For a moment, waking up after this caliber of drinking is like birth. There’s all this nothing. Then my eyes pop open. The Florida sun hangs there in the open window, blinding me. My hand finds a yellow Post-it stuck to my elbow on which I seem to have written, You dont no much.
But I do know something: I’ve lost the Haro with the kinky triangular frame. I can’t really even sayknow. More like got a feeling. Like, I’ve got a feeling my bike, my long-range vehicle of choice, is gone. Like, I’ve got a feeling I’ve been fired from Ken’s Barbie-Q, where I’ve spent five mornings a week for the past year as Butcher/Pit Cook, quartering chicken, yanking out pork bones, spraying green stuff off racks of ribs with bleach water before splitting them. I’ve got a feeling me and Blaise went out to celebrate my premiere firement. I’ve got a feeling we celebrated.
I sit up and find myself polka-dotted with yellow Post-its, some of them blank and some of them scribbled on, nearly illegible markings that are trying to tell me something, but it’s hard to know what. I take one from the top of my foot that seems to be a doodle of a U-lock with the words vehicular misplaisement underneath. My spelling, already bad, goes downhill fast on nights like last. A crumpled note is tangled up in my chest hair, longer than a standard Post-it, and on closer inspection I see that it is a yellow notice to appear and not a Post-it at all. Two boxes are checked: “Disorderly Conduct” and “Open Container.” Below this, in the comments section: Subject was witnessed kicking around city property (pylons) in the east wing of City Lot P with a half-full can of Natural Light. Subject then urinated on said pylons, the newer hard plastic ones. Subject informed me that the line inside the bar was too long and “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t hate orange.” I encouraged Subject to head home. These are my fourth and fifth misdemeanors and will no doubt mean trouble. Last time I went before a judge—that time to take care of over two K in parking tickets, a figure he dropped to five hundred, a figure I’ve yet to pay—he said to me, “Son, this represents a serious caricature flaw.” His Southern made certain words come out more syllabled.
“Yes, sir,” I agreed, considering myself lucky. When your arms are covered in faded blobs of green tattoo and you have been unsuccessful in locating your single long-sleeved shirt and you discover crust in your eye at the very moment the judge demands—his chin pulsing—to know just what type of citizen it is you preport to be, you expect much worse things than tries to your caricature.
As for the pylon business, I do hate orange.
I am knotted tightly into stale white sheets, aware of my hunger, aware that I am alone because Marigold sleeps on the couch in the living room. She dreams that I murder her and prefers to sleep out there, she tells me, where she stands a chance. I am aware that for some reason my underarms smell like warmed hot dog bun. Aware that I feel mighty good.
So I stand and shake the rest of the Post-its off me. I collect them from the floor and cram them into this overflowing shoe box. I don’t even bother reading them anymore. Then I do something I’ve been meaning to do. I stroll into the living room, passing Marigold, who, in her sleep, clutches the quilt to her chest and twitches. I go to the phone and order this motorized longboard with off-road and street wheels out of the back of Thrasher.
Days go by like surgery while I wait. It takes a week. I survive on the remains of the Barbie-Q funds, which I keep stashed under the mattress. Banks don’t take my money. (ChexSystems blacklisted me after countless checks to “Cash” bounced at Publix.) Then the motorized longboard arrives, supplementing what’s left of my once impressive collection of vehicles: a Vespa (gone), a vert board (still have), a street board (still have), the Karmann Ghia (still have but must use sparingly because of parking ticket situation), and the Haro with the kinky triangular frame (now gone).
The motorized longboard has racing-stripe grip tape and cutouts above the wheels so you can really lean into your carve. It makes up for every vehicle I ever lost. I ride it downtown kick-powered to the lawn mower store for that special two-cycle oil-gas mixture it requires. Then I’m shooting down Thirteenth, going twenty-three miles per hour in the wrong lane. So the speedometer says.
Halfway home I detour to the skate shop to show this beautiful specimen around. I barge in, brandishing this fine thing, and there's Blaise catwalking the Haro with the kinky triangular frame.
“Lose something?” he asks.
“Pretty sure I had,” I say.
