Telegraph Avenue

A high point in a life lived at sea level, prone to flooding.

[...]a man and a boy, side by side on a yellow Swedish sofa from the 1950s that the man had bought because it somehow reminded him of a zoot suit, watching the A’s play Baltimore, Rich Harden on the mound working that devious ghost pitch, two pairs of stocking feet, size 11 and size 15, rising from the deck of the coffee table at either end like towers of the Bay Bridge, between the feet the remains in an open pizza box of a bad, cheap, and formerly enormous XL meat lover’s special, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ground beef, and ham, all of it gone but crumbs and parentheses of crusts left by the boy, brackets for the blankness of his conversation and, for all the man knew, of his thoughts, Titus having said nothing to Archy since Gwen’s departure apart from monosyllables doled out in response to direct yes-or-nos, Do you like baseball? you like pizza? eat meat? pork?, the boy limiting himself whenever possible to a tight little nod, guarding himself at his end of the sofa as if riding on a crowded train with something breakable on his lap, nobody saying anything in the room, the city, or the world except Bill King and Ken Korach calling the plays, the game eventless and yet blessedly slow, player substitutions and deep pitch counts eating up swaths of time during which no one was required to say or to decide anything, to feel what might conceivably be felt, to dread what might be dreaded, the game standing tied at 1 and in theory capable of going on that way forever, or at least until there was not a live arm left in the bullpen, the third-string catcher sent in to pitch the thirty-second inning, batters catnapping slumped against one another on the bench, dead on their feet in the on-deck circle, the stands emptied and echoing, hot dog wrappers rolling like tumbleweeds past the diehards asleep in their seats, inning giving way to inning as the dawn sky glowed blue as the burner on a stove, and busloads of farmhands were brought in under emergency rules to fill out the weary roster, from Sacramento and Stockton and Norfolk, Virginia, entire villages in the Dominican ransacked for the flower of their youth who were loaded into the bellies of C-130s and flown to Oakland to feed the unassuageable appetite of this one game for batsmen and fielders and set-up men, threat after threat giving way to the third out, weak pop flies, called third strikes, inning after inning, week after week, beards growing long, Christmas coming, summer looping back around on itself, wars ending, babies graduating from college, and there’s ball four to load the bases for the 3,211th time, followed by a routine can of corn to left, the commissioner calling in varsity teams and the stars of girls’ softball squads and Little Leaguers, Archy and Titus sustained all that time in their equally infinite silence, nothing between them at all but three feet of sofa;

Archy was tired of Nat, and he was tired of Gwen and of her pregnancy with all the unsuspected depths of his insufficiency that it threatened to reveal. He was tired of Brokeland, and of black people, and of white people, and of all their schemes and grudges, their frontings, hustles and corruptions. Most of all, he was tired of being a holdout, a sole survivor, the last coconut hanging on the last palm tree on the last atoll in the path of the great wave of late-modern capitalism, waiting to be hammered flat.

A smile opened, thin as a paper cut, in the bottom of Flowers's face.

Combing her thoughts, yanking them into a pigtail.

Do what you gotta do and stay fly

Fathering imposed an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal, and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars.

Gibson Goode to Archy: "You're just being stubborn now. Stubbornness in the service of a mistaken notion is a vanity and a sin.

Gwen found herself in possession, coolly palmed in her thoughts like a dollar coin, of the idea that she was about to bring another abandoned son into the world, the son of an abandoned son. The heir to a history of disappointment and betrayal, violence, and loss. Centuries of loss, empires of disappointment. All the anger that Gwen had been feeling, not just today or over the past nine months but all her life--feeding on to it like a sun, using it to power her engines, to fund her stake in the American dream--struck her for the first time as a liability. As purely tragic. There was no way to partake of it without handing it on down the generations.

Gwen thinks Lazar disrespected her because she's black. And look I mean you're aware of my policy when it comes to that kind of situation."

"Your policy is 'What do I know about being black?'"

"What do I know about being black?...

He addressed the class...in a soft, stupefied, increasingly breathless tone like an astronaut pleading with a mad supercomputer to open an airlock.

He reached up and out with both arms to shoot his cuffs, and for an instant he might have served to illustrate the crucial step in a manual on the seizing of days. He had already seized this particular day once, but he was prepared, if need be, to go ahead and seize the motherfucker all over again.

