THE TALE OF MOBY PICK PART ONE

THE TALE OF MOBY PICK PART ONE

About the closest I ever came to living like Huck Finn was my summer days at Lake Lenape. It’s this small lake up in north Jersey. My grandparents had an old log cabin there overlooking the water and the mountain across the way. Shoes were frowned upon at the lake. Barefoot was considered high fashion. I think my uncle Don even got me a straw hat. I wore it a lot, especially when I went fishing. Most of Granddads old fishing poles were made of bamboo and the bait of choice was worms.

Granddad and I had a secret worm patch out in the woods. It was a few yards off the road along one of the creeks that fed the lake. It was a small patch of topsoil all stirred up with coffee grounds and dead leaves. We’d sneak over there with a tin can and a small weeding fork in hand. Two minutes later we’d have a can full of night crawlers ready to rumble. Granddad would stick some more coffee grounds in the soil and I’d cover the patch with leaves. We’d then sneak out of the woods unseen by worm poachers and hop in the car and drive off. It was a secret patch. I still know where it is but, I’m sworn to secrecy. I took an oath to never reveal its location.   The worms now live in peace there. It’s only right.

Granddad had a big wooden row boat. It was just a foot or two smaller than the Titanic. Every spring, before we’d put it in the water, we’d turn it upside down on saw horses. Then, we’d caulk the seams and scrape the paint till the sides were smooth. We’d dab on a new coat of Navy Grey boat paint and, she was ready for sea duty. We’d flip her right side up and grease the oar locks. My Uncle Don would break an empty beer bottle on the bow and, she’d slip into the lake ready for yet another summer at sea.

Kapok swim vests were standard issue to all kids under fourteen. I was the oldest at ten years old so, that meant all kids wore vests. These were the ones that had those awful straps that dug into your crotch. After a bit the pain would shift from your crotch to your fanny crack and then your armpits. The floating pads scraped at your chest and waist something awful especially if you had a bad sunburn. I guess it was better than drowning. I guess.

Granddad said it was ok for me to go out fishing by myself. I had passed all the required seamanship tests. I could steer forward and reverse. I had dead stop down pat. I knew my port from my starboard so, I was cleared for solo in the twelve foot craft.   I also knew to stay clear of the dam if water was going over the spillway. I got to say, I loved having Granddads trust. He loved that boat with all his heart and yet, it was ok with him for me to go out in it. Boy, that was cool of Granddad.

So, one day I’m out in the lake about fifty yards off shore in water depth of two fathoms. I was trying my hand at spin casting and getting some pretty good throws. I believe I was using a green and chrome small spoon lure. I had the pole with the heavy pound rating filament line. I figured that I had caught enough sunfish. The worms needed a break and, so the lure would do. The game fish were jumping. It was going to be them against me.   Funny, but I thought I saw a fish out of the corner of my eye do a wild jump.   It happened so fast but, I thought it seemed to hang in the air and actually look around at the scene above the water line. On the second jump, I think it actually made eye contact with me. It sure was a big fish.  I didn’t see any more leaps but, there was a kind of funny feel to the lake all of a sudden.

I sat there thinking. Gee wouldn’t Granddad go nuts if I brought home a fish like that. He’d probably get the head stuffed and we’d eat the rest for breakfast all month. Wow! There I’d be in the family photo album grabbing this huge fish by the gills. There’d be no other photos on that page. It’d be just me and that fish. Grinning at the camera.

The bottom of the rowboat felt warm on my bare feet as I rechecked the knot on my lure. Everything checked out. I thought I saw a large v shaped slow moving wake of the starboard stern. That big one was circling the boat. I hit the cast button on my reel and prepared for my best shot. I whipped the rod just as hard as I could aiming for a few feet ahead of the wake. This was going to be tricky.

The lure hit the oar handle and got stuck. “Crud”, I muttered under my breath.   I reached for the oar handle. Boy, that hook was stuck. I reached for my needle nose pliers. I didn’t see the wake approaching from behind at ramming speed.

Remember that scene in Twenty Thousand Leauges Under the Sea? You know, where Captain Nemo is ramming that dynamite ship. Well, that’s sort of what I saw coming my way. There was this approaching wake with a dorsal fin in the middle, off the port bow aiming to hit right at the port oar lock.   The water parted about ten feet off port and, all I saw was teeth and fish sailing out form the deep and breeching into the air. I found myself looking down the mouth of a green stripped three foot pickerel. It hissed at me just before its evil head dove into the water. It seemed to take at least an hour for its whole body to loop back into the depths. I think there was a one legged doll stuck to its side. It looked like the doll was tangled up in fishing line and stuck to the behemoths flank. The doll gurgled “Mama!”

ROXY’S BIG VACATION

ROXY’S BIG VACATION

 

Sandy and I walked along the trail that ran next to a small creek. Roxy our first basset hound was with us. We were at the Natural Bridge Park in the mountains of Virginia. Across the stream from us was a pretty tall cliff. Sandy and I were looking at the initials, GW carved into the wall of rock. I read the walking guide and it said that George Washington carved his initials on the wall something like 250 years ago. The guide book also said that it was ok for George to have done it but, present day travelers better watch their step.   It went on to warn the reader to not even think about messing up the cliff. The initials were about twelve feet up the side of the cliff from the creek surface. Someone must have given George a boost. No one else seems to have tried their hand at initial carving there. Maybe the wall is under twenty four hour video watch. They didn’t have to watch me. I would have really been ashamed of myself to have messed up the wall. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe someone named Ginny Winderblatt might have messed with the wall back in 1923. Who knows? I’m thinking it was George.   Either way, true or false, it makes for a great tale.

