Uptown Rantz

Don't Wanna Be No Uptown Fool

Archive for the tag “Austin”

Kristine was seated to my right in the pedi-cab, searching her purse for lipstick. While unscrewing the lipstick cap and turning to me, she calmly said, “Your blood pressure reading can vary depending on the time of day you measure it. You were also in pretty severe back pain at the time, which can cause your blood pressure to spike.” It’s hard not to find it patronizing when she dispenses simple bits of medical knowledge to me like that. It’s something that she probably learned the first week of medical school, and I’m just now learning it as she tells it to me. It’d be like dating an MIT mathematician and having him or her help you balance your checkbook.

After beers at The Belmont, we decided to pedi-cab to La Zona Rosa on the other side of downtown Austin. The wind was blowing the smell of Kristine’s shampoo right at me. It was a smell that reminded me of our first date, which made me realize that I was establishing memories with this girl.

A month before, what ended up being a muscle pull in my lower back, had me bed-ridden for three days followed by a week of painful unannounced spasms. It was a month before I was pain-free and didn’t have to stretch for five minutes every morning. The trip to the strip mall urgent care also informed me that my blood pressure was slightly elevated. Every prior trip to a doctor resulted in the doctors or nurses being impressed with my healthy blood pressure numbers. Not this time.

I rifled my mind for answers, like using your index finger to flip through the used CD bins at Cheapo in the 90’s. I stopped running, I had introduced eggs into my normally oatmeal-only breakfast, moving across the country, getting used to a new city – all possible reasons for raised blood pressure, maybe.

I was certain that the doctor’s blood pressure cuff was wrong, but a trip to HEB the next day proved it was right. The do-it-yourself blood pressure reading confirmed that I am “pre-hyper tension.” I was half-convinced it said “pre-death.”

I was uncertain about disclosing this…this thought…the worry…this confrontation with my mortality to Kristine. It was because I was uncertain of our status. Over the past several months, she was beginning to have a larger role in my life, but I didn’t have a name for that role. We never talked about it or discussed boundaries. Ever since Dawson’s Creek and My-So-Called-Life, I’ve had the dangerous tendency to talk and overanalyze anything good in my life out of existence instead of just letting it happen and rush over me.

She smacked her lips together twice while throwing the lipstick back into her tote, which I saw also contained a stethoscope. I heard the Bobbi Brown hit what sounded like an Altoid tin. She grabbed her sunglasses and put them atop her head to keep the hair from her face. She said, while staring directly into the headwind turning off 4th Street, “I’ll bring my blood pressure sleeve from work and take your reading tomorrow. I’ll measure it every day for a week right when you wake up.”

“No!” I shot back. Kristine looked surprised at my quick and flat response. I wasn’t sure if I was yet her boyfriend, but I knew for certain that I didn’t want to become her patient. And of the various labels I could attach to her, being my doctor was definitely not one of them. I don’t want to hear my doctor saying, “Cum in me baby,” on a nightly basis. My girlfriend can say that all she wants. The more my girlfriend says it, the better, but not my doctor.

“Ok, let me know if you want me to do that for you, though. I’d be more than happy to.” I thought she grabbed my hand just for a moment of assurance, but she didn’t let go. She held my hand for the remainder of the pedi-cab ride.

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Parker and Surfer Girl

“Mid-day masturbation and random trips to Target.”

That’s how Parker described his daily life to me in a recent text. Since his divorce five months ago, he’s moved into the bottom apartment of a south Minneapolis duplex. He was initially excited about the pretty 20-something blonde living above him, whom he described as a surfer girl who looks like she smells like cocoa butter. He then concluded that she sees him as the old divorced dude, which means he hit on her and she felt creeped out by it.

Since I moved to Austin, he’s talked a lot about coming down for a visit. But I know he goes days without leaving his apartment, so any enthusiasm and initiative he shows for it is fleeting at best. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing him on my recent trip back to Minneapolis. It didn’t feel like I was visiting him, though. It felt more like I was checking up on him on a bitterly cold Saturday.

