The Derf

The Derf

Cellar had the type of raw on-board skill that when witnessed quickly transitioned from inspiring to intimidating. When he’d show up for a session, the other skaters would immediately cease and desist and watch him take the stage. Cellar just had it. Skated like improvisational Heavy Metal, if there was ever such a thing—fluidity and razor blades—a true legend in the flesh, or so we thought.

Three weeks ago, Cellar got tangled up in the rafters at The Derf. Stevenson and I were there, burning one, just watching the Cellar Show. He crumpled like a ragdoll to the floor, body all splayed out and squashed, eyes tumbling around in his head. I saw his face when he came to. You could tell something inside had gotten scrambled, like it was big news to him that he too could be broken by the force he’d successfully defied for so long: gravity.

Then things got worse. A Polar Vortex swept down and the snow and cold doubled-down, through which Cellar maintained a worrisome radio silence. Cabin fever set in. At work, Stevenson started telling me all kinds of crazy things, like, pretty soon he’d be able to smoke a cigarette in a single pull or chew broken glass into sand. He’d say, as it was, the tendons in his legs were coiled springs. That sometimes he swore he could jump clean into the sky. I told him I had to stop getting him high on the job.

But it’s true. All this snow really can drive a person bonkers. What gets me is when the plows choke all the parking spaces with snow. It makes finding a spot for a larger vehicle like my Astro Van extremely frustrating, especially if your depth perception is all out of sorts from smoking marijuana. When I’m red-lining, I got this Yogi breathing exercise I implement to calm the soul. Woo-Sah!

In fact, I was mid-Woo-Sah, when I got the out-of-the-blue call from Cellar. I was coming home from a taxing twelve hour shift at The Gastro Pub where I’m the new Sous Chef, and really looking forward the Zen-ful feeling of a hefty bong rip on my couch, the calming sizzle of something delicious thrown into a pan, but Cellar sounded desperate and I said I’d give him a hand. Karma points, I thought.

“I can’t move a thing with these crutches,” he told me.

“On my way,” I’d said, abandoning my parking spot.

He informed me there had been a blow out with his girlfriend, Rebecca. He was getting out of Dodge for good, and he couldn’t do it alone. You could tell it was hard for him to ask—a real pride bruiser. He really prided himself on that—having his ducks in a row. He made the big bucks as an industrial painter, carefully working with paints and chemicals that will give you cancer if you look at them wrong. He’s responsible and about as blue collar as it gets—in fact, he has two blue collars tattooed to his shoulder blades and will regularly get and rant about the ethics of hard work. He’d probably frown if I told him I take the old G-Pen out behind the dumpsters and get stoned before Brunch Rush. He’s a no-bullshit kind of guy.

If you didn’t know, a G-Pen is a metallic, flute-like vaporizer, which emits no scent—very useful for incognito weed smoking. Stevenson refers to the piece as the “Robot’s Dick,” which I must allow, it does resemble. But I call it my “magic piece.” I call it this because THC is the key to my success. It really is. After a couple tokes, I evolve the ability to empathize in a highly spiritual way. Its like, I become attuned with the eternal pulse of the universe. I’ve even had a few out of body experiences. Sometimes while plating my Eggs Benedict I say Namaste. My taste buds are your taste buds. People venture from far and wide to get a taste of what I can whip up, especially my hollandaise sauce. I am very thankful for my success.

When I got the promotion toward the end of last spring, I splurged and bought myself a big-job Astro Van, and ripped all the back seats out, “Shag Wagon” style. I got the fuzzy leopard-print steering wheel cover and those stuffed dice that dangle from the rearview mirror, the retractable blinds on the side windows-the works. I also donated a good chunk of change toward building and maintaining The Derf, as per requested by Cellar.

The Derf. At first glance you knew why we could afford the space. First glance, it looked like an abandoned tenement in Chernobyl—you know, the kind inhabited by roving packs of radioactive wolves. Its ugly cinder block exterior was a flaking paint-job of graying white, speckled with buds of mildew, but its insides were clean, wide, and high-ceilinged enough, and we rented it. At the time, there were sixteen key holders paying rent. Cellar lobbied each of them, assuring us an indoor ramp would save us from the incoming wintertime blues.

