On the street where I grew up people didn't live so much as they died. Big deaths, little deaths. Nate Wasserman -- father of Bobby, Joe and Arnold, who I babysat once, who jumped me, stole my glasses, and hid them from me -- he was the first to go. A jeweler, he was ambushed on a trip to Jamaica, gunned down in an alleyway behind his hotel. When they found his body, the jewels he'd been carrying were long gone. He was the man who lit fireworks in his backyard every Fourth of July. My parents didn't approve. They shook their heads and said it wasn't safe, kids lost their hands doing stuff like that. To us kids, though, he was a folk hero. He'd brought fireworks to Chestnut Street. His death was one of our most dramatic.

It was a small inconspicuous street, with a cul-de-sac at the end so you could turn around, but the death and cancer rates on it were spectacular. People said there used to be a swamp where the street is, and they'd filled it in with something, made it liveable. Now people are saying there might have been dioxin in the fill, that they're going to have to shut the whole area down, make it something like a ghost town.

It was a peaceful little suburban street, not a lot of noise on it, unless we were playing football, complete with passing patterns behind parked cars.
Our football games were orchestrated by an older kid, Jack Baylor, who went just by "Baylor" and had an authentic, professional NFL football that he'd caught in the stands during one of the Bears games. He always played quarterback and his team always won. He could really whip a football. The question was whether any of us could catch it.

He had short legs, but could outrun any of us. With his index finger, he would map out each of our passing patterns on another boy's back. "Okay, Sam," he would say, "go straight out about five steps, then hook back, like this, behind that blue Impala and then out again." We'd watch, careful students, as he diagrammed our paths.

Baylor's father got lung cancer when Baylor was eighteen, when we were all too big to play football on the street anymore. And, by then, he was already in college, studying to be whatever he would become.

We usually played our games strictly on the straight part of the street, never venturing into the cul-de-sac, where the Reisers lived. They were sort of an odd bunch, I don't really remember why now, maybe just because they were quiet. Nobody really knew them, none of the three boys played football in the fall, or baseball in the summer, or basketball in the spring, just after the thaw, like the rest of us. They kept to themselves. Andrew was in my sister Laura's grade. He was always bringing bugs to school, threatening to throw them down girls' backs. His older brother, Jeremiah, was a studious sort, into science and blowing things up.

Andrew was the wild one. One day he was playing with three other boys by the railroad tracks, about a half mile from Chestnut Street. He was only thirteen. They were down by the tracks, drinking whiskey from a flask one of the boys had snuck from his father's bar. It started like that, only then Andrew made his dare. At least, that's how one of the other boys, Mark McConnell, told it afterwards. They didn't have the guts, Andrew said, to lay right down on the tracks while the train was approaching. "Oh yeah!" the others had replied vehemently. Boys in our neighborhood always took dares seriously, although with this one, Mark McConnell admitted, he was a little shaky. Even so, they'd waited together for the 4:45 freight. It was right on time. At 4:43 they heard its whistle, felt the tracks' vibrations. It was then that Andrew had calmly laid down. The other boys, looking at one another, followed his example. "Now, the one of us who stays down the longest is the real man. The rest of you are all pussy shits. Right?"

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About Mitchell Waldman


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Mitchell Waldman is the author of the short story collection, PETTY OFFENSES AND CRIMES OF THE HEART (Wind Publications, 2011), and the novel, A FACE IN THE MOON. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in many other publications, including, among others, Kairos Literary Magazine, Literally Review, Corvus...read more Review, Random Sample, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Faircloth Review, Crack the Spine, Epiphany, Foliate Oak, The Legendary, Connotation Press, new aesthetic, Longshores Literary Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, Worldwide Hippies, Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Review, eclectic flash, and eFiction Magazine. His writing has also appeared in the anthologies Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust (Northwestern University Press, 1998), Messages from the Universe (iUniverse, 2002), and America Remembered (Virgogray Press, 2010). Waldman was also co-editor (with Diana May-Waldman) of the anthologies, Wounds of War: Poets for Peace, and Hip Poetry 2012, and serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. For more information, see his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.
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