I met Parker when I was in fourth grade and he was in sixth grade. He was the kid seeking shelter from the cold during recess by leaning against the 4-story brick elementary school. His winter coat looked worn, thin and so small that the sleeves were almost halfway up his forearms. He didn’t have a stocking cap or gloves, so he kept himself semi-warm by holding onto a Zippo lighter inside his pants pockets and lighting it every few seconds for a burst of warmth. Our school uniform required dress pants with slant pockets, which allowed just enough room for his makeshift pocket furnace.

Parker has been in and out work, like Cheney, but unlike Cheney in that he does not think that he as any discernible talent. After greeting me semi-enthusiastically, Parker disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared holding two bottles of Heineken.

He was wearing red flannel pajama pants, a blue t-shirt and no socks. His blonde hair looked like it has every day since I’ve known him – like Calvin’s from Calvin and Hobbes. He had that look of someone who hadn’t left his home in days because there was no need to. His apartment felt and smelled warm. I was still living in central air when I left Austin.

The walls of his apartment were bare. The one piece of furniture was a satellite chair facing the television in the corner of the living room. The small circular ottoman serves as his desk and dining room table. I’ve never known Parker to play guitar, but there was a small practice amp leaning against the wall. I didn’t bother asking him about it.

“Beer?” He extended one toward me as I set my coat and scarf on the floor and looked for a place to sit. Even though he saw me looking around for a chair, he never offered me one. It looked more like he was squatting there as opposed to living there.

“I do not miss this fuckin’ cold, man,” I said shaking my head and taking a seat on the windowpane.

“I bet. How’s Austin?” Parker sat back down on the satellite chair. It made a loud creaking noise that sounded like it was about to break. He pointed the remote control towards the TV.

“It’s warm and starting to feel like home,” I looked around to notice the envelopes from the state unemployment office. Parker has been living off unemployment and the occasional temp gig.

It’s early Saturday evening, and I could hear the muffled, excited telephone conversation of the surfer girl in the above apartment as she shuffled around in stocking feet on her hardwood floors. Plans were being made and outfits were getting picked out. At that age, Saturday nights mean excitement, opportunity, memories, selfies and sometimes regret.

I was sitting on the windowpane behind Parker’s satellite chair, which was facing the television, which never stayed on one channel for more than ten minutes of the two hours that I was there. He commented that it feels weird watching the television that he and his ex-wife picked out together. None of our conversation was face-to-face. If he wanted to talk, I would have listened.

Parker was happily and busily married when I was under my post-Amanda dark cloud. Everyone goes through an isolated pajama pants period, but Parker’s seems debilitating. I fought mine with working out, writing and saying “yes” to almost anything in order to create opportunities and step outside my mind, because thoughts and imagination can be awful enemies at a time like that.

“Your ex-wife is likely taking this just as hard as you, you know.” His ex-wife’s name is Carrie, but I never knew her that well, so I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning her by name.

Parker heard my attempt at consolation, but he didn’t acknowledge it. Not even a shoulder shrug. I later realized that by saying that, I was disclosing that his life doesn’t look all that great right now.

I felt bad for him then I began to feel guilty, I guess, because I didn’t want to be at Parker’s anymore. He’s one of my oldest friends but all I could picture is me back at my hotel or in my Austin apartment – lying diagonally on the bed reading a Henry Rollins book while listening to Sugar’s Copper Blue. It seemed like he didn’t want company.

The shuffling stocking feet of surfer girl had now become the clicking of high heels on hardwood. Her hair and face are probably done, Facebook status updated, Tweets have been tweeted and iPhone fully charged. Her voice will be hoarse in the morning after an evening of shouting over club music.

I know Parker’s divorce broke him emotionally and financially. It’s easy to spot someone who’s underneath a cloud of depression when you’ve been there before yourself. The cloud covers you like Deon Sanders in his prime covering a receiver. No matter where you go, it’s there – swatting hope away from your hands and then shoulder tackling you out of bounds just for good measure. Eventually, you just give up and watch the game…watch life from the sidelines.

