Illustration: Somnath Bhatt.

Speech at the Urinal,

Drake Hotel, Chicago, December 1980

The urinals, five of them, marble coffins standing upright. I hunched beside my father as we pissed into the fruit and ice. The men’s room attendant my father knew by name—Evening, Henry. Greet Mr. Henry, son, and always look a gentleman in the eye—stood behind us, waiting, steamed towels draped over his forearm.

I no longer remember the exact content of the speech. But I know it was an ode to the faded grandeur of that old stuffed-shirt hotel, that pompous men’s room, to Mr. Henry and his flour-white hair and his warmed-up towels, and above all, to those mighty urinals where generations of Chicago manhood have come to deliver of themselves. To my father the Drake Hotel was a buttress against all that was encroaching after a decadent decade. The ’70s disgusted him. People spitting right on the sidewalk, public nudity (not that my father had any trouble with it in the flesh and in fact quite enjoyed it; it was the principal of nudity being acceptable that took all the fun out of it), women lawyers. Women lawyers, my father said, among other contrary attributes, are far too excitable for the law. The law must be as fixed, as immoveable, as stony-faced as these Pharaonic toilets. A longish piss into the crackling ice, into the sliced melon and grapefruit and strawberries, and my father discoursed and I stood there, long out of piss myself, and listened. Chicago was still his city. There may be a lady mayor now, Jane Byrne (and if there’s going to be a lady mayor, let it be a chick as brassy as Jane Byrne), but by God the Drake is still the Drake and the fruit in the men’s room urinals is still so fresh you could eat it. This is style, this is grace, and this kind of style, this kind of grace, can’t be bought, not with money, new money anyway, though this doesn’t mean you should ever find yourself without money, old, new, borrowed, stolen, embezzled, conned—No greater dishonor in this city, or anywhere else for that matter. Better to be rich and in jail, got it? Better to be rich and dead, are you hearing me? Is this getting across?

And Mr. Henry waits, twin towels folded over his arm.

 

Visions of Mr. Swibel

For years, first under the old man, and then under Mayors Mike Bilandic and Jane Byrne, Charles Swibel was chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. A rich real estate developer, the fox in charge of the henhouse. Yet this was Chicago, and nobody but the reformers much blinked. And who ever listened to the reformers—background noise of a majestic city?

You hear something?

No, what?

I dunno, some voices.

Go buy some ear plugs.

Through the ’70s my father was a rising, youngish lawyer who, among other things, represented the CHA in tort cases. When a resident got hurt at the Robert Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green or Stateway Gardens and sued the city, my father defended the CHA. Often he argued successfully that though the stairwell was unlit or the elevator out of order, the plaintiff, having lived in the building for such and such amount of time certainly should have been familiar with this particular hazard and therefore was, at the very least, partially responsible for their own injury. He saved the city millions. And my father used to tell my older brother, Look, if I don’t do it, you should see the line of hustlers stretching to the horizon who will.

So it was a good contract, and eventually my father became personally close to the CHA chief, Mr. Charles Swibel himself. My father revered men of action. And Swibel, who strode around with a tall and wispy head of hair like Liberace and a gold watch that must have weighed twenty pounds, impressed my father as the genuine article. A Churchill, a MacArthur, a Stalin, a Daley. That Swibel had for years been draining the coffers of the CHA for his own gain must have occurred to my father, as it occurred to mucky-mucks all over the city. But my father was an attorney, a servant of the law, not a crusader. His professional responsibility was to represent clients and one of his clients was the Chicago Housing Authority. By then the CHA was being sued not just by individuals but was also the subject of massive class actions, and my father was in the thick of it. I remember I’d go to lunch with him at the Standard Club and the maître d’ would approach and say, “A call for you, sir. Would you like to take it at the table?” My father would nod, and a waiter would carry the phone to him on a tray, the long cord snaking behind him like a tail, the receiver resting beside the phone, and you could already hear Mr. Swibel’s voice rumbling. My father would pick up the phone and listen until the rumbling subsided and say, “Understood, Chuckie, understood.” Then he’d hang up and the waiter would return and retreat, silently, walking backward, with the phone on the tray. It was an amazing thing: my father calling Mr. Swibel “Chuckie.” The man was a kind of sub-god, a personal friend of Mayor Daley’s. Daley was dead by then but that didn’t matter. He ran Chicago from the grave—he had a switchboard down there and everything—and one of the people he talked to every day was Charles Swibel.

