Charlie’s Last Stand pt.6

The two men were leaning up against the driver’s side fender of Zane’s white Ford. They would make occasional eye contact as they alternated their respective gazes between each other and the scrap heap. Zane was still talking with his hands, while Curtis would only nod and listen. When Curtis did speak, it was in a solemn and respectful tone. In attempt to alter Zane’s way of thinking, Curtis Reminded him that he wouldn’t need the racks forever, and that one day he might want to sell them. This was his quiet way of dissuading Zane from such a monumental undertaking. “What do you mean sell them,” he asked? “Well, you know,” Curtis replied. There was a small awkward silence as he struggled to find a reason when the answer suddenly came to him. “What if you wanted to get a slide-in camper?” To Curtis’ relief, the words fell from out of nowhere! It was like a divine presence momentarily hi-jacked his language in an effort to relay a message directly from the Great Beyond. “You can pick them up for a song,” Curtis suggested! He added, “people buy them nowadays and want to get rid of them when they realize how top-heavy they are!”  Zane was initially taken aback! For the first time it dawned on him that once the move was over, the racks may actually become more of a hindrance than an asset. Perhaps Curtis was right? Maybe the racks would be nothing more than a glorified jungle gym for the kids to play on as they took up valuable driveway space? Zane knew Curtis was right! Selling the racks might prove difficult If they resembled a huge steel sprawling monster.

“Getting a camper is a great idea,” Zane thought internally. He was careful not to let his excitement show, but he couldn’t forgive himself for not coming up with the idea himself! Zane recalled how they had their own pick-up camper back in the summer of 1985. Charlie traded it for a worn-out chainsaw and a Hundred-Dollar-Bill. Zane remembered how the Shimeks led the ‘van-life’ for a couple of months while selling at various flea-markets across the land to sustain themselves. In the moment Zane was getting progressively more excited, and he understood how Renee would love the idea! She had always considered herself to be a camping aficionado and would be ecstatic to know that a camper was potentially within their grasp! The kids would get a real kick out of it as well! Zane wasn’t yet familiar with the countryside up towards Las Vegas, but Curtis was. He was becoming progressively more comfortable with Zane, and as a result he began speaking in the vernacular of the common man.

“There are so many places up there for camping!” Curtis eagerly informed him.  “You’ve got Murphy Lake… you’ve got the Ponderosa; and Story lake’s not bad; especially for the kids!” After a quick second Curtis added, “…and don’t forget about the hot springs!” Curtis went on to casually announce how he and his brother-in-law would go up there to cut firewood. Curtis had touched a nerve! It was a flash of instant synchronicity!  Suddenly Zane’s attention was hi-jacked as he recalled Charlie’s foray into the wood-cutting industry! No longer was he listening to the welder because he was laser focused on the happy memory! Curtis was unaware of Zane’s departure however, because he was pre-occupied with his own anecdote. Curtis and Zane were similar in the respect that they could both hold an honest conversation while daydreaming about something totally off topic. Zane looked out towards the setting sun above Mount Taylor as Curtis rambled on. Zane was practically in a mild trance as he recalled some specific events from the mid-seventies.

“We were still living in Farmington, and I was still a boy,” Zane thought.  Apparently the Flea-Market wasn’t cutting it, so Charlie invested in a brand-new McCulloch chain saw. It was a bright yellow machine and Charlie immediately removed the chain brake, which “only gets in the way!” It was a family venture as it turned out. Betty and Charlie, along with the boys, would journey out past Kirby Farms, and up towards Navajo Dam. Charlie had acquired a legitimate permit from the Forest Department which granted him access to as much dry firewood as he could find. Charlie operated the chainsaw while the remaining crew was responsible for loading the pick-up. Quentin, who was only a tyke, was responsible for clearing loose brush. Betty and Zane would take turns wrestling with a wheelbarrow filled with heavy pinon and sweet-smelling cedar. “I really enjoy working out in the woods,” Charlie would proclaim on their lunch breaks! The group would pass around a repurposed gallon milk-jug filled with icy cold water. The previous evening they added a quart of water into the vessel and strategically placed it into the freezer. On the morning of departure, they would add tap water upon the frozen mass. Throughout the day the frozen quart would slowly thaw, but the water managed to stay cool. Typically the family would choose a fallen log or and adjacent stump to act as furniture while they ate their sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. Charlie was an outdoorsman! He loved the forest and he enjoyed cutting wood! He loved chopping firewood so much that he built his own primitive gas-powered log splitter utilizing a hydraulic ram he had picked up from a random farm auction. While the kids were in school, Charlie would make the trip up to the woods at least three times a week! When he wasn’t in the forest, he would frequent the ‘fancy neighborhoods.’ Charlie would cold-call upon unsuspecting homeowners as if he were selling vacuum cleaners, or magazine subscriptions. He would confidently knock on the doors of every home with a visible chimney. “I’m sorry to bother you ma’am,” Charlie would say, “but I’m a firewood dealer and I happen to have a special deal that you won’t be able to pass up!” He would then compliment them on their choice of aluminum siding; or he would comment on the lawn. Anything to strike up a conversation. Charlie would go on to thoroughly explain how he wasn’t like the usual dealers, because “They stack the wood on top of their spare tires and toolboxes in order to cheat the customers!” The method never failed. Charlie always returned home with an empty pick-up, and he established a list of repeat customers in the process.

By this time the sun was precariously hovering over the horizon and Zane’s attention drifted back to the topic at hand. Curtis finished with his monologue, so Zane chimed in, “You make a good point Curtis, maybe I should go with a more contemporary design?” He added that if the racks were more conventional, they would be easier to unload once they had served their purpose. “We could still build them as tall as you want,” Curtis insisted. “It’s just that if they extend out over the cab they might look funny,” he continued. “I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t in it for the looks,” Zane said. “In fact, I usually don’t care about aesthetics.” In a last bid attempt to sway Zane’s reasoning Curtis proclaimed, “They will be way too heavy. Not only would your design squat the ass-end of your suspension, but it would take one hell of a man to unload it all by himself!”

That was it! Zane was sold on the idea of eventually obtaining a slide-in camper, which meant the design would have to be altered to accommodate some potential retail value. Curtis stopped with his daydreaming and reached for his tape-measure that resided proudly upon his belt. They agreed on what could be passed off as a set of “Cattle Racks,” meaning they were disproportionately tall compared to their length. As per Curtis’ suggestion the racks, being unusually tall, would not extend over the roofline. The sides would measure four feet deep to accommodate a standard sheet of plywood. Curtis produced a small tablet from his breast pocket and began crunching numbers. It was clear he knew his business judging by the speedy scribbling. The welder penciled out a list for the correct lengths of the various steel stock that would be needed.  Curtis ripped the small document from its spiral binding and handed it over to Zane.  “ACME Steel is the place to go,” Curtis said.  Once again he removed his officially sanctioned baseball cap and wiped his sweaty brow with the long sleeve of his soiled work shirt. “I’ll never take my business anywhere else.” Curtis explained that ACME was the contractor’s choice due to ease of loading and competitive pricing.

