29. Consequently

In two hours I managed to get to the local U-Haul in my town, rent a 20 foot box truck that ran like crap, and make it to N.W., D.C. on this 90 degree summer day. The rush hour was nearly done by 6:30 or so. I pulled in the parking area in front of McLean Gardens, a nice apartment house across Connecticut Avenue from the National Cathedral. In the lobby is a professional attendant/problem solver guy who manages the traffic in and out. Coffee and pastries were usually available in the marble floored lobby. On the far curb of his former residence was my brother, surrounded by his earthly possessions strewn haphazardly across the median strip of grass that separated the parking area from the access road. I parked the truck as close as I could to the mess, never guessing that it would not start four hours later.

I could not contain my disgust. He sat in one of his chairs reading a book. His arrogance permeated the area and was stronger than his body odor. I asked him again, “Where are all your friends, cuz I don’t see a line of them itching to load you up.”

“Uh, they’re out of town. Really. One’s in Italy. He’s a writer.”

“I’m really so impressed, man. Let’s go.”

I have moved a few folks in my life and started building the necessary structure in the truck that would solidify all the loose pieces. We needed some rope or wire to tie off the walls of furniture/mattress/dresser. We walked to the nearby grocery store, both of us sweaty and stinky from the work we’d been doing. We found some skinny clothesline rope that would do the job. I bought some drinks and food. I just wanted this over.

“Where are we taking this stuff?” I inquired, knowing that he had no plan. This is a guy who did not pay his taxes for years. The IRS finally froze and emptied his bank accounts. That was a year or two back. I remember that phone call. He tried to persuade me to put his expenses on my credit card, and then he would pay me back. Simple. He pitched it like he was giving me a golden opportunity to see how savvy business guys operate. This was the guy who wrote a book on computer systems that was outdated by the time it was published. The same guy who had a poem published in The New Yorker. The world is his, see, and we are privileged to be in his presence. I said no back then. Why was I not saying no now? A lot of anger swirled in my mind and body. How many crazy moments had I endured with this pouty boyolescent?

Once I had to sucker punch him and drag him down a flight of stairs at a college drinking party when he began spitting beer in people’s faces and being despicable. Once I had him out of the building, he thanked me by trying to split my head with a brick. It was too much. I broke and went home, where he was mooching off me and my two roommates. When he finally came home to a locked door, he began kicking it until I thought the glass or hinges would break. I told him to leave. He was not welcome at our place for another minute. It was too much. I remember my friend Sam stood behind me and reinforced what I told my brother. Sam looked like a Samoan Atlas at the time. The drunk insaniac did the violent math and skulked away.

He moved on to another circle of my friends in another town, where he polluted and alienated all of them but one. When you are an arrogant artist/writer/intellectual poser, you never have to say you are sorry. You simply blame the little people as too ignorant to understand your highly cultured mind. Finally he went to grad school and bothered strangers. Thank God for strangers.

It was dark and humid when we finally tied off the last of his junk. I pulled the rolling door down and locked it. My brother said, “Can we take it to your place, you know, find a storage place, and maybe I could live in your basement for a while. It won’t be long. I have a couple of big checks that are coming soon for articles I wrote. I’ll pay for everything.” I called my wife. “NO,NO,NO!!! I don’t want him here for a minute.” Our two other brothers could not be reached for comment or assistance. It was late; I was tired; I was going home where something made sense. I’d figure out the details in the morning.

That’s when I got in the cab and turned the key. Nothing. Dead battery. “No,no,no!!!! It’s impossible. This can’t be happening. It’s too much.” I looked under the hood. No battery! Unbelievable. The truck must have a battery. I called the 800 “Help line”. It was 11:00 p.m. now. The operator was in Las Vegas. He told me that the battery was under the driver’s seat. And sure enough, it was. Now we needed a jumpstart from a willing person. At that point all I could hear were crickets. Not a soul to be seen.

