Edited by BLAS FALCONER | BARRY KITTERMAN | AMY WRIGHT
Sunny Vale Avenue was the steepest residential street in Simi Valley, so steep that it had thick speed bumps with diagonal yellow stripes painted across them. The road itself slalomed down the hillside, a jagged black crack in the desiccated chaparral that surrounded the city. Each terraced yard was immaculate, with the corduroy pattern of mowed lawns, and stunted, bagged saplings withering under the California sun. I drive my '93 Ford Escort station wagon up the hill, grinning at Mike as my stomach did carwheels. This was the third time we had done this.
In the passenger seat, Mike clutched a brown and teal leather bag in his lap. "Trust me, this is gonna be awesome," he said.
With my teet, I tore off a loose cuticle from my thumb and winced. I tried not to think about what could go wrong -- a curious homeowner taking down my liscence plate number and telling the police about two teenagers in a grocery-getter. Mostly, I worried about a little girl home eary from school, riding a big wheel at the bottom. Blood welled out of my thumb and I wiped it on my jeans.
"I'm starving," I said. "Let's go to Tommy Burger instead."
"We'll eat after," he said. "Relax, I've done this like fifty times already." He had told me a half dozen stories about the ball burying itself in the sod like a meteorite, or crumpling the tailgate of a pickup truck. I had never thrown the ball and choose instead to just drive behind it. Mike had stopped asking me to throw it. We crested another speed bump and our bodies rocked back and forth with the Christmas tree air freshener on my rearview mirror.
Mike and I hadn't known each other very long. We were both on the high school swim team, and since he was friends with my little brother and didn't own a car, I drove him home from practice. He lived behind a 7-Eleven in a squat, single-story house with a dead lawn and a 70's Chevy Malibu missing an engine in the driveway. It was nothing like my parents' house, a 4,000-square-foot estate on its own hill surrounded by terraced flowerbeds studded with golf balls from the nearby driving range. We smoked weed out of a cheap plastic bong in his garage and sat in lawn chairs, drinking store brand soda. He talked about getting a job to pay his dad to fix up the Malibu. His father was an unemployed mechanic who was never home.
"I'd get a sweet paint job on it too, dark blue or silver," he said.
"If you painted it silver, it'd be in a chop shop in The Valley by the next night," I said, flicking the ash of my cigarette on the oil-soaked floor, wondering if I'd be engulfed in flames.
"The first thing I'd do is give Allison Baker a ride home in it," he said. "Maybe she'd wanna return the favor, you know?" We'd been watching Allison Baker enter and exit the locker room in a one piece for months. I didn't have a chance with her either; I owned a station wagon. "The Cock-Blocker," he called it.
"Your car's great if you're trolling for forty-year olds," he said. "It's reliable, efficient, and has room for car seats." The Escort belonged to my parents -- an extra car -- a motivational tool for good grades, college applications, a nice future.
We crested another speed bump, the undercarriage scuffing against the asphalt. The valley spread out below us, sepia-toned under a band of smog. The grid of streets reminded me of the metal bars on the face of a dartboard, dividing the neighborhoods, ascribing value to the shopping centers clustered in the middle, and the housing tracts on the periphery. The top of Sunny Vale Avenue was a dead end, a yellow sign and a couple of orange reflective discs overgrown with juniper and sage.
I turned the car around and shut the engine off. Lighting up a cigarette, I said, "Let's just give it a minute."
Mike nodded and lit up a Newport. He unzipped the leather bag and took out a Pepto-Bismol pink bowling ball. "I fixed it," he said, showing me the spot where the ball had hit a cinderblock wall at forty miles an hour. The chip was the size of my hand and covered with a bandage of duct tape.
"This is stupid," I said. "Why do we do this?"
"What? Would you rather go hang out at the mall?" he said. "There isn't shit else to do here." The ash fell from his cigarette inside the car. I didn't bother reminding him that I was getting tired of clearning it out every time I gave him a ride.
"If someone sees us, we could go to jail," I said.
Mike laughed, "What would they charge us with, bowling outside of a bowling alley?"
"Mayhem, I looked it up," I said.
"Mayhem? That'd be badass. You'd be a badass if you had that on your record."
"Unless somebody got hurt, then it could be attempted murder or manslaughter." I said, exhausting the limited legal jargon I'd acquired from the movies. We smoked in silence for a few moments. Mike looked out his window. I saw his Adam's apple bob up and down.
I thought about what he'd said about mayhem as I looked over my hometown. Simi Valley was a suburb of Los Angeles, a safe bastion of Right Wing commuters. It was the site of the Ronald Reagan Public Library, of fenced off manmade lakes, and homeowners' associations. It was a collection of gated communities stacked above one another like wedding cakes toppled against the hillsides.
Dropping his cigarette out the window, Mike said, "Fuck it. Let's get a burger instead."
At the time, I didn't understand why I did it, but I grabbed the bowling ball from him and opened my door. Mike didn't say a word as I stood in the street, holding the pink ball in front of my face. From that vantage point, the ball looked massive, like it could tear an immense swath through the city, flattening the strip malls, the golf courses, and the franchise stores. Simi Valley was like every other city, and everyone in it was like everyone else. My life was unremarkable and it always would be. Even my rebellion, ditching school and smoking weed, was prosaic.
I thought of why Mike had chosen to throw the ball through the most expensive neighborhood in the city. Why he wanted to shatter mailboxes shaped like Victorian houses, or mangle the paneling of classic cars sparkling with Turtle Wax.
Cocking back my arm, I took three quick steps and hurled it. The ball spun lopsidedly from the duct tape, hopping over the first speed bump, gaining momentum. I jumped into the Escort and sped down the hill after it, the undercarriage screeching over each bump. I kept an eye on the speedometer, wondering how fast the ball would have to go to make it to the other side of the city. Unlike Mike, I could probably screw up everything and still end up living on a hill someday. As the bowling ball ricocheted off a curb -- past familiar houses with matching furniture and backyard swimming pools --I understood why I threw it. Unless I did something drastic, I would always belong here.
PoetryWhittling My Legs into a Rocking Chair by Alex Lemon
If some higher power knows
What’s best for us, then bring
On a monsoon of dung
Beetles, a mouthful of rats.