Communion Of Dreams


The call.
October 20, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

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November 2004

The Call

So, I’m waiting for a phone call.

It’s a different kind of anticipation. Not the mild angst of waiting for the publisher to call about my book, which they have been considering for 10 weeks now. Not the cold-sweat anxiety of waiting to hear how a loved one fared in the surgical unit. Nor even the slight annoyance of waiting for someone who I was talking to, but got another call “they had to answer,” to call me back.

I’m waiting to help a friend win a lot of money. Well, maybe.

A week ago I got an email from an old college buddy. We’ve kept in pretty close touch, but don’t chat all that often. He was writing to ask me for a favor: to be his “life-line”. See, my buddy managed to get himself on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. And he wanted to see whether I would be available to help him (if he needed it) on the day he was taping the show. Asked me to outline my areas of expertise for him.

That’s a reality check, let me tell you. I mean, I’m a pretty smart guy. I’ve got an IQ that makes me wonder about the validity of the tests, if you know what I mean. And I’ve got a good education. But how smart am I, really? Smart enough for my friend to depend upon me to maybe win a buttload of money?

He thinks so. I have my doubts.

I told him that while I’m smart, it’s in a “figuring things out” kind of way, not in a “Trivial Pursuit” kind of way. Names are slippery things for me. Pop culture for the last 20 years completely passed me by. I vaguely know that there are such things as Football and Baseball, but couldn’t tell you who played in the Superbowl last year if my life depended upon it. Yeah, I know the Red Sox just beat the Cardinals for the World Series, but doubt if I could name even a single player on either team. I told him this. I even told him that I’ve never seen the show in its entirety, only bits and pieces in passing, but I’d try and remember to look it up this week and check it out. (Of course, I forgot.)

He still wanted me on the list. Oh, he’s got a couple of other people he can tap, too, so the entire burden isn’t on my shoulders. So this morning the nice production assistant called me and went over the routine, explained everything, made sure I’d be available during the taping. And just a moment ago they called to say my buddy made it through the preliminary rounds of the show, and was next in “the hot seat”. So the anticipation builds. If the phone rings again, I’m supposed to let it go for three rings, then answer “Hello” and the show host will come on. Then we’ll have 30 seconds for my buddy to tell me the question and the possible answers, and for me to tell him which one I think is right.

No pressure.

Well, OK, a little pressure. Yeah, got a little flop-sweat going. Why did I do this? I mean, helping a buddy out is one thing, but was I out of my frelling mind??? I don’t know the kind of stuff they ask about on game shows. There won’t even be time to put a thousand Googling monkeys to work to help me fake it. I’ll just lose my buddy a lot of money and make a fool of myself on national TV.

All right, calm down.

Maybe he won’t call. Maybe he’ll just breeze right through the questions on his own, earning his cool million, without any help. Or maybe if he gets stuck on a question, it’ll be one suitable to one of the other people on his life-line list. People who have a mastery of minutia, a memory for obscure facts and figures, who know the difference between an RBI and Fourth-and-Ten. Or maybe he’ll just screw up on of the early questions and get eliminated. Yeah, that’s a possibility. That’s my salvation!

Oops, wait a moment. I don’t want him to lose. No, really, I’m willing to live with the pressure for a few minutes more, take my chance. With luck, I’ll just dodge this bullet, but still have the braggin’ rights to say that I was someone’s life-line on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Yeah, that’s it. Think of the glory!

Damn, the phone just rang.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Set your VCR . . . 10 February 2005

My buddy who was taped for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and asked me to be one of his life lines let me know that the show is scheduled to be on next Thursday, Feb. 17. In Columbia it’s on KMIZ at 3:30 . . . check your local listings for times in your area.

Because Enquiring Minds Want to Know . . . 18 February 2005

In case you didn’t see it, my buddy Steve won $100k on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The show was broadcast on 2/17.



The Car
October 18, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

circa 1994

The Car

She was late to class, and new in town. I recognized the symptoms when she pulled up, parked the car, got out, locked it, and strode into the flow of students with narry a glance back. A single-minded set to her eyes. The new backpack. The glance at her watch as she blended into the crowd.

The sociology professor came out of his building, got into his car, and went to the entrance of his lot, only to find her car there across the driveway. He honked his horn. He got out, and walked around her car. He came across the street to the espresso shop next door, figuring that maybe it was just a customer who stopped in for quick cup to go. He came out of the espresso shop, walked back across the street, walked around The Car again, scratching his head. The crowd of students had now melted away, class having begun, and there was virtually no one in sight. He stood there for a minute or two, then went back into his building.

When he came out, there was one of the secretaries who worked in the building with him. She figured that this was a great time to get a smoke, enjoy the sunshine, look at The Car blocking the driveway. The two of them stood there, looking at The Car. The Car did not move. The owner of The Car did not come back to it. Another car came up to the entrance to the lot from the street side, wanting to turn in. This car honked. The professor went over to the driver and explained about The Car blocking the driveway. The driver of the second car got out, looked at The Car. She went over to the door of The Car, tried to open it. The driver’s door was locked.

A passing student saw this, tried to open the other doors, which were all locked. Another secretary came out, got a light and the outline of the story from the first secretary. The professor went back inside the building. He came out with another professor. They stood chatting with the secretaries, all looking at The Car. The passing student picked up his books and wandered away. Traffic was starting to back up.

Other cars came and wanted to pull into the lot. Someone from the small but growing knot watching The Car would go over and explain the situation. Traffic moved by fits and starts, since even those who didn’t want to pull into the lot were curious about what was going on. Customers of the espresso shop started to bring their cups of steaming latte out onto the sidewalk, watching The Car and all that happened around it. The professor went back inside his building a third time. A few minutes after he came out again, a parking-enforcement officer for the University pulled up. The parking-enforcement officer looked at The Car. He talked with the professor, and the other professor, and the one secretary who was still there on a prolonged break. A couple of the bystanders offered opinions and suggestions as well.

The parking-enforcement officer got on his radio, made a call. Then he wrote out a ticket and slipped it under the windshield wiper of The Car. He said something to the crowd, then got in his car and drove away. The professor, and the other professor, came back across the street and got cups of espresso, talked with the people standing on the sidewalk.

After a while a University policeman pulled up. He got out, looked at The Car. He tried opening the doors. He talked with the secretary, then the professor. Some of the people finishing up their lattes wandered over and told him what they had seen. The policeman walked around The Car again. Then he had the professor get back in his car, and guided the professor over the curb, across the grass, and out onto the street. There was a cheer from the crowd.

The policeman got on his radio, and a few minutes later the tow truck showed up. The tow truck operator got out, talked with the policeman. Then he walked around The Car, laughing and shaking his head. He got down under The Car for a good look. Then he got his trollies, and positioned them under the front end, one in front of the wheels, one behind. He strapped them together, and hooked them up to the tow truck. Since class was over, a bunch of students had started to gather around to watch the excitement.

Then she came back. Not as distracted this time, she noticed the big crowd, stopped to see what they were watching. As The Car was lifted up by the tow truck winch, she realized that it was her car, and screamed. The tow truck operator stopped. Everything was silent. The policeman, and most of the crowd, turned to look at her. After a moment, there was applause.



Jim Downey and the Amazing Hoopie – part three.
October 17, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Guns, Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part three: A Very Strange Sunday

I awoke the next morning to a beautiful late-fall day. The sun was out, it was already as warm at 10 o’clock as it had gotten the day before, and I figured that before long we would be heading home. Little did I know.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t the first one up (except for Stalking Charlie – I expected him to be awake already). Uncle Clem was sitting in his chair, coffee cup in hand, staring quietly into the fire. And off up by the side of the bus, near the booze table, were a couple of guys in rickety folding chairs who looked very much like they had been up drinking all night. I stood there for a couple of moments, trying to come up with their names. They were brothers, that much I remembered. Both were married; I had witnessed them rudely greeting their wives the night before. Dan was the one . . . and . . . oh, yeah, Stan was the other. Both had black hair, short, slicked back in a style that had disappeared at least a decade earlier. In their late 20s or early thirties. Both thin, short, but muscular.

They were having some kind of argument, I could tell, though their words weren’t clear enough where I stood to discern exactly what they were saying. But it was animated, in a brotherly sort of way. Well, a drunken, redneck, brotherly sort of way.

I walked up to the fire, Charlie watching me the whole way, Uncle Clem noticing me as I got close. He said, “He’p yerself t’ coffee, boy.”

