I was always terrible at the declension of verbs, at least I think that's the term. And though I skipped all the requistite grammar classes in school - diagramming sentences was, to me, worse than the imagined horrors of the holy inquisition, Pat says I have some innate sense of how grammar functions, and therefore manage to get by.
Here we are; the winter letter hardly dry on the page and the spring letter is underway. So much seems to happen. It is no wonder our lives are circumscribed by some limited number of years, which actuarial tables assure us are alloted to each, on the mean, according to our sex and habits - '"but your honor, I have tried my damndest to live a clean life; no cigars and only a drop of whiskey now and then; (blank) years hardly seem enough, sir' Guess we have to cross the Rainbow Bridge with Muffy, Fluffy and Mr. Spots sooner or later. Our adventures would otherwise simply go on and on and either computer memory or the trees in the forest would run out before we had our times half recorded. (Rainbow Bridge has to be one of the sickest euphemisms around.)
What is happening now is 'moving'. We have considered all options and decided to simply move on with our lives and see what result results. Anything less than the promised unwinding of our mortal coils will be acceptable. It will be new and interesting. The unwinding would be less memorable, except to our heirs, so we shall momentarily defer on that. We do realize that the deferral is only momentary and try, in our own faithless way, to manage - one foot follows the other as we trudge the trail to our final rewards. I must say that with all the talk of Christian salvation saving the world on one hand and jihad saving it on the other, we are presently well-satisfied with our own probable vision of 'the great vacuum' as eternal reward... Actually, for a long time I thought that Kirby was the great vacuum, as it was one of the many things my father sold door-to-door when I was a wee chip off the old block. Remember door-to-door salesmen? My father loved it. I don't quite know if he was taken by the challenge, or if he felt that fucking the housewife was equivalent to a sale - either is possible. You'd have to know my father, presently in his 80's and born-again, to understand. The dynamics are quite fluid.
So, Stitzel is listed - $175,000 if you are interested, but we would negotiate if we liked the cut of your jib. We are in the culling process. Trash can on one side and packing box on the other. Oh, pain! Can I bear to thow that away? It goes reasonably well. The house is a nightmare of boxes and piles. Even a small house is problematic. And then there are the sheds. What wonders - boxes upon boxes of bolts, nuts, parts ... I will take Imer the Eyetalilan one bagger with. Never know when you might want to pour a pad. If I get the biggest Uhaul box trailer, the tandem 12x6 I do believe I can get it into the back and then pack forward, box upon box upon box. The people from the auction house came yesterday and took our best furniture. My treasaured Hoosier will go to live with strangers, as will the many tile-topped tables and the bird's eye maple dresser. Are we fickle or flexible? Hard one to call.
How many things have I saved? How many collections have I maintained? Only to let them go and move on to something else? I have a theory about collecting. I have always been a collector. Put me in any situation and I will find something to collect and catalogue; the comfort is immense. It is just in my nature to seek certainties and order. My belief is that collecting has to do with our own efforts at immortality, or more immediately, with control. Life is a frightening mess. We are liable to be obliterated from every conceivable angle without notification or recourse. Collecting is a calming and soothing activity that allows us to tap into both the past and the future. We gain, internally at least, a modicum of control over our lives when we collect. Surely it is transient and evaporates with the morning sun, but it does make us feel better. This frame of reference has allowed me to move from collection to collection without feeling I was a traitor to some larger plan. Perhaps collecting was the societal precursor to valium. Feel free to disagree. I know that my collection of Frank Miller comics is meaningless when compared to the evolution of the sun towards nova, or even when put up against the lowly paper-eating Silverfish, but I am, in my own mortal coil, pleased with it.
This began as a letter to my son, Ara, in which I joked with him that between the carrier bankruptcies and the SARS epidemic he might have to walk to Maine to visit me this summer. Then I thought, why not just write to everyone? I was going to go on and add a comment or two, to Ara, about deflation vs. inflation, as he is studying business in college. What a fight it is! Perhaps you don't follow it, but the deflationists and the inflationists are locked in a titanic struggle. What does it have to do with you? Well, would you rather have to buy bread with a wheelbarrow of money, or would you rather not have any money at all? (I am not sure at this late stage in the game there is any inbetween.) Maybe it isn't quite that simple. I don't quite understand economic matters. even though I read lots on the subject and follow all the arguments avidly. It is like trying to handle oily fish. Just when you think you have a grip, something new, and uttterly convincing comes along and knocks the blocks out from under your previous understanding. I wish Ara well; I can't think of a subject with so many avenues open to speculation, and none of them really proven absolutely irrelevant. Economics is almost like religion in that way. The pity of it all is that we all hang in the balance, not over what the economists say, but over which way our leaders shove us. As usual, I fear this will end badly.
