Friday, June 15, 2018

Land Cruiser

Orange County, CA, late 1960s.


Part I

Bill arrived early to the military base to report for work, only to be promptly advised that the meeting had been rescheduled for the next day. He was a subcontractor performing highly specialized electrical engineering work with various clearance authorizations. With the morning freed up he stopped at the commissary for a donut and coffee, then decided to take his Land Cruiser off-roading. It was a unique and reliable vehicle befitting of his character.

He had been off-roading through many of the local hills, but there remained another quadrant that he had not yet engaged. It would happen this morning. He enjoyed being alone in the sunny outdoors away from the nuisance that often came with human interaction. Nothing ever bothered him when he was off-roading. At least, not until today’s incident.

He’d been out for 30 minutes when he approached a hill. He could see where he was going, that is, he could see the front of the hill, but wasn’t exactly sure what was beyond it. Not to worry, he thought, there’s been little else he saw that would be a problem for him or his very capable vehicle. For a thrill he went, perhaps, a little faster than he should have. The vehicle went over the top, a lengthy downhill slope with a rock-laden dry river bed at the bottom awaited him. This, he saw very clearly once he was over the top, but there wasn’t enough distance to stop. All he could do was turn the wheel and prevent a head on collision with a large rock outcropping. A destructive collision was avoided, but the toll had been decisively exacted. The vehicle came to rest lodged solidly between two sets of rocks in an access-deficient ravine. There was no driving away from this, he was stuck!

Bill released his seat belt, got out of the vehicle, and drank from his canteen. He stood back with his hands on his hips to assess this troubling development. “Well, shit,” he concluded. The Land Cruiser was almost fully on it side and only two wheels made contact with the ground. The rocks were much larger than could be moved manually, plus this was an awkward area where it would be difficult to get the necessary heavy equipment in place to extricate the vehicle. ‘Oh well,’ thinking to himself. ‘It’s early, yet. I’ll walk back to where I saw that house and ask for help.’

By 10:00 he reached the dwelling and stood at the front door. He straightened his shirt, dusted his pants off and placed his sunglasses in his shirt pocket. He knocked on the door and hoped for the best. A grizzly looking man answered the door, smirked and said, “What?” 

The situation was explained while standing there by the front door. With little other discourse and an absence of pleasantries they took a drive in the man’s Jeep to see the situation and assess the scene of the incident. Standing at the crest of the hill they looked at the Land Cruiser's predicament from 50 feet away and agreed that it appeared solidly wedged.

“Will you help me get the vehicle out,” Bill started off. “We can hook up chains between the two vehicles and pull it loose.”

The other guy was in no mood to be agreeable. “I tell you what. Your car appears good and stuck. Also, you’re trespassing, you’re on my land.”

“Look, I didn’t see a trespassing sign or a fence. I just followed the dirt road. I’m sorry, will you help me out,” Bill offered with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“I won’t help you with the vehicle. This is my land and I won’t allow a towing service on my land to get the car. But I will help you. The vehicle’s stuck and ain’t going nowhere, might as well be worthless.” After a short pause he continued, “I’ll offer you $100 for it. I’ll even give you a ride back to town.”

The discussion went on for another few minutes and Bill saw this was not going to get fixed to his liking. If you and I were there to witness the close of this discussion we would have seen Bill look him in the eyes and deliver a meaningful and unhurried, “You go to hell.” No deal. He hiked down to the Land Cruiser, transferred the remaining possessions to his backpack and walked away never looking back at his adversary. Two hours and seven miles later he arrived back at the military base where he had started.


Part II

Bill was an engineer. As such his life was logic based and he preferred things in their proper sequence. To be denied a logical request was not entirely the problem. It was easily understood that pulling the Land Cruiser out of the ravine would be a difficult feat. Sure, the grizzled guy possibly lacked the means to bring the extraction mission to fruition. It was the blunt declination disallowing help to access his property and the subsequent rip off attempt that burned most fiercely.

He was a resourceful man. Bill had been working steadily at the base for two years intermittently for various projects and had made a number of trusted contacts there. He didn’t know yet how he was going to retrieve his car. He did know, however, that the two-hour walk back to the base left him thirsty, sun-burned and in bad spirits. When his spirits were bad you didn’t want to be on the opposing side causing that discomforting friction. The walk allowed him much needed time to think on how to proceed. He didn’t know how to get his vehicle but he’d start with a direct approach. Ask for help from his friends and acquaintances at the military base.

He was not a military man. More precisely, he had not held an official position or rank in the armed services, but he did grow up on military bases in a military family in Germany during World War II. In the United States he had extensive interaction winning electronic engineering contracts for the U.S. military. Though he lacked official standing he had acquired certain key skills living out this eclectic background in military environments. He knew how to talk their language, how to instill urgency, and compel these types of men to action. It wasn’t always about getting them to do what they shoulddo. Heck, it’s the military, everything they do costs money, gets people killed and/or wastes resources. His plan was to get them to want to show off what theycoulddo. First stop was to visit his friend who lived on base. Bill wanted one opportunity to explain the circumstances, get honest feedback, recraft as needed, then go into action.


“Well hell, Bill, what do you expect the army to do? Roll a tank over his house then fly your car out of the ditch with a helicopter? This is the army, that doesn’t happen,” bluntly spoke his friend after patiently hearing him out from start to finish.

“You should have seen that son of a bitch. I should have punched him in the mouth. I won’t lose to a man like that. Who do I need to talk to for that helicopter,” he said.

