The Weight

Chance meetings leave us changed in unexpected ways

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“You’re a long way from home,” the waitress said. A little shopkeeper’s bell dingled as I closed the door behind me and I looked up it, wondering what kind of place this was.

“We’re more tavern than bar,” she said, answering my thought. She moved out from the shadows behind the bar to where I could see her clearly, her waitress’ apron tied neatly and knotted in front and a towel with blue edging slung over her shoulder. “More a way-station, actually.”

She was pretty in an older kind of way and I wasn’t sure I expected someone in their late thirties to – oh, even late – forties to be tending bar on an old country crossroads at the northern edge of the New York-Mass border. “With a name like The Mythic Center I’m not surprised,” I said.

I wasn’t even sure if it was a bar, but I’d gotten lost, it was nine-o’clock at night and this was the only place with lights on – hell, it was the only place, period – I’d seen since dusk. It was too dark, too late and I was too tired to keep hiking through country I hadn’t explored in thirty-five years.

“Been traveling long?” she asked, making conversation. I was the only other person in the place so I’m sure she didn’t mind the company.

I nodded and smiled back, rubbing my hands against the cold they’d gathered in the day’s walking. I could have sworn I left the city in late summer but Fall seemed to come fast in my wake. I stood by the door and looked around. The place had a look that made me feel comfortable. It wasn’t really a bar. Like she said, more a tavern and out here, I could believe a way-station. And it wasn’t yuppified. The tables and chairs were light maple – all local and hand made, nothing imported and nothing with a machined #7 of 7,000 look. The place had a good, solid, well-worn feel about it. Whatever wasn’t maple – the paneling, the bar and stools, the booths – was oak, ash or thorn. Whoever owned The Mythic Center meant it to last and I chuckled as I realized the oxymoron in that. But everything seemed a little lonely with only the waitress cleaning up to keep the furniture and walls company. There were chess and checker boards on some of the tables, some tables had cribbage boards on them. I could tell serious gamers came here because the gaming tables had green shaded, metal poker lights suspended from the ceilings over them. Between those and the bar and booth lights, the place was well lit without being blinding, what I’d call soothing and never too much light unless you needed it.

One wall contained several racks of books and the opposite wall sported a genuine British competition style dart board, well used. I stared at it and my face must have lit up because the waitress asked, “Do you throw?”

I shook my head, no, although I walked over and lifted a dart from its rack. I ran my fingers over the flight feathers – again, no plastic and the darts were competition weighted. “No, just an admirer of good things built to last.”

She stopped drying down a Monopoly™ gaming table and stood up to look at me, one hand on a hip and twirling the damp towel with the other. “Thanks.”

The light over the table captured her in a spotlight and she let me take a long drink before she reached up for the chain and turned the light off. Salt&pepper hair that made a long, thick braid down her back, cerulean blue eyes that my dad used to call “ice-eyes”, a wide face with lots of freckles but no wrinkles except laugh lines, and no makeup to disturb any of it. When she smiled there was a gap in her front teeth and I caught myself thinking of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Wife, then quickly shook my head.

It showed, I guess. The way she smiled at me, running her tongue over the gap in her teeth absentmindedly, looking down and to the side as she shook her head.

Under a full length apron she wore a blue tanktop matching her eyes. Her jeans were torn at the knees and faded from work, not from some designer’s idea of what work did to good clothing and red hightop sneakers like I use to wear as a kid.

She quoted Bob Seger’s Nightmoves, singing it like a question, “Little too tall? Could’a used a few pounds?”

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Peter Frampton – The Weight

His songs helped me write my history

Peter Frampton, in case you haven’t heard, is doing a farewell tour.

It seems many of the legends of my youth are doing farewell tours. Elton John comes to mind. The Moody Blues will never appear as The Moody Blues again. Such happens if you live long enough. Susan (wife/partner/Princess) and I are spending this year going to final tour concerts.

Bittersweet, that.

