I routinely go through my colossal draft lists and discard troves of ideas and actual stories. I’d discard the computer, but they get expensive. When I was writing several of my Elm Springs stories, I kept skipping over the “Man Parked In Pond” account due to the incongruous absurdity of the title.
What might amuse you more is that I’ve seen several cars in ponds in my lifetime. Both stupidity and drinking were involved in all cases. I think there’s a universal truth to that last sentence. I can proudly say that I was in the car on separate occasions while BOTH my Mom and Dad drove into ponds, ditches, or swamps. It’s one thing to go into a small pond, but if you’ve ever seen how deep and snake-filled some irrigation ditches and swamps can be, you’re not enthusiastic about getting into one. At night. Snakes do not like to cuddle.
I am not afraid of snakes until they get into my underwear. Call it a phobia if you have to.
When I first worked at a nursing home in Springdale after high school, I often ran home before I got my second car. My first car, a great one given to me by my brother Mike as he shockingly went into the Army, was stolen by my Dad and sold on my cousin’s car lot. The irony is that I worked on the side at my cousin’s garage to earn credit toward the next car.
It was only 7-8 miles home from work. Those runs were interesting as hell at times, just as they were when I started from home and ran elsewhere. It was different back in the day. People drove drunk a LOT. Country roads were littered with cars at night. Saturday morning and Sunday morning was a great time to see the places on the road where people were probably driving too fast. Or drunk. One of the neighbors near where I lived often stopped and “borrowed” things from the cars he found on the side of the road at night. Thinking back on it, it was impossible for him to get caught. This is in part due to the visibility of approaching lights and the failure of most drunks to inventory their possessions, much less know for certain that they are driving their own car home at night.
Note to civil engineers: if you want to reduce unsafe and drunk driving, put a buttload of stupidly sharp curves in the road. Or a five-mile stretch of road that is 100% roundabouts. The Arkansas educational system didn’t adequately prepare most people for sensible traffic devices.
If you’ve driven the side roads from Springdale to Elm Springs, you’re aware of the sharp turns everywhere. Many of those turns sit next to barbed wire fencing. Or worse, ponds. While I didn’t see the accident when it happened, I was running home when I heard brakes and skidding, followed by sounds that didn’t make sense to me. It was after midnight, so I couldn’t imagine who or what had crashed. As I ran along a sloping S-curve, I saw taillights. As I neared, I could see that the barbed wire fencing had been torn open. The truck that went through the fence went a few feet into the pond. While I was sure I was going to try to help, I didn’t know how exactly. I heard someone drunkenly mumbling. In today’s terms, it sounded a lot like Kenny Chesney singing any of his Top 40 hits.
I remember being glad it wasn’t my Dad. He’d traversed many a fenceline while driving drunk. More than once, with me in the vehicle. Good times! After one particularly bad accident through a cow field, he kept repeating the same joke: “I was looking for a good steak.” His sense of humor was legendary when he wasn’t trying to kill someone.
The man in the truck managed to get the door open. He was cursing in drunk language at that point. Though I couldn’t see much, I realized he was trying to get into the truck’s bed from the cab so he wouldn’t step into the shallow water. I waited. Sure enough, a huge splash followed as he fell off trying to get over the side of the truck. He set the world record for putting the lord’s name in vain for the next couple of minutes. He staggered out of the pond.
“Who the f### are you?” he asked me.
“The ghost of drunks future,” I quipped. I wasn’t scared at all to mock any drunk I didn’t know.
This tendency got me into some precarious predicaments through the years, including one incident when a drunk tried to throw a mostly-empty pitcher of beer on me, and I yelled, “Ball 4!.” My shout made him angry when it dawned on him that people in the bar laughed. I had reluctantly accompanied my roommate Ray to go shoot pool at a bar that now no longer exists in the Midway area. When the drunk acted as if he would chase me, I dashed to the back door, opened it, and then slammed it. I stepped out of sight into the filthy supply closet near the back door. The drunk ran outside, thinking I went out first. We laughed our asses off about that for a long time. The best part of this story is that he didn’t remember getting mad or running out the back to chase me upon his return.
We didn’t have cell phones back then. There was a payphone at a small store a couple of bends of the road away from the pond. But I wasn’t going to accompany a drunk for that kind of walk. “Go knock on that door,” I told him and pointed to a brown house a couple of hundred feet away. “They’ll help you.” I waited, and eventually, he stumbled his way in that direction. I left out here that the owners of the pond and the house were the same people. I ran the rest of the way home, amused at my cleverness. I found out that the owners made the driver completely fix their fence and make restitution. Had I not run by that night, I don’t think he would have. And I wouldn’t be able to brag I watched a grown man drunkenly try to climb over the edge of his truck and then fall into a pond.
And so, I leave you with “Man Parked In a Pond.” It’s not Faulkner or Conroy, but it amuses me.