Thursday, January 04, 2007

Electric fence, the prequel

There’s a history of fencing and electrification in our family, and the earliest example of this is my grandfather’s prize bull.
This big mean bastard would break out of anything, and if the SOB started feeding in Gramma’s vegetable patch, you can bet your ass that someone was gonna get an asswhipping.
Now, gramps wasn’t adverse to asswhippings, in fact he delivered them with a sort of a flair that you don’t see today- when MY father was of such an age, the asswhippings consisted of a couple of strands of barbed wire- dad’s back, all his life, looked like raw burger meat, having been flayed and healed badly over and over. By my time, it was usually the old man’s cane, a bamboo thing that hurt badly enough that you wished it were barbedwire.No, Gramps had no problem delivering asswhippings, but I suspect he was getting his own asswhipping, figuratively, as the bull had already worked it’s way through a whole goddamned row of leaf lettuce. Gramma was pissed.
SO gramps bought a fence charger. We strung two lengths of wire, eighteen inches apart, one at the top of the existing board fence.
We tied rags onto the wire at regular intervals so the bull knew it was there. Couple times it got hit, but it was still working out a way, and we could sense it. Finally, one day, we SAW the sonofabitch life up it’s hoof, and snap first one wire then the other. And walk on through.
SO the old man got a mason jar of sorghum molasses, and soaked two ears of dried field corn in it. They soaked there a week, until the ears swelled up and the kernels were nearly popping off.
Gramps tied those ears to the wires with red shop rags, and we sit back and wait.
The bull, having just been carefully herded back into the pen, waits until we’re out of sight, and wanders up to the wire. We see it pick up a hoof to try to snap the wire, and then it spots the corn.
Now, a bull has a tongue that will put even that freak of nature Vman to shame, a couple of feet of sinuous flesh long enough to clean it’s nose or give itself a reacharound. This big bastard slips that tongue out and wraps it around that ear, and gives it a big old lick. It draws back (gramps has the charger unplugged)and smacks it’s lips, and then wraps that tongue around the ear a couple of times. Gramps turns the charger on ’steady’ (the setting that keeps it on all the time) and the bull opens it’s eues so large you can see substantially more white than dark; then it lets go and the tongue hangs lolling out of the mouth like a big limp dick, and it says “muaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhrrrrr”
deep breath “MMOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHRRER” and kept doing that for an hour.
From that momenht on, the bull, though still mean as shit, would stop in it’s tracks and piss itself if you pulled a red rag out of your pocket.
Nice, too, because there was a nice big apple tree in the middle of that field.


fence charger, part two

Not horribly long after the time of the previous post, Dad loaned the infamous Fence Charger to one of the neighbors to help keep his sorrel mare in the corral, and the neighbor’s kid had zapped himself a time or two touching it. He was the neighborhood bully, and at five years older and a solid fifty pounds heavier, I got my ass kicked by him on a regular basis. His name was Randy. I’m not gonna disguise his name because he was a prick then, and is probably, if he hasn’t overdosed since then, a prick now. John and I were leaning on the edge of the corral watching Randy ride, (god forbid he let Us ride, or anything) and said ‘how does that wussy old electric fence keep that horse in, anyway?’ I was about to slap him and I noticed his hand. Rand couldn’t see it, but where John was pointing, you could see the charger from where we stood, and the pulse was set way out. It went six, seven seconds before it hit. Randy, always ready to make an ass out of himself, said “yeah, well touch it then” SO john did. being more coordinated than me he was able to juuust let go when the light came on. I said “what’s the big deal? John and I used to piss on this thing when it was at my house” Randy, ever the ass, said “Well, let’s see ya do it now, you fucks” So We unzipped, and let the strem cross the wires, as long as the light was off, and we were fine. Apparently Randy didn’t know the deal about the timer. “That don’t mean nothing. THe piss isn’t metal, it ain’t gonna zap you” SO he swings a leg off the horse, straddles one stirrup and the board top rail of the fence, and starts to piss. He stays on for a couple seconds and says ‘See, you turds? this ain’t AAAAAAAAAGHHH!” and keels over backwards, one foot still in the stirrup, while the horse stands still (thankfully)and he starts thrashing around on the ground, stiff teenage cock at attention, still pissing all over himself, hanging by his foot from his horse.
For reasons still unknown to me, but I suspect known to the horse, the horse starts pissing, and the stream hits randy’s thigh and splashes all over him too. John and I run home, laughing so hard we can barely stand it. Randy tries to beat our asses later but to no avail.


