Archive for the ‘To nobody in particular’ Category

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Red wasps and summertime

May 19, 2015

Ah, summer. Most kids like the end of school. For me, it marked the beginning of exceedingly long, hot days and hours upon hours of boredom, except when I managed to do something really stupid.

There was a do-it-yourself carwash at the corner of Texas Highway 94, where we live, and Farm to Market Road 706, about a quarter mile away. The carwash had two stalls, its high walls and roof made of corrugated tin. Each stall had its own high-pressure hose and gun that shot water at a powerful rate as soon as you deposited three quarters and pulled the trigger.

One summer, a large colony of red wasps built a nest right in the middle of the ceiling in one of the bays, amid the arm mechanism that allowed the hose to swing 360 degrees. I noticed this nest, some 15 feet or so off the ground, because red wasps and I had been battling each other for two solid summers. I was stung so many times I lost count.They dived at me from under the eaves of our house, from our porch ceiling, from the corners of windows where they had taken up residence and from almost anywhere in the barn. They were aggressive, with their boiling red bodies and large, menacing black eyes. The hotter the day, the meaner they were, carrying fire in their hypodermic stingers. Each shot I received was worse than the previous one, and no home remedy chilled the poison, not chewing tobacco, or Skoal, or baking soda. Even an application of ice made the sting hotter.

At first, I thought wasps, like the honeybees we kept, died after they stung me, which provided some consolation. At least the little bastards couldn’t sting me again. Then I learned that wasps don’t give up their innards when they land a sting. It’s more like a scorpion sting that gets under your skin. I hated red wasps, maybe more than I hated snakes. The feeling seemed mutual, because wasps sought me out, tracking and attacking me as prey. So, I learned to look up whenever I walked under a roof or through an out building doorway.

On a 95-degree day in the middle of the week in the middle of the summer in practically the middle of nowhere, the carwash typically was not busy. One day I decided to ride my bike through and around the carwash to break the monotony of watching Perry Mason reruns. As I passed through one stall I looked up and saw the biggest wasp nest I’d ever seen. It was as big as a dinner plate and teeming with little red devils.

Despite my repeated run-in with wasps, and the many resulting welts of burning poison, I couldn’t pass by a nest without stirring them up. My mission was to destroy every nest I saw. It was my duty. It was a matter of honor. It was really, really stupid.

The carwash wasps provided a unique attack. I wouldn’t be a hapless target on foot, I had wheels. I decided to grab a handful of rocks from the side of the road and throw them as hard as I could straight up as I rode my bike through the stall. It was scary. It was dangerous. And it was just what an 11-year-old needed to cure mid-week boredom.

I road through without rocks a time or two, planning the attack, deciding exactly when to let loose the barrage of rocks. I planned my escape down the concrete driveway at the back of the carwash that led to the highway, which led to my house. There was an understanding among boys that during an altercation or the threat thereof, if you weren’t going to fight on neutral ground, one boy didn’t pursue another boy into the other boy’s yard. It was a rule.

Finally, I drummed up enough courage to override any potential rational thought I might have had. I rode through the bay and just as I crossed the metal grate in the center, I threw up a handful of rocks as hard as I could. Bambambambambam! They bounced off the tin and rattled around the twirling mechanism. I rode away as fast as I could toward home base. Nothing happened. So I did it again. This time the wasps were on alert. I could see a few of them scouting around for the source of danger. I let loose another handful of rocks — bambambambambam! — and rode like hell out of the carwash. Safe again.

Two attacks had been successful in that some of the rocks seemed to hit the nest. I had delivered my message that I was there for battle, determined to take them down. One more barrage ought to make them mad enough to leave the nest, then I would knock it down by throwing larger rocks at it. Off I went, confident in my conquest.

Once again I scooped up a handful of rocks. I aimed for the center of the bay, rode over the grate and flung my hand up as hard as I could. Bambambambambam! I hauled ass down the driveway, not caring at all to look for cars that might have been speeding along the highway, and peddled for home. The wasps were, apparently, aware of the home base rule and were determined to catch me in open territory. They caught me.

I say “they,” because one wasp represented the whole nest. They were all in on it together. One wasp found me, caught up with me and zeroed in on the middle of my back, right between my shoulder blades. I felt the familiar fire, as if I’d been shot, and let out a yell. I saw in my mind’s eye the lean, red, angry insect land on my shirt, position itself carefully and ram its stinger deep into my skin as hard as it could. I saw the poison pour into my body, dripping off the wasp as it removed itself, satisfied, and flew back to the nest.

