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Of Mud and Surviving to be an Adult

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The wind in my face blurred my vision, making my eyes water to the point where tears flow back from the corners of my eyes and by now even my ears are a bit drippy, my legs are sticking out to the sides because this is an old school bike where you stomp a pedal back to stop and the pedals are spinning so fast that I have visions of lawnmower blades whenever I think that I need to stop. Crap! It’s a bike designed to look like a BMX, black of course, this is the 70s and this is the pinnacle of pre-teen wheels. It was cool before awesome became a catchphrase, but the sucker seemed hellbent on killing me on this and many other days. This is a steep dirt path and I’m trying like anything to keep the tires in the ruts as I fly down the hill, because if I get crosswise I’m in for a long slide and a few weeks of scabs. Actually, that might not be such a bad thing, scabs are cool points you know.

Uh-oh… I hadn’t planned this as well as I thought. Yes, planning went into this, even if in hindsight it doesn’t appear so, The creek (pronounced crick) was up and over the banks, evidently they’d let water out of a stock dam for maintenance and the creek (see above) made a thick swath of gooey mud for a good ten yards on either side of the creek (you get the picture). My front wheel hit the goo and physics, which I knew nothing of then and very little now, kicked in and the front of the bike came to an instantaneous stop. At this point I was airborne, arms and legs gyrating in some deeply ingrained instinct to run or swim through the air until I hit mud and slid.

At some point in unscheduled portion of this program the bike landed on me with a resounding crack across my tailbone, then the back of my head which forced my face almost down to the dry solid terra firma beneath the terra slippery and believe it or not the human face makes a very efficient braking apparatus.

“I think he’s dead,” said one of my friends who would never go to medical school.

“Dead people don’t make that noise,” another opined.

“What’s he saying?”

“Help?” someone guessed.

So they decided to dig me out, they compromised by dragging me across the mud and into the creek (not saying it) and watching me spit out a couple pounds of slurry and trying to find my face under the thick mask. It would probably cost me $50 in a boutique for a similar treatment now. I must have looked quite a sight riding toward home in that state, but my cool points went even higher when the bike and I were hosed off in the driveway by a friend’s Dad who held a beer in one hand the hose in another and a Lucky Strike hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

There has to be some force out there that looks out for boys with more enthusiasm than brains, but that same spirit follows through sometimes. Years later a small group of us were sitting outside a friend’s house drinking beer and listening to music entirely too loud, probably Van Halen (pre Sammy Hagar) and watching a sprinkler soak down the hill behind his house. Beer plus muddy hill is a bad combination, mix in a dozen guys just shy of voting age and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Before I continue, I blame our girlfriends for what is about to happen, if they hadn’t all gone to somebody’s sister’s bridal shower this silliness would never have happened.

Anyway… When we left our heroes they were looking down the long slope and the water flowing over it and not really doing much to grow grass but it did wash a whole lot of seed down into the pond at the bottom of the hill.

Stay with me, no fair trying to put the pieces together.

So we were sliding down the hill, at first we tried to do it standing and wound up sliding down on our butts, then we tried skiing down it by a 2×6 really sucks as a ski, or should that be a snow…err…mud board? Anyway, so then we did the Pete Rose thing, run and dive and slide as far as we could head first. We were going for distance and we just weren’t satisfied. So there I stood, mentally calculating, still having no firm grasp of physics, and with that much Budweiser sloshing in me 2+2 was at the ragged edge of my skills. Surprisingly even drunk I could calculate everyone’s share of the beer money though. But I digress.

So I hatched my great plan and went around the side of the house and left mud all over the trashcans and pretty white paint as I scrambled up onto the roof of the rather nifty multi-level house. I took off down the roof and launched myself, again headfirst, when in doubt I really wasn’t going to use my brain for a few years anyway, and the fates that intercede for rambunctious boys and fun-loving drunken teens didn’t fail me, my landing was a little rough and I bounced a bit and by all accounts loosed a thunderous belch and was again off like a shot. Now there is a time and a place for winging it as you go, this wasn’t one of those occasions and once again I was off like a shot, my face plowing a prodigious furrow through the mud until I wound up half in and half out of the pond. There were some really pretty stars and dancing lights in there by the way.

The first to me was a kid we called Dewey, somebody would say we needed to do something and he’d always reply “Do we?” Anyway, pointless digression.

“I think he’s dead,” somebody said.

“Dead people don’t make bubbles,” another opined.

“What’s he saying?”

“I think he’s laughing?” someone guessed. “We need to get him out!”

“Do we?”

