From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Sunday, April 11, 2010

political science

a man from near the tasman sea sat with intentions of teaching me in the manly art of burping well; something i though i knew.

lesson one, he said, is say "bah-rack"! do not hold it in and do not hold back. practice until you have it right and you will know when you do.

i mastered the task easy enough but he warned, it may really get rough. so now here comes your lesson two: belch loudly and say, "OH"!

it made no sense, i had to confess, but i practiced hard, nevertheless. keep it up, he would evermore say; it must always sound just so.

i mastered that sound but he would not approve, not noticing how i had got in my groove. but before i could catch my breath and relax, he hit me with lesson three.

speak as a southern man, says he, who might make this sound most casually; pronounce it slow and drag it way out. wave and mouth the word, "bye".

i felt perplexed and told him so he would not listen. he said, let's go! lesson four is coming right up. are you ready to pass this test?

well, that did it for me, so i stood right up and said sure, why not? let me try my luck. he asked me then how i said the word "bye" so i respondedly burped a loud "bah".

very good, he says. let's move on along. this next one is hard -- most get it wrong. belch out the one who gave you birth, and i asked, you mean my ma?

exactly, was all the response i received. you are ready, he said, i do believe. now take a deep breath and let some out, and then burp each phrase for me.

"bah-rack OH! bah ma"! i belched aloud! you're a patriot now; you must feel proud! no, i said -- just merely relieved. and then i went off to bed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

the satisfication of aubry snopes

aubry leans over the ship's railing, watching the activity below with a keen interest. he and his fellow marines keep their eyes on a tugboat as it gently nudges the side of their vessel. excitement mounts among the soldiers as it draws close to the nearest dock. dry land at last, and aubry shall soon be pleased to stand on it again.

for the next twelve months, this small island in the far east will become his new home. here there will be new sights for him to see; new smells to savor. he will sample new foods as well as hear strange new sounds, some of which, over time, will become familiar to his ears.





man, woman, boy and girl. aubry will catch on eventually.

but first he has to learn to say hello: konnichiwa.

then thank you: domo arigato.

followed by you are welcome: do itashi mashite.

it sounds more like don't touch my mustache, aubry observes with a grin.

as he settles into his assigned quarters, he learns from seasoned marines about the houseboys. for a small fee, he is told, one will make your bed in the morning. he will also keep your shoes shined, do your laundry, iron your uniforms and sweep and mop your area. when you return from work, it will all be done. all you do is pay him fifty cents a week.

one rotund houseboy is called timmy. the smiling oriental comes into the cubicle one afternoon and sits on a bunk where he listens while aubry plays guitar. when he is finished, timmy asks if he can try it. aubry hands him the instrument, and after a few chords, timmy begins to sing badly, but with plenty of gusto.

uo ah my suh shy
my onnie suh shy
ou may me hop he
when sky ah grey
uo neva no dea
how mush i love uo
ple doe ta my suh shy away

the base where aubry is stationed has many modern conveniences, including a new barber shop. he is surprised to learn, however, that every chair is manned only by young women. a petite nassan must stretch to reach the top of his head, and in doing so, her body might touch his and linger softly against him for a moment. he blushes, but never complains. most do not understand his language anyway, except for a few phrases.

(after taking a seat, he instructs the girl, pointing with his fingers.

you trim high and tight, right?

okay, joe. you waa lee some on top, nay?)

when she is finished, she vacuums hair particles from his neck and shoulders before he leaves the chair. he decides he can get used to being treated this way.

the cavernous mess hall amazes aubry. every day is the same: a high level of noise mingles with the smells of fresh-cooked foods along with the odor of human sweat. all of the female servers behind the counter are young and attractive, and do their jobs with practiced efficiently. aubry learns not to talk to any of them, as they only stare at him and smile or giggle among themselves anytime he tries.

off base he finds endless diversions to enjoy while on liberty, but it has its drawbacks. he tours a brewery and samples their beer while struggling to understand his tour guide. unsure about the price of a ticket to a local movie theater, he overpays the girl in the booth who keeps repeating over and over.

one dolla movie; two dolla smokey.

he ends up in a balcony called the loge, where smoking is permitted, but for a price.

