Long Live the King, Baby!
Did you ever hear about the time that Elvis accidentally showed up in Richlands? Yes, that Elvis! The King of Rock and Roll. He was passing through driving a beat up Ford Mustang that was at least ten years old and was in desperate need of an oil change when he blew a tire and skidded off the road and darn near crashed into the Tastee Freeze across from the high school. That was back in nineteen and eighty four. I remember it well. He was standing around the garage over by what used to be the old Flanary Theater in the middle of town when he said that Van Halen group was onto something with that Jump song of theirs.
Now I know what you’re thinking and I tell you now to keep it to yourself! Elvis Aron Presley did not die in August of 1977! He died years later, I hear tell, in a tornado in Oklahoma that destroyed his trailer and took his life in June of two thousand and six at the age of seventy one. In a separate tragedy a second tornado came through twenty minutes later and destroyed his bass boat. Now around these parts it isn’t smart to question the mortality of the King. He drove through here in nineteen and eighty four and slid his car directly up to the Tastee Freeze, flat tire and all, strutted up to the window wearing his vintage Lady Killer sunglasses and ordered a burger, fries and a Pepsi Cola. You try to tell anybody any different ‘round these parts and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a scrap!
I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. I knew it was him. My daddy said the son of a gun wasn’t dead. He told me that the Colonel staged the whole thing because Elvis would be worth more dead than alive. Boy was he right! Some people thought it was a scheme the Colonel concocted. That Elvis recorded a bunch of song before he faked his death so they could say they found the Long Lost Recordings of the King or some such nonsense to a make a zillion dollars. As it turns out, coming right from the King himself, he forgot where he stashed the recordings and decided to give up on the entire plan. He wanted to tour ‘merica as a regular ol’ feller until he found some place to settle down.
He leaned against his car sipping his cola with a furious thirst. We all stared at him, me being the youngest one in the group. I was lucky that day. My big sister took me to the Tastee Freeze to hang out with her and her friends, high school girls! She was determined to beat the shyness out of me one way or another, and a few girls flirting with me and playing with my curly blonde hair went a long way to getting rid of it and making me a more confident fella in the years to come.
I wasn’t the only one pleased to see the young ladies. Elvis noticed them immediately and there wasn’t a more hip guy on the planet than Elvis Aron Presley. The girls swooned the moment he opened his mouth and said those famous words to the woman working behind the counter at the Tastee Freeze.
“Thank ya. Thank ya very much,” he said with a wide toothy grin. There wasn’t a young woman in earshot that didn’t smile at him, not a young man in the vicinity that wasn’t envious.
“You! Young fella,” he called out, pointing at me. “You ever changed a flat tire before?”
“No sir! I surely haven’t!” I squawked.
He called me over and pulled the spare tire from his trunk. It was the first time I had ever done any real work with my hands except for fishing and whatever task my mom set for me to do outside our house. But this was different; I was helping Elvis Presley fix his car. We toiled around in the heat for a few minutes and before I knew we had his spare tire on and we were on our way to the garage downtown.
My sister and her friends followed us downtown, having sworn to our mother and the good lord above that she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. I sat there in the front seat sipping on my vanilla milkshake and listening to the radio with Elvis.
“You know, kid…some of this stuff shouldn’t pass for rock and roll. And I’d know all about that!” he roared.
“I hear ya, Mr. Elvis!”
It didn’t matter what he said. I was likely to agree with him anyway. When was Elvis ever wrong about anything?
It didn’t take long for the old beat up Mustang to get an oil change and a new tire. The King was anxious to get on the road. He was anxious to giddy up on down the road to see this place called Myrtle Beach. In all his years on the road he’d never performed there and heard through the grapevine that there was going to be an Elvis Impersonation contest there. He was ready to boogie on down the road with a few adult beverages in his backseat but he realized it was getting late in the day and he figured it best to settle down in a room at Claypool Hill.
The lady working the lobby was thrilled to the see that the King was still alive. She claimed that she never had a doubt but we all figured better after she failed to lie with a straight face. That’s what happens when you aren’t a true believer. Elvis had met many a person that thought he was a crazy man. He didn’t care. He took the high road.
“Say, where can a fella find some barbeque ribs around here?” he enquired before he emptied the travel bags from his car.
A couple hours later, as the story goes, Elvis made his entrance into Good Time Charlie’s. I hear tell that was the kind of place people went to if they wanted to drink beer. That’s all I knew about it at the time. But Elvis strutted into the place as if he owned it and ordered a plate of ribs, a soda pop, and a grilled cheese sandwich. An odd combination to be sure.
