Saturday, April 24, 2010

Aisle Three for Submarine Rescue Gear

The place smells like forty weight motor oil and fertilizer stored in a vulcanized rubber bladder. The carpet might have been green once. Inventory is no doubt stored on a diesel powered PC (upgrade from the wood-burning laptop they used to use) and you get the sense that if you had the know how, you could walk up and down the aisles, pick up parts and assemble a 747.

That would be my local hardware store. They're wedged between two big boxes, a blue one about eight miles up the road, an orange one a more menacing two miles away. Yet, they're still here, seemingly doing well. You got to love a place where pilferage control consists of putting the Easter lily plants on the front porch of the store at night.

The laws of economies of scale dictate that things are more expensive there. That's ok. In the end it all works out in that when you go in looking for a bulb for a router ($14.95 replacement cost) somebody behind the counter will sell you an automobile turn signal lamp for a pre-1970 Chevy with a bayonet base that fits the router as well. Total: $1.49 for two bulbs please.

I once walked in looking for a garden tool. I knew it existed, because I had seen one in a Vermeer painting.

They had it.

Typically, on a Saturday morning, somebody will walk in and ask for a 3/8" metric adaptable hex mounted flush cover offset gasket protected left wound quarter inch drive sub-assembly pre-stressed, torque-limited fastening bolster shortened to fit the aftermarket supplied bracket for my 1989 Ford F-150.

Typical reaction: Clerk walks down aisle four, about 2/3rd's of the way, reaches into a cardboard box on the top shelf and hands you exactly what you need.

You can do that at a big box, but my suspicion is they'd have to remove it from the building and most of the roof over Home and Garden would collapse.

Bunny on.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Life Was Saved by Rock and Roll

One evening I turned on a New York City station and had the wits scared out of me.

It was AM, an all news station that was going through the police blotter when an errant signal bounced off a cloud somewhere over Plattsburgh and was picked up by my vintage 1956 Telefunken just outside Montreal. Two robberies in Brooklyn, a rape in Queens, I'm cocooned under the covers waiting for another day of elementary school to dawn frozen and dead and thinking, all things considered I'm better off here than there. Listen to the radio a little while longer, then turn it off and head to bed. Try and tune it in the next night and all you got was static so you'd flip the dial over to the standard, the one Mom and Dad listened to, a few pop favorites mixed in with some numbers from the early sixties, an AM collection of music, news, talk that was all the car radio was ever set to so you knew the call letters and frequency.

When the old man waltzed in with a spanking new 1972 Grundig, the old wooden Telefunken wound up in my room. That was fine, I dug radio. Even when it was in the living room, I'd punch in the short wave key and dial up whatever the internal antenna could find. Nighttime was best when solar radiation didn't cut your signals to ribbons but when evening fell, I usually had to hoof off to bed. Putting the old set in my room was like giving a jet-junkie a crew pass to dead head. I'd turn off the lights, turn the set on, let the vacuum tubes glow and spin short wave around the world.

Of course when it came to listening to daily radio, I being all of twelve dutifully turned it back to 800 AM.

When I turned thirteen though, I spun the dial over to CKGM, home of Ralph Lockwood in the morning. They played the pop rock and roll that Mr. Gaviett put on the speakers in his bus in an effort to keep us quiet on the twenty minute ride to school. It usually worked which says a lot about the singularity of purpose of my generation. Either that or we were simple minded enough to be amused by simple things.

At night, the set would be tuned to CKGM but grooving to The Band alone wasn't as much fun as it was when you were seated right across the aisle from Shirley. So I spun the dial around a little, caught what else was out there on AM and turned in. Then Friday rolled around and I had a little more leeway around lights out. I did the unthinkable, I punched up FM.

FM was what the Grundig played every Sunday morning; European classics, news from the homeland, PanAm ads. It was what accompanied cold eggs and chives.

FM on a Friday night was a different animal, which is why I went for the station Mom and Dad listened to just to be safe. When they weren't blaring the latest Volkspolka, they played what was then called "Easy Listening" and what you hummed along too waiting for the "ding" of the next floor. That was ok for a couple of Fridays but something was missing. I spun it over to CHOM.

CHOM was a new, adult rock and roll FM station that probably got launched when somebody put his reefer down long enough to listen to Steely Dan. People who listened to CHOM smoked marijuana. If you had CHOM on, you smoked marijuana.

I turned CHOM on.

There were a couple of cool station promos that tried to emphasize that if you were listening, you were cool. I doubt very much if I could parlay this to Shirley even if she were sharing a seat with me. Which of course she never did. Then there was the rock and roll, the mid-seventies album rock; Foreigner and Styx, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Stones, Foghat, Kansas: I usually went to bed when the Eagles came on.

There are always fulcrum points in life. Some are defined by great drama, some great tragedy, some great elation. In my life some fulcrums have had their point of inflection defined by what was on the radio and so it was when I was listening to CHOM, not smoking marijuana (that would come in a few years and go just as fast) but somebody fatefully put Lou Reed on the turntable. It was Walk on the Wild Side and it cracked my life wide open.

Candy came from the island.
Fat, plummy kid in a frozen Canadian suburb greets this positively, thinking some kind of tropical island is coming up.
In the back room, she was everybody's darling.
Ok, she's friendly.
But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head.
She said hey babe, take a walk on the wild side, and the colored girls go:
This being the mid-seventies, that was still ok.

FM radio and Lou Reed, that night, cracked my reality open and away from elevator music, beige carpets and pop hits. I tried to tune in New York City again just to get the rough, raw, edge Lou was singing about. I jumped back on to CHOM to see what else was out there to turn my reality on edge and heard a young kid name Warren Zevon sing about an exciteable boy.

