Stripah Love

by Stephen Hunter Morris
from Chapter 1 : Listen to the Grease
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Return to the Mound

Arthur Gordon drives over the causeway that connects "Indian Mound" to the rest of the world feeling as if it is his bruised and battered body washing up on shore. The ordeal is past, but he's not yet sure whether or not he will survive, or whether he wants to.

Indian Mound is a small spit of dry land rising from a tidal marsh in Quincy Bay, a shallow subset of Boston Harbor. This was once a tidal island, connected to the Squantum peninsula only at low tide. As he drives over the causeway, the salt air arouses Artie's earliest memories of walking to The Mound when it was accessible only by foot.

Can I really remember that? Or have I created the memory from retelling the story so many times. So much has changed. So much is the same. Every house but mine is now winterized. This doesn't even pretend to be a summer community. The skyline of Boston seems close enough to touch. I remember when the John Hancock was the tallest building. We looked at the light for our weather forecast. The second tallest was the old Custom House. With a telescope you could read the clock. It wasn't enough for a building to be a building. There had to be a higher purpose. Now, it's enough to be a magnificent building.

The time was. The time is. Snot-nosed Artie, eight years old, barefoot for the entire summer still exists. Indian Mound still exists as a place that doesn't need satellite dishes or SUVs clogging its three narrow streets. It doesn't need video games or designer water. It needs clams and summer breezes and greased watermelon fights. It needs campfires and marshmallows and night games from Kansas City.

Kansas City was the westernmost city in the American League back then. It was as if the country ended there. Sure, Los Angeles and San Francisco and Seattle existed, but they were too new for major league baseball.

"Oh God, I am old," mutters Artie as his rental car reaches the end of the causeway and officially enters The Mound. "And I am living in the past, and I am thinking all the thoughts of an old fart."

I don't know if I can do this. I can stop right here, right now. Do a U-turn, go back to Logan, catch the first flight back to LA. Go first class, because I can. I am still Arthur Gordon, Hollywood poohbah. I can still take a good shot to the body and that's what this is, a good body shot. I just made an unpopular film, that's all.

Two boys were shooting baskets listlessly on a mobile, adjustable backboard. Both were dressed in oversized replica jerseys bearing the names of NBA stars. Their court was the street, forcing Artie to stop. Even with the backboard adjusted to its lowest level, the boys were unable to reach the rim without the assisted boost from a strategically-placed stump. They were in no hurry to move the stump so that the car could pass.

No, for chrissakes. You don't play basketball on Indian Mound. Basketball is for winter and city. You play baseball or some facsimile thereof. You make up games with a tennis ball and you use your hand for a bat. If you don't have a tennis ball you make a ball out of rolled up socks and rubber bands. You draw the bases in the sand with your toe, and then when they are obscure you argue about every single call so that everyone can claim victory. You don't need to dunk and you don't need to wear a $65 logo jersey with an ad for Reebok on it. You don't need this crap and that paraphernalia and if you are going to wear colors they damn well better be the kelly green of the Celtics. At least they are the one team with character, and they are your goddamn hometown team.

Artie flashed on himself not less than a month ago, attending a Lakers game, flashing the hi sign to Jack Nicholson and taking note of what good company he was keeping. Jack kidded him about being the "little, fat, bald guy" with "the Oriental Swede" as he referred to Meiko, Artie's girl friend. Artie took it in stride. Hey, when Nicholson treats you like a locker room buddy, you roll with the punches. He knew that people noticed him more because he had a blond, Chinese bimbo bombshell on his arm. Plus, he was trashtalking with Jack. Hey, that's what it's all about, right? Being famous enough to act like a normal person.

The first time he attended a Lakers game, he was offended by the sideshows and that trivialized the actual game. This wasn't Boston Garden, with its parquet and dusty rafters with the retired jerseys of champions. The Garden had dignity. It was a cathedral. In L.A. you spend the first quarter seeing who else is there. Then, you spend the second quarter figuring out what to eat. Then, at halftime, it's a mad rush to shake hands with everyone above you in the pecking order. In the third quarter, you leave to beat the traffic. If you're a real fan, you find out who wins on the radio.

As time passed and Artie's status rose, and his seating improved to four rows behind the bench, he came to enjoy the ritual. Now, instead of spending his time tracking down the other celebrities in attendance, he let them find him.

Now, he was smiling beatifically at two boys taking their sweet time about rolling their stump out of the way so that his rented Lincoln could pass. "This fuckin'sucks," he muttered through lips pursed in an utterly false display of patience. "Little twerps."

The Lincoln stops. Artie gets out to stare at the forlorn little cottage. Even the brightness of the day is diminished by the overgrowth. So, this is what three years of neglect will do. Artie walks to the front door, "climbs" is more like it, reaches up over the light and finds the key still in its familiar place. The windows are boarded. The paint, as on Cuzzin's Bait & Tackle, is peeling.

The lawn hasn't been mowed in three years. Three years of leaves have accumulated. The bushes are three years larger. Three years is a long time in the world of a small cottage.

"I'm in a bad dream," says Artie. Then he opens the front door. "The dream just got worse," he says as he surveys a dark, cobwebby room, with all the furniture covered in plastic. The place is in shambles. Animals have gotten into some of the overstuffed furniture and made nests. The critters reign. Artie blows the dust off a family photo and picks up a small sailboat, one that was his as a boy.

I can turn around right now. In one half-hour I can be checking in to the Ritz and calling room service to send up a Beefeater Gibson, straight-up. I can be on the telephone to Meiko. I can check my emails.

"Otty. Hiyo, Ot-tee! You in there?" Artie comes back out into the sunlight. He sees a police officer, wearing his blues. He is about Artie's age, but bigger all over. He peers through thirty years and sees Tubby Tropiano.

"Oh, sweet Jesus, do I have to call you 'Officer?'"

"You can call me 'Asshole.' I heard you was down here! I had to come see for myself. Hey, you're looking good. Old, but good." The two men shake hands, then embrace. Artie stands back to take in the whole spectacle.

"Officer Tropiano. How did this come to pass?"

"I got outta the service and didn't know what to do. I've been doing this for fifteen years, retire in five. Where you been? Off in Hollywood making movies"

"Making lousy movies."

"I like your movies, but I didn't get to see this last one. Seemed too much like a chick flic. What are you doing here?"

"I'm here for the summer."

"You're kidding! We hardly see you for thirty years and now you're here for the summer? You staying in the cottage."

"That's the idea." Officer Tropiano reacted with a wince.

"Needs a bit of work."

"Yes, it's primitive, but that's part of the appeal."

"You want to stay with me and the missus. You know we live right over on Sea Shell Road. Remember the Donovan Place?"

"I do. Let me give this a try, and if it's too bad, it's good to know you're there."

"You know who I married?"

"No, who?"

"Kathleen Sullivan."

"Kathleen Sullivan? She gave me my first hand job!"

And in an instant, Officer Tropiano became a twelve year old Tubby, swearing and mock punching at Artie Gordon just as they had many years ago.

On his way out of town, Artie stops at Cuzzin's Bait & Tackle.

"Change your mind on hiring some help?"

"No," says Artie. "I'm pretty determined to do this myself, but I do have a deal for you."

"When I get back in a week, how about we swap vehicles for a while. I've got a feeling I'll be making a few trips to the dump."

"I always pictured myself in a Lincoln."

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cover: Stripah Love by Stephen Morris
Stripah Love
by Stephen Morris
The four books in Stephen Morris
In Beyonder, 4 books make 1 trilogy

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