Filed under: Chapter 07 | Tags: Bluetooth or Crazy™, coffee, dreamcatchers, Kevin Wilder, Lee "Scratch" Perry, nature boy, Robert Frost, Some New Trend, Will Sharp
10:40 a.m. TURNING AT THE BAYOU BOULEVARD and Cervantes intersection, I get a message from Donnie:
traffik backed up at the beach
Waited awhile but ropes blocking us off red tide warnings
I’m taken aback, both for Donnie’s improved grammatical accuracy and for the message itself. The beach has been on my mind for days, and this doesn’t look good. I point the Honda west, and redirect my route to Twin Pines Mall. Not like there’s anywhere else to go.
11:10 a.m. I meet Josh in Sharper Image, where he’s eyeballing an assembly of wannabe James Bond gadgets:
- Swiss Army Pens,
- rainforest noisemakers,
- motorized Razor scooters,…
I drag him from the store before he can start explaining what each gaudy techno-trinket is made of.
Lately I’ve found a new obsession in checking my wristwatch. I look down, watching time get away from me. I’m not tormented by the clock in the way Josh is—always feeling he should be somewhere else, or nervous he’ll be late despite the fact that it’ll never happen. Still, the steel feels cool on my wrist, the thick leather fastening to my skin, clinching and pulling at a few hairs. I don’t get involved with the other features, like the electroluminescent center, or the water resistance up to 200 meters, though it does feel good to have options. There’s a short list of items I can’t live without, and my Casio Illuminator is one of them. Before that there’s my:
- Honda S2000,
- inherited camping gear, including:
- backpack ,
- Mummy bag, and
- and the stick of Burt’s Bees lip balm wedged deep in the pocket of my shorts. I change the chapstick out thrice yearly, whenever protozoa starts growing on the outer-casing.
There are things I tell no one. Like my biggest technique for staying entertained in public shopping centers. It might be more of an unhealthy addiction, but as I’m walking around, it helps to imagine life as it might be in a nature survival show—or when it’s really bad, a zombie horror flick. Normal people become corpses straight out of a George Romero screenplay, walking around thirsty for blood to feed on. When I see the lady offering free massages, I imagine her fingernails digging deep into the participant’s flesh. A group of middle school girls shopping in American Eagle starts crying because their legs have just been chopped off.
11:35 a.m. Because today’s Saturday, we dodge not only full-on families, but both the Old Navy fleet and the Bath and Body Workers. Our destination is Kujo’s, modern purveyors of:
- highly delicious smoothies,
- protein snacks, and
- handcrafted dreamcatchers.
I feel like I owe Josh. He picked up my Philly Cheese tab the other day, and now it’s my turn to return the favor. This is how our friendship works. Back and forth we go, careful never to let the other guy down.
“What can I do you for?” a strange voice calls out over the counter. We look up to see a white Rasta kid chewing on a blood orange. We know this guy, peeking through vertical shutters of dreadlocks. Well, sort of. He was a junior when we were sophomores. Looked way different then. Must’ve dropped out, I suppose.
“The usual,” Josh says, like a test.
“What might that be?” he asks.
Benny, a well-loved veteran of the Kujo’s team, steps in to help the guy out. He speaks directly in Rasta’s ear to transmit the ingredients of our very own invention.
“Hmm,” he says questioningly.
“Banana Chocolate Vanilla Werewolf Sunrise,” Josh says proudly.
“And listen pal,” I add. “Don’t tell anyone what the ‘Werewolf’ and ‘Sunrise’ parts mean. Gotta keep some smoothie secrecy here.”
He throws the remaining peel of his orange away, and begins tossing both fruity and non-fruity elements into a blender. He presses some buttons, and magically, smoothies are made. Most impressively, he does this without breaking eye contact.
Maybe ‘frightening’ is the more appropriate word.
“Nice sandals,” Josh says.
He replies, “Thanks. Made ‘em myself.” He adds that he did so using discarded pieces of carpet and tire.
“What about basket-weaving?” I ask. And Josh looks away embarrassed. “Do you practice that too? Glass-blowing?”
