Monday morning workout has to be the worst moment of every week, unless you go to bed by 8 pm on Sundays. In that case, your life is probably so boring, you’re depressed anyway. Coach obviously feels the same way, and he takes it out on us. Specifically, he takes it out on me. My personal ups and downs are reflected in the quality of my workouts. My weekend in New York and LA is not that far behind me. My midnight escapade with Robby shows up when I hit a wall about an hour and a half into a five-mile session. Wall or not, Coach sees his opening and steps on me hard. Every second I have to catch my breath is spent listening to my inadequacies. It’s finally over, but Coach is not through. He informs me he isn’t going to waste his time and breath on me, if I plan on quitting the team. His instincts are right, but I’m not going to quit. Burning the candle on both ends is my fault. I swear on every religious book I can think of, including the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that I’ll straighten up and lead a rightful life. The only bright spot is news from Stu that Scott is allowed to return for afternoon workout. I need that morale boost.
When I get home, I go right to sleep, waking up to the mid-day heat in a sweat. I take a shower and call Scott. His mom hesitates, then calls him to the phone.
“So, you’re off restriction?”
“Well, not really, but I get to come to workout tonight. I’m surprised my mom let me talk with you.”
“Like I’m the big, bad influence on you.”
“Well, it wasn’t Lydia.”
“So you think I led you astray?”
“You did more than that.”
We both laugh. I feel things may still go back to normal. He asks about Lydia. I tell him she wasn’t back to workout. He sounds disappointed.
“Why don’t you bike over to her house with me after practice?”
“I promised my mom I wouldn’t see her.”
“Com’n, they can’t keep you from seeing her.”
“They say I’ll get in serious trouble if her folks catch me with her again.”
“Oh, the police.”
“That, and I don’t want her in any more trouble than she already is.”
Scott hesitates, “You sound really strange since that trip to New York.”
“Yeah, it comes out when I get sarcastic.”
“You make it come out.”
“So it’s my fault? You’re a wise ass, Tim Castle.”
We talk some more about workout. I’m elated we’re together again. I’m so happy after getting off the phone, that I clean my room and do laundry. It’s been a while.
We swim in the same lane. Although we’re both dragging by the end of practice, I feel my old joy returning. Scott has a note for me to give to Lydia. He says I can read it. I almost laugh at how immature he sounds. He just doesn’t have the balls to tell her directly how much he loves and misses her. First love. I need to help that boy. I stay late at Lydia’s, so I don’t get home until eight. Dad and Susan are watching TV and ignore me when I get in. I warm up a bowl of spaghetti and take it up to my room. I almost drop the bowl when I see Robby sitting in my window.
“I like the view from up here, almost as good as from the top of the trees.”
“And I don’t have to worry about falling forty feet with someone’s toe up my butt.”
“Oh, you care.”
“Um, how long have you been waiting?”
“Ever since you moved into the neighborhood,” and he laughs. “Got any more food.”
”Sure. I’ll run down and get some more. Here, you eat this.”
“That’s okay. Just let me have a bite,” and he takes the bowl and gobbles several bites.
“You drink milk?” his lips curls with a sneer.
“Whadda you drink?”
“Beer. Got any?”
“Naw, my dad doesn’t drink,” I lie.
“What about you?”
“I like it, especially with pizza.”
“Well, let’s go.”
“Sorrento’s, on 8th. You got money?”
“Ten’ll cover it.”
“How about some other night?”
“You’re the one with the money.”
“I’m experiencing a temporary cash flow problem. My assets are tied up.”
“Your ass loves being tied up.”
“All my cash is at my dealer’s, waiting on a shipment.”
“Colombian Gold. Only the finest.”
I look at him funny, thinking about the gangsters I beat in New York.
“You don’t believe me?”
“I wish I didn’t.”
“Well, how’d ya think I can afford all those joints you finish off in one drag.”
“I get big lungs from swimming.”
“You like getting high.”
We laugh. I finish my spaghetti, so I move over to the window sill. Sitting next to him, I put my arm around his shoulder. He shrugs me off.
