When I got home, I took a quick shower and changed into a pair of pressed khakis, a yellow button-down shirt, white t-shirt and my penny loafers.
I was a little nervous about being around people that I didn’t know. Scotty would be there, and I hoped that Sheila would be too. Maybe she would say hi to me tonight, and then I would ask her out on that date?
That’s probably why she never talked to me. I’m sure that she thought I never went anywhere, or did anything. She was right, except for tonight. I was going to a party, and she would be there.
I followed the directions on the flier and got there about 6:00pm. I wasn’t sure where “there” was, because I didn’t see any kind of fire. I saw a trailer park on the left, so I drove in.
There were two guys working on an old pickup truck in front of a trailer, so I stopped. “Excuse me sir, I’m looking for the Ease Party. There’s supposed to be a bonfire somewhere around here.”
I showed them the flier and asked “Would either of you happen to know where it is?”
They looked at each other and started to laugh. One of them walked over to my window. He was a little over six feet tall, with bright emerald green eyes, and a thick black mustache. He didn’t look huge, but he looked powerful and intimidating.
“Well Amigo,” he said. “I’m Eze, like ‘easy,’ and this here’s my Compadre, Tuck. My Christian name is Ezekiel, but I just go by Eze. What’s yours?” as he stuck out his hand for a shake.
“Oh, hi, I’m Steph Behr. I’m not sure if it’s a Christian name, but I go to church. I’m sorry, but I have a friend, Scotty, he asked me to come to this party. I’m sorry to bother you. I should just go.”
“Steph huh? Like Stephanie? Why would your Mama give you a girls name? You do have a pretty face, just not pretty like a girls!”
The other one walked over to my passenger window and stuck his head in and eyed me up and down. “Yup Eze, he is a pretty one. Kinda like one of them male underwear models you would see in the Sears Roebuck. He’s even dressed like one too. I don’t suppose that my friend Scotty told him what kinda party this is gonna be.”
Why were they saying that I was pretty? I felt the need to leave all of a sudden. But I was reaching to shake Eze’s hand before I had even realized that I was doing it. He grabbed my hand and clamped down so hard that I could feel all of my bones crunch together. I rose out of my seat writhing in pain trying to release his grip.
Eze saw this, and without letting go turn our grip over and looked at it, then at me. My hand was white from lack of blood flow. Then he released his grip and said, “Hmm, do you mean Behr like a grizzly bear? You seem more like a Winnie-the-Pooh type, than a grizzly. That’s it Tuck! We’ll just call him Pooh, for now! Besides, what are you apologizing for? It’s not my party. Tuck here, has him a party every weekend that he can. He’s just using me leaving as an excuse to get drunk and high, and probably laid if he can score some hoo-ha!”
“Damn Straight, and why an the Hell shouldn’t I?” belted Tuck. “Any man that won’t use any means necessary to get some hoo-ha don’t want it bad enough. And any man that don’t want hoo-ha ain’t a man, unless your a priest, or something. No offense Eze!”
“None taken Tuck. At least I know where your pecker is!” laughed Eze.
Who did he think he was, and why was he calling me Pooh? Did I seem to be that naive? Tuck stuck his head in the window and looked around and said “Nice mini-van! You know Scotty? Do you need to buy some weed? He’s coming, right?”
“Uh, no, I don’t even smoke. Isn’t marijuana illegal? Besides, you don’t even know me. This is awkward. I should just go.”
Eze grabbed my arm. “Hold on there Pooh. I’m glad that you’re here. We could use a hand getting ready.”
I was confused. “Getting ready? I thought the party was already going on?”
“Well, not for another four or five hours! You should know that Aggies don’t get anything going until after midnight! Don’t worry, there’s plenty left to do before then.”
“What can I do?”
“Well Pooh, not much with what you’re wearing” said Eze, looking at my clothes.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Nothing, if you’re going to church or a frat party. And, in case you haven’t noticed yet, this ain’t either one! I have some clothes you can borrow. You can do what you want though. I would think you might want to have socks on when we’re digging the fire pit.”
“Fire pit? Digging?”
“C’mon Pooh, let’s get you changed. We can talk all you want once we get a shovel in your hand!”
We went into a small, single-wide trailer. I was surprised how clean it was, but it was small. Eze handed me a pair of cowboy boots, a t-shirt, some wool socks and a pair of Levi’s.
“Hurry up. I’ll be done putting a new battery in the truck before you’re done changing. So step it up, we need hay!” Eze commanded as he went back outside.
I stripped my clothes off and pulled on the jeans. There was no zipper, only buttons. Hay? I thought they were going to burn wood in the bonfire? I didn’t even know these guys and they were telling me what to do, and I was doing it.
I heard the truck start, and ran out of the door barefoot carrying the boots, socks and t-shirt in my hands. They were backing out and I yelled “Wait a minute!”
