Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Good Enough for Her

Good Enough for her
Byron could play baseball.  Good Buddha, could he orchestrate the flow of a game.  He had all the components of the complete player:  he could hit, for both average and power; he could run, a cornerstone of his success; he could field, with superior range; he could throw, with a cannon for an arm; and he could think as quickly as a computer chip, to determine the best approach, to the myriad of baseball logistical questions, which crop up every day on the playing field.
Unfortunately for Byron, his biggest problem did not take place on the field, because it involved the love of his life, his sweet Lucinda, who was not a fan.  Period.  She didn’t like baseball, she could not understand why grown men wanted to hit a ball with a stick, and she sure as hell did not want to go sit in a packed stands, and watch while other people watched the men on the field, chase after a little white ball.  She would even have to pay money to get into the stadium.
Why couldn’t Byron take after his father?  Lucinda had seen how his students had looked up to him; she had seen how the faculty and staff had respected him; and she had seen how the people of the community had admired this fine example of black stability and pride.  Now there was reason to sit up and take notice, not because you could hit a ball with a stick.
Byron begged Cinda to attend just one game.  Just one, he pleaded.
“Why?” she had asked.  “So I can see how well you can hit the little white ball?  Can you tell me what that accomplishes?”
Byron stared at her.  “Accomplishes?  I ain’t trying to accomplish anything, Cinda.  I just like to play baseball.”
“That’s what I mean.  You “ain’t” trying to accomplish anything.  You said it, so I don’t have to.”
“Will you just come and see one game?”  he asked one final time.  And who knows why?  Maybe she saw the futility of resisting; maybe she saw the determination; maybe she just let love get in the way of her better judgment.  Whatever the reason, she attended a game, one in the hometown stadium and this is what she saw.
She saw how the patrons of the game looked up to him.  She saw how the players and coaches respected him, and she saw how the people of the community admired this fine example of black stability and pride, within the community.
And she saw him track down and catch the most wicked, screaming liner, that would have cleared the jammed bases, and won the game, and she saw how his fans idolized him.
And she finally got it.  Byron could play baseball, and it was good enough for her.

First Impressions

First Impressions
Jeff Walker was not looking forward to Dodge City.  He’d heard stories of the violence, of the miscreants, and he’d heard stories about the law not being able to do a damn thing about it.  The year was 1872, and no, he was not looking forward to Dodge City.
He’d made a bargain, though, and a bargain had to be followed through.  He’d told his partner, that he would deliver both documentation, and a substantial amount of cash, to a banker in Dodge, so that’s what he was doing.  He sure was worried about those two-legged varmints, though.
He should have worried.  Dodge City, Kansas.  It was a catch-all for every villain seeking to avoid the law back East, and find a spot where no one seemed to care.  They all migrated to Dodge City.  Jeff saw them, lounging on the sidewalks and benches, as he meandered his way through the streets.  The thick Kansas dust, ebbed and flowed amidst the hoofs of his Appaloosa pony, a beauty that he had recently acquired, and a primary reason why he had agreed to deliver the satchel to Mr. Dearborn, of the First National Bank of Kansas.  He was heading West anyway.
Now, he had stopped at a livery, contracted with the proprietor to feed and bed his animal, and obtained a room at one of the less seedy room/board options.  He selected a room in a house that had a sign out front, warning passers-by, that there were rooms for “rant,” and that one should “hen-quire wit-hen.” But the house was actually painted, and there was a white picket fence around the perimeter of a neatly kept front yard.  By neatly kept, I mean that there were no abandoned wagons, wheels, gates, farm equipment, or other diversions of the eyes, to influence his decision, as to which house of accommodations he should choose.
He had gone back to the livery to let the old geezer who ran the place, know where he was staying, in case an issue arose with the animal.  He didn’t expect it would, but he wanted to be kept abreast of all pertinent details, concerning that beautiful animal.  He had tossed two bits onto the counter separating him, from the old-timer.  “Anybody take a special interest in him, you let me know, and I’ll match that.”  The old man nodded comprehendingly, and mumbled something unintelligently, and the two parted ways.
First impressions occasionally turn out to not only be accurate impressions, but final impressions.  Whether it was the old man, or the man in the dining room of the boarding house, who had evinced so much interest in Jeff, who did the deed, will never be known.  They found Jeff out back of his accommodations, halfway between the back screen door and the outhouse.  His throat had been savagely slit, and his livery receipt removed from his inside coat pocket.
The Appaloosa pony was claimed in the wee hours of the following morning, and the rider headed back in an easterly direction, which was unfortunate for him, because he could not help encountering, an enraged William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, who took one look at his stolen Appaloosa pony, and drilled the rider through the heart, twice, without asking a question.  
There was no need to ask any questions, when the answer was so apparent, right in front of his eyes.

A Gap in the Hedge

A Gap in the Hedge
Loretta was going for the weekend; she’d been planning this trip forever, and the time had finally arrived.  Freddy would take her to the airport Friday, at midnight and pick her up same time Sunday night.  It was nothing more than a high school reunion, but she’d missed the last one, and had a lot of catching up to do.  
