Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, but I seem to be more frequently thinking about some of the characters who I knew as a kid, several of whom I’m convinced never made it to adulthood. My friend Andy comes to mind most often.
If someone didn’t murder Andy before he reached puberty, I’d be very surprised, because his most noticeable trait was sarcasm carried to ugly extremes. He simply didn’t know when to quit, even when it was for his own physical good. Take the mashed potato incident, for example.
I was about eleven or twelve years old and having dinner at Andy’s house one night and we were all seated around the table. There was a dangerous mix of personalities in Andy’s family, as his Father’s very short temper was frequently at odds with Andy’s well-developed powers of sarcasm.
I don’t recall everything we had for dinner, but I do remember the mashed potatoes because Andy was busily stuffing them into his mouth in great spoonfuls. After watching this for a while, his Father finally spoke up.
“All right, knock it off and start taking smaller bites like a normal person. You look like a big, fat hamster shoving it in like that.”
This was just the sort of opening Andy looked for. He swallowed what he had, picked up his fork, and started it toward the mashed potatoes on his plate with an exaggerated, slow-motion movement. It took almost a full minute to finally reach the potatoes. Then, he scooped up the tiniest morsel imaginable on the very end of his fork and, just as slowly, began raising the fork to his mouth.
By this time, dead silence had fallen over the table and everyone was staring at his performance, especially his Father. Another half a minute went by and he still was only halfway to his mouth when he stopped the fork in mid-air and began staring intently at the bit of mashed potato on it. This went on for several seconds until the tension in the air almost crackled. All eyes were on Andy. He finally frowned at the fork and said, in a dead serious voice, “Whoops. I got too much.”
His Father jumped up and with a firm backhand slapped him off the chair. “How’s that for too much,” he said through clenched teeth. Andy just seemed to bring that sort of thing out in people.
He never changed, not even after what I call the long hair incident.
Andy’s next-door neighbor had an older teenage son whose name was Dick. This was in the early sixties when long hair combed into a pompadour in front and a duck-tail in the back was worn by what we called “hard guys”. Dick was a hard guy and, much like Andy’s Father, had a short fuse. Andy simply took this as a challenge.
We were in Andy’s front yard one day and he was busy painting his skateboard with bright green paint when Dick came walking up. His hair had obviously just been cut and styled into its usual pompadour. It was simply too much for Andy to resist.
“Whoa!” Andy said to me, but purposely loud enough for Dick to hear, “Here comes the hair-guy.”
Dick stopped and turned toward us. “What?” He said.
“Oh, nothing.”Andy shrugged.
Dick started to walk away but Andy just couldn’t let it go. “Watch this,” he said to me, and he placed the handle of the paintbrush against his forehead with the bristles sticking straight up in the air. “Hey, Dick, how’s this for a hairstyle? Look familiar? The color may be a little off.”
Dick spun around. “You’d better watch your smart mouth, punk.”
“Well, excuse me, Sergeant. I didn’t know I was in the Army. Oops, I forgot, you can’t go in the Army, can you?”
“What do you mean by that?” Dick’s face was getting redder.
“You know why the Army won’t take you.”
“Why?” Dick stepped closer.
“Because,” Andy said in his most irritating deadpan voice, “they don’t have enough barbers to cut your damn hair!”
With a look on his face much like Andy’s Father, Dick grabbed the paintbrush from Andy, got him in a headlock, dipped the brush in the green paint, and said, “You’re the one who’s going to need those barbers now!” He then thoroughly painted Andy’s hair green.
I probably should make it a point to visit Andy someday. All I have to do is find the right cemetery.