And once he came out to our house in Highland Park. Mr. Swibel actually lived in another suburb, Winnetka, a rich Jew among rich Gentiles (far enough away so that Cabrini Green might as well have been in Delaware), but Highland Park, just a little farther up the North Shore, where mostly rich Jews lived among other mostly rich Jews, was a bridge too far. Hadn’t he slogged his balls off to make it to Winnetka? Hadn’t his own father washed up in Chicago from the Pale of Settlement in rags? To Mr. Swibel, those few miles north to where Jews still huddled together (while pretending not to) must have been tantamount to slumming it.

Whatever he’d had to say that morning apparently couldn’t wait and couldn’t be conveyed over the phone. It was Sunday. We were having breakfast. My mother must have been looking out the window. She was, I remember, always looking out the window in those days, as if visualizing escape.

“There’s a car in the driveway,” my mother said without interest.

“What car?” my father said.

“A big car.”

“A Lincoln Town Car?”

My mother shrugged. “It’s a big car, Phil.”

“Is it a butter yellow Lincoln Town Car?”

That my mother didn’t tell him to get up and look for himself is an indication of where things stood in our house in the early ’80s. She didn’t bother to speak to my father any more than absolutely necessary. Words were energy and she was storing them up for another life.

“What make of car is it, Miriam?”

“It’s yellow, but I have no idea—”

My father sprinted up the stairs three at a time. He must have had his suit and tie on in less than forty-five seconds. There wasn’t enough time for all of us to be made presentable but even so my father ordered my brother and me (he knew my mother would silently refuse) out to the driveway immediately. “Just wave discreetly,” he said. “Do not approach the Lincoln.”

And so that’s what we did. My brother and I stood there in the driveway and waved discreetly to Mr. Swibel, or at least to the tinted window that he was purportedly behind. The engine of the Lincoln was purring low. My father, with a humble unfolding of his arm, presented us, his offspring, to the tinted window. It slowly descended to reveal a man in large sunglasses and a bouffant. He lifted a beringed hand languidly in our direction. Nice-looking kids. My father approached the car and for a few moments stood in audience before we heard him say, “Understood, Chuckie, understood.” But Mr. Swibel wasn’t through. He spoke for another five minutes, and then, without waiting for my father to say whether he understood or not, slowly began to back the Lincoln up. While in reverse, Mr. Swibel never took his eyes off my father. I remember being impressed that he could drive backward without taking hold of the passenger’s seat and craning his head to look out the rear window. My father stood and watched, mesmerized. Admiration at that level is a form of love, isn’t it? A man’s got to love something, doesn’t he? Mr. Swibel withdrew like the tide and even after he was gone, my father remained there in the driveway looking at the gravel, at the tracks made by the yellow Lincoln, amazed and bereft at the same time.

 

The Laundry Room

1. The Little Buddha

When my brother lost the election for sophomore class vice president he smashed the little porcelain Buddha my grandfather had given him for good luck. The figure had a smoothish belly I liked to rub. When my brother threw him on the laundry room floor, the little Buddha shattered into so many pieces that years later we were still finding traces of his remains. At night, with the light off, with a flashlight, you could always find tiny specks. Apparently, he was worth a lot of money. My grandfather had brought him back from Tokyo after the war and had been holding onto him, waiting for an occasion to bestow the sacred Buddha upon his eldest grandchild. And when he did, it was with a great deal of solemn ceremony.

A few days before the election, my grandfather, sitting behind his enormous slab of desk, had called my brother and me into his study. My brother must have thought he was getting a Cross pen or something. The little Buddha was squatting in the dead center of the great desk, emanating serenity and wisdom. We’d never seen the Buddha before and we’d searched my grandfather’s drawers hundreds of times. (I was especially drawn to what he called his “French postcards,” topless women posing like kittens.) When my brother and I were settled and attentive in the two chairs before him, my grandfather stood up, unbuckled his belt, and loosened his pants. Then he sat down again and began speaking what I can only describe as a kind of pidgin Chinese, the voice he used when he tried to read the characters on the menu at Yu Lin’s. We laughed but stopped when my grandfather kept making those sounds in that weird high voice. Today he wasn’t kidding. He went on—and on—speaking this language. He seemed to be trying to entrance himself, to reach some kind of fugue state. The whole thing was freaky and unprecedented. My grandfather, a banker, wasn’t a playful person. Nor had he ever exhibited much imagination, but there he was giving voice to the Buddha and bestowing upon my brother, through this series of ridiculous noises, oinks and dongs and ching chings, the good fortune he needed to ensure there was no way in Nirvana he’d lose the election.