“You were right. Some slickdick came in here looking to sell it. I reclaimed it for you, dogbrother.”
But it's never that cut and dry with Blaise. Turns out he less reclaimed it than bought it back for, he says, ninety-eight dollars. Blaise is my best friend. Still, he requires me to buy it off him. This is how we deal with each other. There really isn’t any point in arguing. When he says the figure, ninety-eight dollars, how much he supposedly paid for it, the other guys in the shop turn their backs to us and pretend to alphabetize the skate videos on the back wall. They’re his friends. I’m tolerated because of him.
I tell him, man, I’m still broke, still fired, plus I just coughed up for the longboard and this special goddamn fuel. “Plus it’s my bike.”
“Correction,” he says. “At the moment it’s my bike, reclaimed on your behalf.”
I ride the Haro back home while Blaise blasts along beside me on the motorized longboard. I retrieve the last of my Barbie-Q funds from under the mattress, telling myself that ninety-eight dollars is a real deal for this kinky a bike. I pay him and he counts the bills and says, “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“I’m on the market,” I say. “Catch you on the flip.”
I kick him out and admire the Haro with the kinky triangular frame and the motorized longboard leaned against it in my living room. My vehicle collection is once again impressive, but plan Find a New Restaurant Job has moved from imminent to immediate.
I search for my long-sleeved shirt, my only long-sleeved shirt. It has a picture of a corpse face on it. I go through the tangle of covers Marigold leaves on the couch when she pulls shifts at Wild Hair. I search the empty spare room that is cold and hollow and used only as a place for our dirty clothes, which my dog Left uses as bedding. I finally discover the shirt in a corner at the back of the room, where it must have been since the day I got the job at Ken’s Barbie-Q. Its smell is total MoonPie wrapper.
I formulate my plan of attack. I have never had to deal with a firing, have held numerous restaurant jobs and always rocked them. Need me to clean the toilet? It’ll come out shining like you’ve never seen. What’s your fancy special? Graham-cracker-breaded catfish? I ran the whole Barbie-Q on my own some days and it never ran so smooth. But thinking about the firing makes me want to smash somebody’s windows. I am trying to figure out how to cover for a yearlong employment gap on the applications I’ll soon be filling out. So I need to not want to smash windows. I need to be practical. I need to get the scent of MoonPie wrapper off the long-sleeved shirt.
I plop down onto the papason to count my laundry change and about impale myself on this fourteen-inch knife sticking out through the cushion, one that I stole from the Barbie-Q, the one I used to bust ribs. I pick up the cushion and pull the rib buster out. Pieces of white fuzz come out of the cushion with it. There's a pile of knives underneath the cushion. Practically every blade in the house. My pocketknife, eleven or so butter knives, some serrated steak knives, a box cutter, and the Leatherman, which is mostly pliers but has a small knife in it. This indicates I am now, apparently, murdering Marigold with knives. Last month I couldn’t find the Q-tips. I’d buy some—because I have to have Q-tips—and put them in the medicine cabinet by her tampons. The next day they'd be gone and I'd go around all day trying to dry my ears with toilet paper on an index finger. Trying. Of course, I could never remember if I’d actually bought them. Maybe I'd just intended to buy them. So I bought box after box. Then I strolled into the shed out back for a bungee cord and found six boxes. That’s how I was murdering her last month, driving Q-tips into her brain. The sound, she said, was the worst part of it all.
I ride the motorized longboard to the laundromat and drop the long-sleeved shirt in a washer. I beg a half cup of detergent off the Chinese lady who runs the place. She has always been nice to me. When I had a paycheck, I once paid to have my laundry washed and folded, and left a bag of weed in my pants pocket. When I came to pick it up, she handed it to me over the counter covertly, at the bottom of my stack of freshly folded clothes. She nodded and winked. When I smoked it, it tasted like generic industrial laundry detergent, the kind that really cleans.
The rows of plastic chairs alternate between orange and blue, but all the blue ones are taken. So I stand. When the long-sleeved shirt is done washing I move it into the dryer. A quarter buys eight minutes, and I’m trying to conserve the last of my change. So I drop in one and get back to the row of plastic chairs just as a guy with a big neck evacuates a blue chair in front of the Galaga machine.
