Chapter 39 – What Easter Means to Me
During times when Mom and Dad were getting along, they were great at keepin us kids entertained. I remember when I was real little back at our old house – so like, seven or younger – they’d sometimes set this blanket out on the living room carpet and I’d lay down in the middle of it. Well actually, sometimes it was me and my brother at the same time. Mom would be at one end and Dad’d be at the other, and they’d start to envelop us in there. While they were doin it, Dad would be sayin, “Folllllllllld you like a taco…Rolllllllllllll you like a burrito…” And then once they had us wrapped up in there real good, they’d twist the ends of the blanket like a doobie (he didn’t say that, that wasn’t part of the game) and use those ends as the handles by which they’d pick us up. My mom said that we’d be wrapped in there so tight, she was always worried about us suffocating and tell my dad so. As per usual, he’d just say, “Nah, I’m sure they’re fine,” and then at that point they’d start swingin us and back and forth. As we swayed to and fro, with each pendular movement in the direction of the couch, Dad would be counting. “Onnnne…twoooo…two-and-a-half,” he’d say on the turn they shoulda tossed us, then “…THREE!” he’d playfully shout the next time around, as the two of ‘em heaved us over onto the couch. Sometimes I think they might’ve then come up and started tickling us through the blanket, but maybe I’m just makin that part up. Either way, no matter how hard me and Danny may’ve clunked heads while bein thrown like that, we loved it and would always beg for ‘em to do it again.
Another classic game I recall from my childhood’d been the family game. The concept was one person would describe a family starting with how many members there are, and then the guesser (or guessers) could ask questions and ask for clues as you go on playing. For example, one person would start off by sayin somethin like, “Okay, this family has a mom and a dad…” And my dad always used to interrupt after that part and say, “Lots of families have that!” so that became a standard part of the game. I think it’s actually easier to show you than tell you, so let’s quickly run through it here. I’m gonna go ahead and say, “This family has a mom and a dad…” and I’ll be interrupted by that line of Dad’s, then I’ll go, “Yes, that’s right – lots of families have that. They also have three kids and a dog.” And someone will ask, “How many boys and how many girls?” “Two girls and one boy.” “Does the family live north of Touhy or south of Touhy?” “North.” “Is the dad a fireman?” “Yes.” “Is the mom a recess lady at St. Juliana?” “No.” “Does the family live on Oleander?” “Yes.” “Is the mom a nurse?” “Yes.” “Ooh! I know, I know! Is it the Blank family?” “Yes it is!” And even if it wasn’t the guesser’s first guess – again, I think this was somethin my dad started – it was common for that person to celebrate by sayin, “First guess!” And then typically whoever it was that guessed the family right would be the person to come up with the next family to guess.
Another one was when we used to be sittin out on the porch in front of our house. This one was called the car game and it’s pretty straightforward. Everyone who was sittin there would guess the color of the next car that’d come drivin past our house and whoever guessed it right was the winner. Easy enough, right? Another game involving cars was one that we played every year on our annual drive down to Florida for Easter. It was called the license plate game. We’d basically have a day-and-a-half worth of driving to collect as many different states as possible. Me and Danny’d be lookin out the window the whole way, readin the plates on every car and truck we’d been drivin alongside. Every time we saw one we didn’t think we had, we’d tell our mom up in the front passenger seat. She was in control of the master list. She’d either write a new state on there or tell us that we’d already gotten that one. The west coast states as well as Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas – hell, any state west of an imaginary line drawn from the western extreme of Minnesota down to the western extreme of Louisiana – were considerably more rare than anything from the eastern half of the country, but not impossible. We’d even gotten an Alaska or two in our day if I recall correctly. A decent amount of Canadian plates as well – particularly those from Ontario. I don’t think we ever got a Hawaii though. That had to’ve been the most coveted and elusive of all the states in our little license plate game.
One other game we’d sometimes play during those long drives was the letter game. Like the license plate game, this one would keep me and Danny busy lookin out the window for hours at a time. We’d be keepin our eyes peeled for any and all billboards or road signs along the way. Starting with “A” and workin our way alphabetically up to “Z”, on any of those signs we had to find a word – any word, including proper nouns – that began with the letter we were currently on. “Oh, Applebee’s this exit!” one of us would shout. “That counts for A.” Then “Burger King – that’s B.” “Chattanooga – that’s C.” “Checkers – that’s C,” my brother might add a couple minutes later. “No Danny, you idiot. We already got C. We’re on D now.” “Hey!” Dad would look at me sternly in the rearview mirror. “Don’t call your brother an idiot.” If we were determined, we’d always get pretty far, but I don’t think we ever got anything starting with “X.” I think my parents allowed us to skip that one so we wouldn’t grow disinterested in the game, and start pissin and moanin about how bored we are, and start fightin with one another just to pass the time. I mean, can you imagine that? Can you imagine bein stuck in the car with bickering kids for a whole day and a half not once, but twice a year? Actually, more like twice in less than a month. Like, drivin down there then returning a couple weeks later knowing full well you’re due to go back to work and havin to listen to that shit goin on in the backseat? I mean, sure, we had those two homemade games I just mentioned and other car-friendly stuff like Mad Libs which – every one of our answers was always about poo, farts, boogers, pee and/or penises – was enough to keep us entertained for a little bit, but…I dunno man. We were little shitheads. We were a handful. It had to’ve been hard for both my parents to get through, and I really can’t believe we made that trip as many times as we had over the years.
As copilot, in addition to keepin us entertained, it was my mom’s duty to keep us fed while Dad kept his eyes on the road. She always had a cooler full of sandwiches and drinks as well as countless bags of chips and Teddy Grahams and other snacks to keep us all satiated. It was also her duty to open up one butterscotch candy after another and hand ‘em over to my dad whenever he felt he needed one to help him keep his concentration throughout the journey. One other crucial aspect of her job’d been that she keep bags readily available for whenever Danny’d inevitably feel the urge to barf all over the place from motion sickness. Like, it was never a matter of if, but when. Allow me to illustrate.
So…this one time we were headin down to Florida with one of my dad’s fireman buddies and his family, right? And these were the days back before cell phones, so the way we managed to keep in touch with one another was by each tuning in to the same frequency on this pair of handheld CB radios we had – one in each car. We’d use ‘em to coordinate rest stop plans and talk about what hotel we were gonna stop in for the night and all of that stuff. And no matter what frequency we were tuned in to, there were always truckers on there. And lemme tell ya, it was actually pretty funny to listen in on their conversations. Those guys talk about some weird shit from what I recall, but I don’t care to get into that here. One thing I would like to mention that we noticed from their conversations, however, is that none of those guys ever went by their given names. They all had their own trucker handles. We thought that was pretty cool and decided to come up with a couple of our own. As such, the McDonaugh’s green and white Ford Ecoline conversion van became the “Green Machine” and our black Ford Aerostar from the early nineties took on the name “Black Beauty.”
