Elaine and I met Billy Bob and his roommate, Vern, while we were in our twenties. I’m guessing Vern was in his late forties, but I remember Billy Bob was fifty-eight years old. These two men moved into the apartment next to Elaine and me.
Vern was an over-the-road truck driver who delivered new automobiles to dealerships across the U.S. He was tall and lanky, usually dirty from being on the road. He was seldom home.Billy Bob worked as a concrete laborer for a local company. I’m guessing that’s why we hit it off because my family was in the concrete business.
Elaine and I never really got close to Vern, that’s okay, he was mostly unpleasant. Billy Bob was nothing like Vern, not in personality or physical characteristics. Billy Bob wasn’t tall, he wasn’t short. He had a big belly. If I were feeling ornery, I would call it a beer belly. OK, it was a beer belly and Billy Bob earned it. (I saw him drink plenty of beer, but I never saw it affect him.)
He had muscular arms coveedr with Marine Corp tattoos. His hair was jet black, combed straight back. His beard was gray and hung to the top of his beer belly. His most distinguishing feature was the solid gray glass ball that replaced his left eye.
There was something special about Billy Bob. He told me had a wife and children that lived in the southern part of the state. He said his family stopped liking him, so he moved north. I never saw him drive. He walked, hitchhiked or bummed rides. He told me he couldn’t afford a car, he sent his money back home to his family. I’m not sure how successful he was at hitchhiking. He was the kind of guy you wouldn't be comfortable picking up.
Did I mention he seldom wore a shirt? Spring, winter, fall or summer; it didn’t matter. He was most likely shirtless. Oh, he knew when society told him it would be best to wear a shirt. He just didn’t wear shirts any other time.
I remember a Sunday morning after a Saturday night snow; I was on my porch looking for my newspaper. Freezing cold and without proper footwear I was scurrying around the porch looking for the newspaper. I heard a laugh from the porch next door. “Hey, I borrowed your newspaper! I thought I could read it before you woke up.” Billy Bob was sitting shirtless with his back against the sun–soaked bricks on his porch. I told him. “You know you’re crazy!” I didn’t mean it. He was far from crazy. He said, “Go back inside; I’ll bring the paper over when I’m finished.”
Billy Bob loved to cook for people. He would prepare feasts for neighborhood gatherings on the weekends when Vern was not on the road. Vern and Billy Bob spent a summer day at the reservoir fishing for crayfish (crawdads). They caught about 500 of them (not kidding) to have a crayfish boil in our parking lot for the neighborhood. Crayfish and beer, seemed like a good idea. No one considered a neighbor would have to much too drink and bring a gun to the party. When the neighbor flashed the gun, most people scattered. Not Billy Bob! He walked up to the gun pointed straight at that beer belly and ripped the gun out of the hands of the idiot neighbor, saying, “I ought to shove this up your (construction language.)”
Elaine mentioned to Billy Bob and me one night that she had never been to a cowboy bar.
Billy Bob: You have never taken her to a cowboy bar?
Me: It’s her fault, she actually wants to dance. I don’t want to dance or be nagged to dance. See?
Billy Bob: (With a laugh) You’re and idiot. Get dressed, let’s go!
On the way to the saloon; obviously concerned, Elaine asked, “Do cowboys really fight at these places?” I might have hid my face when Elaine asked that, were it not for the fact that opposites attract. When Elaine and I met I might have needed to be calmed down a bit and she might have needed livening up. Billy Bob replied. “Don’t worry about that, no one will bother you.”
Country music was blaring, cowboy and cowgirls were dancing and drinking. It wasn’t long and fists were flying. Two cowboys brought the action to our table. Billy Bob calmly picked up his beer and pointed at the two combatants. In unison, the two cowboys said, “Oh sorry, Billy Bob.” They tried to resume their fight across the room. By then the bouncer had them.
Billy Bob lost his job in construction. I asked my brother to give him a job. My brother gave him a job and a ride to work without reservation. However, it didn’t take long and my brother started complaining about Billy Bob to me. Not about his work, but about Billy Bob’s habit of needing to have the window down in the truck in ALL four seasons. I still laugh about that one.
I have met a lot of “different” people in life and the construction business. Blue collars, white collars and a guy with no collar. There has been only one Billy Bob. There has never been a better man.
Eventually, Elaine and I moved out of the apartment. With tears in our eyes, we said good-bye to Billy Bob. We knew where to find him and we knew if we needed him, he was on the way.
My construction career began taking me on the road. I would return on weekends. Our decision to have me go out on the road was made easier knowing Billy Bob was a couple miles up the road. After a long flight home from a job faraway, I was taking a nap on a Saturday; Billy Bob stopped by our house. He told Elaine he had some health issues and was returning to his family in southern Colorado. He insisted that Elaine not wake me up. I never saw him again. Maybe one of my biggest regrets.
This past summer Boy Twin spent some time living and working (mostly just living) on a lake in Nebraska. When he came home we were talking.
Boy Twin: Hey Monner, there is a guy in Nebraska that says he knows you.
Me: Oh yeah?
Boy Twin: He said he lived next to you when you were young. He knows your entire family.
Me: Tell me about him, what did he look like?
Boy Twin: He is very old. He doesn’t wear shirts. He has a big belly and doesn’t mind showing it.
Boy Twin: He asked about your dad and brothers.
Me: Tell me more about him. Do you know his name?
Boy Twin: Nah, I can't remember his name. He is very strong. He finger wrestled me.
Me: Was his name Billy? Like Billy Bob!
Boy Twin: Nah, I remember now; it’s Jimmy.
Reality set in, I should have known it wasn't him. (Can't a guy hope?) Billy Bob would be somewhere around one hundred years old. Those guys don’t make it that far. It felt good to hope.
I woke up this week and I couldn't get Billy Bob out of my thoughts.
Jimmy and his wife lived next door to my family when I wasin elementary school. It would be nice to talk to him.
Some of these stories I write for you. Some I write for me. This one I write for Billy Bob.
The twins are on the lake in Nebraska with friends. Elaine and Ivy are teaching at the Wild West Knitting Retreat. I am at home with Maggie, Lizzie and Walter; not to mention about ten houseflies. Ivy is not here to make me write about yarn. That shouldn’t matter. Go buy some!
Our crazy lives!