Mark Chiusano Marine Park: Stories

ISBN 13: 9780143124603

Marine Park: Stories

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9780143124603: Marine Park: Stories

· Recipient of a 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention ·

“Chiusano . . . [has] formidable talents. It will be worth watching what he does when he leaves the neighborhood.”—John Williams, The New York Times 

An astute, lively, and heartfelt debut story collection by an exciting new voice in contemporary fiction


Marine Park—in the far reaches of Brooklyn, train-less and tourist-free—finds its literary chronicler in Mark Chiusano. Chiusano’s dazzling stories delve into family, boyhood, sports, drugs, love, and all the weird quirks of growing up in a tight-knit community on the edge of the city. In the tradition of Junot Díaz’s Drown, Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago, and Russell Banks’s Trailerpark, this is a poignant and piercing collection—announcing the arrival of a distinct new voice in American fiction.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Mark Chiusano is the author of Marine Park, which received an honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His fiction and essays have appeared in GuernicaNarrative MagazineFive ChaptersHarvard Review, and online at Tin House, NPR, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, among other places. He was born and raised in Brooklyn. Find him at markchiusano.com or @mjchiusano.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

 Copyright © 2014 by Mark Chiusano


AIR-CONDITIONING

For a while there was only one air conditioner in our house. It was in the living room, and we put it on during birthdays or

the Fourth of July. It covered the heat in the kitchen from my mother burning things, like the half-sausages, the hot ones, which had a black crust on the bottom from where they touched the pan for too long.

Lorris slept in my room during the summer, even though he had his own room, because mine had a ceiling fan. It had wooden slats with small holes at the edges so that in the winter we could hang our model planes and cars o? the ends. After our mother had dusted the top of the slats, we would set the fan going on a low frequency and the planes and race cars would spin around, getting higher and higher with the centripetal acceleration, until the Lego ones started to break apart and Lorris ran shouting from the room.

Our parents had been arguing in the living room, with the air conditioner masking the noise a little, and we were building Lego cars in my room, when ?nally I came and sat on the stairs and started reading a poem I’d written the week before about how cold the pancakes were that morning.

The pancakes, I said, were cold this morning. I was sitting with my knees together on the top step and Lorris was lying on his stomach clutching the two-by-two Lego piece I had asked him to ?nd. I started over: The pancakes were cold this morning.

That’s enough of that, said my father. I’m just trying to help, I said.

Jamison’s just trying to help, said Lorris.

It’s none of your business, my father said. This is an adult conversation. From downstairs we could hear the kitchen cabinets being slammed shut. Conversation, he repeated.

One day my father came home carrying a second air conditioner. He was carrying it the way you carry birthday presents, as if someone was about to stack more boxes on top. He had to put the air conditioner down to ring the doorbell, even though Lorris and I had seen him through the upstairs window, and our mother went to answer it, us behind her, her shoulder and neck cradling the portable phone. She put a hand over the receiver to say, I don’t even want to know.

My father was a driving instructor. He worked at the place on Kings Highway under the train tracks, where the storefronts grow on top of each other until one of them covers the other. The o?ce for the Kings Highway Driving School was on the second ?oor, and they were ignoring Department of Health requests to make it handicap accessible. They posted a sign that said, for handicapped, please call up. will come down and get you. So far they’d never had to do it.

I was thirteen at the time, and taking any seconds in the car I could get. Technically I was too young, but if we went in the practice car and lit up the sign on top that said student driver, no one said anything. Everyone in our neighborhood was a cop, and they knew me and my father pretty well, so we always drove out toward the sanitation plant on Gerritsen, the shit factory, where you could make the widest turns. Sometimes we let Lorris in the back, because he always begged to come, and he took his favorite Hot Wheel, the red one with the white stripe down the middle. It was always the fastest on our yellow racetrack. He held it in both hands, mimicking the turns and motions I made while I drove.

My mother didn’t like the idea of me driving, especially with my father, because she said that someday we would get caught and it would go on my permanent transcript. That was the kind of thing she was always ragging about, things on my permanent school transcript. Even though I was about to graduate, and Madison doesn’t turn people away. She thought that those kinds of things ride on your bumper forever, and maybe they do, but I try to ask as few questions as possible. She wasn’t around when we drove any way, because she worked eight to six as a school secretary.

My father lounged around most mornings, doing his shifts in the o?ce three days a week, but other than that he stayed at home until four, when the ?rst lessons were usually scheduled. Some- times he’d paint the basement just for something to do, or sweep the stoop. I got o? the cheese bus from school around three, which left almost an hour for driving. Some days, if Lorris was late at an after-school program, we’d go pick him up. Our mother liked that the least. How could we explain ourselves picking a nine-year-old kid up at school and say this is still a lesson? She was mainly just unhappy because she thought our father wasn’t a good driver, and that it was terrifying that he was teaching the whole borough below Fulton Street. Technically she might have been better, but he was con?dent about it, and didn’t worry about hitting the brakes too hard or conserving gas. She was always stopping at yellows.

