Free Ride

Yoda-like—the eyes, the smile, even the ears that flume from under a pinstriped engineer’s cap—the tiny man-boy careens around Sweet Pea’s Espresso, serene and squat and centered in a chair as solid as a forklift.  With every turn, every flick of his right-hand joystick, he threatens a chair leg, a top-heavy double latte, a stockinged shin, a disgusted look.  His parents, Barbie and Ken, sit nursing cappuccinos, bribing his little sister with a bagel and pink-flavored cream cheese. Already a giant to her older brother, she will one day be as precious as her mommy. “How about riding in…now, who is this…?”  Ken baits the boy across the tabletops and financial sections, pointing to Tommy the Tank Engine installed for toddlers on the tile floor of the old smoking section. The boy pulls up sharp, whirls around.  “Yes, I wanna ride him, Daddy!”  He circles back, dodging the girl bussing the two- and four-tops, who backs away in a clatter of cups and saucers piled high in her plastic bin.  He’s a mechanical pigeon, homing in on his hero but honking like Daffy on helium.  “Put in the penny, Daddy.  Lemme ride!” Lifted from its roost by armpits no deeper than divots, his body, seemingly half dead, dangles springy, naked legs like sprung sausage curls that slide easily into Tommy’s pilot house.  The fit is perfect and, at the clink of a token, the bullish ride, euphoric.  The ancient face savors every swirl, every hydraulic spasm.  He’s Oscar Peterson mumbling at the piano, Bird Parker juking on sax.  The convulsive legs never stop jazzing. Meanwhile, Barbie wet-thumbs the corners of their daughter’s sticky mouth, the blond wispies at her temples, cooing to the perfect little girl, who strains to witness her big brother’s totemic ecstasy.