Thumbin’

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Out of gas and feelin’ low, walkin’ down this lonesome road,

Eatin’ dust, and swallowin’ my pride;

I need a lift to get some gas, but all the cars are goin’ past,

So I’m walkin’ down the road and thumbin’ for a ride.

 

Inspired by a farmer’s dog, I drop my thumb and start to jog,

But which is worse, I really can’t decide;

I couldn’t run for very far, so I sacrificed my candy bar,

And I’m walkin’ down the road and thumbin’ for a ride.

 

Well, its Sunday morn, and church is out,

And now here comes all thee devout,

But they left the church and forgot what they learned inside;

Their big, warm smiles are real nice, but their hearts must be as cold as ice,

So I’m walkin’ down the road and thumbin’ for a ride.

 

A car pulls up, it’s Sheriff Grimes,

He says he’s warned me many times,

He’s sorry but the law is cut and dried;

He’s goin’ to have to run me in, but he doesn’t understand my grin,

Now I’m ridin’ down the road, at last I got a ride.

 

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Memories #6: The Air Farce

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Lake Superior, Gitchigumi in Ojibwe, was once much larger than it is now. Its Northern shores reached all the way up to the Laurentian Divide. The taconite was formed in the sedimentary rock of its lake bed, and where it met the air at the shorelines, it rusted, and became what we call iron ore. After all the iron ore was dug from the ground, we went after the lower-grade-but-plentiful taconite, but there was a problem: the bowl shape of the lake bottom meant that the taconite sloped down to the south under the ever-increasing amount of top soil, which had to be removed. Eventually, mines began shutting down for good because it wasn’t cost-effective to remove so much surface to get to the taconite anymore. What does this have to do with the Air Force?

Well, before the mines finally had to shut down, they had a regular cycle of Boom and Bust; they always had since iron ore was discovered here in the late 1800’s. It was during one of these down periods, before Erie Mining became LTV, that I came upon the idea of joining the military. I talked to a recruiter, and he really “pumped some sunshine up my ass” (as my friend Dac used to say), painting such a rosy picture, that before I knew it, I was signed up for 6 years, and  downing a highball on my way to Lackland Air Force Training Center in Texas for basic training.

In basic training, the whole idea is to break you down totally and utterly, and then mold your quivering mass into the person they want you to be, you know, semper fi and all that. Most of the guys in basic training were 18 or 19, while I was 26 with a family, so I thought it wouldn’t take: oh, but they were thorough. By the time I left for Jody to pick me up at the Minneapolis Airport, I was ready to die for my country, and didn’t want anything to do with alcohol or drugs ever again.

The Air Force was thorough, but they had never ran up against a Jody. She picked me up in a sleek Trans Am she’d borrowed, complete with a case of beer and a bag of weed. By the time we were half-way home, I had rediscovered my hippy roots.

After my schooling in Illinois, my first orders were for me to go to England and become part of the Royal Air Force. I’d like to believe it was because of my proficiency and high scores, but it really was because the Air Force is so inept: they wanted to send a single guy who wanted to go to England, to Florida, and send me, a guy with a family, who wanted to go to Florida, to England.(They didn’t pay to send your family overseas.) So we swapped, and Jody, Aaron and I headed for Florida.

I was originally supposed to have the cushiest job ever in the tropical Florida Keys, but my recruiter didn’t mention that his picturesque scenario all hinged on my being able to get a top-secret security clearance. I had been busted once “importing illegal drugs into the United States” or, as I called it, “forgot I had half a joint in my pocket on a fishing trip to Canada.” So I picked another job, Fuel Specialist, from a video showing a dude in a lab frock pouring chemicals together. Turned out all I did was fuel jets, and mow lawns, and paint trucks–mostly the latter two.

My tropical dreams were dashed when I found out Florida is a huge stinking swamp, where its 100 degrees with 100% humidity almost every day. I have a fear of snakes, and yet managed to find myself living on Rattlesnake Road. There was a playground next door with a huge sign in the middle of it that read: “Danger: poisonous snakes in this area.”

