Monday, February 28, 2022

Not Even Not Even 5: New Joke

 Joke 2022/02/28

China: We had a right to kill Tibetans and take their country. They're culturally Chinese!

Russia: We have a right to kill Ukrainians and take their country. They're culturally Russian!

US, looking at Canada: Hey, you guys are culturally just like us, aren't you?

Canada: Non, seulement fran├žais ici!

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 244: Biomythography - Note 20, The One Who Got Back Up

Biomythography - Note 20
The One Who Got Back Up

When dusk fell, I hiked to the creek. I'd stuffed my backpack with trash bags, blankets, and two bottles of wine.

It was a party like many others. In years when I didn't have my own apartment, I hosted events in abandoned parks. It was the usual plan. A couple of friends met me on the trail. We cleaned up the area, hung the half-full trash bags in the hope that others would use them, laid out the blankets, and started a campfire. After that, our guests started arriving.

Most of our parties smelled like fresh water with a hint of algae and a smoky fire on the side. That was the atmosphere of the swimming hole, one of the deepest spots on the creek. My friends and their friends understood these events were never elaborate. They were low key, meant for folks who were comfortable sitting on a log with a beer or a cup of wine. Maybe we would offer hot dogs or marshmallows. On fancy nights, we hiked in chips and desserts.

That evening, I'd invited everyone to use the rope swing. It was a thirty foot hemp cord, an inch thick, with three knots for handles. My neighbors had re-built it on a high branch from an overhanging tree on the less-campfire-friendly side of the swimming hole. It was hard to tell which neighbor had done what, actually. The swimming hole was part of a public park and technically we weren't supposed to be there after nightfall. We weren't supposed to have a rope swing. Park rangers had given up on our area, though, so the creek was largely left to the neighborhood, plus the occasional hard-partiers willing to drive a few miles for access to the combination of outdoors and seclusion. (Those transients were our main source of litter in the park, hence the need for trash bags at the start of every party.)

"Have you tested it?" asked one of the guests. She wore a t-shirt and shorts with something form-fitting underneath. It might have been a swim suit.

"The rope swing?" I followed her gesture to the sixty foot tree across the creek. "Sure, last weekend."

"Is the water deep enough?" That was a reasonable question for most of the creekbed, which averaged fifty feet wide but only two and a half feet deep. The swimming hole was an exception, a dark, blue-green oasis.

"Unless you let go too early, you'll hit the water at eight to ten feet deep." That was a conservative estimate. We'd had rain a few days earlier, which had probably added another half-foot. "You won't touch the bottom."

"No trees underneath or anything?" She seemed more interested than usual. Most of the women did this evening, I'd noticed. We were in the middle of a hot summer and we were sitting around a cooking fire.

"If you swing out far enough to the right," I imagined, trying to engage in full disclosure, "I mean deliberately trying to hurt yourself, I'll bet you could bust up your leg on the fallen tree."

"No, not even if you tried," said a friend of mine. He sipped his beer. "You can't launch at an angle from the branch. No way." He had been with me last week and had attempted all sorts of ways to hurt himself with the swing. He would know.

Conversation drifted to more mundane things like food and drink. But soon enough a half-dozen guests started twisting my arm, asking me to take them across to the swing. When I finished my drink, I led a group wading through the shallows and over a fallen tree. I clambered up the main willow-oak.

"Make sure you get a grip over the top of a knot," I warned them as I stood with fake confidence on the tree branch.

"What if we scream?" Only girls asked questions like that although guys screamed plenty when they launched. "It looks scary and I'm not even up there yet."

"That's fine."

Thing is, falling out of the tree scared me, too. It paralyzed everyone for a moment. The sensation of plunging to the ground lasted for part of a second before the swing started to pull you forward above the mud flats but it seemed longer. It was adrenaline-pumping time. Then came the scoop over the mud, then the water. Finally, you had to let go when you were near the peak of the rope swing. If you froze up and didn't let go, you dragged backwards through the water if you were heavy, or back and forth over the water like a pendulum if you were light. I'd seen a girl the week before freeze up and refuse to get down until another guy and I waded out to catch her by her hips and help her down, still trembling.

Even worse were the folks who released too late. Those young men and women meant to let go earlier of course, but if your hand didn't quite believe you and didn't unclench for a second, you swung too far back. In the worst case, you would swing all the way to the mud before you came off the rope. Then you would hit like you were falling off a bicycle. You bounced. People laughed. And it stung like hell.

"Oh my god, that looks great!" a woman shouted after I landed in the deeps of the swimming hole.

"Yeah!" It felt great, too. When you did everything right, the rope swing was wonderful.

We took turns for thirty minutes and, perhaps foolishly, we kept going longer. At first, everyone swung high, let go at the peak, and cannonballed into the depths of the creek. About half of them screamed in panic but they were having fun. They kept at it. At some point, though, we wore down. Folks started to lose their grip too soon and bellyflop into the shallows. We saw one girl stutter-release. One hand obeyed her but the other re-gripped the rope for just long enough to drag her backwards at a weird angle. She splashed and sputtered with outrage and everyone chuckled.

