I went with Allison to her niece’s Quinceanera down in Pilsen last Saturday afternoon. While I’ve met several of her relatives over the last couple of couple of years, this was my first opportunity to meet her sister’s 2nd husband, Ray.
Upon first inspection, Ray looked like the guy who’s always ready for a fight and the type of guy who, if he had a choice of steak and lobster or sardines and crackers for his last meal, he would choose the later because that’s what his old man used to live on. Probably the same old man that would let him have it with an extension cord for letting the screen door slam. That said, I could understand why I was the only adult male guest and why the uncles and neighborhood men had other, more urgent matters to attend.
After about an hour of drinking and listening to him tell me about life on the road, I sensed that he knew every methadone clinic and adult book store from here to Arkansas. Evidently he’s a retired trucker of twenty-six years, as well as expert carpenter. Which I could easily tell by that fine example of a shed he’s built over the last three and a half summers. He goes on to tell me that he didn’t actually retire, but has been on disability for the last three years due to a hearing loss. However, I didn’t see any hearing aids, so I guess plenty of cold beer must help out with that.
So, while all of the women were either socializing or paying homage to the birthday girl, I realized that I haven’t had a conversation with a piece of white trash of his caliber since the family station wagon broke down in Florida about twenty-five years ago, and without any intimate knowledge of NASCAR or hate crime techniques, the only thing I could think of to do was compliment him on his cheap, bought-at-a-roadside-fruit-stand-looking bracelet he was wearing. He goes on to tell me that he bought it outside Choctaw tribal lands in Oklahoma and he is, indeed, 1/16th Choctaw.
I was clearly in a rut, as for the next ninety minutes I’m stuck sitting in the 100 degree shade with Tonto, hoping that a swarm of locusts appears and we’d all have to run for our lives, because our conversation had grown stale and 99% of the time when that happens to men talking, it usually means that its time to either to check out the other guy’s tool collection or make a run to the liquor store. Neither of which I really wanted to do. But as fate would have it, Ray entertained me by exercising his Choctaw spirit as I watched him throw his hatchet at his already half dead tree for thirty minutes. Which makes me wonder if he gets anxious living in Pilsen, given that probably more guys down there wear cowboy hats than any other part of the city.
By now it was obvious that Allison wasn’t going to do anything to help me escape and I knew that whatever excuse I could use to get away could justify some sort of acting out on his part, and one doesn’t want to upset a drunk guy sharpening a hatchet, all the while explaining that the swastika was actually a Native American symbol for luck. Funny thing is that I don’t know how that became part of our conversation, and needless to say, at this point I’m now 100% sure that I do not want my picture taken with him and someday have it plastered all over Nancy Grace.
Four more beers and ninety minutes later, about the only words to come out of his mouth that I could finally agree on was that he was tired of listening to Rihanna and Pit Bull, and he abruptly went inside to get one of his own mix tapes. So after maybe five hit songs from the 70’s and 80’s, we now had thirty teenage girls and boys sulking, and Ray staring at all of the moms like he was contemplating his next conjugal visit. And as Ray is playing his air drums, reliving his glory days, without any warning, Ray stands up and says he wants to dance with the birthday girl (his step-daughter). Um, ok, but I don’t think that Paradise By The Dashboard Light is an appropriate song, you know? This sent the mom running over to cool his jets and to get the Quinceanera out of harms way and I was sure that by now his wife surely realized that she was wrong to think that she was trading up when she married him fours years ago.
Finally, Allison meanders over and tells me loud enough for Ray to hear, that we should get going so we’re still able to find a parking spot back home. Upon hearing this, Ray tells me to stay put as he’s got something to show me. I knew this was an opportunity to make a dash to the car, but Allison insisted that I say goodbye to her grandma before we left, which gave Ray enough time to find the flare gun he bought at a garage sale last month. His wife, however, assured us and everyone else standing on the brown grass, that she had thrown away the flares earlier that morning. And while Ray heard what she said and made a bee line to the alley to search through the garbage cans, he didn’t know that she threw them in the trash can outside of the bakery when she picked up the cake that morning.