Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Khaki Shorts, Bias Tape and One Long Checkout Line

I walked into a fabric and craft store on a mission for my wife. In one hand a carried a bag with a pair of my granddaughter’s khaki uniform shorts for middle school. The kids all love their grandma and they know that when they need sewing done, she’s a solid resource. She’ll do anything for her grandkids, especially, in exchange for extra hugs.

I entered the huge cavern of aisles and shelves to find the only people in the front of the store to be two cashiers who were busy with customers. I eased down a main aisle looking down each cross aisle for anything that looked like bias tape. I wore my best, lost man in a woman’s environment, face as I perused along each intersection.

I was familiar enough with this type of retail facility to know that somewhere, near the center of the infinite displays of fabrics and accessories, would be table and store employee for assisting customers in cutting off their desired amounts of cloth from bulk rolls. When I came to that area, the store employee was busy with another customer so I continued my left and right visual scans of each aisle intersection.

At the back of the store the main aisle intersected with another main aisle. Down the aisle, to the left, I saw a store employee with a shopping cart full of go-backs. She was suffering an acute case of tunnel vision. She must have thought that she had a cute bootie and I might want to admire it because, as I moved to get in front of her so that we could talk, she turned her back to me. 

Finally, winning the game of About Face and Circle Around, I held out a small sample that I had been carrying in my other hand.

“Can you tell me where to find any of this?”

“I don’t even know what that is?”

I was dumbfounded. I responded in mocked astonishment.

“You work in this store and you don’t what this is?”

“I work here but I’m a cashier,” she said with great emphasis on the word cashier.

I was thinking that, if this woman was doing go-backs. then she must know where everything is. Otherwise, how could she go back to the right place, where each item belonged, to re-shelf it?

“It’s bias tape,” I said.

“Oh, well… Yeah… I know what bias tape is but I didn't know that was bias tape.”

I didn't make up that quote. Yes, she really said that.

Off she hurried down the aisle at a near sprint. Near the cutting table, but on the opposite side that I had passed, there was a short cross aisle with a selection of bias tape. I found what I needed and my praise of the woman put a big grin on her face.

When I arrived at the front of the store to check out, my walk slowed at the sight of nine people lined up for one cashier. The first thought to light up my brain was that, if the woman doing go-backs was a cashier, then she ought to go back to the front of the store to serve in her primary role. If this item had been for me I would have set it down on another shelf and left the store. However, Grandma would not be happy if she couldn't take care of her granddaughter.

I got into the line and more people lined up behind me. I counted fourteen people in total. I’m a firm believer that if you’re not in a happy place then you ought to, at least, try to have some fun.

“Well… if it wasn't for the green shirts on the store employees, I’d think I was at Walmart.”

“Isn't that the truth,” said the brown-haired woman ahead of me.

“Yeah… I was in a Walmart a few weeks ago and there wasn't any line at all.”

“Were they having a bomb scare?” The white-haired woman behind me chuckled at her own humor.

“I don’t know but when I expressed my astonishment to the cashier she said it had been like that. I asked if they had finally caught the Kmart syndrome and all of their shoppers had gone somewhere else. The woman took offense to the comment.”

Both of the women laughed at that and others in the checkout line smiled. I saw my go-back woman down the aisle but her tunnel vision was still working well. I continued to entertain the other customers.

“You know, Kmart and Sears are like two fat giants falling from the pedestal and becoming the biggest losers. Then they married each other.”

The laughs were rippling farther down the line on each side of me now. The line was also getting longer. I was contemplating running down the aisle and bringing Go-Back to a checkout line but grey hair broke the quiet.

“Did you notice that they don’t wear those vests in Walmart, anymore, that say HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”

I snorted. “Go figure! The only time that you could read one was when they were running down the aisle to get away from you.”

“That’s for sure,” said the brunette.

“Yeah, I read an article somewhere that they’re getting new vests made up that read CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”

Grey Hair started laughing so hard that she was afraid of peeing herself. I could still see Go-Back and had had enough of waiting. However, before I broke from the line, two cashiers, a man and woman, came up to open checkouts. They both had the look of somebody who had been pulled out of the same mop closet before their smiles had fully molded onto their faces. They were a surly looking pair.

“Next one in line.” The man’s voice had no energy and he didn’t smile one iota. I decided to sling some positive energy at him.

"How are you today?” I gave him my most sincere smile.

“All right,” he said in monotone.

“It got kind of busy all of the sudden.” This is a chance for somebody, who is having a bad day, to snap out of it and apologize for the poor service. Some even like to explain. Sometimes the explaining can turn into finger pointing but at least they’re thinking about customers then.

This guy said nothing and continued to frown. I took my change and started to walk away but changed my mind. Okay, asshole, I thought to myself. You asked for it. I’m going to sucker punch you.

“Does your face feel kind of tired?”

He just looked at me. There was a hint of confusion but his look didn't soften.

“I’m serious, man. I’m worried about you.”

“Why don’t you just get out of here? You’re holding up our customers,” he snapped.

Grey Hair had moved up beside me but she was smiling in anticipation of what I might be about to say.

“It’s interesting that you might notice that but, you see, they were conditioned to waiting when there were fifteen of us waiting for one cashier.”

I glanced at Grey Hair. She was still with me.

“I’m worried about you because it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. With the piss face that you’re wearing, you’re going to be plumb worn out by the end of the day.”

