Sleeping Dogs

Suburbs are swamps that lay around cities, sometimes fetid, sometimes sweet; always different in their sameness. Highways and freeways just hump it across the suburban experience. The engineers are trying to get you to ignore those endless stretches of houses, convenience stores, strip malls and fast food joints. It’s where the designers live and they don’t want you to stop or look. It’s like you’re passing over it in a low flying airplane.

“Avert your eyes!” Say the suburbs, like some stick-built Elephant Man, “I’m hideous! Look away! Watch the car in front of you please.”

He’d get off the freeway and roll through Stockton or Galt just to look around and find somewhere to eat. Hard towns were more authentic. Old, hard towns were better. Mobile, Alabama. Oakland, California. Oklahoma City was worth a ride through town. Kansas City was a stop and eat, don’t be stupid kind of town; anywhere in Missouri was old with brick and worth a look. You might not think it but Cedar Rapids was a good, old hard town. Hard towns had fighters. If it’s got a rep for fighters then it’s the kind of town you want to eat in. Yuma. Ogden. Rock Springs. Train towns. Towns that may be down but won’t get knocked out. Those kinds of places that may be past their prime but could still punch. Ali just past his prime–Mike Tyson in 2000. A rose with the bloom just off and the pedals loose, those sleeping dogs you should let lie. No staring or prolonged eye contact, just mind your own business towns.

Once in a hard little town in Nebraska the checker at the lunch counter had grabbed his hand and turned it hard, looked at the tat on the inside of his wrist and asked like a curious aunt, with an iimpossiblee 1960’s beehive of grey and blonde.  She was every stern teacher and best friends harsh but loving mother.”What’s this?”

Wrist

“My Pop,” was all he said.

“Huh,” Releasing his hand, “Twelve ninety-five.”

He was a leave-me-alone kind of guy in a leave-me-alone kind of store in a leave-me-alone kind of town.  She was too.

He ate lunch in the park next to the grocery.

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High School

Listening to the steady thump of seams on the interstate he thought, you have to hand it to President Eisenhower he invaded Europe, ended fascism, and built one hell of a highway system. The song the tires sang changed with the surface. Sometimes they were whiny, sometimes rough and sometimes they almost sounded sticky like Velcro being pulled apart. Even with the roar of wind and engine he could hear the road. The road that Dwight D. built. And boy, did you have to hoof it to keep up. The engine wasn’t mad but it wasn’t happy either. It had to turn pretty fast in order to hold a clean 90. Anything less and he started getting swallowed by traffic from behind, pulled back into the pack of travelers. His preference was to get between the clumps of cars. Cars and trucks bunched up by class like a high school hallway.

Trucks ran in pods or three or four, they are the jocks or maybe the linemen; big, lumbering and impervious. The surprise was how aware of their surroundings they are. Truckers knew where their corners were and where you began. There was a hawkish awareness that had truckers changing lanes well before they needed to and being ready when that exit came up. They knew when to speed and when to slow down. Communications he could not hear passed between them. They flashed their headlights and blinkers and they behaved like brothers. Passing through the hallway they just didn’t want to get bumped or bothered. Most cars seemed to have at least a wingman if not a flock. There was the odd kid with an older WRX that would buzz by alone thinking they were really getting it done; the hyper kid who touched everything and ran away careless and flighty. The trucks didn’t like that sort of ADD driver.

Mostly there were cars. Cars of every type. Brand new cars. Beater pieces of shit. Working Dads driving Soccer Mom’s crossovers full of kids and luggage. There was the guy who overstuffed the trunk with an easy chair and tied the lid down with orange baling twine. Don’t follow that guy. Get some distance. People moving were easy to spot; college kids always stacked it to the roof with stuff in the back seat like a stuffed Laundromat washing machine. Mom and Dad rented a U-Haul box van and if they had lots of kids there was a trailer and a van in tow. A mini-van with anything tied to the roof was a sign that purchase of a full-size SUV wasn’t far away. It was an age thing. Mini-vans had kids under 10, full size SUVs had tweens and teens.
RVs were generally dreadful. The roamed the road like a poor ballet dancer who gained 100 pounds and still tried to dance; clumsy made clumsier. Switching bodies from whatever they had driven to something large and wallowing they couldn’t understand the physics of their motion anymore. Trapped in a newly bloated body they pinballed around in their lanes startled by wind and weather. His rule of thumb was simple: stay away from the rentals and the new ones, a beater RV usually meant that the driver and machine had experience.

Other bikes seemed rare. Sometimes the road was as lonely as high school and when you did see that other bike, regardless of flavor, they were a friend. He felt stupid if he waved and like a jerk if he didn’t.

