February 11, 2006

Even the pope...

When I was a kid, my uncle D came to live with us for awhile. A self-professed beach bum from Monterey, California, D was immediately the favorite uncle. He was so different from my mother. He drove a beat up, faded blue and olive green Volkswagen van with a red velvet bed in the back and a mirror on the ceiling. He tinkered with the motor himself. Working on it, making it run or keeping it running. The radio only played country in that van. Old Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and other sad country voices in the tin speakers. I was disappointed he no longer had his '65 Mustang, but apparently, it had given up the ghost. And well, a Mustang can't really have a mirror on the ceiling can it?

D was an electrician by trade, but apparently, there was little or no work for electricians at that point in time. He talked about the Union. Gotta pay the dues to be current, can't pay the dues without a job, can't get a job unless you are union. I never understood that when I was younger, I still don't. He was a real man. Rough, rawboned, with red skin, he had a knowing look in his eye. Kinda like you'd expect from Santa Claus but with an edge. He did the crossword everyday. He had these tiny St. Nick style reading glasses that made him look gentle.

I guess he had both sides in Budwieser him. I recall him as a gentle man that could do arts and crafts (he spent hours making driftwood sculptures, but nothing diminished his manliness. He smoked Camels. Unfiltered. I used to go to 7-11 and buy him his packs of Camels for a dollar. I don't think 7-11 would sell them to me nowadays. I still have a place in my heart for Camel cigarettes. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. I never will, but if I had to, it would be a turkish blend Camel. I can still visualize that short pack in my hand. Perhaps that is why I like it. It was a squat little package that seemed to fit neatly in my hand. I can picture him sitting outside with a Budwieser beside him and the Camel balanced between his fingers. I'd watch the smoke rise from the tip of the cigarette as it smoldered. The patterns fascinated me. Smoke still does.

I used to play small practical jokes on him. Once I took a highlighter and colored an entire cigarette bright yellow. He was pissed. I ended up giving him a nickel to pay for it. Another time, I had gotten some Loads from somewhere and put them in some of his cigarettes. I was sitting outside with him when he got to the first one. He was right in the middle of an inhale and bang. The end of his cigarette literally exploded. I recall the strings of Turkish blend leaf sticking out of the end of the exploded cigarette like weeds that were suddenly left to go rampant in the garden. He sat there frozen while I fell to the ground engulfed in peals of laughter. I can only recall one time in my life when I laughed harder, but that is a story that involves Ex-lax in chili and will have to wait 'til another day.

Luckily, the Load had caught him in a mellow mood and he saw the humor in it although he wasn't happy. He smoked the remainder of that cigarette and when he reached for another he caught the interest on my face. So you loaded more of them huh? I shrugged. Knowing that to speak would be the end. He said, "I'll just smoke them backwards." I guess this is one benefit of unfiltered cigarettes, it doesn't really matter what end you smoke them from. He lit the Camel and puffed away in satisfaction that he'd beaten me in my prank.

Or so he thought. Suddenly, the cigarette exploded with a little bang. I think I was in tears at this point I was laughing so hard. See, I'd loaded both ends of the cigarettes. I was delighted as a kid to have succeeded with my prank not only once, but defeated his counter measure as well. I don't recall his reaction to that second Load, but I don't recall being in trouble over it, so he must have seen the humor in the joke.

D doesn't smoke anymore, and I haven't seen him in eight or nine years. The last time I saw him, he was still that same mellow guy. Someone who'd seen too much in his life, but continued to move forward. Every time I see a Camel ad in a magazine, I'm transported back to my times as a child listening to my uncle tell me stories laced with language that I was too young to hear. I can hear his gravelly voice today as though I was there. "Even the pope says, 'Fuck'."


At 5:50 PM, Blogger Kerry said...

it seems embarassingly self-obsessed, but also necessary. I don't mind if you read along.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Buffalo said...

Damned well done. Really enjoyed this one - even more than usual.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Maggi-nifica said...

The mental movie in my head, while reading this, is just too much. Thanks for the Time machine trip.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Lil Bit said...

What a nice homage to Uncle D. =)


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