Right in the middle of my back. Where I couldn’t reach it. I got home and looked in a mirror. There was a red welt at least two inches … at least eight inches in diameter! I don’t remember much after that. My grandmother probably applied baking soda because she didn’t chew tobacco. But I remember the rocks — pebbles, really, but we didn’t use that word because it sounded feminine — the dirt that came with the rocks and sifted through my fingers, the hot glaring sun of summer in Texas, riding away as fast as I could and the sting I suffered.

I didn’t go back to the carwash wasps. I figured I’d made my point, and they’d made theirs, and that was good enough. I never threw another rock at a wasp nest, either. Soon after this episode some genius at Dow Chemical or somewhere invented a can that shot a stream of wasp killer thirty feet. I haven’t been stung again. Eventually, a few years ago, I overcame the painful memory of that sting. I’ve taken out a few nests, one by using a spray adhesive, which was pretty cool. But by and large the red wasps of the world and I have reached an armistice. But I still look up at eaves, and under roofs. Those tricky little assassins could renege without warning.

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Cowboy poem 1

November 13, 2007

It weren’t the cowhides

Weren’t even the hot irons

nor the brilliant, glowing fire

But the fire and the irons,

when mingled a while,

and then met the leather,

created the smoke,

the smell of burnt hair

deep in my nose

that reminded me of you.

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November 13, 2007

He was plagued by the horrid memories of tragedies that never happened.

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In the beginning

April 3, 2007

My father looked youthful, sitting in his desk chair, almost a bystander to the conversation I was having with my stepmother about what to do when the two of them die.

We were in my parents’ basement office. My daughter rolled golf balls around on the floor. I was prepared for a serious discussion. My stepmother, Margaret, started explaining what to do with their bodies. I’m certain that this was the first time in their combined 172 years that they’ve both seriously discussed their last wishes.

“We both want to be cremated,” she said. But her sister had requested that her ashes be scattered around the property at home near the mountains. Margaret and her brother-in-law complied the day after Thanksgiving last year. “That was a very difficult thing to do,” Margaret said, which is as close as she’ll come to saying she was sad, or crying. So, she said, she wanted to be buried in her family’s plot, both because she feels no special connection with the land under her feet and because she doesn’t want to put anybody out. “And,” she said, “Daddy said he wants to be buried where I am.”

I looked over at my father. He sat quietly. I had never before seen the expression on his face, or his posture. Dad usually has four emotions: serious and all business, as when he’s explaining how to drive; critical, which usually involves sarcasm and incredulity; jocular, when he’s joking around with his old-fart buddies over a few beers; or silly, like when he makes faces and wiggles his ears at Ella. But at this moment, when we were talking about his death, he was relaxed, serene, sober. He seemed calm.  He literally looked young. He smiled lightly. His blinked away mist in his eye. Maybe his heart felt heavy, maybe his body tingled, but he was definitely in his own skin. He wasn’t someone’s husband, or a father or grandfather. He wasn’t entertaining a crowd. He was himself. He said in response, simply, “yes.”

My father will be 90 this year. His age — rather, his health at his age — inspires awe in people. Men 20, sometimes 30 years younger often look older, appearing as though life served them more hard knocks. They just didn’t know how to bob and weave like my old man. Just yesterday, someone stopped us as we were drivining out of the snack bar at my dad’s golf course. “How old are you going to be?” Dad told him. “Well, bless your heart. That’s really great. I’ll be 72 this year.” The deep wrinkles on the man’s face was covered with gray stubble, his eyes looked tired, he speech a little faulty. He looked like a recent discharged from an ICU. Dad is always clean-shaven, sharply dressed, ready to discuss world affairs.

It’s not surprising that Dad is only now talking about his will, his death. He is the last man on earth who wants to die. He has always made playing hard a very serious endeavor. He was a tennis pro when he was young. He married four times, had seven kids. He ran his own company until he was 75, and he continues to chair boards and committees, always looking for the next opportunity to create a legacy, finding ways for people to remember him fondly while running as far ahead of sedentation and death as possible.

Dad complains of aches and pains, and he recently had surgery to repair damage done to his right knee when he wasn’t agile enough to make it up a hill. Still, it’s hard to believe that this man will die soon. It’s easier to imagine that he’ll be around another 10 years or more. His grandmother lived to 103.

I agreed to have durable power of attorney for health care for both Margaret and my dad. She sought and collected the proper forms. She studied them closely and chastises my dad for not doing so. She’s engaged in the topic, firing off  questions.

