BY ALEXANDER ROSE
It was just after seven when the young couple arrived at the cavern. A
scattered crowd, mostly children, sat in the large, stone amphitheater to
watch the nightly flight of the bats. A slim, bespectacled park ranger was
orating at the mouth of the cave which loomed, giant and black, like some
Mesozoic predator behind him.
"And who can tell me how bats sleep?" he said into the silver microphone,
his voice amplified only slightly. No one spoke.
The boy put his arm around his girlfriend. Around the cavern was nothing
but barren hills, stone-capped and prickled with dead moss.
"They sleep upside down, bats," said the park ranger. The light was
dimming. Video cameras hummed from every direction. Some families had
tripods, others filter kits. "Does anyone know how long a bat can live?" The
ranger walked into the audience, adjusting his green cap. "What's a bat's
life span, now?"
The girlfriend sucked her hands into the cuffs of her sweatshirt.
"You there," said the ranger to a young boy with his hand raised. "Yes,
"Do bats sleep upside down?" asked the boy.
"Yes. Yes they do. Bats sleep upside down."
Large insects zapped on the floodlights.
"Can you guess how much bats can eat in an hour?" said the ranger, opening
the floor again to the audience. "Who can take a guess, here?"
A sliver of purple clung to the edge of the hill.
"Is that a bat?" exclaimed a girl in the front row, pointing at a
fluttering, backlit blur. There was a collective murmur of excitement.
"No, that's a cave swallow," said the ranger. "Now who's going to tell me
how many insects a bat can eat in an hour? Can you?"
The family next to the couple collapsed their tripod and left.
"Can you tell me?"
The dark cavern could barely be made out against the rapidly darkening sky.
"Who's going to tell me? Are you?"
Another family left, the kids bounding up the rocky steps.
"How 'bout you there?" said the ranger, eyeing the silent couple from
away. "Just take a guess, now, come on." He came close to them and extended
"You can tell me, can't you?"
Behind him, perhaps, bats were flying.
ON THE EVE OF A FAMILY ADVENTURE
The bathroom door was shut.
"What is your idea," I said.
"Well," I said, after a long pause, "I'm going to go back to the DVD now."
"You're not gonna believe this," said my dad from behind the door. More
clipping and snipping. Miller poured himself a mug of chocolate soy milk.
"Let me tell you."
Playing in my room was the collector's edition of Red Sonja.
The door opened. My dad stood there grinning, beardless, his face wet and
"Did you do that with my Mach 3?" I said.
"What do you think?" he said, gesturing to his new cheeks.
"Weird," said Miller. "Weird stuff."
"Ten years younger? Fifteen?"
Indeed, he looked like a high-schooler. Only, there was now no distinction
between his chin and neck, just a smooth swoop of reddish-white skin from
jaw to chest. He looked fleshy and slightly deformed, mutantlike.
"A whim," he said, kicking back his head, "sometimes you have to be
spontaneous when you travel. You know." He whistled his way into the living
room, removing his pants and folding them over a chair. "First time in
twelve years, man. Twelve. Very liberating." He whistled with full
vibrato. "Sheesh," he said.
I helped him convert the couch.
"Is this stuff malted?" said Miller, holding up the mug. It was an Earth
My father was now whistling the theme to "Davy Crocket."
"Now, what do we do about this," he said, gesturing to the streetlamp just
outside the building whose chemical light beamed in through the large front
"I don't know," I said. "I just moved in."
"Don't you have shades," he said. His underwear was periwinkle, worn thin
"Not yet for this room."
"Curtains, drapes? Anything?"
I shook my head.
"You mean to tell me it's going to be this bright all night?"
"I have eye pads," I said.
He rubbed his soft, mutant chin. It looked like something I'd seen in one
of those marine life films from 5th grade, the rippled and silken underbelly
of some aquatic beast.
"You wanted to sleep here," I said.
He heaved a whispering sigh.
"Dav-ey," hummed Miller, "Dav-ey Crocket."
It was unsually humid.
SWIMMING IN WOONSOCKET
It was sunny out.
"You should come swimming in the reservoir today," said Ellie on the phone.
"But Woonsocket is far away," I said.
"No it isn't," she said.
"But there are neo-Nazis there. And that would be bad since I am Jewish."
"Jen is coming," said Ellie.
"Oh," I said. "That is good."
"She wants to meet you," she said.
"That is good," I said.
I drove to the decaying post-industrial landscape that was Woonsocket. It
was less sunny there. I passed abandoned, weed-infested mills and
boarded-up Laundromats. Dingy, eleven year-old kids with mullets sat
smoking by a Hess station.
When I got to Ellie's house she was standing on the porch with Jen.
"Hello," I said.
"Hello," they said, and got into the car.
Jen sat in the back. I had never seen her before except in one of Ellie's
underexposed photographs. She was short, fairly ample and had red hair.
Ellie took off her sunglasses. "It's a good day for swimming, it is."
We drove across town, passing some old malls.
"That's where Zayre used to be," noted Ellie.
We passed a large, red and white checkered water-tank.
"That's what we used to throw rocks at," recalled Jen. Her hair smelled
like bean sprouts.
"I like rocks," I said. We were clicking.
When we got to the reservoir I noticed some black spray paint reading
"niggers out" on a slab of concrete.
"Are you sure we're safe here?" I said.
"Of course we are," said Jen, "we live here."
Then they took off all their clothes. They were not wearing swimsuits. I
looked at Jen's pale body and got tingly.
"Won't you get naked also?" said Ellie, splashing into the reddish-brown
water. I was hesitant to disrobe since I am fairly conservative regarding
matters of the penis. Jen slowly waded in after her.
