Chapter 2: I call it a Brass Monkey…

“Well look what we have here,” said Bill looking into his phone. “A text from Gretch: ‘Did you book a room in Wisconsin?’”

“Well, I booked a room. She can fend for herself as far as I’m concerned!”

“If that’s the case, then, ‘No… I… did… not…’ Send.”

“Sure took her long enough. And of course that’s the first thing she’s worried about!”

“It’s like whenever we buy liquor and then Ben Woodward gets mad because he can’t drink as much as us!”

“Tell me about it. He looks like a fool! Or what about that time I got Ben Woodward all liquored up and then he got poop in his hair? He blamed me for the whole damn thing, trying to fight and stuff!”

“It’s ridiculous!”

“It’s an epidemic!”

“Hold up, I have a response—oh my God.”

“What did she say?”

“‘Classic.’”

“What is her major malfunction?”

“She’s gonna get it. At this pace, she might as well walk from the airport.”

“I’m not picking her up, not in this car!”

“We’re gonna get her… We’re gonna get her…”

Aside from a few obvious interruptions, the majority of our three and a half hour drive to Pocatello went by with relative ease, a nice and easy warm up for the much more exhaustive legs to come. We continued to rip on Ben Woodward, a topic of which anybody can easily get carried away with, while a few breaks were taken here and there to talk business, plotting against Gretch and her insensitive behavior. Her string of sarcastic comments surely did not settle well with us, nor did nixing us of a proper goodbye. Lucky for her however, her shortcomings were about to be overlooked.

It was around 5:00 when we pulled into Ridley’s grocery store in Pocatello. In front of us laid a sign tied around a lamppost—a precursor to our upcoming good fortune—it had to be. “Bill, do you see this? Rockstars on sale, 84 cents a can!”

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“Yea, but you have to buy 12 of them.”

“Who cares? I’ll buy 24!”

“Did you call Shaun?”

“I’ll call right now!” I dialed his number and the ringtone rang through the car speakers, thanks to Bluetooth technology.

“Hello?”

“Shaun!”

“Zack, what’s up?”

“We made it. We’re in Poci! Come to Ridley’s.”

“On my way! See you soon brother!”

 

***

 

Shaun Walters and I had been acquainted through my high-school years, as he was well known around the Lewis-Clark Valley’s skater scene as the guru on pop-punk music, a subject matter of which I would become moderately educated in as time passed. But it wasn’t until Christmas Vacation of 2002 when our friendship truly blossomed. A freak meeting at the Saturday matinee screening of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” along with a recent procurement of a Sony Digital-8 HandyCam catapulted our newly formed friendship into uncharted territories (the fact that I owned an Xbox with Halo didn’t hurt either). Thus, many of the succeeding nights were spent deeply entrenched in the world of skateboarding, filming, and playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, a ritual that continued well throughout the duration of Christmas Vacation.

“Hey, check this out,” said Shaun on one of those nights. Austin Moody and I heeded to his call, huddling around my parent’s computer, of which Shaun was at the helm. Through a cheap video editing program, he had made a short edit, a joke in the car followed by the opening of a Sum 41 song with a driving beat. “It’s the start to our video.” My eyes brightened with excitement as the electric guitar rift pressed on. Inspiration rose up inside of me. “The Dark Chronicles” was born.

That two-week stretch of unbridled freedom and Sum 41 was just the beginning of our adventures. For several months, we spearheaded our efforts to perform outrageous stunts and self-masochistic acts both on and off our skateboards, just like our hero’s Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera. And in our pursuit to make our own, homemade version of “Jackass,” we, along with our loyal group of friends, had developed quite an amount of notoriety around the Lewis-Clark Valley. We were unstoppable… or so we thought.

We became cocky, and in return, became sloppy. Failing to cover our tracks, our cover was blown one afternoon as I found my parents sitting in front of a goldmine, over a year of unfiltered clips showcasing the worst of the worst. One in particular, leaked footage of Shaun peeing on my parent’s bathroom floor was exceptionally damaging. I had no choice but to condemn the actions and sever my ties with Shaun.

In time, I would eventually finish The Dark Chronicles. However, it seemed as though my relationship with Shaun was forever strained, and the whole ordeal of which we called “The Dark Chronicles” forever became a blessing, and a curse.

Years past without much contact from Shaun. Perhaps, each of us was a little too stubborn to admit our faults. But after the unfortunate passing of our friend Brandon, a co-star of The Dark Chronicles, I received a message from a long time friend.

“Hey man, I know we’ve been apart for a long time, but I was watching some old skateboarding clips of Brandon and us, and they were absolutely amazing. Just wanted to let you know I miss you man and would love to see you soon, brother.”

–Shaun.

I responded in kind.

“I watch those videos from time to time myself, and think about those days of skating, drinking Mountain Dew, and listening to Blink 182. Brandon was one of the craziest skaters, and I miss him big time. I don’t know the next time we’ll see each other, but whenever that is, I’d like to buy you a beer.”