“Will you miss me?” she’d asked Freddy, and he’d snorted.
“Baby, you know I will.”  He sounded sincere, but she could never tell.
“What will you do?” Teasing, coaxing.  He didn’t mind.  Lore was always a bit insecure.  He’d never given her reason to mistrust him, but he thought it had something to do with her never being able to measure up to older sisters.  It did not bother him at all.
“Oh, I don’t know--hit the bars I suppose?  Isn’t that what you expect me to do?”  He was joking of course, and they both laughed, but he laughed more heartily than she.  
“I suppose you’ll go with Tyler?”  Ty was his best bud, and recently separated from his wife.  As couples, they had run together earlier, but not so much recently. 
“What do you think?  Should we be looking for high schoolers, but be willing to settle for a growling cougar?”  More laughter, this time Loretta ending with a sigh.
“Can't you even pretend you’re going to miss me?”  She flashed her doe eyes at him, and he realized that he’d pushed it too far, not with the crack about the high schoolers, but because he mentioned the “C” word.
They’d spent a fair amount of time as a couple, poking fun at more mature women, out on their own at night, and assuming that one and all were out to snare a younger man.  Freddy had joked that experience was better than youth, and Loretta had made a face.  “How can you joke about being with an old woman?” she’d asked, and he had laughed and said, “Why not?  Are you feeling threatened?”  Now he repeated that same question.
To herself, she asked, “Am I?”  Aloud she said, “Should I be?”
“You mean Randi?”  He was cautious, because the joke was no given.  And she laughed.  Freddy thought just the fact that he would bring up her name, meant that this was still light and breezy.  Why could this not just be light and breezy?
“Do I?”
Any time you have a conversation that consists of nothing but questions, you might want to ask yourself why.  Freddy dutifully dropped Lore off in front of the crowded air terminal, after retrieving her overnight bag from the trunk, kissing her perfunctorily, and rushing back to the driver’s door, as the nice policeman approached, brandishing what Freddy presumed was his book of citations, with quota.
Back at home he did a once-over on the house, not that it required much at all, worked on grading some essays that he had brought home from his job as a middle school teacher, and then turned his attention to the Giants/Dodgers game on at 7 o’clock that night.  And thus, Saturday passed uneventfully.  He had already known that Ty would be gone for the weekend to Palm Springs, not that he would have pursued that line of action, but still, he didn’t feel it was that inappropriate to have a shot of Jamie at the local pub on Sunday night.  Maybe two.
But instead, he decided to grill a steak out back, and settle into his lounge chair and plug into FaceBook to catch up.  He had to go get Lore at the airport at midnight, so he knew he had a ways to go, before he had to worry about that.
“Hey there, Chef.  Smells good!  What else you got on the menu?”
He knew it was Randi before he looked up.  She had come down the sidewalk along the house, from her place next door, having slipped between the two yards through a gap in the hedge that separated the two residences.
“Thanks. I’m batching it for the weekend, with Lore gone to a reunion.  How are you?”  He tried not to put that extra emphasis on the word you, the way he always did, when he wanted you to feel that he was really tuned into you.  He was decidedly not tuned into the reality that was Randi, standing there in front of him, in what was supposed to be her best Cougar Crawl.   He stood up, as befits a gentleman, and found that he would have been staring down at Randi’s rather expansive cleavage, if his eyes did not have a hammerlock on her eyes. 
“Me?”  She shrugged, expressively.  “Except for being a bit lonely, I guess I’m OK.  Are you looking for company?”  Shit, Freddy thought to himself.  No pretense.  No fooling around.  No muss.  No fuss.
“Am I looking for company?”  Go ahead and stall for time, Big Guy, he said to himself.  You’re going to have to look into your inner mirror on this one, and see what you got.
“Yes.  I’m Home Alone, and I’m not expecting my family to come back from Paris, anytime soon, so I thought you and I, maybe, since your wife is not here, might want to get together and see what develops, if you know what I mean.”  Randi sashayed toward Freddy, raising first one shoulder, and then the other, causing that expansive bosom to shift and undulate, in what she hoped was an enticing manner.  Freddy found it most uninviting.  
“Develops? Develops?” he asked a second time.  “I can see a lot of trouble developing, Randi, the kind of trouble that ends marriages.  Not interested.  Sorry.”  He backed away, stepping so abruptly, that he tripped over the slumping bag of charcoal, that he had set to one side, after lighting the coals.  He landed on his butt, and just sat there staring up at the now comprehending Randi.  But Randi was no longer looking at Freddy.  She was looking at the sliding glass door, where framed in the light of the living room, was Loretta, staring there with a similar look of comprehension, and Randi understood fully what the look indicated.  
“Whoopsies! Gotta go, Tiger.”  And she had vanished, leaving Freddy facing a very pleased, and very secure-feeling Loretta, who seemed to want to show her affection for him in a special way.  