“Thanks.” I had brought a cup, hoping. I nodded to Charlie, poured coffee, looked up at the brothers.

Clem followed my gaze. “Pay ’em no mind. They’s always that way after huntin’.”

Being a little closer, I could see that the younger of the two brothers, Dan, had half-dried blood all down his shirt. “He OK?”

Clem looked at Dan, squinting, as though he hadn’t noticed the blood previously. “Huh. Yeah, I reckon. Prob’ly jus’ them wrastlin’ some.”

I nodded, sipped my coffee. Hearing movement behind me, I turned to see Rich pull himself out of the tent, stand and blink in the bright sunlight. He disappeared into the woods for a bit, then came back around the tent, reached inside and brought out a cup, headed our way. But he paused to rap hard on the side of Jerry’s pickup, where I could still hear Jerry snoring away. The snoring stopped.

“Yeah. Whaddya want?”

“Jerry, it’s almost ten. Wanna get moving?”

There was a pause. “Oh, yeah. Gimme a minute.”

Rich turned from the truck and resumed his walk up to the fire. Yawning, he nodded to everyone, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down heavily on a log. He looked a little paler than usual. He muttered, “Morning.”

“Sleep OK?” I asked.

Shaking his head, yawning, and trying to nod all at once, he said, “Yeah. Lil’ wonder, since I’d had a couple.”

Laughing, Clem said, “You wer’t t’ only one.”

“No, no, that’s for sure. Some of these boys can really put it away,” agreed Rich, taking another slug of coffee. He looked up at Stan and Dan. “Them, for example.”

I heard the sound of Jerry’s topper creaking open, turned to look. He dragged himself out to the tailgate, sat up unsteadily, looking more than a little green around the gills. I gestured to Rich. “Looks like Jerry didn’t do too bad, himself.”

Rich looked, smiled slightly. “Yup.”

Clem laughed again. “There’ll be worse. Jus’ wait.”

Sure enough, in the next hour most of the rest of the camp staggered out of their various sleeping places and wandered over to the fire in quest of coffee. Charlie kept the pot going, adding water and another handful of grounds whenever it got a little low. Jerry, moving slow and wearing his hat down low over his eyes, was barely in the running for being the worst off. And I got the impression that was only because he was more out of practice than a lot of these guys. Some of ’em only sat and tried to sip at their coffee long enough to fall back asleep, much to the amusement of everyone else. And one fellow got the heaves, losing it in the fire and almost falling in himself before someone grabbed him and dragged him off to the edge of the woods.

“Well, that’s it,” said Clem, getting up out of his chair. “No one wants t’ sit here wit’ th’ stink o’ roastin’ puke. Let’s break camp, boys.”

There was a general muttering of agreement, mixed with moans of pain as some of the boys tried to get moving again. Me and Rich went down and took care of getting our gear together, packing up the little tent, and so forth. Jerry mostly just shoved his stuff into one corner of the pickup, making room for our stuff. As we were finishing Rich looked over the top of the truck up at the bus, said, “What the hell?”

I turned and looked, saw that Stan and Dan had gotten up out of their chairs, and, barely able to stand, were trying to fight. Several of the less hung-over guys were trying to keep them apart. I glanced at Rich. “Let’s go see what happens!”

Rich started to say something, but I was already on my way up to the bus. Others had started to gather around, as well, and the small crowd had begun to move away from the bus. I got there just in time to hear Matt say, “Whadda ya fightin’ ’bout?”

Leaning unsteadily away from the man who held him, Dan looked at Matt a long time, trying to get his eyes to focus. Sloppily, spitting as he spoke, he said “Imma better hunner ‘n ‘e is.”

“I kick yer ass,” said Stan, trying to pull away from Kenny, who held him solidly by the upper arms. “Ev’one knows I’s better. I always get more deer n’ you.”

Dan, shrugging off restraint, stepped forward and pointed shakily at the hat that Stan was wearing. “I kin shoot that deer.”

Stan, blinking uncomprehendingly for moment, pulled off his green John Deere cap. There was a deer on a button on the front, no larger than a typical shirt button. I hadn’t even noticed it.

“Shit, this I gotta see,” said Matt. He turned to someone, “Go get his gun.”

For a moment I thought he was going to let Dan kill Stan. Even the idea of putting a gun in the hands of this slobbering drunk scared the hell out of me. I looked at Rich, who had come up behind me, and who was now completely drained of color. But before I could say anything to him, or him to me, the fellow Matt sent returned with Dan’s rifle.

Matt grabbed the hat from Stan, said, “Follow me.”

We followed, people helping the two drunks, a short distance away from the bus. Matt stopped, looked around. “Stay here.”

Everyone stopped, watched Matt as he calmly walked down the road about 50 yards and set the green cap in the fork of a tree. I could barely make out the hat at that distance, since it was partially hidden in shadow. Matt walked back to the crowd. “Give him the rifle.”

Rich grabbed me and pulled me back as much out of the way as possible. I didn’t need much encouragement, but both of us couldn’t help but stay there and watch what happened. Dan took the 30-30, stumbled over to a fair sized tree, and parked himself against it. He racked a round into the chamber, then raised the gun, the barrel wavering but pointing down the road. He stood there for a second, then brought the gun down, shook his head.

“Tol’ ya. He can’t do it,” said Stan.

“Fuck you,” muttered Dan, pulling his own cap off and throwing it at Stan. Then turning back down the road, he raised the rifle again, and with barely a pause to lean against the tree to steady himself, fired.

I swear to God that the hat lept from the tree, some 50 yards away.

“Son of a bitch,” muttered Rich, beside me.

A whoop went up. As Matt jogged down the road to retrieve the hat, Dan turned to Stan, smiled a drunken smile. “Lemme see you do it.”

Matt just then got back with the hat, and handed it over for others to see and pass around as he shook his head unbelieving. The button was gone from the front of the hat, leaving only a ragged hole where it had been punched through the fabric. There was also an exit hole in the back, just above the adjustable band.

Dan no longer had the rifle. Taking the green hat, he put it on his head, staggered over to his brother. Pointing at his own black hat laying in the road, he repeated, “Lemme see you do it.”

Stan reached down and picked up the hat, almost tumbling over in the process. He looked at it, looked at his own hat now on Dan’s head. He put on the black cap. “I’s still a better hunter ‘n you is.”

But then he smiled, said, “But maybe you’s a better shot.”

Everyone cheered.

A little while later, most of the camp was packed up, which consisted mostly of just shoving things in vehicles, and we were waiting for Jerry to come back to the truck. He came down the hill from the bus, came over to us and said to Rich, “Say, th’ old man wants me to come over to th’ house, visit with th’ women folk a bit. You don’t mind, do ya? They’ll have food and everything for us. We’ll only stay a little while.”

Rich glanced at me. “Um, no, that’s fine. But let’s not stay too long, OK?”

Jerry nodded, and we got in the truck to leave. But before he started the engine, Matt came around to his side of the truck. Jerry got out for a moment, chatted with Matt in low tones. Then he opened his door, and with Matt still standing there, asked Rich, “Say, you wouldn’t mind driving one of the boy’s cars back over to my uncle’s place, would you?”

Matt stuck his head around Jerry. “Some of th’ boys ain’ in no shape t’ drive.”

Rich nodded, said, “Yeah, I can believe that.”

“Hard t’ drive when yer pukin’ or passed out,” said Matt. “We’d ‘preciate it.”

“Yeah,” said Rich, getting out of the truck. He looked at me. “Um, you wanna come with me, James?”

“Oh yeah.”

“This way,” said Matt, when we came around the truck. He led us up the hill and past the bus, to where there were several cars and trucks waiting. Each one looked to be in worse shape than the one next to it.

“Which one?” asked Rich.

Matt pointed to the closest of the lot. It was hard to tell what the car had been originally. A Chevy Impala would’ve been my guess, from the basic body shape. But things had been done to it. Things that oughtn’t be done. Unnatural things. Like trying to make it into a convertible, without the benefit of clergy nor real Chevy parts. What was stuck on the car after the original top had been cut away was the rag roof of some other model or make car. It almost fit. There was no hood. It had probably been removed to allow installation of the huge carb/air-injector thingee that stuck way up out of the engine compartment. The whole car sat maybe a foot higher than it should’ve. And, of course, it looked like it had been painted by a couple of toddlers with spray cans.