cab rides are an adventure in and of themselves when it comes to the american language. no driver knows much beyond a typical question:

got american cigarette, joe?

the months pass by quickly, and aubry soon rises to the status of a short-timer. now he can brag to all of the new-comers how little time he has left on this miserable island, keeping with a time-honored tradition among marines; there are only two good duty stations in your life -- your last one and the next one.

he packs his sea bag and hauls it up the gangplank of a ship that will shortly set out for san diego, california. after requesting permission to come aboard, he turns and says a silent sayonara to the island before going below to claim a bunk and store his gear.

a month later, aubry sits at the counter of a small diner in a dry and dusty west texas town. a waitress comes over carrying a pot of dark-brown brew plus a menu.

needa minnit, darlin'? wasome coffee first?

he slides a cup over and she fills it to the brim without spilling a drop.

i be rat back, hon.

while she is gone, he studies the menu and decides on a chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

the waitress returns and listens to aubry while scribbling on her pad. then she tears off the top sheet and hands it to the cook.

yont more coffee, you jes hollar.

the meat is tender and crunchy at the same time. as he cuts the last portion in two, the waitress comes back with a question.

yosom dessert, shug?

aubry chews and smiles as he shakes his head while a thought passes through his satisfied mind.

the best sound in the whole wide world is a girl who speaks english that i understand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

from the journal of seaman aitch lamar

friday, may 23, 1788 at five bells in the forenoon:

the sloop john bedford, under the the respectful command of captain rene magritte, pulls away from the crowded docks of albany. she carries a full load of grain stored below and is bound properly for madeira. there our crew of seven shall trade out our cargo for wine and a few cattle. we pray the weather holds faire.

june 29:

made record time to landfall. the second mate, who is my grandfather, has us all in high spirits. tomorrow we set sail for nassau in the far west indies. several cattle crowd our decks which the two cabin boys attend with goode cheer. our hold is now fully packed with flasks of fine portugee wines. the bovines act restless and noisome, as this is a new experience to their nature.

august 9:

in to port. humid, warm and crawling with activity. captain magritte makes huge profits which he in turn invests in kegs of sugarcane rum. after restocking his craft and settling his affairs, he invites the entire crew into towne to celebrate his great success.

august 10: i am sick and sorely injured, as are several of my fellow mates. a gang of seamen from a three-masted square rigger, all bolstered by large amounts of ale, set upon us last night and did great bodily harme. i feel hurt and broke up.

august 12:

the call goes out frome the first mate for the captain who has been staying ashore. we have been promised to set sail for home port at eight bells, predicts my grandfather, which is where i prefer to be. i do desire to go home.

august 12, 8 bells:

a constable came and took grandfather away before the midday. he over-indulged in our grog rations, we learned, and went mad afterward. he thereby broke into the captain's personal possessions and threw most of them overboard, giving the two cabin boys a terrible fright. a sheriff stone boarded our vessel to question the entire crew. i wish the man would leave us alone.

august 14:

while bartering with the sheriff for his second mate's release, our beloved captain has been forced to fire our cook who got a bad case of islander fits. the mad man tossed all manner of food staples into the bay before turning to our stores of fresh corn, which he devoured like a rabid foxe. why will they not let me go home?

august 23:

captain magritte has hired a new cook today. he has announced plans to hoist up the john bedford's mainsail on the morrow. although that is a comfort to mine ears, i cannot help but think that this is the worst trip i have ever been on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

maggie's catch

around the middle of november, bart jones sat down with his security team at one of the tables in the snack bar. this was one of the few times he allowed the group to gather together in public. as suggested by him, each of his crew dressed in street clothes in order to blend in with the zayre store shoppers.

instead of his usual african dashiki, amos came to work wearing khaki slacks, a white shirt and patent leather shoes.

kathy wore a pair of tight designer jeans and a satin blouse. around her neck hung a long strand of beads, which she fingered constantly.

harvey laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair, displaying the front of his zippy the pinhead tee shirt.

maggie had her hair in a red bandanna. she wore loose-fitting jeans, a tye-dyed tee shirt and a pair of leather sandals.

no matter what bart wore, he always had on cowboy boots, which only enhanced his long stride.

as head man looked around the table, his jaw worked from side to side. then he leaned forward and spoke low, like he was sharing a big secret.

