Previously in The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin’ Angel:
The star athlete of a small New England town, his 16th birthday bash. A prank. Flammable liquid and a carelessly discarded cigarette. Ignition. Uniforms, medics. Burn units, bills, pain, and a shortage of money. A town tilted. A family destroyed. Randy becomes Sparky, a freak in hiding. Exiled. But alienation fosters an odd alliance—in shabby digs. Not ideal perhaps, but it’s the best Dwayne Handy has known. So when Sparky vanishes, Dwayne, believing himself to be the burn victim’s Guardian Friggin’ Angel, tracks him down. Or the above is the tale Dwayne tells. A version. Rife with exaggeration, embellishment. Lies? Whether truth or fantasy, conflicts, adventures, mishaps, and stupidity ensue. By Chapter Nine however, the pair, numb (and number) from fatigue and insane events, have found their way to a room in a Marriot. Real beds. Could this signal an end to the chaos that has plagued them? Does curiosity kill a cat? Read on.
But, before diving into the story, the news: In late 2014, after a night of backroom arm wrestling that left us all one-handed for a week, Blue Skirt Productions agreed to publish chapters of The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin’ Angel throughout 2015. And now, with the holiday season scratching at our doors, the last two chapters must go up! On the screen before you, faithful readers, is “Dwayne’s Top 10”; December will bring “The 11th Hour”—great news! Even better news is that Sparky and Dwayne’s story does NOT conclude when it veers from Blue Skirt in December. How could it? The pair still has to endure hard-knock lessons and discoveries, and must continue their trek until, well, Dwayne’s cows come home. Stay tuned to discover the truth about Sparky’s scar tissue, Dwayne’s wings, and of course the cows. December’s chapter will include further instructions. Until then, thanks for reading.
and I’m up before the burn victim. Itchy to go, when a few days’a earned R-n-R’d been my plan at lights out. But awake, outta bed, pacin’ like I’m friggin’ Spark, my mistake’s clear: stay in a friggin’ box? No way.
Which’s when the jitters hit—Spark ain’t in his hotel bed! No lump’a sleepin’ ugly’s under them rumbled blankets. Where’s the kid’s I got no friggin’ nose snore? Scared he might’a skipped out on me, what with all the let me go crap last night, and hopin’ he might’a left a note or some other goddamn clue, yours truly yanks the drapes open and early a.m. sun blasts in.
“What the fuck?” Sunlight ignites one’a Spark’s blue eyes, makes it bold in his pink face.
I wanna kiss the guy. Instead, I nudge the sludge outta him. Usherin’ him into the shower, outta luxury suite, till us twin yoyos’re standin’ in a wet-dog stinky elevator. In less than an hour, that Marriott’s behind us.
And who’s gonna deny that great is bein’ a team. A modern day Lewis and Clark. Kerouac and fuckin’ Cassidy. George and Clarence. Think: Batman and Bruce Wayne. Forget Robin. Sparky and Dwayne—now there’s your real dynamic duo. The right and left’a one smooth-workin’ stiff. Stuff’a goddamn legends.
Which leads to me doin’ my part in maintainin’ the duo-namics—I score a new friggin’ ride. No small feat. Bring El Cavalier, cash and old-fashioned hagglin’ to a table, and we got a new ride. Not assembly line new. She’s a ‘91 Buick Century with 207K on the odometer, nicknamed Sexy Sadie. A chain-smokin’ Grannie.
Now wheezin’ off an exit, up to a mini mart. Engine left runnin’ (in case she don’t start again), I dash for a map, so Spark don’t gotta mumble out his hood hole and get embarrassed or harassed like he says he was before this guardian friggin’ angel arrived on the roadside scene. I’m outta the lit-up midget box store before you can say “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” with ten maps—a bunch’a states, plus an atlas type deal. I also snagglepuss a slew’a choice edibles (Cape Cod chips, Slim Jims, yogurt-covered pretzels, like two dozen friggin’ candy bars, and a gallon’a chocolate milk), ‘cause who knows where the fuck we’re goin’? And on the way we’re gonna need food. I toss in the plastic bag and slam Sadie’s door.
“What’s this?” says Spark, diggin’ in the sack with a sour fuckin’ look on his—well, in his voice.
“Selection’a maps. Just in case.”
“Junk food,” Spark says, stuffin’ my goodies on the floor by his shoes. He flips through the maps like he’s got a grudge against ‘em, but discoverin’ one he likes, he’s unfoldin’ it.