Grey Hair lost it. Her knees buckled and she held the counter to break a fall. I grabbed her under one arm to help.

“Are you okay?”

“I hate you!” She was saying that she hated me but she was laughing so hard that she couldn't stand.

“I hate you! I’m going to have to go back home and change my pants before I can finish shopping. You are freaking hilarious!”

Not a single muscle relaxed on the Piss Face, though.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Bird Dog View of Opening Day

Duchess savored the crisp autumn air filling her lungs.  The trees had shed their leaves for the winter.  The cold ground chilled her toes through the calloused surface of her pads.  The change of season signals her that opening day is getting closer.  Bird-dogging is what she lives for.

John brought out a long gun a few weeks ago.  Tight by his side on every move, Duchess wasn’t about to be forgotten.  Something wasn’t quite right though.  The long gun that John had brought out had the stink of stale fur from a bushy-tailed tree rat.  She didn’t mind when John would occasionally take a rabbit that might pop up on a bird hunt.  Once she caught on that John wanted the long-eared hoppers, she would even flush them for him when she picked up the scent.  When he went squirrel hunting, however, he left her behind.

 “It won’t be long, girl.  Pheasant season is around the corner,” John had told his loyal companion as he scratched her head.

Bird dogs and squirrel hunting didn’t mix.  Squirrels are wary of dogs and people.  By himself, John would blend into the oak grove and wait quietly.  Eventually, a squirrel, unaware of human presence, would come within range of the crosshairs of John’s small scope.

The weeks had passed and John was up early one Saturday morning.  As soon as he came into the kitchen Duchess alerted with anticipation.  Then she saw the shotgun.  When he brought out the hunting vest that carried his spare shotgun rounds and the bird scented game bag, Duchess went crazy with excitement.

As Duchess ran to the door, back to John and then back to the door again her actions were clearly saying to John, “Come on!  Let’s go!”

John gathered up his gear and kissed his wife, Nancy, as she held the door for him.  Duchess was already waiting at the rear of the car.  When John opened the trunk of the car she hopped in.  He laid his gear beside her and closed the lid.

Duchess had heard people scold John for being cruel because he rode her in the trunk.  She didn’t mind though.  She was going on a hunt and that was all that mattered.  John taught the dog to ride in the trunk so that after the hunt she wouldn’t soil the interior of the car on the ride home.

About to back out of the driveway, John stopped when he saw his wife hurrying toward him with his coffee thermos.  Her robe fell away from her shapely legs as she ran.  He set the thermos in the seat beside him and she leaned in to kiss him again.  With this move her robe fell open at the top and her breasts elongated as they stretched away from her body.  John cupped one of them.

“Are you trying to temp me?”

She smiled mischievously.  “Not on purpose but it might be fun to make the morning a twofer.”  She enjoyed his touch.

Both of them felt the swell of hormones urging them for the second time this morning.  They kissed again but more deeply.  Then John’s eyes caught sight of their toddler standing at the front door.

"Guess who is awake?"

Nancy turned and saw her three-year-old.  “I’ll be right there baby girl.”

“Hug her for me,” John said as his wife went to their child.

“I’ll do that and more.”  She smiled over shoulder.  “I’m going to keep something else warm for you.  Chloe is going to need a nap later.”

Duchess rode patiently and, eventually, the sounds of the car changed as John turned off of the main highway and onto a gravel road.  A few minutes later John stopped and opened the trunk lid for Duchess.  She leaped to the ground and, again, she quivered with excitement.  John closed the lid, got back into the car and drove off down the farm lane.  Duchess caught up to the car at the end of lane.  This was a pre

 e-hunt ritual that John had started when Duchess was a six-month-old pup.  It helped her to vent off her excitement so that she handled better when the hunt started.

When they arrived, John’s brother, Steve, was waiting with his dog, Gunner.  Most people don’t realize that dogs communicate clearly to each other without words.  Duchess and Gunner were familiar and exchanged greetings.  Off season, they played with each other when the two families would get together.  Gunner went around on Duchess and sniffed her hinter end.

“Don’t get any ideas.”  Duchess asserted politely.

“You’re never in the mood when we hunt.”  Gunner was there to hunt but hormones are hormones.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Gunner.  If I’m in season during season then John and I hunt alone.”

“That’s just wrong.  Every dog has to have a little bootie once in awhile.”

“So take your bootie down that lane that I just ran, and then run it back.  You need to work it off, fool.  You studs have one thing on your mind all of the time.  Add pedigree papers and you all think that you’re nature’s gift to bitches.  Do you have any idea what pups will do to my teats?”

The conversation ended as the dogs’ ears lifted to the sound of chambering shotgun rounds.  It was 8:00 AM.  The men headed off for the field.  Through the fence and into the field, the dogs started to quarter.  Both men called their dogs to heel.  Confused, the dogs obeyed.

Gunner looked over at Duchess.  “What’s going on?”

“Look.”  Duchess turned her snout to the rows of corn that were not yet harvested. “There is still some corn standing.”

“So?”  Gunner had never hunted this way.

“Watch and do what you’re told.”  Her patience with Gunner was fading fast.

If he couldn’t get all of the harvest done before the season started, the farmer who owned this ground, would always leave some corn standing in anticipation of pheasant season..  He would leave about ten rows standing and harvest ten rows in between.  If pheasants were in the field in the early morning and they saw the hunters approaching they would run to the standing corn for cover.

