Before the intense tedium of being at the shore set in, I went through my usual routine First, Sue (the loophole bloodhound) teased me about my "farmers tan," as I smeared sunblock over my pale body. Second, I ate a Genoa salami, yellow American cheese with heavy Gulden's mustard sub and washed it down with an icy, diet cherry Pepsi. Third, I stuck my left big toe in the ocean, declared the water, "too cold" and returned to the blanket, for a nap.
On this unnecessarily added beach day...there would be no nap! NO NAP? That's right, no nap. The pesky dagger in my side that prevented the omnipresent sandman from helping me fade into oblivion...came from the heavens. No, God wasn't upset with what might have been deduced as laziness...after all, he alone knew of the exaggerated technicality that landed me there. This annoying sleep blocker came from the continual roar of fighter jets.
Lucky me, I got caught in an Atlantic City Air Show rehearsal, (a.k.a., Thunder Over the Boardwalk).
I gave up trying for slumbering bliss as the sight of these fly boys brought out the stronger patriotic side of me. For an hour, I watched with pride as different glistening single jets and organized clusters zoomed by, did loop-dee-loops and climbed so high into the cloudless sky that they seemed to vanish. When the practice session was over, I rolled over, closed my eyes and recalled one of my father's favorite day trips, the Rhinebeck Air Show, in upstate New York.
I never had the pleasure of Rhinebeck but my dad liked to fill the car with other relatives and friends and go. So in 2002, with that air show in the back of my mind, it wasn't an off the wall concept when one of the all-time knuckleheads I ever met, told me that a modern version of it was coming to Atlantic City, the next year.
It was between Christmas and New Year 2001 that a neighbor asked me for a lift, to pick up his car. He was moving away and needed a hitch attached to his Buick, to pull a U-Haul trailer. A few towns away, we pulled into an independent gas station that did the work for him.
The automotive service garage was big enough to house four bays but only one was equipped for repairs. The rest of the space was used for retailing; beach ware, souvenirs, flags, custom mailboxes, dollhouses, patio furniture and anything that related to moving, (i.e. corrugated boxes, blankets, rope, adhesives and gigantic rubber bands).
Above the office entrance was a shiny wooden plaque that read; F. DANIEL DORAN, PROPRIETOR. Inside, through a thick veil of bluish cigarette smoke, a huge, lone man, badly in need of shave was picking up the phone.
I was wondering if this was a one man operation as this man boomed into the receiver, "Dan Doran...the discount shed man." I noticed through his graying stubble that it looked like he just had his throat slashed. Then I noticed the stitches on a wide, surgical scar that went under his right ear and across where his chin and neck met.
Doran winked at us and said to the caller, "Dat's right, I sent it back cause I told youz to drain it!" He hung up in a huff, lit an unfiltered Pall Mall and smiled, "I got tons-a-shit on my mind and if yuh ain't caf-ful, a pound-o-cole slaw is half juice." Then as if he had never seen my friend Doran said, "Whadayuz need?"
Dan Doran seemed a little older than me. His hulking six-foot-four frame was neither fat nor muscular. I guess if he was a woman you'd call him big-boned? Doran's dark complexion and chiseled facial features suggested he was a Native American. But his office was adorned with Irish artifacts and a flag that I later learned was from the Netherlands. I scanned the room and found photos stapled to the wall, of mechanics working on jet engines and model airplanes dangling on strings from the ceiling. On his cluttered desk, the one item that looked clean was a golden-framed, newborn baby picture.
|LATER, I FOUND OUT THAT I GOT TWO OUT OF THREE RIGHT. DAN WAS IRISH AND DUTCH BUT NOT AMERICAN INDIAN.|
Dan seemed hard of hearing too because he always talked so loud. Plus he had the annoying habit of invading my neighbor's personal space and lightly tugging his jacket when emphasizing a point. When they were all settled up, my friend excused me. Before I could go, Doran (reeking of tobacco) grabbed my elbow, blasted my face with bad breath (dominated by scotch) and said, "Yuh evuh need a high quality Amish-made out-building, Dan Doran the discount shed man, is here." He pointed to two sample sheds that were along side the garage, handed me a business card and pounded my back.
