Crossing that Bridge

Officer Kris took me out into the lobby. Before we made it there, he introduced me to the dispatcher. Her name was Officer Janice. He explained to her that I would be waiting in the lobby for his return where then he would then give me a ride home. She was nice. She talked with me for a little while. Just typical questions that uncomfortable adults ask comfortable children. Eventually she got busy and I got bored. So I started to make my way toward the door.

“Is everything okay, Piper?”

“Oh yeah. I think I’m gonna head out though. I don’t really need a ride.”

“But I think Officer Kris really wanted to give you a ride.”

“I know, but I don’t want to be a burden. Really.”

She pursed her lips and eyed me suspiciously, but she couldn’t really press the issue. She was swamped with whatever disaster Officer Kris and his fellow officers were tending to. So I managed to wiggle off the hook. I stepped out, went around back and retrieved my bike from the cruiser lot. I ignored all the signs about “authorized personal”. It wasn’t locked. There was hardly a fence. No one said a word. So I hopped on my bike and hit the road. Of course, I headed right back to the Zilwaukee Bridge.

It took me a few hours to get back there. Once I was there, I proceeded to do the same routine. I figured I might get busted again, but what are the odds of it being the same cop? I started making the accent of the bridge. I was just near the apex when all of a sudden a cruiser abruptly cuts me off and slams on the brakes. It was everything I could do to not ride into the vehicle. I was able to halt, but I was thrusted forward, I knew right then and there that I was dealing with the same cop. I wasn’t going to be able to wiggle off the hook again. And I wasn’t even going to try. I was just going to tell him straight out what I was aimiung to do, that I was going to do it, and that he could just arrest me at the foot of the bridge, where I would promptly plead guilty, and begin serving out my sentence.

However, I got a completely different reaction altogether than what I expected. You must understand that he used some objectionable language. Please keep in mind that it is his language, not mine. I think I said the word “shit” once a few pages back. I feel bad about it. Even now. I really do. But it is what happened. I said it in the course of action in real life. It was the heat of the moment. I only write what is truth, so hence I wrote it. Then I wrote it again moments ago, but again this has everything to do with me simply mirroring life and jst telling the truth. You won’t hear much of that come out of me personally though. I know where the Bible stands in regards to profanity. The same however cannot be said about my many and varied travel companions. So, this really ought to just be a general rule for the rest of my deposition. I am going to introduce you to a whole cast of characters with questionable moral character and loose wicked tongues. However, Officer Kris is not one of them. He is like you. He is one of the good guys. So…

He ripped off his black aviators and said, “Goddammit Piper, I said no! Do you think you are the only kid who has ever wanted to ride up and down this bridge? They started building this bridge when I was twenty-two! I grew up with a drawbridge! I never even got a bird’s eye view of my town growing up, but here we are. I grew up right there!” He pointed off to the southwest of where we were to a small town. Up that high and not moving at a rapid speed, you can take a moment or two to take it all in. It was quite an idyllic image actually. This little town nestled at the foot of a bridge in the Saginaw Valley. You could see clear definition between it and the farmer’s fields and wilderness that surrounds. He continued, “It wasn’t a trailer! Just the same, it was from around here! You’re not from around here! I don’t know where you’re from, but it isn’t from around here. I never got to cross! This is my town! This is my bridge! Why should I let you cross?”

Cars were zooming by us. When you are that high up in the air, there is always a wind factor. I didn’t have an answer for him. It was too late to try and build upon the multifaceted lie that I had already crafted for him. Even if he had but a thread of faith in it, I was tired and honestly I was bored with it. The truth was more interesting, but of course, the truth could also get me in trouble. I knew he meant well, but well-meaning people always think they know what is best for you, so after you tell them the truth, they get this wise idea that they know how to “fix things” or something like that. Next thing you know, you’re on a Greyhound headed “home”.

But this was different. Something about him had changed. It was almost like he had left his badge in the cruiser. He wasn’t being a cop way up there on that bridge. Not quite. I don’t know if I had somehow gotten in touch with his inner-child, or if he was, in fact, some sort of multidimensional troll who looked after the bridge while simultaneously doubling as an MSP officer. I don’t know what was going on, but there was a very long eternal moment when Officer Kris and I were staring each other down. We were measuring each other up and cross examining each other simultaneously. We mustn’t forget that I went into this ready for battle myself. I was ready to go to jail just so I could cross this bridge. It meant everything. I put everything on the line for it. Think about it—if I get busted and end up having to serve time, I can forget about the Labor Day walk across the bridge. There goes my camouflage—probably have to wait a whole additional year. Plus, there is always the possibility that I get reported as a status offender while I am serving my time. If that happens, it is Greyhound time.

