BAM!

“Aw, crud.  Here comes Willie.”

Enzo Acosta was looking out through the window of the Central Avenue Recreation Center office where he was seated with Clyde Bartow, Brian Cortner and the new Assistant Recreation Leader, Mary Fillippi.  Over the teeter-totters and beyond the swings  could be seen the large, shambling figure of Willie Starnes slouching toward the nerve center of the place that the neighborhood kids simply called “The Park.”

“Man, why doesn’t his parents move or something?” Clyde asked.

“We should be so lucky,” Brian replied.

“Why didn’t is parents practice birth control?” Enzo asked, and all three boys let out a collective groan.

“Why do you dislike him so much?” Mary asked.  She was the newly-hired assistant recreation leader, recently graduated from Arizona State University and just beginning to climb up the ladder of civil service.

“He’s kind of a jerk,” Enzo replied.  “He thinks he’s being funny all of the time, but he’s the only one who’s laughing.”

“So why don’t you tell him he’s not funny?” Mary suggested.  “Maybe he needs to hear that so that he can change his act.”

“For starters, we don’t tell him that because he can kick our as – – -; our butts, I mean,” Clyde replied.  “He’s not smart, but he’s big and he’s mean.  Nobody wants to be his friend, but nobody wants to be his enemy either.”

“Well, I’m sure that Mr. Peterson doesn’t allow any bullying here at the rec center, and I won’t either.”

“You won’t see it; not really.  He’s careful not to do anything that’ll get him busted.”

“Why do you hang out with him then?  I’ve seen you all shooting hoops or goofing off out in the field.  If you don’t want him bothering you here, just say so.”

“That might make it better here,” Brian said.  “But it would make life just that much more hazardous at school and everywhere else.”

Willie had reached the Park office by this time and, seeing the three boys and Mary  inside, he walked through the door to join them.

“Hi foxy lady.  You must be the new rec leader,” he said to Mary, and as he did so he reached out with his left hand and popped Brian in the back of the head, simultaneously saying “Bam!”

“You can call me Miss Fillippi,” Mary said with a voice tinged with icyness.  “And I will not allow you to hit people here.

“Oh, that’s just a game that we play,” he replied to her, and then looked at Brian and the other two boys and asked, “Isn’t it?”

They all agreed that it was, and in this case what they said was nearly the truth.  The game began as one in which surprise was the point.  A person might throw a large, soft rubber ball at another who was not looking, or perhaps snap someone’s shoulder with a rubber band.  At the point when surprise, and occasionally mild discomfort, occurred, the initiator of the surprise would shout “Bam,” and was thereby excused from retaliation unless and until the victim could create a surprise of their own.

It was a harmless game and fun, at least until willie learned about it.  Then punches in the shoulder or a basketball thrown at your face became the “joke.”  Once, Willie caught Brian leaning back in a folding chair with his feet up on the seat of a wooden park bench.  He was balancing on the two back legs of the chair and had his hands clasped behind his neck.  They were outside of the Park office in a covered area where hop scotch and four square might still be played on infrequent rainy days.

Brian was talking about his plans to study acting and then go to Los Angeles when he graduated from high school in two years.  That really was his dream, and he was trying to impress Mary Ellen Zinner with his knowledge of how Hollywood worked and how he would climb the ladder.  Mary Ellen was quite taken by Brian’s seeming knowledge and Brian was quite taken with Mary Ellen.  In fact, at that moment his whole attention was on her alone.

Willie saw a golden opportunity and removed his shoes and socks.  He filled one sock with sand and tied it off at the ankle.  Then he edged close to where Brian was leaning back and describing one of his life dreams to another of his life dreams.  When he was no more than six feet away he threw the heavy sock at Brian and connected with him squarely in the crotch.

Surprise and pain combined to cause Brian to jerk back, which resulted in him tumbling backwards and hitting the asphalt with the back of his head, right in the middle of the four square court.  “Bam!” Willie shouted and then he laughed.  Nobody else laughed with him, and Mary knelt down and asked Brian if he was OK.  His head and his nuts hurt and he was as embarrassed as he could possibly be, and he briefly considered getting up and punching Willie in the face, even though that would probably amount to something like suicide.  Mary Ellen was showing concern for him however, and that unexpected pleasure gave him pause from getting up and at least trying to beat the living snot out of Willie Starnes; something that he was fairly sure that he could never accomplish.  The memory of that day however would leave a sour knot in Brian’s stomach for a long time to come.