"the holiday season is coming up fast, guys. right after thanksgiving, we will see a huge increase of customers, which makes it easier for shoplifters to go unnoticed, so be extra alert for the next few weeks.

look out for expensive items like color tvs and leather coats. last year we got nailed bad on both items, and i don't want to see that happen again. understood? okay?"

amos sucked hard on a straw that stuck out of his drink, making an annoying sound.

kathy twirled the bottom part of her necklace and snickered when he asked,

"can we go now, boss? they must be stealing us blind out there."

bart glared at both of them and growled.

"get out of here!"

as the group left the snack bar, amos stayed behind to get a refill. kathy spotted an empty shopping cart, so she took it and grabbed harvey by the arm and spoke louder than normal.

"let's go find you some decent clothes, dear."

bart turned and pushed through a set of double doors and entered the back storeroom. a short distance away, a set of stairs took him up to an area where there were several observation windows.

maggie headed for the front of the store. she watched for suspicious-looking shoppers as she passed by electronics, and again at records and tapes. she walked each aisle of health and beauty aids without seeing anyone who caught her eye. undaunted, she also went upstairs and found a window where she took a seat.

an hour later, amos led a woman to the security office. bart looked up as they entered.

"what you got?"

"boss, you won't believe this."

he sat the woman down in a chair next to bart's desk. then he waved a slip of paper in the air.

"she tried to pass this at register three. the clerk was almost laughing when she handed me this."

amos dropped the paper item on the desk. bart picked it up and studied it.

there were two layers of paper, each the same size. staples around the edges held them together. on each side was a poorly-made print of a twenty-dollar bill. the fake bill had been colored with a green crayon. bart looked across at the woman, who acted indignant.

"i don't know how that got in my purse!"

in the following days, kathy caught two teen-aged girls leaving the store carrying a zayre bag filled with several unpurchased blouses. she wrote them up and called their parents who came to get the delinquent children.

amos spotted a teen with merchandise stuffed down his pant leg, but the kid ran when amos approached him. he and harvey followed the boy out the front door, but he had a good head-start.

harvey had parked his vega close to the store that day, so he changed directions to hop in the car, thinking he could catch the thief easily. on the way he passed amos on the run, accompanied by two zayre store employees. all three looked winded as he shot by.

up ahead, he saw the teenager, who by now had almost reached the main highway. harvey gunned his vehicle, but then hit the brakes as he approached a large speed bump. a couple of things happened all at once.

the car hit the bump and went slightly air-born. then when it landed, the car got sideways and began to skid across the surface of the parking lot. as harvey steered to straighten the wheels, he saw the kid up ahead, who was trotting along.

but the sound of screeching tires made the boy look over his shoulder, and what he saw coming at him frightened him so bad that he stopped and turned around and gave up on the spot.

the last few seconds of the chase even scared harvey, who had the brakes locked up, trying to halt the sliding vehicle.

the hatchback finally came to a stop with it's front bumper mere inches from the teenager's shaking knees. as dust settled around the car, amos arrived and grabbed the boy by his wrists. harvey remained behind the wheel and under the watchful eye of the boy who seemed grateful to be placed under arrest.

one of the employees looked from harvey to the car and to the kid in utter amazement.

"man, you drive like starsky and hutch!"

the day after thanksgiving, the crowds in the store tripled, just as bart had predicted. and before the weekend was over, four color television sets went out the front door without being paid for. each separate event had been witnessed by various clerks, but before they could inform security, the thieves, along with their loot, had vanished.

then on monday, amid a hugh crowd of busy shoppers, two men came into the store and went directly to men's wear. both of them each scooped up an arm-load of expensive leather coats before dashing out the front door. at the curb outside, the thieves jumped in a waiting car and sped away. it all happened too fast for bart or his crew to act.

on tuesday morning, it began to snow across northern virginia. by that evening, over a half-foot had fallen, blanketing the zayre parking lot and any cars that were parked there. however, throughout the day, a steady flow of traffic compacted most of the snow to a depth of around three inches.

the sun came out the next day, raising the temperature into the high forties, causing the snow to melt slightly. but as the sun went down, a bitter cold front moved into the area, and during the night, the parking lot became a solid sheet of ice.

because of the frigid weather, most people kept warm by staying home for several days. only determined souls ventured out to shop at zayre, which made the hours drag by for harvey.

he sat and talked to maggie with his back resting against the wall while she kept watch at a small window above health and beauty aids. harvey had recently exchanged one of his paintings for a large god's eye that kathy made from brightly-colored yarns. maggie wanted a painting as well, and was unafraid to ask.