So a gang of us worked religiously off a sketch Cellar had penciled on a bar napkin, which he never thought to show any of us. But we trusted him. Although that’s not to say were weren’t curious. I swear, this one night, Stevenson would’ve burglarized Cellar’s apartment had he not gotten so paranoid. He’d been convinced Cellar’s girlfriend was going to be in the window naked when he crawled in. Bad Karma, I remember telling him. Better not.

Over the phone, I put on this gentle voice: “Where do you want to take your shit?”I asked him.

“The Derf,” he said, nonchalantly.

“The Derf?” I said with a highly questioning inflection. “The Derf Derf?”

“I’m going to set up shop in The Cornhole until I figure it all out,” explained Cellar.

“The Cornhole Cornhole,” I said. “Is this a cry for help?

“Yep. The Cornhole,” was all he said.

What we call The Cornhole is the little nook below the deck of The Derf. It’s dark, dingy, and dusty under there, and undeniably unfit for human existence. The walls have a constant cold-sweat to them, and the floor is covered in streaks of powder which I am not unsure is asbestos.

Immediately, I offered him my couch and three square meals until unemployment came through with the checks, but he wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t even consider borrowing the spare mattress that’d been sitting up in my attic for years. He had a sleeping bag certified up to twenty below.

There was no arguing once a guy like Cellar’s made up his mind.

Before we got off the phone, I felt the urge to uplift him somehow, so I told him that injuries sometimes open new pathways in life and to keep positive. That life worked in wondrous and mysterious ways. He said, “Yeah yeah,” and hung-up.

What I was referring to was my own injury, when a hulking defensive guard had cut-blocked my shin into oblivion. I’ve limped ever since. Cellar knows all about it.

I came to Albany on a full-ride football scholarship three years ago, back when I’d been an All-American high school nose-tackle. I had a record-breaking season my freshman year of College, but followed it up with a severe injury in the first game of my second—I spent that season getting fat on the side-lines. By summer training camp a full second had fallen off my forty yard dash. My thighs had turned to fat ham-hocks that rippled when you slapped them. The Powers That Be took notice and quickly sent this race horse to the glue factory. Yeah, I ended up losing my scholarship, a college education—maybe a look from the NFL…Dare I say a Wheatie’s Box? But if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yeah, there was a brief stint of unhappiness. I milled around town in this sort of limbo for awhile.  But then I began to climb the ladder at The Gastro Pub from Dish Washer to Sous Chef. I also took up skateboarding. It was a non-competitive sport and I liked that. I became a very happy person, more so than ever. Isn’t it beautiful how what may appear to be a tragedy has the propensity to increase life’s bounty tenfold? I wanted to convey this to Cellar, but he’d just hung-up, so, as I drove, I just sort of imagined these positive thoughts in his direction.

I picked Cellar up at the skate shop. Stevenson was with him. Again, on the ride over to the apartment, Cellar was nothing but apologies, although he did not appear as nervous as he had sounded over the phone. He seemed dead set on the move. The guy was truly cold in the pragmatic sense—a real terminator.

“It’s no trouble at all, man,” I kept having to tell him.

“Just look at that leg,” Stevenson assured him, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the cab. “You can’t do anything on that leg. That leg is mummified. That leg is petrified, man. It renders the whole bodily-unit useless.”

I parked the Astro next to a fire hydrant and threw on the hazards. We were out in front of Cellar’s pad. Cellar crutched his way to the mailbox by the front door and threw it open. “Shit,” he said. “My fuckin’ paychecks aren’t here. Where are my goddamn paychecks? I bet that bitch’s got them up there.”

My eyebrows flew up as my stomach did a tiny lurch at the mention of her, Rebecca. This was the first I’d heard anything about the possibility of her being home. I wondered if she’d begrudge me for aiding Cellar. We’d been friends for years.

Before climbing the stairs, Cellar turned and informed us that Rebecca was in fact definitely upstairs and not to stare at her.

“What?” I said.

“Don’t stare at her?” Stevenson parroted confusedly.

