The kid leaned out of the dented Camry’s passenger side and yelled at me.
“Hey! Wezzak wibnekfahtilbrid…”
The car rattled on up the hill, and another cherished memory died in me.
See, 20 years ago I would have been that kid, mind awash with devastating leaf-baked insults, hurling them at pedestrians like so much free candy.
“That told ‘em”, we’d think. Only it didn’t tell ‘em. Tangled in a 25mph slipstream, the syllables tore apart. The witty words became a foolish jumble.
Back then, oblivious, I’d pull my head back into the car laughing so hard that my guts hurt. One night on Market it was too much; the laughter stuck in my stomach and turned it inside out.
I horked up a whole one-pound burrito, slightly digested, into Brian’s glovebox. His rust-bucket Mustang wasn’t worth two dimes as scrap metal and he said he didn’t mind. But even through the post-spew blur I caught that resigned tightening of his jaw.
Me and Brian always walked places after that.
Unless Denny drove, of course. Denny wasn’t his real name, but we called him that on account of where he worked, serving up spit-garnished burgers to Crazy Old Men. That’s how we referred to them – anyone who talked back to us, anyone who threatened consequences; who tried to act younger than their age. Anyone over 25, basically. All of them were Crazy Old Men.
Sometimes we’d go eat when Denny was working – we had a honorable agreement that our burgers came without “special sauce”. And then Denny would drive us across town to hang out on street corners and smile winningly at girls who always called us “douchebags”.
Denny wasn’t worried about a repeat of The Glovebox Incident. He knew that our agreement worked both ways – he’d never add unauthorized ingredients to our lunches just so long as we didn’t piss him off. I’d rather have bailed from the passenger seat than throw up in Denny’s car. No amount of outbound burrito was worth a lifetime of sputum-laced beef.
Anyhoo, it was Denny who came up with the only phrase worth yelling from a car window. He’d obviously been thinking about it for a while, in the quiet periods between loogie-burgers. When we turned up at the end of his shift one day he was bouncing with excitement.
“Man, you gotta drive. I gotta show you guys something.”
I wasn’t gonna argue – I loved driving, and my own car was out of commission ever since the gearbox fell out into the middle of the road. I took the wheel and Denny settled into the passenger seat. He was strangely quiet, right up until we hit the first red light of the journey. In a flurry of action he wound down the window, leant his whole body out of the car and waved his index finger at the people walking by. And then he yelled, slowly, deliberately, clearly…
“Mah finger smells of poop!”
I gunned the engine and we squealed away from the lights roaring with laughter. It was the most sublime moment of our young lives. And from that day ‘poop’ing became an essential part of our existence. We’d take it in turns to drive and to “poop” at passers-by. We were the quintessential rebels astonishing everyone in our path, fingers held defiantly aloft, smearing feces between the eyes of a hopelessly square world.
Nothing lasts forever, of course. Denny died a couple of years later; ran his car into a fire hydrant and flipped it. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and that was pretty much that. Seatbelts weren’t part of our world. They were for Crazy Old Men like our fathers, filed in the same category as trust funds, retirement plans and “yessir”s. In a sense we were dead right on that one – Denny never had to worry about any of that shit.
No witnesses to the accident came forward, although we were sure there must have been at least one. The cops reckoned that Denny crashed while trying to lean across the car towards the passenger window. The funeral was a bit of a shambles. My one clear memory is of Denny’s brother punching Brian square in the jaw after he referred to Denny’s death as “a ‘poop’ too far.”
Funny how the past fades, though. I hadn’t thought about Denny or about ‘poop’ing for years, not until the kid in the Camry brought it all flooding back. It weighed on my mind a lot after that, and boy, is the mind a funny thing.
Well anyhoo, that’s how I’m explaining it away. See, I started to get seized by this idea. Bringing the ‘poop’ back to the world, starting an international youth movement of jovial ‘poop’ing, the fragrant finger spreading across the globe through word-of-mouth and internet message boards. It’d be like the flash-mob phenomenon, only more scatalogical, myself the surprisingly fresh-faced leader of this irrelevant cult. Enthusiatic online hagiographies and interviews in the New York Times could only follow.
I really saw it like that, in my mind. So it must have been about a week after the Camry-yeller that I’m walking through Union Square and the time seems right to bring the ‘poop’ back to an unsuspecting public. There’s a nice crowd of victims in the busy square – tourists and Marina girls, skater punks and businessmen. And boy would Denny ever have got a kick out of this.
So there’s me, slap bang in the middle of the square, hopped up onto a bench, finger extended high above my head, screaming at the top of my lungs…
“Mah finger smells of poop.”
…and then there’s silence. I can see a group of college girls nearby rolling their eyes and turning their backs on me, perfect asses jiggling beneath impossibly short skirts. Most other people just glance at me and then away, hardly acknowledging my presence, observing the golden urban rule – never make eye contact with lunatics. A very few stare pityingly, and suddenly I’m aware of the tiny ripple as everyone in the square inches slightly away from the weirdo on the bench.
I see myself clearly, then, skin over-aged by the California sun, hair greying. A tiny bald patch which I usually refuse to acknowledge. I run my hand over my chin, feel the ragged mottled accumulation of five days’ stubble. I’m a mess.
I jump gingerly off the bench and walk quickly, head down, trying to lose myself amongst the tourists as quickly as possible. And deep inside me, the seventeen year old boy I once was stirs, turns languidly over onto his side and sneers. He states his opinion to no-one in particular.
“Crazy old man.”