A holiday shot of Wild Turkey
The loss of his bitchin’ Camaro and the Christmas gifts for the clan had Eddie pullin’ the hair out of his mullet.
Eddie knew it was stupid to“You done screwed up big time, Eddie,” he thought, staring down at the splintered grain of the bar. Someone had carved JOURNEY SUX! into the wood, and someone else, obviously overcome by indignant rage, had scratched out JOURNEY and carved YOU beside it in small, shaky capitals. Eddie sighed. “You sure does,” he thought.
Eddie took another tiny sip of his Coors Light, letting it slosh around in his mouth, savoring each molecule of beery goodness. But just like the last 20 sips, he eventually had to swallow. You could only hold warm Coors Light in your mouth for so long before the gag reflex kicked in (and you couldn’t help but, for some reason, think of a urinal in need of cleaning).
He had almost hit bottom. The bottom of the bottle, that is. Eddie himself had hit bottom quite a few years back, and as it wasn’t nearly as bad down there as Johnny Cash made it out to be, he decided to stay a while. Fourteen years, to be precise, although he had a notion this year would be his last.
The last time he made Fran mad, she had chased him up a tree with the broken end of a bottle of Wild Turkey and, being pregnant with baby Charlene at the time and in no condition to climb a tree, she had circled around the bottom of the tree for an hour cussing at him before stalking back into the trailer. Eddie sat up there for an extra hour just to make sure she wasn’t trying to fake him out.
This time, he wouldn’t get off so easy.
As usual, it had all started out innocently enough.
Eddie cashed his unemployment check and headed for Wal-Mart in his bitchin’ ‘84 Camaro. The flap of plastic he’d duct-taped to the empty shell of his driver-side window was coming loose, but he was enjoying the cool Reno breeze. It tickled the short hairs on the top of his head and sent the longer hair in back flying like a banner. He was feeling fairly regal as he strutted into the store, wearing his favorite pair of acid-washed jeans and his suede bomber jacket.
He felt even better when he left the store, carrying two big plastic bags chock full of holiday cheer. He was sure his oldest girl, Julianne, would love the Wet N Wild deluxe makeup kit he bought her, with not one or two but six different shades of that blue eye shadow she liked so much. Eddie Jr. had been begging to get a tattoo since his 13th birthday, but Fran said he had to wait until he was 15, so Eddie bought him a pack of stick-on tats with pictures of skulls and roses on ’em. (He also got him a calendar featuring bikini-clad mamas on motorcycles, but they’d keep that on the down-low.)
For the twins, Hal and Cal, he bought a couple of slingshots, a gift he reckoned to be both fun and practical. Maybe a couple pebbles in the keister would convince that pack of stray cats to stay the hell out of his shed. And for baby Charlene, a little black T-shirt with a picture of Hulk Hogan on it. Now, if that ain’t the cutest thing ever, Eddie thought, then he just didn’t know what.
But the real prize of ’em all, the gift that now had Eddie lingering remorsefully over his beer, was the one for Fran. He’d been deliberating for a while over a display case of perfume, wondering if Fran would prefer the bold sexuality of Jovan Musk or the delicate femininity of Jovan White Musk, when something in the jewelry case caught his eye. And there it was: a teeny tiny locket all in Black Hills gold, featuring a unicorn wearing cowboy boots jumping over a dolphin with a rose in its mouth.
It just don’t get any better than that, Eddie thought. He emerged from Wal-Mart with a warm feeling in his gut that he hadn’t felt since he’d bested Rusty Cumberland in the mechanical bull-riding contest of ‘92.
With plenty of time to spare before the Christmas Eve festivities got underway, Eddie decided to reward himself with a couple of tall cold ones before heading home. He ambled into the bar, greeting the regulars with a friendly slap on the back or well-timed high-five, and grabbed a barstool next to Randy Wilford.
That was Eddie’s first mistake.
“Heya there, Ed,” Randy said amiably, sucking bits of papery peanut skin out of his incisors while deftly cracking another nut and flicking the shell nonchalantly to the floor. “How’s it hanging?”
“Low and long, buddy, low and long,” Eddie said with a chuckle. He didn’t exactly want to listen to another one of Randy’s sob stories this afternoon, but he was feeling as cheerful as all get-out today. And besides, Randy was Fran’s kin, and the holidays are all about kin, Eddie mused as he plunked a couple of bucks down on the bar and took a long sip of Coors.
