Chapter One: Aurora
These are the events that led my dad, a middle school teacher, to innocently rob the girl running the lemonade stand across the street from the Moose Like Espresso Café. My dad was forced to work at the Moose Like Espresso Café this summer after his wife, my ex-mom, left us and then he was pink-slipped from his teaching job after twelve years because the state can’t afford teachers anymore.
The state can afford to add a one hundred thousand dollar outdoor smoking lounge to the capitol building and spend close to a million dollars on a special legislative session to decide if teachers should be allowed to carry guns in school, at least the teachers who have jobs. I think the politicians are really worried about wolves storming the school and eating the kids. No, that was a different special session held last spring that they spent money to hold. The state politicians felt the need to discuss how to keep the wolves from wandering into schools, but not how to afford teachers. (They have obviously never walked into a middle school or they would be more worried for the wolves than the kids. A pack of middle school girls is enough to make a wolf turn tail and run.) Anyways, I’m not looking for sympathy about my dad, though I won’t turn it down. Mainly I want the truth about my dad’s innocence to get out one cup of espresso at a time.
The Moose Like Espresso Café is located on the corner of Aurora Avenue and Main Street in Life-At-A-Crawl, Alaska. The town is actually called Aurora, but what isn’t in Alaska? Every town up here seems to have at least twelve things named Aurora in it: streets, stores, parks, schools, animals, and people. This holds true even if the town only has twelve things to name.
I take that back, my aana’s village up north only has three things named Aurora. The postmaster’s daughter and the school principal’s dog both had their names before they moved to the state. The third is a crashed cargo plane named The Aurora Chaser. It ran off the runway back in the seventies while trying to land in a snowstorm. Being in a remote village, it was cheaper to buy a new plane than salvage the crashed plane. The fuselage is now home for the airport maintenance man. The rest of the plane was incorporated into about twenty houses throughout the village as siding, roofing, and even a front door. It still bothers me to see remnants of the crashed plane whenever landing in the village.
The Moose Like Espresso Café has been at its corner location for the last five years. The café was previously called Aunt Mae’s, and this corner has always been the best spot to watch the three parades that Aurora holds every year. It’s the turning point in each route, which means twice the candy if you work the corner just the right way. Parades and weddings are the only things that seem to bring everyone together in town. The Fourth of July, Winter Festival, and Spring Founders are the parade events—and the Winter Festival is the best. It’s also the busiest weekend of the year for the café. During the first weekend of December, the train from the big city brings people to town for the parade, crafts show, races, and even reindeer games. The excitement actually makes the town seem alive for a brief weekend.
Nothing says Alaska like watching a parade in below-zero weather. The parade participants had to stop throwing candy a few years ago after a boy lost several teeth when a frozen piece of taffy hit him in the face. Now they just slide it on the ice-covered roads to the bundled up kids on the sidewalks. Most kids get out of the way still when the local hockey team comes by as the players use their sticks to pass the candy. There are always a few who use the time for shooting practice and try to peg an unsuspecting kid. My favorite part of the parade is watching young kids with big mittens try awkwardly to pick up the candy that has frozen to the sidewalk before their parents pull them along.
I do remember going to Aunt Mae’s Café on Sunday mornings for breakfast with the Moose Dropping—also known as my younger brother—my dad, and the ex-mom. I guess we were called a family back then. The ex-mom would always complain during breakfast that there weren’t any good coffee places in Aurora. Dad would always have the “O.J.” and tell her that juice was better for her anyway.
Aunt Mae’s closed in the fall five years ago and Mae herself moved to Florida. She worked the counter for thirty years and had always said she was going to die in her café. I guess she meant her Alaskan self would die there. The last postcard I saw hanging in the post office made it sound like she had been reborn in the Florida sun. The old sourdough now has a boyfriend twenty years younger, a BMW, and spends the day baking her old sourdough body on the beach.
My ex-mom’s motherhood died at the Moose Like Espresso Café last fall. We had our family breakfast there one morning before she left for a short visit to her family in the village up north, from which she never returned, making it our last family breakfast.