The two hunters stopped, discussed their plan and Steve snapped a short leash onto Gunner’s collar.  He handed the loop to his brother and walked off to the right by himself.  John headed to the left and commanded Duchess to heel.  Gunner followed on the leash.

Looking back, John saw that Steve had reached his destination at one end of the standing corn rows.  About fifty feet from the other end of the corn rows, the dogs started acting birdy.  Duchess wanted to break heel but obeyed as John reiterated his command.  Gunner was about to tug at the leash but relaxed as he heard the heel command.

John gave three short tweets on his dog whistle to indicate that the dogs were on scent.  Steve acknowledged with one tweet.

John unsnapped Gunner’s leash and commanded, “Hunt ‘em up!”

The dogs charged into the corn led by noses searching for hotter scent.  Out of sight, their yelping confirmed the hot scent of running birds.

At the other end of the standing corn the birds’ panicked flapping of wings swooshed them into the air.  The dogs reared on hind legs as if to chase the birds into the sky.  There was one rooster and two hens.  Steve leveled his shotgun at the brightly feathered rooster.  The sound of two successive reports drowned the noise of escaping wings.

Duchess and Gunner looked at each other in total disbelief.

“What’s the matter with your fool?”

Gunner stared back in equal confusion, not knowing what to say.

“Bury my heart under wounded sky!  We come out here and work our tails off to flush a prime first season rooster and the best that your fool can do is put two holes in the sky behind that one rooster?  I don’t get it.”

The men called out to each other.  They exchanged a question, some lame excuses and some well embellished kidding.  On a small farm the ruckus that they just made could have frightened all of the birds into the surrounding quarter sections.  They moved on to the next rows of standing corn and Steve sent the dogs to John.

The next five sets of standing corn didn’t net up any birds.  On the sixth and final pass, however, the dogs were coming John’s way when they went birdy again.  At the sound of the dogs’ yelps John released his shotgun safety.

This time it seemed as if the dogs came out of the corn already on hind legs in attempt to keep up with the fleeing birds.  Two hens stayed low and went in opposite directions.  One rooster came straight at John and over his head.  Boom!

Two flashes of green-headed gold and bronze flew left of John.  As he birds leveled in flight, John leveled the shotgun and led, first one bird, then the other.  Boom!  Boom!

Duchess looked at Gunner again but, this time, with a face full of her delight.  Three rooster pheasants lay waiting to be retrieved and the sky had suffered no trauma.

Each dog dashed out and brought back a fallen bird.  Duchess ran back out and foraged around until she found the third.  The bird had worked itself under some thick dead matted grass along a fence row.  The men would never have found it without the dogs.

Usually Duchess would sit and patiently wait for her reward after a kill.  This time, however, for benefit of Gunner, she strutted back and forth in front of her hunter as he field-dressed the three birds.  He gave both dogs a heart from the birds.  John gave the third heart to Duchess and tossed a liver to Gunner.

The group went on to work the natural cover of the draws and creeks, and the fence rows on the farm.  Steve bagged two birds.  John dropped a fourth and gave it to his brother.  Six birds were the limit between two hunters and they headed back to the cars.

The brothers cajoled each other on the walk back.  For love of the hunt the dogs continued to quarter.  For knowing his dog, John was ready when Duchess flushed a cottontail.  He saw her heating up on rabbit scent and added fur to his bag for the day.

Before they got into the cars Gunner nuzzled Duchess.  “Maybe next time?”  He sniffed her butt.

“You’re funny!  Consider our relationship Platonic.  Next time, you come wearing a shock collar.  John will carry the control and anytime that I whimper you’re going to your knees.  You’re just lucky that nature didn’t gift me with an opposing thumb.  I’d bring you to your knees myself, right now.  You deserve it just for your acting so adolescent.”  She pulled away and hopped into the trunk that John had just opened.

John and Steve exchanged farewells and pointed the cars back down the lane toward home.  John had something delicious on his mind but it had nothing to do with cooked wild game.

For Love of Dogs: Once Homeless

The first time that I saw Ozark he was at the end of a rope leash trotting along side of his owner’s bicycle in the mid-afternoon south Florida sun.  I was interested in finding a dog that would be more intimidating to a home intruder than our lovable Springer Spaniel was at the time.  The owner of a hot dog stand that I occasionally visited on my way home from work told me that she knew of a dog that would fit my needs and he needed new home.
A bicyclist and the dog entered the parking lot and passed the hot dog stand.  They cut a couple figure eights on the hot asphalt and then Jeannie, the owner of the hot dog stand, called out to the rider in an authoritative tone.

“Get that dog over here so that I can give him some water!  It’s too hot to be dragging him all over the parking lot.”

The dog’s ribs showed under his reddish brown, brindle-marked coat.  His head appeared too large for his under-nourished body.  His face and forelegs were heavily scarred.  One ear stood up while the other drooped.  Large dark brown eyes mirrored acquiescence for his situation.  White hair around the dog’s mouth gave him to be about seven-years-old.

Jeannie cooed over the dog and lavished affection upon him.  She poured water from a jug into one dish and dog food from a bag into another.  The gaunt dog slaked his thirst and then his hunger.  Afterward, she treated him to a few hot dogs from the cart.  Ozark didn’t hesitate.

