Saturday, 28 April 2012

ICE FISHING

One could say that Elmer, although mostly honest, could still display a bit of a crooked streak. That is to say, if he thought he could get away with it, he'd be inclined to try it. That combined with a reputation as a cheapskate made him one of the last persons one would want to do business with.

Elmer loved fishing. During the summer he was seldom home except to farm; taken instead to the various fishing holes and lakes in the region. During the winter he kept himself occupied with ice-fishing, something he looked forward to as much as casting during the rest of the year.

It was in the dead of winter and the region had been struck with a cold streak for going on to a good three weeks or so. Usually that meant that most of the lakes were frozen to a thickness sufficient to support the weight of nearly anything one put on it; and one would have to emphasize the most and nearly part.

A nice sunny Sunday with the temperature barely peeking above the zero mark, someone like Elmer would think that such a day would be best spent out on Tyrrel Lake. Bore a hole, drop in a line then relax and wait with a cup of hot coffee or stimulating beverage in one hand with the other poised and ready to go into action the moment a fish foolishly went for the bait. Elmer wasted no time getting his gear loaded into the bed of his pale green 3/4 ton pickup and drove over to the lake.

He got himself set up and things seemed okay for a while despite the fish being about as interested in taking the bait as Ho Chi Minh would be in attending a Christian revival meeting. The day wore on, the thermos was empty and Elmer's feet were getting cold. He finally decided that he'd had enough and that it was time to pack up and head for home. He quickly put away the gear and prepared to drive off the lake.

Just as he was about to open the door of the truck, he heard the unmistakeable crack of the ice underfoot. He took a step closer and heard a second crack that sort of told him that he was about to have a very bad day. A third crack was accompanied by a sensation of dropping that also told him that he should try to get himself off the ice and leave his truck behind. He'd only made it few steps before he heard the fourth one.

Actually it was more of a crash. He wasn't quite to shore when the ice gave way completely. A quick glance over his shoulder and he saw his one year old pickup disappear into the freezing water, leaving nothing but a gaping black hole with several floating cakes of ice along with his tackle box.

Well, he should thank his lucky stars that he made it to shore safely albeit with wet socks.

Home safe and sound.

The next item on his agenda was to retrieve his pickup from the murky waters of Tyrrel Lake. There was one major drawback to this though, and it wasn't just getting the truck out of the drink and drying it out. You see, Tyrrel Lake is a rather unpleasant place; it's better classed as an alkali bog than a lake.

JC once told the story about when he and his friend, Gord, tuned up the boat for the water skiing season. They took it to Tyrrel Lake because it was a convenient distance away and it was evening; Ridge Reservoir where they had their summertime water sports was another twenty miles away. Everything worked fine and the two boaters enjoyed downing a few cold beverages while chasing mud hens with the boat. However, when they got the boat home, they discovered that the boat's purple and white finish was closer to a foggy pink with an equally foggy beige trim; it took several hours of elbow grease and at least one gallon of vinegar to to get the boat presentable again.

Elmer knew that he was only at the threshold of his problems. There was a good chance that because of the alkali he'd be plagued with electrical problems until the end of the next century. Let's see, he thought, I was at the north end of the lake where no one was around to see the truck go in, and the towing crew and the divers are out of Lethbridge some forty miles away...

That's it! Get it the hell out of there as quickly and quietly as possible, get some stupid backyard mechanic (even one of the mechanics from the shop in town) to come out to the farm after supper, get it drained out and running again then trade it off. Everyone knew that the truck was well maintianed so there shouldn't be any problem getting rid of it before the news got out.

And as long as everyone kept his mouth shut...

Bright and early Monday morning, Elmer hired the salvage crew then got himself ready and drove the family car into town. He stopped at the local GM dealership and immediately struck up a conversation with Courtney, the GM sales manager, whom, I might add, would have no idea of the diabolical plot that was being hatched, as he lived in Raymond, some twenty-five miles away.

"You're looking for a new pickup?" Courtney asked rather incredulously. "I sold you a new one just last year."

"It just isn't heavy enough for my camper," Elmer answered almost truthfully. "And I've always regretted not having air-conditioning."

Courtney should've heard the alarms and seen the warning lights flash as Elmer was so damned cheap that when he bought the ill-fated truck the year before, he chafed at features such as power steering and brakes which came standard on even the most basic 3/4 ton truck. But he and Elmer took a walk out to the lot and looked at a couple of possibilities, one of them being a fully loaded camper special with that super-sized gas guzzler of an engine--and air-conditioning. Totally out of character for someone who squeezed a nickel till the beaver took a dump, or Jefferson's eye's popped out, depending on which side of the 49th you were on.