Rasta gets out two jumbo twisty straws. The task must be more difficult than mixing smoothies, since he drops both on the ground. Benny tells him not to forget the eco-friendly napkins. As he toys with the register I contemplate asking if he’ll score us some weed in exchange for:
- cash, or
- a Bad Brains CD.
I don’t smoke, don’t need to, but am dying to see what his reaction will be. We’ve already given the newcomer a hard enough time, so I take the higher road, press my gum to the lid of my cup and walk off.
Unable to resist, I turn back and say, “Jah people ride on.”
Rasta looks perplexed, as if the Smoke Monster from LOST is staring him down. Josh is nicer than me, and simply says “Thanks.” But when he throws up a peace symbol I can’t tell if he’s trying to be sincere, like in an international-brotherhood/Transcendental Meditation type of way, or not.
12:01 post meridiem (the Latins called it this, as Josh feels everyone should know) Dad always told me that time is money. “Time is money!” he’d yell when trying to get me to leave the house, and he’d always follow it up with advice like:
- “Seize the moment!”
- (or the occasional) “Steer clear of hitchhikers!”
So I guess Dad trained me to understand the importance of time. Camilla’s the one who permanently strapped it to my wrist.
Camilla’s our housekeeping lady. She gave me the watch. Last year she started tutoring me on her off days to help bring up my grades. Before I’d tried studying with Josh, which usually led to:
- playing cards in the basement,
- watching classic ‘rock docs,’ and
- countless Tetris tournaments.
I’m not sure how, but I managed to bring my GPA up to a C-. Boosting my average was the reason for her gift. “C minus might not be great,” I told the girl sitting next to me in Basic Math, “but for me it’s like winning the Nobel.” C for Camilla, who’s undeniably gorgeous, and the minus for the troubling fact that she’s my friend Carlos’s mom.
12:10 p.m. While Josh peers out of his hoodie, he looks like a less-terrifying Grim Reaper. Funny because he’s looking at shops we’ve seen a million times. Unlike my friend—who’s fond of most things man-made—I was born with an insatiable thirst for all elements of the natural world.
Ah yes. The Great Outdoors.
You might not know it by looking at me, but when I was a kid my cousins called me ‘Tigerpaw.’ We’d go camping in the woods behind my backyard, looking for some ground level to put our sleeping bags. Just laying there at night we’d stare up at the trees and the sky. The mountains, too, while we were still living in Georgia.
Recently I snuck into Josh’s sister’s room to steal a book: The Poetry of Robert Frost. I read every page—in privacy, of course—while sitting on a tree branch in the park. Believe me, the experience was downright euphoric.
I underlined several lines in “Birches” before returning the book to Steph’s shelf. They were:
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
The outdoors suit me better. Better than school, better than the mall. But here I am, spending another perfect summer day wandering around indoors. Sometimes I look down at my flip-flops and for a moment pretend my feet are sinking into the white sand. The coarseness tickles my toes as a monster wave comes up toward me, barreling at my chest.
To cope, I look for chances to challenge Josh to a round of ‘Bluetooth or Crazy.’ Rules of game:
- Find man or woman walking in opposite direction talking to him- or herself.
- Opponents must promptly decide if:
- the person is talking into a Bluetooth earpiece, or
- they are crazy.
More often than not it ends up being the latter. Bluetooth or Crazy™. We’ll sell the concept to Milton Bradley and make millions. But unfortunately, today we can’t even play this. Everyone we see is normal. No hobo-weirdos or money-thirsty bloodhounds. To put it simply, we’re bored.
12:19 p.m. We float up the escalator, again like magic, and watch bottom-floor stores grow smaller.
“Where to?” I ask, hungry for excitement. Josh doesn’t seem to hear me. “Wanna pay the Wise Barista a visit?”
“Sure,” he says, and groans. “I’ll bet Steph’s there already.”
“You think?” I ask, and smile at the possibilities.