We wade through their end-of-life requests and get to their will, and what they want done with their belongings. Again I’m surprised. It was as if I’d suddenly been dropped into another family. Margaret entered my life when I was just a baby, younger than Ella is now. I spent more time with her and my father — summers, school holidays — than my other siblings. I wanted to be around them. Margaret is a hard person to get to know. She’s very private. She can seem very cold. One time one of my dad’s golfing buddies came to the house, and he met Margaret. This man was a retired Army general. Big John. He was trying his best to be charming, and he asked Margaret if she ever went by “Maggie.” “Yes,” she said, “some of my very good friends call me that. But you can call me Margaret.”

Maybe it’s been her toughness that I’ve liked, her willingness to draw a line, even for my old man, and dare someone to cross it. She is, no doubt, the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.

I’ve always interpreted her privacy as distance, her close emotional boundaries (my father always says, “I love you,” but she never has) as disapproval.

I learned many things from my dad and stepmother, mostly manners and protocol. I also learned that I don’t want to raise my daughter the way I was raised. Many things I experienced as a child I strive to make sure Ella does not. I’ve recognized the gaps in their parenting that I’ve already started filling in for Ella. That also means trying to be a better husband. Many things they didn’t teach me, but I learned just the same.

But Margaret has entrusted me with her life. And she has decided to leave many of her possessions to me. It’s not what she’s leaving that’s important, or how much. At one point, she said, “you’ve been closer to us [than my six siblings], and I don’t just mean you’ve spent more time with us.” That’s as close as she’ll get to saying how much she cares. And it’s close enough.

Two hours after we sat down Dad and Margaret started annoying each other, bickering like (very!) old married people, and I knew the discussion was over. Life had returned to normal.

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New blog address

February 14, 2007

These days I’m posting mostly on shelookslikeme.wordpress.com

Feel free to drop by.

— Dadontrainingwheels

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New digs

February 13, 2007

You can now read this drool at shelookslikeme.wordpress.com
I’ll transition to that site slowly over the next … however long it takes me to remember to do it.

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Herd mentality

February 13, 2007

The Celebrity Dairy opened its barn doors Saturday all comers.

Of course we were there. It’s just a few miles from our home, in the woods of North Carolina’s Piedmont.

Celebrity Dairy is a goat farm. I don’t know where it got its name. I didn’t see any celebrities. I doubt any celebrities could find this place. I don’t know of any celebrity goats.

If this was back where I used to live, Nashville, where you’re constantly walking around bigtime celebrities and walking over washed-up celebrities and walking away from wannabe celebrities, well then maybe. But in the North Carolina sticks?

Whatever. Maybe I’m missing something.

Anyway, twice a year the dairy opens up for parents to bring their kids through the barn so the little pukes can wipe their hands on farm animals that have been wallowing in their own manure, transmitting e coli, staph and god knows what else. This is birthing season, and a friend told us when she went last year she saw a nanny goat open up and spill out two little kid goats nasty as could be and then the nanny ate the placenta, just like in a National Geographic documentary (I’m not going to pimp NG because the ads on their site annoy me).

We couldn’t resist.

Of course, five minutes before we arrive Ella falls asleep. So we sit parked in a pasture with all the other cars for an hour so the kid can get her nap out. Goats weren’t all that mother nature displayed; a human mom nursed her kid in the Subaru next to us. Of course I didn’t watch! I’m just saying.

You know the bad thing about these kinds of events? Other kids show up. A lot of them. And they run around and make a bunch of noise and kick dirt everywhere and throw grass at innocent animals and scream and cry. And their parents walk around saying, “that’s nice dear; please don’t kick that man, dear; stop trying to light the barn on fire, dear.”

God help me when it’s time to go see the big mouse. Do they sell percocet? They should, out of vending machines, like gumballs for parents.

So, anyway, we get there and Myowndaughter loves the little goats. Most of them are just a few days old. Mod is very patient and gentle with them.

She’s fearless. We even get to hold one. Mod’s in a trance. She only utters “mehhhhhh” and pets the little thing.

There’s a peacock strutting around, being coy, and his iridescent feathers mesmerize Mod. Blue’s her favorite color, after all.

We buy a block of goat cheese (curried goat cheese, as in Indian curry … this is North Carolina!) in the Celebrity Inn. It’s all very homey, very “Little House on the Prairie-ish.” (that link’s for you, drivinginturkey).

We take some cute pictures, and if I can figure out how to size them properly I’ll even post one, as proof. I can’t make this stuff up.

We were good parents on Saturday.