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A Dart In The Foot

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Years before the interstate crossed western Springdale, my cousin owned a big chunk of land where the Springdale Convention Center, Denny’s, and La Quinta now stand. (Little did he know how valuable his land would one day become.) He had one of the region’s largest machine shops there. (If such things matter for the story, he technically was ‘the husband of a 1st cousin 1x removed.’)

Along the road, his parents, Goldie and Ellis, owned a house, followed by a trailer and another little house further down. Pasture framed the property in a large “L.” Like much of the area, it was rural and Highway 412 was a slender ribbon known as 68. 48th Street cut across the highway, uninterrupted by the interstate like it is now. It’s interesting that Springdale is now reconnecting across that area with Gene George Blvd. On our side of the highway, 48th Street was a narrow road to almost nowhere. Close to the road stood several massive oak trees, a couple of them towering high about the landscape. There were pear and apple trees dotted all over the property, as well as a couple of walnut and pecan trees, one of which almost literally killed me, but not for the reason you might imagine. That’s a story for another day. My cousin Jimmy and I both narrowly avoided being blinded near there, which is also a story for another day. My family lived in two trailers and a very small house on the property.

I don’t remember how we ended up in the jon boat sitting in the grass near the trees in front of Goldie’s garage building. It was there for a while, so you had to careful about jumping into it without inspection. Otherwise, you might find yourself jumping right back out with a snake or other critter attached to you.

My cousin Jimmy found a few large darts somewhere. Time has stolen the details about where they originated. While they weren’t the infamous lawn darts that came later, they were larger than standard throwing darts that we’ve all tossed and hit the wall accidentally with, even as we tried to conceal our errant misses.

More than once, I said, “Watch out with those darts, Jimmy!” He was younger than me. He was also was protected by a strange force field of superiority. He was almost Kevin Costner untouchable. Jimmy laughed and threw another one with even more recklessness. It thudded into the wood bottom of the boat. “Darn it, Jimmy, you better not hit me!”

Jimmy stepped several steps further back and, without pausing, launched the heavy dart high into the air, in a long parabola of unknown destination. Naturally, I did the only thing possible: I covered my head and winced. I doubt Jimmy expected me to duck.

It turns out I didn’t need to concern myself with being hit in the head with the dart.

It landed directly on the top of my foot, impaling my left foot almost all the way through. I had a Jim Carrey moment, one in which I stared at the heavy dart impaled in my foot. My brain was taking a bit of a break to process this.

Suddenly, my foot cramped.

Jimmy’s face made an absurdly round “O” as his mouth fell open, as I writed a little bit in agony.

For once, I believed he didn’t intentionally do the thing that just happened. That is what happens when you indiscriminately toss heavy darts above people’s heads, though. That’s a helpful note if you find yourself indiscriminately tossing darts high into the air around other people.

All at once, the pain of the large dart being stuck through my foot reached my brain and I screamed like someone put a firecracker in my open mouth.

Jimmy ran away, already hollering that I was beating him, when in reality I was sitting in the boat with a dart stuck in my foot. I pulled it out without thinking very long about it. It took several seconds for the hole to begin oozing blood. I did not run after him. For the time being, I didn’t care if he had season passes to Dogpatch and free ice cream for me.

After several minutes, I hobbled around the trailer on the backside and tried to go inside. “You better not get blood in here, you little sh!t,” Mom told me between puffs on her cigarette. I went back outside and around to the front of the trailer. Dad was sitting there with Uncle Buck.

My Dad, often the comedian, yelled “Bullseye!” at me. I assumed Jimmy finally admitted he threw a dart into my foot. I still didn’t see Jimmy.

Uncle Buck, in the role of a caring human being, told me to wash the wound out.

“Nonsense,” Dad opined. “Put some ash on it.” Dad unsteadily stood up and with his drunken swagger approached me. He grabbed charcoal out of the burn pile and motioned for me to approach. He smashed it in his fist and rubbed it on top of my foot. I stood perfectly still, hoping his attention would shift so that I could get away. I knew better than to flinch or cry. “Bullseye,” Dad repeated and laughed.

I hobbled away. I found Jimmy a few minutes later sitting on a low branch of one of the apple trees between Goldie’s house and the rear of the machine shop. I didn’t hit him. He was Jimmy – and Jimmy did only what Jimmy did best. I think he found it difficult to relax if I had a dart in my hand, though.

