October Surprise!

            Every locale I have ever been do has a pithy homespun sounding saying regarding the local weather, “if you don’t like the weather in, I don’t know, Buttfuck MD, wait ten minutes!”. This is usually espoused by some old bastard who probably thinks he coined it. This is especially true here in Buffalo where the old Polish woman down the block, whatever block you happen to be on, will lob that old chestnut out following a, “was it you who ordered all this hot weather?” and perhaps an f-bomb or two. This isn’t Jersey, so we generally smile weakly and try to get away before being engaged in more inane conversation. Be that as it may, the saying is sometimes, or at least once, true.

            It was Thursday, October 12th 2006, and there arose some cries of surprise when a co-worker looked out the window and drew everyone’s attention to the fact that big wet flurries were coming down. I was immediately agitated by this for a number of reasons. For one, the morning had been unusually warm at the tail end of the Indian summer and I did not bring a jacket. Second, I had not yet armed my vehicle with the usual winter accoutrements meaning I’d have to clean off my windshield with my bare arm if this shit actually stuck. Finally, ever since my wife relocated here I’ve heard nothing but griping about the constant winter snowfall, that I still maintain is really contained between late December to early March, from the onset of fall until close to the 4th of July. This certainly didn’t help my case! I knew as well that my in-laws would sit back and say, “ah, typical Buffalo!” as they liked to express skepticism when calling mid August and being told that not only were we snow free, but roasting.

            I was annoyed to see it not only was sticking, but coming down harder by the time I decided to go home. As I feared I was stuck clearing the heavy fall with my arm. I made a slow way home and when coming down my street noticed that something about my property looked… off. Just not right. I couldn’t pin it down right away. Got it. I was reasonably sure I had not left the gigantic tree in the front leaning down upon the house when I left that morning! Well, this certainly wasn’t good. Not possessing a degree in architecture or anything useful, I had no idea if the weight of the humongous snow covered tree was enough to cause the house to collapse, so I decided to go in and make some phone calls, but smartly leaving my car back at the end of the driveway.

            I got a hold of Molly and suggested she might come home early from her internship and wisely left out any concerns of structural collapse. We did some calling around to see if we could find a tree guy willing to come out that day and ended up booking 4 different ones and figuring we would go with whoever came first. At the time, the whole issue seemed be really nothing more than a minor annoyance. Dave the tree guy came a couple hours later, and by that time the tree had leaned into the house even more and a few branches had broken off. The snow never abated. I took the precaution of parking both cars in the circle of the cul-de-sac where they would be mired in for several days more. Dave put my fears to rest and let me know that the house would hold up the tree nicely, and that if it did decide to uproot completely and fall, it would smash up our neighbor Wendy’s immaculately kept property. He’d come by in the morning to take it down and we decided to have an evening in.HPIM0179

            That evening, as anyone who experienced it, was surreal. We sat on the couch watching TV and listened to the gunshot cracking sounds of branches breaking and the reverberating thud as they hit the ground. We worried of the power going out, but figured it would have already if it was going to. Ha! Optimistic fools. Lightning flashed and the sky had a weird green glow to it. Molly worried of disaster but I found the whole experience kind of cool. Very apocalyptic and exciting; something different for a dreary October day. Around three o’clock in the morning we were awoken to the sound of the power going out. We went back to sleep, confident it would be back in the morning. Our 8 days of darkness had begun.

            We woke from daylight in a silent house, growing steadily chillier without the electric life that was usually breathed into it. The view out the front was almost overwhelming as we could not actually tell what we were looking at. It was an unbroken sea of snow, leaves, and wood at all angles making it impossible to get true perspective. Out the back we could at least tell that it was indeed our yard, but it as well had become a cacophony of branches and snow heaped together as if by the tirade of a mad god. There sure was going to be a lot of cleaning up to do! To our delight, we found the land line still worked and I set about making some phone calls. My first call to National Grid drained us of hope although we received nothing but lies. Our area was not expected to be back up until the following day! My mother lacked power as well, but my sister was still on the grid so we pumped her for news. Hundreds of thousands powerless! Worst natural disaster in WNY history! Abundant use of exclamation points! It was worse than we thought.View out Front Door 101306

            A few things were readily apparent. One, we had to come to terms with the fact that we would go the day and night with no power and must compensate. There was a possibility that tree Dave would not be coming by as not only was our street absolutely impassable, but Harlem road as well. No entry or exit, we were housebound as when they had that blizzard on Little House on the Prairie where Paw almost froze his ass to death on some fool errand. Third, my irritation with the fact that we had an electric stove increased exponentially. Lack of hot comfort food on a shit day is indeed a foul thing, especially after choking down a cold lox sandwich for breakfast; oily chilled fish on untoasted rolls being less appetizing when shivering than even expected. I made instant coffee with hot water from the tap and grimaced at every sip. Yard on 101306

            We spent the morning and part of the afternoon outdoors in the yard with the mistaken notion that we would have things cleaned up in no time. I with my bow saw and Maw with her loppers, we broke down and stacked an impressive 4 large branches that day accounting for a total of 0.3% of those fallen. I campaigned to buy a chainsaw when access to the open road was restored. It was foul sweaty work, rewarded with having to strip off soaked clothing in a cold house before jumping in the shower. Thankfully the hot water heater was gas powered! At lunch I remembered the grill and we dined on the first of many hamburger meals to make use of the huge amount of ground beef we had for some reason. The first was like heaven; the rest, not so much so.

            We felt completely cut off from the rest of the world. The fact that I avoid the neighbors, plus being the ‘that guy’ on the block what with my hole digging and front lawn vegetable garden, we didn’t feel the neighborhood solidarity as others seemed to be experiencing, although one kind woman gave us firewood, whom I still owe. No TV, no internet, just land line reports from Laura or the Jersey folk telling us how much worse the situation was than everyone thought. We wouldn’t hear it – the recorded message on the NaGrid line said we’d be back up tomorrow dammit, and since they never made another update, we could only assume it was gospel.

            As the day drew on the last remnants of heat left over vacated, I decided to make use of the glorious fireplace and heat the place up a bit. The one bit of fortune we had was that the nature of the problem provided as much fuel as one could shake a stick at, even if it was green wood and a good recipe for a chimney fire. Being without TV the first night was a nice experience. Molly tried to teach me how to play the piano and we finally settled into a long Boggle tournament by firelight. Little did we know that the tournament was to last the better part of a week and that I would not, even once, ever win a round despite my English background. My requests to sprinkle a few Trivial Pursuit games in the mix to liven things up were denied.

            Saturday morning came and we tried the tree service again now that it looked like the roads were finally clearing some. According to the receptionist, Tree Dave was AWOL and we may or may not see him. This was depressing and we beat the walls in anguish. We geared up for another day of darkness, cold, and expending massive amounts of energy to clear pathetically small patches of the back lawn while subsisting on tired old burgers and cold fare. Suddenly Molly called from the living room, “Something is happening! Something is happening!” A bucket truck had pulled up in front of the house. It was Dave, come through after all and accompanied by a grown up version of Scut Farkus from ‘Christmas Story’.

            Scut took to taking down our tree almost immediately and had the distinction of being the first and only decent contractor we encountered in the ensuing debacle, as well as one of the most unconventional. While Molly and I chopped away in the back, Scut swung his mighty chainsaw around, lopping tree limbs with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a beer in his free hand. Although I was fairly certain there were OSHA regulations of some sort against that kind of thing, I wasn’t about to say anything. He observed my pathetic sawing and when he took a break to go eat a sandwich and drink more beer, he loaned me his chainsaw with an admonition not to hit the dirt, without ever asking if I knew how to use it, which I did not.HPIM0254

            Later that afternoon, after clearing several more branches with Scut’s chainsaw before he had consumed enough beer to want it back, I was able to make it off the block for the first time. Armed with a clear order to bring back hot food, I ventured out. I found the Mickey D’s closest to us still powerless, as was Jubilee which is too shitty a store to carry hot food anyway. Making my way up Kensington into Williamsville, I encountered my first area where power was restored and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot along with 100 other powerless people with a yen for a Big Mac. An hour later I returned home victorious with hot burgers and super salty fries. The taste of heaven, though I didn’t know it would be our standard fare for a full week on.House on 101506

            I’m going to decline going into the painful detail of each and every day, except to hit some highlights regarding how bad it sucked. Daytime wasn’t so bad. We had daylight, the house didn’t seem as cold, and for the most part I was trying to spend as much time at work as possible. Night time, however, blew monkey balls. We tried to spend as much time at Laura’s watching her precious TV, even though my brother-in-law usually had some tedious game on, but having to come home after made it almost not worth it. Nothing like leaving the light of civilization to turn down a dark and lifeless street resplendent with shattered corpses of the once fine trees that sold us on the street to begin with. Entering the front door, we would arm ourselves with flashlights and make our way though the frigid environs, change in the cold, and spark a fire to get just a smidgen of heat.

            The silence was broken only by the crackling of the damn fire that always needed tending, the roll of the fucking Boggle cube, and the tell tale hum of the lucky bastards peppered about the area with generators. One night when going to bed I made the galactically stupid mistake of drawing my wife’s attention to a noise in the room (she had been wearing ear plugs and took them out for this) and suggested that it might be a bug. This resulted in a protracted hunt by flashlight in a large messy room for something I had zero chance of finding. Good times, good times.

            Depression began to settle in as friends and co-workers got their power back while we continued to sit in darkness while Buffalo resumed normalcy for the most part. It began to look as if the situation were permanent, that Snyder was being consigned to a green initiative and reverting back to the… well, I guess the Victorian or maybe Edwardian age. The numbers without power dwindled from the hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands, to simply the thousands. We began to expect to see our house alone displayed on the NaGrid website as the last pocket of Suckstobeyouville.  Then along came Dick. Wondrous Dick! Spewing with kindness Dick! Stop that; that isn’t how I mean it. Dick, a co-worker of mine, announced to me on the Wed morning after the storm that he knew of a generator we could borrow.