“I was looking forward to giving you a ride to Merrill, Piper. I was hoping to hear more of your stories.”

It hurt so bad . He was so kind. And all I did was lie to the man. Hadn’t told him an honest thing yet. Just a bunch of whoppers. He really seemed to genuinely care about me. I couldn’t find the words. I knew why. In a word—the conscience. He raised his index finger to indicate “one”. He then took off some of his gear and put it on the passenger seat of his cruiser. He walked back to me and the bike.

“That was my radio and mic. It is just you and I up here now.” He paused for a few moments. “So tell me, Piper. Why should I let you cross this bridge?”

I struggled to find words. I wasn’t prepared for this question. I didn’t even know it was a question that had a viable answer, but here he was asking it at the point where I tought I would be getting arrested. “My name is Piper Applebee. My birthday is in March, so I am barely 15 years old. That is why I don’t have a driver’s license. My folks are well-meaning people who got a little in over their heads with the whole child rearing thing. I’m not a status offender because they’ve never called to report me missing as far as I know. Maybe they will at some point. I’m not surprised that you initially mistook me for an adult. I get that a lot. Obviously, I am not going to college in the fall. I am not stupid though. I am actually incredibly book smart. Incredibly book smart. But not quite as useful with my hands. I mean I am not a oaf. I don’t know why I lied about so much though, especially things that were insignificant. It worries me that you could not detect my lies.”

“You questioning my competency?”

“No! I mean me! I have…let’s just call it…an ability. I can look someone right in the eye and tell them something that I know isn’t true with a straight face and without flinching. And I can hold it. Over time. I can remember the lie in all its intricate detail. I can replicate the story the same way every time. I can add when need be. It is not something I am proud of, but I am a damn good liar. I might be the best liar you ever met which is just another way of saying that I might be the worst person you ever met.”

I had more to say but he cut me off saying, “It is a double-edge sword, son.”

“Sir?”

“You have a gift. A way with words. You can use it for your own benefit alone and just be a liar. The gains are small and petty but they are there to be had. Of course, this only works for you if you don’t have a conscience…”

“But I do have a conscience! I felt awful as I was telling those lies to you!”

“Yes. These lies. These lies with no purpose, huh? You know, Piper, I carry all the same tools that a criminal carries. I employ many of the same devices and weapons. The same type of gun they use to rob a bank is the same gun I use to thwart their attempt. If I were to interview a suspect in a violent crime, I would stretch the truth whatever way was necessary if it meant extracting the truth from him. You understand? Like a police officer, a storyteller is a servant of the people. A storyteller readily admits that they are telling their audience a lie. When you tell someone that you are lying to them, there is no deception. There is no opportunity for ill-gotten gain.  They’re no longer possible. This doesn’t mean there is nothing to be had from telling an audience a well crafted lie. Something is gained somewhere by someone. The liar takes for one, but the storyteller gives freely to all. In the process of telling the audience a grand lie, a good storyteller harmleslly exposes the unadulterated, sometimes awful truth to the people. The pay is lousy. The benefits are basically null. But it is very exciting and fulfilling work. The job of a storyteller that is. But it is risky too. There is a chance of early death. Cause you know…well…the storyteller is always chasing after their story and sometimes they get too close to their story and well you know…” He trailed off thereby not completing his thought. But the point was taken nonetheless. We were between the cruiser and the wall of the bridge. He had grabbed me bu the shirtsleeve at one point and pulled me to its relative saftey. Just over my shoulder a hundred feet below was the Saginaw River. The he said, “You still haven’t answered my question, little boy. Why should I let you cross this bridge?”

