A criminal past

My parents spent most of my childhood teaching me the character building attribute of poverty. That’s a ten dollar phrase for no allowance. So…there were times when I had to engage in a certain level of criminal activity. I write this now in the full knowledge that the statutes of limitations are expired on the vast majority of my sinister ways. I confess now only in the hope of warning some wayward child somewhere that one’s criminal past will catch up to all who engage in it and it almost always results in a beating (or whupping if you are a southerner) or time in the hoosegow. None of them  is a desirable option. So…

                The two main targets of the bunch of boys I ran around with in Amarillo, Texas was either Mr. Russell’s Food Mart or the Toot n’ Totum (we called it the Phart and Fetchum). The former being a neighbor owned store and the latter being an early convenience store. There was a third store that was owned by Mr. Carter but we did not steal from him. No, he was far too dangerous. Rumor had it that one of Rusty’s brothers swiped a Clark bar there once and Mr. Carter shot him and dumped him in the walk-in freezer he had in the back of the store. No, we did not mess with Mr. Carter. The Toot n’ Totum was the easiest. Lois ran that store and was pretty easy to fool most of the time.

                There was the time that Gary and I (with the help of a diversion done by Carl and Randy), stuffed our pants with at least ten candy bars each. It worked like a charm until we got outside. It was a hot Texas afternoon and we were eager to get them out of our pants before they melted (that did happen once – yuck). Well, we got around to the side of the building and had gotten about half of our loot out of our pants when we suddenly found ourselves being watched by a very angry Lois. She just stood there staring at us with fire in her eyes. Store clerks at that time could freeze kids with just the expression on their faces and that’s what Lois did to us. We knew she was asking herself whether to just kill us outright or call the police. She did worse than that. She called our parents. I never knew my dad could hit so hard. He must’ve learned that in the Navy.

                Then there was a time when I found myself desperately low on funds and so went after my candy fix alone. In a moment of undisputed stupidity, I went into Mr. Russell’s store on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Such was my need that I attempted this robbery without any help or diversionary tactics. Mr. Russell did not even lift a finger to stop me and actually made no visible action to make me think he’d seen me. I was emboldened to swipe even more than I had originally planned. I was the master thief I said to myself. As I walked out the door with no less than a dozen pieces of candy, I glanced back and noticed Mr. Russell. So unaware was he of my mastery of the thieves’ art, he was chatting amicably on the phone with somebody.

                I thought I might drop by Robert’s house and share some of my loot with him and brag on my latest exploit. To get there, I had to pass by my own house on Hall Street so I decided that I would pop in and use the facilities before I went to Robert’s. Oddly enough, my Dad was home and waiting on me.

                You know, I don’t remember ever getting a beating like that one, before or since.  I never stole from Mr. Russell again either. Ever.

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The first time

                Her name was Krista. She was two years older than me and she had a sister named Kim who was a year older. Krista was a classmate of my sister. As it happened, both families went to the same church and both parents were good friends. Krista had long jet-black hair and Kim was a honey blonde. Both were as pretty and down right good looking as anybody could be. Probably should have been illegal to be as cute as these two were. They could make men write bad checks. Anyway…

                Well, our parents went to their house one evening for dinner and to watch Tom Landry’s Cowboys beat up on some hapless victim. My sister and I went along.  I was about fifteen at the time. I was in the den watching the game when Kim came looking for me. “Krista wants to talk to you,” she said and I followed. (Who in their right mind would decline to follow Kim and get to see Krista? Just watching Kim walk was, oh, I don’t know, really, I can’t put it into words. On top of that, KRISTA wanted to talk to ME! ) Off we went down the hall to Krista’s room. I would be in the same room at the same time with Krista AND Kim? Have I died and gone to heaven? When I got there, I found my sister and Kim, of course, but no Krista. My sister left the room and Kim said, “Krista needs your help in the closet.” What the heck is Krista doing in the closet,” I said to myself (I was not very smart back then).

                I stepped into the closet. It was not a walk-in closet. The doors were sliding doors and they shut as soon as I stepped inside. I felt Krista’s arm around my waist and, in a low voice, she instructed me to put my arms around her “like I meant it.” Well, I did the best I could to impress her with my hugging ability and I think I did pretty good because she kissed me. She did, right smack dab on the mouth and everything! She even kissed me a second time and maybe a third time.