By the end of January, the idea of buying a shed came up. My wife and I investigated several agencies...I intentionally left Dan Doran for last. My neighbor said Doran's personality was an inconsistent blend of okay, irritating and evil. So I was hoping another shed outlet would be so cheap that I wouldn't have to go back there...but the competition's prices were pretty much all the same. Then coincidentally, I was driving (alone) near Dan Doran's and decided to drop in on the Discount Shed King.
Dan was pumping generic gas as I pulled in. When I approached, he was clutching the customer's left forearm as he proclaimed, "When Dan Doran the discount shed man says, Percy makes the best meatballs in South Jersey, yuh gotta know it's true." The driver shrugged, "Thanks, I'll remember that." When he turned away and put the car in drive, Dan increased his grip and added, ."And they got roasted peppers to die for." As soon as Doran sensed I was behind him, the driver sped away.
I introduced myself by mentioning my friend's name and saying, "He said you can give me a great deal on a shed." Dan stunk of booze and cigarettes as he pulled me closer. He then put his nicotine stained index finger in my face and proclaimed between a series of quelled coughs, "Dere ain't no negotiatin' with Dan Doran." He stopped to cough harder before continuing, "because I'm the discount shed man!"
I angled off towards the samples outside but he pulled me into his office. The phone rang. He picked a burning, unattended cigarette out of a filthy ashtray and answered loudly, "Dan Doran, the discount shed man." After a pause he said, "Oh yeah, you!" He took a long hit off the last nub of his Pall Mall and then angrily blasted, "Listen and listen good. Youz didn't put enough Parmesan cheese in. Yuh don't make it duh same way fuh five years and den start gettin' cheap wit yuh best customer..."
While Dan blithered on, I looked at his jet engine pictures and soon realized that he was in them all. There was a label on one that identified everyone. When I read F. D. Doran, I thought; He hates his first name. There's nothing wrong with the name Frank or Fred? Jeez, maybe his name is Felix or Forrest. Then I speculated; if my name was Ferdinand or Floyd I might want to hide that too. Then I remembered a hockey player named Fern Rivard and choked back a laugh.
My daydream ended when Mr. F. Daniel Doran screamed into the receiver, "For crissake Henry, what's the big deal if I want my roast beef sandwich cut on an angle and toasted..." He was fuming so badly that white gauze was forming at both corners of his mouth. Doran then interrupted his obscenity-laced telephone rant to yell at me, "Hey you," as he flung a catalog, Frisbee-style my way. In it, I found Adirondack chairs, other wooden outdoor furniture, lacquered address plaques and sheds.
|IN THE BOOK, THE LAST GLOSSY, CIRCULAR ADDRESS PLAQUE HAD VISIBLE TREE RINGS AND THE NAME, BANE, 48 WOLF COURT ETCHED INTO IT. THE NEXT PAGE STARTED THE SHED SECTION.|
Doran was still raving as I noticed that his 8x12 sheds were $300.00 less than the cheapest comparable ones we had priced AND he didn't charge for delivery. I was thinking Dan was only the way to go when suddenly, he slammed the phone down and asked me, "It's an insult to be called a Gypsy, right?" I said, "I dunno." Doran crowed, "How dare that bastard, I'm full blooded Mick and half Dutch." In disgust, he threw an emerald-colored disposable lighter across the room and knocked over his Notre Dame Fighting Irish leprechaun statue. I could see he was pre-occupied so when he calmly said, "Wait a sec, I gotta call this asshole back up," I left.
I reported my findings to my wife. A week later, in mid-March, we succumbed to the allure of Dan Doran the discount shed man's cut rate. Together with my seven-year old son, Sue and I returned to sift through the catalog and buy a shed.
There were still ice patches from a previous snowstorm around the pumps as we pulled up. I could see that Dan was in the middle of broadcasting his nonsense to a disinterested victim having his oil checked. Doran stopped talking when a coughing spasm erupted. Dan noticed me as he turned away to spit a bloody clump on the ground before continuing, "Yuh know buddy, dey thought I was a psycho on account I beat the daylights out of that prick who called me Francis. So I wasn't thrown out of the Air Force, they called it an 'other than honorable discharge.' Everything's duh same as an honorable except people readin' my file think I'm a headcase, so dat leaves me out of government jobs. Oh yeah, and I ain't eligible for VA bennies."
