo
Mim asked me if I knew the cigarette trick and I said yes. I didn’t but figured it could only be one of a few things. Smoking it backwards, flipping it lit from your hand to your mouth without burning yourself, something like that, or maybe something dirtier.
“So that’s what happened to my dad,” she said.
Now I had questions but it was too late, I’d already said I knew.
We were walking home from the Tastee Freez. Her t-shirt had two footprints on it and the word SLAVE. Mine had a big yellow smiley face.
“Uh oh,” she said and threw her chocolate vanilla twist cone into the gutter.
“Why’d you do that?” I was shocked, neither of us had that kind of money to throw around.
“Here come’s Todd Schick,” she said.
“I don’t ever let boys see me eat.”
It wasn’t until the next year that I came to value boys over ice cream, and many years later that I realized they were both delicious and not mutually exclusive.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that the cigarette trick is when you say you’re going out for a pack of cigarettes but you don’t come home.
I’d meant to ask my mom that night when she came into my room to tell me she loved me and to put my book away and turn out the light but I forgot. I forgot to ask about it.
Yankees at Shea
By Laura Scalzo
Sometimes love arcs and dies in this living breathing sphere of ours and other time it goes on into the next, and the next, and the next. This is what I think about when I think of my first baseball game. This is why I need to know what year the Yankees played their season at Shea.
If my dad were here, he'd know. He’d know in the way lifelong fans keep trivia and stats and he’d know in the way fathers keep sweet fleeting memories. I look it up. The answer is it was two seasons, 1974 and 1975. Yankee Stadium was being renovated and for both those years the Mets shared Shea stadium with their crosstown rivals.
Instead of making their way to the Bronx,Yankee fans took the number 7 train to Queens, or, if you were like us, driving in from the sticks, took multiple highways, tunnels, and bridges. In 1974 or 1975 my father took my sisters and me to our first baseball game. It was always going to be a Yankee game, wherever that might be.
Summers, when our father belonged to us in a way he didn’t during the school year, you’d find him painting a room, probably in a stifling corner of the house, drops of sweat running off his nose. There he’d be, listening to the game on a transistor radio that fit in his hand. It had a leather case with a perforated front over the speaker, and a small square pouch with a snap on the strap which held an earphone I never saw him use. If my dad’s transistor radio played anything other than Yankee games, I don’t remember.
The static of those Yankee games coming through the transistor radio told the story. He wasn’t a New York City boy anymore. This was a standard joke of his, a kid from Staten Island living in Macungie, Pennsylvania. He’d rattle off our suburban subdivision address, ridiculous as they always are, and the room would laugh. Maybe the room was filled with Staten Island cousins who thought we lived in Nowheresville, but it could have been any room. My dad was wary of the world’s snap appraisals of class. It was his way of saying, sure, a house and a lawn is a step up, if you say so. He was out in front of the judgement, keeping himself, us, safe. My father was a fish out of water. That was the joke he was going to beat you to telling, and anyway he had been a fish out of water when he was in water.
My father was a lot of things. He was a college football coach, he was a husband to his one and only love, a girl who grew up a few blocks away, but like so many neighborhoods in New York City, a few blocks was a thousand worlds. He was the father of three daughters, “All my dreams of thundering fullbacks in little skirts.” And here he was again, preempting the question, the question about whether he wanted a son. He did not want a son. He did not need a son. People say dumb things all the time. He was not going to let anyone ask that. It was typical of his gift for perceiving incoming pain and keeping it away. We felt it. Everyone did. Even now, when others try to explain why they loved my father, this is what they’re trying to say.
The day his own father was buried, somewhere around his ninth birthday, they left him at the church. He was the altar boy for the service and when he came outside after putting his robes away, everyone was gone. The grim uncles, the wailing great aunts, the grandmothers, his mother, his brother, the neighbors, all of them, gone off to the cemetery. He waited for a while on the steps of St. Roch’s for someone to remember him and when no one did, he walked home.
Baseball. The father, now dead, and the boy, now deserted, had gone to Yankee games every chance they could. It took a bus, a ferry, and a train to get to Yankee Stadium from Staten Island and every second of it was heaven. And then heaven was gone. It wasn’t hell, just earth.
