The Great TV War of Aught 17

“So what was it? What brand?”

“What difference does that make, Matty? It had a big ass like a Mexican chica on an all-tortilla diet. No one likes that.”

“Some do.”

Michael looked Matty over. There was no question he would, but a questioning look comes searching for a response. He waited patiently as Matty created his burger pyre, a briquette pyramid, and lit it in three different places.

“Just saying, some do. I… I wouldn’t mind.”

“You wouldn’t mind as long as they had a heartbeat, Matty. But yeah, you’re right.”

They settled into deck chairs, each in their own, both easy-on-the-eyes forest green fabric fold-ups with cupholders containing cans of Coors. Afternoon sunlight dappled the deck, creeping in between boards where rays could find space. Matty looked over at the grill. Charcoal would take a few moments to get good and grey.

“A full damn week, huh.”

“Two, Matty.”

“Two? Forgot I missed last week.”

“It’s okay.”

“Not sure it is.”

“It is, no regrets. Won’t have it, Matty, just won’t. Two full damn weeks. First week it just sat there like a grey cement squirrel.”

“People have cement squirrels?”

“They have cement geese.”

Michael nodded toward one of the neighbors’ homes facing his deck. Matty took a peek at the briquettes, glancing over at the geese as his eyes roved back to Michael.

“With clothes.”

“With clothes, Matty, clothes. Don’t that beat all.”

“And people change out the clothes?”

“All the time.” Michael took a moment to breathe. “Change. It’s the change that caused the damn thing to be out there in the first place.”

“The geese?”

“Matty, no. The TV.”

“And stupidity.”

“Well, ignorance.”

“You’ve seen them?”

“Them?”

“People who owned it.”

“Around. Seen them around. Listened to them. They were no honors students for sure.”

Rain had taken most of the day, ebbing in the late afternoon enough for Matt to coax Michael out to the deck as a double rainbow filled the sky behind the small raft of pines dotting the front yard where the pines rimmed the street. Michael spent some days on the deck, even though the sun sapped him of energy while burying him under a reddish tan glow.

“They’re kids, Matty. Young couple. Foolish to some, impetuous to others; arrogant to all. They moved into the townhouse, a rental, a few months ago. Threw a big moving party where no neighbor was informed or invited. Kids.”

“Still, even kids… two full weeks. Damn.”

“Yeah, week two? That’s when one of the neighbors got pissed, Matty. Took the big-ass TV, well it wasn’t much more than a 32-inch screen, but that ass? Wow. Took it and put it rightbehind one of their cars… along with their trash can.”

“Their trash can?”

“They didn’t pick it up, either… again. Left it out there for days after it was emptied. Ridiculous. Middle of the night comes…”

“Like midnight?”

“Actually midnight really isn’t the middle. It’s like three in the morning.”

“Three in the morning?”

“Yep. I had to look, Matty. Don’t sleep much anyways. Asshole kid, the male, got pissed and rolled the TV onto the grass then angrily dragged his can…”

“His trash can…”

“Yeah, trash can back to his place. Pretty sure that set someone off.”

“You?”

“Nah. Not so much. Not anymore, you know. And I’m across the street, Matty, not on it. That’s not my battle. These days? Just a witness to what’s happening.”

Matty rose and went to the grill. An old canister type, the grill was formerly their father’s but after his death their mother gave it to Michael. Matty never cared much for it, charcoal style. He was a gasman and had run a line under his deck at his home for a permanent hook-up. Charcoal was work, and these briquettes were no different than any other. They stubbornly held onto their blackness, barely willing to concede to their demise. He admitted to Michael charcoal was better. It was, but it was effort he’d not concede to at his place. This spot was Michael’s so he bent to Michael’s wishes without bending over so much he’d topple. Michael hated overreaching kindness and Matty respected Michael’s request.

“Cops came right after that. Next night.”

“Cops?”

“Yep. Someone, pretty sure it was the pissed-off neighbor who moved the TV to behind one of their cars, must’ve put in the call.”

“Which car?”

“The sporty one. Red. You can see it I think, Matty. Mustang.”

“You know a Mustang when you see one.”

“You’re right. I mean I get it. Take care of your own shit, right?”

“You always have down to…”

“Tell me about it. Some don’t… and some get mighty pissed about it, Matty. Sets them off. So the cops came. Two cars.”

“Two? Two cops?”

“No, well yes, two cops… but two cars. One of them parked rightbehind the red car…”

“The Mustang.”

“That’s the one. My guess is the cop did it, Matty, to block them in case they fled.”

“Fled? Over a TV on the curb?”

“There have been other issues.”

“Cops been there before?”

“Yep. Before.”

“Over?”

“Domestic shit, I guess. Not sure. Drinkers though, Matty, that I know… and possibly the world’s worst parkers.”

“Mustang parked bad?”

