The accidental voyage, the old lady, and the fruit stand: why I can’t eat bananas anymore.

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Life has been especially interesting. While misdemeanors and near-death experiences have been at an all time low for me, several life changing relationships have come and gone, as have a handful of jobs. I’ve been to some unexpected places.

Last summer, I accidentally found myself on the island of Tahiti. How I got there is a story for another day (The ship I had been working on pulled into the port city of Papeete, and I was told she would be leaving again in 3 days. I would not be on it.). So there I was, ashore in a new country. A new continent, technically. I had some money in a bank on the wrong side of the world, and something like 5 bucks of Australian currency, but no local cash. And I speak neither French nor any Reo Tahiti. I did, however, have an assortment of parkas, heavy flannels, thick wool socks and a round dozen pair of thermal underwear. I had an extra large frame pack and a large wheeled suitcase; both full to overflowing with around 150 lbs of winter gear. (I really did end up in the islands accidentally. I had been attempting an expedition to Antarctica. It’s a long story.) Plus, I had a full daypack and camera bag. All of which I now had to carry, single handed, in the equatorial city swelter of Papeete, Tahiti.

But I was in a strange and far-off land, and determined to make the best of it. Such is travel, after all, and I had survived an epic sea voyage and crossed items off my bucket list. I was in a good mood. So I wandered, wheezing and sweating, for several miles of fiery sidewalk, trudging along towards heatstroke and nowhere, trying to make a plan. Where the hell was I going to sleep that night? I had initially planned to sleep on a beach somewhere; under the stars and the shadow of a breadfruit tree, like the beachcombers and stowaways of old. I had discovered entirely too late that Tahiti was no longer that kind of place. It was now a tapestry of poverty and urban sprawl. I knew instinctively I had to leave the city. All problems in life are worse in a city. But where to go? And how to get there? I needed to do some recon. And I needed air conditioning. Ye gods, did I need air conditioning. In short- I needed a rental car.

Another mile of sweat marching and some broken English slipped artfully over a language barrier got me to the rental agency. I managed to buy some bottled water ‘en route with a crumpled and sweat soaked American fiver I had in my boot, for which I received a handful of mysterious local coins in a variety of sizes and colors. I had no idea their value. But I pocketed them and drained the water in one long pull, and dragged my way into the rental car depot.

The lovely agent there didn’t speak English, but she did speak credit card, and I was able to pantomime “air conditioning” well enough that we made it happen.

My problems solved for the moment, I loaded up my new pack mule with parkas, set the air conditioning to 11, and off I went. I had decided it best to see the entire island before I made any plans. If I got right to work, there was probably just enough daylight to see it all. (there is only one road on the island, and it goes all the way around the rim of the island. The interior is extremely steep and mountainous, and not navigable by car or wheel-y suitcase) Tahiti is famously beautiful, right? I was determined to find that part of the island. The city certainly wasn’t it. And so I set off.

I’ll abbreviate that trip for you, dear reader, as it was mostly unremarkable. I’m very sad to tell you that The island of Tahiti itself has been destroyed. The pretty bits have been fenced off for rich folks and club med, and the rest uniformly covered with suburban sprawl. I learned in the following days that the surrounding islands, a short ferry ride away, are spectacular and you should totally go there, but those are also stories for another day.

My pacific cannonball run around the island took me the better part of 5 hours. I stopped frequently to snap pictures and chase wild chickens between the coconut palms. It was a lovely ride. But I began to get hungry.

You should know that Tahiti has an outrageous proliferation of fruit trees, both wild and cultivated. Mangoes, bananas, plantains, durian, breadfruit, coconuts, pomplemousse, and others grow like wildfire there. And so a charming local custom has sprung up. Old people don’t sit on porches or by the sea or whatever. Instead, they pick wild fruit and sit by little roadside fruit stands, to make a bit of money. (Presumably, to buy something that tastes better than wild chickens and durian.) Anyways- I was getting hungrier by the mile. I love the idea of eating local when I travel, but I have a stomach condition which generally forbids culinary adventures, so I almost never get to indulge. But I could, up to this point, eat bananas.

And so I drove, salivating more and more intensely at the fruit trees. I considered stopping to pick some myself, but I wasn’t sure what local customs were pertaining to fruit harvest, and besides- I wanted to meet some tropical old people. I passed several tables that hour, either closed for the evening or selling other fruits I cannot eat. Finally, as the sun set, I found her- Our Lady, the holy matron of bananas. She was sitting on a dusty corner, in a patchwork rocking chair, beside a a rickety folding table missing one leg; that corner of the table propped up on old boxes and scrap wood. It was topped with an old plastic table cloth with a pattern that strangely matched great-grandmother’s flowing tropical dress. It was perfect. I would buy a dinner of bananas from someone’s Yia-yia on the wrong side of the world. A Nanna’s bananas, if you will. Charming and delightful. It would be cheap, and it would be my first fresh food after months at sea. Just what I needed.

So I got out of the car, I smiled at the patron saint of fruit trees, and she smiled back; wrinkles folding on top of wrinkles, closed lips and toothless cheeks. She looked up at the mountainside, presumably so I wouldn’t feel pressured while I perused her fruit. The local bananas are little tiny things, only about 3 inches long and maybe 3/4 inch around. They grow in bunches two feet tall or so, with hundreds of fruits to a bunch. Our Lady of the bunches had millions of them.

I pointed to a particularly succulent bunch of bananas. The most dignified and dinner-like of the bananas on offer. I smiled and turned back to Yia-yia and asked “…How much for these?” circling them with a gesture, knowing neither of us spoke a common language. She let out a kindly grunt, and nodded while she raised a trembling, weathered hand, spreading all five fingers. “Great!” I said, having no concept of local currency units or fruit values, but knowing I had a handful of island coins in my pocket from earlier.

Quick as lightning, She produced an ancient plastic shopping bag, from somewhere I tried not to think of in her dress. She was on her feet now, and started placing bananas inside the bag. I plunged into my pocket for coins, and became suddenly aware that I had no idea how to count the coins. Yia-yia bustled about while I focused on my palm, trying to decipher denominations. I had coins marked in random increments of god knows what units; tiny round coins that said 10, 30, and a sad little aluminum penny that said 5, along with some big lunkers marked 250, 300, 400, and so on, some with scalloped edges, some round, and some faceted. A whole pocketful, and no two the same. Yia-Yia said she wanted five of something. Five what? Surely not my little penny. That couldn’t be enough. She must’ve meant 500. so I started adding clumsily, poking about, and suddenly became aware that I was taking a very long time, and it might be rude.

“I’m sorry…” I began, not looking up
“Eh,” she said, tisking her tongue, and waiving her hand in kindly dismissal at me as she toddled away from the back of my rental car, grinning ear to ear and looking wholly satisfied with herself. She limped and waddled her way to me, holding her back, and held out her hand. I looked back at my open palm, and realized for the first time that the rather large table, previously rounded over with fruit, was now entirely bare. I did a double take, looking back to my car, and saw the tiny euro hatchback COMPLETELY FULL of bananas. Comically full. Full to overflowing. Full to the point of not being able to close the rear hatch without smooshing them. Full like a tiny sedan carrying an industrial, holy-fuck-where-did-she-get-all-those, metric shit load of bananas.

I gaped. Open mouthed. Wide eyed. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a stunning amount of bananas, but there it was, staring at me like a crime scene from the car. I looked at Yia-yia. I looked at the car. I made fish faces, grasping for words that wouldn’t come. Surely I couldn’t afford them all.

“…I… um…”

Yia-yia’s smile started to wilt, her hand, still outstretched for coins, sagged dejectedly, and she began to look as though she had disappointed her ancestors.

“Oh- no!” I stammered immediately. “Thank you! Yes! I mean- That perfect! I love bananas! ALL the bananas. Exactly! Right!” And I tipped all the coins I had into her ancient hands. She smiled warmly again, as though all were suddenly right with the world again. “Thanks again.” I said, as sincerely as I could. I smiled and cupped her hands in mine to say goodbye, and made my way back to my car. I opened my door, scooped up all the bananas that fell out, tucked them gingerly into the banana mountain flowing out of the back seat, and climbed in.

What the fuck do you do with half a ton of bananas? Well… I wasn’t sure either. I’m still not, to be honest, but I can tell you that my initial solution was not the correct one. You do not- ever, dear reader, under any circumstances- turn towards an entire island’s worth of bananas, rub your belly and say fuck it, and endeavor to eat every last one of them.

How many 3 inch bananas does it take to make a satisfying dinner on the road? I have no idea. I didn’t stop there. I couldn’t. I had too many bananas to get rid of. I hadn’t even cleared the passenger seat yet. And so I munched on as I ground out the miles, wending my way merrily around a tropical island by sunset, singing “the banana boat song” at the top of my lungs, and furiously peeling and eating tiny bananas as fast as I could stuff them down.

How many 3 inch bananas does it take to poison a jolly fat man? That’s a question I can answer. (It’s a passenger foot-well and half a rear seat, stacked to the ceiling’s worth of them, for the record.) I don’t remember that night’s hotel. It passed in a wretched haze of acute banana toxicity and destroyed plumbing. But God, I have seldom been so sick. And when I came to, a filthy mess, the morning after, I swear they’d multiplied in the car overnight. What the fuck would I do with them!? I couldn’t bear to throw away food, especially in a poverty stricken area. And so I decided I would give them away.

How do you distribute several thousand pounds of yesterday’s bananas? I tried giving them away to locals. They just wanted to sell me more of them. So I tried giving them to tourists, instead, but a pair of newlywed Germans nearly maced me for my efforts. So I resorted to subterfuge. I started carrying them around, one bunch at a time, and then I’d “accidentally” forget a bunch everywhere I went. In hotel lobbies, in tour company waiting areas. I fruited several bus stops. I even sneaked back aboard my former ship and left a few hundred pounds as a good-will/fuck you present for the crew. And still I had more bananas. I finally resorted to leaving a bunch at the foot of every hotel room door, as a gift to all the other patrons. It was mid afternoon on day 3 before I had gotten rid of them all. Perfect timing, as they were finally getting too brown. That night, a very angry hotel cleaning lady knocked on my door. She waived her finger at me furiously, and told me in her heavy french accent- “No. More. Bananas! Yes? You understand me, Sir? No More Bananas.”
I looked her straight in the eyes. “What? Me? I don’t have any bananas…”
I smiled. Thank god it was finally true.

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The beer wagon, The stone, and the seat belt- An Experiment in automotive safety.

It was a crisp fall day in 1994 when the argument started. It was the sort of argument you’d expect from boys in their early teens- a heated yelling match over weather or not you could hit a guard rail at highway speeds and survive. Certain parties asserted that hitting any kind of barrier at high speeds would be lethal. Others maintained that with the right amount of finesse, one could harmlessly kiss the rail with the side of the car, and drive away as though it never happened.
“No, Stupid- the rail dents and then you hit the flat part in front of you, and then you die!”
“No, dummy- not if you’re good.”
“Don’t call me “dummy,” idiot!” And just like that, the fists would fly.

The argument erupted anew every time we watched an action movie. For years. (It should be noted that as car accidents go, we were quite an experienced bunch of 11 year olds. But our town simply doesn’t have guard rails. Accidents here involve moose, snowbanks, and ATVs in the oncoming lane.)

Eventually, Sam and I drifted apart, as childhood friends so often do, and that argument faded into memory as did our other adventures. ( Ok, well- several are preserved for all time in police reports, but you know what I mean.)

By happy accident, Sam and I crossed paths again almost a decade later, and became fast friends a second time. Shortly thereafter, Sam’s beautiful new truck threw a rod and destroyed itself. He loved that truck, and desperately wanted to fix it, but having been without a vehicle for the better part of a year, he was finally forced to seek other options.

Here in Maine, we have a local publication called “Uncle Henry’s.” It’s the predecessor to “Craig’s list.” The Uncle Henry’s is published weekly, and is available at every gas station in the state for 2 bucks. People sell everything in Uncle Henry’s. Airplanes, tools, assault rifles, cars, slightly used wedding rings… the list goes on and on. It’s a great little book. And much more up-and-up than Craig’s list. So when a thoroughbred Mainer like Sam needs a used car on a budget, there’s only one place to turn.

He tore through the used car section every week as though it were his Job. He was looking for what we call a “beer wagon.” Priced in the 300-dollars-or-less range, a beer wagon has to be good on gas, and reliable. All else is optional. Extra points if it looks legal going down the road.

Several months of searching later, Sam called me one night after dinner and said that he’d found one. It was a Ford Escort made sometime in the 1800’s, with a rotten frame and some patched body work that allegedly ran well. Asking price was 350 bucks. Sam said he intended to offer 250. But it was down in the southern part of the state, six or eight hours away, round trip. He asked me if I was up for the ride.
“when are you going?”
“When can you be here?”

Off we went. What a gem she turned out to be. We inspected it thoroughly, to make sure Sam was getting his 250 bucks worth of car. The body had been patched in several places with roofing tin and pop rivets. But there were only a few cigarette burns in the ceiling, And those holes in the floor were covered nicely by the carpet. There wasn’t much of the frame left, but the clutch was descent. Plus, the smell became bearable with the windows down, and she fired up when you turned the key. We shrugged at each other. The car purred like a kitten. Sam counted out the bills.

We had done the math on the way down- if she got 25 miles to the gallon, and if Sam was able to drive it to work and back for three months, she’d pay for herself in saved fuel. Better still, whenever it died, we could always take it to the scrap yard. It was worth 250 bucks in scrap iron alone. This thing was a steal!

But it surprised us all. A year and a half of mistreatment later, that little car was still running strong. Despite Sam’s somewhat acrobatic driving tendencies, and my habit of hitting it with my truck every time I saw it, “the little escort that could” just kept on tickin’.

Sam works at a boat shop. One day they separated all the ethanol from the gas in all the outboard engines, so that they’d run better. This left them with 5 gallons of straight ethanol. Sam dumped it into the fuel tank. She gurgled her way merrily down the road on it, so long as you kept the RPMs just a bit higher than normal. Y’know- like, up by the redline. What a great little car.

Sam was following me through town one night. It had become his custom to stop his car by rear ending my truck instead of hitting his brakes. Which was hilarious the first five or six times. Then I needed to figure out some way retaliating. So I put some distance on over the next stretch. I stopped like normal. I waited, hand on the shift column, nerves taught. I waited… waited… choosing my moment carefully. He was a fifty yards out, and coming in hot. Now.

I slammed my truck into reverse and floored it, headed his way. I smiled and pressed my head into the headrest so I wouldn’t get whiplash.


I thought for sure that impact would’ve destroyed the radiator on the little car. I got out to survey the damage. My poor ol’ truck had wound up on Sam’s hood, the bumper resting half way to the windshield. The hood had a few new scars, but the car was unphased. Sam laughed as he got out of his car, a fresh steering-wheel-shaped knot on his forehead. “Dude- you got me good.” we stood there laughing in the middle of Main street for a few minutes until Sam wasn’t dizzy anymore, and then we decided we should leave before the cops arrived.

And so it went. We hammered around for months as though the entire state of Maine was our private demolition derby arena. Neither one of us had cell phones, so you never knew when the other guy was in the neighborhood. You’d just be quietly pulling into the grocery store or sitting at a red light, when SMASH. You’d been T-boned by your smiling best friend, who laughed his ass off and backed away at top speed without so much as a wave. It was a wonderful game. It made running errands so much more exciting.

A month later, Sam’s poor “race-court” started running a little rough. Sam pulled over, slipped it into neutral, and pinned the gas pedal to the floor for a few minutes, letting the engine scream for a while. “That oughtta do.” He said, letting her idle back down. She ran smooth. That little car was amazing.

Oh- I forgot to tell you: She was a standard. Back then, I didn’t know how to drive one. Sam called me one day from work, and asked me to drive some metal to the scrap yard for him. I told him that gas would cost too much in my truck. He told me to take the car. I pondered for a moment. “You know I can’t drive a standard, right?” He laughed a bit over the phone. “Don’t be a wuss. What could possibly go wrong?” There was a certain soundness to his logic that I couldn’t deny. I mean, it was only a hundred miles to the yard. What a great way to learn to drive a stick!

But there was a problem. ok- there were several. But the most pressing one was that Maine is particularly hilly. I decided I’d just have to drive it like Sam. I left rubber behind with every gear change. So what if I rolled back a few miles when I went to start on a hill. Details, details. The radio worked just fine. Life was good.

…right up until I got into town. I hit the first red light. A tractor-trailer pulled up behind me and nestled up to my bumper. Balls. Traffic stacked up behind him. Damn. So much for my great day.

At this point in the story, you all need to know that I frequently find myself on unexpected expeditions that last for days. I often leave with nothing more than the clothes on my back. This means that I have to keep the clothes on my back well stocked with gear. I always wear cargo pockets, and I sort of live out of them. I take LOTS of gear every time I leave the house. But- the point here is simply this: massive, bulging cargo pockets. All the time.

…Including this particular day on the way to the scrap yard. So:

There I was: Sitting in traffic, in a car I couldn’t really drive, first in line at a red light, and the 18 wheeler behind me taking up every inch he can get next to my bumper. Eff.

I practiced my mantra. Slow down. Breath. It’s flat here. You can do this. Screw it- what could go wrong? Gas, clutch, pray… I got this. I pulled the stick all the way over to my leg, and drove it forward into first gear. Ok. I’m ready. Time to face the music.

The light went green. Extra revs now, be sure not to stall. I let the clutch out slow. It started to grab. I gave her a touch of gas. It felt right (for a second or two). The car started rolling forward, gaining momentum. I was getting excited, and then… disaster. The car hitched and bucked violently for a few feet, and quit. Traffic breathed a collective “fuck.”

Damn. And I was so sure I had done my clutch work right that time.

Alright. Nobody died. No big deal. A bit embarrassing, but a traffic jam is a minor thing. Try again. I sighed and started the car a second time. I drove the stick back into first gear, hard against my leg, and tried again.

I quickly failed a second time. And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth in rapid succession. Now I was smack in the middle of the intersection, blocking all four directions of travel. And the light switched back to red. This was no time surrender. Traffic lights be damned. Traffic began nervously flowing around me. The truck driver behind me angrily ground his gears and spouted smoke as he roared out past.

Oh, how I swore.

At this point, I was equally frustrated and confused. I had done it right. I know I had. But the damned thing wouldn’t work. I began to roar.

Well, there’s no quitting now. At the very least, I had to get her out of the road. There was only one thing to do. I’d show this little friggin’ car. I braced myself, gathering the calm before the storm. I checked the stick. Neutral. I drove it into my leg, hard enough to bruise; and screaming obscenities, I slammed the stick forward into first gear. I put the hammer down. I let her tachometer bounce on the red line for a while. I let that little car SCREAM. I was going to depart the intersection, and I was going to leave most of the tires on the road being me. The engine wailed. People stopped and stared. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and exhaled. I dumped the clutch.

I had been expecting to rocket out of that intersection in a blaze of screeching rubber and road rage. Instead, She gave me ten whole feet before she tried to rattle my teeth out. We came to a violent halt as the light -now directly over my head- turned green again. I was speechless.

I sat there blinking at the steering wheel. Horns honked. I was no longer the only one getting angry. Ok- new plan. There was a parking lot to my right. And it had a slight downhill grade. I lurched my way into it, ten feet at a time, and rolled. Ok. Now I’m moving! I’ll keep my speed up, drive along in circles until the light gives me my turn, and then rocket off into the travel lane! Great plan!

I pulled the stick down into second gear, still rolling down the hill. I held the clutch in and started the car. Still rolling, I gave second gear a try. Bad things happened.

Ok. Well, time to think this through a bit. Perhaps the car had died. I mean, I was confident it wasn’t my clutch work at this point. I mean, even I can’t screw up gravity. The damned thing wouldn’t even go down hill. Perhaps it was time to call Sam and tell him his car sucked. But it was so strange- it was running fine; the clutch was working fine. Were the gears all there? I ran through them with the car off.
1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th… wait a sec. Where the hell had 5th and reverse gone? I leaned over to look, and discovered new depths of self loathing. My cargo pocket had bulged its way over the slots for first and second gear. I had been starting in third! Once I figured that out, turned out I could drive a standard, after all…

Mysteriously, the car lost third gear a few weeks later. I have no idea why…

But don’t you worry, dear reader- Sam kept driving it. Turns out you don’t actually need third gear for anything, if you’re willing to rev the shit out of 2nd and drop her in 4th from there.

But then, a few months later, the car also mysteriously lost 1st. So, Sam did what any man would do. He drove it harder, and made it work. Starting in second, revving his way into 4th, and pretending all was well.

Until, strangely enough, the clutch started going. Can’t imagine why…

So one day, my phone rings. Sam was hugely excited about something. “Remember how we used to fight about what would happen when you hit guardrails!?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“You… Well, I was following my wife home tonight… and… you won’t believe this… I… well… look- How soon can you be here!?”

I made the 60 mile trip to Sam’s in record time.

Sam was still stuttering with excitement when I arrived. We hopped in what was left of the car, and off we went.

It was a mile or two to the first guardrail. It was a long one, though- several hundred yards long. We were doing 65 when Sam crossed the white line and gracefully met the metal on the other side. There was a bit of a bump and a grinding sound, and occasional sparks flying up past my window. We ground down the entire length of the rail. It was shockingly gentle. I have seldom laughed so hard. Sam repeated his performance on every rail for the next 20 miles and back. “I told you.” He said. My face hurt from laughter. We howled.

On the way back, Sam pulled into a detour. “Where are we going now?” I asked, still gasping for breath from the laughing fit “…There’s no guardrails down here”
“No…” he said, casually “There’s something else I want to show you before the car dies.” we drove quietly for a 10 miles or so down the back roads, quietly toasting the car’s achievements and longevity in the face of it’s tortured existence. “hey-” Sam started, breaking the silence- “Can you believe those airbags never deployed?” I was incredulous. “This thing doesn’t have airbags. First of all, it was built in the late stone age, and second, they’d have gone off a million times by now!” “No, really-” Sam said “She’s got airbags. I turned mine off, because I figured it was just a matter of time, and I didn’t want it to go off. I hate driving away from the scene with those fuckin’ things in my face. But the passenger side one? That should have cooked. Maybe we never quite hit it hard enough. These old cars’ bags can be a little hard to set off…” I pondered it for a while, and we fell silent, each meditating on great car crashes of the past.

We pulled into the parking lot for the town boat ramp, which was lined with huge coping stones; massive blocks of rough hewn granite, 3-5 feet square. They must’ve weighed several tons a piece, each of them looking like a not-so-miniature rock of Gibraltar. Sam pulls into the short parking lot going about 25 and smiling innocently. As we pull in, he quietly throws his head over his shoulder and looks at me with a little grin on his face. He pointedly examines my seat belt buckle, (which was fastened, of course.) looks back up at me, and worldlessly goes back to the wheel.

We are now doing 30 miles an hour across a tiny parking lot, and I notice that Sam is also buckled in. Sam never buckles in. My heart sank. Sam line up the approach, never tapping the brakes. I sighed heavily. Coping stones.

The crash was monumental. 30 miles an hour may not sound like much; but let me tell you, dear reader- it’s shockingly violent. I wound up in Sam’s lap, both of us howling with laughter. Somehow, I’d gotten tangled in my seatbelt, which I was still wearing, despite being on the wrong side of the car. It had spooled out comically and done nothing to restrain me. One of my boots was out the passenger window, the other had finally popped through rust hole on the floorboard. My head was resting on the driver’s side arm rest, and the rest of me was sprawled across Sam’s lap (he was laughing so hard I thought he was going to piss himself, so I really needed to get up. I was too wound up in my seatbelt to go back the way I had come, so I wriggled my way out the driver’s side window, kicking the hell out of Sam on my way by. He never stopped laughing. “The look on your face!” he roared, tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stood trying to gather myself, but couldn’t. There had been people on the boat ramp, who now stood slack jawed, watching us. I wandered over to the front of the car to survey the damage, still convulsing with laughter and adrenaline. The coping stone had been slid back several feet, and the hood of the car was nicely crumpled. The bumper stuck out from underneath at a strange angle. Miraculously, there were no fluids. I thought for sure the radiator would have been burst, but no. Goddamned car was amazing. People were starting to converge at the scene. “…we gotta go…” sam said quietly, trying to wipe his cheeks. Finally putting it all together, I staggered back to Sam’s window. “YOU FUCKER!” I roared, pointing a finger and grinning ear to ear. “Dude-” he laughed “…I *had* to check that airbag. I had to know. Can you believe that fuckin’ thing was broken this *entire* time!?” We both had a laugh. “…No, man- seriously. We need to leave. They have cops in this town.” Still not thinking straight, I bailed headlong into the driver’s side window, climbing over Sam again, en route to the passenger side. I was still head down in the passenger seat, my boots out the driver’s window when Sam slammed it into reverse and tore away.

His wife never even asked us about the front of the car. We just pulled in the driveway (in 4th gear, because it was all we had left), and went back to the dinner party like nothing had happened.

And that, dear reader, is why I’ll never own a new car. They just don’t make ’em like they used to…

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The adventure continues…

Hello again, dear reader. Thanks for stopping by.

I’ve decided to begin a new blog, which I hope to run simultaneously with this one.

The new blog is something of an experiment for me, and I’d really appreciate it if you want to try being a part of it. You see, Whereas this blog, the wandering atavist, is sort of a “greatest hits” album of my bad decisions, felonies, and misadventures; you may think of the new one as my collection of B-sides. I intend for it to be a chronicle of my daily projects, adventures, and general madness.

You see- I am to spend the winter blissfully cloistered here in the fortress of solitude; all alone in the snowy woods, in a big house full of guns, tools, and adventure gear. I am unemployed. I have no appointments. I do not generally wear pants. Life is fantastic.

It will be an interesting six months. Stay tuned. There are few things so dangerous as an atavist with time on his hands. I intend to live a life that will make interesting reading. I’d feel great if you’d come along for the ride. The new blog is called “the Tinker of Tunk Lake,” and can be found here:

I hope to see you all there. Happy reading…

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The sailboat, the interview , and the shed.

Ok, Ladies and Gentlemen- I’ve done it again. Usually I publish these stories years after the fact, in hopes that the various statutes of limitations would cover me. (Next year, I can finally tell you all about the time I stole a yacht for an evening…) But this time I get to tell you about something that just happened. About 3 hours ago, as I now sit down to write.

As many of you know, I’ve spent most of the last few years cloistered in my little apartment; too sick and sad to get out and about much. The last few years have been about discovering that I have limits, and it’s caused me to lose all my nerve. But I’m feeling a bit better lately, and I’m really trying to get out more. It’s time to climb back on the horse, so to speak; to get back to adventuring as best I can and try to move on with my life. Well… let me tell you how that’s working for me.

I think I’ve told you all that I conned my way into getting my captain’s license last year. Which I feel pretty good about in and of itself. I mean- the coast guard is a serious outfit. Having pulled the wool over their eyes is quite a feat, if I do say so myself. (Seriously- Can you believe they didn’t know better?) Anyways- I’ve got it. I officially hold a “50 ton Inland Master’s Captain’s license,” and with it a “6 pack” (six passenger) license that’s good out to 100 miles off shore. But as with all my best plans, it doesn’t impress women like I had hoped it would. So I’ve been trying to find other things to do with my shiny new credential. Y’know- things like actually being the captain of a boat. But it’s a funny thing about boats- turns out you actually need to know some shit about them. I really don’t. And it turns out that in many ways, boating is one of those crazy industries in which you have to have experience to get experience. And in my experience, there’s only one way to get through that kind of thing: lie. Shamelessly, often, and with panache. (“…Oh, yeah; been doing this for years. Got started making runs back and forth around cape horn…”)

So about a week ago, my wonderful mother writes me an E-mail saying that she’d seen a help wanted ad in the paper, looking for a captain to take out sailing tours in the area.

