Archive of ‘Stories’

Subterranean: A story about working in small spaces with poisonous things and how to deal with that

Tim was a slender man. He was also a relaxed individual. Possibly because of this laid back style his keen intellect could catch people off guard. Sometimes people just assume that mellow people are also slow thinking. Tim was quite good at analyzing situations. However, when given the chance he was a proponent of making people do stupid things until they figured out what was happening. Wherever he went he was followed by an air of self-aware, and slightly shy, absurdity.

Tim worked with me up on the ranch for a little while. One of our projects when on the ranch was building a house. The site of our proto-house was nestled in the mountains south of the main ranch house. The idea was that this small cabin, when completed, could house the main ranch hand as well as a guest or two when needed. I particularly liked this project because it allowed me to proudly (and unusually truthfully) declare one of those “life goal” things, that I had “built a house.”

One hot day Tim and I volunteered to put the insulation on the bottom of the house. This task involved crawling into the two foot high space under the house. Once under the house one would drag in a bunch of insulation and lie on one’s back stapling it to the boards above.

For the most part, the crawl-space under the house was sealed off from the outside by the external wall. This meant that getting under the house involved going down one particular big hole on the side of the house. This entrance shaft looked sort of like an over sized dry square well.

Stepping down into that hole I remained blanketed in the New Mexican sun. However, while standing in that hole I was the only thing I could see that was well lit. The crunching and grinding of the gravel under my shoes, hands, and knees as I crawled under the house was surprisingly satisfying. The noise of my feet on the ground and the rough textures around me lent the experience a feeling of present reality.

As Tim handed me the insulation to pull under the house behind me it was also nice to think about how for the next few hours, at least, I would get to work in a cool place rather than the hot sun directly above us.

Once we were under the house I lay down on one side of a particular side of the building and Tim lay about an insulation lengths away from me. With the sudden twangy clicks of the staple gun I secured one end of the insulation to the boards above me and then passed the other end to Tim who then secured the other end.

Though it was nice and cool under the house, deep and dank places are not without their own dangers. After working for a little while I came across a black widow. I was in an ideal position to identify a black widow’s red hourglass on the abdomen of this particular arachnid because it was about five inches above my face. I stopped scooting toward the next section of floor-in-need-of-insulation. At first all I did was squirm a little while I looked up at the little spider dangling above me. After a moment or two I started yelling. During my yelling the spider started to lower itself towards my face. It was apparently unaware that I was so close to it. I figured it should have been scared of my relatively large teeth. In retrospect, this would have been the best time to “dodge” and get out of the way.

The back widow has a very small amount of very potent neurotoxic venom. Because of the small volume of the venom, a bite from a black widow is rarely fatal. Before the days of antivenom 5% of reported bites resulted in fatality. Despite the rarity of death, a black widow bite can lead to “latrodectism”. This can mean sever pain in muscle groups near the bite, muscle cramping, headaches, dizziness, tremors, joint pain, rapid heart beat, hyperventilation, and other less-that-fun experiences.

Alerted by my yelling, Tim rolled onto his side to look at me. Then he slowly extended the hand with the staple gun in it. He clasped his wrist with his left hand to stabilize and support the gun hand. Tim carefully closed one eye. With a little chuckle he delicately aligned his one open eye with the top of the gun, and with the black widow.

When the spider was about three inches directly above my upper lip Tim started firing. *Click. *Click. One staple after another arched by my face, none of them hitting the spider, one or two delicately bouncing off of the side of my face.

“Tim, what are you doing?”
“No worries, I’m going to kill it. Everything…is…O…K.”
*Click, *Click
“I hate spiders. What if you hit the strand of web that it is hanging from?”
“Then I will be able to shoot it once it lands, or squish it”
Tim continued to shoot the staple gun. *Click, *Click, *Click. Then with a slow and careful grasp…*Click. The staples sailed by the spider, and its web.

“Are you kidding me?”


End Over

Remember those little caplets that would turn into “dinosaurs” when dropped in water? I know of a person who is sort of like that (though he didn’t have the shape of a dinosaur after the expansion, and I don’t think it was just water that caused this transformation). His name is Mark.