Our girl friends caught up with us an hour or so later. Dewey was sulking because he lost his shoes in the muddy bottom of the pond. Somebody else was suffering from our efforts at triage, he was the third to try the ‘house dive’ and gave himself a monumental bloody nose. Somebody thought he drove his nose up into his brain like a Chuck Norris movie, we came up with a way to stop the bleeding, we cut up a tampon we found in the house lengthwise a few times and shoved it up his nostrils. Then after our girlfriends were done singing 12 choruses of “You’re a bunch of IDIOTS!” at us at high volume the parents of the house came home. His dad, a deputy sheriff, came out back and too in the beer, the mud, the shredded ground, the mud on the house, in other words the glorious mess that was us and…

You know, I always heard the term “gave him the apoplexy” when I was growing up, apparently it’s just past a conniption fit, but until that day I’d never seen one. He calmed down a few days later after we’d laid sod down the hill and repainted the wall he’d painted only a few weeks before, at least enough to take the shoot on sight notice off of us.

But you have to wonder, how on earth do kids make it to adulthood?

Seriously, if I tried any of that silliness now I’d be explaining all of this to an overworked and humorless ER doctor, but back then it was get the mud out of the eyes and press on with the fun. Maybe its because I’m now old enough to know better so those laws of physics suddenly apply?

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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New Years Memory

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I was laying at the bottom of a ravine face down in the snow and couldn’t draw a breath into my body, my body felt like I’d stood in front of a pitching machine and took fastballs on my ribs for about an hour and when I could finally raise my head blood dripped down into the snow. I rolled over and looked back up at the steep slope behind me and the track in the snow behind me. The deep line careened off of trees and a few mangled bushes marked my path. The first words out of my mouth when I could squeeze air into myself were along the lines of: “That was awesome!”

Oh to be young and heal that fast again! I think I was right about 12 and we had a ton of snow to greet the New Year and my brothers and I were off come morning with cheap blue rollup toboggans that we hadn’t been able to use since we opened them a week before on Christmas. The hill taunted me when I saw it, it was long and so steep we had to walk almost a mile around it to come at it from a climbable angle. It was a run of about a hundred yards and I don’t think I saw much of it on the way down, it was a white blur with a few flashed of color as I bounced off of things that didn’t see fit to acknowledge my existence as I hurtled into and around them, with the exception of a few shredded bushes of course. Trees could care less about us when you get right down to it.

I made the trip several more times that day, but none of them were thrilling than that first time over virgin snow, a blue streak with a red wind-burned face clinging to a flimsy piece of rectangular PVC with the worlds ugliest knit mittens, the ones the snowballs tried to stick to when you threw them at the unsuspecting and totally ruining a well-laid ambush. There’s still snow, there’s still sleds but I’ll never find the same thrill that I did all those many years ago.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Rough Riding on the Manicured Trail

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Back in my younger days, I believe it was the summer before my senior year, I was invited to ride in to a big campout in the middle of nowhere. “Plan for a rough trail ride,” they told me and bring what you need for about 4 days of roughing it. Ok, no problem. A couple changes of t-shirts, socks and underwear and a pair of shorts. Hey, they said roughing it, but no way was I going to wallow around in the same pair of tidy whities for 4 days. Yuck! Other than that it was some canned and dried stuff that would keep, a bottle of wild turkey and a carton of smokes. And a bag of oregano in case I needed to make brownies. Good to go.

I had it all set up with a buddy of mine to borrow horse and tack, which I was glad to see included a pair of chaps because the boondocks of Texas include mesquite trees, cactus and other things that can jab the heck out of you. I’m as butch as the next guy nut a mesquite thorn driven into the back of my thigh once was quite enough for me, thank-you-very-much! I hiked through the woods to my buddy Barnacle’s house, he got the nickname from an ex-girlfriend of his that thought he was a bit needy and very clingy. I have a contrary theory, he was horny and she was willing so of course he was always around. But, I digress. I saddled up and strapped on a bit of leather (chaps, nothing kinky though) and loaded up my goodies and rode the rest of the way to the rendezvous… and more than one surprise.

Ok, now is a good time to mention that different people have different definitions of certain terms such as: Rough trail and roughing it. I was one of the few to show up with a western saddle, there were a surprising number of pink Izod shirts on guys and one of the girls was a pair of frigging skirt britches I late found out were called culottes. Everyone was loading up their stuff into the backs of campers that would meet us at the camp site.

What the hell?

