A FEW FLORIDA STORIES, 1975-1980
One extremely hot summer day I was playing with the hose in the front yard. I was not washing the car or watering the lawn per se, but if anyone asked I could quickly point the hose in the direction of either the car or the lawn and I would be rewarded with smiles of pride, just look at how that young man helps around the house. As I continued to spray water at the infinite void, some kind of delivery man walked by, wiping his brow with an excessively soiled handkerchief. He saw me, saw my hose and asked if I could spray him. I was filled with an almost terrible kind of joy, as if some taboo boundary was about to be crossed. I hesitatingly turned the hose on him, dowsing him with the unrefreshing lukewarm waters. After a while he said, "Okay okay that's enough." He tried to force a smile, but I could tell he was mad.
My sister had a friend. Not just any friend, but a thirteen year old friend. She was lanky and tough. She had freckles on the tip of her pointed nose that rendered me even more awkward than I already was. And I knew she saw me as nothing more than my sister's younger brother. I would watch them sit in front of the TV, laugh about boys (I was also a "boy" but she did not know it yet). I admitted to myself that I desired her and began my plans to seduce her. One day, while she was waiting for my sister to get dressed so they could go out, I seized the moment. We had never been alone before. Now was my chance. I sauntered over to her, and, leaning on the wall behind her, said, "So, have you ever eaten a hot-dog in the bathroom?"
Under my bed was a keypad into I which I typed an alphanumeric sequence that only I knew. The result was a control panel descending from the ceiling into my lap. From there I was able to designate how much I did not want to go to school the next day. A variable control allowed me to set a value which would increase, by measure, the likelihood of my getting sick so that I could stay home. After I made the setting I would re-enter the code under my bed and the control panel would return to its invisible hideaway in the ceiling. In the morning, if I was well enough to go to school and could not feign any illness, I blamed it on the lousy craftsmanship of the device.
About the size of a local phone book, the Johnson and Smith catalog was a treasure-trove of gags, novelties, magic tricks, and odd scientific devices. For over three months, despite the abundance of goods within, I coveted one item only: a detective set, complete with fingerprint kit, fabric analyzer, tweezers, various compounds for lifting oils, etc.--notebook, badge, evidence bags--all stored in a hard-shell briefcase. The price: $3.95. It was an easy sell to my parents, who were beginning to think I spent too much time in the pool. So when I approached them with the idea for a detective set, all I had to do was clip and fill out the order form and give it to my father. Six weeks later a small package arrived for me. It couldn't have been the detective set, as it was not nearly large enough. I opened the box, only to discover it did in fact contain the detective set which was about the size of a deck of playing cards. Inside was all the things promised, just very very small. I took my sister's fingerprints over ten times and once I even dropped a piece of thread into the fabric-analysis fluid, which I spilled. Later I found out my friend got a detective set also, with walkie-talkies, a lie detector and a true to life size large hard-shell briefcase. I felt oddly sick until I saw that it was blue. I knew no self respecting detective would carry around a blue briefcase. So really no one won.
I had made a new friend and invited him over to my house for afternoon snacks and lemonade. Over the course of the day I convinced him that my mother was psychic. He left in a panic, and never came over again.
On the release of the film, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, my girlfriend and I decided, although we had never kissed before, that we would kiss whenever characters in the movie kissed. She played the autoharp for me once in her bedroom while I lounged on her bed. It was after school and her parents were not home. I began to feel things similar to those I felt in the pool. At the movie I was prepared to make my move. But I became so engrossed in the film, the large round eyes of Marty Feldman hypnotizing me, I completely forgot our deal. Later that week, at the playground, she suddenly kissed me. But at the time I was remembering a story of a peer that had earlier that year hurt himself when the swing set he was on popped out of the ground when he went too high. The image of that poor boy and the kiss lingered together in my mind until I the next day when I went swimming
Peter Bebergal has recently written for Salon, The Blue Moon Review, and McSweeney's. He lives in Cambridge, MA. He may be contacted: email@example.com.