Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dawn route

I sit in silence every morning, waiting," Cooper said, clutching the coffee mug tightly and swirling the dirty liquid around gently. "It isn't necessarily a conscious thing, mind you, but it's pretty obvious what I'm doing."

"Why do you say that?" Don asked softly, his carefully trained voice avoiding any tones that might be construed as judgmental.

"Because that's what I'm doing, waiting," Cooper replied, fighting to keep the irritation out of his voice so that Don wouldn't make one of his obvious notes in his damned notebook. Don looked at him thoughtfully.

"And what are you waiting for?"

"That's the strange part," Cooper said, "I'm waiting for me."

"Really, how so?"

Cooper sighed and chewed thoughtfully on his upper lip. He could feel Don's unblinking eyes staring at him, waiting.

"It's a long story."

"We still have 40 minutes left in the session," Don said looking at his watch. "Is that long enough."

Cooper nodded.

"Well, then how do you happen to be waiting for yourself every morning?"

Cooper set the coffee mug down on the table next to the arm chair and leaned back, lacing his hands behind his head.

"When I was 10 years old, I badgered my parents into letting me take on this paper route," he began. The sound of Don's pen scratching diligently on the pad of paper was maddeningly loud, but he struggled to shut it out and continue. "It wasn't a daily paper, just one of those weekly throw-a-ways . I think it had some creative name like The Advertiser. Anyway, I wanted to earn some extra money to buy something ...shit, what was it? A raccoon, I think. I'd just seen a Walt Disney film about a boy who raised a pet raccoon and I decided I wanted one. My parents didn't really want me to have one. They figured I'd abandon it like I had my parakeets or my Sea Monkeys. It wasn't the same though. Sea Monkeys are just brine shrimp. They're boring. I let them dry up. A raccoon would have been different. It would have been a companion."

Don's pen picked up speed.

"But ," Cooper continued, "I moped and whined and cried until they agreed to let me have a raccoon, on the condition that I pay for it myself. Now, raccoons cost $30 and my parents paid me 50 cents allowance every two weeks. I guess they figured I'd never be able to save the 30 bucks so they wouldn't have to deal with another abandoned pet. But then I approached them about the paper route.

My mother was opposed to it. Said I was much too young for that kind of responsibility. Said I'd never be able to get up early in the morning. She also said that it wasn't safe for a young boy to be riding around on his bicycle before sunrise. I'd be hit by a car or dragged off by a child molester. My mother was a master at imagining and conveying the terrors awaiting unsupervised children. To this day, I can't accept a stick of gum from anyone without a tinge of guilt."

Don't pen scratched furiously. Cooper frowned.

"It was dad who finally said I could get the paper route. Said it would be good for me. Said I'd learn that money didn't grow on trees. I really hate that cliche. It's a stupid analogy. He's the one that one that spent years of his life trying to figure out how to get rich quick in effortless schemes that always backfired. Anyway, I got the paper route.

It was the evening before my route was to begin. My mom bought me this electric alarm clock with a god-awful buzzer. Damn electric clocks have no character. They don't even tick. They just hum and glow. And then when the alarm goes off it's like being sapped with a cattle prod. So, I had my alarm set for 4 a.m. and my bicycle all loaded with the folded newspapers. I could have used rubber bands and rolled up the newspapers. That would have been easier. But rubber bands cost money. And I'd figured it out that I would be that much closer to getting my raccoon if I didn't squander my earnings on luxury items such as rubber bands.

Anyway, the bike was loaded down with the newspapers. I think there was a hundred or so. My dad had mounted this huge ugly basket on the front of the bike. The damn thing was so packed with newspapers, that even I had doubts as to how well I'd be able to navigate it. It was one of those Sting Ray bikes. Well, at least it looked like one. Remember those. They had the tall handle bars and the banana seats. Sting Rays -- named after those underwater things on Sea Hunt. Don't know why. They didn't look anything like a sting ray. Mine was a generic version, anyway. It looked like a Sting Ray but it was called a Play Bike. It was cheaper than a Sting Ray.

I went to bed early. It was still light outside. I was too nervous to sleep. I tossed and turned and sweated. Every 5 minutes or so I'd glance at that electric clock buzzing away the seconds. It was torture for me to go to bed early. When I was a kid, I was a night person. I'd stay up as late as possible. And I dreaded getting up in the morning. On weekends I'd sleep until 11 or as late as noon. Getting up a 4 a.m. was a major sacrifice. But I really wanted that raccoon.

Somehow I managed to drift off to sleep. Seemed like minutes. Next thing I knew that damned clock was sending wave after wave of shocks through my system. I slapped it off and stepped out of bed. That's when the first wave of dread swept over me."

Don looked up from his scratching pen, one eyebrow raised in an uncharacteristic emotional reaction.


Cooper nodded. "I'd never been totally awake at 4 a.m., at least not long enough to register any emotions or reactions. I'd layed all of my clothes out the night before. I pulled them around me, grabbed a flashlight and went out to the patio where my bike was waiting.

I've always assigned human emotions to places and times in my life. Maybe emotion isn't the right word. There's just this atmosphere or feeling places take on. Smells, temperature, light and sound combine to create an entity. Maybe it's just a memory. But, I felt it that morning. The familiar was foreign.

I wheeled my bike to the front yard. There was this heightened sense of awareness. Every sound was magnified. The gate latch boomed down. Cold metal struck cold metal. The shriek of the gate and the scratch of gravel as it swung open scrapping along the driveway. It was spring, but there was a touch of winter holding onto the pre-dawn. I remember a mist floating around the line of streetlights dotting the road. It reminded me of this Outer Limits television program I'd seen. Remember that program?"

Don smiled and nodded.

"Well, there was this one show where an entire neighborhood had been transported over night to another planet. That's what this morning felt like. I was alone for the first time in my life. I peddled into the night, fighting this constant urge to look over shoulder. An adult would have recognized it as mild paranoia induced by the newness of the experience. But I was only 10 for Christ's sakes. I peddled that overloaded bike down the dark streets with the breath of Satan himself breathing down my neck and laughing. And I don't even believe in Satan. But that morning, I did. It seemed logical and rational that he would exist.

I'd figured the route out in the reasonable light of day. I'd park my bike at the head of each block and deliver the papers on foot. Luckily it was one of those papers that are delivered free to everyone in a neighborhood. Every house got one so I was spared the labor of trying to pinpoint subscribers. It was a simple route.

I parked the bike, loaded several papers into a bag I'd strapped to my shoulder, and begin walking along the first street on the route. It was like being on a movie lot after hours. The house fronts seemed like facades, carefully painted on the front and propped up with two-by-fours and sandbags on the back. I began tossing the papers on to steps of houses. The dark windows of the houses stared at me like cold fish eyes. An occasional porchlight cast a feeble glow onto the sidewalk, giving me just enough light to fight back the panic I felt and start running. When I finally emptied the newspaper bag, I did run, icy wind whipping my face and the devil laughing even louder as the newspaper bag slapped against my thigh.

I managed to zig-zag my way through the suburban streets, tossing paper after paper in the direction of porches. Many lodged in bushes and trees. But I didn't care. As I worked the route, the panic grew. And by some strange trick of the clock, it didn't seem to get any lighter. It seemed like hours since I'd left the warmth and familiarity of my bedroom. So, I began imagining that I had indeed been spirited off to another world -- a world of perpetual darkness and endless streets.

It was toward the end of the route that the panic eased a bit. It was a rural part of the neighborhood. The lines of houses were broken by stretches of fenced pastures where horses slept standing up, shifting occasionally in a pre-dawn stupor. Perhaps it was the presence of other living creatures that soothed me. I began enjoying the strange world I had been thrust into. A surge of power swept over me as I wheeled along broken sidewalks and thought of the faceless people trapped within the silent houses. And for a few delicious moments, I was free from fear.

