--YOU MAKE THE LITTLE THINGS TURN INTO BIG IDEAS
JerrodThursday, August 14th, 2014
Outside of Akron, driving a beater car on Interstate 71, I pick up a hitchhiking dwarf.
Ordinarily I would never pick up a hitchhiker, but August in Ohio is a scorcher and I feel bad for the guy, not to mention (and this is me being judgmental, if not also bigoted) I don’t see as how he could pose much of a threat.
He seems effervescent, amped up, both surprised and giddy that I’ve stopped. When he jumps in, sweats flicks from his forehead and splatters the dashboard so that it looks as if it’s been crying.
“Thanks, pal,” he says, holding out his hand for me to shake, which I do, trying not to cringe at how warm and moist it is. “Name’s Jerrod.”
There’s still a bit of caution lingering in me, and I don’t feel like telling him my name, so I lie and tell him I’m Clint, because I’ve been thinking of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films for some reason.
“Where’re you headed?” he asks.
Jerrod laughs, a huge I-just-fucked-your-wife-in-the-ass-last-night laugh.
“Come on, man.”
“Okay, how about I’m on my way to Akron. You?”
“Akron,” he says, disappointment scrunching his forehead. “Sure, Akron, that’s my target as well.”
So we’re both drifters.
Much to my chagrin, Jarrod’s a talker, blathering on about everything from Obama’s daughters to the evolution of country music, how it’s really just pop music without Auto Tune or lines about Hoe’s and bling, and right at once I’m sorry I picked him up.
Then he starts with the questions: What do I do? (“Really? You lucky fucker, you actually have enough stashed away to just up and quit?” Am I married? (“You did the right thing, Clint, cutting the cord. A hag cheats once, she’ll do it till she dries up.”) Why am I going to Akron? (“Going to see your Sis, huh? You two must be close. I had a sister once, but she ran away at age tennn. Can you believe that? She hasn’t resurfaced since.) What kind of music do I like? (“Bullshit, man. Nobody likes everything. Wait, so you like country music, I mean real country, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn?”) Who did I vote for in the last election? Have I ever seen a ghost? Do I wish I’d had children? Do I like spareribs? How many bodily scars have I got? Do….????
It takes thirteen years or more until we finally see the road sign that says, Welcome to Akron. And underneath: Home of LeBron James.
“Shit,” Jerrod says, suddenly anxious as a junkie, “Can you believe they’re still loving on LeBron after he pulled that stunt and dumped the Cavs?”
I tell him I don’t follow basketball.
“Fuck you don’t.”
I tell him I don’t follow any sports.
He leans forward and turns to look at me, his face lit with astonishment. “Are you serious?”
“And you’re not gay?”
What if I was gay, I want to say. What if I was gay, I want to say, and I pulled out a gun and put a bullet through your waxy forehead. What if I was gay, I want to say, so what ? At least I can reach the dinner plates in the cabinets.
But then it hits me that I’ve sunk to his level. Wait, that’s bad, too. More bigotry on my part.
“Look,” I say, “would it be all right if I let you off here?”
Jerrod’s expression resembles a wife who’s been told that her ass has grown fatter than her twin sister’s. “At a truck stop?”
“We’re in Akron.”
“Can’t you just take me where you’re headed?”
“Where my sister lives is a residential area.”
“So? Do I not look residential enough for you?” Jarrod holds his arms out, palms facing me, as if he’s in a stick-up, and I notice in a flash, both how short his arms are, but also that he has huge hands, with fingers long enough to stretch across the entire radius of my throat.
“Hey,” I say. “Easy, tiger.”
Jarrod is panting now, breathing hard, his square jaw lowered, his eyes black bats swirling.
“No sweat,” I say. “I can drop you there.”
Jarrod blinks, blinks and blinks, and I wonder if I should ask if there’s something wrong with him, but I don’t want him to get more agitated.
“How far away are we?” he asks.
How should I know? I have no idea where I’m going, or where the residential sections are, yet I lie and say, “About twenty minutes.”
“What’s your sister’s name?”