Matt said, “This’s Junior’s.”

“Uh, sure,” said Rich.

“Jus’ drive it t’ Charlie’s, OK?

“Uh, sure. Where’s that?”

“Jus’ follow us.”

“Yeah. But . . .”

Matt had already headed towards one of the battered pickups. Before we even got in Junior’s car, the Hoopie roared to life and went rumbling past. The bus followed it. Other cars, jeeps, and trucks started up and were moving as we scrambled to get into Junior’s car.

Inside was even more frightening that outside. The front seats were a couple of bucket seats from a different car, crudely welded into place, with no way to adjust their position. Rich is a big guy, stands about 6’4″, and I bet Junior was a good six inches shorter, given how Rich had to scrunch up in order to sit behind the wheel. There were no seats in back, just a stack of spare tires, most of them bald or even flat. Automatically, I reached for the seat belt. Hah! Rich went to start the car, was confronted with a screwdriver sticking out of the ignition. Shaking his head, he grasped the handle of the screwdriver and gave it a twist. The engine coughed, then caught. Looking at me, Rich just rolled his eyes, then grabbed the stick shift sticking up out of the floor through a ragged hole between our seats, and put the car in gear.

By this time, most of the other vehicles had already left the clearing and had disappeared down the fire road. Rich followed the last car out, trying to navigate the Chevy through the ruts and rough spots best he could, given that it was almost impossible to see past the monstrous carburetor. “Jesus! This is fuckin’ unbelievable.”

We both about bounced out of our seats. I thought my head was going to go through the ragtop. “Um, what is?”

Rich laughed, a nervous yet sarcastic laugh. “Good one, James. I guess this just fits in with the whole fuckin’ unbelievable weekend, doesn’t it?”

The engine screamed as we hit another rut and the rear end lost traction for a second. Rich was trying to keep the car in front of us in sight. “Man, I’ve known rednecks before. Been huntin’ with a few of ’em. But these guys . . .” He paused, chanced a glance at me. “Hell, James, your dad, what with bein’ a cop and all, knew some real characters. He once described someone to me as a ‘slope-headed Ozark stump-jumper.’ I about spit my beer out when he said that. Well, that’s what these idiots are. Slope-headed Potosi stump-jumpers. Jesus.”

We came up to the blacktop, and saw a couple of cars from our group disappearing to the left. Rich followed, shifting gears and pushing the Chevy. Muttering, he looked at the dashboard. “No surprise, doesn’t look like any of the instruments work. Christ on a stick.”

I just held on. The car seemed to handle the road pretty well, but had a tendency to sway disturbingly on the curves. We came to another blacktop, followed the last car in the line to the right and a short time later went through some nameless small town. Just over the hill past that town I felt the car shimmy and Rich hit the brakes, slowed us down and pulled off to the side. I asked “What’s wrong?”

“Flat. One of the rear tires, I’d bet.” Rich turned red. “Dammit.”

“Well, we’ve got plenty of tires, I said, pointing to the pile behind us.”

Rich looked at me like I was nuts. “Yeah, but did you see a jack?”

“Maybe in the trunk?”

“I don’t have a key to the trunk. All I’ve got is a goddamn screwdriver. And it’s stuck in the goddamn ignition.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

We got out. Rich went around back to see if there was some way to open the trunk. I opened the back door, looked around the tires as much as I could. Slamming his fist on the trunk lid in disgust, Rich came around to my side of the car. “Any luck?”

“Nah. Let me see if I can shift a couple of these, look into the trunk.” I did that, and partly climbed into the back seat to get a better look.

“Anything?”

I squinted. “Can’t see much, there isn’t any light. But it looks like all that’s back there is more tires and a bunch of batteries.”

“Batteries?” asked Rich.

“Uh, yeah, car batteries.” I pulled myself back out of the car. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Rich shook his head, sighing. “Un-fucking-believable.”

I looked around. “Hey, isn’t that Matt in that pickup?”

Rich looked, but didn’t have a chance to say anything before the pickup pulled off the road in front of us. Matt got out and started walking towards us. “Wha’ happen’d?”

Rich looked at me, and I could tell he was about ready to strangle Matt. But he just said, “Flat.”

Matt nodded, and turned around, heading for his truck. For a moment I thought he was just going to get in and leave. But he reached into the bed of the truck and came out with a tractor jack and a 4-way tire iron. In short order we had the car jacked up, and found a tire in the back seat that still had air and the right lug pattern to fit on the Chevy. As he let the car back down, Matt said, “Sorry ’bout that. Well, ain’ much further.”

“Hey, uh, how about some directions?” asked Rich.

Matt scratched his head, “Well, take th’ firs’ gravel up here t’ th’ right, then th’ firs’ dirt road. Go over th’ tracks an’ you’re there.”

“Got it.”

“If’n you don’ show up ‘n a bit, I’ll come lookin’.”

“Thanks.”

Matt got in his truck and took off. We got back in the Chevy, Rich just shaking his head. The first gravel road wasn’t far, and we turned onto it. The dirt road leading off it had a hand painted sign that just said “JUNKYARD.” We went that way, and before long we were driving along a railroad embankment on our left that was a good ten or twelve feet higher than the road, with a runoff ditch between. After a couple hundred yards of this, the road turned sharply left, down the ditch and up the embankment.

Rich paused, put the car in low. We went down, and the higher ground clearance meant that we didn’t get stuck in the ditch. Up the other side, and the car died just as we cleared the top, straddling the railroad tracks. Rich tried to start the engine, but nothing happened when he twisted the handle of the screwdriver. Rich looked at me. I looked at Rich.

We got out of the car. Rich looked the situation over. The road went down the other side of the embankment and into a large junkyard which had heretofore been shielded from us. There, in the center, was a pile of buildings. “Fuck it,” he said. “They want the goddamn car, they can come get it.”

I wondered about the wisdom of leaving a car on the tracks. “Uh, what if a train comes along?”

“Out here? On a Sunday?” Rich shook his head. “Little chance of that, I’d say. But we’ll go tell them, they’ll know how often the train comes through. Not much we can do about it.”

So, we proceeded down to the junkyard and towards the pile of buildings. It was kind of hard to tell where the junk ended and the buildings began, as stuff was leaning against walls, parts of old house trailers were incorporated into the compound, et cetera. A large black dog came bounding up to us, scattering a handful of chickens, who made a racket announcing our arrival. Matt stuck his head out the door, from which poured a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Didn’ hear ya pull up.”

“Car’s up there on the tracks,” said Rich, hiking his thumb back over his shoulder.

Matt leaned out the door, squinted up to the embankment. “Huh.”

“It died,” I said, trying to be helpful.

Matt stuck his head back inside a moment, and barked something. Then turning to us, said, “C’mon ‘n, supper’s on th’ table.”

Rich started towards the door. I told him as he passed me, “I think I’ll just stay out here.”

“Doncha wan’ somethin’ t’ eat?” asked Matt.

“Uh, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Suit yerself,” said Matt, and then disappeared inside.

Pausing before going in, Rich looked at me, nodded. “I’ll see if I can get Jerry so we can get going.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

I poked around the junkyard a while, playing with the dog, throwing things at the chickens (with no real intent to hit them), listening to roars of laughter coming from inside the ‘house.’ I watched a couple of the guys come out, fire up a large tow truck, and go fetch Junior’s car, laughing all the way. I got into the back of Jerry’s pickup, into our cooler and had a soda and a sandwich, sitting there on the tailgate, enjoying a bit of solitude. Finally, after what seemed hours but was probably only thirty or forty minutes, Rich and Jerry came out, each of them carrying a sack. They put the sacks down on the tailgate, and started stuffing the contents into our coolers.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Deersteaks,” said Jerry.

“And sausage,” added Rich.

“But how . . .”

“Frozen,” said Rich.

“From an earlier hunt,” said Jerry, finishing up and going around to the passenger’s side.

“Probably illegal as all hell,” added Rich. “But they insisted, thanking us for helping with the drive yesterday.”

“Huh.”

“You shoulda come in, James. Food was real good.”

I shrugged. “Had enough.”

Rich nodded. “Let’s go home. I told Jerry I’d drive, since he’s pretty badly hung over.”

“Sounds good to me.”

