Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Stephen J. Lyons delivered prescriptions for Rosen’s Drugs in Chicago on a one-speed bicycle when he was in seventh grade. He went on to write five books of essays and journalism. His latest is West of East, which features tales of his other jobs. He lives in Monticello, Illinois.
Lessons came fast, and sometimes violently. Once, an older boy urged me to yell, “You dirty Jew!” — words that I didn’t understand. I shouted the phrase up and down the alley until a tearful woman came running down three flights of stairs to slap my face, hard. My cheek can still recall the sting. That woman did me the ultimate favor.
For almost a month now I’ve been trying to collect the fifty-five dollars that a national environmental magazine owes me for a four-hundred-word book review. That’s two twenties, a ten, and a five.
This month marks The Sun’s twenty-fifth anniversary. As the deadline for the January issue approached — and passed — we were still debating how to commemorate the occasion in print. We didn’t want to waste space on self-congratulation, but we also didn’t think we should let the moment pass unnoticed. At the eleventh hour, we came up with an idea: we would invite longtime contributors and current and former staff members to send us their thoughts, recollections, and anecdotes about The Sun. Maybe we would get enough to fill a few pages.
What we got was enough to fill the entire magazine.
Though we haven’t devoted the whole issue to the anniversary, we have allowed the section to grow beyond our original plans. After seeing the pieces, we felt that our readers would enjoy them as much as we did — for the information about the magazine’s history, for the glimpses into the writers’ lives, and (not least) for the quality of the writing.
A flock of silent mallards skims low, and the first bats flutter out. In a moment the couple will disappear into the warm, glowing belly of the hotel, where they may or may not make love. So much depends on the man’s attentiveness, and so far he is blowing it. I know more than a little something about that myself.
Hazel Mitchell died last summer while I was out of town. She had a massive heart attack as she sat in her recliner watching an afternoon Braves game on TV. The last words she heard, after eighty years of life, were probably “High and inside to left-handed batter Fred McGriff. Need a cool, refreshing break? Tap the Rockies: Coors Light.”
This is my summer of zero tolerance — for weeds, that is. Each time a dandelion dares pop its bushy yellow head above the lawn, I’m out the door with my wife’s Old-Timer, a small, curved, bone-handled knife that’s perfect for following the rubbery stems down below the soil and gently loosening the roots.
The tests came back negative: Colete Lopez will be all right. She does not have AIDS, hepatitis, or cholera. According to the New York Times, the six-year-old, who attends first grade at PS 150, was stabbed in the leg with a hypodermic by a fifty-one-year-old man with no known address.
When my father left, my mother bought our first television set. She put it in what was now her bedroom. Three pieces of furniture floated in that spacious room: a Singer sewing machine, a mattress atop a box spring, and now a black-and-white television with rabbit ears.
As we pass under the Roosevelt Arch into the park, beneath the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” I say under my breath, “I am safe now. I am at home base. No one can find me here.” A friend has a saying that once seemed outrageous and cowardly, but is now my motto: “There is no problem so big you can’t run away from it.”
“ ‘Black rage’ — it’s a new defense for the Long Island Killer, sort of like an insanity plea,” my dad says as he drives us toward Brooklyn from La Guardia Airport. I have just arrived with my daughter, Rose, from northern Idaho for our annual week-long visit and I’m anxious for news.
A new couple has moved into the apartment next door to mine in this ancient Victorian. They are using the same bed as the previous couple, Nicole and Peter, whose dramatic lovemaking I would hear quite clearly as their headboard pounded my living-room wall.