Second Story Man

Somewhere in the back of my mind I sensed I might be walking into an ambush. But I also knew I had to face the five men at some point so I decided the sooner, the better.

Normally I would have come up the back stairs of the barracks as the door to my room was almost directly across the hallway from the second floor landing as it led into the barracks.

“Why give them the edge,” I thought.

Instead I entered the barracks from the front door, making certain to say hello to the Airman on Charge of Quarters duty. Then I turned right and walked down the long hallway of the first floor and stepped inside the stair well.

Having reached the second floor, I was now positioned at the farthest point I could attain from my room. I wanted to be able to stand back in the shadow of the opposite hallway and watch for any unusual activity.

Within minutes I say three of the five I had been avoiding, come walking down the hallway towards me, and the direction of my room. The three were living off base now and had no business being in the barracks.

The trio stood, talking in front of another of the five’s door. One of them knocked on the door and disappeared into the room. The other two turned and walked back into the dark end of the hallway.

It was at that moment that I noticed only the first two lights were operating. Somehow they had disabled the remainder, leaving my end of the hallway virtually in the dark and ripe for an ambush.

It had been less than two months since I had confronted the five men as they rushed me at my house trailer off-base. They were a petty bunch in my mind and still out for revenge after I had gotten sick due to an allergic reaction from marijuana smoke.

I had been exposed to it one evening during a card game inside the barracks — but had no idea I was allergic to the stuff.

The night I was exposed, I was rushed to the hospital, swollen and gasping for air. Evidently the odor of marijuana was detected on  my clothing and this led to the Security Police being notified and I was labeled a “narc” from that point on.

The day the five stormed my small house-trailer off base, I surprised them when I fire a .45 caliber machine gun round into the floor of the house, near their feet. This scared them off — but it didn’t stop them from continually harassing me on a daily basis.

That event left me a bit shaken, so I decided it would be best if I moved back on base. At least it would afford me some sort of protection from the menace of the five men.

“Be careful,” Barney had warned over the telephone, “They’re planning to kick your ass.”

Barney and I had been separated by our commanding officer. The C.O. felt I was a negative influence in Barney’s life and would cause the Texan’s career to come to an end.

I figured our C.O. separated us knowing that there was strength in numbers and therefore by not having Barney around I was more vulnerable to whatever might happen.

The officer ordered us to not have anything to do with each other while on duty. After work though, the Captain had little to no control over our actions.

As I stepped out of the hallway and into the common area, I took a deep breath. I knew once I crossed over the common area and into the second half of the hallway, the overhead light would give me away and there would be no turning back.

Without hesitating, I walked passed the door the one man had entered. I was certain he and the man who occupied the room were watching the hall through the peep-hole in the door.

Walking a quietly as I could, I strained to listen for whatever awaited me in the ever enveloping darkness. I could detect voices but couldn’t tell what was being said.

As I made the corner, the light from a street lamp shining through a window at the end of the hall and behind me, cast some illumination down the darker end of the hall. There, I could jus’ make out three figures huddled near my doorway.

Having seen them first, I turned hoping to retreat to a better position, but the two men who had been hiding in the room, were walking down tha hallway towards me and each had a bat in their hands.

There was only one chance for escape and I knew it. I backed up against the window where the street lamp shined through, a quickly unlocked it. I popped it open a fully as it would go and by this time all five men were on me.

First I felt the blows of their fists and their kicks as I fought back. I positioned myself into one of the corners near the window, knowing that the walls might absorb the blow of a baseball bat better than my head.

As expected one of the men swung  his bat at me, but instead of trying to duck the incoming blow, I stepped in as close to my attacker as possible. The move caught the man off guard.

About the same time I saw a fist coming at my face. I yanked on the bat and the fist struck the wooden club, full force.

The blow knocked the bat from my attackers hand and I managed to hold on tight to it. Without hesitation I gripped it and started swinging away at the group causing them to back away, fearful that I might connect with one of them.

For a couple of seconds it appeared as if the fight would end in a stand-off. However I didn’t waste my time on that hope.

Instead I raised the bat over my head with both hands and swung it downward. I let the hard wood object fly as the group scattered to get out-of-the-way.

As the five sought cover by diving into the adjacent hallway, flattening against the wall or using a doorway for cover, I turned and dove head long out the still open window. It was a two-story fall that sent me crashing to the sidewalk below.

And though the wind was knocked out of me and I was certain I had broken something somewhere in my body, I wasted little time getting to my feet and dashing down the sidewalk towards the post office where I knew someone would be.

