Horribly True Tales from the Drunken Trucker

Often horribly true things happen to me. Often they are funny, but only in retrospect. These are but some of those tales.

The Talkin’, Crack-Brained, Gravy Incident of Ought Ought, Cast from the Tribe Blues

This year, 2019, marks the 20th Thanksgiving I’ve spent with my wife in the over 21 years we’ve been a couple.  In fact, the one Thanksgiving we didn’t share was when we were dating long-distance in 1998 and she sent me Thanksgiving in the mail—including a box of stuffing, a can of green beans, a can of gravy, a can of chicken to sub for turkey and a can of tuna for the cat.

Among the traditions my wife and I have at Thanksgiving time, one is the annual re-telling of a Horribly True incident which occurred during our very first Thanksgiving as a married couple.  I have previously shared a highly summarized version of the story in an early Horribly True Tale.  However, due to its very tragic and inexplicable nature, the story itself has evolved to become an oral tradition warning to future generations of humanity that some ideas are crack-brained and some people, while well-intentioned, are idiots. For many years I refrained from writing more about it simply to spare the feelings of certain parties involved (i.e. the crack-brained idiot).  However, I realized this year that the one and only time I met the idiot in question happened to be at that Thanksgiving and this person has not only since fallen completely out of our lives but is also someone whose name neither of us can remember.  This being the case, I figure I’m free to roll them anonymously and cheerfully under a bus by writing it down.

The horribly true incident in question occurred in Charlotte, NC, in the year 2000, our marriage newly minted nine months prior.  It was not only our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, but also our first ever to host, taking place in our very first apartment.  Some weeks prior, we put the word out among friends in the region and beyond that we were holding Thanksgiving at our place and anyone who didn’t mind the drive was welcome to come.  Our friends John and Ramona Underwood, who were closest in Newport News, VA, accepted.  Our friend and occasional Horribly True participant, Joe Evans, came up from Missisisppi.  And our friends James and Denise Martin drove in from Mobile, Alabama.  Being a hospitable kind of gal, the wife also invited fellow employees at her mall-retail place of employment.  One of these fellow employees, a young lady we shall call Judy Iscariot, chose to accept the invitation.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was sent on several trips to the grocery store for meal preparation.  I got a giant turkey, of course, as well as ingredients to make dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and other traditional Thanksgiving items.  Our guests were also bringing dishes, so it wasn’t on us to cook to cook it all.  However, one of the dishes that we were providing was the gravy.  Even though we’d stockpiled giant cans of chicken broth well in advance, when it came time to actually make the gravy we just didn’t seem to have enough at hand.  I was sent to the store multiple times for more broth, two of them on the day before Thanksgiving and then one on Thanksgiving Day itself.   I don’t even recall what the problem was, other than broth is often used in so many other Thanksgiving dishes that it kept getting commandeered for those and none saved for the gravy.  Despite this, a giant vat of gravy was eventually produced. 

The guests arrived and the Thanksgiving meal was served.  Having only a tiny breakfast nook of a dining table back then, we used it to put the food on so that everyone could file by buffet-style, taking their heaping plates on to the living room to eat while we watched an early tape of the first episode of the Patrick Warburton version of The Tick which James had “borrowed” from the TV station at which he worked.  We all stuffed ourselves stupid and blessed the cooks for their efforts.  Afterward, the men retired to the living room to watch traditional Thanksgiving “feetball” and the ladies all went to the kitchen to clean up.  (This was in the year 2000, remember, before the towers fell, back when such roles were still divided along gender lines.  This year, for instance, I cooked all of the Thanksgiving meal by myself and my wife and mother-in-law lounged around looking at their phones and watching football.  So, see, times have really changed.)  

Soon after the cleanup had finished, Judy Iscariot, who was the only guest not staying the night, excused herself to return to her own home, thanking us for inviting her.  We said things like, “Sure,” and “Any time,” and “Come back soon.”  Little did we know.

Hours passed, much digesting was accomplished and hunger began to stir again.  As they felt the need, folks began to filter to the kitchen one-by-one for traditional Thanksgiving leftovers sandwiches.  And during the process, certain phrases were uttered and then repeated among each of the guests.  Many formed inquiries such as “Where’s the gravy?” and “Has anybody seen the gravy?” and “Man, I’d kill a man for some gravy about now.”  Eventually, it was my wife’s turn at the leftovers and her turn to ask about gravy.  She was then seen searching high and low within the refrigerator on a quest to find whatever opaque margarine container had been used to store a fraction of the gravy vat we’d made.  On seeing this search, Ramona cautiously approached and in a small, hesitant voice said, “Um, there is no gravy.”

“Whuh?” the wife said, understanding each of Ramona’s words, just not how they related to one another.

“There’s no gravy,” Ramona repeated. 

“What do you mean there’s no gravy?” Ashley said.

There came a pause. 

“Judy… Judy poured it all out.”

Another pause.

“She poured it out?” Ashley said in disbelief.

“Yeah.  Down the garbage disposal,” Ramona said.  She then went on to describe how during the chaos of the kitchen cleanup, with everyone bumping into one another in the tiny space, trying to find where things should go, Ramona had turned to see Judy pouring the whole kettle of gravy down the drain of the kitchen sink.  Ramona had tried to stop her, but Judy insisted that it was fine to pour it all out because, as Ramona quoted, “Gravy… doesn’t… keep.”

Allow me to repeat: Gravy, she said, doesn’t keep.

We were utterly staggered by the revelation about the gravy’s demise.  We felt betrayed and bewildered all at once.  I mean, just think what kind of bassackward horror show of an upbringing Judy Iscariot must have endured in order to bring her to a mindset in which she truly believes gravy doesn’t keep?  A sad, dry, life devoid of moistened food, is the answer.  Probably throws out leftover stew after the first day.  Probably thinks you can’t resuscitate cold French fries and chucks them right in the bin.  Has never been known to ask for a doggie bag in a restaurant in her life.  That kind of sad. 

Well let me just tell you—and you can pass it on to future generations of your own families—gravy damn well does keep!  In fact, it gets better with age.  And when you’ve used it to the fullest extent of its gravy properties, it then can become the base-matter for turkey soup.  (And I refer you again to the previously mentioned Horribly True Tale, for which this story serves as a prequel, and which concerns the very same holiday and, indeed, bird.) 

After dabbing the tears from our eyes and finding our bearings once again, we had to go sit down for a while and spend some time contemplating Judy’s well-meaning treachery.  It nearly put us off our second Thanksgiving sandwiches—our dry, dry Thanksgiving sandwiches.  Judy Iscariot had sold us out.  She would forever more be cast from our tribe, banned from our village.  All future Thanksgiving invitations rescinded.  She could not come back any time, soon or otherwise.  And despite what we said to our gathered guests that prior to digging into the Thanksgiving meal, we were no longer thankful for Judy Iscariot.  Judy Iscariot was dead to us.  At best, she would become a cautionary tale that there are true dangers in the world and that some friendships come with too high a price.

And now, this warning has been passed on to you.

The Talkin’, Stuffed in a Winnebago, Can’t Catch No Silvers, Blueberries Out the Yin Yang, Bumping down the Frost Heaves, Grand Lodge Experience, All Gonna End in Tears, 20th Anniversary Horribly True Fan Blues

Over the 20 years I’ve been writing them, my Horribly True Tales output has tapered off quite a bit.  I’m sure this is mostly down to maturity allowing for better decision-making skills on my part, and the ability to purchase a better class of automobile, since most of the earliest stories seem to revolve around car trouble.  Despite their infrequency, the stories have still developed a small but faithful fan base with those who’ve found them through Facebook and my Horribly True website.  However, the audience has been extended beyond those avenues, largely due to the efforts of my sister-in-law, Amber.  Amber has been a fan of my tales since the late `90s, and has been known to share them with friends and co-workers, whenever there is need to spread a laugh or lighten a mood.  And because Amber’s husband Jim is career Army, she’s been subject to frequent moves with each new base assignment and has held half a dozen new jobs over the course of 15 years.  With each one she has spread my tales to new ears—often in the form of live in-office readings.  However, in the nigh on two decades that I’ve known Amber, she’s never actually appeared in one of the tales as a participant.  That is, until we took a two week family trip to Alaska in 2016.

