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Friday, August 30, 2002

A Pizza Man

Red Dixon

IV.

The pizza man's shift ends at five. It's Cherry's dad's birthday, back in the days when her diabetic mother was still able to walk, when her father still smiled.

Red drives up in the black Sentra, shrooming for a good half hour now too nervous to get out of the car for a full five minutes before he goes up to the Elm Street home and quickly knocks. Cherry answers and he's sure she sees pupils large as dimes, wreathed in a hair-thin circle of grey before he sees the whole family, a big Indian family, the squat and powerful tribe that owned this valley before Red and his mixed-breed and bleached white brethern put up smoke shops, pizza joints, gas stations and Albertson's.

"Happy birthday," Red shouts, way, way too loud echoing between his ears as his face turns cherry and her dad doesn't even notice because he's celebrating with a few beers and his face is already redder.

And the whole family is going to a pow-wow tonight while it's still light, Red and Cherry (should have been Sherry but her dad can't spell so that's what it says on her birth certificate) are leading the way with enough time to swing by the house up off Wawona to get Micah and Matt and there might even be enough mushrooms to go around. Cherry won't eat because they taste awful and those little green spots could be poison mold but Red is feeling fine, more awake than ever.

Indians, these same squat dark people of the swamps, are everywhere around a grassy field and Dixon is trying to score some peyote chants to listen to when he comes down in the dark and $5 gets his fix so they all sit down by the edge of the grass after Cherry realizes these three are so stoned behind three pairs of dark sunglasses they stick out like something wrong when Red goes off on some kind of rambling grand tangent after meeting Cherry's sister.

Dancers, feather dancers glide through the hot dusk and Red can see them but he's busy looking at the reflection of his face in his glasses strangely magnified and he stares for 15 minutes while Micah smokes camels and Cherry tries not to act suspicious with the lone ranger and his underage sidekicks.

Back at Matt's house, Micah picks up the phone and starts making faces. He's tweaking hard on two stalks of dried madness and it's his father on the line while his face gets stranger and stranger then purple and angry as he argues it out. Red gets in the car and drives.

At Round Table he slides his long body up against the yellow stucco, just afar enough from the door to be out of sight but still hear the body blows on the Street Fighter machine and the pop of shotgun shells from Area 51. Behind the fake Oakleys nothing is wrong.

Molly and Sarah pull up in Sarah's emerald Civic coupe, the best car Dixon's ever motored up Market Street through the Castro lost in the neighborhoods before bungling into Golden Gate Park around and around to Haight Street.

Red wears faded, loose jeans and a black bootleg Counting Crows T-shirt, hair bleached yellow-white, dark roots glaring. He sits there for a while, doesn't really know how long. Probably just a few minutes. Probably only one rank clove cigarette.

Red's hands feel out of place, and if he was standing he would put them behind his back and make fists to force the awkward feeling away. He moves his left index finger and watches like it's not his just a little bit dizzy.

He stares at his legs stares at the ash on the Djarum black, how the paper turns to purple to grey and his middle finger burns while the girls sit on the hood of his hatchback and talk like they know he doesn't want to see that Molly's now a mother duck to Sarah's pain and he can't see that either so the runs of bleached white in his jeans get all his attention while kids kung-fu kick Ken because Ryu ken and Micah picked up the phone and Red ate those last few caps then Molly is speaking while he looks Sarah up and down everywhere but her face snaps back to his pants leg.

Red thinks about that woman at BP who said some people have one of those days and she has one of those lives and he sees the crank in her skin and her hair and down into who she is and all he wants to do is get out of there with two corndogs for $2.

"I haven't seen you in a few days, Red. What're you up to?"

"Just smoking and waiting. Cherry and me and Matt and Micah were at an Indian pow-wow."

"That sounds like fun. Cherry's an Indian, right?"

"It was. Cherry was driving my car."

The girls are talking again and it wouldn't take long before Micah would be lost in the haze of friendly faces we never see again after joining the Marines just to get kicked out a week later for kidnapping a 17-year-old girl out of her parents house for two days before he'd a chance to ship out to boot camp.

"Why was she driving your car?"

Sarah too is a ghost.

"I just didn't feel like driving. ... It was Cherry's dad's birthday today."

The girls are talking again and it wouldn't take long before Sarah'd be back with the thirtysomething with the little girl (she used to comb that little girl's hair) and he'd finally leave his wife for real and take Sarah to Florida where the beaches are so much better than artificial lakes and the condos so much sexier than dank apartment walls and the pain so much more real than giving her soul to a young punk in the hot tub, in the shower while her old man roommate takes a walk with his girlfriend.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

The girls are talking again and Jon drives up in Molly's old orange beetle, the mirrors flopping and his Round Table dress code slacks sagging.

"Are you stoned? Hey, Mols, Sarah."

"Yeah. I was down at a pow-wow with Cherry and Matt and Micah."

"Do you have any on you?"

"A little bit. The mushrooms are gone."

"Ah ... dude'"

Molly's saying something again and it wouldn't be long before Cherry's mom would lose the strength to walk would get tubes in her nose and would die along with the cheery half drunk smile on that thick little man's dark face.

"Red, you're high on mushrooms?"

"And just a little weed."

"We never can tell."

At night, between the bottles and hits on the tie-dye glass pipe, through the din of peyote cat calls, Red can't stop seeing the slack jaw on that Indian, slack jaw on that Indian at the retreat for recovering addicts.

Once a year, they have a pow-wow on a Manteca mechanic's birthday.

Red Dixon PizzaManDixon@aol.com