The summer after I graduated high school (1983), I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had tinkered with cars & engines for a few years, but I had taken electronics classes in high school (on my father’s prompting); but truthfully, fixing TVs did not interest me. So I decided to take auto shop classes at the local community college. I was also looking for a job, and that’s when my buddy Mark told me that his older brother, Chris, was looking for a helper at the diesel engine machine shop that he worked at. I applied and was hired on the spot (at minimum wage, of course) and the boss, Bob Kirk, was pleased that I was taking the classes, even though it meant I worked a modified schedule (7 – 3 at the shop, then classes from 4 – 10). It was a grueling schedule for the next 12 months or so.
Chris was your typical beer drinking, truck fixing, rather-fight-you-once-than-look-at-you-twice kinda redneck that movies are made of. Chris had lost his driver’s license in Virginia because his 5th DWI resulted in a fatality, not his own; so he walked everywhere. And his personality made him the kind of character that makes “reality TV” so popular today. Little did I know that the adventures with Chris were just beginning….
I think it was the first week (or so) of working with Chris that his “unique” personality showed up. He sent me into the parts room to find…. hell, I forget; probably some 1/2″ lock washers or something. I was looking around, trying to (a) figure out what it was he had sent me in there for, and (b) how this cluster-fuck of a parts room was laid out. It didn’t take long before Chris entered the room, grabs a handful of whatever it was he had sent me there for, then he gets up in my face….. “Fuck you Bill, you’re fucking useless, FUCK YOU, you got any friends?, FUCK THEM TOO!” He then stormed out of the room, leaving me to contemplate whether or not this job was a good fit for me. I thought it might be prudent that I start looking for another job. …… So about a week goes by and I’m trying to watch my Ps & Qs, but of course I did something small and insignificant; but it pissed Chris off, so he got in my face again… “Fuck you Bill, you’re fucking useless, FUCK YOU, you got any friends?” And that’s when I interjected “Just you Chris!!” 😉 He stopped mid-rant, smiled and walked away. I had thought of that reply 10 minutes after the first incident and I had been waiting to use it since then. Timing is everything and I had broken the ice. Chris & I worked together pretty good after that.
I needed to replace one of the rear brake cables on my ’67 VW Bug, so I borrowed a long breaker bar from Chris to turn my 36 mm socket, to get the drum off. All went well with this task until the time came to re-tighten the nut. Hindsight being 20/20, I now know that an air impact wrench would have been the better choice for tightening that large nut, but since all I had was Chris’ breaker bar, I proceeded to put my full weight on the end, hoping to get the nut to turn just a little bit further, so I could get a cotter pin through it. Unfortunately, the stress & strain was too much for the tool, and the square end sheared off. FUCK! It was a Mac brand tool, so I knew it would be covered under warranty, if I could find the local Mac tool truck. I think it took 2 days of driving around after work, but somehow I lucked into seeing him at another shop. I quickly popped in, showed him the breaker bar, and asked for a replacement end. He said he did not have any replacement ends, but he did have another complete breaker bar; he also suggested that I buy the new bar, swap the ends myself and he would order me another replacement end. This sounded like a reasonable idea, so I bought the bar and swapped the ends. The next morning I went into work waving the bar at Chris (who was across the room), and shouted “Here’s your bar back, thanks!“. About 10 o’clock that morning, Chris comes over to me and says “You sneaky fuck. You thought I wouldn’t notice that you broke the end of my bar and got a replacement?” I hung my head as he verbally berated me up one side and down the other. My pleadings of “Hey, at least I didn’t return it broken!” held no weight with him. After what seemed like an eternity, he admitted: “Well, to be honest, I’ve broken the end 6 times and the handle twice.” I was livid, but Chris thought my torment was funny, because…. well, he’s Chris.
One day a customer dropped off a Detroit Diesel exhaust manifold that had one of the bolt hole ears broken off and brazed back on. He wanted the face surface of the manifold to be milled so that a new gasket would seal against it. The problem, for those not familiar with Detroit Diesel exhaust manifolds, is that the other side of the manifold is round, thus making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to mount it against the flat surface of the milling machine. Chris was trying his best to get this mounted up, but as luck would have it, as soon as he got the manifold level, then tightened the mounting strap, it would not be level any more. And having the customer watching Chris’ every move from only a few feet away did not help the situation. I was wrapping up my day, so I gave Chris a quick status update of the tasks I was working on and I closed out with “Don’t let this manifold get to you. You’ve got this handled.” He thanked me for the update, said the manifold would be no problem, and that I should take off for class lest I be late. I took off not thinking twice about the situation. The following morning when I turned on the lights in the shop, I first saw the manifold on the machine, still un-milled. Then I looked towards the rear door and I saw the forklift sitting there, with a small puddle of coolant underneath and a wrench sticking out of the radiator. Before my sleepy brain could connect the dots, Chris walks in, bright & cheery, with a coffee in his hand. I looked at Chris, then the radiator, then back at Chris. “Uhh, what happened here?” I shyly asked. “Well, it was the damnedest thing,” Chris responded, “I was trying to get that manifold level, but it kept slipping, then I’d get it tight, but it wasn’t level. So I got mad and threw a wrench out the back door and into the back parking lot.” I pointed to the radiator and he said “Oh, it started up all by itself and jumped right in front of the doorway”. So there we are, 7-o’clock in the morning, trying to braze a hole in the radiator before the boss showed up.