confession is good for the soul

But if anyone of the people I’m gonna mention read this story, I’ll probably go to jail.
Around my twelfth year, I spent a lot of time hanging around with a kid named…. we’ll call him John. John was a lot like me, pretty solitary, massively curious, dangerous to be around.
Anyway, cutting to the chase, John had a sister.. we’ll call her Judy. Judy was fifteen, but she had a problem with bedwetting. She was, in all other respects, perfectly normal, but she wet the bed nearly every night. Her exhasperated parents had tried everything.Well, almost everything.
Dad had a bird dog that loved to go off. If you didnt’ chain this sucker down, it would be all over the damned place, and usually was. Dad’s answer to this was to get an electric fence charger and put a single strand of hot wire on the top of our chain link fence, and the dog stayed home. It convinced the dog so thoroughly that the mere sight of the wire was enough to keep it from jumping, so dad was able to eventually leave the charger completely off. Not, though before John and I had learned about pissing on a fence wire.
‘hey, that a lectric fence’? he said to me one day..
“Yep, dad put it up to keep Ginger in”
‘Cool!’ You know if you pee on one it’ll shock you!’
“No, I didn’t know that!” Of course, in nine seconds we had discreetly unzipped and were working up a stream. We had to pee a little uphill because of the location of the wire, but I finally managed to hit it.
To anyone who knows nothing of fence chargers, you may not know that they deliver a pulse of some fairly potent juice, but to keep them from drawing a ton of juice, they only pulse on every few seconds, and then for only a short time.So when I first hit the wire, I didn’t feel a thing.“hey, you’re full of shOOOOWWW! OWWWW OWWWW! Why the HELL did you tell me to do that?”
‘I didn’t, but it doesnt’ feel that “SONOFABITCH!!!!” as the pulse hit him.
Now, under any circumstances, a couple of twelvesomething kids with raging hardons and jangling balls would be cause for alarm, but a tiny bell went off in my head.
“We could use this for Judy!”
‘we’ll never get her to pee on this wire’
“No, I mean we can hook this up to her bed. If she pees, it’ll make her wake up and she won’t pee the bed the next time”
‘You’re a genius!’
For a brief moment I flashed forward. Honorariums to major halls of learning,accolades galore, a huge bronze statuary reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty, the love of all bedwetters worldwide to have been relieved of their horrible burden. A trip to Sweden, surrounded by my adoring fans, to collect a special Nobel prize minted solely for my accomplishment.
‘How will it work?’ said John, snapping me back to reality.“Simple. We’ll get two pieces of aluminum window screen, and hook ‘em up to the juice. Then we’ll put a piece of cloth between ‘em to keep ‘em from sparking, and when she pees, it’ll short out and she’ll be cured instantly!”
So we spent a couple of days digging around for components, and finally, one night, we snuck into her very girly room to fix it all up. We took the fence charger from my house, and sat it under her bed, connected the wires from it to the screens, and separated the screen with an extra sheet. I had already arranged to spend the night, so John and I settled in, both of us in sleeping bags, in his living room.
I lay there imagining the gratitude of Judy’s parents as they woke in the morning to find their daughter completely cured, and, since she WAS an “Older woman” there were certain other things I imagined as well, things Judy would be doing for, or more to the point to, me, out of sheer thankfullness. I drifted off to sleep, writing my coronation speech in my head.
About eleven, the entire household, fourteen dogs, and a couple of people living in peru were awakened by a bloodcurdling scream
Nobody but John and I understand the timing and duration of the screams is in harmony with the pulsation of the fence charger, but everyone soon finds out. John, between blows,is explaining how it’s all my idea, and he had no part of it, and besides she’ll be fine anyway.I slip into my clothes wihtout bothering to get out of the sleeping bag and run down the street, being chased by Judy, her mother and father, the maternal grandmother who lives with them, and at least two stray dogs. I hit the basement door inches ahead of them and slam it behind me, lock it, and crawl into bed, the sleeping bag still bulky under my clothing. Good thing, too, becuase dad tore me up when he got off work and got home to find a large contingent of the neighborhood waiting for him in the driveway. His brass-buckled Comfort Razor Strop rarely flew with such fury, and had I not had the extra padding of my sleeping bag I’d probably be a paraplegic now.
Still. I think it might have worked if we’d had restraints and an effective muzzle.
I think Judy still sleeps on the couch to this day.