Back inside, the pencil and calculator came out and the bartering began. "Where's your truck?" Courtney asked reasonably, to which Elmer responded with something to the effect that his boy was using it for a couple of days.

More warnings should have sounded as Elmer wasn't the type to let his wife use it, let alone his son. But it must have been a slow period where Courtney needed the sale. He knew the general condition of the truck anyways but conferred with JC and the boys out in the shop who assured him that the truck had just been for some service work and that it was in tip-top shape.

The dealing got fast and furious and finally a deal was struck. It would take a day or so to get the new truck ready and Elmer truthfully said that it would take at least that long to finish up what he was doing anyways.

Yeah!

Courtney, always the tradional type who believed in sealing every deal with a handshake, stood up to offer the gesture and Elmer stood up to confirm.

Just then, Jimmy, another customer, who happened to pass by the office at that moment, stopped to say hello. He then noticed Elmer.

"Hey, Elmer, did they get your truck out of the lake yet?"

"Wha-wha-what are you talking about?" Courtney asked, his curiosity naturally aroused and those dormant warning lights going off like a Mardi Gras celebration.

...Later that day, Elmer's truck, now liberated from its watery parking place, was towed into the shop. It was first drained of all fluids, flushed and replenished, then began a week's worth of drying out and checking. In no time at all every piece of wiring, every light socket, every switch and printed circuit had become encrusted with a moldy green residue and had to be replaced.

Elmer drove that truck for many more years; with its reputation no dealership between the two oceans would even look at it as a trade. He and Courtney remained on speaking terms for just as many years but there was no doubt that hell would be covered with a much thicker layer of ice than what covered Tyrrel Lake on that fateful day before they would ever do business again.  

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mouse Trap

Anyone who has lived in an older house or worked in a drafty shop has experienced unwanted guests, especially those clad in gray and measure about 3 inches in length, not including a 2 inch tail. Those pests get into one's food storage, gnaw through wallboard and even trifle with wiring, leaving those little black pellets behind as calling cards. JC once lived in a house where infested was a gross understatement. Like, he heard rustling in the walls and the ceiling and sometimes when he opened his old college binders to get some reference materials he would find the skeletized remains of a rodent stuck inside the coils.

Interesting enough some of those pests become pets so to speak. Many times when JC would be sitting in front of the TV a couple of bolder types would emerge from the register under the TV, chase each other around for a few seconds then promptly disappear back into the register. As time went on, they got bolder and started to frolic right at JC's feet.

There was a time when JC awoke in the middle of the night and could hear something clicking in his right ear. He also felt a hint of moisture. Stealing a sideways glance and shifting just slightly he heard some shuffling on his pillow then saw a couple of orange lights gazing back at him.

A mouse had been licking out the inside of his ear!

Save money on Q-tips I guess.

JC was tolerant to a point but there always comes a time when one has to take action. For JC it was when he had to wash the silverware every time he needed to use it. He often joked that the mice ran through his silver drawer because they enjoyed making everything jingle. But there comes a time when one has to take more serious action. He went to the hardware store and bought a couple cartons of Warfarin which he placed in key locations throughout the house and basement and kept replenishing until the mice either died off or decided to move to someone else's house for a change of scenery.

I might add here that the mice helped out with the Warfarin as they managed to gnaw through the side of one of the cartons and feast away but that was their problem.

And not all mice are as appealing as Mr. Jingles...

So now we come to the actual story: JC's place of work was a drafty shop in a car/farm equipment dealership. There were a lot of mice and they got into everything that wasn't locked away in a steel cabinet. So that meant they had access to the desk's in JC's office.

JC's secretary was petrified of mice. But unlike the stereotype where the woman is standing on a chair screaming at the top of her lungs, Val simply froze and started to shake. One time she was looking for some work orders in JC's out basket and suddenly froze. JC had set a trap behind the basket and a bloated mouse carcass showed itself when Val lifted up the papers.

Of course JC just reset the trap then took the mouse remains and flung them outside for the seagulls and crows to fight over.