12:33 p.m. I hate to admit it, but the coffee is different at Starbucks. Less watered-down and weak than the stuff Dad makes. When we’re inside, Josh’s forecast proves correct, because his babe of a younger sib is there, wearing makeup—weird! She’s testing the effect by batting her eyelashes at the Wise Barista. Some people know him as Dylan, and most everyone loves him. I’m a member of his fan club, too, credited to the fact that I don’t get jealous easily. Only horny.
Stephanie sees us and blushes. She straightens the pleats of her plaid zipper-skirt and unleans from the bar, almost spilling coffee all over herself. I holler out a jubilant “Hi-ya, Steph!” and Dylan gets back to steeping cappuccino beans or whatever.
I throw an arm around her and whisper, “Why are you talkin’ to this scumbag? Ease up on the slutful flirtations, won’tcha?”
The three of us find a seat to finish the remainder of our:
- Banana Chocolate Vanilla Werewolf Sunrises, and
- Shot in the Dark.
The employees seem relieved to know they won’t have to make Josh and I drinks.
“How d’you drink that stuff?” he asks Steph, who’s sipping her coffee laced with espresso shots.
“It’s not easy,” she admits. “Takes a good bit of practice. Frappuccucinos go down much easier.”
“So why not drink those?” I ask, eager to know.
“Kid stuff. Can you imagine a serious artist drinking a Frappuccino?”
“Makes sense,” I say, even though I never knew she was an artist. I reckon we’re a strange bunch.
Out of her purse she removes a folded, crumbled piece of paper. She hands it to big bro. “What’s this?” he asks, holding it under a hanging lamp.
“Schedule,” she says, and leans on Josh’s shoulder to read it with him. “Per your request.” She takes a sip of his and almost barfs it back through the straw. “Too much, too much!” she says, wincing.
He turns his head from side to side to look it over real good, and yells, “Good Lord…your shifts are every single day?!”
“More than every single day,” she corrects. “Pulling doubles on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Josh’s face becomes a dagger. “There’s no way I can commit to this!”
I expect the Kirkland’s Queen to pout, but instead she stuffs the paper in Josh’s pocket. Why fight when you know you’ve already won?
“How’s the bike?” I ask.
“Eh. Not practical anymore,” she says. “If I ride, I sweat. And what old lady would buy air fresheners from a girl reeking of moldy cotton?”
When Steph heard an interview with Thom Yorke a while back she immediately decided that cars were modern instruments of death. Hitchhiking and buses are equally scary, so her transportation-of-choice became the bicycle. Shortly thereafter I found her a custom-framed road bike. Actually I inherited it from a neighbor who stole it from another. I even repainted it yellow to keep her from getting involved with the dispute, but I’ve only seen her ride it twice. Each time I gave her a scare while driving past, honking and throwing banana peels and old soda cans at her backpack. It was hilarious.
A fantastic idea pops in my mind. I dangle my keys before Steph to chime in with another option. “Guess whose car just got outta the shop?”
Josh lowers my keys and looks at his sister. He says, “Even if all the taxi drivers were suddenly murdered, trust me when I tell you…we will find a way…to prevent you…from ever getting in a car alone with this man.”
1:04 p.m. My phone vibrates with a text. It’s Donnie:
hey will. cant git in water, but cops finaly let us on beach. meet up soon?
I show it to Josh, and he can only think of asking the Waterboyz surfers to explain what these red tide problems mean.
We move to a table by a window, and enters June Marley, stage right.
With a shorter dyed haircut! Or wait—that’s not it. Something’s different, I know.
“What’s up, June,” Steph says, unimpressed.
“Yo,” she says. Her voice is muted and shy, but in a cute sort of way. “Mind if I join you guys?”
“Duh,” I tell her, “saved you a spot.” And I kick Steph’s purse off the chair.
I catch her smiling at Josh, and wait for her to smile at me too. She does, but it seems forced.
How does June Bates look? Where do I start? She has:
- alleycat eyes,
- freckles (!), and
- today, unlike her best friend, not a hint of makeup.
Yesterday I could’ve sworn I saw her walking with Josh’s über-hang-up Bryanna, but thankfully it hasn’t seemed to rub off on her yet.
