“Do you understand how pimp I am? Because I don’t think you do. I’m lookin’ at you, and you’re lookin’ back at me, and what I see is someone who does NOT understand how mothafuckin’ pimp I am!”
Damn, I hate days that start out like this. I look at the dude, and honestly, he’s right—I don’t understand how pimp he is. I don’t know what that means, even. I assume it means I don’t know how cool he is, but because I’ve decided that the best way to deal with society is to ignore it, I don’t really know the lingo these days.
“No, man,” I lie. “I know how pimp you are.”
“Oh yeah? Well then how pimp am I?”
“You’re like so pimp that when the drive-thru speaker talks back to you, you slap it.”
That’s what pimps do, right? Slap things? I used to be an avid reader of the Urban Dictionary, but ever since I went on vacation, I’ve lost touch. For a second, I think about how this is what those assholes in Hollywood would feel like, if they ever had to pay the consequences for all the fuck-stupid shit they do. “When the kids like something, they call it ‘dope’ or ‘rad.’ Trust me, I know what kids like. And the black people, they say things are ‘bad’ when they’re actually good, and when they understand something, they say that they are ‘down wid it.’ So we should add that in our movie somewhere.” But instead of all the other executives thinking this is a good idea, they’re lined up and kicked in the nuts until their eyes bleed.
Daydreams aside—this guy doesn’t look at all impressed with my witty banter and my clever observation about how pimp he is. Instead, he looks a little angry.
“What because I’m black, I hit women, is that what you’re implying?”
“No! No, not at all. It has nothing to do with you being black.”
“But you are implying that I hit women?”
“Well, not women, per se—just kind of like, everything. I didn’t mean you're a violent person, I just wanted to convey that I understand you are very pimp. I mean, look at you—how could someone not know how pimp you are?”
You might not know this by looking at me, but my experience with pimps, or pimping, or being pimp is pretty limited. And by very limited, I mean nonexistent. If you told me to conjure up a mental image of a pimp, it’d be the black dude in the purple suit with the giant hat and the dark sunglasses. I know that’s uninformed, probably more than a little racist, and all-around stupid, but I can’t help it. That’s what TV told me pimps look like, and I’ve never had a life experience to change that picture.
Until now. And judging by the way the situation was turning out, I’d probably forever associate the word pimp with feelings of fear and pain. Because I was about to get my ass kicked, it looked like.
The guy was black, so TV hadn’t steered me wrong there. But instead of being a skinny guy in a purple suit, this guy was huge—over six feet tall and probably weighing in at somewhere over three bills. Not completely ripped, but not any extra flab, either. He was dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt, and some shoes that were apparently really nice.
That’s what this was all about, was his shoes. I had been filling up the Portmobile with fuel, and as I removed the nozzle, the wind had blown some drops over onto his shoes.
I had tried to apologize, but it had come out sounding sarcastic, even to my own ears. Don’t get me wrong—it was a very sincere and heartfelt apology. But when I get scared, I always sound sarcastic. I have a feeling that it’s just another example of my body trying to take itself out of the gene pool.
So when he had walked around the pump and shouted, “Hey man, you got gas on my shoes,” it had, indeed, sounded like I didn’t give a shit, and was offering my apology as more of a spit in the face rather than a plea for mercy.
I wasn’t real sure how it had escalated to all this talk about pimps and hitting things, but considering that he could probably take off my head with a punch, I decided to veer conversation away from the subject of hitting.
Just then, Arnie walked out of the convenience store, carrying like twenty bags of beef jerky. He makes us come to this specific gas station because it’s the only place that carries Pappy Kershenstine’s Steak In A Bag, which is scientifically proven to be the best beef jerky in the entire world.
“Arnie!” I cried. “Do you understand how pimp this guy is?” You can tell I’m desperate when I’m turning to Arnie for help.
In truth, I didn’t figure he’d be able to help me at all, but at least I could use him to divert the attention of the guy who was about to pummel me.