“Don’t like chocolate milk?” I goes.
“An apple would’ve been nice. Ever hear of orange juice?”
“Ain’t a farmers market, Spark. So. Good map?”
“Arkansas. Just trying to get my bearings.”
“Whaddaya think, gas up?”
“Gas it is,” I say.
“We need a debit card. A credit card. If cash is all we have, we’ll have to go in every time. Pay the cashier.”
Not stickin’ around for anymore’a his blah blah blah, I’m back outta the wheezin’ grannie and in the store. Spark’s just got a hair ‘cause’a me not discussin’ my latest auto purchase with him. But when a Tom Waits-lookin’ dude in a Marriott parking lot says it’s now or not, a smart guy seizes the bull by the balls. Me and Monkey-Face Tom whittled a done deal. Sadie’s horn blew, Spark did a you-scared-the-fuck-outta-me hop in the air, and the rest’s in the rearview.
Gassed and toolin’ I-30, Sadie sounds like, if not a hundred bucks, a solid forty. Cruise control at seventy-five, me sluggin’ chocolate milk and crunchin’ chips, that nothin’ could be finer feelin’s snuck up and’s ticklin’ my giggle bone. I feel A-1 Lucky Ducky. With midnight blue star soup above and a highway smooth as Elly May’s ass below, my belly growls for yogurt pretzels.
“Wanna crack open those yogurt pretzels, buddy?”
After obligiatin’, Spark messes with the radio.
“ Lord Jesus recognizes—”
“Aw, Spark. Kill that shit,” I say.
Car radio scans: God-awful gospel—no. Suicidal chick-pop—please. Finally Spark hits gold and classic rock nuggets tumble from an ace goddamn sound system that Monkey-Face Waits failed to mention when me and him sealed the deal with a spit handshake.
“Green-eyed lady, passion lady,” sings a guy with an old-style rock voice.
“Love this song,” Sparky says. “Sugarloaf. My dad played the 45 over and over.” The kid sings along, and who knew, a melted marshmallow can carry a tune. Even muted by heavy sweatshirt fabric, a guy can hear Spark nailin’ every friggin’ note.
You can’t see Adam’s Apple in that swirl’a scar tissue. Spark’s neck looks like afterbirth. Tragic, sure, but fun-lovin’ Dwayno ain’t lettin’ gloomy history spoil this adventure’s magical (though pointless little boat) moments.
When the kid’s vocal cords’ve quit quaverin’, I go: “Okay, Spark. Ya ready for Dwayno’s Top 10?” Since he seems to be huggin’ his pissy mood like Linus does with that goddamn blanket, I go on: “Number Ten’a Dwayno’s Top Ten…yogurt fuckin’ pretzels when he’s on a never-endin’ ramblin’ road trip with, well, you.” I pause to give time for a reaction that never comes. “Number Nine’a Dwayno’s Top Ten…findin’ a radio station that don’t suck ass in southern USA! Which leads to Number Eight’a Dwayno’s Top Ten bein’ bedazzled by a burn victim’s inspirin’ ability in the rock song vocalization department!”
The hood’s aimed elsewhere.
A great mood, however, can’t be spoiled like Randy Prescott once upon another time was. And since Van Morrison’s replaced that other radio guy, I raise my voice: “…Marvelous night for a moondance…” I sing like me and Van’re buds sharin’ a stage, despite the factoid’a him bein’ a bloated old fuck while I’m a lean young buck, but noticin’ Spark’s hood’s pressed to window, I go “What?” which should be enough—‘cause knowin’ a burn victim, you know his hood lingo.
Spark however’s one fickle French fry. His alien-head periscope hood turns. “What what?”
“What what what?” I says. “For chrissakes, Spark, quit playin’ pathetic burn victim, and while you’re at it, lose the fuckin’ head gear. I mean, it’s gotta be hot in there.”
Jerkin’ back the cloth Spark reveals the wreckage I’ve grown to sorta love.
“Why ya hood humpin’ Sadie’s window?”
“M’I gonna hafta whip Sexy onto the friggin’ shoulder and manhandle the piss outta ya?”
Spark harrumphs. “Dwayne…and it’s not an insult, just, I dunno, but my guess is that you’re at least partially tone deaf.” He’s obviously smilin’ (if only inside—talk about a poker face).
“Partially tone deaf?” I growl. Though old Presto Dwayno ain’t mad about his crispy crittersism, that’s the joker I play. “You sayin’ I can’t sing?”