It was getting late, and Zane was armed with his shopping list. It was understood that Zane would procure the raw steel and have it delivered the day after tomorrow. “I’ll be gone in the mornings, but my mom will be here.” Curtis said. He instructed Zane, “not to knock on the door, and just to leave the stock right alongside of the driveway, parallel to the cement.”

During the short drive home, Zane correctly assumed Charlie would prefer to buy the steel from Koenig’s Recycling. He also knew that he would have to lock horns with his Dad on this deal!  Gene and Ted Koenig were a father and son team. They were practically joined at the hip and operated a small ramshackle business. Ted’s father had connections which gave him unique access to Sandia National Labs and its notorious affiliation with Kirtland Air Force Base. It was special niche operation because they knew how to work the system. Gene and Ted would attend sealed bid auctions at the facility giving them unique access to unusual government surplus! Gene and Ted predominately dealt in scrap metal. The Federal government sanctioned these auctions as a clearinghouse for partly salvaged and decommissioned bric-a-brac. It was the government’s way of liquidating annoying junk by auctioning it off to various scrap dealers. The Koenigs would buy scrap metal for ten-cents-on-the-dollar and made a living by sorting out the various copper wires, aluminum, and iron for recycling purposes. As a result, they had amassed a huge scrap bin of various steel stock of all perceivable conceptions. Zane pondered his dilemma as he trucked on down Lomas Boulevard. Surely Charlie would balk at the idea of shopping around. Over the years the Shimeks embarked on numerous projects. Because of this, the number-one-son realized how Charlie would reject the proposal of taking business elsewhere. Dusk was firmly taking root as Zane negotiated the right turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue. He could already hear Charlie’s voice in his imagination. “We always buy our steel from Gene, Son!” Zane was in for a challenge, and he knew it! How on earth would he convince Dad that he needed specific lengths rather than random scraps! Charlie was going to resist shopping at the competition. In Charlie’s stubborn mind ACME Steel was the devil.

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.5

As the Shimek family sat down to an uneventful meal, Renee brought up the truck racks. “Are you going out tonight to see about finding a builder,” Renee asked? Zane responded in the affirmative as he mindlessly tore a slice of buttery garlic bread from a steaming loaf. “I have an appointment to meet him at 6:30,” Zane said. He went on to explain that Curtis was a welding student, and how he would borrow Charlie’s trailer to deliver the raw stock. Renee correctly realized that her husband dreaded seeing his father in such a frail state, so she asked him, “How are you feeling about seeing your Dad again?” In his mind Zane was dreading it. Images of Charlie’s emaciated frame danced upon the screen of his haunted mind’s-eye as he slurped at his pasta. The words, “It’s just so hard to see him like that,” flowed from Zane’s mouth before he could sensor a response. Renee’s husband wiped red sauce from the corner of his mouth and flushed some bread down with freshly brewed Iced tea. “I can’t pretend to know what you’re feeling towards your father,” Renee said in a helpful tone, “But I do know that I love you,” she continued. With that Zane glanced at his watch. Renee told him, “You go on and get going now, me and the kids will do the dishes while you’re gone.” Zane grunted and nodded while motioning to the front door with his elbow. With his mouth full of half-chewed garlic bread, he muttered the words, “yeah, I don’t want to be late!” Without as much as a goodbye kiss or an “I love you,” he strolled out of the front door into the hot evening sun.
Zane jumped into the Truck with the intention of meeting Curtis at 6:30 that same evening. While Zane was in transit, Curtis reviewed the correspondence. The email spoke of tall racks, but it would be extra work to follow the specifications to the letter. “It’s going to cost him a little extra if he wants the extra two feet,” he thought in a calculating manner. Curtis, who was hoping to make a quick buck, resisted Zane’s initial plans because it would be more lucrative if he could just use his existing apparatus to carve out a set of standard racks. He had fabricated his own welding jig which was set up to secure loose stock as it was skillfully tacked into place. Curtis preferred to build racks that were uniform because it takes valuable time to configure a jig to accommodate a custom order.
Zane arrived promptly at 6:20. He was taught it’s better to be twenty minutes early rather than two minutes late. Upon arrival Zane knew he was at the correct address because an open garage door revealed a man in working attire who was mulling about in a dimly lit workspace. Curtis ran his welding shop from right out of his garage, using the sun-bleached driveway as a makeshift factory floor. Zane exited the Truck while striking up a conversation in the process. Curtis was a young man in his twenties, and he proudly wore an officially sanctioned baseball cap with an embroidered patch depicting the mascot for the Cleveland Indians. Zane considered this to be a potential conversation starter as he internally gauged the situation, but he was more interested in welding than Major League Baseball.
The men exchanged a hearty handshake and their eyes locked because they were engaging in the time-honored tradition of ‘hashing out a deal.’ The men stood in the hot driveway as they quietly sized each other up! Initially, Curtis pigeon-holed him as being academic, but up close and personal Zane presented as a working man. It would make the negotiations a lot easier if that were the case, Curtis surmised as he drank in Zane’s rugged persona. To keep the mood flowing, Zane motioned towards an acetylene bottle and said, “It takes a lot of skill to weld with a gas rig!” Zane confidently mouthed the words as if he were a fellow welder. Zane knew Curtis would use his 240-volt arc-welder for the project, but he had a penchant for gas welding just the same. Before Curtis could inquire about his welding capabilities, Zane added, “I’ve tried to weld with acetylene, and I can strike a good-looking bead…the only problem is I could never get the weld to stick!” Curtis was sold. In the art of the deal comes a moment when two parties come together and agree to proceed with mutual benefit in mind. Curtis was instinctively captivated by the charisma, and he correctly assumed Zane possessed an integrity that would ensure a smooth transaction. Zane silently took stock of the operation as they were getting acquainted. The visible equipment consisted of random jigs, sawhorses, and assorted clamps of various sizes. Once again, Zane’s attention was drawn towards the acetylene bottle. It was a large green cylinder measuring six feet tall, and twelve inches in diameter. The acetylene was accompanied by a smaller cylinder which contained pure oxygen. The individual gases were contained via regulators and corresponding valves, and they were fed to a torch via color coordinated hoses. The built-in pressure gauges were engineered to thwart looming catastrophes! The unbridled fire had to be tamed via a pair of bronze knobs, and the torch came equipped with a lever that opened an orifice which was designed to introduce pure oxygen into the gaseous mix! Upon achieving combustion, a gentle blue flame would be accompanied by an inefficient orange flicker. Plumes of black smoke indicated an overly rich burn. Once the mixture was properly dialed in, the operator could then squeeze the lever which would introduce pure oxygen into the mix! When the oxygen was administered, an angry whoosh came into being which yielded to a sustained deep roar that was peppered with spontaneous spits, and an occasional popping hiss! The sights and sounds conjured up smells of smoldering brimstone! The fire created a sound that mimicked that of a scaled-down miniature hurricane! When called upon, the gases combined to produce an angry blue flame capable of transforming stubborn iron into molten liquid with ease. Zane was impressed with Curtis, and he decided to move forward with his scheme by pursuing a transaction.
Turning back towards the matter at hand Zane asked, “How long does it usually take to make racks from scratch?” After some considerable contemplation, Curtis unconsciously removed his baseball cap and wiped the sweat from his brow with the long sleeve of his button-up work shirt. After repositioning his cover Curtis boasted, “If you can provide the raw steel, I can most likely have it all sinched together in an afternoon.” This was exactly what Zane wanted to hear and it encouraged him to start haggling over the production costs. Curtis needed to clear a profit of at least $150 and the amount would be tacked onto whatever Zane paid for the raw stock. In attempt to gauge the situation, Curtis asked, “how much are you willing to spend? It was Zane’s time to shine. He knew he could go as high as Five Hundred, but he told Curtis that he could buy ready-made racks for as little as Two. “I’ve been shopping around on Craigslist,” Zane said. He went on to explain how he needed something robust enough to move household items, and how standard racks just wouldn’t suffice. Curtis was also a skilled negotiator and he immediately proclaimed, “You’re just wasting your money on those factory-made jobs.” By this time he understood Curtis was a ‘wheeler-dealer,’ so Zane asked, “What do you mean by wasting my money?” The welder briefly explained the difference between heavy and light grade square stock. In doing so he rummaged through his scrap pile and dug out two samples for comparison. “Do you see the difference,” Curtis asked? He produced the first sample and said, “look at how thick the steel is in comparison to the cheap stuff.” He went on to explain how the various thickness of the steel was proportional to its cost. “I don’t want you to think I’m hustling you,” Curtis said with a charming half-way grin. “It’s just that the steel they use is so thin you can almost bend it like candy!” Curtis was making a valid argument and Zane had no rebuttal, so he gave a discerning nod instead. A quiet moment passed before Zane asked, “So what you’re telling me is that I can spend as little or as much as I want, depending on the quality of the metal?” Curtis knew he was making headway, and he quickly replied, “You get what you pay for in this world…am I Right?” By this time Curtis was ready to get the ball rolling. “I’ll make it easier on us,” he said. “All I need is $150 Bucks on my end.” To seal the deal Curtis added, “Hell, I’ll even paint them Black for you to sweeten up the pot!” A baseline for negotiations had been established, and so the two men went about the task of mental fabrication. There weren’t any blueprints, only sketches on loose printer paper that had been prepared. It was the moment Zane had been waiting for! He was so excited to exchange ideas with Curtis that he could hardly contain himself! In fact, Zane was as eager as a little puppy dog! Curtis stood by in a state of silent bewilderment as he struggled to keep up with Zane’s amiable body language and rapid speech. Zane was talking with his hands; and his arms flailed about in mid-air! Zane’s tone of voice was deep and seemingly aggressive, but his body language invited playful engagement. “I want these racks to traverse the length of the entire truck,” he explained as Curtis listened in silent disbelief! Zane occupied the rugged body of an Alpha, but he was presenting as a small boy who had suddenly gained access to Santa Claus for a day! Curtis, who was an Alpha male himself, didn’t know what to make of it. In a respectfully helpful tone, Curtis explained how the scheme would make it difficult to open and close the hood. He posed the question, “How are you going to be able to check the oil? You won’t be able to get at the engine with all of that steel in the way!” Zane pondered for a bit, then gleefully suggested they could fabricate removable posts which could be secured with large cotter pins! “Oh, I don’t know,” Curtis said in a solemn tone. “If we could weld some gussets to the front bumper we could install removable uprights,” Zane insisted! “It was possible,” Curtis quietly surmised, but it would require a lot of fabrication, and he wasn’t in the mood to spend an exorbitant amount of time on the project. He liked Zane and didn’t want to ‘bust his bubble.’ Because of this Curtis instinctively directed the words “eye-sore” into the bottom of his cognitive depths. He realized the project was going to take considerably more time than he wanted to invest. More importantly, Curtis was slowly concluding he may lose money on the job.