After a while a D.C. cop drove by. I flagged him down and asked if he’d jump us. He complied, but his battery was not sufficient to do anything with my mammoth battery. He left us. I called the Vegas 800 “Help Line” again. I asked for a tow truck to jumpstart us. He said he’d call one in D.C. as soon as possible. At that moment I was tweaked about the idea of a guy in Vegas calling a tow truck in D.C. As you can imagine, my petrified Bloggee, no truck showed up. I called again and got hostile with the Vegas guy. He said he’d sent the tow truck but we weren’t where we said we were. Not actually. He sent the driver to N.E. D.C., ignoring all the landmarks and specific directions I had wasted on him.

Long after midnight the tow truck contractor showed up. He was awesome. He just about had to do a tune up on the truck to get it started. He told me it should never have been rented. Sure, many,many things in this story never should have happened. Finally around 2:00 a.m. we rumbled north with a load of his damn junk and my brother riding shotgun. My anger kept me from falling asleep as we drove home.

28. Toothpickishly

“Things are not always as they appear”, said the blind man to the deaf mute, who told me.  I’ve told this story a thousand times, and it’s still true, unlike some politician’s tale that changes depending on the crowd and where he is in the polls. It’s about a toothpick that nearly killed an adolescent girl. Yes, that is correct, but how is it possible? Let me explain this truth to you,  Grassbloggee. What appears to be the case is not always what is…and what is is not what it appears to be.

Years ago, when I was still teaching, had hair, could run without severe consequences, and never imagined this moment, I had a lovely student named Mary in my homeroom, my English class, maybe in study hall, my clubs, etc. I saw a lot of this vivacious, vibrant, healthy 13 year old brassy-haired blonde at the start of seventh grade. She loved school, came early and hung around after hours. She also had two close girlfriends  who hung out with her– Julie and Jenny. And you know how hard it is for three girls to get along. Anyway, Mary began to miss school in late fall. No big deal, attendance goes down once the windows are closed. Still, you miss such a ray of sunlight.

I’d inquire of Julie or Jenny, “Where’s Mary?”  and find out, “Oh, she’s got a bad cold or the flu.” This went on here and there. Mary would be out for a few days then back, but she was less vivacious and vibrant and her hair was a bit dull. She did not look as shiny and healthy as she had. By Christmas that year she had been out for over a week. I asked her friends again, “What’s up with Mary?”

“The local doctors moved her to the big city hospital. They don’t know what’s wrong and she keeps losing weight. It’s like she has the flu but it won’t go away. It does not look too good for her.”

I could not wrap my mind around this situation. How can a kid who is the picture of health waste away in a  matter of weeks? How is it that antibiotics can’t take out this flu? What is wrong with this picture?  My heart was heavy as I drove home for that Christmas break. I thought of leukemia and mystery diseases draining the lifeblood out of sunny Mary.

After everyone returned in January, Mary’s friends informed me that she was better but was on crutches now. Huh? They did not have the exact story, but it had something to do with an infection in her foot. A few days later Mary showed up on crutches and connected the dots for me. Her mystery went like this.

Three years ago she was running around her family’s home with siblings and cousins during a Christmas party where little finger foods were served with round toothpicks. Inevitably some relative dropped a toothpick and it landed pointy end up in the carpeting. Bare feet came thundering through the living room and Mary’s heel came down on the toothpick with such force that the toothpick pierced her heel bone. Ouch!!!

Off to the local ER, right? And the folks on duty dutifully removed the toothpick and swabbed it with antiseptic and sent her home. Well, they got most of the toothpick. The part they did not remove sat in her heel bone for three years and rotted inside the bone. Blogee, this is the recipe for sepsis, home brewed poison. It took years for her body to break down the bacteria-laden toothpick tip into a pocket of black mamba venom. A tiny cobra curled in her heel bone; it woke up one day and shocked her bloodstream with a squirt of death.