"so when you going to do my portrait?"

harvey got a sudden leg cramp, so he stood up to shake it off.

"someday soon. right now i'm going down to the snack bar to get something to eat. see you later."

maggie watched over the empty floor below. half-way across the store, she saw a young woman with an older woman enter the store, but the pair kept walking and passed from her view.

harvey wandered around the aisles for awhile before settling down on a stool at the counter in the snack bar. he ordered a thick slab of fish fillet and waited.

as his food cooked, maggie watched the same two women re-enter her line of sight. she became alert when one of the women picked up a small item and slipped it inside her large winter coat. both of the females quickly turned and left.

maggie jumped up and rushed down the stairs and out onto the floor. she walked swiftly, searching for the pair before spotting them leaving by the front door. she broke into a trot, and as she passed the service desk, she yelled.

"call security! call security!"

a waitress sat harvey's order before him, and even though it was too hot to eat, he couldn't resist taking a small bite. as he rolled the burning fish across his tongue, he heard an emphatic voice speaking over the store's public address system.

"taylor to the mailbox! taylor to the mailbox."

the phrase meant big trouble, and all security personnel knew they were to respond immediately.

harvey leaped to his feet and abandoned the meal. he sprinted up the center aisle and through the foyer and out onto the sidewalk. there he caught a quick glimpse of maggie standing several yards away. she had an older woman pinned against the brick wall of the store, and the two were struggling with each other. as soon as she saw harvey she nodded toward the parking lot.

"i'm okay here. go get the one out there!"

he looked out across the vast sheet of ice which contained no more than a dozen cars parked close to the store. just past the farthest one, he spotted a woman pacing back and forth. from where he stood, he observed that she had her attention focused on maggie and her friend.

harvey stepped out onto the slippery ice and gingerly walked in her direction. unconcerned about the approaching stranger, she allowed him to get close before realizing he was coming after her. she then turned and began to run.

he took a few quick steps before tackling the girl, grabbing the rear of her heavy jacket. she halted suddenly, and when she did, harvey lost his footing. his feet slid forward, causing him to land hard on his back side, but he held on tight to his prey.

when he looked up, he saw into the eyes of an enraged person who now towered over him. in slow motion, he watched in wonder as she raised her right arm high into the air. a feeling of dread overcame him when he saw a short crowbar she held clasped tight in her right hand. the look on her face convinced harvey she was serious about using it, and he sat at her feet with a feeling of helplessness.

but in a flash, a black hand seemed to appear out of nowhere, and it grabbed the hand that held the weapon. harvey shifted his gaze to see the grinning face of one of the stock boys who had heard the security call and came outside to help.

all the merchandise was soon recovered. the police were called and the two detainees were taken to jail. in the office, maggie wrote out a detailed report while bart inventoried the returned loot which consisted of several portable radios and other electronics, as well as a few high-priced watches.

he stacked each item carefully, adding a final small blue package to the stack.

"you did good, maggie. there's over four hundred dollars worth of stuff here."

maggie looked up from her paperwork and shook her head in wonder.

"funny thing is, i only saw them steal one tiny thing."

and she pointed her pen at an inexpensive box of cotton swabs which rested on top of the pile.

bart gave her a satisfied look.

