Norton’s Big Check

This story poem about a working class hero’s lost weekend, which First originally published in 2012, is a favorite of Mark Dudzic and it brings home class struggles that inform Dudzic’s analysis of Trumpism. (See Mr. D.’s post below.) Like Dudzic, Smucker is alive to the difference between the collective idea that still shapes aspects of working class culture and the ethos of “The Golden Boy on the Way Up.”

Smucker finds lyricism in lives at risk of being trumped now, if only in the society of spectacle. Whenever this editor re-reads “Norton’s Big Check,” I’m reminded of Hemingway’s memorable mockery of proletarian lit in the bar scene late in To Have and Have Not. But “Norton’s Big Check” is no joke. Though it’s not solemn. It even has something like a happy ending. While Smucker isn’t beamish, that finish is a sign he believes in more than Hem’s nada.  B.D.

two Series in the Bronx,
before the second one in Queens,
after all the Stanley Cups at Nassau Coliseum,
Norton sleeps the sleep of men with extra dreams.
…Of men who’ve just changed shifts to nights from evenings.
…On Monday mornings when alarms have long since rung,
…And neighbors are already into work on subways riding
…from neighborhoods somewhere between
…green lawns and broken windows.

long since the time of Willis Reed, Tom Seaver, and Joe Namath,
after Norton Sr. passed away, before the second baby,
…Norton has the time to find
…dreams lost behind his current dreams,
…from high school days and Connie Francis movies
…and the Harry Belafonte record that his Dad brought back from
…Florida the weeks he worked construction years ago.

Inside the dream his parents move
…the old apartment house in Brooklyn
…with their neighbors to a palm-treed swimming pool
…containing Connie and Dolores Hart
…and Paula Prentis and Yvette Mimeaux.
…His Dad and Mr. Kramden,
…standing on a fire escape
…are toasting them with highballs
…while his Mom and Mrs. Kramden
…chat on lawn chairs looking at the surf
…and Harry’s singing “Day-O” and The Flying Nun

flies overhead to get the phone.

…which keeps on ringing
…as he realizes he’s alone.
…His wife is over at
…her mother’s with the baby.
Shit! “Hello.”
…It’s Golden Boy, The Young Man On His Way Upstairs.
…“your tour is days…an hour late…
…burst pipes…a flood
…third level escalation…meet me
…at the Ridgewood warehouse with
…a truck by 10 am and I won’t dock you tardy.”
In the shower Norton doesn’t mind
…the quick goodbye to Connie and Dolores,
…contemplating running to the
…subway, breakfast of a coffee
…and a buttered roll,
…or working out in Ridgewood. But he’s
…bothered by the edge he hears behind that only too familiar
Now I’ve Got You voice of Golden Boy.

He’s bagged me and he wants to chop me up for chum to lure a big one.

…Norton’s sure to shave
without a cut.
Can’t let The Young Man On His Way Upstairs smell blood.
…inside the warehouse
…Norton locates
…Golden Boy
…in boots and business suit
…gone fishing for additions
…to his resume
…above a trickling stream
…that’s leaking
…from a fire hose valve
…and flowing to
…an unplugged drain
…below spare parts
…to old technologies
…in cardboard boxes
…safely stacked
…on six inch skids, “Priorities…remove
…the damage…shifting stock…contained protected
…section…static sensitive … Division Staff inspection”
Norton tries
to focus on
his own concerns
as he begins
to drag a skid
across the floor:
If I was
…with Dolores
…on the yacht and Hamilton’s
…not there, Should I invite
…Yvette Mimeaux?
At noon
they “break and
grab a sandwich at
the deli…eat
back at the warehouse…monitor the moisture levels.”
Norton has to listen
to a tale as long as lunchtime
of a roast beef Golden Boy
remorsefully informed his wife to
not defrost tonight
since he was working late,
that would remain inside
…the Freezer Full of Steaks & Roasts & Chops
…of their New Renovated Kitchen
…in the House Out On the Island
…just a Short Drive From the Shore.
…I guess Dolores
…and whoever’s
…on the yacht
…have left the dock
…without me,
…he concedes
…when he returns
…to dragging skids
…and he can’t
…find them in his daydreams.
At 3 he’s only dreaming of a warm bath and a beer.
By 6
he’s trying to guess
when they will stop
because he knows
the water’s all drained down,
the valve’s replaced,
and overnight the floor will dry
so there’s no chance of bosses dropping by
and handing out promotions.

