I don’t know if I know exactly what a McMansion is, but I know the term is disparaging. I heard a podcast about McMansions once, and it wasn’t very nice. The way these houses were described makes me wonder if I’m standing in one right now. Or, outside one. But inside, as I’m on a covered porch, open on three sides, the fourth side connected to the rest of the house with eight-foot doors so wide, I have to look for them to be before I’m assured these people don’t wear bulky coats indoors all winter. Then again, there are directional heaters installed in the roof of this porch. And skylights. There are skylights in this porch roof.

I hesitate to describe why I’m here (lest someone read this and recognize who I’m talking about) because, as I said, I’ve already been disparaging and I shouldn’t be. We’re at a party for a friend, and the people who own this house have very graciously offered up their home to host. I mean, I’ve already had a beer, and will soon have another. To say anything even bordering on judgmental about people who invite you in and give you beer is not just bad manners, it’s downright shitty.

And yet, I can’t help but judge. I’m a judgmental prick. But that’s no excuse- just because I call myself an asshole, doesn’t excuse such behavior. In fact, that makes it worse. So I’ll focus on other things. Other generosities. That table overloaded with homemade food. A house like this, they could have easily afforded caterers replete with black bow-tie servers. But it’s all home-cooked, and although I over indulged with some leftover Chinese for lunch, my wife insists I eat something. I’m holding the baby, so she stabs food with a plastic fork and shoves in my face. It’s fucking delicious.

Some kind of music is trickling out of the overhead speakers. This damned porch ceiling is festooned with speakers, heaters, and skylights. The baby is my arms, let’s be clear, is a 25-pound toddler. He feels good in my arms. His weight anchors me, keeps me from drifting around the party. I don’t know anyone here, not the hosts certainly. I suppose I know the guest of honor and her husband, but I haven’t seen them in, literally, two years. They look great, by the way. They’re beautiful people.

My wife takes my anchor away to go find said guest of honor and talk about women things. I don’t say that disparagingly. I say that as a good excuse to not describe further what they’re going to talk about. It’s utterly alien to me. So now I’m weightless, and I drift around, off the porch, into the sun. On their perfect green grass. I end up chatting with a fellow about his impending child. Another guy joins us, they’re old friends, he also has a child looming. Another guy joins us. A fifth. No, a fourth, because they’re all old friends, and their conversation drifts to memories and such. I manage to get a few jokes in:

“I’m the only one who married a shiksa,” one guys says.
“Well, I married shiksa too,” I say.
They all look at me. A different guy says “Are you Jewish?”
I smile. “No.”

It feels like their laughter is genuine. One guy gives me a high five. Then their conversation returns to old memories, and the sun is in my eyes, and my beer is empty, so I drift away again. Making people laugh, or at least trying too, is another anchor of mine. But I don’t want to try too hard. I go find the beers. They’re on the porch.

It feels like coming home. Not really, but it’s familiar. It’s starting to get crowded at this party. These beautiful people sure do know a lot of fairly beautiful people. Maybe that’s where my wife fits in. She’s a beautiful people too, and so is my son, and the jokes my wife brings back from the guest of honor about her daughter eventually marrying our son. A good old Bollywood wedding. How we’ll go dutch on the dowry. A Jap and shegetz. It’s not disparaging if you belong to one of the ethnic groups being made fun of, right?

Let’s face it: I’m a middle-aged middle-class white guy originally from the Midwest. My very existence is racist.

You know what? Fuck that podcast. Fuck the whole idea of “McMansions.” This place is lovely and I would love to live here. I would love to throw a party here for my kid and his gori fiancee, invite all these people back, drink my own beer, drift around, peer up through the skylight as the night comes on and look at the stars and when some says to me “penny for your thoughts” I’d say, “My son’s a Guju getting married to a Jew, so I’m going to maybe have to bargain with you on that price you’re offering me.”

But that’s years in the future. For now, little man needs to get home and get to bed. We say our goodbyes, get to our Subaru, strap him in his car seat, drive home. He’s feisty because it’s past his bed-time, but once we get him settled he’s out, snoring, in no time. Yeah, my toddler snores. Loud. It’s god damned adorable.

We do chores, my wife and I, in our own house. if I had stepped into our house when I was teenager still living in Wichita, I would have called it a McMansion, easily. Talk about judgmental pricks.