Eze just smiled, “Hurry up. Daylight’s all we’ll be burning if we don’t go now. Hop on!”
I jumped onto the running board and hopped into the back of the truck. We drove across the road into a ranch while I shoved my feet into the socks and tugged on the boots. We skidded to a stop in front of an old barn full of hay. I stood up with my jeans open trying to figure the buttons out one at a time.
Eze looked and laughed, “You okay with that? We’re gonna have to make a few trips, so let’s be quick about it!”
“What are we doing?” I asked when I finished with the last button.
Tuck climbed onto a stack of hay bales, while Eze stood at the bottom. I was about to ask what they wanted me to do when a hay bale came flying at my head.
“You better watch out Pooh! If you don’t keep up you’re gonna get knocked down!” Eze laughed as he threw another hay bale at my head.
“What do you want me to do?” I yelled with panic in my voice.
“Just stack the bales on the truck. We need them for our seats around the fire. They’re cheap, as in free, as long as we bring ‘em back.”
I turned around to stack the two bales on the truck as another bale sailed by my head. I was doing all that I could to stay out of the way and stack the bales at the same time. They were heavy!
We made three trips in thirty minutes loading the truck with about 18 bales per trip. We were finishing the last load when Tuck yelled out “Hot Damn! Ya’ll ever seen me crack the whip with a snake? If you do it right, you can snap the head clean off!”
Eze was shaking his head, and I wasn’t sure what was going on until I saw that Tuck had a four foot copperhead snake in his hand and was snapping it back and forth like a whip.
“Ah shit! What the hell? Damn-it, that hurts!”
“Tuck, what in the hell did you do now? I thought I told you to stay off the weed till after dark?”
“I’m sorry Eze. I grabbed the wrong end and got bit.”
“Tuck, you know the damn things are poisonous, why do you keep messing with them? Give me your hand.” Eze flicked out a knife and severed the snakes head from its body in a flash. He took the squirming carcass and uncoiled it from his arm as he walked over and tossed it on the floorboard of the truck.
“We can grill it on the fire tonight.” He winked, then he looked at Tuck and said, “You gonna be okay with taking yourself to the hospital? I can get Pooh to take you if you think you can’t drive.”
“Hell no, I’ll be alright. Damn-it! I’m sorry Eze, about having to leave, but I can drive myself.
“It’s okay Amigo. You might want to apologize to our new friend for acting like an ass. I already know that you’re an ass, so you know I’m good, ‘cause I accept you just the way you are. Now get in so that we can get out of here!”
“Eze, you always know the right thing to say. I’m sorry Pooh, but I’ll be back in a bit.”
This was crazy! Tuck had just gotten bit deep by a poisonous snake, and was probably going to die. Neither one of them seemed to think of it as a big deal. I looked at Tuck and said, “I’m not a doctor, but you probably should pull the snakes head and fangs out of your hand before you go. Thanks for the apology. I think that’s the bravest and dumbest thing I have ever seen.”
Tuck was surprised when he looked down at his hand to see the snake’s fangs were still embedded. He grabbed the head and worked it back and forth until the fangs came out. “Hey, you’re right, that does feel better. Are you sure you’re not related to
Eze, you two kinda look alike?”
We screeched to a stop behind the trailer, as a dust cloud blew by and Eze casually said, “Get outta here Tuck. He’s way too pretty and polished to look anything like me.”
He said that I was pretty again? I wasn’t sure what all of this talk was about me being pretty. I am right at six-feet tall, and weigh one hundred and sixty pounds. I am fit, just not very muscular. I was wearing a pair of wire-rimmed glasses too. What’s so pretty about that? Why would another man think that I was pretty? I didn’t think that I looked like a girl. I even had a mustache. Maybe he was saying that because he thought I was soft? I didn’t say anything, and just let it go.
Tuck jumped into his turquoise blue Ford truck, revved the motor and smoked his tires as he sped off to the hospital. He didn’t seem very bright to me. I looked at Eze and asked, “Why would you hang around with someone like that?”
“You ought not to judge people too quickly.” Eze said. “He was a good friend to my brother, and gave me a place to stay when things went bad. Me and Tuck have rode the river together. He may do dumb things, but we all do. I can say this, he will always have your back. He’s a good Amigo. I would trust him with my life. Maybe not my sister, but I don’t have one, so I don’t have to worry about that.”
When we finished unloading the hay he pitched me a shovel. “We need to dig out a pretty good sized pit. I’m sure this is gonna be a big fire tonight.”
“Can I ask a question?”
Eze stood up and looked at me patiently, “Why do people do that? You just asked me if you could ask a question. Life is too short not to say what you mean instead of beating around the bush! What’s on your mind?”
