The Big Bad Wuss

This really happened a few years ago–although I took poetic license at times. I wrote this from the biker’s perspective. Enjoy.

The Big Bad Wuss
by
Chris O’Brien

I’m the big bad wolf to  her.  I glide my left leg over my Harley, unzip my black leather jacket and pull a pack of cigarettes out of the jacket sleeve all in one well-practiced move. 

Her car window is rolled down, her arm resting on the window frame.  She pretends not to notice me, but I’m watching her watching me as I go through the motions.  She looks like one of those prissy girls.  And I happen to know that Miss Priss’s have fantasies about bad boys.

I saunter over to her car.

“Looks like it’s going to be a long wait.  You might as well get out and stretch.”

“So you think it’s going to be a while?” she says her voice enticingly shaky.

“Could be up to thirty minutes,”  I said slowly exhaling cigarette smoke, squinting my eyes, taking her in.

As she got out of the car, she tugged at the bottom of her red tee shirt.

Cute, I thought.  She’s wearing her blue jeans and a little red tee, but my guess is that she’s a girly girl, more comfortable in a frilly dress and high heels.

The wind caught her long hair and wrapped it around her face.  She pulled a scrunchie out of her jeans pocket.  Bunching her hair in one hand, she wrapped the scrunchie around it with the other.

“Where you heading?” I growled.

She hesitated, “um, Reno.”

“What do you know, me too!  I’m staying at the Nugget.”

She looked up abruptly and blurted out “So am I!”

‘My name is Michael and you’re…” I prompted.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Michael-Michelle,” I said turning the coincidence over in my mind.

Let’s meet for a drink later, I nearly commanded.

“Well, I’m meeting my sister in Reno. It’s actually my Grandma’s 85th birthday.”

“Yeah, well if it works,” I said suddenly casual, not wanting to scare her off.  “The last name is Dalton.  You can call the front desk and get my room number.”

Then, “Say, what’s that puddle under your car?” I asked.

She raised both hands to her face and squealed “A puddle!  Is that coming from my car?”

“Step aside,” I said stoutly.

I squatted.  She squatted close beside me, trembling.  I dipped my fingers into the puddle and rubbed the fluid between my fingers. 

“It feels like oil and water.  Could be the water pump.”

“Maybe I should turn around and go back home.  I’d forget the whole trip but I’ve baked my Grandma’s birthday cake,” she nearly cried. 

It was then and there that I transformed into the valiant prince.

“Don’t you worry, Michelle, I won’t abandon you.  I’ll make sure that you get to your Grandma’s birthday party.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” she said haltingly.  “I don’t want to slow

you down.” 

“I’ve got nowhere to be in a hurry.  That’s it.  I’ve made up my mind, Michelle, I’m getting you to Reno.”

A blend of relief and fear seemed to fix on her transparent face.

Then, I blew it.

Squatting as we were beside Michelle’s car, this amazing intoxicating scent floated on the soft summer breeze.  Leaning in closer to her, unable to help myself, I spoke in a whisper, “Michelle, the better to smell you.” 

She stood up abruptly.

“What are you talking about?  What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I’ve been in the hospital for over a month.  I had heart surgery.  My heart has lost thirty percent of its function the doctors said.  Your smell, your perfume was so lovely.”

I felt like a fool, everything came blurting out.  I knew that I was out of control.

“I nearly died on the table!  Now, I notice things that I never noticed before.  It’s like I have this extra sensory awareness.  Like, fuck, even the butterflies on that pile of bear shit over there.  Pardon my language.  I used to only notice the shit on the road, now I notice the butterflies, their colors, the way they waver in the air with a delicate uncertainty.  Their fragility.  Life’s fragility.  Your transient beauty!  That fragrance!”

Michelle looked around, seemingly embarrassed by my passionate rush of emotion.

I looked down the road at the long line of cars.  All of them were waiting for the road to be cleared so that they could continue on their way.  Michelle and I were the only ones who ventured out and made a connection.  Everyone else was so damn isolated.  I felt the need to apologize but at the same time, I felt I was being the most sincere that I’d ever been.

Michelle looked at me disdainfully. 

“You’re, you’re an impostor,” she said.  “You’re not a bad boy at all, are you?”

“I never said that I was a bad boy, Michelle.”

“You were playing the part.”

“At first, I admit it.  Michelle, meet me in Reno for a drink, please.” 

“I just want to swing my car around and go home,” she said.

Then she looked into my eyes and kissed me hard on the lips.

