- I Think You Think I'm Still Funny
On that Friday Carl Timm had done nothing, just surfed the web at work hunting down torque specifications for luxury sedans he would never, ever have true interest in or means for purchasing-specifications that would embed themselves in his memory, as if to be kept handy for manly conversation among man-friends in some faraway world. At five to five he'd driven home in his used-looking Saturn wagon, muddy maroon, and butted it up against the thawing grass in his backyard. His house was wedged in on a forgotten corner in northeast Minneapolis, across the street from a foundry; the siding had been hammered by thick specks of black dust for years. [End Page 8]
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[End Page 9]
After the knock at his back door, Carl leaned sideways in his kitchen chair to see, with slow-dawning awe, Leif Magnusson standing on his back deck. After all this time. He just could not fucking believe it. For an exhilarating second he allowed himself to fantasize that he would simply hide, scrunch himself below the oak-veneer table his mom had given him, hope that through the haze of the screen Leif couldn't see his shoes tucked in down there, couldn't see the post-work-week beer and the open newspaper on the table and do the math. You can see out, but they can't see in.
But this was Leif, so Carl knew that even after all this time he would just sit out there smoking Newport 100s all night, flicking butts into the yard, leaning on the bad part of the railing until the rotten wood yawned from the nails and banged into the grass below and Carl would finally have to have it fixed. Carl didn't remember hearing the bell ring in front, but of course Leif would have gone around to the back, even after all this time. Leif always went to the back.
But what the hell, it might be nice to have some company for a change.
They had lived in the same lumbering white clapboard fourplex in Black Ash, Wisconsin, Leif's family and Carl and Carl's mom. In the summer, Carl and Leif would go down to the river together and jump off the railroad trestle into the swirling brown water below. Carl watched Leif make out in tents with girls, playing Truth or Dare, watched him smoke menthol after menthol. They'd sing Simon and Garfunkel in the middle of abandoned streets in the middle of abandoned nights. Later, in high school, Leif's acid-trip freakouts didn't mesh so well with Carl's AP classes, and Carl's mom moved to a better apartment across town. But Carl still went out and got stoned with Leif sometimes, once at Hayman Falls at dawn, smoking out of a pop can with Leif's sister, Meghan, who Carl had always wanted to make out with and go out with, wanted to be his first sex, wanted to be his first love, his only love.
Carl hadn't seen Leif in five years, since the last time he'd stood drinking at the beer stand at the Minneola County Fair while a senior in college. Wait, no-it wasn't the last time he'd been to the fair that he'd seen Leif; it was the second-to-last time. The last time, three years ago, Leif had been in jail and could only leave on work release to stand third shift at the paper mill. Now Carl was a traffic controller in a large health-insurance company's publications department-a badger, a middle manager. [End Page 10]
Leif looked like he was freezing: a tan Carhartt jacket with a hooded sweatshirt underneath, no gloves, no hat, just a little red stubble to keep his face warm. It was 41 degrees. Leif dropped his head down with a smirk and said, "Hey, man," and stuck his cigarette in his mouth and put his hand way out for a loud slap-shake...