Rim Jobs, and other uncommon acts of love
The above is from March, from Stitzel Canyon, from the sunny and carefree southwest. Now we once again inhabit Maine and are told we have brought the good weather with us; today is the second sunny day this year. The winter, the neighbors say, was bleak and cold. Our arrival fills them with joy.
The question arises as how best to qualitatively define the 2600 mile trip out from New Mexico. There are many indices (please be aware the 'indexes' do not and never have existed) from which to choose when talking road trips; every such excursion takes on a life of its own. The frame of reference can range from joints smoked per state, ancient history here, to the always interesting interstate biscuits and gravy comparisons, to mundane mpg. I have chosen the lesser-known WFO Index: Wheels Falling Off.
We left home about ten one morning and by seven that evening we had covered the entire 2 miles from the house to the highway. It was Oregon Trail time, and hitch the dogs to the wagons with the wimmen. The first couple of hundred yards were deceptively easy, and then we hit the wash, the horror of Stitzel Bottom in the dry months, and we went axle deep in the sand on both trailer and truck before you could utter the first prayer to Big Mac, gawd of truckers; and then I was able to absolutely confirm that the compound-low 4wd in a V10 Dodge will dig the most marvelous holes. Our pulses rose with the palpable excitement of the endless moment.
Wait a minute! you say, What trailer? Well, my main-man in the Mimbres farming community, Able, had been unable to flog Chuckles Kubota for the $12k I wanted, and I certainly wasn't going lower. There really isn't any money around in this area; the copper mines have pretty much shut down and the local call center, Stream, has recently laid off 500 and is closing up shop in July under the Jobs for India program. Don't get me wrong here, I don't blame the Indians, or the Chinese; they are all doing the best they can, and we aren't. I think those parties culpable may reside in our very own country. People are moving out of the Silver City area in droves. Greener grass and all that; I wish them luck.
'No Sale' obviously presented the opportunity to take Chuckles along for the ride. If you have owned a tractor you will understand; it is difficult to imagine life without one; the joy of being up there in the seat puttering about and moving stuff is immense. All I would need was a 16' flat bed trailer. My neighbor, Don, had one he would practically give me for only $800. What a deal, I thought. Steel plate bed, tandem wheels with electric brakes, built on 6" I beam and channel. Whole works weighs in at 1600#. That's what I call sturdy. Cost for wiring, new lights, brake control, etc. was only $250. Can't beat that. Ten thousand pound solid stock stainless steel hitch and a one inch shaft 2 5/16" ball was another $75. I had good rubber all around, re-packed the wheel bearings, and seemed good to go. Took me several days to load everything; stuff got packed over and under and between everything All 500# of Imer was aboard; the buzz box tucked in with the many tools and boxes of nuts and bolts; various household goods were in place. The coup de grace, I drove Chuckles up a ramp of 2x10 fir boards, tucked him in just behind the wheel wells, and it all looked so sweet. The manual said that Thomas, the V10, would haul ~8500#. Was I over that? Naw, couldn't be.
So, neighbor-Don responds to the distress flares and arrives in Stitzel Wash with his jeep and muscles Thomas out with his heavymama winch. We then spend hours trying to move the trailer, both through exhortation and horse power. Nothing avails. And we give up and go to Don's house for some barbequed elk. He calls another neighbor, the owner of a giant John Deere, and this good fellow offers to come and help out. The giant green monster pulled the trailer out without a fuss. We hitched back up and hit the blacktop as evening settled in. Premature relief washed over me.
It was in Moriarty, N.M., at 3:30 A.M. that the first rim went. I never knew rims got old and rusted out and cracked, and then when the air went out of the tire it shredded with a big POP and cloud of black smoke. Whoooeeee! Almost as good as the 4th of July. The town of Moriarty was blessed with Jrs. Tire Shop. We sat in his parking lot 'til 0800, when he jumped right on the problem and put new rims and tires on one side of the trailer. Cost was under $300. What a relief!
This is where my previous brain damage begins to show itself. It is very ugly. I made the fateful decision to go on to Maine on the 2 remaining old rims. Saving money has rarely cost me more cash and aggravation than that one moment did.
