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Voyager

    I once got busted by the Coast Guard. It was a proud moment.
    We lived near the Toms River, and my friend Danny had a 16' wooden sloop. He also had a tiny little coracle made from a blue plastic sandbox, in the shape of a boat. No sand; It had a plywood floor that his father made for it, so the little boat could be sat in and paddled using ping-pong paddles, one in each hand. The little toy boat was actually Danny's ship's boat; he would use it to paddle out from the bulkhead behind his house, to get to his sailboat which was moored to a buoy out in the cove.
    The lawn sloped down behind Danny's house to the wooden bulkhead, smelling deliciously of creosote, and over that into two or five feet of water, depending on the tide. The river is more than half a mile wide there, opening out into the bay. You would step off the bulkhead and down into the little plastic boat, balancing to get seated without tipping over into the drink. It was a skill that had to be learned like riding a bicycle. But once learned, it was easy, like riding a bicycle, and I used to love paddling around the cove in that little toy boat. One's wrists would get tired quickly, using the ping-pong paddles, and I tried paddling with a short canoe paddle. That was not optimal either, because the little flat boat liked to spin around like a teetotum. So I built a wooden rudder on a frame that snapped over the transom, and the rudder made a big difference getting her to cut a straight wake.
    One cannot fly in one's dense body; one does not have wings. Flying happens in dreams, when one is inhabiting his etheric body. But out in the chops of the wide wide river, heaving up into the swell of the incoming tide with the sun setting across the water behind you, you get closer to that feeling than you ordinarily do.
    I was in the little boat out in the middle of the river on a summer's night (my wrists were tired, yes), and I was having that feeling; I felt that if I just kept up my steady rhythm of paddling, with the stars wheeling overhead and the swell heaving beneath me, I might just get as far as the moon.
    But now I was conscious of the deep throb of a motor; it was coming closer, with lights. Then I was blinded in the face by a searchlight, and a megaphoned voice squawking: "Ahoy, the boat!"
    It was a Coast Guard cutter patrolling the river; of course they were concerned to discover me out there in an active boating lane with no running lights; no lights at all. I hailed back, with a brief account of myself.
    "You shouldn't be out here on the river in a little dinghy like that, without a light." There was genuine kindness in the squawking voice, not to mention unassailable authority. "I'll have to ask you to put back in to shore immediately." squawked the voice.
     They were completely in the right of it. I couldn't show a light, so I put about, acknowledging my acquiescence to their command. Then I applied myself to the paddles, my wrists aching as I shaped my course for Danny's dock.
    There was a long reach of water ahead of me, maybe half a mile; all of it wet, and all of it weary. But I smiled with exultation: they had called my boat a "dinghy"; it was real.

Jeeves's Prank

    I have a GPS that has never sent me wrong, except one time at 1:00am in the really wrong part of Cleveland. We found ourselves driving through blocks and blocks of dark buildings; gaping windows with no glass, many boarded up. There were no cars on the street; here and there we could see a light in a 3rd story window.
    Then, as we were proceeding slowly through this, err... sketchy neighborhood, without warning we were almost lucky enough to be involved in a pretty good deal. A man with a cell phone to his ear ran out into the road, flagging us down and calling, "Yo! Yo!" (We were the white guys in the loaded down van with a bicycle on the roof; not a usual sight just there.)
    "Ha, ha!" we waved; "Yo, yo, yourself, dude. Take care, now, we gotta bounce!"
    I know it was rude of us, but we zoomed off.  Our GPS, Jeeves, was still sounding absurdly confident:
    "Recalculating..."

