Whenever I showed up, they were always at the high point of their whiskey. It didn’t take much for them to get there. All of us but the renter of the apartment were in High School (though two of us were in Middle School at the time), and as for C----, I never knew how old he was or how to pronounce his last name. I think he was in his late twenties. Only things I knew about him for certain was that he worked during the day at a buffet place called Ryan’s, and the only edible food in his fridge was eggs.
I nicknamed C----’s place the Ashtray because everyone put their cigarettes out on whatever was within reach. The carpet. The couch. The coffee table. It didn’t matter to the smoker, and it didn’t matter to C----. Only time I heard him yell at someone about it was when a kid put his cigarette out on the TV screen.
The Ashtray was where some of us kids would hang out to drink whiskey and smoke. The master bedroom had a couch in it and the restroom connected to it had been converted as a pot growing station.
The other bedroom was were C----’s bed was, although I don’t remember him sleeping often. All I knew was that he was stuck in our town for the moment and he didn’t have any friends his own age. So he opened his home up to us, and we hung out there with him every night for a few months.
Then a couple of us got kicked out of our parent’s places for one reason or another and started crashing on his couches. Somewhere along there, he stopped referring to us as kids or friends. He started calling us his family, and while some of the kids were getting high and drinking whiskey, I would catch him looking over us with a look I didn’t quite understand. Maybe he was playing house or pretending to be our older brother. No one mentioned it. He called us family and we stayed in his apartment.
I worked a lot when I was in High School. 40 to 55 hours a week. I was saving my money to move away from Oklahoma. This made my role in the Ashtray clear. I was the bringer of bread (old pizzas) and money (loaned to anyone when asked). Many a time C---- would ask for a loan. I always hoped it was with the intention to buy food, but it was always with plans to buy drugs. At the time I was pretty straight laced, and finding a home there, I never judged him or the partakers. I loaned him a decent amount of money and I was always paid back.
They all knew I was an uber Christian. That I adhered to a strict regimen of prayer and non secularized fun. An odd fit for the Ashtray. But everyone in that apartment liked me. I'd like to think this was because I was kind and understanding and because I didn’t judge. But really to a bunch of drunk high high school kids, my free pizza probably played a large role in the fondness I experienced there.
One night, before I went over to C----’s place. I stopped at a gas station. I pumped my gas and went inside to buy some chips. I had just gotten off and since it was late, decided on doritos to be my dinner. In the small gas station, I noticed several gangstalike kids from my grade that frequented C----’s.
Seeing them and recognizing them, I told them all to grab a drink and snack on me (I had just gotten through delivering pizzas for 6 hours and had quite the bank). They were so happy to oblige that everyone grabbed a soda and a small bag of chips.
Later that night while I was eating my doritos and minding my own gawd damn business, a new young drug dealer showed up at C----’s place. He was as flashy and rude a seventeen year old who had just started selling weed and thought he was a big deal could be. But that would have been fine except he kept picking on me. Calling me a lil white bitch and such. I have no idea why except that I probably looked like an easy target. I was very nice at that age and white and of an average looking build.
Now at C---’s, there was a standing agreement among all parties that entered the apartment (whether they were aware of it or not) that if there was a disagreement among those there it was settled in the thunderdome. The thunderdome was the living room with all moveable furniture removed or pushed to the far walls. Those watching the perimeter of the match would hold couch cushions and pillow near the entertainment center to protect the TV and combatants in case they crashed into it. The combatants themselves entered the thunderdome having agreed whether the match would be wrestling only, striking only, or a combination of both.
So I got fed up. I say to this wanna be drug dealer, “thunderdome?” To which the young drug dealer agrees to and says he needs to go smoke some dope first. He and half a dozen people retreat to the bedroom with couches only and start smoking. Unfortunately for the drug dealer, he ends up smoking dope with people who know me. He was a wrestler for years, they tell him. He has rolled with everyone in this apartment and no one got close to beating him. He was in a no gi submission tournament once and got third place. (I’ll admit that most of this talk was inflated, but still flattering)
The wannabe drug dealer pansied out. But I didn’t know this.
After a while. I note that the wannabe drug dealer is staying in the bedroom devoted to pot and not coming out like everyone else does to mingle. So, being the good Christian man I am, I decide to go back there and check on the gent.
When I enter the room, everyone pauses. I sit next to the wannabe and say, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
The wannabe says, “Nah, we cool.”
“But,” I say, “we agreed to thunderdome?”
“Na,” says the wannabe.
I am notably disappointed by this. But as Abe said, "do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” So sitting next to the wannabe, I put my arm around his shoulders and neck and say, “yeah, were cool,” I lean into his face, “we’re friends now right.”
“Yeah, friends,” the wannabe says.
I kiss him on the cheek. He does nothing. I wait for a bit but decided the room is too smoky with dope. So I release the wannabe and get up to leave the room. I am just about out the door when I hear (not see initially because my back is to everyone) a commotion.
Apparently the wannabe had had a bottle of coke or beer in his hand and had gotten up behind me with it raised so as to hit me in the back of the head. Fortunately for me, the rest of the room was comprised of the same gangstalike kids I had bought a soda and bag of chips for earlier in the evening and a trio of them had seized the wannabe before he could cause me any harm.
By the time I turned around, three of them had hands on him with the largest holding him by his shirt up close to his face yelling, “You don’t know who you are fucking with!”
The wannabe was thrown out of C----’s with little fuss and my gangstalike saviors asked me if I was ok or needed anything.
I was fine, I told them, but I would rather not like to be berated and called a lil white bitch.
One of them slapped me on the arm and said something about me being the saint and the wannabe didn’t know that.
I didn’t really understand what he was referring to until the wannabe showed back up at C---’s a week or so later. I was already at the apartment and when the wannabe came in he walked up to me nervously and said, “We cool?”
“Of course, I said.”
“Thanks. I didn’t know you were the saint or I wouldn’t have tried to fuck with you.’
“The Saint?” I responded.
“Yeah, that’s what everyone calls you. You got any pizza?”
“Yes, there is some in the fridge next to the eggs,” I said.
I have thought about this odd little experience over the years and have had different thoughts on it, but the current one is that it is possible to be canonized by a community simply because you were willing to share freely of yourself.
In my case it was pizza, chips, and soda. A regular southern Oklahoma Wedding Feast at Cana.