“You’re the one who’s gay, not me,” he accuses me, moving to the far side of the window.
I lean back and place my feet on top of his. “I think your feet are as gay as mine.” We leave it at that.
After a pause, while we look out at the dark neighborhood, I ask him what he plans for the night.
“Just watching to see what happens when they show up at my window.”
In a few minutes, we both see someone appear outside Robby’s room. It’s Jazz. After looking in and seeing no one, Dave comes up. We can’t hear what they say, but obviously they’re plotting something. Just then, we watch Dave go in Robby’s window, with Jazz keeping watch.
“That asshole; he’s looking for my stash.”
“Will he find it?”
“Naw. I hid it good, but he’s gonna get a big surprise when he looks in my drawer.”
As if on cue, Dave comes flying out the window, head-first. He hits the ground, rolls over, and keeps running out of the yard. Jazz takes off after him.
“What got into him.”
“Just an eight foot king snake. I put my mom’s snake in my drawer.”
“Your mom has a snake?”
“Where do ya think I learn all my magic.”
“Better than an armed guard. I bet Dave doesn’t sneak in there soon.”
He’s a series of laughs tonight. Funny. I hadn’t even thought about him all day, what with Scott coming back to practice.
“I better get over there. I don’t wanna lose any more customers.”
“They think we’re a little gang. It’s just their way to smoke for free.”
“I’ve never seen you charge them.”
“When they’re with me, I provide. They want some of their own, they pay.
“Twenty an oz. It keeps me in pot.”
He leaves me sitting there. I soon see him enter his room through the window. He looks back and waves to me, holding up what I assume is the eight foot black snake. I laugh, and he disappears. I sit a while, noting the arrival of several of Robby’s customers. Regardless of what he says, I still believe we’re a little gang. It’s weird that of all the times I sit and look out from this window, I haven’t noticed the comings and goings at Robby’s. Maybe it’s a lack of focus. Which reminds me that my focus has switched away from being Lydia and Scott’s messenger boy. I still have his note to her. Jumping on my bike, I’m soon at her window. She’s really pleased to get his note. Slipping out of her window, we walk to the fountain at Country Club Prado, where she quickly scans the note. Sensing her confusion, I ask what he wrote.
“Oh, he just misses me.”
“He didn’t say how much he loves you?”
“Why would he say that?”
“He tells me all the time how important it is for you to know it.”
“Sure. Didn’t he even say that?”
“No. He doesn’t seem very good at writing about his feelings.”
I don’t have an answer for this rhetorical question. We sit there quietly, until our silence makes us nervously laugh. I want to comfort her, in her loneliness, so I move closer. She doesn’t notice, until I take her hand in mine. She half-smiles.
“Everybody knows about us, don’t they?”she asks.
“I doubt that. Maybe you should talk with the other girls. It helps Scott to talk with me.”
“I can’t tell them. All they want to do is gossip.”
“Well, you can talk with me. At least, I can tell Scott what you’re feeling. He’ll ask me anyway.”
She tells me to tell him how isolated she is and alone without him. She says her dad is calming down. But it isn’t likely that she can return to practice until school starts. We sit there holding hands until it’s time for her to sneak back into her room. I’m spending a night watching people slip into windows, which gives me the idea of seeing Scott. I ride home and call him, relaying what Lydia had said. He hangs on every word, but I can hear the sadness in his voice. He says he’ll have another letter to pass to her tomorrow.
“Want me to sneak into your room tonight?” I ask.
“I can be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, Tim. I don’t know.”
