Parting Is Such Street Sorrow

Humor by Mark P. Maller

© Copyright 2022 by Mark P. Maller

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash
Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

On a park bench in Verona, just east of Pittsburgh, Jack Grush sat shaking his head, shoulders heaved over, watching small boys run around the trees, as the sun disappeared through an orange gray haze. Reading real estate signs, he could not believe that yesterday he had seen his father’s ghost after he had opened a snow cone shop at the South Pole. Grush could never stand working frozen in the dark selling 27 flavors of Popsicles to the hardy team of scientists with icy attitudes. Seven church chimes rang. His mind raced back to last Sepember.

While driving east, scraping together a life from his dwindling savings, Grush drifted into Pittsburgh for no particular reason and after a few days, took a job with Yellow Cab, instead of some cyber-based company. “I’m crazy about these streets of yours”, he told the manager, figuring to give his life some direction. “You’ll be 17, 10-4? And tell me what nine says about 43 at Post Six after 3:00”, the burly manager said on the first day.

Already Grush wanted nothing to do with that kind of talk. “I’m Jack Grush, not 17 or any number!” he shouted, but the manager paid no attention, reading the Post-Gazette. Driving aimlessly around, Grush found himself getting lost, intent on exploring the hills and steep slopes, and going out of his way to check out a new street. “Hey, 17, stay on the job at Post Six”, the manager’s voice shouted through the radio. He offered Grush an aluminum coated 14 caret gold key if he would stay on the right streets, and though this could be a “dipstick” in his cap, Grush loved GPS maps, and felt compelled to pore over this three river town, tour the neighborhoods and apartment complexes. After living in flat boring Iowa City most of his 29 years, Grush loved every hill and went wild over the whole idea of Squirrel Hill. For days, he searched for squirrels and chipmunks, hoping to find them walking down neighborhood streets. But then a hot rumor said that they migrated to the country when pigeons took the space on the curbs and red oaks.

Two delightful months later he became fascinated with the surrounding towns and the ones in further suburbs. In October he discovered a beautiful three bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood on Ingruml Street in Sewickley for only $1050.00 a month including electricity. Although he scarcely believed this deal, he refused to live on a street named Ingruml, and he wasn’t thrilled with the name Sewickley either. I’d be embarassed to type Ingruml on my envelopes, he thought. Like when I got into a deep funk living on Intercourse. I’ll pay triple that to live on a street I am proud of, boast about and feel supreme. After all, what else did he have going in his life? His full day consisted of driving until dusk, eating in dives and diners and dropping in bed exhausted in a sleeping room in Northside. On weekends he worked on his old junker Ford, regularly wrenching on new expensive parts until gradually, week by week, piece by piece, it fell apart, completely.

After graduating from Buena Vista College out in Storm Lake Iowa five years ago with a special major in Literary Ecology, he soon discovered that the demand for literary ecologists was incredibly low. “I don’t know exactly where to place you”, the job interviewers told him. “You might try Europe. Maybe Luxembourg. A little country like that probably needs a literary ecologist. We’re only accepting applications from inner city minorities and poor people.” “Well, I’m poor, alright!” he cried but they turned the other way. “Thanks anyway. We’ll keep your application on file.” This was hardly surprising.

In Iowa City his melting pot family was always getting pushed aside by some new ethnic families that drove through town and decided to stay. They were in so well that he felt squeezed out. And he felt like going around and yanking up all their new roots they were putting down. Growing up, he cried to be Puerto Rican or a Bulgarian, so he would belong to something better than “Mutt Lib.” But it was no use at all. While kids announced they were Czech, Hindu or French and German,, he felt nothing of his diverse background. His hometown street was no help. Ebruch. Blah and drab. Sure, it was different but he was on the corner of Main Street. His name, Grush, which rhymes with slush, sounded all right, but he hated when his teachers pronounced it as if whispering to a pack of huskies in the Yukon. Still, it was much better than his original name—Grussjahitz—which sounded European but was a pseudonym. His father had carefully assembled the name so that each letter represented a nationality in his large variety family. G for Guatamalan, R for Russian, U for Uruguay, S for Scottish, H for Hawaii and A for Abbreviation.

Following an intense search, he finally found a quaint apartment on Juliet Street in the Oakland neighborhood. Rushed with joy to get a place on Juliet, he gave up all his meager cab earnings for a studio, though he never actually read Romeo and Juliet. With its low ceilings, a pillar and carpeting on the wall, he barely found room for a bed, dresser and kitchenette--but he enjoyed telling his cab buddies where he lived. He would have happily hocked away everything for Hamlet that was nearby,but some young nuns from Sisters of the Holy Ghost were anxious to move into this twisted five block lane. Several days before Christmas he settled in, and fell in love with this steep brick road, adjacent to Romeo street. Climbing to the balcony outside the front door, he cast his eyes over the bumps and dark red bricks. “A fine sight”, he said. One weekends he moved his small bed and an electric heater there, so he could awake to this excellent view.