The trip actually went well for the next 4 days. Our best day on the road we got from Columbus, Ohio to Mass. And then there was the mess in Mass. The next tire blew out on the turnpike, and down on our rims we limped into Chelmsford. The tire people there were very nice. They sent out the emergency truck to get us onto our spare, which also had a cracked rim, but we did get to the shop before it went flat. No wheels available. They had never heard of a wheel that would fit such an old home made trailer. They looked at the two new ones and agreed that someone, somewhere had heard of such a situation, but they had not. Nothing around Boston would fit. They did put a tube in my rim-cracked spare and for only $70 total I was on my way again; got a discount on the road service charge - lucky me!
The fourth rim gave way and its tire blew late that afternoon in Maine, only 20 miles from the house. I was getting so used to things exploding in smoke behind me that I almost forgot to pull over. That was Friday evening. I spent the weekend unpacking the trailer of its movable items and loading them into Thomas. It rained and was in the forties all weekend. Spring in Maine was proving to be harsher than winter in New Mexico.
The trailer, with Chuckles, Imer and the buzz box aboard remains sitting in a turnpike service area, and tomorrow I can pick up 2 new rims in Portland. They had to be shipped in. With any luck I will have the trailer here in Auburn tomorrow eve.
So, life is almost sweet again. I found out that the well was dry when we got here, but only because a fitting in the workshop had burst during the winter and the pump had run day and noc for months. We had wondered why we were getting such big electric bills - duh! I probably pumped under a hundred thousand gallons onto my work shop floor over the winter. The ground all around the shop is so spongy you sink in 3 or 4 inches just walking, and this is not a low spot. Almost everything in the shop was up, so I don't think much damage was done. Just need to let the plywood dry out. I figure all the water I pumped into the ground should do quite a lot to ease the drought situation, at least locally.
I will get a three day advance bus ticket for the Big Dog as soon as I get the trailer safely here, and then be back in New Mexico after 72 hours on the dog's back. The 3 day advance ticket purchase gives me a rate of $99 for the trip back. Dramamine and sleep, that is my essential travel plan. The Ford Ranger, Rosie, and the tent trailer will then follow me home to Maine loaded with the last of our stuff. My trip back in Rosie will be however I want, as I will be travelling alone.
Well, 'tis the next afternoon and RimJob, now the trailer's official name, is in the yard with Chuckles aboard staring wide-eyed at all the grass and trees. Only cost me another $300 to get 2 new rims and tires. Gosh, I have been getting the best deals of late. Even the plumber who came out on Saturday and told us we didn't have any water - that was before I discovered the leak in the shop that had run the well dry, is only charging us $100 for his ten minute visit. Lucky us!
Speaking of staring wide-eyed I recall the cat, Sgt. Rock, being afraid of the grass the first time we came here; she had never seen a lawn before. I must relate her pre-move doings in Stitzel. About 4 times a week she would score a rat and bring it into the house, quite alive, to play with. The rat would, of course, run under things and escape. Pretty soon Waldo got onto this and would take the rat away from Rocky as soon as she came in. I applauded this as Waldo always took it right back out for the back-breaking head-shake; I imagine dogs practice this move in the womb. Pretty soon Rocky began to bring in her rats and deposit them in the bathtub. Waldo was afraid to get into the tub, he loathes baths, so Rocky would climb in and do a Roman circus act with Waldo and Shay as audience. Big thumbs down every time. It was something to see. Rock would be in hot pursut of the rat, in the tub, round and round - there is no escape! Often she eats what she catches, so it was not uncommon to come up to the house from the bedroom in the morning and find the tub looking like Psycho had just been filmed in it.
Things look reasonably settled here for the moment. The stuff-to-do list for the coming summer is rather vast. There is always machinery to rebuild, and even some wood-working projects. I want to fence in the entire ~4 acres so the kids will have a bigger yard, one that includes woods. Both my progeny are coming to visit this summer. All of Zoe's worldly belongings arrived yesterday from Honolulu; no room in the garage for cars any longer. And there are literally thousands of pages of old tool paper to scan to cd; even though my discretionary fund went bust and I am no longer buying paper I still have so much unscanned that I am appalled.
As usual, sorry I am not getting a personal letter to everyone, but I just can't do it. This is the only format that allows me to keep in touch without frying my brain. The best to all, and hugs and kisses to those who are deserving (this does NOT include Johnny0)
Don, Pat, all the kids, etc.
My 70+ hours on the Big Dog was like a return to past lives. The first Greyhound trip I recall taking was in the late '40's, and it was the sort of hell only children can appreciate. I was only going from Topeka to K.C., to stay with an aunt, but I was certain I had been cast into the world quite on my own. That didn't really happen for several more years.
