THE BIG FIRE

THE BIG FIRE
My father and I had a kind of love-argue relationship. I’m sure we loved each other. But, a day didn’t go by where we didn’t argue about one thing or another. One day, we got in trouble for all of our stupid fussing. Who did we get in trouble with you ask? The police? The town? Maybe the neighbors? Nope, no one like that but, one dark day we tugged on the very wrong end of superman’s cape. Actually, we both pulled hard on superwomans cape and paid the price. It was bound to happen that all of our fussing and fuming would sooner or later land us in hot water with the most powerful woman I ever knew. Yep, we ticked off Mom.
We were all just sitting in the kitchen having a beer. Mom kept a TV on the kitchen counter. We were probably watching the news as Mom fried some chicken for supper. I’m sure my father and I were arguing about some kind of politics. If I liked the left, he’d like the right. That is, until I liked the right and then he’d like the left and say how he always liked the left for as long as he could remember. Oh these were such stupid arguments.
Suddenly the grease in the frying pan caught fire. Mom always believed in the old adage, skimp on the grease and spoil the chicken. Her chicken was the best. But, right now, it was getting a little too crispy. The flames were about a foot high and the smoke alarm was screeching almost right away.
The old man and I dropped the beers and ran to the other end of the counter with our imaginary fire hats on. Mom backed away from the fire as the two of us grabbed the frying pan. Now, I may have the details a bit wrong as to who had exactly what plan to put out the fire. Suffice it to say that neither one of us was right. Let’s say I said to put water on the flames. Let’s also say that my father wanted to pour salt on the pan. We were, of course, both really wrong. In fact water on a grease fire is about the worst thing you can do. In any case, there we were yanking the frying pan back and forth sloshing flaming grease onto the kitchen table. Both of us yelling and in pain from burns as we wrestled with the flaming frying pan and hollering at each other. God, but our hands hurt.
Let me just pause the action a moment to say that if God was watching the two of us, He’d have been laughing his tail off. He’d have probably put us on the Heaven Jumbotron. I can hear him telling his angels to let those two idiots keep fighting. If the house catches fire or if they get hurt rescue them but for now, let them have at each other. Maybe lower the volume when the cussing gets too loud or much bluer.
My father held the pan hand grip with one charred hand as he struggled to get the salt shaker with his free hand. Me, by stretching to the sink, I almost had my water glass three quarters full. There were blisters all over my pan hand. Hot hunks of fried chicken batter were dripping off my charred pinky finger. Smoke was everywhere. We were both yelling for Mom to get outside.
Mom stood her ground watching us with her hands on her hips. She walked over to the counter and picked up the frying pans lid. She then got between us and put the lid on the pan. Like an obedient puppy who sits down quietly after being told calmly to be quiet, the fire just peacefully went out. My father and I just stood there with nerve damaged fingers looking at the pan. Mom went to the kitchen exhaust fan and turned it on. She then looked at us both and told us to put the pan on the table and go sit in the dining room. She’d be in to talk to us in a minute. We both left for the dining room as the fan started to remove the smoke. Boy our hands hurt. They hurt real bad.
My father and I just sat in silence. We were worn out. Mom came in shortly with a martini for my father and a rum and coke for me. Mom also had a martini for herself. It was half gone. She just looked at us and said, “Down the hatch you two.” She looked at my father. “We’re all going out for dinner, right!?” My father shook his head yes. Then mom looked at me. “How’s your hand?” I said it didn’t hurt too bad. “Good,” she said, “You can go and clean up that mess in the kitchen. You’re both sorry right?” We both kind of looked at the floor. Mom went on. “I’m not going to ask you two to shake hands but, you should. At least you’re both looking at the floor. That’s a start.”
The night went well and after a few drinks the burned fingers didn’t hurt a bit. We had a good meal. Seafood I think. I imagine by noon the next day, my father and I were arguing just as much as ever. Though we never argued about frying pan grease fires ever again. If one caught fire we just put a lid on it. It just made sense to do that.

THE PINK HIPPO (FOR DOUG)