“Fuck. I was gonna audition for American Idol or The Voice. Figured singin’ was my future. I mean, all else fails, Simon Cowell’s got that show—” A hitchhiker wins my attention.
“What’re you doing?” Spark says.
“Just a little”—I bump off’a the highway—“guardian friggin’ angelin’”—bringin’ Sexy Sadie to a standstill. Dude’s tiny in the mirror, but growin’. Reproducin’ too. Now there’s four dudes.
“Thought you were my guard—ahhh.” Spark sees multiple hitchin’ dudes hoofin’ toward us via Sadie’s sideview. “Dwayne. There are—”
“Four. I know.”
Though Spark’s words sound kinda sweet joined up like that, I’m no savior. Just an angel goin’ for his wings. Explainin’: “First, we got room. Second, acts like this’re important. ‘Cause if a clown wants to be lucky, he’s gotta make other clowns lucky. Lately our MO’s been kinda the opposite. Here’s where our karmatics start turnin’ around.”
“Impressive. Insight, honesty—”
“Plus they might have some weed.”
Our Fab Four reaches Sexy Sadie’s agin’ ass-end, her thigh—Spark whippin’ up his hood like he just remembered why he wears the friggin’ thing—and they’re at the kid’s window.
French Fry does nothin’.
“Open your friggin’ window, Spark.” It whirrs down.
“Aloha,” I shout past his reaper hood, notin’ that these road-dusty dudes either got sunburnt or some strain’a Indian blood. “What, were three’a you nitwits hidin’ in the weeds?”
“Sorta,” says one, maybe the chief, who’s young, like fifteen. “But—”
“Get in,” I go, laughin’ like I do this every day—instead’a never. They pile in, Maybe-Chief up front, the others in back.
A detour to a random off-exit package store and bottle caps fly.
Finally: “Dwayne. Let me drive for a while.”
“How you gonna see the road outta that sweatshirt tunnel? Plus, my falsified license’s good as yours. Double plus, you’re a stick in the no-fuckin’-fun mud. Why not crack a frosty and smile.” Radio loud, Dwayne says this into my ear. To the other passengers: “Live a little! Right, guys?”
Backseat hoots abound.
“But hold the fuck on! Here’s Number Seven’a Dwayno’s Top Ten—Sippin’ cold ones, drivin’ into the sunset with new friggin’ chums!”
More cheers as Sadie veers wildly on I-30. Destination Texas. Texarkana.
Aren’t Indians genetically powerless over alcohol? Or is that false? With The Screen that steals human attention continuously delivering data, it’s hard to know what to believe. The Information Highway that leads…where? It’s an information flood and who can survive such an endless sea? Dwayne calls us stupid little boats; are we? Have we agreed to believe that up is us going down? Or maybe genetic intolerance exists. My dad can’t drink sanely: foolish when drunk, unable to stop once started.
Either way, Indian or not, these hitchhikers (kids, really) are hammered. On Jack Daniels. Fine. Except these culprits are underage in a possibly illegal car that is being driven by a clown who claims to be an angel and has no real license and who is also drinking.
I turn down the radio. “Dwayne. Think. You really want to go to jail? Because you keep this up, that will happen.” I pause, watch Dwayne. “And that’s not my idea of fun.”
“Aw, Spark, for chrissakes.”
The backseat crew quiets.
“I’m dead serious. Either we stop for the night, or you stop and let me out. Next exit’s Hope. We could get a couple rooms, but my vote’s for camping. At White Oak Lake State Park. a few miles farther, but….”
“Camp. White Oak Lake State Park,” Dwayne says.
“White Oak Lake State Park.” One of the backseat kids echoes, fiddling with a cell phone. “It says…forty-five sites…but due to dry conditions, there’s a burn ban’s in effect.”
Dwayne eyes the rearview. “You get that off your friggin’ phone?”
“Sure. Android. But, no campfire?”
“What, Tonto can’t survive a night without fire?”
“Hey. I’m kiddin’. Fuck. Didn’t you see that Johnny Depp movie?”
“Here’s the exit,” I say. “Either let me off here or—”
“Alright. We’ll do Davy fuckin’ Crockett. Christ, Spark. You’re like…”
“…An old fuckin’ woman.” No friggin’ lie. How’s a guy, or a few, s’pose’ta let off a little steam with Joan’a Arc crabbin’ in his ear?
