Last month, just before the 4th of July, I was excited to be a few hundred bucks ahead and going home to Birmingham, AL. It had been many months since I'd been back there, and I was feeling really homesick. Even though I lost my home there and my family members moved away, it will always be home in my heart. I knew my old friend Frank would let me stay in his spare bedroom, and I could use a week off to rest.
On my way to deliver a car from Syracuse, NY to Birmingham, I decided to stop off in Columbus, OH and see my old friend Smokey. He's a rock & roll drinking, smoking, always up for a good time fellow. He's a real character who oddly reminds me a lot of my older brother. When my brother Jack died some years ago, it was very hard on me. We had grown apart, and I wanted to reach out to him but he resisted all my attempts. Sometimes I feel like I have a second chance with Smokey.
I called to tell him I was coming, and Smokey said "You're always coming, because you're always spanking. You spank the monkey more than any human on the face of the earth. Get your ass over here, and bring along some thick steaks ya bastard."
I arrived about 6pm, and when I walked into the house Smokey said, "The bar is open, what did you bring?" He puffed a cigarette and tossed back his long flowing blond hair.
I handed him a bottle of Crown Royal, which I know is his favorite. "Oh my stars" he exclaimed. "You shouldn't have, but I'm glad you did." He immediately made us both a cocktail. "So let me guess, you drove here listening to George Strait all the way."
"I don't only listen to his music."
"Yeah you do, Spanky."
"No, I also like Elton John..."
"...and Billy Joel..."
"...and the Beatles..."
"... the Rolling Stones."
"Oh, come on, Smokey. The Stones are a classic rock band."
"Hey, I know all about them. Back in the day, I worked as a roadie on one of their tours. They should have kept the music pure, but instead they sold out. Sell outs!"
I reached into the bag and pulled out two thick rib eye steaks. "How do these look for dinner?"
"You dick, you should have told me you had those, they need to go in the fridge."
"I'm pretty hungry, you feel like throwing them on the grill?"
"Yes sir, I'll get to that after I make just one more toddy." And he lit another cigarette and made another drink. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
As I sat in the bathroom contemplating my day, there was a loud knocking on the door. Smokey shouted out, "Hey, are you spanking in there again?"
"You sure? Geez, you're chronic."
"No, I promise. Just answering nature's call."
"Get finished with your business, I got another drink made for you."
I joined Smokey again in the kitchen, and he started telling me tales of his life on the road, and his days of playing in a popular Ohio band. After an hour, I asked him again about the steaks, and he said, "I plan to get those coals started, after just one more toddy." And one hour and three drinks later, we had the same conversation. Well, I should say three drinks for him, I was still nursing my second drink, which is all I planned to have.
"Did I ever tell you about the time Joey Ramone of The Ramones taught me to skateboard in Greenwich Village?"
"No, I don't know that story," I lied. It was a great story, and I loved to hear Smokey tell it in his gravelly baritone voice.
One hour later I told him I was getting mighty hungry, and he told me that it was just about time to fire up the grill, "but I think I'll have one more toddy first."
I knew I needed a shower after my long day, and excused myself to his bathroom. When I finished and put on fresh clothes, I came out and smelled him smoking "the peace pipe" as he called it. He was puffing like nobody's business, and when I walked in he said, "Want to smoke some pot with me, Spanky?"
"No thanks, buddy."
"But its the good stuff. Rectified gut buster."
"I'll pass this time."
"Come on, you know you want it."
"What I really want is that steak, maybe with a potato on the side."
"You sound like a broken record. I'll get around to it, it's only 10pm."
I stretched out in his reclining chair. "So how's everything else going?"
He let out a long sigh. "Not so good, actually. Um... I lost my job three weeks ago, and things are a little bit lean. I don't mind too much, but its the holiday season, the anniversary of the birth of our nation. You know how I get around the holidays."
"Yes I do."
"I miss my mom a lot."
"I miss mine, too."
"Yeah, but you weren't close with your mom like I was with mine."
"True. My mom wasn't too fond of me, that's for sure. Still, I miss her
since she passed."
"Kinda makes you feel alone sometimes, doesn't it?"
"Yep, it really does. But, life goes on."
"And you go on, rolling down the highway."
"The life of a driving fool."
"You are a driving fool, you sonuvabitch!"
"Indeed I am."
"Bill, I thank you for bringing me the Crown Royal and the steaks. Things have been tough, and I don't even have enough to pay my power bill this month. They'll cut my power on Monday. But that's my problem, its my cross to bear, it just worries me."
"Believe me, bud, I know how it is. I can barely keep my head above water, but I do my best."
"You're a brave little bastard, Spanky. I'm gonna make you the best steak you've ever eaten tonight, just as soon as I make us one more toddy. And then I'm gonna tell you all about the new band I'm putting together. It's named after my favorite movie." Smokey took another long hit on his pipe and got up to amble into the kitchen. I could see my brother Jack doing the same thing a hundred times before.
We ate at 1am in the morning, and I stayed up talking to Smokey til 3am. He started watching TV Land and his head began nodding and bobbing, so I went and crashed on the couch. I wanted to get up and get an early start for my drive to Birmingham.
At 6am, I awoke very groggy but splashed some ice cold water onto my water onto my face and drank two cups of coffee. Before I left, I went and slipped a folded note onto Smokey's bedside table. I wrote on it, "I love you, brother" and stuck $100 inside.