Purchases

The town is younger than he expected it to be.  Very little brick and more strip mall than main street.  Buildings hid behind parking lots.  It was actually a small city.  There were no silos because this looks to be a straight up suburban island.  One of those “historic townships–less than an hour” from downtown somewhere.  These were his people.  The layout was familiar.  He knew where he was because he had grown up in a city just like this.  Metaphorically he had grown up here.  There was cineplex somewhere.  The Big Boxes would be clustered together with quick to the freeway.  Somewhere there was the right kind of neighborhood and the wrong kind as well as a trailer park no one admitted to living in that was near the “industrial” side of town.  The stick build homes were all up to code, no one built a shed without talking to Planning and Zoning.  It may be a historic township but name was its only legacy feature.  It was like being inside a Chinese WalMart.  All the pieces were there just the packaging was different.

No brick downtown.  No faded 1960’s signs.  No diagonal parking along a nostalgic main drag. No clock on the watchmakers shop or shoes on the cobbler’s store.  No drive in that your parents went to.  No Empire Theater.  No courthouse, City Hall colonnade or Masonic Lodge.  The bakery was in the supermarket and the diner was Mickey D’s.  There should be ghosts peering out through torn yellowed newspaper on empty storefronts.  Somewhere a developer had thieved a name and its dignity and then sold it.

“No butcher, baker or candlestick maker.” He said aloud.  Were they in town or a bathtub?  Rub-a-dub-dub baby.

There was an old Dairy Queen re-branded as “Tony’s Tacos” coming up, it made twisted sense in that “Pedro’s Pizza” sort of way.  He’s in the left lane of the 21st century American main street; two lanes each way and a suicide lane in the middle of it all.  Continuing down this road it would turn into some kind of state highway and cross an interstate that would send him straight to Metropolis.  A honk next to him snaps him awake like a dog barking on your bed at midnight. Reflexively he rolls off and starts to brake.  It’s too late.  An empty lonely skateboard is shooting across his path.  Braking isn’t going to work.  Eyes anchored to the transportation of a generation he releases the brake.  They will collide.  Prying his eyes up he pins the throttle to lighten the front end.  The front get light, the forks decompress and there’s a bang and a clatter, the sound of breaking, a mumbled thump and a feeling of something under the rear wheel.  Relaxing he backs off the throttle and looks in the mirror.  The board is broken and upside down, trucks and wheels to the sky.  Slowly it spins to a stop in the suicide lane.

Traffic is muted.  Everyone has slowed to  prepare to evade the missing skateboarder or maybe hoping to see something bloody and spectacular.  Taking advantage of the slowing and stopping behind him, he slides into the curb lane and pulls into the next driveway and rails around the curbed island reversing course.  There is the intermittent scuff of his right footpeg on the surface of the parking lot as he bounces through the gutter and up onto the asphalt of the lot.  At Tony’s Tacos he sees three teenagers.  A young boy and two older girls.  The girls are holding the boy back.  The boy wants to run out into traffic and get his board.  Stomping his feet like an angry child he waves his arms and grabs his head while one girl hangs onto his elbow.  She won’t let him chase his toy.

All three turn to the sound of his approach.  Oh, they are such puppies, he thinks.  So young and stupid/innocent.  Holding the boy is a skinny blonde girl wearing Hello Kitty flannel pajama pants.  Babies.  He feels old yet empathizes with them.  Stopping he looks at them and they try to decide what is about to happen.  There’s a soft, frozen moment of surprise.  Stopping he flips down the kickstand down and stands.  Hello Kitty moves forward to put herself between him and the boy.  Happy to be free the boy slides further behind her. She starts talking quickly.

“It was an accident Mister, he was just being stupid,” she says. “It just happened.”  The other girl slaps the boy’s head,

Girl number 2 has unnaturally black hair, is heavyset and wearing a “Black Veil Brides” t-shirt; one side of her head is shaved.  She hits the boy again.  “How do you fuck up a nose grind like that, STUPID!”  Cocking her arm she looks to slap the boy again but Hello Kitty grabs her wrist and yanks her hand down.  The boy looks sheepish and scared, the attention is more than he wants.  He has the same brow, eyes and nose as Hello Kitty.

Making eye contact with Hello Kitty he speaks his first words,  “Is that your little brother?” Then throws his chin out to indicate the boy.

She sticks what little chest she has out.  “YES. And he didn’t mean it.”  Her voice is bold and frightened all at once, there is no trembling in it but he feels her fear.  With one hand he unzips the first 6 inches of his vest.  A fast move will send everyone running or worse, put Hello Kitty in fight mode.  With his free hand he gives the “take it easy” sign, palm out fingers up, open hand.  Fishing he finds his stash pocket.  Gently he pulls out his walking around money.