Enough of this touchy feely stuff! I need to get back to clearing my dad of the innocent robbery in the park—Seward Park—located across the street from Moose Like Espresso. On sunny days in the summer, the park fills up with anyone who has something to sell, including coffee, to the tourists, runners, and sun worshipers. The local kids come to the park to sell lemonade and other stuff to make money. The Moose Like Espresso Café states its selling point over the park stands in giant red words on its awning: “Mosquito-Free Service.”
I don’t think I have described Seward Park well enough yet. Seward, yet another overused name up here, is a park larger than the town of Aurora in total acreage. The full park name is William H. Seward Park and Trail System, and the city block-sized portion that is across from the café is just the most obvious segment. It consists of traditional park features that include swings, an Aurora-themed playground area, community garden, and even a cardboard box that belongs to the park’s only year-round resident, a homeless guy named Joe Smith. (I don’t think that is his real name.)
I once asked Joe, “Why do you stay here in the winter? Wouldn’t San Diego be warmer?”
He looked at me with his sun-painted face, blond curly hair, and ocean-blue eyes and said, “Well, dude, I’ve tried California, and you know, if I wanted to live in California I would. I want to live in Alaska, so I do. If I wanted a job, I’d get a job. But I like my spot right here.” He then went on to ask me for a dollar.
Joe is pretty clean for a homeless guy. The homeless in the city usually have a cloud of flies and mosquitos helping hold them up. Joe regularly bathes in Lake Aurora and most of the time he keeps his clothes on in order to wash them at the same time.
The former mayor of Aurora, after several failed ordinances to remove Joe from the park, was able to celebrate when Joe agreed to move his box twenty feet to the tree line so it was away from the park’s grand wood-carved archway entrance. Joe is allowed to panhandle at the archway as long as his box is located twenty feet back. This is known as the Twenty Feet Ordinance of 2007.
The block-wide park strip runs north through town for three blocks before it erupts into the forest that surrounds us. There are a few pedestrian bridges along the strip that cross the streets to allow people nonstop trail use. The bridge over Beluga Street is the tallest structure in town, or is it the highest point? Anyhow, you can see the whole town from there. It’s the best place to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of December and New Years Eve. (Aurora doesn’t actually have a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. The sun refuses to go down in July and it’s not really worth the money to watch fireworks in the daylight.)
We do have the annual Midnight Sparkler Run through town on the Fourth of July. I think it’s like a two-kilometer race or something. No one really cares about the distance or that it’s still daylight out, they just want to see who can finish. The runners must keep a sparkler lit as they run through the street course. If the sparkler dies, the runner must stop and get another going before they can continue. Over the years runners have found creative ways to stash as many unused sparklers on their bodies as they can so they don’t have to rely on the crowd to get a fresh one. There is always the danger of them going off with body friction if not well placed. The winner is usually the person talented enough to light a new sparkler from a dying one as they keep running and not set themselves on fire in the process. There are always kids hiding with squirt guns to ambush the runners as they run by. As with most traditions in Alaska, this race started as a drunken dare one year. But since then most people run it sober and wear clothes to prevent getting burned in uncomfortable places.
Aurora is more known for another activity, however. The news keeps saying that if Alaska ever gets to host a Winter Olympics, that the Nordic skiing events would be done here in Aurora. That’s Aurora for you, the Nordic skiing hot spot in Alaska. So in the winters the kids switch from lemonade to hot chocolate and coffee as the beverages of choice to sell to the skiers and the café switches selling points to a sign that reads “Frostbite-Free Service.” Fires aren’t allowed in the park, except for Joe’s, who is what they call “grandfathered in” on the No Fire Ordinance of 2007. He doesn’t look like a grandfather, but you can warm up by Joe’s fire. He only charges a dollar donation, but his coffee isn’t very good.
I have spent this time getting you familiar with the park because it is where the first shots were fired in my Lemonade Divorce that preceded the innocent robbery. The antagonist of both the Lemonade Divorce and the robbery, well, she is partly my fault. Her name? Well, yes, it’s Aurora. She moved here last year from Boston where her dad was a travel agent who sold trips to Alaska without ever having stepped foot in the state. Now he thinks he’s an Alaskan adventure guide. Her mom was a book editor turned writer; she still hasn’t finished a book.