The dog’s owner often stopped by the stand near closing time.  Jeannie would feed him, as well as the dog, so long as he didn’t make himself conspicuous when customers were around.

Bruce sat down beside me and we introduced ourselves to each other.  He was fairly well kept and a pleasant enough man to talk with.  He hadn’t worked for some time.  He told of being fired from one of the local labor pools and of his perception of the unfairness of losing the job.  With the dog taken care of Jeannie put another hot dog into a bun and handed it to Bruce.

Bruce called the dog Ozark but his full name was Ozark Mountain Coon Hound.  He looked more like a lab mix than a hound.  According to him the dog was not aggressive toward children.  This was a concern to me because of our grandchildren.

Bruce insisted that the dog was only two or three years old despite my observation of his white hair about the mouth.  I shrugged this off and continued to ask about the dog’s behavior and personality.  Apparently unaware of my intentions until I began asking questions, Bruce became defensive.

“What’s going on?  This is the second person asking questions about my dog.”  Bruce was looking straight at Jeannie.

“I told you that I was going to find a good home for that dog.  You don’t take care of him.”

As it turned out, Bruce had no intention of giving up his dog.  Jeannie, on the other hand, was determined to adopt out the dog with or without the consent his owner.

I redirected the conversation to a more casual content and tone.  Then after a few minutes, I was able to gracefully excuse myself.  I told Jeannie that I would see her in a day or two.  My position on this was simple.

The dog belonged to Bruce.  He didn’t want to give him up.  The dog was everything that he had as far as I could see.  His possessiveness was understandable.

Furthermore, because of the way that Bruce lived, the dog was likely to have any number of medical problems.  Of my biggest concern was the probability of heartworm.  Without regular heartworm preventative medication, the probability, in a Florida dog that is living outdoors, is very high.  Cost of treatment for heartworm was about $1500 at the time.  In addition, there is a possibility that the dog will not survive the heartworm treatment.

A few months later J
eannie called me.  Bruce had been hit by car and died at the scene as result of the injuries.  Ozark was trying to pull his dying companion off of the street when the police arrived.  He was taken to the county animal shelter.

The shelter policy at the time allowed for a minimum of three days in the shelter before an animal’s fate was decided.  Jeannie was more than anxious for me to rescue the dog. However, I still had the same health apprehensions as when I first met Bruce.  Heartworm was on top of the list.

As it turned out the county would do heartworm treatment for a small fraction of what the local veterinarians charged.  My wife and I decided, at least, to visit the dog at the shelter.  In order to satisfy my second apprehension we took our granddaughters with us.

We walked the kennels until we found Ozark.  Unlike his excited shelter-mates he was lying quietly in the corner of his assigned kennel.  He showed no interest in us.  Jeannie had visited him the day before and reported that he became very excited to see her.  But then, he knew her.

Ozark was brought out to another room where we could interact with him.  His behavior didn’t change from what we saw in the kennel.  He was quiet almost to the point of lethargic.

Our four-year-old granddaughter fell in love with Ozark.  She hugged him, petted him and lavished him with comforting words of affection.  The thirteen-year-old was okay with him but her true affection was for our Spaniel who had been her lifelong pal.

We paid the adoption and heartworm treatment fees.  We couldn’t take Ozark home that day as he was to be neutered first.  This was required on all adoptions.

Heartworm treatment has a two to three day recovery period for a dog.  It sickens them to the point that they’re lethargic for a few days.  Upon recovery, though, we found that Ozark needed to be watched when he went outside.

When he was let out the front door he would follow the front walk to the driveway, follow the driveway to the street and then methodically trot down the street as if he had somewhere else to be.  He did not heed a call to return and would have to be brought back.

It is easy to attach human emotions to animals.  How accurate that is, is open to debate.  However, my guess is that Ozark was trying to leave to find the Bruce.  Had he known that Bruce was deceased then he might have let go.  Unfortunately, however, it is possible that they were separated before Bruce passed.

It took week or two for Ozark to start responding to my gestures of affection toward him.  He finally bonded and, everyday, when I arrived home from work he wanted to romp and play with me in the yard.  He was clearly excited to see me.  Likewise, he enjoyed the companionship of Mindi, our Springer Spaniel.

I imagined in terms of human comprehension that it must have finally occurred to Ozark the good life that he had fallen into.  He now had daily feeding, fresh water and a shelter with warmth when it was cold and air conditioning when it was hot.

It is amusing to watch Ozark’s reaction to the weather since he now has permanent shelter.  On hot afternoons he wastes no time in relieving himself and heading back to the door to be let in.  If it is raining he simply will not go outside unless I insist.  I call him Sugar Bear when it rains as if he might melt.

He established himself as the alpha pet and was extremely jealous of any attention that I gave to my cat.  The cat and I had a daily ritual just before I left for work.  The cat would always grasp at my boot laces as I put on the boots.   This usually evolved into some rough but harmless playing for a few minutes.  Ozark would sit back whine with jealousy.

It’s going on six years now that Ozark has been with us.  The Springer Spaniel was in her twilight when he came and has since had to be put down.  Ozark’s white hair now covers his face past his eyebrows.  His previous gaunt fifty-two pounds is an overweight eighty-three pounds now.