THE PINK HIPPO (FOR DOUG)
The winter snows are melting and the rainy season is upon us. The Musconetcong River is flowing high right now. Geese are gathering for the mating season. The ganders and gooses take the occasional time out from courtship and find a fast river current to ride. They do this much like human kids ride their sleds out at parks. You’ll see a small flock gather in a quiet slowly swirling pool. They’ll honk at each other a bit and maybe scarf down a wayward slug. All of a sudden one of them takes the lead and swims into a wavy current of rushing water. You can see that he’s paddling pretty hard to stay in place as he gets himself facing upstream. Once he’s got himself set just right you can see that the paddling stops as he starts rushing backwards downstream with a squawk. All this time, the bird leans left or right so as to stay in the current as the river washes him away. He eventually hits a slow spot and paddles over to a calm pool and waits as the next goose sets him or herself into the jump off point upstream. The birds seem happy to take turns. Though sometimes, the birds ride all together in a knot or crowded gaggle of flapping wings and honking. Watching them makes me wish that humans came equipped with oily feathers and fat paddle feet.
Of course these birds are no dummies. Somewhere perched high on a large river bank boulder overlooking their playground you might be able to see a single and ever vigilant sentinel goose with his two beady eyes on constant lookout for approaching danger. You can never be too careful on the Musky. Only the watchful live to see another day. These sentinel geese learn at an early age to honk with a vengeance at even the slightest hint of danger. Perhaps it might be a fox or coyote slinking towards the rivers edge and maybe then perching out on a grouping of shore line boulders hidden from the sight of the birds splashing in the main current. All’s it would take is for one bird chasing a worm to get close enough to snag and then…POW! Dinner is served.
Snapping turtles are a constant danger in the watery jungle known as the Mighty Musky. Just ask a tube rider with a big bandage on his butt. At least the tuber has lived to recant the tale of that awful day and how he could have lost even more than a hunk of skin from his derriere. The poor guy could have had it much worse. But, for a goose, it’s even worse than that. There they are just minding their own business floating in the predawn current and waking up anyone within a half a mile. They notice a bumpy rock nearby. Funny, it wasn’t there just a minute ago. Their last thoughts might be, “Odd, I didn’t know rocks floated. Curious. Very very curious indeed.” Then with a sudden burst and a glomp it’s all over. The next thing they know they’re setting up shop in that great corporate headquarters manicured campus pond in the sky.
Well, there is one guardian of justice and security in the Musky and the geese often make a daily pilgrimage to it for solace and thanksgiving. The waters around this champion of the goose world are always deep and calm. Coyotes and snapping turtles flee in terror from its very presence. Of course, the snapping turtles flee a lot slower. They need about an hour to really get out of its way. I’m talking about the all powerful Pink Hippo of the Mighty Musconetcong River. Fear it thy self ye mere mortal disbelievers. Bow, deeply in its presence. Also, don’t litter near it. That litter attracts deer flies and the Hippo is powerless against them.
Pilgrims can seek the Pink Hippo by driving West about a mile past Stephensburg Road along route 57 between Hackettstown and Washington in Northwestern New Jersey. The Hippo is indeed pink and sports a benevolent wide smile for all to see. Some say it brings good luck to those who wave at this river deity. I’m sure it couldn’t hurt.
Scientists are at a loss to explain the dietys mysterious pink color. Of course no scientist has been asked to explain much of anything about the Pink Hippo. Oddly enough, anyone who has had too much alcohol, claims that they can’t see it. As a result many partially full bottles of various alcoholic beverages are found to be littering the area. A bin has been provided by the state for their disposal. It is often filled to its capacity. During the sixties, various witnesses reported seeing the Pink Hippo walking down
Route 57. Some said it sat on the guard rails and played an emerald green saxophone. These rumors were never confirmed. The Hippo was spotted, according to some back then, along the Golden Gate Bridge thumbing a ride into Frisco. Again, who knows?
Some will say that the Hippo is nothing but a big rock in the river that is painted pink. There are rumors that in an effort to curb drunk driving along route 57, the local police gather under cover of darkness and along with Boy Scout volunteers paint the Hippo each Spring. No one seems to know anything about this rumor. Lips are sealed.
But, the geese know otherwise. They will often spend an entire sunny day basking on the Hippo’s back. If one could ask them, they say this pilgrimage to the Hippo keeps itchy feather mites from plaguing them. The geese will also will be glad to point out the lack of coyotes and foxes in the area. The feathered pilgrims also find the food that the humans bring to the swimming hole around the Hippo to be a great source of nourishment.
At night, it is said in hushed tones, that the Pink Hippo rises and walks the river. Parents, both feathered and human, tell their little goslings to listen carefully to see if they can hear him tip toeing in the deep channel just making sure everything is OK and that all is well along the Mighty Musky. So far, the river and those living along it have done just fine.

SANDY BUILDS THE BETTER MOUSE TRAP

SANDY BUILDS THE BETTER MOUSE TRAP
Hey, I’m not kidding. My wife Sandy is always on the ball but, this time she really out did herself the other day. People most everywhere will be flocking to stores to get their hands on this latest and greatest mouse trap. It’s fun. It’s simple and, it’s very economical too. Plus kids will laugh themselves silly watching this trap work its magic. Now friends, here’s the big kicker and believe me, it’s the kicker of kickers. Mice everywhere, worldwide will be lining up to cheerfully stick their heads into this perfect mouse removal system. I can almost hear the screaming hoards of customers at our front door with fistfuls of ten dollar bills to get one, no two, that’s two dozen of these marvelous devices that no home or office should be without. Billy Mays wherever he might be, is eating his heart out.
It all happened so innocently. Like most world changing good ideas, the inspiration came out of the blue to a clear headed humble person, facing a problem with both eyes open. Sandy was working in our simple but adequate kitchen. Like most great inventors Sandy was up before the sun and lost in thought. She was making a simple breakfast of hot tea and toast. Heavy on her mind was a problem most folks who dwell along the Musconetcong River have during the winter months. In short, we had mice in our home. Lots of mice. In the evening, mice could be seen scampering across the living room rug. One foul rodent was even in the process of constructing a nest under my pillows. Yes, my very own pillows. Pillows that were handed down to me from my parents and their parents before them. Well, that vile rodent kept me up all night chewing on foam rubber and feathers. Something had to be done but, what. For the love of God, but what!!
Sandy reasoned that the problem would only escalate until something was done. But what could be done? Her mind raced over one possible solution after another. Those spring traps with the fake cheese on them were too slow. In any case, mice are too smart for that not so clever ruse. Fake cheese indeed. Those get ‘em alive traps are only made of plastic. Even a dumb mouse knows that all they have to do is chew out the other end and pow, they’re free. Yes, free to pillage some more. Poison’s no good. Under cover of darkness the mice could take some and put in the cat bowl. Even worse, the smarter mice might relay it up to the top cupboard and stick it in with your corn flakes. Next thing you know, you’re out on the highway for the morning commute when all of a sudden your nose and eyes start to bleed.
It must have been a stroke of divine intervention when Sandy dropped the peanut butter jar. She was spreading some of that nourishing spread onto her toast and her butter knife knocked the jar off the counter and onto the floor. The jar just laid there on its side. Sandy bent down to get the jar when a mouse ran out from under the kitchen cabinet and dove into the peanut butter jar. Luckily, Sandy’s martial arts training came into play. Her hand backed away instantly saving her from getting a nasty nip.
Sandy is known in her circles for her fast thinking. As the mouse was gobbling peanut butter from the inside of the jar, Sandy went and got the lid. She cautiously snuck up on the jar from behind and in an instant secured the lid to the jar trapping the unsuspecting rodent within. It was a big one too. Funny, but the mouse didn’t seem to care. He kept right on eating as if nothing was wrong. It was easy for Sandy to take him for a bit of a “ride” out to the far reaches of our yard down near the river. Once there, a stealthy unscrewing of the lid and a quick snap of the wrist gave our over filled guest the bums rush. He sailed into a nearby thicket. He was too full to move but none the worse for his ordeal. Before he could come to his senses, Sandy was up the trail to our home. A home with one less mouse in it.
Back in the kitchen, Sandy just played a hunch and put the peanut butter jar back down on the floor with its lid off. No sooner had she done that when, in mere nanoseconds, two mice ran out from under the refrigerator racing for the jar. They dove in with a squeal and SNAP! Sandy capped the jar right behind them. Soon, they too were in the thicket with the first victim. Sandy and I got a lot of mice out of the house that day and, they were all grinning.
At sunup the next day, we took our idea to a patent attorney. Truthfully, we had dollar signs in our eyes. The lawyer looked our invention over. It even worked in his break room just like we said it would. He was impressed but, discouraged us from going further in marketing our idea. He said there was a chance that folks buying and using our invention could get hurt. What if the lid slipped and the trapped mouse made a run for it and ran up someone’s shirt sleeve? The mouse would be in the perfect position to bite the human on the ear or worse yet, the juggler vein. He also, figured that even if our invention was protected under present patent statutes it would be just too easy for those less honest to use their own private peanut butter jars. Even if the police were called to investigate, it would be our word against theirs that they just happened to drop the jar and well, could they help it if the mouse just ran in. Who’s to say it wasn’t an accident? The lawyer also said that the peanut butter cartel could get after us too.
Well, we just looked at each other and gave up. We went back home in silence and had some peanut butter toast for a snack. We’ll be eating a lot of peanut butter for a while. At least, I got it on sale at work. We bought quite a few jars before we went to see the lawyer. Guess we should have waited.