From my windowpane seat I saw a taxi pull up in front of the duplex. The upstairs door slammed shut followed by two clicks of a turnkey lock. Surfer girl high heeled her way down the narrow staircase. Her steps were slow and deliberate, so I could tell she was steadying herself with the guardrail. She scurried to the taxi wearing a tan overcoat over a black dress with black stockings. There was just enough daylight left that I could see her puffs of breath in the freezing air.

Friday Night Lights Fandom

On my recent trip back to Austin, I had to track down the addresses to snap these photos of the Riggins, Taylor and Saracen houses. Luckily, Sue came through for me and we did the drive-by photos.

Matt Saracen’s, the QB, home.

Home of Tim and Billy Riggins

Coach Taylor’s home

Here Comes My Girl

“Can I throw out this dusty sneaker for fuck’s sake?!”

Melissa has her fake pissed-off voice and her genuine pissed-off voice. The question about the Adidas sneaker fell somewhere in-between the two.

She meant the Adidas Rod Laver resting in the corner of my bedroom. It’s taken up permanent residence there because, despite my searches, I cannot locate its right-footed counterpart. So there it sits, looking like a misbehaved elementary school kid sentenced to stand in the corner as punishment. The only thing missing is the needle-nosed dunce cap.

Last I checked, a new pair goes for about $60.00 on Zappos, but then there’s the breaking-in period and I don’t have the dedication for that right now. If I’m patient, the Prodigal Shoe will find its way home when it’s ready.

“Nooooooo!” I yelled from the basement where I was playing the table-top Ms. Pac Man machine –Amanda and I once had make-up sex on it. The floor is so thin that there was no need for Melissa to shout the one stair level that separates us.

“So you just want it to sit here and collect more dust and cobwebs? There’s a spider living in it!”

“Yeeeeeeeesssss!”

Melissa was cleaning because Bishop and Morgan are in town from Austin and they were due here in a few minutes. Despite our offer, they opted to stay in an apartment near the Bryant Lake Bowl because it’s near the apartment where Bob Stinson died.

She knows they’re like brothers to me and I think she was more than a little nervous about meeting them. Two nights ago, she was looking at all the pictures in my old scrapbook…the three of us in little league…at each other’s birthday parties…standing next to Bishop’s hospital bed after he broke his leg skateboarding in second grade…posing with Morgan’s Ford Bronco that we spent our 16th summer refurbishing…at high school keggers…UT graduation day…my brother’s funeral.

Their weekend trip to Minneapolis coincided with Amanda’s weekend wedding. The fact that Bishop and Morgan got together and decided that they needed to visit on this, of all weekends, is touching and embarrassing. But they witnessed the months where telling me not to think about Amanda was like telling me not to blink…no matter how hard I tried, I had to do it thousands of times daily.

But now it’s just after 5pm and the opening notes of “Here Comes the Bride” are likely bellowing from the church organ as the aisles of heads swivel to the sanctuary entrance. Amanda stands there in a dress that should be anything but white, hoping her fine hair that she constantly complained about stays curly at least long enough for the best man’s toast.

And here I sit in my living room with my two oldest buds and the only girl that matters, watching the UT football home opener. Melissa’s ponytail sticks out from behind a “Hook ‘em Horns” baseball cap as she stands in the kitchen, holding a bottle of Budweiser laughing at Morgan’s Dane Cook impression…the over-annunciation, the exaggerated stepping, the crouching, the lack of any punchlines whatsoever. It is quite funny.

Melissa has thick, naturally curly hair and she told me on our second date that she wants Tom Petty’s Here Comes My Girl playing through the church p.a. system, as she begins her walk in a dress that I want to be the whitest of white.

My Braces Come Off

It’s been almost three hours and I figured my Worst Email Ever has done me in with Melissa. I saw a co-worker walk by my office doorway, and I asked him if he’s ever been to Lollapalooza. He stopped to answer my question when the recognizable ping went off and I finally saw the bright yellow envelope in the corner of my monitor. I rudely turned away from my co-worker as he thoughtfully answered the question I asked him.

