Hood-Rats

“Sorry man, my mom says today isn’t a good day and that you already broke two things at our house this week.” If you’re just trying to do Hood-Rat stuff with your best friend that lives across the street, this sentence is a real buzz-kill. I heard this sentence or a version of it, a lot. However, young Andrew was usually right, it probably wasn’t a good day because I had about eight hours of yard work ahead of me and I did, in fact, break two things at his parents’ house that week. I believe exterior lights and items in the garage fell casualty to some low class tomfoolery, merrymaking, and overall sugar-induced chaos. Young Andrew would usually watch me engage in some moronic behavior with his arms folded let out a large sigh and proceed to spout the catch-phrase “You’re gunna hurt yourself or break something dude, but I kinda want to see how this plays out.” Sure enough, he was right…every single time.

Growing up in a small town in this case actually played to my favor. Andy was super cool, he was the Zack Fucking Morris of my small town and I was the Screech. No not even the Screech, lower than the Screech, like one of Screech’s sidekicks that showed up at “the school dance”. The contrasts didn’t stop there however. He was a crazy good student, incredible athlete, really good with parents, and I am pretty sure every girl that ever existed wanted to see him with his shirt off and then try to grab his butt cheeks. The dude was all time. And here I was, basically a pile of bones connected by some sort of skin sack that had just enough motor skills and vocabulary to conjure up a joke at the most inopportune moments; like when our bus driver would say “no more talking or you two can walk home.” And I would reply with “You’re the one talking, but you could probably use the walk home, don’t ya think?” Our overweight bus driver made us walk home that day Andy scolded me on the way home “You just couldn’t be quiet, could ya?”

I would come up with these really really bad ideas and Andy would make them a lot better. For example I just wanted to throw shit at cars. I mean, what kid doesn’t? So I would grab some rocks and sticks, action figures, whatever I could get my mongoloid sticky fingers on and be like “LET’S TEAR IT UP HOMES!” Luckily Andy would stop me in my tracks and make things way better. “Instead of throwing things that can actually damage cars and have your dad end our short lives, let’s throw tennis balls. Also, instead of being super obvious about causing trouble; let’s pretend we’re playing catch and we accidently throw the ball too far.” I think he had to explain it four more times and demonstrate it a couple times before I caught on. Never the less it worked amazingly. We finally had to quit when the tennis ball got lodged into a passing trucks grill and carried it off. “Good thing I collected all those rocks, let’s grab em dude there’s still daylight!” Andy disappointingly reiterated, “Remember why we grabbed the tennis ball in the first place? Do you? Dude nod your head if you understand that throwing rocks and tennis balls is very different. Jesus.”

Throwing shit at cars was super fun for a while. No I take that back, it was a delight for a long time. Eventually we had to up the ante though. Sometime over 5th grade I came up with the idea of running in front of cars. Literally, that was the idea. To wait for a car to drive up our street while we stood in the middle of the road and then just run in front of it. What a goddamn genius I was! To make it an actual game we found an area off the side of the road we could run to and hide if anyone pulled over. A lot of lectures shouted from the cabs of pickup trucks happened that year. They were good lectures too, well thought out, passionate, overall probably words we should have listened to. It was just too much fun though, we had to be causing trouble it was in our nature. It was calculated trouble thanks to Andy.

For the first two years I lived across from Andy we did everything together. Cause trouble, caught snakes, yes caught snakes. He had this crazy obsession with snakes and he was super fucking good at catching them. “Oh yea, you have to lay a board down over here on some loose ground so they can get in there and stay cool. Watch it will work.” and it did every time. We would go down to this old creek and play in it, catch crawdads, make up stories about this creepy old dude that lived down there. It was great, we were two peas in a pod that lived out in the middle of nothing with only our imaginations to entertain us. We had established an incredible friendship, but nobody is safe from middle school. Around 6th grade is when I started to realize the major differences between what my life would look like and what Andy’s would look like.

At some point in every school system they need to start separating the strong and promising youth from the weak and disappointing. Andy falls in the strong promising category, naturally. The mongoloid with terrible planning skills falls in the weak and disappointing category; throw in some special education classes to really drive it home. At the beginning it was easy enough to shake off. We would still hangout a lot, we made mutual friends and all the school differences considered we were still certifiably buds. The real divider came later, when we started picking our extra curricular activities. Once again, Andy engaged in all the sports where the athletes were. He played Soccer and Basketball, and was truly talented at both. My head wasn’t good for much so I decided to hit things with it, playing Football, Wrestling, and Lacrosse. As I said though, initially these things didn’t seem to divide us.

Towards the end of 8th grade it was apparent that we weren’t nearly as close as we once were. Not because we didn’t want to be, there was no animosity or maliciousness floating around. We simply had to make other friends and spend time with them because of our schedules. We would see each other in the halls and stop, shoot the shit I would make some jokes at my own expense, then at some teachers expense, then my own again. He would introduce me to his new friends I didn’t know and I would be flying solo most of the time to avoid embarrassment of walking to the hopeless kid classes. Every once in a while we would get together and play video games. We would bust out the WWF games and play late into the early mornings. Several times Andy would remind me that I fell asleep with the controller in my hand, but he didn’t mind because I was “much easier to beat” that way.