His reticence stuns me. I ask if he’ll sneak out to meet me, but again he isn’t enthusiastic. I feel pretty rejected. Then I realize I’m acting out again. My little plots are too much for him. I tell him I love him, which he barely acknowledges. We hang up. I’m still ready for more adventure that night. Instead I strip off my jeans and go to bed. Lying in the dark, I see occasional lightning flashes outside the window. I imagine Lydia lying in bed missing Scott and crying. I’m lying there missing him, too. Scott is also in his bed, unwilling to let me sneak in with him and too fearful to sneak out to meet me or go to Lydia’s. I’m convinced I should sneak over there anyway, but I know it won’t help. Scott is being subdued after a summer of adventures that ended when he got caught with Lydia. The threat of the police is more than he can handle. But why had Mr. Watt said that the police threat is overblown; maybe they’re using it to control him? I trust the Watts and don’t want to believe they’d be so deceitful. Who can blame Scott? The thought of sneaking into his bed is beguiling to me. My new-found maturity convinces me not to follow my every whim. Instead, I roll over, hugging my pillow, until I fall asleep. I go into an instant dream, where I’m paddling down a tropical river, probably the Amazon. Stopping at a trading post, I meet the Watts, who are on their way to a vacation cabin. I try to convince Scott to come with me in my canoe, but as we leave the dock, his dad jumps into a power boat. Not content to just get Scott, he rams the boat into my canoe, cutting it in half. I’m in the water, watching them drive away, when a white dolphin swims beside me, rubbing up against me and pushing me with its nose. I wrap my arms around the dolphin. We swim rapidly up the river, undulating as we rise and submerge in the river. I slide underneath the dolphin so we’re stomach-to-stomach. Our undulations increase in strength until we’re speeding so fast that we fly out of the water, skimming across the surface. Swimming stronger and stronger, the dolphin dives deep into the river, reverses direction, then flies straight upward. At the apogee of our flight, we both shudder and hold ourselves suspended in midair. Shuddering over and over again we remain suspended above the water. At the last shudder, I look down the river, barely seeing Scott in the boat with his dad. Separating from the dolphin, I fall back into the water. The warm water turns into a pool of wet cum on my pillow and stomach. It’s my first wet dream in years. The vision of Scott motoring away from me erases the exhilaration of flying with the dolphin.
The next few weeks blend into a routine of workouts and nightly sessions delivering notes between Scott and Lydia. His writing style barely improves, but the hints I pass to him from Lydia of what she is pining to hear increases the sense of yearning they both feel. As their messenger, I receive my fair share of gratitude and neediness, getting hugs, kisses and hand holding from both of them. I know these are meant for each other, just passed through me. On the weekends I ride bikes with Stu and our gang. Scott is on permanent janitorial duty at his dad’s office. It’s okay for us to speak openly at his house when I return with Stu. The rides are refreshing, but there’s a part of me withering away from lack of Scott’s love. When I final tell him what I’m feeling, he dismisses my complaint about our separation as not as hard as his separation from Lydia. I begin to wonder if he’d ever felt as strongly as I do. Time changes perceptions.
Robby shows up at odd times, feeling perfectly welcome to come into my room and wait for my return. When I am there, his arrival is too much like Peter Pan to ignore. I ask if he feels he’ll never grow up.
“Not likely, why?”
“How are you going to avoid it?”
He jumps out my window and pretends to swan dive off my roof. I jump out after him, expecting to see him splattered on the ground. Instead, he swings back towards me on a branch, laughing at my concern. He wants to stay a kid as long as possible. I worry he’ll kill himself, rather than grow up. I’m sure that pot lets him suspend belief that he has to get older. I avoid smoking with him on the grounds that it interferes with my swim training. He tries working his spell over me, as he does with the other kids. When it doesn’t work, he pushes me away from his deeper feelings. All the homosexual teasing and acting out is repressed. We catch each other checking each other out at odd times. I know his charms still have power over me.
Tina and I talk weekly, but that closeness we had in New York is not growing. She tries by thanking me for all I did for Tito. I’m not after gratitude. She refuses to discuss Scott and Lydia’s problem, for fear of creating suspicions in her dad’s mind. I remember what Lydia’s said about being fully honest with Tina about my gay experiences. Not sensing the growing trust and closeness needed to expose myself, I hold back, which she senses. I trust that our real time together is in the future. I worry that this lack of maturity may mean we’ll never share that future.