I had a light blanket rolled up in a tarp and had Barnacle’s tiny pup tent because we were riding in and roughing it. How do campers fit into that? I was getting a bad feeling about this. They weren’t lying about one thing though, we would be riding about five miles to a spot along a river to camp and fish and whatever. Roughly 20 of us. The trail in wasn’t what I’d call rough, it wasn’t the trail’s fault, I sure it wanted to be more challenging but it was mowed along the edges and covered in bark chips. There was only one part of the ride in that was even remotely interesting, and that’s when we found…

Wait, I can’t blurt it out, bad storytelling!

I was back toward the rear of the column, we were stretched out now because we were in the bottoms following a creek (pronounced crick, btw) and up at the front they were screaming bloody murder for me to come up. It seems that the girl that knew the way had surprised a snake, more correctly, when she decided to dash ahead a bit to make sure the ground was good ahead her horse stepped on an 8’ rattler as big around as both of my fists together. It was fat and sassy, and its back was broken about 1/3 of the way up from the tip of its tail.

The reason she’d yelled for me was that I had a 12 gauge pump in the boot. I didn’t think twice about it and blasted it twice. I noticed the noise behind me but didn’t think much of it at the time, that was a BIG frigging snake and I had chili makin’s hid away in my pack! I jumped down and hacked it up quick, the speed was because head or not the thing was still twitching and squirming a little as I gutted it. The fat belly was a squirrel by the way. I kicked the head and offal into the brush and that’s when I noticed I owned the trail. Everyone else was dragging horses back out of the woods or standing up to brush off. Barnacle’s family is all hunters, and they spend days at a time riding fence, so they are all gun broke. Working horses. The bulk of the horses behind me were not working horses, most had pedigrees and papers and no appreciation for the sound of a firearm being discharged.

Some people have no sense of humor. I had a little spot to myself off away from most everyone else, I’d rigged a cover with the tarp and had a great seat over a branch from a tree that grew out about a foot and a half off the ground and I was making chili in a beat up old pan, canned beans, snake and a few spices, not to mention two fingers of Wild Turkey to kill the cooties, just in case. It was a nice quiet weekend though, nobody bothered me, I caught a few decent fish and enjoyed myself. Especially when it rained and I sat under my tarp, the horse and I watched them all run around like idiots trying to get their stuff under cover and not get their camping wardrobe wet or dirty.

The horse had a sense of humor as quirky as my own, it seemed.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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And then I was home…

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Another in a growing list of birthdays has come and gone and was spent enjoyably I can report, birthdays for me are low key if I get my way, whenever possible I shut out the outside world and pretend it doesn’t exist because for me it’s a day to relax and spend a little time taking stock of how things are going, where things are going and just to remember times past. Yes, that does mean that I ignored yet another inauguration, 11 total in my life but since the first one I ignored was in 1968 and I was only 3 I don’t think that was a conscious decision. Birthdays I reserve for me and my family, I had to work many of them so half my day at least was robbed but I tried to make up for lost time.

I think I may have developed the my day concept when I was a kid, there were four boys and we definitely had chores, and more or less tried to do them, but the birthday was the day you had no chores. It was my day (or night after school) to lounge around the living room, legs hanging over the arms of a big stuffed chair reading a book while my brothers toiled away. That was good times but it was hard work pretending not to gloat when I peeked over my book.

Weekend birthdays were even better when I was little, we got 50 cents candy money on the weekends but the birthday boy got a whole buck! Do you have any idea how much candy you could get for a buck in those days? Pixie sticks, pure sugar with a dab of sour flavor and an amazing sugar rush when you knocked down a half dozen in under a minute. Tootsie Rolls, Bazooka Bubblegum, Everlasting Gobstoppers, jawbreakers, atomic fireballs, Mike & Ikes, and then the evening spent in front of the TV in a half-conscious state known now as the sugar crash and back then as “Oh thank God!” by my Dad.

Birthdays have a long history of memorable firsts for me as well, I partook of my first aerodynamic cigarette (aka a left-handed Lucky or a Mary Jane Slim), I experienced my first time being intoxicated (swacked out of my skull) on my birthday, played my first game of AD&D and had my first all on my birthday. Come to think of it those were all on the same birthday. Wow, that was a banner year, depending upon how you look at it.

Ahem, anyway.

My best birthday memory was January 20th, 2002, hands down and no second thoughts. It wasn’t that I got a nifty gift wrapped present, to tell you the truth I don’t remember if I got anything at all, its all in the lead up to that birthday. Within a few days of 9-11 I was out of the country and the next four months were grueling, 12-16 hour days and everything you could imagine broke on aircraft that were flying long hours day after day. My best friend passed away while I was deployed, then one of the guys working for me lost his Dad, when we left the states we were scraping frost off the windshields and when we got to where we were going it was a race every day to see if heat or humidity would hit a hundred first. Then we redeployed on Christmas Eve which meant pack it all up, launch our jets out for missions, land unpack our gear and recover the jets, so that was fairly hectic.