“Come on,” Willie said, interrupting Brian’s reminiscence of that humiliating event.  “Somebody check out a basketball and let’s shoot some hoops.”  Clyde offered Mary Fillippi his wallet for a basketball and soon they had a two-on-two game going on in the basketball court.  Brian ended up on a team with Willie, and between plays Willie asked him, “What’s Miss Prissy-Pants’ problem?”

“Huh?” Brian asked.  “What are you talking about?”

“The hottie in the office.  What makes her so unfriendly?”

“What?  Who?  Mary?  Shoot, I don’t know what you mean.  She’s OK enough with me.  Maybe she doesn’t like to be called a foxy lady.”

“Shit!  Every chick likes to be called foxy lady.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I guess some might like it if they know the person who’s calling them that.  I suppose you would have to ask her.”

“Uh-uh.  Nope.  I’ve got a better idea.  You guys play with yourselves for a while.”

Willie flashed a smirk, thinking that he had just delivered a clever line.  Then he walked through the gate in the corner of the basketball court and disappeared west on Bernardo Street.

“Where’s he going?” Enzo asked.

“Who cares?” Clyde replied.  “Let’s just enjoy his absence.

They continued to play some games that did not require teams, eventually forgetting about Willie.  The break was a pleasant one, but it was much too short.  Far sooner than they would have liked, Willie was seen pushing through the gate and re-entering the court.

“You miss me?” he asked the three boys.

“Does Europe miss the plague?” Enzo replied, and then said “Bam!”

Willie laughed along with the others but punched Enzo in the shoulder anyway.  The look on Enzo’s face suggested that there was an internal debate going on in his mind whether or not the time had come to retaliate against Willie whether he had a chance of doing so successfully or not.  If Willie noticed that look, he chose to ignore it.

“I guess I settled Prissy-Pants’ hash for her,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“I went to the Market Spot and bought a potato, and I shoved it into the tailpipe of her car.”

“Why did you do that?” Brian asked.  “What’s that supposed to do?”

“Its stuck tight,” Willie replied.  “When she fires up her car the exhaust will be blocked and she’ll blow out her muffler.  That’ll teach her to play smart mouth with me.”

“Shit, man.  That’s cold,” Enzo said.

“Yeah?  Well, then she should watch who she’s talking to.  Are you standing up for her?”

“Naw, none of my business,” Enzo said, thinking better of getting into it with the much larger Willie.  “She’ll probably guess who did it.”

“Yeah, but she can’t prove it,” Willie said with his incredibly annoying smirk.  “Though I hope that she does guess who did it.”

“Oh, crap.  It’s time for me to go,” Clyde said, looking at his watch.  “My dad’s back from deployment somewhere in the Pacific, and he expects to eat at three thirty every afternoon.  I gotta check the ball in and split.”

“Yeah, me too,”  Enzo echoed.  “Mom told me to be home before she went to work.  I’m cutting out of here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Brian said.  My brother’s going to sneak me into a movie tonight.

“You’re just a bunch of chicken-shits that don’t want to stay around for the fun,” Willie accused.  All three protested that he was wrong, but they still turned and left.  Clyde checked in the ball and said goodbye to Mary, and then the three friends started walking down Bernardo Street towards Brian’s house on Myrtle, three blocks away.

The stories that they had told Willie were, of course, pure fabrications.  They only wanted to put distance between themselves and the Park before Mary finished her shift and started her car to drive home.  As they walked toward Brian’s house, which was a frequent gathering place for the three boys, they discussed their problem.

“Man, we should have warned Mary,” Enzo said.

“Yeah, it’s not cool that he’s trying to screw up her car,” Brian agreed.

“But how could we say anything without Willie knowing it?” Clyde asked.  “I guess we’re the only ones he told, so he’d know that it was us who ratted him out.  I don’t want to deal with that either.”