            I took off early from work that day and got the thing wired up. My first obstacle was that my damn drill lost its juice, so I was forced to fire up the generator and use it to charge the battery. The genny was a small model capable of putting out just a few amps and needed to be refilled every hour, but during that hour it was able to power the furnace, the sump, one lamp and the TV. Oh how sweet life was again! For the first time in a week we had both true warmth and the awesome glow of the ‘King of Queens’ big fat ass to delight us. The downside of course was that every hour I had to slog out into the rain and slush and refill the damn thing, but by the time we were ready to go to bed the house was toasty and we absorbed enough brain killing programming to lull us into complacency once again.

            Finally, late afternoon on the 8th day, I was in the downstairs bathroom getting my pee on when a miracle occurred. With a resounding thunk and chirp the house roared to life again. Lights came on; as did everything we had left on the week before. Glorious! The initial pain was over, and it was time to face the real music and deal with insurance agents and contractors. Little did we know we would be looking back on the days of darkness with true nostalgia.

            Under the reveling light of best possible kind, humming florescent, it was fairly evident that we would need to file an insurance claim and get a hold of some contractors. Our main roof was battered, the flat roof was punctured and the library beneath said flat roof was inundated with lots of moisture. Now we had planned to get the roof done anyway, but we kept that little nugget from the claims adjuster and let him think the storm was the reason it looked so old and shitty. By the way, State Farm… booya! They managed to find things to cover we didn’t even think of, and believe me, I itemized every little thing that could be linked to the storm by even the flimsiest of associations. This guy bought all that and a whole lot more! It was also the very last time I managed to gain any type of satisfaction in dealing with someone regarding this.

            First order of business was the roof. We had planned on getting it done anyway and had already contracted with the fabulous G Brothers. We went with these blokes who still humped around old timey wooden ladders because not only did they promise to do the roof, but that they could also drop in the solar tubes I bought and install an exhaust fan in the downstairs bathroom, all for only $200 more for the follow on items. A steal! They did quick work on the roof, showed up on time, and managed to raise the price after pulling the old, “Gee, I never saw anything like this before!” schtick regarding the flat roof. Like these assholes in business for 30 years could possibly be surprised by the way some other asshole slapped tar and shingles down in such a way as to warrant an extra days work. Fuckers.

            They finished the roof and immediately began badgering me for payment prior to performing the other two tasks. We withheld, but mainly because the bank was slow to release our funds. They finally showed up to do the tubes, spent an hour hemming and hawing before finally admitting they didn’t know how. The badgering began again and I badgered back about the fan. Their electrician showed up, took a quick look, pronounced the job impossible and left. They finally knocked the $200 off the final price (after raising it $300 for the flat roof) and I settled up. Since that time we have experienced 3 separate leaks in the flat roof, left dozens of messages, and have yet to see them return and honor their 10 year warranty.

            Worse was the crew we hired to do the library. The main outfit seemed to be pretty good at first. They swept in, got everything dried up, then left for several months. In the intervening time we got Slappy the carpenter and his crew of boneheads whom the main outfit contracted to do the actual repair work. Slappy was a real piece of work. Unreliable, slow, and overly reliant on scrounging what he needed from homeowners. Seriously, his first day in he asked to borrow both a hammer and a drop cloth. What kind of goddam carpenter doesn’t have a hammer? Another day I came come to find his crew found, used, broke and then hid my shop vac; another item I would think the idiot would have had. On top of it all, he had one needy schmuck working for him who drove us crazy. Every few minutes he needed something and would appear, looking sheepish, in the living room with another story. “Uh.. Mr. Wolf… I uh, cut myself. Do you have Band-Aids?” or  “Uh… Mrs. Wolf… Um.. can I  uh go to the bathroom?” It never ended with this dill hole. On top of it all, his work was shoddy. On the very last day he came in to replace the two strips of wood between the windows and used different type and color wood and didn’t understand why we had a problem.

            I got a little bit of payback on Slappy when he began harassing me for his money. He was so bold as to call me up and actually threatened to put a lien on my house if he didn’t get paid right away. My response, go ahead and try! I explain the most basic element of how contracts work with this fool who claimed to have been a contractor for decades. Basically, I didn’t have a contract with him, I had one with the drying company who subcontracted him, so really didn’t give a toss if he got paid or not. I only had to pay the drying company, who as near as I could figure, disappeared completely without ever billing me. Oh, the satisfaction of watching him slink away.

            The drying company finally came back in March, finished what they needed to do, and I settled up with them. Apparently they were also tired of Mr. Slappy and his shaggy horde of miscreants.

            The day finally came when there was just one last thing to take care of. Replacing the rug in the library, back hall, and we thought of doing the bathroom as well. We did some shopping around and considered doing the Kenny, Kenny carpet. We walked in and could not get anyone to talk to us, so we walked out and down the street to the venerable Max Pies where we were accosted by their sales douche Mike. A little more savvy in our negotiation skills by now, we wheeled and dealed, dropped a bogus quote from Kenny, and came down to a mutually agreeable price with Mike, or so we thought. Later that evening, we decided we didn’t want to do the bathroom at that time after all, so called Mike and asked for the price with the bathroom taken out and received an answer we could live with.

            Two weeks later the carpet people came on by and I had the old carpet ripped up as per the agreement to save on cost. Consummate professionals, they set to work, but sought me out after a bit. Here is what they showed me. Library, carpeted. Back hall, carpeted. Hallway between library and back hall… bare floor. Dude, they didn’t give us enough carpet to finish the job. I assumed there was an error and called up Max Pies and sought out Mike. This fine piece of work went on the defensive before I even opened my mouth. “You said you didn’t want to do the bathroom!” he whined at me, followed by a quote for $200 to finish up. I had had never done so before on a phone call, nor have I since, but I exploded.

            Ol’ Mike there was chock full of the flimsiest excuses I have heard. First it was that ‘I wanted it that way’, which didn’t hold up because what kind of frigging idiot wants two carpeted areas with a nice hall of dirty plywood connecting them? Second it was that in the carpeting world, that hall way was considered “part of the bathroom” and I should have known that. I got the installer, who was uncomfortably standing right there and asked if that was part of the fucking bathroom and got him to admit that made no sense. Finally, his excuse was that I “beat him up on price”. Don’t sell it to me for that then! I cried deliberate low balling, bad faith, breach, and every other pseudo-legal term I could think of and demanded the number for Max Pie himself. Mike blustered and desperately tried to avoid giving it to me, but I won the day.

            I called Max, who doesn’t actually exist, or whatever the owner’s name is and left a very polite, but quite blistering critique of his salesman’s business practices on his machine. He called me back shortly and arranged to give me the remainder of the carpet needed at cost with free installation. I had the pleasure of calling Mike back to make the arrangements and got to enjoy him getting very passive aggressive until I threatened to call Mr. Pie again, after which he shut up and took the arrangements.

            The install was scheduled for two weeks thence and I had to burn another vacation day to be there. Mike, in his P/A manner, managed to corn hole me one more time and sent the installer over with a close but decidedly different pattern of carpet. I immediately left another polite, yet brutal, message with Mr. Pie, whose number I kept handy. He gave me a blustering apology and offered to have the installed come any time I wanted as to not inconvenience me further. I picked Sunday evening, just to be a dick, but we did tip the fellow well. Over 6 months after the first flake fell, we were almost back to normal, you know, aside from cleaning up the wood, replanting the front lawn, repairing the light post, taking down the awnings, and several other odd jobs, many of which remain undone to this day.

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Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

Courting the Ladies

Readers of this blog will have picked out the various, highly-successful courting tips that we have dropped across various posts.  If you are a new reader, or someone of poor memory you can read about meatballs, multi-colored sneakers, and the $300 wardrobe.  Aside from those colossally effective tips I have some more for those still on the auction block.

Often you can learn even more from failure than success.  By now we should have volumes of useful knowledge.  Unfortunately we are left a pile of failures, but we like to think of some of these as sort of successful.

The first of these tips is more for camp counselors.  I was at a week long camp in the Catskill Mountains.  This was a co-ed camp for budding young adults between the ages of 13-15. They could have called it “Caligula Camp” given barely supervised new teens about to burst with seminal fluids. The best example is a game I call “Blind Grope”.

They took us all into a large, flat, open grass field. The camp counsellors stood at the borders to keep us corralled in the field. They blindfolded all of us and set us out. The object was to find the murderer before everyone was dead. A few people were murderers and a few more police, and the rest where bystanders. When you touched a person you both paused a moment. Bystanders say nothing. If someone whispers “murder” then you scream “MURDER” (causing the other bind players fleeing the area – only walking, no running). The police whispered police and if you were a murderer you where then caught.

The real “objective” was simple. Grab some boob. As you would expect, and as I confirmed when I was finally “murdered”, hence leaving the field of play and removing my blindfold with the other victims, was the boys expended one are out to encounter boobage, and the other arm jealously guarded the package. The boys moved about quickly to cover as much area as possible, obviously spending more time if they ran into a girl. The girls were well informed to take small, quiet steps and used both arms to fully protect their upper assets.

When you were “out” and got to watch the field of play it was very entertaining. The climax of the game was one girl who took the offensive. She had either played this game before, or was well aware of the perverted minds of young boys. Instead of guarding herself, she moved with brisk steps of force with her arms pistoning forward in a downward angle. This action felled more than a few boys. She seems to have a sense for boys approaching as she never caused damage to another female. I expect she is a CEO somewhere today.

