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Works of fiction and poetry by friends of Bamboo Ridge Press.

THIS IS A YEAR OF THE ROOSTER CONTEST ENTRY

TRICKSTERS AND TRICYCLES

Published by JIM HARSTAD | Sunday, October 29, 2017 6:22 PM


2000 words for October.


Trick. Fool. Bamboozle. Clowns are they who vie for attention in this
tragicomic vein. On the face of it, so to speak, it seems funny to
wear too much makeup while trying to pedal a ridiculously undersized
velocipede toward some stupidly ambiguous destination. Or is it sad?
Is that the trick? Who’s the trickster? Who the tricked? What makes
their momentary congress a trick? Its difficulty? Its ability to
injure, surprise, intimidate? Was anybody hurt? Is anybody laughing?

Say you sauntered down College Walk in downtown Honolulu all by your
lonesome some early evening just after dark. Would you expect to be
confronted? Accosted? Escorted? Ensnared? Accommodated? Treated
kindly? Or with indifference? Or malice? To receive pleasure — or pain
— or to give it? All very tricky. But why “trick”? Is it always tricky
regardless of motive or outcome? Or might it trick us into thinking
it’s something else, not a trick at all?

Was that term even used that way when I was growing up? I’m not sure,
but why not? In any case, it seemed pretty obvious even to a
seven-year-old that most people in my neighborhood hadn’t really
planned to be there at that time of their lives and were sort of
bewildered by finding themselves there. Even us. My family seemed
determined to do the best we could with what we had — what we’d been
tricked into — , but how that would turn out was anybody’s guess. The
shipyard was everybody’s primary employer. World War II was past.
Would there be a World War III? Whitey hated working in the shipyard,
but the retirement plan was good. Could he keep going until
retirement? Could we? Would we? All a bit tricky.

The neighborhood was sort of an oversized campground with shabby
little doll houses in place of tents, a sort of pre-trailer-park trial
run on a larger scale. There were a few fenced-in yards with
flower-bordered lawns, but overall the yards were semi-grassy
overlaps, more worn-down than mown. There was no city sidewalk, only a
kind of berm separating the street from our yard.

Like a public campground, everybody knew everybody else’s business.
Kids were especially out and about, but adults weren’t far behind. The
husband of the childless couple in the white house to our left
suffered from wartime battle fatigue and would sometimes wake up
screaming in the middle of the night. His wife sewed secret pockets
inside his work clothes so he could more easily steal tools and other
useful items from the shipyard.

The couple in the alleyway behind us could not have children because
the wife had been such an avid horsewoman in her youth that her
insides got knocked around and out of order. Sometimes Whitey and the
husband would share a pint of Old Crow across the backyard fence.

In the quonset hut behind them lived a large, lively, and
exceptionally handsome family. Their once-beautiful mother, her face
horribly disfigured, melted, by fire. You could still see how
beautiful she must have been, and everybody felt sorry for her and
easily forgave her occasional top-of-the-lung harangues against the
whole fucking universe. High-pitched keening, they were banshee loud,
unexpectedly inventive, and exhaustingly long-lasting. Afterward she’d
throw a party in the alleyway, just her and her kids. They’d drive
into town and come back holding helium balloons with long strings,
cake, ice cream, phonograph music. Eventually, high-spirited laughter.

Across the alley from them lived an extended family of dust bowl
refugees, stringy-limbed Okies who mostly kept to themselves. One time
they threw a birthday party and neighborhood kids were welcome inside
their small neat-as-a-pin house containing not a stick of furniture.
Friendly, smiling adults sat on the floor against the wall watching
two lank-haired children ride new tricycles back and forth across
well-worn linoleum in the middle of the living room.

Next to them lived a family with two daughters, one of them my
classmate. Their fenced-in house was especially nice and featured a
basement garage, off of which her father had constructed a private den
where he engaged in worldwide short-wave radio conversations and read
pornographic novels.

Directly across the street in a little gouged-out gravel pit of a yard
bordered by encroaching Scotch broom sat a small, square, off-gray
house with its sun-bleached rollup windowshades perpetually drawn. A
car or two might be parked carelessly near the house. That’s when
Linda was sent outside.

Linda was three or four years old and spent a large part of her time
sitting on an old tricycle moored for the day near the line of Scotch
broom. Dough-faced and overdressed, she was always well provided with
a striped paper bag of hard candy, which she solemnly consumed two or
three pieces at a time. Neighborhood boys joked about eating candy
from Linda’s drool bag. Snot crusted her upper lip. Her teeth were
short black stumps. I never heard her say a word.

Her mother would come out periodically to check on her, usually
sporting a fresh cigarette and a vaguely disheveled brown wraparound
robe. Sometimes you could hear music, loud laughter, and the clinking
of glasses and bottles from inside. When there was a live ship in
port, Linda consumed a lot of candy sitting on her trike. You sort of
wonder how that all turned out. Tricky.

“Linda”, a popular song from that era, had a lovesick guy counting all
the charms about Linda to put himself to sleep, instead of counting
sheep. Charms? And how far were we supposed to imagine that? What,
exactly, were Linda’s charms? Tricksters everywhere you look. Tykes
turning tricks on trikes? Fake news of the day: Tricycling trickster
tykes tout tremendously titillating Trump triumphs. Too much.

We moved away from that neighborhood before long and into a rural
setting that afforded a lot more privacy, much less social diversity.
Twenty years later, “home” from Hawaii, I found myself seeking
diversity behind the wheel of a seventeen-year-old car I’d owned for
five years and hadn’t driven regularly for two. It would be an
open-road cross-country adventure of personal discovery. Or something.