Freddy forgot to ask her why she was home early. 

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Keep It Simple, Stupid
“You don’t understand.  You never understand.”
“What is it I don’t understand, Honey?”  Even as she asked the question, Martha knew what it was, that Zoe thought she didn’t understand.
“What it’s like to be ripped away from your friends.  What it’s like to be starting out in a new school, without even a new outfit.”  Zoe spat it out there, but it’s not as though it hadn’t been roiling around inside the tiny apartment, since their arrival, in the beginning of August.  Zoe had a month to get acclimated to the SoCal experience, before she had to start her eighth grade year, beginning in a new school, for the third time in her life.  She hated it, but Pops was in the Air Force, and every three years, they got uprooted, to end up in another part of the world, where she had to pick up the pieces and start anew.
“OK, I’ve never been ripped away from my friends, Zoe,” Martha began calmly, just as she always did.  “I’ve been torn away, dragged away and forced apart from my friends, but I have never been ripped away.  What would you like me to say to you?”  Martha was trying a new approach, and it must have worked, because Zoe stomped away, all the way to her spot on the sofa, where she curled up in the fetal position, under her blanket, with her head beneath her pillow.  Martha sighed, but ended up going into the bathroom, so that she could shower and get ready for work.  She had landed a job, working in an elementary school office as the first person that students and parents saw, when they entered the foyer.  Now she was xeroxing all of the first-day packet required to get a new school year off the ground.
She would have to double as school nurse also, once the school year got under way, but she had plenty of experience, and the job was golden.  All she had to do, was get along with the principal, and everything would be good, all but Zoe.  But everyone had to accept what was offered in Kid-dom, and go with the flow.  She had been a military brat also, so she did understand what Zoe was going through.  The fact that she had experienced it, and the fact that she was stronger for it, were two reasons why she allowed it to happen again with her own daughter.
Besides, when she had been growing up, cell phones and FaceBook were still in the planning stages, so kids these days had it hella easier, when it came to moving away, without losing touch, and that was all there was to it.  But easier was still hard, and she’d have to remember that.  Now she had to go to work, leaving Zoe at the apartment of her sister, where Zoe’s cousin Toni lived.  Their apartment was a two-bedroom unit, practically palatial in comparison to Zoe’s, and Toni had her own TV and stereo, which she was allowed to indulge in at all hours.
Toni was going into eighth grade also, so she would be attending the same school as Zoe in September.  The two shared many of the same anxieties, except that Toni was still going to be seeing her old friends, whereas it was all new to Zoe.  The two got along well.  Toni was a little rowdier than Zoe, and the two quickly figured out the routine for getting around Toni’s mom, so they did.  In fact they got so good at it, that they began to plan accordingly.
Thus it was one late morning, that they were in Toni’s room, ransacking her closet for acceptable outfits, and drawing a blank, when Toni’s mom knocked on the bedroom door, and hollered that Toni’s friend Bryn was here, and should she just send her back?  
Toni hollered, “Tell Bryn to get a Diet Pepsi, and we’ll be right out.”
“Bryn’s all right,” Toni explained to Zoe, “she can’t help the way her mom dresses her in the morning. Come on, she’s always got something happening.”
Bryn had it going all right, providing the three of them with a little O.G. Kush, just down from NorCal, with a cousin from El Monte.  It was some dank goodness.   She was interested in shopping for school clothes, except for the one little problem of having no pecuniary measures to defray the cost of the clothing.  That’s not the way she presented her case to Toni and Zoe.  To them she merely said, “Let’s get our mojo on, and get down to Macy’s where I hear they have this fantastic deal on school clothes for new arrivals in LA!”  
Toni figured out the deal right away, but Zoe was clueless.  Not for long.  What Bryn had in mind was a little tag-team effort, with Toni and Zoe staging the age-old caper, of creating a diversion on the main floor where the housewares were located, so that Zoe could do the actual pilfering of a selection of the sickest little matching outfits, which featured these jumpers and blouses in the most attractive of colors and styles.  The best part was that they would not take up a lot of room in Zoe’s empty plastic shopping bag, one of those with a seemingly bottomless capacity for merchandize, currently housing a judiciously crumpled selection of tissue paper, which gave the semblance of some type of purchased clothing in the bag.
What the girls did not count on was a stock clerk, sixteen-year-old Arnie, whose interests had very little to do with stolen merchandize, and everything to do with attractive young girls, and he had been salivating over the three gal-pals, as they had made the rounds, figuring out what they would have Zoe snag.  Any thought that she would not go along with the program, was quickly washed out of Zoe’s mind, when Bryn mentioned the Welcome Back dance that took place the first Friday of each school year, and how they would be the envy of all the other girls.