But then it dawned on me that I didn't recognize where I was. I swear to God that I was passing houses that didn't belong in my neighborhood. I mean, it was my neighborhood, but it wasn't. And I knew that neighborhood well. I'd been all over it on my bike -- in the daytime. But this world of shadows and undefined shapes wasn't part of the place I knew.

I reached into my bag. There was only one paper left. All I had to do was deliver it and the route would be finished. And, there was only one house left. It was a small house, a shack really, surrounded by ancient trees. That's what was so odd about it. The area was farmland turned into suburbs. There weren't any trees. At least there weren't any mature trees. These trees would have had to have been growing for at least a hundred years. It wasn't right. I knew it wasn't right, but I had one last paper. I walked up this overgrown path to the house. It was old. Even in the darkness I could sense how old it was. But at the same time it seemed new. It doesn't make sense, but at the time that's exactly what it seemed like.

And what really terrified me was a single light illuminating one of the front windows. One glowing eye in the house's face. One accusing eye. Ok, so I could have just thrown the paper at the front door and run. It would have been so simple just to toss the damn thing and bolt back to my bike and leave behind this nightmare. But that light in the window drew me as if I were one of those moths that throws itself against your bedroom window screen in the summer. I crept toward the window. The shade was drawn to within ... oh, maybe six inches of the window sill. I inched forward and pressed my face up to the dirty glass.

It was a one-room house. There wasn't much in the way of furnishings. A couple of mismatched chairs like you'd get for $5 from Goodwill, a simple square pine table and a lamp. I was mesmerized by the room, mesmerized and horrified. Sitting at the table was an old man. I couldn't tell you how old he was. Somehow, I got the feeling he'd been there as long as the trees that hugged the house. He had his elbows on the table and cradled his face in his hands. His hair was that jaudice-yellow white color that cotton takes on after sitting abandoned in a trunk for years. He wore a faded flannel shirt and workman's pants, spotted with paint and tar. A dirty, white mug with a jagged crack down one side sat in front of him on the table. I close my eyes and I can see it all so perfectly -- a crystal holigraphic image etched on my brain.

I don't know how long I watched the man. I told you how time was distorted. It could have been 5 seconds or 5 hours. I don't know. But, I remember shifting to get a better look and my foot kicked a rock or stick. It cracked against the side of the house, echoing like a firecracker in my hypersensitive ears. I froze in terror. At first, the old man didn't move. Then he lowered his hands and slowly turned his head. I watched in morbid fascination. I had to see his face.

The old man now stared directly at me, and instead of registering shock or fear his face held this look of weary recognition. He raised a hand and crooked a finger at me, beckoning me to come in. My mouth opened to scream, but it was like one of those nightmares where you try to scream and can't. But, you wake up from nightmares.

It was as if he sensed what I was experiencing and he grinned, this awful, death's head grin. That's when I recognized him. He started to get up from the chair. I fought the paralysis holding my body in place and twirled away from the window. I managed to run. There was no sensation other than a blur of faint street lights and damp air whipping my face. I tripped over the paper bag and tumbled into a bush or hedge. Branches tore at my face and ripped my clothing. I fought as if a pack of demons had surrounded me. I fought for my life and broke free.

Somehow I found my bike and leaped onto it, immediately peddling with some newly tapped strength. As I rode, the sky lightened. Familiar sounds of barking dogs and car engines being warmed-up began to register in my brain. I slowed to catch my breath and burst into tears as I approached the block I lived in. I had the presence of mind to quell the tears and wipe off most of the dirt and twigs from my clothes before entering my parent's house. Still, my mother knew something had happened. I explained that I'd fallen off my bike. She accepted the explanation but there was a puzzled look in her eyes. I changed clothes. As I took off the paper bag, I realized it still had the last newspaper in it. I shoved the thing under my bed. Then I ate breakfast and went to school. That evening I called the newspaper and quit my first job. Neither of my parents said another word about it. I never saved enough money to buy a raccoon. The whole incident got buried in the process of growing up. That's it, end of story. What do you think, Don?"

Don looked stunned. His pencil lay dormant in his hand. "Well, er...uh... very interesting. I'm sure we'll be able to gain some insights by examining what actually happened versus how your mind recalls the incident."

"I recalled the incident exactly as it happened," Cooper said.

"I'm sure you feel that way, Cooper," Don replied flipping through the pages of his notes. "But, we now need to determine why this story explains how you find yourself...let's see, 'waiting for yourself' every morning."

Cooper chuckled and shook his head. "You don't get it do you, Don? I recognized the old man's face and he recognized me. The story's not over. I see the face everyday." He leaned over and cradled his face in his hands.

"In your mind?" Don asked with a puzzled look.

Cooper lifted his face from his hands and grinned.

"In my mirror," Cooper said, the grin turning into a painful grimace. "And I still haven't got my morning paper."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It ain't paradise

They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

--Joni Mitchell
The wood is gone. I look back in nostalgia at the time I spent with that wood...the heated disputes with the tree service that cut the trees down, the infestation of yellow jackets, the hours spent trying to get rid of the oversize rounds of wood and finally the quality time splitting and stacking it. Yes, there were some good times.

I did manage to get someone to hall the wood away AND pay me $50. So, considering the amount of time it took me to split the wood I figure I made $1.19 an hour off the wood. Of course, I need to factor in the cost of the sledgehammer and that nifty new splitting maul with the unbreakable fiberglass handle. And then there were the three wedges (two of which are are still wedged somewhere in an unsplittable piece of wood). Plus there was the $750 I had to pay the evil tree service to cut the trees down in the first place. So net, I'm in the red $775.

But I have my health.

Though the irony about the person who did buy the wood was that they were buying it to take up to the woods to their cabin. I cut down two trees in the city and someone buys the wood to take it to a cabin in the forest. What would be even more ironic would be if we end up buying a new house that has a wood burning fireplace and I have to pay someone $200 for a cord of wood.

Wouldn't that be funny? Ha, Ha.

Good thing life cracks me up.

I kind of miss the wood, though.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A rose by any other name...

Myth: The word "crap" is derived from Thomas Crapper's name.

The origin of crap is still being debated. Possible sources include the Dutch Krappe; Low German krape meaning a vile and inedible fish; Middle English crappy, and Thomas Crapper. Where crap is derived from Crapper, it is by a process know as, pardon the pun, a back formation. The World War I doughboys passing through England brought together Crapper's name and the toilet. They saw the words T. Crapper-Chelsea printed on the tanks and coined the slang "crapper" meaning toilet.

The legend of Thomas Crapper takes its flavor from the real man's life. While Crapper may not be the inventor of the product he is most often associated with, his contribution to England's plumbing history is significant. And the man's legend, well, it lives on despite all proof to contrary.

--Excerpt from Plumbing and Mechanical - June 1993
I particularily like the line that "The legend of Thomas Crapper takes its flavor from the real man's life."

As usual, a simple Google search turned up a veritable plethora of material dedicated to the debate over whether or not Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet. For all intents and purposes, he did not. And as you can see from the blurb above, we can't really even attribute the word "crap" to the man. What we do know is that Thomas Crapper was a plumber and he did market a version of the flush toilet that bears his name to this day. There is even a where you can buy all the Crappers you've ever dreamed of.

More important than the fascination people seem to have about Thomas Crapper is the amazing amount of reference materials out there about toilets. Judging from the number of toilet experts out there, the British seem to be particularily obsessed about the mechanics of waste removal. A case in point is the book Thunder, Flush and Thomas Crapper by Adam Hart-Davis.

