Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Piece (Part One)

   I met Maurice Speck one winter evening when I was eleven years old. I had seen him many times before – he owned the house next door, after all, and he’d always chat with my father when they’d run into each other: small talk as they left for work in the morning or returned home at the same time; longer chats if they were simultaneously mowing the lawn in summer or shoveling the driveway in winter. But until that particular day, I myself had never spoken with the man. The extent of my dialogue when I saw him was a hello or a “Trick or treat!” on Halloween, an “I’m canvassing for our school’s annual fund-raising, and would you like to buy some chocolate to support our after-school programs?” Come to think of it, we had a somewhat comedic neighborly chocolate exchange paradigm. 

My definition of meeting a person, and I don’t think it’s a radical delineation, is to actually interact on a level above the not-so-random encounters that keep us close yet quite far. You see lots of people, you exchange pleasantries and become familiar with each other, but you never really meet someone until you exchange information that extends beyond the brittle construct of what is considered polite – and arbitrarily ill-defined – human interaction. 

I had left school when it let out at 3:30 PM. It was cold, and the snow banks lining the roads and sidewalks seemed as tall as mountains, the ice underfoot craggy and scowling. I don’t remember now how I had about two dollars’ worth of quarters in my coat pocket, but I remember where I planned to put them: into the Robocop coin-op at DeCiccio’s, the local pizzeria.

The DeCiccio’s entrance was a weird one for a restaurant. You’d open the door and see nothing but a dark hallway, the only light coming from an arcade game’s screen at the end. If you turned right at the end of the hall there was a dimly lit dining room of four tables, usually unoccupied. They never had many in-house patrons because they specialized in deliveries and take-out, which was a shame. The delivery pizza from DeCiccio’s was good; the pizza in their dining room was superlative.

But I was there to play Robocop, and after exhausting all of my quarters, a funny thing happened. The INSERT COIN TO CONTINUE screen would take me back to where I had left off in the game if I pressed START, no money down. I felt a little guilty for this video-game panacea, but, hell, I would beat Robocop come Hell or high water. It was like Maximum Overdrive inverted

Some hours later, I beat the game, but when I left  the restaurant it was dark outside. Grey clouds above, and black snow from cars peppered among the white. My Casio watch, with its unreliable light, showed that it was 5:36. That’s not too late in the evening, I thought, but coming home at dusk was an alien experience to me. I walked, and every step solicited…something. A piece of my youth? Something more sinister? I’m still curious to know.

When I got home, the doors were locked, and no lights were on inside the house. My parents often worked late, and sometimes they forgot to leave at least one door open, but I could always manage to get the garage door open at least (push then pull up hard on the handle, then shake furiously left to right), which I did, but the door inside the garage, which led to the kitchen, was bolted closed. Shit.

 I went around front and sat on the patio step, defeated. I pulled my science textbook out of my bag, but in the dark I couldn’t read any of the words. I blew into my hands and rubbed them together.

“Shit! Fuck!”

Then I heard a voice.

“Oh no, son, you need to get out of this cold. What are you doing here? Come on over next door. You look like an icicle on Jack Frost’s dick.”


And that was how I first met Maurice Speck. How I really met Maurice Speck. We would meet (meet) a couple of times over the years, but if I had to rank our encounters, that one is my favorite.

This is a story about salvation. But not mine.

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