The next tale of courtship also took place in a camping situation. This time there where only a few of us, and we took a canoeing trip for a week in Canada. We spent most of the week on a peninsula on one side of a lake. The lake was bordered by mostly permanent residents, but a few homes rented out for the summer. The one directly across form out camp site was rented to two older women who we watched for two days as they utterly failed to use a canoe. They were drunk every time we saw them. While some people drunk dial and others wander the Tops isle, still other try to get into a canoe. They continuously fell into the water and screamed at each other.

After two days they managed to get into the canoe, but also padding in the same direction, thus managing to propel themselves across the lake and towards us. As they approached all staring in order to get a closer view at what a train-wreck looks like close up. Suddenly they came into focus. Our eyes were torn asunder by the vision of two nasty old drunks that were topless this entire time. As we averted out eyes to avoid permanent blindness, we heard the cry of the Northern Light Hag, “Get a good look perverts!”

I cannot leave this particular story with such a crime against nature. During the canoeing to the peninsula we portaged (that means carry your fucking canoe over land) across an all girls camp. Enjoying the brief time, but soon forgetting about it we were surprised a few days later, to see some of the females from this camp canoeing towards us. They setup camp no more than 20 yards away. Their 19-ish women counselor was as lacks as our 19-ish male counsellor.

I should mention that there is normally a qualified staff member with these canoeing expeditions, but they ran out of staff and since our guide lived in the area, was 19, and had been on the trip a few times they deputized him. He lead us away from the normal paths, and into a den of disgust (the old women above) and love (see below).

The female campers were no match for the combination of Canadian wildlife, a sparking lake, and dirty boys catching frogs. Through some Druidic magic the even closed as were paired up around a roaring fire. Each couple encased in their own blanket. Being a gentleman I shant disclose what may or may not have occurred that night under the stars.

Now we will leave the romantic camping settings and escape to a simple phrase handed down from a guru of lotharioism. The proper procedure, according to this casanova is to whisper gently into a woman’s ear, “I want to eat you into utter submission.” Like an angry Republican from Texas the shock and awe of this statement will roll over her with such speed as to leave her defenses shattered. I cannot give any further details, but I will back up the perhaps surprising performance of this quip with a statistic. Two out of three times this has been employed it has bet with success.

The occasionally mentioned, but universally loved Rob gives us our next parable of love. Rob had been in a prolonged dry spell when New Year’s Eve rolled around. Many of the usual crew were gathered at our beloved Anacone’s. After the compulsory toast at the stroke of midnight we actually engaged in a round of declaring resolutions. When it came upon Rob to make his decree he raise his glass and gleefully yelled out, “I declare this The Year of Rob!” He consummated the proclamation by grabbing the mammary gland of the woman next to him. Again we witnessed shock and awe. It was a good thing the woman was a friend of ours. As this was out of character, and he had imbibed several quotas of intoxicants there was no rebut. Over the next year Rob made good. He found a new girlfriend that lasted several years.

The New Year’s following the successful year of Rob leads us into our final tale of seduction. I made a similar decree as to being “The Year of Aaron.” holding more of a strict character than Rob I set forth a rule. “I will ask out at least one new woman a month.” In January I asked out Chris’s sister, but given he pervious exposure to my juvenile antics there was not surprise on either part to the answer. February I asked out some woman I can’t recall other than this we of a slightly more serious attempt that the paper-attempt of January. No dice. With March approaching I had used my two options for asking out a woman without any fear. Now I knew I had to actually encounter a real life situation.

In preparation I read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This seemed to be a useful skill to acquire, no matter what kind of “conquest” you were out for. The point from this well-known tome that stuck with me is the tactic of asking a person two questions they cannot say no to before getting to the real question on the third try. The idea is that they are in the habit of saying yes with the first two questions, so that when you get to the third they will reactively say yes.

I set my sights on a buxom woman who was playing volleyball in Delaware Park. This is when Chris and I had been playing weekly volleyball with the alternatives. I later learned they did not like this woman. During the game I managed to flirt successfully with her. Before I knew it the game was over and people began to leave. She was only an occasional player so I knew I had to make my move. I volunteered to stay and help take down the equipment. Chris and JP where present and both knew what I was up to. They left, hiding out in the nearby parking lot so as to be the first to find out what happened. I continued the flirting, ask me not what I did exactly as I was in a haze. As I walked with her to her car I entered stage one. Damn! I was still surrounded by a cloudy haze. I had asked question one, but I did not know what I said! I have blown it already!

I saw her mouth move, and hear a “Yes.” Somehow I had not shot my self in the foot. I had to expunge this cloud out of my hear and think clearly. Before I could clear my head entirely I found I was already half way through my second question! What the hell was I gonna do now? I had no choice but to complete my question. Now I was done for sure. I managed to clear my head, now awaiting a sure-fired denial to an unknown question.

Somehow my luck held as I was gifted with a miraculous second affirmative. Now I was where I wanted to be. I finally had a clear mind. I had put in the pre-work, and all I had to close the deal with deliver my closer. I took a breath and confidently fired my final salvo. “Do you eat?” Her response was a collage of confusion and smirk. “What?” was her reply. I then asked he out, to which she told me she was engaged. I was still elated as I had executed my plan and it did not end in catastrophe. We parted and i started the trek towards the parking lot to make my after action report. As I strutted away, proud in my own accomplishment, I heard her yell. “Hey!” I looked back, her voluminous upper half protruding from her car door. “Nice line.”

And with an Aesoply ending I leave you with this. Into every life a little love must stumble, even if by remarkable luck, but place your bet upon a tactic of shock and awe.

Ach Du Lieber!

            Those of you who may have known me for some good amount of time might choose to recall that I have exhibited, at times, the general tendency to declare a level of expertise on subject matters well outside my scope with the basis of such being flimsy at best. The one that seems to have resonated with most and was frequently cited, was my claim to have been rock climbing in Germany. Miscreants will have you believe that I used this as firm evidence to support everything from my claim to know the best way to grow garlic or make minestrone soup. Jealous lies! In truth I used it only when climbing the Thunder Rocks at Alleghany and advising on the correct three point method. Since you are dying to know, dear munchkins, I will tell you the whole story of how I gained such wisdom at a tender age.

            As everyone knows, Buffalo and Dortmund are international sister cities. No one really knows the need for cities to partner up in this manner or how it came about. Well, they probably do, but I don’t feel like looking it up. In any case, this was fact and one of the programs to come out of this dubious arrangement was the Sister Cities summer exchange program. Through it, American youths would travel to Dortmund and reside with a German family for a month, after which the German student would come to Buffalo under the same arrangement. It was a good way to live in a foreign land cheaply and broaden one’s horizons. Spearheading the program was none other than Herr Savory, my high school German teacher. When I brought news of it home, my grandfather was tickled enough with the idea of me seeing the old sod that he helped my parents finance it.

            We filled out questionnaires so that they would pair us with German students of best fit. I was hoping of course for a little hot to trot Deutche chickie with a shelf like derrière, but apparently my answers indicated that a much better fit would be Heiner. My mother was quite flummoxed at the arrangement as Heiner’s bio indicated that he was 22, the only college student participating in the program, and that his favorite activity was hanging out at the Bier Gartens. She was worried of course that he would be a bad influence, which of course he was, but more on that later.

            There were several “get ta know ya” events before departure where we all met up and settled into one of two groups – the geeks and the assholes. I feel somewhere in between but ended up gravitating toward the nerd herd, as always was my inclination. Russ, the unacknowledged leader of the geek set, was often in conflict with the asshole ‘cool kids’ and thus managed to drag the rest of us in, assuring for plenty of awkward times when they forced us all together. Then one morning in early July we assembled in the parking lot of the old Thruway mall and bussed it up to Toronto where they have an international airport in more than just name.

            It was my first time on a plane and I enjoyed the experience, though after the second leg and a long bus trip, I was thoroughly exhausted and smelled of smoke, as Lufthansa in the 80’s still allowed, and encouraged, open smoking wherever one pleased. Our German families were there to pick us up and I was greeted by Herr and Frau Thiel (so close to Thies!), Georg the brother, and Heiner, my student. The parents spoke no English whatsoever, but Georg, a very cool cat, jumped right in as translator. Heiner, with a wooly blond fro, was cautiously polite. I was in a jet lagged daze when they brought me back to the family abode where Heiner still lived, along with Grossmutter upstairs, and they showed me to Georg’s old room which they made up for me.

            The house they occupied was built sometime in the mid to late Pleistocene period, though had been updated many time since. One of the recent upgrades was the addition of a shower, conveniently constructed from an old pantry that was directly in the living room. There was no place to change, so taking a shower meant descending the stairs in towel, greeting whoever was in the living room, and someone always was, entering the shower, then opening the door just enough to throw the towel out. It was uncomfortable arrangement so I avoided it as much as possible until someone would comment on the pervasive eau d’Wolf.

            Heiner was delighted by my presence as he had lived his 22 years as the smaller, less handsome, not as clever little brother to Georg. His first order of business was to teach me an enormously complex card game that made euchre look like War, and proceed to beat me at it until I refused to play any more. Next he taught me the one strategy game he was a master at: Muller (pronounced moo-lah), or known in English as ‘Nine-Man Morris’. His love of this game, by the way, extended all the way to Buffalo as he proceeded to teach it to my family and friends just so that he could beat them at it. Then came Knaus. The first game they played, Knaus won. Heiner took it as a fluke. Then Knaus won the second game and then the third. Heiner put the game away in a snit and we never saw it again.

            True to his fact sheet, Heiner liked to hit the Bier Gartens pretty much every night and liked to drag me along with him. Although my parents signed a form saying I was not allowed to drink, being only 16 at the time, Heiner’s family completely disregarded it from day one. Nights at the Bier Gartens were not unpleasant as I would sit there with a giant tankard of Dortmunder Kroner Export, my favorite beer to this day, and listen to Heiner and his friends joke around in German and occasionally make fun of me, as I gathered by the looks in my direction followed by laughter. Oh, he would get his all right when the time came!