“Ah, shit.  This is a mess,” Brian growled, and so the conversation went.

Once they arrived at Brian’s house the three boys went to the garage that had been converted into a sort of club house.  Inside were sofas and a small refrigerator, and walls covered with movie posters and other Hollywood memorabilia.  Brian’s brother, Frank, was in the club house when they got there.  He was looking for a place on the wall for the latest poster that he had brought home from his job at the River Bend Theater, where he worked part-time.

“Hey man,” Brian said as he entered.

“What’s up, Frank?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, what up?” Clyde echoed.

“Hey guys.  How’s it hanging?”

“Ah, you know.  Same old same old,” Brian answered, and then after a moment he asked, “Hey Bro.  What happens when you stick a potato in somebody’s tail pipe?”

“What?”  Frank asked.  “You guys trying to screw with somebody?”

“No man,” Clyde replied.  “We just wanna know.  Somebody did it to somebody else, and he said that it will screw up their car.  Is that true?”

“No,” Frank said with a laugh.  “That ain’t true.”

“How do you know?” Enzo asked.

“Because I tried it,” Frank replied.

“Really?” Brian said in surprise.  “How come you never told me about it?”

“You never asked,”  Frank replied.  “Anyway, it’s no big deal.  Nothing happens.”

“No shit?  So it doesn’t blow out the muffler?”

“No,” Frank answered, laughing again.  “It just shoots the spud out a foot or two, and that’s all.  There’s a lot of compression in a car’s engine, and a spud won’t last very long in a tail pipe.”  The three boys looked at each other without speaking, but with relief washing visibly over their faces.  “Is there something that I should know about?” he asked.

“No, it’s nothing,” Brian answered.  “We’re all cool.  Hey, what’s that you’re hanging up?”

“It’s a poster for the film series that we just finished at the River Bend.  ‘B-Movie Classics of the 50’s and 60’s.’  They made some fine cheese back then.”

The boys gathered around Frank and marveled at the poster that he was in the process of hanging on the wall.  It was a life-size poster of Michael Landon as the Teenage Werewolf, complete with a hairy face, a mouthful of fangs, two large, hairy paws and a high school letterman’s jacket.

“Wow,” Clyde said and whistled.  “He looks like Chewbacca on steroids.”

“Yeah,” Frank said.  “Isn’t he cool?”  Then he left the boys alone in the garage, saying that he had to go into the house and study.  Brian opened the little refrigerator and extracted three soft drinks, which they opened and then sat down on the sofas.

“Man, we gotta do something about Willie,” Brian said.

“Do what?” Enzo asked.  “The guy can take on all three of us at the same time, or at least two of us.  What can we do?”

“Shit, I don’t think that there’s anything that we can do,” Clyde said.  “I may just quit going to the Park.”

“Oh hell no!” Brian replied.  “I think Mary’s starting to like me, but I haven’t asked her to go out with me yet, and there’s no other place where I can hang with her.  The Park’s the only place where we can get together.”

“Go on man.  What’s Mary to you?  Or more to the point, what are you to Mary?  She’s a college graduate, for crying out loud.”

Brian flipped his bottle cap in Clyde’s direction.  “Not Mary Fillippi, pea brain.  Mary Ellen Zinner.”

“Oh, really?  You think that she’s looking at you?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I thought that she had better sense,” Clyde said.

“Yeah.  I thought she was looking a little higher up the food chain.”

“Screw both of you,” Brian said, and they all laughed.  Anyway, I’m not going to let that asshole run me away from the Park.”

“Then what’re we gonna do?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah.  If we can’t get rid of him, I wanna at least have a little pay backs,” Clyde said.

The three grew silent as they pondered the problem of Willie Starnes.  What do you do with a guy who is bigger than most of the rest of the kids, that wants to be one of the guys, but wants to be the alpha male at the same time?  Clyde was studying his fingernails while deep in thought, and Brian was looking absently out through the window.  Enzo was staring at the toothy Teenage Werewolf poster on the wall, occasionally baring his own teeth and curling his fingers into claws.  It was into this setting that Frank walked with a can of beer in his hand.

“Wow, what are you guys so serious about?” he asked.  “I’m not used to seeing this much brain power coming out of this group.”