But hectic was actually good, once you get into the rhythm everything moves like lightening, and then at the forward location the missions were shorter, the jets were all broke in and work drug down to nearly nothing. We’d hear rumors of something breaking and sneak out to work it without telling anyone else. Working long hours isn’t bad, searching for work over long hours is hell! But then our time was up, we left the US flying west on overworked military airlift, we got on commercial jets and continued the line, on this trip we’d literally circled the globe. We got a lot of interesting looks in Shannon Ireland but I spent a great hour while they loaded actual alcohol on the jets for us, oh and real food too! No more MREs or ribs that they said were beef, that tasted like goat and looked like camel spider legs baked till they fused together. I had a great time talking to a couple of Irish gents that kept telling me to “leave your hand in your pocket,” when I tried to buy a round. Irish coffee tastes better in Ireland, and so does the beer fresh from the keg. Poor guys there were so many of us that we floated every keg they had and wondered where we’d been to develop such a thirst. I slept from Ireland back to the states but apparently everyone else drank the plane dry.

We hit Bangor and I warned the wife we were really coming and she told me that the base airfield was closed because of fog but they had hopes that it would reopen before we got home, so fingers were crossed all over. Then at last the little town was out the window and far below, seeing it really does remind you that it’s a tiny place to live and the wheels touched ground right around 2:30 am on January 20th, I’d missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and landed on my 37th birthday, but that wasn’t the best part. That came when I managed to escape the grip and grin line of everyone that wanted to shake our hands and welcome us home. That’s when I spotted my wife across the tarmac, it was 20 below zero (sounds colder than -20) and I was walking across the tarmac in desert camouflage feeling my nose hairs freezing. She had my field jacket wrapped around her to keep it warm and I was slipping into that when I got a kiss I’d waited months for, and then I was home.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Coconut Crabs, Dawn, Lava Soap and a Cigarette in the Shower

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I spent 90 charming days on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, it was actually the first 90 days of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was interesting times, first off my tent was less than 100 yards from the ocean and we were surrounded by coconut trees. It was almost like being on Gilligan’s Island but no coconut cream pies and we had some access to the internet. My tent wasn’t far from a ‘pagoda’ which is what we called the shower and latrine buildings, they had the further added charm of a water buffalo, which was our local source of potable (drinking) water, because if you drank or even wet your toothbrush from the tap you risked acquiring a condition that we politely called the ‘screaming shits.’

Our jets were flying 14 hour missions which meant that our day shift launched them out in the morning and we caught them on our shift and spent our 12 hour shift working like madmen (and women) to refuel, rearm and fix them after they landed. So every morning when I got back to tent city, AKA Camp Justice, I stunk. I don’t mean I was a bit gamy, I mean I friggin reeked. Fuel, oil, grease, hysdraulic fluid, oil, armpits, feet and sweat marinated testicles. Who knew that a tropical island could get THAT hot? I had it lucky, I spent about 60 of the 90 days on the night shift, where the cool ocean breeze dropped the mercury down to about 95 degrees with matching humidity.

So I’d get back to the tent and take off my boots outside, we’d rigged a screened in porch with a busted cot for a couch and a buttcan hidden under it because we weren’t supposed to smoke around the tents because if they caught they’d be gone in about 30 seconds. So I’d have a smoke as I brushed off the salt deposits on my boots and doused the insides of them with footpowder, then slip inside. My space in the tent was right inside the flap and to the right, I had a sheet wall between me and the guy next to me and a mosquito net over the front and another sheet I could drop to keep out the light as I slept.

Inside I had a standard issue cot, which is just about as wide as my shoulders and there’s a walkway between my sleeping cot, and the cot I use to keep all of my stuff off of the concrete pad under the tent. The reason for this is that tent city is about 3′ above sea level, and the sea in question is only about 100 yards from said tent. I waded through the tent a few times. Anyway. Clothes off and shorts on and I grab my towel and shower kit and head off to the pagoda. This day I was lucky, I had the whole place to myself. This would be good news except that I had worked very late and everyone else was in bed.

So I’m in the shower and start the routine, stand under the shower and get wet, then lather up with Dawn dish soap to cut through the oily stuff and then rinse off and lather again with Lava and scrub head to toe with a fingernail brush while burning another butt. You get some damned odd looks while you do this from the stragglers that wander through but they are mostly amazed by the layers of funk that scrub off and the dirty ring of suds than pools at my feet as I scrub until I’m a really fetching shade of pink. Then its rinse off and shampoo and get all of the grit that didn’t rinse off out of the places you don’t want grit, basically everywhere below the eyebrows with hair follicles.

