Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Uncle Frog II

When I was seven there was no person on earth cooler than Uncle Frog. He was kind enough to come live with us for a second time and shared the bedroom with Glenn and me. Of course had it not been for that unfortunate loss of his funds at the Jacksboro Highway Bar, Frog probably wouldn't have agreed to move in and entertain us kids when he did.

Frog drove a brand new GMC pickup. Back then no one drove pickups except farmers and construction workers. Frog was no farmer. I still remember that pickup as if he were driving it today. It was gray with white hubcaps. He built a toolbox for it and painted it bright red. Did I not say Uncle Frog was cool?

Frog came home from work every day covered with mud and cement dust. He did come home on time though because my mama insisted on everyone being around the dinner table at the same time. Before dinner Frog would clean up good and replace those dirty work clothes with freshly starched Levi's, white shirt, and pointy-toed cowboy boots. Then we would have dinner. He tried to come to the table once without cleaning up and mama marched him right out of the dining room. Old Frog never crossed my mama without paying dearly for it.

Frog made a promise to mama that he would stay as far away from the Jacksboro Highway Bar as he could while living with us. As far as anyone could tell he stuck to his promise. It was during this time of severe sobriety that Frog got his life together, saved his money, and moved to Irving.

Frog must have saved his money pretty well by sleeping in the bedroom with Glenn and me. The first time he came to visit after moving he was driving a brand new 1957 Cheverolet Bel-Air coupe. It was white on black with a red interior. Life couldn't have been better for old Uncle Frog until the day he met his beautiful German wife, Frieda, years later.

I was happy for Frog but I sure missed him living with us. I did find myself getting in less trouble after Frog moved away but that didn't ease the loneliness. I missed finding quarters on my closet floor that Frog would "drop" for Glenn and me to find. I missed waiting on the porch for Frog to drive up in his gray pickup after work to hear about his day. I missed watching him polish those cowboy boots till I could see my face in them. I missed the water gun fights....in the house! I missed watching him use the cuff of his jeans for an ashtray like a real man would do.....couldn't wait to be old enough to smoke and use my jean cuff as an ashtray.....but mama wouldn't let me. Thinking about it, I still miss all those things. When I was seven and Frog was living in our bedroom it was a good time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Yeah, I'm buff...

I mentioned last week I had joined the Senior Center in Hurst in order to have access to their gym. It's a great gym and I enjoy my three day a week workouts. I start out on the stationary bike and ride 5.5 miles which gives me a good warm up and burns calories the equivalent of a Snickers bar. Since I don't eat Snickers bars anymore I'm already ahead for the day! Since joining I think I've ridden to downtown Dallas and in the coming weeks I should be able to ride home. I didn't even think of the side results of the stationary bike. Aside from burning off the residue of hundreds of Snickers bars, the exercise is actually helping my leg improve. I'm going more and more without my cane now and hope to give it up completely soon....please do not mention this to Debbie.

When I first started my workout regimen I was warned to ease into it. Although the fire department is next door it would still take precious minutes to arrive if my heart seized up on me. I started with the lowest possible settings on the computer. As I gleefully road along, the screen kept repeating, "Hello! Is anyone actually riding me? You can go faster if you wish but don't hurt yourself fatso!" I eventually turned on the TV instead of reading rude computer comments. I've worked up to a fairly aggressive setting now. I plugged in the parameters today and turned on the TV. Instead of watching Mayberry, RFD, a large message appeared on the screen that said, "No TV for you today fat boy. We're going cross country". Thirty minutes later I had covered 5.5 miles of the worst terrain in Texas. My heart rate got higher than I've been able to achieve in any of my earlier activities of eating nachos and watching reruns, I was gasping for oxygen, sweat was pouring off me and I still worked off only one Snickers bar.

Before the ride got too hard I noticed a new face walking into the gym*. He walked kind of like Fonzie on Happy Days....you know the subtle strut I'm talking about. Although he appeared to be about a hundred and had not a hair on his head, he was still in amazing shape. All the ladies started yelling, "Hi Coach!"....a disgusting display. He walked around and greeted all the women. He seemed to ignore the men. As he walked past my bike I made eye contact and spoke. He looked at me for a second and said, "Eh."....not "Eh?" like "excuse me I didn't hear you" or even "EH!" like "I don't know you but feel I should respond". It was just a flat......eh....Giving him the benefit of the doubt I should say that although my comment to him in my mind was structured, "Good morning my good man. How are you today?" it came out of my mouth as "doin?" All in all our short conversation said everything each of us was interested in hearing.

