My ’80s hair metal friend Mike and I used to drive up and down the streets of Des Moines, just passing the time in a city known for its fertile women and large insurance companies.
We had a system: Mike looked out for the women and I looked between the insurance buildings for a job I might be able to keep for more than two weeks.
We passed by our friends’ houses, our rivals’ houses and the old folks’ houses.
We honked at the old folks. With a blind kindness particular to the Midwest, they just turned around and waved, never really knowing who it was.
We passed the Glendale Cemetery a lot. We both have friends buried there — one the victim of a tragic high school car accident, the other a recent war hero. Across the street is another reminder of death — the house where a friend shot himself to escape his life.
One spring day, we drove north up Hickman Road until we reached Merle Hay Road, when I saw, standing in the grassy median to our left, a glimpse of some shabby clothes with a black man inside. He was dressed in black jeans and a tattered red flannel, stooping at the waist, waving his long dark arms. It could only be . . . Smiley!