The Air Force had already told me, “If Uncle Sam wanted you to have a family, he would have issued you one!” and he meant it. They gave me $90 a month for rent, (I found a rat and cockroach infested shack for $250) and little more. My recruiter had told me I would be able to live on base for free, but he forgot to mention that there was a two-year waiting list. In no time we were destitute, and starving. One day I got so fed up with it, I went to the supermarket and stuffed the biggest, juiciest-looking steak down my pants and walked out.

I was born an atheist, and Jody was a heathen, but we had become so desperate and hungry one day, that when they turned us down to charge some food at the store, we decided praying couldn’t hurt. We bowed our heads right there in the parking lot and asked God for food. A few minutes later, we watched as a car pulled off the road and into the parking lot. He drove right up to us, rolled down his window, and said, “You folks hungry?” I shit you not. We loaded a cart up to over-flowing, and he paid cash for it. Then he opened his trunk and it was full of fresh produce. A miracle?

Not long after, the mines started up again, and I wrote a long letter to the base commander explaining it all, and to my surprise, I was honorably discharged 5 days later, and headed home, where I resumed my mining career.

 

 

Ways of Wizards

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I met a wizard one day by a creek;

I sat down and listened when he started to speak.

He spoke of the nature of space and of time,

He said they’re illusions construed in our minds,

He told me we were made from the ashes of stars,

And that some of my grandkids will be living on Mars.

He said that the grass was every color but green,

There’s no future and no past, but only in-between,

In other dimensions, beyond the known three,

Inertial momentum becomes gravity;

He told me of things so amazing and grand,

That most of his words I could not understand.

He saw my confusion, to him I was blind,

He said the solution was to open my mind.

He reached in his pocket, and smiling at me,

He pulled out a locket and inside was a key,

He said, “Take this with you wherever you go,”

“And in turn you will learn everything you must know.”

So I started to search; to look for a door

That the key would unlock, so I could learn more.

I searched every cranny, and all little nooks,

In streets and in alleys and even in books;

I searched a whole lifetime for that hidden door–

I searched every when, where, why, and what for.

Then one day it hit me, I must’ve been blind

Not to see that the key had really opened my mind,

And now I’m a wizard, and I’m telling you

If you sit down and listen, I can make you one too:

Take this old key, try every door you can find,

And one day you’ll see that you have opened your mind.

 

Memories #7: Million Dollar Mistake

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Truckdrivers don’t get enough exercise; they usually end up with bad backs and atrophied leg muscles. That’s why, after driving truck for many years, I decided to start walking the 8K or so, round trip, everyday to work, and I’ve never been sorry. Everything from petting a young fawn to confronting two bear has happened in the woods on my walks. Toting a good 50 lbs of books, thermos, jacket, lunch, etc., and trying to keep ahead of the mosquito hoard, kept me in pretty good shape.

Well, one hot afternoon I left for work after instructing each family member to stay far away from the melting blob on the wall we called the fusebox, ironically, because it was the greatest fire hazard there ever was–and had no fuses in it. I had temporarily hot-wired it, because we had a new breaker box coming to replace it in a day or so. What can I say, we needed juice!

When I was about midway between my house and the reporting building in area 6, I heard the city siren go off; turning, I could see a column of black smoke rising from behind the trees–RIGHT WHERE MY HOUSE WOULD BE!

It was so hot that day, that out on those open hills it felt like a blast furnace. Still I ran with that pack full tilt all the way to the buildings. I grabbed the phone and called… it kept ringing…FINALLY! Jody, my wife answered. The fire had been at an old contractor’s trailer on the edge of town–right in line with my house.

It was a good thing I didn’t run the other way, toward home. I might have decided to stay, and they would of had to pay another driver time-and-a-half to fill my spot. Or was it? Turns out that before the night was over, my reporting to work would cost them a million dollars.

To pay for that new breaker box (to never have to buy another fuse!), Jody and I had agreed that if any overtime was offered, I would take it. So it was that night.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever driven for long, long periods before, but every trucker knows how time slows down behind the wheel, and on really long trips (like the 16 hours in the saddle I was pulling), it was accomplished mostly on auto-pilot.