No one introduced me to Coach so I had to make assumptions based on events. Coach walked over to the weights and started pumping iron. Slowly several ladies gathered around him and picked out weights for themselves. Coach then said, "Welcome to class ladies! Are you ready for your workout?" From these actions I assumed Coach was actually a real coach and not some pervert cruising the center looking for hot chicks. As they worked out I also developed the additional assumptions, 1) Coach's name is probably Muffin....Stud Muffin....Coach Stud Muffin. Yeah, that's it. 2) I have a lot more hair than Coach and that is why I don't have as many muscles. 3) I'm beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable from all this fixation on Coach. Fortunately, about that time I hit a large hill in the program and had to concentrate on not dying.

Wednesday I'm going to back up my parameters a bit before my ride. Hopefully if it's cross country again it will be in New Mexico instead of the Texas hill country.

*Editor's note: Although Mr. Mihills referred to a 'face' walking into the gym, he actually meant to say 'someone walked into the gym I had never seen before'. Mr. Mihills has been notified that faces cannot walk anywhere.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

So then....

....there I was, dragons to the left of me and dragons to the right of me. I swung my double bladed sword like a madman, sweat pouring from my fantastically trim body, fear consuming my heart.....and then I woke up. My dreams are much more colorful than my every day. I really need to be more selective about my evening meals.

I have been having really weird dreams lately. Sometimes I'm an amazing guitar player wowing the crowds with my vintage electric guitar. I guess even in my dreams I can't play the banjo well enough to dream about it. Other times I'm back at work and scrambling to get a project done on time. That dream is actually worse than dreaming about dragons because the project is always impossible. I'm rarely the hero in my dreams. Usually I'm the dumbo in need of help. But boy oh boy, I slayed some dragons last night.

I've been plagued with insomnia and bad dreams since I retired. I really don't have enough to distract me during the day. It's just too hot outside. My indoor activities like writing short stories, reading, and watching oldies on TV cause me to get sleepy...so I nap. Then I lay awake half the night and have odd dreams the other half. Its a maddening cycle I've fallen into. When fall finally gets to Texas I'll be back outside working the yard and creating sawdust in my shop but for now I am slowly going crazy.

I remember seeing a movie years ago in which Michael Keaton was a resident in an asylum. In one scene he escapes and on his first morning of freedom, he breathes deeply the fresh air and says, "Ah, its a good day to be insane". That scene struck me as interesting because I was in a stressful situation at work and wondered if life would be better if I was crazy. I can say with certainty now that it is not!

I feel rather useless to the world right now and would love to improve the situation. Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer the world. I did try to volunteer at the hospital. Through LifeLine Chaplaincy I made visits to patients in an effort to boost their spirits and help in any way needed. While learning this I was told to never sit down in a hospital room unless invited. Sick people do not care if you are standing. They never invite you to sit down. They are sick for crying out loud. I could make the visits okay but all the walking and then standing in one spot bothered my leg so much I had to quit. I really can't do anything else.

I got a membership at a gym....well, to be honest it was a membership at the senior citizens center in Hurst. They have a top notch gym though and that's why I joined. I don't want to learn how to line dance. I don't want to learn how to make quilts. I just want to use the gym and at $20 a year it's the best deal in town. I go three times a week to work out. I feel great after a good workout. I go on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Today is Thursday.....I feel rotten. I would work out every day but Debbie would miss me if I was gone that often even though she's asleep when I go and asleep when I get back. I know she would miss ME though because too much exercise and I would turn into wonder man and she would long for the old flabby me. I would never do that to the love of my life.

Well, that's all I have to say. It was a good ten minutes but now I have to finish my crossword puzzle, eat a light lunch, and take my nap. Have a good day!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How to Build a Toothpick....

The weather has been extreme this summer in Texas. My two hobbies have been shelved until fall gets here and I'm about to go stir crazy. I can't work in my yard because of the heat and humidity and working in my wood shop is impossible. I thought about installing air conditioning in the shop but decided Norm on New Yankee Workshop would shake his head in disgust if I did.

