In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Clandestine Skaters

When I headed up to the mall each morning, it was with the hope of hooking up with Gordo. I was determined to give him some highlights of his own to think about, when he thought about me. I ended up looking in all the shops, and I didn't have a sighting of Gordo, or anyone else to talk to.

Lots of guys walked inside the mall with their boards in hand, but they were usually in packs and many had giggly girls under possessive arms. They were too busy impressing the girls to notice me, although I'd seen most of them before.

By the end of the week I figured Gordo had taken off for parts unknown. That's when I went to hang with the early arrivals behind the mall on one of the small patches of grass. These boys weren't nearly as interesting to me as they had been before Gordo showed me the ropes, but a guy can only take alone for so long, and if Gordo was hardly ever around, what good was he to me? It was time to do something else for a while. I needed to be around guys.

Once they got accustomed to seeing me, they'd be easier to engage in conversation, but I'd met enough boys, that I should run into guys I Knew. I didn't know where everyone got off too. It was the heat of the summer, and El Cajon could get into the 90s, and on some days, over a hundred. Maybe the skaters I knew were at the beach, surfing the days away.

The younger guys smoked cigarettes, cursed constantly, and drank when someone could come up with booze, which was always carried in a brown paper bag. They talked about girls they all knew, telling the most intimate details of any sex act she was rumored to have performed in this lifetime or any other. They talked of parties and drugs and orgies where girls gave guys all they wanted.

These boys were younger than me. Most weren't much older than Ralph, but Ralph was a mature soul compared to these early teenagers, who thought that the more gross the story, the more mature they sounded. There was a sharp divide, between these skaters in their early teens, and the older skaters. The two groups did not hang around each other, and now I knew why.

I suppose my friends and I went through a period of grossness, but for the life of me, I didn't remember being that obnoxious, back home, but these kids were excessively gross. I was only a couple years older than the oldest of these.

Progress was slow and I yawned a lot. Alone was far better than becoming a joke, around the people I needed to know. Ralph came and sat beside me, and he was likable enough, but when he saw some other twinks, he was off like a shot.

Alone again, not so naturally. I wanted to know Ralph's story, but I was afraid he might slap me up side my head with his reality, and I'd not know what to say or how to react. Ralph was definitely a cut above most younger teenagers that I'd known.

I saw Gordo twice the following week but he didn't seem too interested in seeing me. Both times he was gone before I could catch up with him. I thought, perhaps he was in a hurry to get somewhere else. It didn't make much sense. He was the one who always got the ball rolling so why did he run from me. I wasn't going to be too harsh about his slippery escapes since he was the only friend I had and he represented my entire sex life to date. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and hope the next time he waited up for me. I was once more left to feel the move to California had been a mistake.

One clear bright day in the late afternoon with the young guys disappearing from the lawn the older guys were straggling in one by one.

The first two sat and talked with me for a minute, asking me if I was still hanging around, and I explained the bit about relocating recently, but one month, two months, were now three months, and before I got to the third month, the older skaters were gone, skating off with high fives and ass slaps.

In a week moment, I stopped at a grocery store with a sign in the window, stock clerk wanted, apply inside.

I filled out the application, and Mr. Hitchcock, of Hitchcock's Market, did the interview, staying behind the counter, because he was also the manager, the stock clerk, and the cashier, not to mention the owner of Hitchcock's Market.

"You aren't from around here," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"No, Massachusetts," I said. "My parents moved here. My father works in computers. He took a better job in San Diego."

Mr. Hitchcock listened carefully to every word. He studied my face as I spoke. He wasn't convinced I was his man, but I didn't see a line trying to take some of the work off the man who was older than my father.

He waited for me to finish my answer to the first question.

"I'm from Michigan. Don't know nothing about computers. I've hired three fellows for this job in the last three months. They work fine for two, three weeks, and then they stop coming to work. All three of them just never came back. I owe two of them money, and that won't even get them to come to work," he said, leaning on the counter with a sigh.

"If I hire you, will you, at least stay for a month?" Mr. Hitchcock asked.

"I need a job, and I don't want to sit behind a desk. What does a stock clerk do?" I asked.

"Well, it isn't complicated, Zane," he said, calling me that name.

"Please don't call me that. No one calls me that. I'm just, Z," I said firmly.