Aurora Finnegan is the Irish girl from Boston with the Alaskan name. Her parents had always loved the idea of Alaska without actually ever coming here. So they named their daughter the one thing they wanted to see most in Alaska in hopes she would be a constant reminder to go.
Aurora’s flaming curly red hair burns the freckles on her face into your memory, while her green eyes cool those flames after the freckle-burning. OK, OK, it sounds like we have some history, and I guess we do. She lives on my street and we were friends when she first came to town, up to last month when there was this incident about a kiss. It all went downhill from there.
Chapter Two: Glass Friendship
Last August was so wet that the mosquitoes even gave up and went into hibernation early. Ducks refused to leave the state and head south because of the record rainfall. The State of Alaska then had to fly some of the ducks south on a plane when winter hit to keep them from freezing to death, but somehow they still can’t afford teachers. One extremely wet day a moving van appeared on my partially flooded Ptarmigan Street and the tsunami of trouble hasn’t stopped since.
The town of Aurora is close enough to the Air Force base that it’s a constant block party of “hellos” and “good-byes” during the summer. People even save food leftovers from the “good-bye” of one family send-off to give to the new neighbors that moved in as a “Welcome to the Block” gift.
Kids on Ptarmigan Street gather near the new arrival’s house to try and guess how long they are going to last. We call this “Fail or Funeral.” The losers have to spend thirty minutes in the nearby park without bug spray if the “Fail or Funeral” happens in the bug season or no boots and gloves in the frostbite season. I was the only kid in Aurora’s age range on the block, so I got pushed over to do reconnaissance.
“Not military,” said Cleveland. He’s seven and a native from southeast Alaska. His dad works on the oil fields of the North Slope and has been gone half of Cleveland’s life, two weeks at a time. “That’s not a military moving company.”
“OK, everyone. How long?” asked Ivan. He’s fourteen, I think. He was born in Russia, moved here eight years ago. My dad says as a kindergartener he was bigger than most of the fourth graders. None of his family spoke English. The only word he could say was “six,” so they put him in kindergarten. We now think he was saying he was number six in his family. His dad says they are “new” Russian, not “old” Russian. In other words, he’s not a Communist. As kids, we couldn’t care less what he was. We just knew he was big for his age.
“Fail in seven months, maybe during Christmas,” said Cleveland.
“Fail, February,” stated Ruthie B. She doesn’t say much, but her fists have done plenty of talking since her family moved here from Laos also not knowing a word of English. She can speak the universal language of the fists better than most. I still don’t know why they picked Alaska over San Diego to find refuge. Her family cooks the best Asian food in town, so no one really cares why they are here.
“I heard the dad bought Frank’s guiding business. He’s going to guide tourists into the wilderness,” I said.
“I didn’t know Boston had wilderness,” said Cleveland.
“It doesn’t, that is why I say funeral in three months before dad gets eaten by a bear and they have to move back,” I confidently declared.
“They make it,” quipped the Moose Dropping. I forgot he was even there.
“You can’t say that!” I whipped out as I gave him a head warmer. That’s when you put your younger sibling in a headlock and rub your knuckles over his head until it’s warm. Awhile back a kid moved up here calling it a “noogie.” He calls it a head warmer now. If the kid makes it a year, then we all do the thirty minutes in the park without bug dope. “You always say they are going to make it,” I said to my brother. He is usually right, fifty percent of the time.
“Fine! May,” stammered the Moose Dropping.
Ivan always picked last, waiting to hear what everyone else said. “Funeral in nine months, March. Dad gets killed in an avalanche guiding where he shouldn’t.” Ivan wrote it down in his notepad as the permanent record of bet. You don’t bet with Ivan unless you plan to go through with it or he will break out the notepad to prove it as he gives you a face warmer. Don’t ask.
I knew the house that Aurora was moving into well; most kids on the block did. A teenager named Shelly Pinco use to be our babysitter, or rather the block babysitter. Parents cried the day her mom, Linda, had the breakdown. Not for the mom’s sake, but because the one reliable teenager that was willing to babysit and not go out dating was going to leave.