It rained last night and into the morning so the heat was abated somewhat. The humidity was awful but I thought I could use the fan in the shop for a while and work off some of the cabin-fever blues. I wandered around for a few minutes and then dug some wood out of the 'inventory'. I thought I might make a nice box. For some reason everyone loves a box if its made of wood. I designed the box in my mind and sorted out the necessary wood. I turned on my table saw and cut everything to length. I wanted to dado the boards for a nice finished look at the joints. Debbie bought me a new dado blade for Christmas and I have used it a few times already. Unfortunately, a few months ago I was digging through an old tool chest in my shed and found my old dado blade. I couldn't remember why I stopped using it and then stored it away so efficiently. I decided to use it today.

The old blade is really cool. You don't have to measure or add shims. You don't need to use up scrap boards testing for proper depth and width. You just dial in the measurement you want, install it on the shaft, and get to work. Why did I ever stop using this thing?!?! I dialed in 3/8", installed the dado, and turned the saw on. I then remembered why I had buried that old dado so deep in the tool chest. The saw started vibrating and dancing around. I hadn't locked in the wheels so it started rolling toward me, tools were falling off workbenches, neighbors were dialing 911 to report the disturbance. It was awful. I wanted to run but realized I was a man and I had to face my challenges like a man.....so I walked over to the wood pile, selected a nice, straight, 4' long dowel rod, and carefully reached the off switch. I wasn't to be outdone by a stupid dado blade so I locked down the wheels, removed all remaining tools from attached work benches, grabbed a scrap piece of wood, prayed, and turned the saw back on. It started the crazy vibration again but I reminded myself I was trying to use a professional grade dado blade with a tiny little 40 year old table saw. It wasn't possessed. It was not possessed. I took my scrap of wood and fed it into the blade. Oh my goodness.....do you remember how the Cookie Monster ate cookies on Sesame Street? That's how the dado attacked that poor piece of wood. I ran for the door, pulling the plug to the saw as I ran past. I didn't slow down until I was in the kitchen. Debbie asked what was wrong and I calmly said, "I need a drink of water and there's a monster out there in the shop!". She laughed....I laughed....I sipped on water until it was gone....finally I went back outside. I tiptoed over to the saw, grabbed my blade wrenches and took that dado off the shaft as fast as I could. I carried it back out to the shed and buried it deep in the old tool chest......then I locked the chest, locked the shed, said another prayer and went back to my shop. As I started to clean up the shop I noticed a splinter on the table of the saw and it was a perfect toothpick. I carefully picked it up and carried it inside. Debbie asked me what I had made today. I held up my prize and said, "I made a toothpick! I think I'll stop for the day".


Monday, August 7, 2017

I love a road trip....

I bought new tires for the car. I love new tires. New tires make the whole car seem new all over again. Debbie couldn’t care less about new tires but I do. I really like new tires.

Debbie’s birthday was last week. I asked her what she would like for her birthday. She said she really didn’t need anything. I asked her if she would like new tires because I had already bought them. She told me no. She said she would like to visit Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. I said that was a wonderful idea since we hadn’t been on a trip in a while and after all, we do have new tires on the car. I made the plans and we left last Wednesday.

I did not realize Pawhuska, Oklahoma was so far away. It took us six hours to get to the neighboring town of Bartlesville where I had reserved a hotel room. Pawhuska was another thirty seven miles away. Whew. As we left the Metroplex area and got up to speed on I-35 I noticed a slight vibration in one of the wheels. I mentioned to Debbie that as soon as I got past 70 mph the vibration started but below 70 it was fine. She said no one in their right mind needed to drive faster than 70 so I stuck it in cruise control and forgot about it. It was a nice drive, light traffic, beautiful scenery. We got to our hotel around 2:30 in the afternoon and checked in. I was beat. I fell asleep almost instantly and Debbie sat and planned out our stay…..a little bit of shopping in Bartlesville, nice dinner and early bedtime. She had to drag me out of the bed and slap me around for a while before I was conscious enough to take her out shopping.

The next morning we got up early and headed for Pawhuska. Debbie wanted to have breakfast at the Mercantile. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the Mercantile. Great food, wide variety of merchandise, unbelievably high prices which discouraged Debbie from buying too much. Oh yeah, the restrooms were exceptional. All in all, our six hour drive up there was surely worth the two hours it took to have breakfast and shop the whole store. Debbie thought we would spend the rest of the day shopping in Pawhuska….there is no shopping in Pawhuska. By 11:30 we had seen it all and had no other plan than to head back to Texas.