¡ Doh !

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Did you know that being generally unhealthy makes you more prone to other diseases and infections?

A team of researchers in Switzerland spent 19 years investigating the link between underlying health issues and onset diseases. On March 23rd, 2018, Dr. Wayne Kerr was inventorying the medical literature section of Barnes & Noble in Lucerne. Suddenly, he found it, the proof his team spent 19 years and millions of dollars investigating. He stood up, screaming for one of his research team members, who was also in the store.

As Dr. Leigh King ran up to him, Dr. Kerr held up the book he discovered:

“No Sh#t, Sherlock: A Field Guide For Discovering The Obvious.”

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P.S. I wrote this after reading someone’s post on social media. His post was rather smart, a fact that amplified my mirth at the idea floating around in my head as a result…

Did you know that being generally unhealthy makes you more prone to other diseases and infections?

A team of researchers in Switzerland spent 19 years investigating the link between underlying health issues and onset diseases. On March 23rd, 2018, Dr. Wayne Kerr was inventorying the medical literature section of Barnes & Noble in Lucerne. Suddenly, he found it, the proof his team spent 19 years and millions of dollars investigating. He stood up, screaming for one of his research team members, who was also in the store.

As Dr. Leigh King ran up to him, Dr. Kerr held up the book he discovered:

“No Sh#t, Sherlock: A Field Guide For Discovering The Obvious.”

A Wildly Accurate and Inaccurate Post About Badminton

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Many of us, especially those of us whiter than a bleached bag of rice, played badminton in our backyards when we were younger. Let’s admit it: we didn’t know what we were doing. Like a game of Monopoly, we made up the rules as we played. We ran into parked cars, brick walls, and probably smacked each other a few hundred times with the rackets. Sometimes, we even hit each other accidentally.

Whether badminton is a sport is obvious. The intensity with which you argue about this question itself serves as a reliable indicator whether you measure your ice cubes, watch the Harry Potter series with Klingon subtitles, or really ‘feel the burn’ when you walk fast to the garage for another 6-pack of spritzer water.

Joking aside, some matches have recorded hit speeds of 200 mph. Moreover, many people don’t know that the intensity of competitive badminton greatly exceeds that of tennis and typically requires twice as much distance covered per match.

If you already know the correct spelling for the word “badminton,” it’s likely that you also eat ketchup on your mac and cheese, not that there’s anything wrong with that, you psycho.

(Trivia Break) Gerbils can detect the smell of adrenaline in human sweat.

The game was invented in India in the 19th century after Lord Valdemort (no relation) noticed several of his servants waving swatters around in the boudoir. One of the servants accidentally threw a stuffed finch from the bedside display and the others began to swat it playfully back and forth. Although they broke several thousand dollars worth of vases and had to be put to death, the game was born. This entire paragraph is wildly inaccurate.

Despite my aversion to sharing facts, the name of the game owes its origins to the estate of the Dukes of Beaufort on which it was developed, rather than the once-popular theory that two drunk ladies intentionally kept pronouncing their illnesses incorrectly.

(Trivia Break) The Canary Islands were not named after birds, which I am certain most people don’t know. It derives its name as it passes through Spanish and Latin for “dogs.”

It’s no accident that the first 3 letters of the word cleverly telegraph the amount of fun you’re going to have while playing. While some people claim to enjoy playing, some people also like to eat raw hamburger and watch “The Bachelor.” People can’t be trusted.

The word “badminton” itself is offensive enough, but factoring in ‘shuttlecock’ and ‘racquet,’ and you have a guaranteed chuckle for anyone under 15 years of age.

While reading about it, I saw that formal badminton games are played indoors, while casual games are played outdoors.

Again, though I detest facts, competitive badminton is played indoors due to the fact that light winds can affect the shuttlecock as it flies. Whether those light winds are meteorological or gastrointestinal is a subject each family will debate on its own. Thanks to Aunt Maude for the chili.

The disadvantage of playing outdoors is that one runs the risk of other people observing you trying to play.

To my surprise, I discovered it is a summer Olympic sport. I presume it’s played as a literal reenactment of the movie “Dodgeball.” It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

When badminton first became an Olympic sport, over one billion people watched. While I like to joke about it, worldwide it is one of the most popular spectator sports. That still blows my mind, like discovering that you’re 14% more likely to die on your birthday than any other day of the year. (It’s true, by the way.)