“Your  little brother?” he asks brings his hands back together.

“Yup.” Says the scrawny blonde.  Confusion.  He looks at the money in his hand.  Peeling off two Benjamins he holds them out to her.  “Make him leave that one where it is.  Buy him a new one.  Don’t let him cheap out.”  Sidestepping a little he looks at Little Brother, peels off an Andrew Jackson and adds him to the cash.  “Buy him some food.  He looks like he needs it.”  She does too.  Looking up at the Tony’s Taco sign he adds, “Not here.  Find him a good sandwich somewhere.”

Extending the money he watches as the kids try and decide what to do.  Black Veil girl looks crafty and seems prepared to pounce on the cash.  Hello Kitty tentatively reaches out but cringes as he grabs her wrist and stuffs the money in her palm.  There’s true tension and he holds on to her just long enough to get her complete focus.

“You’re a good sister.  Do not let her” nod at Black Veil, “take it.  It’s for ya’ll.” He says and drops her arm.  Three steps later he’s on the bike and rolling.  His lawyer would be soooo pissed, thinking the money was going up his nose with “illicit purchases”.  For his lawyer dropping 5 bucks in a red kettle at Christmas was an “illicit purchase”.   A quick u-turn and he guns it hard.

Damn that was fun.

A Dirty Business

Things were going better than he thought.  The road surface was smooth and he ran slower than usual his brain was happier.  There was no nagging worry except riding on a dirt road.  Everyone seemed to fear a dirt road because somewhere in their brains they thought a dirt road was paved with grease and BBs.  A steady throttle hand and controlled braking kept the bike from getting sloppy.  Looking into his mirrors there wasn’t the cloud of dust he had been expecting.  In his mind there should be a swirling towering cloud he could not see through.  The low fog of dust wasn’t biblical enough. There should be a trail of fine particulate destruction in his wake.  Unfortunately the road was well built and packed tight.

He saw no one.  He passed no one.  There was no one.  An odd serenity falls on him.   Maybe he is here.  Maybe he’s not here.  Maybe he fell of the planet and into some kind of Twilight Zone.  Displaced from the world he went for miles on the dirt road rolling up onto the asphalt before an intersection, looking both ways and continuing on with a thump as he dropped off and left the asphalt behind.  In the rumble and the dust and the vibrations he has stopped looking for a beacon of humanity.  He was locked in to the experience of riding on dirt and was soaked it in and rolling around it it.  You weren’t supposed to do it.  He was doing.  He was liking it.  It was like getting away with something.

Approaching another intersection he gets ready to roll through and, checking to his left, realizes there’s a large blue water tower in the distance sticking up like some strange, inverted blue onion. A town.  There are no silos, which is strange, but water meant people and people meant being somewhere and he was ready to be there.  Loneliness wasn’t a thing that stalked him.  He wasn’t lonely but missed people.  His Pop at the end of his days might have been the same: things that are now, are better than the things that were.

Rain on the Road

Inside his head a distant thunderclap brought him back to the world.  Sleep had slipped up behind him and taken him for a short ride.  The urge was clear.  Pee.  Now.  Getting up was uncomfortable.  Should have gone earlier.  Standing on the bank he knew he couldn’t pee in or around the water because it was just wrong, three weeks of sleeping bags, oatmeal and jerky had helped drum that one in.  Scanning about he can’t see a helpful soda or water bottle.  Trash just wasn’t there.  “No garbage, no people,” his father’s voice said in his head, if that was true then this was truly nowhere.  The trees were a possible target but felt wrong too.  Looking at the packed gravel road he realizes he can get off the creek’s watershed if he just drained the hose there.

The problem wasn’t a shy bladder because no one was around.  Problem was he’d been holding it a long, long time.  Relaxing enough to get started took closed eyes and forced thoughts and a good minute.  Standing there with his wick in his hand random thoughts wandered through his mind.  Anchor-less thoughts about high school or birthdays or the crash; a wind whipped, nonsensical circus parade.  The dog he hit in the early dawn hours with his mother’s car he wasn’t supposed to be driving.  Nikki J in a red prom dress.  Mowing the lawn.  His father’s lawyer.  Waking up behind the 7/11.  The fallen apple tree in Grandpa’s backyard.  A college dorm room.  Things began to flow.  A third grade water color.  Baseball dugout both empty and full.  Compound fracture, big toe.  Tattooed knuckles up close, very close.

The flow of urine petered out.  How strange, he thought, standing in the middle of nowhere with a motorcycle and his dick in his hand.  He realized that like everything else he’d pissed away–the sun would bake it dry and the wind would whip it away.