– 30 –



Jim Downey and the Amazing Hoopie – part two.
October 16, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Guns, Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part two: Hunting Saturday

Rich and I woke well before dawn, dressed quietly, and slipped out of the tent with our gear. I half expected to see the old man, still in his chair, coffee cup in hand. But he was gone. Next to the fire was Billy, the guy with the Army surplus jeep, rolled up in a tattered blanket, back to one of the sittin’ logs, snoring loudly. And he wasn’t the only one in that chorus, as snores of many varieties sounded throughout the camp. There was only one other person up and moving: Stalking Charlie (for such I had designated him in my own mind). Charlie squatted near the fire, one corner of which he had brought back to life. The enamel coffee pot was there in the coals, steaming away. He had his rifle still cradled in his arms.

He looked at me across the distance, pointed to the coffee pot. I turned to Rich, spoke low, “Want some coffee?”

Rich, who was busy getting out the topo map of the area and spreading it on the hood of Jerry’s pickup, brightened. “Yeah, sure.”

I fetched a couple of cups out of our gear, went up to the fire. Charlie watched me warily, said nothing as I approached. I nodded. “Morning.”

Charlie said nothing, just ducked his head in what I took for a greeting. Billy gave a loud snort, shifted position, but didn’t wake. I poured the two cups of coffee. “Thanks.”

A sharp, quick nod. I turned to leave, could feel his eyes on me the whole way back to the tent.

I handed Rich his cup. “That guy makes me nervous.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Rich, sipping coffee. “Asked Jerry about him last night, he said he’d been in Nam, came back like that. But he don’t hurt nobody, and the hoosiers are smart enough to leave him be.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah, really.” Rich had a small flashlight out, looked down at the map. “Well, I’d hoped we’d get some direction from these guys about good places to set up this morning. But I don’t think any of ’em are gonna be going out anytime soon. So I’ve been looking for someplace we can walk to from here.”

I leaned against the cold metal of the truck. “Where we at?”

Rich tapped the map. “Here. There’s a draw just a ways further up this fire road, and that goes down to this creek. We’ll walk down together, I’ll leave you on this hill looking down the draw, and I’ll go around the hill to this other side.”

“OK.”

“Ain’t much, but I figure it’s about the best we can do without knowing the land.”

“OK,” I said again. “Uh, you want some breakfast before we go?”

“Let’s just take some sandwiches.” He quietly folded up the map, so that the relevant portion was still on the outside, easy to consult.

We got the sandwiches, our canteens, and the guns. As we left our tent, I noticed that Charlie was nowhere to be seen. Which didn’t mean too much, since once you got outside of the immediate vicinity of the fire, anyone in full camo would be practically invisible. Rich and I both had on hunter-orange vests over our coats, but in the dim light even that would be hard to see at any real distance. We passed the bus and headed down the road, leaves crunching underfoot.

It didn’t take too long, and Rich only had to consult the map once, before we left the road and went straight into the woods. There was some light to the east, but it was still dark enough that after Rich parked me on the hillside between a couple of scrub oaks, it only took moments for me to lose track of him in the dark. Before he left, he told me “Stay here, I’ll pick you up when I come back. If you shoot anything, I’ll hear it and come to help.”

I settled in as best I could, waited. As it became more light, I saw that I was in a pretty good location, at least for visibility. The trees were mostly bare, and I could look down the draw a good 50 yards, up the draw about half that much. In the pre-dawn, the squirrels came out to romp through the leaves, chasing one another up and down the hillside, making a racket. I was happy, since I figured their noise hid my own as I got out a sandwich, unwrapped it, ate it, all the while shifting back and forth on my feet, nervous. My rifle was close at hand, tucked into a V in one of the trees.

As I finished my sandwich, watched some squirrels at play a dozen yards ahead of me, I suddenly froze as I realized that I heard something just around the tree behind me. Slowly I turned, to see Stalking Charlie standing there, watching me. I nodded. He nodded. He looked around, then gestured with one hand for me to come with him. I shook my head. I said quietly: “Sorry, I gotta stay here.”

He looked at me for a moment, shrugged, and then headed off down the hill and towards the creek, in a somewhat different direction than Rich had gone.

After that, nothing much happened for about two hours or so. Distant gunfire echoed through the hills, the squirrels played and foraged, I ate another sandwich and tried not to fidget much. Then I heard a single gunshot down the way that Stalking Charlie went, close enough that it stopped the squirrels in their tracks. A moment later they all scattered to safety, disappearing up the trees. In the relative quiet I could hear something moving up the draw.

Slowly, I picked up my rifle, keeping one of the oaks between me and the source of the sound so my motion wouldn’t betray me. I eased back the bolt to check that there was a round in the chamber, then closed it again. Index finger against the safety, I slowly looked around the oak, to see if I could see what was coming up the draw.

It was Rich, moving slowly and fairly quietly through the leaves. I relaxed. Seeing me, he picked up his pace some, and came over to me.

“Was that you?” he asked.

“Nah.”

“Well, I didn’t think so, since it sounded like it came from down the creek from me. But I figured I better come check.” “I bet it was that Charlie guy. He stopped by here just a little before it really got light, then went down that way where the shot came from.” I looked at Rich. “Think we should go see if he needs any help?”

Rich frowned. Normally, that’d be just neighborly, and I knew it was his instinct. But he shook his head. “Nah, better not. We don’t know these fellas well enough to know how they usually do things.”

“OK.”

“Best just head back to camp, maybe tell someone there, if there’s anyone up yet.” He looked around. “It’s late enough that I don’t expect we’d have much luck here anyways.”

I nodded. We headed back to camp.

As we came into the clearing, I saw signs of life. Someone had tossed back the sheet that covered the food, and a couple of men were standing there, grazing on the leftovers from the night before. Uncle Clem was back in his chair, and the fire had been built back up. Even Billy was awake, still sitting there on the ground with the blanket wrapped around him, leaning against the log he had been sleeping next to, a coffee cup steaming in his hands. Our friend Jerry was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and looking a little worse for wear.

From around the side of the bus came Matt, red-eyed and unshaven, but not looking too bad considering. “That you shootin?”

Rich shook his head. “Nope. Mighta been Charlie. He was down that first big draw down towards the creek.”

He nodded, took off his ballcap and pushed his thick black hair back, putting the cap on again. He looked over to Billy. “Billy, I’m gonna take yer jeep.”

“‘K”

Matt hadn’t waited for an answer, was already headed over to the jeep. He got in, started it, pulled around us and went up the fireroad.

One of the guys standing by the table on the side of the bus asked: “Want sumthin’ t’ eat?”

About noon we were standing around watching Charlie and Matt string up and skin the doe Charlie had shot, and then butcher it on the same tables which previously held the food. I heard a funny little sound coming up the road. Others heard it too, and a small crowd was standing at the entrance to the clearing to greet the Conservation Officer who rode in on a struggling, street-legal little Honda 90. It was a fairly ridiculous sight, since the bike was barely bigger than a moped, and the ranger was a good hundred pounds overweight.

He stopped the bike, but didn’t shut off the engine, which continued to sputter and cough. “Howdy boys.”

There was a muttering of greetings, nothing too friendly.

“Boys had any luck?” asked the officer, looking around. He made note of the fact that a number of the “boys” were holding guns they had picked up when they heard him coming.

“Ain’t been out t’day,” said Uncle Clem, standing there. “Goin’ out later.”

The officer glanced over at a nearby tree, the rope & tackle for hanging the doe still there, blood on the ground below it. “Well, uh, remember, season ends at sundown.”

“Oh, we won’t fergit,” said someone, and there were laughs.

The ranger looked around, a little nervous. “You, um, you boys all got your licenses and tags, I suppose?”

“Oh yeah, we got everything we need,” said Clem. More laughter.

The officer flushed, licked his lips nervously. “Well, uh, OK. I guess I’ll be goin’, then.”

“You do that.” Clem smiled. “Be careful, th’ woods’s full o’ hunters what ain’t ver’ careful ’bout what they shoot.”

“Uh, yeah.” The officer took one more look around, then took off on the little Honda back the way he came, bouncing along. A volley of half a dozen shots rang out, urging him on. Wisely, he didn’t look back.

We all started back to where Charlie and Matt were finishing up carving the doe. While they were in full sight of the ranger, they hadn’t bothered to stop what they were doing.

“Heh, that’ll teach th’ dumb bastard t’ be askin’ questions,” said someone.

“Fat sum-bitch.”

“Yeah, he did kinda look like Kenny, didn’ he?”