It was last February when Linda Pinco snapped. After four weeks of negative twenty-five degrees and no sun since December, severe cabin fever hit her like a moose in front of a semitruck. Shelly and her dad were gone on a school trip when she lost it. Lucky for Linda they came home early and found her in the backyard. She was lying in a lawn chair in her swimsuit with all the lamps in the house outside shining on her.
She wasn’t drunk, according to Doc Hamstein. He said, “Her mind was life-dehydrated and she had a truckload of depression with no brakes.” Hypothermia and frostbite caused her to lose three toes, but she survived, sorta. The Pincos moved to the northern coast of Oregon to help with her depression, but Doc doesn’t think that will help.
Walking into the Pinco’s old house I was greeted with the odor of carpet cleaner and sweaty movers. As the men unloaded the moving truck, I figured I would head to the kitchen. Everyone I have come across unpacks the kitchen first, so they can have that first meal in their new house. Stopping at the door to the kitchen, I saw Aurora and her mom. I waited, but neither of them saw me, so I broke the ice.
Aurora looked up first and saw me, paused, and then screamed, “Aaahhh! Mom, it’s an Eskimo!” She dropped a glass punch bowl, causing it to shatter. To this day she still denies any fear of Eskimos and says that I just scared her by walking into the room unexpectedly. I don’t believe her.
“I’m half Inupiaq and….” I stopped talking as her mom’s face went whiter than the refrigerator she was standing next too.
“Oh, you’re bleeding,” her mom causally stated as she proceeded to pass out and hit her head on the counter top. Aurora looked confused not knowing whom to attend to first. So she did the next best thing and ran out of the room, causing me to step on another piece of glass as she pushed me out of the doorway to get out. Even now she insists that she was getting help, but I still think she was running away.
By the time she returned with her dad I had pulled out two pieces of glass from my leg and tied a dishcloth around the wound. I had her mom’s feet propped up on a box and a cool washcloth on her forehead.
“What are you talking about, dear? What Eskimo is bleeding? We know your mom faints at the first sign of blood. So just prop up her feet,” her dad was saying as he and Aurora entered the kitchen. “Oh, there is an Eskimo, and see, he’s got your mom’s feet up,”
I spent the rest of the afternoon at the local clinic collecting more than enough information on our new neighbors. I told Mr. Finnegan that my bill would be covered, being half Alaska Native, but he insisted on paying. I think the front desk ladies just pocketed the cash and still billed my native corporation. Aurora and I didn’t talk much that day. I think she was embarrassed. She says she was worried about her mom. It wasn’t until a few days later when I saved her from the ravens that she opened up to me.
On that day I was riding home during my lunchtime parole—The Warden, what I call my dad when I’m mad at him, had given me time out for good behavior from my wrongful grounding—when I saw Aurora walking down the street. She had just finished her sandwich and started to give what was left to a nearby raven. The ravens here have a tendency to multiply before your eyes. One turns into two, then four, then eight, and before she realized it she was surrounded by a couple dozen black cat-size ravens closing in on the kill.
The ravens in Aurora are still fighting back after the town upgraded their hangout, the dump. The city purchased an ecofriendly garbage furnace and now burns most of the trash as it comes in, which was one of the raven’s main food sources. Same thing happened when the twenty-four-hour Crazy Calf Convenience Store was closed down last winter. The teenagers went a little crazy without their midnight microwave burritos and thirty-two-ounce pops. It happened last winter after Vern Hicks slid his truck into the front of the store, closing it down for the winter while they repaired it. By summertime the local teenagers looked at kids holding a candy bar like the ravens where looking at Aurora now.
Riding into the crowd of birds, who just moved aside rather than flying away, I signaled to Aurora to jump on my handlebars and we rode out of there. With a black cloud of birds following us at low altitude, I rode toward Aana Ruth’s house. She wasn’t my true grandmother, which “aana” means, but like most Native people, we take care of everyone and every grandma has a village of grandkids.