The state of Alaska holds a special place in the lives of my wife and her family.  In the mid-`70s, they moved there from North Carolina, after her father found work as a mechanic helping construct the Alaska oil pipeline.  It’s where they spent the 25 years and where my wife and Amber grew up, living in different locales with varying degrees of electricity, plumbing, and access to paved roads.  It was a real Little House on the Prairie existence for much of that time.  Frankly, their stories of their real life adventures rival my meandering nonsense any day.  I think the reason they like my stories so much is simply because it affords them the opportunity to think things like, “Oh, you had some car trouble one time?  Yeah, that’s cute.  Ashley once hit a moose and her Ford Escort station wagon turned into a cloud of metal confetti, unrecognizable as having once been an automobile.  She was almost decapitated.  Oh, and another time, we had to barricade ourselves in our home-made log cabin because a bear was trying to break down the door and eat us.  But you keep telling your little stories.” 

In the mid-90s, my wife left Alaska, traveling across the lower 48—in a different Ford Escort station wagon—all the way to Blue Mountain College in Mississippi, where she would finish up her undergraduate studies.  She never intended to be away from Alaska and her family for more than a couple of years.  However, two things got in the way of this: A) she decided to go on to medical school and there are no such schools to be found in Alaska; and B) she had the questionable fortune of meeting and marrying me.  The Alaska-return timeline wound up getting delayed by a couple of decades, most of it spent in our current locale of West Virginia.  And during those years, her family all moved to the lower 48. 

The state itself remains strong in the bloodstream of her family, though.  And if you’ve ever been there, you know perfectly well why, because your blood has probably picked up some of it too.  It’s one of the most gorgeous places on earth.   I find it stress-inducingly beautiful because I myself have experienced near panic attacks there in an area called Glacier View, which you can see while traveling along an area of the Glenn Highway.  The road runs along the Mantanuska River valley in which you can indeed view a glacier.  Hell, you could drive on down and lick it if you wanted.  The craggy lush mountains, capped with snow even in the middle of summer, are spectacular.  You want nothing more than to stop and stay a lifetime and absorb the beauty.  And the intense anxiety you feel gripping your soul is because you know you can’t stay, cause you have to motor on to catch a plane the next day. 

Beyond the beauty, one of the things that my wife’s family truly misses about Alaska are the blueberries.  In fact, if the word blueberry is mentioned in their presence—and I don’t recommend doing so—you may as well strap in, cause you’ve got a 10 minute lecture in store on the topic of how much better Alaska blueberries are compared to berries grown anywhere else.   I’ve seen them turn up their noses at homemade lower-48-blueberry-based treats on the grounds that it’s just a waste of their time.  Oh, sure, they might try a bite or two, but always with accompanying critical commentary.  “Well… that’s good and all,” they say in weighted tones that you can tell really mean, “Well, that’s a good try.” 

I thought they were all delusional until I finally got to try some Alaska blueberries for myself.  I found it to be a transformative experience.  In an instant, I went from “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, Alaaaaaska bluuuuueberrrrriiiiiies,” to “Holy shit!  Where have these been all my life?”

Alaska blueberries don’t grow on tall bushes, as they do in the lower-48.  Instead, they are found growing plentifully in very low bushes, often in mossy tundra areas.  And while they’re not large, this just seems to concentrate their spicy flavor in a way that other blueberries can only aspire to.  They make excellent jams and jellies.  My wife once traded a shipment of 24 jars of her apple butter for a similarly sized shipment of Alaska blueberry jam from her friend Laura.  As good as the wife’s apple butter is, we still got the better end of the deal and should probably have sent a second box of it to make up the difference. 

With the powerful draw of blueberries in mind, in 2014, for my mother-in-law’s birthday, my wife gave her a gift certificate good for one trip to Alaska to pick blueberries with her daughter.  It was basically an excuse to make a family trip back home, but blueberries would indeed be picked.  Ma finally cashed in the certificate in 2016, and plans began to form for the trip.  Amber and Jim wanted in on this too, so we all synchronized calendars and came up with August as the best time to go.  We rented a Winnebago in Anchorage—which is one of the best and cheapest ways to see the state—restaurants and hotels being as expensive as they are there.  Even with five of us crammed into it, the Winnebago only really felt crowded while we were on the road, because at stops we could always just step outside and extend our living space into the amazing scenery wherever we were. 

We spent two weeks driving wherever we liked in search of blueberries and/or salmon, whichever hopped in our baskets first. 

Now, there are three species of salmon regularly found in Alaska: pinks, silvers, and reds.  The red salmon, which are the best—particularly from the copper river—unfortunately spawn earlier in the season, so we would have none of them.  The pinks, which are the least palatable salmon, were spawning currently, but we didn’t want them.  Our best hope was to catch a few silver salmon.  They, it turned out, were pretty thin in the streams.  It was technically their spawning time, but all the fishermen we ran into said the silvers had either already passed through or were yet to arrive. 

The blueberries, however, were plentiful.  We found them throughout the trip—in boggy fields on the side of the highway near Denali, on remote hillsides just outside of Fairbanks, and out in a huge field near their old home territory of Salcha.  You couldn’t miss them.  We would venture out, the smell of alder in our noses, each of us keeping an eye out for bears, and pick until our grocery store sacks were near bursting with blueberries, raspberries, crow berries and more, which we took back to the camper, sorted, and vacuum-sealed.  And we only stopped picking when there was no more room in the freezer.  

During the trip, we stayed mostly in RV campgrounds where there was access to water and sewage hookups, not to mention regular showers.  We weren’t scared to stay in a pull off on the side of the road, or the driveway of a friend if need be.  Near the end of the first week of the trip, though, we got a look at some fancier digs.  We stopped near Delta Junction, to visit a a family friend who works at the Lodge at Black Rapids.  The lodge itself is nestled on low hill overlooking a stretch of panic-inducing gorgeous scenery, vast fields, rivers, more snow-capped mountains, the Delta River, the Black Rapids Glacier itself, and the historic 100-year-old Black Rapids Roadhouse. 

I was particularly taken with the lodge.  I’ve never spent any time in a lodge, I’d only seen them on TV.  But the Lodge at Black Rapids was what I’d always imagined one would be like.  It’s the kind of place that must have taken half a forest to build the timber structure and half a mountainside for the slate-shingled exterior.  It’s the sort of place where well-heeled outdoorsy folk fly in to stay, spending their days hunting, fishing, and rafting before ambling back for nights of sumptuous meals and drink at a giant rustic table, beneath hand-hewn beams before retiring to a comfy chair around the stacked stone fireplace for a snifter of bourbon, cigars, and some manly talk before bed.  I wanted to stay and get to know it a while—at least until I saw how much it would cost to do so.  I made a mental note, though, that one day I wanted to stay in a lodge just like it.

