Life has been spinning up faster and faster of late, I actually started this post at the beginning of the week but with other obligations and a rather busy weekend it just got put to the side. It will be two weeks this coming Tuesday I received a phone call that I was not expecting in anyway shape or form. A good friend of mine lost his battle with cancer.
Most people, who meet me for the first time, generally see a person who appears to be very laid back and quiet even to the point of being shy. People even consider me to be on the conservative side, and always in control. I wasn’t always like this; hidden away deep inside is a total wild man whom from time to time still tries to escape although I do my best to keep him under control. This story is about one of those wild nights, which had become such a common part of my life in my younger years.
I had moved to Florida in 1981 and after spending two years working in a mall restaurant, I felt it was time to make a change. I wanted an outside job; I had grown tired of the hustle and bustle of a mall environment. The daily grind of slopping food on a plate for retiree’s had grown monotonous. Now mind you I always had an active social life, I wasn’t dating anyone at the time and thoroughly enjoyed my freedom. After work most of us would head down to Brew Master’s for a cold beer or if it was a weekend, hit a local club for drinks and dancing. Sounds pretty much like what most people do, nothing out of the ordinary. Little did I know that my life was soon to change in more ways then I ever could have anticipated; even I was surprised to find what I had lurking inside of me.
After weeks of searching and hunting, I finally found the job I was looking for. In two weeks I would start as the foreman of a nursery. My duties were to be overseeing the plant stock, upgrading the container plants, fertilizing, and just plain maintaining the plants to be in a good usable condition for when they go out on a job. The company I was to be working for had several divisions, there was a landscaping department, irrigation, landscape maintenance, and of course the nursery.
My first day at work I was nervous, I knew what I was supposed to do, having worked in a garden center before; it was just a bad case of the first day jitters. I showed up early so I could get settled in and find my way around. I was introduced to everyone on all the crews, all but a few I barely remembered everyone’s name. At that time no one made much of an impression on me other then Jerry, who was the landscaping foreman. Jerry took me around and showed me where the supplies where stored, the pump house, and gave me the rundown on the people who would be working under me.
By the end of the first day I was fairly well settled in and it had passed without any major incidents. I went home feeling good about this job and looking forward to the next day. I had no idea how drastically my life was about to change just by going to work the next morning and meeting J.
The next morning again I went in to work about a half an hour early. I wanted to go through the supply shed and see what I had available in the way of herbicides and fungicides for the foliage plants. As I pulled into a parking space and stepped out of the car I heard a voice say to me “I see you came back for more.” Now I hadn’t seen anyone when I pulled in being in my own world lost in thought. I looked around to find where the voice came from. Finally I saw the source of the comment; he was sitting in his car two spaces over from mine.
I began to walk over as he opened the door of his car and stepped out, I asked him what he had said as I was not sure I had heard him right. He proceeded to introduce himself to me; his name was J, J D; I should have realized then and there his initials stood for a blend of Tennessee whiskey. J then told me that no one seemed to make it passed their first day and if they did they didn’t show up the next. I did not know what it was then and I still could not even tell you today, but somehow I just knew that J and I would be friends. I also had no clue as to what kind of adventures we would be having together at that point as well.
J is a very tall man; he stood about six foot four inches and probably weighed around 220 pounds. He was dressed in a pair of camouflaged pants, ankle high army boots with a scruffy t-shirt, and an eight-inch Bowie knife hanging from his belt. J’s Irish and Arab heritage only intensified his features. He had jet-black hair, dark eyes, and a firmly chiseled chin. J had intensity in his eyes like no other I have ever seen in anyone else. When you looked in his eyes you could see there was more to him then what you saw on the outside, you just could not be sure what it was. There was no missing J; he stood out in a crowd
Over the next few weeks J and I became fast friends, I found out that he had just graduated college and had a degree in Theater. Here was a man who could whip his knife out of its sheath in the blink of an eye and bury it in the trunk of a tree all the while reciting Shakespeare. For the most part J seemed to be intolerant of most people, treating them with indifference. Yet on the other hand he was privately tutoring a person on the landscaping crew who was illiterate. J was a contradiction in terms, you could never know what to expect from him.