I try to call Joey several times, but he’s never at Doug’s. It’s embarrassing having to deal with Doug’s continued advances. I feel my rejection of him is my fault for having used him for the plane ticket. I know he’s not hurting for companionship. I ask him how Tony is doing. Doug says he’s surprised in the change in Tony since he met me. He gets more attractive all the time. Maybe it’s Doug’s ploy to make me compete for his attention. I’m relieved that he might realize Tony is a better bet than me. His ardor for me decreases over time. Joey is always ‘out.’ It worries me knowing what he’s out doing. Everyone is moving away from me. Practice and bike riding keep me busy. I work on my friendships with the younger kids, and still enjoy careening down dirt mountains, splashing through mud puddles, riding into the ocean, or diving from the tower at Coach Tom’s pond. Coach Earl always chats with me when we come by his house. I appreciate his watchful eye. My dad and Susan lead their own life together. Our squabbles over the phone bill are only lapses in the seamless texture of my life. He doesn’t say anything about getting a job. Scott had told me I can jump him for sex anytime I need it, but that was from a different time, our vacation in NC. Not needing sex is better. It’s the closeness I miss. Being the surrogate between Lydia and him is not satisfying, just a way to feel I still care about him and her. Turning sixteen hasn’t changed much, although I did sign up for driver training in school. I guess I’m actually looking forward to the start of school.
Sitting in Robby’s room the night before school starts, I decide to indulge in getting high with them. It makes me feel closer to the group. The discussion turns to me and do I had the ‘guts’ to go to school shoeless.
“No way, “ I object, “They’ll just send me home.”
“To put one over on the assholes.”
“That dick, Spencer, the Assistant Principal.”
“There’s no way I’m not going to be noticed.”
”Sure, if you wear those jock-head clothes.”
“Whadda ya mean? Everyone wears tees and jeans.”
I look around and realize the flaw in my logic. They all wear ripped, frayed jeans that hung on their butts, and fall all the way to the ground so you can’t see their feet. Long-sleeved shirts remain untucked and are missing half their buttons. Only Dave is wearing Levi’s that look like they’ve never been washed. Also, he’s the token geek. I get up and announce I could look more like them. I run home and change into the Love jeans and body shirt Joey had bought me in the Grove. When I get back to Robby’s, they all ridicule me.
“Disco boy, disco boy, always playing with his toy.”
Robby pulls my shirt off and gives me one of his to wear. They all nod approval. I’m now an official stoner.
The next day I hide a pair of sneakers in my locker and make it through all my classes without shoes. It’s a weird sense of accomplishment. I know I’m the only stoner in Biology, Algebra II, Spanish II and College-Prep English. All the other kids look so straight to me. At lunch I ask around for Robby, getting weird looks for even saying I know him. I’m flirting with ‘soc’ ostracism by even looking for stoners. I would never have dared last year when I was the new kid. I stroll out the main door at three o’clock, only to be grabbed by my high school swim coach. He gives me one look and sizes up the problem with his best swimmer.
“You smell like dope.”
“Well, you look like you would. Let’s get one thing straight. No one on my team looks like a bum. Lose the loser look.”
’Okay, Coach. Don’t have a stroke. It’s just part of summer. I’d think you’d want to know my new best times.”
“They’re just long course times. I’m thinking we need to get the team to workout all year.”
“Com’n, Coach. You know I spend all my time at the University. Don’t worry, I’ll be even better by the time swimming starts. I’ve got to get to practice now.”
I walk away, thinking what a joke he is. I get plenty of comments when I get to the pool, but soon we all look the same in identical orange Speedo’s. Practice is over by seven, Scott s extremely hyper, because Lydia has returned for the first time. We wait outside the girls locker room, when her brother Steve comes up to us.
“Forget it, punk. You’re not hanging around my sister.”
Scott looks ready to fight him. I’ve never seen him so worked up.
“Cool it, Scott,” I warn him. “Listen, Steve, you can stand right here with us if you want. Lydia’s not your kid. If she wants to talk with us, you can’t stop her?”
“She’s got to go straight home.”