This time of the year Aana Ruth’s drying rack was loaded with salmon. She didn’t fish anymore, but just about everyone in town that did gave her a fish when they got back. The ravens left us alone at the sight of the salmon, and in the frenzy of chasing us forgot where they were. They know Aana Ruth well and should have known better, so I don’t feel bad for them. About ten seconds after we rode by, several of those ravens got hit with rubber shotgun filling as Aana Ruth let them have a taste of her defense that she keeps next to her door. “How’s that Alaskan scarecrow treating you birds?” she said patting the shotgun.
At first Aurora Finnegan was surrounded in mystery. She was like a book that catches your eye on the shelf because of the cool dust jacket, but once you open the book, expecting more cool pictures, you just find a bunch of hard words and long sentences. But then again I am the son of an English teacher, and I think challenging books are in my blood.
Chapter Three: Moose Do Like Espresso
Being a kid I really don’t know much about coffee, and my dad always says, “You can’t drink coffee until you have hair on your chest.” I answer back, “Women don’t have hair on their chests, but they drink coffee.” My dad smiles and asks me, “How do you know that they don’t?” We laugh and move on. Really, though, I would take a caffeine-loaded pop before drinking coffee. I have never really understood the draw to the taste—maybe some day I will—but I do know coffee can bring complete strangers together, even enemies. People in Aurora know this well. There is even a photo on the wall of the café that proves it.
When entering the café there is a life-sized wood carving of a moose named Vern to the right. Above Vern is a blown-up photo that covers most of the wall up to the ceiling and over to the rock fireplace. It was taken shortly after the café reopened. Back then the place was called Ski Juice. The owner was hoping to get skiers to come in as they skiied by in Seward Park, but it didn’t work. Most die-hard skiers don’t need coffee to wake up. They ski! Besides, summer was coming, the snow was melting, and that spring a moose gave the café a new name.
During spring thaw a moose got tired of dealing with the melting snow and walked out of the woods, crossed Main Street, and came through the doors that get stuck open all the time, into the café. He walked up to a table where a newspaper-reading old sourdough was sitting and proceeded to drink the man’s espresso.
The sourdough had one of those giant porcelain mugs filled with fancy foam. That was all the new owner would serve, even though the sourdough just wanted black coffee in a paper cup. It didn’t take long for that big moose’s tongue to slurp up the espresso. A nearby tourist was able to capture the moment with his camera before the moose casually went back the way he came.
The old sourdough was Vern Hicks, one of the more famous moose hunters in the state (who was also responsible for the Crazy Calf temporarily shutting down). Vern never noticed the moose drinking his coffee, and equally so, never lived the incident down. The carved moose by the door was later renamed Vern and the name of the café was switched to the Moose Like Espresso Café.
These days most people who come into the café for the first time think the photo was a once in a lifetime experience, wishing they had seen it in person. Heading to the wooden bar to order their drink, they can see more photo proof under the glass of that experience happening over seventy-five times since the café has been open.
One picture shows a cow moose drinking an espresso while a bull moose waited outside because his rack was too big to get through the door. People say the cow tried to carry a cup in her mouth to him, but dropped it. I can’t believe that part. Either way the owner lost too many of her fancy mugs and now uses biodegradable paper cups with a silhouette of a moose in a red circle crossed out, as if to say, “not for moose.” Yep, there’s a picture of a moose drinking out of one of those cups, too.
“Excuse me?” a man interrupts me while I was working one day. “Who is this Ferdinand that we see in a lot of the photos?” He and the woman sitting next to him nod at a picture to the right of them.
“Ferdinand is a famous bull moose that has grown into a town icon since he was born,” I say as I continue to wipe the table near them. “Even the hunters have spared him from the hunt. He was born in Mae’s café ten years ago. It was a hard spring snowstorm that blew into town that forced his mom to take refuge in the café to give birth overnight. How she broke the front door is still a mystery. Mae said she came to open the store and there they were lying in the café.” I point to a picture hanging behind the bar of the cow with her newborn calf lying in the entryway with snowdrift around the door. It will always hang there no matter what the café turns into.
“In some picture the moose has a white butt,” said the woman.
