After the funeral, my uncle Jim got the idea to become my new father. And since this was a task he sensed he was not quite up to, he enlisted the help of his friend, Big Al. The two took me to Modoc in the fall to hunt geese. The big ones, Canadian geese, honkers, squeakers as Big Al called them. Fly in so low you can hear their wingtips squeaking. Your heart turned to rock and fingers like pontoons. Which Big Al showed me, sticking his sausages in my face, the nails black with grease.
I was thirteen, a third of Big Al’s weight, half my uncle’s, jammed in between. Their loud voices—my uncle from Nebraska, Big Al from some other loud land—glanced off the exposed metal interior of the pickup cab, gained volume, more piercing than the sunlight. The windows rolled up. This in competition with the cheap, battery-powered tape recorder in my lap hissing out Amway rhetoric. My uncle reaching into my lap occasionally to turn up the static. “You can get that diamond ring! You can have that Mercedes!”
My uncle was trying to sell Big Al on Amway. That was the other purpose of this trip, to get another person under him in the pyramid.
“I know it,” Big Al was saying. “I know those products are top-notch. I’m not questioning that. That’s not my contention. That’s not at issue here. What I am saying....”
“Three months!” my uncle shouted out with a toothy grin over the wheel. He had big yellow teeth, very square, and was a big man, six-two, and he hooked his knuckles—both hands—on the steering wheel and leaned up close over it. “You’ll see turn-around in three months. Boy, I’ll...” and he rumbled on like that for a while without a fixed word, then “and ain’t that something!” Then he hit me in the chest in a hard, friendly, man kind of way and looked at Big Al with a happy surprised look on his face. As if suddenly it all had just cleared itself up.
“There’s no doubt there,” Big Al said. “That’s not my contention. I wouldn’t doubt about that.”
Then my uncle hit me again and chuckled. He pushed his glasses up hard and squinted out again over the steering wheel, his mouth open and lips pulled back a little over his upper front teeth.