Get you something to write this down with, because I ain't telling it twice. Pine is always the best for a lot of reasons. It's cheap, the stuff don't even run ten cents a board foot and if you're just gonna maybe paint it, who gives a shit? Buy that fancy oak if you're making furniture, something you going to eat off - but for this job, pines perfect. 2 X 4s, yes sir, 2bys and gonna need a shit load of those and the straighter the better. Probably need five or six sheets of 1/2 inch. Anything they got of that 1/2 inch, the knots smell something fierce but it don't turn out to matter.
Nails? Sixteens if you're going to buy a pound or two, but you can always get away with finish nails or whatever else you've got, if you got. So, don't waste a lot of money here, cause you can always find nails. When they tore out # 3 after they see they couldn't fix the water damage they left half that shit out on the side between walk-ups. It's just sat there for a month or more so there got to be some kind of nails in that stuff. And we got to have something for matting. Straw is good so long as they're not pissing all over it. That about covers what needs to be bought.
A couple of hammers and a hand saw, sharp, but electric would be the berries if you get your hands on one of them and a couple of long extension cords, cause you'll build it out in back away from everything. Oh, and beer. Can't do the job without beer. Union rule say you don't do no fucking work without Mr. Miller and Bud Weiser being somewhere on the work site - and I am a Union Man. Nowadays, U.A.W. don't mean nothing but you ain't working but, back in 1960s Union was the only place took a colored man and let him sit where he want. I don't know what I was saying? Don't matter, the other shit we get when we're ready.
Everything fit in the old station wagon. The back window had always been stuck open anyway, so all those 2 x 4s hanging on it didn't make much difference. Piece of shit was blowing smoke out the tail pipe the whole way back so we just figured to let it sit for a few days. Leave the lumber in there. It'll keep it mostly dry anyway. One thing we don't want is wet wood. That first day, just getting the lumber and materials was work enough so we got the woman's grill lit and burnt some flank steak and ate it out on the stoop. Them dogs kept up a racket out in the back hollering at the moon or the smell of those steaks. Ricky say he could name about a dozen of the stars and had a bullshit story for why they was called this or that. He went on with that long enough. Of course, nobody ever knew if he was lying. I always figured he was. Anyway, eight-foot long - four foot wide and four foot high. That way everything measures up easy. Just a flat roof of the plywood with the plywood sides slapped up on there and all real simple to do.
That was what I told everybody but, we didn't actually build nothin' for a week after we got the materials cause Ricky got a job painting the Stadium. They could only paint when the Indians was on the west coast or somewhere else, and the city (they were the ones paying) wanted it done before the Browns season started, so he was deep inside there every day they was gone.
Let's see...they canned his ass on a Tuesday - by then we had enough gallons of brown paint hid in the cellar that he could've been Sherwin and I could've been Williams. I wanted to just sell the shit and be done with it, but Ricky was thinking we oughta go into business together. House painters. Anyway, now I'm thinking he stayed drunk until probably Thursday, and we was still debating partnering after three days of building on the thing, so it was finally done by probably that next Monday, and it was a dandy. I let it sit till Saturday.
The woman brought some raggedy lawn chairs from the porch out front and dragged a full cooler in between. Some of her cousins and a few of what others was left on the block brought their own. Everybody knew everybody back then, all up and down the block. They was all knowing for days of the plan and not wanting to miss, 'bout all that was there turned out. That neighborhood changed after Reverend Dr. King and all those troubles. You can look over that window there and see they're stretching the new clinic over the graves of them old tenements now days. But back then, hell, I swear everybody wanted to see - the brats too. Mine don't stay with us, but those two lop-eared boys of hers set down and curled right up tight to the edge of her skirts.
Everybody but Ricky took a seat. He was on the other side of the fence fussing with the hose and scared like a girl and likely to wet himself one way or another. It was kind of a good idea though, and I hollered for him to drag it around back. It wouldn't reach, but it was close enough for government work.
Wasn't no grass anyway, just dry ground spooked up enough from all that circus we were making to put a dirt crust on the top of my beer. It was just like them Fireman's Field Days they used to hold out at the big park in the Huff at the end of summer when I was a baby. Come the second day the grass was all burnt out and the whirl of that old clunky Ferris Wheel would set the brown earth blowing into everything and everyone. Taffy little girls would be walking around with their two-toned cotton candy, pink on the one side and dirt-tan on the other. I don't remember it hurting the taste any, least ways on the licks I'd steal off their sweet brown lips.
