Get Feet Up

Really.  Walking away?  Really?  Elder Kilham wasn’t about to let a promising contact walk away.  Especially one who didn’t understand how Nacho Doritos fit in with the Word of Wisdom.  It was time for some gentle persuasion and teaching; or at least landing a phone number and teaching appointment.  On the other hand, Elder Rooch had moved from panic to guilty bewildered entertainment.  Kill’im had completely snapped.  The kid was wound up backward and overly tight and now was chasing down something that didn’t want to be caught.  It was like the mouse charging the lion.  It made strange, wonderful, tragic sense and he, Elder Dylan Rooch from Mesa, Arizona would be there to see the wonders of Elder Kill’im’s spiritual/physical suicide.  Maybe Kill’im wanted to die in the service of the Lord.  This was his jihad moment and his martyrdom.  Whatever this is it’s going to be fun to watch.

The soft slap of flat-soled dress shoes follows him.  What an oddly feminine sound, like Grandma hurrying across the kitchen linoleum.  Focused Grandma.  Grandma coming for an explanation.  Mentally dropping a gear he picks up his pace.  Grandma’s feet slap the wax a little faster, harder.  Passing through the automatic doors he expects the rhythm to slow and fade.  Nope.  Only difference is the scratch of concrete instead of the slapping of waxed floor.  What kind of git was this dude?  There was a girl he knew in high school.  She had wanted to “find her bliss” and pursued her bliss with a religious fervor.  She would paddle around behind the young man she thought possessed that bliss until he would surrender said bliss not to thrill himself but to simply be left alone.  Bliss Girl would then set out to burn his car to the ground or break his parent’s windows until she saw her bliss appear somewhere else.  Where she picked up the term “find her bliss” was still a mystery.  The question now was if Elder Kilham was going to try and light his bike on fire when he left.

“Sir?” Scratch, shuffle, scratch, shuffle; concrete on flat bottomed shoe.  Elder Kilham skipped a sidestep to try and get into his field of vision.  “What you say if you knew that the Lord had a living prophet on the earth right now?  Would you want to know what that prophet’s message is?”  Ignoring the sidestepping boy was getting difficult.  The little shit was determined.  The bike was parked in painted island at the end of a row, not wanting to stop traffic he paralleled the front of the store and waited for a break in traffic to cut into the parking lot proper.  The kid was on the parking lot side of him now, shuffling and scooting.

A simple push would land Elder Kilham in front of a pick-up or minivan.  Just a little shoulder.  More like an elbow.  the kid really wasn’t that big.  Oops–sorry, he must have tripped.   The kid was like a gnat or a mosquito buzzing alongside trying to get purchase and take a bite.  Should he get swatted was the only question.

“Maybe we could stop by and meet with you this evening,” Kilham continued, “We have great message we’d love to share with you.”  Kilham’s heart beats faster as the man stops.  He stops.  Holy smokes he’s going to give them an address and phone number.  This could be a golden contact.  A spirit the Lord has prepared for them.  For him.  In  his head he was already writing his blog entry about a potential baptism.  Finally, something his folks could share at church, the Lord at work in the world.  Three months in and his first serious cold call investigator.

“You’re the bicycle guys right?’  It’s not the question Elder Kilham was expecting.  There’s an unnatural pause.  He continues, “You know, you guys ride the bikes everywhere?  Book of Mormon guys–like the musical?”

Elder Kilham was stumped.  Unready to answer.  Elder Rooch jumped in, “Yup that’s us.  Around here we get to drive a car though.  Things are too spread out for bicycles.”  Wary of what Kill’im might say he tried to take control of the situation.  “We appreciate you paying back there.  It was really very kind of you.”

Looking at Elder Rooch it appears he needs more than groceries, his eyes are sunken and have dark circles under them.  Life with the little weasel was sucking him dry.  Pity flows into his heart.  Imagine believing God wants you to put up with this other kid.  “It was very Christian of you!” Kilham chimes in looking to get the conversion process going again. “Just what a disciple of Christ would do!”

This kid was an idiot.  Time for a lesson.  A jacked up Chevy 4×4 pickup is rolling slowly toward them, tires grumbling, heading to the exit of the parking lot.  As it starts to pass them he reaches out with his free hand and grabs Kilham by the tie and yanks.  Kilham pulls back but not as far as to hit the Chevy.  His tie pops off and he watches as it’s casually tossed into the bed of the passing truck.  The Missionaries are speechless.  It was an impossible to expect action.  Kilham’s tie rides away in the back of the truck.  A twenty dollar bill appears in the hand that cast off the tie.  Stuffing it into Rooch’s pocket behind his name-tag he looks at the elder of the two.  Dumbfounded Rooch nods and looks at Kill’im.

“Go back in and buy Junior a real tie.”  Walking away there’s no look over the shoulder and no words thrown after him.  Get to the bike.  Get feet up and move on.  Putting his lunch in his saddlebags he looks to see how the boys are. Kilham is throwing up, Rooch is smiling.

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.

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.