. . . Janie and I had gone to our favorite hangout, a kind of dugout in the ground that I don’t know if it was natural or actually dug out but it’s 6 feet deep and ovalshaped, maybe 12 feet long and between 6 & 7 feet wide and surrounded outside by scrubbrush and sumac trees and piles of old branches and twigs. In the summer the long thick grass would add extra cover so you could spend a whole day down there and no one would see you unless they came down too but not many people hung around that area except to drop off trash or broken bicycles or maybe they wanted to get high on weed or get drunk. The place is strewn with old brokendown bicycles that people had thrown away for probably the last 50 years and nobody ever picked them up, they just threw them down and the grass and bushes that grew there covered them up, it’s a bicycle graveyard except that you can feel them under your feet if you can’t see them and sometimes you trip and fall. Crazy. Our hole was near one of the boundaries of this piece of land which is near the edge of our little city, it’s a piewedge strip of land, a kind of triangle with a state highway and a county road forming two legs and a railroadbed the base, the hole is near that. Janie and I were there on a dreary Friday afternoon in late April, it was drizzling, and there’s a lot of whiney noise from the vehicle tires speeding by on the wet pavement. We’re fooling around in a dry spot in our little hideaway and Janie’s terrier Pogo is sleeping and we hear some guy’s voice swearing away. Fuck we hear him shout, aaagh where is the sonofabitch.
Janie and I look at each other. She’s got a surprised face and I feel like mine’s the same, eyes wide and mouth open, it was a lot different from hearing Curtis Curtis oh curtis coming from her just a few minutes before which I liked a lot better. It was like a boxful of metal cans falling onto pavement while you’re sucking on chocolate with your eyes closed. Yaaagh, where the fuck is it? His voice is getting a little closer. Janie and I stay down, we’re sitting on a bench under a canopy of thick leafless sumacs, then we hear a loud jesuschristalmighty and a clatter and Janie looks a bit startled, maybe scared, and I feel that way too a little, then there’s another clatter and more swearing. I very quietly stand up bentkneed on the bench and peer through the tangle of dark brush and see him kind of staggering around, I don’t know if he’s drunk or what, he’s dressed in wet khakhis and a dark blue corduroy sportjacket and a Tigers cap and he’s walking slowly, stopping by each brushpile he comes to and kicking it, muttering, probably swearing but I can’t hear him unless he yells. He’s coming in our direction and I know that when he gets near our dugout he’ll kick the low brush and thrash the sumac and we’ll have to show ourselves. Then I see him bend down and pick up a really old bicycle, maybe 50 years old and without a seat or fenders, and he heaves it, he holds it by the front fork and the rear frame and hauls off and sends it flying yelling goddam ugly sonofabitch, then after it crashes to a landing he drops to his knees in the wet grass and pulls a pint bottle from his jacket and sits back on his heels and fills his mouth so that his cheeks fills out and he swallows, he does this 2 or 3 times. I wonder if Richie’s watching, I know he’s around here somewhere, he’s always around, and knowing Richie he’s probably wishing he could have a swallow too. Richie drinks a lot, like both his parents, and he smokes pot a few times a week. I’ll fire up with him sometimes but I don’t need it like he does.
Look Janie I say, you should see this guy, Janie stands on the bench beside me and puts an arm around my waist as the man gets up, sort of surveys the whole area, he seems to make up his mind and starts treading in our direction very slowly. After about 4 or 5 steps he’s muttering and we can now hear him, jesuschrist he’s saying, it’s got to be here, where the fuck is it, take it easy take it easy, how do you lose a bike in a field like this, the goddam grass isn’t even long yet, how the fuck . . . easy man easy . . . you set it down and take a piss and the next thing you know it’s gone, jesuschrist gone. Just all these other pieces of shit, he kicks a rusty little kid’s bike, what’re they doing here anyway he says. At every pile of old brush, at every clump of weeds and shrubbery he stoops or kicks. Christ it’s got to be here he says, now where the hell’d I put it, man you can’t even turn your back on your bike for 1 goddam minute without losing it. Then he starts on himself: god damn you, you stupid shit, what’s the matter with someone who walks his fucking bike onto a level little field in the middle of fucking traffic and leaves it for 1 goddam minute and then can’t find it, what the hell’s the matter with you you dunce you incompetent sonofabitch, JESUS, yeah well fuck you too, I’m sick of all your bitching, yeah? well fuck you too, aah!
Janie and I look at each other, I can tell by her expression that she’s never heard anything like this either. Well maybe a little from Richie now and then but Richie’s not crazy like this guy’s gotta be. Richie’s my best friend after Janie but he’s in trouble man, I mean if he doesn’t go out west and get a job at a ranch like he wants to then he’s going to get into big trouble. The trouble is he can’t learn to ride a horse until his hand straightens out, and his hand won’t straighten out until he stops smashing the end of it against brick walls and telephone poles and trees like he does all the time.
Anyway this guy continues his search slowly, like a cop. Stops and shakes his head now and then like he’s confronting some awful cosmic secret. He’s getting closer to us, he stops and stoops and has another couple of drinks, he’s going to finish that bottle pretty soon and then what’s he going to do I whisper to Janie. He’s probably got another one in a bag on his bike she whispers back. I love it when she whispers in my face, love the smell and feel of her breath. We hear a train blow in the distance, it’ll keep blowing every minute or two as it approaches each intersection in the city getting a little louder each time. The guy winces, he shakes his head, a sweet smile creases his face as he stares at something above, his skin crinkles at the corners of his eyes, his face is thin with a bum’s stubble, he stands still for a while until we hear a cough and freckled Richie shows up. He stumbles over a bike then takes the downward path into our little den. We turn and look at him then back at the man who puts his bottle back into his pocket. He turns to walk away.
Fuckin bike Richie says, who’s the dude. . .