“Fuck you.”

The excess bones they just tossed off into the woods, the hunks of meat were put in plastic bags, tied off and dropped into coolers without any ice. Matt looked up from his work, and said to no one in particular: “We gotta send these coolers back wit’ th’ wimmen tonight.”

“Speak f’ yerself,” said Joe. “My girlfriend ain’t goin’ back tonight.”

Matt dropped the last plastic bag in the cooler, kicked the lid shut. Sticking his hands into a pot of water to rinse them off, he looked a little wistful, nodded. “Yup. Diff’rence ‘tween wives & girlfriends.”

There was a hearty laugh all around. A couple of the others pitched in and helped rinse off the knives and table, then Charlie brought out a stiff brush and some soap powder, gave everything a scrub. Just as more water was being brought for a final rinse, I heard the sound of an engine in the distance, coming up the firetrail. And this wasn’t the tinny sound of a small two-stroke; it was the deep thrumming of a large diesel engine.

“Sounds like the Hoopie,” said Joe.

“Yup, that’s it.” We all started looking down the fireroad.

I looked to Rich. Quietly, I asked him, “What’s a Hoopie?”

Someone nearby heard my question. He pointed to the entrance of the clearing. “That, boy, is a Hoopie.”

From the front, the way I first saw it, it looked like a big deuce truck, the sort of Army truck used for moving troops or equipment, with two rear axles supporting a long cargo bed. Of course, like everything else these guys had, it had been ‘altered,’ with brush bars and whatnot added to the front end.

Then it pulled off to the side of the bus, and I saw that the alterations on the front weren’t even the beginning to what they had done to this truck. The cab of the truck, which probably wasn’t very deep to start with, had mostly been cut away. That was to allow room for the cargo bed, or what was left of it, to clear the cab . . . because there were about ten or fifteen feet missing from the center of the truck, and it was articulated in such a way that it could bend almost 90 degrees in the center. What was left of the cargo bed was just a couple of benches, long enough for four or five guys on a side, and a backless bench down the center. There were no sides or roof, just a kinda roll-cage to keep passing brush from knocking people off the truck too easily.

And whatever color it had been originally had been lost along the way. Instead, it had been painted in what only can be described as a drunk redneck attempt to capture the psychedelic aesthetic of the late sixties. It was, in a word, hideous. Hideous beyond belief. I stood there, stunned by what I saw.

Rich looked like someone had hit him with a club. “Goddam,” was all he said, over and over.

A short man, thin, crew cut and clean-shaven, somewhere in his 20s, jumped out of the cab. “Here’s lunch.”

They unloaded a couple of beat-up coolers from the back of the Hoopie. One was full of cold beer, the other sandwiches and whatnot. Plopping these on the still-wet table, Matt said: “Eat up boys, then well go huntin’.”

“Hey Ross,” said Joe to the man who just hopped out of the Hoopie, “you see a fat-ass’d ranger onna toy motorsickle?”

“Yup. Almos’ run th’ fool over,” answered Ross, going over and grabbing a beer. “Whadid he want?”

“Nuthin’. Jus’ come to say howdy,” laughed Matt. Everyone chuckled as they got into the sandwiches and beer.

Some time later, as everyone was getting ready to go, Rich and Jerry took the map and went to consult with Matt. The plan was that we were going to do a “drive.” This meant that about a third of us were going to be positioned in a natural bottleneck created by a small river and thicket of tough brambles, waiting. The rest of us were going to start about two miles up from there, fanned out but converging on the bottleneck. This would tend to push any deer in the area towards the bottleneck, where they would be easy targets. It’s a hunting strategy about as old as the human race, and works. But it requires an intimate knowledge of the terrain; a knowledge me and Rich didn’t have (Jerry either, for that matter, though he knew the general layout). But using the map, it was easy to at least get an idea of where we were going to be, and where we needed to be headed.

Those of us who were going to be doing the “driving” loaded up onto the Hoopie. I sat on the center bench, knees crowded with those of the others on the Hoopie, our rifles butt against the floor, barrels pointing up to the sky. Most of the guys had simple lever-action 30-30s with iron sites. The perfect kind of rifle for close game in the forest. Joe looked at my rifle. “What’s that you shootin’?”

“.308”

He nodded. “Scope won’ do much good in these woods.”

“I can still use the iron sights under it.”

He nodded again. The engine of the Hoopie roared to life. We all braced ourselves as we started moving.

The Hoopie may have been a mechanical monstrosity, but it did what it was built for. It could easily go anyplace that a 4-wheel drive jeep could go, with the tight turning radius and power it had. And the large truck tires gave a ground clearance that meant that any fallen trees or stumps leftover from logging would pass safely under the axles. (It was common practice for logging companies in the ’40s and ’50s to cut trees off about 18″ high, thereby saving their chainsaws from having to cut through grit kicked up by rain in the rocky Ozark soil.) But they hadn’t bothered to do anything about the suspension, so with every rut, log, or boulder we encountered, we all bounced off the hard wooden benches, reflexively grabbing our rifles as our guts were turned to mush. I think I pissed blood for a week after that.

It didn’t take long for us to get to the drop-off point. Rich and I were going to be on one end of the drive, so we got out first. My kidneys appreciated this. As we watched the Hoopie disappear into the woods to drop off the rest of the hunting party, Rich turned to me and said, “Damn, James, these guys are half nuts. You OK?”

“Uh, yeah.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. Jerry never told me how redneck . . .” His voice trailed off.

“Hey, you didn’t know. It’s alright.”

Rich looked around, and said, “Well, I guess we oughta get going. Look, just keep me in sight, and don’t be afraid to make a little noise. Even though we’ve got vests on, I don’t want one of these idiots to take a shot at us.”

“OK.”

We started off at a steady pace, spreading out so that there was about 50 yards between us. Off on my other side, I occasionally caught glimpses of one of the other hunters, about the same distance away. We hiked through the woods this way for the better part of two hours until Rich came over to me. “We’re about up to those brambles, will start to head down to the river bottom. If we’ve been pushing any deer in front of us, they’ll soon hit the guys who are waiting for ’em. So don’t be surprised if you hear shooting up ahead. And if someone fires, get down or behind a tree or something, ’cause that could send any other deer headed back this way, and one of these guys driving with us might open up. This could become a fuckin’ free-fire zone.”

“Got it.”

He paused. “Oh, and uh, probably best not to take any shots yourself, unless a deer gets behind you.”

“That’s what I figured.”

Nodding, he separated from me again, and we proceeded down the hillside until we were coming to the river bottom, flat and heavily overgrown. Up ahead I heard shots, and following Rich’s instruction, I stepped behind a large oak and waited a moment. Sure enough, another series of shots cut loose off on the far end of the line from us, rifle fire which echoed through the hills.

After a couple more minutes Rich called out to me. “James? Let’s go on in.”

“OK,” I shouted back. He couldn’t have been more than twenty or thirty yards away, judging by his voice, but I couldn’t see him through the thick undergrowth. Up ahead I heard voices, and I headed that way.

Rich and I came together, just as I heard the guy on my left emerge from the brush and looked up to see him. He nodded, asked “see anything?”

“Nope,” said Rich. “You?”

He shook his head. “Nah.”

The three of us continued towards the voices. The guy with us hollered, “Kenny! Don’ shoot, it’s us.”

Some ways away, Kenny’s deep voice boomed. “OK.”

We came out of the dense brush to a more open wood, could see the big man and one of the others field dressing a large buck. Kenny looked up from what he was doing, said “I didn’ hear shootin’ your direction.”

“Nah. Didn’ see nuthin’.”

Kenny nodded, went back to work. “I think Jeb got one, and th’ fellas coming up along th’ river got one, too.”

Another voice came out of the woods that direction. It was Matt. “Yeah, two. Small buck an’ a doe.”

“Four ain’ bad.”

“Shoulda been six,” said Kenny. “Ol’ Mike was takin’ a dump when two does come runnin’ past him. Damn near shit all over hisself trying t’ grab his gun an’ get off a shot.”

We all laughed. Matt pointed off up the hill, turned to us. “Hoopie’s up yonder. Go have a beer, we’ll head back soon ’nuff.”

Rich asked “need any help with the deer?”

“Nah, we got ’em. Just go have a rest. You boys been doin’ all the work.”

