I’d been wandering around a crowded bike show when I spied a place to sit, but it included asking permission from the guys who were already engaged at the other end of the table. The big guy with the white beard invited me to join them and introduced himself.
“I’m Weston,” he offers before pointing his finger at me. “Not Wes; I’m Weston. You don’t know me good enough to call me Wes.” He nods at me to be sure I understand before he points at his friend. “An’ this here is Jim.” I grin. “So Jim, not Jimmy, right?” Jim stands up and shakes his head as he grabs the empty Shiner bottles off the table. “Oh boy,” he tells Weston. “We got ourselves a wiseacre, here. Might as well get us another round. I expect we’ll be here with this one a while.” With that he wanders off as Weston stares me down.
“Well, what’s your story? That big-ass camera says you ain’t here for the party, so who are you workin’ for, gal?”
I give him the rundown then we chat about the usual stuff like bikes and the weather before Jim finds his way back with two fresh cold ones. I ask if I can take their photo and Weston shrugs.
“Well, no, I believe there’s no need for that. The post office has my mug up on the wall already.”
Jim clears his throat before correcting his friend.
“Now that’s not true; they took that down nearly two decades ago and you know it.” He shakes his head and turns to me. “He’s outlived the law’s perspective that he’s a threat to society but somehow he hasn’t managed to forgive himself.”
It was then that I noticed that Jim had a “Chaplain” patch stitched to his cut off.
“Oh bullshit!” Weston blustered, then followed the cussword with an apology, a sequence he repeated with every slip of the tongue. I pretended I heard neither despite Jim’s Southern gentleman cringe and subsequent apology for his friend’s lack of manners. I reacted to none of it, feeling certain it was an often-rehearsed shtick between the two.
“I guess I wouldn’t be telling secrets outta school if I talked about the days of cookin’ meth,” Wes grins, which allows for the discovery that he’s missing more than a few teeth.
“Now, I’m not saying it was me doing the cookin’ here, I’m jus’ saying there was a time when I lived a mighty differ’nt kinda life than I do now. Course, my grands don’t know nothing about any of that, tho’ I’m sure their daddies prob’ly remember back when I was kicking that ol’ Pan and runnin’ dope. They was little then, tho. They do remember their mama, rest her soul.” Jim stares at the ground as if lost in the memories before Weston punches him in the shoulder.
“We been buddies since we was kids, ol’ Jim n’ me. We’ve seen some shit. I’ve had folks tell me I should write a book, an’ I thought about it for a while, but realize after talking to people from our generation that ya know what? I am no different than anybody else. We all done just about the same shit as everybody else as we was comin’ up so there’s really nuthin’ new to tell. It’s not a surprise to anybody!” They both chuckle and take a draw on their beers before Jim shares his perspective.
“We’re the lucky ones that outgrew that wild side. Some died before they got grown, some of us had growing up forced on us, but we still grew up. For me, it took paying for my sins through incarceration but it led me to salvation, so I’m grateful I got turned around before I got killed. For Weston, it was a good woman that turned him around. They’ve been married 30 years now.”
“Wow, all I asked was to take your picture. Pretty interesting, guys,” I pipe up. Jim smiles before he offers that it’s a knee-jerk reaction to shy away from photos.
“We never outgrew some elements and I’d say that’s one. We’re not real trusting of a lotta stuff. Battle scars you might think, so maybe, but you know, club life was our family. We belonged, and in a way, that never changes. Even though I’m just in a Christian club, it’s still a commitment. I like to think God offers us choices, then stays beside us as we walk that wrong path. It’s up to us to bring ourselves out of the ways of a sinner, to find our way to that righteous path God first offered.”
Weston raises his hand and suggests that Jim is starting to thump his bible a little too loudly when I spy a photo op and excuse myself, explaining that I have work to do. As I head off I hear Weston fussing at his friend.
“Now see, this is what I was tellin’ ya. You flat run that one right off! She was nice, she weren’t hard to look at and she certainly was smart. If you’d asked that one out, she’d a said yes, for sure. Dude, you gotta stop running women off… I can’t be yore wingman if you keep preachin’ like that cuz I’m pretty sure she ain’t gonna find that righteous path back over here to you.”