…Can you see where this is going?

So I called the guy. I didn’t even do any rehearsing before I dialed. I just figured I’d let the bullshit roll naturally off my tongue, as it so often does. But a strange thing happened. I had this attack of conscience when he answered the phone. I’m telling you- I’ve lost all my nerve. I fully intended to tell the guy that I’d sailed around the world several times and once alone. With one arm. Backwards. That’s what job interviews are all about, right? No better way to learn than to do it. And it’s only the ocean. Nothing bad ever happens on the ocean, right? So I dunno what came over me. Instead, I leveled with the guy. I was totally honest. Totally. And despite my myriad confessions of utter incompetence, He said he’d give me a shot. I was stunned. I said I’d call him the following weekend, and arrange a time to go out sailing with him on one of his tours.

This, dear readers, is that weekend.

I’ve been stressed out about it all week. He’s gonna know I’m a charlatan. The boat is a wooden gaff rig with a stays’l. I’ve never sailed anything close to that. She’s also nearly double the size of anything I’ve sailed before. True, I did some time on bigger motor boats, to get my sea time for my license; but not a sailboat this size. Sailboats are much trickier (Ever seen one? There’s ropes and lines all over the damn  things. And every one of those lines does shit. And you kindof have to know what they do, or you’re screwed.) Worse still, this boat also has an engine. Which has an upside, If you know how to use it. But I don’t. Which means that to me an engine is nothing more than a pile of mysterious fiddly bits aboard to misbehave. You see- boats aren’t like cars. In a car, all the important parts are in reach of the driver. But not on a boat. They like to tuck things away is strange places. The battery switches will be over here, but the starter button and gauges are over there, where they can’t be seen. Meanwhile the steering wheel is back there, with the throttle. Which may or may not be built into the gear shift knob. And did I mention the miles of lines you have to play with at the same time? It’s like Rube Goldberg designed the whole affair.

So; knowing all this, I was nervous. I procrastinated as long as I could, afraid to face the music. I wrote letters and played guitar all day (I find it’s best to avoid wearing pants when stressed. I find it therapeutic. The police find it “indecent,” but whatever…). Eventually, the time came. I made the call. I was told to meet him at the town dock at 5 for the sunset cruise. I drove down to meet my fate.

I did a lot of thinking on the way down. Maybe this was a bad idea…

I sang some sea chanties while I drove, to get my spirits up. I smelled the salt air. Hell with that. This was a great idea.

My potential employer expressed concerns with my lack of experience. I was going to calm his fears by lying my ass off, when it suddenly happened a second time- again with the honesty. (It seems to be working out for me, in retrospect; I may be honest more often…) I agreed with his assessment of my experience, and told him that experience is precisely what I was after in applying for the position. He said he’d give me a try. We climbed into his dinghy, my pack shedding pine needles and looking a touch out of place.

I want to take a second here to say what a huge thanks I owe this guy (who shall remain nameless, for the sake of his business). He could have told me to screw off. He could have told me I had no business being a captain. He could have turned me in to the coast guard station across the harbor and reported me for a fraud. He didn’t. He didn’t even try to make me feel bad about it. He just let me try. That was a great deal more than I had a right to ask.

The boat is beautiful. She’s a palace; all rigged properly and with bells and whistles I’ve never actually been able to handle before. Lazy jacks and a furling jib. A boom footed, self tending stays’l. A working engine. A steering wheel. A bilge pump that actually moves water. A working radio. A bathroom that isn’t a 5 gallon bucket. For those of you not familiar with boats- the point here is simply that she’s the real deal. She’s got amenities I’ve seldom had in the apartments I’ve rented, let alone on a boat.

So we ride over to the dock -mostly in silence- to pick up the passengers. I want to ask lots of questions, but I know it’ll only prove how inept I am, so I refrain.

The guests are a couple slightly younger than my parents, along with their 3 kids. My almost-employer introduces me to the guests. “…And this is [the atavist]. Captain [atavist], actually…” I feel dangerously good about myself. I do my best to be on my game, but I’m muddling all the details. I put the boarding ladder in the wrong spot. I tie the boat off improperly. I stare at the daughter’s legs. I’m not fooling anyone.

We depart.

The weather here was heavenly tonight. We’re just now coming into the few weeks in Maine that make life worth living. Autumn. When the sun is pleasantly warm but not hot; when the wind is pleasantly crisp but not cold. It was a perfect evening for pleasure sailing- the wind was light and the seals and porpoises were out playing.

We tack around the bay; the real captain pointing out ledges I’ll need to avoid should I ever take command. I have a wandering and very enjoyable conversation with the various passengers. The lovely daughter races little sailboats at the yacht club back home (she probably knows more about boats than I do…), and is getting ready to start a new school, in which she’ll be going to sea on a tall ship. The brother is quiet; says he digs sports. The father and I chat about Alaska and bears and  fishing and blowing up dead whales. The mother follows our conversation, and the younger daughter chats with her sister, taking their turns posing for pictures. I drop lots of nautical words into conversation, because I’m such an expert. Smiles all around. I like these people.

We head back into the harbor as the sunset dips behind the hills of the park.

The captain orders me hold her into the wind while he drops the sails. I pretend I know what that means. He orders me to start the engine. I don’t know how. He orders me to motor over there. I don’t know how to put her in gear. My steering is lubberly. The captain is shockingly patient, but the rouse is up for me. Now we all know I’m faking.

It’s rapidly getting darker. Land is getting closer. Goodness, that harbor is crowded…

The coast guard station is at the mouth of the harbor. I don’t look that way.

The captain orders me to dock the boat. I try not to shit my pants.

This is a maneuver I’ve never attempted before, and he knows it (that whole honesty thing…). I intend to surprise everyone and make a perfect landing. I accomplish exactly half of those goals.

I get us lined up with the dock. No one seems worried (fools!). I feel the wind off my port quarter, so I leave some space for the wind to blow me gently into place. The wind fails to uphold it’s end of this bargain. The boat settles awkwardly in front of the dock, but about 10 feet away. Attempt 1: Fail.

Everyone is still good natured, but eyebrows are raised. Not in alarm, but in curiosity. Will the plucky rookie be able to make this happen? Take 2: fail.

I’m more than a bit embarrassed. And frustrated. I start swearing in Greek.

…if you’ve been reading these stories, you know by now that things never get better when I get frustrated. Tonight is no exception.

The captain, still being bizarrely calm and friendly and ok with all this, starts trying to help. “Back her out. Cut the wheel this way. More throttle. Reverse. More throttle. Neutral. Less throttle. Cut the wheel that way. Take 3: fail. The worst yet. Now we’re sitting at a funny angle to the dock.

This dock, I should take the time to mention, apparently belongs to a lobster co-op of some kind. They have a small shack sitting on the float; where they house their scales and pumps and log books and other odds and ends. It has a window on one wall, facing the dock where I’m trying (rather unsuccessfully) to tie up. It has a window. For the time being.

A bowsprit, for my non-sailing readers, is a long narrow bit that sticks off the front of the boat, which allows you to hang more sails out front, and looks totally cool. But the important part here is that it sticks off the front of the boat. Like a narwhal tusk, only it’s 20 feet long and probably a good deal more expensive.

So there’s a shack with a window. And a ship with a long, pokey bit on it’s face. And a hapless fool at the helm, waiting to introduce them.

There’s also a restaurant full of people watching. Did I mention that? Because an audience is always helpful at moments like this.

“turn the wheel.”

“…no- the other way.”

I wind the wheel all the way towards me. Nothing happens. I spin it all the way the other direction. Still nothing.


The guests are patiently waiting this out. The people in the restaurant crack lobsters and slurp spaghetti and watch my little show with mild interest.

I remember feeling helpless. And muddled. We’re drifting away from the dock. Goddamned boat drives nothing like a truck. My mind starts wandering. (y’know- because this is a good time for that.) Perhaps this really was a bad idea. I kindof have to pee. I wonder if I’ll get us landed in time… Good lord, the redhead is smiling at me…

“more throttle.”

We are now aiming at the shack. Concentrating on the engines, I forget that there is such a thing as a bowsprit.

The next bit is kindof fuzzy for me; though it only happened a few hours ago.

I remember the captain saying something to the effect of “perhaps I should take over” as he came to the helm to do so. He had no more than laid his hand to the wheel when it happened.

It wasn’t a loud sound, really; not even all too unpleasant to the ear. Boat-to-shed crashes don’t sound like car crashes. They sound like they happen in slow motion. And… they kindof do. You’re crashing, but… slowly, and with a strange sort of grace. You have time to stop and think about it. People have time to let other people know you’re crashing, so they can watch, too. It takes all damned day for a bowsprit to go through a plate glass window. You can hear it rearranging the contents of the shed as it goes, mixing in bits of broken glass nice and evenly. It would almost be a pleasant sound, if your blood wasn’t busy turning to ice water.

We are now stopped. I have just parked a 33 foot boat inside of a 5 foot shed. A shed which is, by the way, more or less on land. A shed which no longer has a window.

I stand alone in front of the helm, contemplating running away. I’d have to run down the bowsprit, over the shed, and through the restaurant, where a crowd has gathered to get a better view of my latest handiwork. Can’t go that way. I consider swimming. The lobster men are watching from their boats. There is no escape.

We are all making faces. I, in a historic first, did an actual facepalm. The lovely redhead is still looking at me. She is no longer smiling.

We all take turns blinking at each other. I try to think of something to say. More glass clatters out of the window, instead. I close my mouth, which had apparently been hanging open for some time.

The father steps up beside me and says -with a straight face- “Man- you did that just right…” I hang my head.
“…No- really. Do you have any idea what would’ve happened if there hadn’t been a window there? You’d have carried the shack right off the wharf. Or snapped the bowsprit off. You handled that really well…” He nods and pats me on the back.

It took a minute for me to process what he had said. He was absolutely right. It’s these moments in which I am reminded why I’m religious. I couldn’t have hit that window if I had aimed for it. Not in a million years. But I wasn’t about to tell him that. I said my prayers silently.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, a window is a small thing. Obviously. Nobody died, nothing sank, and I didn’t have to run away. But in my mind, it was the principle of the thing that was so outrageous. I had just used an 80,000 dollar antique wooden sailboat as a wrecking ball to rough up a 400 dollar shed. With passengers on board. With people watching. During what was, for all intents and purposes, a job interview. I assumed that was… well… out the window, if you’ll pardon the pun. So you can imagine my shock when the captain asked me to back her out of the slip and head to the mooring. He was totally cool about it. So were the clients. Everyone kindof laughed it off. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. The captain even told me I could come back when I was able. I was stunned.

Maybe I can make a career of this, after all. I hear they’re always hiring Italian cruise ship captains…

…Anyone up for a sail?

Categories: memoir, nautical | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The cashier, the redhead, and the handgun- why I have to do my grocery shopping elsewhere


I think it’s finally been long enough to tell this story.

Grocery shopping is a bi-monthy affair for me, and I try to make something of an occasion out of it. I hit the bank on payday, grab a shower and a change of clothes, and head to the store. You see, they have girls at the grocery store. Beautiful girls in sun dresses. It’s brutal. And the cool part is, nobody thinks it’s weird when I hang out in there. I’m convinced someday one of them will give me a phone number that actually belongs to them.

It turns out there are two ways of meeting girls at the grocery store. You can meet them in the isles, which is a tough sell because you’re starting cold, and you have to pull it off in one go (“…I see you bought grape jelly. I like grape jelly, too. Wanna catch a movie sometime?”) Plus, you never know if she has a boyfriend lurking in the next isle. The better option by far, as I have learned, is to flirt with the cashiers week after week. You can afford to play the long game that way- the upshot is that they can’t leave while you’re talking to them. Let’s be honest- I need that kind of advantage. Of course, the downside is that by June, you’ll probably have 5 or 6 checkout lanes you need to avoid the rest of the summer. (protip- it may not be worth the risk to flirt with express lane girl. She’s probably not going out with you, anyways; and the 14-items-or-less thing can save you hours on a Sunday evening in this town.) I’m also working on a third option, wherein I ask the girls stocking shelves to help me find imaginary foodstuffs, so that I can talk to them while they trek around the store with me looking for it. (“no- kindof like that one, but in a blue box, instead…”) This one is still in the testing phase, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

But yeah- other than the rejections and the fact that the phone numbers are always bogus, grocery shopping is pretty great. For a week or two, I get to have something in my fridge other than boxes of rice crispies, iced tea, and lumps of wrapperless mystery cheese in old sandwich bags (I find it’s usually cheddar when I cut the mold off. My neighbor’s dogs and I tend to finish the mozzarella before it turns.), So it’s a big deal. Which is why I’m generally in a good mood there, and why I was pretty bummed when… well…

Before I go any further, I want to remind you all emphatically that I’m not a right-wing nut job. Quite the opposite, in fact. I tell you this so that you won’t get the wrong idea about me when I confess that I don’t leave the house without a gun. (Mostly to protect myself from right wing nut jobs. Oh, the irony…) Anyways- several of my stories here have centered around the fact that I’m terrible at hiding my gun(s). When you’re into such things, you constantly read that “concealed carry is an art.” I always thought that was rhetorical bullshit. But what they’re actually trying to tell you is that the goddamned things just don’t want to stay hidden. Which turns out to be a problem when you live in a hippie tourist town.

I mean, I thought I had solved my holster woes after my little incident in the movie theater. A dear friend of mine ordered me a custom rig as a graduation present, which I’ve been wearing daily for several years now without issue. It’s a double shoulder rig, which means I carry two guns; one under each arm (because- cool!). I wear a light button up shirt over them, and they disappear. But as always, it’s the little things in life that people fail to warn you about. Little things like, for instance, the ability of the average grocery cart to disarm a man like a ninja master. I can’t be the first guy in the world to have made this discovery, but… Nobody mentions it. You just have to bumble along and figure this stuff out for yourself, and hope you can clear off before the cops arrive. (…and they will, make no mistake. You can have a beard. You can usually have a gun. But if you’ve got a beard *and* a gun, at the same time, people freak out. The cops will show up. Trust me.)

So anyways- there I was. Grocery cart rounded over with half a month’s worth of chicken burgers and gluten-free mac-‘n-cheese, and I found that all the cashiers working at that particular time were girls who had declined my overtures. Balls. As I was rehearsing for the impending awkwardness, one of the girls went on break, having been relieved by a young man from South America someplace. I didn’t get to find out just where, since I was forced to make a quick getaway. But anyways- this young man had been kind enough to save me from the blonde (who did not give me her number, but who did give me several rather cutting reasons why not), and I never got to thank him for it. Instead… well…

I was emptying my cart onto the conveyor belt, standing at the front of the cart reaching backwards, with my back toward the cashier. All was going well. I was leaning against the now empty cart, fishing for the last box of mac-‘n-cheese, which was hiding just out of reach against the back wall of the cart. Now, I’m a fat man; and so it’s not really possible to get along side the cart in the checkout lane, unless I want to risk upsetting the wall of twix bars and such. You only have to destroy one case of tic-tacs that way before you learn not to do that shit again. So I was leaning, hard, against the cart, which was pushing back, hard, against my gun, while I was flailing my fingers awkwardly at the damned little box, just millimeters beyond reach. And at just that moment, the most amazing set of legs I’d ever seen walked by, in a gloriously indecent miniskirt.

Good Lord.

She was redheaded, long-legged, and devastating. Someone’s trophy wife, no doubt. Normally, I try hard to be a gentleman, but… she didn’t put on a skirt like that because she was modest. And all my life of being subtle about such things had gotten me nowhere. I’ve decided that if all I’m ever going to be allowed to do is look, I’m damned sure gonna. So there I was- suddenly in a cold sweat, mouth agape, when the woman stopped at the endcap I was facing, and -God be praised- she bent down to take something off the bottom shelf.

Ladies and gentlemen, Time stood still. The grocery cart no longer existed. I forgot about my guns. It was one of those rare moments when life decides to show you that dreams really can come true; that all is well in the universe, and every dog has his day. Any other day, I’d have been arrested for stopping and bending down to look up a stranger’s skirt like that; but today- Today, God had handed me an excuse. A ticket to the show, disguised as a box of macaroni. And what a show. Aphrodite. Redheaded. Devastating. And pornographic.

I didn’t even hear my holster unsnap.

I was wobbly kneed by the time she sauntered off. I followed her as far as my field of vision would allow, turning boldly to watch her leave, having forgotten all sense of who and where I was.

Which was unfortunate, since the cart held onto my holster strap as I turned to watch her go.

And just like that, she was gone. I stood there trembling, trying to collect myself. I had never dared to believe such things actually happened in real life. Myself refused to be collected. Slack jawed, unsteady, and unsure of what else to do, I reached again for the last blessed box of mac-‘n-cheese, to whom I owed so much. I was dimly aware that my gun was a little …differently… placed on my ribs than normal, but… it was too great a moment for something to be wrong. It would have to be dealt with later. My straps had gotten out of sorts before. I’d set it straight in the parking lot. Life is good. All is well.

I got the box. I turned to set it on the belt. My brow furrowed. That gun was definitely out of place. It had never gotten *there* before…

I was now making eye contact with the cashier. It seemed like a rather poor moment to reach into my shirt to fiddle with a gun. I’d have to wait. It was uncomfortable, sure; but it should have been strapped in so it couldn’t go anywhere. I’d deal with it outside. He rang up the last box. “That’ll be 214.38”

I felt it slide. There was a loud clatter, and just on the edge of my vision I could see a loaded .45 go sliding across the floor. The cashier went visibly pale, and all the people around stiffened. I closed my eyes for a second to plan my next action. It had to be a good one. There was a good chance I’d be explaining this to the police shortly.


It’s a funny thing about panic. It’s contagious. I wanted nothing more than to grab the gun and run away. But I could feel the entire store looking at me, trying to decide weather or not to shit their pants. I knew if I stayed cool, there was a good chance everyone else would, too. Plus, it’s never a good thing to be seen sprinting out of a store, gun in hand. But this was only going to get worse with time. I had to get my gun back. I had to move fast, before more people saw; but not too fast, or someone would scream.

Ok. Plan. Get the damned gun back. Pay for the groceries. Get the hell out of dodge before the cops show up, but act like everything is cool. No running, no picking up the cart to dump it into the truck, no squealing tires- everything is cool. Everybody be cool.

I remember noticing as I bent down just how big a chunk of vinyl tile had been gouged out of the floor. And I remember noticing the white scuff mark on the hammer. It occurred to me that there was a round in the chamber, and the hammer was back. The 3 pound gun had fallen squarely on the thumb-point of the hammer. It was miraculous it hadn’t gone off. Somewhere out there, there’s an engineer to whom I owe a six-pack.

Now I had my gun in hand. I kept it low. I took a step towards the candy rack to hide it as I swung it up and tucked it into my shirt, getting it snapped in as quickly as I could. I was mortified. I turned back to the cashier, who looked as though he’d pass out any second. Stay with me, champ. If you pass out, I’m going to prison. “how much?” I growled. He shook. Precious seconds ticked by. I could feel the police closing in. I looked at the register screen. 214.38.

I get small bills at the bank. On payday, I usually take out 4-500 in 20’s, of which I’ll spend half at the grocery store and then use the rest for pocket money for the next two weeks. And when I pulled out my wad of 20’s, the poor cashier lost yet another shade of color in his cheeks. A loaded gun and a wad of bills. Oh, good. He only thinks I’m a drug dealer. I supposed that was a step in the right direction. A second ago he thought I was a mass murderer. This is much better.

People stared at me all the way out the door. Much to my relief, there were no sirens when I got outside. I had gotten away with it. And, better still, I had gotten away with a truck full of chicken burgers. I didn’t have to leave the house again for a while. I figured it was probably best that I didn’t.


Categories: Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

My continued absence…

A handful of people have been kind enough to ask where I’ve been. There has been a smattering of adventures, sure- I’ve plundered a few shipwrecks and I dug for some precious stones and I’ve bought/sold/traded about a hundred guns. I acquired a 4-wheeler. An ancient machine 3 sizes too small for me, with which I’ve been exploring the mountains and terrorizing my neighbors (I just reached 100 miles on the ol’ gal’s odometer. Did you know bugs will splatter on your glasses if you go fast enough? I didn’t. Now I do…).

But for the most part, I’ve been hidden away in my apartment for the last 6 months. I’ve tinkered and daydreamed and watched an appalling number of TV boxed sets. The entirety of both Star Trek TNG and Dr. Who. I watched 5 seasons of Top Gear. I broke a 10 year clean streak, and bought a video game. In short, I became exactly the person I have tried so hard no to be.

I’ll make a confession: I gave up. Just… gave up. Lost hope.

Mine is a simple problem. A two word sentence. But it wormed it’s way down deep into all the cracks and crevices in my life and I can’t ignore it anymore: I’m lonely.

Which sounds a little silly, I know. I mean… get over it, right? Sally on, keep your chin up, and get through it. A million platitudes come to mind. “Just focus on other things.” “Just work on being yourself.” and, my favorite- “…It’ll happen when you least expect it.” (I swear I’ll slap someone if I have to hear that crap one more time.) But… there’s something I haven’t been able to explain well. Maybe it’ll go better on the page.

You see, an adventurer’s job is to “live deep, and suck all the marrow out of life.” It’s not just about the craziness. It’s not all about stolen firetrucks and explosions and bears and seeing how many near death experiences you can squeeze into your 20’s. (Ok, ok; so it’s partially about that. But stick with me here…) It’s also about the softer stuff. The deeper stuff. It’s equally about watching the leaves change color and stopping to smell the waves and sitting listening to the snow fall. It’s about staying up late to watch meteor showers and learning to grasp the poetry of existence.

And it’s about so much more than just an experience. Or, at least it ought to be. I mean, experience, like virtue, is reward enough unto itself. Of course. But… there’s more to it. You stand alone on enough mountain tops, and you sit alone on beaches, and you lie awake at night on the deck of a tiny sailboat, staring at the sky. And you hear all the universe whisper… “why?”

And for a while, it’s enough to simply say “because.” Because it’s all so beautiful and moving. And it’s a shame that such things go untasted. And that’s enough. But you keep hearing the universe asking you. And it asks you what you’re going to do with all of it. You’ve been tucking little pieces of the sunsets and sea into your soul. Such things are not meant to be hoarded. And so you begin to grow the need to share.

But it’s not just the stars over the sailboat. And it’s not just the wind in the pines that you need to share. It’s the love of the thing; the romance of it all.

And that’s my problem. It’s these things I’ve used to define myself all these years. It’s these things I’ve so longed to offer. I had always thought that being a man like that would be desirable. How wrong I was.

It Hurts. I can’t tell you how badly it hurts.

Nobody wants those things. And by extension, nobody wants a guy who’s offering it.

So you keep trying to experience it all, even though you keep doing it alone. You keep trying to live deep. But all existence keeps asking why. And eventually something strange happens. While a man never sees enough sunsets or shooting stars, at some point he finds that his longings for such things are sated, somehow. And to keep doing it is simply gluttony. It’s gratuitous. Eventually, it’s just another vulgarity. And the stars seem cold, and the sunsets tawdry. The waves go bitter, and the breeze stiffens. And you find yourself bereft of the joy of them; as though the stars no longer shine for you. Like a pretty girl dressed up for another man, who’s caught you looking and scorns. And all the world feels cold and sullen.

I tell you all this in hopes that you’ll understand why I feel this need to have someone in my life. It’s because the stars have gone cold.

I’ve been asked why I stopped writing. I stopped writing because, to be honest, I stopped believing anyone wanted to read this stuff. Lots of you read and left comments. Some of you became friends and pen pals. And it all meant the world to me. But as I daily failed to find anyone in my real life to share the important stuff, I gradually stopped believing that I had anything to offer. If the things that are important to me aren’t worth sharing, how much less can my goofy stories mean to anyone?

So I’ve been hiding in my apartment all summer because I can’t handle being told I’m worthless anymore. I’ve heard it so often, from so many people, that I’ve started to believe it myself.

Last month, a girl gave me her phone number. I tried calling. The number rang to the state police.

They go the extra mile to make it sting. And it’s working. It’s really, really working well.

There are those who say they just want to be my friend. They’ll laugh at my jokes and they’ll use me as a tour guide; they say they want me to take them on trips and show them things. And then they’re gone. I’m not allowed to be anything more than an entertainer. They refuse to let me matter to them. I’m devastated by that. And I find it hard to continue. What am I supposed to do? Go on more adventures? Write more stories? Count more shooting stars? Learn more love songs on the guitar? To store and hoard more things to never share? No matter how many shipwrecks I dive or mountains I climb, no one is going to ask me how my day went. No matter how gentle I make my soul, no one is going to let me hold her. That thought is crippling.

Friends, I have a handful of diamonds in my apartment that I mined myself. Literally, a handful. A handful of stones, cut and ready for settings. I can’t give them away. Think about that for a second. What kind of terrible person must I be? How long would you be able to keep mining them, knowing that you’d never have someone to commission jewelry for? I just can’t keep doing it anymore.

I held out hope for so long that someone would come along. That if I was diligent long enough, looked hard enough, made myself good enough- that someone worth the trouble would come along. It’s become too hurtful a dream.

…And so I quit writing. I don’t want this to become an outlet for my bitterness and baggage. Maybe someday I’ll pick it back up. But for now, I’m just to hurt to keep at it. I hope you’ll all pardon my absence. I wish there were more I could say.

So G’night for now; my friends. And maybe for always, though I hope not. I’ll leave the blog open in case any of you want to get a hold of me for some reason.

The Atavist

Categories: Adventure | 5 Comments

I can’t believe it happened…

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m facing a crisis.

My pack is missing. My beloved pack; my Matilda, the pack I lived out of. The one I slept with, and ate on, and worked in. The pack I was using to schedule my retirement. In which I kept my so much of life, on which I displayed my achievements, and constantly relied upon for nearly a decade of adventure and hardship. My literal bag of tricks. It’s gone. How the hell did this happen?

I remember tucking it under the barrel of an assault rifle in my passenger seat as I was leaving a birthday party. I remember concealing a pistol in it’s folds as I drove away. And that’s it. Where the hell could it have gone?

This is extremely troubling. An adventurer must never be separated from his pack. He lives and dies by the gear he carries. Within it are the tools for traveling and socializing and general living. Maps and bullets and a toothbrush; odd and ends aplenty. Rope and string and nail clippers, freshly mined diamonds and bandages, a few dollars cash, and an extra copy of my concealed weapons permit. A sharpening stone, an assortment of pills, and a sewing needle. Ear plugs, a jeweler’s loupe, and handful of blasting caps. And a million other things, small and large, that I cannot remember without need of them. But the gathering of which took years of crossing the continent. Who’s list was sharpened by constant need, items added and subtracted as the adventure demanded. But a pack’s importance amounts to so much more than the sum of all her parts- the pack is the embodiment of confidence, of readiness, of being equipped for any adventure the day might bring. A two week prospecting trip? Let’s go. Several days at sea? Ready when you are. Dinner and a movie? I have just enough ammo. Or I did. Where the hell did it go?

…But without my pack? I’m naked! Worse, if it were possible. I mean, there was probably some underwear in the pack. I could solve any problem if I could reach into that thing. How could I have lost it?

I went scuba diving two days ago. We were going to explore a new gold mining site- a boat, a metal detector, some air tanks, and we were off. I needed some meds. Not to worry- I keep them in my pack… But oh, the horror! It was gone! Where the hell could it be!?

I checked my car, where she had been waiting at the ready for the last two weeks. I checked my truck, where I recall leaning on it- a makeshift armrest- as I drove into town to buy some plywood, bolts, oil filters, and ammo. I could’ve swore she was there when I went to the bonfire; I was positive it was in the car when I brokered last week’s arms deal. I thought it came along for the roadtrip with Trooper- yes; I’m certain, I hid my guns in it again that night. Did I set it on the roof at some point and drive away? God forbid!

