Gone are the Mullet & Marlboro Days

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Gone are the mullet & Marlboro days for godbrother Billy.

The once wild man got a wife.

They had a wedding, but the planned cross-country family party was canceled for COVID.

That means this is the first time I get to meet her.

I often call Billy ‘cousin’ & vice versa.

His mom is my godmother, & vice versa.

A full day of driving out of Warren, where bad things do not happen, put me past Cincinnati in Billy’s Ohio home.

I started trucking when the work day ended. Made it into Ohio after midnight.

Billy & his wife, who I have not met yet are asleep.

But they left the door unlocked for me. I have instructions for getting to the guest room.

Wow, I get to wake up and see family (& new family) I haven’t seen in years.

I let myself into the condo in the complex. Head on the pillow, memories of Billy’s visits back in the day arrive before sleep does.

Yes, back in the days of dueling with telescoping lightsabers, Billy was always the Sith lord with the red blade.

When the game wasn’t Star Wars, it was Robin Hood on logs that fell over the brook back behind my family’s old house.

When it wasn’t Robin Hood, the game was any war from the American Revolution to Vietnam. Though come to think of it, I don’t think we ever played Korean war games in plastic helmets out in the woods.

I don’t know if any kids play make-believe Korean War.

Sleep comes.

The condo is empty when I wake up. Billy & Mrs. are at work.

A make-yourself-at-home note on the counter from Billy makes it clear, once and for all, that I slept in the correct condo last night.

A day of naps and listening to music. Glad not to be driving.

Then Billy & Sarah are back from work. Hugs, catch-ups & dinner time ensue.

The next day, I need to grab some hole-free workboots from town.

Billy recommends Menards.

“How does their theme song go?” Billy asks.

They’re not in my region. I don’t know.

“Anything you want at Menards,” Billy sings.

And I offer, to the tune of My Favorite Things:

“Whistles, and pencils, and new playing cards, these are my favorite things at Menards.”

It’s a hit. We riff on lyrics in loud baritones, sung in no scale Eastern, Western, avante garde, or otherwise. It’s cacophany.

“When the Israelites were promised the promised land!

They marched to Menards hand in hand!”

We can’t get enough of these songs.

“Boys are so stupid,” says Sarah from the backseat, after the final verse.

Impeccable comic timing. It sends Billy & I into fits of laughter.

But despite the promises, Menards doesn’t have the workboots I need. We try two more stores before I get them.

We decide to test them with a hike down by the river.

Down by the current we skip rocks.

More dumb jokes about Menards.

Kinda stuff we did a decade and a half ago.

The goofing around groove is easy to find again.

Next we’re back at his condo. He’s got a pond view. We bundle up, pour whiskeys, and sit in camp chairs next to his duck pond.

“You’re married,” I tell him. “That makes you older & wiser than me, regardless of our actual ages.”

We clink glasses. Sip the whiskey.

“I love marriage,” Catholic Billy muses. “It makes me think about what it would be like to be a monk.”

I swallow Tullamore D.E.W. and laugh.

“No, as in what they actually give up when they do that. I used to think, ‘how hard could being a monk be?’ Now I know.”

On the condo bookshelf, among volumes of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, is a framed card.

The card reads:

“There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint.”

Could this really be the Billy who once broke into a distillery with then-fellow hellions to steal a barrel of whiskey?

This couldn’t be the same Billy who once teamed up with his friends to run metal wires across the train tracks and fasten them to fences on either side. They hoped that the great metal engine would catch the wires and uproot the fence.

They had visions of metal posts and chainlink fence-ends plowing great V-shaped tracks into the Maryland earth, making grooves running for miles, metal sparking and screaming all the way.

A whole town down the line monkey-wrenched by late tankards of milk, gas, and oil. But the train snapped through the wires and bouldered onward unfazed. The anti-climax bummed out the jokers & smokers bunkered in the hedges, Billy among them.

That was back in the mullet & Marlboro days. This is now.

What changed?

Military school & marriage. It will modify a man.

We talk about life late into the night. Grab our guitars and jam.

Morning brings one more coffee together.

Then I’m trucking westward once again.

To be continued