I like to plan ahead for any trip I take by car. I like to use my road atlas and highlight the roads we will use. I have done this ever since we first started traveling early in our marriage. It’s entirely possible that if I’m ever elected President of the United States and then have a library in my name, all my road atlases will be displayed for posterity. Anyway, I had the return trip planned to cross Oklahoma on state highway 60, hit I-35 close to the Kansas border and fly like the wind south to Fort Worth. As I pulled out of the parking lot Debbie asked if I was sure my route was best. I said, “Of course! If you have doubts ask the Google lady.” Debbie asked the Google lady for the best route to Hurst, Texas. She said to get on state highway 99 and head southwest. I happened to be on state highway 99 heading for highway 60 at the time. Losing confidence in my plan I decided to follow Google Lady. Google Lady must have been laughing her electronic head off for suckering me into this decision. Her instructions took us two miles, turn left, go ¾ miles, turn right, turn left, go 100 yards, turn blue…..and then it really got bad. This is the honest truth. Google Lady had us turn into a residential neighborhood and drive around for a while before landing us back on…..yep, back on state highway 99.

As the day dragged on highway 99 became less like a highway and more like a game trail. It was a horrible situation and I had no idea how to change things. We were wandering around Oklahoma completely lost while Google Lady laughed maniacally. After two and a half hours we passed over what looked like a decent highway going west. I pulled to the side of the road and got out my atlas and saw that the road shot straight as an arrow west to I-35. I found the entrance to the highway and got moving. An hour later we were on I-35 headed south and nothing was going to slow us down….except being sleepy. I had to have a break so I asked Debbie to take over. I pointed her south, leaned back in the passenger seat and fell asleep. The vibration is what woke me up. The vibrating wheel….that only vibrates over 70 mph. I jumped up...or I should say I tried to jump up. The G force we were in kept my head plastered to the back of the seat. I strained my eyes to look left and saw Debbie hunched over the steering wheel blasting down I-35 so fast the car felt like it was coming apart. I tried to speak but my lips were pressed against my teeth and wouldn’t move. All I could get out was “BIBLP BIBLP’, which is pronounced BIBLP BIBLP. This sound disturbed Debbie long enough for her to let up on the accelerator. I was then able to ask her (in a calm, reassuring manner) if she didn’t think she should slow down to...oh, I don’t know, maybe 70? She explained she had to go fast because a truck had passed her twice and was about to pass her a third time. She couldn’t let that happen. I told her to go ahead and let the truck go on by. She could slow it down a little. A few minutes later the vibration started up again. I asked her why she was going so fast. She said, “You know I hate to drive behind trucks hauling pipe!” I looked up the road and saw a small blip of a truck on the horizon. I told her to let it go. I didn’t think she would be hit by any falling pipe unless she managed to catch up to the truck and ram it from behind. She suggested naptime might be over and maybe I should drive.

It was a great trip.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Danny and the Bear...

We spent a while in Roswell, New Mexico in the early sixties. My dad was with a team from General Dynamics sent to build underground missile silos during the height of the Cold War. His job was involved with all the wiring…..hmmm, I may have just spilled a huge pile of top secret information just now. I guess since these silos have now been filled with dirt I am fairly safe  from prosecution….but if not, HEY, I WAS JUST KIDDING! What’s a missile silo anyway??

We had a house built in a new neighborhood close to the old Walker Air Force base. This location was absolutely perfect for eleven and twelve year old boys to wander the countryside, chase tumbleweeds, sneak onto farmland, rearrange survey markers for new roads….you know, innocent stuff. Another new family moving in about the same time as ours had two boys close to Glenn’s and my age. One of the boys, Danny, became my best friend for the short time we lived there.

Our families became close almost immediately since no one knew anyone else in the neighborhood. Over time we started going on camping trips together up around Ruidoso. On one of these trips Danny and I begged our parents to let us set up our own campsite a few hundred feet from theirs. Danny had an old Army surplus pup tent and I had….well, I had nothing but my trusty cub scout knife. They agreed to let us venture off as long as we stayed in sight.