The ride back was much the same as the ride in. We went with the second group; the first took back the deer so that they could be strung up, skinned, then butchered. By the time we got back it was almost full dark, but the fire was going good and dinner was waiting. A number of the wives and girlfriends had made up a big spread of food and brought it out to the campsite: fresh bread, slabs of country ham with a thick redeye gravy, deer steaks, hunks of fried bologna, tubs of mashed potatoes, greens, corn on the cob, cobblers, and more. It was set out on the tailgates of the trucks they drove out, as the two tables on the side of the bus were still being used to butcher the deer. Putting away our gear, Rich and I got in line and filled our plates, sat beside the fire and just listened to the others swap lies about the day’s hunting as we stuffed ourselves.

Sure enough, by the time the eating was done, most of the women had packed up and left camp. The ones who stayed behind were nowhere to be seen, and neither were their boyfriends, though moans and the occasional scream from some of the distant pickups indicated where they were.

Then the serious drinkin’ began, but I was too tired from hiking through the woods to be much interested in watching what happened, just toddled off to the tent and crashed. Rich woke me when he stumbled into bed, having had a few beers himself. Sometime in the middle of the night I was startled awake by what sounded like a dozen rifle shots, but as they were accompanied by lots of cheering and laughter, I figured it was nothing much to worry about, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep to the sound of Rich snoring.



Jim Downey and the Amazing Hoopie – part one.
October 15, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Guns, Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part One: The Arrival

I think it was the first deer season I lived with my Uncle Rich, after the deaths of my parents. So that puts it back in ’71 or ’72, when I was in my early teens (though I looked older). As screwed up as I was, and him wanting to do the right thing and try to bond with me a little, Rich asked whether I wanted to go deer hunting with him that fall.

I had been a hunter of small game most of my short life. My dad was a big into hunting, and with him being a cop, we always had guns around the house. So he made sure I could safely handle a gun before I could ride a bike, and taught me to be a good shot with handgun, rifle, and shotgun about the time I was learning my multiplication tables. We went hunting a fair amount, me with a single-shot 4-10 shotgun, him with the double-barreled 12 ga. I still have. Occasionally, Rich joined us, which was saying something, because my dad was real particular about who he went hunting with. But I had never been deer hunting.

So Rich got me used to the big .308 rifle with scope he had, until I could consistently nail a bull’s-eye at a hundred yards. He got me an orange safety vest and hat, the necessary licenses, and made sure my other gear was ready for a weekend of camping and hunting in the Ozarks. Then he made arrangements to go with a work buddy who had extended family down outside Potosi, about ninety minutes southwest of St. Louis, into the Mark Twain National Forest, for the final weekend of the season. I was looking forward to it.

His buddy (let’s call him Jerry) picked us up after work on Friday. We tossed our gear in the back of the topper-covered Ford pickup, and hit the road. Two hours later we pulled off the blacktop, onto the fire road that would take us well back into the woods to the communal campsite. It was washed out and rough in places, but even without four-wheel drive in the Ford, Jerry was able to take his time and avoid getting stuck.

We saw the camp fire through the trees, a warm yellow light filling a medium-sized clearing. Jerry pulled up, was met at his window by a short man wearing a baseball cap and army camo. He was in his mid-twenties (a few years younger than Jerry and my uncle), had a bushy brown mustache that hung down lower than his lips.

“Hey Jer.”

“Joe. Where ya want us?”

Joe looked in the cab at me and Rich. “Need tent space?”

Jerry nodded. “Yeah, just one. I’ll sleep in the back.”

Joe pointed past the fire. “There’s a flat spot over there that’d be big enough.”

Jerry pulled the truck over to the far side of the clearing, down a slight rise into a small space defined by an arc of scrub oak. We got out. Rich looked at the spot, turned to Jerry. “Um, seems kinda far from the fire.”

Jerry nodded. “Yeah. But this place’ll fill up. Better this way.”

Rich glanced at me, said nothing. This told me a lot. Rich wasn’t one of these people who can’t shut up, but he usually had something to say.

Joe was standing on our side of the fire when we came around the truck, can of beer in hand. We went up to him. “Joe, this is Rich, and his nephew James. Guys, this here’s my cousin Joe.”

Joe nodded, smiled. “Wanna beer?”

“Thanks. Uh, maybe after we get the tent up,” said Rich.

“‘k. You, Jerry?”

“Sure. Let me help these guys get their stuff outta the truck. Be right back.”

Joe nodded again, went around the fire and made himself comfortable on a battered silver Coleman cooler. We went back to the truck.

Opening the topper and dropping the tailgate, Jerry looked at Rich. “Don’t worry, they’re good people. A little rough ’round the edges, maybe, but good country folk.”

“Sure, no problem.”

We got our stuff out of the truck. Jerry went to have a beer with his cousin. While we put up the small cabin tent, got our stuff stowed in it, Rich didn’t say much. I could tell he was thinkin.’ Finally, as we finished up, he looked at me. “You OK?”

“Yeah, sure.” I figured I was used to ‘country people.’ Some of my dad’s family lived out in the country, south of Cuba. I had spent summer weekends there, playing in the woods with my cousins. They weren’t that different than my city cousins, really, but I figured that they qualified as ‘country people.’

“Well,” he hesitated. “OK.”

“Shall I grab the cooler?” I asked. The cooler had sodas, stuff for sandwiches, some eggs, hotdogs, and a couple of six-packs of beer. Having a beer around the fire after a hunt was no big deal. Deer season ended at sunset on Saturday, so a couple of six-packs was just being sociable.

“Um, why don’t you leave it here for now. Come and get a soda if you want.”

“OK.”

We went up to the fire. I saw then that the pit had been ringed with rocks and a couple of concrete blocks. Clearly, it had been used in recent weeks. There were a couple of large logs that’d been drug over beside the fire.

Gesturing to one of these, Joe said: “Have a seat. Wanna beer?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Rich, sitting down.

Joe stood up enough that he could get into the battered Coleman, grabbed a can, tossed it to Rich. “There ya go. So, you work with Jerry?”

“Yeah.” Rich nodded to Jerry. “Cable repair, for Ma Bell.”

“Yup. Jerry fixed the line goin’ into Uncle Clem’s place for ‘im. Right Jerry?”

Jerry gave Rich a look. “Uh, yeah.”

“Uncle Clem?” I asked.

“Yeah. Well, he’s my great uncle, really. He’ll be here, though he don’ do much huntin’ anymore. But he still likes gettin’ out in the woods with everyone.” Joe stood up, looked back down the road. “Mebbe this is him comin’ now. It’s somebody, that’s for sure.”

I tried looking down the road, but the light of the fire was too bright. Then a moment later I heard what sounded like a jeep or truck coming up the rough road, a high-pitched whine of four-wheel drive, followed by the bang and thump of the suspension bottoming out, as the driver took the narrow road too fast and was unable to avoid the ruts and washed out places. When I saw the headlights, they matched this sound, jumping about through the trees.

Joe looked at us. “Nope, that’s not Uncle Clem. Sounds like Billy’s jeep.”

It wasn’t long before the jeep swung clear of the woods, stopped at the edge of the clearing. There wasn’t much to it, just the basic frame of an old surplus jeep, body mostly gone, mis-matched wheels of different colors, rust everywhere. There was no door, so the man driving just sorta tumbled out, catching himself on the windshield frame unsteadily, swaying a bit. “Hey y’all.”

“Hey Billy. Wanna beer?”

Billy smiled. Even at this distance I could tell that dental care hadn’t been a priority of his. “Don’ mind if I do. Been a long time. Ran out b’fore I got off the blacktop.”

He came over to the fire, Joe handed him a beer out of the cooler. “Where’s everyone?” asked Joe.

“Had a problem wit’ the bus. Needed to do some weldin’ to keep the generator from fallin’ off,” said Billy, taking his beer, popping the tab, tossing it into the fire. He sat down on one of the logs nearby. “Should be here in a bit. Thought I’d come over, see who’s here.”

Jerry nodded. “This here’s Rich, a buddy of mine from work. And this is his nephew, James.”

Rich raised his beer in greeting, I nodded and kept my mouth shut.

“Yeah, you’re from the city.” Billy squinted at us over the fire, but smiled. “Been deer huntin’ before?”

“Yeah, lots,” said Rich. “Usually go over by Bay, off the Gasconade.”

Billy nodded approvingly. He looked at me. “How ’bout you?”

“Um, no, this is my first time.”

