How We Make Friends

I interrupted my parents yesterday. They were busy planting stick-trees along their house’s south-facing side, which gets an insufferable amount of sun. They were digging in the soil in an old bed that used to be my playground when I was small and when I dug in the mud with my Tonkas and GI Joe’s. The backyard gate was open, so I sent Finn in as greeting and he rounded the corner determined to see both Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa and Grandma—they’re two people, though sometimes you wouldn’t know it, and—Finn–he calls them by one name, only: ‘Gampa’. Immediately he wanted to join my parents who were, with matching headbands, spading the soil and perhaps proving an old point of mine: that they’re a certain and insular universe to themselves.
But Finn joined the party, dragging a shovel bigger than himself into their project, determined to dig. My mom handed Finn a smaller shovel, as Finn got instantly and progressively dirty and couldn’t exactly well handle a Home Depot mid-size.
Finn settled on whacking one of the re-plants with his toy shovel.
We agreed to stop digging for a second, though it’s good for boys to get their pants unclean, and we sat on the patio for a long time talking. Me and my Mom and my Dad. Finn exhausted my Mom after a spell because he’s three times busy, a miniscule fraction of his brother who is exactly NINE times busy (it’s science).
All of this: it was just…good.
Because the day was clean, the sky refreshed, I drove home, yet wanting to prolong the moment. So I parked alongside ‘Grand Ole Asada’—just around the corner from my house—to perhaps pick up some grub and sit with Finn on a bench, split some potato salad.
A neon sign said ‘Sold Out’ but I checked in with the pit-boss who was standing, sweating, just off the closed and exhaling smoker.
“Hey: I live around the corner. I know you’re sold out, but do you still have sides?”
(You haven’t had the beans yet, have you? There is reason I persisted).
And he crossed his arms said: “You need to go talk to Christian over there,” nodding in the direction of six guys sat huddled around a picnic bench.
“But—yeah,” he said, “We’ll help you out.”
I don’t which one Christian is, so I looked back questioningly.
“Never mind—I’LL help you out,” he laughs.
Finn and I are introduced to the pit crew, six guys hunkered down around a wooden table. Most Nazarene-thin despite slinging the meat wares, in black or otherwise flannel. Thick specs, tattoos.
I’m fairly positive these guys eat Johnny Cash records for breakfast.
“This here’s a local guy—can you help him out with some sides?”
A red-bearded gent pushes himself up, beckons for me to follow him. I order the beans and the potato salad. Decide to stop there.
He looks back: “You know the spicy slaw is really good.”
“That’s what I hear. Oh, what the hell.”
He holds up two fingers as I pay.
“I’m only gonna charge you for two. How ‘bout that?”
Finn and I sit in the sun, enjoying our nosh, and somebody delivers Girl Scout cookies to the pit crew.
We are a community. Why I got a free side, why I stuffed some extra dollars into the tip jar.
Red-beard walks over.
“Can your kid have a cookie?” he asks on the quiet.
“Absolutely,” I decide, and Finn is given not one, but two Samoas.
“Check it out, Finn—your first Girl Scout cookies and you got the best kind.”
Finn proceeds to paint his face with chocolate, happy, the sun out and the sky really blue.
“Thom,” I say holding out my hand to Red-Beard.
“Quinn,” he replies.
This is how we make friends.

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