Sorry kids, I was lost. I was on my way out of there that would, within ten years find me living in the Village while you were still impressed that you could afford an apartment almost in Toronto.

And it really got down to a Lou Reed number.

Good thing they weren't playing ABBA.

Bunny on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Their walls are made of cannon balls, their motto is...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Do You Come Here Often?

There was one day where it all came together. It all worked. Training, calculated response, it was all where it needed to be.

And it was funny too.

Two of us were mountain biking, the Scotsman and I. It was a Sunday morning in a city park outside of a large east coast concrete jungle. Now if you're conjuring up visions of slaloming twixt neatly spaced lindens, you'd better hit cranial delete. This was a city park only insofar as it was within the boundaries of the city proper. Beyond that, apart from emerging at its edge onto a four lane boulevard, it was as wild and as hilly and as overgrown as any path one might find in say, West Virginia. Save for it still had all its teeth.

Scotsman rode it every Sunday morning and I joined him from time to time. There were stretches that he excelled at, the harder ones, and there were flats that I hammered him on 'cause Bubba you don't play over 40 league mid-field without learning to go from zero to intercept really fast. Then there were the stretches we both sucked at. One's where we'd unclip and walk the bikes 'cause, well this was the over 40 league. Mortality was not just a good idea, it was the law. The Scotsman had a pat observation of these edge of cliff with shaky soil high off the ground clawing for a foothold paths: "They're rideable." he'd say. To which my pat response was: "Yes. On a planet bereft of gravity perhaps."

There was a long, wet, swampy stretch too. It was flat and crossed a little creek several times. It wound up in the back of an abandoned trailer park so we'd ride it to its end then double back over creek and through some of the soggy patches that threatened to suck down your tire if you weren't careful. That's when we saw her.

She was off the trail in some low foliage. She looked like hell, an old woman of eighty plus years, long yellow-grey hair let completely down, toussled over what looked like a summer dress that had seen more summers than she had. It was a late, late spring day and summer was making an introductory visit. The temperatures were in the high seventies and climbing into the eighties. She was soaked in sweat, smelled just awful and was jabbering away in a language that most of the other riders would describe as foreign and I knew to be Russian.


There were about five riders stopped on the trail, calling to her as she wandered through the brush, chattering constantly. When Scotsman and I showed up, the other riders turned to us and asked if we had a cell phone.

Yes I did. And it was very happily in the glove compartment. Cells are great in emergencies, but sometimes circumstances call for other tools.

Sorry, no cell.

All the riders called out to the old woman. "Hey! Are you ok?" "Come here please!" She would stop chattering for a moment, look at them quizzically and then go right back to the monologue she was having with herself.

I called out to her: "Ma'am, please come here." She stopped, looked at me and said something in Russian.

The only damn phrase I know in Russian is "Ya ni puni mai", I do not understand. It would have been as easy as falling off a log to look at her quizzically and then jump back on the bikes to finish a nice Sunday ride. But when in hell have I ever done the easy thing.

Ya ni puni mai.

"Russki!" she goes and the chatter is elevated in volume and frequency.

Ya ni puni mai. Parlez vous francais?

She looked at me like I was Alice's rabbit. "Nyet. Deutsch."

She spoke German. Strangely enough, so did I. So did the Scotsman. Off we went finding out who she was (no answer) and where she was from.

We got an address. The other riders immediately scrambled to find something to write it down with but if you don't got a cell phone, chances are you didn't bring pencil and paper either.

Did I mention it was wet and swampy? There's a stick, there's some mud. She's just said an address and a phone number. Write it down. You can try and memorize something until the cows come home, but if it doesn't have a personal relevance, chances are it'll be gone soon. On the other hand, if you see something physical; a tree, a path, an address and phone number scratched in the mud, you might just be able to retain a mental picture of the thing because it was relevant to a place you were at.

We got an address. We got a phone number. We got five people to hopefully get a mental picture of it.

Then she wandered off, so we followed. By now she was speaking exclusively German and the Scotsman and I had figured out that she was not in her right mind. And I don't mean that in a bad way, but there was some level of dimentia, Alzheimer's or otherwise, going on. When it was all over, Scotsman asked me why I started off in French. Simple: You've got an eighty-something Russian. Bark off a few phrases in German and see what period in history she might go back to and what kind of fright and flight responses you might get.

When you're dealing with dementia, you also don't want to get physical. Everything's got to be their idea. Hence, the Scotsman and I followed her rather than guided her, were as surprised and happy as she was once she'd found the trail again, and followed her, chatting all the while, until she got to the edge of the park. The aforementioned four lane boulevard that she promptly wandered on to.

Funny thing about people who wander off onto boulevards; traffic sees them as single, avoidable obstacles. Funny when you cast bicycles across the same lanes; traffic sees them as sharp-edged mechanical things that can do damage to the undercarriage of their vehicles. Oh and there's some old woman walking around the road too.

There was a community center on the boulevard and with gentle coaxing, we got her into the air-conditioned interior and got her some water and got her to sit down and got the police on the phone asap. When the cop showed up, we recited the address we had written in the mud. He knew it as a local assisted-care place, got her in the car, cranked the A/C to full and took her home.

Scotsman and I? There was a ride to finish. Suddenly a lot more limber than we had been in the previous 3/4 of an hour, we got our bikes, strapped on helmets and set off to finish the ride.

Scotsman would say silly things later, but just then he said the thing that made it all funny:

"Man, you'll do anything to get a girl's phone number."

Too right. Bunny on.

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