I snake it and read a Thrasher, pop mini-ollies with the longboard, which makes a sound like a cork popping on the loose linoleum. There’s an article about soldier-skaters in the Saudi Arabian desert. They storm the sands all day and teach the locals tricks at night. One guy talks about how the sand’s real hard on bearings. Another says, “Arabs are so far astute rippers.”
There’s a picture of a guy in fatigues launching over a line of Saudi kids on a plywood runway in the sand. Then there’s a sidebar that says Saddam Hussein calls Kuwait’s oil pricing “economic warfare.” I jot that phrase on a Post-it. I wage my own economic warfare on the restaurants I work in. I plunder and pillage. They pay me jack and so I take my own.
In the restaurant world, this is The Nature of the Way Things Work 101. And if there was any restaurant that should have had a grip on 101, it was Ken’s Barbie-Q, run by two brothers from Starke, neither of them named Ken. They had me butchering from seven to nine, when I’d light up the pits (I get flashbacks to those pits), scrape them, cook the meat I’d butchered all morning, and set up the line for lunch, when this old woman named Beaches came in to scoop fries onto plates. I ran meat through the slicer, busted hip bones out of pork butts, cut my fingers open on the slicer blade, got sunburn from the pit heat, and re-upped for the dinner rush, when Skinhead Rick would show to pinch-hit. We’d get out of there around midnight five days a week. That set me with fifteen-hour shifts at minimum wage with no overtime. One of the brothers kept telling me, “Gosh, When, I sure wish I could get you some more money.”
Right. Implicit deal, bro: I was taking my own and everyone knew it. That’s why those twenty-four-hour surveillance cameras pointed everywhere but the beer keg I drained long and hard before locking the place at night. And, man, who can watch twenty-four hours of footage? Maybe you look at an hour here or there. The system’s designed to fail, and a system designed to fail is one that gives you advance permission. So one night all Blaise’s friends come up and we empty two or three kegs and guess what? The hallway where you take the old keg out and put the new one in is within camera shot. And since I do all the work, it turns out the brothers from Starke do have enough time to fast-forward through twenty-four hours of camera tape while licking flecks of pork rib from their knuckles. There’s me and Blaise and Blaise’s buddies cruising through on skateboards, knocking over bus tubs of pork and beans in fast-forward. It turns out the system is not designed to fail, basic understanding is not understood, economic warfare, a minor battle, lost. When the shift was on, I took care of the place like nobody’s business, like it was my own. They owed me those beers and pork and beans for me and my friends and they owed me the use of their kitchen as a power-slidable skateboard surface after hours. I’m sorry to have lost the Barbie-Q gig, but what can you do when people don’t observe simple understanding?
You leave them off your future employment applications is what.
I ride the motorized longboard and drop applications everywhere, maintaining low expectation. Any place that will pay me to wash dishes and not ask about where I wasn’t working for a year, I’ll be happy.
I don't even make the question stage. I fill out the application and then they tell me there's nothing available. After. I blame the damp shirt.
I’m just about home when I stroll into Piecemeal Pizza By The Slice. I'd always suspected that working here could really change things, to have access to the best pizza in town, and to work at a place with such prestige. I’d applied previously but wasn’t cool enough for the Manager. That guy’s not around now. It’s some ordinary chick named Wendeal, who offers to take me on. Gives me the old “Can you start tonight?”
This, as anyone in the industry will tell you, is a sign of desperation. Something’s gone on here that’s left them needy. No one hires anyone to start that night, even someone possessing my resume—startling with regard to pizza, and mostly legit. She’s thinking I’m a real catch.
“Can,” I say. “Will.”
In celebration of my employment, me and Marigold go biking. I don’t mention the knives, wanting things to be good.