A regulation badminton court is 20 X 44 feet, while the net is supposed to be 5 feet in the air. (And presumably connected to the ground, if you were wondering.) Attempts to replace the regulation net with a complex series of barbed wires were rebuffed, despite many advocates for watching the game demanding that barbed wire would result in a more entertaining game, much in the same way that baseball would be more enjoyable to watch if spectators could randomly fire pistols at those playing.

Even though you will think I’m making this up, a traditional shuttlecock or birdie consists of 12-14 duck or goose feathers – and those feathers are required to be from the left wing only of the bird, no matter what the bird might have to say about it.

Quoting from the official rulebook, here’s how the game is played:
1) Each participant should be motivated to play out of sheer boredom 2) Each player should have his or her own mosquito swatter or approved racquet 3) Alcohol or epilepsy help the game 4) Score is kept by constantly arguing about where the net is, how big the play area is, and how afraid you are of your family members. 4) The winner is declared when someone runs facefirst into a car parked too close to the net.

Sports Illustrated tried to do an article of the “5 Most Interesting Things To Happen In Badminton” and could only find one answer: “Nothing.” Not wanting to offend the Badminton World Federation (BWF), which coincidentally is a real thing, the editors instead ran an article mocking lawn bowling, which appeased badminton fans.

Given the competitive disadvantage of many sports, the truth is that a young person could do worse than attend a school with a competitive badminton team. If you can get a scholarship for bowling, Cornhole, fencing, rifle, water polo, and skiing, badminton is a great alternative. (All of those are real, sanctioned sports in the NCAA, if you thought I was joking.) For those considering playing badminton in college, you’ll be able to visit overseas, where badminton is incredibly popular.

One actual theory as to why it’s not as popular here sounds strange: sports that don’t utilize spheroid objects tend to fare worse both in participation and viewership. You might laugh at me to admit this, but this theory made me think way too long about the intangibles of this sort of fact.

In closing, badminton is a very physical sport. It’s much more popular than most Americans realize. Also, even though it’s totally unrelated, if you earn $20,000 a year, you are actually in the top 5% of wage earners in the world. That’s not made up, either.

P.S. I know this post is about badminton; if you read closely, though, you discovered a couple of crazy facts along the way. In closing, the average human body contains just enough fat to create 7 bars of soap.

Random Act of Ice Cream

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Random Act of Kindness: I stopped the ice cream truck as it slowly trolled the neighborhood. I handed the driver a pile of money and told him to give the neighbors down the street a few houses on the left whatever they wanted. I don’t know the family, but there were 6 or 7 young children outside playing. The woman watching the passel of kids reluctantly approached the ice cream truck as he waved and said, “It’s free!” I heard one of the kids scream, “Papi! Free ice cream!!” All the kids ran en masse toward the van, dancing and singing as only young children can. Mom and Dad ended up with ice cream too. I went back outside a couple of minutes later to see the children still excitedly comparing selections and laughing with complete abandon.

I didn’t do much today, but I managed to give a few children a moment of complete joy. Not only did they each unexpectedly get a treat, but they were able to choose whatever their heart desired. Despite my age, I can remember what such a rare treat felt like when I was young in heart and body.

P.S. I teared up a bit.

