When I was 11, my best friend was Eddie Griffenbacher.* He lived with his grandma, for reasons he never detailed. (*No, it wasn’t. But even I don’t want to talk shit about someone. It’s not because I have class. Eddie would kick my ass.)
He was very, very, impressively naughty.
He came by this honestly: his grandmother was like a David Lynch character. She was short, round, and, I think, chronically intoxicated. She curmdugeoned around her house in a beige sweater-vest over a plaid shirt, khakis and fluffy white sneakers that resembled King’s Hawaiian rolls. Her hair was old-lady-did into fully-formed curl banks, but the back left corner of her head was all matted down and disarranged, like gray-hair crop circles amidst the otherwise puffy rows. She smoked endless Benson and Hedges cigarettes; they dangled eternally from her yellow fingers, the nails of which she kept painted the same bronzey-brown color for as long as I knew her. She was always drinking some ice-cubey alcohol cocktail from an amber-glass tumbler: between the yellow of her fingers, her nail polish, and the yellow tint of her glass, it seemed like everything around her was saturated completely with tar. Somehow, her entire microcosm had become the color of an old fly strip.
I grew up on an island in Southeast Alaska. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the broader world, so it never occurred to me that anything was unusual about Grandma Griff. In 1983, when I was 11, I just thought of her as very, very unpredictable. One minute, she’d be blithely smiling away, cough-laughing at the television, then suddenly, KAPOW! She’d be standing on the front porch, cussing her face off for a series of reasons I was never able to make complete sense of. They seemed to involve Eddie eating or not eating lunch, his overall commitment to the family, and his relative “little shit” rating for the day. Grandma Griff would shuffle around the deck, cussing, coughing, and leaning on things in a kind of modern baroque until she was satisfied or distracted, upon which she would return inside. Sometimes, she would emerge again moments later, and begin cuss-coughing at him anew — apparently revived by some libation or inspiration inside her house. Other times, she would come back out and just stand there, wobbling back and forth like a buoy.
Me and Eddie had a lot of good ideas. Mostly, they were about ways we could get food. We were obsessed with food, especially beef jerky. One of the two grocery stores in town carried this beef jerky that had been … what? chipped? powdered? processed? … to make it the same texture and consistency of chewing tobacco. (See, “1983,” above.) Regular beef jerky would jump off a bridge at the mere sight of beef jerky snuff it was so inferior. Somehow, the jerky-chipping process made all of the resulting fluffy beef jerky snuff 100 percent surface area. It made it a total flavor experience. Your taste buds didn’t have to do anything but lay back and wait for the magic to happen.
It was so expensive, but so awesome.
On the rare occasion we both received and managed to make it to the end of Main Street with enough accumulated allowance to buy a little container of the beef jerky snuff, we would immediately load as much of it into our mouths as we could hold and suck on it until all of the beef jerky molecules had been extracted. The remaining byproduct was the same color and texture as asbestos pipe insulation. There was only enough jerky snuff in the can to do this beef jerky soul-extraction routine three or four times, if you really watched yourself.
Occasionally only one of us would have money, and the ensuing hour after purchase would be begging, refusals, and at last, meted pinches of shared contraband interrupted by limited periods of blissed-out snuff reverie. We were budding junkies. One day, it was just gone, and we moved on to Carl Buddig Original Deli-Thin Corned Beef. I have eaten more of this product than most people have consumed water. There is actually a twelve-foot-section of my small intestine that is entirely composed of Carl Buddig Original Deli-Thin Corned Beef, and I kid you not when I say it is the most effective part of my entire GI tract. (If you ever have to eat my corpse to survive, parts of me are going to be just scrumptious. You’re going to be so glad it was me who died.)
Food was our main concern but the Dukes were our second. We shared a passion for The Dukes of Hazzard, by which I mean it eclipsed every other interest we had, all other conversation, all the time. We played it without fail — first with little Matchbox cars, then with the bigger ones with the wind-up tires whose elastic tension made them fly down the sidewalk (or, alternately, get hopelessly stuck in your stupid hair). Eventually, we just ran around, reenacting episodes of the show or making up our own. I, still at age 11, really wanted more people to see me as Daisy Duke, but Eddie laughed hysterically when I suggested I be Daisy.
I was Luke.
I didn’t even get to drive unless I was driving Bo to the hospital. And usually Bo just drove himself to the hospital and I still rode shotgun. I just had to do all the shooting at the bad guys (compound bows take two arms, really) and sometimes hold the wheel so Bo could shoot, even though he would cry out in pain from the effort. He was strong, but he was just a man, after all.
Ensconced in smooth, rust-colored velour, Eddie’s grandma’s loveseat was the perfect Charger. The arms were low enough to leap over and into the driver’s seat, just like the General Lee.
Sometimes, Eddie would be Boss Hog.
If you are a Dukes plebe, I will catch you up on an important detail: Boss Hog was a bad guy. He was this fat, gross, rich, turdface who was so greedy he would eat barbeque ribs while he watched his henchmen beat you up. That’s low. And yucky.
