Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The World Is A Poorer Place Without Him

I offered to share some "Phil" stories, and in attempting this, I may be underserving his legend. Phil was the step father of my long time best friend, Don. Now, Don is married to a woman who hates me, and I haven't seen or heard from him in years, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't/doesn't tear me up. Growing up, Don and I took a journey that routinely defied reason, and explanation, and we couldn't have been more satisfied with the passage. We were angsty self-exiled outsiders in a relentlessly comfortable suburbian environment in the midwest circa the 1980's. Two clever crackers, smoking cigars (long before it was chic), competitively urinating on freight trains from overpasses, playing NWA loudly in the 'burbs, and trying to morally compromise young women. Birds of a feather, Don and I.

STAGE and CHARACTERS: For whatever reason, we spent more time at Don's place than at mine. At Don's home was: Don, Don's mom (a sweet woman, who is also wonderfully unbalanced, supremely garrilous, and in this environment, a provocation for Phil), Phil (the subject of these recollections), Loralai (some awful little dog that resembled a mop), and Stalin, the Akita. The home was a ranch style with detached garage, and about 1 acre for each the front and back yard. The driveway was white gravel and ran about 150 feet to a reasonably busy thoroughfare.

BACKGROUND: Phil was, among other things: large (about 6'5" and probably 285lbs.), loud, a retired (city omitted) police officer, former car salesman, shrink wrap salesman, frightening driver of huge american cars, connoisseur of chili, weekend auto mechanic, a father (in addition to the stepfather role), grandfather, live-in estranged husband, and as I like to think of him, a benevolent and graceless water buffalo type. No, he didn't look like a water buffalo, but there was a similarity of spirit. I don't know that either water buffalo's or Phil deliberately ever hurt anyone, but by virtue of limited awareness, panic, or misunderstanding, they can be mighty intimidating and wreckless. The key is to observe from a safe distance.

Phil stories tend to fall into to categories- things he's said, or thing's he's done. Some of them are one liners that made us wonder about his brain pan:

DON (cleaning his room, to PHIL, passing by): Hey, do you have a box?
PHIL (chewin something): What? An empty one?

Many were actions, such as falling alseep on one of those low wheeled sled things mechanics use to get under cars, while under his car. Then some were a glorious union of words and action:

Enter STUCCO and DON
PHIL (while sitting in his Barcalounger, watching a Joe Don Baker movie from the 60's, eating about 2 gallons [no kidding] of chili from a large stainless steel mixing bowl with a serving spoon): [shouting to the television] "That's bullshit! Niggers* didn't say 'Brother' in the 50's!"
{Looks to STUCCO and DON, both standing jaws agape looking at the chili serving, and shocked at what was just said}
"I eat a lot of cheese, know what I mean?"

* A note about racism. I'm white, as is Don, and as was Phil. As I alluded to before, I grew up in the burbs of a city with tons of black people, and where I was concerned, I tended to embrace their culture. for many years I was the token white kid in my part of town (yup, we were poor) and I was actually part of involuntary desegregation- I was put on a bus with maybe 40 other black kids and shipped off to the white kids school. Weird. The "N word" was, and I understand remains, a fixture in this midwestern town, and I knew then and know now that it is not a word I'm entitled to use. I mention this not to defend Phil, who I think had some serious racial prejudices (seemingly from his time as a cop), but to explain that this is what he said, and I'm not going to edit this to paint a more politically correct picture. If you are sensitive to these kinds of things, you may take solace in the fact that I never saw Phil act with malice towards anyone based on race.

There are three stories involving Phil that are timeless, and I will do my best to impart them as accurately as possible.

The Cat
Don, Don's mom, and Phil had a cat that lived in their basement and avoided people. I didn't know this for years, as a result. Once, when on a rare occasion I went down to the basement, I saw the animal scurry from one dark corner to another, and I was as surprised as when, in the movie Alien, that critter burst out of the guys chest and went scampering off. I don't know that the cat had a name. No one ever referred to it as anything other than "the cat". It lived near the washer and dryer and was mostly black.

