When I was a kid three or four decades ago, I had a friend I’ll call Doug. Weird Doug. The phrase “marches to his own drummer” was made for him, and then he replaced the drummer with a kazoo player and marching with running on stilts. He was weird, but I use that as a term of respect for the oddball, the iconoclast. Weird things always happened around him. What follows are a sampling of Doug’s greatest weird hits. I swear they are true to the best of my ability to recall them after all these years.
Once we were walking along some old railroad tracks. Hey, we grew up in the country in northern Minnesota, this was something you did. We came upon a couple of people walking the opposite direction. Doug said to them, “How far?” One of the guys replied, “A mile, mile and a half.” Then they and Doug happily resumed walking. Doug didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop laughing after this exchange. I had to explain, “You didn’t say how far to what. What were either of you talking about?” They could have been talking about where the body was for all we knew.
Our families were good friends, and we all spent a lot of time at their house. One of those times it was decided that someone should go into town and get a big pile of food from Kentucky Fried Chicken (this was so long ago they hadn’t invented the initials “KFC” yet). One of Doug’s older brothers drove, and Doug and I went along to help. As we waited for the food in the restaurant, Doug paced around, always hyper. I stood patiently still. As he walked by in front of me, he tripped over my feet, stumbled forward, and fell to his knees as he slammed into a plate glass window which reverberated loudly throughout the restaurant. Everyone in the place turned to stare. He pulled himself to his feet using the curtains, walked back to me, and, while everyone was looking at us, said loudly, “Why’d you trip me?” By the time we got out to the car all three of us were laughing so hard that his brother couldn’t even drive, we had to just wait it out in the parking lot for a while.
But that’s nothing. Doug was a bit of a pyromaniac and always had a Zippo lighter. Once again we were all over at his house, I think watching the Super Bowl. He went to his room to refill the fluid in his lighter. As he came back into the crowded living room, I glanced up and had to tell him, “Uh, Doug, your hand is on fire.” I kid you not. He had spilled lighter fluid on his hand, and as he came back into the room he had test flicked the Zippo and somehow didn’t notice that the fluid on his hand had ignited. It was just hanging at his side like normal . . . except for the flames. After I spoke he lifted his hand, looked at it, and then hopped around a bit as he shook it out.
His pyromania went in odd directions. He became obsessed with making his own squibs. For nonmovie geeks, squibs are the little explosive charges used to simulate bullet hits. When I arrived at his house one day, he took me to an outbuilding to show me what he’d been working on. Either he or one of his older brothers had cut and welded a little steel plate, about the size and shape of a Petri dish. The squib (for various reasons I’m not going to detail the design of the explosive!) was placed within this and then the whole thing was strapped to his chest. He had a plastic bag of fake blood taped over the tiny charge. Then he handed me the switch to electrically detonate the squib. I found the whole thing questionable on a variety of levels, but I knew he’d just do it himself if I refused, and it would be better for someone to be with him as he set off explosives on his chest. Taking a deep breath, I hit the switch. There was a loud crack and all the fake blood somehow shot straight upwards, blasting into his face. His head snapped back in surprise. It was disturbingly realistic, and for a second I feared it wasn’t all fake blood and I think he had the same doubts . . . but it was all fake and he was fine, though our ears were ringing. That was the end of the squib experiments though.
One year when Christmas rolled around, I was trying to figure out what to get Doug. But then I found out that his parents had gotten him a .22 rifle. You may be thinking, “Why would someone get this goofball a gun?” but this was the country, it was common to get a teenage boy a rifle as a gift, kind of a rite of passage, really (and it’s not like we’d told our parents we’d set off explosives on Doug). Problem solved, I thought, and I got him some ammo for his present. We went over to their house on Christmas Day. As we walked into the living room, there was Doug lying on the couch, a bandage on his forehead. “What happened?” we wondered. One of his older brothers said, “Doug accidentally shot himself in the head.” After he’d opened up his rifle, he’d gone out in the woods shooting. Apparently a bullet hit a tree, fragmented, and one of the pieces of shrapnel came back and hit him square in the forehead. “I pulled the trigger and then my head just snapped back,” he told us. It was actually a very small cut, and they’d pulled the sliver of bullet out themselves. And there I was with a nicely wrapped box of ammo for him.
I can’t imagine Doug being a blog-surfing kind of guy, but, if you’re out there and have stumbled across this, how you doing, man? Remember that time—years before you got the rifle—you were moving that end table and accidentally hit me in the head with it? And how much my head wound bled? And how your mom almost fainted at the sight? Good times, bro, good times.