We were tired. I led the group back to the beer, wine and campfire. On our way, we met another group from the creek party headed for the swing. We also met a couple of friends rolling dead stumps along the trail to serve as extra seats. We needed to add spots and expand the fire because our party, even with early-arrivers leaving us, had grown to over thirty people.

"Hey, bro." Waiting for me in the campsite was a friend who had brought his new girlfriend. He introduced her and a couple other female companions. For a while, we talked about herbs, forestry, and the homemade rice wine I'd brought. I remember becoming aware, during the conversation, of how bright the girlfriend was. It's the first smart one in years, I thought.

Then someone asked me to sing Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice." They knew I'd memorized it. It started everyone else taking turns drunk-singing pop songs and slandering everyone else's favorites. Through it all, I kept feeling impressed by the smart one's insights. She knew medieval song lyrics. When she didn’t know something, she showed that she could figure it out.

For the past two years or so, I had started trying to date differently. I was looking for women who wanted to have children or who at least might make good life partners. In actuality, I kept sleeping around with goth girls because, really, you choose from the ones who like you. My problem, basically, was I hadn't found a special someone who wanted to raise a leather-clad baby with spiky hair and chains.

I'd tried a couple of jock women. They had a lot of appeal. I liked their muscle and gutty attitudes. I was dating one, off and on, having unprotected sex with her but otherwise having no luck. She was seven years older than me and she hadn't been able to have children with her first husband, so maybe it wasn't me. Regardless, as a couple we weren't catching.

There had been a couple of lesbian affairs in my recent past as well, but those relationships always involved birth control and, in one case, the need to hide from family ("I don't want to mislead them") and friends ("I don't want them to think I'm dating men").

Obviously, the smart girl was interested in someone else. That someone was my friend and it put her off my list. Besides, she was too young and probably didn't want kids. My hope was that she might have a bright older sister. Plus, she seemed familiar. I’d seen her before and my unconscious mind was insisting that it could tell me more.

"Someone fell in the mud," a woman announced. She pointed across the stream. Staggering to her feet was a younger woman I didn't recognize. She must have slipped from the rope too late or too early.

From our spots around the fire, a dozen of us watched the folks on the rope swing as they acted tired. The woman who had tumbled from the rope came over to complain, dry off, and have a drink. As she took a swig, another woman in the dark across the creek from us slid down the rope into the mud of the riverbank.

We all winced. She hadn't been holding onto the knots, I figured.

"It's really slippery out there," said the first woman who had fallen.

"It is? Oh, right." I'd forgotten that deposits of clay lay in the riverbank. Those deposits made it hard to climb out of the water.

If you've come across clay in the wild, you know it's different from other soil. It's usually not the same color from the ground beside it. Along our creek, most of the soil was red or brown. The clay was grey, almost silver. More importantly, the clay stuck to itself while simultaneously developing a thick coating of a mud. The loose, wet mud covering is what potters call 'slip' when they use it. And it's called 'slip' for a good reason. You can't walk on it. You can barely hold it. Potters use it to give their creations a smooth surface or to fill in cracks.

Sure enough, the woman who had tumbled onto the riverbank fell again when she tried to stand. Her boyfriend reached out to help her up. He fell down.

"Wow." Someone snorted into their beer.

We talked, laughed, and lazily watched our friends fall from the rope swing. One guy looked like he was holding tight with his arms and legs but, as the rope carried him over the water, his fingers lost hold while his legs stayed on, so he flipped over and dragged his face through the water before he splashed. Another guy did a tarzan move straight down to planting his butt in the mud.

"Ouch."

"Bro." A friend tapped me on the shoulder. "Come on, let's go over and show them how it's done."

We headed back through the brambles and darkness. With us came my friend's three girlfriends or whatever was going on there. One of them was his actual girlfriend, the smart one. On the cross-stream log, we encountered a couple of surly young men, the ones who had just fallen. They warned us that mud was muddy and water was wet. It was something like that - I didn't really listen. Everyone so far, I noticed, had decided that a single slide into the sandy bank or an upside-down landing in the creek was a sign to end the fun. By universal agreement, they gave up playing in the water and returned to the campfire for drinks.

The moon had edged to the top of the forest horizon. It wasn't visible through the trees but we could see by the light of it, especially along the creek. The swing and the land around shone with a silvery glow. I tested the mud at the base of the willow-oak and felt my feet try to slide out from under me. Tricky.

After I climbed the tree and stood on the sturdiest branch, my friend passed the rope to me.

"Careful, man." He shook his head, looking puzzled. "It feels greased."

As soon as I launched, I knew I was in trouble. Earlier, the hemp had been rough and easy to grab. Now it was slimy like someone had pranked us by painting it with lubricant. My fingers never relaxed their grip. In fact, I clenched extra hard, ready for the worst. Falling looked painful, not to mention embarrassing. But the weight of my body plunging to the earth squeezed my still-closed hands over the highest knot like the heel of my palm was a snake swallowing a mouse. Fortunately an instant later, my arc carried me forward. The forces that had tried to pull me off the swing eased. I waited for the peak, as usual, and let go.