In his battle with mice at home, JC learned a new method of extermination that could be applied when the pests got into a kitchen or desk drawer. He would position himself a specific distance away from the front of the drawer, take an aerosol can of starting fluid (ether) in his right hand and shake it then grasp the drawer handle with his left hand and jerk the drawer open against his hip. The drawer wouldn't come completely out but would be open far enough to close off any possible escape route through the back. JC's right hand would come into play bringing the can of ether to the drawer, at the same time blasting the intruder with a lethal dose.

And the convulsing carcass would be disposed using the aftermentioned method.

Now Val had watched JC do that a number of times seeing success in every attempt. She finally decided that she could do that as well as JC thus not needing to call him into the office every time she heard those rustling noises from the desk.

One day she heard that rustling sound. Quietly she slid from her chair, reached over to JC's desk and grasped the can of ether. She spaced her body where she'd seen JC do it dozens of times. Left hand grasping the handle and right hand preparing the spray bomb she jerked the drawer open.

I guess she hadn't been paying enough attention because she managed to jerk the drawer right out of the desk. It swung downwards spilling papers, correcting fluid, pens, and mice onto the floor. Not wanting to give up so easily, Val began to chase one of the mice, spraying ether all over the place including the mouse, the desks, the walls and the floor.

Now let me back up a bit. Val was very cold-blooded; she just couldn't keep warm. She had a baseboard heater under her desk that was turned onto high every day of the year, even when the mercury itself was climbing out of the top of the thermometer to cool down.

Well, this mouse was running all around the office with Val giving chase and spraying ether everwhere. The mouse ran under Val's desk and Val sprayed ether after it, right into the baseboard heater.

JC was outside the office door chatting with a customer when he heard the Whoosh! He then saw this tiny ball of flame scurry into the shop from under the door, squeaking in terror.

JC actually felt sorry for that poor mouse.

He ran into the office to see papers burning, as well as patches of concrete floor and even some tiny flames on the lower legs of Val's desk. They were able to put the fire out and the damage was largely negligible with the exception of Val's wounded pride.

From that point on, when Val heard rustling in the desk she simply summoned JC who did what was necessary to keep things under control.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

BACKSEAT DRIVER

JC worked at a car/farm machinery dealership about twenty miles north of the border for several years. Started out as a mechanic and finished as a--mechanic/service manager, the job was demanding but somehow fulfilling as well. He often said that if the place hadn't run into hard times in the early 80s he'd probably still be there, frustrations and all.

As often happens with small dealerships there is a lot of interaction between all departments and management. That is to say that there is a lot of personal contact/dialogue going on. Often times upper management would try to overide the lower position if he thought he needed some favors done for a friend. Trouble is, with people like JC, those favor requests would be ignored in order to satisfy promises already made to customers whose units were likely already in the shop. Oftentimes that would lead to some heated confrontations.

Now let me back up a bit. JC wasn't an obstinate individual. Stubborn, ornery, pig-headed, definitely, but not obstinate.

Alright just a little obstinate. Let's just say for the record that he was a man of his word. If he promised that he'd take on a project, he'd take it on. Anyone else that showed up later would be looked after... Later. And if that customer tried to convince JC that he should be first in line, JC would just point to the vehicles and machinery in the shop and ask the customer who should be bumped because he wasn't as important, and if so would the new self-righteous customer like to phone the party to be bumped and explain why.

No one got bumped...

Let's also mention some things about the boss. GA wasn't a bad person most of the time; in fact he was a good person--most of the time and somewhat of a horse's backside the rest of the time. Short-tempered would be a gross understatement as he could take the paint off the walls when he got mad. In fact there was a time he was walking through the shop shortly after a dead-head vehicle was towed in and the chain was in a pile on the floor. He tripped over it then turned around and savagely kicked it, breaking one of his toes in the process. But aside from that, he had two real bad faults:

First, he tended to make promises to friends then forget to mention that to the service department. When that friend showed up and found that said promise hadn't been kept, he'd first try to tear a strip off JC who promptly (sometimes politely) steered the irate customer to the source of the promise and let them battle it out.

Second, he brought his personal (read: spousal) problems to work with him. And maybe I should go a little easier on ol' GA and blame some of his behavior on his better half.

She could be a cold-hearted, self-centered, judgemental, unreasonable, vindictive, bad-tempered, back-stabbing bee-otch. And that was on her good days. For four days a month--yes, when she was flying the red flag--she was unbearable; to the point where all personnel back at the shop marked those formidable days in red every month.

You did not talk to the boss on those days; avoid him at all costs...

Well, this story involves a little bit of all of that.