Adam's book is truly an A to Zed (as the British say) guide to all things related to bathroom functions. There's even an entry titled, Zen and the Art of Excretion. If you are the type of person who likes to read on the John, this would be a great book for you. For example, check out this definition of crap:

The Oxford English Dictionary says that crap means the husk of grain or chaff, a name of some plants---buckwheat and rye-grass---the residue formed from boiling fat, the dregs of beer or ale, money and so on. There is no mention of either rubbish or shit. The second edition admits, as the seventh meaning, excrement, defecation (coarse slang), with a first use in 1898, and the verb `to crap' meaning to defecate, in use since 1846. In the US, `crapper' means lavatory; one theory is that the word was brought back by American troops serving in Britain during the First World War who were impressed by Thomas Crapper's products. But if the word `crap' was used to mean defecate as far back as 1846, Thomas Crapper cannot have been responsible, since he was only ten years old at the time.
Not to be outdone by the British, we Americans have our share of toilet tomes out there. There's the Official Outhouses Tour of America Web site. They proudly proclaim, "Outhouse Tour Forms in the Rear!" Okay, you've had to wade through all of this crap because I promised to share the new poem I've been working on about Thomas Crapper. I suppose it could be a song as well. It's just something that came to me out of the blue...or the crap in my mind. Anyway, here goes:

If I was Thomas Crapper, I'd probably come in a plain brown wrapper,
Because who would want to go through life, being referred to as a Crapper?
He didn't invent the toilet, after all,
But who'd want to be thought of every time nature calls?
Every king has his throne, and Thomas Crapper built his own,
It wasn't very plush, but you could count on it to flush.
He was a plumber to the crown, so why do people put him down?
If he didn't install the royal Loo, the palace would be in deep doo-doo.
If you give it a lot of thought, at least Thomas decided to shit and get off the pot.
So here's to Thomas Crapper,
If he'd been born today, he' d be a Rapper.
This poem may make you yawn,
But what do you expect from verse that's about a John?
The End (get it?)

Maybe I should have written more about the Gaboon Viper, instead. Sigh.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Horned viper

This is not a photo of a horned viper

Just for the randomness of it, I decided to open up the dictionary and pick the first entry I put my finger on and somehow work it into a blog entry. I figured this would be a great way to expand my vocabulary and hone my skills at random spewing of crap with the appearance that I have a clue what I'm talking about (some call this marketing).

I of course opened my battered copy of Webster's Super New School And Office Dictionary and hit on the entry "horned viper: a venomous snake of northern Africa with a horny protuberance over each eye."

Here's what they look like:

These are not to be mistaken for the Gaboon Viper, the largest African viper. And I don't know about you, but I really like the sound of Gaboon Viper. Sounds like a character Vin Diesel would play. "What's your name, scum?" the bad guy would ask Vin. He'd glance up without emotion and say, "Gaboon. Gaboon Viper." Then he'd beat the shit out of the bad guy.

But I digress. Back to the horned viper. For some reason it reminds me of something this mechanic I used to take my car to when I lived in Idaho would have used in a sentence. His name was Don and he owned Riverside Automotive. What was distinctive about Don wasn't his mechanical abilities, but his incomprehensible use of the English language. He spoke his own pecular Idaho dialect interspersed with every known swear word known to man. So if Don used the phrase "African viper" in a sentence, it would probably sound something like this:
We had better'n jimmy out them guddamned horned vipers offen the windshill afor it reins or youse ain't gonna being seeing shit orn Shinola out it.
He would then take a drag off the cigarette that dangled from his lip and then cough up something disgusting on an oil soaked rag. I kind of miss Don.

Oh well, enough about the African viper. Maybe tomorrow I'll wax poetic in greater detail about the Gaboon Viper. Or maybe I'll share the poem I've been working on about Thomas Crapper. So many ideas.

The world certainly is my oyster.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Burn out

"I'm not your monkey."
--Jon Stewart (on the CNN program, Crossfire after being told to say something funny)

There was a juncture in my life when I had to come to terms with what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was a toss up between an artist, an astronaut, a psychologist or a writer. I was a bit too practical to go the artist route due to an adversion to starving and berets (though I do like to wear black). My eyesight before Lasik surgery sucked and I couldn't fathom joining the airforce, so that ruled out being an astronaut. I think I am emotionally screwed up enough to be a psychologist, but the thought of listening to people whine all day seemed too depressing to me.

So that left being a writer (though there was a point I was seriously considering repairing vacuum cleaners for a living). Being a writer kind of encompassed all of the other things I was tempted to do. As with being an artist, writing provides a creative outlet that can be channeled into a career that actually pays the rent (provided you are not set on being a novelist). You can write a story where you pretend to be an astronaut. And I'll be damned if writing isn't akin to having the biggest group therapy session in the world without paying $150 an hour.

But one of the downsides of being a writer, is being expected to produce work whether you are inspired or not. Being creative on demand is not an easy thing to do. I think this is the number one reason Creative Writing classes are a major crock of Shinola. There is nothing more damaging to the creative spirit than to be assigned a "think out of the box" essay in one thousand words or less.

Give me a break.

Having a journalism degree, does, however, train you to write without inspiration. It pretty much provides you with a formula to follow and just crank out crap when you have to. Slap the who, what, where, when and how into an inverted pyramid and you have yourself a story the average person can skim over.

The real challenge is when people expect you to entertain them. Or more precisely, the real challenge is when you think you need to write to enterain people on a consistent basis. Nothing leads to writer's block or creative constipation than trying to write what you "think" people will be interested in. For one, there is no single topic that will appeal to everyone. You can drive yourself crazy if you start looking for things to write about that you hope will please people. I think it was Ricky Nelson who said, "You can't please everyone, so you have to please yourself."

I can't believe I have resorted to quoting Ricky Nelson. But that is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I don't care if quoting Ricky Nelson is pitiful. Maybe it comes from experience. Maybe it comes from age. Maybe it's divine inspiration and a major epiphany that I had in my sleep. I have found that zone where I write what I want to write. Or at least in this blog I write what I want. I am not writing for a publisher, a boss, or an audience.

And who cares if it is random and boring crap. It's my random and boring crap. To be honest with you, it amuses me regardless of whether you read it or not. That is why you can often find me sitting alone on the bus chuckling to myself (not unlike my dear departed Uncle Ira who used to sit in his room alternately laughing and then muttering that the Red Chinese were tunneling under the house to get him).

But I digress.
I guess this diatribe stems from a blog entry I read on I have 2 Belly Buttons. I guess it is my way of trying to say to Shandi that we all battle with blog burnout and frustration at what the value of what we are saying is. But in my humble opinion, the point of blogging is simply to express yourself and write for writing sakes.

But if anyone wants to send me cash, I'll accept that, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Johnny can't read

Bored as you may be with blog entries about wood, I couldn't resist a sidebar about what is happening with all the wood I split over the past few weeks. I went online again and placed an ad on Craig's List with the headline: Approx. 1 cord split firewood/you haul - $50.

In the body of the ad, I explained briefly about having two trees cut down and splitting and stacking it. I also included a photo of the stack of wood. So today, I get a response to the ad that read simply:
Hello, I'm interested in your wood. Approximately how much is there?
Okay, call me a pervert, but having a strange man send me an e-mail that says he is interested in my "wood" and how much is there was kind of disturbing. I resisted my initial urge to respond, "How much can you handle?"

Now beyond the double meaning of wood in some circles, the e-mail disturbed me in another way. Because the ad clearly states there was about one cord of split firewood. And there was a photo of it. So to ask me approximately how much wood there is gives me every right to want to pummel the idiot with one of the logs. If you don't know how much a cord of firewood is, you shouldn't be playing with fire. A cord is a stack of wood 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and 8 feet long.

But perhaps, once again, I'm being harsh. At least he phrased his question with a complete sentence. I received one reply that said, "i'll take it." That's it.

Perhaps I'm expecting too much from people that read Craig's List.