We continued on with our heads in the guide book. We stopped a minute or two and looked at the Natural Bridge in front of us as it loomed up into the sky. There’s a legend that George Washington threw a rock from the valley floor that went entirely over the top of the bridge. I don’t think I’m going for that one. If George truly did that, he would have been one heck of an outfielder. The guide book also mentioned that it would be good to not try that trick either as a busy highway runs over the top of the stone arch. We continued on. There weren’t many good throwing rocks right there on the valley floor anyway.

We went under the arch. Roxy sniffed the pathway for just the right spot to piddle. She didn’t take too long. I think she was just marking the trail. Piddling to a dog is like carving your initials on a wall is to a human.   Like George, Roxy wanted to let the world know she’d been to the bridge.   I guess she was doing a kind of canine guest book.

For Roxy the trip was not all sweetness and light. She never liked riding in a vehicle. It made her nervous for some reason. Plus, when we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the high elevation made her ears hurt. To make a long story short, she wined and fretted most of the way. She also was exhausted from pacing back and forth in the back seat of the car. Even on the flat trail going under the Natural Bridge seemed to be a chore for her. I’m sure she was happy to be out of the car and sniffing but, still it was a tiring trip from her point of view.

We continued on our trek. For May in Virginia, it was a pretty chilly day. There were clouds and a very light drizzle. I like to say that we were all having a sinus headache kind of day. All of a sudden we smelled wood smoke.   It was drifting out of a kind of rawhide hut just a hundred yards or so up the trail. We walked that way to see what was up. Oddly Roxy led the way.  She was tugging on her leash for the first time on the whole trip. In her own way, she was making a kind of crooked bee line for the hut.

The hut turned out to be a replica of an old local indian lodge. I think it was made out of wooden poles, hides, bark, and straw. You know, all stuff you could get in the forest. I didn’t see any storm windows, brass door knockers, or mailboxes. There wasn’t one thing there from Home Depot. Smoke was coming out of a flap on the top of the roof.

There was a sign out front that said it was ok to go inside. Roxy must have read it as she was determined to head in. By now, she was in the equivalent of basset hound low gear. Her belly was about one inch off the ground. Her shoulders were hunched over and, that nose of hers was leading the way. She was on a roll heading right through the lodge door. We had to follow.

Roxy could get through standing up. She’s a low rider. Sandy and I had to crawl through the hole in the wall on a straw mat. The mat, if I remember right, was about as muddy as the surrounding dirt but, no big deal. We all got inside. A guide was there and said hello. He was an actual indian and, a descendant or member of the tribe that once lived in the forests here. He was dressed in old fashioned leather clothes that looked handmade. He started to invite us to sit with him at the council fire which was burning in the center of the room.

Roxy, didn’t wait for an invite. She tugged me up to our host. I told him that she was friendly. He said that he could see that. She sniffed him and let him do a quick pat on the head and then she made a bee line to what she came in for, the campfire. Roxy turned in place right near the fire side. She then let out a big happy sigh and plopped herself down right in front of the fire. I think she fell asleep in about four tenths of a second. Soon, I could hear the rumbling of a deep hollow snore welling up from deep within. The lodge walls trembled with each consecutive bellow.

Our host couldn’t help himself. Us too. We all just started laughing.  There, after such a long journey and many trials, Roxy had found the basset hound version of Disney Land. As she snored away, we had a nice long talk with our indian guide. Turns out that he worked in computers mostly but, liked coming to the lodge to tell of his people. We had a great talk. Roxy had a great nap. The guide gave her some beef jerky when it was time to go. It might have been a slim jim.   When we got back to the car and, started driving she didn’t wine anywhere near as loud as she had earlier that day. I think she was starting to enjoy this vacation stuff.

 

 

 

THE KID WITH THE GREEN HEAD

THE KID WITH THE GREEN HEAD

 

The other night at The Chatterbox it was time to play our National Anthem. This has happened every Saturday at six for at least the past two and a half years. Back then, when all this started, I was afraid that we’d get a bad reaction but, after time I found to my joy, that this song has many fans. In fact now, I’d be more afraid of not playing the song. I think things could get ugly if I somehow forgot. I don’t even want to think about it.

Back then, I was afraid that someone would be disrespectful during the Anthem. I worried about the possibility that no one would stand up and salute. Once, long ago, someone called me a Nazi for asking people to pray for our soldiers. Of course, that didn’t stop me but still, it did kind of hurt. Once, some lady who was very drunk sang the song way too loud and horribly off key. I kind of let that go because the actual Star Spangled Banner melody was at first a bawdy old English tavern song. I’ve heard that there were some pretty wild old English lyrics that were added and sung back in the day.   I guess the different taverns would try to outdo each other in terms of bawdiness. Some of the versions were a bit ripe to say the least. Somehow, even though I don’t drink, I like the idea that our anthem has its roots in a fun bar tune. With that in mind, I cut the drunk lady some slack. At least she used the lyrics we all know and love.

Francis Scott Keyes lyrics describe the desperate battle for Baltimore during the War of 1812. The British had just burned and ransacked Washington. Baltimore was next. If they nailed us in Baltimore, we would have been divided and, isolated. That might have been that. That particular British force wasn’t known for possessing large quantities of the milk of human kindness. They weren’t The Beatles by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily, with the help of a regular American Army and volunteers from the streets of Baltimore, we sent them packing. The British navy ran very low on powder trying to destroy Fort Mc Henry. After that, I guess their powers that be figured it might be a good idea to head for home before we got really mad. I figure playing our National Anthem is the least we can do once a week.

So, there it was, Six PM on July Forth at The Chatterbox. I stood up and did my usual fumbled introduction of the National Anthem and invited all to join in as The Wanderers, The Staff of the Chatterbox, and I honor our great nation America. Dan, our manager, turned up the volume and I hit the play button. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir knew their cue. The song started to play.