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.4

He proceeded to ride his bicycle to UNM just like he always did. It was a good seven-mile trek from the Hoffman House to the University. The terrain was mostly flat however, and Zane quietly peddled his way across the city with only a slight amount of effort. He possessed a special kind of endurance that was tailor made for bicycling. He was borderline fanatical as far as biking was concerned and was able to cover the modest distance in no time! A few years earlier, Zane purchased his bike from a co-worker by the name of Tony. Looking back Zane suspected the Marin Sausalito was stolen; even though Tony insisted the bike was acquired from a legitimate pawnbroker. The bicycle was what they called a ‘hybrid,’ meaning that it had tall and narrow wheels, coupled with mountain-bike styled handlebars. Zane was tickled when he discovered the tires came equipped with high pressure inner-tubes. They were of the ‘Presta’ valve variety, meaning they withstood air pressure in excess of 100 pounds per square inch! The hybrid wheels provided less rolling resistance because they were hard as bricks! The narrow tires were specifically engineered to traverse smooth pavement. The bicycle had long legs with 21 forward gears, meaning that she was built for speed! Zane delighted in the fact as he smoothly glided past slow-moving mountain-bikers with ease! You wouldn’t hear any clicks or clacks emanating from Zane’s machine! The chain was perfectly adjusted and so were the shifters. The high-pressure road tires ran silent, meaning they didn’t produce the annoying whirring noise which was commonplace among the knobby mountain bike tires. Albuquerque was internationally renowned for the Balloon Fiesta, and famous for her bike paths. The pavement was adequate to safely accommodate two-way traffic, while being smooth as glass! There were no speed limits! This was especially important in Zane’s case, because his bicycle was finely tuned, and it ran quietly; and it was fast! The Marin Sausalito was so speedy that Zane could give the pretentious racing bikers a run for their money as well. Zane’s bike was so silent, that it startled unsuspecting mountain bikers as he attempted to overtake them. It was proper etiquette to announce your intention before passing slower travelers, so Zane voiced the words “ON YOUR LEFT,” as he crept up on unsuspecting commuters. Before swerving around the slow-moving traffic he would downshift one notch and sprint past the slow-moving vehicles as if he were on a mission! The sprawling UNM campus provided an excellent cool-down opportunity for the athletic cyclist. Slowly and methodically he would peddle his way through the crowd of students while his heartrate slowly returned to baseline. He would carefully navigate his way directly to the hitchin’ post where he would secure his Marin with his U-lock. With the authority of a victorious gladiator he proudly marched the few paces that led towards the building’s entrance knowing he was early enough to secure a good seat! He reveled in the fact that he didn’t have to contend with parking issues and shuttlebuses. There is an unspoken hierarchy among college students, and the ecologically friendly bicyclists were always rewarded with the best parking on campus!