Anyways. I exit, drivin’ roads Tonto reads off his android’s face. Before arrivin’ there, I reenact the Cheech & Chong drive-in gag, shuttin’ our Fab Four in the trunk. Tight fuckin’ squeeze! At the gate I pay for one adult (twenty bucks). Spark’s beside me, but’s playin’ possum and the guy doesn’t seem to notice him. Finally reachin’ our assigned campsite, I bail. “Nature calls,” I say, prob’ly louder than planned, and since no campground bathhouse’s in view, I scramble to find a shadowy dumpin’ ground.
Lights go on in a mile-long RV—which I happen to be doin’ my business behind.
A gruff voice goes: “Wanna keep it in your own site?”
I straighten from my squat and go: “Hey, bubba, it’s a free goddamn country.”
His flashlight beam blinds me. “What the…?” he goes. “I’m dialin’ 911.”
“Why do that?” I say, skunk-drunk hopeful. “We could be BFFs, man.” A’course I don’t mean it, but then again who knows anythin’ anymore?
“Sick bastard.” His flashlight illuminates me, up and down. Reveals my drawers at my ankles, my junk exposed.
“Wanna put the fuckin’ light away?” I say, wishin’ for toilet paper.
Spark’s somewhere behind me, sayin’ my name.
“Shut up!” comes from another direction, where RV lights’re on.
Old Jack Daniels’s in my blood and brain and erases all but that there might be horny southern mamas in these RVs. Mobile trailer trash. Gettin’ wet with my willie LED lit. Once I’ve pictured one naked southern belle outta her RV, silvery from a fat moon, comin’ my way, there’s twenty. Twenty-five hot mamas. Fifty. Goddess bods’a Elly May—
“Pull those pants up, son.”
I realize my flagpole’s aim is true—and a burly bear-man’s planted two feet from my pleasure.
“I said, get ‘em up,” says Billy Bear Gruff.
“Dwayne!” squeaks Spark, soundin’ more mouse than man.
“My wife’n daughter’s right over there, you goshdang pervert.”
I see females silhouetted in RV doorway light. And, though it may seem impossible, my pleasure mimics Pinocchio’s nose, elongeratin’. I’m buzzed, roused, ready—and basically hogtied.
Billy Bear knuckles wallop my jaw, liftin’ me into late autumn nighttime air, my bare ass landin’ in moist Clinton dirt.
Somehow my noodle holds its cock-a-doodle-doo, and when Billy Bear jumps on top’a me, he gets poked in the belly. “What in the Jim Fuck?” he roars, fast-motion leapin’ off’a me.
“Hey!” the powwow calls. But no use—Billy Bear Gruff’s boots punt me to painful realms, fast.
By the time Dwayne’s jeans are up and we’re inside Sadie, doors locked, dome light shining like the campfire we cannot build, it’s midnight. Dwayne blabs on: “fuckin’ bear of a guy” and “like a Timex, it kept on tickin’”. No one questions the sexual innuendo in his Timex reference, but a brute “beatin’” him? Any man beating or even near him? No one witnessed this. His ongoing rant bars sleep, but at least we’re off the highway and there’s no sign of cops (so far).
“Drink water. Flushes the whiskey out of ya,” says lone hitchhiker Tommy, who is nineteen.
Dwayne drinks. And drinks some more.
“You can come to the rez if you want,” says Joe, who is seventeen. “Right?”
“Should be cool. Yeah.” Tommy shrugs.
“New Mexico, man.”
“New Mexico—what’s that about a month away?” mumbles Dwayne.
“Naw. Couple days. Three. Depends how you drive,” Tommy’s doing the talking.
Until: “We could drive straight through, in like twenty-four hours.” This is Elliot, and since he’s been the quiet one, I listen. “Texas is worst. Lotta desert,” he adds.
“Hours of desert,” says the kid with the cell phone, nicknamed Tonto by Dwayne.
“Don’t pussy out, Oriole,” says Joe from beside me.
“Oriole? Cut the shit,” says Dwayne between drinks of water.
“It’s his birth name,” Tommy tells us.
Dwayne lids the water jug and says, “Twenty-four hours? Let’s do it!” He raises a finger. “Number Six’a Dwayno’s Top Ten—Road trips!”
This brings a few chuckles.
“Ya know, I drank less than anyone, and I have a license.” Tommy shrugs.
Now I’m up in a hurry. “Dwayne, give Tommy the keys.”
“No way,” Dwayne says.
“He knows where we’re going,” says Oriole.
So Tommy fuckin’ drives. Relief, after the beatin’ I took. A fact none’a these bozos buy.