"Good one!" My friend's teeth flashed in the moonlight as he smiled. A couple of his girls clapped as I bounced to the surface.

"That rope really is greased." As I swam back, I started to put together what happened. Someone from the second group of revelers had emerged from the creek, fallen down at the shore, and put their hand into the clay. The clay turned to potter's slip when it had enough water. The same person climbed up the tree, hands mucked with slip. Probably, they became the first person to fall off the swing. But others kept trying. More folks touched the wet clay and smeared it on the rope. The hemp's surface got too slick for the ones with weak hands. Soon, it got too much for anybody.

"Pass me the rope." My friend was already up in the tree.

"I don't know if ..."

One of his girlfriends caught the rope and tossed it up to him. He tested it. He rubbed the hemp with the bottom corner of his t-shirt. He tested it again. This time, he decided it was fine. While I was clambering out of the water, careful to avoid the patches of clay, he launched. As he swept by me, I saw his hand slide down below the knot. Over the water, not quite at the peak of his arc, he let go.

"Dang," he sputtered when he came to the surface. "Now I see why everyone's been having problems."

"I want to go next!" two of the women shouted at us.

"Clean the rope," he yelled back. "You have to clean it."

The smart girl went after the rope. It took her a moment but she caught it on the backswing. The other two started scrambling up the willow oak. The younger, blonde one made it to the launch branch. She demanded the rope, got it from the smart girl, and hesitated.

"You have to clean the rope."

"I've done this before," she protested. She gave the hemp cord a token dab with her shirt. Then she lifted her shirt higher to show us her belly and bra. She pulled the shirt down, shifted her grip, and launched.

She started slipping instantly. She swung her legs forward. To my surprise, that worked. At least, it helped thrust her forward over the water. An instant later, the rope seemed to throw her off like the fly from the crack of a whip. She flew in a pose that could best be described as 'last place ski jumper' and landed with a squeal of protest. Maybe she got water up her nose. The important thing was, she didn't get hurt.

The next girl didn't even clear the shoreline. Her hands might not have been strong enough, not even for a dry rope swing. Coming off the wet swing, she slid at an angle, knees-first into the mud. A fraction of a second later, her momentum pushed her face-first into the water. Nobody laughed.

The smart one climbed up the tree. She looked light enough to do well on the swing but not strong enough, not even for her own tiny weight. I could tell she and her boyfriend were worried. She let him try to clean the mud off the rope. But she was determined to take her turn. Aside from the simple fun of it, the three young women seemed to be competing with one another on some level. I shook my head as I watched.

A few seconds later, the smart girl took her turn crashing into the mud. She landed on her back, which didn't look too bad. On the other hand, she bounced.

"Ugh." I helped the others get her to her feet. We made sure she was okay. Now we were all covered in mud and clay.

"Maybe the rope isn't any good anymore," my friend guessed. "Do you still want to take your turn?"

"Sure." He was giving me an out, which was weird. If the girls could stick it out after taking a drubbing, I felt I had to try. I desperately didn't want to take a beating myself, though. To make it worse, the smart girl caught the rope and passed it up to me.

"I want to see how you do it," she said.

Great, now I was supposed to set a good example. In my haste, I forgot to wipe the hemp. It felt better than when I leapt to my earlier attempt, so I focused on gripping tighter. I leaned forward and dropped. My stomach leapt up. I pulled my feet in. I swung to the top of the arc and let go. That is, I tried. My fingers cramped. I'd been gripping the rope too hard. My hands obeyed me a fraction too slowly. As I let go, I tilted backwards. I landed in a cannonball and sent an explosive burst of water out to one side.

"A little late, there." My friend called. He'd noticed right away.

"How did you do that?" said two of the girls. As far as they were concerned, I had magically held onto the rope. Maybe I had done the cannonball move deliberately. I felt like quoting Pee Wee Herman, 'I meant to do that.'

After some discussion, my friend decided to get back on the swing after he cleaned the rope. On his try, he slipped off early but he made it into the water, no harm done. The young blonde girl took an awkward landing on her try, too.

The next woman, his not-girlfriend who had fallen said, "Nope, no way."

Like everyone, she was one crash and done. My friend tried to hand the rope to me. But his real girlfriend, the smart one, reached for it. She had a determined look in her eye.

"It's my turn," she said.

"Uh, I'm not sure you can hold on." He put up both hands in the air, as if patiently explaining basic reality to a crazy person.

"Help me get a good grip," she said. "I want to try it again."

Suddenly I knew what I admired. I liked this girl who took a fall, got back up, and took another swing. She was the only one. But as I helped her climb back up, even as I placed her hands above the biggest knot in the rope, I felt some doubt. Her fingers looked thin compared to everyone else. I wondered about her grip strength.

