Sunday, October 29, 2006

Obscenes From A Mall

My decision to brave the Opry Mills Mall on Saturday was rewarded while battling the oncoming shoppers.

Middle-aged, overweight man with deep rural Tennessee accent speaking to a similarly built middle-aged man walking anxiously & attentively a half step behind:

"You see, this picks up where Busty Beach Bunnies pt.1 leaves off!"

I decided to get an Orange Julius, find a bench & relax a little. Life's too fast. Every once in a while you have to stop & eavesdrop on the locals.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Booms In The Night

I've been at it again. Working on my next big panic attack at the local Lowe's home improvement store. There I was wandering up & down the aisles throwing a tantrum because there was no one in customer service to coddle me & tell me the tiling job is going to be all right. "They're not getting any more of my business... today."

Actually while scrambling for an exit I darted down the mail box aisle. There they had the absolute most ridiculous mail boxes I've ever seen. Apparently they now have them made entirely [post & all] of hollow green & yellow plastic with exaggerated round corners like those awful plastic playground sets you see in people's FRONT yards these days. There were pictures of the mail boxes in action & had they not included a proportional adult, I would have mistaken the place for a Toys-R-Us [Where's the backwards R on this keyboard?].

It reminded me of a forgotten sport we had where I grew up in rural Michigan. Mail Box Baseball was America's 2nd favorite past time - at least for those who didn't have cable. That's where one guy is behind the wheel of his $300 OldsmoBuick & a second guy is kneeling in the passenger seat hanging out the window with a baseball bat. You drive down a farm road or a not-so-dense subdivision & just wail the crap out of all the mail boxes. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Sometimes they forego the bat & just mow down the post & all with the car. For this you need an old car with a lot of mass. Your '94 Tercel won't take the really good posts down - the ones sitting on a railroad tie. But I tend to think the real reason for ramming a mail box with your bumper rather than bashing it with a bat says... you can't find a friend to do the swinging.

One Summer a real major leaguer came to town. This guy had to be the Mulo Enojado of some Mexican league. He had a dark colored car so he was hard to see at night. Mostly we just heard him. He ran the roads every few weeks or so. His trademark was that he would plow down every other mail box. Never would he get two in a row. Kind of like "eenie meanie." Or maybe he just "loved us not."

No one could ever catch the guy. He was really good at arriving just when we forgot all about him. Sometimes it was as though we were a bunch of border town peasants, always nervous, watching the horizon, afraid Eli Wallach was gonna come riding back into the village.

After his rampage through the neighborhood we'd all come out early like Christmas morning to find coal in every other stocking. But mostly we just resigned ourselves to it. There'd be a communal shrug as if to say, "Eh, Whaddaya gonna do?"

But it quickly & quietly started to get to my father. He had replaced about four mail boxes & a couple of posts - digging them out, realigning them. After numerous hard days' work & trips to Ace Hardware & neighbors laughing at our whole family circled around him at the end of the driveway as he dug & cursed, my father became obsessed. He began to drift away, paying no attention to family affairs. He took to missing dinners & working late in the garage, looking distant & incessantly inserting the words 'wrath' & 'thee' into quiet conversations he'd have with himself.

I'd seen my father get mad many times at many people before, brandishing weapons even. He himself looked like & caused as much fear as Charles Bronson. But this became personal to him. The other neighbors didn't seem to get as riled up as he did. They just put up cheap replacement boxes & let the vandal have his way, knowing it wasn't worth the ulcer. But as this had gone on for a couple of Summers, my father became progressively more & more preoccupied. He plotted & schemed. He studied history books on strategic warfare & had pored over diagrams of various sedan-slinging trebuchets & other medieval devices.

But one day after another dark visit from the bully vandal & my father had installed the new mailbox & post, he seemed a little less stressed. A little more satisfied. Still a little maniacal, but satisfied. I didn't think anything of it.

Then... a few weeks later. Midnight. It was a quiet Summer night with all the windows open - we didn't have air conditioning. Other than crickets & such, the neighborhood was almost as quiet as the house. Except you could hear the faint sound of the bug light at the farm next door zapping flies every few seconds. I was in my bed, having a hard time sleeping as usual. Just drifting in & out.

Gradually the sound of the crickets & frogs gave way to a muffled roar of tires on gravel & dirt. It came fast over the hill where my bus stop was. Then loudly down the hill. It seemed closer than even the road was, mostly because my ears were so accustomed to the quiet of the night. And then right in front of our house quickly the sound ended in a transient single bang of metal crunching & a quick dirt skid.

The crickets had shut up immediately. Everything went silent. Even the idiot flies managed to avoid the zapper for a moment. A few seconds or so & then his tires spun, throwing gravel. Then a slow squeak-squeak sound of the car limping down the road slowly out of ear-shot.

I laid silently in my bed for a few seconds. Wondering if I should wake my folks & tell them some dink had just hit one of our trees. But as quickly as the thought came to me, I heard my father at the other end of the silent house.

"Got you, you sucker."

It seems that when my father installed the new mail box, he had welded a plain black box atop a 6-inch pipe, 12 feet long which he had sunk 9 feet into the ground & filled to the brim with cement. He poured cement into the ground 10 inches around the pipe. Then he collected his tools & cords & cement mixer & purposefully walked them all back up the long drive to the garage. Each trip he would spin to look back at his work - both inspecting from a distance to see if it looked innocent enough, but also celebrating & gloating a bit. He'd smile walking backwards, arms full of dangling extension cords & trowels.

He had built a barricade designed to kill. And then waited up for weeks - listening & hoping. For one night - this night. I'm told after he said those words from his bed, he rolled over & slept like a baby till morning.

From my father we learned to keep our eyes on our goals. Don't stray. Keep focused. Do what you're good at. He didn't really say it in those words but we picked up on his example. He always had a way of illustrating how important it was to work through life's challenges. This was one of them. He conquered & then gloated. Just like the time he stopped the neighbor's dogs from coming into the garage & chewing up his workboots by wiring the laces up to a live toaster cord.

It worked.

We went back to the old house this weekend & the damned thing is still in tact, like a bunker over the Omaha Beachhead.
The rocks are little monuments for all those who died trying to take the mailbox.