He stepped down a notch in the pack order when we adopted another dog.  The younger dog wasted no time in redefining the pack hierarchy with Ozark.  Yet, he seems happy.  He is always eager for his daily walk and moves straight to the door when he sees the leashes coming out.  Life is good for the Ozark Mountain Coon Hound.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Proof That You Can't Fix Stupid

The silver Lexus in front of me drifted to the right. The driver snapped it back to center. This repeated a couple of times. I doubled my following distance.

A stoplight halted us but, when the light turned green, the car did not move out immediately. A polite beep beep on my horn got the driver going. I moved to the right lane and gradually overtook the car.

Looking over as I passed, I saw the driver’s head down with a phone in one hand. Remembering her previous drift to the right, I accelerated ahead. Needing to make a left turn ahead, I moved back to the left lane.

Down the road I noticed the silver Lexus in my rear-view mirror while waiting for another red light. The driver’s head was tipped down as if her attention was on a phone again. On green, I pulled away from the stoplight and put distance between the Lexus and me.

I chuckled at the sight in my rear-view mirror. The Lexus had suffered damage across the entire front end. It looked as if the car had rear-ended another car. I had seen proof that you can’t fix stupid.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When Kids Tell the Rest of the Story: The Hammer Strikes a .22LR Round

I thought that all of the tell-all but tell-later stories from my sons were out of the bag by now. After all, they’re all into their late thirties or older by now. Apparently, it wasn't quite so though.

When discussing one of my recent blog posts, Surviving Childhood: A Daisy BB Gun and .410 Shells, in which I told of my own foolishness as a child, my son pulled his hip shot story out of the past. I taught all of my sons to handle guns and ammunition safely. However, there was at least one transgression that I didn't know about.

My son now told me of a time when he and one of the neighbor boys were in the neighbor’s garage capping off .22LR rounds on the garage floor with a claw hammer. To help fathom the magnitude of this, I should say that, when I took my boys hunting with a .22 rifle, they were loaded with less powerful .22 SHORTS.

My theory with .22 SHORTS was that, if there was an accidental shooting of someone, it was less likely to be fatal with SHORTS versus LR. So here my kids were popping off .22LR rounds without even benefit of the chamber and barrel of a firearm to contain the casing and direct the impact of the bullet.

Twenty-some years later, what’s the point to getting worked up about it? I only shook my head, in disbelief that they, so blatantly, failed to heed the common sense about safety that I had tried to impart to them.

“I've heard of kids doing that but I had no idea that you were doing it.” I said.

To this my son remarked, “If you had heard of ME doing it then, I might not be here to tell the story now.”

Friday, August 16, 2013

Surviving Childhood: A Daisy BB Gun and .410 Shotgun Shells

Hanging out around the farm when my dad was helping out with seasonal work was always my idea of good fun. I had a BB gun and no worries about accidentally shooting out a window as could happen easily in town. One day, when Dad was washing up in the barn at the end of the day he pointed to a small box on the window ledge.

“I don’t ever want you to touch that box,” he said. “Those are Hank’s shotgun shells. They can hurt you really bad.”

“Okay, Dad.”

Dad was reading the curiosity in my face as he dried off his hands. He hung the towel back on the rack and reached for the small box. Dad explained that the shot in the .410 shell was like a bunch of my BBs shooting all at the same time. He took one out of the box and pointed to the various parts of shell as he explained. 

“This red paper part is where the tiny BBs are. See this little center on the back end?”

I nodded.

“That’s called the primer. When the firing pin of the gun hits the primer it fires the gunpowder in front of it to make the shot shoot out of the barrel of the gun. Do you understand?”

I nodded again.

“That primer can be fired other ways but it would be very dangerous. DON’T touch these!”

“Okay.” I could tell by his tone that more than a nod was expected on Dad’s last point of emphasis.

“Hank uses those for hunting pheasants with his shotgun but they’re nothing to play with.”

Satisfied that he had sufficiently put the fear of .410 shells into me, we left the barn, got into the old Mercury and headed home for the day. What Dad failed to realize is that he had given me SMI. Dad had given me So Much Information that I was more than curious about the .410 shells. I didn't even know that those shells were on the window ledge before Dad’s warning. Now that I knew that they were there and what they were for, the shells had become kid magnets.

I wasn't attracted to the .410 shells again for few days. However, it came to me that there should be a way to bring down a pigeon with my BB GUN. So far, only sputzies had fallen victim to the wrath of my BB gun. If Hank could bring down a pheasant with a .410 then, surely, I could bag a pigeon with a combination of my BB gun and a .410 shell. Though magnum loads hadn't caught on much in the fifties it would be, sort of, like a magnum charged Daisy BB gun.

I didn't think of myself as a visionary or a pioneer at the time but, in a sense, maybe I was. To the best of my knowledge, no one else has ever thought of holding a .410 round on the end of their BB gun to take down a pigeon. It’s been said that the higher the risk greater the reward. If that is so then I’d say that I had more than a running start at some pretty serious success.

It was no problem to slip into the barn and grab a .410 shell. That part of the barn had a toilet in it so I had an excuse for being there, if somebody caught me in there. I headed down a lane past the place where I had tested the penetration factor of a rusty nail on my Red Ball Jets a few weeks ago.

There were trees and brush on both sides of this lane so I doubted that my dad or anyone else would spot me and wonder what I was doing. There were no pigeons around but this was only a test firing. I cocked my BB gun.

