So I ran into an old friend of mine recently.
As is usually the case with people who have known each other for more than four decades, we got to talking about the good old days – in this case, the summer our parents took leave of their senses and allowed three of us to live at the beach, on our own, for the first time.
Indeed, at age 18 we were living the dream: working nights, beach bumming during the days, hanging our seriously inebriated hats in this magical, well-appointed bachelor pad we dubbed “Dirty Fred’s Gigolo Trailer.”
We named it after the owner, a very honest, straightforward and straight-laced traveling produce farmer and Adventist minister, who in fact, did bathe regularly.
Dirty Fred’s wasn’t perfect – no castle ever is. The ventilation was a little unique -- all the windows were either rusted permanently open or shut – but the interior décor was a stunning triumph of soup kitchen chic, complete with spectacularly mismatched Naugahyde furniture and faux sea grass wallpaper. The doors didn’t lock but we viewed that as a safety feature rather than a drawback. The window unit air conditioner, cleverly duct taped into a hole in the living room wall was just powerful enough to keep everyone only mildly drenched in sweat, except for whoever slept in the front bedroom -- he had to guard against frostbite. And the yard, which consisted of dead pine trees and the ensuing carpet of brown needles not only made mowing unnecessary but served as exceptionally prolific redbug habitat.
As we worked in hot, busy seafood restaurant kitchens every night, we found ourselves doing laundry about every two weeks or whenever we had run through our underwear twice, whatever came first.
I don’t know if it was the redbugs or the leftover soap flakes we would salvage, mix, and match from discarded detergent boxes we found in the Laundromat garbage can, but for some reason I itched a lot that summer. Personally, I think it was the humidity.
The point is, Dirty Fred’s wasn’t just another one-hairdryer-away-from-a- fire single-wide in the middle of a sprawling trailer park near Garden City Beach, South Carolina: it was a state of mind.
Some have called that state of mind “severe dementia.” Alas, envy is an ugly emotion.
Nonetheless, I will admit that Dirty Fred’s was not for everyone.
Once, we hired a co-worker down on her luck to come clean the place for us, but as most good deeds are wont to do, that one didn’t quite work out. First, she flatly refused to enter the kitchen – she may have been a nascent militant feminist -- then upon seeing the bathroom she haughtily doubled her fee. To add insult to injury, she didn’t chip in for gas when we gave her a ride – at her hysterical insistence, I might add -- to the nearest biohazard decontamination facility.
Some people are just downright ungrateful.
Another time, one of my roommate’s mother and sister visited for about fifteen minutes during the Fourth of July weekend.
They were returning to South Carolina from New York and had planned to spend the night with us to break up the trip. By the time they got to Dirty Fred’s, however, they had been on the road a good fourteen hours in a un-air conditioned ’78 Pinto station wagon.
That’s why I’m convinced the sheer exhaustion of holiday travel, not ungrateful pettiness or violent militant feminism contributed to what happened next.
First, Mrs. D’s eyes began to water and she kept pinching her nostrils shut; her daughter began scratching uncontrollably and pulled the collar of her t-shirt over her nose, which may have contributed to her sudden hyperventilating. Then they both sat down on the couch and made great pretense of being unable to get back up.
They would tell us later they had actually adhered to the couch. Personally, I believe they were just very tired, possibly hallucinating. After all, everyone knows spilled beer and tobacco juice evaporates almost immediately from Naugahyde. In fact, that’s the beauty of Naugahyde, it’s maintenance free -- you don’t even have to wipe it.
Eventually, with arms flailing, much grunting and accompanied by a sound not unlike someone violently yanking Velcro strips apart, they got to their feet and bolted out the front door. Then, with redlining engine and screeching tires – at least, I think that was tires screeching – they headed back out on the holiday road. I remember being puzzled but impressed. I had no idea why they decided to get back on the road but that was the one and only time I ever saw anyone driving a Pinto station wagon burn rubber in a dirt driveway.
That just goes to show you what exhaustion can really do to a person.
Alas, all things – from summer days to kidney stones – must pass but the memories remain no matter how much I booze. Three decades later, we can look back on those days and chuckle, although for some reason every time I think about those days I have to scratch.