It usually takes a little bit of time for everyone to realize what we’re up to. They’re so busy talking to one another to pay strict attention to whatever I might be saying. Soon, though, most everyone is up and saluting each in their own way. This evening though, everyone was up at the first note with their hands over their hearts. I guess you could call it holiday spirit.

A family right across from me and sitting directly under the indoor flag were one of the first to rise. They had a son who looked to be about eight years old or so. They must have been to an outdoor event earlier in the day and found a face painting booth. The kid had a green head. I think he may have been made up to look like the Incredible Hulk. The Hulk would have been proud. The kid stood directly under the flag. He crossed his heart and bent his head up to view the colors. He planted his feet at strict attention and sang at the top of his lungs. He meant every word. The fingers on the hand at his side were held straight and ready as if for a salute. From the neck up, his hair was dark brown, his mouth bright red, and the rest of him was green with black trim. That green head of his seemed to float in the center of all the surrounding activity. In a way, it floated in the middle of a huge swirling vortex. I looked at the swirling mass of people.

There were a lot of people in the dining room. Near the kid, stood an elderly couple. They were both way overweight and it was probably hard for them to stand on short notice. Still, they were up and singing. The husband had one of those army vet ball caps. I figured that his wife was a great cook. I looked over at the soda counter. A biker was there standing straight. His arms were at his side and he was singing hard with his fists clenched. I think he had a Confederate flag patch on his shirt. The biker was flanked by others at the counter. Every race of mankind had a spot at the counter. You name it, and it was represented on the spinning stools.  They were up with their hands over their hearts too. I looked around the room. The waiters and waitresses were all at attention. The bussers and servers all were standing dead still in their tracks holding either serving trays of food or basins of dirty dishes. I saw families who probably had to save for weeks to afford the little bit of money it takes for a visit to The Chatterbox. I saw other folks who could have probably bought the place with one checkbook tied behind their back. There were people obviously from the Middle East, Mexico, and Myrtle Beach. I saw teens with green hair, guys wearing pony tails, bald women and every tattoo known to man on every body part known to medical science. The Wanderers were there also. They were up as well.   When the Anthem was over, they’d get back to their Saturday feast of friendship. There appeared to be people who were in good enough shape to have ridden bicycles to the Chatterbox from Texas. There were also people who were confined to wheel chairs. I saw new born babies and, folks that looked like they were at their last Forth of July ever. Everyone was up, each in their own way as best as possible, singing or saluting. I looked out the windows and saw that for as far as sound reached, the same thing was happening outside too. In the middle of all this swirling, was the kid with the green head singing his heart out.

The anthem ended. A cheer went up. People went back to their chili dogs and fried macaroni and cheese wedges. I made a note to myself to remember this moment and write it down for all to read. For one short moment, the Chatterbox was America just as it should be.
 

 

 

THE WEIRDEST DREAM EVER

THE WEIRDEST DREAM EVER.

 

Last night, I just couldn’t get to sleep. Maybe it was that seventh cup of coffee. I don’t know. Usually, coffee makes me drowsy. But, last night it didn’t work. Actually, I haven’t written a blurp in a while. If I don’t do that, I start getting a bit too negative. Worry and focusing on the negative is a real sleep stopper. Counting blessings instead of sheep is a great way to knock yourself out till morning. In fact there’s a song about that very subject. Bing Crosby sang it in White Christmas. After that, almost everyone back in the day had a go at it. It’s a great song. Shame I didn’t think about it last night.

I had all the symptoms of being very tired. I put my pajamas on backwards. I couldn’t find my pillow no matter how hard I tried. Turns out that all I had to do was to put my head up to the top side of the bed.   I wondered why my feet were way too comfortable. I couldn’t get my blankets to work till I realized that it’s best to be under them instead of on top. You get the idea. I was in for a rough night.

As I feared, the night was a long one. The second the lights were out, my eyes opened wide. Every worry on Earth paraded in one ear and out the other banging on my eardrums. The pillow may as well have been stuffed with shards of broken glass. I turned the radio on to listen to overnight radio. A constant stream of alien attacks, and financial collapse lulled me into an even higher state of alarm. Speaking of alarms, every two minutes I’d sneak a look at the dial and cringe at how I just lost even more moments of precious sleep and how I was now even closer to the moment when that stupid alarm would sound and I have to get up sleepless and head off to work exhausted. That darn clock has this awful ticking sound. At that time of the night, it’s like hearing my life’s blood drip away one precious drop at a time. Pillows wrapped around my head didn’t help. That ticking sound got through and wouldn’t stop.

I’d get just maybe a bit comfortable and almost off to dreamland and pow, my bladder would send a note up to my brain. Most guys know the message. Well, the last thing I wanted to do way make the journey all the way to the can. So, I’d lay there and figure the sensation would just go away and let me sleep. That ate up yet another half hour of the night. Eventually, I erupted out from under the covers and stumbled into the bathroom.   Business done, I got back into bed and squirmed into the covers. I shut my eyes and tried to relax. Wouldn’t you know it, ten minutes later, the guys down in the bladder deprtment sent another message of dire warning up to my jangled nerve center. Soon, I’m slugging the pillow. I’m starting to itch all over. My nose is clogged. My left eye is twitching. It won’t shut. There’s two geese having a fight out along the river. I think I just felt a tick crawl into my ear. I got gas pains. Now, I’m hungry. Real hungry.   Millie the Hound just came in whining to go out. I can’t find my slippers. I think I feel poison ivy starting on my elbow. Oh God!!!! Will this night ever end? I want to Sleep.   SLEEP! SLEEP!!! I must have SLEEP!!!   That ticking!!! Make it STOP!!!

Suddenly I heard this strange sound. It was kind of peaceful and serene. It was my alarm clock gently sounding its clarion call to welcome the bright new day. I opened my eyes and looked around. All was well and calm. I was under the covers with my head gently resting on a very soft pillow. It turns out that my bout with insomnia and all that squirming and pain, was just a dream. Only a dream.

SANDWICHES FOR SALE RIGHT HERE MISTER

SANDWICHES FOR SALE RIGHT HERE MISTER

 

My friend Steve and I decided to make a few bucks one day back in 1955. All’s we needed was a plan. I guess we were both about nine years old. It was pretty hard to come up with a good idea. In the summer a kid could always put up a Kool Aid stand. A pack of Kool Aid was only a nickel. A cup of sugar out of moms cupboard, a few glasses, and a card board box for a counter was about all you needed to turn a handsome profit.   The trouble with that idea was that it was Fall now and getting chilly outside. Our fledgling marketing minds figured that a refreshing iced drink just wouldn’t fly on a chilly Autumn day. We had to come up with some other scheme. There had to be another idea.

We were sitting on the curb when the idea started to form. I think we were getting hungry after kicking rocks up and down the street.   We were trying to decide whose Mom we could hit up to make us both a sandwich. I think I said that we didn’t really need either mom and, that I could make a sandwich easy. We headed for my house.

I told Steve as I went to the breadbox on the counter that sandwiches aren’t hard to make at all. All’s you need is two slices of bread and something to stick between them. That’s when it hit us. We’ll have a sandwich stand. It would be a perfect idea on a chilly day. We spent a moment or two punching each other in the arm for good luck and then, got to work.

We had the bread. Mom had plenty. Steve drew up a sign that read SANDWICHES HERE…..CHEAP! While he was doing that, I went through the refrigerator. There wasn’t much to choose from. I saw only a slice or two of American cheese, a little Swiss, and some old sliced salami. Man, if I took it any of that my father wouldn’t have enough for lunch. That could be trouble. I searched further and saw that we had plenty of condiments. There was Heinz 57 sauce, brown mustard, olives, and those little cocktail onions. Perfect.

Except for the onions, I loved all of those things separately. I was certain they’d taste great together. Why wouldn’t they? Steve and I were going to try a half a sandwich but, decided that would cut into profits. No sense wasting money when an extra ten cents meant twenty extra sticks of red licorice. We made about four sandwiches. Mom once showed me how to wrap sandwiches so, I gave it a whirl. After three quarters of a roll I got the sandwiches wrapped ok I guess. The kitchen wasn’t too messy as we headed out the door.

We needed a location and decided that the old dirt road next to the railroad tracks would be a good spot. That way, we could look at trains while we waited for customers. Also, Steves dad worked for the railroad. Maybe he’d come by on a freight train and they’d stop for lunch. You never know. Also, it was hunting season and we figured that if we set up right on the edge of the woods, perhaps a hungry hunter might drop by. We could almost taste that red licorice now.

An hour later, things were looking pretty glum. We were getting real hungry but, didn’t want to kill our profits. We checked to see if our sign was spelled right. We tried to sit up straighter. Then Steve tried something pretty cool. When a car drove by, he’d yell. “Sandwiches Here!!!” We noticed that people looked our way when he did that. It was my first glimpse at the power of radio advertising. Before you know it, we were both screaming at the cars. Soon, a car actually stopped.

Two guys got out of the car and headed our way. They were hunters. It didn’t look like they had much luck hunting so, we figured we had a sale as they saddled up to the booth.

“You kids got coffee?” The biggest guy asked.

We said. “No Sir. Just sandwiches! They’re only ten cents. Made fresh today.”

Steve asked for the sale. “Would you like one sir? How about you too mister?” Steve would become a master salesman someday with a technique that powerful.

The guys went for it. I told them they had a choice of onions or olives. They both went for onions. I proudly handed them my culinary masterpieces. Steve and I were smiling proudly at each other as we contemplated our new found wealth.  The hunters were unwrapping their new found meal. I couldn’t wait for the review.

Soon, one of the hunters was trying to speak. He seemed to be having a hard time talking. He finally choked out something like. “Hey kid! What the heck did you put in this sandwich?” The other guy was coughing pretty hard. As I told them of my secret ingredients he doubled up even more and started crawling towards his car.

The other fellow took another bite. He chewed it a bit and just kind of got pale. He pulled out one of the cocktail onions and said something about swearing off martinis. I think on that very day, at that very spot, he decided to quit drinking. I felt it was a win win situation.  He staggered off aimlessly to their car and they drove off. Steve was upset that we didn’t get a tip.

Well, when you sell fifty percent of your inventory in one fell swoop, it’s time to celebrate. Steve and I packed up our gear and headed off to Old Man Shapiros candy store. We left the sandwiches unwrapped along the side of the road for the vultures and crows. Funny but a day or two later on our way to school, we went by the old location. The sandwiches were still there.

TEE SHIRTS, LOGOS, AND, ONE OF LIFE’S GREAT EQUATIONS

TEE SHIRTS, LOGOS, AND, ONE OF LIFES GREAT EQUATIONS

 

Some people collect ties. Some people collect belt buckles or socks. My wife Sandy collects sneakers. Imelda Marcos has nothing on my sweetie when it comes to pairs of shoes lying in heaps around the house. Me, of course I collect recorded music. That goes without saying. Mounds of records rivaling the stature of the Great Pyramids of Giza are in every corner of our humble home.  But, I’m also a fanatic pullover shirt fan. In winter, it’s sweat shirts. During the warmer months, I stash the sweat shirts away in a pile under the bed next to Sandy’s sneakers and, start hunting for the ultimate tee shirt.