Zoe had visions of sugar-blossoms dancing in her head, as she waltzed over to the aforementioned rack and hovered in the vicinity, while Toni and Bryn prepared to stage a scene.  KISS was the name of the game: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Bordering the clothing section in Macy’s was the household section, with glassware on display.  The plan was for Bryn to be reaching for something on the housewares rack, when her handbag would innocently knock one long-stemmed wine glass off the rack, and onto the tiled floor.  Nothing was going to muffle that crash, and Bryn would let out a well-timed screech, so that the effect was two-pronged: Crash!  Scream!  The glass was a $5.95 special, that if she ended up having to pay for, was going to mean that each of the three girls, would have to cough up two bucks apiece, for their sixty dollar outfits.  Not bad for ten minutes' work.
It had taken them that long to line up the desired outfits, survey the store, form the plan, and prepare to launch it.  They were so involved in their nefarious dealings, that they failed to adhere to the oldest rule in the book: be aware of what’s around you.  Max, the resident store security engineer was also interested in young girls, only he was a dinosaur, and any chance he had of garnering their interest, ended when the Viet Nam War ended.  He knew it and it pissed him off.  Therefore he carried around a chip on his fleshy shoulders, and kept his finger on the pulse of the traffic on his floor.  His internal radar signaled the approach of the little sweeties, and Max’s antennae were maxed out, his modus operandi, as polished as his rusted-out Rambler.  He was about as competent as a blind witness in a police lineup.  
Except in this case, the lineup featured “suspects” wearing different types of perfume, and the identification was made via nostrils and not eyes.  It was the same only different, in that the girls were just a little too stoned, a little too nervous, a little too loud and just a little too obvious.  Max got excited, as he circled his prey, using the display racks to block him from view, and the carefully placed mirrors, to keep the action in front of him.  Max was as dumb as a newspaper stand, but he’d been working as a security guard, since he figured out that it involved no actual physical labor, to get in the way of his protruding stomach.
It was all over except for the metaphorical pinch, at the exit door, as Zoe headed across the remainder of the store, with her lime green bag in hand.  Max threw caution to the wind, whipping his size elevens into a feverish pitch, circling around but losing sight of her for just a minute, as he made his way down the last aisle and up to her just as she emerged near the exit door. Triumphantly he accosted her, as she stepped out of the side exit door, gently grabbing the back of her elbow, in a none-too-gentle grip, as he squeaked out, “Hold it right there, Sugar Blossom.  You got some explaining to do.”
Abruptly turning to him, she smiled sweetly, and inquired, “Really Fatso?  What would you like to have me explain?”  And as she turned to him, he realized that the lime green bag she was holding out to him was empty, and she was fishing her cell phone out of her pocket, while hitting a button.  “Just let me call Daddy.  He’s a lawyer uptown.” 
Arnie viewed the whole sordid encounter, from off to one side, a smile on his face, a lime green bag in his hands, and a phone number written on his hand, the result of the thirty seconds it had taken him to explain to Zoe what Max was up to, and to get her phone number, so he could ask her to the Welcome Back dance.  
And by the way, after he crumpled up the lime green bag, and made a big deal about depositing it in a nearby trash receptacle, he made sure that it was he who emptied that can later, so her could place the contents off to one side in the alley behind Macy’s for later retrieval.  That way Zoe and her friends would have new outfits for the dance, matching ones, and Arnie would dance every dance.  It was all good.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Designated Parent

Designated Parent
The snow had been cascading down since time began; at least that’s the way it seemed to Andrew, trapped inside with three kids eight and under in age.  He was the designated parent this week; his wife was down in the bay area, whooping it up with her pals.  OK, in reality she was at a kindergarten conference, in San Jose, her former stomping grounds.
“Joey, stop smacking Timmy, or I’m liable to let him smack you back.  So don’t.”  Andrew spoke sternly to him, maybe because it was something Joey had heard before, frequently.
“Well, he won’t quit looking at me.”  Joey had the whine on today, and Andrew was was having none of it.  
“How do you know?”  Andrew asked Joey.
He stared balefully at his pops.  “What do you mean, how do I know?  I can see him.”
Smiling beautifully for the cameras in victory, Andrew came back with, “You have to be looking at Timmy, to know he’s looking at you.  Quit looking at your brother.”
Joey paused as he pondered the ramifications of that thought process, and Andrew took advantage of the silence to ask, “Who’s going to help me do some hay bucking in the barn?”  By “helping,” he simply meant, who would like to come with him to the barn, and who would like to stay here in his room, for the fifteen minutes he would be gone.
As they all struggled into their outdoor clothes, Timmy and Joey helping little Tommy with the intricacies of snow gear, Andrew was monitoring the weather outside, trying to determine if this storm were going to become problematic.  When all were all ready, the four headed on out and split up, when they got to the barn, the boys heading inside, and Andrew to the chicken coop, where he had to break through the ice to make sure they had fresh water.  It was a cold one.
Andrew wrapped things up by dumping extra straw in the barn stalls, to try and keep some of the frozen air, at bay.  Straw was cheap, and mixed well with the manure, to provide the best compost on the mountain.  He was on his way back to the barn, when he heard the boys arguing vehemently amongst themselves, and came around the corner, and into the side door of the structure, to see that the boys had gathered at the far door, and were peering out at something beyond his view.
