Beware the Breakers

Spring Break loomed large last week, and intrepid idiot that I am, I had to check it out.  I called my Dad (the G.P.) and asked if he’d care to join me.  And, although he was still suffering from the lung infection that I’m insisting on calling the Presbyterian Plague just to annoy the Rev (my Mom), he  agreed to come along. I’m not sure if he thought he’d be able to save me, or if he was just interested in checking out some wahinis in bikinis. I’m betting on the latter.

We decided we’d head to the beach at around noon on Friday, forgetting in out inimitable Bair fashion that it was St. Patrick’s Day.  I am usually not a participant in St. Party’s Day activities.  I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but it sure seems like there’s always a lot of drunk idiots clogging things up on National Let’s Just Give Up Collectively days.  In any case, after about 15 trips in and out of my parents’ house, we finally got Stadler, Rowlfie, myself, the G.P,, five bottles of water and the camera loaded in Dad’s truck.  Then we couldn’t find the remote control to the gate for about fifteen minutes.  There was yelling.

Some background information is necessary here for you to understand the full impact of what’s about to happen in this story.  The G.P. is an old newspaperman from way back.  He was in the business as everything from a reporter to an editor to a pressman over several decades.  He even wrote a column for a paper a lot like this one.  If I worked harder, or got paid more you might be able to say I am flopping right along in the old man’s huaraches.  In any case, Dad has something that I don’t: journalistic training, which (best as I can tell) means that any time you talk to someone you have to write down their name, hometown and age in pencil on a skinny pad that fits conveniently in your back pocket.  Evidently, it has to be exactly this kind of notepad and it MUST be in pencil, otherwise every time you sit in water, the writing might not be totally unreadable.  Dad sits in stuff a lot.  I’m pretty sure several Todd’s in Dad’s reporter history only very narrowly missed being listed as Toads, but that’s the way it has to be.  It’s the training. Also, Dad hasn’t worked on the Island where asking people their age (especially in order to print it in the newspapers) is a good way to get whacked in the side of the head, or get very ganged up on at the Barrel’s weekly cheap wine and killer gossip night.  Be very careful, young Dadawan.  The ways of the Island are mysterious – is what I should have said.  Instead, I just said, “Dad, it’s pictures for the Moon of people who don’t live here!  We don’t care what their stupid names are!”  He didn’t get it.

We decided we’d save the beaches on North Padre for last, and head straight to Port A.  We took Access Road two and experienced some initial surprise at the lack of crowding.  There were actually several miles of beach in there with almost no one on it.  Granted, it was just after noon.  Both Dad and myself are so old, neither one of us thought it was early.  At least one of us had been up since 4 a.m. I wasn’t me.  Finally, though, a flag of Texas so big that it could definitely be seen from orbit heralded the first Outpost of Insanity.  I got also got tipped off by the straight row of blue trash cans, no more than four feet apart – miles of them.  Port A must have majored in passive aggression at City College.  The gesture was appreciated.

We pulled a little further in, unloaded both the pups, got the G.P. and the camera set to grab photographic evidence of our trip and off we walked.  It was actually a nice day at the beach.  Other old people were running the Breaker Gamut in gaily decorated golf carts, or just walking like us, pretending to mind their own business.  Dad happily took photos after I asked kids to pose.  He did tell every single person that while he was definitely working for the paper, we weren’t “writing down anyone’s names or anything.”  No one cared.  They were all bong beers from the ubiquitous tube and funnel rig.  I did notice that many of these devices had matching stickers.  Shout out to the Port A artisanal beer bong craftsman – that twenty cents of tubing must really keep the wheels on the trailer!

One of my favorite groups of Breakers was the kids playing horseshoes right at the edge of the water.  Instead of just having one “ring” (pole that you throw the horseshoe at) they had two.  This would have been pretty smart, as that way no one has to do the “I’m trying not to look stupid, but I totally look stupid” walk to retrieve the shoes, EXCEPT these kids insisted on standing right behind the ring when the other kid was throwing.  Because the participants were 20 something boys, and things that are normal sized aren’t adequately compensative, the horseshoes were essentially iron rings the size of toilet seats.  I thought they were playing some kind of full contact horseshoe chicken. I walked up to one of the kids (I didn’t write down his name) to ask him about it.  “Are you playing some kind of chicken,” I asked.  “What’s chicken?” he responded.  I didn’t want to tell him because of the proximity of certain two lane roads.  “Um, it’s nothing….so why are you standing right in front of where a giant iron horseshoe is about to be?”  “Oh, it’s okay!” he said cheerfully taking a sip of his tallboy, “You just have to trust the other guy!” “How well do you know the other guy?” “Him?  I’ve never met him.  I guess you just have to hope you don’t get hit.” I just walked away without bothering to attempt to explain to him that if he just stood three feet to the left of the ring, the chances of getting hit were exponentially decreased.  I didn’t want to accidentally invent Horseshoe Chicken or have to explain how exponents work.

