Appalachian Hope: Chapter 15

Earlier in the day, Daniel and I had gone to McDonald’s to steal some hard plastic serving trays. Daniel placed a to-go order and stole a hand full of straws off of the counter while I snagged a pile of dirty trays off the trash can nearest the door.

The trays were for drifting in a front wheel drive car, in this case Steven’s mini-van. Steven asked us to steal them, planning to put them under the rear wheels of his car to break traction and drift around the high school parking lot. The trays sat between the soft rubber and the road, allowing the rear of the mini-van to whip around uncontrollably until the grating asphalt eventually ate away the hard plastic. It was great fun and a cheap way to have a lot of fun on a Saturday night.

I only went with Steven to run trays once, and we were nearly caught by the school Janitor. We ditched the van in the woods behind Steven’s house and covered it with limbs. We kept watch out the window, and the deputies drove past, but didn’t stop.

No one from the restaurant seemed to notice or care that I took a stack of trays from the restaurant when I left. I waited in Daniel’s car, my eyes on the door, waiting for the manager, but she never came out. When Daniel finally made it back to the car with the bag of food and a handful of straws, I’d hidden the trays under the driver’s seat out of paranoia.

Daniel climbed in the Firebird and passed me the brown paper bag. I pointed at the straws in his other hand, “What are we gonna do with those?” I asked.

He shrugged, “We’ll use em for something.”

I pulled a burger out of the bag, unwrapped it, and finished it in a few bites and pulled a cigarette out of my pack. “I wonder,” I said aloud and opened one of the straws. The cigarette filter was a perfect fit. I put the straw cigarette holder in my mouth. “Am I the fanciest redneck you ever seen?”

Daniel looked at me cross eyed, “Nothing much fancier than smoking a Marlboro through a McDonald’s straw.”

“I feel so sophisticated.” I flicked the ashes out the window, and the cigarette flew out of the end of the straw. I looked at Daniel, “I know what to do with the straws.”

Back at the trailer, Del and Gray were the last to arrive. The party couldn’t start without them. Del had a case of beer in his hand, Gray was walking with his hands in his pockets. “We brought party favors.” Gray pulled his hands above the lip of his pockets and flashed a baggy with a few dried up buds in it.

“Gray, you know Mikey don’t smoke that wacky to-backy. Show him what you got in your back pocket.” Gray pulled a flask shaped bottle of Jack Daniels from his back pocket and passed it to me.

I took it with a smile, “Gray, you handsome SOB, I could kiss you.” I took my wallet out of my back pocket, “what do I owe you?”

Gray shook his head, “Nothing. We’re even for when you bought me dinner last week.”

“You’re a good man Gray, and fuck Del for saying different.” I dropped my straw contraption and shook Gray’s hand.

“What does Del say about me?” Gray eyeballed his brother.

I wiped my hand through my hair, “Oh, I thought you knew. Anyway, thanks for the whiskey.”

“Don’t mention it.” Gray and Del both laughed. Gray pointed at the connected straws on the ground, “What’s all that?”

“Oh, just a little project I’m working on.”

Steven poked his head out the window nearest the front door. “It’s the super straw.” He ducked his head back inside and was soon out the front door. “Right, Mikey? What a stupid idea.”

I punched Steven in the arm, “Take it back. It’s a great idea.”

Steven tapped Del on the shoulder and then jerked his head in my direction, “Thomas Edison over here, inventing new addictions for us.”

“Okay, look.” I bent and picked up the pieces of straw I’d already taped together. “I’m gonna connect all of these straws together. Then I’m gonna hang them from the flower hangers.” I pointed to the semi-rusted golden hooks hanging from the top rail of the porch. “It’s gonna let you smoke a whole cigarette in like five seconds.”

Del looked toward Steven, “I don’t know. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.”

“Only thing I haven’t figured out yet,” I chuckled. “Is who is gonna try it first.”

“Seems like a job for Gray.” Del volunteered his brother.

Gray waved his hands criss cross in front of his body. “No, goddamnit. Why the hell do I always gotta do this dumb shit?”

“On account of you already got a learning disability.” Del poked at Gray.

Gray grabbed his brother by the shirt collar. Gray weighed twice as much as Del, and Gray liked to remind Del of that every once in a while. “Keep it up Del, and I’ll damage your brain for ya.”

“Gray, I’ll call you when I have it put together.” I sat back down on my milk crate and resumed connecting the clear plastic drinking straws.

“I used to like you Mikey,” Gray spun his brother around and the pair of them went inside, leaving Steven on the porch with me.

“Wanna give me a hand Stevie?”

“Sure thing Mike.”

“How many people did they invite tonight?”

“I don’t really think there was much of a guest list. Pass me the tape?”

“Sure. I don’t expect this to last too long.”

“Fuck. No one does man. Just enjoy the train wreck. We’ll have front row seats.”

I laughed, “Yeah, true. Think Jeb’s comin’ out tonight?”

“No one knows what that crazy hillbilly is doing from one minute to the next.”

“How many you got put together over there?”

“I just got one more to go. There.” Steven had four long sections finished. We put all of the sections together and then carefully hoisted the whole fragile, plastic contraption into the hooks. I took a cigarette from my pack and put it in the end.

“Go in and get Gray.” I pulled my lighter out of my pocket and kicked my milk crate seat down toward the open end of the straw. I took a step back and admired my work. The whole contraption was well over six feet long, McDonald’s straws and old, brittle masking tape.

“Goddamnit. I don’t want to do this stupid shit. Ya’ll are gonna end up killing me one day.” I heard Gray complain through the open window.

“Come on Gray. You smoke more cigarettes here than anyone.” Del was grasping at reasons his brother should be the first to try the device. “If you do it first, them I’ll do it right after.”

“No, I’ll make you a deal.” Gray replied, “You do it first, then I’ll do it right after.”

“Well,” Del stammered.

“Am I the only one here who isn’t a pussy?” Steven shouted over the others. “Fuck. I’ll do it. But you all go next.”

Del and Gray both laughed, “Let’s do it.”

Someone shouted for Kenny and Daniel, and the whole group crowded out onto the porch.

“Alright Mikey, how’s this thing work?” Steven stood with his hands on his hips and looked the whole thing over, taking a few deep breaths.

“Well, there’s a cigarette in the end, and you smoke out of the other end.” I pointed toward the milk crate. Steven climbed up and bent the open end of the straw towards his lips.

I walked to the opposite end and struck the lighter a few times, “you ready?”

Steven nodded and put his lips to the straw. I held the lighter up to the cigarette. Steven inhaled and length of straw filled with smoke. The cherry glowed hot and all in one swift motion, the cigarette was consumed by fire down to the filter. Steven coughed and jumped down from the milk crate, coughing from the deepest parts of his lungs.

Del, Gray, and Daniel stood around Steven as he was doubled over coughing. “Holy shit,” someone said, “Mikey’s killed Steven.”

But Steven was fine. Once the coughing subsided, Steven struggled to stand upright, “I’m a little dizzy,” He staggered a bit, “That’s a head rush.”

“You mean, like nicotine high?” I asked.

“Hell yeah, I just smoked a whole cigarette in one drag.” He shook his head, “Jesus.”

“Look at the straw,” Kenny pointed up, the straw was already brown with tar. “That’s why I don’t smoke right there.”

“Eh, you’re a big pussy,” Gray laughed and pulled out a cigarette and put it in the end of the straw. “It ain’t hurt me yet.”

“You gonna do one Gray?” I asked and prepared the lighter.

“I’m a man of my word aren’t I?” Gray climbed onto the milk crate. “Smoke em if you got em boys.”

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