            Aside from being saddled with a jerk ass big brother type when the rest of the Americans got kids their age, including this one dullard who wound up with a total fox, the one downside of the trip was the food. The Germans are a real meat and potato race of people and most meals out consisted of wurst, brot, and kartofel – sausage, bread and potatoes. At least meals out were somewhat edible and when not being forced into some ‘authentic’ German Rathskeller of some historic value, the Americans gravitated toward good old Mikey D’s, which in Germany, also sold beer.

            On days I spent with the family – it was an on off thing, one day with the family, the next with some planned group activity – I was treated to Frau Thiel’s cooking skills, which were fairly non-existent. Breakfast consisted of a platter that was left out at all times and stocked with several kinds of incredibly dense breads, sausages with big old hunks lard in them, cheeses, marmalade, and a substance I was told was minced ham by Heiner, but later came to find was raw pork. The value of refrigeration was deeply discounted and this stuff Americans generally throw away if exposed to room temperature air for over an hour simply sat out until consumed. Every breakfast I prepared for the worst, though nothing ever happened.

            Lunch wasn’t much better really. Frau Thiel insisted on making me sandwiches out of the ultra dense pumpernickel with the consistency and taste of compressed sawdust. These were usually peanut butter or some suspicious “cold” cut from the breakfast tray. I found them inedible, and if we were on a group outing I would generally ditch them when Heiner wasn’t looking and get some fries. I lived on fries that trip. Dinner was a horrid affair as she would sit there watching me not eating the ghastly thing she prepared like watery mild soup with super fatty chunks of mystery meat or tired old boiled sausages. On one occasion I convinced them to let me grill as they had a BBQ out back. This time I was the villain, for when I came in with nice char broiled sausages all black, crisp and delicious the whole family was horrified. Apparently letting the skin break ‘contaminates’ the sausage making it inedible. Yeah, they kept a bowl of raw pork in the warm dining room eating out of it for a good week, but fainted at the sight of a properly cooked hotdog.

            On the days I spent with the Thiels, they seemed genuinely frustrated with what to do with me all day, so it seemed that at least on 8 or so occasions Mr Thiel, with sometimes Heiner and sometimes Georg, would pack up the car and we’d go auto touring in the Saurland. Form some reason he was under the impression that I had never seen countryside landscapes before and got a charge out of looking out the window at some fields and shit. These were tedious days indeed and lasted until the arrival of Bob, which if you hold on for one goddamn minute, I’ll get to. On one of these dreary days Mr. Thiel wasn’t feeling well and it was just Georg and I, and thus the point of this story.

            Georg gathered that looking out a car window was not my cup of tea, so planned a more interesting day. In the selfsame Saurland there once existed a gigantic underground cavern that collapsed back in prehistoric times leaving a large area full of humungous rocks jutting up out of the earth with seemingly bottomless gaps between them. This is where Georg took me to go rock climbing with no equipment or preparation of any kind, except for a word of caution to keep three points on the rock face at all times because falling into one of the gaps meant a slim to none recovery of your corpse. It was a thrilling experience, fraught with danger, and imbued me with the wisdom of the ages to give expert advice on any number of unrelated topics.

            Time with the Thiels, and Heiner in particular, became so much easier once Bob came to stay. Bob drew a German family who was childless and where both worked, leaving Bob to sit on his ass all day watching German television, which consisted of tennis, dubbed over Loony Tunes (was ist los, doc?), or, I’m not kidding, a German Western called Winneto. The Thiels, who were actually very good people, agreed to take Bob in and thus ease their daily burden to figure out to do with me. Once Bob came, the daily trips to the Saurland stopped and Bob and I generally roamed the streets of Dortmund looking for things to do.

            The other excellent thing about Bob being there was that I now had an ally against Heiner. We quickly found that we could make fun of him by simply speaking in slang, which he was unable to follow. Watching his face scrunch up as he tried to figure out in what manner we were teasing him was priceless and only served to increase our laughter. Frau Thiel would beam as we exclaimed that the hunk of sausage on our plates was “the absolute worst!” as she felt we were simply declaring it absolute sausage. Evenings at the Bier Garten were better as well because now I finally had someone to talk to.

            On group days, things were hit or miss. One some days we would have spectacular outings like boat trips down the Rhine or visit some castle where Charlemagne once rubbed one out. Other days were less exciting and consisted of tours of an automotive plant or a bauxite mine; probably one of the least interesting mined substances you can imagine. On one of these outings Russ, Bob, Gary, Evil and I found a shop that sold tee shirts advertising the Soviet Union and East Germany, both of which still appeared to be going strong. What made them so delightful was that the Germans found them horribly offensive to the degree that turned them into daily wear for us.

            Russ, bless his dork ass hide, also managed to acquire a genuine pair of lederhosen which he looked absolutely ridiculous in. He insisted on wearing these around on occasion which infuriated the German family he was staying with to the degree that they began to shop him around for someone else to take him in. There were no buyers, even the Thiels, who had their hands full already with two rebel jokers already. Russ, pleased with the effect his outfit, the equivalent of one of the Germans coming over and wearing around Puritan garb with big buckle shoes to the local Denny’s, took to wearing it as often as he pleased, including the plane ride home.

            The best trip of all was the opportunity to go to East Berlin when such a thing still existed. On the bus ride through East Germany to the walled city, it was a popular undertaking for everyone to read George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ as the bus driver, an ugly character we dubbed Dr. Friendlybones, played the soundtrack to ‘Dirty Dancing’ over and over. Before going through Checkpoint Charlie we were treated to the obligatory Berlin Wall museum which gave a full history and some stories of people who got shot trying to make it across. Apparently the Wall originated as the Berlin Line of Masking Tape, a la Brady Bunch, which proved to be somewhat less effective than the follow on project. We were debriefed before going through. Do not smuggle currency back, do not wander outside the permitted area, do not do the ‘Heil Hitler’ sign at the Russian guards, and do not under any circumstances feed the locals or they will try to follow you home. The end of the brief was given with a ray of hope that perhaps even as soon as 50 years hence, but certainly not before, the Wall would be a thing of the past. This was 1988.

            I wore my East German tee and Russ his Russian one, though we were informed this was a poor choice of wardrobe. We found this to be correct as the East Germans, less full of patriotic pride than one would think and bitterly resentful of the Russian presence, gave us evil stares and even went so far as to call Russ a ‘bitch’. East Berlin was as dreary as one would expect. There still existed bombed out buildings from WWII and very little to spend our currency on. I got a cola from a street vendor and found it three shades more horrendous than even Tab. We went to the finest restaurant they had and ordered big steaks all round; grade Q meat if that, full of fat, gristle and very little flavor. The sides were even worse as we discovered they even found a way to fuck up baked potatoes. Here was the thing, we had to change over 50 marks worth of currency to cross over and were not allowed to bring any of it back. At the end, we gave away whatever we had left to beggars by the checkpoint that lived off of this rule, though I managed to sneak back a few coins in my shoe.

            After a month away, coming back to America was fantastic! It was a long flight back, and a seemingly longer bus trip back from Toronto. The whole bus load of folks actually broke out into the national anthem, albeit poorly sung, as we approached the border. Even better, the Germans were not to follow for another few days, allowing us to get reaclimated without them. This of course gave me some time to plan out a little payback for Heiner and all his bully big brother tricks.

            Heiner arrived a few days later and we set him up in my attic bedroom in the twin bed across the room from me, actually the hottest corner of place, and directly under the bird cage that housed Henry, my ill tempered parakeet who liked to fling seeds out of the cage all night at whoever occupied that bed. It was a hotter summer than most, and Heiner being a rather stout fellow, felt it much more than I did, a very skinny teen. To maximize his discomfort I took to closing the skylight at night if I suspected rain and unplugged the fan for ‘noise reasons’ in the middle of the night. I was just fine with the heat build up, but on more than one occasion Heiner became so overheated that he would rush down in the morning, beet red and encrusted with birdseed, and dive into the pool to bring his body temperature below the three digit mark.

            Where Heiner subjected me to his daily Bier Garten outings with his douchebag friends, I subjected him to daily bike rides with Jeff to Collector’s Inn where we would spend hours upon hours discussing the finer points of ‘Invasion’ with Jim or Kevin as Heiner stood by bored to tears. This was usually followed up by a trip to Watson’s for vanilla cokes, which he found to be a terrible substitution for his beloved beer. Finally he took to eschewing me completely and followed my mother around the house all day, something she didn’t appreciate. Heiner, you see, tended to be argumentative and would actually do things like attempt to correct your English. On more than one occasion he would rush upstairs to grab his dictionary or text book to prove his point, then come slumping back down with the claim he couldn’t find it.

            One week I was granted complete relief from him as one of the families was making a trip to DC in order to show their student around. They invited Heiner to come along and we talked him into it, despite the fact that he had a bad cold and didn’t really want to go. Heiner, in retrospect probably a functional alcoholic, made sure to have a case of beer with him for the journey. He was completely dismayed, however, when we brought him to the family’s house and they announced to all gathered there that “Heiner brought beer! Who wants one?” and he saw his store immediately depleted before the trip was even underway. I was secretly delighted when I found out his trip went terribly. First he was too sick to enjoy. Second, the family turned out extremely cheap (as was Heiner!) and shafted him at every opportunity. While the whole group occupied one hotel room, they stuck Heiner with half the bill. At dinner they would order expensive entrees while he would go frugal, but then divide the check evenly. We all got quite a chuckle out of his bitter recounting of things when he got back.