LIKING TRAINS AND PEOPLE

LIKING TRAINS AND PEOPLE

The crossing lights came on and, the gates came down. We figured it might be a good idea to stay right where we were. The older woman in the back of our ambulance wasn’t in any hurry. She had died overnight in her sleep. We were just transporting her in to the morgue at the hospital. My captain and I weren’t about to pull in front of an oncoming train. Those things just can’t stop on a dime, even for an ambulance. We weren’t quite ready to join our passenger at the pearly gates so, I put the shifter in neutral. We looked down the long straightaway. I looked to the left and, the Captain Ray looked to the right. He caught the first glimpse.
Far down the straightaway and coming from the south, we could see an engines one headlamp glowing through the haze and dust. Gosh, that freight train was still at least a half mile away. We could have put on the flashers and gone around the gate. I asked Captain Ray if he wanted me to boogie out. He figured it would be a bad idea. I agreed. We talked about what if that signal was for a south bound Amtrak highballing out of that curve just to the north of the crossing. We’d both seen that kind of thing happen at crossings like this one. It was never pretty. So, it was resolved that we’d sit back and partake in that great Southern pastime, train watching.
We kept our eyes on that lone headlight and how it started growing. We talked a bit too. Captain Ray knew just about everyone in the county. I asked him if he knew the lady in the back. He thought a minute and said he thought he might have seen her a time or two maybe at a fair or something. She might have had something to do with the county fair committee’s garden exhibit. He did mention that a couple of the duty crews had gone out to her home when she needed transportation to the hospital after she came down with emphysema. He knew she had been pretty sick for a while. Ray remembered her as a nice enough lady. One of her kids raced dragsters out at the speedway. That’s about all he knew.
The freight train wasn’t too far away now. Turns out that it was the Tropicana Northbound. It was running early too. Usually, it came through town later in the day. It must have been running full with an important load. We figured it was given top speed clearance. Three engines led the way. They were roaring up the line and it was a long long train of nothing but refer cars. Each one was painted to sort of look like a Tropicana Orange Juice carton on its side with steel wheels on the bottom. A little hula girl was on the side of each car. It was already too hot for early morning. It made Captain Ray and me thirsty just to look at all those cars full of nice cold orange juice. We talked about how that train was the pride of the line. Honestly, it made us wonder how the farmers down in Florida could grow enough oranges to keep that train running every day like it did. Then we got to thinking how maybe it wasn’t just full of oranges but, that maybe they also hauled grapefruits, tomatoes, lettuce, or anything that needed to stay cold.
It might sound callous, but we both, at the same time, wondered out loud if they hauled bodies in one of those reefer cars. We kind of laughed that the thought hit us both at the same time. But, it would make sense to do that kind of thing if someone who died in Florida needed to get to their funeral up in New Jersey. Gosh, they’d be up north in about twenty four hours. Probably wouldn’t cost much either. Ray, said how he’d always liked orange juice so, he’d want a ticket punched out for one of the orange juice cars. As for me, well for all my life I considered it a kind of hobby of mine to make spaghetti sauce. I told Ray to make sure they stick me in with the tomatoes and maybe put a symbolic sauce pan in my hands. I also figured I’d like to be put up near the vent hatch. That way the train crew could maybe leave it open and I could sort of have a window seat. The juice train moved so fast that anyone watching the train like we were wouldn’t have time to realize that the guy looking out the hatch was dead. I told Ray to make sure that the coroner leaves my eyes open so, I could enjoy the view.
The train was almost past us. It had just a few more cars to go. It seemed to be miles long. It was gaining speed as most of it was now beyond that sharp turn just north of the crossing. We were both lost in our own thoughts. I can’t speak for Captain Ray. But me, I was thinking how beautiful that juice train looked. It was an honor just to watch it go by.
I thought also how it was an honor to be of help to that lady in the back. She must have, in her own way, been a good person to know. Back in her bedroom there was a photo of her on the dresser. She must have been in her early twenties when that photo was taken. God, she was a knockout. The family members at her bedside were very sad of course. But, they also looked to be full of love for her too. Sure, they were crying now as I brushed her hair a bit and closed her eyes. But, in time they’d be remembering the good years.
The Tropicana Reefer train passed by the crossing heading north. The crossing gates came up. The dispatcher radioed in that we had another call. Someone needed to be taken to Duke Medical Center and as soon as we dropped off our passenger, we had the honor.