But I'll keep you posted on who or what ends up with my wood.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Finishing a beginning

"Remember to never split an infinitive.
The passive voice should never be used.
Do not put statements in the negative form.
Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
A writer must not shift your point of view.
And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
Don't overuse exclamation marks!!
Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
Always pick on the correct idiom.
The adverb always follows the verb.
Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives."
--William Safire

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

Okay, cliches aside, I finished splitting the wood. Let's not rehash why the felled trees were lying like beached whales in my backyard attracting bugs and blackberry vines. Suffice it to say, the 25-30 something odd rounds of conifer wood have been taunting me since last September when I had two trees "removed" from my backyard by the tree service from hell.

And as I've established in earlier posts, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to get rid of 18-inch rounds of conifer wood that has not been split. I even called Trashbusters and they were in quite the quandry as to how to haul it despite their claim that they "haul anything." They finally quoted me a figure very close to a thousand dollars to get rid of the wood. And that involved something akin to a convoy of Trashbuster truck working round the clock for days.

So, as you may recall, I decided to split the wood myself. And I left you hanging with the impression that, after leaving two wedges appropriately wedged in a particularily knotty section of the tree, I had left the wood splitting project unfinished as many of the projects I've started in my life have been left.

But, I am proud to say that is not the case. In the past couple of weeks I have diligently donned my mirror-lensed protective glasses and my leather workman's gloves and attacked the wood one round at time. And here is photographic proof that I accomplished what I set out to do: split the wood to a level that rational people in need of firewood will take it off my hands without a struggle.

Above you see my sledgehammer, my splitting maul and my remaining wedge. The other two wedges are still buried in this nasty piece of wood.

This is the last of the megarounds of wood. And buried in it, posed for action, is my other splitting maul with the unbreakable, fiberglass handle. See the log's smug look of defiance? Little does it know that its log days were numbered.

Above you see the climactic point that makes splitting wood so satisfying.

And then the final blow and the wedge splits the errant log. Where's your smug smile, now Mr. Tree Round!

Finally the log is cleft and fallen, waiting to be split yet again to a manageable size.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a wood pile of heroic proportions! It's accomplishments like these that separate us from the animals (that and opposible thumbs).

But I must admit, once the realization dawned on me that I had actually completed something and the euphoria of that accomplishment had surged through me, I was filled with a sense of emptiness and dread. I mean, now that I've finished a project, doesn't that mean the pressure will be on to finish other things I start?

This can't be good. It's like climbing Mount Everest and realizing you've raised the bar a bit to high in your life. It's little wonder Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and has spent the rest of his days shaking his head and muttering.

Oh well, it's done. No use crying over split wood. And tomorrow is another day to lower the bar.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Eugene Arthur H****
As so many people prepare to celebrate Father's Day tomorrow, it makes me think that I am not caught up in the scramble to send dad a tie or socks. My father died Jan. 4, 1992 of stomach cancer at the age of 76.
It's not that I would have bought him a tie if he was alive today, anyway. He rarely wore ties because he worked in a warehouse for 25 years and then became a custodian at the local college when the warehouse closed down. He hated wearing ties anyway because they choked him. I inherited that sentiment (though I am forced to don the yoke of oppression more often then he did).

So, because I can't give my father anything material anymore, I decided to dedicate a blog entry to him. Because, as I grow older and have experienced the world I realize that my father, despite his faults, was truly a good and honest person.

His nickname was Peanuts. Though only a smattering of childhood friends called him that. The story goes that, back when he attended Garfield Elementary School (the same grade school I ended up going to) he had a crush on a girl. And to express his affection, he ran a mile to her home to give her a bag of peanuts.
That was my father in a nutshell (I couldn't resist).

Peanuts was born in Portland, Oregon in 1915. We don't know who his natural parents were. He spent his first five years in an orphanage. My grandparents apparently responded to an ad in the newspaper and adopted him. My grandfather -- Eugene Chester H**** -- gave my father his name. My grandmother -- Walburga Gertrude L***** -- gave him her love.

Of course we didn't know any of this until my grandmother died when my father was in his late 50s. My father had no recollection of being adopted. Relatives wrote him a letter after his adopted mother died and matter of factily asked if Wally had ever mentioned that he was adopted. It did trigger a memory that whenever his mother's relatives would visit, they referred to him as the "little Bastard." He'd always attributed it to other things.

We'll likely never know who dad's real parents were. The courts have no record of them.
Anyway, dad's new parents moved him from the Oregon Coast where they operated a tent city vacation resort to Boise, Idaho in about 1925. This is coincidentally the same year my mother was born in Boise. They were destined to meet 25 years later in 1950 and get married.

I don't know much about my father's early life. I know he liked to hunt pheasant and fish with his friends. I know he graduated from Boise High School in 1936 at age 21. Apparently during the five years he was in the orphanage, he'd suffered from a growth on his throat that affected his ability to speak. My grandparents had the problem corrected, but he didn't start school until he was nine and was always older than his classmates from then on.

My father's hair was gray by the time he graduated high school. It was white by the time he was in his 30s. This made him always appear even older than he was.

When the war broke out, my father was drafted. Rather than enter the army, he immediately went to the local navy recruiter and enlisted before the draft board actually called him. He ended up being assigned to a sub tender and was a Torpedoesman First Class. His entire time in the Navy was spent repairing the motors on dummy Torpedoes. He never saw action. The most exotic place he saw was the Panama Canal. The only real skill he brought out of his time in the service was how to swear.

When he got out of the Navy, he returned home and started working for the Salt Lake Hardware Company. He became a supervisor in their warehouse. For recreation, he still hunted, fished and of all things, roller skated. That's where he met my mother. She was 25 and he was 35 and still living at home. She worked at a bank.

My mother recalls when my father proposed, he asked her, "Would you like to get married, and things?" She always laughed about what the "and things," might be.

As I've chronicled in another blog entry, my father built a house right next door to my grandparents house on property they gave him. In a year or so my brother Ted Eugene H**** was born. My other brother Dan Everett H**** was born in 1954 and I, Tim Edwin H****, was born in 1958.

My father was 43 by the time I was born. His hair was completely white. I remember working on the roof of my grandmother's garage once and an old man went by and hollered up that I was a good boy for helping my grandpa. Dad was pissed. But he refused to dye his hair for fear of what the guys at work would say.
Every year, my father would use his two weeks vacation to take us camping at one of two of his favorite places in the mountains. He taught my brothers and I to fish. He taught my oldest brother to hunt. He lost the stomach for killing things by the time I was of age.

When my father was 55, the warehouse closed. I remember his panic at being out of work at a time most men could see retirement in the rear view mirror. He quickly took a job with the state at the local college as a custodian. As with his other job, he did it with pride and taught me to respect every one's profession, no matter how society tends to view it. He worked for years in the men's dorm that housed most of the Boise State Broncos football team. They ended up adopting him.

My father retired ten years later. His passion at that time continued to be the Boise State Broncos football team. He would mow lawns in the neighborhood to save money to buy his season tickets. And everyday when they practised he would ride his old Schwinn bike to Bronco Stadium to watch them. He would carry hard candy in his jacket pocket and throw it to the football players. That provided him with a new nickname. Peanuts became the "The Candyman." A local news program even did a segment on him.

My father's other passion was the search for buried treasure. He would spend his evenings poring over books and magazines dedicated to lost treasures of the west. He would make weekly trips to the library. I credit him for fostering my love of books.

Finally, on a trip home to Boise after I'd gone away to Seattle to finish college, I noticed my father's finger was bleeding. I asked him what he'd done and he looked puzzled. When I left to go back to Seattle, I urged my mother to get him to a doctor (not an easy request since they were Christian Scientists). A week later, she called me and said a doctor had diagnosed the problem with his finger as a tumor. They amputated it and did tests. Cancer had spread through his body, but was concentrated in his stomach.