“Tawny.” Tawny. Why Tawny? Because it’s the first thing that popped into my head and I once had a grade school friend who’s sister was named Tawny.
“She a good cook?” Jarrod asks.
Uh oh. Now he’s expecting to be fed.
“Hey, Jarrod, this is all a surprise, you know, my stopping by. She might not even be home.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
What did he ask? Oh, yeah. “Honestly, my sister’s cooking sucks. You’d be better off eating dog food.”
“Man, I’m starving.”
“We can stop at McDonald’s.”
“Thing is, I’m broke, flat-busted.”
Jarrod smiles at me for the first time since I picked him, but I notice he’s wringing his hands. I wonder if maybe the guy really is a junkie, though he doesn’t look pale.
It’s harder than you would think to find a McDonald’s in such a big metropolis, but I do eventually. Jarrod doesn’t want to do drive-thru, though. Inside, there’s no line, which I’m grateful for. When Jarrod steps up to give his order, he takes a pistol out of his pocket and aims it at the stunned, teenage Hispanic and says, “Unload your till. Now!”
I try to remember where my own gun is, then realize it’s back in the car.
“Hey, Jarrod,” I say.
He tells me to shut my pie hole. To the clerk he shouts, “Hurry up! This is loaded,” wiggling the snout of the pistol at the poor kid’s nose.
When I turn to make a run for it, Jarrod swings his arm in my direction, aiming the gun at my crotch.
“Whoa!” I say.
“Clint, this was your idea,” Jarrod says, enunciating too perfectly, clearly trying to set me up in the event this episode is somehow being taped.
“I had nothing to do with this.”
“Now you’re going to try and lie,” Jarrod say, whipping the gun back toward to befuddled teller, then back at an obese couple who’ve just entered, telling them, “Get the fuck out! And find some fucking treadmills!”
The teenage clerk hands Jarrod a bag of bills in a McDonald’s bag meant to hold a few Big Mac’s at most. Fives and Tens dangle over the lip of the sack.
“What about the change?” Jarrod says. “I want the change, too.”
Once the till is completely emptied, we flea the place, Jarrod pushing my right ass cheek. “Hoof it! Cops’ll be here soon.”
When we get back in the vehicle, I’m so nervous I can barely slot the key in the engine.
“What’s your problem?” Jarrod asks.
“My problem? You just held up a McDonald’s”
Jarrod waves the gun at me, and I notice how it smells like dirty underwear.
“You want I shoot you?”
I swallow. I think; it’s been an interesting ride, my life these last few months. “Go ahead.”
“Are you fucking nuts?”
“Shoot me if you have to, but I’m not driving.”’
“I’ll do it.”
“Fine? Are you an idiot? You want to be dead?”
As if acting reflexively, I slam my palm into Jarrod’s forehead and his skull smacks against the passenger side window. I stiff-arm him in the face again, and again. The gun plops on the floor mat. Jarrod starts whimpering.
“Why’d you do that?” he asks.
“Because you’re the fucking idiot.”
“But you don’t understand.”
“It’s my girl. She needs an operation.”
“She was born the wrong gender. She knew all along she was a she, I mean, he was a she.”
“Leslie wants to become my girl for real, but it’s an expense procedure.”
When I pick up Jarrod’s gun from the mat and aim it at him, he squirms.
“Get out now,” I say.
“You ain’t going to shoot me. I know that.”
I fire a bullet into his leg. Jarrod squeals, shouting, “What the fuck, man?”
“I’ll shoot again if you don’t get out.”
“All right. Fuckin’ A, all right.”
“And take your money.”
“I will. Okay. Just don’t shoot me again. Fuck, man, you actually shot me.”
After Jarrod crawls out of the car, I peel away, tires screeching, rank smell of burnt rubber rising in the cab. I see a glimpse of Jarrod in the rearview, him squatting down near the kid’s play area, obviously in pain. I floor the accelerator and get the car doing fifty and start thinking where I should dump the vehicle, wondering what Dirty Harry would do in a predicament like this.