“Yeah. She’s got this stress rash-real evil looking,” explained Cellar. “She’d hate for you to see her like that. She’d never forgive me. Also I suspect she might have shaved off the remaining hair she hadn’t pulled out. I’m not kidding. Just keep your heads down and get everything out as fast as possible. It’s all piled up in a corner already. You’ll see it.”

By the time we were standing on the landing to his apartment a warm burn of anticipation had settled in throughout my chest. Cellar had his key in the lock.

“Ready?” said Cellar.

“Ready,” we said, half-heartedly.

Cellar then flipped on the lights and a rather cozy one-bedroom appeared. There were framed pictures on the walls and crocheted doilies on the coffee table and a stocked wine rack, a few decorative throw pillows. I’d never been inside.

“Rebecca?” Cellar called out. “Becky?

No response.

Phew, I thought.

Then right when I began feeling at peace, an inhuman snowball of sound hurled itself from the back room and smacked me senseless. Stevenson literally fell down. I swear the sound brought to mind the most abysmal crimes in human history. Countless little paper planes flew about my mind. They had little razor sharp edges that nicked images into my brain resembling mass-graves piled high with bodies, pressure-cooker bombs exploding, acts of necrophilia, gatherings of people in black hoods, scythes glinting under a full moon, things like that.

But Cellar remained unaffected. Mid-sound, he just gestured toward a heap of his belongings over in the corner and said, cool as a clam, “Aright boys. I’ll meet you guys downstairs in 15,” then he limped off into the other room, leaving Stevenson and I stunned and alone.

We hurried into our work, moving Cellar’s things into The Astro.

With the two of us, it was a three-trip job. Packed and loaded in about ten minutes.

We were left with time to burn, so I whipped out my trusty G-Pen—my “magic piece”—and suggested to Stevenson that we toke up in the meantime.

“Yeah, I can blow that robot,” he said to my surprise—Stevenson’s known to get the fear in tense situations, and rarely accepts my invitations to smoke outside of work as he succumbs to palpitations.

“That shriek like sent high-voltage down my spine,” I admitted, fishing under my seat for my G-Pen. “I just need to get high and settle down. Would you draw the blinds?”

So we took turns pulling on the G-Pen, and pretty soon we were high as yaks in the Himalayas and the radios playing Zepplin and Stevenson and I have basically forgotten what we were doing parked there in the first place.

We didn’t really notice Cellars had been any longer than fifteen minutes until Bottles and Cans came up and rapped on my driver side window—Bottles and Cans being an enterprising pair of street bums.

The timing could not be worse.

See, I have this rule, right. I don’t fraternize with bums when I’m stoned. I just can’t handle them—I empathize too readily or something, especially in the wintertime when I see they’ve got on about a hundred mismatched layers and duct taped sneakers. I just about become the world’s foremost philanthropist, capable of giving away the clothes off my back.

The man/woman duo of Bottles and Cans patrol the streets constantly, and the woman is always disturbing everyone, hollering at high-decibels, “GOT ANY BOTTLES AND CANS.” The woman spoke, and, from what I could tell, the man was a mute. He freaked me out especially. The poor bastard was this lurch-like ex-hippie with snowy white hair, just going through whatever vague motions of life his acid-damaged brain had the capacity to simulate.

By the time I turned down the music and got the window rolled down, The Speaking Half of Bottles and Cans had already shot her signature litany out three times, fogging up all the glass.

“BOTTLES AND CANS,” she hollered. “BOTTLES AND CANS,” she bellowed. I could taste her words, and they were flavored like vinegar and bile and malt liquor.

I figured a quick donation might get them out of my hair before I went Full Mother Theresa. So I fished out my wallet and piously shelled out a twenty to The Speaking Half.

But my gift didn’t get them moving.

The Speaking Half was insatiable. She then tried to hit me up for some more goodies, going as far as to inquire about a half-drank Pepsi sitting in my cup holder. I gave it to her.

By the time she started eyeing up Cellar’s belongings in the back, I’d about had it. If I wasn’t suddenly reminded of Cellar, I surely would’ve had Bottles and Cans in the backseat on the way to the ATM.