We turn in, and as we’re drifting off to sleep, my wife does this thing she always does. You know how some people have that last, pre-sleep jerk-spasm; my wife sometimes has a last, pre-sleep blurt, something that’s on her mind that needs to be said. “They had two laundry rooms,” she says.

“That house. They had two full laundry rooms.”
“I don’t know.”
“What, like, one upstairs, one downstairs?”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

Approaching 5 PM on a Beautiful Summer’s Day In Seattle

It’s approaching 5 PM on a beautiful summer’s day in Seattle. No clouds, not a single one, and the sky a deep uniform blue, as if it had always been that color, always would be. Temperatures hover around the mid seventies, warm enough to be warm, but not hot enough to be hot. People like talking about the weather because it’s something they have in common. Even people who dislocated by a thousand miles will talk about their own weather, because it’s something the other person has probably experienced. They can empathize.

I’m pushing my toddler son in one of those jogging strollers. Three enormous wheels, black, festooned with pockets and holders. Snacks and drinks and a garage door opener and my cell phone. I’m dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, sunglasses and a ballcap. I’ve got a bushy beard that needs trimming. I’m one can of beer away from being identifiable as a redneck or as hipster. I don’t think I’m either, but I’ve been accused of being each. And to think there are people who will claim one or the other and wear the description proudly, even defiantly.

We’re passing a church, my son and I, 45 minutes into our walk, 15 left to go. The final stretch. We happen to be on a stretch of sidewalk, one of the few parts of our daily loop that doesn’t require us walking in the street. We tend to stay off the busier avenues, so there isn’t much traffic, and when cars do pass us, they usually swing well onto the other side of the road. I always acknowledge them with a wave. Half of them wave back.

But this sidewalk is narrower than a road, and approaching is a girl on a bike. She looks to be about six or seven years old. Drak blakc skin, still wearnig her baby fat, but wearing it well, and a sturdy bicyclle helmet sat firmly on her head. The chin straps maybe a bit tight. I shouldn’t stereotype, but I do: there;s a Mosque not far from here, and I assume she’s Somalian. I catch myself. Her parents are maybe Somalian, but this girl was probably born here.

She’s about a hundred feet away, weaving inexpertly all over the pavement, in her own world. She looks up, and without hesitation, rides the bike off the sidewalk and into the road. Actually, it’s a bunch of parking spaces, not the street itself. She glides towards us,makes eye contact.

I want to to wave, to acknowledge her, but I can’t. Her mother strapped that helmet to her head, tight, because she knows that’s the right thing to do. And she raised her child to respect her neighbors, because that’s also the right thing to do. If I wave to her, she’s going to wave back, automatically. There’s no stranger danger here- it’s a beautiful, sunny day, I’m a guy puching a baby stroller, complete with toddler. We’re next to a church, for Christ’s sake. She’ll take one hand off the handlebars to wave back, lose control, wreck her bike.

But I have to acknowledge her. She gave us the sidewalk, and I want to say thank you and encourage to continue this courtesous lifestyle instilled in her by her mother. So, as she get’s closer, I reach up and tip my hat. She’s only seven years old, her parents are Somalian, she probably has no idea what I’m doing, if I’m doing anything at all.

And she glides by us, she smirks. Her smirk says it all. She knows exactly what tipping a hat means. It’s something cowboys used to do when they passed genteel ladies on the streets of Loredo. “Ma’am,” they’d say, touching the brim of their stetson, moving it almost imperceptibly. She learned about it in school, saw a film.

A cowboy, a redneck, a throwback, a hipster. I don’t need a beer in my hand to collapse that waveform. She smirks, because her mother raised her to respect her neighbors, but that doesn’t mean she’s a syncophant to every tool wandering around the landscape. The next time she’s on a sidewalk and somebody walks by, she’ll get out of their way too.

Not just because she’s going to be polite. Because she’s the one with the power. It’s her sidewalk, she rides it four or five hundred times a day. No matter what the weather. Yesterday there were four or five clouds in the sky, and she was weaving up and down. They day before that it was overcast, with patches of sky in the clouds, and she was out there. And they day before that it was raining, so she was inside, watching her mother make canjeero, but in her head she was out there on that sidewalk.

She’s got the power, and she’ll cede that bit of pavement because she can, not because she has to.