There was something about the way he said it to me that really ruffled my feathers. It is hard to describe, but I know what I saw and what I heard. He purposefully and very intently jeered at me like an adult to a child. Condescending like. I don’t know. It was the first moment in our total interaction that I really didn’t like him. Bad cop. At any rate, I began to spew forth my unfiltered and uncensored thoughts. I wasn’t angry, but I suppose I was a bit heated. I looked right at him. I pointed. I said, “You don’t know what is best for me. Everybody thinks they know what is best for me and there is no shortage of people stepping up to give me their two cents. If I would have told you the truth, then you too would have done what you thought was best for me. I can assure you, that that thing would only serve to make you feel better. You’ll pat yourself on the back. Your beer at dinner tonight will taste that much better. In actuality, your good deed will do little if any real good to me at all. You’ll have reunited a family that was never really together to begin with. For what? Another damn adult who thinks they know what is best, but when you get down to it, and if I were to blow open all of your closet doors, I’m sure I wouldn’t find some dude who has really just got his shit together. Even you—a cop! I guess all I am trying to say—worry about yourself! Adults are some of the most fucked up people I know! Y’all don’t have the answer! Because you are the problem! You are what is wrong with this world. Even Jesus said that. So what I need from you people is to just get the hell out of my way! I got this! Worry about the pillar in your own eye! I know I look young, but I am wise beyond my years! There is a method to my madness! I do have a plan. As long as I’ve got food, water, fire, and shelter then I’ve got all that is necessary. And I got all that here with me in my pack. I’m not some stupid kid that is in over my head. I have taken care of myself quite well. I’ve been taking care of myself since I was just a wee child. I take care of myself better than most adults I know. I don’t smoke too many cigarettes or drink too much alcohol. I don’t take any of those things. I don’t eat too much! I got a sweet-tooth—same as anyone I suppose. I hate television. Well kinda. I guess I just wished people read more. I just want to go find out for myself. I don’t want to take anybody’s word for anything. I want to see for myself. I want to discover for myself. Adults have lied to me about so much that I just want to go out there and see everything so I can grasp the full scope and magnitude of The Lie. I got my whole life to go to college. It is never too late, right? Isn’t that the line of BS they’re preaching these days. I can just be one of those old men who are starting college at 35. That’s fine. I just want to live while I am young. Maybe even live kind of fast. I don’t mean drinkin’ and druggin’ though. But I do want to get all the piss and vinegar out of me! Then I’ll be able to concentrate. I’m not like you and everybody else! Life is a gift! It is an unfolding adventure! I’m devouring my gift! I’m trying to get the most I can out of it. . But I keep coming across people like you that just want to stand in my way!”

No sooner did those words leave my tongue, did I live to regret them. There was no immediate response from Officer Kris, but I knew I was done. That was it. I was done as soon as I admitted to being a minor. I not only had a disrespectful outburst to an adult and an elder, but he was also an Officer of the Law. How many curse words did I use? At least a dozen or so. Good Lord! I really only had myself to blame though. He let me off easy the first time. I should of just been on my way. I don’t know why it was so important for me to cross that stupid bridge. The thoughts started creeping in about what was next for me. I knew I was on my way back to live with Boy Wonder and his mom and dad. I was beginning to mentally anguish over my setback. Which, of course, was brought on by my own haughtiness and contempt for the law.

Then suddenly Officer Kris said, “You know, Piper, I am 35 years old. I’m not an old man. Not by a long shot. That kinda of hurts a little that you think that.” I went to reply, but he raised his hand. “You had your say. What is done is done. You cannot unring a bell. You cannot put toothpaste back in its tube. You spoke unabated, without restraint or hesitation. You spoke from your heart. You spoke the truth. Where is your helmet?”

“My helmet?”

“Yes. Your helmet.”

“I don’t have one.”

“You’re not going down this bridge without a helmet. It is not happening.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was this a joke? So I am getting hauled in, but if I had a helmet, then I would be free to travel without restriction. What was I supposed to do? Flag down one of these RV’s with bikes strapped to the back. I was rendered speechless. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted and I certainly didn’t want to play his game. So I clammed up. I knew what was next.

Then he turned around and went to his cruiser, popped the trunk, and pulled a bicycle helmet out. Handing it to me, he pointed to a particular spot. “That is us. That is our phone number. This is me. This is my badge number. You see?” I indicated that I did. “Alright put this on while I move the squad car in a few feet.” After doing so, he pulled me and my bike between the cruiser and the bridge wall. Then he pointed to the helmet which was now fastened to my head. “This is police property, so when you get caught with this, then they’re going to give me a call. And this is perfectly fine. This is what I want them to do. I’d like to know where you are, what you are up to, and that everything is okay. I am not going to get you out of trouble! You break the law, you’re on your own. I mean, this stunt here aside. ”

“Yes, sir.”

