Thirty Eight.

Thinking About the Future.

After two days in Ocean City, sleeping on the beach and bathing in the ocean, I was ready go home. On the second morning, I had just enough money for one meal and gas back, so it felt like I hit the jackpot when the chick at Thrasher’s burned a whole batch of fries.

“Fuck. I did it again.” It was 10 a.m. and I was her first customer. “They’re fucking burned again. Brad is gonna fire me.” She shook the basket over the fryer and set it on the counter. “Fuck. He’s gonna make me pay for these.” Then she remembered I was there. “Sorry, I’ll start a new batch.” She was cute, really cute.

“No, it’s cool. I’ll take those.” I smiled at her.

She paused for a moment, looked at the burnt fries, then smiled, “No, it’s cool. I’ll toss these and make more.”

“No. No, really. It’s cool. I’ll take those. All of them.” It sounded chivalrous, but really I just liked burnt fries. Plus, she was really cute. And she only charged me for one order, so I still had gas money.

I sat at a bench on the boardwalk with two big buckets of fries. I ate as much as I could, fed some to the seagulls, and gave the rest to some beach bums outside the arcade. I hung for a while and watched the kids smoking beside the Haunted House and in line for the Round Up.

When I realized I was still lonely I passed by Thrasher’s and peeked in, but I didn’t see the cute chick so I just kept walking. I left the boardwalk and crossed to the bay on the west side of town. I sat for a while under Rt. 50 bridge and watched the fishing charters pass, while listening to the waves slap against the barnacle-covered pilings. I guess I was waiting for some sort of epiphany. When that didn’t happen, I walked back to my sister’s Datsun and drove home.

I met Joe at The Well the next night. He said he wanted to talk about Sadie, but when I got to The Well, he wasn’t inside. I found him out in the parking lot, laying back on the hood of his El Camino, staring at the sky. He had a six pack next to him, so I climbed on with him and leaned back against the windshield. He reached into the paper bag and pulled out a beer for me. We stared at the sky for a while without speaking.

Joe glanced down at his beer, up-ended and drained it. “I don’t know…, it’s like…it’s like this, Mann…,” he looked again at the empty bottle. “It’s…, I don’t know…, it’s just…cool.”  He took one last drink from the bottle, just to make sure it was empty, then threw it at the trash can, but it missed and shattered at the base of the light pole. He sat quiet again, speechless. I saw the thoughts circling his head, but he couldn’t voice them. I knew he wanted to talk. I think he even wanted some advice, but he couldn’t ask for it and I probably couldn’t give it. So we sat there, side by side, drinking beer and staring at the stars.

The next night, Gina and I met Sadie and Joe for dinner at Bel Loc Diner. It was next to Sadie’s motel. Since Joe had pretty much moved in with Sadie, they ate there at least once a day. I had been going there since I was little. My parents took us because it was the only place we could afford, and because they always served diner favorites like liver and onions and meatloaf. But the best thing on the menu was apple pie a la mode. Mom never let us get it because we all wanted different flavors of ice cream and she couldn’t afford to buy one for each of us. She just stopped at Mars on the way home and grabbed a carton of Neapolitan.

As soon as I was could go on my own, I got apple pie every time, and always a la mode. Sometimes that was all I had for dinner. I had to watch them when I ordered it, though, because they always tried to put whipped cream on top. They put whipped cream on everything, and cherries, always, whipped cream and cherries. I didn’t like any of that. With apple pie a la mode, I was a purist, just apple pie and vanilla ice cream. No whipped goo and no fucking cherries. Although it was cool watching Gina tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue.

Our waitress reminded me of Sgt. Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes.” She was big and chunky, and had a thick German accent. She had worked there longer than I could remember. Nobody messed with her, not even Joe. She seemed nice, but we knew at any moment she could go berserk and start snapping necks. It would be like Godzilla at the soda fountain. Once I ordered a tuna melt and she brought me liver and onions by mistake. I ate it. I wasn’t sending it back. I wasn’t getting body slammed over a piece of meat. And actually, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was pretty good. It reminded me of Mom’s cooking. That was probably why Mom liked going there. She was German too. Always making sauerkraut. And Joe never missed dinner at my house when he knew there was sour beef and dumplings. But that was then. Now it was liver and onions at the Bel Loc Diner.

“Ummmm. Pass the ketchup.” Joe took the bottle from Sadie’s hand without looking up. He squirted it on his fries while chewing his Salisbury steak. “I’m starving,” he said.

“Yeah,” I added, “liver and onions.” My sarcasm was apparent.

“Yeah,” Sadie looked at my empty plate, “looks like you hated it.”

“That boy will eat anything,” Gina said, rolling her eyes.

It felt good to be the center of attention, if only for a minute. Of course, Joe didn’t look up at all. He was too busy devouring his fries. He loved fries. Always had. I remember back in seventh grade all he would have for lunch was three bags of fries. Every day. Three bags of fries. And the irony was that he had the clearest skin of anyone in school. Other kids brought lunches with carrot sticks, and they drank their milk like good little kids, and their faces looked like pepperoni pizzas. Not Joe’s.

“You eating those?” Joe reached toward Sadie’s plate. She stabbed her fork into the table, just next to his hand. Joe smiled, but slowly retracted his hand. Evidently Sadie loved fries, too.