After a half hour or so, as rumor goes, Johnny Waterbank sauntered up to the table where the King was eating a meal specifically made for royalty. For those of you that don’t know Johnny Waterbank, he was best known to me as Amber Waterbank’s dad. To everyone else he was known as Johnny Waterbank, Elvis Impersonator Extraordinaire! He was local royalty. He really captured the persona of Elvis during the chubby years, the years where he wore his famous jumpsuit. The years when he unfortunately began to forget many of his lyrics during live shows.
“I don’t have a doubt in the world that you are the real Elvis,” Johnny said with his thick Appalachian drawl. “What in the world brings you here, King?”
He was on his way to Myrtle Beach by way of Cincinnati when he got off course and then found himself lost in these Appalachian Mountains. At least he finally got to see the Cumberland Gap, he said. Despite being lost he enjoyed the drive and the scenery and admitted that he was in no particular hurry these days.
Elvis looked Johnny up and down and chuckled.
“You know they say imitation is the best form of flattery. You wear that look well.”
Of course that made Johnny’s day and he confessed that if you’re going to imitate someone, you might as well go all out. Who better to imitate than the King of Rock n’ Roll? Absolutely no one.
Just as they began talking Elvis noticed three other impersonators coming into the joint. By chance it was an Elvis Impersonation event that night, each participant singing an Elvis song and being voted on by three judges for the event. Elvis couldn’t resist. He entered the contest without a second thought. It was going to be a great chance to tune up before the contest in Myrtle Beach.
His performance was flawless despite confessing that he hadn’t sung in years except for in the shower. He admitted that he did miss the intimacy of the small audiences, but overall he was glad to leave the chaos of being the King behind him. He even did a few subtle karate moves on stage during his performance, the ones he was infamous for.
Johnny Waterbank, local hero and Elvis fanatic, was the last one to go on stage. He said there was no way he could follow up that performance but he’d do his best. In fact, he said that if Elvis was great in all ways. He was a proud American the day Nixon made Elvis an honorary member of the DEA. As tough as Elvis was, Waterbank continued, he could have been one of those guys trained to protect the President. Now we all know that if Elvis had become a member of the Secret Service there was no way anyone would have risked taking a shot at Reagan if they thought they might miss and hit the King! Or risk his wrath of those sweet karate moves. It was high praise, for sure!
Johnny Waterbank, our local Elvis, was lauded by the King who threw his support behind him to win the contest. It was a unanimous decision and Johnny hugged the King for his accolades. That’s when the King grabbed the microphone and directed the D.J. to hit his music. Elvis and Johnny belted out All Shook Up.
“Thank ya, thank ya very much,” Elvis said to the roar of the crowd.
A standing ovation ensued and the chant of Elvis could be heard as far away as the parking lot of the Waffle & Egg across the way. By now the crowd had swollen to the legal limit of the Fire Marshall, who himself was on the premises to witness the historic event that is still whispered about among certain circles to this day. No one will lay claim to who upset Elvis and drove him to the edge.
Elvis was applauding the crowd, reminiscing about the countless miles he’d logged on the road over the years touring, hundreds of miles between cheering and adoring fans.
“Who did you like to tour with?” one fan from the crowd shouted out.
“Oh that’s an easy question, ma’am,” he said with a smile. “Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Both were great friends of mine on the road. I had a bigger entourage but I sometimes skipped out on riding the bus or taking the plane to ride along in an old Fleetwood Cadillac, some of the crew following along in an old Hudson Hornet.”
They always had a driver. No rock star was supposed to drive. So they loaded up the cars with a ton of shoes, a few clothes, very little food but stocked with whiskey, comic books and cherry bombs. If they needed food along the way, usually travelling several hundred miles a day, they would stop and pick up something not fit for most humans at gas stations along the way. And at each stop they would load up the toilets with enough cherry bombs to blow the porcelain amenities sky high as they drove away.
They tore across the countryside on road trips now considered legendary in the world of rock and country music, Elvis continued to reminisce. They were road animals, half drunk, half loaded, angry beast that were flung from the stage at night back onto the American landscape to wreak havoc. To those left in their wake, Elvis confessed that they must have looked like raving mad lunatics blowing up toilets across the land, setting fires by the road side from state to state, stealing televisions from hotel rooms and blaming the larceny on each other when the authorities were called. No one ever got into trouble because Elvis was the King. And that’s just the way it was.
