Have I mentioned I take my gun everywhere I go? I do. Not because I’m a madman, but because in the course of my travels, I’ve had several close encounters of the dangerous kind; unwanted meetings with two legged wolves and sharks on the land. But I also carry because it’s fun. Carrying a gun is like having a second penis. A high caliber, solid steel, second penis that it’s not weird to clean in front of your friends.
But I’m not good at carrying a gun. Let me rephrase: I’m not good at hiding my gun. First of all, my guns are big. That means they’re also heavy. It’s like trying to hide a bowling ball under your shirt. And they don’t like to stay where you put them. I dunno if you’ve ever tried to tie something to your body, but it turns out that human beings are just shaped all wrong for strapping on cargo. So, in short- a “concealed carry” weapon is a surprisingly difficult thing to conceal.
Sam and I set out one day to go yard sailing. (Pardon. Yard “sale-ing” We have gone yard sailing, but that’s a story for another day.) We were in search of cheap sledge hammers to take on our next diamond mining expedition. (I know what you’re thinking- sledge hammers? At a yard sale? Yes. They’re usually to the left of the guns. Goodness, I love life in small town Maine…) Anyways, we went to dozens of yard sales, working our way farther and farther from home almost without realizing it. Around 120 miles later, we realized that we were in range of “The tool barn.” We’d been waiting to go there for years! And they were certain to have sledge hammers. So it was decided. We followed the yards sales for another fifty miles or so, and found ourselves in the handyman’s graceland.
“The Tool Barn” is a really charming local fixture, and a very well kept secret. It’s a shop that buys truckloads of antique hand tools from estate sales when old craftsmen lay their hands to rest. (It’s said that old carpenters never die- they just smell that way.) The tool barn fixes them- hones edges, polishes off rust, trues faces, etc- and then sells them. For pennies. It’s a masculine paradise. As our fathers told us, “good tools get better; bad tools get worse.” You can buy old tools at the barn for a fraction of what the modern ones cost. The old ones are better built, last longer, have more character, and are generally more fun. And they sell specialty tools that you simply can’t get anymore. And did I mention it’s cheaper?
Well, anyways- there’s the tool barn Sam and I frequent on our side of the state, and the owner told us that there was another on the opposite side of the state. The original, and vastly bigger of the two. “There’s lots more stuff up there” he said. Our eyes widened. “I just bring a truck load or so down here every time I come to stock the place up. But over there, that’s the mother lode. And prices are usually a bit better there, too…”
Sam and I drooled at the thought for years, but carefully avoided being up early enough on a weekend to make the trip during business hours. But today, the yellow-brick-road of yard sales had lead us right to it. It was meant to be.
…So, you can imagine our dismay at the fact that the second tool barn turned out to be a bust. The owner was absolutely right- this one had at least twice as many tools. The problem was that the building wasn’t any bigger. Whereas our heavenly little tool barn had achieved just that magic amount of clutter as to be instantly charming, like your grandfather’s workshop; the second tool barn was buried in it’s own inventory. Like if your granddad had been a hoarder. There was tons of stuff, but it was almost inaccessible. You feared for your life to pull an item from a shelf, since there was a good chance that the merest touch would unsettle the load and bury you under a mountain of old screw drivers, anvils, and the odd pick axe or roofer’s hammer. And worse still; worse by far- they were sold out of sledge hammers! Sold clean out! Except for a few eight-pound heads with no handles, and one poor, abused, duct-tape-and-splinters model that would likely have stripped the flesh from your hand if you’d tried to use it. That hardly counts as an option. Balls!
The girl behind the counter told us that they’d sold two beauties just that morning. “They come and go quick.” she said. “You should try again later this week. We get them all the time…” (Speaking of beauties, she was lovely. And she worked in a tool store. I’m not gonna say that made her a dream woman, but it certainly bought her some points in my book. I tried to flirt. She retreated. I thought up random tools to inquire about. I did my best to chat her up while she showed me around the store. She’d be showing me their selection of impact drivers on the third floor, and suddenly I’d remember I had an interest in something I’d seen on the first floor. We talked more. I thought up the smallest, most esoteric tools I could think of, so that it would take her a while to find them. I even invented a few widgets in my head for her to find, in order to create more time to talk to her. (“I’m looking for a cast iron combination wrench for wagon wheels. Ever seen one? No; it’s similar to that, only it’s got three teeth on the front and a curved handle in back…” ) It went well initially, but she figured me out when I sent her looking for a left handed crescent wrench. We left shortly thereafter, with no tools and no phone number. Balls.
