We hauled ass up Scottsdale Road. The heat laid a blanket of death across the desert, and we poured sweat past Indian School. I hadn’t seen them in 25 years. We’d just hammered through Old Town, stopped a few cars, mildly terrorized people by flying around them out of nowhere, and pissed off a few couples and street musicians. Boyle pedaled past a driveway in the sidewalk and hopped over the curb into a parking lot. I stared at him while he coasted up toward the red light at Thomas. He’d known my parents and watched TV with us. He knew me back when I was 15, when the family was whole, just before my mother died and everything went to hell. I’d searched google a few times for Merrill Boyle, and then one day it occurred to me to find him on facebook, so I did. I never knew where Tim lived or saw him outside of school. He coasted up next to me and said something, then waited for the Merrill to get further ahead of us.
“Why the fuck is his freewheel so loud?”
“Because he’s Bad Boyle.”
He gripped down his bars and leaned back to a coast and smiled up the road at him, “How’s the book tour going, man?”
“New York City after this?”
“I think so.”
We waited at the light, the three of us. My legs and shoulders were still sore from the gym. I’d been going every day for the last week, and I started to feel better on the bike. The light changed and Tim took off ahead of us, picked up the front end and rode the wheelie for a good block, at speed. I yelled at him, “Fuck yeah!”
Boyle smiled, “Dude, before he showed up at our school he was in Maryvale, grew up there.”
“No shit. I never knew that.”
“West Side. The fucking hood. That’s where he learned to wheelie, in first grade. Some Mexican bully—beat up every kid in the neighborhood except Tim.”
Tim set the wheel down and looked back, “What are you talking about?”
“I’m paraphrasing your story.”
“Arthur, Arturo, whatever his name was.”
“Oh. You mean Alfie.”
I started laughing. Tim tapped his brake and fell back next to us.
“Toughest kid in the neighborhood. He threatened to kick my ass and I went home crying about it. Dude, he didn’t even wear shoes.”
I launched off a curb and let them get in front of me. Tim called over his shoulder.
“I had a Redline. Once he saw it we were buddies. He taught me wheelies. He could fuckin’ ride a wheelie forever.”
We pedaled east down McDowell, then waited at another light. Tim got the jump on us. He looked back, “About five years ago, my mom told me why he was so nice to me. Because my dad found him and told him if he touched me he’d kill him. Kind of bummed me out, even all these years later.”
Merrill and I broke up laughing. My strongest memory of Tim had been from high school lunch, when I opened a packet of ketchup that sprayed over the table and blasted across his shirt. I watched the ketchup destroy his shirt and a streak of fear ran down my spine—all through school I had a bubble butt, and in the dead heat of the desert or not, I wore a flannel because it kept it hidden. Nobody thought about the flannel, or cared about it. At Deer Valley High there were three sects: Stoners, Mods, and Jocks. Though we were neither, if we had to pick a side it was with the stoners, because they wore jeans and flannels, concert shirts, high tops dragging the concrete, a complete and perfect slovenliness. Merrill laughed and looked at me, “Dude, that’s fucked up. Let him wear your flannel.” The thing was, Tim sensed my fear, and wore his shirt like that the rest of the day. I’d pass him in the hall and see his shirt sprayed with ketchup, and felt a sense of debt toward him that never left. Like with Alfie, old feelings died hard. Being back in the desert with them was good for me. I’d been without roots for over two decades, going city to city, writing, moving: constantly searching for something I couldn’t explain. We waited at the last light before our turn down into the greenbelt. The light changed and I coasted next to them on the bridge and we stared down at the lights of the skate park. I watched their profiles. The three of us were the same age as our fathers were back when we were in school. Now we were well into our forties, still on the bikes, still talking shit and looking for things to ride over. Except the two of them had families now, and I had my dog, which was fine with me. The last few exes had gone ahead and burned up that road for any other woman who might actually not turn out to be an evil pile of shit.