“We’re not stopping her. But she is our friend. All this hate is ridiculous.”
He relaxes slightly.
When Lydia comes out, she looks at the three of us worriedly. We say we’re just glad she’s back and we’ll see her in the morning. Scott is so worked up, he rides all the way to my house before realizing he’s gone the wrong way.
“Com’n in Scott. You won’t get grounded.”
We take the back stairs to my room. He can’t sit down, until I finally make him sit in my window. I get behind him, holding him in my arms. He leans his head against me, shudders, and relaxes.
“I’d forgotten how good this feels.”
“I’ll never forget.”
“I guess I’m kinda jerk. Do you really miss me?”
“As much as you miss Lydia.” He turns to look me in the face.
“I didn’t realize.”
“It’s all fallen apart, Scott. I just didn’t say anything. I’m not jealous of you and Lydia.”
“No need. She can’t ever be with me,” he sighs.
“Don’t give up.”
I hold him and gave him a kiss. He doesn’t respond at first. Then he holds me tightly and firmly kisses me back. A whistle rings out from beyond my yard. Scott quick pulls away. I look up and give the finger to Robby, who is grinning at us from his yard. I wave for him to come over. He seems hesitant, but quickly disappears into the trees.
“Who’s that?” Scott asks.
“My neighbor, Rob, He thinks he’s Peter Pan.”
“He saw us kissing.”
“It’s cool. He knows about me. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re gay, too.’
“Well, I really don’t think I’m gay, just with you.”
“Don’t sweat it. It’s the same with him. He’s got a girlfriend, too.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I do have a life, even though you’re gone.”
“I forget, the Ransom, boy. What do you think when you see these clothes?”
“I just like seeing you in your swim suit.”
“Ah, a perv.”
Robby sticks his head over the roof above the window.
“Who’s the perv?”
“All of us, douche.”
I make a casual introduction which makes Robby laugh and Scott nervous.
“Was I interrupting anything? I couldn’t resist.”
Scott turns even redder.
“S’cool,” Robby reassured him. “I’m glad you guys are back together.”
He starts to take out his normal joint, but I motion for him to cool it. We talk about school. I say I’d looked for him. He says they all ditch after Nutrition, hanging out at Jace’s from 10 am until the evening. Scott is shocked. I tell Robby about our run-in with Lydia’s brother. Scott has to be home. I gave him a quick peck on the lips when we get to the door, where Robby can’t see. Robby settles into the window for the joint and the scoop about the kiss. I tell him he ruined my chance for cheap sex. He tells me where to find them ditching school. I figure that is unlikely. He gets up to leave, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek and winks.
“Don’t go just yet.”
“No, I just need someone to hold me. I thought I don’t love him anymore but now I know I lied.”
He gingerly comes around behind me and lets me settle into his arms. I relax, and he pulls me into a tight hug. He flies out my window, Peter Pan fashion, and is gone.
Later I call Scott. He’s upset about my new friend. He understands why I need someone new, since he is grounded. He gives me all sorts of advice about staying out of trouble. I finally get him to talk about us. He reiterates his deep love for me. Then he admits he doesn’t really miss sleeping with me. It hurts to hear him say the truth. When I get quiet, he changes his mind and says he didn’t mean it. I don’t know what to believe. Knowing I’ll see him at morning practice, I say we need to work it out separately from him and Lydia. He asks if we should go on dates or something.
“Nobody goes on dates, Scott.”
“I mean, plan things, just the two of us.”
“I just want us to be happy and normal, or as normal as we were before. Let’s just see how it goes.”
“It was going pretty good until your friend showed up.”
“I love you, Scott.”
“You’re too hot-blooded, Tim.”
“You love it.”
“Yeah, and that scares me.”
“Well, you know where I live.”
“”I love you, too, Tim.”
It was the best phone call I’d had since Joey on my 15th birthday. I go to sleep with my pillow and gave it a really bad time. Good thing I do my own laundry.
