When I first married Joe, he was the lead singer for a well-known punk rock band and Dave Mello, was his best pal and his new bass player.
They were always together making surf boards, surfing, working on cars, having their little “bromance” and as any good wife knows… it is a joy when your husband has a best friend.
Their “boy” project at the time was a 1959 Ford Fairlane that Joe was in the process of restoring.
He had just had the engine rebuilt at a shop, and he and Dave had the block back under the hood and were in the process of priming the carburetor when all hell broke loose.
I was minding my own business, upstairs in our small apartment across from what now is the Long Beach Towne Center.
I was keeping an eye on Dylan, who was barely 18 months old, as he rode on his favorite rocking horse, which sat sideways next to the large picture window, watching his Dad and “Uncle” Dave work on the car down in the street below.
“Da,” Dylan said which he used freely for both Dave and Dad and just about every other thought he had under the sun in that little baby brain of his.
“Yes,” I cooed. “Dad and Dave are working on the car.”
He rocked on his little horse excitedly repeating, “Da! Da! Da!” as he watched the boys work.
“Yes,” I repeated. “Da. Da. Da.”
I walked into the other room for just a moment, when I heard a sound that any parent knows is trouble: the sound of complete silence.
The rocking horse had stopped.
The baby made no noise.
I paused in my housework and listened before I heard the words “Uh oh” from Dylan’s baby mouth.
Now, I had never heard Dylan say anything but “Da” so that was shocking enough. But the word that followed just about floored me.
“Shit” I heard the baby say plain as day and then the springs creaked on the horse, his feet padded a few steps, and his little hands began to bang against the plate glass window as he shouted “Da! Da! Da!” at the boys below.
I dropped the laundry I had been folding, and rushed into the living room to find the baby now quiet, head leaning against the window, his eyes large and round, his hands pressed flat against the glass, his mouth in a tiny exclamation of an “Oooooooooh” and before I could even start to comprehend my two-year-old’s first full word being “shit,” I saw a large plume of smoke hanging above the hood of the car in the air, and Dave yelling at Joe, “Try it again! But no more gas!”
To this day, I don’t know if Joe actually really didn’t hear Dave say “No more gas” or if he was just being obstinate, but… he completely ignored Dave and poured a large stream of gas from the gas can in the carb before he raised his empty hand in a big “thumb’s up.”
Dave, oblivious to Joe’s actions, hidden behind the protection of the driving wheel and the opened hood, hit the ignition and I watched as a large fireball exploded out from under the hood of the car and blasted into the air.
“JESUS CHRIST!” Dave screamed as he jumped from the car and then stopped short as he watched Joe, gas can in hand, jump backwards flailing his arms wildly as the flame shot up through the carb, ignited the stream of gas coming from the can, and left a trail of fire that blazed steadily across the sky, lighting Joe up as if he were holding a giant Roman candle on the 4th of July and using it to make fiery decorative loops.
“Throw it Joe!” Dave screamed. “Throw the fucking can!”
He looked back and forth from each hand. I could see from even where I was that his rock-and-roll 90’s hair-do, his giant bushy eyebrows and hipster goatee had been singed to a crisp.
If it wasn’t so terrifying… I would have laughed at the comic farce playing out in the arena below but, I knew enough about combustion to know that if Joe didn’t throw that can within the next few seconds he was toast.
“THROW THE GAS CAN JOE!” I screamed through the glass and though he couldn’t hear me… it seemed my urgent need for him to listen had somehow broken the spell and Joe flung the gas can as far as he could.
I saw both boys rush to outrun the explosion.
For a moment it felt as if I were back in time watching two small children play soldiers at war.
They made it to the curb before the can hit the ground and exploded into a fiery bomb that was quite astounding.
Joe did some weird Chuck Norris tuck-and-roll before he leaped to his feet, leaving Dave behind him face down on the grass, as he ran into the building next to ours.
I watched Dave raise his head.
His look… one of dismay.
Joe had left his man behind.
A cardinal sin when in the midst of the heated passion of a bromance.
We all heard a loud crashing of glass followed by Joe dashing back across the street with a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze as Dave smiled, now sure in his best friend’s love for him, as Joe raced throughout the street, trying to right his wrong, putting out large patches of flame, as Dave looked on in admiration.
“Ooooooooooooh!” Baby Dylan said as he watched from the window. “Uh oh Mama?” he pointed towards the street and then looked up at me.
I picked him up and cuddled him in my arms, glad to know that he was becoming a virtual vocabulary savant from this apocalyptic event.
“Yes baby,” I said as I kissed his cheek. “Uh oh.”
“Shit,” he said again.
I turned to look at him.
“No, baby,” I said sternly. “No!”
I thought he might actually begin to cry for a minute, but then the fire truck rounded the corner, sirens blaring, lights spinning, and Dylan became mesmerized by their brilliance as I heard the boys’ cowboy boots pound up the stairs and then bound through the door where they pulled the curtains closed, dropped to their knees on the floor, and hid low from “the man.”
They watched quietly, afraid to make a sound, afraid they might be seen, as the fire department assessed the incident.
Black 59′ Fairlane: gas trail circling the motor.
Broken glass: fire extinguisher thrown empty to the ground.
Entire street: burnt and black as if some type of car bomb had just gone off in Beirut.
Neighbors peeking from the windows but unwilling to rat anyone out to the authority: the unwritten rule of all good neighbors.
“Shit!” Joe said.
“Shit,” parroted Baby Dylan.
“He said a word!” Joe exclaimed.
“No shit Joe!” I snapped without thinking.
“Shit,” Baby Dylan said again.
“Jesus!” I snapped. “Are you happy now?”
Dave, always the peacemaker, and afraid that I actually might be angry enough to turn them in myself, snatched the baby from my arms and said calmly, “No baby, no.”
I gave Joe a hard look and mouthed the words, “Great.”
Dylan lay his head on Dave’s shoulder and curled his tiny little fingers through Dave’s long hair and said, “Da. Da. Da.”
We watched hidden for the next thirty minutes until the fire department finally went away, sure that the flames were long since extinguished, as baby Dylan slept in the crook of Dave’s arms.
“D.D. did you see that shit?” Joe whispered, teasing me, as both boys started to giggle in silent fits of laughter and tried not to wake the baby.
“Oh I saw it alright,” I said before I rolled my eyes at both of them. “Not funny!”
They sat on the couch, pretending to be forlorn until I exited the room in a over-dramatic huff.
Like any good mother… I let them believe they were in serious trouble, due for a scolding, and a complete disappointment to me.
I went back to folding laundry in the other room when I heard Joe whisper, “Did you see that shit Dave?”
And Dave, pretending to have a coughing attack just so he could get away with laughing like a naughty little boy, giggled as he held my sleeping baby in his arms happy to be in cahoots with his best friend.