“We’re trying to figure out a way to get some pay backs on Willie Starnes,” Brian said.  “There’s gotta be some way to get back at him.  I mean, he has to be afraid of something or someone.”

“He’s afraid of him,” Frank said, motioning towards the Teenage Werewolf with his can of beer.  “At least, he’s afraid of some of his friends.”

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“He’s afraid of those movie monsters,” Frank replied.  “Him and his sister came to an evening showing last week.  It was The Creature From the Black Lagoon that was playing, I think, or maybe the House on Haunted Hill.  Anyway, it scared the pee out of him.”

“How do you know?” Brian asked.

I was working behind the snack counter that night and I saw him come out of the theater and go into the bathroom.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  He peed his pants.”

The room fell silent as a tomb, and then erupted into laughter at the thought of big, bad Willie peeing his pants at a movie, and with his sister as a witness.  “Oh man, I wish that I could have seen that,” Enzo said through his laughter.

“Maybe we should invite him to go see a movie with us,” Clyde suggested.  “He couldn’t turn us down without looking like he was chicken.”

“Oh, he’d find an excuse,” Brian said.  “He’s stupid, but he isn’t dumb.  I don’t think he’ll get into a movie house with us if there’s a chance he might pee his pants again.  Dang it!  There must be some way to introduce him to a good monster.”

The three boys, and now Frank too, fell to scheming on some way to take Willie to a monster movie.  They came up with multiple scenarios, none of which was practical.  Finally, however, Brian hit on a plan.  “Guys,” he said.  “If we can’t take Willie to the monster, maybe we should bring the monster to Willie.”

“Huh?” Enzo grunted.  “How do you propose that we do that?”

Brian pointed at the Werewolf poster and said, “That thing’s nearly life-size.  How about we stick that into Willie’s window tomorrow night?”

“Willie lives on the second floor,” Clyde observed.  “How do you propose that we stick that in his window?  You gonna ride on Godzilla’s back?”

“Well, that’s the stuff that we have to figure out,” Brian replied.  “We gotta be smarter than Willie, don’t we?”

“Hey!” Frank interjected.  “How does this sound?  You cut out the picture of the Werewolf from that poster and glue it onto some cardboard from the box that our folks’ new refrigerator came in.  Dad was saving it to put down over some place in the yard where he wants to kill the weeds, but I think that this is a worthy cause. Then we’ll tack Old Toothy there to the end of an eight foot two-by-two, and then join that to another two-by-two.  That’ll give you sixteen feet plus your own height, and you should be able to stick that thing right into Willie’s bedroom window.”

The boys broke out into cheers and laughter as they approved of Frank’s idea.  “OK,” Brian said.  “We have a plan.  Now we have to work out the particulars, like how’re we gonna know when Willie’s in his room?”

“That one might be easier than you think,” Enzo replied.  “Wednesday nights are family night at Willie’s house.  His old man insists that they eat at four in the afternoon and then play cards or dominoes or whatever after that.  He makes the the family stay together until six thirty.  Willie always splits to his room the second that he can get away.  By six thirty-five he will be there.”

“How in the heck do you know all of that?” Clyde asked.  “You been hanging out at his house?”

“No man.  His sister sits next to me in Mr. Hearns’ English class.  She tells me some stuff about Willie that I don’t share much because it could get my ass kicked.  She doesn’t like him much more than we do.  She told me about the family night stuff.  She doesn’t like it very much herself.”

“Did she tell you about him pissing himself at the movies?”

“No, she didn’t.  I guess that was one that even she wanted to stay away from.”

“Hot damn!” Brian shouted out.  “It’s payback time!”

“Whoa,” Clyde said.  “How are we going to join two two-by-twos together end to end?   How are we going to get them to Willie’s apartment?  Most important; how are we going to get away from there without getting our asses kicked or the police called on us?”

“I can help you with that,” Frank offered.  “It shouldn’t be too hard to build a sleeve to act as a connector for the two two-by-twos.  You guys get to work on cutting out the Werewolf and pasting him onto the cardboard.  We can think about the other stuff while we get this done.”