What was Cellar still doing up there? A goodbye fuck? Unlikely with that cast on, with Rebecca’s stress rash and lack of hair and all. I calculated that we must’ve been sitting there close to forty-five minutes. Either that or I was just too stoned and time had gone all funny. Either way I knew I needed to get out of there, away from Bottle and Cans, before I did something drastic and overly-Zen.

“Let’s go drop this stuff at The Derf. We can be back in twenty minutes,” I whispered to Stevenson, already putting the Astro in gear and frantically waving Bottles and Cans out of the way.

We crossed the bridge over the Hudson, and dropped Cellar’s stuff off at The Derf, down in the Cornhole.

It was even colder in the Cornhole than outside—if you can imagine. I could see my breath as I began hanging all of Cellar’s clothes on the rusty nails protruding from the underbelly of the ramp. I laid out the sleeping bag in the driest corner and flipped a laundry basket over next to it like an end table.

“I got the fuckin’ munchies,” Stevenson said, finally breaking a long silence.

Back at the apartment, there was still no sign of Cellar—thankfully no sign of Bottles and Cans, either. It’d been hours now. We tried the front door but it was locked, so we decided to puff on the G-Pen and consider our options. Cellar wasn’t answering his cell phone, so as a last ditch effort, I tried honking The Astro’s horn.

To my surprise Cellar’s head appeared in the window immediately. “Sorry Guys,” he said. “But you forgot to grab my desk.”

“Whatever you need, man—” I called up, but he’d already thrown down the keys to the sidewalk and disappeared back inside. We went up.

Cellar was slouched on his crutches in the doorway to the backroom, blocking our view of what might lie beyond. I could hear a muffled moaning happening. He pointed over at a desk, to a pair of demented-looking work boots.

“That’s the last of it,” he said. “I’ll be right down. Two minutes. I swear. We’ve just been talking things over.” That last part he said in a whisper off the back of his hand, which was apparently too loud because, all of a sudden, Rebecca let fly another of her gruesome wail, causing Cellar to recoil into the darkness— except this time, when he tried to close the door, the lock didn’t click and the door yawned open, giving us access to their every word. You can imagine. It was extremely awkward hearing all that, and would you blame me if a nervous titter escaped my mouth?

Then there was this heavy silence, which I half believed I was imagining until Rebecca called out, “SHUT UP OUT THERE!”

“Sorry,” I called out meekly, watching Stevenson’s head shoot around like a scared animal. His eyes were redder than the devil’s dick. We needed high-tail it before the fear consumed him. It was nothing but bad vibes in there. I swear.

The desk was small but it was damn heavy, and I’m a pretty strong guy too. One time at a football combine, I benched three hundred and fifty pounds, but this desk was no joke. We got it out alright, but ran into more trouble than I’d expected moving the work boots.

Stevenson picked one up, reds to his eyes instead of whites.

“Check these babies out,” he giggled. “What the shit.”

The boot was really sick-looking, I thought. They appeared genetically altered by industrial paints and foams. Small ripples like pimples hugged the toe along with a splattering of thick paints.

“Are you talking too loud?” I asked him.

“Am I?” he said, still giggling.

“I don’t know,” I said, started to giggle myself. Good times are so infectious, I just can’t help myself.

“I don’t know either,” he said. “I dunno.”

“What do you know?”

“That those boots have tumors,” he said, chortling.

He held the boot. “They got Gonorrhea,” I said.

“The drip drip drip,” he said.

“KEEP IT THE FUCK DOWN IN THERE,” Rebecca howled from the back.

I swear, right then, I saw Stevenson’s face drain to Noseferatu pale.

We scurried out of there, quick.

Back in the Astro, Stevenson began playing nervously with the dice hanging from the rearview and I’d begun to perspire. How much longer could we maintain? I wondered.

“He’s lodged up there, man,” I said feverishly.

“He can’t get away,” said Stevenson.

“He’s never going to come down,” I said.

“Like a fly in a spider’s web,” Stevenson mused.

“Its open season out here,” I said. “Bottles and Cans’ going to come back, I swear. I can feel them.”

“God I’m just so hungry,” cried Stevenson.

“Where the hell is Cellar,” I cried.

