Standard Oil

At the Northwest corner of Terry Street and Old 41 is a building that used to be a Standard Oil gas station. It was my and my buddy’s favorite place to hang out after elementary school. We would each scrape up enough money to buy an ice cold coke and a package of peanuts, then sit together on the raised concrete stoop in front of the station and watch the world drift by while we goofed on each other, laughed and prepared ourselves for home. We just thought we were having fun, but our experiences there changed who we would become… in ways we could never imagine.

It was the fall of 63 and as I plopped down next to my friends it seemed like just another typical day after school. I ripped a corner off a package of peanuts, dumped a dose of salty deliciousness into my mouth and closed my eyes as I quickly crunched them up, chasing them down with the ice-cold tangy sweetness of a King Sized Coke. I swallowed, savoring the fizzy combination of flavors. “Ahhhhh…” I said looking over at my buddy Paul Fisher. As usual, he had immediately gulped down half of his coke, tore open his bag of peanuts and haphazardly poured them into the bottle, like he was loading a BB gun. I shook my head and wrinkled up my nose. “Man… are you strange!” Billy, sitting on the other side of him agreed. “Yeah, what the heck’s wrong with you Fisher?” Paul put his thumb over the end of the bottle, frowned and began shaking it vigorously. “Shut up!” Paul said without looking up. He held on tight as the coke went through a controlled explosion, spewing some of the soda and peanuts all over him. As soon as it stopped fizzing he tilted the bottle up, poured whatever the heck it had become into his mouth and then chewed calmly while he sat there staring straight ahead. “You guys just don’t know what’s good.”

Although the station was owned and operated by Mack Alverez, a fellow named Ted seemed to be there all the time. He occasionally pumped gas for people, but we couldn’t tell if he actually worked there. He mostly sat around telling bad jokes and attempting to freak us out by saying weird stuff.

This particular day, Ted, who was the oldest looking person I had ever seen, hobbled over and then just stood there hunched over looking down at us. We all stopped talking and stared at him. He had about three teeth, so it was always difficult to tell if he was grinning or sneering. (I think he was sneering this time.) As he looked back and forth at us, his freaky little fishing hat pulled too far forward on his head, he pulled out a tiny little pocket knife, opened it and made what were evidently meant to be threatening gestures at us. Then he turned towards me. “You want me to slice your tongue and run your leg through it?” Because he wore old bent up wire rimmed glasses that were about an inch thick and you couldn’t see his eyes, I really wasn’t all that sure he was talking to me, so I swallowed my last sip of soda and pointed my thumb at my chest. “What…You mean me?” He made a little lunge towards me and swiped the 2″ long blade in the air. “YEAH, I mean you!” I stared at him for a moment with a puzzled look on my face then shook my head. “Nope!” Then I turned towards Billy and casually motioned towards him with my empty bottle. “But I bet Billy would like that!” “WHAT???” yelled Billy, immediately jumping up. Paul started to laugh, which would have been fine except he had a mouth full of his special snack mixture and as Ted began making his way towards Billy a stream of coke and peanuts suddenly began “fire hosing” out of his nose.

Apparently, this took the old man by surprise, because he began stumbling backwards… A look of horror on his face that even his hat, glasses and lack of discernible teeth, couldn’t hide. Neither Paul nor Billy got to see Teds reaction, because Billy was already half way home and Paul was in a panic… frantically trying to dislodge the jet propelled peanuts that had lodged themselves in his nose.

I don’t doubt that Paul and Billy remember this story differently, but Paul has had sinus and migraine problems his entire adult life. I’m betting they are peanut related.

Law and Disorder

Although a home security system is good to have, there is no substitute for a good neighbor.

Years ago I walked over to my neighbor’s house after work to ask him for a typical neighbor favor. “Hey Jim! I’m going to the Keys for the weekend. Could you keep an eye on my house while I’m gone?” Since my friend Jim is a one-man neighborhood watch, he was really happy to take on the responsibility of doing what he does all the time anyway. Just ask any pizza delivery person… no one (not even me) gets down our street without an I.D., passport, note from their mom and a thorough questioning. So I always feel secure about leaving our house when we go on vacation.

That particular night, after packing our bags and doing last minute preparation for the next mornings road trip, I put the kids to bed, and then walked around the house checking all the doors and motion lights before I set the alarm clock and settled into bed for the evening. I was just starting to doze off when I noticed a light outside, shining through the curtains. I sat up in bed, completely awake. (What the… There’s someone outside with a flash light walking around the house! Wait… there’s TWO people!)

Moving like a ninja, I slipped silently out of bed, crept over to the window and slowly peeked out through the curtains. It was pitch black outside, so all I could see were flashlights. Then… I heard the screen door open. (Holy… they’re trying to break into the house!) I was ready, because I’d been through this situation a thousand times. Well… in my head. I slowly backed away from the window and then deftly moved through the completely dark house like a cat. BAM “OWWW!” I quietly cursed as I hopped on one foot after stubbing my toe.

Limping quietly and quickly, I made my way over to the sliding door to the porch and then leaned back against the wall. The lights on the porch swept back and forth; searching… but they could not see me because I was like a shadow… camouflaged in (I looked down) my bright white underwear? (OH GREAT! Too late to put some pants on. Wait… I’m going fight two burglars in my whitey-tighties!?) As I started feeling more and more vulnerable and my adrenaline fed ninja powers began to fade, the intruder’s flashlights crossed each other’s bodies and I caught a glimpse of them. (They’re Sheriffs Officers?) I was really relieved, so without thinking I turned the porch light on, shoved the sliding glass door open, jumped out of the door onto the porch and said “Hey guys!” This was a REALLY bad idea. In the blinding light both officers completely freaked out, spun around and began frantically trying to get their guns out of their buttoned down holsters. Luckily for me, before they could get their guns drawn I said “Soooo… what are you guys doing on my porch?” I have to admit, their next response was completely appropriate and I suspect, by the book… they both started laughing hysterically. OK, it might have been the sight of me in my underwear, but maybe they were relieved that they weren’t going to be involved in a gun battle with a crazy half naked ninja!

After about thirty seconds of them laughing uncontrollably, holding their chests and trying to get their breath I had had enough. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. “OK, OK… very funny! Now… what’s going on?” The one officer sighed a deep breath. “We’re sorry sir, but your neighbor called and said you were gone for the weekend and that he heard noises at your house and that the lights were going on and off. So, we came by to (he snickered) take a look.” The other deputy choked back a laugh, put his arm around his partners shoulder and just before they turned to leave said “Well, I think we’ve seen enough here!” They both laughed again. “Goodnight Sir. Sorry to disturb you!”

On second thought… Although a good neighbor is wonderful, thank goodness for excellent sheriffs deputies with a sense of humor… And our new security system!