My son and I get to the end of the block, make a left turn, out of the sunshine and into deep shade. The change in temperature makes me shiver, as all my crevices are filmed in sweat which rapidly cools. My son yells, suddenly, a non-word, his sound for acknowledging a dog on the street coming towards us. My son loves dogs. The dog’s owner looks up at the sound too, smiles, waves. I wave back. It’s no problem, steering the stroller with one hand.

Things Sure Do Get Boring Without You Here

fiction by Jason Edwards

Remember that time we ate thirteen ninjas? We spent the summer building a time machine and then went back to medieval Japan and impersonated a particularly evil overlord. When the ninja showed up to assassinate us we let him, since that’s the only way to return to your own time, but not before getting into a wicked katana battle and covering ourselves with his DNA. Boy, you really know how to swing a sword, I’ll give you credit for that.

Then we used the blood to clone him and grew him in a vat and ground him up into hamburger and had a nice little barbecue. But you put way too much relish on yours, man, and that kinda made me mad. And I tried to tell you, but all you wanted to do was tell me some anecdote about the first time Amos Tvesky tried to order a hamburger with relish in Michigan. And I kept saying “who the hell is Amos Tvesky” and you kinda got mad at me for saying that over and over. You never did finish your story, and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

And then one day we’re walking down the street, I think it’s 5th or 15th or 125th or something. There was a five in it. Between Nickerson and Mount Baker. Or Bakker with two Ts? Anyway. Walking along and talking about baseball and, I don’t know, Helga Lovekaty or whatever, and all of a sudden you’re like: “He wasn’t a ninja.” Then we got coffee.

And we got into this deep existential conversation about how just because we had, like, a firefighter’s DNA, and we cloned him (you kept saying “or her” like we needed to be feminists, and it almost derailed the conversation, and it was only later that I figured out you were saying it because the barista could have been listening and she was cute in that not-gorgeous-but-attainable way, which is, when you think about it, a really sexist way to describe someone, dude) if that clone had never fought a fire, was it a fire fighter too? Our ninja clone never went around ninja-ing stuff. You can’t ninja in a vat.

I’m going to be honest with you, I forget who was saying “definitely ninja” and who was saying “definitely not ninja” by the end of it. We talked about destiny and potential and collapsing wave-forms and social constructs and crap. I pointed out that a table with only one leg wasn’t a table, except it was, and you pointed out how using a cardboard box to hold up a plate of spaghetti while you watch TV wasn’t a table either, except it was.

We got back to our time machine. Coffee jittery and sort of itchy. It was hot that day, our allergies were going nuts, the ninja-clone-growing vat had this weird smell coming off it, like formaldehyde dancing with pine-sol and a stack of old strawberry-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers. I got a sudden craving for root beer. And you said “Fudge it,” and shoved me into the time machine. You never could curse very well.

The first ninja we found got away because, while we were waiting for him, lurking in some bushes and giggling, I pulled out my cell phone. It’s like a habit. I don’t know what I was going to do, maybe play Angry Birds. But I had two bars! I was getting a cell-signal! In medieval Japan! So when the ninja comes waltzing along you sprang out and grabbed him but I screwed it up. I mean, sorry, not sorry, finding out there are cell towers in medieval Japan seemed like a more worthwhile thing to pursue than capturing, killing, field-dressing, butchering, barbecuing and eating a damned ninja.

Okay sure, we figured out that the signal was coming through our time machine from the future to my phone. But still. That in and of itself was pretty cool. Those service providers who talk about comprehensive nation-wide coverage? Being able to say that have not just any-where but any-time coverage? That would be one hell of a commercial!

Whatever. Next ninja, not as easy as the first. He got away too. Good for us, though, he came back, with friends. Man, you really know how to swing a sword. Did I say that already?

We got a taste for it, I’ll admit. Back home, you and me, another walk, 6th this time, or maybe 16th, or 166th, talking about how when you were a kid you thought “a quarter-after three” meant 3:25. And I kept asking “PM or AM?” Did you know, when you get frustrated, your face turns this weird purple color? LIke fuschia, but angrier.

I tried to change the subject. Which baseball teens would specific porn stars probably root for? Like, if they didn’t just root for the Angels since most of them live there? And I don’t know, the conversation just naturally kind-of moved into eating ninjas and how we sorta had a taste for it, and you said you wanted to go back and try one with relish.