All the antibiotics did was to chase the cobra back into its lair. Once they wore off, the cobra slithered out into her veins again. This mystery stumped many doctors over several months, until one doctor looked at her entire medical history. He came across the ER visit three years prior. He thought about the consequences of an incomplete treatment in that ER and concluded that a sepsis pocket would be the result. Everything would fit together in that scenario. He ordered an X-ray of Mary’s foot, and sure enough there was the hollow lair of the viper. Soon a surgeon opened up her heel and cleansed the pocket of deadly pus. Almost immediately Mary began to shine again.

And there it is, Bloghopper. Just a tiny part of a little thing, smaller than the stone that David used to kill a giant. Nearly microscopic…and deadly. Many hearers of this parable-like story feel a connection. They process it immediately and identify a word, a gesture, an old wound that they had ignored for years… and realize it is septic to their souls. And you,blessed  Blog reader? Do you have a toothpick in the lungs of your soul or perhaps stuck in your throat? Hey, it’s just a little thing that may kill you if you ignore it.

27. Reluctantly

“The thing you least want to do is the very thing you most must do.” I’m sure this is a fortune waiting in a hard twisted orange cookie in a Chinese restaurant somewhere. Well, it’s not really a cookie. It’s more of a sweetened noodle. To become a cookie you’d need to inject some cream or jam into the center of the twist and eat around the slip of wisdom. Then, of course, the paper would get soggy and tear, so the Chinese would have to add some vinyl or a fiber of some kind that would endure a few bicuspid snaps. If it seems like I’m avoiding the topic sentence, you are so right, my astute Blogee. I most don’t want to do the very thing that I must do. Nibbling around truth is not nearly as productive or honorable as biting right into it.

I have not seen my oldest brother in six or seven years. He is going to be 59 or 60 in a few days if he is living. He’s single and, I’d guess, unmarriageable.Most likely alone as a single molecule of water on Mars. Maybe you have a sibling or weird uncle like my biological brother. He lives in his own narcissistic world, probably around Washington, D.C. The last time I saw him he was being arrested in front of me on Route 30 West. He had just lied to the cop who was cuffing him and slamming him onto the hood of the cruiser. Just before that he was telling a couple of cops that he had a date down in D.C. with some heiress and that he needed to be getting back there. Before that he denied trespassing and attempting to enter the business/home combination across the four lane highway. He stated that he had walked to the Sheetz store at the west end of town and made a phone call to me. Twenty minutes before the cops showed up I had tried to help him get his black Lincoln Town car to start. After several attempts I diagnosed that it was an electronic sensor or something else beyond our ability to fix on that summer Friday night in front of the self storage place.

A year before this scene he had called me on a hot summer day to ask if I’d help him move…now. It was late afternoon. I live 100 miles northwest of D.C. I asked him why he did not contact our two local brothers or his nonexistent network of friends. He said they were all busy. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m the only person on the planet who can help him?’ I asked him if he got it yet that he had no friends because he is the most arrogant ass on the planet. He insisted that they were all out of town, and all his belongings were on the curbside, just off Connecticut Avenue, N.W. “Please try to understand.”

 “Why is that?” I asked.

“I forgot to pay my rent”, was his lame excuse.

 “Landlords in D.C. don’t put you out for being late on a month’s rent.”

“I didn’t pay my rent for three or four months. Today three guys with guns gathered up all my stuff and put it on the curb.”

“So you are sitting there with all your furniture and books and clothes on the curb?”

“Yeah, and when I went to the store for food, someone stole my laptop. I don’t know what else has been stolen, but it’s getting dark and I really need your help.”

“I’m two hours away. Have you got a truck and a dolly?”

“No, since I don’t have a license and my car is in storage, I can’t get to the bank, so I can’t get to U-Haul. It’s a mess. Could you rent a truck up there and drive down? I’ll pay for everything.”

My wife was present while I had this phone call. She looked at me and shook her head “NO,NO,NO’. I should have bailed out like everyone else had. I paused, “Let me think about it.” I had obligations the next day but none that night. I could pull this off even though I did not wish to. My wife said, “Don’t do it. He’s nothing but trouble.” I said, “I’d do it for someone I didn’t like. He is still my brother.” Something stronger than logic rose up from deep in me and long ago. I bit my lip and shook my head…

“Give me a couple of hours.”