                Well, I left the closet rather slowly after that and headed back up to see what the Cowboys were up to. You know, I never gave any thought to the fact that I was in the closet kissing on a really pretty girl in HER bedroom while her father sat not fifteen feet away. He was a World War II veteran too so I am sure he would’ve had no qualms about killing me. My father was in there too. He probably would have held me down while Krista’s father loaded his gun. No, none of that dawned on me. Like I said, I wasn’t real smart back then.

                I sat there watching the Cowboys play when my sister came into the room. I was needed in the bedroom yet again, only this time it was Kim that wanted to “talk” to me. I dutifully responded. That closet sure was handy.

                What a great night. Good thing I didn’t have a checkbook back then.

True story.

Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby is 73 years young. Along with my wife and two sons, I saw him last night at Purdue’s Elliott Hall. He  performed for right at two hours. He used story lines I had never heard and sprinkled in lines that he is known for. He was relaxed, witty, and original. His facial expressions were spectacular and, oh so “Cosby.” His engagement with the audience was fun and relaxed. He is the best there is at storytelling and that’s a fact.

You know, in every story that I have ever heard him tell, never once did he get a laugh at somebody else’s expense. Today’s comedians and storytellers would do well to emulate that (I’ve done it myself a time or two and have always come to regret it). He also never resorts to swearing to get a laugh. In fact, the story is told that he has tried to encourage several of the currently well-known comics to work clean. People like Bill Cosby are proof positive that humour does not need profanity. I remember seeing Red Skelton in concert in Danville, Illinois in 1987. At the end of his show, he made it a point to remind the crowd that (and I quote) “you don’t need to swear to be funny.” Bill and Red have had it right all along. Neither have ever used profanity or taken cheap shots at people.

For a man who just loves a great story, last night was a night I wish had never ended. Bill Cosby still has it and he probably always will. If I could tell a story 1/100th as good as he does, well, I can’t.

Thomas

     Thomas is a strapping young man of seven years and a second grade student. His Mom is a nursing student working through her rotations. As she is widowed, she raises Thomas on her own along with his brother and two sisters. He is the youngest of the brood. I have to tell that he is a thoroughly likeable little boy.

     Three days a week, his Mother drops him off at our house very early in the morning so she can make her rotation on time. Arriving shortly before seven AM, he stays with us an hour or so until it’s time for my wife to carry him to the bus stop for school. He usually entertains himself with the rather large box of leftover toy trucks that my now grown sons used to play with (and probably still do from time to time when I am not looking). His ordered mind will line up every truck in the box in a line stretching across our couch with the result that I cannot sit down lest I wreak havoc on the fifty truck convoy perched in readiness on my couch. Far be it from me to ruin the natural order of things for a little boy.  

     Sometimes, he will join me for breakfast. Thomas is not one given to gab but he can carry on a conversation like the one we had this morning:

Mom: Thomas, do you want some toast for breakfast?

Thomas: No (smiling)

Me: You want a dead rat?

Thomas: (looking puzzled) Uh, no.

Me: ok

     Along with the “spirited” conversation we sometimes have at breakfast, we also have a little game we play right before I leave for work. Are you familiar with the game, “Up high, down low, too slow?” To explain, the initiator of this test of skill puts out an open hand in a manner inviting the other to slap it. He then states, “Give me five” whereupon the other party slaps his open hand. At that, the initiator raises his hand high and says “Up high.” Of course, the other party slaps the highly held hand. All is well until the initiator puts his open hand low and says, “Down low.” The trick here is now to avoid the other party from slapping one’s hand. If that objective is obtained, the initiator is the winner with the exclamation “Too slow!” If the initiator himself (it is against state law for girls to play this game) loses, he is forevermore shamed. To my eternal disgrace, seven year old Thomas is ready for me most of the time. It is one of the high points of my week.

Termites

Termites

                It is said that, if you cannot say something nice about someone or something, you should not say anything at all. I am going to violate that bit of wisdom this morning. I cannot for the life of me find a single good thing to write or say about termites.

                For the third time, these nasty little beasts have invaded my home. As was true during the two previous invasions, they did not announce themselves. You’d think they would at least have the grace to send some sort of advance notice of their arrival. No, they just showed up one day and got right down to the business of eating my house. They did have the decency to start in the kitchen.