When Dan turned to acknowledge me, the driver took off. So Doran grabbed my wrist and said, "That Bozo left without his change. And I didn't finish tellin' him that I jus' found out, my third lawyer won't take my case. Yuh see, I wanna sue the Air Force cause in Nam, I started loosin' my hearin' from repairin' dem jet engines."
At the same time, Sue and Andrew came around from behind my minivan and Dan said, "What can I do for you nice folks?" My son ran between the diesel pump and propane station to stomp a slushy patch. Doran screamed so loud, "Can't you control your damned little animal!" that Andrew was scared, Sue was shocked and I was pissed-off.
We should have just left but didn't. Dan kept staring my poor kid down. And as bored as Andrew was, he never made a sound as the ordeal of picking out our black trimmed, white "Ipswich" shed, lagged on.
I was dictating our personal information when a tow truck pulled up and the operator bought a can of soda. He came in the office, shook Dan's hand and said, "How's my favorite newlywed feeling?" Doran said, "The diabetes is okay, I guess..." The man said, "You got diabetes too?" He then pointed to the desk and said, "Where's Nadine's picture?" When I noticed that the fancy-framed photo was missing, Dan took the man aside and whispered loud enough for us to hear a few choice words like; paternity test, not my kid, divorce and she's going to steal my house. The man was leaving as he said over his shoulder, "Dude, the Kennedy's have nothing on you."
I hadn't paid yet and Dan's hostility towards my son was sharper than ever. I said, "Sue, it's really smoky in here. Why don't you take Andrew back to the van." Dan lit a Pall Mall as he returned the catalog to his desk drawer. In the drawer, I caught a quick glimpse of an off-brand fifth of scotch as he asked me about my yard.
The phone rang and he said, "Dan Doran, the discount shed man." Then he said, "Oh, hi doc." Doran was dabbing at the scar, now hidden by his full beard and said, "Don't worry about me, only a real moron would ever have another cigarette." After some more pleasantries he hung up. Dan took a hard drag off his Pall Mall and said to me, "You need a minimum of ten feet for me to drive my flatbed through." I said, "I have a double-wide gate that is exactly ten feet. He said, "It'll be tight but I can do it."
Dan paced nervously while I wrote the deposit check. Suddenly, he apologized for yelling at Andrew. I really wasn't listening as he spewed gibberish about a filling station being no place for a kid. "That's all I need," he thought out loud, "is a little devil slippin' on the ice or gettin' hit by a car on my property." Then he said to me, "I wish you wouldn't have told the boy to go back to the car so fast. I was gonna show him my planes. Then from behind a green satin "ERIN GO BRAGH" banner draped over a map display, he showed me an advertising placard for an air show, coming to Atlantic City, the following year. I said, "That's nice," and left. For the rest of the day, it ate at me that I didn't storm out when he first went off on Andrew.
A week later, Dan dropped by my house to double-check the width of my fence opening. He said, "To be sure, I'll need to unhinge one side of the gate because I'll need every inch I can get."
On delivery day, Sue and I came out front and confirmed that the white and black Ipswich was the right shed. Dan looked like hell and reeked of booze and tobacco. He was coughing and wheezing the whole time he detached the right gate. Then I thought he was crazy as he whipped his truck into reverse, bounced onto my lawn and backed up at an unsafe speed along the side of my house. It looked like he was going to crash into the fence but he slammed on the brakes and stopped.
He got out and gauged the gap between the truck and the fence post. He called out to me, "How does your side look?" It would be hard to fit a credit card in the narrow slit so I said, "There's no room." He came around to my side and scoffed, "It's about the same as the other side...a drop less but about the same."
Dan Doran the discount shed man got in the driver's seat. It seemed natural that the truck lurched forward for a second...then suddenly, he accelerated in reverse, right through that incredibly narrow gap. Even though he slightly scraped the fence post next to me, he was past it safely before I could react. Then I looked back into my yard and saw him swerve around the one tree that he apparently forgot was there.
In the end, despite the unfortunate fellow's numerous flaws, we were glad we stuck with Dan Doran the discount shed man.
|ELEVEN YEARS LATER, OUR DISCOUNT SHED STILL LOOKS NEW. PLUS, IT HAS NEVER LEAKED OR BEEN INFECTED BY VERMIN. AND LIKE THE ATLANTIC CITY AIR SHOW, THE SHED REMAINS A MONUMENT TO A STRANGE MAN WHO FACED THE RIGORS OF ADVERSITY HEAD ON.|