One night, I stopped by Chris’ parent’s house (where he was living). Chris was there and surprisingly, so was a lady that he had arranged a date with. I was introduced, Chris said they were just getting started on making some BLT sandwiches and that I should stay for one. Not wanting to interrupt their date, I tried to excuse myself; but Chris insisted that I stay. I sat at the table next to the gal and we made some small-talk while Chris started to prepare to cook up the bacon. Just then, Pam & Bert (2 other friends/drinking buddies of ours) showed up. Both of them had already been drinking and Chris insisted that they also stay for some BLTs. At some point, Pam spilled her beer and she snagged the paper towel that Chris had placed on a plate in preparation for the freshly cooked bacon. Chris noticed the paper towel was missing, so he got another one and put it on the plate. Pam turned around, saw the new paper towel, and snagged it too. By now Chris has scooped up the bacon, but alas, he doesn’t have a paper towel at the ready; so he put the bacon back in the pan and got another paper towel from the roll. Just as he put it down, Pam snagged it and that was the final straw for Chris. He blew up, yelling “WHY DON’T YOU JUST TAKE THE WHOLE FUCKING ROLL?!?!?” and threw the plate at Pam. Quickly there were dishes and food flying all around, Pam was ducking the barrage, and Bert was trying to get Pam out of the line of fire. Meanwhile, Chris’ date was ready to bolt out the door when I grabbed her hand, quietly telling her “Just let it go around you“. We sat there quietly while Pam & Bert exited the house with Chris following, still throwing dishes and verbal assaults at them. After they left, Chris comes back in the house, picks up the dishes, takes a big breath, and asks “OK, who’s up for a BLT?” I shyly replied “If it’s not too much trouble” 😉
Chris would leave that shop after having a verbal altercation with the boss, but the adventure didn’t stop there.
A few years later I packed all my stuff in my car and drove 3000 miles, to Long Beach, California, to start a new life. A few months after I got settled in, Chris called me out of the blue, asking about the job market on the west coast. I told him that I thought it was good and that I had found a (better paying) job just 2 weeks after I arrived. He thanked me and I thought that was the end of it. Then, a few weeks after that, I got a knock on my door (at 7:30 am !), and guess who it was? Chris, of course. He had hitch-hiked across the country, carrying only a small bag of clothes, a welding helmet, and welder’s gloves. I invited him in and notified my girlfriend (who was in the bathroom at that moment) that we had a guest. Chris would end up sleeping on my floor for about 6 weeks. In that time, he said he was looking for a job but I knew his choice of employment would be limited (mostly because he did not have any form of transportation). One day, while “looking for a job”, Chris was in a bar when he struck up a conversation with another guy. This guy was the owner of a security agency, so he asked Chris if he had ever considered being a guard? Chris was open to the idea (since he had no other options at the time). The guy asked if Chris had a driver’s license, and Chris told him no; so the guy said “Let’s get you to the DMV!” He also asked if Chris could shoot a pistol and Chris replied that he could (leaving out the part of not being allowed to have any guns). The man said “Let’s get you to the range!” and off they went. At the DMV, the clerk asked if Chris had a valid license in any other state and Chris (honestly) answered “No”, so the clerk had him take the written test, the driving test, and an eye test; all of which Chris breezed through with flying colors. Later, at the range, Chris easily qualified, and thus is how he got his first job in California.
That job, like many others, did not last long. Chris got another job at a concrete cutting & demolition company, which truthfully was a better fit for his skill set. I was surprised when Chris announced that he was moving out but then he said he wasn’t going far – he had befriended the (older) woman who lived in the apartment building just ahead of mine. Her name was “Mary” and I think she was just lonely, so having a new live-in boyfriend was probably like heaven to her. By this time, Chris had bought an El Camino as a driver. It was beat and mostly primer, but by his (Virginia) standards, it was a cream puff. A quick trip to the local Pick & Pull junkyard netted him a pair of bucket seats to replace the drab bench seat. The bucket seats needed a little “sprucing up”, so he got a spray can of vinyl dye, and douched them in a fresh coat of black coloring. He was so proud of his handy work that he didn’t even wait for it to dry completely before trying them out. By now Chris had a puppy dog as his new side kick and they hung out on Mary’s front porch in the cool evenings. All seemed good….. until one day Chris told me he was leaving. Chris was homesick for Virginia and had just gotten his tax refund check, so while Mary was at work, he grabbed all his stuff & the dog, then headed east. Later that night, I had to console a heart broken Mary.