MAYBE I’M NOT SO DUMB AFTER ALL

MAYBE I’M NOT SO DUMB AFTER ALL

Friends, it’s been tough these last few weeks. Trying to get myself a brand new web casting host server has been just that….trying. Trying as can be. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to understand what had to be done, it just wasn’t happening for me. One day, I just about lost it when it took me three hours to rip one song from a cd and turn it into an mp3. By the way, I still don’t know where that particular song is. If you see it, let me know. It’s in the computer somewhere but, don’t ask me where. I really liked that darn song, I just hope it isn’t gone for good lost in cyber space.

I sort of remember sitting down to read instructions about how to transfer a file and put it into a playlist I think. I started reading at 9:00 am. Sometime after 1:30PM, my poor wife Sandy came into my studio with a coffee and found me slumped with my face lying on the keyboard. Luckily, she got my head off the computer before I started drooling. I was muttering incoherently.

To make a long story short, it was looking pretty darn bad for me to ever get back into the web with a show. Worse than that, I just plain felt so stupid. Here I am in the autumn of my days and as far as computers are concerned, there’s cottage cheese that’s got more on the ball than I do. Sure, I had lots of great people who were more than happy to help me as much as possible but, when you’re dumb you’re dumb. I felt like such a burden with ignorant written all over my pointy, bald, and, brain dead noggin.

Long story short, these wonderful people ignored my whimpering at the keyboard and forged ahead to make one great web station for me. Bless each and every one of them. As I crouched in the corner squatting in the fetal position muttering gibberish and calling to my mommy as I sucked on my thumb, they stood firm. Sure, I had to be slapped a few times to stop my panic attacks but, in due time, we’re running. Yep, running well. No thanks to me.

Well, I grabbed the controls and keyed the microphone, hit the on buttons for the turntable and started talking. We’re in the web and sounding better than ever. But, even with my first happy words in this new realm, I just couldn’t shake how I’m so stupid when it comes to computers. I can re tube a boiler the size of a house blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back. If someone gave me a little refresher course, I could set IV’s in an injured persons arm at an accident scene. I used to break cinder paving slabs with my bare hands. By the way, there’s a trick to that kind of thing. I’m not Charles Atlas. Of course it hurt but, I could do it. The thing is, it really hurts if you do it wrong. Oh God but it hurts something awful. But you see I’m smart enough to never ever try that kind of thing again. I’ve always been one who could learn his lesson.

Now one of the kind souls who helped get the station up and running had a well meant thought. He mentioned that if I could learn to do all the many things I did in the past, that understanding computers was certainly within my grasp. But, sadly, I proved him wrong time after time and again and again.   Bless him but, face it, I’m a cyberjerk.   I’ve just had to own up to it and walk the windy muddy road reserved for fools.

I’ve been back in the web now and, I feel much better. But that cyberjerk thing keeps gnawing at me. Maybe this kind of thing comes with old age. I don’t know. You get to feeling useless and you start to hear things about friends your age that have retired from jobs they did all their lives. They just wander into the misty light.   The world of the young has taken over and left them and, maybe me, behind to just sit and mutter on an old moldy log along the highway of life.   Gee, about all I’d be good for is to wave at passing cars and trucks and flash a big old toothless grin at the world going by on its way to leaving me behind. And then it happened. The clouds parted with a glorious glow and blaring of trumpets.

No, the angels weren’t coming for me. At least, not yet. No, I was getting a pallet of milk onto the dairy shelf when a young girl came up the aisle and asked me if I could help her. Of course I said sure.  She said that she just had a question. She wanted to know how much is six times eight. I didn’t waste a second and told her that the answer was forty eight. She asked if I was sure. I said yes, six times eight is forty eight. She wanted to know how I knew that. I said how I just learned it in school when I was a kid. That was good enough for her and she went on her way. I’d say she was twenty or so. Nice girl. Pretty too. I watched her disappear around the corner and then it hit me.

Hey, I know divine intervention when I see it.   That girl had to be an angel sent from up above to bolster my shriveling ego. Although she did buy a whole bunch of peanut butter that was on sale. Well, maybe they were low on peanut butter up in heaven and ours was a pretty good deal. Maybe they sent her to kill two birds with one stone. Whatever it was, she made my month.

Whoever or whatever she was she showed me that I didn’t always need a computer to come up with the right answer to solving a problem. Kids nowadays thrive in the web. They’re smart phone can tell them in a heartbeat how much six times eight is. But, I didn’t need the phone. No sir! I had my noggin. Poor old Mrs. Dembeck back in fourth grade drilled that one into me long ago and, she sure didn’t use a computer. She used brute force. Six times eight is forty eight is written in stone right under that thick skull of mine. I’m a walking computer. Who wants to know how much is nine times five? I got your answer right here baby. Look for the dairy clerk and dee jay with the spring in his step and the knowing grin on his kisser. Just don’t ask me to download a file.

STUFFED PEPPER SOUP

STUFFED PEPPER SOUP

Have I ever got a recipe for you friends. Smack your lips, ‘cause here it is, hot out of the Doc South test kitchens.   Introducing my latest creation. Put on that bib for, STUFFED PEPPER SOUP!!!! Yep here it is and, it’s so easy to do. Cheap too. You could do it blindfolded.   But, don’t do it blindfolded. You don’t want to do kitchen work blindfolded.