“Bill, you’re not hearing me. Not going to happen. Go back to your pal and collect the $100,” responded his friend knowing full well his remark would rile him up further.

“Just tell me who, I’ll figure out what to say on the way over there,” he said.

“What, the helicopter? Sure, good luck, you’ll need the CO’s approval. Look, you can start with the sergeant for practice. If you can’t get past him then your little airlift dream is dead anyway.” And so it began.


Military personnel are not inclined to say or admit what they cannot do. They have been trained and ingrained to topple every situation. Every question is answered in the affirmative. Bill knew, of course, he had no grounds to make a request for assistance. Maybe he could play an ego, find someone who wanted to show what he could do. The skills he acquired in a lifetime’s worth of military exposure were soon to be deployed to their maximum capacity.

The first officer wielded little more power than permission to speak with the next ranking officer. Keeping his talking points simple and on target Bill spoke his piece, then paused. Silence. Maybe 20 seconds. The officer didn’t want to admit he couldn’t do it, naturally. A brief question and answer then the officer decided it was time to talk to his superior officer. They advanced to the next conversation. 

Thrice more Bill spoke his piece, hitting the talking points and leaving an opening for each subsequent officer to flex his power. Each meeting was cast forward to the next ranking officer picking up additional people in his entourage. He felt like a snowball rolling forward picking up mass with each rotation. Each officer was self-conscious about not wanting to admit in front of an audience that the decision was beyond his immediate parameters of responsibility. Each simply and strategically suggested they talk to the next superior officer. With the accumulating pageantry of a 4thof July parade all the people from the prior meeting parleyed forward until they were standing before the base’s Commanding Officer. Finally, thought Bill, a decision is bound to be issued here. Only this time he was no longer ’leading the charge,’ as it were. He had met the CO on a prior project, they had met and shook hands, though only in passing.

After hearing out the predicament the CO weighed in, “Look Bill, even if I wanted to help, the helicopter teams have been out all day on training missions.”

“Actually, sir,” sheepishly interjected one officer, “one team’s training was canceled due to a scheduling snafu. It was a recent development. They’re probably still ready and fueled.”

“You know, sir,” started another. “This car retrieval mission could be billed as a training mission. A convenient replacement for this morning’s canceled exercise. There are a number of soldiers in need of a final training run to qualify for certification. Sir, with your authorization I can prepare the paperwork for your signature. Besides, I’ve worked with Bill and he’s a top notch engineer.”

“Of course he’s top notch, otherwise we wouldn’t have hired him. What the hell, if you guys are bent on doing all the work then do it.” The CO paused for a long while and everyone was too surprised at his apparent approval to say anything. They all stood there in silence waiting to see what happened next. “Now, if we’re done here you’re dismissed. I understand the mess hall is serving my favorite for dinner tonight and it’s time to eat. Sloppy joes,” said the CO cavalierly heading out the door and never looking back.

Not twenty minutes later, Bill and the grip of officers were with the helicopter crew. While the officers were issuing orders the enlisted men were running about trying to comply with the orders coming from all directions, one order often conflicting with another. The crew knew what to do, they needed only to be provided orders and left alone, but that was not the military way. Once up in the air they’d be free of the officers’ confusion and they could make their own decisions. This was a good crew and competence would be readily at hand once they were airborne.

Bill calmly boarded the helicopter as the rotors began to spin. He grabbed a helmet off the wall and provided directions to the copilot as the pilot completed the pre-flight checklist. He sat back enjoying the illusion of having a personal helicopter crew under his command.


Once a week the grizzled guy enjoyed what he considered deluxe dining, sloppy joes. At least that’s what he called it. He took his week’s left overs, tossed it all into a pan and warmed it, toasted two hamburger buns, and loaded them up, then added ketchup. He ate this special meal on his sparse porch proudly overlooking his barren land. Today he was eagerly awaiting sufficient time to pass whereby he might claim that slick abandoned Land Cruiser. Well, abandoned was wishful thinking, but really, it was land locked on his property.

He’d spent the entirety of his adult years as a bachelor. Living within these narrow confines handily serviced by a rudimentary set of skills he long ago discarded social graces, good manners and culinary etiquette. He took a gigantic bite of his first sloppy joe then flooded his mouth’s contents with a generous swig of lukewarm lemonade. He was enjoying himself in the delight and recognition that this was the good life. His taste buds were in their full glory with this meal. Just then an odd image started to take shape in the sky from the west. A helicopter, a big one. With the military base nearby these big birds did occasionally dot the skies, though not usually this close. In fact, it appeared to be coming closer.


As three soldiers geared up to descend 50 feet to the Land Cruiser, Bill’s persuasive talents finally met their match as he attempted to be the fourth to descend.

“Sir, these men have the situation under control. Please remain seated,” said the copilot. He watched as the soldiers dropped out of the helicopter.

Before long the three were back aboard, the helicopter slowly ascended and the vehicle emerged after some jostling. Looking back in the excitement of victory, he didn’t recall much of the brief flight back to base. The triumphant exuberance was overwhelming. The vehicle bounced lightly upon return to the base helipad, two soldiers descended to disconnect the load. At final touch down Bill offered effusive thanks to the crew. With the nose of the engine still roaring it’s likely his exact wording was errant of precision, but the message of thanks was clear.

It was late evening and it’d been a long day. The car keys had been in his pocket since the morning’s incident. He inserted the key into the ignition and it started right up. He hadn’t eaten since this morning’s commissary visit, but he wasn’t really hungry for a big meal. He’d decided to stop for donuts and coffee on the drive home.