We rolled down the street for the park, down the grass bank and into the lights over the concrete. The skaters and BMXers got along just fine. It was a public park. Not to sound like a decrepit old fuck, but back in our day a free, public skate park was unheard of. The popularization of bikes and boards had created the parks on one hand, but on the other it took much of the artistry and personality out of the forms. The individual expression of one rider had fallen victim to mass trending. All the bikes looked the same, and the removal of brakes had stripped away style. Every rider looked like the same rider to me, only varied by the degree of difficulty in their tricks and the color of their skinny jeans. I watched the little bastards and wondered if it was me being jealous of their youth, but it wasn’t. It was genuine disgust. We caught our breath and watched the park under a dim light near the grass. Boyle set his bike down and stretched. He’d stayed the same weight since high school. It was baffling to me. I mean, each of us stayed in shape the best we could. Like Tim, I’d put on a few extra pounds of labor muscle and a bit of fat, to be fair. But to weigh the same I did in high school wasn’t a possibility, to look like Death. But Boyle pulled it off. He and his wife had become addicted to yoga. People in the desert went one of two ways: completely happy or completely depressed. The smarter ones used their surroundings, the mountain trails, the lakes, the warm nights for riding distance, or working out indoors to contrast the burning heat of summer. The ones who went the other way were usually night owls, addicted to meth or lazy potheads who had some menial job and said fuck it. Boyle stood there and went on about moves, and about their Tuesday night class. He started doing reps of some kind of frog squat, deep stomach breathing shit. It hurt my legs to watch it. He went faster. It looked goofy and out of place where we were. He squatted and breathed, “Dude, the Tuesday class is fucking insane. The instructor’s name is Scott Page. It’s like boot camp yoga. It’s brutal.”
He kept going. Tim looked around, hoping nobody was watching. Boyle stopped and breathed, then gave me a nod. I looked at him, “Fuck Scott Page.”
Tim laughed. Boyle picked up his bike and sat, “You’re still going this Thursday, right?”
“I’m going,” I said, “I said I would.”
He looked at Tim, who just shook his head at him, slow and without any room for argument, “I’m not fucking going to yoga.”
We saw a gap in the action under the lights. The three of us bombed into the park and rode the same line in file, down into the big bowl, then the hip, then back into the little bowl and out by a ledge, then up to Fry’s for water. We sat out on the ledge and watched the people walking out. We started talking about family, my life as an author, about getting older, Merrill’s baby daughter and Tim’s boys becoming men. He drank his water and shook his head, “I’ll be watching TV and I’ll see my oldest son walk past the screen and I’ll think, ‘who’s that man walking around in my house…’” – Just being there was good enough for me, it was a reconnection of blood. We were into our forties but we weren’t. It was bizarre. I realized those of us who stayed true to two wheels remained younger than the others. It fed the vibrancy of youth, it neutralized life’s routine. It fought cynicism. The world provided plenty of that off the bikes.
Down into the park it was emptier, and we rode the bowl without stop. I realized at one point that we were the older dudes, bigger bikes, carving the big bowl with soul, not worried about the big trick, and maybe some grudging admiration was earned from a few old skaters and young hipsters on their bikes who never thought of riding as religion. We were proof for them. A flash of confidence ran through my blood when I dropped in and pulled a clean 360 out of the small bowl. I did a few more and rode up to Tim with my phone. I set it to video.
“Tim, fuckin’ get me doing a 360 out of the mini-bowl. Gonna post that shit.”
I rode around, dropped in and carved the bowl. A fat skater kid with an afro rolled in out of turn. I dodged him going up the opposite bank, lost speed, but went for the 360. Down the transition, to flat bottom, up the other transition, lift, twist, then straight to a rolled ankle, a 90 degree change at once from a flat foot to my ankle bone touching concrete. Shock, pain, fear of immobility, and anger. I dropped the bike and walked as lightly as I could. I sat and watched my back wheel spinning. I knew I had about 3 minutes before I swelled to uselessness. There went my last week in Arizona working out and swimming every day and riding with my buddies at night. I was so pissed I saw red. Tim walked over and handed me my phone, “You can’t be doing that shit, man. We have to ride this week.”
