Thursday, November 27, 2008

Billy Beach

I had a job once (yes, it’s true) in Ocala, Fla. I unloaded pot trucks. It’s not what you’re thinking. I worked for a plumbing wholesaler to the mobile home industry. I spent a good share of my time unloading semi-trucks that were filled with toilets. I worked during the winter and traveled during the summer. It was a great gig. I was actually a very good pot truck unloader, and the people I worked with were some of the finest I have ever known. They always rehired me when I returned from a summer of traveling, and treated me as if I had never left. I always showed up around Thanksgiving and received a turkey and holiday bonus like everyone else. Same thing happened at Christmas.
But the real magic about this one time career is centered around an individual who I can truly say was one of a kind. He was a clown of the highest order. He made Robin Williams seem like a straight man. He was one of the most incredible characters I have run across in all my days of rambling. He made showing up for work a pleasure.
His name was Billy Beach. He looked like the NFL great, Lyle Alzado. From what I could gather from others, he once played school football with the same enthusiasm as Lyle. He could get away with anything around the warehouse because he worked twice as hard as everyone else.
At first I didn’t know how to take him. I didn’t have a checking account, so on payday I would go to the bank with Billy and he would cash my check through his bank. The first time we drove up to the teller window, Billy deposited his check and sent a note in to the teller to cash mine. I could see all the girls in the bank giggling and laughing and wondered what was so funny. Billy sat in the driver’s seat as if nothing was going on. Finally, I asked him what the tellers were laughing about. He said, "I sent a note in with your check that read, "I love you."
During the spring, before I would leave for the summer, Florida would begin to get very hot and humid. In a warehouse full of plastic plumbing fittings and fiberglass showers, there wasn’t much that water could damage. Spring would often break out in water fights toward the end of the week on Friday afternoons when all the shipping was complete. It happened much like a football coach’s being ambushed with Orange Crush when his team was assured of a championship. As a first-time victim, I was sweeping up the warehouse when Billy dumped a garbage can full of water on me. That was my initiation and my lesson to be combat ready on hot Friday afternoons. I can only remember once getting the best of him. He was usually thinking quicker than everyone else. I must have caught him on an off day. I saw him filling the can and knew he was targeting me. It was the day I took water combat to a new dimension at Service Supply Systems. The old plant did not have a sprinkler fire-prevention system in the ceiling. Instead, it had a fire hose with all the pressure of a New York City pumper truck. I made sure I continued to sweep the floor within easy access of the fire hose. Billy came bounding around the warehouse storage racks struggling with his heavy burden of water. I can still see the shocked look on his face. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. He was screaming, "That’s not fair!" as I blew him straight out the back of the building through the loading dock doors.
There is a Garth Brooks country song with the verse, "I’ve got friends in low places." It’s about a beer joint called the Oasis. It’s a place that Garth Brooks has never really been. The Oasis really did exist. The song was written by a fireman from Ocala. The Oasis was on the north side of Ocala. The front of the joint had plastic palm trees. It was probably the classiest part of its decor. The boss held our Christmas party there once, and if I remember right, I think we almost got thrown out of the place. Billy was singing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" using Judy Garland’s voice. He was even doing the high Auntie Em and Toto parts.
Billy’s father, Clifford, worked with us. He was quiet, mild mannered and serious. I always told him I thought he must have brought the wrong baby home from the hospital. Clifford always knew if he scolded Billy he was going to get put in a headlock and have the top of his head kissed. All joking aside, it was a joy to see the relationship the two had. In fact, Gaila and I had the pleasure of knowing the whole family very well. We still have sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving. It was a dish that Billy’s wife Louanne served the first Thanksgiving we spent with them.
Friends are the real value of a lifetime. Good memories are a commodity that can only be traded through the heart. Sharing with others is the bond that welds the two forever.
When I heard that Billy had passed away. I found it no surprise that hundreds of people attended his funeral. He was a welder of bonds, a special individual, a maker of memories.
--Dick E. Bird,

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