Horse Whisperer

No, I’m not gonna talk about a Robert Redford movie.
Dad was a horse whisperer. Not in some magical sense, but a guy who was good from horses from birth. It’s a bit of old folklore that a horse whisperer is weaned on the milk of a morgan mare, and dad was.
I know he hated it.I know he was called on to deal with horses with problems- people would call dad before they called a vet- and as often as not he could help them. Sometimes I helped him clean up a bad hoof- he kept a hoof knife in his truck his whole life- and sometimes we’d lance a boil or an infection. Most of the time, he’d get a horse that would shy at the sight of a fence, or something strange like that. Sometimes he’d hook up a horse owner with a goat, or a dog. Some horses wold be calm if there was a goat around, some would chill out around the right kind of a dog.It was a pretty common thing for people to have problems getting a saddle cinched up, or getting on the horse once saddled, because they were afraid, the horse sensed it, and would shy, or sometimes kick out. So dad would put his big arm over the horse’s neck, lay his palm on the head with his fingers down the forehead, and bite the horses left ear. Not hard, mind you, but firm., the horses ear tight between dad’s canines. Enough pressure and dad could easily draw blood, and the horse knew it. Now the owner could get in the saddle, or get the belly band cinched properly, and after a couple of times the owner got over his/her apprehension. I always figured they called guys like dad horse whisperers because of the ear thing. I guess it did look like dad was whispering to the horse- he was always careful never to let the owner see him bite. Maybe that’s a trade secret I’ve given away, I don’t know.
I sometimes went with dad to take out sick or old horses, long in the teeth. The horses most often knew it was coming, and didn’t need much in the way of explanation. We’d get them to a spot in the yard away from view where the truck could come with it’s hoist. Dad would give them some grain soaked in sorghum,or whatever their personal favorite thing was. He’d hold their head and give it to them with a Kerner humane cattle killer, get out of the way as they fell to the ground. He always wanted to use morphine or something similar, but the kerner was fast and efficient. Some of the local shops wouldn’t take meat that had drugs in it either. He never charged for this, the vets woulc charge a lot for the morphine, but dad figured the family had enough to deal with.
Dad saw people that didn’t take care of their horses, out of malice or ignorance, saw people who had no more business having horses than the man in the moon. He didn’t really like horses either, having had more than his share of injuries riding them in rodeos. He did something that was distasteful to him, something he was programmed to do by his parents, because it was a tough dirty job that needed doing. If I’m ever 1/100th the man Dad was, I’ll be a giant, I think. I think that every time I think of him.

Calvin Wyatt

62 years ago, My uncle, Calvin Wyatt, was scratching his way across Omaha beach. As far as I can determin, he was not in the first wave- I believe he was in the 116th Infantry, from what information I was able to gather. Probably why he survived the war. He didn’t talk much about it. He talked instead about his fears, saw the homes and farms of the people of france and thought about his home and farm. Thought about how easy it would be for us to be attacked on our own soil. Thought about the horrors of war.
Calvin dragged his rifle and pack, wet and nasty, across that beach, up those hills. Waded through a tide of blood. Bodies and body parts. Omaha beach was a meat grinder, and he saw it with his own eyes.
Calvin was 20 when he hit the beach. Wiry and tough. A kid, who had his whole world ahead. Less than a year earlier he had stepped out of the county where he was born for the first time. Now,he’s setting foot on the european continent for the first time, bullets whizzing, mortars going off. He survived. He made it through.
There were other fights, no doubt. There were other moments of fear, but I imagine none sho harsh as that moment on Omaha beach when he jumped out of that Higgins boat.
In Normandy, in a foxhole, on his 21st birthday, October 19, he caught mortar shrapnel in his right arm, which shredded him. And put him out of the action, once and for all.
Medicine in wartime france wasn’t much to speak of. They managed to put some of the pieces together. He lost the elbow permanently, and never bent that arm again, it ended up at a permanent slight angle. And it caused him some pain for the rest of his life.Here he is in the front yard of a rented home with his eldest child Ben. Handsome devil, ain’t he?Calvin saw things I hope I never see. He gave the use of his arm for his country. He suffered in silence all his life, until he died, at age 76, in 1999. He and my father were very close, and when I think of either of them, I think of both of them. Wherever they are now, I’m sure they’re as inseperable as they were then.
God Bless and keep Calvin Wyatt in the hollow of his mighty hand. God smite all those who would cast aspersions on his service, his honor, his love for his family and friends. And Dad, buy Calvin a beer today on me.


Things I've learned

When I was around eighteen years old, I learned that engines didn’t grow in oak trees. I hung many a chain over many a branch hoping for a nice small block, or a new slant six for the old Valiant but never had any luck with it. I remember driving through new neighborhoods asking dad “there are no trees. Where do the motors go?”
I was nearly fourteen before I understood they were saying “Void where prohibited”. prior to that I thought they were saying “Boys were prohibited” All those contests I missed out on. Damn.
I was twenty one when I discovered the way to cure a nymphomaniac was to marry her.
I was almost eleven before I realized my sister wasn’t just a kid mom was babysitting for the neighbors. Thing was, I got slapped every time I asked “when are we gonna send her back?”. You’d think I’d have figured it out sooner.
We moved nine times int he first eight years of my life. Dad would rent a place cheap, (in those days cheap was thirty, thirty five bucks a month) and fix/clean/upgrade it out of pocket, then the landlord would show up and say “This place is too nice for thirty bucks a month. Your rent is now $90 a month” and we’d move. I thought you HAD to move every year.
I was ten when I learned Gary Miller had pubic hair and I didn’t. Freaked me out, he looked like some kind of animal. I plucked my pubes until I was fourteen. THen it just got to be too much
I was forty three when I learned not to drink the WHOLE bottle of whiskey at once.
I wonder what things I’ll learn next?