When Eddie was Boss Hog, we played some modified version of tag. Usually, I would be hapless, Bo-less Luke, running for my life while Boss Hog and his thugs chased me all over Georgia. (Georgia, in this case, meant Eddie’s Grandma’s house, and the woods behind it.) If Eddie caught me, he would punch me in the arm or thigh (middle-finger knuckle raised, a la the famed “Charlie Horse” maneuver). It was a motivating consequence, and I would scramble like a feral monkey to avoid it.
The back of Eddie’s Grandma’s house featured two identically-sized windows, placed on the diagonal from one another. Inside the house, one window was in the hallway, next to the first bedroom. The other window was on the landing, directly above the awning of the little back porch.
Eddie and I often clambered out onto the little back porch. It was a very attractive and vaguely risky escape route, since it was really not that high off the ground, and the ground below it was muskeg. Muskeg is basically a dense moss found all over Southeast Alaska. If you stand in one place for a few minutes, you will slowly begin to sink into the muskeg, little puddles forming around your feet as you descend, like you were standing on an enormous wet sponge. So if you fell off the roof of the porch — or jumped –- it was exhilarating, but safe. We did it a lot.
On the day in question, Eddie was on an absolute tear. He was always a little crazy, but on this particular day he was the Boss Hoggiest Boss Hog Hazzard County had ever seen. He chased me like a rabid dog all around the yard of his Grandma’s house, and when he cornered me, he never broke character.
Somehow, his feverish intensity and my resultant giddiness combined to form the most frenzied chase scene since Casino Royale. We were screeching intermittently and laughing maniacally as we raced around the house, down to the basement, up the stairs, through the upstairs hallway, down the back stairs, around the yard, and through the woods. At some point, our chaotic crashing and screeching must have disturbed Eddie’s Grandma, because she ambled out onto the back porch and starting yelling into the woods after us. “What the hell are you doing, Eddie Griffenbacher? You think I need you to make a mess of my house? Get over here and I’m going to [cussing] beat your [cussing] little white [cuss]!” Usually, we would huddle in the woods and giggle if we had inadvertently ired the Grandma. But this time, we were too far gone. We couldn’t stop. Our chase had taken on a life of its own, and we were powerless against the strength of it.
We scrambled through the woods and around the house, bathed in admonitions and increasingly vigorous (and creative) swear words, and ran back through the front door. Eddie’s Grandma made chase, trundling to her living room, and swearing at us to stop, etc. from there. Her proximity was energizing.
We ran even faster, flying over furniture, cornering on the stairs by grabbing the banister and spinning through the air like acrobats. We were on fire. Grandma made it to the front stairs and was gasping and spitting with rage, no longer even uttering complete sentences as she slowly ascended: “This minute! [Cuss, cuss]! So much trouble! Little [cuss, cuss]!”
As she closed in on us, Eddie almost cornered me in the hall, and his attempted grab/pin maneuver spun me like a top down the hallway. I was going so fast that it actually made me go faster, like a soccer ball whizzing down the field. I was unstoppable, uncatchable. I flew down the hallway, and then I jumped out the window onto the porch roof.
Except I jumped out the wrong window.
I flew through the air like a little dart, pointed at the ground. I landed with a kawhump! in the muskeg, feet first, and immediately sat down, certain I had broken every bone in my body and died. Eddie poked his head out the window I had just disembarked. I looked up at him. Eddie looked stricken — his face was pale as fish skin. Behind him, I could see the lumpy figure of his Grandma. She looked down at me, too. We all regarded each other for a while.
“Where are your feet?” Eddie croaked.
I looked down at my feet. They were, indeed, missing. I panicked. I must have broken them right off my legs.
My heart pounded, and my hands scrambled down my legs to my ankles, feeling for what were sure to be two bloody stumps. There were no stumps, however, just muskeg. I wiggled my toes. I realized I could still feel them, so they must be somewhere. Then I figured it out. The force of the fall had driven them into the muskeg up to my ankles.
They were really in there. I tried to pull them out, but I was all shaky and freaked out. I grabbed one and tugged, and it came out with a smurch. I repeated the procedure on the second foot, and then lay back on the muskeg, breathing heavily. It was a lot to process.
I looked up at Eddie and his Grandma. “They were stuck in the muskeg.” I said.
I don’t know who started laughing first. We cackled like lunatics, gasping for air. Eddie couldn’t stand up he was laughing so hard. He had to support himself with the window frame. I rolled on the muskeg, pounding the soggy ground with my fist, absolutely contorted with laughter. Grandma laughed and coughed, by turns, clutching her midsection and leaning on the window frame above Eddie. Eventually, we calmed down. Eddie’s Grandma retreated into the depths of her house. I could hear her muffled laughter and hacking cough as she descended into the living room.
I looked up at Eddie and said, “Can I just be Daisy now?”
Eddie rested his head on his arms. “No way. You’re Luke.”