“What’s up, Men?” Andrew bellowed, as he came in from behind them, startling all three, who convulsively jumped.  
“Dad,” Joey whispered although he could be heard across the barn, so it was more of a stage voiced whisper, than the real McCoy.  “You gotta check old Balderdash out.  He’s acting awfully jenky.  I think he’s got rabies.”
Now it was Timmy who was squawking.  “Not rabies!  Couldn’t be.  He isn’t slobbering, like the dog in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  
Balderdash was the old collie over at the McGovern place, where they ran all of the sheep.  He was a beautiful critter, but he was still a collie, and they were an ultra-sensitive breed.  He’d better take a look.  He and old Mac were old partners, from back in the day, and if there was something wrong with Old Baldy, then he’d expect the same from Mac. 
His first impression was that the boys were right.  He was looking at a dog whose right to life and liberty had been severely compromised.  The burnished colors of Balderdash had faded and his fur was unbrushed and matted.  The dog’s jaw was wide open, seemingly as though he were panting and drooling, only Balderdash did not appear to be doing either the panting or the drooling, as opposed to cocking his head over and over, attempting to work out some sort of logistical problem with his jaw.
Poor Balderdash!, But he still did not seem to be in the snarling, addled state of a dog in the throes of rabies.
The dog’s frame, at first glance, appeared poorly nourished, and at second glance appeared emaciated.  The dog whimpered as Andrew approached, and all of the sudden, Andrew knew what was wrong.  He remembered reading a series of books when he was a kid, entitled Lad, A Dog, and Lad of Sunnybrook, by Albert Payson Terhune, in which the author described a similar situation, and that Balderash’s problem was a piece of mutton bone stuck in the back of his jaw, wedged in between his upper molars and his lower ones, a sort of knuckle-shaped chunk of bone, which prevented the dog from eating or drinking, until some human being, put things to right. Balderdash lived on a farm where sheep had the run of the place. 
It took Andrew about two minutes to remove the piece of knuckle from the dog’s mouth, and then to monitor the poor old guy, so that he could not eat and drink himself to death.  For Balderdash would live to see another day, now that his jaw was restored to working order.  The only thing Andrew still needed to do, was groom Balderdash, and he had three helpers for that task.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Slicky Boys

Slicky Boys
Brad had no idea where he was, when the dude pulled off Highway 101, somewhere in Mendo County, and told him that this was the end of the line, and unless he had some coke with him, the line being over, he had to get out of the Jeep.  And the dude went, straight up that road, that Brad was now standing on, leaving him feeling just a tad disconcerted, not to mention awfully lonely.  He didn’t figure he had too much chance of being picked up in the middle of the night, even if someone should actually come along. 
It was approaching midnight and he'd had no plan, just sort of hoping that he would end up somewhere he could crash for the night.  As it was, he had infinity; all he had to do was pick a spot, and lie down.  Only problem was, it was colder than a witch’s tit, and just as inviting.  
He had seen a sign a few minutes before they stopped, indicating it was still more than ten miles until he got to the next town, some dump called Laytonville.  According to the green road sign, he was standing on Bell Springs Road, so maybe he would just head up this road, until he got to Bell Springs, itself.  Maybe there was some semblance of civilization.  He could sure do with a drink. 
He began trudging up the asphalt road for all of a couple hundred feet, before it turned to gravel.  He didn’t figure he was likely to encounter accommodations, up a dirt road.  He thought about retracing his footsteps back to the 101, but he could see in either direction, and as far as he could see, there were no headlights.  If there were no headlights to begin with, he figured he could make book on the fact that he was not getting a ride tonight.
He could stand by the side of the dirt road, and freeze, or he could walk along, and freeze at a slower pace.  He had half a joint, that he had been saving for when he got situated for the night, but since that was becoming less and less likely, he was beginning to think more about taking a couple of hits, just to keep the old spirits up.  He held off.
He made it up to the first hairpin curve, and figured that nothing was going to be happening on that first stretch anyway, so he might as well keep moving along, at least until maybe the road leveled off.  It was faulty logic, but faulty logic was better than no logic.  He was still waxing forth eloquently, when rounding a bend in the road, he beheld a vision of grandeur, beyond his wildest imagination, a VW bus, curtains and all.
The back engine compartment cover was propped open, and it seemed evident that the old bus was down [once again].  Van down!  Brad just didn’t know what to think about this development, so he didn’t think about it at all.  He made his way over to the iconic hippie roadster, chortling in glee to himself, that his bed and breakfast has just pulled up.
It took him a little more than two minutes to gain entry to the vehicle, and he waited until he was under a layer of blankets and old bedspreads, which were heaped on the cot sized mattress, before he took stock of his situation.  He got out his joint and fired that puppy up.  The bus had compartments the length of one side with the mattress occupying the center, and a little ice chest/mini-sink just behind the passenger seat.  Apparently, a guy could just live here if he wanted.