Fifteen minutes passed and my eyes were crossing, looking all over for Bottles and Cans. Something needed to be done, so I made the executive decision to utilize the G-Pen, to file down that sharp edge of stress bearing down on us. Puff Puff, Pass! Another fifteen minutes. No Cellar.

So I tried the horn again, and again Cellars appeared in the window, like he’s been waiting for us all along. “Sorry guys. But you forgot the Easter Ham. It’s in the refrigerator. It’s been in the freezer since last spring. I just realized. Last thing, I swear. We can cook it up tonight,” he said quickly as hell before dropping the keys and disappearing.

In the kitchen, the apartment finally seemed clear of tension, and I felt shortly we’d be on our merry way. Perhaps Rebecca had resigned to the inevitability of the split.

“It’s on the top shelf,” I heard Cellar call to us from the back.

And there it was in a cellophane wrapper, the Easter Ham, beaded with sweat. At the sight of it, my mouth began to water; my brain did an animalistic jig of hunger. I had to touch it. There was something very pornographic about the voluptuous pink ham lying there. I imagined the piece of meat laid out on a bed of rice pilaf with a side of long potato fingerlings, with a garnish of rosemary falling gently from above, like rose petals—netting like garters on long legs. I picked it up. I pumped the plump meat up and down, considering its impressive weight. It must’ve weighed 50 pounds.

“I bet this can feed 25 people,” I said. “No, scratch that. I bet double.”

“That ham can solve world hunger,” said Stevenson excitedly, just as I became aware of a tiny rivulet of greasy juice trickling down my arm. I held the ham out away from me like a baby that’s soiled itself, but Stevenson confused the gesture and hunched over, charging to take the handoff.

“Hut Hut Hike,” he said as I passed the ham off and instinctively veered off to the right, faking pass to draw back the defenders for the run.

From the backfield, near the refrigerator, I watched Stevenson bobble the ham and fumble it to the carpet. A slug’s trail of grease followed the meat as it rolled over the floor into the wall.

“That thing is lubed up. That thing is greasy,” Stevenson cried, beside himself with excitement now.

“FUMBLE!” I cried, running after the ham, Stevenson in hot pursuit. Then we clattered to the floor, wrestling for possession of the ham. I had it cradled in my arms when I heard somebody yelling. I immediately ceased and desisted, turned to stone.

“GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT,” howled Rebecca at a closing proximity.

I sat up and tucked my chin in and looked at the floor between my legs. I stared at a brown stain in the thin grey carpet. I fingered the stain. I loved that stain. It shifted and danced in my trained gaze. And I wasn’t looking— I didn’t want to get caught staring.

But an unbelievably loud “GET OUT!” tore my gaze upward.

Most salient was the stress rash, which was a kind way for Cellar to have put it. The sight of her truly froze me, gorgon-style. The rash was really boils—bulbous mounds, each with a hydra of white heads. My hearing shorted out. I really was stone. I swear. She looked like Cellar’s work boots. Her mouth was moving but there was nothing coming out—I had no idea what she was saying. And her hair was all gone! Without all of her hair, I saw how tiny her head had been all along. It was miniscule! I mean her brain must’ve been amputated to fit in there.

“GET OUT! GET OUT!” she repeated. She kept at it for a while, and I could not recover quickly enough. What shocked me loose from my stupor was the sight of Cellar, over her shoulder, nodding, arms crossed in front of his chest with a look of disappointment on his face.

The madman was backing her up.

“Get out of here!” I wanted to yell to him. But I was stone.

I had to get out of there.

My high was in a nose dive.

Poor Stevenson, I thought, wheeling around to find my friend had vanished. I scampered out after him, road-runner style.

I found him standing by the Astro, attempting to jimmy the locked passenger-side door with a credit card. “Let me in, man. Get me out of here. That’s not my scene in there.” He was worked up into a wild frenzy.

“That was horrific,” I said.

“That was abysmal,” he said.

“I’m no one’s friend this much,” I said.

“Holy Shit! You’re still holding the ham,” he said.

I looked. I was still holding the ham. Rivulets of grease were streaked down my t-shirt. I never fumble, I thought. “You know what we’re going to do,” I said.


“We’re going to eat this ham,” I said.

“We got to get some pineapples, man,” said Stevenson, his face relaxing like a crying child offered ice cream.