            All in all, he wasn’t a bad guy and we did have fun showing him around and such for the most part. My mother also hooked him up with the single niece of her friend, which got him out of my hair even more. The visit ended on good terms and we kept in touch often enough they he came back a year later, though specifically to visit my parents, and not so much me. Over the years we eventually lost all contact, and although I have tried to Google his name, all the pages that come up are in German, which I never quite got the knack for despite having rock climbed there

Summer Scum

            Though I’m sure I touched on my old days in the DPW here and there, I decided to recant my earlier testimony that the book to those old times is shut and give them an entry anyway. For those of you reading the collected version of my body of work for some reason, the preceding sentence probably makes no sense to you whatsoever and can safely be ignored, as can other references to this being a blog and not a hard bound, gold leafed tome encased in rich Corinthian leather nestled betwixt ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The DaVinci Code’ in your poor excuse for a library. So sit beneath your bust of Pallas with a bowl of brandy and corn cob pipe and enjoy the tale of some assholes who work at the village level.

            The ‘summer help’ program in Kenmore was considered to be nothing less than a golden political plum job wherein the most favored sons of the political elite were given the opportunity to make $2 an hour over minimum to supplement the DPW work force over the summer whilst the regular workers took vacations. Applications for the position required two letters of reference and it was commonly understood that at least one of them would be from the mayor himself or one of the long standing trustees. While it may be uncommon in other locals to furnish such letters for the opportunity to mow grass or pick up dog shit, that was the way they roll. My father’s role in heading up the zoning board as well as his old drinking buddy days with the mayor bought me a ticket in.

            I had my last shift ever at Denny’s on Delaware the Sunday before my first day and left the dish room of my childhood with little regret. That place deserves its own tale one day as well, unless of course you are reading the limited collector’s edition of this, sold exclusively at Walgreen’s for $29.95, wherein you already caught this telling in chapter three or something. I showed up my first day right on time and was immediately sent home for wearing sneakers instead of steel toe boots. Apparently I missed the memo that the other lads received as I was the only doofus to commit such an egregious first day faux pa. Fuck me!

            When I came back sporting my fathers old Vietnam era combat boots with steel toe and steel foot plating to guard against sneaky pungi spikes that may have been set up on Elmwood, most of the lads already got assigned crews such as garbage, trash, concrete, paving and whatnot. The dregs left over, including myself, got assigned to Howard, the retired foreman of the grass crew. Howard, described to some degree in ‘Other Oddballs’, was a happy go lucky canard with a taste for the finer things in life. Actually, he was nothing of the sort; old, foul to the eyes and nose, a brutish hulk sporting unfiltered Pall Malls continuously, and a mean Wild West temper of the kind that gets a man shot. “Git cher ass in the truck!” he barked at me, and I complied squeezing into the back of old Kenmore #3; a dilapidated mini-bus commandeered by Howard for use of the grass crew.

            The initial crew consisted of me, John B, the other Mike W, Rob B. We would eventually lost John B to a packer (garbage truck) and Mike to sewers, both situations vastly superior to working for Howard, and picked up Ken in response. The big task of that first rainy day was to travel around the village and look for storm drain receivers that got plugged up by maple helicopters and scoop them into garbage cans in the back. Really, they had Howard and four guys performing this somewhat pointless task; an inefficiency model suspected by the public at large but now revealed to me in its ugliest. We took turns getting out and doing the clean up. Over the course of the day, minus 9:00 AM coffee, 11:30 lunch and 2:00 PM coffee, we probably managed to clean off close to 20 whole receivers, each of us only having to get up and out a grand total of 5 times each. Suddenly, the labor to pay ratio was substantially greater than originally expected.

            Driving around Howard tended to wax philosophical and like some of Socrates who button hooked you by refusing to unlock the truck, would fill our heads with the pearls of wisdom he accumulated over his many long years. We would marvel loudly over the profundity of his proverbs gush admiration. “Fellas, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in bush.” Explain to us Howard! Whatever do you mean with such a wise and elusive statement? We don’t even have any birds! Howard would go on to enlighten us with a lengthy explanation of why it is better to have a sure thing than not while we with creased brows and befuddled expressions would ask countless absurd questions until tiring of the game. He never caught on. His best, in my book anyway, was his admonition to be sure to always wear high boots when sheep fucking to avoid having your footwear get filled up with shit. Priceless, but still untested; at least by me.

            Once assigned to a crew, it was difficult to become dislodged from it unless one of the others had urgent need. Grass and garage detail were the parking areas for labor overflow until demand peaked; thus it appeared as though I was stuck with his nibs for the whole gig. As mentioned we had some turnover and picked up Ken and life became much more fun. Howard hated Ken with a passion and the feelings were returned. When Ken would dance about with the push broom or when he accidentally stapled his hand to a tree putting up no parking signs, Howard would scream out, “Whater yer playin’ fuck around out there?! Git cher ass in the truck!” There was some difficulty in complying in the staple incident and in one other occasion Howard simply drove off without him, but usually Ken would get back in and we’d have a good chuckle while Howard fumed and hocked big fried egg loogies out the window.

            The other bad news is that we were one of the few crews stuck “working” right to 4, as those with limited scope like garbage, trash and recycling finished when done and got to leave at 1. The early days melted together. Come in, sit on the bench, wait for Danny to stand in front of you and tell you your crew for the day (Wolfie…. grass!), do the mooch route (more later) till coffee, go to McDonald’s for breakfast, mow a lawn or drive around till lunch, eat, drive around till coffee, fuck around at the garage for a half hour, clip hedges or something till 3:30, go back and sit at the garage and watch the clock till 4. There were some notable events.

            The mooch route was the traditional start to the day on Howard’s watch and his successor in the follow on years. This was basically driving the garbage route before the packers got there looking for treasures to abscond with. Highly sought after items included recyclable metal, specific pieces of furniture (I got 3 antique mirrors that way), whatever weird ass item Howard was looking for (git out and get me that there terlet!), but most of all, nudie magazines. The DPW had the greatest collection of porn I have ever seen, dwarfing even the inventory of Village Books and News. Piles and piles in the garage basement, in the break room, stacks under the seats of every single truck, scattered about the main garage and even the big truck and salt garage. If you see a village truck go by manned by 2 people, I can guarantee the person not driving has a Hustler on his lap.

            Finally the day came that first year that I was tapped for greatness. Danny stood in front of me as usual. “Wolfie….” I know, grass. “packer number 4” I couldn’t believe it, I was finally going to get to be one of the big boys riding proudly on the rear of the packer, the wind sailing through my hair and showing my quality as a scum to be reckoned with. Holy shit it is a hard job if you are not in shape for it! I was put on the truck known as the Todaro death march – crewed by Louie, Ed, Norm and myself. Louie and Norm were build like brick shithouses and Eddie was a wiry little sumbitch with gnarled veiny arms hard as steel. I was pooped after 2 streets but they flogged me on with an unkindness of words.

            The impetus on garbage was to finish as fast as possible, no matter what it took. No breaks, no rest, no water, no food, and no playing fuck around, as Howard would say. The pace a medium to fast run with the goal being to never let the truck truly stop. On streets that were considered narrow enough we performed the infamous ‘double-dong’; collecting both sides at once at a double time pace. The only break consisted of the brief time it took to drive from the completed street to the next, or about 20 seconds. The stated mission was always to beat those bastards in the other truck, but victory simply meant going to help them finish their route. The prize didn’t put a whole lot of wind in your sails!

            Aside from the cramping, spasming, soreness and exhaustion, one of my main problems was the sweating. This was an intense workout under the summer sun and I was generally thoroughly drenched by the end of the first street. In one instance walking to Wilson Farms after the route for a snack, another summer scum and I ran into one of his friends who asked if I got caught in a storm or something. “No dude, that’s sweat!” The counter girls would also look at me with some level of disgust, especially after taking bills drenched with perspiration and garbage juice from my pockets to pay while praying fervently for the invention of Purell to come about. Every night I would stick a 3 liter bottle a quarter full into the garage freezer and fill the iced up result with water in the morning. I’d have the whole thing gone well before the route was done and be craving more. In many cases I would get spasmodic cramping from the loss of electrolytes.

            On top of it being a physically hard job, it was actually more disgusting than you would think. The smell was obvious – plenty of left over BBQ meat garbage with close to a weeks spoil on it festering in the summer sun. This of course led to our near and dear friends, the maggots. Now add exploding bags to the mix. When the back of the truck would get full, we had to pack it. When packing, it was very common for the pressurized bags to explode sending a stream of flying debris, fetid liquid and maggots shooting from the back. It was impossible to complete a route without being showered at least once. The most horrible incident I ever witnessed, a guy was standing right behind the truck when the packing blew out the contents of a full Hefty bag full of dog shit. This poor bastard was covered head to foot and forced to seek the use of a kind strangers hose before we would even let him near the truck again. I can still see him taking his glasses off, untouched eyes only bulging in the sheer horror of it, and I throw up in my mouth a little every time. By the way, nothing, nothing smells worse than really old moldy grass.

            That first year I had a reputation for being super suck ass bad at garbage and was not requested much, and that was fine by me until faced with the alternative, the second most dread duty of all, garage duty. Garage duty meant that instead of going out with crew, you were kept back at the garage to do busy work like sweeping the floor, chipping paint or some other incredibly tedious bullshit task but in the same vicinity as the bosses. This was far worse than either Howards tongue lashings or dodging streams of maggoty sewage while Norm shouted “Double dong! Double dong!” in your ear at jet engine volume. My second week into it I dreaded going in each day as it was an exercise to keep looking busy – the real task at hand. Look busy in case someone comes by.

            I adopted a new strategy in hopes of being moved off of this wretched job. Other scum revealed that when they pulled a stretch they would sweep the floor and then go hide in the basement. There was even a convenient hidden nap area carved out amidst the stack of extraneous recycling bins. My work ethic would not allow, so I took the opposite tack. Danny would set your tasks, always starting with a good sweeping. This was supposed to take you to coffee, but I really applied myself and finished in 20 minutes. “Now what do you want me to do?” I could tell he dreaded seeing me come. No matter what pathetic, unusual or difficult task he set out for me, I would work like a banshee to finish in record time. “Done! Now what do you want me to do?” Danny wasn’t going to break that easy and I admire his tenacity especially after learning what a royal pain it is to think up work for highly efficient yet completely un-self motivated employees. It was a contest of wills that went on for three full days. I wouldn’t budge and I finally drove him to total exasperation. “Fuck! I don’t know Wolfie, just fucking find something!” The next day I was Howard’s problem again.

