"I don't know how to drive!" I cried.
"How old are you?"
"It's time to learn, then. Change sides."
We changed sides, and Ken helped me adjust the driver's seat. He showed me the different pedals and made me get the feel of them. Then he showed me how to shift the gears. He told me to put it in reverse, then hold in the clutch and start the car. Told me to ease out the clutch and put a tiny bit of pressure on the gas pedal. I eased out the clutch and put maybe a wee bit more than a tiny bit of pressure on the gas pedal. We lurched backwards and stalled. I did it three times until we actually kept going, then I slammed on the brake because I was so nervous.
Then I tried it in first. We were bucking like crazy, but finally steadied off. He had me turn the wheel all the way to the left and just go in a circle for a while until I could keep the speed constant, then told me to shift into second. I'd forgotten how, so I did the clutch and he helped me pull the shift lever. We widened out the turning circle and tried third. It was getting easier. Then he had me stop.
Ken stood up so he could see where we were, then guided me out of the tall grass. He said to go down the trail nice and slow, just get into second. The trees were too close, and he helped me steer. When we got to the trail back up to the house and were almost to the top he yelled "Time to make your entrance!" and pushed my knee so the gas pedal hit the floor. We flew up the bank and through the air onto the lawn. He yelled for me to get hands and feet off everything, and yanked the lever between the seats and we spun to a stop. I was so scared and excited I almost peed my pants. I climbed out. The lawn was a mess where we'd spun around, and Ken saw me looking at it.
"It's just grass. It'll grow back."
Richie was giving me an envious glare. "He let you drive?"
"He made me drive." I saw Ken talking to some guy. He was all splattered with mud. I looked at myself and I was too. "Shit. Look at me. I'm all mud!"
"Dave, you hungry?" It was Ken. I looked over and he was eating a hot dog and had a beer in his hand. He did the hot dog in about three bites, then went for another one.
"Are you sure it's ok?"
"Whatch'a mean ok? Eat, man! There's only about ten left."
I helped myself, watching Ken eat four more dogs and popping open another beer.
When I was done, Ken said, "Come inside, Dave. I have a project for you." I followed him into the kitchen. It was really nice - all knotty pine with lots of cabinets and counter space, and big windows looking out on the patio. He sat me at the table, then went and filled a bowl up with water. He brought me an armload of toilet paper, then showed me what he wanted. "Just tear it up into little pieces and drop it in the water. You should be able to fit about six rolls in there."
"Why am I doing this?" I asked, suspicious.
"You'll see, don't ask questions. I'll be back. I gotta give Richie a ride."
I sat there feeling like an idiot, shredding toilet paper into a bowl of water. I heard the dune buggy fire up and take off. A big tall guy came in the kitchen.
"Whatcha doing? Need a hand?" he smiled.
"I'm tearing up toilet paper and getting it wet. Don't ask me why."
He sat down and grabbed a roll, and started tearing it up with me. "I'm Don."
"Friend of Ken's? I never saw you before."
"I just met him. Does he always have dumb projects?"
Don grinned, "He always has projects. I can guarantee there's some point to this. Is this really water, or is it nitroglycerine or something?"
He chuckled, "Usually when he gets you doin' something like this, it's gonna blow up one way or another."
"You mean explode?"
Jerry Chamberlain came in then. "Hi Don. Hey, Dave! I never saw you here. Making bombs?"
Jerry went to school with us, but I only sort of knew him. He was kind of tall and skinny with real long blond hair. He sat down and started tearing up paper. Everybody that came through the kitchen pitched in. They didn't seem to think it was any stranger than helping to husk corn or something, though I thought it was a very unusual way to spend a Saturday.
I heard the dune buggy roar back into the yard after a while. Ken came in and ran to the sink, splashing water on his face. When he turned around he had a pretty big cut on his cheek.
"What happened?" Don asked.
"Tree," Ken said, as he dabbed at the cut with a paper towel.
"You hit a tree?" I asked.
"Richie hit a tree. Big sucker! I hit the mirror. Don, find me a band-aid or something. I gotta fix the car. How's this stuff coming?"
"Almost done," I said, looking at what was left of the toilet paper.
"Bring it outside when you're finished."
He grabbed some things from under the sink and went outside. I could hear Richie apologizing, and it sounded like he was crying. Ken told him to forget about it and to look in the shed to see if he could find another mirror. When we finished up all the paper, I carried the bowl outside and put it on a table. There were some people there, but mostly different ones from before. I looked over and saw Ken working on the dune buggy, and went over beside him. He was using a wrench to undo the mirror, which was all bloody. There were pieces of glass on the floor and on the seat.
"Done with the paper?" he asked, not taking his attention away from the mirror.
He stood up, "Follow me."
He walked over to the patio and picked up a metal tube and a round wooden thing. He handed them to me, then grabbed a funnel. "Where's the stuff?"
I showed him and he had me sit down. He placed the tube, which had a flat bottom, facing up from the patio, then stuck the funnel in it and started pouring in the paper glop. When it was about four inches from the top he stopped, then took the wooden dowel and slowly forced it down into the tube, squishing the paper and forcing the water out.