26. Inescapably

I never set out to write as often as I am doing. I did not think I could post regularly and get everything else in my life done. What I have found, however, is that when I am alone for an hour or two and facing a pile of billing, I get a tickly feeling to express something, anything besides electronic billing codes or some tedious legal letter where spelling counts and you must make sense. The guy inside me (is it Forrest Gump?) who did not fully express himself in any forum has found traction and is sprinting up my intestines and into the cyber light at the end of my fingers– the keyboard. I suppose this is therapy for me, swishing my writer hands through the still waters of my memory, stirring up funky things that sank to the bottom decades ago or just last night.

Behind my house, we have a fish pond off our lower deck. This spring we paid “professionals” to upgrade it from the shoestring operation that I installed 18 years ago. For my liner I used two pieces of rubber roofing that I glued together. Over the years the water iris roots grew into the glue joint and, like Jim Morrison sang, “broke on through to the other side”. In short, the pond leaked a lot of water. I was drafted to fix or destroy the thing. I’m not much of a fixer, so I tore up the liner and agreed to hire younger guys to do the hard work. A few thousand dollars later now, we have a pool pump and filter system that runs a lovely water fall. My wife read on-line articles about European wading pools, and that is what we are going for– no fish, and only potted plants that are not actually in the chlorinated water. It’s semi-natural and landscaped. Last night we cleaned out the skimmer basket and the pre-pump filter. Not a lot of funk.

When I ran the pond, complete with fish and plants and an occasional turtle, birds (including mating ducks) flew in and washed themselves, toads chirped and shrilled all night, and a thick blanket of dead matter accumulated at the bottom of the pond each year. Every spring I’d take an entire Saturday scooping the foul smelling rotted matter out of the pond, while tearing apart water lillies that were enmeshed in the organic funk. I would reset the balance and get the water clarity near crystalline in a few days. I have no  idea how that worked. Rain would also work magic on the water clarity. It was beautiful in an amateur way.

This spring and last I had no funk to scoop, no balance to reset. This is good for my back, but I’m not sure if it’s good for my soul. There was something primordial about the process and the full immersion of my senses in it. The funky stuff, I imagined, was my unconscious and dripped off my legs and elbows. It held mysteries and secrets as surely as it held things the kids has thrown in the water– a Bert or Ernie toy, a marble, a seashell, a flip flop, or a prayer, a silent hurt, maybe a promise. Now the kids are gone and it’s anitseptic. There is no swamp gas bubbling up as the pond digests its diet these days.

So I guess it’s gonna have to be another venue that I swish my hands through. Maybe this is it, the new pond of funky stuff. Each post dredges up something that needs to move or be moved. “Run, Forrest, Run!” All the way up my intestines.

25. Albuquerquely

There was not much between Amarillo/West Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Flat desert with the occasional plateau. Indian reservations. Emptiness. I don’t recall how I arrived in Albuquerque, but I was tired and impatient to get to my girlfriend. I remember temporarily surrendering to the easy thought of just buying a bus ticket to L.A. I figured that I could coast the rest of the way on a Greyhound or Trailways bus, sleep, maybe gain some control in an air conditioned environment.  I walked in from the highway and found the bus station. I asked for a ticket to L.A. “Certainly, that’s $75.00” I was stunned. “Huh? That’s what it cost to get on the bus in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m three quarters of the way to L.A. and I have to pay full price?”  No sale. I was pissed at the inequity of the bus fare and the fact that I had wasted a couple of hours and walking energy in the heat of the day only to be served a cat litter enchilada of bad news. I stomped off. The sun was going down as I put my thumb up again. A beautiful barren purple mountain stood guard over the other end of Albuquerque. “Good bye, hard to spell dusty city.” 