Did I leave it at the boat yard? Did I take it out for some reason when I was hauling scrap iron? Where else have I been? The parts store, when I dropped off a scuba tank? It’s very distinctive- she’s even got my name sewn onto the top flap. Did I have it when I went hiking to the pond? No- and I noted it’s absence that day, but assumed it was safe in my other car. (Damn you, gas prices!) Did I have it when I went out shooting? Did I reach for it when I was welding? Did I pull something from it while I was diamond mining? Where the hell can she be!?

I waltzed that Matilda all over. We crossed the continent a dozen times, top to bottom and side to side. We crossed borders together, we froze and we starved and we bled, and we relaxed and snoozed in peace, or drove the country roads as we had a mind to. Can it be that she’s really gone? I keep feeling like I’ll turn a corner in the house and see her leaning shapeless in a corner, covered in my patches and waiting for another day on my shoulder. But the house has been cleaned top to bottom, and no one’s seen her. I’ve lost a great many friends this month- I can’t bear to part with her, too… Where the hell is my pack!?

The patches may seem silly to some of you, but you have to understand- they’re tremendously important. Adventurers don’t have resumes- they have patches. It’s how your fellows know where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Soldiers have their stripes and police their badges; we wild men have our patches. And my pack was filling up with them, and I was so proud. Some were shiny and new, some were shaggy and bloodstained; but they were all there, in my crooked and clumsy stitching with the coarse black thread. I told myself I’d finish when I ran out of space; that I’d know then that it was time to retire or to die. I’d been planing a ceremony for hanging up my pack for the last time- I was gonna forge a hook for her and dedicate a wall to the memories of the days we’d rambled roamed and seen and done together. But now she’s gone. Like a limb crudely wretched from the socket of my memory. I feel I could weep.

Missing: My shaggy, olive green day pack. Two feet tall, 30 lbs. Last seen wearing assorted patches and hand sewn cartridge loops. Stained head to toe with love and misuse. May smell faintly of campfire smoke, sea water, and mountain mornings. Missing and feared dead. Call if sighted, reward offered for safe capture.

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, memoir, musings, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Funny how things change…

My friends and I have gotten old, though I don’t think they notice it quite so sharply as I do. It’s telling in all the little things- injuries linger just a bit longer, and bed time is almost always before dawn.

But now and again we’ll get a little crazy to prove to ourselves we’re still the kids we used to know. It’s not deliberate, really; we just see opportunities and answer them with the madness of our former years.

For instance, last night I was driving to town to buy groceries and return library books. It was very mature of me- the books weren’t even past due yet. Minutes later, I found myself outrunning a state trooper. I bounced poor Meg through a couple of snowy blueberry fields and made my escape. I was nervously pulling back onto the tar from behind a spruce thicket when Sam passed me going the other way. I managed to flag him down.

He turned around and we had a window-to-window conference in our trucks. He was on his way to get heating oil for his house. I told him I was running from the cops.

“Lemme call the power company and pay my bill, and then we’ll stash your truck and you can ride with me”

So Sam made his calls, and we stashed ol’ Meg behind the alders at the boat ramp. On the way in to the ramp, Sam rear ended me hard enough to make my rear wheels skid around my lane. We were still laughing when I grabbed my rifle, my pack, and my library books and jumped in with him.

Now that we were fired up, Sam put his truck sideways around the turn on the way out, both of us suddenly 14 again. As we were sliding back up to the main road, our mutual friend Adam drove lazily through the intersection. Adam hadn’t seen us, but it didn’t matter. The chase was on.

We’d run him down a few miles later, though he still hadn’t seen us. He turned onto his road to go home, and we followed- sideways at 50 miles an hour. Adam saw us in his mirror. He jammed his gears and fought to maintain his lead.

The outcome of that little rally is still hotly debated, but I can tell you these two things with certainty: Sam is a damned fine wheel man. And Adam cares about his car a little too much. When we slid into Adam’s driveway a full minute in the lead, I was smiling so hard my face hurt. Sam’s truck wore some new scratches, but hey- rubbing is racing.

Window-to-window with Adam in the driveway, we bickered about the outcome of the race. We made plans for dinner. Adam had to change. I had to rescue my pickup. Sam had to call his wife. We arranged to meet back at Sam’s, where we would stash both trucks and ride to town with Adam. When I pulled in at Sam’s house, I plowed into his tailgate with my truck to return his earlier favor.

And that was it.

No more hijinks, no more police. No one was bleeding, nothing was set on fire, no laws were broken. We ate dinner with Sam’s wife. We returned my library books. I bought rifle bullets instead of groceries, and we went home. We stopped to see some friends and fondle an AK-47. At nine o’clock we went back to Sam’s. I hung out so I could use the internet. Sam was in bed by 10.

I’m shocked by how domesticated we’ve become. We’re shadows of our former selves. On the one hand, I thank God we’ve settled down- someone was gonna get killed if we’d kept on. On the other… I don’t know who we are anymore. Sam is married and has a career. I sometimes microwave light bulbs and I don’t really know what state I’ll sleep in on a given day.

It’s snowing as I write; the first since my Florida campaign. Maybe I’ll break out my snowshoes and slog down to the ponds, but I dare not climb my mountain in the snow. In my current state of atrophy, I’m likely to fall and break a hip. I’m telling you- I’ve gotten old.

I’m amazed at how it happened. How we slowly outgrew the things we were. One day we stopped playing with matches and never started again. One day we parked the four wheelers, and never climbed back on. I kissed my dog goodbye and said I’d see her soon- she died while I was away.

I don’t miss the flames or the four wheelers; but I’d kill to see my little dog again…

But where I see it most is in the things I daydream about. I used to daydream about places I’d go and adventures I’d have. Of zebras I’d ride and pirates I’d fight and the mountain ranges they’d name after me when the expedition was finished. I mined gold in four states. Gems in six. I became a divemaster, and I lived alone at sea. I became a lumberjack and roamed the hills. I hunted my meals, I bled for my wages, and I left my boot tracks on the beaches of two oceans.

Some days I swear I’m satisfied; some days I’m sure I never will be.

But I catch myself daydreaming as I watch it snow; and my dreams are not what they used to be. Gone are the visions of ostrich racing, rappelling, and conquering storms at sea. Instead, I dream of putting up bookshelves somewhere. I want to get an Australian shepherd (I think I’ll name him Hemingway). I want to build a workbench and hoard tools and lumber and steel. I want to have a porch swing under an apple tree by the sea, and I desperately want someone to cuddle with and watch the fireflies.

One of these days, dear reader, I’ll succumb to the permanent address anathema. I’ll settle in someplace, and I’ll bitch about my taxes and I’ll drive a good woman to the brink of her sanity. And I’ll sleep in the same bed for more than a few months. One of these days, I’ll have someone who’ll let me make her coffee in the morning; and I’ll lie in bed and pet the dog while she sips it. She can hog the blankets if I can play with her hair.

I just have no idea where or how.

I don’t even know how to apply for jobs like an adult. I mean, when I was an adventurer it was very simple. I wanted to live on a sailboat, so I found a park near the sea and learned to be a ranger. I wanted to fight wildfires, so I applied for jobs out west and moved to Montana. I wanted to pan for Gold and wrestle a bear in Alaska, so I learned to handle a chainsaw and shake a gold pan. But what skill set does one need to swing in a hammock professionally? Where are those skills in demand? Washington state, perhaps? Australia? (They wouldn’t let me into their country last time…)

I’m old. I’m just not good at it yet.

Maybe Hemingway will know more about it. Maybe he’ll even know how to trick a woman into saying yes to a coffee date. I’ll cook him a steak if he can figure that one out. I bet a dog would be a great wing man.

…But I should probably find a girl before I get a dog- God knows I don’t need a second bachelor around here who’s reticent to shower and loath to do dishes. I mean, having a woman around would give me a reason to sweep the floors and clean the shell casings out of the sink. Maybe I’d even start wearing pants around the house!

…But I doubt it.

Categories: coming of age, memoir, musings, redneck, thinking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

The iced cream girl, the road trip, and the bruised ego: Why I no longer go to Dairy Queen.

I arrived in Montana about half way through my epic losing streak with women. Talking about women as firefighters so often do, my track record became a frequent topic with the other members of the crew. (Especially after I was stood up by the only girl in our little town who was my age. Likewise, I was the only bachelor her age. To make matters worse, she stood me up at the only restaurant in town, which was directly across the street from her house. And all this, a mere ten minutes after she had agreed to meet me for milkshakes.) The consensus was that it was simply my mode of dress that prevented my success. While I admit that cargo pants and flannel are not lady-killers, I did my best to tell them about all the nights of well-dressed failure that I had endured. They would not be dissuaded.

It was decided that when we next went grocery shopping (which involved a 200+ mile round trip from our little town to the nearest grocery store), the crew would get together and select an outfit for me. The shy dozen experts convened, and the group unanimously agreed that blue jeans, sneakers, and cologne were the magic I needed. Of course, this very outfit/cologne combo had been tried in about a dozen states before, with no luck. But my co-workers were insistent, and threats of bodily harm were made should I decide not to appease them. I got dressed.

I was subject to a comprehensive review before we departed for Malta (the town with the grocery store). The whole station turned out for the occasion. Adjustments were made to my collar and the amount of cologne I was wearing, and the compliments began to flow. “Man, you look good.” “This is gonna work for you, [Smith]” And so on. The well wishes got progressively more pornographic, and I decided it was time to leave. So off we went in Andy’s Subaru, seeking trouble. My three traveling companions continued inflating my ego all the way to town, eyes all watering from the cologne as we went.

By the time we arrived in Malta, all these compliments had done their job. I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was in the best shape of my life, I had a sexy job, and now, apparently, I was dressed to kill. Like they said- this could work…

Now, since it was a hundred miles of high desert between the station and the grocery store, we couldn’t get iced cream back. So, whenever anyone went to Malta, it was customary to stop at the local dairy queen. The four of us went in, intent on showing the world just how cool we were. And of course, there was a cute girl working the register.

Let me clarify here: she was attractive, yes. But nothing you’d write home about. Still, she had a country girl’s charm about her, and I just couldn’t help myself. I began to flirt as best I knew how (“poorly” is an understatement).

I laid it on thick. Much to my surprise, she smiled and returned the favor. This had never happened before! I’d feed her a line, and she’d giggle. I’d stare, and she’d smile and blush. We placed our orders. She batted her eye lashes and passed us our order numbers in turn. (They were little plastic numbers that sat on the table so that the staff would know which order to place with which person.) I flirted some more, she laughed some more, and we took our seats.

We were sitting at a pair of two-seater tables in the middle of the restaurant; Connor and I at one table, Andy and Steve at the other. I sat facing the counter so I could continue making eyes at my new friend. She reciprocated. I was feeling pretty great about myself.

….But since this was as far as I had ever made it with this sort of thing, I had no more tricks. I didn’t know how to follow this up. I was in new territory, and I was lost. Our deserts came out, and I did my best to flirt again when she dropped them off. Once more, she giggled and turned red and returned to the kitchen.

I was walking on air. All the pushups and mountaineering had worked- I was handsome at last! I really wasn’t such a failure after all; and the guys were there to see this happen. I was reflecting on the magic of the blue jeans and sneakers when my new crush appeared from behind the counter. She locked eyes with me from across the restaurant, and started towards our table. My palms got sweaty. I had no idea what to do now. Should I ask her out this time? No; too soon. Not smooth. My mind raced. She maintained her eye-contact tractor beam as she got closer. I continued smiling, entirely unsure of what else to do.

Should I keep looking at her, or look away and play it cool? Should I keep talking to Connor? Damnit! What were we talking about!? She was getting closer. I had to make a decision. I was still looking at her and grinning like the Cheshire cat. No decision. Panic instead.

She slid up to our table, as close to me as she could, her hip nearly on my shoulder. Completely ignoring Connor, She flashed a wicked little smile. I melted to a puddle where I sat. She giggled. I almost died. She spoke. “Can I have your number?”

Ladies and gentlemen- Seldom in my life have I been speechless, but I was just then. Full on, slack-jawed, lip quivering, stunned. I stuttered and stammered and searched for words. “well… I… sure!” I finally managed, and began the frantic search for a pen. I gave a look to Connor, who was wearing his shit-eating, I-told-you-so smile. I was still rummaging for a pen when she leaned in even closer…

Slowly, gently, gracefully… she plucked our stupid plastic order number off the table, and walked away with it.

The guys nearly died laughing. I never saw her again. She’d gotten me good. And publicly, too. I had a hearty laugh about it myself, convinced that Connor had put her up to the whole thing. He denied all involvement, of course; but made certain that the rest of the station knew about every detail when we got home.

Of course, when we got back to Zortman, it was my turn to buy fuel. I had to buy it from the girl who stood me up on a milkshake date. My coworkers were kind enough to make certain I hadn’t forgotten.

Thanks, Guys.

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, memoir, pranks, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The ATV, the Recliner, and and the Frozen Road- a moment of true genius…

One of the more noticeable changes to my life after meeting Sam was that once we started hanging out, none of us ever walked anywhere. We rode everywhere stacked like cord wood on a single decrepit ATV, and always at full throttle. We zipped around just as fast as that machine could carry us. Sam was an incredible wheel man, and this played a pivotal role in all our escapades.

That first winter after we met, Sam’s dad came home from work one day and announced that he had bought a pair of new recliners. We boys were charged with disposing of the old ones. The first, we promptly hitched to the wheeler and dragged it down to our campsite in the gravel pit. We lived down there there all summer, going to our respective homes only for showers (which were rare) or for one of my mother’s dinners. I was certain that the other was bound for an identical fate, but Sam had far better plans.

I was ordered to bring the remaining recliner out into the drive way and turn it upside down, while Sam went to fetch some tools from his father’s shed. I didn’t have a clue what he had in mind, but I had quickly learned that it was in my best interest to do what I was told. I obliged as it began to snow.

Sam returned with a pair of 2X4’s (one a few feet shorter than the other), several drywall screws, and a drill. The plan came together rapidly and in no time, our chariot was ready. Sam had screwed the “skis” to the legs of the easy-chair, and a long, tattered rope tethered the death trap to the wheeler.

There were several fist fights about who would get to ride first. I lost, as I always did, and so it was Shane who went first. (Sam had introduced me to Shane; they had been best friends for years.)

Sam simply didn’t have it in him to drive any slower than full blast, (recliner-rider or no) and off they went- up and down the road at maximum velocity, trailing a wash of fresh snow and sparks from the belly of the beast as they went.

It was Magical. Several other kids had moved onto our road in the months preceding, and they congregated on the roadside, watching and waiting their turn. The best rides were those taken with Sam at the helm, as he was the driver who cared least for the well-being of his passengers.

I promise you this, dear reader: 50 miles an hour might seem tame on the highway. But 50 miles an hour in a lazy-boy recliner; with your feet up, the wind in your hair, a smile on your face, and a drink in your hand is another experience entirely.

Sam loved driving. That is, until he got bored of it. That’s when things usually became unpleasant for his rider. Today, it was Shane’s misfortune to have been in the hot-seat when it happened.

It was January in Maine, and it was snowing- Sam was wearing his usual shorts and a T-shirt. You might say he was a little sick of driving after a while. But all the other kids wanted to keep riding, and he hated to disappoint a crowd. In his mind, his only choice was to destroy the chair. The problem was that Shane was still bouncing down the road in it. No matter. There was snow on the ground. Shane would probably survive…

They made it to the curve where the blueberry field began, and Sam punched the throttle. He turned a smart 180 and started back towards Shane, Who was clinging to the upholstery for dear life, rapidly approaching the “whip crack.” Sam gave a slight wave and nod as he passed the recliner going the wrong direction. Shane was screaming at the top of his lungs, but it was too late. Things had been set in motion that could not be stopped. The chair reached the end of the slack tether and snapped violently around to follow the machine.

Shane managed to hang on- though none of the slack-jawed onlookers knew how- but the jolt had knocked him clean sideways in the chair. He now sat with his legs hanging over one arm rest, and his upper body hanging off the other side at the waist. We bystanders were thrilled. There was going to be a wreck involving a recliner, and it would not be pretty. This was going to be amazing.

The bulk of Shane’s weight thus leaned heavily to one side of the chair, causing one ski to come off the ground. He skittered along precariously for a few moments, kicking at the air with all his might, trying to balance the recliner on one ski. But the chair wasn’t quite in line with the fourwheeler yet, and was fishtailing across both lanes. On the second pass across the yellow line, the edge of the ski bit in, and the chair veered sharply for the snow bank on the side of the road.

There was an explosion of snow as the whole works, child and chair alike, went soaring into the air over the blueberry barons. Shane’s balancing act flipped the chair upside down in midair, and he was forced to relinquish his hold on the arm rests mid-flight.

Still, Sam refused to stop. Didn’t even look behind him. He shifted into his last gear, and dragged the chair (now upside down and flipping about in the road as various edges caught pavement) back to the rest of us to collect a fresh passenger. One of the skis was now missing, as were several cushions and an entire armrest. One of the main springs hung sparking on the street, and the other poked through the seat, threatening to castrate the next rider. “Who’s next?” Sam asked. Every hand in the group went up.

Shane lay motionless in the snow for a while, but eventually collected himself and limped back to rejoin the group. “Did you guys see me hit that jump? How much air did I get?”

He’d gotten enough to ensure that I’ll never look at furniture the same way again, but we couldn’t let him know that. “…Sorry, dude. Doesn’t count if you don’t land it.”

He didn’t talk to us for weeks.

Sometime soon I’ll tell you all what happened to the other recliner. For now, I’ll give you a hint: there was fire involved, but not in the way you might think…

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The gasoline fire, the soccer ball, and the dog: A series of compounding errors.

I mentioned previously that I once set Sam’s dog on fire. I wanted to clarify: we only set his face on fire. And it was the dog’s own fault, not ours. We were always careful to lock up our respective dogs when we did such things. We all loved them more than we could say, and couldn’t bare the thought of harm coming to them (No really. The same teenage delinquents who took turns blowing each other up would be instantly reduced to tears if one of our dogs so much as whimpered). But Sam’s dog “Bo” was a canine Houdini. A golden retriever escape artist. He made a habit of miraculously appearing outside after we’d locked him in. The funny thing was, he was smart enough never to exit through the front of the house; and he never came directly to us. Instead, he would somehow exit out the back and make a wide circle behind the house, coming out of the woods from a different direction. So, we had no way of knowing is avenue of escape. Like any good dog, Bo just wanted to be near us, and if often sufficed for him to just lay in the treeline. We never even knew he was there until he’d go after something. That dog lived to chase things. Kids, balls, tires, you name it- if it moved, he had to have it. So he’d lay there, hidden, until something caught his eye. Then he’d ambush us from the woods, sprinting across the driveway with such mirth in his eyes as people have seldom seen. He had outsmarted us, and he knew it. Moreover, he was faster than we were, and his refusal to go back inside was his way of gloating. (Years later, we found a hole in the floor under the couch. He was able to escape only when the couch had worked it’s way far enough out from the wall as to permit him access to his guerrilla warfare tunnel. Once we found it, we placed a sheet of plywood over the hole. It did the trick.)

So anyways, we locked him in the house one day, and went out to play with another flaming soccer ball. (For the sake of my mother’s mental well being, I’ll spare you the details of fire soccer. It suffices to say that the game begins with a jug of gasoline, a soccer ball, and a match. Use your imagination.)

Things were going well for about half an hour, and only a couple of kids had been burned. Someone (I cannot now recall whom…) wound up an kicked the ball as hard as he could. It gave a marvelous blast of flame around his legs when he connected, and took flight across the yard; a roaring fireball with a tail of flames several feet long. It was incredible.

…Right up until, as the ball reached the apex of it’s flight, ‘Ol Bo came charging across the yard, chasing the comet for all he was worth. He was sprinting hard; sprinting and gaining fast. It was his moment of glory… that movement; that beautiful motion… It was the most incredible thing poor Bo had ever seen. He had no idea what fire was, but he was certain that he had to get it. We saw it in his eyes as he dashed by- the unmistakable look of bliss. This, he believed, was to be the highpoint of his life, and that wiry old dog was going to see it through.

We stood transfixed- Six horrified boys, slack-jawed and frozen in place. The events were in motion. They could not be stopped. The fireball sailed over the embankment at the end of the yard and out of sight, down into the stream below. Half a second later, the dog crested that same hill and leapt to his fate without hesitation. Never even broke his stride. Just Ran… Ran, and dove headlong over the berm. He was out of sight but a moment.

Splash! Woosh! There was a bit of a whimper as a flash lit up the woods from behind the bank.

Sam and I were already sprinting to the scene of the accident. We arrived to see the poor dog swimming befuddled circles in the creek with all the hair and whiskers burnt off his face. The ball floated a few feet away- still on fire here and there, and with visible teeth marks on it. Seems he got a bit more than he bargained for. Thank God, apart from his facial hair and missing whiskers, Good ol’ Bo was unharmed. That said, I don’t think he ever forgave us. And to this day I have no idea what kind of story Sam told his father to explain that little mishap. It must’ve been quite a tale…

Categories: coming of age, crazy, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Blue Tarp, the 4-wheeler, and the adolescent dream: an adventure untried…

Sometimes, Sam will drive into things just to set an airbag off in my face. (Extra points if I get seat-belt burns during the collision.) And Sometimes, I’ll go like hell in reverse for half a city block just to see if I can drive my truck up on top of his hood again. (Extra points if the steering wheel leaves an impression on his forehead.) Oh- and one time I moved into a new apartment and I signed the lease and all the utilities in his name. That little joke was on me, though- turned out he owed the power company even more money than I did, and I had to spend the weekend in my new apartment by candlelight.

We’ve got a great friendship like that.

For the sake of honesty, I’ll confess that through our decade-and-a-half of mayhem, madness, and mother’s worry, Sam has always taken the lion’s share of pain and broken bones. I may have set him on fire a time or two. And his dog once, too. (long story…). I may also have talked him into jumping off a few rooftops. Then there was the great bike jump of ’94. The butter knife fiasco of ’96. And who could forget the wheelbarrow incident of 2000? Through it all, I was the idea man, while poor Sam was the daredevil. I had a poor grasp of engineering and physics back in my teens, and Sam paid dearly for it, time and time and time again.

We field tested all our bad ideas. 4-wheelers, homemade explosives, guns, fire, furniture, power tools… there was very little excluded from our red-neck repertoire. In fact, there was only one idea in the history of our friendship that we opted out of. We were sorely tempted many, many times, but we always came back to the conclusion that someone would be killed. No maybe about it. It wasn’t merely dangerous- it was flat out lethal. I mean, we specialized in slim chances and trips to the ER, but this was just a step too far. This was so outrageous, we couldn’t even think up a cover story to tell my mother. We spent days trying to make it work.

“…But what if you could land in water?”

“No way to. I mean, how would you even control how high you went?”

“With ropes tied to the four wheeler attached to your feet!”

“What if you carried a mattress with you to land on?”

“Could you really get it up there with you?”

“You duct tape it to your legs. It could work. I saw that in a cartoon once…”

“I think you’d be neutered by a spring on impact.”

We always managed to talk ourselves out of it, thank God. We discussed fresh takes on the plan every few weeks, but all our coffee table designs ended with certain death.

“How would you even get up to speed?”

“You start out being towed on a skateboard.”

“What about the apparatus?”

“You have to carry it with you on the skateboard.”

“What about the power lines once you’re up there?”

“I dunno. Pigeons stand on them all the time- how bad could it be?”

“Power lines, schmower lines. Who cares? I’ll be famous!”


“…Think any girls will come to my funeral?”

We were tantalizingly close. But it was going to kill someone. There was no doubt about it. Still… it would be our magnum opus; our masterpiece; our finest hour. We would be immortalized in high school legend. We had to make this work.

“What if we did it in January? All your winter clothes and the snow might pad you…”

“Can’t go fast enough in the snow.”

“We could shovel a track!”

“A track that big would take days, and then the snow will harden and kill you.”

“…If you die doing this, can I have your 4-wheeler?”

“Depends… If you die doing this, can I have your sister?”

It was torture. It was the best idea we’d ever had. Better than fire soccer. Better than 4-wheeler polo. Better even than the tow-behind recliner on skis we’d built the previous winter. But we just couldn’t make it work.

The genesis of the idea came naturally enough. One afternoon Sam’s dad asked us to fold up his tarp and put it away. An easy thing, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out it was the biggest tarp either of us had ever seen. I swear it was 100 feet by 90. We had no idea what anyone would do with a blue tarp that size. Start a circus? Where do you even go to buy something like that? To this day, we’ve never figured it out. Leave it to Sam’s dad to have one…

The fun started when we stretched it out to fold it. Sam and I were standing 100 feet apart, each with a corner in one hand. We both fumbled through 90 feet of tarp on our respective ends to grab our other corner. As we were standing there, 100 feet apart with a corner in each hand, a gust of wind arrived at just the right moment…

The tarp inflated, and took off across the yard. Sam and I resisted, digging in our heels as we were dragged down the driveway by the world’s biggest kite. The breeze hesitated and tried again, and this time Sam and I were both pulled several inches into the air, making landfall a few feet further down the gravel. And then the wind changed it’s mind, dying off to a mere breath that rippled our new toy but refused to make it fly.

…But it was too late. An idea had been born.

We looked at each other wide eyed with shared epiphany. Sam stammered in his excitement.

“What do you call it when they…”


“I’ll get the 4-wheeler!”

But the finer engineering details eluded us from the first. We took a seat off an old riding lawn mower, but we could never get it tied onto the tarp properly. Which is probably a good thing, because like I said- someone would have been killed. And ATV para-sailing with a big blue tarp would be a hard one to explain to the paramedics (or worse, my mother).

Still… sometimes I catch myself thinking about how much fun it would be. If I’m ever diagnosed with a terminal illness, I’m not gonna wait around. I’m gonna check out tied somewhere between a blue tarp and an ATV piloted by a fellow madman. I bet I’ll get 80 whole feet off the ground in the gravel pit before something goes wrong.

Seriously though- do you think any girls will show up at my funeral?

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, memoir, musings, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Heart-attack patient, the Stretcher, and the stairs: Why I never got dates as a fireman…

I’ve looked more or less the same since I was 10. Ok sure- my back hair is a bit shaggier these days, my brow furrows a little deeper, and I can’t see as many of my toes when I look down. But the point here is this: I’ve looked like a grown man from a very early age.

Looking older as a kid has it’s ups and downs. I mean, I was the only little league player with a beard and bi-focals. (The other teams’ parents just assumed I was “special” and left it at that.) On the other hand, I’ve been able to buy my own ammo and porn since I was about 12.

Of course, word got around, and I had to buy bullets and porn for the whole high school as well. (Can you believe that didn’t lead to any lasting friendships?) But much more importantly, looking older meant that adults who didn’t know better would tend to assume that I was an adult, too. A responsible, all knowing, doesn’t-need-a-hall-pass, Adult. Which gave me an idea…

Our town had a volunteer fire department. (Sam and I had kept them busy for years, but those are stories for another day.) The day I turned 16, I drove over and signed on, making sure to stand arrow straight and being very careful not to mention my age or my history in amateur pyrotechnics. They gave me a radio, a bag of “turnout” gear, and the best excuse any kid ever had to speed. I did my best not to run on my way out with my new toys. This was the best idea EVER!

The chief caught up with me as I was leaving. “Just start coming to the monthly training. Get a few sessions under your belt before you get yourself into anything too serious…” I straightened my face and shoulders, doing my best to look the part as I turned to face him.