Though I reported the attack to my First Sergeant and his boss, a First Lieutenant, nothing was done. The two men told me there was no way to prove the attack had happened.

From that point on I started carrying a folding lock-blade knife in my back pocket. I didn’t want to be in a position like the one in the hallway and be left defenseless again.

“If it ever happens again,” I told Barney, “I’m going to leave my mark on at least three of them.”

After that night in the hallway, all five men fairly well stayed clear of me. They never physically confronted me again though they did, either singly or in pairs, threatened to “beat me to death when I was least expecting it.”

I expected it though — at all times.

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As Goes Superman — So Goes the Nation

Superman has started a stink by declaring he intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship in a move aimed at giving him more global authority. He makes the decision in “Action Comics” No. 900.

Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who created the comicbook hero, must be spinning in their graves.

It has caused anger among readers who liken the Man of Steel’s declaration to go before the United Nations and “inform them I am renouncing my citizenship” to abandoning the ideals of “truth, justice and the American way.” DC Comics says the  superhero isn’t abandoning the U.S. — he’s jus’ putting a global focus on his never-ending battle against evil.

And the way our elected officials are directing our national affairs — we’ll soon all fall under the auspices of the U.N. as well.

Buying Someone Else’s Diary

For 25 years now, I have searched to find “The Journals of Alfred Doten,” a three-volume set, weighing in at roughly forty-pounds. They were edited by Walter Van Tilburg Clark and published by the University of Nevada Press.

Each volume contains plates from engravings, photographs and maps and are bound in cloth with spines lettered in gilt. First edition sets also came with a heavy cardboard slipcase — a prize to anyone who really values Nevada history.

So who is Doten?

Born in 1829 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Doten sailed to California in 1849 to make his fortune during the early days of the California gold rush. Unsuccessful, he headed east to Nevada in 1863 to get in on the silver boom, however — like Samuel Clemens and others — he went into the newspaper business.

Doten worked as a reporter for several Nevada newspapers including the Como Sentinel, the Virginia Daily Union, the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and the Gold Hill Daily News. He eventually purchased the News in 1872 and made it one of the most important papers on the Comstock.

While a highly respected journalist, Doten’s life ended tragically.

He became an alcoholic, went into debt, lost ownership of the paper, became estranged from his wife and children, and died poor and alone in a rented room. However  Doten’s claim to fame isn’t in his journalistic work but rather on the private journal he started keeping while aboard that ship to California and continued until the very last day of his life in 1903.

Often I’ve looked on-line for the set, only to turn away because of the price (ranging between $175 and $325) or the condition in which the books were in at the time (mostly poor.) I also so took in book sales, visited antique shops and stopped at yard sales if I saw books on display.

So when the Friends of the Washoe County Library held the first of their two yearly book sales, I decided to go have a look. Half an hour later and having already purchased two older books on the history of northern Nevada and eastern California, I was on my way out of the door.

A note of interest: those two books were written by Donald Garate — while I don’t know him — I think I may have worked for his son or perhaps nephew, Gene a few years back. I do love it when history and life fold back into one another. Anyway —

So imagine my surprise when I peered beneath a table and saw the end of a familiar looking slipcase.  I stopped to have a closer look and discovered right at my feet — a first edition set in exquisite condition.

The first time I saw such a set — they were priced at $200 — and they were in fair condition. Over the years I’ve checked the journals out, one volume at a time, from the library — but now I have my very own set and it cost only $125.

My bride’s going to shoot me when she see’s how much I spent at a “USED” book sale.

A Trial for a Hoodlum

Grandpa got me the job alright. However I didn’t know what to expect. All I really knew was that the money sounded good.

At 14 I was at that in between stage – I had a grand interest in the girls but I was too young to legally drive. So instead of wasted my time mowing lawns and delivering newspapers, Grandpa took me down and introduced me to the cook of a local ranch outfit.

The cook, or Coosie, as he was known was a rough old cob by the name of Pete. “Yeah, I’ll put him to work,” were his words as Grandpa shook his hand and headed for the door of the cookhouse.

“Go fetch me some water,” the Coosie shouted.

Standing in the doorway, I watched as Grandpa’s truck faded away down the dirt road in a bellow of cloudy dust.  About that time, I heard the pail come crashing down near me.

“I said get me some water, Hoody,” the gruff old man growled.

Snapping out of my trance-like-state, I grabbed the pail and rushed outside.