What we’ll fall in love with enough to believe.

Debbie Swinderman was a lock. She was smart, A.P, this, A.P. that. Also, she was totally hot, had much-discussed breasts, and smiled at everybody, including losers. She had a platform that included a demand for a salad bar in the school cafeteria. My brother’s platform consisted of what? His stance on anti-nuclear proliferation? And Debbie Swinderman had an identical twin sister, Trina Swinderman, who though not as smart (like my brother, Trina was in regular classes), was, of course, equally as totally hot. Trina smiled at losers, too. My brother considered Debbie having a twin an unfair advantage. Debbie had, in effect, not just two perfect tits to campaign with, but four. Had there been some sort of elections commissions, my brother might have registered a complaint.

Instead, he relied on the Buddha. He must have known he was doomed and yet—how often do we experience the faith of pure belief? Belief’s like catnip; once you get a whiff of it, you can’t get enough. It makes you loopy. Belief drunkens. It was as if our banker truly spoke ancient Chinese like a native and the little Buddha—

Election day. Debbie Swinderman in a landslide. She strutted across the lunchroom and gave my brother a good sport hug, in front of everyone, pressing his humiliation into advanced placement knockers. The lunchroom hooted.

When he got home, my brother charged down into the basement, to the laundry room. I was there. I watched. How he wrapped the little Buddha in his fist, took a running start and hurled that little fucker—

 

2. Pinewood Derby

My father built my Pinewood Derby car. He spent a month on it. Our den leader, Mr. Steinhoffer, said making these cars would be a fantastic way to spend time with our fathers but remember, fathers were not supposed to build the cars for us. It’s rule Number One, Mr. Steinhoffer said, of the Pinewood Derby. You build your cars, with your dad’s kind assistance and advice, yes, but you and you alone

My father gleefully defied this mandate.

“Mr. Steinhoffer says I have to build it myself,” I said.

“Steinhoffer?” My father said. “Steinhoffer? Who is this rule-bound Kraut?”

“He’s our den leader.”

“Den leader?”

“He leads the pack.”

“I’m thinking something along the lines of an Alpha Romeo,” my father said.

And I, equally gleefully, sat there in the laundry room beside the workbench and watched him. Not because I gave a damn about the Pinewood Derby, but because not having to build it with him lessened the contact I had to have with him. As he was concentrating so intensely on his engineering, on the shape of that little slab of pinewood, we hardly spoke. And his design was innovative and aerodynamic. My car wasn’t like any other. It was flat and sleek, not bulbous. I remember watching my father dig a little groove under the car and insert a small piece of metal so our car would meet the weight requirements.

But the beauty of the car’s design didn’t make it go any faster. We came in tenth out of eleven cars. The eleventh car was disqualified on account of absence. Nate Sobel didn’t show up. Nobody bothered to suspect I hadn’t built the car myself. Other cars sped by like nobody’s business. It was as if our car had no idea it was in a race at all. The problem, Kenny Ehrenberg said, had to do with velocity. The design didn’t allow for the car to gain any momentum at the top of the track because of its lack of velocity. “It had a weight on the bottom,” I said.

“It’s where you put the weight that counts,” Kenny said. “You can’t just stick a weight in the bottom and expect—”

“Fuck you, Kenny.”

My father was a lawyer. What did he know about velocity?

And I remember nearly shouting at Kenny Ehrenberg, as if he’d exposed us. Listen, you blubbery dickwad, we built that car together.

 

3. My Father Oiling His Guns

The laundry room, its cement floor cracked from yearly floods. The single bar of fluorescent light. The string you pulled. The light would flicker and decide either to come on or not, you never knew. The washer that shook the house on spin cycle. Across from the washer, the workbench where my father oiled his guns. There were three shotguns and a little pistol he said had belonged to my great-grandmother. She’d lived in a residential hotel on the south side. I remember her. She was always lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling. Her helmet of steel hair could have fought in World War I.