Then he started examining my bike. “Here. Let me have it, let me look.” Then he pulled it from me and began a battery of tests. I chose that word deliberately because he almost seemed to be beating on it. He pounded on the top of the wheels to see if he could get them to come off. He checked the tightness of the bolts everywhere, he checked to see if the wheels were aligned and true. He made sure the handle bars were tight and aligned. Then he turned his attention to me. “How capable of a rider are you?”

I furled my brow, “I am very capable! I damn good actually! I have been riding BMX since I was 4 or 5 years old! No joke! The older kids built a track in the vacant lot out behind the neighborhood. You know, they have all since gone on to get jobs, but they left their track. Of course, we made it our own. Even before they left to go work, I’d challenge them to a race! I never won, but I tried! It made me better because when I started racing people in my own division I started kicking everybody’s butt! No joke! I’ve been flying 15-20 feet in the air like some kid Evel Knievel for the better part of the last decade. You don’t have to worry about me! I’m as good as they get!”

Then he said in reply, “Yeah, well that is what the last one said. Then we scrapped him up off the concrete ’bout three quarters of the way down.”

I looked to him quickly. He seemed to crack a smile, but at the same time I wasn’t sure. Was it just a joke? I thought I was a pioneer, but have predecessors? Maybe he was being serious? This was a real deal. People do this. Kids mostly. But if you want to pass, then you got to get by the Zilwaukee Bridge Troll. It is not a free ride! I had compelling evidence. He busted me twice. It was uncanny. And in both instances he really put me through the ringer.

“I’m going to pace you. I have to keep pace with you or else you show up on the cameras. We can’t have that. You’re already on the cameras—twice! It is not good. In the end, hopefully it doesn’t matter. Enough time passes without incident, it disappears. And don’t screw up. If you screw up, you’re going home and I’m going to feel the heat. I don’t want a reputation as a blind pig, understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

He stood there for a moment. “You can call that number any time you want, Piper. Day or night. Even if you’re just looking for someone to talk to. This thing that you’re going out there to do, well it is a lonely road, you know? But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out if it gets real dark and bleak. So don’t hesitate.”

“Okay. I won’t. Thanks.”

Then he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He thumbed through it and produced some cash. “It is only thirty dollars, but I want you to have it.”

“Sir, I can’t. I have my own money. I don’t need any handouts.”

“No, just take it, Piper. Just think of it as me sponsoring your research. Like buying little-league raffle tickets or band-camp candy bars. This would go a long way for you, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. I sure do know how to stretch a dollar.”

“Just take it. Stretch it as far as you can. I’ll feel better knowing you have a little more to help you along.”

“Are you sure?”

“How about I arrest you instead?”

“No thank you! But thank you! Thank you.” I took the money and put it in my pocket.

“I want you to stay close to the white line. You get too far off onto the shoulder and there is a lot of rocks and debris, you see? I’m going to have the lights going so there isn’t going to be anyone in the right lane. You are going to come upon the N. Adams exit before you come upon the bottom of the bridge, you take that exit! I know there is more incline, but none of it is yours to have! You understand?”

“Yes, sir!” I paused for a second, but then added, “And thank you for this too!”

“It is fine. Don’t make me regret it.”

“I won’t!”

“What can we expect? I imagine 30 to 40 miles per hour at the most. Everyone else we’ll be over in the other three lanes going 65-70. Traffic isn’t bad. We’re not even going to be a hiccup.You keep your eyes on the road! You don’t pay any attention to me. Like I said I am going to be pacing you. I can’t let you get out front, but you pay me no mind! Now lets get this show on the road before one of my buddies shows up to assist! If that happens, you are getting arrested!”

