STOP: This is part two of a multi-post story. If you have not read "Talking Tennessee (Knoxville Bound)" go do that or you will ruin the fucking story.
I pulled into a gas station parking lot to use the pay phone around 5:00 in the morning. I was in need of more specific directions to my final destination. It had become apparent a wrong turn occurred somewhere after exiting I 75. Early morning
with no sleep over the past twenty-two hours was utterly unimpressive. My body ached, my head was foggy and I had a sick feeling caused by my attempt to offset a lack of sleep with a chemical state of awareness. This is why one should heed warning labels. The ephedrine tablets clearly said not to exceed recommended dosage which I had at least quadrupled. The label also stated not to mix with caffeine, a notion I scoffed at. I was paying a high price for discounting the sage advice conveyed by the manufacturers of the legalized speed. Why this shit was ever legal is beyond me, it has since been removed from the market in most places that I know of. My heart raced, my balls were retracted so tightly I feared people might start calling me Pat, and my eyes bounced around like a pair of hyper active 6 year old boys who had eaten their weight in pop-rocks and chased the sugary treats with Jolt Cola. Mike answered the phone sounding more like he was drunk, than someone who had just been shocked out of a restful sleep by a ringing phone with potentially bad news on the other end. The type of news generally anticipated when answering a call at 5:00 in the morning. He provided me with satisfactory directions and warned that the two large Australian cattle dogs sure to greet me upon arrival while appearing intimidating were in fact quite friendly. Knoxville
I drifted off to sleep sitting in the gas station parking lot for what seemed like hours but was in fact about 3 minutes. My mind went back to childhood days of playing ding-dong ditch, and egging the Wartik house across the street from where Mike grew up. Mike and I had been friends, partners in crime for as long as I could remember. My mother watched him in afternoons when school let out. By the time we reached 8 years of age we were insurgents in our own neighborhood. Terrorizing classmates, stealthily stalking streets to throw stones at passing cars, stringing rope across roadways in hopes of decapitating passing bicyclists, slinging rocks at windows to show our displeasure with the institution they called a school. Growing up, my teachers said it was Mike's fault I was wreaking havoc and his teachers blamed the other half of the duo. I dropped my head against the steering wheel and dreamt about the time Mike ran out into the street chasing the “Bimbo” which is what we called the ice cream truck. Mike was running after the Bimbo and darted across a busy road on his quest for a screwball. As he leapt from the median, half way to achieving victory in this caper, he was struck by a passing car. He bounced off the hood of the car and continued running to the other side of the road, simultaneously screaming for the Bimbo to stop and hurling curse words at the driver of the offending car. He got his screwball despite suffering some bruised ribs and abrasions in the process. He laughed as he lay in the grass savoring that screwball saying “you see that mother fucker hit me? What a son of a bitch.” I woke with that terrible feeling of falling off the bed and started the car.