            Danny found a way to get my back a few weeks later and I was really to learn what tedium meant. Only thing worse than garage duty where it is hard to find something to do is barricade duty where by definition there is certainly nothing to do. Barricade duty is just as it sounds – stand at the wooden barricade at the end of a street where paving is being done. Move the barricade out of the way when a dump truck comes full of hot asphalt. That is all. Oh, and argue with residents of that street who try to force their way though the barricades citing the auspices of divine right of living there. Explaining that the village will bill them for the cost of re-paving the street to eliminate their tire tracks in the soft asphalt was an excellent and effective deterrent. A lie invented by yours truly; bored and full of stories. Due to the time sensitive nature of the work, there was no lunch break, no bathroom break, and we often worked well past quitting finishing the job. Brutal does no justice in describing the horror of this pointless task.

            The best job of all, hands down, was the fabulous Store Truck, commanded by Sam M, Kenmore’s answer to the mafia. Store Truck was the garbage truck specifically allocated to picking up the garbage of Kenmore’s many fine business establishments. While it is true that the work aspect of this detail remained heinous as regular garbage, the surrounding circumstances were much more pleasant. For one, we picked up every day so the garbage never really had time to get that extra special stank to it. In addition, it was a much shorter route with more riding around and a significantly increased emphasis on lacksadaisicality. By the way, since this blog begin not a single one of you fools has taken me to task for the many dozens of words I completely made up. You can ignore this if reading the collected edition as no doubt the boorish clown of an editor removed my masterful and creative wordsmithing and replaced it with the unimaginative and dull.

            There was a reason Store Truck was known as the Kenmore Mafia, and that is simply because Sam had the knack for shaking down any business with desirable goods to ensure services their hefty tax dollars were paying for anyway. Each morning we dined, on the house, at one of the local diners. Anything on the menu was open game and a check was never brought to the table. From Consumers cases of beer were brought out the back door and loaded into the hopper under the truck. Watson’s furnished the finest candy in the land, with little of it making it home. Sometimes when the load at a certain business exceeded the allowable tonnage, a wad of cabbage would be deftly delivered in a handshake between the manager and Sam. Sam would divide the take (never revealing the full amount, counted in secret) and pass me a fiver with the admonition, “If anyone asks you where you got it, you don’t know” Apparently in this small community flashing an inexplicable fin around town was cause for raised eyebrows.

            Sometimes the best job was being in the right place at the right time. A bunch of us drew the duty of spending the day in the hot sun down at the Wabash dump breaking down the old steel lamp posts that had been replaced. The village wished to recycle the steel and apparently thought that paying the labor of 8 guys for a day to get the hundred bucks in recycling savings was a good use of resources. The morning sucked, but things turned better later on. The recycling take was coming out to more than the village elders were expecting and it was quickly agreed upon that this was not the information going into the report and that the recycling center conveniently forgot to give us a receipt. We went to lunch at Spectators, a long gone sports bar run by a former worker, and dined like kings. Flagrant disregard for policy held the day and round after round of frothy beers were ordered along with shots of Kessler’s interspersed in between. Old steel paid the tab at the end. We didn’t make it back to site until well after 2, only to find Danny parked there. Somehow we avoided giving ourselves away though our rank breath and stumbling about, conveniently attributed to heat exhaustion!

            I survived my first year as a summer scum and apparently impressed the powers that be just enough that I was invited back the following year and thereafter. The regular workers accepted me as one of their own and I became integrated into the unique culture of hard work interspersed with tomfoolery. I managed to obtain an assortment of nicknames; most of them terribly original like ‘Wolfie’, ‘Wolfman’, ‘Wolfmeister’, ‘Wolfmeisterman’, and my least favorite, ‘Meaty Muff’. That last one was due to my intense love of slurping up Tina’s Burrito’s micro waved at the Wilson Farms and consumed at breaks. One of the jokers remarked that I was going down on it, “like a big meaty muff” and to my consternation it stuck thereafter. At times it was shortened to just ‘Meaty’, but it was assured that the full version was used whenever women were present thus negating any sexiness being on the back of a packer might have had.

            Most of my time in the follow on years was spent with Bucko, Howard’s successor. Bucko took a shine to me and personally requested me most of the time. He held to Howard’s tradition of goofing off most of the day, but at least had a far sunnier disposition. He had a real knack for finding fun projects to fill our days and make the time go faster, and some of them were even loosely affiliated with things that may have benefitted the village, even if inadvertently. We often had long breakfasts at the Hinwood, conveniently located outside the village borders, thus negating the chance of a boss type discovering our whereabouts. Bucko generally had a pat answer in his hip pocket when pointedly asked where we had been and what we had been doing. Incredible how often we all “just missed” each other!

            I am proud to say that after a lackluster first year, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and became a master packer; a description that just doesn’t sound right no matter what the interpretation. I was requested often to fill in the personnel gaps on the garbage crew and learned to power through the Todaro Death March even more efficiently than the regular guys. My motivation, you see, was that by getting on a packer and out by 1:00, I had plenty of time to take a nap on my mother’s living room floor before heading over for my 4:00 shift at Collector’s Inn. It was given that after CI I would spend a good deal of the evening partying at Comstock, so needed the sleep.

            As touched upon in ‘Other Oddballs’, each summer the village would throw a big outdoor shindig for all the workers. Kegs of beer, big bags of clams for the shucking, corn on the cob, steaks, bottles of whiskey strewn about and snacks up the ass.  It was a smorgasbord of everything hard working village workers could want and a virtual guarantee that most to all would be driving home stinking drunk around rush hour. In the early years it was a sure thing that the summer scum would be invited as well, though after the incident in which Ken tippled a few too many, the concept was re-thought. It came to pass then that only certain select scum would be invited under strict admonition that those who did not get the nod would not be informed. I was one of the chosen and kept my end of the deal in return for delicious clams on the half shell by the dozen. Plus my cousin was a regular there, not to mention Sam was willing to endorse me.

            It was after one such summer event that I had the most challenging ride home ever. Like every morning I rode my bike in to work. Usually after these parties I would wheel it over to my parents house and my father would drive me home. On one instance, however, they had alternate plans, so I decided to make the long ride back to Princeton on my own. It was an ill conceived plan as any bit of Comstockery heretofore mentioned! For one, my balance was shot causing me to tumble right over at any time for no good reason. When I was able to maintain balance, I tended to swipe the curb and send myself tumbling for that reason. When I was able to avoid the curb through intense concentration, I tended to ram into parked cars. It never occurred to me, of course, to just walk the bike until I was too banged up to even ascend the seat again.

            After putting my bike away in the living room, a habit that annoyed Aaron to no end, I collapsed on the bed and lay there as the room spun about me. One would expect that the punishment I took would have sobered me some, but that was not the case. I fell asleep at 5 in the afternoon and didn’t wake until the following morning with ripped clothes and blood staining the bed sheets. Classic!

            I’ll never forget my summers at the old DPW and will always look back on those days as instrumental in keeping me in school to reduce the risk as much as possible that I would have to do such work for the rest of my life. My hats off to those who can.

Land O’ Lakeland

            Once again, despite all promises made in the past to spare this readership further tales of those vainglorious and vermiscious days before my little jaunt into the Air Force, I am going to make a filthy liar of myself. I feel that in my haste to close out this era and move on to stories in which I alone of the editorship was the star, I left out some details worth telling in my post titled “Wild Blue Yonder”; specifically my days of employment at Lakeland.

            As per the original agreement that I saw fit to flagrantly disregard on so many occasions and thus invite all manner of justifiably angry responses, I am going to leave out details that would serve to direct the baleful eye of Google or other search engines this way. It is not so much that I worry for the delicate feelings of those sensitive souls who sob quietly to sleep at night because I described them as a low brow brutish nancy, or because one of the editors tends to spew a worrisome stream of Mountain Dew from his nose every time it happens, but because I have grown weary of the cumbersome task of apologizing, backpedaling, or trying to convince you that you aren’t as bad as you seem. This naturally does not apply to any current readers whom we have apologized to. You, my friend, are the lone exception in the dreary list of malcontents.

            Although I now am known to possess the gritty motivation of a fully fledged razorback boar with a yen for road apples, following college graduation I had no particular idea on how to go about gaining a professional position that had anything to do with my majors of choice. I closed out the year in food service at dear old Berts in Talbert, said my goodbyes to JT and Eileen, and was banned for life from the immaculate grill area on the simple account of losing my student status. Where most people would have used this as a springboard to make use of the career counseling services we all had access to, I chose, as usual, the road much less traveled (and for a good reason) and waited with grandiose expectations for the world to get around to beating a path to my door.

            In the mean time, I fell back on my old standby, the DPW. I figured working a long summer would keep me in beer and pretzels while word filtered around the job market that a brilliant young bull was about and available. The job paid the princely sum of $5.50 an hour, which even at 1995 wage rates, probably wasn’t really all that great. Given that I lived out most of the year making minimum wage food service wages supplemented with the $2 a week I took home from Collectors after paying for the 4 color monkey on my back, it seemed generous. To save on gas, as well as the expensive luxury of a personally owned vehicle, I pedaled my ass through the streets of Tonawanda every morning to spend the day dumping trash into the back of a packer or schlepping around killing time with old Bucko, occasionally tending to the one or two village owned patches of grass.

