In the summer before I started college, and after my high school graduation, I began a five-year, summers-only job working with my father's friend, a carpet cleaner and all-around handyman named Buddy. We installed wood floors, doors, windows, carpeting and more. Did demolition, plumbing, office cleaning, rug cleaning, floor sanding, etc. You name it, we did it. Just Buddy and I (and later, a few Mexicans that he hired - probably illegally - to assist us). Buddy was an excellent craftsman. I learned more about cleaning, painting, maintenance and repairs while working with him than I ever even realized at the time. As a first time homeowner over 10 years later, I still find myself using many of Buddy's tricks and lessons in repairing my own home.
However, Buddy had a number of moments in which he was often too intelligent for his own good -- many times thinking 10 or 11 steps ahead of what he actually doing at the moment. For this reason, his handywork and repairs often came out like Mona Lisas, but his car and financial background, for instance, had more dings in them than a Chinese phone book. (or... whatever the analogy is...).
He was a decent looking guy, for the most part. On a normal day, he resembled John Fogerty from Creedence Clearwater Revival. And he played the guitar too, which helped this comparison. But on days when he was particularly frazzled (which was often), he resembled Rick Moranis from Honey I Shrunk The Kids (and Ghostbusters). And he had eyebrows too. Ginormous eyebrows which looked like caterpillars. And everytime he yelled at me (which was often), they wiggled and shook like a cheerleader's pom-poms. An angry cheerleader's dark black pom-poms, just wiggling in my face unhappily. It was hard to take him seriously at times.
Buddy usually picked me up at 6 in the morning (which is still hard for me today -- but especially difficult at 17! I am not now, nor ever have been a morning person!). On one particular morning, I remember Buddy picking me up in his old Isuzu pickup truck, ready for a day of carpet cleaning. His equipment was all very expensive (or at least they had been when he purchased them), but now the majority of his items were held together with duct tape (his truck included). I recall this morning, we stopped for gas. As mentioned earlier, Buddy was often 10 or 11 steps ahead of what he was currently doing, so I could sense that his mind was not completely devoted to the task at hand. Undeterred, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Buddy is one the few people I've met in my lifetime who prefers to stop every day to partially fill the tank, rather than fill it completely every few days. He says it keeps the car lighter, thus saving on wear and tear. Perhaps he is right, but it seemed excessive to me. In any case, I thought, it allowed me to sleep for a few extra minutes every morning - so I wasn't complaining. This morning, I could hear him doing his normal routine - start the gas pumping, shove the gas cap between the nozzle and handle to keep it pumping while he checked his oil (he needed new oil like every other day. It was ridiculous), then he checked his tires, his brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, etc. This was a daily routine.
Then, in my half-awake slumber, I heard him get in the car and start the engine. He asked if I was awake, I lied and said yes, and We were off on our big adventure. Until we suddenly heard a loud BA-DOING! CRASH! BANG! PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! from behind us. Buddy slammed on the brakes and I opened my eyes. Somehow we were still in the gas station - albeit several feet in front of where we were. I looked behind us and realized the gas tank was missing a hose. Buddy's truck had suddenly gained one. Gas was pouring out of the end like a garden hose, and of course it could have been worse. My immediate expectation of a tremendous gusher pouring out of the gas pump never came. Luckily, it was only a little dribble that remained inside the hose itself. Buddy released a four letter verb and adverb (and possibly a noun) from his subconscious, and jumped out of the truck like an army commando. I watched him try to re-attach the hose to the pump, like a fireman trying to tap a hydrant, or a Delta Kappa trying to tap a keg. He was surprisingly nimble (and desperate) - but to no avail. The hose would simply not attach. I believe my jaw was agape, and my mind completely stunned by what I saw (plus I had been partying the night before, so none of this really registered anyway). Buddy yelled out to the heavens "I don't understand! I've done this a million times and it always goes right back in!!!" He shoved relentlessly into the pump with this now defunct appendage, but still, it would not take. He exhaled a few more colorful words, and then finally sat on the back of the truck, defeated.
"I don't understand," He said, in the saddest tone I've ever heard from another human being, "I've done this a million times and it always goes right back in."
I shrugged helplessly, unsure of what to say. Buddy sighed and entered the shop, probably 20 minutes after the event occurred. Head hung low, he told the attendant, "I pulled your hose out of the tank. I... I'm sorry." The man did not flinch, did not move a muscle, did not even raise an eyebrow. He just sat silently for a moment, and said, "I know. I been watching you for the last twenty minutes trying to put that in there."
Buddy yelled, "You watched me?!? Why didn't you come help me?"
The man shrugged, "What am I gonna do? It's broken."
Buddy cried, "What do you mean it's broken?!? I've done this a million times, and it always goes right back in!"
"Well, maybe you did it to some other gas station, pal. But THESE hoses aren't meant to go back in."
"But how is that possible?!? I need to get to work! How do we fix this?!?"
"Oh don't worry, I called the police."
"You called the P-!?!? Whaddya mean you called the police?!? Why don't I just pay you?"
"Nope. You can talk to the police."