“Copy that.” I said, nodding curtly and jumping into my car. I was already a pro.

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to tell you all a bit about this particular fire department. They’ve come a long way in the years between, and I’m told that they are now one of the model organizations in the state (It’s probably no coincidence that the improvement happened since I’ve moved away…). But we were a humble bunch back in those days, and boy did we have reason to be…

For starters, the assistant chief and his wife were smoking in the clubhouse above the engine bay one afternoon, about a year before I signed up. While the details remain unclear, what is known is that the building caught fire shortly after they left. You read it right, ladies and gentleman- My town’s fire house burnt up. Meditate on the sweet irony for a moment. (Hey! Look! That fire comes with it’s own trucks!)

…But it gets better. The fire didn’t actually burn the building down. Instead, it just gutted the clubhouse, which had been mostly re-built by the time I came to sign up. Shortly after the construction was finished, our lead engine operator (Who also drove my school bus for a solid decade. All joking aside, he’s a great guy. I may do a post about him someday…) was hurriedly taking the pumper truck to an incident when he… um… drove his truck through the wall on his way out. The load-bearing wall…

But the intrepid little firehouse managed to stay on her feet, and we built her anew. (Again.)

…And just when the townsfolk though the department’s reputation could go no lower, I arrived to join one sunny afternoon when school got out. It was my junior year. I guess I figured that in the absence of a sex life, I may as well do something constructive with my time…

I took my fire radio with me everywhere. It was sort of like a teddy bear, only much cooler and it actually talked back. I listened to the county police making traffic stops, I listened to the neighboring towns’ car accidents and mayhem, and suddenly my sleepy little corner of the world bustled with intrigue, danger, damsels in distress, and lives to save. This was terrific!

I went to every call. Summer and winter, rain and shine. I was 16 years old, and I was bound and determined to be a hero. And I became one.

…A hero who held traffic signs, and was occasionally told to stay in the truck. But screw ’em. I may not have been a hit with the girls, but I was the only cat in school with walkie-talkie, and wasn’t I proud!

The only problem was that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Luckily, neither did most of the other guys. I fit right in…

Eventually I discovered the magic that was the monthly “training session.” Those few members of our good-ol’-boys club who happened to be sober would drive down to the clubhouse for free sodas and an argument about the budget. Occasionally we fought over who could drive which trucks, and one night we had a colorful conversation about their wives. Once, we even talked about fire. I was learning tons. I’d be a Jedi in no time.

So the months went on. I responded to a host of minor car accidents, a garage fire, a woman who’d shot herself in the foot, and a host of other small town emergencies. And it all went fairly smoothly. Ok, sure- I broke 3 or 4 of my walkie-talkies. And I might have sent traffic the wrong way down a one-lane road a time or two when I was doing traffic control. But all in all, I was keeping pace with the adults, and I felt pretty great about it.

…Right up until some silly wanker had to go and have a heart attack at the town hall on “bingo” night.

The call came over my radio as I was lazing around the house with my dog. My hand-me-down Pontiac touched warp 9.9 on the way to the scene. I wasn’t an EMT, and I didn’t know the first thing about heart attacks. But someone had to do traffic control in that parking lot, and I was the man for the job. Clearly, they needed me. Right now. I mean, I was a hero; after all…

I arrived on two wheels, jumping a curb, and left my four ways going. (Y’know- because that’s what the pro’s do…)

I wandered around and tried to look important. It was a skill I had been practicing for almost 18 months at that point, and I was good at it. I checked on this and that, stood next to people who were talking an nodded when appropriate, pretended to talk on my radio, and generally put on a good show. Bingo is the social event of the year in my town- and here I was, saving the day in front of everyone. Who knows, if I played my cards right, I might even be able to squeeze a date out of this! (In retrospect, I understand now that chicks didn’t dig the radio-and-uniform get up. But I didn’t know any better back then, and I was convinced that this was the ticket.)

So of course, I was thrilled to oblige when the paramedics asked me to help carry the stretcher. I was 16, broad shouldered, and -obviously- a hero. I latched onto that thing and was out of sight with “my” patient before they’d even found someone to hold his feet. If I was lucky, I could take him crashing through a set of double doors like on TV! Woo!

But there was a minor hitch in my plans: Stairs. Three whole flights of them. Balls!

The medical team caught up with me (us) as I was pondering my next move. (Somehow, they weren’t really as impressed with my enthusiasm as I’d hoped they’d be…) They checked his pulse again, and someone grabbed the end of the stretcher with my patient’s feet (I had even given him a nickname by this point. “Wheezy.” We’d bonded.) The other pall bearer and I gave each other the all-important nod, and began the precipitous descent.

I was doing my best to hide it, but this was my first encounter with a stretcher. I dunno if you’ve ever had opportunity to play with one, but it turns out they’re not the simple bit of rolling furniture they appear to be. It may sound silly, but I had no idea where to hold the foolish thing. They’re all full of hinges and knobs that must not be touched and finger-pinching twisty parts and buckles. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.

So there I was: doing my best to look cool and professional while holding the heavy end of a stranger over my head; hoping the rail I had muckled onto wouldn’t spin and break my wrists as I was backing down the stairs.

(I’d like to reiterate that last bit, as it’s about to become important: I was backing down a flight of stairs, holding Wheezy over my head. Cultivate that mental image. You’ll need it shortly…)

Y’know… I’ve moved a lot of heavy objects in my life. Like I said, I’m young and broad shouldered. And since I still don’t have a sex life, lugging heavy shit around is all I’m really good for. But an elderly man with a bad heart may actually be the most cumbersome thing I’ve been asked to lift. Because as you all know, when you lift something down a flight of stairs, you are forced to constantly adjust the angle at which you are holding it. If you start in the wrong position, you’re screwed all the way down.

… And I had started in the worst conceivable position.

To make matters worse, Mr. Bad-ticker and his metal bed were getting heavier by the second. And the lip on the stretcher was gonna cut my hand off, but I didn’t know what else I could hold it by. And then suddenly, my foot failed to rendezvous with the next step someplace below me.

Wheezy and I free-fell through space together while the EMT at his feet let go and gave us both a disapproving look. Wheezy would be alright; he was strapped into a padded steel table. I was tumbling head first down a flight of stairs, trying not to end up under his hinged, stainless steel wheels of death. The first order of business was to get myself on my feet. Then I could catch him. Good plan.

My legs kicked like mad, occasionally touching one of the steps. By the grace of God, The EMT and I had started down the stairs close to the wall. I leaned into it to arrest my motion. The paneling tore at my skin, but I showed no sign of stopping. My left hand flailed madly in the void, searching for an anchor. My right clung to wheezy’s chariot for dear life; all the while grinding my poor shoulder into the wall, trying to stop us. But it was no good.

It was over before I knew it. Wheezy had clattered noisily to a stop when his stretcher shook hands with the guard rail on the next set of stairs. I had stopped in a heap against a protruding piece of sculpted trim. And EVERYONE on the department had seen it. BALLS!

I blinked a few times, putting together the pieces in my head. I leaped up and regained my position at wheezy’s helm. He was hyperventilating into his oxygen mask, clutching his chest with one white-knuckled hand and squeezing the rails of the gurney with the other. I don’t know how bad his heart attack had been before, but all of a sudden it looked pretty severe…

I was anxious to get this show on the road. If he was gonna die, I thought it would look less like my fault if he was far from me when it happened. I was blushing, I was bleeding, he was dying- this was no time to dilly-dally. I gave the “let’s do it” nod to the EMT, and we started off again. I refused to look at anyone. Instead, I looked at poor ol’ Wheezy down there on the stretcher, panic stricken and groping at his defective heart. But we still had to journey over one and a half flights of stairs and some hallway to get to the ambulance. He looked up at me in wide eyed terror, willing me to be more sure footed with every fiber of his being. It quickly got awkward.

I was gonna have to say something. But what!? I mean, he was the only one in the world who *might* not yet know that it had been my fault. I wasn’t about to surrender what little deniability I still had. I leaned in close, looking into his eyes with all the sincerity I could muster. “Y’know…” I started “If you ask nicely, they might let us do that again!”

I left without further incident. Thankfully, one of the other guys was caught joyriding in one of the fire engines a few days later, which drew the attention away. Scarcely a year later, I became an honest-to-goodness, paid and professional fireman. A year after that, I accidentally set fire to the wrong thousand acres of Montana…

While we’re on the topic of my early escapades in firefighting, remind me sometime to tell you all about the night the varsity cheering squad was having a slumber party, and one of them had a seizure. Weren’t they thrilled when yours truly responded to the 911 call and had a fight with her dog in the kitchen at 3am…

Categories: coming of age, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Why my underwear was in Montana while I was in Vegas…

I came, I saw, I conquered.

Back when I was fighting fires in Montana, I accidentally took a wee nap during a training session one morning. One little nap. Not more than 30 seconds of stolen bliss- and woke to find the man himself gripping my shoulder. My boss’ boss’ boss’ boss. The man who made things happen. The man who’s mere whim changed firefighter’s lives. Dennis.

Thankfully, Dennis was a really great guy; friendly, humble, and decent. So the penalty for my little nap wasn’t really too terrible: ten minutes later, I found myself on a truck bound for Arizona, where I would remain for the foreseeable future. I had not been given time to pack clean underwear. I had a dire need for some.

It quickly became an eventful trip; largely because I don’t drink. I took sick. The crew got drunk. I destroyed an airport fence at 1am wearing naught but my unlaced fire-boots and underwear. The crew got drunk. I stole a firetruck, which we later entered into a race, in which I drove against my will, blindfolded, well over 100 MPH. The crew was already drunk. I inadvertently discovered that girls addicted to crystal meth sometimes look just like everyone else. The crew… well, actually; they watched that one happen.

…and then they got drunk.

But then there was a change of pace. We spent three solid weeks of 20-some hour days in the Arizona sun, hiking in 90 pound packs and swinging axes against flames. We spent our nights in the sand with the scorpions and black widows. I’d gone down with heat stroke twice. One of our trucks died, and I had a wee little incident with a fuel can and a brush saw. And then suddenly, we found ourselves with paid weekend R&R passes. The only question was where to use them.

I lobbied for the grand canyon. My suggestion nearly got me killed. One of my few allies on the crew pulled me aside with a fatherly glow in his eyes. “[Smith]…” he stared gently “…They don’t have booze OR hookers at the grand canyon. We’re not going there…”

Once my voting privileges were revoked, it was unanimously decided that we would go to Las Vegas. Where, true to form, I arrived with no clean underwear, and the crew got drunk.

The former was a real problem. (I’ll try to explain this gently: I’m fat. The desert is hot. Clean underwear is as vital as drinking water.)

As misfortune would have it, the crew had opted to stay in the “hooters” motel, just off the Vegas strip. (They were a classy bunch, my crew…) Would you believe that an up-scale joint like hooters didn’t offer a laundering service? I checked my watch, and did some fat-man’s math. If I kept to where it was air conditioned, I’d have about 8 hours before I became a walking social disaster.

I carefully positioned myself under the nearest A/C vent to meditate on my options. Perhaps I could wash my undies by hand in the shower. But then how to dry them? I mean, our room had no microwave. Perhaps I could simply wear them dry? That thought conjured such a hideous vision of friction rash that I dare not describe it here. Perhaps I could simply forgo underwear all together until I found clean replacements. No. All my shorts had button flies. That wouldn’t end well…

“Meet back on the deck in 10 minutes!” the crew leader bellowed from the center of the lobby. “Last one down here gets the ugly hooker!” There was a chorus of rebel yells. That settled it. I had to get out of the hotel. Alone. Post haste. I’d have to solve the underwear crisis on the fly. It was time to hit the streets. With luck, I could avoid seeing the horde of philistines again until we left town.

Thus began my quest for underpants on the Vegas strip.

I wandered from casino to casino for several hours, traveling in air conditioned corridors for every possible inch before darting back into the sun to reach the next casino. There had to be something here! There had to be! I couldn’t be the only cat in Vegas who digs clean underwear. They had to sell it here.

And then I found it. There on the Vegas strip, by the grace of God alone, under it’s own compliment of glittering lights: a CVS pharmacy. I was saved!

But my relief was short lived. I wandered the isles. I couldn’t find any underwear. Panic began to set in. I sought another A/C vent under which to regroup.

I had to figure something out. The time for screwing around had come and gone. If they didn’t have underwear, I’d have to MacGyver my way out. But what could I possibly make into underwear in Vegas? The sheets in the hotel room? Nah. It was a “hooters.” I’d probably catch something. So what else? What else isn’t underwear but could serve as such? Several ideas struck. I was in a pharmacy, after all. They were sure to have adult diapers. But I’d have to pay for them. There was a pretty girl at the counter. That option was out. Maybe I could make some disposable underwear with duct tape and paper towels? No. I’m hairy. “Duct tape” and “underwear” must never be used together in the same sentence. What else? Perhaps I could safety pin washcloths together? That might work.

…but pins? *there?* Next to… what I really didn’t want pins next to? No. Damnit. There was no other option. I had to find real underwear. Had to. I prayed, and stepped out from under the A/C vent to scour the store again.

Thank you, Jesus! There on the bottom shelf, underneath the pantyhose, tucked into a corner of the store, one last pack had fallen from the shelf in eons past, where it had lain in wait for me to find it. It was even my size! (Well; ok- more or less. Give or take an “X” or two.) But this was no time to be fussy. I bought them with a huge smile. Now I just needed to sneak back into my room to shower and change! I was all set!

My smile faded two steps after I was dressed. That was all it took for my new under-britches to twist themselves into a testicle torturing arrangement of elastics and cotton rope. I went back into the bathroom to make some clever relief cuts in the tighter strands. By the time I had my pants back down and my knife out, the worst offenders had broken under the strain, and things had relaxed just enough to be bearable.

I took a deep breath. I was in Vegas, I had fresh underwear, and I could almost breath. It was time for an adventure.

So then: how does a romantically challenged young man from Maine meet women in Vegas? Two at a time, of course. But you already know that won’t end well for me…

Stay tuned. The saga continues next week…

Categories: Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How I destroyed Sam’s Third Gear…

Several years ago, Sam and I bumped into each other on the street after a shy decade of being strangers. A month later, we were best friends again. Just in time for Sam’s beautiful new truck to throw a rod and destroy itself. He loved that truck, and desperately wanted to fix it; but after a long year passed without a vehicle, he was finally forced to seek other options.

You wouldn’t believe the little gem he found…

It was a Ford Escort made sometime in the 1800’s, with a rotten frame and some body patches, but she ran well. We inspected it carefully to make sure Sam was getting every penny worth of car for his 250 bucks.

The body had been patched in several places with roofing tin and pop rivets. But there were only a few cigarette burns in the ceiling. And those holes in the floor panels were covered nicely by the carpet. There wasn’t much of the frame left, but the clutch was descent. Plus, the smell became bearable with the windows down, and she fired up when Sam turned the key. We shrugged at each other. The car purred like a kitten. Sam counted out the bills.

We had done the math on the drive down- *if* she got 25 miles to the gallon, and *if* Sam was able to drive it to work and back for three months, she’d pay for herself in saved fuel. Better still, whenever it died, we could always take it to the scrap yard. It was worth 250 bucks in scrap iron alone. This thing was a steal!

But it surprised us both. A year and a half of mistreatment later, that little car was still running strong. Despite Sam’s somewhat acrobatic driving tendencies, and my habit of hitting it with my truck every time I saw it, that little escort just kept on tickin’.

Oh- I forgot to tell you: She was a standard. Back then, I didn’t know how to drive one.

Sam called me one day from the boat shop.

“Wanna drive some metal to the scrap yard for me?”

“Meg [my truck] will drink too much fuel.”

“You can take my car”

I pondered for a moment.

“You know I can’t drive a standard, right?” He laughed at me over the phone.

“Don’t be a wuss. What could possibly go wrong?”

There was a certain soundness to his logic that I couldn’t deny. I mean, it was only a hundred miles or so to the yard. What a great way to learn to drive a stick!

But there was a problem. (Ok, ok- there were several.) The most pressing was that Maine is particularly hilly. I figured I’d just drive it like Sam. I left rubber behind with every gear change. So what if I rolled back a few miles when I went to start on a hill? Details, details. The radio worked just fine. Life was good.

…Right up until I got into town and hit the first redlight. A tractor-trailer pulled in behind me and nestled up to my bumper. Balls. Traffic stacked up behind him. Damn. So much for my great day.

At this point in the story, you all need to know that I frequently find myself on unexpected expeditions that last for days. I often leave with nothing more than the clothes on my back. This means that I have to keep the clothes on my back well stocked with gear. I always wear cargo pockets, and I sort of live out of them. I take LOTS of stuff every time I leave the house. The point here is simply this- massive, bulging cargo pockets. All the time.

…including this particular day on the way to the scrap yard.

So there I was: Sitting in traffic, in a car I couldn’t really drive, first in line at a red light, and the 18 wheeler behind me taking up every inch he can get next to my bumper. Eff.

I practiced my mantra. Slow down. Breath. It’s flat here. You can do this. Screw it- what could go wrong? Gas, clutch, pray… I got this. I pulled the stick all the way to me, and drove it forward into first gear. Ok. I’m ready. Time to face the music.

The light went green. Extra revs now, be sure not to stall. I let the clutch out slow. It started to grab. I gave her a touch of gas. It felt right for a second or two. The car started rolling forward, gaining momentum. I was getting excited, and then… disaster. The car hitched and bucked violently for a few feet, and quit. Traffic breathed a collective “fuck.”

Ugh. And I was so sure I had done my clutch work right that time…

Alright. Nobody died. No big deal. A bit embarrassing, but in the grand scheme of things, causing a traffic jam is a minor thing. Try again. I sighed and started the car a second time. I drove the stick back into first gear, hard against my leg, and tried again.

I quickly failed a second time. And a third, fourth, and fifth in rapid succession. Now I was smack in the middle of the intersection, blocking all four directions of travel. The light switched back to red.

No, no, no. Redlights be damned. This was no time for surrender.

Traffic began nervously flowing around me. The truck driver behind me angrily ground his gears and spouted smoke as he roared out past.

Oh, how I swore.

At this point, I was equally frustrated and confused. I had done it right. I know I had. But the damned thing wouldn’t work. I began to roar.

Well, there’s no quitting now. At the very least, I had to get her out of the road. There was only one thing to do. I’d show this little friggin’ car. I braced myself, gathering the calm before the storm. I checked the stick. Neutral. I drove it into my leg, and forward into first. I put the hammer down, letting her tach bounce on the red line for a while. That’s it- Scream, Little Escort. Scream. We’re doin’ this. You and Me. Right now.

The red light leered down at me. The engine wailed. I slowly let the clutch out.

She gave me ten whole feet before she tried to rattle my teeth out. We came to a violent halt as the light turned green again. Shit.

New plan.

There was a parking lot to my right. And it had a slight downhill grade. I lurched my way into it, ten feet at a time, and rolled. Ok! Now I’m moving! I’ll keep my speed up, drive along in circles until the light gives me my turn, and then rocket off into the travel lane! Great plan!

I pulled the stick down into second gear, still rolling down the hill. I held the clutch in and started the car. Still rolling, I gave second gear a try. Bad, bad things happened.

Ok. Time to think this through a bit. Perhaps the car had died. I mean, I was confident it wasn’t my clutch work at this point- hell, even I can’t screw up gravity. The damned thing wouldn’t even go down hill! Perhaps it was time to call Sam and tell him his car sucked. But it was so strange- it was running fine; the clutch was working fine. Were the gears all there? I ran through them with the car off.

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th… wait a sec. Where the hell had 5th and reverse gone? I leaned over to look, and discovered new depths of self loathing. My cargo pocket had bulged its way over the slots for first and second gear. I had been starting in third! Once I figured that out, turned out I could drive a standard, after all…

Mysteriously, the car lost third gear a few weeks later. I have no idea why…

But don’t you worry, dear reader- Sam kept driving it. Turns out you don’t actually need third gear for anything.

But then, a few months later, the car also mysteriously lost 1st. So, Sam did what any man would do. He drove it harder. Starting in second, revving his way into 4th, and pretending all was well.

Until, strangely enough, the clutch started going. Utterly inexplicable…

…But the best part? When we finally did destroy the car (which I can’t tell you about just yet. The investigation is ongoing.), Sam took it to the scrap yard, where he was paid 248 dollars and 46 cents for tonnage. He had squeezed 26 months of daily driving and amateur demolition derbies out of her, for an average cost of 6 cents a month. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why a country boy can survive.

Categories: redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The lady I left behind…

All this talk of scooters and vehicles has made me a touch homesick lately. I know that’s a bit silly coming from someone who makes his living traveling; but I miss my guns and my tools, and space without neighbors in it. (It’s too damned crowded down here in the keys!)

But of all I miss of the frozen wastes back home, I miss my truck, Meg. That’s short for “Megali skeeli,” which is Greek for “big dog.” (She’s my first full sized truck. My family’s Greek. It just seemed to fit.)

Meg (or MEGAN! As I call her when I’m pissed) is a sun bleached, maroon F-150. She was born in ’91. (For those of you who are mechanically inclined, she’s got the 300 straight-six, with the four speed overdrive automatic). I am at least the 4th owner, and I have not been good to the sweet ol’ girl.


back before most of the damage was inflicted...

Poor Megan has been shot. Twice. She’s also been in more collisions than I can recall (some were even accidents). She’s had parts removed with explosives. She once shook hands with a telephone pole (ok, ok- twice). Her driver’s side door has been fitted with a pad-lock. The tailgate was bent when we loaded a piano, which I wasn’t able to unload for several weeks. A few months later, The tailgate stopped working altogether. So I tried to fix it. With a sledge hammer. (It made me feel better, but it didn’t really help any…)

Meg brought home the camper that I intend to make a houseboat out of. We didn’t strap it in, and we nearly lost the camper several times going down the road. She’s rated to carry a maximum of 1,000 pounds. The camper was 1,800. Worse still, Sam and I once dragged 3,800 pounds of metal to the scrap yard. On another scrap run, a confused crane operator rudely dropped a 2,500 pound boat keel in the bed.

…So; quite understandably, she’s got two broken leaf springs. Two of them fell off as I was driving. For those of you not mechanically inclined, the leaf springs do several things, but their most important job is keeping the rear wheels attached. Don’t let a little thing like that bother you…

One of Meg’s quarter panels was crushed by a frozen snow bank I tried to jump (unsuccessfully.) Sam kicked destroyed the other at the movie theater. Sam also spray painted the side of the bed with the wrong color red when I wasn’t looking. He said he needed to see what color was in the can, so… he painted my truck.

Periodically, superfluous parts fall off. I pick them up again, if I can find them. That way I can cash them in at the scrap yard, or shoot at them. Ironically, I use the hood as a rifle rest for long shots. Which, by the way, is how I accidentally shot half of bug deflector off…

Speaking of the hood- one time I roped Sam into helping me fix a boat. (He’s an expert. I’m only slightly less so. I saw a sheet of fiberglass once.) We had some left over resin from fiber-glassing. I saw a golden opportunity to re-glaze the peeling paint on Meg’s hood. Which was a great idea. Except that I drove home too soon. In the rain. So, my hood ended up with an interesting sort of ripple finish, with water bubbles, white spots, and dead bugs imbedded in the resin.

Then last summer, I was by the sea one day. I had accidentally cooked a tuna melt on the dashboard. (It had started life as an ordinary tuna and cheese sandwich, but it got hot that day, and the cheese melted. As did the mayo. And the bread. So, I more or less had a bag full of tuna-melt soup.) But apart from the tuna juice on the dash, that bit of sour news turned into proverbial lemonade: hot tuna sandwich goo was just what I needed that day. The problem was that I didn’t have a plate. Or a spoon. But I did have an idea…

There were sea gulls. Everywhere. I reasoned that if I ate my sandwich on the hood, the gulls would clean up any mess that was left over. Win-win. So I ate about half my sandwich. The rest dribbled down my wrists onto the hood. That afternoon, I learned that sea gulls don’t dig dashboard tuna.

…I later learned it’s impervious to rain. And time, apparently- that was four months ago. It’s still there.

More recently, I was doing a welding project in the driveway. I needed to do some calculations, but I didn’t have paper. I did, however, have a soapstone and that great big hood. So that happened. I figured the rain would wash it off like chalk. Wrong again. I’ve been driving around since November with what looks like a drunken wizard’s doodles on Meg’s hood.

Yes, I said above that she’s been shot. Twice, I guess; on two separate occasions. (I already told you how I shot the bug deflector off.) The worse of the two was when I was out target practicing one day. A shell casing was sitting on the hood. “watch this.” I said, And I took aim with my pistol. I hit my mark, of course- There was just a bit of collateral damage, that’s all.

Sam and I frequently drive into each other. There’s few better pranks than a head-on collision. The highways and parking lots of Maine are sort of like our private, state wide demolition derby arena. Luckily for me, Meg is far and away the biggest vehicle in the fleet. When Sam had the sedan, I drove onto his hood in reverse. Now that he has a little truck, I push him over sand piles until he’s stuck.

After all these years, the cab has developed that wonderful smell of rust, pine needles, old flannel, and chainsaw gas. There’s no other way to get that smell. You’ve got to live in and abuse a truck for a few decades to get that lovely funk in there. So, you can imagine how surprised I was to find that girls like ol’ Meg almost as much as I do. I never would have thought the line “Lemme move those rifles so you can sit down” would go over well, but truth is stranger than fiction. Even the lovely lady cop I tried to go out with didn’t seem to mind (ok, ok- so she threatened to taze me on our 5th date. It had nothing to do with my messy and illegal truck.)

So yeah; I dearly miss ol’ Meg now that I’m down here in Florida. I just bought a moped to get around on, which takes some of the sting out, but it’s not nearly the same. Somehow, I doubt the scooter will hold up to my more provocative driving techniques. I mean- rubbing is racing, right?

Categories: Adventure | 4 Comments

My latest midlife crisis…

You may have noticed I’ve been on hiatus. Here’s the deal:

I don’t know if I told you this yet. Several weeks ago, I moved from northern Maine to Key West, Florida. I came down in search of work with my shiny new SCUBA “dive master” certification. Instead, I found yet another mini-midlife crisis. (I have one every six months or so, but they’re increasing in severity.)

You see, dear reader, I’m staring down the barrel of my 25th birthday. I was hoping to sneak in one more big new adventure before I hit 25. (I dunno what yet- Ostrich racing? Antarctica? Skydiving? Sex? I mean, there’s lots left to do…) But I’ve developed a real problem. My intestines have quit. (I’ve developed crohn’s disease). Which makes it tough to be an adventurer. At least, it’s nearly impossible to do it professionally. I mean, adventurers work in remote locations for weeks on end, and are always ready to go at a moment’s notice. Chron’s patients must think twice before venturing farther than a tight-cheek-shuffle from the nearest toilet. Clearly, it’s time for a career change. Which means more school, and an office job, and the abandoning of a rich and successful philosophy on work and life. And that, ladies and gentleman, upsets me. Profoundly.

So it’s been an angsty few weeks, which makes for dreadful writing. Thus the hiatus.

But something happened yesterday that I think you’ll all enjoy hearing about. Before we get there, I need to say a word about motorcycles:

I’ve always wanted one. Ok, they’re dangerous, sure; but I do dangerous things all the time. Make my living at it, as a matter of fact. The thing that gets me about motorcycles is this:

(Two things, actually-) First off, I make mistakes. Lots of them. (Goodness, have you been reading these stories?) There’s no such thing as a small mistake on a motorcycle. I’ve got lots of friends who have been permanently maimed in bike accidents. When something goes wrong, it’s not like you get a little embarrassed and write a nice little blog post about it a few days later. You die. Or worse still, you live. Without the use of this or that half of your body, which may or may not still be attached. As if there’s not enough, there’s a bigger problem. Like I said, I do dangerous things all the time. But I almost always do them alone. Which means there’s only one idiot around to get me killed. But on the road? There’s two lanes solid full of incompetence (sometimes four!). The sad fact is that you could be the best biker in the world, and someone else can make a wee mistake and kill you. No thanks. The airhead in the escalade might kill me because she’s too busy texting to drive, but I drive a big enough truck to kill her back.