When he brought the second air conditioner home it was April, but one of those hot Aprils that remind you what summer’s like, before it rains again. In Brooklyn we waited for thunderstorms. Once our father left for work and before our mother got home, I’d get the key for the garage and open the heavy door slowly, hand over hand. Lorris would be drumming on the metal as it went up. We’d pull our bikes out, his ?re-yellow, mine blue and white, and race down the side streets to Marine Park by the water. There were trees on the outside of the park, basketball courts near the street. In the middle, a wide paved oval studded by baseball ?elds, their backstops open, facing each other across the grass. At that point in the afternoon you could feel the heat through the handlebars. We’d make it one lap around the oval, 0.84 miles, before we heard the ?rst thunder, and then Lorris would yell and dart ahead even though he’d just gotten his training wheels o?. The rain came down all at once then, and all of a sudden it would be cold, and this was the best part, when I pulled over by the water fountain and Lorris circled back to me. I pulled the two red and blue windbreakers out of my bike basket and we put them on, invincible. We rode two more laps in the storm until racing each other home.

 

Dad put the second air conditioner in his and Mom’s room. It was just the bathroom and a closet between their room and mine, and if we had the fan on low Lorris and I could hear the air conditioner clearing its throat all night. That’s what it sounded like—like it was constantly hacking something up from deep down in its throat. Sometimes if I was awake after going to the bathroom in the early a.m., I could hear our mother wake up and walk over to it, and turn it down a few settings. It took them a long time to get the hang of how high they wanted it to be. It would be too warm when they went to bed, but then freezing by morning, unless Mom got up to ?x it. We could tell when she hadn’t gotten up, because when we went in before school to say good-bye to Dad, on the days he was sleeping there, he’d have the white sheets all wrapped around his head from the middle of the night.

A few weeks after we got the second air conditioner it was so hot they started putting out weather advisories over 1010 WINS in the morning. Stay inside unless absolutely necessary. Mom took this to heart, and tried to get Lorris and me to do it too, though we didn’t. School was winding down, especially for eighth-graders, so we didn’t have homework anymore, even from Regents math. My math teacher, Mr. Pebson, had taken to sitting in the back of the classroom and spraying Lysol at anyone if they sneezed too close to him. This was in independent math, where we worked at our own pace. We took the tests when we got to the ends of chapters. At this point, everyone seemed to still have a few pages before being ready for their tests. Mr. Pebson didn’t mind. He was concentrating on staying ahead of the sickness wave that always happened the ?rst time the weather changed like this.

It got so hot that the cheese buses broke down, and we had to walk home from school. Dad would have picked us up if we told him, and he did pick Lorris up, but I convinced him that we’d gotten some special buses shipped in from upstate, where the kids biked to school all the time because it was so safe. My friend Hayden and I walked toward our neighborhood together, taking everything in.

One of those days, Hayden told me that I couldn’t walk straight. I told him he was being ridiculous but it turned out he was right. I’d step with my left foot and fall two or three inches o? my forward motion, and then readjust with my right foot, but four or ?ve inches too far. Then I’d have to ?x it with my left, but that came o? the line a little too. I didn’t know it was happening. Somehow I got wherever I was going, but Hayden showed me how, if he was standing pretty close to my shoulder, I kept knocking him, on every third or fourth step.

We were walking down Thirty-Third, which comes o? Kings Highway at a curve, and suddenly I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it all the way home. The more I thought about my feet the more inches I diverged right and left. Hayden held my right arm and tried to force me forward, but I started breathing heav y and told him I needed a break. That’s when the station wagon pulled over, and someone rolled down the window.

It was a high school kid, with a Madison football sweatshirt and the chinstrap beard that everyone who could was wearing that year. Hayden was pretending that the white tuft on his chin counted. The driver also had a Madison sweatshirt on, and I saw him use his right hand to put the car into park.

Don’t you live on Quentin? the guy in the passenger seat said to us. You coming down from Hudde?

Hayden said yes.

Jump in, he said. We’ll drop you o?—it’s too hot to walk. He leaned his arm out the window and reached behind to open the back door.

Once we were in the car the Madison kid in the passenger seat turned the music up, and it wasn’t that it was louder than in our car but it was thumping more in my chest. You like Z100? he said, smiling, leaning his left hand behind the headrest.