Well deserved asswhippings

When I was a kid, I remember seeing Il Trovatore on some public channel, and they had the anvils wired electrically or some such thing so that when the guys hit the anvil sparks flew out. I thought it was the coolest damned thing there was.
I got the idea, hey, why couldn’t I do the same kind of thing? Turns out I could
Remember Stallion Caps? the little round self adhesive caps that certain kinds of capguns used? well, I had a big handful of them, and i loved using them. Beat ‘em with rocks, lay ‘em on your skin and hit ‘em with a ruler, I thought they rocked. SO I thought nothing of it, when, in the middle of a roof construction job I’d put a whole bag of them on random roofing nails.
Dad was re-roofing the house, see, and since he had a day job, he was doing it a little at a time, at night. Turned out to be a big pain in the ass, but what the hell. Anyway, one night, as it’s getting darker, he asks me for more nails. I climb up the ladder with the box, whch he puts in his apron, and immeditatley grabs one of the “modified” nails. He takes one swing, the cap pops, a little yellowish flame jets out from under the hammer, and he grabs me by the straps of my bib overalls, and smacks my ass in midair.
hey, i thought it was cool.
Dad, busy with the roof, was less than amused. Imagine that.


Dad and guns

Dad worked a lot. A LOT. What time we had to spend together was pretty scarce and mostly, it involved work. Those times we hunted, or fished, or vacationed together, were pretty awesome.
One thing I never had an opportunity to do, one thing he loved, was rabbit hunting out on Beaver Island Michigan. He went up a couple years in a row, for a week each time, and before I had an opportunity to join him he’d died.
I did get to be there in spirit, though. A couple years before he died, he mentioned he had always wanted a light double for rabbit hunting, and since I was never any good at figuring out what dad wanted or needed, I took the bait.
It took a while, but i found a clean, well kept LeFever Nitro Special, in 20 gauge.
I gave it to him for Christmas. Took it out to him wrapped in a blanket, and gave it to him in the garage. Away from the women, where the tools were. Smelling of wood chips and oil and old wood fires.
Dad unfolded the blanket and sat it on the bench. He picked it up and put it back down again. Then he picked it up, broke it open, looked down the barrel, and sat it down on the bench again.
Dad was never good about showing his emotions, but tears welled up in his eyes.
Sorry, I can’t talk about it any more. It was a good Christmas.


As time goes on

the lens of time does refocus things. Dad was my nemesis when I was a kid, and that’s the way of the world. I wanted to make nitroglycerine, he put the kibosh on that. I wanted to nair several of the neighborhood cats- even saved the money and bought the nair- no dice. I wanted to give the dog a mowhawk- OK, I DID give the dog a mowhawk, but I got my ass whipped for it… Anyway, the point is, I look at al the shit I wanted to do, tried to do, tried to get away with, and all the times dad thwarted me. he seemed to have a sixth sense about the type of trouble I would get into, up to and including collecting shot and rock salt in disagreements over the ownership of produce. Sometimes the shot got dug out. Sometimes the rock salt sat there and dissolved, and was a long term painful reminder as to why I shouldn’t have been coveting the watermelons in that specific field in the first place.
Anyway, as time goes on, I look back at those moments and think less and less about the asswhippings,etc., because I have now well and truly learned the lessons they taught. I can think of them as much needed reinforcements. On the extra hand, I can think more clearly of the good moments, which I do, a great deal.
One such moment happened on a cool afternoon like today, not long after I got my driver’s license. Dad had just come out of one of his many surgeries, and he was sitting around the house grousing because he couldn’t drive. “Where do you want to go anyway?” I asked him. ‘hell, i don’t know. Maybe I’d like to go fishing” so I said hell, let’s do it. We hopped in his truck, me driving, drove down to lake shaffer in Monticello Indiana, a couple hours drive. I was off for a couple days, we both had valid licenses. Dad had just had surgery on his left arm- he’d had an infection in the bone marrow that after scraping it al out had left his humerus eggshell thin. He couldn’t do much besides reel in with it, and since he had a baitcasting reel I loaned him a spinner. That way he could cast with his right arm and just reel with his left, not put too much strain on it.
We stood on dry stones below the dam and cast out into the river. We didn’t catch a lot of fish, but we caught a few, and we sat on the shore frying them in a pan over a little primus stove. Pop had a beer, though he wasn’t suposed to, and I drank a Doctor pepper from a bottle. We hardly talked the whole time. The image of dad standing on those rocks, his pipe bit in his mouth and the aroma of fivestar surrounding him, ballcap on his head,reeling in palm sized bluegills and rebaiting his hook… The memories that count, the true memories, the real memories; they come shining through at the moments we least expect.
I try hard not to be as absent as Dad was, he had a job schedule and a private life that excluded him from being home very much. Most of the time when we were together we were working together, fixing someone’s car, fence, roof, remodeling the school dorms, etc. The moments we had together just he and I have been lost a long time. Now, the history of my misspent youth fades and those times snap into focus- the day’s stubble of his beard, the smell of that pipe, the way he struck a kitchen match on the seam of his Dickies. i can see them now, more clearly than ever before. Sometimes I can even write about those things without going insane with the pain of having lost him. I also am more aware of the times I don’t spend with the oglet, and try to stretch them.
Last week I had another of those moments, and when i did, I got in my car and drove over to mom’s to give her a big hug. I think she thought i was nuts. I’m glad these memories are coming back now, when i can try to write them with some level of eloquence. I’m glad I have these moments to remind me to appreciate those i have yet.
On the way home, dad slept with his head up against the corner of ther truck’s cab. I took the pipe out of his hand lest he burn himself, and as it was darkening, I could see it had a cherry there yet, I put it to my lips and drew a big deep draw, pulled the rough smoke into my lungs, held it there a bit, exhaled it slowly through my nose to catch every nuance of the aroma. I put the pipe in the ashtray and drove the rest of the way home.