Pies and Such

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Like most of us, my mamma (pronounced ma’am maw) never wanted to “be a bother to anyone.” On the scale of what she didn’t like, asking someone to do something for her weighed near the bottom – hanging slightly above having her picture taken. As she got older, her reluctance to ask for anything grew.
When she simply couldn’t bring herself to ask directly, she became most creative at pointing a conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. Her hesitancy to ask and her creativeness in asking indirectly was quite endearing.
My favorite all time example occurred one Saturday afternoon when my husband and I made the quick one-hour drive to visit her. Always glad to see us, she seemed a bit preoccupied that day. As usual, we carried the bulk of the conversation, but this time, during a brief lull, she suddenly inserted, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?” Anyone from the South (or a true transplant like my Illinois-born and raised husband) understands that to mean “What do you like to eat?”
Since the conversation to that point was not even closely related to food, we were thrown for a minute. To buy some time, I asked, “What was that, Mamma?” She repeated, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”
Still a bit confused, I asked, “Do you mean in general, or are you asking if we’re hungry now?” She replied, “In general.” Finally catching on, I told her we like all kinds of food and asked, “What do YOU like to eat?” Knowing two of her favorite snacks were pork rinds and potato chips, it was amusing to hear instead an enthusiastic “I like those McDonald’s pies!”
Now fully aware of the game we were playing, my husband asks “Mamma, would you like us to go get you a McDonald’s pie?” He almost didn’t get all the words out before she was exclaiming, “Naw!! I don’t need one, I just like’em! Unless y’all want one; y’all want one?!”
My husband and I smile and glance sideways at each other. We stand (while she continues to protest she doesn’t want one unless we do) and head out the door while she yells for us to come back and get some money.
We return with McDonald’s apple pies for all. It’s hard to say who devoured theirs first, but it was obvious no one relished that apple pie more than she did.
From that point forward, McDonald’s was our first stop when we rolled into town for a visit with Mamma. The pies were cheap, but the joy they brought was priceless, and the happy memories of shared apple pies linger on.
To this day, 20+ years later, when one of us is craving something and wanting a partner in crime, the magic question is “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”

 

Pest Control

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In the “after” of all this, if there is one, many people will take skeptical looks at their spending habits. It will affect everything: grooming, clothing, food, vehicles, dining, and every aspect of our lives. It’s a safe guess that I’m not risking much to predict this. It’s going to be okay to wear last year’s pants (even if they belonged to your grandfather last year), have hair that is so disheveled it puts your head in danger of being entwined in that drooping ceiling fan you never replaced, or make ear wax candles in your mom’s garage.

One of a household’s avoidable expenses is pest control. I’m not referring to your husband, the kids always underfoot, or your brother-in-law Brad, the one who disguises all his humor under poorly crafted insults. Those are nuisances. Now that I think about it, even a beetle in your breakfast cereal is a nuisance too. (Anything is edible if you try to eat it, or so the cliché goes. Also, it gives additional meaning to the word “Captain Crunch.”)

For all those who don’t like to read closely or at all, there are exceptions to everything I’m about to write. This isn’t about those exceptions, caveats, ‘buts,’ or ‘what-ifs.’ It is about the general and avoidable overpayment that many seem driven to regarding pest control for their homes.

Note: in anonymous surveys, a LOT of people have no routine or scheduled insect or extermination service at their residence, much in the same way they pretend they floss more than twice a year or follow their routine scheduled maintenance guides. If you’re among those, that’s good: you’re saying money by not doing pest control. As for your teeth, you only need one to open bottles. That’s okay. In reality, some don’t need pest control, although you’d never know that given the way that pest control companies routinely and dramatically convince you that armies of killer ants are going to eat your earlobes during the night.

But…

If you need pest control, you already own what you need to do it safely yourself: a bit of intelligence, a willingness to do it yourself, and a bit of time to investigate my outrageous claim that you are almost certainly overpaying for pest control for your residence.

If you hire a pest control company to treat your house 4-5 times a year, I recommend that you watch how they do it. Do they use a spray pattern extending into the lawn, do they treat your attic with sprayers, bombs, traps, or other devices? Do they spray all vents, pipes, doors, seals, foundation, seams, and all other points of entry and exposure? How long does it take to complete the treatment?

It’s common to see a pest technician not wearing gloves, eyewear, a mask, or any other protective equipment. This is true even if he or she is using a wide dispersal sprayer. They wouldn’t be doing it if there were a significant risk. For anyone who embarks on a D-I-Y approach, you can buy protective equipment inexpensively. You can also learn the best methods to avoid environmental exposure.

In the best scenario, you’ll wear personal protective equipment which includes a mask, eye protection, and gloves. We’re all going to own these things for the rest of our lives. This is one positive outcome of COVID.

It is possible to do routine spraying yourself, safely and much less expensively. I didn’t believe it myself until I asked a million questions, all of which was confirmed by people doing it as a job.

Each time I encountered someone reluctant to answer a question, it signaled my BS detector. An expert would never fail to give honest information to the consumer giving them their business.