So then at one point, as we were drivin along – I got no idea what state we were in – but via radio The Green Machine and Black Beauty decided to stop and meet at a rest stop or some fast food restaurant for lunch or somethin. Over in the Green Machine they had a TV and VCR, and at the rest stop they told us they were gonna be watchin a movie when they got back in the car, and if either of us boys wanted to come over and ride with them for a bit, we were more than welcome. They had The Goonies, Stand By Me and Ferris Bueller on VHS. Three great flicks. Don’t get much better than that, am I right? So my brother Danny ends up goin over to ride in their car for a few hours with their three boys and they’re watchin a movie and everything’s fine at first. But then all of a sudden, not too long after he’d been in their car, Danny started to look worse for wear. And like, I guess my mom hadn’t warned any o’ them about my brother’s proclivity to barf all over the place, because the McDonaugh clan’d been sorely unprepared for what was to follow. Ya see, they saw Danny turnin pale and asked him what was wrong. He didn’t answer verbally, but started to gag and retch which I suppose had been answer enough. They quickly scrambled to dump out the contents of a plastic grocery bag, and just in the nick of time handed it over to Danny who promptly proceeded to fill the thing with a big-ass load of whatever he’d just eaten at the last stop. And just when it looked like a major crisis had been averted, turns out there were holes at the bottom of the bag and Danny’s stinky puke started to drip all over the interior of their vehicle as they passed it around, not sure what to do with it or how to get rid of it. It sounded like total chaos and I can only hope that the Lard Ass Logan, Barf-o-rama scene from Stand By Me had been what was on the screen when all that went down.
Back in our van, away from Danny’s pukey mess, we didn’t have a TV, so the main form of entertainment had always been the tunes. Although my parents always had the radio on in their cars back in Chicago, it was during these rides down to Florida when I really started to listen. Two albums by Elton John – his 1971 classic Madman Across the Water and this other one called 17-11-70 which, aside from Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance and The Who’s Live at Leeds, is probably the best live album I’ve ever heard – were ones I remember bein played quite a bit. Bein my dad’s favorite band, although not Live at Leeds, of course there was some shit by The Who – specifically their album Who’s Next. My dad was also never not in the mood for some Zeppelin, but my mom couldn’t always be convinced – at least when it came to their early stuff, she couldn’t. Their early albums, Led Zeppelin I-IV, are what Dad preferred, but I guess later Zeppelin was better than no Zeppelin at all, so on these trips I remember listenin to their Houses of the Holy album several times from start to finish. Among others, we had the Dire Straits Greatest Hits album as well as that of The Doors and Carole King that’d all gotten a respectable amount of playing time, but I’d have to say that – out of all our CDs and cassettes – Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits is the album we listened to the most on those drives down. Every year it was a must.
And like, I feel like I gotta take a moment here to make this clear, because I feel like a lotta people aren’t familiar with this guy’s stuff. So, when I talk about Joe Jackson’s greatest hits, be advised that it’s got nothin to do with the homeruns belted by ex-Chicago ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson, nor the belt beatings dealt to little Michael and the rest of the Jackson 5 when they wouldn’t perform their act up to father Joe’s standards. I’m talkin about a British musician here – and a great one at that. And so – funny little side story – on this greatest hits album there’s this one song called “Memphis” in which Joe Jackson repeats the line “Where the hell is Memphis?” throughout the track, and me and my brother as little kids would lose our shit hearin that. We thought it was so funny he was sayin a swear in a song like that, and my dad’d roll his eyes and make fun of us for bein such immature little wieners. “Oh my god, that guy said ‘hell’ – that’s so funny,” he’d tease. “Oh my god.”
In addition to all that stuff, we did listen to a decent amount of Motown. The Four Tops Greatest Hits is probably the one that got played the most – that or Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits – but we also listened to The Spinners, the O’Jay’s and had a couple Motown compilation albums with all the greatest hits of various artists on ‘em. Out of all that stuff though, my dad’s favorite track to listen to was “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by The Temptations. He fuckin loved it. He’d sometimes sing along, tryin his best to do all the different guys’ voices – particularly the guy with the super deep voice that jumps in at that one part and says, “And Mama, some bad talk goin round town sayin that Papa had three outside children and another wife. And that ain’t right.” If only my dad’d died on the third of September like the antihero in the song instead of on May 11th. Like, I mean…“It was the eleventh of May, that day I’ll always remember, yes I will. Cuz that was the day that my daddy died,” sounds so fuckin stupid compared to the original, ya know what I mean?
Anyway, after the first day of drivin, we were usually able to make it down to Georgia if we’d left Chicago early enough in the morning, which we normally did. A couple other times when we weren’t able to get goin as early as we woulda liked for whatever reason, we ended up in Tennessee. After bein trapped in the car all day, me and my brother always thought it was a novelty to run around these hotels exploring and takin cubes from the ice machine on our floor and throwin ‘em all over the place and shit like that. A couple times though, we’d stayed at these really seedy motels – ya know, the type where each individual room is accessible from the outside – and we weren’t able to run around as much as we woulda liked.
Now, I don’t know if this was the same time or two separate instances, but I remember one time we were stopped for the night at some hillbilly-ass motel in the middle of nowhere and my dad’d been desperate for a beer after a long day of driving. Of course, my dumb inconsiderate bitch of a mom didn’t think to pack any for him, so he had to go out lookin for a place to buy some from. And I shit you not, he was gone for hours before he finally made it back to our room with a case in hand. I remember my mom bein worried sick as we sat around waiting and wondering what coulda happened to him – remember, this is pre-cell phone times so she couldn’t call and see what was goin on. So, as she’s sittin there worryin that my dad’s out there somewhere gettin the Ned Beatty Deliverance treatment, her anxiety was so palpable that it was makin me feel sick. And so, Dad musta been pretty surprised when he finally returned to see us practically jumping for joy when the door to our room swung open and we saw it was he who came walkin in through the door. He explained how the guy at the front desk told him he could go find a place that sells beer that late out on some country-ass backroad, but he ended up gettin lost and not findin it right away, but then eventually found it after askin more people for directions, and then after that he said he was struggling to find his way back to the motel and…ay ay ay – the things some people are willing to go through just to get their hands on a cold one.
Then the other time at one of these motels – or like I said, perhaps it was the same time at the same motel which woulda made sense why my mom was so worried – there were a buncha these big old tatted-up redneck bikers boys havin this big loud-ass party there, and I guess the room next to ours was the room in which they did all their fuckin. For hours, the headboard of the bed on which they’d been gettin it on had been repeatedly slamming against the paper-thin wall that divided our rooms. And so, in combination with those banging noises – which me and my brother were too young to understand’d actually been a different type of “banging” noise – the two of us grew concerned that the man in the other room who kept swearing had been hurting the woman who wouldn’t stop moaning and shrieking. We brought our concern to our mother’s attention and she told us not to worry about it. She said the woman was fine and that we should just try and get some sleep because tomorrow we had another long day in the car ahead of us.