 

***

 

It came to no surprise then as we waited for Shaun in the parking lot of Ridley’s Grocery that illusions of grandeur poured into my head, a replay of the glory days. I started to believe I could actually do it all over again, the skateboard tricks, shopping cart rides, Jackass stunts—everything, much like Brett Favre did his last years playing for the Vikings. Yes, maybe… just maybe, for one night, and one night only, we could get it all back…

That dream mended into reality Shaun stepped out of his car, exposing his scraggily face and sporting your typical Blink 182 T-shirt with a pair of Dickies, a style unchanged since he was in high school; a style I wouldn’t have any other way.

“What’s going on brother?” he said as he greeted each of us with a hug.

“Nothing at all, just on our way to Wisconsin. What’s going on tonight?”

“I don’t know! What do you guys wanna do?”

“Drink some beer, play some video games, watch a little YouTube,” I half-jokingly suggested.

“You read my mind!” he exclaimed in mid-turn towards the entrance of Ridley’s, fully expecting us to follow. We did—our minds perfectly in sync and aided by the prospect of 84-cent Rockstars, the best deal for the energy drink I had ever seen in my entire life. Could this day get any better?

“What beer do we want?” asked Bill as we perused long and hard at the selection before us. Although not a terrible selection, it wasn’t exactly up to the specifications I had been accustomed to, having lived only two blocks from a hop shop, making the decision of which beer to purchase much more difficult than anticipated.

“Well, I know what I want,” blurted Shaun quite confidently, strutting his way towards a collection of cheaper beer. Bill and I shook our heads in half-humorous disgust as he grabbed for a 40-ounce bottle of Mickey’s.

“Yea, I think I might pass. I’ll go with an IPA, or maybe something light, like a nice PILS-ner or something,” I said to him. My taste buds deserved something better, but there was no point in causing offense over his choice of beer, especially since he was setting us up with a place to stay for the night. And hell, this was Shaun Walters were talking about! The best punk rocker to come out of the Lewis-Clark Valley! Our long lost friend of several years! The last thing I wanted to do was challenge the man’s brew and bring up unnecessary contention!

“Yea, maybe we’ll probably just go with some Summer Shandy, or maybe this Bud Light with Lime, just for you,” said Bill.

“Oh. Right, you guys haven’t drank with me before,” he said with a slight braggadocios tone.

“Heheh, I know, it’s been a long time since we—“

Wai… whoa, what the Hell did he just say? Drank… with me??? No, he couldn’t have. No way he—my God, he did. The words come out of his mouth quite clearly in fact! ‘You guys haven’t drank with me before—’ Yes, those were the words. Those were his words! How… how dare he!”

Suddenly, I had forgotten where I was. “Why am I here, and who is this punk next to me with a freaking Mickey’s in his hand, and this hunk to my right with a box of bud light lime?”

“You guys haven’t drank with me before… you guys haven’t drank with me before…” It was all I knew, a single phrase that lingered, and its intended interpretation. It was a challenge; it had to be. No way Bill and I spent countless nights in Moscow under the Mentoring of a world-class drinker like Mike Gibson, number one at the University of Idaho, for this. The man even had his own, self-proclaimed tagline, “I Could kill off alcohol poisoning with a 5th of Mr. Boston.”

“You guys haven’t drank with me before…” it wasn’t a challenge; it was an insult.

My vision became obfuscated, all but for one, lonely subject. Its label captivated my attention, the only sure way to end all arguments once and for all. This man, who apparently referred to himself as “Shaun Walters,” had to be proven wrong, and this 40-ounce bottle of 8.7% ABV Steel Reserve “Premium” Malt Beverage was the key—

“What am I thinking?” Reason struck, a miraculous shockwave to keep me from making a drastic mistake. “Shaun’s a really good guy; a loyal and good-willed man, the keeper of Neil Young’s long sought after heart of gold. He didn’t mean anything bad by the comment. Surely it was all a joke, just a silly joke he happened to mention. Bad timing, that’s all! All he wants to do tonight is hang with his buds, no need to ruin it with the dirtiest, bottom of the barrel choice of beer you can get your hands on. I mean, he made The Dark Chronicles with you. The Dark Freaking Chronicles! That means something! You’re better than that. Be a good man. Be a friend. And for God sakes, don’t throw your life away. You have so much to live for—“

“What the hell. Let’s do this,” I replied as I grabbed a bottle of Satan’s piss and walked out of the beer cooler, absent of rational thought. “Bill, grab the Rockstars. We’re going!” No eye contact was given leaving the store.

We drove back to Shaun’s apartment with three 40’s, a six pack of IPA, a case of Bud Light with Lime, a carton of orange juice, and 12 Rockstar energy drinks, all of the ingredients for a perfect storm. Conversation was made was only to eliminate suspicion.

“Ready to start drinking?” he asked back at the apartment with a series of YouTube videos in queue. It was a silly question—a very silly question. The 40’s already in my hand for God sakes! “I bet you guy’s can’t beat me.” God, was he was on a role of pissing me off or what?!

The cap to the Steel Reserve flew across the room, ripped from the lid with tremendous torque and the bottle pressed against my lips, filling my mouth with a grotesque replica of toxic sludge. Each gulp slashed the inner lining of my mouth and attacked each square inch of my esophagus as it made its way into my stomach, the only organ that could foster such a destructive mixture, of which God must have laid down a miracle unto its inventors just to get it passed the FDA.

