The following is one of a group of pieces tentatively titled, "Medford: A Year in Review" The backdrop to this particular piece is that I'd been living in Medford for a year when the night in question began.


by David Ari Halperin

In April I'd had enough. Decided to move out. But then a shadow of doubt arose and clouded my decision. After all, I pay a fraction of what most people I know pay, and for more space.

I was on vacation as these thoughts washed over me --- as dirty as the Mystic River herself --- and the time off was affecting my comfort level; strolling the streets, happy not to be working, I confused the strange feeling of freedom with happiness in Medford.

It climaxed one night as I walked up Winthrop Street (which connects Medford Square to Tufts and is your best thoroughfare in a quest for three of Medford's five Dunkin' Donuts --- all five of which are within two thousand five hundred meters of one another in a line so straight that one wonders if there's a bizarre doughnut conspiracy involving caffeine and linear progression). I was headed towards Boston Avenue and was touched by a feeling of coziness brought on by the quaintness of the whole scene. It was pre-daylight-savings-time-change but already warm outside; about 8:30, dark, summery; I was content. I remember the feeling as similar to one's poolside sensibility, drink in hand, sun charming former schoolish/workish nerves on some little known acquaintance's rooftop apartment complex pool or backyard patio; a deeply sunken chlorine-filled, blue looking, sun reflecting, ocean wannabeing, blow-up raft repository; kids running around yelling but they ain't mine, money in my pocket, pre 9/11, someone's grilling tonight, I might get laid but now I'm just flirting demeanor; and I said to myself these exact fateful five words: "Maybe Medford's Not So Bad." And as those five words entered and floated through my unsuspecting cerebral bones like a virgin in a teen horror flick walking through the rickety lake house formerly used by Boy Scouts before the grisly 1975 double murder suicide; as these words were still in there, hanging out like plastic ducks in the very pool I so recently mentioned, I heard simultaneously the yells of several teenagers and felt the sharp tear of what turned out to be a tennis ball smack, Boris Beckerishly, into the sensitive nerve endings at the backside of my left leg, between the back of my knee and the beginning of my left buttock; God's most tender fat, his Federally Protected National Park Land of the human body. And I turned, also simultaneously, to see said teens still yelling, the ones on the side of the car now passing by me half hanging out the window screaming with teen prison hell in their eyes, goddam-nothing-to-do-in-Medford misery beneath their slowly drooping lids --- eyes and eyelids I remember well from my own high school days, which included one or two mailbox baseball episodes while drunk in my friend, Cashy's car; though soon in those games of mailbox baseball we dropped the bat out of the equation and proceeded to quite simply drive his Chevy Malibu straight into any mailbox we could find, yelling without irony and with a joy so pure that to this day it still feels good: "MAILBOX! MAILBOX! MAILBOX!" And you could just feel the pleasure of the impact rise through your legs as his bumper smacked the mailbox post cleanly, sending the head of it toppling off and hitting the ground with another thud, a dissection of head from body that secured its deserved death and subsequent burial in the graveyard of suburban non-meaning. But it was the thuds that mattered. It was the thuds that bristled through you like bass drum solos in the echoing amphitheater of your soul. It did not matter what happened before the thud or after; it was only to achieve the next thud, the thud you would still feel when you inevitably returned to that other suburban graveyard --- your parents' house --- and laid down drunk in your bed knowing that somewhere there was a heart beating, even if that heart was, you knew, morally ambiguous and subject to trial in a higher court for its petty juvenile delinquency, be it the court of Mom and Dad or the American judicial branch itself, neither of whose laws you could understand or approach caring about, insomuch as achieving the American Dream was a thirst already quenched by your upper middle class elders and maintained by pistol-packing men in four-wheeled toys with four-bored, car-floored feet and one "DARE to keep your kids off drugs and violence" bumper sticker, driving methodically around your town securing environmentally hazardous emissions counts for four counties; and, of course, the mail delivery service (also wearing blue); all functions of their own lives and enemies of your own unconsciously well-guarded naiveté --- and your white-bred DNA.

But no, I didn't think about any of this as the tennis ball hit --- nor after and hardly since. The tennis ball actually hurt, and hurt my feelings too. The thud those boys achieved on my behalf was their own and not mine, though perhaps my bull's-eyed back thigh helped put them to bed safely that night in their parents' houses and perhaps they wouldn't join the Army yet or ever, in search of greater and deadlier thuds. A martyr I was, but it did not feel good to play the part of fallen mailbox head. No, it had to be fate, a sign that it was time to move on. And that's what went through my head. I said to myself: "I'm too old for this shit." I'm too old to pretend I don't care. Too old not to admit that I have, myself, inherited the American Dream, and too old to pretend it doesn't rest on my shoulders like a mailbox, precarious, unwitting, defenseless against car and tennis ball-wielding teens, and filled to the USPS brim with junk mail, propaganda, Ames circulars, credit card offers, bank statements, and letters from Dad containing curt statements like, "How about taking this course?" in indelible ink on sticky notes pasted next to a magic marker-encircled course in the Kripalu Retreat Center catalog that advertises using Mind/Body power to improve your career.

And that's how it goes in Medford. Each month passes with the certainty that I will move out and that Time will reawaken in this Middlesex County town --- that tattered American flags flying from pickup trucks will release their cotton or nylon fibers, strand by strand, until only a pole remains, glistening in the sun and piercing the air as the forlorn former flag fibers are carried away by the wind; no one knows to where they go, but when they land, they begin anew, inheriting the earth like baby tigers.






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