Sure enough, I could see the problem as she launched. Her top hand slipped off, probably due to the mud. Her right hand, one knot lower, lost its hold slower but it still didn't last long enough for her to reach the water. Falling sideways, she cracked against the mud.

"Do you want another shot?" her boyfriend asked after he helped her up.

"Nope," she said. "Guess not. I wish I had started earlier when the rope wasn't slippery."

How about that, she was sensible, too. I would have felt uncertain about anyone who didn't realize the situation after the second try. But when her best shot didn't work, she wasn't stupid about it.

I was up in the tree, so the blonde girl wanted me to swing. Then she wanted a last shot at it, too. On her last attempt, she slipped and fell into the shallows. We all wiped ourselves off and decided to head back to the fire. As I gave the women assistance climbing up onto the stream-crossing log, I asked the smart one,

"You said everyone calls you Dee. What's your real name again?"

"Diane."

"Oh, right. Thanks." I filed it away as something that might be important. Because she was the one who got back up and took another swing.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 243: Moonshine

You Are My Moonshine
by Secret Hippie for Diane, Valentines Day 2022

You are my moonshine,
My lovely moonshine.
You grace my lips and
Take pains away.
You’ll never know dear
How bright you’re blazing
How you turn my nighttime to day.

The other night dear
As I was walking
I thought I glimpsed you among the stars.
You made the clouds glow.
Your voice was silver.
I felt warmth from the love that was ours.

You are my moonshine,
My lovely moonshine.
You grace my lips and
Take pains away.
You’ll never know dear
How bright you’re blazing
How you turn my nighttime to day.

When love is waxing
And bodies waning
I see you clearly, your spirit gleams
You lift the chalice
of love's elixer
and I drink from the cup of moonbeams.

You are my moonshine,
My lovely moonshine.
You grace my lips and
Take pains away.
You’ll never know dear
How bright you’re blazing
How you turn my nighttime to day.

You are my moonshine,
My lovely moonshine.
You make me happy
In every way.
You’ll never know dear
How bright your love glows
Please don't take my moonshine away

Please don't take my moonshine away
Please don't take my moonshine away

-----### [ chords for ukulele or guitar ] ###-----

          D
You are my moonshine
        D
My lovely moonshine
            G
You grace my lips and
              D
Take pains away.
             G
You’ll never know dear
         D            
How bright you’re blazing
            D       A        D
How you turn my nighttime to day.
 

[Verse 1]
 
          D
The other night dear,
            D
As I was walking
            G
I thought I glimpsed you
           D
among the stars.
       G
You made the clouds glow.
      D          
Your voice was silver
      D       A          D
I felt warmth from the love that was ours.
 
 
[Riff]
 
[Chorus]

          D
You are my moonshine
        D
My lovely moonshine
            G
You grace my lips and
              D
Take pains away.
             G
You’ll never know dear
         D            
How bright you’re blazing
            D       A        D
How you turn my nighttime to day.

 
[Verse 2]
 
            D
When love is waxing
             D
And bodies waning
            G
I see you clearly,
        D
your spirit gleams
           G
You lift the chalice
        D       
Of love's elixir
       D         A        D
and I drink from the cup of moonbeams.
 
 
[Riff]

[Chorus]
 
          D
You are my moonshine
        D
My lovely moonshine
            G
You grace my lips and
              D
Take pains away.
             G
You’ll never know dear
         D            
How bright your love glows
            D       A        D
Please don't take my moonshine away.


[Chorus 2]
          D
You are my moonshine
        D
My lovely moonshine
            G
You make me happy
              D
In every way.
             G
You’ll never know dear
         D            
How bright your love glows
            D       A        D
Please don't take my moonshine away.

            D       A        D
Please don't take my moonshine away.

            D       A        D
Please don't take my moonshine away.

 
[Riff to End]

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 242: Biomythography - Note 19, My POS Cars

Biomythography - Note 19
My POS Cars


Some of Them

I snuck a glance at the blue sky. A flat, white cloud was moving right to left across the sun. The weather was warm, although only for early spring. I was driving with my window down between Amherst and Northampton. My car was a silver Honda with an acceleration problem. Sitting next to me was my girlfriend. She was waving her right hand and describing our destination, which was a trendy used clothing shop. She was trying not to look at the road because she didn't like traffic. Or roads. Or pedestrians. Or bicycles. Riding in cars made her nervous.

The Honda was one of the better vehicles I'd owned. If it experienced its intermittent acceleration, I knew what to do. I had dealt with more troublesome hunks of metal than this one. The Ranch Wagon, the Chevy Vega, the Ford Grenada, and the Mustang II all had been worse.

Seven years earlier, aged sixteen, I drove my parents' green station wagon, the Ranch Wagon. The treads were already worn off its tires when I got it. Its engine powered through 11 miles to the gallon and I begrudged every penny I spent partially, but never fully, filling it up.

A few months after I got my license, the Ranch Wagon developed a leak in the undercarriage. I ignored it. Toilets leak and they're fine. A car could leak and be fine. Anyway, why spend money to fix a car that belonged to my parents?