But by 9 when Golden Boy declares
the warehouse is
secure and says “Proactively
…anticipating future flooding…keep
…exceeding expectations…truck
…at 8 A.M. tomorrow…here A.S.A.P.”
…he knows
…The Young Man On
…His Way Upstairs
…has trapped himself
…and he’s trapped with him.
And he
drives the truck
to the garage and rides
the subway home
to skip the bath and beer
and fall into
a dreamless sleep.
On Tuesday
Golden Boy arrives with diagrams
he clutches on a clipboard
like he’s got
the winning game plan for
the Super Bowl that shows
“the optimal location of each
carton in relation to
the drain and door.”
This lunatic will have me shoving shit around forever looking for his attaboys
if I don’t fi gure out
a way to make a call up to the union so I
find out can he do this.
But at lunch again
they walk
…together to the deli for a sandwich, eat
…together at the warehouse and
…again he has to hear the story of
…the Steaks & Roasts & Chops that are
…awaiting un-defrosted Just a Short Drive From The Shore.

An afternoon restacking stock
drags into night
as Norton’s forced to
listen to the Young Man share his sorrow.
He will miss tomorrow’s weekly
luncheon in Manhattan with
The Others On Their Way Upstairs
and therefore miss
the prime ribs, chicken parmegian, or
fish fillet, the baked potato
in that fancy foil with sour cream and chives,
the salad in that little wooden bowl
with french or thousand island dressing, rolls and
butter, pie and extra coffee, the flirtatious yet efficient waitress.

Norton works and
…YoungMan paces
…while aloud he wonders
…if as compensation
…he deserves to reach the
…Legendary Ridgewood Bratwurst just a short walk from the
…warehouse without jeopardizing any chance of making an impression
…should Division Man decide to visit.
…And when Young Man
…mourns again the frozen meats of home
…the weary Norton, searching for a way
to make a break, begins to
…that lunch is it.
So Wednesday he wakes up an hour early,
…brown bags one baloney sandwich,
…slips out while the wife and kid are still asleep
…and fills himself with
…sausage, eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee
…at the diner by the subway. Drives the truck
…And makes it to the warehouse
…so damn early that he’s waiting,
…thumbing through the Daily News
…when Young Man’s walking
…in at 5 to 8
…with color coded graphs
…to dramatize their progress.
Norton counters
with his brown bag decoy
“Having what the wife fixed”
when they break for lunch and when
the boss is out the door
and headed for the deli

Norton’s On The Phone.
I thought my tour switched to nights but I’m on days. I’d overslept. This guy’s gone crazy moving boxes. Got 10 hours overtime so far but can they loan me out here to a warehouse? I’m at top craft and I’m qualified.”

The Business Agent At The Local:
“Top craft pay for safe work, temporary transfer, they can make you clean latrines. But are you sure you’re days? I thought I saw you posted nights for winter.”

Norton, Thinking:
“Yeah, you’re right, that should be my rotation. Did this jerk get so excited when he heard about a flood and saw a chance for attaboys he checked the list
for spring?”

The Business Agent’s Calculation:
“Contract states you’re posted 12 to 8 that’s straight pay, shifted time and a half for 8 to 5 and everything from 5 to 12 is overtime where you can hit your double which you did. With differential brings your total up to damn near four times normal. Over at your shop this afternoon I’ll see your schedule. Call up here tomorrow and you work whatever hours you are ordered and you do not say you talked to me.”

