Crazy Eddy lived in a trailer on a half an acre of land across the street from me on Golden Valley Road. He had a chubby little wife and two small children; a boy and a girl, I think and a dog that wasn’t his- it just wandered in one day and made himself at home. The dog was just as liable to growl and nip at Eddy as he would have a stranger. He seemed to like the kids. Maybe he was waiting for one of them to grow into a suitable meal, I don’t know.
Crazy Eddy was an odd little duck who stood about five foot nothing; seemed to always have a ready smile; seemed to always be as happy as a retard and had arms like Popeye. I don’t think he was retarded or stupid- he was just a simple country boy and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. My uncle Bob, a butcher by trade, assures me that if you keep knives in a drawer they will continue to be sufficiently dull all the time. Maybe Eddy was kept in a drawer too long as a child; I don’t know.
Crazy Eddy’s property was over grown with waist high weeds that, in an open field would have been called ‘pasture’ and one spring day he decided it was time to cut them down.
He dragged his decrepit old mower out, checked the putrefied gas and gave the lanyard a yank. The engine coughed and sputtered and then just lay there like an old milk cow mindlessly chewing her cud. He choked her, he cursed her; he kicked, pleaded and yelled at her, but to no avail. I guess it took him the better part of an hour but he finally got her up and trotting. He ran the violent, dangerous machine up and down the sprawling bit of land; spewing weed stalks, stones and debris in every conceivable direction; roaring and laughing his crazy ass off the whole time. The trembling uneven blades of the mower where no sharper than he was and mostly beat the green stalks loose from the damp ground in great muddy clumps. At one point he had to shut the wild smoke belching beast off because the blades had managed to sling a rock through one of the windows of his trailer. Mrs. Eddy’s screams could be heard for miles.
“Eddy, you’re going to kill the children!” She shrieked.
Crazy Eddy paused just long enough to board up the gash in the sill and then went back to work tearing his property out by the roots.
When he was finished, his half acre lawn looked like a bombed out shell-crater. It was time to rake everything up into a great steaming mound.
It took some doing. Crazy Eddy’s old metal fan rake had more than a few missing teeth; if you stood the two of them together, they looked like a couple of in-bred cousins from a black and white vacation road photo from 1961, but he got it done. About that time, I came across the road to see what all the noise, smoke and screaming was about.
Crazy Eddy asked me if I wanted to help him build a bonfire. Oh, hell yes! What could be better to a twelve-year-old than a bonfire?
The weeds themselves would have been pile enough but, since he was building a fire, he thought it an excellent excuse to rid himself of everything else that he didn’t want, or that wasn’t nailed down. In no time, we had a mass of rubbish that would have done a homecoming gathering proud. We had enough weeds, semi-rotted wood; discarded plastic and water-sopped cardboard heaped together that, if we could light it, might burn for days!
Crazy Eddy regarded the pile with satisfaction. He turned in a full circle to make sure he had everything on it that would fit and then, squinted his eyes with wily suspicion at the callow weeds and water-sopped cardboard at the bottom.
“Might take a bit of doing to get them to burn.” He said more to himself than to me.
He looked around. His eyes came to rest on the rusted five-gallon Jerrican of gasoline. He grunted with a secret approval.
“That ought to do it.” He said with more than a little satisfaction.
Eddy upended the can over the side of the heap.
“One thousand and one; one thousand and two…” He counted and righted the can.
He turned to me and smiled manically.
He fished through his pockets and produced a small box of wooden matches. He rattled it once and then twice.
“Only one match… better make this good.” He mumbled.
He struck the match; tossed it onto the top pile— and then nothing happened.
“Hrumph.” He snorted. “Must need more gas…”
He ambled cautiously over to the side of the pile with the Jerrican and up ended it again.
“One thousand and one; one thousand and two, one thousand and three!’ He exclaimed and scuttled away.
He fished through his pockets for more matches but found none.
“Wait here.” He instructed and hurried off into his trailer.
It wasn’t five minutes before he re-appeared with a faded book of matches that had probably gone through the wash in the pocket of his jeans.
He opened the cover. The entire book of matches was solidly congealed together into a single red lump.
“Hmmmm…” Eddy said aloud. “Better put on some more gas.”