“No time to think about it,” I said to myself as I tried to figure out what Grandpa had jus’ done to me.

Standing at the hand pump, I placed the pail under the spout. I lifted the handle and lowered it again and again but nothing came out.

Again I pumped the handle up and down jus’ as I had seen my Aunt and grandmother do so many times. Still nothing happened.

So I pumped even harder. And still the pump refused to yield even a single drop of water.

“Where’s my water!” screamed Pete.

The tone of his voice sent chills down my spine.  I didn’t want to have to tell him that the water pump was broken.

Suddenly Pete was by my side. His cheeks were bright red under the snow white growth of beard.

He yanked the bucket out of my hand, “Don’t even know how to fetch water!” he complained.

The cook was angry at me – and I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong.

Pete reached down and picked up the old whiskey bottle resting at the base of the pump. It was filled with water, which he poured down the shaft of the pump and then started moving the handle up and down.

At first I was relieved that nothing happened.

“The pump is broken,” I told myself.

But no sooner had I said the words in my head, than I heard the gurgling noise deep down below the old iron pipe. Then it spit out a gush of water and the pail was filled. The Coosie dipped the bottle into the pail and withdrew it. Next he placed it against the pump and returned to the cook house.

I quickly picked up the now full pail of water and jus’ as quickly fell in behind the cook, who shook his head back and forth as we made our way to the kitchen.

The rest of the day went much better for me. I managed to chop enough wood for that evening and the next morning, which surprised the ornery old cuss as it was the first time he hadn’t yelled at me for something I not done to his liking.

That afternoon I washed and rinsed the cookware and supper plates until they sparkled. I fetched the flour and the sugar and made myself useful by turn the bear tracks, or donuts, as they browned in the hot fat cooker.

I even remembered to set the table properly – exactly as Mom had taught me.

At first I placed all the plates and cups upright, but the Coosie made me turn them upside down as he explained why it was to be done like that, “I don’t want no dust or vermin hair getting mixed up with the grub.”

It made sense to me as I had heard that they used to do that in lumber camps where supper was served. “It’s to keep the sawdust off the plates,” I recalled having been told.

Along about the evening meal, a stranger appeared at the backdoor. I recognized him and knew his name to be Ormande’.

Ormande’ spoke little to no English but was a hard worker. He had been employed as a day-laborer for Grandpa, stringing wire for week.

Grandpa had been impressed by the young man from Portugal as he had completed the task sooner than was expected. Ormande’ seemed to recognize me too.

Pete told him in poor Spanish that there wasn’t any work. He also told Ormande’ to stay and help himself to the evening chuck.

After the meal had been served and I finished washing the dishes, I carried the wash bucket out the back door. I had jus’ dumped the water onto the ground when I felt a presence behind me.

Jus’ as I turned, my world grew dark. Someone had pulled a burlap sack over my head.

I was roughly grabbed up and half-carried and half-dragged to a waiting wagon.

Hard, strong hands held me down even though I struggled against them. They pinned me face down to the wood-bottom of the buck-board.

“Hay-ya,” called out a voice and the wagon jumped to life. I remember fear welling up in me and I felt panic-stricken.

Minutes later the wagon rolled to a stop and I was dragged from it. I was hurriedly pushed forward then abruptly halted.

I could hear voices’ surrounding me as the sack was yanked from my head.

There were at least 20 men surrounding me. I sucked in my breath as I noted they were all wearing white-flour sacks over their heads to hide their faces.

The sacks had holes cut into them for their eyes. However each man’s nose and mouth remained covered and a strange panting came for them as they breathed in.

A bon-fire cast an eerie light on the group, throwing shadows in different directions.

“Is this the accused?” a deep voice rumbled from the crowd.

The question caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. I was suddenly aware that I felt queasy to my stomach and my knees were shaking.

“It is,” another voice answered.

“What are the charges?” the deep voice asked.

There was along pause, then came the second voice, “This here boys accused of impersonating a Hoodlum.”

I knew a Hoodlum was the Coosie’s helper – and that was me.

My knees nearly buckled. I wanted to run but I knew my legs wouldn’t carry me far enough to get away from this clandestine group.

Then the man with the deep voice spoke directly to me, “What do you have to say for yourself, boy?”

I couldn’t speak.

The words seemed to simply bounce around in my head but failed to exit through my mouth. All I could manage to get out was, “I – I –I,” in a stutter.

“The accused needs a cat-skinner,” the deep voice announced, “Anyone willing?”

