Luv (Summer of 1988)
So I was sent marching into the premature broil of that late July morning, riding the shock wave of my father’s wrath. Damn Tony for living so close that I had to be the one to fetch him. If he lived across town, my step-mom would have had to have taken the car to get him. But maybe this way was better, because I needed time to think, and Tony and I would have to get the story straight before Dad interrogated him.
I stuck to the alleys like always. Weeds with inch-thick stalks fanned over the cracked pavement. Finally, I came to the house, which had been divided into several smaller rentals in which Tony was staying with some friends. What was once a back door was now the only door to their unit. I could see forms lying on the furniture through the sheer draped across the door’s glass pane. I tapped lightly on the glass. No one answered, so I gave the knob a try and – just my luck – it was unlocked.
Isn't there a cartoon where the character feeds a stick of salami into a fan and it slices it deli-thin, expelling it into a neatly stacked column? Like that I imagined his toes, the tip of the big one first, being snipped off by the fan which shuddered (trying so hard to suppress its appetite) not a full inch from his extended feet. What were they thinking when they removed the protective grate from the front of the fan? These people on whose living room floor my brother slept on top of a blanket, next to his current girlfriend, in only a thin pair of bikini underwear (Lycra, I supposed, averting my eyes) regardless of the couple crashed on the couch and recliner, which I recognized as the one abandoned next to the hardware store dumpster a few days ago.
No spurting of blood, and no bone would interrupt the swiftness of the blade as it devoured his legs -- some mechanism like a conveyor belt would have been necessary, though in a cartoon the blades alone would seem to inhale the flesh. Stacks of precisely sliced hairless, bloodless, boneless legs on platters. That's what you get for sleeping with your feet practically inside the open cage of a rumbling box fan suffering the shakes.
Gotta open up the windows, I thought. Who did they think they were fooling with that cheap Indian incense? It just added a foggy topcoat to the dense sweat-sock-moist-crotch-musk-must redolence.
“Tony,” I said, leaning over his girlfriend, trying not to stir the others. “Tony, get up.”
My brother was notorious for sleeping late and resisting being woken. I once poured a cup of cold water on his face to see what effect it would have. He sat up slowly, used a pillow to wipe his face, then – perhaps without even opening his eyes – punched my shoulder hard enough to leave a one-week bruise before he resumed his slumber. Like any progeny of natural selection, I made a note not to try that again.
“Tony, get up, man. Dad says he wants to talk to you right away.”
Through the corner of my eye, I could see the woman on the couch turn over. Her eyes never opened. She was wearing a button down-shirt that was completely unbuttoned and had no bra on. As she turned, she had one arm across her chest, keeping her boobs from spilling fully into my waiting view. I looked down at Tony’s girl. She wore running shorts with a high slit up the side, topped off by a white tank-top. A perverted teenage boy could have gotten creative in that setting, but it wasn’t even a temptation to me that morning. I knew if I didn’t deliver Tony soon, Dad was going to go ballistic. Then again, if Tony did go talk to him about the accident, I didn’t know what would happen.
“Da fuck does he want?” Tony mumbled just before I spoke again.
“He wants to talk to you about the accident. He says right now.”
“Fuck him. I’m sleeping.”
“Nah, man, he’s really pissed. He said he’d drive down here himself if you didn’t come.”
“So tell him I wasn’t here.”
That was an option, but not a solution. I guess my plan wasn’t much of a solution, either, but Tony had promised. In fact, it was really his idea all along.
* * *
“So, how about it, man? Can I borrow your truck?”
“You’re telling me you rolled your car, and you want me to let you borrow my truck? Man, I haven’t even driven it, yet. I don’t want you trashing my first set of wheels before I even get my license.”
I will never believe his explanation that a blow-out caused his Monte Carlo, loaded down with four people and a trunk full of personal belongings, to flip onto its roof and continue rolling until it was back on four wheels.
“It was like an explosion,” he contends.
