The tonearm moved across the plinth into the bay of the record player, making a low “clunk” and cradling itself away — the first of a new batch of cheap turntables with automatic tonearms. It was slow, and robotic, but did not require the same clean hands or dexterity and deftness for me to drop the needle over and over as I did on Christmas morning.
The shock and impact of arrival that I usually felt on Christmas was not the same as when I was five or six. After my dad and I opened presents, a process that would’ve taken hours at my mother’s, Mark and Carl from the youth club came over.
Mark poked at me for the turntable. Carl liked hearing The Byrds’ Turn Turn Turn.
Mark and Carl lived in Mariner’s Village for the past four years, since its original conception. The village was originally marketed to developers but later found a niche within the Hawaiiana-Disneyland crowd. There were exactly 65 apartments, all covered in deep brown cedar shingles, adorned with their own individual fireplaces. The complex wanted to be Tahitian, and Southern Californian, and was simultaneously becoming a wildlife refuge.
The village had its own artificial lazy river, culminating over several boulders placed haphazardly under a bridge. Instead of street lights, the complex opted for large bulkhead lights with junction boxes — the type of red and green lights with copper cages that come off of fishing boats. Marina del Rey did not have a fishing industry, it had a real estate market.
Mark and Carl were part of the youth group that met every Friday afternoon after school.
After toying with my record player, we went to play pool in the community room. It was Friday, but we weren’t meeting, so it was empty. The community room had its own personality. The fireplace had a massive rock facade up to the very top of the chimney. The pool table opened up to a bar with alpine lodge aesthetics — a bear hide rug, two deer heads hung without a level.
“I’ll play on Jude’s team because he’s not as good as you, Carl”.
“I can handle it,” I snapped.
“Okay, well I’m not sure how to split the teams, Carl”.
Carl thought it best if I go back and forth between the two teams, every other turn. Normally, if it was Friday youth club, we had enough youth for three rounds with several teams of two.
Pool was also something we would have done if I was spending Christmas at my mother’s. We would have gone to her dad’s house — which also had a rock facade all the way up the chimney — and he would’ve said something about the way I was holding my cue stick. He would’ve taken it out of my hands and replaced the cue ball and before you know it we were back at square one with the balls in the rack, my grandpa shooting them gallantly, trick shots into the pockets all the way to 8.
“You have to place the cue ball behind the second line”.
“We always play where you can play it anywhere you want, what? No. Jude?”
“You should place it anywhere you want, Carl”.
He sank the 8 ball.
It was already getting dark and it had started to drizzle. Whenever it rained, the steam came off of the lazy river and through the big, nautical rope on the wooden bridges. This made me want to play pirates; I am fourteen and I want to play pirates.
“Mark, Jude”. Carl whispered, loud.
He was sitting atop the bar, in between the two deer heads. He held up a wooden cup with a tiki on it.
VODKA. He whispered again. AND EGGNOG.
It felt cheap to pillage the liquor cabinet at the bar. Mark started going through the ice box. I stayed over near the window. Steam crept up from the lazy river, the thermometer on the window read 48.
Two streams of hot breath came out of each of my nostrils and hit the windowpane. The hot air curled up next to the wood, I touched my finger to the glass, drawing thick lines. My fingers had callouses on the tips from sailing. I couldn’t feel the cold of the window, but I believed it was so.
We’re going to drink all of the eggnog without you.
That’s okay, Carl.
I still think we ought to finish the game.
And so we played until the white light of winter Southern California started to poke its head through the glass. I still don’t understand whose team I was on, so I don’t know whether I won or not. But Carl and Mark did drink a lot of the eggnog, and they did sit down and start telling stories about girls in our class. They said that Susan Mccartney had big eyelashes and Lisa Novak never wore bras.
At 6, Mark’s mother fetched us from the community room and we walked up two flights to their section of the complex. Mark’s apartment shook as she marched through the kitchen, plating the table. The cranberry sauce still had neat divets and it bounced — a small, red, alien mass on the table.
At 8, Carl’s father called Mark’s mother and told us he had just gotten home and that we should make our way over. Mark’s dad had a brand new Mercury Cougar. It was an XR-7 hardtop in a glossy black. He always said I could drive it one day, but it never happened. Mark’s dad worked for the Los Angeles times. He liked his job. He had two older kids with a woman whose name I could never remember, and that’s probably where he was that morning. Mark’s father had two tweed blazers with elbow patches and he smelled like sandalwood and cleaning agent. He had a certain sensitvty and quietness about him that felt absent in my family.
Mark got a ouija board for Hanukkah.
We re-lit his menorah and sat down next to the fireplace.
Carl poked me — I jumped.
Don’t do that, Carl.
It’s the ouija board!
Everyone be quiet. Wait. It’s moving.
No, it’s not Mark, I can see your hand.
It went on like that for a while.
Mark’s father sat in the kitchen reading the paper under one florescent, sacrificing light for our game. Then the phone rang.