In an unfamiliar city, with friends of whomever I was accompanying, but unknown to me, feeling an intruder in conversations not my own, I went for a walk. Leaving the more well-to-do neighbourhood of my negligent hosts, I walked along busy transit thoroughfares, other less advantaged neighbourhoods to both left and right, ’til it appeared that I had exhausted that suburban sprawl.
Turning around, with no other immediately evident option, I began to retrace my steps, except on the opposite side of the road. Approaching the third perpendicular, leading to the right into what seemed a community which might offer at length a mini-mart for water and a pee, I decided to venture therein.
Time was apparently inconsequential, for I neither checked my watch or measured my steps. I walked, certainly not with time to kill, but with time to live.
Ahead, eventually, I spotted a drive-in of sorts. A number of cars and pickups were parked in its lot, younger persons present. The cars, with only few exceptions, were would-be hot, not hot; would-be tough, not tough; would-be distinctive, not. The trucks, clearly the big-dicked flourishes of small-dicked men. Even before I reached the drive-in, I could feel the assumed, affected air of white trash supremacy; I could smell and taste its foulness.
As I entered the premises, I was met by a seeming scout, a messenger, a representative of the higher command at the centre of a crowd of gars and filles.
‘Hey, what’s up?’
‘The sky. And you?’
‘You’re not from here, are you?’
‘No, I’m not. What does that have to do with my being here?’
‘You seem to think that you can just say and do whatever you want.’
‘And why is that not the case?’
‘This is where we hang. I’m not sure that you’re welcome.’
‘Really. And you’re the one sent to figure that out?’
‘So this is your private hang, your exclusive territory?’
‘What kind is that?’
‘What do mean?’
‘You’re fucking slow, man. You said, “Kind of”. What kind of, kind of?’
‘Now you’re fucking with me.’
‘No, clearly, you’re fucking with me. And you’re in my way.’
‘You’re not going anywhere unless I say so.’
‘And you’re going to stop me? You and who else?’
‘All these guys are my buddies.’
‘Is that a threat or a promise? If it’s just a threat, then get the fuck out of my way. If it’s a promise, then bring ‘em on. Do it now.’
‘You think you’re fucking Rambo or something? You’re just a fucking old man.’
‘Bring it. You give them the nod, and you’ll be the first to hit the ground.’
‘You’ve got to kidding me. So you’re going to kill me?’
‘No prisoners, guaranteed. So, no, I am not kidding. As soon as you turn your head, before you turn it back, you’ll be as good as dead. Go for it.’
‘You’re a fucking coward. The one with the smallest dick gets fucked by all the others. Here’s a compromise for you, to save your pathetic waste of protoplasm – I know you haven’t a fucking clue what that means – without turning your head, because I already promised you what would happen if you did that, call over your fearless leader, your most intimidating warrior, and watch him grovel in front of you and the others.’
‘You’re out of your fucking mind.’
‘That’s right, I am. I don’t need your fucking welcome. I need water, and I need to pee. I won’t count to three, or even one. Move, now.’
Moving out of my way, seemingly reluctantly.
‘You’re a fucking lunatic, man.’
Approaching the drive-in, all of the others cleared the way.
‘How’s it going, man?’
‘Your boy’s fucking with me.’
‘Yeah, he’s like that. Sorry, man.’
‘No worries. Just give me a minute, and I’ll be out of your hair.’
‘No, it’s cool. We just don’t see too many people from out of our hood, especially on foot. Nobody walks around here. If you don’t have a car or a truck, you’re some kind of desperate or something.’
‘So you fuck with people who are desperate? Is that it? Bad-ass doesn’t have to be bad. You could be bad-ass good. If you stumbled into my hood, would you like to be treated like an unwelcome guest?’
‘Again, sorry, man. Nothing bad would have happened, really.’
‘For your information, I have spent my entire life abroad, often where I was the only one with skin the colour of mine, eyes the colour of mine. I get it, this is your hood, and I am an intruder. If your skin was black or brown or yellow or red, I would bow my head in compliance, out of respect, but your skin is the same colour as mine, so that shit won’t fly. No one is superior, really. And no one is inferior. No one is equal, either. Everyone is unique, but when it comes right down to it, we’re all the same. We’re all just people.’
‘Damn, man, that’s some heavy shit. You really believe that, don’t you?’