As I remember the sun was low and slicing hard between the buildings by the time we started emptying the four cans over the roof. Good and slow so it soaked it up and didn't just come down and make a moat around the whole damn thing. Ricky started pissing and moaning cause he spilt some on hisself and he was convinced it would come to no good. He was a great one for whining about shit that was already done. Can't change what's done, just go out and look for the next one. That's my motto.
Not that boy; he stood there like a fool while everybody's whooping and hollering and stirring up the animals. When he brought her close that police dog nearly yanked Ricky's arm right out the socket. I had to take her and the collie both and walk 'em up to the opening and boot their asses in, leash and all. After they were inside I quick slapped the door in place and nailed the overlap down with about ten of the sixteen inch nails. That was too many and they were way too long, but that door sure as hell wasn't gonna go nowhere either.
I threw the hammer in the pile and set down to take some pull on a cold Schlitz as it was plain it was gonna be a helluva hot night. It was unusual when a breeze didn't come in off the big lake. Most any time the wind will blow the sound of the stadium right out of the middle of it and up to our front door, when it's behaving, but that night it was still and quiet.
The dogs were quiet in there now, too. First time I could ever remember when they weren't yapping about something. Everybody else got quiet now too, cause they knew it was coming. I had a fresh box of stick matches and it only took the first one. I reached it over like to the middle and it made a big loud sucking noise and I had to yank my arm back as it flashed up. And then, well, that flame it just slid and hopped and glided over across the top and down the sides. The brightest blue at first and then these reds and yellow flames that looked so pretty and innocent like a damn kiddy cartoon before the movie start.
For awhile it all just sat there like lava on the TV, flowing low and quiet. Then it got to cracking and spitting. Louder than shit and then sometimes popping little quick pops like a .22. About then those two dogs set up to barking fast and furious like they was trying to get at the mail man through the screen door. Little red and yellow crackling butterflies began to leap out of that fire and go floating up into the night sky like upside down shooting stars. Or shot out of the fire-eaters mouth at the Field Days.
Those dogs hollered pitiful for the longest damn time and then the thick dark smoke started to rise along with that fire-eaters spit and that smell started to go everywhere. Like I told you, any other night the wind off Lake Erie would've blown that smell all the way into the Heights, but not on that night. After awhile they stopped their whining.
Nobody looked at much except straight into that fire. The woman's cousins wadded up their empty chip bags and threw 'em on and we watched the bag colors sort of melt down like pouring crayons. I could see'em all wiping at their nose and trying not to look at Ricky, or me, but when they did each one of them managed to nod and smile. They wanted me to be happy. About everybody that night for sure knew I was a Bad man. But, I also think they just wanted that fire to burn down and for that summer to be done.
So, anyway, it began to play itself out after some time and the roof went and caved in like a V shape and the walls fell out and down in a pile and it started to look like any old fire. A fire that could've been that old trash from number 3, or hell, could have been any damn thing at all. I wasn't a special fire anymore. It was just what it was.
The woman, she had work the next morning so everybody went home. I remember after they was gone I sat out there in that folding chair for the longest time; as it was too hot to sleep.
I'm telling you all this today because Fr. Jim told me I had to do a confessional. Well, I told him I didn't have nothing to confess, and was a Baptist anyway, but he knew that was a lie. Father's a soft little pink faced boy ain't likely to have a shave till they lay him in the grave and who don't know jack shit. But, he got me thinking. I asked him about dying and coming back as someone else like Napoleon and he said it don't work like that. He said, if you've received absolutely you'll go up to heaven, and he said if you don't you'll likely burn in hell. I told him having lived my whole life here in Cleveland I was no judge of which was which. That set us both to chuckling and he gave me my pack of cigarettes even though he'd crossed himself and swore he wouldn't again. We talked a little more that day and he did tell me how some people do believe in reincarnation. How they figure you can come back to life as another person, or a tree, or a woman. Or a dog.
So this is all wrote down for Fr. Jim, cause I never forgot it, and I am sorry, because I liked those old dogs and never knew why I did that thing.
Ricky just took off somewhere in the morning and left all that paint. I would of give him his money too, but I never did see him again. By now he's probably long dead. I know I'm getting ready to be.