May 31, 2020: “Neither Here Nor There” by Marcel Jolley

Happy Sunday, Story366!

Today the world burned down a bit more, but honestly, I didn’t find out about most of it until just recently. I’m going to discuss those incidents more tomorrow, after I’ve had the chance to watch the news, find out what happened—everything I’ve heard I heard from phonecalls with my family, and some of the facts are inconsistent.

Anyway, I’ve been out of touch today because oldest boy and I completed our fifteen-mile hike. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that he’s been working on his Hiking merit badge, which has involved a series of long hikes, including a five-miler, three tens, today’s fifteen, and a looming twenty. We’re one step away, but will wait a week or two to get that last one done. Firstly, I’m sore. This is the longest I’ve hiked/walked by three miles, and those last three miles were tough. In fact, the last hundred yards, I cramped up pretty bad and had to stop, guzzle our last few ounces of water, and stretch out my leg (the cramp was in my left leg, upper thigh). I also have a blister for the first time in years and my left arch is wacky sore. Otherwise, I’m okay, and considering what I did today, I think I got off easy.

The physical aspect of this long of a walk is surely a major challenge, but what has made these hard are the time they take. Today, we walked for just over five hours, but also drove a half an hour in each direction to get to the trailhead, plus had to pack. Overall, it was like an eight-hour commitment. And you feel it, too, when you’re out there, the day just slipping by you, disappearing. The suns starts on one side of you, then punishes you from above, then is somehow on the other side by the time you’re done. The Karen has to watch the younger boy all day when we’re gone to boot, so overall, it’s a complete Sunday spent on a Scout requirement. When will we have time to devote nine or ten hours, I wonder, for that twenty-miler?

For today’s post, I spent my recovery time reading from Marcel Jolley‘s 2004 collection, Neither Here Nor There, winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award from Black Lawrence Press. I remember reading part of this book back when it came out, but only a story or two, so I thought I’d revisit, check out some of the stories I’d missed.

The title story, “Neither Here Nor There,” is a long one, and is first up in the book. This story starts off by depicting four boys—Danny, Casey, Dustin, and Mike—somewhere in the woods, south of Seattle, up to no good. They are throwing rocks at a cat—one with a collar, mind you—trying to get it stuck in the channel, on a island, where it will drown. That’s the opening scene of the story and it’s sets an ominous tone, for the story and the book.

We then jump ahead several years, to first person (from third), and find out we’re in Casey’s head, that he’s traveling toward home, and beyond, for a funeral. First he’s stopping at Mike’s house in Seattle. There he’ll meet up with Kirsten, a woman who apparently knew the boys back in high school, someone they grew up with. Casey obviously had and still has a thing for, the way he talks about her, how he jumps whenever he hears a car pass Mike’s place.

It’s around this point that Jolley reveals the funeral to be for Danny, the leader of their group, the biggest and strongest, who led them (plus at least one other guy …) to the state basketball championship their senior year. Danny’s been living back in their hometown, working odd jobs, often with Dustin, and playing pick-up hoops. We get some flashback scenes around these time, Danny still quite the baller. One sequence sees his old coach, still the coach, lecture him for giving the school’s current best player a black eye in a pick-up game. Danny wanted the kid to get tough, learn to play D, though the kid’s only 16 and the coach—who’s also the local sheriff—has to keep the family from pressing charges. Danny, who’s always had his way physically, be it on the court or with cats in a rainstorm, brushes it off. It’s just who he is, the type of guy who doesn’t take criticism because, basically, he’s always done whatever he wanted and nobody’s ever really had the beef to tell him no. It’s amazing a guy like this is even dead.

Those Danny scenes are intermingled with the Casey/Kirsten scenes, the two of them driving flying from Seattle to Juneau for Danny’s funeral. Casey had been an engineering tech, we know, working on missles in Denver, until he was recently laid off. He’s been putzing around and is thinking of moving home, getting some work on a fishing boat, staying with his parents. Kirsten has been thinking the same thing, recently divorced with a post-toddler. It seems like this is the start of something, even though this part comes at the end of the story. Maybe this is how Casey and Kirsten end up together, both living with their parents in their hometown, saving money, looking for new starts?

Overall, the story is leading us with details of Danny’s death, first withholding that it was him who died, and for the rest of the story, how. I won’t reveal that tidbit here, though, to keep something secret. Like I said, this is a long story, thirty pages, but the back-and-forth and rate of reveal really kept the story moving, kept me interested in what was going to happen to these friends, grown into their twenties, life a much more complicated game than their childhood versions could imagine.

“Rivets” is about Duane DeMarco, a thirty-something singer-guitarist who’s been making a good go of it playing in dives, “Brown-Eyed Girl” and David Bowie and Ani DiFranco, anything drunk fishermen and women can call up on the request line. We meet Duane when he’s had enough, one aforementioned drunk getting right into his face during a set, and quits his gig, wants to toss his guitar in the river. Calling to Duane for a decade or more is a job at Boeing, riveting airplanes together, a standing offer from his brother, an engineer with that kind of power. Will Duane finally give up music and settle down, or is performing—even after too many failed bands to count—going to keep its hold on him?

“Archenemy” is about a Kinko’s employee (slack motherfucker!) who has a bevy of archenemies in his life, be it his annoying co-worker at the ‘ko’s, his super-famous creative writing professor from grad school, or the piece of garbage who writes at the same coffee shop he writes at, where there’s also an open mic for the two to tango.

I enjoyed Marcel Jolley’s stories today, perfect remedy for my aches and pains. Neither Here Nor There follows lost souls up and down the Pacific Northwest, men trying to find their place before it’s too late. I’m not exactly that, but one or two different choices, one or two breaks not going my way, and I could be the Midwestern version of any of these guys. Easy to read their stories, to empathize, and in Jolley’s hands, it’s quite a ride.

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One thought on “May 31, 2020: “Neither Here Nor There” by Marcel Jolley

  1. Pingback: June 1, 2020: “Everyone Remain Calm” by Megan Stielstra – Story366

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