When I try to think back to the first time I ever saw Joe, I always go back to this moment in middle school when I was walking home late one day, and as I passed his house I saw him, his mother, and his brother Nolan stepping out of their car. They were muddy and one of them held a soccer ball under his arm. I didn’t know them yet, but something drew my attention to them. It was like I had some sort of psychic ability to know that these two individuals would become two of my best friends for the rest of my days.
I liked to introduce Joe as “The most indifferent man in the world, ladies and gentleman.” Make no mistake, however. When it came down to it, Joe had balls so big they could put a cartoonish south park testicular cancer victim to shame. He stepped up to the plate when he was needed. Not when he was asked, no. He didn’t need asking.
I have a strong detest for people who seem to think that swearing is some sort of taboo thing that shouldn’t be done in public. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you “Don’t tell Errol to watch his language. He might hit you.” It’s gotten me into a few tight situations, but I’ve never actually gotten to the punch-throwing stage. One time I was eating at a late night diner with Joe and I was trying to comfort him over his recent breakup with his first love. Being the supportive friend I called his cheating ex a fucking bitch. Behind me some hero said, “Hey, you wanna watch your language?”
“No.” I replied.
“What!?” His girlfriend sat across from him and told him to calm down. She said everything was fine. “What the fuck did you say to me you little prick?” Fastest hypocrite turnaround in history.
“Just leave us alone.” I seethed. His better half kept trying to get him to end it.
“You little mother fucker! Stupid son of a bitch thinks he can talk back to me.” But they were all just words, which is my whole argument. So Joe and I continued to engage in our conversation. I didn’t swear any more, and I didn’t swear any less. So when I felt an appropriate use of something profane, it usually followed with a silverware clanging coming from behind. Finally the asshole behind me decided he’d had enough pancakes and stood up to leave. Joe saw this, mouth full of his breakfast. He didn’t waste any time, picking up a napkin and spitting his food out. “You have a fucking great night sir!” He shouted, gloriously. The round man stopped and spun. He marched right up to our table.
“Hey if you little shitheads want I can call my cousin down here and we can settle this outside.”
“Just get out of here.” I said. Some mystical aura that prevents people from taking that extra step with me pushed him away and he exited the building. Joe and I returned to our food, proud to have stood our ground. Like I said, he was indifferent, yet assertive.
His indifference spread to doing things we probably shouldn’t, too, such as me and Fireworks. I try to top my 4th every year. I fail a lot, but when I hit that magic that is the perfect way to celebrate, it’s worth all the previous attempts. This one year a light switched on in my head, and I was ecstatic about it. A fireworks war! How cool would that be? Living in Kansas, it was easy to find a wide open field, take twenty paces and then unleash fire and burnt cardboard upon one another. Logan and Joe were the only ones willing to participate, which was just fine with me. Three’s company. We prepared with frequent trips across the border to Oklahoma, where fireworks were legal, and set out one wet night to a grassy field to play ball. Logan had blown all his money on M-80s and roman candles. Joe had a slightly wider array, but I went all out. I brought a broken broomstick which I had taped a cone fountain to the top of, intending to use it as a spewing spear if anyone got too close, a series of smoke bombs, and I had planned on aiming artillery shells at them from afar if anyone was too cowardice to come close. My main problem was a lack of a midrange weapon, but I didn’t know that at the time. We went to three separate corners and began our assault. Logan and Joe played around a bit, firing back and forth at each other, while I backed up in the wet grass, placing my box next to me and readying an artillery shell. I smirked as they laughed and loaded it up. Angling the device between them as a scare tactic, I lit the Mission: Impossible fuse. There was a moment of silence.
It shot like a rocket and exploded a ray of light. Logan and Joe screamed “What the fuck!?” while I doubled over in laughter. It was pretty much decided then that it was two against one, and Joe began unleashing several smoke bombs in an attempt to get closer to me. Logan was distracting with his M-80’s, throwing them at me and trying to get them to land in my box. One landed right next to my foot. I picked it up in an attempt to return it, but it blew up in my hand. Luckily I was wearing a thick glove. I tried to light a few smoke bombs of my own, but being crouched in the wet grass had soaked my fuses! Joe was getting closer and Logan continued chucking M-80’s. I was cornered. I had no escape, and none of my fucking fireworks would light! I brought out the spear as my last resort. I saw Joe’s shadow through a pillar of blue smoke. My spear’s fuse was fine, but my lighter had gotten wet. I flicked the flint over and over again. I heard Joe easily light up a little exploding firework. flick, flick, flick.
I tried not to breathe as I held it against the fuse.
Ttttttssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss… “You better run, motherfucker!” I stood and spun around as the fountain sparked.
“Oh fuck!” Joe bolted down the field. Logan was too busy holding his sides to try and hit either of us as I chased after Joe, glowing, sparkling spear in hand, singing the hair on the back of his neck as I extended my hand, trying to stab him. I don’t think either of us had ever run so fast in our lives. When the fire died down we nearly collapsed and called it a draw. I patted Joe on the back and we threw our arms around each other’s shoulders, pacing ourselves on the way back to Logan. On the way home Joe wanted to stop by a McDonald’s. Every time we went to McDonald’s Joe ordered the same thing. “I’d like a number 2 with TWO PLAIN CHEESEBURGERS AND A HI-C!”
To this day when I walk into a McDonald’s and review the menu, I see the number 2 combo and think of Joe’s very specific and firm order.
Maybe I’ll walk into a Mcdonald’s late at night and scan the menu before ultimately settling on the chicken nuggets. It’s possible then, that a few frat boys going through a ridiculously childish initiation come up behind me and put a soaked chloroform rag over my mouth. I’ll have barely enough time to pass out before going into cardiac arrest, dying in the arms of strangers. At least I’ll have the comfort of dying while thinking of Joe, my brother in arms.