I flew back to Boise. It was Christmas of 1991. Dad was bedridden and in constant pain. I helped my mom take care of him those two weeks. I'll always remember holding him he cried about how bad the pain was. And I was reminded of the times he'd held me in the same way and comforted me over some scrapped knee or cut.

My father died at home in January of 1992. He was cremated. At his own request, there was no funeral. That summer, my brothers and I drove with my mother and my nephew Brendan up into the mountains above Boise to the Middle Fork of the Boise River to a spot my father used to love to fish. Brendan couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old. My brother Dan carried him on his shoulders as we hiked down a trail to the river bank. And that's where I said goodbye to my father.

But, even as I write this, I can picture myself waiting in our front yard for him to drive up in his old 1936 Chevy. He'd step out, hand me his empty lunch box to carry in the house, hold my hand and ask what was for dinner.

Happy Father's Day, Peanuts.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mary, Mary, quite contrary....

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
--Nursery Rhyme

I was just messing around with an image I took of Our Lady Mary, Mother of God from the Mission of San Juan Capistrano a couple of years ago and came up with the eerie image you see above. The old nursery rhyme, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" came to mind and as usual, I had to google to see the rhyme's origins.

Funny how the nursery rhymes we grew up with and continue to tell our children are really pretty morbid remnants of the past. The Mary of the this traditional English nursery rhyme is not Mary, Mother of God, but Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII.

Bloody Mary, ironically was Catholic. Mary's garden is symbolic of the graveyards that were filling up during her reign with the corpses of those who dared to continue to adhere to the Protestant faith promoted during her father's time as the English king.

The silver bells and cockle shells referred to in the Nursery Rhyme were nicknames for popular instruments of torture at the time. The 'silver bells' were thumbscrews. The 'cockleshells' were instruments of torture attached to the genitals (though there are some people today who would consider that recreation, not torture).

Pretty 'maids in a row' alluded to a device used to behead people called the "Maiden." Apparently, beheading a victim used to be quite the challenge. It could sometimes take up to 11 blows to actually sever someone's head. And, suprisingly enough, the victim often resisted and had to be chased around the scaffold. Imagine that. To solve the problem, a mechanical instrument (now known as the guillotine) called the Maiden (shortened to Maids in the Mary Mary Nursery Rhyme) was developed.

Apparently Bloody Mary was also the inspiration for "Three Blind Mice." She was the farmer's wife who chased them around with a carving knife. The three blind mice were symbolic of three noblemen who blindly adhered to the protestant faith despite Bloody Mary's persecution of non-Catholics. She didn't actually cut off their tails, but she did have them burned at the stake.

By the way, Jack and Jill going up the hill were inspired by French King Louis the XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Jack (King Louis) fell down and lost his crown and Jill (Marie Antoinette) came tumbling after. If you remember your French history, Louis and Antoinette were beheaded with a Guillotine.

Oh, and "Ring around the rosy," refers to the Bubonic Plague.

So, keep this post in mind the next time you are tempted to tuck your little ones in bed with a nursery rhyme.

Pleasant dreams!

Monday, June 13, 2005

I will sell this skull

eBay item 3980430624 (Ends Jun-19-05 12:09:04 PDT) - Unique one-of-a-kind steer skull decorated in gold leaf

It's kind of the power of positive thinking. I am visualizing selling the Gold Lame skull. I see it being purchased by a nice farmer who lets it play with all of my childhood pets that my mom said were now living on a farm.

I mean, the only way I convinced Tess not to throw it away or give it to Value Village was to assure her it would sell for major bucks on eBay. So far only 8 people have even viewed it. But I am not giving up. Because I believe what makes our country great is the entrepeneurial spirit that brought the Pilgrims to these hallowed shores. Wait a minute, they came seeking religious freedom and prime real estate to burn witches, didn't they?

Well, regardless, the Gold Lame Skull is that symbol to me that PT Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute. So, faithful reader(s), tell all of your friends that Tim-Elvis is parting with the Gold Lame Skull and you can have it for an opening bid of $9.99 plus shipping and handling.

Bid before midnight tonight and I'll sleep better.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Hearse

by T. E. H****
Copyright 2005

Bob Gooden wasn't having a good day. Actually, Bob Gooden really wasn't having a particularly good life.

The realization or revelation came about five miles outside of Yreka, California near a place called Jump-Off Joe Creek. Bob sat in the fourth row back from the front of a chartered tour bus packed with geriatric revelers bound for the "Biggest Little City in the West" -- Reno, Nevada. Once in that glittering oasis from reality, most of them would drink too much, sit in front of nickel slot machines staring glassy-eyed at spinning dials as drool trickled out of their mouths. This was considered better than sex to most of the people on the bus.

Bob had very little in common with his fellow travelers. He was a relatively young man and had been patted and pinched on the cheek by a good portion of the surrogate grand fathers and mothers on the bus.

Bob's reason for being on the bus wasn't quite as clear cut as his wrinkled bus mates either. Right now as he passed over Jump-off Joe Creek he didn't really care where the bus would end up.

The ex-steel-worker-buy-American-retired-union-shop steward in the next seat nudged Bob for the hundredth time and pointed a tobacco-stained finger out the window. "Jump-off Joe Creek," he said with stale breath squeezed between yellowed dentures. "Why do you suppose they call it Jump-off Joe Creek"?

Bob's head slowly turned and he stared morosely at the man whose chronic flatulence and endless tales of cancer operations had kept him unwillingly entertained throughout the trip.

"That's a good question," Bob pronounced. "In fact that's one of the most important questions I've ever heard." The man looked at Bob and shook his head sadly. That's when Bob decided he really didn't like the path or -- the tour for that matter -- his life seemed to be on. That's also when he decided he was going to do something about it.

He slid by the old man and worked his way down the aisle past clicking knitting needles and through clouds of smoke. He approached the driver and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Yeah," the driver said, glancing at Bob with irritated red-rimmed eyes.

"I want off," Bob replied calmly.


"I want off the bus."

"Listen buddy, we aren't due for a rest stop until we reach Mount Shasta," the driver growled. "There's a john in the back so just use that."

"I don't need to use the toilet," Bob explained carefully. "I've decided I don't want to go any further."

"Well, Jesus man, you'll just have to wait until we reach the next town," the driver said threateningly. "I ain't stopping the bus out in the middle of nowhere just because you get some wild hair that you don't want to go to Reno...Hell I don't want to cart these old geeks any further myself but sometimes you got to do things you don't why don't you jez go sit back down with the sunshine-set and let me drive."

Bob reached into his pocket. "I have a gun here and if you don't stop the bus I'm going to splatter your brain...small as it is...all over the windshield."

The driver slammed on the brakes sending balls of yarn and false teeth clicking around the cab of the bus. With a whoosh of air the driver opened the door. "Okay, asshole, you want out...go."

"Thank you," Bob said. Even in a crisis, Bob had always been taught to be polite. As he worked his way carefully down the steps, the driver -- who had been brought up with entirely different rules of etiquette -- helped Bob out the door with a kick. He tumbled rudely down the steps. The door whooshed closed behind him and the bus lurched away spitting gravel into his face.

Bob sat up and carefully picked fragments of the Interstate out of his face. The green Jump-off Joe Creek sign rose above him in the fading light. He pulled himself to his feet and looked over the guardrail at the dark water slithering below the bridge. Muddy clouds hovered overhead. With a sigh he lifted his leg over the guardrail, followed Joe's immortalized example, and jumped.

Bob squeezed his eyes together, hoping he wouldn't have to suffer the final indignity of having his miserable life pass before his eyes. An agonizingly long moment passed and instead of an icy impact he felt a painful jerk at his leg. Nausea swept over him as he looked up and dizzily saw and felt his leg wedged in the bridge guardrail.