Eariler this week we saw Peter Frampton in concert. This is the third time for Susan, fourth for me. We saw him together when he played in David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour, then long ago when he played at an abandoned drive-in theater in Ogunquit, Maine (the first stop in a comeback. He was testing material. And it was bittersweet then. In the middle of the concert he had to put on glasses to read something. He apologized to us. I remember everybody waving cyalumes, not lighters). He’s still got it. He has neurologic challenges that are making it difficult for him to perform. Couldn’t tell by his performance. And gracious as always…

He opened by letting everybody know they could video and take pix of his first three songs, then he’d prefer if we all simply sat and enjoyed.

We did.

But this post is about the first time I saw Frampton perform. I was already a big fan. I told anybody and everybody that he was underrated, that he had serious chops, pay attention.

And we’re talking the early to mid 1970s.

The first time I saw Frampton perform, I was hiking The Dragon’s Spine and came down to resupply. That meeting stayed with me and became a focal point in my Pushcart nomimated story, The Weight. Here’s the excerpt that deals with my meeting Frampton many years ago (read the full story).
Continue reading “Peter Frampton – The Weight”

Empty Sky Chapter 9 – Earl Pangiosi

Is it “evil” if it’s all you know how to do?

Read Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz


Earl Pangiosi sat in the Empire Builder‘s Superliner Snack Coach’s upper level, a pillow behind his head and a blanket covering his legs, peering through dark, wraparound sunglasses at people’s reflections in the round, full length domed windows. When someone nodded off, he’d dip down his glasses and peer at them briefly, purse his lips then shove the glasses back up his face. Once in a while he’d catch his own red-haired, high colored reflection as he followed people walking past.

Earl liked being around people so he could practice. He had his own car — disguised as two back-to-back LandSea containers on a flatcar and marked “US Mail” — further back in the train. It brought a brief smile, the change in rail regulations that allowed all trains to transport freight and passengers simultaneously. It made his private car’s subterfuge possible.

He tolerated the miasma of greasy hamburgers and soggy fries, of too strong coffee and unwashed bodies, of screaming children and louder screaming parents, and the occasional whiffs of diesel to indulge in a pastime he enjoyed since his childhood; watching people’s reflections in glass.

It was a early Fall night much like this one that he first noticed his gift.

Dad, suit and tie and freshly shaved and mustache neatly trimmed, drove their new, ’59 burgundy Lincoln Continental back to the old neighborhood. Mom sat opposite dad, wrapped in her furs, wearing her best clothes. Dad told her she wore clothes too tight sometimes but she told him to never mind, didn’t he want everybody to know what he had every night?

Mom and Dad left the old neighborhood a year before and never told Earl why. But once a month, maybe twice, he and Mom and Dad would get in the car and go back north to the old neighborhood with presents for everybody. Dad was in the meat business and he’d hand out steaks and chops and roasts and cutlets and hotdogs in summer and hamburger and ground pork if somebody wanted to make meatballs. Everybody was so grateful and Mom would smile and nod as she stood beside Dad, his hands reaching deep into the coolers in the dark of the trunk, coming back into daylight, his hands full of brown paper wrapped meats neatly tied with butcher’s twine. They asked questions about the new car and Dad would tell them it was a Lincoln and Mom would correct him with “Lincoln Continental.”

They drove home, the coolers empty and tucked in the trunk, heading south on a clear, moonless Sunday night. Earl saw the Rhode Island border sign. Soon Dad would slow for the Providence traffic and take the Federal Hill exit.

An only child, Earl had the entire backseat to himself. He could lie down and take naps if he wanted to. Now he sat hands folded and face pressed against the rear passenger’s window, his knees pulled together and tucked under him because he had to pee but Dad said they weren’t going to stop, they only had a little further to go and Earl was a big man and could hold it, couldn’t he?

Sure, Dad.

Except Earl really had to pee. The leather seat sent shivers of cold up through his bare knees and that didn’t help. He had bare knees because he wore shorts. Shorts, a winter jacket and a hat Mom made him wear even though his cousins all wore long pants.

They already laughed at him because he had different color eyes; the right brown, the left blue. Mom didn’t say much and his cousins and some aunts and uncles said that made him a freak. She made him wear dark sunglasses and told people Earl had sensitive eyes.