There was nothing strewn about, so it wasn’t immediately obvious, but he figured if a guy were going to abandon his vehicle, even if only to go to town, he probably would not leave anything of value behind.  Or would he?  Who would ever think that an old hippie bus would have anything of value in it?  The way Brad saw it, he wouldn’t know one way or the other, unless he took a look-see, and if he was going to look around, he was going to do a proper job of it.
He found what he thought he was looking for, in a side compartment, right at the back end of the bus, mixed in with a tool box, a “VW Manual for the Complete Idiot,” and and assortment of chemicals and cleaners.  Sandwiched between the VW manual, and a Chilton’s book on specs, was a thick manilla envelop, that was taped securely shut.  On the outside of this envelope, was taped a bright red and white Campbell’s Soup label, with the words, “One thousand labels!” next to it, with an exclamation point.  Under this, it said, “Miss Prescott’s Fourth grade Class.”
“Just my luck,” he thought, “soup labels,” and it was right then that he realized that there was a vehicle bearing down on him, the headlights appearing on the inside wall of the bus, through a slit in the curtains.  He'd eased back inside by now, and was waiting for the lights to pass, when again, he had to pull his mind back to the present, to realize that the lights had stopped moving, and that they had shifted in the direction of the VW bus.
“Uh oh.  What now?”  He could see two shapes moving, and the beam of a penlight, stabbing at the darkness.  “Shit.  Is this the owner?  In the middle of the night?  Not likely.  Slicky boys, no doubt.  Better exit the building.”  He slipped out the side, still clutching the manilla envelope, and  almost backed into one of those shapes.  In jumping about a foot, he let out a squawk, and when he had regained his footing, he was off like a rabbit, a wounded one, because he realized that the dude he had just encountered, had ahold of his field jacket, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
His mind was a little discombobulated from any one of a number of issues, including the joint, the cold, his exhaustion, the unknown arrivals and the fact that he hadn’t eaten for a week, or at least since lunch, now twelve hours ago.  
“What the fuck?  Let GO of me.”  Brad gave it a good struggle, but he was dwarfed by this opponent; he was sure there was at least one other dude, and he sure as shit did not want to get the crap beat out of him for some Campbell’s Soup labels.  “Here, take these.  I’m sure this is what you are looking for,” and he thrust the envelope right into the face of the shape, knocking him upside the nose, causing it to bleed, and making this guy go ballistic.
The shape let out a bellow, and without hesitating, he sent a roundhouse directly at Brad’s left ear, connecting with a crunching thud.  As Brad absorbed the blow, for the first time he thought idly to himself, that maybe he ought to have just kept on the gold old 101.  Too late now.
With no other thought than to escape the vice-like hands, Brad tried one last maneuver, which involved stomping on the big guy’s toe, and again the shape let out a bellow.  This time the fist that found Brad’s face, was laced with savage anger, and as Brad slammed to the ground, his head made ominous contact with both the side of the VW’s external oil cooler, and a chunk of granite on the ground.
The other shape approached, took it all in, including the Campbell’s Soup Labels envelope, and held out his hand.  Silently the big shape handed it to him, and watched as he tore the end of the envelope off, and took out the big ziplock stuffed to the gills with those thousand soup labels.  Disgustedly, he tossed it aside.  He looked once at Brad on the ground, gestured towards the still waiting headlights, and they left.  Brad did not leave.
The news was on KWNE, at 7:00 the following morning, with Justin Briggs reporting:  “In response to an anonymous early morning phone call, a Mendocino County Sheriff responded to the report of a body located at the 1.02 mile post sign, on Bell Springs Road.  There he found an as-of-yet-unidentified body,  dead of an apparent blow to the head, along with a smattering of Campbell’s Soup labels, of all things, and a substantial amount of cash.  This is Justin Briggs, reporting for KWNE, Ukiah.

In Over My Head

In Over My Head
I recognized immediately that I was in over my head.  There could be no mistake about that.  Let’s face it, I am a school teacher, and school teachers make notoriously bad crooks.  It says so in the manual.  Do not rely on the mealy-mouthed actions of a school teacher, with a sponge-spine, to be able to withstand the rigors of an active crime life.
That being said, I still wanted to come out of the whole thing, solvent.  The way things were going, I was liable to end up back at square one or even worse off, because it was a long winter ahead, on the salary of a school teacher.  It all came down because I have a partner with a brain the size of a peanut, and a mouth the size of a watermelon.
We had this pretty successful grow going, with all of the essential components in place: a phat parcel, beaucoup water, and the finances to back the gig, through to its completion.  I had been in on operations, where the loot gave out in August, leaving a crew one of two options: go to work (gasp) to cover the bills until ship-come-in time, or try to scrape by on the goodwill of the local merchants, relying on past practices to stave off starvation, until some early judicious haircutting, would produce an early infusion of much-needed loot.   