Here’s what you need. One large green pepper, a generous amount of hamburger, an onion, one hunk of garlic, a can of tomato soup, water, a bit of rice (maybe a cup), and whatever spices you like.

Wash the pepper and chop it to pieces. Do the same thing to the onion and garlic. Stick them in a large sauce pan and lightly fry the veggies in some olive oil. It’s best to brown the hamburger in a separate frying pan and then transfer the meat to the sauce pan and mix it into the veggie mixture. Save a little for the dog. They’ll be coming in to check things out once the aroma hits the living room.

Now open that can of tomato soup. Watch out for the lid. It’s sharp. Don’t rub your finger along the edge. Darn it. Now, you might need stitches. Don’t get blood in the saucepan. Once you’re all bandaged up, pour about three soup cans of water into the pan. I know it says to only use one can. Do what I say. Use three cans. You’ll be glad you did. How’s the finger?

Put a lid on the saucepan and bring the thin soup and everything else to a mild boil. Now, add a cup or so of rice. Stir it up real good. Turn down the heat and put the cover back on. You have to let it simmer for about an hour or two now. Every now and then, get out a spatula and scrape at the rice that’s stuck on the inside bottom of the sauce pan. Do it now because if you let the rice attach itself to the bottom of the pan, you’ll need a jack hammer to knock it loose later when you have to do the dishes.

It’s done when the rice is cooked but, you can let it simmer for a while. Just stir every now and then. Keep the scraping spatula handy. You’ll need it.

As far as the spices are concerned, add whatever you want. I just added salt and pepper. There you go. It’s done. Grab a soup bowl and a pack of crackers and have a nice meal watching your favorite show on TV. Better yet tune into my webcast. Just don’t start singing to one of the songs with your mouth full. I don’t want you choking.

Side thoughts here.   On second thought, it might be a good idea to use less rice. That cup of rice has just about taken over the sauce pan. The whole concoction looks like red and green over done oatmeal the day after. Lucky for me, I like rice. One other thing, it might also be a good idea to use more than one green pepper. I used a pretty big pepper but, after all that simmering, it’s disappeared. Now, I think I’ll pick up a pepper or two after work. I also think hot biscuits would really go well with this meal. So, I’m going to get some of them too. Looks like I’ll be eating pretty darn good for a few days now.

 

WILLIE THE CHECKER KING

WILLIE THE CHECKER KING

Many many years ago, I worked in a state run insane asylum. I can’t mention the name. When I hired on, the director of personnel made me sign a form stating that I would never ever reveal what I saw or experienced while working in the wards. But gee, that was fifty two years ago and I’m just bursting with stories.   And this one’s a doozy. For the life of me there’s not a thing wrong with telling this tale. It’s a good story about a very wonderful person. That person was Willie the Checker King.

State mental hospital wards back in the sixties were pretty rough places to work. Many people couldn’t do it even for a minute. The ward I worked on, for each shift, had about eight orderlies and one nurse to handle about one hundred and seventy five patients. There were about ten wards in the mens side of the building. There were ten wards for female patients. For all those patients, there was one psychiatrist and I think two medical doctors. I may be off a bit on the exact numbers but, I’m just trying to give you a rough idea of the patient to medical staff ratio. It wasn’t easy for patient or staff alike. We all did our best to make the best of a bad situation. We worked hard and, the patients did their best to make our chores easier.

We’d make beds and give out shaves, do the lunch feeding and, the like. You really don’t want to hear about some of the chores we had to do.  Sometimes the patients would just come out of nowhere and attack us.   I know I once got a punch in the mouth from an angry patient who hallucinated multi fanged worms in the ice cream I brought him. I didn’t see a thing in his darn ice cream. I also didn’t see his fist coming. After he hit me, I kind of saw multi fanged worms myself. They’re kind of pretty. I traded him two of my green worms for one of his purple ones.

Eventually, the day would calm down a bit and many of us, patients and staff would retire to the sun room. It was kind of a recreation room I guess. The TV was always on and high out of reach. There were books and newspapers. No girlie magazines. Even those folks who were really way far out of Realityville still liked to sit in a chair and soak in the sunlight and read a book. They might have had it upside down but, that’s ok. They were enjoying themselves. Of course there were checker boards and right next to the best board, the wooden one, sat Willie. He was there every day at break time with his arms folded waiting for a victim. He was waiting for me.

I don’t really know why Willie was in the hospital. He seemed ok to me. He seemed to be a little childish but, aren’t we all.  He wore his clothes on the shabby side. But, if that was a symptom of mental illness, the orderlies would have been tying me to a chair right next to the guy who saw those multicolor snakes with fangs. He might have been a bit feeble minded but it, was the sixties. We were all short on the grey matter back then. Now that I think about it, I think Willie was put on this Earth just to humble yours truly Doc South and, I thank him for it.

You see, we were told at our one and only training session, to always be ready to interact with the patients. Get to know them. Watch for symptoms. Engage in conversations. We were also told to never turn our back on them. So, while we were facing them, heck why not strike up a bull session? Break time in the recreation room was the best place to do this kind of thing and every day that whole summer long I’d walk into the recreation room and there he’d be waiting with his arms folded and looking right through me. Willie was ready for the slaughter and I was the little fluffy lamb.

I like playing board games. I’m happy to play Chess, Monopoly, Risk, Bridge-It, Chinese Checkers, Chutes and Ladders, Video Village, Candy Land. You name it. If it’s a board game, I love it. Playing checkers is a great way to spend an afternoon. Well, it was a great pastime until I met Willie.