A common failure of the human heart is equating love with advice and this was especially true in large extended Italian families in the early fifties. A boy with a father who loved the Yankees became a boy with multiple uncles who told him sports were a waste of time. And college was a waste of time. The uncles wanted my father to take the test. The test was the entrance exam to the New York City Police or Fire Departments.
He would not take the test. He went to college, the first in his family. He became the thing he listed next to his high school yearbook photo, a football coach. His passion for sports brought him to Macungie, Pennsylvania and a lifetime of Yankee games bathed in static. Was it a price? Yes. Is it sad? No. It was a good life. It wasn’t perfect, there were sorrowful days . . . but aren’t there always?
It’s 1974 or 1975 and we are driving to Shea Stadium from Macungie, Pennsylvania so my father can take his daughters to their first baseball game. You could feel how important it was, how perfect he wanted it to be. Parents who sow their own memories on their children as outings to old haunts can come away disappointed, almost always, you can’t go home again. Baseball is an exception. It’s all the things you know, all the things you’ve heard about, all the ghosts on their best day.
When the peanuts came, we ate them happily, dutifully, each of us amassing a mountain of shells on our laps.
“No, no,” my dad encouraged, “just throw them on the floor,” but we would not. We could not. Finally, he told us that we’d be taking someone’s job if we didn’t throw those peanut shells on the floor and we relented, but the surprise and awe on my father’s face said it all. Daughter, daughter, daughter, and not one of us could litter like a New Yorker.
So, there we were, a dad, his daughters, the Yankees at Shea Stadium. All of us fish out of water, breathing the Cracker Jack-scented air.
A Cocktail Dress is a Sorry Thing at Eight AM
By Laura Scalzo
A cocktail dress is a sorry thing at eight A.M., but here’s one now, coming up out of the 86th Street subway station.
The wearer of the dress needs pills. She is Kate: Twenty-seven, lean and tall, with a reconstructed knee and a long black ponytail pulled tight at the back of her head.
Kate will never use a needle, not ever. She’s been at it all night, needing and not everring and it’s obvious—the dress for one.
It’s a great dress, black with a navy blue bow across the chest, and since for now there’s some muscle left on her lean frame, in it, Kate is breathtaking.
Kate’s a planner. She has an alphabet of plans, which is how come she’s never desperate. But it’s been all night since Kate arrived at the Paige’s party and Reilly wasn’t there. Reilly was Plan A.
Plan B was a cab to a place she knows in Tribeca. It’s down a flight of stairs and Reed is always there at the back bar. The drinkers and pool shooters in there are sketchy as hell but they leave Kate alone. Kate doesn’t sit down next to Reed but taps him on the shoulder from as far away as possible. He spins on his stool, “Sweetheart,” he says, and hops off eagerly to hug her. Kate hugs him back limply; he squeezes tighter. He puts his hand on the back of her head and pulls her ear down to his mouth, his lips graze her as he whispers his wares. What she is looking for is not on the list.
Plan C is Scott. He doesn’t text he only talks. He’s a little in love with her, always picking up on the first ring. He whispers in the phone, “Kaaaaaaaaate. Keepin’ beautiful?”
This is harder for Kate than Reed’s grazing lips.
“I’m in Queeeeeeeens.” His gravelly whisper is a hundred knives on the back of Kate’s neck. “There’s a bunch of us out here. We’re hanging with Houdini. Harry Houdini.”
Kate doesn’t answer.
“At his grave. Meet up, I’m good,” Scott says, “I got everything.”
Kate never believed in Queens or any of the boroughs, not even Brooklyn, but Kate’s been broken and remade.
If she’d ever found a reason to go to Queens before, she’d at least had enough money to take a cab, but it’s not like that anymore. She walks to the Canal Street station and waits for the J Train to Cypress Hills.
The train is empty except for a reasonable looking couple asleep on each other. It’s the middle of the night but the things Kate fears have changed. She can’t remember what letter plan she’s on as she walks down Jamaica Avenue.
The grave of Houdini, what the hell?
Scott had said it was near the road you couldn’t miss it, but there were graves everywhere. This is why she never came to Queens. God fucking dammit. She sees the sign for Cypress Hills Cemetery, but no Houdini.
Houdini has vanished. Of course he has.
Kate calls Scott, “I’m here. I don’t see anybody.”