J and I soon became fast friends, always hanging out together, both on and off the job. About one week after we had met, he came to me one Friday after work and asked if I wanted to go hit a few bars and down a few beers. I agreed, and told him I just needed to run home, clean-up, change, and grab a bite to eat. We settled on a time and firmed up our plans.
Once I had everything in order at home I was ready to head out for the evening. I checked my wallet to make sure I had enough money for the night, jumped in the car and set out on the road. Now, to get to J’s is a fair drive, he lived at the opposite end of the county from me, even with traffic and making all the stop lights, it’s still a bit of a drive. As I was driving, I was thinking to myself how much I was looking forward to this evening. Since I started the new job I hadn’t really been out much and I was looking forward to checking out some new bars.
I arrived at J’s place right on time, he was all ready to go and waiting on me. We agreed to take my car as his had been acting up a bit, after we had gotten in, I asked him “Where to first?” J replied “Lets hit a little bar I know of down on the beach, if nothing is happening there we will try somewhere else.” I agreed and off we went.
From where J lived it only took us about ten minutes to get to the bar. It was nothing special, just your average run of the mill corner bar. As we walked in I noticed there was not many people there, just the two of us and a handful of what appeared to be regulars there. We each grabbed a stool at the bar ordered a couple of beers and preceded to down them. As I drank my beer I looked around the bar, it was basically non-descript. From the décor it appeared to be more for the locals then a tourist bar. There was very little on the walls with the exception of Budweiser and other beer signs. A single pool table took up the middle of the room, the tables and stools in there looked like they had been through a war. The lacquer had been scraped off in places and there were nicks, dents, and scrapes all over them.
The people in the bar were not much different from the rest of the place. They were as drab as the surroundings, most of them with scraggly beards, unkempt hair and mottled scared complexions. It wasn’t clear whether they were holding the tables up or the tables were holding them up. Most of them looked as if they had been in the bar so long they had faded into the background and become one with the place.
I had finished my beer and was about to order another when J said “This place is dead lets move on.” I got up off my stool and headed for the door, looking back one more time at the scene inside. Once in the car, I started it up and pulled out of the parking lot. J hadn’t said anything at this point so I took it upon myself and headed south along the beach. After diving for only a couple of minutes we saw a sign for another bar, I looked at J and said “How about this place?” He glanced at the sign and said “Sure, let’s give it a shot.”
From the outside this bar looked slightly more hospitable. The outside was done up in old wood siding, with palms and exotic plants around the outside. An old wooden steering wheel, like those used on a ship was hanging on the door with a sign that read enter in the middle. We walked in the door and as drab as the other bar was this was garish to the extreme. Loud dance music poured out of speakers hung all around the room. The walls were decorated with large neon palms, flamingos, and parrots.
The people here were at least livelier then the last place. They were dressed in loud Hawaiian shirts, burmuda shorts, and sandals. The people inside were loudly talking, even to the point of shouting to be heard over one another. Most if not all had faces that were red from a combination of too much liquor and sun. The whole event was almost to overwhelming. We decided to stay anyway and went to the bar to order a drink. We got our beers and we began to watch the events around us as we drank.
You could tell the people there were on vacation; they were drinking and carrying on without abandon. Girls who looked almost too young to be there were laughing uncontrollably at jokes told by pimply-faced young men. A group of young “boys” were crowded around the pool table shooting a game while extolling their exploits with women on the beach. Another group was drunkenly swaying to the music that was blaring on the dance floor. It was hard to tell who was groping who more, the men or the women.
Without saying a word to each other we finished our beers set the glasses down on the bar and walked out. As we walked to the car we looked at each other and burst out laughing. Once again in the car we were heading south again along the beach. After about five minutes of driving we saw it, the sign was brightly light with the name Hurricane Js.
I swung the car in and looked for a parking space. There was a large amount of cars in there and I had to hunt for a minute or two till I found one. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, Hurricane Js was in a little strip mall, and it was just tucked away in-between a kite shop and a discount tee shirt shop. As we got closer the sound of loud rock music began to fill the air.