"shit...Shit...SHIT," he screamed in pain and frustration. The dull water of Jump-off Joe Creek swirled tantalizingly close below. He struggled to get loose. His leg wedged a little tighter in the guardrail and he winced.

It's no damned fair, he thought. "HOW COME IT WORKED FOR JOE, HUH...?" His words bounced off the water and slapped him in the face. Then the rain began.

At least I'm under the bridge and out of the rain, he thought. A moment later, overflow from the highway drained off the edge of the bridge and down his pant leg. He crossed his arms and sullenly prayed that the creek would flood enough to reach his head.

Darkness fell...or rather; it crept over him in cowardly fashion like mold over day-old bread. Bob shivered. Maybe I'll freeze to death, he thought. Not quite as quick as an icy plunge into Jump-off Joe Creek but the end suits the means. They say you feel warm just before you die anyway. He wasn't sure how that fact was established, however. He tried to imagine frozen corpses holding a press conference. He could hear the first question now...the icebreaker, he thought with a macabre chuckle:

"How did it feel just before you...well...went over?"

"Warm, incredibly warm...just like I was bobsledding in hell!" The questions would really start heating up then. Bob began giggling softly, the laughter building in his chest until gravity forced it to a sputtering halt in his throat. The choked laughter burped out and drowned in the creek below. I could die laughing, Bob thought as he fought to catch his breath. That sent him into another fit of laughter. With that Bob shut his eyes and snickered himself into an awkward sleep.

* * *

Bob slept, fitfully dreaming of being a caterpillar diligently spinning a cocoon while hanging from an extremely large shrub. As he hung bundled in his cocoon, he felt something clawing at him and pulling him from the safety of his branch into a giant gaping mouth. He jerked awake with the realization that something was indeed tugging at his leg. From his dizzy point-of-view he made out a dark shape struggling to free his foot from the guardrail, presumably to plunge him into the salivating waters of Jump-off Joe Creek below.

Suddenly the prospect of drowning lost its appeal. Bob kicked out instinctively with his free foot and screamed at the top -- or considering his position, the bottom -- of his lungs. The dark thing gave out a distinctly human grunt followed by a thud. Bob stopped screaming and listened. For a moment all he could hear was the slurping water below. He detected a soft moaning followed by a rustling sound. Something leaned over the guardrail. The something was suddenly illuminated with the flickering glow of a Bic lighter. Bob gasped. It was the gaping mouth of his dreams. He began screaming again.

"Jesus man, be cool," the mouth said calmly. "It ain't like I'm the Creature from the Black Lagoon." Bob stopped screaming. It seemed like a human voice.

"I'm going to swing my belt down to you," the voice continued. "Loop it around your shoulders and I'll hoist you up." The lighter went out and Bob squinted up into the night. The buckle end of a belt swung down and struck him in the forehead. His numb fingers fumbled to get the belt over his head and around his shoulders.

"Just holler when you've got it around your shoulders and I'll start pulling," the voice said.

Bob had the belt around his neck and was still concentrating on working it down to his shoulders.


"Okay, here goes!"

"Wait a minute," Bob called back. "It's around my neckkkkk!" The words and his breath were cut off as he was jerked upward. Bob gasped and plucked at the belt as he felt himself rising rapidly towards the guardrail. Bright spots appeared before his eyes and he began to black out. The pressure released suddenly as he flopped rag-doll style over the edge of the guardrail.

"Whoa, you shouldn't have looped it around your neck that way," the voice said reproachfully. Bob managed a weak nod and tried to roll off the edge of the bridge but his leg was still wedged in between the rails. The source of the voice untangled Bob's foot and propped him up on the rail. The man grabbed his hand and pumped it enthusiastically several times.

"Pleased to meet you Bob, my names G.R. Charon but you can call me Finney -- everybody does."

Bob massaged his throat gingerly, "'d you know my name?"

"Says so right there on your nametag...HELLO MY NAME IS BOB...besides, if I hadn't fished you out from under the bridge you would have been bobbing around in Jump-off Joe Creek!" With that the stranger slapped Bob on the shoulder and let loose a laugh that made him wish he were still sleeping hanging peacefully under the bridge.

Bob looked down at his shirt and sheepishly ripped off the tag he'd been forced to wear while on the tour bus. He rubbed his eyes and looked at his rescuer closely for the first time. G.R. Charon -- Finney -- looked a little like Bob imagined a Southern California version of Dickens' Artful Dodger might look. He wore a battered top hat perched cavalierly atop unfashionably long black hair, curling up as it collided with his jacket collar. The vintage black overcoat with tails matched the formal hat. It looked as if it might have belonged to a proper English gentleman or a mortician. Bob noted that the formal jacket clashed rudely with a slightly dirty tank top. A dead carnation with a black ribbon was pinned to his lapel. A loosely knotted black tie hung around his neck, reaching almost to his faded Levi's. He wore a black high-top tennis shoe on one foot and a white one on the other.

Finney's attire was unique, but it was his face that fascinated Bob. Perhaps it was merely the odd glow from the highway lights but Finney's face seemed...well, crooked. It wasn't deformed. It just conveyed a peculiar paradox of expressions. One side appeared frozen in joy, the other in sadness. Even his eyes were mismatched, one pale blue and the other almost black.

The black eye winked at Bob. "So Bob, if you're through hanging around here, how 'bout we shove off?"

"What," Bob said, blinking dumbly.

"You know, take off, hit the trail, head on down the road, pull out, leave, depart..."

"Oh...I guess...but where are we going?"

"Well, Bob I'm headed to Reno," Finney said somberly. "You can come along or stay here." He pulled a tarnished pocket watch out of an inside pocket and popped it open.

"Shit it's almost midnight; I'm behind schedule. Are you coming?"

Bob looked over his shoulder at Jump-off Joe Creek. The black water rudely gurgled a raspberry at him. Bob looked back at Finney and nodded. "Sure, I was headed to Reno anyway."

A laugh ripped out of Finney's crooked mouth and he slapped Bob on the shoulder again. "Well good enough, I can use the company. Come on, the ol' black barge is waiting!" He pulled Bob to his feet and motioned him down the road where a large dark automobile idled patiently.

Bob wasn't sure how or why he hadn't noticed the car before. It wasn't the kind of car you could easily ignore. It was a hearse, a long, black Cadillac hearse. It wasn't a new hearse -- not one of those modern limo-jobs painted in soothing pastels that thumbed their noses at death and pussyfooted around the whole grim concept. No, this was a genuine, black "there's-a-body-in-the-back" hearse.

Finney grinned as if reading Bob's mind. "She's a beauty ain't she...a 1958 Cadillac hearse. They don't make 'em like this anymore." He ran his hand lovingly along the fender and flicked away an unfortunate bug that'd met his demise on the road.

"Say, Bob, I hate to ask you, but you got any cash?"

Bob looked at him suspiciously.

"Hey, I'm not trying to rob you," Finney said, a genuine look of hurt on his face. "The boss just gets real irritated when I take on cargo without cash. It doesn't have to be much...just kind of a token payment."

Bob sighed and reached for his wallet. It was gone, apparently bailing out when Bob jumped from the bridge. "Er...I seem to have lost my wallet." It was Finney's turn to look suspicious. Bob dug into his hip pocket looking for some money. His hand closed around the lucky silver dollar that he'd been given as part of the tour package when he'd boarded the bus in Portland.

"Wait a second, here's a's all I have left." He dropped the coin into Finney's outstretched hand. Finney held the coin up to the light cast by the hearse headlights chuckled gleefully and put it into his pocket.

"That's perfect Bob! I never did like paper money." Finney jumped into the driver's seat and sat there looking comfortably ludicrous in his top hat and tails. "Come on Bob, hop in!"

Bob opened the door and read with a shudder a neat, tastefully lettered sign on the door -- WE PICK UP AND DELIVER! He climbed hesitantly into the passenger seat and gave another shudder.

