We biked along the boardwalk with our tires treading over the wet wood. We thought we could sneak a beachside bike ride before the rains poured again. We were wrong. We stopped under a shelter and tried to wait out the storm. But these beachview canopies on the Miami Beach boardwalk are popular with the derelicts. Our first sheltermate was a large Black man who only spoke to himself. When the storm died down a bit he walked off and was replaced by a bearded white guy.
He asked us, “Where are you from?”
“I just moved back here from Los Angeles.”
“I once went to Los Angeles. Back in 1977 I had a job interview there. The traffic was so bad I turned around and never went back there again.” He didn’t specify if he meant to Los Angeles or to job interviews. He then told us his life story which included time in Vietnam, a typhoon he survived in Guam, and an afternoon in a Mexican prison.
He was interrupted by a new guy with a heavy accent who asked about my bike. “How many gears does that have? 21?”
“Yeah.” I said. Since he was right about the number of gears I thought I’d impress this guy with how I could pick out his accent. “Are you from England?”
“No. Philadelphia. I was born there 45 years ago. I don’t look 45, do I?”
“You don’t look a day over 44.” I told him. He was nonplussed. My companion was growing tired of not only the rain, but also the conversation. She talks to the mentally ill for a living whereas I follow advice I got that aspiring writers should talk to as many strangers and have as much sex as possible. (Or was it to have sex with strangers and talk as much as you can?)
When a third guy showed up with a laptop and started blasting the Fifty Cent song Candy Shop from the computer she was ready to go. We biked through the hard rain, but when it became monsoon heavy we stopped beneath another wooden canopy. Two guys with red faces and plastic cups with coke and some type of liquor were already there. They were overjoyed to see us. “Youse guys are from Boston aren’t youse?”
We apologized for being from Miami. They introduced themselves. One guy said his name was Eric and he was Irish and from Boston. The other guy was Polish. They asked if she was Irish and if I was Italian. I couldn’t believe this. My friend had recently sent me the link to the great Truly Tastless Jokes being available to read online and this set up perfectly my favorite joke from the book.
How can you tell someone’s Irish at a cockfight?
He brings a duck.
How can you tell someone’s Polish?
He bets on the duck.
How can you tell an Italian’s there?
The duck wins.
They loved it so much they asked if they could use my cell phone. Since they laughed at my joke I let the Polish guy use it. He was arranging for someone to wire money to them. The Polish guy walked off in the rain to get the money leaving us with Eric. He kind of looked like Fred Flinstone with third degree sun burns. I told him he needed to get sun tan lotion.
“This is nothing. I came down here one year I was hanging out with some broad and we fell asleep in the sun. Then I saw some guy pull up in a Rolls Royce. He was pissing on his tire and I said, ‘Excuse me, mister could I have some money. I got a real bad sun burn and I need a hotel room.’ The guy pulled up his pants and I said, ‘Youse Iggy Pop.’ He was that singer Iggy Pop. He said not to tell anyone. He didn’t want to be mobbed by people. He pulled into his pocket and handed me some money and said that’s all he could help me with. I thanked him and wasn’t until I got back with the chick that I saw he gave me four hundred dollars. Swear to God. That Pollock didn’t believe me. That Pollock is crazy. We went to the store the other day and he asked if I wanted some beer. I sez ‘Sure, but I ain’t got any money.’ He puts a case off beer under his jacket and walks out of the store.”
“You can’t trust these Pollocks.” I told him.
Eric started telling us more about his life. How his best friend died next to him in Desert Storm and how his face and arm needed reconstructive surgery from a bomb blast, so a sun burn ain’t so bad. He’s got a brother in Pompano, but the in-law and him don’t see eye to eye and he doesn’t want to cause any friction. The Polish guy came back and said there wasn’t any Western Union nearby and pulled out a block of Provalone cheese from his pocket.
The rain kept coming. We’d been holding out for an hour and a half and it didn’t look like it was stopping, so we decided to brave it. We wished them good luck on their Florida vacation and their quest to stay out of jail.
We rode off in the rain and Eric yelled, “Youse better marry that girl.” I’m unsure why he said that. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe Eric saw I fit in with these bums too well. We didn’t see any other women under those canopies. Maybe he thought she could save me from being another crazy with an afternoon worth of stories trying to stay out of the rain. Then again maybe one shouldn’t put too much thought into a sunburnt drunk’s parting words.