Joe Pike, Two Bullies, and a Stolen Car
Ballsier than any Clint Eastwood line from the Dirty Harry franchise is one I read in the Robert Crais novel L.A. Requiem. Joe Pike had been framed for murder and, enroute to jail, pulls off a daring getaway. When questioned why he escaped by his private eye partner Elvis Cole, Pike ultimately responds “I don’t do victim.”
Did you hear that?
“I don’t do victim.”
For weeks after reading L.A. Requiem, I walked about both home and office mumbling that to anyone who deigned crossed my path, no matter what the context.
“Should we have pizza for dinner?” my wife would ask.
I’d glare at her and state, “I don’t do victim.”
A colleague would query, “Have you reviewed the quarterly reports, Jeff?”
“I don’t do victim,” I’d say as I muscled past them on the way to refill my coffee mug.
“Are you driving me to practice tonight?” my daughter would ask.
I’d toss the car keys on the floor with a curt, “I don’t do victim.”
Alas, unlike Joe Pike from the brilliantly thrilling Robert Crais mysteries, I punch like a hamster and my default setting is flight. And as much as it pains me to admit this, but, well . . . it turns out I do do victim, and have done so since kindergarten.
When I was five-and-a-half, the paperboy nearly strangled me to death.
Sure, the older kids, my alleged friends, in the community housing project egged on the youngest of us all—to wit, yours truly—into rolling the newsboy’s bike and satchel of afternoon dailies onto the lawn in front of a sprinkler while he was off delivering an armful of newspapers inside one of the apartment buildings. The older kids who got the ball rolling scattered like pigeons when the paperboy came charging out the side of the facility and caught me in midflight. I can empathize with his predicament—performing a job he likely despised, only to discover a wet bike and soaking bag of newspapers awaiting him—but upping the ante to homicide seemed a tad excessive.
Joe Pike would no doubt have instantly had the enraged paperboy by the gonads. I, however, lay pinned to the ground, the kid’s ever-tightening fingers clutching about my throat; my eyes bulging like a frog that’s been stepped on, my final moments spent peering deep into the abyss of the saliva-dripping maniac atop me.
And then . . . deus ex machina.
A random neighbor lady yanked my would-be assassin off me. She shouted into the brute’s face and sent both him and his dripping bicycle packing. Then she brought me to her apartment, made sure I was breathing okay, put some ointment on the bruises around my neck, and gave me a cup of grape Kool-Aid.
Though I never saw the neighbor lady again, on the rare occasion I find myself with a glass of Kool-Aid in hand, I’ll raise it in silent tribute to that kindly woman who saved my life. Someday I’ll write an epic poem about the neighbor lady, but . . . until then . . . this will have to do.
We moved to the suburbs the summer after I turned seven. There was a batch of kids my age to play with, a lake a block away, as well as parks, bike trails, and acres of woods to hide in.
What could possibly be better?
Then I crossed paths with Randy the Barbarian.
Randy was twelve, and if Randy ever caught you—the neighbor kids warned me—he’d sit on your stomach and give you heart taps (punch at where your rib cage connected). The neighbor kids spoke of hiding cyanide capsules inside their teeth, to be popped in the event they ever got caught by Randy.
I thought my new friends were joshing, blowing things way out of proportion, that is, until the day Randy caught me. I turned around and there he stood, towering above me, as though he’d morphed from out of the street itself. Bawling like a newborn, I was lucky my older sister and her gaggle of friends teamed up to pry Randy off me after a mere handful of heart taps.
Flash forward five years. I’m in seventh grade, walking home from a friend’s house, and I spot Randy, now a senior in high school, heading in my direction. I veered into the middle of the street in order to steer clear of him, but genuinely thought enough time had passed since we were kids, and that we’d both moved on with our lives.
Randy had not moved on.
Instead, Randy also veered into the center of the street, grabbed my shoulder, and punched me in the stomach as hard as he could. In an odd manner, I respect his having skipped any words of preamble—Randy cut straight to the assault.
Now Joe Pike would have thrown a right hook and crushed Randy’s jaw. I, on the other hand, lay on the road, gasping for air. When I made it home, I stumbled into the bathroom and threw up.
Sure, I could have informed my parents, and police could have been notified, and Randy could have been picked up. Sure, I could have hoped that Randy’s birthday had been earlier in the school year, so it’d make him an adult male assaulting a seventh grader, but, like all the neighborhood kids before me . . . I recognized Randy’s feral nature.
Quite frankly, Randy wasn’t right in the head and if I had him arrested for assault, heart taps would be the least of my concerns. It wouldn’t end there . . . and it would not end well.
Randy would go to the mattresses.
I’d never be safe again.
Years later, I’m sixteen and washing dishes at a mall restaurant. There was a girl—Lisa something or other—I’d taken a fancy to. She was a year older and went to a neighboring high school. I was on the cusp of asking her out—we got along great—and knew my friends would be jealous when they found out I was dating an older woman.
So, one night after closing the restaurant, I strolled out to my car, nary a care in the whole, wide world, life was beautiful, and . . . and there’s no car.
No . . . fucking . . . car.
I go back inside, let the few remaining employees know my car’s been stolen. Lisa grabs her jacket and proceeds to drive me around the parking lot of the entire mall—as if I’d somehow forgotten I’d parked eight-hundred yards away. Eventually, Lisa drove me to the police station where I faced the delightful opportunity of phoning my father at one in the morning, waking him up, and informing him he no longer had to fret about how much gas the family station wagon guzzled.
That was a fun night.
By that point in time, Joe Pike would have already hunted down the car thieves and disposed of their bodies. I, however, sat by my lonesome self in the police station waiting for my parents to come and pick me up.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Lisa never spoke to me again. Evidently, and I’m a little hazy on this part as my freaking car had just been stolen, I went the full De Niro as Lisa drove me around the mall in search of the stolen station wagon, spewing every four-letter word known to man.
Not only did I lose the car that night . . . I lost the girl.
Joe Pike wouldn’t have lost the car. And he sure as shit would not have lost the girl.
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