I could hear my heartbeat and opened the inbox, fully expecting Jeanine’s reply to my Worst Email Ever. It wasn’t from Jeanine, it was from Melissa_xxxxx@gmail.com. For whatever reason, Melissa replied directly to me, fully passing over the middle-man…er, middle-sister.  I could not believe the break in protocol here.  It was unprecedented to say the least. This chick is ballsy.

I gathered myself and double-clicked:

Hi, I’m not much of a cook, but want to come to my house this Friday for dinner? We can watch that football show that’s filmed in your hometown.

Call me.  Mel.

“That football show” she’s talking about is Friday Night Lights, shot in Austin. And I was f’ing ecstatic. Amanda never invited me over for dinner because she had roommates. Melissa owns her own house. And so my Worst Email Ever was instantly elevated to a literary classic in my own mind.  Prozac Nation, Fargo Rock City, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and Worst Email Ever.

I tried to re-focus on my work for the remaining four hours, but I realized I’m in the grips of a relationship beginning. We’ve acknowledged the chemistry, and we’re trying to make it manifest into something tangible and solid. I want to fast-forward to the stage where we’re lying on the couch on a Saturday night in comfortable clothes and thick socks. And when I’m invited to a party, instead of the host asking, “Is Kilby coming?” the host instead asks, “Are Kilby and Melissa coming?”

I leaned back in my chair and realized the once ever-present thought of Amanda is no longer with me. I wore braces for two years from 8th to 10th grade. The metal became part of me because I saw it every day when I looked in the mirror and felt it on the inside of my lips. It was unpleasant, but I learned to live with it. It was just always there. The day the dentist twisted them from my mouth for good, my head instantly felt lighter. I rushed to a mirror and I looked better. I began smiling more and my young life got easier.

The braces are gone from my life and now Amanda is too. I don’t miss either.

The Movie in My Head

The small mail drop built-in to the front of my house could hardly contain all the mail and magazines. It looked like a giant mouth spitting out giant Chiclets. The letter carrier resigned to wrapping my mail in a rubber band and leaning it against the front door. The snow made it wet, heavy and useless.

I was well into my second day of training in California when I realized I neglected to put my mail on hold. I paid the cab driver and dragged my rolling suitcase up the walkway to my pitch-black bungalow house where I haven’t been for two weeks…a week in Austin and another week in Southern California. I grabbed the mail, opened the door, turned on the living room lamp and saw that I keep a really clean house. I laid down on the Asian area rug that I bought at Target almost 10 years ago and that feeling of being alone and feeling lonely crept into me like an all too familiar, and all too unwanted roommate. I was too exhausted to fight it.

I didn’t want to open the soggy stack of mail resting on my chest. A small, handwritten, pink envelope caught my eye. I opened it, and it was from Jeanine…an invite to her party. A text when I was in Austin, an E-vite and now a handwritten invite. She really wants me at her party. I don’t want to go.

Then, the little six-second movie started playing in my head again. It used to be in color, now it plays in black-and-white.  Not even my Ipod on the plane could drown it out…Amanda’s frustration-fueled words when we were still together: “You need to grow up and earn a real salary!” It was on a sunny spring morning in my old Uptown apartment. It was the result of my then-constant limited cash flow and my noisy, tiny apartment. When I played little league baseball, I got beaned at the plate a few times. I ran to first base with tears welling-up in my eyes, but I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. That’s what her words felt like…like a baseball from a 10-year-old arm striking me on the shoulder.

It was the one and only time that I ever heard her speak in an angry voice. It’s been on repeat in my head and it resonates like a cough in church. She has no idea how completely different I live my life now. I finally have what she expected me to have, and I can’t even tell her. When I found out I landed my job, she was one of 12 people I e-mailed in my fury of excitement. She’s the only one who didn’t respond.

Some people spend a lifetime seeking approval from a disappointed parent.  Am I destined to spend my life seeking approval from a disappointed ex-girlfriend? Everything these past few months – the new career, new car, new wardrobe and new tax bracket…it all feels like a pile of poker chips. Being able to tell Amanda would turn the chips into real money for me.