The world looks different when you think you’re
chum than when you think you might have won
the lottery. A warehouse looks like exile but
what if you picture coming home from exile
with a little pot of gold? And Norton has
the time to make a poker face and pull
his sandwich out before the boss
comes back with lunch.

With pie charts all completed
Thursday morning
and compiled with bar graphs
and before and after
flow charts of
the floor
there’s not much more to do
…so Young Man
…can afford
…to make
…the lunchtime
…Bratwurst run while Norton
…stays on his defense:
…one sandwich in a bag
…for cover, eggs
…and sausage
…at the diner
…in the morning so he’s free to
…call the union
…where they verify
…he’s posted up for
…nights. And though the Bratwurst takes two hours
and the Young Man must have had
a couple steins to wash it down
since he just sits
and stares out of the window
through the afternoon
they still stay on past 9,
re-sweeping fl oors,
updating unread labels
with replacements that
will also be unread,
repacking broken boxes
of outmoded parts.
But Norton doesn’t mind.
It’s gravy after 8 am. That moron doesn’t
know that he was paying me
when I was sleeping in my bed last night.
The Business Agent makes a call upstairs on Friday and then
upstairs calls and
Young Man can’t contain himself and
breaks into a little jog across the floor
to get the phone that’s finally ringing.
…But the slow
…walk back to Norton,
…only looking from the
…corner of his eye
…while he resweeps the
…reswept floor,
…shows that he knows
…that Norton knows
……Division Man’s Executive Assistant
……has informed the former Golden Boy
……he cost the company
……four weeks top technician’s pay
……to tidy up a warehouse.
But the only thing
that he tells Norton is
“There’s been a little mix-up…offi ce
…Sunday midnight…met
…objectives…you can
…now garage…the truck”
…Above the river,
driving on the bridge,
he feels he’s like
an underwater diver
that’s mistaken for a fish
and hooked,
who pulls the line, pole, net and fisherman
into the ocean,
jumps into the yacht
and throws George overboard
and takes off with
Dolores and Yvette.

And sure enough
the next week he can
doze on through the night tour
safe from any supervision,
Spend his days at home awake
to fix his leaking faucets.

Do some catching up on
Big Bird and King Friday with his daughter
Yet the closer payday comes
the more he’s feeling grouchy
…One big check
…will make him rich
…for one big day
…and when
…the movie ends
…he knows
Connie, Paula, and Yvette
will all
go back to school
nd George is on the yacht
and Golden Boy’s the boss,
the Flying Nun can only fly in reruns,
Dad will still have passed away,
his wife will still be pregnant
with a second
when they can’t afford the first,
and it will still be winter,
and they still made him work
a week inside
a warehouse
cleaning floors
and busting
fuckin skids

Payday morning Norton finds the tale’s been told and told again all week up atthe office, how he brought down mighty Golden Boy, so with his big quadruplecheck cashed up he takes his day crew buddies out for breakfast. “I’m so stupid I believed him when he told me that my shift was wrong” protests our humble hero. “You were just avoiding insubordination but were pissed enough to breakaway and make a call,” politely disagrees a member of the happy throng and points to the amazing news that Golden Boy’s been moved out from his private office to a public cubicle, a miracle humiliation none he had tormented dared dreamed possible a week before.

And after one last reenactment of The Jogging To The Phone & Slow Return To Notify Our Norton he was back on nights they all walk slowly from the coffee shop returning to the job, protected for one morning by the presence of the
Only Man to ever block the rise of Golden Boy and then the Only Man heads over to the subway home.

While on the way he’s walking past the bar where celebrating night tour stragglers wave him in and make him let them buy a round in honor of his exploits. Several stiff ones later he heads home again his pockets full of cash—the left side with the money for his wife to pay the bills, the right side for whatever—and his belly full of bagels, beer, and whiskey, in between the rain and snow, the city in the middle of a working day, and what the hell he finds himself inside a topless joint enchanted by how sad and wet and red he’s looking in the mirror behind the bottles, watching hockey highlights on TV, where their Canadian superstar is racing in the clear when one of our Canadians checks him, grabs the puck, and passes for a goal and leaves him lying on the ice.

