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True tales of life growing up WASP in the Wild Wild East

A Fowl Odor...


Setup -  My wife's 82 year old mother lives with us. She's...well...forgetful. To say the least. But she likes to do the dishes after dinner. Even with a dishwasher, she'll fill the sink and spend the next 45 minutes washing three plates, 12 utensils, and pot and pan or two. Then spend 20 minutes celebrating Chinese New Year putting everything away in the wrong drawers and cabinets.

On to the story... 

A couple of days ago, we started smelling a fairly rank odor between the kitchen and the dining room. Like dead meat.  Since we support a population of five cats, each prone, to a certain extent, to displaying their captured, usually still alive rodent trophies to us proudly, we suspected a deceased mouse or mole somewhere on the premises of La Maison d'James.

First, I checked the crawlspace down below. Plenty of dust, the occasional cat litter, but no carcasses, so far as I could see...or smell.  I spent much of the next day or so sniffing at the heat registers, trying to pin down the source of the odor. Nothing was conclusive. We checked around the kitchen again, under the cabinets, behind the fridge, even moved the pots and pans around in their base cabinets. Nothing.

Daily, the miasma grew worse. We pulled up carpets, we moved every piece of furniture with 30 feet to check the dark corners and cubbyholes where a dying animal would be prone to..well, be prone.  Today, it got so nauseating that you could barely go into the kitchen. Again, we pulled the fridge, sniffed the registers, and moved the pots and pans..oddly, one small pot seemed heavier than it should have. I cautiously pulled it out, and it seemed we had found the source.

Immediately, I evacuated the neighborhood, for safety reasons. Small children and seniors were moved to a secure biohazard-proof location. The ERT team from the nearby nuclear plant was called in to stand by.

 I tentatively lifted the lid on the small saucepan. The sight that greeted my astonished eye was one I fear may trouble my dreams for years.

A greenish cloud of vapour rose from the milky concoction that, a week ago, had been some sort of fowl. Calling ahead for oxygen and respirators, I dashed outside and tossed the goo as far into the river as I could. As it hit, a roiling, boiling maelstrom rose from the water, like those National Geographic specials on "Piranhas of the Amazon attacking a capybara that wandered into the stream".

Apparently, Mom had finished washing the pots, excluding one with a lid still on it. As she dried them and put the clean pots on the kitchen table, the unclean one blended into the crowd. They all got put away in their normal base cabinet, the one full of uneaten chicken breast way in the back...

Nature took over from there.

Phew. I may have to have my nose hairs surgically removed to totally eliminate the nascent aroma that still lingers....

Just thought I'd share that with ya...


"Suicide Hot line, please hold....."


Every year, a group of us spends a week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on a golf vacation. A  few years ago, to make sure that everyone at work knew I would be unavailable for a week, I sent a global e-mail to all our employees telling them that it was vacation time, and that I was "going away where you can't reach me, where they don't have TV or Cell Phones, or even Radio". 

About a half an hour after I got home, as I was packing up the car, two Police cars came rumbling up the driveway, lights flashing and everything. Two policemen got out of one car and knocked on the door, asking, when I answered, if I was James Hare. I foolishly confessed, and they asked me to "please step outside here away from the house." Now, you have to understand, these two guys were huge - both easily six feet five inches or so, about 260 pounds, and both with completely shaved heads. They looked like twin Kojak's on steroids. My wife and young son looked on in a mix of fear, horror and disbelief. I don't know if you've ever been asked questions by a large police officer who has one hand on his gun while he looks you up and down, but it can be a rather unnerving experience for an otherwise innocent person like me.

They asked if I felt ok. I said, "Sure, I'm fine. What's up?" They asked if I knew anyone "on the Internet". I said "No, not specifically". They said that someone who "knew me" had called 911 and said that they "heard on the internet that I was going to commit suicide.", and was I SURE I felt OK. I told them I was getting ready to go on vacation, that I was fine, and that I didn't know what they were talking about. After several more minutes of interrogation, I guess they figured I was harmless enough.