Our chosen site was down a low spot which we called a valley and back up a small rise which we referred to as “the next mountain over”. We found a clearing with a fairly level spot and spread the tent out. We figured and studied and then figured some more. Finally, Danny decided we should stretch the tent out and he would crawl inside it to set up a pole while I held the tent up and in place. It sounded like a plan so we got to work. Danny was in there for the longest time pushing, grunting, kicking, and so forth. After a while my arms got tired and I was bored. I began to slack off and started “studying the terrain”. That’s when I heard the thrashing noise behind me. I turned as much as I could while still holding the tent in place and saw a bear coming through the brush. I handled the situation calmly by screaming like a girl, dropping the tent on Danny while running right over it, all the while waving my arms in the air yelling, “B-E-A-R!!!!”. Danny poked his head out of the tent yelling, “WHAT?” I yelled it again, “BEAR!” while running, pointing behind me, and waving my free arm in the air. Danny saw the bear and after he got his eyeballs back in their sockets, caught up with me doing an imitation of an adolescent Tarzan… ”ARRGGGHHH!”. All this activity took the bear by surprise and he ran off in the opposite direction, waving his arms in the air and yelling, “CRAZY KIDS!”.

We stopped running after about a mile and circled back around to our families campsite. We calmly told our story….both at the same time with high pitched voices. After they finally understood our frantic babbling they believed us which, in hindsight was a real stretch of faith. They suggested we go back to the site, load up the tent, and come stay with them in the popup campers. We weren’t about to go back alone so our dads went with us and helped carry everything back. We acted like we were really put out having to stay in a dumb old camper instead of camping on our own mountain…..Danny may have been disappointed but I was tickled to death to sleep in that warm, safe camper.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Michael...

I had a cousin on my dad’s side named Michael. He was a year older than me and a lot bigger. He used to pick on me. In fact, it was standard procedure for him to hit me solidly in the stomach as soon as he saw me when the families got together. After I got my breath back we would have a pretty good time but that punch in the stomach always took a little bit out of me. One day my mom told me Michael and his family were coming over for dinner. She said she wanted me to let him have it as soon as he stepped out of the car and if I didn’t she was going to spank me after they left…...true motherly love….

I was scared to death when I saw their black and white Oldsmobile pull into our driveway. As it rolled to a stop I positioned myself where I thought Michael would step out of the car. As soon as he had both feet on the ground I placed a perfect punch into his stomach. He went to the ground gasping for air and groaning. I figured my uncle was going to finish me off but he just smiled and stepped over his son. I helped Michael up off the ground and we went on our way playing the day away. He never hit me again and we got to be pretty good friends.

I spent a couple of days with Michael one summer weekend. We wandered up and down the hot tar and gravel roads around his house, threw beer bottles at rocks as we found them along the road, and collected coke bottles we could redeem for cash at the convenience store. He taught me the art of getting the most out of my recycled change. I would have bought a nickel Coca Cola and a nickel Snickers. He introduced me to Topp Cola, which was twice as much in volume as the Coca Cola and Big Hunk, which was huge next to a single Snickers. It didn’t matter that these substitutes tasted awful. It was more for the money and we had a few cents left for comic books. We needed to stock up on comic books because we were going to camp out that night in his backyard.

We had a tent set up in the backyard and as soon as the sun went down we went out there. Only young idiots would want to sleep in a canvas tent on a summer night in Texas. We qualified! Our plan was to read all the comics we had bought ourselves and then trade. I have always been of the opinion that a comic book should be funny…..hence the name comic book. I bought Archie, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, and Beetle Bailey. Don’t laugh at me. This was quality stuff. Michael bought Thrills, Death Angel, Quilt Man, and Tales of the Crypt. It took me about half an hour to read all my books. Michael spent nearly two hours getting through his. I read mine two or three more times before getting to trade. After a while they weren’t funny anymore. Finally it came time to trade. I have never read anything more incredibly scary than Tales of the Crypt….and as fate would have it, this was the last one I read….in a dark backyard….that backed up to a deserted country road….at night...in a tent….did I mention it was in the dark? Michael slept peacefully dreaming about Betty and Veronica. I didn’t sleep at all. I saw mummies on the road, zombies sitting on the patio, and one or two ghosts drifting across the backyard. I was sure glad to see the sun come up and my beautiful aunt Evelyn wandering out to see if us boys were ready for breakfast. She was a saint!