Lunch with a Skull Ring

“Dude, you look like, awful!” Morgan said loud enough for everyone to hear – standing outside Jo’s smoking one of his American Spirits.  Since we were high school seniors, he’s never been without a pack of American Spirit cigarettes and at least one pack of Wrigley’s gum.

Senior year, Morgan, Sue and myself road tripped to Lubbock to see Buddy Holly’s grave.  On the way home, well past midnight, Morgan was at the wheel of his parents’ Range Rover when he dropped a lit cigarette on his lap.  He veered off the road and we hit an approach.  Sue was lying down in the back seat, and from the corner of my eye, I saw her stay horizontal and hit the car’s roof.  We came to a halt and the only thing we could hear in the dead silence was our panicked breathing.  We were okay.  The Ranger Rover was damaged to the tune of about two grand.

“Thanks,” I said, my voice sounding like an old scratchy phonograph record. We walked inside Jo’s and got in line.  My stomach felt like a pot of water on the verge of boiling, so I opted for coffee and toast.  As we sat down, I told Morgan about watching Bright Lights Big City at MSP International while waiting out my delay.

“I think the only reason you like that movie so much is because that guy spends the entire movie pining for a girl named Amanda,” he said, accusingly. Morgan always wears a giant skull ring like Keith Richards.  It stared right at me as he was putting french fries in his mouth.  It was like having lunch with two people.

“No,” I countered, acting insulted.  “I like it because in the end he walks away from a girl named Amanda.”  He made it seem so easy.

“And I bet you still haven’t removed her as the emergency contact on your gym membership,” Morgan said with all the confidence of a seasoned trial lawyer cross-examining a trembling witness.  His skull ring acting as the less-experienced junior associate.

“Only because it never occurs to me that she’s still my emergency contact.  Who really thinks of those things?”  I do.  It crosses my mind every single time the blonde kid swipes my gym card at the front desk.  It would be so easy to remove her…take maybe five minutes. But to do so would mean hearing the blonde kid verify my current contact, which means hearing her full name.  It would instantly transport me back to the day when we joined the gym together.

My cell vibrated and it was a text from Jeanine back in Minneapolis.  She’s throwing a party next month and wants me there…

“Seen her lately?” asked Morgan, as three UT cheerleaders with still-wet-shower-hair took the table next to us.

“Who? Amanda? Yeah, just recently.”  I told Morgan about running into her and hearing about her live-in boyfriend and their outdated rented condo.  How weird it was hearing her say, “My boyfriend,” a role I once played to mediocre acclaim.  How that little run-in left me somewhat shaken for a week, and she probably forgot all about it as soon as I walked away.

Morgan took a sip from his lemonade, “Sorry, man”

“Yeah…”

Night to Bishop

When I sat up in bed, it felt like my head was still asleep on the pillow.  The last thing I wanted at that moment was to have to be somewhere.  And I knew that a hangover would be my unwanted guest for the entire day.  The empty Heineken keg cans on the kitchen counter were looking at me as if to say, “I told you so.”  But I’m back in Austin, so they were probably saying, “I told y’all so, hook’em!”  I don’t smoke, but I smelled like cigarettes from the La Zona Rosa patio smokers.

I had to meet Morgan at Jo’s for lunch.  It’s only a few blocks away and their tuna melt with chips is to die for.  I popped two Advil and took a long hot shower with the fan off, so I would get the sauna effect and open my pores nice and wide so the alcohol could find its way out.  I was letting the hot water stab me like tiny daggers while my memory began piecing together yesterday.

My flight leaving MSP International was delayed…shocker.  But I had my Ipod Touch and Bright Lights Big City was posted in its entirety on Youtube.  The entire 1983 movie posted in ten segments starring Michael J. Fox as a struggling NYC writer with a yearning for booze, cocaine, 501’s and desert boots.

Bishop was waiting to pick me up at Bergstrom.  He still looks like the kid I grew up with, just taller. His parents emigrated from Korea and became devout Catholics – hence his clerical name.  Bishop’s parents wanted him to be a doctor, but he wanted to be Stan Lee and paid for art school by bartending and doing airwalks, heelflips, nollies and other tricks in skateboard videos.

