Thursday, June 30, 2005

Always Check the Oil

Three years of all play and no work might not have made me a dull boy, but in college it finally caught up to me. I had a student loan from the state of Alaska, which had a minimum grade point requirement to maintain. The semester previous I had skated by a thin margin, and were it not for a successful plea to my Spanish teacher to raise my D to a C, I would have gone home earlier.

My good friend that year was a Japanese Hawaiian called Roach. I don't know how he earned his nickname, but he was a delightful person. He had long black hair and was a tough guy through and through, hardened by the tough streets of the big island. He had a Commodore 64, which at the time was the best game system available. We were very competitive, playing at the Summer Olympics deep into the night.

Roach held me on an elevated platform, and thought I was the roughest, toughest example of a haole from the mainland. I enjoyed his reverence, which had a contagious effect on most of the people on our dormitory floor. Before long, I was wildly popular in our little community. Though I hadn't earned my reputation, I strived to live up to it.

The arm wrestling champion of the floor was Steve, a stocky, medium height bookworm who never missed an opportunity to rub it in our faces. He would hold up his arm and flex his bicep or turn his fist forward and show the bulge of his forearm, then mimic the motion of his arm slamming yours on the table.

My luck and money ran out that year, and everybody from the floor came back the next year without me for a neighbor. That summer my dad bought a farm in northern Washington, not far from Pullman, from whence I took my hiatus.

My dad was like Harrison Ford's character in Mosquito Coast, as our sojourn into the Colville Indian Reservation territory was a similar story. Both involved leaving civilized society behind, forced cohabitation with violent people, and a reclusive mad scientist father. Dad had promised me since I was a little boy that one day we would own a ranch and have horses, live off the land and build a log house. He made good on all accounts.

At first, life in the country, the real country, was novel and fun. We planted forty acres of alfalfa, and cut it down with a rickety old swather that dad somehow got running. The field was dry and the dust was so thick I had to wear a bandanna over my nose and mouth to breath. I don't know where the picture is any more, but I looked like Al Jolson when I was done.

We helped the local farmers pick up their hay, in exchange for help with ours. Even though the neighbors lived miles apart, the community was close and friendly.

We hired a lumberjack to cut down thirty trees for our log house, which was about thirty trees short of what we needed. I had watched him closely, and even took turns with the chainsaw in order to learn the art of felling a tree. It might have been a financial decision, but when I pleaded my case, dad let me cut the balance of what we needed.

Dad found a twenty foot section of metal culvert, which he buried upright in the ground in the middle of our foundation. He stuck a log straight down into it and built a homemade crane. We bought a winch from Sears, and a whole length of cable from an old boom truck at a junkyard. As impossible as it sounds, it really worked, and we raised a 40 x 40, two story log home in less than two months.

It all turned bad the day we found out that one of the local Indians shot our two dogs that were running deer in the woods. The whole community supported the move, as it was the responsibility of the owner to keep dogs within their property boundaries. This didn't sit well with any of us, and tensions sparked at the local pub, which was the only entertainment for anyone for a hundred miles. I won't go into details here, I'll save it for another time. But suffice to say I was happy the day we moved away.

Physically, I was completely transformed at the end of the summer. My arms were two pistons and my forearms rock, from logging, swinging a hammer and bucking bales of hay. When the new school year started, I decided to pay a visit to my old friends in the dorm. Kip, who lived with us that summer, loaned me his motorcycle for the trip.

The usual suspects had all returned, along with some new faces. Roach introduced me around, informing everyone that I was not to be fucked with. We were just opening the first of our beers when Steve walked in the room with that same cocky look on his face. I had a long sleeve flannel shirt on, which was a good thing, because he immediately did his signature arm wrestling pantomime, and I jumped up a little too eagerly, which seemed to get past Steve, who was looking forward to humiliating me once again for all the newbies on the floor.

"Stevey boy, I'm going to crush you like a little baby!"

He looked at me with a quizzical expression, the doubt was already worming through his brain. "Have you been... working out or something?"

"Take a look at these guns." I pulled off my shirt and the guys in the room started to roar. Roach patted Steve on the back bid him farewell. "Well, Steve, it was nice knowing you!"

"Ladies first," I said, pointing to the desk.

A commotion was stirring in the hall as doors were pounded and announcements were made. The room was soon filled to capacity, with guys covering the floor and beds like a hoard of ants. I was all smiles as he put his hand out and I seized it in an iron grip.

"I'm going to lose, aren't I?"

"Don't ruin this for me ok? I've been waiting a whole summer for this."

One tug and it was over, and the mighty Stevey struck out. My reputation was intact, and my popularity bigger than ever. We went to a dance that night where I hooked up with one of the girls from the floor upstairs. We went for a ride on the motorcycle across campus where no cars were allowed to go. On a sidewalk between buildings, we bumped smack into the campus police, so I turned to run the other way when the motorcycle quit. Were were about fifty yards from the hill crest, so we got off and pushed as the policeman got out of his car and gave chase on foot. We cleared the hill and coasted all the way back to the dorm and scrambled up to her room, where I spent the rest of the night.

Don't worry about her reputation, I was a perfect gentleman. Ahem.

The bike started the next morning so I set out for home. Half way, in the middle of Palouse county, the engine seized.

Then it hit me, the words my father had told me as I was leaving, "Don't forget to check the oil."

"Oh shit."

I checked it now and sure enough, it was dry as the Sahara. My dad picked me up, and we took the bike to our garage. When dad, by the grace of God, went inside, I grabbed a couple quarts of oil and filled it to capacity. He came back out, and sure enough, he checked it. The stick came out and dripped oil the color of light herbal tea, not the jet black of the old and used. He scrutinized my expression for a crack, but I maintained my composure. After an eternity of blinkless staring, he let it drop with a squinty, Seth Bullock leer that had a slight tint of bemusement.

Whew, dodged another one.


Mrs.T said...

That was hilarious. I would never have believed you.. LOL.. Course my son is always trying to pull off mischief like that.

Scott said...

Oh, dad didn't believe me either, but for whatever reason he didn't press. Man I thought I was a goner.

Beth said...

Wow, I'm just amazed over the log home! I would love to see pictures!

Scott said...

It was a castle, and I forgot to mention that we only framed it and put the roof on. We left the crane pole sticking out of the roof and were going to build a crows nest on top. Dad was crazy but a lot of fun. I don't know if I have any pictures honestly. I'm visiting him this weekend, maybe, just maybe, he has a few. Thanks for dropping in.

trinamick said...

Just now read this. I am currently helping my uncle build a log cabin on his property. It's a lot of work!

Scott said...

Enjoy Trin. True it's hard work, but nothing is more satisfying to survey when the job is done.

Alan said...

Oh no, Scott, not again! I lost my first car to the Sahara Syndrome! A brown Dodge Dart! And no, I still don't check my oil! I mean what the hell ... is it gas?? Is it supposed to run out??

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