I set the butt of the BB gun on the ground and held the muzzle pointed to the tree tops. Carefully, I set the .410 shell on top with the primer to muzzle. At this point, I only wanted to know if a BB hitting the primer would fire the round. I slowly reached for the BB gun trigger with my free hand and thumbed it back.

Ka... Booooommmmm!!!!!

I couldn't remember anything, up to that point in my short life, that ever scared me more than the explosion of that .410 shell on the end of my BB gun. With the BB gun in hand and Red Ball Jets on my feet I took to footed flight as fast as I could run.

I hadn't forgotten how fast that my dad was at my side when I screamed bloody murder from the pain of a rusty nail poked into my foot. He heard my scream on that day. He had to hear this .410 shell go off.

Satisfied that I had put sufficient distance between the location of my crime and myself, I did my best to look like it was just another day on the farm. After enough time passed for me to be satisfied that no one was coming to investigate, I nonchalantly headed back down the lane to inspect for damages.

There was no sign that I had been in the lane and nearly killed myself. I searched around in hope of finding the spent shell. In hindsight, it’s just as well that I didn't. It might have turned up as incriminating evidence in the laundry if I forgot to take it from my pocket.

There was one positive thing that came from the experience. Dad hadn't quite convinced me to leave the .410 shells alone. However, I had just done a pretty good job of it on my own and even lived to tell the story. I never touched a shotgun shell again until I was old enough to use a shotgun safely.

Read more about Surviving Childhood.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Surviving Childhood: Over another Farm Fence

A rusty nail through the sole of a six-year-old boy's Red Ball Jets gives meaning to the words "look before your leap."  It didn't stop me from climbing farm fences but I had much better awareness of what I might jump onto or into. I had cousin who, like me, lived in town.

Randy didn't have the same love of farms that I did but, occasionally, he would also go along with his father when, like my father, he worked the farm. We were cousins because our fathers were brothers. Our fathers had an uncle, who farmed. They both helped him out from time-to-time.

I was standing in the driveway at Randy’s house one day when his father pulled his 1952 Ford into the driveway after a day of working at Uncle Jack’s farm. Randy and his cousin, Hans, from his mother’s side, were in the car but neither they, nor Uncle Len, looked very happy.

Running up to the car to greet them, I found both the boys wearing ill-fitting clothing without shoes or socks. I stood by the car, taking in the scenario and trying to understand why everyone looked so unhappy. There was a pungent odor wafting from the car as I stood by the open window with a puzzled look on my face. Like my father, Uncle Len wasn't much for nurturing but he did give up a pretty good clue as what had happened.

“Well, what are you waiting for Hog Shit? Get outta’ my car and go tell your mother what you did.”

That afternoon, Randy and Hans, with another cousin who lived on the farm, had simultaneously taken a jump off of the top of a farm fence. However, they had a much softer landing than I did when I pinned one of my Red Ball Jets to my foot with a rusty nail. The boys had landed, butt deep, in a pile of hog manure that had been pushed up near the gate to be taken out to the fields in the spreader.

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Surviving Childhood: Red Ball Jets and a Rusty Nail

Surviving childhood is something that, when you look back, it’s a pure wonder that most of us were able to do so. Growing up in the fifties and sixties seems pretty tame when compared to fears that parents face in this century. However, the dangers were real. Back then though, they didn't preempt Howdy Dowdy or Gunsmoke to tell the whole world about some nine-year-old kid that was killed because he turned the tractor around too tight while cultivating a field.

I grew up in town but I loved the farms. Dad’s primary source of income was his night job in the factory. However, He often hired out to a couple of different farms on a part-time and seasonal basis. I was about six-years-old when I first started going along with him on these jobs.

One particular farm that Dad worked didn't have any other kids around so I had to find my own entertainment. For obvious reasons, the farmer didn't want me on the tractor with my dad or anywhere near the operating machinery. I kept myself occupied.

There were buildings and nearby patches of timber to explore and I had a BB gun of my own. I had some moderate limits but, for the most part, as long as Dad could get a glimpse of me, from time-to-time, when he passed near the buildings, then all was well.

There were grasshoppers and butterflies to catch. The grasshoppers would spit tobacco juice onto my fingers. Occasionally, I might catch a caterpillar. That would keep me focused until I could find a jar with lid, to keep the caterpillar in, so that it would spin a cocoon. Of course I would also need to find a nail and hammer to punch holes in the jar lid so that the caterpillar would have air.

Dad was mowing weeds near the buildings and along the fence rows in the steamy hot August of summer. With the exception of some feeder pigs, this farmer didn't keep livestock so the place had a tendency to get overgrown. I was wearing my Red Ball Jets as I chased around and explored the farm. These sneakers weren't exactly Air Jordans but they, or any variation of them, were what kids wore in the fifties.

They told us on Saturday morning television commercials, between episodes of Roy Rogers, Sky King and My Friend Flicka, that Red Ball Jets would help you to run faster and jump higher. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound was out though. Superman was the only guy who could do that and he didn't need Red Ball Jets.

I was making my way over a board fence on the farm one day. At the top and on the other side of fence, I wasn't about to climb down. Like Superman off the top of a tall building, I jumped to the ground.

Dupont didn't invent Kevlar until about 1965 and it didn't come into commercial use until the next decade. Even if Kevlar had been around in the fifties, it probably wouldn't have been used to make Red Ball Jets anyway.

