I had found my way into the garage, otherwise known as The Doghouse ‘Cell Block- East;’ trustees are generally allowed to move about freely in ‘Cell Block- East’, as long as they are back in the ‘lock- down’ by lights out. I keep a bed for Eightball, just like he keeps one for me, and he was snoozing peacefully, fouling the cool and dimly lit confines of my workshop with his doggy gas and his incessant snoring.
Actually, I don’t mind so much. Believe it or not, doggy gas and incessant snoring kind of go hand in hand with Big Band music, gasoline fumes; the stench of gear oil and WD-40 ™.
I had just clicked on my 8-track, and settled into an afternoon of nuts and bolt sorting when I heard it: the unmistakable sound, the tin, shallow rumble (?) of one of Chevrolet’s worst ever mistakes.
Leave it to Mr. ‘Nancy’ to drive a crappy used and abused, underpowered 1980, 305 ‘California’ Corvette. (Whenever that rolling hopeful scrapheap comes to a full stop, I half expect to see Barbie® and 50 midget clowns jump out of it.)
The air became heavy and oppressive, the horizon dark and foreboding. The birds stopped singing; the Cicada’s stopped calling- there was a storm coming, and it was about to land right in the middle of Next-Door Nancy’s house.
It wasn’t ten minutes before I heard the first wretched crash of glass, and then shouting. My wife poked her head through the kitchen door.
“In a about 5 minutes, Nancy and Timmy are going to be paying us a visit.” She said soberly.
Without even looking up, I replied:
Although I didn’t say anything to my wife, I glanced at the bench clock. If I didn’t hear the doorbell within the next few minutes, or if the noise next door got exponentially louder- or quieter, for that matter- I would use the shop phone to call the police, before I went next door.
I don’t think two minutes went by before I heard the front porch bell ring- insistently- 8 or 9 times. I could hear Nancy. She was distraught, nearly hysterical. I didn’t hear Timmy, but I knew better than move. The entire interior of the house was a woman’s world now, and men would not be welcome. I knew it wouldn’t be long before Timmy found his way out to me; to ‘Cell Block- East’, the Doghouse, where all ‘real men’ and trustees are free to roam, until bed-check.
For as much as it killed me, I knew to wait.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen door opened and Timmy sneaked in.
He was frightened and rattled. He was nervous and skittish. I acted like it was just another day.
“Hey, Timmy! What’s doin’?” I asked him evenly.
He walked slowly over to me.
“My dad came to visit.” He said with a horrible resignation. I fought the grimace that ran across my face and my urge to hug him.
“Yeah?” I asked brightly. “You guys gonna play ball, or what?”
Timmy hung his head.
“No…” his voice trembled.
“Well…” my voice trailed off. “I’m sorting nuts and bolts. Wanna help?”
Timmy tiptoed over to my workbench and held his arms out for me to lift him up. As I did, I gave him an extra hard squeeze.
I sat him down, scooped up a handful of disparate parts and set him to work.
Just about that time, there was a knock on the aluminum garage door. Before I took up the door remote, I looked at Timmy. He was frightened. I stayed him with an open hand.
“Timmy,” I began calmly, “look at me…”
His eyes found mine. I steadied myself. I calmed myself. I filled my face with composed resignation.
“You… are… safe.” I said quietly, and deliberately. “You are in ‘The Doghouse’ with grandpa and Eightball, and nothing, and nobody can hurt you in here.” I told him. “Do you understand?”
He hesitated, and then nodded.
I hit the button on the remote. The garage door began to slowly lumber upwards.
The awful light and mid-summer heat rushed in like a bad day. Timmy’s dad, Dick, took a couple of steps into the stolid confines of my Doghouse.
“Hey…” he called out to me, too cheerfully.
I turned back to my work and without looking up, I said,
Mr. ‘Nancy’ saw Timmy.
“Timmy…” he began.
I turned, narrowed my eyes, and stared long, hard and sternly, the full length of Dick. He paused.
I grabbed Timmy up by his armpits and hefted him down from my worktable. It was time for the big boys to have a talk.
“Timmy, why don’t you go see if ‘Auntie’ and mommy have some cookies?” I shooed him gently out of the garage.
Mr. ‘Nancy’ watched his son, as he ran to the kitchen door. After Timmy was gone, Dick spoke.
“Sorry for the commotion from before.” He offered semi-apologetically.
I went back to sorting my nuts and bolts.
“Uh- hum.” I mumbled under my moustache.
Dick took in a deep breath, but it didn’t steady him.
“I didn’t hit her, you know? I never would- she just makes me so mad…” he clenched a fist and thrust it into his other palm.
“Uh- hum.” I grunted.
“Did Timmy say anything?”
“Nope.” I offered him no comfort.
He shifted uneasily on his feet.
“I love that little boy…” he started.
I turned impatiently, and looked Mr. ‘Nancy’ up and down.
“No, you don’t,” I said, “but you have time to learn.” I told him bitterly. “And, it’s a good thing you didn’t hit her,” I continued, “because I have told Timmy that ‘real men’ don’t hit.”
I picked up a red shop rag and began to wipe my hands as I continued.
“But, what I haven’t told Timmy, because he’s too young to understand, is that sometimes, ‘real men’ do hit. You’ll want to remember that, especially where they’re concerned.”
Dick’s face went pale, and then just as fast, turned red. He took an emboldened step forward.
“Hey old man…” his voice was low and threatening, “you don’t scare me.”
I smiled: an evil, fierce, wicked and thoroughly toothy, cruel and crooked smile; a smile that hinted at a life lived more in sin than in righteousness.