“It defies the laws of physics,” I say, confident my tenth grade C+ knowledge of physics is superior to his Grade A bullshit.
“Well, you said Dad would be back from Missouri tomorrow, so we have to get this done today. I don’t wanna take any of his shit right now.”
"Dad doesn't even want you in the house right now, so I know he doesn't want you driving my truck." I had a four-speed, four wheel drive Chevy Luv pickup. I would've driven there right away, but I didn't know how to drive. I'd only gotten my permit a few weeks before. I was OK with an automatic, but the shifting in the Luv was still hard. Dad had tried to teach me in an empty parking lot one Sunday morning, but I kept dumping the clutch. After about ten minutes, he blew his top and drove me home. The Luv was just sitting out in the garage, and I didn’t know when I would get more practice. And if I never got any practice, I’d never get to drive my truck.
"You said he won't be back until tomorrow. This'll only take a half hour, at most," Tony persisted.
He had a point. But, more importantly, I saw there was something in the deal for me.
"All right. You can take the Luv. But I'm coming along."
"And I'm driving on the way home."
Tony didn't even consider what I'd said. "OK."
After the wreck, his Monte Carlo looked like the body had been made from crepe paper. The back was a quagmire of clothes and belongings. The floor was covered with trampled papers and empty cigarette packs.
Tony popped the hood and we gave it a look. He took off the air cleaner and primed the carburetor with some gas. Then we connected the cables and I revved my truck. No dice. We tried for nearly a half hour, but his car had problems a jump-start can't fix.
So we closed up his Monte Carlo. I hopped behind the wheel of my Luv.
"Maybe I should drive until we get away from the busy streets," he said.
"Yeah," I said.
As soon as he pulled to a side street he parked and we changed places. I stalled it when I tried to take off. Twice.
“You gotta give it more gas,” Tony said, much cooler then my dad had been in the same situation.
I revved the engine high as I eased out the clutch. The truck crept forward with the engine sounding as if we were going fifty. Then I found the balance in the pedals, and we flowed forward. Once I got into second and third gear, the ride was perfectly smooth.
We were on the narrow neighborhood streets down by the junior high. Cars parked on both sides. I came to a stop sign and shifted back down to first. I recalled how I had done it before, giving the truck more gas. As I was sitting there visualizing my take-off, this usually barren intersection suddenly had cars coming from every direction. I decided I'd better wait until it cleared up. But then someone from across the way wanted to come over, only there wasn't enough room. He started honking and waving for me to go first so he could slip in where I was.
My first instinct was to ask Tony to drive. But that guy was honking, and now the car coming from my left had its blinker on and wanted to go where the honker was. Everyone was waiting on me. So I started revving the Luv’s engine and easing out the clutch. It was smooth. It was going OK. I turned the steering wheel as we crawled forward with the engine roaring. I was starting to think I was going to make it. I relaxed a bit and started to reach down to shift.
In my nervousness, I missed the shifter, so I looked down to find it. I shifted, and gave the truck some gas. Just as I did, Tony yelled, “Watch out!”
I hadn’t been straightening the wheel out! Instead of rolling down the road, I plowed right into a parked truck. With all the gas I was giving the Luv to get rolling, I put a pretty good dent into it, too.
“Put it in reverse!” Tony said. He reached down to move the lever for me. “Back up and get the hell out of here!”
But I was stunned for a few seconds. When I realized what Tony was saying, it was too late. They had seen the whole thing. The truck’s owner and his wife had been sitting on their front porch and now he was crossing the street to where we were. There was no getting away.
The old man was cussing, and I was shaking badly. I could hardly stand as I got out and looked with him.
He saw how upset I was, and calmed down a bit.
"Who’s your insurance company?" he asked.
"I don't have insurance."
"You don't have insurance?! What're you doin' driving if you don't have insurance?!"
"I'm not supposed to be driving. I don't have a license. I just got my permit."