I hadn't caught any caterpillars that day so I really didn't need a nail to poke holes in a jar lid. Something that I needed a nail for even less was to poke a hole through the sole of one of my Red Ball Jets. It worked out that way just the same.Unnoticed by me, a board lying on the ground held a rusty nail in perfect upward posture for an imminent impalement.

A nail through the sole of my Red Ball Jets wouldn't have been much of an issue if my foot hadn't been on the inside of the sneaker. Given the situation, the nail also did a pretty good job of poking a serious hole into the sole of my foot. At that point, like any healthy six-year-old with lungs and vocal cords, I screamed like bloody murder.

At the same time that I began wailing, I had the natural instinct to use my uninjured foot to hold down the board and pull my other foot free. Like Matt Dillion relieving himself of a Comanche arrow from his flesh wound, I pulled the nail out. I don’t know how far away Dad was at the time but he was by my side in seconds on that day.

 Dad pulled off my rusty nail-poked Red Ball Jet and sock. He examined my injured bare foot and determined that I “was going to live.” I don’t remember now what was done, if anything, to treat the wound. I’m quite sure, however, that I would have resisted any attempts to dab Merthiolate on it. Merthiolate was the cure-all for scrapes and small cuts in the day. It was also good for giving you something more to bawl about because of the intense burning sensation that it caused on an open wound.

Dad wasn't usually much for nurturing. From my earliest memories, he would typically offer to “give me something to bawl about” if I didn't quiet down in short order. This was generally without regard to the cause of my crying. On this day, however, he held me close until I calmed down and softly reassured me that I would be alright. I have cherished the memory.

Read more about growing up in the fifties in 
Time Marches On 

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Monday, August 12, 2013

From the Driver's Seat: New York City

Wendell was driving and I was navigating as we came into New Jersey.  We had two delivery stops of auto windshields in the trailer.  The first delivery was going to New Jersey and then we would jump over the river, via the George Washington Bridge, into Bronx with the second delivery.  It seemed simple enough.  After all, together we probably had at least three months total combined experience with maneuvering a tractor trailer around the forty-eight states.  This was the first time for both of us into New Jersey and New York though.

Needless to say, we were in for a few problems.  With Midwestern-grown boys going into the big city for the first time, there is a pretty good probability of some awe and confusion on their part.  Send those same two country boys into the city with sixty-two feet of tractor and trailer combination and there won’t be much opportunity for awe because they’re going to be, pretty much, full-time confused.

I had the route to the deliveries mapped out.  That was the strength that I brought to the team.  Wendell was a better driver than I was in tight spaces.  You see, he was a Missouri farm boy and I swear that he could back a tractor trailer serpentine through a row of fence posts if he had to.  Anyway, Wendell trusted me for directions.  I had it all figured out that we could jump onto the Garden State Parkway and head south for few miles.  Then we’d get off and make a couple of turns to be right at the customer’s front door and on time for our 8:00 AM appointment.

The first problem came while Wendell was making our entrance onto the Garden State Parkway.  You see, about a hundred feet into that git-on ramp there was a sign that said, “NO TRUCKS ALLOWED ON THE GARDEN STATE PARKWAY.”  Now right off the bat I had to wonder about the common sense of the folks that put that sign up.  They clearly had never driven sixty-two feet of tractor or they would have known that one hundred feet into the git-on ramp is a little late to be putting up a sign telling the driver of a sixty-two foot long tractor trailer that he wasn't supposed to be there.

Wendell was pretty good at staying calm in these situations as long as he could depend on me to keep navigating for him.  I told Wendell to keep going down the Garden State Parkway to the very next exit and get off there if the cops didn't stop him first.  It seemed like miles and miles to the next exit.  When Wendell got to the end of the git-off ramp there was a toll booth.  This tiny white-haired lady was there waiting.  She wasn't much bigger than loading dock tall.  I think that Wendell could have swung his door open without ever touching her or a white hair of her head as she stood beside the truck looking up at him and chewing him out.

She was madder than a farm hen that had waited all day for her turn with the rooster only to find him too plumb wore out to give her service.  She was bent on telling Wendell that he wasn't supposed to be on the Garden State Parkway with a sixty-two foot long tractor trailer.  I guess it didn't occur to her that even though we found that out a little late, we did know it or why else would we be at the toll gate of her git-off ramp?  I was thinking that maybe the state of New Jersey had things a little backward because if they had put this lady guarding the git-on ramp instead of the git-off ramp it’s not likely that any sixty-two foot long tractor trailers would ever get onto the Garden State Parkway.

The lady finally calmed down enough that Wendell could ask her for help to find our delivery location.  As it turned out this was the perfect git-off ramp for us to take except that we shouldn't have been on the Garden State Parkway in the first place.  We just had to turn left from the toll gate, go down to the bottom of the hill and turn right.   There was the customer a little way down the street on the right.

It was one lucky thing that day that Wendell could back up a tractor trailer so well.  For some reason they had put some houses directly across the street from the warehouse that we had to back the trailer into.  You can probably imagine that trying to back sixty-two feet of tractor trailer into warehouse off of a street that was less than forty feet wide was no easy task.  Wendell was up to it though.  It took him a little while but he got it done and he didn't even break a curbstone.  As a matter of fact, he only left a couple of tire tracks in the front lawn of the house across the street from the receiving dock.  They got all of the windshields off of the truck that belonged in New Jersey and we headed for the big city across the river with the rest.  We stayed off of the Garden State Parkway this time.

