Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sixty percent

Wheezy sits behind the cash register cleaning his fingernails with an ivory-handled hunting knife. The little office reeks of cigarette smoke. This is my space, nobody gonna tell me what I can do here. The world is what comes through the front door, the rest of it can go to hell. Wheezy is an old classmate who found me on Facebook. In our late teens we would ride around Nassau County in his hot rod -- even then, the term was ironic -- eating Hungry Herman's cheeseburgers, tweezering roaches out behind the lumber yard in Valley Stream, laughing like maniacs as he burned rubber tearing away from traffic on Hempstead Turnpike. He had thick dirty blond hair, sticking up in greasy plumes over an ever-present red bandana tied round his head. He'd smoke himself into a mellow state. Well, I'll be damned, this is good shite. Now I can focus on the matter at hand.

Wheezy worked out. When he wasn't lifting weights, he was lifting the engine block in and out of his jet black 1957 Chevy Belair, radio blasting from the garage, the King Biscuit Flower Hour, him wearing what he always wore -- a white sleeveless tee under a pair of denim overalls and steel-tipped work boots. He didn't like to talk too much but he knew how to laugh at other people's jokes. Girls loved him: he drove fast, had oversize arms, and listened intently to whatever they were saying with a beatific smile on his face. The cynic in you might call it a shite-eating grin.

I hadn't seen him in thirty-five years, at least, or really even thought about him and those summer days we spent cruising around the parking lots at Jones Beach and Roosevelt Field and the Miracle Mile looking for solid gold Long Island chippies. But we were all bullshite and bluster, more likely to roll on the lawn with his Golden Retriever than with a Maid from Manhasset. Occasionally we'd get into a scrape with the law, but it was all petty stuff, handled with a couple of exasperated phone-calls to screaming parents, two acned adolescents shuffling in front of a local magistrate, copping to trespassing, trying not to giggle.

Now we're overburdened middle-aged guys attempting to trace ancient adventures by friending old acquaintances on Facebook, trying to figure out what it was we
really did versus what we made up -- those elaborate myths little boys' egos need if they're gonna grow up to be manly men. Was that really us on the private beach with the cops coming up over the dunes with their searchlights and bullhorns, looking for dopers dry-humping in the eelgrass? Or were we still in the hot rod, looking out over the lights across the Sound, too frightened to join the leather boys on the cold sand?

It's pretty pathetic. People talk about memories as though all those things honestly happened. Maybe some of them did, after all, life is filled with incident, isn't it? Now Wheezy sits there, thinking. He says,
what do you think, poot? Sixty percent really took place and the rest we're making up? I think to myself, it's been years since I thought about that stuff and I can't even remember yesterday with any accuracy. That's why we tell stories, turd-for-brains.

I don't know if I'm gonna come out here again. Seeing Wheezy again after all these years makes me sad. He's got a service station on Sunrise Highway in Lindenhurst, but cars aren't what they used to be, and neither is he. He keeps smoking even though he's not healthy and the business is falling apart.
I'm in hock up to my eyeballs, it's just a matter of time until the sheriff comes down here and padlocks the door. I look at him sitting there, stewing in his own juices, and shake my head no. You can't bring the past into the present, it doesn't work.

Wheezy looks up at me with those big doleful baby blues.
Yeah, but that don't stop us from trying, does it?

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