“Well, don’ you worry ’bout it. These woods here are full of deer. Jus’ full of deer. You’ll get yours.” He took a long swig from his beer. “Yup. Hell, I got two last weekend, didn’t I Joe?”

I figured he was lying. Limit was one doe or buck for the season.

“Yup,” said Joe, nodding, looking into the fire. “Though they was kinda small.”

Billy looked over at him, shook his head. “Don’ matter, better eatin’ that way. Meat’s more tender, see?”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“B’sides, I done already got me a big ol’ buck this year. 12 pointer.”

Rich raised an eyebrow. “Bow season?”

“Hell no. Spotlightin’.” Billy laughed. “Coulda had more, but flash from my gun damn near made me blind.”

“Ain’t what I heard,” said Joe. “Mike said you was so drunk that the recoil knocked you on your ass, and you couldn’t get up from the bed of the truck.”

Billy laughed, took a long swallow of beer. “Well, yeah, that too. An’ that bastard an’ his brother just tossed that big ol’ buck in on top of me. Damn near killed me.”

Everybody laughed. Joe got up to grab another log from the nearby woodpile, stopped and looked down the road. “Here they come.”

A moment later I heard a roar of engines and crashing of metal & wood. I thought it sounded like a demolition derby held in the forest. And I wasn’t far off the mark: a huge old school bus came bursting through the trees, barely bothering to even try and stay on the overgrown firetrail. Instead, it just blew straight through small trees, bouncing off of larger ones it sideswiped, ripping overhanging limbs as it came. It rolled into the clearing, dangling bits of flora from the elaborate welded framework in front of the grill and on the sides of the windshield. Some ten years later, when I saw the first “Mad Max” movie, I figured that the producers of that movie owed these guys some royalties.

The bus pulled into the clearing, and didn’t so much park as just stopped. Behind it were a couple of aging and abused pickups. For a moment I just stood there (I had gotten to my feet in response to the clamor coming at us) and took in the whole scene. The bus was mostly a light blue, though with patterns of primer and rust that almost looked like someone did a half-assed attempt to camouflage the thing. Strange bits of metal were welded to the body here and there in seemingly random places. About half the windows were missing, covered over with pieces of plywood, some of which were painted.

From inside the bus, a great roaring could be heard. Seconds later, the door on the far side slammed open, and the roaring came out and around the side of the bus. A big man, with a huge beer gut barely concealed under a ragged and stained t-shirt, was throwing on a camo hunting jacket and hollering at people still on the bus. “Gawd dammit!,” he said, pulling his feed cap down and heading towards us. “I ain’ gonna be able t’ take a decent shit fur a week!”

A couple of people crawled out of each of the pickups, and maybe 7 or 8 others got off the bus, and they all started to head our way. From this crowd I heard another voice answer Beer-gut. “Well, you dum’ bastard, if’n you hadn’t been leanin’ your fat ass agains’ th’ bus, you wouldn’ a been shocked!”

Joe tossed the fat man a beer, without even asking. “Wha’ happened, Kenny?”

Before Kenny could answer, the other man had gotten to the fire. He already had a beer in hand. “Dum’ SOB was leanin’ agains’ th’ bus when we was weldin’ on th’ generator, got zapped when I unhooked th’ ground.”

There was a general muttering consensus to this from the others who were now crowding around the fire.

“You did it on purpose!” hollered Kenny.

“Hell yeah!,” said the other man. “Shit, I dialed down th’ juice on th’ welder. Yer ass’d be dead now if I hadn’.” He smiled, slapped Kenny on the shoulder. “Damn, you shoulda seen yerself, hoppin’ around like yer butt was on fire.”

There was much laughter. Kenny flushed for a second, his red face glowing in the firelight. But then he nodded, smiled, took a long drink from his can of beer.

“‘At’s enough now, Matthew,” said a rough old voice, coming down from the bus. “You boys get th’ tables out, get ever’thing set up proper.”

“Sure thing, unc,” said Matthew, turning to look around at the assembled crowd. “C’mon, let’s get ‘er done.”

Most of ‘the boys’ went back up to the bus, some went back and started hauling coolers and whatnot out of the battered pickup trucks. The old man, slightly stooped and shuffling a little on the uncertain ground, came over and stood before the fire, staring at us. He looked to Jerry. “These here yer city friends?”

Jerry nodded. “Yessir. This is Rich, and his nephew James.”

Slowly, the old man nodded. “Well, have a sit, boys, have a sit.”

He turned around, looking back up the slight hill to the bus, as though he were about to call for something. But already, a slight young man, seemingly only a few years older than myself, was coming down the hill, a beat-up folding chair in his hands. The young man had a wisp of beard but no moustache, was wearing what looked like fairly new fatigues and combat boots. He opened the chair, placed it on a level spot near the fire for the old man.

“Thank you, Charlie. Yer a good boy.”

Charlie said nothing, just sort of nodded and went back up to the bus. The old man sat down, and as he did I noticed the .38 revolver at his hip under his worn coat. “Like I said, you boys have a sit.”

We took our places. “You been well, there, Jerry?”

“Yeah Uncle Clem, been fine.”

“You should come by and visit some, son. Yer aunt would sure love t’ see ya.”

“Maybe Sunday, seein’s where the season ends tomorrow night.”

“That’d be fine.”

I turned my attention away from this little family scene to watch what was happening up at the bus. Several guys had hauled out what looked like large wooden doors, brought them around to the side facing the fire. There, they hooked them over some of the random welded bits on the side, and then propped them up with legs that also attached back to the bus, down by the frame, creating a couple of impromptu banquet tables. Others were busy attaching a large canvas tarp that had seen better days to the roof, pulling it out and setting poles to make an awning over the tables. Then they brought out boxes and coolers, started piling stuff up on the tables. Somebody lit an oil lamp, hung it on the side of the bus.

Charlie came back down the hill, carrying a large blue-enamel metal coffeepot and a cup. Silently, he handed the cup to Uncle Clem, then shoved the coffeepot into one edge of the fire, banked coals around the base. Then he left again, saying nothing. As I watched the men at the bus continue to load the tables, the coffee pot started to steam, and the aroma of coffee filled the air.

“Want some coffee?”

I realized that Jerry had disappeared someplace, and the old man was talking to me. Looking away from the activity by the bus, I stammered, “Um, no sir. Thanks.”

He smiled, kindly. Taking a cotton glove out of his pocket, he reached down and grabbed the handle of the steaming pot, set it aside for a minute. “Gotta give it a chance t’ settle, let all th’ grounds sink. Bes’ way t’ make coffee.”

He poured himself a cup. Matthew came down the hill, stood and announced, “Food’s ready, go up ‘n help yerself t’ some.” He bent over to the old man, “Can I bring ya some?”

“Nah, I’m fine. Coffee’s all I need.” He pointed at me with his cup. “But get this young feller up there an’ get some food inta him.”

Matthew nodded at me and Rich. “You boys musta come down wit’ cousin Jerry.”

Rich stood, I followed his lead. We shook hands with Matthew. “Yup. I’m Rich. This’s James.”

“Call me Matt. Nobody but him,” he nodded to Uncle Clem, “calls me Matthew. So, c’mon up and get some vittles.”

We went up to the bus, where there was now a crowd around the two tables. The crowd opened up enough to let us in, and I saw that one table was covered with all manner of food in bowls and baskets, mostly consisting of things like ribs and fried chicken, scratch-made biscuits, pies and cakes, corn fritters and the like. There was a stack of old metal plates, dimpled and dinged from many years of hard use, and a mis-matched pile of tableware which seemed to be mostly ignored. I grabbed a plate, helped myself.

Moving to the next table over, I saw that it was nothing but bottles of booze. Booze of almost every variety, so long as it was cheap and potent. No wines or beers, no fancy mixers. Just hard liquor. On the ground on the far side of the table was a large metal tub, the kind with handles we used to wash the family dog outdoors in the summertime. It was filled with cans of beer, mostly Busch and Pabst, and a scattering of ice cubes.

“Help yerself,” came a voice somewhere off to the side.

“Um, maybe you better not,” Rich said low and in my ear.

I turned and looked at him, nodded. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I thought.”

We edged away from the table. I saw that he had some food on his plate, his beer still in his hand, but didn’t seem to be too focused on either. He asked, “Want to go sit by the fire?”

“Yeah.”