I pulled into the drive, heard the dogs barking and Mike walked out to greet me shoving a beer in my hand even though it was 5:30 in the morning. I had slept about three minutes in the past twenty-four hours and Mike wants to party. This was to be expected, but I was looking forward to a much needed sleep. He looked like shit and I couldn’t have looked much better, he was obviously at the tail end of a bender that had lasted several days. We drank a beer, did a couple of shots of George Dickle and I asked Mike to show me to a bed. He said “the girls will be up in a couple of hours till then crash on the couch and we’ll figure it out later.” Mike had been staying in this quiet
neighborhood with Jen and her roommate Cindy. Jen was Mike’s on again off again girlfriend since the summer before we entered the eighth grade. She moved to Knoxville Tennessee with her family a couple years later. I had last seen Jen about 6 or 7 years ago at a hotel party when she was visiting . Jen’s last visit to Milwaukee was also the first time Mike disappeared. He left home to go back to Milwaukee with Jen. I only found out when his mother called our house frantic, searching for him. He was gone about a month before his parents tracked him down and got him on a bus home. The only thing I knew for certain about Cindy was that she was around 30 years old. Mike talked her up on the phone to add a little extra incentive for my trip. I had agreed to drive down to Tennessee for the week I would be on layoff at the factory. Hink made sure I had a message for Mike, “tell that cocksucker I said fuck him” Hink paused then said “And you betta brang yo ass home when it’s time mutha fucka.” Knoxville
I woke to noises in the kitchen and the smell of coffee brewing. Rolling off the worn, sun-faded, overstuffed, blue-gray couch I stumbled to the kitchen, still weary from the lack of sleep and the hard crash from the caffeine and ephedrine pills. A woman stood leaning against the counter reading a paper and drinking a cup of coffee. The two large cattle dogs sat at her feet, tails wagging in recognition of my entrance to the scene. The dogs looked at me intently then turned their gaze toward the woman who took no notice of the dogs or the strange man standing behind her. She was dressed in black running pants and a tight fitting colorful top made of some high-tech material designed to simultaneously keep muscles warm and wick moisture away from a perspiring body. She was about 5’6” and judging by her muscled arms she was in great physical shape, she had dark hair that was pulled back in a tight pony tail, she appeared to be attractive from the limited view I had standing behind her. She turned to see me staring at her and smiled, “So you’re
, want some coffee? Hazelnut. I’m Cindy.” She poured a cup of coffee and pushed it across the counter before I had a chance to respond. I took notice of her hand wrapped around the robins egg colored mug as she guided it across the speckled expanse of linoleum counter top, the surface of the dark liquid rippling as if a child had just skipped a stone disrupting the serenity of a quiet pond. I remembered Mike telling me she had suffered extreme frostbite as a kid and her hands were disfigured as a result. Chad
I sat quietly sipping the coffee watching Cindy finish what she was reading in the local paper. The dogs had scooted over to sit at my side jockeying for position to be the recipient of a subconscious hand scratching the nearest dog head. Cindy folded the paper and spun to face me. She launched into a story about how some idiot who stayed with them recently had spilled bleach in the laundry room, poured an excessive amount of the bleach in the wash destroying an entire load of laundry and the carpeting in the wash room. She then grabbed her car keys headed for the door and said “Got a class, see you later.” I drank the rest of the pot of coffee, wrestled with the dogs and peeked in the laundry room to scope out the bleach stained carpet. Mike finally stumbled out of his room a few hours later. Jen was already up and out of the house.
We brewed another pot of coffee and Mike got me up to speed on the goings on in
. Mike fried a couple of eggs and said, “I never ate eggs but that’s what I live on now, egg sandwiches, shit is cheap, more money for beer, everything I need, egg sandwiches and beer” Mike slapped a fried egg between two pieces of white bread and passed it to me, grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and threw it to me cracking one for him self in the process. He talked about the job he was working in the kitchen at some restaurant on the river, world famous for their ribs and sauce. He told me how things were going with Jen, some nights they shared a room some nights they didn’t. He explained the girls both were health nuts and taught classes at a local fitness center. We sat drinking coffee and beer for the next several hours. I told him about Hink being pissed and not believing he was not coming back. It was good to see Mike, we laughed about old stories. I recalled the time our friend Tennessee bought Optimus Prime and Mike in his excitement to see this wonder ran down the alley only to be dragged to the ground by Satan, the neighborhood menace of a dog. Satan was the bane of our childhood existence, there was a network of kids who would quickly spread the word through a flurry of phone calls or shouting through open windows if Satan had been spotted. Prior to that day Mike was dragged to what we thought was certain death there had never been a confirmed attack perpetrated by Satan but he frequently pinned us in trees or sent us scrambling up fences Mike escaped that incident with a bruised ego and a few abrasions. Luckily Satan’s owner was there to quickly pull the dog from Mike’s quivering body. Troy who had a tick where his head swayed side to side constantly earning him the nick name "tick-tock",