Back in Virginia, Chris went to the local DMV to get his license & registration updated. The clerk there asked if he had a valid license in any other state and Chis replied “Yes I do”, handing over his California license. The lady told him he would simply need to take the eye test, which he easily passed. 9 months after leaving Virginia on foot, he was back, with a license, a car and a dog. It would take another 9 months for Virginia DMV to figure out that this was the same person who had lost his license for 10 years. (Not like THAT would ever slow him down)
Chris bought a small, cheap fishing boat. One Friday he decided to drive to Tappahannock Virginia, sleep in his car, and get an early morning start at fishing. Soon after arriving at the local public dock, Chris was greeted by a local “working woman” who asked if he would like to join her and another gal back at their hotel room. Thinking with the wrong head, Chris agreed and followed her to the hotel, where the 3 of them had a wonderful evening together. Chris awoke to find his clothes, wallet and keys were gone, along with both of the women. The car & boat were still parked outside, so he called his brother, Mark, to come & rescue him. The weekend of fishing was not going to happen this time.
The following weekend, Chris decided to go fishing a little closer to home. Early Saturday morning he put his boat in at Occoquan, Virginia. Chris was arrested for being drunk before he got out of the harbor. Another call to Mark (for bail) and another weekend down the drain.
The next weekend, Chris decided to stay even closer to home, putting his boat in the Potomac River. He was quickly detained & arrested by the park police for drinking while boating and discharging a weapon (“fishing” with a gun). Mark was needed for bail yet again.
The 4th weekend, Chris once again put in to the Potomac River, because dammit, he just wanted to go fishing! The same park police saw him and called for back-up before approaching Chris’ boat. Chris was not having any of this and for a brief time, he held the park police under duress. For those who do not know, the Potomac River is actually owned by Washington DC, so Chris was now facing a federal charge of “piracy”. Luckily the charges were dismissed by the judge because in his words “No one gets charged with piracy!”.
Chris was “between jobs” and he decided to sign up for the Army. The recruiter said he could defer entrance for up to 12 months and Chris replied that he was available immediately; so he got a spot for the following week. When the recruiter asked what type of job training Chris was interested in, Chris replied “Cannon Division”. Basic training was a breeze and quickly Chris found himself learning how to aim a tank. One day he had a “verbal altercation” with his trainer, so he spun the turret around and drew aim on the trainer’s car in the parking lot. Chris was given a “general” discharge, which comes with one stipulation – stay out of trouble for 6 months and it turns into an “honorable” discharge; mess up and it turns into a “dishonorable” discharge. In true Chris fashion, he stayed out of trouble just long enough for the honorable discharge papers to arrive.
Chris had meandered his way up to Alaska where he was working on oil rigs. As the weather got colder (and possibly loosing his job), Chris decided if he was going to be homeless, it might as well be somewhere warm. Corpus Christi, Texas seemed like a nice place to be, but how would he get there? Chris had previously started taking pilot’s license lessons, but because of his previous legal run-ins, he could never actually BE a pilot, but he could be a radio man or navigator. After checking an on-line pilot web board, Chris found someone who was flying a private plane from Alaska to Texas and he happened to need a radio man. So Chris hopped the flight and south he went.
Another time, Chris was living in his POS car in the winter, in Wyoming. After spending a cold night parked at a highway rest stop, he was awoken by a police officer tapping on his window. “You can’t sleep here, move on” said the officer. Chris got out of his car, thought about his options, and decided to punch the officer in the face. That got him a free ride to the local jail where he remained for the rest of the winter. He got “3 hots and a cot” for 6 months, then was released on a warm summer day.
Some of the stories about Chris are from his younger days. When Chris & his older brother, Paul, were in their teen years, they were hanging out in their room, contemplating what to do with 3 LSD blotter squares. Just then, their mother walked in (probably with an arm full of folded laundry) and she caught them red-handed. Quickly she grabbed up the squares and loudly asked “IS THIS DRUGS?“. Both boys were wide-eyed and speechless. So in a self-less effort to protect her oldest boys, mom downed all of the squares. Chris told me that his mom spent the weekend sitting in a corner, talking to the wall; and of course he & Paul had a wild weekend with no adult supervision. Their youngest brother, Mark, would later verify these events as accurate.
One time back in high school, I was visiting Mark at home. Mark had a large photo of a tree trunk that had one side of a handcuff attached to the tree and the other side hanging open. The tree was slowly growing over & around the cuffs as the leaves piled up around the base of the tree. I asked Mark if this photo represented man’s escape from nature or some other sordid nuance. Mark said that Chris had handcuffed him (Mark) to the tree because Chris didn’t want to watch him while their mom went shopping……