"I'll call you Moses, if you like, if you'll stay four weeks," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"Sure thing. What you'll do is mostly stock shelves. Hence, stock clerk. When trucks come in, you can help get things off the truck, if you don't have anything to do, and you feel like helping. We also send things out to food banks. Giving me a hand with that would be helpful. I've gotten to the point where I'm almost afraid to ask anyone to do anything, because they stop showing up. It's not hard work. You are on your feet most of the day, but you can sit down if you like. You can't sit down and stock the top shelves, but the lower shelves are easy. I do it, and I'm twice your age."

He was three times my age. I believed him. How heave is a can of beans?

"Mr. Hitchcock, if I take the job, I'll show up every day I'm scheduled to work. I'll do what ever you need me to do. If I work for you, I want to be helping you get the things done that I can do. Just don't call me Zane, and I'll keep coming back."

"Z! I've never had a clerk whose name is a letter. Maybe that's where I've been going wrong. I've always hired guys with names. I should have been looking for a guy with a letter for a name," Mr. Hitchcock said thoughtfully.

"Well, congratulations. You've found one, when do you need me to start?" I asked.

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to work today?" He asked.

"Dressed like this?" I asked, wearing my shorts and a tank top.

"Sure. I've got an apron you should wear. Doesn't matter what's under it. The apron will keep you from ruining your clothes. You'll just ruin an apron, and I buy the by the gross. It's a slow day, and I can show you what I want you to do. You can check up and down the isles, to find where things go. You learn by experience. Once you find out where to put stuff, there's nothing to is," he said.

"I'll take your word for it," I said, and I took an apron from him, after filling out the required forms so Uncle Sam could dip his beak into my meager salary.

"My father will be stopping around in a day or two, Mr. Hitchcock. He's cool, but he's going to tell you, 'Z is a good boy. I want you to treat him fairly. He'll do his job the way you tell him. He'll show up for work on time, and he'll stay late if you need him. I want him treated fairly, and you won't be sorry you hired him."

"Your father must care a lot for you," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"Yes, he does," I said. "I've got good parents. I'm lucky."

"Can I ask you a question, Z?"

"Yes, sir. Shoot," I said.

"I believe you, when you say you have good parents, but why did they name you Zane?"

"My mother's maternal grandfather was named Zane. They promised her grandmother, if they had a boy, they'd name him Zane."

"She must be old. They could have told her they named you Zane, and then named you Dick or Tom," Mr. Hitchcock reasoned.

I laughed. I liked him, and I reserved my opinion on adults as a rule.

I didn't catch site of Gordo for a while, which was better than seeing him, and having him skate the other way. Having him more completely explain his life, did make me more sympathetic to him. I would never skate the other way if he was coming toward me, but Gordo was obviously telling me something.

I spent most days at work, learning about the grocery business from Mr. Hitchcock. It wasn't hard, except when the trucks came with the things we sold. I needed to stop what I was doing and help the driver unload whatever he was carrying for us. Most trucks carried a few dozen cases of products, but twice a week, we got the canned goods and dairy products, and each day we got fresh produce, which meant everything from mushrooms to avocados.

When I was there later in the day, which I was a few days, because when you are learning a new job, what you have to learn seems endless. Mr. Hitchcock was a patient man, willing to go back over what he'd explained once already.

The hardest deliveries were canned goods. The cases were heavy, and they needed to be set down in the isle where they belonged, so once the delivery man left, I could start stocking the shelves. I could sit on a box of canned goods and reach shelves from floor level to over half way up, but I stood to stock the eye level shelves and above.

It was enough variety to make me feel about the exercise it gave me. It wasn't anything like skating for hours each day, but it kept my body in motion. The real challenge were deliveries. I stopped whatever I was doing, once I heard a backup alarm going of I jumped up, opened one of the two loading dock doors, and I watched the truck easing itself back against one of the bays.

I opened the doors, and the good delivery people had my order secured at the back of the truck. By the time I unstrapped it, he was pointing at where my products stopped, and his next delivery started. Except for canned goods, it took no more than a half hour to stage everything to go into the coolers, or to where we stacked the stock that might not go onto the shelves for a few days.

Mr. Hitchcock's daughter came to work in the afternoon. She checked the customers out, once they were finished shopping. Mr. Hitchcock went to his office to place the next days orders, and then he was on the floor helping me put up stock.