Three months! Three months we spent tweaking that damn time machine, trying to figure out how to take a jar of relish back with us. The experiments! A plastic bottle of ketchup and a visit to colonial America. I never told you this, but that lieutenant? From the 6th dragoons? He didn’t give me indigestion. I was just mad because I thought this was such a stupid idea. But I bet you kind of already knew that. Or that packet of soy sauce we took back to the Battle of Hastings. You, running around, shouting “Why does everyone know the date for this battle? Why is it so important?” and then you got a bow and arrow off a guy and, who knows, maybe you’re the reason everyone knows that date now.

We were on our cots, remember? Looking up the ceiling, where we’d pasted those glow-in-the-dark stars to accurately depict what the night-sky would have looked like in medieval Japan on a clear autumn night. Man I was I tired. I don’t remember what you said. I thought you said we needed to go to a 7-11 on the other side of the country and get some lemonade. But that’s silly, of course that’s not what you said. And I was so tired, I should have pointed out how we live, like, really close to a 7-11. There’s on on 4th or 144th or something. I said, “Let’s just make our own.”

You jumped off the cot. Started screaming. Called me a genius. Scared the crap out of me. “We can make our own!” You shouted. Shoved me into the time machine. Medieval Japan. Again. “Now let’s go find some pickles!” you said.

Well, the didn’t have pickles back then did they. Did they? Fine, we hunted up cucumbers. None of those either? We went to China. China! Oh man, can I tell you something? Your face, when we finally got back to Japan with that sack of cucumber seeds and a jar of sea salt, and we found that old farmer, and he was eating pickles. Serendipity? You were so mad, you killed that farmer, made a quick relish out of what was left of his pickle, and screamed and screamed about how bad it was. So we told the local constable or whatever the called ’em, what we done, got executed, and when we got back home, we broke into Heinz.

It’s funny how things work out, I mean, all those ninjas we fought and killed and ate, and there we were, going full-ninja on that Heinz break-in. We were one with the shadows, weren’t we? I don’t think they had key-card locks and motion detectors in Medieval Japan, but we made it through just fine. Found that secret recipe, on that computer. I’m not going to say I told you so, but when we were kids? And you called me a nerd because I liked computer games more than baseball? Just sayin’.

And the whole time you were reading the recipe. Shaking your head. “I knew it. I fudging knew it.” You never were good at cursing.

One thing I always liked about you was how fearless you were, and how many ridiculous fears you had at the same time. You’d take a sword into a crowd of ninjas like it was nothing. But then you’d see a black cat and freak the fudge out. I’m bleeding from, like, fifteen different places, you’ve got ninja blood up to your knees, and you’re standing behind me, gripping my shoulders, yelling at me. “Make it go away! Make it fudging go away!”

That’s what got you killed, you know. Those stupid fears. That’s my theory, anyway. We killed and ate our twelfth ninja. With our homemade Heinz recipe relish. Fine, I’ll admit it, I can see sort of maybe why you liked it so much. And then one more ninja showed up, and I had my crossbow all ready, and you we’re like, “No way man. Thirteen is an unlucky number.” I guess we need to get back anyway. You had that paper to write and I was supposed to pull a double shift at work.

But, like, what if we had killed him too? And we’d eaten him? See, thing is, we’d already eaten thirteen if you counted the first vat-ninja. I guess that’s ironic. I guess you were right. Because we got back and everything was fine for a long time. We dismantled the time machine and sold the cloning vat on Craig’s List and you got married and I started seeing Jackie and life was just life, you know? We robbed a few banks, a few casinos, a train, even. No big.

I guess I’m telling you things you already know. How we were rappelling down the side of First National because there was a company on the 14th floor that had some files you wanted. We could have gone through the front door. We could have just asked for them. But you said stealing them would make them more valuable. And your stupid fear of the number thirteen, telling me how tall buildings never have a thirteenth floor.

But First National was built, like, three years ago. Superstitions like that are dead, man. Wrong floor, security guard, and you with no sword. I like to pretend, sometimes, that you traveled here, to this timeline, from the future, and we grew up together, and when you got killed you just went back where you came from.

Look, I have to go. I’m supposed to see my parole officer this afternoon and she gets all snotty if I’m late. Here’s another jar of relish. I’m sure the cemetery custodian keeps taking them, because they’re always gone when I come back. But I like to think that, somehow, you’re the one who takes them, wherever you are. Fudging relish.

You know what? I just thought of something. My parole officer? She’s Japanese, I think. And she’s always wearing black. Huh. We’ll see I guess. I’ll see you later. Things sure do get boring without you here.