This was originally going to be two separate stories, but they overlap (as you’ll see), so I decided to combine them. This story is also set in the distant past, before PCs and the internet … back when a record was something that sat on a turntable …
– “So, Joe … c-can you help me out?”
That was how it all started.
Marty was a short, paunchy nerd with a speech impediment – a stutter that came and went. He was understandably shy in social in social situations.
In Grade 9, on Initiation Day, I stepped in between Marty and two bullies who wanted to use his head to clean a toilet. I wish I could tell you that I kicked their asses – but I was the one who got my clock cleaned. Oh, I got in a couple of shots, but Marty did the most damage when he bit one of them hard enough to draw blood.
It would be nice, too, to report that the student body respected our courage, and that initiations were strictly forbidden from them on.
Yeah, right. We were suspended for 3 days, and got a reputation for being a couple of psychos. We probably weren’t going to fit in with the popular kids anyway, but that incident certainly accelerated the process.
Marty was a nerd, and I … I was never there. From the age of 13, I’d had a part-time job (and sometimes two). Right after school, I went off to work. All day Saturday, too.
It was my stepmother’s idea, really. I think that she just wanted me out of the house. Then, a few years later, she got the brilliant idea that I should pay rent, because I had money. My Dad was too whipped to object.
– “It’ll be a valuable lesson for him.” she said.
– “It’ll be a good experience for you, Joseph.” said Dad.
The fuck it was. Stacking shelves at the grocery store, pumping gas, or carrying roof tiles up a ladder all summer doesn’t teach you much, except how hard it can be to earn an honest dollar – or how much of your school’s social life you miss when you’re always at work.
That meant no sports, no clubs, no extracurriculars of any kind. Marty and I were both socially invisible. But there was always that bond between us.
In some cultures, if you save a man’s life, then you become responsible for him. I have to admit that I felt something like that towards him. And Marty … well, let’s just say that he went out of his way to pay me back.
In my senior year, I had to consider my options. I wasn’t sure that I could afford college. Dad finally spoke to his younger brother about me. Ray was a grease monkey at a downtown garage. He was a damn good mechanic, though, and when he put in a good word for me, his boss took me on part-time.
– “Don’t fuck this up, Joeseph.” said Uncle Ray. “You do, an’ you make us both look bad.”
– “I won’t.” I promised.
I cleaned up the garage, learned how to change tires, and do oil changes. I was also Joe Fetchit if anyone needed a tool, or a coffee, or a donut … and I went home dirty every night. But it paid better than most of the jobs I’d had – and I was actually learning something. Most of the guys were pretty decent to me, too.
So maybe that was how Marty and I connected – talking about cars. We started to hang out a bit. He regularly came over to pick me up, if we got up to anything. I never asked – God’s honest truth – Martin suggested it, every single time.
– “I’ll swing by and pick you up.” He must’ve said it a hundred times.
I was 18, but looked older, so I was the designated beer-buyer (Fake ID wasn’t readily available, back in the day). It was a mutually beneficial partnership, but I think I benefited more. What I’m trying to say is that I owed Marty quite a few favors, for all the times he’d driven me all over hell’s half-acre. He’d even lent me his car to go for my driver’s exam.
That was why, when Marty asked for my help, I didn’t hesitate.
– “So, Joe… c-can you help me out?”
– “Sure. What do you need?”
– “Will you … d-double date with me, Joe?”
– “WHAT?” I couldn’t have been more shocked. As far as I knew, Marty had never even come close to having a girlfriend.
– “I met her at church.” he said. Then the words came out – all in a rush. “She’s really cute. But shy. More shy than me. I think I like her, but if I ask her out alone she’ll probably say no.”
I was afraid that he was going to hyper-ventilate. “Slow down, Marty! Breathe …”
– “She lives near you. Close enough for you to walk. But I can swing by and pick you up. I already told her that my best friend lived nearby, and that we might ‘drop in’ on Sunday.”
– “Good for you, Marty. That’s great. Keep breathing. What do you need me to do?”
– “Well, she’s got sisters. Her parents will let go out, but only if her sisters go, too.”
– “Like chaperones.”
– “Something like that.”
– “So you need me to run interference? Keep the sisters busy? I can do that. Give me the bad news, then.”
– “What bad news?
– “Tell me the truth. How ugly are they? And don’t tell me they have nice personalities – that’s a dead giveaway.”
– “They’re not ugly.” It sounded like he was telling the truth, but I could have sworn that he was hiding something.
– “Come clean. Details.”
– “The older sister is 19. Her name is Samantha. I swear, she’s cute. And there’s also the younger sister – Tanya – she’s only 16.”
– “Three sisters? And you want me to keep two of them busy.”
– “C-Can you help me out, Joe?
– “Sure, Marty. What are friends for?” After all, I thought – how bad could it be?
– “Thanks, man.” he said. “This means a l-lot to me.”
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