And that’s where I was at 4:00 AM the next morning, auto-pilot. I had just pulled the snorting, metal beast up onto the rock dump, and backed up alongside the cat. The catskinner, surprisingly awake, guided me back with his flashlight and then flipped it off.I raised the box for the umpteenth time that night, only this time, it came too close to a power line. There was a tremendous explosion (waking us all up), and a huge fireball that lit up the whole sky as 100,000+ Volts fried my truck, instantly blowing out the windshield and gauges, as well as a rear tire and the Halon System. I just sat in the seat without touching anything metal (I found out later, that might’ve saved my life), and I wouldn’t get down until an electrician said it was safe.

So they had to call up an electrician at 4:30 in the morning and have him come out to work. Meanwhile, the insides of the front tires were somehow burning, and I began to get a bad feeling about them. I grabbed the steering wheel and held on tight and, sure enough, one tire blew, and then the other. These are those giant wheels for the biggest truck we had,(240 ton), and when they blow, the whole front end drops down a couple of feet, and the noise…well, let’s just say people from Hoyt Lakes, Biwabik, Aurora, and even Embarrass have told me they heard it.

By now there were firetrucks, and foremen, most of my crew, and even Barry Grivette, the Head Cheese was there. The electrician arrived, assessed the situation, had the power line shut down over his phone, touched the truck, and gave me the all-clear. I crawled down to everyone clapping and even Barry gave me a hug. It had been 40 or 45 minutes since I’d been zapped, and now, only after I was safely down, the tires burst into flames and soon the whole truck was engulfed.

None of it was my fault, and if anything, by the way Barry was hugging me, I might have been able to sue them, but I’ll just go with the honor of holding the record for the number of blow-outs on one truck.

Memories #8: The Accident

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I was living with my sister Marilyn and her husband Jere in South Minneapolis, and working at the Hi-Vee bagging groceries on Lake Street. Jere and I were heading to Macalester  College in St. Paul one night to see a friend, and he was showing me how to maintain a certain speed in order to hit all the lights green.

We passed Bonnie’s Tap, one of our haunts, where we played foosball. We were actually quite good; I played ups (the fastest right hand on the planet), and Jere was good at goalie, something I sucked at. We had a regulation-size foosball table in our apartment, and I think we won a tournament once at Bonnie’s (don’t recall a lot of those days).

Any way, we came upon an intersection just as the light turned green, and a lady coming from the side street had punched it to make a late yellow. I could see that she was going to T-bone us, and it almost seemed like it was happening in slow-motion while we just sat there waiting, when actually it all happened very quickly and there was no time to react. She hit us broadside on my (passenger) side, and the last thing I remember was my head smashing out the side window, and the loudest noise I ever heard.

When I came to, it all seemed so surreal. Jere was somehow stuck under the dash, and there was a big, blinding bright light shining in my face. Apparently, our car had been spun around and into the path of an oncoming city bus. Because I had bounced off Jere (while the bus hit him on the other side), I was relatively unhurt, and escaped with minor injuries; Jere wasn’t as lucky, and he would have to convalesce for some time.

The doors were all smashed in, so I pulled Jere through the broken window and laid him on the ground as we waited for an ambulance. A small crowd formed, and someone threw  their jacket over Jere, while someone else asked, “Is he dead?” I remembered that there was a bag of weed in the glove-compartment, so I went back to the car to retrieve it, but the car door was bent in right on top of the glove-box, so I couldn’t get it.

For the next few years I had a phobia about street lights and intersections. At first, I didn’t even dare ride in a car. So when my boss told me I would have to go to St. Paul to take a physical for my new job, I didn’t know how I could get there. Finally, I decided that taxi-cab drivers must be safe, so I took a deep breath and called one. When he pulled up, and I got in, I could see he was more nervous than I was. His hands were shaking on the wheel, and he looked at me and said, “You’re my first customer!” Oh shit! I thought, buckling in. We went down two blocks and hit another car head-on. I moved back up North shortly thereafter.

 

Memories # 9: Guitarman

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As a young wanna-be guitar player, I bought one of those Mel Bay’s Guitar Lessons books and proceeded to really confuse myself to the point of pretty-much giving up. Then one day a buddy showed me tablature, 12 bar blues, barre chords, and the pentatonic minor scale, and I was off and running. I would never become an accomplished guitarist, but one night I had my 15 minutes of fame.