Zane was effortlessly gliding through under-grad in much the same way as he sailed through high school. He held his instructors in high esteem, and they respected Zane just the same. He had three classes scheduled for the day and he attended them all. Admittedly his mind wasn’t on task because he couldn’t stop thinking about his father as he daydreamed about the perfect truck racks. In Economics, the lecture centered around global commerce and the professor was articulating the difference between capital vs. commodities. Naturally, this conjured memories of the flea-market.  Zane couldn’t help but to remember a time when Dad sold a Christmas tree four days after the holiday had passed. Zane wrestled with an urge to raise his hand in an attempt to contribute to the conversation when it dawned on him that no one would believe such a tale. Be that as it may, Charlie sold an extremely uncelebrated Douglas Fir to a group of Native Americans who intended upon using the boughs for their magic. Charlie’s neighboring vendors were impressed to say the least, and they still boast about his skills to this day. He was a self-proclaimed junk dealer and a highly skilled negotiator. Charlie would often boast, “I can turn trash to cash!” It was true. He really could. Zane found himself dangling at the precipice of an emotionally charged rabbit-hole as he recalled the unauthorized sobbing that had paralyzed him just hours before! “Get your shit together,” his cognitive mind silently commanded! Prompted by the insipid fear, Zane resisted an urge to remove himself from the classroom. “I could just say I needed the restroom,” he reasoned as he weighed the odds of being reduced to a slobbering mess in front of everyone! Time marches on, but in Zane’s case it warbles. Because of this the remaining class period evaporated into the ether while Zane was lost in his head. Suddenly a spontaneous hustle and bustle heralded the end of class! Zane nearly lost it and he considered himself lucky! It was a secret mercy Zane reasoned as he gathered up his belongings and followed the stragglers out of the classroom. In total Steve McQueen fashion, he slung his backpack upon his right shoulder from its left strap! Looking like a tribal hunter he presented it as if it were a piece of choice game while marching the few paces back to his Marin Sausalito!

After being steeped into the rigors of higher education, Zane made his way back home. The seven-mile trip was slightly uphill, so he paced himself upon the return voyage, passing slower bikers all along the way. During the silent ride he contemplated the solicitation he placed online. Promptly upon returning home, Zane checked his email. A self-identified welding student by the name of Curtis promptly indicated that he could build the racks in his driveway with minimal effort. In the correspondence, Curtis made it clear that he could do the job as long as Zane leave his truck with him during the construction process. Prompted by Curtis’s enthusiasm, Zane set up an appointment to hash out logistics. By this time Renee had heard her husband rummaging around in the front room. She understood Zane was enduring terrific pain, and yet she lacked the words to reach him. She correctly assumed that he was stifling all of his anguish, but she hadn’t yet honed the skills to process. “How was your day,” Renee asked?  Zane looked at his wife as if she had asked a forbidden question! It was if he expected Renee to read his mind!  Zane was still reeling over his crying jag, and he was in no mood to be interrupted.  He intended on taking a much-needed shower and he wasn’t to be trifled with; and he still had to cook! With little more than a disrespectful grunt he said, “I’m going out after dinner.” Luckily for Zane, his wife loves him infinitely. “He’s only being so dismissive because he’s in pain,” Renee told herself as she turned her attention back towards the computer monitor.

Zane finished with a quick shower as Renee put the finishing touches onto a sparkling essay! He knew he was working under a time frame, so he decided to go with spaghetti because it was quick and easy. He was in the habit of preheating the oven right away because he would forget to otherwise, and it would annoy him.  He leaned down into the cabinet where the pots were stowed and retrieved his favorite saucepan. He filled it with water and added a healthy splash of vegetable oil, and a dash of table salt. The oil was the secret ingredient as far as Zane was concerned. He had gotten it into his head one time that the oil would keep the strands of pasta from sticking to one another. The net result was pasta slathered in grease, but the kids would absolutely devour it! As the oven warmed, he stepped through the doorway leading to the attached garage, where the deep freeze was kept. He rummaged through the well-stocked appliance until he came upon a frozen loaf of ready-made Garlic bread. At the same time, he absent mindedly grabbed a tin of Hunt’s traditional spaghetti sauce from the adjacent pantry. He stepped back into the kitchen, closing the garage door behind him. The water wasn’t boiling yet, so Zane opened up the tin of sauce with a hand-held can opener and dumped the contents into another smaller saucepan. Zane was fishing through the cabinetry looking for some salt when Elise marched into the kitchen from out of nowhere! She had a furrowed brow which indicated the three-year-old girl was experiencing anger! Zane put a wooden spoon onto the trivet and knelt down onto one knee in order to meet his daughter on her level. “What’s the matter with Elise,” he asked in a jovial manner? Elise stood tall and rigid! Her arms were extended downwards towards the stone tiles of the kitchen floor, and her tiny fingers were balled up into little fists. “Aiden won’t let me play,” she reported with a stern demeanor!  Her steely dark eyes were laser focused upon her father’s gaze because Elise was never one to avoid eye-contact. Elise was a natural leader who was seeking guidance from her father. Dad reacted by saying, “You go tell Aiden it’s time for dinner and then come back right away, because I need you both to help set the table.” The thought of assisting Papa helped to dissipate the pain of being slighted by her brother. Having her marching orders in place, Elise did an about face and headed back into the living area where her brother was playing Donkey Kong. In classic Elise fashion, she walked up to the television and turned towards her brother. Using her body as a shield, Elise placed her back squarely up against the picture tube. “AIDEN,” she hollered!  Once again her arms were extended down towards the scarlet carpeting. Once again her fingers were balled into tiny fists. “AIDEN,” she repeated! Her brother was seated comfortably on the big blue sofa, while Renee sat at her workstation with her back turned. “MOM,” Aiden shouted! “MOM, Elise is blocking my view!” Renee, who was editing her final draft, stopped what she was doing and rotated herself towards the kids while seated in a swiveling office chair. Very sweetly Renee asked, “My goodness…what is all of this ruckus?” With all of the authority of a pint-sized Drill-Instructor, Elise reiterated her father’s wishes. “IT’S TIME TO SET THE TABLE,” she commanded! Renee was absorbed in her writing and had lost track of time. “Oh my God, it’s getting late” she said internally while rising to her feet. “Okay Aiden,” mom said in a firm voice. “It’s time to pause your game now.” Elise knew the routine, and she reminded her older brother that it was time to ‘go wash your hands!’ “Now let’s all go into the bathroom and wash up,” Aiden said with glee as he reached for Renee’s right hand! The trio marched down the hall and into the master bath. As the group was scrubbing, Mom informed them it was indeed time to set the table. Ordinarily Mom or Dad would place a stack of serving plates onto the center of the table. They would do the same thing with the cutlery. It was the children’s job to arrange the silver ware onto the napkins, while arranging the place mats with corresponding plates. Once the task was done Aiden asked, “Is dinner ready now Papa?” Zane knew he still needed to toss together a salad, and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to engage. “Nope,” said Papa. “First we need a tomato. Could you get me a red tomato out from the frigerator?” Aiden repeated the words red tomato and went about the task of making a salad with his Papa.