I felt like he just scolded me, but in a meaningful way, so I asked anyway. “What is that pipe coming out of the hood of your truck?”
“It’s a snorkel!”
“A snorkel? What’s it for?”
He started digging, and without looking up, said, “Do you know what a snorkel is for?”
“Well, yeah,” I fumbled…”it’s for breathing underwater.”
“Yep!” he replied while still digging.
“Your truck can breathe underwater? Why would you want it to do that?”
“Water crossings, plain and simple!” He answered, appearing to have had this conversation many times before this one, while he continued to dig out the fire pit.
“Wait! What is plain and simple about a water crossing in a pick-up truck?” I asked. I could see that he was getting bored with my line of questioning, but he continued to answer.
“Absolutely nothing!” He said. “But, you asked me what the snorkel on my truck was, not about water crossings!”
“Okay, but it just seems odd that someone would drill a big hole in their hood for a snorkel!” I said, starting to get frustrated.
“You wouldn’t think it odd if you ever had water over your hood. It’s like having four-wheel drive. It’s better to have it and never need it, than to need it only once, and not have it! Who knows, not having it could get you killed!”
That last statement was unusually profound, coming from someone like him. “Okay, I see your point. But why even do a water crossing if it could get you killed?”
He stopped and peered into both of my eyes. “Do you? Pooh, I get the feeling that you vastly underestimate me. Who are you to put yourself above anyone? You may think that you’re college educated, but you ain’t got a fucking clue when it comes to the School of Life! Spend a few weeks with me and you will be asking yourself why you have lived this long and managed to do so little. And, doing that water crossing might be what keeps you alive!”
Where did that come from? Was he reading my thoughts now? “Isn’t it a little soon for you to be judging me?” I asked with a slight challenge in my tone.
He finally stopped digging, and crossed his hands on the end of the shovel handle,“Who said anything about judging you? Any man worth half his weight can make an informed observation.”
I was starting to think he was just full of himself, and was making fun of me. “Really? Well, tell me then. What have you observed about me?”
“Do you really want to do this?” he asked.
“Yes, Mister, tell me all about your observational skills! You don’t know anything about me!” I challenged.
His bright green eyes began to glisten and he smiled as he started walking over to his truck, “Okay then. But, you have to answer three questions before I do. I’m pretty sure that I already know the answers. Hell, I’ll even write them down before I ask you.” He reached inside his truck and got a pencil and paper and wrote something down, folded it twice and handed it to me. “Hold onto this ‘till we’re through.”
Eze readied himself, “I’ll ask then. Question one: How old are you?”
“I’ll be twenty-one next week.” I said, wondering what this had to do with anything.
“Okay, Question two: Who do you live with?”
Well, my mom. Why? what is this all about?.”
Eze smiled and started to nod his head, “Right…Last Question: Who owns the mini-van that you drove here?”
“Okay, technically, it’s mine. I’m giving my mother $50 a week for it, until it’s paid off. But, the title is still in her name, if that’s what you’re asking?”
Eze sat down on the tailgate of his truck, crossing his legs Indian-style and smugly asked, “Okay college boy, what do you think of my observation skills now?”
What was all of that about? He didn’t do anything, did he? “You didn’t do anything but ask me three questions.” He looked down at my hand and smiled. I unfolded the paper and read:
Mama x 2
“How did you do that? That doesn’t mean anything though. You just got lucky.” I pleaded.
“Luck is for fools who believe in it, and never have any. Look at you. You’re almost 21, and still living at home with mama!”
“But, I’m saving money while I’m in college!”
“Yep, I’m sure that you are! Have you ever thought about how much you have missed out on by not having to provide for yourself? You have mama to fall back upon when it gets hard, or you get tired! What about mama? Have you ever thought about how many opportunities she has missed out on with other men because she was always caring for one…you!”
Well, I have never thought about it that way.” Was he right? My mom loves having me around. I am the man of our house, and I take care of things, or do I?
Eze continued, “Of course not, ‘cause your selfish! It’s always been about you, your whole life. You have never had to share anything, or struggle to earn something, like another man’s respect! It’s always been what would be easiest for you! What would be the safest way! You seem like a decent guy, but you have allowed your mama to steal your manhood, and it has held you both back! It’s time to turn loose of the teat Pooh!”
“I thought you told me not to judge? That’s pretty harsh for someone you don’t know.” I was ready to leave. Here I was helping him get ready for his party, and he was giving me a hard time.
“Who’s judging? I think that you’ve got all of the potential in the world to make it as a real man, you just have never failed at anything, have you?”
That stopped me. “Well, sure. I mean lots of things haven’t happened the way that I wanted them too.”
