XIV. Jam Packed with Ado
After the novelty of dancing subsided, Cait looked blasé and depleted from all the Don-dipping. The song ended and she curtseyed towards Don, like "I'm done now." She walked over to us with slow bouncy steps.
"Who's this guy?" She said, looking at me.
"His name's Wheeler. I met him at Nihil the other night when you were break dancing. Remember?"
"Nope. What up." She winked at him.
"You've got some dance moves!" said Wheeler. He was a bit too loud and Cait and I exchanged a look, noting that it was so.
"What can I say? I'm an artist..." She raised her eyebrows and put her hands on her hips. She was now a true mess, after the gym and the jog and the twirling, but there was not an ounce of restrain in any part of her physical demeanor. Inhibitions were foreign to her, as exemplified now by her stomach hanging over the panthette shorts, sweaty and slightly heaving from post-dancing fatigue. Boasting over her own graceless form was the real art.
After explaining the concept of Whim Day to Wheeler, we decided to make a move to a new destination. While Cait gave an elaborate exposition of high school Whim Day and Gary Indiana, Panther Gym and the Polish woman we stalked, Wheeler listened intently. He had a way of listening that was so refined. Sure the content of her tangent was greater than ordinary small talk, but Wheeler had genuine listening skills that were more than admirable.
He looked at us both like he really meant it, like he really meant it that he was listening. His demeanor made everything she said seem more important. I've found that most people spend the majority of conversations seeking ways to turn the dialogue attention towards themselves. Wheeler didn't try to provide his own outlandish autobiographical bull to prove he was also unique or interesting, he just listened like he wanted to know. It was quite a remarkable thing, and while I watched him take it all in so nicely I questioned now, in comparison to the apex of his conversational attention, if any one else had ever really listened to me at all.
Cait looked at me, "So what do you think?" She said.
"I said, you wanna change back into our dresses and get the heck out of this splinter?"
We left Wheeler at the bar and went to the bathroom to change. When we came back he was leaning towards Don, talking loudly about whiskey brands and the neighborhood and the shifting businesses near Moon Saloon. He had ordered three shots of Jameson for us, two for the older ladies anchored to the other end of the bar, and he'd likely drank one by himself before we walked back out. He allocated them up and held his glass in the air.
"To all you fine people," he said.
The ladies clanked the glasses and raced their gulps. I drank slowly and it was warm and smooth.
"Thanks Wheels," said Cait, "Shall we?"
"Let's get the fuck outta here," he said. His right eye was getting lazy.
Cait blew Don a kiss.
"I'll see you Don Juan," she said.
Outside the sky was dense with cool fog, and the dark streets and ugly trees made the block seem far removed from the beautified city. I squinted up and could see a dim light, the only visible star.
"Where to?" said Wheeler, lighting a menthal cigarette. He handed one to Cait after she jabbed at his arm like a bum.
"Straight," She said. She started walking.
"Should we get a cab?"
"If one drives by."
The street was strangled dead and the road and block were nearly motionless, aside from a westbound breeze. The scant tree limbs looked like acrobat legs mid-flip. They shifted west with the wind, making high pitched leaf-whipping trills. Cait walked fast ahead of Wheeler and I, and we bantered nonchalantly about this and that; random conversational garbage. He looked at me sporadically with the same attentive leer, like he was listening so hard he could barely stand it.
He grabbed my hand. His palm was sweaty, and the contact between us felt blatantly platonic. I felt nothing, like I could have been holding Maddison's hand, or a bundle of leaves. A strong desire to remove my hand from his hand and wipe his sweat off of me bombarded my mind, and I could hardly follow his random enthused comments. My arm felt like a leash attached to an unpredictable dog. Wheeler bounced exaggeratedly, and our steps were out of sync. I kept thinking to myself, "Why the fuck are we holding hands," but I didn't have the energy to pull away and initiate some awkward impassivity between us. I hadn't exactly invited Wheeler, but it was clear that he'd be spending the evening with us.
"I really want to get out of this city," he said, "and maybe move somewhere like, Tahiti, or Guam. Guam could be cool."
"I've never really considered Guam," I said.
"As a place to live?"
"Considered it for anything, really."
"Oh you should! The Chamorro culture is jam packed with ado."
"I'm confident that it is."
"I feel like that's sort of Shakespearean way to say it's full of shit."
"No no. Sans shit."
"Why are you such a Guam buff?"
"It's not exclusive to Guam....I'd say I'm just a 'buff' in general." His tone of voice made it seem like he had a ceaseless smile. In contrast I sounded like I had a ceaseless frown.
"I wouldn't consider myself a 'buff' in any category of knowledge really. In fact, I pride myself with not being sure of anything at all." I sounded humdum, but it wasn't a lie.
"You seem like a smart girl, I'm sure that's not true." He looked at me so often it was starting to make me uncomfortable. I wasn't sure of which part of our encounters had given him evidence that I was a 'smart girl', but oh well, I thought, I'd rather be given the benefit of the doubt than be considered an idiot right off the bat.
"Well thanks," I said.
"You ever just get obsessed with things?"
"No not really," I said. I wanted to change the subject but felt obliged to say, "I'm guessing you do?" I could tell it was what he wanted me to ask.
"What sort of things?"
"Anything. Theories, hobbies....words...Once on a 5 hour plane ride I wrote the word 'dichotomy' over and over and over again in my notebook. I don't know why really. Couldn't stop. I almost filled the whole thing."
"Your hand must have been bleeding after that."
"Yeah...it cramped a bit. So, lately I've been borderline obsessed with dualism. You know about it? Like philosophy of the mind?"
"What the fuck. Really guy?" I thought to myself, but didn't say it out loud because I couldn't disrespect his supreme listening skills by not reciprocating the favor.