The next night, my dad tells me to wait in the living room as I come in from practice. Another confrontation looms. I get my reheated dinner and sit eating in the living room. He and Susan wait until I finish.
“Tim, we’re not seeing any progress on getting a job. I just got the phone bill and added to the swim dues, you owe over a hundred dollars.”
I consider using Doug’s money to get him off my back, but I’m not sure I can explain to him how I earned it.
“Dad, you’ve got to realize that I can’t work out and have a job too. There has to be total dedication to swimming to succeed. I’m not asking that much.”
“I’m going to make this real easy for you. young man. If you want to swim, you’ve got to earn the money yourself. I’m not paying these dues anymore.”
“You want me to beg. It’s only thirty dollars a month.
“Then get something part-time or on the weekend. You walk all over us, son.”
“All I ask is for your support. If I can get a college scholarship, it’ll save you more in the long run.”
“The dues is not the only issue. You need to know the value of money.”
“By punishing me?”
“I’m not going to argue with you. You want to swim, then you’ve got to earn it. Can I be any clearer?”
This is his signal that the discussion is over. I take my dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher. I stomp upstairs, lock the door, and sit in the window. I see the light on in Robby’s room and soon I watch Dave and Jazz slip in the window. The desire to join them and forget my woes is almost overwhelming. Instead, I call Scott.
“Just my dad. He’s making me quit the team.”
“Yeah. I have to get a job to pay for it.”
“There’s no way you can work and still make workouts.”
“He doesn’t understand.”
“What are we going to do?”
The feeling that we were in this together makes me instantly happy.
“Just ignore him.”
We don’t talk for a moment. It’s enough that Scott is on my side.
“Have you talked to Lydia?” I ask.
“I try to phone, but she’s not allowed calls. I’m afraid to sneak over like we used to.”
“Well, they could still put you in jail.”
“Want me to go see her? Maybe she could sneak out and call you.”
“Sure, Scott.” Then I pause before saying what I really feel. “I know this sounds needy, but we’re being kept apart, too. I’ll do anything to help you with Lydia. I need to be with you, too, like we were last night.”
“It was so strange when your stoner friend saw us. How come he knows who I am?”
“He sneaks around, looking in windows in the neighborhood. When I finally met him, he told all his friends I’m a fag. I’m not ashamed.”
“How can you like someone like him? He’s a Peeping Tom.”
“He can be cool. One of the reasons I called you is to avoid going over to his house. There’s a whole gang of kids that hang out there every night.”
“And get loaded, huh? I hope you’re not smoking dope, Tim?”
“Well, why do you think I called you. It’s too easy to just want to forget all my problems.”
“Tim, these are our problems. You’ve been a great help with Lydia. We’re the old team again. I’ll do what I can to keep you from going downhill. You can always call me.”
“What I really need is to be with you.”
“If you ride over here after seeing Lydia, I’ll sneak out.”
After hanging up, I ride to Lydia’s. She can only come to the window, not sneak out. We talk about Scott and other team stuff. She’s glad to be back at practice. Losing her phone privileges is the hardest; she is a teenage girl. I can tell all the pressure about Scott is getting to her. We remember last year’s Halloween party and wish we can go back to feeling like that. Turning sixteen has been hard on both of us. She gives me a hug which I’m supposed to pass to Scott. It seems pretty repressed. I ride to Scott’s, even though it’s late. His house s dark, but he was waiting for me at his window. As he slips out the window, it overwhelms me that he is so beautiful. His hair has bleached white tips. His eyelashes are long and dark. There are hints of green that make his eyes sparkle from the street lights. His arms swing easily as we walk the short distance to the school where we hung out before. As he bends to sit down his butt fills his jeans like an inviting garden. I’m so smitten. He’s desperate for Lydia’s words. I try not to reveal what I sense about her pulling away, telling him how difficult all the pressure is on her. We sit silently under the tree. He reaches over and pulls me into a long hug, which only heightens our sadness. I had wanted to be sexual with him, but our mood is too depressed. The idea we can get each other through our troubles is just an idea. We get up and walk back to his house. We both push my bike. I take his hand, place it on the bike seat, then place mine on top. We both control the bike from the seat which means we were wandering all over the road. It lifts our spirits slightly. In his side yard, Scott kisses me, lingering, poignant, but not exciting. The sadness of the night hangs over me all the way back to the Gables. It’s after midnight. Another difficult morning practice looms.