“Ferdinand can be recognized by the bleached blond hindquarter that he got three years ago while feeding one of his fetishes.” I sat down in a chair at their table. “You see, Ferdinand’s right antler is deformed and only grows about a foot-long spike, and he always needs something hanging on it. He was wandering around behind the dry cleaners one day and knocked over a drum of bleach onto his back. It caused all his hair to fall out and grow back blond in that area.”
“I think we saw him on the way into town. There was a moose with a white butt, and he had a bathrobe on one of his antlers,” said the man after sipping his coffee.
“Ferdinand always has something on his antler. Whether it’s Mrs. Wilson’s underpants that he got when he walked through her clothesline or Rip’s stuffed macaw he got off his porch. There was one season he wore a mannequin head stuck to the spike. Now that one caused a stir with the tourists,” I said, standing up. “I think he is just a clumsy moose that gets his weird antler stuck on things. My brother thinks he is self-conscious about his deformed horn and wants to hide it.”
“At the bar there is one of him with a dress on. What’s that story?” the woman asked.
“Ferdinand is also one of the biggest espresso addicts in town. He is a sucker for a steaming hot cup of espresso. Last Halloween some teenagers got him drinking an extra large and put a dress, fake jewelry, and even some red lipstick on him. He was seen still wearing it around Christmas. Someone called Fish and Game and an officer tranquilized him to remove it. A week later he was wearing the Fish and Game officer’s gun belt off his antlers after the officer came out to check on him. The officer is still on workers’ comp after the incident. The gun wasn’t in the holster and is still missing. The Moose Dropping…” I could see they where confused, “…that’s what I call my younger brother, he thinks that is why hunters don’t shoot him. They know he might fire back. But my brother doesn’t know anything.” The couple was getting up to leave.
“I do believe moose like espresso and that is why they come in every now and then,” I continued. “Others say it’s because the café puts its old coffee grounds on the community garden in the park next door, which usually just becomes a late fall snack for the moose. Some hunters even fill their pockets with grounds now, but I tell them they need to leave a cup of steaming hot espresso sitting on a stump if they want to attract them. The Moose Dropping thinks it’s the carved moose that brings them in, but I just think that moose like espresso.”
Chapter Four: The Mosquito Debate of 1984
Back in the Dark Ages, also known as the 1980s, Seward Park got an upgrade. In the park there is a large swampy area just outside of town that belongs to the mosquitos and moose, but mainly the mosquitos. A city council woman named Christine Aurora Constantine, who also just happened to live near the swamp, pushed the park upgrade committee to fill in the swamp and get rid of the mosquitos, “for the town,” is how she was quoted. “No swamp, no mosquitos,” was her battle cry. The other side of the debate was that there were fewer mosquitos in town because they stay at the swamp and eat the moose. “No swamp, more mosquitos in town,” was the other side’s rebuttal.
If you ask Chester Fillmore, the Rock Soft Biker as I call him, this is what happened: “The debate got heated with a few city council meetings ending in a playground resolution of people trying to figure who has lived in the town the longest. The thinking was that the older residents should make the rules, like kids on the playground. This never worked because the oldest residents didn’t care about the swamp and usually forgot why they were there anyway. In the end the swamp is still there and Mrs. Constantine has moved back to Europe.”
The Rock Soft Biker has lived in Aurora since the Stone Age, also known as the seventies. His ponytail is as long as the handle bars on his motorcycle. On the outside he has a story of a childhood lost too early to an adulthood of hard times tattooed all over his arms and back. On the inside he has room in his heart to help any kid who needs help finding their lost childhood. When people walk in, they leave Chester alone because of his looks, but when a first grader comes in they run over and jump on his lap, relentlessly asking for him to read a book to them.
Once you see his lap full of current and former students, Chester is as soft as any man can be. He is the first grade teacher at Northern Lights Elementary in town. I remember being in his class and when he wants your attention you give it, but if you need attention he has all the time you want. Most kids don’t have a negative view of him until they get older and let adult stereotypes set in, is what my dad says.
Chester refuses to sit on anything hard; rather, he always sits in one of the soft chairs in the corner by the books. Sitting in the chair next to him I asked, “How was the debate settled?”