‘I do. That’s why I was just seconds away from wasting your friend. We bleed the same colour. But we choose how we die. He came very close to choosing the sidewalk.’
‘No, it’s cool, man. I’m sorry about that. Jimmy, get over here. Say you’re sorry to this gentleman.’
“No apologies necessary. I did say you were the one with the smallest dick. I guess I owe you an apology.’
‘Sorry, man. I guess I came on a bit strong.’
‘The strongest is often the most quiet, with the least to say. If you had let me be, I would bought a bottle of water, taken a pee, and moved on. It seems that I had something else to say and to do here. No hard feelings. If you want to know the truth, I’m out walking today, because my friend’s friends are inhospitable bastards, and I don’t want to be beholding to anyone. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know anything at all about the area. I cultivate vulnerability, precisely because it leads me into situations where I’m a wild card, where I can either learn something, or make a difference in someone else’s life.’
Jimmy goes in and buys me a bottle of water.
‘How much do I owe you?’
‘Nothing, man. I fucked with you, and I shouldn’t have. This is my apology.’
‘Forgiven. Maybe next time, even if the guy heading up to your drive-in is an obvious milk-toast marshmallow, you can take the fear out of him by being just ever so slightly decent. You know, that macho shit doesn’t go very far anymore. It’s not cool. And, really, it will come back to bite you. Someone will drop you on the sidewalk, just like that, and you will have had it coming.’
‘How come you know so much about being decent, but you’re such a bad-ass? You a preacher or something?’
‘No, no way. Far from it. If I were, though, every saint has a past; every sinner, a future. No, I’ve spent my life abroad, overseas. This is just a tiny little corner of a big wide world. Life doesn’t give itself to one who tries to keep all of its advantages at once. What you don’t have, you need it now. What you don’t know, you can feel somehow. Being alone, I learned how to heal myself; I learned how to heal others. There’s a whole lot of shit out there. I don’t want to make it worse for anyone than it already is. Hurt can be soothed until it becomes desperation, then it’s too late. Mistakes are made, then, that can’t be undone. Our little altercation on the sidewalk, that was just huffing and puffing mostly. I would have hurt you, Jimmy, but I wouldn’t have killed you. You didn’t deserve to die. Being a punk is just being a punk. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that had happened.’
‘Now, I really must pee, then I’ll head back in the direction I started.’
After peeing, Peter, with the nicest ride, offered me a lift.
‘No, that’s alright. I don’t want to bust up your party.’
‘I should be getting home, anyway.’
‘Yeah, let’s go.’
Handshakes all around. A very warm one from Jimmy.
In Peter’s car, a light green 1972 Toyota Celica, he thanked me again.
‘We’re not bad kids, you know. There’s just nothing much to do around here. We get bored, hang out, get fucked up.’
‘If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you want to get out, you have to start moving in that direction. Nothing begins ’til you get there.’
‘What started it for you?
‘I started in North Wales, then came here, then went back to Wales, then I was drafted and went to war… It’s a long story, but it’s a story. Before you can make a myth of yourself, you have to have made a story. Things are really fucked up out there, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be.’
‘Are we close to your friend’s place?’
‘Yes, this is fine. I’ll walk the rest of the way. Nice car, by the way.’
‘Thanks. It’s my brother’s, or it was my brother’s. Here’s in Spain. He’s a chef.’
‘He’s gay, too. He lives with his boyfriend.’
‘That’s even cooler.’
‘Really? How’s that?’
‘Diversity makes the world go round. Are you happy for your brother, that he has found his happiness?’
‘Yeah, sure. It’s just weird.’
‘What’s weird about it? How do you know that I’m not gay? How do I know that you’re not gay? And what difference does it make, anyway?
‘Are you? Gay?’
‘Maybe I am. Are you?’
‘I don’t know, maybe.’
‘It’s all cool. Find what you love, then die for it, if it doesn’t kill you first. Don’t be half-assed when you can be whole-assed. Be as you are when you are real. Better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are not.’
‘Thanks, man. You’ve given me, all of us, a lot to think about.’
‘Good luck. Take care of yourself. Don’t take this wrong, but you, too, could be brilliant, like your brother, but you’re a coward. Get out there. The moments you now refuse, you’ll never see in your life again.’
‘I kind of hate to let you go. I’ve learned so much from you.’
‘You’ll find me if you want to. I’m a writer.’
‘Yeah, I’ll look for you. Take care.’