A couple of chumpy rides took me back into the desert west of Albuquerque. It was not looking too promising for me, when a van full of uranium miners pulled over and picked me up. Yep, uranium miners. They had been drinking in town. I guess it was Sunday night and their weekend was over. Back to the radiation exposure. I wondered if I had a geiger counter if they’d be clicking like a room full of typewriters. (Those were early computers without the ability to do anything but process words. Blogee, I worked part time at the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper as a copy boy during college. Newpapers were replaced by webzines and other internet vehicles in the early 21st century. Anyway, they had a big room full of typewriters that clacked a lot.)

I was not sure about these uranium miners. They probably could have killed me by just breathing on me. We rolled on into the night desert. No lights, nothing but stars. Way out there, they turned right off Route 40 and onto a dirt road. They told me I could die in the desert, “So take any ride anywhere.”  Off they went. For the first time on my adventure I felt absolutely vulnerable. This was quiet beyond the lush green humid quiet of the North Carolina mountains. This quiet was boundless and arid and had dead Indians’ spirits swirling in it. I could hear trucks coming long before I saw them. I sat by the side of the road, which was still warm from the heat of the day. The air was chilly. It was pointless to walk and waste energy. I lay down a bit farther from the pavement after a while. I thought that I’d sleep for a while. I tried to think of a way to lay there and sleep while keeping my sign up for drivers to see. But what sane driver is looking for a hitchhiker in the middle of the New Mexico desert in the middle of the night? I began to fear the desert sun like a slug fears salt. Would I collapse and melt like a dead possum into a piece of jerky? My clothes wouldn’t change, but I’d be a Slim Jim mummy in jeans and flannel shirt. Not afraid yet, but certainly concerned.

I caught a couple of unmemorable rides and wound up in Gallup, N.M. It was midnight, I think. I just recall being so tired that I walked over to a hotel and asked how much for a room. I recall it was Motel 6. The guy at the desk told me $30.00. Once again my irrational mind told me, ‘The night is half over. It should be half price.’ Reluctantly I passed up the room and went back to the highway. Unbelievably a drunk Indian dude drove up and propostioned me for sex. Not an Asian Indian, let me be clear.  A drunk Native American schllurred something to me about doing sex together. I passed up this lovely offer. I was beginning to think that there were a Hell of a lot of folks out having lots of nasty sex on our interstate highways. I mean, I’m one guy on one road, and here is the third or fourth sexual come on in four days.

Another unremarkable ride put me in the unpropositioned desert again.

Somehow I slept briefly. I did not realize that in my sleep I had managed to drop my wallet. I had cash in my pockets but traveler’s checks in the wallet. ( No worries, Blogee, I could redeem the checks in L.A. as  long as I had their numbers.) Groggily, I resumed my desperate vertical position. A single guy stopped. Was he the New Mexico desert serial killer? I didn’t care. I ran to his car. He said, “What in the Hell are you doing?  You’d be dead by morning if I didn’t pick you up.” I thanked him a bunch and told him that the uranium miners had told me basically the same thing, so I knew it was a truth. “Now listen, don’t take a ride unless it takes you to a specific town where there is something to drink. Got that?” He was being very proprietary with me, and I was okay with it. He did not want me to wind up like a strip of burned bacon in a condor’s claws come late morning.

We drove through the night. As the sun came up, I felt the deadly sun. It was August near Death Valley. What kind of fool would walk along a desert highway without water? The kind riding shotgun in this Buick. He dropped me in Needles, California and headed north to Vegas. I walked to a gas station and bought a soda. I drank it and was thirsty right away. I drank another soda. Still, I was on the edge of thirst. ‘So this is what it’s like, the dehydration, dying of thirst thing.’ I got it. The thermometers read 110 degrees. Wow, I got it.

24. Scholumly

Even bad writing takes time. And time is limited. Which should limit bad writing. But does it? Apparently not. Vanity pushes the mediocre and the rest of us below that line to keep pounding on the keys in hope of one day writing something worthy. If vanity is pushing the green Jell-o sculpture uphill, tell me, Blog Reader, how can it end well? It can’t. You know that. Vanity’s hand gets stuck in the butt of the gelatinous blob and the two become one tumbling down messy mouther-piece, rolling down a steep hill, gathering small children and hamsters in its sticky fury. (Would you pass me the cheese puffs, please?)