“It’s by the road, right on the road, we’re here,” Scott whispers and slurs.
“But someone beat you to my O, these guys. I’m out. Come see me though.”
Kate hangs up and calls me. It takes her the rest of the night to get home.
She tells me all this on the corner of 86th and Lex, even the part about Reed, which seems pretty personal. She’s loosening, Kate is. In fact, I now see, there’s almost nothing left of her. Still, she’s trying.
We stand there in the middle of the morning commute. I can feel her remembering how she used to be funny, how she used to be not just pretty, but . . . sexy. She is willing me to feel this, I can tell, but willing and being are not the same.
For my part, I’m tired of selling Kate pills. And this story about a trip to Queens in the middle of the night to find Harry Houdini breaks my heart. I tell her I’m out of pills, everybody’s out. I don’t give a good goddamn or even know if everybody’s out or not, but that’s what I say.
I hold out my arms palms up and shrug.
Kate just stands there.
“I’ll help you,” I say.
She squints at the sun, like there’s something up there she lost and if she looks hard enough she’ll find it again. Good luck with that, the sun is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. I laugh. Silently, I’m not cruel.
I’m not sentimental either, but I let her squint at the sun a while longer. Whatever she’s looking for is not only gone, at 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, it’s long gone. But, hey, I think, that’s an extremely sterile needle and I silently laugh again.
Kate is very white. She can’t last much longer.
I shift my backpack from one shoulder to the other and put out my hand. Kate takes it.
“I like your bow,” I say. And I do, it looks nice, even at eight in the morning.
Death Match, NYC
By Laura Scalzo
We were ruined even before the New York skyline lay decapitated in our window. That day if you could make a phone call you called everyone, I love you, you said, and if you couldn’t make a phone call you grabbed the nearest person and held on.
You carried the girl in three-inch heels across the Brooklyn Bridge, you got in your car and drove as fast as you could to your child’s daycare, you turned on the TV and prayed, you perished, you survived. You did all these things but we didn’t. We didn’t perish. We didn’t survive.
Eighty million years ago, Velociraptor grips the head of Protoceratops and lodges his foot claw in its neck. Oh, Protoceratops! Your showy neck frill is no match for that sickle-shaped scalpel adapted to slash and disembowel. Still, you clamp your beaky leaf-eating mouth on Velociraptor’s arm and break it. And you leave it there. Forever.
White Dust fell like hard snow. It was our version of the sandstorm that preserved the death match Velociraptor and Protoceratops.
Me, like a wish, like a librarian, like a slanty-truthed salad eating homebody, awed, stricken, and lucky. You, like a miracle, like greatness, like Gretsky in the Garden, lethal, wiry, and powerful.
How bold we’d been that day in the Dinosaur Hall. How careless not to notice what might happen.
When it was too late, I wondered. Would the dust bury us? Would our fossilized remains be locked in mortal combat for all time? Would someone momentarily airy and untroubled look at them on display with passing interest?
Would they say, “Let’s go down to the whale room and lie on the floor”?
Would they lie in the Hall of Ocean Life staring up at the Giant Blue Whale and consider its near extinction? Would they feel awed and relieved to be outside of themselves and away from the cross purposes of love and combat?
The door is locked. The window is locked. The WiFi is locked. Chry is locked. She shouts come in but doesn’t get up. Me, Natalie, Gigi, Nate crush into the house after we first yank yank yank the storm until it gives way and then one two three heave the big oak door until it opens.
NOTEVENHOUDINI ALL CAPS Nate yells and the WiFi unlocks but Chry does not.
She’s sunk deep in the sofa, legs angled up. Her hair, usually long, wavy, and brown, is wrapped tight on the top of her head. She’s wrapped in a robin’s egg blue blanket and staring at her hands holding her phone.
We have weed, we say, we have tequila, we have money, we have tickets, we have everything, we say.
Choose we say. Poem. Gun. Eyeball. Show. Teeth. Tongue. Sword. Book. We shout words at Chry the way we yanked and pushed the doors. Chry jumps up. Tongue she says. She wasn’t relaxing or texting or reading or praying, she wasn’t doing anything.