Gina left before we finished, she was late for work. I walked to the motel with Sadie and Joe to catch a ride to The Well with them. Joe hurried ahead, saying he had to piss.

“Come on in.” Sadie held the door for me. The room was a mess. There was trash and clothes everywhere. “Joe,” Sadie called toward the bathroom, “Hurry up.”

“Hold on.” Joe walked out in his underwear. “Hold on. I’ll be ready in a minute.” He searched the pile of clothes on the floor. “You seen my black jeans?”

“Fuck Joe, you’re not wearing those again? They smell like ass.”

“Have you seen them?”

“No, they probably crawled out the door.”

“Come on, Sadie. Where are they?”

“I don’t know. Check the duffle.”

Joe disappeared into the bathroom. Sadie grabbed her jacket and the keys to the El Camino. “Come on, Joe, let’s go. I need a beer.”

“I’m coming.” Joe stumbled out of the bathroom buttoning his fly. “I’m ready…Where’s my shirt?”

“Fuck.” Sadie sat on the edge of the bed. Joe grabbed a shirt and pulled it over his head, grabbed his jacket and lockblade, and beat us to the door.

“Come on,” he said, smiling. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go.” He opened the door and led us out. We piled into the El Camino, with Joe driving and Sadie sitting on my lap.

I had a boner before we left the parking lot. By the time we were halfway to The Well, I was ready to explode. I think Joe was hitting every bump on purpose, just to fuck with me. And Sadie just kept bouncing up and down on me. She had to know how hard I was. I couldn’t move, couldn’t shift out from under her incredible ass. I think she enjoyed the pain she was causing me.

When we stopped at the red light at Oakleigh and Joppa, I looked over at Joe. “Who Are You” was screaming from the tape deck and he was hunched at the wheel, staring at the light, waiting to explode when it turned green. Sadie was staring ahead too. When it turned, Joe gunned it. Sadie slid back across my lap and buried my face with her hair. The smell got me high. I flashed back to that night in the woods when Sadie was on top of me and her hair was in my face. I laid there thinking I never needed to move again, my life would be complete so long as Sadie stayed right there straddling me.

I also remembered the first time I smelled her hair, when we were in line at The Who concert and we were pressed together by the crowd. I had a boner against her ass that day too.

The sense of smell is powerful. It can make a grown man shiver with excitement when a beautiful woman shifts her weight while sitting on his lap in an El Camino. It can make him think she was fully aware of what was happening. And, it can make him cum in his pants. When Joe exploded from the stop light, I exploded in my pants. I bet Sadie felt that.

By the time we got to the Well my legs were asleep and I had to piss like a racehorse. Plus, I could feel cum dripping down my leg. I went straight to the bathroom to clean up, while Sadie and Joe got beers at the bar.

When I returned Sadie was at our table talking to Gina. Joe was over shooting darts. I heard Gina whisper, “What a jerk.” I froze, thinking she was talking about me cumming in my pants. Then she added, “He said that. I can’t believe it.” When I realized it wasn’t about me I felt better. When I got to the table they both got quiet, then Sadie looked up and smiled, “Hey. I bought you a beer.” She slid me the bottle.

“Thanks,” I said, glancing quickly from her to Gina, trying to decide how embarrassed I should be.

“Well,” Gina said, “I gotta get back to work.” She stood, gave me a punch on the arm, “Hey, Mann,” and walked back to the bar. And there I was with Sadie, alone again and feeling strange, and not just because I had to throw away my underwear and wash my crotch with toilet paper.

When Joe came to the table he said he won fifty bucks and offered to buy a round of drinks. “Yo, Gina,” he called across the bar. When she looked up he made the sign for a round of drinks. She just waved and went back to mixing a drink. A couple of minutes later she came over with a pitcher of beer and set it on the table without saying anything. Joe noticed her silence, and silence made him uneasy. He poured everyone a glass of beer, then took a drink from his. He looked around the bar and nodded his head, “Maybe we should buy this bar.”

Gina paused from collecting dirty glasses. She looked at Joe, “Are you serious?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Because all you do,” Gina paused and shook her head but didn’t look up, “is sit here and drink all night.” Then she looked straight at him. “What do you know about running a bar?”

“Well,” Joe was caught off guard by the question, but he smiled and nodded as if he might agree. He looked around the table for an answer. “Mann, here, he’s pretty smart. He could do the books.” He glanced at me for support, then back at Gina. “And you know bartending…Sadie and me could do security.”

“I don’t think so,” Gina said and walked away with the tray of dirty glasses.

“Me neither,” Sadie added as she got up to go to the bathroom.

“What the fuck?” Joe shrugged, looking at me. “I’m just thinking about the future.”

I looked at Joe like he was from Mars. It was the strangest thing I ever heard. If there was ever anyone who didn’t think about the future or wanting to own things, it was Joe. I mean, there was that time when he first got out of juvy and he had grand ideas about starting a gang and being a mafia boss, but that was more about power and threesomes then about setting and achieving long term goals. No, I was pretty sure that if Joe had spent any time contemplating the future, he wouldn’t have spent most of his adult life in correctional institutions.

When Joe noticed me staring at him, he just shrugged again, took another drink of beer, and repeated, “Just thinking about the future, Mann.”