The crowd was more interested in hearing about Johnny Cash at this point, being that Elvis and Cash were looked at as royalty around these parts. There was Jesus. And then next in the pecking order was Elvis and Cash.
And to their amazement they swooned when he confirmed the vicious drinking and drunken rages of their other hero, that the stories were true, and now the good Johnny Cash had found his better angels and made them all proud.
The fights! Elvis recalled the fights that Cash would start after a half bottle of whatever and how it terrified the band. The only one with enough moxie to stand up to the brutal son of a gun was Elvis. He’d use his karate moves to toss the drunken lunatic around until he got tired and passed out. The crowd roared in laughter and excitement at his stories of travelling with his fellow legend. That was, until Elvis used a few colorful cuss words to describe him, referring to him as a wildman possessed without a care of the carnage left in his path. Not to man, woman or child.
The crowd didn’t like the way he besmirched their hero, the songwriter that sang to their souls, spoke to their hearts.
All it took was one madman from the crowd to shout out an insult to the King in reference to his mother. Like I said, no one around these parts will lay claim to who threw the first punch. It’s a sore subject because to admit that the King drew first blood would be like breaking up with your best girl. And to admit that the crowd jumped him and he still threw them a beating only adds to the pain that they had their hearts broken by a legend that night.
Chairs were splintered, tables were broken and glass was shattered. It was a fight so raucous that the police didn’t bother to get involved. They just stood by cheering on the King, confused as to what to do, and a bit intimidated by the carnage Elvis was throwing down on his sudden detractors.
He picked up his broken Lady Killer sunglasses from the stage and slipped them in his shirt pocket. And then walked over to his waitress without missing a beat and flashed a big grin, left her a twenty dollar tip, and a few extra bucks to cover the damages. He stepped over the crying bodies and strutted out the door.
That’s when he said it! Not a soul will deny that part, for sure. He fished in his pocket and pulled out his car keys and looked back at the devastation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.”
A Man Called Doosh
(The Intro to the book.)
“Doosh! Doosh! Doosh!”
The crowd was relentless with that chant everywhere I went these days. To the casual passer-by on this hot Tampa night it would appear that I was the victim of crowd harassment as the large group filing out of the bar was calling me a “douche.” I hated the nickname but I got used to it early in life.
My head was bleeding and here I was standing outside of a bar after the fight got started on the inside. It’s me and two of my “weekend warrior” co-workers squaring off under the streetlamp outside of McKinley’s Irish Pub against two of the biggest pricks I’ve ever met. They also happen to be co-workers from my weekend job. When I say two of the biggest I do mean literally and figuratively. They are huge muscle-bound freaks that have the ability to be every bit as mean as the asshole who farts in the elevator on purpose while you’re stuck in the back.
We didn’t start the fight and we’re probably not going to be able to finish it either. I’m pouring sweat from wrestling around inside where I smacked my melon on someone’s beer bottle. I’m looking around at the swelling crowd when I noticed a local news group focusing on me. It was here to cover the church bingo and lottery across the street but somehow me and my merry band of bandits have interrupted a nice evening for the church going crowd and Channel 9 is now going to show it to all of Tampa.
Who could blame the camera man? If your choice was to film some nice elderly Catholics or film a crowd chanting, what sounds to your ears as “douche,” what the hell would you do? That’s what I thought.
“Can you believe these assholes!” Ramirez shouted to me.
Yes, I could believe these assholes, I thought to myself. Angel Ramirez stood next to me ready to brawl. He grew up in a family with nine brothers. He had to fight to get a bowl of cereal in the morning. I, on the other hand, grew up as an only child as was probably the biggest pussy on the block. I should have realized that before I took the weekend job as a wrestler with the Tampa Professional Wrestling Alliance.
“Doosh! Doosh! Doosh!” the crowd kept chanting. By now I could see the shocked looks on the faces of the religious devout across the street as they began approaching the mob scene outside of McKinley’s. Channel 9 was leading the charge to watch me get my ass pummeled in public.
At least I had friends. Ramirez and his in-ring tag team partner Alex Diaz had my back. Both of them grew up together and work as security guards for a local rent-a-cop company. In the ring they go by the tag team name Latino Heat.
How did I get here, you might ask? Well, one explanation is because I kicked the Heavyweight Champion in the balls. It was an accident, I swear! But let’s go back to the very beginning. I am here because that lying son of a bitch in the White House told me I could keep my health insurance, period. Instead, my three-month pregnant wife and I received our cancellation notice in the mail a few months ago. I wasn’t about to be coerced to buy a shitty policy from the government, so I had no choice but to pay twice the premium to keep our coverage with the company we have used since we got married. So I needed a second job and fast, something that would be weekends only.
