Game Day

The roads circling the mall confuse me even when I’m not high. Kick-off isn’t for another three hours, but drivers are still burning down my ass like they’ve missed something. With the bins of weed in my trunk, I drive average. Chick-fil-A, Red Lobster, Old Navy, Doctor Vision—they’re all ticking past.

I’m meeting Roland behind an Applebee’s because last month a cop moved in next door, a breacher on the SWAT team. Every day, the guy looks special ops: lean, mean, and keeping it clean. He has saturated his mulch with enough pesticides that an acrid, chemical tang lingers. Trump stickers on his Navigator, too—like I didn’t already know.

I’ve taken this cop’s arrival as a serious sign, one that has quickened my thoughts for the worse and I end up pulling into Friday’s, curl around back and park. The whole time I think I’m outside Applebee’s.

On the radio Phish is chugging through “Backwards Down the Number Line” and I’m watching two Hispanic dudes struggle to pour a barrel of rank cooking oil into a recycling tank. There’s a bad seal on the barrel. I can see it. The oil is dark and runny. They let it drop. One of them—the one who just fucked up his purple Ravens jersey—slides off to a girdle of grass, lays flat on his stomach, and starts inch-worming, trying to clean up.

I check the time and start blaming Roland for being late.

I get a hunch—a feeling I’m about to miss out—and call my bookie and put another thousand on Baltimore to beat Tennessee. Normally, I’d stay away from a ten-point spread, but it’s the play-offs, and it doesn’t take a big pair of stones to put your money on a hellified, downhill scorer like Lamar Jackson.

At home, Petty was expecting me an hour ago with his Italian from Jimmy John’s. Little things can set Petty off. What he wants he wants, and by now, he’s probably bobbing his head, raking zig zags across his scalp and counting out boos meant for me, his brother.

Last weekend, Petty was fired from his job as a garage attendant, and he has not been himself since. Every time a driver claimed they’d lost their ticket—which happens more than you’d think—Petty let them out for free. That the manager thought Petty was stealing was not anything Petty could understand. And even though Petty can’t drive, something about controlling the mechanical arm from inside that booth made him feel like one day he might.

Roland and I’ve been running weed long enough that I bought Petty and me our non-descript split-level in the suburbs, and I’ve stowed steel lockboxes of cash in the basement ceiling. Sometimes, when I’m down there, I just stare up at that section of drywall. Another year, give or take, and I’ll have enough to move us down to Florida—maybe the Keys—where we can rent jet skis to tourists and chill.

I’m picturing storks and herons wading in lazy, low tides when I realize the weak-ass Friday’s I’ve parked behind is not—and has never been—an Applebee’s.

At Applebee’s Roland is standing outside his Passat, drinking a soda from Wendy’s, working hard to look normal. He walks over. “You’re tardy.”

I step out of the car and a bicyclist coasts by, one of those dudes who takes himself too seriously: gortex skinsuit, fingerless gloves, a third-eye mirror attachment on his wrap-around shades.

“Was that a cop?” I ask.