I am the only one to stop the Young Man On His Way Upstairs, he ponders knowing that the other team’s ahead and wins the game. “Another one,” he calls out to the barmaid holding up his glass, and just then notices she’s nearly naked,pale and pretty. I look lousy, she looks nice. And feeling something’s going wrong knocks back his shot and leaves a big tip on the bar from his right pocket, checks money on the left side for his wife and takes the subway home.

Two old timers are already at the corner gin mill off his stop so he stops in to buy a round before he walks the five blocks up the avenue to his apartment. Above the bar the T.V. shows last night’s big check again, their star knocked flat.

Will I be old and nursing beers by lunchtime here on Fridays, watching hockey highlights I’ve already seen someday? he wonders staring at his drink and hears himself reply out loud “I’m doing that right now.” So at the ad he leaves some money on the bar and races out the door past his opponents, streaking towards the goal.

The rain has frozen underneath a covering of snow recalling winter schooldays he’d slide home pretending he was skating,

I go inside that warehouse anymore they all can kiss my fuckin ass, he promises himself and slides around the corner to their building, flipping on the ice flat on his back.

While waiting for his brain to float above the booze so he can tell his body what to do he sees himself again inside the topless bar and feels the melting snow soak through his pants.

Then standing slowly he appears amused as if he’s watching someone else in some old silent movie, but he’s mad inside at Montreal and topless bars.

“That’s it. No more. They all can kiss my ass. I quit.” he tells the world while walking up the stairs to their apartment to surprise his wife and kid.

On what was
…going to be the day
…they took
…the daughter
…to the toy store
…when he’d have
…some extra money
…though he wouldn’t say
…how much,
…the day they bought
some nice things
for the kitchen.
But he didn’t mention
he’d be home
three hours late,
he didn’t mention
he’d be drunk
nd cursing Canada,
he didn’t mention
that he’d change
his pants and shorts and socks,
…put on his old pea coat,
…pack up the duffl e,
…while proclaiming
to the world
think I’m no
RCA…certifi cation.
fuckin tested, hired
two from fuckin top pay, I…”
and feeling that the alcohol’s
about to make the very word technician
turn against him in his mouth
he changes to
an easier subject
to pronounce
on his agenda.
Florida. That’s it.
No more.
Before they put me back
into that fuckin warehouse
I’ll be wiring up fuckin condos,
drinking fuckin margaritas
at our swimming fuckin pool
…with Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and The Flying Nun.
So fuck it”
And then stumbles out
the door, before he starts to cry,
dry pants, pea coat, a week’s supply
of underwear and socks,
toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and razor, shaving cream,
…and two warm cans of beer.

Somewhere on Northern Boulevard a wet drunk stands in snow that’s turning back to rain to hitch across the bridge and through the city to the Jersey Turnpike. He could have walked down to the subway but who takes the fuckin subway when they’re on their way to fuckin Florida? An umbrella would have stopped the rain from soaking through his pants and coat but who remembers an umbrella when they’re fuckin drunk?

Somewhere just a few blocks north a woman calms her crying child and wonders to her sister on the phone what happened. Should she pack it up and leave? “I tell you if he hadn’t looked so comical, I would’ve killed him. One shirt tail out and one tucked in, his old coat missing buttons so he buttoned it uneven like a kindergarten kid but talking like Clint Eastwood, cursing Canada, a place he’s never even said a word about before, then raving on about a swimming pool in Florida, and crying as he slammed the door.‘

“That’s probably the whiskey talking.”
“No, I’ve heard his whiskey talk before. It’s never that moronic.”

“Something happened. When I picked his wet pants off the floor there’s almost four times what’s his normal pay in cash inside the pockets. Do you think he lost his job today for mixing up his shifts and that was severance?”

“You will never know until he’s sober. So in case he comes back drunk again you have to think about your daughter. What I used to do: you take the baby down to Mom’s then he won’t scare her if he’s back, you put the money in the bank so he can’t spend it and don’t tell him where it’s at until he’s all dried out and you can call us if you need us. It’s half an hour to the Cross Bronx on the weekends.”