You get the idea…

So I’m all lathered up and I hear a skitter and a loud CLACK, I wipe the suds out of one eye and there’s a big sumbitch of a coconut crab crossing the floor toward me, dragging that bigassed claw it uses to crunch coconuts with. Now I don’t know if you’ve considered it but consider for a minute; but, how many pieces of human anatomy are tougher than a coconut? Now that you’ve considered that, how many pieces of your anatomy are exposed in the shower? The showers were situated around poles, four people at a time can shower at each pole, no dividers, so I started around the pole turning on all four showers and scrubbing and rinsing and trying to keep the suds out of my eyes as I dance around the pole with a crab clacking away on the nut cracking castanets that nature provided for it and finally got them all turned off and out of the shower and stood out in the breezeway drying off. You’re not supposed to be naked outside, but I was feeling generous and gave the entire pagoda to the crab and I was back in my shorts pretty quickly anyway.

A lot of people get nervous about showers, Hitchcock and the movie Psycho keeps eyes glancing to the shower curtain, but my eyes are always down in the shower now, psychos with knives I could probably handle, but a pissed off crab in the shower is REALLY unnerving.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Oh the Pet Names our Loved Ones Give Us.

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Ah the little pet names wives have for their husbands, affectionate little names that convey a depth of feeling and a little teasing thrown in for good measure. My wife’s first nickname for me was “You Asshole,” not don’t go getting judgmental, it was almost always said with affection and when you get right down to it, it normally fit. It came in part because I grew up in an all male household, so my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ manners fell short in many ways and she persevered mightily to bring those behaviors that I normally reserved for a visit at my grandparent’s house to everyday life.

For example, sitting on the couch watching TV one night the fizziness from a Doctor Pepper came to a head and I let loose a belch, I was nice about it, I turned my head away from her and she waited, and I could tell she was waiting but remained silent until she asked, “What do you say?” With full sincerity I replied. “I didn’t fart.” To which she replied, “You Asshole.”

I thought I was actually making progress, the accepted things to say after passing gas around the house was “Whoops!” Unless it was my grandpa, and Grandma was out of the room, then he’d point and say it was a mouse on a motorcycle. Burps were just burps, it you were feeling jaunty you’d see how much of the alphabet you could get out, or try and continue a conversation through said burp.  I think that if my brother Geoff could hold more soda he could have done the alphabet, twice.

Over the years I walked more upright and the drag marks on my knuckles faded and I became “Jerk,” said really quickly, its hard to describe how it sounded but my jerk and when she called somebody else a jerk sounded completely differently so I had a little warm fuzzy feeling every time she said it. Now days I’m normally “Honey,” unless something comes up to inspire her to creativity, and then its usually a simple “Freak.” Such an incident happened recently.

My wife was in England visiting a good friend and the dog and I were batching it for a week. Naps on the couch, unexcused bodily functions, eating things that neither wife nor doctor would approve of, good times. Pepper, my dog and unindicted co-conspirator, had come up with the perfect game plan for the night, a chicken taco salad followed by chips and bean dip and a couple of my homebrewed beers. He and I were in perfect accord on this plan, so I said the words that make his entire day. “Wanna go for a ride in the truck?”

And so we stepped out, the inevitable fun ensues and I juggled closing the door, the leash and my cane with both hands and turned to my little pickup and reached for my keys. Then I reached in another pocket. Then I fumbled through all of my pockets while still juggling leash and cane while Pepper stared at me with growing disappointment. Crap… the absent minded that fits so neatly into my long list of symptoms and syndromes had once again reared its ugly head.

So… wife in England, daughter with spare key is sixty miles away and at work till eleven that night, brand new burglar resistant windows and sliding glass door installed, it was cold and starting to rain and here I stood. Needless to say I was really irritated and grabbed the door handle (wrong shape to be called a knob, more like a lever) and twisted while swearing like the old GI I am, and the handle kept twisting.  Then, with a little pop the sucker gave and the door popped open.

Wow! Didn’t expect that so I got my keys and secured the door with a deadbolt and rounded up the munchables for the night and returned home to feast my way through a Firefly marathon. So, my wife returns home and gets to the door before I do and turns the handle down and the door won’t open. I tell her to turn it up and it opened and then I had to explain why it doesn’t work. She sighed and looked her loving husband dead in the eyes and said…

“Doorknob.”

