People Just Like Me and You
Every now and again, I take a break from Ubering college kids around Knoxville and head to Nashville to drive tourists and bachelorette parties around Music City. I justify the trip cause I get to visit some old college buddies, hit a honky-tonk or two, maybe a show at the Opry, live up to the cliché. That’s what had me down in Nashville over Memorial Day weekend. It was a Sunday, folks still drinking heavy seeing as how they had Monday off, and I got a call to the outskirts of downtown, where the cranes and the white flight still aren’t quite ready to go.
The apartment complex was nice enough, a few stories high, new-looking with a generic deli on the bottom floor. A man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, about my age, came out of a side exit wearing a Misfits T-shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops with white crew-cut socks. His tan was thick but not in any ethnic way, probably from roofing or construction work, something that would keep a man out in the sun against his wishes.
“Can you take me to a gas station?” he said as he climbed in.
“Sure, which one?” I asked. I didn’t want to let on just yet that I was out of my main territory and not too familiar with this part of town.
“One of the Indian ones—dot not feather—that sells bongs and shit,” he said. He laughed and I noticed he was missing some teeth in the back and had several silver caps. I wouldn’t say that he kept a beard, but he had a five o’clock shadow, even though it was barely past noon.
“I can find one on the GPS,” I said.
“Naw,” he said, “just take a right here—go toward the hood. One on every other corner around here.”
“What kind of cigarettes you looking for?” I asked.
“I'm ain’t lookin for no cigarettes,” he said. “I'm lookin for some get-it-up pills. All the Indian stores have ’em. Me and my buddy got two girls comin over, and I can't have any ‘failures to launch’.” He actually did air quotes. “Know what I mean?” He quickly pointed to a run-down Phillips 66 that no longer sold gas but still had pumps out front and plenty of beer signs in the windows.
“Perfectoooo,” he yelled.
I pulled in and he was back out in under five minutes, opening the door with a grin.
“Perfectoooo,” he yelled again. “Indian guy says one of these will have me goin seven hours straight” He immediately rips open the box of pills and reads the directions aloud: “Take one pill with warm water that has been boiled.” He looks at me incredulously. “How's my wiener gonna know if I boiled the water first?” I forced a laugh cause this was kind of funny and cause I wasn’t sure what else to do.
“Can you take me to that mini-mart we passed back aways?” he asked. “I'm hungry now.” En route, he read the ingredients: “Sea Horse?” He looked at me incredulously. “Really, Sea Horse helps?” I forced a laugh cause this was kind of funny and cause I wasn’t sure what else to do. “Penis Ettestis, Something Or Other, Yak Testis… YAK TESTIS? Well, kin to a bull, right?” he said. “Rocky Mountain oysters… What a man will put in his body to get it up.” He shook his head, eyes still on the ingredients. I shrugged a shrug that said I was completely at a loss about whether to go genuine or sarcastic on impotency.
“Truth be told,” he said, “my buddy and me been drinkin since Friday night, and there’s just nothin down there—put on some pornography and everything. Still nothing.” I nodded, without laughing, as we pulled into the mini-mart. He was in and out under five minutes with a bag of Starburst jelly beans.
“Alllrrrriiiight,” he said. “Ready for some lovin.” He rubbed his hands together furiously. “So, where ya from?” he asked.
“Small town outside of Knoxville,” I said.
“What’s it called?” he asked, ripping open the jelly beans.
“Kingston,” I said.
He slapped the dash while chomping on a mouthful of jelly beans. “No fuckin way. You know Cedar Grove Baptist?”
I did, and I said that I went to Vacation Bible School there once.
“Went to that church till I's five,” he said, “till Momma moved us. You know the woman they called Dot and her husband Red?”
I said that I did, that I knew ol’ Red and Dot.
He wheezed a throat-clearing laugh through the jelly beans. “Yep. Ol’ Red and Dot. Them was my grandparents.”
“Get back to Kingston much?” I asked.
He took a beat and chomped and stared out over the road, titling his head and wincing, like maybe he was waiting for a sharp pain to pass. “Long way from Kingston these days.”
We returned to the complex where I picked him up. “Well, small world,” I said.
He tore off a couple of “get-it-up” pills from the sleeve and stretched them out to me. “Here, these'll make it bigger.” He wheezed that laugh, and I was too appreciative of the joke not to take them. I forced a laugh, not because it was necessarily funny, although it kind of was, but because I couldn’t help but wonder why he veered off one way and I headed the other, two good ol’ boys from Kingston, raised in a house of the Lord. I couldn’t help but wonder which one of us was more content with how life’s turned out.
“Best of luck to ya, brother,” he said and waved, downing the bag of Starburst jelly beans as he walked away.