From Autumnal to Vernal, the Exhibitionist’s Journey
A brand new short story by Erik Bosse!
Even after a week, the Daylight Saving Time shift of autumn still had me confounded. I had just finished a late lunch–late, even for me. It was starting to get dark as I rode my bike home from Taco Haven. When I turned onto South Alamo, I saw one of those tourist bicycle rickshaw things–Mission Pedicab Service. The operator had pulled it the curb and was squatting down shaking his head. He was alone. I pulled up.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, leaning my bike against a phone pole.
“Check it out, man,” he said pointing at the broken chain. “And I gotta get it back to the office so the guy riding the night shift can head out.” He was a latino, maybe thirty. Shaved head and goatee. He had sunglasses on a strap dangling at his chest.
“You know,” I said. “I think I have a chain tool.” I’m far removed from a mechanically inclined type, but I’d replaced the chain on my bike back in the summer, and I had bought this special chain-breaking tool. I dug around in the little tool bag that hangs from below my seat and pulled it out.
“Please tell me you know what to do with that gizmo,” he said, “’cause—and this is just between the two of us–I don’t know shit about bicycles.” And he laughed in this jittery manner that was almost a giggle. I tried to remember where I had heard that laugh before. He stood up and wiped imaginary sweat off his bald head. He was a head shorter than me, but solid, stocky, with broad shoulders.
“It’s tricky,” I said, looking down at the device. “But I’ll give it a shot.”
The sun had dropped down so that even the top of the flour mill tower over on Probant was in shadows. I sat down on the street and turned the lever on the tool through thirteen full rotations. Perfect. I tossed the two twisted links down a storm drain and reattached the chain.
I stood up. The guy had his eyebrows raised, impressed. He handed me a towel. I did my best to wipe off the grease from my hands.
“You’re riding a fixed gear bike,” I said. “I don’t know anything about them. But I expect I might have made the chain too tight. I think it’ll get you where you’re going, but I don’t know about the long-term.”
“You saved my ass, man! The name’s Ron.” And he slapped me on the back. “You follow me back to the shop, I’ll buy you a beer.”
He got back in the saddle and began pedaling. I give him a half a minute. Without a gear system, it took awhile to get a contraption that size, even without passengers, up to speed. I followed him, a bit nervous, because I wasn’t sure my repair would hold. We crossed over the San Antonio River, turned left on Probant, and pulled into a gravel-strewn beer garden with about a dozen picnic tables just beyond the Nopalito Grill.
I’d heard about this place. It was a combination pedicab service and bar, which catered to the downtown alcoholic hipster bicycling community. This was the home of the Mission Pedicab Service, as well as the Derailleur Beer Garden. There were a few patrons seated about. I followed their lead and chose a picnic table and leaned my bike against it. Ron left his pedicab at the curb, behind another. He walked inside the only structure on the property, a little corrugated steel Quonset hut. I sat down and watched a third pedicab roll up, parking behind Ron’s. The operator got off and walked inside.
Soon Ron came out and took a seat across from me. A waitress approached. She wore a hoody and cut-off shorts. Her left calf was covered with a tattoo of pink and black floral designs.
“Hey, Ronny,” she said, leaning down to kiss his cheek. “How the tourists treating you?”
“My tips today came to forty-seven dollars and a bag of weed. All I can say is, they’re showing me love and respect. Could you get me a Strawberry soda. And give my friend the finest Texas beer from your cellars.”
The waitress nodded and walked off. As she approached the hut, she waved at three guys who left the building and got onto the pedicabs. They slowly u-turned and rolled their way off toward downtown.
“Let me guess,” I said, watching the pedicabs depart. “You never mentioned the broken chain.”
He gave me that jittery laugh again. And that when I knew who he was.
“That guy on my bike? He’s douchier than a high school quarterback.”
“Hey,” I said, pointing at him with a grin. “Aren’t you Casanova Mendoza, the Chicano Chick Magnet?”
His eyes bugged and he hissed at me to keep quiet.
“Lone Star tallboy for the gentleman,” the waitress said, placing the beer in front of me. “And a fruity Topo Chico for, what was your name again, sir? Casanova?”
“My friends just messing,” Ron said.
The waitress laughed and walked away.
“I didn’t take you for a Lucha Libre fan,” Ron said, keeping his voice low. “I hardly ever see white guys at my matches.
I explained that I had seen him in a student film–a short documentary about the San Antonio Luchador scene. Ron, AKA, Casanova Mendoza, the Chicano Chick Magnet, was the highpoint of the film. He’s muscular, but a bit pudgy. And even in a mask, he’s still kind of goofy-looking. He exploits all this, playing his Lothario character for laughs.
“So, they don’t know what else you do here,” I asked.
“Man, I’m like a superhero with dual identities. Fuck no they don’t know!” And he laughed again. “How’d you do it? You know, crack my secret?”
“Your voice–your laugh, really. I saw you in a film made by students from Harlandale High School.”
“Hey, I remembered those kids. So, they finished it?”
“Shit, it played at the San Antonio Film Festival. You were the best thing in it.”
“What do you know?” He sipped his soda. “I hope Lone Star’s okay,” he said, pointing to my beer.
“Just fine,” I said, taking a sip. “So, you’re not drinking? You in training?”
“Something like that. Actually, I have to drive to Junction tomorrow morning for a match.”
“Junction? Junction, Texas? They have wrestling there?”
Ron gave that signature laugh of his. And he had to catch his breath before he could talk.