My parents didn’t pay it any attention either. Brake fluid slowly ran out of the car onto our driveway. Since I didn't understand the fluid was important, I kept driving it as usual for a couple weeks. My stopping power got worse but I stomped on the brake pedal harder to make up for it. I learned to slam down on the emergency brake line, too. That was a separate system. See, I didn’t really need the main brakes.

That's how I wore out the emergency brake along with the drum brakes.

One day I promised to deliver my friends to and from an afternoon party. It was just games, no beer, but lots of teenagers and laughter and anyway I promised everybody. I took them from school in my Ranch Wagon. That afternoon, I had a hard time maneuvering the car to a stop. It was the first and only time that I hit a mailbox. I shrugged it off and we went in and played party games. I'm not sure how the young woman at the house explained the mailbox to her parents except, possibly, by telling them I was a criminal idiot.

A different level of fun and games started when I loaded up the car with my friends to leave. As it turned out, the girl's driveway sloped uphill, which gave me the illusion that I was able to stop. But I hadn't really managed it. I had merely slowed enough on the incline to swing the car's automatic transmission into park.

What I didn't know was that the brake lines had a master cylinder. The master cylinder fed fluid to the brakes, and the fluid pressure told the drums to open or close. The cylinder case had busted open and lost the remainder of its contents on the gravel driveway in front of my parents' house. There was a foot-wide puddle at the Ranch Wagon's parking spot. That was the last of the fluid. And without the brake fluid pressure, there was nothing to make the brake drums close on the inside of the wheels. In that situation, you can stomp on the brake pedal as hard as you want but it doesn't connect to anything. No fluid means no brakes.

Finally, without understanding my car in the slightest, I realized that I had driven it out with no way to stop. I pushed the brake pedal to the floor several times to test it. Nothing. When I slammed the emergency brake all the way in, it slowed the car a little, possibly only in my imagination, but for sure it did not stop the car. The drive gear of the automatic transmission idled at five miles an hour. That was too much for the emergency brake now that I had worn it down.

"Why aren't you stopping?" said the first girl I had promised to drop off at her home.

I cruised around her block a second time. We had talked about this. But she hadn't believed it.

"The car won't do it," I sighed.

"We're moving really slow," said the guy in the death seat, Jake. He spoke over his shoulder to the girl. "You could get out when we roll by your driveway."

"I don't know."

"Try it," he insisted.

She grabbed her backpack and slid out of the car at a jogging pace. Amazingly, she didn't trip. She gawked at the Ranch Wagon as I circled her block again. In the empty seat she had left behind, another girl moved over and closed her car door. We were ready to continue the trip.

"See you later!" We all waved out the open windows as, at five miles an hour, we drifted past the girl we had just dropped off. She sighed and waved.

At the next house, we let a guy get out from the seat behind me. He stumbled onto the pavement and rolled. But he got up laughing. We circled back to him.

"Are you all right?" I called.

"Nice move!" yelled Jake.

"Yeah, I know. I know!" He jogged next to us for thirty feet or so as we laughed at how stupid we were. Or maybe we were laughing at how stupid I was in particular. Our friend slapped the car on the rear bumper as I coasted along. He stopped running. We watched him wave to us in our rear view mirror. Everyone stuck out their arms and waved back.

The next girl didn't want to get out. She said she was too scared. It's not like I blamed her but it was hard to slow the Ranch Wagon below its way-too-powerful idling speed.

"Can you let me out on the grass? I'm afraid I'll trip."

"Maybe?" Most places had curbs and sidewalks. I didn't see a stretch near her house where I could drive onto the grass. Fortunately, she gave me directions to a mini-park close by. It seemed to take a long time to get there but that was mostly due to our lack of speed. When I hit the grass, the car speedometer dropped lower. The girl hopped out at a fast walk. She jogged faster for a second and closed the door for us.

"Now I have to walk a block and a half!" she wailed.

After we heard that, we had to circle back. In slow motion, of course.

"Want a lift?" Jake and I yelled. She folded her book bag under her arms and scowled.

"Jeez, man, can you get me home like this?" As I pulled onto Montgomery Village avenue, Jake expressed concern for the first time.

"Yeah," I replied. "Of course."

But my cup of confidence was only half full. The friends we had dropped off so far all lived in Montgomery Village. To get Jake home - and me, for that matter - we would have to cross the largest intersection in the northern half of the county. That was the one between route 355 and route 124. There wasn't another way. If I was going to do it, I needed to time the lights perfectly. The good thing was I would be able to see the intersection for almost half a mile.

If there was any highway stoplight that could be timed, this was it.

With four lights to go before the crossroads, I encountered my first, smaller intersection. Its light turned red. I couldn't stop, so I sped up and cruised through. There had been no side traffic.

"Hah!" Jake laughed.

We were joking about how I should put my foot out like Fred Flintstone to stop the car at the next intersection, which was in front of the fire station. Just then an ambulance swung out in front of us. It turned on its red lights.

"That was close," said Jake.