After assuring the cops that I was fine, that I wasn't going to run around with an axe and massacre my family, and that I honestly didn't know how anyone could have reported that I was crazy (well, that's probably a stretch, but I didn't want to press the issue...) they finally left, warning me to watch out, and then told my wife to dial 911 if I started acting up.

When I told my wife that everything was OK, she was relieved. No one wants to watch a family member get grilled in public by two Imperial Storm Troopers like these guys. Too many episodes of "COPS" and Rodney King replays makes every body skittish, I suppose.

Anyway, I tried to figure out what this was all about. I couldn't see how anyone on the "internet" could have known me, or especially known where I lived or anything. Then, it hit me like a lead pipe. Someone at work, who obviously didn't know me, misinterpreted my email to believe that I was about to go Postal or something. They called the cops, and the cops figured "email" meant "the Internet".

So I connected back to our e-mail system and posted a SECOND message, explaining the FIRST message, and reassuring the masses that I was just going on vacation and that I'd be back in a week. I also explained the reason for this second message by quickly relating the above events. I described the cops in realistic detail, and  I think the term "bald, King Kong storm troopers" may have appeared somewhere in my message...

Well, let me tell you, never ever ever go out of town and leave your wife, who also works for the same company, in the same building, all alone to explain your behavior. My poor gal got hounded for a week by bemused and incredulous co-workers, who thought the whole thing was hilarious, To quote some of them, "...that sounds like something Jim would do.", or "I hear your husband has finally flipped out."

But the worst part of it was, a woman at work who knows both of us thought the messages were funny. She especially thought my description of the storm troopers was funny. So she printed out my email message and showed it to her fiancee - who just happened to be one of the storm troopers - luckily, he understood the spirit in which it was written and didn't come back and pound me into pulp.

Born to be Mild

    When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I got a job as a caddy at a private golf club near my home. My parents, in a misguided attempt to instill respect for money and hard work, suggested I earn the cash for a bicycle. After a couple of months of weekends, I had enough to get a nice set of wheels. To save money, we bought it unassembled. Once we got the box home, I dumped all the parts out on our back porch, and my mom and I started figuring out where "Front Tube Bracket A" fit into "Cross Member Sleeve B" without puncturing "Front Tire". My mom's a great lady, don't get me wrong, but she has the mechanical skill of a piece of gorgonzola cheese. I didn't know it at the time, but she cross-threaded the right-side foot pedal into the sprocket arm.

    I was so jazzed about my bike I decided to ride it over and show my friend Jay. He lived about five or six miles away. When I got there, I waxed eloquent about the speed and maneuverability of the machine, paying special attention to the extremely well-designed coaster brake on the rear wheel. (Do they still use pedal-operated coaster brakes anymore? Or have all bikes gone to caliper brakes front and rear?) To demonstrate the effectiveness of the braking system, I went up to the top of his street, which was quite a steep and long bit of a hill, and yelled "Watch this!" Pedaling wildly down the pavement, I attained what I now believe to be near-supersonic speeds and just as I passed the bemused Jay, stood up and stomped down on the right pedal, which promptly snapped off.

    The rear tire locked solid, laying virgin rubber in a snaking line an inch wide and three hundred feet long down the street. I swerved from curb to curb like a maniac, totally out of control and bouncing from one foot to the other in a vain attempt to regain control of the rocket-sled. Applying the front brake would have been the act of a madman, catapulting me over the handlebars like a cork over Niagra Falls. Besides, I think they didn't work right anyway. My forward momentum finally halted thanks to my firmly planted US Keds, about six inches from the flanks of a 1963 slab-side Lincoln Continental. I collapsed off the bicycle and lay gasping in the street until Jay ran down to congratulate me on the performance and request an instant replay for the benefit of his older brother Frank who had just returned from the jungles of Viet Nam, and was in the mood for some excitement.