But therein lay a more immediate problem: I drive a big enough truck that I couldn’t afford to take the poor ol’ gal with me to Florida. And since I’m still in the “looking” phase of looking for work, I’m too poor to afford a second rust bucket here. So what’s an adventurer to do?

Well; motorcycles are cheap (primarily because the previous owners are usually dead or crippled and the family wants it gone), but I just don’t trust myself to drive one. So that’s out. Well, y’know what’s also cheap here in Key West? Mopeds. Which is kindof like a motorcycle, only much slower, and therefore safer. So safe; in fact, that the great state of Florida has decided that you don’t even need insurance to drive one on the highway. Nor a license, for that matter…

So, I started searching on craig’s list, wondering all the while if it was wise to be driving down Rt. 1 on a vehicle that maxes out at 35. But necessity trumped wisdom, as so often happens with young men, and I bought one yesterday afternoon.

She’s a well used old thing, which suits me just fine. 390 bucks for a canary-yellow Italian deathtrap. I’m at least the 3rd owner, and judging by the state of the fenders I’d say there’s at least one life threatening accident in her past.

I haggled. I test drove. I got lost. I was gone long enough to bond with the little machine. And it was so much fun to drive that I was convinced this was a good idea. I loaded it into the truck I’d borrowed, and took my new friend home.

I drove it around the yard for almost five whole minutes before spectacularly crashing in the driveway.

…and I should tell you that this was after I had narrowly avoided driving her straight into the salt-water canal out back in an unrelated incident.

In my defense, I’d like you to know that I was driving a maniacal mini-motorcycle in grass. While being chased by a newfoundland retriever, who is also maniacal. I looked back. I smiled at the face he was making. I hit a root. I flew over the handlebars and ate shit in front of the truck.

Undeterred once I stopped the bleeding, I thought it would be a good idea to speed test it here in the neighborhood before I take her out into traffic. (Y’know- the neighborhood. Where one cop lives and others hang out. Great place to drag race a weed eater with delusions of grandeur. Oh- and one which isn’t registered, to boot.)

I can get her up to 38 before I run out of road. I suspect she’ll do 40 on the highway. But we’re not out of the proverbial woods yet, dear reader. No, not by half. Two major hurdles remain. (Problems. Issues. Whatever. Just don’t say “hurdles” and “moped” in the same sentence ever again. Trust me on this…)

In order to be legal, I have to register my new conveyance. But Florida wants 250 bucks for the plates. No, that’s not pesos. They want two hundred and fifty whole dollars. That’s almost ten bucks for every mile per hour I can go. I think not, Florida. I have a plan…

Back home in Maine, where men are men and the town hall knows better than to put three digit numbers on the same form as the word “scooter,” you can register it for 9 dollars. But the hitch is, you have to have insurance. AND you have to register in person.


I’ll not be routed so easily. I called… a certain friend. Who shall remain nameless.

The plan is that I’ll give him the title, and he’ll get insurance. Then he’ll register my crazy little machine. As soon as he has the plates, I’m gonna call and cancel the insurance. He’ll mail the plates to me, and I’ll have added another interstate felony to my repertoire.

But even if we get all that sorted out, I’ve got another wee trouble.

I came down here to find work as a scuba diver, remember? (Rebellious intestines or no, I’ve come this far. I’m committed now.) Well, there’s not really room for cargo on a moped. Not enough for a scuba kit, anyways- So what’s a mounted divemaster to do? Well, Only one thing comes to mind: I’m gonna have to wear my SCUBA gear when I drive to work. Air tank and all.

The next time you have a bad day at work, dear reader; or find yourself on the verge of committing a road-rage induced murder spree, I wand to you remember this: Somewhere out here in the gulf of Mexico, There’s a fat man in a wetsuit at the head of a traffic jam. He’s creeping along on a moped at 30 miles and hour; wearing a mask, snorkel, and an air tank, driving from island to island; whistling a tune to himself and waving at pretty girls as he goes. Picture this and smile, my friends; and thank God you don’t live in Florida.

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, memoir, Moving, redneck, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

How I turned a can of paint and a pretty girl into an unmitigated disaster…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a little awkward. The first time I remember it blossoming into a full blown disaster was in 2003 or so.

Back then, before I became a professional adventurer, I had a few day jobs. Gas and bullets were becoming more and more expensive at the time, and since I used them both in great quantities (often at the same time), I was compelled to find work as a teenager. Thus, I found myself alternately landscaping and selling paint for a few years in high school.

Like most, I went through a bit of a phase in my school years. Which is normal, I guess. Except that my phase involved lots more books, camouflage, and potato cannons than most. I know; I know… not my greatest decision. Though, at the time, I also had to hide from the cops more than most, so the camo served it’s purpose. But the point here is this: I wasn’t generally the sort of guy who mixed well with the popular girls.

So you can imagine how trying it was to have gone to school with Aphrodite herself. We called her Carrie. I think she’s married now, so I’ll leave off my more base descriptions. But it suffices to say that she was long and lovely in every inch. And apart from being far-and-away the best looking girl in school, she was also one of the sweetest. She was even smart, to boot. Carrie was the whole package. And best of all, She had no idea how pretty she was.

But what was strange was that she was kind enough to speak to me and the rest of the metal-shop-and-special-ed crowd. Not that any of us had a clue what to say to her, of course. We all rehearsed our lines, as teenagers will, but somehow they never came out quite as we had imagined.

As King of the gravel pit riflemen, I gave much more time to daydreaming in the sand than did most of my peers. But try as I might, I never could think of anything that I could actually *say* to the girl.

Late in my Junior year, my moment came.

I had been working at a paint store for a few months. While accidentally eavesdropping in the hallway between classes, I found out that Carrie’s birthday was coming up next week. I toyed with the bold notion of getting her a gift, but decided that it was way too dangerous. But I had to do something. A guy can’t just pass up a piece of intel like that. I racked my teenaged brain. And then the plot thickened.

Guess who was in my next class?

Whatever I was gonna do, it would have to be done fast. If I knew about her impending birthday, than certainly the other guys did, too. I needed to act. Quickly. The bell rang. My palms got sweaty.

I came in late for English class. Carrie smiled at me from her seat. I nearly passed out.

It was a cruel fate to have studied Romeo and Juliet that period. It was nearly intolerable with those eyes of hers in the room.

Of course, it was a small class in a small school, and so we all got to talking. Carrie asked me about paint (“Dude, she knows where I work… do you think she likes me?”). She was planning to paint her bedroom walls, and she was wondering how to get color samples.

Thank you, Jesus.

“You could come into where I work. I’ll be there tonight. We’ve got millions of colors…”

“Yeah.” She smiled. “I’ll probably come in tonight…”

Carrie thought she was just coming in to look at paint. But for me, it was the chance I had been waiting for. It was an appointment with teen-age destiny. And I would be ready.

Several hours of hyperventilating later, I had made a plan. I was gonna do it. I was actually gonna do it. I was going to ask her out. But how?

With flowers, of course. And a birthday card. That’s how it’s done, right? Right. Of course. Clearly, that was how the cool guys talked to women. Real men bought flowers. I think. Maybe. But for better or worse, it was the only plan I had, so…

I raced into town.

Halfway through my shift, she arrived. Time stood still.

I had decided that I wouldn’t spring it on her immediately. I wanted to seem casual about it. As though I did this kind of thing every day. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I talked to her about paint. I told her about the different types. I showed her the colors. I think I even managed to hide that my knees were shaking. And then she made her decision, and handed me a numbered paint swatch. Ladies and Gentleman, I kid you not: Carrie, the object of every schoolboys’ desire, chose -entirely without knowing- a color called “heart-throb red” for her bedroom walls. And even seeing her in the same room with that color did such wondrous things to the blue in her eyes…

…Such wondrous things, dear reader; that my thoughts were quite arrested. I was so busy with the imagined thought of her eyes and her bedroom walls in such a hue, that I neglected to secure the lid on one particular can of crimson…

The job of painting her bedroom would take, as I recall, a-gallon-and-some of the red, plus some other colors they were getting for other rooms. I had to go get the paint from the warehouse, and it was just the opportunity to retrieve the flowers and the card.

I don’t remember what happened, really- such was my state of mortal terror in publicly asking the most attractive woman I’d ever known to dinner. But I have the vague recollection that it went well. I think she even gave me a hug, and tentatively agreed to allow me to buy her dinner some time. I got woozy.

I did my best not to let it show. I tried to clear my head. It wasn’t happening. What’s next? Oh yes. They want their paint. I boxed it up and lugged it to her sister’s car. My head floated on my shoulders. One box of cans and supplies, and two loose gallons of “heart-throb red.”

They popped the trunk. I nestled the paint inside, the box on bottom, the red on top. I took a deep breath, and tried to collect myself before I faced her again. I tried to think of something to say.

But a funny thing happened…

When I went to pull my hands out of the trunk, one of my wrists ever so slightly brushed a can…

It fell off the box. The lid popped off. And with a mucky slop, I’d painted the entire ass end of the previously gray car “heart-throb red.”

I stood for a moment in slack jawed horror. Oceans of bright red paint flowed out of that can. Oceans.

I did the first thing that came to mind: I lunged back into the trunk headlong. Seizing the can with all my might, I tore it from the car. But instead of helping, my frenzied motion only spread the mess. What had once been confined to the trunk now colored the the outside of the car, too. The bumper, trunk lid, tail light, and even the rear windshield were bathed in Scarlet. I clutched the evil can to my chest as I stumbled backwards and came to face Carrie again.

Mouth agape in wide eyed panic, my lower lip trembled in search of a word. The paint ran down my chest and coated the parking lot at my feet as though the can would never be empty.

What could I do!? What could I say? I’d seen head on collisions do less damage to cars.

I Was consumed with the urge to run. This was in the last years before cell phones, and I was confident I could move to another state before poor Carrie had a chance to tell anyone at school what I’d done.

My boss had walked us out of the store, and was standing by the disaster- now red from his left knee down. Ever the cordial manager, he suggested through gritted teeth that I go fetch some paper towels. Paper towels!? Paper towels, you fool!? Would you have sent band-aids to Hiroshima? But there was nothing else for me to do. I dared a glance at Carrie, who was half smiling, wide eyed and amazed. She didn’t look pissed. Neither did her sister. Poor girls. They must have been in shock.

I ran into the store, trailing lipstick red boot prints on the linoleum. I tore an industrial paper towel dispenser off the wall and ran back out to the scene of the crime, where my boss was scooping puddles of paint out of the trunk with his bare hands. I sheepishly held out the dispenser for him and started apologizing with all the vehemence I could muster.

Ever a dream girl, Carrie laughed it off, as did her sister. “It’s fine. Really. Don’t worry about it.” They were so sweet about the whole thing. I was mortified. The car came mostly clean, though it would forever be evident that *something* had happened.

Needless to say, I ate dinner alone again that night…

Categories: coming of age, crazy, memoir | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Swing and a Miss…

I recently made it to Niagara falls for the first time. I had even managed to talk a long and lovely blonde into going with me. My amazing luck with women held out. The magic moment arose when romance might blossom, and she sweetly informed me that she doesn’t dig men. Then she photographed my reaction for posterity:

What? Really? Not even a single kiss? BALLS!

As icing on the cake, I later discovered that -as you might expect from a man of my charm and debonair- my fly was down at the time. Damn. (To be fair, this wasn’t my fault. Minutes earlier, I had bellied up the the rail, taking a discrete second to scratch what God had given me to scratch. It had been a long, long drive and I was thoroughly enjoying my moment of stolen privacy when Trooper dropped her bombshell. I was so devastated that I forgot to close the barn door again when I turned to face her. Clearly, she’s responsible here.)

Recovering from this minor blunder, I whisked us away to the Canadian border, where I dearly hoped she’d reconsider. But in crossing the border, I nearly got us arrested when it was discovered that (*gasp*) I had seven whole bullets rattling around in the console. Clearly, this was the makings of a Canadian holocaust. We were accosted for a little over an hour by a border patrol man who had apparently trained under Himmler, and who was strangely fascinated by my dirty underwear. He barked various questions at me with one hand on his gun and the other on my skid marks. Which is just not polite if you ask me. Sets a strange tone for the whole conversation.

“Why did you rent a car!?” What kind of a question is that?
“Because my truck is illegal.” Apparently, this was the wrong answer. I tried to amend my previous response.
“…And because we couldn’t afford fuel for that ol’ girl to come all the way down here.”
“Why did you come to Niagara!?” There was a vein throbbing on his forehead as he screamed and ransacked our poor rental car.
“Because I didn’t know she was serious about the whole lesbian thing.”

I still don’t really know why Trooper seemed so pissed at me all the way back to Maine…

Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, memoir, musings, Photo posts, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I left my old job…

I’ve decided that I’d like to do a weekly feature here on the blog. In honor of Ms. HE Ellis, who’s SPAM posts gave me the idea, I think I’ll do it on Mondays. It’ll be my version of where’s waldo, except with a beard and lots more flannel. I’ll post a picture for you all, and tell you about the mishap(s) that accompanies it. They’ll all be pictures I’ve taken. So, let’s start with this:

"...Is there something on my face?"

I used to be a wildland firefighter. To be more precise, I used to be the world’s worst wildland firefighter. In addition to stealing a firetruck in Arizona (which was later entered into a race on the interstate. During which I drove blindfolded, against my will, well over 100MPH), I also destroyed an airport fence one night in my underwear. Then there was the heart attack patient in Maine who’s stretcher slipped as I was carrying him down a short flight of stairs. (Now, now- it’s doubtful he’d have survived, anyways.) but it gets worse. On the fire where this was taken, I was single-handedly blamed for:

  1. Our truck running over and destroying a hose nozzle.
  2. Our fire engine -which I was NOT driving at the time- trying unsuccessfully to jump a 4 foot, cement lined, irrigation canal.
  3. The subsequent body damage.
  4. The very near death of my two crewmen.
  5. “Eating all the good shit on the truck” (which is clearly untrue- in point of fact, there was no good food there. Except the pork riblets. And the seasoned chicken breast with the gravy. And the canned peaches. But that’s it, I swear.)

Lastly, there was a *minor* mis-communication which lead to my:

  1. Accidentally setting fire to the wrong 1,000 acres of Montana.

…Oops. My bad.

Perhaps worst of all, I was told that one of the main perks of the job was that “chicks dig firemen.” For reasons beyond my understanding, that angle never worked for me…

Categories: Adventure, crazy, memoir, Photo posts, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I finally did it…

I’ve just done the unthinkable. I guess it was the right thing, although I’m a bit ashamed.

I broke down and cleaned out my truck in preparation for moving to Florida. *sob*

You cannot imagine what just came out of the old girl. You simply cannot imagine. 2 five gallon buckets full of tools. An entire load of laundry. 2 complete SCUBA set-ups with extra parts. Several hundred rounds of mixed ammo. A rubbermade tote of household stuff. (2) 55 gallon trashbags full of garbage. Roughly 250 pounds of scrap iron. About 300 pounds of stone from the diamond mine. 325 feet of rope. 3 fuel cans. Several cases of empty oil and power steering bottles. Two arm loads of coats. Spare parts for the truck. Assorted picks, axes, and shovels. Gold mining equipment. Holster parts. Several hundred Zip ties. A 10 gallon cooler. A gas mask and and extra filters. Welding supplies. Bottles salvaged from the bottom of the ocean. A family sized tent. A rifle. A steel hammock stand. Lumber. A floor Jack. And the worst part- there’s more shit out there…

…Now I’m afraid to drive anywhere without all my stuff!

I feel as though I could weep.

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, memoir, Moving, musings, redneck, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My accidental debut in armed robbery…

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.”

“You sure?”

“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!”

“What? How?”

“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…

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

plumbing new depths of awkwardness…

Shortly after I began my second senior year at my third college, I accidentally met a girl. A girl who liked me. In retrospect, that should’ve been the first red flag, but I was too woozy and fuzzy inside to give that much notice.

Things progressed abnormally well. We spent lots of time together. She laughed at my antics incessantly. We ate lots of meals together, and watched lots of movies in my apartment. She started sitting closer to me. And then closer. And then suddenly, we were cuddling. By Accident.

I told her I wasn’t interested in a relationship (I had a multitude of personal reasons for declining. Some of which I articulated, some of which I knew better than to try). She pushed. I held my ground, but accidentally kept cuddling when we’d hang out. It wasn’t my fault. This is Maine. It’s cold. And she was cute. And it was wonderful to be wanted.

But, she had medical issues. Nothing major; nothing icky, just issues. One night she needed to go to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning (I cannot now remember what for; just that she had to go). A mutual friend and I took her in. It was a little over an hour’s drive, each way. They fixed her, and we took her home. At 7AM.

Now; I’ve always prided myself on being a gentleman. You can’t just bring a young woman home from an exhaustive evening at the hospital, pitch her headlong into her dorm room, and call it a night. It just doesn’t do. So, like the man of charm and virtue that I aspire to be, I invited her to stay with me at my apartment for the day. Y’know- for observation. Strictly in the interests of science. And chivalry. Right? Right.

So, we both skipped class (accidentally), to convalesce. And sleep. And cuddle. It was delightful.

The problem was that, up to this point, I had governed myself with the discipline of a Buddhist monk. But, lying there; tired, warm, and woozy; with her next to me all sleepy and warm and her hair all a mess… well; there’s no such thing as will power in a moment like that. I did something I’d always wanted to do. I gently brushed her hair behind her ear, and I accidentally kissed her.


So much for being a gentleman. I mean, obviously, a kiss is well within the gentleman’s repertoire. But, I had been adamant about not wanting to be in a relationship with the poor girl, and now here I was, stealing kisses by the first rays of dawn. That’s hardly fair. Ok; sure, it was an accident, after all. But still. And once that little accident had happened, it kept on happening. Nightly.

Now don’t go jumping to conclusions, dear reader- our encounters were kept well within the bounds of a PG movie. I was very up front about my unwillingness to take any of several possible “next steps.” She nightly tested those convictions. Fool that I am, I stuck to them.

But I’ve gotten a bit side-tracked. I know what you’re thinking- this sounds like a charming little romance, right? Well, don’t get too excited…

A few months later, she and I were still cuddling, though not in a relationship. (I’d like to reiterate here- we managed to keep this very innocent. Honest.)

One night, just as we went to sleep, one of her arms started sort of flailing about. It was subtle, at first, and then because more adamant. She was remarkably stoic about this development. I was less so. “What the hell are you doing?”

“It’s not me.” she said. “It’s doing it on it’s own.”

I pondered. It wasn’t violent; and she was coherent, so I doubted it was a seizure.

“Do you feel ok?”

“Yeah; I feel fine.” She said; still flopping about.

“Has this ever happened before?”


“What are you gonna do about it?”

“I’m gonna go to sleep, Bear. You should too.” (Yeah; she used to call me “Bear” because I’m fuzzy. I loved that.)

I was incredulous. She really thought she could sleep while her left half flopped about like that. I damned sure couldn’t sleep next to her while she was doing that. But sleeping was soon a moot point. Her tremor gradually worsened, both in terms of severity and area affected. Slowly, her whole body started convulsing. Not violently, really; but sort of softly and involuntarily; almost like a Parkinson’s patient. Like a nubile, 18 year old, Parkinson’s patient. It was really unnerving. At least, to me. She remained totally calm, as though she was lying perfectly still. As though there was nothing amiss. To hear her talking to me, you’d never know the poor thing was flopping around the bed like a fish out of water.

Now; I’d very much like to claim that my mere touch was enough to send a former varsity cheer leader into convulsions. But like I said, we hadn’t exactly gone so far as for me demonstrate that level of prowess. I had no idea what was going on. But it was freaking me out.

“If you get any worse, I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“But I hate the hospital…”

“You don’t have any choice in the matter. If you get worse, I’m just gonna open the door and tip the mattress, and you’ll wiggle your way out into the car.”

She tried to punch me. She missed, because of the shakes.

She got worse. And in point of fact, that’s pretty much how I got her in the vehicle…

Off we went to the hospital.

…Where, of course, at 4 in the morning, we were met by her mother. Who, as mothers are wont to do, asked what had happened.

And there I was, sitting on one side of my not-girlfriend’s hospital bed- my back to the wall, facing her mother on the opposite bedside. Her mother, it should be noted, was an old school southern matron, complete with the accent and intimidation.

My not-girlfriend had been given some meds, and was slowly regaining control of her extremities. She was nearly still as she began her story.

She *could* have said “we were watching a movie, and…” Or, “I went down to talk to him, and…” Or, “We were having a midnight snack, and…” She could have said most anything. But she didn’t. Turning to her mother, she said sweetly:

“So, I was sleeping with [the Atavist], and I started shaking…”

I almost died. My eyes widened, and I felt myself blush. But I held it together. I mean, it was 2009 ( I think); people slept together all the time. Most people didn’t consider it as big a deal as I did. Just relax.

But then this happened:

Her mother -the ultra-polite, old fashioned, deep-south, gone-with-the-wind, lady of the manor- leaned over her daughter’s tremor-stricken body. She leaned over the hospital bed towards me. She looked me straight in the eyes. I averted my gaze. She extended her arm. My bottom puckered. I winced. I prayed. She spoke, just above a whisper: “High-five!”

My jaw fell to my knees. What could I do!? Of all things on God’s green Earth, there was nothing I wanted to do less than complete that high five! But what can you say? It’s a good thing I was in a hospital, because I was gonna need a medic any moment now. I lost my color. I got woozy. I high fived that woman as the room spun out of control. I fought the urge to run. My not-girlfriend chortled. The matron laughed. I nearly wept.

…And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I loathe the high five.

Categories: college, coming of age, crazy, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How my last date ended with a Tazer and a Stampede…

Taze: Verb. The act of using a tazer on someone.

You’ll need to know what a taser is to appreciate this story.

You also need to know how dreadful my love life is.

I’ve been a rambling man for nearly a decade now. People keep telling me that my travels may be frustrating my romantic aspirations; that women want a man who’ll be around for more than a few months. Touche. (I say that if I could find a town where the women actually show up for dates, I might be inclined to stick around for a little longer. But that’s neither here nor there.)

The same people are often quick to suggest that since I’m traveling, I ought to find a woman who travels like I do. Let me tell you how that’s working out for me…

When I started working for the park this year, rumors surfaced of a lovely lady park ranger; a woman who worked in the law enforcement division, with freckles and a pony tail, and an enchanting smile. But that was all anyone knew. I chalked it up to myth, and went about trying to meet women in Bar Harbor. (That didn’t go well, either. By August, I had met five women in town. Things had gotten off to a great start with all of them, and each had given me their number when I asked. (Personal record!) Sadly, the first three had boyfriends, and the second two didn’t show up. And I later found out they had boyfriends as well. Bonus points for the combo-punch to the ego, girls. Nicely done.)

But anyways- back to the story of the lovely ranger and her tazer:

Several weeks in to my summer job, I was tasked with painting the veranda on one of the park’s apartment buildings. I was rolling water-seal on the decking when I heard a door open. I looked up just in time to see her sprint out across the wet paint, stopping on her tip toes mid-step as she saw me and realized her error. She made a face, plainly caught red handed. She strained in her mid-stride balancing act. She was absolutely adorable in every inch, with her pony tail and uniform. And oh, those freckles… fairer constellations than the sky…

…But she was running late for work, and couldn’t talk long. Even so, she was warm and genuine. And I would be painting here tomorrow, as well. Can you see where this is headed?

She wasn’t in quite such a rush the following morning. We talked a little more. She told me she was from Baltimore, and that she had only moved in this week. And then she had to go. And I was so taken by her smile, I had forgotten to get her name again. Balls!

It suddenly appeared that this particular paint job was going to take a very long time. Oh look- the hand rail in front of her place needs painting (several coats, of course), and the sidewalk there needs to be pressure washed. And the lattice needs to be stained. Daily, I created a reason to be within conversational distance of her door as she was leaving for work. It sounds all creepy in writing, but in real life it was much more deboniar. I promise. (No, really…)

After another week or two of brief but enjoyable conversations, I worked up the nerve to ask if I could see her for more than a few seconds some time. She thought about it carefully. Her hand moved slightly toward her gun. She decided I was harmless enough, and gave me her card, scrawling her private number on the back.


Long story short, we went out 5 times. (Which, come to think of it, is another personal record.) I even went to pick her up in my truck every time. That’s right- I picked up a lady cop for dates in my shamelessly illegal truck. Go me!

We went for a Sunday drive through the mountains and around the lakes. We went shooting. We drove through the blueberry fields and walked by the sea. We went to dinner. We went for iced cream. I picked several gallons of wild berries, and left them on her doorstep. And as near as I could tell, I wasn’t the only one having fun.

On the fifth date, we were lying on blankets watching a meteor shower. I was really enjoying her company, as usual. We counted shooting stars. We laughed about work, we talked about our lives. We sighed. I looked into her eyes. She said she’d taze me if I tried to cuddle.

mercifully, we were chased off the blankets by a stampede of deer a few minutes later. It was a welcome rescue, really. The bit about the tazer had sort of dampened the mood…

Regrettably, things were a bit awkward between us after that.

The funny part is how the hits just keep on coming. I’ve been trying online dating as well. Actually no. That’s not really accurate. Perhaps I should gently rephrase: I write letters. Girls delete them. Everyone needs a hobby, right?

Anyways, there was an option to sign up for a feature wherein women could anonymously tell you which photo was your most attractive. It was designed to offer constructive criticism. Instead, a pool of several thousand girls agreed that my photos were a whole lot more enticing when you couldn’t see my face. No, really. That happened. Thanks, internet…

Despite several intensive re-writes, dozens of proof reads, and lots of advice regarding my profile, I average around 1 woman writing back for ever 150 letters I send out. (And no; I’m not sending letters to just anyone. I’m very selective about who I let delete my letters.)

But it gets better. I’ve been harassing all my female friends to look it over for me, and suggest edits as they will. They tell me it describes me very well.

They tell me that’s the problem…

Categories: coming of age, memoir, musings, thinking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

How I got just a little older…

I unexpectedly hit 24 today. I don’t own a calendar, so it’s always a surprise when “happy effing birthday” shows up repeatedly on my facebook wall. So, yeah- 24 years old.

…Which is pretty cool, because I didn’t really think I’d live this long. It was a pleasant trip around the sun, all things considered… I finished college, I went on some great adventures, I killed my first deer, and I kissed a lovely blonde in a field of fireflies. This is the first year I can remember in which I made more friends than enemies. No one tried to kill me this year, that I know of (well; at least not deliberately, anyways…). Nor can I remember having committed any felonies. Older and wiser, indeed…

I went out to dinner with my friends. They’re all married. They’ve got real jobs. They’re buying houses and settling down. I rolled change to buy dinner, and since I quit the police academy last week, I’ve moved back into my parent’s place. Go me. (That said, Sam did run out of gas on the way to dinner, which makes me feel a bit better about myself. We were lucky, really; the jeep was able to coast to the top of a hill overlooking a gas station, so we only had to push for a hundred feet or so, then run and jump back in and ride it out. Always an adventure with Sam…)

I got a wonderful batch of presents this time around. The gunsmith called this morning to tell me that my .44 magnum is finally ready, and that I can pick it up whenever. My friend Brad from High school (Also married) sent me a youtube video. It was a middle eastern man with a small boom-box, performing a belly-dancing strip tease, while rhythmically (suggestively) chanting “happy birthday.” That ranked pretty high up on the list of shit I didn’t think I’d see today. I laughed so hard I nearly peed.