Elliot, the fatty’a the bunch, starts gruntin’ his way from front to backseat, his ass and knees and jelly belly gettin’ way too familiar with my achin’ parts. “Dude smells like dead dog!” he moans.
“Chew some of that mint gum,” says Tommy.
“Hey! Watch the fuckin’ ear!” I tell him.
Belliot in the back, he has’ta say: “Fuck, dude. You wash up! Smell like crap cologne!”
“Rolled in his own poo pile,” says Joe.
“I took a goddamn beatin’, in case you forgot. Pain’s real. Plus, you ought’a drop a few tons.”
Tommy waggles a white flag. A CD. “Player work?”
That there’s a friggin’ CD player’s news to me. “Just acquired this girl. Only used the radio.”
Tommy squawks like a rooster layin’ an egg. Car’s hot? Awk, awk!
“Relax, Stretch. Sexy Sadie’s got a clean bill’a unstolen health. Paid Tom Waits myself.”
“Sorry, man. Just trying to avoid police intervention,” Tommy goes.
Eyein’ his long black hair: “Your Geronimo locks prob’ly don’t help in the police department.”
“It’s my heritage. Fuck ‘em.”
This attitude flare wins my respect. “Sure, sure, brother. I respect your people’s trials. Just, cops harass hairballs—no offense. In fact,” I go, after a moment’s pause, “Number Five’a Dwayno’s Top Ten—Respectable Boldness Dis-fuckin’-played In New Friends!”
“Ha, yeah. So. Should I try it?” He shakes the CD like a sacred redskin rattle.
“S’it a special CD? ‘Cause it might be lost.”
He shrugs and shoves it in the slot. “Iron and Wine. Keeps me calms.” Music begins. A lone guitar. Acoustic. Pickin’. Whispery singer. Second guitar, bottleneckin’ notes from up and down the fretboard. “Just the one guy, here. Sam Beam. But he has electric stuff. Trippy or pop, it depends on the album. For cruising I like his older stuff.”
“Sleepy,” I say.
“Yeah. If you’re tired.” His dark eyes glisten. “Plus, this’s a mix disc. Like I say, he gets rocky.”
Eyelids heavy. Closin’. Music cobwebs fringin’ my mind…
I’m not sure if it’s rude to talk over this gentle crooner, but I have questions, and driving empty highway, stars capping the view, I feel more awake than I have in days.
Dwayne’s out cold.
“So why are you guys way over here? In Arkansas?” I say.
“Summer, man. Had to get off the rez, see some country. Planned on being home in August, but hitching’s hit or miss, and being a foursome…a lot of misses.”
“You guys don’t have much gear.”
This guy’s a shrugger, and after proving it, he says, “Travel light, run faster.”
I think about this, miss my heavy pack. “Run into hassles?”
“People, you mean? ‘Cause weather can be a hassle.”
“When I started, I was going solo and encountered…people. Unfriendly.”
“Yeah, it’s been a mixed bag for us. We’re young and Indian. A lot of predator types out here. Mobile creeps. Bigots. But we’re a foursome. Power in numbers and all that.”
“My hassles were usually with drunken jocks. High school, college kids. World’s full of jerks.”
“So. I gotta ask. Why the hood? Seems like something that big would catch the law’s eye. Never mind my hair.” He watches me pull it off. “Must get hot,” is all he says. No surprise on his face. Nothing.
A glance in the backseat to see if I’ve caused any commotion, but they’re all asleep. I should wake Dwayne. By now he tells the story better than me. But if my scars don’t bother Tommy, why tell him the story? “It does,” I say, “get hot.”
“Getting cool, though. Nearly December. Can you believe it?”
“Just today to me. Always today. And, well, you saw—today can get crazy.” I nod at Dwayne; Tommy sets his attention on the interstate. No fazing this guy. “You guys all related?”
“Elliot’s my little brother. The other two…well, we’re sorta brothers.”
Though I’m itching to yank the hood back into place, I don’t. “You live on a reservation…”
“Navaho Nation, near Shiprock.”
“Huh. Is it…I mean, I‘ve heard not so good things…”
“Just today,” he says, returning my phrase.
My skull whappin’ Sexy Sadie’s window wakes me. I got no idea where I am. My brain’s one’a them throw rugs that a wormy puppy had the runs on, a rug that then got doused in sudsy water, scrubbed, draped on barbed wire, and beat with a tree limb—by Paul Bunyan. “Uhh,” I go, but no one’s listenin’.
