A SON OF A BITCH LIKE EVERYONE ELSE
BY JOSH ROMPHF
The Rusty Toque | Issue 1 | Fiction | July 2011
The heavy summer air had calmed down a bit by the time I turned onto Beecher Ave. It was one of those nights where you had to get out. I had just finished my dinner, and I thought I’d get in my truck and drive. I wasn’t pissed off or anything. It’s just better than sitting at home and growing stale. Summer T.V. is never any good anyways.
The people in this neighbourhood don’t like to take care of their houses anymore. The grass is overgrown, the paint is chipped, and the shingles are peeling off the roofs; I noticed this as I was driving down Beecher. Nobody was really ashamed of it, though. A lot of them just sat on their porches in white plastic lawn chairs. One guy gave me a wave that looked more like a salute. He was slumped in his chair with a beer in his hand. I gave him a nod; we were probably both thinking, “I seen this guy somewhere before, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
A group of kids were playing ball hockey in the Ukrainian Club parking lot. The last time I was at a wedding there was 1983. We were still full of piss and vinegar back then. I remember, a fight broke out and spilled into the parking lot. My uncle was stirring up shit again; he got all liquored up and tried to kiss my brother’s girlfriend. Nobody stopped him when he did it to his niece a few months before.
“I’ll fucking kill him,” my brother told me. “I’m going home and I’m getting my goddamn .22 and I’m gonna fucking kill him.”
Before my brother could put on his jacket and get out the door, I took a swing at my uncle and knocked him into a folding table. I guess I didn’t want to see my brother do anything he’d regret. My cousins stepped in to stand up for their father, and we finished things about ten minutes later. We came back in from outside and bought a round of beer. That’s how it was back then.
I pulled into the liquor store parking lot. The window to the left of the door was replaced with a big sheet of plywood. It didn’t seem out of place.
“How’s it going Pete?” Don said from behind the counter.
“Not bad,” I said. “Got any more Alberta Premium?”
“You know the drill. If it’s not there we don’t have it.” Don was a pretty good guy, but he was also someone you didn’t want to piss off.
“I guess we don’t have any, eh?” he said after I put a bottle of Wiser’s down on the counter. He always wore his t-shirts tucked into his jeans, so his gut hung over his pants with pride. “That’ll be $16.75 then partner.”
“Alright…” I handed him a twenty. “You renovating?”
“What?” he said as he handed me back my change.
“The plywood,” I said. “Somebody try to rip you off?”
“Shit no.” He leaned closer and his gut spread over the counter. “Some old bitch drove through it. Thought she was in reverse but she was in drive.”
“Getting it fixed?”
“Nah. What’s the point? It’s just gonna get smashed again anyways.”
The sun was starting to go down. I cracked the windows and the bottle. I was near the neighbourhood I grew up in. I used to know everybody’s name around there. The town was still just as small, but nobody really knew each other anymore. I guess people died and people moved away. It didn’t bother me; it was just different. I lived in one of the old wartime houses on Avery Road. Just like on Beecher Ave, it looked like all the houses had really taken a shit-kicking. The eavestroughs were bent and battered; laneways were full of potholes. I mean, my place wasn’t much better, but I expected more out of this neighbuorhood. I used to enjoy looking at all the colour Polaroids and home movies my old man shot around there: the neighbours shoveling snow or kids sitting on the hood of their dad’s new Caprice. Driving around that night made me realize everything was washed out and grey. My old man was born on Avery Road, and he died there. There was no reason for him to leave; he had everything he needed right there. I had no reason to go back. It was all shit. Everything was shit. That box of films and photographs sits in my basement under a pile of junk.
Earl Panofsky’s Oldsmobile was still parked at the house on the corner. Poor bastard. After the mill closed, he went through some sort of male menopause. The guy lost it. He thought his wife was messing around on him and that everybody was out to get him. Earl started doing a lot of weird shit like putting on two pairs of pants for no reason. It was pretty hard for the kids to deal with. The medication didn’t make him any better. One night we were all having some beers at the Legion when he pounded the table and knocked peanuts and cards all over the goddamn place.
“You guys fucked up,” he said. “You’ve all given up on me.”
We all kind of shrugged and started cleaning stuff up.
“No.” He slammed the table again. “You don’t fucking get it. You’ve completely written me off. You don’t give a shit. You never fucking call me anymore or anything.”
“Come on, what the hell is all of this about?” one of the guys said. “You’re just drunk. Shut up and help us clean this shit up.”
Then something happened. It’s dogged me for a while now. I don’t really know why. I can’t explain it. Earl put his head in his hands and started to cry uncontrollably.
