Over the summer, some witch ran the drum circle out of the Ped Mall. Now every Football Saturday I laugh my ass off at her, trapped in her tower. I wonder if that’s not her giant alabaster face staring down on where the party throbs on like a forgotten Cold War beacon, and taxicabs, like big motley colored roaches, wheel out of the corners fast and dangerous as the meat wagons pinballing across downtown.
Vomit sprayed on shop glass. Young men cockfighting and young women going half-naked, and vice versa. Casual drug use and occasional bi-curious sex. Drunk driving; foot chases with cops; plants vandalized; women shitting in your doorway. How bout them Hawks, lady! And you pay how much to live in the heart of Partytown U.S.A.?
I myself occupy a southtown commercial garage and host afterhours every night we work. This greasy cave befits the charmless like of us folk on the ground. Plus, no wives or kids to rattle out of bed, and after the nights we’ve had, all of us could spend more time with screaming drunks.
“Welcome to Freedom Cove, everybody!”
On these last warm nights, I drag open the big roll-up door and turn on the factory overheads like we’ve come to make the donuts. I’ve got a Discman harnessed to a 500-watt PA and Black Sabbath sounds killer in here. Me and Quiet Chuck and Dr. Bob drink beers on the couch and others trickle in as their shifts end; Zina Schram arrives with Joe Vega, then Leon Bath right away squeezes into my dad’s skid loader, shutting himself inside as if we don’t know he’s shooting up.
That creeper Billy Kinross has tagged along, and he browses my stuff with hands driven in pockets as if he was afraid of stealing something. And he’d better be.
I offer the tour to anybody who wants it, showing them where to piss and how I’ve rigged my shower stall. Breezing past the display of firearms, I walk them into the rear office that I’ve turned into a bedroom, thumbing on the trouble lamps to show the sleeping area dressed like the cabin of a ship and explaining how the garage’s previous tenant had left behind enough teak paneling for a yacht. I point out the bunk beds and narrow captain’s desk and how I’ve put aquariums in the two windows to keep with the seafaring theme.
Quiet Chuck asks, “You got any fish?”
Zina is impressed with the mantle of firearms.
“The Liberty Collection,” I tell her while letting her grip the .45 Ruger. My collection also has a Brazilian .357 and the classic Remington .870 pump-action shotgun. Their corresponding ammunitions are rowed along the mantle’s edge neat as soldiers.
Dr. Bob shows his dislike with crossed arms. “You know what they say about guns on mantles, brother. You’ll end up using this shit.”
I don’t know how his kind, caring soul can stand in the fire of our work without cracking.
“Maybe I am a fucking jerk,” I argue with him, “But how else do you want that I guarantee my liberty? Are you gonna ward the wolves off my door with your ponytail, or what?”
Billy Kinross takes from his pocket an electronic cigarette, and I whiff that peculiar funk from his clothes. When he offers the e-cig, I wave him off. “That’s like a Virginia Slim, bro.”
As he puffs on the thing, the tip glows blue, and he blows out hash smoke. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I clutch my head. “Far out!”
Among my boxes of junk, I’ve rediscovered a white Culpeper flag and the striped Navy Jack. I fly one at the wash sink and the other over the sitting area of yard chairs and an ugly couch salvaged from the roadside. This is where we gravitate.
Vega casually tosses a crack bindle onto the plastic yard table and gives me a look.
“I don’t touch that shit. But this is Freedom Cove.”
I drag down the roll-up doors, and Leon hustles out of the skid loader like a dog on scraps. He and Vega are the only two fools that mix with that shit, and they smoke until laughing themselves green on the ugly couch, the fat man tamping foot, bending his elbow and making round observations, “It evens them out, man. It evens them out.”
Vega meanwhile flashes puke in a garbage drum.
Billy pokes at their colorful bindle wrap. “Where’d you get this?”
“You a cop, bruh?”
“I recognize the wrap,” counters Billy. “That striped paper’s proprietary to the seller, you know.”
Dr. Bob complains: “That shit smells like plastic melting on a lightbulb.”
“Tastes like raspberries,” says Vega, waving the pipe at him. “You want a baby taste?”
Joe Vega was born for sales. Slick and intrusive, wearing a wormy-thin mustache—even his billboard name feels like a wanting handshake.
Before the night ends Quiet Chuck will take the shotgun down to rack the slide. Leon Bath next wants in on this fun, and he racks it over and over. Chuck checks me with sorry eyes as he departs. Vega next takes the gun in attempt to blow smoke through the ejection port and down the barrel. Zina frowns as she pushes the barrel from her face.
Put off by the antics, Billy snatches away the shotgun. “Shit’s not a toy.”
He carefully returns the shotgun to its place on the mantle. But his outburst has busted the party, and everyone stands to hike up trousers.
I still have no reasons to like Billy, though his verve and seriousness are appreciated. I’m usually the one accused of being the tight-wound son bitch. I shake Billy’s hand as he goes and tell him to come back any time.
Taxi driving builds camaraderie with the enthusiasm of cancer, even if true friendships are rare. And I wonder if I’ve meant what I said to Billy, or if I’m drunk.
Vic Pasternak has been driving a taxi in Illinois City, Ohio, for over a decade, ruining his chances for a solid career and shortening his lifespan. He enjoys fishing, preying, chainsawing and long walks alone.