Finding Fidelity—Demolition man
Just as spring arrived none-too-soon, Brandon and I were putting the kitchen back together and restoring the powder room to functional status. Everyone was thankful for the simple luxury of no longer having to run upstairs (or outside) to pee or eat.
By the time summer was patiently waiting backstage, we managed to wrap up our work. In the process, we managed to wipe out my checking account, my HELOC, and the entirety of the semi-precious coin collection I had amassed during my pre-college days as a fast-food cashier. Thankfully, the kindly proprietor at Excelsior Coin & Collectibles purchased the entire collection near the amount I still owed on my new appliances. My unsteady financial status aside, we had a main level that facilitated the basic necessities of living (and peeing) to go along with the upper level, which was serviceable for sleeping.
The basement was another matter entirely. But on an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in early spring, we decided to eschew that issue and bask in the glory of our accomplished labors. An impromptu celebration took shape, as Brandon finished installing the front door transition molding.
“Do you remember that old-ass Special Export Leo kept in the steel cabinet in his workshop?” Brandon asked as his bumble-bee-colored drill whirred and fastened the piece of wood that spanned the gap between the hardwood flooring and the bottom of the front door frame.
“Ugh, the pair of dusty six packs he’d as us to throw into a cooler for every family reunion?”
“The ones he’d fish out afterward, undrunk, and place them back into the fucking dusty cabinet?” I recollected.
“Yes! Remember they left rust rings on the cabinet shelf?” He added.
“Did you know that in addition to wiping off the dust before throwing them in the cooler each year, I’d sand the metal ring at the bottom of each can to remove the rust? It was fucking embarrassing!” I asserted.
“Holy shit—no!” Brandon enjoyed a horselaugh at the notion of me desperately sanding down the bottoms of the immortal beer cans.
“Dude, one year, Uncle Steve walked up to me holding one of the cans and asked how old it was. I told him that it would be in his best interest to drink anything else.” Brandon was in hysterics at this anecdote.
“Hey, remember at the end of my senior year in high school, you came home from college for the weekend, and we drank Leo’s Special Ex stash out of desperation?” Brandon reminded me through his laughter.
“Jesus Christ–I forgot we ever drank it! It’s a testament to our iron Scandinavian guts that we’re alive to tell the tale,” I emphasized.
“Sweet Mary Mother of God,” Brandon exclaimed, “Fucking killer hangover!”
We writhed in a communal fit of laughter for at least a minute. When Brandon and I pulled ourselves back together, we adjourned to the cement front porch just outside the front door. For a minute, we just surveyed the soggy earth and took in the telltale pungent aroma of the impending spring.
As we sat, the disposal company that rented us all three of the 30-yard dumpsters the remodel had required, arrived to pick up the latest overflowing land barge of construction debris. The driver got out of the truck and waved at us. A standard-issue Minnesotan, he remarked that, “The weather we are having is amazing!” We politely nodded in agreement, and gave him the green light to, “Take it away!”
We watched in rapt fascination, as he loaded the massive dumpster onto the truck bed without any assistance. After his task was complete, he climbed back up into the cab of his truck, waved goodbye, and drove off. It was one of those moments of perfectly timed symbolism—the driver was hauling away the final remnants of the broken-down old home we’d worked so hard to transform, minutes after Brandon installed the final piece of finish carpentry. We’d once again managed to collaborate to transform something ordinary into something different, something so much better.
“And there it goes…” Brandon said with almost a pang of loss in his voice.
“Indeed…” I echoed his sentiment.
“Hey, I love you and all, but I’m going to need my weekends back.”
“The fellas are inquiring about me down at the Roadside, the ladies are missing me over at the Drop Inn, and I owe Mae money, so I have to get back to Mae’s one of these nights to settle up my tab. Plus, I ain’t been laid in like three months,'” he nudged me with his shoulder.
“Yeah, I figured your sweeping barroom wisdom, and alley-cat charm would eventually be required back at the office,” I kidded him.
“Congrats—by the way—on getting laid this year,” I added.
“Thank you,” he said proudly.
“Before you leave me, how about we relive the Christmas of ’94?” I suggested.
“What?” He shot me a quizzical look.
“Don’t you remember what I got you that year?” I asked.
“Not…really…” he ventured with a hint of confusion.
“Well, I wrapped up a pair of not exactly, but pretty much, matching heavy boxes, and a smaller, lighter box. Each of the boxes contained a dozen items inside—all necessities for a young man in the throes of college,” I teased.
“Oh! Holy shit! You got me a 12-pack of Special Ex, a 12-pack of Special Ex Light, and a 12-pack of condoms!” He exclaimed.
“Trojans Lubricated with Nonoxinal-9—bingo!” I pointed at him.
“Those came in handy!” he exclaimed, “Saved me a trip to Kerm’s Pick ‘n’ Save.”
“Great!” I slapped him multiple times between his broad shoulders the way our grandfather used to.
“I figure we can use the beer tonight, and you’ll need the condoms next weekend when you make your triumphant return to the Drop Inn.”
He loosed a hearty howl that echoed all the way to Valhalla.
“Let’s hit Valley Liquors and CVS—my treat!”
Brandon, still howling, punched me in the shoulder.
“And don’t forget to toss the condoms into your glove compartment,” I winked.
“For sure!” He assured me.
True to my word, we had procured the beer and condoms. In addition, we snagged some BBQ from Carl’s and slaughtered it further on the same front porch where I hatched my plan.
As the sun continued to set just a bit further down the lane, and the permafrost reseeded just a bit further toward the mailbox, the ghosts of winter exhaled their communal dying breath. We swilled Special Ex and watched the transformation before us as we recanted the transformation that we’d managed behind us.
“Hey, thanks, seriously. I’d be homeless, or dead, without you,” I stammered as I cracked the unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.
“Fuck bro, I wouldn’t do this for anyone else—not even a hot chick!” Brandon stammered as he cracked an unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.
“No, but seriously,” I slurred, “I can’t love you any harder than I do right now on this front porch,” I flung my right arm around his impossibly stout shoulders.
He turned and looked at me as hard and as close as he ever had in our four-plus decades together, and slurred, “We’re brothers, dumbass—we only have us! So, don’t die, because I love you too, dipshit.”
We almost kissed, but we fell onto the cement porch behind us in a heap of glorious laughter, careful not so spill a single drop of precious Special Ex’s in the process.
“Fuck, we have to go to bed! Seriously!” I roared from the cement slab that buoyed us.
“Not until I finished this,” Brandon thrust his beer northward, then he lowered in carefully to his lips and gingerly slurped.
“Totally!” I echoed as I attempted to replicate his deft horizontal consumption technique.
Later that evening, we passed out in Drew’s room. We slept in the pair of twin beds we had spotted on the side of the road with the hand-painted “Free” sign on them. It had been nearly thirty years since we’d shared a bedroom.
“Good night, bro,” he called from the bottom bunk, “I love your dumb ass.”
“Your’s too,” I answered, “Don’t yak in Drew’s bed!”
Brandon laughed, then babbled incoherently, then started snoring.
The next morning, when the sunrise pierced the blinds in Drew’s room—we neglected to close them in our boozy state—we awoke with familiar matching Special Ex hangovers. These hangovers were of a newer, and thankfully subtler, vintage.
Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley