Monthly Archives: December 2011

Waxing Nostalgic


Happy New Year’s Eve!  It’s been almost a year since I started this blog, “WTF-What The Fluffy,” and posted my first story “How To Make the Today Show,” about two rich kids in the Florida Keys who put a piano out on a sandbar and made the national news.  Then I promptly posted another story on January 27th about how the name for the blog came about in “Traveling Salesman.”  Since it’s December 31st, New Year’s Eve 2011, I thought I would wax nostalgic and review my year of writing these first 173 stories that have little in common except that I penned them all.  (Okay, I banged them out on a keyboard, but “penned” sounds more glittering.)

What does “waxing nostalgic” mean anyway?  Wax used to be a common word that was gradually replaced by “grow.”  So you could “wax” a lot of things.  Wax Poetic, for example, or wax lyrical, or wax idiotic.  So when you wax nostalgic, you grow nostalgic for the old days.  Not that January 27th could really be called the “old days,” but they’re past, so I guess you could technically wax nostalgic for them, however I don’t necessarily.  I’m trying desperately to think of something that happened last year that I will miss with any kind of  fondness.  When you wax nostalgic, you usually call to mind things you fondly remember, I guess.

My goal, and it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution, was to force myself to write something every day.  Originally I intended these WTF’s to be short, true, and “you’ve got to be kidding me,” but it evolved in different directions.  Still, I think most of the stories fit the theme.  However, I’m no closer to defining what this blog is about than I was when I started.

I’ve got a small group of followers, some who read WTF because they want to, and some because I forced them to sign up.  I mean, come on, my own family doesn’t read my blog.  They probably hit the delete key when the email comes in.  I didn’t write something every day, as anyone with math skills higher than mine can figure out, but I stuck with it, even when I thought many times that there wasn’t any point.  No one was reading it.

In my first week I pissed off the folks over at Battlecam.com.  I thought I had been “Freshly Pressed” within three days of starting my blog.  I was getting hits from everywhere and comments.  (For those of you that aren’t “WordPress” bloggers, “Freshly Pressed” means that “WordPress” has picked your blog out of hundreds of thousands of postings to be featured on their home page.  They haven’t been impressed enough with any of my 173 posts to be so honored.)  The problem was the comments weren’t, well let’s say favorable.  They were using every four letter word in the book.  Calling me things I don’t call people, and I call people a lot of things.  I was actually getting a little worried someone might show up at my door.  I was easy to find.  

In slight defense of the majority position with the members of “Battlecam,” I had some facts wrong in the story, so I promptly fixed them.  What they were most offended by, it seemed, is that I insisted you could watch the hanging of Saddam Hussein on the Battlecam.com website.  I know it was true, because it was a featured video when I checked out the website my one and only time, and I watched it.  It was rather disturbing, but the truth, as pointed out by one offended battlecamer, was that you could watch the same thing on YouTube.  And you could.  So I took it out of the story.  For most of the year, “A New Reality Show,” had the most hits on “WTF-What The Fluffy.”

Then I wrote a story about a pot-belly pig that escaped from the owner’s backyard.  The story, “It’s Going To Involve A Lawyer At Some Point,” has received hundreds of views, but only one spam comment.  I can’t figure it out.  I’ve searched it on Google and my blog doesn’t show up.  I think it has to do with a picture that I used in the story without the proper licensing, and it draws a crowd.

My top story of 2011 is kind of interesting, and it was to me when I wrote it, but not because it has received comments like, “Thanks for helping me with my homework.”  The piece entitled “Who Invented The Light Bulb?…Wrong!” averages the most hits on a daily basis since it first appeared on June 14th.  I couldn’t figure out why.  Then I searched “who invented the light bulb” and “WTF-What The Fluffy” appears on page one of “Google” search results.  The comments are interesting too, because posters argue with me about the truth, that Thomas Edison didn’t “invent” the lightbulb.  He held patents on it, sure, but it was invented a long time before his 1880 patent was issued, and he spent some time in court defending it, or, more accurately, settling.  I guess I should search out more stories that help students do their homework.  I could post some of the political science term papers I wrote in college maybe.

“WTF-What The Fluffy,” has, at the moment I’m writing this, received 14,549 hits.  In blogdom, this isn’t really that impressive, but it is to me.  It means that people have taken a few minutes out of their day to read something I banged out on a keyboard, and I thank all of you for it.  It has kept me going over the last year, forcing me to write something almost every day, and getting me to wax nostalgic on things that happened in my life that had been long forgotten.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve never suffered from “writer’s block.”  I don’t even know what that is.

Cover of "Writing without Teachers"

Cover of Writing without Teachers

In college, I was forced to read a book called “Writing Without Teachers,” by Peter Elbow.  My copy is still in my bookshelf.  The teacher who forced me to read the book, wasn’t all that interested in teaching us how to write, so he let the book do it for him.  And the books basic premise works like a charm.  If you can’t think of anything to write about you just start writing.  Write anything.  It doesn’t have to make sense at all.  Just start putting words down.  Then you do something Mr. Elbow calls “cooking”.  You read over what you’ve written and circle things that sound good and do make sense.  From there you have something to build on.  Loosely, the idea is to get you to edit after you write, not during or before.   There’s more to it, of course, but I know there is no such thing as “writer’s block.”  No writer can sit down in front of a blank sheet and not starting putting words there. “You will use up more paper,” he warns, “but chew up fewer pencils.” In all honesty, (not just some honesty), I’ve never read the entire book.  Just thought I would come clean on that, after 30 some odd years, to all the people I’ve turned on to the book.

  So I’ll be facing some more blank pages in 2012 and maybe something interesting, or funny, or “you’ve got to be kidding me” will “cook” out of it.  I’m not going to give up just yet.  I’ll get my family to read this blog sooner or later.

(Lead photograph is 2008 New Year’s fireworks in Melbourne, Australia.)

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Do YOU Know How To Drive In The Snow? Then stay the fluffy home.


It snowed last night.  About an inch, maybe two.  Not the blizzard the weather person was insisting was going to transpire, but enough to make driving a bit hazardous.  I think of cars and trucks, especially those with four-wheel-drive, to be nothing more than torpedoes waiting to find their target.  I know I can drive in snow.  I’ve been doing it most of my life.  I know most other people haven’t got a clue.

Rule number one:  Having a four-wheel-drive vehicle does not help you stop faster on an icy road.  We’re all going to be able to bring our vehicles to a stop the same way.  By slowing the fluffy down, pumping the brakes even in those fancy electronic brake-assist vehicles, and saying a little prayer that you stop sliding before you hit the bumper of the car in front of you.  This is NOT the time to be driving faster than everybody else because you have better traction.  This is NOT the time to try and merge your car into a lane with a split second decision blinker.  And, THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO SLAM ON YOUR BRAKES!

Rule number two:  If you don’t have any experience driving in snow, or you worry about driving in the snow because you grew up in Southern California, stay the fluffy home.  I mean really.  Driving ten miles an hour and stacking up traffic for miles is not helping anyone.  Someone is going to be following too closely and SLAM ON THEIR BRAKES!

Rule number three:  Stay the fluffy home.  When the weather person, and the news-anchor, on the early morning news, tells you that officials are urging you not to drive unless absolutely necessary, this does not mean to brush off your car and try to score a torpedo hit.  This is not the time to be playing snow driving “Battleship.”   “A-Blue Toyota.”  HIT!  Some of us really have to be out here.

Rule number four:  Stay the fluffy home, at least until the sun comes out and slushes up the roadway.  Major streets will be drive-able by early morning.  I promise.  Unless it’s still snowing out and then, you guessed it, you should stay the fluffy home.

Rule number five:  Brushing off just enough snow to give you a porthole to see through is not good enough.  Start the car.  Put the heater on full-blast to the defroster setting and brush off the car.  Flying snow “blocks” from the roof and hood of your car do not help the drivers following you, or passing you, AT ALL!

Rule number six:  Emergency brakes DON’T help you stop at an icy intersection.  We used to call them emergency brakes, now they’re known as parking brakes, but they do the same thing, keep your car from rolling WHEN YOU’RE PARKED!

One snowy day, when I was in high school, I tried to drive my 1956 Chevy station wagon home.  It was snowing pretty heavy like it often does in northern Wyoming in the winter, and they had let us out early. There was a good foot of snow on the ground.  I brushed off a porthole so I could see, and I backed out of the space without a problem.  But I couldn’t go forward.  I could go in reverse with ease, but as soon as I slipped the column shift into first, the car wouldn’t go.  I backed out of the parking lot and made it to the main road, and turned the car around.  It went down “High School Hill” without much of a problem.  When I got to the bottom of the hill, sliding to a stop, the car wouldn’t go forward.  I put it in reverse, and again it moved with ease.

I drove the car, backwards, all the way home.  Driving down the right side of the street in the wrong direction, but it was the only way the car would move.  When I got to the house on Burkitt street, I backed into the curb on the side of the house.  (We lived on a corner lot.)  Then I reached down to pull the emergency brake, and…the brake was already on.  It was engaged the whole time.  So for future note, cars don’t go forward well in the snow, or otherwise, when the emergency or parking brake is engaged.  They will go backwards, though, it seems.  

I rarely engage the parking brake on vehicles now.  There has to be a good reason for me to do it.  My wife does it automatically, so when I get in her car to drive, I’ve more than a few times, driven down the road trying to figure out why the car won’t seem to go.  It’ll go, but then a thumping sound will start coming from the back demanding that the parking brake be released.  “WTF is that noise?”  Happened just the other day.

Rule number seven: DO NOT STOP WHILE GOING UP A HILL!  Another part to that rule would be not to follow a car up a hill in the snow that has a California license plate on their car.  I’ll expand that to include cars with Texas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona and Georgia license plates on their cars, but they have no business being here in the winter anyway.  Just because the car starts to slide a little does not mean you should apply the brakes.  You will SLIDE BACKWARDS!  Into me.  Keep going.  Turn in the direction of the skid, and keep going.  Step on the gas.  Keep going.

By the way, four-wheel-drive trucks with lift-kits, that think they can stop better than the little red sports-car that slid through the intersection this morning on a red light, are prone to flipping over on an icy road when they slam on their brakes.  Just thought I would share that useful information.   

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I’ll Come Right Back With A Quarter


I finished my Christmas shopping last night.  More accurately, I DID my Christmas shopping last night.  It took me two hours and probably would’ve taken less if I didn’t have help.  Every year that I go Christmas shopping, I think it gets  more and more absurd.  I’m at the age, where if I want something during the year, I buy it, if I can afford it.  And since the person buying me the Christmas gifts is on the same budget I am, I can’t have everything I want.  I’ve known about Santa Claus for some time now.  He doesn’t have the money either.

I don’t enjoy Christmas shopping.  I don’t want to do it, which is why I wait until the last-minute.  Often, and almost every prior year, I shopped on Christmas Eve.  You get some good sales at the last-minute.  Stores are starting to panic that they bought too many of this or that Chinese import for their holiday merchandising.  Even last night I saved over $100!  Which tells me the stuff I bought was extremely over-priced.  We’re getting so gullible with coupons and “Khol’s Cash” and discount cards, that we’ve really stopped caring how much the thing costs.  If it’s “4 for $10” we gotta buy four.  I bought something last night that was 70% off, which means it’s now priced at the average 100% retail markup.  There’s no way the original price on this item (I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a Christmas present for someone who might read this post…but I doubt it.) was $100.  No one in their right mind would have paid $100 for this.

Christmas presents are for kids.  Little kids.  Not kids that are 18 and want Wii games that cost $60 each.  Get a job.  That sounds a bit harsh, but I really believe it.

I unpacked another box yesterday from our move, looking for something I didn’t find.  But what was in the box was all our baseball mitts, and softballs and baseballs.  In that collection is my first baseball mitt.  I bought it to play baseball in the school yard in the summer.  It’s a “Wards Hawthorne, Professional Model” outfielder’s glove.  It still works, although it looks like an antique, and probably is since it’s now 47 years old.  I have to say that permanent marker is really permanent, because my last name is still easily readable inside the base of the glove.

Montgomery Ward was probably on every main street in America in the 1960s, but the fact that they didn’t want to move off main street into the malls like their competitors, J.C. Penney, Sears, and the like, led to their loss of market share and demise.  It was their catalog, particularly their Christmas catalog, that was highly anticipated every year.  We called it “Monkey Wards” and we shopped there a lot.  One Saturday, tired of having to borrow a baseball glove, while my Mom was shopping, I went to the sports section and checked them out.  I found one I just had to have, a light tan outfielder’s glove, and I buried it in the bin with the other gloves all the way to the back.  Over the next several weeks, I checked whenever we were in Monkey Wards to make sure it was still there.

I didn’t ask my parents for the glove, I didn’t put it on my Christmas list, I went to the gas station down the street, bought a gallon of gas for 35 cents from my allowance, my whole allowance, and gassed up the lawnmower.  I went door to door in the neighborhood asking if anyone needed their lawn mowed.  The usual price for this service was about 75 cents or $1.50 depending on the size of the lawn, but you always negotiated.  It took me three weeks to earn the $9.95 I needed for that mitt.  I overcharged the last lady for her small yard by that now familiar 100% markup, and I felt guilty about it, but I wanted that mitt before the summer was over.

I went down to the store on main street with my across-the-street-friend, Jimmy Schutte. (Pronounced Shoo-tee, like it matters.)  Jimmy ended every sentence with the words “and shit.”  Every sentence.  For example, “Let’s go get that mitt, and shit.”  He was the youngest of three brothers and was what my mother had called a “menopause baby.”  I didn’t know what that meant, but his mom was real old, and his dad even older.  I had $10 in cold hard cash, so we headed off, without permission, to get my mitt, and figured I’d have a nickel left for some penny candy for the walk home.  Yeah, they really had penny candy back then.  Jawbreakers, or gumballs, or cinnamon bears, or licorice sticks.

What I hadn’t figured on was the tax.  We walked into the Montgomery Ward on the corner of Main and Brundage, and dug in the bin for the treasured mitt.  It was still there.  I walked up to the check-out counter, they were scattered around the store, and a woman asked me if she could help.

“I wanna buy this mitt,”  I said.  “I have the money. I earned it myself.”  I didn’t want her to think I had come there without parental supervision with the intent of stealing it, which is what, I’m sure, had crossed the mind of the woman who was offering to help.

She smiled a big smile, told me it was a fine glove, and rang up the purchase.  “That will be $10.25,” she said.

I still get that gut-check at cash registers when I realize I don’t have enough money for the final tally.  I got it then, but I was 11 and I could feel tears welling up over this miscalculation.  I had been so excited to finally get that mitt before someone else bought it, and I didn’t know what to do.

“I don’t have enough,” I said.  “Only ten dollars.”

Jimmy chimed in, “I don’t have any money, and shit.”

The woman looked at me and, I guess, could see how disappointed I was.

“I’ll make up the difference,” she said, and reached under the counter for her purse.

“I’ll pay you back, I promise,” I said.  “I’ll come right back with a quarter.”

I never came right back.  I forgot all about the loan and headed to the school yard to get into a pick-up game of baseball.  After all, baseball mitts have to be broken in.  Jimmy and I played until dark.

I never paid the 25 cents back to the woman in the Monkey Wards, but every time I used that baseball mitt, I remembered that I still owed her for it and I felt bad.  Looking at it now, I still do.  