“You guys didn’t even invite me on the fucking fishing trip this year,” he said.
“Seriously? Is that what this is all about?” someone else piped up. “You’re worse than a fucking girl, man. Somebody take this faggot home.”
“No. Just fucking listen to what I have to say. Why didn’t you invite me?”
“The phone works both ways, Earl.”
“That’s not good enough.”
The truth is, none of us really knew what to say. We didn’t know why we cut him off. We’d been going fishing for 17 years. I guess it was just one of those things. I for one couldn’t handle him anymore; he was pulling shit like this all the time.
“Earl,” I said, “we all do what we gotta do. We’re all doing the best we can.”
He looked at me, puzzled.
“We’ve all moved on,” I said, “but you’re wallowing in it. You’ve gotta keep on going. Nobody feels sorry anymore.”
Earl got up and left the room. None of us have talked to him since. We all had our own ways of dealing with getting laid off. Hindsight is always a bitch. I probably shouldn’t have said that shit to Earl.
I also should’ve stopped drinking after I drove down Avery.
From what I remember, I was heading towards the southeast end of town. It was always the roughest area, a template for what the rest of this place has become. I finished the bottle and ditched it. My driving wasn’t that bad; I wasn’t swerving or anything, and I think I was actually below the speed limit. I’d done this kind of thing a lot when I was younger. We’d drive around on weekends and drink. The cops wouldn’t even pull us over. If they did, we’d get a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine. We were just kids who had nowhere to go and nothing to do. You can’t get away with that these days. Too many people have been killed.
Something told me that I wasn’t going to get caught that night. Normally, I would try to pull over and sleep it off. Sometimes, if I were really ambitious, I’d go get a coffee. I hadn’t done this sort of thing for a while. I remember drifting off a few times and not thinking much of it.
When I woke up, I was still in the truck and my seatbelt was still on. At first, I figured I had just pulled over to take a rest and sober up. It looked like that’s what I’d done. I thought it was weird that my truck was still running, but I figured I’d left it on for the AC. I went to put it in drive but it was already in gear. I stepped on the gas and went nowhere. I put it in reverse and the same thing happened. Then those little pools of saliva started forming at the sides of my mouth. I got out and threw up on the concrete. Fuck, was I a mess.
Turns out my truck was a mess too. I was in the middle of an apartment complex. Somehow, I’d managed to drive over a parking median, and the back wheels of the truck were stuck there. I took the keys out of the ignition, sat down on the curb, and threw up a bit more.
“Hey. You awake, man?”
I raised my sweaty head from my palms and found two guys standing in front of me. They looked like punks: baggy clothes, pockmarked faces, baseball caps, and some shitty jewelry. One looked like he was about my nephew’s age, the other a bit older.
“Looks like you got yourself in a bit of a jam, eh?” said the younger one.
I nodded and spit on the concrete. I tried to stand up, and they sat me back down.
“You’re not getting back in that truck,” said the older one. “Not like that.”
“You could’ve really fucked some shit up here man,” said the younger one. “Give me your keys.”
I fished around in my pocket. “Can’t find ‘em.” I knew I messed up, but I sure as shit wasn’t going to jail.
“He probably left them in the truck.” The older one searched the cab and came back empty handed.
“Listen,” I said, “you guys go home. Give me a few minutes and I’ll have this sorted out.”
“This is our home, man,” the younger one said. “We aren’t leaving. You fucked up; you can’t just get away with it.”
This time they let me stand. “Come on guys, I’m fine, really. Just give me a push and I’ll go.”
“Look at this guy, he’s wasted. He’s a piece of shit. He can barely walk,” said the younger one to his friend. He turned to me. “Give me the fucking keys or I’ll call the cops.”
Those kids were punks, the same pieces of trash that wouldn’t think twice about jumping you. They’re just another reason why this town has gone to shit. I lunged at the younger guy; I was ready to clean his clock. If I wasn’t so pissed, I would’ve kicked both their asses. I fell to the ground, tripping over my own feet. They gave me a couple of kicks to the ribs and the face and that was it. The cops showed up a little while later.
Hindsight is always a bitch. Things happen and you keep going, but if you look back, you’ll get caught up. Nowadays, everybody’s getting caught up; nobody cares, nobody’s moving forward. And I guess I’m just a son-of-a-bitch like everyone else.
JOSH ROMPHF is a fourth year student pursuing an Honors Specialization in Film Studies and a Minor in Creative Writing. This is the first short story he has had published. In the fall, he will be attending the L.Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.