It was just after closing time on a Thursday night. Everyone had gone home except for JC. He was actually in the act of locking up when a carrier showed up from Melchin's to drop off some new vehicles. The job of checking the vehicles over didn't involve much at all so JC simply checked them off, labeled the keys and dropped them into the vehicle sales manager's office. Just as he was leaving, the boss pulled in with his big old Caddy and got out.

"I saw that load coming in and I need my friend's two 3/4 ton trucks serviced and ready to deliver tomorrow!" he thundered.

JC knew which vehicles those were: two plain jane 3/4 ton pickups painted calf scour yellow (the manufacturer's Desert Tan) ordered in for the friend's construction company. "Can't do that," JC responded. "Got two guys missing tomorrow and we've got four units already promised."

"But I can some in Saturday and get them ready," JC offered as a possible way out.

GA started getting insistant but JC stuck to his guns; the shop couldn't work them in. The argument finally ended with GA mentioning something about who signed JC's paychecks and JC saying something about someone else who signed his paychecks before he took the job with GA.

It wasn't pretty.

GA strode back to his car, kind of backwards with his head cocked around as he continued to threaten JC about the consequences of disobeying a direct order. He reached out blindly with his right hand and grabbed the door handle, jerked the door open and jumped inside, slammming the door extra hard behind him. Then he turned around, reached for the keys and the steering wheel tilt control...
...only to find that someone had moved the steering wheel and controls one seat ahead; he had inadvertantly gotten himself into the back seat. Needless to say, he quickly got out and bounced poste-haste into the front seat and left the place.

The two new vehicles weren't delivered on Friday but as was promised, JC came in on his own and prepared them on Saturday. The friend didn't even find out that they'd arrived until Monday afternoon...

Monday, 9 April 2012

GRUMPY

Grumpy was half of the local Chevrolet dealership from shortly after the war (WWII) ended and on through the fifties. Even though his name was really Howard, everyone called him Grumpy. I might add that the lazy ones just called him Grump. I suppose it was probably because of his demeanor; he looked--Grumpy. All the time.

Grumpy was substantial in stature. That is to say that he was quite overweight. Most men his size wore suspenders but Grumpy used a belt that was always on the downhill side of his backside; no one had any idea how his pants stayed up. But they did. Somehow.

One chilly winter day he was behind the parts counter putting a stock order away and he happened to be standing on a wooden stool so placed to enable him to reach the uppermost shelves. Getting a step-ladder would've been the smarter thing to do but that meant going out to the shop and therefore a waste of valuable time. Last part in hand he stretched way up...

Somehow his belt relaxed too much and his pants fell down, the belt carrying them right down to the floor. The cuffs of his trousers all but tied up his feet and I guess you could say that he was trapped--on top of the stool--behind the counter--in front of God and everybody. Fortunately for Grumpy, there was no one else inside the dealership, save for Slim, the mechanic in the back and Mrs. Finlay, the secretary. Well, if Slim had seen Grumpy standing there in his boxers, he'd have merely shrugged and ambled back to the shop. That left Mrs. Finlay as the most likely candidate to help a man in distress.

But after seeing the situation first hand, Mrs. Finlay refused to answer Grumpy's pleas for help. Back then it was--well it was in the fifties and people were a little more conservative back then. And for a married woman to help a married man who wasn't married to her get his pants up was something that was in the list of taboos. But she also hated to see her boss in such a predicament, so, after a lot of begging and grovelling, she gave in and went to his aid. She reached down and gingerly lifted the massive belt and, head turned away, started to hand Grumpy's pants back to him...

I mentioned before that the place was empty. Well, the door opened just then and in walked Tude. Of all people to show up it would have to be Tude, who was one of the most notorious jokers the town ever had. Tude wasn't his real name. In fact no one remembered where his nickname even came from. Somehow, somewhere, someone managed to massage the name, Clayton, into Tude. And it stuck like baby do-do to a blanket.

Tude saw Mrs. Finlay with Grumpy's pants in her hand and the horrified Mrs. Finlay saw Tude. She shrieked, dropped Grumpy's pants and ran back to her office, slamming the door behind her.

One would think that maybe Tude would've swallowed his pride and helped Grumpy out but Tude promptly turned and headed out the door. He drove right back to the coffee shop, where he'd just spent the last hour and invited everyone over to Grumpy's place for the show.

To this day no one knows who ended up helping Grumpy get his pants (and therefore off the stool)back up but suffice it to say that the next time anyone saw him, his pants were back where they belonged--on the downhill side of his six.