Toledo, OH 1996
The boys lived in the East Side of Toledo, which sat east of the Maumee River, hence the name. Two bridges connected connected the isolated side of town to the city: the Hi-Level Bridge and the Martin Luther Kung, Jr. Bridge, better known as the Cherry St. Bridge. The boys, of course, didn’t know they lived on the poor side of town. The summer that year was like any other. By the first week of August the weather had cooled a bit, and the boys in town prepared for the new school year, staying outside as much as possible to chase away thoughts of homework.
On one particular day, Jeremy and Pat rode their bikes down an alley between Pool and Oak Street. Their tires bounced in and out of potholes as they sped along. Halfway down the alley boys stopedp. They stood in front of a large pool of engine oil.
“Betcha can’t ride your bike through it,” Jeremy said. He was a skinny Mexican, 10-years-old. He rode a black 10-speed.
“I don’t know,” said Pat, a 11-year-old with red hair and pale skin with freckles. He stared at the puddle.
“Why don’t you do it?”
Jeremy eyed the puddle. He gripped his handlebars. “Fuck it,” he said. He hit the pedals hard. His mike made a small splash as it tore through the puddle, but halfway through his front tire turned perpendicular to his handlebars. He screamed as the bike slid out from under him, sending him flying off the bike and causing him to fall into the puddle, head first. His face was covered in oil.
“Stupid fuck,” Pat said as he rode away.
Later that week the boys gathered for a pick-up game of baseball in the field behind Pat’s house. Jeremy was there, a scab now above his lip and scratch marks above his right eye. Also among their clan were: James, the fat one; Mike, the book worm; Johnny, the only black kid in the neighborhood; and Mick, who was the oldest of the group at 12-years-old.
The boys had an aluminum bat and a torn baseball they found on the doghouse in James’s yard. Only Pat had a mitt. None of them could pitch, so instead the batter threw the baseball up in the air with one hand and quickly grabbed the bat and swung. Mick was up to bat.
“You lick lick dogs’ balls!” James shouted from the third base, which was marked with a pile of dirt.
“Eat my dick!” Mick said. He threw the ball up and swung. The ball sailed past Pat and Johnny’s head as they chased it through the outfield.
“Home run,” Mike said, standing behind Mick as the catcher.
“That wasn’t a home run,” Pat said.
“A home run is when it goes out of the park,” Mike said.
“There ain’t no park!”
“In this instance, out of the park means when it goes past your heads.”
Pat threw his glove down and stormed up the field to Mike. “Did you find that rule in a book?”
“Well, that’s what it should be.”
“I quit!” Pat shouted, and picked up his bike. He rode off as the boys, now huddled together watch him go.
“Good going,” Mick said.
On the way home, Pat’s front tire popped. He walked his bike down Pool St. As he passed the Oak St. intersection he saw Art, the boy that smelled, holding a bat in his hand. Art threw a baseball in the air, grabbed the bat, and swung. He missed. He repeated this a second time and again missed. He did it a third time. There was a loud crack followed by the baseball sailed over his two story A-frame house. Pat stopped walking and traced the arch of the ball as it sailed across the sky.
Art picked up another ball and swung away. Again the ball sailed past the house and out of sight.
Pat looked away and pushed his bike forward. When he got home he dropped it in the back yard and ran into his house. The scent of tomato filled the kitchen. He walked past his mom stirring a pot of noodles.
“Spaghetti again?” he said, leaving mud foot prints on the laminate floor.
“Shoes, mister,” his mother said.
Pat took his shoes off and placed on a square rug next to the door.
That night Pat lay awake in his bed staring at the ceiling. He refused to eat dinner and instead went to bed hungry. He waited for his dad, who worked second shift at the nursing home and didn’t get home until midnight. He did this every night, listening for his dad to open the door, come in the house, turn the television on, and light up a cigarette. Pat would hear his dad cough up phlegm and eventually fall asleep. His dad didn’t come home that night.
Jeremy and Mick were riding bikes down the alley. Jeremy’s scab had now turned green. Mick stopped behind Katrina’s house. She was Jeremy’s cousin. Mick was in her class and had asked her out a month ago. She agreed.
Katrina wore a white summer dress and bow in her brown hair. She danced by herself while the Backstreet Boys played from a portable boom box that sat on a picnic table. A smile spread across her face and she twirled in a circle, the skirt of her dress flowing in the wind.
Jeremy rode off but Mick stood there in the alley.
The song ended and Katrina turned and saw Mick. She waved, then walked up to him.
“Hi,” she said.
Jeremy yelled from down the alley. “C’mon, Mick. She’s just a girl.”
“I gotta go,” Mick said. He kissed Katrina on the lips. This was their first.
Katrina stood in the alley and watched as Mick rode off towards the horizon. He was outlined by the sinking sun. The boys disappeared around a corner and Katrina was left surrounded by a boarded up garage and pot holes.
Johnny rode his bike by himself, singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” He had a girl’s voice but no one could make fun of him when he was alone. He sang away as his soprano notes echoed in the air. His mother had first taught him to sing by soothing him to sleep with nursery rhymes. She sang in the church choir.
Johnny rode for hours, not paying attention to where he was going. He lived on Oak St. and was told to go no further than four blocks, but he kept on riding down side streets, singing songs the Lion King. As he he passed Pool St. he sang “Hakuna Mattada.” Then he rode farther. The wind picked up as Johnny rode down East Broadway, singing away. He passed a sign that said WALBRIDGE and kept riding.