    We picked up the bike and checked it out. By a miracle that vastly outweighs anything in the Old AND New Testament, both I and the bike came through with hardly a scratch. Except for the rear tire, which now had a flat spot you could see cord though, about four inches long. And the missing pedal, of course. We trudged back up the hill to retrieve it, and vainly attempted a re-insertion.

    If you ever want some real exercise, try pedaling a bicycle with only one foot. For six miles. Up and down hills. In the dark. And you know, I don't think that damn bike ever worked right after that.

Grin and Bear It

    In 1964, when I was 11, my brother and sisters and I were forcibly abducted by our parents on a cross-country auto vacation. One stop was Yellowstone National Park, which I'm sure many of you have heard of. Yes, that's where Yogi Bear lives. We camped out in tents and in general had a good time.

    After an overnight stay in the park, a chilly breeze woke me up the next morning. My younger brother seemed overly excited about something, and pointed to the tent wall behind my head.|

    "Man, did you wake up last night when that happened?" he said. "No, what are you talking about?" I mumbled.

    "A bear ripped the side of the tent out looking for food or something! It stuck it's head in right over the top of your face and sniffed around, and then left. I almost crapped in my pants when I saw it!"

    I turned and looked over my shoulder. The wall of the tent next to my head was in shreds, a hole about ten  inches wide and eighteen inches long torn in it. A bear had decided to take the easy way into our tent looking for crackers or something. When my parents came over to see it, they about shit, if you'll pardon my French. We realized that I missed having my head ripped off by about three inches. And thank goodness there was no food in the tent, or all of us kids would have been in for a long night.

    The rest of the vacation passed without major incident.

Strangers in the Night

    A bunch of us were goofing around one summer evening at the home of one of my best boyhood pals, Steve. His mom and dad were out partying or working or something, there were no adults in the house, just us kids. It was about eleven or twelve o'clock at night, and I happened to look out the living room window, and I saw a face looking back in at me. I jumped about six feet in the air and let out a holler. Within seconds after my arrival back on the floor, a bunch of us guys took off out the back door after the prowler. We chased him out the back yard but he eluded us in the undergrowth and bushes.

    Imagining the most gruesome results this side of Lizzie Borden's little hissy-fit, we were certain the madman would return and hack us all to death with a machete. I think this was about two weeks after the Charles Manson/Sharon Tate murders, so we were kinda jumpy. We propped chairs against all the doors and fortified the house as best we could. This was a very old house, from about 1810 or something, and I think they still had the original hardware on the doors, so we couldn't get them very secure. With no other way of barring the door, we put a huge piece of iron bar over the top sill of the back porch door, which led directly into the kitchen.

    Finally falling asleep around three a.m. or so, we were awakened not long after by a tremendous crash and a roar like a wounded water buffalo, coming from the vicinity of the kitchen. Quite a sight greeted us there. Steve's dad had returned home after paying his respects at most of the neighborhood taverns, it seemed, and was unable to enter the front door. He did the logical thing (amazingly, considering his mental state) and went around to the back door. It swung open without a struggle, dropping our 12-pound safety device / burglar alarm onto his cranium, and and that's what all the shouting had been about. Had he been sober, the bar probably would have killed him, but, like the drunk in the back seat of the car, his...well, call it "pliable"... physical state probably saved his life. Pop crumpled to the floor like tissue paper, and luckily, didn't bleed all that much. But he had a knot on the back of his head the size of a Cadbury Easter Egg for the next two weeks. Needless to say, we kids were severely admonished, but the next day, the footprints outside the window proved our point, even if we did go a little overboard with the security system.