He up ended the can for a third time.
“One thousand and one; one thousand and two…” He counted judiciously.
He pulled the single large match from the cover and laid it against the striker.
“Stand back.” He warned.
He struck the match. It fumed, it sputtered, it smoked and he threw it up onto the pile. It went out.
“Well, I’ll be…” He spoke with more than a little disappointment.
His face brightened and his countenance cheered as if he had just remembered something important.
“If at first you don’t succeed…” He smiled at me as if he had just discovered the cure for the common cold.
“Put some more gas on that, will ya? I’ll be right back.” He called over his shoulder.
From the sound of it, Crazy Eddy was tearing his trailer apart, ransacking every drawer, nook and cranny looking for more matches. He was a madman on a mad mission.
I regarded the pile. It was taller than I was and though the wood and plastic might burn, the weeds and cardboard were far too green and wet. I was a simple country boy too, and had been taught at an early age by my father how to build a fire. If your tinder was small and dry enough, you did not need an accelerant. Eddy had no tinder, nothing in the entire great green mountain of trash was dry and you couldn’t have ignited the clumps of weeds at the bottom with a flame-thrower. More gas, indeed!
I climbed to the top of the homecoming heap with the Jerrican and turned it upward.
“One thousand and one; one thousand and two, one thousand and three.” I dutifully counted.
I turned to scramble down and then thought a moment. The weeds were pretty green. The wood was pretty wet. I gazed toward the trailer. I looked down at the trash heap. I turned the can over and emptied it, but I did not count.
“That ought to be good.” I said to myself as I climbed down.
Eddy burst victoriously from the trailer.
“Aha!” He cried triumphantly, clutching a small Zippo in his fist.
He paused at the front door and gave the lighter a flick with his thumb. A small blue flame jumped off the wick. He looked to me, pointed to the flame and chuckled with glee.
“Now, well get us a fire.” He assured me.
Crazy Eddy considered the rubbish heap for a moment and then studied the lighter for a few seconds more. The wheels were turning, but it was more likely he was stuck in the mud than going anywhere.
“Better to light it from the bottom.” He decided.
He grabbed up the gas can and turned it over at the base. Three drops of gasoline trickled out. Eddy was only momentarily perplexed. He turned the can back over and peered down the throat.
“You used it all?” He asked me.
“Yes.” I casually replied.
He thought another moment.
“Good thinking!” He congratulated me. “But, I’ll have to climb up to light this mother…”
Crazy Eddy ascended the Everest size pile of cuttings, cardboard and rubbish. Once at the top, he got out his lighter and then turned to me.
“Better stand back a bit.” He cautioned.
Crouching on one hand and one knee like a stalking lion; his lighter arm extended, his other leg splayed out behind him so that he remained ready to quickly scramble away; he flicked at the lighter- click, click, click…
I edged back a step.
He repositioned himself a little closer. Click, click, click…
I edged back three more steps.
Crazy Eddy pulled himself erect, cleared his throat, tucked his chin in close to his chest and tried again. Click, click, click…
It wasn’t so much an explosion, as it was a violent rush of compacted vapor laded air. Click, click, click: hissssss- whoosh… KA-BOOM!
I was thrown violently backward in a hail of rusty nails, wood splinters, and a gale of soft weed-stalks, stones, cardboard and clumps of mud.
The windows on the trailer rattled. The cows in the next field shuddered and stopped grazing, and somewhere someone’s chickens where clucking and cackling as if a fox had got into the hen house.
Crazy Eddy was dancing through the yard like a dust devil over a scorched rye grass field, laughing his ass off.
I sat up just in time to watch him madly pat the fire on his singed eyebrows out.
“Well, hell!” He howled. “At least we got her lighted!”
I just sat there on the damp ground, confused, steaming and blinking.
“You okay?” Eddy giggled.
“I think so.” I replied as I felt myself all over.
Eddy surveyed the mess. The weeds, the rotted scrap wood; the garbage, plastic, cardboard, stones and debris we had so carefully collected into such a neat, if somewhat mountainous heap, was evenly distributed like a load of fertilizer about his half an acre. He took in a deep and determined breath and then let it out in a long sigh.
“I’m gonna need more gasoline.” He said.