Eze continued to sit Indian-style on the tailgate of his truck, as he imparted his wisdom, “There’s a big difference between things not happening and failing. Take Babe Ruth. He held the record for the most home-runs in baseball. He also held the record for the most strike-outs. You see, he couldn’t hit all those home-runs if he didn’t swing that bat. If you fail at hitting the ball seven out of ten times, you’re considered great! It’s the times that you don’t get it right when you’re forced to re-evaluate what’s important. If something is worth having, it’s worth dying for! If not, maybe you’re making it out to be more than it is.”
I was stunned, and he was right! It was true. I just never tried much, because I never wanted to fail. I have always been safe, and non-confrontational. Maybe that’s what my dream was about. Maybe he was making sense and wasn’t afraid to tell me. “So, how old are you, and what makes you so smart?” I asked defensively.
Eze smiled and said “I’ll be twenty-one, three days before you, and I was tested as a genius when I was four, eight, and thirteen, if you must know. I’m actually a bit smarter than I look, but genius doesn’t mean anything if you never apply yourself. You have to challenge yourself everyday to live, otherwise you fail and waste a precious day of your life that may be your last!”
“Hey, we’re the same age! We could be twins! Wait, you’re a genius? There is something different about you. You’re pretty serious for a light-hearted conversation.”
“I’m all about saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. When most people greet someone they say, hi, how are you today? When, they really couldn’t give a damn about you or anything in your life. When we met, I called you Amigo, because if you’re not my friend then you’re here to hurt me, or someone else, and I’m coming at you with everything that I have. You asked questions and got answers. If you don’t like the answers, don’t ask the questions!”
I was floored! Eze was much wiser than I was, and we were the exact same age. Was my life that different? Was it that much of a disappointment, or was he just that much better than me? Probably a lot of both! Why couldn’t I be more like him?
My dream was still fresh in my memory. I couldn’t stop thinking about if I was going to die.
“Are you afraid of anything, like dying?” I asked.
“Nope, when you have looked death in the face and seen it for what it is, it’s actually quite peaceful. The only thing I’m afraid of is not living! Besides, I know that I’m supposed to die in the mountains, so death will have to wait until I get there. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be in a hurry to find it, but I’ll be ready.”
How can you look death in the face? Is that what I did? Was it peaceful? I don’t think that I was afraid when I decided to face it. Could he be right about that too? I would have to give that more thought.
“I don’t understand. How do you know that you will die in the mountains?”
“It’s not something that can be understood, a body sometimes just knows. It could be two days or two decades, it doesn’t matter, but that’s where it will happen!”
“Well, that’s easy then, just don’t go to the mountains.”
“It doesn’t work that way. You can’t avoid the inevitable. We have free will, but there is a higher power that already knows how everything ends. I take comfort in knowing that when I go, I will have served my purpose.”
I continued my questioning while we were moving hay bales around and stacking wood for the fire. “When you sleep and dream, do you remember them when you wake up?”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you Pooh. I don’t sleep much. Maybe eight, or ten hours a week. Besides, sleep is over-rated. You’re not doing anything. I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead.”
“How can anyone only sleep eight, or ten hours in one week? Most people need that much each day because everyone is overworked. They need time for their bodies to rest, and recuperate. There just isn’t enough time in a week to do everything that needs to be done these days. It’s not like the old days when everything was so simple.” I was sure that I was right about this and I was calling his bluff.
“They don’t have time? Bullshit! There are one-hundred-and-sixty-eight hours in each week. If most people sleep eight hours a day, and work forty hours a week, they’re still sleeping sixteen hours more than they’re working and they still have three full days left in their week! That’s not overworked, that’s just lazy. Do the math! And, as far as it being simpler, a while back you pretty much had to spend all of your time trying not to starve. It was about survival! You said you work at a grocery store, so you ought to know. We live in a pre-packaged world now.”
I was almost overwhelmed with how philosophical Eze was. I made straight A’s in college and felt like an idiot attempting to have a conversation with him. The things that he said didn’t come from a book, or a classroom, they came from experience, and I didn’t have any to talk about.
“Eze, you’re not like everyone else.”
“Nope, it takes all my time to be me, I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. So, are you ready to light this thing?”
I didn’t realize that we had already unloaded all of the hay, dug a huge fire pit, chopped and stacked wood, and it was dark.
Eze reached over and grabbed a clump of dry grass, and pulled out a small rock and steel from his shirt pocket.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He got down on his knees and sparked the stone on the steel. He cupped his hands together and blew into them, and the grass started to smoke. He then started swinging his arm in a circle and his hand burst into flames. “Starting a fire. Pretty cool, huh?”
He stuck the burning grass under some twigs and started waving his cowboy hat over them. I had never seen anyone start a fire with flint and steel before, and was impressed. “Wouldn’t a match have been easier?” I smirked.
“Yep, and so would a lighter, or charcoal, even gasoline. What if you didn’t have any of those, or your matches were wet? You can’t have skills if you never use them.”