As we walked away from the crowd, Rich said slowly, “I, uh, don’t know exactly what these fellas are all about. But maybe you ought to kinda lay low, try and stay out of the way, OK?”

I just nodded.

We got back to the fire, where some of the others had also congregated after loading up with food and drink. Picking a couple of empty spaces on a big log off to the side a bit, we sat and watched. There was much cussin’ and braggin’ about feats of hunting, sex, and drinking – the sort of braggadocio among young men which has gone on probably forever, and wasn’t particularly noteworthy to me even at that young age. It was a genial, friendly crowd, with some horseplay and teasing which meant only a rough type of affection.

I got up to go get a soda from the cooler, saw the young man named Charlie back aways from the fire, quietly leaning against a tree, just watching. Cradled in his arms was a worn Winchester lever-action 30-30. He nodded curtly to me as I passed, kind of slid around the tree he was leaning on to keep me in sight as I went to the cooler beside our tent and then came back to the fire. He said nothing.

I sat down again, picked up my metal plate and gnawed on a rib which still had some meat left on it. After a couple of moments I said to Rich, “You, uh, see that guy back behind us?”

“The one with the rifle in his arms? Yup.”

“OK.”

About then Jerry reappeared, making his way around the fire over our way. I could tell he was a little drunk, like about everyone else there ‘cept me and Rich, and maybe the old man. “How’re you guys doin’?”

“Were OK,” said Rich.

“Good food,” said I, holding up a bone.

“Well, good, good.” He gestured back at the fire, behind him. “See, they’re alright, ain’t they? Jus’ good ol’ boys . . .”

At this point I saw Matt toss something into the fire.

“Uh, yeah,” said Rich.

Something popped in the fire. At first I thought it was just a firecracker. Then I heard another sharp ‘pop,’ followed by a ‘zing!,’ and realized that the damned fool must’ve tossed a handful of .22’s into the fire.

Now, a .22 bullet isn’t very big nor powerful. And not being fired in a gun, where the bullet is accelerated for the entire time it is in the barrel, the bullet has even less power. But you still wouldn’t want to get hit by one. I turned and ducked behind the log I was sitting on. I heard a mad scramble and a whole lotta cursing as everyone else realized just what the hell was going on and did the same thing. Peeking over the log, I saw that even Uncle Clem had hit the dirt, was huddled behind a log with someone else.

There were a couple more pops, then Matt just started laughin’. He stopped for a second and hollered, “Yer alright boys, they’s all gone off!”

“You crazy Sonuvabitch!” screamed someone.

“Tryin’ t’ kill somebody?!” asked a voice.

“Do tha’ agin, I’m gonna shoot yer ass!” said another.

“Ain’t nobody hurt.” Matt just laughed, took a big swig from a bottle of whiskey, finishing it and tossing it into the fire. “Jus’ havin’ some fun.”

“Jesus!” said Rich to me, standing up and brushing himself off. He looked at Jerry, who had waited a moment before getting up to make sure all the bullets had indeed gone off. “You were sayin’?”

“Uh,” stammered Jerry. “Uh, no, really, they’s jus’ good ol’ boys.”

“Uh-huh.”

Me and Rich sat down again, and Jerry found a reason to be someplace else. I looked over, saw someone helping Clem into his chair. The old man brushed himself off, took the cup which had been picked up off the ground, and held it out for fresh coffee. He looked over at Matt, and I heard him say, “Get yer ass over here, boy.”

Matt obeyed, went and sat next to the old man. They were too far away for me to hear, but I could tell that Clem chewed him out, quiet like, and Matt took it. I looked at Rich, saw that he had been watching the two men as well. Rich just shook his head. “Damn, James,” he said, “let’s wait a bit and then slip off to bed, get away from these idiots. This is fuckin’ crazy.”

I nodded.

A few minutes passed, then I saw Matt get up and stagger towards the bus. At first I thought that he was going to go get another drink, or some more food, because he made for the tables. But then he went past them, towards the front of the bus, stopping just a couple of paces past the tub full of beer. He fumbled for a minute, leaning against the bus, and started to take a piss. Why he decided to go there, rather than off into the woods surrounding us, I have no idea. Maybe he started out to get another drink, decided he needed to pee first.

But something else interesting happened. As he was standing there, doing his business, old Clem had followed him up to the bus, and then snuck up right behind him. Matt, preoccupied with the matter at hand, didn’t notice. The old man slowly removed the snub-nosed revolver from the holster at his hip, and holding it pointed straight up into the sky just behind the man, fired a round.

To say that Matt was startled doesn’t convey the wonderful reality of the situation. There was an arc of urine right up the side of the bus and over the top. “Oh, shit!” was all Matt could say, over and over again, as he stood there a good ten minutes, leaning against the side of the bus, piss dribbling down in front of him.

Clem shuffled back to his chair, picked up his cup of coffee, and smiled into the fire. Everyone in the clan came by and gave him a slap on the back and had a hearty laugh.

Rich poked me and we slipped off to our sleeping bags in the tent, now mercifully far away.



One last post before I leave.
October 14, 2008, 7:20 am
Filed under: movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

I wasn’t intending to post anything else this morning, but a headline over on BoingBoing caught my eye in a big way:

Ridley Scott to adapt Haldeman’s Forever War

Wow.

Just. Wow.

If you’re not familiar with this 1970s classic of science fiction, do yourself a favor and get a copy of the book and read it. The story is excellent, the message better, and the writing superb.

The Forever War – as envisioned by my favorite director?  Wow.

From the Variety news item:

“I first pursued Forever War 25 years ago, and the book has only grown more timely and relevant since,” Scott told Daily Variety. “It’s a science-fiction epic, a bit of The Odyssey by way of Blade Runner, built upon a brilliant, disorienting premise.”

Book revolves around a soldier who battles an enemy in deep space for only a few months, only to return home to a planet he doesn’t recognize some 20 years later, Scott said.

The Forever War rights were acquired right after publication by f/x titan Richard Edlund, who spent $400,000 of his own money and intended to make the book his directorial debut. The book became an iconic sci-fi title but Edlund, who won two Oscars – including one for visual effects on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – never got The Forever War off the ground. After a Sci Fi Channel miniseries stalled, Scott became interested again and Edlund was ready to make a deal. It took six months to secure all the rights.

A small bit of personal history -I had made the acquaintance of a president emeritus of my college after I had graduated in 1980, through a mutual friend.  As we got to know one another, he started reading some of my early efforts at writing and was very encouraging.  At one point he suggested that what I needed to do was to go to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  “I’ll set it up with the Director,” he said.  “He’s an old graduate school friend of mine.  I’ll send him some of your stuff, then you go talk with him.”

I did.  After pleasantries the Director looked at me and asked “why are you here?”

A bit of panic.  “Well, I’d like to learn how to be a better writer.”

He picked up the file with the samples President Leggett had sent him.  “But this is . . . science fiction.”

There was an unmistakeable taint to those last two words in his voice, though it was clear that he was attempting to mask his feelings, probably because of his relationship with his old friend.

“Well, yes.”

“I’m sorry.  We don’t do science fiction.”

“But what about Kurt Vonnegut? Joe Haldeman?”

“Ah.  Well, things didn’t work out that well with Joe.”

And like that, the interview was over.  Oh, we chatted a bit more, and he made some additional pleasant noises, but the meeting was through.  It would be a couple of years before I again thought about grad school and writing, and when I did so I did it coming from a slightly different direction – while working on a MA in English Literature, taking classes in the Workshop as I could.  That was when I got some of the background: seems that Haldeman’s success with The Forever War had ruffled some feathers of those who considered science fiction to be sub-literary.  Haldeman himself has had things to say about that.  I had walked into a mine field, without knowing that it was there.

Ah well.  And with that, I have to leave.

Jim Downey



“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . “
October 14, 2008, 7:00 am
Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Fireworks, NASA, Phil Plait, Science, Space

Via the Bad Astronomer, some really incredible images of our local star, courtesy of the Boston Globe:

The Sun

The Sun is now in the quietest phase of its 11-year activity cycle, the solar minumum – in fact, it has been unusually quiet this year – with over 200 days so far with no observed sunspots. The solar wind has also dropped to its lowest levels in 50 years. Scientists are unsure of the significance of this unusual calm, but are continually monitoring our closest star with an array of telescopes and satellites. Seen below are some recent images of the Sun in more active times. (21 photos total)

Stunning stuff.  Simply stunning.

Jim Downey