Believe me, the first of the two options is best, because the second one sucks, big time.  Just try and convince my partner that we actually have to pound some nails, or mix some concrete, and you’d think I had suggested that he sacrifice his first-born.  School teachers do not get paid in the summer, for services they are not rendering, with the little darlings of the ‘Ville.
Whatever.  Ultimately, it becomes time to either shit or get off the can, and when push comes to shove, I pretty much get out of the way, preferring to take the course of least resistance, and build a redwood deck, or a stout retaining wall, to get me through to October, when the good times generally roll in with the bad weather.
Even at that, I got us a mellow job, doing a remodel of one of those log cabin kit homes, but one that was originally erected during the Depression.  It had a severely sagging roofline, and the west end of the house, dipped down approximately eight inches, so that if you set a little rubber ball down on the floor, pretty much anywhere, it would gather enough speed while rolling along the floor, that it would bounce nicely, when it got to the end of its journey, and hit the west wall. 
Though daunting, the task of repairing this kind of problem is very straightforward, simply requiring a heavy duty hydraulic jack, to be able to raise the corner of the house on the west wall, to be able to replace the existing foundation, with a more capable model, so that one could recline on the floor, without the blood rushing to your head. 
So what went wrong?  My partner started to flap his jaws to people who would stop by, and he attracted the ear of a local no goodster, named Jake.  Jake was just plain bad news, being a low-principled man, who would as much rob you at gunpoint, as look at you.  He was a rooster of a man, with a way of strutting his bow-legged frame, that made me want to retch.  He had the emotional maturity of tad-pole, and about as much direction in life, gyrating his way through the low-life sector of the ‘Ville with impunity that amazed even the old-timers. 
“He’ll get his,” is all they would say, but unfortunately he got a lot of others’ first, and it galled some of those same old-timers, who shook the collective gray beards, and repeated, “He’ll get his.”
So Dick-Brain, my ex-partner, gets to hobnobbing with this Jake, and the next thing I know, he’s telling me that Jake “has a line” on a buyer for our earliest haircutting efforts, and the price sounded too good to pass up.  I tell D.B. (Dick-Brain) to cool it, because our distribution is already in place.  It was nothing fancy, it did not pay top dollar, and it wasn’t especially fast, but it had been in place forever, and that wasn’t going to change now.  Unless D.B. had his way, that is.
I could see where this was heading, but to save my life, could not figure out a way to avoid it, unless the technology for a brain transplant, was developed quickly enough to influence D.B.  That failing, I listened as the plan was revealed to me, a plan that sounded as jenky as my right knee.  Everything was wrong, including the time (too late), the location (too remote), and the amount (way too high).
I saw visions of unmitigated disaster floating around indiscriminately, and decided to nip it in the bud.  I loudly proclaimed exclusionary privilege, that I was not interested in playing games with tweekers, and that D.B. should do anything he chose, providing he did not come weeping to me, when the shit hit the fan.  Because, I told him, you better believe it is going to make a mess, and one that I had no intention of cleaning up.  Before I stormed off, I made sure I knew all of the salient details of where, what day and what time.
There’s not much else to say.  The proverbial die was cast.  I was either going to sit back and watch fate, in the form of my brainless partner, dictate terms, or I would step in, and realign the temporarily misplaced rule of order.  It made so much more sense to conduct the orchestra myself, so I was waiting when Jake came out of the cabin, with my reefer, my money and a big fat smile on his face.  D.B. would wake up about five minutes from now with a bump the size of a walnut above his left ear, and a headache.  That’s where Jake clipped him with a hunk of oak, that he appeared to be adding to the wood-stove.  I don’t think I could do it myself, knock someone over the head with a piece of oak.
It just takes a little too much machismo for a school teacher.  No, I prefer my little hand pistol, the one which has been in my family since at least the time, when my great-grandfather came over from the old country.  It shoots accurately, if infrequently, and it makes a hell of a statement, especially when the other guy’s weapon is a piece of wood.
See, Jake didn’t figure he needed anything more than a hunk of oak to deal with D.B, but he did not take me into consideration.  Mot people don’t, because, well, I am a school teacher.  But I didn’t get to be a school teacher because I was stupid.  And before I was a school teacher, I ran with an interesting crowd in East San Jose, and I learned how they do it there.  They do it quickly, quietly and cleanly.
When I had buried Jake, plenty deep enough so that the coyotes could not get him, I went back in and made some chamomile tea for D.B, to help that headache that he had, and set about to grade those vocabulary essays, that had just been turned in.  Maybe I could get D.B. to listen and give an opinion, as I tried to choose my “author of the week.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Popcorn, Peanuts and Tums

Popcorn, Peanuts and Tums
Sammy’s dad made him play baseball.  Pops was pretty cool about the whole thing, always offering to play catch along the side yard, where there was a fence at the front and back of the throw-way, so there was minimal chasing down of errant throws.  But still, hitting a ball with a stick, was about as exciting as trying to knock an even smaller ball into a hole, with a different kind of stick.  I don’t know, thought Sammy, all this talk about balls and sticks...
