June 10, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas

Kip and Me

Kip and I have been meeting regularly since the beginning of the COVID outbreak, and while the pandemic is far from over, everyone is behaving like it is. Kip and I continue our weekly happy hour.

Kip and I have been friends since I met him my sophomore year in high school—I want to say in Mrs. Meek’s English class—though it was a bit of a rivalry at first. I know for a fact it was English, as the class was reading The Devil and Daniel Webster and Kip and I were reading the main parts. I don’t think I was as string a reader as I am now, and Kip struck me as a bit full of himself. Whatever. Just another rando kid who’ll mean nothing to my life.

That was about the same time I got my first job: a clean-up boy in the Publix bakery. I remember that I was fifteen, and the manager who hired me, Chris something, told me to hurry up and turn sixteen. Mt friend Bill was hired at the same time, and we both reported to work on the same afternoon to join the other guy who had already been hired. That other guy was Kip. Great.

Despite being a pretty thankless and dirty job, Kip, Bill, and I became pretty tight. I had known Bill for years, but there was something about Kip that was unique. He and I became besties pretty quickly. We drank non-alcoholic beer on our breaks, eating deli fried chicken on the stacks of AP flour in the back room of the bakery. We told jokes and sang—always trying to perfect the intro harmonies of “Renegade”—while washing endless dishes and trying to clean up the flour that covered the place like dust in a mortuary. We flirted with the girls that worked up front and ate free donuts and Napoleons. It was arduous, but we somehow laughed and reveled in our youth and companionship.

We would go out to eat sometimes after work. We usually finished cleaning around 9pm and would walk to The Pasta House where we were friendly with the waiter. We tipped him well, so he served us alcohol. In those days, the US was not so uptight about drinking, so even though we were obviously underage, we got a beer or two while we ate our Bolognese. We never overdid it, and Mom would always comment that we smelled like yeast when she picked us up. We’d always share a knowing smile.

Eventually, I pissed Chris off and was fired—the first of many for me. Kip was more loyal and likable, so he was “promoted” to doughnut frier—a dubious advancement since he had to be there at 3am before school. While I moved on to Hardee’s and a brown polyester uniform, Kip remained loyal to Publix until he moved to St. Louis a year or so after high school. By that time I was probably on my fifth or sixth job.

I’m glad we were able to reconnect. We went for a long time living our separate lives. Hopefully, that will not happen again.