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Tatum: The Summer of Dirty Freds (Reprise)
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(Author’s note: Some days, you just can’t put a sentence together. That’s when it pays to resurrect oldie but goodies. Enjoy!)

I ran into an old friend of mine not too long ago.

As is usually the case with people who have known each other for more than four decades, we got to talking about the good old days -- in this case, the time our parents took leave of their senses and allowed three of us to live at the beach, on our own, for the summer.

Indeed, we were living the dream as it were: Working nights in area restaurants, hanging out on the beach by day, hanging our seriously inebriated hats at the end of each evening in that magical, well-appointed bachelor pad we dubbed “Dirty Fred’s Gigolo Trailer.”

We named it after the owner, a very honest, straightforward and straight-laced traveling produce farmer and Adventist minister, who in fact, did bathe regularly.

Dirty Fred’s wasn’t perfect -- no castle ever is. The ventilation was a little unique -- all the windows were either rusted permanently open or shut -- but the interior décor was a triumph of soup kitchen chic, complete with exquisitely mismatched Naugahyde furniture and faux sea grass wallpaper. The doors didn’t lock but since the place was wired with aluminum pressed firmly against the most combustible composite board ever utilized in residential construction, this was probably a plus. The window unit air conditioner, cleverly duct taped into a hole in the rear wall of the living room, was just powerful enough to keep everyone only mildly drenched in sweat, except for whoever slept in the front bedroom, who generally had to be alert for hypothermia. And the yard, which largely consisted of dead pine trees and the ensuing carpet of brown needles not only made mowing unnecessary but was also exceptionally productive redbug habitat.

As we worked in hot, busy seafood restaurant kitchens most nights, we found ourselves doing laundry about every two weeks,  or whenever we had run through our underwear twice, whatever came first.

I don’t know if it was the redbugs or the leftover laundry detergent flakes we would salvage, mix, and match from discarded boxes we found in the Laundromat, but for some inexplicable reason I itched a lot that summer. I think it was probably the humidity.

The point is, Dirty Fred’s wasn’t just another single-wide, one-hair dryer-away-from-a-massive structure fire wobbledy box sitting on blocks in the middle of a sprawling trailer park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina: It was a state of mind.

Some have described it as severe dementia. Alas, jealousy can be such an ugly emotion.

Once, we hired a co-worker down on her luck to come clean the place for us, but she turned out to be either Howard Hughes in drag or a nascent militant feminist. She walked into the bathroom and doubled the price, then later refused to even enter the kitchen. To add insult to injury, she didn’t even offer to chip in for gas when we gave her a ride -- at her hysterical insistence, I might add -- to the nearest biohazard decontamination facility.

Some folks are not only paranoid; they’re downright ungrateful.

We learned the lesson again when my roommate’s mother and sister visited for about 15 minutes during the Fourth of July weekend. To be fair, though, I think they were just tired, not ungrateful -- they’re both wonderful people and certainly not at all ungrateful, militant or histrionic.

They were returning to South Carolina from New York and had planned to spend the night with us to break up the trip. By the time they got to Dirty Fred’s, they had been on the road a good 14 hours in a ’78 Pinto station wagon equipped with no air conditioning.

That’s why I’m so sure the sheer exhaustion of holiday travel, not ungrateful germophobic paranoia contributed to what happened next.

First, Mrs. D’s eyes began to inexplicably water and she kept pinching her nostrils shut; her daughter began scratching uncontrollably and pulled the collar of her T-shirt over her nose. Then they both sat down on the couch and claimed they could not get back up.

They would tell us later they had actually adhered to the couch. Personally, I believe they were just very tired and possibly hallucinating. After all, everyone knows spilled beer and tobacco juice evaporates from Naugahyde. In fact, that’s the beauty of Naugahyde; you don’t ever have to so much as wipe it.

Eventually, with a great show of struggling accompanied by this unusual sound not unlike Velcro strips being pulled apart, they got to their feet and bolted out the front door.

“Um, I think we’ll just push on now -- we’re only three hours from home and should be there by at least 1 a.m.,” Mrs. D shouted over the roar of the Pinto’s redlining engine. “We certainly wouldn’t want to, ah, put y’all out.”

Then, with screeching tires -- at least, I assume it was the tires screeching -- they headed back out on the holiday road. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone driving a Pinto station wagon actually burn rubber in a dirt driveway covered in pine needles, but again, it just shows you what exhaustion can really do to a person.

Alas, all things -- from summer days to kidney stones -- must pass. But happily, the memories remain, no matter how much I drink or undergo therapy. Some three decades later, we can still look back on those days fondly, although for some reason every time I think about those days I have to scratch a little.