“Not that night. Most nights no, but on occasion? Well Matty, there’s a huge difference between being parked on the street than in the street. Three feet out is ‘in,’ if you catch me.”

“Consider yourself caught.”

Michael nodded toward the grill. Matty called off his sign by shaking his head. But what did he know? Gasman. Matty got up and took the few steps to the grill.

“I was always lousy at Hide-n-Seek, Matty. Lousy.”

“Don’t think you were, I was always suggestive on where to hide. Made it easy… for me.”

“Any suggestions now?”

Matty took the dome top off the grill and hung it on the hook attached to the grill’s rim. Finally, charcoal sat grey, spitting off peaks of brilliant orange. He took the burgers and dropped them onto the grate. As meat sizzled, Matty looked over at Michael. There was no hiding for Michael now and no reason to do so.

“So the cops…”

“Yes. The cops. One of them takes out his big flashlight, Matty. I mean it was…”

“Maglight.”

“Maglight?”

“It’s what they call them I think.”

“From experience, Matty? You know from…”

“Never been on the bad end of one… if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Didn’t think so. Would’ve known.”

“Mom was never good keeping secrets.”

“No, but good on you for that. Staying safe; healthy.”

Matty flipped the burgers. He couldn’t look at Michael for a second as he contemplated his brother’s choice of words. Michael, at this time of his life, was contemplative. Wasn’t always so, but lately he’d become more introspective.

“So the cops?”

“Right. Well one gets out his light. First takes a look at the big-ass TV carefully like it’s a bomb.”

“Never know.”

“Here? Well I guess you’re right about that anywhere, Matty. If I were a copper I’d… so after inspection he walks up the center section between the twin sets of townhouses with the other cop following. Must’ve talked to the couple for sure. They were up there for awhile. But shit, how much time would you spend on dealing with a TV on the curb? None for me.”

Ever since Michael was a kid he liked to have his burger grilled so when he bit into it he could see pink, but not taste pink. A small smile crept over Matty as he thought about Michael as a young boy, yelling his cow was still alive as their father had pulled them off the grill too soon to Michael’s liking. And cheese. Michael could be particular about cheese. American, according to Michael was ‘a crime, a cheese shortcut created by and for the ADHD.’ Michael was a cheddar person, so Matty made sure to bring over some strong Wisconsin Cheddar, enough for the burgers and enough to leave, although he second-guessed leaving any and would reluctantly take it back if pressed.

“After about fifteen minutes or so? They leave.”

“Both?”

“Yep. Both coppers. Gone.”

“Took the TV with them?”

“Why the hell would they do that, Matty? No. Probably just gave them a warning to get rid of it. Next day comes…”

“Poof. TV is gone.”

“You’d think so, big brother? You’d be wrong, Matty, plain wrong. Morning comes, and there it is.”

“Still on the lawn?”

“Oh no. Too funny? Someone, I’m guessing…”

“Pissed off neighbor.”

“Yep. Well they put that big-ass TV rightinthemiddle of the lane.”

“Where everyone…?”

“Yep. No one can move around it… unless you have a small car… which in fact our young couple does. They have two.”

“The Mustang and…”

“Something else, Matty. Hatchback. Silver like a rocket but scoots like a water bug.”

“So they can get by …”

“But no one else really can. A ton of trucks over there. Not really a good idea by…”

“Pissed-off neighbor.”

“Or…? Maybe not Matty, maybe not. What I thought was, hell Mr. PO’d has put it in a spot where someone else needs to call the cops, Matty. The cops are not going to be overjoyed coming back.”

“And…?”

“Couple moved it.”

“They did?”

“Yep. Back to the curb.”

“Same spot…”

“Same spot it had been at for 13 days at this time.”

Cheese, consistently cut thick by Michael’s request remembered from years ago, stayed thick, gelling onto the burger, bubbling at the edge. Matty took both burgers off, dropping them onto buns toasted lightly where the grill marks were evident on the bun’s edge but faint in the middle, the way Michael liked his bread. Matty took the plates and placed them on the narrow table between the two chairs where sat a small plate of garnishments – sliced red onion and tomato, leaves of Boston Bibb, squeeze bottles of yellow mustard and ketchup.

Michael thought ketchup to be an abomination, but allowed it, his mind thinking it was one of the ways to keep Matty coming over. Dumb thinking and most times he knew it, but his mind was not as sharp as it had been. He nodded toward Matty, watching Matty build his burger, turning his head away as Matty grabbed the ketchup. Once the bottle breathed back in, Michael turned back.

“This time, Matty? This time they had a sign.”

“A sign?”

“Taped right to the screen.”

“Did it say free?”

“Did.”

“So you checked.”

“Kind of had to at this point, Matty.”

“Why?”

“Tired of sitting on my deck watching the whole proceedings without knowing what was going on.”