There was no answer. I stood there trembling with fright.

Suddenly a voice rose up from the crowd, “Yeah, I got a lawyer for him.”

Jus’ a suddenly Ormande’ was carried into the circle. He turned the moment he was set on his feet, and tried to escape, but the group of hooded men held him back.

“Okay, we got the kid a lawyer,” came the deep voiced man, “Now whose a-prosecuting him?”

From the crowd stepped a man, and he loudly stated, “I am!”

I could see the whiteness of his chin-hairs as they poked out from beneath the flour-sack. I was certain it was the Coosie.

The deep voiced man nodded at him and the Coosie began, “I’m going to prove this here kid ain’t no help in the kitchen and that he ain’t even fit for mucking stalls.”

A large whoop went up from the gathering. Still I was too frightened to speak.

Once the crowd had settled down, the Coosie continued his opening statement, “I will bring on witness after witness who’ll testify on the bible to this very fact. Heck, he can’t even get water from the derned pump,” he said.

“There’ll be no cussing in this court,” commanded the deep voiced man.

“Sorry you’re Honor,” the prosecutor replied.

The man with the deep voice looked at Ormande’ and asked, “What does the defense have to say?”

The Portuguese man must have thought the end of his world was close at hand. He threw himself on his knees at the feet of the deep voiced man and begged like a man, pleading for his life.

He spoke in rapid-fire Portuguese and sobbed with a passion that move those standing around him. Then, he was done, hanging his head to continue his crying.

There was long silence. Then the deep voiced man spoke, “Kid, I’m pronouncing sentence on you.”

He cleared his throat and continued, “Your cat-skinner here, has pleaded your case so eloquently that I’m going to let you off the hook this time.”

His eyes met mine as he said, “If you’re ever caught playing the Coosie’s help again, you’ll be dragged off this here ranch. You understand?”

I nodded my head and stammered out, “Y –Y – Yes, sir.”

Then the deep voiced man added, “And for failing to fetch water like the Coosie wanted, I’m ordering ten licks from the wagon-tongue.”

Another great cheer went up from the crowd as two or three masked men swept me from my feet and dragged me to the buckboard. They forced me over the end of the wagon as someone commenced to slap me across the butt with a pair of chaps.

The group of hooded men counted as each time the leather chaps stung my britches. Then like that, it was over and another cheer went up.

I looked around for Ormande’, but he was no where to be found in the fire light.

He had worked his way to the outside of the circle of men and disappeared into the darkness. I can’t blame him for making good his escape when he had the opportunity.

When it was all over and done, my head was covered with the burlap sack and I was manhandled into the wagon once again. Minutes later I was rolled unceremoniously from the buckboard, landing on the ground with a thud.

By the time I pulled the sack off my head, the wagon had vanished back into the night time. And I was left to nurse my tender behind and finish the chores.

The Stubborn Scot

There is never a good time for bad news. And that bad news came late Saturday night when I received a phone call from my friend Elizabeth — telling me her husband of 16 years had breathed his last.

But this ain’t no regular obituary…

Duncan had been ill for years, battling cancer in one form or an other. Yet he never lost his cheer — even when the chemo was kicking the cramp out of his guts — somehow he’d manage a joke or two.

It was simply Duncan’s nature.

But around the first of April, his health took a turn for the worst. And oddly — it came as result of a vehicle accident that left him with a broken nose and fractured ribs.

Eventually, Duncan was admitted to the hospital because he couldn’t breath very well. At first it looked as if he had fought and won another round with his body — but then came the night he either got up too fast, became dizzy and fell or simply mis-stepped and toppled to the floor.

Either way, he laid there for several hours unable to get up or unwilling to move because it hurt too much. In the end his wife, Elizabeth had to call for a helicopter airlift to get him to the hospital as they live so far out in the high desert.

From that point, it was apparent that Duncan wasn’t going to return home anytime soon — if ever. However the stubborn Scot that he had always been — remained strong and true to the end.

It appeared that his body was against him from the onset as a massive and aggressive tumor developed out of nowhere in his neck and it slowly started to strangle his windpipe. But somehow Duncan held on — he kept breathing, even if it was in gurgling gasps.

At one point — she nearly ran from his hospital room — unable to continue listening to his ragged breathing. But she managed to steel herself and stay, knowing it could be the last moments of his life.

Finally when the doctors came to Elizabeth and told her that Duncan’s brain activity had ceased — she made the agonizing decision — knowing her husbands wishes — to remove all care other than an IV line for pain management. Still the stubborn Scot battled onward.