As it always does, the next day the sun rose and morning came, and Mom woke us kids up bright and early and shuffled us into the van while Dad was havin his last smoke before gettin back behind the wheel. And then just like that, we were back on the road again, all eager to just get there and get our vacation started. And so, when we’d reach the Florida-Georgia state line sometime around noon, me and my brother’d see the “Welcome to Florida” sign and take our jackets off and open up the windows in the backseat then quickly get chilly and ask my parents why the weather felt the same as it did back in Georgia half-an-hour ago. Like, we were ready to get outta that fuckin van once and for all and go play in the pool we remembered swimming in the year before. We thought that this was Florida and that the weather was supposed to be hot there and wanted to know what gives. “Sorry guys,” Mom and Dad’d say, “even though we’re in Florida, we still got three or four more hours of driving before we get to where we’re going.”
The place to which we were headed was a small city called Largo in the Tampa Bay area of Pinellas County. It was there that my parents’d bought their first piece of property and had done so before I was even born. It was a small condo in a complex called Woodside Village just offa the main thoroughfare of East Bay Drive where a pretty good amount of other people from Chicago – particular police and firemen – had regularly vacationed and/or had a place of their own. And for all these folks, including us, Easter’d been the most popular time to go down and get away from the ass-end of a Chicago winter which – by that time of the year – everyone is always so sick of that they’re practically ready to blow their fuckin brains out. A lot of those cops and firemen were big drinkers that liked to get fucked up all the time, so by and large these trips were just major drunk fests for all the boys, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a wholesome family element at play here, especially in the earlier years when me and my brother were little kids and my sister – seven years my junior – hadn’t yet been born.
The pool in that condo complex is where my dad taught me to swim. It’s where he’d stand in the shallow end tossin football passes to me and all the other kids for hours at a time as we dove in the deep end tryin to catch ‘em. The clubhouse of the complex is where my dad taught us to play ping pong and shuffleboard. Then on the carpeted floor of the living room in our condo is where both my parents would sit us down and show us how to play Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Trouble, Memory, and one of those Go Fish card games that got the cartoon caricatures of a buncha different types of fish on ‘em. And Checkers, of course. My dad always used to like to brag that he was “the sixth-grade champ of checkers” back when he was growin up, and down there in Florida the rest of us would always try our best to dethrone him and steal his crown. Although I always tried my best, I don’t think I was ever able to take away his title as sixth-grade champ.
And then a day or two before Easter, I remember Mom settin us up at the kitchen table with a buncha different bowls full of food coloring and some hard-boiled eggs for us to dye. We also had one of those clear crayons that you could use to write on the eggshell before you dunked it in the dye so that that part would remain uncolored and we could write our names or “Happy Easter” or whatever else on ‘em. Then on Easter morning, we’d search the condo high and low, lookin for all the plastic eggs full of coins that the Easter Bunny came and hid the night before. We of course’d also been lookin for our baskets – we each always had one of our own and if you happened to find the other guy’s while lookin for yours, not tellin ‘em was proper etiquette – which always contained candy and maybe some games or a movie on VHS or somethin like that. And the baskets were kinda big and awkward, so my parents musta had a hard time thinkin of new places in the tiny condo where they could set ‘em every year. They were always in the oven or dishwasher or hidden somewhere in one of the closets. And like, if we opened up the dishwasher and found it in there and my dad was right there watchin, he’d act real surprised and say in the goofy playful voice he sometimes used with us somethin like, “Who the, what the?! Whobody put that in there?!” Or maybe he’d use his other phrase, “What the galooky?!” (Pronounced “guh-LOO-kee”). He was the only person I’ve ever heard use that word in my life. In addition to usin it like that to express surprise, he’d sometimes refer to us kids as “crazy galookies,” like when we were bein silly and giggling about stupid stuff and – ya know, just other things like that that constitute typical crazy galooky behavior.
When we ventured away from the condo, during the early years I recall a trip to Disney, a trip to Universal Studios, and a trip to Busch Gardens. The only thing I remember about Disney was that at the end of the day, it was the most tired I’d ever felt in my life, and how I couldn’t wait to get back in our family van so I could pass out for the entirety of the ride from Orlando back to Largo. At Universal, my memories are here and there. On a ride based on the movie Jaws, I vaguely remember bein on a boat and seein big bursts of fire. Likewise, I remember my family climbin into the DeLorean at the Back to the Future ride alongside a couple old ladies who said they were from Belgium. I didn’t know what Belgium was, but remember thinkin they talked kinda funny. I remember nothing about the ride itself. At Busch Gardens, I don’t even remember having gone on this ride myself, but I remember there bein some sorta pirate ship ride that would swing back and forth that my brother went on and, as soon as he’d gotten off, he hustled over to and threw up in the nearest garbage can he could find.
Our older cousin Seth was with us that year – the year we’d gone to Busch Gardens. He had pet snakes back at home, so he spent a lot of that trip catchin as many lizards as possible that he planned on takin back with him and feeding to his serpentine friends. He had a pretty good haul and, although he kept ‘em all sealed up in some kinda container, my mom wasn’t exactly jazzed about havin these creatures in the car with us for a whole day and a half during the ride home. She hates all types of bugs and lizards and frogs and critters and whatever other types of creepy crawlers that exist out there. So, she told him he better keep a close eye on that container the whole way home. He said he would – no problem. Turns out though, when we got back to the Chicagoland area and dropped him back off at my mom’s sister’s house where he did a final head count, he had one less lizard in there than he had the day before when we’d taken off. So, everyone got out and tore the car apart, but none of us could find the thing anywhere, and Dad drove the rest of the way home, and we forgot all about it. I think it was a few weeks or maybe even a few months later when my mom popped the back hatch of the van to throw some groceries in there and noticed something unusual on the floor of the vehicle and looked closer and saw it was Seth’s missing lizard, dead as shit and all dried the fuck out.
Me and my brother were also into catching lizards for a time. We’d normally keep ‘em in an old shoebox with a few holes poked in it or somethin similar that we’d thrown a couple handfuls of grass and a couple twigs in in our little-kid attempts to recreate their natural habitats. Unlike Seth, we didn’t have any intention of bringin ‘em back with us, we just liked to catch ‘em and keep ‘em for a few days before eventually releasin ‘em back into the wild. Also unlike Seth – although we tried our best – we weren’t ever really all that good at it. The anoles and the geckos and the skinks and whatever other variations they had down there in that area of Florida were always far too fast for us. I mean, sometimes we were able to sneak up on ‘em and grab ‘em by their tails, but they’d just ditch their tail and run away to safety, leavin us with that part of ‘em still squiggling around between our thumbs and index fingers. At one point, to counterbalance our lack of skills, we came up with the genius idea of quote-unquote “stunning” the lizards in order to make it easier to catch ‘em. What I mean by “stunning them” is that me and Danny would get within about ten feet of a lizard, and instead of tryin to sneak up and grab it, we’d take off our flip flops, cock back and fire away. And when we made contact, those lizards sure were stunned alright. You wouldn’t believe how easy it was to catch those things when they had broken backs, mangled legs and smashed-in heads.