“A short car race, ending in a statue’s homicide.” He smiled, obviously remembering his emotions seeing it live. “Mrs. Constantine was in her accounting office on Polar Bear Avenue when word got to her that a man from the state was here to finalize the plans for the park. She jumped into her Cadillac and raced to city hall. Her main opponent, Cecil Musterman, who worked across the street, jumped into his car as well and the three-block race was on.” He pointed to the far end of the café’s windows. “If you were here in this very chair, you would have had a front row seat as the two cars came around the corner on the icy snow-covered streets.”
A student walked up and crawled into Chester’s lap without saying a word. My dad is always saying that Chester is an amazing teacher, but he wouldn’t be given a job anywhere else then here in Aurora just because of the way he looks.
“This wasn’t Cecil’s first race through town and he knew to slow down for the corner, but not Mrs. Constantine. She slid sideways trying to make it,” Chester traced the path with his finger in the air, “right into the statue of Bonnie Slowgrass at the gate of the park. She killed poor old Bonnie dead as a statue can be. Any money that was set aside to fill in the swamp was put toward replacing the statue and Mrs. Constantine left that following summer. Her house has sold about ten times since, always during the winter when the swamp and the mosquitos are under the snow. Two years ago, the last people just up and left, letting it go back to the mosquitos.”
“But that statue is of William H. Seward not Bonnie Slowgrass,” I said.
“Now it is.” Chester started to stare off into space. A smile formed in his white goatee. “When they went to replace it, well, that is a whole other debate, but let’s just say that the William H. Seward statue was the less expensive one. But back then it was of Bonnie Slowgrass. She was one of the true founders of Aurora. The one you don’t hear about these days for she isn’t as popular now as she was back then. She started the first hotel here where she and her twenty, uh, let’s call them her sisters, were the town greeters. Men would come from miles around to hang out with Bonnie and her sisters.”
“Chester! My boy doesn’t need that history lesson right now,” snapped Ulysses as he made a latte at the counter.
“Dad, I wished Bonnie and her sisters were around today, so you could hang out with them. You need to go out and hang around some girls.”
The older customers in the café started to chuckle. Ulysses just turned red and told me to take out the trash. He really did need to hang out with Bonnie. All he did was work, come home, play with us, feed us, bathe us every other night, put us to bed, then go out and watch television—and sometimes I can hear him crying. He used to be such a funny guy when the ex-mom was around. Now, even when he plays with us, he is lacking some serious imagination. Maybe if he would hang out with some girls is own age he might get funny again.
Chapter Five: Jewel in the Rough
Jewel Stern is the owner of Moose Like Espresso Café. She is from Seattle, where I guess she was a business genius. She sold her video rental shops before people down in the Lower 48 forgot what a DVD was and moved up here to open her next great venture, an Internet coffee shop. I hear everyone downloads movies now. They must have hours to let things download. My teacher tried to download a video about volcanoes last year and I think she is still waiting. The dream of an Internet coffee shop half died when Jewel moved up here and found the Internet is about twice as fast a glacier. So now she just has her coffee shop. It has Wi-Fi, but she doesn’t advertise it just in case it’s not working when you come in, which is often.
By the way, my dad just bought three DVDs and we still have a video store up here. Northern Lights Video, same as Aurora in my book, is one of the popular stores in town. It used to be the movie theater until VHS killed it in the 1980s. Sometimes in the winter there is a line waiting to get in to get that one copy of the newest release. At least the newest release for us. I’m on a waiting list for the one copy of the sixth Harry Potter movie. With no movie theater and slow Internet, though, we are still very loyal to the video store.
The owner is an Indian man named Broc Fisher. He changed his name when he tried to get a role in Hollywood, but he will be happy to show you to his corner where you can find the Bollywood movies he has starred in. Usually all five movies are in, so if you want to watch you can. I think Jewel is a little envious of Broc and his store. She loves movies and claims she has never read a book in her life. “Life is too short to waste time reading a book when you can watch ten movies in the time it takes to read a book,” she is always saying.
