N THE SUMMER OF 1985 my best friend Wayland and I spent the better part of an afternoon bicycling from house to house plucking cans of New Coke from the mailboxes and stuffing them in our backpacks. It was an uncommonly sticky day in northern Michigan and sweat stained the bill of my Tigers cap and striped the ass crack of Way’s XL cargo shorts. Just about every time he would twist his arm back I remember the damn can would slip from his kielbasa fingers and clatter to the asphalt, so after a bit we stopped in the post office parking lot and devised an assembly line system where I would grab the cans and put them in his pack. But then my front tire kept hitting his rear tire and Way told me to watch the fuck out, pencil dick, and I responded that maybe you should speed the fuck up, fat ass. He threatened to pull over and stomp my scrawny ass into the ground, which we both knew he could do but not without consequences like the time I snuck up behind him in the locker room and buried a math compass in his hamstring. But then a car zoomed by blaring its horn and Wayland and I postponed our quarrel and flipped the driver simultaneous birds and spent the next several minutes repeating his license plate number under the apparent theory that we could somehow track him down.
We had yet to taste New Coke. As the whole world knows by now, nearly thirty years later, the stuff was a marketing catastrophe. But at the time, and to a couple thirteen-year-olds from the trailer park, free Coke was free Coke.
The plan was to collect fifty cans each, empty the backpacks at our respective trailers and repeat the process across town. The whole thing was Way’s idea. He wanted to fill his fridge with Coke, any Coke, to score points with a short-tempered stepfather who drank cheap whiskey and cola like water. The old man would take him hunting on occasion but invariably get drunk and violent. I didn’t have the heart to tell him our mission was useless, that the bastard would continue his brutish ways even if Way were to magically produce a hundred cases of Jack Daniels and Christie Brinkley to serve it.
Packs half full, we encountered a pair of sunbathers face down along the river. These were well-built girls in colorful bikinis, clearly tourists, listening to AC/DC on a silver boombox. Their asses were nothing short of glorious, their thighs thick and shiny with sweat.
I knew what Way was going to do before he did it. “Let’s chat ’em up,” he said, veering off the road. I shook my head but followed along, cans clanking, heart suddenly hammering in my throat. We pulled up in front of the girls and Way asked how they were doing. They looked up in unison, shielding their eyes from the sun, and I was surprised to find that one had a horsey face and the other’s cheeks were severely pitted from acne, their looks definitely not matching their bodies and I remember being disappointed but then I got a little surge thinking maybe this increased our chances, that even though these girls were in high school or even college they probably didn’t get much action so maybe they’d go for a couple of northern Michigan kids who everybody knows are tougher than those pretty boys from downstate.