After much deliberation to come up with a catchy title for this one, I decided to simply go with :
“You oughta come see the garage I just built” the guy from across the street suggested. I’d been out of work for a few weeks and wasn’t in the mood for congeniality with a neighbour I’d never really met. I was painting the front porch and so tried to make that my excuse. No such luck. He wouldn’t buggar off, so I grudgingly packed up my painting stuff and followed him across the street. That was the start of a neighbourly relationship which endures to this day. As Rick often says while reminiscing about those days, “God ! We went through a lot of beer that Summer”. Yes, that we did Rick.
I never bothered having a social neighbourhood Life when I was working, as there just wasn’t any time. Home was just a place to sleep for a few hours between disasters at the lab. At least that’s what it felt like. Our neighbour to the North of us was the only person we even knew on the street. I could write a small novel about her, but this one’s about Rick and his garage. Some of the funniest moments of my Life occurred in that garage, along with some of the most memorable moments. Characters came and went, but Rick and I held true, and still do to this day. We don’t drink much beer anymore, and we only meet in the mornings now. But, we still meet every morning.
Used to be, we’d meet every Friday evening. There’d be Rick, Gary, Rick’s sons Al and Andy, Joe from across the street, and any number of other guys. I’d be the last one to show up generally. There’d be as many different brands of beer as there were conversations as I walked up the driveway. Rick would be discussing cars with whoever would listen. Al and Andy would be talking sports &/or music. Joe would be telling stories about his Dad, and Gary would be contradicting and arguing every word whoever was standing near him was saying. I’d walk in and, being the 2nd eldest of the “garageers” (after Rick) one of the younger guys would feign the need to “go behind the garage” as we termed it, offering up their chair to me. Yeah, OK so we’d pee behind the garage, but we’d still treat each other with respect, and otherwise behave in a somewhat gentlemanly manner. No, I don’t expect everyone to understand that, but some of you will.
As evening fell on the warm Summer afternoons, a welcome breeze would waft through the garage drafting away the heady scent of beer and cigarette smoke. The crowd would thin out as daylight did the same. First Al, then Andy would take their leave. They were the youngest, hence, actually had plans on Friday nights. Some of the other guys had to drive a bit of a distance Home so, they’d head out while there was still some daylight. The last hangers-on would usually be Rick, Joe, Gary, and me. Finally, we’d run out of beer so Gary would wander off, leaving the three of us to finish off, shutdown the lights, clean up a bit, then head Home ourselves. ‘Course, Rick lived there, and Joe and I lived just across the street, one house apart so occasionally, we’d make it a late one. I had the longest commute and the most stressful job, so I’d generally run out of steam sooner and head on Home first. I’d sometimes stand on my front porch and look across to the garage before going inside. I knew I was making memories I’d remember for the rest of my Life. The subdued lower “evening lights” Rick turned on after dark provided a soft pale blue light in the darkness. I could hear the gentle murmer of conversation and “clinking” of beer bottles being dropped back into their cases.
I can count on one hand the number of times Rick’s wife entered that garage. That’s understandable when I think of the time Joe brought over his paint ball guns to show us. Rick (who used to be a marksman he assured us), took a shot at the back fence … and bloody missed (an eight foot tall fence for Chrissake ! Really, I mean …). Actually, he just nicked the top of it. The bright pink paintball exploded, splattering its contents all over his neighbour old Don’s glass patio doors. That would be “everything’s gotta be perfect at all times” old Don. We were all scrambling for hiding places in the garage as Rick’s wife came out to get some garden tool she’d left in there. As she pulled the door open, Rick shoved the paintball gun into her hands, slammed the door in her face and locked it. Then he reached for the phone, called up old Don and told him to look out his patio doors. We were all jockeying for position at a window as Don walked into his dining room to see the mess on his patio doors and Rick’s wife standing there with a paintball gun in her hand. He shook his fist at her and mouthed something as we all burst into laughter. She swore we’d have to open the door sometime, but we told her we had enough beer, pretzels, and smokes to last a week and continued laughing. Rick went over and cleaned up Don’s patio doors and explained what happened, later that afternoon. Not sure if he slept in the garage that night or not.