Before about the age of 15 Mark was like the little caplet. He was small for his age. He had glasses that were about half an inch thick and his hair always seemed to be rather disheveled and a little greasy. In the middle of his teen-age years Mark remade himself, apparently as a sheer act of will. He became incredibly strong, capable, cleanly, and still amazingly nice.

Once Mark committed to something, he refused to betray that commitment. It was this trait that allowed him to change his appearance so much. However, in Mark this trait also created a level of honor found in only a rare few. Betrayal was not an option for Mark. He stood up for what he believed.

* * *

Mountain biking was an excellent pastime on the ranch. There were steep slopes that made it hard and eventually gave one a sense of accomplishment. There were also forests to obscure one’s totally embarrassing falls.

To make things more exciting we would start our rides from many different places on the ranch. Due to the size of the ranch, this meant getting places on the ranch with the bikes but without riding the bikes. Such an enterprise often entailed stuffing the bikes into the back of our 1992 ford explorer. As much as I liked this car it was not quite optimal for bike transportation. Since there were three of us we could put down only one of the back seats. We took off the wheels and seats of the bikes and stuffed them into the awkwardly shaped space that wrapped around the one backseat.

For some unfortunate reason Mark always seemed to be the one who sat in the back next to the bikes. As we bounced across the ranch the bikes tended to become rather rambunctious. They would honestly leap a foot or two into the air when we went over hills and come crashing down slightly after the explorer itself did. It could be argued that this was, in large part, a result of the driving style employed. However, right now we are focusing on the funny situation in the back seat, not about the driver or on determining blame.

The fact that the bikes leapt into the air and moved towards Mark with ruthless force was regrettable. However, the real kicker was that when the heap of metal landed it would lock together. One piece of twisted metal would loop over the next and so forth. This locking prevented Mark from pushing away the attacking bikes and over time resulted in a continual loss of space to the bikes tireless invasion. By the time we arrived at our trail-head Mark had about half the personal space that he stated with and about ¾ of what he needed. Upon arrival Mark also had a bike fork pressed firmly into his thigh.

* * *

At the end of the bike ride we went down a final steep section. We lost enough altitude going down this final slope that we were able to zoom down it. This section was long enough to convince us that we could totally handle flying down it. If it were steeper, I think we would have slowed down more. But, on this particular hill we just leaned in close to our bikes and felt the air go past us faster and faster. Due to our speed we spread out a bit, so that if someone fell there would at least be the possibility that the person behind them could avoid hitting them.

Mark was the final one to come down the hill and we were able to watch him flicker between the trees on his descent. He was going fast. Then, Mark and his bike charged behind one particular tree. When he appeared on the other side of the tree he was no longer riding his bike. He was sprinting with all his might and leaning forward like someone who couldn’t quite keep up with their speed.

* * *

As it worked out Mark had hit a deep pothole in the path. This particular pothole was so deep that it was able to violently and completely stop his fast moving front tire. However, the pothole did not stop Mark or the rest of Mark’s bike. This resulted in Mark and the back end of the mountain bike gracefully pivoting around the axle in the middle of the front tire. Mark pivoted towards the ground at the same speed he had been biking. While he was looking straight ahead at the seemingly vertical earth coming at him Mark was somehow able to do a series of extremely helpful actions. Mark was able to get is feet out of the clips that held them to the pedals of the bike. Then he was able to get his feet up to the height of his armpits and over the handlebars of the bike (before these same handlebars collided with the ground). From this awkward fetal position Mark was able to break into a full sprint. A sprint so fast that few could have sustained in the best of circumstances. This sprint turned out to be just fast enough to prevent him from performing a painfully unexpected cartwheel.

I am not a completely ignorant man. I have watched the Olympics and the world cup. However, this is honestly one of the most impressive physical acts that I have ever seen. It is so impressive partly because he did it completely without warning, and partly because it would have hurt so much if he didn’t pull it off.

* * *

Mark slowed down at the bottom of the hill with his bike far behind him. He stopped and leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees. After looking up the hill at the bikes he looked at us and panted “Looks like I got back at the bike for the car ride”.


Reinventing The World

Max is passionate. He has the type of personality that one once thought all really wealthy people must have, part crazy and part genius, each part keeping the other under control. He tries to reinvent the world. He is the type of person that will not be contained or controlled. He is hard charging, aggressive, fearless, and sometimes stupid as a result. Yet still, he is one to admire.