“Slightly less pimp than the idiots who sold Louisiana to America. Also, he looks like a punk bitch in those khaki pants. What, did Sears have a steal one pair, get a second pair half off sale?”
My mouth dropped open. I always knew that Arnie would get me killed. Hell, the odds that he’d get me killed at this particular gas station were pretty good—we’d already been involved in a massive battle here once, and two other times I’d almost been carjacked while making a midnight jerky run.
But to understand that this was it, this is where I drew my final breath, that kind of things surprises you no matter how much you were expecting it. I decided to focus on my bladder. I hadn’t accomplished much in my life, but I decided that I should at least hold out until the third punch before I pissed myself.
I was more than a little startled when the enormous black man released my collar and began laughing. He strode over to Arnie and wrapped his arms around him. For a moment, I thought he was killing my moronic friend, and I was torn between yelling something like “stop” before jumping into the car and speeding away, or just jumping into the car and speeding away.
Then I noticed that he wasn’t killing Arnie—he was shaking his hand. My mouth would have dropped open, but it was still doing that from when Arnie had said that thing about the Sears sale. Instead, I closed my mouth.
“Howie, this is my buddy Ken. Ken, Howie.”
“Oh, hell yeah,” Ken said, striding back over, one arm still around Arnie’s shoulders. “I would have recognized you sooner, but I thought you guys were still out of the country.”
“We got back yesterday,” Arnie said. “Hey, what did he do to piss you off?”
“Oh, I thought he was talkin’ shit. If I woulda known it was Portly Boy, I woulda realized it was just him about to piss himself.”
I couldn’t argue with the thing about me close to pissing myself, so I said, “My name isn’t Portly Boy.”
“Portly Boy, Howie, Howard, it’s all the same in this city, bro, you know that.”
I did know that, but it didn’t mean that I liked it. At all.
I had had some time to think about it while I was on vacation, and I had realized that superheroes all had cool names. Green Lantern. Batman. The Incredible Hulk. You know who gets shit names? The villains.
The Vulture. Blob. Rainbow Raider. Killer Moth.
Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe these guys could have been good guys? Give ‘em a good name, some reason to feel good about themselves, maybe they’d think twice about robbing that bank. “I don’t know, Harv, I was gonna knock over that armored car, but that dame on the corner just called me Captain Hugecock, and I don’t really feel so bitter about things anymore. I might go try to get her digits, you know? You can do the armor car thing if you want, or I could check to see if she has a friend.”
“I would prefer it if you called me Howie,” I said to Ken. I still didn’t know him, but it looked like I was on safe enough ground that I could request to be called by my real name without getting my ass stomped.
He laughed. I wasn’t sure what that meant. He turned his attention back to Arnie.
“Well shit, son, it’s good to have ya’ll back in town. You need anythin’, you give me a call.”
“Will do, sir,” Arnie said. “Good seeing you again, big guy.”
“Good seeing you, too. Don’t be a stranger, now that you’re back.” Ken turned to me again, and began laughing. “And nice meeting you Portly Boy. I mean, Howie.” And then he laughed even harder.
“Is that guy having a fit or is he mentally challenged?”
Ken stopped laughing. Arnie looked confused. My jaw dropped open again.
“Seriously, dipshit, what’s so funny about his name? I mean, it’s a stupid name, but it’s nothing to bellow-laugh about. You’re probably the kind of mongoloid that laughs when people fart or slip on ice, too, aren’t you?”
“Who the fuck is that?” Ken demanded.
“Malfunction,” I said immediately. “Arnie stumbled onto artificial intelligence while we were away, and we haven’t worked out the bugs just yet.”
“Artificial intelligence? Shit, man, I’m about ten times more intelligent than this Neanderthal.”
“If you were so smart, you’d realize you were about to get us killed,” I told the Portmobile.
“Meh? Seriously? Fucking meh?”
“Look, dude, you’re great and all, but I’ve really been thinking about going out on my own. I’m pretty sure I can get my own show on MTV, or the Discovery channel, at least. You guys are kind of dead weight.”