Damn. And it stuck too, I hear it every time I do something goofy now, since we’re talking about me I hear it a lot. We have a new knob how, with a keypad so I don’t have to worry about locking myself out anymore, and while she was picking it out at Home Depot she explained why she needed one and heard all about how you’re not supposed to be able to do that to a Schlage lock, so apparently I’m a talented doorknob; but, I don’t get to hear about the talent, or the million-to-one odds that I would be able to break that lock and actually get into the house with just my bare hands.

But I’m not “Talented” or “One-in-a-Million,” I’m just “Doorknob.”

Pepper still thinks I’m cool though.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Bubbles

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It is no end of amazing what kids can find to amuse and entertain themselves, and add gray hair to their parents. My brothers and I were no exception; four boys will add gray to any single parent after all. Dad could never find any of his hardware because we’d raid it to supplement the army men in our battles that never seemed to be on a grand enough scale to satisfy us. Nails were good guys, screws were bad guys. We were all under ten at the time so we had no idea of the deeper implications of this choice.

One day we got a care package from my grandparents, in it we found four great big bottles of bubble stuff, the delightful liquid with the little loop that you dip into the bottle and blow a stream of bubbles. Like Lawrence Welk but on a smaller scale. Unless there are four of you. It was a rainy day and we stood around the kitchen blowing bubbles while Dad dozed on the couch, blissfully aware of the clouds of bubbles drifting around the kitchen and settling on the old fashioned linoleum floor… take that Welk!

We went through the bubbles in a big hurry and then looked with great disappointment into the empty bottles. Then my youngest brother, barefoot at the time, took a step and started sliding all over the place. Shoes and socks flew and we were sliding around all over the place, every now and then there would be a flurry of hands and feet and then somebody lying in a heap all over the floor and it was one of these thuds that woke Dad and brought him looking for his own personal barbarian horde.

He took it remarkably well, four rambunctious boys will make anyone a bit philosophical about lemons and lemonade. Where most would see a mess Dad saw a floor covered in soap and four boys that were about to learn how to use mops and sponges. I don’t know if he realized that we’d move on to bigger and grander capers as we grew older, its in the nature of boys. Skinned knees, bloody noses, kids walking through the house with smoking hair and no eyebrows. It sort of comes with the territory I suppose.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Fondly Remembering One of Those Days

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It’s just been one of those days, I’ve had plenty of days like this before and there’ll be others, but not all of the days like these have been mine alone. One that really comes to mind was on one of those days for a guy that I was doing a job for, and completely flipped around to someone else, a few times. I used to do grounds maintenance for a bit of a pretentious old fart, a retired officer and working as a lawyer. He wasn’t bad as far as lawyers go, his win-loss record was mixed mainly because he was rarely found without a large glass of vodka in his hand. His son was a borderline stereotype of a rich boy that was going nowhere, but he popped up now and then and tried to show me what he thought I was doing wrong. That cost his dad a chainsaw, a riding lawnmower, and nearly an outboard motor. That’s where we pick up the story.

The boat was broke, it wouldn’t start because the young scion had taken the thing out and somehow or another had strangled the engine with water in the fuel lines. My buddy Buck and I had changed the filters, purged the tank and oil lines and I had just tightened the plug when aforementioned scion told me I hadn’t tightened it enough. I was a senior in high school and he was going to an Ivy League school and was not about to take my word for it that he was full of excrement. He proceeded to over-torque the spark plug and stripped out the threads in the engine block and there were two distinct splashes, the spark plug and the ratchet that I’d borrowed from my dad because he had a really well-stocked toobox.  It was an amazing toolbox, especially compared to mine at the time, because Dad bought quality and waited till there was money in the budget to get the best tools he could find.

Now I should point out that in all the years I had with my best friend Buck I was normally the voice of reason. Normally. Secondly, I should point out that although my employer of the time was mildly wealthy (more pretension than actual wealth) he wouldn’t bother to spend money on good equipment. So, when I could see something besides red Buck was holding onto the handle of a broken wooden paddle and the scion was running in place and holding his butt while making shrill noises. Apparently I’d broken the paddle across his butt while he leaned over the side of the boat. I had to rely on witness reports as my brain had checked out for a while.

So, very high quality ratchet on the bottom of the lake under the floating pier. The scion swore he wasn’t going to go get it, but we proved him wrong when we tossed him over the side and told him he wasn’t coming out of the water without the damned thing. Again, apparently I can get grumpy.  It worked though, he dragged himself to the bottom with the chains anchoring the marina piers and came back up with it. So, that meant we needed to get the boat out of the water, it was two miles to the boat ramp so we started paddling. And this is when the curse of the paddles returned, cheap to begin with and now old to boot the one that didn’t snap on the Scion’s ass broke and there we sat a mile shy of the ramp.

