I remember when the FX show Rescue Me first came on. It was a blazing hot summer about three years ago that we all would sit in my buddy Chud's living room watching this show, every Tuesday, without fail. My buddy Ryer was always there with his girlfriend, I was there with my girlfriend, and then there were always a couple others, be it my buddies Harry or Radway or whomever decided to show up that night. Little did I know that in less than six months, my life would be drastically different, and that show would take on a whole new meaning for me.
I was amazed in that first year. This show, this bullshit TV show, managed to portray us working guys in a way that had never been done before. It showed how close we all tend to get when we're on jobs together- firefighting, construction, hell, anywhere. There's a difference between your "job that you hate", and your "job that you hate but can deal with because you like working with the guys you're around". I can't understand it, but it seems to have more effect on blue collar jobs where you're with the same five or six guys all the time, and you just get very used to each other. They trust me to not kill them when I have their lives in my hands, like when I'm driving the forklift while they teeter precariously on a pallet fifty feet in the air, and they yell at me when I slip on the clutch because the pallet sways a foot in either direction when I do it. They trust that me that I'm going to break the shit up when the bosses are pissed, and that I'll defend them if I think they were right, or that I'm not going to break their balls when they're banged out from coke or drinking.
Personally, I believe this bond can only be achieved when you've got all males working together. One female ruins the honesty, and therefore, everything. You can't talk about sex, you can't talk about women...so pretty much, you can't talk about anything. This will burn that "male bond" out quicker than a match lights the air in a gas fire. I've often heard that women bond while talking, and men bond by doing. I can't sit and have a heart to heart with a buddy without offering the disclaimer of, "Dude, you know I'm not a fag, but...", and a lot of guys reading this will know what I'm talking about.
No, we learn about each other by working together, by lifting heavy shit, by building something. We're not fond of talking about our personal feelings, about the little shit that pisses us off, mostly because we're either scared (deep down inside), or we just don't think it's really all that important. It's a lot easier to light a cigarette and just say, "Aaahh, it's some bullshit" than to sit there and whine about it. We don't want counseling, we don't want to fucking talk about it, and no, you can't help us.
No other show really showed that until Rescue Me came on. Fuck, here were these guys who were in one of the ballsiest jobs in the planet...and they were no different from we who work in the stone yard at my job. They were tough fucks, drinking guys, smoking guys, fighting guys. The shadow of violence hung around all the time, especially because they rarely knew who they'd be dealing with that day. It was a few guys who were like brothers, and they all knew it.
Like them, a few of us had worked together so long that we knew exactly how each other thought. Myself, my buddy Ryer, and this guy Mario formed an odd triumverate where we trusted each other to run the yard when the others were gone. Me and Ryer were more blue collar white guy types, while Mario was your typical New Jersey guinea- waxed eyebrows, juiced up, and about 5'3 when he was on stilts...kind of like a more violent and drug loaded Danny Devito.
We were close. I had been friends with Ryer since high school, and got him the job at the stone yard; Mario had just arrived one day looking for part time work in between going to high school and getting arrested. Immediately we were all kindred spirits. The same drunken violent nature, the same sense of humor, the same sarcastic arrogance that defined us. If you mix that with the shitty fact that garden centers never fucking close (your holidays are our busiest days), then you get three of us getting pretty fucking close.
Once in a while, me or Ryer would hang out with Mario after work, go see a movie, or go to a party. We could bullshit about just about anything, as it was three guys that liked weightlifting, boxing, sports, women, drinking, and breaking each other's balls. When you know each other as well as we did, the ballbreaking would get unbelieveable, as there was no line to cross to get the other guy really mad at you; we'd have other guys laughing their asses off at our sessions.
I remember a cold winter day where Mario came in bragging about buying a hat that was worth about $90. The asshole should have known better, but he went and said something to Ryer, who immediately told me. For the next two days, while we moved thousands of Christmas trees in the brutal Decemeber chill, we doggedly attacked him about being a spoiled rich Wayne kid, because only one of those would buy a hat worth $90. His comeback was the simple statement of, "Yo....fuck you. It's baby blue, you know that's my color". Writing this now brings a smile to my face.
Another time, we had to convince Mario to turn himself in for committing a pretty ugly crime...no one else would have had the effect that we had on him when we tried to explain the seriousness of what he'd done. It worked, and saved his ass. Ryer was the oldest, so he exerted a lot of influence on me, and I, being the middle, exerted a lot on Mario. Me and Ryer tried as hard as we could to set the fucker straight...we were literally the older brothers that he never had. Ryer, in turn, was the older brother that I never had.
Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years' Eve, we all worked. I saw those two assholes more than I saw my own family, and far more than I ever saw my girlfriend. Of course, by now you can realize that somehow, in a fucked up way, they were my family, or at least a part of it. I'd have laid down in traffic for them, and they'd have done the same for me.
On January 19th, I called Mario. On that terrible day, I called and told him that I needed to tell him something, something I could not say over the phone. He had to come to the garden center.
I met him outside with tears in my eyes, pretty much to tell him that our oldest brother was dead. I couldn't stop smoking cigarettes, and my phone was ringing off the hook as the NJBA slowly began to rally for this, the most shocking news we'd ever seen. But for that moment, I had to tell this guy that Ryer was dead. It's hard seeing men cry, seeing us all lose it. I won't remember his face that day.
By the end of the week, we would both look down at his cold body in that casket, staring through hungover eyes, praying that this was a dream. It wasn't.
Now, all I can remember is watching those first episodes of Rescue Me, and thanking God that we were men. I knew that my girlfriend, or Ryer's girlfriend, just wouldn't understand how guys are, but that this show would explain it to them. I smiled to myself, "Yes, this is how men deal with this shit. We drink, we fight, and we don't talk. We keep it in. Yea, we're men..."
Somehow that definition changed. Although I'm drunk right now, so maybe it hasn't.
See you in hell brother.