We kept walking, with the G.P. yelling in his poor plague voice, “Fifty cents to pet the dog!”  Finally, we reached the epicenter of the Breaker earthquake – a ring of trucks, vans and one school bus with parts of the comforting wording scratched out so that it read, “Cool Bus.” We were at Thunderdome. We slunk between a couple of ridiculously tall trucks into the land of stripper poles mounted on unsupported tail gates and the stench of marijuana in quantities that were Coloradan.  Dad immediately turned around and walked back out.  I stepped in some kid’s sand square trying to follow him and the kid tried to make me do something, but I’m the current world boss of 20 year olds, so it didn’t work out.

Dad and I headed for the truck.  We’d been out long enough.  I asked the G.P. what he thought of the festivities.  He was quiet for a minute and then he said, “A couple of girls petted Rowlfie, but ain’t none of them paid me.”  I think he spoke for us all.

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Dog Gone Wild

I’ve been so sick  the past few days, I thought (somewhat legitimately) that this was going to be a final missive from my death bed.  The Rev (my Mother) brought home some horrible, hot zone level contagion, evidently from the Presbyterian Church in Alice and infected both the G.P. and myself.  The parental units only got runny noses, fevers and scratchy throats that made them sound like Ertha Kit.  I got all of the above and gastrointestinal explosions that can only be described in terms of kilotons.  I’m generally kind of a weakling, immune wise, plus I have a marked tendency toward hypochondria which is only intensified by an infatuation with WebMD.  Two weeks ago, I entered a preliminary diagnosis of a bug bite on my arm as being that of a Brown Recluse.  Then I looked up Brown Recluse bites on Google Images at 3 a.m.  Fair warning: do not look up Brown Recluse bites on Google Images.  It’s a bad idea.  Also, I did not have a Brown Recluse bite, I had a scab shaped like a pistol that fell off the next day.  I’m fairly sure the dog ate it.

I blame the dog…

Up until about five days ago, Stadler (my hydrophobic black lab) had one joke.  She stops dead in the middle of the road on the dog jog and pretends to have to poop, causing myself and my bike (Gertrude) to skid to a stop.  Then, as I’m recovering my aplomb/balance, Stadler starts trotting off, looking over her right shoulder with a big ole dog smile all over her face.  It’s not a very funny joke.  Now, she’s invented a new hilarious hilarious.  She waits until I fall asleep, and sneaks over to my side of the bed, toenails click, click, clicking on the hardwood floors.  Then she huffs directly in my face until I awaken, push up my sleep mask, and yell, “What?!?”  You’re not going to believe this, but I swear my dog just looks at me with this huge sloppy grin that just reads,”HI!!!!!!”  Then she jumps back on the bed,turns the mandatory three circles on her end and goes RIGHT BACK TO SLEEP while I toss and turn for several hours.  I tried locking her out of my room, but that resulted in two hours of crying and a pretty serious attempt to break down the door.  I thought about locking her in the car in the garage, but decided I’d get nailed for animal cruelty because of what I could only imagine would be incessant bawling about the unfairness of it all.  For three nights, this went on: I pass out, click click HUFFFF….”HI!!!!”  Soo funny.  Then the Rev intervened by bringing home the plague.  My Labrador weakened immune system just couldn’t take the germ load.  By Sunday, I was in pretty bad shape.  I wound up in bed for two days, blessedly dog joke free due to ingesting vast amounts of Cherry Flavored Nyquil (they’re lying about the cherry part).  I was on a pretty weird trip.  I kept having very strange fever dreams about baking in pot bellied stoves, exploding bunnies, lava, and Skittles.  I’m pretty sure this is the same reason L’il Wayne had to quit it with the Purple Drank. Thus ends any similarity I might have to L’il Wayne.

Spring Break.

Stadler reigned unsupervised and managed to essentially track the entire backyard (currently a promising understudy if the Okifenogee Swamp ever sprains a metaphorical ankle) into the house.  I arose from my coma Tuesday morning to find a slough of saucer sized doggie paw prints all over my once white tile floors, my deliberately dark brown couch, and a single print halfway up the wall in the hallway (as if she’d jumped to see how high she could leave her mark).  There were also four gigantic sticks (which I don’t know how she managed to wrestle through her dog door) chewed halfway up on the living room rug, along with every single toy from her toy box, several pairs of my pants, a billion used Kleenexes chewed into tiny chunks of fluffy white, one house slipper, and my emergency backup roll of toilet paper.  It was a disaster, and my dog was right in the middle of the nest, looking up at me with a big grin on her face that just screamed: “HI!!!!!”