Well, can’t go back any easier than we can go ahead so we announced the plan to swim the boat back and the Scion allowed as how he wanted no part of it, I was the one being paid to fix it, Buck was there because he was Buck and was always there, and we weren’t the ones that ripped the threads out for the plug. So we tossed him over the side again and joined him this time and drug the boat back. We’d reached the ramp and I was holding the bow rope so it wouldn’t drift off while Buck went to get the truck and trailer up in the lot, the Scion ran home to tell his daddy on me and I was enjoying cool water and hot sun while a Trans-Am slowly backed down the ramp to put a boat in the water.

“The Corps of Engineers let a bunch of water out of the dam for maintenance,” I warned the driver as I pointed to the ramp, it was covered in algae and was slimy as all get out; but, this guy didn’t want to hear from a skinny kid so he finished prepping his boat and backed it down the rest of the way.  All was fine, until he pushed on the brake pedal and his car kept on sliding, he threw it into drive and floored it and still slid into the water, his high performance street tires finding no purchase in a substance that was slippery as greased own poo.  He slid until water poured into the T-top and the car vanished from view and the engine finally spluttered and died. I was starting to get worried, he’d been down there a while. Maybe he was trying to start the car? Finally he popped up and had the nerve to cuss me, I didn’t bother to get mad, Karma had already seen to him.

Buck backed the trailer down the ramp behind the old workhorse, a ’69 ¾ ton pickup that said ‘ODGE’ across the front of the hood and endured everything we could throw at it over the years. He and I watched the guy wander back and forth and wonder how he was going to keep his boat from drifting off and get his car out while we swept the ramp as clean as we could with really stiff concrete brushes and then loaded up the boat. The truck had good old fashioned work tires, that and the preparatory sweeping gave us the traction we needed. Meanwhile the guy swallowed his pride and swam out to his boat and anchored it in the shallows while Buck and I put two more boats (towed by cars) into the lake for $10 each and when we left we promised to go call a wrecker.

Its funny how trying days are contagious, and I’m more philosophical about them now than I was then; but, every now and then when I’m dealing with annoying bureaucracy and even more annoying bureaucrats, or just modern Neanderthals in general, I find myself recalling the sound of a wooden paddle breaking over a guilty butt and leave people wondering what exactly could leave a smile that evil like that on my face.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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(Old) Thoughts on Writing

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Categories: Writing, Tags:

I’m getting back into writing more these days, trying to finish a story that I started more than twenty years ago.

Why its taken so long to get this far is a little complicated.

I write about the world that I created for AD&D, the roots of the world reach back to when I was 13, even then I was a detail kind of person. As I built countries and races and nations and people I needed to know more about them. I slowly filled several spiral notebooks to satisfy this curiosity.

Then stories started to fill other notebooks. Mythologies, people, laws, history, I needed a how and why to help make the AD&D campaigns feel more alive and real.

Slowly the game helped me flesh out the details over the skeleton, and writing added more still.

Then I left home and all of those notebooks went into the bottom of my duffel bag to Japan with me. The writing continued when I could find time to write, and the games continued as I found people interested in playing. That wasn’t easy. I am something of a work-a-holic and so work took more and more time away from all of that, and then I got married and after not too long I got Milady Kim interested in playing. And so the growth of the world continued slowly as I gathered a few more players. It also began to refine as I grew older and had a deeper pool of experiences to draw upon

Then I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, which at that time was cutting edge, and working on new material took a back seat to putting all that I had from several old ragged notebooks onto a small army of disks. And then I was spending more and more time at work because I was assigned to writing technical procedures and that required I work on a PC. Once again Milady Kim showed me wisdom. Why have work on one computer, and my writing on another, when they couldn’t talk to each other.

So, I jumped onto the PC market, back when the 386SX-16 was the screamingest thing running. And when I wasn’t working on work at home, I was putting everything from the Commodore into the PC. Yes, from writing it all in notebooks, to typing it all into one, then another computer. It took a long time, and in that time my writing matured with me, and so when it was finally all in the computer it was all started over from scratch, so writing that started in my teens took me through my twenties and thirties to bring into full flow and continuity.

The longer I served the more “official” writing that I did, and officialese and fantasy are never really compatible to me, and it would take a week or so off just to get back into the fantasy-writing swing and about that time I’d get a few good days and go back to work.