By the time high school rolled around it was past due for the Thomas family to roll out the wagons. We were on a four-year rotation. Get a house, fix it up over a few years, get a better house with better problems, rinse and repeat. In all honesty it wasn’t that far from Andy’s house, but it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t losing my friend to distance; I was losing him to being better than me. Now that I didn’t live there it might be a good thing. I wouldn’t be around anymore to drag him down. He wouldn’t have to waste energy on fixing my shitty plans, or explaining to his parents why something caught on fire, he could just use that time to get better at being better.

In high school the gap between my best friend and I grew exponentially. He was focused, excelled in every aspect; he was the best at everything. Everything he did was with a purpose and they lead to the next step. He found the things he loved and stuck with them until they were perfected. My whole entire high school experience was spent grasping at straws. Hey maybe I’ll become a theater kid, they are cool right? Shit I can’t act. Nah maybe I will be an art kid, oh fuck me, I can’t draw and I’m not that creative. What about a party kid? I can do that! Oh no wait my dad would shove that bottle up my ass so far I could taste it a second time. I think he’s actually said that to me before? Fuck man, what am I gunna do. I guess I’ll just be nice to people and make jokes and fail out? Yea let’s do that!

Luckily I didn’t fail out, it wasn’t for lack of trying though. I had absolutely no plan for post high school. I figured I would just get a job and drink beer. That was the American Dream right? What kid doesn’t grow up and want to start making money right away? I ran into Andy a couple times in the halls here and there, as usual we would shoot the shit and more self-deprecating humor would pour out of my mouth. Once again there was nothing malicious about us not spending time together anymore, things were just different, the game had changed. By the time we were seniors I had long curly hair and was listening to Marilyn Manson while posing in the Free Tibet club and Andy was clean cut, earning scholarships to engineering schools with a girlfriend that was already in college. We weren’t in the same ballpark, shit we weren’t even playing the same sport.

It wasn’t until my 18th birthday that I really put things together. My family had thrown a surprise birthday party for me. I had an April birthday, so it was towards the end of my senior year. I walked in and scanned the crowd for everybody there and I saw Andy. I said to my mom “holy shit mom, you invited Andy and he came!” she sort of scoffed in my direction “yea honey Andrew, he’s one of your best friends. Why wouldn’t we invite him weirdo?” as she walked away to play hostess. I was hanging out when Andy walked over “So you’re an adult now huh? That’s terrifying.” Andy always had a pretty dry wit that I can never do any justice in writing or mimicking. He proceeded to ask me “So what’s the plan for next year man?” I didn’t really have answer so I told him I was just going to get a job a drink some beer. He laughed for a little bit and said “Well hey man, a few of us are going to head to Oregon State. If you can’t find anything better to do. You should come down there, it would be fun man, we could cause trouble like back in the day.”

I couldn’t tell at first if his offer to head down to the state college with him and some of our other buddies was genuine. Then I started thinking about why we kind of grew apart in the first place. Andy was never rude to anybody everyone liked him and certainly didn’t think he was better than anybody. It was actually my own perceived distance that caused any sort of rift. My own negativity about how much better he was than me and how his life was going on a different path and blah blah blah. I was the one afraid to admit to myself that someone could be doing better than me, but still wanted to be my friend. Heck, he might have even enjoyed having me around from time to time.

I had decided to attend a community college after high school. My cousin was moving up to Portland Oregon and two of my other close friends from high school were moving out that way as well. I thought I would tag along and give it the old college try myself. All four of us lived in a two bedroom crappy apartment, so the illusion of college was there. Andy went to Oregon State with some of our other buddies and so began our “adulthood”. We stayed in touch a lot; I would always toy with the idea of moving down there and trying to go to a real college with him. I would visit from time to time; enjoy an actual college party when I could. Always struck out with the girls, so that was a good sign that it wasn’t really different from the rest of my life. After a couple years of this my friendship with Andy would take on a new importance. I had no way of understanding what an impact he would end up making on my life.

At some point, living out in Beaverton Oregon, going to school, and working got to me. I was almost 20 years old when I had my first drink. I had never done anything remotely close to drugs or alcohol. Truth be told I was just terrified of my dad smearing the walls with me. Ol’ Rick doesn’t take any shit. The first time I drank I got flat out annihilated. We are talking a two-day hangover and I was 19! If your 19-year-old body can’t bounce back, you overshot your mark by quite the margin. But as soon as that hangover subsided and I knew where to get alcohol and I was right back to it. Throw in a two-month prescription for Vicodin from a wisdom tooth removal and things got a little hairy. Eventually I had a problem, a functional problem, but still a problem.