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.3

The months rolled by and turned into years. The Hoffman House provided a consistent sanctuary that was conducive to harmony and peaceful growth.  Birthday parties came and went. Elise took her first steps, and holiday gatherings were always a smash! Aiden was thriving relatively speaking, and Renee had finished with undergraduate studies! In the process Renee earned an opportunity to attend Graduate School at NMHU! This meant the family would once again be forced to willingly uproot. Their lease was up in June, so they started looking for suitable housing up north.  If Zane had his way, they would live on Hoffman Street forever. Time marches on however and attending Grad-School was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Thankfully, the Section-Eight subsidies were transferable, and Renee began searching for a potential landlord who would be willing to accept the government vouchers. It was 123 miles from the Hoffman House to NMHU, and the voyage would lead through some scenic New Mexico back-country. Historically speaking, moving wasn’t that much of a chore because they could always count on Charlie to lend support. Without fail, Charlie would enthusiastically offer up his equipment, knowing that his contributions were greatly appreciated.

Charlie was proud of Zane’s newly acquired F-250, even though it was ‘all beat to Hell.’ The windshield was severely damaged, and the farm truck had seen better days. The cracks in the glass were of no consequence to Zane because The Truck was still drivable. Unlike his father’s Chevrolet, the Ford came factory equipped with commercial grade brakes. The industrial suspension was equally as rugged. The Truck was engineered to safely transport excessive loads, and it came equipped with a professionally installed Class-Five receiver hitch which was much safer than what Dad’s pick-up had to offer. Charlie, who historically loathed Ford products, was forced to admit his son had picked up a bargain!

Despite its rough appearance, the Ford was mechanically sound in every way. It set the family back $600, and it was worth every penny! Moving to Las Vegas would surely put the old truck through its paces, and Zane wanted to make his father Proud one last time! He intended on maximizing the carrying capacity, and in true Shimek fashion he would push the truck beyond its conceived limits! In order to accommodate this, he would need to fabricate some side boards at the very least. The Truck was indeed a bargain, and the price point fell nicely within the family’s budget. Because of this, Zane felt it prudent to allocate the remaining funds towards the acquisition of a nice set of steel cargo racks! Zane and Renee had access to a modest amount of disposable income, so they agreed to invest in Charlie’s legacy! The family would spare no expense! Under normal circumstances, they would be thrilled at the prospect of shopping for such a sacred acquisition.  Zane and Renee were infamous bargain hunters and were known to scour the Sunday paper for good deals.

Sadly however, the typical excitement preceding such a venture was dampened by a somber shadowy specter. Charlie offered his trailer, but he couldn’t lend his labor. The incredible stamina that made up Charlie’s youthful persona was rapidly dwindling. The pain and lethargy made it so Charlie stayed inside most days. His rugged and leathery sun-burnt face was turning grey and gaunt. The potency of the prescribed painkillers had been systematically ratcheted up in order to keep pace with the suffering. It had been nearly four months since his doctor deemed the cancer ‘inoperable.’ Charlie had lost over sixty pounds by now, and Zane was in complete Denial.  In a last-bid attempt to earn Dad’s love, he went on a personal crusade to find racks worthy of the King of Gypsies!

In attempt to procure the racks, Zane scoured ads on Craigslist. For hours on end he would window shop and compare. Much to his chagrin, he couldn’t find any racks that met up to his expectations. The majority were of the standard ladder rack configuration, and that wouldn’t do! Zane envisioned racks that would extend well above the roof line because he wasn’t going to be hauling ladders, he was going to be moving furniture! Zane had the perfect truck racks pictured in his mind’s eye, but he couldn’t find a physical representation of them anywhere. After three days of internet searching, it dawned on him they would have to be made from scratch!  

Throughout the span of their marriage, Zane would half-heartedly mention, “a man is no kind of a Man, until he can weld together his own set of ladder racks!” This was his peculiar way of suggesting he would enjoy welding. Zane couldn’t perform the work himself, however the job could be easily farmed out. The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea!  The prospect of custom-made racks was overwhelming his body’s ability to think rationally! Zane envisioned racks that would be epic by any stretch of the imagination! He would instruct the builder to provide a massive structure that would extend over the cab, and all the way to the front bumper! Zane understood they must be at least four feet deep in order to accommodate a standard 4X8 sheet of chipboard which would act as sideboards, preventing loose items from tumbling onto the highway. In Zane’s mind it was imperative they be robust enough to accommodate a vast array of mattresses, sofas, and box springs. In preparation for some action, Zane penciled out sketches onto fresh sheets of crisp printer paper. Not being overly concerned with scale, he haphazardly scribed lines with correlating numerical dimensions. He planned on rising early the next morning so he could fully put his plans into effect!

It was just about dawn when Zane woke up the following day. The family would be sleeping until he left for morning classes, and he intended to use the quiet time wisely. To facilitate the project, he eagerly set about posting an ad on Craigslist. Zane fired up the desktop computer and clicked on the link. In the title field of the barter section he typed the words: “I will trade my cash for your welding skills!” He then hit the tab key which placed the cursor into the text box. He went on to explain how he would pay for the raw steel and have the stock delivered, with the caveat being they would be custom tailored to meet Zane’s expectations.

He posted the advertisement, and then he leaned back into a pillowy office chair. In dawn’s early light Zane extended his arms up above his head; he unknowingly began to wring his hands together in midair. He was thinking about his Dad. “How could he have colon cancer,” Zane wondered? Knowing everyone was asleep, he repeated the question out loud. “How could he have cancer?”

For a brief moment, Zane’s mind journeyed back to his youth where a fond memory beckoned from the recesses of his deep subconscious. It was a time when Charlie and his boy were joyfully building sideboards for a randomly acquired pick-up. Zane remembered how Charlie gathered up six uniform pine slats In preparation. They measured half-an-inch thick, and six-inches wide. The timbers were eight feet long and would to be trimmed to meet Charlie’s needs. In his vision, it would only take three slats to make up one sideboard.  Utilizing three-foot long vertical risers, he intended on fastening the wooden slats horizontally, and parallel to the bed of the pick-up. He would secure them in such a way as to allow a narrow gap between the parallel boards. To implement the project, the father and son team scavenged for various assorted nails, hammers, and useful lumber. Charlie poked around, inside of the poorly lit pole barn, where the hardware was kept. In the meantime his boy rummaged through the wood pile searching for scraps. At a leisurely pace they gathered up their supplies and went about the mental work of fabrication. In gratitude for such a ‘pretty day,’ Charlie offered the project a little extra zip! To give the racks a unique flair, he staggered the boards by varying their lengths, meaning the longest slats would be on the bottom, while the second tier of slats would be cut progressively shorter. The upper most slats would be the shortest. Throughout the construction, Zane tried to stay out of Dad’s way, while attempting to be helpful in the process. In a playful display of showmanship, Charlie scribed out a penciled arc on the blunt end of one of the slats. He accomplished this utilizing a thumbtack and some twine. Charlie said, “Do you see what I just did there Son?  I used the string to scribe out an arc! I want you to do the same thing with the rest of the boards while I cut!” Zane understood his father was ‘going the extra mile.’ Utilizing an antique jigsaw, Charlie cut the material along the scribed lines which transformed the blunt ends of the timbers into soothing curved semi-circles. The smell of freshly minted sawdust permeated the workspace as Zane took note of his father’s ingenuity. With the blunt ends trimmed away the net result yielded a soothing terraced waterfall effect. After the work was completed, the team stood back and admired the sideboards from a distance. “Do you see how you can make something nice from out of nothing,” Charlie asked? Zane nodded in agreement and graciously added, “They look real nice, Dad!”

“That was during my freshman year in high school,” Zane lamented as the memory quickly faded into black. By now his attention slowly returned to the task at hand. He was still sitting at the computer, and he was still unconsciously wringing his hands in the air. Although he was safe at home, he internally balked as tears welled up into his aching eyes. The situation was unfathomable, and he felt compelled to stifle the unruly emotions. Despite his best efforts, uncontrollable sobbing commenced, and Zane instinctively cradled his head with two open palms. Nurturing sunshine streamed its way through the sliding window as tears rolled down his face. Time stood still for a while as he grappled with the anguish. “Get ahold of yourself for shit’s sake,” his cognitive mind suddenly commanded! He reminded himself that class would commence promptly at 7:30, so he put on a stoic face. He regained his composure and struggled to collect his belongings. He walked out towards the shed and closed the glass patio door behind him. He settled in under the weight of his backpack and peddled his bicycle out past the driveway and into the new morning sun.

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand pt.2

The young Shimeks had peacefully resided in The Projects for nearly nine months before their names came up on another waiting list! The news came in the form of a simple letter from the office of Housing Urban Development. The letter succinctly stated they were approved for Section Eight subsidized housing, and the document came complete with a listing of approved dwellings. Renee was thrilled beyond words because it was like hitting another lottery! The correspondence literally caught her off guard, and the extraordinary news pummeled the inner recesses of her wildest imagination! It dawned on her that these homes were not only within her reach, but they were also within her grasp! She slowly realized her kids would have a yard to play in! Zane was dumbfounded! He was already in seventh heaven because he loved The Projects! He never really imagined things could get any better, yet the dream of a two-car garage had become a reality! The prospect had set his mind reeling!  The hassle of picking up stakes and moving yet again was of no consequence to the ecstatic couple. It wasn’t a huge move after all; it would just be across town!  And besides, Zane and Renee knew they could always depend on Charlie and his rig! The Shimeks had moving down to a science, and they were looking forward to this one more than any other!

It was a very exciting time, because Zane and Renee spent every free moment window shopping for prospective houses. The eager duo would dash across town at a moment’s notice to view a candidate that had recently been added to the list! They boldly parked in driveways of vacant homes as they commenced to inspect the grounds, peeking through curtainless windows, and inspecting gutters in the process. Some of the houses were in good neighborhoods, while others were not.  It all came down to cost-benefit analysis. After careful deliberation, they whittled the choices down to a final cut. The common denominator was their proximity to nearby charter schools.

The house they fell in love with was a true gem! It was a flat roofed adobe with beige stucco and protruding vigas. The southwestern styled home was the centerpiece of a xero-scaped yard that was sculpted to an immaculate degree. The residence was well within walking distance from Albuquerque’s most acclaimed elementary school, and Renee was over the moon with grateful excitement. It was if all of her dreams were coming true. Her young husband would be compelled to agree! The garage was the answer to Zane’s unspoken prayers and its manifestation was wildly unexpected! To accentuate the good fortune, Renee performed a sacred cleansing ritual intending to remove foul, disruptive, stagnant energies from a newly acquired tool chest. She imbued upon it a force derived from the combined power of four pure elements. They burned sage and melted sacred candles, all the while focusing on kind intentions. Zane absolutely reveled in glorious anticipation of joys yet to unfold!  The time was rapidly approaching when he would step foot into his very own shop! He envisioned his tools displayed proudly upon pegboard hooks, while various hoses and implements were neatly stowed under a generous workbench! His mind drifted, and he recounted too many occasions when maintenance was performed out in the sandy badlands! Gone were the days of wrestling around on dusty random ground, toiling with stubborn under-carriages of greasy rolling hulks! Instead of mucking around in the hard-packed dirt, he would easily glide upon steel wheels that would suspend a wooden mechanic’s creeper from freshly swept cement. He gleefully anticipated future oil changes, and brake jobs! Zane was about to become the proud owner of a parts cleaning solvent-wash, and he was looking forward to having his own air compressor! Zane was looking forward to the good life!

The elegant abode became known as ‘The Hoffman House,’ because that was the name of the street. The main entry way, which was recessed into a small rectangular enclave, leant out warm and welcoming vibrations. An ornate wrought iron screen concealed an impressive brown wooden door. The modest front yard was adorned with a section of perfectly manicured lawn that formed a gentle sweeping arc spanning from the corner of the property and into the driveway. The lush green grass was smartly divided from colored gravel in a way that suggested a professional installation. A fully grown majestic maple stood silent vigil at the southwest corner.

Charlie was presented with his first glimpse of Hoffman House on moving day. The crew arrived on location after a morning filled with hard labor. The truck and trailer were loaded to the gills, and the faithful rig sat quietly alongside of the curb while absorbing some mid-afternoon sunshine. The maple tree offered up an abundance of welcomed shade. Charlie and Zane were slurping coffee while making small talk in the front yard. They were tired but too proud to admit it! They were simultaneously searching for their second winds. To offer up some encouragement, Charlie suggested, “If we use the garage for a staging area, we won’t have to work as hard.” Zane understood his dad wanted the rig unloaded as quickly as possible, and he agreed.  

Charlie was biding his time and sipping his coffee when his attention drifted towards the lush front lawn. He marveled over the 1/8th inch thick steel edging that separated the grass from the gravel.  In an authoritative tone Charlie said, “That’s some heavy-duty stuff! Whoever did the landscaping went out of their way to do it Right!” Zane silently agreed and nudged his head in a gesture towards the southern property line. It was his way of inviting Dad to join him on a tour. Charlie understood Zane’s movements and followed his son towards the rear of the property. “This is a really nice place,” Charlie thought as he strolled down a path behind his exuberant son.

Indeed the property was a joy to behold! The men were greeted with rosebuds and grapevines as they ventured east alongside of the cinderblock wall that made up the property line. Protruding out, four feet from the wall, was a terraced garden that wrapped its way along the entire perimeter.  Although the garden was xero-scaped in large part, luscious grapevines extended throughout! Rose bushes and perennials were strategically planted alongside of the robust vine system. The entire property was serviced by an automated sprinkler, which included an elaborate drip that irrigated the thirsty grapes. At the beginning of the tour, Charlie was so overwhelmed by the edging that he didn’t notice the sprinkler heads because they were so neatly concealed into the manicured lawn. “Is this a on drip system Son,” Charlie asked?  In response Zane could only nod his head and grin! “That will make things a lot easier on Renee,” Charlie thought knowing she was the green thumb of the outfit. At this time Renee had captured Dad’s attention! She was often on his mind, but today her energy was profound. Because of this Charlie said, “You have really got it made Son!” In the moment he was Renee’s greatest champion as he proclaimed, “Renee is the best thing that’s ever happened to you!” It was a strange moment because the men rarely shared authentic emotions. However, on this particular occasion, Charlie could no longer hold back. “I love you Son,” he softly mentioned as their eyes met. “I need you to take care of Renee, because she takes good take of you!” Before Zane had a chance to respond, Charlie added, “I mean it Son…you have a nice family!” He couldn’t find access to the proper words, so the number-one-son responded with a warm smile. It was an awkward moment, and Zane didn’t know what to say. To alleviate the burgeoning discomfort, He gestured for the tour to continue, and his respectful father politely obliged.