Redskin boy/men snore their way through powwow dreams in a sweaty clump, same as Spark who’s sandwiched between deadweight and a window view’a nowhere I wanna be.
The oldest Little Big Man’s at the wheel, like it’s his car, and I’m ridin’ shotgun.
“You ain’t slept?” is my icebreaker.
“Driving straight through,” he answers.
The fuck am I gonna say to that? “So. Spark got burned up goddamn bad.”
“Huh?” he says, like he’s caught off guard. Like I’m speakin’ some tongue he never heard.
“My buddy. Sparky.”
And without invitation, I proceed to tell the kid’s fiery tale.
A’course Geronimo’s all ears, oooin’ and ahhhin’ over the kid’s trials and tribulations in Boston Burn Units. Grisly stories to be sure, but hearin ‘em now don’t inspire Hallmark Get Well Soon thought-cards. Not for me. Fact’a the matter, I’m feelin’ downright mean.
The Iron and Wine pansy’s still whisperin’ gay Quaalude songs.
“Fuck,” I growl before the nastiness can lassoed, stuck back in its dark cell.
“Morning, Dwayne,” says Spark, cheery as Priest in a room full’a boys. “How ya feeling?”
“Shitty,” I grumble, too quiet for these bozos to hear. I do, after all, have a rep to maintain, and that don’t include grouchiness. Sittin’ straighter, kinda heave-hoin’ my shitty mood behind me, I go: “Last night…” I feel for sore spots, realize they healed or some shit.
“Still in Arkansas,” says Spark, apparently knowin’ the state by visuals out the window. “How about we find a truck stop?”
Not a bit inspirin’. “Gotta leak the lizard?”
Geronimo arrows me with another you speak with forked tongue look.
“Truck stop,” I say to Geronimo. “Hello?”
“They have showers, too,” says Spark like it’s a message meant for me. “We can get washed up.”
Everybody’s wiggin’ out after so many hours in a can on wheels.
“Okay,” says Geronimo. “Get some coffee.”
Since Sexy’s got no workin’ dashboard clock, I go: “Got the time?”
“Ah,” he checks a wristwatch. “Ten.”
“Ten a.m. and we’re gonna stop? What’re you, morons? Thought we were drivin’ straight through.”
“Don’t be an asshole,” goes Little Big Man behind the wheel. Fuckin’ Geronimo.
“D’you call me an asshole? Well, asshole, this’s my fuckin’ car.”
Geronimo’s favorite three stooges start wakin’ up.
“Who’s got the goddamn phone?” Spark’s hood’s blockin’ the corners’a my eyes. “Outta the line’a friggin’ sight, Spark!”
With him moved the backseat trio’s visible, their starin’ friggin’ eyes.
“Alright,” I say. “Next rest area we take a break, check that android, get outta this can. My can.”
At the rest area I’m the first outta Sadie, first hangin’ it in the urinal, first gettin’ the phone from Birdboy. “How’s it work?”
“You never used a cell phone?”
He gets sprayed with my shotgun glare, with could mean anything—a’course I used cell phones, or would I ask if I had, or your basic just answer the fuckin’ question.
And Osprey, or whatever the fuck, takes his “phone” and his fingers tap and slither like a wizard. “Truck stop with showers….” He does the wizard thing again.
I go—“You’re pretty quick on the android draw there, partner.”—‘cause I’m transformeratin’ to my normal fun-lovin’ self.
“Flying J’s got showers. But they charge…”
“No shit, Sittin’ Bull. What ya think we’re in India or some shit?”
Shemp pipes in: “Hey. Cool it on the racial slurs, asswipe. Sitting Bull was not Navajo.”
I got a great comeback about a navy ho bouncin’ on my sittin’ bull-boney, but Spark interrupts: “Shower sounds good.”
I pull Dwayne back into the rest area Men’s Room. the Flying J’s in a few miles, Texarcana, but Dwayne needs to clean up now. After a pitch into his own fresh pile last night, an overhaul’s in order. His reek has permeated the Buick.
Not that he cares; he doesn’t seem to notice.
The shit sandwiched between his jeans and legs and ass has dried, though brown areas of worst saturation are visible.
Public toilet empty, I say, “Dwayne. Come on. There’s a one room disabled bathroom. Around the corner. Go in there, get those disgusting pants off. Wash yourself and soak those jeans.
He mumbles obscenities at the mirror.