We motored on, traveling south to Valdez, on the southern coast, for the last few days of our trip.  It was lovely there, too, despite the fog and rain and the thousands upon thousands of super gross pink salmon piled up on every shoreline.  Most were still technically alive, but they had either already spawned or had failed to spawn, and were by then just pale, rotting, ghost fish who didn’t yet know they were dead.   Even in great health, pinks are the Spam of the salmon family, but even bears don’t want to eat ghost pinks.  No silvers could be found among their stinky ranks.  And after a day or two of waiting for their foretold arrival, we gave up and just bought frozen silver salmon from a local fishery, packed them into coolers and headed north on the first leg of our trek back to Anchorage.

Hours later, we turned west onto the Glenn Highway at at Glennallen.  And as we drove into the early evening, the glow of the sun reflecting off of the snowy whiteness of Mount Drum behind us, we started checking phones and atlases for likely stopping places for the night. 

On the map we spied a tremendous body of water called Lake Louise.  Gotta be fish there, we thought.  And while looking for lakeside campgrounds, what should I spy on the map but three magic words: Lake Louise Lodge.  Immediately, I was dazzled by visions of the Lodge at Black Rapids, of sitting around the stone hearth, watching the sun set at 11 p.m. through a two story window, a craft beer in hand and a belly full of fried sea creatures.  According to our phones, the Lake Louise Lodge was only $20 a night for RV parking!  My grand lodge experience was within reach!  Everyone else agreed as well, we should go forth and check it out.  The only downside to this plan was that the lodge was located 20 miles north of the Glenn highway itself.

Now 20 miles might not seem like much of a problem for those of us used to paved road conditions in the lower 48.  Roads in Alaska, much like the blueberries, are a different kind of creature.  Because temperatures often dip well below zero throughout the Alaskan winter, the ground expands and contracts as the upper layers of soil repeatedly freeze and thaw.  This creates frost heaves in the earth.  And when frost heaves occur beneath paved roads, those roads become quite lumpy.  It takes every day of the warmer months for the state to maintain the primary highways of Alaska.  Side roads, such as Lake Louise Road, don’t see as much attention. 

The frost heaves we encountered were so bad that we had to keep the Winnebago under 15 mph or it would have been rattled apart.  It took us 20 minutes to go only five miles, at which point we arrived at a pull off area beside a pristine little lake, which was across the road from an even larger and more pristine little lake.  (“Little lakes” in Alaska are what most of us just call “lakes,” while “big lakes,” like Louise, are what most of think of as “seas.”)  We pulled off, had a look around at the stunning scenery, and everyone in the vehicle declared that we’d found our place for the night.  

Everyone, that is, except me. 

As picturesque as our surroundings were, I didn’t want to stay at the pull off.  For one thing, there was a cluster of three up vehicles at the far end of the pull off, including a dark and possibly abandoned, pull-behind camper.  There was no activity around them.  But my fiction-writer’s mind began conjuring up images of a caravan filled with hungry Alaskan vampires who were just waiting for the sun to finally dip at midnight, at which point they would emerge to devour us.  It was a dumb image, I knew, but I couldn’t shake the shudder of dread whenever I looked at the dented up old camper.  If not vampires, there were at least a few cannibal serial killers in there.

However, the even more potent image that I couldn’t shake was my memory of the Lodge at Black Rapids and the Grand Lodge Experience that was surely to be had at the Lake Louise Lodge.  I could practically taste it and now the plate was being yanked away from me.  Everyone else was content with the stupid gorgeous lakes by the vampire pulloff, but I kept imagining how much better it would be at a lodge by a huge honking lake bigger than 200 pristine pull off ponds.  Sure, we wouldn’t be staying in rooms there, but we could certainly use the amenities such a place offered.  Jim and the others could go fishing, I could sit on the deck and enjoy the lakeside atmosphere. 

“I kind of want to check out Lake Louise Lodge,” I said with what I hoped was confidence.  “I mean, that’s where we were already heading, right?” I added.  I had them on this point.  The lodge was, after all, the entire reason we had taken Lake Louise Road in the first place.

Tragically, no one fought me on this.  Not even a little bit.  Maybe it was because I’d been a mostly silent-partner passenger for the entire trip so far, always game to do whatever everyone else wanted to do simply because they all knew the state better than I did, and knew what would be fun to do or see.  I could tell from their expressions that they didn’t agree with my proposed course for the evening, but they grudgingly climbed back into the Winnebago.  I took the wheel and we motored on north…   

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

…up and down the lumpy, frost-heave rutted road…  

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

…at 15 mph…  

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

… like driving over a twenty mile stretch of railroad track crossings…

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

And the soundtrack to this forced-march into idiocy, beyond the road, were the pained groans of the stressed metal of the Winnebago’s frame, as it was called upon to maneuver the heaves at odd angles from both ends.  Underlying the groans, however, was a bed of thick, seething silence of the kind that can only be achieved when four Winnebago passengers are completely not on board with the fifth one’s plan, yet also don’t feel like they can say anything without pissing off the easy-to-irritate guy who had rented the Winnebago in the first place. 

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

*seethe seethe seethe* 

Very quickly into this asinine crawl, the realization of just what a HORRIBLE mistake I had made washed over me.  Not only was it a horrible mistake, but I was forcing my loved ones to participate in my horrible mistake.  And because of this, it would not matter how good the Yelp rating was for Lake Louise Lodge or how good the fishing may or may not be there.  This was going to end in tears.  The only way I could envision this situation turning out in anything approaching my favor was if the Lake Louise Lodge turned out to be some kind of five star restaurant/resort combo and, in honor of the great effort we had made to get there, they would just comp us all room and board for two nights, with free massages, our own fishing Sherpa to guide us to their super-secret fishing hole—stocked with nothing but silver salmon and halibut they’d had flown in from the ocean—and, oh, what the hell, let’s throw in a perfect clear view of Mt. McKinley, a once-in-a-lifetime display of northern lights in August, and a free house concert by Stevie Ray Vaughan.  (Yeah, that’s right.  He came back from the dead for us in this fantasy, and that’s not even the least believable part of it.)

Far more likely, I thought, was that we would spend an hour getting to the Lake Louise Lodge, it would suck grizzly balls, and everyone’s vacation would be ruined because of me. 

 Unfortunately, as doomed as I felt, I could also see no good way to back down from my stupid senseless quest.  By then we were over 45 minutes into the horrible mistake and I felt we were too invested to turn back.  Plus, I knew there was no way I could get that behemoth of a Winnebago turned around on a two lane road—frost heaves or no. 

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

An hour of painful silence and gut churning road-conditions later, we at last arrived at the Lake Louise Lodge.  And it was… nice enough, I guess.  I mean, I wouldn’t tell anyone NOT to go there, but it was… okayish.  It was certainly no Black Rapids Lodge by any stretch.  It looked pretty much like a big log cabin that was kind of near a lake.  The property itself, though, looked less like a manicured resort destination and more like the cluttered back yard of somebody who lives way way out in the country, who had maybe been doing some home renovations for the last couple of months, hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up all the building supplies, and who isn’t expecting visitors.  It had a kind of in-progress, patched together feel to it—which can actually be said of most structures in rural Alaska.  (In the lodge’s defense, the really good view of the place is from the lake itself, which you can see on their website, and it’s lovely.  That’s not the view we had.)

We stared at the lodge with a mix of expressions from empty to underwhelmed to angry, no one saying much of anything.  After more silence, Jim went inside to arrange our stay while the ladies bolted from the Winnebago and gathered themselves into a lady huddle.  I was left at the wheel to think about what I’d done.  Clearly no one liked the Lake Louise Lodge.  I didn’t like it either, but I still didn’t see a good way out of the situation. I thought, Well, we invested a long and painful hour getting’ here, so I guess we have to at least give these grizzly balls a lick.  

