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jim

Jim
he had just recently gotten back from the war. it was the first time i'd seen him in several years, what with all that stuff, a couple of years in college and what not. at the time, i was over at my friend's house goofing off the summer, and he came riding up. jim had bought a three-year-old honda while in the service just before his tour was up, and for the last several weeks he'd spent most of his time burning gas and killing bugs. jim was the adopted son of the richest guy for miles around. he and his younger brother, rick, had been orphaned as babies. my friend told me that jim and rick's parents were killed by the hell's angels during a robbery gone sour, and that the two little boys were hiding under the bed when everything went wrong. and, more importantly to the history of the brothers, rick saw every bloody detail of his parents getting hacked to death by the crazed bikers, because he peeked out from under the bed, and that's why he acts the way he does. that's the story, anyway. when i asked my mom about it she said it was all simple, small town, hogwash, "ricky is just wild, that's all." she said, while cutting up cucumbers from the garden. "always has been, no reason for it. and jimmy is good just to make up for his little brother's crazy shenanigans." she didn't say how their parents died, and it seemed, at the time, impolite to ask her. but you could tell she liked jim, and worried for rick. "ricky never gave me any trouble during sunday school. oh, he was wild with the others, getting into fights, running around during service, all that stuff. but i told him flat out, 'you'll behave in my class, young man' and that was all it took. from then on it was, 'yes, mrs. campbellson', he didn't give me any trouble, sweet as an angel." of course, he did give other people colossal fits. stealing cars off of his dad's lot. kicked out of school for lighting a cherry bomb in the toilet in the teacher's lounge. he was sent away to reform school for a couple of years, which did little good. he would boast that he was the only twelve year old to bust out of the place three times. he was a handful, all right. and i guess, in a small town play, rick's performance of "cain" inevitably pushed jim into the roll of "abel". so, it raised a stir in our dusty town when jim showed up the summer after getting back riding around town on the honda. and on this day, he pulled up the street toward us. him and those two other guys, came roaring up on their bikes. one of the guys was named leroy and the other one was randolph, but everyone, including his folks, called him spiker. I don't know how he got to be spiker, he just was. spiker drove the pepsi truck in town, and one time, while on his rounds, down at shoog's, he told me to pop a wheelie, and I crashed my brother's bike into the curb. he felt guilty for making me do it, so he gave me a free pop. he was tall and skinny, and he wore his ball cap on backwards, just like johnny bench. he was cool. the other guy, leroy, was a pain in the tailpipe. leroy hated all little kids. he had a big beer gut, and he'd scratch it and say, "hey, squirt, make like the wind, and blow." i got tired of hearing it. i mean, the first time he said it, ok, fine, it was funny enough. but for crying out loud, i wish i had a nickel ice cream cone every time he said something crappy like that. but, if you were a little squirt, and tried to talk back to him, you'd get flattened. he'd think nothing of knocking a kid half his size around. i remember this one time, i saw leroy in the alley behind burton's liquor store pull the head off a baby bird right in front of the shaffer girls. i was digging through the trash barrel for pop bottles to turn in to the store for deposit when i saw the whole damn thing, i swear to god that's what he did. at first i just froze, i couldn't believe my eyes. the twins screamed and ran off down the alley for home, and i jumped on my bike and didn't stop peddling till i hit the corner past old man howard's place. i thought to myself, who could do something like that? and why did i have to see it? leroy was an ape. a big, dump ape who needed to be shot with a tranquilizer, and where was marlin perkins when you needed the guy? and what does omaha have to do with jungles, and swamps, and all those wild, animals, anyway? huh? is there some big zoo in omaha, or something? for the life of me, i never got the connection. when i told mom what leroy did, she didn't believe me, said i must have seen it wrong. but she told me to stay clear of leroy all the same. i don't think she liked him. me? i hated the son-of-a-bitch, him, and those dumb sayings, and that itchy beer gut of his. me and david were throwing the ball in the yard, playing hot box with a ghost runner, when they pulled up onto the sidewalk. those bikes were so loud we couldn't hear each other. and we started laughing at how we both kept saying, "what" to each other until we forgot what we were even talking about in the first place. and then i laughed harder 'cause dave kept screaming, "what" over and over, even after they shut off their engines. dave acts so goofy sometimes, it makes us both laugh. other times it gets us into trouble, like when he made fake farting noises in the last row of the church, one sunday, and i snorted out a laugh, and