It all started one day early that summer. I was new on the job but, eager to do my best. My chores were done and I walked into the break room looking to interact with the patients. Willie called me over and asked if I’d like to play checkers with him. He had such an innocent smile. It was almost childlike. How could I say no?

I sat down across from Willie. That was my first mistake. There were more to come. I don’t know how it’s possible but, in that first game, Willie had all my checkers in eight moves. I don’t think he lost even one. I should have stopped then but, I didn’t. Every work day at break time I went peacefully to my doom. Now I want you to know that my board game pride was shattered forever since that first day so long ago. That day that I met Willie and his red and black board of doom. Oh I tried.   God knows I tried. Sometimes, I’d get three of his checkers all in one fell swoop. But, as I rubbed my hands with glee, Willie would run the board on me. Trust me, except for the human tragedy and human loss he must have felt at Gettysburg after Picketts charge, I at least have some idea as to how General Lee must have felt that awful day in July 1863.

To his credit, Willie never rubbed it in and thank God, he never wanted to play for money. Pride was all I lost that long hot summer.   Try as I might, I never, and I mean never beat him at checkers. We must have played hundreds of games. Nope, I never beat him. It was impossible to beat him. Somehow it was as if God unleashed every last bit of His checker playing power through Willie.

For me it was humiliating at first. But one of the orderlies got me aside one day after an especially brutal beating on the red and black board of defeat. Willie was rubbing his hands and giggling as I gave up, shook hands, and left the room. The orderly said I had nothing to be ashamed of. Willie beat everyone. Everyone! The orderly said that as far as anyone knows Willie is beyond defeat. No one has ever seen him lose at checkers. No one. No one ever. I believe my fellow orderly said something to the effect of playing checkers with Willie is like doing something rather private against the wind. It was time to go. The shift was over. I went home defeated again and drove my crummy car home. Willie sat in the rec-room with his checker board and smiled.

MY SUPER NIGHTMARE

MY SUPER NIGHTMARE

Oh, I had the worst nightmare last night. Read this at your own discretion and beware. You have been warned. Don’t let the kids read this unless you want them climbing into bed with you till they’re forty years old. Ohhh! Beware!!! In all my days I have never had a dream so completely terrifying as this one. Beware! I beg of you….beware.

It started out with me sitting in total darkness. It wasn’t too cold. It wasn’t too hot. I sensed that I was in a chamber of some sort. It wasn’t as small as a coffin but, it also wasn’t as big as the voids of outer space.   My inner being told me that I was not in for a treat. The chamber was quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that I could hear my heart beating and the fast pace of my breathing.   I’d be real amiss if I neglected to say that my armpits felt real sweaty and smelly too. My innards were just roiling like a fat old snake on the hunt. In fact, I was in real need of a mens room. But, there was no way to even think about walking. Heaven can only guess as to what was waiting for me in the darkness if I had been foolish enough to even crawl in this darkened cell.

I could hear, as if it were way off in the distance, the surf like sound of a crowd cheering. It sounded so far away but, maybe my chambers walls were thick like the walls of a jail. Maybe the crowd was just outside. Maybe they’re within reach and waiting. Waiting for me.

It seemed like forever that I sat there in the darkness listening to that crowd. They seemed angry and excited at the same time. I could have almost guessed that they were the crowd at Rome’s Coliseum. Now and then, they’d roar and I wondered if some poor soul just got it in the neck. I realized that there was nothing I could do but wait and pray. Truthfully, I feared that even prayers wouldn’t help me now.

I had just resigned myself to a long wait when suddenly and without warning the floor shook under me. There was a low hum in the chamber. I could feel the floor vibrate under me. I was going upwards. It was like I was in a piston chamber sitting on the piston. I could hear the air hissing past the floor in my trap. For some reason I was going to be squished between the floor and the ceiling of this darkened pit from hell.   Falling to the floor would only buy me a few seconds more of this torment. I decided to just stay in my chair and wait for the end and get it over a bit sooner. I didn’t think I had long to wait. The fiendish crowd outside chanted and screamed all the more. I was their next morsel.

The floor stopped moving with a thud and all was still. The crowd was yelling even more so and, I amused myself by trying to pick out individual voices. That was hard to do but, I could hear the shrill cry of women. There seemed to be some old guy out there with that raspy voice old folks get. I get that kind of voice myself sometimes. I heard the bellowing of younger men just shouting for all they’re worth. The squeaky voices of preteens were out there too. Oh God! Kids were in the crowd. They shouldn’t be seeing something like what’s going to be happening to me. I prayed aloud for God to take me now before the monsters got their hands on me. At least that would spoil their sick fun. I finally figured the best thing I could do was to just sit there in the dark and wait. Then a voice spoke to me out of the darkness. It was a man talking. He might have been in his mid twenties. “Thirty seconds Doc. Get ready! Good luck!”

Good Luck! Good Luck!! Who was he trying to kid? Some good luck this is to be ripped apart by fiends from hell in front of a mob. Good Luck??? The man’s voice started to count down from ten. The chamber walls started to pull back. There was all this light in my face. I could see flashbulbs exploding. There were fireworks going off above me. People were waving banners. Girls wearing hardly anything looked at me and started dancing with guys. They were sort of dressed like they were from the fifties. As my chambers walls parted fully I saw that I was actually sitting on my old folding dee jay chair. I was wearing my ratty ball cap and my old blue jeans along with my favorite black JAMM RUN tee shirt. My worn out shoes and moth eaten white socks were on my feet. I was sitting behind my dusty van with a card table in front of me. My vans rear hatch was open and sitting high up. My cd players were on the card table and my turntables and mixing board were sitting in the rear of the van just to the front of my rear bumper. Over all the noise, I could hear an announcer all excited and hollering for all he’s worth.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Super Bowl five oh and our spectacular half time show. We invite you now to enjoy our entertainer for this years program…..DOC SOUTH. Take it away DOC!!!!!

