Tales from real life
|Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!|
|Approximately a lifetime ago, my uncle gave me a simple four-function pocket calculator with a one-line LED display. It was my personal introduction to the space age, just four years after the first moon landing. My current smart phone is about the same physical size as that pocket calculator, but contains more computing power than the room-size mainframe that I used at University in the mid-70s. I won't even describe the stone-age programs that we wrote for the mainframe, or the green-screen CRT terminals that displayed their output. Modern apps are orders of magnitude more sophisticated, and today's ultra hi-res screens are beautiful. And, though today's smartphone is primarily used for updating social media, it can also make phone calls!
Younger folks will be shocked to learn that phones were once attached to the house. They had to be plugged into a phone jack in the wall to connect to the 'network'. The only mobile phone I saw as a child had a thirty-foot cord so it could be carried into the next room. If you were outdoors, or in your car? Then you were out of touch, maybe for hours. The horror!
Today, nearly everyone posts the excruciating minutiae of their daily lives on the world wide web for anyone to see. They willingly cede all right to privacy in the desperate hope that somebody, somewhere, will like them. It wasn’t always so. An early form of today’s social media was called the ‘party line’. It consisted of a single telephone circuit that served multiple homes. This was especially common in rural areas, where it was cost prohibitive to run dedicated phone lines to all of the widely separated houses.
Each home was assigned a unique ring code made up of short and long rings. The idea was that each household would answer only when they heard their own code, but it was more entertaining to pick up any ring and catch up on the local gossip. Or, pick up at random to see if someone was already on the line. You could listen in on your neighbor as she chatted with aunt Minnie, or hear about her medical issues as she made an appointment with the doctor. Of course, back then people thought it was rude to eavesdrop. There was considerable friction between those who were 'just curious' and those who felt violated by the snooping. Today, people are offended if you don’t pay attention to pictures and posts with intimate details.
What a difference a generation makes!
Author's Note: ▼
Late for class / wearing pajamas / no homework / didn't study / surprise test / etc.
It's been over 40 years since I graduated from college, but I'm still dreaming variations on these themes. The most frequent scenario has me suddenly remembering that I signed up for a class, but never attended a lecture or opened the textbook. In my dream, I somehow know that today is the midterm, but I haven't been to class and I don't even know the room number. I wander aimlessly, already late, wallowing in the certainty of failure because I don't know the material.
And now there's a new wrinkle (pun intended). I dreamed last night that I'm back in school (at my current age), and living in the dorm. This time, I don't know my dorm room number, but it doesn't really matter because I don't have a key, either. I wander the halls aimlessly, looking for an RA to help me find my way home. There are a series of rooms and alcoves as I make my way up and down stairs, and along the corridors. Groups of students are playing pool, watching TV, or just hanging out. They smirk and make snarky comments about the 'old guy' as I pass by. I can't quite catch the words, but the tone is clearly not welcoming. And the topper? There are little piles of blue N95 masks on various tables and countertops, yet nobody in the dream is actually wearing one.
How's that for social anxiety?
|There’s something about the first day on the job that just seems to invite disaster. We’re overeager, self-conscious, and feeling lost in unfamiliar surroundings. Is it any wonder that we manage to find new and novel ways to embarrass ourselves?
Growing up doing chores on the ranch taught me about hard work, and as a high school Senior, I felt ready to get paid for doing a ‘real job’. My academic record was in good shape, so I arranged to spend mornings in class and afternoons at the two-register Mission Mart grocery store. My position as bagboy, stocker, and third checker paid the princely sum of $2 an hour.
The store was mostly empty when I arrived for my first shift, so the boss handed me a broom and sent me outside to sweep the sidewalk. I went at it ferociously, determined to make a good first impression. But, as I swept briskly along the edge, the head of the broom caught against the curb and the wooden handle snapped in half. My face burned red as I contemplated just giving up and going home. I’ll never forget the amused and exasperated look on the boss’s face when I sheepishly brought the pieces back into the store. To his credit, all he said was “I guess you better grab another broom.”
|Trigger Warning! This post may be offensive to entitled, right-wing snowflakes.
Sin begins with listening to a lying snake.
God is angry my friends. God is angry with the base and deplorable who have turned away from Him to worship Donald Trump. The Israelites of old melted their jewelry to create a golden calf. And they did kneel down and worship the false idol that they had made. Just so, the Republicans of today have cast off their dignity to worship an orange oaf. And they do kneel down to kiss the ass of the false idol that they have made.