The store was maybe half the size of a regular grocery store. There was plenty of room to store the products that went off the shelves the fastest. The busiest time of day was when people were on their way to fix dinner, and they rushed in for milk, bread, and an item or two that dinner will require.

At these times, Mr. Hitchcock would go in one direction, he'd send me in another direction, and tell me where the item was, as the customer talked to his daughter, and we brought back his dinner items. By the second week, I knew where almost everything was, except I didn't know one cheese from another, so I had to read all the names to find the cheese a customer wanted, and spices. I was learning the names of spices I stocked on the shelves, but a few fresh spices, rosemary, basil, garlic, and cilantro I needed to know on site. It wouldn't do for a customer to ask for basil and end up with cilantro, but only a few things were mysterious to me, when I went to work at Hitchcock's.

Hitchcock's was about personalized service.

"A customer can go to a big box store and be treated like he isn't there, because everyone is in a hurry, too busy to offer the kind of service we offer. If they're doing their weekly shopping, they take their time moving up and down the isles, seeing what looks and sounds good to them, but when they are in a hurry, and are late getting home to fix dinner, they can come in, say what they're after, and I can get it for them," Mr. Hitchcock said. "If they know where the products are that they use often, it speeds up their shopping. So, we always make sure each product is in the same spot, whenever possible."

Instinct told me, you find and empty spot and you unload the cans there. You couldn't just find an empty shelf, and pile cans on it. Hitchcock's was organized for the customers convenience, so if they were in a rush when they came in, they'd leave with what they needed in a minimum of time.

It was easy seeing the logic in this. Having customers meandering around the store, wondering where in the hell the beans were this time, would keep the isles full, and the sales at a minimum. Not the way you want to run a market.

As Yogi Berra once said, "No one goes there any more. It's too crowded."

After I was there for a month, Mr. Hitchcock congratulated me, and he said I was one of the best stock clerks he'd had. He wasn't just full of hot air. The day I started my second month in his store, he gave me a quarter an hour raise.

I was part of an organization, and it felt good to be part of something. Mr. Hitchcock was a kind hardworking man. He never got tired of talking about Hitchcock's market, and when my father came into Hitchcock's to shop, not minding the little bit higher prices, for a higher quality of food, I'd see him talking with Mr. Hitchcock down one of the isles, where the two came together.

My father liked the man I worked for. He approved of my decision to go to work there, and I was full of Hitchcock stories at the diner table each night.

Not seeing Gordo didn't mean I didn't look look for him. Hitchcock's was between El Cajon and Santee. I had to cross Broadway to get home. When I hit Broadway, I hooked a right, going to the small section of lawn, on the far side of the mall.

It was after six, and everyone was usually off to get fed, but I still sat there, thinking, sooner or later, something good had to happen, and then, it did.

Three skaters arrived at the lawn, where I was sitting. They came from different directions, arriving at the same corner at the same time. They didn't notice me, because they were too busy noticing each other, but I heard names I recognized. These were guys Gordo warned me about.

"Hey Ace. How you been? Sup Dart? Freebee, you got out of jail?"

"I think so," Freebee said. "It's hard to tell sometimes."

They all laughed, offered high fives, and butt slaps.

Where I was from, you touched another boy's ass, you'd be eating a knuckle sandwich. What was with the guys in California feeling each other's ass?

While I hadn't seen John since he gave me the lowdown on some of the boys, I did remember the name Ace. This was the guy that was in the middle of everything John talked about. If I got to know Ace I was sure I'd finally be in.

"Just about perfect, I am. What's up, dude?" They slapped hands and Ace looked around but never noticed me at all. He seemed to be in careful control, as someone he didn't know watched them.

The last time I saw Ace and Dart was the day John got up from the small patch of lawn, walking to where I sat on the curb. He sat next to me. He'd given me the scoop on Ace and Dart, warning me to watch myself around them.

Ace was the biggest of the three boys. Size might have been his appeal, but I didn't think so. He was the oldest by a couple of years. His shoulders were broad, but not overly broad for his size. His waist lacked the flatness of most of the younger skaters, but he wasn't fat. Most skaters were on the thin side, because they were constantly propelling their boards. It was good exercise.

Otherwise, Ace was ordinary, and he was about to age out of the late teen and early twenties hot wheels culture. He was ordinary, except for his size. His speaking voice was loud, I'd think that alone would put off most people, but not the boys he was with. They listened when he spoke to them.