                They have, for some time now, been quietly making a meal of the frame around the kitchen window. It looks to me that they have eaten about a third of it. We actually found them doing their work last year and promptly put out a hit on them. What we did not know at that time was these lousy $^%!!@&(*) had located their den of iniquity below our slab foundation where the poison we laid for them would not reach. We’re on to them though. Today is the day of their demise (actually we have already laid a few to rest – the exterminator sprayed the ones he could see a few days ago and I bravely squashed a few with my bare hands.  Fifty dead, 998,842 to go). A way has been found to get the poison where the nest is. At noon today, another termite horde will meet its end and a house will be saved from being turned into a termitic (is that a word?) hamburger.

I recognize that these little denizens of the dirt are just doing their job. It is their function within the natural order of things to eat dead wood and so return it to soil. I just wish they would not pursue MY house to do it. Of course, they have thus far made no appearance at any of my neighbor’s houses. Figures I would have the best tasting wood around. Well, Mr. and Mrs. Termite, my house is not a burger stand and you aren’t getting it your way.

I am Man! I fix.

The kitchen sink has had a leaking faucet for awhile now. Every time I looked at it, I could just see my water bill climb ever higher and higher. I had made multiple trips to the hardware store in an ultimately futile effort to stop the leak and thwart the water company’s nefarious plan to dip ever deeper into my wallet. In retrospect, I think the manufacturers of the faucets themselves are in cahoots with each other to make consumers buy entirely new faucets on a regular basis. Their plan, in my case at least, worked.

The long and short of it is, my dear bride and I decided to replace our over one-hundred dollar faucet, even though it was less than three years old. By the way, in all of my trips to the hardware store, (I seem to remember eight) not once did I ever see any selection of parts for the brand of faucet that occupied the place of honor in our kitchen. We had that conversation whilst in the presence of the offending faucet. I think it decided it was not going to go quietly. It didn’t.

Upon the recommendation of Elijah the Plumber, I brought home a nice new “Brand D” faucet and placed it right next to the old faucet, still ensconced in the sink (and still leaking). It had to sit there a day or two until I found time to “do battle” with the old one. It was a battle too, let me tell you. That old faucet wasn’t coming out without a fight. You see, there are two large, hard plastic nuts on all sinks (least wise, all that I have seen). The only purpose of these things is to hold that faucet fast to the sink. That’s all these things do and they are very good at it. Furthermore, I was informed by a “knowledgeable” sales clerk at hardware store number eight, that there is no tool on earth designed to remove this particular nut. She further told me that many plumbers enhance the holding ability of these objects with glue. In retrospect, I think the original installer of my faucet used “Gorilla Glue®” in an obvious attempt to render this faucet earthquake proof.  So, it was going to be me versus the twin nuts. Mono y mono.  Do you know how strong “Gorilla Glue®” is?

I tried bare hands. I tried to pry it loose with a pry bar. I had my eighteen year old son grab onto them. He knocked off a piece of the plumbing in the process and got an earful of water for it. It was kind of like the faucet spitting on us in defiance. I sprayed WD-40® on it. I even talked to it. Those two nuts did not budge even so much as an inch.

I finally had had enough of this and went for my chisel. I had warned the sink and the faucet time and time again.  My patience was now at an end. In less than fifteen minutes, I had cut out both nuts and the faucet was off. With great ceremony, I threw the old faucet into the recycle bin. The new one took all of five minutes to install.

That “Saturday Project” took at least half the day. God love ‘em, but I don’t think I will ever want to be a plumber.

The Great Depression

I am doing a presentation later this month about the Great Depression. In researching this project, I have read a couple of books and watched several documentaries on the subject. Considering all that happened, massive unemployment (25% at its peak), over 9,000 bank failures, labor unrest in the face of  horrible work conditions, the inaction and downright ineptitude of goverment, it’s a wonder anybody got through it. On top of all that, there is the dust bowl that wiped out so many. For the life of me, I don’t know how they did it. I doubt we would fare as well.

I feel very overwhelmed. I have an hour to do this presentation and there’s no way to do it all justice in that span of time. It would take me an hour just to explain the causes of the dust bowl alone and that doesn’t include the aftermath. This was one really tough generation. They fought WWI, got through the roaring twenties, suffered far beyond reason through the thirties only to watch their kids march off to WWII. I don’t know how they did it. I really don’t.

Fortunately for me (and all of us), that generation had enough sense to get a lot of it on paper and in film. I will be able to explain, at least some of it, in the words and pictures of those who lived through the Great Depression. I’ll be able to tell the true stories of the hobos and Hoovervilles, the constant search for work, ANY kind of work, and the despair they felt that scarred their soul. Their words and the pictures left behind will do the job for me. I hope I can do it justice.