“There’s wrestling all over the place, man. Think of some place that’s got nowhere written all over it, chances are, there’s wrestling there.”
“Like dog fighting?”
“What the fuck? Where’d that come from? Man, everyone loves wrestling. Even the wrestlers. Ask a dog if he likes to fight.”
“I just meant, you know, subcultures.” He shrugged it off and I tossed back about half my beer. “Maybe I was thinking about the secrecy. You know, what with Lucha you have these masks, and with–”
“I’ll let you in on a little secret. You saved my ass back there, right?” He held his hand up, and what could I do? I gave him a high-five. “And you pierced my secret, and I mean top secret identity. So here you go. Not only am I Ronaldo Morales, and Casanova Mendoza, but I am also the mascot for the football team of the San Antonio Polytechnic Institute, SAPI, the Swooping Egret.”
“Wow. Um, that’s pretty cool…”
“Well, it is a paycheck. Fairly small. And I guess you’re like many people. Didn’t even know SAPI had a football team.”
“No. It’s just hat I’d never even heard the San Antonio Institute of–”
“It’s the San Antonio Polytechnic Institute.” Ron shrugged and leaned on the table. “Their robotics department is fifth in the nation. They really should push that. Great scholastics, mediocre sports, and fucking miserable public relations. But, again, it’s a secret identity. I’m like a ghost. I show up, in costume, and dance about. And then, after the game, I’m gone.” Ron looked up to the full moon. “It’s wonderfully liberating.”
“Well, don’t worry,” I said. “Your secret’s safe with me. Um, do you, you know, pedal under an alias?”
“Nope. This is all me. The real me. Whoever that is.”
Ron bought me two more beers and he became intrigued when he learned I made movies. The fact is, what he really wanted to do, was use his wrestling as a launch pad into acting. He was convinced he’d be perfect in commercials.
“Hey, what time you reckon it is?” he suddenly asked.
I pulled out my cell phone. “It’s ten after ten.”
“Oh, wow,” he said, grinning so wide I could see his back teeth. “There’s something you have to see. But we only have ten minutes.”
“Sure,” I said, draining my beer.
“Follow me,” he said.
I stood up and paused, looking at my bike.
“Dude,” he said with a sigh and a patronizing smile. “This is a bicycle bar. Your ride couldn’t be in a safer place.”
He had me convinced, and so I followed Ron down a dirt path behind the little Quonset hut. He was moving fast and I had to work to keep up. He followed the railroad track for about a block. And then he grabbed my arm and pulled me through a tear in a wire fence. We were on the grounds of a disused warehouse. We stopped at the base of a low water tower. He pointed up. I shrugged, why not. And so we took a ladder up to the top platform which was maybe thirty feet up. There was an iron catwalk which circled the water tower. Ron took a seat on this platform. I sat down beside him.
“Ten-twenty,” he said to me, “like clockwork, the Amtrak comes through this neighborhood. Now, you see that building over there?” I followed his finger. He was pointing to a warehouse across from us which had been gentrified into upscale lofts. There was a light in the huge floor-to-ceiling window of the top, third story unit. It was very well lit–I mean, they might have been making a movie in there. And there was a naked man in that large room. Slim body. Middle-aged. Long brown hair. He was pale as a grub worm. We watched as he worked out with two dumbbells.
“This guy’s my fucking hero,” Ron whispered to me. “I’ve seen him dancing wearing nothing but legwarmers. Nothing but motherfucking leg warmers!” He sucked in his breath. “Wow!”
I was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable.
“Well, I donna know? I guess if you love the human form and, well, um–”
“What?” he yelped loudly enough so that his voice bounced off the metal skin of the water tower. “No, That’s not…. No!” Ron took a deep breath. “Let me start over. At ten-twenty, every fucking night, the Amtrak comes through this stretch of railroad.” And as Ron said this, I could feel a slight vibration and hear a distant rumble. “And this guy…this goddamn hero of mine…. He’s giving a free show to any curious fellow or gal from Poteet to Mumbai who is lucky enough to be seated at the window on the starboard side of the carriage.”
We watched in silence as the train trundled by. From our perch we could see the whole show.
“He presents well,” Ron said thoughtfully. “He’s a solid performer.”
And then it occurred to me. For Ron, everything was a staged event. Even the two of us seated up on our perch.
I didn’t see Ron again until the following spring, when that Day Light hour was given back. I had been hired to videotape a wedding. Following the ceremony, the wedding party moved to a French restaurant downtown, overlooking the River Walk. While everyone was enjoying their meal, I was at a table in a far corner with the two photographers. We three were enjoying the food and some wine. As a rule, one doesn’t shoot the people eating—unless it’s the wedding cake. The cake would be soon, followed by dancing, speeches, and so on. Until then, we were kicking back and recharging our camera and lighting batteries from an outlet behind a potted ficus.
That’s when I saw Ron walk by in his waiter’s outfit. Good for him. This was a high dollar restaurant, and doubtlessly he was making much more money than running a bicycle taxi. I stood up and was walking over to greet him, when a young woman stopped to ask him directions to the ladies room. Ron answered in a thick French accent, perhaps more Pepé Le Pew than Charles Boyer; but he sold it all with his natural charm and with his smooth delivery of, “through those doors and to the left, ma chère” followed by a wink. The girl blushed and thanked him with a smile.
I decided to leave him be. He was in the middle of a grand performance, playing the role with as much heart and gusto as he delivered to his fans the mythic figure of the Chicano Chick Magnet. He was right where he needed to be. Well, at least until someone tried to talk to him in French.