Let’s go back to the day that our insurance cancellation notice arrived.
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eddie Duchesne. It’s pronounced “Doo-shane,” for those of you not familiar with the name. And growing up you can imagine the nickname I had. I failed to earn even a remotely cool nickname despite being a solid player on the baseball team and having some experience on the wrestling team until I got tired of getting my ass kicked. In the annals of history my nickname will forever be “Doosh.” I hated being called that.
My wife hates to answer the phone when my friends call. “Is The Doosh there?” they will casually ask. Even they stopped laughing about the name years ago, but it still stuck to this day.
Now that it is her last name, too, I’d pity the poor bastard that calls her “Doosh” or “Mrs. Doosh.” Given her mood swings only being three months pregnant at the time this all started, I’d wager a guess she’d kill a man. Too bad she wasn’t in my corner when the bar fight started.
It was a Friday and I had just worked a ten hour shift at work as a customer service rep for a credit card company. If you have never worked at a call center then I highly suggest that you don’t start now. I earned my college degree in finance but this was the only job I could find coming out of college in this shit economy. I had student loans to pay and was a newlywed six months after graduation. I didn’t have the option of holding out until a better job came along, especially considering that half the folks my age were moving back in with their parents.
Melissa works at a small flower shop downtown. She loves working there and has seemed to have a green thumb since she popped out of the womb. Thankfully she didn’t have student loans piling up like I did. Just like most people in this economy we live paycheck to paycheck. By the end of every month our bank account was doing its best to crawl under a duck.
We tried our best not to let it stress us too much. We were well aware that most marriages end because of money or infidelity. In our case, if it ever did end it would be because of money problems. I couldn’t imagine cheating on Melissa. I couldn’t image her letting me get away with it without slamming my nads in car door, either. It was a nice balance to make sure I kept my pants on. Besides, now that she was pregnant her mood swings were funny and entertaining, or they were the stuff nightmares were made of. Secretly I referred to her as The Woman Who Must Be Obeyed when she was out of earshot. I wasn’t sure she’d appreciate the sarcasm.
We live in a small one story house near where I work mostly out of convenience to the grocery store and to avoid long waits in traffic when I get off at 4:30 each day. The flower shop is only a couple of miles away so it works out well for both of us so far. That is, as long as I can keep this charade up with my weekend job without going to jail for it. Having bar fights broadcast on Channel 9 News doesn’t help my situation.
But let’s stay on point. It was a Friday and I had worked a full week. I got home about 5:15 after getting stuck in traffic. I don’t handle traffic well and road rage is the norm. I’ve never hit anyone during a fit of road rage, but I have threatened to rip an old man’s grapes off and feed them to him for cutting me off in traffic. Hey, at least he was old and had no shot at kicking my ass. Well, maybe there was an outside chance. But traffic moved along and we didn’t have to find out. Besides, at his age they were probably hanging around by his knees anyway. I assume that’s just as bad as having them ripped off. Something else to look forward to as I age.
When I got home I found Melissa sitting on the couch holding a piece of mail. I could tell she had been crying. There was my little bundle of emotion and moodiness, her eyes red, holding the little pooch on her belly, her mouth agape.
To make a short story even shorter, the insurance plan I have through my work was being cancelled. Obamacare somehow made our perfect insurance plan illegal. Of course the plan wasn’t cheap, but it covered everything we needed. And we needed it now more than ever with a baby on the way. The letter informed me that we could apply for a new policy or go to the newly created state exchange.
So we looked to see what the costs would be. And the government was going to rape my bank account in order to pay for coverage. This so-called “affordable” shit offered lousy coverage, our doctors were not part of the plan, and I had to pay more than double the amount for my premium and five times the deductable.
“What a cocksucker!” I said.
“Who?” Melissa asked as she tried not to get emotional again.
“Pick a politician! I can’t believe I bought that ‘hope and change’ bullshit,” I rattled off sarcastically. “’Hope and Change!’ they said. ‘If you like your plan you can keep your plan,’ they said. ‘Period. If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. Period.’ Lying pricks.”
I called my current insurance carrier to discuss other options to keep on their insurance rolls before the cancellation date. Unfortunately, my company was not going to be able to afford to keep any of us insured and we were all being forced onto the exchanges to look for other options.