"some days that is all it takes, kid."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

remembering the alamo

my name is crockett. i'm a north american raccoon. i hate to admit to this fact, but i done went and got myself in a mighty tight spot from which there seems no way of escaping. this here is how it all come about.

ever since i was a kit, my moma said i was born to wander. she would also claim my taste for adventure would be the death of me. i'm afeared she might be right as rain on that point, the way things sit rat now. just listen, cuz i ain't got much time left.

as a lad, i used to love to hunt. when i would git home, it tickled me to no end to tell my brothers and sisters tall tales about all my adventuresome journeys i'd had. the wilder the story, the more excited my family acted, which i liked.

one time i had everyone convinced i up and kilt a bar with my bare hands when i was a teen living out in the woods. dang if they didn't believe ever word.

i got so popular with my brand of chin music, folks eventually sent me to congress to be their representative, but that never cottoned to my independent sort of thinking.

shortly after being defeated on my one-raccoon stand against the president regarding vast tribes of buffalo, and the gov'ment's horrible mistreatment of them concerning relocation, i quit the whole affair in disgust and left out for texas.

unfortunately, that place was overrun by mexican prairie dogs who wanted all new-comers to pay tribute by bending to their constricting ways and following their outrageous laws. it became the pivotal point of many a conflict between us arrivals and the mexican dogs, which then forced me and my kin to meet in secret to jaw about what to do for this sitchy ashun.

most all of us who showed up wuz lovers of freedom and shore-fire independence, and we all jined hands saying none of us could abide to digging holes and living underground, nor changing our diets to grasses and hay.

our first meeting started off rough. right away an opossum named travis jumped up and claimed he was in charge. then another fellow, a muskrat from kain tuck who called his self bowie started waving around this huge knife in disagreement. we all sat and watched as them two finally settled down and agreed to share the job of boss.

then after a lengthy discussion, the meet came to an end with one angry outcry: no mealy-mouthed prairie dog had the right to tell us animals how to act!

a few weeks later, our group and other volunteers converged at a small adobe mission in south central texas called the alamo, where we would defend agin a hoard of mexican prairie dogs. we knew they were marching northward, heading directly tord toward our position. our leaders sent out scouts who returned with grim reports of thousands of the rodents on the move.

but muskrat bowie took sick and went to bed. opossum travis gathered the rest of us troops before the battle could begin. his beady eyes sparkled as he drew a line in the sand with one of his hind legs. then he grinned as he spoke.

"who wants to stay and fight? cross over this here line if you so desire."

'course we all stepped forward. none of us had any use for prairie dogs and we all looked forward to gittin' rid of them pesky varmits.

after that, travis went to check on muskrat bowie, who laid on his cot looking poorly. he hung a bed sheet from one wall to another to give muskrat a bit of privacy, and then he assigned me to look after him and tend his needs. midnight came, and we soon fell asleep, being tard and all.

i suddenly come awake just now. the sounds of scratching and digging are all around us.

the clamorous noise grows louder and i bolt upright in my bed to listen. hairs stand up on my back and my ringed tail gits stiff and full. i light a candle agin the darkness and hold it aloft, noticing shadows dancing around our enclosure. muskrat bowie lays on his back and he don't stir none.

outside our private space, i hear the barking of thousands of mexican dogs as they begin to break through the surface of the ground. i feel a vibration made by tiny feet as they rush toward us. without warning, our curtain is pulled with a vengeance.

but before i can react, we are overru

Monday, January 25, 2010

american sons

camp pendleton, california 1963

ozzie had a car.

facing a three-day weekend, some of us got an idea. we had all heard rumors of a nice beach town down in mexico. if we all chipped in for gas, maybe ozzie would drive us there. he liked the sound of it, so plans got underway.

kelsey knew someone in base supply. there he checked out several woolen blankets, a handful of tent poles and tent pegs, plus a large, military-style cooler. someone threw in a wooden spool of communication wire at the last minute. it might come in handy, they said. and so we set out on the journey.

as soon as we crossed the border, we stopped in tijuana to purchase some spanish fly. the aphrodesiac would be useful later on, we agreed, and would guarantee a good time with any ladies we might meet. our spirits soared.

joe, the only one in our group of mexican decent, claimed he could speak spanish, so he was elected to transact the deal (joe had grew up in long beach and talked just like us).

ozzie parked at the curb at the first pharmacy we came to, and all of us followed joe inside. how exciting to be on this mission -- acquiring infamous spanish fly!

look out, you hapless females -- here come the american sons!

a man behind the counter listened as joe spoke spanish, describing the desired item. joe used his hands a lot and kept repeating in english, "for sex, for sex!". our group nervously shifted weight and shuffled feet during this unintelligible intercourse. would the druggist report us to the authorities?