But this was no time to wallow in dejection. We could sense that the state was just chalk full of cheap, second hand sledgehammers, if we only knew where to look. And we were burnin’ daylight. We saddled back up in the station wagon, and set off for the next yard sale.
(You’ll pardon me if I don’t tell you what town this next bit happened in. The police may still be making inquiries there…)
We were flying down the road in my station wagon, to which I had been demoted when my poor old truck quit for the year (Poor ol’ gal. “Meg” the mighty half-ton may have jumped one too many curbs). We saw a yard sale sign, and spun a quick U-turn. We drove through a fairly upscale housing development looking for the sale. Finally, we passed one. It was a ritzy sort of affair, if ever a yard sale could be called such, all full of silver edged dishes, kitchen knick-nacks, and 80′s leisure suits. We drove on. To our surprise, there was another yardsale in the same development. A real yard sale. With power tools and bits of old camouflage clothing sticking out of the piles of outgrown children’s clothes. I hit the brakes to investigate. Sam and his wife opted to sit this one out and wait in the car. (The tool barn debacle had really taken the wind out of their sails.) “I think I saw an old frame pack over there.” Sam said. “See what they want for it.”
But, y’know- it’s a funny thing, carrying a large caliber semi-auto in the flat of your back. Your shirt never wants to stay down over it. I checked as I climbed out of the car. The damned thing was saying hello to the world again. I discretely tucked the shirt back over the pistol grip and holster as I walked to the tables.
There was an attractive blonde lady sitting on the manicured lawn. Her husband was lugging things out of the all-too-clean garage. It appeared that he was a soft handed office-type of some kind; a doctor or a lawyer who bought tools periodically in an effort to tell the universe that he hadn’t been entirely emasculated by the white collar and picket fence. But you got the feeling as you approached his yard sale that his wife had cracked the whip and told him that all that crap had to go. I half expected to see his testicles for sale on one of the tables. Instead, he had been forced to sell what few trappings of manhood he had managed to squirrel away into the rafters over the years. Dusty fishing poles, a pair of skis from the last ice age (still in the original packaging), a table saw, and- Good Lord! A sledge hammer!
“How much would you like for this?” I asked, perhaps a little too excited.
“I dunno…” the trophy wife said. She seemed somewhat displeased to have a philistine like me pawing through stuff on her lawn. “Three dollars?”
“SOLD!” Victory at last! A sledgehammer! What fun I’d have with that baby! And only three bucks!
…But I didn’t have three bucks. I was fresh out of cash. I had bought an old CB radio for the station wagon (of course) at a previous yard sale, and my pockets were all dried up.
I inspected the frame pack that Sam had spied. It might have come over on the mayflower, but it certainly hadn’t been used in the centuries since. And all the zippers worked. It was a gem. A framepack and a sledgehammer? This yardsale was a prospector’s dream!
“How much for the pack?”
The Stepford wife made a face. “I’d have to get ten dollars for that.” She said flatly.
“Cool.” I said, setting the items by her chair. “Hold that thought…”
I walked over to the car to bum some cash from Sam’s wife. The wind blew as I crossed the road, and my shirt billowed behind me. “Ten bucks for the pack, Sam- it’s a steal! And you won’t believe what I found. Just you wait!”
“What’d you find?”
“Can I borrow three bucks?
“Yeah, but don’t worry about the pack; I don’t really need it for anything. I think we have one like that kicking around somewhere, anyways.”
“Yeah” He said, as his wife passed me a few bucks through the slit at the top of the open window.
I went back to the lawyer’s commandant. She was clearly upset about something as I returned. She looked as though something terrible had seized her bowels and she was going to explode at any moment. Her every muscle was as taught as a drum, and she clutched the arms of her folding chair, knuckles white. She sort of leaned away from me in her chair, one foot awkwardly in the air, the other toeing the grass to push away.