Faced with this kind of mess, especially when both the eating and excreting ends of my body were still extremely untrustworthy and might blow at any second, I admit I did think about just burning the whole house to the ground and moving to a country where dog ownership was forbidden due to obvious ecological concerns.   Instead, I stomped back into the bedroom, got a laundry basket, stomped back, got a trash bag, and started pulling apart the Great Pyramid of the Unsupervised Canine.  Stadler was very helpful, trying to bring everything I put away back.  Eventually, most of the Kleenex fluff found its way into the vacuum cleaner, which also dissuaded the dog’s attempts at an assist because Stadler believes in the necessity of Minimum Safe Distance (about 40 feet away) when the vacuum cleaner has been deployed.  The floors were slowly and grudgingly mopped, and gradually the house began to smell less like a family of especially unwashed medieval serfs had died of plague, and more like Murphy’s Oil Soap and melty wax thingys.  Stadler did pull out all her toys again, except for the indestructible stuffed bone toy made by Goodyear which she hates because she can’t wreck it.  Still, I feel like I won Survivor, though my prize is evidently one mostly usable slipper and two pairs of my own pants.  I’ll take it.

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Oh, Billy

Fort Sumner, New Mexico doesn’t have a lot going for it.  There’s the “It’s My Hair and Other Things” beauty salon where I assume the local ladies gather and gawk over the eccentricities of whatever the “other things” (I think they have tails) are and at least two gas stations.  It’s also where Billy the Kid is buried.


Billy the Kid

The Kid rests in a desolate graveyard several miles off the main road, surrounded by an ancient adobe wall.  I don’t know what drove me to visit that place, but for some reason I couldn’t resist it.  The sun was beginning to set and that old New Mexico wind blew hard, kicking up silver dust.  No one has to mow this cemetery.  There’s no grass and not even that many dead people.  Billy’s grave is littered with bullets and small change.  I tossed him a quarter (big bucks in 1881).  His monument probably rakes in more revenue per year than Billy earned in his entire life.  I like to think that he grasps the irony.

Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty.  He and his mother, Catherine, traveled all the way from New York City to New Mexico in an attempt to fight Catherine’s consumption.  She died in 1874 when Billy was only 14, having lived only a year in Silver City.  People there remembered her, though, as a laughing woman who would take any opportunity to burst into song.  She and Billy would often hang out in the Mexican section of the city for the music and the company.  Within six months Billy spoke fluent Spanish.

After the death of his mother, Billy was left to fend for himself.  His first crime was stealing some clothing from a Chinese laundry.  He was put in jail, but he escaped and went on the run.  He tried to be a cow hand, but his youth and small stature insured that he could only get a job on the chow line.  It was a steady paycheck, though, and he used his first $40 to buy a pistol and a gun belt – “the full outfit.”  He then joined up with a notorious horse thief named John Mackie and spent the next year stealing horses and getting tough.

In 1877, a  bully named Frank “Windy” Cahill attacked Billy in a saloon.  After calling Billy a “pimp” Frank sat on the Kid’s shoulders slapping his face.  Billy pulled a gun from Frank’s belt and shot him through the gut.  “Gut shot is not a good way to die,” said one historian, “It took Frank Cahill all night to expire.”  Billy left before they could arrest him.  That was the night Henry McCarty the singing, senorita courting, twinkling eyed Irishman became William Bonney.  He was 16 years old.

Officially on the run, the Kid briefly joined up with a gang of outlaws called “The Boys.”  In 1878, the Kid was caught by the law and charged with rustling horses.  He sat in jail, thinking his ticket was punched, when the owner of the stolen horses, John Tunstall, visited him.  Tunstall was a 23 year old Englishman who had moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico to become a cattle baron.  He was handsome, rich and smart.  He also was looking to hire guns to protect his interests against his entrenched competition, “the House.” He offered Billy a job rather than a noose, and (when Billy accepted) immediately gave him a rifle and a good horse.

john tunstall

John Tunstall

At Tunstall’s concern, Billy found a home.  He fit in easily with Tunstall’s men who remembered him as a community favorite who “stood as straight as an Indian, fine looking lad as ever I met.  He was a lady’s man and the Mexican girls were all crazy about him.  He spoke their language well.  He was a fine dancer, go all their gaits and was one of them.  He was a wonder, you would have been proud to know him.”  Of the two authenticated photographs of Billy in existence, one is of the Kid playing croquet at Tunstall’s place.  It’s a happy picture.

