“No, I should only be here for a couple of days…I am helping my parents move, they are finally leaving…well, they wanted to leave like five years ago, I don’t know what the hell took them so long…no don’t worry I’ll be back in New York Monday…okay, yeah, okay I have to go I’m driving buh-bye!” Nick hung up his cell phone and slyly scanned his surroundings for cop cars as a smirk gleamed across his face; everyone enjoys getting away with a small crime. He pulled up to the stop sign at the corner of Lenox Avenue and Wanaque Avenue. He was at a pivotal point of his hometown. If he remained on Lenox he would soon encounter every school he had ever attended. If he turned left onto Wanaque he would come across stores and businesses that constituted the main stretch of commerce that the comically small town of Pompton Lakes boasted.
Either way made it to his parent’s house, his childhood house. It was only a matter of which memory lane to take the trip down. As he stopped idly attempting to make his decision a voice on the radio caught his attention; enough for him to want to turn it up.
“And that was the new single from The Strokes, now we will take you back to 1999 here is The Offspring with ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright'” He turned left onto Wanaque Ave to take the long way to his destination. His car bumped and jerked as he drove over potholes and cracks long unsealed in the street.
The radio crackled and fuzzed. “Whoa! Was gonna make it big in every beat whoa!” Nick barreled along through the lyrics with an off key slur “the kids are grown up but their lives are worn whoa! How can one little street swallow so many lives!” He closed his eyes when hitting the exceptionally higher note of “lives” and when he reopened them he found himself and his car in a deadly game of chicken with a new mother, a stroller, and a grocery bag topped off with some lettuce. Nick braked suddenly realizing in a split second that if the remaining ten feet between them was not used for stopping he would have a lot to answer for. Luckily there was no bloodshed on Wanaque Avenue that day; at least not caused by him. His head jerked forward then back and what seemed to be hidden from his view just several seconds ago — what seemed to be hidden from his view his entire life — had suddenly become clear.
The lady with the stroller quickly scurried across the faded lines of the crosswalk cursing the unknown driver as she bent her knees in order to get the front two wheels on top of the decaying sidewalk. The street looked like a victim of erosion; like a river came by once a month and moved the gravel and small rocks around in chaotic disarray. Nick began to drive again in a half-daze. He passed the corner of Hamburg and Wanaque which was now host to an abandoned building with a ‘For Rent’ sign hanging between the dirty window and the dusty interior. At age 15, he, John, and Brian would stop with their bikes attempting to decide which way to go. John would name every kind of car that came down the street while Brian would chat up his current girlfriend telling her ‘of course we can hang out later, I am just going to ride with the guys for a bit longer.’ John would later be arrested for attempting to steal a Volkswagen Jetta and Brian was a Congressman for a year; until his multiple affairs were discovered.
Nick drove up and stopped at the street light newly turned red. He looked to his right to the only long-term successful business in town, The Cardinal, a diner and café whose main business was serving the high school kids at lunch. Three teens sat in one booth apparently having a joyous time flicking paper at another group of teens in the next booth over. He remembered sitting there with Christian, Gavin, and Bridget taking breaks from their hectic high school lives by inhaling a burger in the forty minutes allotted to them for lunch. Christian and Bridget would be laughing and flirting together. They were delighting in their relationship that eventually flourished into marriage while Gavin had eyes glued to the TV making sure the Yankees were not losing him $5. The marriage did not last long after Christian was accused of fraud and terminated from his accounting firm. He would have turned to his best friend for cash but Gavin had gotten in deep with loan sharks and disappeared under a new identity. No one had heard from Frank since.
Nick turned left to a group of children playing in an abandoned lot; using the giant heaps of stones as fortifications for their game of war. They were fighting and killing each other with guns made of old burnt wood and shields of old plastic candidate signs advertising to “Vote for Robert Cohen, Town Council.” One kid was even sporting a bazooka made of old plastic piping. It used to be a hardware store, Nick had taken a minute to think, and Stewart used to work there after high school. What had happened, Nick asked himself, it was in the news, ‘BOY IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER ACCIDENTAL FIRE.’
Rest in Peace, Nick thought as the light turned green and he covered the last few blocks of Wanaque Avenue. He travelled over the railroad tracks covered with weeds; there had been no working train line in Pompton Lakes since the early 1980s. There were no businessmen going to and from work on a daily basis. No intake of shoppers or restaurant eaters on the weekends. No one came to Pompton anymore; everyone just left. The only train car still standing in the town was a red caboose with the word “Susquehanna” written in bold on the side; an old Indian word long lost of meaning. Nick passed it and turned right onto Packanack Avenue and with that turn he was into the residential section of Pompton Lakes and at 15 Packanack Ave he pulled into his old driveway. He paused for a moment after he turned off the engine and let his head hit the rest and stay there.
“How could one little street…” Nick whispered to himself as he got out the car and slammed the door shut. He walked a few more feet and took in a deep breath to compose himself before entering his parent’s soon-to-be-old house. By the time he walked to the front door his smile had returned. He had not forgotten his newly rediscovered past, but just successfully repressed it for now in order to let new memories enter his mind; those of his childhood home. He rang the doorbell then knocked twice and his mother slowly opened the door and the first thing to hit Nick was the old smell; a mix between vanilla and cinnamon. It radiated from the kitchen as if a hot pot of tea was just poured over a host of tea bags all in a line. For moving day the house looked immaculate.
“Nick, what happened to you? I thought you were going to be here a half hour ago?” Mrs. Laverdi stood on her tip toes to put her arm around her son. Naturally, he hunched as much as possible to make it easier for her.
“I know I know I’m sorry mom, I almost hit some produce on the way over.”
“You hit what?”