            With these lofty wages keeping most of my expenses met (supplemented with a Discover card I received after filling out an application to get free M&Ms), I lacked the motivation to really, really look for a job. Hell, I didn’t even have an up to date resume; the most current employment on the old document listed as my Pennysaver route and ‘bug collecting’ listed under hobbies. Now I knew that a lot of the ‘summer scum’ as they liked to call us got hired on full time when needed and my unmotivated noggin deeply considered the option of just continuing on past the summer and backdoor my way into a permanent gig. Some of the really senior guys there revealed that with side gigs they were clearing as much as $40K a year, and to my poor 4 digit annual income, that sounded pretty sweet.

            The shoe dropped of course at the end of the summer. The super came rambling up to me one Wed in early September and revealed that Friday was going to be my last day. “Budget’s all up for summer scum Wolfie! Nice havin’ you but don’t let the door hit yer ass on the way out! Haw!” Well that was just great. A college grad with gigantic loans looming and here I was about to face the ranks of the unemployed. I was filled with indignant fury! Since they had hired on less senior summer scum I was under the assumption that my marker was in play and good and now to betray me like this? I was the ideal government employee! Never missed a coffee break, never returned early from lunch, took frequent naps on the taxpayers’ nickel, and often showed up late, hung-over and disheveled… I was the very model of the extraneous man leaning wearily against a pristine shovel behind a relentless barricade of orange road cones assembled for no discernable reason but to irritate residents.

            I vented my outrage to Bucko who listened with great compassion and aplomb. “My old pal Willie could use a good man like you. Got nothing but assholes and thieves working for him!” This sounded at least somewhat promising. An environment full of lazy distempered thieves was one I felt I could thrive in and stand out over the rest of the pack. The friendships I had cultivated as described in the rest of this wordy blog prepared me well for dealing with assholes in a highly successful manner. Willie, happy to have a well recommended college boy like myself sent his way, sent me in to Lakeland to interview with his son who had taken over the family business.

            The interview process was quite informal. Billy kicked the tires a little bit and quizzed me on my knowledge of auto parts, which was nil having never owned a vehicle or even changed a tire. He smelled the potential of greatness, or perhaps the Brut I employed to smarten myself up a bit, and agreed to hire me at the same amazing wage as the DPW was paying me. Although he admitted my pedigree had senior management written all over it, Billy took the bottoms up approach and decided to start me as a driver hauling parts around town in order to get to know the customer base and the product since at that time I had not even been aware that cars had such things as cooling systems or alternators.

            I reported my first day, shiny and showered, and was given over to Greg, one of the counter guys. The other fellow at the counter, chain smoking and barking on the phone at the same time was identified as ‘Bud’. I was immediately warned of both his explosive temper and the fact that he carried a concealed weapon. Experience taught me over time that the latter was well justified as no less than three dozen people, most of them customers, one with known mob ties, personally and graphically threatened to end his ability to breath in ghastly, painful ways. Billy’s business model was somewhat counterintuitive in nature, but by the fact that he remains in place today against juggernaut NAPA, his acumen is unquestionable.

            Greg got me going with my first delivery run and a snag or two shook out almost immediately. The first being that not having a car, I didn’t know how to get anywhere that was not in walking distance. We worked through this, both initially and for the next 6 months by Greg taking me to the local map in back and tracing out my route with his finger as I hastily wrote down directions. Eventually I would take to spending much time at that map establishing ideal routes for any type of delivery run which led to my legend as the fastest driver in the history of the joint.

            The second problem manifested after I loaded up the back of the old Ford Ranger and got in the drivers seat where I was confronted by the fearsome stick shift. The worn black knob, like a gruesome eye with foreign symbols (the gear numbers of course) staring up at me, mocking me, daring me to try and fail. Of course I did; those of my kind are not partial to revealing weakness and would rather drive the thing off a cliff than admit the challenge was beyond the scope of experience. I couldn’t even manage to get it started. I stepped out and admitted defeat expecting to be sent home in disgrace. Instead, Billy surprised me and made available the only vehicle in his fleet with a standard transmission, a large white box truck in which I was to have plenty of adventures.

            Driving the box had its own challenges as I was to learn. First, backing up requires some deal of care and in one of my first runs out I managed to plow right into a parked car. Like a good employee and responsible citizen I left a note implicating my employer. As it turned out, that was the wrong thing to do. Billy made it a point to avoid company identification on the vehicles despite the guaranteed advertising value specifically because it allowed the possibility of his careless drivers to escape hit and runs, something that happened quite frequently, without implicating him. Otherwise he would have been out of business in but a few fortnights. Yes, I am using archaic time terminology simply to be a prick and make you think.

            I also learned early on that the box did not fit very well through the drive through at Arby’s on the Boulevard. Thinking I was clear after placing my order I ran right into the overhang. This necessitated a comedic episode in which the whole line of disgruntled drivers behind me had to back out, let me out, and then refigure their place in line to receive the correct order. Although Arby’s took down my information I declined to relate the incident back at the home office for obvious reasons.

            Since the box truck was my only possibility for the time, it became my responsibility to deliver all the 55 galleon drums of oil, washer fluid and anti-freeze around the area. This in itself posed some challenges. My first time out, Greg loaded the back with about 10 drums using the fork lift. I got to my first destination where the customer didn’t have a fork lift. We stood there looking at each other wondering how we were going to lift down a 900 lb drum of anti-freeze. Someone finally came up with the idea to stack up about 5 discarded old tires behind the truck and roll the barrel down onto them. This method worked splendidly for getting the item off the truck, but had the downside of almost squishing the fool mechanic who had the brilliant idea to stand in front and “catch” the falling item. Classic Wile E. Coyote. In time I gained such finesse at this operation that I could alone tip and roll the barrel down and flip it upright the moment it hit the tires; a class act according to the grease monkey community at large.

            I would also like to share my complaint regarding the day that this cavernous vehicle almost became my tomb. I was executing the much vaunted Kessel Run and trying to beat HS’s nonsensical time of 12 parsecs down the 400 from Holland. The back hold was filled with exotic merchandise: 2 huge pallets of oil spill cleaner (kitty litter), some barrels of oil and washer fluid, stacks of brake rotors, and up front in the passenger seat next to me was a whole pile of exhaust parts that a savvy customer was returning. I took a hard turn trying to make good time when I felt the load shift in back. I heard a vaguely familiar sound that almost reminded me of a plane taking off. In nanoseconds I concluded that the noise was generated by the tires lifting from the wet pavement. I could feel the tip just beginning and fountained effluvious chilled sweat staring down the tangled mess of rusty piping poised ready to impale me if gravity had say.

            Forget not to breathe gentle reader! I did indeed survive that day as evidenced by my only claimed supernatural telling of this tale. With ever so careful application of the brakes I managed to reverse the course of the tip and guide her home; albeit now going at a breakneck 15 MPH reaching base in great excess of the to my knowledge unbeatable 12 parsecs. To round out the day nicely, driving into my last stop I was forced to brake suddenly allowing for the sole remaining barrel of fluid, unwisely placed at the rear of the truck, to fly forward up through the crawl door and into the cab with me. Extracting it was a real bitch; a task made all the more difficult by well shot nerves.

            Over time with the assistance of the irascible Mr Walsh I learned to drive stick shift, but by that point my duties began to shift more managerial. My next feat of note occurred when I brought in my first new hire; a very poorly conceived idea that fortunately managed not to bite me in the ass. Adrianna was one of the many women I met in my teledate days and in one of our early conversations she revealed she was hard up for a job. We had lost Fat Paul and Billy was looking for someone new and reliable. So, without ever meeting her in person, and even after the Stanky Stalker incident, I gave my wholehearted recommendation. She interviewed and was hired and we had our first “date” as I was to train her how to drive stick, Billy having not yet learned to incorporate that most useful of questions into the interview process.

            The immediate upside to what could have been an awkward and disadvantageous situation was that we had a wonderful case of mutual unattraction that greatly facilitated us working together without too much hullabaloo. Our first foray out she beat the clutch on the old Ranger like Mike Tyson’s unfortunately named younger brother Bryson. We were cruising down the 290 approaching Sheridan with the intention on making a delivery to some now defunct garage near the country club when I smelled it go. The predictable black smoke visual soon followed and I was able to guide her down the Sheridan/ Harlem exit ramp. I had a dilemma on my hands here; our customer expected their delivery and this was the time before cell phones. I boldly made a decision of executive quality.

            Adrianna steered the old clunker while I pushed that son of a bitch all the way to the garage; a distance of almost 3 miles. It was a fantastic battle gaining momentum down slight inclines and straining with all my might on the tiny rises, but I got her there to the delight and amazement of the wrench heads waiting for their parts. The bonus for this customer is that they were guaranteed the work of making the repair and got to ogle Adrianna, generously endowed in an area pleasing to most men. We became the most favored supplier that day. Greg picked us up and drove us back to Lakeland where I received significant accolades for the accomplishment and was subsequently asked to repeat the story ad nauseum. Despite all I have accomplished since, including bringing in a $15 million dollar contract, I never once received such praise as I got for pushing that old goddam truck.

            After an incident in which our mob affiliated customer threatened to kill Bud, and Bud responded by threatening to not only kill Doug, but his whole extended family, it was decided that the best place for Bud was in sales and marketing and not managing the counter. I don’t know if Billy thought that Bud might make more effective threats in person than over the phone, but I never understood any of his logic anyway. In a brilliant move of emasculation, Billy gave him an adorable little Geo Metro to scoot around town in and gave the flagship purple S-10 over to me to take home every night. A sweet deal this; my own “company car”. This served to facilitate my tele-dating efforts considerably, even though I was on the honor system to simply drive the thing back and forth to work.