Ace stopped his merry band of skaters right next to me, but he didn't see me. Dart and the other boy, looked at the small patch of lawn with me on it. Ace saw only the two of them. He spoke only to them.

I wondered if I'd become invisible. Maybe that's why I didn't meet anyone. The few people I knew, save Gordo, might talk to me for a minute or two, and then, they were off to parts unknown. Maybe it was because I didn't engage in high fives and butt slaps. That gave me away. I wasn't one of them.

The one they called Dart, began looking around. Ace and Freebee talked over old jailhouse bunk mates. Their eyes finally came to rest on Dart, and then, me. My invisibility shield had indeed failed. Dart was looking right at me.

"Hey, haven't I seen you around? I'm Dart. You new, or what?" Dart asked.

"Yeah. Moved here from back east," I said.

"Cool. What's that like? I mean the east?" Dart asked, dropping down on one side of me..

"It's getting chilly back there this time of year," I said.

"I knew I didn't want to go east for some reason," Dart said. "Sleeping on concrete in the cold would be a bitch."

"You sleep on concrete?" I asked, recognizing Gordo's description of it.

"Hey, Dart, you found yourself a boyfriend. You ain't going to share?" Freebee asked, dropping down on the other side of me.

Bookends, just what I always wanted.

Freebee had brown hair and funny colored eyes. In the fading light, I didn't know if they were brown or green.

He wasn't bad looking, but it was hard to look at him, under the circumstances. Of the three of them, Freebee was the best looking. Dart seemed friendly enough. Ace looked around, not quite able to see me yet. He seemed above it all, like we should look up to him. Sitting there, looking up was easy.

"Where, back east?" Ace asked, obviously hearing me talking to Dart.

"Massachusetts," I said.

"Way north," Ace said. "I guess it is getting chilly there. What in the hell does everyone do, when it gets cold. I mean, when it gets, really, really cold?"

"We tend to huddle together," I said.

Freebee and Dart laughed.

Ace looked like I'd farted in his face.

"I bet you're good at huddling. You look like you'd be good at it," Ace said.

"I do my best," I said, not taking the bait. "I'm Z."

"I'm Dart," Dart reminded me, offering me his hand, and when he got done shaking, Freebee offered me his.

"I'm Freebee. They call me Free, on account I'd rather be free than in jail."

"Don't tell him your price for a b j, Free. Z what?" Ace asked.

"My name is Zane. I don't like it much. I go by Z," I said.

"Move over, Dart. Let me sit by my man Zane," Ace said.

Dart didn't question the order. He merely scooted over to give Ace plenty of room, but he still managed to press his bare leg against my bare leg. If it was a come-on, I pretended his leg wasn't there. As interesting as the bulge in his spandex was, Ace was too much for me. I'd been warned about him, and I intended to be as cool as a cucumber around Ace.

"What's your price, Zane," Ace asked, leaning back on his elbows, so he could see my reaction.

"Actually, I had to give that up, my dentist said, "Your teeth are so sharp, you'd be able to castrate the uncircumcised."

"Ouch!" Free said. "I'll keep my dick to myself."

"Your already circumcised, asshole," Ace said, no humor in his words.

Dart laughed.

Ace glared at him.

Most boys didn't want to reveal they looked at other boy's dicks, but Ace didn't care. Ace was in charge and, if you were smart, you didn't cross him. The bulge in his spandex became less and less interesting. I didn't need it that bad, and I'd be lucky if I got out of there with all my teeth.

Ace was testing me, and neither Freebee or Dart were going to cross him. He was a big guy, and he could hurt someone if he wanted to. I would do my best to see to it, he didn't hurt me. I'd been wanting to meet guys, and now I had.

Ace was so close to me, I could smell him. It wasn't a bad smell, but if I could smell him, he was way too close. His leg leaned even harder against mine. He reached between his legs to move the bulge up in his spandex. I didn't watch him do it, but I saw him do it. What did that mean? I didn't want to find out.

"I need a drink," Dart said. "I came up here to get a soda."

"That's a great idea," Free said. "I'm thirsty."

"Sounds like a plan," Ace said, standing up. "You coming with us, Z?"

Ace stuck his hand out for me to take, and he pulled me to my feet. He led the way. I brought up the rear. I'd have refused, and gone home to have dinner, but I wanted to play this out, and see where it led. These were not the idea guys I wanted to get to know, but I had to get to know someone.

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