When most bodies fail and die after four days without fluid, Duncan was still emptying his bladder. It would take another four day’s to expire — but not before “going” one last time in the morning.

She joked, “My honey was full of piss right up to the last.”

A sense of humor — no matter how morbid it may seem to some can be a saving grace in the face of adversity.

By that evening — 6:11 to be exact — Duncan breathed his last. I was a hard-fought battle and while others may say he lost the fight — I say he won the war.

Now it is for his bride, Elizabeth to pick up and carry on.  She tells me she’s filled with both grief and relief.

While nothing has been finalized, Elizabeth is planning a celebration of life memorial for Duncan this June.  Her husband may have said it best though: “I want to put the ‘fun’ back into funeral.”

Washoe Schools Need to Return to the Basics

Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison says making $35 million in budget cuts could mean laying off for as many as 200 teachers, administrators and support staff, and dipping again into school book funds and reserve accounts. During the same town-hall meeting one parent said if she had it to do over she wouldn’t have come to nevada because “the quality of education is not good.”

“I want businesses here. That’s the only way that we are going to help our economy,” says Tami Berg from Nevada PTA, told KOLO TV.

How will educating 6th, 7th and 8th graders today help our economy now? The answer is that it can’t and it won’t, but that is the general theory being pushed by teaching organizations and their support groups, including the Parent-Teachers Association and the media.

Furthermore, the complaints issued by school administrators like Morrison continue in the vain that our public school buildings are falling apart. Don’t believe this because if it were true and as dangerous as it’s often made out — local authorities such as the fire marshal would shutter that building until the needed repairs were made.

So lets look at a logical and simple solution to the budgeting problem as it affects the student. After all it is the students education that should remain the focus of any school system.

“Lets get back to basics,” has been a cry from school administrators, teacher and parents for years. But so far — no one has truly made such a renaissance move.

So lets dare to get rid of the round tables where young minds can find distraction after distraction to become involved in. Line students desks up in neat little rows — butt to knee — facing forward and help them focus on the chalkboard.

And speaking of the chalkboard — make it a REAL chalkboard. Let’s forgo the dry eraser and white board as they are far more expensive to maintain than the old style chalk and black board with its erasers and rags.

Then put that board to good use. Write out assignments and make certain students understand that the given-assignment is THEIR responsibility to complete.

The use of textbooks should be done sparingly. The teacher should be so well acquainted with the subject they are instructing that the need for a text-book by a student would only be required if the student is behind in their studies.

Return to paper and pencil. The need for computers, printers, software, etc., is unfounded. Besides as things are today — the student already has access to these items at home and besides — and they tend to understand their use better than most adults.

This also goes for the move to the electronic classroom. Who is this really for? The student, the teacher or other? These have only one purpose — to impress school district’s who have less to spend on these nifty, but very expensive toys.

And does a classroom really need to be wired for the internet? Not hardly as the use of the world-wide web would be reduced to perhaps the teacher’s lounge or maybe the school’s library.

Lastly, maintain a rigid discipline in the classroom; it is neither for fun or socializing. It’s a job — and besides — that is what recess and lunch period are for. So it’s time to quit pandering to the PC crowd — who cry that our children are over worked — and put the child’s nose to the schoolwork on the desk.

Yes, the basics are hard — but the basics will save money. Besides it was good enough for my grandparents, who could quote Shakespeare and multiply numbers faster in their heads than most people using a calculator — and both went only as far as the 8th grade.

Finally, Morrison says unknown factors include the final budget and possible union concessions during contract negotiations. The school district is currently in talks with its five employee associations.

Unknown factors! What is he trying to be — politically correct?

Pish-posh. Let’s be straight here!

If the union spent half the money they raise on students as they do on Democrat candidates for president, etc., much of the financial crisis the school district screams it is in trouble over would vanish. This isn’t an attack on membership — no — instead it’s worth noting how union leadership views the dues paid by members.

Enough said.

Grandma Agnes

Tucked away in a small bible Dad owned, I found the death notice and obituary for my Grandma Agnes Arne-Darby. I was only 4-years-old at the time, but recall a great many details about the days before and after she passed away.

I was later told that she died from a cancer — believed to have been cause by a piece of medical gauze left behind after a previous surgery.

Of course, I have had no way of confirming either the surgery event or the gauze story. I think she is buried in Fort Dodge, Iowa — but I could also be mistaken on this point too.