One activity we used to do every year on our trips down to Florida was go to this mini-golf place in Clearwater called Congo River Golf. There were caves and rocky cliffs and mini waterfalls and a fake bush plane crashed into the middle of a fake jungle where they’d play jungle noises and there’d been these shields and spears fastened to some of the trees. Although corny as shit, it was always pretty fun, but I don’t really wanna talk about the golf here, I just wanted to mention how – on the scorecard – Dad would always write his name in as Arnie or Jack, in reference to professional golfers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Actually, I think he may’ve written himself in as John Daly a time or two as well. And me and my brother, not knowing any professional golfers – except for maybe Tiger Woods – always wanted to be either Happy Gilmore or Shooter McGavin. Come to think of it, Dad used to do that sorta shit at the bowling alley too. One time it was me and my brother with my dad and my grandpa, and Dad put his name as Pete in reference to a guy named Pete Weber who had a reputation for bein “The Bad Boy of Professional Bowling.” He used to drink hard and do a buncha coke and talk shit to opponents and do “suck its” at hecklers in the crowd – they even made one of those ESPN 30 for 30 documentary films about the guy. And so, at one point my grandpa just got done rollin and said, “You’re up, Dan.” And Dad was like, “Dan? Who’s Dan? I’m Pete, check the screen up there.” And Grandpa wasn’t amused in the slightest. He’s just like, “Yeah, okay. Dan, Pete – whatever your name is – it’s your turn, so just get up there and bowl.”
Also, what’s a Florida vacation without a trip to the beach? At least once a year we’d drive over and hang out for the day at Clearwater Beach then go get a meal from Frenchy’s or another one of those restaurants they got around there in that area. As much as I like swimming and love staring at women’s asses and crotches in bathing suits, I gotta admit that the beach just ain’t my typa place. My skin’s way too sensitive. I burn way too easily. Like seriously, if I don’t have at least SPF 50 on at night when there’s a full moon out, I’m gonna get roasted out there. It’s bad. But that’s just me as a pussy-ass, crotchety old man stuck in a 30-somethin-year-old’s body sayin that. When I was a little kid, my fear of second-degree sunburns and skin cancer never stopped me from enjoyin building sandcastles and diggin holes at the beach alongside my little brother.
A handful of years beyond our sandcastle-building days, Dad wanted to take his boys out to do somethin a bit more adventurous than just spending the day sitting in the sand – he wanted to take us out on a jet ski. I don’t think we went to Clearwater for this excursion. I think he instead took us over to another beachy area called John’s Pass. It was a heavily overcast day – not the hottest as I recall. And “the sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man tryin to send soup back at a deli.” Like, it probably wasn’t the best day for my dad to take a pair of ten and twelve or eight and ten-year-old kids – or however old we were – out on a jet ski for the first time, but we were there and they were willing to rent to us, so…why not? My brother said that he sat on the front of the thing, Dad was in the middle and I was on the back. And I remember my dad gunning it up these big-ass swells and we’d briefly go airborne at the top of ‘em and go crashing directly into the side of the next one that’d been comin right at us. It was a very rough ride, but at least I was seated in back. Poor Danny at the front’d taken the brunt of each of these collisions, inhaling and choking on one face-full of saltwater after another. I can’t remember whether or not all this action caused him to toss his cookies, but if I had to guess, I’d probably say it did.
We had another rough experience one time out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was out on this fishing boat we’d all gotten on with a bunch of other men from Chicago and their sons. I think we carpooled over to the docks with my dad’s buddy Roy who he affectionately liked to refer to as “Roy Boy.” Roy was a Chicago cop that my dad’d gone to high school with at Gordon Tech and he had a son named Ryan who was my age. Roy had an obsession with grouper sandwiches, sported a stereotypical Chicago cop moustache and – like my dad – could seemingly never get enough to drink, which is probably why the two of those guys’d gotten along so well.
One time down at the condos during Easter, Roy Boy and Daddy-O were the last guys out by the pool. It was after ten o’clock, so the security guard’d already come by and locked the gates, so they weren’t even inside the pool area. They were just standin along the chain-link fence lookin in at the water, which’d been illuminated by a series of underwater lights. They were both hammered. My dad was what me and my mom used to refer to as “hands-in-the-pockets drunk” because, for some reason, when my dad would get blacked out, he’d – you guessed it – put his hands in his pockets while he just stood there teetering around, talkin nonsense and lookin like his eyes might roll into the back of his head. So, the little screened-in back porch of our condo is pretty close to the pool – like, close enough to be able to hear everything my dad and Roy were sayin to one another – and at the time we’d been sittin there listening to these two blacked-out morons takin turns sayin how nice the water looked all lit up. “It’s a beautiful thing, Roy,” my dad would say. And then Roy would say back, “Yeah, man. It’s…it’s so fuckin beautiful.” They went back and forth like that for ten minutes before my mom decided she’d had enough and sent us out there to go bring Dad back inside and get his ass to bed.
Legend has it that when all the men left their families back in Chicago and’d gone down to the condos in Florida one fall years ago to watch the Bears play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the way home from Raymond James Stadium, Roy got pulled over for erratic driving. He and the guys in the car’d been drinkin on the way to, at, and on the way home from the game. Like, there were empty beer cans scattered all over the floor of the car. And the Florida state trooper walked up and was like, “What the fuck is this shit?” And Roy explained to the guy that he himself is an off-duty cop, and the rest of the guys in the car were either cops or firemen, and they were just down there vacationing for a long weekend. Incredibly, the guy decided to let him off the hook with nothin more than a seatbelt infraction because – ya know – he had to at least write him up for something. And instead of bein grateful for getting out of a DUI, Roy was pissed off for having been written a seatbelt ticket and’d purportedly yelled at the guy, sayin that that’s bullshit, and repeatedly asking him, “You ever heard of a professional courtesy?!” And the rest of the guys were tryin to calm him down, sayin, “Dude, just take the seatbelt ticket and let it go.” Miraculously, in spite of this brash showing of indignation, the officer didn’t end up changing his mind and throwin Roy’s ass in jail for driving shitfaced.
It was also on this trip – or on another one of these men-only Schmitts Gay fests down in Florida – that on their last night down there, Roy’s brother Billy’d gotten so fucked up that he passed out face-first onto the carpeted floor of the living room in our condo where he ended up layin unconscious for the next fifteen or so hours until it was time to go to the airport. According to my dad, when they were all cleaning up the place before they left, they just had to vacuum around this guy and he didn’t budge at all. I’m honestly surprised that none of ‘em decided to check his pulse. I mean, maybe they did, but just didn’t include it as part of the story – I don’t know. But anyway, it was only when they were all packed-up and ready to head out the door that they were finally able to rouse this Billy character from his drunken coma. I guess they musta packed his suitcase for him, because as the story goes, the guy stood up, looked around through his bloodshot eyes and – this was my dad’s favorite part – said nothin more than the line, “Which way?” before they shoved his waste-O ass out the door and into one of their rental cars to head to the airport.