“Nothing forget about it. Where is dad?” Nick took his coat off and laid it on the banister directly in front of him. The staircase was the first thing people saw when entering the house. The gradual arch of it made it the pinnacle of all photo ops for proms, graduations, and weddings. Any formal event would end with “okay one more on the stairs come on.” The white paint had begun to chip off of it two years back. Somehow it survived two sons and a host of their friends grasping it as they double jumped the steps, but as soon as the boys moved out the paint began to wear thin. To up the resale value, Mr. Laverdi had painted it a new sleek brown.
“Oh who knows, he could be anywhere, he is bopping about making sure we don’t leave anything behind that we might want. I told him three times, three times! To get rid of this one stupid gold lamp. Remember the lamp that was in the basement? I told him it’s cracked, the light bulbs probably aren’t even made anymore. But he can’t part with it, he can’t part with anything Nick, ANYTHING!”
“Haha! I know mom, I know, I’ll steal it and put it out on the curb, or convince him that I want it and then just throw it out.” He followed his mom into the kitchen where she was still bubble wrapping items. He ran his finger along the counter top and remembered the times he used to sit there with his arms outstretched begging for food in the summer when he was not actually hungry; just bored. It was a daily routine. He would beg for food, his mom offered him vegetables and his dad offered him a pb and j sandwich. Faced with the horrible choices, Nick would shake his head and attempt to find some other form of amusement. He yearned for boredom these days; a break from the bee hive that is sales.
“Want some lemonade? It isn’t cold, the movers packed the fridge away already, but it should still be good.”
“Uh yeah sure why not, you got glasses you haven’t put away yet?” She handed him a glass he had never seen before, probably one acquired after he had moved to the city. He took a sip and the lemon stung a small cut on his lower lip but it still tasted refreshing.
“So how’s work? You ever ask for that promotion? You’ve been there three years, they have to throw something your way. You do good work there!”
“Mom I haven’t closed a sale in two months, I’m lucky they are keeping me on at all.” Nick said, while he took another gulp of lemonade and tried to avoid the cut as much as possible.
“Well that’s because you are a sucky salesman.”
Nick started to laugh and clap his hands together as he buckled over the chair.
“Thanks for the support mom.”
“Well it’s true. You shouldn’t be in sales, that was your father’s thing, he could do it he could sling bull shit all day to people. You are too truthful to do that, you know what your talent is Nick.”
“What, writing? Isn’t that slinging bull too? Just in paper form?”
“Oh! It is completely different you stubborn ass, why did you move to the city in the first place. It wasn’t to sell hair gel to the mother’s of dandruff ridden teenagers!”
Nick looked down at the lemonade glass; he would prefer to squeeze a lemon directly onto that cut right now than to have this conversation again with his mother.
“I tried it mom, I did. No one took me. No one wanted to sign me on as a writer, no theatre bought my work, not even a greeting card company gave me a call back. I am not having this phone conversation in person, I don’t even like it over the phone.” Nick stood up and began to walk toward the back door. “I’m going to find dad, maybe he needs help with something without a lecture attached to it.” He walked outside and instead of a smell this time a bug nearly crawled up his nose. He looked at the back yard he once cherished so deeply. Every spring he would play baseball. The backyard was converted into a baseball diamond, bases were set up using pieces of wood, and the grass was flattened to mark the baselines. Nick walked out into the middle of the yard; grass still did not grow where home plate once rested.
“Hey hey! My boy! Stop standing around, come help me unscrew this hose stand, I want to take it with us, they can buy their own hose, this one still works, I know exactly where on the new house I am going to put it.” Mr. Laverdi did not get close enough to hug his son, he never really did, just stood at the perfect shouting distance. Nick smiled and followed his dad to the side of the house where he was unsuccessfully attempting to unscrew a hose wheel that was attached to the side of the deck.
“Dad, why do you want to take that with you? Here give me the screw driver.” Nick got on his back and tried to reach the screw that was behind the wheel, without having to unravel the whole hose. He angled it to the left, no luck, then to the right, no luck, after two minutes he got off the ground. “Would you just leave it here, I will buy you a new one!”
“Nick, there is nothing wrong with this one. You didn’t even try, you just jiggled it around for two seconds, give me that.” As Mr. Laverdi laid back down on the ground Nick walked back inside the house using the side door and walked downstairs to the basement. He flipped the light switch. His dad must have taken some of those bulbs too; it only half lit up. He sidestepped among the labeled boxes, “Records A-M” “Quebec ’99” “Christmas Decorations” “Tax Receipts” “PLHS ’08.” Nick chuckled slightly and could not help but look at his old yearbook album. The dust puffed up in a cloud as he opened the box and it infiltrated his mouth and eyes. The binding of the yearbook cracked a little as he opened to the signature page. ‘This summer is going to rock dude! Partying it up until college! -Chris’ ‘Dear Nick, remember that time I dared you to climb to the roof of my barn? Then I pegged that ball at you and you fell? Yeah, still not sorry for that! See ya later! -Gavin’ ‘Nick, we gotta get you drunk this summer man, you do crazy shit as is! This summer will be great can’t wait till shore, college students finally whoo! – Brian.’
“Crazy bastards all of them,” Nick laughed, closed the box and walked back upstairs to the kitchen where his mom had moved on to wrapping plates. He sat down at the table and remained silent while running a piece of bubble wrap through his fingers.
“I’m sorry about before, you just have so much potential Nick it just hurts.”
“I know Mom, it’s okay I am still writing ya know, always writing, hoping for a break but until then I need to live somehow.”
“I know Nick, I know, just wish you were happier, but I’ll drop it. Oh! How is Brian? We don’t watch as much TV as we used to, and the paper subscription we stopped that a long time ago, he still a Congressman?”
Nick sat there silent for a few moments more.
“Yeah Mom, he is that small town success story.”