Copyright ©1996, 1997 A.D. Sullivan
They don't come much better than him, his grizzled face like a bear's with slight eyes and broad mouth and laugh that echoes when it comes, like the beginning of a storm, paws dripping with water and smell of fish, swiping at salmon, thinking like lemmings, driven perpetually from one set of dreams to another, never satisfied with empty gestures, never able to pin down his own wants without sacrificing his soul.
Nothing short of Rocky could have brought these people together again after so many years-- the price of growing old is separation, and the rag-tag crowd from the late 60s era Little Falls had aged. John M. looked the least worn, wearing his Paul McCartney face like a badge, bearing youth like a banner of war which he would never surrender. The rest of us were tired, our faces molded with the same early impression that allowed us to recognize one another, but chiseled, too, with the years. The good and bad times were written in thick line around our eyes. Frank Q displayed his fresh batch of life-saving pills, his early drug craze traded in on prescription drugs. There would be no more romping naked across New York roofs on New Years!
Aside from all that, it could have been 1974 again, when these people had made up the basis of one fine rock and roll band. The party had nothing to do with the band, but variations on its theme played on the stereo, a tape made just for the occasion, hauntingly familiar, yet painful, too. Rocky was properly shocked at the door, the crowd of familiar faces pressing into him as he entered, the portly Santa Claus, red-faced and mumbling from hurrying too quickly up the stairs.
They were all old friends, but practically strangers. Rocky had always been the special link between the feuding factions of boyhood friends. Throughout the years and the various spats, none had barred their door to him. He was the ambassador of perpetual good will. Oh, he was no saint. He is as gruff as an old bear sometimes, grizzly jaw and sparkling eye hinting of a particular humor dancing on the edge of rage. He is a man of deep emotions-- one who once lectured me on the art of loving, his hand firmly clasped on a volume of D.H. Lawrence.
Over the years, he was the glue that kept many versions of the old band together, despite the varying names: Erik Lemon, Pinch, Sleeper, etc. When the final division did occur in 1979 (The basic members breaking off into two distinct musical entities), he bounded between them, serving as sound man, roadie, critic, backer, agent, fan-- his knowledge of music was never questioned. He was a connoisseur of Rock, of old Beatles and Stones, a collector of guitars.
Indeed, through his hands passed some of the finest guitars ever made. This, of course, was something of a running joke among his friends who wondered how many years it would take for the man to fine one which he could like.
Yet, the basis for his respect went beyond music. Rocky embodied something thing each of us needed, a wholesomeness which we seemed unable to obtain-- not perfection. No one ever accused Rocky of being perfect.
Among the various gripes people found with him over the years were procrastination, tardiness and indecisiveness. Frank & Dawn, who threw the surprise party in his honor, convinced him with tales of an airplane flight south for Christmas, this assuring themselves that he would show up reasonably on time. Jimmy's father, Basil, for whom Rocky had once worked, told tale of the morning ritual which he endured daily.
But Rocky himself struggled with decisions. About 12 years ago, Rocky got it into his head that riding a bicycle might be good exercise. In his fashion, he gathered all there was to know about the issue. He consulted every expert; he read every book; he looked at, measured, contemplated each and every model currently available, and to date-- has yet to actually buy one, though his one of his recent career options is the prospect of building them for profit.
And yet-- there was no one person in that room who would have wanted Rocky any different, who wouldn't have dropped everything to come to his side in need, and had arrived at this place and time after years of separation to guide him into middle age with a gentle hand on his back, and kind words in his ear, and the eternal hope they might call upon him again in their own need.
I could've been a Buckaroo only...
I could've been a buckaroo only horses don't excite me, & cows are snot slobbering shit-stained stupid beasts that'll graze a meadow into a desert damn near over night..... I like those boot tho'; got me a pair of Noconas, & Tony Lamas, sometimes I got for that burglar-boot look, or thongs, the year have led me to a matter of comfort vs. stylin', I like the music; Waylon, Willie, Jerry Jeff, Bill Jo Shaver, Guy Clark, Robt. Earl Keen Jr., a sad, sad country tune & lots of long necks to go around, you know, I believe ole Beethoven would've been on helluva buckaroo, yeh, only I don't think he got off on cows much either.