Jim returned and led us to the RV campsite.  There was a reason it was only $20 a night, because it was located behind a long outbuilding that both blocked all view of the lake and which housed a diesel generator.  Which was running.  And noisily belching diesel fumes from a vent aimed directly into the RV site.  And, as far as we knew, it would be doing so for the rest of the night. 

I backed the Winnebago into the RV site and Jim and I began trying to get the thing leveled out and the popouts popped.  Meanwhile, the ladies continued to converse outside.  I could see resigned and disappointed expressions among them.  Then my wife walked away, by herself, into a stand of short trees.  That wasn’t good. 

Seeing no way to avoid it, I went outside to go check on her.  Before I could follow, Ma came over and said something to me, but I couldn’t understand her over the noise of the generator. 

“What?” I shouted.

“I said, `Is this place… as nice… as you’d hoped?!’” she shouted back.

“It’s… It’s all right.  I guess,” I said.  “Maybe we can finally catch some fish?” I added lamely.

The truth, though, was that I hated the Lake Louise Lodge.  I even hadn’t set foot in the place, but already I knew with certainty that this was never going to be the grand lodge experience I had hoped for.  There would be no craft beer or fried sea creatures.  We’d be lucky to get a warm Shasta and a tube of Pringles.  There was no chance of anyone having a good time.  Everybody was disappointed and/or furious with me.  No, this night was going to be miserable on all fronts.

And then, over the intestinal roar of the generator, I somehow heard Amber tell Jim that she felt a headache coming on from the fumes.  And then I distinctly heard her say, “I don’t think I can stay here.”  And with those words—those magic words—I suddenly saw the exit from my horrible mistake.  After all, if Amber’s health was being affected by the fumes, we clearly could not stay there even a moment longer.  Before I could say anything, though, Ma leaned close to me and shouted, “You need to go talk to Ashley!”   She pointed into the stand of young pines where I could just make out my wife.  She had her back to me as I approached, but I could see her wiping at her eyes.  They were red and streaked with smeared mascara when she turned to look at me.  

“We were at such a beautiful place at that pull off,” she said.  “This is terrible.”

“Yeah.  It is,” I said.  “We should go.”

Her eyes brightened at this.  It was like she was expecting protest and resistance from me—I cannot begin to fathom why—but, instead, she found a willing accomplice in a new plan to abandon the old plan.

We couldn’t get the Winnebago packed up fast enough.  The popouts were yanked back in and Jim was barely aboard, with a refunded $20 in his pocket, when we pulled out with the wife at the wheel.  Nice as it might be under different circumstances, we fled the Lake Louise Lodge as fast as we could.  Which, turns out, wasn’t very fast at all.   

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

During our 40 minute trek back to the pristine pulloff, I sat in the passenger seat and just felt awful about it all.  My stupid, selfish, romantic dream of lodge-life almost resulted in a night of misery for my family.  I couldn’t keep the tears back.  The wife reached over and took my hand. 

“It’s okay,” she said.  “It’s okay.”

Later, back at the pristine pulloff, we feasted upon the single pink salmon we’d caught a few days before.  It was super gross, but we washed it down with some of Ma’s fresh Alaska blueberry cobbler.  And the vampires who emerged from the abandoned camper to attack us at midnight weren’t even all that hard to kill.

EPILOGUE

Days later, back home in West Virginia, I realized that this was the first time Amber got to play a pivotal role in one of my Horribly True Tales herself.  For all her work promoting them, I guess in some twisted way this story is my gift to her. It seems a poor repayment for all her work somehow—and especially in light of a horribly-true-related gift she gave to me earlier in our Alaska journey. 

It was during the first week of our trip, as we were camped out in the driveway of a family friend in North Pole, that Amber told me the tale of one of her horribly true tale readings from a few years back.  It was done at a hospice, where she and others had gathered at the bed of a dying friend.  After days of sitting vigil and mourning the impending loss, the mood among them had indeed grown dark.  That was when Amber took out her phone, fired up my website, and began reading horribly true tales.  She said everyone laughed until they cried and that the stories were just the thing to help give them some light in the face of tragedy. 

This is not only the greatest compliment my horribly true tales have been paid, it is the greatest compliment any of my writing has been paid.  I will forever be grateful that my stories were put to such use.  And to Amber for telling me.   

“The Talkin’ Baby Bunny Burrito Blues”

I’m embarrassed to say it, but my wife and I have been harboring murderers in our house for several years now.  Three vicious killers, in fact.  Three slavering, fanged destroyers of life who enjoy nothing better than to wolf down baby bunnies as fast as they can get them.  We call these killers, the dogs.  And while we are horrified that this is their hobby, we are usually powerless to stop it.  Yes, if bunny chomping were a team sport, the score would be bunnies 0—dogs in the double digits.  To make things worse, the dogs often have co-conspirators in this carnage in the form of the cats.

One evening, from my office upstairs, I heard the high-pitched anguished cry of an animal downstairs.  I recognized it as the chirpy squeak of a baby bunny.  The doors were all closed, which meant that one of the cats had brought the bunny in through their kitty door.  They’re fond of doing this, but I don’t know why they bother.  In 100 percent of cases so far, the dogs have immediately taken the baby bunnies from the cats and then cheerfully devoured them.  Now don’t get me wrong, we try our best to stop it when this happens.  We scream “Leave it!  Leave it!  Leave it!” followed by “Drop it!  Drop it!  Drop it!” followed by “Eww, gyyahhhh, noooooo!  Just… just take it outside!  Outside!!!”   It’s the worst episode of Planet Earth you’ve ever seen.

Hearing the squeak downstairs, I cursed at the inevitable devouring that was about to befall the squeaker, but I went out to see what I could do.  From the landing, I could look down into the living room where I saw the squeaking bunny sitting all by itself in the middle of the floor near the dining room table.  The cat had allowed it to escape so he could play with it, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to do so.  The bunny didn’t seem to be injured, and took the opportunity to run away, scurrying across the floor and then behind our entertainment center.  Unfortunately, it was spotted by our middle-child dog Moose, who had also heard its cry and come runnin’ in to find it.  He dashed behind the entertainment center after it.

What Moose failed to notice, though, but which I could see from my perch above the living room, was that the rabbit was no longer behind the entertainment center.  It had instead dodged beneath a low cabinet and changed direction, because I then saw it run along the baseboard of the back wall, past the closed back door, and then disappear behind the arm of a piece of furniture we call “the dog couch.”  (We call it “the dog couch” because it’s a ratty old sofa, primarily used by the dogs, and not to be confused with the “good sofa” which we reserve for ourselves and also often the dogs.)

I sighed and trudged downstairs to begin the no doubt futile process of trying to catch this stinking rabbit.

I crept in the direction of the dog couch, trying not to draw Moose’s attention to the bunny’s hiding place.  Moose was still behind the entertainment center looking for it, though, and had been joined there by our other two dog-children to form a bunny search party.  Meanwhile, our other cat, a remarkably dumb animal we call Fatty Lumpkin, had gone over to the couch to investigate the bunny.  As Fatty started to peek around the edge of the couch, the bunny suddenly popped out from that very corner.  This startled Fatty, who nearly broke a hip trying to flee the room.  His flight, in turn, startled the bunny, who ducked back behind the couch.

I walked over and opened the back door, creating an escape route for the bunny.  I then slipped over to the dog couch itself and began rattling the Venetian blinds which hung down beside the arm in the bunny’s hiding spot.  Sure enough, he popped back out and began hopping toward the open door.  And then he completely avoided safety and escape by hopping right past it.  In fact, the bunny was moving toward the dogs, who were all three still behind the TV looking for him.  I was pretty sure I was about to witness natural selection in action.  However, the bunny then changed direction again and scurried along the front edge of the “good” couch.  From there he hopped all the way over to the still closed front door at the front corner of the room.