He then pulled the cruiser out into the right lane and he began to idle forward with the lights whirling. I was behind him a considerable length, but it was okay, I could catch up. He was clearing the lane. I still had a bit of the uphill incline to go yet before it then it leveled off. As it leveled off, I began to shift through the gears while giving the drive-train everything I could muster. I knew this was a one time shot so I had to make it count! However, there was a point though where the peddle action added nothing to the velocity that I was traveling. In fact, I was traveling so fast that it seemed like the peddles were peddling me. So I just stopped and let the free-wheel do its thing. I suppose the word is “coasting”, but I felt like a rocket ship! I didn’t know how fast I was going, but I knew it was the fastest that I had ever traveled by bike. I had never realized before that my bike was bound by the laws of physics, that the mechanics of it are such that there is a maximum speed at which it can propelled forward. It sounds like an obvious statement. I’m sure that you have owned more than one bike in your life. But what I am not so sure about, is whether or not have you ever tested the limits of your machine either purposefully or by accident? Have you ever come to the stark realization that you had completely harnessed the capabilities of your machine? Have you ever effectively maxed it out thereby revealing its full potential? I don’t think a lot of people can say this. I can. And I did.

So while I was coasting, I decided that I had enough control of the bike that I could broaden my perspective a bit. I looked over to Officer Kris who had had his head on a swivel the whole time. I could see it in my peripheral vision—the black aviators facing me and then looking away, facing me and the looking a way. I made it known that I wanted him to roll down the window. And so he did, “I’m maxed out!”

“You’re going forty-four miles per hour!

“Four four?

“Yeah!”

I just smiled back. Then he said, “You take care of yourself, son!”

“I will! I always have!”

“And don’t forget to call!”

“I won’t”

“Even if you get in trouble, it is alright, you call!

“I will!”

“Maybe send me some postcards!”

“Ha! Okay!”

Before I knew it, my exit was right in front of me. I took the N Adams Road exit, I gave him a huge wave as I did. I knew he was watching me in his mirrors. He shut off his flashers, gave me a squawk, then sped up, and sped off. He disappeared around the bend heading north on Interstate-75. I got off and made a left, then another, went under the interstate, and then made another left to get me heading south. For the first few miles it was just farmland. I was just surging with adrenaline! Life was good! Life was grand! It was good to be king! I went through the small town of Zilwaukee and then headed onto Saginaw. M-46 ran through Saginaw. If you recall, the initial plan was was M-46 west to Three Rivers.

At the corner of M-46 and whatever north-south bound road I happened to be traveling on, there was a 7-11. They were advertising a two-for-one hot dog deal. Hot dogs were $.49, so I was going to be able to have a filling dinner for real cheap with some good protein. I headed toward the bathroom not before getting an earful from the clerk. She was concerned about my pack. I left it with her on the counter and she was happy. I took the water bottles. She said she didn’t care if I bought water or not. I was hot and sweaty. It felt good to splash some water on my face. I noticed there was a mop and a bucket in the corner. So I decided to get a little careless with the water. I kinda took a shower right there in the 7-11. I put my clothes back on. Then I grabbed the mop and bucket and cleaned up my mess. All my soapy discharge was good cleanser though, so I left the floor better than I found it.

Then I added some more water and more soap to the bucket. I pushed open the bathroom door with my buttocks, then I pulled the bucket out by leading it along with the mop. I turned to the clerk and said, “I’ll mop your whole store for you to your satisfaction for four hot dogs with everything I want on ’em.”

“What? Why?”

I shrugged and said, “I don’t mind working for a living.”

“That is all you want? Four hot dogs?”

“Sure.”

“You don’t want anything else? Seems like a lot of work for four hot dogs. Do you not have any money?”

“No, I have money, but if I can find a way to not spend it, then I will.”

Then she burst forth into laughter, “Why do you want to mop the store? I’ve seen some weird things, but this is taking the cake!”

“Well, it is okay. I can buy the hot dogs.” Then I shrugged and said, “Didn’t think it would hurt to ask though.”

“No, no, no, no! You can mop the store! I’m not saying no! It is just…weird…that’s all.”

I smiled and said, “Is there a particular method that you’d like me to use?”

She came around counter and approached me and the mop bucket. She bent forward slightly and took a whiff of the air above the bucket. “Did you use any bleach?”

“No.”