Next, a police car sped by. The cop ignored my car as we drifted through the red light and instead, followed the ambulance. I held my breath. Another cop car passed.

"Well, crap." Jake shrugged.

I rolled west along the straightaway leading up to the big intersection. There were eight lanes to the road now, four to a side. There were five lanes going my way after the pavement expanded to offer a left turn lane. And in every lane, the cars were stopped.

I changed lanes, aiming for the shortest line. At that point, I was hoping the lights would change before I got there. After a few seconds, I started to think that five miles per hour wasn't slow enough. We were going to crash. In the seat next to me, Jake started to squirm. He offered suggestions like, "do a U turn now," and "jump the curb." The idea of a U turn was pretty good, actually, but I noticed cars behind me. If I swung around, I'd hit them.

I started looking for the biggest car ahead. My thought was that a small car wasn't going to stop the Ranch Wagon. It had too much mass. Anything that was too light would get pushed into traffic when we hit.

As I tried to pick what car I needed to ruin, the left turn light switched to a green arrow.

"There!" Jake pointed.

"I don't want to turn left!"

"Do it!"

The only car in that lane turned left. I pulled three lanes over into the now-empty lane.

"Fuck!" I said a few bad words but only because there wasn't time for more. Route 355 was a busy road. I really, really didn't want to turn left onto it. In my peripheral vision, I could see cars on 355 already stopping for a light in the southbound lane.

Ahead of me, cars were turning left from eastbound to northbound. There was a gap in the traffic. As I crossed the white line into the intersection, the last car pulled by. I swerved out of the left-turn-only lane to go straight ahead on my westbound journey.

Jake pounded the dashboard. I couldn't tell if he was angry or frightened. Then he started to laugh.

"Sonofabitch!" he cackled.

We looked around to see if there were more police or someone's mom yelling about how she was going to report us. Nothing. We kept rolling and our luck started to improve. We managed to hit green lights most of the way to Jake's house. The two times when we didn't, there was an open lane at a turn I needed to take.

"Try neutral," Jake said as I cruised through his block.

"It won't," I replied as I shifted. Earlier, the automatic gears had resisted my changes. Something in the gearbox was too smart and could sense the wrong speeds for switching. This time, though, with a heavy ka-thunk, it moved. Our speed relaxed to four miles per hour, then three, then one.

"Nice." As he got out, Jake strolled next to the open door for a moment. He laughed at me and closed it.

On the way home, I avoided stoplights. I had to pass through two stop signs but I honked and kept going while other drivers gave me the finger. My final challenge was figuring out how to park. I hoped that the slope into my driveway would stop the Ranch Wagon but no, even with the sharp turn into it from Black Rock, the incline wasn't steep enough. Switching to neutral didn't do it either. This time, with no one watching, I opened the driver's-side door and dragged my tennis shoe. Gravel pinged off my jeans. It wasn't enough. I brought my foot in and slammed the regular brakes and emergency brakes together. That slowed me enough to switch into neutral. After I shifted, I opened the door a second time to drag my foot.

Finally, the Ranch Wagon came to rest gently against a wooden half-barrel full of dirt about two feet from the south wall of the house. I flipped the car into park and walked away.

Half an hour later, my father marched out to take the Ranch Wagon on a shopping trip. He backed up to turn around and promptly hit the dirt wall next to our driveway.

"Eric!" he yelled.

I knew what it had to be about. I poked my head through the front door.

“What?” So innocent.

"What did you do?" he yelled.

"I told you the brakes were bad." I strolled out with my hands in my pockets.

"You didn't say there were none. None!"

We argued for a while and he rightly determined it was mostly my fault.

In the heat of the argument, he forgot to ask how I got home. It didn't occur to him until the next day, when he was trying to figure out if he needed to have the car towed to the garage.

Soon enough, he wanted me to buy my own car. He connected me to a teacher friend of his who sold me a Chevy Vega for fifty dollars, a POS if there ever was one. It had no power in reverse, so I had to park facing forward on slopes wherever I went. After that died, I bought the Mustang II, a quality vehicle in which the steering wheel came loose for about a second at a time, randomly every ten minutes or so. I don't mean it came off the steering column. It just lost connection to the wheels on the ground.

The feel of steering loss during a turn isn't great. But after the first few times, I stopped panicking about it. The only important thing about the Mustang was whether girls liked the color. They did.

Of course, in between experiments in my own bad cars, I drove the terrible vehicles that belonged to my friends and co-workers. Those included a Gremlin that could not be locked and started without a key ("I'm kinda hoping someone will steal it"), a stick shift VW van ("my mom says no one is allowed to drive it"), a lot of steel boxes on inner tubes, and a Pinto that ran for about a minute after I turned it off ("don't worry, it'll stop").

Finally, I traded the Mustang for this Honda with the acceleration problem.

As I headed northwest with my young woman by my side, I tried out the idea of telling her about the sudden accelerations and other quirks of the car. It had already reached 200,000 miles. I had worn down the tires to bald. The retraction springs in one of the seat belts had given up, so you had to manually tighten it.