Ours is a jealous and vengeful God, and covid is his mighty sword. Covid shall punish the unfaithful as the plagues of Egypt punished Pharoah. And lo, though covid strikes the just and unjust alike, the miracle of the vaccines will save many. But the hearts of Trumpers will be hardened against the vaccines. They will refuse the gift of God and perish.
God opens the eyes of the faithful. The sign of the N-95 mask will be worn by the wise and they shall be protected as the angel of covid passes over them. But the faithless Trumpers shall be cursed to drink bleach, inhale disinfectant, burn in the harsh light of the UV, and endure the wracking pain of the horse-worm pill.
Still, it is never too late to open your hearts, my friends! Even now, a merciful God may forgive the faithless if they renounce the evil of Trump and return to Him.
Repent, ye Trumpers, repent! The fires of Hell await.
|Summer heat eased into the golden light of fall, and once school was back in session, I signed up for Drivers Ed. Yeah, it seemed kind of redundant, but I could get a real driver’s license at fifteen and a half if I passed Drivers Ed. The only problem was that the class was taught by Mr. Gallagher in the early morning, before classes. The only feasible solution was for me to drive myself to school so I could take Drivers Ed. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion, so I parked my Studebaker a few blocks away and surreptitiously walked to the high school parking lot. I later found out that pretty much everyone knew what was going on, but no one ratted me out. Just one of the advantages of growing up in a small town.
Drivers Ed turned out to be a useful course of instruction, and I learned a lot, despite my arrogant assumption that I already knew how to drive. Truthfully, there’s a very big difference between steering and driving. Mr. Gallagher took it seriously, teaching us to be courteous on the road while driving defensively. He wasn’t shy about pointing out errors, and emphasized major corrections with a swat from his clipboard.
The local Ford dealer donated a nice LTD for the school’s use, and it was the first time that I ever drove an automatic. When it was my turn behind the wheel, Mr. Gallagher told me to go ahead and start it up. I looked down hesitantly at the floorboards, fishing around with my left foot.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I can’t find the clutch,” I replied.
I completed the Drivers Ed course satisfactorily, and passed my driver’s test in the spring. The pickup had been parked again over the winter, and I had some difficulty getting it going. The battery had gotten pretty weak, so I now needed a jump to get it started when cold. The engine would turn over easily when warm, but I learned to park at the top of a hill so I could do a ‘bump start’ if necessary.
Our driveway had a slight downward slope, and the road had an even steeper downhill grade if I turned out to the right, so I could almost always get the pickup started that summer. Sure, it would have been easier to buy a new battery, but that would take cash I didn't have. And, anyway, the battery worked just fine once the engine was running!
The old Studebaker pickup lost its appeal once I could legally borrow a ‘good’ car from my parents. I drove it less and less as the year wore on. That fall, it was relegated to the old pothole, and I never started it again.
It wasn’t quite the end of my Studebaker pickup story, though. A few years later, the local Postmaster struck up a conversation with my dad about cars. He liked Studebakers too, and was excited when he found out that we had a ’53 pickup in near-running order. I knew that I was never going to restore it, so Bob got an old project truck and I got a crisp new $100 bill. I can’t say that I miss that rattling, bouncing, pile of rust, but I’m glad that it went to a good home.
My fifteenth summer was full of sun and freedom. When I wasn’t busy around the ranch, I tooled around the general area in my ’53 Studebaker pickup. My sisters and I took frequent trips to our favorite swimming hole at the Flathead River.
The quarter-mile downhill grade to the river is gravel and covered with washboard bumps. It’s cut into a clay bank on one side with a drop of a hundred feet or so on the other. With its worn-out suspension, the pickup danced over the washboard, rarely in full contact with the road. I always tried to take it slow, but our speed would inevitably increase as we bounced along. Stepping on the brakes had little effect, it just made steering more difficult. The fishtail motion raised my heart rate, but we never quite went over the edge.
The real excitement came one day when I pulled over into the wide spot above the river where we always parked. It’s about twenty feet above the river and graded smooth, with enough room for several cars. My foot went all the way down to the floorboards with no reaction whatsoever from the brakes. There was barely room, but I twisted the steering wheel frantically to the left and felt the pickup tilt precariously onto the right-side tires as we slalomed back onto the road and coasted to a stop.
‘Why’d you do that?’ asked my little sister indignantly.