The morning we graduated high school, Bishop got two tattoos: the image of Peter Parker on his right forearm and the image of Spiderman on his left forearm.  He’s never read a Harry Potter book, but he reads J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech nightly before bed as some sort of self-affirmation prayer.   He survives as a graphic artist for now.  text of rowling’s pretty sweet speech

We headed to the Brown Building so I could drop off my luggage.  On the way, Bishop asked if I still talk to Amanda and I shook my head without saying anything.  It was better than audibly sighing, “No,” which would give away that I still kind of miss her.  “That’s cool,” he said squinting from the sun, “You’ll do better.”

Once in the loft, I washed up and we walked down to the Brown Bar.   As we entered the bar, we saw Shipley across the street and ran inside so he wouldn’t see us.  Shipley is perpetually on Ecstasy or about to drop Ecstasy.  He’ll stay near a bathroom because Ecstasy supposedly gives you the urge to crap.  Once the peristaltic wave reaches shore is when the high apparently begins.  We raised our glasses and it was good to be in Texas.

We eventually made our way to La Zona Rosa. I don’t think Bishop’s parents fully understand or accept their son’s creative drive. In the pedi-cab, he said they occasionally tell him that the Postal Service is hiring. But I’m happy that he’s following his talent and doing alright. He shares a downtown loft and he’s flying to Las Vegas in two weeks to interview at Zappos.com. But I could tell that not being able to fully share his life with his parents bothers him.

I vaguely remembered standing outside La Zona Rosa at what must have been bar time.  I told Bishop that I had recently talked to Amanda despite shaking my head when he asked me earlier.  She’s living with her boyfriend – the guy she started dating two months after we broke up.  They rent an extremely outdated condo and their combined salaries maybe equal mine.

That last remark came back to me as I started walking to Jo’s and I felt ashamed…it made my headache worse. Why should I judge Amanda and her boyfriend by what they earn? Hell, I’d probably trade places with the guy.  He can have my salary and I’ll take his $35k per year and a shared bed with Amanda.

Even more pathetic is that it made me look like Mikey from Swingers.  But I love how that movie ended, and I hope fate has a similar plan for me…

Cheney’s Napkin

“C’mon, dude…I’m bored off my ass. I’ve got three weeks to kill before I start my new job, and I’m not going back to Austin ‘til next week.  I’ll take you to Bar Lucrat for dinner. My treat. Buzz me in.”

I arrive unannounced at Cheney’s studio apartment in Loring Park.  It’s an ancient brick building that was a hotel in its prior life, evidenced by the sealed-off dumbwaiters outside each apartment.  It’s 5:30pm and I know she’s only been up for a few hours.  The buzzer shrill releases the door and I walk the green-carpeted flight of stairs to her apartment.

I’ve been friends with Cheney ever since we met in a magazine writing class two years ago. She’s in her late 20’s, thin and a head of dark hair down to the middle of her back.  More than a few people have told me that her dad was a Skull and Bones member, or “Bonesman,” at Yale.  No one ever asks her about it, though.

I want to take her to dinner because she told me that she’s been out of work so long that unemployment has become an entity a lot bigger than she is…she feels powerless against it.  She’s maintained a well-paid freelance gig, but the editor has been less than excited about her recent pitches.  It’s nothing that a plate of thick pasta and bottles of red wine won’t cure.

We hug and I’m quickly re-introduced to Cheney’s minimalistic studio décor.  A box spring and mattress with un-made sheets sits at an angle in the corner.  A broken two-speaker guitar amp from two boyfriends ago serves as a nightstand.  Along the opposite wall is a door set atop two sawhorses – the result is a giant desk covered with magazines, notebooks, candles, printer and her laptop.  I don’t think she’s owned a T.V. since college.

Accent lighting dimly lights her apartment, like a Party of Five scene in the Salinger house.  It makes the place feel warm despite the frost-covered windows.  Scattered clothes and shoes are like tiny islands on the wood floor.  I tell her about my new job, although I hold back a little given her unemployment.  It’d be like telling a starving person about the amazing ice cream you just ate.