hunting dogs

Dad loved bird dogs- in particular, Brittany Spaniels. We had a couple over the years, and they were all our favorite dog.
Pebbles was the one I remember with the most fondness, because she was the only dog dad ever tried to hunt with. We’d take her, on a long leash, to cornfields adjacent to our neighborhood, and let her run quail and pheasant. We took shotguns with us, most of all to get her used to the report of the gun, but also to get her used to seeing the birds fall, and getting them.
We were pumped about taking her hunting for real. Only one real test remained.
Dad and I went out a couple days into grouse season, walked the edge of a cornfield with Pebbles. He unclipped her lead, and she ran off into the field in search of birds. She circled and circled and circled, and we thought, crap, we’ve trained her not to enter the field by having her on a leash- but she started going in deeper and deeper each time. Finally we stopped hearing her and we walked along the end of the rows to see if we could find her. About thirty rows in, we saw her, standing at instinctive perfect point. We walked up to her as quietly as we could, and when she heard us, she looked over her shoulder and dad signalled her to go in- she flushed a covey of quail that I swear to god, blotted out the afternoon sun for fifteen seconds. Dad shot into the tail of the flock and got our limit for the day for both of us, and we walked home.
The next day, we went back out and did the same thing, but this time Pebbles was circling a couple trees and running along a fencerow. We tried to follow but we never could catch up, and it got dark before we could get her, hollering and whistling.
We walked back to the house in quiet. Dad said “maybe she’s got on a point and is still waiting”. Nothing else. I kept quiet, sensing his fears. We always loved our dogs. Pebbles was closest to dad of all the dogs we’d ever had.
Late that night, sitting in the basement picking cockleburrs out of our game clothes, we heard a whine in the driveway. Dad walked outside and pebbles flew into his arms. he carried her to the basement and we cleaned burs from her fur, combed her down, pulled haw thorns from her footpads. Dad kept scratching her ears and she kept licking his face. I finally gave in to my weariness and went upstairs to bed, and in the morning, I found dad stretched out in an old recliner we had in the basement, with Pebbles curled up on his lap. Mom had covered them up with an old horseblanket.
We never hunted with pebbles again. I don’t think dad could stand the idea that he might lose her.
When dad died, pebbles was still young, and when he didn’t come home from work to give her her treat, she sat on the stack of railroad ties in the yard with her chin on the top edge of the chain link fence for three days, waiting for her master who would never return. Dad’s headstone bears their likeness, a man and a dog hunting in a field of tall corn, windmill in the distance.
Damn, now I have to stop again.

More dogblogging

When we were five for dinner, mom, dad, my sister and I, and Gramma, Mom and Sis sat on the refrigerator side of the table, I sat on the opposite side, and Dad and Gramma sat at opposite head ends.
We had a pepro-bismol pink dinette with chrome chairs that had shiny vinyl cushions. Ugly as the asshole of a goat. They were of the classical Bruer design, and they took quite a beating during their life.
Gramma was a big woman, fore and aft. The chair she sat in showed this by it’s sag- and one day, it let loose.
Now, as I have said before, Lucky sat underneath any chair my grandmother was on. We all sat there, eating jello chocolate pudding out of mom’s faux wood salad bowls, and gramma’s chair creaked. And then she was gone. She dropped from sight like magic, she was there and thennot there so fast we thought the rapture had come. this was followed by a quick yipe, and we all looked under the table. The dog, sensing something amiss, had scooted out from under the chair in the nick of time and yiped, not because of being crushed, but because of running headlong into mom’s avocado Norge, and rebounding off, just to have gramma’s pudding dropped on her furry little head. Gramma sat there surrounded by the pieces of her disembodied chair, the dog next to her covered with pudding.
Dad was concerned, of course, for gramma AND the dog, but then he had to leave the room, his face red with supressed laughter. My sister and I feared additional helpings of slumgullion if we laughed, so we shut up. I gave gramma my chair and ate my pudding standing up. Gramma ate dad’s pudding, and lucky ate gramma’s. Dad sat on the basement steps holding his sides and laughing like Muttley, trying to keep quiet enough not to piss gramma off.
yes, Lucky licked Gramma’s teeth that night too.
Afterwards dad bought a set of six institutional chairs, the ones restaurants use, tough indestructible things.