Still Sammy tried.  He tried when his pops pitched the ball to him; pops wanted to throw it hard, to match what Sammy saw during games, but also wanted Sammy to just knock the cover off the ball, and that wasn’t going to happen if he heaved it in there top speed.  So he kept up with the elaborate wind-up, giving the impression that it was pure speed being delivered, instead of warmed-over oatmeal.  It was pretty evident from his teammates’ perspective, that Sammy sucked as a baseball player.
For appearance’s sake, Sammy kept up the facade, and his dad kept on hoping that Sammy would eventually grow into that baseball mitt, the one that seemed to function on its own, an extension of the smooth fielder who wielded it.  Sammy would have been happy to play right field the rest of his baseball career, getting his one fly ball per game, most of them uncatchable liners down the line, by the gratuitous southpaw.  There was one of those peckers who generally made an appearance each game.
And Sammy still hadn’t figured out the batting part of the dawg and pony show.  Poor Sammy.  Hitting a ball, thrown at him at rocket speed, was as likely to occur as it was that it would start snowing, in July, in SoCal, where the last time they saw snow, the city declared a holiday, even if the snow was already gone, by the time the word went out, that there was a snow day in effect.
Sammy’s dad would sit in the stands, cheer rambunctiously, and munch popcorn, peanuts, and Tums, mixing the three in such a way, that there was never any realization that there was anything being consumed, but popcorn and peanuts, and maybe some iced cold lemonade, just in case his stomach was still functioning normally.
Sammy’s team was comprised of the typical components of your average team.  There was the slugger, who sneered contemptuously at Sammy when Sammy tried to hit a baseball, but sniveled like a toy poodle, when it came to trying to figure out to write an essay, describing how he spent his summer vacation.  Sammy’s composition was neatly word-processed, and in the homework basket, before he even took his seat on the morning after the homework essay was assigned.  The slugger’s essay was still in the planning stage, the one that included Sammy, who was pressed into service regularly.
The team also included Billy, a kid Sammy used to chill with in elementary school, but now that they were in middle school, Sammy was just not quite there, as far as popularity was concerned, so Billy didn’t want to be seen any more than necessary, hanging out with his fifth grade bud, Sammy.  It was all a little sad, thought Sammy, because the two of them had done some good work together in that vacant lot, the one with all the piles of dirt on it, that had been dumped when a local storm drain project was being implemented county-wide.
No one, not team members, coaches or parents thought they were going to contend for first place.  There were just one or two Sammys too many, to expect that they were going to be able to compete with the hated Dodgers.  No, the best they could hope for, was to play the Dodgers on their own terms, in the two meetings they had each season.  Unfortunately for Sammy’s team, playing the Dodgers on their own terms, usually included getting pounded.
The first meeting had resulted in a 10-1 shellacking, missing being classified as a slaughter, by one measly run.  Now they were playing the second game, and the universe had shifted abruptly, in that there was actually a game going on, as opposed to a slaughter.  The score was 2-1 Dodgers, in the bottom of the sixth, the last inning of the tense contest.
Sammy’s team had managed to get the first two batters on, but they were still clinging to first and second base, unable to advance on the Dodgers’ catcher, a kid with a cannon for an arm.  When the next two had struck out on the slow change-up, after being setting it up fastballs, it was up to Sammy.  Pops had seen it all unfolding, dreading the fact that Sammy was going to be put in the position of being a goat, with all of the drama that it entailed, especially as soon as the front door shut behind them, upon their arrival home.  Pops saw it all quite clearly.
` Sammy saw it clearly enough too.  He saw a pitcher throwing fastballs that he could never hit, if he spent the rest of his life trying.  So he didn’t try.  He did not flail uselessly, messing up his timing for the more palatable change-up, that floated across the plate so invitingly, but that hitters invariably missed, because their swings were influenced by all that furious waving at fastballs.
Therefore, for the first time in memory, Sammy felt as though he had a chance.  No one else did, including Sammy’s pops, but that was immaterial.  It was Sammy who took a full swing at an 0-2  change-up, that floated in like a big fat grapefruit.  Sammy took a mighty rip at that pitch, and popped it up.  Straight up in the air it went, majestically arcing its way into the heavens, but unfortunately, within easy range of the pitcher’s mound, where one of the most sure-handed fielders roamed.  It was all over but the handshakes at the end of the game.
Except that the pitcher, ever the gloveman extraordinaire, lost the ball in the sun, and the two base-runners, who had been running on a two-out, two-strike count, scored the tying and winning runs, while Sammy ended up on second, with a game-winning double.  The official scorer, accurately ruled that botched pop-up was not an error, because the fielder had lost it in the sun.  Therefore it was scored a double, and would look the same as a screaming liner to the wall, in the box score the next morning.   
Sammy the hero.  He figured he’d better enjoy it while it lasted.  Maybe he could even work up the courage to tell that slugger to write his own damn essay; after all, Sammy had hit his own game-winning double, and didn’t care if the slugger sneered anymore, because Sammy was a hero.