“But you knew that…”

“I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?”

“Big letters? Free is pretty easy to see.”

“If it only said free Matty? You’d be correct.”

“But it didn’t?”

“Nope. Whole sentences.”

“Sentences? That’s a lot for an old TV.”

“Could say that.”

He had waited for his brother, but couldn’t wait any longer. Matty took his first bite before the piping heat escaped his burger. He liked his initial bite to rest between morning coffee first degree tongue burn and while the cheese was still moving like The Blob, slowly crawling over the lower bun. They must’ve spent a days worth of time watching and re-watching that movie when they were kids. That slow crawl, The Blob constantly moving forward and catching people, had been fascinatingly hysterical to them. No one escaped it.

Matty glanced at his created burger gap. Perfect faint pink. He nodded toward Michael who returned the nod.

“What’d it say?”

“Give me a minute, Matty. “

“You okay?”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Good as can be expected.”

“You got across though.”

“Well yeah, thirty yards took its toll.”

“You don’t have that much tube.”

“Took it off.”

“You took it off?”

“Took it off. Just thirty; well sixty in total. Pretty good. But I had to Matty… return.”

“Can you remember? I don’t mean anything by it, the…”

“I do, Matty. I do. It said ‘This TV could be the cause of either a divorce or a murder, depending upon who you come across. It works. Save someone’s life. Take it. It’s FREE.’ The ‘FREE’ part was capitalized.”

Michael danced out a slight smile, adding, “Now don’t that beat all. For those two? Pretty clever.”

Matty took a big bite. Michael had yet to sink his teeth into his burger. Matty could engage and display his disappointment but he didn’t do that anymore. Days of playing big brother were past. He nodded toward the burger and Michael as if the burger was going to provide some sort of answer. Burger held its secret as Michael pursed his lips and shrugged. Matty politely swallowed, clearing his mouth before questioning.

“So you got that close to it and still can’t remember the brand?”

“What difference does that make?”

“Just messing with you a bit. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. No harm done, Matty.”

It had been nearly a half-year since Matty had been coming over once a week to see his younger brother. Mostly once a week. He had missed a few, thinking perhaps Michael needed a break from him. Michael made no fuss about it, not even using what was once his trademark younger brother guilt as leverage.

Matty took another bite of his burger as Michael’s remained whole.

“I’ve done everything but hang-glide, Matty. You realize that? Pretty much everything I’ve wanted to do? I did it.”

“But hang-glide.”

“But that.”

“Next week?”

“You want to have the oxygen tank hit a rock and cause a spark and then…? I’d ruin the entire youthful geriatric hang-gliding industry. Couldn’t live with that on my head.”

“How about the girl?”

“Across the street?”

“Yeah, she’s worth looking over, right?”

“You’ve seen her, Matty?”

“I’ve seen her.”

“There’s three decades between us.”

“You know I’m just…”

“Oh I know. How can I not? Can’t live with her on my head either, Matty. She’s a slight thing, but still? Break my damn neck.”

Matty smiled at Michael’s humor as Michael picked at his burger. Not hungry, he pulled with thumb and forefinger somewhat to appease Matty, took a small chunk out of it, wedged it into his gumline as if it were chew. He had loved chew as a young man, but given the option between tobacco or hamburger between his cheek and gum, he’d opt for hamburger every time. Faint pink in the middle, Matty cooked a fine burger. Michael pushed the burger back with his tongue and wedged it in his left molar area so he could talk.

“It’s good, this Sunday. Good day.” Michael slowly chewed the chunk, thinking of his luck. Perfect burger. “I appreciate the fact you’ve come over so much. Can’t be repaid you know, Matty.”

“And for Tuesday?”

“You skipped Monday.”

“Nothing to talk about with Monday. You want I could come over.”

“No, not Monday. You’re coming Tuesday, right Matty? You are coming Tuesday?”

“That I am. I promise, Michael.”

Not much of his burger left, Matty carefully took a slighter bite, making sure his final two bites would both contained charred burger and blobbed cheddar.

“Can I ask?”

“Ask what, Matty?”

“Why Tuesday?”

“Nothing else better to do. TV war is over. There’s peace. Then Tuesday’s gone… with the wind.”

“Still got that record?”

“Skynnyrd? Sure. Can find it easy. Want it?”

“If it’s okay with you, I’d rather not talk about…”

“No need to really.’ Michael pulled off another chunk of burger and saluted his older brother. “Love you Matty.”

“Love you too, Michael.”

Michael had seen his fair share of sunsets. This one was one of the better ones. Sun threw light from the west into the eastern sky a hazy purple with a faint orange lift atop the passing rainclouds. They sat for a moment, two brothers appreciating the twilight of a soft Sunday.

“It was a Sony by the way, Matty.”

“You were always good with the details.”