“So my boss is kind of cheap. The soap he buys is almost useless, so we always add a little bleach.” She said this over her shoulder as she walking toward the bathroom. She opened the door and without really even entering the bathroom, she reached under the sink and grabbed a black and white label generic brand bleach. She gave the bucket a good splash or two and then said, “So I start here in aisle one right before the coolers. I try to keep an eye out before I lay any water because this is the most used aisle. If you see a car heading in, then I’d hold off and go to aisle two. Anyway, you lay the water down for one aisle, then move to the next and lay the water down for that one. Then go back and take up the water for the initial one. Then skip ahead one, lay the water down and then go back one and pull the water up. Got it?” I went to answer but she interjected, “Oh! And when you do the main aisle here, you really have to keep an eye on the parking lot. I usually lay down smaller sections, you know ones that you can easily mop back up if you were to have someone pull in. It is a twenty-four hour store, so this gets done at the end of each shift change. So I usually start mopping at seven thirty. It takes about twenty minutes. Customers come in and shit happens. It isn’t too early, you can go ahead and start now. That’s fine. The important thing is that when the next clerk gets here at eight, the floor is clean. If it isn’t I get in trouble.”

“Okay. No worries. I’ll do a good job, I promise.”

She smiled and said, “Okay.” She stuck out her hand and said, “My name is Tanya by the way.”

“Piper.”

“Well, it is nice to meet you, Piper.”

“Likewise, ma’am.”

Then the smile dissipated from her face and was replaced with a look of scorn, “Do not call me ma’am! I am not that much older than you! How old are are you, Piper?

“Seventeen.”

She glared at me with suspicious eyes.

“Fifteen.”

Her eyes were still suspicious.

“Fifteen! Why would I lie about that? It doesn’t have anything over fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, or even ten! Not really! Still can’t drive!” She conceded and her smiled returned, so I said, “How old are you?”

She didn’t loose the smile, but I had crossed her slightly, she said, “Piper, you are not supposed to ask a lady that!”

“Sorry.”

“I’m nineteen. I was just having fun with you. Where you from?”

“I’m not from around here. I’m just passing through.”

She smiled widely and said, “Where you from?”

“I don’t really like to talk about that, but I don’t mind talking about where I am going.”

She smiled even more widely and with a dip of her head said, “Okay, where you going, Piper?”

“Walloon Lake. Up by Petoskey.”

She smiled and shrugged, “Okay.”

“The Hemingway’s have a cabin there.”

“Ernest Hemingway?”

“Is there another Hemingway that I’m unaware of?”

“No…well maybe….I don’t know, but I  have to read him tonight for my intro to American lit class.”

I got really excited. She was talking about something that was near and dear to my heart. Plus, there was another component that I hadn’t really mentioned at all up to this point. I haven’t even alluded to it. The reason why I haven’t so far is because well…I’m a fag. And I figured, what business does some queer have describing how hot some woman is? So I will be scientific about it. She had quite remarkable secondary sexual characteristics. She was giving off many visual cues to indicate to her potential mates as to the viability and desirability of her genome. She was thin. She did not have large breasts, but they were nice—very proportional to her body. She was tall with long legs, but not quite six foot. Probably five ten. It felt like we were the same height. She dressed in such a way that she did not hide what God gave her under a basket, but she didn’t cast her pearls before swine either. She walked the line and carried it well. She had deep blue eyes. They almost looked unreal. Piercing. Her face was very symmetrical. Flawless skin. She had a rather large mouth with full, luscious lips, and straight white teeth. In a word—hot! She had sex appeal! No doubt about it. Even a queer like me could see it. I wanted her the moment I first saw her, but I figured she was probably stupid or crazy. Or both. I guess what I mean to say is that if I wasn’t gay, then I’d be a guy looking at the things I just described.

So as luck  would have it, she was not only a beauty, but she has brains too! Are we really going to talk about Hemingway? So I just asked, “Well what story to you have to read?”

She turned to the book marked page in her textbook and said, “Big Two-Hearted River.”

“Really? That is a great short story! Of course that is what they’d give you! What do you think?”

She looked at me and said, “What grade are you in?”

“I just finished 9th grade. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, I am in college and you just basically started high school and you are going to tell me about Hemingway?”

I felt like an idiot at that point. So I just pulled back a bit and said, “Oh no, I have read that one. It is a good story. I don’t have anything to say about it though. We don’t have to talk about it. I’m just going to get to mopping.”

I looked to the parking lot where a vehicle was presently parking and went right to aisle two. I didn’t get very far before Tanya said, “You probably should run a broom across it before you do anything. Just sayin’.