By seven o’clock that evening they had a fairly rigid nearly life-size Teenage Werewolf attached to one end of an eight foot long two-by-two piece of lumber.  On the other end of the wood stick was a pair of one eighth inch thick metal straps that were fastened to the wood by two bolts that ran through holes in the metal and wood that had been drilled by Frank.

The second two-by-two also had holes drilled into it that corresponded to holes in the lower end of the metal straps.  By sliding the second two-by-two between the straps, inserting two more bolts and then tightening them down with a couple of lock washers and nuts, the assembly became a fairly secure sixteen foot pole with a Teenage Werewolf on the top of it.

“So how’re we going to get these to Willie’s house?” Enzo asked.  “We’d look a little conspicuous walking down the street with it.”

“Let me talk to Larry Boortz,” Frank said.  He’s got a truck.  Maybe he’ll let me borrow it tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah man,” Brian said.  “Tomorrow’s the day!  Can you call him now?”

“Sure.  I’ll go inside and see if I can get ahold of him.”

Frank went into the house to find his phone, leaving the three boys literally vibrating with excitement.  “This is what I’ve been dreaming about,” Brian said.  “I’ve wanted to get back at that jerk ever since he hit me in the balls with that sock.”

“Yeah man,” Clyde agreed.  “I wish that I could see him when he pisses himself again.”

“Piss hell!” Enzo replied with a laugh.  “I’ll bet he puts a big, fat, stinking brown log in his underwear!”

They all began to laugh so hard that they had to sit down, and they were still laughing when Frank returned with a big grin on his face.  “The truck’s ours after four o’clock, boys.  We’re in business and we’re gonna do this thing.”

The next day, a day early in November, the boys anxiously waited for Frank to return with his friend’s truck.  By five o’clock they had loaded the wood and poster and hardware into the bed of the truck.  The sun went down at five fifty three that day, so they waited until six.  Then, Frank, Brian and Enzo climbed into the cab of the truck while Clyde laid down in the bed holding tight to the two-by-twos, the ends of which protruded over the tailgate of the truck’s short bed.

Frank drove carefully, trying to draw no attention to the truck and its occupants.  They parked in the middle of the block on Mason Street, equally distant from the street lamps at either end of the block.  Willie’s apartment was reached by going south on Mason to Thirty Fourth Street, then turning right and going to the next corner.

There was a light on that corner, but it was across the street diagonally from Willie’s apartment.  A hedge of oleander bushes grew in a line about three feet from the apartment and parallel to the building, which largely shielded the boys from sight.  A further feature that weighed in their favor was the row of pepper trees that grew in the parking strip along the street.  The light from the street lamp would be shielded at the height of Willie’s window by those trees, leaving Willie without enough light to see anything other than a big, snarling werewolf outside his window.

At Six twenty five they cinched down the nuts on the metal sleeve, creating the sixteen foot-long pole, and crept down the sidewalk with it.  Dusk was settling in with a deep gloom, and nobody saw them as they rounded the corner of Mason and Thirty Fourth.  They quickly ducked behind the oleanders and stepped silently towards the spot below Willie’s window.  Frank had a watch and he followed the second hand.   Slowly it slowly piled up the minutes until it finally read six-thirty.  He held up his hand, signaling for them to get ready.  Six thirty one.  Six thirty two – – -.

At six thirty five he dropped his hand and Brian raised the poster up until it rested motionlessly, flush in the middle of Willie’s bedroom window.  At first there was not a sound.  Six thirty six.  Six thirty seven.  Then a shriek was heard which tore through the screen of the open window and cut into the darkening night.  Brian waved the poster up and down, then side to side, and shriek followed fresh shriek.  Enzo and Clyde were softly stamping their feet, trying to suppress the urge to laugh out loud.  Frank, the cooler of the four, signaled for Brian to pull down the Werewolf and retreat to the truck.

They quickly followed Frank’s lead and ran quietly back to where the truck was parked.  Frank and Clyde jumped into the cab of the truck while Enzo and Brian stuck the pole Werewolf-first into the bed and then climbed in after it.  Frank drove two blocks forward, where they stopped and disassembled their pole.  After that they drove back to Frank and Brian’s house.