"Cold water is less flattering for men than it is for women," I said.
"Don't be gay," said Ellie.
I paused and looked around the empty reservoir and surrounding woods. I
took off my socks and shoes. I dipped my foot in the water.
"Isn't it warm," she said.
I took off my shorts and shirt and briefs and put them on the concrete slab
that said "niggers out." I went in up to my ankles. My fingernails
"Come out," they said, swimming farther. I wiggled down to my
belly-button, feeling a certain buoyancy.
"Hey, look," said Ellie, "it's Toby and the gang."
"Hey, Toby!" said Jen.
A group of hairless young men emerged from the wood.
"Why do they have swastikas on their jackets?" I said.
"Don't get weird," said Ellie. "They're not Nazis, they're National
"Right," I said.
I made my way back to the concrete slab and began searching for my clothes.
Toby and the gang approached the bank of the reservoir. I could not find
"Hello," said Toby.
"Hi," I said, fishing for my underwear through the not quite opaque water,
"I'm a friend of Ellie's."
"My name is Toby," he said, extending his hand. I then felt something cold
and silky brush by my leg and I hoisted the soggy, twisted briefs out of the
water, dangling it from my finger like a skinned rabbit. I passed it to my
left hand and shook Toby's hand with my right.
"It's so sunny!" said Ellie.
On the crowded subway tonight there is a large black man in a black shirt
screaming about Jesus. It is really hot and uncomfortable but I try to
enjoy the show. A couple of stops later we are joined by another Holy Man,
this one dressed in a long brown toga, apparently unaware of the first. He
opens his arms:
"Ladies and gentleman, may I please have your atten-"
"The LORD! Tha's right!" continues the first Holy Man, oblivious to his
competitor. "Who be the lord? JE-SUS! JE-SUS is the LORD! Tha's right!"
The second Holy Man patiently waits it out, then quietly exits at the next
Lorrie takes me to meet one her old high school friends.
"You will like Doris," she says.
Doris' house is the one up the road with the golden horse statuettes at the
end of the driveway. Inside, it smells like polyurethane. We find Doris in
the kitchen counter shuffling cards, and seeing Lorrie, she springs up from
her stool to embrace her, shouting. We are brought to the egg shell Formica
table where the '89 Penrose High yearbook is open to a glossy spread of
Lorrie and Doris sitting together rather impassively in the cafeteria.
Beneath it, the caption reads "Grotie to the max!"
They chat for a bit. They talk about Bob and Sabrina and Kelly and Gus
Maguire and Lisa who got the nosejob and the Horton twins and Barry
Gustavson and Tina Borelli and the kid that everyone called "Semen" and
"So, Lorrie tells me you live in Boston," Doris says.
Soon, we are joined by Larry and Jeff, two more characters from Lorrie's
high school days who have apparently swelled, in equal proportions, since
graduation. To commence with the reminiscing, everyone agrees to play
"Bullshit." I tell them to begin without me.
Within an hour, Lorrie is chain smoking and Doris is drunk. Jeff has won
both rounds. Larry is pounding the table and yelling. In another twenty,
everyone is drunk but me. Jeff has won again. Larry's face is red. He is
calling Jeff a "homo."
"You're really getting to know me," Lorrie giggles in my ear.
Ian takes me to a show at the Middle East.
"You'll like these guys," he says. "Real art rock." He sniffles. He has a
We get to the club at ten to find that the opening act, Pizza, has been
"I don't want to pay eight dollars for forty-five minutes of music," I tell
Ian. The goth girl at the door sighs audibly.
"But you gotta see this drummer, he's amazing."
We follow the narrow stairs down into the crowded, smoke-saturated basement.
Hipsters abound. There are hooded sweatshirts and black rimmed glasses
and delicately manicured sideburns.
"Fuck you!" shouts a tatooed man from the bar at the empty stage. Ian
informs me that the guitarist refuses to be his own opening act.
Eventually, a young man with scraggly black hair and a U.S. Mail jacket
lurches on stage to many boos. He begins pounding his fists on a keyboard
and kicking a propped up guitar with his foot, shoelaces dangling.
"I'm too good lookin' to be a rock star!" he screams into the mike.
"Fuck you!" repeats the man at the bar.
"We want Pizza!" hollers another.
I pretend to be chewing something.
"You realize this is the show," says Ian, wiping his nose with a napkin.
"I'll pay you twenty bucks to turn him off!" I overhear a man yell to the
"They love it," continues Ian. "These people come to see this band all the
Middle fingers are everywhere. A girl in tight corduroys throws her beer
onto the stage.
"Pizza!" booms another voice. A balding promoter in a trench coat surveys
the crowd, nodding.
"This is the show," says Ian. "This is it." He smiles, delighted.
On the stage, a rock star is making art rock.
After a Saturday night show, Nelson led us to a nearby arcade to play
videogames. The parlor itself looked like it hadn't changed since about
1986 and we found out it was in fact going out of business the following
month. Nelson giddily handed out free tokens to everyone. I got a thrill
from playing Arkanoid and Rolling Thunder and After Burner and Pole
Position. Was it possible to be more dextrous at twenty-six than at twelve?
I was soon overcome with nostalgia, the kind one gets at flea markets
seeing all the old polaroid cameras and the magazines with Vanna White on
them. But also like flea markets, the novelty was quick to wear off and the
place started to become depressing. The same glazed look soon appeared on
the other patrons - too much Centipede, too much Super Contra. But Nelson
was still charged, going around screaming, "This is so awesome! This is so