Everything in the interior, including the dashboard, was covered with dark, purple crushed velvet.

"My boss and I customized this baby ourselves, you like it," Finney said as he caressed the dashboard lovingly.

"Like is hardly the word, Finney."

Finney laughed, adjusted his rear view mirror which set a pair of purple, furry dice dancing. He shifted the car into gear and floored the accelerator. Bob fumbled for his seatbelt.

"If you're looking for a seatbelt, you're out of luck," Finney stated somberly. "The only people who ever got strapped down in this car were the ones who rode in the back!" He grinned and let loose a howl. Bob looked over his shoulder uncomfortably at the compartment behind them. A velvet current blocked it from view.

"Don't worry Bob, I've never had an accident." Bob eyed him dubiously. He looked so small perched in front of the steering wheel peering into the lighted corridor the headlights opened up in front of them.

Finney's serious black eyeball swept over and pinned Bob to the purple cushion. "You ever think much about death, Bob?" Bob squirmed slightly and tried vainly to find a pupil swimming somewhere in that vast black iris. He swallowed painfully.

" suppose I do, why do you ask?"

"Bob, Bob...we've got a long way to go so let's just cut through the bullshit," Finney said, followed by a soft "tsk, tsk" and a sad shake of his head. "You don't look like the kind of guy that casually gets an urge to hang under a bridge by one leg and catch a few winks...granted I've known a few people that would do that, but come were trying to kill yourself by taking a nose dive into good 'ol Jump-off Joe Creek weren't you."

Bob nodded feebly.

"A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man!" Finney laughed, grabbed Bob's head in a neck lock and ran the knuckles of his other hand over his skull. The hearse careened towards an oncoming pair of headlights and a horn blared out of the night. Bob screamed and Finney casually corrected course with his knee.

"See Bob, you don't really want to're scared of death." He let go of Bob's head and grabbed the wheel again.

"More like scared to death," Bob said, shocked that he'd discovered his voice.

"Ooooooooh...pretty good one Bob ol' pal," Finney said, obviously impressed. "I'm glad to see you've got a sense of humor."

"I don't really seem to have any sense at all," Bob snapped back. "You know, this is really weird...I mean, sure I jumped off a bridge and ended up hanging over a creek named after some schmuck who jumped into it, but come's not every day you get saved by a guy in a top hat and tails driving a hearse now is it?"

"Hey, let's not start attacking the way I dress or earn a living," Finney said in a feigned hurt voice. "If I weren't who I am and do what I do, you'd still be swinging there in the breeze freezing your heuvo's off."

"I suppose I never did say thanks, did I?"

Finney reached over and slapped Bob on the back. "Ahhh, lighten why were you trying to snuff yourself?"

Bob sighed. "It's a long story."

Finney nodded. "It's a long drive."

* * *

"For the longest time I've been normal," Bob began. "I mean, I didn't have an unhappy childhood or anything. My parents never locked me in a closet or beat me. They treated me quite well...sent me to Sunday school and everything."

Finney shook his head sadly. Bob continued.

"I guess the problem was that everything was too normal. My father was boring. He was an orthopedic shoe salesman. My mother's sole claim to fame was that she was a member of the Cheese of the Month Club.

The entire household was a veritable den of dullness. I even had a boring pet -- a goldfish. Do you realize how dreary goldfish are? I even named it a dull name; do you know what it was?" Finney shook his lopsided head vigorously.

"Its name was Goldy for Christ's sake...GOLDY! I'd watch it swim round and round this stupid plastic palm tree, always clockwise, always at the same monotonous pace. It'd stare vacantly back at me; it's stupid boring mouth gaping all the time. I'd sit there and watch the damn thing and realize how simple and boring it really was. It reminded me of me. That was the way my life was, going round and round in circles. Well, I decided to change things a little, and put some excitement into both of our lackluster lives."

"Yeah, what'd you do," Finney asked, his black eyeball gleaming and his blue one blinking sympathetically.

"I saved money from my stupid boring paper route and sent away to a company that advertised in the back of Boy's Lifestyles -- a stupid, boring magazine -- for a piranha."

"Oooh...I'd never have thought of that," Finney said. "What happened next?"

"I slipped the piranha -- I called him Spike -- into the fishbowl and sat back for the show. Then..." Bob paused and shook his head.

"Then...yeah...come on, what happened."

"Spike looked at Goldy and Goldy looked at Spike. Then that stupid, boring piranha started swimming slowly round and round the plastic palm tree behind Goldy. Round and round and round and round..." Bob's voice faded away.

"Tough luck...defective piranha, huh? What'd you do then?"

"I flushed both of the stupid boring things down the toilet, plastic palm tree and all." Bob turned and stared glumly out the window. Lines of silent pine trees bowed mournfully as they passed down the serpentine road.

"Come on about some music? That should cheer you up." Finney leaned over and began rummaging through a cluttered glove box. The hearse swerved uncomfortably close to the shoulder as he concentrated on tape titles. Each time the vehicle seemed ready to plunge into the crowds of trees, Finney unconsciously moved the wheel, skirting disaster. The spectator trees watched the spectacle, literally rooted to the spot. "Hmmm...Grateful Dead...naaaaa, maybe later...Rockin' Requiems...too cutesy...the Gregorian Chant Anthology...nice rhythm...anything special you'd like to hear Bob?"

Like the trees, Bob's attention was rooted to the hearse's erratic course. He managed to gasp out a reply. "Uh...I'd just soon pass on the music for now if you don't mind." Finney popped the glove compartment shut and sat up. The hearse snapped to attention and swerved back into the right lane.

"Suit yourself," Finney said. "Not much of the stuff I like anyway...the boss picks it. Says it's what the clientele expect."

"Eh, what kind of business did you say this was again?"

Finney smiled and winked. "Jes like the sign on the door says, 'We Pick Up and Deliver'."

"Pick up and deliver what," Bob asked warily.

"Whatever...but back to your story. You flushed ol' Goldy, Spike and the plastic palm tree down the crapper. Then what?"

Bob sighed and took a deep breath before answering. "I decided to follow them."

"Down the john?"

"Well, so to speak. I stuck my head in the toilet and tried to flush myself to death."

Finney grimace-grinned. "What a way to go."

"I was on the 13th flush before my dad pulled my head out. He didn't even ask me what I was doing. He just threw me a towel and lectured me about water being a precious commodity and that perhaps I would have to use my allowance to help with the next water bill. My father was boring but practical." Bob stopped talking suddenly.

Drops of rain joined the carcasses of kamikaze bugs on the windshield. Finney twisted a knob and twin wipers groaned into action. Bob stared at them mournfully.

Finney nodded knowingly. "So the running water of Jump-off Joe Creek triggered some psychological switch and you flushed back...I mean flashed back to the toilet trauma, eh?"

Bob sighed and continued to stare at the wipers.

"You take life too seriously Bob...or maybe death. I think I know just the thing to help. Why don't you crawl in the back and pop open that box back there." He pulled aside the curtains screening off the cargo space behind the front seat and motioned with his thumb for Bob to hop in the back.

"Box?" Bob froze, unable to look back where Finney was pointing.

"Yeah, behind you." Finney's voice had taken on a slightly commanding tone. "Just crawl back there and pop the top like I told me."

Bob had no choice. His body reacted mechanically. He turned and looked into the back of the hearse. He could barely make out a long oblong box with a rounded top in the gloom of the curtained compartment.

"Go ahead Bob."

He climbed over the back of the seat. His hand brushed the metal top of the box and he shuddered involuntarily. It was ice cold.

"Okay, I'm back here, now what?"

"Just open the box." Finney's voice seemed far away.

" looks like a coffin," Bob stammered.

Finney chuckled sinisterly. "Just open it Bob. The latch is right there on the side."

