Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guns Don't Kill People...My Uncle Does

It isn’t every day you wake up to suddenly realize you’re related to a cartoon. Every time I see Dale Gribble on King of the Hill, I swear Mike Judge had actually crawled inside my head and put my uncle Bob in his show.

Bob is my mother’s oldest sibling and only brother. And now that I’m an adult, I understand this was a smart move on God’s part, since I’m convinced that if Bob had been forced to share the testosterone with his brothers, he would’ve eaten them alive in order to preserve the stupidity of the species. You see, Uncle Bob was a shining example of just what a high-functioning degree of stupidity could do for a man.

My first memory of Bob is one evening at the house, watching him load his dogs into their wire cages to haul us all off to the local 4-H camp. That’s right, folks: Bob had twelve Coon hounds. The truly amazing part wasn’t that he had so many dogs, but that they actually had a Coon hounds club that met once a month (and that they could read a calendar). Aside from a secret handshake that involved the licking of the palms, to this day I still don’t know what they did at these meetings. But he loved it so much they eventually promoted him to President. He’d sit there, just presiding over the meetings in his mirrored sunglasses and green John Deere cap with his Marlboro clenched between his teeth, which he refused to remove even while chugging his beer. And if the man had been a church-goer, that’s the way he would’ve attended church, which was probably why my Aunt stopped inviting him in this manner:

“Bob, if you’re not going to change out of that get-up for a quick brunch with the Lord Jesus, then I’ll just have to pray you go to hell, because I’m not explaining that mess to God almighty when it’s your time to go.”

Bob was a walking contradiction. On one hand, he was very political--a devout Democrat for as long as I can remember. He believed in organized government (which was a surprise since he never once balanced his checkbook or carried a calendar to organize his time), and yet he never missed a vote at the polls, or the opportunity to rub my family’s very strict Republican noses in it.

On the other hand, his conspiracy theories and nut job ideologies tended to force him to lean so far to the left that he could wrap around himself twice and kiss his own right ass-cheek. “Clean air is nothing but a government plot,” he’d say, while coughing up another piece of his lung. It was twenty-three-years later that he finally stopped smoking. “Just seemed like it was time,” was his answer when asked why. Sure. And that six-month long round of radiation therapy was just another extended-stay opportunity to enjoy the Jell-O.

Since he was a seasoned hypochondriac, for a long while after they finally diagnosed the lung cancer and told him his time was limited, the rest of us could’ve sworn he was happier than he’d ever been in his life. I think it had something to do with the constant Xs he’d mark on the floor, while dramatically stating, “THIS is where I’m going to die. Mark it down on your calendars. The second I hit forty, you can come back to this spot and find me as cold as mom’s gravy.” We got to the point where we were just plain tired of him constantly getting our hopes up. As of right now, he’s seventy-three, has had part of his stomach removed due to cancer, and still draws those Xs on the kitchen floor. I think it was finally some time back in the mid-Eighties that my Aunt switched out the red crayon for a piece of chalk: Just easier for her to clean up when the deadline had passed with yet another disappointment. Much like the Rapture.

Still, I always liked Bob. Although, the only time he was ever funny was when he told really bad jokes and then laughed his own ass off all by himself, which is really what made him funny. At least he was smart enough to bring his own audience.

I remember one summer in particular where my sister and I, along with our cousins--Bob’s two sons--decided rather than go outside and play in the heat, we’d stay in to watch TV. Now, I’m not exactly sure who found it first, or why we felt the need to go searching through the couch cushions, but suddenly one of us pulled out a Penthouse from the armchair. At first, no one said much--we just kinda stared in fascination. None of us were older than twelve, so while we knew what we were looking at, we just weren’t sure what we were looking at. I think the bigger question for me was, when do you get it to look and act like that? As we slowly leafed through the pages the one consistent question we kept asking on another was, “This is Bob’s magazine?” It was too weird for any of us to think that Bob owned such a piece of high-brow literature, since none of us had ever seen him read, or even kiss his wife for that matter--which had to be to her relief. There were times you could just tell if given the chance, she’d run him over with her car and then hide the body. To this day, even her sons are convinced Bob could not be their father.

But, back to the book.

Everything we saw up to that point was pretty tame. While we liked to think we were experts already, we could only guess. However, as soon as Roger turned the page to the centerfold, he nearly dropped the book, my sister screamed and hid her eyes, Roger’s younger brother passed out and I just couldn’t help myself: I laughed out loud. For there, in all his stapled and glossy glory, was none other than THE Ron Jeremy. While it’s true there isn’t much need for a sixth-grade junior high-school lady to have any working knowledge of who Ron Jeremy is, apparently the rules for boys were very different, for both Bob’s sons yelled, “Hey! It’s Jeremy!” And I just couldn’t stop looking His nose was just so BIG for his face. It made you wonder how he was ever able to wrap a tissue round that thing when he sneezed. Luckily, though, he had lots of women hovering over him in the photos to help with that.

Ten-minutes after we had discovered the magazine and its centerfold, Bob came bursting through the living room, searching for something chaste like a flashlight or fan belt, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us with the book.

“’d you get that?”

Roger said, “’Neath the chair cushion. What’s it doing there, dad?”

After watching his face turn eighty-shades of red, he coughed, took a breath, and smoothly replied, “It’s your mother’s. Put it back.”

I was fairly certain I didn’t buy it, for two reasons. One, wasn’t it usually men who looked at the women? And two, I was pretty sure you didn’t "need" such a magazine in your living room to supplement your nightly television-viewing.

It’s been probably thirty-years since we first found the book, and I still can’t get the image of that day out of my mind. Bob never mentioned the incident again, and a few weeks later on a return visit to the living room, the book went missing.

Bob’s mellowed over the years, keeping his NRA rants and trips to the Baptist Gun Show to a minimum, and I can tell you right now, that one day when the Red X finally hits the kitchen floor, the world will mourn one of its most unique characters, who was worthy of his own TV cartoon show.

Thanks, Mike Judge.

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