Deliver us from Evil
I knew it was a bad day from the look on Mr. Cecil's face, that squinting grim stare he had when studying the condition of the store. You could picture him fitting a white glove on his hand in his mind and inspecting the place for dust.
``You're tie's crooked,'' he growled at me as he clamored in from the parking lot, still chomping on the remains of yesterday's cigar. ``Is that idiot in yet?''
It was like asking me to light the fuse, yet I couldn't lie. I shook my head slowly from side to side.
He glanced once towards the parking lot, as if he expected to see Garrick's purple van pulling in next to his Oldsmobile, and when that illusion vanished, he glared again at me.
``Well? Did you call him at least?''
``Sure I did,'' I said, not elaborating on the fact that such morning phone calls to Garrick had become routine, since it would only have set Mr. Cecil off about us becoming Garrick's wake up service.
``This makes three days in a row, doesn't it?'' Mr. Cecil asked. ``Four,'' I said. ``But who's counting?''
``Four days late in a row?'' Mr. Cecil said, his jaw clamped down on the edge of his cigar, his eyes saying he ought to fire Garrick, though we both knew the deliveries couldn't wait until Monday for him to hire someone new. Everybody wanted their paint before the weekend, not after, and usually rang the receiver deaf with their threats to take business over to Sears if we didn't comply. Dupont was the worst, whose order could cut Mr. Cecil's monthly cash flow in half if it went to Sears. But Dupont's owner was also more particular about delivery times. He didn't just want it before the weekend, he wanted it early Friday afternoon, in time for the weekend sales which began at 5 p.m.
At the mouth of bay number two, four pallets of paint waited to be loaded on the truck, a part of Garrick's job that was often done by one of the stock people during this time of waiting, put on the dock every Thursday night in expectation of an early start. Some Friday's I even loaded the cases myself just to get Garrick out onto the road and to Dupont sometime before midafternoon.
``And you told him to be early?'' Mr. Cecil asked.
``I always tell him to come in early, Mr. Cecil.''
``I mean for this day in particular.''
``I told him three times yesterday and two times the day before.''
``Maybe you should give him another call, just to make sure he's left his house,'' Mr. Cecil said, mumbling the words out around the butt of his cigar, a stream of brown tobacco juice dripping out the corner of his mouth.
``I don't know if I should, Mr. Cecil. I mean sometimes they don't take kindly to my calling.''
Mr. Cecil frowned at me.
``Who doesn't take kindly to your calling?''
``Garrick's family,'' I said. ``They're a strange lot from what I hear and they can be awful nasty when they're in a mood.''
``Blast them!'' Mr. Cecil said. ``I'm paying that boy good money to work for me. Those folks should appreciate that I want him in on time. Give me the phone. Let's see what they'll say about my calling them?''
I grabbed the telephone from behind the counter and thrust it into his hands, muttering out the number as he poked it out with his finger. Then Mr. Cecil set the receiver into the space between his neck and ear as he searched his pockets for a match. I could hear the phone ringing from a foot away. He struck his match and sucked on his cigar, letting out a plume of smoke just as someone answered.
``Hello? Hello?'' he said. ``Is that you, Garrick, my boy? What are you still doing home, eh? I'm sorry to hear you stubbed your toe, but Hank here said he told you to come in early. Yes, I know how much a thing like that hurts but -- can you walk on it? Can you drive? Well, then, can I expect you soon? I mean, there is the Dupont delivery and all. Fine, Fine, do hurry.''
Mr. Cecil pushed the telephone back at me to return to the counter.
``He said he stubbed his toe on the base of the sink, and that it bled so much he had to bandage it.''
``Is he coming in?'' I asked, not caring to think about the alternatives. I didn't like to drive, and often walked to work to avoid the insanity of the morning rush.
``He says he is.''
``Maybe you should go sit in your office,'' I suggested. ``I can let you know when he comes.''
``No, no,'' Mr. Cecil said around another cloud of smoke. ``I wouldn't get anything done thinking about him. I'll wait until he gets here. I figure that boy needs a good talking to, right up front before he gets too busy.''
Ten minutes later, Garrick shuffled in.
Some people have described Garrick as a friendly bear, something akin to the bear from that old TV show, Gentle Ben. Yet seeing him even this late in the morning always alarmed me, his huge sloped shoulders and broad bearish face images of something just barely tamed. He wore a faded and greasy New York Yankees cap backwards on his head, half imitating old style of baseball catchers like Thurmon Munson. He had the same grizzly look that one shave daily couldn't control.
