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Notes from the Small Pond: Smoke

The guy in the wheelchair and Chicago Bulls basketball shorts and no shirt with the shiny, sun-tanned watermelon belly and aviator sunglasses waits at the stoplight for the WALK sign at the bottom of the hill on Carlton Avenue, where it intersects with Highway 33. The other guy, 20-something, with much better sunglasses and much worse taste sidles up to wait with him.

“Headed to the pool?”

The aviator glasses spin to the right, over the shoulder, to see who’s that, and the eyes behind the glasses immediately read the other, saying,

“Headed for some shade. You?”

“Pool, for sure, Dude. Hotter’n hell. How can you stand it?”

“Stand what?”

There’s a pause while the guy not in the wheelchair and without the tanned, watermelon belly thinks about what he meant, really, and, with the clock of reasonable conversation ticking, he chokes out,

“The heat, Dude. How can you stand this effing heat and humidity — and all this smoke?” He gesticulates with his arms spread, bending at the waist, lowering himself, like an umpire, an effort to encircle the situation of heat, humidity, haze, wheelchair, watermelon belly…

“What’s the alternative to standing it?” the guy in the wheelchair says. “Is Not Standing it?” an option? “If so, I choose Not Standing it.”

The WALK sign still says STOP.

“Well,” says the younger guy, rubbing his whiskey chin hairs, “you gottapoint there…but still…”

“Still what?”

“Still, even if you can stand it — because you can’t Not Stand It without being dead — you could just stay home in the A.C. or a fan in your face and not deal with it.”

STOP turns to WALK but the “L” light is flitting and blinks like a blinker but no one notices.

“I guess that’s right,” says the guy behind the aviators, rolling through the crosswalk like in a canoe on water. And then over his shoulder in a side-mouth shout to the guy, now texting, still standing on the corner, concerned elsewhere, the blinking-broken-flitting WALK sign threatening STOP again, already, “But then I’d never see people or meet any people like you,” smirking, but the bile is lost, except to himself, which is usually mostly the case.

Over everything, firesmoke drifts down and covers, descending and smothering, like another pandemic, ignored and deadly, the way Beelzebub gigglingly planned it all along.

Cloquet’s Parnell Thill is a “Columnist of the Year” winner in Minnesota and author of “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks,” available online and at select bookstores. His opinions are his own. Contact him c/o [email protected].