Why oh why had I given him the chance to talk to me? I’d gone for a spur of the moment sunrise bike ride. It had been too hot to sleep anyway. Riding by Milwaukee’s lakefront was a beautiful alternative to rolling around uncomfortably in a sticky hot apartment. The sun teased the lake top, glittering across the horizon. And the only people awake to enjoy it were the fishermen and me.
Often times I liked to walk up the breakwater- a sidewalk that stretched out into the lake and cut the waves where boats dock- but usually it was too crowded to bike on. Morning was very different than midday. The fishermen lined up along the side of the wall where the breakwater had changed the choppy lake into smooth water. I biked up the opposite side, watching the bobbing sailboats. The water’s breeze had finally cooled me off.
I reached the end of the breakwater and turned around to head back. Halfway back to shore, I saw another non-fisherman. The guy was shirtless and lying on his back. His bike was propped up near him, his flip flops a rejection, 20 feet away. His ankles were crossed and his eyes closed. The cigarette between his fingers burned slowly, unsmoked. I biked past slowly, admiring his smooth chest, and then I realized I knew him. “Luke,” I called out.
Now, Luke was never a close friend. He’d occasionally stopped in the bar I worked in. I only remembered him because he was the only dirty hippie kind of guy I’d ever found attractive. And his girlfriend was a trendy hippie girl who suited him.
I hopped off my bike and turned it around. He sat up and squinted as I walked towards him. I was smiling and waving, wondering if he’d recognize me. I’d changed my hair drastically the month before, and was used to appearing unfamiliar. As I got closer, his eyes lit up. He knew who I was. Then, his monologue began. “Aw, hey! I heard you cut off your dreadlocks. How you doin’ Sarah?”
“Anna,” I corrected.
“Right, Anna. Sorry. Hey, do I look okay? I mean, like, how are my eyes?”
“Fine. You look fi..”
“Really? Cuz I haven’t gone to sleep yet. I’m just sitting here thinking, you know? Like, I’m sick of my job, my life, and everything. I don’t need my job, ya know? It’s time for me to focus on what really matters. Yeah, I’ve been having some heavy thoughts. And I feel like I’ve learned more in the last 20 minutes than I have in my entire life.
“What’s crazy is that this is my golden year. I turned 23 on the 23rd. And I’m a tiger. Next year is the year of the tiger. So I’m pretty sure that if I don’t die this year, that next year I’ll save all of humanity.” He paused and nodded at me a little bit. Was he expecting me to agree with him? I saw the circles under his eyes now, and wondered why I hadn’t noticed them before. He wasn’t up early like me. He was out late. And I could tell I was trapped.
“So yeah,” he continued, “I can quit my job now and do whatever I want to. I see it clearly. I can leave, get on my bike and ride to Colorado to get my keys back.”
“Oh, are you locked out of your house?” I asked, searching for the logic.
“No, we still have my girlfriend’s keys. But she lost mine this weekend when she was out there on acid. So of course we had to have a fight about it. I had to say, ‘Emily, shut the fuck up.’ Except I didn’t say ‘fuck’ because I don’t swear much. And I’ll tell you what else, I love that girl. I don’t really understand her, but I love her. And if all of my parts work, I wanna have a baby with her. Because that’s what I need- a little person named Luke who’s just like me. Except I probably wouldn’t name him Luke, you know. I’d give him a name that would make him a citizen of the world.” Again he paused and nodded.
“I’ve asked my dad what my name means, and he’s got no answers,” he went on. “So I don’t think I’ll ever know who I really am. But I’ll tell you one thing. I KNOW my dad was not a salesman his whole life.” Luke squinted, letting me in on his suspicion. “Like, I know for a fact he’s smoked his body weight in weed on more than one occasion…” He paused for dramatic effect, and then said slowly, “Government.” I began to wonder how I’d get out of this.
From the corner of my eye I could see an abandoned Cheetos bag scooting in the wind across the breakwater. While still facing Luke, I started walking backwards. “I’m still listening to you, I just have to grab this bag or it’ll drive me nuts. Litter is my pet peeve, especially by the lake,” I explained.
“No, go ahead and grab it up.” He waved his hand, then took a drag from his cigarette. “Plus, let me ask you this, when’s the last time you actually bought something with packaging? I mean, they have some guy whose job it is to package up chips and stuff. What they don’t realize is that a machine can package chips and men can do what really matters.
“Like, why don’t they just stretch this wall to Michigan? Ya know, instead of stopping it right here, let it go to Michigan. And if a boat ran into it and crashed, everyone could just climb on the wall and walk home.”
“Mmm, yeah,” I mumbled.
“Or like, they have ski lifts go up mountains, why not have one that runs through three states, connecting everyone? I’m telling you. We’ve got a new president, change is gonna happen. And I hope, well, not hope for him, but I hope for this country that he does get assassinated. Because then all the black people will revolt and we’ll feel something and go to war.
“I don’t want that,” I interrupted. “Not at all. In my opinion, that would be absolutely fucking awful.”
“But that’s the thing about this country,” Luke said. “It’s the greatest country there is. They let you in if you’re blind, and retarded, and a neo nazi. So if there is a war, and you’re that connected to your roots, just dig a hole and hide in it.”
I was done listening. I could handle the crazy, but war and politics was wrecking my sunrise. I needed an excuse. I began shifting from foot to foot, then crossed one leg over the other. “Well, I’d love to chat more but I’ve really got to pee,” I lied. Luke gestured to the water. A suggestion. Smiling, I shook my head.
I mounted my bike and started heading away. “Hey, if you’re free on Sunday, we’re gonna grill out at Polaski park around 2 p.m. Feel free to stop by,” Luke called out from behind me. Man, he flipped back to normal like turning on a light.
The sun was now fully above the water. I waved behind me and pedaled fast. I kept my head facing foreword, pretending not to hear him.