The next Saturday the three boys were once again hanging out at the Park, this time outside of the office.  Mary Fillippi was huddled with several of the neighborhood girls talking about nothing that a boy would want to hear.  Once again, Willie was seen plodding across the playground towards where they sat.  The boys carried on their conversation, pretending that they had not seen him.  Finally, as he came close to where they sat, they acknowledged his presence.

“Hey Willie,” Enzo said.  “How’s it hanging?”

“Yeah,” Clyde chimed in.  “What up, man?”

“Hey”, he replied.  “One of you guys want to check out a football and go chuck it in the field?”

“Not today,” Brian said.  “Mary’s busy with Diane and Linda and Mary Ellen and some other girls, and I don’t feel like breaking in on that.”

“Besides,” Enzo added.  “We’re going to the movies.  You wanna go with us?”  Clyde and Brian looked at Enzo as if he had lost his mind.  They had made no such plans that day.  This was the first that they had heard anything at all about going to the movies, and especially with Willie.

“Yeah,” Willie replied.  “Maybe that’d be all right.  Somebody would have to spot me a little change to get in.”

“Yeah, I’ll spring for you,” Enzo replied.  Now the other two boys looked at Enzo with absolute horror on their faces.

“What movie are we going to?” Willie asked.

“The one at the River Bend,” Enzo answered.  He looked at his two stupefied friends and gave a barely-perceptible wink, and then asked them, “What’s playing today?  I think it’s that old one, you know; Fiend Without a Face,” isn’t it?  You know, the one about invisible radioactive brains with the spines hanging out that fly around and land on the back of your neck and suck your brains out?”

Brian realized where Enzo was going with this and stepped up to play his part in the subterfuge.  “No, I think that one was last week.  I think this week it’s The Fly; that one where the guy whips a cloth away from his head and he’s got a big, black, fuzzy fly-head with little mouthparts quivering.”

“Oh yeah,” Enzo responded.  I love the part where David Heddison’s head is on the fly that’s caught in the spider web and the spider is about to eat him.  Vincent Price picks up a big rock and crushes them both.”  He then looked at Willie’s ashen face and said “Oh, are we spoiling this by giving it away?  Well, there’s a second feature that we won’t talk about.”

By now Clyde had caught on and wanted his turn.  “No, no, no.  You’re both wrong.  This week it’s The Tingler.  You know, the one where the big centipede-looking thing crushes your back if you don’t scream when you’re scared and it gets taken out of that mute girl’s bloody back and kills all sorts of people.  I love that movie.”

“Oh yeah!” Brian and Enzo said in unison.  “Let’s see if any of the girls want to come too.  Who knows; they might need a boy to hold their hands.  Are you in, Willie?”

Willie’s face had turned a sickly shade of pale, somewhere between nausea green and deathly white.  He waved both hands in front of himself, signaling a negative reply.  “No man.  I just remembered some stuff that my dad wants me to do.  You guys go ahead on.”

“Too bad,” Brian said and rose up from the bench where he was seated.  “I’ll go ask Mary Ellen and the girls right now if they want to go.”  As he walked slowly towards the office where the girls were gathered, Willie waved to Clyde and Enzo and turned to leave the Park.  After he had fallen out of sight the three boys stood together and looked at one another in silence.  Finally Brian broke into a big smile and said “Bam!”

The laughed so hard that it was almost their turn to pee their pants.  The noise of their laughter reached into the office where the girls were, and they emerged to see what was so funny.  The boys knew that they would have to guard the secret of their sweet revenge until either Willie moved away from the area or one of them grew to be big enough to back him down.

“It’s nothing,” Brian said.  “Inside joke.  You’d have had to be there.”  Then he looked at Mary Ellen with something approaching boldness and said “You want to go to a movie today?”

“Sure.  Maybe,” she answered.  “What’s playing?”

Brian looked over at Clyde and Enzo and asked “You guys know what’s playing?”

“Haven’t a clue,” Enzo replied and looked at Clyde who just shrugged his shoulders.

“We could call it a blind date,” Brian said.  “A really blind one.”

“That sounds like fun,” Mary Ellen replied.  “I’ll call my parents from the office and ask.”