You’ll find that the average pest control company doesn’t want to tell you exactly what chemicals they use, their concentrations, or their exact methodology. Despite me directly asking two of the companies I previously used, neither would divulge exactly what they were using, the concentrations or any of the usage data. Their refusal to tell me followed their promise to send me the MSDS for any chemical, the application sheets, and so forth. One of the companies technicians told me they weren’t going to share this information with me simply because the chemicals he was using could be purchased directly from the internet. While considering engaging another company prior to going D-I-Y, the person trying to ‘sell’ me promised I would get the information. When he emailed back with pricing, I told him that I’d need a list of chemicals and all the related information. He replied back that federal law prevented him from sharing this information. P.S. This isn’t true.

Almost all of them also don’t have matrix pricing that you can use to figure out what everyone else is paying. (Square footage, lot size, attic, basement, etc.) As most of you know, any business that has commission-based sales has a huge level of wiggle room in its pricing structure. It’s precisely why such companies do so much “selling,” and why you almost never see flat pricing on their websites.

Can you imagine going to a new car sales lot and seeing baseline pricing for everything? We’d die of shock.

While you’ll pay at least $70 per treatment (and often much more), the cost of the chemicals being applied to your house is at most a few dollars. Companies have learned how much of a particular chemical is needed to maintain a bug-free environment.

You can learn this, too.

The catch is that you can learn how to minimize how much insecticide you use, including dispersal methods, concentrations, and the critical coverage areas. The chemicals available to professionals are available to you, too.

I’m not recommending a D-I-Y approach to all pests, especially termites, bedbugs or any issue outside the normal scope of routine pest spraying. There are many scenarios where professionals are required. Anyone taking my commentary out of context to state the opposite needs to take a moment to distinguish between ‘routine’ and ‘specialized’ treatments or inspections. (Having said that termite control isn’t rocket surgery, either.)

I found that some companies use bombs in the attic. Some of them use these while you are at home. After grabbing one of the empty cans, I discovered that this is discouraged, even if you are in a new home and are certain that no seepage will occur. The same is true for inside spraying, as they often spray around baseboards, under sinks, and in perimeter areas. While it may ‘safe’ for you and your pets, almost all the literature recommends not being exposed to it, especially until it is dry. But it doesn’t stop extermination companies from spraying while you’re at home.

 

-Don’t use a pest control company which refuses to divulge exactly what they’re using.

-Don’t use a pest control company which won’t give you flat pricing or single-application services. Contracts benefit them, not you.

-If you are generally capable of performing routine household repairs, take the time to see if you are comfortable doing your own pest control.

-Also, if you knew how much training, on average, a new hire receives prior to doing their first ‘hands on,’ you wouldn’t be so reluctant to try it yourself.

In my case, I paid a technician for one of the major pest control companies to use Amazon to show me specifically which chemicals are the safest and do the same function as his company. While he was at it, he showed me a D-I-Y forum that explicitly answered all my concerns. No, it wasn’t an Alex Jones website, either. Because of my enthusiasm, he gave me the information for free because he knew I wouldn’t be a customer. I paid him as a reward. Both of us left very pleased.

I bought everything I needed for 1/2 of just one treatment for a quarterly plan, or 1/8 of my yearly cost. I’m still using the same initial shipment of chemicals I originally bought, pushing the cost to 1/24 of one year’s costs.

Other than a few seizures, it hasn’t affected me at all. And I can’t feel the right side of my face.

I’m just kidding about that last part.

If you take nothing else away from this, I hope you doubt that you’re getting the best value if you’re paying a big company to come say “Hi” to you a few times a year. Even better, that you’re resolved to do this for yourself.

By the way, if you choose the D-I-Y route, you’ll need some earplugs, too. Those pest control people will shout at you for their business.

If you pay a pest control company, get the MSDS for everything being put into your house and watch how it’s done.

 

 

 

 

Lucille And The Witness Tree

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It was July 1976. Much of the country feverishly celebrated the bicentennial. In the small town of Pleasure Heights, Arkansas, Thomas Deerfield was anything but happy. He wasn’t unhappy because of the near-100 temperature or the fact that his neighbor’s dog stole one of his boots off the porch again. His Lucille died in February of an exotic cancer that erupted from nothing the week after Xmas. They were married for forty years, the day she died. Lucille expected 1976 to be a great year. She’d made plans to drag Thomas to see the American Freedom Train at least once. Thomas had no interest in seeing the train. He’d rather have put his feet up under the shade at his brother’s cabin by the pond a few miles east of town. Lucille loved fireworks, parades, rodeos, and the sing-alongs by the creek near downtown.