I just sat there and stared. There was only a little bit of booing at first. But it really got ugly when I led off with a slow dance. The dancers didn’t know what to do.  They just kind of stood there with their hands on their hips. I think I probably shouldn’t have played Johnny Ray singing The Little White Cloud That Cried. I could have cued it up better too. It wowed a little at the beginning and skipped a bit. I went with a Motown hit by the Marvelletes for the second tune. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what song it was but, the crowd and the dancers kind of liked it.   I breathed a sigh of relief when I found Harlem Hit Parade by Little Isadore and the Inquistors. I knew that would do the trick but I was so rattled that I didn’t see that my turntable was set to play at 33 rpm.  The 45 of Isadores song started out sounding like a belch at that speed. Adjusting the speed upward without turning down the play volume kind of gave the tune a modern flare. So, that helped.

The Super Bowl big wigs did give me permission to announce that my performance would be simulcast on my web station. That was cool. You know how fans at a rock concert wave either candles, mini flashlights, or lighters when they’re digging the show? Well, I saw lots of folks waving their smart phones back and forth. Soon, requests were pouring in by email. I did my best to get to them. Someday, I’ve really got to get my collection in some kind of order.

Some folks liked the show. Some didn’t. Differences of opinion broke out in the stands. You just can’t please everybody. Security was called in here and there. The show didn’t take too long really. It was the fastest three hundred bucks I ever made. Truth be known, I really didn’t need to bring eight crates of records and fifteen boxes of cds. I also found that the dancers had no trouble boogying to almost anything by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

I don’t know but, what started out as a nightmare didn’t wind up too bad after all. There’s talk about having me back again next year. Something about my price being right. I can always use a winter gig so, this is great. Plus I got to see the last half of the game for free.

Darned but it’s a shame this was only a dream.   At least I woke up with a smile.

 

 

ONE DAY AT THE NURSING HOME

ONE DAY AT THE NURSING HOME

I came up out of the nursing homes boiler room covered in rust dust and oil soot. The dark lensed cutting goggles and my arm length cutting torch gloves just made me even more of a sight for sore eyes. Actually, I think I’d just make sore eyes hurt even worse.   The seniors were having a ball staring at me as I looked for the hole we drilled through the floor. This hole was for the new iron return water pipe we were installing to take condensate back to the boiler from the radiators. Condensate is real hot water that was just recently steam. It gave its heat to the room, in this case the nursing homes lobby. Now, back in liquid form, it needed a way to get back to the boiler to be made into steam again. The old return pipe had rusted out and pert of the new one was in my hand.

I found the hole. I got down on my knees and hollered through it to my coworker Jackson down in the boiler room. I could smell the boiler room air coming out of the hole. It was hot and smelled like oil and steam. I could hear Jackson down there cussing. He had just hit his head on a low hanging steam pipe. He’d get over it soon. I hollered to see if he was all right. He cussed back that he was seeing stars. He wanted to sit down and have a smoke and maybe some coffee. Coffee is the boiler makers idea of aspirin. It cures all and will hold an injured boilermakers pain in check until he can get to a beer garden after quitting time. The nurses were pretty in the lobby so, I hollered down the hole in the floor telling Jackson to let me know when he was feeling better. Jackson liked to sip his coffee so this was going to take a bit.

This was a very nice care center so, I decided to stretch my legs and look around the lobby. They had great paintings on the wall. Some of the old timers were reading or playing cards or maybe, checkers. Some folks were sound asleep in wheel chairs. Some folks were going here and there using walkers to get around. Nurses were handing out pills. One nurse asked me tongue in cheek if I needed a tablet or two. I said no but my partner down in the boiler room might want an aspirin cause he just hit his head. She said she’d get him one if he really needed it. I told her that he was taking a break and drinking his coffee. She said that the coffee would probably help. She asked if Jackson was bleeding. I said how I figured he was but, he was sitting down for that and having a smoke. She said if he starts screaming or goes unconscious, to let her know. Then, she went on her rounds.

So, I went back to people watching and noticed this lovely older lady pacing back and forth just inside the locked front door. She had to be at least eighty five years old. You wouldn’t know it to look at her. She was wearing a party dress. I’m not sure what to call the dress style but, it might be something you’d wear to a square dance. It had a lot of ruffles and all sorts of bright colors in it. Her sleeves had those shoulder ruffles like Snow White wore all the time. Her grey hair was all done up real pretty and she had lipstick on all bright and red. I think her shoes were kind of blue in color and, fairly fancy too. The prettiest thing on her though, was her big smile. She couldn’t have been happier. I seem to remember that she was singing a happy song to herself in a low voice. She must have been waiting for someone and, she was as excited as could be.

The pretty nurse with all the pills walked by me asking if a grey haired old guy just walked by. I said how that could be just about anyone in this place. She said this guy would have been a little bit more conspicuous because he wasn’t wearing anything.   I said how that might be by helper Jackson. Last I knew he had his clothes on but, he can get a little loony when he hits his head. She said that if she didn’t find the resident real soon, she’d check the boiler room and see if it was Jackson.

Before the nurse could head off, I had to ask her about that happy lady at the front door. The nurse told me that her name was Mabel and she was going out to lunch with her family. She told me that Mabel was eighty four years old and her family came every Friday to take her out to eat at the Pancake House down the street. I mentioned how that was darn nice of her kids to come by and do that with her. So many kids just put old folks in homes and forget them.

The nurse hooked me like a trout. She forgot about the naked guy for a moment and smiled as she asked me what made me think it was the lady’s kids who came by? I was taken back a little and then said how well, it’s good of her brothers and sisters to come by and be so nice especially with her at such an advanced age. The nurse just shook her head from side to side and smiled. Finally, she let me in on the secret. The lady was waiting for her folks to show up. Yes her Mom and Dad!!!