Better still, I also got a reply letter from a green eyed dream woman on a dating website. She’s a scuba diver, an archer, equestrian, AND- she’s working towards earning a sky diving certification. Did I mention she has green eyes? She’s a high level EMT, she writes well; and in her profile, she mentions her ability to wield an underwater plasma torch. Clearly, she’s my kind of crazy.

Oh- and she’s got green eyes!

I count it a present from God merely to know that a woman like that exists out there somewhere. But He even arranged to have her write me a letter on my birthday!

The only downside of the evening was that I had a full blown fist fight with my computer. I’ve only had it for a few months, and it’s been the most insufferable piece of garbage I’ve ever owned. But tonight, I was trying to write an intelligent, articulate response to this girl- which is difficult enough when you’re stuttering and drooling all over yourself- when my computer decided (entirely of it’s own accord, mind you), to navigate away from the page and go frolicking about the internet as it pleased, like a speed junkie turned loose on the “back” button.

Ladies and gentleman; this was a step too far. I’m a patient man; but I have my limits. This particular computer has been deliberately antagonizing me for months. I kept telling it that I’d feed it a bullet if it didn’t smarten up. I warned it. I really did. I showed it my gun. But it just kept on provoking me. And then tonight- on the anniversary of my birth- the bastard chose to bin a letter to a breathtaking young woman. Perhaps it knew I was unarmed at that particular moment. Perhaps it thought it could get away with it. But it was wrong. This was an act of aggression that could not be ignored. I was wroth. I declared war.

…You may not know how fast a jolly fat man can become a bearded ball of fury, but let me tell you; it happens quick. My back hair bristled with rage. I punched it’s screen clean off.

I Guess I’m driving to best buy tomorrow.

The worst part is, now that I live at home again, I’ll have to explain this to my parents like I’m 15 again. BALLS!

Anyways- win, lose, or draw; a tooth-and-nail melee is no way to end a birthday. Even if you’re only punching the hell out of an appliance, it’s just no way to end an evening. When I got home, I stepped out of the truck and the night sky stole my breath. I’ve been meaning to go do some midnight kayaking, and there would be no finer evening. So I tossed the boat in the truck, grabbed a paddle, and dearly hoped the spiders would slither out of kayak on the drive to the lake. (I know they’re in there. Nasty things. I like to believe that if I can’t see them, they don’t exist.)

I don’t really have the words to describe to you the ecstasy of my time on the water this evening. In short, it’s times like this that I am reminded of why I became religious. To float merrily out there in the blinding silence; just me and the crickets and God, is as sweet an experience as any kiss I’ve ever tasted.

The water was as smooth as silk; not a ripple; not a breath of wind. I rowed sparingly through a mirror of the stars, hardly daring to break the calm with my paddle strokes. I prayed. I marveled. I counted shooting stars. I daydreamed. I felt good to be alive, and I watched the half-moon rise over the pines and chase away the stars.

I let myself drift as the boat had mind to, listening to fish jump around the lake, and wondered why I don’t do this more often. I coughed, and the echo broke the night like a pistol shot, bouncing off the mountains nearby and coming back to me like a stranger. Absolutely breathtaking…

Eventually I thought it best to head home (so I could use my mother’s computer before she wakes up. Y’know- Because that’s the mark of a great writer, right?). I started making my way back. I paddled gently for three or four long minutes, with no sense of motion whatsoever. If you’re careful, and you coast, you very quickly find it hard to decide if it’s you or the clouds that are moving through the ink.

And that, dear friends, is how to end a birthday…

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, musings, nautical, thinking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

How this weekend achieved new intellectual lows…

Woah! Easy now!

Higher... higher... a little left...

“are you sure this is safe?” “yes. I’ll catch you.”Higher… higher… a little left…

Ok, everyone. So this is what happens when you need a ladder and don’t have one. You try standing on the roof of a truck. But that’s not high enough. So you Get a cooler, and you put it on the roof. But that’s *still* not high enough. So you get a bucket and a madman…

No; that’s not me. That’s Sam. Shortly after this was taken, he nearly fractured my skull with an oar while trying to acrobatically board a wet dingy.

So you see; sometimes stupidity happens in slow degrees, and other times it erupts explosively…

Categories: Adventure, crazy, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

How my passenger fell off the truck…

There were three of us rangers out on the island; my boss, my co-worker, and I. She may well have been the coolest boss ever (…and she was a very attractive woman, to boot!). My coworker, on the other hand, was wound a bit tighter. (I suspect that if we had fed him lumps of coal in July, he’d have passed diamonds in August.) Conversely, I was living on a sailboat, and I was bound and determined not to care about anything. I was pretty successful in that…

Oh, but how I loved living on that island. I had stolen the boat I lived on from my parents. (Y’know- because chicks dig that.) It was a snug fit, but cozy, and what she lacked in amenities she more than made up for in romance. For those of you who know boats, she was a 23′ swing keel “trailer sailor,” as they are known, made by Kells. She was very sturdy and well built for a boat of her size and type, and I sure was thankful for the insulated hull. Even with the insulation, I would often wake up and see my breath. It amounted a floating bunk, really; and I kept a coleman grill aboard in place of a galley. I had a cooler with no ice for my pantry. There was no head (that’s a bathroom for you landlubbers), no refrigerator, no running water, and she was so small that I couldn’t even stand up down below. Still, for all she lacked, kings have seldom known such joy in their palaces. I cooked dinner every night on deck with the wind in my beard; dined with the setting sun and the salt air. A seal would join me for supper some nights, poking his nose up to watch me eat and beg for scraps (He liked tuna melts and rice. He didn’t care much for garlic bread or BP&J.)

Fish jumped around the boat every morning as I brushed my teeth, the water around me as smooth as glass. My morning commute was climbing into my leaky little row boat and singing sea shanties as I made my way across the harbor. I was always the first one awake on the whole bay, and every morning was breathtaking with the crying gulls and sea mist. After I tied my dingy to the float, I’d drive an ATV to the station. Wiping the dew off the seat, I’d rouse half the village on the way to the station with that screaming thing. Life was paradise.

I went to the post office (a shed on someone’s lawn, a few feet long and about half as wide) to try and set up an address, so I could receive letters from the friends I was trying to keep in touch with. “I’d like to get an address here” I told the old woman who worked the office. “Can’t.” she said with a smile. I gave a puzzled look. “I’d give you one, but they’re all used up!”

That was sensible enough, but I had to be able to get mail. This is America, for Pete’s sake! It was too funny. I laughed. “Well, how can I get mail? Should I have it sent to the park’s address?” “You could do that…” she said “Or you could just have it sent to the island. Tell me your name, dear; and I’ll know who you are. I’ll hold it for you.” I could not have been happier. Could a place be more charming? It felt like going to ask my grandmother if anyone had written to me. Showing up first thing every morning like a little boy on my ATV, rain or shine… She was always sympathetic. “No, dear; I’m sorry. Not today…”

Then the boat schedule changed, and I was forced to be elsewhere when she officially opened for business for an hour or two every morning. I told her my problem. “Would you be willing to leave my letters out back for me?”

“Well, I’m not supposed to…” She scratched her head and looked troubled. “But I will.” she said, smiling again. “Don’t tell anyone.”

And so it was that I’d find letters periodically under an old log behind the shed (Excuse me. “post office”). How I adored this little place…

The islanders were a colorful lot. It was a tiny town, of fewer than 50 year-round residents, and a few hundred summer people who came and went daily, weekly, and monthly on and off the mailboat. Beautiful eccentrics, the lot of them. A college professor who illegally ran moonshine across state lines and collected rifles and fords from the 30’s. A beautiful chocolatier. A thrice best selling author and lady fisher woman. A host of lobster fishermen, a slew of construction workers, A pack of more or less communally owned dogs- some delightful, some cantankerous. Families. Some new to the place, some with roots deeper than the trees. And best of all, my friend Tim- Philosopher, sailor, Jazz-flute man, construction worker, and fellow romantic. Tim will remain among my favorite people so long as I live.

And then there was the women! Life was good on the island to be sure. So Good, in fact, that the women refused to age. There were stunning women all over that island, and so in every stage of life. And I was the smelly park ranger who lived on a boat with no plumbing. Go me.

There were, of course, no police on the island. No need. Park visitors always got a kick out of seeing children of 6 or 7 years driving their parent’s trucks around, unsupervised. The only crime worthy of note was drunk driving, which was incessant. As park rangers, we were powerless outside of park boundaries, and the more troublesome locals knew it. But the flip-side was that there was also no oversight from park higher-ups, and we park rangers knew it. People did more or less as they pleased, (Myself, especially) and life was very good indeed.

Life was paradise, save the friction between my coworker and I. We frequently worked together trimming back the spruce brush that grew in thick tufts crowding the road (The road. The island only had one, and about half of it was in our care). When the summer started, there were sections of the road that had been reduced to little more than a foot path one tire-track wide, choked and tangled with tree limbs. The only way to drive ’round the island was to crash through in your truck, blind, and just hope no one was coming the other way. (I was always impressed that our antenna stayed on the truck. Tenacious little thing, that…) Our boss had done what she could before we got there, but there was simply too much for one ranger to handle alone. As there was no shortage of work to be done, she encouraged us to pick something that we liked doing, and make it our baby.

So, I made it my personal mission to finish the road that summer, since it was so immediately visible, and close at hand. Since the road was my personal mission, I kindof made it my coworker’s as well. (I had seniority, so I was in charge. Or so I said, at least…) The friction got worse, and by mid-July he did his best to avoid riding in the truck with me; opting instead to ride in the pickup bed, which was understandable. (Even if you liked the driver, It was a great way to ride- wind in your hair, smile on your face…) And since I didn’t like his driving, I usually piloted our craft. She was an aged and abused ford pickup that we named “Jenny.” Poor old government mule such as she was, she was tired even before we showed up, but my fellow ranger and I took our toll on her in turn. I broke a winch cable one day, trying to pull a log much bigger than I should have pulled. He smashed a mirror off the ditch side a week later while we were screwing off. He hated it when I told people that. It is my joy to record it here for all the world to read.

And so we formed a routine. In between meeting boatloads of park visitors and trying to impress girls with our uniforms, (Which always went poorly for me. My uniform was always dirty. I lived at sea with no washing machine, and I looked the part.) we would toss a pair of chainsaws in Jennie’s bed, and drive to the nearest problem spot on the road. We’d both cut like mad until we decided there was enough damage done to take us the rest of the day to clean up, and then we’d put the saws in the truck and work on dragging away the mess. This was done in two phases. First, we’d both stand on the ground and fill the truck bed with brush until we couldn’t throw it any higher. Then my coworker (the more nimble of us) would climb to the top of the pile and do his best to crush it down, while I fed him brush from the ground. Thus, we were able to pile stupendous loads of spruce boughs (and whole trees, when they were small enough) on to our poor truck. We challenged ourselves to reach ever higher with the loads we dragged to the brush pile- 12 feet high one day; 15 the next, and higher and higher at every chance. Of course, all this mess hung out into the woods on both sides of the rig, completely obscuring my view of the road behind in every mirror.

When the load was all on, My partner in crime would just sit down on top of it and ride her all the way to the brush pile; his weight helping to keep everything secured. This was no small feat, mind you, as we had yet to clear the sides of the road on the way, and stout limbs hung from overhead, too; threatening to grab the whole affair and toss it into the road behind me. So I made a habit of keeping the window open and the radio off, so I could hear the rumpus should something go wrong.

But music is a big part of my life, and living on a boat without it, I began to appreciate Jennie’s radio more and more…

So one day [Smith] and I were out working the road as described, and he was perched precariously atop what may have been our biggest load of greenery to date, sitting (without exaggeration) every bit of 20 feet above the bed of the truck. And we were hauling it over some of the roughest road on the island, through some of the thickest cover. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I had taken to the habit of working with the doors on the truck open, so I could listen to the radio. And then I’d turn it off when I got in, like a good driver, so I could hear [Smith] if he should yell to me. But this particular day… I was really diggin’ that radio.

Screw it. I thought. He doesn’t like me anyways. He doesn’t want to talk to me- he’d made that much clear. So I might as well listen to the radio…

And there we were. Bouncing down the road with Elton John blaring as we were hauling brush (Y’know- because that’s what real men do…), when I thought I heard something. It wasn’t loud. It couldn’t have been important. I mean, if [Smith] had fallen out, he’d have made lots of racket on the way down, right? I’d have known. For certain. So I gave a shrug, sang the next verse of “crocodile rock,” and bounced merrily on down the road.

A short time later, my park service walkie-talkie came to life. I was being paged. A very stoic ranger [Smith] was doing his best to be vague on the radio so that the rest of the park wouldn’t know what had happened. “Hey [Atavist]- what’s your present location?”

As you might imagine, this is not the sort of question you want to hear from someone who ought to be riding in the back of the truck you’re driving. And worse still, I was in the very-non-descript middle of the friggin’ woods, with no place to turn around, and totally blind with brush. I didn’t even have a way to back up. BALLS!

I stopped Jenny to check what I still had aboard. Less than half of what I started with, both in terms of trees and personnel. Oh, goodness. I had come quite a ways since I had hard that little noise. And to make matters worse, we both knew that our boss’ boss would likely be listening to us on the radio from the mainland. I chose my words carefully. “I’m driving to the brushpile… where are you?” I asked cordially, knowing full bloody well that he was not in the back of my truck where he belonged.

“I’m… well, I’m…” he stammered “I’ve just arrived on the road.” he said at last. He sure had.

“I’m back towards cove beach. Would it be too much trouble for you to come get me?” He was doing his best to sound less upset than he was.

“No! Of course not!” I half shouted into the radio in my best good-ol’-buddy tone. “Lemme get turned around…” (As though I could.)

I ended up reversing down the road looking at the ground next to my door. It was only one lane wide, so I could navigate by watching the gravel going past my door. As long as I saw gravel between my front tire and the grass on the driver’s side, I wasn’t too far over. As long as I kept my tire out of the grass, I wouldn’t fall off the other side, either. The trick now would be to avoid running over [Smith] somewhere behind me, when I had no idea how far back he was. Luckily, I knew there was a large enough brush pile with him in the middle of the road as to prevent any traffic from coming through. It should be clear backing all the way to the scene of the crime. As for him; well… He’d have to have the good sense to move so he didn’t get run over. This train was a-rollin’…

Eventually I heard enough yelling behind me that I thought I should stop. I had turned the radio off this time (Not so much because I had learned my lesson; I just didn’t really dig the song that was on). I got out to see how upset he was. It was too funny even for him to take seriously. “Are you ok?” I asked. He looked shaken, but he was smiling and there was no blood, which meant I could keep my job. “I’m alright.” he said. “I fell out really slowly, over the course of a few hundred feet. I tried yelling to you a bunch of times, but you must not have heard me…”

“No” I said, innocently “…Never heard a thing. Gets loud in there, y’know…” I changed the subject as quick as I could. “Let’s get this brush out of the road so people can get through, and we’ll come back for it.”

But to my surprise, he was undeterred. “No way, Man. This is our biggest load ever. Our masterpiece. She’s going all the way. We’ll stack it better this time. It’ll work. Trust me…”

His logic had a soundness I couldn’t deny. “We’ll stack it better?” I thought about it for a second. The worst had already happened, and no one had died… why not give it a second try?

…And y’know something? He was right. She made it. But it was kindof a drag rammin’ around with no radio.


Categories: Adventure, memoir, pranks, redneck, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How I dropped a large caliber automatic down my pants at the movies…

I recently acquired my concealed weapons permit. Just what the growin’ boy needs.

At the time, I had many more guns than holsters. You may not be aware, but holsters are phenomenally expensive, and at that particular point in my college career (I believe it was my third senior year), I couldn’t really swing for the proper holster.

So I explored other options. I tried sewing up several of my own design. No such luck. I wore all the clothes I have with big pockets, and got away with it a time or two; but for the most part, my taste for really big guns remained problematic.

I ran some experiments in my kitchen with a full length mirror. If I tightened my belt until I started losing feeling in my toes, it was able to hold my .45 tight enough against my back that it would hide under a pair of flannel shirts. Provided I kept acrobatics to a minimum, I was good to go. I ran further experiments around the apartment. Stand, sit, lean, walk, wiggle my bum… nope. It wasn’t going anywhere. More experiments- the beach, the grocery store, the Chinese restaurant, running errands… It stayed just where I had left it, securely tucked into the tourniquet around my waist. The only problem was that if I went from sitting to standing too many times, the weapon would slide ever so slightly down. But it could be righted easily enough, and discreetly, through the flannel. To all outward appearances, I was just innocently hiking up my drawers.

It even worked well for my .44 magnum. I bummed around town like dirty harry for months. It was great.

And then one day, I decided it was time. I suddenly yearned for the days of wearing my belt loose enough to breath freely. So I rolled my change, and decided to drive to the big city to procure a cheap holster. I tucked my gun into the semi-permanent pressure mark it had made in the flat of my back, and fired up my truck for the voyage.

It was a two hour odyssey of broken speed limits and ignored stop lights. My truck, “Meg,” trusty and battle scarred though she may be, was feeling good, and we managed to hit warp 9 before the universals started knocking. Some singing, some smiling, a bit of worrying about that strange new engine noise at 90, and I found myself in the city of Brewer.

Six gun shops later, I was pretty pissed. Holsters were even more disgustingly expensive than I had thought, and there was nothing to be had second hand. Balls!

Well, screw it. I was in town anyways, I might as well go out for a heavily armed dinner and a movie. (is there any better way?)

I found a spot for Meg, covertly adjusted my gun, and tried to look friendly. Maybe I could meet someone to watch a movie with on the way in.

I went into the movie theater, crossed the lobby, and spoke briefly with the counter monkeys. There wasn’t really anything I wanted to see. I mulled over my options, and decided I’d rather go back to my apartment and spend an evening with my guitar. I turned to leave.

They started talking to me again as I was walking away. I looked over my right shoulder to reply as I pushed open the door on my way out. Apparently, that particular yoga position flexed my body just so as to change some critical dimensions on my waistline.

I felt something slide…

I froze in place, horrified. A large caliber automatic slid down my britches; locked, loaded, and ready to roll. My eyes widened. In addition to being icy cold, it was capable of doing all manner of nasty things to my softer side. Certainly not the sort of thing I wanted floating about in my underwear. My butt cheeks clenched involuntarily from the stress, drawing taut to become as bullet-proof as possible.

I reached for the pistol reflexively as it slid past my crack, clutching my ass with both hands and letting out an accidental “uh, woah!”

People were everywhere. I contemplated my next move, noting that a few hundred pairs of eyes were watching me. Balls!

At best, I had three steps before it would fall out of my pant leg and clatter across the linoleum. Even if I could somehow undo my pants and fish around without getting arrested as a pervert, the pistol was now just out of reach, unless I really wanted to become a public game of solo, armed, naked twister. Maybe I could fake being handicapped. But handicapped and armed? Certainly, someone would call the police. Perhaps the best option would be to take a few non-chalant steps, let the gun come out, then grab it and run like hell. If I made a brake for it, I could be in the truck before the cops got there, right?

People were staring intently. I realized I was still holding my ass and looking panic stricken. I had seconds to act before things got awkward.

No. I couldn’t run. First of all, I’m a fat man, and as a rule in a fat man’s life, running only makes things worse. It would be better to sheepishly tell the cops what had happened than to let there be security camera footage of myself sprinting across a parking lot, a blur of flannel and firearms, climbing into what may actually be the most readily identifiable truck in the state of Maine.

I closed my eyes. Deep breath. Focus. I let go of my ass. Maybe I could take off my flannel where I stood, acting as though I was hot; take two steps to let the gun come out, and then carefully time it and pretend to tie my boots, bending down and covering the weapon with my flannel, and then retrieving the whole mess in a ball. Maybe.

No, wait! My boots! Saved! I was wearing my muck boots! Not only did they not have laces, but my pants were tucked onto them to thwart the snow! The gun couldn’t go anywhere!

This was a game changer. I re-evaluated. The people around me looked more embarrassed than scared… God be praised! They had no idea I was armed. They think I’ve merely shit my pants! This is terrific!

I straightened my shoulders and smiled. I wasn’t gonna have to explain anything to the cops tonight, after all. The .45 slid into it’s final position against the top of my boot, standing on it’s muzzle and aiming directly at the back of my calf, just below the knee. True, if it went off, it would more or less sever my leg, but this was no time to worry about details. I was as good as free. What could possibly go wrong?

Those few folks in the crowd who had been kind enough to feel bad for the poor man who’d just pooed himself were freshly perturbed by my new smile. Screw ’em. I had an escape to make.

I started walking again, my fists clenched at my sides (the hammer was biting my leg with every step, and I was still trying to maintain the appearance of a man with poo in his pants.) I didn’t want to look too comfortable. Still, this was a very strange sort of method acting.

Luckily, an SUV had parked next to Meg, so I was able to create a kind of three sided privacy stall in the parking lot to deal with my little situation.

Oh, the screaming irony. I carried that way for months without incident, but the evening I decide to remedy the issue and go get a holster, I come very close to earning a spot on the evening news.

Now I wear a holster.

I’ve been accident free for almost a year now. Although, a cop once looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Y’ know… You really need to get a smaller gun.”


Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, crazy, memoir, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How I destroyed an airport fence in my underwear…

When we finally made it to Arizona, we were quartered at a small airport somewhere in the desert outside of Kingman. It was where, among other things, all the SEATs (Single Engine Air Tankers. The little planes that dump water on wildfires) were based for that fire district. There were two office trailers at our disposal; one of them even had air conditioning. This one we elected to give to the girls (who said chivalry is dead?), since most of the guys believed that sleeping in the AC would only make them more miserable in the heat of the following day. The girls had the good sense to know better.

It was late afternoon when we arrived, and the work day through (unless a fire broke out). We made ourselves at home. The guys took showers and played wiffleball. Some lounged about in folding lawn chairs they’d rummaged up in the hangar. I went for a run (not that I wanted to, mind you; I was the fat kid on our crew, and I felt obligated.) When I got back, our crew leader was going over some ground rules. Lastly, he told us that someone would need to close the gate to our little slice of heaven every night. Since I was trying so hard to get the crew to like me, I volunteered. I was in dire need of brownie points since my little episode on the drive down. How hard could it be to close a gate?

Instead of the carpeted floors of the trailers, most of the guys had elected to sleep on the floor of one of the hangars. After we killed seven black widow spiders in that hanger in about two hours, I opted to sleep outside. There was a steel catwalk that ran up over some kind of big industrial tanks; it looked like the kind of place that scorpions weren’t likely to frequent, and it gave me a nice view of the runway lights. I decided I’d sleep up there.

By the time I had showered and shot the breeze a bit, everyone decided it was time for bed. I sat up a little longer reading out of the little pocket version of the new testament I had packed. I was young, and so far from anything I had ever known… that little book was of more comfort to me that summer than I can describe. Around midnight, I began to worry that tomorrow would come awfully early. I grabbed my gear and climbed the cat walk.

The desert nights were spectacular. Between the runway lights and the stars, the mountains had sewn a ribbon of blackness on the horizon. A slight breeze blew, and the temperature had fallen to a deliciously dry 80 degrees or so. I found myself relaxed for the first time in months.

I laid out my sleeping bag, and was about to get undressed when I remembered that I was a fireman, and could be roused at any hour to go to work. I thought I had better sleep dressed. So I laid down and went to bed. But 80 degrees is still hot, and soon I had peeled off my shirt and nomex fire pants. I had just fallen asleep when I heard one of the automated gates from across the airport. They were big fancy password-protected things that would beep three times and then grind open and shut with an electric motor. It was then I remembered that I had promised to shut our gate, which was not so fancy as to close itself. Balls.

It would hardly do for my new boss to wake up and find that I had screwed up on our first night in AZ. I had to get up and close it. I got up and reached for my pants. But then I did a bit of thinking… The girls were safely in the air conditioned trailer, and had a bathroom of their own in there. They wouldn’t be coming out any time soon. And the other guys were asleep, too. I didn’t really need to get dressed- it was only a few hundred feet to the gate, after all. So I just slid my boots on and staggered down to close the stupid gate.

Like all the gates at the airport, it was wide enough that a small plane could pass through, and sat on rollers mounted on the stationary part of the fence. On the other side, there was an airplane bone yard. I had never seen such a thing. Fascinating and semi-creepy in the semi-dark, it was full of desert jack rabbits who scurried about every time the wind blew. They were little more than gaunt caricatures of the rabbits back home, and to this day I have no idea what they ate in the desert with no grass.

There were planes of every sort out there; and all of them missing something. This one needed a wing, this one was missing half a cockpit, that one was missing ¾ of it’s fuselage (We had been sternly cautioned to stay out of there, but curiosity got the best of us as soon as the boss stopped looking). At the moment, however, I wasn’t in the mood for such things. I was half asleep, and wanted nothing more than to get back to bed, where a man belonged when he was stripped to his underwear. So I shuffled over to the end of the gate, looped my fingers through it, and walked it closed. But then something funny happened. It stopped about two inches shy of closing. I gave it a few tugs, but it wouldn’t budge. This wouldn’t do at all. So I did what any man would do- I put my shoulder into it. (All those pushups I’d been made to do must be good for something, right?)

I gave a mighty heave. The gate shut, but it also settled vertically a few inches. I was giving it a puzzled look when all the weight of the fence suddenly shifted to me. My hands, looped through the fence down by my waist, were pulled outwards towards the rabbits and broken airplanes, while the upper half landed squarely on my face. And there I was: alone in the desert at 1AM, wrestling with 30 feet of cyclone fence wearing nothing but my boots and underwear. And I was loosing…

So, now what? The first order of business was to get that monstrosity off of my head. But I couldn’t let go with my hands, because they were keeping it from flipping entirely on top of me. I pushed it back upright with my face, and then tried to figure out what had happened. I had apparently pulled it off the track. Hand-over-hand, I walked my way down to the other end, carefully holding the gate upright as I went. Perhaps I could lift it back up onto the rollers. So I put my other shoulder into it, as rabbits congregated in the boneyard to watch my little debacle unfold. I lifted with all my might. A mere inch from where it needed to be, the bottom of the gate swung out again, bringing the whole thing across my back. And there I stood, looking like a fat Atlas, clad only in holey underpants and unlaced fireboots. What was I supposed to do now?

Whatever I was going to do, I’d have to do it quickly. 30+ feet of chain link fence turns out to be awful heavy…

I went through my options in my mind. I looked towards the hangar. Call for help? No. Not again. Not so soon. And then the girls would come out here and see me in my underwear, doubled over under a mess of fence. No; that wasn’t a good idea. I looked out the other way. Seven or eight of those goofy rabbits had sat themselves neatly in a row, and were staring intently. There would be no help from that side of the fence, either. My legs began to tremble from the effort of holding up the gate. I started laughing. How did this happen? I nearly collapsed under the weight of the thing. I had to get out from under it, and then maybe I could stand it up again once it was off my back. The riddle then became how to avoid being sliced to ribbons by the jagged ends of wire at the top of the gate, where the chain links had been braided together. I leaned (or fell, if you prefer) to one side, allowing the gate to rest on it’s bottom in the gravel. Then I was able to hand-over-hand my way to the top of the fence, and from there, with a shove and a grunt, I lept out from under it. The gate crashed down in the dirt, much too cumbersome to be stood back up without help. I began the walk of shame back to the hangar.

The question was whether or not to wake my crew leader and tell him. He would be pretty upset to wake up and find that thing lying in the dust in the morning, but I imagined he’d also be pretty upset if I woke him up to tell him I destroyed the fence. Sleep is a precious commodity to a wildland firefighter, and we do not take lightly to having it disrupted.

