Eighteen.

Talking to Sadie

That first night Sadie was in The Well, that night she rode into town on her Harley, Gina finished her shift early and joined us at the table. They talked about Florida, mostly. I sat and listened while they reminisced. I couldn’t contribute since I was in jail when they were in Florida and it didn’t seem like a good comparison anyway. I could’ve told them what I’d done since I got out, but I hadn’t done anything. It had been over a month and I hadn’t done a damn thing except sit at The Well and drink and write. And I wasn’t planning on anything more. Not until Joe got out. But I did sit with Sadie and Gina and listen to how they hooked up.

“Well,” Gina said, “I was sitting in a bus terminal in Jacksonville. I went down after you and Joe got arrested. That same night, actually. I ran home, grabbed some shit and hitched over to the Greyhound behind Golden Ring Mall. I checked the schedule and took the next bus out. I wanted to go to California but that was too expensive and not leaving ‘til the morning. So I took the Red Eye to Miami. Turned out it was the Red Eye to Sadie.

“When the bus got to Jacksonville I got out to stretch. I couldn’t sleep on the bus and I was all stiff. I walked for a while then sat down at one of those chairs with a coin operated TV. I woke up two hours later. The bus was long gone with all my shit: luggage, money, my I.D. All on their way to Miami. I was so fucked. I lost it. I got pissed, then I just started crying. It was like all this shit was piled up inside. I thought about you and Joe and what was going to happen to me when I got caught, and I just lost it. I cried for an hour, like one of those scared little runaways on the public service announcements. I didn’t know what to do. When I finally stopped crying I just sat there staring at the blank TV, thinking about you and Joe up here going to court, going to jail, like maybe it was fate left me abandoned in that bus station. I started feeling guilty…”

I interrupted, “You did what we wanted you to do. We were just glad you got away.”

“I know. I know. It ain’t like I thought you guys were wishing me evil or anything. It just felt like weird fate shit. You know? I was sitting there thinking maybe we can’t escape punishment, maybe all this shit, our shit, is connected on some bigger level, some higher plain.”

Gina saw me raise an eyebrow. “I know,” she said, “sounds deep for me, huh?”

“Well, I haven’t known you to philosophize much.”

“Yeah, your turf, huh?”

“Don’t worry,” I took a drink for dramatic pause, “it’s a well-trodden path.”

“So anyway,” Gina said, “I was sitting there thinking, and I started feeling shitty for all of us. And I must have sat there for hours staring at that blank TV. And then I got sick of sitting there. And then I got hungry. And then I got pissed again because I remembered that I didn’t have any money or clothes or anything. And I just had to get out of that fucking bus station. So I paced around outside: hungry, pissed, and feeling shitty, and accidently walked right out into the street and almost got slammed by a hot chick on a Harley.” Gina smiled at Sadie.

Sadie smiled back and shook her head, “You came close to dying that day.”

“Oh believe me, I almost peed my pants when I saw you coming right for me. I don’t know how you got around me.”

“You just froze like a deer in the headlights. All I could see were those big green eyes of yours. I was thinking, ‘Man, those are some pretty eyes. Better not run her over. Too cute to kill.’ So I swerved and hit that fucking paper box instead.”

Gina laughed, thinking about it. “You really trashed that box. Fucking newspapers flying everywhere. That mangled box scraping across the intersection.”

“Didn’t hurt my Harley, though,” Sadie nodded, holding up her beer then taking a drink.

“Or you either, thank God. So anyway,” Gina looked at me, “the rest is history.”

“Wait, I feel like we’re just getting to the good stuff.”

“And so we are.” Gina leaned over and gave Sadie a kiss on the cheek.

The next night at The Well, Gina couldn’t spend time with us. She was so busy, in fact, that Sadie got our drinks. The rotten-toothed biker was sitting at the bar, but he looked away when she approached. When she came back she leaned over and handed me a beer. I could smell her hair as she leaned back.

“Thanks.”

“Sure.” Sadie sat down and it was just us and I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. We both just watched all the fools get drunk. I knew almost everyone in the bar. And the people I didn’t, were there with people I did. There was always a new recruit, though, someone eager to be a Vagrant, and always someone lost or just slumming, maybe a chick with a taste for a bad boy, who’d soon realize she didn’t have what it took, or maybe too much of what it didn’t take: morals, common sense, whatever.

This life was cool to a Would-be Vagrant. We didn’t work or worry about rent or reason. We just enjoyed life. But we still needed money and we still defended honor, and both could consume the day. Some dudes just didn’t have what it took. They spoke when they shouldn’t, didn’t when they should, or just said the wrong things again and again. But it seemed like the ones who didn’t make it here were almost always the ones who didn’t understand “honor,” the basis of all gang life, even for a loose band of drunks like us. We had honor. And we defended it. That was the difference. That was what the Would-be’s were missing. That’s what was great about Sadie hitting that rotten-toothed biker. He crossed the line and she knocked him back. And I knew she was for real. I knew that each time someone crossed the line, she would knock him back. Joe was the same way. We all were. That’s why we were still at The Well.