My wife bought me an electric guitar for $75.00 one Christmas (one she would later throw into a bonfire), and I bought a big amp with all kinds of distortion and effects. If you set the controls right, you can just touch any string and it will sound like a symphony.

My brother Brian and I were getting together and jamming, and practicing regularly, so I’d have to say I was at the height of my short-lived musical phase, when a friend called  and asked me to bring the amp to his trailer for an impromptu session. When I got there, his wife explained that he had been called away, but would be back soon, so I set up the amp and started running through a few riffs. Just then, his teen-age daughter came through the door with a bunch of friends–it was her birthday, and the party had been moved here.

More and more girls poured in, until the entire trailer was packed with bodies dancing to the music I was providing. Shy, introverted, geeky me, for a moment, a guitarman.

Memories # 10: The Bear

 

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–Colorful Bear by Sharon Cummings

Back in the early nineties, my wife and I found an old abandoned hunting shack deep in the Minnesota backwoods of the Mesabi Iron Range, and arranged with the owner to stay there for free, providing we would work at fixing the place up a bit. We had two small children, and this place was so far out in the boondocks, the school bus couldn’t make it down our road, and a suburban was sent instead.

We had a hand pump for water; I still remember it took 145 pumps to fill the washing machine to wash, and another 145 to rinse. We used an outhouse, and only had a woodstove for heat. We were The Walton’s, but the price was right, and after living for a while in L.A., it was paradise. Apparently, we had become co-inhabitants with the local fauna by proxy. There seemed to be garter snakes everywhere, wolves were often seen in the woods, and…a bear. A big, cinnamon female who was hell-bent on getting in the house.

It all started when the kids, age 13 and 10, came screaming across the field, running toward the house with the bear loping after them. They barely made it inside, and she was there, circling the house, looking in the windows, and pushing on the glass. I had a shed full of garbage across the driveway, but she only wanted to get in the house. All I had was a BB gun, so I went out and shot her a few times, and only succeeded in pissing her off more. I jumped in my Firebird, revving it up and laying on the horn, but nothing worked.

Finally, I realized I would have to find a gun to save the day. The wife and kids went upstairs and waited for the bear to appear on the steps, while I drove to my nearest neighbor in hopes of finding a big rifle in time to save them. When I got there, I realized that they had an iron gate chained shut to keep the meandering cows in. So I had to get out of the car, unchain the gate, get back in the car, drive through, then get out of the car, chain the gate shut again, and then get back in the car…all this while imagining my defenseless wife and kids ripped to shreds while “coward father runs away.”

I drove up to the house and knocked on the door. A woman appeared on the other side, but made no move to open it. “Do you have a rifle?” I yelled, “a rogue bear is trying to eat my family!”

“I do,” she answered, “but I’m not allowed to open the door when my husband’s not home.” I couldn’t believe it. There was only one other house on the whole road, a couple of miles away, and I made it through the gate in record time.

A half-deaf old man lived there, and I shouted out my predicament again. He had an old 30.30 on his wall, and he said, “Hasn’t been shot in years, and these shells are ancient. I’m not sure it’ll work.” I grabbed the rifle and shells out of his hands, and tore down the road, my heart in my throat at what I might find.

As I came up the driveway, I could see the bear still circling the house, trying to find a way in. I slipped into the house and loaded the gun with the five shells the old man had given me. I stepped back out, but by now, it was getting dark, and the rifle had a big scope on it, so I couldn’t even aim at close range. I had shot a bear once before with a 30.06 at about 50 yards, and even though the bullet pierced his lungs and liver, he crossed that 50 yards in seconds, and dropped just yards from me. Now with the bear only a few feet away, I had to try another approach.

“Here it comes!” my wife called from her perch, and a second later the darkness before me turned darker. I aimed the gun as best I could at the bear’s nose and pulled the trigger. Just then our cockatiel  went nuts swooping and flapping in the small room with the kids and wife, and they couldn’t see what was going on.

Luckily for me, the bear dropped on the spot with the first shot, but I pumped the other four into her to make sure. Later, my son would tell me that he assumed the additional shots told a different story. I remember the adrenaline coursing through my veins, telling me I was immortal.