“Right.” And so I went and retrieved a broom and swept real quick and then I started mopping. I started with aisle one because that customer had come and gone, so the coast was clear. I laid the water down and then moved to aisle two and did the same. I moved back to aisle one and began pulling up the water when Tanya said, “What is this story about?”

Something had changed in her. A switch had been flipped. All of a sudden, she became somebody I wanted to get away from for some reason and I wasn’t sure why. All of a sudden, I didn’t care what she looked like. It wasn’t pretty anymore. She asked a question, so I answered it with as few words as possible. “It isn’t about anything. Nick Adams is on a fishing trip. It is being described. So too is the landscape. He spends a lot of time talking about a swamp.”

I had completely dry-mopped aisle one and was moving to lay down water on aisle three. It had been a few minutes since we had spoken. Then I heard her say, “Ugh! This is killing me! This is so boring!” All of a sudden she was now not only ugly, but she was stupid too. Now I was just waiting for crazy to show up. I didn’t reply. I got the water laid down on aisle three and I moved back to aisle two to dry-mop it. I had a pulled up all of the water and was in the main aisle heading toward aisle four to lay down some water when she said, “You like this stuff?”

I looked to her. She was smiling widely to me. All of a sudden, it had become apparent to me that her smile was simply a tool, a device whose inner-workings and powers had been honed and ultimately mastered a long time ago. So I kept it short and sweat—“Hemingway? Yeah, I like his stuff a lot. He is one of my favorites. You just don’t know how to read him.” I had also subsequently arrived at the place where I simply did not care what she thought of me. I wanted to mop the floor, grab my four hot dogs, and be on my way. She was some other dude’s problem, not mine.

I laid the water down on aisle four and moved back to aisle three to dry-mop it. I was almost done. I just had to pull up the water in aisle four and do the main aisle in front of the counter. Well, there was the fast food/fountain-pop area too, and then I’d be on my way. I had finished aisle three and was moving to pull up the water on aisle four when I found Tanya had moved out from behind the counter and was standing right behind me, I turned to find myself rather close to her. Our faces weren’t touching, but we were close. She smiled at me but with a mixture of distress she said, “Will you help me, please? I am so confused!” It was pathetic. It had no affect on me. Even if I wasn’t gay.

But I set the mop down and she went back behind the counter. She opened the text book to the right place, turned it one hundred and eighty degrees and pushed it across to me. I said, “So I am just going to start reading it and I am going to stop periodically to tell you what you ought to be getting from it. With Hemingway, it isn’t about what he said, I mean, that is important, but it is also about what he didn’t say. He alludes to it. Indirectly. It is there too. He called it the iceberg theory of writing. Ninety percent of an iceberg is below the surface. You only see a small little bit. So Hemingway had a very unique style that reveals this stuff below the surface. It really is something that only really belongs to him. He has a very clear and simple way of writing, that can be almost deceiving if you don’t know how to read between the lines, so to speak.”

So I just started going through it. Nick Adams heading on a fishing trip. People do that sort of thing to clear their head. So maybe we’re dealing with a guy who is kind of troubled. Burned out landscape. Reminds him of something. Doesn’t tell us. Probably war. So on and so forth. As I was explaining things to her, she was shaking her head slowly to indicate that she was getting my drift, but I could still see some degree of a look of confusion and perhaps even some hesitation to fully sign on. As I continue though, there seemed to be less confusion and more understanding. As I moved into the swamp scene, I looked up and was about to speak, but instead she explained it to me. She saw it. She got it. I could see it her face. She was excited. She began jumping up and down and clapping her hands together just before her breasts. Of course, she was smiling. If I were an idiot who didn’t know any better, I would have joined her in rejoicing as I was sure good things were coming to me. Instead, I closed the textbook and said, “Of course, there is more, but you get the gist. You can take over from here. Finish the rest of the reading and you’ll be fine for class tomorrow. Whatever the professor throws at you. I mean, how would I know? I’m just a kid.”

Then she got serious. “Oh no, I didn’t mean to say that, Piper! I know I did! I’m sorry! I really am! You really helped me! How was I supposed to know you were a genius?” She meant it too. It wasn’t flattery. It was either that or she was dumb. All of a sudden, she was a beauty with brains. Just like that. Well, sort of. However, it was at this precise moment that crazy walked in the front door. Well, not quite. It pulled into the parking lot. It was driving a monster truck. I doubted that it was street legal, yet there it was. Tanya said, “There is my boyfriend, Kirk.”