She’s on her own

You pay more for a room with a view. This is a commonly known fact. As if the view would not exist without the room faceted just so. This enables the proprietor of the Crest Motel to charge $50.00 more per night than for a view-less room facing the parking lot and highway. I begrudgingly admit that it is special. A tanker or barge or a large vessel, not know by name to a landlubber like myself, passes through the channel. Three black crows preceded by their barking caws swoop down, fanning their wings with a sudden shudder and then pulling them in tight to their shiny black bodies.

I like vistas such as this; they make me want to cry. The view is accompanied by the soothing sound effects of the constant ocean. I know the ocean mostly from the shore. I called her mother when I was in the womb. I grew up five blocks above the Great Highway in San Francisco, beyond which the ocean stretched as far you could see.

An impatience lays upon me as I sit in the chair in this room with a view, writing. I must go down and sit outside in a chair overlooking the sea–the chair the three crows occupy. My coming chases the raggedy crows away as their calls remain overhead. A bridge stretches across a broad expanse of bay. From this distance the glint of a car crosses from one side of the bridge to the other. The manmade landmarks are foreign to me, but not the sea.

It is both sad and strange to travel alone. And, I have to admit, I feel slightly depressed. Most of my life, I held someone’s hand–a sibling’s, rarely a parent’s; infrequently, a spouse’s hand, often, my daughters’; sometimes a boyfriend’s, now my own. Keeping my own company. The bird chatter sounding like a slightly squeaking brake, the wind rustling the coastal trees, the silent bay and the noisy highway together create an oddly restful ambience.

I could explore. I could go to the office and get directions to a path which would take me onto the beach or out to the breakwater wall, perhaps. Movement, physical movement, often helps to shift sadness. I’m curious. It looks like one could walk down there and be right beside the water. I have a plan.

The desk clerk in the office tells me that there is no trail down to the beach. She directs me to the river trail. I can catch it behind the Safeway parking lot. “It’s really nice,” she says, “it’s all paved.” She doesn’t know that I prefer the feel of the cushy earth to unyielding pavement. I thank her.

The fog begins to roll inland with a certainty, hiding the small mountain range on the opposite shore and the longest bridge. I must go before I disappear as well.

Later: Everything is an adventure or at least something to write about. Like the discovery that this is not the ocean that I’ve been looking at and writing about. This is the Columbia River! And it’s huge, like an ocean! The fountain in the center of the courtyard below has colored lights in the bottom of a scant pool which splashes colors up though the now-dribbling water. The river trail was paved as foretold, a small trolley ran beside it for those who didn’t want to walk, jog or bike ride. It’s 7:35 in the evening now. The sun is making a slow descent in the west. It hasn’t reached the fog bank yet which is going to surely douse the sun and send me inside.

Sitting on the upper balcony outside of my room, I’m aware of how much I live inside myself. There are five neighboring sliding glass doors opening onto this balcony. The deck streams from one end to the other without dividers. It’s a narrow deck; no one else is out here and I’m glad. I’m not in a sharing mood. I’d nod and go inside if someone emerged.

I distract myself. The Astoria Pier runs ramps down to the vessels below. Small dinghies, moderate-sized fishing boats and a hulking steel fishing boat, orange and rusting–these line the pier.

And the seals, there are signs on every ramp–“Danger, Seals on Pier!” Their mossy green-brown bodies have taken the sun into their hides and claimed it. They have an air of “don’t mess with me.” Their barking. Unlike the crows, they won’t be scared off–if someone gets too close, their echoing barks intensify. Are they complaining? Staking territory? Merely chatting?

I wonder if I’ll always be alone. When do I stop feeling like a stranger to myself? Omigod! A huge tanker like a floating gray whale passes in this very wide river. Spontaneously, I wave, shouting “I’m here, over here!” A small, less significant boat scuttles past the tanker, lost beside its bulk. The fog interferes with the sun’s warmth but not it’s light. The tanker moves slowly but steadily. Watching it is better than watching television; the mind is not assaulted. I learned today that each blast of a ship’s horn has a meaning. One blast means passing on starboard, two means passing on the left. Five short blasts is an alert “If we don’t change course, we’re going to crash!”

This woman, myself with wild golden brown hair sits in the setting sun on a green plastic chair clutching a fat blue Dr. Grip pen as if my life depended on it. The hot tub invites but two young women are filling it up with their high esteem
–no room for me. Now the sun is flirting with the fog and the air has a sudden nip. I’m going inside.