            In my new role as counter manager and directing the drivers and such, I finally had my first opportunity to push someone out the door. I’ve never been a believer in keeping around dead wood; a philosophy diametrically opposed to Billy’s penchant for bringing it in through the front door and angling just so that pushing it back out becomes an exercise in futility. The prize of the litter was a fellow Greg and I referred to as ‘U.T.’, a clever altering of his true name, ‘J.T.’ for the purpose of identifying him as a ‘Useless Tool”. U.T. was the son of a highly prominent customer in local government who had the wherewithal to allocate large amounts of budget our way by circumventing the fair bid process. U.T. was hired to sweep up and shit and I was saddled with the task of keeping him busy. Within hours I wanted him fired, though Billy would not capitulate.

            U.T. liked to find places in the store to hide and force me to go looking for him in order to find some bullshit task that didn’t need doing that he couldn’t fuck up too badly. It was a challenge. Since I couldn’t force him out, I decided to break him to provide motivation for him to look for an easier job. “C’mere J.T.! Got a little job for you!” his face would fall in misery upon hearing those words. “I’m going to need to go ahead and ask you to…” It was never anything pleasant. Tedious, dirty, even dangerous; no task was too shitty to assign U.T. We received in a half dozen pallets of anti-freeze, the heaviest shit on earth, stacked up to the ceiling and wedged back into our filthy cramped back storage area, comfortable only to the likes of a Gollum, and I had my backbreaker.

            “J.T… Got a little job for you. Yeah, you know all that anti-freeze in the back? Well, the other day I went back there myself and pulled out and counted every single bottle. Here is the thing…the count has to be balls on accurate, so I’m going to need you to do the same thing and let me know what number you come up with. I’ll come back here and there to see how you are doing.”

            In reality I did nothing of the kind, but it did force him to actually do the work in hopes of matching my number. Accomplishing the task meant moving everything by hand through cramped dirty narrow areas in stifling heat to boot. I made good and went back there every 20 minutes or so and tapped my watch each time. He worked all day; pulling, counting, putting everything back. He finally emerged well after his normal quitting time filthy, sweating, red faced and weary to the bone to produce his results.

            “Oh… hmm… that isn’t the number I came up with at all! Well, one of us is off, so I’m going to need you to go ahead and do the same thing tomorrow to see if you come up with your number, my number, or a different number all together. Just so you know, I’m real sure my number is right, so…”

            As expected, U.T. failed to show for his next shift and every one thereafter. A week later we discovered him sweeping sawdust at one of our customers who also knew his dad. Sweeney leaned over to me, “I never saw anyone take 4 goddam hours to sweep a floor before! And it wasn’t even clean when he was done!” If I had to make a guess where he is today, it would be holding up a shovel behind inexplicable orange cones, enjoying the effects of gravity and nothing else till 5 o’clock made its way around once more.

            Far more difficult to manage was Willie, the founder of the company and Billy’s father. Despite retiring 5 years prior, Willie insisted in coming into work for the full day, every single day. He spent the majority of his time poking around, telling Billy how he was doing things wrong, annoying the living shit out of Bud who would periodically quit and storm out in a cloud of fury to make a point, and needling the rest of us about everything under the sun. We affectionately referred to him O.B. or ‘Old Bastard’, based on an incident in which a former employee, tired of being told for an hour straight that he was hanging exhaust wrong, screamed “fuck off you old bastard!” and was thence ushered out the door. Once I was jammed behind the counter most of the time, he began to get under my skin as well.

            I found a way, however, to get him to leave us all alone. I discovered quite by accident that after he had one of his temperamental episodes, set off by some perceived slight or instance, he would take to Billy’s office for several hours to cool down. I began to look for ways to get him spun up at someone else’s expense. “Will, get this. I filled up the white box truck on Friday afternoon, and here it is Monday morning almost empty!” He looked at me with wide eyed horror, “Those sons of bitches!”; Willie was always convinced the world was out to pick his pocket. What I didn’t tell him as he exploded in fury was that I came in on Saturday and drove a load of oil down to Chestnut Ridge and never filled back up. He had his rant, hid with Billy well into the afternoon (poor Billy suffered from my technique) then spent the rest of the fuddling around trying to find a locking gas cap that would fit.

            I can probably fill up a whole separate entry about all of the characters I encountered there: Fat Paulie, Shaky Joe, ‘Crash’ McGee, MAWDI Mary, Assface, the Made Man, Anal Bead Gary, Rocky, the Businessman, the Bigot, and of course much more on the ineffable Bud, so I’m probably going to go ahead and do that at some point since the rest of these douche bags are letting this wondrous fruit languish like last weeks tomatoes. Pricks.

A Tradition Like No Other

The Comstock and Princeton era’s birthed a number of traditions, most formed out of boredom, laziness, or lack of choice.

Every holiday has it’s own traditions, especially *mas.  The most persistent and pervasive of all Comstock traditions was the Brown Bomber.  Mike’s grandmother took great pride in baking.  All throughout the year Mike would come home with a coffee tin of baked goods, but especially around *mas.  What is a Brown Bomber?  It is not a Fraternaty initiation, nor another of Larry’s army stories, but a golf ball sized sphere of rice crispies and peanut butter coated in chocolate.  Sounds awesome!  They sure are, but after you have had hundreds of these suckers you are done.  Done for good.  Mike, myself, and every single character of the crew tasted defeat after a handful of Brown Bombers, even the immutable Paul fell.  The only one left standing was Dan.  No doubt due to his thick stomach walls earned with his mom’s pork chips and the infamous pickle jar.

The next tradition started before Comstock, but was engulfed by Comstock.  that was Mike’s dad’s Bills-Miami party.  Mike’s dad would open his garage to a big party with lots of food, guys, and a big TV.  Aside from myself, Paul, Dan, and Mike the party-goers were comprised of grizzly old men from the neighborhood.  Inevitably they would spin tales of of Jack Kemp, and various other “old man nonsense”.  EDITOR’s NOTE: I can’t wait to be an old man and use my growing collection of crazy old man behaviors; when the sole purpose of my remaining life is to both others.  One of us would make some comment about some Bills player that was a group favorite just to roust the old men.  By 1999 the Bills height of power was diminishing, and Miami was sucking with no Marino, hence the party moved from the Miami game to a random other game.  With this move the fever of the party waned, and along with Mike entering the Air Force, coupled with the Paul’s decent into hermit-hood, and my detachment from Mike.  that last thing I wanted was to spend MORE time with Mike.

Many television programs made their way as a Comstock tradition.  The first of which was the original Beverly Hills 90210.  This started when in Goodyear.  Given no cable in the dorms at the time, we where stuck with 3 channels, 2 of which where often blurry.  Only the soon to be beloved Fox was routinely clear.  Paul, Mike, and I decided to make one of our routine trips to Tops in the University Plaza.  Paul held us up for a minute to use the bathroom.  As all readers know by now, this “minute” lasted way more than a minute.  In the meantime Mike and I flipped on the TV just in time for the start of the weekly installment of the antics of spoiled rich kids played by 30+ year olds, some balding and pretentious enough to purposely mispronounce their name.  By the time Paul emerged, hair gel in tact, Mike and I where hopelessly locked into the show.  Only 5 minutes remained.  The siren song of Beverly Hills did not release us from it’s icy grip for another several years.  It is odd what you become engrossed in when your entertainment options are limited.  If it hadn’t been for Paul and his meddling hair.

Many other TV shows where targeted by Mike and myself over the years: The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I recently bought the Season 1 DVD), the classic Degrassi Junior High (the story of a Canadian junior high, which recently made a comeback in the same fashion as Saved by the Bell: The New Class), and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – the draw of Dean Cain, former Buffalo Bill and sprinkle in the famous line from the first episode..

Terri Hatcher: *long tirade about how she is the experienced reported, and Dean is some punk, closing with how any co-authored pieces will have her by-line above his*
Dean Cain: *smirk* “Got it.  You like to be on top.”

Other, less obscure, programs became Comstock favorites also, including Seinfeld and the Simpsons.  These where both recorded on VHS tape and a formal event was help where Mike and I split up the tapes just before he entered the Air Force.  Dan often barged into Princeton Sunday night just before Simpsons time.  He tried initially to barge in during the show, but when we refused to answer, even though with the TV blaring, it was quite obvious we were in there.  Dan would bring some strange movie or British TV over to watch after, but Mike would always go to bed early, and since I would relish any time I could spend at home with Mike gone or asleep I would watch said weird program with Dan.

The X-Files was a favorite of Mike and mine both, until Mike ruined it for me with his fanatical behavior.  No sounds during the show.  No one over.  Disconnecting the phone.  Watching it in as much dark as possible.  I grew to dislike the X-Files, and stopped watching it after the first season, never to return.

While living at Comstock itself we where stuck with Paul’s TV/VCR combo.  We where also stuck with the same 5 movies.  Having watched them all, including when we broke down and watched Frantic, the default because One Crazy Summer.  I lost count how many times we watched this.  mike often fell asleep long before the end.  Clutching his Daisy Duke beer can handle, and occasionally talking in his sleep.  When Mike talked in his sleep you could ask him questions and he would reply, uttering such gems as “I had sex with 30 houses and stuff.”

All these years of limited viewing left us fans of MST3K, and after some buffer time when Princeton vanished, and the Comstock era ended, we started a new tradition of Crappy Movie Night.  We would gather with pizza and beer, and watch 2-3 terrible movies.  The event was a success only 50% of the time, but then again , what kind of incentive is Manos: Hands of Fate or Lolita.

The final tradition that also held favor for several months, long after Comstock was over, was Travel Friday.  In an effort to not end up in the same bars each week we forced the issue.  We would gather and car pool over to some restaurant/bar that no once had ever been to, and engulf some dinner.  If the place was god we would stay, and if not then we would head to some new place that was unknown to all or most of us.

There are certainly other “traditions” that could be mentioned, like someone being trapped in the Comstock bathroom every party, or Jason getting upset with Dan, but those are left for another post.