I ride the reclaimed Haro. She rides this two-dollar garage-sale Huffy. I’m still trying to teach her bunny hops. She learns slow but something in her burns. I recognize it. I put that there. Most of the way we tool along this little path near an alligator-infested lake on campus. I tell her not to take the corners too quickly until she gets that bunny hop down. I tell her it’s a matter of life and death out here. “Alligators sun themselves on the trails!” I say. “Be ready.” She doesn’t listen to me. She is not ready. She tries hopping the barely protruding roots of oak trees and crashes over them. I do tire taps on stumps. I nose-wheelie the berms.
I have been trying to teach her the principle of the bunny hop for months. We practiced with pinecones. She has succeeded so far in almost clearing the smallest of cones with the front wheel, only to pulverize them with the back. Her body convulses, the bike stutters. I try and find something redeeming there, her own personal style or some shit, but the repetitive failure enrages me. And now she decides to use my approach, the confidence approach, another thing I’ve been trying to teach her: “Be the bike.”
As we’re riding home, she bolts, kicks it across the busiest street in town, in front of an Econoline, approaching the curb at a diagonal because, perhaps, she thinks if she puts herself under enough pressure she will somehow manage to clear the curb. In this moment she is trying to become the bike and the bike is resisting. The Econoline is closing in. To change course now would mean death-by-van. I’d say she might be able to make it, even if the shitty bike does weigh almost as much as she does, simply out of her desire to please me, to fix us. And maybe that’s right. If she could be the kind of woman who could hop a curb, even if she lost her balance on the landing, it just might.
I stop in the median and watch. The van actually speeds up, breaking her concentration just enough. There’s an abrupt acceleration in her pedaling. The gear slips. She convulses and leans too far forward. The front wheel rides directly into the curb. She leapfrogs the handlebars and soars, her bright yellow hair whipping out behind her. I realize then I never taught her how to fall, to go to her shoulder.
The Econoline honks and swerves around her unmanned bike, blocking my view as she contacts. I flip the van off and imagine her landing on her collarbone with her feet buckling over her head. I visualize it as clearly as if I could see it. I even hear what I think is a crack.
I hop the curb and assess the damage. She is facedown on the pavement, writhing. She rolls over and screams. She is bright red and crying. Her white pants, the kind that are supposed to end just below the knee, are hiked up to her thighs, her knees bloody and skinned. Her perfect, tanned legs long ago ceased to do anything for me, but in this moment, all gnarly and fucked up, they’re beautiful. She says, “Owie, owie,” over and over. There are small granules of pavement in her unruly chin.
“Where was my hop?” she says, shudders.
“You should have gone to your shoulder,” I say. “Fatty, absorbs the shock.”
“I think I broke my back.”
“Naw,” I say. “Can you sit up?”
She looks at me like I’m grapes. “Get me some water,” she says. Then she sits up most of the way, propping herself on her elbows.
“It’s not broken,” I say. “You couldn’t do that if it was broken. Just need to walk it off.”
She shrieks that me lying to her does not make her feel any better, which I have to admit kind of puts me off. There is not much blood. I pull her bike onto the sidewalk next to her.
“It’s just tweaked,” I say, then wander away. I phone her bandmates from a nearby florist, explain the situation, and buy her a Pepsi. She is crying less when I return but when I give her the Pepsi she starts in again. She wanted water, which again pisses me off, and I throw the unopened can onto the sidewalk and it explodes just as her bandmates pull up in their band car—the Rhododendron orange Pinto—and scowl at me. They contend I don’t treat her right. They suggest to her on many occasions, in my presence, that she deserves better. So it’s perfect timing.
They swarm about her. One of them produces a chilled bottle of Zephyrhills spring water and Marigold manages a smile.
“Hospital,” she says to them.
“Hospital?” I say. “Why hospital?”
I become the object of disapproving head movement all around.
“Hospital,” I say.
They hoist her up by her shoulders, I get her feet. We load her into the passenger seat of the Pinto. Then I make my move. I kiss her thin yellow hair and tell her I’ll try and get off early, but I can’t miss work. Not on my first day.
Her mouth forms a Q, a strange lip thing.
I smile and slam the door. “You’re in good hands here. It’s my first night, Marigold. It’s just tweaked.”
The Rhododendron orange Pinto screeches away. I leave her bike right there in the street, the piece of shit.