Pilot says to come over, let’s do some work in his garage. Sometimes that means what he said: he’s got a little project going, he could use some help. Maybe he bought a soldering iron, is soldering something or other back together instead of tossing it and getting a new one; maybe he’s mitering some trimming to redo a doorway. Usually, though, it just means he wants to drink some beer. He had a long day at work, or his wife isn’t around cause they got into some kind of stupid argument, or no real reason, he just wants the company and to have a beer or two.
I ask my wife if we’ve got any plans. I tell her Pilot’s got another garage project, he wants me to come over. She knows what this means. She knows as much as I know when Pilot says it to me, but we all play this game. Like we’re always working on projects in our garages. Like we’re our fathers.
Our fathers probably thought they were their fathers, too.
I get to Pilot’s and go straight to his garage, walking past the front door. I can’t remember the last time I knocked on his front door or rang his doorbell. I can’t actually remember if he has a doorbell or not.
Inside his garage, Pilot’s sitting in a ratty old chair that’s far from new but is new to him. New to the garage.
The garage is freestanding, not connected to his house like mine. It makes it seem that much more like somewhere to do projects. I keep my car in mine; my lawnmower, a few rakes and shovels. Pilot’s has an old woodstove he uses for heat in the winter; the walls are part pegboard, part mismatched particleboard and drywall. It looks half-finished, but like Pilot made it to look half-finished, like he likes things looking in-progress. On the pegboard are tools, regular and decorative—a saw painted with a scene of a fox in the woods, his father’s hammer commemoratively spray-painted gold and mounted—and license plates and bumper stickers with funny sayings—Wall Drug, Wal*Mart, Seahawks. They remind me of my uncle’s garage, the thumbtacked Playboy centerfolds, the calendars for local automotive repair places with bikinied models.
“You like it?” Pilot coughs and I notice he’s holding a cigarette out to his side. He ashes it into what looks like a birdbath. I think about how my wife keep asking for a birdbath. How I keep meaning to get her one.
“That new, too?”
“Really brings the room together,” and Pilot laughs, and then coughs, and I’m doubly reminded of my uncle. I’ve never seen Pilot smoke a cigarette before. His dad died of lung cancer last year. I wonder if he’s taking it up, if it’s just prop for me to notice his new gets. I wonder if he got them from Goodwill, or maybe picked them up from the side of the road. I wonder if maybe it’s just been one of those days and Pilot needs to cap it off with a beer and a smoke. I’ve got a handful of kinds of days like that for myself. I wonder what might make it that kind of day for Pilot.
“Had to go to Home Depot again a couple days ago.”
“You get a hot dog?”
“That’s why I went. Was gonna go to Ace, but I was hungry, figured two birds.”
“Got two hot dogs, chips and a pop, a new rake and some weed fabric, all one stop.”
“The weed fabric?”
“Just put it down. We’ll see. Seems good.”
“Shoulda called me. I woulda helped.”
“I know. I got it though.”
Sometimes I stop and think about it. Try and put things together, figure them out. Our twenties were doing stupid shit, seems like. A lot of our thirties were mostly spent being too old for that stupid shit, but talking about it, reliving it. Best I can figure, our forties are doing shit again, both stupid and not. Different kinds of stupid, different kinds of shit. We get together every few weeks, drink some beer, but not too much. We talk about our yards, home repairs. We complain about our wives, our jobs; small complaints that in our thirties seemed important, like they might fester, sprout, metastasize, whatever you wanna call it, and bigger complaints that we’ve learned to shrug off. Have a beer, take a drive, go to sleep, get up and go to work the next day like you do every day. Be an adult. That’s one of my theories.
I get home, my wife asks, how was Pilot?
She says I shouldn’t have driven home drunk.
She says she’s glad I had a good night.
She says goodnight and goes to bed.
She doesn’t say that she’s been waiting up for me, but I like that she did.
I tell her he’s good.
I tell her I know, I know.
I tell her thank you, it was good, I’m glad I went.
I tell her goodnight and give her a kiss.
I grab a beer out of our small fridge in the basement. I grab my box of cigarettes that my wife pretends she doesn’t know are hidden in the cupboard we don’t really use above the small fridge in the basement.
I take them outside, sit on the porch. I look out at our neighborhood, hidden in darkness. I have a beer and a smoke by myself before going to bed.