She thought I was just trying to be funny, and had no idea that we’d very nearly rolled into the river!
It took a few minutes for me to recover my composure and get us turned around, but we went swimming anyway and enjoyed the afternoon. I drove home cautiously, using low gear to slow down and the emergency brake to stop. In the end, it became a learning experience as my dad taught me how to replace the leaky seals in the brake system master cylinder.
I turned 15 in May and my new ‘maturity’ came with a new interest in things like girls and Rock ‘n’ Roll music. My ’53 Studebaker pickup hadn’t come equipped with a radio, of course, so I scrounged one from the junked cars in the old pothole. My search was limited to a narrow range of cars: old enough to have a six-volt electrical system, but new enough to have a radio. I don’t remember which model I found, but it had a radio installed, complete with speaker, as a self-contained unit. It was perfect for my purpose. Most surprising of all, it still worked.
The technology of 1950’s radio required vacuum tubes, and vacuum tubes require 250 volts DC. This could be provided by a simple transformer/rectifier circuit in a 110 volt AC tabletop radio, but how do you step up a six-volt DC battery? The ingenious solution was a mechanical ‘vibrator’ that simulated AC current by breaking the six-volt DC circuit path sixty times a second. It was basically just a relay wired to open its own coil when power was applied. One set of relay contacts would close to send power to the transformer and another set would open to remove power from the relay coil. The relay would rapidly alternate positions as long as power was supplied to the radio. The series of DC current pulses worked just as well as AC power for the transformer/rectifier in the car radio. The buzzing of the vibrator circuit was clearly audible if the radio volume was turned down with the engine off.
The installation challenge was that my pickup didn’t have a dashboard like modern cars. The instruments were installed directly into the firewall with their connecting wires visible under the hood. Since there was no obvious way to mount the radio on the firewall, I used some baling twine and tied it next to me in the middle of the bench seat. I’d also taken the fender mounted antenna when I grabbed the radio unit. A couple of new holes in the pickup cab allowed me to mount the antenna and run the antenna cable behind the seat to the radio. The small hole we’d drilled in the firewall to access the freeze plug turned out to be perfect for running the power wires.
The lash-up must have looked ridiculous, but it worked like a dream. I had my tunes on all summer as I cruised around pretending to be cool. Looking back, I can hardly believe it was even possible. Delicate vacuum tubes and a mechanical vibrator don’t seem well suited for bouncing around in a moving car.
|When the warmth of April began to dry out the March mud, I put my '53 Studebaker pickup’s battery on the charger overnight. A dribble of gasoline primed the carburetor and it started with surprisingly little trouble. I put the air cleaner back in place, closed the hood, and went for a drive in the sunshine.
About three miles along, I noticed that the temperature gauge was zooming past ‘H’. I decided to pull off the road by an irrigation canal to check the radiator. A couple of wisps of steam were all I could see under the cap. Fortunately, there was a five-gallon bucket in the back that I sometimes used to carry table scraps to the pigs.
It seemed simple enough to me, so I rinsed out the bucket in the canal and brought a couple of gallons of water back to fill the hissing radiator. It turned out that two gallons wasn’t enough, so I made a second trip and came back with a nearly full bucket. I poured another three or four gallons into the radiator before I noticed the stream of water running out from under the truck. Duh! It was running out just as fast as I was pouring it in. The engine had cooled off by the time I figured this out, so I said ‘what the heck’ and drove home.
It turned out that the anti-freeze hadn’t been up to the challenge of a cold Montana winter. One of the freeze plugs had popped out of the engine casting. It saved the casting from cracking, but left behind a silver-dollar size hole where the coolant could run out. As luck would have it, the missing plug was at the rear of the engine block, facing the firewall. A lesser mechanic might have concluded that the engine would have to come out to get access, but not my dad. He bought what’s known as a Welch plug and we carried on.
A Welch plug is made of soft metal and shaped like a dome. It sits snugly in a hole with the dome facing outward. A few taps with a hammer will collapse the dome, expand the edges of the plug, and create a secure seal in the casting hole. I could reach up between the engine and the firewall to insert the plug, but there wasn’t any space to swing a hammer. Dad solved the problem with his power drill. He drilled a hole through the firewall that was almost perfectly in line with the Welch plug. A long bolt served to transfer the hammer blows to the Welch plug, and my Studebaker pickup was soon back on the road. A short, round-head bolt filled the hole in the firewall. It almost looked factory stock.