My father, brother, and I used to hunt at a club up in Richmond, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. We were not accomplished hunters. I often tell people this. Though the club stocked the fields with hundreds of pheasants, very few lost their lives to our prowess and those that did just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But I remember fondly how, after we did manage to shoot one of them, I’d stuff the unlucky birdsoul into the inner pocket of my hunting coat and the warmth would last so long.

My father kept the guns in a closet behind his suits. Every few months, he’d carry them down to the laundry room to be oiled. He used some special kind of oil. Linseed? And he’d sit at the workbench and regale me, if I couldn’t think of a good enough reason I had to be elsewhere, with the virtues of keeping firearms well-oiled. Or for that matter any non-automated mechanism. You want anything to last? Oil it. I remember how he’d pour a little onto the chamois. The smell, something vinegar about it. And I remember how as I got older, when I had the presence of mind to inhale anything that came my way, I huffed up that linseed oil because getting high on it helped me, among other things, to endure my father a few minutes longer. This, too, I’ve said before, though maybe not as directly: I shrank from my father’s physical presence. It nearly pains me to say it. Who needs this truth? The man’s gone now. It’s through, finished. What’s the point? Here is where normally I’d say, like a false prayer, something along the lines of: And my father oiling his guns in the livid laundry room light.

As if the image of him in the basement, alone, might absolve me of beating this dead horse to death again.

 

The Language of That Year

The time Mr. Leopardi burst through our always-open front door, shouting gibberish at the top of his lungs. Not words exactly, at least not any words I could make out because they all ran together. Nobody else was home. I was a sixth grader, up in my room, under my bed, whacking off like there was no tomorrow. My sad, furious, happy ritual. It brought no relief. That didn’t mean I didn’t live for it. And of course, I was completely freaked out and thought that whatever the hell’s going on in the front hall it’s got to have something to do with the private party I’m having up here under my bed. Had somebody been tipped off and come over to bust my ass in the name of common decency? I stopped in mid-ecstasy and listened to that incoherent ranting until I heard the front door open again and Mrs. Leopardi say, “Oh here you are, Father.”

Mr. Leopardi, before he retired and lost his mind, sold cars. He sold my mother our K car. (Later that year, my brother would total it in Milwaukee.) This was before Alzheimer’s became a thing. We just thought Mr. Leopardi was bonkers. Lots of people were in 1982. He’d wander around the neighborhood bellowing at the top of his lungs in a combination of Italian and English. But that was the first afternoon he’d come into anybody’s house and anyway I was much too in the throes to make the connection, under the bed with my pants down, more ashamed than terrified, and I was plenty terrified. And even after Mrs. Leopardi came and took him home I couldn’t shake the thought that whatever he’d been saying, he absolutely intended the tirade for me personally. A message from hell concerning my lonely deviance. A Jew, I still sure as hell believed in hell. It only happened once. But in my memory of that time, it happens often, weekly, me under the bed, and every time I’m about to reach the point where my efforts will temporarily pay off, the front door flings open and in charges Mr. Leopardi.

He was a small man with a gaunt face. His eyes were saucered by two half circles that drooped down to his cheeks. He wasn’t the sort of salesman to go out of his way to sell you anything on his lot. My mother picked out the K car because, according to the number chalked on the windshield, it was the cheapest. Mr. Leopardi just shrugged. It was you who had to prove you were worthy of the car, not the other way around. And just because you happened to live next-door to him didn’t mean you got any discount. My mother and I got in the car. She asked me if I wanted to “drive” and I reached over from the passenger’s seat and wiggled the steering wheel a little and made some growling car noises. I was a little old to be acting this way, but it was the first car my mother bought after the divorce, a moment of great independence, and I had to make a show that I understood the significance. I remember looking out the window at Mr. Leopardi as we drove away, how he stood there with his arms folded, not smiling, gazing at me.

Doesn’t this kid have a father?

Also that year, I broke my collarbone playing King of the Mountain at recess. I’ve never been much of an athlete but I did reach a kind of pinnacle as champion of King of the Mountain. The game was ruthless, glorious. Elm Place School Field, the hill that abutted St. John’s Avenue, across the street from Marcy Friedlander’s condo. In the winter, the hill got icy. It’s still there. Every time I drive past it, I relive past triumphs. I shoved a lot of bigger guys down that hill. Greg Mann, Bob Crenshaw, even Michael Zamost once. Because for a time that fucking hill was mine. The object was not just to defend your rights to be on top of the hill by repelling invaders. You didn’t just shove. You punched, you kicked, you bit. The point was to humiliate—and maim. When Eddy Loiseau got me in a headlock and kneed me in the groin before throwing me down so hard on the ice I heard my bones crack, I was in such pain I couldn’t muster any sounds. Eddy and a couple of other guys carried me inside, dumped me in front of Nurse Kellner’s office, and ran like hell. After she found me out there, Nurse Kellner called my mother. This seemed a serious case. Nurse Kellner, God love her, but her medical expertise was limited to ice packs.