Winter of 67

Hard to believe, now, that forty years have passed.
In the fall of 1966 we’d had some seriously wierd weather. I remember a bonfire in late november, a snowstorm that followed, and a late indian summer that uncovered the ashes of the bonfire in a single day, from six inches of snow.
My walk to the schoolbus was only half a block at that time; I didn’t start walking uphill for three miles to school until I was in my teens. So the snow that flurried around my buckle-on galoshes and made me pull my parka tighter was never much of an inconvenience, and in fact, the school bus shelter (built by the parents of the neighborhood) was good shelter from the wind.
So nobody expected that January storm. Weather radar wasn’t shit then. When 23 inches fell practically overnight, it paralyzed Chicago for ages.
Now, we were one of those “survivalist” families you read about. Well, not really- Mom & dad had both lived through the worst of the Depression, and had learned to save and store. Mom canned vegetables, put up fruit, dad filled the freezer with rabbit and quail and pheseant. We bought sides of beef at a time. We bought canned goods by the pickuptruckload. So, Dad got home at noon, before the storm started, and I was already home, mom and sis were at home. We sat and watched it storm.
In the morning, snowdrifts covered the yard, some as high as the roof. Dad clambered up onto the roof to make sure the furnace chimney was clear. We started shovelling.
Dad and the neighbors worked together to clear everyone’s driveways, and keep them clear when the snowplows eventuqally came, which wasn’t for several days. I busied myself clearing our front walk, which frankly, wasn’t such a big deal. Nobody was going out on it anyway. So I started working on the piles of snow still left on the driveway below the raised walk. Gary miller, my next door neighbor, was on the sidewalk using a spade- and we managed to spin and connect at the exact same time.
The spade cut my right eyelid just about off. It was hanging by a thread. My eye was miraculously unhurt. My mother fainted.
Gary’s mom, a registered nurse at a local hospital, wiped off the blood, squished me up against their dining table with her huge mammaries, and butterfly-taped the tiny eyelid back together as meticulously as you can imagine. To this day, i don’t have a scar to speak of. She took a can of Welches frozen grape concentrate and told me to jhold it against my head.
I wasn’t allowed outside the rest of the duration of the snowed-in week. Pissed me off, I could see the neighbor kids all out there building snow tunnels and caves and igloos big enough to park cars in, and i was stuck inside wearing PJ’s and watching Captain kangaroo. I haven’t yet forgiven Gary for that.
People who lived in the area, got any memories of 67?

Dad Dogblogging

Dad loved dogs. He liked having them around the house, and while he would have loved to had a home full of bird dogs, we ended up with Lucky.
Lucky was the “inside dog”. A small pekingese/toy manchester mix. Slept at the foor of Gramma’s bed for years, and when Gramma died, slept at the foot of my bed.
Anyway: We went to visit a friend of dad’s. This happened a lot. Dad would go to drop some cash or food or heating oil off to someone who had fallen on hard luck, or talk to a guy who was cheating on his wife about the error of his ways. Sometimes there were.. interesting things that happened. Dad goes into a house, and a few minutes later, a guy comes flying out the bay window, followed by a couch. Dad comes out the door, dusts himself off and gets in the car.
So we go out to this farm. It’s right after mass, so we know it’s not going to be a “tuneup” visit, more like a ” bud needs $120 to send his kid so she can get out of jail in poughkeepsie” visit. We sit in the car- a 72 Olds 98 Dad bought from the local bank president. Dad goes in, the cold winter air blasting into the car for a minute, and then comes back out. My sister and i sit in the backseat blowing breath on the window and playing tic-tac-toe,mom in ther front doing the Hammond Times crossword. Dad puts the Olds in reverse, backs down the long driveway, and pulls back out on to SR2. We are about five miles away when we hear a muffled whine.
Dad reaches into the breast pocket of his big black wool overcoat, and pulled out a puppy. It couldn’t have been more than the size of his fist, and it never got more than five pounds. My sister and I were immediately in love, and we called it Lucky. We should maybe have called her Licky, because she would lick anything, anywhere, anytime.
Lucky was the primary dog of my youth. She lived a long time, finally succumbing to heart attacks caused by heartworms- in those days, worming wasn’t something anyone paid any attention to. I remember watching her have a heart attack, straining and keeling over.. I picked her up and held her, panting and drooling, as her tiny heart raced. I looked in her eyes and saw the pain there, wanted so desperately to stop it, to make it go away. I had no idea what to do so I gave her an aspirin, sat with her on the livingroom floor. She made it through, lived a couple years beyond that, even.
There are a lot of Lucky stories, I’ll post more later.