billy ccrroquet

Playing croquet

“The House” was run by two Irishmen named Dolan and Murphy.  They owned a huge dry goods store, the bank, a saloon, and thousands of head of cattle. They controlled all of the commerce in Lincoln County.  If you wanted to buy something back then, you bought it from Dolan and Murphy, or you traveled hundreds of miles through desolate country to shop someplace else.  Tunstall had the idea to upset this monopoly.  Dolan and Murphy didn’t like that.  In 1878, the Kid was helping Tunstall herd some horses into Lincoln when a posse approached.  They shouted that they had a warrant for Tunstall’s arrest.  Knowing the charges were trumped up, Tunstall started to ride toward the men.  Billy tried to warn him of the danger, shouting “For God’s sake follow me” and spurring his horse to reach the shelter of some nearby rocks.  Tunstall didn’t turn.  The posse shot him off his horse as he approached, and in the head as he lay prone on the ground.  Then they killed Tunstall’s horse for good measure.  Thus began the Lincoln County war.

Billy and many of Tunstall’s troops vowed revenge and formed a group called the Regulators.  The legal system was corrupt – long bought by “The House.”  The Regulators felt they had no hope for justice unless they took the law into their own hands, and so spent the next few months hunting down and assassinating everyone they felt was responsible for Tunstall’s death – including the Sheriff William Brady.

The Lincoln County War raged on for almost a year with much bloodshed.  There wasn’t much of an alternative.  It was locally noted that “every son of a bitch up there wanted to kill someone.”  The War was regarded as the perfect opportunity for often petty revenge.

Billy was in every fight of any significance.  His best friends were killed.  In November of 1878, the new governor Lew Wallace issued a proclamation of amnesty for all parties involved in the Lincoln County wars.  Billy, sick of fighting, returned and offered to parlay with his enemies for peace.  The negotiations went very well until the men got drunk and “everything broke down.”  Attorney Hugh Chapman was harassed and killed.  Billy later testified about what happened to Chapman in exchange for a full pardon from Governor Wallace.  Wallace eventually went back on his word and refused to grant Billy clemency.  Billy the Kid was the only man prosecuted and tried for the assassination of Sheriff William Brady – even though Brady was hit by over 30 different bullets and shot at by 8 men.  Ultimately, the Kid was sentenced to hang for it.

Billy wasn’t about to wait around to get his neck stretched.  He went rogue and took off out into the desert where he was hidden by Hispanic sheep herders.  They regarded Billy as an outlaw hero who was striking a blow against the cattle barons who had displaced them.  Pat Garrett was inserted as Sheriff of Lincoln County and vowed to bring Billy to justice.  Garrett finally, with the help of six Texas Rangers, cornered the Kid in a small stone house in Stinking Springs.  After his friend Charlie Bowdre is shot by mistake, Billy surrendered to Garret saying, “Well hell, Pat, I thought you had 200 Texans out here.”  Then everyone ate breakfast.

Billy stood trial and was jailed.  He watched his own scaffold being built, and planned his escape.  He had to kill two men to do it, but he got out and rode away singing.  His friends told him to get out of New Mexico, but Billy felt at home in Fort Sumner and never left it for long.  It’s thought that the love of his life, Paulita (sometimes called Lolita) Maxwell lived there, and that he’d never go too far from her.  Pete Maxwell, Paulita’s older brother, didn’t approve of her association with the Kid, and leaked information about Billy’s whereabouts to Pat Garrett.  Late at night on July 14th, 1881 Billy approached to Maxwell house to cut himself some beef for dinner.  He saw Garret’s guards crouched on the long patio of the house and began backing into Pete Maxwell’s bedroom whispering, “Quien es …quien es” (Who is it…who is it).  Pat Garrett was sitting on Maxwell’s bed.  He saw Billy’s moonlit silhouette, framed by the doorway.  Maxwell whispered, “That’s him.”  Pat Garrett fired two shots.  One went through Billy’s heart.  The other hit the wall.

His friend, Jesus Silva carried Billy’s body to an old carpenter’s bench in the woodshed where he and a group of heart broken senoritas surrounded him with candles and watched the corpse through the night.  The next morning, Silva built a simple box to serve as a coffin and he and Vincente Ortero buried the kid in the old graveyard with no pomp or circumstance.  Billy the Kid was barely 21 years old.

