Six foot six, scraggly hair, scraggly beard, scraggly...scragg. The rest was just denim and dusty black leather. I was nearly finished transferring the registration of a beige 2001 Pontiac Aztek from father to less-than-enthusiastic teenage son when this outlaw biker type walked in, took his number from the machine, then promptly went nuts, as if holding a winning Mega Millions ticket. I finished with the Pontiac, then clicked for the next customer. When the number “88” was called, this guy went off again: clenched fists in the air with a series of bunny hops. I felt like the MC of a damn game show.
When he came to the counter, I could get a better look at his tattooed arms, a veritable gallery of blurry skulls, devil wings, buxom vixens, and the credos “Ride or Die!” and “FTW.” On the back of his right hand was an art deco-style eagle holding a—wait, there was a tiny spot Band-Aid stuck there, making our national bird appear to be clutching a basketball in its talons.
“Looks like he’s going in for a slam dunk.”
“What are you talking about, lady?”
“Like a little basketball, there.” I pointed at the back of his hand. He certainly hadn’t nicked himself shaving the fur off of those paws, so I wondered what could be under there. I just wanted to tear it off. On the left hand there was no bird, just the number 88 in Old English typeface.
“That’s an ‘angel number,’” an elderly woman lined up at window one interjected.
He glanced at his hand. “I don’t run with the Angels.”
“Or are you a fan of Nemanja?”
Not so sharp, this guy looked around, as if I was asking someone else.
“Nemanja Bjelica...number eighty-eight on the Sacramento Kings,” I explained.
“I hate basketball,” he spat back.
“Hate’s a very strong word,” the elderly woman said.
“Yes, remember your ‘angel number’ there,” I said.
“Definitely not that.”
“Are you an orientalist, then? Eighty-eight is very good luck in Chinese. It signifies ‘double prosperity.’”
“Chinese ain’t my thing either. I even hate the food.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk...that word again,” I said.
“This is the DMV, right?” He addressed the entire waiting room, which now had his attention. The man stabbed a registration form at me. I spun it around to face me.
“8-8-4-E-V-A. ‘Eighty-eight for Eva’?”
“‘Ever.’ I want this plate on my pickup.”
“Let’s see...” I entered the six characters at my keyboard. UNAVAILABLE.
“Oh, you wouldn’t want the number four after the eights, it signifies death in Chinese. Very bad luck,” the woman at window one said.
“Bad luck for other people. Not for mine.”
Curious, I did a search for “number 88.” It was all there: the “angel number,” Chinese significance, and...hmmm—his people?
“Can I get it or not?”
“The system seems to be slow, hold on please.” I found what I was looking for: “Neo-Nazi groups use ‘88’ as an abbreviation for ‘Heil Hitler,’ the letter H being the 8th letter of the alphabet.”
“Look, Mrs. Rose...”
The date calendar was covering my name plaque. I scooted it aside to reveal ROSENBERG.
“Oh, Jesus Christ!”
“No, not exactly. And I’m sorry, that plate is already taken.”
“The hell it is!”
“May I suggest ‘8-8-2-L-8’?”
As he snatched the form from my desk, I intervened—ripping the bandage off his hand, taking with it a patch of hair.
And sure enough...a grubby swastika.
He found the hairy disc on the counter and stuck it back on like a tiny toupee.
“The swastika was originally found in the Eastern religions—”
“You shut up!” he snapped at the woman.
I leaned on the panic button behind my counter. “Time to go.”
The DMV police officer sauntered over from the front door.
“Tell him what he’s won, Officer Tandy.”
“You’re done here, buddy,” Tandy said, unsnapping the holster of his taser.
“Hail the new dawn!” The man shot his right arm up in a Nazi salute, sending the furry little basketball sailing at me. As Tandy backed the venom-spitting Nazi through the front door at taser-point, curiosity sent me back to the plate search window, and “884EVA.” Curiously, the plate belonged to a Mrs. Eva Brown, which at first raised a few National Socialist flags, until I read the vehicle registered was a 1988 Ford Taurus in Spinnaker Blue.
That’s when I noticed the hairy band-aid had landed in the used number basket in front of me—right atop #88.
Author of the novel Sophronia L. (Folded Word Press, 2014), Tim is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in Paris with his wife and two children.
Author’s website: http://timbridwell.com/