“Yeah, I do.” I stated evenly. “Or, you wouldn’t have said…”
Dick shrank back; a young lion from an old one.
“Oh, c’mon. You’ve been married forever. Are you gonna tell me that you and your missus haven’t ever had a fight?” He accused me.
“No.” I said. “We’ve had plenty, but I eventually learned to keep my big fat, trap shut.” I took up my work again. “So will you, one way or another.” I continued as I turned my back on him.
About that time, Timmy came back through the kitchen door with a big cookie in each hand.
“Grandpa,” he said timidly, “Auntie said to bring these out.”
Before I could speak, Dick raised his voice.
“Dammit, Timmy, can’t you see the adults are talking? How would you like a smack on your little ass, to remind you not to interrupt?”
I laid my nuts and bolts down on the bench and started to turn, but Timmy spoke first. He stuck his lower lip out, stiffened his spine and stood straight and tall.
“Grandpa says that ‘real men’ don’t hit.” He turned to me. “Isn’t that right, grandpa?”
I looked down at him and grinned.
“Yup.” I said, as I took him by the armpits and lifted him back onto the workbench. Timmy gave me a cookie, and we both bit into them. I turned my back on Dick again. Timmy turned his shoulders away from his father. We began to sort our nuts and bolts.
Dick stood there in the silence a moment, and then turned and slinked slowly out of the garage. I hit the remote, and the door rolled down, once again shutting out the oppressive summer heat and the unrelenting light.
A long uncomfortable hush followed. Timmy put his cookie down and wiped uncertainly at his eyes. He was learning a hard lesson, and I wanted to comfort him, but ancient Darwinian Law made me pause, because to do so would have hurt him worse.
‘Big boys’ don’t cry. That’s the rules. I know, it’s not fair, and it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to make sense: big boys don’t cry. That’s it. That’s all. Not because we can’t or don’t want to, but because mostly, it just doesn’t help and we know it. Somewhere, buried deep in our DNA, left over from a time when Kronk, the caveman had to chase a dinosaur down and club it to death for dinner, men learned that if they were rolling around on the ground, crying like little girls because they hurt their boo-boo, their dinner was going to get away and they were going to go hungry.
Timmy was too young for the lesson he was learning, but all boys and men learn it, whether they want to or not. Membership in the male fraternity is by conscription, not choice, and it is for life. Every male, regardless of age, race, creed, religion or sexual orientation is a sworn blood member, and no one gets out alive. Not me. Not you, and not Timmy.
Young Timmy had just taken his first doubtful steps into an initiation his father had failed miserably; one that I had succeeded at, but just barely in the many years before and only because I had, had the help of a good woman.
We heard the creaking of the outward kitchen floor. Timmy’s eyes widened.
“Someone’s coming!” He breathed heavily.
It wasn’t Dick. He had left by the garage door, and Auntie wouldn’t have let him back in through the front. I knew it wasn’t my missus. She would know better. It had to be Nancy. I quickly looked right and then left.
“Quick,” I whispered conspiratorially, “Pull your pant leg up! Mess up your hair! Here,” I smeared my face with my greasy hand, and then his, as I lifted him down from the workbench. “Muss your shirt around and then hop up and down, and make weird noises.”
I did the same. Nancy opened the kitchen door and peeked in to find me and Timmy grunting and jumping up and down like a couple of monkeys with dirty faces and our pants leg up.
She took in a long relieved breath.
“How come,” she began, “whenever I come out here, you two look like a couple of idiots?” She exclaimed.
Timmy and I stopped dancing and looked at each other. We turned to look at his mom. She quickly erased the hint of a small smile.
“Uhm…” I stammered.
“Uhm…” Timmy mimicked me.
Eightball stirred in his bed and farted. I belched. Timmy giggled.
“Gawd!” Nancy huffed, turned on her heels and closed the door.
After she was gone, Timmy looked at me and smiled mischievously.
“Mommy thinks we’re idiots.”
“Well, that’s our job, isn’t it?”
“What’s that?” Timmy asked.
“To let the girls think we don’t know anything, when we really do.”
Timmy thought for a moment. “Yeah…” he added as an afterthought.
We spent the better part of the next hour sorting my nuts and bolts, but we didn’t get anything done. Timmy had his 5/8ths mixed in with his 1/2’s; his 9/16ths confused with his 3/8ths, but it didn’t matter.
It’s just nuts and bolts: just life, and you don’t have to get it right exactly; you just have to show up and give it a shot.
Before we put everything away, Timmy looked at me. His lower lip quavered a bit and his voice was brittle when he spoke.
“Does my daddy love me?” He asked.
“Yes.” I lied.
Timmy considered this for a moment.
He looked back up at me. His eyes were twinkling.
“Do you love me?” he asked hopefully.
I made a big show of hanging my head, shrugging my shoulders and scuffing my toe on the cement.
“Yeah…” I drawled. “Even if you are kind of small and scrawny.” I chuckled.
I looked at him and winked.
“Do you love me?” I asked him?
His smile was wide.
“Yeah…” he drawled back. “Even if you are kind of old and fat!” He laughed.
I nodded up and down. “Old and fat!” I exclaimed. “I like that!”
I pulled the reclining lawn chair around. It was naptime. Timmy trotted over to the stereo and grabbed a tape.
“Are we gonna listen to Frank Sinatra?”
“How about, Tony Bennett, instead?” I asked him.
Two songs in, and Timmy was out like a light in my armpit. Eightball wandered over and lay down with a laborious sigh at our feet. I was just about to drift off myself, when the tinkle of a two-in-the-morning lounge piano drifted into the speakers, filled the dim confines of the Doghouse, and Tony began to sing,
“I wanna be around, to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart…”