I finally decided it would be better for him to be mad at me for telling him, than to have him find the ruins on his own. But first, I needed to put some clothes on…

Wearing pants at last, I wondered how I should break the news. Sleeping bags dotted the hangar, and of course, the leader was in the thick of them. I tried to whisper, but that was not in his nature. He woke with a start and set in to his usual yelling, which was very intimidating, even from a man lying down. “What d’you want!?” I was young. I got scared. I started stammering again. “Well, I was… I mean I went to shut the gate, but I was in my underwear, and the gate fell on me…” once more, all the sleeping bags in sight exploded in laughter. My boss didn’t seem surprised. “Go to bed!” He grunted, and rolled over to let me know that the conversation was over.

And that was how my time in Arizona went. I wandered from one mess to another. By the grace of God, I never got hurt, and I never got arrested, which is truly miraculous considering…

One night the crew went to a bar. The guys went because they hoped that their chances would improve if the girls on the crew were drunk. They even said so. While the girls were there. They were a classy bunch, to be sure. The girls went because they were underage, and they knew that the guys would buy their drinks.

The bar was the boss’ idea, though. As they would all find out the next day; he was immune to hangovers. He loved nothing more than to get his men drunk one night, and then run them so hard the next morning that they all puked. (Luckily I don’t drink, which meant that hangover days were the only time I was up to par on our morning runs.) So instead of going to the bar, I went back the hotel we were staying in at the time. And there I was; minding my own with my feet up, when the phone rang. It was the boss. “Come get us!” He was still yelling, but there was mirth (and beer) in his voice. “Come get you? But I don’t have a vehicle…”

“Figure it out!” he growled, and hung up the phone.

Oh, balls. What does that mean? I looked around my hotel room, as though my luggage would solve the riddle. It did. I found the keys to our firetrucks on my nightstand. Problem solved. What kind of cop would accost a man driving a fire truck? And with that merry thought, I went down to the parking lot and struck for the bar.

(the Adventure continues in the post called “How I stole a fire truck”)

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, memoir, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How I punched myself in the mouth, standing next to a stripper in the Men’s room…

I should start by telling you all that I was always an awkward kid, especially around women. Arriving at my first college, however, I quickly achieved new lows. There were some really attractive women there, but I was too young to realize that none of them were my style. So I gave my new home my best shot, and in a few week’s time, had managed to alienate 8 of the 10 women I was interested in. It wasn’t that things had gone any better with the remaining two; it was just that they had received word from the others to avoid me. All this, and not even a month in. I was doing great.

As if I wasn’t having enough troubles of my own, my room neighbored my RA, a guy named John with whom I got along very well. He had a live-in girlfriend, who had been an exotic dancer and was built as such. All the usual “Assets” aside, she was good looking and very sweet. (Who says dreams can’t come true?)

Anyways, ours was a guys-only floor, so we just had the one bathroom, with three toilets and two showers. It was decided at the first floor meeting that it was ok with everyone if girls used the men’s room. I consented because I had already begun an exhaustive search of the campus (the quest for the one-seater), hoping that I could find a safe haven and avoid any awkwardness (I was certain something would happen. Something.) But as luck would have it, the only one accessible was in the main lobby. I knew it would be a disaster if I was to use it. In the first place, I was sure that someone would be quick to notice that I had been in there for over an hour. Second, I knew it wouldn’t do me any favors to have that sort of stink permeating the lobby after witnesses had pegged me at the scene of the crime.

So. I was forced to use our mostly-men’s-room. Which was ok, for the most part; I just never “went” until the wee hours of the morning, when I could be pretty sure I was the only one awake. This worked pretty well, especially because I had a special bathroom disguise (but that’s a story for another day.)

But I never expected to have a problem brushing my teeth. I mean… that’s pretty straightforward, right?

Well, there I was, minding my own, put a dab of toothpaste on the tooth brush, put it to my teeth, and… in walks John’s spectacular girlfriend wearing nothing but one of his old T-shirts and a million dollar smile. I puckered. I stuttered. I drooled on myself.

I should mention that as time had gone on, she and John and I had all gotten pretty friendly. But

she had always been dressed. Now, I was faced with the full reality of this woman’s figure before me, covered by nothing but a loose white tee shirt. She waved and said hi and went into a stall. I lapsed into full blown panic.

What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to do anything? Was I supposed to talk to her, or was that taboo? Maybe she’d think I was being weird if I didn’t talk to her. But what could I say while I was brushing my teeth? I decided to walk out, but I thought better of it. If I left in a huff, she’d know something was up, and then it would be awkward when we all went to hang out again. There was only one thing to do. Hurry.

I brushed like I had never brushed in my life. I brushed with a fury that would’ve polished steel. The toothbrush bowed under the strain. My gums bled. The toothpaste foamed like bubble bath. I looked like a rabid dog who’d been on a murder spree. She was only peeing. There was no time to loose. I had to get this done.

I was about half way through when she came out of the stall, stunning and remarkably dignified given the circumstances. And she was utterly at ease. Her comfort only made my panic worse, because it told me clearly that I was doing something wrong. But I had no idea what. My mind reeled. My bottom clenched. My arm brushed like a fiend.

She came gracefully to the sink next to me, a woman in every inch; charming, confident, lovely, and tantalizingly close to naked. My heart rate set a new record for mankind.

She started flossing and being friendly and making small talk (I’d like to interject here on her behalf that she was being friendly, and nothing more. She wasn’t flirting or being coquette-ish; she was just saying hello to someone who’d been hanging out with her and her boyfriend that week. She was genuinely a nice kid.). I said what I could through the gallon of toothpaste foam in my face, and we both laughed about it. I did my best not to show my inner hysteria. But I was still brushing like a maniac, my toothbrush now severely exceeding the limits of it’s engineering. And it couldn’t handle it.

There was silence between us. Was it comfortable, or awkward? I couldn’t tell! Balls! My God, look at those legs! I had to get out of there. Brush faster!

But then the toothbrush failed. On the “in” stroke. There was a loud “snap” a bits of foamy drool flew about the room. But I was still brushing like a madman. I was on the “out” stroke again before I even knew what happened. But with no brush to stop it’s motion, my fist went out a few inches too far. And then it came back, with astonishing rapidity. And with no brush to stop it, I punched myself in the lip, with a jagged toothbrush-turned-brass-knuckles clenched in my fist. My head snapped back. My jaw dropped, slack in disblief. I drooled all over the shared counter as I tried to piece together what had happened.

Balls. That just happened. And I know she saw it.

I turned to face her, bleeding, drooling, embarrassed, and splattered with aquafresh. She was slack jawed as well, wearing an incredulous grin and holding her floss in one hand. I looked at her blankly for a long moment, foam dripping on the floor and burning my lips. There was nothing to say. This situation could not be salvaged. She chortled. “…Did you just…” She looked down at the bloody prison shiv in my hand. I groped for an explanation. A lie. Something. Anything. But no.

“Well, I…” I glanced at the handle. “I like to brush hard.” I said, and nodded non-nonchalantly, as though that was totally normal. “That hard?” She threw her head back and laughed. I shrugged and stuttered in my defense. But God, her eyes were lovely.

I had to get out. It was only gonna get worse from here. At this point, it was merely a matter of damage control. I turned back to the counter and swished out what little foam remained in my mouth. The bathroom was covered with it, but it couldn’t be helped now. I said a friendly goodbye, and left with my head held high.

She was still laughing when the door swung closed.

I went back to my room and applied for jobs in Australia. It was time to get away.



Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, crazy, memoir, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

How I alienated every woman at my second college…

I’ve always been bad with women, but I think the worst of the streak was while I was attending my second college. I had transferred to an ENORMOUS state university with the express intention of meeting people. Of meeting women, to be precise. I was gonna learn to be social if it killed me. I had carefully reasoned that such a big school offered anonymity enough to hide any hiccups I might have along the way. At a smaller school, it only takes a few mistakes to become branded as an un-datable nut job. But at a big school, there’s no way to know who anyone else is. It worked beautifully. Every day, I’d go into the cafeteria alone, find a pretty girl sitting by herself, and introduce myself. Sometimes it went well. Sometimes it was dreadful. Sometimes, I asked my new friends out on dates. That’s where things usually went awry. There was a shocking rash of dead relatives, girls moving out of town, wrong numbers, and even a few “oh, yeah; I’ll be there at 8” ‘s. They never were.

So, in the constant effort to meet new people and hone my social skills, I made sure that the door to my room was always open. In addition to being a way to meet the cute neighbors, we lived across from the stairwell in a co-ed building, so it was an excellent reconnaissance tool for learning what girls were around that I wanted to talk to. About three weeks in, my roommate and I began seeing her. The mystery girl. Wandering the halls in naught but her towel, dripping wet and stunning in every inch. But no one knew anything about her. Not her name, not her major, not her roommate; nothing. And we never saw her dressed. This went on tantalizingly for months. Eventually, we figured out (by carefully timed trips to the water fountain) that she lived 4 or 5 rooms down from us, in a room that everyone had thought was empty. The names had disappeared from the door on move-in day, and there was never a peep from the room. How strange…

One day, out of the clear blue sky, she appeared at the water fountain as I was doing my math homework. And she was dressed! I said a prayer and started a conversation. All that practice had paid off! A few minutes later, she was leaning on my doorway, telling me how lonely she was at this school. Does it get any better? My roommate and I held regular movie nights in our room, packing the place out with 10 or 15 people. She continued, saying how hard it was to meet new people, etc, etc. It sounded to me like she was begging for an invitation, and I was thrilled to oblige. So we arranged to have she and her roommate attend that week’s movie. But when the day came, they were unable to come. They had to work, or one of them had the plague or something; I can’t remember. Point being, they didn’t show. In retrospect, I probably should have known then that they simply didn’t want to come. I probably should have known; but I didn’t. So I tried to be accommodating. “well, it’s cool if you don’t want to come, but we could do it another night if that works better for you.” They were emphatic. “We really do want to come… Can we do it next week?” I agreed.

The night came, and I cleaned the room spotless, got myself dressed up, and had an hour to spare. They were due at 8. The hour came and went. I was certain I was about to get stood up again, and for the first time, by two girls at once. I reassured myself. Perhaps they were waiting for me to go get them. I didn’t want to be lame enough to show up at 8 on the dot, so I decided I’d show up fashionably late; around quarter after. Well, at 8:14, mystery girl walked by again like Aphrodite herself, glistening in her towel. Now I had to wait longer lest I be accused of being a pervert. So, I strolled down at 8:32. I knocked. There was a shuffle. The door opened, and there she stood- in her underwear. She could’ve been a Victoria’s Secret model. But I knew that if she saw my eyes wander, that I would be accused of being a pig. So I locked eyes with her. The temptation to look her over was as much as I could bear. I swallowed hard, and tried to remember what I was doing there. But I couldn’t. Balls! What had I come to say!? I began to sweat. My head spun, but I couldn’t look away from her eyes, and they were enough to make me weak in the knees. I salivated. I remembered! I cleared my throat. I tried to act nonchalant. “So… are you guys coming down?” She paused, as if there wasn’t enough suspense for me already. She shifted her legs (which I so badly wanted to see, but didn’t dare.) and said calmly, as though she’d been rehearsing “No; we’re going out…”

“Oh.” I said, visibly puzzled. Had I misunderstood? Was this the wrong night? My mind reeled, but I couldn’t even let my eyes float about the room to think for a second. “…As in,” she began afresh “we’re going out with other people.” She emphasized the last bit, as though she were talking to Forest Gump. How charming. A breathtaking woman opens the door in her underwear just to tell me that I was her safety date, and a better offer had come along. That’ll do wonders for the ego…

But that’s not even the worst of it.

After getting stood up 3 times in two weeks (by different girls, of course. A personal record) it became a running joke among my friends that these girls all knew each other, and that they were conspiring to keep me alone. How very witty we were…

Well, one frigid day in February, I was sitting in the commuter lounge with an obnoxiously large cup of hot coca, when one of the girls who stood me up walked in. There we were, on a campus with 23,000 or so students, and I bump into the one girl I can be certain isn’t interested. Lovely. Well; no matter. I went back to work on my computer, and she sat in the far corner, alone at a cluster of chairs in the back, and very deliberately with her back to me. How charming. Well, lo and behold, about ten minutes later, another girl who had stood me up arrived, ordered a coffee, and took a seat with the first, also back to. It was a bit strange, but not all that unlikely. Until ten minutes later, a third arrived. And then a fourth and fifth, together; all going to sit in the back. They had all stood me up, and they all knew each other! It was bizarre. The last to arrive were forced to sit facing me, as they’d run out of space facing the wall. I worked calmly at my computer, resolutely not looking at them. Two more girls showed up, and while I hadn’t asked either of them out, I had tried flirting with them both and failed abjectly. Goodness- It was as though I had stumbled upon the club’s annual meeting!

But I had as much right to be there as they. More so- I was there first. I continued working. Gradually, my curiosity grew. I couldn’t help myself. I pretended to stretch and stole a peak at the group of bad memories in the corner. One of them caught me. Balls.

But I was determined to save what dignity I had left. I would not look away quickly as if I had done something wrong. Screw them. I gave her an icy look. She returned the favor. Then she turned to the girl nearest her, and said loudly whispered “Hey! That’s the guy…” Her friend looked at me over her shoulder and balked. “No way! Me too!” And so it began. One at a time they went around their circle, confirming my identity, and telling the others about my various interactions with them. Oh, goodness. It was time to change schools again.

Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, crazy, memoir, musings, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

How I unwittingly flashed the entire city of San Francisco…

I spent some time gold mining in California a few years back. It was the 4th state I’ve mined gold in. I’ve been prospecting all this time in hopes of someday having my wedding rings made from gold I’ve found in the course of my travels. In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that it’s easier to find gold than it is to find a woman who’ll actually show up to a dinner date. Who’d have thought, huh?

Three days prior to touching down in Sacramento, My prospecting buddy Lester had called me. He was having relationship issues and said he wanted to get out of town. “I’m going mining in California, and I want you to come with me.”

My heart sank. I so badly wanted to go, but simply couldn’t afford it. I was…um… “between jobs,” as they say, and had a mere 400 dollars to my name. “I can’t go, Man. I Can’t afford it…” “Yes you can. I found one way tickets for a hundred and eight dollars…”

“Balls.” I was silent for a moment. “…When do we leave?”

So, we touched down in Sacramento on the far end of our one-way, one-hundred-and-eight-dollar plane tickets. It was, like all the good decisions I’ve ever made, a hideously irresponsible thing to spend the the last of my money on, but such opportunities don’t present themselves every day. Besides- isn’t that exactly the sort of thing youth and credit cards are for?

You can imagine how excited we were. We had been mining for years, and always talked about getting out to California someday, but never really thought it would happen. And now, here we were, climbing into the truck Lester had rented to haul our gear around. I for one was so excited that in my exuberance to hit to road, I split the crotch of my pants wide open when I jumped into the vehicle. No matter. I was in far too good a mood to mind in the first place, and in the second, they were the nicer sort of dress pants I had brought just in case we met any California girls. (Cassanova that I am, it was bound to happen, right?) Well, that pair of pants was fairly well ruined now. But no matter. We were armed with a pair of gold pans and bound for the heart of mother-lode country. No need for dress pants there. Life was good.

A week of mining later, we decided to take a break from our toil, and go do the tourist thing. We wanted to see the big trees in Calaveras county, The Yosemite valley, and San Francisco. Yosemite and the giant sequoias were breathtaking. You really ought to go see them for yourself. As for San Francisco…

We woke up that morning in our hotel. I scoured the week’s worth of mining grime off of myself, and after a hot shower, climbed back into my dress pants, in an effort to be presentable for my foray into the big city. We boarded a city bus overlooking Alcatraz, bound for the golden gate bridge. And wouldn’t you know it- two pretty girls were sitting across from us on the bus. And one of them was a redhead. I’ve always wanted one of those…

So I settled into my seat, put one ankle on the opposite knee and tried to exude confidence. They did their best to pretend I didn’t exist. I gave them a few minutes of nonchalance, and then tried chatting them up. They weren’t having it. They had a curious way of not looking at me… giving very curt, one word answers, and keeping their eyes averted. Of course, everyone likes a challenge- I changed my posture and tried again. Sat up straight, sucked my gut in, and flexed my muscles. Gradually they warmed up, and I found out that they were bound for the golden gate bridge as well. Finally, Lester joined the effort, and the two girls instantly warmed up to him. Curiouser and curiouser…

The redhead was from France, and spoke broken English. Her friend was a charming and attractive black woman from the bay area, and they were attending college together. I never did find out what the french girl did, but the other (who was really into Lester) was a thermal engineering student. Lester was majoring in Nautical engineering, so they had lots to talk about. The french redhead simply wasn’t interested in conversing with me, and tried to blame it on the language barrier- though she periodically spoke to her friend in immaculate English as we strolled along. The redhead and I walked (or rode, as the case may be) in silence while Lester talked with his new friend. We made it to the golden gate, the french girl made an excuse to leave, and dragged her friend away. She gave a warm good bye to Lester, ignored me completely, and they were gone. A bit peculiar, but stranger things had certainly happened. So Lester and I wandered about, taking turns having our pictures taken with every square inch of the golden gate bridge, and boarded a bus back to the city. I tried flirting again with yet another attractive woman sitting across from us. This one shot me a dirty look, so full of venom that I couldn’t help but be embarrassed. Two abject failures in a row. Balls. My head hung a bit, and it was then that I noticed that my pants were split wide open, and a whole lot more of me was hanging out in the breeze than probably ought to have been. I had probably flashed half the city. Apparently, that doesn’t work for French girls…

Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, memoir, musings, redneck, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A brief Intro to my Adventures with Sam…

As you may gather throughout these stories, I grew up in downeast Maine- lovingly sheltered, and trouble free. We didn’t really have a “neighborhood” in the common sense of the word, and there really weren’t other kids to play with for most of our younger years. My brother and I played back yard baseball, rode bikes, caught snakes, drank from the garden-hose, and generally harassed our parents in any way we could. I spent a great many afternoons exploring the woods with our wonderful little dog, or working with Dad around the house (As the eldest son, I was always the one to be drafted). Chores included, life was Paradise.

We were pretty good kids, my brother and I. Had to be. My parents worked at home, and Mom was telepathic in the usual way, and always knew when we were up to something. Life was charmingly Arcadian.

But then one day, we met Sam…

Sam was also a good kid, but it was a bit harder to tell. He lived down the road a ways, and was just old enough to be a very bad influence. He had all the tools of the trade: Ready and unsupervised access to guns, four wheelers, powertools, an immense gravel pit behind his house, and intimate knowledge of untold miles of off-road trails (escape routes.) Oh- and did I mention he was old enough to buy ammo and spray paint? (we never graffiti-ed anything, but spray paint made a potent potato cannon fuel…)

In short, Sam was one of the best friends a guy could have. He retains that title to this very day.

The stories that follow are what we can remember of our exploits; edited to protect the guilty, and where necessary, to cover for the lies we told my poor mother. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her- even though it almost always hurt one of us. (Usually Sam.)


Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, memoir, musings, pranks, redneck, thinking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The ladies of spring…


Spring is coming on; have you noticed? People wear T-shirts, willing the trees to bud and the temperature to rise; ladies’ wardrobes careen with reckless abandon towards summer, and one by one strangers dare the day with capris and sandals.

I have spent my entire life in continual awe of just how beautiful a woman can be, and perhaps never more so than in spring. It never ceases to amaze me. Now and again the smile of a beautiful stranger on the sidewalk will make my day. Eyes shining with warmth and intelligence… such smiles are awe inspiring even if not meant for me. Perhaps the most endearing quality of such women is their rarity. Such women, such smiles, are simply elusive; and I find my spirits refreshed by each such oasis I am blessed to encounter.

I suppose, dear lady, that my hope is that in reading this you will be touched somehow; if not moved by these words, then that you will perhaps be moved to smile more often in public. You cannot image how much brighter it makes my world; and you will seldom find so simple, so easy, so genuine, so generous an act of altruism.

I have heard it said that “Passion ripens a woman as does the sun a peach.” I hope it’s true; and indeed, if the combined radiance of the women of spring can be counted as evidence, it would seem to be so. And though I find each smile an indescribable source of wonder, I cannot help but be simultaneously reminded of my solitude. I have written many poems about it, but I’ll spare you, dear reader.

I began my day singing sea shanties before I reported to the police academy. Tonight I have to go to SCUBA class, but what I really want to do is to go have a fire on the rocks by the ocean. Balls. It’s bed time already. This whole having-a-real-job thing is a huge drag. Do people really do this their whole lives? Madness. Not for me. I have much better ideas. Ideas with sailboats and SCUBA tanks and gold mining pans and smiling tourists. That’s the life for me, I think. Time will tell…


G’night, Dear reader, and best of luck.

Categories: Adventure, college, coming of age, memoir, musings, thinking, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures with Sam…

One of the more noticeable changes to my life after meeting Sam was that once we started hanging out, none of us ever walked anywhere. We rode everywhere stacked like cord wood on a single decrepit ATV, and ALWAYS at full throttle. We zipped around just as fast as that machine could carry us. Sam was an incredible wheel man, and this played a pivotal role in all our escapades.

That first winter after we met, Sam’s dad came home from work one day and announced that he had bought a pair of new recliners. We boys were charged with disposing of the old ones. The first, we promptly hitched to the wheeler and dragged it down to our campsite in the gravel pit. We lived down there there all summer, going to our respective homes only for showers (which were rare, to be honest) or for one of my mother’s dinners.) I was certain that the other was bound for an identical fate, but Sam had far better plans…

I was ordered to bring the remaining recliner out into the drive way and turn it upside down, while Sam went to fetch some tools from his father’s shed. I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what he had in mind, but I had quickly learned that it was often in my best interest to do what I was told in moments like this. I obliged as it began to snow…

Sam returned with a pair of 2X4’s, one a few feet shorter than the other, several drywall screws, and a drill. The plan came together rapidly, and in no time, our chariot was ready. Sam had secured the “skis” to the legs of the easy-chair, and a long, tattered rope tethered the death trap to the wheeler.

There were several fist fights about who would get to ride first. I lost, as I always did, and so it was Shane who went first. (Sam had introduced me to Shane; they had been best friends for years.)

Sam simply didn’t have it in him to drive any slower than full blast, (recliner-rider or no) and off they went- up and down the road at maximum velocity, trailing a wash of fresh snow and sparks from the belly of the beast as they went.

It was Magical. Several other kids had moved onto our road in the months preceding, and they congregated on the roadside, watching and waiting their turn. The best rides were invariably those taken with Sam at the helm, as he was the driver who cared least for the well-being of his passengers. I promise you this, dear reader. 50 miles an hour might seem tame on the highway, but 50 miles an hour in a lazy-boy recliner; with your feet up, the wind in your hair, a smile on your face, and a drink in hand, is another experience entirely.

Sam loved driving, until he got bored of it. That’s when things usually became unpleasant for his rider. Today, it was Shane’s misfortune to have been in the hot seat when it happened. Sam was sick of driving (it was January, and it was snowing- he was wearing his usual shorts and a T-shirt.) but all the kids wanted to keep riding, and he hated to disappoint a crowd. In his mind, his only choice was to destroy the chair. The problem was that Shane was bouncing down the road behind him in it. No matter. There was snow on the ground. He’d probably survive…

They made it to the curve where the blueberry field began, and Sam punched it. He turned a smart 180 and started back towards Shane, Who was clinging to the upholstery for dear life, rapidly approaching the “whip crack.” Sam gave a slight wave and nod as he passed the recliner going the wrong direction. Shane was screaming at the top of his lungs, but it was too late. Things had been set in motion that could not be stopped. The chair reached the end of the slack tether and snapped violently around to follow the machine. Shane managed to hang on- though none of the slack-jawed onlookers knew how- but the jolt had knocked him clean sideways in the chair. He now sat with his legs hanging over one arm rest, and his upper body hanging off the other side at the waist. We bystanders were thrilled- there was going to be a wreck involving a recliner, and it would not be pretty. This was going to be amazing.

The bulk of Shane’s weight thus leaned heavily to one side of the chair, causing one ski to come off the ground. He skittered along precariously for a few moments, kicking at the air with all his might to balance the recliner on one ski. But the chair wasn’t quite in line with the fourwheeler yet, and was fishtailing across both lanes. On the second pass across the yellow line, the edge of the ski bit in, and the chair veered sharply for the snow bank on the side of the road.

There was an explosion of snow as the whole works, child and chair alike, went soaring into the air over the blueberry barons. Shane’s balancing act flipped the chair upside down in midair, and he was forced to relinquish his hold on the arm rests mid-flight. Still, Sam refused to stop. Didn’t even look behind him. He shifted into his last gear, and dragged the chair (now upside down and flipping about in the road as various edges caught pavement) back to the rest of us to collect a fresh passenger. One of the skis was now missing, as were several cushions and an entire armrest. One of the main springs hung sparking on the street, and the other poked through the seat, threatening to castrate the next rider. “who’s next?” Sam asked. Every hand in the group went up.

Shane lay motionless in the snow for a while, but eventually collected himself and limped back to rejoin the group. “Did you guys see me hit that jump? How much air did I get?”

* * *

The other recliner served us well in our campsite for several months the following summer. We took turns sleeping in it under the stars, one guy sleeping in relative comfort in the chair, the others in sleeping bags in the dirt around a dying fire. I had assumed that any piece of upholstered furniture left to rot in the gravel and rain next to a pile of wood would quickly be overrun with spiders and other nasty things that creep in the night. Happily though, The chair was a relic of the 70’s, and the fabric was far too toxic for any sort of bugs to live in. Along came August, as always too soon; and Sam and I continued camping. Sam had grown tired of sleeping in the dirt, and had claimed the chair for a week straight, siting that it was his chair in the first place, and he’d friggin’ well sleep in it if he wanted to. Well, after a week of that nonsense, I decided it was my turn again. But Sam was already in the chair and refused to budge. “You can sleep in it tomorrow. Leave me alone.” He closed his eyes and rolled over to let me know that was the end of the conversation. I was left to sit in the sand and stew while I tended the fire. I was stoking the flames when an idea struck me. I’d show him…

We had brought out a bag of old newspapers to start the fire, but as always we ended up using gasoline instead, forgoing the paper and kindling altogether in favor of a more pyrotechnic approach. So, I grabbed a handful of paper, and snuck around to the back of Sam’s throne. I drew my knife, and slit open the back of the chair. I removed a bit of stuffing, and then I packed the cavity I’d made with newspapers, and set them ablaze. (I was amazed that the noise of crumpling the paper didn’t wake him up. No matter. He’d be awake soon enough.)

Then I went back and sat nonchalantly in the sand, watching both fires burn.

Several minutes went by, and flames appeared over the headrest. Sam rolled on to his side, and threw his sleeping bag in the dirt. He grumbled something about it being hot out, and went back to sleep. Flames had begun creeping over the arm rests, but he continued sleeping, tossing and turning for a few minutes as if he was in a rotisserie. He was visibly sweating at this point, and the flames were creeping ever closer. Although I would never have admitted it at the time, even I was getting a bit concerned. I was pretty sure the back of the chair would burn through any time now. I was shocked that it took as long as it did…

Finally he sat up with a start. A red-hot spring had burned free of it’s mount, and poked up through the fabric and onto his waiting skin. He sat calmly and surveyed the chair, flames surrounding him on three sides. He turned his head slowly and glared at me. “Y’know something…” he said “you’re really an asshole.”

He was too proud to be pissed. It was exactly what he’d have done. He’d taught me well- I had finally become a redneck jedi.

Categories: Adventure, coming of age, crazy, memoir, pranks, redneck | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My 25th apartment in 7 years…

I cooked fresh eggs in my toaster this morning, while carefully not wearing pants. I had to move several guns to access the toaster, and I tripped in some SCUBA gear on my way to the fridge.

