Shards of Glass
Dale Wilson was the All-American guy. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and damn good looking, if he didn’t mind saying so himself. He combed his sandy brown hair straight back, using some sort of styling gel to hold it in place while he blow-dried it, just so. He had a freckles arranged on his face, in such a way that they high-lighted his tan, he was that good. His mother used to brag to her friends that all of the girls were in love with Dale.
He worked at a grocery store, one of a small chain, that was part of the Retail Clerks Union, despite its small size. Therefore, he made good money. He moved quickly enough, even if it could not be considered fast pace. He had ascended the ranks of box-boy, and now resided with the apprentice clerks, meaning that he was above such manual labor, as sweeping floors, emptying trash, mopping floors, cleaning the alley out back, polishing floors, and cleaning the store bathrooms.
Dale drove a maroon-colored ’65 Mustang, with big tires on the back, chrome valve covers, and a stereo system that would compete with the best of them, on Whittier Boulevard, on Friday night. He oozed confidence and he used to tell tales of his conquests, to anyone who would listen. I was all ears.
The year was 1967, and I was fifteen years old. I’m Mikey, at least that’s what Dale called me, because he said Michael was too formal. That’s what my mom called me. Having lied about my age, at 15, in order to gain admittance to the Retail Clerks Union, I was working as a box-boy, in the same place as Dale. Unlike Dale, who no longer had to hustle, I had to run my ass off, in tennis shoes, in order to demonstrate to my boss, that I would make a good apprentice clerk, who did half as much work. It would have been more confusing to me, if hustling had not been a way of life.
I come from a large Catholic family, with blue-collar values, so working at the grocery store, was just fine with me. The things that Dale stood for had little or no value in my parents’ eyes, but to me he had it all. His clothes were the bomb, his car was souped up, and attracted the chicks, and he was so cocky. He just had this way of smiling at us younger kids, as though he knew it all, had it all, and most importantly, he was willing to let us in on the secret.
In the back room, on lunch break, Dale used to whip out his Tarreytons, (“I’d rather fight than switch”) after eating, and offer them to me, every time. Of course, what does any fifteen year old do, when offered a cigarette, by a nineteen year old, along with a lighter, ready to fire that puppy up? I don’t know what other kids did, but I sucked those Tarreytons down, especially if any person in the universe happened to be walking through the back room, at any point in time, and would happen to see me.
My mother did not like Dale. She saw something in him, that I did not. She was leery of a nineteen year old guy, who seemed to derive so much enjoyment, sharing his lifestyle, with fifteen-year-olds, especially if one was her son. I used to argue with her that she was wrong, but I did it only on principles’ sake, for I did not agree with her assessment of Dale.
I used to go to the beach with my older brother, Tony, and we would surf. At least Tony would surf; I was not such a fan of ocean water, so I hung out on the sand, and either slept or read. And of course I looked for chicks. Dale didn’t seem to have any trouble attracting chicks, so I figured I could learn. Occasionally our path would cross Dale’s or better, would parallel it, and I would get to hang out with Dale at the beach.
That was all fine and dandy, until one fateful day, when it all came to a screeching halt, and I found out that every once in a while, the mom gets it right, and I get it wrong. Even rarer is the occasion, when Mom gets it right, I get it wrong, and it is I who figures it all out, instead of having someone else beat me over the head with the facts. This won’t take long to explain.
Tony was still out on the water, so Dale and I were getting dried off, from being out on our boards, and so we were shivering, and getting into warmer clothes, and each smoking a Tarreyton. I almost stepped on a jagged shard of glass, that was lying on top of the sand, clearly visible.
A little freaked out by the closeness of the encounter, I gingerly picked it up, and looked around for a trashcan, or any acceptable method of removing such a deadly specimen from the neighborhood. Dale stopped what he was doing, and said, “Here, give it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
I was kind of shocked, because I didn’t figure Dale for the type who much cared, but I had underestimated him. After carefully taking it from me, he walked a short distance away, and after glancing back with that knowing smile, making sure that I was taking notes, he dropped to his knees, and scooped out a shallow depression, and buried that jagged piece of glass, right at the surface of the sand. The first kid who ran along the sand, and stepped on that spot, would do to his or her foot, what I almost did to mine a minute earlier. Only I could see the glass, and the next kid would not be able to.
“What the heck are you doing. Dale?” And if you think I used the word “heck,” that would be incorrect.
He grinned that sly, knowing smile at me again and said simply, “Vietnam land mines.”
“Vietnam land mines? Are you out of your freaking mind? That’s not funny, Dale.”
“There’s nothing funny about Vietnam land mines, Mikey.” He paused. “Just ask a whole bunch of our returning troops.”
“Dale, this isn’t Vietnam. And with number 365 in the draft lottery, you are not likely to see Vietnam either, so knock it off.”
All he did was smile, and head off down the beach to the distant pier, to get himself an order of curly fries, and a cup of chili, leaving me to go over to where he had been playing in the sand, so that I could retrieve and dispose of the offending “land mine.”
I never bothered to tell my mom she was right about Dale. But I did find a small margin of satisfaction one night, when we were all eating pizza and drinking cola at the pizza shop, when I went back to use the restroom, while the others were all engrossed in a Dodgers’ Giants game on the tube.
In the space of time that it took the Giants to dispense with Dodgers, one fine inning, I had slipped out the back of the shop, and around the side, where I slipped a pound of C&H pure cane sugar, into Dale’s gas tank, guaranteeing that he would get a few blocks down the road, and that everyone will have scattered, before he came to a silent rest.
Guess what, Dale. Vietnam land mine!