[Based on Opa’s real life events.]

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cache of Ammo

My daughter and I went for a walk to the market, right down the street. We had a package to mail at the pharmacy / post office culminating with a stop at the grocery store to check out the super cereal price wars that seem to be underway.

On Puente St., the final stretch to the shopping center, the south side of the street is lined with a white fence running parallel to the sidewalk all the way down the street. We were talking, enjoying the mildest of sprinkles, when we observed a tan duffel bag on the other side of the fence, the side with the tall weeds and untended native growth.

“Hey, think we should see what’s in that duffel bag,” I asked.

“Yeah,” was all the encouragement I needed.

“OK, you stay here,” removing the backpack containing the package to mail and a reusable shopping bag to be employed at the market.

I walked around the fence, about 30 feet back from whence we had just come. Maybe this is the bag of cash I’ve day dreamed of finding through much of my adult life. The weeds were tall and I purposely chose my steps to topple the bulkiest to minimize my interaction with the unwanted growth. There it is, the duffel bag at my feet.

I notice immediately that it had been a recent acquisition, observation based on the manufacturer’s tag still attached. I also note that the bag had probably been there at least overnight, an observation based on the numerous rabbit turds on top of the bag. [What gives, I thought, a rabbit bothered to crest the bag for a bowel movement?] Regardless, I reach for the zipper of the main compartment and pull. This will require more than one point of contact, the other hand will be needed to provide the necessary counter force of holding the bag in place. With that I feel the heft of the bag and hear the contents clatter. With some degree of sadness I realize, based on the sound, this is not the aforementioned bag of cash. I also find reassurance that the noise renders the possibility of this being a sack of snakes to near nil. The zipper pulled, the flap released, I pull it open to reveal contents I do not immediately recognize which activates the caution alarm in my brain. This is so far outside the realm of expectation that it just did not register. Rather than reaching inside I shift the weight of the bag to move the contents. They appear to be ammunition magazines! Not magazines, the written word publications, but actual firearms hardware, about 10 of them plus additional paraphernalia! Some of the magazines are rectangular shaped, others are of the curved variety. No weapons were observed, but at this point my curiosity had been extinguished.

“I think we need to call the police,” I utter before returning to the pedestrian side of the fence and call 911.

“What’s your emergency,” asked the operator.

“I’m in San Dimas and I’d like to speak with the San Dimas Sheriff, please.”

“This is the San Dimas Sheriff. What’s your emergency.”

“I found a duffle bag of what appears to be ammunition. It’s possible it’s just for paint ball guns, but I don’t think so.”

The operator is furnished with our coordinates and advised that we’d remain on site. Within minutes a police car arrived with two officers.

One officer walked to the bag while the other remained with us. My contact information and ID were requested and provided.

“Did you touch anything,” asked the officer by the bag.

“Just the zipper.”

“I was hoping it was a bag of cash,” I told the officer nearest us yielding absolutely no reaction.

The officer opened the bag. Finding the contents of interest he then opened the other pockets. He quickly looked around the hillside and scoured the immediate vicinity for any additional firearms hardware. Finding nothing, he zipped the bag, tossed it over the fence toward the car. 

“I guess it’s not paint ball gear,” I mentioned to the second officer again yielding no response.

The first officer returned to where we were and he was looking very serious. I thought he going to frisk me, search my backpack and arrest me. I didn’t like the look he was bearing down with.

“Put the bag in the trunk,” he said to his partner, “we have another hot call to get to.” With that they left.

My daughter and I continued our walk down the street. Our lucky finds were not yet done for the day. At the grocery store we came across a sale on Kellogg’s brand cereal and they had the rare find of Chocolate Frosted Flakes! Can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow.


[An actual event that occurred on 5/26/2018.]

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Coyote Conjurer

She was magnificent with her long, flowing, strawberry-blond hair and eyes as blue as a cloudless spring day. When her ire had been sufficiently raised because of a wrong waged by humanity unto nature, her hair would become seemingly aflame with her sensibilities bent by the observed infraction. It was in such moments on the cusp of enragement that she would conjure and command her pack of coyotes. With two fingers she rubbed the top of her right ear, at the very top where a cluster of empowering freckles lay, the pack would be summoned and unleashed.

The first time her coyotes appeared it was accidental. Or, at least, she didn’t know at that time she had such powers. Three kids, adolescents in their mid-teens, hiking in a National Park had strayed from the trail. Signs were abundantly posted specifically warning people to stay on the trails to minimize humanity’s deteriorating effects. It was during this off-trail frolic she saw the boys and said aloud to her hiking partner, “They shouldn’t be over there. They need to stick to the trail in this area.” She had been rubbing the top of her right ear when she spoke. That’s when the coyotes made their impeccably timed appearance.

It was a pack of seven stunningly beautiful animals, five adults and two pups. They made their approach quickly and without warning. The chase ended almost as fast as it started when the adolescents ran back to the trail near where the blonde-haired conjurer stood. The largest coyote was only a few feet away staring at the three delinquents issuing intimidating growls. The other four adult coyotes remained behind howling, the pups’ efforts yielded only high-pitched yelps. The situation under control, the lead coyote slowly approached the conjurer, offered a low bow, then made a chuffing sound as if to say to her, “Hello, my friend, it’s good to see you.” The coyotes then turned all at once and ran away.

“Miss, those coyotes were dangerous, weren’t you scared,” asked one boy.