“Rolled my fucking ankle.” I watched the fat skater pull out his phone and change his music on the other side of the bowl, “Little prick.”
I worked my shoe off. It hurt like shit. Boyle rolled up.
“Fuck, man. You alright?”
I rolled off my sock. My ankle was the size of a tennis ball.
I tried to walk but there was no pressure allowed. I sat back down. Tim looked at it then nodded at me, “Should I ride back and get the truck?”
“Yeah, man. Thanks.”
He took off. I coasted down the ledge and stuck my foot in the water of a fountain, rather a little waterfall built in by the steps leading up to a gazebo. Boyle pedaled over, “Want me to go get some ice?”
“Yeah, thanks.” I reached for my wallet, “Let me give you some money.”
“I got bucks.” he rode off up the side of the bowl and disappeared. I sat there and stressed, looked at my phone for the footage. At least it was captured. There were two videos. One of me rolling in, then it was cut. The other was me sitting on the ledge right after I wrecked. He’d missed the entire thing. I laughed. I sat there a long time, and the pain started to make its way through the shock of the roll. Twenty minutes passed. I looked around, “Come on, Merrill. Fuck.”
I saw his shadow pedaling down the bank then up the side of the park. He had a whole bag of ice. He shook his head.
“The dude at Fry’s was a dick. Wouldn’t let me bring my bike in. A guy on a mountain bike with a lock helped me out.”
He dropped the bag on the ground, tore it open, grabbed a handful of ice and put it in a plastic shopping bag. I stuck it on the swelling. I could barely move my foot. We waited there for the sound of Tim’s truck. He’d become an excavator over the years. Boyle fell into construction and I became a writer. I thought about it while Boyle talked to a kid on a BMX about riding, his school, about his life. Boyle was a natural parent. He was good with it. I reached down and pulled the bag off after I was numb. I knew what was coming the next fist of days: swelling on both sides of the ankle, swelling of the foot, all with the lovely purple, yellow, and red colors of a rolled ankle. I was fucked for some time, just the way it was. The kid rode off and Merrill looked over his shoulder, “There’s Tim’s truck.” I grabbed my sock and put it in my pocket, got my shoe on, and made it to the truck. I had no food at the hotel for the micro-fridge, so Tim sat in the parking lot at Fry’s while Merrill went in to get me one of those fat people carts. I grabbed the handle above the back door in the cab of Tim’s truck, and lifted myself down into the parking lot. I saw Boyle cruising out of the store on the cart. He got up, I sat and I rolled around the aisles and pointed to things for him to grab. I was bitching about the slow engine of the cart, and whenever I had to reverse, to pull the lever backward, it would beep like a forklift, and it made me feel obese and embarrassed. I told Boyle and he laughed. I noticed that people look at you differently if you’re in a cart like that. Even though I wasn’t fat or crippled, there was a feeling of exclusion coming off them. I thought about my buddy, Eric, in a wheelchair for the last 16 years after a horrifying car accident, and I felt a whole deeper level of respect for him. Back at the hotel, they flanked me while I made it across the street to the grass of the mall to let my dog do his things. Back in the room they were gone and I was on my back, full of ibuprofen and anger, my ankle wrapped with ice while the bag melted and soaked through the sheet. The next day there was swelling, colors, and an afternoon phone call from Merrill checking up on me while the sound of Tim’s truck idled outside of my room while he dropped off a DVD, a comedy to get my mind off the injury. He’d been working at a site a few miles west of the motel. Boyle hung up, Tim drove off, and I re-wrapped the swelling and stared at my bike across the room. I thought about the two of them, I thought about the distance between high school and where I was. My dog jumped off the bed and lapped up his water, jumped back up and curled next to me. I turned off the TV and stared at the ceiling until the inactivity became oppressive. Out at the pool I floated in the deep end while some old guy flying on meth swam around me and told me his life story.