As calmly as I could, I moved toward him, pausing only to pick up the soft green rag carpet we keep near the door, which I hoped to use as a makeshift net. Before I could get any closer, though, the bunny bolted along the side wall and I was forced to fling it early.  It flew and landed, not directly on the bunny but in his path at the base of that wall.  And the bunny dove beneath it.  I then stooped over and gently wrapped the carpet into a tube, creating a makeshift bunny burrito, which I then carried outside, closing the front door behind me.

I waited a few seconds, praying that the dogs had not noticed any of that.  Or, if they had noticed, that they would then not also notice that the back door was still wide open and run around the outside of the house.  Hearing no thundering canine approach, I deposited our guest onto the patio.  The bunny looked a little dazed as he peered around.  Then he wiggled his whiskers and hopped off into the night without so much as a thank you.  I watched him go, content in the knowledge that we’d finally scored one for the bunnies.

And back inside, the vicious bunny killers continued searching for him behind the TV for several more minutes.

“The Talkin’ Screaming Fire Detector, Step-Ladder Haulin’, High-Pitched Beep, 9 Volt Blues”

Our smoke/carbon monoxide detector had been alerting us for three days that its battery is low. It started just with a high-pitched single beep, but we could never tell which of the two detectors in the room was doing it at first, the one by the front door or the one on the upstairs landing ceiling. We used an umbrella to press the downstairs detector’s test button. It’s the fancier unit and, in addition to blaring its alarm multiple times, also shouted “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” and “CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!” I then hauled our step-ladder upstairs to press the button on the less-fancy one. It beeped just fine. Our mystery remained.

The next night, the downstairs detector began blaring a single shrill beep and shouting “LOW BATTERY DETECTED!” It started this at 10 o’clock at night as we were settling into bed. I decided I was too tired to haul my butt upstairs to retrieve both a new 9 volt and the step-ladder I’d left up there. So we lived with it for the night. It only interrupted sleep on a semi-hourly basis.

The next night I marched upstairs for both the new 9v and the step-ladder only to find that the last 9v in the pack had no charge when touched to my tongue. (You gotta touch it to your tongue. It’s a 9 volt, after all!) So we lived through another night punctuated by *BEEEP* “LOW BATTERY DETECTED!”

Today I went to the store and purchased a new pack of 9 volts. I chose the two pack rather than the cheaper four pack because the only thing that uses them in the house are the smoke detectors and this will make twice we’ve had to change them in the past five years. No use letting another $10 worth of batteries die in the pack.

I returned home, climbed the step-ladder already positioned beneath the detector, removed said detector from the ceiling, and discovered that it actually took three AA batteries the whole time.

Horribly True Redesign

I’ve had this WordPress version of my website for a couple of years now, and it’s gone through some alterations here and there.  At one point I’d had a theme that allowed me to conveniently organize my 40 plus Horribly True Tales in a manner that allowed for easy navigation.  You could see all of the HTT title displayed in one place, giving you a better idea of what they were about rather than having to scroll through page after page as if they were originally written as blog entries.

Recently, my sister-in-law and biggest Horribly True Fan of all time, Amber, requested I do a reading of one of the stories.  And when I went to try and find one I could barely make any sense of how to find the one I was looking for.  Not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way one of my redesigns inconveniently ditched the convenient all titles on display feature.

So I’ve added them all back on the main Horribly True Tales page.  There you’ll find  list of all of the tales in reverse chronological order.  (I’d love to have some sort of widget that would allow me to make them sortable, but so far my coding skills have not allowed this.)

Furthermore, let it be hereby noted that during a recent spelunking session into the depths of my hard drive, I found a handful of previously unpublished horribly true tales in draft form.  Most are in pretty good shape already, but did not see publication for various reasons.  I have also located a number of Horribly True Tale worthy stories I’d written for previous blogging efforts, some of which involve lost tales of our dogs, that I plan to publish as well.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a horribly true Alaska tale or two to come as well.

SO keep your eyes on this space for all new/old horribly true material.

Who Watches the Watchmen? Clearly not me.

We got new phones in May of 2015, trading up to a Samsung Galaxy S4 for me and a Kyocera Brigadier for the wife.   (Yes, I know that the Galaxy S6 had just come out, but it was a mess of chrome coated plastic that I just couldn’t handle, so I went with the much more aesthetically pleasing, and cheap, S4.)

That day, over a year ago, I placed a call to eSecuritel, our phone insurer, to get the new phones added to our policy.  This is a company, mind you, that once allowed me to go quite a number of months without phone insurance because, when I phoned to have the credit card number for our account’s automatic payments, they replaced the number only for my wife’s old phone and not for mine.  I learned of this only after they sent me a fairly sternly worded letter three months later, warning that I would be cut off if I didn’t supply them with a valid credit card number with which my bill could be automatically paid.  I phoned and alerted them that I had, in fact, supplied them with just such a valid number and that they had, in fact, applied it to my wife’s half of the bill, but were apparently operating at one quarter ass power when updating mine.  (I did not use those exact words, but gave them the polite version.)  I paid my balance and supplied them, yet again, with the valid credit card number and thought we were good.  Then, more months later, when I had an actual claim to make on my old phone, I called them up to learn that I’d still been cruising without insurance for months because they had not actually replaced the credit card number for auto pay in the first place.  They would not even entertain any claims on my phone until I paid them the amount of money I would have already paid them had they done their jobs to begin with.  And, after doing so, they then denied me my claim.

This should all have been an early warning sign I was doing business with a shitfer company.

Like I said, though, we got new phones in May of 2015 and I called eSecuritel to arrange for the new phones to be added to the account and, also importantly, for the old phones to be removed from said account.  The eSecuritel rep said they would need device ID numbers and a proof of purchase for both of our phones before they could replace them in the account.  Their tone suggested this was a major inconvenience for them, instead of it actually being an inconvenience for me, the guy who had to scan all that stuff in.  But scan it I did and I emailed the scan to the email address they provided, along with typed out versions of the specific information they’d requested, pulled from said document: including contact info, account info, and a note that these new phones were to replace the ones in our account already.

I really should have done some followup.

Recently, my phone’s camera developed some sort of flaw with the lens–either a microscopic scratch on the exterior of the lens or something my ancient eyes cannot detect beneath the glass itself, which causes a fuzzy dot to appear in all photos taken with it.  I was hoping to see what could be done about this in terms of a replacement.   I tried to log into my account on eSecuritel’s website, but my username and password didn’t work.  I tried other passwords and even attempted their password reset, but it didn’t seem to want to do anything I was requesting.  I decided to phone them, but first searched my email for any previous correspondence.  I found the note from June of `15 with the bill of sale and all the numbers.  There was no followup response from them letting me know they’d actually done anything though.  So I looked up our last credit card statement because I wanted proof positive that I was paying them money.  We were, but for only one phone.

I called the number on their site.  This led to a phone tree that allowed me to type in my phone number and zip code, told me they would be recording the call for quality purposes, then said, “We cannot connect your call at this time.  Try again later” and hung up.  Did it twice.

I searched around online some more and found another number, but this gave the same result.  I finally found a third number online, on one of those sites designed to provide numbers that would connect you with a human being when phoning monolithic utilities.  And, true to the goal, I reached a real human being, all right.  They, however, worked for Asurion–a completely different cell insurance provider. Because Asurion works with Verizon, though, they were able to look up my account, and were extremely nice about it.  I was not listed as one of Asurion’s customers, though.