After a sleepless weekend and much discussion about the issue, enough to make me pull my hair out until I started to show a small bald spot, The One Who Must Be Obeyed convinced me it was in our best interest to apply with the same insurance company. The premium was now nearly doubled, but we were both so pissed off at every politician that voted to make our expenses double, that we decided we would both rather be burned alive by meth-addicted midget devil worshippers than to be coerced by our own government to buy a policy we didn’t need and could not afford.
We were already living paycheck to paycheck and couldn’t afford the new insurance plan, but I agreed that I would find part time weekend work since the new Nazi’s have made this a part time work economy. I’d work weekends doing something to make the extra cash until something better came along. I certainly didn’t want Melissa working any more hours while she was pregnant, even though she selflessly volunteered.
I had some decisions to make. I bought a newspaper and drove around Tampa looking for Help Wanted signs while The One Who Must Be Obeyed searched the web for local job opportunities. She said any job was fine by her except being a bartender. Even though the money was good she didn’t want to wait up until late hours for me to come home. Eleven o’clock was plenty late.
I hated the thought of a second job, but I decided that whatever I did it must meet two requirements. At least pay me enough to cover the extra costs of health insurance and actually be something I like since the day job was sucking every ounce of life out of me.
That’s when I drove by an old brick building that doubled as a private gym and saw the sign. Immediately my heart raced and memories from my childhood television viewing came flooding back. I smiled and with delusions of grandeur I walked inside of the building and stopped at the front desk. A thick, meaty hulk of a man with a long blonde mullet looked across at me, not saying a word.
Because of phony politicians, and with a few simple words, this is how this all got started.
“I’m here to join the Tampa Professional Wrestling Alliance,” I said with a shit eat smile plastered across my face.
Below is a short story from Bedtime Stories for the Terminally Afraid titled Memory Lane. Hope you enjoy the free sample and check out my work on your e-reader!
Sammy Johnson stood alone outside of his old high school with fond memories of his younger years flooding into his mind. It had been twenty years since he had been back for a visit. He wouldn’t have even been standing here now if it had not been for overhearing a couple of people talking in line at a Shell station waiting to pay for gas. Sammy had never even given a second thought about returning to Richlands High School until then. He didn’t know if it was irony that there were a couple of folks far from home talking about the upcoming high school reunion, or if it was a matter of fate that he was there to hear it. He had not even received an invitation to the reunion. That wasn’t a surprise, though. He had not been back to his hometown or spoken to anyone from high school since graduation day.
Sammy stood at the end of the parking lot and took a long drag from his cigarette before dropping it and grinding it out under his shoe. He wasn’t sure if he was glad to have come back. He felt nervous about seeing old friends after all these years. He dreaded being asked why he never bothered to keep in touch. He knew that question would come up a dozen times. In his own defense, however, he never recalled anyone stopping by to visit him. After twenty years no one came around with a friendly word or to talk about the good ole’ days, as they were. And they were just that, the best years of his life. Although Sammy never bothered to look anyone up and stay in touch, he certainly was not hard to find.
He made his way inside and stood nervously in front of the gymnasium doors. Spread out in front of him were old high school yearbooks, photos from football and baseball games, including one of him standing on third base after he had just hit a triple in the state championship game his junior year. He loved playing baseball, and he was rather popular in high school. He found it strange and sad at the same time that the popularity you have as a kid ends the moment you leave school and enter into the rest of the world.
Sammy looked down at the name tags still on the table waiting to be claimed but couldn’t find his. He grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled his name on one of the blank name tags and said hello to the woman working the table and greeting people as they arrived for their twenty year reunion. Leslie Murray, or at least that was her name back then, looked in his direction but said nothing. Instead, she turned back to talk to the other two women from their graduating class, two women that he thought he recognized but had put on too many pounds over the years to be sure.
“Wow,” he mumbled. “She was a stuck up bitch in high school. She’s a stuck up bitch twenty years later. Some people never grow up,” he added as he strolled into the gymnasium.
Sammy had waited to show up fashionably late partially because he was never on time for anything in his life, but mostly because he was nervous to see how everyone else turned out after so many years. He was really nervous about how he would be judged in the eyes of his peers. When they remembered him, he was certainly a rowdy guy. He was popular, he was the star of the baseball team, and seemed to have a great future ahead of him. He let go of the baseball dream after graduation and just seemed to drift around since then.