The only object to mark Billy’s passing was a simple wooden cross with his name crudely carved on it.  By 1904, that marker had been destroyed, maybe by flooding, but it was also a popular object for target practice.  In 1932 someone (quite possibly the Fort Sumner Chamber of Commerce looking for tourist dollars) commissioned a new headstone.  Billy is supposedly buried next to Charlie Bowdre and Tom O’Falliard (both friends who were also killed by Pat Garrett), but since the graves were unmarked for 28 years, the people under the concrete sepulchers may not be the Kid and his Pals at all.  I think the Kid is there, though.  His small granite headstone has escaped three times.  Once, it stayed on the lam for 26 years only to be found in Granbury, TX – a town once filled with old outlaws.  Now, Billy’s grave is surrounded by an iron cage and the marker is shackled to the ground at his feet.  Somehow, I don’t think that will hold him.  I believe that he will always come back to Fort Sumner, though.  Paulita is there, in that dusty cemetery, and she is waiting.



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Suck Week

We have officially entered what I refer to as “Suck Week.” Beginning on Valentine’s Day and ending on or around February 22nd, this is the worst week of the year.  Not only do I have to deal with Valentine’s Day, but exactly one week later (not even enough time to barf up all the chocolate), I have to “celebrate” my stupid birthday.  My general methodology for dealing with Suck Week is to listen to the Cure and stomp around the neighborhood wearing all black while aggressively smoking clove cigarettes.  Unfortunately, I don’t smoke any more, and as I always wear all black because constantly having obvious  ketchup stains on your shirts can be read as “unprofessional,” I no longer even have this outlet.  I’m thinking about just crawling under my bed and waiting it out.  This is also my plan for most major catastrophes including the zombie apocalypse, tsunamis and if there’s something really gross in the sink.  I’m not great at planning.

Last week I started narrating my life, pretending I was the Shark Week voice-over guy, and singing the Jaws theme song under my breath. This is evidently disconcerting to elderly ladies trying to buy cans of cat food in the 15 items or less lane at H.E.B. Whoopsy. I tend to take Suck Week seriously because birthdays have been terrible for me as long as I can remember.  On my first birthday, I was terrified of the cake, but then figured out that sugar was THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD, and splatted my entire face into it. There was also the five year long stint during which I accidentally literally set myself on fire every single year.  Those jokey candles that won’t go out are not always super hilarious, and often cause unintended bangs.   In one particularly poignant episode, on my 16th birthday, I set my bathrobe on fire trying to boil water on our gas stove and the Rev caught me in the “rolling” part of stop, drop and roll on the kitchen floor.  She thought this was hysterically funny because the kitchen sink was about four inches away from the stove, and the drama of yelling “I’M ON FIRE” while flopping around like an overly excited walrus was probably unnecessary.

  My friends and family tend to duck and cover at this time of year.  Amber said the other day that she vaguely remembered me being a huge pain in the butt last year, which means someone did some pretty significant liquid forgetting.  I’m not easy to deal with normally (two weeks ago, I fell in love with late 90’s terrible hair metal and made everyone listen to it for a solid week), but during Suck Week I allow myself to be just terrible. Aside from the Discovery Channel style narration, I also get extremely morose, sometimes rocketing past moderately depressing and ending up in Elliot Smith-ville. It’s not a good look, but I regard Suck Week as my rock bottom. Who doesn’t love a good wallow?

The upcoming birthday has gotten me thinking about generations.  I’m at the very tail end of Gen X, and because of this, I have friends who are both Boomers and Millennials.  Amber is a millennial, but she refuses to acknowledge it.  I guess if my generation’s major contribution to the zeitgeist was Justin Bieber, I’d have a hard time claiming it, too.  Her age group has taken a ridiculous amount of hits lately, (“You lazy snowflakes need to toughen. We ate Spam and when there was no Spam we ate air because we loved America”) and has been playing right into the battle by hitting back (“Spam wrecked Planet America, you jerks.”)   Sometimes, especially during Suck Week, I can’t help but push her buttons.  Here’s a transcript:

Me: I hate everything.  Let’s go get a barrel of marshmallows and like a raft of Graham crackers and a battleship of chocolate and a blow torch and just drown ourselves in smores, but also eat our way out…until we explode like really gross Easter Bunny chocolates that accidentally got left on the car’s dash during church.

Amber: Travis says trade the Graham crackers for star crunches.

Me: Can you buy them in “raft” quantities?  I’m only interested in sugar products that come in size “desk” or larger.

Amber: Yes.

Me: Ok. Star Crunch will work

Amber: And be more delicious

Me: That’s the problem with you millennials…always messing with the classics.  It’s like terrible things that have always been absolutely awful just aren’t good enough for you.


Me:  Dude, it’s a SMORE.  It’s made of burnt marshmallow, the kind of chocolate no one voluntarily eats in any other capacity and a high fiber cracker that was deliberately designed to minimize pleasure and stimulation.  That’s why they’re like the ultimate drowning yourself in depression food.  The only way this gets worse is if you make people pray over them – which happens.

Amber: I wouldn’t pray over a smore.  That’s just weird.