Some of the Vagrants just couldn’t fight, though. Anyone could kick their asses. They’d fight. They just couldn’t win. I watched it happen. They just couldn’t fight. But that didn’t stop them. They’d jump you quicker than Joe would if they sensed an insult. It happened to me. They’re worse than guys who can fight because they’re quicker to anger and more defensive. They’re insecure because anyone can kick their asses, so they start more fights trying to prove otherwise. I beat on a fool for half an hour one night because he didn’t understand a term I used. Everyone at The Well thought I used big words, anyway, but most were too high to care. Not this fool, though. I don’t remember the term, but I do remember that I wasn’t even talking to him. I was talking to Pan Head who just got back from Sturgis. He was telling me about the bikes and chicks and stuff and I said something about something and this drunk little fucker clocked me on the jaw. It felt kind of good at first, woke me from the barroom stupor. Plus it opened my sinuses. But when I realized he hit me, I didn’t ask why. I beat on him until I got bored, then I rejoined Pan Head at the bar to finish our conversation.

Looking around the bar with Sadie, all I saw were stories like that. I wondered what she saw looking at all these strangers. I glanced over at her. She was looking at me. I smiled but I still didn’t know what to say. She smiled back, then stared for a moment, then said, “So, Gina says you have a big dick.”

I spat beer down the front of me.

Sadie laughed. “Got your attention.”

I blushed so badly my whole body got warm. I went into shock at the thought of Sadie and Gina discussing my dick. That was too much, just way too much. I didn’t even think Gina remembered. That was years ago, back before Joe went to juvy, back before he and I went to jail. Gina seemed so much older and cooler then. All I could remember was her long curly hair tossing back and forth when she came.

I looked over at Gina serving drinks at the bar. Her hair was still long. She was still really cute but I didn’t think about it much anymore. I guess she had become one of the guys. But…, if she’s been thinking about my dick…Huh? I looked up at Sadie. She was still staring at me. “Sorry. Sometimes I forget where I am.”

Sadie rested her elbows on the table, squinted her eyes and asked softly, “What are you thinking about, Mann?” When she said my name my balls tingled. I love when a hot woman says my name…Mann…Mann. It’s completely different than when a dude says it. When a hot woman says your name you feel it in your body. It starts at your ears, like sweet breath on the back of your neck and flushes around to your face, then past your throat, down past your chest and straight to your balls. It’s the best feeling there is, when a hot woman says your name…

“Yo, Mann. Yooooooooo,” she sang. “Are you in there?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry,” I said, swimming for a moment in her eyes. “Sorry. See what I mean? Sorry.”

“It’s cool. So, really, what were you thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Nothing, huh?” Sadie nodded and looked around the room.

When I remembered that the last thing Sadie said to me was about my penis, I tried to find a better answer. “I don’t know, usually I just think about little things. I blow them out of proportion. Not in a bad way. I mean, I don’t worry about them or anything. I just sort of exaggerate them for effect. It’s just that I like details. This poet once said, ‘No ideas but in things.’ I think about small things. Details are important to me.”

When I saw that Sadie was interested, I felt more comfortable talking to her. “Something triggers a thought for me, maybe a word or a sound, and I play with it and pick at it like a loose thread, trying to unravel the mystery of it. But usually I just pick at it until I unravel the whole sweater and I’m a million miles away with a big pile of yarn.”

“Daydreaming,” Sadie said.

“Daydreaming,” I repeated.

“I like that.” Sadie propped her boot on the chair and leaned on her knee. “It’s like my motorcycle. A lot of guys want all this shit on their bikes to dress them up. But I like my bike stripped down, just black and chrome. It’s clean, you know?”

“Yeah, kind of. But also, a little more. There’s something about that motorcycle, something that makes it yours. Like an experience, or a dent, something that bonds you to it, a detail, a small detail that makes it yours.”

“You mean like the gear shift lever?”

“Yeah, probably.” I said, smiling and nodding my head. “Tell me about the gear shift lever.”

“Well,” Sadie took a drink and collected her thoughts, “When I first got my bike, I went to the rally in Daytona. I was still pretty green but I really didn’t have any problems, except one. Someone knocked over my bike one night and broke the gear shift lever. I couldn’t drive it and I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t even have tools with me. I know, real dumb, but hey.

“Anyway, these two old biker dikes were staying at the motel, too. They came out of the restaurant after breakfast and saw me sitting on the curb staring at my bike. They came over to see if I needed help. I was pretty embarrassed, but I told them the score. And then Rose, the taller one, said, ‘It’s cool, honey. We all been there.’ She and Sheila helped fix my bike. They looked at it for two seconds and knew exactly what I needed and where to get it. Rose sat and talked to me while Sheila rode off for parts.

“Thank you, Rose.”

“It’s nothing. We girls got to stick together, you know.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m not real good at asking for help. I want to be able to do it myself.”

“I know the feeling. It’s good to be in control. No one to answer to.”

“Yeah. No one telling you what to do.”

“I hear that, sister.” After a pause she said, “You owe it to yourself to learn to do for yourself. You have this scooter. It can take you anywhere. But you have to learn what you can about it. How it works. Why it doesn’t. How to fix it when it doesn’t. All that shit. And that ain’t just with scooters. That’s with everything. Sheila and me been together twenty-five years. We still do our own repairs, our own laundry, our own cooking. Everything. Sometimes we do for each other, but that’s special. We don’t take each other for granted, just take care of ourselves and just share the time and space.” Rose looked off into the distance, then said, “It’s better that way for some of us.”

When Sheila returned, she parked her bike and walked over. She was smiling and waving a bag. “I’ve got something special for you.” She pulled out the new gear shift lever. It was shaped like a penis. “Now, every time you downshift you can think of some dick who done you wrong.”