"Go slow, and really push hard when you get to the bottom. This has gotta be solid. Wait, let me get you a hammer." He ran off and came back with a short handled sledge hammer and pounded the wood. "Yeah, use this after every load."
I looked up to ask again what the hell I was doing, but he'd already turned away and started talking to somebody else. Jerry came over and sat next to me.
"I have no idea."
"What brings you here?" he asked, "You been here before?"
"No. I came with Richie. Is it always this nutty?"
Jerry smiled, "Yeah. This is pretty normal. Somethin's always goin' on."
Ken came over and told Jerry to take over for me. Then he walked me out to the redwood table and sat down. Don and another guy were sitting there.
"This is Don Miller and Barry Kosienski. This here's Dave. His father died a little while back, and he's havin' trouble with it."
Both guys said they were sorry about my father and asked what kind of trouble.
"I'm always pissed off, I guess, always gettin' into fights. I'm pissin' everyone else off, too. Richie's the only friend I got left, and he's startin' to get pissed, too. I can't get used to not having my father home."
Barry said, "That's sad, Dave, it really is. You should keep busy doing things. It's hard to get mad if you have something to do. You should be making friends, not beating on them. Look at us. We all been friends since we were kids. There's four of us, really. Jimbo lives in New York now, but he's always coming around. We used to be five, but Butch got killed in Vietnam."
"You need friends, Dave," Don said. "Look at us - we ain't anything alike. We got an engineer, a fireman, a carpenter and a hippy holdout. All we have in common is that we're all whacked out. We have more fun together than anybody deserves, and it's always been like that. We used to call ourselves the Knights of Jabberwocky when we were kids. But there ain't nothin' we wouldn't do to help the others."
Richie came over and started to sit down, but Ken said, "Richie, leave us alone. This is private. Take the duner down the driveway and practice steering." He looked back at me with a happy expression, "Dave, you can hang around here this summer if you want. Other kids come over, and they always find stuff to do. They're buildin' some kind of fort out in the woods. Nobody can use the motors or the guns if I'm not here, and you have to stay away from the quarry. Everything else is fair game. There's all kinds of balls and stuff in the shed, and there's a badminton setup. Just try to loosen up and have some fun. Or maybe you can help Barry - he's gonna be rebuilding the garage. Maybe you can learn somethin', too."
Barry jumped in. "That's a good idea. I can use some help if I can count on you. I can pay you, if Ken pays me." He gave Ken a look.
I was starting to smile despite myself. Here's three grown guys talkin' to me just like my father. What they were saying was serious enough, but they sure weren't acting it. They were having fun just giving me advice. They all seemed so happy.
Jerry came over and asked what he had been working on, because it was done. Ken ran over and grabbed his tube. "Holy Shit. I can fit sixty more rolls in here. I'm goin' to the store!" Jerry jumped into the truck with him and they drove right off.
"Come on guys. What's he making?" I asked Barry and Don.
He looked at Don, and Don didn't seem to have a clue.
Don looked at me and started to laugh. "Don't ask, Dave. I have no idea, and I'd be surprised if Kenny knows either. If he was sure of what it was, he'd be braggin' all over the place. He made a bomb with a fire extinguisher full of flour once. Strapped it to a big oak tree and set it off with a flashbulb. He said it'd just make a bang. It blew the tree right in half! What a boom! I got it on tape. That was some night."
"Is he crazy or something?" I asked.
They both looked at me . "He's not crazy, Dave. A little warped, but not crazy. He just likes things that go boom, always has. One time we went to help his Dad knock down an old toolshed in their yard. We could'a done it in fifteen minutes, but Ken hadda make a gas bomb and set it off inside, a bunch of garbage bags filled with oxy-acetylene. It made a powerful bang. It didn't knock the shed down, but it blew all the nails out of the wood. His father had us crawlin' around for hours pickin' 'em up. That was in like eighth grade. Stick around a while, you'll see."
When Ken got back he had a whole truck full of toilet paper and stuff. "Donny - call your wife! I got steaks for supper. You stayin', Dave?"
"I don't know. You got enough? I mean, I'm all covered with mud."
He grinned, "Don't worry about that. Today's dry. Wait'll we go out in the rain!"
We spent the rest of the afternoon just knocking around and working with toilet paper. Whatever he was making was sure going to be solid. Don's wife came over with their two kids. She made a salad and Barry cooked the steaks up. We had a great dinner in the yard with the guys telling dirty jokes and everybody laughing. When it got to be about seven o'clock, Ken said everybody better hit the road as he had a gig that night.
He offered to bring me home and I said ok, but instead of driving, he walked with me and Rich. It was real nice. He noticed everything, and kept stopping to look at things, saying he should walk more often because you saw more. He really just wanted to meet my mother so she wouldn't get paranoid about me coming to his place. She ended up giving him a ride home so she'd know where it was. After we dropped him off, she went on and on about what a nice guy he seemed to be, and wondering why he had a cannon in his front yard.
It had been a real nice day. I hadn't felt angry once.
... to be continued
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