“Yeah, about that,” I began, before explaining who I was really trying to reach.  They expressed sympathy for my plight, and that they could not do anything to help me.  Before I hung up, I asked them what they charged per month, because I suspected I would be needing a new insurance provider.  She said they’d be happy to have me and that they were actually in an enrollment period now (something I’d already noted in an earlier email from Verizon proper). We wished each other a happy evening and departed as friends.

I tried eSecuritel’s number again and this time was able to get through.  It sounded like I’d reached someone in a work-from-home situation instead of a call center, but he was friendly enough.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any evidence that I was a customer.

“That’s probably because you guys didn’t actually set up our service.”

Sure enough, and despite all instructions to the contrary, eSecuritel had only set up insurance for my wife’s Kyocera Brigadier–a phone model that is both water proof, shock resistant, and armed with an indestructible screen, a phone therefore in need of insurance the least.  My Samsung has been whistling in the uninsured wind for over a year.  I would have known this if I’d been paying attention to the amount they had been charging us. But that’s the whole reason for setting up automatic payments in the first place–so I DON’T HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION!!!

The phone rep helpfully offered to set up insurance for it, but I politely stopped him.  I explained that a company that has failed to have me as a customer on multiple occasions, despite my best efforts to help them do so, is not one I wish to continue doing business with.  I asked him to please cancel our account.

“Sir, you do realize this will mean your wife’s phone will not be insured,” he said.

“Yes.  And I am 100 percent okay with that,” I told him.

The eSecuritel rep, offered no further argument.  After some typing, he said that he’d officially disconnected us, had refunded $4 of the month paid for so far, and that we’d be receiving no further charges from them.  (I fully expect we’ll be charged for four phones from here after, instead, but that’s just the pessimist in me.)

I immediately set up insurance through Asurion, via Verizon’s site.

“The Talkin’ Forgotten ID, Spare Key, Short Term Parking, Tex-Mex Blues”

We try to get to Texas to see my sister on a semi-annual basis.  We don’t get to see her much beyond this.  So every year or two we hold a family reunion in Austin and my parents often drive over from Mississippi to join up.  We all love Austin.  It’s an outstandingly cool city (except in the summer, which is why we try to go in March when you can breathe).

Last week, the wife and I loaded up and headed for the airport, a nearly two hour drive away.  (I’m going to be vague here about the exact location of said airport, for reasons that will become apparent by the end.)  Somehow we’d managed to get a flight at 11:30a, which meant we didn’t have to be there until 10:30a instead of at the ass crack of dawn as our last several flights have required.  We left the house round 8:30, grabbed some breakfast on the drive, and scooted on down the interstate.  We knew we would be squeaking into the airport right around 10:30, the requisite hour before our flight.

Having reached the city in which the airport is located, we were just pulling off the interstate at the airport exit when the wife gave a sudden intake of air and then uttered the words no one ever wants to hear before a long journey:

“Oh, no.”

Her tone was grave.

“What?” I said.  Several frustrating seconds of silence passed.  “WHAT?!  WHAT IS IT!?”

“I don’t have my wallet.”

More silence.

“What?”

“I don’t have my wallet.  I left it at the house.  It’s in my other bag, on the kitchen counter.”

We went through the usual business of “Are ya sure?” but only halfheartedly because we both knew it to be true.  Her wallet was not with us.

“What are we going to do?” I said, continuing to drive like a madman for the airport.  My thought was that we had to get there quick and acquire 100 percent confirmation that a lack of the required government-issued photo ID was truly the deal-breaker we knew it had to be–you know, on the off chance that we’d slipped into an alternate reality where 9/11 had not happened and we could still fly freely, sans ID, like it was still the `70s or something?  The wife whipped out her phone and called our niece, K.T., who was watching the house.  The wife explained to K.T. that she (K.T.) would need to quickly leave work, rush home, grab the wife’s wallet and hit the road in our direction, probably to meet us to exchange it at some mid-way-point-yet-to-be-determined.  The wife said “us,” but I was already mentally revising that to “her,” as there was nothing stopping me and my ID, which I’d managed to bring, from getting on the plane.  (I know, it sounds terribly selfish of me, but Tex Mex awaited and it wasn’t going to eat itself.)  We’d purchased the tickets directly from Delta, so we knew one of them could be changed to a later flight if need be–which was yet another reason to continue our trek to the airport.

A few minutes later, we reached the airport and swung into the closer-to-the-check-in-desks 20 minute parking lot and dashed for the Delta line.  We explained our major error of the morning to the two nice ladies at the Delta check-in desk. We were prepared for them to laugh at us, and would have gladly taken the ridicule.  Instead, they were sweet and sympathetic, as nice ladies often are.  However, they pointed out that the decision of what ID would be considered acceptable was not up to them but instead up to the TSA down at security.

“You could try showing them your registration and insurance,” one of them said with a shrug.  “TSA might take that.”

The wife rushed back to the car for any proof of identity she could find there while I went ahead and checked both of our bags under my name.  The ladies were even kind enough to waive the second bag fee, given the circumstances.  Soon the wife returned with a fistful of papers from the glove box and we lugged our carry on down to TSA.  There the wife presented them with her car registration, her wildly expired proof-of-insurance paper, and her library card, none of which had a photo.

TSA took a gander at this pile of half-expired crap, sniffed a couple of times, and said the paraphrased equivalent of “Yep, that’ll do.”  And they escorted us right on through to the security area, with all the conveyor belts and x-ray machines, where we were asked for our shoes.

We were stunned and amazed.

We went right through the rest of security with no problems, were soon on board the plane, and had left the ground behind on our way to our layover destination in Charlotte.  And it was not until we were coming in for a landing in Charlotte that the wife looked across the aisle at me and said more words no one wants to hear in our situation:  “Do you remember where we left the car?”

I mouthed a very rude word beginning with an F as I realized we’d left our vehicle in 20 minute parking.  We were now well and truly EFFed.  And we sat in silence as the plane taxied to its gate, unsure of what, if anything, might be done to fix this grand and sandy EFFing we were about to receive.

“You should call them and see what we can do,” the wife said.

“Oh, no,” I said, allowing a very pregnant pause.  “I believe YOU should be the one to call them.”

So she did.

The folks the wife spoke to told her that the car was still there in 20 minute parking, though they seemed a little surprised by this as vehicles left in the 20 minute parking lot for periods longer than the specified time limit were supposed to be towed.  Visions of huge tow fees, as well as expensive taxi-trips to impound yards that would more than likely be closed when we arrived, danced through my head.  The airport person fortunately assured us they usually only tow cars over to airport short-term parking, though they did also still charge the enormous tow fee.  At least we wouldn’t have to go off site.  The wife told them that if they could hold off on towing the car, we could probably get our niece to come move it.  Could they give us a couple of hours?  Or maybe six?  They generously said they’d give us til 10 p.m.

“How much are we going to have to pay K.T. to do this?” the wife asked.

“Mmmm… $200?” I said.  Felt like incentive enough to make a round trip four hour journey and essentially lose most of the day she would otherwise be paid to work at her job–assuming she could even get the time off.  I then wondered aloud how much the tow fee might be, as it could potentially have been cheaper to just let it be towed.  The wife did not know the fee, but pointed out that it also potentially could cost far more, which I decided was the safer bet when it came to airport tow fees.

Unfortunately, K.T. said there was no way she could get off work to race home, find our spare key and then make the four hour round trip journey.

“I’ll give you $300 if you leave right now,” the wife said.  No dice.  K.T. was seriously trapped at work, but said that when she got off work, she would indeed go home find the key and race to the airport.

