Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Last Time I Saw Mike West

I had probably the worse job of my fugitive career at the time. I was kitchen manager for a pizza outfit with dancing mechanical apes. They knew three songs. People would put tokens in the jukebox and the apes would perform “Achey Brakey Heart” all day long.

It was probably the worse job of my life.

Ensnared in polyester, I stank of chicken grease. The sourness of the fryers associated with newly popular buffalo wings just ruined the pizza business. The singing apes didn't help much either. Old grease replaced the wholesome, bready aroma pizzerias had hitherto been associated with. The boss, one-fifth owner and a refugee from another singing monkey joint, likewise swathed in old poly blends, never swiveled from his office chair to visit my kitchen. I didn't blame him.

Beside me, was a staff of five young Latinos who let me know right away I wouldn't last if I wasn't part of their street crew. I had no idea what they were talking about. I briefly entertained the notion that they were breakdancers, but dismissed it. I still had too much Indiana Boy on me.

They were punks, and I told them that often. Their villainous exploits tormenting the homeless disgusted me. Likewise, they didn't respect my authority, and I rarely knew where to find them. It mattered little. I could better crank out our standard crap for the little Achey Breaky bastards we served without their assistance. They abandoned me to my fate and hid in the prep room and parking lot. I was well stocked, and the lot was clean. Jabba the manager, lights out with his Salem Slim Lights in his rayon office, didn't want to get involved. I didn't either. I was trying to talk the wife into letting me take a flaky art gig I had been offered, so why rock the boat.

When I saw the state of Dave and Mike's hobo camp, I was sure it was these guys.

I seethed, biding my time until I could quit and worrying about Dave and Mike and the others from the hole in the mountain. Before closing time, this kid Diego had told a story about leaning out of his buddies car and beating bums with a bat as they tried to run away.

When I clocked out, he was nowhere to be seen. I left by the back door and found Diego and pals in the shadows around the corner. Diego was leaning on a broom. I asked to see it, and took him out at the knees, continuing to beat the hell out of him as his friends stood there with their mouths open. I dropped the broom and walked to my car without looking back. I fought the urge to run for fear of acting like prey. I made sure nobody followed me home.

For some reason I went to work the next day. I fully expected to get jumped. Diego was a no show. Everybody stayed in the prep room longer than usual without carrying anything out. My nerves were shot. Finally Diego's best bud came out with trays of dough. I had a knife and bowl of flour nearby and wouldn't hesitate to use them. He smiled at me and said “Man, you really fucked old boy up! He won't be messing with you anymore”.

Just when I thought it was all okay, I got the call to go see the boss. He said he heard I hit one of his employees with a mop handle. I told him it was just a broom. He said he had filed a police report. I told him what I thought of Billy Ray Cyrus. We were on the same page regarding my career in mechanical dancing monkey pizza.

I didn't worry about the cops. I used a throwaway name to get the job. One I hadn't used anywhere else. They wouldn't look for me.

I didn't see Mike again for a year or better to learn how their camp was destroyed. By then, the wife and I, baby in tow, were blowing town in the wee hours of the morning. The Social Security people had sent letters informing us that we had ten days to explain why our names and numbers didn't match their records. Thankful for the warning, we collected our next paychecks and got in the wind to find a new town and new identities. I stopped to pick up a hitch hiker north of the city and it turned out to be Mike.

He said it was the cops who smashed their hobo village. He said a few people had gotten arrested but he and Dave lit out and moved to the Days Inn for a while. Apparently the old man in California died and his heirs weren't as tolerant to squatters. I've never felt bad about beating Diego.

Mike said Dave had gone to stay with neglected daughters in Texas and he had been attracting attention so he was moving on. We let him off in Casa Grande, where he had promise of a job. We got as far as Phoenix and the wife and baby were fussy from the car so we decided we were home.

Cleaning up the car at the motel, I found Mike West's flannel on the back seat floor with his social security card and birth certificate. He was just a little shorter than me, a little darker hair, a little older, but he had the necessary brown eyes. I just happened to be in need of a new identity and the Universe provided one. Mike West. My Quest. It was a sign that everything would be okay and I was right where I needed to be. I wondered how long it would last. I wondered how long I would be Mike. I wondered how long the wife would put up with this shit. A week? A month? A year?

We checked in to The Parkview as Mr. and Mrs. West. Within twenty four hours I was managing a downtown pizzeria. We baked our wings and wore cotton shirts and I thrived a while in the ape free atmosphere.

1 comment:

  1. i love checking in on these, Todd. always well told and a damn compelling read. seriously. great stuff.