Then I’d get sent somewhere and I was back to my traveling notebooks. I’ve scribbled ideas in several countries, sometimes in decent rooms, in tents, outside where I could find a space to sit, in ready rooms, on aircraft, you name it. And when I got home it would all have to be transcribes again into the computer.

Now I’m transitioning from service, very soon to retire and so I write almost nothing official anymore, and the writing is flowing back into me. No more short declarative sentences in a style known as officialese. Richard Marchinko describes military communication as: “Redundant, bureaucratic military nomenclature, either in written nonoral or nonwritten oral, mode, indecipherable by non-military (conventional) individuals during interfacing configuration conformations.”

I can hear you all already saying WTF? Well, I included that to show you the difference in mindsets and the problem is causes me to get my head right to write in either form.

Now that I’m writing almost exclusively in the fantasy mode now, a few hopefully short, observations.

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A story is a lifeless thing if you don’t have characters that you can relate to, and you have to be able to relate to them on a personal level. I am a sentimental guy, and I have written about characters literally from cradle to grave. And there are times when I get very misty-eyed relating their passing, or great or terrible moments in their lives. A character has to be a 3d flesh and blood creation, or you’ll write flat stories about flat people.

I am not a first draft writer, I write and get as much down as I can and what ends up n the page as draft is really rough, and then I go back and smooth until it flows as best I can and then I move along and do more. This is first draft, sorry about that, it won’t be pretty writing.

To write you have to get yourself into writing mode. Music is good for this. Stephen King blasts AC/DC when he writes. I listen to music that fits what I’m writing. Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton soundtrack for Battles, Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever for death scenes, Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing for Love scenes, just as a few examples. I guess there are method writer’s just like there are method actors, and to that degree I am one of them. I have to feel something to write it, or it sits lifeless on the page.

You need support to write. I rely on my family to help me tune my writing, to point out places where I wasn’t in the grove so to speak. But you also need those around you to be with you in what you do, and there I am one lucky bastard.

Write and let the story take you to the end. I can’t do outlines, I try and as I write I end up at the destination I was aiming at, mostly, but the trips is a lot different than I had programmed. Its like a road trip, you know where you need to be at the end, and you can program the stops, but what you see along the way eventually takes over and rules how you’ll go and what you see along the way.

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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Life’s Metaphors: Flames on a Cane

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Categories: Fibromyalgia, Tags:

People that know me tend to notice that I laugh a lot, I’ve always been that way and I don’t intend to change that because I’ve found that being a “glass half full” kind of guy works for me. Not too long ago I had to make a grudging concession to a few ongoing problems and start using a cane to walk. I put it off for quite a while, partly because I don’t see me as a cane kind of guy, I try to stay fairly active and get out and do things, I just don’t do some things as fast as I once did, like walk.

I have a little shuffle in my step these days, some of that is leftover from a knee surgery that didn’t quite solve all of the problems it could have and the rest is because I have a condition rather like rheumatism, it doesn’t so much affect the joints in my body as much as it does the connective tissues, the ligaments and tendons and all of that fun stuff. This sort of reduces speed and endurance, so a trip through the mall involved a few strategic stops and benches and using the escalators rather than the stairs. Its all in pacing yourself.

I finally gave the cane a try when my feet and lower legs swelled up fairly impressively, at least to me as a layman. I suppose that they were rather impressive when you get down to it, my doctor took one look, whistled and said “Wow!” He’s a young doctor by the way. It was something of an annoyance because I had a heck of a time finding a pair of shoes that I could actually get my feet into just to go for my appointment. Anyway, I figured that I’d try the thing on a trip to the evil empire (Wal-Mart), my wife and I were walking around looking for something and I was getting tired, and so we swung by the medical stuff and I trotted, figuratively speaking, through the store using one, and much to my irritation the damn thing helped.

I can take yes for an answer, so I bought it and then after the swelling went down I found it still helped. So, I was stuck with the sucker. But a can is a boring looking thing, mine is black aluminum and has no personality at all. We’re talking about me here, I like things like tie-dye and bright orange sweatshirts. I draw the line at pink, but color doesn’t scare me much at all. But here I was with a flat black cane. I started joking that I was going to get it flame-striped, because that would at least make me look fast I reckoned.

This leads us to Christmas when my wife and a friend of hers found another cane just like mine and had flame decals stuck on it at a custom car shop. That was my Christmas highlight, opening the box with that little gem in it. Life isn’t about the fall, its about the bounce you make when you hit bottom. Its not making lemonade from life’s lemons, its not positive thinking, its about making the most of everything you can.

You may pass me in the mall, but I’m still going to look cooler!

© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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