Grubby

    In my younger days, I traveled around the country in a van with my girlfriend, for a year and a half. We worked odd jobs; painting fences, washing dishes, just making enough money for food and road expenses, and then we would move on. We saw a lot of interesting things, except one thing which was the wrong kind of interesting.
    Somewhere out in the Midwest, we woke up one morning to see a number of small grubs crawling on the walls of the van, and hanging from silk threads above our faces. We jumped out of our bedroll, and began sweeping the wriggling critters off the walls into a pan, and throwing them outside. We spent a fair part of the morning doing a thorough cleaning of the van, the bedding, and all our things.
    The next morning, the grubs were back, and they were far more numerous; there were hundreds of them. They were hanging in the air all around us, all over the walls and all over us. Being the fastidious hippies that we were, we were naturally horrified. Once again we jumped out of bed in great agitation, and began a very thorough cleaning of our living quarters. We shook out the bedding, spread it outside, and took everything out of the van that was movable, going through it all. Then we gave the inside of the van a very good scrubbing from top to bottom. We didn't find anything, which made me uneasy.
    The next morning, the grubs were back, worse than ever. They were slowly undulating in their multitudes across every surface, and hanging on strands from the ceiling. We didn't quite freak out, but we liked to almost did. That morning we went to a hardware store, and bought sulfur candles to fumigate the van. Once again, we took everything out, checking and cleaning each thing; then with all the windows closed we lit the sulfur candles. We had to stay out of the van for several hours during the fumigation process, and afterwards there was a hideous acrid smell clinging to everything inside. We aired out the van, put everything back together, and that night we went to sleep in some uneasiness, what with the lingering sulfurous odors, and wondering what we might wake up to in the morning.
    Next morning, we did find one or two crawling grubs, but only a few, and they seemed dispirited. However, on the morning following that, they had reappeared; not in their previous numbers, but it was enough. This time we did freak out.
    We began to systematically strip the van of everything that could be removed or unscrewed, including the wooden wall panels. In the back of the van, behind one of these panels, we found a small bundle of cattails that one of us had collected from a marsh, a few months previously. The bundle of cattails had been slipped down behind a wall panel in the back corner of the van, and there forgotten. The whole mass was festooned with webs, and feebly-wriggling grubs. Most of them were dead, having been much reduced during the fumigation ordeal, but an obstinate number of them clung to life. So there it was.
    We took that bundle of infested cattails outside, and pitched it far out into the woods, giving it such a heave that I think it probably sailed halfway to China.

Klauser's Ampoules

    Back in the 70's, I played full-time in a bar band out of Pocatello, Idaho. We four band-mates rented a house, under the gravelly slopes of Scout Mountain; this was our home base for the several years that I had the interesting job of playing country-rock guitar, four or five nights a week in shabby clubs for hard drinkers, dancers, and fist fighters.

    There was a raggedy man who would occasionally come over to the house, and hang out while the band practiced. His name was Klauser, and we would give him a beer, or whatever was going. One time, it was a bowl of vegetable soup that I had just finished making. Klauser took his bowl with a sort of reverence, and spooned it up with a look of rapture on his face. He said he hadn't eaten something like that, since his Mama used to make it for him.

    One time, Klauser showed up with a small stout case, which contained several hundred little glass ampoules of morphine. He had lifted it somehow from a hospital, and he brought it over to share. Each ampoule was fitted with a needle, and designed as a disposable cartridge to fit into a hypodermic fixture. He didn't have the fixture, but he would insert a small machine screw into the end of the cartridge, and use that to push down the plunger inside.
 Klauser asked us all if we would like some. I don't remember why the others declined, but no one took up the offer, which seems strange, now. Drugs weren’t unheard of in our old house in that mountain town; neighborhood people were always dropping over, hanging out, drinking beer and what not, wandering off again. I myself declined Klauser's offer, because of my dislike of needles, especially when administered by an unsteady, somewhat poxed, raggedy man, however kindly intentioned.
 
   So Klauser shot up by himself, and relaxed in a chair while we rehearsed. Presently, he shot up another, and he got all dreamy; his bumpy red face a little redder, his thin straggly hair a little stragglier; the case of little glass capsules tucked comfortably next to him in the big chair. For old Klauser, life was very good, and would remain so for a certain stretch of days ahead. 
    And the band played on.

Old Unfaithful

    This morning, coming sleepily down to the kitchen in my pajamas, anticipating nothing but my first cuppa coffee, I turned on the hot water in the sink, only to have the faucet handle shear completely off in my hand, blasting a steaming geyser of water onto the ceiling and beyond. It was a beautiful living replica of the famous Old Faithful.
    Surprise! is a pale way to describe my reaction; I instantly dashed down to the basement to shut off the house water, coming back up to a dripping steaming mess. Then I poured myself a cuppa hot coffee (thoughtfully provided by Lauren before she left), and I contemplated my next move. I won't get to practice music this morning apparently, but on the bright side, it had actually been quite a lovely sight; like suddenly being transported on vacation to Yellowstone Park.
    Aren’t I glad that I was home when it happened? Yeah, it would have been a shame to miss it.