No Respect without a Motor
“Cutie, can you ride with me today?” Mr. Presley asked. “I have to throw Richie’s route.”
So, Richie quit? “I’ll deliver it.”
“His route and yours? This afternoon? On a bicycle? Can you finish both by six?”
Presley’s Rule: every Daily Oklahoman on its doorstep by six A.M.; six P.M. for The Oklahoma City Times.
“You already have two morning routes. Why do you want more?”
“I need to buy a motorcycle. Can I make an extra five a week with Richie Rich’s route?”
He chuckled at the nickname. “Seven. How much money do you need?”
“To buy a motorcycle? A hundred dollars.”
“Want a loan?”
I waste chances to make friends. Whether it’s an acquired fear or something deep inside, I resist asking for help, even from people I like. And no one–except Sammie Davis Jr. and maybe O’Murphy–ever try to make friends with me. Especially not Big Guy. But then, Biggy wouldn’t have been civil even if I’d been whiter. I was odd looking, gangling, uncool, uncoordinated. Every time his eyes rested on me, I sensed trouble in his unrestrained disappointment. You haven’t felt invisible until your brother doesn’t want you.
I would’ve picked Mr. Presley for a father. My boss even had the same steel-colored hair and perma-tan I’d seen in Daddy’s color photos. He pulled a hundred dollars from his zippered bank bag. “Don’t want things, Cutie, do things. You’re my best carrier. No one else types their monthly reports. I’ll take twenty-five dollars a month out of your collections?”
“Sure.” After I bought gas, I’d still be broke, but I’d be broke on a motorcycle. People don’t respect anyone–not even a kid–who doesn’t have money and a motor. And O’Murphy would be mine. Actually, it wouldn’t be quite that easy. I was too young to sign a legal document, so how could I buy a vehicle? And apply for a title and tag?
Mother was waiting in the driveway. “Let’s go to Fort Sill. I’m off tonight, and we’re out of groceries. We can’t get as much. No more allotments, so no more thirty dollars a month.”
Because of Vin. “The Marines didn’t cancel our ID cards?”
“Your ex-daddy tried. I called them and told them that if they took our cards, I couldn’t take care of y’all. How would we see the doctor and buy groceries?”
With military ID cards, soldiers and their dependents could buy clothes and groceries at the PX and the commissary for cost plus 10 percent. Since we lived fifty miles from the base, we stocked up: ten loaves of Wonder Bread. We’d eat fresh sandwiches and burgers for a week. The rest went in the freezer, so nothing but toast for the rest of the month. We drank fresh milk for a week; seven gallons froze into butterfat flakes and blue water. We shook the cartons to re-homogenize the milk enough to pour over cereal. We filled our cabinets with dried beans and pasta, canned soup and corn, fruit cocktail and peaches. Mother fried many a stinky Spamburger.
“And Mother, I’m going to buy a motorcycle.”
“I just told you. No money.”
“I have it.”
“You have $250 in your passbook.”
“Mr. Presley is doing me a favor.”
“Favor?” Mother had always been suspicious of the kindness of strangers.
“He loaned me a hundred dollars.” I injected a few almost-true words before she could object. “He’ll give me a fourth route if I have a motorcycle. I’ll make more money.” My paper routes–and jerking sodas on the occasional weekend at the Freeze–had made me self sufficient. I’d saved three bucks a week, paid for my comic books, and bought school lunch tickets since I was eleven.
Mother saw me rub a cheek and grimace. “Toothache? Get an aspirin out of my purse. Hold it on the gum above the cavity until it dissolves. Then drink this.” She handed me the rest of her Dietetic Dr. Pepper. “And drive that new motorcycle to the dentist next week.”
Make your own money, and you decide a few things for yourself. Even if you’re a kid.
The Honda dealership was on our way back. I pulled out the $350.
“It’s $364,” said the salesman behind the counter. “Fourteen dollars sales tax. You’ve got thirty days to buy the title and tag.”
My mouth opened slightly, and I looked at Mother. “I don’t have any more money. Can we come back next week?”
Mother looked dismayed, but she took a five and a ten from her billfold. One dollar remained inside.
I knew what that meant. It would have last until Friday, when the pizza parlor paid her twenty-five dollar weekly wage.
“Let’s get back to Peaceable River.”
I returned on my white Honda, shiny with chrome. Mom followed until we got to Hell Creek. I arm-signaled to go my own way on Fourteenth Street.
Her driver’s window was down. She wiped her tears.
I shook my head. What’s the big deal? I bought a motorcycle. But that’s what my mother did. She’d get frustrated, or overwhelmed, or just need attention, and she’d cry. I’d rather open a vein than show my feelings to anyone. I cruised across Peaceable River bridge to O’Murphy’s house. No cars in her driveway.
MBe stepped onto Eleventh Street. She had wide, intelligent eyes, but her face wore a stoic hint of Dust Bowl, a rawboned, pre-matronly expression like a black-and-white photo. Boys my age demanded the sexiest, the most sociable, the most extroverted girls; MBe wasn’t pretty, so even teenage boys with spoiled faces like mine hadn’t chosen her.
“Thanks. I just bought it. Where’s O’Murphy?”
“You won’t believe it.”
“She’s in the hospital. They think she’s got kissing disease.”
“Mono? That blows my mind. How’d she get mono?”
She grabbed my sleeve. I have to think before I touch anyone; MBe does it instinctively.
“It gets better. She two-timed Scooter; he just doesn’t know who with.”
With whom. I’m just glad it’s not me. Not until Scoot gets a new chick.
MBe smiled with tight lips. “And, Mrs. L said she can’t go with Scooter anymore.”
I couldn’t help but grin. “They split the sheet?”
She laid her hand on my arm and tossed one more meaty piece of gossip. “Now O’Murphy has to tell Richie. He might have mono too.”
O’Murphy Scott. Making Hell Creek smile, one dude at a time.