 

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Cincture of the Theotokos


I read an article in the “Albuquerque Journal” back on Thanksgiving, and I keep thinking about it.  The headline, “Thousands Brave Cold To Witness Virgin Mary’s Belt.”  I should mention the only reason I had the “Albuquerque Journal” was because of the ads for “Black Friday.”  I wasn’t interested in the ads, but my two daughters are sort of caught up in the craziness of the thing.  Anyway, so I was reading the paper, they were looking at the THOUSANDS of inserts offering unbelievable sale prices, for things they didn’t know they needed or wanted.  The sub-heading, “Object thought to aid fertility but is usually kept from women.”   Hmmm.

The story was a reprint from “The Washington Post” and was bylined by Kathy Lally.  I don’t know who Kathy is, but she got a byline for the story and she obviously works at “THE Washington Post.”  What really caught my attention was the dateline:  MOSCOW.  Wow, not long ago that was a Communist country, where religion, let alone Greek Orthodox religion was banned, or so I thought.  The lead paragraph relates the “thousands and thousands of Orthodox believers” that stood in the streets in lines up to 2 km long to view a piece of a camel-hair belt that is supposed to have belonged to the Virgin Mary over 2,000 years ago.  Not just camel-hair, but a gold strand is woven through the cincture, Greek for belt.  I didn’t know that and I didn’t know that the Virgin Mary is known as Theotokos in the Sacred Traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church.

I question whether this belt, or sash could possibly have survived for 2,000 years.  Doesn’t sound credible.  The belt belongs to a Greek Orthodox monastery of Vateopedi on Mount Athos.  Only men are allowed to visit there, so the displaying of this item to view by anyone, including women, is, well, kind of extraordinary.  Mary is said to have worn this belt when she was pregnant and is the reason it is so revered, because it supposedly can help women get pregnant and cure disease.  By report there weren’t many men in the lines in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but there were some.  

Mary, by custom, would have made the belt herself, but the gold (we accept that Mary and Joseph lived modestly, I think, and wouldn’t have a spool of gold thread lying around) was added by Empress Zoe when she was cured from a deadly disease which she attributed to being in possession of the belt.  She’s also the one who cut it up into three pieces.  I don’t really understand why.  It was passed through some hands and ended up in the monastery on Mt. Athos.  That’s in Greece, in case you didn’t know.

Doesn’t camel-hair decompose?  I still don’t know, and I’m tired of searching.  Maybe you can tell me.  I just don’t think it would be relatively unfazed over 2,000 plus years.  Camel hair seems to be a very popular choice for brush-making though.  That I learned.

My daughter learned that “Black Friday” can be a tad ridiculous.  Wal-Mart made the news several times with their nonsensical idea of putting video games on sale at half their regular $60 price, at certain hours of the day.  They stacked these game cartridges on a display table and shrink-wrapped them so you could see the titles, but were unable to take them until the appointed hour.  Crowds gathered around the table fighting for position.  The poor “Wal-Mart Associates” that had to cut the shrink-wrap, barely escaped with their lives as the crowd surged forward, those up front pitching the games to people in the back, others trying to intercept the pass, fighting for position.  In Los Angeles, a woman resorted to pepper-spray to glean a favored position.  She later turned herself in to police.  WTF.  In her defense, she might have been protecting herself and fellow shoppers in the riot that ensued after the shrink wrap was removed.

My daughter says she’s never doing it again, “Black Friday” that is, not pepper-spraying customers, but I don’t believe her.  Just something about the shopping “hunt” that people can’t resist.

Photo Our Lady of Vladimir (12th century), the holy protectress of Russia, now in the Tretyakov Gallery.

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Do You Want To Go To Hell, Boy? …Continued


“Nothin’,” I said.  “Were you going to leave without me?” I asked with a tinge of panic in my voice.

“Hell, I thought you were right behind me,” Murph said matter-of-factly.

I wondered what both of us would have done if the bus doors had slammed shut and I wasn’t out of the grasp of the holy roller still standing in the middle of the street preaching fire and brimstone to the oncoming cars.  He was still there.  I saw him clearly through the window as the bus pulled out.

It was now after one in the morning, and we rode the bus for about 15 minutes.  Murph got up after the bus stopped for the sixth or seventh time and said, “This is our stop, I think.”

When I excited the bus, the preacher from before was standing on the corner waiting for the light to change.  I know it was the same guy.  The one who grabbed me in the cross walk.  We had come several miles on the bus and he hadn’t gotten on the bus, so I was totally mystified how the tall, thin man in the black tail coat with the tattered bible had gotten there, at the same time as we did.

As soon as he saw me he started in again.  “Do you want to go to HELL, boy?  If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your savior, this minute, boy, you’re surely going to HELL.  As surely as I’m a standin’ here.”  He pounded his palm on the bible he was holding.

I was so shocked to see him there I had nothing.  “Sure, whatever.”  Murph grabbed my arm and we hurried across the street.  I never saw him again, but I still, to this day, wonder how he got there and why he was at that particular bus stop telling me I was going to go to hell.

We spent what was left of the night in a Holiday Inn within walking distance of the Trailways bus station.  After a shower and some breakfast, we headed off, refreshed, for the bus station, purchased two round trip tickets to Canyon.  The bus was already loading.

