Bud Smith lives in NYC, and works heavy construction in New Jersey, building and maintaining power plants and refineries. His books are the novels...read more Tollbooth and F-250, the short story collection Or Something Like That and the poetry collection Everything Neon.
*Over the bridge, into my city. Washington Heights. 178th street and Haven Avenue, apex of the brutal summer. The fire hydrants aren't open for some reason.
Blame the police. Who else is there to blame? I have my arm hanging out the window, making the loop around the neighborhood- looking for street parking.
I can do this in my sleep. Rolling through stop signs, scanning left, scanning right. Stick shift, brake squeal. One more lap. Circle out. Circle back in, hunting down a place to abandon my vehicle through the night. I’m a person without a driveway and too broke to pay for a parking garage. A part of me likes it that way. I get to know every building in the neighborhood. The architecture. Where the trash cans are placed. If anybody interesting hangs out on the stoops.
Which stoops? Who? What they sell? I know how many spots are available on each block, the number of hydrants. What blocks aren’t good to park on because the windows get smashed in for pocket change left on the console. What blocks are bad because of all the trees.
The following day- you’ll be startled to see your car covered in so much bird shit that it looks like it’s been white washed. What blocks are the blocks where the cars just disappear… as if you could just remember what street you parked on- but never would. It doesn’t take too long. There it is- a white conversion van sprayed green, yellow, purple. It's backing out of an easy spot. My luck. My sweet, sweet luck. I put on my blinker.
Wait. The street is quiet. It’s a Dominican neighborhood and usually the sound of Reggaeton carries on the wind. Today there is no wind and there is no music. Most of the people tucked off of the stoops, waiting for the heat to break- in front of their air conditioners. Ice cubes on their wrists. Electric fans blowing in their face. Pitbulls sweating out of their tongues, laying under wobbly kitchen tables.
...read more (2/3)To my right and above me there's a public park. Usually, people are there laying in the grass, playing dominoes at the chess tables, hitting baseballs on the basketball courts.
The van starts to move. Leaving. Really leaving. Not a false alarm. I know there has to be a catch.
What could the catch be? Where do they have me on this one? Then I see it, the first of the explosions. A water balloon comes over the chain link fence from above. Unseen kids launching them. More explosions.
SPLOT! SPLOT! SPLOOOSH! Balloons rain down on the van as it pulls away, accelerates up the street- wipers on. I pull up, cut my wheel, back in smooth against the curb. Without mercy, the water balloons come down on my truck.
SPLOOOSH! SPLOOOSH! It's a stand off. If I get out of the truck, I get soaked. No umbrella either. What I have, is ten bags of groceries. That's the only thing that stops me from making a move. I'm a sitting duck trying to get groceries out.
Fuck it. It's hot out, and getting hit with a water balloon would probably feel pretty good right now. I sit there debating. Then, I begin to divide my groceries between frozen and non frozen food. I make a run for it with the frozen food and use the pizza box as a shield. That’s exactly what I would do.
Another attack, as if to say, “We didn't forget about you, YOU'RE OURS TO DEVOUR WITH OUR DOOMSDAY WEAPONS!” Then, an old woman pulls up beside me in a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. Her hair is done up very nice. A perm. Business clothes. A lot of make up. She rolls her window down, "Excuse me... are you..." She doesn't get to finish the question. A fat yellow water balloon strikes her in the lower chin. She doesn't even get a chance to flinch. She attempts to roll the window up, another balloon comes at her, clipping the top edge of the window, water exploding in her face. Now drenched, water logged, hair hung in front of her eyes, her mascara runs onto her clean white collar. She looks angrily at me. "UUUUUUUUGHHHH!" She says from behind her window.
Was I in on it? She puts the car into gear, guns it up the street.
See you in Hell! I have a good laugh. I go into the back, get as many grocery bags as I can carry. I decide to make a move. First, I remove the large frozen pizza box to use as my shield. Then I open up the passenger side door- stealthily poised as possible. No balloons follow me. ...read more (3/3)I cross the street. I make my way to the apartment building. A woman is walking her little shitty dog. She's got a couple of balloons. The dog has one too. I go into the building. I put my groceries away, then make my way up to the roof of the building. I can see the kids in the park. Two skinny spanish kids and a fat white boy. They're having a good time up there on the high ground. An older woman comes out of an adjacent building. She has a cellphone in her hand. She shouts, "YOU BETTER KNOCK IT OFF UP THERE OR I'M GONNA CALL THE POLICE! THAT'S RIGHT! I'M GONNA CALL THE POLICE ON YOU! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THAT!" Balloons launch at her but she's out of range.
All somebody has to do is go around the block and come up behind them through the park. I check my cabinet. No balloons.
I'm a grown man, why the fuck would I have balloons? I sit by the window, watching- but nothing comes of it. Enough has happened. The day is over. The sun is sinking- resembling a weight that's falling and causing a different curtain to rise. The night. The summer night... Gradually what will happen to the street, happens to the street. A breeze comes off of the river and people one by one begin to shut off their air conditioners- start to leave their apartments. I watch them come out with neon lawn chairs, set them on the sidewalks, cool drinks in their hands. Ice. Laughter. A small table. Some dominoes. Talking about the day to each other. The radios come alive. The dogs appear on leashes. The stoops fill up.
After a few fried eggs- over easy, I go down to talk to them about what we always talk about. Our street, which by that I mean, our lives.