Then in January Juliet became icy and only offered her two cold shoulders. On freezing nights she always had something uncomfortable to slip into. It was hard walking down her and he was a little embarassed looking up her. For a while, he imagined that streets prefer the warm sun but the weather forced them to become so treacherous. Sure, it’s just one of those periods in a street’s existence and for a few days a month we’ll survive. Weeks went by and Juliet became sickly, her cracked bricks buckling under the sub-zero temperatures. Cars skidded every way, people slipped and cursed and some birds and mice died in the widening potholes. Grush dodged dead wrens and garbage walking toward his two-story brownstone. In a shameless private way, he tried comforting it for he liked her slippery curves, and somehow he felt that she liked him, too. He knew this was silly, of course, but he still felt attached maybe because he never had any luck with women.

One bitter cold day before St. Valentine’s, a man at the city streets department came to fix up the broken lane. Grush naturally figured some sort of Robitussin asphalt syrup would do the job but when it poured into the potholes he began wondering. Sitting on the curb every night, he watched the sloppy asphalt slide over the street, as cars slipped around, scaring or hitting pedestrians. Frantically, he threw the street bowls of kosher chicken soup and Luden’s cough drops but even after plenty of liquids, Juliet still looked miserable. Panicking after his great roadside manner, he realized that his street would not recover. On Leap Day, she overdosed on asphalt. A street workman rushed in but she was dead on arrival. Afterward he scarcely ate, living off his grief and sorrow, but contrary to the play he did not kill himself or try to. “I must overcome”, he told his neighbors moving out, as his reputation as a roadside resident spread to the area called East Liberty.

Soon Grush found a similar brick two story in suburban Crafton on Duncan Road, southwest of Pittsburgh. A simple name without any romantic pretentions. He tried in vain to get a place on Pride until he discovered that their buildings had inferior complexes, and residents’ boasted superiority complexes. He avoided the numbered avenues and streets with names of trees. It did not matter how many exciting cool places are on Fifth or Elm because those names already gave him a very dull impression. He was happy the first month in his quiet one-bedroom, a welcome relief from a street in chaos and peril. Then his landlord sold the building, and he met the new owner, Mr. MacDuff, a veteran of a Scottish-Welsh wars Grush had never heard of. One morning, calling to check the heating, he eyed Grush’s messy bedroom and made vague threats about the sloppy walls, floors and garbage. Well, I won’t rest easy with him snooping around, he thought. Oh hell—I’ll get a maid and look neat.

After placing a few ads on Craig’s List, a short older woman called and appeared at the door to soap up the place. Every Wednesday morning, he heard her scrubbing away with speedy energy, grumbling and cursing as she tried rubbing out stains on the floor. “Out, damn spot, out”, she muttered. “Hey, leave the damning to me!” he answered. His place turned shiny clean, carpeting and walls looked like new, the spider webs and dust gone, but she went on screaming and cursing between her teeth. “Damn filth”, she scowled in the bathroom. Back from his errands, one day he found the kitchen and bath deep in water with faucets on, and empty bottles of Ajax and Mr. Clean strewn about. Touched with guilt, he told her that she wasn’t needed anymore. A month later he saw several phone calls on his landline bill to Birnham Woods, Scotland, so he slid it under a pile of mail from a nudist park in the South Pole.

Later in the year, trying to save money, he moved to Stratford Avenue, miles from the rubble of Juliet and Crafton. Ignorant of its allusion, he went for the air-conditioned luxury studios in Stratford Avon Apartments. Trying to be just himself, he fell for a little sweetie, the daughter of a witty old pol, and this wasn’t Ophelia either. But then he saw his father’s ghost again, whispering that he was abducting her to a motel in Slippery Rock. Well, he didn’t believe it! Was he going mad or what? He’d go anywhere that did not involve the Bard. Staring in the mirror, he began questioning his very identity. “Is this a Grush I see before me, his hand toward my hand? For someone who got a D in English Lit, this is ridiculous!”

In Verona, the boys finally left the park, and it was then he realized that life had become a haunting joke. A crazy riddle, an ironic cul-de-sac. To be Jack Grush or not…is that the question? Suddenly, a girl in long brown hair began walking slowly toward him. He gazed at this lovely vision. God, she reminded him of another time and place. “Who are you?” he asked, as she stood a few feet away. “Julie. I live here in Verona across the tracks. Excuse me, but do you happen to have an aspirin or Tylenol?” She asked in a raspy nasal voice. He looked amazed, backing away, surprised. “No, no. Don’t tempt a desperate man”.

Grush wanted her in a way, but felt very afraid and aghast. Then faster than he thought possible, he dashed out of the park and ran down Main Street away from Verona, far from the streets of allusions. He decided to buy a condo on Fifth Avenue.

The whole story is a joke and the street names are real
, except Ingruml and Duncan.. I lived in Pittsburgh long ago so I know the area from experience. 

Contact Mark
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher