My parents were in the process of having a back porch built onto our house. This was a big deal for my brother Ryan and me, because stalking one of the workers became the sole reason we got out of bed each day. I mean really, who wants to swim and lay out in the sun when you can be violating someone’s privacy?
There was no real reason why we felt so intrinsically drawn to the sweaty laborer. He wasn’t good-looking, he didn’t sport a peg-leg, he wasn’t albino. He was just your average forty-something year old porch-builder with tinted eyeglasses, a farmer’s tan and a bushy moustache. I don’t even think he ever spoke to us. I mean, would you?
We would run from window to window, snapping pictures of him. Pictures from the kitchen, pictures from our parent’s bedroom, pictures bent around tree trunks. One day, Ryan even chased his truck up the street as he departed for home after a long grueling day of hammering nails and chugging Schlitz under the shade of a maple. I often wondered if our porch-builder had a good broad with a nice plump behind to nail, maybe cook him up a nice thick stew.
I’ll never forget the day we discovered his name was Gary. We ran into the house, erupting into shrieks and giggles. Our mom’s reaction was something akin to “Yeah, so?” accompanied by an eye brow raise. She always raised the eyebrow that bore a scar from when she was a baby and rolled off her bed, banging her face off the corner of the nightstand. I still can’t believe she never made up a better story, like how she was nicked by a gypsy’s butterfly knife the time she tried to steal cantaloupes off their wagon. When I was fourteen and viciously mauled by our psycho rabbit, you better believe I went back to school with a yarn about getting stabbed during gang initiation.
After a week of wasting film on this fine craftsman, we decided these clandestine snaps weren’t providing enough of a sociopathic rush. We needed more thrill, something that provided more of an instant gratification. When you’re young, you want souvenirs for everything you do: pocketed sugar packets from a truck stop diner, pebbles from the parking lot of the first sex shack your dad made you wait outside of, bloodied gauze from your first tooth extraction.
So the next obvious step clearly was to collect Gary’s cigarette butts and beer cans.
We waited until he’d go to his truck, then sprint out in the backyard like scavengers, picking through the grass in search of a butt or two. Once we accumulated enough to satiate our pursuant appetite, we brought our treasures in the house and stowed it underneath the couch in the family room. Like chipmunks storing acorns, crack heads hording rocks.
Stalking Gary consumed so much of our summer. So much that it infiltrated the summer of my friends, as well. My best friend Christy was out of town for some sort of academic camp. I wrote her a letter and enclosed one of Gary’s cigarettes butts for her to cherish as well. I just wanted her summer to be as rich as ours had become, thanks to Gary. I wrote letters to every one of my pen pals, detailing Gary’s every action and movement. Everyone clung to the Summer of Gary with bated breath.
Unfortunately, the fun and games ended when my dad unearthed our stash of purloined memorabilia under the couch. Now, any other dad would have rightfully accused us of smoking and drinking. Luckily for us, my dad recognized the extent of our weirdness long before this incident, so he believed our tale and we escaped punishment. The downside was that he forbade us to continue our game and pitched our pirated keepsake, muttering something about how we were embarrassing him or something.
I often wonder what Gary is doing these days, and if he knew he was being stalked. Was he flattered? I asked my mom: she said probably not.