Me:  Michael row your boat a – gimme a smore because they’re slightly better than beans containing one tiny weird piece of pork fat cooked in the can.

Amber: True…

Me: And the thing about smores is that they’re awful, but it’s your own fault.  It’s absolutely impossible to evenly toast a marshmallow over a camp fire without turning it into a flaming death turd, which you then just shove into your mouth to hide your shame.

Amber:  Shhh, they’re delicious.

Me:  They’re vile burned sugar jammed between the only crackers in the world that get somehow both stale and soggy three seconds after you open the package.  Graham crackers should be used to dehumidify basements.  They should make those capsules that turn into dinosaurs when you dump them in water out of them.

Amber: But then they’d get mushy

Me: True, but they’re pretty mushy anyway, being sponges.  I guess you Millennials are just opposed to ephemeral dinosaurs.

Amber: (Rage emoticon)

Me: “We need accuracy in our colorful dinosaur sponges.  Actual dinosaurs were around through at least three major historical ages, most notably the Jurassic.  And, as fossil records can’t reveal what colors they were, it’s highly possible that they may, in fact, have been aquamarine and violet, gosh darnit” ~ Every Millennial ever.  #aquamarinedinosaur #gilmoregirls.


Me: You realize that the millennials are making all the valuable points here, right?  You know, about not wanting to continue to make things that are terrible and wanting better accuracy in their sponge representations of dinosaurs.  You have to draw the line somewhere.  If the Boomers hadn’t put a stop to it, we’d all still be suffering through bunt cake shaped Spam and Green Jell-O Surprise.

Amber: Shut up.

I’m often shocked that I have any friends at all.  I really need them, though.  Somebody has to drag me out from under the bed and make me clean the thing out of the sink.

Author’s note: Amber read this article early this morning. She said, “It’s funny, but I’m not a Millennial (she was born in 1988). “Yes, you are, Amburgler. Look it up,” I replied. She’s currently not speaking to me. Welcome to Suck Week.

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Insufferable Audacity

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The Pits

I tried to turn on my heater for the first time this season during the cold snap we had around the first of January.  Predictably, because this is my life, it wouldn’t light.  The city spent about six months (instead of the 4 weeks they initially predicted) working on the gas lines in the easement behind my house last spring/summer/fall, and I figured that they just forgot to turn the gas back on.  I called the public works department, and a few hours later a guy came out.  He, after much tromping around, found that the line wasn’t holding pressure.  He then turned the gas off and locked the meter.  Houston, we have a gas leak.

I called the Rev and the G.P. to let them know.  It was a Saturday, and since weekend rates of plumbers often have to be expressed in scientific notation, we decided to wait until Monday to call one.  The G.P. had me covered, though.  He brought over his ancient grey metal space heater and announced that I was saved.


Old Shocky, the Electrocutioner

I know this space heater well from my many banishments to the camper.  We call it “The Electrocutioner” or “Old Shocky” because not only does it shock you every time you touch it, it also creates a static charge that travels through walls and floors and electrifies everything metal, including doorknobs.  Just try to open a door without first covering your hand with your sleeve, and you get a filling buzzing jolt.  As a basic rule, it’s always a good idea to wear rubber soled shoes around my Dad, but when the Shockster is heating the shop, the addition of ugly yellow dish washing gloves is also wise.  It would have to get pretty cold in the house before I would turn that thing on.

I survived the weekend by putting on a sweater.  It really doesn’t get that cold in Corpus Christi.  On Monday, the plumber came and replaced a fitting near the house.  The city returned and told us the problem remained unsolved.  To me, living without natural gas wasn’t that big of a deal.  I have LOTS of sweaters, and the heater is the only appliance in the house that runs on gas.  The Rev and I suggested that when it’s time to sell the house, we just replace the gas furnace with an electric one.  There’s little need for super efficiency when you only need the appliance three weeks out of the year, max.  The G.P. was having none of it, and because the plumbers estimate was over $3,000, he began conniving plans to dig up the 35 meters of gas line running through my backyard himself.

The day your Daddy goes full on Don Quixote is a difficult one.   Instead of jousting windmills, however, the G.P. is digging trenches.  The initial plan was to dig pilot post holes in order to locate the line, and then to use his drill with an auger bit to make small holes between the larger post holes and use an electronic gas sniffer to find the leak. He started tunneling alongside the house, to figure out where the gas line went out through the yard.  My Dad is 72 years old, and recently spent a month wearing a heart monitor to allow his cardiologist to check on his ticker. The Rev and I suspected that the monitor was more for the Old Man to clock his heart’s efficiency, much like the way he is obsessively aware of his car’s miles per gallon.   Either way, Digging Dad was worrisome to me, so I spend a lot of time raking leaves and hanging around when he was working.  I wasn’t allowed to dig.  Dad was sure I’d mess it up.  My job was to clean the yard and hang around in case he died.  The Rev said that if the G.P. did expire, I wasn’t allowed to just kick him into the pit and fill it in with lime and dirt.  She can be unreasonable.