“They looked like they were waiting for you to give them orders,” said another of the reprimanded youths.

“I wasn’t scared, I didn’t do anything wrong. They just wanted you to stay on the trail. Stop being dorks,” she responded and kept moving.


A few months later she was on a date when it happened again. The young man, doing an amusingly poor job of trying to woo, had suggested a picnic at a local park [that was a good idea] but then proceeded to regale her with talk about his favorite baseball team [that was a silly idea]. The park was beautiful, as was the coyote-conjuring young lady. The park boasted of numerous No Smoking signs posted throughout. One of the park patrons, however, did not abide by the rule, had sparked up a cigarette and was defiling the grounds with his smoke and ash. With her date blabbing on about baseball he didn’t notice that her attention had turned to this other developing situation. Recalling the hiking incident she reached for her right ear and rubbed it with her thumb and forefinger. She tapped her prospective boyfriend to gain his attention and pointed toward the smoker. There was the pack of coyotes, her pack, running toward the offending smoker. They chased him and nipped his heels tumbling him to the ground. The lead coyote appeared to growl directly into the man’s face, then at the cigarette until the smoker put it out by mashing it with his hand. With the mission complete the pack approached the conjuring beauty. Her date suggested that they should get out of there and do so quickly. “Shhh,” she calmly said to him holding out the palm of her hand issuing the unspoken command of stop, a request to which he acquiesced with no delay. The main coyote approached her, bowed and made chuffing noises to her while standing just beyond her blanket. She smiled at the coyote while the others stayed back howling, then they ran off from whence they had come. Her image swelled in his eyes. Thankfully for her, he was inspired to change the topic of conversation from baseball. 

She came to understand clearly that these were her coyotes! She treasured these mighty beasts and would not call on them unnecessarily. They would not be conjured for playful scenarios like cuddling up with the pack to watch movies, for example, no. Having become convinced of humanity’s deteriorating affect on the environment, she decided to use the coyote pack to combat what infractions she could.

Some weeks later, she was enjoying a walk in the chic downtown area near her condominium. She saw an adult taking a walk with his family when he threw a candy wrapper to the ground. Broad daylight with a garbage bin only feet away! She rubbed her right ear and there they were. The largest ran headlong into the litterer’s rear end knocking him head first into the ground. With the lead coyote growling at him while he sat slumped on the ground, one of the coyote pups came up with the discarded wrapper and dropped it near him. The pup trotted to the litterbug’s baby stroller, licked the fingers of the giggling baby and scampered off. The main coyote stared at him, then at the litter, until the litterbug retrieved his garbage. Mission accomplished, the leader chuffed to the conjurer while the remainder of the pack howled. With that, they ran off. She continued her walk passed the litterbug, turned and said, “You need to set a better example for your little baby.”

“I will, sorry,” he said, embarrassed by his behavior.


There was also the drone incident in her neighborhood, a drone-free zone. She didn’t know who was controlling the drone, but it was up there buzzing around where it should not have been. She rubbed her ear, then waited. Within a minute the drone seemed to have lost control and fell to the ground. She heard a screech and crunch, and assumed it had been run over by a car. The coyote pack’s howling that followed was beautiful with the deeper vocals of the leader.

Then there was the foil balloon incident. A party at the local park was being arranged. One of the party planners had committed a foul causing immeasurable rage, a pair of foil balloon bouquets were on display. It was early, the partying had not yet commenced, and only a few people were present setting up the festivities. The coyote conjurer had been walking her dog, a rowdy huskie shepherd mix, when she saw the offending balloons, five in each bouquet. The balloons are problematic because they are occasionally swallowed by unsuspecting ocean-based animals which may result in their death. Plus the balloons sometimes get caught in electrical lines potentially causing damage, but that is a human inconvenience and is, therefore, tolerable. Well, these foil balloons would enjoy no such opportunities at mayhem. Her hand went to the right ear and her pack of coyotes was on the scene. She was on slightly higher ground yielding a good visual as to what transpired. The balloons were numerous, but when you have five adult coyotes under your command the powers you wield are great. Their attack was swift and elegant like a well timed ballet. All five were active in this mission leaping at, and popping, the foil balloons. The coyotes popped the balloons but refrained from tearing them to pieces to minimize the clean up effort. They didn’t touch the other types of balloons, nor cause damage to the cakes or refreshments. The four howled with the leader running ahead to bow in the conjurer’s direction before issuing a powerful, frightful to anyone else, howl. The coyotes then departed as rapidly as they had arrived.

Her conjuring was always to the betterment of nature and the environment. The targets were always well deserved and only those who had initiated wrongdoing, never any collateral damage. Her enragement continues today as a conscientious force for good in the world.


[Inspired by the cover of a graphic novel where a character had a team of polar bears under his command.]
-klem

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ice Rink

They were not the sharpest tools in the shed, as the saying goes. The three cocky, gregarious boys were not of ill intent, simply naïve and had been left alone for too long without supervision. It was winter in the northeastern United States at a very expensive private university. Beers had been flowing freely and their better judgment had been extinguished for the night. That’s when one of the boys said, “Hey, let’s drag the yard hose in here, turn it on and make an ice rink.” They were drinking and playing poker in the basement of their fraternity at the time and, sadly, the other two offered no resistance. The window was opened, the hose was pulled in to its full length and the faucet opened.