Good writing captures the reader; great writing captures the reader, even  against his will, and slays him. The reader does not want to buy into the author’s style or subject but can’t help reaching instinctively for his wallet. “I don’t even know where this literary vehicle is going, but I can’t get off now.” What pushes good writing? More than vanity. Dancers have to dance; singers have to sing; and so on. I guess it’s in the soul of writers to write. I think writers are not dancers, by the way. Writers sit on their butts a lot. There is no live audience with writing. It’s very solitary. The “performance” aspect of writing is work for the reader, who reads in isolation. Yeah, it’s a very different art. Pretty dull and tedious too. There are occasional live readings, but what is that, really, once you get beyond elementary ages?

And here we are in the blogosphere, neither art nor memoir nor journalism. What then? Maybe it’s like Sports Center– highlights, flashes of something, kernels for other work. No one frames a blog entry or gets one signed. There’s no first edition market for blogs that I am aware of. No debuts or parties or premieres. And I’d like to know why not. I think it’s about time for some celebrity blog parties, formal ones with champagne and the glitterati of blog nation.  Granted, there are many problems with where to hold these parties when you only have three readers who live in three different time zones. Ummmm, Kansas City seems central enough, so let’s get together there around 8 p.m. Central time, of course. On a Friday. Good, done. That’s off the do list.

Yeah, it’s not enough to simply cover the blank white screen with black letters. I was an English teacher once, seventh grade, the land of crash test dummies and cat herders. Teaching writing to 130 kids who were all over the ability spectrum was an exhausting exercise. However, experts thought that weekly writing was just the ticket for kids to develop proficiency. These experts never taught kids on spectrums, however.  They had all sorts of nifty, cool ideas about how good writers could improve in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, back at the cat ranch, I was hoping to get kids to write full sentences or to chop up run-on galactic word salads into bite-size units of meaning, while holding their attention and interest as we plunged forward toward ultimate meaning and purpose in their young lives. (I tend to exaggerate.)

 “Just put something on the page so we can start the process. At least put a mark on it so we can tell which side is up.” Uuuuhhhhhhh. It was mass obstetrics of a literary sort. Birthing paragraphs and little five paragraph essays, 25 at a time. “I can see your piece is stuck at 5 cms. Nurse! I need an I.V. over here.”  “Nice work, Billy. I can see your piece is crowning.”  “Forceps, I need the forceps for Dylan.”  “Oh my Gosh! C-section in aisle three. I need O2 and plasma, and that’s just for me.” “Ahh, Edith’s creative water just broke. Let’s get her in under the halogens.”  “Epinephrine, now! I’m losing the writer’s pulse on Cindy.” Yeah, it was something like that. I would drip sweat by 9:00 a.m. and collapse by 4:00 p.m. I’m not sure that they are all accomplished writers today. One thing is certain, however. I gained dramatic experience from it all.

Well, that barge set sail about 8 years ago. What a sense of relief as I left a 23 year career that I had backed into. (See previous posts.) True, it was better than parking cars, shoveling hardened poop out of a manhole, ironing things in a dry cleaner’s shop, copy boy at a newspaper, EKG technician, moving specialist, gas pumper, federal government office gopher, short order cook, house painter, and many other forgettable exercises in what not to do for a living.  Still, it felt like OJ’s gloves– “If they do not fit, then you must (a-hem) quit!” Thank you, Johnny Cochran.

I’m not sure that I have developed anything here, so concluding would be pointless. This side with the marks on it is up. See?

23. Turkishly

If  you wait for a creative idea to land on your shoulder and whisper, “I am here” in your ear, you’ll be waiting a long time. Every once in a while you may get one like that, but for the most part you need to get  in the woods and call turkeys to you. They often come to see what’s in your shotgun.  And blam! you know what you’re having for dinner. Creative ideas are not turkeys, but they do need to be called in sometimes from over the ridge, through the brush, and onto the page.