For instance, I’m wearing right now, a dark brown tee shirt with the large head of a smiling pig on the front. The nice thing is that the pigs head glows in the dark too. Friends from the Wanderers car club got this for me when they were down in the Carolinas. The pig has a wide smile on his face and is wearing a grocery store clerks paper hat cocked to one side of his head. Folks in the know realize that this pig is the symbol of the great Piggly Wiggly super market chain. Their markets are scattered all over the Carolinas and other southern states.

I know that when I was a member of the Wilson Rescue Squad decades ago, if we went to the Piggly Wiggly to get fat back and dried navy beans for our Sunday soup, our money was no good. We might have had to pay if we were after filet mignon, or fish cheeks but, most anything else we wanted was gratis. So, I wear this tee shirt proudly and love to plug the chain.

Once, down in the Carolinas, I found a wild tee shirt in a thrift shop. It was just a plain bright red short-sleeve tee shirt with a big white molar on the front. God, I loved that one. It sure was a super conversation starter. People would ask about it and I’d tell them I was in a punk band called the Whole Tooth. Folks would ask where the gig was that night. I’m guessing some dentist gave these out to kids for a good checkup. That, or maybe he made his staff wear them to work.

I’ve always got my eyes peeled for the ultimate tee or sweat shirt logo. I’m always reading them where ever I find them. Just one word of caution. If a well-endowed young lady is wearing a shirt of interest, it’s best to ask permission to eyeball the shirt before you start gawking. That can get awkward especially if her boyfriend is near at hand reading a muscle magazine and she herself happens to be a kickboxing champ.  In cases like this, it’s best to perhaps let the opportunity pass you by. It’s awful hard to enjoy future tee shirt sightings through swollen and, perhaps well-deserved black eyes.

Imagine my glee as I was getting ready to play at The Chatterbox the other day when I spotted yet another great tee shirt logo. Even better, this shirt was on a middle aged guy so, gawking was not an issue. This fellow was sitting on a stool at the counter. He was waiting for a burger and sipping a coffee while he waited. I was setting up my show coffee and I had a moment or two before air time. I had to compliment his shirt.

His shirt design depicted a kind of mathematical equation using symbols instead of numbers. The first symbol depicted a campfire burning followed to the right by a plus sign. Next, right after the plus sign, was a man sitting on a log with a cup of coffee in his hand followed by yet another plus sign. To the right of that plus sign was a kind of simple cartoon rendering of a sitting dog. Below that row of symbols and simple pictures, was an equal sign followed by the words…..ALL YOU REALLY NEED.

I spoke with the guy and said how that shirt made a lot of sense. He agreed and said that this was his favorite shirt. We talked about dogs. His dog of ten years had just passed away not very long ago. He figured that he was going to wait another month or so and get past vacation before he got another pal. I was going to mention that he should try 11th Hour Rescue. He said that’s exactly where he was going to go when the time came. Turns out that he’s gotten all his dogs there over the years.

I wished him well and his cheeseburger came. The waiter poured him some more coffee. He sat there munching away and after a while left to get on with his day. I’ll bet the next time he visits The Chatterbox, he’ll be out on the patio wearing his shirt, with the final piece of his equation. Ain’t math great?

 

IT AIN’T THAT EASY SOMETIMES

IT AIN’T THAT EASY SOMETIMES

 

I was doing a show a while back. I was set up outside under the cover of a big old shade tree. I had a fair amount of folks listening to my broadcast and there were all sorts of people walking by giving me a thumbs up for each song they heard me choose. Some folks even found themselves a seat and rested everything but their ears.

Around midafternoon, an older lady came by and nicely asked for anything from Peter Paul and Mary. She even bought one of my books and had me autograph it for her. She then found a nearby seat to rest a bit. I hunted for a good Peter Paul and Mary tune to play just for her. She was busy digging whatever song I had on at the moment. Me, I was bent over my record boxes trying to find her song.

A guy came out of the wandering stream of passersby. He walked right over to me like he knew me. He had an odd way of talking too fast and gravel like. He was one of those people who somehow, can talk without taking a breath.  He also spoke at least twice as fast as normal and a pause was not in his game plan. He wore combat boots, and a red tee shirt that had some kind of military logo on it. I think he wore camogreen parachute pants with lots of pockets. His ball cap was a kind of veterans hat. It may have been camo too. He had a beard. He was very thin and wiry. He would not stop talking. Even if I was on the microphone, it made no difference. Luckily, my mike is very directional.   I think he was about my age.

He talked about Vietnam and being in helicopter gunships.  He said how his unit, when they attacked would play rock and roll music real loud as they descended onto a battlefield. I think that I was playing a Jefferson Airplane song just then. He said he had served multiple tours of duty and showed me where he got shot in the elbow. Mostly, though he talked gibberish and didn’t hear a word I said in reply. I tried to speak with him but, it was no use. I had no idea what to do so, I ignored him and got back to the show. Besides, it was time to play that Peter Paul and Mary song I had found. Without making eye contact with my new friend, I introduced the song and offered it to that lady sitting nearby.

Giving up on me, the guy saw who I was talking about and walked over to her and sat down. He started talking a mile a minute to her just like he did with me.   The song was Blowin’ in the Wind. Maybe that was a bad choice. I tried to get him to come back over to me but, he had a new target. The lady tried to be nice but, she really wanted to hear the song. She eventually had to just turn to him and, nicely say that he was bothering her. I think she made one of those fingers to your lip gestures that librarians are so good at. I also heard her say that she wanted to hear the song.