No one stops in rain or snow, and somehow
Norton knows his wife is talking to her sister, knows he scared his kid,
and knows he needs to make it now to Florida and make it right again.

An aging hippie in a bread truck stops and says, “I’m headed for the Bronx.”
It’s not the right direction
but oh what the hell,
I’m on my way.
As soon as he’s dropped off
by Bruckner Boulevard a rusty Malibu pulls up.
At last my luck is changing.
“Where you wanna go?
“To Florida.”
“Me, too, hop in, I got some
jobs down there and everything
I need is in the backseat and
my clothes are in the trunk. You
have to hold the door lock down is
why I stopped. I need a guy for the
entire ride. You do some plumbing or
electric, we could work together.”
Norton’s so relieved that he says
“Sure,” and doesn’t worry when
they miss the exit for the Bridge
and drive down through midtown to
the Tunnel, doesn’t worry that
they almost cause a pile-up,
doesn’t worry that this guy
is cursing out the other
drivers when he almost
hits a city tow truck
He’ll be better on the open road, I hope.

You cannot see New Jersey
when you’re first inside
the tunnel
then it’s just a dot you
look at while you listen
to the Madman driving
talk about his cousin in
the mob, his neighbor’s
daughter who’s a TV
talk show host’s
assistant and the
fights that he gets
taken care of
when he’s
brother and
you tell yourself
I think if we can
make it through
then we’ll be fine
but at the moment
I could really use
another drink.
And when The Madman hits
the brakes to miss the limo
he’s been tailing Norton turns around to see
how close the truck behind them comes.

He’s headed south with half the coppers in the Bronx back here and I don’t see a single tool. But what the hell, we’re almost through.

The car is warming up so Norton takes his wet coat off and fi ts it in between his legs. “It’s always hot. The thermostat’s not working and I can’t adjust the fan,” explains the host. “I guess you’ll need to get that fixed in Florida with all the sunshine,” Norton comments to his fellow refugee and looking over notices he’s coatless too.

And so begins the Madman’s Tale of Madman’s Tale of canceled
car repairs when double-crossing landlords in the Bronx
denied him what was his that stretches into stories of the
double-crossings in construction crews from Plattsburg to
Orlando. Norton listens while he watches how this guy
can drive depending if he’s at the part
about his different bosses (fast) the
part about him ripping out the plumbing
to get even (slow) the part
about the friends he knows who get
the charges dropped (all different
speeds) and Norton feels
a little queasy so he has
to close his eyes, while
holding down the door
lock hoping he can
sleep without TheMadman

He knows he’s dreaming
when he sees
the Flying Nun
outside his window so
he makes himself wake up to see if she’s still real. No Nun
but now there’s mountains that he guesses you
don’t hit so quick this far in Jersey heading south,
and now he’s wishing he was sober when they pass a
sign to Albany and Montreal. But Madman starts to
tailgate when they talk about directions so he waits
until he sees a rest stop up the road.
“I have to use the head. What if I pay for gas
here and you get the next one,” handing him two
twenties, dashing coatless from the car.

I’ll check a map after I’m finished
throwing up
he tells himself and
knows he’s gone from drunk to
sick while driving with a nutjob
north to Florida and all the money
in his left pants pocket’s missing.
Bastard took it out while I was
sleeping I’ll fix that, he vows while
kneeling at a toilet bowl inside
a stall. But after washing up he
needs to sit and drink some coffee,
in the rest stop cafeteria, listening
to the easy listening music in
the background, looking out the
window at the wintry day, and
watching as the madman fills his
tank up, pays, jumps in his car
and pulls away.
I’m glad he’s gone
he almost killed me,