“It’s time to see the world, Thomas. We’re retired and the world ain’t coming to us.” Lucille had a way of telling her husband nicely what he was going to do.

“I can see  my entire world right here,” Thomas told Lucille as he grabbed her hand and winked provocatively at her across the table. “If I want to see the world, I’ll climb the Elm tree by the square,” he said, using one of his favorite and tired jokes. Lucille laughed and pretended to do a fake shot of whiskey as she rolled her eyes at him.

On July 4th, most of the town’s seven hundred and forty-one inhabitants stood on the square silently watching in awe as 72-year-old Thomas climbed one of the oldest elm trees in the state. It was a witness tree, and fifty-five feet tall. Unlike some other largest trees in the state, its circumference was twenty feet. Like so many other people in Pleasure Heights, Thomas had proposed to Lucille under the huge canopy of the elm tree. It had witnessed over two hundred years of different names and faces marching past it and sitting under its majestic foliage.

Most of the townspeople came to the square to eat hot dogs, watch the small parade featuring a mix of children and adults as they played their musical instruments and strode awkwardly around the expansive square. Afterward, the person voted “Most Civic-Minded” would take his or her place on the base of the absent Robert E. Lee statue. In 1958, someone had stolen the entire statue, a theft that everyone within a hundred miles still discusses heatedly. Some theories were wild, such as the one that Postmaster Evans often told. It involved both aliens and communists. No one could figure out how he’d combined those two unlikely groups. It was impossible to go to the diner for lunch without hearing the Postmaster Evans bring up his theory.

No one noticed anything unusual about Thomas as he walked across Main Street and toward the giant elm. I saw him as he walked, but thought nothing of his arrival. Everyone knew him, and many offered their hellos as he walked past them. Fire Chief Raymond used a ladder to stand on as he addressed the commencement of the parade. Thankfully, he didn’t sing his announcement this year. The Chief was one of the immensely likeable people who loved singing, but was tone deaf. He seldom noticed the pained expressions on people’s faces as he treated them to his latest rendition from the radio.

Thomas picked up the ladder, folded it, and continued walking until he was under the tree and about one third of the width of the overhead canopy away from the massive trunk. He propped the ladder and sat on the second rung. He removed his work boots and socks and laid them neatly at the bottom of the ladder. He removed his hat and stuck it on top of his boots.

Without fanfare, he grabbed the ladder and climbed it. As I watched from the edge of the street, his head disappeared into the leaves above him. I watched as one leg went up and then the other. I looked around to see if anyone else was watching. Most people were eating and talking a mile a minute as the kids of the town ran amok, filled with soda, hot dogs, and popcorn. Thomas slowly moved his way back and forth across the horizontal limbs. As he found a spot that supported his weight and allowed him to boost himself up, he climbed to the next limb up. As he climbed, he moved closer and closer to the middle of the tree. At that juncture, the largest limb went slightly to my left and became precarious.

As Thomas reached about halfway, Jim Peters saw me craning my neck and asked me, “Watcha’ watching? A movie?” I shook my head ‘no,’ and pointed. After a few seconds of staring up where my finger pointed, Jim excitedly said, “Who is that?” He said it loud enough for several people to take notice. Within a minute, about a quarter of everyone in that large cluster of people were looking up into the elm tree.

There was a collective chorus of “Who is it?” from multiple angles.

“It’s Thomas Deerfield,” I said, loudly.

“Bull! He’s at least 70,” argued Phillip Douglas. Phillip owned the tire shop and loved saying ‘bull’ or its more vulgar counterpart at least once a minute. “Yes, he’s 72,” I told him. I could hear the name Thomas being echoed across the growing crowd. There were a few gasps from the older ladies as they tried to imagine someone that age climbing a tree. They’d never be able to scold another rambunctious boy for climbing again, not after that day.

I gave up my vantage point and moved back. Instinctively, so did a lot of others observing the tree climb.

“We love you, Thomas!” someone half-jokingly shouted from behind me.

In a testament to the town’s spirit, it didn’t occur to a single resident that Thomas might be on a quest to hurt himself – or that he might fall, even though the likelihood of that outcome was obvious to anyone who’d dare climb any tree taller than thirty feet high.

Like a wave, the chant started from nowhere and subtly grew. “Thomas! Thomas! Thomas!” In a few moments, even the smaller children were chanting.