He glanced at me and grumbled, and turned somewhat in our direction, his legs and arms moving with the unhurried rhythm of a man with no special place to go and no time clock to punch. Now as always, Garrick hummed some vaguely familiar tune he'd caught from the radio on his way to work and couldn't shake. I knew from experience he would hum that tune all day until he drove me, Mr. Cecil and anyone else within earshot crazy.
Garrick paused half way to the counter, shifted his newspaper from under one arm to under the other and a greasy brown bag from one hand to the other.
``Mornin','' he mumbled in a drawl that sounded like a yawn. He scratched behind one ear and squinted at Mr. Cecil, looking as if he was trying to recall something. ``Somethin' wrong?''
``Wrong?'' Mr. Cecil said. ``Do you know what day this is?'' Garrick looked at me, frowned, and then looked at Mr. Cecil again.
``It's Friday,'' Mr. Cecil said, taking another heavy toke on his cigar, smoke plumes curling around his face. ``Do you know what you're supposed to do on Fridays?''
``You're supposed to be in early.''
``I don't get paid to come in early, just to deliver paint.'' Mr. Cecil removed his cigar and stared at Garrick, who shrugged again, then turned and walked away.
``Where the Devil are you going now?'' Mr. Cecil asked.
Garrick paused, looked somewhat puzzled, then brightened, held up the greasy paper bag. ``Breakfast,'' he said.
``Breakfast, now?'' Mr. Cecil said.
``I always have breakfast before I start work.''
Mr. Cecil rubbed his eyes with his free hand.
``All right,'' he said finally. ``Have your breakfast. But I want you on the road the minute you punch in. Is that clear?''
``Anything you say,'' Garrick said, and then continued on towards the lunch room with the same unaffected manner. We could see him on an angle through the door as he sat down at one of the tables, unfolded the top of his greasy paper bag, and slowly spread out his breakfast before him: egg sandwich, cup of coffee, and a oversized corn muffin for his desert. He put each item in a designated spot, the way he always did in the morning. It was as if he couldn't digest anything unless he situated his salt and napkin first. Then, after slowly surveying the arrangements, he nodded, unfolded his paper, laid it flat on the table between the items and began to read, his finger following along the sentences as he groped with his free hand for his food. The process seemed to go on forever, with Garrick working his way from the front page headline to the comic section, giving each item equal and studious attention. Mr. Cecil shifted at my side, looking over frequently at the time clock, then the moment the clock struck nine thirty, he shouted:
``Time's up, Garrick!''
Garrick's heavy head rolled to one side, his squinting eyes readjusting from their close study of the paper, like a dreamer suddenly drawn out of his dream not quite registering reality. He nodded, and then with the same deliberate care folded his newspaper, collected his empty coffee cup, sandwich wrapper, and paper bag, rose up from the table and dumped all but the newspaper in the trash bin. With the newspaper again folded beneath his arm, he shuffled out of the lunch room. But instead of turning left towards the truck bay, he turned right and pushed open the swinging bathroom door.
``Now what?'' Mr. Cecil yelled.
Garrick paused and pointed into the bathroom.
``No,'' Mr. Cecil said. ``You've already wasted enough time.''
``But I always go to the toilet after I've eaten.''
``Not this time. You're supposed to be out on the road and that's where I want you. Now.''
``But it's a long ride and the truck's springs aren't as good as they ought to be, and if I get caught in a traffic jam...'' ``All right, use the bathroom,'' Mr. Cecil snapped. ``But don't be all day about it. I'll give you fifteen minutes. If you're not out by then, I'll come in and drag you out.''
The door closed without a response from Garrick. Yet we could hear his activity, the echo of the latch being opened on one of the stalls, the slap of the seat being lowered, and then the rustle of the newspaper, one page turned after the next. Mr. Cecil stared at the time clock, then began to pace slowly back and forth as if he had to use the facility next, then when at last nine forty five came and Garrick made no appearance, Mr. Cecil marched across the store and pounded on the door.
``Time for work, Garrick'' he shouted through the slats.