Sometimes when me and my brother – and sometimes my mom too – are joking around, we bust out a “Which way?” or an “It’s a beautiful thing, Roy.” And there’s actually one other drunken quote of my dad’s from Florida that me and my brother still often say. Like, in the condo upstairs from ours there’d been this family from Chicago with five kids stayin there for Easter. They weren’t the owners, they were just rentin the place for the time being. And we don’t know exactly how it happened, but one night some water’d been seeping down from their bathroom through the ceiling into our bathroom below, and my mom was really upset and sent my dad up to go knock on the door and see what was goin on. He was drunk, yeah, but not hands-in-the-pockets drunk. So, he goes up and knocks on the door and tells the guy what’s goin on. “Hey, yeah, we’re gettin some water downstairs and…” ya know, shit like that. And like, I don’t think we’d been formally introduced to this family yet, so we didn’t know any of their names and they didn’t know ours. So, the guy was probably like, “Oh, real sorry about that. One of the kids is in the shower. I’ll go check it out.” End of conversation, right? Problem solved. Anyway, that guy turned out to be a big drunk-ass just like the rest of the guys down there, and so my dad ended up hangin out with him by the pool and’d maybe even gone golfing with him or some shit like that or whatever other type of outing big groups of drunken dads like to go on together without their families when down in Florida. Turns out the guy’s name is Mark. So, I don’t know how this happened, but over the course of that trip, Dad’s version of the water-leaking story changed dramatically from what the interaction was really like the night it happened. And the thing that me and my brother often quote isn’t just one line, but our dad’s entire drunken monologue that we like to perform in our version of his blacked-out wasted voice.
“Mom tells me we’re gettin some water leakin in the bathroom, so I decide to go check it out. So I go up and knock on the door and say, ‘Hey Mark, what’s up?’ And he says, ‘Hey Dan, how’s it goin?’ And I say, ‘Well Mark, I think you got one of your kids in the bathtub makin a big mess cuz we’re gettin water leakin down into our bathroom below.’ He says, ‘Aw, no shit. Come on in and let’s go check it out.’ So me and Mark walk over towards the bathroom and open the door and he’s got this fuckin fifteen-year-old kid in there takin a bubble bath. And the kid is splishin and splashin all over the fuckin place. And Mark says to the kid, ‘Hey dude, cut it out. You’re gettin a buncha your bathwater down in Dan’s condo.’ And I swear to god to this day, while he was splishin and splashin all around like that – that fuckin kid had a rubber ducky with him there in the bathtub.”
And every time we’d hear this story over the years, we’d be like, “Dad, that’s not how it happened. I mean, we didn’t even know them yet at the time when the water was comin down. And like, even if you and Mark were acquaintances at that point, why in the fuck would he invite you – someone who’s still basically a stranger – into the bathroom where one of his naked underage children had been bathing? It doesn’t make any god damn sense.”
And he’d say, “That’s the way it happened. And I swear to god, that fuckin fifteen-year-old kid was takin a bubble bath. He was playin with a little rubber ducky in that bathtub, just splishin and splashin his water all over the fuckin place.”
Alright, so…I got a little diverted there. Where was I? Oh, right – that fishing trip. So like I mentioned, that Roy guy had a son my age named Ryan. That year me, him and my brother’d spent a lotta time playin each other in Mario Tennis for N64 while our dads were out drinkin by the pool, and every time Roy came in to our condo to take a piss (a lot of my parents’ friends used to come piss in our condo because it was the closest to the pool), he’d say, “Look at you guys, huh. Nintendo never-end-o. Don’t you guys wanna do anything outside?” And it was always like, “Cmon, dude. Your idea of an outdoor activity is drinking by the pool, so what right do you have to give us shit about not makin the most out of the nice weather?” Like, fuck off – ya know?
So anyway, that day when we were carpooling together to go on that boat ride and do some fishing, it was Dad and Roy up front with us three boys in back. And I remember Roy tellin my dad how one of these days while we’re still down there – even though I think they have a couple of these restaurants up here in Chicago – he’s gotta go check out this fast food restaurant called Sonic Drive-In. “Yeah Dan, me and Ry-Guy just went there the other day for a burger and fries. You just sit in your car and order, and then the girls bring out the food to you on rollerskates.” And my dad was like, “Okay, yeah, sure, maybe,” and of course we never ended up goin, because like…who gives a fuck – am I right?
So anyway, we finally got to the dock where this big boat was takin off from and a buncha other guys from the condo complex were already there. It was a nice warm beautiful morning without a cloud in the sky. And so we all pile on this boat with a professional captain at the helm and a small crew to help him out with whatever. And we head like, ya know, thirty miles out or somethin to go do some proper offshore fishing. I cast a line or two, but wasn’t really into it to be honest. I think fishing in general is kinda boring, and this time specifically I wasn’t catchin anything and neither was my brother, so I think we ditched our rods and went to go hang out in the cabin where Danny proceeded to take down the entire big bag of Cool Ranch Doritos that my mom’d sent with us to all snack on throughout the boat trip.
And so, get this…outta nowhere came some of the meanest-lookin clouds you’ve ever seen. The sea got real rough and it started pouring. Now not just us, but everyone abandoned their rods and ran for the shelter of the cabin. There were no women among us, so all the kids got priority as far as cabin space was concerned. Beyond that, it was every man for himself. As it turns out, there was room for exactly everyone but one guy. Initially it was some other guy – like, for the first couple minutes after everyone’d sought shelter – but my dad, always having to be the self-sacrificial hero, told that guy to get inside. He said that he’d change places with him. It was a nice thing to do or whatever, but it pissed me off immensely, because I didn’t want him goin out there. I mean, lighting was striking the water within a couple hundred yards of the boat and I figured – as the most elevated thing around on the surface of the water – there’s no fuckin way it wasn’t gonna hit us, and when it hit us, my dad was gonna be the one that got the most roasted. Like, I couldn’t understand why the captain would take us out and put us in such a risky situation if he knew a storm like this would be coming. Or was he just an irresponsible jagoff that didn’t watch the weather report that morning and’d been just as surprised as we all were by the sudden appearance of this violent-ass storm? Like, I don’t get it. It just seems unprofessional. We signed up to go fishing, not end up like the fuckin passengers of the S.S. Minnow on some Gilligan’s Island type shit – ya know what I mean?
So, like I said, I was very scared for my dad’s life, but couldn’t tell him so out loud because I was about 14-years-old at that point and didn’t wanna come across as a pussy. Men let other men be responsible for their own lives, and if you want everyone else to respect you as a man, it’s unacceptable to show emotion – especially fear – and especially in front of a group of hardened, alcoholic cops and firemen like all those guys. So, I just sat there and shut the fuck up, watchin my drenched-ass dad shivering and with his teeth chattering just outside the door where everyone else remained warm and dry. Thankfully, we ended up makin it back onto land safely. I think the worst thing that happened to anyone on that boat ride was my brother gettin sick from all the huge waves we’d been crashin into and vomiting that entire big bag’s worth of Doritos all over the cabin floor.