Now, here’s the thing about the spare key to the car: I didn’t know precisely where it was located.  Oh, I had some ideas, sure, but couldn’t recall its location with the kind of certainty you might like to have when it came to your spare key.  For you see, there used to be two spare keys to the wife’s car: one that had key fob buttons built into it, which lived in the copper catch-all dish atop my dresser, and a second master key that had a gray plastic body and no fob buttons which also lived in the same copper dish.  However, a few weeks back, when I went to find said spare key it was missing from the dish and only the master key remained there.  My memory at that point was of taking the master key out of the copper dish, announcing to the wife that it was now being put in a safe place, announcing the location of that safe place, and then placing the key immediately in that location.  Only now, weeks later, I could not recall the location of the safe place.  It was very safe indeed.  I had fuzzy memories of a wooden box, perhaps like the one on top of the wife’s dresser in which she keeps spare change from foreign lands.  Or maybe the wooden box within a wooden box within a wooden box that also lived atop my dresser.  Or possibly it was just the wooden structure of the junk drawer in the kitchen.  I didn’t know.  So we texted all of these possible locations to K.T.

Hours later, after we’d arrived in Austin and were chilling with my sister and her family, K.T. phoned.  To our disbelieving ears, the spare key was to be found in none of the places we’d suggested.  I brainstormed more places, offering up other junk drawers, the copper dish on my dresser, a different wooden box, the drawers in the antique dressing table by the front door that we don’t know what else to do with but store random crap within, the surface of the wife’s dresser, the dining room table that is perpetually covered in junk mail and teetering piles of paper, the various bowls containing assorted paperclips and junk on the shelves of the sun room, and my underwear drawer.  And, we asked, was K.T. truly truly certain she’d actually checked the junk drawer in the kitchen?  I mean, thoroughly?  She swore she had torn all of those places apart, as well as others not mentioned, and the only keys she had found anywhere were ones to my car as well as a fob for a car we no longer own.  Apparently, our vehicle was to remain in 20 minute parking that night.  From all indications, this meant it would be towed come 10 p.m.  We could only pray the tow fee was less than $200.

The following morning, I hassled and guilted my wife until she called the airport again to learn to where our car had been towed and ask much it was going to cost us.  It was a different person on shift, though, so she had to explain to this new soul the level of dumbassery we had achieved by leaving our car in 20 minute parking and then flying several hundred miles away.  Eventually, she was told that despite previous promises to have the car towed, it was still in 20 minute parking.  Again, they said, if we could get someone to come move it for us,  maybe—MAYBE—we could avoid a towing.  The wife told them that getting it moved did not appear to be in the cards, we had just hoped for an update and maybe an estimated bill total.  They said they’d see what they could do about that and might get back to us.

Naturally, that was the last we heard from them for the rest of the week.  And, after hanging up with them, the wife announced it would be the last time she would be phoning anyone about the matter.  She was not going to let worrying about the car ruin our vacation.  If the airport wanted to tow it, they could tow it and we’d just have to deal with it later and pay whatever they asked.  It wasn’t like they were going to put it in a car crusher or blow it up, or something—they could only relocate it.  This was all just a problem for Future Us to be concerned about and Present Us, at least her half, would be thinking no more of it til the end of the trip.  I had to grudgingly admit this made a lot of sense.  I didn’t like it, but it made sense.  So I stopped worrying about it, too.

In the meantime, K.T. overnighted the wife’s wallet to her, so we could at least get home again and so she could have ID for margaritas.  Our vacation progressed and a fantastic time was had by all.  And the closest we came to dwelling on the matter were the multiple times we got to tell and retell the story as we encountered family and friends both old and new.  We laughed and laughed about how screwed we probably were, but also about how we were also not letting it get us down.

“I bet they just leave it in 20 minute parking,” my dad suggested.

“Yeah,” I said.  “They probably will.”

One week later, as we were coming in for a landing at our airport of original departure, I leaned over to the wife and said, “How bout I go deal with getting our luggage while you go find the car?”  She agreed.

Minutes later, I hadn’t even quite reached baggage claim when I got a text from her with the car’s location.  Just like Dad said, it was still very much parked in 20 minute parking.  I popped outside real quick to see her approaching the car, which was practically the only one in the 20 minute lot.  Then I saw her pull a thick stack of parking tickets from beneath its windshield wiper.

Turns out we owed $25 per day in parking fines, which is $17 a day more than if we’d parked in long term parking.  In total, though, there were only $125 worth of tickets, which is only $70 beyond what long term would have been, and still cheaper than paying K.T. $200 to move the car.  And the reason for this lack of towing came down to having a sympathetic airport staff on our side.

When the wife went to pay the tickets, the airport police officer said, “Yeah, we just got lazy with that one.”  He said that the airport police and the airport policy makers have a bit of a disagreement with how to handle 20 minute parking violators.  Policy is to tow them to short term and charge a healthy tow fee on top of the price of the short term parking day fee.  The airport police thought this was overkill, though, so they usually just left the cars where they were and gave them daily tickets–which they probably saw more money from anyway.

In the end, we came out ahead in a lot of ways.  I was almost glad that the niece hadn’t found the key, because that would have been $200 on top of the short term day fee, which probably would have meant we would have broken even with just having it towed.

As of this writing, the whereabouts of the spare keys remain unknown.

The Talkin’ New Mailin’ Address, Mailbox Full, Blues

Just got a letter from the U.S. Postal service, alerting us that our official postal mailing address is now the same as our physical address. We may start using it as our official mailing address for all mail correspondence and bills.

We are to never again, it said, use the old rural route and box number, never ever.

We are to update the DMV with the new address.

We are to update insurance policies with the new address.

We are to update our bank accounts with the new address.

We are to update our voter registration with the new address.

We are to update our Christmas card/Personal address lists with the new address. (I am making none of this up.)

We are to update our utilities with the new address.

Naturally, when I attempted to update our various utilities online, they, to a one, refused to accept the new address–at least, on the first try. Bank of America finally allowed me to force it in, but begged me not to. All others I tried gave me the finger.

And when I called the phone number for the local county contact in charge of assisting me with any concerns I might have, I got a message that said, with strain in its voice, “Mailbox full.”

Yeah.  This should go smoothly.

 

Copyright © 2015 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’, Horrible Greedy Jerk Holy Grail, Three aMEGOs, Extra-Accessories, Sit-on-it-Lever, Plastic 401K Blues

There’s a short story by Neil Gaiman called Chivalry. It tells the tale of Mrs. Whitaker, a pensioner in England who visits her local charity shop and finds the Holy Grail beneath a fur coat. She recognizes it for what it is, buys it and takes it home to put it on her mantelpiece. And the very next day she begins a series of negotiations for its release with none other than Sir Galaad.

It’s one of my all-time favorite short stories, not only for its magical realism, but also because most of us can kind of sympathize. When searching among the usual things found at yard-sales, junk shops and flea-markets, most of us dream of discovering items of incredible rarity and value. What usually goes unspoken in this is our hope that the current owner of the rare item in question is unaware of its value. We might not even know the value ourselves, but we all secretly hope the thing we buy for a song will turn out to be priceless, or at least with a price hundreds of times greater than the price on its little round sticker, and that we can later sell it for a fortune on eBay, or perhaps, dare we hope, Pawn Stars. In other words, we’re all horrible greedy jerks out to cheat others out of the fortune that rightfully belongs to them.

I made a few of my own horrible, greedy jerk Holy Grail finds at the local flea market recently. They included three vintage MEGO action figures from the 1970s, complete with all their original accessories as well as some… not-so-original accessories.

