The Tornado of ‘74
Blackie had skin like worn out shoe leather, along with a heart as tough as nails, so I disliked his ugly character from the start. The man looked ageless to my eyes of thirty-one years, and for some odd reason he put me in mind of a hobo or some unwashed vagrant that wandered in, looking for easy work.
Bobby hired him right off. And of course Bobby would; all of those storm-damaged roofs in the fashionable Dallas suburb made him awful hungry for insurance jobs. He had me and Steve, plus the two brothers from down at Cedar Creek. Them two alone could run a roof in a day, where us two were still learning the trade, so I never saw any reason to hire on Blackie, but for charity. Bobby did have a soft heart, but the older man was useless as a roofer, from what I saw.
I caught him one afternoon, drunk and straddling the ridge, pissing right off the end of the roof in broad daylight, shaking his fist and cussing at all the little kids playing down below. Bobby just laughed it off, hearing about it later, listening with that helpless sort of look in his eyes. Well, he paid me good wages and all, but still.
The whole crew took off in two cars and ran down to a Seven-eleven to get drinks one day. Dallas gets hot during the summers, and the lot of us had been at it since sunrise. All except Bobby; he usually worked an hour or two before leaving to go scout for new jobs, so he missed out on this deal. Roy and his brother took Blackie with them, and me and Steve took his El Camino, and we all pulled up at the same time and parked side by side.
Blackie unfolded himself out of the back seat of Roy’s old beater sedan moaning and bitching about something while we all slammed our doors and headed on inside. I went and stood in line behind Steve to order me one of those big Slurpee drinks, while Roy and Dale headed for the cold sodas in the rear. I looked and seen Blackie standing over in one aisle, searching around for something, and then here he comes, carrying two items.
“What you got there, Blackie?”
He grinned, which showed he had no teeth, and then he held up the things. Two large-sized bottles of vanilla extract. What in the world?
“What you want with them?”
The man behind the counter spoke up and asked me what flavor I wanted about then, so I turned back around to wait while he filled a giant cup with some blue slush.
Me and Steve went on outside after we paid, and we stood there by the front door, leaning on the bagged ice container and waiting for the rest of the guys.
Blackie came staggering out in a few minutes, and right away he pitched the first brown bottle in a trash can, but it missed his mark. He bent over to pick it up when Steve half-laughed, giving Blackie an incredulous look.
“Man, you drink that stuff?”
Neither one of us was saints, I’ll grant you this, but that was the first and only time I ever seen me a real-life vanilla-o.