"Semi familiar...Not a buff though," I said.
"Well I'll consider myself a dualism buff after more research, but I can't stop fucking thinking about it." He seemed frustrated over the fact.
"What sort of dualism?"
"Every sort. Mind and body, good and evil, motion and stillness, males and females, light and dark, fucking everything.. Literally everything has an opposite. I can't stop thinking about it. It makes me feel fuckin'...divided, you know? Like two people.." He was not remotely hum dum.
"Yeah I guess. I mean, I understand it, but why does it matter?" I felt like yawning but really didn't need to do so.
"You never feel like your mind and your body disagree?"
I felt like that all the time, including at that exact moment. My body wanted to repel my hand from the grasp of his sweaty palm, but my mind could not muster the courage to begrudge him. It wasn't novel to me or anything though. If our minds and bodies were in perfect unison at all times, we would be somewhat unstoppable. My body's laziness being discorded with my mind's ambition, or vise-versa, could really be the sole contribution to all of my categorical failures, come to think of it.
"Yeah..It matters. But what made you stuck on the topic?"
"You know when you get a song stuck in your head? Even if you don't like it? It's sort of like that, but with huge concepts, or just weird shit in general. Like... a few weeks back I couldn't stop thinking about pesticides."
"I don't know. Just because they're everywhere and they're good and they're bad."
"Which lead you to dualism?"
"I bet you and Cait would get along really well." She was about a half a block ahead of us now.
"Nah. I hate dancing." He lit another cigarette, this time it was a Black and Mild.
"You always carry more than one type of cigarette with you?"
"I never buy packs. I usually try to bum a couple at a time off of random smokers. I save em' and keep em' in here." He pulled out a silver box. "I never know what kind I'm gonna smoke. I like the unpredictability."
"I love the way Black and Mild's smell.."
"Do you? Is it your favorite scent?"
"No. My favorite scent.... It's probably used books. I love that smell."
He laughed half-heartily.
"I like the smell of disinfectant. The odorless kind... My parents sent me to boot camp one summer and I spent a lot of time scrubbing toilets. It sounds like sort of a fucked up deal or whatever but it ended up being like, the greatest summer of my being."
I laughed half-heartily too.
"Why'd they send you to boot camp?"
"I dunno, I was just sort of a weird kid. I used to like, run away all the time, literally. Like we'd be at the grocery store and I'd just take off running like a bird busting out of a cage or something. I never really planned it or anything, it was just instinctive. I'd get this weird impetuous feeling, and I'd just run. One day I was in Sears with my mom. We were just walking normal down some aisle and I just took off running in the other direction. She was calling my name or whatever but I just kept going like I didn't hear her. They didn't find me until the next morning. A couple days later they'd signed me up for some boot camp. My mom was all a wreck about keeping tabs on me and she picked up all these brochures about some frickin' disciplinary camp in the middle of nowhere."
We started to walk a bit more in-sync but his hand was still sweaty and uncomfortable in my palm. Both my mind and my body were in unison on the contention.
"Where'd you go when you ran away?"
"I dunno... I was just hanging out in some park. I slept in some jungle gym. I didn't run away to get drunk or anything like that. Fuck, I was like 12 years old."
"That's.. odd Wheeler. It really is."
"I know it."
I kept walking through his Black and Mild exhales. It made the dense fog sweet and smoky. We immersed from the residential blocks and came to a better lit street. Traffic was light, but encouraging. Cait had stopped to wait for us.
"I dunno about you guys but I'm dying. It's fucking hot outside. I say we head towards the water, figure out our plan there," she said. She was waning with sweat.
"Sounds good let's get a cab," I said.
"Nah nah. I do this all the time. We'll get a ride," said Wheeler. He walked off the curb towards the street. A few cars passed, and Wheeler moved closer to the moving traffic. A boxy grey van approached and Wheeler raised up his arms and made big waving gestures. The van pulled over next to us and the driver rolled down the window, manually.
He was a skinny black man sitting uncomfortably close to the steering wheel. His gaunt face looked lighter than his neck and the inside of the van looked cluttered with hanging fixtures on the rear view mirror and hapless junk piled on the dash.
"You alright?" He said.
Wheeler walked over to his window. "Hey man, You headin' towards the lake?"
"Yeah I am. You need a ride?" His voice was raspy.
"That'd be great." He looked over towards us, suggesting we get in the van.
The man could have been all sorts of predator, but really none of us cared. We didn't even hesitate. It was still Whim Day and this man had offered us a ride. Cait and I both knew it was against our rules to turn down propositions from strangers, so we got in the van, naturally. A reclining chair was positioned in the middle of the back of the van.
"She's bolted down," said the driver.
The floor was cluttered with shoes and papers, garbage, a few thin bike tires, and pretzels, oddly, were in a mess all over the place. It smelled like ketchup and dust. Wheeler sat in the front seat and I sat in the reclining chair with Cait on my lap.
"Wheeler?" said the driver, with his thin hand held out towards the passenger seat, "I'm Wiley."
"Nice to meet you Wiley," he said, shaking his hand. "That's Paigebrook and her roommate, Cait." He pointed to us.
"So you just want me to drop you at the lake?"
"Yeah or close to it. Whatever's easiest," said Wheeler.
"I'll have to make a few stops on the way." His voice had a cool rhythm.
"No problem man."
"What are you gettin' into tonight?" asked Wiley. He leaned towards the windshield like he couldn't see.
"Oh you know. This, that.. we're thinking of going for a swim."
"It's a good night for it."
The chair rattled as the van sped up and slowed down at the traffic lights. Pretzels were sliding up and down on the floor with the movement, making quiet noises. Cait was heavy on my lap and her skin was sticky and warm.
"I think my bare butt is on your leg," she said.