A large glass sliding door provided a panoramic view of the back yard. The lawn that adorned it was land-scaped in a way that created a circular pattern which mimicked the front. Two medium sized aspens were strategically planted nine feet apart, and Charlie was first to suggest it was the perfect spot for a hammock! Neatly perched in the northeast corner of the property was a ten-by-twelve gardening shed. It was a perfect jewel of a thing, and neatly kept. “It will be perfect for storing bicycles,” Zane thought. Much to Charlie’s delight, he discovered Zane’s new shed came complete with its own gas-powered mower! The tool shed was solid and rigid. The door opened, closed, and shut tight! It was a far cry from the ram-shackle pole barn that Charlie was accustomed to. “Everything is finally going to be alright,” Charlie thought! The tour continued as Zane led his beaming father alongside of the northern portion of the house which boasted an impressive window garden. A privacy barrier was neatly constructed from pre-treated pine to block out the neighbor’s prying eyes. By this time Charlie was dizzy with delight, and in Zane’s mind the suspense was finally over! He tried to restrain his bursting excitement as he led Dad around the northwest corner of the house. It was time for a Coup De Grase when Zane pulled an automatic garage door opener from his hip pocket! “You’re gonna like this,” he said a with a quick flick of the switch! The two men stood staring as the brown door began its ascent. With a resistant groan the folding door started to rise as the men stood there in silence! Their eager eyes were shining like diamonds!

…to be continued

Charlie’s Last Stand

Renee had arranged to get onto the waiting list for public housing, and as a result of her efforts, the happy couple was awarded an invitation to reside in the Projects! Applying for subsidized housing is no easy feat. It required a tremendous amount of leg work on the part of the applicant. The system wasn’t easy to navigate because the bureaucrats ensured there would be plenty of hoops to jump through. For example, sometime along the way, the good policy makers deemed it necessary for the applicants to show up at 7:30 am on the day of disbursement. The daunting procedure was based on a first come, first serve basis. This created an unspoken, unnecessary, and anxious competition amongst the poverty-stricken applicants. The housing department only had a finite amount of available units, so the crowds would gather early because the best units would always be picked first. Zane and Renee showed up at the pre-dawn hour of 4:30 and they were the first ones in line. The excited duo would have arrived even earlier if not for a snag with the baby-sitter. Aiden stayed with grandma, but Elise was too fussy and insisted on coming along. Elise was only four months old at the time, and she would have to rest in the backseat of the car as her parents struggled to navigate the nerve-racking system. Zane and Renee alternated tending to the baby while one or the other sat quietly on the curb in front of the welfare office in the pre-dawn hours. They had three hours to kill, and Zane was enduring a caffeine headache. He realized that coffee is a diuretic, so he purposefully abstained, knowing there would be no facilities until the office opened at 7:30. Another hour slowly passed, and the growing crowd was eventually greeted by a welcomed sunrise. The grateful couple sat there on the curb as Elise slept in the car. Zane greedily absorbed the day’s first rays as the minutes turned slowly into hours. Without much fanfare, one of the first government officials begrudgingly made an appearance. It was obvious that she was nervous as she made her way through the throngs of disenfranchised citizens who had been impatiently waiting. Upon reaching the front door of the welfare office, the public servant fumbled with the key which was firmly affixed to a nylon lanyard. Without even as much as a “good morning or hello,” the disgruntled worker opened the door. Without making a sound, the lady crossed the threshold and promptly closed the door behind her. She then turned to face the silent mob as she proceeded to lock the door once again. It would be another twenty minutes before the rest of the team arrived, and by now the crowd was getting overtly hostile. At 7:35 the group of indigent souls were finally allowed to enter into the lobby. Just as Renee had expected a group of three individuals, who were number two in line, tried to bum rush the door in attempt to suddenly be granted access to the coveted number one spot! “Excuse me!” Renee asserted in no uncertain terms. “We have been here since 4:30! We were here before you!” Thankfully the group that made up the third party in line chimed in and calmly stated that, “Yes, they were here first.” By this time Zane, who spoke mostly with grunts and body language, proceeded to stare the line-cutters down. He was secretly battling against his biological need to urinate, meaning he was not in a good mood! Even under normal circumstances Zane wasn’t one to be trifled with, but on this particular occasion a demon-like expression of furious rage suddenly manifested itself across his leathery face! He stood up straight and rigid with his feet firmly planted into the concrete. Zane was aching for combat, and the intruders knew it! The supporting testimony from the crowd, coupled with Zane’s inflamed testosterone, was enough to diffuse the situation. As a result, Zane and Renee, and baby Elise, were graciously allowed to take their rightful position at the head of the line! Once the kerfuffle had extinguished, Zane excused himself to the restroom as Renee lovingly cradled Elise in her arms. There were housing projects scattered all over the Albuquerque metropolitan area, and Renee opted for the best neighborhood she could get. They were the first in line, and they were rewarded with the best location in town!

It was cause for a celebration! Due to Renee’s hard work and thoughtful diligence, they would be living rent free, and Zane was over the moon.  Up until now, Zane and Renee shared a small two-bedroom apartment which was extremely cozy. However, being awarded government housing motivated the eager young family of four to relocate. They could have rented a U-Haul to complete the task, but Charlie offered up his truck and trailer instead. Not only did Charlie provide the transport, but he also recruited Zane’s younger brother to help out. Renee already had the new house key in her possession, and on Saturday morning the crew commenced to loading Charlie’s truck and trailer with the small families’ collection of meager belongings.

It was just past nine o’clock on moving day when Charlie and Quentin arrived. They parallel parked the empty truck and trailer rig next to a red painted curb. Charlie correctly assumed that no one would give him any static for parking in the fire zone. Charlie’s trailer was a rusting hulk of a thing. It was initially designed to haul moderately sized automobiles, but today it was tasked to transport household items. The trailer was a flatbed car-hauler with dual axles. The deck consisted of robust planks that were bolted to heavy steel cross-members. The pinewood was sun-bleached and splintered. The wooden boards were saturated with stains resulting from leaking engine blocks and transmissions. The trailer was old and past its prime.  The wheels were ratty looking and mis-matched. Once was a time when the fresh enamel would glisten in the sunshine, but now the ruddy paint was faded, and the trailer looked like a rolling heap. It only had one taillight, because one of them was destroyed by a falling log. The impact shattered the red lens, and severely bent the structure in the process.  Be that as it may, the Shimeks were proud to own the decrepit trailer because it was an integral part of the family business. Charlie used it to haul saleable items that he would procure from a distant auction house in Kansas. It was his intention to sell these various items at the flea-market located at the Albuquerque fairgrounds. That’s how Charlie earned his living.