 

Just Another Morning In Paradise

This morning I sat down in my chair and wrote out all of the things that I intended to get done today. Drive to Sellwood and pick up supplements from my naturopath, return to Vancouver for a massage, get gas, go shopping, and maybe watch some college football. It was going to take some timing, but it could easily be done.

The naturopath’s office opened at nine in the morning, so at eight thirty I jumped into the car and began the thirty minute trip to Sellwood where His office is located. As I crossed the I-205 bridge I felt my pocket, as is my habit, to make sure that I had remembered to bring my phone. I patted up my thigh and then down and, finally, and with considerable consternation, accepted that I had forgotten to bring my phone. “No sweat,” I told myself. “I’ve survived without a phone for most of my life. I guess I’ll do OK for the next hour or two.” So I drove on, exiting the 205 onto Powell Boulevard, and then began to meander through Southeast Portland towards Sellwood.

About half-way down Powell a warning tone came on in the cab of my car and a tire symbol appeared on the dash. I wasn’t perturbed because the darned thing had been going off periodically for the last four months, and the service guys at the local Ford dealership could not find anything wrong with the tires or with the electronics. I had come to accept that my onboard computer was malfunctioning at best, or that it was possessed by a malevolent spirit that was out to make my life miserable. Either scenario was equally believable, although my money would most likely be put on the latter possibility.

Shortly after the alarm went on I stopped for a red light, and when I accelerated again I became aware of an odd flopping noise. This is not entirely unheard of in my Ford Escape. Many times when I’ve been on the highway and had the rear windows down, my ears have been assaulted by the most unpleasant of flopping sounds, so I thought that this might be the same phenomenon.

The windows were rolled up however because it was about fifty three degrees outside and I was wearing only a tee shirt. Also, I was not on the highway. No, the sound came from somewhere else. “Maybe that car next to me,” I thought, so I slowed down and let that car get well in front of me. The flopping sound continued. It wasn’t that car.

At that point I could no longer dodge the fact that I had a tire in trouble. I turned right onto a side street and parked by the curb. Upon getting out of my car I looked at the two driver’s side tires and saw that they were fine. When I walked behind the car and looked at the rear passenger-side tire however, I received the verdict: It was as flat as a board.

“Oh great,” I thought. “Flat tire. Deep into Portland. No phone. What the heck am I to do next?”

At this point some sort of acute stress response reaction set in. This is more commonly known as the “flight or fight syndrome.” I was in a situation here: flat tire, no phone, sketchy neighborhood, wife on a plane to Las Vegas. What do I do next?”

Plan A was to change the tire, but that was not really a valid option. I hate working on cars. When I was young it was expected that all boys could work on cars; that they longed to work on cars. I tried to develop a taste for such activity, but the effort never paid off. Finally, in my later twenties, it became crystal clear that I hated working on cars, and I refused to do it ever again.

Because of this it never occurred to me that I should try to change the flat myself. I might as well try to turn lead into gold. Somewhere in that car was probably a jack, and quite possibly there was also a spare tire. I had no impulse – and I mean zero – to look for either. Cars are dirty, and I don’t like car dirt. Garden dirt is fine. Dirt with tomatoes growing out of it is just peachy. Road dirt? Dirt with old grease in it? Dirt that demands that you scrape your knuckles as a price of admission to play in it? No. Hell no! No damned way. I don’t do that.

Plan B was to return to Vancouver where my phone was and call Triple A. As I said earlier, I was in reaction mode, and going back to where I came from was the first real plan – and it was a visceral plan at that – that came to my mind. Returning to my house in Vancouver would provide me a chance to reset the situation. At that moment I could see a bus approaching that was going in the direction that I wished to go, so I jumped.

I ran across the street and made it to the bus stop in time to board the bus, thanking my lucky stars that I was on my way towards my destination with no delay. I was also thankful that the bus was warm since, as I said, I had left my house wearing only jeans and a tee shirt. No sweat, eh? I’ll be inside all the time!

The bus took me a mile up the road to where I could walk a short distance to the light rail stop, or Max as it’s called in Portland. I walked through a homeless camp and gained the Max platform, only to find that the next train was twenty six minutes away. Weekend schedule. I had no phone, no book, and no pen and paper, and no sweatshirt or jacket, so I chose to walk in long loops around the platform to kill time and try to keep warm.