His cousins would dance around him. “Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis. Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis.”

He caught his reflection in the window as his exhalations frosted the glass. Mom’s and Dad’s reflections, too.

He’d never noticed them before. Maybe reflections were something you only got in a Lincoln Continental? The dashboard gave off so much light.

He watched his father’s profile as they drove. Mother said things and Dad occasionally winced on the side mom couldn’t see, like somebody was jabbing him with a little knife.

Mom would go ya ya ya and Dad’s nose would twitch and his mustache would rise a little then go back down. Mom would go da da da and Dad’s eye would wink shut quick and then back open to watch the cars on the road. Mom would go sa sa sa and Dad’s lips would move forward and back like he wanted to spit something out.

Earl watched his father and something happened in Earl’s head. His father stopped being a person and became a book, a map, a reference, something easily read. He tasted what his father felt. He did not know the word but he understood the emotion: despair.

“You don’t like what Mom’s saying, do you, Dad.”

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Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz

You didn’t do yourself any favors with the beer and pizza, Joni

Read Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin


Joni stood across Beacon Street from the Brookline Abortion Clinic staring at the sign’s red and gold lettering.

What betesticled marketing moron came up with those colors for an abortion clinic?

Two buses, one with a Boston’s Pro-Life Action Network banner and the other unloading Operation Rescue “sidewalk counselors”, formed a phalanx from the sidewalk to the clinic doors. Ever since John Salvi III opened fire here and at its sister clinic about a mile away, and now with most red states sending bus loads of safe sex refugees north, this stretch of Beacon Street became one of the safest most dangerous places in the greater Boston area. Police cars patrolled routinely. Male and female undercover cops chatted up anyone and everyone walking anywhere near the clinic.

The Supreme Court had created a safe zone for people wanting to enter and exit the clinics and this safe zone included quite a bit of the sidewalk and street surrounding the clinic. People on their way elsewhere learned to stay on the other side of the street, thus the only people nearing the clinic were those having business there.

Such as Joni, today.

Joni held a pencil in her hand as if it were a cigarette. She lifted it to her lips each time she felt her breakfast of barely thawed Brüdermann’s frozen pizza and cold Starbucks coffee coming back on her.

She belched. “Ugh. Morning sickness is one thing but you didn’t do yourself any favors here, Joni girl.” She checked her palm for escaping pieces of pizza. “I should never have given up smoking.”

She watched an obese woman with a video camera and two small children in tow from her safe haven of a sidewalk bench across the street from the clinic. The children orbited the woman more like satellites than offspring; the woman was large enough to warrant a small planetary system of her own.

All the other people, all the other protesters and contesters, all the police, all the counselors, all the passersby and traffic in between, evaporated until only this one woman, video camera in hand, her greater and lesser moons of Phobos and Deimos orbiting via unseen gravitational umbilicae, spun away from the others, walking and talking her way into a universe of her own.

She held vigil under an ash tree, a cat waiting for a specific bird to arrive. She kept telling her kids to stay there. At least it seemed she was. She might have been saying, “Stay here until I move five feet away. No more. Five feet, do you hear? Then come running after me. Scream for me. Clutch onto my skirt, climb onto my coat, pull me down into the earth with the weight of you. Make sure you’re loud and obscene enough for all others to see. We are here to show them what it means to be a mother.”

Joni’s hand went to her stomach. She couldn’t feel any life there yet. “Small comfort.” Instead she felt the pizza and coffee making plans for a violent escape. She wanted to be prepared.

How did the woman pick her targets? Did she only go for women like herself? Like herself in what way?

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The Lonely Oak (a Tale of the Woods) – Narration

You understand, don’t you? It’s magic, after all.

I shared the written The Lonely Oak (a Tale of the Woods) in a previous post. In the past few months I’ve listened to others reading my work and wondered how people would respond to it.

Besides, folks may want a break from a steady diet of Empty Sky (I’ll return to it in a few weeks, I promise).

Do let me know what you think. Suggestions for improving this are quite welcome.

Click on the “post” above to open the story in a separate tab/window if you wish to read along side.

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