Me and Keaton were in his apartment with Wingstop and Stella Artois on what should have been the Dodgers’ Opening Day. We didn’t have a whole lot to do, so I got Keaton to agree to give me some of his backstory. So he said he’d tell me a story about little boys and puppies.
That I had to hear lol.
“You know I lived in Fairbanks for a couple years after I finished my tour of duty on the oil platform, right?.” he began.
“Fairbanks is a great place. You gotta be fuckin nuts to live there, but that’s part of what makes it so awesome. Everyone is fuckin nuts. You get less than 4 hours of daylight in the winter and it never gets dark in the summer. You really can play baseball at midnight without lights. I’ve done it a few times. Usually playing 1st. We had a good shortstop on our team so I didn’t need to be at 2nd to cover for him.” Keaton smirks at his own jokes a lot. He smirked at that one. I took that as a good sign.
“I got a used truck and a nice apartment; rents up there ain’t as super low as you’d think. I needed a job, and since my background was either in security, punching cattle and offshore oil, I reckoned I’d do best going back into security. I’d been hanging out at this cool no bullshit bar in downtown, not far from my apartment. It wasn’t a dive…it was nicer than the Volcano…the beer was good and the regulars were awesome. A bunch of fuckin crazy Alaskans. The bartender was the owner, a dude named Trip; I noticed he didn’t have a bouncer and offered myself for the job.”
“So you didn’t get it like your job at the Volcano by knocking someone’s lights out?”
“You may be surprised, but I didn’t knock anyone’s lights out the whole time I was in Fairbanks. Alaskans aren’t the jerkoffs that you get down here. I had to throw a few guys out during the time I worked there, but I never needed to make a fist.
“Well…not exactly. (Me: “I figured.”) There’s always people who want to fight the bouncer. They found out pretty soon that that wasn’t a good idea.”
“Have you ever lost a fight, man?,” I asked. “Ever?”
“Not since high school,” Keaton said. “Dad said that, if I lost a fight, I’d have to fight him. That happened exactly once. Dad actually busted my nose that night. (Me: “Fuck.”) It was a small break…you can’t see it. But it taught me my lesson. I haven’t lost a fight since.
“So, anyway…back to Fairbanks. Trip took me on to work security and got me my Alaska guard card. It worked out well: I liked the crowd, and I like working nights. It was a big relief to have that kind of space to move around in, too. I made a lot of money on the oil platform, but it’s not something you’d want to do for a long time. It’s almost as cramped as a fuckin submarine. And all you have is space in Alaska: there’s endless country right outside of town, woods and snow. You gotta see it to believe it.
“Trip was a native Alaskan, and loved it up there. He wouldn’t leave for anything. Which was his problem. The bitch he married didn’t want to live in Alaska, and, after they had a kid, she up and left with some dude from the Lower 48, leaving him with a little boy.
“The boy was named Charlie, and he was 5 when I first met him. [Dang] he was an awesome kid. Running a bar is a lot of work, so Trip didn’t have a whole lot of extra time for Charlie. One day he asked if I could take care of Charlie for the afternoon, before my shift started, and I said sure. I didn’t have much experience with children (Me: “well…you are an only child”) – but me and Charlie hit it off right from the git go. I took him to Pioneer Park – that’s a big park they have up there. In the summer they have all kinds of activities and concessions and shit. It used to be called Alaskaland, but it’s not really a theme park. It’s just a great place to walk around and enjoy the summer weather while you’ve got it.
“Charlie was fuckin awesome. Everything interested him, and he was down for anything. So he was great to do shit with. When Trip saw we hit it off, he started letting me look after Charlie a few days a week. It kinda became part of my job. They lived upstairs from the bar, so Trip and I were always there if Charlie needed us in the night. Being left by his mom at an early age gave him nightmares sometimes and he’d come downstairs.”
“And Trip gave him a glass of milk with a teaspoon of whiskey in it?,” I asked. That was Meemaw’s cure for a nightmare.
“Brandy,” Keaton corrected. “Trip’s a super northerner. They don’t know about bourbon up there.
“So as long as summer lasted, there was plenty of outdoors stuff to do with Charlie. Lucky for me he was an athletic kid and loved running around. I got him started playing catch, then we got a little football and I taught him to throw that and tackle and…”
“Yeah…well…it’s kind hard for a 50 pound boy to take down a 210 pound man, so I had to help him. But I taught him the basics. And one thing our coach in high school taught us was how to fall and not get hurt, so Charlie would grab me and I’d go down and not kill myself. You’d be surprised how much fun that was.”
Keaton was smiling like he doesn’t usually smile. It was his turkey bowl in the rain smile lol.
“I’m liking this idea of you as a nanny,” I said.
“Fuck you, bubba… I was not a nanny. I wouldn’t even let him call me ‘Uncle Keaton’, although Trip wanted him to. I kept explaining I’m not his uncle.”
“So what did he call you?”
“And what did you call him?” Keaton’s a nickname man, in case y’all haven’t noticed.
“Slugger,” he said with a smile. “It seemed a great name for a little kid. I wanted to teach him a little about batting and he connected with the first ball I tossed him.
“So summer turned into winter faster than I could imagine. There’s not much of a fall in Alaska…or I guess there is one, but it’s a pretty fuckin cold fall…so if you’re from Texas their fall already seems like winter. And you can’t believe how fuckin cold it gets when it does get to be winter. You need a shitload of cold weather gear which takes forever to put on, so you always think twice about going outside. You need a whole lot of extra shit for the truck too.
“One super cool thing a lot of Alaskans have is a snowmobile. I was never much of a motorcycle rider, but, fuck was that thing fun. We’d take it out in the woods the three of us and Trip showed me how to drive it. I fell off a few times at first but then I got the hang of the thing. So Trip let me take it out and ride around with Charlie…who just kept saying ‘faster, faster Keaton’. The kid wasn’t afraid of shit. So we spent a lot of November on the snowmobile, building snowmen, and having fun in all that fuckin snow. I gotta admit, I’d never been in that much snow in my life. I mean, it snows in Amsterdam, but it gets dirty right away there. Here it was all white and there was so fuckin much of it. And getting into nature isn’t hard: drive 20 minutes from anywhere in Fairbanks and you’re in open country.
“I was always looking for other cold weather activities. You can understand that in Alaska people stay inside a lot of the time in the winter, and there’s not a whole lot to do…unless you like it cold, and…”
“The cold never bothered you anyway?”
“Fuck you, bubba,” he said. But that proved he knew the song lol.
“On really cold days there was this one glow in the dark mini golf place I used to take Charlie.”
“That sounds pretty dang fun,” I said.
“It was. And he loved it, which was good. We tried bowling, but we both sucked at that, so that wasn’t too interesting. Ice skating was better, although it was kinda embarrassing that Charlie was better at it than I was. Just when I was running out of ideas, one of the dudes at the bar suggested we try dogsledding.”
I figured that was where the puppies Keaton promised were gonna come in.