Norton thinks in consolation,
knowing he’s hungover, in the Catskills,
…coatless, no clean underwear,
…a handfull of wet singles and some change.
…Then when
…the coffee’s staying down
…and he is sure that he sounds
…sober he will call his wife
…collect although he isn’t
…looking forward
…to the story he
…will have
…to tell:
I’m on the
Even though
he doesn’t know
she knows he
didn’t lose his job
and isn’t just a raving
maniac because a
friend from work
called up and told her
all about the Young
Man Newly In A
Cubicle, and that she
took his daughter to
her mother’s, put the
money in the bank,
paid off a credit card
and bought those
curtains for the
kitchen while he was
gone, yet still he knows
that she accepts the
charges and she
doesn’t sound that
angry when he starts
his explanation so he
didn’t think he’d do
it but he starts to cry
when he describes
the guy who stole his
cash while driving
from the Bronx
through Jersey back
up north. And though
she knows
he left it in his pants and
now it’s in the bank and
paying bills she doesn’t
want to tell him since he
still deserves to
suffer for the ranting
and the cursing but
she’s so relieved that
she will call her sister and then
she will call him back to say
her sister’s newly always sober
husband can drive up but he
can’t make it until sometime
after 7, and informs him that his
daughter is all right and over at
her Grandma’s eating doughnuts
and was told he had to go to work
again and that’s why he was angry.
So he’s so relieved
that just this once he
doesn’t call his newly
always sober in-law “The
Fanatic” and he knows
he humped things up
but not completely so
they hang-up and he’d
like to stand out in
the parking lot and have a
smoke and watch the
sun go down behind
the mountains and then
look above up at the
sky deciding what he’d
change about his life.
But he stopped
smoking and that
bastard took his coat
and it gets cold up in
the mountains when the
sun begins to set so he
just sits inside
and waits and sips
more coffee.

I must be looking bad, he worries when the In-Law picks him
up and doesn’t say a word or even play the inspirational
soft-rock radio station or a self-improvement tape.

They only drive on through the darkness,

Norton warming up inside the old wool sweater that the InLaw throws him, frightened by the silence. Where’s he taking me, to Church? I got to think of something
or he might begin to pray.

“I saw the Flying Nun out of my window
when that lunatic was driving in my sleep and
I woke up and saw a sign for Montrea.”
Oh Jesus! Why did I say that? What did I do?
No comment from the driver’s side and that makes
nervous and he knows he can’t stop talking.
“When the playboy’s got the girl inside his private
plane and sees The Flying Nun outside so he decides
that he should turn around and give the land he
bought for his casino to the orphans at the convent.
Like that episode I guess.” I’m screwed. I sound like
I’ve gone wacky and he’s gonna to drop me off out in the
woods and make me walk back to the city.

Miles later down the road the driver
finally speaks, “Who played the Nun?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Who played the Flying Nun
and what before that?”
Norton answers “Sally Fields”
sounding more annoyed than he intended.
“Okay, right, but Sally
started on another series.”
“Wouldn’t know.” surrenders Norton, so
thrown off he isn’t thinking. What’s going
on? I haven’t been inside a Church since all
those changes. Do they warm you up with
trivia before they start to pray now?
“She was Gidget on TV.”
He’s gonna drive me crazy if he doesn’t stop.
All right, then” counters Norton, “Who was
Gidget in the movies first?”
“I’m guessing Debbie
Norton sees a small part of the universe regain its
balance. “No, in movies it was Sandra Dee.”
And feeling better he concedes. “But Debbie did play
Tammy and then Dee took over Tammy so you’re close.’
“With Bob Darin?”
“No, Dee was Darin’s wife. In all
the different movie Gidgets it’s James Darren, who had a hit like Fabian and
you still see on TV sometimes.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s Bobby
was supposed to marry Connie Francis but her
father wouldn’t let her so he married Dee and had a
heart attack and died. So who’s with Connie Where
The Boys Are? Wasn’t that Troy Donahue?”
“No, he‘s A Summer Place in Maine with
Sandra Dee. In Florida’s George Hamilton,
Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimeaux …”
“Oh yeah, Yvette Mimeaux.
The Time Machine.”
The Time Machine.
The Eloi and the Morlocks.”
“Yeah, Dolores Hart, she did those Elvis movies.”
“Yeah, you’re right, but after Elvis what? I know I’ve
seen Yvette Mimeaux, but what about Dolores Hart?”
“I think that she became a nun.”
“No kidding”
…“Yeah, a nun.”
And so they roll
out of the mountains,
down to where the suburbs start.
“You know when it was always me
where you are now, I found it easy leaving,
but returning was the hard part,
can I make a small suggestion?”
asks the Driver.