“I’ll help, if you want.” Although that’s the last fucking thing on Earth I wish to do—Dwayne’s wretched odor coats my gums, my tongue, my sinuses.
Of course he says, “Could ya, Spark? I wouldn’t ask but—”
Tommy catches my just one minute raised finger and nods.
All restrooms should be this nice. Air freshener—cleverly hidden—makes this concrete tomb a room to truly rest in. Sandalwood with cinnamon undertones. Sparkling clean.
Of course, the door sucks shut and all that changes.
Scrubbing plaster-like crap from his skin, his worn jeans soaking in the sink, I say, “You have to cool it with the racial slurs.”
“No more scenes. Okay?”
“Dwayne and his stupidity, you mean. Well, fuck ‘em all if they can’t take a joke.”
“I’m serious. Look. We’re teammates, right?”
Dwayne eyes me in the mirror. “Okay, Spark. Jesus.” He locks his gaze to mine. “Spark. I’m me. I joke around. Try and tickle any giggle bones I can. You know.” A finger to his lips stops my response. “I don’t mean nothin’ and I don’t care if they, any fuckin’ one, cracks jokes about me bein’ Casper the ghost. My lack’a hair. They can crack jokes about my skin-and-boney look, my manner’a expressiatin’ with words. It don’t change me. I’m like Popeye. ‘I am what I am.’ The old cartoons? Remember Wimpy? Olive Oyl?”
“Right. Just, some people aren’t as fun-loving as you. These kids and their ancestors have been called names, abused.”
“And I haven’t?”
“Honestly, Dwayne? For a long time I didn’t get your humor. Seemed like ignorance. Insulting. You seemed like a real prick. But now that we’ve been through some shit, I can see beyond your façade. You’ve said all along that you are my guardian angel, I didn’t get it, but now I do.”
“It’s guardian friggin’ angel, Spark.” Dwayne chucks shitty paper towels, tugs on his sopping but mostly shit-free jeans, unlocks the door. “Thanks, Spark. I get it. Really. I’ll cool it. But do us all a friggin’ favor and keep the goddamn hood up!” Said like a true guardian friggin’ angel.
I follow him into the larger world. Into a car with four teenagers. Next stop Flying J and the twin cities of Texarkana, AR and Texarkana, TX.
Leavin’ the truck stop, showered, shaved, and full’a food, Spark repeats his earlier spiel low and secret: “Remember. We all have our gifts. Mine was athletics, yours is clever humor.”
“Spark, yours was smarts, looks, sports, bein’ born in the right place at the right time—”
“And getting burned beyond recognition. Listen. All I’m saying is that you’re a guy who tries to lighten people’s loads, brighten days. You wanna make them smile, and laugh—at themselves—but some people can’t. They aren’t open to it. Laughing at yourself takes courage. Just remember it’s not you—and please be cool.”
Hearin’ it from my buddy, my charge, who I been tryin’ to win over since we were back at the pad, it means a lot. So when we reach Sexy in her spot across the big parkin’ lot, I’m ready to be one’a them Clampett kids and wet willie the whole friggin’ tribe. But Spark said that when he didn’t have to, so I decide to be cool.
“Spark,” I go. “Number Four’a Dwayno’s Top Ten—Finally seein’ eye to eye with your buddy!”
With Geronimo behind the wheel and Spark and Joe sharin’ sidecar, I’m stuck in the backseat, squashed. It’s like a Boys’ Club party—which I never went to—so I just eardrum these young dudes’ tennis-matchin’ convos. They’ve had one helluva trip. Almost six months breathin’ dust. Went to D.C.. Since this ain’t their first see the world (like that Brit band Gomez suggests) trip, they got their survival skills honed. Shopliftin’s an art form. Confidencin’ fat-cat tourists, pickin’ pockets, emotin’ teary-eyed sympathy—and then convertin’ it all to cold cash, a warm bed, or a hot meal—these junior vagabonds got it down.
Joe’s seventeen, like Elliot (Tommy’s bro) the fatso, and Oriole’s sixteen—and they all look two years younger.
“What’s your motivation?” I say, ‘cause I’d be back at the pad sleepin’ in, if not for my guardian friggin’ angel gig.
“Boredom,” says Joe from up front.
“Drunk parents,” answers Elliot.
“Homo stepdad,” says Oriole.
“How bout you?” Joe’s got this piercin’ brown stare, when he says anythin’, but now it’s like those eyes’re laser-razors scrapin’ the walls’a my friggin’ brain.