Alright, so…now that I’ve spent some time talkin about our Easter vacation in general, I’d like to take a second to talk a bit more about Easter itself. I’ve already mentioned what our Easter mornings were like, and now I’d like to talk a bit about the rest of the day. First of all, most half-assed Catholics like us go to church maybe twice a year – Christmas and Easter. In my family, we’d only go on Christmas – Christmas Eve actually, so we could spend all of Christmas Day sittin around by the fire after having opened presents, and then only goin to my dad’s parents’ house way later in the day for dinner. As for Easter, tryin to find a church somewhere down in Largo that we could rush over to after our annual Easter egg and basket search without the help of the internet to guide us there…well, let’s just say that that’s not a good vacation activity. That said, my mom used to say that some of the drunks from the complex who also didn’t wanna go to church but still wanted to comply with their religious obligations had once hired a priest to come say Easter mass to them by the pool. I don’t remember it myself, but can only imagine some of these bronzed, beer-bellied retired cops floating on innertubes with drinks in their hands while the priest is givin a homily, and then paddling over to the edge of the water and stickin their hands up when it’s time to receive communion. I think the only thing more blasphemous than that that’d ever occurred in Woodside Village on the holiest of days in the Catholic faith was when one of the kids down there (I’m not naming any names) had taped two sticks together, stuck the cross into the ground and crucified a lizard that’d been excessively stunned – stunned to death, in fact – by our little prepubescent hunting brigade.
Every year on Easter, it was a tradition for all the Chicago people to drive from Woodside Village down to a place near the ocean called Fort De Soto Park where someone’d reserved a pavilion. Everyone would bring a buncha different types of food – and booze, of course – and it was just like this big picnic event out there every year. What stands out to me about these gatherings – aside from everyone getting hammered – was the annual egg toss event for which someone would buy like seven or eight dozen eggs. And I dunno, maybe there’d be like fifty or sixty people playin on a good year, and each member of the two-person teams would start out real close – like ten feet away from one another – and make the first toss. One team would go at a time so everybody else could both make sure you weren’t cheating as well as enjoy seein you covered in egg if you were to fuck it up. So, for each toss successfully made, everybody would take a step back, making the distance of the tosses longer and more difficult to complete. Sometimes teams would get lucky and drop their egg or throw it short and have it bounce a few times before reaching the catcher without breaking, which would prompt jokes of, “Bullshit! They’re cheating! They’re using a hard-boiled egg!” It was all in good fun and, as you might’ve guessed, the last team left with an unbroken egg is the winner.
So anyway, after the event, there were usually like fifty or so eggs left over just sittin there on the benches under the pavilion. I guess whoever bought ‘em decided that eggs are cheap and it’s better to have too many than not enough, as to avoid screwin someone who otherwise woulda wanted to participate outta playin just because they didn’t buy enough eggs – ya know what I mean? That’s my theory at least. Whatever the case, as the men would keep drinkin, some of ‘em would start to get some pretty funny ideas about what should be done with those leftover eggs. And one year this one cop named Herman rounded up as many of the boys as he could and paid each of ‘em a dollar or two to take all the remaining eggs and assault this other guy, one of his cop buddies named Patton. It was like a mob hit. Herman lured Patton away from the pavilion so no innocent bystanders would get yolked and then gave the kids the signal when it was go-time. There were like five or six kids each with a carton of eggs in one hand and repeatedly firing with the other hand. And Patton was kinda helpless in that situation, because ya can’t beat the shit out of a group o’ kids who weren’t really acting of their own volition – well, I mean, I guess you can, but not if you wanna remain friends with their parents, I suppose. And so he just kinda stood there takin it, covering his face and twisting and turning, tryin not to get hit. He was shirtless, by the way, and when all was said and done, this disgusting orange slime’d been running down his torso and discoloring his swim trunks. It was orange because the yellow of the yolks’d combined with all the blood leaking from little cuts left all over his body presumably from the sharp little pieces of shell that broke upon impact. The man walked back to the pavilion to get cleaned up where his 3 or 4-year-old daughter started crying from seein her daddy in such a horrendous state. Happy fucking Easter.
So, after the picnic at Fort De Soto, everybody would drunkenly drive back to Woodside Village where the party would continue by the pool until closing time. This was actually kind of a dangerous time to be out by the pool. All these guys would be obnoxiously wasted and yelling and not payin attention to who they might be bumpin into while drunkenly wrestling and throwin each other into the water. My mom doesn’t know how to swim, so she never liked goin out there during these post-picnic parties because she was always scared someone would trample her and knock her into the water and she’d drown. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but given how wild these guys liked to get, it wasn’t too far-fetched of a scenario to imagine. She also didn’t like us kids bein out there, so she’d usually keep us in the condo and invite all the other drunk guys’ kids to come in and watch a movie while she served everybody snacks.
On other nights down in the condo when the men weren’t celebrating Jesus Christ’s rising from the grave by getting so drunk that they scare their wives and children, us kids were free to roam around the complex. Sometimes we’d just hang out and sometimes we’d play games of Cops and Robbers or Catch One, Catch All. Other times we’d go out and hunt for toads. Unlike lizards, which we needed to stun to be able to catch, toads were very slow and easy for a group of city slickers from up north to come up and capture. Normally we’d just take whatever we caught and toss ‘em all together in one of those small throwback Igloo coolers from the 1980s that we’d found buried in the storage closet off our little screened-in back porch area. My parents said they didn’t want it, and somethin like that with a handle was much more convenient to carry around with us than a shoebox with grass in it, so…that’s just how we did it. And I swear, like, every time we’d pick one of those slimy fuckers up offa the ground, they’d take a piss in our hands. They were fuckin gross, dude. I don’t even know why we were collecting ‘em. It was just somethin to do, I guess. And so, what we’d do is we’d bring ‘em back to the condo to show Mom and Dad how many we caught. And at the time, they’d probably be watchin TV or havin some drinks with other couples at the kitchen table, and we’d drag Mom over to the door to have a look. Instead of bein proud, she’d say, “We’re not keeping those – they’re gross. And besides, they’ll die in that cooler. They need to be outside so they can catch bugs and do whatever else they need to do. Just don’t bring ‘em in my condo and be sure to wash your hands when you’re done.”
So, as per Mom’s orders, we never brought ‘em in the condo. And we’d most often let ‘em go near this little pond in the back of the complex, which is where we’d found most of ‘em. But then this one time we had this really good haul of like fifteen toads all in one cooler, and before we had the chance to release ‘em back into the wild, some of the older kids – kids also from Chicago that were three or four years older than our group of friends – strong-armed our toads from us and started walkin up towards East Bay Drive. Now, even though I looked up to these guys and thought they were really cool, there’s no denying that they were all major assholes – sociopaths, even. Like, one evening when our group’d been talkin to some girls by the pool, those guys came up and embarrassed us in front of all the chicks. They even went so far as to hold one kid down and rip his swim trunks off then throw ‘em on the other side of the fence, making him walk around bare-assed to go retrieve ‘em. I don’t think it gets much more humiliating than that for a 12 or 13-year-old boy. Well, of course it coulda been much worse and I’m sure those guys’d done much worse things to other people in their day, but I’m not gonna go there. That’s not the point of the story.