I was watching the driver while Hayden answered for us. He was driving with two ?ngers, his index and middle ones on one hand, his other arm out the window. Somehow we were going just as fast as my dad always goes on side streets, but we were getting the soft stops that only my mom, at ?fteen miles per hour, was able to get. At the stop sign on Avenue P, he jolted out to look twice, in exact time with the music. His friend was drumming on the dash- board with both hands.

Dad was sitting on the stoop when they dropped us o?, and he stood up once he recognized me getting out of the car. The car waved away. I was able to walk again, the zigzag curse gone. Hayden said, Hi, Mr. Favero, and then turned to me. That car was disgusting, huh? he said. I was looking at my dad’s face. When I got up to him, he grabbed me under the armpit and dragged me up the stoop. Hayden didn’t look away. We were inside with the air-conditioning on when he ?at-palmed me in the stomach.

Are you serious? he said. Are you serious?

 

When Dad came home with the third air conditioner, it was still blistering out. There were tornadoes in Texas, more than they’d ever seen before, and in earth science Ms. Donatelli said it was what we had to look forward to: global warming in America. Someone in the back asked if this meant no more snow days, and she said, Maybe no snow, period.

He had the air conditioner in the trunk of the driving instructor car. You don’t notice until you’re close to it, but those cars are a little skinnier than regular ones. Dad says it helps the kids who have a bad sense of hand-eye coordination. There’s more wiggle room when you’re trying to squeeze through tight spaces. He says that the ?rst thing he asks a student when they get in the car is whether they played sports when they were younger, or if they still do now. If not, he’d know it was going to be a long day. You can’t imagine how crappy those kids are, especially the Hasidic Jews.

Why’s that, Daddy? asked Lorris.

Because they didn’t play sports as a kid, he answered, wiping his mouth with his napkin. I had set the table, and we used the white ones with blue borders that I liked.

This is how you raise your kids, Mom said. She was twirling her fork in her ?ngers. She’d gotten home late and he was back early.

My kids, yeah? He shrugged. It’s just true.

The new air conditioner was bigger than the others, mostly because it had extendable plastic wings on the side that were sup- posed to be for ?tting in a window. That afternoon before Mom got back from work, he put it in the kitchen, balancing it above the heater and extending the wings so it sat snug. He got some blocks of wood out of the garage and pushed them underneath.

When she came back she had immediate problems. They had a session up in their bedroom where we couldn’t really hear what they were yelling. When they came down, she was pointing at the kitchen window. How am I supposed to hang the clothes out now? she said. I guess Dad hadn’t thought about that. The clothesline comes out the kitchen window. He moved it one window over.

That was the spring of people breaking their wrists. I had three friends who did, and at least two more from school. Everyone was walking around with casts on their arms and permanent markers in their back pockets to ask you to sign. It happened to our next-door neighbor ?rst—he was playing basketball at the courts by Marine Park, and when he went up for a rebound someone kneed him the wrong way. He fell full on his knuckles. I wasn’t there, but Lorris had been riding his bike and said he saw him waiting for the ambulance, his hand doubled over and ?ngers touching forearm.

The one wrist I did get to see was right by our house. Behind the house there’s an alley for the sanitation trucks to get the garbage. This way they don’t clog up the avenues in the mornings. Hayden was over and Dad was showing Lorris how to skateboard. The alley has a little hill on each end and dips down in the middle. Dad had him getting speed down the hill and then showed him how to glide. Hayden and I were on our Razor scooters, trying to do grind tricks o? the concrete sides of the alley. Then, after Lorris beat his own glide record and Dad was giving him a high ?ve, Hayden decided to come down the hill backward.

Dad wasn’t watching. He was pretending to shadowbox with Lorris, who was saying, I’m the greatest, I’m the greatest.

Don’t do it, man, I said. They don’t even try that on Tony Hawk.

It’s gonna be sick, he said, and gave it a little hop to get his speed up.

He made it all the way down before falling. I have to give him credit for that. But then he swerved toward the wall and got scared and fell. He wasn’t even going that fast. All I heard was a squelch, like the sound the black dried-up shark eggs make when we squish them on the beach at Coney Island. It was the same sound. His wrist looked bent sideways. He jumped up and was screaming, My wrist, my wrist, and my dad came running over, Lorris right behind, and that’s when the third air conditioner fell out the window, crashing and breaking into pieces, and my mom yelling from the kitchen, Goddamnit you’re an asshole. Dad and I drove Hayden to the hospital ?rst, but when we got back we swept up all the pieces.

 

It wasn’t long after that until it was my birthday, and to celebrate Dad took me out driving with him. It was the weekend, so we had plenty of time. Mom was home...

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