One day Don's mom came home and found something odd on the steps up from the basement. It was a little less than a foot long, hairy, and had a ribbon of tape at one end. It was the cat's tail, featuring some electrical tape unwinding from the end formerly attached to the cat. The cat was not visibly about, and no one else was home.
Rewinding to earlier that morning, events can be sketched together but questions remain. Phil somehow seperated the cat from it's tail. He never gave details, and our best guess was that it had something to do with the dryer door slamming on the cat as it attempted ingress or egress from the dryer compartment. Being an absudly pragmatic man, Phil wasn't about to take the injured feline/space creature to a veterinarian for treatment- he was going to remedy the problem himself. Enter the electrical tape. My expectation is that Phil chose electrical tape over say duct tape for color matching reasons. Had the cat been a gray tabby, for example, duct tape would have been used I'm sure. So the part I ask you to visualize is the sight of a burly large man with wiry silver hair and a penchant for profanity, wrestling, trying feverishly to tape a tail back on to what was surely a panic stricken and sore cat that avoids people. The tail was taped on, and Phil went to work. In the end, Don's mom saw to it that the cat was given proper medical care. The tail was not reattached- the outcome was a nubby cat butt.

The Dog
They had two dogs- one was a large, good looking, well mannered Akita, named Stalin (Don chose the name, and it was a girl dog), and some usually damp whiny mop of a dog named Lorilai. Lorilai only had one skill as far as I was concerned, Phil would feed her those "L'il Smokies" wienerette things, and she'd chew them until they were a soggy near-empty sausage sack of saliva, and then she'd leave them under Don's pillow. The Akita was a pampered pet and the mop was largely held in contempt and ridicule. The Akita belonged to Don's mom, and the mop to Phil. That may have been a default ownership issue however, but it was interesting to see Phil dealing with such a small and irritating dog.

One day it snowed about 18" and was mighty cold. Tough times for a little dog to be sure. Phil let Lorilai out to crap, and she did about 3 feet from the door. Phil then forgot all about the dog, and then presumably to keep warm, the dog sat down in it's freshly laid turdstack. Ker-squish. About 45 minutes later, Don's mom discovered the brown dogsicle and when she saw that Lorilai had frozen shit all along her bottom edge, she shouted for Phil to take care of this mess, as it was his fault. Now, there are no doubt those among you that are thinking like I was- he'd run a warm bath and deal with the nasty thaw. Nope. Not Phil. Phil got out the shears and cut off all the fur that had frozen shit on it- paws included. The outcome was both sad and completely hilarious. I don't know if you've ever seen a dogs paws shaved, but they have little hand-like paws under all that fur. At least this dog did. But the worst part, the pink bald ass. This little dog had it's ass end shaved clean and it's pinkish chapped butt cheeks were vivid against the white fur flanking it. This in concert with the bald "hand" paws that tapped loudly against the tile floor delivered a special indignity to the mop creature. "Tappity tappity tappity" would be the sound of the dog entering the room. You couldn't really hear the dog leave the room as we'd all be laughing at the pink monkey-like ass.

The Garage
There are actually two things that could qualify as garage stories, one far simpler than the other. The easy story invoves Phil, under his near-limo of a car on a mechanics crawler. Never overcoming his reflex to sit up, he was forever hitting his head on the underside of the vehicle, but one fine day while working with a cordless screwdriver, he managed to wind up a tuft of hair around the bit, and before he knew what had happened, he pulled out a patch of hair. Right at the beginning of his hairline, over his left eye, he pulled out enough hair with the screwdriver to make a silver-dollar sized circle of tender raw scalp. This led to one of the most ambitious comb over designs ever witnessed this side of Donald Trump.