When you’re always looking down on yourself, when that is your neutral mode of operation; finding something that can give you escape from your own mind is highly valuable. That’s exactly what prescription drugs became. Highly valuable tools to cope with the little voice in my head continuously telling me I wasn’t good enough, I would never be good enough, and particularly I would never be as good as the guy I grew up across the street from. Andy wasn’t my only great friend, but he was the one I liked to compare myself to, because it made me feel the worst. It wasn’t jealousy as much as it was disappointment. We grew up on the same street, in the same town; he was my friend, why couldn’t I just be more like him? Even if it was just a little bit more like him.

During college everyone from our small town would move home for the summer months. Everybody comes back, gets a job at some small local business, and saves up some money and then back out into the fray with some fresh cash in the pockets. Usually you would get a storage unit, or sublet your room while you were away. This summer I didn’t get a storage unit. I needed to get things back on track. Andy got a part time gig at our buddy Jake’s family paint store. I don’t know if they actually needed my help or just brought me around for the laughs, but I got hired there for the summer. Jake, Andy, and myself were a bit of a trifecta in middle school. The team was back together again if only for a few short summer months. As July passed I heard more and more from Andy and Jake “come to Oregon State man. You can live with us. It will be great, what else you gunna do?”

Some how some way I got convinced. I thought, maybe I can make a real go of it down there. Shit man, maybe some day I’ll be a college graduate. Wait let’s not get crazy with the optimism. I had no idea how I was going to convince a real college to accept a failing theater student from a community college that had never taken his SATs; but Andy was convinced he could get me in. And with Andy’s help I did get in. (I repaid him later by failing out that same year, but that’s a different story for a different day.) So it was settled, at the end of the summer, I was going to move to Corvallis Oregon, with my best friends Andy and Jake. The equally important piece was the fact that neither of them really drank or did drugs. So I was going into a situation full of positives. I think altogether I was living at my parent’s house for about 4 to 5 months before I left to start over in Corvallis.

The first year down there went great. I was living with my best friend, I was clean, and I even managed to trick some poor girl into dating me. There were a lot of highlights and shitty things about living with five guys under one roof, but to say it wasn’t magical would be a mistake. It didn’t take Andy and I very long to revert to our old ways. A block away from our house was a major street through Corvallis. I bought some water balloons and tried my damnedest to convince Andy that hiding behind a tree and hurling these latex pearls of joy at passing cars was exactly what we should be doing. Instead in his infinite wisdom we made another trip to the store. We came home with surgical tubes and a funnel, at water balloon catapult was built that night, and many cars fell victim as we launched them from the roof of our duplex. The team was back to basics.

One of the best moments of my life happened just shortly after we moved into this place. One night Andy told me about how he had been saving and planning to marry his long time girlfriend Lindsay. They met in high school and you could tell just from how they were with each other that they were meant to be. Both too smart for their own good, incredible athletes, just destined to do great things as individuals, and do even greater things as a couple. I was walking back to my room one night and Andy shouted at me “come here dude, I got a questions for ya.” He told me about how the proposal went down and when they were going to try and tie the knot, and then just real casually said, “I’d love for you to be my best man dude.” With all the manliness I could muster I choked back the tears and accepted.

When everyone moved out of our house in Corvallis Andy and I stayed behind for the summer. I was working two jobs and he was working and going to school, so we got a little apartment. It was the summer of 2006, which meant the FIFA World Cup was on. We would take shifts for coffee making. One of us would wake up early and start a pot so we could both watch the early morning games before we left for work. We didn’t see each other much because we were so busy, but cup time was our time. We were both huge Wayne Rooney fans, we called him “The Mug” because of his big brute like jaw and we would constantly yell at the television when he was on “LET THE MUG PLAY! GIVE THE KID A CRACK AT THE WORLDS STAGE!”

For the next few years Andy and Lindsay would hop around here and there. I stayed in Corvallis and went back to Oregon State. I had to get my degree after he graciously helped me get in. I couldn’t fail him and our friendship again, a few times was enough for me. Eventually his family would settle down roots up in the Seattle area. Our best friend Jake and I would drive up there a few times a year and crash on the couch, catch some baseball games, but we retired throwing shit at cars. We have finally been able to coax him and his family back to Oregon where he’s needed. Through everything I realized that almost my whole entire friendship I was worried I was dragging Andy down. I would constantly be concerned about messing up his future or getting in the way of him doing something great. I just wanted to be a Hood-Rat with my Hood-Rat buddy. But Andy taught me that real friends don’t worry about being dragged down, they worry about pulling friends up.

The voice is still there, maybe not as constant as it was; but it’s still there. I am always looking for reasons I am not good enough, for the failures in my life, for things I need to do better. On most days I am a walking self-fulfilling prophecy. Just looking for a chance to create a mess and not find the resources to clean it up. Being completely sober helps keep that in check most of the time. But the real thing that keeps my inner monologue from wearing me down and tormenting me is this. If I was so terrible, why would a guy like Andy stand by me for over 20 years? Why would a guy that’s a winner waste his time on a loser?