But it was a beautiful day. The air smelled sweet. And my girlfriend was nervous about riding. Whenever I mentioned a mechanical problem, it ruined the date. So I turned left onto Route 9 and listened to her talk about clothes and art. She had definite opinions about both.

As we coasted toward the intersection of Route 9 and Route 116, the car leaped forward. The Honda gas pedal disappeared beneath my feet.

"Shit!" The car surged hard at the rear bumpers of the cars ahead. For an instant, I thought this was it. My girlfriend screamed at the top of her lungs. I barely heard her. My ears halfway turned off as my body focused me into a conditioned reflex.

I popped the car out of gear. I hit the brakes full force and pulled on the emergency brake.

We stopped with maybe a foot to spare. The car shook back and forth on its suspension. Everyone stared at me - the nearby pedestrians, drivers, really everyone, including my girlfriend. Her eyes went wide as tea saucers.

"Did your car just accelerate on its own?" she demanded. Over her voice, we heard the engine screaming at us as it revved to full speed.

I turned the car off. After a second or two, I restarted it. That always solved the problem.

"Oh yeah," I admitted. The engine purred at us. "It does that."

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 241: Biomythography - Note 18, Free Range Dogs

A Biomythography - Note 18
by Secret Hippie


I Fought the Dog
and the Dog Won


The confrontation didn't change my attitude or the direction of my life. At the time, it seemed ordinary except for a brief moment. The setup for it started right after we moved onto Black Rock Road. One of our new neighbors got a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

“It's the kind of dog they use to hunt lions,” he explained to me proudly as he tugged on his suspenders. He announced it every time we met. He described how two Ridgebacks could take down a lion. Even though I was twelve and he was a grown adult with grey hairs and a mustache, I felt skeptical. His dog was big, yeah, but a lion is a fucking lion.

This was during the age of free-range dogs, which I guess is most of American history until around 1990 for the rural suburbs. When I was growing up in College Park, animals ran loose. It was the same in Darnestown. I had walked my dog on a leash to the creek plenty of times in Darnestown but I learned to take a heavy stick with me. I needed it to break up the fights. The dobermans and mutts downhill of us tried to attack my dog if she stopped to pee. I had pushed away a bunch of them over the course of the year, even the Ridgeback.

Then came the second dog.

Sixteen months after we had settled in with our dog-walking habits, our neighbor got a 'really lucky opportunity' in his words. A big, male Rhodesian Ridgeback had attacked other animals in Rockville. After the last of the attacks, the city told the owners to get rid of the dog or put it down. Normally, a purebred would have cost hundreds of dollars. The reason our neighbor, Warner, had one in the first place was that a work friend of his had gotten a runt female in a litter of Ridgebacks. No one else had wanted it so he pawned it off to Warner.

Suddenly, Warner discovered that he could have a breeding pair. What's more, the male, despite its behavior problems, had a fantastic pedigree. The dog came with papers and everything. Soon enough, he introduced the new Ridgeback to the neighborhood.

The male attacked the female Ridgeback immediately, Warner conceded a few days later. But he said he had gotten them to settle down.

"He needs to run," my neighbor explained as he walked by my driveway with his pair of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. He pointed his thumb at the male. It was, I noticed, pretty often lunging at the female. They weren't playful attacks. These were two big, muscular dogs and the bigger one was trying to drive the smaller one away.

Next month, the lunges started on humans. The new Ridgeback hunted us each day on our way to the mailbox. He bounced up and tried to knock us over. Sometimes he nipped at us. If my dog was with me, the two animals would hold barking fights. If the German Shepherd across the street heard the commotion, he would run to my defense because he liked me and my dog. That made for three dogs bouncing and yelling as I tried to sort the bills from the junk fliers.

My father stopped getting the mail. He switched to sending me out for it on most afternoons.

He never sent my mother but, often enough, my mother volunteered. Once she came back complaining about the male Ridgeback. I should have taken that as a warning. My mother never complained about anything. She loved animals. Often enough, she tamed feral ones.

"That dog is out of control, Bob," she told my father.

"Well, what am I supposed to do?"

They talked it over. My mother insisted the dog was dangerous. My dad gave in. He picked a time when both Ridgebacks had gone inside and walked to the neighbor to complain about the attacks as we got our mail. Amazingly, our neighbor apologized and agreed to keep his animals inside more often. The dogfights on the way to the mail slowed for a few weeks.

In time, the frequency picked up again. The male Ridgeback resumed hunting us. Technically, I suppose everyone was obligated to keep their dogs inside gated yards. It was the county law. No one in our area had a yard like that, though. I'm not sure it occurred to anyone to change things. For sure it wasn't in the minds of the four area teenagers. The most we did was trade warnings about which dogs were dangerous.

One night, I wandered upstairs for a snack. I had just turned fourteen, so I ate more or less constantly. If I wasn't working out or commuting thirty miles to school, I was helping myself to food.