The Old Man and the Lake

    My grandfather could have passed for W.C. Fields' twin brother. He grew up in Chicago during the 'teens and Roaring 20's, and didn't get the name "Wild Bill" from any talent at baseball. When I was a kid, he and I used to go fishing at a large public lake nearby, paddling out in a leaky and somewhat unseaworthy wooden rowboat he'd constructed of left-over barn planking one summer "before the War".(He never told me which war, but I'll be kind and assume World War II....) One summer after a typical day on the water, (three hours, two sixpacks and a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco for him, a couple of Yoo Hoos and a Ring Ding for me, and maybe a fish or two) we headed back towards shore, about a quarter mile away.

    Sitting in the bow, and facing me back in the stern, Gramps pulled the oars back and forth with a ferocity unsuspected in his age group and weight class. I watched the shoreline approach over his shoulder. I noticed that each time he leaned forward and pulled back on the oars, the bow behind him dipped deeper and deeper into the water. I made some quick calculations and realized that at the rate we were taking on water, we would not reach dry ground. Before I could warn him, the boat took one last dive under the surface and sank out from under us. I had seen it coming, but I think it surprised the hell out of Gramps to all of a sudden find himself rowing a boat straight down into thirty feet of water. I think he got two or three more strokes in before he realized it was futile and sputtered back up to the surface, amid floating cushions, bait baskets, candy wrappers and assorted flotsam and jetsam. We paddled back to shore and hauled ourselves out of the water, the crowd excitedly watching our progress all the way. The perfect example of "Nothing hurt but our pride", we squelched and squished our way back to his car and slunk home, vowing never to attempt a rough sea crossing again.

Proto-Beavis and Butthead

    My friend Steve and I used to love to build plastic models. We built planes and cars and other stuff, but mostly liked ships. Destroyers, PT boats, battleships, aircraft carriers. Whatever. We built them all. We'd float them around his pool or the creek in the woods behind his house, or a nearby pond. As we grew into the ancestors of Beavis and Butthead, though, our thoughts turned to more "spectacular" diversions.

    We built a model of the USS Constitution, complete with masts and black-thread rigging and everything. After admiring our work for a few days, we took it down to the creek, draped airplane glue all over the decks and masts, and set fire to it, then floated it out into the creek. We each took a shot at it with his dad's 12-gauge as it steamed past us, black choking smoke pouring off the model. Now that was historical re-enactment!

    We also explored the destructive qualities of Cherry Bombs and M-80s when they are glued inside of plastic model ship hulls. We were proud to announce that M-80s blew the model into smaller, less recognizable pieces ("hey, look, I think that's a piece of anti-aircraft gun in your hair!") but Cherry Bombs made a louder, smokier blast.(Wow! Look at that! It blew it clear out of the creek!") It's really amazing neither of us got so much as a scratch doing this. We must have destroyed 25 or 30 boats in all over the course of a year or two.

    We also had some boats made out of polyethelyne or polypropylene or one of those miracle plastics that just started to come out in the mid 60's, and we found that if you could get a hunk of that stuff on fire, it would even burn under water. We reenacted many submarine battles that way.

Don't   bug me, man....

    Our house was about a third of a mile or so from the street, up a long and twisting driveway. When I was 15, one of the family cars was a 1955 Volkswagen Beetle, all 34 horsepower of her. My parents wisely wouldn't allow me out on the street with it, but said I could "practice driving" up and down our driveway. It had a non-synchromesh first gear, which meant that you had to come to a complete stop before you could go from second down to to first. But I got pretty good at double clutching and revving the motor up real high and then shoving that stubby gear lever growing out of the floorboards into first gear and feeling the front end of the car dip down about eight inches every time. I also knew the drivers test checked at how good you could drive in reverse, so I practiced that. For days. I went up and down that driveway backwards a thousand times, until I could do it at 30 miles an hour or so, with one hand on the steering wheel. And then when I took my drivers test, we went forwards the whole time. I was so disappointed, I offered to show the cop who took me out how well I navigated backwards. He declined my offer, but passed me anyway.