Driving in Iowa

I spent a large portion of Monday in Iowa, and am much the worse for wear.
Now, most of the fine Iowagians were, I’m sure, at work when I was on the road. The ones troubling me were the ones who had no more to do but piss in my cornflakes.
So for your edification, here are a few “new” rules of the road for those who might be driving in Iowa and not be familiar with the Way Things Work.1: Never come to a COMPLETE stop when turning off of one road onto another.The vehicle must never come to a complete stop, but it must APPEAR to do so, in fact the motion ust be so slight as to be visible only with the aid of time-lapse photography.
2: When turning left, do so as if you can see a distant car approaching, and you are waiting for it to pass before completing your turn. It matters not whether a car is actually approaching, in fact, should you wait long enough, a car will invariably approach. Turn at the very last moment, forcing the oncoming car to slam on it’s brakes and skid dangerously close to the 12′ ravine known as a “ditch” on either side of the road.
3: When turning right, act EXACTLY as you do when turning left. The only prerequisite is to veer to the left slightly before beginning your turn so that no traffic may pass from either direction.
4: Completing the turn must be done by removing one’s foot from the brake but making NO EFFORT to touch the accelerator, allowing the vehicle, instead, to coast into the new direction. Make sure your idle is set low enough to allow the vehicle to stall once or twice. Note: if you have a manual shift vehicle, grind the transmission through all available gears INCLUDING reverse, causing the vehicle to lurch and stall in as many directions as possible. At no point attempt to clear the road for following or oncoming traffic.
5: Weave. Weave all over the road while talking on the telephone, smoking a cigarette, chewing tobacco (spitting helps) and eating something from Hardees. make sure you touch the gravel shoulder on BOTH sides of the road at least five times each mile. Be unpredictable so oncoming or following cars cannot get past you without fearing for their sheet metal.
I’m not saying, this is how it SHOULD be done, of course, I’m just relating How Things Are.



When I was in school, I was pretty lucky to have had the benefit of what is now considered a “classical” education. I went to an all-male school, in which we learned certain things by rote, when that was appropriate, read the classic literature (Homer, not Salinger) in the original where appropriate, and corporal punishment was meted out with equal vigor for academic failure as well as for bad behavior.
Trust me when I tell you: I got a lot of asswhippings.
Academically, I wasn’t up to the standard of that school, for a variety of reasons, the most common being attention span. I could do really well for the first nine days of school, and I wanted to be off hunting or fishing or something other than sitting in a classroom with a scratchy suit on. So I drifted. Didn’t pay atention. Didn’t like homework.
Anything I applied myself to, I did well. I got a’s effortlessly. I hated history(freaky, becuase I LOVE it now) I hated english. (we had to read the dumbest goddamned books) I HATED just about every subject there was, with the exception of chemistry and physics. FOr Chemistry, we had Father Ed Frizzell. He was tack sharp, and knew his chem back and forth. Physics was Father Moskal, an aging patriarch who had actually started the school, and I learned most physics from him- before I was in class. When I got to my senior year, which is when we took physics, we had Wayne Woolford. I swear to god, Wayne wore tweed underwear. he had a little book marked off in quarters of an hour for each student (12) and would mark “NIS” (not in seat) if we were up and around (which was strictly verboten). He had about as much control over the class as a fart in a hurricane, and it showed. I did well in the class but not brilliantly. When Fr Moskal taught, he’d demonstrate principles of physics by little homemade mechanisms, or cutaway/dismantled objects. Fired up a small gasoline engine in class to demonstrate it’s principles, and from it the class learned more than all the diagrams in textbooks could ever tell.
Wayne, on the other hand, relied entirely on the text, and it was a drag. I always regretted not having Physics until the year after Fr moskal retired, but you have to do what you have to do, I guess.
Anyway, when I went to Purdue, I found that academically, I was about a year ahead of the students that had come from public schools.(though I was far from the first i my class in high school) I did most work with little effort, and frankly, had “boredom” added to the “short attention span”. And then I saw what Purdue was producing, as far as engineers were concerned. At that time, Inland Steel was hiring apprentice millwrights at $25k a year, starting pay, and Mechanical Engineers at $16k a year.
So I left, went to work at Inland, and let them pay for the balance of my engineering education.
I went through a millwrights program, where I learned to weld using stick, gmaw, tig, subarc, and a number of other disciplines. I learned pipefitting. Pipefitting seems like a stupid occupation, doesn’t it? Not so. A pipefitter does calculations in his head that would stagger a mathemetician, at times. I learned machine operation- I can run a lathe, a mill, a surface grinder, a blanchard grinder, a shaper, a planer, all sorts of stuff. I don’t consider myself a machinist, or a toolmaker, because in my mind it takes ten years to make a real machinist, and another twenty to make a toolmaker. Nothing but experience can give you those skills, no matter how good you are. I learned enough metallurgy to get by. I spent time working on, and had to learn to drive, just about eveyr kind of heavy equipment known to man, from little bobcats and loaders to huge cranes and forklifts capable of lifting a locomotive engine.
Since finishing that apprenticeship, I have continued to learn, and I always will- I know there is always something around the corner to learn, and where machines are concerned, I’m excited to do so.
Recently, I happened across a pile of old pictures that I had stashed away years ago, and though I had been under the impression I only had one picture of Dad (more on that jan 21) and now it seems I have another.
This particular day, less than a year before dad’s death, I had come down to visit. Dad was grilling chicken- that’s a bottle of marinade next to him there. Mom was gone and he and I sat in the yard and played with the dog, smelled the chicken, listened to the whippoorwills in the neighborhood, and talked. Dad never talked much, but whern he did, it was always worthwhile. Below the fold is the conversation, as I remember it.
“I didn’t want you to go to college at first. I thought you’d do better as a mechanic, or a machinist.”“that’s what I’m doing now, pop. I never was any good at sitting in class.”“me neither. I sometimes wish I had more education but I was glad to not have to sit in that classroom anymore”.“I like my job, pop. I like what I do, and it’s a good job”“I know. I’m glad you got to find out college wasn’t for you. I’m glad you understand what real work is”.“I understand, pop”.“Chicken’s ready to be turned”He got up, opened the grill, flipped the chicken- the aroma still a comfort memory“You remember Bill’s kid, ____? ”“yeah, yeah I do, pop. What about him? He went out east to school, right?”“Yeah. He was what, at Ford, we call an educated fool”“I think I know what you mean, pop. Good grades. No common sense”.“yep. He’s in management now, a shift supervisor. He don’t know his ass from a fire engine”“I’m not surprised. he was always a cocky bastard”.“the people who have to work for him all hate him, and he gets his car keyed once a week or has to put new tires on his car.”“That doesn’t surprise me either”.“well, I was afraid that’s what you’d be. Let’s eat.”
That’s all that was ever said. Mom came home, we ate in silence. I was still young enough that I thought I knew everything, but it seemed already that dad sensed I wouldn’t grow up to be a spoiled brat, who thinks he knows everything, and wants his way no matter who it hurts. I think, in that moment, he knew I’d make mistakes, but I think he also knew I’d do OK.
Thanks pop.