"Holy s**t, no police!!! I'll just pay you! How much do I owe you?!?" Buddy pulled out his checkbook, just as a police car pulled into the lot with the lights blaring. The man pointed to the police car. "You can take it up with him now, buddy." (**Author's note: I don't believe the attendant knew Buddy's name. I am pretty sure this was ironic.)
Buddy's entire face turned white, and he rushed out the door to meet the officer. I did not follow him, but I swear I heard him explain, as the door was closing, "Officer, I've done this a million times, and it always goes right back in!"
I watched the rest of the conversation through the window, as Buddy wiggled his eyebrows excitedly at the man, and the officer calmly took down several notes. I looked at the gas station attendant who was right back to reading his magazine as if nothing had ever happened. After many more minutes had passed, Buddy re-entered the gas station. Silent. Still. With a piece of paper in his hand.
"You ready, Dan?" He queried, stonily.
We got back in the truck without saying a word. Several miles down the road, Buddy muttered, "That son-of-a-bitch was lying. I know he could have fixed it. I've done that a million times and it always goes right back in!" He looked like Rick Moranis here.
I said, "Buddy, what did... what did the officer say to you?"
"He filled out an incident report. The insurance company will send me a bill." He was seemingly calm, but with an underlying anger that I could sense. "I can't believe how f***ing late we are."
"I know," I muttered, trying not to upset his calm.
After a while, he shook his steering wheel violently and slammed on it, and muttered some more curse words, but eventually calmed down enough to get us to the job site.
Oh, and this was before cell phones, so Buddy had no way of calling the clients to let them know we were late. When we arrived, the owner was visibly upset. His wife was calmer, but... presumably because she was more polite. The home was a vast, beautiful Long Island beachfront property any celebrity would be thrilled to call their home. This was their summer home.
The man was a retired CIA agent, I believe, and his life story was the basis for the Gene Hackman film "The French Connection." In fact, Buddy told me this summer home was built with his earnings from that movie. Incidentally, this couple's actual home was also on Long Island, two doors down from John Gotti's home - where they filmed the show "Growing Up Gotti." Just to clarify what kind of money we're talking about here. Apparently, he was a distant relative of Buddy's wife, which is how Buddy got the job. He'd worked for the man several times, and I could tell there was a definite superiority issue going on there, to the point that Buddy was ALWAYS nervous going to this man's home. Today was no exception. In fact, being so absurdly late made it even worse. We arrived at the man's house, and Buddy gave me some cleaning tasks to do while he negotiated some future work for us. When I was done, I joined them at the table, and the man said, "Hey you're two strapping young men. Why don't you help me move this giant rock out of my garden?" Buddy's eyes grew large, like "What kind of rock are we talking about here?" and the man said "Don't worry, come with me."
We walked towards the back yard, and were about to exit the foyer, when we hear a loud BA-DOING! CRASH! BANG!
We all froze. Buddy had walked through the screen door. Completely. To the point that it was no longer on its hinges, and was bent out of all recognizable shape and size. The man yelled "Jesus, Buddy, are you retarded?!?" Buddy looked up with those giant frightened eyes of his, and said (I swear to god) "Don't worry! I've done this a million times! It always goes right back in!!!" And he tried, the poor bastard, to get that sucker back in, but he was panic struck, and nervous, and it wouldn't budge. I tried so hard not to giggle, I really did. But the ex-CIA agent grabbed the door out of his hands and yelled, "Gimme that shit!" At which point, I had to walk away. It was not the cruel, ha-ha, mocking laugh, it was the holy god this isn't funny, but I can't control myself type of laugh. The kind that makes you want to pee, and the harder you hold your lips together, the more it comes out your nose. I felt so bad for Buddy, but my god, this was pure comedy.
The man threw the screen door aside and sneered, "I'll buy a new one. Just help me with this stupid rock."
So I finally composed myself, Buddy's cheeks turned to their normal, non-embarrassed hue, and we examined the rock. It was big, and he wanted it rolled down the hill about 2 feet. So Buddy walked around it, figuring out the best approach, when he smacked his head on the tree. I mean, a giant branch too, and it was hard. It sounded so painful, even the man didn't say anything. He just watched him carefully to see if he was all right. Buddy shook it off and said, "I'm ok." And then we moved the rock.
He asked me to load the car while he worked on the sprinklers a little bit, which I did. Then I sat in the car and waited for probably a half an hour. When he came back, Buddy was soaking wet from head to toe. I didn't ask what happened, didn't say a word. I just stared straight ahead and tried not to think about how freaking funny this day was.
Buddy didn't say anything either. We just drove on for a few miles, when he suddenly started rolling his neck around. "Wow." He whispered, "My neck feels great!" I looked at him. He smiled and said, "That tree was awesome. My neck hasn't felt this great in ages!" At which point I busted out laughing, and so did he. We laughed for a good 20 minutes, it felt like. When we both calmed down, he said, "What a day, huh?"
"Oh yeah," I replied. "What a day." We drove on in relative silence, except for a few chuckles, the rest of the trip.
(This is only the first of many funny stories I had with Buddy, and I hope to post some more soon when I get a chance. I hope you enjoyed reading it!)