It’s not that I’m a slob. It’s just that I can’t figure out how to get a truck load of tools, a dozen guns, ammo, snowshoes, a full SCUBA setup, prospecting machinery, a chainsaw, and all my food, neatly tucked away into the tiny kitchen of a studio apartment. I’m really not a slob; it’s just that I live that way.

There’s rope in my medicine cabinet. I don’t know how it got there, but since it fits well with this sort of nautical theme I started, I think I’ll let it be. The nautical theme wasn’t really deliberate, either; it’s just that I salvaged several old lobster crates and turned them into furniture, and the accoutrements of life at sea lie scattered about the place as well. My captain’s hat hangs from a nail on the wall over the door, and my life jacket is draped over my kitchen chair (it’s buried under a mountain of flannel shirts right now, but it was there when last I saw the chair several months ago.) A life ring hangs on the wall over the bed- mostly because I didn’t know where else to put it. I didn’t have any posters, so I tacked up my navigational charts instead. There’s also a couple of buckets of sea shells kicking around from my recent trip to Florida. Sometimes they smell of the bleach I cleaned them with, sometimes they smell of sea-rot, but both odors blend well with the glade plug-in I bought to combat the burning smell of my cooking. The combination really helps me impress the women, let me tell you…

My living/bed room wouldn’t really feel so cramped if I moved that big industrial stone saw, but I’m not sure where else to put that, either. Besides- I hang my laundry on it when I get back from SCUBA diving.

The guitar is neatly tucked into a corner on its stand. It actually looks like it belongs there. The Ukulele hangs above it, tied to a nail with a red and black boot lace, looking less so. There’s a bucket full of mud from a river I pan for gold in, and a bucket of freshly mined herkimer diamonds, both next to the stove.

Partially read books like about the place, dogeared and bookmarked half to death. I swear I’ll finish them someday… Oh, look- that gun needs to be cleaned.

There’s a pyramid of unopened junk mail on the kitchen table, which has slowly overpowered and now killed off the “important documents” pile that was next to it. I keep telling myself I’ll spend an afternoon going through it sometime and recycle all that paper, but the pile looks far too precarious to mess with at this point. Besides- if it fell on the microwave, I might not be able to feed myself anymore…

I’ve made a valiant effort to keep the kitchen floor nicely swept, but my incessant midnight trips to the beach keep the linoleum dusted evenly with beach sand. Try as I may, it’s very difficult to sweep around all the adventure paraphernalia out there.

I suddenly know why God said “it is not good that man should be alone…” He saw Adam sitting in the garden as the original bachelor- keeping left-overs in the fridge for months on end, eating off of dirty plates, picking at his bellybutton lint, and scratching away at himself as he pleased. My guess is that the final straw was when Adam tried to write his name in the sand while he was peeing, and God decided it was time for a chaperone.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I greatly aspire to cleanliness and order someday; but then I think of cleaning the dishes as a first step, and I decide it’s far more productive to play guitar or sew up the holes in my underwear. You see, it’s not that I’m a slob; it’s just that I have priorities…

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How and why I stole a firetruck…

It was the sort of bar in which one felt out of place without some strain of hepatitis in his blood.

A marriage-minded country boy from Maine, I was, of course, there against my will. But this was Arizona, and neither the desert, nor the government, nor my eleven intoxicated crewmen cared what I wanted. By the time I had driven the two miles from our hotel, nine more or less empty pitchers – and a few stray bottles – were strewn about the table.

It was mostly dead, actually; a weeknight; a Wednesday, and a very quiet one at that. Except for the eleven drunk firemen shouting my name. I walked toward them, stepping between the bloodstains and sticking to the floor. Second hand smoke filled the room and drifted in smoggy tufts through the air. An air hockey table was slowly composting in the corner. It had been acquired after parts of the previous game, a foosball table, had been employed in the latest melee (jousting, you know…). The nightmare of interior design spun further out of control as one surveyed the room, as if countless renovations had left the tragic scars of one dance fad after another, and all of it dusted evenly with the peeling, lead-based paints of yesteryear.

The guys launched into testosterone-soaked tales of debaucheries past when I reached the table, pausing only to make sure the attractive and under-aged lady firefighters’ cups never ran dry. I was quickly caught eyeing a wholesome blonde, slowly stirring what appeared to be a soda and chatting with a female friend in a corner booth. The crew encouraged me as best they knew how (i.e., with great pornographic detail). I resisted. Much to my relief, the rabble slowly began to empty the overcrowded booth; this one to dance alone, this one to act out a story, that one to pass out in the bathroom. About the time Darby unveiled his cigarette trick, I mustered the courage to speak to the blonde. I was a teetotaler, here of necessity- perhaps she was as well. Sure.

One train wreck of an introduction later, I asked if I could sit down with them, and her friend rose to allow me to sit on the inside of the booth- deftly emasculating me with a single graceless gesture. The crew watched intently through the haze of booze and smoke as the conversation with the blonde took the express train south. Where was I from? What was I doing there? Did I prefer meth or coke? Her friend sat menacingly in my path, barring any polite exit with her considerable girth. The crew ignored my plaintive glances, and utterly alone, I began to consider an acrobatic escape to the booth behind. But the seats were even more sticky than the floor, and I decided instead to excuse myself to the bathroom. I shuffled past the beast with whom I had shared a bench, and was forced to recount the horror to each of my sodden crewmen one at a time.

“No, Thompson, I will not be ‘nailing’ her later.” The last to hear, he was heartbroken by the news; as if I had stolen all that was good out of his universe. Anger was his next stage of grief, and he quickly announced that “we’re the fuck out of here. ”

It was decided that the remaining three pitchers of beer would accompany us on our trip back to the hotel. I had stolen a government fire truck, just for the occasion. But by the time I had secured the shy dozen drunks into our ill-fitting conveyance, they had agreed that the night was far too young to end. “To Flagstaff!” our leader screamed, and my protests were drowned out by the chorus of rebel yells. The crew wasn’t bothered that I was the one who would be charged with the laundry list of crimes on our little escapade, and they made plain that retribution would be harsh if I decided not to drive them to wherever-the-hell-they-pleased. It occurred to me that I got into this mess in an effort to see the world in the first place. Why not see flagstaff? Stolen trucks drive sweeter anyways…

About an hour down I-40, all but one of the brigands were asleep in the back, and the evening drive through the desert had become quite pleasant. The last one standing was my crew leader, sitting directly behind me and delivering a lecture on the virtues of drinking with the boys. The tail lights of an eighteen-wheeler carrying a fuel trailer came into view on the horizon ahead…

James, our resident thrash metal fan, awoke with a start. Looking forward, he assumed we were in a race: “WOOOO! GET SOME, [Smith]!!! HELL YEAH!” and suddenly, they were all awake again, joining in the din. What the hell… what’s one more felony on the heap? We were in a stolen vehicle, with open containers, drunken female minors, being derelict in our duties, and using government fuel cards to finance it all. How much more jail time could they possibly give me for criminal speeding? So, I pushed the hammer to the floor, and the government-issue-only motor in our firetruck-turned-racecar began to wail. I whipped violently into the passing lane, and in seconds was upon the unsuspecting truck driver. I was about halfway past the highly-volatile fuel rig when my crew leader reached up and covered my eyes with his beery hands.

And there I was. Driving a stolen vehicle at breakneck speed with my eyes closed. It was time to reevaluate my life. How did this happen? Why was I associating with these people? Was I really happy with my new lifestyle? The wheel vibrated and the rumble strip screamed. Absolutely.

I decided to hold ‘er steady while I prayed (At last view, the highway was arrow straight; and I was too tired to panic anyways…), but I kept the pedal pinned to the floorboard. If an accident were to occur, I wanted to end things quickly. Thirty or forty seconds later, he let go of my eyes. Praise God Almighty, we were alive. We were a mere 20 miles from Flagstaff when the riot behind me subsided. “Alright! Fuck Flagstaff, [Smith].” I saw my crew leader wipe tears of laughter from his eyes in the rearview. “That was all I wanted to do. Get us back to the hotel.”

An abrupt 3 point turn on a lonely stretch of desert highway concluded my crime spree. And all because I just had to flirt with a beguiling crystal meth addict…

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Dogs and strangers, Kisses and Conversation…

What a day it has been. I was sweetly reminded this afternoon of just what I am looking for in a woman, and in one conversation my hopes of finding such a lady were restored. I had begun to believe I would be forced to settle for a lesser love, or else face the prospect of dying alone. But God showed me once again that such women do exist, and their quality is both obvious and magnetic before even they speak a word. Rare though they may be, their company is worth waiting for. We met again today, and in the fullness of her eloquence two hours slipped by unnoticed. Even the pauses in her speech are somehow comfortable and articulate, and I see in her eyes such stillness and depth as I have seldom before encountered. She, alas, is spoken for, and I am happy for them. For my part, I am thankful to have people of such caliber in my life in any capacity, and it is my hope, in time, to call her a friend.

My resolve has been refreshed, and I will continue to wait for a woman of singular character and unimaginable charm. I greatly aspire to be the sort of man she will find worth knowing.

She had to leave eventually, going to wherever it is interesting women go to hide from the eyes of mortal men. I went to the roadhouse for dinner. Backing into a parking space, I noticed the puzzled face of a young dog in my mirror. She was leaning over the rails of the pickup truck next to me, straining every bone in her body to catch my scent. I decided to introduce myself, and spent the next twenty minutes utterly delighted by my new acquaintance. I count it tragedy of the highest order that people don’t have her sort of temperament. I found such marvelous repose in our fleeting friendship…

She was a breed I’ve never seen before, similar to a black lab, but with a different facial structure and much softer coat. Certainly under a year old, she seemed every bit as delighted to meet me as I was to meet her. She stood on the fender well while I pet her sides, and licked my beard appreciatively, as though returning the favor. Placing her paws on my shoulder, she tucked her head alongside mine, nuzzling my face and nibbling my ear as only a dog can. I cannot say how thankful I am for these things; and I hope you believe me, dear reader, that no matter how many places I go, things I see, or stories I tell, a dog’s kisses and the conversation of a winsome stranger will remain among my most cherished memories. Thank you, God, for allowing me so often to play the poet game.

G’night, dear reader, and the best of luck…

Very Sincerely,
The Wandering Atavist,
Paradise of the Salt Breeze

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Finding work…


Life is good without a real job. Today’s work was hauling scrap metal in Meg. I was blessed to pass a great many hours behind the wheel, basking in the crisp autumn ecstasy blowing through my window. Certainly, the smell of leaves on a wool sweater and rusty flannel shirt is among the supreme joys in life, and the freedom of a truck and a full tank of gas is hard to beat. I spent the first hundred miles thinking about what sort of work I’ll find this year, and where it could best be found. Newfoundland sounds enticing, but so do Zion and Bryce National parks. And yet how sweet it was to be in Maine again these past few pleasant months…

A hundred miles more, and I found company in the smiles of a handful of lovely memories. I do hope to speak with them again someday, but I was truly satisfied to have an afternoon alone with God and the hum of the transmission.

Done with my day’s labors, and a mere hour or so from my parking space, I passed a wild apple tree, dripping with fruit and well worth backing up. The apples were so ripe that they fell into my hands with the merest touch, and the prettiest half dozen accompanied me on my way home. I munched my way down the country road, chewing in time with country radio and praising God. If ever mortal men are to glimpse heaven in this life, surely it would be a cloudy September day on the coast of Maine.

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A letter of Collegiate intent; Or, How I came to live at sea, as a sailor with Safari dreams.

But now what? I was 22. I had seen wildfire, panned for gold in Alaska, kissed a pretty girl, and come to own a .44 Magnum. Life was complete. What else was there to do? I quickly spiraled into yet another mini-mid life crisis. This had happened to me on an almost yearly basis while in college, and it typically precipitated good things. This year, however, I was out of answers. I thought for months and kept coming up dry. I turned back to my childhood. What had I dreamt of when I was a boy? Kissing pretty girls, of course; and I had already checked that one off the list. Balls. Perhaps this was God’s way of telling me it was time to stop playing. Perhaps it was time to grow up and get a real job; time to succumb to the permanent address anathema.

Then I read an article on safari guides in Africa. Screw growing up just yet.

I was elated. I had to tell someone. I drafted a letter to my academic adviser, who had asked me recently what it was that I wanted to do when I graduated. As a man who prides himself on having aspirations, I was ashamed not to have an answer. I couldn’t wait to tell her about my new idea.

Dear Dr. [Smith],

I know what I want to do when I grow up.

You asked me the other day while we were speaking about my paper, and I honestly had no answer for you. I know that seemed horribly trite, and it bothered me enough to set me thinking about it afresh.

You see Ma’me, I once set out with a boyish list of things to do in my life. Dreams of grandeur, adventure, and conquest in the voids on all the world’s maps. I am thrilled to tell you that I have crossed off most of that list. I was a lumberjack in Alaska. I fought wildfires in Montana. I’ve found gold and jewels in four states, commuted to work via helicopter, and weathered a western deluge under a cowboy hat on the great plains. I joined Mensa. I can sail a ship, and scuba dive. I’ve fixed my own truck, learned to play guitar, and I’ve even kissed one of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. Actually, to be quite honest- She kissed me first.

And so the daunting question has become a hearty “What’s next?” It’s a tough question. Not because I’m unimaginative, but because I’m so nearly content.

Our conversation got me thinking about it from a new tack. I thought about it in a way that I hadn’t been able to think in years. It occurred to me suddenly in my library this evening. I’ve been drifting through school the last few years with no idea of how to continue my adventures. I couldn’t think of anything that really set my hair on end as did gold mining, exploration, and flamenco guitar when I read about it in high school. Even academia has nearly gone stale. Good books are as hard to come by as good people, and though the wide world abounds in interesting things, “it is difficult to be properly interested in any one of them.” (Chesterton)

You see Ma’me, I finally caught myself. College has taught me to worry about the grown up stuff. Wages and bills and benefits and such. ‘Tis no way for an an adventurer to select a vocation. Such trifles ought not concern the swashbuckling. Such things did not stop the likes of Magellan, Marco Polo, or Earnest Shackleton. And so, I’ve decided.

I want to be a Safari guide in Africa.

I know. It sounds childish. But then again, I like to think that the best ideas do. Don’t forget- “…Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus; Mat. 18:3)

This little epiphany has put me in a fantastic mood, and I had to tell someone. I thought you’d want to know.

Very Sincerely,
[Name withheld],
Paradise of the Salt breeze

P.S. Am I in the right major?

I started doing research while I waited for her to write back to me. I E-mailed safari companies. I read books. I googled. I compared ballistics of various elephant guns. I applied to a safari guide school in South Africa. Invigorated again by a fresh daydream, my spirits soared. The machinations of my mind became as colorful as ever they were.

And new ideas came, too. I had always loved the ocean; but had equally loathed taking orders, and so thought that I could never really go to sea. In learning to sail, however, the notion dawned upon me that I could live alone at sea. That sounded lovely, and my Hellenic blood warmed at the thought. I had had the foresight to apply for Safari guide school two years in advance, so that I’d have plenty of time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Perhaps I could go to sea before I left for Africa?

I cannot describe to you my ecstasy. To think there might still be adventure enough in the world to keep me busy until the age of 25!

Living in Maine, there were plenty of jobs that allowed a person to live near the coast, and there were harbors everywhere to drop an anchor in. Now to find a position in my field…

As God’s providence would have it, there was an island nearby partially owned by the park service. I knew through the grapevine that one of the former rangers would not be returning to his post. I contacted the proper folks with the park service, and did some praying. Low and behold- they hired me. Life is but a dream…


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Snippets from my life at sea…

Friday near the Ides of June, 2010

It’s been Several days since I have written. The evening after my last letter was the roughest I’ve yet seen. Most of the night it was much too rough to sleep, and I had lots of trouble with Maggie (my little rowboat). I ended up having to pull her up on deck in the middle of the night to prevent her damaging the hull. Mind you- this was no small feat. There I was, standing on deck all back-hair and underpants in the midnight gale; buffeted by the wind and waves, one sock covered in dish soap (long story), trying with all my might to wrestle a dinghy over the gunnel like an overgrown mackerel; swearing all the while like the sailor I wish I was. It’s funny though; no sooner was the deed accomplished than I found myself tranquil again; looking at the stars with the wind in my beard I felt all at once serene. I would weather this storm, and I would thank God for it. And with that, I slept like a baby.

The big excitement today was in cooking dinner. I was having “4-cheeze rice-o-roni” and pumpernickel garlic bread. (The latter is excellent, by the way.) My pot was boiling nicely, and I had just lit the burner for my bread; the sea around me as lazy as the sun on an Island Sunday. And then there came a young man in a small boat, lobster fishing with his mother along for the ride. They were fishing in quite a hurry, it would seem; as they passed me going just as fast as his little outboard could push him. I did not realize my error until his wake hit me. My pot, with its furiously boiling froth, careened wildly about the burner; the scalding broth dancing wildly ’round the rim,and naught but the grace of God saved me from permanent scarring. “No more small pots for me” I thought. But, it being a quiet evening, I thought I’d see the meal through with the current arrangement of crockery. “No one else should be by; quiet afternoon and all…” Several minutes later, a much bigger boat passed by; this time, much closer and with the same astonishing velocity. Not to be twice the fool, I quickly seized the pot, and lifting it from the flame, I moved my arm rhythmically to counteract the violent pitch of the boat. With all the concentration of a zen master, I spilt not a drop… and saw instead the whole grill-full of flames and garlic toast go crashing across the deck, pumpernickel flying to each of the four winds. I gave it a swift kick to right it on the cockpit bench. Reeling from the kick, and now balancing on one leg as the boat lept from crest to crest, I noticed that I held the pot at an unnatural angle; again about to be scalded by the raging rice. I threw myself to the bench behind me, desperate to save my hide from the tasty slurry in my pot. Of course, it is not in the nature of hot fluids to quickly settle down; and as I cowered, sure to be burned, in a befuddled heap upon the bench; the pot precariously held aloft- I felt my dinner again slosh to one side of the pot, readying itself to leap over the rim and onto my waiting skin. It was at precisely that moment, as I lie there waiting to bathe in superheated rice, that another wave (by divine intervention alone) rocked my boat just so…

the rice rebounded into the pot with a mucky “slop” and all was calm again. The grill whirred away as pleasant as always, and the once murderous rice steamed gently in the pot. I turned off the grill to go below and do some praying and change my shorts. God is so good to me…

I don’t know how these things happen. We shall have to call this adventure “Mr. Magoo goes to sea…”

Last night I peed over the gunnel and it lit up all the phosphorescent plankton. Absolutely beautiful. As though there were stars above and below…

Date still unknown. (Doesn’t much matter out here; I absolutely love it.)

I broke one of the trucks today. The old one we call “Jenny.” I drove over a wee stick and (well; ok, fine. I drove over LOTS of sticks, and a whole tree or two. But anyways…) it went up into the motor and tore a belt off, and I had to walk several miles back to the station. My boss doesn’t know about it yet. Hopefully, She’ll let me keep my job after I fix it…

I can’t describe how happy I am living here. Last night the islanders had another jam session that lasted until 11. Tons of fun, and one of the islanders is a professional singer/guitarist, which definitely pepped things up a bit. By the time the music ended, the dark and fog had set in like a damp wool blanket across the island, and the row back to Sophie was far more beautiful than I have words for. The water was as smooth as silk under the mist, and only a few feet from the dock, the island slipped into the fog and disappeared. It was just me and my oars alone with God in a watery dream world, silent as the grave but for the sound of my strokes on the water. Ghostly blurs of ships glided past my little rowboat, and phosphorescent plankton lit the water like so many stars at every dip of the oar. With the horizon long lost to the sea smoke, it was easy to believe I had somehow sculled past the end of the Earth and into the ephemeral nothing. Such peace…

Climbing aboard Sophie, I looked up and found that God had not installed a ceiling on this dungeon of fog,and the stars shone brilliantly overhead between the clouds. Staring up at them through the open hatch from my berth, it was impossible to tell if it was they that moved or I. Lost in the moment, I drifted serenely asleep to a buoy bell tolling a lullaby from somewhere in the bay.

If only I could live the rest of my days aboard a sailboat…

I meet the most interesting people here at work. Today there was a middle aged couple, the husband from South Africa, the wife from Australia. I told them that I was dying to go to both places; that I had been accepted into safari guide school in South Africa, and was once hired to fight wildfires in Australia, but that neither had worked out. They probably thought I was a pathological liar…

Hello again.

I’m sitting in my boat right now, scratching away at my notebook. I’ll have to type this later,and then steal some government paper to print it on for you.

(The computer tells me it’s June 26th.)

What a wonderful day I had today. Day after day, God is so good to me, I can scarce believe my eyes. I took the late boat in to work, and the ride was paradisaical. Seals, Dolphins, and that miraculous salt air… I should very much like to spend the rest of my days at sea.

Speaking of boats remind me- when we arrived at the town harbor this morning, the local lads were putting on quite a show of fishing off the wharf, much to the delight of the whole mail boat full of tourists. The boys smiled and the cameras clicked, and the boat captain and I found ourselves speaking with an aged lobster fisherman; guffawing over tale after tale of cracked 2X4’s and broken jaws. During the course of the conversation, the boys split up, and the eldest headed out into the bay in a dinghy, all alone with his fishing pole. Several minutes later, a crowd of younger boys, mostly around 7 years old, showed upon the dock. They had been tricked into going to get their life jackets; and in their absence the older boy had slipped away with room to spare in his little boat. The hoard of little fishermen stood on the dock in their PFD’s and called after the one who’d left them behind, waving their fishing rods in comically menacing threats of vengeance. And then I realized that my wee Maggie was tied up unused at the end of the float…

Now, Maggie is a sweet little dinghy, though much past her prime; but a spacious craft she is not.Truth be told, she’s a bit too small for me alone. Nor is she a particularly seaworthy vessel, though I love her anyways- but if I sit just a bit off her center line as I row, she’s likely to slip a gunnel the waves. But it occurred to me as I watched those little boys get screwed out of a perfect day’s fishing, that she does float;and like her namesake, would not easily sit idle while a young man had a bad day- let alone a whole mob of them. So, as I have a habit of doing, I opened my big mouth. “If you boys need a boat,” I said “My Maggie is the little ‘un tied up just there at the end…”Their eyes widened and such joy lit their little faces as I have seldom seen. It was not until they were piling in, like lemmings off the end of the float, that I noticed the prodigious number of children that had decided to go along for the voyage…

I went over and tried to tell them about her tendency to roll, and admonished them to bring her home safe. I couldn’t see a square inch of her deck for all the little knees and sneakers. But their excitement was contagious; and for all the smiling faces, I couldn’t make any of them stay behind. “They’re island boys” I figured…They’d be fine. They could take that little dinghy to England and back if they’d half a mind to. Besides, they’re 7 years old-Practically men! Gotta let ’em spread their wings sometime, right? I wished them well, and boarded the mail boat once again.

Floating a precious few inches above the waterline, I watched them shove off as we motored around the corner. The captain assured me they’d bring her back full of fish guts. I told him I’d be thrilled if they brought her back at all. I have seen neither she nor they since…

In other news- I saw my friend Tim on one of the other boats, Island bound as I was heading off. It’s terrific news, since he left the island a week ago “just for a day or two.” (It’s wonderful to be among people who act so much like me…) The back of my truck is still full of his canned goods from when I helped him move. And since he’s back, we’ll likely be sailing this coming week. Not to worry though- We’ll put the boys back in Maggie and have them sit on standby in case of emergency…

Well,I have to be off to bed for now. I’ve got to get up early in the morning and go gold mining.

I’m writing from the ranger station after hours, barefoot and with my laundry strewn about the place as though all the office were my hamper. The daylight fades in the windows, the rangers chatter lazily on the radio, and tinny Irish folk music blasts out of the computer speakers at peak volume. Life is good.

Now, I do so hate to be barefoot, but you see; coming back again to Sophie this evening after far too long ashore, I found her in a terrible mess. Several cord’s worth of wood chips clogged the scuppers, having stowed away in the cuffs of my pants (I run a chainsaw every day at work). Sand from the dock had been carried by my boots, little by little every trip, into Maggie; and from there onto Sophie’s deck, again by way of my souls. Well now; what kind of sailor would I be to let my boat continue in such a state?Grabbing my dish soap and sponge, I scoured every inch of the cockpit. And using my dinner pot, dowsed her liberally with seawater for a rinse cycle. She was sparkling clean when I finished.Glistening there in the sun, she looked every inch the way a ship ought. But I was still filthy, and the water I wore from Sophie’s bath felt good upon my skin. It was then that I noticed how my “tan”sort of dissolved under the water drops; and I decided I ought to have a shower, too. But having only just recently recovered from my last bout with the ocean (I leapt of the transom last month to try bathing in the bay. It was terrifically cold. So much so that even my soap refused to produce suds, and my nipples nearly punctured the hull as I climbed back aboard.) I decided to try bathing in the pond.

Long pond, as it’s called, is the island’s only source of freshwater; and as such is the town reservoir. Of course, everyone likes clean drinking water, so I didn’t think they’d mind if I put my bath soap in it…

The fresh water was just cool enough to steal my breath as it copped a feel, but once I settled in, I found it heavenly. It’s been 80 and 90 degrees all week; and the pleasant chill of the water was a welcome reprieve from the heat. Bathing there in all the islanders’ faucet was every bit as charming as all other facets of life here. Little fish swam about me as I got to my scrubbing; flitting about in the clouds of suds that I made as I lie there praying that none of the island girls would saunter by and catch me. It turns out, though, that one of them did. Luckily I heard her truck approaching in time to lie down in the water. She gave me quite a smile when she drove by- either I’ve underestimated my sex-appeal, or she took my rinsing myself to be something else entirely.Tomorrow’s rumors ought to be interesting…

Well; I’ve got to be off. The sun is setting fast and there remains much to do before bed this evening. G’night for now.

Categories: Adventure, letters, nautical, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The joys of home ownership…


I’ve just purchased a camper. I intend to live in it for at least six months after I graduate. She’s in amazing shape for the $350 I paid for her; and she’s got a toilet, shower, stove, refrigerator, etc. Though I’ll never speak ill of the wee sailboat I lived aboard, the camper’s list of amenities runs much longer (There’s even room enough to stand upright inside the camper!).

The only problem is that one of the previous owners, for reasons beyond comprehension, decided to paint the interior pink. Not just any pink; but the pinkest shade of pink I’ve ever seen. My poor camper is as pink as pink can be. A hot, near-florescent, electric pink that may actually be capable of emasculating a man if he gazes upon it too long. I’ve considered re-painting it, but when I imagine all that effort, the cost of paint, primer, and brushes, and a day spent with paint fumes in the confines of the camper, I think I’d rather just risk my testicles and learn to live with that odious pink.

And yet; I can’t help but ponder the extent of impact a color can have on a man’s life. On the one hand, a man secure in his sexuality ought certainly be able to live in a small pink dwelling with little ill effect; on the other, I wonder how Washington’s troops would have fared if they’d been made to cross the Delaware in hot pink rowboats.

To make matters worse, the camper was built in 1981. She’s in good shape, to be sure, but 30 years old. And I intend to set it in the back of my 20 year old pickup. (Y’know- because that’ll win the hearts of all the girls…) But, what the three of us lack in fashion, we more than make up in panache. The truck’s driver’s side door is custom fitted with a padlock. The camper is painted pink with flannel décor. And I bring to the group a beard like Rasputin and the incessant habit of talking to strangers. They seldom talk back.

So I’m set to begin building a life, poised inside a little pink camper. clearly, this is how a success story begins…

Categories: Adventure, college, Moving, musings, thinking, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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