In front of the Key Food supermarket on 108th Street and Rockaway Boulevard is a blue and yellow aluminum can redemption machine. John’s feeding the machine Bud Light cans. Cindi is smoking a cigarette, talking to herself: look at these bitches in their flip-flops and SUVs, they think who they is. Yeah, I got it, you got money. You married a fireman. Good for fucking you. So, that gives you the right to pass judgment on me? Like I’m some piece of shit.

The can machine starts printing a paper receipt. Cindi starts clapping her hands like a little girl. Cindi loves the machine. It’s like a slot machine, only better ‘cause you win every time. But you got to watch the Chinks ‘cause they will hog it like it’s gonna run out of fucking nickels. Fucking stupid fucking Chinks. One time a Chink tried to jump in front of John in line. John pulled out his steak knife that he keeps in his right boot. He calls it “Taco.” Taco: I love that name, it’s so cute. If me and John ever get a dog like he keeps promising me, I’m gonna call it Taco. A puppy, that’s what I want. A puppy named Taco. Come on, guys: Taco; it’s great, right?  Anyway, John cut off a small piece of the Chink’s ear with Taco. You should have seen that Chink scream. It was so fucking funny! You guys know me. So when I say that shit was funny, trust me, that shit was funny.

It’s easier for Cindi; she’s only five-foot-something and barely 100 pounds. Like a little mouse; she can fit through a hole in nothing. It’s harder for John. He’s six-foot and 250 pounds, but the two of them fit through the hole in the chain link fence every night.

Cindi and John live under the boardwalk in Rockaway. It’s not that bad, really. It would be better if you could stand up, but you can’t. So Cindi and John crouch and sometimes snuggle under the Rockaway boardwalk. Home is home, right, guys?

I’m no grub, but true, it’s true, some people are just gross: they let their dogs  piss on the boardwalk, right above us. Sometimes it drips on me, but I don’t say nothing…but if it drips on John, holy fucking shit! Things like that drive John crazy and  makes him want to kill people, but I always beg John not to do anything. ‘Cause if he does, we’re going back to the can and I can’t go back in the can again, I just can’t.

Listen, don’t let anyone fool you. They know we’re down there. They know we live under the boardwalk. They do it on purpose ‘cause me and John ain’t from Rockaway, and we don’t have jobs. But we ain’t stupid. Let me ask you this: a whole fucking boardwalk for their precious little dog to piss on, and you gotta pick where me and my man sleep?

We used to have candles, but one time we set some newspaper on fire. The fire department came and we couldn’t go home for two weeks. So now we only use Bic lighters when we have to. We have one sleeping bag that we share. Me and John, we don’t do it anymore, if you know what I mean, because of the drinking and everything. It’s okay, too, ‘cause John is the only man that never hit me. Not even once, and you guys know me. I must have deserved at least one slap, right? One time, these two niggers tried to fuck with us. You should have seen John. He had a nigger in each hand.  He was banging their heads together. You know what John calls it? “Nignog pinball.”

Cindi’s lips are cracked and bleeding from the neverending sun and the skin cancer that comes with it. She lights another cigarette and continues to speak. You

don’t need a piece of paper from some Jew lawyer at city hall. Fuck, you don’t even need a house! The Bible fucking says that man lays down with woman. Nothing about no house or walls, windows, or lawns. Me and John are fucking husband and wife.

My Johnny can kick the shit out of any man alive, that’s it, that’s all. Miss Lee’s eye was fucked up all right. Blacker than the nigger that hit her, and trust me, that nigger hit her hard. All I’m saying, guys, is all that’s bullshit, all right, ‘cause she’s the only Chink I like. She lets me and John run credit and she is the only one on Rockaway Boulevard that sells Chef Boyardee ravioli in a flip-top can. All the sand niggers, including that Korean prick on the corner, sell the cans that you need a can opener. Can opener, what are you fucking kidding me? Get well soon, Mrs. Lee.

John walks aisle to aisle in the supermarket. He’s done this a million times. The steak slides down the front of his pants. In the bread aisle, John opens up a loaf of Wonder® Bread and takes only four slices of bread from the package. John has never been arrested for shoplifting. Pigs get slaughtered. John knows that. He’s good at shoplifting, I mean really good, and you know what else that motherfucker is good at? Cooking: yea, that’s right. You fucking heard me. I can make macaroni sauce, but John can cook. I mean really cook.

Cindi is on the street outside the sand nigger bodega. You see, it’s like this, guys, John gives them a buck and the sand niggers give him butter, salt, and pepper. John rubs the steaks with, I don’t know, some shit. Cindi is waving her hands in the air. He says it’s called steak au poivre. Steak au poivre: sounds fancy, right? John says it’s what all the fags in Manhattan eat. So you know it’s got to be good right? So when we get to the free BBQ grills up in Riis Park near the parking lot, the Ricans right away start with the papi, papi, momi, momi shit. They get there at 6AM and camp out for spots like they’re in line for food stamps. John don’t care about no man. He ain’t afraid of the devil, so John just puts the meat right on the grill the Ricans are using. What Rican is dumb enough to fuck with John?

After the steaks are cooked, John pulls out Taco and cuts the meat in two pieces. We rolled that shit up in Wonder® Bread and ate that shit down the beach.

The next day, John is in line at the can machine. Cindi runs out, “Look, John, look.” Cindi is waving a flyer and screaming, “Carpenter, John, she needs a carpenter!”

“Who?” John asks.

“The lady in the flyer!” Cindi screams.