She says to grab a Corona from the fridge while she puts on some make-up. The exterior of her fridge is just as bare as the rest of her apartment – no photos, overdue bills or other reminders of life. There’s just a picture of Megan Fox torn from a magazine and a scribbled napkin hanging by a P.J. Harvey magnet. Upon closer examination, it reads:

I gathered up all doubt, loneliness, fear and unemployment.

I wrapped it up and gave it to God.

It was tight like a ball of rubber bands.

He held out his hand, smiled and said,

“I’ll take that from you forever. Keep praying

And your life will be amazing.”

As if she senses I’m reading it, she yells from the bathroom that it was a dream she had last month. She immediately sat up and wrote it down so she would never forget it.

She emerges from the bathroom patting her pockets, searching for her keys.  I hand her the Corona and she finishes what’s left in three swigs.

Sue and the South Austin Bully

Sue P.

The last thing I crave in this heat is food.  I haven’t felt anything close to hunger since I’ve been here.  The chips and salsa here at the loft and the street-vendor empanadas on the way home at night are serving me fine.

I’m meeting Sue tonight at Auditorium Shores for walking and talking.  Sue and I spent our latch-key years together in Austin playing wiffleball, skateboarding and riding bikes to our parents’ offices to try and get money for magazines and books at B. Dalton.  She read all those Judy Bloom books and turned me on to S.E. Hinton’s stuff.  Although she majored in English at LSU, she ended up with a successful career in IT.  She is sent on projects around the world for weeks at a time and it’s rare she’s in town when I’m visiting.  I’m walking to the pedi-cab line and I’m flashing back to our early days.

Growing up, Monty Mack was the intimidator of South Austin.  He was older, dirty and we’re not even sure if he went to school.  His apartment building was on the corner and his terror cell stretched the entire block.  Out of boredom on a June afternoon, Sue wanted to bike down his street.  I told her Monty hits girls, but she was unwavering in her desire to test our bike speed and my bravery.  I figured if we kept quiet and pedaled quickly, we would be okay.

One block away from the gauntlet of dread and we could see Monty sitting on the steps of his building with his junkyard dog leashed next to him.  ZZ Top blaring from his ghetto blaster.  I told Sue that we’ll start building up our speed now, so that we’ll be nothing but a blur by the time we turn the corner down his street.  She agreed.  We put our 10 speeds in gear four and my stomach gets tight.  Monty perked up as he saw us approach.

I’m ready to coast speedily around the corner and then pedal down the straight-away.  But as we approached, Sue began to slow down until we were both at a dead stop with one foot on the pedal and one foot on the street.  Monty was 30 feet away and standing up.  It was a silent stand-off and I swear I heard a squeaky saloon door somewhere in the distance.  And then Sue remarked, “Is that your dog or your wife?”  I turned to Sue and wanted to ask why she just chose to end our lives at the tender age of nine.  But there was no time for that.

We didn’t wait for Monty’s reaction.  We began pedaling like the lead peloton racing down the Champs de Lysse in the Tour de France.  I looked over my left shoulder and Monty was in a full-on sprint behind us.  I knew we would be safe once we reached the end of the block, which was about six houses away.  Monty was fast, but there’s no way he would catch us.  That confidence lasted about two seconds until I felt a sudden lack of resistance in my pedals.  I looked down at my rear tire and froze realizing that the chain had come loose and my Huffy was now useless.

Monty was closing the gap.  I could hear his Adidas shell-toes on the hot asphalt, and there’s no telling what he would do if he caught us.  Sue stopped pedaling her bike and said, “Here, take mine.”  Lacking any concept of chivalry, I gladly took her bike as she grabbed mine by the handlebars.  I began pedaling as she ran alongside mine with the chain dragging on the ground.  In about 15 paces the chain corrected itself and was back on the gear wheels.  I don’t know if she knew that would happen or if she was willing to push my bike all the way to safer ground.  But I always think of that moment when I’m about to see Sue.

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