My dad's friend Skipper died on Friday when he crashed his own plane somewhere in North Carolina. Skipper was a very rich man that I never met once. But I always wished for the chance, so I could thank him for making me feel as rich as him on an annual basis when I was a kid.
You see, my dad was the electrician to Skipper's Mercedes dealership. The two of them were acquiantences first, but then became friends. Now let me eventually get to telling you what Skipper did for us.
Every year in the 1980's, my dad would round up a team of 13 of his redneck friends and they would head to a town in the Mountains called Newland for a softball tournament. We would stay at a ten dollar a night hotel called The Shady Lawn. An old man and old woman owned the place and lived in the place. It was so 1970's with it's astroturf outdoor hallways.
No women were allowed on the trip. No kids were allowed on the trip, either - except me. It was just me and all those blue collar men who were between the ages of 18 and 40. I remember all those dudes like it was yesterday. I remember there was Skinny Thomas who worked on a DOT crew. Monte with the Perm and Big John who looked like The Brawny Man, both of whom worked at Maintence Supply. (Big John would soon die at Maintence Supply when he was to fall through a skylight. I saw that man get buried in his softball uniform. I remember wanting to have the urge to cry, but I was afraid John would sit up in his casket and tell me to shake it off.) There was Allan the Dropout. Emory the Guy No One Liked. Mickey The Guy Who Never Got His Uniform Dirty. Donald Keith: The 20 Year Old Man with 80 Year Old Farts. Kimmett and Rodney Wilhelm. Kimmett was the big brother who was little. And Rodney was the little brother who was big. They were nephews of the Hall of Fame Baseball Knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. There was the pitcher, Billy Winecoff, who I never saw drink wine and I don't remember having a cough. And there probably would've been Kevin McIntosh, but he got killed in a car wreck by an insurance agent around the time of the first trip. (We got a playground built at our church in his honor, because they said he loved kids so much. Which was ironic since my strongest memory of Kevin was the time he purposefully scared my 7 year old ass by laughing and driving down Rocky River Road at 95 miles per hour. Even more ironic, when he got around to actually dying in a car, it wasn't his fault. There was also this manly redneck named Jimmy Gurley. And there was my dad.
Thr only reason I got to go on the trip was because I had a job: I was the bat boy. The trips were awesome, but they weren't as debaucherous as you'd think. Mostly, the men just hung around the hotel at night and drank whiskey and beer and played poker in Big John's room and looked at porno mags that I could never quite get to. I even had a job in the poker game. It was to look out the window for any cops in the parking lot, since we had the door open. I also learned how to pinch pennies for money. Those rednecks taught me early that if you gamble, you might lose your money. They wouldn't give it back to me when I lost. A few of the guys would go out to try to find bars and chicks at those bars to screw, but my dad and Big John made it clear to them that they were to keep that shit out of our hotel. It was the old "If you're gonna bang'em, bang'em at their place, and make it to the field by game time" order.
The first year we went to one of these weekend tournaments was in 1985 and we were Team Tim Richmond. Yes, that Tim Richmond. The hottest guy in NASCAR at that time. The guy who had AIDS but nobody knew it yet. The reason we were sponsored by Tim Richmond was because Allan the Dropout's fiance was Tim's personal secretary. (When he died of AIDS, Allan said something like, "Thank God Melanie's a good girl. Or we mighta' both had that shit, too.")
When we arrived that first year for the first game early on a Saturday morning, there were like 200 locals there to watch the game. They were all staring at our team - and only our team. Then one of the older more decrepit ones spoke up:
Where's Tim? What?
We were all confused. Then Murph came up to me and my dad and pulled us away and said something to us privately. Before I tell you what Murph said, let me tell you who Murph was. He was my dad's best friend since they were 5. The only reason we ever came to this mountain town was because Murph was in charge of it. He also worked at a local newspaper.
Then he smiled and gave us a not-so-sorry apology. He said to my dad: "I guess you noticed the big turnout, Bill. Well, you see, it may or may not be because I may or may not have written an article in the paper hinting that Tim Richmond may or may not come to Newland to watch the team he sponsored play softball."
My dad and laughed and was like, "Murph, you fuckin' piece of shit! Hey wait, don't these people know he has a race this weekend?"
Murph was like, "I guess not. Just be glad you have a crowd. And they're probably gonna pull for you guys. Or kill you. I really don't know. Good luck!"
I remember that we didn't win that tournament. We made it to the second day, but that was it. And I remember that I couldn't believe these people were making such a big deal over us being the Tim Richmond team -especially since some of our guys played in blue jeans. All he did was give us cheap red t-shirts and cheap red trucker hats with his name on it. It couldn't have cost him over $200.
Some time between that tournament and the next one, Skipper got wind that the Tim Richmond Softball Team wasn't outfitted as well as it could be. So he decided to sponsor us instead. For 1986, we were to become The Beck Imports Team. We were sponsored by a freaking Mercedes Dealership. And we had these bad freaking ass black shirts with individual silver numbering and the dealership name on the back. And we got these nice hats. Real baseball hats. Not those cheap mesh-backed trucker hats that Folgers Boy used to give us. And pants! We all got pants! They were top-notch silver pants. We were the only team with full uniforms And I even got a uniform and I was just the bat boy. Very few teams had a bat boy. And only ours had a uniformed bat boy. Hell, I even had stirrups. We looked so good, that we actually played pretty good.
But it wasn't the uniforms that I always wanted to thank Skipper for. It was the car. Every year it was the car. You see, Skipper went on to sponsor us for 3 or 4 years. And every year, he would give my dad a brand new car from Beck Imports to take to the mountains. You'll realize how much this meant to me when I tell you that my mom and dad never once had a nice car. We always had the ugliest car in town. It was perpetually an outdated Malibu Classic. Our cars were never worth more than 100 dollars. We were some of the poorest white people in the snobby town of Davidson. I constantly got ridiculed by all of the snooty Davidson College professor's kids due to the ugliness of my moms cars. I didn't care to impress them. But I also didn't care for being picked on. And our car always got me belittled. But for one weekend a year, I would be in a brand new Mercedes. Just me and my dad. We would get the car on Friday, drive two hours to the mountains. Stay the night in the hotel. Drive to the game and park the car in a prominent place for all to see (Dad felt he should do that for Skipper since he was hooking us up.) Then we'd find any excuse to drive it around after the game. And then back home on Sunday.
And while the Mercedes Benzes were nice. One year, Skipper really did us nice. He gave us a cherry red brand new Porsche 944. I have never felt so rich and awesome in my life. I remember my dad, who wasn't that daring, driving the hell out of that thing a couple of times. And I remember it had all these electronic gadgets on it. And radio that didn't have old push buttons - it was something called digital. And I remember lots of hot young women looking at us at stoplights. And my dad would laugh and say, "They ain't looking at us, son. They're looking at this car. Still, it ain't so bad, is it?" No, it wasn't. I always knew Sunday would come and our Porsche would turn back into a pumpkin, but I never thought about that until Sunday.
And that's why I always wanted to meet Skipper and say thank you. He was a rich, rich man. He had golf courses, and sports teams, and car dealerships, and even got to be the biggest client busted in a high-profile prostitution scandal this year. He got to hang out with Michael Jordan and he got to golf with Tiger Woods. And I'm sure he got to have just about everything he ever wanted. But the one thing he never got to have was nothing. But because I had nothing, every time he loaned us a car for the weekend, I felt like I had everything.