Tracing the line from the house under two large decks proved more difficult than the G.P. thought, and now there are so many post holes that the back yard looks like it’s overrun with prairie dogs.  I called the Rev when this was happening and told her that Dad had gone gopher.

Eventually, after much digging and cussing, the line was located and it was time to drill the smaller holes.  The G.P. looked online for gas sniffing dogs, and then got mad because they were all German Shepherds – “In case the line needs biting when they find the leak,” he joked.  Unfortunately, my yard is made of antediluvian clay baked into a solid secondary mantle, and was too hard to drill through.  I tried to tell him, having once nearly decapitated myself trying to turn the topsoil with an electric tiller.  He didn’t listen and almost broke his hand when the drill kicked back.  Time for a new plan.  The G.P. starting posting on Facebook about valor and quests.

My parents friends from Kansas, Ron and Nyla, arrived.  Ron was the foreman on our family farm for years, and is still hale and hearty at 78 years old.  He’s like Spongebob, super cheerful and always willing to lend a hand.  He refused to be left out of what I’m sure looked to him like Don Daddy’s Super Fun Time  Digging Adventure Project — so I wound up with over 150 years of old guy in my back yard.  They started cutting the soil with a Milwaukee Saws all.   After two days, Don Daddy and Sancho Ron had deep pits running across the yard, and were considering ways to remove one of my crepe myrtle trees.  They didn’t have any dynamite, so the tree lived.

The lawn looks like a WWI battlefield – as though the Smurfs are about to take on the Kaiser – but you can see a lot of the gas line, except the bits that are under the two decks and the tree.  You know, the parts where the leak probably is.

Both guys got injured on the last day they dug.  Don Daddy hurt his shoulder, and Sancho Ron cut his hand.  The G.P. also lost his beloved Yeti coffee cup.  That evening, Don Daddy turned to the Rev (DulceMama?) and said, “Well, Kris, it sure would be a lot easier and much less dangerous just to get an electric heater.”

“That’s right, Bruce,” she replied.  She’s learned after 40 years of marriage to face palm on the inside.

I’m awaiting the order to go fill in the trenches.  I may plant poppies to commemorate the great battle fought there.  Maybe I’ll also erect a small plaque that says, “Here fought Don Daddy and Sancho Ron.  They didn’t win, but only for lack of dynamite.”

Stay tuned for Don Daddy’s next quest: The Search for the Lost Yeti (coffee mug).

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As you may have noted from earlier columns, each day I take my dog, Stadler, on a long bike ride.  I call it the dog jog.  Some of you have had a few questions about how this works.  Essentially, Stadler wears a harness to which I attach a leash.  I put on my helmet, given to me by the G.P. who says, “I can fix a broken arm, but broken brains are intolerable,” climb on Gertrude (my bike), and Stadler drags us right on down the road.  It’s only really dangerous when she’s fresh and raring to go.  After about a mile, she settles into the jog and I start pedaling.  Or at least this is what usually happens.

Last Sunday dawned sunny and blustering.  I don’t like doing the dog jog when it’s windy because it gets about a thousand times more difficult to pedal.  Gertrude is many things, but aerodynamic is not one of them.  In fact, over the years, I’ve adapted her to be even less streamlined than she was originally designed to be (imagine the Merrimac trying to win the Tour de France) because death by over enthusiastic dog isn’t on my bucket list.  Anything to slow Stadler down on the Cannonball Run bit of the ride had been added – we’ve got a wicker basket, and an emergency bell that is supposed to alert pedestrians to dive out of the way.  Unfortunately, the bell dings so cheerfully that people think something nice is coming rather than a giant black dog running flat out in pure stupid dog joy, and thus they often hit me with stink  eyed looks born of ding-related disappointment.  Gertrude’s seat is also very low because I like to at least think I might have the opportunity to get my feet down in case of an accident.  The guy at the bike shop when I bought her was horrified,  but he couldn’t talk me into putting that seat into a higher position (for easier pedaling).  Short people can’t be easily talked into falling further than necessary.  I’m close to the ground, and that’s where I’m staying.

Dogs are endorphin junkies.  There’s no real nice way to say it.  When Stadler thinks it’s time to go, she acts like a heroin addict in a long line at a methadone clinic.  She bounces straight up into the air, all four feet off the ground in somehow tiny but simultaneously very high dog hops.  She tries to help me put on my shoes, even though she very clearly has no idea how shoes work.  She tries to herd me out the back door, going through her dog door and coming back in just to show me how one gets outside in case I forgot during the night.  If Stadler doesn’t get her fix, she bugs me for hours and then finally settles on her dog bed and gives me the brown frown all day long.  Petulance, thy name is dog denied.