We all stood in awe as Thomas continued to climb the branch he chose to get as close to the sky as possible. When he could go no further, he stopped and braced himself against the bark of the elm tree.

“I can see the whole world from up here, Lucille,” Thomas shouted over and over. “I can see it! And ain’t none of it got you in it!”

It was a moment of pure collective joy, and most of us laughed.

We stood, watching, holding our breaths for something we couldn’t identify.

“I’m coming down!” Thomas shouted.

To my surprise, most of us below applauded, our hands thunderously giving our approval to the spectacle. It took Thomas thirty minutes to get down low enough to find footing on the ladder again. Several male townspeople were there to help him the last few inches. When Thomas stepped off the ladder, we all applauded again.

Pleasure Heights didn’t just celebrate the bicentennial of the country. It celebrated a life on that 4th of July. Even though we didn’t vote on it, we all started calling the elm tree “Lucille,” a name it still carries today, even in the book someone wrote describing all the old trees in the state.

Thomas lived to be 92. He spent the 20 years after Lucille died immersed in the social life of the small town his wife had loved. He sang, led the town’s parade a few times, and often sat outside the diner saying hello to everyone who passed. He died on Independence Day in 1996. My son June found him sitting under the Elm tree near the square, his hat pulled under his eyes, his back against the tree he stood under as he proposed to the love of his life all those decades ago.

I got a call from the new Chief of Police around 9 a.m. He told me June was at the square with his bicycle and needed me to come as soon as possible.

An hour later, after they’d taken Thomas’ body to the funeral home off Highway 37, June asked me what happened to Thomas. Since June was old enough to know the story, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “June, love finally caught up to him. He went to the see the world.” Although June didn’t understand what I meant, he hugged me. We both smiled as we walked to stand a moment under the witness tree’s canopy. The heat was almost unbearable without a breeze. I looked up, and told June, “You wouldn’t believe it, but I was here when Thomas climbed almost to the top of this elm tree…”

For Lucille.

For love.

On The Tip Of Your Tongue, You Said?

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Although modern vehicles still retain the round 12-v holes in which to plug in adapters for power, people of a certain age all recall the magic of the spring-loaded cigarette lighters of yesteryear. Back in the day, everyone smoked, even people using oxygen, priests, the doctor who delivered you (while delivering you, no less), and the irritated waitress bringing you overcooked hash browns at the Waffle Hut. (There were no food returns, only “Get the hell out!” requests if you complained about your food, or ashes in your grits.)

Adults, however, could not be without a cigarette lighter for over ten minutes. Before we removed the clause from the Declaration of Independence, all adults were required to smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day. My mom, for example, showed her patriotism by sometimes smoking a literal carton a day. It seems impossible. She often rose from the bed with a lit cigarette, bathed with a cigarette, and smoked all day as she sat in the operator’s chair for Southwestern Bell. There were times when our house on wheels looked like the polluted skies over an industrial factory. If we were in the car, the windshield seemed opaque from all the smoke. Having the windows down was a bit of a relief, but we all remember the clotted gasp of discovering that a butt thrown out the window had reentered to find itself in our mouths and throats. My mom didn’t believe that throwing a lit cigarette out of the car was a problem. If Smokey The Bear had been standing beside the road, she would have flicked it directly into the pocket of his shirt in an attempt to catch him on fire.

Adults who smoked treated the car cigarette lighter as if it were a religious relic, one to be admired, worshipped, and never touched by the undeserving hands of a child. (Unless we were told to light the cigarette for the adult, who undoubtedly was struggling already to pop the beer can open, the one cradled in the cheap koozie used to hold it.)

Unrelated to the story: the word ‘koozie’ is one of the ugliest words in the English language.

I don’t know how old I was for certain. My cousin Jimmy and I were in one of my dad’s and his cousin Tom’s jalopies for sale. Jimmy was spoiled, but sometimes lit up with mischief and humor. We sat in the front seat of some aged old car, honking the horn and ducking below the dash to avoid being seen. I’d get a beating if caught. Jimmy would have received a smile. Jimmy kept pressing the cigarette lighter in, waiting for it to startle him as it popped out, its insides glowing red. He acted like he was going to touch it with the tip of one of his fingers. “Don’t!” I yelled, despite my extensive Shakespearean training in the vocal arts. Jimmy laughed.

