Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bumble Jackets


Scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and cinnamon rolls heated in bacon grease—that was our scoutmaster’s specialty and we loved it. Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day anyway and still is. After we cleaned up the utensils, we had a couple of hours to straighten up the campsite and loaf around before the mountain hike. I do not remember just where we camped but it was near Mena, Ark. I remember that because I mispronounced the name of the town as “men-ah” instead of “mee-nah” and got laughed at.

When Timmy, the youngest scout on the trip, got his gear all squared away, he ambled down to the lake. We could see him from the camp. At first, he skipped rocks. Then he waded. Then he was hollering for help. Johnny, who was the scout closest to the lake at the time, shot like lightning down to the water, jumped in fully clothed and pulled the sputtering Timmy out. He got a badge for that one and much adulation from Timmy’s family. By the next year, Timmy was a strong swimmer.

“Timmy, do you feel like going on the hike now? You don’t have to,” the scoutmaster said. “Sure, I’m fine. Let’s hike!” he replied. So, we took off on a very long and steep climb up the mountain. When we got about a mile up, a man who called himself the mountain man was on the descent. One look at his energetic blue eyes with little bitty pupils told me he had mental issues. His first utterance was, “You boys look out for bumble jackets. They’s a bunch of bumble jackets up here in this mountain. You don’t want to get stung by no bumble jacket.” The scoutmaster called for a break and we sat cross-legged on the edge of the road. The mountain man had an audience. He held forth about a painter cat. “How do you spell that?” the scoutmaster wanted to know. “P-a-n-t-h-e-r,” he replied. Then he said there was a bigfoot about, though he spent most of his time over on the Kiamichis in Okla. When he got tired of lying to his gullible audience, the mountain man ambled on, calling back over his shoulder, “You boys watch out for them bumble jackets.”

We did not see a single bumble jacket but Johnny found a suspicious footprint—huge with gnarled toes. It was an old print, so we assumed bigfoot was in the next state over. I guess the old fellow meant yellowjacket or bumblebee. Or, maybe he imagined a hybrid buzzing about the mountains. As to the bigfoot, I now know what I did not know then--that he lives around Fouke, Ark.

I would not take a pretty for my boy scout experiences. They were fun but—how do I say this?—too supervised. I preferred the camping trips my friends and I experienced without adult interference. My friends and I even found an old abandoned house back in the woods that had a still-functioning fireplace. We made ourselves believe the former occupants still lurked around the corners and we could hear them faintly conversing late at night. Johnny swore he heard a voice say, “We got company, Mable.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

Losing Air


The back tire of my bicycle was slowly losing air, so, today I tackled the job of installing a new tube and tire on the wheel. I am a big guy with a big ride, a 29-inch mountain bicycle. I could have just patched the tube and planned to do so until I noticed how worn the knobby tire was. It was down beyond the treads. Only a thin layer of rubber remained between tire and tube. I keep an extra tire wadded up in a shoe box along with some fresh tubes with Presta valves. (The old spring-loaded Schrader valves are harder to pump up).

Because the new tire had been so cramped up so long, it was difficult to make it round and receptive to a tube again. It is no fun giving a vigorous and seemingly fruitless massage to an inanimate hunk of rubber made in China. But, at length, I managed to get the flabbily pumped tube inserted into the more-or-less rounded tire. After struggling with the derailleur (it is a 21-speed bicycle) I got the wheel back where it belongs and pumped to 65-pound perfection—ready to roll, right? It was then I noticed how out of true my wheels were.

Out with the spoke wrench. Truing wheels is a delicate art and quite satisfying. First, one must mark the place(s) on the rim where the wheel leans this way or that while rolling. Then, tightening a spoke or two on one side and/or loosening one or two on the other side will bring the wheel into alignment. It usually takes me several stabs at this to get it perfectly true. I know they have more technical devices to guide them at bicycle shops, but I am a do-it-yourselfer.

As I made my wheels true, Truth broke through. I realized that there are elements in my life I should tighten up or loosen up to be true to myself. I thought of Polonius’ speech to his college-bound son Laertes in Hamlet. He advises that if the lad is true to himself, he cannot be false to anyone. I think that is generally true. Shakespeare’s irony is that Polonius himself is not true to himself or anyone else. His is one of those “do as I say not as I do” parental speeches. Leadership by example is the only kind that really works. Leaders should be exemplary. Things break down when people start feeling superior to their leaders.

Being true to myself means that I need to tighten up on my tendency to fictionalize. I am a little like William Faulkner, who said, “Being a convincing liar, I have trouble telling the truth.” Of course, sometimes fiction can be truer than fact, as in parables. Conversely, I need to loosen up on being so judgmental—of myself as well as others. I understand that if I judge too severely, I set myself up to get the same in return. Have you noticed the reciprocity of ethics?

Now, fully pumped and completely true, I shall ride off into the beautiful May sunset.