From his earliest days the youth remembered fondly how his father would make an ice rink in their back yard every winter. He would lay out a large plastic tarpaulin on top of two or three lengths of interconnected garden hoses shaping a large oval in the grass. Growing up in Massachusetts provided plenty of winter precipitation as well as the freezing temperatures needed to form the required abundance of ice. The annual ice rink marked a festive time for his siblings and neighbors. It was this memory deep on a Friday night with beers in his belly that sparked the seemingly bright idea to build an indoor ice rink in the basement of the fraternity house.


It was plenty cold outside, freezing in fact, but with only one window open there was very little chance of ice rink formulation. The other two, having identified this shortfall, assisted by opening the remaining windows and the double doors. The basement was large enough to host a winter ball with sufficient room left over for a full bar and two foosball tables. This was a big place. The keg of beer was far from empty, the night was cold with temperatures dropping and the hose continued at maximum flow.

The boys were not dumb, as it pertains to one’s intelligence quotient, just not thinking this through. They knew enough to stay out of the water to avoid accidental electrocution, but other than that, they were pleasantly clueless. Their attention reverted back to the poker game. One of the boys eventually lost the last of his chips, or coins or whatever they were using, he tossed his cards into the water on the floor, cursed belligerently to his chums and slumped upstairs to find his bed. He was quickly asleep without even a thought of brushing his teeth.

The other two filled their cups of beer and went upstairs desiring good natured mischief, if they’d be lucky enough to find it. They could not, so they retired to their beds with cups of beer sitting atop wood desks, condensation slowly dripping down onto their desktops. Like modern day troglodytes they had neglected the basic deployment of coasters. The slumber was restless due to their bellies being fouled with too much hooch. It would be many years before they would make the connection of unsatisfying sleep and large quantities of beer. Regardless, they did bed down to a night as quiet as a mouse on Christmas Eve. To clarify, the fraternity house was by no means quiet, but quiet for these three due to the level of inebriation attained resulting in the closure of key senses.

It was early in the morning when an elder statesmen of the fraternity went to the basement to check on the clothes washer availability. He wasn’t going to do laundry, not an upperclassman, but he wanted to check if the machine was available so that a pledge could be assigned to do it for him. He observed the opened windows and doors and the water icing up on the floor. Not yet skatable, but the desired depth had been attained. He had the inclination to at least turn off the hose and close the nearest window. Remedial action was in desperate need, but he was preoccupied with a bowl of cereal in his hands and laundry to have done. Any fix-it plan implementation would have to wait for another with more gumption. “Pledge! Pledge,” he called out loudly heading back out. From upstairs came the sound of a hustling pair of feet eager to please, a pledge had been rousted.

A number of boys residing at the fraternity house had been gone for the weekend, but by Monday morning it was full of occupants. A proper assessment of the situation was identified and explained by one boy who’d had a physics class. He was aware that ice in the basement was problematic, “Hey guys, this is a major issue because ice expands. This is not safe for the house or its foundation.” But he was an underclassman and his comment was quickly discarded because the alternative, an indoor ice rink, was much more fun than the task of eliminating it. So it was decided. “The ice rink stays, but when it melts in the spring, never again. Besides, this is a brick house, dip shit,” debasing his more intelligent adversary, “It will contain the ice.” Dip shit, of course, was entirely correct and knew with certainty that he was entirely correct. More importantly, he understood the fraternal organization’s hierarchy and his knowledge-based statement was outranked by the organization’s seniority-based structure. He absorbed his verbal abuse and offered no further challenge. With the weather getting colder and no warm temperatures stretching weeks into the future, the water in the basement continued to freeze. 

The first foundation cracks appeared the subsequent weekend. The occupants didn’t notice, though, because they were busy with their newly founded indoor three-on-three hockey league. It wasn’t long before the basement doors wouldn’t close properly due to the structure’s shifting. From there a number of windows would not close flush leaving very cold gaps and some whistling breezes on windy days. Many of the boys knew something had gone wrong and suspected the ice rink was the cause when large cracks became visible in the brick exterior along the basement. They held no power positions and held their tongues. Others, still, were blithely convinced they had simply partied harder and louder than prior years and wore the worsening condition as a badge of honor.

The landlord was finally alerted when the gas bill more than tripled in one month. A licensed contractor was called to assess and repair the assumed gas leak. What he found, however, would not be fixed by the replacing of a pipe, valve or conduit. He saw the ice rink. He was a professional and was decades removed from being amused by the sophomoric antics of these derelicts. The cracks were, by this time, considerable throughout the foundation and basement. The house was condemned by local authorities and an insurance claim was filed by the landlord. The insurance company quickly subrogated against the fraternity and they were quickly held responsible for the damages.

After the initial shame and scolding wore off, the incident was eventually filed away in the annals of fraternal lore. The three boys from the opening sequence would eventually all be voted into the United States Congress. Much like their ice rink idea, most of their well-intended congressional actions ended in waste and destruction adversely affecting others, but they would remain unscathed and blameless.


[Inspired by an anecdote told to me by a work associate in the mid ‘90s.]

Monday, April 9, 2018

Don’t Forget to Eat

“Don’t forget to eat. There’s lunchmeat and cheese in the fridge, and bread. Make a sandwich when you’re hungry,” she said before leaving the house. She was the sweetest thing and never stopped worrying about her four boys, the scamps. They had attained teenage years, but still she worried. The fifth child was a daughter, too sensible to need such basic warnings as this.