I made one loop and knocked three minutes off of my wait time. As I began the second loop I remembered that this was a weekend. The train would still run to the Gateway Station, and from there I would board a train that would still run to the Park Rose Station. What I did not know however was if the express bus ran from Park Rose to Vancouver on weekends as it did on weekdays. I would be rolling the dice. It was cold and I was walking on the train platform among trash that was blowing in from the homeless camp, and I did not wish to roll any dice.

No! I would have to stay on the train and pass through Gateway to Lloyd Center, and then walk to the Yellow Line that would take me up to Delta Park. From there I could take the Number Four bus to Vancouver, then the Number 37 to within five blocks of my house.

I made another loop around the platform. Sixteen minutes to go. I began a third loop and in my mind I watched myself arrive at my house. I have a set of keys in my pocket and I will enter through the front door. But – – – wait! Our front door is secured by a multiplicity of locks which includes a manually-thrown dead bolt, and I do not remember whether that bolt has been retracted or remains in place. If it is still in place, all of the keys in the world will do me no good, so I ask myself, “Do you feel lucky?”

Actually I do not feel particularly lucky on this day. There has not been one thing that had happened to me yet that could possibly contribute to any sort of feeling lucky. I stopped and felt completely flummoxed while pondering my options, while a catsup-smudged McDonald’s wrapper blew against my ankle. In a moment my next move became clear: I had to return to my car and retrieve the garage door opener (which I should have removed from the car in the first place).

With a sigh I retraced my steps down from the Max platform, back through the homeless camp, and back to Powell Boulevard. There, I caught a bus that returned me to where I started. I opened my car and retrieved the garage door opener, then locked the vehicle and walked to the nearest bus stop, going now in the opposite direction. The buses were running more frequently than was the Max and I decided to take a bus to where I could more easily catch the Yellow Line towards Vancouver. Also, getting on a bus would get me out of the cold, and I wanted very much to do just that.

While standing at the bus stop and walking in circles, trying to kill time until the bus arrived and I could warm up again, my brain once again began to engage in something reminiscent of normal function. I had a Triple A card in my wallet, and if I had my phone I would have already called them for roadside assistance. But I didn’t have my phone. But somebody must have a phone!

I looked around me and saw nobody except one quintessentially odd Portland couple crossing Powell a half a block east of where I stood, and one tuxedo-colored tom cat in an empty yard behind me. I knew that my odds with the cat were weak, and the couple, both scantily clad with neon hair, piercings in places that gave me a mild case of anal flutter, and the unmistakable look of being stoned out of their gourds, inclined me to suspect that my odds for luck with them would be only slightly greater than were those with the cat.

I looked to the west and saw only a closed neighborhood bar. Since it was only a little past nine in the morning I knew that there would be nobody there. To the east was a row of businesses, and I started walking in that direction to see if I might find one open and the proprietors willing to let my scraggly self come in and use their phone.

A dental office, an accountant, an insurance agent, a wood panel business; all were closed. It was a weekend, or have I already said that? I saw some more businesses across the street, each with a simple neon sign that said ‘Open.’ I thought that I might try my luck there but just a few yards in front of me on my side of the street I saw a barber’s pole and it was moving. I walked up to the building and sure enough, the business was open. I opened the door and walked inside. There, an Asian woman was cutting an Asian customer’s hair. Another Asian customer was waiting for her turn.

The barber spoke very little English. She tried to explain something, but I had no clue what she was saying. I began to relate my own sad story but it quickly became apparent that she did not understand me any better than I understood her. Fortunately the customer waiting for her turn in the barber’s chair understood my dilemma. She offered me the use of her phone and I put in my call for roadside assistance.

Thirty minutes later two gentlemen showed up to remove the flat tire which had been destroyed by a jagged piece of metal, and replace it with the pathetic little rubber donut that functioned as my spare tire. I then limped home, retrieved my phone, and drove to the tire place where I replaced all four of my old tires with nice, new ones with a fifty thousand mile warrantee.

Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful morning.