This is the reason that she turned down the bookstore next door when the owner wanted to knock down a wall and combine locations. Emma June’s family has owned the bookstore since books came to Alaska in the 1980s. Emma always says, “No movie can equal my imagination.” She claims to have only watched one movie, the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Emma and Jewel are always doing stuff to get on each other’s nerves. That would take a few more cups of coffee to tell, though, and wouldn’t clear my dad of the robbery.
Jewel has a daughter named Sapphire (at least it’s not Aurora). She was in my dad’s English class last school year and for the first time in her life she wasn’t getting 110 percent. I think she gets good grades in English to spite her mom. Sapphire certainly didn’t want to come to Alaska. My dad says she is a very talented writer, but she has never been pushed to be even better, until my dad’s class. I know from experience that he is good at that pushing thing.
“Come on, Rigs, you can read this book. Come on, Rigs, you can write another page. Come on, Rigs, you can be a better slave,” he is always saying. (I kinda added the last one.) Now as soon as first quarter ended, Jewel was in my dad’s class wanting to know where Sapphire’s “A+” disappeared to.
“Now, Mr. Seward…” Yes, my dad’s name is Ulysses Seward. There is an unproven relation to the man himself, William Seward. My dad says there is a letter in the family about William Seward having an affair with a fur trader’s daughter in Washington D.C. while he was pushing the government to buy Alaska. Everyone seems to think that stuff happened, even back then. “Sapphire has always gotten an A+ in English. Now if you were Math class then I would understand even a low C,” Jewel stated.
“Miss Stern, you should be pushing your daughter in all subjects. Sapphire is getting an A- and I feel by the end of the second quarter it will be up more if we both push her,” Ulysses said, as Jewel retorted before he could continue.
“What? Have you mapped out your students’s performances? So I see this is one of those male control things. You have her grade for the year all planned out, don’t you! Men, you’re all alike!” The recently divorced Jewel had found an outlet for her frustration. Her husband had never fully moved up here and spent more time out of the state than in. Finally it was over when he refused to come back and she refused to leave.
At this time my dad, as most teachers do, had a choice to make in this situation. Get defensive and check her back into place, which doesn’t work most of the time, or become the free therapist she needed.
Well, let’s just say they used a box of Kleenex over the next thirty minutes and finished with my dad taking a pen and turning the minus into a plus on the report card she had. In the gradebook it’s still a minus, but that one small line helped move men forward a few thousand years in evolution in Jewel Stern eyes. My dad could no longer do anything wrong. She bought into needing to push her daughter, which Sapphire didn’t appreciate. Now Sapphire likes to push me a lot. In the halls, on the street, at lunch—just about anywhere I get this gust of wind that pushes me, Sapphire is there with her smirk and a snide “I just wanted to give you a push to do your best.”
That is the life of a teacher’s kid in a small town. Just ask Gus Crum. His dad was the junior high math teacher a few years ago. He was everyone’s friend during junior high, but then high school hit. He made the mistake of thinking that his popularity would carry over and he didn’t need to work for it. He ran aground faster than the Exxon Valdez. It got to the point that his dad took a high school job in Anchorage and they moved so his son could salvage his senior year. It can go the opposite way as well.
If your teacher-parent gives too many bad grades then the way the kids retaliate is through the teacher’s kids. I handle Sapphire, and if there is a silver lining about my dad getting pink-slipped, it is that I don’t have to worry about Tim Macintyre this year. He was going to fail English like a proposed bridge from Alaska to Siberia would fail. He would have lived up to his nickname “The Mack Truck” and used me like a speed bump.
Once the ex-mom ruined everything with our family later in the school year, Jewel was there doing everything to be my dad’s support. Eventually it was everything to get my dad to work in the café over the summer. I think she wants to be my dad’s next wife. She couldn’t be the new mom, and we made my dad promise that she wasn’t going to be before we allowed him to work there. Junior thinks the café would be cool to own and he would get all the free hot chocolate he wanted, but the little Moose Dropping doesn’t know anything. Owning a coffee shop would be hard work. Having a teacher as a parent is hard, but having a dad that owned the local gossip shop would be worse. No, I want my personal life somewhat private.
… to be continued