his dad hauled off and slugged us both in the head. we were still laughing when leroy yelled at us to, "get the hell out of here, before i run you over." and then he called us a couple of "no good, stinking brats". but, jim told him to simmer down, and then jim slid his helmet off real cool like. just like right out of one of those "easy rider movies" they show out at the drive-in. he ran his hand through his short, matted hair. spikier hit the kickstand of his bike with his boot, set it up right, and hopped off. "hey, kid, is sam home?" dave said, "what?" and i started laughing again, 'cause i thought he was screwing around some more. but, he hit me in the arm, and said, "he's out with becky, i think they're at the pool, 'cause he took his jock strap, and towel with him." leroy cussed, and said he was, "splitting this scene, man." jim yelled, "well, go then. nobody is holding you down." after his service, walking back from the church, mom told me how, when i was a little baby, just a toddler, i had a habit of waking up early, climbing out of the crib, trotting out of the house in my diapers and wondering off down the block. and on several occasions, while jim was delivering the post-dispatch on his morning paper route, he'd pick me up and take me home. mom said there would be a knock at the door around 5:30, and when she opened it, jim would hand me over and say, "here's your paper, and your baby, mrs. campbellson. that'll be fifteen cents, please." she didn't say anything more, and i can still remember the silence of the afternoon walk home. leroy kick started his motorcycle. the engine roared, and blue smoke came out of the muffler. when he peeled out he left a thick, black, tar-like stripe on the sidewalk, in front of dave's place. spikier said, "when sam gets home, tell him we stopped by, and give him this for me, will you, he wanted to borrow it." he tossed a red colored 8-track tape to dave. he caught it in his glove, looked at it, and said, "what does, 'L.A. woman' mean?" spikier chuckled. "hey, tiger, come here." jim waved me over to were he was sitting on his bike. he hands me his gold metallic helmet, "hop on, i'll take you for a quick spin." i jumped on back, and he yells, "hold on tight." i was so damned scared. i'd never been on a motorcycle before. i tried to act cool, but i was having fun. for a seven year old kid, peddling your bike as fast as you possibly could down the steep hill at the end of town can be exhilarating. or even a respite from your mom's humiliatingly, and agonizingly snail-like driving when you wanted to go to the fair or the stock car races. i swear, she must have gotten some kind of enjoyment out of driving so incredibly slow that we were getting lapped by old guys driving hay wagons. i remember we road out past the canal and the bridge, turned past the fair grounds and down the gravel road toward the city lake. we followed the path around the picnic area, and the boat dock, and instead of heading back out toward the highway we turned up the dirt road toward the spillway. jim said something to spikier that i didn't catch. spikier gave the thumbs up sign, and gunned the throttle, and pushed his bike up the sharp, grassy incline of the dam. the sudden blast from the engine under me caught me by surprise, "hang on." jim shouted. we got about half way before the tire slipped on the grass and the bike stalled out. i wasn't sure how many somersaults were involved, but it was enough to cause a serious spinning effect inside my skull. and when i looked up, spikier was brushing the dirt off me and saying, "how's the coconut, kid?" jim picked me up and asked if i was ok, "i saw you rolling this way and the helmet go flying that way, for a second thought your head went with it. you sure you're ok, tiger?" i reassured them that i was fine. and for obvious reasons noted, repeatedly, that nobody needed to know about this, especially my folks. to a seven-year-old, falling off a motorcycle meant getting into serious trouble. spikier scratched my head, and told me i was a tough kid, "you're all right, o. i don't care what anyone else says." jim told spikier he'd catch up with him later, after he dropped me off at home. and when he pulled the bike in front of the house, he shut off the engine and came inside with me and sat down to visit with mom. he began to tell her about our little accident, and i started to panic, thinking of a possible escape plan. i'd head out the back door, "just going to the kitchen, no need to follow me," i'd say, then bolt for the alley, up the street to the corner and then canada, if lucky. or, in a pinch, i'd settle for mexico. but, i realized mom wasn't blowing her stack. jim was smoothing things over real well. it was like a free pass out of jail. he had that way of being forthright, and honest. and looking back i know i idolized him for that, and i wanted to be like that when i grew up. and i know rick meant well, when he came over and fixed my bike shortly after getting out for taking a pool cue to the guy who ran his brother off the road and into a fence post forever. i think rick knew what his brother meant to me, and putting new spokes on my front wheel was his way of showing it. mom made lemonade and sat with rick on the porch while i road my newly repaired bike around and around the block.

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