So anyway, like I was sayin, these jerks took our frogs from us and…I’m sorry, our toads. They were toads, not frogs. So these guys took our toads and headed over to East Bay Drive, right? And down ‘round those parts, East Bay Drive is a big ol’ busy street on which every Floridian thinks he or she is a real-life NASCAR driver and handles their vehicle as if the incest police were in hot pursuit. That’s mean and I’m just joking. Or am I? It’s not important. What I’m tryin to get at here is that everyone flies down that street, and although I couldn’t have predicted the fate of our temporary pets, I knew that since we were headin towards what was essentially a fucking expressway, nothing good coulda possibly come outta that situation. As it happens, upon arrival to the side of EBD, every last one of our toads were tossed at speeding cars and essentially liquefied. For me, it’d been a heart-wrenching sight, but I suppose there comes a time in every young man’s life when he’s forced by a group of adolescent jagoffs to watch his pets’ bodies explode on windshields and get tangled in the grills of passing pick-up trucks.
I wish I could say that I was completely innocent when it comes to both animal cruelty and bein an asshole to fellow human beings while down in Florida, but my record does have a blemish or two on it beyond all the lizards I’d stunned. I’m also guilty of having caught a snake in our back garden and throwing it into the back of someone’s convertible Jeep that’d been parked somewhere in the complex. I certainly hope it wasn’t while they were driving that they discovered that thing in their car. Beyond that – as much as I hate to admit this one – we did also once try shooting a toad out of one of those three-person waterballoon launchers. I mean, I can’t say whether we’d killed the thing or not, because I have no idea where it landed, but I’d hafta say that the prognosis was probably pretty negative.
Ya know, now that I sit here and think about it, I actually haven’t physically visited our place down in Florida since I was nineteen years old, and honestly, Easter hasn’t felt like Easter since. And although it’s been considerably less time than fourteen-and-a-half years, it’s also been quite a while since I’d made my last mental trip down there to revisit all these old memories I’ve just written about. As I’d been going through some of my old notes saved on this computer, I found a story that I’d written ten years ago with the intention of including it somewhere in my first book, America’s Finest Ambassador. I guess I couldn’t find a place for it and it ended up on the cutting room floor. Admittedly, the writing is a little rough and my style has evolved since then, but I somehow feel like 23-year-old Tim was closer to and knows more about our family trips to Florida than 33-year-old Tim is able to access in this old beat-up anxiety-ravaged brain of his. So, without further ado, Dear Reader, it’s here I leave you in the hands of a younger, handsomer, less tired and more bright-eyed version of myself who’ll be closing out this chapter with a short story of his. Thank you for having come with me this far on my trip down memory lane. Young Tim, take it away…
Lookin back on when I was a kid, there were many memorable characters I recall from our annual trips to the Woodside Village Condo Complex down in Florida. There was this big fat goofy-lookin old guy with big bushy eyebrows and a silly-ass moustache that somehow made him look like an owl which, in turn, prompted us to start referrin to the guy as Owl Man. There was some local kid we knew only as Dinner Roll who we’d sometimes “call” – back when I was kid, “calling” someone didn’t necessarily mean contacting them via phone; in this case it meant goin and knockin on the door of his parents’ place to see if he could come out and play – to come partake in one of our nightly games of Cops and Robbers with us. One of the times when we knocked and he came to the door, the kid had a dinner roll in his hand and, well…the rest is history. Come to think of it, I have no fucking clue what that guy’s real name is, and when I tried looking him up on Facebook right now under the name Dinner Roll, nothing came up. So, I guess I’ll never be seein that guy again – oh well.
Then there was Curtis, the big beefy Greek or Sicilian-lookin guy (think Lou Ferrigno) with the really hairy back that was always hangin out by the pool drinkin “jungle juice” and laughin really loud. Curtis had a silent sidekick that never said a peep named Rusty who – just above his prominent gray cookie-duster – had always worn a pair of sunglasses that were so dark you could never tell which of the women’s asses he was starin at, or if he’d gotten so wasted out there that he’d fallen asleep by the side of the pool. Of course we don’t got any evidence to back this, but since he was always drinkin so much and we’d never see him get up to go use the bathroom, it was our belief that Rusty was a notorious pool-pisser who put so much “p” in the area where we all swam that if it wasn’t for him, it woulda instead been known as an “ool.”
Also in that pool one time’d been this really annoying dad who had this really weasely high-pitched voice. I swear, that guy’d been so F’n loud when chasin his kids around in the water, you could probably hear him halfway across Pinellas County. In spite of not knowin his name and never having come up with a nickname for that guy because we only saw him that one time, we still quote that guy to this day. He would yell, “Hey, you little muskrat – you’re goin to jail! That’s right! You’re goin to jail, you little muskrat!” We of course don’t play the same games that that guy played, so we don’t use his quote as such. We instead apply it when watchin the news, for example, and see the police’ve caught a serial rapist they’d been lookin for. In that case, when they’re showin his mugshot on the TV screen, someone might do that guy’s stupid voice and say, “You’re goin to jail, you little muskrat!”
There is one other character that I didn’t mention in the previous paragraphs to whom we also never assigned a pet name, but used to see quite often during the days of my youthful family visits down to the state most commonly known as America’s Wang. I never saw his DD Form 214 so I can’t say for sure, but some of the adults used to say that the guy was a Vietnam Vet – and, no Mr. Ali G, that doesn’t mean that he used to treat sick animals over there down in Southeast Asia. What they meant was that he was a soldier and’d seen combat which, in my opinion, woulda made a lotta sense because he did fit a lot of the stereotypes we unfortunately cast on the men who served our country during that era. For one, he was crazy as shit. On top of that, he was also a wheelchair dude. Need I say more? In actuality, I don’t know anyone who can definitively say one way or another what this dude’s deal was because he was sketchy as shit and none of the visitors from Chicago ever talked to him, and now apparently it’s too late for me or anyone else to do so. As of writing this, I haven’t seen this guy in over ten years and it’s unlikely I will ever again. What I recall hearing from some of the Chicago snowbirds that winter down in Woodside was that this guy was dealin drugs out of his condo, and one of his clients killed his ass by hittin him upside the head with a bottle.