“Add a little orange juice to it. I call it a Brass Monkey.” I was well aware of the concoction called the Brass Monkey, one of which added orange juice to a 40 after about a third of its contents had been consumed. And frankly, I didn’t need to be reeducated on the matter either, but humored him by doing exactly as he said. I let him know I play ball, and hoped that the mixture of OJ and malt beverage would mask the Steel Reserve’s unfavorable taste.

Its effects were the exact opposite, its taste equally as offensive as its appearance. The mixture only exacerbated the previous destruction inside my body, one that my stomach simply could not handle, obviated the moment my lips once again pressed against the rim of the bottle. But I could not stop, and I would not stop… the Shaun Walters could not win. Not this time. I empty the rest of the contents of the 40-ounce container, that cheap imitation of throw-up into my mouth. Not for a moment did I flinch—not once. Both Bill and Shaun stared with amazement; my insides screaming for relief, barely able to sustain the torture forced upon them while my outside remained stoic. There was no room for weakness.

“What is this, amateur hour?” I replied, the smugness seething under my breath, for I had only begun with the insults. “Oh man, you’re actually reading those stupid Game of Throne books?” I asked, looking over at his bookcase. “A big waste of time if you ask me. Just watch the TV show, like I do. It’s way better!” Shaun’s lower lip tucked under his teeth. I couldn’t begin to imagine what pernicious thoughts were running through his head. “I’m getting another beer. Anybody want an IPA?”

“Uh, I think I’ll go with a Bud Light with Lime,” replied Shaun. I figured that’s what he’d say.

“Oh, I forgot you were a 49er’s fan Shaun. Say, when was the last time you guys beat the shi— I mean, Sea—“ I couldn’t do it. “…Never mind.” I couldn’t bring myself to say something nice about the Seahawks.

No other remarks concerning our beer drinking abilities were uttered the remainder of the night.

Instantly upon my return with a fresh round of beers in hand, the cloud of tension that had overcome the mood of our visit had lifted, as if I had been under an evil spell for the last few hours. We resumed our session of YouTube videos, ranging from the greatest moments of my favorite WWE Wrestling stars to… well, now that I think about it, all I can really remember is watching John Cena over and over again with maybe a little Blink 182 in the mix...

As the night went on, we shared memories and retold funny stories, many of which involved Brandon. And for some reason, every time the words “Ben” and “Woodward” were mentioned in the same sentence, each of our heads suddenly lowered in shame, as if the combination triggered an automatic reaction. The drinking continued with Bill and Shaun forced to play catch-up the rest of the night until the beer supply was nearly depleted and each of us fell into a deep slumber…

 

***

 

I awoke the next morning unaware of the carnage my body had undertaken. It was only from Bill’s recounting that I discovered a great battle had taken place all throughout the night, a battle who’s sounds, scents and fury kept him awake for most of the night. It didn’t take long for me to understand the ferocity of such a battle. Judging by my rush into the bathroom, it was still ongoing.

On the toilet I sat, expelling the demons that haunted my bowels, each one making a harsh, blood-curdling scream as it was thrust out of my body. As it turns out, Brass Monkey’s and intestinal tracts do not make a good pairing. In fact, they make quite the bickering couple, a feud I was sorry to involve Shaun with. The process repeated itself multiple times, but my body’s digestive bastion firmly held its position and sent the enemy and all of its weaponry back to the dirty depths of septic hell where it belonged, leaving permanent marks of devastation along the way. The battle may have been fought and won, but the war continued for many hours and miles afterwards.

“Sorry Shaun, I think I accidently destroyed your toilet,” I said, my outside body language no longer able to mask the somberness of its inside counterpart. I knew that whatever happened, whatever monstrosity that was produced—that prematurely woke him from his slumber was a mistake… a huge mistake.

“Heheh, I heard that final push,” replied Shaun with a smile on his face and a pat on the shoulder. My disruptions had quickly been forgiven, and once again, all seemed to be right within the 7 kingdoms of Westoros.

“Did we get in a fight last night?” I had to ask. A risky question to bring up after a night of drinking, but I had to know. There was a feeling of altercation floating about, something that had happened long ago, but couldn’t quite put a finger on, a distant memory all but forgotten except for an inception, the thought that something could’ve happened—my mind trying to convince itself that something did in fact happen, even if the event never actually occurred…

“Absolutely not,” he shot back. Good enough for me!

We shared a couple of hugs and wished each other luck as we repacked our car, preparing ourselves for our next leg of the journey. “Let’s do this again soon.”

“I agree. Let’s do. And let’s not make it another 10 years from now.”

“Agreed. Take care brother.”

We exchanged another set of hugs before we hopped into our separate cars, his going to work, and mine onward, closer to our final destination. As we drove away that morning, I couldn’t help but think… Shaun Patrick Walters. What a great and honorable man. Any more noble and he’d easily be confused with the name “Stark.”

I’ll see you again Sir Walters of Pocatello… very soon. And next time, I’ll bring the 40’s.

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