The four irreverently joked after she walked out the door, ‘What, forget to eat? Come on.’ They continued with the electric racecar track they had set up taking turns to see who had the best lap time. They then played a game of Monopoly, the board game, always a lengthy ordeal, this game. The hours dropped off before they split off to their own devices. The oldest grabbed a record, put it on the stereo in the living room and laid down on the carpet for a listen. The second went to his room to play his bass guitar, the other two went to play a strategy game, the goal being world domination. They were all occupied and content.


The oldest awakened from a nap after who knows how long. The record had played itself out, but the stereo had an auto restart feature and the record played on. He was sprawled out on the floor just as he was when he first started the record, but his strength was gone. He couldn’t get up and could barely move. He had barely strength enough to yell to his brothers. 

“Mike, are you out there? I can’t get up. I forgot to eat,” admitting the absurdity.

“Tom, that you? Can’t get up either. Been trying for a while. Can’t even turn over. On my bed wiggling my fingers. All I can do,” Mike replied.

“Bill, Ed, you guys there? Can you help,” yelled Tom expending what seemed the last of his energy.

“I’m here with Ed,” responded Bill. “We’re immobile, can’t move. Ed’s not responding but I can hear his shallow breathing. You guys forgot to eat, too?”

Their plight was clear. They had neglected to engage the proffered lunchmeats and cheese. Very tantalizing, the thought of sandwiches heartily laden with the various meats. So close, yet they might as well be locked away in the belly of Fort Knox. These boys were helpless to help themselves.


When she returned home the quietude indicated that something was likely awry. Four boys in the house alone and the only noise was the record player flowing from the stereo. With bags of groceries in her arms she called the boys’ names in sequence of oldest to youngest. “Tom, Mike, Bill, Ed,” she calmly called out while setting the bags down on the kitchen table. There was no response. She went to the living room and saw the oldest flopped out on the ground with the music still playing. The oldest was a good boy and the music was never played too loudly. Even now, the stereo’s volume was absolutely correct. He was still alive, but not responding. She called the other three while she quickly, though unhurriedly, returned to the kitchen for a slice of American cheese. She tore off a piece, tucked the cheese into the oldest’s mouth and went upstairs looking for the others.

She was a wonderful mom. Her actions were consistently flawless, especially when trusting her motherly instincts. She was worried, to be sure, but not panicked. She’d handled worse emergencies than this; broken collar bone from seeing one boy fall out of a tree, emergency late one Sunday night for teeth to be pulled after a face forward fall onto concrete steps, tetanus shot after one of the boys stepped on a rusty nail that went through a shoe. Heck, she thought to herself, these four flopped out because they forgot to eat will be one of the easiest emergencies I’ll have the privilege of serving.

The other three were located, cheese tucked into their mouths as she did with the first. The cheese would get the salivation glands going, it would be digested, nourish the boys and slowly restore their consciousness. She got more cheese and two slices of salami each. As consciousness and energy were regained they could gobble up the salami slices under their own volition. She put away the groceries and started an early supper.

It was the night to clean the kitchen floors so that meant tacos for dinner. They were good eaters, when they remembered to do so, but a messy lot. Cleaning up after a night of tacos and ground beef was not for the faint of heart. But this mom had the program figured out. Prepare the messiest meal immediately beforethe floors are to be cleaned, not afterthe floors had been cleaned.

The boys slowly regained consciousness and started calling to their mom. “You’re OK. Come down to dinner when you feel strong enough,” she called back to the first one to regain himself.

Their dad came home, “Wow, this place smells great, like tacos! Why’s it so quiet?”

“They forgot to eat,” she replied matter of factly doing her best to stifle laughter.

“Again,” said the father shaking his head in disbelief.

“I fed them each just enough to rouse them. They’ll be down to dinner soon.”

“Well, a pleasant evening like this calls for sangria. Can I pour you a glass of orange juice and wine,” he offered.

The peace and quiet would not last long. A few of the boys were already starting in on their salami slices.


[Inspired by words of warning Mom Klem would call out to her boys when stepping out for a few hours.]

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Blackout

He was on a surfboard bobbing up and down in the ocean like a big red apple in a ‘bobbing for apples’ tub. Lying on his back with arms and legs splayed out and dangling deep into the ocean, he awakened suddenly and popped up sitting on the board. The day was bright, the air cool, but not cold, and the wind was strong. Nothing but ocean as far as he could see.

Passed out on a surfboard out in the ocean for who knows how long. As his surfboard was carried up and down on the waves he couldn’t see anything but ocean. Where was he? Where is shore, what direction and how far? To say that these questions were frightening to him would be a vast understatement. He was terrified! Frantically, he looked around in those few seconds at the top of each wave, but to no effect. There wasn’t enough time or height to see any distance. He decided he would look in only a single direction while atop, then turn his viewing angle 90 degrees for the next crest. This went on for two circle cycles and the panic in him became stronger when nothing certain was visible. In an act of growing desperation he stood up on the board with the idea of waving his arms at the top of the next wave. At what or to whom he might be waving he knew not, and it was then he thought he saw land. With two more waves and continued viewing in that direction he was convinced. Three or more miles away, but there lay land!

The terror and panic immediately receded. With much relief he sat back down, took several deep breaths, collected himself, and knew he’d be OK. There was a rumble in his belly which must be addressed at some point, hopefully soon, but given the circumstances this concern was rapidly discarded. He had no fear of the ocean or the mystery of what lay beneath, even this far from shore. The water, almost any body of water, had a soothing effect on this one. The fact is, he figured, right or wrong, he knew what was below the surface. Mostly just empty water and, with few exceptions, the animals beneath the water wanted less to do with him than he them.