“I’m mighty glad you turned up here, Ed,” Randy began. “You see, I’ve got myself in a bit of a bind.”
Here it comes, Eddie thought.
“You see, I was fixin’ to take Thelma down to her sister’s house so’s they could wrap all them presents, but Buddy down at the Quicker Fixer says he won’t let me drive my ‘vette one inch until I give him that 200 bucks I owe him.”
“I ain’t got 200 bucks, Randy,” Eddie said. “I just spent my whole check on Christmas presents for the kids and all, and all I got left is going to them bastards down at the ‘lectric company. Been threatening to shut off my hot water for three days now.”
“Aw, Eddie, I’m hurt,” Randy said. “I wouldn’t never ask for no 200 bucks, knowing how y’all are struggling and all. I was just askin’ if I could borrow the car for a second, to take Thelma on down to her sister’s. I’d be back before you’d even finished your second beer, I’d bet.”
Eddie pondered. He had a good hour before Fran would expect him home, and after his successful shopping excursion, he was feeling mighty generous. What could it hurt? He handed Randy the keys.
“Aw, thanks, man,” Randy gushed. “Seriously. I’ll be back so fast you won’t even realize I been gone.”
Two hours later, Eddie more than realized Randy was gone. Eddie realized that not only was Randy gone, but he’d taken the presents with him.
Eddie beganthe long, slow walk home. His only comfort was the slight buzz three bottles of Coors had left him. That and the need to whiz every five minutes, which he counted as an unforeseen blessing since it prolonged his journey into certain death.
But he couldn’t walk forever, and he soon found himself on the rickety metal porch in front of the trailer. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and scratched his nose, staring at his home sweet home for what would surely be the last time. He lingered lovingly over the oil spots and spare car parts piled at the end of the driveway and the various headless, rotting dolls scattered around the yard. (Cal had some issues ever since Granpop threw his Cabbage Patch doll into the crick and called him a sissy-boy.)
Enough’s enough, Eddie thought. He adjusted his package, smoothed back his hair and grabbed the doorknob. Take it like a man, he told himself. Don’t whimper like last time—unless she twists them real hard.
Eddie’s hand stopped mid-turn. That engine … could it really be? He let his hand fall from the doorknob and shuffled around to face the street, praying desperately for a miracle.
“God, if that’s Randy in my Camaro, I swear I won’t never cruise by the high school again,” Eddie swore. “No matter how short them skirts are. Honest to God … aw, crap, that’s taking your name in vain, ain’t it?”
But already, Eddie could see a familiar headlight approaching—just the one headlight, yellow and twinkling like an angel flying through the trailer park. As the light got closer, Eddie could hear the glorious strains of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” ringing loud and true on his tape deck, sounding better to Eddie’s ears than even Ozzy ever intended. The Camaro screeched to a halt, kicking up gravel, and Randy emerged.
“Aw, man, I am so friggin’ sorry,” Randy began with a pleading tone. “I tried to come back sooner, but then Thelma said we had to stop by the Sak N Save for a cheese log and some Jim Beam, and by the time I got back to The One-Eyed Jack, you’d split.”
“Cut the crap, Randy!” Eddie roared. “You been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ ever since I met you, and now I’m gonna knock out those three remaining teeth!”
Randy squealed and circled the Camaro nervously, but Eddie slid over the hood, catching splinters of primer gray paint in his ass. He grabbed Randy by the collar of his jean jacket and prepared to beat the holy hell out of him.
“Wait!” Randy cried. “There’s another reason I’m so late!”
“Oh, yeah?” Eddie said menacingly. “And what’s that?”
“Thelma and her sister done wrapped all your presents! They said it weren’t right making you wrap all them nice gifts, you lettin’ us borrow the car and all!”
Eddie glanced at the back seat of the Camaro and saw the pile of gifts stacked clear to the ceiling, wrapped up all pretty with newspaper, and not just any newspaper, neither. They used the funny pages from the Sunday paper—in color.
Eddie eyed the festive pile of presents. He let loose of Randy’s collar.
“Why … if that ain’t the sweetest darn thing I ever saw!” Eddie said.
“So you ain’t gonna knock my teeth out, Eddie?” Randy pleaded.
A grin broke out all over Eddie’s face and his eyes twinkled merrily.
“Naw, Randy. I ain’t gonna hurt ya. Why don’t you help me haul these here presents into the house, and then we can crack open a cold one and sit a spell?”
Randy smiled. It was going to be a merry Christmas after all.