I opened the door and a cloud of smoke wafted out, I looked in and saw the whole room was filled with a thick haze of smoke. The place was packed, but with a collection of all kinds of people, from bikers, businessmen, tourists, and working people. The pool table was full of activity, and a high-spirited dart game was going on in the back. A loud buzz of conversation filled the room in a steady drone.
The bar itself was packed with people either drinking or waiting for their drinks. Behind the bar two bartenders rushed back and forth to keep up with the rush. A large screen TV hung from the wall behind the bar with a steady flow of MTV videos to keep one entertained. We pushed our way to the bar to get in line to order some beer, as busy as it was in there we decided to get a pitcher so we didn’t have to keep one glass at a time.
We settled in with our beer and started dividing our time between the crowd and the TV. J and I talked a bit and cut up on some of the people there, all the while telling jokes and just laughing and having a good time. J started talking to a fellow and the two of them got involved in a dart game. We ordered another pitcher and as they played I cheered J on. The game they were playing was Cricket and J won by two bull’s-eyes.
We went back to sit at the bar when on MTV we heard the chords from a familiar song. J Morrison and the Doors “Love Me Two Times” was playing. We sat there mesmerized by the music, watching every movement and soaking up every note. As the song finished we just looked at each other not saying a word, then J spoke saying only two words “road trip.”
I finished off my beer, left a tip on the bar for the bartender and we headed for the door. We climbed in the car and I asked J “Where too first.” He replied, “To my house so we can pick up some supplies.” I started the car and off we went, it only took us about ten minutes to get back to his place. We went in and he bolted for his room, J began rummaging through tapes and was making a pile. After he had about seven or eight tapes set aside he went to his closet. He reached up to the top shelf and I saw him pull out a gun, it was a pistol, a 357 magnum to be exact. He reached back in again and pulled out a box of shells, opened it looked inside and with a satisfied looked on his face he closed it again.
J gathered the tapes, gun, and shells as he turned to head out the door, halfway there he stopped and turned back to his nightstand. He opened the drawer and pulled out a dime bag of pot. “Now we’re ready,” he said. We jumped back in the car, fired the old girl up and pulled out of the driveway. I looked at J and said, “We need to make one more stop, there’s a 7-Eleven up the road and I need gas in the car.”
I pulled the car up to the pump and began filling it up, while I was doing this J was sitting in the car rolling joints. When the car was filled I went in to pay and decided there was one more thing we needed. I walked to the back of the store and grabbed a case of beer. I went to the counter, paid for the gas and beer, and also decided to get a pack of cigarettes. When J say me walking to the car with the case of beer, he just looked at me for a moment and said, “I like they way you think J.”
I pulled the car out on the main road and headed east, neither one of us talking about a destination. J lit up one of the joints he had rolled and started smoking it. I reached around to the back seat, grabbed a beer and handed it to J. I reached to the back once more and grabbed one for myself. J handed me the joint he had lit, I took it and slowly inhaled the thick smoke. Slowly, slowly, inhaling the smoke and holding it as long as I could, till my chest ached for air.
We drove on like this for ten or fifteen minutes, when I saw the sign saying we were coming to the Howard Franklin Bridge. I still to this day don’t know whether J noticed it or not, but by this time I was caught up in the whole thing and just kept driving. Before long we were over the bridge and in Tampa, the darkness of the bridge was broken by the garish halo of streetlights, billboards, and the buildings that cut the darkness.
We continued through Tampa till we came to the interchange for Interstate 4. J looked over at me and said, “This is where we want to turn.” I turned the car into the exchange, hit the gas and barreled on to the I-4. There was still a fair amount of traffic on the road for 9:00 pm, but as we began to leave the city proper it began to thin. Soon we were alone on the highway with nothing but the sound of the tires on the road, and the rush of the wind blowing past us as we counted down the miles. It was then J told me that he has a sister that lives in Orlando and we could head there. I agreed and continued on the course we were taking.