    A couple of years later, going over the crest of a road out in the middle of nowhere at 2 o:clock in the morning, I hit a patch of ice and spun the old Beetle like a top,  . It banged from side to side on this old farm road until it finally came to a stop and just tipped over. I crawled out the ripped sunroof, dusted myself off, walked two miles to the nearest house, and called Dad to come and get me. We gave the Bug a decent burial.

A Flare for the Dramatic

    My friend Steve (see above in "Proto Beavis and Butthead) once had an Austin Healy Sprite. This was a tiny, early 60's vintage British sports car that seats none, in a pinch. I think my child has HotWheels bigger than the A-H was. There was this old junkyard about 20 miles north of us, run by a strange fellow named Gene Matlack. Matlack's was full of old busted up ambulances and rusty school buses and grimy black hearses and all sorts of bizarre and curious foreign automobiles that no one else for a hundred miles had, like Citroens and Simcas and Renaults. Gene had a huge stuffed buffalo head mounted on the wall above his bed, which always impressed me. His right arm hung from his shoulder like a bird's broken wing, because that's exactly what it was. He broke it between the shoulder and elbow in a car accident, and never got it set properly. He also had an Austin Healy that Steve bought as a spare parts car, sight unseen, but Gene said if we'd come up and get it off his lot, he'd take a hundred bucks for it. So one afternoon Steve and Jay (remember him?) and I drove up to Matlack's to get the car.

    Of course, it wasn't until we got there and looked around that we realized that the Sprite had already been used as a parts car by somebody else, and had no steering wheel and no fenders. We knew we couldn't get it home during the day, but hoped that the cover of darkness would assist our clandestine movement home. After it got dark enough so that you couldn't tell the Sprite had no fenders unless you looked directly at it, we splashed about two gallons of gasoline down the back of the seats while trying to get some in the tank, and set off back home. About three miles from Matlacks, in the middle of god knows where on Route 282 in western Chester County, the car died on us. Totally. Absolutely dead. We pushed it about five hundred yard before coming to our senses and realizing we had 15 miles to go. We'd just have to tow it back home. Normally this wouldn't have been that much of a problem, but it's a bit more of a test to tow a nine-hundred pound car with another nine-hundred pound car, when the latter is stuffed with three stout fellows as well. Especially when you don't have a tow chain. Or a rope. We didn't even have a string tie. All we had were three size 32 belts. Finally one of us had the bright idea of using the seat belts from the broken car to tie it to the good one. We figured seat belts had to be pretty strong, right? The conversation went something like this:

    "So, anyone got a wrench or pliers to get the seatbelt bolts out of the floor?"


    "Anyone got a knife or anything, to cut them off.?"



    "Hey, I got an idea. Why not use the flame from a flare to cut them loose?"

    "Hey, good idea, get a flare from the back of my car."

    Scratch, Whoosh! The flare lit up like Baghdad under a Scud attack. Steve leaned in and began to work the tip of the flame back and forth across the seatbelt, right above the bolt where it attached to the floor boards. The greasy floor boards. The greasy, gasoline-saturated, plywood floor boards. All of a sudden, it seemed to get really bright in there as the plastic seat cushions burst into flames, and something long and thin came shooting out of the back of the car, clanking onto the pavement. Steve had stayed with it until the very end, finally cutting one seat belt loose and tossing it out over the trunk before abandoning the vehicle. We feverishly tossed dirt, stones, and it seemed, a bunch of  wood and dried leaves, on the fire, until it finally died out, and then spent ten minutes stomping on the flare to get it out before we set the woods on fire all around us.

    I'm sure the housewife who found three scorched, smelly, and sweaty teenagers at her door that summer night didn't know what to expect when we rang the doorbell, but we managed to convince her that we meant her no harm, and as soon as we told her we'd just come from Gene Matlack's, she said "Say no more. I must get three or four people a month stop by here to call a tow truck after they leave that hellhole." After we got the car home and got all the usable parts out of it, Steve and I put it in the creek and blew the hell out of it with a shot gun and some M-80's.

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