The bus, with final destination of Dallas/Fort Worth flashing on the sign over the windshield, was almost full.  There were no seats left together, so Murph jumped into an empty seat, and I grabbed the next one in the row.  The man I was sitting next to was dressed in a black suit, the coat over his lap, and the sleeves on his white shirt were rolled up.  The shirt was so wrinkled, either he had slept in it, or he didn’t own an iron.  He didn’t say anything when I sat down.  Just looked up and I kind of nodded.

As the bus rolled on down the highway, the man next to me finally said something.  “Where you headed?”

“Going to Canyon to check out the university,” I replied. 

“You a student?” he asked. 

“No,” I thought, “I’m just going to the university for something to do over Spring Break (which was partially true),” but I said, “Yes.  Going to New Mexico Highlands University right now.  Thinking about transferring.”

“Oh. Where’s New Mexico Highlands University?”  I was no longer finding  it surprising that no one knows where Highlands University is located.

“It’s in Las Vegas.  New Mexico that is.  If you ever win a trip to Las Vegas, make sure you know what state it’s in,” I added.  I always find that funnier than anyone else ever does whom I tell it to.  “What do you do?

“I collect for charity for a living,” he said.  “I’m currently collecting for ‘basket cases.'”

A basket case usually means someone who is hopelessly off their rocker, but what my bus companion was referring to, as he explained in detail, was an offensive slang term that was coined by the British Army during World War I to describe a soldier that had lost all four of their limbs through amputation.  Known medically as a quadruple amputee.  He described that these basket cases were so-called because they put them in a sort of hanging basket so they could be held upright.  I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but what did I know.  I couldn’t believe there could be too many of these that needed his charitable work.  The mental picture that was developing in my head was shocking.

“Doesn’t matter how many there are,” he explained. “I don’t even know.  The point is it’s a pretty sad condition, don’t you think, and people will donate money for them.”

He vigorously described his “sales pitch” for my benefit.  He would go into bars, order a beer and start talking to a customer at the bar.  The conversation would inevitably get around to what he did for a living.  He would tell them horror stories about the basket cases he had seen from the Viet Nam War and that he had found it his life’s calling to collect donations for their treatment and hope for some kind of life.  He even invented a name for his charity.  I don’t remember what it was, because after he said this, “Hell, I even give them a receipt for tax purposes if they ask for it,” I right away understood what “I collect for charity for a living” meant.

“How much do you make collecting for these basket cases?” I asked. 

“I make a living,” he said.  “Do you want me to help you practice a sales pitch?”

“Uh, no,” I answered and tapped Murph on the shoulder who was seated in front of me.  “How much farther we got?”

“Not long,” he said.  The man turned away and watched the passing scenery, or lack of.  Not much to see in this part of Texas, although you can literally see for miles.  Flat.

When we arrived on the campus of West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M University, after a short walk from the bus station, two things stood out to me.  One, all the men seemed to be wearing ROTC uniforms.  The other, all the girls were in dresses, no pants, no jeans, no shorts.  At Highlands, in 1971, a lot of the girls wore bib overalls, usually with nothing underneath, halter-tops were big, bell-bottomed jeans, short shorts, and we heckled anyone walking around campus with a military uniform of any kind.  Entertainment was 10 cent beer night at La Casita, or sneaking into Joe’s Ringside, the strip joint with the clever girl who could launch ping-pong balls into the crowd, or eating greasy fries at 2 am at The State Cafe.  I was about to be introduced to the Bible Belt.

We found the administration building and, even though we told no one we were coming, the attractive girl…in the a dress… at the information desk was able to get me in to talk with someone in the admissions office.  Murph declined and said he would meet me back here in a couple of hours.  I have no idea what he did during that time, but I got the sales pitch of the century.  Yes, I was still accepted to attend school there, my financial aid package was still good, my program of study was the best on campus and in the state even, (Which was funny because I really didn’t have a “program of study.”  I just made one up, Pre-Law), I would fit in well with the student population (I did not believe that for a minute), we could get all the paperwork done today and be ready to attend classes Spring semester.

I looked out the window and saw an Army ROTC group drilling on the quad.  Two girls walked by in frilly dresses.  I turned back to the task at hand and completed the transfer paperwork.  I shook hands with the admission’s counselor and thanked him for helping me on such short notice, and told him I was looking forward to attending school there starting in two weeks.  As I walked out the door I knew with certainty that there was no way in HELL I was going to be going to West Texas State University.  The first obstacle would be that my parents had no idea I was even thinking about it.  I couldn’t figure out how I was getting back here in two weeks.  I didn’t know anybody.  I had already registered for classes at NMHU.  I was in a fraternity that had no chapter on this campus and fraternities and sororities on this campus probably held Sunday Socials, not the Saturday night kind of which I had become accustomed.

“Your left. Your left. Your left, your right, your left.”  I could hear it coming from the lawn as I met up with Murph who was sitting on a garden wall out front.

“Well, whatta ya think?” he asked. 

“Not a chance in hell,” I said.

“Good,” he said.  “Let’s go home.”