“If I let you kill it,” Arnie said to Ken, “Will you accept that as my apology?”
Ken didn’t say anything, just glared at the Portmobile. Apparently, it was the first time he had really paid attention to the car. Otherwise, he probably would have had me pegged as Portly Boy from the very beginning. His head nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Arnie, what are you doing?” I asked. “Look, this is just a-”
Arnie handed Ken a keychain. “The pink button on there, fries the smart circuit.”
“Arnie?” The Portmobile asked.
“Arnie?” I asked.
“Sorry, old chums,” Arnie said.
And then Ken pressed the pink button.
I don’t know what I expected—maybe a scream, or maybe the quick burst of static like when you turn off the satellite box before you turn off the TV. Instead, there was just nothing.
“Seriously, dude, that had nothing to do with you,” Arnie explained to Ken. “It’s just that Howie was talking to it while we were away, and turned it into an asshole.”
“Hmph,” Ken said, and turned his glare to me. I was still in shock. I’m not a sentimental guy, but I had grown pretty fond of the artificial intelligence that was The Portmobile. It wasn’t quite like a friend, but it was much higher on the scale of loved ones than a dog. Maybe like a monkey, if you had a monkey that dressed up like a NASCAR driver and used a Big Wheel to run down small children.
I got into the car, turned the key in the ignition, and whispered, “Portmobile?”
Nothing. Not even the preprogrammed crap that was there before the A.I.
Arnie dumped his armful of beef jerky into the car and then dropped into his seat. The top of the Portmobile slid closed. I stared out the passenger window as Ken climbed into his Cadillac SUV. Once he drove away, I turned my stare to Arnie, and my stare turned to a glare.
“I’ve called you a lot of things over the years,” I told him, “but I’ve never called you a spineless weasel. Never had a reason to.”
He turned to face me. There was a look in his eyes that I didn’t see often—seriousness. “That was Ken.”
“I got that. Good ole Ken.”
“Yep. Good ole Ken. Ken replaced that guy you dubbed Supa Gangsta. He did it through violence and aggression and intelligence. Good ole Ken, he runs the crime in three of the boroughs now. You know why he likes us? Because we gave him this chance. We got SG locked away for what? Nine years? Him and his closest crew members. We opened it up for the new boss. Ken is that new boss. He started out small, just the crap crime that SG was doing. Then he got bigger and bigger, through sheer force and violence.
“You always say I don’t take stuff serious. Know what? I take that lunatic serious. He would have killed us just now, Howie.”
“We’ve been in situations like that before, you never sacrificed a member of our team.”
He sighed. “We weren’t in costume, we weren’t trained up. He had a pistol tucked into the back of his pants, and he was ready to use it, which is why I walked out of the store when I did, without my Slush Puppy, I might add. He was about to kill you even before I got involved. He was ready to do it again when the car started talking. Look, man, I know you liked it. The Portmobile, or whatever. But it was you or it. And you know what the main part of ‘artificial intelligence’ is? ‘Artificial.’ So you can be mad at me because I sacrificed the Portmobile AI. But I won’t apologize, because I did it to save your life.”
“Okay. A: Thank you for thinking of my life, for once. B: We aren’t ever ‘trained up,’ whatever the hell that means, and although your costume is admittedly bad-ass, mine just makes it easier to kill me. C: you better get your ass back in there and get me a Slush Puppy. Lemon-lime.”
He nodded, and climbed back out of the car.
I watched him walk across the parking lot, and I worried.
The thing is, I bitch all the time about how Arnie needs to straighten up and take this shit more seriously. But when he takes stuff seriously, that’s when I’m the most afraid. Because if Arnie is taking something serious, it means that’s it’s about twelve times scarier than if regular people were worried about it. For him to be afraid of this Ken guy…shit. It’d be all fine and good if I thought I’d never encounter the violent giant again, but I think we all know that that just isn’t the way my life works.
“Portmobile?” I asked again.
There was no answer.