She runs to me. (ME!) You she says, Henry she says. She kisses me deep and long and I kiss her the same. Finally. I unlock Chry and she is gold and I am gold and Natalie and Gigi and Nate are gold because they made me come to Chry’s house. Stop talking about her and go see they said before and see ya they say now and we are Chry and me and we are gold.
By Laura Scalzo
I know this girl, Peony. She has an ambitious streak that makes her do weird things and a bunch of fears that make no sense. Nothing big but if you count it up with the other small stuff you can see problems down the road. I told her what basically amounts to all that and we never spoke again.
It was five years easy of parties, dinners, and meet ups. No one noticed. Maybe even we didn’t notice. Yeah, we did.
Then came the weddings. We married each other—not me and Peony—all of us who hung around together. Man, there were weddings. We went to country clubs and barns and beaches. We went all over the place until there wasn’t anyone left to marry except Peony and me.
Have you ever fucked a flower? I recommend it just don’t try telling it what its problem is.
Before we stopped speaking, Peony stayed two weeks in the city with me. I’m on the 41st floor. It’s a nice place though at the time I didn’t have any furniture, just a bed. We ordered the world those couple of weeks starting with Chinese, ending with hot dogs from Gray’s Papaya.
The first night, Chinese night, was a Sunday. We’d woken up at my place to white clouds floating in a blue sky. I don’t have blinds but there’s no one else up that high to see in. She left late afternoon then came back with something to wear to work on Monday.
Every day at lunch she bought a new outfit for the next day. They were all similar. Tight black skirts on the long side with soft sweaters in pale shades. Maybe it was the same skirt, the sweaters were definitely different. I think it was the same shoes the whole time. I liked them, black heels, kinda strappy, but she didn’t teeter around the way some girls in high shoes do.
The only make up she wore was lipstick in colors similar to her sweaters. Maybe it was the same color and the sweaters made it look different. I don’t know. Her eyes were so blue they were their own make up, you could say.
She was bold buying those clothes, never worrying I might not want her to stay another night, but she was right, I always wanted her to stay.
We played chess. We played rounds and rounds of Truth or Dare. It’s a little girl’s slumber party game but our version was anything but. Something for the record books, if there were record books, which there aren’t.
Our friends called us separately—they didn’t know we were together—wondering why we weren’t hanging out after work but we wouldn’t say. We enjoyed that. It was a big group, the friends, college pals cross-pollinated with work and home friends. Peony was Jillian’s work friend. I was her roommate’s brother’s friend.
We drank all the alcohol I owned and then got more. We listened to every kind of music and acted like what the music was, eighties dancing to the Violent Femmes, cheek to cheek to Frank Sinatra, a wacked-out salsa dance to Latin Beat, everything. We put on the White Stripes as loud as it would go and ran around like over-ritalined 12-year olds. The walls in my building are thick. No one heard. I was glad about not having anyone knock on the door to complain. I didn’t know anyone on my floor. I still don’t.
We went to bed at ten like a married couple then stayed up all night like we’d just met in a club. We didn’t miss a minute of work but came straight home after to nap for a few hours before deciding which country to eat from.
We invented a game called File Cabinets, she did. You open a pretend file drawer and rummage through it. You pull out a file and say, Summer 2015 low light and the other person has to say a crappy thing that happened then. You could also say highlight or love interest or favorite day or anything. It was during this game that I told Peony I was glad my mom was in a coma when she died so her last thought wasn’t regret. Not regret for dying, that was her intention, but regret for the other stuff.
Peony had asked for a memory that made me happy and I said the Mom coma thing. She said she didn’t think that qualified so I told her how I burned down the tree fort in my back yard that next summer. I told her how it had been a controlled operation with my buddies on hand with hoses and buckets. You can wreck your own stuff if you want to. I believe.
She asked me to try again. I could see what she was getting at. I told her how I had made a shot at the buzzer in a high school game. It wasn’t an important game, but it was a great shot. My dad came up to me after and hugged me. He wasn’t thinking anything about my mom when he hugged me, I could tell. It was a one-time thing that time. No her no shadow of her.
When I told Peony about her weird ambitious streak and nonsensical fears that was the last day, the Gray’s Papaya day.
Everyone’s off doing their own things now. I think about Peony from time to time. I think about her soft sweaters and all the stuff that was in her file cabinet. I could tell you about that too but why bother.