The dance floor was nearly full with old friends and old flames gathered on the floor in their best attempt to dance like they were still seventeen. Sammy laughed at the sight. He looked around wondering if he was the only person in the gym who hadn’t gained seventy pounds. Women were dancing in groups together and giggling uncontrollably to Baby’s Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot and tossing some of their sizable asses around when the song suddenly change to I’m Too Sexy. Another roar of cackling and laughter rose from the crowd that rivaled the volume of the music.
“What the hell did I get myself into?” Sammy asked aloud. He looked around to see if anyone heard him but he realized that no one was paying attention to him anyway.
“Baby’s Got Back, alright. A whole hell of a lot of it!” Chris Redman said laughing out loud as he walked up behind Sammy and slapped him jovially on the shoulder.
“Quick! Man, I haven’t seen you in years! You haven’t changed a bit,” Sammy admired.
“Neither have you, buddy. But from the looks of things I think we’re in the minority about not changing,” he said as he nodded to Christie Blevins, the homecoming queen their senior year.
“Remember how smoking hot that girl used to be?” Sammy asked. “Now just look at her. You can’t blame those hips just on kids. I find that hard to believe.”
“No, but I bet you can blame it on donuts, and cake, and every other snack she probably claims she doesn’t touch. Seriously, I’d bet my bile duct that her ass looks like fifty pounds of chewed bubble gum,” Quick said laughing.
Chris Redman, also known as “Quick”, earned his nickname at a young age. Chris was called “Quick” in the same vein of irony that one would call a fat guy “Slim.” Chris was well known for always being late for class…every class. If dragging your ass was a lifestyle then Chris had mastered it by the ripe old age of five. Whenever someone would tell him to do something, be it his father, his mother, a teacher, or occasionally a local police officer, they would follow their plea with the word “quick!” The nickname stuck.
“Whew, they looked better when the danced back in high school!” Timmy DeLong said as he and Rick Malone slid up beside Sammy and Quick to survey the females on the dance floor.
“Some of them still look good, aged gracefully, but some…well, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself in an attempt not to be rude,” Rick said as he handed a couple of beers to his friends.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I ran into these two salty bastards out in the parking lot,” Quick said. Sammy took a drink from the bottle and shook hands with his two old buddies.
“So what’s the deal with everyone here?” Timmy asked. “I said hello to a dozen people on the way in here and all I get are blank stares. Did twenty years turn everyone into an asshole?”
“I got the same attitude at the check in table and was outside for at least ten minutes before I came inside. Of all the people that walked by only one of them looked my way and nodded. I thought we were friends with most of these guys,” Sammy added.
“Well, I thought this was supposed to be a party,” Quick said as he chugged his beer. “Where did you get this?” he asked.
Timmy pointed to the open bar on the other side of the dance floor. There were four giant plastic tubs filled with ice and beer in both cans and bottles.
“Hold this,” he said as he handed the empty bottle to Sammy. “I’m going to work my way through this crowd and get us another round.”
Quick began to snap his fingers and prance onto the dance floor in the most foolish sight that Sammy and the boys had not seen since high school. He stopped by a crowd of giggling women and mimicked their “rump shake” as best he could without hurting himself and trying not to look too feminine at the same time. Sammy laughed so hard that he thought his sides were going to split.
Quick then moved over toward Trent Belcher, a guy they used to all goof off with in Biology. The guy did not have a squeamish bone in his body. He was the first one to volunteer to dissect anything. In fact, Sammy had predicted at the end of their sophomore year that Trent would either be a surgeon or a serial killer. That comment on the last day of class got a laugh from everyone except Trent.
Trent was a chubby guy in high school, but since working behind a desk pushing insurance after dropping out of college, he had really let himself go. He was dancing with a woman that none of them could remember and the three of them began to wonder out loud which button was going to pop first. Would it be one from his tight shirt or the one on his slacks.
It only took a couple of seconds for them to realize that the buttons were not what Trent needed to worry about. He danced like someone out of a bad comedy movie, squatting lower every few moves. Quick grabbed his shoulders from behind and pushed Trent down into a full squat before he spun off of him and disappeared through the crowd of women dancing together. Trent had split his pants down the crease in the back all the way underneath to the inseam. The pink boxers were enough to turn the giggling crowd of their female classmates into a cackling group of women tripping all over themselves.
Trent stood up as straight as an arrow and quickly left. Sammy and the boys couldn’t stop laughing and wondering if Trent would actually come back after that.
Quick gently worked his way between two women dancing on the other side of the floor with his best cabbage patch move. One woman he recognized as the quiet girl in homeroom during their senior year. Her name was Rachel, but he couldn’t remember her last name. She wore a giant rock next to her wedding band, which did not surprise him. She was nice the few times they spoke and after twenty years was easily the best looking woman in the room. They looked each other in the eye for a brief second, each with a big smile on their face and having fun, before he gave her a wink and high stepped on over to the tubs of beer.