Miles out to sea, donning a spring wetsuit, he rolled over onto his belly and started paddling. He must have been passed out for a long time because his arms and body were completely at rest. His arms felt fresh. Good thing, because he had a long way to go and the ocean was less than calm. It would simply be a matter of paddling one stroke after another. The ocean was bumpy this far out and the pesky wind would considerably increase his effort. With no choice but to paddle, he paddled.

A mile from shore he heard the sound, it caused him to sit up and look around. The surf was huge! The massive waves were being fed by the wind hugging the ocean’s surface and then crashing near the shore with alarming violence. ‘What the hell,’ he thought, ‘no way I’m going ashore through that.' He did not recognize the beach, at least not from this vantage point. He couldn’t place where he was. What beach? What city? He took a moment and thought how delightful it would be if he had a waterproof sack with a snack and sip of water. Nothing to do but decide the course of action. The beach appeared to be very tight, not very deep, almost just a cliff. He knew only that he wanted not to venture through the wilds of these death-defying waves. He started paddling to the left, in what he thought was probably a northwest direction, perpendicularly away to the monster waves while remaining parallel to the shoreline.

He kept this up for 30 minutes occasionally sitting up looking for a spot to come ashore. He eventually found a sandy beach with manageable surf and touched down. ‘Land ho,’ he said under his breath before crawling the final 20 feet out of the surf to the sand. He put his board down, sat on it, and took inventory while he regained his terra firma equilibrium. A surfer wallet was hanging from around his neck and tucked into his wet suit. This was a small plastic waterproof case with a $20 bill and car keys, a Toyota. In addition to the short-sleeve spring wet suit he was wearing neoprene water shoes with rubber soles. He was thankful for this given the amount of walking he anticipated ahead of him. He allowed himself the luxury of a five-minute break before walking. Where to walk he knew not, only that it’d start with a sip of water from the drinking fountain at the nearby public restroom.

His trek commenced with the car keys in hand. Every so often he’d clicked the button listening for a panic alarm to sound off identifying the target vehicle. He walked up and down the nearest beachside public parking lot to no effect. He was on the street walking east and eventually came to another public parking lot. Same routine, periodically clicking the panic button again to no effect. With no choice, he continued his trek eastward on the street overlooking the ocean and stayed on this route for a mile before eventually stopping at an outdoor eatery on a cliff overlooking the ocean and beach below. Exhausted he took a seat near the perimeter fence of the eating area so that he could put his surfboard just on the other side of the fence and out of the way. He was hunched forward looking down collecting himself as to his next move.

“Hey, ugly,” came a friendly voice.

A pair of well tended feet donning rubber flip-flops with plastic daisies on the toe-straps. The tops of the feet were adorably festooned with freckles. He looked up and saw the golden haired beauty who had addressed him. The sun was directly behind her head washing out the facial features but also furnishing her with a commendable halo effect on her gently wind rustled hair. He was pleased with his good fortune at landing at this dining establishment. “Pardon,” he responded feebly.

“You’ve got the ugliest board I’ve ever seen,” she said correctly. “I tell you that every time you’re here. You ready to order?” The board was a mess of colors seemingly haphazardly splashed together as if the manufacturer threw the remnants of a few near empty paint cans at it. The thing was ugly.

“Sorry, I’m a little out of it this morning,” he responded, confused by the ‘every time’ remark.

“Yeah, you look it. Also, it’s afternoon. Getchya the usual,” she suggested.

“Please,” he said, not sure what this ‘usual’ would entail. He also noticed for the first time he was wearing a watch, 2:45 in the afternoon.

He looked out over the ocean. Truly beautiful, and especially from this vantage point. He zoned out again, but this time it was just because he was worn out and hungry, rather than zonked out in a mysterious cloud of lapsed consciousness. He snapped out of it when she returned.

She dropped off two plates and two glasses. Blueberry pancakes, hash browns with a sunny side egg on top with bacon. A pair of frosted strawberry pop tarts with sprinkles, a purple smoothie of some sort and a glass of water no straw. “We’re not supposed to serve breakfast this late, but you looked like breakfast was what you needed. Plus, it’s not that busy right now and the cook didn’t mind. Let me know if you need anything more.” She picked up the table condiments and departed.

“What if I need those,” he said referring to the condiments.

“You won’t. You never do,” she replied over her shoulder without stopping.

He ate in a civilized manner despite his urge for a good gorging. In so doing he took in the savoring delight of each bite. Also taking time to think about his next step. Who he was, name, where he lived, how to get home, where was home? Keep walking, he figured.

He finished the meal, placed his $20 under the glass so it wouldn’t blow away, hopped over the low railing, grabbed his board, took one last long view of the ocean and continued his walk. There were cars parked all up and down the busy coastal highway, both sides of the street. He’d walk to the next light, clicking the panic button on his key fob every so often, then decide whether or not to continue forward or cross the street and walk back on the other side. But plan B became curiously unnecessary.

An older model Toyota 4Runner immediately responded to his key fob. There was a familiarity to it, and to this ocean view. He’d been here before, spent time just looking out over the ocean from exactly here. The rack on the roof was definitely meant for such things as his ugly surfboard. He put it in place, strapped it in, then got inside the car.