“Fuck the lady in the flyer,” John yells as he shoves Diet Coke cans into the can machine. Back under the boardwalk, John says, “Let me see that paper.” Cindi reaches into her pocket and pulls out the neatly folded 8 x 11 Xerox flyer. She was hoping John would ask for it.

John used to be a carpenter. He had that world by the balls. That’s the way John always said it: “I had the world by the balls.”

“You used to be a carpenter, John,” Cindi says, “I hear it’s like riding a bike: you never forget.”

John scratches his ear. “I don’t know, Cindi.”

“Please, John, just try for me. I still believe in you, John, I really do.”

John says, “I don’t have any tools anymore. I sold them all, you know that: you were there when I did it.”

At the Beach 22nd Street boardwalk renovation project, Cindi is hiding under the boardwalk waiting for what seems like forever until the carpenter foreman yells, “Coffee!” As soon as the first carpenter takes his first sip of coffee, Cindi reaches up, through a worn-out wooden plank, from under the boardwalk. Like a wild animal, a possum, or a raccoon, trapped and cornered, Cindi pulls a hammer out of a carpenter’s bucket. She hobbles down the beach with the hammer and crawls under the boardwalk.

“Wake up, John.” John reaches for Taco. Cindi screams, “No, John, no; it’s me, Cindi! John, I got one. A hammer, I did it John, it’s a good one, right, John. Say I did good, please, John.” John rolls over and looks at the hammer, a 20-oz Stanley framing hammer.

“I used to have one of these,” John says.

Cindi smiles. The lady that owned the house wasn’t too keen on Cindi and John, but when Cindi said John would work for five dollars an hour, “and he has his own hammer,” the lady agreed. It took John only two hours to finish the job. The lady was so happy she gave John a five-dollar tip.

Cindi said, “Thank you, miss,” and then proudly stated, “He used to be a carpenter, you know.” The woman shook her head in agreement and said, “I could see that.”

That night, Cindi and John hit Roger’s Bar on 116th Street. As soon as Pat the bartender sees Cindi, he tries to stop them. Cindi waves $15 in the air. “Pat, we have money, you have to serve us!”

Pat rolls his eyes. “Fair enough then, what will it be?”

As if Cindi has been waiting her whole life to say it she screams out, “Two Sex on the Beach and make them doubles!” Cindi starts putting money into the jukebox.

Pat the bartender pulls John over to the corner of the bar. “The boys over in Woodhaven been asking after you. Why don’t you give the lads a call sometime,” Pat says.

“Mind your own,” John says, “or I’ll break your face, Pat.”

“Fuck’s sake, John, just asking about, that’s all,” Pat says.

A few drinks later, there’s a piercing scream throughout the bar. Cindi’s song is on the jukebox. She grabs an empty beer bottle from the bar and pretends it’s a microphone. She starts to sing, “I’D BUY A BIG HOUSE WHERE WE BOTH COULD LIVE, THOSE ARE THE SWEETEST EYES I’VE EVER SEEN.”

Some guy yells to Cindi, “You suck!” John goes over and gives the guy an open-handed slap. The guy goes flying off the bar stool.

Pat yells at John, “Jesus Christ, will you never learn?” Cindi throws the empty beer bottle at Pat the bartender. Pat screams, “That’s it, get the fuck out my bar! You fucking bitch, I’m calling the fucking cops!”

Cindi and John run out of the bar. They’re already two blocks from Roger’s.

Cindi says to John, “Honey bunny, I’m out of cigarettes.” They go into an Arab bodega.

“Newports, chief,” John barks at the Yemeni’s kid behind the register. “They’re for my girl.” John continues, “She sings like an angel.”

“Oh, John,” Cindi says, “I do not,” waving her hand.

Out on the street, John peels the plastic wrapping off the pack of cigarettes and lets it fly into the warm, humid Rockaway night. John’s been in dozens of fights. More than he can remember, punching, kicking, and stabbing. He hands Cindi a Newport.  Cindi puts the cigarette in her lips as John strikes a match from a plain white matchbook.

Cindi pulls her dirty blond hair from her face. “Thank you, John,” Cindi says and she blows smoke at John. Cindi thinks she could be anywhere doing the most crazy shit you could ever fucking imagine, but as long as John is with her, Cindi knows she will always be all right.

The three Mexicans come out of nowhere. They know whom they want and they want John. They get him down with the first smack of the baseball bat. John manages to get back on his feet briefly. The Mexicans are relentless. They keep hitting, kicking, and punching. It sounds like they are knocking down a tree with a stick, and they are.   John’s body is broken, cracked, and splintered. John’s chest is heaving, he is on his back, blood is gurgling from his mouth. Cindi screams for help. “HELP! NO, NO!” She finally throws herself on top of John, screaming, “No more, he’s had enough!”

John is choking on his own blood. Cindi is screaming, “Don’t die, please John, don’t leave me!” Suddenly, everything gets quiet. It is as if somebody had sucked all the air out of the night. John isn’t moving. Cindi hears sirens getting closer. She reaches into John’s right boot and pulls out Taco. Cindi runs towards the beach. The next day, Cindi sat on a bench in the pouring rain. It is the kind of rain that sounds as it hits the wooden boardwalk like ketchup packages gently being stepped on.

Cindi is drinking straight vodka from a Poland Spring bottle. John taught her that trick. Cindi licks her lips and begins to sing, “I’D BUY A BIG HOUSE WHERE WE BOTH COULD LIVE, THOSE ARE THE SWEETEST EYES I’VE EVER SEEN.”