“Let’s just say, all of the above,” I say. Then to cross shit off my list, I go: “What about girls?”
“What about em?” says Joe, who, after Geronimo, seems to be tribal spokesman.
“Score a lotta snatch or what?” I shout, hopin’ good mood might get ‘em percolatin’ over pussy.
“We’re dirty teenagers with no money,” says Oriole. “Three guesses?”
“Hey. You little dudes could be pullin some private Idaho boner fest for all I know.”
“We’re straight, thanks,” says Joe, and since his tone’s one’a polar bears and igloos, and these dudes follow his lead, everythin’ gets stony faced and silent.
Then Elliot, who’s been pretty goddamn quiet—the big-bellied Buddha drugstore Indian’a the bunch—goes: “What about you? Seemed ready to tap your RV bear-man’s ass.”
Since that campsite business’s gotten sorta hazy, I go: “Huh?” And I woulda said more cause this little twerp’s implyin’ that I got homosexual tendencies (and after that Sammy shit, it’s a touchy goddamn subject), but I don’t get the chance.
Joe starts laughin’. “Fuckin’ cock out to here, you said!” Leaned back in the seat, legs straight, the kid holds his flattened fuckin’ palm a foot and a half from his lap.
And even though I am flattered over the length’a his lie about me and mine, his snicker rubs me wrong. “Fuck you, Poke-a-handus.”
“We all saw your hard-on over that burly guy.” Now it’s Birdboy crashin’ on my character. “We didn’t see any burly guy but we seen your response to him.”
Ha, ha, they all go.
Joe says: “Bet you and your man Sparky don’t have trouble keeping warm.”
Tommy lowers the volume on that pansy shit he plays and says: “Shut the fuck up!”
“Ain’t funny at fuckin’ all,” I say.
Spark says my name, prob’ly to transport me back to his motivational speech about keepin’ my humor set on low. But I ain’t humored over half-pints sayin’ I’m gay. After Skylar and them, I figure any way it swings’s okay—long as it ain’t Tarzanin’ on me. But the three stooges’a the tribe snortin’ over their lyin’ commentaries, that shit ain’t any kinda okay.
“Everybody calm down, alright?” says Geronimo Wheelman.
Elliot goes: “He’s just embarrassed about getting hard over the guy at the campsite.”
Now everyone’s havin’ a giggle—even the burn victim.
“What the fuck,” I go. And: “Alright! Stop the fuckin’ car!”
“Dwayne,” says the traitorous toasted-marshmallow-head. “We’re on a highway.”
“It’s my fuckin’ car and it better friggin’ stop movin’ or I’m gonna reenact Custer’s last—”
“Enough!” Tommy G. Wheelman belts this one word out with enough oomph to bend steel. Or leave a patch’a rubber—Sadie screeches as she’s recklessed to the side’a…whatever highway.
T.G. Wheelman’s out and opened the door I’m not against and he’s chuckin’ his brother and sorta brothers outta the car and on roadside gravely dirt, which really tempts me to bolt outta the door I’m against, but the fact that he made a shitty parkin’ job’a things and that we’re stickin’ into the travel lane and traffic’s fast and furious has me stuck. Spark’s outta Sadie too and’s hollerin’, but nobody listens to him.
Wheelman’s grown new fuckin’ muscles and his Indian heritage’s collected in his head—his face’s so red it looks ready to blow overripe tomato bits on his crew. Eke apparitionates in my fuckin’ mind and he’s just as pissed as the Navajo who’s now got me and’s draggin’ my form from the Buick. Traffic be damned. When I’m good and scraped and bleedin’ from bein’ flung on sun-baked road shoulder, he goes: “Okay. Let’s have it out. What’s the problem?”
I sit up, wipe my bloody elbows against my jeans. “I don’t have a problem, Tom, ‘cept when little shits start callin’ me names.”
Zero warnin’—Tommy punches his brother upside the head, and Elliot, packin’ extra blub, falls like a tree.
“Alright!” Tommy G. yells. “Enough bigotry! From here on out, no derogatory shit about race, sexual preference—”
“I ain’t gay,” I go.
“I don’t care! We’re all the same here! We need an agreement!”
“Now,” Sparky adds.
After a few sulky moments, we all agree.
“Dwayne,” says Wheelman Tommy. “You’re up front with me.”
“About fuckin’ time. It is my car after—”
“Here!” The keys hit my chest. He doesn’t even look at me. “Come on. Let’s get somewhere.”