He would travel the 550 miles from Tijeras, on a journey to Central Kansas, once a week. Because the rickety machinery was unsafe at higher speeds, it would take approximately eleven hours to complete the voyage through the New Mexico badlands. The vintage trailer did not come equipped with factory installed electric brakes, and as a result the stopping power was solely derived from whatever the vintage Chevrolet could muster. Zane helped with the maintenance, and as a result the Chevy’s brakes were always up to code. Having said that, the rig was unable to make a panic stop if she were too heavily laden. Like a long steam train, the truck and trailer took up a lot of track before the rig could come safely to a stop.  

The pick-up truck that Dad used to tote the trailer was a 1974 Chevy half-ton, which was designed to haul moderate loads. It wasn’t engineered to carry excessive weight. Because of this, the Chevrolet’s rear suspension would oftentimes compress, and sag under the heavy loads. The cargo that Charlie hauled consisted largely of vintage farming equipment, pig-iron, and primitive collectables. He also dabbled in antique furniture that was in serious need of restoration.

To entertain himself on his long journeys, Charlie would sing and yodel, while honing his auctioneering skills in the process. The rapid rhythmic rattle of a true auctioneer’s melodious voice was entertaining as well as hypnotic! It was a real treat to listen to the talents of a seasoned auctioneer. Charlie may have missed his calling because he was quite adept at the craft. Oftentimes he would assist the auctioneers in Kansas by playing the role of ‘Ring-Man,’ whose duties included catching bids from members of the crowd who were too far away from the auction block to get noticed.  In an enchanting and rhythmic tone the auctioneer would sing, “Hey bidder! Bid it at a Ten bidder, bidder do I hear a Ten, and thank you now Fifteen. Fifteen dollars anywhere? Do I hear Fifteen? Fifteen anywhere? and thank you now Twenty… Twenty, Twenty, Twenty, I have a twenty-dollar bidder! Do I hear a bidder, bid it at a Twenty-Five Dollar Bill!! Bid it at a Twenty-Five? Bid it at a Twenty-Five?? And thank you Madam, and bidder, bid it at a Thirty… Hey bidder, hey bidder do I hear a Thirty? Thirty anywhere?!? I’ve gotta get a Thirty Dollar Bid!! Going Once… Going twice!…” Suddenly, a jovial Ring-Man from the back row enthusiastically Hollered out the word, “HALF!!!” With all the excitement of a man who had just cashed in a winning lottery ticket, the auctioneer rang out the words, “I hear Twenty-Seven and a Half!!!”  At this time, the eager auctioneer drew a well-earned breath and continued to talk up the item that was being purchased. For example the auctioneer might suggest that the item was not drawing up enough interest, and he would take it upon himself to sell it.  He would proudly boast that, “What you’re getting here folks is a real bargain.” Meanwhile the anonymous ring-men would encourage bidders to bid one more time! It was a ring-man’s job to encourage the patrons to continue with their bidding as the excitement intensified! The ring-man would stand next to the lowest bidder and mention phrases such as, “It’s Only Money!” or “Don’t lose it for so cheap!” and “You’ll be sorry when you’re sober…I mean when this is over!”  Simultaneously the auctioneer continued with the musical cry, “Do I hear a Thirty-Dollar Bid? Thirty Dollars anywhere? Thirty anywhere? Last call for a Thirty Dollar Bid… THIRTY-DOLLAR-BILL!?… THIRTY-DOLLAR-BILL!?…  And SOLD!!!” Oftentimes the word Sold would be exemplified, drawn out, and accented with a feigned sigh. It was the auctioneer’s way of suggesting that the winning bidder had just obtained the deal of a lifetime! At this time, the auctioneer covered the microphone with an open palm and leaned over towards the clerk. She had temporarily lost track as the commotion ensued, so the auctioneer politely informed her that lot number 117 sold for Twenty-Seven-Fifty to lucky number Seventeen! The auctioneer would continue for hours in this fashion until he was relieved by his replacement, who would then seamlessly continue with the spell binding music that made up the auction cry!

Upon completion of an auction he would settle up with the cashier and proceed to load his rig. Charlie would load the truck so thoroughly that the rear bumper would only have about ten inches of clearance before it would strike the tarmac. As a side-effect, the front suspension would spring upwards towards the heavens which provided minimal traction at the steer tires. The headlights were rendered ineffective because they were aiming at the clouds, rather than the road. The truck was falling apart, and it complimented the old flatbed in a way that harkened memories of The Great Depression. Charlie would stack the light items on top of the heavy items. For example, if Charlie purchased a washer and dryer set, he would place them securely over the trailer axles. In true Tetris fashion, Charlie would stuff the cavities of the appliances with loose items such as toys, pillows, and books. He would then continue to neatly stack assorted kitchen chairs, and dining room tables upon an occasional sofa or two. Charlie always made it a point to buy as many box spring and mattress sets as possible. He would stand the rigid box springs upright to act as makeshift sideboards. He would then proceed to pile and stack and arrange the items in such a way as to conjure up cognitive associations of starving refugees who were desperately fleeing from extreme poverty. Charlie secured the huge mound of loose merchandise with Nylon trucker’s rope in lieu of tie-down straps. Being a Sailor, he prided himself in his knot tying capabilities. He didn’t bother covering the cargo with a tarp because these were the kinds of items that wouldn’t lose value, even if they got wet!

On return trips from Kansas, Charlie’s overloaded rig could only manage a top speed of 45 mph on flat ground. As the heavily laden vehicle trundled down the road at a snail’s pace, a casual observer might say they looked like a band of starving “Okies!” Over the road semi-truck drivers were the bane of Charlie’s existence as they impatiently awaited an opportunity to pass Charlie’s slow-moving vehicle on the rural two-lane highways. Oftentimes a convoy of impatient truckers would find themselves trapped behind the slow moving Shimeks. They would angrily blast their air-horns as they struggled to overtake Charlie and his antique rig, while avoiding head-on collisions in the process! It would take Charlie about seven hours of driving time before made it to the interstate. By this time, the impatient truckers would have their own passing lane, and Charlie would curse and cuss at the raging 18-wheelers as they blew past him at blistering speeds! The massively overloaded pick-up struggled and toiled in an effort to overcome the steep grades that were commonplace along the route of Interstate 40. Charlie would have to downshift all the way into second gear in order to negotiate the steep obstacles. The high revving small-block Chevy would balk and bawl as she strained to drag the heavy load up and over the hills. The faithful Chevrolet never left him stranded however and Charlie always made it home safe and sound! He knew that somehow he would always be okay. Moving day would be no exception. Renee brought donuts in preparation for the day’s events, while Zane made sure there was plenty of fresh coffee to go around.

…To be continued.