My personal favorite though, requires a little bit of imagination. Phil was a clear proponent of the afternoon nap. He'd routinely fall asleep in the garage, normally under a car on the crawler. One day he fell asleep sitting on a barstool in front of the workbench, slumped on the bench itself. Don and I had apparently left the house quietly enough to let him remain in slumber. Our plans were quickly revised when we saw him out cold. We were robbed of the full potential to mess with Phil when one of us made some sound and he woke with a start, and grabbed a hammer laying beside him on the bench and proceeded to whack the ever loving bejeezus out of the benchtop in what appeared to be a measured pattern. Clearly, he was trying to give us the impression that he wasn't in fact sleeping. While we enjoyed this violent and grunting display, we privately vowed that should an opportunity such as this happen again, we'd sneak in quietly and replace the hammer with a full (not cleaned) fish, and scatter eggs about the bench. This is the part requiring imagination- imagine a large man sleeping at a bench, waking up with a start, grabbing a fish and whacking it against the bench, periodically smashing eggs in the process. Poetry in motion, I say.

These Phil stories really only scratch the surface of the man. He died a couple of years ago, and that was the last time I heard from Don. He had some medical problems that might've been beatable had he been willing to fight what he saw as his fate. Over the years that I knew him, I came to think of him as family, and even though once I left town I rarely contacted him, I felt a sense of comfort and humor just knowing that he was unchanged. I also acknowledge that these stories are best told verbally, but in an effort to share I'll try this medium. I'm thankful to have been a spectator to the water buffalo.


Blogger Schmoopie said...

You captured him beautifully. I may be biased because I knew him, but the hilarity comes through.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

I knew several Phils. They are what I would consider "gifts" to those on the look out for tales to tell. I am sorry this Phil is no longer with you, but I imagine his memory will linger as long as you linger, you malingerer, you...

I was once barefoot on a motorcycle being chased through coconut groves by a water buffalo with a hard on, so I think I may have an inkling as to your intimations about Phil's dangerous side.

Too bad Don't wife won't let you two kiss and and make up stuff...

You could hit her over the head with a fish?

7:12 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

I think everyone has a phil in their family or at least should.

They are the salt of the earth in my opinion and sadly, interesting people like that are a dying breed.

thanks for the stories

8:30 PM  
Blogger l said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:17 PM  
Blogger slaghammer said...

That was a helluva story and the best post I’ve read in a while. I imagine it will get a lot of people thinking about their own personal “Phils.” Mine is still alive and actively engaged in the manufacturing of legends. I have developed a more refined appreciation for his misadventures now that I’m no longer in danger of being victimized by them. I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder.
Btw, I can relate, in an odd way, with your Phil in that I too was partially scalped by a power tool. It was one of the dumbest things I ever did and it is also one of my favorite stories.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Judith said...

I laughed so much It nearly got me into trouble here at work with my boss (for some strange reason he wont let me surf on his time?? Whats that all about) Loved every story you must have some more???

8:18 AM  
Blogger That Guy said...

These stories are as funny as the first time you told them. Although your hand animations clearly express much better than text... but still funny.

I really believe that some day you need to write a story about a guy name stucco and his adventures as a child/teen/adult. I see a top seller in the works.

I of course charge 10% for giving you this idea and will not take no for an answer.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

I'm still really confused about why he would tape a tail back on a cat. What train of logic could get lead a person to conclude that taping the tail back onto the cat was a good idea? Was he trying to splint the tail in the hope that it would reattach itself? Was he trying to hide the fact that the cat was now tail-less from someone??

10:30 AM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

A friend of mine named Leo was standing on the top rung of a ten foot A-frame ladder and drilling a hole into the side of my house. Leo looks EXACTLY like a garden gnome that was watered and grew up to become a pink faced carpenter in his fifties.

Leeo got his hair caught up in a drill and screw himself to the side of my house, and was not in pain because he did not get to the scalping stage. Just the stand there and yell help stage. I ran as fast as I could to go get my camera, but the batteries were dead. Once we all stopped laughing, we unchucked the drill bit and let him come down.

I think I shall write about my friend Ed, who is a bit different than Phil but worth the focus....

12:36 PM  
Blogger cheesy said...

So where you ever able to pull off the dead fish gag??
Great stories ty ty

8:09 PM  
Blogger ian said...

Hey Stucco,

I laughed out loud a couple of times reading this - the naked doggie ass just about had me rolling on the floor, as did the duct-taped cat tail. Great story!


7:52 PM  

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