The Greatest Night of My Life

This is the first part of

"The Greatest Night of My Life"

In the time-honored style of the first thing that you put your newly-sharpened pencils to each fall in school: "What I Did Last Summer"

By David Primmer

This is the story of what happened on the greatest night of my life. Nothing exciting happens in this first paragraph. They tell you to start stories with some action in writing class but I'm not worried about that. Because this is the greatest night of my life, and believe me, there is no shortage of action.

I was a migrant farm worker. Picking tomatoes and cantaloupe and cucumbers and apples in Wapato Washington. Ok, I wasn't very migratory; I only worked on one farm – my friend Mario's grandpa's farm. Mario is Filipino. I worked very hard on that farm. Everything I'm about to tell you is not an exaggeration. Sometimes great things happen to 13-year-old boys from the suburbs.

This great night has a large cast of characters. A big, fucked-up farm family is where we will start. Mario's grandma, his uncle Mariano, and wife Diane and their 3 kids, Angel, Theo and Israel lived with me and Mario in the trailer. It was one of those trailers that is never, ever, going to get hitched to a car. Mario's great uncle Pasho lived in a shack by himself on the other side of the farm. David, who was Diane's brother and an outpatient from Eastern Washington Mental Hospital slept outside on the ground. I don't know where Mariano's friend Ed slept -- probably in his Vega. Ed was a Vietnam vet and a cross between Cheech Marin and David Crosby. This was my second summer on the farm.

It kind of sucked living with everyone in the trailer. The year before, Mario and I had our own private pad -- the foosball room. Uncle Mariano had converted part of the fruit packing shed to a room for him to live in. But after he married Diane he moved out and we got to take over the young boy's dream den. It had shag rug, a king size waterbed, a disco ball, stacks of porno mags and 45's, a big stereo, lounge chairs, mirrors with ZZTop silk-screens, plate-sized green glass ashtrays, and the foosball table. I thought I would be staying in the foosball room again this year but during the winter the roof leaked and there wasn't any power going to it any more. Now we had to stay in a built-on addition to the trailer that sloped so bad you got a headache if you slept with your head pointing downhill.

Mario and I spent the days in the fields and came back to our room in the trailer to smoke, play video games, pick tomato resin off our fingers and swat mosquitoes. There wasn't much to do at night but that didn't matter. We were too tired to do anything besides cook up some ground beef and rice, throw some soy sauce on it and pound it down with some A&W Root Beer.

That A&W Root Beer was a lifesaver. How is it that to this day, A&W has managed to get the sweet creaminess just right and no other root beer maker in the world can? Out there in the field, when it didn't seem like you could pick another bucket of tomatoes, when you thought you were going to die of thirst, when the only thing to drink was the slime running through the irrigation ditches, and well after you thought Mario's grandma was never going to come and save you, then, only a couple of hours after that, Mario's grandma would come driving out to the fields on the tractor and inspect the work. If we were making decent progress or making it look like we were making progress, she would whip out a gallon jug of warm A&W Root Beer and let us chug it. That's all it took to get me to work another 3 hours in the blazing sun and clear half a check of Ace tomatoes.

This particular night, it was Friday night. Uncle Mariano's band was playing in town and Grandma and Diane were going to go with him. Mario and I were put in charge of watching the kids. Angel was 11. Theo was 9. Israel was 6. I was 13. Mario was 15. This is basically a babysitting story.

I watched Diane getting ready in her room. She was being extra nice and not yelling and trying to make herself pretty. I was only 13 but I knew that Diane was putting on makeup badly. Red stripes on her cheeks, blue streaks on her eyelids, lip-gloss and curling-iron curls of bleached-white hair framing her puffy red face. Diane was the ugliest woman I'd ever seen and she was even stupider than she was ugly. At one point I saw her breasts as she pulled on her shirt but I didn't get excited. That was the first time I'd ever seen bare boobs and contrary to what I'd been told, I found that it was possible to not enjoy it.

Let me digress and tell the story of another night (not the greatest) so you can get a better idea of what kind of woman Diane was. It will probably seem like I'm trying to make her look like a bad person. This is completely intentional, as she was most definitely a bad person.

One weekend the year before we stayed at her place in town. Mariano was out of town so Mario and I were sent out from the farm to keep her company. Mario confidently ushered me into her apartment and told me to sit on the couch. Diane was ironing. She didn't waste any time making me useful and sent me down to the 7-11 to cash a 5-dollar food stamp and get a pack of Marlboro Light 100's. At about 4:30 in the afternoon the work was over and Diane started making us Chi Chi's. She said, "You ever had a Chi Chi?" putting down her iron. I said "No. What is it?" Mario said, "It's Vodka and some coconut stuff. It's real good." At this point, Diane seemed pretty cool to me. I said I'd have one and we mixed up a couple, taking note of where she kept the vodka.

We played cards for a while with Diane's neighbor. I learned the game Army. It goes like this: you get dealt 2 cards and you look at them and then everyone holds theirs in the air so no one can see and you pump them up and down and say: "1 – 2 – 3" and on the count of 3 you're supposed to drop if you're folding and hold if you're holding. 69 wins all and then it goes on who has high pair. An easy game to play and get drunk at. I won 4 dollars and Diane put her kids to bed. That summer her brood consisted of Israel and little baby Mario -- Theo was with his dad. That was fine with me ‘cause I hated that little bug-eyed shin-kicker. If it's hard to keep track of all the different kids in this story you may have some sympathy for me as a babysitter. Diane had lots of kids and she kept having kids as long as they made her welfare check fatter. She'd freely admit it too.

With Diane heading to bed, Mario and I settled down on the carpet to smoke a joint and watch some porno. (When I said earlier that it was the first time I'd seen boobs I meant real, live, non-porno boobs.) Diane came out of her room with a gun in her hand and said, "My ex-husband is supposed to be getting out of jail tonight and he might decide to come around here looking for me. This is to protect you. You don't have to shoot it. Just open the window and point it if he comes to the door. Don't worry. Nothing's gonna happen."

I looked over at Mario and he didn't reassure me. He was two years older than me but a bigger chicken. After Diane went to bed we sat there in the middle of the floor, completely pot-paranoid and thinking about the ex-con. Mario had heard Diane badmouth the guy to uncle Mariano a few times and now I really wished he was here. Uncle Mariano was tough. About 6-2 and farm boy thick.

Even with all this to think about, the long night of drinking took it's toll and the next thing I heard was the sound of a car coming up the driveway. We'd fallen asleep on the floor and Mario was sleeping in a funny pose: kneeling with his butt in the air and his face on the floor. I was sure it was Him. "Mario, Mario, he's here. Oh Shit!" Mario was groggy so I got up and ran to the window. There was a man coming up the walk and I raced back to Mario and the gun.