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.