I knew my daddy as a guy named Hal. He had everybody call him by name, said a family is nothing if not good friends, and that father made him a priest and daddy was for spiders.
He worked thirty-five years at the Shoulder Blade Registry before his boss robbed the pension plan and lit out for Islamorada with the wife of that guy that invented carbon paper, you know, for typewrites.
Hal went to work on the heels of grits and eggs. But when he didn’t come home one evening, Elva, that’s mom, dragged me down there and found him sitting at his desk, a manikin in one of those Twentieth Century displays where Progress goes from sliced bread to office cubicles.
Elva sat on him arms scissored and they were smooching between the whispers when I wandered off; I knew what got bees buzzing because Hal and me had discussed our neighbors (the Dinglers) whose taste in clothing wasn’t limited to wearing when he hauled me off a windowsill one night, and we chewed it.
Every office was like they just stepped out for a smoke or went next door to Pete’s Eats where a flickering sign said Jumbo Pickles for as long as I can remember. Diplomas hung on the walls alongside family snaps, and in the office of the Islamorada bandit, a guy so scandalized he was elected mayor a month after his apprehension in Rusty Nail Key, I twirled a globe on a brass tripod, one leg aÂ sawed offÂ golf club duct taped to the rim. He also had a big black and white photograph of himself shaking hands withÂ some guy who looked like Al Capone at the foot of that stairway they rolled out to planes before the Jetway came into our lives, along with jets.
I wandered back down the hallway leapfrogging the linoleum where it bubbled from moisture. They were cleaning out his desk and I was happy to see Hal unfrozen from time. He told me where to find a cardboard box and when I opened the double bottom drawer, my arms sank to the elbows in hundreds of squares of Mike and Ike. Elva said, ‘every day since our honeymoon I put these in your lunch,’ and began flinging handfuls before they wandered off arm in arm. I figured out whoseÂ duty the box was and dragged it out to the car, a Mike and Ike tycoon.
The following day Hal and I went down Fulton Street delivering Mike and Ike. Some got wedged into packed and yellowed fliers. Dogs that came at us got ’em as treats or bullets, one. On the other side of the Dinglers, Southern Pacific yard bull One Eye Mack Ambrose, whose mailbox was a tiny caboose, got a handful, and three blocks down so did Polly ‘Wog’ Knudsen, a Ringling stringer who lived in aÂ house painted like a Popsicle. And then we turned up Council with its tidy lawns and did the same before we got to the mansions that line Forsythia that I’d always called For CynthiaÂ from a daydream about a girl who got the street for her birthday. But up the flagstone walk of one of those gingerbread castles we saw a woman in a wheelchair wedged in a door.
The newspaper called Hal a latter day Samaritan and prattled about his deed but never got around to our situation with a pension turned to glad-handing grease; and I believed my sidekick glory all shiny one day had rusted overnight, but I was wrong.
Delivered from peril was Lady Oriole ‘Cradle’ Cranshawe, widow of a forgotten peerage somebody, so ancient they said she had been around at the cradle of civilization. When she opened her purse, the city also emptied its pocketsÂ and set Hal up with aÂ job and bought us aÂ new car and arranged pictures with notables out on our street where now shutters crumble and sidewalks succumb to weeds.
But back of the street where the shadows linger, in yards that seem entirely too small, areÂ the trees I climbed, with shade circles wide enough to cloak the lore of times long gone and all but gone, winking a bolus of shadow and light like a crown in the coronation of kingly days and dreams.