It was now in the afternoon and Johnny stopped singing and looked around. He stood on his bike in front of an elementary school that he had never seen before. All around him were two story brick houses and Oak trees. He walked behind the school and saw a playground surrounded by a chain link fence. He sat on a swing and took a few steps back and launched himself into the air. He kicked his legs and swung higher and memories flooded him of his dad pushing him as he yelled, “Take me to the moon!” His dad would push him harder.
As Johnny hit the apex of his arch he threw himself off of the swing and landed in the dirt with a thud. He got on his bike and began riding back the way her came, singing “The Circle of Life.” When he got back to his block he heard his mom shouting his name. He pulled up in his driveway and saw her standing in the doorway.
“Where the hell have you been?” she shouted.
He hung his head down and walked up to the porch. His mom grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the house. She started to scream at him about not going too far. He stood there in the living room humming “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”
James lay on the floor of his bedroom, staring at the blades of a ceiling fan twirl. He was an odd kid who liked to tell people he was abducted by aliens. Sister Mary at school told him he should see a psychologist. He didn’t even know what a psychologist was. He puffed on a cigarette as a Queen record played on his stereo. His parents had a record collection in the basement and he’d go down there from time to time and discover a new one to listen to. He liked the song “Another One Bites the Dust.”
There was clash of a pan hitting a wall from downstairs. No matter how loud James turned the music, he couldn’t drown out the noise. He heard his mother yell: “You think you can just come in here and tell me I don’t do enough!”
“All I do is work!” his dad screamed. “What do you do?”
“I feed you and clean the house! And you go and get drunk!”
James closed his eyes and tapped his foot against the floor, letting the rumbles from the speaker guide his rhythm.
Across the hall his younger brother Mike sat on his bed, book in hand, reading The Death and Life of Superman. He slaved over every word, making sure not to skip even the slightest “and” or “the.” Nothing could silence the shouts. He flinched every time he heard a shout, squinting his eyes and reading slower. Superman had just been killed.
“I can’t take it Jim!” his mother screamed. Jim was his father.
“You can’t take it?” his father shouted. “I just want to get a gun and shoot you and myself!”
Mike put the book down and walked across the hall to James’s room. He opened the door and poked his head in the room.
“You want to go play baseball?” he asked James.
James, whose eyes were closed, didn’t respond. The music blared through the room.
Mike walked in and tapped him on the shoulder.
James’s eyes opened. “What?” he shouted.
“Want to play baseball?” Mike asked.
All the boys stood in the field behind Pat’s house. Mick was up to bat. Mike stood behind him as catcher. Johnny stood on first base, Jeremy on second. Pat stood alone in the outfield. He punched his fist into his mitt and spit in the grass.
Mick held the bat in one hand and baseball in the other. “Where do you want me to hit it?”
“You ain’t gonna hit shit!” James shouted.
Mick looked down and whispered, “Watch me fat ass.” He looked up, licked his thumb, and stuck it in the wind. He then picked the ball off the ground and felt the weight of it in his hand. The boys looked on. Mick threw the ball in the air and watched it rise. He grabbed the bat with both hands and swung as the ball reached its highest point. The bat connected and the ball flew in the air.
All the basemen looked up and stared as the ball flew over their heads. Pat, however, kept his head up and mitt outstretched in the air. He kept running backwards, his eyes never leaving the ball. It flew farther and farther, but Pat kept running back.
“He’ll never catch it,” Mike said.
The ball started to fall. Pat kept running. All the boys shouted as Pat tripped over a stick in the grass onto his back. And then there was a thud.
“Holy shit,” Mike said.
Pat sat in the grass and pulled the ball out his mitt. The boys hollered.
Mick stood and stared.
Pat got back up and ran up to Mick.”You’re out mother fucker.” He spit and slapped the ball in Mick’s hand.
Mick stood behind Katrina’s house, right on the edge of her lawn where it met the alley. She stood across from him. Mick stared at her smile and light brown skin. His own arms looked pale next to her skin. He felt a warmth when he was with her.
Katrina’s dad yelled from an open window, “Katrina, get in this damn house! Supper’s ready!” Katrina turned towards her house and back to Mick. “I better go,” she said.
“I’ll wait for you here,” Mick said.
Katrina smiled. “Okay,” she said before running towards the house. She opened a glass door that led into the kitchen.
Mick saw her eat dinner with her family through the glass door. He sat in the alley and waited. A few minutes passed and Katrina looked out at the window to Mick and waved. Feeling a need to entertain, Mick picked a piece of overgrown grass and put it in his mouth. Katrina began laughing when he played with it between his teeth and pretended to smoke it like a cigarette.
Katrina walked out of the house and approached him. Mick spit the piece of grass out of his mouth and again stood at the edge of her lawn.
“You waited for me,” she said.
Mick heard his mom call his name. Her voice echoed down the alley. “I gotta go,” he said.
Katrina reached across the edge of lawn and kissed Mick on the lips. She giggled and ran off back into the house. It was their first kiss. Mick rubbed his lips and felt the warmth spread through him. As an adult he’d marry a woman named Holly, and they’d fight. He’d call her a bitch and she’d call him a dick. He would go on and get divorced. But that’s another story. This was a boy’s tale. And one girl got to share it.