Memories of a Misspent Youth
Being appointed a permanent
columnist with tenure has a certain liberating effect. I figure
that I can stretch the boundaries of what qualifies as suitably
nautical content. Which is a good thing, because I got schmoozing
with Big-John-You-Don’t-Give-Him-No-Lip down at the marina
the other day. And he told me a story. Since he told it to me
while seated in the Icebreaker Danielle’s saloon, we’ll
call it nautical enough. Actually Big John is almost always
seated when he’s in Danielle’s saloon, because when
he stands up he inevitably bonks his head on a beam. Then he
remembers he has to walk around with his neck cocked at 45 degrees
to starboard, a behavior that I always find amusing.
Some of you will recall that
Big John is 6’ 7”, a good 270 pounds of solid flesh
and bone. Well maybe these days 250 pounds are solid; the rest
is somewhat jello-like. Anyway, we got talking about our teenage
years. John has me at a distinct disadvantage on that subject,
because he raised a lot more hell than I did when he was younger,
so his memories are far more interesting than mine. We got to
talking about jobs. I worked in a drug store, pretty ho-hum.
But Big John, he was a repo man, at the ripe old age of sixteen!
Turns out that his dad ran a finance company, and what with
some customers being bad actors, he had a pretty constant need
for John’s services. One of John’s first assignments
was to retrieve a car out of Philadelphia. Here’s how
John told the story:
“So dad gives us the paperwork,
tells us we’re going to have to ask the customer for a
key this time. Tells us he called ahead and cleared it with
the guy, so we shouldn’t have any trouble. So Joe and
I pile into a car and head off for Philadelphia. And the closer
we get to where we’re going, the slummier things become.
There’s fridges on the front lawns, old car seats on porches.
Until finally we’re pulling into a driveway with a shiny
Mercury in it. It’s a really nice car, sitting there with
the windows rolled down, but the house is just a shack. The
windows are cracked and taped, and the stoop is half rotted.
Joe says, “You go ahead,” and he waits at the bottom
of the steps.” So I climb up and knock on the door.
Pretty soon the customer opens
the door. He’s about as tall as I am, and as solid as
a brick outhouse. And when he sees us kids standing there he
puts on a scowl. “Come to get your car,” I says.
And old Leroy says, as he shakes a cigarette out of a pack,
“You boys don’t want to be getting too near that
car. You don’t mind if I call you boy, do you, boy?”
“Well I’m sixteen and a half,” I gulp, “I
guess you can call me what you like. But we gotta take your
car. If you don’t give us the keys we have to call the
police and a wrecker and you don’t want to have to go
through all that. So how bout you just give us the keys and
we’ll get out of here?” “You boys don’t
want to be getting too near that car,” Leroy says again,
and cool as a cucumber he pulls out a Zippo lighter to light
his cigarette. Which he does, but instead of closing the cap
on the Zippo, he flips it still lit towards the car. KA-WHUMPUS!
Flames belch 10 feet out of the car windows. I can still see
the thing lifting three feet off the ground and bouncing down
on its tires again. Leroy must have poured 5 gallons of gasoline
inside that car. “Take your #@%$ car!” he says,
“Here’s the keys.” And he flung them at me,
turned around, walked into the house again and slammed the door.
Well first we called the Old
Man, who hit the roof. Then after the phone cooled down we called
the cops. And what with all the commotion it was kind of late
before we pulled back into the repo-depot. Then we headed off
for our beds, ’cause it had been a pretty busy day. Couldn’t
talk to the Old Man for days, he was so hot.”
And with that Big John grew quiet,
and I knew he was thinking about his dad, who died just a couple
of years ago. In fact it wasn’t more than a month after
my own father passed away. About then the two of us would have
gladly torched our cars, if that would have let us see our dads
just once more. And then Big John said he’d better get
fixing his stove. He stood up, bonked his head on an overhead
beam, and headed off for his boat.
CC&BW Geezer Boatworks