We got across the George Washington Bridge and I pointed Wendell to his first turn.  Across the intersection from us was a smaller tractor trailer combination that was stuck between two concrete barriers on either side of it because of trying to turn too short.  We had sixty-two feet of tractor trailer, while he only had about forty-eight feet of tractor trailer.  It wasn't like we were feeling over confident about going into the city. If we had been, however, then seeing the trouble that this guy was in would have cured our overconfidence real fast.

We made the right turn according to our directions and we were watching for Jerome Street where we needed to turn right again to get the customer.  The next thing that got our attention, however, was a big black on yellow diamond-shaped sign that was on the railroad overpass in front of us.  The black numbering read 12’ 6” on that big yellow sign.  Any truck driver worth two drips off of an oily dipstick knows that means that there is only twelve and one-half feet of clearance from the pavement to the bottom of that overpass.  That’s not a problem if you’re cruising through New York City with Volkswagen minibus that you brought with you from the nineteen-sixties.  However, if you happened to be driving sixty-two feet of tractor trailer with big numbers on the corner of the trailer that read 13’ 6” then you have to know that you’re about to be in a tight spot.

You don’t have a lot of choices in a situation like this with cars and pedestrians all around you.  You can’t back up.  You can’t swing a U-turn.  Well, I had to wonder because right about then another truck came under that overpass from the other direction with no problem at all.  So, I crawled out of the window and hooked my left boot into the grab handle on the inside of the door and put my right boot through vent window as I eased my butt onto the top of the right-side rearview mirror frame.  I held onto to the air horn with one hand and a clearance light with the other so that I could size up the situation from an improved vantage point.  I thought that we must have been some spectacle to the city people but they didn't seem to notice. Back home the scene would have drawn more attention than a Main Street parade on Veteran's Day.

I told Wendell to ease on forward.  As the truck came close the overpass I could see that it would just barely fit under.  I said to Wendell that he could continue slowly.  When the back of the trailer came through we could hear the rivets on the trailer clicking against the overpass beam but we made it.  We were relieved.  That is, until we saw another sign that read NO TRUCKS.

Right away I thought of a couple of things.  First, the same folks that decide where to put up signs in New Jersey must also decide where to put them up in New York.  We were already where they didn't want us to be so it’s too late to tell us that we shouldn't be here.  The next thought that I had was that it was probably lucky for us that the little white-haired lady had her hands full in New Jersey with guarding the Garden State Parkway and all.  There was no doubt in my mind that if she had been in New York on that street right then she wouldn't have let us through a second time.

Wendell kept driving down that street and with every cross street I was checking the street signs in a relentless effort to find Jerome Street.  We eventually passed a park on the left and then I really started to wonder if we had missed Jerome Street altogether somehow.  I studied my New York City map and I could see from the cross streets going by that we were about to come up on a freeway and I told Wendell to get onto it.

I have told this story a few times over the years and to this day I couldn't tell you what freeway we were on or how we ended up back in New Jersey.  We did stay off of the Garden State Parkway though.  All I know is that we got turned around and went right back over the George Washington Bridge and into Bronx to look for Jerome Street again.  This time we found it.

As it turned out, when we were focused on the yellow diamond sign that read 12” 6” we missed the sign that read “Jerome St.”  This railroad overpass ran parallel to and above Jerome Street.  Wendell turned the truck under the tracks and onto Jerome Street.  We thought that we were home free until the truck straightened up on Jerome Street and I looked ahead and saw another yellow diamond sign.

This one read 11’ 5”.  We thought that we were in a tight spot before!  This time we had no doubt.  This was a narrow side street and the ceiling was about to get closer to the ground.  So far, the New York City population that was going about their business kept on going about their business.  That changed when we faced the 11’ 5” sign.  Now a few people came out from the sidewalks on each side to reiterate the obvious to us.  We were about to get stuck between high pavement and low tracks.

Then a guy came running out from one of the shops and said to Wendell, “Stop right there!”

Wendell looked at the 11’ 5” sign, looked at me in disbelief and then turned back to the man who had called out to us.

“Okay,” Wendell looked back at me again, still in disbelief.  It wasn't like we had two three or other obvious choices at the time.

While we sat there wondering where the receiving dock was and how we could possibly back into it off of this narrow street the guy ran around to all of the nearby shops telling people to move their cars off of the street.  Seeing that, now we were looking around for the high rise parking garage that surely had to be nearby.  Not so.

People starting coming out of shops like fire ants going after corn chip crumbs spilled on their anthill.  They moved all of the cars on the left side of the street up onto to the sidewalk until there was enough room to park a sixty-two tractor trailer on the left side of that narrow street.  Then the guys in the window shop pulled the pallets of auto windshields to the back of the trailer with a forklift and a chain and carried them into their shop with the forklift.  We were unloaded in no time, even without a receiving dock.

The last thing for us to do was to check around to make sure that we weren't leaving anything behind that we might have to come back for.  Two trips into Bronx in one day were plenty enough for Wendell and me.  The man that had run out to stop Wendell turned out to be a real nice guy.  He walked ahead of us as for a way as we were leaving to make sure that we got out without running into that 11’ 5” overpass.  He even walked with us a little farther so that we found our way back to the main artery without coming against another low overpass.