My mother picked me up to drive me to the hospital. I was, in spite of feeling like someone was repeatedly stabbing me in the neck, somehow able to walk to the car. We drove, I remember, in silence. My mother has always been unflappable in the face of sickness and injury. I’d been knocked around pretty bad, okay, but what else did I have to say for myself? Did I have any new thoughts about the nature of the universe today? How about any insights into what our country had done to deserve Ronald Reagan? She didn’t say this out loud, and I didn’t answer. That’s sometimes how we talked. I remember the sound of my mother and me not speaking as she was about to turn left on Vine Street. She was driving another car that day. Because I broke my collarbone after my brother wrecked the K car in Milwaukee. All the useless chronologies I wander around with. My mother replaced the K Car with a used baby blue VW bug and I remember as if listening to it right now that the sound of its blinker was direct and forceful, like a loud clock ticking.

 

Crimes of Opportunity

When I went to make a report, the cop told me it must have been a crime of opportunity. When I asked what he meant, he said there are crimes of opportunity and there are crimes of premeditation. The opportunists are the ones you have to worry about because they can turn on a dime. Less than a dime. Careerists, you know where they stand. Nothing false about a careerist. But an opportunist?

Officer Montez looked down at his shiny plastic shoes as if even the thought of an opportunist made him want to spit on shoes, didn’t matter if they were his. We were side by side in the only chairs in the waiting room. These two chairs were bolted to the floor, and so close together that his right knee touched my left knee. I wondered who’d steal chairs from a police station. Our proximity made the conversation not only conspiratorial, but possibly, in a different time and place, romantic. Officer Montez turned 180 degrees to face me and said that he spent part of his day doing his rounds, filing nonsense paperwork, and occasionally solving crimes and arresting people, but the bulk of his time, especially his brain time, if I knew what he meant, was spent examining people’s faces to determine whether they were an opportunist or careerist.

I asked: “But what if a person’s neither?”

Officer Montez’s laugh echoed off the walls of the little waiting room.

It couldn’t have been a more nondescript room and yet I still think of it. Once, on a Eurail pass, I went to the Sistine Chapel. I even got down on the floor and stared up at the ceiling until a security guard had a conniption. I thought, this guy’s going to report me direct to the Pontiff. I remember not a single detail of Michelangelo’s frescos. But I can tell you that the walls of a certain suburban police station in 1982 were the color of urine when you’re dehydrated. How in a locked glass cabinet—you know the type of lock I mean? works like a zipper? —were dusty softball championship trophies and public service awards. How in the corner was a furled banner that, if extended (I extended it while I was waiting for Officer Montez to emerge from the bowels of the station), read: CHARACTER MATTERS. The officers brought it with them when they visited schools and gave anti-drug talks designed ineffectively to scare the shit out of us. The ceiling? Chalk-white asbestos, little moon-like craters I wished I could reach so I could run my fingers over the bumps.

Officer Montez handed me a form. Pretty hands, not just pretty for a cop, pretty for anybody, and bright, translucent fingernails. Did he get manicures? Did he wonder if his manicurist was an opportunist or a careerist? As I started to fill out the form, he made notes in a small spiral notebook. He asked me the make and model of the bike.

“Model?”

“Was it a Junior Varsity? Varsity? Continental?”

“It was brown.”

“Okay, a brown bike. But a Schwinn, right? All you guys ride—”

“I ride a Huffy,” I said. “My parents are divorced.”

“Serial number?”

“Serial number?”

“Some people write it down,” Officer Montez said. “You know, file it in a drawer with other important numbers, birth certificates, social security cards, that sort of—”

I tried to comport myself like I was the type of seventh grader who would, under normal circumstances, have written my bike’s serial number and filed it in a drawer. I just hadn’t in this particular case.

I returned, all business, to my form. Time of the Incident: Sometime after lunch. Location of the Incident: In front of the Dannon Yogurt, Central Avenue. Summary of the Incident: Someone stole my bike.