Because of huge chocolate eyed sadness followed by a session of extreme dog jerkiness,  I rarely deny Stadler her run., and Sunday was no exception.  I’ve since looked up the weather, and the wind was blowing at about 32 mph in three directions.  I’m not sure how this is possible, but it sure happens a lot in Corpus, which has caused me to hypothesize that this place is some kind of Bermuda Triangle style hell vortex.  I knew it was going to be a rough ride, but some things have to be done.  I asked my friend Amber to wish me luck, and off we went into the wind.

The first few miles were all directly into the gusting, and we went slowly. I had to take Gertrude down to second gear and grimly pedal the whole way.  Stadler was high on endorphins (puppy smack) and didn’t even seem to mind that her ears were blowing behind her head like black hairy banners.  If her ears represented a country in the Olympics, it would definitely be one where they really like yaks and are still  cooking-with-burning-poop rugged.  Stadler’s ears are a tough looking standard.

We made it about 8 miles, with little relief from the wind.  It seemed like no matter what direction we went, we headed directly into the vortex….until we headed for home.  At that point, the forces were at behind us, and my back acted like a huge sail, propelling us forward at a high rate of speed.  Admittedly, I should’ve braked, but I was tired of pedaling, going slowly and basically the entire canine species.  Instead of doing the responsible thing and slowing us down, I instead started pretending that I was the Millennium Falcon and the Stadler was a TIE fighter.  I might have been kind of swerving all over the road, chasing my dog.  I MAY have also been singing the “Imperial March.”  Whatever.  The sun was out.  The day was glowing a sort of ethereal happiness. Most importantly, everything was easy and nothing hurt.  Clearly horror movies have taught me nothing, because right when the happiness hit like a skillet to the face is exactly when I should’ve started worrying.  Stadler saw another dog walking on a leash with what appeared to be a nice young couple.  My dog is well trained.  She knows that she has to “mind her business” when we’re on the run, and very rarely does she mess up in an uncontrollable way.  On this day, however, she decided to jerk the leash to try to go and say hello. Even this would’ve been okay, had her leash not got caught in the front brake while we simultaneously got hit by a hard gust.  I went right over tea kettle.  Being old means that, when you fall, you don’t bounce right back up like your legs are pogo sticks.  You have to lie there for a minute and try to figure out if everything is still attached and movable.  The poor kids thought I was going to die.  Stadler did, too.  She suddenly got really concerned and helpfully stuck her nose in my face.  I eventually got up and got back on the bike with just a few cuts, fairly gross road rash, and some deep bruises.  We wobbled home.

My left knee was swollen up like an eggplant, and it was pretty clear that I was going to have to lie around and ice it if there was going to be any chance of getting back into the saddle the next day.  I’ve long held the philosophy that sometimes, when the chips are down, it’s best just to default to pirate.  I got an ice pack and a tumbler of Sailor Jerry.  Here is the conversation that ensued with my friend, Amber:

Me:  Stadler wrecked us on the dog jog.  She’s pretty contrite. She just tried to give me her rawhide treat, but I was putting bacon in the oven, so she probably just wanted to trade.  Dog is a jerk. I’m drunk and I need a nap, but it’s four p.m.  I’m screwed.

Amber: (20 minutes later) What are you drinking

Me: Sailor Jerry.  S. Fub.  Fun.  I mean fun.  Because spelling is a thing.

Me: (40 minutes later)  I just made the bed half naked because all my bits got hot.  I might also have had to tie a scrap of fabric around my head Rambo style to get it done.  Fitted sheets are stupid.  It takes a million minutes to figure out which way they go.  I’m gonna put on x’s with a sharpie.


Me: (15 minutes later) Do I have a piece of fabric tied around my head (sends picture)


Me: (30 minutes later) I’m bad at drinking.

Am: You are not good at drinking.  This is TRUE.

Me: SHHHHHH.  I am awesome at drinking.  I’m the drinking Rambo.  SULTANA RAMBINA!

Am: I like the title.

Me: Sultana Rambina says there is a time when a person of personage should personally eat some pizzas.  But that person is not me because cats are CLEARLY aliens.

That’s evidently when I passed out.  I work up the next morning, drank a lot of water, looked at my text messages, and then I checked my bedding. There is a neat, black X in all four of the corners of the fitted sheet.  Sultana Rambina is not a problem solver, but she got further than I ever have.  I can’t even find the Sharpie.


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