At the end of the month, Mrs. Haines takes me aside after evening workout. She tells me that Dad returned the dues bill with a note saying I have to pay the dues from now on. It’s begun. I tell her I’ll bring the thirty dollars the next day. That night, I count my money. I have enough for four months of dues, my life savings. I’m sitting on my bed, counting the bills when Robby looks in my window.
“You’re thinking about taking me to Sorrento’s.”
“Just trying to figure out how to make $125 last for the rest of my life.”
“Sounds like just the problem for Sorrento’s.”
I don’t want to argue with that logic. What the hell?
We both get our bikes. Robby’s bike is the opposite of my beat-up ten-speed. He was obviously into making it look good. I’m embarrassed at the state of repair of mine. He shows me all the modifications he’s made, including having the frame chromed. He calls it a racing model, meant for the track, with no brakes and only top gear. Even the tires are different, made of light-weight material. He says he often gets flats.
“How can you use it on the streets with no brakes?”
“I’m a great rider. You have to go around obstacles, not stop for them.”
He takes off, leaving me quickly behind. As I struggle to catch up, he sleekly doubles back, riding beside me.
“My bike only weighs 18 pounds; yours must be 27/28. I can ride circles around you.”
We ride through the Gables toward 8th Street (Calle Ocho) on the north side of town. Less than a mile from the eastern edge of the Gables, we stop at a small Italian restaurant, the fabled Sorrento’s. As we walk in, I’m self-conscious of my bare feet, but a waiter quickly makes us feel at home, seating the two of us at a booth in the corner. Robby orders a large pizza and a pitcher of beer. No one questions ID’s. It feels like I’m back in New York. The beer comes immediately. After the first glass, Robby pulls out a joint and lights it up with a flourish. I look around nervously, but Robby just laughs at me.
“Nothing better with pizza and beer.”
“I think they’ll kick us out.”
“No way. I’m their best customer. You need to relax.”
It doesn’t take long to relax after taking a hit. Then the pizza arrives.
“What is that taste?” I ask.
“Must be anchovies. Does it every time. So, tell me what’s your money problem. Maybe you should go into the pot business.”
“No thanks. The only customers I know already go to you. It may be news to you, but most kids don’t smoke.”
“Who better to introduce a great product?”
“Save your sales pitch. I’ve got to get a real job.”
“Right, to help pay the mortgage.”
“Not quite. My dad says I have to learn the value of money.”
“Well, here it is. No better value than pizza and beer.”
“No, dick. He wants me to pay for swim team with money I earn myself.”
“Guess it’s the BK Lounge for you.”
“The thing is, if I work, I won’t have time for workout. What’s the point?”
“There’s no point. Your dad is obviously clueless. And, what’s the point of swimming if it’s all work?”
“To compete. If I’m good enough I’ll get a college scholarship.”
“All this work until you’re an adult. Sounds like a scheme to keep you out of trouble. Why’s your dad not buying into it?”
“There’s no explaining him.”
We kept gobbling pizza and downing beer, until we lay back in the booth, too stuffed to move. Robby put his feet on top of mine. We gave each other foot massages under the table, while the waiter settles the bill. I leave a big tip. Robbie asks me if it helped solve my problems.
“Just to forget about them.”
“Well, how about this then?”
He showed me two small pieces of paper.
“Acid, man. It’s blotter.”
I had heard about acid, but it seems too dangerous to consider. There’s pot and beer, but acid is ‘hard drugs,’ like heroin or coke. I look scared, so he backs off, telling me he’ll save it for a better time. We ride back to the Gables, the pizza and beer making me sleepy. There’s a crowd waiting at Robby’s, so I slip away to home and go to bed early.