Her hair was a glory of tendrils for the snaring of husbands.

It was him, thirty years too old, twenty pounds too light, & forty watts too dim maybe, but him.

Knowing he had done wrong, prepared to make amends, settle his business. Determined to return to Brokeland, open the doors wide to the angel of retail death, and run the place into the ground all by himself, if that was what it took-but to fail calmly, to fail with style, to fail above all with that true dignity, unknown to his wife or his partner, which lay in never tripping out, never showing offense or hurt to those who had offended or hurt you.

Only Aviva’s long habit of taking the temperature of her own racism, of her biases and stereotypes about young black males (or about the iron-hard perdurance of their grandmothers) enabled Aviva to set aside, for the time being, her gut reaction—the boy was trouble—and admire Titus’s stillness.

Regret, hurt, bereavement, loss, to permit the flow of even one tear at the upwelling of such feelings was to imperil ancient root systems and retaining walls. Mudslide and black avalanche would result and drown him.

She balanced on a point between rage and its relief. Amid the layers of conscious thought and the involuntary actions of her body, Gwen found herself in possession, coolly palmed in her thoughts like a dollar coin, of the idea that she was about to bring another abandoned son into the world, the son of an abandoned son. The heir to a history of disappointment and betrayal, violence and loss. Centuries of loss, empires of disappointment. All the anger that Gwen had been feeling, not just today or over the past nine months but all her life—feeding on it like a sun, using it to power her engines, to fund her stake in the American dream—struck her for the first time as a liability. As purely tragic. There was no way to partake of it without handing it on down the generations.

The evening laid its cool palm against his weary brow as if feeling for a temperature.

The instructor, Ms. Pease, also taught in the church's religious school, and she had a Sunday school manner at once saccharine and condemnatory.

The little boy had wandered away from his mother, tacking across the grass to the play structure. His mother watched him go, proud, tickled, unaware that every time they toddled away from you, they came back a little different, ten seconds older and nearer to the day when they left you for good. Pearl divers in training, staying under a few seconds longer every time.

The lucky ones are the people like your husband there. The ones who find work that means something to them. That they can really put their heart into, however foolish it might look to other people.

The officious swagger in her gait might have been some flavor of self-possession or the cool skedaddle of a shoplifter making for the door. In either case, the streamer of toilet paper that trailed from the waistband of her tiny skirt like the banner of an advertising airplane pretty much spoiled the effect.

The past was irretrievable, the league of lonely men a fiction, the pursuit of the past a doomed attempt to run a hustle on mortality.

They had an old-fashioned sincerity...that touched Archy in this time when everything good in life was either synthesised in transgenic cyborg vats or shade-grown in small batches by a Buddhist collective of blind ex-Carmelite Wiccans.

Titus, operating under the terms of the more modest package that he had negotiated with Gwen, which included room, board, and at the end of his own Candy Land path, the ambiguous pink-frosting-roofed gingerbread house of a family to love him and fuck him up, instantly got out of the car, observed the agreed-upon conventions of civilized intercourse among strangers, and got back into the car. The boy was still visiting their planet from his own faraway home world, but Archy figured that with time, he would adjust to the local gravity and microbes. Keeping close to the baby most of the time, as if Clark were the object he had crossed the stellar void to study.

Valetta," he said, thinking she still looked good, then abandoning his Spidey sense long enough to let her take him in her arms, the skin of her bare shoulder in a halter top cool against his shoulder, the lady most definitely giving off that heavy 1978 Spencer's smell of love candles and sandlewood incense but, laid over top of it, the stink of cigarette, the instant-potatoes smell you might find in the interior of a beat-to-shit Toronado. "Damn.

Walter broke off a piece of a smile and tucked it into his left cheek as if reserving it for future use.

You got the good heart. Underneath all the other stuff. Good heart is eighty-five percent of everything in life.' ...
'What is the other fifteen percent?' Nat said. 'Just out of curiosity?'
'Politeness,' Mr. Jones said without hesitation. 'And keeping a level head.

You never would get through to the end of being a father, no matter where you stored your mind or how many steps in the series you followed. Nit even if you died. Alive or dead a thousand miles distant, you were always going to be on the hook for work that was neither a procedure nor a series of steps but, rather, something that demanded your full, constant attention without necessarily calling you to do, perform, or say anything at all.