A muffled reply echoed from the bathroom, followed eventually by the flush of a toilet, the click of the stall latch, the gush of water from the sink, then the repeated squeaking of the paper towel dispenser issuing one thin towel after another. Then finally Garrick opened the door.
``Are you finally ready?'' Mr. Cecil asked.
``Fine! Wonderful!'' Mr. Cecil said and with his jaw firmly gripping the shreds of his cigar. ``Get to work!__
Garrick nodded. Mr. Cecil apparently satisfied marched towards his office and banged open the door.
``If anybody wants me I'm indisposed.''
I watched through the glass door as he sagged into the seat behind his desk. Meanwhile, Garrick shrugged and meandered off in the direction of the loading dock, losing himself among the pallets waiting to be loaded onto his truck. I heard something move, and thought -- with relief -- Garrick had finally gotten the message.
Then, a few minutes later, Mr. Cecil roared. I rushed into his office to find him standing and pointing at the huge picture window that made up one wall.
``What is it, Mr. Cecil?'' I asked. ``What happened?''
He motioned towards the glass and I glanced out, catching sight of the daily routine of Main Street, cars and trucks locked in their usual traffic-light gridlock, drivers cursing each other in language we could not hear through the glass.
``I don't understand, Mr. Cecil,'' I said.
``It was him,'' Mr. Cecil said, in a shocked tone.
``I still don't -- You mean, Garrick?''
``He walked by my window.''
``But that's impossible,'' I said. ``I saw him head for the loading dock. Are you sure it was him?''
``It was him all right,'' Mr. Cecil said. ``Sauntering along in that lazy way of his, looking as if he didn't have a care in the world. He even waved at me! Waved, Hank, when he should have been working!''
I took a deep breath and tried to imagine what could have drawn Garrick up that particular block. But no food stores shared this side of the street with us, only a shoe repair store, a dry cleaners and a gas station. Garrick wore no shoes worth repairing, just a pair of cheap sneakers that had gone gray with age, and any cleaner would refuse the denim jeans and plaid shirts Garrick wore as hopeless.
``You said he was walking, Mr. Cecil?'' I asked.
``Walking, crawling, whatever you want to call it,'' Mr. Cecil said, struggling to find a match in his pocket, and when he found it, struggled to light the shambles of his cigar. He puffed madly, creating a thick white fog around his face.
``If he was walking, then that leaves out the gas station,'' I mumbled.
``Well go get him and find out what the hell he's up to,'' Mr. Cecil shouted.
Yet before I could turn from the office, the telephone rang. I looked at it. Mr. Cecil looked at it. Somehow we both knew who was on the other end. Mr. Cecil, however, snatched up the handset before I could move.
``Where are you?'' he barked, bending his head towards the phone for the raspy reply, his thin gray brows rising. ``At the gas station?''
Mr. Cecil stared at me and I shrugged.
``Why didn't you bring the van with you?'' he asked Garrick, then listened to the lazy reply.
``But you don't need an appointment to buy gasoline!,__ Mr. Cecil said, and again listened.
``Obviously you didn't know that. So come back, load the truck, then we'll give you money for gas.''
Mr. Cecil slammed the phone down, fell back into his chair where he rubbed his face with his hands.
``Do you suppose he's doing this one purpose?'' he asked.
``On purpose, Mr. Cecil? Why would he do that?''
``To drive me crazy,'' Mr. Cecil said. ``You deal with him. Make sure he gets the van out. If I see him again, I'm liable to kill him.''
I didn't have to say anything. I went back to the counter outside, and a moment later, I heard the sound of Garrick loading the boxes onto the truck. But I didn't see or hear Garrick when he reentered the store. Otherwise I might have headed him off before he pushed open Mr. Cecil's door. But I heard his raspy voice saying:
I saw Mr. Cecil's eyes open, his hands falling down from behind his head as he sat up in his chair. His head turned slowly, mouth twitching a little as he stared.
``Garrick?'' he said. ``Wh-What are you still doing here?'' ``You forgot to give me money for the gas...''
``Out!'' Mr. Cecil roared.
Garrick blinked, scratched behind one ear, shrugged and finally left.
``Don't go near the boss,'' Garrick told me as he passed the counter. ``He's in a real mood.''
A half hour later, the telephone rang again. I grabbed it up before it could disturb the blank stare of the seated Mr. Cecil. It was Garrick. The truck had run out of gas along the highway.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
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