Elmer was one of the evening bartenders who worked in my parent’s restaurant. His shift began at five, but he walked through the parking lot door at four thirty dressed in black pants, polished shoes, white shirt and tie. His hair was combed to the left and his cheeks were scrubbed and rosy.
We lived above the restaurant, five kids, mom and dad, a crow, raccoon, dogs and too many cats to count.
I’d filled a metal bucket from the barn with cold water and hauled it upstairs slopping it wet against my bib overalls and over my feet. The bucket was cold and hard to grasp but I managed to hoist it to the second story window.
I was eager to try a trick I’d seen on a morning cartoon show, the one where the cat fixes a bucket of water over a door, so the dog that’s chasing him gets drenched when it opens. Now Elmer had done nothing wrong, he was not chasing me; I just wanted to see how this worked and he was the first person I thought of. I didn’t have long to wait, he was punctual.
Elmer straightened his tie as he left his Ford and took a quick peek at his image in the side mirror, then gave a little grin of self-approval. I studied him like a hawk. When he put his hand on the restaurant door, I tipped the bucket and let it go. A perfect bulls-eye!
I’ll never forget the way his hair plastered against his scalp and the transparent flesh tones of his shirt. He looked up at me with wide eyes, and an expression of horror and surprise.
I hoped he might compliment me on my daring and ingenuity, but he took a different view. God Damn you, he said, you little unsupervised shit. He walked in the door of the restaurant, had a talk with my dad and walked right out again. Elmer took the night off.
A few months later I was walking barefoot in tall grass when I ran across a rusty fish hook. It lodged in the tender fold between my toes and had barbs that made it impossible to pull out. I don’t remember moving, just hollering for help. Elmer was on his way to work. When he saw me, he just smiled and walked by. I guess he still had the water incident stored in his grudge pile. I don’t remember how that one was resolved, but doctors were as hard to get to as outer space so they weren’t called. Someone cut that thing off me, but I no longer remember who.
You might think there were consequences for my actions with Elmer, since my dad lost a bartender that night, but there were none. We were spanked a few times, but mostly it was a case of live and let live.