"Jesus Christ!" And he started cussing all over again. "I suppose I need your phone number so I can get your parents to pay for this."
"Sure." I gave him the information. "But let me handle it, OK? Please? I'll pay for it, not my parents."
"You got a job?"
"No. But I can get one."
He just stood there, shaking his head, looking at the damage to his truck. "Jesus, Kid. I'll tell you what, I'm gonna have to get some estimates. When I do, I'll call you. If you've got a job by then, all right, if not, I'm gonna have to talk to your parents."
And with that Tony drove us out of there. When we’d gotten a few blocks away and turned out of sight, I noticed Tony wasn’t taking me home.
“Where’re you going?” I asked.
“I’m just gonna cruise around a bit. I thought you might want to stop shaking before we go home.”
I looked at my legs, visibly trembling. A car accident! I’d just had a fucking accident! My dad was gonna kill me! I rolled down the window and breathed in and out slowly and hard. Tony drove us out onto some back roads around the farms outside of town.
"I was gonna take the wheel and get us the hell out of there," he said. "But I saw him coming."
"Yeah. And it would've worked. The Luv didn't get hurt at all. Dad would never have found out."
"What are you gonna tell Dad?"
"Crap, I don't know. He'll kill me no matter what I tell him."
"If you need a place to stay, you can crash with me."
"I won't need a place to stay. I won't be alive."
Tony drove on those dirt roads for an hour. I kept thinking about how I would tell my dad, and it kept resulting in the same volcanic reaction. Finally, Tony pulled off in a spot with a shoulder and turned off the engine.
"You can tell him I did it," he said.
"You can tell him I did it. It's my fault. I shouldn't have let you drive. Besides, I don't live with the bastard. I'm not even talking to him. What's he gonna do to me?"
"That's what brothers are for."
Tony started the engine and headed to my house.
"You sure?" I asked again.
* * *
So we parked in the alley. That way Tony could leave without being seen, and I could gather myself before going in.
At least Dad wasn't home. It would be much easier testing my story on my step-mother. I went in when Tony was out of sight. I went directly to her and told her what had happened. Or, what had happened as Tony and I agreed on it, which was the truth except for Tony hitting the truck.
She bought it, but she didn't like it. My dad called that night, and she didn't tell him about it. She was a coward. That's fair: So was I.
Dad wasn't happy when I told him the news as soon as he got home the next morning. He was also pissed off at my step-mother for not telling him when they talked on the phone. Which didn't bother me, because then I wasn't the only one being chewed out.
And that’s when I got sent to fetch Tony. And Tony wasn’t going to budge from his blanket on the floor in front of the fan. Dad wasn't happy about that, either. It's a good thing that he was too lazy to drive four blocks and wake Tony, himself. He sent me back down. Tony still wouldn't come. And I went home with that news, again. My dad wasn't getting any happier. Finally, I settled him down enough to listen to me.
"It was my fault," I said. "I shouldn't have let him use the Luv. It was my fault. I'll get a job, and I'll pay for it."
That was the only thing he was mad about, anyway, that it would cost him money. He never asked if my truck was damaged. He never asked if anyone was hurt. He just kept griping about the money. So not only did I not have to take the wrath for the accident, but now I looked mature and responsible in my dad’s eyes for probably the first time in my life.
I landed a job at my very first interview. My first job ever was cooking fast food chicken. And I started making payments on the accident with my first check. And everything was fine. Almost.
One day about three or four weeks after that, Tony called the house. As soon as Dad found out Tony was on the line, he grabbed the phone from me and started hollering at Tony about the stunt he had pulled and how I was paying for it. I heard Tony shouting right back. The deep tones of my dad’s anger and the buzzing insect sounds of Tony’s angst alternated and overlapped for a few moments, and I started to think I should disappear. But then there was only the insect sound, as my dad stopped to listen. He turned his glare toward me, his scowl piercing more deeply into me by the second.
I knew just what my hero had told him.