While I was making a sandwich, my dog begged to go outside. I opened the door for her. It opened to a frozen landscape. That February, there had been a snow storm, followed by an ice storm, followed by a cycle of melting and re-frosting to create an inch-thick layer of ice on the hillside. Our house sat on a pretty steep slope so there was some danger that my dog would simply slide into our downhill neighbor's driveway. But she didn't. She carefully skated out, found a spot near a flower bed, and peed for a while. Then she roamed the yard.

I returned to my eating and reading.

A minute later, I heard a bark. I rose to let my dog back in. The bark was followed by an animalistic roar. It stopped me for half a second. I'd never heard anything like it. Then came more barking and a squeal of tremendous pain.

The pain made me move. I burst through the front door onto the porch. There, on the icy sidewalk lay my dog, on her side. Above her stood the male Ridgeback with his jaws around her throat. I only had a few seconds, so I charged. I forgot about the ice. My shoes started sliding as I ran. Luckily, I arrived down the steps still mostly vertical. I punched the Ridgeback in his neck. Then I tried to poke him in the eye. It was a revelation. The dog felt like it was made of iron rebar.

He growled louder. My dog whined more desperately. With an eye on me and my unsteadiness, the Ridgeback backed up off the sidewalk. He seemed to know I couldn't follow. Then he continued with the job of killing my dog. He flipped her onto her back and adjusted his grip on her throat. She screamed.

I kept slipping to one knee as I tried to move into the yard. That dog was right. I couldn't stand up on the iced slope. I backed up onto the sidewalk, then to the porch as I looked for anything to use as a weapon. Just something to get the Ridgeback's attention. Anything. Then I saw the ice hoe. That morning, I'd used ot to clear off part of the porch and the sidewalk. It was still in the corner of the porch, a six foot wooden handle with a four-inch blade at the end. I grabbed it and scrambled back down the porch stairs.

That January, I had turned fourteen. I'd won trophies in martial arts. I'd made the wrestling team. Someone I hit with the full swing of an ice hoe wouldn't be happy.

The Ridgeback saw me coming. For the first time, it really looked like it wanted to kill me. But it wanted to finish my dog. I slipped, which gave the Ridgeback a chance to dodge. Still, I managed to clock it on the hip with the blade of the hoe. A full swing. I had to do it on the ice, yes, sliding all the way and without good leverage. But I hit the dog in the thigh with the blade.

The blade of the ice hoe bounced. The Rhodesian Ridgeback glared at me, gave a surprised, angry growl, and pulled my dog downslope along the ice. Suddenly, I couldn't see the dogs. The light from the house cast shadows. The Ridgeback had pulled itself into them. On the slope of the hill, I had to hold onto a bush and flail with the hoe in one hand. I tried anyway.

The Ridgeback pulled my gasping dog further down the slope.

If I moved any further, I would need to fall to my knees to remain partly vertical. There would be no way to swing. I needed a different weapon. And, in the back of my mind, there was the idea that if I fell in front of the Rhodesian Ridgeback in the middle of its kill, that might be bad for me.

"What's going on?" My father burst out of the house. In retrospect, he might have come to yell at me for waking him up. What he saw stopped him, though. He didn't even step off the front porch.

"I can't reach it!" I yelled back at him.

"What are you doing?" he screamed. His gaze drifted. "Is that a bear? Wait, that's the ridgeback."

"Hold onto me," I said. "If you help me stand up, I can take another swing."

"No, come back to the house." This time, he did step down from the porch. He stretched his arm out to me. At the same time, he turned and called back to the house. "Ann, get Warner on the phone."

And so the problem was solved. Adults took care of it. Our neighbor picked up the phone on his end and came running when he understood what was going on. My father helped Warner find the dogs. Amazingly, he was able to separate the animals. He offered to take our dog to the veterinarian immediately, in the middle of the night, as an emergency call. He knew the vet from taking his female Ridgeback.

My parents accepted his offer. They couldn't contain their surprise, though, when the veterinary surgeon called us at four in the morning to announce that our dog was going to make it.

"No teeth punctures in the artery," I heard my father say to the handset in the hallway. "Wow."

"She's alive?" I asked.

"It was close. But yes, she's alive. She can't come home right away. But she'll be able to come home."

In a way, it was just another dog incident among many. A few months later, our neighbor Warner decided to put down the male Ridgeback after it seriously injured his female Ridgeback again. That solved a problem for the neighborhood. I resumed walking my dog down to the creek. I stepped into the middle of other, less deadly dogfights with a stick. But sometimes, even after jaw-clacking combat with tangled leashes and pushes with the stick, I remembered this particular one.

Something about the ice hoe bouncing off the thigh of the Ridgeback lingered. So did my slipping on the ice and the feeling of the consequences. Before, I had pictured myself as being able to hold my own against all animals. But with a sort of physical finality, I knew it wasn't true, not completely. There had been at least one predator big enough to shake off a direct hit. There were bigger, tougher creatures in the world than me.

The Ridgeback wasn't even a wild animal. But I remembered the feel of its strength.