The other day my wife mentioned something about renewing our wedding vows. We’ll be married 33 years soon, and she thinks it’s a good idea. She thinks both ideas are good– the institution of marriage and the renewal of marriage vows. I acted like I hadn’t  heard her clearly, and said, “Renounce our vows?  Why would I want to do that?  And what would that sound like? “For better or for best, minus sickness or in Hell, in good times not bad…” Actually the only folks I have known who felt compelled to renew their vows had trouble in their marriage– an affair, a serious debacle, a traumatic brain injury with a skillet. I could not  recall any such event, so I was not thrilled at the prospect of vowel remediation, which sounds like speech therapy. I told her I would marry her again, no doubt. I’d love to sign up for another 33 years with her, which would bring us to 89 years of age.  It’s like renewing a lease, not too threatening really. If it’s about vowing my love and fidelity to my wife again, I’m fine with that. I just want it known that I am doing so without duress or coercion.

The other thing that happened this weekend was I shot my first groundhog of the season. It was a good sized one, maybe 7 or 8 pounds. I didn’t lift it to weigh. He was up sniffing the air above the high grass outside his hole. His burrow, the one he took over, lies beneath the vegetable garden at the back of my yard. It has two holes big enough to drive a groundhog through. Anyway, I brought my .22 rifle out and tried to remember which way the safety clicked. I raised the barrel and fired a round into the grass below his head. His body flipped into the air, with his feet briefly where his head had been. I hurried over to that end of the yard but saw no carcass. In just a minute his head popped up out of his hole. Pop~! that was that. He conveniently crawled up and out of his hole and ceased all function. He would not be eating lettuce and cabbage and carrot tops this year.

In previous years I had tried to deal with groundhogs in less lethal ways. I blocked their holes. That’s a joke to a groundhog. They can dig like machines and clear out any stones that I packed in. I also tried cyanide smoke bombs to no avail. I poured gas and paint thinner into their holes and lit it. Nothing. I put a garden hose in the hole one year and let it run for hours. Finally a mother skunk ran out of the hole and was skewered by a pitchfork. It was not pretty. The skunkettes perished in the flooded burrow. Please, someone call PETA and turn me in. I also waited on several occasions with my machete and tried to chop at groundhogs that ran between my legs and into their holes. Futile. Throwing rocks also did not produce results. I felt like a giraffe trying to lick the back of its head…clumsy and unnatural and awkward. Untill the . 22.

The first summer that I got the gun, I shot 8 groundhogs. It was a thrill to stand on my deck in the morning and sight them in the garden. My heart would race a bit and I’d get excited as the furry rustlers would chew into fresh greens coming up from the cool soil. POW! and the ballet of the death spiral would commence. Not pretty but necessary if you  are going to eat what you plant and water. There is no real good way to eliminate these varmints without shooting them. Last summer was hard for some reason. Perhaps word got out that my yard was under surveillance. I only  saw two hogs all summer and both of them went to the great rodent burrow in the sky.

Now a fellow I know named Ron is a real groundhog killer. He hunts them on several farms on the other side of town. He has permission and is retired, so he has free access to hundreds of acres and unlimited time to hunt. Ron takes folks like me out hunting with him. He’s serious. He uses a scope and a tripod and a big gun– a 220. It sounds like a cannon compared to my little .22. Ron bags around 100 hogs each  summer. But there are plenty more to go around. Some animal cleans up the carcasses at night– a fox, coyote, owl, something, because they are not there the next day.

What does groundhog shooting have to do with renewing one’s marriage vows? A strange but appropriate question. Getting the .22 was my wife’s idea. For years she had feared that if there was a gun in our house, somehow I’d use it to kill her or the kids. Not sure how this was supposed to work, just that it was. Only when a bigger threat showed up in our vegetable garden did I get authorized to purchase the killing tube. Finally I owned a rifle, a weenie rifle, true, but still, I thought it was great. Most boys get a rifle at 12. I was a little delayed…by 40 years or so.

Why not renew my marriage vows? If I can shoot ground hogs when I am retired like Ron, who is also happily married, then what the heck. Call me a turkey.