Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Tale of friendship, among scattering mashed potatoes

I worked flipping burgers at Sonic Drive-In when I was 16, and strangely enough my manager was John—dope-smoking, gym-exploding, brisket-purloining, Nick-hating John, who I told you about several posts ago. This was where John and I became friends, a friendship which endures to this day. And this post is about friendship.

John had a temper in those days, as any of his friends would attest. He also had a strong sense of justice, and didn't suffer dumb asses gladly (per my earlier story—somehow, we became friends anyway). There was also the look, which we were all familiar with. John was the most amiable, laid-back guy in the world until someone provoked the look. It was as if a dark cloud descended on his person, and you could see him clenching his teeth, and narrowing his eyes. We all knew what happened next, and as his friends, it was incumbent on each of us to try to: A) remove John from the presence of the dumb ass, B) remove the dumb ass from the presence of John, or C) mitigate the damage. I wasn't a particularly good friend on the night I'm going to tell you about, because I effected none of these things.

I was 17 at the time, and we'd been out drinking all night, John and I, along with our friend Fish. I don't believe we were especially drunk, but we were really hungry, and at around 2:30 in the morning, we walked into Denny's to gorge ourselves. It was really busy, a Friday night I believe, so busy they were asking people to share tables. They seated us at a corner booth that already held 4 or 5, placing chairs at the end which John and I sat in, while Fish squeezed onto the edge of the half-moon bench seat, to our right.

It was companionable, for the most part. I was in a good mood, as was John, and everyone at the table chatted pleasantly, except for the guy sitting directly across. He just wanted no part of me. He was about 30, with Elvis sideburns and slicked back hair. He muttered something about "fuckin' hippies" when we sat down, and kept glaring at me, and whispering to his friend next to him, who kept telling him to shut up. John noticed right away. Look, I didn't give a fuck—I thought he was kind of funny, actually, and it was no skin off my ass if he didn't like me—but I could see the cloud descending on John. I made a few jokes, and finally John laughed about it, and I thought everything was alright. When they served our food, I dove right in, two-fisting my burger and fries, sort of oblivious to John and Fish. I did notice my friend across the table, though, growing more agitated, mumbling more about long-hairs, before saying, loudly, and looking directly at me:"Dirty fuckin' hippie." I laughed, may even have spit cola from my nose—it was just such a stupid thing to say—and I forgot, temporarily, about John.

I remembered, though, when he sprung from his chair in one fluid motion across the table, and began beating the hell out of Side-Burns. Mashed potatoes and meat loaf went flying everywhere. John was on the table, stomach first, left hand around the guy's throat, right hand pummeling him with blow after blow, while the guy flailed around and tried to free himself. It took us probably 30 seconds to accomplish that—John was on a definite roll—and by the time we did, the guy was pretty bloodied up. The police were already out in the parking lot, apparently, because they were there in seconds. They carefully listened to the stories of everyone present at the table, and the waitstaff, then proceeded to arrest Side-Burns, who by this time was fairly depressed by the whole thing. As they led him away in hand-cuffs, we waved goodbye, though his eyes were swelling up pretty badly by this time, so he probably couldn't see us. And Denny's replaced everyone's meals for free, which was probably the highlight of my evening.

As I remember it now, I'm really glad John didn't get arrested—there were several other occasions when neither of us was so fortunate—and also strangely touched by John's act of friendship. Reminds me of when Captain Call beat hell out of the Yankee who was quirting Newt. It was ill-considered, but heroic, in its way. And frankly, both Side-Burns and the Yankee had it coming. So there you go...

In honor of John, two songs: Brian Wilson's classic ode to friendship, I Get Around; and the late great Phil Lynott's twisted ode to the bonds between boy-men, The Boys Are Back.

(John—I miss you, brother...See you in Texas, soon, I hope)...

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