Leaving Hood Canal, I headed south across the Columbia then due west
from Portland to Astoria and the fabled Oregon Coast. Stopping at a
Safeway outside of Astoria to buy beer, I fell in love with the young
checkout woman and her smooth-skinned hands and arms. “You wanna go
out on the beach and build a fire and drink beer?” I wanted to ask but
did not.

Things get craggy pretty soon along there, and I found myself pulling
over beside a barber pole at one of those cliffside business areas and
telling the barber to shave my head clean. He had to ask twice if he’d
heard me right. All of it? Was I sure? “To the bone,” I laughed. This
was back when people were finally getting used to thinking long hair
on men was normal. Was I sure I wanted to buck that trend? Sure I was
sure. Sort of.

This lightbulb head I’d kept hidden until now was going to take some
getting used to. Also, the Nikolai Lenin facial hair I planned to grow
would be weeks in the future. The new me was a project of some
duration. One kind of tricky part that I hadn’t really considered:
What about the old me? What if I decided I wanted that instead? Was it
retrievable? How often do we home in on a destination only to find out
when we arrive that we really didn’t know what we were getting into?
In my experience? Just about every time.

A few more miles down the road, for example, I maneuvered out onto
acres of flat-packed sand next to a roaring Pacific Ocean.
Picture-perfect, I snugged against an old-growth cedar log, made a
fire, drank beer, played guitar. Suddenly I became aware that the
roaring was much louder and I’d have to make a run for it through a
deepening sheet of incoming salt water that floated my floor mats but
did not kill the engine, still struggling for its very life on three
or four cylinders when I turned south on 101 without stopping.

Still struggling in second gear at about fifteen mph, I felt another
cylinder kick in and at about twenty-three mph another one started
helping out. At about thirty mph I put it in high but lost speed and
returned to second for more slow miles. Then the sixth cylinder
finally kicked in with a series of backfires that smoothed out to what
seemed almost normal.

Normal she was not, as I was to discover when I checked her oil and
found it heavily clouded with salt water. I was carrying a full case
of SHELL X-100 20 motor oil, so out with the old and in with the new.
Right? But no. Somehow I never got around to it, just kept driving
down the coast, camping out, picking up hitchhikers, playing “Oh
Susanna” on my blues harp.

Picked up some kids, but they didn’t have any weed. Picked up a reedy
blonde and her German shepherd, but they declined to spend the night.
Picked up a Vietnam vet, on the road for two years, who eased out the
door at a stoplight without thanks or goodbye. Also picked up a
full-torso exposure to poison oak climbing shirtless down a Big Sur
cliffside.

Instead of looking for a place to change oil, I started seeing this as
a test of my standing with God and the Universe. If I could make the
whole trip without changing oil, I was in like Flynn. If not . . .

I was getting used to the new me, the shiny pate, the wormlike vein
over my left ear, the black chin stubble. Not a Lenin double yet, but
surely a developing resemblance.

The Southwest deserts did not exact their toll on the contaminated
oil. At Grand Canyon I added a quart, which took me through Carlsbad
and West Texas, where I helped a grateful family, stuck up to their
Ford’s hubs in soft desert sand, back onto the highway.

In Bryan, Texas, I spent several days with friends I’d made in Hawaii.
“It’s a 1951 Chevrolet. I bought it in 1963 for $350. It’s got a 1952
Power Glide engine that needs its oil changed.” They suggested a local
service station, but I let it sit while I drank beer and shot pool. We
had to jump-start it when I left, still without an oil change.

I was headed for Boston via Texarkana, etc. when I started feeling the
itch. It can take a week for the rash to develop. So, right on
schedule. Calamine lotion, next stop. But wait. There was something
else going on. The engine? No. Well, maybe. Kind of a . . . not a
grinding exactly. I’d monitor it.

It became a grinding, exactly, and then a metallic clinking and I was
somewhere off in some Ohio countryside where I pulled into a
worse-for-wear farmhouse driveway at the back of which sat a big, open
equipment shed. Next to me sat a blond four- or five-year-old kid on a
tricycle. “Anyone home?” I smiled friendly, but he just stared.

The back porch was the main entrance, so I rapped on the back door and
waited. Somebody was walking around inside, but nobody said anything.
I rapped again, said, “Hello. Anybody home?” and waited. More moving
around, doors closing, water running. Finally, footsteps, high-heeled
footsteps coming toward me and stopping to open the door. Obviously
she wasn’t expecting ratty-looking me. She was expecting the date
she’d got herself dolled-up for. Incredulous is the only word for the
look she wore when I asked if I could, uh, park my car in her, uh,
garage. “Hay-all no you cain’t,” she said with a haughty toss of her
curls. “Hay-all NO!” The door slammed, the sound of heels receded.

The kid hadn’t moved his trike as he watched me get into my Chevy and
start her up. His expression was blank, but he hated me with every
fiber of his being, as the saying goes. I could feel it. The clinking
sound was getting louder. My chest and back itched like crazy. Rain
started pelting my windshield one dusty pock at a time, then all at
once.

The windshield wipers still worked well enough so I could feel my way
to the next town, where I sold my car to a guy at a gas station for
$25, mailed my guitar and Coleman stove back to Hood Canal, got on the
highway heading east, and stuck out my thumb. Next stop, Philadelphia,
PA. Then Boston. Or bust. This was getting to be very tricky indeed.



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COMMENTS


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Lanning - Sunday, October 29, 2017 10:12 PM.


This is great. A first installment?