Now, I have one small problem with this theory of whatever happened to the crazy old wheelchair vet and I’ll explain why. Ya see, in addition to his perceived mental instability and his relegation to a chair, there was somethin else the matter with this dude. It had to do with the functionality of his hands. I think he was severely arthritic or somethin, and like…I don’t know how to describe it. The way they looked – it was as if someone’d superglued both of his hands into perpetual fists that looked like the ones they got on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots or some shit. Like, he had a very hard time picking anything up with them two clenched-ass claws. The way he’d drink a beer – and he was always drinkin beer whenever we’d see him at any hour of the day – was to keep it resting between his thighs when he wasn’t actively drinking it. Then when he wanted to take a sip or chug it down or whatever, he’d pick it up by clenching it in between the knuckles of his two fists. He’d then simultaneously lift up both of his arms, lean his head back and dump as much of the suds as he could down his throat – the rest of which often ran down the dark leathery skin of his bare chest and ended up soaking his pants, makin it look like he’d pissed himself. Given that that’s the only way he could pick up stuff with his hands bein the way they were, I have a really hard time imagining this guy sittin in front of a scale weighin out and bagging up grams, eighths, ounces or whatever other measurement of weed, coke, meth or whatever the fuck he was supposedly dealing. Just doesn’t seem plausible. But maybe he had someone helpin him out. I don’t know. And I don’t know if he was actually killed that way or what. All’s I know is I haven’t seen him in a very long time.
So anyway…let’s take a minute to talk about this guy’s wheelchair. Without exaggerating, I’m gonna hafta go ahead and say that this was the fastest fucking wheelchair I’d ever seen in my goddam life. Like, most folks ain’t got no gears underneath the hood of their chair and that’s cool. Maybe they like the exercise they get from usin their arms to propel themselves around all day – I don’t know. Whatever the case, this guy didn’t want nothin to do with any of that pussy-ass do-it-yourself bullshit. This guy just wanted pure, raw, unadulterated power on his chair. Like, if he was able to, I’m sure he woulda put some sorta NASA-made rocket boosters on the side of his shit, but since that wasn’t an option, I think he was happy enough settling for what musta been some sorta go-kart motor that he’d had installed under his seat. And all he had to do to achieve maximum acceleration in the desired direction was toggle a little joystick using one of his perma-fists and he’d take off flyin. On any given day while posted up on the screened-in back porch of my parents’ condo, I could look out towards the tiny side street that ran alongside our building – a street which had a 5mph speed limit on it – and see this perpetually shirtless hilljack flyin by with a cig in his mouth and a tan as dark as the Washington Redskins’ logo. And each time he’d hit one of those little yellow speed bumps goin as fast as he was, I was almost certain he was gonna go flyin out of his chair and end up with a serious case of road rash. Thankfully, however, that wasn’t somethin that ever happened…at least not to my knowledge, it hadn’t. Maybe a high-speed wheelchair accident was the way he really died and the whole bottle murder story was just bullshit. Again, we’ll never know, but somehow I feel like that’s the more likely scenario after having seen the way old Ironside liked to go buzzing around the complex, tryin to break the speed of sound.
So, as it happens, one hot sunny Florida afternoon me and my brother and couple other jagoff kids from Chicago who’d been down there vacationing for Easter were hangin out and walkin around catching lizards or whatever while our parents were drinkin over by the pool. Pretty standard shit, right? But then at one point we thought it’d be a good idea to take the three-person waterballoon launcher my dad’d gotten me that year for my birthday and launch a few bombs over at the Jiffy Lube adjacent our condo complex. So we’re over there doin our thing, nailing cars and hitting the building with waterballoons and all that jazz, when all of a sudden we see this speck on the horizon with clouds of kicked-up dust trailing behind it. We don’t know what it is, but can tell it’s flying towards us at an alarming rate. In the meantime, we decide to ignore whatever it is and load another waterballoon into the pouch at the center of the giant slingshot. Me and someone else hoist the two ends of the thing as high as our arms can reach while one of the shorter guys pulls back the center and takes aim. He lets it go and the balloon goes up in the air towards the lube shop in the distance. In that moment, the supersonic wheelchair vet hit the brakes about twenty feet before he woulda crashed right into us and skidded to a screeching halt.
“Whatchyall got there?” he asked of the three-person waterballoon launcher, “some kinda contrapment?”
“Yeah, somethin like that,” we said just before getting back into firing position for the next round.
Ten, fifteen seconds later – after having aligned his shot – the launch man eased his grip on the pouch housing our artillery, effectually slinging the rubber-clad mass of H20 high into the air at a trajectory that, from our position, had looked spot-on. I shielded my eyes with an open palm as if I were trying to keep track of a golf drive and watched the yellow balloon viciously smack one of those big overhead doors on the side of the shop a good hundred yards away. Less than a second after impact came a delayed but most satisfying report – the unmistakable sound of aluminum being dented – letting me know just how good we hit that motherfucker. As we celebrated, our friend in the wheelchair tipped his head back and polished off the beer he’d been drinking.
“Could one yall help me out w’dis?” he mumbled like King of the Hill’s Boomhauer while struggling to open a garbage bag with his elbow.
“Yeah, sure,” I said then held open the white Hefty Cinch Sak tied to the side of his chair that already contained a solid collection of suds crushed.
As he reached forward using both fists to keep the empty clamped between ‘em, I couldn’t help but think that – had that beer can not been present – it woulda looked like he was imitating Notre Dame’s logo and putting his dukes up in preparation for a fight.
“Thanks,” he said after having dropped that can in with all the others.
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Lemme have a look adat,” he said extending an arm towards the guy holding the launcher.
They tossed it over to him.
“Wow, wudja look adat,” he said. “You guys climb up a tree, take yuh Swiss Army Knife ‘n’ saw this contrapment offa dat?”
“Uhh, yeah,” I said of the obviously store-bought “contrapment” which contained no wood whatsoever. “We sawed it from a tree.”
“That’s pretty interestin,” he said, “cuz we usta climb up into trees with our Swiss Army Knives when we was kids too.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” we said then took the launcher back and kept shooting at our chosen target.
After a few minutes, the guy musta gotten bored watchin us and took off just as quickly as he’d arrived. While drivin away, the bag full of empty cans dragged behind him and clanked along the blacktop as if they were attached to a limo that had a “JUST MARRIED” sign taped to the back of it. Meanwhile, the troops and I held our position and kept bombarding the shit outta that Jiffy Lube until one of the technicians managed to sneak up on us from behind.
“Yall just busted a windshield, yall,” is what the guy said when he caught us.
That’s right. He said “yall” twice in one sentence then demanded we take him to see our parents. So we lead the guy over to the pool where all our dads’d been either standing, sitting or layin around, drinkin beers while listening to the oldies station on the radio. The guy proceeded to tell all these drunken off-duty cops and firemen of all the diabolical deeds us kids’d been up to. He said that we didn’t actually break a windshield, but if we continued to hit Jiffy Lube with waterballoons, they would indeed be calling the police on us. And like, I don’t think any of those guys coulda really given less of a fuck. I mean, they deal with so much bullshit back in Chicago while doin their jobs, and were there down in Florida tryin their best to completely disconnect from anything and everything problematic, so…they just really couldn’t be bothered with any of this shit, ya know what I mean? They told the guy they’d take care of it, and as soon as he walked away they were like, “Okay guys, you heard the man – go play somewhere else.” And then they all cracked open another beer and let the good times roll.