Pure brain stem. He was all brawn. Very muscled—just from the neck down though. He walked in and Tanya excitedly said hello. She explained how I was her new friend and that I had taught her how to read Hemingway. She went out of her way to make sure that he knew that I didn’t merely do her homework, that I actually showed her how to read Hemingway. Then she said she could go to the library and get any Hemingway book on the shelf and understand it. Then she turned to me and said, “Right?” I told her that it was true. Then she introduced us. I said nice to meet you and he said what’s up squirt. Tanya thought that was endearing. There she was—ugly and stupid again. And I’m stuck in the middle with crazy. A customer walked in and it was an opportune time for me to head to aisle four. I pulled up the mop water in aisle four pronto. All that remained was the main aisle and the fast food nook. I knocked the latter out first without incident. However, the same could not be said about the main aisle. There were no customers in the store, but I had a real Kirk that I had to deal with.

I basically got everything mopped up. It was about ten minutes to eight. I still had to get my hot dogs. And there is Kirk standing at the counter right in front of the register. Perhaps the most heavily trafficked area in the store. I mean, if you walk in the store, you are going to end up at the register. He has got this heavily soiled four foot by four foot patch of ground that he is just holding down like it means something. He knows I’m there. He knows what I am doing. I am all around the guy, but it never occurs to him. I’m starting to think he really is all brain stem when he turns around and says what’s up squirt. I don’t respond. Tanya tells him I need to mop, could he please step aside. Instead he grabs me and pulls me in close to him. I’m not quite off the ground. He has got a grip on each of my biceps—no problem. He then goes on to accuse me of plotting to do many unspeakable things to Tanya. He said things that I couldn’t believe had ever occurred to a human being ever. But he said ’em.

I just did my best to assure him that I was backpacking to the Upper Peninsula to find work. I explained that I had money, but that I would always try to work to pay a thing off if it was an option. Then I told him that I was only 15 and I didn’t have a license, definitely not a car. It took more premises than I would imagine a human ought to need before he eventually relinquished. If he just wanted to scare me, he succeeded. I put the mop down. I went into flight mode. I grabbed my pack off the counter and tried to strap it on while I walked quickly out the door. Tanya stopped me though. She had come around the counter to try and pry him off of me. Of course, it was all to no avail. She told me to grab my hot dogs. She told me to grab some donuts. Popcorn. A Slurpee. She explained that as an employee she was allowed to indulge as much as she wanted in the fast food nook. She said all the food was perishable and needed to cycle through anyway or else it would just end up in the dumpster. She pleaded with me to take fill, then she went admonishing Kirk.

I wasn’t going to let that guy intimidate me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. When she said that thing about the food—use it or lose it. I asked her how much I could take. She gave me all six hot dogs and a dozen donuts. She left three glazed donuts in the display, in the off-chance that someone came in before the fresh batch arrived in the morning. She offered me nachos, popcorn, and a Slurpee, but I told her there was no way for me to transport those things on my bike. So we left it at that. I think she wanted to hug me, but she refrained because her boyfriend’s short fuse and conspiracy minded view of the world.

I stepped outside and looked around, but my bike was nowhere to be seen. My heart began to race. I walked around the building, and then retraced. I walked back around front, across the front, and to the other side and all the way back. Nothing. I knew I hadn’t left it there. I left it right out front. It had gotten stolen. It must have. I eventually found the helmet that Officer Kris gave me in the middle of the parking lot. That was confirmation. I picked it up and strapped it on. I took my half dozen hot dogs and dozen donuts and headed down the road on foot.

I had already outlined a series of gripes I had concerning the bike, so there wasn’t really any love loss there. There is always I think that feeling though, no matter how insignificant the value of the item is, of being violated in some way when somebody steals something from you. It makes you look at people a little differently.

At any rate, I made good headway heading westward on M-46. I was at peace with the plan to go the distance on foot. I had time. For that evening I set up my tent in a wooded area off M-46. It wasn’t sanctioned camping. But I had no plans for a fire. I didn’t think it was very far off the beaten path at all, but it ended up proving to be a challenge whatever the distance.

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