I looked up at Officer Montez. He was staring into my soul as I sat there like I was the unsullied lamb who’d been wronged. An easy case. A goddamn opportunist right here in at headquarters. A plump little faker in Stan Smiths, ready and willing to take the moment a taking presented itself. I considered turning myself into his custody right then.

Officer Montez in his plastic shoes and day-and-a-half old beard. He’d worked the night shift and now it was well into the following afternoon, and the man was tired, but not too tired to give a dumbass who’d left his bike unlocked the time of day, and—and—to recognize a little opportunist when he saw one. I am grateful for the attention you paid, Officer. Our encounter provided me with some clarity.

Eddy Loiseau and I were inside playing Frogger. Eddy was trying to explain to me that the point was not to get hit by traffic, but I got a kick out of watching the frog get run over.

“You’re losing. Every time you—”

“I’m good at getting hit,” I said.

And outside, someone walking by, just passing the time, maybe whistling a little ditty, minding his own business and there it was, a brown bike, a Huffy but in decent shape, some stickers, leaning nonchalant against the window. Beckoning him. Or her. Maybe it was a her who stole my bike. Pass it up? So that someone else can come along and take it, or worse, nobody gets that booty and the putz who left it unlocked rides it home, no harm, no foul? A gift is offered. It’s yours for the pilfer. File charges against a pedestrian who happened to be striding down Central Avenue that day, bikeless and able? You read me right, Officer Montez. Even then I was sneaky. Opportunities for thefts and other sins, I’ve always done my best to honor them.

 

1984

Gina Aiello and Danny Fishbein going at it in my mother’s bed—Italians and Jews unite! All roads lead to Rome! Next year in Jerusalem!—and Danny forgetting to lock the door, or maybe not forgetting, maybe he left the door open on purpose, and a whole parade of stoners looking for a place to fall down stumbled right into the action. I think that was the party when somebody figured out how to make a pipe out of an apple core. All we had was a dime bag and no way to smoke it. We were about to just dump the pot into a cereal bowl, light it on fire, and huff it up like that when somebody munching an apple said, “Hey, this here fruit has a porous core.” And later, this overhappy crew wanders into my mother’s bedroom and Danny and Gina are in her bed, or on top of her bed, maybe they didn’t bother with the sheets, and Gina rises up out of the darkness, flicks on the lamp beside the bed, and starts belting out “Maggie May,” which whatever you want to say about Rod Stewart is one of the greatest songs ever written by mankind.

Gina was part of the theater crowd. She took any opportunity to perform before an audience no matter how sleepy and disinterested. Danny was one of those jocks who liked to mix it up with artsier kids. And according to one of the more observant stoners in the room that night, he didn’t seem to mind the interruption and just stretched out on my mother’s bed, his hands behind his head, and enjoyed Gina’s singing.

We all did.

This was in the house my mother rented on Laurel Avenue across from the Episcopal Church, where we’d moved after my mother, brother, and I fled my father’s house with my mother’s convertible full of our crap like we were the Clampetts. My father came home that and asked where the hell’s my family? Later, my mother said you should have asked that question years ago.

Danny Fishbein took in the whole moment the way high school athletes tended to see the rest of the world. Like the rest of us are sort of monkeys to them but nice, interesting monkeys. The stoners collapsed on the carpet in a drowsy scrum.

And Gina sang.

We’re prohibited by Mr. Stewart’s management company from quoting the Sublime lyrics.

I don’t know if Gina ever acted, or sang, when she got out of school. I haven’t heard about her since. What difference does it make that it was my mom’s bed? Can’t we be forgiven for believing she’d go on singing? A group of us were in the backyard trying to barbecue some frozen chicken breasts we’d rooted out of the freezer.

“Asswipe, you got to defrost the chicken first.”

Somebody turned the music off. Listen! Gina, in my mother’s room, the light on, the window open. We held our beers to our noses and nobody breathed.

*

Excerpted from Maggie Brown & Others by Peter Orner, scheduled to be published by Little, Brown on July 2, 2019.

Peter Orner

Peter Orner, a two-time recipient of the Pushcart Prize, is the author of five previous books, including the novel Love and Shame and Love and the collection Esther Stories, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His fiction has appeared on this site, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Tin House, and Granta, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. The winner of the Rome Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Orner teaches at Dartmouth College.

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