the man suddenly seemed to understand joe's request. he then turned and left to search among shelves on a certain aisle before returning with a package. he placed it in a small paper sack before handing it to joe. joe then paid him, using american money, and so our group left the store, excited to no end.

we actually did it! we now possessed this powerful drug with its titillating reputation. we strutted down the sidewalk, thinking about results that must surely lay ahead.

but before we got to the car, joe recognized a man coming toward us as one of his relatives, so he stopped to greet him. the two men spoke spanish for a few moments. then joe opened the bag and showed his cousin the package inside. the man peered in and smiled, flashing a gold tooth.

joe began to look worried. his cousin pointed at the bag and began to laugh as he continued to speak. then he chuckled as he turned and walked away, leaving the rest of us to wonder.

"what's going on? what's so funny?"

joe turned and gave a defeated look.

"he says we bought birth control pills."

ten minutes later and at a different pharmacy, joe came away saying he had the the real thing this time, and held up a new package as proof. we believe him, so leaving tijuana, we felt satisfied, confident and giddy with success. ozzie then drove us south on a two-lane highway that wound through a rugged mountain pass. we were headed at last toward the little village of ensenada, baha, california.

we arrived at the quiet town around noon. our first stop -- a liquor store, where we purchased several bottles of tequila and rum, along with several cans of fruit punch. then we drove to the beach to claim a spot where we would live for the next few days.

while others in the group set up camp using poles and wool blankets knotted together, kelsey and i walked up the shore line toward a house not far away. kelsey held the spool of comm wire at his side, reeling out two thin strands as he went. i followed close behind, stepping on the wire and burying it beneath the soft sand.

we then knocked on the front door of the bungalow, and after explaining our situation and asking permission, the people who lived there graciously allowed us to plug the ends of our wires into an outside outlet, which would supply our tent with electricity.

why not? i had brought along an electric guitar and an amp, while kelsey supplied us with a portable radio. ozzie pulled out an electric razor. we should live like civilized people, he said.

later that day, our party split up to scour the beach for firewood. not only did we amass a huge pile of fuel before dark, but joe and ozzie met two young girls whom they invited to join us.

"just wait -- they will be here!", joe predicted, flashing his magical smile.

we glanced at each other with sweet anticipation.

marlin was the youngest one among us, but he barely looked sixteen. his cheeks glowed rosy red, and he sported a perpetual open-mouthed grin. his innocent eyes darted about in perpetual wonderment. not one likely to score with women, we put him in charge of drinks.

"marlin, stay inside the tent. mix up a batch of tequila, rum and punch, and then fill six glasses. add spanish fly to the last two. then after that, hand 'em out to kelsey."

the fire crackled and roared as the night progressed. showers of sparks occasionally spiraled toward the darkened sky while muted sounds of waves crashed on the beach nearby. laying around the bonfire and facing the flames, we and the two female guests talked and laughed, enjoying the evening.

inside the tent, marlin took his assignment seriously. after handing out a round of drinks, kelsey passed them around the circle. ozzie proposed the first toast of the night.

"to good friends! drink up, everyone!"

we continued in this manner for almost an hour. as the fire burned lower our hopes rose, but nothing like what we expected happened.

then marlin stuck his head out the tent. he whispered, looking troubled.

"guys, we are almost out of punch. what do i do?"

kelsey replied in low tones.

"dump all you got into one batch. we will handle it from there."

soon a train of tumblers passed from the tent, each one spiked with spanish fly. kelsey passed them along with a terse warning.

"don't drink this!"

basking in the glow of hot embers, ozzie raised his glass one last time and offered a final toast.

"to true love!"

and with that, each of us pretended to down our drinks, but instead, tossed the contents over our shoulders.

as luck would have it, the liquid from ozzie's glass splashed onto the bare legs of the girl laying next to him. she yelped as she jumped to her feet, pulling her companion up with her. we all looked startled. then in a most indignant manner, she and her friend marched off into the darkness, leaving the five of us to silently stare into the fire.

ozzie got up and wandered away, carrying a half-full bottle of rum. the rest of us shared a bottle of tequila together before crawling into our home-made tent, where we slept soundly.

sometime in the middle of the night, the tent collapsed, but no one noticed.