“Oh, it won’t hurt so bad.” He seemed sure. I was 100% certain he was wrong, having been stupid enough to do it myself. More than once and probably fifty times up to that point. I noted that my burned fingertips didn’t smell like pepperoni, either.

“I’ll give you 5 bucks if you touch it to the tip of your tongue,” he told me, smiling. 5 bucks was the equivalent of a fortune for me.

I considered it. I pulled the lighter from the sheath and watched it as it glowed red and hot. When I got it closer to my mouth, I could of course feel the heat radiating off it it.

“Get it hot again,” Jimmy insisted, so I popped it back in the ashtray that contained the plug in.

In a few moments, it popped back out. Jimmy grabbed it and handed it to me.

I unwisely brought it up to my face and stuck out the tip of my tongue. The heat was too much. At that precise moment, Jimmy slapped my left hand unexpectedly and the hot coil hit the tip of my tongue. Luckily, it came away immediately as I reacted and pulled it away. A bit of my skin came away with it. I could smell it burn and hear a slight hiss and sizzle as it cooked my disconnected skin.

I didn’t scream, but I did whimper as I coiled my tongue into my cheek. I could feel it burning. I think it was saying “Idiot” to me in the only way it knew how. Jimmy was doubled over and laughing. His eyes were teary as he peeked to look at the horrified expression on my face.

Because I was poor and my mom refused to let us use the excellent insurance she had through her work, my concern was the possibility of needing medical care. Dad would have opted to slice off the tip of my tongue with one of his hunting knives, or push me into an open septic tank.

Sidenote: the house I lived in, one off of Powell and near Hatfield Street, and opposite the old City View trailer park, had a secret. There was a round garage on the property that Dad used for his mechanic business. The property had a well and a septic tank instead of city water and sewer. We had been bathing in – and drinking – water contaminated with sewer waste from a faulty septic tank for over a year. We kept complaining that everything tasted like sh*t. We weren’t wrong.

This is a true story.

Without going into the details, it’s why to this day I have to concentrate to take the first bite of ramen noodles.

Jimmy finally stopped laughing. My eyes cleared up enough for me to tell Jimmy I was going to sneak up on him while he was sleeping in his waterbed and put a snake under the covers with him. The idea of snakes on him while sleeping terrified him. He begged and pleaded for forgiveness.

My tongue hurt for several days. I had to play the French Horn. Each time my tongue punctuated a note against my lips or the mouthpiece, I’d cringe a little. I felt like a little poodle on the verge of wetting myself.

I never put a snake in the bed with Jimmy. But I thought about it. A million times.

Sketchy ________

sexy mf

NSFW warning: this story is true. It contains references that will make curse words materialize in your head. (Not that watching the news doesn’t cause the same reaction, regardless of which camp you root for.) If you know the song, there’s no use pretending you’re offended. This story, however, reminds people of the fact that I’m not one to be offended at profanity per se; the sentiment underlying the language is the only offending force at work when profanity makes its appearance.

For real, though? You’re still reading? Stop reading. You will get offended or be put in the position that obligates you to pretend you’re offended. (A common affliction we all seem to suffer from more and more.)
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Most of us have our profane “in-jokes,” ones which defy meticulous explanation.

One of mine is “Sketchy _____________.”

If someone passes by who looks like he just jumped out of bed after a long night in a beer-filled ditch, I laugh and sing a line from a Prince song. Its radio title was “Sexy M.F.” You can google it if you need to.

Likewise, if someone looks like a rejected extra from “Silence of The Lambs,” the dicey parts, I’ll croon the line in an even creepier falsetto. If they look like a failed professional bowler wearing stuff from his mom’s closet, he gets the “Sexy M.F.” Prince song. The only requirement is that I change “sexy” to “sketchy.”

Shortly after the new road bypassing Old Wire in North Springdale was finished, we were waiting at the light at 264. One of the weirdest people I’ve ever seen in my life was waiting on the opposite side of the intersection. He looked like Axe Body Spray had mated with Domino’s Pizza and produced a child. I suspect that even his birth certificate had been stamped “Suspicious.”

I sang the lyric wrong without thinking. Comedy gold was born.

If you’re ever around me and we see someone really wickedly strange, just nod and I’ll do the thing. There are few joys greater than hearing me sing in a falsetto, especially in regard to an obscure Prince song.

In closing, don’t be a “Sketchy ____________.”

Or I’ll sing at you as you pass by.