We took the bus back to “Amarilla,” as they say in Texas, and, with our remaining funds, bought some provisions for the trip back to Vegas.  Two more cans of Vienna Sausages.  Although I’ve never developed a taste for them, I ate most of one of the cans during the trip home. We made it back to campus late the next morning.  I was to attend New Mexico Highlands University for only two more semesters.

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Do You Want To Go To Hell, Boy?


Dan Murphy and I decided to take a trip to Canyon, Texas during Spring Break in 1971.  We didn’t have a car, or money (we had $20 between us) and we really didn’t have a reason to go.  I wanted to visit West Texas State University because I had been accepted there and had been approved for financial aid, but had decided, instead, to go to New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM.  Let’s just say Highlands hadn’t turned out to be anything like I expected, so I was contemplating a transfer.  It seemed a logical step to visit the place first so the same thing didn’t happen.  Besides, it was Spring Break, we had to do something.

So I mentioned to Murph that I wanted to go to Canyon over break, and he was immediately on board.  “We can hitch,” he said.  We won’t need much money.”  Now, if my parents had any inkling that I was about to embark on a 260 mile hitchhiking expedition I would’ve been killed or worse. 

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I lamely said. “What if we get stuck somewhere?  What if we don’t get back in time for the start of the semester?”

“I do it all the time,” he said.  “Nothing to worry about.”  I’d say here that these were famous last words, but they weren’t.  There were many more to come.

We started off by walking from the dorms, several miles to the I-25 interchange and stood there for about 15 minutes with our thumbs out before a car stopped.

“Where ya headed, amigos?” the portly Hispanic man said as we approached the open car window.  We told him were we were going and he said he could take us as far as the US84 connection since he was headed to Santa Fé.  We really didn’t know the route, hadn’t bothered to look at or buy a map, funds were tight, so we agreed and jumped in.  We got a lecture about how dangerous it was to hitchhike almost the entire way, a good deal of it in Spanish, which neither of us understood.  He pulled over to the side of the road and let us out at the exit for US84..

We decided we were hungry and stopped in the truck stop there to stock up on some provisions.  Chips, Twinkies, a couple of soft drinks, and two cans of Vienna Sausages.  These would come in really handy later.  I tried one while we waited for the next car to stop after we headed out to the shoulder of the road, and almost gagged.  If you’ve never had a Vienna Sausage, it’s like eating a raw hot dog that’s been soaking in water for months.  Basically, that’s what it is.  My traveling companion loved them.  He ate the rest of the first can.

We had our thumbs out and got a ride pretty quickly, a college student on his way home to Santa Rosa, who had just pulled out of the same truck stop.  He was memorizing his lines for an upcoming play that he was to be in, and we read lines for him all the way to Santa Rosa.  The green Impala streaked down US84 in excess of 90 miles an hour, and from my vantage point in the back seat, he wasn’t paying near close enough attention to the road or the oncoming traffic. 

He let us out at an I-40 freeway exit, his exit, and told us that we should head west to Amarillo, and then Canyon was a short distance south of there.  He said we were probably about a third of the way there.  This hitchhiking thing might work.  It was approaching twelve o:clock.

We stood on I-40 for three hours alternating holding our thumbs out.  No one stopped.  Our four-hour trip, our plan to be in Canyon by late afternoon, was disintegrating.  It would mean we would need a place to stay.  We didn’t have money for that.  We had planned to stay in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at West Texas State.  We were fraternity brothers, assuming they had an SAE chapter at West Texas State, which we didn’t know, and that they had a house.  We were a new chapter of SAE at Highlands University and only had a rental house that we used for meetings and parties of course.  No one lived there.

“Don’t worry about it,” Murphy said.  “We’ll figure something out.”  Again, more famous last words.

Just before dusk a car stopped.  A beige-colored Lincoln Town Car.  The man behind the wheel appeared to be in his early  forties, maybe, seemed safe enough, so we got in.  Me in the front this time, Murph in the back.  “I can take you all the way to Amarillo,” he said.

“How long you been standing out here?  You boys have a hard time getting a ride?” he asked.

As a matter of fact, we told he we had, and earlier in the day we had gotten rides pretty quickly.

“You know why?” he turned and asked me directly.

“No,” I managed to say.  I didn’t like the way this conversation was headed.

“It’s been on the radio all day,” he continued.  “An older couple, man and his wife, picked up a hitchhiker outside of Albuquerque.  He pulled a gun on them they say, shot them both, and stole their car.  They’re looking for a Lincoln Town Car same color as this the radio says.  So I don’t imagine anyone is picking up boys hitchin’ on I40 today.  But I’m not worried.  You know why?”

I immediately started to believe that 20 was as old as I was going to get.  I couldn’t see Murph in the back seat, but I can’t believe that he wasn’t just a little bit uneasy back there.  But we both got a lot more uneasy in the next few seconds.

“Because I’ve got this,” he said and pulled what I knew as a 357 Magnum, shiny silver, out from the space between the seat and the door with his left hand, while holding the steering wheel with the other.  He held it up so we could both see it and said, “I ain’t worried about any hitchhikers with this gun.”  He looked at it rather proudly and then he put it back in the side pocket of the door.

I wanted to say something but I couldn’t form any words, and then my thoughts were interrupted by a shrill voice in the backseat.  It sounded shrill anyway to the silence that had befallen us as the car continued speeding down the freeway.