- far less of a fashion risk-taker than Stephanie. The key factor is, whatever she happens to be wearing, she wears it well. Currently this means an old Knicks shirt. (I’ve never been a fan of the Knicks, or of any sports team for that matter, but might now be experiencing a change of heart.)
- wearing a watch, like me. Hers is a shiny old red one, with Mickey Mouse’s white-gloved hands pointing at numbers.
Wake up, Josh Bates—here’s a gal worth fussing and farting over!
He catches me checking her out. I might not be the most gifted at reading people (or books, either), but I can tell it bugs him. For once he should be happy to see me ogling someone who’s not:
- his sister, or
- over forty.
“What happened to your tattoos?” June asks me.
Did she really believe they were real? I tell her they came off in the hot tub pretty much automatically, but leave out how many hours I sat soaking, and refrain from asking if she’d care to join me sometime. Hot tubs are a great substitute for actual baths, but the rest of the world has yet to catch on to this.
“That’s good,” June says. “Might make it easier to find a job.”
Josh laughs, enjoying the unintentional ridicule.
“But I don’t want a job,” I say.
“It’s true,” Josh explains. “Even ‘business casual’ is too dressy for Will.”
“I find that strange,” Stephanie adds. “Joining The Suits should be in your blood.”
“Enough,” I say, sick of the abuse. “I’m a new kind of businessman, meaning I start my own businesses. So maybe you should all mind your own business.” I grab the pocket-sized album in my back pocket and place it between June’s fingers.
“Will you stop taking that stupid book out?” Stephanie says. “Keep it in your pants.”
June flips to the middle, at a photo befitting of our current surroundings:
“Not bad,” she says. But chances are she’s just being considerate.
Before I can offer a detailed dissection on my photographic methods, Stephanie grabs June by the arm, and practically drags her to the bathroom. They scurry off together, unable to notice Dylan blowing them a kiss.
“Whadda creep,” Josh whispers. “That guy’s freaking older than we are.”
“What do you mean ‘so what’?” he says. “I don’t care if he can grow a beard or not. It’s infested with fleas. Plus I heard his apartment doubles as a garage.” He calms down, in case Dylan might have superhuman hearing. “He probably remembers what it’s like using microfiche for a research paper.”
“That’s preposterous,” I say, shaking my head. “Dylan never wrote papers.”
A minute later I have to ask, “What the hell is microfiche?”
1:28 p.m. Florida people lack class. Sometimes I wish I lived in a city where people owned space heaters and winter coats. I think of how unlucky I am as a troupe of jocks stomp in to reclaim our area. There are only five of them, yet they’ve found a way to take up three tables. These boys’ bodies smell. Oversized and oversexed, they’ve spent the entire morning marinating in cologne. I imagine the emptiness of their lives, credited to:
- Maxim columns, and
- attention given by drunken half-whores swarming their favorite bars. (Every athlete knows someone in the business of fake IDs).
It’s too painful to watch, so I envision them with axes protruding from their skulls. “Wanna go?” I ask.
“Not yet,” Josh says. He seems to be hiding something. There’s only one thing it can mean. Bryanna Summerson will be arriving soon.
It’s not that I don’t support Josh Bates’s love interest. And it’s not that I don’t want him to succeed with women in the way I’ve succeeded in mastering the photographic arts. It’s just that love is not a performance.
Why should I care what Bryanna’s hair smells like? If he wants to name their first daughter ‘Gretchen,’ more power to him. I hate to see him in a state of stupor, talking with the fervor of a sentimental shmuck. All for some chick whose reputation is built solely on dragging guys through the mud.
One could argue that a guy like me has no idea what love is. But at least I know it’s not losing quarters in an arcade to win:
- prizes, and
- the transient approval of some A-list cheerleader.
So my buddy finally grew a pair. Big whoop.
My friend and I are a different breed. Almost everything I know about girls I learned from the Wise Barista. Once, when I told Dylan about my feelings for Victoria Letchworth, he told me, “Come in here tomorrow, and spill your drink all over her, then make her buy you a new one. Be a total asshole, make her feel fat…whenever you’re yelling at her make sure some spit flies outta your mouth. It never fails. Girls will totally fall in love with you.” Of course I never took his advice literally, but it did help to gain some perspective on the female species.