I stood and blinked at her for a moment. She continued the whole diarrheal-contortionist bit. The husband was gone for the moment. I shrugged, and counted out three bills for the hammer (Hey- sometimes, I have that effect on women). I held out the money to her. The corners of her mouth twitched. She hesitated for a long moment, and then slowly let go of her chair enough to accept the bills, never drawing a breath.
“Just the hammer” I said, smiling “I decided against the pack.”
“Just take it!” she choked “I don’t care! Just take it!”
This had gone too far. What was her problem? I felt bad. Seemed like the poor woman was off her meds or something. Maybe that’s why her husband had retreated into the house…
“Nah; that’s ok. I’m happy just to have the hammer!” I said, still smiling; and gave the hammer a friendly heft. Her eyes were wide, and veins normal human beings don’t posses were pulsing on her forehead. “No!” she winced “Really! Take it!”
It was my turn to make a face. What the hell was going on?
“Are you sure?”
She nodded emphatically.
“Thanks!” I said; genuinely grateful. It was nice of her. Strange, given her state of being; but nice nonetheless.
I studied her in the chair. She was a nut. I mean, we’re talking full blown psychosis here. If ever I’ve seen panic, it was huddled there shivering on the chair in front of me. It was really unnerving. This perfect little suburbia; a peaceful afternoon, birds chirping, and this madwoman. It was like something out of a horror movie.
I did a mental inventory of my behavior since getting there. I couldn’t think of anything heinous that I’d done… I mentally checked my hygene. I’d showered that morning. I had brushed my teeth. I wiggled my nose- it didn’t feel like there was anything hanging out. I glanced at the car. Sam was behaving. The car looked normal. I mean- ok; so there was a gold dredge filling the back window. But that’s not menacing, right? Not at all. Not enough to send this woman into cardiac arrest like this. What was going on?
It was time for me to leave. But I’ve learned that exits are a delicate thing. If you leave fast when there’s trouble, you just look guilty of something. And maybe the poor woman was in some kind of trouble. I looked around the neighborhood. Not a soul in sight. This was really bizarre…
I picked up the pack and shouldered my hammer. I ambled down the driveway, looking all over for what could be amiss. I took my time, pretending to look over the stuff for sale again. I stopped at the far end of the last table, down by the street. I took several deep breaths; listening, and looking around. Not a think out of place. But goodness, this was strange!
I did my best to put the stuff in the wagon. The cussed pack wouldn’t fit next to the dredge. Insipid car! Always fighting me about things! I did some rearranging. The deed accomplished, I shut the hatch and glanced back at the housewife. She was still sort of hyperventilating in her seat, though she did look a little less like she’d die of fright any moment.
I climbed into the driver’s seat. Sam gave me a mischievous grin. “You might want to get out of here. I wouldn’t doddle any more. Let’s go.”
Curiouser, and curiouser. Now the weirdness was affecting him, too. Balls.
I drove off, tension thick in the air. There was a long awkward silence as we drove out of the housing development. Felt as though no one so much as breathed. I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“So…” I let the question hang for a moment. No one answered. “What the hell was that all about?” Sam balked in the passenger seat. “You do realize you just robbed that poor woman at gun point, right?”
I was dumbfounded. “What!? I did nothing of the kind!”
“Yeah, well…” Sam continued, wearing the expression he always did when we broke the law “your gun was hanging out when you went back. I was watching in the mirror. She saw it and panicked. I’m pretty sure her husband went in to call the police. You might want to get off this road here soon…”
I tried to absorb what he had just said. Suddenly, it all made sense. That was horrible!
“I mean, I know I only gave you three bucks…” Sam said, on the verge of a laugh. “…And you came back with that pack. That can only mean that…” He grinned. I was appalled.
“Don’t you dare! I didn’t steal it!”
“Yes, you did! I watched you!”
“Dude, she made me take it!”
“She was mental! She kept telling me to take it! I thought she’d lose her mind if I didn’t!”
“She nearly lost her mind when you did!” He laughed hysterically. “You should go back and cut them a check to help pay for all the therapy she’s gonna need!”
I felt awful. My stomach churned.
“well, you’ve got your stupid pack” I grumbled.
“I don’t want it!” he yelled. “Damned thing’s hot!”
I have no idea what ever became of that pack. But I do know it’s not in my station wagon anymore. I went home and put my truck back on the road. I didn’t want to be seen in the getaway vehicle again for at least a few months…