The Unfortunate Shelves
There used to be heavy metal shelving on the North wall in there. The problem was that they weren’t adjustable, and the spaces were too small for most of Rick’s stuff. So, Rick made the mistake of reiterating his intentions to remove the shelves just once too often. Gary started mouthing off about how Rick just talked about doing things but never got around to doing anything. That sparked an argument about which way to remove to shelves most rapidly. Rick (who desperately wanted an excuse to use the cutting torches he’d bought) voted for cutting torches, and Gary (who coveted Rick’s portable power grinder), voted for the power grinder. After a good hour’s worth of arguing Rick caught Gary off guard as he was tipping back his beer bottle, and leapt for the cutting torches ! Upon lowering the bottle Gary realized Rick had the drop on him and he dove for the grinder ! I sat there, pleasantly pissed, watching the two of them scrambling about the garage. Rick using that “Scritchcha, Scritchcha, Scritchcha, Scritchcha” device as he tried to get the gas to ignite from the torch. Gary was lunging for the extension cords and wall sockets to get his grinder going. Finally, they both got their weapons of choice running and together they launched an assault of horrific proportions on the unfortunate shelving unit. Great gobs of molten metal spattered, and showers of sparks bathed the gasoline, naptha, and propane tanks Rick kept stored in the South-West corner of the garage.
Being in fear for my friend’s lives, I grabbed a fire extinguisher and stood at the ready. Then it occurred to me that my Life was worth more than a macho argument between these two idiots, so I ran down the driveway with the 1930’s vintage fire extinguisher still in hand. ‘Course, when I got to the street, I had to maintain some semblance of dignity, so I slowed down to a respectable gentleman’s strolling speed. Turning North I tried to place Rick’s neighbour’s house between me and the inevitable blast which fortunately never came. However, I did hear the sudden cessation of tools. Almost immediately replaced with shouts of “Watch what yer f**king doing !” “You watch what yer doing !” “Catch that !” Sonofabitch that’s HOT ! “OOOOW! Jeez !”. Then a second of dead silence followed by “LOOK OUT ! Here it comes !” as 800 lbs of metal shrapnel crashed to the garage floor. I walked back, quietly replaced the fire extinguisher, wound my way to the beer fridge, cracked a beer, and sat down in my usual chair. The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to them argue about who was right about which tool to use.
Gremlins and Hand Tools
Rick’s garage had gremlins, as do all garages. But the gremlins in Rick’s garage had names, Al or Andy (his sons). From extension ladders to screwdrivers, whatever he couldn’t find when he wanted it, was followed by the accusation that Al or Andy had borrowed it and failed to return it. Didn’t matter if he was sitting on it at the time, one of those boys had it. One day Rick was looking for a pry-bar, a simple flat pry-bar which we all spotted on the top shelf of his tool-chest. From his position (head under the hood of the nearest car) Rick asked me to hand him the pry-bar. I stepped over to his tool-chest and reached for the bar.
Al grabbed it before I could, and held his finger up to his lips in the “SHHHHHHHH” position. He carefully slid it behind his back and walked around the far side of the car. I told Rick I couldn’t find the pry-bar. “Those boys have the damned thing then. Alan ! Andy ! What the Hell’d you do with that f**king pry-bar ? “Haven’t seen it in a while Dad” they both claimed. Al passed off the bar to Gary as Rick yanked his head out from under the hood. “Ya haven’t seen it ? Of course you haven’t seen it in a while. When were you out in your own garage last ?” “Cause that’s where the f**kin’ thing bloody well is”. “You could be right Dad” they both agreed grinning like Cheshire cats.
Whilst this heart-warming Father\Son exchange went on, Gary handed-off the pry-bar to Joe, who back-handed it to Dan, who slid it behind the air compressor. Almost everyone in the crowd had known Rick longer than I, but I was closest in age and I knew the score. As did Rick. He knew damned well where that pry-bar was. I saw him watching Dan in the reflection of the chrome trim on the car. Everyone else figured they’d fooled the old guy, until the following Friday we wandered in, and there was the pry-bar sitting on the workbench. Not a word was spoken. As Summer passed into Fall and Fall into Winter, that pry-bar travelled far and wide within the confines of the garage. No one said a word about it. But every time Rick went “behind the garage” there’d be a mad scramble to hide it again, and every Friday it’d be sitting on the workbench again. No one let on, and no one took it out of the garage. It was always … there … in the garage … somewhere. As Winter rolled over us, and Christmas came upon us, some of us exchanged presents. We always made sure each other knew if we had something for the other, so no one would be left embarrassed. Well, Rick made sure we knew he had something for us which he claimed would “shock and amaze” us all.