This look came over my face that made the nurse say how she wasn’t lying. She said how not one bit of what she told me was a lie. Just then she pointed and said how the folks just arrived. I turned to look and sure as heck, in came two very old and grey old timers. They were old for sure. Darned old. But only to look at them. Other than looks, they could have been just a young mom and dad picking up their little girl at school. The Dad walked with a snappy step and wore a bright checkered vest and a straw hat. Mom dressed much like her daughter and carried a red purse. They had to be a bit over a hundred and must have started their family early like many did back in those days. There were hugs around and then father snapped his fingers pointing at the car saying how he was looking forward to a big pile of flapjacks. Out they went. They hopped into the car and drove off. Dad even chirped the back tires a little.   The nurse asked if I needed help getting my jaw off the floor. I could hear Jackson hollering through the hole in the floor. He wanted to know where the heck that darn pipe was. He mentioned something about how I should quit my durn goofing off and get to work.

You know, that day was about forty years ago. That nurse would be in her eighties now. Jackson, gosh he’d be ninety at least. That’s if he was still alive. He lived hard and fast. No, he’s probably drinking beer and having a smoke with Saint Peter and all his old shipmates from the Navy. Me, I’m getting up there too and, the aches and pains are taking their toll. But, I’ll just bet that family is still getting together to eat pancakes once a week.   I guess pancakes with your family is a kind of health food. Pass the syrup. Is there any bacon left?

 

MR MURRAY, GOD’S ON LINE TWO

Mr. MURRAY, GOD’S ON LINE TWO.

Imagine that you’re a general contractor in Fort Lee and, this call comes in to your office. You stand straight up and out of your chair, and try to hide your deck of cards, as you get to your feet. It’s the Big Guy calling you. The big purchase agent in the sky. The grand Kahuna of Kahunas. No, it’s not Donald Trump. But, you’re close.   No, it’s God on the phone and He wants you to give Him a price on a job He needs done.

It seems He wants to contract out some work and He needs bids. He’s been getting a lot of prayers lately about the low water levels in the northeastern United States. So, here’s what He wants done. The lakes and streams all need filling. Ground water levels should be higher. The states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut all need a delivery of water. God thinks a minute and decides you better give him a quote for the District of Columbia too.   He says something about how the legislators have been hounding Him to death. The neighboring states up that way need help too if you got any water left over that you can’t get rid of.

God goes on to say that you can’t take ground water from California. They’re pretty low too right now. He does say that you can take water mostly from the Pacific Ocean and also pick up what you can from the Atlantic. He says how both oceans are pretty full and have water to spare. The only thing is they’re full of salt so, you got to evaporate the water before you deliver it. You can leave the salt behind but the water you deliver to the northeast has to be salt free. You’re writing just as fast as you can as God keeps going with the specs. You wish He’d slow down. Tidal wave delivery is out. The water can’t come as a flood. God says how He’s still getting calls from Noah’s attorneys. It turns out the flood wrecked his ark and he had to crash land on some mountain. God doesn’t want trouble with the Democrats so, pipelines are out. Oh, and the water should be evenly distributed at about a gallon or so per square foot distributed wall to wall, and border to border. He says that water crossing the border might get the Republicans crazy so, can you move the water by air? Fill every darn state in the specs. He also wants the water to go into the aquafers slow but sure. He doesn’t want to hear about excessive runoff. Now, get this, He also wants you to deliver this water in a pleasant, and attractive manner. It turns out He’s big on recreation. Whatever you do, he wants people to get excited about and, and at least somewhat enjoy your efforts. Oh, and he wants your best price. He tells you how He wasn’t born yesterday. Of course He wants your answer now.

Well, you got to think fast. I mean, it’s God on the phone. This is a great opportunity but, you only got eleven guys in your crew. You could put one guy in the Pacific with a pump and spray nozzle. You need one guy driving the tanker plane. Then, there’s got to be three guys with spray nozzles on the plane squirting water out over Buffalo. Suddenly, you just snap your pencil and think to yourself that the jobs impossible. Plus what if there’s trouble with the unions. God says He’ll take care of the unions but, no, you have to throw in the towel.   All you can do is tell your Heavenly Father that you just can’t do it. You wait for the lightning bolt to hit you right in the neck but, it never comes.

Instead you hear echoing laughter. It’s God laughing his tail off. God tells you how He didn’t think you could do the work. He tells you how humans nice as they are just can’t get that kind of work done. He then tells you how Mother Nature does all His contracting. Then, He sticks it to you by saying how she just gets the sun to slowly evaporate some of the water out of the Pacific. Then she gets the wind to move it over the ocean and onto the mainland. That way she doesn’t have to pay import fees. Instead of getting the teamsters involved, she just has the water turn to clouds over every body’s heads and lets the wind move everything East. Over the Atlantic, her crews take on another load of evaporated salt free water as she goes and opens the door to ice cold blasts of Canadian air. She then alerts the media and the show begins. Pretty soon the snowflakes form and down they go falling out of the sky and the humans go nuts.

You make the mistake of asking God if no two snowflakes are alike. He tells you he’s got better things to do than compare snowflakes. Who the heck would want to check them anyway? You want the job? You got it. You tell him you got better things to do as well. God continues, saying how all Mother Nature needs to make all this happen is to lease the sun for a few weeks and aim it in the right direction. Badda bing Badda boom! You got snow and lots of it. No charge.

God then says he’d like to meet you someday, His treat, for coffee and a Taylor Ham sandwich. He says how even He can’t get Taylor Ham in Heaven. You think fast and tell him you’ll mail him one. Hey it couldn’t hurt. You notice that it’s snowing outside. Al Roker says it could be a blizzard coming. You just smile and put your Taylor Ham and cheese sandwich in the microwave. It got cold while you and God were talking