Thunder Pie | Once Upon A Time In The Creek Behind The Dirty Book Store

me a Keith It never seemed to me that it was meant to be remembered as what happened, but I guess that’s the way it goes. You go through so many years and you think you can imagine – into reality – what will unfold around you. That’s not arrogance, I don’t think; it is different from that; it’s more innocent.

You’re greener than that and so am I. We both probably watched too much TV when we were kids. Too many movies. Our imaginations turned into visions. We imagined ourselves living masterful lives. None of us think we’ll end up drunk on the couch with a racing heart and a Christmas tree looming over us like a state trooper in a highway ditch.

We never thought we would end up this messy. Or that certain incidents occur that make us, years or even decades later, think that everything is so flawlessly random. And that this must all be a dream. I mean, it just has to be.

I do not know. Somehow, most of us half-believe that we can somehow wish the people and experiences we dreamed up in algebra into existence.

Get the fuck out of here, we said.

Connect me with compelling people. Put us off o Better days.

I look back now on the hot summer of my senior year of high school and see Keith. White teeth carved from his black face like a good thief opening a bag of jewels. His smile/ sharing with me in the Forever mall parking lots. He looked over me as if I wasn’t even there. Maybe I wasn’t.

It’s getting harder to say for sure.

In the last weeks of my freshman year of high school, I found a summer job. It was good too. Paid like $5.50 an hour, no benefits, nothing like most jobs I’ve ever had. But the work was easy and satisfying. I would show up at King of Prussia Plaza early in the morning, at 7:00 a.m., I would run this large industrial sweeper along the outside walkways. Trampled coke cans, styrofoam takeout containers, crumpled cigarette boxes, plastic bags, human dried loogies, pigeon shit, pizza crusts with delightfully specific marks, cracked in half Walkman earphones, evaporating lakes of human urine, Chick-Fil-A aluminum foil wrappers with globs of sauce sticking out of the wrapped insides like some soldier’s belly is spilling out of its skin, Kool butts, camel butts, Pall Mall buttocks and parliament asses, whatever people threw on the ground I could vacuum it up with this heavy machine that took no prisoners at all.

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I’m pretty sure I could vacuum a toddler too if I ever came across one lying on the sidewalk outside one of the entrances or whatever. I just pulled on those slick handlebars and unleashed that roaring mouth over the kid like a third inning storm.




Cans, cigarettes and one stupid kid.

All in a day’s work, mate.

The rest of the day, after a few hours of work on the vacuum cleaner, was kind of up to me. Even then, I knew well what people in authority needed from me. Not what they expected from me or wanted from me. But what they needed from me. And after a week or two at work I figured it out Kevin, the boss I had to answer to was a nervous guy who was very interested in what his boss, whose name I can’t remember, actually expected of him. So after a few conversations with Jim, I put it together.

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He basically said without being specific, I need you to vacuum the sidewalks in the morning and then I need you to disappear. Doing things that make reasonable sense out there in the vast exterior of the mall, but doing them without drawing attention to myself. In other words, what Kevin Nervous Bossman it was required of me to stay away from him and his boss and never deviate from this pattern for about 8 solid weeks of full time summer employment. In return, I would grab a check for $169 every Friday at closing time (3pm). As part of the deal, I would get a set of keys that opened various small dark cabinets in odd isolated loading bays in various locations throughout the mall. These places were seemingly outposts of outdated shovel bins and wide old brooms that I would unlock as needed to get bags or sprays of chemical gum remover or whatever other tools or supplies a 17-year-old high school stoner might need.

That’s how it went. I spent the cool clear mornings that felt like I was on the coast vacuuming up trash from the mall and listening to Howard Stern on the WYSP. At ten or eleven, when Stern went off the air, I moved on to a few hours of wandering the perimeters of the mall with a shovel and a broom and a few garbage bags. Out there, among the satellite moons of strange parking lots of trees / drooping Japanese maples with iron constitutions / innocent plants condemned to a life of solitude screaming at each other from short stretches of filth and shoddy mulch / mothers separated from their sons / fathers separated from their daughters / out there I walked, the Marlboro Kidsmoke mine Reds and sweeping up random broken glass bottles of complete strangers I would never know or see who for some reason I will never understand find themselves drinking and then breaking bottles Bartles & Jaymes wild apple wine coolers in remote locations in inexplicably distant parking lots – half a mile from any store doors / so far from the damn mall itself, in fact, that at the time it made me wonder if they were all mall property at all.

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Still. What a time to be alive for me. I was young. I was strong. My lungs were laughing from all the cigars and I could walk for days. The relentlessly beating sun made me feel like I was in a spaghetti western. I was baked on cheap hash hits I took in secret broom closets. Day after day I had responsibilities that were tied to a special freedom. And I was paid for the absurdity of it all.

It was a dream job in so many ways.

Except that one day I and Keith it almost brought everything down.

To read the rest of this essay and more Serge Bielankosubscribe to it Substack fodder HERE.

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Serge Bielanko he lives in a small town in Pennsylvania with a wonderful wife who is way out of his league and a bunch of special kids who still love him even though there are many. Each week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War, and whatever else rattles around his noggin. Once in blue, Muskie Moon steps away from the computer, straps on his guitar, and plays rock’n’roll with his brother. Dave and their bandmates Marah.


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