early the next morning, a motor home arrived, and it parked next to the lumpy pile of green blankets laying on the sand. a woman inside began to prepare breakfast for two. a man sat in the doorway, idly watching a flock of seagulls close by. then something stirred beneath the wool blankets.

the old gentleman looked on silently as a body emerged from the tent. he watched the ragged form crawl across the sand to a spot several feet away. there it began to paw and dig, using its hands. the elderly gent sat upright as the figure withdrew a large bottle of rum from the hole. it removed the cap and took a long swig. then dragging the bottle along, it returned to disappear beneath the blankets. soon after that, the couple and their motor home left behind beautiful ensenada beach and drove off.

around mid-morning, the sun forced all inside the tent to get up and get out. by noon, the tent once again stood tall. in its shade sat a cooler filled with melting ice and cold cuts. one of its occupants sat outside in the breeze, shaving with an electric razor while blaring rock and roll music on a radio nearby. an occasional stroller stopped to stare, stunned at the sight. when another man in the crew set up a guitar with an amp and began to play loud surfing music, a small crowd gathered, all marveling at such an improbable scene.

as the sun set that evening, we decided to hang out in one of the local bars in town. but after a few hours of heavy drinking, ozzie became wild and belligerent, so we left. leading him by the arm, we all staggered out into the parking lot.

but while standing there arguing over who should drive, two policemen appeared. as they stepped out of their squad car, my knees went weak.

mexico cops have a bad reputation for using heavy-handed tactics and treating prisoners badly. i envisioned our group spending time together in a filthy, cramped jail, eating our meals from hubcaps. i suddenly wanted to go home.

the first cop asked who the car belonged to. ozzie puffed up his chest and rocked forward a step.

"it's my car. what about it, mexican?"

this was no good. kelsey tried to snatch the car keys from him. the other cop acted polite as he spoke.

"where are you people staying?"

ozzie weaved as he glared at the man. joe answered, pointing toward the ocean.

"we have a campsite on the beach."

the officers spoke spanish for a few seconds. then one looked at us kindly.

"hand over the car keys for now. you can pick them up in the morning at the station."

we wrestled ozzie to get his keys away. the cops then left us standing in the parking lot, wondering what to do next. the lights inside the bar soon went off. everyone got into the car. three sat in the back seat and fell asleep right away. kelsey and i remained awake, sitting up front. then he came up with an idea.

"let's hot-wire the car and get the hell out of here."

it sounded good to me. i was afraid the cops might change their minds and come back for us.

"if you know how, let's do it!"

while kelsey lay on his back with his head stuck up under the dashboard, i lit and held matches to give him light. the hours dragged by with no luck. i finally ran out of matches. him and i then sat and watched as the sun came up, listening to sounds of snoring from the bodies behind us.

in the twilight, kelsey decided to try one more time. all of a sudden his body stiffened as he exclaimed.

"damn! look what i found!"

and his arm handed me a small metal container. the magnetized box held a single key that would start the engine; we were saved!

before the sun rose above the horizon, kelsey and i returned to the campsite, threw everything into the trunk and drove away, happily leaving the beach and cops and keys and girls behind.

Friday, December 25, 2009

tis the season

we sent our son joel, who now lives in washington state, a christmas present that we shipped via united parcel service over a week ago.

since he likes spy stuff, the wife picked out what appears to be an innocent ball point pen. actually, the device doubles as a spy camera, which is located at the opposite end of the writing instrument. it looked like the perfect gift for our boy who loves the latest gadgets.

joel lives in an apartment in vancouver, washington. if you are not home at the time when a ups delivery truck arrives, the driver will leave your package with personnel at the apartment manager's office. all he requires is a signature, and then the man in the brown uniform flies away in a hurry.

joel had known for over a week to expect something from us soon, so yesterday he stopped by the office where he asked if there was anything waiting for him.

"look through that pile over there and see if you can find something with your name on it."

what a disappointment -- there was no such package among the whole lot.

he has since called ups to verify that the company actually did deliver it. they claim that they did, and the signature they have offers solid proof.

the office people only shrug and say it isn't their fault.

so our son is without his present this year.

me, i am about ready to suggest that he file a lawsuit against the apartment office. either that or we send him a new spy toy; one that will explode if opened by the wrong person.

merry christmas, everyone.