With that, he just got up and left. He didn’t stop at my table. He didn’t talk to anyone else nearby. He whipped out a cell phone and started speed talking to whoever it was that picked up on the other end. He just hobbled away and melted into the passing crowd.   Soon, he just disappeared almost like a small storm passing behind the trees.

I’m certain that the lady was glad he was gone and I don’t blame her. But, as for me, I didn’t feel right about what just happened.   There was something wrong with that guy. He may or may not have been a veteran. Who knows? That did look like a real bullet wound on his elbow but, who’s to say? There was something mental going on for sure. I felt like I should have kept him close by and maybe got an officer to join us for a minute. I wondered if he maybe lived in the woods behind the festival grounds. Was he eating on a regular basis? Was he just talking to an imaginary friend on that cell phone? It looked kind of broken.   Was he sleeping in a sewer drain? A quote from the scriptures came to mind. It goes something like, “As you treat the least of persons, that’s how you are treating God.” I felt like a big fat rat.

Just minutes later a wild thunder storm hit suddenly.  Tell you the truth, I felt like I brought it on with my behavior. I figured I was going to get clobbered by a bolt of lightning at any second. Even if God instead of frying me, took pity on me and just let my amp get wet, I still felt that I was a creep to that guy. I should have gotten him to help. In times like these, with me, God, doesn’t have to do a thing. I think He installed a supersized guilt trip ego into me as standard equipment. He probably figured that would keep me in line. It does.

The next day, after a night of fitful guilt ridden dreams, I called some folks who I knew would know about this guy. From my description, they thought they knew him and, that though he’s a bit of a pill at times, he’s no harm to anyone even himself. I gathered that he’s cared for OK and that all in all, his life is running about as good as can be. The folks I spoke to thanked me for being so kind.

After the call, I decided to take a nap and slept pretty good. Funny, but just before that awful storm hit, I got my amp safely into the van just as the rain started to pour.

SMITTY

SMITTY

My wife Sandy needed a car pretty bad. Not that she was complaining but, the one she had could have been very useful to the Mosquito Control Commission. Just idling, it certainly could have rid the entire Jersey Pine Barrens of ticks, skeeters, fleas, and, campers.   In fact, if Sandy just drove a mile or two into the Pine Barrens, it would be a safe bet that the Jersey Devil would move to Brooklyn. Indians complained that she was messing up their smoke signal network. The only good thing was, she didn’t have to call to say she was coming home. All’s I had to do was look out the window for the approaching exhaust trail going up into the atmosphere. Plus, you could hear the car coming from ten miles out. If she was going somewhere she’d never been to, I could stand out on our deck with a map in hand. Then, just by watching the twists and turns of her exhaust plume contrail, I could see if she made the proper turn at a given intersection.  Another nice thing was she could only drive on nice days. In the rain, whenever she turned on the windshield wipers, they’d fly off their posts and into the woods. Also, the ashtrays were full. Not full of ashes but, spare screws and bolts that we couldn’t identify and reinstall.   The final blow came when the steering wheel came off and she had to use a crescent wrench to steer. I was riding with her when that happened, and finally put my foot down. My foot went through the floor.

We were in a pickle. The cars trade in value might have gotten us a small coffee. We didn’t have much money as the second hand store we owned took almost every cent we had to maintain. That store was the financial equivalent of Sandy’s car.   Luckily, I was doing a lot of car shows and cruise nights back then. I told Sandy that maybe I could ask around. Maybe one of the car people would have an idea of what we could do.   If nothing else, they might know a junk yard with a hole in the fence. We could sneak up one night and shove her old car through the hole and run. Maybe too, I said, the hot rodders might know someone who sells cars cheap.

So, I think I was at the Chatterbox playing tunes for the Wanderers. When I felt the time was right, I picked up my microphone and made my plea. Mostly, I asked if anyone knew of a place where I could find a good but cheap used car for Sandy. I didn’t need to get rid of the old car anymore. It dissolved in a heavy and windy thunderstorm. Just the tires were left and I used them to hold down the tarps on our firewood pile. I didn’t get too many suggestions. People mostly told me about this dealership or that junk yard. I wasn’t getting anything concrete for sure.

The gig was over and I was packing up my stuff. I was wondering how I was going to get my equipment to the car shows after Sandy commandeered my van. I was thinking if maybe I could get a cheap horse and buckboard somewhere. I turned to grab one of my turntables and stopped short. I almost bumped into Smitty.

Smitty was and, still is, I believe, one of the Wanderers. He and his wife Marie live in Florida now. But, back then they lived down in Morris County near Denville I think. If I had to describe Smitty in one word, I’d have to say, Fonzie.   Smitty might disagree just because like the Fonz, he’s not full of himself. He’s a quiet, tough, observant, human being. Like Fonzie, he’s one of those people who always have lifes jumper cables or the right tool handy for whatever life throws at a fellow traveler in this world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Smitty brag about any of the cool things he’s done.   He just quietly does them. Tough as he is I don’t think I’ve ever seen him push his weight around as a bully. In an argument, he would listen as well as talk. I’m sure this is embarrassing him. Marie picked herself a great husband and I’ll leave it at that.

So, Smitty kind of startled me when I turned and there he was. But, I’ve always been happy to see him. He had something to tell me.   Smitty said that he heard that Sandy needed a car. I said that he heard right.   It turns out that Smitty had a pretty good idea. He said that he had a car back at his shop that was just gathering dust. It was just a little sub compact. It might have been a Dodge Colt. It had quite a few miles on it. It needed brake pads but, other than that it ran pretty good. Smitty also said that he felt it was safe enough to drive. It just wasn’t much to look at. It wasn’t like it was rusty or dented or anything. Smitty said it just wasn’t the prettiest or snappiest car on earth by any stretch of the imagination but, it would get from point A to point B in due time.

