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When I Was Twenty-Three

Story by Dan Townsend (Read author interview) September 25, 2012

art by Daniel McGinley

I had a boss named Roy James. He liked to say that he was in the witness protection program because his name was Roy James, and that’s a very common name. His other joke went like this: I am the rhyming man with two first names.

Roy James!

The job was construction and I was bad at it. I am afraid of heights. That alone disqualifies you from being good at construction. In addition to that, Roy said I was mechanically disinclined. He said that like it was the most clear fact there is.

It is Tuesday.

You are mechanically disinclined.

I made him laugh, so he kept me around. If Roy James were king, he said, I would be his court jester. “I” is me, not Roy James.

We were lazy. Our favorite thing to do was make a run to the supply house. There were a few to choose from. One place had free hot dogs sometimes. Another had a popcorn machine going, and you didn’t have to buy anything. If you worked construction, you could drop in and get yourself some popcorn and be on your way. There was intense competition among supply houses.

If we weren’t at a supply house, we were probably checking up on things.

We asked the guys, “So when’s it going to be done by?”

The guys would look up from the pipes, or down from the roof, and they’d be like, “Friday?”

We’d say, “Alright then,” and go back to Roy’s truck and ride to the next job smoking cigarettes with our elbows on top of the rolled down windows. We would agree those motherfuckers were sandbagging like a son of a bitch. No reason they couldn’t be done by Thursday lunch.

After a few months, Roy felt comfortable around me and said some crazy things.

He said when he jerked off, his come would dribble on his knuckles, but he would bet a million dollars right now that when I come, it goes flying across the room. He made a noise like he was spitting in a spittoon. He could remember it being like that for him. Something is wrong with me if I am not like that.

Him and his wife did swinging for a little bit. I made a face like, say what? He said one day I would understand.

He said, what if I really was in the witness protection program? “I” was Roy James, not me.

After Roy was fired, I continued to help coach his daughter’s softball team. Little girls are terrible softball players, but it is inappropriate to say as much. We stood at the end of the dugout during games, chewing sunflower seeds, screaming at eight-year-old girls to move their ass.

Roy had procured me a T-shirt that said COACH between the shoulder blades. I would look back into the bleachers at Roy’s wife and try to picture her in hot swinger action. Roy said he liked to watch. It excited him.

One time, out of the blue, Roy looked at me and said, “What are you doing here anyway?”

I looked back at him and said, “I don’t know.” I smiled because it was true and that wasn’t bad because there wasn’t anything else I’d rather be doing. Roy kept on with his stories.

He was in a soul band once. He could sing like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, one of those guys. He cleared his throat and sang a little. There was a part that went Gotta!-Gotta!-Gotta! but I don’t remember any more.

He would have to move in with his daddy in Houston if he didn’t find some work.

I had moved on from construction by then. The boss who replaced Roy James did not share his sense of humor.

It’s obvious he’s not in the witness protection program, Roy James told me. If he were in the witness protection program he’d be somebody way better than himself.

About the Author

Dan Townsend lives in Alabama. He has a story forthcoming from Drunken Boat.

About the Artist

Daniel McGinley is an amateur photographer, a novice bagpiper, a physician in the Middle TN area, and an eligible bachelor.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Seven

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