“And some Leis,” I said.

“And some Tiki torches,” he said.

“We’ll have an old fashion Luau,” I said.

“We’ll throw it at The Derf,” he said.

“We’ll have it tonight. How stoked will Cellar be when he shows up and we’re throwing a Luau for him,” I said.

“Invite some girls,” he said.

“Absolutely! Let’s get cooking” I said, getting into The Astro and fishing under my seat. “But first this is a necessity. Can’t cook without it. Ladies and Gentleman: my magic piece.”

“Suck that robot’s dick off,” cried Stevenson with glee, and I did. I sucked that robot’s dick nice and long, because before I cook I like to get high as can be. I’m on my way to being head chef because of my skills, because of THC. Before I cook I try to touch the edge of space. I need to sharpen my empathetic feelers. I need to become interconnected with the taste buds of every living person on the globe. Every thought. Everything. I want to feel it all, the pulse of the appetite of the universe. Sometimes I can do it, I can get there. The psychic power is that strong sometimes, and right then I knew I was going to get there. I was puffing that G-Pen into a full head of steam. CHOO! CHOO! I was coming around the mountain to that place of Zen—the realm of ten thousand dishes—but right before I was about to fly over that threshold, into that mindset of the great beyond where I can whip up a hollandaise as masterful as Beethoven’s Fifth, I was disturbed by a rap on the window.

“Bottles and Cans,” demanded the Speaking Half. I looked around very confusedly. I wasn’t holding any bottles and cans—all I had was an overlarge spiral ham. What the hell was going on? Please God! Don’t ask me to do this? I beg you!

There was a moment’s pause in which God tapped his foot.

Her eyes said “GIMME” as The Silent Half leaned in to take a little peek at the ham himself.

Karma points for life, I thought as I rolled the window down.

“It’s pre-cooked,” I told them. “P-R-E cooked. It’s good with mustard and rye bread. It’s good cold,” I said. “Feed your friends.”

That was the hardest good deed I’ve ever done. When I’m reincarnated I’ll probably come back as a bald eagle or a lion because of that deed. That was the deed.

Needless to say, Stevenson was rightly pissed about the give-away, but forgave me after I bought him a small mountain of drive-thru burgers. And after our little feast, I didn’t feel much like going through the trouble of looking for parking, so I drove over to The Derf. We didn’t have a Luau or anything that night, but we did skate. It was the first time I’d gone without Cellar since I can remember, and I skated hard. We kept thinking he was going to show up.

In fact, in the following years he never resurfaced at all. In no time, he’d been reduced to a mere figment of skate lore. Poof. Nothing but a fading memory.

Now and then, when we’d go skate The Derf, I’ll go down into The Cornhole and check on his belongings to see if they’d been moved, to remember perhaps if he had been real at all, but there are never any signs of life. He just disappeared, leaving everything behind.

Later, word got around that he moved out west with Rebecca, but I didn’t buy it. I think she ate him. I think she ate him, and we left him there to be eaten. Cellar was a real terminator, unable to be reprogrammed. That Cornhole is a goddamn gravestone.

Nowadays, the weather is getting much nicer—spring has sprung—and most days, no one wants to skate The Derf. Everyone has lost all interest. They rather go downtown, but I insist on going now and then, even if it’s by my lonesome, because, after all, I’m still paying rent. I do some cleaning. I fix the ramp when something needs fixing. Someone’s got to do some maintenance, lest the place be taken by those radioactive wolves. Minus Cellar, there are fifteen people now paying into the monthly rent, and I’m the only one who cares enough to do a little caretaking? I even started picking up the tab on Cellar’s portion. Nevertheless, the rest of the rent is still on time. I figure, what it must be is the other key holders reckon it’s easier to pay a small price once a month then to suffer the couple days of heavy lifting the demolishment of The Derf would entail. We’ll probably be paying into it for our entire lives, every last one of us. Extrapolate those payments until then, throw in a Easter ham, and I reckon that’s the price you pay for tickets to an improvisational Heavy Metal show put on by a Skate God.



About the Author

Harris Lahti hails from New york's Hudson Valley, where he currently works as a house painter. This is his first piece of published fiction.