There was an ice cooler on the passenger side floor. A sheet of notebook paper was taped to the top of the cooler ‘Did it happen again? Home address is on the reverse side.’ The note appeared to be aged. The tape looked to have been removed and replaced several times. The paper had clearly been folded over before. There it was, his home address, with cross street drawn in. He need only now check the address of the diner from his receipt and complete the puzzle as to his starting point. He opened the cooler to luke warm water sloshing around, whatever ice had once been there had long ago melted. A bottled mineral water and a Dr. Pepper. He rolled the windows down, confirmed the adequacy of the fuel and turned on the radio. He chose the mineral water, started the car, signaled to merge into traffic and was underway.


[Inspired by a dream.]

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Keg on Skate

Six fellows had been enjoying mugs of beer on a Saturday night. Money had been collected, a keg of inexpensive beer had been purchased and the contents were being imbibed. A mild commotion made itself known nearby and the good natured fellows went to correct the disruption. They were very capable, these ones. Well, five of them at least. The sixth, being of slight build, was charged with transporting the keg to the next locale instead of intermingling with a potential scuffle. The group disbanded and the sole waif refreshed his mug before taking on his transport mission.

He hefted the keg, still three quarters full of precious gold carbonated liquid, and moved it out the front door to the tiny porch. Really tiny, the porch was no more than a three-foot by three-foot square of raised concrete intended as a point of demarcation from the apartment complex’s concrete walkway. He grabbed his skateboard, lifted the keg onto the skate and was on his way.

The rendezvous locale was three blocks away and he would travel without his muscled escort. The neighborhood was not one of violence, but at this hour on a Saturday night in a quadrant of highly populated dilapidated apartments occupied by students in the city of Isla Vista, immediately adjacent to the university campus of Santa Barbara, there may be opportunists of unsavory intent. With that thought lightly weighing on his mind he quickly put his concerns to rest. ‘It’s just three blocks. What’s that, five minutes? Here I go.’

He felt like a king in charge of this whole keg while on a skateboard. Covetous looks were showered upon him from student-aged pedestrians. He pompously pretended to be oblivious, but enjoyed the attention.

One might think that a keg of beer, a full-sized keg, not one of those diminutive pony kegs that could be easily lifted as if conducting a set of arm curls, this full barrel, one’s first impression, might be that an awkward ride was to commence. Not so. He quickly discovered a keg on the skateboard was an amazingly effective stabilizer! The added weight allowed the skate to hug the ground without so much as a jolt when rolling over each sidewalk crack, twigs or small stones. Debris that might otherwise present a possible err was to be overcome without hesitation. Turning was also vastly enhanced. The keg easily overhung each side of the skateboard such that effecting a left or right turn was easily performed by a mere leaning on one side of the keg or the other. Smooth sailing, in sea-faring parlance.

First block down, he’d be pulling off cups of beer in no time. So elated at the ease with which this perceived difficult task had turned that he noticed not a wit that the next block was rather dark. And when I narrate that it was dark, the street lights were mostly inoperable or had been actively disabled. Ominous one might say.

The corner turned, no cars, pedestrians or other skateboards. It was entirely clear, nothing but the pleasant sounds of his skateboard tooling elegantly down the street with a prize possession in his entire care, custody and control. Except, of course, for the house on the right with a fire pit in the front yard and a balcony loaded with eight rabble-rousers. The sound of the skateboard regrettably won their attention and the rowdies got eerily quiet while heavy metal music continued to wail from the stereo system. Waif looked toward the house, all rowdies were looking at him. No words spoken, eyes locked, mental motion began to spin. The rabble rousers huddled hastily and hushed tones were eagerly exchanged. Waif was a silly fellow, but not a dumb one. He recognized that this might be a good time to expedite his arrival time.

The street was smooth as if recently paved. This allowed him to confidently increase his rate of speed without a significant corresponding chance of a wipe out. While the rowdies expended precious moments deciding on their course of action, he did not need confirmation, he knew the decision, only not how long by which the result would be accepted widely enough to set their plan in force.

The home was deeply set back from the street so the rowdies, already appreciating inebriating effects to their motor skills, wasted additional time fighting their way downstairs and picking out their bicycles from the haphazard scrum of two-wheeled vehicles on the front lawn. Isla Vista is a land of self-propulsion devices necessitated by the expansive university campus. Bicycles were possessed by most as the choice vehicle of self-propulsion. Waif, as we see here, however, chose a skateboard. He was a block away from the destination where he hoped reinforcements would be present, but this hope would be rendered futile if he did not first get there.

He was traveling well, if at a reckless pace by now, when he heard the cluster of rabble rousers hit the streets. His lead was 100 feet and they would close quickly. Less than half a block away he saw the driveway, his goal was within sight. He was skating at full speed as the luxury of safety no longer intersected with his circumstances. A pothole would easily spill him and the barrel of beer harshly across the asphalt. That risk he accepted knowing this to be a game of all or nothing. They were too fast, he could hear their breathing! The cat-calling started, “Hey, we just want a refill, fill up our cups and we’ll leave you alone.”

The muscled reinforcements, oblivious to the brewing confrontation, in a beautiful gift of timing, walked out from the driveway awaiting the arrival of the keg. It was the five from the onset. They’d completed their brief task, traveled to this locale and were ready to reengage the keg.

The skateboard pulled into the driveway as the rowdies rode by with parting wicked remarks. The reinforcements laughed immediately realizing that waif had been in a race for his proverbial life and emerged unscathed by the thinnest of margins. A brief breath catcher, and a refill. Those next few sips were very sweet, much sweeter and tastier than if there had been no chase.



[Inspired by a true life event circa 1990 up to and including the rabble-rousers on the balcony, except for the chase.]