The world of 'the bus' is still just as I have always known it; the underbelly of society, the margins of the known universe, a frighteningly fascinating place whose values are not your own, and where much latitude of thinking is needed. People who don't normally see the light of day show up at bus terminals at all hours. Messengers crawl out from dusty corners to rant their own private gospel. The unmedicated,undermedicated, and the yet-to-be-diagnosed drift between plastic chairs, mumbling, ever-watchful. Citizens of a simpler make wander from coat sleeve to coat sleeve seeking directions. In short, this is a place everyone of us should go every once in a while. It is a part of our world, of our nation, of our blood, that we should remain familiar with. If you haven't recently, within the last decade, spent a couple of days living the bus life sunup to sundown and back again, then do it.
Oh, there are regular people on the bus, too. Short on cash, doing a sudden geographic lurch, people, like me, of good oakie and white trash stock. I can recall when the bus went everywhere, everyday, and it was a good way to get around. I think the slow death of the bus system is a shame. It was something of a leveller in society in the way that security-conscious, uptight airlines can never be.
Anyway, the high point of the trip came in Roswell; a bit ironic, history considered. I was standing near the bus door stretching my legs during a stop. As usual the new riders were itching to get on before the ones who already had seats, in order to steal those seats, and they crowded at the door in desperation. It was about 3 A.M. A young man was talking to a young girl. She said she couldn't wait to get home and get a shower.
Uh-oh! Non sequitur time. The young man says: 'That was one of the things I just hated in the hospital; the water barely came out.' He wiggled his fingers in the air over his head to show how little water he was getting.
'You were in the hospital?' She asks. I can see that she is getting the idea.
'I get paranoid. Not dangerous or anything. I just start to see people. Well, not people, but their heads, and they are after me. Then I go to the hospital.'
Me, I drifted away into the parking lot. I had heard this story before and never did like it.
So, we all get on the bus, and the young man is seated in the row across from me in the front; the girl has gone to the rear. I always sit in front since I get motion sickness, and the back of the bus is a whole lot worse. We are all seated and the driver gets on. He gives us the once-over and his eyes settle on the young man right in front of him. 'You been drinking...' He thrusts his face out; the words lie somewhere between question and accusation.
'I'm on medication.' The young man is mumbling and shrinking.
'You want medication?' The driver yells. 'We don't have medication on this bus. Why do you want medication from me for?'
There is some more of this Abbott and Costello routine, getting louder and louder, and I finally intervene.
I explain to the driver that the kid has not been drinking, that he is on meds, and foolishly say 'it will be alright.'
The kid stands up and looks at the dash. 'Are those your shirts?' He asks the driver.
I pull him back down into his seat and tell him we will sort the shirts out later.
The driver starts us out. Ah, peace. We travel up the street about 100 feet and the bus stops. The driver opens the door, gets out, leaves the engine running, and goes across the street and into an Arbys. We sit there for 15 minutes, and the driver comes back with a bag of food and off we go again.
I won't go into detail, but the rest of the trip was busy. The kid had begun to visually hallucinate; he was picking up and grabbing things I couldn't see. He would get out of his seat and start toward the driver and I would haul him back. He was talking utter nonsense. He lost his wallet. We decided to look for it later. One thing; he was amenable to suggestion and not the least contentious.
We pull into Riudoso and the kid grabs his plastic bag of belongings - the standard psych. hospital luggage, and I ask if he is getting off. He tells me he is, that he lives here, and he leaves. A couple of minutes later he gets on the bus like he has never seen it before, takes the same seat and settles in.
'Don't you live in Riudoso?' I ask. He replies that he does, and I tell him that we have arrived. He shakes my hand warmly and thanks me for taking care of him while he was spacing, and off he goes into the night.
The driver and I chatted the rest of the way to El Paso. Turned out he had a schizophrenic brother; maybe he had seen as much of it as he wanted to.
A neighbor gave me a ride from Deming up to Mimbres, about 50 miles. I got the rest of the stuff packed into truck and tent trailer and was gone in 26 hours. I did get to spend the noc with my friend Burr.
Coming across the sandy bottom of Stitzel Wash I almost ground to a halt, again. I really thought I had stopped moving and was digging holes, but it wasn't so. Very gradually we climbed out and in a few minutes were on blacktop. Took me 58 hours to drive the 2700 miles to Maine. Stopped to sleep for an hour a few times at roadside rests, and remained steadfastly caffeinated thruout. Got home with no problems and slept 14 hours.
That's the story. I am home. I have to tear the floor and the lower 4' of drywall out of my shop due to the flood and soaked insulation. I have oodles of time to do that, fence the place for boxers, and get back to rebuilding machines, and I even have some woodwork projects. later, don