He has no respect for rules or authority, though he has become an authority himself. “What are they going to do?” he would say. He has been shot at five times. He was hit only once – in the calf. He still got away from the shooter.

He was in the air force and loved the exhilaration of flying. He would “push the envelope” in both the F-16 and his much less equipped blue and tan private plane. He would do things in his small plane about which other pilots would comment “The plane just wasn’t built for that” as they shook their head and looked down towards the stable ground.

His theory of crossing streets is that if a car hit him, the collision with his soft and supple flesh would dent the car, and thus damage his aggressor. He would walk out into traffic, unafraid of the fast moving automobiles.

Max is a man of learning. Once at the age of 14 he read the encyclopedia straight through. He also put himself through college and law school.

Max’s style of practicing the law is surely an aggressive one. He would fluster people. Max is a tall man with a good build. This, especially when he really gets going, is extremely intimidating. I have heard stories where he got a witnesses so flustered in cross-examination that when the witness was told to go back to his seat, he angrily stood up, pouting, and briskly walked directly into the wall behind him.

* * *

On one of his fishing trips Max got in a fight with nature. He went to a ranch in the Truchas peaks, at the base of the rocky mountains to catch his fish. The two day trip consisted of standing in the river, trying to reclaim his fly fishing line from a tree, diving on top of grasshoppers in order to use them as bait, sliding down a steep hill into the river, breaking branches off of trees to start a camp fire, having his tent collapse on him in the rain, catching several whoppers of fish, losing blood, and of course getting smelly.

At the end of the journey on his way home he stopped by the ranch house with the trout he had caught in a light blue cooler. He smelled of fish, smoke, dirt, grass, tree, mud, and rain. He was inside the immense, dark, creaky, and musty smelling ranch house when the dog of a ranch hand smelled the fish. Max was learning about how many coyotes were recently caught on the ranch when the dog cleverly discovered how to open the cooler. The dog started to eat the trout only when Max was on his way back out of the house.

Max was not pleased by the state of his hard won fish. He started yelling, whooping, and waving his arms around. The dog, confused by this, decided to move its meal to a quieter location. It pulled its ears back and looked at Max, completely confused as to why he was leaping around. The discovery of fresh fish was not a time to panic. The dog picked up the trout he was eating and started to turn around.

The dog was part dingo, from Australia. It would often try to follow people all over the ranch. It had a condensed build, one that could handle a lot of abuse without too much trouble. The dog’s fur was a thick brown on the sides and head with touches of white on the back. Living on the ranch the brown faded to black, and the white to tan.

Max was not willing to let the fish go, and dove for it. The sliding caused dust to fly up into the air. The thick plume turned all the colors into pastels of brown, in the sharp New Mexican sun. When the dust finally cleared, Max lay belly to the ground, looking up at the dog. The dog looked down at Max, even more confused than before. At this point the dog realized that Max had the tail of its trout in his right hand. Max would not have eaten the fish now; it had dog slobber all over it. However, Max was willing to fight for the fish with all he had.

Both the dog and Max pulled on the fish. Neither Max nor the dog made progress, though both growled. After a short scuffle, the contenders were completely covered in a thin tan dust. Max was able to gain the upper hand by standing up. He then proceeded to lift the dog off the ground by lifting the fish. The dog flailed its legs about, as if it were running straight upwards, and defiantly growled as it dangled there, refusing to let go of the fish. Max took his other arm and put it around the dog. He held the fish in one hand and the dog in the other. Then Max whispered to the dog as he used his negotiation skills to get the dog to release the fish. The dog was not persuaded and made a powerful rebuttal by shaking its head vigorously.

This continued until one of the dog’s legs got within pushing distance of Max’s thigh. The dog placed his paw on Max’s leg and pushed off with enough force to jump completely out of Max’s arms. In flight, the dog was able to twist the fish out of Max’s hand. Max was so surprised by the dog’s move that he didn’t react. He just stood there in the same position, arm still curled as if it held the dog, and hand still held out as if the fish remained in its grasp. The dog, however, miscalculated its landing and landed fish first, then nose, leaving a fin of dust over its landing strip.

The dog stood up, unwilling to accept that its fish now had rocks embedded in it, and marched off triumphantly. Max collected his remaining fish together, put them back in the cooler, and bought the dog.