When he got back to the other side of the gym he found his friends nearly doubled over and laughing hysterically. They grabbed a table and sat down with a fresh round of beers as Rick wiped the tears from his eyes, a big goofy grin plastered on his face.
“You guys think that was funny?” Quick asked. “You haven’t seen anything yet. If these stuck up bastards keep ignoring me then I’m going to have to get really nasty and see how many other people can literally split their pants before I leave this party.”
They four of them sat there for nearly an hour paying no attention to the crowd at hand except to point out random moments of ridiculous dancing or assorted silliness. They took turns going on beer runs between telling stories of old times.
Sammy thought back to graduation day. It was a sore subject with the group so he didn’t bring it up, but it was one of the happiest days of his life. He was turning eighteen the day after and was anxious to get away from home. His pals knew that he didn’t have the best home life and needed out. Living there was a drain on his confidence and he had been battling depression because of the situation.
He had left home early that morning to go hang out with his best friends. By late afternoon they had already managed to use some of their graduation money to have a huge meal, watch the afternoon showing of Wayne’s World, and then jumped into Sammy’s Grand Am and hurried on toward graduation and the various parties that were going on all night.
For some reason that day, Quick had a real need to be on time for once. His mother said she would kill him if he was late for his own graduation. As they sped across curvy Kents Ridge Road, Quick continued to bitch because they were already late for lining up for the march into the gymnasium for graduation. Sammy tried to push it, but he realized he’d taken the curve by the old cemetery a bit too fast and lost control of the car.
When the car finally stopped rolling, the only sound in the ravine was the sound of air coming out of his tires, a constant clicking sound of metal on metal, and the sound of Quick blurting out a string of curse words and insults that were so impressive that it remained legendary to this day.
The four of them gathered their graduation gowns from the trunk of the car and walked to their graduation about a mile and a half away. They managed to sneak into the back of the gym and take the final empty seats unnoticed.
Timmy noticed that the atmosphere of the reunion had changed as the music became a bit less fun and took on a more serious tone when it slowed down to Arrested Development and Marky Mark’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. A couple of their classmates had made their way to the microphone to make random statements of congratulations for someone that just had their third kid, another guy grabbed the microphone, half-bombed, and slurred out how nice it was to see everyone since their ten year reunion.
That’s when they noticed Brad Franklin strolling past them, the cocky bastard. He was the football coach’s son and was treated like royalty by some of the folks in this room despite being the biggest horse’s ass of the school. If there was such a thing as part-time bully, Brad was that guy. For no reason at all he would flip out and torture some poor kid that he knew wouldn’t fight back, or someone that he knew he could beat up. If you were a kid that could kick Brad’s ass, and you actually did, you had several other members of the football team that suddenly decided to make your days hell when they passed you in the hall or had a class with you.
“That pile of crap walked right by me and didn’t even acknowledge I exist,” Timmy said, obviously offended. “After twenty years!”
Timmy and Brad had a ‘history.’ Brad didn’t like Tim in the least bit. He decided back in the fifth grade when Tim got him out in a game of dodge ball during gym class that he didn’t like the way he looked. So he picked on Tim nearly every chance he got, especially when he had his friends around and his bullying was more intimidating. Tim played little league with all of us, but quit because Brad’s dad was coaching the team back then. The coach took his son’s grudge as his own and seldom played Tim except during mop up duty at the end of a game. So Tim decided that baseball wasn’t for him after sixth grade.
Tim got up from the table as Brad disappeared around the corner.
“Where are you going?” Sammy asked, almost worried.
“I’m going to wait until the big oaf is taking a piss and then I’m going to turn the lights out on him and run,” he said laughing. “You didn’t think I was going to pick a fight, did you? I’m not in the mood to have my butt kicked anymore tonight than I did in high school. But nonetheless, I will be right back,” he said as he jogged happily out of the gymnasium.
Timmy crept down the hall of his old high school until he stood outside the door with the sigh “BOYS” above it. Two guys walked out and he placed his finger over his lips to let them know to be quiet. He didn’t want Brad to know he was there.