“That’s some gun you’ve got there,” Murph screeched.  “I can see why you aren’t afraid to pick up any hitchhikers.”

“Got that right,” the man said.  I don’t remember talking about much else the whole way to Amarillo.  I’ve probably blocked it out over the years.  By the time we got there it was dark.  The man with the gun let us out on a downtown street.  We found a pay phone and Murphy dialed his mother.

Plan B was to have his mother wire us $200 so we could get a room for the night and bus tickets to Canyon in the morning.  I watched Murph talking in the phone booth.  He was making a lot of arm gestures, and banged his fist on the glass a couple of times while he talked.  Finally he slammed open the door of the booth and walked over to me.  He didn’t look happy.

“Well?”

“She’s wiring it to Western Union right now.  We should go find one,” he said.

“Everything okay?”

“No,” was all he said.  On the corner, across the street, I saw the familiar black and yellow sign of a Western Union.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Look over there, Murph.  How’s that for luck?”

We walked over to the Western Union and waited three hours, checking periodically with the guy at the counter, to see if the money had shown up yet.  When it finally did, we asked for directions to the bus station and a hotel nearby that.  Murph got all the directions from the man at the Western Union counter and I just followed along. We headed off to catch the transit bus.  As we crossed the street to get to the bus stop, a very tall man, all in black, wearing a tail coat that hadn’t been to a white-tie affair in decades, was standing in the middle of the street in the cross walk.  He had a well-worn bible in his hand and was apparently preaching to the oncoming traffic.  He was waving that bible around in the air and pointing to the heavens.

As I walked by, he put a gnarled hand on my shoulder, grabbed me and screamed, “DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HELL BOY?”  Murph just kept walking across the street.  I struggled to get out of his grasp, but he had my jacket pretty good.

“Sure I want to go to hell.” I glared at him.  His wrinkled face, with deep worry lines on his forehead, made him look older than he probably was.  He had only a few yellowed teeth poking up from his gums. “All my friends will be there.”  The man let go and I ran across the rest of the street.  Our bus had just pulled up, and Murph was already getting on.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

To Be Continued….

 

 

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Hand-Me-Down Betsy


My first car was a Ford truck, a 1939 two-tone green, flat-four, double-clutching, Ford pickup.  The paint job was done with a brush, a kind of Kelly green with avocado accent.  The rear fenders were bolted on with steel straps mainly to hold them together, and to the truck, because they  rusted out and the sheet metal was split.  No plastic on this truck.  That picture above is how Betsy would have looked shortly after leaving the show-room floor.  Notice there is only a windshield wiper on the driver’s side, and she’s black, and shiny, a more likely factory color.

Double-clutching, for those of you unfamiliar or who have never even driven a standard, involved stepping on the clutch to bring it out of gear to neutral, then stepping on the clutch again to drop it into the next gear.  If you didn’t double-clutch you ground the gears, particularly in a down-shift situation.  As you got better at driving the truck, you could kind of know the right spot, kind of feel the gears mesh and get the up-shift without the second clutching, but you had to be good.  If you wanted it in “compound low” you lifted a lever with your thumb on the side of the stick shift and, double-clutching, moved the lever up and over to the left.  The truck would then crawl like a tank.  So in effect, the Ford was four on the floor.

The truck was a hand-me-down.  My sister drove it first until she bought her 1955 Willy’s sedan.  Yep, the Jeep company made a car.  It was ugly, but then I thought my sister was ugly at the time too.  It was called an “Aero-Sedan”.  Willy’s is correctly pronounced “Will-is” and “Willy’s Overland Motors” was responsible for all the design and production of the WWII military vehicle.  They trademarked the name “Jeep” but no one really knows how the military 1/4 ton “General Purpose” vehicle got shortened to the word “jeep.”  It seems everyone just started calling it that. 

The gas gauge didn’t work on the Ford.  You used a stick that we kept on the floor behind the seat.  You sent it into the gas tank to see how much gas you had, or you could drive it up High School Hill and if it stalled, you needed gas.  Of course, you had to roll it backwards down the hill to get it started and head in the direction of a gas station.  I only ran out of gas one time that I remember though.

My father bought the truck for what he called his “mountain truck,” something to sacrifice driving up to Coffeen Park, the trail-head for the wilderness area where we went backpacking and fishing.  It had a camper shell of sorts on the back with a small cab-over that my father built.  He paid $75 for the truck I think.

Helping him build that shell is not a particularly happy memory.  It was my job to hold the folded end of the aluminum skin making up the roof.  The drill he was using to put this on had a short or something.  So every time I would hold the aluminum for him I would get a horrible shock, so I would let go.  He’d yell at me, and I would hold on again until he started drilling.  I would feel the current again, and let go.  Took a while for him to agree that I was getting shocked from the damn thing, although to this day, I don’t think he believed me.  He must have been grounded somehow, because he could hold it just fine.