I was intrigued. This sounded like a way out of the pickle barrel for Sandy. I asked Smitty if we could see it. He told me he’d stick it on a trailer and bring it by my second hand store on Monday if I’d like. That sounded good to me. I gave the OK. I felt Sandy could go for this car and paint it up herself if need be. I also figured it wouldn’t be a whole lot of money either.   So sure, I said, “Let’s take a look.”

Monday came. I think Sandy had something she had to do that day. I think we were in the middle of cleaning out a house or something. She said she’d be happy with whatever decision I’d made. So, I waited for Smitty to come on by.

I didn’t have long to wait. Shortly after I opened the store, I was looking out the front window and I saw a car carrier truck with a little white car on the back. It was slowing down and signaling a turn. I ran outside and over to the side parking lot of our store. Yep, I could see Smitty in the drivers seat. He was climbing out of the cab as I drew closer.

I was eyeballing the car. “Smitty, that car looks way better than you said. Sandy’s going to love it.” Smitty smiled as he got it off the trailer. He wanted to show me that it started and drove ok. I had to drive it around the parking lot a bit. He wanted to be sure I felt it was OK. It ran just fine. He felt, with care, it would be good for a year or so. Still, it needed brake pads but, that shouldn’t cost much.

I said we had a deal as near as I could tell. But, I needed to know how much he wanted for the car. I about fell out of my skin when Smitty gave me the price. I was shocked at the amount he wanted. With a smile, he said, “I don’t want anything for the car Doc. It’s free. Just take it. Here’s the bill of sale.” With that, he started rolling up the hoist chains.   I just stood there all quiet with my mouth open.

Sooner or later, I spoke. “Are you sure?” He was sure. I think he said something like that I was always out helping people and it was about time someone helped me. That’s about all he said. I’m going to run this story by him before I publish it just because I don’t want Smitty to be feeling like I’m bragging for him, which of course, is just what I’m doing. He’s a great guy.

To make a long story short, Sandy loved the car. She got the breaks fixed. I don’t remember that she painted the car. She did however, get a cast iron basset hound doorstop and had our mechanic bolt it to the roof. It was her idea of spiffing the car up a bit and making it cooler. She drove it for quite a few years and it gave her very little trouble. I think she loved the car and, it loved her. Thank you Smitty.

 

 

 

 

TAKING THE GAS PIPE

TAKING THE GAS PIPE

There was a time when the only experience I had with first aid was an awful wreck that happened just outside an old small town that I used to live in back in Pennsylvania. In the night, two older ladies hit a log truck head on. They were pinned in the car and screaming and bleeding something awful. Spectators and fire crews were shaking the car up and down trying to free them. That’s not the right thing to do but, no one at the scene was trained in first aid. The ladies died on the way to the hospital which was about forty miles away. The helplessness of that night convinced me to learn first aid and become an EMT. I figured that maybe some good would come out of that awful night.

About two years later life took me to Wilson, North Carolina. I was alone then and had plenty of time on my hands. I was already an EMT in Pennsylvania.  I saw the night school in Wilson had a North Carolina Certification Course I could take. So, I signed up for it and went over to the county rescue squad to see if they could use a damn Yankee hanging around the place.

They thought I talked funny, and my beard had to go but, I could keep my mustache. They really didn’t care one way or another about beards but, if I had to go into a poisonous atmosphere during a call, the beard would not allow a proper facemask seal, and I could get poisoned. I told them that I was born in New Jersey and was used to poisoned air. They didn’t buy it so, the beard went away.

Remember, that although I was officially an EMT and was taking a second course to boot, I really wasn’t experienced at all. I had absolutely never been on any call whatsoever. Up to that point, maybe a splinter extraction would have been about all I ever handled. I mean it was a big splinter but, that was about it. At least the splinter didn’t make me queasy and, I was able to keep my lunch down what with that two drops of blood that came out of my patients finger. I figured I stood a chance of working the tougher stuff out when it came. Still, one never knows.

In time, I was the lower part of a three man crew. Sometimes, when things were tight, I’d go out with just one partner. Every now and then, I’d get to drive which was really a trip. One of my partners was a long time member named Brown. I think when he was born, he refused the diaper and just got into the squad uniform. He’d been doing this stuff for years and, he could do anything. More than anything, I loved his street knowledge.

One night, we were coming back from a simple call. Some old timer had a bad belly ache so we took him to the ER for a checkup. We were on the way back to the squad hall, when the dispatcher came through the radio to send us on our next call. He was sending us 10-33 (lights and siren) to a suicide attempt on the outskirts of town. We hit the lights and boogied into the night.

It didn’t take long to get there. But, on the way the dispatcher, advised us that the subject was a woman. Her husband advised that she was taking the gas pipe.  That sounded serious. Brown said that when we get there, I should grab the portable oxygen tank and mask while he goes inside to see what’s up. That sounded good to me.

We arrived and put the plan into action. Brown ran inside while I fiddled with the oxygen tank and mask assembly. I ran across the lawn tripping over the oxygen lines. I think I may have dropped the mask and stepped on it a few times but, I finally got inside the house. I ran down the hallway and into the kitchen.

In the kitchen, sure enough there was a lady on her knees in front of her stove. Her arms were resting on the open oven door. Her head was deep into the oven.  She was screaming at her husband that she was going to take the gas pipe. He was screaming back at her that he’d be glad to turn the gas up higher and light it too. Brown was standing between the two of them just to keep them apart. The husband asked me if I had a match. I looked at Brown. I sure was glad he was there. I kept thinking that with one spark we were all going to die in this awful propane fireball. If nothing else, the lady must be needing some oxygen by now. Boy, she was yelling.