Now, for those not in the know, MEGO was a toy company in the 70s and early 80s that produced a number of toy lines of 8″ tall articulated “action dolls.”  These were inspired by the original G.I. Joe toy-line—famous for giving boys in the late 1960s blanket permission to play with dolls—MEGO toys came similarly dressed in cloth outfits, with plastic footwear, weapons and accessories. The most memorable toy lines from MEGO were of DC and Marvel super heroes, a few of which I had as a kid. MEGO also had licenses for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Logan’s Run among other action genres.  The most memorable toy line MEGO turned down the opportunity to produce was Star Wars.  Instead, Kenner Toys made a billion dollars on Star Wars while MEGO expanded into several lines of not-so-action figures based on 1970s TV shows, such as like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, the Dukes of Hazard, and The Waltons.   Not surprisingly, MEGO went under by 1983. But before they were gone for good, I had a handful of their toys as a kid and they were among my favorites. They also, in proper condition, with the right accessories, tend to be lucrative to sell.

While I used to dable, I’m not really a toy collector anymore; well, unless you count my extensive number of toy and model TARDISes from Doctor Who. These I continue to buy as ongoing restitution to my inner 4th Grader for having no access to Doctor Who toys as a kid. My wife, on the other hand, views them as evidence of a mental disorder, but I digress.

IMG_20140519_115304_192The flea market booth was run by a lady I’d put in her late 50s who didn’t look like the typical vintage toy retailer. And while she did not have any Doctor Who MEGOS—which did exist, by the way, but only in England—she did have two card tables filled with a wide variety of toys primarily from MEGO’s western line, such as Buffalo Bill, Davy Crocket, Wyatt Earp, etc. There were also toys of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, which were made by a competing MEGO knock-off company called Gabriel. All of the dolls were loose, which is collector-speak for toys out of their original packaging, which automatically makes them less valuable to collectors. However, each of the dolls seemed to be dressed in its original cloth outfit and came sealed in a zip-lock baggie to help contain their various accessories. Finding MEGOs with accessories in the wild is a pretty rare thing. Actually… examining them a bit closer, a few seemed to have some accessories included that were not original to the toys, or sometimes even the time period of the setting the characters were from. There were small automatic weapons included with some of the western characters. And a Ninja Turtle sword, I was pretty sure, too. The Lone Ranger,  for instance, a MEGO figure I owned as a child, came packaged with his blue outfit, removable mask, hat, red sash, gun belt, silver revolver, and a tiny black Glock 9 mm pistol small enough to stash in his boot. Okaaaay. His kemosabe Tonto seemed to have only his original items, with headband, gun-belt, revolver, and moccasins. Each of the figures had a bit of wear on them, with chips in the paint of their hair, or minor stains on their clothes, but nothing too bad. They looked as though they had been played with, but lovingly cared for otherwise. And these amazingly well-cared for toys were priced at only $10 each.

It was cool seeing the Lone Ranger again. My own vanished long ago—no doubt during one of my dad’s culling sessions, instituted after he’d told my sister and I to clean up the toys in the living room for the 18th time and then finally just bagged it all up and hauled it to Good Will while we were at school. Still, I was absolutely not going to buy any of these doys—even as an investment. Then a third toy caught my eye and made me smile: Fonzie from Happy Days.

Some of you may not be old enough to remember the show Happy Days’ or its most memorable character Arthur Fonzerlli, a.k.a. Fonzie, a.k.a. the Fonz. Played by Henry Winkler, Fonzie was the coolest cat 1970s TV had to offer—cooler still than John Travolta’s Vinny Barbarino from Welcome Back Kotter. Fonzie was a greaser and semi-reformed motorcycle gang member who dispensed wisdom to the local high school kids. Fonzie was so cool that when he snapped his fingers girls would instantly flock to his side. He was so cool that juke boxes did his bidding with only a bump from his elbow. You’ve heard of the phrase “jump the shark”? It describes the moment in which a TV show starts to lose its creative footing and begins the downward slide toward cancellation. Well Fonzie originated that term by motorcycle jumping an actual shark in a water tank in the premiere episode of Happy Days 5th season in 1977. You might think that spelled the end for the show, but it actually lasted another six years beyond that! That’s the power of Fonzie’s coolness!

Among my first-grade peers, Fonzie was the MEGO figure to own. However, my dad evidently didn’t think I was cool enough to have a MEGO Fonzie, because all I ever got was MEGO Ralph Malph. (Similarly, I never had the Vinny Barbarino toy that Mattel made. I only rated Arnold Horshack. Thanks a LOT DAD!!!!) The MEGO Fonzie toy was the coolest. It was also one of the only MEGO figures with articulated hands, with fingers that could be folded back and a thumb that could be extended to make his trademark thumbs up “Ayyyyy!” stance. MEGO even made a version of the toy with a lever on his back that would fire one of his thumbs into “sit-on-it” position in under a quarter of a second.

The MEGO Fonzie at the flea-market was in remarkable shape for a 37-year-old toy. (You have no idea how painful that is to type.)  His articulated fingers were present and accounted for on his little plastic hands. He had both of his boots. He had his white t-shirt and his trademark leather jacket. He even had the “sit-on-it” lever. Now the Fonzie toy didn’t normally have accessories, but strangely this one did. It came packaged with a tiny machine gun.  “Eat lead, shark! Ayyyyyyy!”

I mentioned to the lady who ran the booth that I was pretty sure the machine gun wasn’t original to Fonzie, but I thought it was cool that he had it. She said, “Oh, I don’t know anything about them toys.” She then also admitted that she’d spiced a few of them up with new tiny weapons and accessories, but only because she had two shoeboxes full of plastic munitions without homes. She said the toys themselves had come from the estate of a guy who collected vintage toys and kept them in good shape. He was also possibly her nephew. He had also died tragically of a heart-attack at too young an age. His toys, the lady said, had been destined for the landfill until someone told her about them and his parents gladly gave them to her, scarcely believing anyone would want any of it. She was just hoping to sell them for $10 each.

My mind boggled at this, because $10 was a steal for almost any good-condition, clothed MEGO from the 70s, let alone ones that still had all their accessories. Perhaps sensing my boggle, the lady went on to note that while she herself knew nothing about “them toys,” an enterprising soul might purchase them and resell them on “that, um… that computer thing they got.”

“EBay?” I offered.

“Yeah. That’s the one,” she said with a nod.

I looked down to find myself suddenly holding a hook, a line and a sinker. However, I did not immediately pierce my own cheek with it and willingly leap into her boat. No, instead, I spent the next twenty minutes wandering around the flea market with my nose in my phone, looking up eBay prices and salivating. There was a Fonzie going for just under $80, and he didn’t even have boots. I found a Lone Ranger going in the $50 range, and a Tonto going for a bit less (racists!). Soon enough, I found myself back at the lady’s booth, handing her $30. She bagged up my toys and thanked me for my business. Then I took them home, lifted up the back of their tiny costume shirts and saw on their backs giant red letters reading: “Guess what, asshat, I’m a 2004 reissue!”

Yessir. Way back in ought four, some geniuses called Classic TV Toys bought the MEGO molds, and evidently the Gabriel molds, and began making new Happy Days and Lone Ranger toys for fun and profit. Sadly, today they’re all going for around $10 each on eBay.

It should be noted that the kindly lady at the flea market who probably scammed me never actually said these were original 1970s MEGO figures. In fact, she had repeatedly stressed that she didn’t know anything about them. And while I don’t know for certain that I was grifted, I pretty much did most of the heavy lifting for her. That’s how the really good cons tend to go. If it was a con, it was so skillfully executed that I don’t think I mind having been conned. It was almost an honor to have fallen for it.

Plus, I can’t be too mad. I mean, hey… I finally have MEGO Fonzie. And one with a machine gun.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Fritzius