Monday, August 14, 2006

witness marks

A witness mark is a mark made by the builder of a machine- or a firearm- that indicates the place where two parts line up- or where they should.
It’s also used to refer to the spot on a machine where two items have made repeated enough contact. The spot where a bumper hits the frame on an offroad vehicle, the place where a cam follower rubs agains the cam, the spot where your keys rub the dash smooth hanging from the ignition.
On my tractor, there’s a spot where if you stick your fingers through the spokes you touch the steering column. I never noticed I do this, I just do. Now that I have noticed it, I remember dad doing it too.
And today, I noticed, that the years and years and years of sticking my fingers through the spokes as I steer and dad doing the same, the paint has worn completely through. We’ve left the same witness mark on the tractor, father and son, thirty years of doing the same thing.
I think about the other things Dad did that left their mark, and I realize that some of those witness marks were left on me. And I’m trying to leave them on my child. What witness marks do you bear? Where will you leave your witness mark?


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dingo dog!

We had a mixed Pekingese/Toy Mancester pup named Lucky that had a thing about it's hindquarters. If you snuck up on it and poked it in the butt it would growl and jump and snap, and as long as you were out of the way, it was a sight to behold.

Anyway. one sunday evening in the spring, a day a lot like today, I was working on a homework assignment, (or supposed to be) but I was actually laying on the floor in the hallway watching Marlin Perkins photographing Dingoes somewhere Down Under.

Anyway, I'm watching, and Lucky is laying asleep under dad's feet, dad is sitting back in his LazyBoy juust beginning to snore. Dad's feet are a mess- he couldn't afford decent shoes when he was a kid, and as an adult, he wore mostly work shoes that tortured him. He had bunions, and callouses, and corns galore, just about every day he'd soak his feet in Epsom salts trying to get the corns soft enough to be abraded off. I'm pretty sure they were probably always tender and in some kind of pain.

Anyway, Marlin, on screen, is talking about how the 'dingo has no bark, and makes almost no sound in the wild' and I though to myself, "Lucky sure ain't a dingo" so I poked lucky with the sharp end of the pencil and yelled "DINGO DOG!!" and lucky flew straight up in the air, came down snapping and biting at dad's tortured feet, and in ten seconds, a furious re-enactment of the little known Bruce Lee film, 'Flying Belts of Fury" began to take place in the living room, when dad ripped off his belt, and began to wail on me, the dog, the wall, the lamp, his chair, the TV set, and the doorframe. He yelled in his big basso profundo voice for me to get my ass back to my homework, the dog to get back in it's cage, turned the TV off, and limped off to bed. I had belt welts on my armpits, and I deserved them deeply.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Welcome to my regular life.

I'm not anybody special. I grew up a regular kid. I have a lot of stories. I think I'm good at telling them. You decide.