It’s been decades since I’ve heard from my old buddy, Ricky Gray. Not since he went to prison. As the old preacher used to say, “Everyone sees the world through their own knothole.” Ricky was one who saw the world in a different light.
We met in a little Alabama town about the time when I first started building houses. Ricky was a roofer. He must’ve been the fastest roofer in the world. His secret was that he pounded down the nails to the beat of rock music that was always blasting from his boom box balanced on the chimney. He said the Rolling Stones had the best rhythm for working.
He once nearly killed himself when he fell off the roof while nailing down ridge caps. Ridge caps are the last thing that goes on a roof. To apply ridge caps, you straddle the ridge sitting on your knees and pop in the nails. You then lift your rump and slide back just enough to nail down the next piece. After the last cap has been applied, the roof is finished, and you get paid. Which is the only good part about roofing.
Ricky was wrapping up the ridge caps while I was in the front of the house gathering up the tools and getting ready to roll out of there. A summer storm was brewing, and Ricky was slapping them down even faster than usual. You can’t roof in the rain and payday can’t wait until tomorrow. I was about halfway finished rolling up a cord when I looked up and saw Ricky pick up his butt at the edge of the roof and sat it down in thin air. My shout was a split second too late.
I dashed around to the side of the house and found him groaning flat on his back. As soon as he was able to speak, he grunted out, “I’ve got two more to nail down.” It was sprinkling rain by the time he climbed back down the ladder.
Ricky and I became good friends after that. Every time I had a house to build, I’d always call him to do the roofing. Soon, I learned to do roofing also, and we went into business together for a while. Back in those days, we had to carry bundles of shingles from a stack on the ground up the ladder and drop them on the ridge. A bundle weighs nearly 67 lbs. Ricky liked to show off by carrying two at a time. He wasn’t much bigger than me, but he had more muscles and a bit more heart.
Ricky fell in love with not only the prettiest girl in town but also the most flirtatious. She thought he was extra special because of his shoulder-length hair. This was back before only rednecks had long hair. He was an early hippie and an oddity in Alabama.
The next thing I knew, Ricky asked me to be his best man at his courthouse wedding. I met him on the morning of his big day on his front porch and we made a few toasts to his future. What I remember most from that morning was that we watched a station wagon drive slowly by with 3 mixed breed dogs standing on top of the car with two more mutts reclining on the hood. By the time we finished laughing at the sight, the car returned from the opposite direction but this time with only one dog standing on top. Only in Alabama can you see something like that.
The only thing Ricky could afford was a little beat-up trailer outside of town. Of course, that wasn’t quite good enough for the prettiest girl in town. Even after they had their little boy, she continued to bat her eyes at every man who looked at her. Which was all of them.
It all ended when one day Ricky came home early and found a Harley Davidson parked outside. Inside he found his young bride on the couch with a member of a biker gang while his little boy was on the floor crying. After a brief confrontation, Ricky packed it up.
Ricky’s now-ex-wife moved in with the biker into a different beat-up trailer. But the biker soon became abusive to her and Ricky’s young son. One night, in a drunken fit of rage, he beat the boy so badly that he gave him brain damage. He was sent to jail for the deed but nevertheless, Ricky vowed revenge and decided to join the biker in prison to exact his revenge. He then went on a crime spree. He shoplifted. He got speeding tickets. He once even fired up a joint while sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant.
Finally, he bought up all the drugs he could find and invited every known narcotics officer in Lee County, Ala. to a big party. The Rolling Stones’ hit song “Shattered” was blasting on his boom box as they led him away.
Steve Reece is a writer for the Reporter and a known crime fighter. Email him at email@example.com.