J opened another beer and fired up a joint, we passed it back and forth till we had reduced it to a small roach. By this time we were out on a barren stretch of road. No more lights either from billboards or houses cut the night, only the inky blackness of night. I heard a sound next to me and glanced over, J had the 357 out and was loading the chamber. I suppose most people would have been concerned at this point, but for some reason it almost seemed natural.
Once J had the gun loaded, he rolled down the window, pointed the gun out and up in the air and began firing. Once, twice, three times he fired, the muzzle flashes illuminated the darkness, the roar was deafening as the sound filled the small car. Three more times he fired, expending all the bullets in the chamber. J opened the chamber and dumped the empties on the floor, pulled six more bullets from the box and reloaded. He handed the gun towards me and said, “It’s your turn now J.” I looked at him stunned, not believing what he said. He must have noticed my hesitation, because he then said, “You have to experience it, to understand it.” I looked at him dumbfounded as I continued driving and rolling down my window.
I took the gun in my hand feeling its weight, glancing from the road to the gun and back again. I lay the gun down in my lap and switched hands on the steering wheel, taking the gun up in my left hand. I lifted the gun towards the window and pointed the muzzle up and out the window. Hesitantly I pulled the trigger, the recoil was more then I expected, jerking my arm back in the window. The roar of the gun firing was deafening in my ear and the muzzle flash briefly lit up my side of the car. Once I recovered from the initial shock I pointed the gun back out the window and emptied the chamber. J looked at me and said, “I knew you had it in you, once you start there’s no going back.
J took the gun, reloaded and fired the gun out his side once more. We continued passing it back and forth each taking turns firing the gun off into the empty night until the box of bullets was gone. J selected a Led Zeppelin tape, popped it in the radio and cranked it up. We continued on towards Orlando drinking beer and jamming to the sounds of Jmy Page and Robert Plant.
As the lights of Orlando grew closer J gave me directions to his sisters apartment. After having made a few wrong turns we finally found it, we pulled up in the parking lot, I turned the car off and we just sat there in silence for a few minutes. The whole rush of the evening catching up to me and sinking in, it was crazy what we did, and yet, J was right I was hooked the adrenaline rush of the whole thing was so intense.
We eventually got out of the car and went up to R’s apartment; it was 1:00 in the morning. J began pounding on the door and hollering, a moment later I saw lights flicker on inside and a voice hollering back about it being 1:00 in the morning and this better be good. The door flew open and there stood this woman who one could defiantly tell was related to J. She looked as if she was about to say something but when she saw her brother the words hung in her mouth. R stood there like that for almost a minute and then burst out laughing.
She ushered us inside without saying a word, we followed her into the living room where she pointed out the sofas. She said she would go upstairs and get some spare pillows and blankets for us. As R left I asked J, “Why was she laughing like that when she saw you?” He replied with a shrug of his shoulder. I turned and saw my reflection in a mirror over one of the sofas; I nudged J in the shoulder to get him to turn around. When he saw himself in the mirror he burst out laughing himself. We both looked like we had been put through the wringer; our hair was a mess, our eyes bloodshot and half closed from drinking and smoking. We surely looked like we had both seen better days.
When R got back with the blankets and pillows one would have thought that this would be the end of the tail but no. Along with R her boyfriend followed her down, he sat down across from us and pulled out a mirror from under the coffee table, previously unnoticed in his hand was a glass vial from which he poured a white powdery substance onto the mirror.
Within a few minutes we were all doing several lines of coke, now once again we were wide awake and ready to go. A trip out to the car was made and beer was brought in another joint was rolled and smoked. Several more hours went by until enough was enough and the night took its toll.
J and I immediately staked out our spots on the sofa; hit the hay and fell in to a deep sleep. Our adventure that night was over, but it was only the first of many. But that is another story for another time.
J nick-named me Jack in the Green after the Jethro Tull song for my green thumb with plants.
Rest in peace my good friend, I know you are conversing with Shakespeare and learning how to get those guitar riffs right from Jimi Hendrix.
Word Count 3826