Oh fantastic! Now he’s got me trapped and he
can give the speech about the higher powers
and I’m riding in his pickup so I can’t complain.
“Sure. Fire away.”

“OK, you don’t look great. I take
you to the bus back to the Port tonight
and you look bad
and it is very late when you show up at home
and after what has happened you
don’t want to make your
first appearance
then, believe me, been there,
done that.
Here where we turn off
the mall is open,
you can buy yourself some clothes
and something for the daughter,
call from our place, sleep it off
and shower up in the morning
and then you go back fresh and
everybody’s had a little rest.
I recommend it.”
…Norton realizes he’d be nervous if he saw
…himself how he looks now walking by the
…road or riding on the subway but
…“The guy that left me cleaned me out.
…I only got six dollars.”

And he opens up his fist to show the six wet singles
in his hand as proof inside the darkened cab
beside the dashboard’s glow.

The Driver smiles
“You’re not supposed to know
but I discovered that you dropped
a lot of money on the floor
in your apartment when
you left so that should make
you good for an advance
for pants, a shirt,
a jacket, and
At the Mall
the weather’s cleared, the air smells like
a childhood vacation, and parked cars
sparkle in the store sign’s mix of red
and gold. Inside there’s rows and rows
of cheap new clothes from sweatshops
overseas and name brand toys and
grooming aids for men.
Then, standing back
outside again,
his shopping over, waiting
for the in-law to unlock
the door and looking at the sky,
the lights block out the stars but
he makes out the mountains in
the distance and he feels he’s been
through something
like this someplace
once before and then
he hears himself say
“I can do it.”
and he contemplates
a mortgage,
bedrooms for kids,
a big commute
and overtime and then
they drive away.
Next morning he awakens to
the sweet sounds of a power saw
trading verses with a
sander and a hammer and a drill.
“There’s breakfast in the kitchen,” says
a note besides the sofa bed on top a towel.

Reclothed and clean, a refilled
mug of coffee in his hand,
he ventures down the hall past
cartoon-watching kids inside their
bedroom, following the sounds
downstairs to where the In-Law
stands surrounded by his tools
and ten-inch shelving.

“We went looking for
a place this far
because it had a finished basement at the payments
we could make. And now I’ll
finish with it when
I have this set up for my
fishing gear. And I will come down here
in winter and
…I check my rods
…and lines or tie a fly and
…I can get away to fish
…inside my mind so I
…stay sane and sober.
……Help me clamp
……these up and then
……we better go.
……The buses don’t run often
……in the middle of the day
……on weekends.”
And so our hero
pays his debt down
as they glue and clamp
a cabinet for the reels,
our hero calls his wife and
they agree that he’ll be back
by early afternoon and she’ll return
before then with their daughter,
our hero takes the bus
back to the city in the daylight
looking out the window
at the sites of some of his transgressions,
rides the subway home, once more
the kind of citizen no one worries to
sit next to, and walks the blocks along his avenue
past newstands, delis, diners, bakeries, bars,
and holds the doll most advertised on TV
and a dozen roses over ice and snow.

He walks into his building,
up the two quick fl ights of stairs,
because he knows there’s still
a possibility that it could be o.k.
that many matters of importance
have remained unchanged and
that his wife paid down some bills
and maybe they’ll begin their saving
for a bigger place, and that his kid
will really like her present, and The
Young Man Who Was On His Way went
To A Cubicle instead, and that he didn’t miss
a single day of work and that
his hangover has lifted.
He unlocks his door and goes back in