Before he walked in the bathroom he noticed another one of his classmates, Brenda Tanner, standing at the end of the hall and looking out the window. She noticed him and turned and gave him a quick wave and a smile, probably realizing that he was up to no good. He hadn’t talked to Brenda since they were juniors. He kissed her once at a party after they had both had a couple drinks too many. He thought about walking down the hall to talk to her but she quickly turned her back to him and continued to stare out the window as if she were lost in deep thought and didn’t want to be bothered. He noticed that her reflection in the glass showed a very different picture than the pretty girl that just waved at him. He paused looking at her for a moment but then pushed it from his mind to focus on the task at hand.
Timmy slowly opened the door to avoid making any noise and walked into the bathroom. He must have made some noise because Brad took a look over his shoulder and looked directly at him and then went back to zipping up. Puzzled, Tim walked into the bathroom as if to take a leak while Brad was at the sink washing his hands. It was only then that Brad acknowledged that he saw him. Tim turned to meet his stare as he stood behind him, Brad locked onto him as he looked in the mirror to see Timmy standing there.
His expression went from relief after a huge piss to a nervousness that was unexplained. Brad bolted from the bathroom like a Kennedy after a car accident, not even bothering to turn the water off.
“Hell, so much for playing a joke on the guy,” Timmy quipped before rejoining his friends back at their table.
“What the hell did you to do that guy?” Rick asked when Tim sat down with a fresh round of beers for his friends.
“Nothing, I swear. He spotted me and then freaked out and ran out there like I was going to get medieval on his ass or something. I have no idea what freaked him out.”
“Well, whatever it was he was spooked about, he tore out of here like the seat of his pants were on fire,” Rick added.
Just then their senior class president, Allan Dalton, took the podium and got everyone’s attention with a spoon to the side of his wine glass. “May I have everyone’s attention, please.”
The crowd grew quiet although there was the constant chatter of the non-sober from the back of the gym and the gaggle of ladies huddled up on the dance floor. Allan gave a heartfelt speech about their high school years, but made mention that he was glad to see that so many had realized and lived their lives like the best was still yet to come. Allan, although a bit of an arrogant guy growing up, seemed more down to earth and bit like a motivational speaker than Sammy and the gang would have realized.
“And now for a toast,” he said and everyone raised their glasses and bottles in unison.
“To health and happiness,
To days gone by;
To fond memories of friends,
And to a tear in our eye.
To good fortune and cheer,
And to our class song;
To that place in our hearts,
For our friends who have long gone.”
Allan then reminded the group of the photos of their high school years posted up along the wall, along with a wall dedicated to their classmates who had passed away too early in life. Then he called the entire group over to a set of bleachers pulled out from the wall for a group photo. Lynna, the local newspaper operator, had made herself available to photograph the group and make the pictures available for everyone online. As the crowd squeezed together, Sammy and his friends each took a knee on the floor in front of the group.
After the group photo, Sammy, Rick, Timmy and Quick took a stroll down memory lane, laughing as they pointed out where they were in photos and reminiscing of those fun days. Then they made their way to the wall where photos hung of their friends that had died too early in life.
A gorgeous photo of Brenda Tanner hung on the wall. It was a picture of her in a evening gown competing for Miss RHS. She was stunning. Timmy touched her photo, remembering seeing her with a sad look and a forced smile earlier in the hallway. She had developed bone cancer shortly after her college graduation. She died before she could even experience the excitement of her first job.
Next hung a photo of Glen Stuart and Ashley Reynolds. They dated off and on in high school but had become engaged a few years later. They died in a water skiing accident at South Holston Lake a month before they were to be married. They found Glen floating on top of the water but her body was never recovered. She was wearing a life jacket but it must have come off at some point during the accident.
Sammy reached out and touched the last photo hanging. It was a picture he remembered posing for, and had that image burned in his memory for the past twenty years. Quick’s mother took that photo the morning before their graduation. The day of the accident. It was of the four of them laughing on the back deck at Quick’s house at Hidden Valley. One of the best days of his life.
Sammy turned and looked at his friends, his eyes glazed over. “It was good seeing you fellas again,” he said softly before turning around and disappearing through the gymnasium door. Quick, Timmy and Rick all looked at each, gave an understanding nod, and vanished just as he did.
“Hey Allan,” Lynna called across the gym as the crowd was beginning to thin out. He came over quickly and thanked her for helping out tonight and for taking photos.
“I just have a quick question,” she said. She pulled up the digital group photo and enlarged it on the screen of her camera. “Would you take a look at this? Who are these four guys taking a knee on the floor? I don’t remember seeing them at all when I took the picture.”
Allan stared at the photo, his face turning abruptly pale.
“What’s wrong, Allan? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”