The truck wasn’t anything you would drive any great distance out-of-town for sure.  There was a free swimming pool in Buffalo that we would frequent in the summer.  It was twice the size of our pool and, well, it didn’t cost the 35 cents we had to pay to swim for two hours.  We would load up the truck and drive about two miles out on the interstate and park on the shoulder.  Then we would thumb a ride into Buffalo, about 30 miles southeast.  When we were done swimming, or more accurately, checking out the girls in swimsuits, we would thumb our way back to the truck, cross over the median and drive home.  We never worried about hitch-hiking.  I did it all the way through college.  Dan Murphy and I hitch-hiked to West Texas State University one Easter break, from Las Vegas, NM to Canyon, TX.  This vehicle breakdown worked every time except once, when the guy that picked us up insisted it made more sense to drive us the two miles back home, than the 30 miles down the road if we were having car trouble, which is what we always claimed.  We’d say that the old girl was overheating and she’d be fine if we let her set and came back.

I tried once to sneak a whole pack of my friends into the drive-in movie hidden in the camper shell on the back.  We got six people stuffed back there and then paid the admission for the two of us up front.  Just as a side note, two up front was all you could get, so you can imagine the cramped quarters the six in the back were enduring.  The lift up gate on the camper shell was fastened with a couple of slider locks on both corners.  Those slider locks were in place as we pulled up to our speaker.

Every time we would get out of the truck to let the sweltering, claustrophobic group out of the camper shell, the manager seemed to be within view with his flashlight.  I tried several times before the movie started and each time I was forced back in the cab by the manager and his light.  The group in the back started pounding on the wall adjacent to the cab.  The movie started, “Midnight Cowboy,” and the two of us in the front kind of forgot about the prisoners in the back.

I tried once more, in a guilty moment, to unlatch the locks from the camper shell, but the pesky manager was right there waiting for the extra fares he was certain would emerge.  I walked to the bathrooms, like that is what I intended to do all along and went back and finished the movie. It was a hot and humid August night, with no breeze whatsoever.

As we were leaving the drive-in I started hearing bangs.  I should add that there were no glass windows in this camper shell, just small peep holes on both sides, like you see in the gangster movies where they look out the door to see who it is and ask for the password. “Joe sent me.”

I’d have to say that was the maddest six people I have ever seen from that day since.  When we finally let them out, a ways down the road from the drive-in exit so as not to be caught, they acted like they had just been released from a coffin.  Kicking, screaming, and chasing me around.  Worse part is we were trying to save them a whole 35 cents.  That was a lot of money back then for a teenager without a job.

Needless to say, the next time we tried that, we left the locks open on the back of shell.  They still caught them as they were climbing out of the back.  I pretended I didn’t know they were there.  Like that worked.

I drove” Old Betsy” for two years in high school until I graduated to my very own 1956 Chevy Wagon.  It wasn’t one of those ’56 Chevy’s you see restored now with the big V8 power plants and the four on the floor.  It was a red, white and “green,” straight six, with a column shift.  It was partly green because an old lady came around the corner and ripped my left front fender clean off as I was pulling from the curb.  Caught it just behind the headlight and ripped it clean off.  Her car wasn’t even damaged.  I picked up the green replacement at the local junk yard.  The car was in mint condition until then, and I paid $150 for it right off “Locke’s Used Cars” lot.  I paid more for the mini-bike I had with the three and half horsepower Briggs and Stratten.

I miss the Ford truck though.  I’m not really sure what happened to her.  I’m sure my father sold it after a time.  Maybe he finally had it hauled to the junk yard.  He spent a lot of time keeping that old truck running.  He worked on the brakes constantly.  Once, driving out of Coffeen Park, the brakes went out while we were coming down a pretty steep hill.  Not only was this hill steep, but the road, if you could call it that, was two ruts littered with rocks that you should be crawling over and not “flying” over at 30 mph.  On the left was a steep drop-off, hundreds of feet to the canyon floor below.  It scared me pretty bad.  I think it scared my Dad pretty bad too, but we made it down the hill and limped along until we found a hunting cabin.  Someone just happened to be there and gave us something he thought might be brake fluid he found in a shed out back.  It was a long, nerve-wracking trip down the mountain in low gear, but we survived.  When I was driving the truck, I never had any problems with the brakes.

Anyway, I was long gone from home by the time Betsy left, but I’ve stuck with Ford trucks all my life.

That is until I bought the metallic blue 2007 Tundra Limited with the GPS, and the voice actuated controls, and the 10,000 pound towing capacity, and the big V8.  I put my first dent in the brand new truck in September of 2008.  I almost cried, but I swore at my wife, and threw my keys instead.  Not cool for a grown man to cry about a dent in a $32,000 truck, but some of you might grant me immunity.  Not really a dent, more like a crease in the side wall of the bed from the weight of the fifth-wheel trailer resting on it while I was trying to get it into a pull-through space at the storage yard that would have taken a vat of vaseline to get into.

Still, I pay over nine times the amount every month for the Tundra, than my father paid for that most reliable of transportation.  She didn’t have a GPS, a radio even, the gas gauge didn’t work, no heater to speak of, the fenders were bolted on and the truck was hand-painted with a brush. Betsy would start up on the coldest of days, and refuse to blow her top on the hottest.  Everyone knew she was my truck too.

 At least for a time.

(Photo credit for the 50’s Willy Aero-Sedan taken at the 50th Anniversary Draggins car show, Prairieland Exhibition, Saskatoon, April 3, 2010 by trekphiler.)

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