My dad used to go the country club golf course, sometimes bringing my brother Matt and me, in the middle of the night to hunt nightcrawlers. Big, fat, pink crawlers that flopped out of their holes onto sprinkler-flooded greens where the three of us would spot them with our flashlights. We found them on the fairways, too, but with the greens so perfectly flat and shorn, the crawlers were easier to grab.
And grab them we did. But those fucking worms were fast. They pulled back into the spongy grass like someone’s fingers. So we had to kind of sneak up on them, keeping our flashlights off until we reached the middle of the green. The second they glistened at the end of our beams, we pounced.
More than the pouncing or the satisfaction of filling a can with free bait (I don’t recall too many fishing trips, really), we enjoyed the thrill of trespassing. Of going where we weren’t supposed to go. Especially when the forbidden territory teemed with khakis and Town Cars.
My dad had always enjoyed trespassing. He saw a fence as a challenge or an opportunity. I heard stories about him and his buddies sneaking around the woods and fields outside St. Louis in the 1940s, sometimes doing the same in town. Breaths drawn in safety just don’t have the same quality as those across enemy lines.
Even as an adult, my dad would take crazy short cuts on walks that took him through fenced-in yards. At about the age of sixty, he was cornered by a huge, unhappy German shepherd after having just ripped the hell out of his pants climbing the fence that led to the dog’s yard. When the homeowner appeared, he was surprised to discover a bald, bespectacled, grey-bearded and friendly guy who, other than the torn pants, must have seemed pretty out of place.
He must have looked respectable. The painful truth is that had he been African-American or Hispanic or even just young, he probably would have done his explaining to the police instead of a bemused citizen.
On one late-night trip to the country club, a cop who’d been sitting in an idled cruiser turned on his lights and asked us what we were doing. Before we could even answer, he sized us up with our cans and flashlights and probably our whiteness and said, “Oh, lookin’ for crawlers?”
Some of the exhilaration wore off from being discovered, but somehow the cop seemed less like “the man” than the people whose property he protected. He didn’t own the place. He just worked it.
And I always figured my dad’s love of trespassing stemmed from an ideological problem with ownership. Owning land does kind of seem like bullshit. Yeah, it’s nice to think, “No fuckers can come over on this spot. This spot is mine.” But when I keep moving backward along the string of authority, I can’t imagine anyone who could have fairly allotted the earth to others or self. Who wasn’t an interloper?
My dad claims he has no deep agenda. He claims simply to have always been a bit of a scofflaw. His training as a priest and as an educator only served to entrench his skepticism for rules.
I have always associated my dad’s love for trespassing with the city of his birth. This is due in part to all the trespassing I did myself with my cousin Johnny during family trips to St. Louis. Johnny lived a much less observed life than I, and introduced me to the joys of trash picking and sneaking into pools and even houses. We have turned out to be similarly ordinary, law-abiding parents with some nostalgia for wildness, but Johnny was way in front of me when we were nine.
When my dad and my brother and I visited St. Louis last year for a family reunion, I spent a night out with Matt and Johnny. An unusual number of tequila shots led us to visit the private drive where our well-to-do grandparents, my father’s parents, lived in a towering brick house. We were trespassing just by passing the gates at the end of the street, by entering a community that long ago turned my dad off to the trappings of wealth. We laughed about the time Johnny and his buddies stole a bucket of golf balls and rolled them down the steep street, not imagining the damage they would do to the expensive cars parked there when the balls picked up steam and started bouncing.
My grandparent’s old house looked mostly unchanged, though years since owned by someone else. I imagined strangers sleeping in my grandparent’s bed. We wondered if the backyard still had the old metal basin we used to swim in, but the way to the back of the house now had an eight foot fence with a locked door. Three middle-aged scofflaws started climbing.
Megan Turner’s short story, “Backyard Dogs,” is a triumph of perspective, artfully switching between that of a young shut-in and a homeless man, for whom trespassing is a necessity of life. Turner brings these two characters alive with startling language and imagery. The juxtaposition of their struggles and strange visions reminds us of how we are at once close and distant to each other.
The urge to spy on an ex motivates the narrator to trespass in “Changing of the Guard,” short fiction by Emily Holland. Her voice is at once tough and vulnerable, and she proves an emotionally insightful observer. Holland’s story provides all the authentic detail and intensity of young loss, and concludes with a great resonant image.
“Terrorists came at night and removed the legs from all my chairs.” The awesome first line of Ben Segal’s flash fiction, “The Beards and Chair Legs are Not in the Frame,” made me consider including it in our recent “Beginnings” issue. This savagely funny and unique piece transforms throughout, and surprises in the shifts created by its withholding. In keeping with the economy of flash, Segal also makes brilliant use of the title.
“I Helped Him Bury the Goat,” a poem by Lynn Pattison, features a speaker trespassing on her own life, or rather the wrong life. A sense of decay—of the dead goat, of an impossible marriage, pears rotting on a tree— gathers impressively and balances the elegance of Pattison’s verse.
We close our “Trespassing” issue with an ekphrastic poem by Kristen Herrera, “Fight at the Mannequin Warehouse.” The wild, violent scene comes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 film, Killer’s Kiss, the film adding atmosphere and layers to the page. Be sure to read this poem out loud, it’s music glints and flashes like an axe in the night.
Photo By: Michael Kappel