I looked at Brown and probably said something like should I start the oxygen or what?   Brown put his hand up. That was his way of telling me to wait a second. He then asked the man to please go into the other room for a moment. He did and he also took one of the many booze bottles on the kitchen table with him.   Now it was just Brown, me, and that lady kneeling on the floor with her head in the oven screaming that she was going to take the gas pipe. I started to unwind the oxygen hose and fiddle with the mask. Brown told me with his hands to hold fast and just let him speak.

Brown walked over to the stove and knelt down next to the lady. He spoke calmly.   “Ma’am, I’m with the rescue. Could you please tell me your name?”

Quietly, the lady said her name was Mary and then, she hollered real loud that she was going to take the gas pipe. Brown just knelt closer and said, “Mary, you just can’t take the gas pipe with your head in an electric stove.”

Mary kind of thought that over for a minute and, pulled her head out of the oven. Boy her eyes were red. We helped her to her feet.   She and Brown went out and sat on the back steps for a while. They were talking in the dark. I don’t know what he said to her but, I don’t think we ever had a call like that again from that home. Maybe, they just drank too much and got into a rare wild and wooly fight. These things happen more than you might know.

I was packing up the gear out in the driveway when Brown came out of the house. He said he’d drive unless I wanted to. I said I’d be happy to drive and let him rest after a job well done. Besides it was a good night for driving.   I figured someday, maybe I’d be as good as Brown and be able to spot, in a pinch, the difference between an electric stove or, a gas oven.

 

 

 

 

RYAN TO THE RESCUE

RYAN TO THE RESCUE

 

Truth be known, I was going to stay home and do chores yesterday instead of going to the Chatterbox to play tunes and do a broadcast. As it turned out, something kept gnawing at me to go. I am so glad that I gave in to the urge and made the trip. Had I not gone, I would have missed out on witnessing a view of kindness above and beyond the call of duty.   This all happened on this most recent Sunday afternoon.

Around mid-show, I was just admiring the large crowd of people dining at the Chatterbox. It was the usual busy Sunday feeding frenzy. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a girl in her low teens came over to my control booth. She was worried and kept looking over at a booth about twenty five feet to my left. The people in the booth had just arrived and were going over their menus. The nice young lady kept looking at them and then at me.   I eventually asked her if something was wrong.

She walked over and got closer to me. Funny, but she was covering her mouth with her hand.   She lowered her hand and spoke. “Do you know if anyone returned a dental retainer?” I said I wasn’t aware of anything like that happening. She continued. “I was eating over in that booth there.” She pointed to it. “I had a cheesesteak and took out my retainer so I could eat. I wrapped it up in a napkin to keep it safe. I think I left it over at the table but, it’s not there now.” She looked like she was going to cry.

The bussers at the Chatterbox are very fast and very thorough. Remember the movie Ben Hur and the chariot race scene? Those guys that had to clear a wreck before the chariots came around the track again, had nothing on the Chatterbox bussers. Those young folks are an elite crew of expert cleaners. They’re the navy seals of clean. They miss nothing and only leave full ketchup and mustard bottles behind. Like locusts they leave nothing on the table.   They’re done in seconds. That retainer in the napkin didn’t stand a chance.   By now it was in the garbage in the dishwashing room.

The young girl had left the table about ten minutes ago. That meant that the napkin holding her retainer was buried under at least a foot of table scraps and straws. Things were looking bleak. All I could do was call the floor manager, Ryan, over to my booth. He saw my wave and came right over. He saw that the young girl was nervous and worried. I didn’t even have to explain the situation. Ryan went right over to her and carefully listened to her story.

He stroked his chin as she spoke. When she was done explaining and almost in tears, Ryan thought a bit more and told the girl to stand by. With that, he turned and headed for the dishwashing room. He had this look of resolve on his face.   This was the same look I’ve seen when I did rescue work. Maybe we had a rough call like a train wreck or something, to go on. You know, one of those calls. Ryan disappeared into the dish room and he wasn’t coming back till the job was done.   The young girl followed slowly behind him. She waited just outside the door pacing back and forth and wringing her hands. I had the feeling that if she lost her retainer, the powers that be would ground her for the whole summer. A lot was on the line.

We all waited for what seemed to be an eternity. It was like this when my kids were born or, when I was waiting to see how a photo finish at the horse races turned out. Time goes so slow at moments like this. Suddenly, I saw the girl smiling. From her vantage point, she could see into the dish room through a small glass window in the swinging door. Ryan must have been on the other side smiling at her and waving something in his hand.

In mere seconds, Ryan burst through the door with a big smile on his face and his hand held high. In his right hand sat a crumpled up napkin. Some sauerkraut was dripping from his elbow and some mustard was on his shirt. He’d been through hell and back but, he found the prize.   The young lady was jumping up and down like a cheerleader. Ryan unwrapped the napkin and lo and behold there was the retainer safe and sound. It was hard to say who was happier, the girl or Ryan.

After he cleaned up a bit, Ryan came over to my control booth. I congratulated him and asked if it was tough. He said he had to drill down about a foot and a half into the garbage can but it was worth it to help the girl out. He said he just kept feeling around for a crumpled up napkin with some resistance to it and figured that would be the retainer. A few times, wrapped up chicken bones fooled him but, eventually he hit pay dirt.

I said how nice it was to see someone go above and beyond for someone he or she didn’t even know. Lesser men would have just made an excuse and let that young lady slip through the cracks. Ryan wasn’t that type of guy. He said he understood how much a retainer would cost to replace and he had to do something and not just stand there and do nothing.

I was going to congratulate him some more but, a server came up behind Ryan and said how a customer wanted baked beans and somehow got coleslaw instead. Ryan had to move on to the next challenge. It was one of those days but, he was one of those guys. Good for him.