Bob ran his hand along the side of the container. Trickles of icy sweat ran down his back. He found the catch.

"I'm not sure I want to do this."

"There's nothing to be afraid of Bob...OPEN THE BOX."

Bob closed his eyes. Flashes of his life began screening on the inside of his eyelids. Goldy and Spike waved at him from under the plastic palm tree. The waters of Jump-off Joe creek splashed in his face. He snapped his eyes open and lifted the edge of the box. An icy blast of air smacked his cheek and a dim light came on within the chest.

"Help yourself," Finney called back.

Bob began laughing. Softly at first and then crescendoing into a wave of hilarity mixed with gasping sobs of relief. There, illuminated in the dim light of the box, were several six-packs of beer.

"Grab a six-pack and climb on back," Finney instructed. Bob wiped the tears from his eyes and hooked his finger through one of the six-packs. He shut the lid and crawled back into the front seat. He held out the beer. Finney declined.

"It's all yours," he said. "I never drink and drive." Bob shrugged and popped open one of the beers. He didn't normally drink but this seemed like a good time to start.

"That's some cooler you've got there. I thought for a minute..." His voice trailed off.

"That there'd be a body in it," Finney said quizzically.

", I mean...well this is a hearse." Finney grinned vacantly. Bob drained the first can and belched unrepentantly.

"This stuff isn't half bad." He crushed the can in a momentary rush of beer-induced macho.

"So," Finney said. "You were telling me about how you ended up as a human windsock under Jump-off Joe Creek Bridge."

The beer was lubricating Bob's tongue nicely. He smiled slightly and opened another before continuing.

* * *

"The trauma of the toilet broke my spirit for awhile. My parents never said anything else about it. They did start to get nervous if I spent more than five minutes in the bathroom, though.

I figured the die had been cast. I was determined not to make any more waves..."

"Or flushes," Finney offered.

Bob belched in disgust and continued. "Anyway, I sunk into the purgatory of numbing normalcy. Before I knew it the circle was complete -- I followed in my father's footsteps and landed a job in orthopedic shoe sales at the IF THE SHOE FITS shoe shop. Everything was routine, safe and simple. And despite my resolution to live within the mold that had been created for me I felt the pressure of knowing there had to be more.

"So why didn't you do something else," Phinney asked softly, staring intently at the road. Bob popped the top of his fifth beer and waiting for the foam to ooze back into the can. He took a long pull on the beer and continued.

"I did. One day I walked out of the 'IF THE SHOE FITS' shop and took all of my money out of the bank. I walked into a travel agency and booked the next tour bus out -- the Sunshine Singles tour to Reno. Within an hour I was sitting on a bus loaded with retirees headed for the Promised Land. I felt a certain exhilaration knowing I'd somehow cheated fate. I was breaking away from the circle I'd been swimming around in since childhood."

"So why'd you jump ship halfway to the Promised Land?"

Bob closed his eyes for a moment, recreating the scene in his mind. "I was just sitting there staring out the window when an old guy sitting next to me nudged me for the hundredth time and pointed out Jump-off Joe Creek. 'Why do you suppose they called it Jump-off Joe Creek,' he asked. It was as if someone had replaced the 60-watt bulb in my head with a 150-watt spotlight. It dawned on me what a completely useless and totally pointless question I'd been asked. It also made me realize how completely useless and totally pointless my life really was no matter where I went. I decided then and there to break the circle once and for all. I stopped the bus and got off. Simple as that. Then I jumped. The rest you know." Bob sank morosely in his seat and finished the beer.

"You know what I think Bob," Finney asked solemnly. Bob shook his head slightly. His brain felt thick and fuzzy. "I think you should have replaced that 60-watt bulb with a bug light cause you're one buggy dude."

"Thanks a lot," Bob said, sinking lower in his seat.

"That just seems like a pretty lame excuse to try and off yourself."

"Hey, if I hadn't of taken that opportunity to dive off the bridge, I wouldn't be sitting here getting drunk and keeping you entertained while you deliver whatever it is that you're delivering to whoever it is you're delivering it to."

Finney's black eye swept over and looked at Bob carefully. "You'd have been here sooner or later anyway Bob."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Finney swerved the car to the shoulder of the road suddenly and stopped the hearse. His black and the blue eye compromised and Finney leaned over and looked into Bob's eyes. Bob blinked his beer-blurred eyes and tried to focus.

Finney sighed loudly. "I mean it wouldn't have mattered whether you'd jumped off Jump-off Joe Creek on the way to Reno or leaped off Suicide Ridge on the way to Boise. You'd still be riding with me. We almost met that time you tried flushing yourself into oblivion."

"I don't understand," Bob said, blinking dumbly.

"What's Bob spelled backwards?"

"What's Bob spelled backwards," Bob echoed. Finney nodded his head vigorously.

"I mean, Bob old boy that you've finally succeeded at breaking the endless monotone of your life that you've grown so obsessed with. You've joined our infamous friend Jump-off Joe in the murky waters of Jump-off Joe creek."

Thousands of bubbles of beer began bursting in Bob's brain. "You mean I'm dead?"

Finney whacked Bob's shoulder and chuckled gleefully. He put the hearse into gear and squealed away from the shoulder. "As a doornail."

Bob pressed his hand against his temples, trying desperately to massage Finney's words into his brain. His head was spinning.

"But...where are you taking me...heaven or hell?"

"Relative terms Bob ol' pal." Finney hit the accelerator and the hearse lurched forward. Bob's stomach lurched at the same time and the beer and the excitement combined forces. He leaned over and spilled his guts on the purple carpeted floor of the hearse. Bob moaned weakly and tried sitting up. It was too much for him. The hearse hit a bump and he mercifully blacked out.

* * *

A blast of gray light and cold air nudged Bob awake. He tried to swallow and gagged slightly at the sour taste in his mouth. He sat up stiffly. Finney grinned at him from the driver's seat.

"Not much of a drinker, eh," Finney said with a wink.

"I guess I was overwhelmed by all of the excitement."

"I just wish you'd have warned me before you got overwhelmed in my car."

Bob croaked out a weak apology. "Where are we," he asked, noting the trees lining the road had been replaced with billboards.

"About three miles out of the little city of fortune -- Reno!"

"I never thought I'd see it," Bob said, perking up a bit. "I had this dream that you told me I was dead and on my way mind."

Finney looked at Bob somberly. "I'm going to drop you off at the Palms Casino." Bob nodded absently. His eyes soaked in the neon and flashing signs as the hearse rolled into downtown Reno. Even in the dull morning light there were people bustling about on the streets.

The hearse pulled into a long circular entryway in front of the casino and stopped at the curb. Bob's eyes gleamed at row after row of neon palm trees swaying electronically on the side of the pink building.

Finney looked at him with his sad blue eye. Bob thought he detected a little precipitation forming on the lower lid. He climbed out of the hearse. "Thanks Finney, I owe you..." Bob began.

"No thanks needed; it's all part of the job. I hope Reno's what you expect. It's one hell of a town."

"But what do I do now, where do I go." Bob asked.

Finney sniffed slightly, wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve and pointed to the pink casino. Then without a word he shifted the hearse into gear and disappeared in a cloud of exhaust.

Bob turned slowly and wiped away the sweat beading up on his forehead. Hotter than I expected, he thought. He started walking toward the building. Glass doors slid noiselessly open as he approached. The casino was a huge round room with a giant palm tree in the center. Gaming tables and slot machines surrounded the giant palm tree like spokes of a giant wheel. Cocktail waitresses dressed in hot pink uniforms mechanically served the feverish faces that paced around the tables or clung to sweaty slot machine handles. Many people just milled about, walking round and round the room.

Bob stood for a moment and blinked at the giant palm tree. Finally he fell in step and began walking around the room. Round and round and round...