I pop an aspirin and check my phone. I’ve got to get away before Josh starts making a fool out of himself. He takes off his hoodie and fixes his hair in the window reflection. I hate to see him like this, so instead I picture him eating the fat off a wild boar.
We’re in the woods. Merciless winds have ripped our tent open, and we’re suffering from several days of starvation. We crouch over an animal, not dead but barely breathing, and take a long look at each other. I grab my knife from its sheath, and cut the beast’s stomach open. The heart and liver topple over onto some leaves. We lick the bones dry, feeling all the more satisfied.
1:38 p.m. Ten minutes have passed on my Camilla Casio. More than ten if you count back to Steph and June leaving us for their “bathroom break.” (Is this bathroom located in Alaska?)
Dylan has now befriended the imposing jocks, and won’t quit chomping his jaws about:
- brunettes, and
- some fantasy football league he’s starting in the fall.
Maybe he’s less judgemental than we are, able to turn a blind eye to cultural differences and age.
“Bryanna isn’t coming,” I tell Josh bluntly. “We should go.”
“Is too,” he says. “She’s meeting us up here in fifteen minutes.”
I’m astonished. “Us? Don’t expect me to stick around when you two start making out.”
He laughs, then asks, “Lemme borrow your watch.” Now I know he’s joking.
“My watch?” I say. “Yeah right…what for?”
“Let me buy it off you,” he says, and takes out his wallet.
My face turns red. “You’re not buying my watch, dude, so shut up. That’s stupid.”
“Bryanna thinks guys should accessorize more.” He looks at me, but I won’t budge. “Aw c’mon, stop freaking out and just hand it over.”
“That’s alright,” I say, but he grabs my hand to look at it better. “Quit!” I snatch my arm away and the band rips in his fist. He drops it on the ground next to Stephanie’s purse.
“What the hell!?” I say, and stand up. I throw my chair down. “Who do you think you are?”
“Settle down,” he says, laughing it off. “You’ve got a ton of watches. It was an accident.”
“You’re the accident,” I say, waving both hands. Dylan runs over to pick up the chair, and tells us to cool it. I get the Casio Illuminator, cracked face and all, and put it in my pocket. “Have fun with your stupid girl,” I say. “I hate this place.”
2:34 p.m. Gifts like Camilla’s are weird. I mean, my dad could buy me any watch I wanted. He might raise an eyebrow if I put a Rolex on his VISA, but seriously, who’d want to wear one of those anyway?
My point is, I can afford a lot of junk. But a single mother like Camilla can barely make ends meet to support her three kids, and goes off one day to buy a rich kid like me this nice-ass gift, probably knowing in the back of her mind I won’t even appreciate it. I couldn’t take care of something for three weeks without it getting destroyed. It kind of makes me feel guilty if you want to know the truth.
It’s mid-afternoon on my less-trusty internal clock, and I’m just now pulling into Wendy’s for some food. I decide I’ll hop on I-110 to meet up with Donnie and Carlos, regardless if the security has the beach roped-off. I’ll crawl under the goddamned ropes and jump in the water, and swim all the way out to the sandbar. With the fish. Send me to prison. See if I care.
Maybe I’ll give June Marley a call. Wouldn’t be hard, since I already snuck her number from Steph’s phone during their bathroom trip. She can come join us on the beach if she wants. Except I kind of doubt she owns a swimsuit.
At least it feels good to have:
- wheels again,
- a full tank of gas, and
- nothing but time to kill.
I cut the a/c, crack the windows and reach in my console to grab my iPod. It’s dead, so I reach in the backseat for a CD. The only one I can find is unlabeled. I’m hoping for a song with anger and aggression to play first, but instead it’s some freaky guy named Lee “Scratch” Perry. It’s this old-man music Josh gave me, after saying he didn’t want it anymore since dub music always bores him to tears.
I play it loud. The bass rattles my speakers and I discover a secret of my own: it’s not so bad. I’m liking it more and more every minute.
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